SUNNY Awards and 1099s

Every January we recognize the bestselling books in each category from the prior year. We dubbed these awards the SUNNYs. This has no affiliation with the State University of New York! While we have yet to implement a trophy or certificate or decal, we do like to recognize the most successful books from each imprint for the prior year. To that end, we have sent out media releases and have updated our e-commerce site with the latest honorees.
Here is a list of SUNNY Award winners for 2018:
Ars Metaphysica: Inspirational Creatures by Michele Livingston
Brown Posey Press: The Accountant’s Apprentice by Dennis Clausen
Speckled Egg Press: The Mouse with the Broken Tail by Dan Shutters
Hellbender Books: Dark Entry by John Kachuba
Verboten Books: Rated Z: Money Shot by Brahm Stroker
Milford House Press: Fortune’s Lament by John Cressler
Sunbury Press: A Short Season by Jake Gronsky and G David Bohner
Sunbury Press, Inc., Book of the Year: A Short Season by Jake Gronsky and G David Bohner
Why two awards for Sunbury Press? One is for the imprint and the other is overall. In addition, the Book of the Year is not necessarily the overall bestseller but a book that is memorable that year. In this case, towards the end of the year, we lost young Josiah Viera who succumbed to Progeria at only 14. The book is about his incredible and nearly impossible life story. Josiah, despite his limitations and rapid aging, was an inspiration to all he met. He especially had a love of baseball and had full access to the St. Louis Cardinals organization. The Penn State football program was also a favorite of Josiah’s and Coach Franklin was a personal friend. While Josiah will be missed, his legacy lives on.
Regarding the imprints, there were a lot of close calls. We did not have any clear runaway bestsellers in 2018. Instead we had a lot of books that did fairly well. For instance, at Ars Metaphysica, Karim El Koussa had several books that performed well all year but came up a few sales short in the end. Likewise, at Hellbender Books, Keith Rommel was in a similar situation with many of his backlist titles on the monthly lists. In the end, John Kachuba’s book did a little better.
Congratulations to all the winners! Someday we will have an awards banquet and be able to pay something more than lip service!
The dawning of a new year also brings with it tax season. We are currently preparing 1099s for those of you who were paid more than $10 in royalties in 2018. Yes, for royalties the number is very very small and not the $600 limit for self-employment. If you received a request from us for an updated W9, please submit this asap. If we do not have your tax information on hand, we cannot issue your 1099. If we cannot issue you a 1099, we will not be able to pay you in the future.

Focus on imprints

One of the most important changes we implemented in the last two years was the introduction of additional imprints (beyond Sunbury Press) to address the variety of categories. This came about for several reasons:
1) Some authors of serious (academic) history books were complaining they were on the same label as children’s books. This would be an issue when peer-reviewed.
2) Nasty scary horror thrillers were branded with a positive upbeat rising (yep — not setting) sun.
3) Customers were confused about fiction books actually being nonfiction due to the Sunbury Press label.
It was clear that Sunbury Press as a brand had become associated with history and biography — especially about Pennsylvania. We felt our other categories were likely suffering due to the lack of identity.
We are committed to continuing to publish in a variety of categories and created a number of imprints to address this. We have been publishing new titles under these imprints since then and have been refurbishing our back list as we are able. This will continue over the next couple years until all of our active titles are properly branded.
Now, while that is going on, we need to bring more attention to these brands and categories. To that end, I am suggesting we start quarterly brand meetings involving the authors under that label and the marketing staff. The goal will be to come up with brand-specific activities, opportunities, or collaborations that we can work together on.
For instance,
1) Imprint-specific contests
2) Imprint-specific conferences or conventions
3) Group advertising / marketing opportunities
4) Reviewing each other’s books
5) Imprint-specific show(s) on the BookSpeak Network
… and many more.
As a reminder, here are our imprints. Become familiar with which imprint your book(s) are published under. Some of you deal with multiple imprints.
Ars Metaphysica — paranormal, psychic, metaphysical, spirituality, Eastern philosophy F & NF
Brown Posey Press — literary fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, politically left F & NF
Catamount Press — this is our new imprint for the Northern Appalachian region F & NF — more on this in upcoming newsletters (it has not launched yet)
Hellbender Books — horror / thriller / fantasy F only
Milford House Press — mystery/detective police procedural comedies romance YA this is our main Fiction imprint
Speckled Egg Press — currently coming out of hibernation — children’s F & NF
Verboten Books — edgy humor — rated R+ F only
Sunbury Press — our primary NF imprint — history / biography / memoir / religion / science / economics / politics non-partisan
Jan/Apr/Jul/Oct – Sunbury Press / Hellbender (& Verboten) Books
Feb/May/Aug/Nov – Ars Metaphysica / Milford House Press
Mar/Jun/Sep/Dec – Brown Posey Press / Speckled Egg
Look for invites coming your way soon! These will be conference calls.

Sunbury Press book production goes global

While we have had the ability to print books overseas, we have been reluctant to do so for many years. We have always taken pride in putting “Made in the USA” on our books. Most of you might recall the recent controversy about doing that — we had cover designs rejected for proudly noting the country of origin. We since adjusted the slogan to say “Designed in the USA” despite the fact every book was still printed here.
Our US distribution model had books printed and shipped from locations close to the end customer. We had contracted with three print operations in each time zone in the US except Mountain. Except for some Amazon orders and our eBooks, all other foreign orders had to be exported. This has now changed.
We were very pleased with a recent test of our print/ship capabilities in the UK and Australia. Karim El Koussa was able to get his new release to Beirut via our UK printer much quicker and cheaper than shipping from the USA. Martine Kalaw had a number of overseas orders that were printed in either the UK (for Europe) or Australia. All worked very well. Captain Hooter had a number of his books about Amsterdam “Coffee Shops” printed in the UK and shipped to the Netherlands.
Going into 2019, we now have print/ship operations overseas through our distribution partners that did not exist before. This greatly increases the potential reach of your books — and we need to think about possible target markets overseas (at least in English-speaking countries.) Here’s the updated list of countries we print and ship from:
USA – Pennsylvania
USA – South Carolina
USA – Tennessee
USA – California
UK (for UK & Europe)
Australia (for Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands)
India (coming in 2019)
One of the most amazing things I noticed is the reduced shipping cost for UPS in the UK versus in the USA (after the currency conversion). I am not exactly sure why — but I’m not complaining!
As we continue to market your books, we will expand our thinking to include these opportunities. It might finally be time for us to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair (Buchmesse) in person. Germany anyone?

Fiction vs. Nonfiction Sales

One of the most disappointing aspects of the eBook collapse is the lost opportunities for fiction. For some years, fiction has performed better as eBooks, supplanting mass (pulp) fiction. In the past I mentioned we published 60% fiction but 60% of our sales were nonfiction. As we shifted to a 50/50 split, you would expect sales to shift to 70/30 in favor of nonfiction. Instead, it is more like 80/20.
Yes, in recent months it seems 9 out of 10 print books we sell are nonfiction. The eBooks tend to split about 50/50. Above left is the pie chart by imprint. Sunbury Press is nonfiction as is most of Ars Metaphysica. A smaller portion of Brown Posey Press falls into this category as well. All told it is 80% plus for nonfiction.
While we have seen a strong interest in the Ars Metaphysica imprint and continued growth for the Sunbury Press imprint, Milford House and Hellbender Books have lagged. Brown Posey Press is the only good story for fiction in recent months. This brings to mind some questions:
1) Has our segmentation strategy further hurt fiction sales? In other words, were our fiction authors actually benefiting from being tagged with the Sunbury Press logo?
2) Or, is it a sorting of perceived quality? The literary fiction is doing better than it ever has with its own imprint, but the murder mysteries and horror have not.
3) Or, is it the brands themselves? Perhaps Brown Posey Press and Ars Metaphysica better identify with their target markets than Milford House or Hellbender.
4) Or, maybe we haven’t marketed the brands enough. It took quite a while for the International Thriller Writers to actually recognize the new imprints (Milford House and Hellbender Books). The others had no such restrictions.
More food for thought while chewing on your turkey! One last thing I will mention is the positive response received from independent bookstores for the Brown Posey Press email that went out to them. Maybe more direct email with the other imprints will help. And, we definitely need to leverage the Lurk character (below) for Hellbender Books a lot more!

The continuing plummet of eBook sales for publishers

This month, as I analyzed our sales, it was evident that eBooks have continued a fairly steep decline. I have been commenting on this for years and have been reading a lot of conflicting information. The chart to my left shows how much Amazon dominates the eBook marketplace worldwide. As an part-time economics professor, I know just enough to recognize a monopoly when I see one! Also evident is how dominant the US market is for eBooks. The rest of the world is not even close — the UK being a distant second.
The conflicting information I have been reading concerns some who say it is only the big publishers that are seeing a decline in eBook sales. The owner of SmashWords claims eBook sales are performing fine — IF YOU LOWER YOUR PRICE.
Meanwhile, the Amazon monopoly is a few years into the Kindle Unlimited subscription model. As this service has gained in popularity, outright sales of eBooks have continued to collapse while pages viewed in Kindles through this program have increased. However, it is evident from many sources that author incomes are DOWN SIGNIFICANTLY.
Diagnoses — Amazon took over and is now ruining the eBook marketplace by completely controlling everything. Publishers and independent authors can no longer influence how much they get paid through the service — you are at the mercy of the variable pennies paid per page. While Jeff Bezos continues to be the richest man in the world, authors and publishers are making less from eBooks.
What should we do about this? EBooks are less than 10% of our mix and they cost extra to create plus we pay higher royalties for them. It is also not profitable or sensible to try to increase our efforts on other platforms that have such a small percentage of the business. In other words, a platform that is 10% of the ebook marketplace that is a portion of our 10% of sales would only be a 1% impact. We’re looking to grow much faster than that. To paraphrase the soon-to-be Speaker of the House, “These are just crumbs!”
What shall we do?
A) Chase the crumbs — lose money and diversify among different eBook channels?
B) Drink the Kool-Aid — Go all-in with Amazon and sign everyone up for Kindle Unlimited. This means taking everything down everywhere else — yes, that is the contractual requirement!
C) Bag eBooks altogether? How many of you actually read this way anymore?
D) Protest and pull all eBooks from Amazon and only sell them on other platforms?
E) Start a class-action lawsuit charging Amazon with monopoly power. This is something the Federal Government would need to take up in an anti-trust suit.
I will be thinking about this in my spare time. I welcome your suggestions.

Top ten ways to sell more books

I thought I would share with you the summary of my presentation regarding selling more books. I’ll spare you all of the introductory material and get right to the point! Of course, we are already doing most if not all of these things for you — or have done them for you in the past.
  1. Reviews, reviews, reviews
  2. Distribution that allows returns and is discounted as expected
  3. Metadata / product information
  4. Direct email appeal to independent bookstores
  5. Publicity campaigns to major media
  6. Flash promotions aligned with non-fiction hooks, holidays, current events, etc.
  7. Write series
  8. Periodically refresh your backlist
  9. Sell in non-bookstore outlets / situations
  10. Build an email list to your readers
We are in an era which is dominated by Amazon with over half of all sales. Our mix is less reliant on Amazon, but Amazon reviews are most important. As mentioned previously, books with at least 1 review have sales 50% higher on average than books with no reviews. Also note, a 5-star average does not help! This is seen as suspect. It is actually good to have a few negative or critical reviews in the mix — as long as your average is better than 3.5 — 4+ preferred.
Distribution has the second biggest impact at Sunbury Press. This makes sense since it opens more markets. The key here is the return flag — while it might increase sales, it might also mean a portion of the sales might come back. Thus the additional sales might not be profitable.
Publicity campaigns are not #1! They are best suited for nonfiction books / authors. Fiction publicity is less effective. Note that publicity is a crap-shoot — one fantastic mention can make all the difference but is unlikely. You can spend a lot of money chasing it and receive little return.
I’ve provided a link to a number of other ideas that are less impactful (in our experience).

For Sale — the country’s largest bookstore chain

Well, it is finally happening. For several years we’ve been tracking the fate of Barnes and Noble. Long-time readers will recall the financial analysis I provided three years ago that showed B&N was in the midst of a slow death. Now it is certain — unless they can sell to an investor with deep pockets who will restructure and revitalize the chain. There is no guarantee that someone will step up. Motley Fool is skeptical (see below).
What are we to do? First, if you have a relationship with one or more stores and have events there — no problem. Just note we will not be investing any further in growing this relationship, like we tried earlier this year. We are securing ourselves from the possibility of a truck full of returns.
It is very likely the new management will close a bunch of stores and consolidate inventory to be more efficient. This will result in publishers receiving a lot of returns. If the chain is not sold and goes bankrupt, a good number of publishers will likely go out of business too.
We are positioned to weather this. We have curtailed returns for the vast majority of our books with Barnes. A few of you have recently asked if we would flip this flag so you could do signings at Barnes. We will not be flipping that flag anytime soon for anyone. It is too risky!

Local / independent bookstore strategy

Long-time readers of this newsletter know that Sunbury Press has had a program for many years to sell directly to the local and independent bookstores. This arrangement bypasses the middle-man distributorships and leads to more revenue for the publisher and higher royalties for our authors.
We have recently refreshed our list of independent bookstores around the country and find that it has increased to over 1200 potential customers! Imagine if we could sell just one book to each — or ten or 100 for that matter. Sales would be on the upswing!
We will be ramping up our interactions with this list through email campaigns. This will be geared towards our typical 40% discount / net 30 / returnable arrangement with them. We want to focus on this as we turn away (for a while) from Barnes and Noble.
Any author who wants a copy of the list of bookstores in your area, just reach out. We’re happy to send it if you intend to do outreach yourself. Independent bookstores are usually better outlets to have book signings / readings.
Some of you have been very proactive in contacting media. As you know, we have unlimited access to the Cision publicity platform and have been adjusting how we use it. Rather than pitching book review opportunities to media types (which has resulted in mailing lots of free copies with limited results), we would prefer to request author interviews. Building this earned media can have a tremendous impact on your book sales. We’re finding a simpler, more direct message has been more effective that our sell-sheet style pitches. The best time to pitch is when something is happening in the news that relates to your book.
If you are interested in a targeted media list to work on yourself, I would be more than happy to share. Just let me know what parameters you are looking for — region / metro areas / areas of interest. You might start with media in your immediate vicinity to try to build relationships — or seek specific media interested in your content. There are over three million personalities in the database!

Reviews redux

Last month, I took you on a tour of Fakespot, the online service that spots “fake” reviews. Many of you provided feedback and I am happy to report that the majority of you found your reviews to be in good shape. However, quite a few of you did not — and we agree it is unjust. What to do? Here’s another site that can assist in evaluating reviews: Review Meta. Click on the button below to test it.
This site has a lot more information in its feedback. Give this site a try and let me know how it compares to FakeSpot for your reviews.
So why all this hubbub about reviews? If you are a new author, you’ve missed the back issues where I talk about the importance of 50+ reviews on Amazon — and reviews on other platforms. At 50+ reviews on Amazon, they start cross-promoting your book. I am thinking they also have an algorithm that checks the “quality” of the reviews to make sure they aren’t a bunch of friends and family.
In closing, I’ve learned that Library Journal now deals directly with NetGalley for reviews. Rather than sending print copies to LJ reviewers, they require a NetGalley token! More on this in future issues.

Social media policy

The other night Tammi and I were very proud to attend Brandon’s football booster dinner for his high school team. Actually, we were both rather surprised when he announced last spring that he was signing up for football so he could get some exercise! We had been worried he was wasting away in his bedroom playing video games to the wee hours of the morning.
Anyway, Tammi received a folder of information that we reviewed over dinner while Brandon was out having pictures taken with his teammates. One item that really stood out to me was the “Cumberland Valley Football Code of Conduct.” The coach explained the packet while we perused and he made a point to say this Code of Conduct was a new policy and had to be agreed to and adhered to by the players. Besides the bullying, drugs, drinking, and other misbehavior it forbade, there was also a paragraph on social media behavior. This led to a conversation between Tammi and I later in the evening.
Recently, there had been an article in Publisher’s Weekly about morality clauses, very similar to the codes of conduct (see below). While I tend to be more libertarian, not wanting to dictate morality to anyone for any reason, we did have an interesting discussion about social media in general.
Personally and publicly, Tammi and I both try not to comment on politics or controversial topics in social media. You are more than welcome to ask my opinion over a pint of Guinness at the tavern, but I will rarely be caught putting it in writing — especially social media! Why, you ask? Because we want to sell books to anyone and everyone and do not want to turn off any aspect of the reading public. While we probably disagree with some people on most things and most people on some things, it is not healthy for business to alienate any segment of our potential customers.
My personal rule is to always try to take the high road — and to value the opinions of others. Facebook posts that belittle or make fun of people who think or feel differently than us are actually very rude and are not something a publisher or author who is serious about their business should partake in.
Tammi and I have befriended a good number of you on Facebook and we cherish those relationships. The vast majority of you also appear to be taking the high road when it comes to your social media commentary. But, some of you are not.
While we are not going to insert morality or social media behavior clauses in our contracts at this time, we do want to caution you to think before you post. Ask yourself — could this post turn off a potential book-buyer to my work? If the answer is at least “maybe,” I would urge you to reconsider your post. Instead, post something positive about your books — or one of our other authors.