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How to Successfully “Genre Hop” as an Author

| Posted in E-publishing, Writing |

20

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 |

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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 |

32

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!

Ebook Pricing: What You Think Your Book Is Worth vs. The Point at Which It Will Make the Most Money

| Posted in E-publishing |

20

In the indie author world, there are few topics as hotly debated as that of ebook pricing. You don’t have to spend long on a self-publishing forum to hear all sorts of advice:

  • Don’t price too low or it shows you don’t value your work — if you don’t value your work, how can you expect anyone else to?
  • Don’t price too high because people won’t spend that much on an unknown author.
  • 99 cents is dead — don’t bother with 99 cents because you only get a 35% royalty.
  • Never ever price your ebook at $1.99 — it’s the Bermuda Triangle of pricing!
  • Price the first book in your series for free to draw in readers who might end up liking the book and buying the rest in the series.
  • For crying out loud, don’t give anything away for free — people just download free books and never read them, and if they do read them, they’ll probably give you a crappy rating.

So… confused yet?

Long-time followers of my blog (or people who look me up on Amazon), will see that I take a middle-of-the-road approach. I have the first ebook in my Emperor’s Edge series permanently free, and most of the rest of the novels in the series are $4.95 (I do have Book 2 at $2.99 at the moment, which may or may not stay that way). For short stories, I either go with free or 99 cents (if it’s free it’s because it’s something I posted on my blog for free first, such as my recent holiday story, which was a thank you to readers). For novellas and short novels, I’ll price somewhere in between (these days, I try to write things that are long enough that I feel justified pricing them at $2.99, for the 70% royalty, or I’ll put the shorter things together in a collection).

Does that mean you should do the same thing? Nope. You should either do what makes you content (allowing that you might be leaving money on the table, because you’re pricing based on your own opinions rather than experimentation) or you should experiment to see what earns you the most money per month.

That last bit sounds kind of obvious, doesn’t it? Yet a lot of authors balk at the idea of trying different prices and seeing what the market says. They price based on their own hunches and prejudices.

They think, “Oh, I wouldn’t value a 99-cent book, so I’m sure others won’t either.” Or maybe they think, “I put XXX hours into writing and preparing this novel, and there’s no way I’m selling it for less than $X.XX.” Or perhaps it’s, “Nobody’s heard of me, and I doubt they’re going to pay much for an unknown author, so I’m going with 99 cents.” The argument I’ve seen most often and which is, quite frankly, one of the more short-sighted ones, is: “If I don’t sell my book for at least such-and-such, I’m not going to have a chance of making minimum wage for the work I put into it.”

I want to address the last argument, because I see variations of it so often. First off, before we jump into numbers, I want to point out that very few authors make any significant money on their first book — nobody owes us minimum wage or any other amount of cash. This whole process is like building a business, and for most of us the income grows over time as we get more books out, especially when we’re talking about e-publishing, where titles can remain out there and can continue to sell indefinitely.

The second thing I want to point out is that the price of the book is only half of the earnings equation. The other half is how many copies you sell.

Price * Units Sold = Total Earnings.

We’ll keep it simple and not worry about royalties and what the store makes vs. what you make. My point is that it’s possible to become a millionaire on a 99-cent title, just as it’s possible to make absolutely nothing. You may make more money selling your books at less than your ideal price (i.e. what you feel the book is worth). That’s just how it is.

But anyway, let’s talk numbers and kick around a couple of scenarios (AKA how do we get to minimum wage, anyway?). Let’s say you go bargain basement and make your first novel 99 cents. Because it’s at the 35% royalty, you’re only making about 35 cents on each sale. Let’s say you bust your bum on marketing and sell 100 copies in your first month. That earns you… $35. Yeah, cringe, right? Not even close to minimum wage. If you keep that up for the whole year, you get $420. Still not that impressive. Latte money, maybe.

But — and here’s where so many people get tripped up — you really have to consider earnings over the life of a book, not over a month or even a year. Over ten years, that title could bring in $4,200 if nothing else changes. There’s always the possibility that it will start selling better as you get more titles out and gain more of a following as an author, but let’s assume it stays the same.

$4,200 in ten years still isn’t that impressive (and it’s why I’m not a big proponent of the 99-cent novel unless it’s part of a sale or on-going strategy to get readers into a series). Let’s say you had priced that novel at $2.99 instead. It would earn (at a 70% royalty) $2.05 a sale. Maybe you’re only able to sell 50 copies a month, instead of 100, because of the higher price point. That brings your earnings up to $102.50 per month and $1,230 a year. A little better. At $5 it gets better still, though you may or may not sell as well at the higher price point. This is where the experimenting comes in. Try a month with it at one price, and then try a month with it at another price.

Some authors actually sell better (more books) when they raise their prices, though most of us find it easier to move more copies as the price lowers. If we want to maximize our monthly income, we have to play around and find the point of diminishing returns. I want to emphasize again that for those of us who can take emotion and pride out of the equation, the focus should be on monthly income and not on the price of the book at all.

*This is the point where I admit that I might be leaving money on the table because I don’t experiment all that much. I’ve sold them for less, but I’ve never tried selling my ebooks for more than $5. Remember up above where I said some people prefer to do what makes them content, even if it’s possible they’re not making as much as they could? That’s me. I’m comfortable with what I make, and I like the idea of keeping my ebooks a good value for readers. I’m not sharing my earnings with an agent or publisher, so this just seems fair to me. But if you’re not content right now, and you want to be earning more… I urge experimentation.

The more books, the more potential you have to earn

Here’s another one that seems obvious but which again gets overlooked, especially by those who bring the “But I want to at least make minimum wage” mindset to the table. Remember that $1,230 a year we’re earning from our $2.99 ebook that’s selling 50 copies a month? Let’s jump forward to the point where we have 10 novels, some novellas, and a few short stories out (that’s me right now, after three years of self-publishing). If all of your novels are selling 50 copies a month at $2.99 (for the record, I’m a mid-list author at best, and my worst selling novels sell quite a bit better than that), you’re now making $12,300 a year from your novels and probably a couple of thousand extra from your shorter works. So, yay, we’ve reached minimum wage.

That’s a pretty conservative estimate of what you could make with that much work out. If, in the process of publishing these novels, you’re able to gain some true fans, the types of people who tell their friends about your work, you might find that 50 sales a month per novel is very beatable (with a little spent on advertising here and there, my EE novels are still selling 300+ a month, though I’ve completed the series and moved on to other things).

You might also find that you have a break-out novel or two in the bunch. A couple of years ago, JA Konrath published his stats for his $140,000-month and we saw that a handful of his 40+ titles were responsible for the majority of his income. I talked about the Pareto Principle in that article, also known as the 80-20 rule. In our cases, it may very well end up that 20% of our work results in 80% of our income. My distribution isn’t quite so lopsided, but my EE series does account for the majority of my earnings. Back when I built websites and wrote content for a living, two of my 10-15 sites brought in the majority of my income. This kind of distribution happens all over the place. For most of us, the only way to have those breakout books is to publish a lot of books. It’s very hard to predict what will become a winner, but the more titles you have out there, the better your odds.

But I’ve drifted off topic a bit here. It never hurts to point out that for the majority of authors it’s going to take a lot of novels to build a full-time income, but my ultimate message here is to try and maximize your overall monthly income rather than getting hung up on the price of a particular book. Try free. Try 99 cents. Try 2.99. Heck, try 7.99 or 9.99 if you want. Experiment. Keep track of what works, and if you find that you make the most money pricing your ebooks at $0.99 or $4.32, then by all means, do so.

 

Ebooks, Word Count, and Marketing the Stand-Alone Novel (or should one book become two?)

| Posted in E-publishing |

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I’ve always preferred to read and write novel-length fiction, but the ebook has brought back the short story, the novella, and the serial (among other things), story formats that were never that practical outside of magazines (and even then, it had been a while since you saw many novellas and serials). Space was always a consideration, with certain page counts being more feasible (financially speaking) than others.

With ebooks, it doesn’t cost any more to deliver a 200,000-word epic novel than it does a 10,000-word short story. Oh, sure, editing will be pricier on the bigger tale, assuming you hire outside eyes for that task, but that’s a one-time cost. Authors now have the ability to write in whatever story format they prefer and even get creative with how novels are crafted and delivered.

And more than writing preferences may come into play. As independent authors, we’re responsible for our own marketing and for figuring out the best ways to satisfy the reader and make a fair wage from our work (a living wage, if we’re lucky).

For example, the single novel can be a hard sell. My experience with multi-book formats suggests it’s easier to market and sell a series because you can play around with free or 99-cent “loss leaders” while leaving later tomes at full price. Right now, there are a lot of venues that like to advertise bargain books, which works perfectly for those of us with a series and an inexpensive Book 1.

If all you have is a single novel, you can put it on sale and try to gain traction with advertising, but even if a reader enjoys it, there’s nowhere to go from there. Oh, you might have other unrelated ebooks out, but jumping to a new world and/or new characters isn’t, for most readers, as automatic as buying the second book in a series.

So, what do you do with that single stand-alone novel? If the stars align right and the tides are favorable (AKA if it’s a big enough book), should it perhaps become two?

This is what I’m mulling over with my current project (working title: Republic). For those who have followed along with my Emperor’s Edge novels, this idea might sound familiar. Last summer, the sixth and final book in my six-book series turned into Forged in Blood I & Forged in Blood II (making it a seven book series, I suppose). Even being broken apart, those books were as long or longer than the rest of the novels in the series, so I thought it made sense.

Now I’m working on a transition novel that can either provide more closure for the EE series or work as a launching point into a new series (we’ll see how the reception is). From the beginning, I had only envisioned it as one book, but at the same time, I knew it was going to be a big one, because it has six point-of-view characters. I guessed it would be around 150,000 words when I got started. Well, I’m at 160,000 now and I have the big end battle yet to write, along with a long (and I hope fun) epilogue that I’ve had in mind from the beginning. I’m beginning to think Republic will be 200,000 words by the time I’m done.

For comparison, a new fantasy novelist is encouraged to submit novels between 80,000-100,000 words to agents. The first Emperor’s Edge book is around 105,000 words.

There’s this thing about epic fantasy though… it likes to be big. I’m not sure what the word counts are on those Jordan or Martin books, but they call them Chihuahua killers for a reason (fortunately with ebooks, you don’t need to worry about dropping super thick tomes on small dogs). Many fantasy readers enjoy these big meaty books, so I’m hoping I won’t get too many complaints about length. (People might not dig the new storyline or the departure from two POV characters to six, but that’s a different concern.)

So, what’s the problem?

There’s not really, aside from the fact that I’ll be spending a lot more time on a novel I can’t necessarily charge a lot more for, but I am wondering if turning this into two books might offer some opportunities from a marketing perspective. I never bother advertising Books 2-7 in the EE series, because I assume nobody’s going to jump into the middle without having read the first book. That means EE1 has been through BookBub and many of the other big sites that offer sponsorships multiple times already. In short, it’s old news.

With Republic, even though it has most of the characters from the EE series (along with Tikaya and Rias from the Encrypted/Decrypted books), it’s a spot where someone new might be able to jump in without being lost. Or at least not so lost that they couldn’t enjoy the story (maybe new readers would even want to later pick up the earlier books to catch up and get all the inside jokes).

I’m already planning to do something completely different with the cover art (illustrated), so it’ll feel like the start of something new. And I think the blurb might sound appealing to those who specifically seek out epic fantasy (I’ve never described my stuff as epic fantasy, but with the political emphasis in this one and the multiple story lines, it feels closer to it than many of my others). Also, the first chapter, which people might download as a sample, starts off with Amaranthe and Sicarius getting out of a little trouble on a tropical island before being called back home by the president, is on the fun and entertaining side, and I could see it drawing new folks in.

But, if I keep this as one big book, I’m not going to be particularly interested in bargain pricing it (hey, this puppy represents a lot of hours!), so I wouldn’t be able to advertise it on the big book sites, and I don’t know how many new people would try it at full price. (Since I usually price based on word count, I expect I would go around $6.95 for the ebook on this one.)

If I turn it into a duology, I can have more room to play around with pricing. I can essentially charge the same amount but make the first book less expensive, maybe $2.99 for the first part and $3.99 for the second, with a launch/sale price of 99-cent sales on the first. The downside is I would doubtlessly get new readers who didn’t like part 1 enough to buy part 2, but those are people who probably wouldn’t have plunked down $7 for an ebook from an author they hadn’t tried anyway. As far as regular readers, they might find the lower prices more appealing as well. Even if it’s technically the same $7 either way, folks are used to paying $5 from me, not $7, so that might be a bit of a balk. This way they could pick up the first part now and grab the second later. Like FiB1 & 2, it would end up feeling more like two books rather than one big expensive book.

At this point, I’m just tossing ideas around. I haven’t finished the novel, and I haven’t gone back to see if/where there might be a logical breaking point if I were to divide it. If you, as a reader or author, have an opinion on all this mulling, I would love to hear it.