Ben Baker is a prolific writer who has learned a few tricks throughout his career. He explains how authors can find and exploit their niche.
1. Tell me briefly about your latest book – what is it about and what motivated you to write it?
My latest published book is A Dog Named Nekkid. The title comes from one of the columns in the book. Imagine naming a dog Nekkid. Think of the fun. Put the dog outside. Company comes over. You get tired of them. “I gotta go outside and get Nekkid. Y’all wanna come?” So many variations on a theme.
That also marked my debut as a freehand cartoonist. I did editorial toons in college for the university newspaper, but drew those on a Macintosh. My daughter also drew some of the toons.
I have several others in the works: a science fiction/fantasy novel, memoirs, and a how-to book on dealing with an estate when you are the executor.
2. How have your sales been?
Poor. This is my fault. While I am good at sales and marketing, I do not enjoy it. Good? Yes. I have set new positive sales records for the places I worked in sales. I just do not like it. If I invested into the marketing, my sales would be excellent. I am somewhat like Nikola Tesla in that regard: lemme work and let someone else handle the business end.
This is why I love writing for brokerage sites. They handle the maths (maths is evil; the plural is correct), the marketing and the business. I write. I did have one client steal my stuff and leave a horrible review. I reported it with evidence of the theft and got paid. The client got banned. Dunno if the review is still up, nor do I care.
3. You’ve chosen self-publishing. How have you liked it so far? Talk about some of the positives and negatives you’ve encountered.
Self-publishing is great for me. I am also a graphic artist. Each week I produce a newspaper and a few times a year I produce a slick magazine. Layout and design for books is something I can do in my sleep. I’ve done books for several other people who did not have the know-how to design and format. I’ve done so many, including ghost writing, that I wrote a contract to spell out what I will do and the prices.
Because I can do layout and design, I control every step of the process. I pick the font, size, page size, count and quality. I keep all the rights. I set the price. I keep all the profits. My only out-of-pocket expense is printing the books I buy to resell.
Self-publishing is not for everyone because so many people think they have a great book (they do not) and it will just fly off the print-on-demand press to be a bestseller (it won’t). The last report of the POD industry I read said the average POD book sells fewer than two copies.
Marketing is what sells books. If you can’t get your butt up, moving and selling books everywhere and every chance you get, including forcing some chances, you will not make money.
Marketing companies are a waste of money. Yes. They. Are. Do it yourself. Hire someone to write PR if you need that (I do a lot of freelance PR for other writers), but you gotta be the one to push it.
Another drawback is editing. You can’t edit your own stuff. Get used to the idea. Get a real editor. Fortunately, I know some real writers and real editors and we swap. They massacre my book. I massacre theirs. We both walk away looking like figurative hamburger, but our work is so much better for it.
You cannot get friends to edit your book. They will tell you it is great and may correct a few typos. You need someone who will hurt your feelings if necessary. Hire someone. I know a couple of good editors who will greatly improve your book, but you have to pay.
At the same time, they may say your book is a waste of time. Listen to them.
As far as traditional publishing, I have so far been unable to attract a traditional publisher. This is because of my distaste for marketing. I’m simply not willing to invest that kind of effort for the royalties they are willing to pay. I barely manage to market when I keep all the profit.
Another caveat to traditional publishing is a limited shelf life. When your book is done, according to the publishing house, you are done. With self-publishing, your book has an infinite shelf life.
4. What sort of networking have you done as an author, and what have been the results?
Nowhere near as much as I should. I am a member of one professional writer’s organization (professional in that we have dues, in-person conferences, etc.) and have been a member of others. These associations are marvelous for a writer. You make contacts, meet people, get advice and so forth. I just grew disillusioned with the internal politics in them and the way some people, myself included, were treated.
The results were, frankly, great in the associations. But I decided I was not cut out for that world and stepped back. I am happier now and that matters to me.
If you are serious about being a novelist or writer, join the professional association that represents your genre best. I also recommend the Science Fiction Writers Of America Association. You do not have to write Science Fiction to be a member. Then, attend the conferences. Go to the meetings. You will learn, you will network, you will make valuable connections.
5. Talk a little about the sort of marketing techniques you’ve used to sell your books. Which ones have been most successful?
Radio and personal appearances sell more books than anything else. Why radio? Morning talk shows. People tune in to be entertained and laugh. I write humor (among other things) and radio works for me. I have Nekkid now out on Audible and a book by a late colleague just about finished. The speaker and I will make the rounds of radio in the Southeast and anywhere else we can get publicity.
Learn to be a public speaker. Make it known you will speak to groups, Kiwanis, Rotary, Exchange, Lions, Moose, Fraternal Order of Irate Mothers In Law, whatever. Take your books. Tell stories from the books.
Find people who will talk about your book (like right here). All publicity helps.
6. Are there any marketing or networking techniques you’ve intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
Yeah. Paying other people money to promote my work. I avoid that. Waste of money. With one exception, Carter Novels on Facebook. At $35 a year, I can swing that. It’s not generating much in the way of sales, but it keeps my name out there.
7. What are the most important things you’ve learned about publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
I need an editor.
8. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?
On the first few, get an editor. On the ones since, nothing really.
9. New authors face the challenge of getting their books into the hands of readers. What advice do you have for an author just starting out?
Write. Then go write some more. When you are done, go write.
Market, market, market, market. An awesome marketing plan will sell mediocre work. It gets your work in front of people. The best work on the planet will not sell if no one knows about it.
Don’t write for free, except for charities. Then, it is okay. If the other side is making a profit, you make a profit too.
10. What other projects are you currently working on?
As noted above. Also, I am constantly watching a couple of message boards for writing-related work. I periodically check the available assignments on the brokerage sites I write for. I generally only take direct orders now, but I also paid my dues and built a reputation as a writer who can and will deliver.
I picked up a great gig by replying to an ad on Facebook. I’m still stunned by that one, but it pays well, is steady work and they love my stuff. It is a niche market – guns, ammo and hunting stuff.
Remember this – the majority of writing that sees someone get paid is nonfiction. You can make a living writing fiction; I have some acquaintances who do. I know a lot more people who make a living writing news, nonfiction, how to, where to, what to, why to, etc. One great friend is now one of the top experts in the world on black powder guns and crossbows all because he wrote books about them. He now consults because of his self-published books.
Find your niche and exploit it, hard.
11. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
God, Guns and Guts made this country free and Ben Baker aims to make sure all three keep us free.
12. How can readers learn more about your books?
BakerBrosPR.com or look me up on Amazon. Several Ben Bakers out there so search for A Dog Named Nekkid or Lessons I Learned in Prison or The Truth About Gun Control.
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