Tag Archives: Amazon

Pricing, marketing and Amazon

marketing

I am sitting in an airport lounge early in the morning, bleary eyed and wishing I drank caffeine. I’ve never been a morning person, and I can’t drink caffeine anymore, so… yeah, not a good combo. The reason it’s an issue this morning is that I am trying to make sense of my marketing calendar. Now, theoretically, this calendar keeps my marketing strategy organized. And it certainly keeps me more organized than not having one. But I wouldn’t say I have developed a fool-proof system quite yet!

My problem today is that I was supposed to raise the price on Undaunted Love last night and forgot (we were celebrating my son’s 17th birthday, so I do have an excuse!). I had lowered the purchase price of the Kindle edition to $1.99 after my super successful free promo, and the sale ended yesterday. Amazon takes anywhere from 6-24 hours to make changes when you use the Kindle dashboard, although I’ve found it’s really more like 6-8, so I’d intended to do it last night. Oh well…

And what my brain was working on was what price to use. For the most part, my books are priced at $3.99. I think that’s a good price, which I arrived at after having them at $2.99 awhile and experimenting. I didn’t see any dip in sales when I moved them to $3.99, so that’s where I landed. So that seems straight forward, except nothing in this business is! I have left IXEOS at $2.99, since it is book 1 of the IXEOS Trilogy for the last couple of weeks, and probably will keep it there as an inducement for people to start reading the series. I may do the same for Solomon’s Throne, or I may wait until I have the 3rd book out. Undaunted Love is basically a stand-alone book, as it’s the only historical romance. There’s nowhere for the readers to go from there, although I do think that most of the Undaunted Love fans would enjoy the Quinn Adventures. So as my fingers hovered over the keys, I tried to decide: $2.99 or $3.99. Yeah, it’s only a buck difference, and a buck difference in my bank account. But with enough sales, those bucks add up!

I decided to leave it at $2.99 and see what happens over the 10 days I’m gone. I may or may not have internet, and even if I do, I discovered last year that I can’t change anything on my Amazon dashboard from an ISP out of the country. I could text my daughter to change things for me – she’s in charge of changing the price on my husband’s book next Friday – but I’ll probably leave it for 10 days and see what happens.

And there’s the “moral” of this tale… Most of what we do as indie authors is “try it and see what happens.” KDP Select works for me, but some people have very little success. Smashwords, Kobo, Apple and Barnes & Noble work great for some people; I’ve heard tell of authors who get 50% of their Amazon sales from those combined. For me, Amazon accounts for 98% of my sales, so the exclusivity issue isn’t an issue. (And I like getting the borrows on my books (about $2/ea), and the free days can be fun.) BookBub works great for me, as I’ve written about before; some people either can’t get listed or don’t have a lot of downloads from it. Ditto the many other marketing outlets. (I had 2 free days with IXEOS earlier this week, and used Book Gorilla and eBookBooster. I just over 1,000 downloads, as opposed to over 20,000 last time when I used BookBub.)

So don’t be afraid to experiment. At first, you’re going to “waste” a good bit of money on marketing. That’s okay! First of all, it’s a tax deductible business expense. Second, you don’t know what does work until you’ve tried a lot of things that don’t. When you find what works, ride it until it starts to fade. Then start over. Kind of like the old “lather, rinse, repeat” that shampoo bottles used to endorse. Even the best marketing plan will go stale with time, and you will have reached all the people using those outlets. You can do one of two things – stay with what you’ve done and wonder what’s wrong with your book (nothing), or adapt to the changing times. Just like all businesses, those who adapt have the best chance of survival.

Marketing is hard (and book pricing is part of marketing). But it’s not impossible, especially if you approach it with the right mindset. And if we all stick together!

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Filed under Marketing, Publishing, Self publishing

Getting books ready to publish – the long haul!

CalvinAndHobbes plastic binder

I have published four books since last July. My latest, IXEOS, just got its official launch on March 10, 2013 (although it was technically published in mid-February, just before I left for Uganda). My husband has self published two books since last October, which I helped edit and produce. I have many more in the works for this year, and it looks like I’m already bumping production into next year with the addition of a couple of titles our publishing company is going to produce. All that to say, I have learned a thing or two about the process. And the one thing I can say definitively is, regardless of how long the actual process from writing to publication takes (weeks, months or years), it’s a long haul.

I am in the midst of editing book 2 of the IXEOS Trilogy, IXEOS: Rebellion. I am writing a nonfiction book about homeschooling. I am going to start writing book 3 of the trilogy, Darian’s War, on April 1 (or thereabouts – I’ll be out of town then, so not sure if I’ll be able to start til the 4th) for Camp NaNoWriMo. Meanwhile, I’ve got two other projects from other people that I’ve agreed to publish under Ross James Publishing. Not to mention promotion and marketing and all that stuff.

So what does it really take to get a book from your head to an ebook on a reader’s Kindle, or a paperback in someone’s hands at the beach?

1. Write. Obviously, the first step to writing a book is… writing the book. There are a lot of ways to go about doing that, and I’ve explored my own personal “do it really fast” style a’la NaNoWriMo here in other posts. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, no matter whether you outline and make index cards and use Stickie notes or a dartboard, the bottom line is you have to get the first draft done. Period. Until then, researching or spending time looking at self-publishing blogs is merely taking time away from your writing. Just do it!

2. Edit. The first draft is the F.I.R.S.T. draft. It’s not the final draft, or even the middlest draft. You will probably spend more time editing than you did actually writing, and most of us don’t think it’s super fun. But it’s super necessary, so you’ll have to do it. If you aren’t a good editor, you can hire one or find a friend or family member. There are different kinds of editing, though, so make sure you’re familiar with them.

  • There are content or story editors, who aren’t so much looking at grammar as at your story as a whole, at the characters, at subplots you might have left hanging. These editors can help you polish your story into a bright and shiny gem.
  • Then there are line editors (sometimes called copy editors). This kind of editing looks at dialogue, motivation, characterization, POV, showing vs telling, etc, and makes suggestions along the way, with a summary at the end.
  • Finally, you can get a proofreader, sometimes (confusingly) called a copy editor also. This is editing for typographical errors, grammar problems, misspelled words, and the like.

Word processing programs like Word and Scrivener have spelling and grammar checking tools, and you can use an outside program like Grammarly as well. NOTE that, if you run a piece through all three, you will get differing recommendations, and each program will catch misspellings and typos that the others didn’t. You still have to read and make decisions — don’t just take the program’s word for something, especially when it comes to grammar inside dialogue.

My editing process involves a quick edit after the first draft is completed, read-throughs by beta readers (a couple of whom are great at content editing), a pen-and-paper edit followed by putting those edits into the document, then at least two more edits, followed by all three grammar programs, followed by at least one more read through. Yes, it’s very time consuming and repetitive, and yes, you still have to do it!

3. Cover art.  I use a great company called Streetlight Graphics for my cover art and formatting. I am a nightmare at Photoshop, and am not a graphic artist, so paying one to do my covers is well worth the cost. After having a well written book, probably the most important thing you can do is to have a good, professional cover. Fair or not, people will pass over a book with an obviously homemade, unprofessional cover. That’s just a fact. If there’s one thing you should pay for, this would be it. Explore other books in your genre and decide what you do and don’t like. I’m really not a fan of people on my covers, other than in silhouette (and even then I don’t love it). If I have to have a person, I don’t want a head… I think the character should be drawn by the reader’s imagination, not the cover artist. You don’t have to agree with me — obviously, many don’t. But you do need to decide what you like, and then find a cover artist who will work with you to make that a reality.

4. Formatting. I read all the time, and do not doubt that it’s true, that you can learn to format your own books for print and ebook, and that, after a few books, you can do it in an hour. As I said, I don’t doubt it, and, if I were on an absolute shoestring budget, I’ll probably try and tackle it. Fortunately, my budget isn’t that tight, and Streetlight offers a package price to do the cover art, formating and an ad piece, so I let the experts do what they do. If you do it yourself, find some bloggers who do it and ask questions. Dean Wesley Smith does his own, and you can read about it on his blog. I think you can do all the ebook formatting using Calibre, but I don’t honestly know. If my life gets less crazy, I may look into it one day… but maybe not!

5. Promotion.  When my first book, Solomon’s Throne, came out, I really didn’t do any promoting ahead of time. I didn’t know about the “start promoting six months in advance” thing, and even now, I don’t do that. I do promote ahead now, a little, but not six months, although I talk about my upcoming books on my blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. If you have the money and can run some ads, you can do some “coming soon” promotion. A good use of funds might be a blog tour that will build anticipation for the book. My feeling on it is, there’s no time limit on books now, not like with traditional publishers who have a six-month window to call you a success or not. I published my IXEOS in February, knowing full well I wasn’t going to start promoting a hard launch of it until March. Why? Well, why not? It didn’t cost me a thing to put it up online on either Createspace or Amazon. And I had some sales just through word of mouth. My promotions started March 10, and I am promoting it hard for the first couple of months with two blog tours, a lot of advertising, and the like. Promotion is never-ending, really. So start, learn, ask questions (I’m in two Facebook author groups that are amazingly generous with information on what they’ve done that works, what was a bomb, etc, and I’d suggest joining them or ones like them. They’re Fostering Success and the Alliance of Independent Authors/ALLi.)

6. Upload the book. You will definitely want to upload to CreateSpace or Lightning Source to have a paperback copy of your book. I use CreateSpace and have had no problems with them, and they are owned by Amazon so getting your ebook up is pretty seamless. Both have a good reputation, though, so research which looks best to you, but only do one, because you only want one ISBN out there for paperback. CreateSpace takes a couple of days to get a proof to you. Many people order print proofs to go through; I use the digital online proof. Either way, check it and make sure it looks like you want it to, especially if you didn’t hire someone to format the print version for you.

Next you’ll want to upload to Amazon. Amazon and CreateSpace are incredibly easy to use. All you need are your covers, your interior files, a blurb for your description, and your author bio. They lead you through the rest. You’ll be asked to decide if you want to participate in the KDP Select program. If so, you’re done uploading, because your ebook has to be exclusive with Amazon while you are participating. It usually takes about 8-12 hours, but can take up to a day or two, for your book to be live.

If you are not enrolling in KDP Select, you’ll want to upload to the other ebook platforms. My suggestion is to do Barnes and Noble and Kobo first, because they’re easy. Smashwords will enroll in them for you, but you have more control of price changes, and more royalties, if you do them yourself. Smashwords is more challenging in terms of formatting, so if you aren’t hiring someone, make sure you follow the guidelines. I would enroll through Smashwords to Apple, because the Apple iBookstore sight is a nightmare. (I love all things Apple… except that. That is a worm-hole-filled piece of rotten fruit!)

What is KDP Select?  If you are an Amazon Prime member, you’ve already noticed that you can “borrow” ebooks. I think it’s one per month. It works like a library – you borrow a book, and, once you “return” it, you can borrow another. For authors, what this entails is:

Making your ebook exclusive to Amazon for a 90 day (or longer, if you choose) period.

Getting paid from the Select Fund for all the borrows of your book. Amazon has a fund, usually about $700,000, that is divided by the total number of borrows for the month. Each author is then paid that amount times the number of borrows they had. So if you had 100 borrows, and the fund payout was $2/borrow, you’d get $200.

Five free days are available to you for each 90 day period. This means you can offer your ebook to Kindle users for free. This apparently used to lead to a lot of follow-up sales, although the algorithms had changed a lot by the time I published my first book and I’ve never found that to be terribly true. But I’ve had a book get in the top 50 on Amazon’s free list, and that gets it a lot of exposure. I use the program as a loss leader, a business term meaning a product on which you are willing to take a loss because it drives sales to other products. Because I have two Quinn adventures, I enrolled the first one in KDPS twice, using the free downloads as a way to drive people to book two, The Hoard of the Doges. I’m doing the same with IXEOS, since it’s the first book in a trilogy. I do not recommend perpetual enrollment in the program, nor do I recommend an always-free title, but some people swear by both, so you’ll need to research and make your own decisions there. Joe Konrath has some great insights into KDPS on his blog.

7. Promotion and Marketing… Again. See #5 and repeat! When it comes to “building a platform,” my suggestion is to do only those things you love. I enjoy Facebook, and while I don’t love Twitter, it’s fine. I blog on this blog and two others which aren’t writing related. That’s it. I don’t enjoy Goodreads (I find the site very difficult to use) so I don’t use it often. I joined Triberr and couldn’t figure it out. I don’t get Google+ and have no interest in Linkedin. Find what works for you and focus on those things. Leave enough time for writing!

8. Write the next book, and the next, and the next, and keep working through this list with each one.

There’s a lot of heavy lifting (metaphorically speaking) in indie publishing, but the rewards are tremendous. We aren’t all Joe Konraths (yet!), but he shows us what is possible. The focus, as writers needs to be on writing first. You’ll sell more books the more books you have available, so always keep that your first priority. As with most things, the internet is great, but it is a huge time-sucker… Stay focused on your goal and your writing, and you’ll do great!

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Filed under NaNoWriMo, Publishing, Self publishing, Writing

Master of Marketing? Not so much…

I may not be the master of marketing, but I’m learning. Learning on the job, flying by the seat of my pants, learning to swim before I drown. And actually getting reasonably organized and coming up with reasonable plans. I know, it’s shocking!

I’ve got some free promo days coming up this month with Amazon through the KDP Select program, and, unlike my last 7 free promo days (2 weekends with Solomon’s Throne, and one with Undaunted Love), I’m actually doing some promotion. *gasp* Yes, I didn’t know what I was doing last time around — but I still got a combined 4,000 free downloads, so imagine the possibilities if I actually have this little thing called a PLAN.

And I do! It’s in writing, even, not just bouncing around my head. So I thought I’d share it with you, and then we’ll see how it all unfolds. (Please note I only linked each source once – call it lazy, but all those hyperlinks make me a little nuts!)

UNDAUNTED LOVE

I have a free three day weekend coming up for Undaunted Love, December 14-16. Now, I have learned since booking it that weekends aren’t the best days for your free promo days, but I didn’t change it, for several reasons (my week in the Bahamas that starts on December 16 being one of them). My other promos have been on weekends and done okay, so I’m sticking with it this time.

So here’s what I’m doing to market the book:

December 13:  I will update the Christian groups on Goodreads that the book will be free and the promo is going on. This is free, I just have to remember to do it.

December 14:  I have a free listing with Christian Ebooks Today, a possible free listing (one day during the three) with Pixel of Ink, a paid ($5) guaranteed listing with Bargain eBook Hunter, and a paid ad on Daily Free Books ($13).

December 15: A maybe with Pixel of Ink, a paid guaranteed listing with Pixelscroll ($5), and the Daily Free Books ad ($13).

December 16: A maybe with Pixel of Ink, and the Daily Free Books ad ($13). I will probably do one more guaranteed listing, but most only allow 1 listing per book in a 30 day period, so I’m still looking on that one.

December 17-18: (pending confirmation) I am doing the Social Media Mania with the World Literary Cafe ($40/day). I’ll lower the book price, probably to 99 cents, through December 21.

January 4: Undaunted Love (and my key lime pie) will be featured on the Romance Recipes blog.

SOLOMON’S THRONE

Because this book is continuing to do well and sales are going up, plus the fact that there’s a sequel that happy readers of this book will like, I’m putting more money into this one. As I mentioned before, I re-upped it into KDP Select through February, which gives me 5 more free promo days. I’m going to play with these a bit this time, and see what works. I’ll be updating the Action/Adventure group on Goodreads, too.

Now through December 10: My Goodreads giveaway is still going on. I’ll be giving away 20 books after I get the list of winners on the 11th.

Now until the money runs out: I have a Goodreads per-click ad running. I think this is doing well – a lot of people are adding the book to their to-read lists, and my sales are up. After the first month I narrowed the filters so a lot less people are seeing the ad, but I assume that more people who are clicking it are actually interested. At 75 cents a click, that’s important. (I put in $300, but have used less than $200 in about 5-6 weeks. The ad will end when the money’s gone.)

December 26: Free promo day. This is a gamble. I’m counting on people like me, who, if I got a Kindle for Christmas, would spend the next day getting books for it. It could be a bust, too. We’ll see! I wasn’t able to get an ad with Daily Free Books, as they were sold out (a good sign for my strategy?), but I have the following: A guaranteed listing with Bargain eBook Hunter ($5); a guaranteed listing with Pixelscroll ($5), a possible listing with Pixel of Ink, and a listing with Free Kindle Fiction.

December 27-29: I am lowering the book price to $2.99 for three days post-promo, and (pending confirmation) will have an ad for two of the three days with the Kindle Book Review as “Today’s Hot Deal” ($45). UPDATE: Those dates aren’t available, so I’ll either do 1/1 and 1/2, or move it to after my free days in Feb.

December 31: Free promo day. Daily Free Books ad ($17). If the Kindle Book Review “Today’s Hot Deal” doesn’t work out, I’ll have to fill in the space from 1/1 through 1/3 or so with something else.

January 2-16: Banner ad on Daily Free Books ($7.50/week). I did this last month, and I think I had sales from it, so I’ll try it again. At $7.50/week, why not?!

January 1-31: I am doing the Jitterbug PR Blog tour ($120 with my Fostering Success discount). I’m doing the Jive package, which is at least 20 blog tour stops with author interviews, guest blogs, giveaways, etc., plus promotion on the Jitterbug blog and a page with this great banner.

Image

February 12-13: Two more free promo days. I have a listing on Bargain eBook Hunter for the 12th, and Pixelscroll for the 13th. I’ll be doing more ads, but I want to see how the things I’ve got going on pan out first.

THE HOARD OF THE DOGES

I have done zero advertising for this book to date, but sales are picking up almost daily. It’s now selling consistently about 2/3 of what Solomon’s Throne is, which can only be attributed to the “Coming Soon” and excerpt in the back of Solomon’s Throne, as well as maybe some “Also Boughts” on Amazon.

January 2-16: The first ad will run on Daily Free Kindle ($7.50) with Solomon’s Throne.

BOTTOM LINE:

I have learned you have to promote your free days, but even more, you have to promote during the 2-4 days after your free days, when you’re still up on the Amazon rankings. Reducing the price during those days is a good idea, especially for a book like Undaunted Love that hasn’t found its legs yet. That one I’ll take down to 99 cents for a few days; Solomon’s Throne is selling well at $4.99, so I’ll probably have that one on sale at $2.99.

So we’ll see! If I could spend one day a week planning marketing, and only work the social media the other days, that would be great. With a new release in late January, in a different genre (that’s a whole other post!), I’ll be taking what I’m learning with all this and hopefully get off to a faster start. I am so, so, so grateful to all the other indie authors out there who so graciously share their successes and failures with us, so we can all learn.

I hope this helps, at least a little, and I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes!

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Amazon logarithms and being a ‘best seller’

As of right now, Solomon’s Throne is #5 on Amazon’s Action/Adventure list! That’s super exciting, obviously, and it’s happening because I put it as a free download on Amazon over the weekend.

Now, what that means in practical terms is that KDP Select, which is Amazon’s lending library for Amazon Prime members, allows authors to have 5 “giveaway” days during each 90 day enrollment period. When you borrow it from KDP Select, of course it’s free, but you don’t get to keep it — they whisk it away from your device when you indicate you’re done, so you can borrow another book. But with the giveaway days, you can download it to own, and it doesn’t cost you anything.

I don’t get any royalties from the free downloads, so from a purely financial standpoint, it’s a loss. (With KDP Select, Amazon has a set amount of money for the month, and divides that by the total number of “borrows” across the whole program, and then multiplies that by the number you had for your royalty.) But what it does is get my book in people’s hands. And hopefully they’ll like what they read, and want to read more. Conveniently (okay, it was planned), the sequel to Solomon’s Throne, The Hoard of the Doges, will be coming out in the next couple of weeks. What that potentially means is that all (or a percentage) of the people who download the first Quinn book for free will like it enough to want to read the next book, for which they will be happy to pay.

I have 3 more free days, and I’m planning a second free weekend either just as, or just before, I release the sequel. The sum total of the KDP borrows, the regular purchases, and the 5 free days will be in the thousands. And my marketing strategy is to have a place to point them… I’ll let you know if it works!

One of the problems of writing in different genres is the backlist. I wanted to get the 2 Quinn books out close together, so that readers who enjoy the treasure hunt/adventure would have a second book to read. But my other published novel, Undaunted Love, is a Christian historical romance.

Some of the people who read Solomon’s Throne will also like Undaunted Love – Solomon’s Throne has had great appeal to women because of the strong female main character, the marital relationship between the Quinns, and the fact that, while there’s excitement, body parts aren’t flying around. So some of those reader will like Undaunted Love. Probably more readers of Undaunted Love will like the Quinn books, truth be told. My current work in progress is a Young Adult dystopian low fantasy… It might appeal to the Quinn lovers, and probably won’t to the romance lovers. I have an idea for my NaNoWriMo book, which, if it works out, would be published next spring. It will be a Christian historical romance/suspense set in WWII. Again – those readers will like the Quinn books, and certainly Undaunted Love… But vice versa, probably not.

You see how complicated it is? I could make it easier by writing in one genre, but I can’t seem to do that. I couldn’t write another Quinn book right now – I don’t even want to think of a plot – although people have already asked me when the next one is coming. I wrote a dystopian screenplay in April, and now this dystopian YA, but I don’t want to write another dystopian for awhile. I was leaving the genre open for my NaNo idea (and also leaving open the fact that I might not have a NaNo idea!), but I think this one could have legs.

What this means is two-fold:  I have a lot more marketing cut out for me than a lot of authors who only write in one genre, get a following, and can pretty much guarantee to sell their next books to those wonderful readers. And even with that knowledge, I still like to cross genres, and will continue to do so.

What my books all have in common is good research, interesting plots, language that’s clean (even the Quinn books have only a little swearing, and nothing “bad”), and I leave the sex to your imagination. I want my kids to be able to read my books and be proud to recommend them to their friends. I want them to be entertaining, and for the reader to enjoy the plot and maybe learn something about history they didn’t know, and not feel like they have to take a shower afterwards. When someone says, “Is your book okay for a 9th grader?” I want to be able to say, “Yes” confidently.

I hope you’ll find something in my work that you like. My goal is to entertain, not write the next great American novel, but I work hard at them and try to present a great story and characters for you to fall in love with. Let me know how I’m doing!

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Busy busy busy all the time…

The recent 106 degree temperatures were a dead giveaway that it’s summer, and, as a 12 year homeschooling veteran, I take summer seriously. I am as ready for summer as my kids have always been, and we take a long one – this year my son (my only remaining child at home!) was done around April 26, and will not be back in full swing until after Labor Day. And yet, it’s already July 24! How did this happen??

In April I wrote a screenplay for Script Frenzy, and edited it, before the end of the month.

In May, we were in Uganda for 3 weeks (go here to see why), and while we were there I did a ton of Civil War research, which included reading actual diaries of young women from both the Confederate and Union sides. I researched battles, the way the military was set up, how they came to war… (Here’s my secret feeling on research: when I’m in the middle of writing and I do it, I think it’s pretty fun. When I am doing nothing but research, it makes me want to take a nap.)

In June I did Camp NaNo and wrote the Civil War romance, on which I am now doing the final edit before sending to the agent who suggested it. That was 88,370 words.

In July, I finished the sequel to Solomon’s Throne, called The Hoard of the Doges (about 84k words). I did a quick first edit on that yesterday. (Editing cramps my eyeballs…)

In July, my first novel, Solomon’s Throne, was published as well, and that involved a lot of work with Streetlight Graphics, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, VistaPrint (I had postcards made), and OvernightPrints (bookmarks). Initial response has been great, and I’m hoping the people who bought the books last week and over the weekend will start getting reviews up soon.

August 1 I will start August Camp NaNo, and I’ve been noodling through that storyline over the last week or so. As I’ve posted before, it will be a YA dystopian fantasy thing… I will also start work with Streetlight Graphics the week of August 27 to publish The Hoard of the Doges.

Additionally, my son will start a couple of co-op classes that week, will have his 16th birthday during the month, and is in full swing with football. And my daughter will go back to college for her senior year. And my husband is publishing his first book. And I might have laser eye surgery.

September… I think I’ll rest!

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