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Collaborating with Other Authors on a New Fantasy Project

| Posted in E-publishing |

15

Over the last few years, I’ve had a number of people ask me if I would like to collaborate on novels, and my response has always been (out loud), “Thanks, but I’m too busy right now” and (inside) “Why the heck would anyone want to do that?”

I’m aware, of course, that there are writers who collaborate on a regular basis and even have entire careers as duos, but I’ve never been interested before for a couple of reasons.

First, I am busy with my own projects – I have tons of ideas scribbled in my notes, and I usually have a schedule lined up a good year in advance. (For those who wonder, for 2017/early 2018 it’s six books in my soon-to-be-launched Sky Full of Stars series, Chains of Honor 3 and maybe 4, and four Ruby Lionsdrake space romance novels that I’ll be doing as part of a shared world project with another SFR author. I’m also hoping to fit new Rust & Relics and Dragon Blood novels in there somewhere!)

Second, I (arrogantly, I’m sure) believe I have a unique voice when it comes to writing, most notably with my humor and the way I write dialogue. I had people identify my “Ruby” books as mine (or at least note the similarity) months before I came out with the pen name. I’ve worried that my voice would be lost if I had to blend it to fit in with that of another author (or, in this case, authors) and that my regular readers would be unimpressed.

Third, most of the people who have approached me have been newer authors who haven’t yet built up a readership of their own. I’m not familiar with them and their work (they seriously just email out of the blue), and there’s no reason I would want to invest a lot of time in co-writing a project (not to mention splitting the earnings) with a stranger, especially when I’d be the one most likely bringing readers to the finished book.

As I write this, I’m standing in the airport, about to hop on a plane to Chicago where I will meet Joanna Penn, J Thorn, and Zach Bohannon. We’ll jump on an overnight train to New Orleans and plot out a novel (a dark fantasy adventure that will take place on a train, perhaps that very same train) before we arrive. We’ll spend the next five days in New Orleans, exploring the city and writing the rough draft of the novel before we leave (we’re each supposed to write 20,000 words of it).

Here’s a little more on the project itself.

So, what’s changed? Why am I collaborating on something?

Number #1 on my list is still true (I’m stopping in the middle of writing the third Sky Full of Stars novel to have this adventure), but the whole project isn’t going to take that long. As I said, we’re writing the novel in a week and planning to get it edited and out there shortly after.

Also, I know all of these folks. J Thorn and Zach have been on my Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast, and I’ve been on Joanna’s Creative Penn podcast a couple of times. They’re also established authors with podcasts and fan bases of their own, so nobody will be pulling all the weight when it comes to marketing.

Next, we’ll each be writing a chunk of the novel from the points of views of characters we make up. I don’t have to worry about blending styles overly much. It’ll be a challenge to get the dialogue right for other people’s characters, who will appear in my character’s scenes, but I imagine we’ll chime in during the editing process, and people can say, “My character would probably say it more like this.”

Lastly, they teased me with the idea of a real life adventure to go along with the novel we’ll write. I’m going to be honest: this was the selling point. I’ve never been to New Orleans or done an overnight train trip, and it sounded fun.

How will it go with four different authors trying to put together a cohesive story? Will I be able to write a “dark fantasy” novel set on Earth (the closest I’ve come is my Rust & Relics series, a series that I have yet to finish…)? Will anyone actually buy the final product?

I don’t know yet, but you can follow along if you’re interested. I’ll be posting updates on Twitter and Facebook this week (and in the handful of weeks following as we assemble the final novel).

We don’t have super high expectations for the project (I think we’re all just hoping we’ll make enough to pay for the trip), but I’ll do a post in a couple of months to let you all know how it went. Maybe I’ll learn something and have tips for other authors thinking of doing collaborative projects. We’ll see!

Streamlining Your Writing, Publishing, and Marketing Process to Become a More Profitable Author

| Posted in Book Marketing, E-publishing |

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2016 was a tough year for a lot of indie authors, with people reporting everything from flawed reporting and not getting credit for page reads in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program to no longer being able to get Bookbub ads to no longer being able to afford Facebook ads due to their increasing popularity with authors. Every year, there’s more competition, with more ebooks than ever for readers to choose from. Where the Kindle Store was once flooded with mediocre covers and blurbs full of typos, we’re now seeing lots of self-published books that look as good as (or better than!) trad published books.

The industry has matured, and a lot of authors are finding it tough to get noticed. More, authors that once sold well are struggling to earn what they did back in 2012 or 2013, even though they have more books out now.

Despite all that, some established authors had banner years in 2016. Further, I know of at least three authors who came out of nowhere, publishing their first books ever in late 2015 or early 2016, and went on to make six figures. Their first year in the biz. And none of them showed up with huge backlists to start out with (Granted, they’ve all been insanely prolific, but I do want to point out that these were science fiction and fantasy people, not authors writing romance or erotica or whatever genre you’ve heard is super popular).

For myself, I had my best year ever in 2016, on the heels of what was my previous best year ever (by a long shot) in 2015. Now I’ve been writing a lot (I launched and completed my entire 8-novel Fallen Empire series in 2016), and I think you’ll find that as a common denominator with a lot of the success stories, but I also don’t think you have to put out a book every month to make it as an indie.

I do think you need to be efficient as a writer, publisher, and marketer though, hence the title of this post. I’m going to offer a few suggestions for making the most of your time and making sure the books you put out sell.

1. Analyze what you’ve been doing with the 80/20 Rule firmly in mind.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the 80/20 Rule or Pareto’s Principle. There are lots of interesting applications, but as authors, let’s keep it simple here and suggest that 20% of the work is responsible for 80% of the results.

Once you’ve got a good-sized backlist, with multiple series out, you’ll probably find in any given year that roughly 20% of your titles are responsible for 80% of your income. This may be as simple as your backlist versus your new releases, but it may also be that one of your series, or one subgenre that you write in, perennially outsells your other stuff. If that’s the case, write more books like that!

I know, I know, as authors we don’t want to be accused of doing the formulaic or repeating ourselves, and we often try the new and different, but if you’re just trying something new because you feel obligated not to repeat yourself, well… maybe instead, you could put a new spin on some things that are, quite frankly, probably favorite types of stories or characters for you. (There’s a reason you wrote them in the first place, right?)

If you don’t have anything that’s selling well yet, then that’s when trying something brand new might be a good idea. Jump down to #3 in this post if you think that’s you.

By the way, this rule also applies to marketing, perhaps even more so than to writing books. If you make a list of all the things you do that fall under the realm of “marketing,” and if you’re good at analyzing where your sales come from through smart links and careful monitoring of campaigns (this is key), you’ll probably realize that a few of the things you’re doing for marketing are resulting in the majority of your sales. You’ll probably also find that a lot of things you’re doing are wasting your time or resulting in so few sales that you would be better served doing something else. Like writing the next book.

I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true: few things sell books better than publishing more books. As they say, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy any tickets. I definitely put my focus on writing, and I always have. I doubt I spend more than 5% of my work time on marketing-related activities, and that’s counting my occasional Facebook and Twitter posts.

Look at everything you’re doing for marketing, and look at the results, and then run the  WIBBOW test — Would I Be Better off Writing?

2. Learn how to write more quickly and efficiently so you can publish more often. 

As much as I’d like to say it’s possible to make a living publishing a book or two a year, you’re going to find that dang hard as an indie author. (Few trad authors with fewer than ten books out are making a killing either — I know a lot of the scifi and fantasy trad authors doing well who started in the last 5-7 years have a lot of books out already).

I don’t think it’s at all surprising that I had big leaps in income in 2015 and 2016 because I’d gone from publishing 3-4 novels a year when I was getting started to closer to 8-10. Last year, including pen name releases, I believe I hit 12.

Yes, this is easier when you’ve already written several novels and you’ve naturally gotten better at doing it more efficiently, and of course it’s easier if you’re able to write full time, but I’ve met people with kids and full-time day jobs who are still writing 6+ novels a year.

I won’t attempt to give tips on how to improve your writing speed, since there are plenty of resources out there that cover it, but I will say that I outline, I turn off the internet if I’m finding myself distracted, and I prioritize my word count over anything else (yes, I’m sorry email friends — that’s why I’m always behind on my inbox) when I’m working on a new project. And that’s often!

For a more helpful resource, check out Rachel Aaron’s inexpensive 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love.

3. Be smart about the genres and niches you write in.

No, this isn’t another “write to market” tip, though it’s probably not a bad idea to read Chris Fox’s Write to Market: Deliver a Book That Sells if you haven’t already. If that’s something that could work for you, by all means, go for it. I’ve seen countless authors talking about how they were making pennies and then finally wrote a book “to market” and suddenly jumped up to four figures a month in earnings.

But, for those who are like me, and never like reading (or writing) the popular stuff (like gag me with a spoon if I see one more vampire, man), there’s still hope. I’ve always been someone who, for whatever reason, is never interested in anything that’s mainstream. What can I say? I’m not very mainstream. (That’s code for: I’m kind of a weirdo.) The cool thing about indie publishing is that you don’t need to sell tons of any given title to make good money. The internet is huge. Your people who share your same quirky tastes as you do are out there.

That said, you can still be analytical about the series you choose to start. I’ve often said that even though my stuff is never to market, I do write books that have some commercial appeal. They’re not so quirky that the market is going to be severely limited.

If you have ideas for three or four different stories in a couple of different genres, go out there and do some research. (Chris Fox’s book can be helpful for analyzing the potential of any given subgenre on Amazon.) Which genres are trending upward? Are any underserved by trad publishing right now? Are any subgenres just coming into existence? We recently did a podcast with someone talking about LitRPG. A few months ago, I would have said WTF is LitRPG? Go look on Amazon. Some of the books with the keyword in the subtitle are doing amazing (there’s not even a category for it yet).

A few years ago, Amazon created new subcategories under romance. Science fiction romance and fantasy romance. I’d gone through a phase of reading all of traditionally published SFR out there a few years before that, and there sure wasn’t much of it. Once the category was created, it got easier to find more, more put out by indie authors. Not only did I buy some, but I made a pen name and wrote some (you can read my first and second posts on launching the pen name anonymously a couple of years ago). The stuff I wrote was far future space opera romance and not to market (aliens steal women from Earth for breeding purposes, go!), but it sold well because I published the first few quickly into an underserved genre that was still fairly new. And there was an audience for what I enjoyed audience, even if my pen name books were never going to launch into the Top 100 overall on Amazon.

On the podcast in 2015, we kept interviewing authors who were doing really well with space opera/military SF. A long time Star Wars/Star Trek/Firefly fan, I’d been thinking of writing a space adventure series for a long time. Since many authors were rocking it in what was another genre fairly underserved by trad publishing, I decided to bump a fantasy series I was planning to the side and devote most of 2016 to jumping genres and writing the space series. Again, my stories weren’t to market (it might be the only pilot-mom-goes-looking-for-her-kidnapped-daughter series out there), but they had enough commercial appeal that they found a readership. And as I’ve already shared, 2016 was my best year ever.

So before you commit to writing your next series, take a look at what’s out there now and what’s selling. It’s very possible that one of the handful of ideas that you’re excited about has more potential than the others.

Good luck, and I hope you have an amazing 2017!

How to Successfully “Genre Hop” as an Author

| Posted in E-publishing, Writing |

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If you’re an indie author, you’ve probably heard this advice: write in a series and publish often. If you genre hop, your readers won’t follow you. If you have too many series going at once, you’ll struggle to build momentum and hit critical mass. Just focus!

It’s not bad advice. It comes from the business side of publishing, the side that’s focused on selling books and making money.

But writers are usually artists first and entrepreneurs later (if at all). As artists, we like to dabble. We’re always getting new ideas that we want to explore. For some of us, the urge to genre hop cannot be resisted!

But is it a career killer? Will all of your momentum grind to a halt as your mystery/thriller fans side-eye that fantasy romance you just published?

Let’s be honest: it won’t help things.

It’s rare to see someone who writes in fantasy this month, romance next month, and horror the month after that gaining a big audience and making a living as an author. Those who do manage to genre hop successfully are usually very prolific so they’re able to publish something new in each genre/series every few months, even as they explore other passions.

In general, though, genre hopping comes with challenges. Fans of one genre won’t necessarily be fans of another, so you essentially have to build up multiple fan bases. It’s easier to stick to one genre and become known for a certain type of book.

But if you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re thinking of genre hopping anyway. So, how do you do it and manage to succeed?

How to Successfully Genre Hop

I’ve failed with genre hopping, and I’ve also done it right (with my pen name). Even though that pen name is fairly neglected these days, you can go back to 2014 and read the posts I wrote at the time when I launched it, where I anonymously started a new name to write science fiction romance: reporting in after one month and reporting in after 10 weeks.

Admittedly, starting a pen name isn’t quite the same as jumping into a new genre under your existing name, but it’s the best example I’ve got right now, as least from my own previously published novels. I’m about to launch a new series under my name, a science fiction adventure series, so I’ve definitely been thinking about how to give myself a good chance of gathering momentum and garnering readers (and sales!) in the new genre. As you probably know, almost everything else written under my name is fantasy. There’s only one exception, a contemporary mystery/sweet romance/thing that’s a pretty good example of what not to do when jumping into a new genre.

I wrote that story a few years ago without thinking about whether it fit neatly into any established sub-genres out there (note: it doesn’t). I had no idea what to do for the cover (note: it shows). I believe that book earned out editing and cover art costs, but not much more. It’s sitting at a sales ranking of about 300,000 in the Amazon store these days. Only my die-hard readers check it out. I’m fairly certain that nobody who wasn’t already a fan ever found it and read it.

So based on my various learning experiences (failures and successes), here’s what I’m trying with the new series and what I suggest for others doing the same:

Commit to Writing Multiple Books in a Series to Launch in the New Genre

I probably would have more luck with the one-off mystery/romance if I’d turned it into a series, and at the time I was planning to write more of them. I set things up so there could be at least two more romances with the characters introduced in the first book. (And heck, I may still go back and write those stories one day.)

But I launched the book without having any sequels started or any solid commitment as to when I would publish them. I didn’t have a big launch strategy either. I basically emailed my list and said, “Hey, here’s a new book if you want to try it. There’s no magic in it. Or sword fights. Or dragons. Enjoy!”

Needless to say, it didn’t skyrocket to the top of any charts.

This time, I’m doing what I did with the pen name launch (by the way, if you’re thinking, “Hey, your pen name stuff is closer in genre to this new science fiction adventure, so maybe you should be launching it under your pen name,” you’re right, except that LB stuff is PG-13, and the pen name stuff is naughtier). My new series isn’t naughty (alas).

I wrote the first three books in the new SF series (Fallen Empire) before I even sent the first one to my editor. I’m launching Books 1, 2, and 3 back to back. The first one goes up this week, May 26th, and I’ll probably throw 2 and 3 out less than a week apart. They’re all just about ready to go now.

My reason for doing this is in part because I hope to gain some momentum with the rapid releases, and it’s also in part to help me commit to writing several books in the series. Sometimes, if you just write one and put it out there, and it doesn’t do that well, it’s easy to get discouraged and never get around to writing the follow-ups. (That’s what happened to me with Wounded.)

I’m 30,000 words into Book 4 now, before Book 1 ever launches. I told myself I’d write five books in this series before sitting back and seeing if it’s worth continuing or if I should then try to wrap it up. I’ll publish 4 a month after 3 and 5 a month after 4. (Sometime after that, I might need a vacation.)

This is all designed to give the new series a good start and to try to make some Top 100 lists over on Amazon where new readers (readers who prefer science fiction adventures to swords and dragons!) might find it. Because even though I have awesome readers already, and even though some of them will try out the new books, it’s a foregone conclusion that I’ll have to attract some new SF-loving readers if I want the books in the new genre to sell well.

It’s very hard to find those new readers and do well if you only have one book out in the new genre. There’s a lot of churn on Amazon especially, but on the other sites too. It’s hard to keep books ranking in a category over time. But continually publishing new books in a series can help with that, by constantly giving you something new for the Hot New Releases lists and by keeping your name and series out there where people can stumble across it. If they find Book 3 or Book 5 and think they look interesting, chances are they’ll go and look for Book 1.

Consider a Low (or even free) Launch Price for Book 1

Even if you’re an established author in your regular genre, readers in the new one may never have heard of you. By launching at 99 cents (or even considering free), people may take the leap of faith and give your stuff a try. Because you’ve committed to writing at least two more stories in the series (and may already have them written), you don’t need to cringe at the idea of only making 35 cents per sale. You have two more books out, or coming out soon, that the readers can go on to buy at full price.

When I launched the pen name books, I made Book 1 permafree everywhere as quickly as I could. I paid for a few inexpensive ads for it, and ended up getting about 20,000 downloads in that first 8 weeks or so. Not bad for a pretty niche little genre. (And I wasn’t even writing the popular tropes within that niche genre.) I made thousands of dollars in those first couple of months, thanks to strong sales of the 2nd and 3rd books.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when, several months later, I made that book 99 cents so I could put it into Kindle Unlimited, sales dropped off. Even though Amazon’s KDP Select lets you make a book free for 5 days a quarter, it’s not quite the same as always having it free and continually being able to advertise it. I’ll probably eventually make that series wide (I think KU can be helpful when you’re launching a series, which I’ll talk about next, but once your books drop out of the Top 100s, it becomes less useful.)

Consider Amazon’s KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited (exclusivity with Amazon) for the Launch

This is advice that could change in the future, since Amazon is always tinkering with KDP Select and the Kindle Unlimited subscription program, but for the last year, I’ve been seeing a lot of newer authors come out of nowhere and hit and stick in the various Top 100 category lists (in case you didn’t know, I’m one of the hosts on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast, and we interview a lot of different guests). Almost all of those authors were in KDP Select (in fact, I can actually name the one and only debut author selling well who wasn’t, because it’s that rare right now).

The reason KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited is such a help currently is because it’s easier to get a borrow of a book (from a KU subscriber) than it is to get a sale. That’s just common sense. And for the time being, all of those borrows count as strongly as sales in Amazon’s sales ranking calculations. That means that an author who isn’t exclusive with Amazon might being selling 50 books a day to maintain his sales ranking whereas a KDP Select author might only sell 20 books a day and get 30 borrows to maintain a similar ranking. In the Amazon store,it’s an advantage to be in KDP Select (and it’s a disadvantage if you’re not).

If you’re not already selling like hotcakes on the other platforms, then you may want to start off the new genre/series in KDP Select. I actually sell reasonably well on Barnes & Noble and Kobo, in particular, but after seeing so many people doing well with the help of Kindle Unlimited, I’ve finally decided to try a series there.

Since it doesn’t tie in with anything else I’ve written, and nobody’s yet dying to know about these characters, it seemed like the logical time. I’m expecting some pushback from readers anyway. We’ll see how it goes. My current plan is try the series there for the first 90-180 days and see if it’s worthwhile. I.e. am I making much more because I’m in Kindle Unlimited than I would be if those books were wide? Whether or not that’s the case, I expect the momentum for the series to have faded by the end of six months, so that’ll probably be the time to go wide. That’ll make it right in time for Christmas, so at least I can offer that to my readers on other platforms.

Give Away a Story (in the new genre) to Build your Mailing List

This isn’t new advice, but I’m talking specifically about giving away something related to the new series you’re launching. In my case, I even started a new mailing list. My regular one has such a mix of readers on it — some who like one series, some who like another, and some who’ve never read my books and just signed up because of my blog posts. I decided to start a fresh one for the science fiction. I also don’t want to annoy existing subscribers who read on other platforms by constantly mentioning new releases of books that are only on Amazon.

I’m not doing Facebook ads or anything fancy to get people onto the mailing list. I’m just putting a notice in the back of the new books that says if readers sign up, they’ll get a free short story that takes place between Books 1 and 2 in the series. They’ll also eventually get a prequel novella — I’d originally intended to make that the giveaway item from the start, but I didn’t get it written in time. So, they’ll get two goodies if they stick around!

Accept That Your Also-Boughts Might Be a Problem and Advertise to Get Around It

A lot of time when we switch genres, we worry that our current readers won’t follow us over. Believe it or not, you might have an easier time if they don’t, or at least if they don’t right away.

When you launch a new book, you want to sell enough copies that it starts appearing in the also-boughts of similar books in that genre. This is a big part of how discoverability works on Amazon. Ideally, I want my science fiction series to show up in the also-boughts of similar SF books.

But here’s what’s going to happen: it’s going to show up in the also-boughts for books for my other series. My other fantasy series. If Amazon emails readers about the new science fiction release, it’s going to end up going out to fantasy fans.

This is one of the reasons a pen name can actually make a lot of sense. You can always tell your current readers about the new books after the also-boughts have been established.

I’m not worrying too much about this (I think a lot of my existing readers will enjoy this series if they give it a try, so I’ve been telling them about it all along) because I honestly don’t have high expectations for this series, insofar as getting sales right out the door goes. I don’t think it’s written to market (hitting the popular tropes) enough that it has a chance of sticking in the SF rankings for months and months. As is often the case for me (when I say often I mean always), stories come to mind, and I get excited about writing them, and I don’t think much about marketing until after the books are done. All that said, I am trying to give it a good shot to do well.

If you’ve written something to market in your new genre, and think it has a shot at sticking on Amazon, you may want to try and snag some ads for that first week or two that it’s out. This could help you with getting onto the right kinds of also-boughts, those of other books in your new genre. I’m going to try a few ads myself.

Some of the sponsorship sites, which have predominantly run bargain books with lots of reviews in the past, are now accepting new releases. I have ads lined up with Ereader News Today, Fussy Librarian, and Free Kindle Books and Tips for the new Book 1. I may tinker a bit with Facebook ads, too, though I’m not a pro with them and usually just throw money away there.

Look for Promotional Opportunities with Other Authors Working in the Genre

People are still using mutli-author boxed sets and multi-author anthologies as a way for exposure. If you put a Book 1 into a boxed set, some of the readers may go on to buy your other books, and because numerous authors are promoting the set or anthology, it should get more exposure than it would if you were just promoting your own stuff.

This can be particularly powerful if you don’t already have a fan base in the new genre. Just as I a wrote a short story for my mailing list, I also wrote a short story for an anthology that’s coming out next month. It’s going to be a permafree anthology, so we should get lots of people trying it, and many of the other authors already have science fiction books out and lists of fans who enjoy the genre. I’m hoping that some of their readers will like my story and will want to go on and check out the series. (My story takes place between Books 2 and 3 in my series, but I designed it to work as a stand-alone.)

All right, as usual, I’ve rambled long enough here. You now know all of my plans! Like I said, I don’t think my series has enough of the popular tropes to really kill it (and I already gave away over 1500 copies of Book 1 to my regular readers), but I’m crossing my fingers that it will at least do well enough that I won’t regret having “genre hopped” instead of buckling down and writing more fantasy.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a comment. Let us know if you’ve experimented with genre hopping and how your results were.

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

Pricing Strategies for Ebooks in a Series

| Posted in E-publishing |

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I’m about to release the third book in my Dragon Blood series (the opening chapters of the first book are here if anyone is curious), and I have some advertisements scheduled this week for the first. Since this is officially a series now, pricing is on my mind. Just now, you ask?

I originally wrote the first one as a stand-alone. I had an idea for a steampunk romance (stolen from inspired by another story), and I thought, hey, let’s do it. Then it turned out that I enjoyed the characters and the world and wanted to revisit both. Thus a series was born.

I released the first book at $2.99, lobbied for reviews (something I hadn’t bothered to do much of before), and sent an announcement out to the mailing list (they were more interested in the Emperor’s Edge book that was also coming out that month, but some people did give the new adventure a try). It turned out that it did well, hanging out at the top of the steampunk rankings for a couple of months on Amazon. I released a second one in late May, also at $2.99, and, as I mentioned, I’m getting ready to release the third.

After the first three months, sales on the first book dropped off some, as you’d expect, but the Amazon ranking was still under 10,000 most days, which isn’t too shabby for a more obscure category. I just dropped it to 99 cents for a Bookbub ad this weekend, and it’s had a nice boost again (Pixel of Ink mentioned it yesterday).

I’m deciding now whether I want to do a $2.99 release for Book 3 or bump it up to $3.99 (it’s nearly 100,000 words, so it’s longer than the first two). I’m also going to watch how Book 1 does at $0.99, because it may be worth leaving it there longer than the planned week if it does well after the ads have come and gone. That would fit into one of the main series pricing models I’m going to talk about below.

(I like to stay flexible and experiment, rather than committing to any particular pricing model, especially for more obscure niches like “steampunk romance.” Sometimes some books are just never going to be huge sellers whether they’re free or 99 cents, even when they have lots of good reviews, so in that case, it might make more sense to stick with a $2.99 price tag to at least get the 70% cut on sales that do come.)

I’ll update y’all on my doings later on, but I mostly wanted to write this post for others who are trying to price their books to get the most (earnings and visibility) out of their own series.

Common Series Pricing Models for Indie eBooks

Option A:

  • Book 1: 99 cents
  • Book 2: 2.99
  • Book 3 (and subsequent books): 2.99 – 4.99

Option B:

  • Book 1: free
  • Book 2: 2.99
  • Book 3 (and others): 2.99 – 4.99

Both of these options let you draw in new readers with Book 1 that’s priced lower than the rest of the series, in the hope that they’ll be more likely to try your work, like it, and go on to buy the rest.

My Emperor’s Edge series needs a facelift and some loving, but it’s earned me the bulk of my income over the last three and a half years (I published the eighth and final-for-now book earlier this spring). I’ve tried a number of strategies, but I’ve been pretty close to Option B for the last three years. I started out with the first two books at 2.99 and made some sales, but gained a lot more readers when I released Book 3 and made Book 1 permanently free (I also had some luck early on when, with two books out, I ran sales of Book 1 at 99 cents.)

In ye olden days, Amazon listed the Top 100 free next to the Top 100 paid in each category (no need to click over to free books to see the covers), and you got a lot of visibility if you were in the Top 20 free for your category. I’ve talked more about whether or not free is still a good strategy in other places, so I’ll just say here that, yes, it can be, but prepared to pay for ads and promote the freebie, because there’s less visibility for those lists than there used to be. Free still works very well as a series starter in iTunes and Kobo (people always ask how to sell books there, and I always say that I didn’t sell much of anything in those stores until I had a free Book there).

That said, I haven’t made anything else free of late. Part of it is because I’ve mostly been writing pilots this past year, trying to figure out what my next big series should be, but part of it is because 99 cents seems almost as viable, if not as viable, for enticing people to try a series. And, unlike with the free books, you show up in the paid listings alongside all of the other paid books — being 99 cents when the surrounding books are 2.99 and up can make yours look like as much, if not more, of a bargain as a free book surrounded by other free books. There’s also the consideration that people may be more likely to jump right into reading a book they paid for, whereas they might randomly download heaps of free books and wait until much later to check them out.

As I go forward with the Dragon Blood series and other new ones (I have my pen name project in mind here, too), I’ll probably stick with something closer to Option A. I may do free sales, i.e. permafree for a couple of weeks in conjunction with advertising, especially after I have 4+ books out in a series, but I don’t think I’ll do another permanently free book for a while.

With pricing a series (or anything), I think it’s useful to be flexible and try different numbers. Keep track of how much you earn from the series overall, rather than from any individual book, and see what works best. (I wrote a post on this last winter: What You Think Your Book Is Worth vs. The Point at Which It Will Make the Most Money.)

Other Series Pricing Models

What if you just don’t like either of the two options I mentioned? Or maybe you’re also writing a series in a less popular niche. Maybe you’re in an extremely popular niche where it’s hard to get noticed even at 99 cents. Here are a couple more models to consider.

Option C:

  • Book 1: 2.99
  • Subsequent books: 3.99+

This one keeps you in the 70% range for earnings.

There are a couple of reasons you might consider this. First, if you already have a fan base or your new series ties into an old one, you might not need to make the first book a loss leader, as they say in the biz.

Also, if you don’t have the rest of the books in the series out yet, running sale prices on Book 1 may not do much for you, in terms of your income. Yes, it can bring in more readers, but if you don’t have anything available yet for those readers to buy, will they still remember you when you publish Book 2? Maybe, maybe not (don’t forget to include a newsletter sign-up at the end of the first book!).

Lastly, if you’ve already tried 99 cents combined with sales and there just didn’t seem to be enough interest to give you the boost you were hoping for, you might as well go back to the 70% cut. That way, when you do make a sale, it’s at least latte money (or Americano money, anyway).

Option D:

  • Book 1: free
  • Book 2: 99 cents
  • Book 3 and beyond: 2.99 and up

I see this fairly often in the romance genre (especially with series). Giving away the first two books for nothing or next to nothing is hard to stomach, but it’s possible you’ll get a lot more visibility and readers getting invested in the series this way. You’re in the free lists for people who surf there, but then you’ve also got a 99-cent title (remember how this appears as quite the bargain next to more expensive titles) in the paid listings.

I’ve done sales like this with my EE series, and, for me, the second book never sold well enough at 99 cents that I was tempted to leave it there for long. If, however, you’re in a popular genre and have written books that really give people what they want, a pricing strategy like this may get you the attention you’re hoping for.

Okay, I’ve burbled on for long enough. Do you have any thoughts on pricing a series that you would like to share? Please leave a comment!

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