Friday, September 14, 2007

With Getting Published Growing Ever More Difficult, Authorpreneurs Thrive

Authors are creative people, as well they should be. Unfortunately, however, being creative too often entails a lack of business acumen. There's no shame in this. Art and business demand two very different states of mind. However, the fact is that art and business, in the everyday world, often go hand in hand. For many talented artists out there, whether they be painters, musicians, or writers such as yourself, there are fame and riches attached because the art they create is in demand in the business marketplace.

The rich artists you hear about, however, are few and far between. For every J.K. Rowling there are literally hundreds of thousands of talented writers out there who are struggling. Why does one author succeed financially while the other, of arguably equal talent, founder in a pile of rejection letters? The answer is that they weren't authorpreneurs.

An authorpreneur is defined as a writer who thinks like an entrepreneur to become a successful author. As sinful as this sounds, authorpreneurs call their books products. Authorpreneurs have strict writing schedules and word-count targets, and don’t write only when they feel inspired. Authorpreneurs know who their audience is by demographic and establish a marketing plan for their books before they write the first word, not after they write the last one. Now you may be saying, "well, I’ve already written my book and I don’t have a business plan." Not to worry. You can still revise your work so that you target the person you’re going to sell it to: the editor of a publishing house, if you’re going to go that route, or the end reader, if you’re going to self-publish. In essence, authorpreneurs are the new breed of writer that knows that writing the Great American Novel is today much more a matter of business than art.

The book publishing marketplace is growing more competitive every year. This is statistically true. According to the Association of American Publishers, there were just over one million titles in print in 1992. That number had doubled by just eight years later. Due to writing technologies, more flexible work schedules, and self-publishing services--and yes, the Internet--more books are being published while bookstores are stocking less books. This means that each book has to elbow its way onto the shelves with increasing aggression. With the average shelf life of a book being three months and print life being two years, the only way to compete in the marketplace is to adopt the philosophy of an entrepreneurial author, an authorpreneur.

In the next installment, "Have a Mission Statement":

"...Your mission may be to make the most money possible. But be careful. This is a dicey area. Book publishers usually pay two ways: a flat fee or royalty. Flat fee payments mean that you are paid one fee for your writing regardless of how well your book sells. If you’re paid $10,000 dollars say for a book on crocheting, you get $10,000 whether that book sells one copy or one million. Flat fee payments are often attractive to writers because they get all the money up front without having to wait for royalty payments, or a percentage of earnings per book. However, if you’re book becomes a long-term and consistent bestseller (think Catcher in the Rye or What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which each sell in the hundreds of thousands of copies per year) you could have consistent residual income for the rest of your life if you choose a royalty structure over a flat fee payment...."

Should Female Children's Authors Use Gender-Neutral Pseudonyms?

It's an open secret in children's publishing that many female authors disguise their gender by using pseudonyms or initials in place of their first names. The theory goes that boys won't read books written by women. As far as I know, there are no hard-and-fast statistics to back this up but in a publishing world where profitable books are few and far between, few publishers are taking their chances in the interest of equality.

J.K. Rowling is probably the best known children's author who disguised the gender of her name, which is Joanne. The "K" is not hers, but her grandmother Kathleen's initial. Her original publisher, Bloomsbury, recommended the marketing strategy. Another children's author you may know who also disguised her gender is S.E. Hinton, author most famously of The Outsiders.

So as a female children's book author searching desperately for a publisher, should you pander to your audience for the chance of greater financial success or rather reveal to it that you are a woman and risk being lost on the floor of the Barnes & Noble children's section?

There are many very successful female authors today who chose to use their names. Stephanie Meyer is one. She's the author of the young adult Twilight saga, a New York Times bestseller with each title ranking in the top 100 on at the time of this writing. Does this disprove that theory of sexist boy readers? Possibly. Meyer is indeed successful. But maybe it's only because J.K. Rowling already slipped into the hands of young males and proved to them that literary talent is as gender-neutral as her pseudonym.

Three Ingredients in a Great Author Web Site

You’re an author. You have a book. Face facts. You NEED a Web site. And if you already have a Web site, you need a great one. By great, I mean it not only has to look good but perform, or, in other words, be optimized to show up in search results. Here’s where many authors throw their keyboards. “But I’m a technophobe,” they cry. This excuse might have worked five years ago but it’s not going to work today. Having a Web site is just too important so here are three tips for you pixel-shy paperphilic scribes out there to make your site work for you.

1. Get Inbound Links
The most important ingredient of a healthy site is inbound links. The more sits that link to your site, the better your “PageRank” will be, a zero-to-ten score Google assigns your site based on how well it shows up in search results. A brand new page with no links will have a score of zero. A popular site, on the other hand, will have a high score. Google itself has a ranking of eight. And the higher the page rank of your inbound linked sites are, the higher yet your page rank will be. See, search engines reason that when a site links to yours you must have information that’s of some value to the linker. The more links you have, the more valuable your information is, according to the search engine, and thus, the better you appear in search results.

2. Optimize Your Site for Search Engines
Search engine optimization, SEO you might hear techies call it, is basically the process of outfitting your site so that it will show up as high as possible on search engines when someone types in a specific keyword search. For example, if your author name is Mordechai Anielewicz, you want your site to appear first on the search engine list when someone types in “Mordechai Anielewicz,” especially since Mordechai Anielewicz was also the name of a martyr of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

One of the most important ingredients of SEO is keywords. Keywords are words or phrases that will make your site appear when people type them into a search engine. For example, one of your keywords will be “Mordechai Anielewicz.” Keywords are embedded in your pages HTML code (the DNA of your site). Don’t worry, you don’t need to be HTML fluent. Your page layout program will let you easily add keywords.

Make sure you use keywords that accurately describe your site. And make sure you don’t use too many. Ten to fifteen is a good amount. There are tons of sites out there that abuse keywords. They’ll include highly searched keywords like “Britney Spears” and “yoga” in a site that sells Hamilton watches purely to get more traffic. They’ll also flood their site with hundreds of keywords for the same reason. The search engines are wise to the tricks and will actually penalize your site by ranking it lower if you try to pull a fast one.

Another biggie in SEO is content. Make sure that your text accurately reflects what your site is about. You’re an author so you should have a lot of words and phrases like “books,” “author signings,” and “publishing.” These are what people will search for and if these words appear in your text, your site will be much more search healthy. Here again be careful not to include too much text on your site (I’m talking about thousands of words a page). Shady sites flood their pages with text to up their chances of being picked up in a search. Once again, the search engines will punish.

3. Professional Design
Design is the third most important feature behind inbound links and search engine optimization. As the Internet grows older, site design is getting better. Today, even personal Web pages are designed better than professional pages several years ago. While you can get away with a mediocre-looking site, why would you settle for one?

Gone are the days when you had to have a computer science degree from MIT coupled with an artist’s eye to design a Web site. Now you can just buy them. For about fifty bucks you can grab a great-looking page from TemplateMonster. You can even find designs tailored for writers. You will need to have a few pieces of Web software, including a page layout program such as Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia DreamWeaver and an FTP client to upload your pages.