Indie Authors – Are Blogs Effective Anymore?

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Indie Author Handbook

I haven’t posted to this blog in a long time, but I was prompted to write this after reading Robert Chazz Chute’s great post, What if What We Think We Know About Writing, Publishing & Promotion is Wrong?  It’s a great post and I encourage you to read it first before you continue reading this post.

Are you back?

Okay, here are my thoughts, if anyone cares :)

Indie Authors – Blogging Is Dead

I agree with Robert here, with a caveat.  Too many indie authors write blogs about writing.  Who reads those?  Other authors.  I think the advice of writing in a niche that your readers will enjoy is where you build your blog.  Unfortunately for me, my blogs are either about the craft of writing or about film noir.  Unfortunately, film noir (a niche for readers) targets a very small audience.  Doesn’t work…oh well.

If you want to write a writing blog, this should be with other things to market (books about writing, consulting, classes, etc.).  Treat is as another revenue stream.

Write blog posts because you like it, not because you think it’s going to sell books.  If it does, great, but don’t expect it.  Write blog posts about something you and fans of your books will enjoy.  Your passion will come through and your fans will love it.

Indie Authors – How Do You Sell Books?

Not through a blog….at least for most of us.  Robert discusses the meme market your books by writing more books.  His conclusion is that this may work, it may not.  And I believe he’s right.  No, shocker!

Yes.  Here’s the thing: we’ve all heard of the outliers who are making thousands at this, and we’ve all heard that they are the exception.  This is true!  But then people say but wait, there are tons who are making a living at this.  Also true, but here’s the caveat: look at the genre they are writing in.  Almost all that I see (from Kindleboards, The Passive Guy and other sites) are writing in a romance genre or erotica.  Some are making it in action-adventure, some in sci-fi or fantasy.  It’s very hard to make a steady living in other categories.

Be aware of this.  Robert sites authors who are worrying from month to month whether they will make enough to pay the bills.  I believe this is probably where most full-time authors are.  And most are more dependent on Amazon than they would admit to (read this great post by Nick Stephenson about this).  I know a handful of authors who gave up their day jobs for writing, and then have had to go find work again (with difficulty) because the writing didn’t pan out.

My advice: be very careful before you quit that day job.  The publishing industry is in great flux and what’s gold today may not be tomorrow.

Indie Authors – My Strategy

Even though I’ve just said that writing more books may not be the answer, for myself, it’s working.  Not enough to quit the day job, but the revenue is growing.  Here’s some of what I’m doing:

Writing more books in a specific genre.

Until the last book, I’ve put all my focus on the Reed Ferguson mystery series.  I’ve just released the 7th in the series (The Lady Who Sang High).  Why?  Because this is the genre that is selling for me, I like Reed Ferguson, and most importantly, with the release of each book, I am gaining more fans.  And fans do tend to read in specific genres, as Robert notes.  Yes, you will get some rabid fans that will read anything you write (and how cool is that), but most won’t.  But having a series in a specific genre is a good revenue stream.

Many indie authors who are making money at this recognize that genre is important.  Which leads me to another strategy…

Knowing my life goals.

If you want to write what you want and you don’t care about sales, more power to you.  I want to do this for a living, so I’ve got a strategy in mind.  It involves not only writing goals, but financial goals.  I’ve always dreamed of living in the foothills, so I’m in the process of selling my house and building a home there.  Then I will pay it off as fast as I can.  No mortgage means I need less each month to live on.  And no, I’m not making a ton of money at my job.  I sacrifice in other areas to make this happen.  I’m very careful with how I spend my money so that I can achieve this goal.  It’s not everyone’s, but it’s mine.  Could I move to the family farm three hours from Denver and live there rent-free and write full-time?  Probably.  But being that far from Denver would depress me and interfere with my writing, so it’s not worth it to me.  I’ve evaluated what it will take to live on writing, what I need in savings, what I need for retirement, and much more.

I also have writing goals, like how many books I will produce each year, and each month.  People ask why I’m pushing so hard, even though I’m moving and have a lot on my plate.  Again, no one else will.  I’m driven and I love writing.  So I do it.

My point is, decide what you want and how you will achieve it.  Then you have to put the effort in.  No one else will do the work for you.

Creating multiple series in different genres.

I’ve just completed the first draft of the 2nd book in the Noah Winters adventure series.  Why am I branching out from the Reed Ferguson mystery series?  Because the Noah Winter series sells okay, especially in paperback (I believe this is the case because it’s a middle-grade novel).  The first in the series, The Emerald Quest, gets rave reviews.  I think I can build it into a decent series, it means a revenue stream.  At some point (probably next year), I will finish the Nephilim series.  I haven’t pushed it because horror doesn’t sell as well, and Nephilim will only be a trilogy, with possibly a prequel.  So a limited revenue stream.  I am also going to create a series in the action-adventure/thriller category that I hope will help sales as well.

Know my marketing goals.

I’m testing different strategies.  With the Reed Ferguson mystery series, I’m releasing books as soon as I finish them.  I try to get Bookbub ads whenever I can.  But with the Noah Winter adventure series, I am going to wait until I have three books in the series before I advertize.  Why?  Because I will advertize The Emerald Quest on Bookbub (if they’ll take it and I believe they will because there’s less competition in middle-grade books), and I should see sales of the other books.

Having multiple series in different genres also allows me the opportunity to advertize (and get accepted) more on Bookbub.  And even though most readers don’t cross genres, some will, and I’m going to take advantage of that.  I do hope that other sites (like The Fussy Librarian), will give Bookbub competition and this will mean another great place to advertize with great results (and I believe The Fussy Librarian will), but for now, there’s no arguing with Bookbub’s results.

Not relying on one vendor.

I know a lot of authors are exclusive to Amazon.  That’s fine, but for me, I don’t want to be exclusive there.  If Amazon corners the market, they can change how much they pay authors…in a negative way.  Yes, I’m saying this even though JA Konrath rudely ripped me on this :).  There are many respected authors who believe Konrath and his ilk are wrong – read Dean Wesley Smith for one.  Alibaba could make a move on Amazon, Barnes & Noble could sell its Nook reader base to Apple, Alibaba or others.  Apple and Google Play are growing.  So are foreign markets, but not through Amazon.  My marketing strategy has been to branch out and it’s working.  I sell well on Barnes & Noble, and my sales at Apple and Google Play are growing as well.  And I hear this from other authors, too.  So I’m fine with what I’m doing here.

Write fast.

This one you can’t get around, unless you get lucky and one book takes off in a big way.  But I’m finding that the more I write, the faster and easier it becomes.  It’s fun and I can’t seem to stop.  That’s where my focus is, so I don’t write many blog posts anymore.  They take up too much precious time, for too little gain.  And speaking of writing, it’s time for me to stop writing on this post and get back to the next Reed Ferguson mystery, Sweet Smell of Sucrets.

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Indie Authors – Branching Out From Amazon

indie author handbook

Indie Author Handbook

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I hope to get back on a schedule soon.  Life has taken on some interesting turns (new job, which was my old job; long commute again and more).  In my writing life, I’ve been busier than ever.  I’ve figured out a way to write faster (more in a future post), I’ve learned Photoshop so I can do my own covers, and I’ve also branched out from Amazon.

Indie Authors – Is KDP Select Worth It Anymore?

Much has been written on this topic, both pro and con.  Here’s my take: KDP Select might have some value, if you have a huge audience (like JA Konrath), or if you have just a book or two available and you want to try to get some traction and reviews.  Then using Select, and its Kindle Countdown, might be of value for you (read more about my thoughts on Kindle Countdown here).  But you need to ask yourself (especially if you have a lot of books for sale and/or a series) if the payoff is worth the lost sales on other sites (Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, txtr, OverDrive, Scribd and many more).  For me, it’s not.

Indie Authors – Branching Out

I haven’t been in Select for a while, but it still took me a while to make all my books available on other sites.  I know that the theory is that Amazon is the king (and they are), so why sell elsewhere, but I personally think it’s dangerous to put all my eggs in that basket.  I also haven’t read where Kindle Countdown has been that great.  Yes, authors get to keep their 70% royalty on a 99 cent book, but this doesn’t help if your book is permafree (which the first in my mystery series is, and it’s the one I most heavily promote), and this doesn’t account for the lost revenue that an author might receive if he/she is selling on other venues.  I also haven’t seen where indie authors feel that Kindle Countdowns gave them any sort of great boost after their countdown ended.

Indie Authors – My Results Going To Other Retailers

KoboIn short, it’s been successful.  First, I’ve been lucky enough to get Bookbub ads for This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, and I’ve gotten a lot of downloads.  After the fact, my sales got a nice boost.  Amazon performed very well, with all other books selling well.  On Barnes & Noble my sales are about a fifth of those on Amazon.  Now that may not seem like much, but it’s a nice chunk of change.  I’m also getting sales on iBooks and some (albeit not much) on Kobo.  I haven’t been able to figure Kobo out.  My books sit high in bestseller lists, but they still don’t seem to get visibility.  I’m not sure how to change that (I’d love to get featured in their first in a series, but I don’t know how one does that), but I’ll still leave my books there.  Apple is beginning to gain traction, too.  So I’m satisfied with not being exclusive to Amazon.

Indie Authors – Other Things To Consider

One of the things that makes me nervous with using Amazon exclusively is their ability to change royalty rates (don’t think they can’t/won’t do it, they did with their audiobook division, ACX).  If they do, I’d want to be earning royalties elsewhere.  Apple also bears watching.  They are including iBooks (pre-installed) on iOS 8.  This could potentially be huge for indie authors.  I also wonder about what Alibaba will mean for Amazon, especially in terms of global sales (read more about Alibaba here).  I also heard an interesting theory, a what if Alibaba buys Nookpress?  That could be a game changer…

Indie Authors – Conclusions

For me, it’s a no-brainer.  Amazon would have to do something really awesome for me to go back to exclusivity with them.  Branching out to other retailers has been a success, and with some advertizing and continued brand-building, I think the revenue stream from those retailers will be a nice benefit to my business.

I’d love to hear what you think?  Let me know in the comments.

And (shameless plug), stay tuned for the sixth in the Reed Ferguson mystery series, coming out in July!

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Indie Authors – Can Amazon Remain Relevant?

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Indie Author Handbook

Okay, the obvious answer is yes.  But there are some things on the horizon that I think bear watching, especially for indie authors.  Read on…

Indie Authors And Amazon’s Stock Tumble

Did anyone notice that Amazon had a poorer holiday season than expected?  One group did: investors.  Amazon’s stock recently tumbled – shares are down 10%.  Amazon posted a profit in the last quarter of 2013, but it fell short of expectations.  Now I get that this is mostly investor-speak and issues for the stock market, but…what many don’t realize is that Amazon doesn’t make a huge profit in general (Jeff Bezos spends a lot, so the profit margin isn’t huge).

Why is the market so unhappy?  It’s hard to say.  Amazon has a long history of spending lavishly on new developments at the expense of its own profits.  And, for a long time, Wall Street has essentially put its trust in Jeff Bezos and given him a bye on these figures.  But analysts are now pointing to an ongoing deceleration in the company’s unit sales growth, which fell to 23 percent from 25 percent in the previous quarter, as possible cause for concern.

What does this mean for indie authors?  Who knows, but it’s important to realize that Amazon makes about 7% of its revenue from ebooks (I can’t find the article on this, if someone has this reference, let me know).  I’ve also read recently that Apple and Google are taking bigger shares of the ebook and ereader market.  Would this mean that Amazon will finally start charging authors to publish?  Or give us a lesser share on our sales (remember, they already changed the royalty revenue for audiobooks so the author gets less)?

Amazon’s Profit Weakness Highlighted

I found this article to be very interesting.  Alibaba, the Amazon of China, has filed a prospectus with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Here are some things to note:

  • Alibaba’s profit totaled $2.8 billion for the nine months ended Dec. 31 on revenue of $6.5 billion
  • Amazon hasn’t had much in the way of net income during its 20-year history, with $274 million earned for all of 2013 on sales of $74.45 billion

As the article notes:

Put another way, Amazon makes less than a penny for every dollar in revenue, while Alibaba makes about 43 cents.

Alibaba’s ability to churn out profits underscores how Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos’s strategy of pouring money back into the business and pressuring already razor-thin margins isn’t the only way to become one of the world’s biggest online-commerce companies.  That may exacerbate investors’ recent dissatisfaction with Amazon — they have pushed down the company’s shares 25 percent so far this year, as Bezos ramps up spending on fulfillment centers and delivery operations.

It gets worse for Amazon:

Amazon, meanwhile, has built out a massive infrastructure of distribution centers and delivery options.  The company’s expenses rose 23 percent in the first quarter, with fulfillment costs climbing 29 percent and technology and content costs jumping 44 percent.

Amazon has already raised prices for Amazon Prime.  With rising pressure from investors, will Amazon do other things to make more money?  Stay tuned…

PS – on a different note, how will this affect ebook sales?  Amazon, in general, stinks at ebook sales outside the U.S.  What will Alibaba being in the U.S. mean for ebook sales in China?

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Bookbub Raises Capital – What Does It Mean For Indie Authors?

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Indie Author Handbook

Did anyone see the latest news about Bookbub?  I’m a little surprised I haven’t been reading more about this from indie authors.  The headline is striking:

BookBub Raises $3.8M to Help Readers Find E-Book Deals Online

Indie Authors – What Does This Mean For Us?

My first thought when I read the headline was will Bookbub quit gouging authors with their advertizing prices?  Of course we know the answer to that: no.  The only way Bookbub will stop with the exorbitant costs is to have competition (which is one reason why I hope The Fussy Librarian succeeds).  When indie authors have another viable resource that is as successful as Bookbub and they take their advertizing dollars there, then Bookbub will have to reconsider what they charge for a one-day email.

Indie Authors – What Will Bookbub Do With The Money?

The article states that:

The CEO plans to use the funding to develop new e-book discovery products for Bookbub price imagepeople who love to read.  The company also plans to localize the BookBub newsletter and site for different, international markets, starting with English-language speaking countries.

I’m curious to see what the plans are.  I also wonder how successful Bookbub will be with foreign markets.  Amazon hasn’t figured that out, with their delivery charges and inability to let authors change prices in foreign markets.  Bookbub won’t have those issues, but how will they grow their email list?  I also can’t see authors being willing to lay out the kind of cash they have to now unless they know that Bookbub will deliver, and it will be interesting to see what kind of prices Bookbub will charge.

Don’t get me wrong – Bookbub is, in my opinion, the best place to use your advertizing dollars.  I just think if they’re going to call me a partner, they should actually treat me like one, and really have my interests as an author at least somewhat in mind, instead of just wanting to get as much out of my pocketbook as they can.

What do you think about this news?

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Indie Authors – Does Blogging Really Matter?

indie author handbook

Indie Author Handbook

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been MIA on this blog of late.  There are a number of reasons why: too busy with life, too busy writing novels, too busy learning Photoshop and creating covers, releasing short stories, and so on.  But one of the big reasons I haven’t blogged a lot lately is that I wonder if it really matters at this point….

Indie Authors – Where’s The Following?

When I started this blog almost three years ago, the idea was to create a following that would…wait for it…sell books (and since most of us authors don’t buy each other’s books, I haven’t sold much as a direct result of this blog).  But I did what so many do, and I wrote/write about writing.  I’ve discussed before how this was a mistake (read Blog Basics For Indie Authors – Your Audience), and yet, here I am…

And lately I haven’t felt like blogging.

Indie Authors – The Blog Becomes A Chore

It takes me a lot of time to do each blog post.  There’s research, editing, finding images, factoring in keyword research, and so much more.  I can’t crank a post out in a few minutes.  That’s okay, and I enjoy passing along what I’m learning, but it’s taking too much time for me.  And there are so many blogs on writing that I find myself wondering if my little blog matters.  Does anyone read it?  Does anyone care?  And it takes me away from writing my novels…

Indie Authors – A Refocus

Things are changing for me.  I like to help others and pass information along, but it takes away from my other writing.  So now, if I do write posts, I’m going to make sure they’re short, and fun (or fun/interesting for me to write :)).  I know people like images to keep their attention, but screw that.  I don’t always have time to make things pretty because some readers need pictures to keep their attention :).  If I find some piece of valuable information, I’ll pass it along.  But I’m not going to let the blog take away from my other writing projects (do you sense a theme here?).  I’m not going to let the blog become a chore.  I want it to be fun again…

I read an interesting blog post about authors taking a break from all the things we do.  It resonated with me because I’ve been feeling a lot of what Robert writes about.  Give it a read…

And now (about an hour after I wrote this post), I got this comment from Robert, and it made me feel like pressing on…

I hope your blog doesn’t go away. You’ve done some excellent analysis there and it would be a shame to lose it.

Okay, my rant is finished…what are your thoughts?

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Cover Reveal – Out of the Past, A New Mystery

Here’s the new cover for the fifth novel in the acclaimed Reed Ferguson mystery series!  I’m so excited about this new novel.  Reed is growing as a detective, the plot is suspenseful and tense.  Here’s the blurb:

Compelled by a dark secret from his past, Denver detective Reed Ferguson takes on his most unique case yet – bodyguard for young, spoiled trust-fund baby Stephanie McMahon – and gets more than he bargained for.  As Reed tries to protect Stephanie from an unknown assailant, he realizes that things are not what they seem, no one can be trusted, and the past has a way of coming back to haunt us.  And when suspicious deaths begin piling up, Reed knows he might be next.  With a twisting plot and film noir fun that readers have come to expect, Out of the Past is Reed Ferguson at his best.

Out Of The Past - Reed Ferguson mystery series

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m running a contest!  I am giving away one signed, trade paperback version of Out of the Past (US residents only).  If you read and review the novel, let me know and you’ll be entered into a drawing for the paperback copy.  When the novel has ten reviews on Amazon, I’ll do the drawing (one in ten odds, not bad :)).  Email me at renee@reneepawlish.com to let me know you reviewed the book and I’ll enter you into the drawing.

Thanks to everyone for supporting this series!

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Indie Authors – The Future of ACX and Audiobooks

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Indie Author Handbook

In late February, ACX, Amazon’s audiobook division, changed its royalty rates, and I immediately wondered how the changes will affect indie authors.  I have recently contracted with a narrator to produce the first Reed Ferguson mystery, This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, and as I’ve read more about this move by ACX, I’ve wondered about how viable it will be for me to move into more audiobook creation.

Indie Authors – ACX Changes

ACX used to have royalty rates that started at 50% of sales, with the possibility of increasing to 90%, but now ACX offers a flat 40%, with no escalation.  Now, this may sound great, but you have to keep in mind how many authors create ebooks.  An author can choose to pay a narrator and/or producer to create an audiobook, and this can cost thousands of dollars.  Or an author can choose a 50/50 split of profits with a narrator.  This is the options I’ve chosen.  So the new royalty rate means the narrator and I get 20% on every sale of my audiobook.  This is getting into territory more like traditional publishing contracts…

And, many authors get the bulk of their sales from an ACX program which heavily discounts books cross-platform, with audiobook sales as low as $1.99.  Now that 40% royalty split two ways is really low….

Indie Authors – The ACX Bounty Program

Another change to ACX is the bounty program.  ACX pays a bonus for new customers who acx promotiondownload your book first.  The bonus payment used to be $25 per download, but it’s been upped to $50 (or from $12.50 to $25.00 on Royalty Share deals).  A lot of authors, bestsellers certainly, make more from the bounty program than they do from their royalties.  So this helps them.  But what about others, who aren’t on the bestseller lists?  Some, like Publishers Weekly, speculate that this will force indie authors into promoting their audiobooks more:

The move, Amazon said in the post, which takes effect March 12, 2014, will, in part, encourage authors to become more aggressive marketers.

Indie Authors – What Does This Mean For Ebooks?

It’s important to remember that ACX is an Amazon company.  Remember Amazon, the company touted by so many as savior for indie authors?  They’ve given us so much and isn’t it great and all?  And it has been.  But is Amazon showing its true colors?  Amazon can and will change its royalty structures how they see fit.  Never forget that Amazon is a business, and that they care about themselves, not indie authors.  Will Amazon reduce the royalties for ebooks?  Who knows?  I can tell you this, if they do, it won’t surprise me…

Indie Authors – Uncertainty Leads To Distrust

This move leads to distrust in a company, in this case, not so much ACX, but Amazon.  Don’t believe me?  Here are some comments from big names in the indie publishing world:

Chuck Wendig:

Amazon is not your friend, author person.

Amazon is a giant corporation. It serves itself. You might think, It serves its customers, which is only true in that to serve itself it generally has to serve its customers. And this is entirely fine and normal. To reiterate: Amazon is not your friend. Its job is not to be your friend.

Hugh Howey:

Personally, I’m shocked that Amazon would do anything to fuel the speculation that once they grow big enough, authors will suffer. Whatever margins they hope to improve by this 10% move can’t possibly be enough to cover the damage they’ve caused in public relations or the power they’ve granted to their detractors.

Russell Blake:

It really comes down to a question of trust.  Trust is fragile, and requires a leap of faith when those required to trust are small, relatively helpless, and at the mercy of the large entity they trust.  Trust is very hard to build, and extremely easy to lose. And once lost, it can never truly be recovered.  It’s a sad day for a lot of reasons.

acxAnd here are some other comments:

I’ve shelved my plans for audiobooks. What I thought was a great program now doesn’t seem worth the trouble.

***

I cannot see how I can justify more money thrown to ACX.

***

In my talks with my narrators, it’s clear this will hurt both sides of the creative package, narrators and authors.

Neither side, myself included as a writer, will have as much incentive to create new audio books.

***

This is a horrible move by ACX. Their rate structure already wasn’t setting the world on fire. Now they’ve made it downright unappealing. I especially enjoyed how they seem to think this crappy new rate structure will bring in new authors in droves.

***

I personally would like to thank Amazon and ACX for making me realize just what a fool I’ve been to put all my eggs in one place. My Select period is coming up and I won’t be enrolling any of my books in with Amazon again. Giving them exclusivity, despite all the benefits of borrows, etc, is just not worth putting your career in one mega giant’s hands. Diversify, people. Diversify, diversify, diversify.

***

Amazon is not our benefactor, our patron, or our friend. It is important to always stay aware of that. And it is important to always stay aware of how much power we give Amazon. If this change from Amazon today just bankrupted a couple of authors, or even made it suddenly difficult to pay their rent, then they were giving too much power to Amazon.

Hugh Howey has an interesting post on ACX, and take a look at this post by Jane Friedman.  I took a sampling of these comments from those two posts.  And I found very little positive in the rest of the comments.  This doesn’t seem to bode well for ACX and Amazon, but the questions are: are they listening? and do they care?

It’s important to note, you are in control of your writing career, not Amazon, or any other company.

What are your thoughts on the ACX royalty changes?

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Indie Authors – Indie Publishing Versus Traditional

indie author handbook

Indie Author Handbook

The other day I read a blog post by Toby Neal, where she addressed whether indie publishing was worth it, and if she had to do it all again, would she still indie publish or try the traditional publishing route.  It’s a fascinating post and I encourage you to read it, and Toby asked me my thoughts, so I’m doing my own post.

Indie Authors – What Started You On This Path?

As I read Toby’s post and she talked about how she’d written 179 query letters, it took me back.  You see, I’m a writer who started on my journey a long time ago.  I sent out my first query letter in 1995.  I’ve queried a number of different books, and I’ve come close to getting an agent multiple times (I heard things like your book shows promise – if I had more time, I’d take you on and I like the book but horror doesn’t sell).  I knew I was close to getting an agent (which told me my books were worthy of publication as well) when I decided to self-publish Nephilim Genesis of Evil.  This was before Amazon and the Kindle.  And I sold over 500 copies and even got the book into Barnes & Noble (it’s sold a lot more since the ebook came out a few years later).  I learned a lot through that, wrote some other novels (one of which is sitting on a shelf that I will someday edit and publish), and then I read about Amanda Hocking and I decided to take the leap.

Indie Authors – Jumping In To Self-Publishing

I was not like Toby, who spent a lot of money producing her books.  I was unemployed at the time and I had to do almost everything myself to keep my costs down.  If I had to do one thing over, I would get more feedback on my covers.  Nephilim’s cover was already done (see above) and I believe it’s very good, but the Reed Ferguson mystery series was new and I had to hire a graphic artist for that.  Unfortunately, the one I chose did an okay job with the covers, but not nearly as good as the new ones I had done about a year later (he did a great job with The Emerald Quest, but I knew then how to direct him better so that he created a better cover).  The new ones capture the film noir feel much better.  If I had more money, I’d consider hiring out more things because it would leave me time to write, but I don’t :).  One thing that struck me with Toby’s blog was she said that she spent $12,000 to produce and market her first book, but made that back in two months.  I would love to know what marketing she did to get those kind of results, as most indie authors, even with a great product, don’t see that with a first book (and neither do traditionally published authors).

Indie Authors – The Business Of Writing

I love that Toby speaks to the business side of publishing, as this is an area that many new authors neglect.  They write a book, assume it’s good (maybe, maybe not) and they put it up on Amazon with little thought to how professional the book is.  Toby notes it as the difference between being an author/publisher versus a hobbyist.  This is a great point.  Unfortunately, too many people are hobbyists, not taking their writing or publishing seriously, and it makes it more difficult for those who take writing and publishing seriously (more on that in another post).  If you’re someone who puts yourself in the first category, then treat it as a business.  In a business, you have to spend money, and spend it wisely.  This isn’t magic.  It’s hard work.

Indie Authors – Hard Work

I also agree with Toby on this, and I’ve been preaching this on my blog since I started it.  indie author and hard workWriting it hard work.  It takes time to learn your craft, to know how to write a good book, and it takes time to market books.  It takes time to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the publishing world.  New authors need to know what works now.  What worked for me early on to help sell a lot of books doesn’t work now.  Social media doesn’t work to sell books like it once did.  Free isn’t working like it once did.  This comes back to spending your dollars wisely.  Research before you plunk down your hard-earned dollars.  And be careful of quitting your day job.  I’ve heard of many indie authors who have a great few months or year and they quit their day job, only to find out that sales tanked down the road.  Fluctuating sales are normal – be aware of this before you assume you can make a living with your writing.  And if you can, congrats to you!

Indie Authors – Resources

As I said above, I tend to do everything myself if I can.  I hire two editors for all my books (and they edit for both grammar/spelling and content/story structure etc), and I hire out most of my covers (although I’m looking at doing this myself in the near future).  I use CreateSpace for print books (don’t buy into those that say you don’t need print books – many, many people still buy print books), although I do hear that LightningSource is great as well.  And CreateSpace does distribute worldwide and to libraries.  I’ve learned to format both ebooks and paperbacks, and I now consult and help others with this.  It’s not hard, once you know what you’re doing, and it’s an area where I can save money by doing it myself.

Indie Authors – Marketing

kdp selectWhen I first published, I was on Amazon only, and I tried KDP Select.  In looking back, I might’ve given that more time but I bowed out, then got back in when I heard about Bookbub.  But I’ve since bowed out again and I’m distributing all my books everywhere I can.  I look at it as every place I can sell is a potential revenue stream.  I’ve sold well at Barnes & Noble, and my sales at Apple and Kobo are picking up as well.  At this point, it wouldn’t be worth it to go back to just Amazon (especially since I’m exploring more foreign distribution, where sadly, Amazon is greatly lacking).

As I said before, what once worked for marketing doesn’t necessarily work now.  And what works for one author won’t for another.  There is a lot of luck involved in this, but if there’s one thing that stays the same it’s reaching readers.  That’s why Bookbub has worked, because they reach a lot of readers.  I wonder if in the future the old way of doing things, where an author actually went out and met readers, will become the thing again (going to libraries, schools, book clubs, anywhere where you can connect with real people).  Who knows?  This again is where new authors have to be aware of what’s going on around them.  Sometimes those that utilize a new thing first (like KDP Select or Bookbub) see the most success, and those that jump on the bandwagon later are too late.  Stay connected and ask around.

Indie Authors – Earnings

It’s funny when I read a post like Toby’s.  I have so many mixed emotions.  I’m incredibly happy for her and the success she’s having, but I find reading the posts authors write about their successes somewhat discouraging.  Yes, it’s amazing that in this new age of publishing that indie authors are doing this, but I keep waiting for my ship to come in.  Sure, I’ve made money at this, but not to the point where I can quit my day job (and yes, I finally have one again, thank God).

I question things I should’ve done differently, and then have to refocus to what I can do now.  And it’s not all about the money (don’t get me wrong, it would be nice).  Ultimately I love to write and create stories, I love to see a project come to fruition, and I love to connect with other authors and readers.  So I won’t stop until those things cease to be fun.  And I do make some money at this.  If the big money comes, that’ll be great, but for now, I keep plugging away.  But would any of this make me decide to go the traditional route?

Indie Authors – If I Could Go Back, Would I Go The Traditional Route?

No, absolutely not.

Because I’ve done more than I ever could have with a traditional publisher.  I’ve published more stories than I would’ve with traditional publishing, I’m teaching a class on self-publishing at a local college and I likely wouldn’t have done that unless I’d gone this route, and yes, I’m making some money – more money – than I would’ve with traditional publishing.  Novels that agents said wouldn’t sell do sell, and I’m creating a fan base.  And for all my self-doubts, amidst the times I get discouraged, there is one constant – I have an incredible amount of fun doing this.

The only thing that a new writer might consider when questioning what route to take is genre.  In all the hoopla about Hugh Howey’s report about sales data, not a lot focuses on genre as it pertains to traditional publishing.  What genre you’re in makes a huge difference in your potential sales, especially when considering indie versus traditional publishing.  Edward W. Robertson has a great post on this, and how those of us who publish mysteries have a much tougher time with sales than other genres.

That being said, I still agree with the indie authors who say they would only sign a traditional publishing contract if it was for a lot of money, was print-only, and was slanted in my favor.  Will that ever happen for me?  Who knows?  But in this new age of publishing, I do know this – anything can happen.

One thing I do think should be noted, and that’s that there is some benefit to getting a traditional deal.  Like it or not, it still gives an author credibility (although this is changing), but beyond that, it allows for consideration in major awards (many associations still won’t consider indie authors, although hopefully this will change), and it’s harder to get speaking engagements at major conferences as indie authors (I’m talking about unknowns here, not those who’ve sold a lot of books and have established a name).  And these are ways of connecting and gaining more readers.

Thanks again to Toby Neal for her great post, and for reaching out to me for my thoughts.  I hope you find both posts helpful.  Okay, now I need to get back to writing the fifth novel in the Reed Ferguson mystery series…

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Indie Authors – Bookbub Explains Their Pricing

indie author handbook

Indie Author Handbook

Recently Bookbub wrote a blog post about their pricing strategies and I thought it was interesting, especially for us indie authors.  I’ve used Bookbub a few times for advertizing, and I’ve been turned down by them once.  I have mixed feelings about Bookbub (you can read it in my post Indie Authors – Questioning Bookbub), and this new post addressing questions about their pricing (we authors and publishers are called partners – hmm, given what I pay for an ad, I don’t feel much like a partner) did little to change my opinion.  Read on…

Indie Authors And A Positive Return On Your Investment

According to Bookbub, their goal when determining pricing is:

to ensure that the vast majority of our partners receive a positive return on their investment

They also state:

we do our best to price our lists fairly and to select only deals we believe will perform well, so that authors and publishers have the best possible chance of making a profit

On the face of it, fair enough.  But my questions are what is a positive return and what constitutes making a profit, in their eyes?  If I make one dollar more than what my advertizing cost, I made a profit (unless I’ve just published the book and I’m still in the red in terms of paying editors, cover artists, etc.).  Does this mean Bookbub succeeded?

Indie Authors And Optimal Pricing

Bookbub adjusts their pricing twice a month (seems excessive to me, but what do I know).  bookbub logoThis is in order to reach an optimal pricing framework.  What does this mean?  That they’re covering their expenses and making a little profit?  An exorbitant profit?  Or what?  Just asking…

They say this is calculated by sales data, average sales number, and expected royalties.  From Bookbub:

To determine the price, we employ a model that uses the factors above to calculate a listing fee for each category and each price bracket. It suggests an amount that will allow us to continue to support the Bookbub service, while on average generating a profit for most of our partners.

Indie Authors And Profit

Okay, makes sense, except determining what constitutes profit for them versus the partners (authors and publishers).  I get their email and if I calculate what they’re charging (and I’m only listed in a few categories), they’re making thousands of dollars each day.  Hmm, how much does it really cost to support the Bookbub service?  I’m in IT and I know it can’t be that much to run their operation.

Bookbub also factors in average purchase rate, not just subscriber counts (which I’ve heard is a somewhat iffy count because one subscriber is counted in multiple genres).

Indie Authors And The Breaking Point

I appreciate Bookbub trying to be transparent, but the post still left me wondering how they can justify continually raising their prices.  At some point this seems like it will come back to bite them.  Should their pricing continually be adjusted so that the authors barely makes a profit (I realize there are exceptions to this)?  At what point does this strategy turn on them, where authors say the investment isn’t worth it anymore (or will it)?  It’s becoming harder to get your book accepted, and we indie authors are now up against Big Five published books.  I’d like to try a listing higher than 99 cents, but I can’t afford the investment, and I’m sure there are many others like me.  Will we get priced out at some point?  Given that many indie authors are feeling like free isn’t a good strategy anymore, and 99 cents and above is where the future of a bargain is headed, this makes the cost of their advertizing even more an issue.  I’ve read on more than one site (if I can find the links, I’ll post them), that authors are speculating about how effective Bookbub will be in 2014 and beyond.  It will be interesting to see.

What do you think?

PS – one speculation about Bookbub’s effectiveness is on a Russell Blake post – 2014 Predictions.  In the comments, one author says:

Bookbub was great at the beginning — but less effective as 2013 winds down.

And I’ve read this sentiment elsewhere.  Again, what happens remains to be seen…

Posted in Indie Author Handbook, Promoting Your Books | Tagged , | 8 Comments

The Author Blog Chain

I was contacted a few weeks back by a wonderful author, Christina Carson, who asked me if I’d like to participate in an Author Blog Chain.  I met Christina through her husband and another fantastic author, Bert Carson.  This is a simple idea: I answer four questions and then I ask other authors to participate.  So I’ll answer the questions and then introduce you to another great author.

What Am I Currently Working On?

I am working on the fifth novel in the Reed Ferguson mystery series.  In this novel, Reed is hired as a bodyguard for a snobby rich girl.  I like the concept and it’s giving me a chance to explore more of who Reed is, and to develop his character and back story.  I truly enjoy writing this series, and I hope to have this novel published in a couple of months.

How does my work differ from others’ in the same genre?

This is tough to answer because I write in so many genres.  One of the things that sets my mystery series apart is that we get to meet Reed as a new detective – we get to see him develop his detecting skills and learn about the business side of things.  My other series, the Noah Winter adventures series (The Emerald Quest) is one of the few that I’m aware that has sea exploration as the primary focus.  Nephilim Genesis of Evil creates a different kind of horror versus others in the genre (no zombies with this one :)).  One thing I love about self-publishing is that I can write in so many different genres.

Why do I write what I do?

I write the stories that come to me.  My mind is constantly working and constantly thinking.  I’ll hear something or see something and I’ll think about how a story can be wrapped around it.  The bad thing is that I don’t have enough time to develop everything.

How does my writing process work?

My process is varied.  Sometimes I have a few words or a sentence that will end up being the beginning of something.  Codename Richard (a ghost story) came about because of something I saw on television.  I enjoy the process of shaping a story.  Once I get going, I try to write every day, even if it’s just a paragraph or two, or editing what I wrote the day before.  I’m trying to be a faster writer as well, but the challenge is to not sacrifice quality.

I asked a few people to participate in this chain; a couple were not able to commit at this time, but one author did.  I met Rob Guthrie through social media, and I’ve been impressed with his blog and thoughts.  Here is more about him.

R.S. Guthrie grew up in Iowa and Wyoming. He has been writing fiction, essays, short stories, and lyrics since college.

“Black Beast: A Clan of MacAulay Novel” marked Guthrie’s first major release and it heralded the first in a series of Detective Bobby Macaulay (Bobby Mac) books. The second in the series (“Lost”) hit the Kindle shelves December of 2011. “Reckoning” closes out the trilogy. For now…

Guthrie’s “Blood Land” is the first in the Sheriff James Pruett Mystery/Thriller series and represents a project that is close to his heart: it is set in a fictional town in the same county where he spent much of his childhood and still visits. The sequel, “Money Land”, hit the shelves Christmas Day, 2012. “Honor Land”, the third in the bestselling James Pruett Mystery/Thriller series is due out in 2014.

Guthrie lives in Colorado with his wife, three young Australian Shepherds, and a Chihuahua who thinks she is a 40-pound Aussie!

Readers can catch up with what’s new with R.S. Guthrie at his official site, http://www.rsguthrie.com , or discussions related to writing at his blog, Rob on Writing (http://robonwriting.com).

I hope you’ll check out these great authors.

Posted in Featured Indie Authors | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments