Category Archives: A Warrior’s Soul

Sharpening Your Marketing Pitch

One of the downsides to putting your marketing copy together before your book hits bookshelves is you don’t have the benefit of reader reactions to sharpen your message. I’ve typically used an external review process for all my manuscripts to get critical feedback for substance as well as determine what themes or characters are resonating with readers for marketing purposes. But, the process is imprecise at best; readers react to the final product, not the draft. And there’s nothing like a real live review to reveal “the truth.”

So, I found a recent exercise in crafting promotional postcards for my novels particularly useful. I didn’t have the space for a 100 word description like the back of the book. I also needed the card to keep from being cluttered. So, I had to get the proverbial thirty second elevator pitch down to…five seconds. At the most.

I was surprised at how much better my marketing pitch became because I had reader reactions to work with. For example, here’s what we put on the back cover of my most recent novel, A Warrior’s Soul (the thirty second elevator pitch): 

Luke is sure his martial arts training is worthless. That’s why he quit. But when Dirk and his thugs move into his school, Luke quickly realizes that he may be the only one who can save Lucy, Chuck, and his other friends from their relentless and violent gang. Only Luke can make the ultimate decision to help his friends and stand up to the gang. It’s a stark choice, and one he can’t make alone.

and here is what is on the post card (five second version):

A time comes-a moment in your life-when you face a test, and you have to ask yourself if you have the courage to act. Do you have a warrior’s soul?

Okay, maybe that’s really ten seconds, but the second version hits squarely on the feedback I’ve garnered from both formal and informal reviews on the book. (Check them out at and

Similarly, here’s the copy from the back cover of The Pirate of Panther Bay:

Isabella never thought her first command would be in jeopardy so soon. But pirates demand results, and she wasn’t delivering. If she could just get rid of her albatross, the dashing young Spaniard seized from her first prize. She should have killed him, like his captain. But, she couldn’t have known his very presence was about to send her life into a  maelstrom of mutiny, imprisonment, and revenge.

This hit all the marketing angles and marks we wanted. But, based on reader reaction to the themes and characters, this is what we wrote for the post card version:

Isabella was a pirate by fate, not choice. She thought that made the difference. It didn’t.

I like this one even better than the one for AWS because it’s shorter. Notably, in The Pirate of Panther Bay quote, the emphasis is on the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by Isabella as a pirate captain. That’s the part of the story that is enduring, even though the action and romance are critical to moving the story forward.

New Review: A Warrior’s Soul is “Highly Recommended”

One of the problems I struggle with as an author is patience waiting for reader feedback and book reviews. So, I’m happy to announce the Midwest Book Review has come through with an excellent (five star on review of my new middle-grade novel A Warrior’s Soul (Wheatmark, 2011) in MBR’s September 11, 2011 edition (under fiction):

“You cannot run from the nature to protect. “A Warrior’s Soul: Path of the Warrior 1” is the first entry in SR Staley’s novels about young Luke, who has abandoned his martial arts training. When a violent gang begins to put pressure on his school, he’s the only one who sees the threat for what it is. Leaping to protect his friends, Luke will learn what it means to be a warrior and that it’s more than training. “A Warrior’s Soul” is a fine and exciting read for younger readers, highly recommended.”

Thank you!

Female Characters in Children’s Fiction

I recently read an article co-authored by Florida State University sociologist Janice McCabe about gender in 20th century children’s literature in the journal Gender & Society (June 2011). After examining the contents of 5,618 books, she and her coauthors found that male characters were about twice as common as female characters. Fortunately, more recent books tend to have more female characters, but it struck me that this imbalance is out of whack with contemporary culture.

Her research struck a chord with me because I’ve always tried to incorporate strong female characters into my stories. In fact, I find the female characters most interesting, perhaps in part because their values and actions go against traditional type. (This is certainly the case with Isabella, the teenage captain who is the lead character in The Pirate of Panther Bay.) This is also true for for Lucy, a critical member of the trio of heros in A Warrior’s Soul.

Ironically, Huffington Post assistant editor Laura Hibbard published an article on the same subject, but with a different take, in the context of Hermione’s character in the JK Rowling Harry Potter book series and films. Hibbard is particularly grateful of Hermione’s strong, intelligent character and her platonic friendship with Harry.

Nevertheless, I think it’s more important that the characters be layered, integrated well into the story, and drawn overall well in the context of the plot and relationships. So, it’s important not to put too much stock in a numbers game; it’s not how many female characters a book has that’s important. So, it would be odd, implausiable historically, and likely unbelievable if Isabella were captain of a ship of female pirates. The story is richer because she is a lead character trying to wrestle with the problems of a male-dominated pirate and broader colonial culture.

I discuss this issue in more depth in a video log I posted on my Youtube channel.

“A Warrior’s Soul” Now Available for Ordering!

I’m pleased to announce that A Warrior’s Soul, my new novel, is now availiable for pre-publication ordering! You can purchase it at the regular retail price at the Wheatmark Book Store, or at a 25 percent discount through June 20, 2011 at the Dayton Quest Center’s on-line book store.

The Humbling Truth about Choosing Book Covers

As an author, I’ve been fortunate because I’ve had substantial input in the design of my book covers. In fact, in all of my most recent books, I (and my co-authors) made the cover decision. Nevertheless, I probably learned the most about the process through the design and selection for my newest novel, A Warrior’s Soul (published by Wheatmark). I also learned a fair amount about the importance of taming my author’s ego.

Indeed, the design I really liked was not chosen as the cover. We determined it simply wouldn’t market well. And that’s the point. A book cover is all about marketing, not the ego of the author. This is one reason why most publishers don’t give their authors design approval for the cover. As authors, we often become emotionally vested in the characters, plots, and themes and lose sight of the fact the cover is first and foremost a marketing tool—it needs to viscerally grab a potential reader surfing the internet or browsing a book shelf with sharp and easily processed graphics.

During my selection process with Wheatmark, we always came back to one paramount question: Which design will sell the most books?

The selection process included three radically different cover designs. (They can still be viewed at A Warrior’s Soul’s facebook page.) I solicited input from my facebook friends (Sam R. Staley) as well as personal friends. Overall, I received specific input from more than 30 individuals during the four week process.

Interestingly, I found reactions all over the place. I was able to narrow the cover down to two: One with a dark, brooding teenage boy with very cool graphic lettering for the title and the other with a silhouette of a martial arts figure with cool (but not as cool) title graphics. I loved the darker themed cover. I thought the design was intriguing and provocative, and liked the intensity it brought to the book. It was also the cover that had the most divisive reaction among those providing input. People loved it or hated it. That doesn’t bode well for a book cover because the point is to reach as broad a readership base as possible.

We chose the silhouette because the design still “popped” graphically, it avoided casting a negative pall over the book, and it still conveyed key content (including an action theme with a martial arts tie-in). The design didn’t unnecessarily narrow the potential readers (to either boys or girls, older or younger).

The main lesson for authors involved in the cover design is to adopt some humility at this stage of the process. The cover is not about you; it’s about marketing your book and giving it a chance with the broadest audience possible. We may be great writers, but that doesn’t mean we’re great marketers.  

Your Book Costs How *#&! Much? Part 3

My previous posts on book pricing covered the importance of marketing and distribution systems (Part 1) and the willingness to pay (Part 2). Today, I want to conclude my series commenting on why charging a higher retail price for our book is actually consistent with a well functioning economic world. In other words, demand curves do in fact slope downward, even for niche books (like mine) that focus on a narrower reader base. I’ll still use my experiences with my debut novel, The Pirate of Panther Bay, as the illustrative case.

So, what about the Law of Demand? Won’t a higher price discourage sales? The short answer in the classroom is “yes,” but the practical answer is you need to have the right price for the right market.

This is why preserving the ability to discount from a realistically high retail price for our book is essential for our success as authors. Discounting can only be achieved by setting a high initial retail (cover) price. So, even though the price may be higher than most books sold in bricks & mortar book stores, the effective price for most of our customers wouldn’t have been that much different because the sales path for small books is so radically different from the “big boys.” For readers of pirate novels, the difference between $8 and $12 is really not very much and has almost not effect on their willingness to buy the book. (In technical terms their demand is inelastic; less responsive to changes in price.) They value the story in the book more highly than the typical romance reader. They are willing to pay the higher price because they believe the story is worth it. Real-world pricing is about market segmentation—niche markets give us more ability to set a higher price based on willingness to pay.

This is quite consistent with the Law of Demand and the downward sloping demand curve I teach in the university classroom. We tend to forget (and neglect to teach) that each buyer has a different price point. In the real world, publishers and authors should be trying to match a price to each buyer’s preference. The market demand curve represents all the buyers for a particular product for the entire market (niche buyers + general readers). Some buyers will pay the full price for our book (in our case $19.95). Others will not be willing to pay much at all (mass market readers without a specific interest in pirates or action stories).

So, pricing in niche markets is really about recognizing that we operate in a different, segmented market with different buyer sensitivities to the retail price. We can price higher because our customers see enough value in what we produce they are willing to pay for it. Moreover, a higher retail price allows us to provide a more competitive price to customers in very specialized parts of our market such as book clubs, nonprofit organizations, corporate sales, or book fairs. In the end, to stay viable, we need to price based on what the market will bare, not simple theory that neglects the nuance of how real markets operate.

Oh, and by the way, the retail price for my newest novel, A Warrior’s Soul (a bully action story with a martial arts theme) is $19.95, but you can buy your copy now at a 25 percent discount before June 20, 2011 through an exclusive arrangement with the SKH Quest Center for Martial Arts (!

Your Book Costs How *#&! Much? Part 1

As a professional economist, I thought I knew something about pricing. The higher the price, the less people buy, right? After all, don’t demand curves slope downward?

Well, yes, they do, but putting theory into practice is more difficult than I expected, particularly in retail sales world.

I was schooled in this lesson the hard way when I published my first novel, The Pirate of Panther Bay. We made the mistake of trying to compete with the major traditional publishers. Most paperback teen novels were selling for $8 to $10. So, we priced The Pirate of Panther Bay at $8. Big mistake.

What we failed to realize was that our book didn’t compete in the same market as the big traditional publishers. Our readers were different, their willingness to pay was higher, and our costs were much higher. Traditional publishers have access to national markets with a very broad readership base and well established distribution system. Their authors increasingly have their own established marketing platforms. They are selling to the broadest market possible because their distribution networks can support that level of sales effort. Their books are routinely reviewed at key places such as Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, major newspapers, and picked up by major bricks and mortar book stores and chains. The big publishers are capable of selling hundreds of thousands of copies of (the right) books through these networks, allowing them to price them very low. Indeed, they depend on the “mass” in “mass market.” That requires exceptionally large volumes at very low prices in very large, broad-based markets.

Because we were a small press (and a start-up to boot), we weren’t competing in that space. For us, 10,000 copies sold would be grand slam home run, not 500,000. We were building our network and starting with virtually no distribution or marketing platform. Not surprisingly, the “small book” market functions very differently than the “big book” market, and our failure to understand the difference significantly undercut the financial viability of our debut book project (The Pirate of Panther Bay).

Our pricing strategy is a case in point. First, since we didn’t have a broad distribution system in place, we were really focused on selling to a niche market. Our initial customer base wasn’t going to be thousands of general readers. It was more likely to be hundreds and, if we were lucky, thousands, mainly in the area of teen fiction with a strong interest in action stories with pirate themes. We simply weren’t realistic about what we could achieve as a small, start-up press with no existing distribution network, and our pricing failed to reflect that.

Pricing a book for smaller, niche markets requires a more sophisticated approach. Most sales come directly from the authors’ marketing efforts, usually by personally selling copies through book fairs, speaking events, special corporate or nonprofit sales, or through their own internet-based marketing efforts. (This is typically true for most authors publishing through conventional presses, too, but they don’t tell you that.) A small market author’s ability to discount the retail price is critical to selling our book in these niche markets while remaining competitive with on-line retailers and even bricks & mortar book stores.

So, starting with a price of $20 allows the author (me) to discount their book to bulk purchasers or special events customers without eating away at critically important revenues. By discounting from a higher retail price, we have the option of giving niche customers the same financial benefits wholesalers get but outside the conventional book distribution system while protecting our margins (revenues earned per book sold). To achieve that, we need to start from a realistic retail price that recognizes the narrower, niche base of our market. While we dreamed of selling The Pirate of Panther Bay to large general readership, realistically we needed to establish our sales base in a narrower, niche market that could be directly influenced by our personal marketing efforts.

This is the first of three posts on book pricing.

Next up
: Why we can price niche books higher and get away with it while making our readers happy.