Why you are the biggest impediment to selling your books

I’ve reached the goal of having a decent stable of books. Having series with good presentation (cover, blurb, sample) is important. Few people start selling out the gate with just one book, so I wrote some series. This is still ongoing. It was my aim this year to spend more time selling my books and less time writing new books.

But where to start?

You poke around on the Kindleboards a bit, buy a few ads, butt your head against Bookbub, and eventually get accepted by them, a few times even. Each successful ad makes your sales spike, in case of Bookbub for 6 to 12 weeks even. But eventually you slide back, and you feel you haven’t made much progress.

And then you come across a post like this

OK, so you try the Facebook advertising thing. This is a good guide for how not to completely blow your money. Watch those videos. Seriously.

These posts are written by authors who have been insanely successful at what they did. Is their method going to work for you? Maybe. Could you try something a little bit different and make that work for you? Absolutely. You should be doing just that.

Because when you take away the specific advice about where and how they reached their mega sales (like exactly which tools they used) their advice looks like this:

1. Write every day. Publish.
2. Do an promotional activity every day. It better to advertise low-level every day than to run big ads with lots of days of nothing in between.
3. Give away as many books as you can for free to get people to read subsequent books, until you don’t need this tactic anymore. Advertise the hell out of your freebies.
4. Get a mailing list. Use it.

OK, so what’s up with the title? Why is the author the biggest impediment to selling books?

Because authors get hung up on things, often “helped” by an enthusiastic band of author friends.

Despite the two links I gave above, getting sales rolling is not a formulaic process. It will be different for everyone, and therefore you should be willing to change *everything* about your process.

The author likes a cover and therefore isn’t changing it. Friends may be saying “but I like that cover!” and they’re not being friends at all. They’re an impediment to the author trying out another cover (or another blurb, or another category).

The same applies to marketing. Marketing is not, ever, about individual preferences. How often do people tell you “But I hate XYZ marketing technique!” And heck, the author might even hate it themselves. The authors then lets his or her actions be coloured by those opinions.

How often have people told you:

– I fucking hate popups and close down sites that have them (yah, there isn’t going to be much of the internet left for these peeps, but what the hey)
– I never subscribe to mailing lists
– I would only send mailings for one new release per year

And yada yada yada.

So, in trying to be a good friend, you try to be as sanctimoniously least-offensive as you possibly can. Because you can’t annoy your friends, right?


Thing is: you’re not marketing to your friends. They will be your friends regardless of whether or not they buy your books. If they want to, they know where to find your books and they know when they’re out, because you never shut up about writing.

So forget about the things they tell you about whatever they hate in marketing. While you’re at it, toss your own opinions as well. Like, clear the slate. Stand up and say: I’m going to try everything at least once to see if I can get it to work.

So try stuff. Give it a good spin (like a few months). Doesn’t work? Then go back to the drawing board and try something else. Get your suggestions for which things to try from people who are where you want to be, sales-wise. Forget about how *you* would, or wouldn’t, like to be marketed at. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! It’s about a percentage of highly consumer-oriented people who may make a difference. You’re very unlikely to be part of that percentage. That’s OK. You are not in your target group. That’s OK. Marketing is not about you.

Why you are the biggest impediment to selling your books was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Investing in your writing

Earlier this week, Wayne Stinett, fellow self-published writer at the Kindleboards, posted this in his blog (this post opens in a new tab, so this blog post will still be here when you finish reading.

You will probably know me as someone who advocates not to spend money self-publishing. Maybe, but that’s not true. What I advocate is not to spend too much money when you’re starting out. I totally advocate spending money once you learn where to spend it. In fact, the way Wayne, who sells far morethan I do, went about the process is just about perfect.

I advocate being really careful with your initial expenses because it is so easy to become utterly discouraged by the disparity in the number of zeroes between your income and what you spent.

Why this post? Because I’m spending up. I seriously don’t want to look at my selfpublishing income vs outgoing this month.

At this point in time, I have FIVE people doing things for me.

My awesome editor/formatter I’ve had for a long time. But these days there is not a month that he’s not doing anything for me.

I’m having a whole bunch of covers designed. This is because I want to have wraparound print covers and seriously can’t be arsed to redo the illustrations. It is also because I have a few new releases coming out and my ideas for covers are moving south. And most importantly, because I think I can do better.


Tom Edwards is an awesome artist who is doing the Ambassador covers.
Damonza is considered the single best freelance cover designer. He’s doing the ISF-Allion books.
Lou Harper is a very talented graphic designer with a lot of experience. She is doing the For Queen And Country series.

And the fifth person? The woman who is translating the Icefire Trilogy into Spanish. She isn’t actually costing me any money right now (phew), but she’ll be paid out of commissions.

For me, this is a gamble. I’ve sold enough books to pay for this giant splurge, but I’m not a mega-seller. What I’m hoping for is this: awesome, really professional cover design sells. It’s not that hard to whip up an acceptable design, but there is a difference between acceptable and awesome. Awesome sells books.

Expect a lot of cover reveals shortly. First up: The Sahara Conspiracy, which will be published with the new cover by Tom.

Investing in your writing was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Photography: the best of recent trips

Blues Point. The morning looked cloudless and boring, but then this very fine haze of clouds came up.

Blues Point June 2015-6 Blues Point June 2015-8

Kurraba Point. This is looking west towards North Sydney. You can see a small piece of the Harbour Bridge on-ramp.

Kurraba Point June 2015-9

La Perouse. Bare Island.

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Long Reef. This is a bloody long way from the car park, so you need to get up very early or walk very fast.

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Milsons Point. It was the absolute bloody coldest morning of the year. When I came back home, the grass was still frozen.

Milsons Point July 2015-6 Milsons Point July 2015-7 Milsons Point July 2015-9

Photography: the best of recent trips was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Cover reveal: Ambassador 1: Seeing Red


Awesome artwork by Tom Edwards in the UK. Tom is becoming fast known for his signature style space art. He has done some amazing covers for fellow authors, as well as games and other illustrations. Way back when I started, he also did the cover for The Far Horizon.

I have waited to make this post, because I wanted to make sure that the cover was updated at Amazon, and they took their sweet time about it.

I’ve now placed the book, and the rest of the series in Amazon’s Select programme for a minimum of three months. Unlike my other series, the vast bulk of sales came from Amazon. I now means that you can buy it on Amazon, but if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can read it for free.

The next Ambassador book, The Sahara Conspiracy, will be done and off to the editor by the end of the week.

Cover reveal: Ambassador 1: Seeing Red was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

News: Shifting Infinity and Ambassador

Shifting InfinityIt’s been a while since I posted here, and I guess most of you will have seen that Shifting Infinity is now live.

See all the info with website links here.

Another tidbit of news I can probably share is that it looks like the Icefire Trilogy will be available in Spanish later this year. This will add significantly to my stable of translations, since This Peaceful State of War is available in Dutch.

I’ve bitten the bullet and commissioned new covers for the Ambassador series. This is mainly because I’m looking at making all books available in print, and I don’t have highres versions of the covers, and also because of Tom Edwards! He did the cover for The Far Horizon a few years back, and his artwork has developed from really good to amazing! I have the cover for book 1 ready, and will reveal it in a separate post once the new cover has been added to the ebook files.

Also about the Ambassador series:

I’m in the process of (probably temporarily) removing them from all non-Amazon outlets so that I can try out the new KDP Select. The sales of this series, in contrary to my other series, are very skewed towards Amazon, so I thought what the heck, let’s try it. This will be for a period of at least three months, but it will also mean that if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you’ll be able to get them for free. Otherwise, you can still buy them as normal.

The next book will be Ambassador 1a: The Sahara Conspiracy. This is a short novel in between book 1 and 2, set entirely on Earth, but with a good deal of extra-terrestrial fire power. I’m sorting out some backstory, but the book should be done within the next few weeks.

News: Shifting Infinity and Ambassador was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Photography: Gold Coast

Haven’t done of these for a while because of computer issues.

In April, my youngest daughter and I went to the Gold Coast for Supanova.
Gold Coast April 2015-1

Wildlife and architecture.

Gold Coast April 2015-4

Beach patrol tower.

Gold Coast April 2015-6

We shall call this the effing whale fountain. Seriously, what was the council thinking?

Gold Coast April 2015-10

Daughter taking pictures at the peninsula.

Gold Coast April 2015-11

Perfect blue.

Gold Coast April 2015-13

The famous beach.

Gold Coast April 2015-19


Gold Coast April 2015-20

Night view of Main Beach.

Gold Coast April 2015-26

Photography: Gold Coast was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Promotion for authors: an evaluation of Chuck Wendig’s post

I’m coming out of hibernation for this one. I’m busy writing Shifting Infinity. Yes, I’m getting there. Yes, it’s slower than I wanted, but such is life. Supanova happened. And it’s cold. Is it ever this cold in late April?

Anyway, today Chuck Wendig posted about promotional techniques for authors. I often like Chuck’s posts, even if only that he’s one of these writers who can throw fucks around without impunity. Heh.

But this? There is a good deal wrong with it. Go read it yourself. This link opens a new tab, so I’ll still be here when you come back.

So. Promotion for authors. He collects in his post a random assortment of techniques and attaches his emotional evaluation to them, and I think this is where he goes wrong.

About promotion for authors, I’d like to make a few points:

  1. Not all techniques work the same for everyone
  2. If you’ve never tried a technique, you really shouldn’t be commenting on effectiveness
  3. Almost all techniques can be made to work to some degree if you work hard enough at it, but that said,
  4. There are vast differences in ROI (Return On Investment) for each technique, both in the amount of time necessary to make it work and the amount of money it takes out of your pocket

I’m finding that as soon as you start talking about ROI and money, writers turn off or flee to some sort of morally superior high ground. Marketing or promotion very often moves in the boundary of what’s considered annoying. Each person has different thresholds of what they find annoying. When you want to sell, and I mean, when you ACTUALLY want to SELL stuff, you should probably try everything at least once, even if it involves doing something that wouldn’t entice you as customer.

Guess what? Selling stuff isn’t about you! It’s about other people.

Finding the techniques that work for whatever it is you’re selling to whomever you’re trying to sell it to should involve experiments. Excluding things that are legal and common practice because you have some sort of aversion to them is not just silly. It’s dumb.

So I will be taking Chuck’s points in this post and try to evaluate them for ROI, audience reached, immediate sales and long-term potential.


Point #1: Endless Spambarfing

Wrong, Chuck, wrong. Even the title of this segment implies a judgement. Don’t judge until you’ve tried it. Yes, it’s annoying, but many people do it. Does it work?

Well, I tried it. Once, I paid some “what the hey” money to a company that “spambarfs” on your behalf. Another time they picked me up without my knowledge. The tweets go out in a big batch, and it’s amazing how many accounts are set to auto-RT these accounts. It goes out for months. And months. Yes, I kinda apologise for this.

You can easily do this yourself. Set up a Twitter account, gather thousands of followers, and sign up for one of those tweetbot services. Send a tweet every hour about your books and Bob’s yer uncle. Other accounts will RT it. Don’t have to do a thing anymore.

Does it work? Yes and no. The first two tweets are usually effective. The rest is a big echo chamber. Save yourself the money for these services and simply hand-write something about your books maybe 1-2 times a day. More often is really not effective in my experience. Plus it devalues your account. Everyone who wants to chat on Twitter has fled your account long ago. If you want to do this, set up a separate account for it.

Cost in time: 5 minutes to tweet something about a book of yours every day. Much more to set up a promotional account

Cost in $: free if you do it yourself, otherwise you need to buy a service

Audience: limitless, worldwide

Short-term effect: a few sales for the first tweet of a series of tweets, none for the repeats, so you’re much better off limiting tweets

Long-term effect: zero. You have to keep doing it. But it’s free and you can automate it if you want. But it’s more effective if you do it by hand and keep the engagement with your account up


Point #2: Thunderclap

This is basically an extension of point #1, but it ups the annoyance factor and concentrates the tweets.

Give this one a miss, and not just because it’s annoying. It usually costs money and there is very little evidence that it works. I could see it working if there is a good cause attached to the sale.


Point #3: Guest posting

This can be fun, but it’s highly limited to the following of the blog where you’re posting and the relevance of their audience to your work, and the tendency of their audience to buy books, or just to buy stuff full stop.

Cost in time: an hour or so to write the post

Cost in $: free if you are a friend of the blog owner, but other blogs charge, or they’ll ask you to buy ad space

Audience: limited to the blog’s audience, worldwide, but it may or may not be your audience

Short-term effect: anywhere between nothing and a handful of sales

Long-term effect: little, unless the post is controversial, but in that case people will be reading the post, not buying your books. There is a very clear distinction between the two. People who run popular blogs don’t necessarily sell a lot of books.


Point #4: Book blog tours

This is a series of blog posts hosted by others, usually coinciding with the release of a new book. They can be a great deal of fun.

Cost in time: an hour per post, plus the time to ferret for blogs and communicate with their owners. This is time-intensive stuff. Thinking up new things to write is also really draining

Cost in $: free if you do it yourself, otherwise I’ve seen as much as $500 charged

Audience: limited to the audience of the blogs, worldwide

Short-term effect: nothing to a handful of sales per post. It depends on genre and the nature of the blogs. Are they blogs where people come looking for books to buy?

Long-term effect: limited


Point #5: Bookstore tours

Chuck says “the mainstay of author promotion”. Really? Are bookshops the main places where people buy books? Are they the main places where your audience buys?

Cost in time: travel time, time at the shop, often a preparation visit or call to the shop

Cost in $: free, but the shop will ask 40% of sales if you bring your own stock. If you bring your own stock, you’ll probably have to pay for it, and you may have to pay for travel, and any time you’re travelling, you’re not writing

Audience: extremely limited to the 2-100 people who will turn up

Short-term effect: a few copies. Maybe. Or 50 if you’re really popular. Which you’re not.

Long-term effect: very limited


Point #6: Conventions

Cost in time: travel time, time at the convention, time to prepare for panels

Cost in $: HUGE. Convention registration, (air) travel, accommodation for at least 3-4 nights. Con hotels are rarely cheap, and you get most out of it if you are in the same hotel as the other guests. And any time you’re travelling, you’re not writing

Audience: limited, local, almost exclusively writers

Short-term effect: You could hire a table and sell books. But then you can’t go to the panels that you’re not on. You might sell enough to cover your costs.

Long-term effect: meeting people is the most obvious benefit of going to cons, and the potential long term effects are why you might want to attend a few, other than that cons are a shitload of fun and above all else, a social event.


Point #7: Newsletters

Cost in time: little. You set it up once, after that new subscriptions happen automatically

Cost in $: free if you shop around. Once your mailing list reaches more than 1000 subscribers, you might want to move to a paid service simply because it gives you more options

Audience: people who have already engaged with your fiction. These are the best people to sell stuff to

Short-term effect: every time you send out a notification for a new release, a number of people will buy.

Long-term effect: this audience is yours, independent of retailers or publishers. These people are awesome. This is where you find your reviewers, your ARC readers and you first sales for every new release

Notes: you’d be stupid not to set up a newsletter, even if there are only 20 people on it. It costs nothing, it’s completely non-annoying, it runs in the background and increases if you sell more books or give away books. What more do you want?


Point #8: swag

Bookmarks, little gifts, whatever

Cost in time: preparation time, making of graphic files

Cost in $: you can spend whatever you want. It’s easy to spend hundreds

Audience: limited, because you need to either see the people in person or send it to them both also cost time and money

Short-term effect: no one really knows, so don’t go overboard. It’s probably a good idea to have business cards and/or bookmarks to give out so people can check your website later, but I’d stop at that

Long-term effect: as long as people keep this stuff. How long does the average promo flyer last in your house?


Point #9: free copies

Cost in time: you write A WHOLE BOOK and then you give it away for free? OMG *dies*

Cost in $: nothing, if ebooks.

Audience: limitless, worldwide. I’ve had several free runs where I’ve given away more than 50,000 books. The number of zeroes is not a typo.

Short-term effect: if your free book is part of a series, and especially if there is a cliffhanger, a percentage of people will buy the rest of the series. The more books you give away, the more people will buy.

Long-term effect: you can keep doing this for years and the effects will last for years

Notes: free samples are as old as the first human commercial interactions. If you give away ebooks, the ROI is incredibly high, but you can make it more powerful with adding paid adverting


Point #10 buying ads

Cost in time: making the ad. Maybe an hour, one-time setup.

Cost in $: you can spend any amount, and this is where you have to be 1. well-connected, to know which are the latest places that deliver value, and 2. careful

Audience: the world is your oyster

Short-term effect: the sky is the limit. Or you can sell nothing, so do be careful and see what works, because some things really, really work and other places overcharge

Long-term effect: you have to keep buying ads, but once people are fans, they will buy your other books

Notes: A publisher has a promotion budget. Don’t, however, treat ad money as a box to tick. Investigate the sites and methods that deliver positive results. You can really ace your sales with paid advertising


Point #11: earnest sustained outreach

Cost in time: you have to be present somewhere. Blogging and speaking at cons and stuff.

Cost in $: free

Audience: limited to whoever cares about an author’s blatherings.

Short-term effect: not sure. You’ll sell a few books to people who read your blog and like the type of books you write. Those are probably not the same crowd.

Long-term effect: being nice, or should I say, not an arsehole, definitely helps in being invited to speak and such things. I also think this is highly overrated. Authors like to think that people read their books because they are interested in them as a person, but no. People read the books because they’re interested in the books.


Which brings us to point #12: write the best book you can

Totally agree. This is why people buy your books. So write the next book, and write it well, and don’t waste too much time with stuff that has a high cost in time. Spend money if you have it, but guard your time like hell. Write your next book and then determine how you can best get the word out to as many people as possible with as little as possible time spent for the amount of money that’s within your ad budget.

For me, that is:

  1. Mailing list
  2. Twitter/facebook/website/blog
  3. Paid ads

I go to cons because I enjoy it. I go to bookshops because I want to buy a book.

Promotion for authors: an evaluation of Chuck Wendig’s post was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants