I got a chance to ask Matt Buchman a few questions about being what I would like to be, Ryan Reynolds. Ok, no, it was being a hybrid writer. No, it doesn’t mean that I’m use both gas and electricity, (sadly I’m all about the gas)… no it means being self-published AND traditionally published.
He’s been there and done that.
Joe’s Post #105 – An interview with M.L. Buchman
What brought you to non-traditional publishing?
I’m a hybrid author. I have 20 indie novels, 7 indie short stories, 7 traditional press novels released, 4 more under contract, and am in negotiation for the next 4. (That should help make some sense of my explanation below.)
Let’s ignore the couple novels I sold in the 1990s and jump straight into the gigantic changes of the last 4 years.
I thankfully had some friends who were way out on the leading edge of the indie revolution. I had a half dozen books that hadn’t sold, along with 400 odd rejections from traditional publishing. (That’s not quite as scary as it sounds, my critically acclaimed Night Stalkers series finally sold to a traditional publisher after thirty-six rejections. That book, The Night is Mine, was named “Top 10 Romance of 2012” by the prestigious Booklist. You never know why a book is rejected, until it is accepted and after that it no longer matters.)
So, as much to move on as to move forward, I put my first book up for sale indie on December 2010. And nothing happened. I followed it up with a few others in 201l and sold a copy here and a copy there. The sales built very slowly, but I was busy on other new projects and didn’t mind. In late 2011 I received a check for $47. That was a huge day. It bought us dinner out and part of a lunch a few days later. We still remember those meals very fondly. That also told us that this was a viable approach to reaching new readers.
Also in 2010, I sold a four book series to a traditional press (the other projects I was working on through 2011 in addition to a full-time+ job). My Night Stalkers military romantic suspense series launched in 2012, gathering fans quickly. Now my few indie books were selling in a month what we had previously sold in a year. Then a week. Now a day.
Our indie breakout occurred in late 2012. I wrote a short novel entitled Daniel’s Christmas in The Night Stalkers series and it took off. That was what convinced me to not only go forward as a hybrid author, but when taken in conjunction with a second traditional contract and other increasing sales (and being laid off from my job and unable to find another in those recession-heavy days), it convinced me to take the leap and become a full-time writer.
This was a hard and scary gamble, but 18 months later it appears that it will be paying off handsomely. (Most of that payoff is from the indie titles, which are selling because of my traditional fanbase. So, the hybrid method is working for me.)
What amazing things do you know now that you wished you knew earlier?
There is a priority to tasks to be successful in indie. Here’s my personal list after 20 years of writing, 4 years of indie publishing, and 18 months as a full-time writer:
- Write new product (that doesn’t suck)—Keep writing the next book or short story. Polishing something to death doesn’t work. Write it, clean it up, publish it, move on. I call it write and release. (I once spent 7 years making my #1 favorite novel the best it could be. Nine complete drafts constituting over a million words. Result? It is still one of my worst selling titles. Had I written and released and moved on to the next title (or six), I’d have learned and sold a lot more.)
- Get it professionally produced—Copyeditor, cover designer, layout (in paper and print). Do what you can yourself, but this is no longer the early days of e-pub (all the way back in 2009-2011), quality of production counts.
- Work on your brand—Why do you write and what do you write and what is the look of what you write. Those are all part of your brand. You probably won’t find this until you’ve written a half dozen novels, but once you find it, use it and live up to it.
- Write new product (that doesn’t suck).
How to I best use social media to help promote the book?
Curiously, I’ve just come off a large social media research project and I’ve come to a couple of fairly simple conclusions for my own social media efforts in the near future:
- If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it! Your audience can tell.
- If you do enjoy it, find the one or two methods that you do enjoy, and join the party. The days of social media “push” marketing are long gone (“Buy this!” stopped being effective 3-4 years ago.) Now it is “pull” marketing. Joining the party, getting people to like you, enjoy your conversation, and then, maybe, they’ll follow you back to your website or wherever.
- If you don’t enjoy it…at least make yourself easy to find. Have a clear, simple, static website. If you want to blog, blog about anything (as long as it isn’t writing).
- Focus on what works and what doesn’t. An e-mail has 20 times the conversion power of a blog post and probably a 1,000 times more than a tweet. (Do your own research on this. Don’t know what a conversion rate is, go study that to until you understand it and can own it.) This means, get your newsletter going (for dedicated fans who are likely to purchase), then think about effective blogging, and then your favorite social media in that order.
- It’s not about you shouting from your corner, it’s about engaging the reader and making them want to come to you. (Still working on how to do that.)
What are 3 things we could do to improve our internet footprint?
- Informative website optimized for a high search engine ranking.
- Create lots of product. It’s much easier to find someone with twenty stories than with two.
- Start your newsletter now or at least collecting the names for one. Install Mailchimp and call it, “My Future Someday Newsletter.”
- All the rest combined, unless you are going to be an industry pundit, won’t make up a tenth of any of those first three.
Why bundle books in a bundle?
First, all my own titles. I combined three short novels into a larger book bundle at a discounted price. That provides economy buyers with the enticement to buy three books for the price of two when they might have bought only one. It also allows me to have another price point of entry. Short story $2.99, short novel $4.99, full novel $5-6.99, bundle $8.99, (any of those in print $5.99-24.99). This shows a richness of offerings as well as catering to buyers who arrive with different pricing expectations.
Second, a limited time bundle with a group of other authors. I’ve done this a couple of times and am working on three more. I invite a small group of authors to join me in a group sale. We announce that sale across each others’ audiences and use the discount to hopefully each expand our reading public, and make a bit of money along the way.
Your covers are outstanding. What’s your secret?
- Design your covers.
- Go to the bookstore and look at the covers of the best selling authors in your genre(s). Spend several hours analyzing common themes across those covers.
- There are reasons behind every choice. Notice when you pick up a book, what is the cover telling you: action sci-fi, faerie fantasy, bloody vampire, sexy vampire, cold-blooded thriller, cozy mystery. Each design is attempting to convey a message.
- Now go home and redesign your covers.
- Ask readers, who know nothing about your writing, what they think this book might be about.
- Go home and redesign your covers.
- Iterate until you think you’re going nuts.
- Hire a professional cover designer (not a graphic artist, not a cheapo design school grade, but a cover designer). Throw it out.
- Go home and redesign your covers.
- See, it’s simple.
- (btw, I’m presently redesigning several of my covers)
Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Nothing, nothing, nothing is more important than writing the next book. Ten, or better yet twenty, good solid novels in a single genre under a single name can make a very nice living without ever breaking out or having the bolt of luck slam down on your head.
Write, cleanup, release, repeat. (Proof in point, Light Up the Night is available for pre-order for a Sept. 2nd release.)
You may keep up with M.L. Buchman by signing up for his newsletter at http://www.mlbuchman.com.
FYI: The guys on his covers are based on me, at least the pictures are.
Next week, I’ll be looking at some great advice from KKR.