June 23, 2011

How many does a "successful" person sell?

Blog, in the past couple weeks I've received an amazing number of emails asking questions about how to sell more books. The question isn't amazing...it's that people are asking me. That mystery aside, of course all authors constantly ponder how to increase their sales. As do artists, musicians, photographers, crafters, and others who sell their creative output. Most of us can't shake the feeling that we aren't as successful as we should be.

But to me, the significant question is, what's "successful"?

Naturally, we artists measure success by what we observe about others engaged in our respective crafts. And whom are we looking at when making these judgments? Celebrities, of course. We can see the success of top authors in store windows, bestseller lists, and movie credits. Successful authors, apparently, are featured in magazine articles and do cameos on TV shows. People know their names. After all, we do.

By contrast, one cannot consider herself a success when her claims to fame are things like having a book featured on a bookstore chain table once, or doing a radio interview once, or appearing at a convention once. Those moments come and go (and don't even sell a whole lot of books, necessarily). Surely you're not a successful author if you haven't had a book sell in six figures, right?

And so, we artists think of ourselves as below even Z-list celebrities. It's a hobby, not a career. I haven't made it yet, but I'm still hoping. My big break could come soon, and then...Oprah! (Oops, Blog, we're going to have to find some goal to take the place of Oprah.)

Hold it, there, everyone. It's time to step back and wrap your mind around the reality of "success." And to do so, I want to crunch some numbers. For the sake of discussion, let's look at the art of selling books.

  • In 2009 over a million new books were published in the U.S. (source: Bowkers)
  • In 2009, 282 million books were sold in the U.S. (source: Nielsen BookScan) 

Let's say, very generously, that half of them were brand new titles. That would mean new titles averaged sales of 141 copies. Now, keep in mind that most of the sales went to the few highly publicized titles...so it's safer to say 100 copies or fewer was the average for "ordinary" books.

I found figures for non-fiction books (which always outsell fiction), and the average sales are 250/year or 3,000 for a non-fiction book's lifetime. Book sales are declining 5-6% a year, while the number of titles published has more than tripled in four years, so those figures are not going to get any larger.

I read that, depending upon the subject of your book, there are 100 to 1,000 titles competing for one bookstore shelf space. So, if an author gets even one title into bookstores (which may or may not translate into sales, of course) why shouldn't that constitute staggering success? Isn't being in the top 1% of your field a kind of success?

Blog, I totally understand why artists strive to have a bestseller, get a lead role in a movie, have a gallery show in New York, have their own brand of consumer products. I'm all for pursuing those lofty goals. But I think we all need to scale way back on our sense of "success." 

Think of it this way: When a person decides to get fast food, they have maybe a dozen options to choose from. If your franchise was in the top three, you'd feel pretty successful! Well, there are about 9 million book titles offered on Amazon. Even if only once a day, somebody picked your book title out of 9 million, why shouldn't you feel successful?

Or, look at the issue from another angle, that of a crafter selling her work on Etsy.com. Etsy sold $40 million worth of stuff in May--it's a good marketplace. Well...in May, 1.7 million new items were listed for sale. 2 million items were sold. That means if you sold more than one item in the month of May on Etsy, you were quite a bit above average!

You're getting the picture, Blog. We all need to remember that the marketplace is huge and fragmented. In this century, no one "corners the market" anymore but Google, Amazon, Netflix and Stephenie Meyer. I'm exaggerating a bit (but not much)...but my point is, it's time to recalibrate the meaning of success to today's market. To rephrase that old break-up line, it's not you, it's the marketplace.

If your video gets a thousand hits on YouTube, well, go you! If you sell two paintings or sculptures a month--bravo! If your book sells 300 copies a year, congrats, you're a real author.

The point is, your creations are are being experienced and enjoyed by an audience. You're not hiding your talents under a bushel.

You're a success.

June 17, 2011

Charlie Sheen vs. me, on being a 'rock star'

Blog, I'm right now picturing the interesting discussion that might ensue, were I and Charlie Sheen to appear as a two-person panel of experts providing advice on "how to become a 'rock star.'" Obviously Charlie's been pretty successful at the Celebrity Thang--getting headlines, attracting admirers, and so on. I, on the other hand, not so much. Still, allow me the presumption of placing myself on this panel and putting my ideas up against Charlie's. Okay, Blog, you can be moderator. Give us a question and let's see where this goes.

Blog: Right. Well, let's start by asking for your definition of 'rock star' for the purposes of this discussion. Charlie?

Fictitious Voice of Mr. Sheen Created by the Author: Obviously that would be me, Blog--duh!

Blog: Sure, okay. Diana?

Diana:  To me, a 'rock star' person is someone that others are drawn to, admire, and/or emulate. You want to be around that person, and it makes you happy to watch them, be in their presence. They seem larger than life, and stand out from the crowd.

Blog: Certainly true of my favorite 'rock star,' the Internet Movie Database. Okay, so what does it take to become this rock star?

FVOMSCBTA aka Charlie: Besides being Charlie Sheen? Nothing.

Blog: Adonis DNA?

FVOMSCBTA: Only if you're not already Charlie Sheen, moron.

Blog: Uh-huh. Diana?

Diana: Charlie's right that it helps to have self-confidence. But I'd like to suggest that you don't even need too much of that if you simply focus on the other person/people instead of yourself. Even an outrageously self-confident person such as Lady Gaga succeeds just as much by putting effort into making her fans feel important to her and valuable.

Blog: So a shy, introverted person can possibly be a rock star too?

Diana: Sure! My advice to shy people (and I'm kind of shy myself) is forget how you're looking, acting, talking, and get inside your audience. How is he/she/they feeling? Needing a sympathetic ear? Wanting to share something they feel is exciting? Looking for encouragement, answers, a laugh? Forget yourself and be what they need, and you'll find you're a bit of a rock star in their eyes, no matter what.

FVOMSCBTA: That's not winning!

Diana: Ah, but it is! Maybe not right at that moment, but someday your audience will treat you like a rock star, because you cared.

FVOMSCBTA: Aw come on, most of those motherf-ers will be users.

Diana: There's a few users in every crowd, Fake Voice of Charlie, but you'll figure out who they are and who truly feels grateful for kindnesses shown to them. There are always enough of the latter type to make it worthwhile and spread good stuff like ripples into the populace. Oh, and Blog, another tip....

Blog: Yuh-huh?

Diana: Be the best you can be. I mean, share your talents whatever they may be. My Davie, for example, is a Cleaning Rock Star, and he makes my life and the lives of many others easier. Do your job well and conscientiously...even if it seems you're under-appreciated. Rock stars perform well even for bad audiences, and even then someone always notices. Don't hide what you have to offer: sell it and give it away, both, whenever you can.

Fake Charlie Voice: Under-appreciated...that's this rock star all right. There's not enough money in the world to appreciate me properly, dudes. How do you put a price on being the funniest guy to walk the earth?

Diana: Mr. Artificially-Sheen is right in a way (well, just a small way). Never underestimate the power of being funny. Humor is a great gift that costs you nothing and everyone is happy to receive it. You might not have a towering wit...but you can tell a joke occasionally. Maybe you suck at telling jokes...but you can tease in a nice, friendly way. Maybe you're not good at teasing...but you can smile. And anyone can laugh at the humor of others, which is something those others will just love.

Blog: Is there one element you'd consider the most key part about pursuing the status of rock star?

Pseudo-Charlie: Pray to be my clone.

Diana: I have to say, take a genuine interest in those around you. That doesn't mean you never talk about yourself, ask for support, or make sure your own needs are met. But if you want to be a rock star person, a rock star human being, to me this is the most important element. Put yourself in their shoes and feel what they're feeling. Be mindful of what's happening to them, ask them questions, feel a bit of the passion they feel about what matters most to them. You will learn things, experience more of the world, grow as a person...so it's "winning" for both sides!

Charlie: Stop trying to make me look bad, woman. It's not possible.

Diana: I'm hardly a saint, Charlie-thing, I'm just as selfish as you are. Well, okay, not that bad. I'm not being Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama here, and sacrificing for others. This just seems to me the way that a person becomes a rock star, and that's not exactly self-less motivation, is it? I'm saying that when you make others happy, you'll be happy too.

Blog: It's sort of the way the universe works. And if I weren't an anthropomorphic, imaginary being, I'd sure try it too. Thanks for the nice debate, guys!

Charlie: I guess I'm kinda sold, too, Diana. Can I take you out for some tiger blood?

Diana: Aw, that's the spirit, Charlie! I'd like that.

June 4, 2011

The Patio Catnip Kicktoy Project

I don't know about you, Blog, but when I think "patio," I think "catnip kicktoys." I'm lying, that's completely random. (I hope you're getting this, Randometer!) Nevertheless, a patio is a very good place to make catnip kicktoys, because you can spill the catnip and no harm done. Now, on to the burning question in the minds of our readers: How do you make a catnip kicktoy?

1.  Find a patio. Ours works nicely. (Can you spot two cats?)

2. Gather your supplies: Some sturdy long socks (I used spa socks I found for $2 a pair at Michaels), fiberfill, catnip, needle, thread and scissors. Allow at least one sock per resident cat.

3. Fill the sock with alternating layers of fiberfill and catnip. Make it nice and puffy but also squeezable.

4. Do your best to keep your cat out of the catnip as you work. [Cody: Dude, this plastic lid is rocking my world!]

5. Don't be alarmed if your cat absconds with the catnip lid. [Cody: Man, this patio is awesome!]

6. Completely fill the sock with its wondrous stuffing mix. (So much better than Stove Top!)

7. Then, to paraphrase Devo, you must whipstitch it, whipstitch it good. Cats will not care about the color of thread or the neatness of stitches, so just make sure the opening is well sealed.

8. Proceed with remaining socks. Expect cats to try to climb inside the socks as you work...

...or start to nuzzle with the completed socks...

...or claim a sock before they are all finished.

9. Continue until all socks are completed transformed into catnip kicktoys. You are now ready to party!

Here, Alice demonstrates the actual catnip kicktoy kicking motion.

Some cats, like Alice, may also look at their new gift more as a catnip LICKtoy.

But see the drug-induced stupor love in her eyes? That will be your reward for the 5 to 10 minutes it takes you to make your beloved pet a catnip kicktoy.

I can think of no better use for a patio, Blog. No, I'm lying again. But still, we had fun!

June 2, 2011

Five reasons to get yourself Aggie, some of which are weird

Blog, I'm sure our readers have gotten the idea now that I'm releasing a new novel. ("Oh, you mean from the constant posts mentioning it and the character guest blog and all that? No, who knew?!?") Well, the time has come for them to pay the awful price of following this blog and listen to the official pitch...because the book is now out and available in paperback and ebook (Kindle, nook, Kobo, pdf, etc.) from your favorite online retailers!

No, not your favorite online retailers, Blog...the readers'. Track with me here.

Oh, and here's the final cover design for you all too!

What's the book about? A young girl determined to realize her dream of creating a real-life team of heroes. Her awesome grandfather, and his sometimes terrifying/sometimes wonderful "handicap." Life growing up in the 80s and 90s. Figuring out what love is. A trio of winsome computer hackers. A Care Bear named Bono. Helping others to triumph over mean corporations and crappy luck. A snowman dressed like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Wow, Blog...it sure sounds like a good book.

But why should each and every one of our bizillion several readers get a copy? Here are a mere five reasons why....

1. It just came out and already the rave are rolling in:

Hey, we just love "inspirational and entertaining ride," don't we, Blog? Thanks, J. Brown, for the five stars!

2.  You'll become part of Aggie's heroic team. That's because all proceeds of the book go to support Kiva.org in its microlending to deserving, underprivileged entrepreneurs around the world.

3.  It teaches some excellent life lessons and also has attractive guys in it. Both important elements to the female reader, don't you know, Blog.

4.  It includes computers, comic book references, martial arts, and hot chicks. Guy stuff because A9H is not just for females.

5.  Aggie's here in comic-book form to invite you herself! Yep, I drew this portrait of the heroine as a comic book character (because she grew up a comics fan like her Grampa)... and how can you resist that face, right?

I rest my case. So, just how can you obtain your copy? Visit the official Aggie's Nine Heroes page where you'll find purchase links to a bunch of online bookstores, including current prices.

Thanks from me, the Heroes, and Kiva.org for your support!