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Brand Identity

Published November 15, 2017 in Advice - 0 Comments

When I started my career with traditionally published novels, my editors and publicists encouraged me to make sure I mentioned the publisher whenever I talked in interviews and panels. I would promote my novels and proudly announce that it was “from Signet Books” or “from Bantam Books” or HarperCollins, or Warner, or Tor. I would print up my own postcards and bookmarks, sometimes even take out ads in publications. Once, I was roundly criticized for forgetting to put a publisher’s logo on the back of a postcard (that I paid for out of my own pocket).

It’s a basic commercial principle to promote brand loyalty among your consumers. Coke drinkers always drink Coke. Budweiser drinkers always drink Bud. Car owners are loyal to Ford or to GM. But…publishers?

I was an avid reader, a dedicated writer, earnestly trying to get a foothold in the industry. I paid attention to the news, to the editors, to shifts in publishing, but even I would have been hard pressed to define the difference between, say, an Ace science fiction book and a Roc science fiction book (yes, they are now under the same parent company). Or a Tor epic fantasy instead of a DAW epic fantasy.

Sure, there are some exceptions, most notably Baen Books, which has not only carved out a niche and a brand for themselves in the types of fiction they publish—generally reader-driven and fast-paced rather than literary and artsy-fartsy—and they even have a distinctive brand look with their cover art and type design. Baen has also drawn together a very devoted group of their core readers through parties at conventions, online forums, and extremely loyal authors.

But that’s the exception. As an author, I’ve been published by Signet, Tor, Bantam, Ace, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Pocket, Gallery, Kensington, Hodder & Stoughton, Warner, Baen, and more. Some of those books or series went out of print from one publisher to be picked up by another. Did my readers really notice the brand name on the spine, or did they go for the author or the series?

The dramatic changes in the book industry lag behind similar changes in the music industry. When was the last time you actually paid attention to what record label your favorite band or album was on? Who released Led Zeppelin? Pink Floyd? Celine Dion? Taylor Swift? My favorite band Rush was on Mercury Records for their first several albums, but at some point it changed to “Anthem Records.” As an administrative matter with behind-the scenes paperwork and distribution, it made a difference to the band, but as a listener, it made no difference to me.

Same with movie studios. I’m pretty sure everyone knows the original Star Wars movies were from 20th Century Fox because of the seminal fanfare before the rollup text, but—quick!—which studio released the Predator movies? The Transformers movies? The Twilight movies?

One of the little-recognized consequences of the widespread changes in publishing and the surge in indie authors is that it has almost entirely erased the lines of brand identity for publishers. Most indie authors create a “publishing house” and a logo for their own books. In a few years, what used to be a dozen or so major publishing houses and hundreds of smaller ones including university presses, has become hundreds of thousands of imprints, all of which look “real” on the amazon listing.

When you order a book called The Ogre’s Toothache because the title is intriguing, the cover art looks good, the story sounds amusing, and you’ve read something by that author before, do you really notice—and more important, does it affect your buying decision—whether the publisher is listed as Gallery Books or Moonglimmer Books? (Gallery Books is real, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, but I just made up Moonglimmer Books…though I wouldn’t be surprised if such an imprint actually exists somewhere.)

When Rebecca Moesta and I formed WordFire Press, it was merely an exercise to release the eBooks of my own out-of-print backlist, to which I had reacquired the rights. We had called our own company WordFire, Inc. for many years, so WordFire Press was the obvious name. We had no intention of building it into a much larger publishing company. Rebecca herself created our original WFP logo with a graphics program, and then other author friends of mine, seeing the success of our original releases, came to us with titles of their own, and our publishing company unintentionally expanded.

At first, we took all kinds of books from author friends, some out-of-print romances, some unusual nonfiction titles. (In fact, technically, our very first book was a rather esoteric religious treatise by Rebecca’s father, which we published as a gift for him.) We didn’t really have a brand identity, nor did we intend to, but as we grew and we saw which books performed well and which ones didn’t, we started to focus on particular types of fiction, mainly the kind of stuff I liked.

As we revamped our website, we also got a snazzy new logo. We built up our author and title list, and we started to get a little more attention through word of mouth. But the real thing that began to draw recognition as “WordFire Press” rather than “Some Publisher” was our monumental effort of exhibiting at numerous conventions, comic cons, and pop-culture shows around the country. We gave our authors a chance to meet fans face to face, hand-sell and autograph their books, an opportunity to be seen by thousands of potential readers in a day. In 2016 we did 22 shows with a total attendance of 1.5 Million people. (That was insane, and those operations are now run by Rabid Fanboy, so that I can concentrate on the publishing end and, more importantly, my own writing career.) But even under Rabid Fanboy, the “Bard’s Tower” gives ambitious WordFire authors the opportunity to have the “famous author experience.”

But do I think that readers have a strong brand loyalty, that they pick up a book because it has the WordFire Press logo on the spine, rather than because it has a story that fascinates them, an author they’ve enjoyed before? No, I don’t think so.

Now, more than ever, you can’t rely on the brand of a publisher. You have to rely on your own brand as an author or the brand of your series. You have to rely on YOU.

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Getting Away from It All

Published November 4, 2017 in Advice - 0 Comments

As the weather turns colder and hiking season wraps up, it’s time for some reflection and nostalgia.

I have been on some truly epic adventures and vacations, but simply “getting away from it all” to recharge the creative batteries doesn’t always need to be an ambitious, expensive, and time-consuming project.

With a busy schedule, I have often needed to snatch quick, impromptu “micro-vacations.” I like to carve out an overnight camping trip, throwing sleeping bags and supplies, a cookstove and a bundle of firewood in the back of the SUV. A quick run to the grocery store to pick up hot dogs, buns, beans, chips, soda, eggs, even a can of spam. (Sitting in camp, near the fire, may be the only time and place that hot dogs or spam taste truly delicious.)

Within a few hours’ drive, there are any number of state park or national forest campgrounds, offering beautiful wooded sites, picnic table, and firepit for $10-$15. I love to head out in the morning, find a good spot, set up a quick camp, then go for a hike. Back at the site, I’ll build a campfire, sit at the picnic table, and edit chapters on my laptop—what could be a better office? It becomes a challenge for me whether to put up with the pesky insects or the (arguably worse) smelly, greasy bug repellent.

As the sun goes down and the temperature drops, I’ll sit close to the campfire and read a little. Then I’ll unroll the sleeping bag and pad in the back of the SUV and close myself in for the night, playing a DVD on the portable player, drinking a pint of microbrew from the growler I brought along, cozying up in my little bubble, and having a great night.

The next morning I’ll wake up refreshed, get up into the cool dawn air, light the campstove to make instant coffee and scrambled eggs (with spam, of course) before packing up and catching a quick hike before I drive home.

It’s just a quick, two-day trip requiring little planning or expense, but with a large payoff in recuperation and inspiration.

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I’m a Professor! Certificate in Publishing

Published October 27, 2017 in Advice - 0 Comments

Following up on my announcement from a few weeks ago, I’m now on the faculty of Western State Colorado University as an adjunct professor in the Graduate Program for Creative Writing. I’m helping out with their Certificate of Publishing program and I’m currently the only finalist candidate to serve as director of the program starting next summer (a position I hope to be offered as soon as I finish my MFA, which is a requirement).

It’s an exciting program unlike any other (in my opinion), a real hands-on program covering the range of publishing options, from traditional to new-model independent publishing. I’ve already formally updated the course descriptions to make sure we cover all the changes in the rapidly evolving field. We’re actively looking for students, but it’s limited to only 6-8 attendees, so we can do it right. Western’s Certificate in Publishing program is 13 months long, almost entirely online, with a two week intensive residency (in the gorgeous Colorado mountains) each summer in July (each cohort does two of these intensives, two years in a row). You can find more information at Western’s Publishing Certificate    Remember, only 6-8 students. I hope you’ll want to join us.

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We’re Full of Stars! ADVENTURE SF STORYBUNDLE

Published October 4, 2017 in Advice - 0 Comments

Strap into your cockpit, fire up the faster-than-light engines, and set course for the nearest star. I’ve got a grab bag of 13 excellent science fiction books all in one new Adventure SF storybundle. Get them all for as little as $15, and help out a great charity, too!

I put in a brand new action-packed story, The Blood Prize, featuring the popular character Colt the Outlander from Heavy Metal magazines, with all new art by the Aradio Brothers. Robert J. Sawyer offers his classic novel Far Seer (a planet of intelligent dinosaurs!). Raymond Bolton’s Awakening shows a fantasy civilization on the cusp of the industrial revolution faced with an alien invasion.

    

You’ll read different adventures on very different lunar colonies in Gray Rinehart’s Walking on a Sea of Clouds, Lou Agresta’s Club Anyone, and T. Allen Diaz’s Lunatic City, as well as Louis Antonelli’s alternate space race and murder on the moon in Dragon-Award nominee Another Girl, Another Planet.

      

Jody Lynn Nye’s Taylor’s Ark follows the adventures of a star-traveling MD with a specialty in environmental medicine, and Brenda Cooper’s Endeavor-Award winning The Silver Ship and the Sea is a gripping story of prisoners of war abandoned on a rugged colony planet. Acclaimed, award-winning author Paul di Filippo gives a collection of his best stories in Lost Among the Stars.

    

And for thrilling military SF, the bundle also has Honor and Fidelity by Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Recruit by Jonathan P. Brazee, and the hilarious adventures of Phule’s Company in Robert Lynn Asprin’s Phule’s Paradise.

  

The Adventure SF storybundle runs for only three weeks. You can get the base level of five books for $5, or all 14 for as little as $15. Pay what you like, and a portion goes to support the great efforts of the Challenger Learning Centers for Space Science Education.

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