The Care and Maintenance of a Prolific Author's Marketplace

Just because Gwyneth is a slob doesn't mean you have to be
The beauty of indie self-publishing is that you can release whatever you want whenever you want.

The ugly side of indie self-publishing is the same thing.

Imagine your marketplace is a real brick and mortar store, and imagine you're a customer. How would you feel if you walked into a place where things were stacked in off-kilter piles in corners, with no apparent attempt at organization, versus walking into a well-lit, clean space where everything is meticulously arranged and easy to identify? You'd much rather buy from that proprietor, wouldn't you? While there is a sort of romance associated with being surrounded by big, sloppy piles of books, it quickly becomes annoying when you're the one doing the buying, and all you want to know is who a particular author is and what they've written.

My friend Armand Rosamilia touched on this the other day on his blog, about "how much is too much" to have for sale. And while we agree that there is probably no real limit, it's important to have it properly organized. Just because you have a mountainous backlog at your disposal doesn't mean you should dump it on an unassuming public willy-nilly. While having a large library is one key secret to larger and more consistent sales, it's a bit of a detriment to your career if you don't at least attempt to arrange your selections. You don't want people who look up your name on Amazon be confused. You don't want them to feel overwhelmed. You want them to see your inventory, what's related, what's bundled, and what's stand-alone.

If you're new to this whole self-publishing thing with five or fewer titles under your belt, you understandably won't have to worry about this so much. I've been doing this for over two years, though, and I now have seventeen things up for sale in the wide world of e-books, most of those short stories, and things are starting to feel a bit unwieldy. So let's go through a few different examples of how your e-book selections can start to get out of hand and possibly work against you.

1. Shit Tons of Shorts

Buy Me....
When you have a lot of short stories like I do, it might not be a bad idea to consider bundling them into a collection once you have about 8 or more. Right now, I have my holiday bundle, The Twelve Days of Dickson, up for sale, but after the holiday season is over, I will likely just release it under a less seasonal title and then keep releasing volumes of 12 stories once a year or so.

Of course, if you go this route, it means you have to consider whether you want to keep all of your individual stories up for sale as well, or if you want to take at least a few of them down and make them exclusive for your collections. But be careful. When you do this, you run the risk of pissing people off if they buy your collection only to find they own most  if not all of the individual stories you put in it. There's where clear labeling and product description comes into play, and that's where extras become very handy.

If you're smart, you also held back a few stories and maybe some novel excerpts you haven't published yet. Put those in to entice even your regular followers as well as the new people to pick up the collection. Make the purchase feel like big, fun goodie bags with all sorts of extras people can't find anywhere else. Also, make sure you go to the product pages of the individual short stories and put in the description that this title is available in a larger collection. If you have the time, putting it in each of your e-book files, perhaps as a blurb at the end (if you liked this story, check out Blah Blah Story Bundle Volume 1, where you'll find x-number more chilling/awesome stories!) isn't a bad idea either. Any opportunity you have to remind the readers that you have something more for sale, or that one piece of work is part of a much larger body of work, is an opportunity to make money and gain new rewders, so tie your stuff together as much as possible.

2. Serial Novels Out Da Butt

I'm not even sure Brooks
knows what book of what sub-
series this is
It isn't enough to just write a standalone book. Nearly everything has series potential, and if you've created several books centered around the same character or universe, then you are going to need to be very clear about a few things. One, what's the name of the series, and two, what number in the series is this volume. You've probably noticed this, but some people REALLY SUCK at doing this, even the books put out by Big 6 publishers. It's not just the author's fault, but the publisher. They'll say it's Book 2 or 12 of Whatever Saga (if you're lucky), but you flip open the book and there is no list of what the previous books are in the front matter. Maybe it's because the front matter was constructed before the other books came out, and it would cost too much money to print new shit. I don't know. It's irrelevant to what you're doing as an e-publisher, where you can change things on the fly and pretty much do whatever you want.

Just please, if you've written a series, be as redundant as possible. Put it on the cover, the front matter, AND the product page. Don't leave your readers guessing. Give them EVERY opportunity to buy your books.

3. Every Genre Under the Sun

You write zombie porn, steampunk, YA lit, and legal suspense thrillers. What the hell is a widely varied author supposed to do, and how can you make sure that you aren't confusing your fans and making sure that you aren't alienating them? It's debatable whether you want to use a pseudonym. Some people don't, and that's fine, however if you write coming-of-age kid stories by day and the tribulations of cockring-wearing werewolves by night, you really might want to consider a pseudonym. For the children. Otherwise, if your name is the only one you want associated with your work, you have to be very clear that this is how you're marketing yourself--a writer of all genres. And you have to make sure that your covers and descriptions, your web presence, and everything you do fully encompasses this rainbow persona.

Personally, I'd pick the pseudonym. It isn't like you have to keep your real identity a secret. You can even do what Stephen King does when he puts out a Richard Bachman book (which he still does, from time to time). All the Bachman covers now say, "Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman." The Bachman books were a slight but discernible departure from King's standard work in terms of style (Bachman was a tad more literary), though his main reason for picking the pseudo in the first place was that his publisher was worried about over-saturating the marking with his "brand." Once it was found out that King was in fact Bachman, the jig was up, and King just sort of started treating Bachman as one of his alter-egos, releasing books with that name on them if they varied somewhat from his usual fare.

But things have changed since then. It's no secret that romance author Nora Roberts is also the sci-fi crime writer J.D. Robb. It's just a way to put a partition between the different types of work she does. She doesn't want to get her lady-friendly romance chocolate in her likely more aimed toward dudes sci-fi peanut butter, so to speak. Pseudonyms are so when people put Allison M. Dickson into the Amazon search box, they get the horror/thriller/sci-fi stories they've come to expect from her, and not bodice-ripping were-pire zombie orgy tomes she usually writes under the name Harry S. Fukstix. It's just a way to keep things a little neater, even though it's no secret that I'm Harry S. Fukstix (or I will be--I dig that pseudo). While your given name is something to be proud of, it's also your brand, and you don't want to muddle your brand with so much variation that you risk people not knowing what to call you. Sure, Stephen King might write in a different genre from time to time, but most of his work shares a common thread: it fucks with your head. If people can't view that sort of common thread in your work, you really should consider another name to serve as a placeholder for your major genre departures.

A prolific author has a lot to worry about when keeping up appearances, but it goes beyond just the marketplace. You also should have a pretty clean and concise website. I try to update my site's portfolio every couple months, and I also try to keep an update list of works in all of my ebooks, separated by short stories and novels. It's tedious as all get-out, too. I haven't found an e-publishing site yet that makes it easy to perform changes across an entire batch of titles in one go, instead of going through file after file. But it's time well spent, especially if it nets more sales.