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Ebook Marketing Strategies for 2015 — What Will Work?

| Posted in Book Marketing, E-publishing |

19

Lately, there have been quite a few people blogging about how 2014 was the year of the quitter, when it comes to independent authors, or that it was, at the least, the year that things got tougher.

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen more and more ebooks available in stores (more competition), we’ve seen adjustments to the Amazon algorithms that make it harder to “stick” at the tops of categories, and we’ve seen reports that ebook sales are no longer growing (at least in the U.S.). In 2015, traditional publishers started using indie author tactics, such as running sales on first ebooks in series and discounting backlist titles. On top of all that, Amazon rolled out Kindle Unlimited this past summer. It’s been a boon for some authors (mostly authors who signed the KDP Select exclusivity deal and are in the program), but for those unwilling to go exclusive and for those who were already big sellers, KU has meant an income hit.

So, yes, things have probably gotten tougher. And the general consensus is that it’s not going to get any easier from here on out.

For myself, I definitely noticed the sales rank hit to my Amazon titles when KU came out. (More about why that happens in this post: KDP Select & Kindle Unlimited: Why Ebooks Not Enrolled Are at a Disadvantage) In 2015, I found that I sold less of each title overall for my backlist books (specifically my Emperor’s Edge books, which are part of a series I completed over a year ago), most likely because the permafree Book 1 is being downloaded a lot less now — there are more free titles available at Amazon and elsewhere, and also I believe KU has siphoned off some of the deal seekers who used to peruse the free lists.

All that said, I didn’t take an income hit. I’m up overall in 2014 from the previous years, despite my efforts being scattered, instead of focused on one main series. Some of my success this year was simply because I was prolific, but I don’t believe, as some others seem to, that this is the end of the golden age of e-publishing. It’s probably the end of the “gold rush” years, but we all knew that was coming (some say it “came” back in 2011).

The industry is maturing, and we’re past the stage where you could sell piles of ebooks just by being an early adopter. But I think for those who are fairly prolific, who put out solid stories, and who can watch, learn, and adapt, it’s still a great time to be an independent author.

As I’ve talked about recently, I launched an anonymous pen name from ground zero in October (details here and here), and had very respectable sales numbers. The days of becoming a best seller with your first book are probably gone (there will always be exceptions, but I’m talking about for the majority of us here), but they’ve been gone for a while. More than ever, you’ll have to have a solid launch plan, make sure you nail the cover art and the blurb, and make sure your stories are as professional as possible and that they give the readers what they want.

Oh, you want some specifics about what’s going to work this year? I’ll give it a try. We talked about some of this over on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast last week, too, so check that show out if you like podcasts. But for the readers among you, here goes…

Ebook Marketing Strategies for 2015 — What’s going to help sell books and make more money?

Networking with other authors

You guys don’t know how hard it is for me to encourage networking, since I’m the stereotypical introvert, and I cringe at the idea of going out and schmoozing with people. (The internet makes it easier, but still!) But in the last six months or so, I’ve been invited to join a couple of multi-author book bundles, and I’ve seen how much more effective promotions can be when 10 authors are involved instead of 1.

Bundles aren’t the only thing you can do with others. On the day after Christmas, I joined about 50 other authors who all made a book free for a couple of days (or used a permafree title) and agreed to email their newsletter subscribers to plug the big list. Even though my book was borderline on fitting with the theme, I ended up with an extra 2,000 downloads in about 36 hours, something that a lot of the paid advertising sites can’t deliver (I paid about $85 for similar results on such a site a month earlier). For those downloads, all I had to do was send out a quick email to my list with a link to the page that the organizer put together.

Now for those of you who say, of course you get invitations to networking opportunities, because you’ve been out there blogging and building a list for years, here’s my response:

First off, my pen name got invited to a bundle w/ her 100 mailing list subscribers, because “she” raised her hand on a forum thread, so there’s that. Second, if nobody’s knocking on your door, then you have to be the organizer. Be the person who’s willing to organize the bundle or the group email event.

You may think that some authors will be too popular or too busy to bother saying yes to something you put together, but a lot of those authors are worrying about keeping their sales up, too. You might be surprised how many will sign up, especially if you make it easy for them, and all they have to do is email their lists/social media followings and chip in a little money for formatting/advertising.

What types of networking promotions can you do? Here are just a couple that I’ve seen work (or participated in myself):

  • Multi-author themed email blasts — Try freebies or 99-cent titles so it’s a deal to readers
  • Themed book bundles — These may not be as effective as they were a year or two ago, but they can still be one more funnel you have out there that leads into the rest of your work
  • Anthologies of short stories/novellas with new material — Recycled material can work for big bundles, but new material will appeal even more to your existing readers. Try short stories or novellas, so writing something new isn’t as big of a commitment.
  • Finding other authors who share your style and have similar sized fan bases, and plugging each other’s books in the back matter (this can be nothing more than cover art and a blurb) — You guys probably remember seeing publishers doing this in paperbacks back in the day.
  • Grabbing other authors with a similar style and sharing a pen name, so you can put books out every month — I’m just starting to see some of this among indie authors, specifically in the romance genre. It’s not something that would appeal to me, but I can see where it could be effective for people who are less prolific but want to take advantage of the Amazon algorithm benefits that can help new releases.

So how do you find these other authors in your genre to network with? Find out where they’re hanging out and go hang out there. When I started my pen name (science fiction romance), I joined the Romance Divas forum. Even though I don’t post a lot there, I watch for people starting threads such as, “Hey, I’m putting together a boxed set about XYZ — who’s in?” or “Who wants to do a multi-author mailing list promotion?” and I throw my name into the hat if it’s a fit.

I’ve also seen such threads on the Writers’ Cafe on Kboards, but you may have better luck if you can find out where the authors in your genre hang out. I’ve seen a lot of genre-specific Facebook groups, and some people are starting to put out genre-specific podcasts, as well. Even though our SF & Fantasy podcast has only been going for a couple of months, I’m seeing how having guests on is an opportunity to meet new people, people you might be able to collaborate with later on.

Yes, the first-in-a-series-free tactic still works

If you checked out my first pen name posts up there, you’ll see that I launched with the first two books in the series and made one free as soon as Amazon would price-match it. Even though my first and second books featured different heroes (the first-in-a-series-free tactic works best when you’ve got the same heroes and the second story is a continuation of the first), it worked well enough. In two and a half months, the pen name made over $10K.

The tactic is pretty simple: upload your book to Amazon at the regular price, then upload it for free at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Sometimes Amazon price-matches it to free on its own, and sometimes you’ll have to report the price difference on the book’s sale page (and get some buddies to report it too). It’s been my experience that if a book is already selling some copies, Amazon price matches fairly quickly.

Make sure you mention the second book at the end of the free book. At the least, put the name of it in there, but you may want to make it a link right to the store page. Some people also add a blurb or an excerpt.

Note: I’m finding that it’s easy to get a lot of downloads for a newly listed permafree (especially if you buy some inexpensive ads to plug it), but that they drop off a lot after the first month or two. Something I’m planning to play with in the future is going in and out of permafree with a book 1, so that when it is free, it’s more of a deal, and it’s not something people have been seeing day in and day out for years.

Consider taking advantage of the opportunities that KDP Select offers, especially if you’re not selling on the other platforms

Like many indie authors, I’ve never been a fan of the fact that Amazon requires exclusivity to participate in its KDP Select program, and I completely ignored it (actually, I glared at it and gave it the squinty eye) for years. This summer, after I saw what an advantage it was to have books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, I finally decided to try it. Oh, not with my regular books, since I have a lot of readers on the other platforms, but with the pen name. I believe that, in addition to the free first book, it was a big part of why the pen name books not only rose to the Top 20 in their little category but stuck there for quite a while.

Since the borrows currently count as sales for calculating sales ranking (and category placement) and they’re easier to come by, it’s easier over all to stick. It’s quite possible that will change a few months down the road, but as we start out in 2015, KU is helping with visibility on Amazon.

I ran my first three-day Kindle Countdown Deal over Christmas, as well, lowering a 3.99 title to 99 cents, and I definitely found that it helped give that book a rankings and sales boost that lingered after the sale. I didn’t do any other promotions of it, but I’ll try to schedule some next time I try a Countdown Deal.

Note: just enrolling in KDP Select isn’t any kind of magic bullet. You still have to do enough promotion to get a title into the Top 100 of your category, otherwise it’s not getting any kind of visibility boost, especially if it’s a newer title and isn’t in many other books’ also-boughts. That’s why I did the combination of first-in-free and then KDP Select for the following titles in the series.

Working the other vendors 

Yes, this is the opposite of the try-KDP-Select advice. You might not be interested in going exclusive with Amazon, or you may decide to only enroll some of your books (since we’re being paid around $1.30-$1.40 for borrows right now, a number that may continue to drop, a lot of people are only putting their shorter/cheaper works in the program). So how do you make it work on these other sites?

Here again, having a permafree book 1 can really help, along with not going on and off the platforms. For instance, even though I was all-in from the beginning, it took me a while to start selling books on iTunes, Apple, and Kobo, in particular. I found it easier to get some momentum on Barnes & Noble, after using Smashwords to get a freebie into their store, but I know other authors have had different experiences with these vendors.

With Kobo, your freebie might not get much notice unless someone over there helps you along. Note: on Kboards, you can mention if you have a first-in-series-free, and Mark Lefebvre might add it to a special first-free page on Kobo. Kobo also does some promotions for those publishing in Kobo Writing Life (indie authors, essentially), so it doesn’t hurt to get on their radar. I’ll leave it to you networking pros to figure out the how, but hardly anyone comments on the Kobo Writing Life blog, so that might be a start.

iBooks is starting to do some indie promotions as well. They did one for 99-cent bundles last fall, and they’re running one for first-in-series-free right now. Again, you have to figure out how to get on their radar to get invitations (with these things, it seems to be a matter of getting added to the mailing list of the person in charge of indie relations). My invitations came through Mark Coker of Smashwords, but I know some people who upload directly to iBooks are on the Apple guy’s list too. Like I said, I suck at networking, but there are perks for those who put themselves in the position to be noticed, especially at these other vendors where it can be tougher to figure out “the algorithms.”

If you can’t summon the interest to network, at least check out the interviews Mark has done, as he’s very open about what works and what doesn’t at Kobo:

I’d love to hear Mark Coker and someone from Apple do some more podcast interviews, too, so go bug those guys if you know them. 😉

A note on Google Play: I’m not there yet (soon!), but I’m hearing from authors who have their books there and who are seeing their earnings grow. I interviewed my co-host for The Writing Podcast about his experience with Google Play in the second half of this show. He’s making over a thousand dollars a month there, right now, and I think he said it’s become his best earner after Amazon. For now, the keys seem to be a first in series free (notice a theme here?) and also to use keywords in the product descriptions. You do also have to be aware that Google will discount your books (there’s a chart at the bottom of that link that shows how much extra to charge in order to have Google’s prices match what you’re doing on Amazon and the other stores).

Making sure you’re not leaving money on the table (audiobooks, paperbacks, translations)

This isn’t necessarily about marketing, but as long as you’re trying to make more from selling your ebooks, why not try to add additional revenue streams to your income? Much of this advice is for myself as well as well as for others, since I need to do more of this too. In 2014, I focused on writing and publishing new material. I still plan to do that, but I’m going to try to make myself take a week away from writing/editing here and there to take care of the things I haven’t gotten around to, things that could be earning me more money:

  • Audiobooks — I have the first three Emperor’s Edge books out there on Audible and Podiobooks, but I got derailed when my narrator couldn’t continue. Since most people downloaded the free versions, I never made much from sales anyway, but one of my goals for 2015 is to get the rest of the series out there (I’m planning to go straight through ACX and not do free versions for the rest). I want to get my Dragon Blood and Rust & Relics books out on audio too. These are investments that only need to be made once (ACX also has a royalty-split option if funds are tight) but can continue to provide a trickle of income over the years. And every now and then, I come across an indie author who makes a lot from audiobooks.
  • Paperbacks — I have all of the EE books out there, along with Encrypted and Decrypted, but I need to catch up with the other novels. I’ve never made much from the paperbacks, aside from Nov/Dec when people buy them for gifts, but having a $12 paperback listed next to the $3.99 ebook can really make the ebook price look like a deal and might encourage more sales.
  • Translations — Honestly, I haven’t heard of anybody knocking it out of the park yet with foreign language translations of their books, but there are some indie authors who are trying it for markets where they believe their books would be popular. I just got an email from someone who translated my first Emperor’s Edge novel into German, and we’re going to look at getting an editor and then getting it out there to see if it would be worth continuing with the series (aside from the countries where English is the native language, Germany is my highest earner). The cost of having a novel translated makes it cost prohibitive, but sites such as BabelCube are coming out, where a translator may be willing to do a royalty split (it probably goes without saying that you’re going to need to have a popular book to attract someone).

All right, as usual, I’ve rambled on for a long time here. If you would like to share some of the marketing tactics you think will work well in the coming year (or years), please leave a comment!

Update: Joanna Penn beat me to the punch with talk of audiobooks and translations. Also check out her recent article on surviving and thriving as an indie author in the years ahead. “Write Books You Love. Think Global. Consider Multiple Streams Of Income

Analyzing a Mid-List Series (keys to success and room for improvement)

| Posted in Book Marketing |

39

It’s been about six months since I published Republic, the last installment in my Emperor’s Edge series (technically, the series finished a year and a half ago with Forged in Blood II and Republic was dealing with a new story line). I’m not sure exactly how many books the series has sold (if anyone knows an easy way to calculate sales across years and platforms, I would love to hear about it), but somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000, I’m sure. (I counted up all of my Amazon book sales at some point back in 2012 and had risen over 100k).

Republic-300x200When you consider there are eight books in the series, that’s not exactly blockbuster status, but I’m certainly not complaining. Most of the ebooks sell for $4.95 (the first is free, the second fluctuates from 2.99 to 4.95, and the monster Republic is 5.95), and I’ve been making a full-time living from my ebook income since early in 2012 (I’ve also met some awesome fans and really cool people as a result of this series). Even though I’ve published other books since then, the EE books still account for a good chunk of that income.

So in looking back, what did I do right with that series? And what could have been done better? It’s natural to wonder. Even if fantasy isn’t exactly romance, as far as popularity goes, I’ve seen other indie authors hanging out in the fantasy Top 100 categories on Amazon for months and even years. I’ll tend to appear there when I have a new release, but then drop down and maybe sell 200 or 300 books a month of titles in the series (again, definitely not complaining — just thinking about room for improvement in the future!).

After taking a break this last year and trying some other genres/sub-genres, I’m heading back to high fantasy for NaNoWriMo, and I’m wondering if I can do better for what I hope will be the start of my next big series. Thus this analysis of The Emperor’s Edge. Whether or not it helps me reach a new level with my next series, only time will tell. Either way, I hope some of it may be useful to other authors out there.

Keys to Success (AKA what I did right)

I’ll jump into the mistakes soon, but I want to mention some of the things I did right, the things that have helped the series get to where it is (I’ll pretend these were all premeditated rather than random chance):

  • Starting out with a clear vision of a six book series (that turned into seven books) with a story arc that spanned the entire series and wasn’t resolved until the very end — When I wrote EE1, I had Amaranthe (main PoV) and the band of five guys she gathered together (Sicarius, Akstyr, Maldynado, Books, and Basilard), and it occurred to me that if I focused each novel on a different side character, while continuing to work toward the final showdown with the baddies in the end, I’d have a fairly solid path ahead of me for filling out a six-book series. Amaranthe would always be the hero, but each book would explore a side character as a secondary hero and PoV. (Frankly, the series I’ve started since EE haven’t been laid out nearly as well.)
  • Having a romance that took 7 books to resolve — There’s not any romance in the first EE book, but if you look closely, there’s a hint that it could possibly develop at some future date. As much as I’d like to believe my world-building and the overreaching story were compelling, I think a lot of what got people to read on was the relationship between the two main characters, seeing them go from enemies, to friends, to maybe something more. It’s tougher to keep things interesting between two characters that hook up in the first book.
  • Regular releases about 5-6 months apart — My daily word count has increased quite a bit over the years, and I wrote a rough draft in two weeks earlier this year, but I was still working the day job when I started on my self-publishing journey. I managed to get a new installment (each over 100,000 words) out about every five months, and I think that helped me gain momentum and keep the fans engaged (once I had some).
  • Playing with permafree and eventually having Book 1 available everywhere — I started with EE1 at 2.99, then dropped it to .99 after Book 2 came out, then finally made it free after 3 came out. I also put it out there on Wattpad and had a free “podiobooks” version made. I was never willing to go exclusive with Amazon to try the various perks of KDP Select (and, like many other authors, I’ve seen the hit since Kindle Unlimited came out), but I tried just about everything else. I still plug the first book with an ad every now and then, though right now I’m waiting until the new year, because I’m going to revamp the covers and try to relaunch the series (more on that below).
  • Fun stories — Not everyone will love my books, but many readers how told me how much they enjoy the humor and the characters. I’ve had a lot of of people tell me they’ve recommended them to friends, and that’s the best kind of marketing there is.

Okay, now for the fun part of the analysis (or the gut-clenching part… whatever).

What I wish I’d done better:

  • The covers aren’t representative of the genre — I don’t have a good eye for design and I struggled to find a cover designer early on that I liked and that I could afford. I always envisioned custom illustrations (these are common for secondary world fantasy, though you’ll also see symbol-based designs with a sword or map or staff or some such too), but I had a limited budget early on and the photo manipulation stuff was less expensive. And of course, I had to stick with the theme as the series continued on (I will say that the covers are very distinctly branded and that you could probably recognize one on a shelf from across the store :D). I broke away from the photo manipulation with Republic and have gotten a lot of compliments on that cover. It’s going to cost a small fortune to redo the whole series with custom illustrations, but I’ve decided to give it a try this winter.
  • Completely lame series title — I don’t know how much difference this makes in the grand scheme of things, but naming your series after the first book in the series… Let’s just say it’s one of those things publishers tell you not to do. I was never even that crazy about the name of the first book to start with!
  • Series not anchored firmly in any one genre — When you’re a creative, you have to write the story you want to tell, and sometimes that isn’t one that follows a formula or that fits tidily into a certain category on Amazon. Unfortunately, that can hinder you when it comes to marketing. The EE books most often get tagged as steampunk, because there happen to be trains and steam-powered machines in them, but I think of them as more sword & sorcery in style (they’re magic-light, but they are fast-paced and character-driven with lots of action). The last couple of books in the series could more arguably be placed in epic fantasy, since we’re dealing with armies and ransacking the entire capital city. I think when I rebrand the covers, I’m going to see if I can go for more of an epic fantasy/sword & sorcery feel because, quite frankly, those are far more popular categories than steampunk on Amazon. Also, Akstyr is my only punky EE character (and he has the hair to prove it).
  • Not a super compelling “hook” to take people from Book 1 to 2 — EE1 works as the start of a series and hints of more trouble to come, but it’s very much a complete novel. There are a couple of cliffhangers later in the series, but you could read the first book and walk away without a zillion questions left unanswered. As much as readers hate cliffhangers (and often leave one-star reviews to prove it!), I’ve talked to author after author who’s had a ton of success by having the first book end with a giant compelling hook (you have to read the next book to see if the hero, his mentor, or his faithful ferret lives!). Especially with a permafree Book 1, this can be what turns a serial-downloader-of-freebies into a buyer.

So based on all of this, what will I try with the new series?

I’m going to poll my existing readers (even if this is just casually asking on Facebook) to see which series title they like best. Right now, I’ve fairly certain “Redemption” will be in there somewhere (Redemption by Fire? The Redemption Saga?), since the journey is about the hero trying to redeem his family’s honor and place in society (shortly after he was born, his mother ran off to become a pirate… oops). But I want to see ahead of time what sounds cool to my target audience.

I’ve got the NaNoWriMo novel plotted out, but I want to sit down before November and sketch out the larger story arc. Right now, I have a vague notion of what happens in the end, but I’m not sure whether that’ll take three books or eight for the hero to get to that place. I want to have more of a handle on that before I get started.

Even though this series is set in the same world as the EE books, it’s on a continent where magic is more the norm than technology, so I think it’ll naturally fit more easily into the epic fantasy/swords & sorcery genre.

I don’t have a romance planned at this point (and I’m worried about this honestly, since it seems to be a big part of what my regular readers enjoyed about the first series), but there is (I hope) an interesting relationship (a bromance or father-son type of thing) that has all kinds of potential for fun and conflict. Why yes, I’d like you to be my mentor and help me on my quest, but wait, you’re a spy for the other nation? When did that happen?

The main character is an 18-year-old boy. This is a first for me. I didn’t mention this up above, because I don’t think a female heroine is any kind of flaw, but I do think the young-man-coming-of-age story has a huge traditional in high fantasy, and I’ll be curious if having a guy flinging magic on the cover will do a better job of attracting the male audience. (I’d say that right now my readership tends to be 80% female.) I wish I had the link to the study, because it’s stuck in my mind for years and years, but there was one done that found that female readers were far more willing to put themselves into the shoes of male leads than the other way around, so basically you had a better chance of appealing to both audiences with a male protagonist. (Ultimately, I write the heroes and heroines that I want to write about, age and sex regardless, but like I said, it’ll be interesting to see if this makes a difference this time around.)

Lastly, I’ve been watching the Top 100 epic fantasy for a while, and I’ve been taking note of the types of titles and blurbs that do well (dragons, magic, knights, mages, and wizards, yes, please). I haven’t written the blurb yet, but the title for Book 1 will be the rather blunt Warrior Mage. (Alas, dragons haven’t made an appearance in this world — the closest I could get would be a giant lizard…)

Anyway, as you can see I’m putting more thought into this than I have for the other books I’ve written in the last year (many of those have basically been pilots to try out new subgenres), and I’m hoping it’ll be the start of a series that will do as well as the EE books (if not a touch better).

If you would like to share your own experiences (or comment on mine), I’d love to hear from you below. Please leave a comment!

Should You Price Your Ebooks Differently in Different Countries?

| Posted in Book Marketing |

22

I was listening to Mark Lefebvre (Director of Self Publishing/Author Relations at Kobo) chat with the gang on the Self Publishing Roundtable the other day (link: Horror Writing And Selling More Books On Kobo), and one of the things that Mark mentioned is that you can choose different prices for your ebooks for the different countries where they’ll sell.

You’ve doubtlessly noticed this in your dashboard before (not just at Kobo, but at Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well), but have you ever done anything besides let the computer choose the price based on the exchange rate? I usually pick my own price, just so it will end in a 5 or a 9, a typical number, but I’ve rarely thought about pricing a book significantly higher in another country. (I’ve gone lower in countries such as India where the average book price is much less than it is in the U.S, but not higher.) Mark pointed out that in some countries, readers are used to paying more than in the U.S., so a Canadian or Australian reader might not bat an eye if your USD $4.99 ebook is $5.99 or $6.99 there.

I haven’t gone in and bumped up the prices of any of my ebooks in those countries, as I tend to be a fan of fairness whenever possible, but it’s interesting to think that my policy may be causing me to leave money on the table. It’s interesting to think, too, that a reader might be less likely to trust that a cheaper ebook will be a high quality ebook, because they’re used to paying $10 and up to read books in their country. (Lower prices and reader perceptions get debated a lot when it comes to 99-cent ebooks on Amazon, so I won’t get into that further here.)

The $9.99/70% Ceiling

One other thing that Mark mentioned on the show is that Kobo doesn’t have the $9.99 limit that Amazon imposes for authors who want to earn the 70% cut on ebook sales. Even if your ebook would sell wonderfully at $12.99 in Australia, for example, there’s little point in pricing it that high, since you’ll receive a lower sales percentage than you would selling it at $9.99. But on Kobo, you can go ahead and list your ebook at that higher price point, if you wish.

This would mostly apply to authors publishing non-fiction, since readers are accustomed to paying more for that, but it could also apply to those of you putting together boxed sets. I have one for my first three Emperor’s Edge books, but I’ve never seriously considered putting together a set for the whole series, because I wouldn’t want to sell over $20 worth of books for a mere $9.99. I may have to rethink that and put together that boxed set for Kobo users (and perhaps sell it on my own website as well).

But that’s a bit of a diversion. As far as pricing ebooks differently in different countries, what do you think? Is it something you’re doing? Something you’d consider? Something you don’t want to do? Let us know in the comments!

Launching Multiple Books at Once: Pros & Cons

| Posted in Book Marketing |

28

If you’ve hung out on the indie forums or listened to the various self-publishing podcasts, you might have heard of new authors finding success with variations of Liliana Hart’s “5 down and 1 in the hole” technique (summed up on Hugh Howey’s blog):

The idea is this: Annual releases are too slow to build on one another. And not just in the repetition of getting eyeballs on your works, but in how online recommendation algorithms work. Liliana suggests publishing 5 works all at once. Same day. And she thinks you should have another work sitting there ready to go a month later. While these works are gaining steam, write the next work, which if you write and edit in two months, will hit a month after the “hole” work.

I haven’t tried anything like this yet (I’m horrible at holding stories back — I haven’t even tried preorders, because I like to get a book out there to readers as soon as it’s ready), but because I’m fairly prolific, I’ve definitely seen how much easier it is to gain momentum (sales and readers) when you’re publishing regularly with a series. When I was publishing my Emperor’s Edge books, I tended to get new novels out about every six months, and even though I’m not writing more books in that series (there might be some spinoffs down the road) and the sales aren’t what they once were, those books still account for the majority of my income.

If I had it all to do over again, would I have held back and released the first few Emperor’s Edge books at all once? Probably not, but I’ll tell you what: I am planning to release the first three novels in my pen name project within a couple weeks of each other (and maybe a novella to boot).

Why?

I’m not planning to announce the pen name, at least not at first (if it fails miserably and gets straight 1-star reviews, I would like the privilege of being able to sweep it under the carpet!), so I’ll be starting from scratch. Not only that, but it’s in a cross-genre niche, which is going to make it tough for advertising (people who like X may hate the idea of Y mixed in and lots of people who like Y wouldn’t touch X with a 10-foot-pole).

In other words, I think it’s going to be hard to gain traction.

So my plan is to make the first book permafree, right off the bat. And, going on the assumption that there’s not much point of having a free book out if there aren’t follow-ups for people to buy, I’ll launch the second at $3.99 shortly thereafter. I’m also planning to take this opportunity to check out KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited (since nobody’s waiting for these books, I don’t need to worry about upsetting Kobo, iPad, Nook, etc. readers). I want to put a third book (which can be read as a stand-alone) into KDP Select at $3.99 to see how that goes. The novella may or may not go into KDP Select too. I want to see how the borrows work for me and maybe try the countdown deals and such.

Now that I’ve blathered about my stuff, I would love to share my thoughts on the pros and cons of following this multi-book launch strategy. I would also love to hear your thoughts!

Pros of Launching 3+ Books in a Series at Once

  • Possibility to gain traction and reach a “tipping point” more quickly — In case you didn’t guess, Liliana Hart and her technique are on people’s radar because she gained momentum and sold piles of books that way. From Hugh’s post: “Lila Ashe, Jessie Evans, Cristin Harber, and Marquita Valentine, are just a few who have used the 5 down, 1 in the hole release schedule. These are authors who just got their start and are already making full-time wages from their writing. Does that mean anyone who does this will have success? Absolutely not. You’ve got to have great stories, catchy blurbs, professional covers, quality editing, and the right metadata. But you are sunk without these things however you publish. Having them should be a given.”
  • Utilize the power of free or permafree right out of the gates — Having a single book out there and making it free can work, insofar as building an audience goes (make sure to encourage newsletter signups!). In a niche I watch, I saw a book with a hideous cover and a so-so blurb skyrocket up to the Amazon Top 100 during its first week out, thanks to the fact that Book 1 had been free and out there for a couple of years, gathering hundreds of reviews and who knows how many reads. But why wait to make money? If you publish a number of titles at once, you can make one free, plug/advertise it anywhere you can, and hope people will be dying to read the following one.
  • Ability to more fully flesh out the world/characters before going live — Some people do a lot of pre-planning before jumping into a series, but if you’re like me, you might just do a quick outline and then get going. Sometimes little character quirks and interesting details might be worked in during the editing or as the series goes on. If you wait to release the series, you can go back and do major world/character changes to Book 1 if you think up something cool and new as you’re working on 3. By writing the first three or more books before launching, you have the leeway to go back and tinker.

Cons of Launching 3+ Books in a Series at Once

  • If the first book bombs, you may have wasted a lot of time working on a series that’s never going to take off — We all like to think we’re brilliant and that everyone will love all of our books, but the truth is that some series do better than others and it can hard to tell in advance which ones will be winners. When you’re publishing your first novel, in particular, it’s tough to be sure if you’re ready. Sometimes the feedback on that first novel can be eye-opening (or slit-your-wrists depressing). Either way, it’ll probably be a learning experience.
  • You don’t get to make any money for books that aren’t published yet — If you’re prolific, have a good day job, or have another series that’s already earning you an income, this might not be a big deal, but every month you sit on a title that’s ready to go is a month that title isn’t making you any money. Will the hold-and-release strategy end up making you more than if you’d put the books out as they were ready? Maybe so, but it’s a gamble, and if you’re not prolific and it’s going to take you years to get all those books ready to go… well, who knows if Amazon’s algorithms will work the same way in a year or two?
  • By the time you get feedback on the first book, you’ve already published several more — Even though you might have more solid characters and worlds built up since you waited until you’d written a few books before finalizing and releasing any of them, publishing the first X novels in a series at once means that you can’t take reviews/feedback you get on Book 1 and make changes to the following books. What if you did something awful to a character that people hated so much it made them put down the book (and the series)? Or what if you focused on a character that didn’t turn out to be nearly as popular as some side character? This kind of thing might matter less in romance, where you’re presumably focusing on different heroes and heroines in every book, but in an epic fantasy series? You may very well want to take an unplanned path in the road, based on early feedback.

All right, that’s all I have to say on this subject until I actually try it out (October, I’m hoping!). Do you have any related thoughts or experiences? Please let us know in the comments.

How Do You Get Reviews for Your FIRST Book?

| Posted in Book Marketing |

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I don’t have to tell you: getting reviews is invaluable when it comes to selling books (just try to get a Bookbub ad without a bunch of positive reviews, I dare ya). It’s something I’ve talked about before (and I do mean talked… here’s a podcast from earlier in the year: Getting Book Reviews and Building a Relationship with Readers), but it’s something I get asked about a lot, so I thought I would cover it again.

A lot of my previous advice on getting reviews has been tailored to authors who have a few books out, so I thought I would write a post for those who are trying to get more reviews on their first book. Starting at ground zero sucks (what, you didn’t want me to be blunt?), but you’re not alone. I’ll even be in the same boat again soon — I just sent my first “pen name project” manuscript off to my editor. I’ll talk more about that book launch this fall, but for now, here are some tips for getting reviews on your first book, based on my own experiences and also based on what other successful indie authors are doing right now.

Setting Yourself up to Succeed (or get reviews anyway)

Before you even publish your book, I suggest adding an afterword to the end of the manuscript. Ask the reader to leave a review. You can phrase it however you want (if you enjoyed the novel, please consider leaving a review…), but you’ll get a lot more reviews if you ask. Some people even include the link back to the book’s page, to make things super easy for the reader.

You can also ask the reader to sign up for your newsletter (and give them an incentive to do so), but be careful about how many requests you make in the back of the book. I’ve seen people who have a whole list of things they want readers to do (like my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter and Google+, follow my blog, share this book with a friend, enter my raffle, etc.), but I would keep the call to action simple. Not only can asking for a lot seem pushy, but most people are going to do a max of one thing anyway. If you’re starting out, reviews may be the most important thing to focus on. You can always change the afterword later on.

Offering Incentives to People Who Leave Reviews

Some people will leave a review simply because you ask (thank you, good readers). Others may need a little motivation. You need to be careful with what you offer because Amazon’s ToS has some strict rules in regard to reviews (i.e. you can’t offer gift certificates or payment). Here are a few things I’ve done:

  • Let people know that whether or not you continue the series (if this is a Book 1) depends on how many reviews it gets and how many readers want to see more — Now, if you’ve already sent Book 2 off to your editor and this isn’t true, I wouldn’t recommend doing it, but if you’re basically writing pilots at this stage to see what has potential (I did a lot of this last year, after finishing my first series), it may be completely true. If the reader wants to see the adventure continue, he or she may be more motivated to leave a review.
  • Offer a spot on a special reviewers’ list — It doesn’t hurt to cultivate a list of proven reviewers (this means never having to start over at ground zero). Ask readers to send a link to their review at Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever in exchange for being put on your list to receive review copies of future books.
  • Offer a prize — I haven’t done this, because I’m always slow about getting my paperbacks out there, but I’ve seen authors offer signed paperbacks to the first 10 or 20 people who review their ebooks.  I’ve also seen people offer a chance to win a bigger prize if they send a link to a review (Becky White gave away a $100 gift certificate when she did a big free push). I’m not personally a fan of lottery prizes as an incentive, since more people lose than not, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work. (Though if you’re angling for Amazon reviews, in particular, you might want to double-check their ToS for that kind of thing.)

Getting People to Read Your Book

I know what you’re thinking: okay, incentives make sense and asking makes sense too, but how do I get people to read the book in the first place? Nobody can review it if they don’t know it exists.

You’re right. It’s hard to get people to buy a book without any reviews, and it’s even harder to get reviews when nobody’s read the book. So what’s the answer?

Giving away free copies. People will try a free book that doesn’t have a load of reviews, especially if it’s got a stellar cover and blurb. Now, you can go out and try to hand sell X number of free review copies (I did this with my first book, using the Mobile Read forum, Kboards, and the Nookboards (not that active anymore, alas) to get in touch with people who might be interested), but it’s probably easier just to make your ebook free everywhere for a few days. If you’re in KDP Select, you can do this through a Countdown Deal. If you’re not exclusive with Amazon, you can make your book free at Smashwords, Kobo, and Apple, and hope Amazon matches it to free.

It’s up to you whether you want to make it a free-for-all or hand select potential reviewers. If you do go free everywhere, this doesn’t mean you have to go permanently free. Maybe you just want your book to be free until you have X number of reviews, and then you’ll put it up to its regular price. It’s basically just giving away review copies en masse.

Note: some people say that you’re more likely to get 1-star reviews when you make your book free (possibly a reason to be more selective with who you give the book to). Getting some 1-stars is probably worth it if your average doesn’t get too low and if you’re getting good reviews at the same time. Believe it or not, some readers don’t trust books that have only positive reviews, thinking someone might have been gaming the system.

Sending off Review Copies to Book Blogs and Review Programs (meh?)

I did some of this when I first released The Emperor’s Edge and Encrypted back in the day (it used to be a lot harder to find sites that accepted self-published books!). I did get a good review or two out of the deal (and a nice write-up on a fairly big genre book blog), but bloggers tend to be pretty backed up.

You also might not get as good of reviews as you’re hoping for because you’re foisting these books on people who are already inundated rather than having readers self-select, based on their interest in the blurb. I’m not quite sure how the Vine program works on Amazon, but I’ve seen traditionally published authors get some of the crummiest reviews through it, ones that start off, “I don’t usually read X genre, but…”. It really is best to get reviews from people who saw the book, thought it looked like something up their alley, and were excited to read it from the start.

That’s probably enough from me on the subject. What are your thoughts and experiences?

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