Promotion is Secondary to the Work

There’s a new book out by bestselling author John Locke about how he sold a million copies on Amazon in five months. It’s called: How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!

Here’s the thing: online marketing didn’t get him those sales numbers. What he did to promote his books was very similar to what other indie publishers have already done. There’s nothing new there.

So how did he achieve success? John Locke mastered his craft and wrote a bunch of great novels before he sold a single copy. Then he released the books, one after the other, on a short time frame with an introductory price of ninety-nine cents and wrapped promotion around that. His covers are great, his content was geared toward mass market rather than literary audiences, and he wrote consistently over several books. It was the aggressive release schedule coupled with a quality product at an attractive price, moreso than online marketing, that got him those numbers.

His story supports the old adage that most novelists will make money on the volume of books they write, as opposed to one individual release. (Lightning-in-a-bottle excluded.) And good for him! I am happy for Locke’s success.

The truth is that no amount of marketing will sell a book (or a series of them) if they’re crap or if they don’t resonate with an audience. It still comes back to whether or not the author is a good storyteller and if the readers enjoy that particular flavor of story. There are books have have been promoted heavily, with millions of dollars poured into advertising, and they just don’t sell. Some of them are amazing books; others not so much.

So if you’re a writer who wants to indie publish, the marketing take-a-ways here are: 1) What does your release schedule look like? 2) Do you have professional-looking covers? 3) Who is your target audience?

And, most importantly, numero quattro: Are you ready to sell your books?

For more on book covers and indie publishing, the How to Write Shop has a lot of information.

Heads Up! Help Interview White Wolf for Strange, Dead Love!

Vampire: the RequiemRemember when I announced I was working on Strange, Dead Love? Today, posted an open call for fans to ask questions about the paranormal romance sourcebook. Both Eddy Webb and Russell Bailey will dive in and spill all their secrets.

What do you want to know about Strange, Dead Love? Ask your burning questions in the comments below. Then, on Monday, October 3rd, we’ll shoot your deepest desires over to Eddy and Russell.

The finished interview will debut on on Sweetest Day, October 15th and will include ten questions chosen by White Wolf. Not all questions may be answered.

Pop on over to and fire away! Here’s the link:

The Other Half of Perception is Managing Expectations

After my post earlier this week about managing perceptions as a freelancer, I saw a comment from Keith Anderson about how essential it was to manage expectations.

I absolutely agree.

For me, this is a no-brainer that can be summed up in two words: good communication. When that communication breaks down? That’s when things go wrong. I’ve seen this time and time and time again in many businesses, both as an outsider or when I’m involved on a project. Miscommunication happens in cases when one hand is doing one thing and the other is possessed by another mindset. Management says one thing to one employee and something else to another. A lack of consistency is the other thing that can get very confusing, too, especially when you’re dealing with someone who has little to no experience managing professionals.

My technique is based on asking questions and setting goals. It is extremely rare for me to not fulfill the expectations that are required of me. I am always asking: Is this what you want? Sometimes, the company does not know the answer to that question. By exploring that answer up front you’d be shocked how much money, time and energy is saved.

Having said that, however, there are times when going that extra mile isn’t warranted. That’s where the contract, a style guide and submission guidelines all come into play. The project doesn’t require exploration, it demands production. How many bouts of revisions are required? What format does the work need to be submitted in? Expectations can be very technical, but they are also thematic, too. Research is an invisible cost. An artist needs reference material. A writer needs to find good sources for attribution, reference material on a subject, etc. Creativity is another “cost,” in the sense that bursts of inspiration don’t just happen on a nine-to-five job. They happen at any time, in any place, for any reason. Again, this goes back to why creatives don’t budget based off of hours.

This entire conversation circles back to something I’ve found to be extraordinarily true. There is a huge difference between being proactive and reactive, between providing a service or selling an asset, between building business relationships or focusing on the one-offs. There are so many different ways to manage a business it’s not even funny. The trick I’ve found is this: as an employee or a freelancer, you have to figure out what your core business principles are. Once you have that foundation in place, you can manage expectations with ease. Why? Because then you’re looking at those expectations as a two-way street. It’s not what you can do for someone else. It’s what you can do for each other.

Managing Perceptions as a Freelancer

The other day I took a pulse and asked if (in general) the following were true:

A very challenging thing to manage as a freelancer is other people’s perceptions. You’re either working too hard or not enough. Occasionally, you feel like extra demands are made of your time because you work from home or you’re always online.

The Godfreelancefather Matt Forbeck was quick to point out that sometimes those perceptions are true. E Foley mentioned that she wasn’t aware of many freelancers who struck a positive work/life balance, especially when paying for benefits. L.A. Gilman and Stephen Blackmoore both had some excellent points about how freelancing is more popular in a crappy economy and how high rates translate to not working hard enough. The conversation went on from there when Phil Brucato and Elissa Rich pointed out that ‎”But you do it because you LOVE it. That’s not WORK! You’d do it anyway, so why should you expect to get paid for it? Lots of people do it for free on the internet!”

Sometimes, I find managing perceptions is very difficult; even though I do my best I feel like I can never win. You post about what you’re working on (paid or not) and some people think you’re too busy to take on other projects. You don’t post about what you’re writing or playing and sometimes people think you’re not doing anything. Or, you have a bunch of releases all at once (even though you wrote them over the course of two years) and you need to slow down.

I have a white board (ominously taped to an Independence Day poster) with four buckets: paid, non-paid, spec and promo/PR. I also have a wishlist of projects/companies I’d kill to work for. Every week I have a list to help myself prioritize what I need to be doing. Then? I do it. Sometimes, assignments/meetings take me more time than expected. Other days they go down really quick and easy. Either way, I know what has to be done regardless of my mood, blood sugar levels, and obligations.

The thing is: my schedule isn’t based on hours, it’s based on what I need to earn so I fulfill my obligations professionally, financially and personally. (Which is why I’ve been freelancing as a consultant/marketer for a set number of hours per week to give me the flexibility to write.) I take a lot of pride in my reputation. Every freelancer has one. If I screw up on an assignment? It’s my responsibility to fix it. If there’s a scheduling change on that company’s end? Gotta plow right on through. When the assignment goes down easy, I reset my schedule. I’ve made mistakes in the past because I believed that promo/PR comes first. Boy, was I wrong.

One of the worst demands I’ve ever seen originates from the idea that “Hey, I know an artist/writer/etc. I can just ask them to…” Sure, one or two requests may not seem that big of a deal. Trail John Kovalic around for a while. The sheer volume of requests for free art/time from him is overwhelming and was what spurred this train of thought. I don’t make demands on his time for two reasons. One? I respect him as a professional. Two? I’ve seen how those requests greatly reduce his ability to fulfill his obligations for paid work and new publications. (Which is why last week’s Dork Tower on Speak Out was a total shock on my end.)

It’s hard to say “No” or explain the reality of a situation without sounding like an asshole. Even if it’s prefaced by an apology, it sounds like that person is overwhelmed because they can’t just do that one, little thing or they don’t appreciate their readers/listeners/fans. That’s why I’m working with E Sophia to get an Army of Dorkness fan club going. For John? He has enough fans where that makes sense.

Add to that personal lives/feelings, etc. to the whole perceptions business and you have a recipe for complexity. The other reason why perceptions are tricky, in my mind, is because the industry as a whole is always changing, too. There is no such thing as a stable job anymore. While I don’t feel/want to nitpick and micromanage every comment/blog post/approach I have, I do feel these perceptions are important in a general sense.

If you have tips or stories to share? Please feel free to add your thoughts below.

[Photo] The Duck of Doom Emerges

Duck of DoomFor those of you who follow Steve Jackson Games, you may recall a certain Munchkin card called the “Duck of Doom” drawn by John Kovalic. This is a silly version of me pictured with a prototype of the duck emerging from a tentacle dice bag at ACD Games Day. (Yep, you heard me. Tentacle dice bag. And that slippery sucker can hold a lot of dice.) offered a sneak peek of Steve Jackson Games Fall 2011 debuts including the zombie chibithulhu. (Of which I shall be acquiring one. Got the Halloween version at GenCon!) John just nailed down the rest of the art specs for Munchkin Conan. The set’s going to be really cool.

Anyway, thought I’d share a pic of me being silly. ‘Cause sometimes? Silly is good. Oh, I picked up the earrings from Tasty Peach Studios after E Sophia alerted me to the cuteness. It appears I’m collecting skulls now. Hmmm…


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Monica Valentinelli > 2011 > September

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