The panel emphasized that unless you were writing as a hobby with marginal expenditures and earnings, you need to run it as a business. Annie recommended watching “Shark Tank” to get the flavor of it.
Publishers are not employers. They can and will drop you and your books. You have to look after your own career.
If you’re self-publishing, you have to find and hire and co-ordinate with editors and cover artists. It’s your book when you write it, but once you publish it, it’s a product. Like hamburger. You want people to love your hamburger. Put on your publisher hat .
You can find a cover artist by looking at the covers you like, and contacting the artist. Or ask the author of the book who the artist is.
Annie: Very important to find an artist branded to your genre, who understands the tropes of your genre. If you’re a romance writer and you hate man-chests… well, that’s the branding for your genre. The cover must convey the flavor of the genre. (She related a story of going through 4 different covers for one of her books to get the right one. The first two weren’t too expensive, but the 3rd one cost $650. And it was a beautiful cover, just not right for the genre.)
Raven Oak does A/B splits to see which cover will work (for books from her micro-press).
Back cover blurb: Keep it short, but long enough to convey the tone. It should capture the character, setting, tone, and stakes.
Annie: A new book. It boosts the sales of all your books. Besides that, good covers. Third, mailing lists.
Jak: Blurbs and reviews. (Annie disagreed. Kirkus reviews had no effect on sales. The only one that mattered was Library Journal and that was hard to get into.)
Raven: Make friends with librarians, other contacts like Seattle Times, independent book sellers.
Various income streams?
Tori: Amazon is the largest, Kobo if they do a promotion
Annie: Amazon dwarfs the rest. In one month, I made $31,000 on Amazon, $1500 on audio, $700 on Kobo and bits and pieces elsewhere. [I’m not completely sure I noted down the numbers correctly, but the point was that Amazon accounts for at least 80-85% of her income stream.]
Jak writes traditionally published books. Many have earned out. He also does freelance work for hire.
What about audio? When is a good time to do an audio book?
Someone (Raven? Jak?) said, ideal would be right away. Annie pointed out that making an audio book was expensive – it would cost $150 per hour or so just for a voice actor. She suggested waiting for Audible or one of its competitors to approach you. She has a audio contract with royalties.
Definitely get an accountant. Very well worth it.
Keep records meticulously, in real time. Record all your earning at the time in an Excel spreadsheet. The IRS recognizes income when it can reasonably be expected to arrive, not when you actually cash the check. A lot of expenses are deductible, including furnishings for a dedicated home office.
Don’t expect a 1099 will arrive. You may have to track it down. You’re responsible.
Is an LLC worth it?
Probably not. It’s state level, not federal level. It doesn’t make a difference on taxes. It only protects against liability, but not against libel/ slander/ copyright infringement – the things of most interest to authors. If you get sued, you would be better off using the money to hire a lawyer. It’s only useful if you want to hire employees. If you’re big enough, you may want to form a corporation, but only when you’re really big.
What about Conventions? And what promotional material do you use?
Jak: I go to all affordable Cons within driving distance. For large Cons that are outside driving distance, I try to combine it with other stuff like visits to family. WorldCon is huge. I use business-card size cards of my book covers with contact information.
Annie: I go to Cons to hang out, meet other writers, and help others. I go to local Cons and WorldCon. I don’t sell a lot of books at Cons.
Tori: I go to local Cons, and now I’m the Track Lead at Norwescon. It’s for learning, meeting people. I carry business cards.
Raven: I go to all local cons, and a few outside. I booth. Sell books, make a connection with readers. When I’m at a Con, Con sales outsell online sales. (She also has “drop cards” that enable her to sell her ebooks at conventions to people not interested in buying print editions.)
Other forms of promotion? What about social media?
Annie: Have a mailing list and a monthly newsletter. Doesn’t really promote her books on social media.
Raven: I use Instagram. Pictures of our books photographed in interesting locations. It does boost sales.
General suggestion: Pick the social media you already love. You may or may not get much of a sales boost from it, so don’t do it if you hate it.