21st Century Author = Internet Entrepreneur

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Why the 21st Century Author is an Internet Entrepreneur

The similarities seemingly end there when you consider that Amanda is an author of fiction. Specifically, she writes paranormal-romance fiction involving vampires, trolls, and zombies.

Amanda’s been profiled in the Times and many other places because she’s sold around $2,000,000 in ebooks — without a publisher. She was one of the early success stories to come out of the Kindle Store, joining James Patterson and Stieg Larsson as one of the bestselling digital authors on Amazon.

Then things changed.

Amanda’s self-made success got her  a deal with St. Martin’s that paid $2 million upfront for her next four books. Her “Trylle” series of books has been optioned by Hollywood, with the screenplays penned by one of the scribes of the film District 9.

It’s certainly an amazing story. But does she qualify as an entrepreneur, much less an Internet entrepreneur?

Is Amanda Hocking an Internet Entrepreneur?

First, let’s be clear on what an entrepreneur is.

Here is the classic 12-word definition of an entrepreneur from Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson:

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.

So, let’s take a look at what Amanda did to generate that $2,000,000 in revenue.

She’d completed her first novel at age 17, which was rejected by over 50 publishers. Years later, Amanda took a decidedly different approach:

  1. In 2009, Amanda started treating writing as a job (a business venture), not a hobby.
  2. She began combing bookstores and doing industry research to see what was getting published and selling, as well as reading a lot in her genre (market research).
  3. She continued to submit her manuscripts to New York, and continued to be denied. Her last form rejection letter arrived in February of 2010 (no access to or control of traditional resources).
  4. In April of 2010, Amanda digitized her book “My Blood Approves” into the new .mobi format for the Kindle reader (adoption of a new technology standard) and uploaded it to the Amazon’s Kindle Store (exploitation of an emerging online marketplace).
  5. She offered her books for $.99 to $2.99 (industry pricing disruption).
  6. Profit? On the first day, Amanda sold 5 books. The next day provided similar results. A couple of months later, things got rolling:
  • June 2010, she sold 6,000 books
  • July 2010, 10,000 books
  • January 2011, over 100,000 books
  • Summer of 2011, 9,000 books each day

Sounds Like an Internet Entrepreneur to Me

It seems like a magical story, but Amanda was very deliberate. She treated her book as a startup.

Then lightening struck, which is what would-be authors inspired by her meteoric rise tend to focus on. Most often, that won’t be the case.

Amanda was in the right place, at the right time, with the exact right product. It’s the way markets are supposed to operate if you eliminate all the noise. And make no mistake — a great book that people want to read is still the core requirement.

The opportunities for the authors of great digital books, whether fiction or nonfiction, are still in the infancy stage. But you’re going to have to add one exceptionally important element to Amanda’s deliberate approach.

You can’t depend on the marketplace to notice the book on its own until you’ve sparked enough initial sales. But how do you make sales otherwise?

It’s a classic chicken and egg situation, until you tilt things in your favor.

One way or another, you need to build an audience. And the smart entrepreneurial approach for authors involves creating free online content to build that audiencebefore you try to sell a book (or anything else).

In other words, become an Internet publishing entrepreneur. Your first book is simply your first product, no matter the level of artistry you put into it, and your biggest asset is your audience.

Luckily, this entrepreneurial process can be much more lucrative than the indentured old school approach. Ironically, it’s the traditional publishing industry that gets credit for kindling this entrepreneurial fire among authors.


Big Publishing Drops the Audience Ball

Trey Ratcliff is a photographer who built a blog to showcase his work. The audience that platform attracted resulted in three prospective publishing deals.

Trey went with Peachpit Press, due to their size and reputation in the photography niche. Out to a fancy dinner with some of Peachpit’s top executives, Ratcliff realized the true nature of his publishing deal.

In his own words:

I’m sitting there in a nice restaurant in San Francisco with all these executives of a major publishing house. It’s one of these power dinners of lore. We’re there to discuss the upcoming launch of the book, and I’ll never forget what happened. They asked me, “OK, Trey, what are you going to do to market this book?”

It’s the dirty little secret no one tells you about the modern book deal: it’s up to the author to drum up interest, publicity, and sales for the book, despite the fact that publishers are ostensibly still in the “distribution” business.

It didn’t have to be this way.

To this day, Internet pundits plead with publishers to build “huge, vertical-specific communities, prime them with regular non-book value and establish direct relationships.” But the publishers rejected that very advice over a decade ago, a decision that forced authors to become online marketers, even within the context of the traditional book deal.

Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin saw it happen, upfront and personal.

A former book packager, Seth shifted to the Internet early, founding the email marketing firm Yoyodyne in 1995 and selling it to Yahoo! in 1998 for $30 million.

Godin’s first bestseller, 1999’s Permission Marketing, explained the online marketing practices he developed that allowed direct and profitable relationships with prospects. Moreover, the book itself achieved outsized sales using the very strategies and tactics Seth preached, via an opt-in email list that grew rapidly as Godin gave away a third of the book for free in exchange for an email address.

Seeing first hand the power of establishing a direct relationship with prospective book buyers, Seth tried to help the publishing industry see the power of building an audience for themselves and on behalf of authors.

How could an industry that exists to distribute books not want incredibly cost-effective direct distribution?

Strangely, Seth’s ideas were ignored, and sometimes rejected with the type of venom that accompanies an abject fear of change. Instead, the collective choice among book publishing companies was to throw authors under the bus and see who survived.

“By 2002, it was clear the publishers were not going to build an online audience,” Godin told me for this article. “The authors had to do it themselves.”

Got Audience, Why Stop at Books?

Meanwhile, Trey Ratcliff did some math.

The excited new author went to work, drumming up pre-sales support from his audience with a limited-edition print, along with a signed copy of the book. He promoted relentlessly via his blog and on Twitter. He even arranged and paid for his own book tour.

The book was a roaring success, selling out on Amazon in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. At that point, after all that hard work, Trey realized just how tiny his 15% royalty rate really was. Peachpit kept 85%, which in turn went to printing, physical distribution, big New York offices, staff, lawyers, bookstores, etc.

In other words, no one was making any money.

It was Trey, however, who was in the unique position to do something smarter. After all, he had the audience that attracted the publishers in the first place.

So, he became the publisher by founding Flatbooks. His fledgling ebook business hit 6 figures in revenue almost immediately, and now boasts 80% profit margins.

The secret to the quick success of FlatBooks? According to Ratcliff, it’s theaudience-enabled author:

The best way to successfully market something is to have true believers with big followings talk about it on the Internet. Since we have many authors who are socially popular, a multiplier effect begins to take place.

Notice he said “successfully market something,” which is specifically not limited to ebook publishing. Once you have an audience, the door opens to consulting, paid speaking, software, innovative new platform launches, and more.

You’re really only limited by the needs and desires of your audience.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. If your goal is to write books and make a living from them, build your audience before you need it. Start today.
  2. Don’t think self-published. Think publisher. Better yet, digital mediaproducer.
  3. Accelerate. Once the audience is on your side, books are only the beginning. Be more like Jay-Z than James Patterson.

Not every author will do this, unfortunately. Many will grasp dearly to the Amanda Hocking story, depending on Apple and Amazon to become the new intermediaries that “magically” make them rich.

But Apple and Amazon don’t make money from caring about you. They’ll aggregate the hopes and dreams of millions along the long tail, letting just enough new stars shine to keep the dream alive.

At least the traditional publishers pretended to care.

Regardless, it’s up to you … now more than ever. Go make an audience happen.



Tips for Getting Your Small Press Book into Bookstores

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 This article is for our Muse Authors, but authors of other small presses might find it useful. 25

Small Press Publisher’s Tips for Approaching Bookstores to Get Your Books on Shelves— Methods and Suggestions that have garnered the best results after much trial and error! by Gineve Rudolph of World Nouveau Publishing

• Have at least 10 books in your trunk at all times
• Every time you go into a new town for an appointment or to visit a friend etc. go early and stop by as many bookstores as you can hit in the area

• Approach the bookstore clerk at the front with a copy of your book in hand and say:                       “Hello, I’d like to talk to someone about placing this title in your store.”
-Don’t say you are the author (yet)
-Don’t give your name (yet)
-Don’t pitch your book (yet)
-Don’t ask for the “Book buyer” because they might say he/she is not here right now, come back later

• With the intro line (in bold) above you might get the book buyer, or if he/she is not there, you will be directed to someone in charge who can influence the book buyer. Never pitch the check-out clerk unless they respond to your into by saying, “That would be me” or “I’m the manager, our buyer isn’t here right now,” etc. in which case you would ask him or her if he/she has a moment to talk or when would be a good time to come back

• If they say no, there’s no one here with book buying authority, ask them the name of their book buyer or manager and when they will be in next.

• Once you get to the right person, introduce yourself and ask if he/she has a moment to chat -DON’T hand them your book (yet).

IMPORTANT: Once you give them the book, their focus is no longer on you. ALWAYS pitch first and hand them the book after, if possible. Sometimes they reach for it and at that point, it becomes awkward if you don’t hand it over. If that happens, go ahead and give it to them, but don’t speak while they are reading the back material. If they begin skimming the pages, that would be your next opportunity to talk.

• If they say yes they have a moment to chat, start your pitch with the same line you gave the clerk (unless the clerk IS the manager or book buyer which happens in smaller stores sometimes).

“I’d like to talk to you about placing this title in your store. It’s called ______ and it’s about__________________…”
-This is your “elevator pitch” here. One or two lines is fine –three at the most –don’t go into detail about the plot or tell them how good it is
-Elaborate only if they ask questions (have a few more highlight details prepared if they ask. Try not to wing it. Writers often ramble when they wing it)

-Let them know you have been published by a small press. Tell them the name of your publisher, and that your book is fully returnable, listed in “Books in Print,” and available through the normal ordering channels with Ingram (iPage is the portal most bookstores use. All WN books can be ordered through Ingram’s iPage portal).
-When you give them the book, let them know it is a complementary copy that they can keep
NOTE: If they seem reluctant to consider it for their store, offer to give them a few copies for consignment (which means you only get paid if they sell). This is a no-risk way for them to test out the popularity of your book. Let them know you will be checking back with them in a month to see how it’s going. Note: consignment often requires paperwork which means more effort on their part, and some bookstores do not offer consignment as an option

-If you can afford it: offer to give them a few free copies to sell in their store as a trial run (this is where the copies in your trunk come in handy) and say “If these copies sell, you can order more through Ingram. That will be sufficient compensation.” This allows them to test the title in their store with no risk and no obligation.

• Always let them know you will be marketing your book in the area to drive traffic to their store. NOTE: If the store is located in or near the city where you live, let them know you are a local author. Bookstores love local authors and most stores will carry your book (including large chain stores like Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million and Powells) if you are local.
• Let them know you are available for book signings.
• Always thank them for their time and let them know you will stop by again to say hi and see how the books are doing.
• Always ask for their business card and give them one of your  business cards in return–one that represents you as an author and has the cover of your book on it. Let them know if they have any questions they can contact you anytime.

• Carry a small notebook (or use a notepad app on your smart phone) to keep track of every store you visit (regardless of their response), record the contact person’s name, notes on what they said, and how many books you left with them. Include the biz card with your notes. Remember to record the date so you know when to follow up. If possible, put your follow up reminders on a digital calendar that can send you a reminder when it is time to follow up. Usually, one or one and a half months (at the most) after initial contact is a good check in point, so they don’t forget about you. THE FOLLOW UP is one of the most IMPORTANT things you do to sell your book!

One last thing. Do everything you can to get people into the store to buy your books but if they are not selling, wait 2-3 weeks and then send a friend into the store to buy a copy of your book… or better yet send two or three friends… just make sure they go in on different days, of course. No bookstore will stock your book for long if there is no interest in it.

Happy marketing!