Damage Control for Authors
Most of us understand by now that social media is an illusion. Yet that doesn’t stop us comparing our everyday lives to our peers’ highlight reels. We can’t help it. Some authors just make publishing look frustratingly effortless. Their revenue and profits only ever trend upward, they never have a meltdown and never put their foot in their mouth. They seem to work hard and stay out of drama while, somehow, also being super sociable, both at networking events and on social media. In short, they never make a mistake. At least, that’s what they want you to think.
The reality is that most authors feel the same way, even those whose businesses you think are perfect. Like you, they also fumble book launches, publish covers that contain obvious errors, miss deadlines, unintentionally upset readers, say the wrong thing at networking events and worry for weeks afterwards about what everyone thinks they meant. They’re haunted by the same inner demons. It’s just that they’re better at fixing and resolving their mistakes quickly so most people never even realise they happen.
Everyone occasionally misses a checkbox, tanks a book launch, or upsets a professional contact. It’s human nature. You can’t foresee and avoid every mistake. All you can do is handle each situation as they occur to limit the damage. As the adage goes, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” Managing a crisis isn’t easy, but you can minimise their frequency with preparation and make better crisis decisions with practice. In today’s blog post, we’ll help you make a start on developing that skill, covering five common mistakes many authors make and multiple solutions you can deploy to minimise the long-term damage.
You Signed Away Rights
One of the most common mistakes inexperienced authors make when entering the book trade is signing contracts with traditional publishers that take more rights than they want to license. Doing so minimises the author’s control and can later lead them to miss out on lucrative licensing opportunities. Inexperienced authors sign such deals — sometimes giving away rights to all languages, territories and formats – some because they don’t know better, and others because they would rather sign a bad contract than lose their deal. Many don’t even realise their error until they want to sign with another publisher or explore self-publishing.
When it comes to contracts, it’s best to be proactive. If you think you’re getting short-changed, don’t sign anything. Assuming you’ve already done it, however, it’s time for damage control. Step one is to analyse your contract. What rights do you still control? Look for get-out clauses. Is the contract exclusive? Does it define “out of print” and can you get your rights reverted? Knowing how to interpret the language can help you escape a bad contract with relatively little damage. Your agent can help, if you have one, but many aren’t qualified lawyers, nor do they always share their clients’ agendas. Hence, if you want qualified, impartial advice, it’s best to hire an IP lawyer. And if they can’t fix your problem, sometimes you can buy back your rights as a last resort.
You Sent Out a Bad Book
If you’ve kept your rights intact, that’s great. But it still doesn’t make you infallible. In the self-publishing space, the potential for errors is boundless. Anything can go wrong, from signing off typos on paperback spines to sending out incorrect ebook files. Sometimes, the mistake doesn’t even come from you. It’s not unheard of for retailers’ automated systems to send out placeholder EPUBs to readers who pre-ordered rather than an author’s final manuscript. Whether humans are involved or not, it’s impossible to avoid mistakes forever and, with your name on the cover, your readers only have you to blame. So how do you fix the PR disaster of a botched release?
The key is to establish communication streams, either by collecting readers’ email addresses or by getting them to follow you on social media. If a release goes wrong, be prompt and honest. That way, you control the narrative before anyone has a chance to doubt your professionalism. Most readers have empathy and will understand, providing you try to rectify the problem. Offering a free replacement helps, and is doable if the error happened on a digital version. Will some unscrupulous readers who didn’t pre-order take advantage? Yes, but there are always more readers and a fixed reputation is more valuable than a single book launch. You won’t reach every wronged reader this way, but you will cover many of the ones who care the most about your work.
You Polluted Your Also-Boughts
After spending a few months or years in the industry, most of us indie authors know roughly what we should be doing to optimise our brands, particularly on Amazon. We understand that we need to get our also-boughts “clean” because doing so helps train Amazon’s recommendation algorithm to find us more of our ideal readers. Our problem is that we didn’t start out with this knowledge. We learned it after several genre-hopping launches and selling early copies to relatives who don’t read in our genre. And now, having polluted our also-boughts, we don’t know how to get the recommendation algorithms back on the right track.
Remember when you started out and confused Amazon by asking everyone you knew to buy your early work? Well, that’s likely to be your issue; you confused the algorithms. Course correcting isn’t easy, but it is possible if you feed the algorithm enough good, new data. Drive well-targeted readers to your books, ensuring they’re a close reading match and would naturally buy that sort of novel or guide, and each books’ also-boughts will often self-correct. Amazon, Facebook or BookBub ads are useful tools that can help you achieve this reset. So can newsletter swaps with close comp authors. The key is to drive enough relevant traffic to override the old data, teaching Amazon what type of readers really like your books.
You Caused Drama
Sometimes we don’t cause damage by upsetting the flow of big data. Instead, we embarrass ourselves or anger another person. This is easy to do. Every author has opinions, both on publishing and pricklier topics. There are some individuals whose entire brands run on controversy. They intentionally upset the masses because it gets eyeballs on their work and earns them money. Most of us, though, don’t work this way. We don’t plan to cause offence or embarrassment. We happen to tweet an inconsiderate opinion or enter a situation with good intentions but put our foot in it and keep digging ourselves into a hole as we try to backtrack.
No matter how you cause the drama, it can cause worry and sleepless nights. And some of us are our own worst enemy, festering anxiety after the slightest faux pas. If this sounds like you, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Often the best way forward is to own your mistake and apologise. Get back on the social horse as soon as possible. That way, you can face the issue and move on. Restarting a dialogue with whomever you offended is usually a good way to suture an emotional wound. Generally, it’s uncomfortable, but the expectation is worse than the actual confrontation. Most people happily forgive and feel relief after worrying about how they came across themselves. As long as you make it right on your side and learn from the experience, you can usually recover.
You Face Account Closure
If you’re careful, you can run a slick business, conduct yourself like a true professional and still unwittingly hit a disaster. Seen as a “nightmare” by many authors, a random account closure is as devastating a disaster as many of us can imagine. Many indies consider a KDP account closure their worst-case scenario, especially if their books are enrolled in KDP Select and they get all their income from Amazon. And while not everyone has experienced a scare of that magnitude, it’s easy to consider the potential impact, even on a smaller scale. Getting barred from other retailer accounts could prove challenging, cutting off some income. So could a lock on certain advertising dashboards.
It happens and you can’t always predict or avoid it. That said, you can minimise the damage with preparation. Diversifying your business across multiple retailers and aggregators, for instance, will diminish the risk of losing all your income. This could mean going wide with your ebooks or, if you love being in Kindle Unlimited, it could mean publishing wide with other formats, like print and audio. Similarly with advertising, diversity is vital. Learn how to drive sales with Amazon, Facebook, BookBub and your newsletter, and it will help you stay afloat if you lose access to one. Some savvy authors even create multiple accounts for companies that allow them. That way, while they might lose historical data, they never lose the ability to start new campaigns.
No matter the nature and scale of the calamity you face, don’t forget that nobody is perfect. Freelance workers, book buyers, retailer reps, fellow authors and readers are all human. Most will understand and empathise if you make a mistake as long as you’re honest about it and try to rectify the situation. Respond well and execute appropriate damage control and your business and reputation will survive even the harshest storm.
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