Tag Archives: Starting out as an indie author

New distributors for indie authors: Pronoun and Streetlib

Starting out as an indie author: distributors

I have recently become aware of a couple of new distributors (also referred to as aggregators) on the self-publishing scene, Pronoun and Streetlib. Some time ago in “Starting Out as an Indie Author,” I covered the topic of distributors in general, and Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii in particular:

Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Today I would like to share my experiences with these two new aggregators with you — as a late Christmas present, if you will. 🙂

Pronoun

Pronoun is a relatively new aggregator that claims to not charge any distribution fees, allowing authors to keep 100% of the revenues from their books. I have no idea how they intend to make money off of this business model. While going through their help files, I found something about all their partners and how that allowed them to give their services away for free, but it was rather vague — hardly enough to satisfy this particular curious mind. Personally, I tend to think that if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Which is why I am immune to shady get-rich-quick schemes. 🙂

Pronoun publishes your eBook to Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play. It will not publish an eBook that is already available through any of those vendors — it always distributes to all five of its retailers and will not carry a book that has duplicate listings. This means that if you want to test the waters, you will have to unpublish one of your books from the retailers covered by Pronoun or upload a completely new book.

In order to test Pronoun, I attempted the former, unpublishing a small short story collection that had next to no sales anyway. Pronoun claims to take both epub and docx files. I tried multiple times uploading an epub file, without success. One time it told me to run it through the validator (it passed), another time it told me the file did not include a cover image (it did). Which leads me to the conclusion that Pronoun doesn’t really want anything other than a docx file formatted according to their guidelines, which can be found here:

http://support.pronoun.com/knowledge_base/categories/manuscript-formatting-guidelines

But since life is too short to spend too much time messing with a service I’m a bit skeptical about anyway, I have not bothered trying to follow their docx guidelines. As a result, I have no real publishing experience with Pronoun to report, only a failed publishing experience.

Royalty structure:
Authors keep 100% of eBook revenues.

Channels distributed to:
Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play.

Pros – Generous royalty structure; slick looking site

Cons – No opting out of any of the retailers they distribute to; do not accept double listings; major difficulties in uploading epub files; long docx formatting guidelines

Streetlib

Streetlib is a new aggregator based in Italy, and the vast majority of the vendors they distribute to are Italian. But they also offer all the major eBook retailer such as Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, B&N, and Google Play — at least hypothetically.

The site is not very intuitive, and I found it confusing to navigate. It’s very obviously still suffering from its own newness: not only was it difficult to figure out how to get around, I kept coming across Italian words and phrases, even though I chose English as my language. Incorrect English crops up here and there as well, and when I tried to get help on various topics, I frequently got an error message. As a former localization tester, it looks to me as if the translation went live without being thoroughly tested.

As with Pronoun, I ran Streetlib through its paces by signing up and uploading the epub of my collection Story Hunger. The uploading itself went more smoothly than with Pronoun, and I was informed that my book had been published. But it apparently takes some time for it to appear in the stores they distribute to — I did the Streetlib testing yesterday, and Story Hunger is still not available anywhere. One of the help files I was able to access says it takes 24 hours for books to go live, but it appears to be more.

For now (Dec. 2016), I would recommend that authors wait on trying to use Streetlib until they get the wrinkles ironed out. It might work better for someone who knows Italian and can use the Italian interface.

Royalty structure:
Authors receive approximately 60% of the eBook cover price. More details here:
https://help.streetlib.com/hc/en-us/articles/200521091-How-much-will-I-earn-by-publishing-my-book-through-StreetLib-

Channels distributed to:
Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, 24symbols, 9am.it, Artcivic.com, bajalibros.com (worldwide), bidi.la, bookmate.com, bookolico.com, bookrepublic.it, casadellibro.com, decalibro.it, dottorebook.com, ebook.it, ebooklife.it, evribook.com, feedbooks.com, Gandhi, harmankitap.com — and many more.

Pros – Ease of publishing; many retailers

Cons – Site difficult to navigate; English translation of pages sometimes poor or incomplete; difficult to find a way to opt out of certain distributors

Update: After a couple of days, Story Hunger finally did show up on Google Play. So for those who cannot publish directly, it would be an option, despite the problems with the site, which will hopefully get ironed out someday.

Conclusion: As of this writing, Draft2Digital wins hands down for me as the best aggregator. I will continue to use Smashwords as well, since I sometimes sell a book there directly, and I like the option of being able to offer coupons. I will eventually give these newer aggregators another shot, but at the moment they are more trouble than it’s worth for me.

I hope everyone is enjoying a great holiday season! And if anyone has more or better experience with Pronoun or Streetlib, do let us know in the comments.

A newbie writer’s guide to getting your first Bookbub ad — via Patty Jansen

Patty posted this to her blog six months ago, but I only now just saw it. Since it made me chuckle and fits right in with my “Starting Out as an Indie Author” series, I thought I would pass it along.

* * *

In conversation.

GH = Grasshopper
VA = Veteran Author

GH: Soooooo, I hear Bookbub is all the rage, but is that site even open to us indies, because I submitted my book once, and they didn’t want it.

VA: *loud belly laugh* You submitted ONCE? Mwahahahahahahaha!!!

GH: But they didn’t even tell me why they didn’t want it. The whole site is a stitch-up between the trads and the people who already sell well. Those people don’t even need it. Look at meeee. I’m down in the rankings and no one is seeing my book. It’s a conspiracy.

VA: OK, so let’s look at your book.

GH: *blushes*

VA: Is your cover the best you can make it? Is it appropriate for the genre? Is is skilfully made?

GH: Well, it was made by a friend who has a design business–

VA: Book cover design?

Read the rest here.

Amazon Delivery Fees and Reducing the File Size of Your E-Book

Starting out as an indie author

One of the things that isn’t often mentioned in discussions on preparing your book for publication is the fact that Amazon charges a delivery fee for the books it sells for you. This fee comes to $0.15/MB on every eBook sold in the US published under the “70% Royalty Option.” You can find the complete list of delivery fees for all Amazon stores here:

https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A29FL26OKE7R7B

15c may not sound like a lot, but think about what it means if you have a boxed set with thousands of pages of text and several cover files prefacing each book. Depending on how many books and images it has, a boxed set can easily come to four or five megabytes or more. And when the delivery fee starts getting close to seventy or eighty cents per sale, it is definitely something to take into consideration when preparing a book for publication. If you’re not careful, Amazon’s delivery fees can significantly cut into your profits. A case in point: the challenge of delivery fees is one of the reasons I have not yet tackled trying to make my one and only travel book, Life in the Fjord Lane, into an eBook. It is mostly photographs with little text, and trying to optimize every single one of those photos would be more trouble than it’s worth to me. It sells several copies a month in paperback, and I find it hard to believe it would sell much more as an eBook. I might be wrong, but I don’t think the work involved would be in any way compensated financially, since the price of the eBook could not not be significantly lower than the paperback if I want to make a profit. I could always choose the 35% royalty option to get around the delivery fees, but that too makes all the work involved in turning a paperback book full of photographs into an eBook less likely to be worth my while.

Books priced under $2.99 are automatically in the 35% royalty category, so if you are reducing the price of your book for a sale, you are in no danger of owing Amazon delivery fees once the sale is over. No worries on that point. 🙂

How do you make your eBooks smaller?

This is the real question, and I have to admit that I don’t have all the answers. And while you might remember how I was raving about the beautiful eBooks produced by Vellum — the file sizes of their compiled books are much larger than those produced by other methods I have used. I’m losing about 30c per sale on Chameleon in a Mirror formatted through Vellum. Is it worth it to me? It is. But I have nonetheless been looking into ways to reduce the bloat a bit.

Here are some of the things I have attempted to keep the file size down.

Reduce the file size of your images

The only image that many fiction books have is the cover, and for Amazon you do not need to upload a file with the cover included, since it will automatically be added later if you don’t have it. But if you are creating only one epub file for all vendors, you don’t have to use the highest quality jpeg for the inside cover. According to what I was able to find out when trying to reduce some of my own images, saving a jpeg at 60% instead of 100% should be adequate for any images you have inside an eBook. In Paint.net, for example, (a free graphics design program) all you have to do to reduce the quality — and with it the size of the file — is to open the image, click “Save As,” rename the file, and in the “Save Configuration” box that pops up, slide the quality down to 60%. In Photoshop, this option is available when you “Save for Web.” There you can simultaneously reduce both the image size and the quality to create a smaller file for the interior of your eBooks.

Just remember, before you start messing with reducing the file size of images — make sure to save a copy! When it comes to covers, you will still want to have that full resolution, 100% quality image on hand when creating the Print on Demand (POD) version of your book.

For interior images other than the cover (for which most stores have minimum size requirements), the actual size in terms of length and width can also be reduced. Don’t overdo it, though — you don’t want the images in your book to be tiny little boxes that add nothing to the reading experience.

One very simple way I have found of reducing image sizes is a free online app called JPEGmini:

http://www.jpegmini.com/main/shrink_photo

Upload your image and download the result — that’s all there is to it. The results tend to be at least half the size of the original.

Here is some further reading from someone who is much savvier about images than I am:

https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2015/10/preparing-images-for-your-e-book/

Upload an epub rather than a mobi file to Amazon

Theoretically, it shouldn’t make any difference what type of file you upload to Amazon, since they take any epub file you upload and convert it to mobi, but I have seen significant differences in file size in books I uploaded this way. I used to compile mobi for Amazon and epub for all other vendors as an easy way of keeping them apart. But then at some point I noticed that I wasn’t making as much on my Big Fat Fantasy, Yseult, as I thought I should be making, and I soon realized it was because of the file size. After messing with the map, to little effect, I decided to try uploading the epub file, which was a lot smaller, after all.

I reduced the size of my 200,000 word epic by half.

This method may not be as successful for you, but at least it’s worth a try.

Try different ways of compiling your eBooks

While I was researching this topic, I learned that compiling eBooks with Calibre supposedly results in the smallest file sizes. Since I have no experience with that, I am simply passing the information along for what it’s worth. If it’s true, there may be differences between other methods of creating epub files.

As I mentioned above, I see a big difference in file size between Scrivener and Vellum. The difference is logical enough, since Vellum uses fancier fonts, more elaborate formatting, and ornaments to indicate scene breaks. It turns out you have to pay for that beauty coming and going. You’re the only one who can decide whether it’s worth it for you.

Do the math, and figure out the best royalty rate for your eBook

What if your book isn’t a novel that is all text except for one measly map? What if it’s a children’s book with elaborate color illustrations? Or a travelogue, like my Hurtigruten book (that I have little interest in trying to convert to an eBook because of the challenges involved)?

As I already implied above, your best bet may be to go with the 35% royalty rate, where you are not charged for delivery fees. You can choose this royalty option regardless of price. 70% sounds better, of course, but if you are selling your book for $4.99, and your delivery fee is $1.75 or higher, financially you would be better off at 35%.

Try not to be too discouraged by all of this, though. If you are just starting out, it’s good to be aware that size matters. It was well over a year after I had seriously started my own self-publishing adventures before I even found out about delivery fees, so obviously it hadn’t really hurt me yet at that time. It might well be the same for you. You can always do some adjusting and fine-tuning once you figure out how much it affects you, and how much time you want to spend trying to make 15 or 20 cents more on each eBook sale. 🙂

Using Vellum for formatting e-books

Ever since I started going indie and publishing books on my own rather than through a traditional publisher, I have been using Scrivener to create the epub and mobi files required by most retailers. Okay, not ever since — my very first experimental attempts were uploading Word docs to Amazon and Smashwords, and they were resounding failures. But once Scrivener added epub export to its many wonderful writing tools, that is what I have been using as my default e-book formatting program.

I have a new program for that now: Vellum.

Vellum is beautiful — and expensive. And it only works on a Mac. I am a PC user — pedestrian, mundane, and mostly immune to the Apple Cult. My smartphone is a Samsung. Hardware is not a status symbol for me. Yes, Apple makes pretty hardware, but it is outrageously expensive and somehow lives almost on reputation alone, which I find mildly baffling.

But — I broke down and bought my first MacBook back in the day when Scrivener was only available on the Mac. I have been a devoted Scrivener user ever since — and was incredibly relieved when Literature and Latte finally brought out a version of Scrivener for Windows. Oh joy, I would never have to use a Mac again!

Fast forward almost a decade — and me drooling over the beautiful e-books of some of my colleagues created using Vellum. So I finally broke down again and bought a refurbished sleek and shiny little MacBook Air on sale. And it really is amazingly lovely, I have to admit — even though I’m not a Mac fan. 🙂 I would much rather carry it around than some designer handbag. If only it acted a little more like a PC …

I haven’t used Vellum a lot yet, but it seems to be fairly straightforward, with a minimal learning curve (except for the fact that it is on a Mac). Not only does it create very professional looking e-books, it will generate different e-books for a number of stores simultaneously (iBooks, Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Google Play), so you don’t have to do that yourself. And if you use an aggregator like Draft2Digital or Smashwords, it also has a “generic” epub option. It does involve some setting up for the various retailers, but once that is taken care of, you can compile the e-books for all the stores where you sell your books at once.

There are several styles to choose from, designed to suit different genres.

Once you have chosen a style, the final formatting recognizes simple scene breaks like *** and transforms them into into the ornamental break associated with your choice.

Vellum is free to download. You don’t have to pay until you generate your first book. You can either pay $29.99 per title, $99.99 for ten titles, or get an unlimited license for $199.99.

I have only uploaded one book formatted with it so far, and I had some problems with the file for Kobo, so I am definitely not the expert. I intend to switch over anyway, though, gradually replacing the files for all the books I have already published. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t seem to update the look inside feature with the newer, prettier e-book format, so one of the advantages I had hoped for is gone. But at least in future, my newly published ebooks will look more professional. And if they ever add a print function, as they claim to be thinking about, that would be a huge time-saver. (You can read about how I format for Print on Demand here.)

If you found this blog post helpful, perhaps you would be interested in the book, Starting Out as an Indie Author! You can learn more here.

If you’re interested in learning more about Vellum, here are some links to folks who are savvier regarding the program than I am (and have images to share *g*):

Review: Vellum, the ebook generator for Mac with added prettiness

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2016/10/20/vellum/

http://www.macworld.com/article/2084960/vellum-review-app-offers-a-sleeker-way-to-build-ebooks.html

https://help.vellum.pub/tutorial/

Advantages and Disadvantages of Self-Publishing

Advantages and Disadvantages of Self-Publishing

I am finally (finally!) compiling my “Starting Out as an Indie Author” series into a book, and since I started this weekend, I’ve noticed a couple of things I still need to add. Since the first part of the book revolves around the question, “Is Self-Publishing For You?” I realized I had to write my own version of the consideration of the pros and cons of indie and traditional publishing. (I have a few more things up my sleeve that I will probably blog about in the next week or two.)

So with no further ado, here’s my take on the debate:

Advantages of Self Publishing

– Speed

A traditionally published novel can easily take up to two years from the time it is accepted to the time it actually comes out. And that isn’t even counting the years of sending the manuscript out to agents and editors.

By comparison, self-publishing is almost instant. E-publishing may take a day or two from the time you hit the publish button until the time your book is available, but rarely more. Print on Demand (PoD) takes a little longer, but in my experience, the physical copy of your book is available in less than a week. Of course, that doesn’t include editing and cover design, but a self-publisher can probably have that completed in weeks rather than years.

– Rights Retention

Many publishing contracts are not designed to benefit the author, they are designed to benefit the publisher, as numerous legal battles in recent years have shown. All rights to self-published books belong to the author. She can do whatever she wants with the book and does not have to consult a publisher about it.

– Control

This is probably the advantage most frequently cited by indie authors. As an indie author, you have complete control of deadlines, editing, formatting and cover design. You control the price and can adjust it up or down in reaction to sales numbers. It is easy to implement changes, including changes to the text. You could even pull the book for a rewrite if you so choose. Or if the cover doesn’t seem to be working, replace it.

In traditional publishing, an author usually has very little say in cover, design, or marketing strategies. A case in point: my novel Yseult, a retelling of the legend of Tristan and Iseult, was originally published in translation with Random House Germany. They provided stunning cover art, which is now being shared all over Pinterest:

Flamme und Harfe

The problem? It looks like the Lady of the Lake, not the tragic love story of Tristan and Iseult. Not only that, the book came out in a fantasy imprint for mostly YA readers, because the publisher wanted to cash in on the popularity of Harry Potter. But — the book has a number of graphic sex scenes. Publishers sometimes make strange marketing decisions which are more concerned with where they think the money is than what would be best for the book.

– Your book has all the time in the world to catch on

Traditional publishing houses will give a book around half a year to see whether it’s going to become a bestseller or not. If it doesn’t, it will soon be remaindered. Your book had its chance, and now it’s dead.

With self-publishing, the “shelf-life” of your book is as long as you care to keep trying to put effort into marketing it. Even if it has dropped into oblivion, you can always try some new marketing strategies to bring it back to life. As long as you want to keep it alive, it never has to go “out of print.”

– Larger percentage of the profits

In traditional publishing, the royalty rates tend to be between 6% (for audio) and 25% (for e-books). As an example, for the hardcover of Yseult in German translation, which sold for 19.95 €, I earned under 2 € per copy. (OTOH, I did get a big advance, the most money I’ve ever seen for my writing.)

By contrast, Amazon pays Kindle authors 35% (for books under $2.99 or over $9.99) or 70% for everything in between. Most other ebook vendors have similar rate structures. Selling Yseult for $3.99 for the e-book, I am earning a little bit more per book than I did with the 19.95 € hardcover of the German translation.

– More frequent payments

Most traditional publishing houses (like Random House) send out account statements twice a year and the payment shortly thereafter.

All the digital distributors I have dealt with until now send payments monthly, with a delay of about a month after sales were made — assuming sales have surpassed a certain payment threshold, which in my experience is between $10 and $50.

– Getting around the blockbuster mentality

One of the difficulties in getting a book published in traditional markets these days is the perceived need on the part of many publishing houses that a book has to have the potential to be a bestseller. This is often referred to as the death of the midlist — those books that sold regularly, but were never expected to produce runaway sales.

If your book is in some kind of niche category, sometimes your only chance is either self-publishing or publishing with a small press specializing in the kind of fiction you write.

Disadvantages

– More Work

Let’s face it, finding editors and cover designers, writing the book description, formatting your book, and uploading it to retailers are all tasks that a publisher does for the writer. But if you decide to go the traditional publishing route, don’t assume the publisher will also do advertising for you. The amount of marketing your book will get tends to correlate to the size of the advance an author is paid for her book: the smaller the advance, the less likely the publisher is going to do anything for your book other than announce it in their catalog.

– No Advance Against Royalties

While in recent years advances have been dwindling, most traditional publishers still pay authors an advance against royalties up front, based on how many copies the book is expected to sell. This can be several thousand dollars at once, something it might take a beginning indie author a long time to see. On the other hand, a traditionally published writer will not get any more payments on her book until it has “earned out,” or in other words, made the equivalent in royalties that the author received as an advance. Still, many authors see it as an advantage to receive a lump sum rather than small checks and money transfers here and there.

– Perceived Stigma of Self-Publishing

This one can get indie authors very up-in-arms, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Despite the fact that a number of hugely successful bestsellers were originally self-published, (for example, Hugh Howey, Wool, Andy Weir, The Martian, E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Lisa Genova, Still Alice) many readers still cling to the received notion that anything self-published is bound to be crap. If you go the route of an indie author, you are bound to be confronted with this at some point — and it would be best to remain graceful and not lash out if you do.

By the same token, many writers still long for the legitimacy of a traditional publishing contract. I know several writers in the SFF community who have no interest in self-publishing, even after shopping a novel around for years without success, and despite enthusiastic feedback from other writers. The legitimacy of a traditional publishing contract is more important to them than any income they might make self-publishing.

– Wider Distribution

It is still harder for self-published books to get into physical bookstores and libraries. If this is where you want your books to be, you might have to try the rounds of traditional publishing, and start submitting your manuscript to agents.

In conclusion

Each writer has to decide for herself whether she wants to pursue the traditional publishing path, or whether she wants to go it on her own. Self-publishing is definitely more work, but it can also mean more freedom and more profit in the long run. But it can also mean nasty comments from readers who won’t even bother to look at your book. Just remember what they say about success — it’s the best revenge. 🙂

So weigh the pros and cons before you take the first step in either direction, and remember, neither path is exclusive. I still publish short fiction traditionally: submitting to an editor, being rejected or accepted, being paid up front. My novels are all now self-published, however, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But for all I know, somewhere down the road, something in my situation will change and I will publish a novel traditionally again. Authors should do what they are most comfortable with, or what promises the most advantages at any given time.

How to do a successful ebook promo (without BookBub)

Starting out as an indie author

As many readers of this blog know, I broke down this month and did a free promo for one of my Big Fat Fantasies again, Shadow of Stone, the second book in The Pendragon Chronicles. For a number of reasons, I hadn’t really wanted to go there anymore:

1) The reviews you get after a free run are sometimes downright depressing, since a lot of people are grabbing the book who are not your target audience.

2) The Pendragon books are REALLY long, and they took a LONG time to write. Something irks me about giving away all that work for free.

3) I don’t want to support the assumption on the part of a growing number of readers that the only good book is a free book.

Nonetheless, I decided to plan a free promo for Shadow of Stone. In the last half a year, it has sold less than 50 copies and had less than 20,000 pages read. Meaning that even though the book can be borrowed through KU, there were very few people taking advantage of the opportunity.

Shadow of Stone

I think part of the curse of my Pendragon Chronicles series is that the books are standalone novels. And it seems that when readers come to the tragic conclusion of Yseult, which ends with no cliffhanger pulling them on, they are not as compelled to immediately buy the next book — only about 25% of the people who buy Yseult also pick up book 2. So I really didn’t have a lot to lose by tossing SoS out there for free for the first time in years.

Before I scheduled the free run, I applied for ads with a number of sites where I’ve gotten good results before. A lot of places don’t want to advertise book 2 in a series, even if the novels are standalone, but I finally got approved for an ad with Manybooks.net for May 21, so I set up the free promo around that. Organizing a free promo is very different than a 99c sale, since with that you want to go out with a bang. Your sales ranking doesn’t disappear like it does when you’re giving the book away for free. I figured for the free run, I wanted my heavy hitter towards the beginning, so that Shadow of Stone would soon be high in a lot of top 100 lists, which in turn would (I hoped) lead to organic downloads also improving the rank. Around the more expensive ad, I scheduled a couple of inexpensive promos through Fiverr, and applied for as many free ads as I could. (You can see the list of free sites I usually apply to here.)

The strategy worked better than I imagined, even though I never heard back from a number of the sites offering free ads. Here’s the breakdown for my ads, other promo activities, downloads, and income during the course of the free run for SoS:

Shadow of Stone free from May 20 – 24

May 20 – Natali FB promo Fiverr ($5.50) – 185 downloads, $21.32 in earnings
NewFreeKindleBooks (free)
May 21 – ManyBooks ($25) – 685 downloads, $27.47 in earnings
EbookDaily (free)
May 22 – Posted to Facebook groups – 263 downloads, $22.94 in earnings
May 23 – Fiverr Bknights ($10.50) – 1382 downloads, $76.08 in earnings
Booklovers’ Heaven (free)
Blog post
Mailing list
More FB groups
May 24 – More FB groups – 363 downloads, $28.90 in earnings

Ask David (free) – ran Shadow of Stone from May 20 – 24

Applied for but no response:

Reading Deals
Frugal Freebies
SF Signal free fiction
OHFB (May 24)
Ebookshabit
Freebooks
Choosy Bookworm
EReader Cafe
Ebooklister
Freebooksy
Iloveebooks
Newfreekindlebooks
ebookasaurus
Armadillo
Freeebooksforme

I also tried to set up a Facebook ad based on impressions, since I figured an ad where I pay for clicks for a free book would hardly be worth it, *g* but it was never approved. That’s an experiment I would still like to try for a free book, but maybe with a permafree where time is not of the essence.

One more thing I did which helps explain the huge jump in downloads towards the end of the free run: just before I was intending to go to bed on May 23, I checked the rankings for SoS, and it was very close to breaking the top 100 overall free on Amazon. Since I’m in Central Europe, that means it was prime time in North America. So rather than shutting down as I had intended, I sent out pleas on Facebook and Twitter, asking people to share the word and help me break the top 100.

It worked.

Here are the rankings of Shadow of Stone when I got up the next morning:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Historical Fiction > Fantasy
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical

It was #1 in several other categories as well, but those are the ones Amazon decided to show me. 🙂

During the course of the promo, I sold 51 copies of Yseult, which had previously been limping along at about a sale every other day. Strangely enough, sales of other books not in the series picked up as well, something I rarely experience with a 99c promo.

But the fact remains that the vast majority of my income from this promo was from sales of Yseult. The way the Amazon algorithms are right now, I definitely would not recommend a free promo for a book that is not part of a series. The rank for SoS after its free run (where it broke the top 100) was #126,851. Yseult, on the other hand, was #7580 — at full price. The sales I’ve seen since the promo are mostly a result of the increased rank of the companion novel.

Of course, these numbers don’t come close to those to the profit you can make if you DO get a BookBub ad. But since those are few and far between (my last was in January), I’m very happy with the 4:1 ROI of this particular promo. 🙂

If you found this blog post helpful, perhaps you would be interested in the book, Starting Out as an Indie Author! You can learn more here.

 

From trad to indie: Interview with Alicia Rasley

I’ve “known” Alicia Rasley since the early nineties, when we were both active on the writing discussion groups (called RoundTables) of the now defunct online service GEnie. I was a rank beginner at the time, while Alicia had already been traditionally published, but she was always gracious and helpful. We bonded over Aphra Behn, and she was one of the first people to read (a very early) version of Chameleon in a Mirror. So it is with great pleasure that I welcome Alicia to my blog.

Alicia Rasley, Tryst at the Brighton Inn

First off, please tell us a little bit about you and your work.
I write Regency romances and mysteries. I keep threatening to write a small-town Indiana series featuring regular people living regular lives (I live in Indiana and have a regular life myself), but for some reason, no one seems interested!

Do you have a writing routine?
I try to write an hour a day. But I’m still working full-time as a writing teacher, so some days I don’t get the hour in. I also always seem to have several projects going at once, so I spend time everyday trying to figure out which I feel like working on. So… answer is, I say I have a routine, but it’s not a very routine routine.

What made you decide to become an “indie” author?
I was traditionally published for 20 years, and suffered most every horrible offense and injury possible — lines closing just after I pledged them a book, editors getting laid off just after they expressed interest, agents with serious issues who only pretended to submit my books to editors…. And after all the work and rejection and revision and editorial interference, the book would be on sale for three weeks, and then disappear — and the publisher, just for the heck of it, would keep the rights to the book for seven to ten more years. It was the worst system ever, but it was the only one available back then… until a few years ago, when indie publishing became viable and affordable. And I’m never going back to traditional publishing (unless one of those companies offers me a million dollars, but I don’t think we need to worry about that happening).

What have you already published?
I had about 12 books traditionally published, and most of those I’ve republished as an indie author. I also have some novels and some writing books published independently. My Regency romance-mystery just came out in February, Tryst at the Brighton Inn. It’s kind of a hybrid, as I’m publishing the print version myself, and the Kindle Scout program (an Amazon imprint) is publishing the ebook.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on revising a few of my old books slightly to make them fit together better in a boxed set of Regency romances. It will be called Lords of the South Coast. And I’m just starting a new series of young-adult novellas set in the period of the French Revolution, about a group of children and teens who run away from the danger and become the wards of a mysterious noblewoman with a rambling old manor house near London. I like to think that young people will enjoy historical stories about plucky teens overcoming terrible odds to find peace.

I think you may well be right. 🙂 Do you make your covers yourself or do you hire a cover artist?
I am not at all visual, so I rely on a cover artist. Kim Killion did a wonderful job on the Tryst cover. It’s traditional and yet striking.

What do you think are the advantages of indie publishing? Of traditional publishing?
Indie publishing is great because it offers so much control and freedom. For a battered and bruised vet like me, it’s almost a miracle to think I can write what I want, and reach my readers directly without some huge international conglomerate publisher acting as the “gatekeeper” (and usually slamming that gate right on my foot). The downside is that I have to do all the work myself, but I never made enough money for a traditional publisher that they did any marketing for me — so it’s nothing new for me to sell my books myself.

As for traditional publishing, if you are a bestseller and stay that way, you’ll probably be treated well by the publisher. No one below bestseller status has any real assurance of good treatment, but I think the weather is pretty sunny in the highest-selling group. Otherwise, the big advantage of traditional publishing is the prestige. You have some supposedly independent affirmation of your skill as a writer. I think that’s fading (the ultimate judge of our skills is the reader now), but I do think many writers feel more validated if they’ve experienced traditional publishing.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
If you’re trying to get traditionally published, give yourself a deadline, after which you’ll indie publish. Traditional publication can move glacially slowly, and sometimes you’ll spend a year trying to get an agent and then the agent will spend a year trying to sell your book, and then there’s a year between the sale and the publication… and three years have gone by. Consider having one book on the traditional publishing treadmill, and in the meantime, publish other books yourself. That way you might well end up with the best of both worlds!
But if (as so often happens) your books never seem to fit the lines of a traditional publisher, give it up and go all in to independent publishing. The readers might love all the stories the trad publishers rejected.

And if you’re planning to go indie, take the advice everyone keeps giving me — to conceptualize a series of stories rather than five “one-offs”. Readers love connected stories with a common theme or set of characters.

Good luck on all your projects, and thanks so much. Alicia! I think you’ve given new authors a lot to think about. 🙂

Getting in touch with with Alicia Rasley:

Blogs
Regency Escapades: http://aliciarasleybooks.com/?page_id=32
Edittorrent (writing and editing): http://www.edittorrent.blogspot.com

Facebook – Alicia Rasley, Author:
https://www.facebook.com/Alicia-Rasley-author-718519868222011/?ref=hl

Twitter – @aliciaregency

Once again, the importance of covers for indie authors

I got a really nice heads up recently on the new cover for Looking Through Lace: in the monthly e-Book Cover Design awards, Joel Friedlander called it “a strong cover that intrigues.”

Looking Through Lace

The 99c promo that is currently running for Looking Through Lace confirms my growing conviction of how important striking covers are for sales. With an advertising investment of less than $60, I have already sold 110 copies of the novella, with a day still to go in the promo. Since investing in the new covers for LTL, Beyond the Waters of the World, and the boxed set of both novellas in December 2015, I’ve already earned back the cost (minus advertising *g*). But the way sales and borrows are going, I should be in the clear on the cost of the new covers soon.

With the new cover of Chameleon in a Mirror, I have also seen a dramatic increase in results on promos.

Chameleon in a Mirror
I did that one myself, but I also ran it and other designs through numerous testing sites before replacing the old cover.

Given the results of my recent promos with these new covers, I can hardly emphasize enough how important I think it is to have a cover that will entice the reader to click.

Go ye forth and get a new cover. 🙂

How to develop a strategy for ebook sale promotions (Starting out as an indie author)

Once upon a time, when I first started switching from traditional to indie publishing, all you had to do to sell books was to offer your works free on a regular basis and get a few thousand downloads. After the free runs, the books would be high in the Amazon rankings, which would provide the visibility to sell a decent number of books daily for a while until your book disappeared into obscurity again. My biggest income month as an indie author is still from those early golddigger days.

In that carefree time when I first started out, way back in 2012, even a *short story collection* offered free was enough to boost visibility and garner sales for the more lucrative longer works.

No more.

Now it is hard to even give short story collections away on Amazon (although they do still sell on other venues). And for a free run with a novella or novel to result in any kind of significant bump in sales after it’s over, you have to give away tens of thousands of copies of your book.

So I’ve had to switch gears. In the last year or so, I’ve been testing various sites for advertising my books, as well as new book descriptions, new keywords, and new covers, and I’ve seen a steady rise in book sales, from income of under $50 a month to this:

I realize this is peanuts compared to really successful indie authors, but for me, it’s monetary proof that I’m going in the right direction. For about a year, from late 2013 to late 2014, I pretty much stopped marketing my books completely. I published Chameleon in a Mirror during that time, and it took off like a stone weighed down by a ton of bricks. But that does not seem to have had anything to do with the quality of the book — see my bestseller last month in the image above. 🙂

During my no marketing phase, my books were earning me between $40 – $70 a month. When I was ready to publish Island of Glass, I decided it was time to come out of my marketing slump and start regarding it as a challenge, an experiment, a puzzle I needed to figure out. Here are some of the strategies I’ve come up with during the last year of extensive experimentation.

Permafree

I had already put a short story from The Pendragon Chronicles up for free, but Gawain and Ragnell, even though it is part of A Shadow of Stone, has its own complete plot arc — and thus provides no compelling reason for anyone to read the other books, other than enthusiasm for my brilliant writing, of course. But it has no hook; it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. Readers claim they hate this, but book 2 in a series is more likely to find buyers if book 1 ends leaving lots of questions unaswered.

Since my Pendragon books were meant to be standalone novels, I went a different way to attract more readers: I split up my monster book, Yseult (200,000 words, or 800 manuscript pages), into the four “books” I had already organized it in and published them each separately. Once I managed to make Part I free, I had a cliffhanger book to entice readers to buy either the next book or the complete “boxed set.” And I also now had 2 free “books” in the series that I could alternately promote cheaply or free. (See my blog post on promoting permafrees.)

With some experimenting along these lines, I noticed that as long as I could keep at least one of those two permafree books in the top 20 of the Arthurian Fantasy Free rankings, it helped get me regular sales of Yseult. The Arthurian Fantasy category is small, so it’s not as hard to stay high in the rankings, but by the same token, it doesn’t attract as many readers who will then pick up your higher-priced book or books. I’m pretty sure that if you can keep a permafree high in the rankings of a much bigger category like Epic Fantasy, you would see higher sales of the related book.

Organize promotions around effective advertisers

Don’t set your promo prices and dates and then go looking for advertising. Do it the other way around.

I invested quite a bit last year, in both time and money, testing various advertising sites for ROI (return on investment). You can certainly take my own recommendations as a guideline, but the thing is, your results might be very different. A number of advertising sites recommended on Kboards were a washout for me. Garnering a BookBub ad will pretty much always guarantee a good ROI. But not only are they hard to get, they are very expensive, and not all authors will be able to afford their prices.

Some of the places (besides BookBub) I will build a book promotion around are ENT, BookBarbarian, ManyBooks, and RobinReads. I’ve had less than stellar results with BargainBooksy and any number of sites other authors swear by. That’s why you can’t get around investing in your own experiments, at least a little. I started my experimental marketing investing in sites that authors on Kboards recommended — but of those, there were quite a few that for me had a pretty miserable ROI. You can read some of my results in this post.

The thing is, there is no magic bullet. But while a number of ad sites didn’t pay out for me, in those months I’ve seen a steady increase in sales — with no month that my investment was higher than the money I earned from my books. So as a whole, the increase in visibility is worth it.

After the last few months of experimentation in advertising, I’ve come to the conclusion that most indie authors who are serious about selling on a regular basis won’t be able to get around doing some similar experiments for their own books. Several of the advertisers I had the biggest hopes for turned out to be my biggest disappointments, while some less well known gave me surprising jumps in sales. Genre, cover, subscriber tastes — so much plays a role, it’s hard to say which book will do well with which advertiser.

Some generalizations I can make, regardless of genre and / or experience:

– Before paying money for advertising, try to figure out the reach of the web site or list. If they do not provide any numbers themselves, Alexa rankings might be a good place to start. I have a list of Alexa rankings here.

– Once you have figured out the advertising sites that work for you, apply for an ad with one of your favorites well in advance, usually about a month, and chose the option that your dates are flexible. If your book is accepted, plan your promotion around the effective advertiser, applying for some free or less expensive ads in the days leading up to it.

– Try to do a 99c advertising campaign with at least one of your books a month. (I don’t advocate free anymore, except for permafree.)

– Don’t use the same advertiser and the same book every time. Ads are much more effective if you haven’t advertised a book through the same service in at least six months. Obviously, this strategy works better the more books you have to advertise. If you only have two novels published, concentrate on getting more out before you start experimenting with advertising the way I did. To remain visible as an author with this strategy you would probably need at least four novels or longer novellas, preferably more. (Short stories and collections do not work to boost my visibility.)

Description and Cover

If you can’t get any of the big, more effective advertisers to accept your book, despite the fact that your manuscript isn’t riddled with typos and you have a fair number of positive reviews (don’t believe the myths circulating about the astronomical numbers you need to get a BookBub ad), then it might be time to re-evaluate the presentation of your book.

I am convinced that the single most important thing for selling books is your cover. It’s the first thing your potential reader sees, and if it isn’t interesting or eye-catching enough for him or her to click on it, you’re losing sales right there.

I’ve done several cover makeovers recently, one myself for Chameleon in a Mirror, and two for my Looking Through Lace Series with new covers designed by Lou Harper. All of those books saw dramatic increases in sales / downloads when I did a promo for the book with the new cover compared to the results with the old. Note: you can’t expect a book that’s dead in the water to come back to life with a new cover. If your book is in the lower dregs of Amazon somewhere that no one will ever see it, and you don’t do some kind of promo to increase its visibility, it will remain in the lower dregs of Amazon, despite its stunning new cover.

I have also seen significant increases in sales after changing my descriptions. One of the most effective things I have found for the new product format on Amazon (which only makes the first few lines of the description visible without the customer having to become active and click on “Read more”) is to start with enthusiastic “sound bites” from reader reviews. Here’s an example:

Once I changed the description to make a number of positive reviews plus a teaser prominent in the mini space which is now the Amazon default, I saw a much better conversion rate for the low-level ($1 a day) Facebook ads I’ve been using to try and keep my books from disappearing into obscurity. Now I just have to find formulas for my other books that are as consistent as Chameleon in a Mirror is right now. 🙂

But the operative phrase is “right now.” The thing is, the ebook market is constantly changing, and as an indie author, you have to be willing to change with it: keep abreast of marketing trends, and changes in Amazon, Kobo, Apple, or anywhere else you sell your books. If you really want to make a living selling your books, you’re not going to get around doing your own experimenting, or keeping abreast of changes in the market. You can take this information I’m giving you as a basis to do your own experiments, but my results are based on my books, my covers, my descriptions, and can’t be carried over 1 to 1 to your books, your covers, your descriptions. All I can offer you here are guidelines based on my own experience, some possible ways to develop your own strategy to lift your books out of the doldrums.

In Conclusion

During my Year of Experimentation (following my Year of Marketing Dangerously / i.e. Not at All *g*), I tried plenty of THIS IS THE WAY YOU WILL IMMEDIATELY SELL SH*TLOADS OF EBOOKS strategies. Some of them increased my sales, most of them didn’t. On the other hand, most of those strategies sold as get rich quick schemes have some basis is fact — but they don’t take the individual book or the individual genre into consideration. And many are based on creating cheap non-fiction ebooks written specifically to a niche market.

Those kinds of marketing strategies don’t really work for fiction. In my experience, you just can’t get around testing things yourself for what will work for your own books.

But researching the sites and strategies that have worked for other authors can certainly make the task much easier. And I hope those of you looking for better ways to market your ebooks find this helpful. 🙂

Results of BookBub ad in the UK for Chameleon in a Mirror

Last year, 2015, I sold an average of 8 books a month in the UK. As many of you know who read this blog, I had a UK only BookBub ad for my literary time travel, Chameleon in a Mirror, earlier this month. Right now I have 124 sales and 6205 pages read across all titles in the UK. Last month, it was 4 sales and 1235 pages read, total.

Here are the best UK rankings I saw during the sale for CIAM:

Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #781 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#1 in Kindle Store > Books > Literature & Fiction > Historical Fiction > Fantasy
#3 in Books > Fiction > Fantasy > Historical
#8 in Kindle Store > Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical

Chameleon in a Mirror #1

The ad cost $100. Income in the UK since the ad went live has been 75 pounds, plus 4100 pages of CIAM read. All together, that comes to about $130 in UK income for Chameleon since the BookBub ad, dependent on exchange rate and what the payout for pages read will end up being this month. CIAM sold nothing in the UK the previous month (December 2015), so it’s safe to say that most of that income is a result of the BookBub ad.

Added benefit: my other books are selling a bit more there as well.

During the sale, CIAM sold 95 copies in the UK, 2 of those before the BookBub ad went live. Now, a week later, sales are up to 115. Here’s the ranking of the book in the UK today:

Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #13,305 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#17 in Kindle Store > Books > Literature & Fiction > Historical Fiction > Fantasy
#28 in Books > Fiction > Fantasy > Historical
#62 in Kindle Store > Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical

Since the BookBub ad, CIAM has consistently been selling a couple of copies a day, and is still in several top #100 lists. At the end of the sale, I started a Facebook ad targeting UK readers with a whopping budget of $1 a day, and since I don’t have an Amazon Affiliates account for co.uk, which would help me track where sales are coming from, I can’t say whether the regular sales are a result of the BookBub ad, or the dollar a day Facebook ad I started after the promo. So I can’t attribute all of those sales and pages read to BookBub. But it certainly got the ball rolling, and I’m trying to keep the book from disappearing into obscurity too quickly with the Facebook ad.

To summarize: I would definitely take another UK only ad with BookBub if that was all they wanted to offer me. The increase in visibility is amazing, and despite the cost, I have made something of a profit and continue to do so. That’s a win in my book. 🙂