Tag Archives: marketing

Tortuga Bay launch set for Barnacle Bill’s restaurant

BarnacleBillsmenuMy newest novel, Tortuga Bay, will experience it’s official launch at Barnacle Bill’s seafood restaurant in Tallahassee on September 19th from 1 to 3 pm. Tortuga Bay is already receiving great reviews:

  • “Isabella sizzles in this swashbuckling sequel to The Pirate of Panther Bay.  Her sword slices through oppressors from the first page to the last in an adventure that puts her daring and decisive stand against slavery at the center of a story that shimmers like its Caribbean setting.” Donna Meredith, award-winning author of Wet Work, The Color of Lies, and The Glass Madonna.
  • “In SR Staley’s sequel to The Pirate of Panther Bay, Isabella once again shows she is made of as much grit as any male pirate captain.  The action starts on page one and never lets up.“ M.R. Street, award-winning author of The Werewolf’s Daughter, Hunter’s Moon, and Blue Rock Rescue.
  • “If you pick up Tortuga Bay you better strap on your seat belt…. He has done a remarkable job of mixing pirates, Royal political intrigue and Haitian voodoo into an entertaining tale.” Col. Michael Whitehead (ret.), author of The Lion of Babylon and Messages from Babylon.
  • “Tortuga Bay is an exceptionally well-developed story that gives a genuine touch to the theme and puts a fresh spin on the way pirate stories are told. Lovers of the genre will find the Pirate of Panther Bay series a worthy read.” Faridah Nassozi, 5-star review, Reader’s Favorite.

Anyone in Tallahassee or passing through is welcome!

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Seven cool and fun things I experienced at this year’s Decatur Book Festival

I attended the 2015 Decatur Book Festival with my publisher, Southern Yellow Pine Publishing on September 5-6th. It was a blast, and much more fun than last year. (Check out a gallery of festival photos from the Atlanta Journal Constitution here, including one of our crew here.) I’m a big fan of attending festivals and marketplaces as an author because I learn so much from about marketing and what resonates with readers by talking to fellow authors, book lovers, readers, and buyers. (Oh, yeah, I also like to sell books.)

So, I’ve compiled a quick list of the more fun and exciting things I experienced this year at Decatur, both as a writer fine-tuning my craft and a participant who just enjoys engaging with people and having fun.

  1. Guerrilla Haiku

IMG_1394I’ve always been a bit anxious about poetry, even though I know a lot of people that write it, and I enjoy reading it. On our first day, however, we were challenged by a group of students using Haiku (#haikuDBF) to “promote” discussion and dialogue among strangers. We embraced the challenge, and wrote the following Haiku–three lines, 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables–with sidewalk chalk:

 

Isabella IS

An awesome pirate lady

who trumps Jack Sparrow

This turned out to do exactly what these teens thought it would do: promote discussion! Many people simply noticed the Haiku, linked it to the sign, and then to the book. In addition to pulling me out of my comfort zone as a budding Haiku poet, it turned out (unintentionally) to be a great marketing tool.

2. Fine tuning my log lines

After talking to several readers and buyers, I realized that Tortuga Bay was more than just a sequel to The Pirate of Panther Bay. The plot and story reflects a powerful new character arc for Isabella, the lead character, and I began to articulate it much more lucidly. The Pirate of Panther Bay is about Isabella’s search and discovery of her own identity, reforged after her escape from the sugar plantation and taking over as captain of her own pirate ship. Tortuga Bay is about Isabella finding her place in the world. As a friend of mine says, she is a “woman beast”!

3. Signing sneakers

IMG_1431Two other young readers were walking around Decatur getting other kids to sign their sneakers. They wondered if authors would sign them, and I’m proud to say that the Southern Yellow Pine Publishing authors were the first on the canvas! (Thank you Ellie and Hannah for providing some inspiration and joy at DBF this year.)

4. Spontaneous video interviews with kids

This year’s festival seemed to attract a lot of families–kids, teens, and young adults. This was great for me because my books are strong cross overs enjoyed by readers firmly within the adult and YA action/adventure categories. (Thank you M.R. Street for making sure I don’t lose my inner teen.)

We also found a lot of kids willing to engage with us and ask us questions. So, we pulled out the smart phone and asked them to pose any question they wanted on camera. I’ve posted them to my (SR Staley) youtube channel (with parental permission, of course) under the play list “Kids on the Street”. This was a great way to engage young readers in our profession. I hope to continue this at other book signings and at Downtown Marketplace in Tallahassee.

  • Jo Jo’s interview with me can be found here.
  • Brodie’s interview with me can be found here.
  • Gunnar’s interview with William Mark and can be found here.

5. My (really big) sign

SR Staley Tortuga BayThe one big marketing take away for me this year was the importance and effectiveness of signage. We were able to put up a 6-foot sign advertising Tortuga Bay and the impact was obvious. Of course, we were working with a great cover crafted by SYPP’s Jim Hamer, and that helped a lot. Still, we could see people walking down the sidewalk, see the sign, look over at the book rack, and then step over and pick up the book. (We had similar signs for Robert Burton’s The Burgundy Briefcase and V.L. Brunskill’s Waving Backwards.) The cover design had a huge impact on drawing readers into the booth. Thank you Jim for crafting such a captivating cover!

6. Getting to know my fellow authors

I also really really enjoyed getting to know my fellow SYPP authors Scott Archer Jones (who flew in from New Mexico!) author of The Big Wheel, William Mark (Lost in the Darkness), Roberta Burton (The Burgundy Briefcase), and V.L. Brunskill (Waving Backwards).  These are great people and their books are getting excellent press (and winning awards). IMG_1386

7. Selling Books

Of course, I really enjoyed selling my books. Tortuga Bay and The Pirate of Panther Bay did well with the crowd this year, and having two books in the same series made a big difference. Several people bought both books (even though they are stand alone stories). I sold a few copies of St. Nic, Inc. but the Panther Bay Pirate series was the clear winner for the weekend. I doubt I would have been as successful if my books were each one-offs. Thus, this year’s experience is another example of the benefit of series and multi-book authors.

I can’t wait until next year!

 

 

 

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Pirates, Aliens, and Cats, Oh My!

I will be signing copies of the Pirate of Panther Bay, St. Nic, Inc, A Warrior’s Soul, and Renegade at My Favorite Books in Tallahassee on Saturday, July 18, 2015, from 11 am to 1 pm. If you are in town, come out and join me as I talk about these books and others, including the forthcoming Tortuga Bay.June2015-signing

 

I will be joined by Bruce Ballister, the author of Dreamland Diaries and Orion’s Light. These popular sci-fi novels are great for young adults and adults, and Bruce’s stories are characterized as “science fiction with a southern accent.”

 

We will be joined by Chris Widdop, author of Velcro: The Ninja Kat and Velcro: The Green Lion. Check out Chris’s blog for insights into popular culture and media, including timely movie reviews. Need I say more?

I’ve not met Chris before, but he lists Edge of Tomorrow, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Interstellar among his top five movies for 2014. I think we’ll get along well.

Don’t forget to visit my updated website for the newest news!

See you on Saturday!

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A Nature of “Selling” and Why Authors Should Care

Authors generally have a difficult time selling their books and other writings. While some have reconciled themselves to the reality they have to market their work in order to become successful, a surprising number are uncomfortable with this activity and really would prefer some else do this “dirty” work. I’ve lost count of the number of times an author has said “Shouldn’t my publisher market my book?”

Of course, the answer is yes, but it’s a rare book ends up selling well without the active, committed and ongoing investment by an author to market their work. Moreover, any publisher would be consigning itself to unprofitably and economic doom if they signed on an author who does not not want, or is not willing, to market their work.

I think this reluctance to market our work is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of what marketing and selling is. A “sale” is one of many outcomes that results from marketing. Marketing is the strategies, tools, and tactics used to raise awareness about your work and present it to people who might have an interest in reading it (or perhaps selling it to others). Not everyone will want to read our, but we don’t know who those readers are. So we use marketing tools and techniques to discover the interests of readers and identify specific (often niche) markets (or categories of readers) that will be interesting in our work.

Marketing isn’t about the hard sell. In fact, while I’ve heard people talk about successful sales men and women (and I’ve known many) as if “they can sell anything to anyone,” this isn’t true. A good sales person has to be an effective marketer, and a successful marketer identifies customers that are interested and willing to invest in their product because it serves the interests of the customer. A good sales person will invest in a potential customer (with the hope of getting a sale), but he or she will accomplish this only if they know the customer’s wants, needs, preferences, and values. So, these sales people that can “sell anything” are really people that invest in getting to know potential customers so they can match the right product with the right preferences. More often than not, good sales people are perfectly happy to send a customer to someone else if they don’t have a product in their portfolio that meets the customer’s needs. If you discover a reader likes fantasy, but you write action/adventure, a good marketer will send the potential buyer to a good fantasy book, not try a hard sell to convince the reader he or she really likes action/adventure. This also helps build a long-term relationship, which can pay off more literally in a future sale.

So, authors should think about marketing as getting to know readers, current and potential. We use our marketing hooks and pitches as a way of discovering what interests that motivate potential buyers to read our books. The more we know our customers (readers), the easier it is to match the goods (books) and services (perspective, insight, advice) to our readership base (who are also often aspiring authors). A long-term investment in marketing and readers–current and potential–also builds our readership base, and this is what will turn us into commercially successful authors as well as craftspeople and artists.

Marketing can be fun…if you approach it as discovery.

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Secret (Literary) Agent Math

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President’s Awards

Ever wonder why literary agents and book publishers don’t take on your awesome, life changing book project? It’s in the math. Literally. This point was recently reinforced by a fellow author struggling to get her book signed at a traditional publisher. At one point, she asked an agent to consider representing her. The agent respectfully declined, saying that the press run was too small for the project to be worth his while.

As the number of literary agents becomes smaller, and the number of conventional publishers shrinks, authors need to understand the basic logic underlying these decisions in order to shepherd their project productivity and profitably forward.

So, here’s the math that dooms the vast majority of books in today’s market for traditional publishers (and opens the doors for savvy companies with nonconventional business models).

First, recognize that publishers, unlike authors, exist first and foremost to make money. They can’t exist publishing books people don’t buy. So, while we (authors) may be convinced of the objective value of our work, publishers see mostly risk and uncertainty. Their goal is to minimize risk, and they accomplish that by choosing projects with the highest sales potential. You may have a great book, but not one that will appeal to a large enough market to make their investment profitable.

Taking a book from manuscript to printing to distribution requires a substantial investment upfront. Excluding the time and effort it takes for authors to write the manuscript, a conventional publishing company can easily invest $15,000 or more just in bringing a book to print. Here’s a quick back of the envelope breakdown of the costs for taking a book from manuscript to print (excluding printing and mailing costs), based on my experience costing out print projects and working with publishers on seven different book projects. (Note that this is a highly stylized estimate for illustrative purposes; each book has its on unique costs associated with the project specific to individual publishers):

  • Acquisition & project management: $5,000
  • Editing, copyediting & proofreading: $5,000
  • Cover design, layout: $1,500
  • Marketing: $5,000

Now, let’s compare these costs to the revenue the publisher can expect from book sales. Let’s start with a mass market paperback with a retail price of $10. This would be more typical of books published by major national publishing houses.

  • Discount the revenue by 50% off the retail price because books are sold to retailers at wholesale, leaving $5 per unit for the publisher;
  • The author receives a 20% commission on net revenues, or $1 per book, leaving $4 for the publisher;
  • Very large press runs (5,000 or more) can bring printing costs down to about $2-3 per paperback book, leaving $1-2 per book to cover editing, acquisitions and overhead.

It’s pretty clear that for a conventional publisher facing these costs would need to sell upwards of 7,500 copies just to cover the upfront costs of publishing this book. The publisher hasn’t even started to make a profit. Moreover, since many books fail to meet sales goals, publishers have to build these losses into sales expectations for new projects. So, they are likely shooting for a minimum sales target of 10,000 copies or more. (Remember, they still aren’t making money if they hit this target.)

Raising the retail price helps, but only by a little. Increasing the paperback price to $15, for example, reduces the break even unit sales point to about 3,700. Raising the price to $20 reduces the break even sales to about 2,500 (although this might begin to increase per unit print costs).

Here’s the reality check: The vast majority of books published today sell fewer than 1,000 copies. So, it becomes pretty obvious that most mass market publishers need to acquire books they believe will sell a lot of copies and appeal to a broad market. Traditional publishers and agents are looking for those projects they believe will move lots and lots of units. (Note: The logic, but not the example, works with smaller presses and university presses as well.)

Moreover, the value of a literary agent is in placing books with publishers that can sell large numbers of units. Most large publishers don’t even take unsolicited or unagented manuscripts because they expect agents to send only projects with very high sales potential.  In short, publishers and agents need to be completely, 100% in love with your book project and believe there is a very large market for it before they will take the financial risk of publishing it or representing it for publishers.

So, don’t be too discouraged if your book isn’t picked up by a literary agent or a conventional publisher. They’ve probably just done the math. If your book’s market can’t meet these sales thresholds, an alternative or nonconventional publisher is probably a much better route to paying readers than beating your head against a wall for years hoping that an agent or traditional publisher will “see the light” and bite the bullet on yours.

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The long, hard road to overnight success

As writers, we are always hoping for literary and commercial success. And we dream of becoming an “overnight success.” Few of us realize how long and hard that road really is.

I was listening to a brief audio presentation sponsored by my publisher, Wheatmark, that featured social marketing guru Bernie Borges. Borges is CEO of Find and Convert and has written Marketing 2.0, which is basically a book designed to sharpen marketing strategies in the world increasingly dominated by social networking. At one point during the interview, the host asked him if he had any “shortcuts” to making the use of facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, and other interactive internet tools effective. The answer? An emphatic “no.” It took eights years, he observed, before one of the most influential bloggers today had his first 100 subscribers.

The analogy reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers where he profiled some of the most successful people in the world. One of the concepts he discusses is a general rule of thumb where a person needs to investment 10,000 hours in an activity or pursuit before they get to the point they can excel. (Among the examples he notes are the Beatles and Bill Gates.)

In short, rarely is there a true “overnight success.” Most successful people, including authors, toil away for years, honing their craft, before they achieve notable success.

In children’s writing, many could easily think J.K. Rowling is the counterfactual: She “shot” to superstardam with her first book: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or “Philosopher’s Stone” in the U.K.). But this is more myth than reality.

We tend to forget that Ms. Rowling labored long and hard over her story and manuscript, even spending time as a single mother on welfare, before she could even shop it around. She conceived the story in 1990 and didn’t get representation by an agent until 1995. The book appeared in the U.K. in 1996, and it wasn’t until 1997 that she earned $100,000 form an auction for the U.S. publishing rights.  The first book was rejected by 12 publishers before a small English press (Bloomsbury) to the risk and published it giving Ms. Rowling an advance equal to about $3,000. Their first print run was just 1,000 copies.

But the journey to overnight success wasn’t complete until her book took the U.S. by storm after the first book appeared in October 1998. Perhaps even more importantly, each of her subsequent volumes in the series has improved in writing and style. I have no doubt that the 10,000 hour rule applies to Rowling’s overnight success.

On the more earthly level of excellent writers who finally are (justifiably) earning an independent living as authors, Katrina Kittle’s experience provides both insight and encouragement. Her debut novel Traveling Light (first appearing in 2000) remains one of my all time favorite books, and it was commercially successful. Her second novel, Two Truths and a Lie, was published in 2001. Great start…but only a start.

Despite critical acclaim and modest commercial success, Katrina’s writing career really didn’t begin to take a financially sustainable turn until her third book, the penetrating and important The Kindness of Strangers found both critical and commercial success in 2007. The paperback printing allowed her to give up her “day job” and concentrate on her fourth wonderful novel, The Blessings of the Animals (2010), which appears to have given her the kind of platform we all want to continue our writing as a full time endeavor. Years from Katrina’s first book to the one that gave her a financially sustainable writing career? Nine. And that’s a pretty quick overnight success.

So, as A Warrior’s Soul, my second teen novel, is readied to be unleashed upon the reading public, I need to bridle my enthusiasm for my own work and realize that this is really just the beginning of my fiction writing journey. The best is yet to come as each book gives me critical experience in writing stories and characters and my marketing slowly builds my author’s platform.  I have faith that, after 20 years of hard work, diligence and perseverance, I will indeed become an overnight success.

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