Episode 169 – Amazon Beta Testing, Author Obligation, and Being Prolific

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Question of the Week: What do successful authors owe the community?

What do authors owe their readers? It’s a question Jim and Bryan ask in the top story of this week’s Sell More Books Show. After thanking their patrons, God and Gigs, Witch’s Sacrifice, and How I Sold 80,000 Books, the deep thinkers of digital books discussed tips on coming up with titles, updating your website, and creating your own tsunami of content. News stories included millennials using libraries, trad pub’s new deal with libraries, the 2017 Smashwords survey, Amazon’s beta test without the word “kindle,” and what authors owe their followers. This week’s Question of the Week: “What do successful authors owe the community?”
What You’ll Learn:
  • How authors can use emotion to create attention-grabbing titles
  • Why authors’ websites should evolve with their career
  • How one prolific writer left traditional publishing and kept cranking out books
  • What a recent survey says about each generation’s library habits
  • How a deal between Harper Collins and Hoopla will affect library patrons
  • What tactics authors should employ according to the 2017 SmashWords survey
  • What changes Amazon is making to its buy options and what it might mean
  • What successful authors owe their communities according to a publishing expert

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  • An author we’re all familiar with has an auto responder of FAQs when you use his contact form. It’s perfectly cordial and then states that if the FAQ doesn’t cover your inquiry, then reply. Similarly, I have put together a long list of vendors I use such as editors, cover designers, book services, etc. as well as the books, podcasts, blogs that I find helpful. Of course, I include Sell More Books. I have occasion to send it about twice per month but am happy to share my experiences with newbies. How could I not after all the help I’ve received?

    Our time is valuable and we cannot accommodate every request, but I find as much value in mentoring on occasion as I do receiving mentoring. A biblical analogy is that we should all have a Paul and a Timothy in our life. Someone we’re discipling and someone that is discipling us.

    • Bryan

      Aw, thanks for including us, Darren :). I like the biblical analogy too!

    • Ethan Jones

      Love the Bible example, Darren. Blessings,

  • Lavie Margolin

    It is complex. As besides being an author, my skill set is based in the career coaching arena. I do have to prioritize the message. If it is a clueless email (like one just featuring a resume), I ignore it. If it is an acquaintance seeking some basic advice, I will try to give it. If it becomes too much, I will refer them to a colleague. When you have young kids, your time is your most valuable asset. Taking me for a coffee is of negative value to me- it takes away time from my kids. I try to give at least some advice and respond, especially if it is someone that purchased a book. Unfortunately, I have seen that the inverse relationship is true- those that constantly ask and badger for free advice are the LEAST likely to seek out your services. Oh, yeah- one more thing. Once in awhile, I get follow up emails like, “How could you not answer me?” Don’t assume you know anyone’s situation and demands.

    • Bryan

      It really is complex. And I hear you on time being valuable with kids :). Thanks for the answer, Lavie!

  • I’m a millennial and I love my local library. I go there to borrow books for my fiction research and non-fiction books I’m interested in. It’s not unusual for me to borrow 5-10 books for a single story idea I’m working on. I don’t borrow fiction books for my personal reading, though. I much prefer to buy the paperback or ebook version and own a copy. 🙂 I also don’t use the library’s ebook app.

    My library also hosts various programs, lectures, and events, and I’ve attended a few of them in the past. For example, next month I’m attending a lecture by astronomer and astrophysicist Dr Alan Duffy. It’s a talk about life and the universe. A great opportunity to learn something new and maybe get some inspiration for a new sci-fi story. 🙂

    I don’t spend a long time at the library. Sometimes I browse the shelves, but I’m usually in and out in a few minutes just to grab the books I’ve placed on hold.

    • Bryan

      Thanks for the inside Generational info, Bettina :).

  • Spider McGee

    I don’t consider myself “successful”, but here goes.

    The greatest thing a successful author can do is to serve as an inspiration, but not actually interact with their public. This sounds cold and impersonal, but we have enough distractions.

    I’m working on a story that has become a novella and now I have no idea where it’s going, yet I’m sorting through stuff I want to take to Goodwill, putting my CBR comic book files, rearranging my hard drive…ANYTHING to keep me from finishing the thing. We’re human, most of us (you heard me, Stephen King), and it’s all we can do to just put in a few words a day. The distraction struggle is real, and it’s stressing some of us out.

    Also, I encourage would-be writers to admire the work of your heroes, but to never meet them, Never, ever meet them. In fact, don’t even message them on Twitter. It’s really better this way.

    • LOL. I’m 50/50 on my heroes on twitter. Some amazing writers who I’ve loved for years are… not nice. Some are real snobs, too.

    • Bryan

      Never meet your heroes. Unless your hero is Spider McGee…

      • Spider McGee

        I’ve never been to me.

  • Jana Mae Floyd

    As a millennial I typically read 8 to 10 books a month. Also as a millennial, I have student loan debt. I would never be able to afford to buy all the books I would like to read. It’s not uncommon that I find myself at the library at least once a week. And all of this is before any research I need to do for a writing project.

    • Bryan

      Great point, Jana Mae. Thanks for the inside info :).

  • Ethan Jones

    Hi Bryan:
    The community helped us become who we are, so we owe to help the newbies. I set aside a few minutes of my day, each day, to network with fellow authors, and help as much as I can.
    I do answer all fan email.
    In terms of those pesky notes from unhappy folks, I call them “the extreme minority” and I ignore them. I routinely unsubscribe readers who are rude or demanding.
    Thanks so much for another excellent show and blessings,

    • Bryan

      Definitely. Me too, Ethan. I respond to all my emails for sure. These comments lately… I’ve been a bit lazy on those :).

  • Tarah Benner

    I’m a millennial! I think there are three main reasons millennials are more likely to use their public libraries:
    1. Much of the 18- to 35-year-old crowd is still in school, and they need libraries for studying or to use reference materials only available there.
    2. Millennials are frugal by nature (many having come of age during the Great Recession). We are trained not to spend money on things that are available for free or that we already pay a subscription fee to access. Why buy music on iTunes when you have Spotify? Why buy a DVD if a movie is available on Netflix? Why buy a book if you can check it out for free at your local library?
    3. Instant gratification. I prefer to read paperbacks, but I hate making a trip to a bookstore only to find that they don’t have the book I need. To get a paperback, my choices are either 1. order a book on Amazon and wait for it to ship, or 2. pick it up that same day from my local library.

    • Is this a rolling thing, where the library using age is always 18-35?

      I’m 50, but when I was in my 20s I read a ton of books, but had no money. My friends and I traded books around to save money, but we also got the newest hardcovers from the library.

      Back then, in the olden days, there was not much ‘internet,’ and what there was didn’t include new release info. We didn’t even know a book was out until we saw it in the library or the many, many, many bookstores in our area.

    • Bryan

      Tarah! HI! 🙂 Great points!!

    • Benjamin Douglas

      Another millennial here (old/pre-wall), and I agree with Tarah’s first two points. I feel I’ve been trained to use libraries via universities, and to get services as cheaply as I can whenever possible.

      RE: what successful authors owe back: I’m a noob, and I don’t feel that any of you more established and wizened ones owe me anything. That said, I become an instant fan whenever any of you DO give of your time–including doing things like this podcast, or Chris Fox’s YouTube videos, or big fish who engage regularly on Kboards. I evangelize the rest of the community on your behalf.

      So thank you! 🙂

      • Bryan

        You’re welcome, Benjamin! Really happy to give back. Great point on being trained to use libraries in college. I loved my college library so much, I actually worked there!

  • I like to pay back what I’ve learned, but I’m also becoming increasingly bitter of those who won’t actually read the links, inexpensive books, and free courses I tell them to use. After they ask just a few more questions, all with nothing to help me in return, I have to let them go.

    When people helped me early on, I reviewed their work, shared their posts, and recommended them to others. The wild west days of indie publishing seemed much more cordial.

    • Bryan

      So, so bitter ;).

  • Crissy Moss

    I would say the only thing we “owe” our readers is good books worth reading. Anything beyond that is up to the individual. Of course if you want to foster a community you do need to speak up, and be seen, but not all authors are interested in the community aspect, and they don’t have to be.

    • Bryan

      You tell ’em, Crissy!

  • What do successful authors owe the community?
    That word ‘owe’ implies a sense of entitlement on the part of the community. To the word ‘entitlement’, I say, ‘Bleccch!’.
    Anything that comes our way from folks like Jane Friedman, Steven Pressfield, or Bryan or Jim should be viewed as ‘gravy’.

    Now, that being said, it’s possible some of these folks see some common threads among many of the requests, so maybe they might want to meet the community members halfway and send along a boilerplate email [FAQ-like] that answers a whole lot of questions and will actually provide even more value than the community members would expect.

    Finally, if the successful authors want to add a little personal touch, [and *if* they had the time], they could at least provide a ‘I think FAQ list item #6 best answers your question.’
    And if the authors choose to preface these responses with a sincere opening of “We wish we had the time to provide detailed answers to the questions we receive…”

    Finally, Bryan, I need an agent. ;->

    • Yep.

      Also, there are many authors who also write about writing, publishing, and marketing, so unless it’s a simple question where I have specific link in mind, I tend to point them in that direction. Not to be mean, but those authors WANT to help these people as part of their business, so it should be a win-win.

    • Bryan

      I’m on it, Tim ;).

  • The simple answer is nothing unless they apprenticed under a mentor who expected them to give back according to how they received. Mentor can be plural. Even if the answer is yes there are still limits to how much they owe. There is a big difference between volunteering time, talent, and energy according to ability and being forced to give until it hurts.

    • Bryan

      “There is a big difference between volunteering time, talent, and energy according to ability and being forced to give until it hurts.” I completely agree, Edwin.

  • Facebook Group Suggestion?

    Related to the question of the week, is there a facebook group specifically for beginners? The number one question I get is “what do I do now that I’ve written my book?” I really don’t have time for THAT!

    I need to get them to a group that has an interest in getting them from zero to hero and can help them with the basic decisions, like this latest question? “I’m doing Createspace. Should I also do an ebook?”

    • Bryan

      Maybe Authority Pub? Not sure.

  • jandrews8

    Ahh! So many things! I work in a library and I had to pause the podcast to leave a comment. 🙂

    Libraries aren’t just books! Some reasons millennials might come to a library:

    * To use a computer, especially if they’re homeless or traveling.
    * Inexpensive printing and faxing (because who owns a printer these days?)
    * To borrow things that aren’t books or DVDs — video games, telescopes, ukuleles, cake pans, tools, seeds, many other things
    * Free AC and charging of their phones
    * Because it’s a Pokemon GO Gym. (maybe that’s just me. 😉 )
    * To use the 3D Printers
    * Free movies in a theatre-type setting
    * Free concerts
    * Free seminars/workshops/presentations/classes on all sorts of subjects

    Also, I think just in general, parents with young kids use the library in greater numbers than some other demographics, and that would mostly be millennials at this point. As the article also mentioned.

    Now, the app, I’m not sure what that’s referring to. I don’t use our library’s app, and I suspect most people don’t even know we technically have one. It’s our ILS (our catalog’s)’s app, not the library’s per se. I suspect when they asked that question, people weren’t thinking about Overdrive or things like that, which they might have. Well, anyway, you can still borrow ebooks and downloadable audiobooks even without the Overdrive app. So yea, who needs apps? 🙂

    Libraries are not federally funded except special programs through something Trump’s budget is set to cut completely. The IMLS.

    Some states fund libraries, sometimes it’s by county. Our libraries in NH are funded by the towns/cities they’re in, no state money. As for Overdrive, we’re in a state-wide consortium where all NH libraries pay in to share the resources of Overdrive. And yes, there is no way we have enough money to keep up with demand with the publishers’ current models of doing business with libraries and Overdrive.

    Okay, now to go back to finish listening to the podcast. 😉

    -Julie A.

    • Bryan

      Thanks so much for all this great insider info, Julie! This is super helpful for understanding the system. Hooray!

  • Really like your podcasts. Thanks for them guys and keep doing great work! Lots of people can make their lives better and increase their businesses thanks to people like you.

    • Bryan

      You rock, Mateusz. Thanks for the kind words!

  • Kirsten Oliphant

    I want to talk libraries AND what authors owe the community.

    LIBRARY- I went for the first time in years last month. It was filled with small children running through the building, screaming. Apparently, libraries don’t shush people anymore. (My librarian friends confirmed this.) I will not go back to the library. Maybe ever. (Note: i have 5 small kids, so this is not an anti-kid post. Let’s call it a pro-shushing-in-the-library post.)

    WHAT WRITERS OWE THE COMMUNITY- This discussion brought me back to Missing Richard Simmons, in which a similar question was raised: What does Richard Simmons owe anyone? Many of his fans said NOTHING. And some, including perhaps the podcast creator, seemed to feel that Richard DID owe something to the community. An explanation, perhaps, or more for the people he was actively helping.

    Back to writers. I feel like “owe” is a hard word to use. We all have to draw the line of how much distance we want between us and our fans or community. From answering emails to actually helping (or: googling things for people), that is a personal decision for each of us. I think the “bigger” you get, the harder it can be to be personal and respond to all requests.

    For most of the people who reach out, I respond. i may not always be able to provide tons of help (especially if they are asking me to do something that I actually charge money for), but I respond. When it comes to those skyscraper marketing emails (you know the ones: “Hey! I created this awesome infographic that happens to go with your post on self-publishing in your sleep! I know your readers would find it super helpful, so ADD IT TO YOUR POST NOW.”) and cold pitches from people who are NOT in my community and just stumbled across my website, NO. I have zero time for that.

    I remember last year Cliff Ravenscraft talked about how he likes to do for one what he wishes he could do for many, and I think that may be a good place for the people getting tons and tons of asks.

    • Our So Cal libraries are pretty quiet and there is PLENTY of hushing, let me tell you!

    • Also, what we feel we owe other/newbie/beginning writers and what they feel they are owed are totally different. I don’t feel Steven King, Hugh Howey, or Kevin Tumlinson owe me anything, but they might feel some sort of obligation to pay it forward for all the help and support they got early on.

      Richard Simmons doesn’t owe us anything, but he is genuinely loved by so many that they simply can’t wrap their heads around why he just left them so suddenly. They worry about him or wonder so much that it’s killing them!

    • Bryan

      Pro-shushing! Shush shush shush!

      Good points, Kirsten :). Yeah, I ignore the skyscraper posts too!

  • Just recently came across your podcast (recommended via Joanna Penn on her podcast) – great show! But now will need to spend all weekend binge listening to your previous episodes to catch up!!

    Regarding what an author owes to the community, I think it is a gesture of kindness when authors help those a few steps below them on the author journey (like how Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson do). They do this via speaking, courses and podcasts. But I do think you need to respect the time of the author and show them you have gone out of your way to find info / help you need before you send them ‘clueless asks’.

    This is general courtesy and shows you respect their time. Just because they reach a level of success, doesn’t mean they have to drop everything to answer our emails or owe us anything. They still have books to write and a business to run.

    • Bryan

      Enjoy the binge listen, Sukhi! 🙂

      Great points! “They still have books to write and a business to run.” I couldn’t agree more!

  • Anmarie

    They owe nothing. I had requests like this all the time when I did massage and gave psychic readings.