Friday, April 29, 2011

How I Sold 100,000 EBooks in 60 Days: A Letter to my Mom

"The thriller that started the sales snowball rolling!"

Dear Mom,
For the one-thousandth time, NO, I'M NOT GOING TO GET A 'REAL JOB!' I don't need to. I just sold over 100,000 E-Books in 60 days. Yah, that's right mom. That's not a typo. No I'm not drunk again, and no I'm not smoking crack or puffing on whacky weed. I don't do drugs.

But I sold 100,000 books and I did it with the help of my new publisher StoneHouse/StoneGate Ink. Ok, I know, I've had publishers before. Big publishers who gave me a quarter-million bucks in advance for a couple of books that barely made it off the runway before crashing and burning. I know the embarrassment it caused you at the beauty parlor while all those chatty women kept asking you, "Whatever happened to your son? Does he still write?" Well, now you can tell them I hit the 100,000 book club, and when they look at you with disbelieving eyes from under the bulbous transparent hair-dryers and ask you how on earth I did it, you can tell them this:

1. I'm obsessed with my numbers. Kindle numbers. So what's the first thing I do in the morning even before getting out of bed, I check my numbers via my Blackberry. The information grounds me and gives me a sense of which book or books I might want push that day.

2. Then, after making the coffee and washing up, I hit the Facebook. While in the old days I might have posted something stupid like, "Buy my new book THE INNOCENT!" I rarely go for that direct marketing approach anymore. Better to take the indirect approach. My FB friends get kind of sick of me asking them to always buy, buy, buy. Better to simply post your thoughts and feelings for that moment in time. Even if they're just silly. People can relate to "I could go for a beer right now!" better than they do, "Buy This Book!" It's the difference between becoming a real person someone likes and enjoys as a friend, as opposed to a used car salesman whom they most definitely do not. And if people like and appreciate you for who you are, they will probably give your books a try. I.E. Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer didn't survive as bestsellers on talent alone: they spent a great deal of time building their cult of personality.

3. While still on Facebook, I might check out some of the pages I belong to like Amazon Kindle and NOOK. While once as week, I'm allowed to push one of my books like THE REMAINS or GODCHILD directly on the pages, I use these forums more to contribute to whatever conversation is at present going on. Or if there isn't a particular thread being explored, I might start one, such as "Are Mommy Bloggers More Powerful than the New York Times Review of Books?" E-Book readers are a chatty bunch and they don't consider their electronic reading devices simply a means for reading the latest and greatest. That e-reader gripped in their hands means they belong to an exclusive club. That club allows its many voices to be heard on the FB pages. It's fun for readers and fans to hear from the authors they are reading now and again.

4. Same goes for KindleBoards. After hitting up the FB pages, I might log onto that site and either contribute to an ongoing topic at the Writer's Cafe, or post my own topic. Being on KindleBoards lets other authors like myself know that I care enough about their triumphs and pitfalls to comment on them. We offer encouragement when things are bad, and kudos when things are going well. It's sort of like a student union for writers.

5. From there I navigate my way to my other online communities...My Twitter, my Edgy Christian Fiction, my Goodreads, my Crimespace, my LinkedIn, and more. if I don't have something to post there in their respective blog sections, I'll maybe provide a real-time status update, such as, 'I'll be appearing on Suspense Magazine's Blog Talk Radio...' I'll offer up a link to the program along with the time and date of my scheduled appearance.

6. Once all that's done, I might take an hour to write a new blog for The Vincent Zandri Vox. The blog topic will usually be one that has to do with writing or publishing. On occasion, I'll write about my experiences in marketing my work. Other writers, especially newbies are starving for information and stories from those who have been there before them. Especially from authors who have been published by both the Big 6 and the Indies like myself. They like to get the inside scoop on what it's like to be more or less screwed over by a company like Random House only to emerge from the dark wilderness and into the welcome arms of a family run publisher like StoneHouse/StoneGate Ink. Many of these new authors are also interested in the self-publishing process. But that's more for a very popular blog like JAKonrath's, "A Newbies Guide to Publishing" blog. I highly recommend it for the DIY author.

7. When the blog is completed, it's time to make it viral (no mom, I'm not trying to make people sick!). That means I'll post it to all the social networks like FB, Twitter, Delicious, Google Buzz, Myspace, Digg,... you name it. If the blog is discussion worthy, I'll re-post it to KindleBoards and a few other discussion-related groups and forums I belong to on FB, Yahoo, Crimespace, and even Goodreads. Lastly, I'll post the new blog on my fan page and my FB page for The Vincent Zandri Vox.

8. If I have a virtual tour going on, such as the one I will have going for GODCHILD in May, I'll want to check in on the tour-stop of the day, which can be a review, a guest blog post, an interview, or even a live chat which usually will happen in the evening after dinner. On occasion I might have a blog talk radio scheduled for that day, which can run about an hour.

9. At some point in the day, I'll want to email some fellow authors and ask them for guest posts for the Vincent Zandri Vox, because your author blog shouldn't be narrow or static. It shouldn't be all about you! It should be a communal place where not only my books and opinions are discussed, but a whole range of books and topics.

10. At some point in the day, I'll check in with my publisher. We'll strategize and make plans over which books we have coming out when, such as the new special edition combo I have going with the great noir legend, Dave Zeltserman (Dying Memories/Godchild) and my brand new forthcoming novel, Concrete Pearl. Or we'll talk pricing. The great thing about being with an indie publisher is that they have a lot of freedom to experiment with pricing. My publisher Aaron Patterson is also a bestselling novelist himself (Sweet Dreams, Ariel, ...) and he understands the importance of offering up a great book for the lowest price possible. Wow, what concept, huh mom? Our pricing strategy for now is based on the concept of the "rotation." An author should always have one or two books available at $.99 and maybe another couple at $2.99, perhaps one at $4.99 and, as is the case with my catalog, even one at $8.95. Having some books on sale ensures that your audience is always expanding and even though you might invite a bad review or two by underpricing your books temporarily, the benefits inherent with creating new fans far outweigh the negatives. In any case, all this pricing stuff is a work in progress.

11. Ok, so when all that's done, it's time to think about the real thing behind the success. The writing. What's the most surefire way to sell 100,000 e-books in 60 days? Good, if not great writing. And great writing takes time. It can't be rushed, even if this is the new era of authors meeting the challenge of publishing two, three, and in some cases, four books per year--a feat unheard of back when I was publishing with the biggies. E-books are forever, and never will they go out of print. So, for as long as a book still resides in your gray matter and not on the printed cyber-page (and yes, mom, trade paperback!), it's not earning money. However, putting lots of books out for public consumption doesn't mean skimping on quality. What's the fastest way to guarantee never to sell 100,000 e-books in 60 days again? Bad writing.

Well, I hope this gives you some idea of what it takes to sell all those books, mom. And I guess you can see now how impossible it would be for me to have a real job. I work seven days a week right now as it is. Talk about a time consuming career. Don't believe me? Just ask your two ex-daughter in-laws. I'm sure they'd both have something to say on the topic.

But let me ask you something else, mom.

What real job out there would pay me close to $20,000 in a single month to do something I absolutely love? Would I get 20 Gs per month project managing construction projects? Would I get 20Gs per month if I were an accountant? Would I get 20 G's per moth if I were teaching high school? If I were writing public relations and advertising copy?

Probably not, which is why I choose to be a full-time writer in this, the new golden age of publishing.

I have to go now, mom. Lots of work to do. Tell dad, I said hi! And I hope you guys can come and visit me in Italy soon. Oh, yeah, did I forget to tell you that I can write and conduct my writing business from anywhere in the world???? Now try and do that with a real job and two weeks vacation per year!

All my love,