Lust in the City 2023 was held Saturday, November 4, at the Comstock Inn & Conference Center in Owosso, Michigan. This second iteration of the event first held last year in East Lansing showed great improvement over the 2022 event, although it wasn’t without its problems. Let’s be brutally honest: every event has problems. That’s the nature of the beast.

The event began on Friday evening with author “speed dating” for VIP members during which no books were sold or even evident in the room. The interesting idea proved fun. I believe everyone involved enjoyed it.

After breakfast on Saturday morning, most authors set up their tables. This is where the rubber meets the road. VIP attendees received early admission, then general ticket holders and anyone else wandering in off the street. As the event was held in a hotel conference room, the likelihood of anyone wandering in was infinitesimal. However, the organizer did a great job in publicizing Lust in the City and generating awareness. In short, we had a good crowd. Nothing to complain about there.

Lust in the City, as one might surmise from the event’s name, focuses on the romance genre. Although not affiliated with the Romance Writers of America, I can see a future alliance with that organization. Several of the participating authors are prolific, as demonstrated by the myriad titles on their tables. Having been previously informed by a merchandising executive that my own table showcasing most of my books that such a display resembled a supermarket shelf, I now only stock a handful of my latest titles. The books I displayed at the event were Champion of the Twin Moons, Knight of the Twin Moons, Double Cut, Russian Revival, and Focus. Usually, I sell more copies of Focus than anything else, but not this time.

In speaking with another author who complained of low book sales the previous month, the topic of business came up. Publishing is a business. This means readers expect and deserve a certain high level of quality. For authors who self-publish, that level must align with the quality put out by the big publishing houses. That generally means spending money, a lot of money.

Self-publishing authors who treat publishing as a business recognize that self-publishing confers upon the author all the responsibilities usually undertaken by a traditional publisher. These responsibilities include professional services and marketing. The author with whom I spoke had attempted to hire a voice actor to narrate her book to produce an audiobook. She posited that having an audiobook would increase book sales.

This is where the negotiation failed. The author did not treat the voice actor as a professional, offering a share of royalties of books sold. If you’ve ever hired a professional service provide, then you know no one works on spec. The pro requires payment of some kind at the time of service, not the promise of potential payment. With the knowledge that the book was already doing poorly (no copies sold in the last month), I fully empathized with the voice actor’s decision to decline the project, because a percentage of $0 is $0.

Pros don’t work for free unless they’re donating their time, skill, and service.

That author also admitted she did little with regard to marketing. This is where numbers mandate a different decision. Over 1 million books are published every year, adding to the tens of millions of books already available. An unknown or little known author who puts out a book or even a handful of books must find a way to distinguish those books from the sheer, overwhelming numbers of other books.

One way is to write to market, sticking to a niche or genre. In romance, that’s not necessarily helpful, because romance is the largest genre in terms of sales volume and the numbers of books. It’s an ocean, and an unknown or little known author is but a drop in that vast ocean.

Luckily for authors, we can “niche down” within our genres. We may select more specific categories and use keywords to help potential readers looking for literature like ours find our books. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than throwing the into the wilds of the internet and hoping someone will come across it. Savvy authors engage in marketing, too.

When it comes to marketing, I’m not savvy. I know that, so I hire a book marketing professional to take charge of that onerous task. Marketing is a full-time job, a job I cannot take on because I still have to earn an income and still have to write. Book marketing services come in basically two different flavors: social media marketing and advertisements. I find that advertisements work best for my book sales. Yes, this costs money.

Other marketing I do on my own. It, too, often costs money, because self-inflicted marketing includes registering as a vendor at various events throughout the year. That part of the effort has become an intricate dance, sussing out those events that offer a feasible balance between revenue and expenses. I don’t always choose profitable events. Other marketing efforts include this blog, an author blog on my author website, and a monthly newsletter (got to get cracking on those!). I also try to post regularly on the social media platforms I frequent. That, unfortunately, is not a sound marketing practice, because I ought to be posting on the social media platforms my readers frequent.

I own my errors, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll change my ways. However, I do try to treat publishing as a business, because the most successful authors do that. And the only true measure of commercial success is counted in money.

#publishingindustry #selfpublishing #business #henhousepublishing