An Argument in Favor of Using a Distributor to Publish Books to Retailers

It seems that lately the same question has been popping up: should authors use a distributor (like Smashwords or Draft 2 Digital) OR should they upload directly to as many retailers as they can. Today, I’m going to give my two cents on the issue. I think using a distributor is the best long-term strategy.

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For the record, I do go direct to Amazon and Google Play. For one, I was with Amazon before I was with Smashwords. So I already had an account there. Also, Amazon and Smashwords don’t have the best relationship, which means you pretty much have to publish on Amazon if you’re with Smashwords. As for Google Play, Smashwords doesn’t have an agreement to distribute to them.  So no, I’m 100% with a distributor. There are situations where you need to go direct. For my pen name, I’m using Draft 2 Digital (D2D), and I do use it to distribute everywhere, except Google Play since D2D doesn’t have an agreement with them, either.

I say all of the above for this reason: I’m not against the idea of uploading directly to each and every retailer out there. I just think it makes a lot more sense to use a distributor because it helps to simplify your life. Below, I’m going to explain why I’ve come to this conclusion.

1. The more books you have, the harder it is to juggle the updates you might want to make.

I currently have 80 books up on Smashwords. A couple of those are pre-orders. I have been going through and systematically updating interior files and covers to make them more modern. Back in 2009-2012, you could get away with substandard ebook covers and poor formatting. I think part of this was due to the fact that indie publishing was still new. We didn’t have the services there are available today for the indie author. Most of us starting out had to figure out how to do this stuff on our own. And, because of that, things weren’t as professional looking as is the norm today.

Since I have 80 books, it would be a nightmare to have to go to B&N, Kobo, and iBooks and upload new files and covers to keep things up-to-date. I already have to do this at Amazon. Fortunately, I just got into Google Play this year, so everything will already be polished up. Using Smashwords to send out these improvements to as many retailers as I can is a huge time saver. I made a post on how to format books that will get you approved for premium distribution in Smashwords.

So if you’re looking to simplify your life so you can have more time to write, I highly recommend using as distributor.

And this brings me to an argument I often hear: “You make more money per sale if you distribute to each place yourself. Smashwords and D2D will take a percentage of the royalty.” To which, I answer…

2. Your best money-making opportunity is in writing the next book.

I don’t earn any more sales on a book because I change a cover or update my interior formatting. I might get a small boost in a cover change, but it’s not lasting. Likewise, any ads I run are short-term boosts as well. Social media probably helps to a point, but nothing beats a new book. The only thing I’ve been able to do over the long-term that has kept me afloat in this ever-changing publishing landscape is to consistently get new books out. That means my time is best spent writing the next book.

Someone might say, “You can hire an author assistant to manage the multiple retailers for you.” But how is that going to save me money? I thought the whole point of uploading directly to B&N, Kobo, and iBooks is that you get to make more money per book sold. If I’m paying someone to handle individual retailers for me, I’m not making more money per book. I’m probably going to break even or even lose money. So from a financial standpoint, it’s worth paying Smashwords or D2D a portion of my royalties to handle that aspect of publishing for me.

For authors who are making a ton of money, I can see using an assistant to upload directly to each retailer. I, however, don’t make the kind of money that would make hiring an assistant worth it.

And at this point, someone is probably thinking, “Well, I don’t have 80 books. I only have a couple. So what’s the harm in managing those on individual retailers?”

And this makes me ask…

3. What are your long-term goals?

If you write slowly or don’t plan to publish many books, then I agree uploading to each retailer and maintaining the books on them is fine. The less books you have, the easier it is to manage them.

The opposite argument, however, is also true. The more books you have, the harder it is to manage them all. There are only so many hours in the day. I have uploaded books directly to B&N and Kobo. (I’ve always used Smashwords for the other retailers.) Yes, Kobo is very user-friendly and easy. B&N isn’t too bad, either. But taking the time to make changes to each and every version that’s on a different retailer is time-consuming. Since I didn’t ever put all of my books on B&N or Kobo directly, I even forgot which books were direct and which were through Smashwords. It was hard to juggle new writing projects while trying to keep updates on all of the retailers.  My stress level went significantly down once I let Smashwords handle all B&N and Kobo books for me.

If you don’t plan on having a lot of books out AND you have the time to handle things on each retailer, then it makes sense to do that. If, however, your goal is to end up with a big backlist, then you might want to think about what a pain it would be to manage price changes, book description changes, cover changes, and interior file changes on all of those retailers. Sometimes authors go back and update an entire series. (I’ve done this.) That alone takes out a large chunk of your time. I gave up and delisted all of my books on B&N and Kobo. Then I went to Smashwords and let them distribute to B&N and Kobo for me. I made the mistake of not thinking longterm with my backlist.

Another possible argument is this: “If you go direct to a retailer, you can take advantage of special promotions a distributor won’t give you.”

My answer…

4. Sometimes distributors offer special promotions, too.

Yes, you can take advantage of special promotional opportunities if you go direct to places like Kobo and iBooks. I won’t argue this because it’s a valid point. However, Smashwords has offered me and other authors special promotional opportunities, and these opportunities have included Kobo and iBooks.

How do we land these deals with Smashwords? I think a large part of it has to do with a track record of staying wide (meaning no KU) and having all of your books (or at least most of them) with Smashwords. I think part of it also has to do with running pre-orders and using the marketing ideas Mark Coker talks about in his podcast and in his book. I think there are a cumulation of different things authors probably need to do to get Smashwords’ attention.

I’m not familiar with D2D and how they work, so I can’t say how they run things. I’ve only been with them since late last year with my pen name. But I’ve been with Smashwords since 2009.

Now, do these promotions means tons of money? Not necessarily. I’ve seen small boosts, but it hasn’t been anything to skyrocket my sales longterm. But I have yet to hear of an author whose sales skyrocketed for the longterm because they ran a special promotion directly on Kobo or iBooks. Even with Amazon ads, authors are told they need to keep running them. I think this is just the nature of the business. Ads and special promotions are good for short-term boosts, but you can’t run one ad or promotion and expect results forever and ever.

I truly believe the best way to keep making money longterm is to write more books. Even if you had a breakout year, if you’re not writing more books, eventually, sales will go down. This is the nature of publishing. There is not a single book ever written that has been #1 forever. Some books will rise higher in the tide than others and continue selling, but you can’t keep a book at #1 indefinitely. There will be another book to take its place.

New stuff is going to be more attractive than older stuff. That doesn’t mean the backlist isn’t important. It is. Let’s say you have 10 books that haven’t moved much in terms of sales. Then suddenly you put out Book 11, and for some reason, this is the one that takes off. Those fans of Book 11 are going to look for your other books. The problem is that no author can predict which book is going to sell better than another. If I knew which of my books would sell better, I’d only write those. But I don’t. So I write and publish and hope something sticks.

Keeping things realistic.

I know this is hard to accept in the age when we’re surrounded by success stories of authors making $50K a month in KU, but the truth is, most authors aren’t banking in that kind of money. I don’t. Even at my peak, I never did, but then I never went into KU. I stayed wide the entire time. I have earned a living, and for that I’m grateful. Money doesn’t always go up. Sometimes it goes down. Sometimes it goes back up. This whole business is a rollercoaster ride. There are so many variables involved in this whole thing that it’s impossible to point to one or two strategies and say that’s the magic formula.

At the end of the day, the best question is, “How do you want to spend your time?” As I pointed out above, I can see situations where going to each retailer makes sense, but there are also times when it doesn’t. Only you can decide the best course for your business.

The Elevator Pitch: Telling People About Your Book in One Sentence

You may be talking to someone at a party, at work, or while waiting to lead an army of werewolves and asuras into battle to stop the demonic entity Delassi from entering our dimension and consuming it entirely (or is that just me?), and the subject you’ve written or published one or more books may come up. If that happens, there’s a good chance they may ask what your book is about. And that leaves you with the decision on how best to tell them what your story is about without giving away too much or too little.

In instances like these, I prefer to use what’s called the elevator pitch, something I picked up from my job-seeking days (which thankfully are well behind me!). The idea of the elevator pitch is to present the shortest and most succinct description possible for any possible subject. For a job-seeker like myself back in the day, that would be a short description of myself that would give the hiring official an idea of what sort of employee I would be. But for a novel, the elevator would be the briefest description of the story’s plot.

Now, I can already hear some of you saying, “But Rami, my story’s too complex or long to just summarize it in one sentence.” And I can understand that. There are plenty of stories that are difficult to summarize. I’d be hard-pressed to give an elevator pitch for the Song of Ice and Fire series (the closest I’ve ever come is someone making a joke about the series and saying it’s about, “Knights, dragons and boobs,” which is true but probably not the best elevator pitch). However, I find stories that defy the elevator pitch are the exception rather than the rule. Most can be boiled down to their essential nature and used in an elevator pitch.

For example, the Harry Potter books:

A young boy goes to wizard school and discovers his destiny.

Or To Kill a Mockingbird:

A trial with racial overtones sets a small town on edge as one lawyer attempts to give his client a fair shot at justice.

Or Carrie:

A bullied teenage girl discovers she’s telekinetic and decides to use her powers to free herself from her torment, with disastrous results.

When I tell people about my own upcoming novel Rose, this is the elevator pitch I usually give them:

A young woman starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems).

Yes, that’s the plot, and it’s actually getting published. And a lot of people have heard that summary and have asked me to let them know the moment the book is available for purchase.

The upside to using the elevator pitch method is that it takes a big story and condenses all a prospective reader needs to know into a single sentence without bogging them down into unnecessary details like the complex relationship between the Seven Kingdoms, or the blood-purity debate among wizards, or any other details that a reader would be better off learning through actually reading a story. It’s especially helpful if you’re in a place where things happen fast and people come and go quickly, such as in line at a coffee shop, saying hello to the usher you’re on first-name basis with at the movie theater, or, I don’t know, on an elevator.

Another upside to this method is that you can use the pitch with your blog, or short stories you’re submitting to magazines or anthologies, and a whole lot more.

The one downside I can think of, besides that a few stories can’t be summarized in a sentence that easily, a single sentence can’t capture the beauty or the power of a story. The sentence I gave above for Mockingbird can’t impart to the potential reader what a beautiful and emotional coming-of-age story it is, and the one for Harry Potter certainly doesn’t tell you just how awesome those books or the worlds inside them are.

But compared to boring people’s ears off with an entire synopsis or just reading the blurb to them right off the book jacket, this might be the better method, and one I’d highly recommend.

So how does one condense their story to a single sentence? That’s up to the author to decide. No one knows the story better than the author, so they ultimately figure that out. The only advice I can give is to not try to rush it. This can take a while, sometimes several days, to figure out. That, and maybe ask yourself what’s the first thing you think of when it comes to your story. Often, that image that appears in your head is the story at its simplest.

While it may seem a little paradoxical, summarizing a story into a single story and using that as your elevator pitch can make for a great marketing tool in everyday interactions. Who knows? That single sentence could get you a number of eager new readers, if you’re lucky.

Do you use elevator pitches when marketing and submitting your stories? What are some tips you use when coming up with them?

The Importance of Focus

Today’s post is geared for writing as a business.  (For those who are writing as a hobby, you may want to skip this one.)

Over the years, I’ve been reading magazines and blog posts dedicated to entrepreneurs, especially small business owners, and I have come away with one main theme that seems to emerge.  That theme is “focus”.  More importantly, it is focusing on the one thing you are most passionate about.

I came across this great post the other day, and it reminded me of those articles.  Then, I thought about how this applies to writing.  Specifically, how does it apply to writing if you have a business mindset.

Some people may see writing with the goal of earning money as “selling out”.  I don’t.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to make money doing something you love.  Most writers I come across love writing.  They have always loved it.  It has been a big part of their lives ever since they can remember.  I might not have caught on to this until I was in high school, but I honestly can’t think of anything I’m more passionate about than writing.  It is the one thing I can do all day long and not get bored.  The best kind of job you can have is the one that feels like play.  Why?  Because then you’re never “working”.  You get paid to play.

But sometimes the dream of doing something we love can get sabotaged when we lose our focus.  I once read a post years ago from a writer who asked, “How Badly Do You Want It?” I can’t find the article now, but it has stuck with me through the years.  So, how badly do you want to make a living as a writer?  What are you willing to give up to make it happen?

Too many times we let distractions get in our way.  Anything that doesn’t matter to the business side of writing is a distraction.  (Yes, set aside time for family and friends, but make this business your priority.)  Today, I have some tips on how to do just that.

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1. Write the next book. 

This is the most important thing you can be doing today.  Without a book, you will have no product to sell.  In order to make a living as a writer, you need to think beyond one book.  You need to think beyond one series.  You need to be prolific.  It’s just the way it is. Each time you publish a book, you should see a rise in income.  But that rise is temporary.  Sales are up and down in this business.  You can’t predict how things will go from one month to another.  All you can do is get another book out and hope it gets you through until your next book comes out.

As a quick note: not all books will sell the same.   Some will probably sell better than others.  The trick is to find out why you sold one book really well and do what you can to tap into the elements that worked for that book into your future books.   For example, I noticed my marriage of convenience romances sold better than the books where the heroine pursues the hero.  You have to get creative on spinning a plot trope so you’re not writing the same story over and over again, but it is possible to do many spin-offs from one idea.

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2. Write for your audience.  (This is writing with focus.)

If you aren’t writing the kinds of things your target audience wants to read, you will probably not sell as well as you would have if had tailored the book to them.  This is why finding your target audience is important.  The key to this is finding an area you’re already interested in writing in and then combining it with something your audience wants.  Find out what character tropes and plot tropes are popular in your genre, and then write your unique spin on it from there.  It will still be a fresh brand new story.  It’s just one that is geared for your audience.

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3. A wise use of time.

There are a lot of distractions that will pop up in the day.  Every single day you will be given a reason not to write.  (I’m all for taking a day or two off each week to rest.  There’s nothing wrong with that.)  But when we haven’t written our next book in weeks or months, there is a problem.

Sometimes family and friends will get in the way of your success.  If you had a job outside the home, would you drop everything to do something with them?  No.  You would wait until you’re done working for the day and then take care of them.

Sometimes our pleasures get in the way of our success.  If you had a job outside the home, would you take time off just to sit and watch a movie?  No.  You would wait until you’re done working for the day to watch it.

Sometimes laziness gets in the way of our success.  If you had a job outside the home, would you call in and tell the boss, “You know, I just don’t feel ‘inspired’ today.  I’m taking today off.”  No.  You would go to work and press through the day, even if you end up watching every minute on the clock as it slowly ticks by.

My point is that writing needs to be a job.  (Yes, it’s a job you love, but it is work.)  You need to treat it with the same dedication that you would treat a job outside the home.  There are no shortcuts.  You can’t dillydally with it.  You have to be serious about it.  You need to focus on what needs to be done and do it.

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4. Watch your writing to promotion ratio.

Yes, you do need to get your name out there. You need to build up an author brand so  people know what to expect when they pick up your books.  I know this is daunting for a lot of people.  (I’m an introvert, so it takes a lot for me to even answer emails.)  But how is anyone supposed to know you have books if you aren’t out there?

I don’t know what a good rule of thumb is for how often you should be engaged on promotion.  I consider emailing, blogging, setting up pre-orders, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, You Tube, updating your blog/website, running ads, participating in groups, etc to be promotion.  I don’t have a rule for how much time should be spent on this stuff, but writing the next book needs to take up the bulk of your time.

Personally, I aim for 80% of my work time to go to writing.  About 20% goes to promotion.  I do work at home.  My hours are usually from 9:30am – 7:30p.m. at night.  I take a break to make meals for the family, do laundry, dishes, and other thankless chores that probably take 2-3 hours total away from my working time.  Unless I’m sick or on vacation, I average six days a week.  Sometimes I will take day #6 to do promotion all day so that I can give 95% of my work time solely to writing.  (I consider edits to be a part of writing.  It’s just not the fun part.)

I don’t know where you will find your ratio, but I highly advise that at the very least, you spend 60% of your time writing and 40% of your time promoting.  That’s just a ratio.  So you take the available time you have and figure out what those hours will look like.  Obviously, not everyone can write the same hours I do.  Some of you have sick family members who need constant care.  Some of you have day jobs.  Some of you have second jobs.  Some of you have babies and young children.  Some of you have health issues to contend with.

Personally, if I had a limited time to write, I would spent 90% writing and 10% promotion.  The less time you have on hand, the more important it is to write.  But I have found it’s not how much time people have that matters as much as how they choose to spend it.  There are people who have plenty of time and are able to work, but they keep finding other things to do instead of writing the next book.

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Remember, keep your eyes on the prize.

That is why focus is so important.  Without focus, you’re not going to accomplish as much as you would otherwise.  And it all boils down to the simple question, “How badly do you want it?” I understand that sales like they were 2012-2013 when self-publishing seemed to be at its peak.  But if you don’t take control of your time and focus on writing, you’re not going to have the chance of getting to where you want to be.  That’s what I’m talking about.  Having a chance at your dream.  You need focus to get there.  (And it goes without saying that you need a compelling story that is properly edited, a good cover, and a good description to go with each book.)

 

P.J. Boox: A Bookstore for Indie Authors

Remember in May of last year, when I reported on Gulf Coast Bookstore, a bookstore in Fort Myers, Florida that showcased the works of independent authors in the Florida area? Well, recently I was contacted through my Facebook page by one of the co-owners of the store with some very interesting news about Gulf Coast. Apparently since the store opened, it’s done rather well. In fact, it’s done so well that it’s expanded. And it’s expanded into P.J. Boox.

Opening in October of last year, PJ Boox currently houses 260 authors from about 11 countries, and plans to grow that number to 500 by the time they hit full capacity, each author getting to display ten of their books in the store. The way the store displays the books allows for readers to get a full look at the books’ covers, which allows readers to make a more powerful connection with the books. And the most interesting and exciting part, at least in my humble opinion, is that authors can actually interact with readers, from anywhere in the world, via Skype or other video-chat options, all in the store’s reading room (so if your book is featured by a book club, you can actually hear what the readers say. Hopefully that’s a good thing).

According to store co-founder and co-owner Patti Brassard Jefferson, the idea of PJ Boox came to her soon after she opened Gulf Coast Bookstore. Within a couple of months, she was apparently “inundated” with messages from authors. This inspired the idea for a larger bookstore that could host more indie and small-press authors. Thus we have PJ Boox today. And while other bookstores for indie authors have since appeared in other cities around the US, PJ Boox and its owners still manage to be trendsetters among the group.

So now to answer the most important question: how does an author get their books in the store? According to PJ Boox’s website, it’s actually quite simple. What you do is rent out space in the store for four months and send them up to ten of your books. In exchange, the store will stock and sell the books. And you get a majority of the royalties back (98% for in-store sales, 80% for online sales). Top that, Amazon! And you can pay for certain upgrades on your rental that include special online options and even more shelf space in the store. It’s not a bad deal, especially since you get some great exposure in the store.

In fact, I might have to try this once my new book comes out later this year. It might expose people to my sci-fi series.

And if you want to learn more about PJ Boox, check out their website for rental rates, books by great indie authors, and information on upcoming events.

Tackling Common Issues That Can Overwhelm Writers

Lorna Faith invited me on to her podcast, Create a Story You Love, to discuss topics that we will most likely face at one time or another as writers.  Below I will hit on the highlights of the interview, but you can listen to it all by going to iTunes, her blog post, or by watching the You Tube video below.

I want to give a special thanks for Lorna Faith for having me on her podcast.  I know a lot of work went into it.

I’m going to highlight and embellish some of the interview below, but I’m not doing a word-by-word transcript of it.

Why write?

One of the best reasons to write is because you have a story you’re dying to read that hasn’t been done yet.  But, you might find opposition when you decide to pursue writing this story.  (Even if you have a backlist already, people in your circle might not be supportive of the story you have in mind.  My family still won’t touch my romances.)  I would advise you to write the story anyway.  No one but you can write your story.  You will bring your own unique voice and twists to it that no one else can do.  That’s one of the beauties of working in a creative field.  Your story is as unique as your fingerprint.

Working backwards to create a writing/publishing schedule.

I like to work backwards.  This is a method where you pick your release dates and then work your way back to what you need to do to get there.  One reason I love pre-orders is because it forces me to put down deadlines.  I estimate out three months longer for each book than I think it’ll actually take for me to get it done.

The further out you can set these deadlines, the better you can get organized on what you need to do.

For example, let’s say I put July 20 as a release date for a 60,000-word novel.

  1.  I figure it’ll take my editing team (two editors and 2-3 beta readers) a month to do their job.  So I have to have my book ready for my editing team on June 1.
  2. I contact my editors and cover artist to let them know my time frame for the book so they have enough time to pencil me into their schedules.  (The more advance notice you can give them, the smoother things are.)
  3. From there, I’ll count down how many words I need to write a day in that story in order to have it ready on June 1.  Today (as I’m writing this), it is Feb. 7.
  4. I write 5 days a week.  The 2 days off are either catch up days (say a kid gets sick and I can’t write) or it’s a day to take a break to avoid burnout.  Either way, I give myself 2 days a week to take a breather of some sort.  This way I don’t stress myself out.
  5. Counting back from May 31, I find I have 81 days of actual writing to get this book done as long as I start on Monday, Feb. 8.  (I like to work Monday through Friday when my kids are in school.)
  6. I divide the 81 days I have to write by the 60,000 word count goal.  This is 740.74.  Or 741 words a day I need to hit for each writing day.
  7. If I remove all the distractors (internet, TV, phone calls), I can write 741 words in 45 minutes, but I’ll allow myself an hour.
  8. If I’m overwhelmed by the thought of writing the 741 words on a certain day, I’ll start with a small goal of 250 words.  From there, I’ll add another 250 words.  Then I’ll add in the rest to finish up 741.  250 words is a lot less intimidating than a higher word count.
  9. When I get to chapter 10 in the story, I’ll start the initial round of edits.  I will edit 2 chapters a night. Doing this will ensure I have a second draft ready to go by the day I finish my book.  It takes me about an hour to edit 2 chapters.  I need it quiet and distraction-free when I do this.  I usually start while I brush my teeth and finish up in the bedroom while everyone else is in the living room.
  10. I hand in my second draft to my editing team at the same time.  (If I was a beginning writer, I would separate these out, but I have over 50 full-length books by now and am familiar with my process to make this work.  If you’re starting out, give yourself 3-4 months of edits so you can go and change things your editing team finds.)
  11. While the editing team is working on my book, I give it another read through, again doing this in the evenings.
  12. I give myself about 3 weeks for the finished version of the book to be uploaded via Smashords and Amazon to hit my pre-order date.  You can upload 10 days in advance and be fine, but I like to have it in for a longer period of time to play it safe.

Writing a character that is emotionally engaging.

The key to writing the emotionally engaging character is to write with our hearts instead of our head.  I have since done a couple of blog posts on this topic, so I’ll let you read those if interested.   Introduction to the Emotionally Engaging Character, Point of View, and A Deeper Look Into Point of View.

Marketing for Introverts

  1.  Pick 2-3 social things you are interested in doing.  If you’re interested in it, chances are you’ll stick with it.
  2. Build relationships and get to know people.  Sometimes you can bounce ideas around for a future book and get an idea of what your audience wants.
  3. Use your profile to let people know you have books and where to find them.
  4. Build an email list.  (I use MailChimp.)
  5. Bookbub will let you create an author profile where you can list your books.  People can follow you and be notified when you have a new book out.
  6. Book Launch pages will let you link to all retailers where you have a book up for pre-order.  When your book is out, simply update the page.
  7. Use back matter in your book to advertise your next book and email list.

When things get tough, what can you do?

Focus on the positive feedback you’ve gotten in emails, in blog comments, on Facebook, and through other avenues.  Reminding yourself that people out there do like your work can really help you get through the rough patches of bad reviews and lack of sales.  If you have some writer friends you can talk to about the ups and downs of the business, you’ll remind yourself you’re not alone.  Sometimes it helps to know you’re not the only person going through the downside of this business.

Ultimately, though, it all boils down to whether you (as the writer) like the book?  Would you write the book again if given the chance?  If you enjoy the book, that book was worth writing, and it has value.

How I Could’ve Done A Better Sale

Back in September I wrote an article about when was the best time to publish a book. That article also mentioned some opportune times to host some sales. Going off the advice of that article and my previous sale experience, I decided to host a sale around New Year’s, which is apparently a very good time to hold such a sale.

To my surprise and slight consternation, I did not sell as many books–digital or paperback–as I thought I would. I did get some good sales, including from friends and colleagues, but it was far lower than I expected, to the point that I put more money into the sale than I got back.

I’ve been spending the time since trying to figure out where I went wrong and what I could do to improve my next sale and ad campaign (probably when I publish a novel later this year). Below are the conclusions that I’ve come to, which I hope will give you some help if you hold a sale in the future.

I used only Facebook ads. In another previous post, I showed that Facebook ads could be extremely helpful in spreading the word about sales. This time though, they didn’t prove as helpful. While the likes on my Facebook page did increase from 383 to over twelve-hundred, not many of those people did buy a book. That’s because Facebook is already a free service, we get so much content from it for free. Sure, you may see ads for products on it, and you may like the pages of those products, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to buy it. You’re more likely to ignore an ad from a free service anyway, even when you’re confronted with it over and over (which is probably why I’ve never bought something advertised before my YouTube video).

So next time, I should try formats other than or in addition to Facebook. Yes, it’s a useful site to advertise and attract a fan base, but to rely solely on it wasn’t one of my better moves. Next time, I’ll look into using other platforms, including Twitter and KDP Amazon (yeah, KDP Amazon allows you to advertise through it. I heard the costs were huge, but maybe if they are, it might be worth it to advertise through a site where people are already there presumably to buy products).

I cast too wide a net. When you set up an ad campaign, you can decide who the ad is targeted towards based on criteria like age, interests and hobbies, sex, and several others. One of the main criteria though is country or countries. I wanted to get as many people to see the ad as possible, so I tried targeting as many countries as I could where Amazon operated in (most of my sales come through Amazon). Problem is, while Amazon does operate in those countries, it may not be as big as other retailers there. So when I cast a wide net, I cast a net where people would see the ad but may not buy. Meanwhile, there may have been people in more Amazon-strong countries that would’ve bought my books if they saw the ads, but didn’t because of the wide focus.

Plus some of the countries I targeted don’t have English as a first language. Yes, English is spoken there by a wide swath of the population, but it’s not a dominant language by any means. And most of my sales are from English speaking countries anyway, probably since my books are in English.

So in the future, I will try to focus on countries where most people do buy from Amazon, but English is a spoken by a majority of the population.

Include links. This should’ve been pretty obvious to me. I didn’t include links on two out of three of my ads though, expecting the readers to head over there out of curiosity and look themselves. I don’t think that’s what actually happened in real life. So if you’re going to do an ad, make sure a link or two is already present.

 

If this helped you at all, my job here is done. Sales and ad campaigns are never easy and don’t always yield the results you want, but if you learn from others and go through trial and error, they can on occasion bring in a very nice pay day.

What tips do you have for a successful sale/ad campaign?

Finding a Narrator on ACX

Many of you may remember the article I wrote on using Audiobook Creation Exchange, or ACX, which helps authors who want to put their books into audio form meet narrators and then get them onto Amazon. Well, about four months ago, after a lot of thought and getting feedback from some of my friends, family members and readers, I decided to get one of my own novels turned into an audio book. This past Saturday I finally found a narrator and finalized a deal with him.

Based on my experiences over the past four months, I thought I’d write another article for anyone thinking about using ACX to produce an audio book. This time, I’ve got tips on how to find your narrator.

First, don’t expect narrators to come looking for you. We like to imagine that the clamor to be the narrator of our audio book is like a bunch of knights taking on quests of courage and valor in order to win the hand of a princess, but in reality it’s more like you’re the princess’s father or mother and you’re writing various knights and princes to get them interested in your darling daughter. Believe me, even if narrators are proactive about finding projects to work on—and many of them are—there are new books being uploaded onto ACX every day, and yours can become quickly lost among the others.

The best thing an author on ACX can do—especially if your name isn’t JK Rowling, George RR Martin, or Harper Lee—is actively seek their own narrator. ACX has several thousand narrators, many with multiple audio samples for you to listen to and decide if someone is right for you. And you can narrow down your choices based on specific factors you’re looking for: age, gender, language, accent, and even what sort of payment they’re willing to take. When you find one you like, you can message them and invite them to submit an audition for your book if they’re interested.

Just keep in mind, really good narrators or ones who can do difficult accents can be hard to get sometimes. For my own novel, I needed someone who can do an American Urban accent, and when I first started searching the number of samples for that sort of accent was over three-hundred. Sounds like I could have my pick of the lot, right? Wrong! After eliminating narrators I didn’t like or I felt didn’t fit what I was looking for, I found that a lot of narrators who could do an American Urban accent were either busy or they charged for their services. In fact, one narrator told me after I told her I couldn’t afford to pay her that a lot of the best narrators or those who can do particular accents often charged for up-front payments and royalty shares.

That’s not to say you can’t find a great narrator who can do a difficult accent or voice who fits your budget or needs. I found one who is good at what he does and was willing to meet my needs. It just took a lot of work to find the guy.

You also have to sometimes deal with the fact that sometimes particular vocal styles, languages, or accents may not have a lot of people who can read them. I played around with the search tools a bit, and found that only twenty-two samples came up when I looked for samples of Japanese accents read by women or men attempting to sound like women. I wonder how much they charge.

Another thing to be aware of while searching for a narrator is that some books get stipends. This was something I learned while searching for my narrator. Twice in the first two weeks a book is available for auditions on ACX, it is evaluated to see if it is eligible for a stipend based on factors such as reviews, past print and e-book sales, and length. Especially length. The longer the better. If your book receives a stipend, then even if you can only afford to do the royalty share option, your narrator will receive some money after the completion of the project from Audible, ACX’s parent company. How much depends on how long the book is, usually $100 for every completed hour of audio and up to $2500. Books that are stipend eligible are marked by a green banner on the book’s profile page.

Now my book wasn’t marked stipend eligible, but it’s something to keep in mind. ACX actually recommends waiting during the first two weeks to see if your book is eligible for stipend. Though perhaps that may only be feasible for that five-hundred plus page novel that’s been selling like hotcakes you published a while back.

I have two final points to make. One, is to be aware that ACX sometimes loses messages sent through its system. This is something I learned ACX has a problem with. Messages sent to me or that I sent would sometimes disappear into the ether and I wouldn’t know if I wasn’t hearing back because the other person’s life has gotten crazy busy, or because once again the system gobbled the message up. Just a heads-up so you know when you wonder why the enthusiastic narrator you came across hasn’t gotten back to you after a week even though previous messages have always been returned in two or three days.

And finally, don’t stress out if you don’t have immediate success finding someone. It took me from early August to late November to find my narrator, and I spent quite a lot of lunch breaks looking through ACX’s databases. It can be grating if you don’t hear back from someone, or if someone you thought was a good match doesn’t pan out, or nobody you come across you like. That’s just sometimes how things work out. If you need to, take a break and worry about other stuff. When you come back, you may find things will go quite well for you.

What tips do you have for finding a narrator on ACX? How did you find yours?

When Should You Release a New Book?

Recently I wondered what the best time to release a new book was. Obviously you would want to release something scary prior to Halloween, something romantic right before Valentine’s Day, something full of snow and holiday cheer right before Christmas, etc. But what about the rest of the year? Are there days that are lucky for self-published authors? Is there a time of year that can help you get more copies into people’s hands? I was determined to find out.

Now despite my best efforts, I only have three books out at the moment (though I am working on getting more out soon), so I couldn’t rely on just my own experience ot answer this question. So when in doubt, I do what I normally do: ask the writing groups I belong to on Facebook. The answers I got were quite informative.

Of course there were the tips to release seasonal stuff around their seasons, but there was a ton more advice that I found quite interesting. One author’s observations was that people prefer introspective works in the summer (makes sense, seeing as I just read Go Set a Watchman) and mysteries and thrillers in the fall (that is when JK Rowling is releasing her next detective novel). Another author liked to follow the movie release schedule, releasing books whenever there’s a movie coming out in the same genre as his book. He also felt that people prefer laughter in winter months, “light and airy reads” in spring, adventure stories in the summer, and scary stuff in autumn.

Probably the most helpful advice I got from a woman who had recently read an article on the subject (which I wish I had a link for, but so far I have been unable to find the article). According to the article she read, the best time of year to run a promotion was the two weeks after Christmas. According to her, something about a free or discounted book after the holidays gets people buying, and that allowed her to retire from her day job and pick up writing full-time (which is something I’ll have to try).

Some other tips she gave included:

  • The best days of the month to release a book is between the 7th and the 14th.
  • If you’re self-publishing, don’t release your book on a Tuesday, because most big publishing houses release on Tuesday and you’d be in direct competition with them (wish I’d known that when I released my second novel). Instead, try to release on the weekend if you want good sales. Those days seem to be good days to publish for independent authors.
  • And if you’re trying to hit some bestseller list, release on Sunday or Monday. According to industry data, that’s a good time for self-published authors.

The one thing that all these authors seemed to agree on is that there was never a bad time to release a book. It was never directly stated in any of the comments I got, but it seemed to be implied. Sure, apparently Tuesdays might not be the wisest day of the week to release a book, but other than that there aren’t any days or times of the year when authors will doom themselves publishing a book.

And you know, I can’t help but see that as a good thing. Just means there are plenty of opportunities for authors to publish their books and maybe pull out a bestseller from them. And we all want that for our books, don’t we?

Does the advice here match your own experiences with publishing?

What advice do you have on the best time to publish a book?

New Modifications on Amazon to Look Out For

It’s a good time to be independent. That’s part of the reason this site exists: to make sure authors know that it’s a good time to be independent and we’re here to help you make the most of it. And it’s about to get better: recent announcements from Amazon about modifications to ongoing programs are bound to benefit authors, especially of the independent variety.

The first announcement is a coming change to the KDP Select program and deals with how authors are paid. Currently, authors whose books are available through Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Lending Library are paid based on how many times those books are “borrowed” through these services. Starting July 1st though, Amazon will start paying authors based on how many pages a customer reads the first time they read the book. If a page is on the screen long enough to be registered, it’ll add to how much the author is paid.

According to Amazon, authors who write longer works and feel short-changed by the current pay-by-the-rent format can stand to earn more if they can write long stories that are exciting and keep the reader involved. At the same time an author who writes a 100-page thriller novel is encouraged to maybe see if they can extend the story a little bit longer.

Of course, one shouldn’t write a book based on this sort of formula (or possibly on any formula(, but it might give some authors encouragement to try a few new things while giving other authors who already write longer books hope for a little extra income through KU and KLL.

The other announcement deals with changes to reviews and rating. You ever get that low review where someone just takes offense at something on your cover art or a typo in your author bio on Amazon or just to say “I did not like this book. It was totally stupid?” Sometimes they don’t even buy the book? Had my first of those recently, brought down my rating a little. Thankfully, with this little change these sort of not reviews will matter less in the grand scheme of things.

Currently, Amazon rates its books by averaging customer reviews. If you have a book with eight reviews, for example, and you have five four-star reviews, two five-star reviews, and one three-star review, your book’s rating will be 4.1 out of 5. Under the new system though, which they are already testing, reviews that are recent, have been written by a customer who bought the product, and are found helpful by other customers will be given more emphasis than other reviews. So if you have a five star review that’s been found helpful by twenty people and it was written last month by someone who bought the paperback, it’ll be given more weight in the rating than other reviews.

This is a huge change in the review and rating system, and has a number of positive benefits for both Amazon and people who sell their work through Amazon. It’ll not only prevent those fake reviews intentionally posted to bring down ratings, it’ll stop false reviews meant to pump up reviews (Amazon has had a heck of a time trying to stop these reviews, even suing companies that provide positive reviews to authors for a price). And if products have a few flaws around release, once the updates are done and people start reviewing the updated product, the reviews dealing with the product flaws will be less prominent and matter less in the long run.

Right now they’re still experimenting with the new system, and it’s only covering a small group of products, but once Amazon starts using it for all their products, it’ll change everything about the reviewing system! And it can only benefit. Assuming an author writes a very good book, customers looking at the reviews will get access to the most helpful reviews first and foremost.

Like I said, it’s a very good time to be an independent author. And it’s going to get even better. With more chances to get paid for writing the stories you love and not having to worry about length, and a new ratings configuration that keeps bad reviews from totally ruining your rating, authors stand to prosper more from doing what they love and do best. And I cannot wait for these programs to become available for all.

What are some modifications you’d like to see done to Amazon or other book distribution sites?

What are you looking forward to with these new changes?

My Experiments with Facebook Ads

For the past couple of months, I’ve been using the Ads feature on Facebook in a variety of ways, seeing if using it can help me grow my audience on my blog or Facebook page, or even to increase my book sales. I’m sure many of you have already utilized and come to your own conclusions about these features, but for those who haven’t, I’m presenting my findings in case you decide to try Facebook ads and want some advice or testimony before starting.

And if you don’t know much or at all about this feature, let me tell you about it. The Ads feature of Facebook is a way for people with businesses or Facebook pages to build followings and even sell their products. Setting up an ad campaign is very easy: you write the ad and then once you’ve finished, you can set a target audience based on criteria such as age range, country, and interests or hobbies. You then set for how long you want the ad campaign to run (five days, a week, two weeks, etc), and how much you want to pay. I generally recommend between ten and twenty dollars a day. As how many people you reach depends on your daily budget, this price range guarantees you’ll reach a bunch of people.

Once you’ve finished setting everything, you click “Done” and send the ad off to be approved. Usually this takes no more than a half-hour or an hour. Once your ad is approved, you let Facebook do the rest. It bases its algorithms on who it shows your ad to based on the parameters you sent, and then people start noticing it. Some, though not many, even click on it.

I ran three different ad campaigns through Facebook. Here were the results:

  1. Blog Campaign: In this campaign I gave a link to my blog. I wasn’t trying to sell anything, just get people reading. Of the nearly seventeen-thousand reached, only about one hundred clicked on the link, which led to a slight increase of readership on my blog. Didn’t get any new comments or likes or followers, but it was still a noticeable increase, small as it was. Spent a little over $41 over five days.
  2. Reborn City Campaign: This time around, I was trying to see how effective an ad campaign was at selling books, so I picked my most popular one, my sci-fi novel Reborn City, and aimed it at fans of science fiction, particularly dystopia fans. Reached a little over twelve-thousand people, but only about 140 followed the link to RC‘s Amazon page. Of these 140, no one seemed willing to pay the full price for a print or e-book copy of RC, sadly. Spent about $70 over the course of a week.
  3. The Big Birthday Sale: With this campaign, I had a bit more success than the previous two campaigns, which I did in honor of my 22nd birthday. For five days, all my paperbacks were marked down, and all e-books free-of-charge, and each day I ran a new ad campaign, each one lasting a day, advertising the sale. I also expanded the criteria to include more people, leading to buyers from seven different countries. All told, I reached a staggering sixty-thousand people and managed to sell or download nearly twelve-hundred books. Although I didn’t make as much money (especially with the e-books) it was enough to know that people were downloading and reading my books. In addition, I received a huge boost in the number of likes on my Facebook page, going from 140 likes to nearly 400, most of them from India! All told, I’m pretty satisfied with how this campaign went, spending $65 total.

From these experiences, I’ve gained some insight into what makes a Facebook ad work. Firstly, it helps to be very specific with what you’re pushing. You can’t just go “Check this out! It’s new! It’s awesome! You should want it!” You have to say more than that. For example, if you want to push your latest novel, you can say “Chester Bennett was just an ordinary teenager with ordinary problems. That is, until he met Kaylie, a girl who was born into the wrong body and is on the run from the mobster parents she stole from. The adventure they go on together leads both teens to learning many uncomfortable secrets about themselves and each other, and teaches Chester what it truly means to love in Running in Cincinnati” (and that’s just something I made up on the spot. If you want to turn it into a novel, be my guest).

It also helps if you’re emphasizing why now’s a good time to buy. This is especially helpful during a sale. If you emphasize that your books are discounted or even free and that it’s better to get the books now because of these reasons, people will take notice. Of course, there’s the downside that you might not get as much back in sales as you did in spending money on the campaign, but if there are more people reading your books because they got them at a discount price and if a good number of them enjoy the books, at least some of them will review the books, tell their friends about them, and maybe buy future copies of your work.

And of course, you need to know whom you’re selling to. The reason why my last campaign was so successful was because I made sure as many people around the world as possible with the interests and hobbies I was targeting did see the ad. The result was a huge amount of people getting my books and even liking my Facebook page. So when selling, take advantage of the parameters you’re setting for the campaign. Even look in places you wouldn’t think of looking in (like I did when I decided to target Germany, India and Japan rather than just English-speaking nations). You never know who might want to check out your new book.

Oh, and use the Ads Manager page, which you can reach by finding it on the left side of your page. If you need to make any adjustments to your campaigns (and you will), the Ads Manager will allow you to do that, so don’t ignore it!

While it may seem like putting a lot of money into something that might not yield results, Facebook ads can be a lucrative means to reach readers if you allow them. You can start slow, doing one-day campaigns and seeing what the results are, seeing what works for you and what doesn’t. With any luck, it could lead to a few more devoted readers wanting to know what happens next in your latest series or to look and see what else you have available. Nothing wrong with that, right?

What’s your experience with Facebook ads, if you have any? What tips do you have for other readers?

Also, I’m happy to announce that, like I promised in my last article, I’ve set up a page called Conferences, Bookstores, & Other Resources with links to place like the Gulf Coast Bookstore that can be of service to you in promoting your works. Included on this page are stores, conferences, and websites that have the potential to be helpful for every indie author. You can check the page out by either clicking on its name here or you can find it at the top menu under “On Marketing & Promoting”. I will be steadily adding other entries to the lists there as I find them, so if you have any you’d like to recommend, leave a name, a description and links in a comment and I will put it up as soon as possible. Hope you all find it helpful!