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Audiobook Options for Indie Authors (and when it’s worth paying for production yourself)

| Posted in New Author Series, Tips and Tricks |

12

I’m gradually getting my library of books out in audiobook form. Some of these books are being published through Podium Publishing, some I’m doing through ACX, and some of the older ones were done through an independent production company, Darkfire Productions. For those indie authors who are interested in increasing their income by getting their books out in audiobook format, I’m going to talk about the pros and cons of each of these methods and when it makes sense to pursue them.

1. Getting Picked up by an Audiobook Publisher

star-nomad-audiobookIn the last couple years, I’ve seen more audiobook publishers contacting indie authors who have a series selling well. That’s the catch, of course. Unless you have an agent to shop things around for you, you’ll probably have to wait for these publishers to contact you.

But what if they contact you, and you were planning to do your audiobooks on your own? You have to decide whether the deal sounds like a good one and what the value add is.

Some of the main names out there are Tantor, Podium Publishing (for science fiction and fantasy), and Audible itself. Anywhere from a 10%-35% royalty (this is 10-35% of what they earn, not of the sale price of the audiobook) seems typical with advances from the low hundreds to the low thousands (I’m basing these numbers on what I’ve seen for myself and what a handful of other authors, mostly science fiction and fantasy, have told me). Some publishers won’t offer an advance but will do a higher royalty. They will cover all the production costs, which can be substantial (more on that below).

In addition to covering production costs, what do publishers add?

Publishers usually have some methods of promoting ebooks beyond just hoping for the best. As indies, it’s tough to promo audiobooks the way we can with ebooks, because there aren’t many sites that plug them and we can’t price pulse for sales (we can’t control the price at all). For running sales, the best we can hope for is for Amazon to enable Whispersync and let a listener who already has the ebook buy the audiobook for a significantly lower price. (Right now, I’ve got Star Nomad at 99 cents for the ebook, and people who buy it can pick up the audiobook for $2.99 when it’s usually 1 credit at Audible or $30 without that deal.)

That said, publishers don’t always seem to do much for audiobook promotion. It’s probably going to depend how much they have invested in you and how much potential upside they see in the title.

Publisher usually submit the audiobooks to the various industry places where they might be eligible for awards, which may help create a little buzz. It’s possible that we can submit books as indies, but it’s not something I’ve looked into, so I don’t know (feel free to comment if you know more). It’s nice having someone else handle that, though, in addition to the production.

Are there downsides to going with an audiobook publisher?

As with the print world, you’ll have less control. With my books, Podium Publishing has always asked for the original artwork and based their audiobook covers on that. They’ve done some tweaking, and I’ve been happy with the results, but depending on the publisher, you might not have much say when it comes to cover. Or you may not care for the tweaks they make.

It’s also likely that you’ll have limited input when it comes to the narrator, and finding a good narrator is huge with audiobooks. The publishers work with professionals, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll pick someone who has a voice that you imagine working well with the voice of your book. On the flip side, if you produce your audiobook through ACX (currently only available to U.S. authors), you’ll be able to put a few pages out for auditions and may get as many as a hundred people submitting samples. You should be able to find the perfect person for your work.

dragon-blood-omnibus-audiobookWhether you go with a publisher or go on your own, you probably won’t get rich off audiobook sales, even with an audiobook that sticks for a while and sells well. Not everybody gets a big promo push from their publisher, and I’ve heard from a lot of people that they didn’t even make back their (relatively low) advances. But if you have a few audiobooks out in a series that’s selling moderately well, getting an extra thousand or two a month isn’t out of the question. Typically, your ebook sales will dwarf your audiobook sales and still be your main bread winner since you’re getting a much higher cut of each sale, but there’s nothing wrong with adding some income on the side and being available and discoverable in more places.

Producing an Audiobook on your Own through ACX

As I said, Podium Publishing has done several of my books now, including the first five Dragon Blood books (more coming), my Forgotten Ages omnibus, the first Fallen Empire book (more coming), and they’re also working on an omnibus for my pen name. There’s enough work and time that goes into selecting a narrator, having them produce the chapters, and proofing the chapters that I’ve been happy to give them the rights to books they’ve asked for. Since I’m a prolific author, I know it would take me ages to get all these novels out there.

Publishers, however, are usually going to be more interested in recent releases that are selling well. So, what happens if you have older books or series that you would like to see in audiobook form? Or if you just want to have full control?

torrent-audiobookACX is definitely an option (as I mentioned, you have to be in the U.S. right now, but hopefully, they’ll open up to everyone eventually). You’ll foot all the upfront costs, but you’ll keep a bigger cut on each sale (currently 40% of retail sales if you’re exclusive with them, which means you’ll be in Amazon and Apple and 25% if you’re not exclusive — note, my first three Emperor’s Edge audiobooks were first published on Podiobooks for free, so I get the lower cut on those).

You’ll also be eligible for “bounty payments.” That means: “ACX pays Rights Holder and Producer $50 every time the audiobook is the first audiobook purchased by an AudibleListener™ member on Audible. The $50 payment is split 50-50 between Rights Holder and Producer, amounting to $25 each.”

I just published my third novel and fourth title with ACX, and it’s rare for me to see those bounty payments, so I wouldn’t count on that money.

So, how much does it cost to produce an audiobook through ACX? You’ll pay per finished hour (it may take a narrator and producer 5+ hours to get one finished hour), so the longer the book, the more you’ll pay. I just published my fourth Emperor’s Edge audiobook, after a long gap in production and a narrator switch, and it was about $5,000 for 14-odd hours. My narrator is on the higher end for ACX ($200-$400 per finished hour is typical), but comes with a producer, and they make a really clean book. My proof “listeners” haven’t had to make many notes. Torrent, the first audiobook I did through ACX, wasn’t quite as daunting price-wise, since it was about 9 hours for the complete book. It’s still a big chunk of change, and, here’s the biggie: you really need to consider whether you’re going to earn back your money any time soon.

conspiracy-audiobookAs I mentioned before, audiobook earnings aren’t usually huge, and it’s hard to know how to promote them — there aren’t big lists of sponsorship sites and pricing tricks you can use the way you can with ebooks. Your best bet right now is basically to try to get promos on the ebooks and make sure those keep selling, because some of the people surfing to your Amazon page will be audiobook fans and might pick it up if it’s an option.

When you’re doing an older series, maybe one where you’ve closed things off and completed it years ago, it may be even tougher to earn back the cost of production. My Emperor’s Edge series is the first thing I ever published, and it has some loyal fans, but I’ve already run Book 1 and the boxed set through the various promo sites many times, so it can be a challenge to have a good run with it and get it back into the Top 100s on Amazon. I’m honestly not sure if these audiobooks will earn out. I’ve having new covers made that will debut early next year, and that may help me get some new eyeballs on the series, but I’m also considering doing a limited time Patreon campaign to fund the last few books in the series. I make enough from ebooks that I can afford to lose money producing the audiobooks, but I’d rather not, since that doesn’t make much business sense!

I haven’t mentioned yet that there’s another way to finance the production of your ACX audiobooks: a royalty split with the narrator.

If you don’t have money to use up front, you can put your book out there and hope a good narrator will be interested in the split option. Then you’ll be sharing your 40% earnings with them for the next seven years. The challenge here is that it’s going to be rare for a high quality narrator with a quality setup to want to take on a royalty split gig, considering how much work goes into producing an audiobook. They may do it if you’re a bigger name author or it’s clear that you have a hit on your hands, but if that’s the case, you’re earning enough in ebook sales that you probably don’t need to do a royalty split. (And if your book continues to sell well, you may regret giving away half the royalties as time goes on.)

Another Option: Independent Audiobook Producers

For those who aren’t in the U.S. and can’t do ACX, another option is to find an independent audiobook producer. This (and recording your books yourself) was the main way it was done before ACX came on the scene and before more audiobook publishers started looking for indie authors to work with. With these guys, you’ll pay for the narrator and the production, the same as with ACX, and then they’ll negotiate with Audible to get your books into their store.

I’m afraid I don’t have a big list of producers that I can point you to, but Darkfire Productions did my first three Emperor’s Edge audiobooks several years ago. I would have likely kept going with them, but my narrator got busy and couldn’t continue on, and I decided to put things on pause at that point. Originally, I’d started producing the series so it could go out free on Podiobooks (like a podcast) to help with growing an audience, so I wasn’t making that much from sales.

For those who are interested in this route, it’s going to be just as expensive as ACX, if not more so, so make sure you have your pennies set aside.

My Audiobook Earnings

For those who are curious about such things, this is about how my audiobook earnings broke down for the last year. These series are very different, and some of these books are older and poorer sellers and vice versa (my ACX numbers would surely look very different if I’d done my Dragon Blood or Fallen Empire series there), so there’s not much use in doing an across-the-board earnings comparison, but I’ll share anyway.

Podium Publishing ~ $18,000

The Dragon Blood Omnibus Amazon | Apple

Patterns in the Dark (DB4)

The Blade’s Memory (DB5)

The Forgotten Ages Saga Amazon | Apple

Star Nomad Amazon | Apple

Tantor (hasn’t earned out 2015 advance)

Stars Across Time (pen name stand alone) Amazon | Not on Apple

ACX ~ $3,500

Torrent (Rust & Relics 1) Amazon | Apple

Destiny Unchosen (novella)

Thornfall (R&R2)

Conspiracy (EE4) (just published so doesn’t figure into earnings yet)

Darkfire Productions ~ $1,000 (no new titles since 2012)

The Emperor’s Edge Amazon| Apple

Dark Currents (EE2)

Deadly Games (EE3)

The Final Verdict

Here are my final opinions, now that I’ve done audiobooks three ways:

If an audiobook publisher approaches you, and you’re busy with writing and life and don’t mind giving up some control, it’s worth saying yes and handing over the rights for them to produce the book.

If nobody has approached you or you want full control over the process, then ACX is an option. But, unless you have money to burn, I’d only recommend it for titles that are already selling well in ebook form (probably sub 10,000 overall in the Kindle Store). It’s not impossible for an audiobook to take off even if the ebook didn’t (Torrent actually sells fairly well for me, given that it’s never been a big ebook seller and I haven’t published a new installment in the series for several years), especially if it has a great cover, but chances are, you’re not going to earn back your investment on books that sell less than 100 ebooks a month.

What are your thoughts? Have you done audiobooks? How have they done for you?

Should You Go Wide or Join KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited?

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales, New Author Series |

41

When I uploaded my first book, The Emperor’s Edge, in December of 2010, it was a foregone conclusion that I would put it out there everywhere I could, in the hope that new readers would stumble across it and give it a try. Then, a couple of years later, Amazon introduced KDP Select, a program for self-publishers that requires exclusivity.

Right off the bat, Amazon introduced a couple of promotional tactics that are still available to those who are enrolled. Eventually, Kindle Unlimited and the ability to be paid for borrows also came along.

Here’s what the perks of KDP Select look like as I write this in October of 2015 (let me know if I’ve missed any!):

  • The ability to run a Countdown Deal once per quarter, a feature that, among other things, let’s you run sales on books (i.e. dropping them to 99 cents) while still receiving the 70% split that’s usually only available with ebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99.
  • The ability to run a Free Book Promotion up to five days per quarter (The only other way to have a book listed as free in the Kindle store is to make it free elsewhere and hope Amazon price matches. This is unreliable and may involve being free longer than you wish.).
  • Enrollment in Kindle Unlimited, the Amazon lending library, where you’ll be paid for pages read and where ebook borrows can improve your visibility and sales ranking in the Kindle store (I did a big write up about this last year: KDP Select & Kindle Unlimited: Why Ebooks Not Enrolled Are at a Disadvantage).
  • Earning 70% on appropriately priced books sold in some of Amazon’s newer territories such as Japan, India, Brazil and Mexico (for some reason, perhaps to make KDP Select more appealing, Amazon decided not to offer everyone that 70%, as is the norm in other countries).

So, what do you lose? Obviously, if you’re exclusive with Amazon, you can’t receive ebook income from the other stores. Let me emphasize that we’re only talking about ebook income, as you can still have audiobooks in iTunes and paperbacks in Barnes & Noble and elsewhere. But, as you probably already know, ebook income is huge for self-published authors. Even though I’m working on getting more audiobooks out there, and I’ve done paperbacks for most of my novels, ebooks easily account for 95% of my income.

Are you wide or in Select?

Before I go further, I should disclose that I am not in KDP Select with any of the books under my name, but that my pen name is currently “all in” with KDP Select. I started the pen name books there, to take advantage of the sales ranking/visibility boost from Kindle Unlimited, and I returned them to KDP Select this August, after not gaining much headway in the other stores and after Amazon switched to Kindle Unlimited 2.0, a system that rewards novelists by paying based on total pages read.

For my LB books, I’ve been around longer, and my books do sell on the other platforms, especially on Barnes & Noble (Kobo has been coming on strong these last few months too). I also make some sales on iTunes and Smashwords, and through Smashwords, I make a nominal amount at Overdrive, Oyster, and Scribd. The Emperor’s Edge (Book 1 in a series that has grown to 9 books) and Flash Gold (the first in a steampunk series of novellas) have been permanently free out there for years, something that I’m sure has helped with finding readers in other places.

Still, even with all that, Amazon always seems to make up about 85-90% of my ebook income. In my case, if things are going well elsewhere, they’re going even better at Amazon.

There have been times that I’ve considered trying KDP Select with a couple of my series, to see how much it would affect sales and if I would make more overall with the borrows added in. But after almost five years of publishing widely, I’ve gained some loyal readers from those other platforms. It’s uncomfortable enough when I have to explain that my pen name books are only available on Amazon!

I also, from a moral and business standpoint, don’t like the idea of being exclusive with Amazon and relying wholly on one vendor for my income. I’m quite tickled to have reached the point, in the last year or two, where my non-Amazon income has grown to enough that I could still make a living at this if Amazon disappeared. (Of course, I hope it won’t!)

But I understand why some authors choose exclusivity and KDP Select. With 3-4 books out wide in all of the stores, my pen name made a little shy of $1,000 on platforms other than Amazon between January 2015 and July 2015 (that’s total, not per month). I had the first book in the series free, and I even managed to snag a Bookbub ad during that time. That helped a bit with sales on those other platforms, but not as much as I would have expected (I should note that my pen name writes science fiction romance, and Bookbub doesn’t have such a category–they put the book in paranormal romance, which I don’t believe was a good fit). The pen name gained some readers at Barnes & Noble, but barely sold any books at iBooks or Kobo.

Now, might things change if I had kept the pen name books in all of the stores for years and continued to have a permafree and continued to run promotions? Sure, it’s very likely that the income would have grown with time, but I do feel a little hampered with running ads for SFR, since it’s not a specific category for advertisements anywhere. Not all (or many) romance readers will pick up SF, and not all (or many) sci-fi readers will pick up romance. The niche does sell on Amazon, but it and romance > fantasy are definitely the smallest of the romance subcategories.

Since it’s tough to gain traction in that little category, I’ve found it easier to make headway by being in Kindle Unlimited, where those borrows help boost the book high enough in the rankings (at least when they’re new releases) that they can appear in the Top 20 of the SFR category for several weeks. I found it tough to stick in that Top 20 on sales alone (for a small subcategory, there’s still a lot of churn, and it takes around a 1000 overall ranking to hit that first page).

When KU changed to KU2.0 this summer, I decided to put all of the pen name books back into KDP Select. I’d probably recommend almost anyone doing a pen name start out this way, not only because it takes more effort to gain traction on the other stores but also because, if you’re publishing frequently, it’s more work to upload everywhere and keep the back matter updated. (I just did a serial with the pen name and was so pleased that I wasn’t putting up all six weekly installments everywhere.) As they say, time is money, and you want to make sure you’re not spending a lot of time on activities that don’t reward you with much of a payoff.

So, what was the result?

As I write this, we don’t know the September pages-read-payment-rate for Kindle Unlimited yet, but if it’s close to the .0051 rate of August, the pen name will have made over $10,000 just in borrows. A lot of that is thanks to a serial I published in August/September, but the books that struggled to make $1,000 all year in the other stores still accounted for about $3,000 in September. Sales took a slight dip from July, when the books weren’t in KU, but that only accounted for a $200 loss against that $10,000 gain.

In a situation like that, it’s hard not to sing the praises of Amazon and Kindle Unlimited, so I get it when people tell me they’ve tried both ways, and they’re sticking with KDP Select for now. Exclusivity sucks, but if you’re able to make orders of magnitude more within the program than you do outside of it, then it has to be considered. Against all logic, you could even be reaching more readers being exclusive with Amazon than you are being on all of the platforms.

Of course, this is not the case for everybody. That’s important to point out. I don’t want this to be like the “should I trad publish or self publish?” argument that goes around, as if it’s so easy to get those trad deals and it’s a simple either/or consideration.

If you can’t parlay those KU borrows into a Top 100 placement in your subcategories, then it’s becomes more of a toss-up as to whether being in KDP Select will help. The promotional perks (Countdown Deals and Free Promotions) aren’t without value, but KU earnings and the ranking boosts you currently get from those borrows are the reasons I’m there with the pen name (note: a borrow is always going to be easier to get than a sale, because it’s absolutely free to someone who’s paid their monthly subscription fee).

Now that I’ve shared my experiences, as someone who’s wide and who is also in KDP Select, I’m going to try and break things down a bit for those of you who might be trying to decide.

When does it make more sense to go wide?

Obviously, if you’re doing well on the other vendors, then you don’t want to give that up. It’s rare, but every now and then, I run into someone who’s selling like hotcakes at Apple (so far these have always been romance people — I’d love to hear from anyone who is killing it there in other genres!).

If you’re reading this post, I’ll assume it’s not so black and white for you.

In my opinion, if you’ve come to rely on your self-publishing income, and especially if this is your only source of income, being exclusive with Amazon should make you twitchy. You should be doing your darndest to diversify your income sources.

When KU 1.0 was introduced, it rewarded those who published short fiction and serials, because every single borrow was paid out at the same rate. Page length didn’t matter. All that mattered was if the reader made it past 10% (something that comes quickly in a short ebook). Some people started catering their work to KU, writing lots of short fiction and serialized fiction. When KU2.0 rolled around, and we started getting paid based on pages reads, people who’d been making thousands of dollars a month on short fiction were suddenly making hundreds, if that.

Obviously, one of the lessons is not change your writing style or quit your day job prematurely based on success in one program at one outlet, but I think the lesson is also not to rely only on one vendor, not when your income pays the rent and feeds the cats. What if Amazon decided to drop the split from 70% to 35% on all ebooks one day? Would you still be okay? Or would you be wishing you had income from other sources? (And if you think that can’t happen, Amazon started paying out only 35% in the old days.)

If you’re in KDP Select now because you’re rocking it, you might take a look at your books. Are they all rocking it or are some titles performing less well? It might be worth it to have some stuff in KDP Select and other books out there where you might gradually pick up fans on other platforms.

Also, like I said in the beginning, that exclusivity doesn’t apply to paperbacks and audiobooks. If you haven’t jumped into those arenas yet, this might be the time. Paperbacks do especially well in the months leading up to Christmas!

When does it make more sense to try KDP Select and exclusivity?

If self-publishing is hobby income right now, and it’s not a big deal if you lose it, it probably means you’re not selling that much yet. I think that’s the perfect time to experiment with KDP Select.

If you’re not selling much anywhere, you may find it easier to get those KU borrows when you’re out there promoting. As I said above, it’s easier to snag a borrow than a sale — it’s almost akin to having a free ebook up on Amazon, but you’re still making money from it. There’s no risk to the borrower to give it a try.

In the last year, since KU came into place, I’ve seen more no-name/no-backlist/no-mailing-list authors make it to the tops of the charts in the subcategories that I follow than ever before. Almost without fail, they’re in KU and they have an awesome cover that fits in with genre expectations. They don’t always have great reviews! Sometimes the blurbs are “just okay” too.

I believe this is a result of people being willing to borrow something they wouldn’t buy and those borrows counting for as much as a sale (it’s very possible borrows won’t always count for as much as a sale, as Amazon is always tinkering, but it still seems to be the case now). And once a book sticks in the sales rankings for a while, it gets rewarded by Amazon’s algorithms, and it gets plugged in Amazon’s newsletters. That stickiness is what we all crave!

(A side note: one of the reasons it’s almost always harder to gain traction on the other stores is that they seem to do more merchandising and hand selecting of items that will be promoted, as opposed to letting the “bots” make the decisions. I’ve had strong advertising runs result in stickiness at Barnes & Noble, but I’ve noticed it much less at Kobo and iBooks.)

Again, I don’t want to make it sound like everyone is going to have this kind of luck, but it does seem to be easier to manufacture some luck with the help of KU borrows.

Pen names

As I already explained with my own stuff, it’s easier to only have to worry about Amazon with the pen name. I’m still busy publishing as much as ever under my regular name, so it’s nice not to have upload new pen name ebooks at all of the vendors and change prices and blurbs across the board for sales.

If your pen name starts rocking it, you can always go wide later. But if you’re doing the pen name anonymously and don’t have your regular list to rely upon for sales, then that my be another reason to try KDP Select with it. (Here’s my pen name write-up from when I first launched it last year — I started out anonymously and, with the help of KDP Select, made some pretty good money out of the gate.)

For translations in countries where you don’t have a way to market

I know nothing about this personally, but Joanna Penn mentioned this last year when she was debating the pros and cons of KDP Select.

When you’re in a niche/category that’s hard to crack with advertising alone

As I explained up above, it’s hard to find ads that work for my pen name, since “she” writes cross-genre fiction. Many of the sponsorship sites now divide readers based on genre preferences, but broadly. They don’t target those small overlaps on the Venn diagrams. If ads aren’t working for you (or you don’t have enough reviews to get them), KU and the promotional perks from KDP Select could also be helpful.

All right, there’s my take on this all. I would love to hear from you. Are you in KDP Select? Are you wide? Have you tried both ways? What was your experience?

6 Ways to Make Money as an Author (in Addition to Selling Books)

| Posted in New Author Series, Tips and Tricks |

20

The “KU Apocalypse,” as some writers have called it, has cut into the bottom line for many independent authors, especially those who have refused to participate in Amazon’s KDP Select program, because they’re not willing to go exclusive with the mega retailer. I’ll be the first to admit that the sales rankings on most of my books have taken a dive since the program launched this summer.

I thought I would write this post to offer some ideas for authors who are feeling the pinch and are staring at their sales reports, wondering what they can do to boost the income a little. I do a couple of these things already, mostly out of habit (as some of you know, I was a professional blogger/content creator for my day job before I could make a living from my fiction, and I watched what a lot of the internet marketing gurus were doing, even if I never fully immersed myself in that world), and because it just makes sense not to leave money on the table.

Before jumping in, I’m assuming that as an author, you already have a mailing list and a blog (and possibly other avenues of putting out content beyond your books). If you don’t, maybe this will give you another reason to rethink the decision not to have those things.

1. Affiliate Income from Mentioning Your Books in Your Newsletter

Every time I send out word of a new release to the readers who subscribe to my newsletter, I put the links to my books in the email, and for the Amazon pages, I use an affiliate link. (Not a member of the program yet? Sign up here.) This means I get 70% of the ebook price from selling a book on Amazon and also that I get another 7% or so (the percentage depends on how many products you sell in any given month) from the affiliate commission.

Now, if you’ve got four people on your mailing list and you’re selling seven books a month, you’re not going to make a big wad of dough doing this. But if you’re determined to become a career author, and you’re succeeding in slowly building up a mailing list and accumulating readers, then this extra money can add up eventually. As some of the ladies pointed out on the recent Mailing List episode of the Self Publishing Podcast, this can end up covering all of the expenses associated with running a newsletter service and then some. (Many newsletters are free to start but then start to cost $XX/month as you acquire more subscribers.)

*Note: I’ve been too lazy to apply for the other stores, but Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo all have affiliate programs too.

2. Affiliate Income from Mentioning OTHER People’s Books in Your Newsletter

Even if you’re prolific, there’s a limit to how often you’re going to release a new book, but common newsletter-publishing wisdom suggests that you stay in touch with your subscribers so they don’t forget about you (and then unsubscribe in a huff when they get a random email six months after they’ve signed up).

So what do you send them? If you’re reading widely in your genre and have some books you would be comfortable recommending, you can send them the latest title that rocked your reading world (with the affiliate code of course). You want to be careful here and not just send random books that you haven’t vetted, but readers are always on the lookout for more good books, and chances are, if they like what you write, they’re going to like a lot of the same types of books as you do.

Since I’ve read so little fantasy of late, I haven’t done this much (I’m going to try it with my pen name’s mailing list, because I’ve actually read more in that genre in these last couple of years), but I have done this with some of my beta readers’ books. We all write fantasy and have similarly quirky senses of humor, so I feel comfortable recommending their books.

If there are other independent authors you read and enjoy who write in your genre, you may even look into forming partnerships with them where they promote your new releases and you promote theirs.

I do think you have to be careful with these situations and make sure you’re still primarily giving your readers what they subscribed for — news about you and your works. What you can do when you’re plugging someone else’s book is also include an update about what’s going on with your own works in progress.

3. Affiliate Links on Your Blog/Author Website

I know, I know, you’re sensing a theme here… I’ll change it up after this, but let’s add this section too.

If you’ve been thinking of starting a blog, but you’ve been told it’s not very effective at selling books, what  if you were also making money from other things? At the least, you could have affiliate links for all of your books, but if you’re the kind of person who reads a lot, you can also review other people’s books, the same as with the newsletter.

The difference between your website and a newsletter is that there’s less risk that you’re going to be “bugging” someone by putting something in their inbox that they didn’t ask for. Also, if you’re blogging about things people are interested in, you can get random traffic from the search engines with first-time visitors landing on your site, visitors who might never have heard about you otherwise. They might just check out your books while they’re there. (I don’t sell a lot of books through this blog, , but I do sell some — because of the affiliate links, I can tell where the sales originated.)

So, what do you write about on your site? Product reviews work great with ads and affiliate links. Ebooks aren’t the way to riches, since the affiliate commissions are going to be pretty low unless you’re selling $10 ebooks, but if you’re a tech lover, you might also review some of the latest products related to reading that you’ve purchased or had the chance to play with. I reviewed one of the kindles before the holidays one year and ended up making some nice commissions, since these were $200 products. Before Christmas, you’ll get a lot of people buying extra items on Amazon, too, and you make a commission on anything they buy within the 24 hours that they click on your link.

4. Running Advertising on Your Blog/Site

This is how I made a living when I was a professional blogger (thank you, Google Adsense). I don’t do it on my author page, because I don’t feel the need to and I also don’t want to send people away from my site (and my books), which is what happens when people click on an ad, but the tradeoff is that I don’t make much money from this site, despite putting time into it every week.

If you’re producing content regularly and writing about more than your own writing struggles and book launches (as I mentioned, some people review books or other products), then it can make sense to add advertising to your site. If you’re a non-fiction author, this can be especially effective. Nobody’s out there bidding a lot for placement on ads about “fantasy novels,” but if you cover diet and fitness, home repair, travel, or even self-publishing, there are merchants with related products who want to advertise on your site.

Wet your feet with Google Adsense, and if you don’t mind giving up the real estate on your site and you have the traffic to support it, you can also sell banner or text links directly to interested parties (this takes more work since you have to find interested parties).

5. Setting up a Subscription Model

This is something I toy with every now and then but have never done myself. I’m not sure if I’m ready to take on the pressure of putting something out every month for reader-subscribers. But there is no steadier income than having subscribers who are automatically paying $X every month or quarter. The money is typically withdrawn from their account (Paypal has a subscription option) until they unsubscribe. And if you’re giving them what they want, they might stick around for a while.

So how would this work for an author? The guys over at the Self Publishing Podcast are so prolific that they started a subscription service for their “Story Studio” that allows their dedicated readers to get their newest content every month, often before they release it to the stores. I believe this is a fairly new endeavor for them, but it’s a way to bypass the retailers, sell direct to the customer, and earn more overall on your books.

Don’t think you can put out a new novel a month? Yeah, that’s kind of crazy. But here’s someone else that I interviewed a couple of years ago who uses a subscription model for short fiction.

The ultra prolific Dean Wesley Smith puts out an entire magazine of his own work every month.

A perk to starting a subscription service? The added pressure to produce! Okay, okay, that’s the same thing that has me leery of doing this, but if you need a reason to get your butt in the chair every day, the fact that people are waiting for the next story might just do the job.

6. Get Support Directly from Readers with Patreon

I first heard about this service from Joanna Penn, AKA The Creative Penn, who is using it to help cover the time she puts into publishing her free podcast. The site is called Patreon and its exactly what it sounds like, an opportunity for someone to act as a patron to support your work. There’s a long history of well-off individuals supporting artists and writers, but this brings it into the 21st Century, allowing anyone to support, by donating as little as $1 a month.

As an example, here’s Joanna’s Patreon page, where people pay a dollar or two per podcast that she produces.

Personally, I like this more than the Kickstarter “crowd-funding” model, which is great if you genuinely need the money to make something happen, but can feel a little skeezy (yes, that’s a word) if you’re doing well financially and still trying to get people to back something.

I browsed through the writing category, and it looks like a lot of people are finding support for their web comics, but I bet someone publishing a novel to the web could find some supporters too. If the KU Apocalypse continues, maybe I’ll even give it a try!

That’s all I have for today. If you’re doing any of these things, or doing something else, we would love to hear about it. Please comment!

A Full-time Indie Author Answers Your Questions: Part 1

| Posted in New Author Series |

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I’ve gotten a lot of nice email since Forged in Blood II came out, but I’m woefully behind in my responses. A lot of them are related to my books, but because of this blog, I often get questions related to self-publishing and book promotion too. I thought I’d try to whack two birds with one stone (if you’d seen me throw, you’d be snickering at this notion) and share some of my answers here. Then the next time someone emails with one of these questions, I can point them to this post. (If you have any questions of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments below.)

Lindsay, I found your old post on earnings (here: March 2011 or here: “What Does It Take to Become a Full-Time Author?”) and was wondering how you’re doing now. It’s been a while since you posted sales numbers. Are you able to make a living writing now?

The short answer is yes. Because I’m writing quite a bit and publishing frequently (three novels and a novella this year), my earnings have continued to grow. My sales per individual books aren’t necessarily any better than they were a year or even two years ago, but I’ve managed to keep them fairly steady (about 400 sales per novel per month at Amazon, with another 100+ from other stores). Naturally the sales on a new release are higher and will be so for a few months, but it’s the steady sales of one’s back list that keep the income up between releases. For that, I credit my perma-free Book 1, the occasional advertising stint, and word-of-mouth recommendations from my awesome readers. For more details, check out my post on “How Do You Keep Your Book Sales Momentum Going Over the Months and Years?“.

As I often point out, I’m a mid-list author who writes books that appeal to a specific audience (those who enjoy female protagonists and an action-heavy mix of swords & sorcery and steampunk). You don’t have to chase the hottest genre or write for mass appeal to make a living as an indie author; you do have to write well enough to appeal to the people who enjoy your niche, and you do have to publish regularly to keep your name out there, especially when you’re first building up your fan base.

I don’t think I’ll be sharing exact sales/earnings numbers anymore, because my readers would probably stop sending me chocolates if they knew, but I’m making more now as an author than I used to in my day job. I’m sure sales would drop off a lot if I slowed down with the writing and publishing, but I enjoy telling stories, and I feel like quite the slacker on days where I don’t knock out any words.

I appreciate the time people like you and JA Konrath take to update your blog and offer advice to new authors, but you guys already have a fan base. I don’t know how helpful your advice is to those who are starting out new today.

I got a kick out of this comment, because the person mentioned me and JA Konrath in the same sentence. He was a big author earning six figures a month when I got started, and I’m not in his league, but I get the gist of the comment. And here’s my response:

Bull.

🙂

Trust me, I get it. When I published my first book in December of 2010, Amanda Hocking had made her bazillions, JA Konrath was raking it in, and Michael J. Sullivan was about to make a big deal with Orbit. Even though I’d just gotten my first Kindle, I realized I was coming into the game late. The 99-cent price point wasn’t working the magic it apparently had six months earlier, and there was more competition in the Kindle Store than when Hocking and the others first uploaded their ebooks. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but the whole idea of self-publishing appealed to me so much more than playing Agent Hunt and Wait, so I got started anyway. I sold about 30 ebooks that first month, most to people I’d begged or bribed to pick up a copy. A year later, I had four novels out, along with some short stories and novellas, and I’d hit my first goal (1,000 ebook sales in a month). I was starting to think I could make this my full-time job.

For those of you starting now, the tricks that worked six months ago don’t work now, and there’s a ton of competition in the Kindle Store. Sound familiar? That’s because it is. But I promise you that the same core things I did to gradually build a fan base still work. I never used KDP Select or any tricks to get ahead (it’s not because I’m above that sort of thing — it’s just that I wasn’t willing to go exclusive with Amazon, and none of the iffy gimmicks seemed wise to pursue to one who wants to make a career out of this).

My core marketing philosophy has been to give away stuff for free (on Podiobooks, on Wattpad, on Smashwords, on Amazon, and anywhere else I could), to make sure the free stuff is an obvious lead-in to my other books (AKA a Book 1 in a series), and to promote the freebies through advertising, guest blog posts/interviews, and social media. If you’re trying this and it’s not working, get some outside advice on your cover art, blurb, and novels. And keep writing. I published Book 3 in my series before I really started gaining some traction.

If you need more inspiration (and marketing ideas), check out the interviews I’ve done with folks who published for the first time this year (2013) and sold tons of books right out of the starting gates:

It can happen. Not everyone is going to hit it big with their first book (most won’t), but I know that a lot of the people who are starting this year will be making a full-time income by 2015 or 2016. You can be one of those people, or you can take a defeatist attitude that it’s too late now to jump in.

How many ebooks do you have to sell a month to make a living?

How much you need to “make a living” is a different number for everybody. If you’re single without any debt and live in an inexpensive part of the country, it’s not going to be a very big number. If you’re married with children and want to support a spouse while you live in a coastal metropolis, it’s a different story.

You can do the numbers for yourself pretty easily though. For ebooks at 2.99 and above, you earn about 70% at Amazon (it’s less at Barnes & Noble and more at Smashwords). So 1,000 ebooks a month at 2.05 gets you a little over $2,000. Sell your books for $4.95 and you’ll make more than $3,000. Get up to 3,000 ebook sales a month, and now you’re talking.

That can seem like a ton of ebooks when you’re getting started, and it is if you only have one title out. It’s less daunting when you start thinking in terms of having 10 or 20 ebooks out, and if you want to make a career out of this, that’s probably where you’ll be eventually.

But as far as feeling like you’ve “made it” and you’re ready to quit your day job, it’s more important to cultivate your 1,000 true fans than have a good sales month here or there (as many who’ve been there can tell you, success can be fleeting if it came as a fluke and you didn’t take advantage of it by turning casual readers into true fans). When you have a certain number of people who will buy anything you publish, that’s when you can start to feel secure in your continued ability to write for a living. Publishing tends to be a cyclical business, but when you start to know that a book release is good for X sales, then you can predict what your income will look like for the next and beyond.

That’s enough for this post. Any comments or questions you’d like to see addressed in the future? Please chime in below!

Self-Publishing Basics: Focus on One Book Series or Start Multiple Series?

| Posted in New Author Series |

24

If you take a look at the indie authors doing well out there (i.e. those who’ve been able to quit the day job and write full time), most of them have a number of books out. I had four novels and several shorter stories out before I started thinking, “Hm, maybe this could be the day job.” Now I have eight novels out, and it is the day job. Just having novels out isn’t the only factor though; six of my eight books are part of a series (and the others are part of a mini two-book series that ties in with the first).

A lot of successful authors, self-published and otherwise, have a core series that accounts for the majority of their income. So if you’re starting out, you should definitely focus on putting out a series… right?

Well, maybe. I thought I’d take a look at some of the pros and cons of focusing all your efforts into publishing multiple books in a series.

Pros

  • As I’ve mentioned, if a series takes off, it can not only pay the bills every month, but it can become that reliable source of income that allows you the freedom to quit the day job (while there are no guarantees in publishing, it’s likely that you’ll have X number of people buying your new releases when you put them out, so you can predict your income months in advance, something that’s hard to do if every book is a new, unrelated one that might — or might not — appeal to readers).
  • It can grow on people, making them more likely to share the series via word-of-mouth. With rare exceptions, most books are pretty forgettable, especially as the months and years pass and you read lots of other things. The more books a person reads with a certain set of characters, though, the more likely that series will stick in their memories, and the more likely, too, that they might think to share the title with friends looking for new reads. It’s unlikely that Harry Potter would have been a huge phenomenon if Rowling had stopped at Book 1!
  • Advertising dollars can go a long way. I’ve talked about everything from paid advertising to doing book tours and submitting to review sites here. With a lot of these things, it’s difficult to break even (even if the only investment is time — time is valuable!) on the sales of one book. If your book is priced at $2.99, and you make $2 per sale, a $200 advertisement has to move a lot of copies for you. (The numbers are far worse for $0.99 novels.) But, if you have a series, and you can expect a certain number of people who try Book 1 to go on and buy the next five books, you stand to make more from your time or your advertising dollar.

Cons

  • The big one here, and I’ve seen it often, is what if Book 1 doesn’t catch on? If, for whatever reason, people don’t twig to it, nobody’s going to buy the others in the series. And if you’ve invested a lot of time in writing a sprawling six-book epic… ouch.
  • You might be missing out on more success by sticking to one series. Now, if you’re doing well with your first series, this might not be an issue, but maybe you’re selling a few hundred books a month and thinking that’s not bad, but in the meantime you have this idea for a different series that you’re putting off because you’re focusing on the first series. And what if that other series is the one that might really take off? In this case, you might be limiting yourself.
  • If Book 1 of your series is your first novel, it may very well be the weakest novel you have out. Ask any seasoned writer, and she usually cringes a bit when talking about her first published novel. And it’s not uncommon to see reader reviews along the lines of, “If you stick with the series, it’s gets better in the second book.” Well, not everyone is going to stick with the series. Book 4 might be where you really hit your stride, but you’re having to focus on selling Book 1 because that’s where people start.

Is there a way to balance the pros and cons?

I think so. Whether this is feasible for you or not is going to depend on how prolific and how patient you are, but you may want to start two or three different series, or at least put out a couple of stand-alone books that could be turned into a series if they do well. Once you have these starter books out, you can spend time on advertising each one and see which has the most potential.

I inadvertently did this myself, publishing the two novels I had ready, Encrypted and Emperor’s Edge in the first month that I got started. I’d always had a series planned for the Emperor’s Edge characters, but if Encrypted had taken off for some reason (I confess, that was my second novel, and I’ve always thought it was a better story than EE1), I could have developed a series with the characters. Early on, I also gave pure steampunk a try with my Flash Gold novellas. It’s hard to compare novellas with novels (I’ve always found that my book-length works sell better), but if those had started selling extremely well, I could have written more of them. (I’m still planning to write a couple more, but they’re in no danger of dethroning EE as my flagship series, so I’ve had my focus on EE this last couple of years.)

What do you guys think? Have you had better luck focusing on one series or in writing multiple series? Or are you a screw-series-I-prefer-stand-alone-novels-thank-you-very-much person?

 

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