Expenses–and books don’t sell themselves

I came across this post in my Twitter feed.  TL;DR: an author lamenting how much it costs to produce a book, and how little she has sold.

The expenses side in her post looks fine. I tend to budget about A$1500 per book for editing, cover design and formatting. I have a line editor/proofreader who also formats my books. I use a variety of cover artists, and this is where the main variation in expense comes from. I’ve also recently started working with a paid content/developmental editor.

A$1500 per book serves me fine. This, of course, is a one-off cost and the more books you sell, the more you get out in profit. It is also where cover price affects your bottom line. At $2.99 per copy, I need to sell 750 copies to cover my costs. At $3.99, I need to sell less than 500. Everything else is gravy.

But the trick is: how do you sell 500 books? It is in this part of the equation that you can make a huge difference. To me, it sounds like the author of that blog post has not done an awful lot of effective promotion.

Promotion is not yelling at your social media friends. It’s not bookstore visits, blog tours or signings. It’s not even incessantly buying ads. There are only a couple of sites that are effective anyway.

Promotion is:

  • A good self-hosted website that you use as platform for:
  • Your mailing list signup form
  • Listing all your books and places where people can buy them
  • Write an engaging series of a couple of books
  • Make the first one free, and link to your mailing list signup in the front and back of the book
  • Now advertise the hell out of your free book.

A good dose of patience is also required. And writing a couple of books per year.

Amazon Scammers, Stockholm Syndrome and why I don’t really care

I came back from Melbourne last night (photos later) to find the umpteenth brouhaha having broken out about Amazon (and specifically Kindle Unlimited) scammers.

What are Amazon scammers?

The TL;DR version:

  • Amazon has a program where readers in certain countries–not Australia or New Zealand–can buy a subscription for $10 per month and read as much as they like.
  • Authors then get paid those reads per page read. OK, cool.
  • People who publish direct at Amazon will see benefit to bundle their books, because they will have more pages. More pages = more money. OK, still cool and totally fine.
  • But certain people will then fill those books with rubbish: google-translated copies of the same book, unrelated material, all of which you have to wade through in order to get to the book… and sometimes there even isn’t a book (it could be copied public domain material, recipe books, crappy fiction ghost-written by desperate people on fiverr). Okaaaayyyyy…
  • Until some of the books are plagiarised. Not OK.
  • But then there is usually a link at the front of the book that says “Win a Kindle every month!” The user clicks it and is transported to a page at the very end of the ebook. Hey, presto! The entire 10,000-page book has been read! (Amazon has only recently reduced the maximum size of bundles to 3000 pages for this reason). Very smart, but sneaky.
  • And then the publisher hires people in click farms to borrow books and click to the end each and every day.
  • But, you say, click farms are often in countries that don’t have access to the program? Not a problem that a VPN can’t solve. Also, the first month’s membership of Kindle Unlimited is free. Make a disposable account with a dummy email address every month. In fact, make hundreds of fake accounts.
  • All the top-level scammer has to do is pay the paltry wages of click farm employees.

Don’t believe it happens?

Read this

Then look at pretty much all the books in this search. Go to the “Look Inside”. Entire categories are being taken over by these types of books or their slightly less blatant cousins.

This is pretty disgusting, and some of these people are absolutely raking in the cash.

But.

There is a lot of handwringing going on in the self-published community about this. People express the thought that “Amazon should do something about this” and that money should go to honest authors and yadda yadda.

Fair enough.

But. This scam is not directed at readers. It’s directed at Amazon, and yes, they certainly would do well to clean up their house.

(my two options: 1. nix the KU program, 2. employ actual people to vet newly-uploaded books. They won’t do 1. because they’re Amazon and stubborn, and they won’t do 2. just for the sake of making the point that they’re not Apple or Kobo and that they’re Amazon and stubborn)

When I take off my moralising hat and I put on my author hat, I see this as Amazon’s problem, not my problem. And because I take control of my own audience, Amazon’s problems are not my problems. Because of all the things I’ve done over the past few years, I’m in a position where Amazon is not my sales. It’s a decent proportion of the sales, but I send people there, not the other way around. I would just as happily send them elsewhere. Many people read on more than one platform.

This, in my opinion, is why you don’t want your income tied up with a single retailer: because you start believing that 1. the retailer cares about you (I doubt Amazon cares very much), 2. that they have your best interests at heart (No, they don’t, they’re in the game to make money), 3. that your opinion matters to them (no, it doesn’t, or at least not until a critical mass has been reached).

Cut the Stockholm syndrome. Amazon doesn’t care about this. This scamming is daft, but it’s not about writers. Do your homework and take control of your own audience.

Supanova Melbourne: Come and say hello

I’m leaving tomorrow to go to Supanova Melbourne.

If you’re in Melbourne or are also coming, come and say hello. I’m in the Artists’ Alley at table 36.

We’re leaving tomorrow, because on Thursday, my daughter and I are planning a photography trip to the Twelve Apostles. Let’s hope the weather behaves!

It’s likely that you won’t hear from me on this blog until I’m back. I may or may not have internet. The accommodation says there is free wifi, but seriously, you know what free wifi is like, so I’m not holding my breath.

In other news, I just heard that Bookbub is finally taking Ambassador 1 on 11 May. This is going to be very, very big, especially since it’s so close to the release of book 5.

Moonfire Trilogy: snippet

Moonfire

Because I can. Book 1 is finished. I’ve had a talk with a content editor today, will be making a few tweaks. Like the Icefire Trilogy, the series will have multiple point-of-view characters, and one of them is meteorology student Javes (Javesius). As part of their education in their final year, the students have all been sent on field placement, and he was sent to a very small town in northern Chevakia at the very edge of the desert.

This is one of the things that happens to him:


Within moments, Javes was surrounded by dusty, dark people. They were all yelling at the same time.

“Where has the dust devil gone?” a man screamed. “Where are all my horses?”

“Is it coming back?” another man wanted to know.

“The devils are meant to stay in the desert,” a woman said, her voice indignant. “They don’t come as far south as this. Pashtan said so.”

“Pashtan said nothing about that this could happen.”

“I don’t know why you ever believed him. He’s not even from here and knows nothing about our land.”

“Pashtan is dead!” Javes called out over the din.

A good number of people fell quiet. They stared at him.

“Dead?” a woman said.

“Yes, dead. You know, not alive. Same as the other cart donkey. Had the flesh tripped from its bones. The cart was turned over and everything covered in dust.” He wiped his face. He didn’t think he’d ever felt more exhausted in his life.

More people fell quiet.

“And you survived?” a man said, his voice incredulous. “The city kid? What sort of magic is that?”

“It’s not magic. It’s only because—”

“You survived! That’s a sign. You should have Pashtan’s position.”

“You could not possibly do any worse than call dust devils into town!”

“He did that because you cheated him out of two bottles of cider—”

“Quiet!” Javes called.

People stopped yelling.

“I will contact the meteorology department for a replacement meteorologist—”

“What are you talking about? There has been a sign. He died while you were here. You survived and he died. That’s a sign. We have a new meteorologist.”

Several people nodded their agreement. “It’s a sign.”

No, no. Javes was overcome with a feeling of total horror. “I can’t stay because I’m not finished with my education yet.” That was the only thing he could think of saying, and it came out really lame. But his mouth was dry and his mind blank. He shuddered at the thought of spending his entire life in Pashtan’s simple square house with its two rooms, of trudging past all the weather stations in a donkey cart every day, and doing this day in day out, and sitting at the plain wooden desk every night to work out the curves and trends and traipse to the telegraph office every few days to send the results to Tiverius.

The life of a regional meteorologist.

That was not what he had signed up for, was it?

Self-publishing: Warning – There Are Sharks In The Water

General warning: as soon as you decide to self-publish, a certain section of the population decides that you are a cow to be milked. Some will be blatant about it by sending you emails soliciting your business. Usually, it’s to buy into some form of marketing. Mostly, you’ll be marketed at in more subtle ways, where people tug at you with statements like “I went from selling xxx to selling yyyyy using this method/site!”

Especially the latter is very hard to evaluate objectively, because writers get told to treat their writing as a business, and you should therefore invest in that business, right?

Wrong!

Yes, you should invest in your business, but you should invest smartly in that business. You will not make your book sell better by randomly throwing handfuls of money at it.

In order to know how to invest smartly, you first need to know what you need and who offers the best services to give you these things.

It is perfectly OK NOT to invest terribly much while you’re learning the ropes, especially on the side of marketing.

Don’t become that author with the $2000 book trailer without a clue how and where to use that book trailer (hint: book trailers are a luxury that you can spend on when you can afford it. They don’t lead to many sales).

Don’t become that author with a $1000 book cover by a great artist who 1. has never designed a book cover before and 2. didn’t really portray genre cover conventions that help sell the book.

Don’t become the author who bought a marketing plan from a vanity-type press because the people emailed and it “sounded so good”.

If someone emails you about a service and you have to pay for it, it’s not going to be something you want.

Don’t fall in these traps. Educate yourself. Decide what YOU need and then hunt for people to provide the service. Anyone whose service is good will be very busy and won’t spend much time looking for clients.

No, it’s not easy. Yes, it sounds like work. If it sounds easy and too good to be true, then it usually isn’t. Do your homework. Sit on your wallet until you’re convinced that the service is good. Ask other people about it. Google the service. Ask the Kindleboards hivemind about it. Do. Your. Research.

Why I give books away for free

Listened to the Marketing SFF people’s podcast with Elle Casey this morning.

I love Elle and the nice, unassuming way she treats her career and the success she has had. She said a lot of things that I agree with.

But she went on a little bit of a crusade against people who offer books for free, because apparently it conditions people to think that all books should be free. She had a mini-rant against people doing Facebook ads for mailing list subscribers, which I could get into. Mainly because I think Facebook ads take waayyyy too much time that I’d rather be writing, and I also think that people signing up *because* you’re offering free books tend to be on average the most unengaged peeps (only marginally more engaged than those you get from competitions).

But.

Then she said “unless you are offering a free book 1 in order to entice people to buy the rest of the series”. And this is often a caveat we will hear from the self-professed free-haters. It’s OK if it’s a marketing strategy.

And I just wonder what else these people think we’re doing with giving away free books. You distribute free books so that people can read a sample and go on to buy the rest of the series. That is the whole point of it.

In order to spread the reach, you advertise your free books as much as possible.

But then, their argument goes, you get emails from people wanting the entire series free.

Yes, I know. I get them, too.

And you know what?

I GIVE THEM THE BOOKS!

That is, if they want to review the books.

Get this: someone writes me saying that they’re a poor pensioner and can’t afford books but liked a free book, and wants the rest for free. I tell them: OK. Become a reviewer, and you get all my books for free.

Maybe what they tell me is true, maybe they’re lying. I don’t really care. What does it cost me to send out a review copy? Nothing! What do I get? Reviews! Win=win.

So I’m afraid I don’t get the anti-free-ranty people. Where do they see lots of writers giving away books *without* some sort of strategy to entice people to buy more books? Because all the writers I know who use free, use it as strategy. I could certainly argue that it *needs* a strategy to work, but I’m not seeing the conditioning to expect everything free. Second and subsequent volumes in series are never free.

Writing: the most important thing a new writer should do

This advice is often phrased as “mistakes made by new writers”. I don’t like the word “mistakes” and I like to express thoughts in positive advice that people can do something with.

So what is the most important thing writers should be doing?

WRITE

Well, duh, I can hear you say. But I see so many new writers not writing, and then lamenting that they haven’t sold anything and that they have no time.

You will never have any time if you don’t make the most important thing your number one priority.

In short: you will never be a writer if you don’t write.

You learn the craft by writing. Stop obsessing over writing rules or whether or not something is good enough. You learn through reading and writing, and when you’ve written, writing the next thing.

If you don’t write and finish your writing, you will never have anything to sell. The more things you have to sell, the more chance that you will actually, y’know, sell stuff.

Stop obsessing over things that are outside your control. For example reviews, if you’re self-published, or the tone and precise content of rejection letters if you’re trying the traditional route. STOP. OBSESSING. Obsessing isn’t getting any writing done.

Are your current works not doing as well as you’d hoped? Write something else.

Stop complaining. Shut up and WRITE!

By pattyjansen Posted in writing

Writing: writer’s block.

Listening to another podcast by Joanna Penn this morning. I found this one particularly inspiring. Both Joanna and Michaelbrent Collings, who was interviewed in the podcast, appear to have the attitude towards writing and publishing that I happen to share:

When you write a book, this adds to an inventory. It’s that inventory, or creative capital, as I have heard people call it, that earns you a consistent and growing income. It’s not about one bestseller. It’s not about a flash-in-the-pan success (although I wouldn’t say no to it). It’s about having a large backlist for people to buy in a genre that is popular.

Anyway, I also liked his opinion on writer’s block. I’m not even sure what it is supposed to be. I don’t think I have ever had writer’s block.

Is it not knowing what to write? There are solutions for that.

There are days when I work that I don’t add much to the manuscript, but instead I think about how I will move forward with the plot. That’s useful time, even if I don’t put words on the page.

Personally, I am not much for writing crap for the sake of writing, but it works for some to get ideas coming. If I don’t know what to write, I don’t write until I do have an idea what I want with a scene. But the thinking, the planning and the reading are still working on the manuscript.

I also find daily word counts counter-productive, because I tend to start looking at the wordcount rather than at the scenes that need to be written.

I’m a pantser.

I write a scene.
I edit the scene until at least it’s clear to me how it ends and what the characters want in that scene.
Then I think about what is logical for them to do next, with the overall planned story ending in mind.
Then I write the next scene.
I make sure that what the characters are doing makes sense, and I build from that to the next scene.

I guess writer’s block would happen where you lose connection with your characters’ motivations and underpinning aims and you’re just writing by wordcount or by instructions from an outline.

To me, it always helps to go back to why the characters were there and what makes sense for them to do next.

If you do that, you will always know what to write.