It’s been a decade since I’d written books and I was both shocked and stoked to see how the publishing world had changed up close and personal. And once again I’ve learned writing books is similar to raising a family, once done you are frequently surprised where they end up and what they are doing!
My second book (a decade ago) was a series of female ghost stories that had all revenues go to capital improvements for a local women’s shelter.
My daughter’s twelfth birthday was spent enjoying the female ghosts in the book re-enacted by local actresses all around town at a book signing fund raiser. Later the book spawned a cottage industry of tween birthday parties where the young ladies spent party time searching out story sites on my little island home! It always surprised when I stumbled upon one and thrilled the middle school party girls (and, no, it wasn’t intended as a children’s book).
Back in the Dark Ages of the turn of millennium a writer likely did what I did – write some chapters, interest a publisher and got a contract. The excitement of said contract paled when I actually read it and learned that money gained upon signing came out of future royalties, all marketing was done both on my initiative and dime, and any books sold I had to first buy from the publishers for about seven dollars a book. Heck, I could print books myself, assuming I ordered a large quantity, for four dollars each so why use a middleman?
My realization eventually became the death knells for publishers as the recent advent of Amazon’s print on demand (want one copy, a dozen, thousands – it’s all the same per book price.) made a publisher’s services literally (pun intended) passé. Amazon is now the god of literacy and like all manmade gods, Amazon is a fickle one!
In today’s world nearly everyone publishes their own books and to do so one must understand how to market your book to stand out from the gazillions of self-published books released daily. Granted, it is nice to have the power of publishers to say no to your efforts out of the equation, but a downside to that is the sheer volume of available books of varying quality.
Luckily God made social media and email to help you pin, post, tweet and twerp about your books until the Mexican cows come home. Having already acquired gobs of emails from four years volunteering around town, plus from the History and Culture Walking Tours that TripAdvisor adores and promotes, I dipped my toes into social media. Quickly learned I wore FaceBook well especially when sharing my expertise at being SMA’s Virgin expert.
Being a visual thinker and short story writer, FaceBook played to my strengths. That and there are a lot of SMA related groups covering everything from stuff for sale to succulents (plants, not vampires) to post images and stories on.
The key to any social media foray is you must leap in long before your book arrives on the market. You need to participate and build your on line reputation. I quickly realized my near daily reflections on that day’s SMA events were my most popular posts.
Well, truth be told, current events paled in popularity compared to my doll posts. My book covers feature the locally crafted Maria (for Virgin Mary) dolls local Otomi women make. I had great fun for weeks placing Marias in rather silly situations (horseback riding, in jail or getting their yarn hair cut and colored) to promote the plight of being a local book cover super model!
Between my posts, emails and articles in SMA magazines everyone in town knew of the San Miguel de Allende Secrets books being released. Or they were dead which meant my Day of the Dead book was redundant for them!
Show Me the Money
If you are writing (or giving tours or lectures) on present day expressions of history and culture for your income you will starve. These are things one does because you cannot not do. Still, I did learn two shocking economic trends.
The first key financial lesson is there is no money in paperback sales. As soon the as the series got placed on Amazon re-sellers started popping up at pennies less per book. How could that be? No paperbacks had been sold for there to be a re-sale market across Canada and the US!
Turns out re-sellers can have a deal with Amazon so, for example, let’s say it costs you five dollars to have your book printed so you sell copies at ten dollars. The re-seller also gets your book at your five dollar author cost, sees your post at 10 and, boom, their version of your book costs 9.89. They don’t even need to buy a book in anticipation of future sales so you receive no royalties in reselling.
On the reverse side of the coin is book readers can join Amazon’s Kindle Club to download unlimited Kindle books each month. Seemingly there is no money for you, the writer, in that either. However, Amazon is a powerful god and they can tell how pages in your book actually got read and you are credited a small stipend per page. (And why Kindle authors move their Table of Contents to the back of book so it gets “read” when readers hop to the end of a book.)
Don’t plan on an all expense paid city bus trip to Atotonilco on your royalties even after hundreds of your books are downloaded (and read). However, it was kind of fascinating the first Saturday night the book series came out to literally (pun intended, again) see the number of pages get read via a line chart in real time!
Lucky for me the weekend my books came out was my high school reunion so I jumped between line charts on pages being read to reunion images. Here I learned how Debbie Swercheck that sat in front of me in Spanish class (Swercheck then Toone in alphabetical seating, natch) that I had a deep, and secret, crush on was still gorgeous.
And also gay, so that was misspent teen angst energy on my part!
So despite a book market flooded with SMA books on buying a house, planning a vacation or finding love my books on Virgins, Saints, raising the dead, Easter and Christmas jumped right up to the top of the charts. I’m now a bestselling author of the SMA Secrets series in Mexican History, Holidays and, much to my surprise, Short Stories (Amazon can a giving god!)
Plus instead of tween birthday parties, my books are now required reading at the US Air Force Academy for pilots learning Spanish and Mexican History and Culture!
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkin