So…you want to find success as a self-published author?

From an obsessed writer who’s been at it for years and continues to struggle even today, I wave a hand and say good luck. Becoming a successful author, whether you’re self-published or have gone the “normal” route, is not a cost-free endeavor…and in MOST cases, it’s not a miracle that happens overnight. Even after your books are accepted and printed, advertising and basically Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 9.38.54 AMgetting the word out is a high-end, unforeseen expense. As in any success story ,  whether it’s producing a product, acting in a play, or creating a modern miracle, it’s all about being “discovered” by the right people at the right time. The biggest mistake people make when it comes to self-publishing is that they expect to just put out a book and have it magically sell. They might even hire a publicist and expect something amazing to happen. But to be perfectly honest, it just isn’t so. You have to be a dedicated, relentless self-promoter and, unfortunately, a lot people just don’t have the stomach or time for it.

What’s the secret to marketing your book successfully? Well, the first thing I advise — and I’m not alone here — is to come up with a marketing plan well before you publish your book. The plan should have at least five avenues for you to pursue because chances are you’re going to strike out on a couple of lines of attack. It’s easy to get discouraged, so you have to be ready to move on to plan c, d, and e (and the rest of the alphabet) pretty quickly.

These days there’s a lot of talk about a “blog strategy,” and many well-known authors do virtual book tours where they offer up interviews to various blogs. You probably won’t have that luxury, but you can certainly research what blogs might be interested in your book and prepare pitches for them. There are social media campaigns to wage, local media angles to pursue, organizations to approach, and all kinds of out-of-the-box gambits you can dream up. None of this will cost you a whole lot — except time and perhaps a little pride.

Then there’s the stuff you pay for. And it’s tricky to judge what’s a good investment and what’s not because the results vary so much from book to book. A friend of mine who has a “real” book from a traditional publisher experimented with placing $1,000 in Facebook ads. She’s still trying to figure out what impact the ads had, but Facebook does have some interesting marketing opportunities.

Google AdWords/Keywords is another popular option. And a number of self-serve ad networks are popping up, including Blogards Book Hive, which allows you to target a number of smaller book blogs for relatively affordable rates.

The author MJ Rose has a marketing service called AuthorBuzz that caters to both self-publishers and traditional publishers. She says the best thing for self-publishers is a blog ad campaign–it starts at about $1,500 for a week of ads (the design work is included) and heads up in increments of $500. She says: “We place the ads in subject-related blogs, not book blogs. For instance, if it’s a mystery about an antiques dealer, we don’t just buy blogs for self-identified readers — who are not the bulk of book buyers — but rather I’ll find a half dozen blogs about antiques, culture, art and investments and buy the ads there and track them.” Rose claims she can get your book in front of at least a half a million people with that initial investment. She also says that you can’t really spend too much, you can just spend poorly.

I agree. However, I can’t tell you what impact a week or month of ads on blogs will have on your specific book’s sales. There are simply too many variables.

And something else to consider when it comes to self-promotion is the fact that there’s a fine line between being assertive and being overly aggressive in an obnoxious way. It also doesn’t impress people when all you tweet about is your book (the same goes for your Facebook and Google+ posts). As one friend told me, the state you want to achieve is what she likes to call “comfortably tenacious.”

Next, you may have always wanted to see your book in a bookstore but bookstores aren’t keen on carrying self-published books and it’s extremely difficult to get good placement in the store for your book so chances are no one will see the three copies the store has on hand anyway. Furthermore, your royalty drops on in-store sales. Some of the self-publishing outfits offer distribution through Ingram. CreateSpace offers its Expanded Distribution program for a $25 a year fee. It uses Baker & Taylor, as well as Ingram, as well as CreateSpace Direct to make your book available “to certified resellers through our wholesale website.” You also get distribution to Amazon Europe (Amazon.co.ukAmazon.esAmazon.frAmazon.itAmazon.de).which is definitely a plus…if your book is seen.

Thirdly, it’s very hard to get your self-published book reviewed — and the mantra in the traditional publishing world is that reviews sell books. But that’s changing a bit. People didn’t take bloggers seriously at first and now they do. And what’s interesting is that reputable book reviewers such as Kirkus and more recently Publishers Weekly are offering special reviews services geared toward self-published authors. In the case of Kirkus Indie, the author pays a fee to have the book reviewed (around $400 – $550, depending on the speed) and a freelancer writes an objective opinion in the same format as a standard Kirkus review. However, be prepared! There’s no guarantee that the reviewer will like your book and you might have just spent a small fortune on one of the cruelest critiques of your life.

As for Publishers Weekly, it offers something called PW Select. While you can submit your book for review for a fee of $149, only about 25 percent of the book submissions end up being reviewed. But for a lot of folks risking that $149 is worth the opportunity of getting into the PW door. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the review isn’t favorable as well.

Another option is BlueInk Review, a fee-based review service targeted at indie authors. Most of the time, the results are honest and kind, and the positive aspects of your book are duly noted, making it possible to share your accomplishments on all your social sites.

Finally, in my opinion, the biggest problem with going the POD route is that it costs more to produce one-offs of your book than it does to produce thousands. To get a rough idea of how much money you can make selling your book, you can check out CreateSpace’s royalty calculator. Today, setting the price at $14.99 means that it costs about $3.70 to produce each book. If you have a longer book, you’ll have to set the price even higher to make any money at all.

Overall, compared with what traditional publishers pay out, royalty rates for self-published books are actually quite decent. But the fact is, to compete against top-selling titles from traditional publishers, your book should be priced between $8.99 or $9.99, and that’s simply not possible if it’s longer than 250 pages.

Many of the self-publishing operations have their own online marketplaces where you can offer up your book and get a significantly better royalty rate. Lulu.com, for instance, touts its own online store, which is well designed and has a big audience. But you obviously have access to a much larger audience on Amazon, which is the first place people generally go to look for a book when they hear about it.

The trick, of course, is making people aware your book even exists. This is where hustling takes over. You become a virtual marketing machine by joining book clubs and exchange groups, producing book trailers, offering giveaways and contest goodies…whatever it takes to get your book into a reader’s hands and that all powerful review on Amazon.

Yes…self-publishing is a rapidly evolving industry with lots of competitors and each of them are constantly throwing out new information. Publishers are continually upgrading their facilities, infrastructure, and pricing, and what I — or other authors say today — could be wrong in just a few months from now. A few years ago, Amazon was only offering 35 percent royalties on e-books. Now it’s at 70 percent for books priced at $2.99 and higher. So there’s no telling what next year will bring.

Stepping Down

f0873cb39164e6d44a3405b56e2c9bc1American Idol, and other countries’ versions of the show, frequently do theme nights where each contestant must perform a song of a single artist.  There have been Michael Jackson nights, Whitney Houston nights, and, at least twice, Elton John nights.

The first Elton John night was disastrous (the second, many seasons later, was notably better – not sure why the difference).  Contestants clearly found the songs too difficult:  the rhythms too complicated, the range too large, the modulation between soft and powerful too elusive.  

Watching those songs completely humble young men and women who were clearly very talented – who had beaten tens of thousands of other contestants to be there – reminded me just how impressive Elton John’s work is.  His songs are hard, and he makes them look easy.  And he just happens to be fun to watch. First and foremost, he’s an entertainer and has spent more time on the road than at home with his family, which makes me happy at hearing his announcement about retiring and, at the same time, sad that so many people will miss the opportunity to see him perform live on any given stage.

To be perfectly honest, I fell in love with Elton’s music many long years ago. In fact, I can tell you the exact song that sold me and what was happening when I heard it.

  1. Queen and the Eagles were formed.
  2. The 43rd Annual Academy Awards was held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles in the United States. Patton (a film about an American World War 2 general) won the Oscar for Best Picture. George C. Scott won the Oscar for Best Actor for Patton but became the first actor in history to refuse the award. British Actress Glenda Jackson won the Oscar for Best Actress for Women in Love.
  3. In South Africa Jim Fouche was the State President of South Africa and BJ Vorster was the Prime Minister of South Africa. The 269m (882 feet) Hillbrow Tower in Johannesburg was completed. It was then named the J.G. Strijdom tower. In 2005 it was renamed to the Telkom tower. The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) lifted its ban on The Beatles. Winnie Mandela (former wife of Nelson Mandela) was sentenced to 1 year in jail. Arthur Ashe (the famous tennis player) was denied a visa to visit South Africa in the same year.
  4. A ban on radio and television adverts for cigarettes went into effect on the 1st of January in the United States.
  5. The first ever One Day International Cricket match between Australia and England was played.
  6. The Aswan Dam was officially opened in Egypt.
  7. In the United Kingdom, the vehicle manufacturer Rolls Royce went bankrupt and was nationalized.
  8. Apollo 14 landed on the moon.
  9. The Nasdaq index made its debut on Wall Street in the United States.
  10. The daredevil, Evel Knievel set a world record by jumping over 19 cars.
  11. The infamous Ed Sullivan show aired it last episode in the United States.
  12. More than 500,000 people in Washington DC and 125,000 people in San Fransisco marched to protest against the Vietnam War. In the same year The Harris Poll claimed that 60% of Americans were against the war.
  13. The New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers (a top-secret United States Department of Defense history of US political / military involvement in Vietnam between 1945 & 1967).
  14. Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors was found dead in his bathtub in Paris, France.
  15. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bangladesh and Bahrain became independent countries.
  16. The United Nations General Assembly admitted the People’s Republic of China and expelled the Republic of China (Taiwan).
  17. Mariner 9 became the first spacecraft to enter Mars orbit successfully.
  18. The Intel 4004 (the world’s first microprocessor) was launched. Texas Instruments released the first pocket calculator.  The first soft contact lens became available commercially in the United States, and the UNIX Programmer’s manual was published.
  19. A Clockwork Orange (a movie directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Malcolm Mcdowell), Dirty Harry (starring Clint Eastwood), The French Connection (starring Gene Hackman), Diamonds are Forever (the last James Bond film featuring Sean Connery), Shaft (starring Richard Rowntree), Klute (starring Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland), Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Fists of Fury (starring Bruce Lee) was released in cinemas.
  20. Corey Feldman (famous for his roles in movies in 1980s), Luke Wilson (Actor), Rachel Weisz (British Actress), Antonio Banderas (Actor), Mark Wahlberg (Actor), Monica Potter (Actress), Johnny Knoxville (of Jackass fame), Kid Rock (Musician), Lance Armstrong (Cyclist), Mariah Carey (Musician), Sean Astin (Actor), Shannen Doherty (Actress), Snoop Dogg (Rapper), Tupac Shakur (Rapper), Winona Ryder (Actress), Minnie Driver (Actress), Ricky Martin (Musician), Mary J Blige (Musician), Bridget Moynahan (Actress), Gena Lee Nolin (Actress), Adriana Sklenarikova (Model) and Caprice Bourret (Model) were all born.

The year was 1971 and the Elton John’s hit single was Our Song.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin created this unforgettable melody with words that stuck in my brain and came out of my mouth every time it played on the radio. To this day, Elton performs this remarkable piece of music at every concert and he will no doubt wrap up his final tour in the United States with it as well. I’m just grateful that I received tickets to see him in Las Vegas in February, as there are so many amazing singers I missed the chance to see, including: Elvis Presley, Tina Turner, and Michael Jackson. In my book, Elton John registers right up there with them and will continue to be one of my all-time favorite artists…whether he’s tinkling the ivories on stage or not.

Kaylin’s Bucket List

cleaning_service_bucket_with_sponges_chemicals_bottles_and_cg1p70148695c_thIf you don’t live your days by goals and plans, chances are you spend most of your time caught up in a flurry of day-to-day activities and self-imposed obligations that you can’t seem to complete, no matter how hard you try. Do you ever feel that your days are passing you by without any tangible output to speak of? What did you accomplish in the past 3 months? What are your upcoming goals for the next 8 months? Look at the things you did and the things you’re planning to do next — Do they mean anything to you if you were to die today? Having a bucket list reminds you of what’s really important so you can act on them.

Even if you frequently live by goals or to-do lists, they are probably framed within a certain social context e.g. performance, career, health. A bucket list opens up the context. It’s a forum to set anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to do, whether it’s big, small or random.

It’s just like planning ahead all the highlights you want for YOUR whole life. 😀 Even though goal setting is already my staple activity, I still found many new things to do while I was writing on my own list. It was an incredibly insightful exercise. What’s more, coming up with my list gave me a whole new layer of enthusiasm knowing what’s in store ahead!

The objective of creating this list isn’t to instill some kind of a race against time or to create aversion toward death. I don’t see our existence to be limited to just our physical years on earth — I don’t see our existence to be limited to just our physical years on earth — our physical lifespan is but a short speck of our existence in the universe.

The whole point of creating your list is to maximize every moment of our existence and live our life to the fullest. It’s a reminder of all the things we want to achieve in our time here, so that instead of pandering our time in pointless activities, we are directing it fully toward what matters to us. So with this in mind, here is my current bucket list. Things that I long to do before taking my last breath:

  1. Travel: I have literally been around the world via airplanes and cruise ships, but there are still a few places I’d love to see in this lifetime. These unique locations include: Chile, India, Cuba, Argentina, Egypt and Finland.
  2. Experiences: Keeping in mind some of these countries, imagine journeying the entire length of Chile’s Pacific coastline. You’d start in the lunar-like Atacama Desert and end in a land of water and ice, as the country splinters away to the Tierra del Fuego — a gateway to Antarctica. In between lie the Lake District’s volcanoes, valleys blanketed with vineyards, and the stark mountains and rock formations of Patagonia’s Torres del Paine. Then, far away from the mainland, seemingly marooned in the ocean, is enigmatic Easter Island. India, Cuba, Argentina and Egypt are easy when it comes to adventures. There are hundreds of things to experience there: visit the Taj Mahal, taste Havana rum, meet gauchos, and view pyramids. But nothing beats sleeping under the Northern Lights in a glass igloo and sledding with reindeer in snow-covered Finland. Or snorkeling in the glaciers of Iceland. Now that’s what I call fun!
  3. Personal Fitness: I’m notorious for savoring wine, eating on the run, snacking while writing, and taste testing dinner so I can get to the yummy desserts (especially if chocolate is involved). Exercise is the last thing on my mind every day, especially when I wakeup and remember a dozen things that need to be addressed. But the only way to fit back into the new wardrobe I recently bought is by shaving off a few pounds, reducing my wine intake and eating sensibility. So my list needs to include a healthy regiment and fewer trips to the plastic surgeon’s office for botox and liposuction procedures.
  4.  Mentoring: Obviously, teaching is one of the most rewarding things we can do. No matter how old you are, even if you are in your teens, you are always in the position to mentor someone else — perhaps someone who is more junior than you or someone who is older but can benefit from a particular expertise you have. Mentoring others is also a great way for you to develop yourself too and to share your abilities with others. So maybe it’s time for me to reach out and offer up some writing tips and advice to others.

Do you have a bucket list? A collection of dreams you’d like to turn into reality? As I’ve learned after losing wonderful people to diseases and tragic accidents, life is much shorter than we imagine, so don’t wait too long to act. Find ways to make yourself happy and to push yourself beyond your limits and comfort zone. The memories you’ll be left with are the material stories are made of, whether they be written down or told time and again.

A little Irish humor goes a long ways…

MercedesOn a golf tour in Ireland, Tiger Woods drives his Mercedes into a petrol station in a remote part of the Irish countryside. The pump attendant who knows absolutely nothing about golf, greets him in a typical Irish manner completely unaware of who the golfing pro is.

“Top of the mornin’ to yer, sir,” says the attendant.

Tiger nods a quick “hello” and bends forward to pick up the nozzle. As he does so, two tees fall out of his shirt pocket onto the ground.

“What are those?”, asks the attendant.

“They’re called tees,” replies Tiger.

“Well, what on this god’s earth are dey for?” inquires the Irishman.

“They’re for resting my balls on when I’m driving”, says Tiger.

“The Devil you say”, says the Irishman, “Mercedes thinks of everything!”