Afterthoughts from Eat Local, Read Local

Well, my first dedicated book sale event was yesterday. It left me exhausted (or, well, perhaps a little dehydrated), but it was a good time. Weird internet issues today (wifi’s been spotty, Facebook has been acting up, and when I tried to go to Wikipedia earlier, I was somehow redirected to the Polish version of Wikipedia. I’ve never been to Polish Wikipedia, before, and have no idea how that happened) has made typing an extensive write-up… difficult, but here is a BRIEF summary of my thoughts in the aftermath:

  1.  It was an outdoor event, and advertised as “rain or shine.”  Rain and books don’t mix well, so I was happy to see that it wasn’t raining.  In fact, I dare to say it was the nicest day of the year, so far.
  2. Despite the good weather, the tent I was in had clearly been rained on over the past several days… and it was leaking.  I was a little hesitant about putting my books out for display on a table where dripping water had pooled.  I got the table moved so that it wouldn’t get dripped on as much, and dried it off, but the water was still dripping on my head any time the wind blew.  In order to minimize the risk of getting my books wet, I wasn’t quite able to set up my table the way I wanted.  I’m not sure what could be done to prepare for this sort of thing in future events, but I need to figure out something if I’m ever part of another outdoor book sale.  If anyone has any suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them.
  3. I went to this event last year, though as a customer and not as an author.  It was raining off and on that day, and foot traffic was moderate to light (I did not notice any wet author tables last year, but the whole thing was set up differently; tables were arranged differently, it was in a different part of the library grounds (their front parking lot instead of their rear parking lot), it was larger, etc.).  I was hoping that the better weather would result in better attendance, but foot traffic was about what I remember from last year.
  4. The Loudoun County Library’s Eat Local Read Local event took place simultaneously with the Fredricksburg Independent Book Festival, an almost identical event focused more on indie authors that was taking place about an hour’s drive away from my house (which means it was about an hour and a half’s drive, in the other direction, from the Eat Local Read Local).  I asked an author who was there what foot traffic was like, and was told it was “surprisingly light” there, as well.  At least in terms of total bodies coming to either event, the Eat Local Read Local was about on par.
  5. I did, in fact, sell a few books (not as many as my most optimistic hopes, but not as few as my more pessimistic imaginings), despite the light foot traffic.  I went through a lot of effort to ensure I could take credit cards (using Square), and got stickers and signs broadcasting that fact, but to my surprise everyone paid cash.  I’ll have to remember that if I do it again; I thought I was well prepared, but I almost ran out of spare change.
  6. We (authors) were all assigned to one of three tents, and provided with half of a table each (in other words, we were asked to share a table with someone else).  Our table-partners, with a few exceptions, were assigned alphabetically within each tent.  Just what criteria was used for tent assignment, however, was not clear to me — though I do know we weren’t grouped by alphabet, genre, publishing house, bestselling rank, or in order of when we applied to be part of the event.  Maybe it was random draw out of a hat?
  7. My table partner was an affable character who wrote literary works on school life.  He said he had been to events like this before and had never sold anything at them, but he thought he would give it ‘one more try.’  He then proceeded to spend about five minutes at the table before standing up and wandering off, checking out the other authors’ offerings, then came back for a bit before again wandering off to have a conversation with someone, then came back briefly, fussed with how his books were arranged on the table, and then left for a bit again.  He came back for one last time… to pack everything up and go home with the event half-way over.  I have to wonder if this was typical of his past attempts to sell books at these events, and if that is why he’s never sold anything at them before.
  8. Most authors only brought one or two different titles to sell to readers; I brought multiple copies of all six books that I have in print.  This might have been a mistake, considering I only had half of a table, and my books were a bit crowded together.  Combined with the need to arrange things so that my books were kept dry, I wasn’t able to display them all to their best effect.  My table partner leaving allowed me to spread out a bit, but if I do this event again I’ll have to be a bit more selective in what I bring.
  9. I made arrangements for my sister-in-law to show up half-way through the event (well, actually I’d arranged for my brother to do so, but he accidentally double-booked himself for that day, so she came instead) to take over my table so I would be able to get lunch.  My table-partner had already left by that point, so after buying lunch from one of the food trucks at the event, I took his seat and the two of us worked the table while I ate.  Having someone else there was a great help (though it would have been impossible to have someone with me from the start of the event, as there was normally only room for one person), even if we didn’t have any sales during the brief time she was there.
  10. I got lots of compliments on my book covers.  As an odd phenomenon, I had people taking pictures of my book covers, as well.  I thought maybe they were showrooming, but so far I haven’t seen any sales bumps among the books that were most commonly photographed.  I did see a slight bump in sales of The Merrimack Event in the immediate aftermath of the event, but I don’t remember anyone taking pictures of that book’s cover, so I don’t know if that’s connected at all.
  11. Everyone loved my little Fennec Fox Press stuffed fox-keychains, but no-one wanted to buy one.  I do give some of them away, but I can’t afford to give ALL of them away; I’m only charging the break-even price for them.  Ah, well… I’ve got them for next time, at least.

And… well, that’s all I can think to say at the moment.  No link-shares this week.  So, until next week, that’s it…

Plans for the Immediate Future…

As I’m getting ready for the Eat Local, Read Local event, I’m also finishing off the third Law of Swords book, In Division Imperiled (as I mentioned in the epilog of my last post). (Oh, and my birthday is this Thursday, but that’s unrelated to this post).  Trying to make everything happen at once hasn’t given me all that much time to think about my business plans beyond those few things, but in search of a topic for this week’s blog I spent some time thinking about it, anyway, and made a few decisions. I know this looks like another of my boring old status reports, but you will probably want to pay attention to this blog — I’ve made some important decisions,

To begin with, recapping what I mentioned last week, I’m going to need to find another cover artist soon as the cover for In Division Imperiled flunked with my test audience. I haven’t sent out any queries to any artists, yet, but I have identified a short list of people from varying levels of professional experience to try. Hopefully at least one of them will respond to my query and be willing to work within my budget (which, uh, I need to decide on, as I’ve already used my book cover budget on the flunked-out cover).  Will this delay In Division Imperiled’s release?  Probably not (though it depends how the cover art search goes).  But it may delay my marketing plan.  And to think — for once, I thought I was getting ahead of things by arranging for the cover art even before the book was over, and would be able to do a lot more pre-release marketing than I have in the past.  It’s a shame, but an unsatisfactory cover is… well, unsatisfactory.

Second, once the Eat Local, Read Local event is taken care of, I intend to see if I can’t get an actual store going on the Fennec Fox Press website to sell signed copies of my print editions. Given past print sales, I’m not expecting to do much business through said store, but since I’ve had the website for a while, I’ve got enough books to justify it, and now I’ve got the Square account to take credit cards, and soon (if I can just get the paperwork completed!) I’ll be able to take sales tax, there’s no reason NOT to open such a store.

I’m not sure whether I’ll have anything to offer other than my few books (and possibly some of the little plushie Fennec Fox keychains I was giving away at Ravencon, but I’m still undecided on that), but I might decide to do things like sell some used books, or help my mother sell some of her quilts (haven’t yet discussed this with her; I know she tries to sell some of her quilts off her own page, and I’m not sure how it would work), or maybe I would look into a deal with some of my author-friends to sell their books through my store (the big problem with trying to sell someone else’s work is the legal liabilities; I’d have to turn my little sole proprietorship into an LLC first, so I probably won’t be doing this to start with).  I’ll still have to work out the technical details, but I’m fairly certain I can manage a small web-based storefront, and at the very least all of my signed books will be made available on it.

Third, once BOTH the Eat Local, Read Local event AND the In Division Imperiled manuscripts are completed, I’ll use the library’s new sound recording studio that I surveyed a few weeks ago to begin turning A Gun For Shalla, my story in the Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders anthology, into an audiobook with myself as the narrator.  I don’t want this to prevent me from starting work on the next Shieldclads book, however, so I’ll be restricting myself to trying this experimental project just one day a week.

If it works out, then maybe I’ll also try the same thing with The Kitsune Stratagem (the book that I think Tantor, who produced the Merrimack Event audiobook, is the least likely to buy the rights to).  If THAT works out, and I can’t convince Tantor to do the audiobook for the Law of Swords books, maybe I’ll do those, too.  But, at one day a week (at most), that would put those books pretty far in the future, and this post is more for my immediate plans.

Finally… most of the previous things you might have caught in my previous blog posts, but this one I decided just as I was working on this blog:  If you are interesting in buying either of the Law of Swords books in ebook form somewhere OTHER than Amazon (such as through Kobo, Smashwords, or the Nook), you might want to buy them now.  When the rest of In Division Imperiled is off to the editor and I’m ready to start really marketing it, I am going to (experimentally) withdraw my previous books in the series from wide distribution, and see if I can’t put the whole series into the KDP select program for at least one enrollment period (90 days).

I’ve not done this in the past because I’ve found most of the technical issues reported with KDP Select (at least, most of the ones that don’t ultimately turn out to be the result of bad practices on the author’s part, or an author’s advertiser’s part) happen because the author took a book that is already in wide distribution out of wide distribution in order to meet the exclusivity requirement of KDP Select.  I haven’t heard about one of those particular issues in a while, though, so maybe they’ve been fixed?  And, in conjunction with the release of the third book, I think it might make a huge difference sales-wise.

I plan to return to wide distribution before too long, but I thought the same about The Merrimack Event, and the number of page reads I get in a month is STILL too high for me to pull it out of the program and try wider distribution.  Crossing my fingers that nothing goes wrong when I do it, though.

Link Shares!

Well, I’m still going to push for the Starflight 3 crowdfunding campaign.  It’s falling behind the pace it needs to set, but I’m hopeful some investors will come in at the end to save the campaign (which has been hinted, if they can get close), and in the meantime it could use your support.

But I do have actual books, this week.  First there is Billy the Kid, by Link Share regular Cyn Bagley, and is related to some of the EJ Hunter werewolf stories I’ve shared links to in earlier link-share entries.

Second, there is Fire and Forge by Holly Chism, another link-share regular; the third book in her Modern Gods series.

That’s all for now!  I may or may not be taking off next week (depending on how my birthday celebration plays out), but I’ll see you all soon!

Getting Ready for an Event…

Earlier this week, I had a moment of panic when the official webpage for the Eat Local, Read Local library event — an event that I’ve been telling you for months, on this blog, that I would be a part of — went live and, well, my name wasn’t on the list of participants.

An e-mail to the library took care of that quickly enough. There was a miscommunication, but we got it all straightened out, and so yes I’m still going to be there… (and by the time this blog goes out, my name should have been added to the list on that link, as it should have been from the start).  So, if you’re interested, I’ll be selling and signing any of my print-edition books, as well as any swag I have on hand, at the event.  I won’t be alone; there will be many other authors at the event, including (of particular note for fans of the sci-fi\fantasy genre) the bestselling and multiple-award-winning, multi-talented author, teacher, scientist, ballet dancer, and musician Catherine Asaro.

But the issue prompted me to think about everything I’ve gone through so far for what will be my first sales event:

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I took inventory of my books a couple weeks ago. I ordered some copies of the one book that I didn’t have any copies of, but I already had enough of the others to be okay. I also bought a few display stands at the same time — I already had a few for conventions, but I figured I would need more for this event.  They shipped just this morning, but they’re supposed to arrive well before the event.

I also took inventory of my swag. I still have plenty of my keychain-sized stuffed fennec foxes, but not enough of them have the bow ties that include the Fennec Fox Press branding. We have the ribbon on hand, but my mother needs to get her embroidery machine up and running to put the branding on it. I’ll have a few on hand, though, at a minimum, and they’ll be for sale as long as I have a surplus.  I also have some postcards and a few other little things of that nature.

I want to get some additional swag made, though — something cheap enough to give away, but useful enough people won’t toss it in the trash the moment they get home.  Most commonly, when other authors try for this type of swag, it includes things such as pens and refrigerator magnets.  I was hoping the people who did my postcards would be able to make these, but they say that their particular franchise won’t do magnets (though some other franchises in their company will).

There are two alternatives I’ve considered that might be able to do those magnets.  The first, and the more expensive option, is Vistaprint, a business that a number of other authors I know recommend for business cards and the like.  The other is a local option, both on the front-end and in the manufacturing capacities, and it has the advantage of allowing me to REAL PEOPLE about my needs… and it’s cheaper, as well.  I still need to go and talk to the local option before making my decision final; I’ll have to do that soon, though, because there isn’t much time before the event.

There’s also legal stuff. I’ve been running Fennec Fox Press as a sole proprietor with a DBA (Doing Business As, a legal business\fictitious name) from the beginning of my writing career, and will continue to do so (for now, though if I ever bring in other authors for anthologies or the like I’ll be switching to a LLC), but I’ve never needed to bother with the aspects of the business that would put me in a position to have to collect sales tax.  I’ve actively avoided doing certain things because I didn’t want to deal with that, and I didn’t see much short-term return on them.  I’ve been thinking about setting this up for some time, thinking I would maybe try selling some of my books at Marscon or Ravencon earlier this year, but things didn’t quite come together in time and so I never bothered.

For an event like this, however, I’ll almost certainly have to collect sales tax. I have yet to complete all of the paperwork, but it’s in process and I SHOULD have it ready in time. (From a legal perspective, according to the research I’ve done on the local regulations, I won’t be getting in any significant trouble if the paperwork is a little late; I just need to make sure I collect the appropriate tax when I do the sales, and file the paperwork as soon as possible)

And this means I’ll need to set things up to take credit card payments.  I’ve set up a Square account, and I’m waiting on a card reader now.  The card reader is very basic (it’s the one that only works with magnetic strips, not chips), but it should see me through this event just fine.  Long term, once I learn my way around this system, I’ll be able to set up a store for directly selling my books from my website, and maybe replace that card reader with a more modern one that’ll also work with chip-based cards and the like.

So… I’m not ready yet.  I’ve got a lot of things in progress, though, so hopefully, by September 29th (the date of the Eat Local, Read Local event), I’ll have everything done.

And if Loudoun County is just slightly outside of your driving range but you still want to go to a book sales event, you’re in luck.  Turns out on the same day, at the same time, in Fredricksburg Virginia, there’s the Fredricksburg Independent Book Festival, where Martin Wilsey, one of the other authors of the Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders anthology, will be selling his wares.

Meanwhile, a PARTIAL manuscript for the next Law of Swords book is with the editor.  I had to rip out an entire subplot right before deadline, in order to make things work in the conclusion, and that’s going to involve re-writing two complete chapters and portions of several others.  That has delayed completion a little, but if I can win the race of finishing those rewrites before he reaches the end of the portion of the manuscript I’ve already sent him, I ultimately won’t lose any time.

The book will certainly be out before the end of the year, regardless… (though, sadly, it doesn’t look like it will be out before the Eat Local, Read Local event.  Ah, well).  It may not have the cover that I showed off earlier this year, though — my test-audience doesn’t like that cover for a variety of reasons.

I hired a skilled and experienced artist, and liked the artwork myself, but I did have a few reservations.  I thought the problems I had with all had to do with the change of style — no-one is going to match the style of the original artwork perfectly — but the test audience I’ve shown it to has several objections, some of which I share.  None of them, surprisingly, are about the subject of the cover; mostly it’s about the coloring, the proportional size of the dragon, Euleilla’s hairstyle, and the texture of the stonework on the castle wall), so I may need to replace that artwork.  Which probably will mean a new artist search.  I’ve still got that cover as a fall-back, though.

As far as the next Shieldclads book is concerned (something I know many visitors to my blog are interested in), I’ll be starting that as soon as I’m done with the Law of Swords manuscript and can get the rest of it off to the editor… though, by now, I’ve learned better than to try and predict a completion date.

Link Shares

I don’t think there are any link-shares this week (something may have come in this morning, but I can’t check right now), so instead I’ll use this space to plug the crowdfunding campaign for Starflight 3.  The fondness I have for the original games has me pushing for this to succeed, though the fundraising target they’ve set has me worried for it.  If you’re willing to help me support a sequel to one of the very best PC computer games of the 1980s, please look into it.

Createspace is Going Away…

I started the week not knowing what I would post this week, but figured — with Dragoncon happening, and roughly half of my Facebook friends at Dragoncon — I would have something to talk about by the end of the week.  Turns out I do have something to talk about, but it has nothing to do with Dragoncon after all.

It’s been rumored for months, but the shoe has dropped and its no longer just a rumor. The POD service that does my print editions, Createspace, is being phased into KDP Print.  Now, you could go through that link to read some of the details, but honestly it’s probably more than you want to know.  It won’t be happening right away, though, as apparently they’ve been having issues with the migration and the “tools” needed for authors to make the transition smoother are being restricted to specific authors in batches; I still don’t have the ability to access those tools, and it may be weeks before I get them.  However, by all accounts Createspace will be no more by the end of the year.

So, what does it mean?  Not much to you.  Depending on how smooth the transition goes, there may be zero disruption of sales or it may be my print books will be taken off the market for as much as two-to-three days.  Most likely, it’ll be offline for a few minutes and that’s it.

To me, for now, it means a little administrative work.  Some of my record keeping might need to change.  I don’t think this will have any effect on any of my eBooks, so if you’re like the majority of my customers it won’t matter (the ratio has improved slightly, but I’m still selling something close to a 200-to-1 ratio of ebook to print book).  If you want to buy print copies of my books and you live somewhere OTHER than the United States, there’s a greater likelihood you’ll be able to get it (KDP Print and Createspace have had two different “territories” they would distribute books to; those territories are being merged along with the two companies).

This won’t effect me much, but the distribution merger can result in some oddities you might find from other indie authors.  For example, IF I had a Japanese-language translation of my books, you could get it in Japan… but only if the text is written in Romaji (the English-language alphabet and not kana or kanji (the Japanese ‘alphabet,’ or rather syllabary).  Japanese characters and fonts are not supported, even if distribution to Japan is.

That doesn’t mean the only changes you’ll see are a few minutes when my books won’t be on sale and some added distribution.  The other changes may not show up for a while, however; they don’t need to be done right away, and they’ll take some doing, so they can wait until I’ve finished the current projects I’m working on.

From my previous experience with KDP Print, I know that they have slightly different cover design requirements (things like KDP Print is less flexible with where you place the ISBN code).  So, some time in the next few months (probably to coincide with the release of In Division Imperiled, the third book of the Law of Swords series) I’ll be tweaking the cover a bit so that the designs of the new books and the old books will match better.  The old cover art will be used for all of the old books (well, with the possible exception of The Kitsune Stratagem.  I like the current cover art, but based on the criticism I’ve received, I’m coming to the conclusion that one big reason it has been such a slow-seller compared to my other books is the cover art), but there will be slight differences to all of my major print books to conform better to KDP Print design standards.

The interiors should remain the same, though, regardless, so if you already have a copy there won’t be a point in buying another one… though I won’t object if you do.  If you were thinking of buying one, though, and haven’t, (for any of In Treachery Forged, In Forgery Divided, The Kitsune Stratagem, or The Merrimack Event), and you would like the old cover, you probably should buy one now.  (It shouldn’t matter much, but if my books ever become collectables these older covers should be worth more).

Now that they’ve added many of the features I was missing the last time I tried it out, I think KDP Print will work out fine once the transition is complete… but I’ll miss Createspace.

Link Exchange

Just two things again, this week.  And I was worried this link exchange thing was going to bury my blog…

From Cyn Bagley, the third book of her EJ Hunter series (the previous two having been featured in prior blogs), Diamond Butterfly.

From Holly Chism comes a short story collection, Normalcy Bias.