Thursday, April 12, 2012

What Have You Done For Me Lately? E-Pubs Need To Step It Up

Nothing gets me more incensed than hearing an e-publisher tell an author "Selling your book is YOUR responsibility. If your book isn't selling, then you're doing something wrong."

I don't know one single author who is not busting her hump to promote herself. Authors are on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, blogs, book tours, etc. They are working as hard as they can to sell their books. I keep hearing about what writers should be doing to promote themselves and their work.

How about e-publishers?

E-Publishers need to promote themselves, too. No matter how hard authors work to sell their books, if the e-publishers are not doing just as much work to create a high-quality, high-profile presence on-line, then the authors are not going to be successful.

Let's talk some turkey, shall we?

1. Website

Just as an author's website is critically important, an e-publisher's website can create a professional and polished image, or it can crash and burn as amateurish-looking, pornographic and tacky. It is the first impression you get of an epub. When you visit their site, is it easy to navigate? Do they make you jump through hoops to buy a book? Does it look like a college kid set up the homepage? E-publishers need to spend the time, money and energy to create a professional and efficient website/bookstore.

2. Book Covers

You can't run, and you can't hide. Cover art is the first visual impression you get of an epub. There is absolutely NO FREAKIN' EXCUSE ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH for piss-poor book covers. NONE. My 9 year old daughter makes up book covers that kick ass. Use a simple image. Use a solid cover. Whatever. What is an epub offering authors that they can't do on their own as self-pubbers? Cover art, editing, distribution, promotion. If an epub can't manage to create good cover art, they should bail. And don't tell me cover art isn't important. It is. If your cover art looks like someone slapped a head on top of another body, has naked body parts flying through the air, or looks like a Saturday Night Live skit, get out of the business. No excuses for crap covers.

Bad (Changeling Press):

Good (Samhain):

3. Editing

Editing matters, too. This goes for book blurbs, website text, the book itself. Formatting matters. If you are an epublisher, that's your business. You put out digital books. They better be formatted correctly. And don't tell me it's Amazon's fault, B&N's fault, blah blah blah. It's your fault. Make sure your books are properly edited and formatted before you put them out there for public consumption. Otherwise, you look like a loser. And while we're on the subject of grammar, typos and spelling errors, if you send your authors an email message, make sure it is edited, too. I've seen emails from publishers with hideously bad spelling mistakes, and I've seen publishers leave blog comments with grammatical errors. For cripe's sake, writing is your business. Don't look like an ignoramus.

4. Act Like Professionals

Don't leave snarky comments for reviewers. On Twitter. On Facebook. On blog posts. Publishers need to take a step back and stay out of the fray. It's unprofessional to do otherwise.

5. Reviews

Put your money where your mouth is. Send your books out to well-respected review sites. Using half-assed sites that crank out 10,000 generic reviews a week is lazy. Push it. Try for Publishers Weekly, RT, and some of the other larger romance sites. Your authors deserve it. It will increase your respectability in the industry. No one (except authors) is visiting those other sites. And you know it.

6. Make Sure Your Books Are Widely Available

I have a Kindle. I like to buy my books on Amazon. If you're a small epublisher and you only offer your books through your own website, you are doing readers and authors a disservice. Make sure your books are offered at a wide variety of booksellers, so readers have a choice, and sales will increase.

7. Use Your Best Authors As A Promotional Tool

Do you have authors who are winning awards? Making bestseller lists? Gaining popularity? Use them. Post a bestseller list on your homepage. Post quotes from high-profile reviewers. Put up banners on your homepage with stuff like "Congrats To Susy Q, NYT Bestseller For 10 Weeks!" and "Congrats To Jennie J, Winner of the RITA Award" and "Check out Nancy Nee's Hot Cowboy Series!" There is a trickle-down effect. The high profile, award-winning authors will bring in visitors to your site, which benefits ALL your authors. Announce your good news on Twitter and Facebook. Set yourself apart from the dozens of other epubs by promoting your success and good news.

8. Treat Your Authors Right

Pay them on time, offer them fair contracts, don't cheat them and misrepresent sales. Once your reputation suffers by mistreating your authors, it's hard to regain trust.

9. Promote Yourself

What does this mean? I'm not talking about authors promoting themselves or their books. I'm talking about epublishers promoting their companies. Go to conferences. Give on-line workshops. Participate. Write articles. Visit blogs and do guest posts. Talk about your company. Why is it good? What do you do? How can you make yourself a high-profile and respected presence on-line? Take out ads. Tweet. Be active on Facebook. Talk about the genre, changes and trends. Show people that you are professional and on top of this business. If you want to compete with the other epubs, you need to provide high quality books and promote them. If you can't afford good cover artists, editors and a marketing department, then don't get into this business.

10. Walking That Fine Line

There is a fine line between porn and erotica. If you crank out Daddy, Spank Me books with covers that have naked body parts, you don't look like a professional publishing company. You look like a pornographer. Now, you might be making buckets of money selling skanky ho books. Good for you. But don't complain if you don't get respect in the publishing world. If you look like a pornographer, smell like a pornographer, and talk like a get the picture.

11. Book Costs

We all know that ebooks priced over $5 are not doing well with sales. If you're an epublisher, and you are consistently pricing your books too high, you look idiotic. Like you are not on top of the trends. And like you really don't give a crap about your authors. Be thoughtful about book pricing. Offer sales and specials. And promote them. Readers love that. Obviously, epubs can't price their books as low as self-pubbers are doing.....they still have bills to pay to keep up a business. But they need to stay competitive. And pricing ebooks over $10 is not going to cut it right now.

12. $$$

The national RWA has set certain criteria for PAN-eligibility. (PAN is the Published Authors Network). In order to be considered PAN-eligible, an author needs to earn a minimum of $1000 on a book. Let's face facts. $1000 is not a lot of money. It is certainly not enough to use for living expenses. This is a reasonable amount to expect an author to earn from sales for a single book. Every publishing company should be able to guarantee its authors to earn at LEAST this much. Hopefully, much, much more. Any publisher, big or small, digital or print, who does not have the majority of its authors earning this minimal amount of money, should be ashamed. If the majority of authors for a publishing company are not PAN-eligible, then something is wrong. And it's not the authors' problem. It's the publisher's problem.

I am not singling out any one epublisher as being good or bad. I have seen good and bad things from all of them. However, I spend a lot of time on-line and I definitely think that all of them could be doing more to promote themselves as publishing companies. Some are better than others. But they all need to step it up. Their authors deserve it.

With great perspicacity,