Crowdfunding Basics

For those who have been following my comic book project, I am very excited to share that issue #2 of Wild Rose was fully funded on Kickstarter! As part of the promotion surrounding the crowdfunding campaign, I wrote a guest post about Crowdfunding for Feminist Creators over at Offbeat Home & Life.

This month, I also spoke to a group of talented teens enrolled in an entrepreneurship program at the MacPhee Centre for Creative Learning. More and more creators of all ages are becoming interested in crowdfunding their creative projects, so I thought I would share some of the things I have learned!

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Lessons from Chris Taylor – superstar Aussie author!

The Profiler, book one in Chris Taylor's Munro Family Series.
The Profiler, book one in Chris Taylor’s Munro Family Series.

Chris Taylor, Australian author and rising self-publishing superstar, came all the way to little ol’ Nova Scotia recently for the Hubbards Writers Festival and was kind enough to visit us at the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada as well. Before becoming a full-time author, Chris worked as a nurse and a lawyer (always a career path of interest to me since I am a practising lawyer).

What impressed me most about Chris (among many other things, like her business savvy, friendliness, and writing skill) was how engaged she is with fans and how encouraging she is to other authors. Some of the great advice Chris shared with us at RWAC included:

  • The value (or lack thereof) of advertising

Many authors struggle with deciding how much money, if any, to spend on advertising. (And if you are going to spend the money, where should it go?) In the 14 months since Chris published her first book, she has released nine titles and sold 50,000 books (and counting!). She has done this without using any advertising other than Bookbub. In fact, Chris says her first Bookbub ad is what really ‘launched’ her.

Bookbub is a free, online service that “alerts you to limited-time free & discounted ebooks matching your interests”. When authors have a book on sale, they can apply to have the sale featured in Bookbub’s newsletter for a one-time, flat fee. The fee is based on the number of readers who subscribe to the book’s genre (so the fee relates to how much exposure your book will get), and the price of the book (a free book costs less to advertise than a book that is $2.00+ because there will be a greater number of click-throughs and downloads).

Bookbub’s pricing and statistics chart can be found here. Listing a free paranormal romance, for example, will cost you $195 and give you access to 690,000+ subscribers (at the time of this blog post). Because of the number of books submitted to Bookbub, only about 20% are accepted and featured. Chris’s top tip for getting a book featured is to have a great cover – she got her first Bookbub ad with only four titles on the market and four reader reviews for the featured book (the first in a series, which had just been set to perma-free). Bookbub’s submission tips are here.

  • Writing to your target audience

One of Chris’s tips that really resonated with me is to let your reader know what they’re getting right away. Her books start with very ‘confronting’ prologues so there is no confusion about what type of story will follow. This helps prevent negative reviews on the basis of reader confusion (Think: “This book had too much sex – I thought it was inspirational romance but it turned out to be erotica!”).

Chris also advocated (see what I did there? Because she’s a lawyer?) using statistics from Facebook to figure out how to reach your readers. Since Facebook tells you which country your fans are in and at what time of day they are most active, you can make sure you are available when those fans are online and looking for interaction.

  • The value of writing a series

All of Chris’s books to date have been part of the Munro Family series, which will be 10 books in total. Writing a series has allowed her to save time by plotting in the same ‘world’, rather than having to come up with a whole new world each time she writes a book (as in stand-alone titles). This is especially valuable if you’re writing in genres where world-building is essential (paranormal, fantasy, sci fi).

Aside from saving time for the author, writing a series is also helpful from a marketing perspective, as it encourages read-through by fans who want to find out what happens next. Series are also attractive to distributors for this reason, which makes it more likely that they will put some promotional muscle behind your books.

One thing to keep in mind when writing a series, though, is not to get carried away with a single series! If you have 5 series with 10 books each, that’s 5 separate opportunities for series promo (eg. – first in series perma-free, series feature by distributor). But if you have 1 series with 50 books…you see where I’m going with this.

Why You Should Consider Starting Your Own Small Press

I AM AN ENTREPRENEUR by Next TwentyEight. CC BY 2.0.
I AM AN ENTREPRENEUR by Next TwentyEight. CC BY 2.0.

I’ll start with my usual disclaimer when I talk about anything related to the law: This is not legal advice, just information. What works for me won’t apply to everyone.

Now that that’s out of the way – I’m so excited to share the news that I am starting my own small press! I’ve given a lot of thought to the business behind being an author, and here are the reasons I’m talking the plunge:

1. Legal Considerations

Family law – In Canada, if a married couple divorces/separates, any business assets owned by one of the spouses are not considered common property and aren’t divisible. The exception is if the business assets were used for family benefit, or if both spouses owned/ran/contributed to the business. By having the writing stuff clearly separated out from personal finances, it is more likely that if an author ends up divorced (in Canada), an ex-spouse won’t be able to claim a share of those assets/income.

Estate planning – When an Amazon account holder dies, their Amazon account supposedly dies with them. In real life, lots of accounts continue to live on because a family member or friend has the password and doesn’t notify Amazon that the original account holder is dead. However, if you want your heirs to be able to legally continue your business after you’re gone, having royalties paid out to a business rather than an individual would support the ability of the account to live on with the business.

As part of your estate plan, you could assign rights to your books, characters, worlds, etc. to an heir who wants to continue writing under your pen name. Or if your heir has no interest in this but would want to keep selling existing works, having the distributor accounts continue to exist would make life easier for them. Another option for your heirs would be to license out your worlds, characters, etc. and have ghostwriters continue your work.

2. Business Considerations

  • Some service providers/distributors/contractors will take you more seriously if you’re a “business”. This isn’t unique to any one industry – I see it all the time in lots of industries.
  • Coming up with my press’s branding (a work in progress) has helped me conceptualize my author branding.
  • Reserving and registering your business name protects it if someone else comes along and wants to use the same one. This is especially useful if you think your business might grow – for example, if you make enough money that there are tax benefits to incorporating. Incorporation would make no sense for me right now financially, but might someday be useful to also provide increased liability protection. For example, if I become a bestseller, learn lots about the industry, and decide to expand my press to publish other authors, liability would be a much bigger concern.

Practical Tips On Starting Your Own Small Press

  • To show that my small press is a real business and doesn’t exist in name only, I will open a business bank account, and do business with contractors and distributors using my business name.
  • I plan to open both a Canadian dollar and a US dollar account for the business. This is so that I don’t lose money on royalties paid out in USD. If I needed to take the money out on a regular basis to live on, this wouldn’t help me, but I plan to reinvest book revenue back into the business. So USD will come in, stay in the account until I need to pay contractors, then USD goes back out and I don’t lose money on the exchange rate.

Downsides To Starting Your Own Small Press

Of course, there are downsides to starting a small press to self-publish your books. Some of these include:

  • Increased costs (another domain name, annual registration fee for your business, etc.). These costs run a few hundred dollars in my province, which my budget can handle, but for some people this is prohibitive.
  • Increased time and energy required (paperwork required to start the business, maintaining two websites, marketing, etc.). I’m starting up as a sole proprietorship so the paperwork is pretty minimal, but I don’t know how it works in the US.
  • More complicated taxes and record keeping. This isn’t a huge deterrent for me because I’m self-employed in my day job and have to deal with claiming expenses, etc. anyway, but it might be more than some people want to take on.

If you do want to start up a small press and don’t think you can handle doing your own tax return, but can’t justify the cost of an accountant, I have found tax software like Turbo Tax to be very helpful. Alternatively, there are lots of other great programs if Turbo Tax doesn’t float your boat, and I’m sure there are similar programs available in the US.

Some Resources

Finally, to end this mammoth of a blog post, here are some resources I found really helpful when considering the implications of starting my own press:

Basic pros/cons of starting a small press – http://www.independe…e.php?page=1810

Starting a small press as a strategy to get your self-pub books in bookstores
http://devlovepress….ress-publisher/

A good post about business planning for small presses
http://indeliblewrit…ur-own-way.html

“Why Small Publishers Fail” – some good advice about things to avoid
http://accrispin.blo…publishers.html

Everything on this author’s blog. She’s a lawyer/author and she has awesome advice about:
– registering with the US copyright office
– small presses
– pen names
– contracts and negotiations
http://helensedwick.com/blog/

Things I Suck At (Or, What I’m Learning From Working With an Editor)

NOT what a good editor will tell you.
NOT what a good editor will tell you. After the Edit by Laura Ritchie. CC by 2.0.

I admit that the title of this post is click-bait, since I don’t really think I suck, but I AM learning a lot from my first go around with a professional editor.

In preparation for self-publishing my first book this Spring, I am working with Nancy Cassidy, an amazing freelance editor at The Red Pen Coach. (Any suckiness in the finished project will be entirely mine, and not hers). Nancy has an impressive background in publishing and editing and is also an author, with erotica published under the name Lilly Cain, so I feel like she really gets it. She did a great presentation today to the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada, my local RWA chapter, and pointed out some things about working with an editor that should be pretty basic, but maybe aren’t all the time.

For example:

  • Your editor should not be mean to you. It’s crazy how many stories I’ve heard online about editors being totally insensitive to their writers – who are paying them to help improve their work. Nobody is saying authors should be coddled and lied to about their work, but there is a difference between constructive and cruel.
  • You don’t have to make changes to your work if you don’t want to. Yes, you should be prepared to make changes and take direction, but you should also be prepared to explain why your choices are valid, or at least have a logical debate about them.
  • Ask around before you hire an editor. Don’t just take the word of some stranger on the internet that they are an awesome editor. And if you don’t know anyone the editor has worked with, it might behoove you to have a contract. (I’m always looking for a way to work behoove into a sentence).

Because I think it’s important, I will separate this link from the bullet points: You can find a sample editorial contract on the Editors’ Association of Canada website. It’s pretty basic, but gets the job done, and I imagine you can find something similar for the US or other jurisdictions, or adapt this one. (THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE, JUST A PERSONAL OPINION.)

Another thing I learned from Nancy’s presentation is that there are many types of services an editor can offer. Knowing what sort of help you need can save you time and money. The Editors’ Association of Canada has a very handy page describing the different types of edits there are.

So now that you have all that wonderful info, I will share some of the things I suck at with you, as discovered via the editorial process:

  1. First chapters – I already knew this, as it happens with everything I write. The first chapter is always too slow or too fast, too much backstory or no context at all. I really struggle with hitting the right opening note. Luckily, that’s what revisions are for!
  2. Overusing particular phrases – On my first pass through my book, I noticed that my main character thought everything was “apparently” this and “clearly” that. Now, a million passes later, I’m noticing that she’s always “forcing” herself to do whatever or “managing” not to do something else.
  3. Point of view issues – You know, I actually always thought I could have been an editor if I had been so inclined. After all, I have an English degree, I’m pretty good with spelling and grammar, and I totally get point of view. Except, not. I’ve had a whole batch of critique partners, but I would never have known I was doing weird things with point of view if an editor hadn’t pointed it out.

For fellow writers, what do you suck at? (Or to put it more nicely, what are you improving on at present?).

And for readers, what are your editorial pet peeves? Head hopping? Spelling mistake in the first chapter? Let it out!

How to get your website in front of readers – the “magic” of search engine optimization

The Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors, used with permission.
The Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors, used with permission.

Searchengineland.com and Column Five Media have joined forces to come up with this awesome inf0graphic. It is designed to help website owners come up with the right combination of ranking factors to show up at the top of the search engine heap.

And along with the infographic, Search Engine Land is providing the *free* “Search Engine Land Guide to SEO”. I have a lot to learn, so I will definitely be taking advantage of this! Click the link above to see the guide in presentation mode (as a series of slides), or you can browse by chapter below.

Chapter 1: Types Of Search Engine Success Factors
Chapter 2: Content & Search Engine Success Factors
Chapter 3: HTML Code & Search Engine Success Factors
Chapter 4: Site Architecture & Search Engine Success Factors
Chapter 5: Link Building & Ranking In Search Engines
Chapter 6: Social Media & Ranking In Search Results
Chapter 7: Trust, Authority, Identity & Search Rankings
Chapter 8: Personalization & Search Engine Rankings
Chapter 9: Violations & Search Engine Spam Penalties

Interview With… An Entertainment Lawyer

Q: What’s the difference between a lawyer and a vampire?

A: A vampire only sucks blood at night.

Lawyer jokes abound, but as an author there’s no one I’d rather have in my corner when it comes down to questions of entertainment law or intellectual property (IP) than my good friend and colleague, Jillian C. Allen, Esq. Luckily for us, Jillian has agreed to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions!

Jillian Allen

Jillian received her Master-In-Laws degree from Santa Clara University (2010), specializing in Intellectual Property law. She received her law degree from Dalhousie University (2009). She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Acadia University (2006) majoring in Sociology with minors in Psychology and Fine Art. During her years at Dalhousie University she received several scholarships and the David M. Jones award for outstanding character and inspiration. She is a member of the State Bar of California and the Nova Scotia Bar Society.

 

What is the difference between an agent and an entertainment/IP lawyer? If agents negotiate contracts, what does the lawyer do?

Agents are pro-active. Entertainment lawyers are reactive, and they process the deals the agents create.

In California, you need a license from the Labor Commissioner in order to call yourself a talent agent. In order to get a license, there are several requirements, such as that the prospective agent must submit a filing fee, which is renewed annually, and other supporting documents. Most A-list artists sign with talent agencies.

In terms of “differences” between an agent and an entertainment lawyer – the path that one takes to become an agent vs. a lawyer is different. Most agents work as assistants at agencies before becoming a licensed “agent”. Whereas to become a lawyer, you typically have to obtain a four-year undergraduate degree, prior to going to law school for an additional three years. In California, once your legal education is complete, you must fulfill several requirements in order to practice law in the state. You must pass the moral character exam, professional responsibility exam and finally the bar exam. The California bar exam is hands down the most difficult bar exam in North America, with a pass rate in the 40% range. The path to becoming an entertainment lawyer is therefore longer than the path to becoming an agent.

 

How ‘famous’ should an author be before they see a lawyer?

Not famous at all! The first time an artist is presented an offer, whether it be orally or in writing, get an entertainment/IP lawyer to review it for you!

 

Are there any common mistakes that artists make that could get them into legal trouble? What advice would you give to clients that you wish they would follow (but they usually don’t)?

Too many times I’ve seen artists bring in a contract for a lawyer’s opinion, after they’ve already signed it! For many artists at the beginning of their careers, that very first offer/contract that they receive is so exciting that they want to sign right away. For many, they’re scared that if they don’t sign right away, they’ll seem ungrateful or difficult to work with. So they sign without negotiating any terms or seeking a lawyer’s advice. Some beginning artists don’t think they can afford to involve a lawyer, so they don’t. However, most entertainment lawyers understand that an artist starting out their career isn’t looking to spend thousands of dollars negotiating a 5-page agreement. Most entertainment lawyers will set a flat fee to review an agreement and offer simple advice.

Another common mistake is an artist signing away all the rights in their work. For example, a production company may want to purchase the rights to make a motion picture based on an author’s book. If they are purchasing the copyright in the work, they’ll want rights to sequels, advertising, merchandising, franchising, and the list goes on. What about what the author wants? An entertainment lawyer’s job is to expect the unexpected and try to retain as much of these rights for the author’s use as possible. A lot of the language used in these types of agreements can be technical and intimidating, so that’s why an artist should always seek legal advice from a lawyer who has a background in entertainment/IP related work.

 

Can you tell us any interesting stories about your work as an entertainment/IP lawyer in California? (leaving out names or identifying details, of course!)

Hmmm…a lot of the deals that I came across involved reality show pitches/pilots. Everyone involved is always so optimistic that this is going to be the “next big thing”, when in reality, most never get off the ground. The lawyer’s role is to register the corporate structure(s), and review and negotiate the contract particulars for the parties involved.

Another common issue is collaborative works. Many times a group of friends will come up with an idea that they want to get off the ground, but when it comes down to money, publicity and credit, this is where fractures begin. For example, we had a client on a popular reality show who grew to hate several of her cast mates and was refusing to film any scenes with them. A lot of the “lawyer work” in this particular situation involved many phone calls trying to defuse the situation and convince her that her role would be written off if she continued to insist on only filming scenes that involved her and her immediate family.

The entertainment industry in California does have a “small town” feel in the sense that it’s all “who you know” and getting people excited about your project.

Tips from Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Kobo’s Director of Self Publishing and Author Relations

Beach kobo by Jennie Faber. CC BY 2.0.
Beach kobo by Jennie Faber. CC BY 2.0.

As a member of Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada (RWAC), a Canadian chapter of Romance Writers of America, I am fortunate to have access to a wide variety of guest speakers, workshops, retreats and other writing events.

At RWAC’s April meeting, we were very pleased to welcome guest speaker Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Kobo’s Director of Self Publishing and Author Relations, and an author himself.

So without further ado, here are just a few highlights of Mark’s presentation:

  • The 3 “P”s of self publishing success;
  • Pricing advice from Kobo; and
  • Inside information on how books get featured on Kobo and why.

 1. The 3 “P”s of self publishing success

As we all know – and have heard ad infinitum – patience, practice, and perseverance are the only ways to really be successful as a writer. “Overnight” successes make for sexy headlines, but in most cases, years of effort have gone into those successes. What distinguishes Mark’s advice from this old (but true) chestnut is the fact that he expands on the traditional advice to just keep swimming – er, writing.

From a branding perspective, the trick is to just keep writing with your target audience in mind (think of Stephen King’s Constant Reader). If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach with your book – guess what? You probably won’t. In addition to this, you need to provide the best all-around book that you can, which means it must be of superior quality in all respects, not just in terms of writing. According to Kobo’s statistics, the success of a book is directly related to the quality of its editing and cover.

2. Pricing advice from Kobo

In his time at Kobo, Mark has observed that three things are necessary to ensure sales when pricing an e-book:

  • pricing deliberately;
  • pricing responsively; and
  • pricing often.

Authors are most successful and achieve highest sales when they price deliberately, taking into account things like genre (romance prices are low compared to other genres, but more units are bought by the average reader), book length, and comparator titles. They should also be aware of the dreaded “Dead Price Point” – $1.99. For some reason, books of all lengths and genres sell poorly at $1.99, and do better at either $.99 or $2.99 and up.

Pricing responsively refers to the idea that self-published book prices don’t need to be – and shouldn’t be – static. Since the author is in control, she has the power not just to take advantage of marketing opportunities, but to create them for herself. If you’ve written a book set on Halloween, for example, why not offer a sale in the days leading up to the holiday?

Or say you’ve written a series. You might want to consider making the first book free. In one example, Kobo found that 12,000 readers downloaded a free e-book, but only 2,000 actually opened it, and only about 350 read the whole thing. Of those who read the book, however, 50% went on to buy more books from the author, and the total downloaded units helped push the book higher in the rankings to increase its visibility.

Finally, don’t be afraid to try different pricing strategies. One bestselling author found that when she increased her book’s price from $5.99 to $6.99, her sales improved at iBooks and Barnes & Noble, stayed the same at Kobo, and decreased at Amazon. While many authors would have panicked at the hit on Amazon (the Holy Grail of self publishing, to some), the author decided to wait a while and see what happened. To her delight, sales at Amazon went back to previous levels within a week and a half and stayed high everywhere else, meaning she was now moving more units than ever and making more money on each book.

3. How books get featured

When asked how Mark and his team decide to feature an author in Kobo’s digital “front window”, the answer was simple – it’s a combination of serendipity and good planning on the author’s part. On the good luck side of things, Mark has featured artists that he has gotten to know through conferences, readings, podcasts, and networking. But no matter how much he or the marketing team likes an author, they still have to take into account the financial realities of selling books online.

The biggest challenge to an e-book retailer in promoting indie authors is price point. When a book is priced at $.99, the author’s share is $.45. This means that Kobo’s share of a sale is $.54, before costs associated with processing a credit card transaction. On the other hand, an author’s share of a book priced at $9.99 is $6.99, leaving $3.00 for Kobo before costs. This doesn’t mean that books priced at $.99 don’t get featured, but it does mean that when there is a choice between two equally great books, the one that will generate more money (or at least not cost Kobo money) is the one that gets top billing.

 

For more information on Kobo’s self publishing hub, check out Kobo Writing Life here. While it’s no secret that I’m seeking traditional publication (it says so on the “About Me” page of the website), I am intrigued by the concept of hybrid authorship. If and when I’m ready to go ahead with self publication, working directly with Kobo looks like a great choice. (I have not been remunerated in any way for blogging about Kobo – it just looks like a genuinely great bunch of people who believe in indie authors).