Patty’s epic rant on the book industry

Last night, I spotted a Guardian article about the supposed decline of ebooks.

When something like this comes up, much handrubbing ensues from the traditional industry. We’ve defeated the beast. Ebooks were a fad. People have seen sense and appreciate the real product.

But what’s actually happening?

Publishers won the right to publish ebooks at the price they choose (and so they should be able to IMO, it’s ludicrous that a retailer should be able to set prices).

But.

The don’t know how to sell ebooks and are not interested in them. Their model is to sell to bookshops, not customers. I had an industry professional tell me a while back that they started reader groups to find out what their readers want. I was going like FFS, you’ve been in the industry for 100 years and you’ve never talked to readers?

But no they haven’t. They sell to bookshops. And people, whether you’re sad or happy, this model is about to come crashing down.

Why?

Because people buy online, not just their ebooks but also their print books.

Why?

Because bookshops don’t have what you’re looking for. An e-retailer can afford to have millions of books in their catalogue. Search it, order, and it’s delivered to your door. Whatever quaint and fuzzy notice you entertain about bookshops, they can’t compete against the juggernaut of the internet with the current model.

Anyway, every now and then, people go into episodes of glee about how ebooks are dying, local bookshops are “fighting back” and how we should stop all the naughty imported booksies.

But.

Bookshops are not dying where they offer extra value. We have a local bookshop (hey, Scott!) which does home deliveries and reading days in nursing homes. I rarely buy there, but a lot of the elderly residents in this area do. Specialisation and excellent service will set these shops apart.

But what is even more insiduous: ebooks aren’t dying at all!

As traditional publishers were allowed to raise their ebook prices to higher than print in some cases, they drove customers to either buy print or buy cheaper ebooks. And, here is the rub:

37% of all ebooks sold are self-published or published by small presses and have no ISBNs and are therefor not counted in the industry roundups produced by Nielsen etc.

So the article in the Guardian is untrue, it misrepresents what is happening in the industry and it pulls the wool over the eyes of many people on the ground, people who have the right to better information so that they can make better decisions for their own future.

Anyway, here is my rant:

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Promotion: Ambassador and free books

I should probably do some pimpage.

Most of my regular pimping goes on to my mailing list, but I guess I can make an exception for a new release.

Book 6 in the Ambassador series comes out on the 14th, and I’m running a special bomb on book 1 of the series. Now if you’re on my list, you get this for free, but if you hate being on mailing lists, you can get it for 99c.

If you’ve already bought it, you can retweet it!

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or you can Facebook it!

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fpatty.jansen%2Fposts%2F10155037641677403%3A0&width=500

Marketing: increasing your mailing list–be careful!

When you start selling books online, one of the first things that marketing peeps will tell you is that you will need a mailing list.

Even way back in the mid-90s when I sold non-fiction hard-copy books, I knew the value of a mailing list. I would buy second hand libraries of specialised non-fiction, send an email to the list (in the low hundreds) and sell half of the stock. It was magic!

Way back then, the list was accrued in a way that would be considered illegal now (but there was no CAN-SPAM and no one knew any better): by finding email addresses in the specific interest communities. At that time, those people appreciated getting the emails because the internet was opening up and they were delighted that someone sold the type of books they wanted.

Fast forward twenty years, and you have to be really careful with mailing lists.

Just how do you increase your list safely?

Organic signups

First and foremost, you should try to get as many organic signups as you can.

Organic means that people sign up after having read your book and they choose to part with their email address so that you can notify them when the next book is out.

For this, you put a live link to the signup page in the front and back of your book.

Why the front? Well, there are quite a few (really anal LOL) peeps who don’t like their books showing as partially read. You know how the books always contain a few pages of backmatter, including a sample and in order for the books to show “read” you have to page through all that just so your device can stop reminding you that you’re reading this book (which you’ve finished, stupid ereader!) and aaargh I may just have outed myself as one of those peeps.

If they’re still thinking about the book two days later and want to sign up, they don’t have to page through the whole book.

There is another was in which the front matter link can be beneficial. Click this link. It goes to Ambassador 1 on Amazon. Click on the cover and in the window that opens (the “look Inside”), scroll down. See the image? See the offer? Put the mouse over it. Click it.

Ta daaaa! A live link to my signup page on Amazon.

But! Why would I direct people away from buying a book for $2.99 to signing up? Because an address on my list is worth more to me than $2 from a single sale.

(P.S.I’m running a sale on this book and astonished Amazon has already changed the price LOL)

Competitions, giveaways and cross-promotions

This is a very powerful way of building a list and increasing your readership.

This method uses a single website that advertises a bunch of books, usually with a giveaway attached, and the authors of the books get a list of the email addresses of the entrants.

But first, let’s put a few oft-repeated objections out of their misery:

  • People only want to win the prize. Yup, some people do, that’s why you need to clean the list of non-openers once you start sending to them.
  • People are not interested in your genre. Sure, that’s why you need to clean the list of non-openers once you start sending to them.
  • Your open rate goes down. Probably, that’s why you need to clean the list of non-openers once you start sending to them.

See a pattern?

You need to maintain the list and delete inactive peeps.

Which you should also do for your regular list, by the way.

This you must understand about lists: there are two types:

  • a back-end list
  • a front-end list

The back-end list is a service to people who are already your readers. Organic signups are a back-end service.

A front-end list advertises your books to people not already familiar with them. This is what you do with competitions.

There is overlap. It’s quite astonishing if you ever do a survey of your list, how many people have not read all your books, despite having volunteered to be on a new releases list. Who are better people to advertise your books to than those who have already shown this level of interest in you?

Competitions are a GREAT way for advertising your books personally to people who are interested in your genre and interested in readers.

BUT!

Big but.

You need to be really selective in which giveaways to take part in.

I will tell you hands down the best method:

Go to Instafreebie. Sign up for the lowest level paid account. It’s $20 per month, but the first month is free. But seriously, this is the BEST money you will ever spend on advertising.

Put your first-in-series books up on the site, set up a giveaway for each, and make opt-ins required. Join your Mailchimp account to Instafreebie, or if you don’t have Mailchimp, get a free account with them and then use Zapier to automatically transfer the email addresses to whichever service you do use.

Then join one of the many Instafreebie promotion groups on Facebook.

I’m a big fan of this one:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/instafreebiepromos/

In this group, and others like it, authors will ask for fellow author peeps to take part in genre-based cross-promos. You sign up, the organiser sends you the information, and on the allocated dates, everyone kills the internet with it. The beauty about Instafreebie is that it will also advertise these promotions to their readers.

The giant pluses of this method:

  • The people who end up on your list are avid readers
  • It’s 100% author-run, so there are no businesses trying to make money off running promotions.

There are some commercial competition sites. I have used a good number of them. You have to be extremely careful with them, mainly because of the issue I mentioned at the top of the post: these days, we have CAN-SPAM laws and too many complaints can lead to your account being banned from your provider.

In terms of spam complaints, these are not many complaints at all. I’ve never had any issues, but I know people whose Mailchimp accounts have been shut down due to ONE badly-chosen promotion.

In terms of commercial promotions, I’ve not heard any bad stories about (although they may send you a lot of promotional emails advertising their promotions):

  • AuthorXP
  • RyanZee
  • Author Platform Rocket

There are likely to be other reputable services. There are some services out there where I’ve heard (or experienced) LOTS of bad stories about fouled-up lists. Some services copy old lists to artificially inflate the paying authors’ results. Some harvest addresses from other sites.

Do your research!

Or simply stick to author-run non-profit cross-promotions.

Marketing: tips to beat the sharks and save yourself a lot of heartache

As I’ve said before, once you become a self-published author, there are some who will view you as a walking wallet to be divested of as much money as possible.

There are a good number of reputable sources of advertising. Some will give you spectacular results, some are decent, some don’t work for your book. You need to experiment to see which are the most effective. At best, you make money, at worst you lose some money.

There are also the sharks. Quite different from the reputable advertisers which just don’t work for your book, the sharks can harm you substantially, even if they might also increase your sales.

How, if you’re only paying $10 for an ad on their platform?

Well, there is this section in the Amazon Terms Of Service:

Misuse of sales rank:

The best seller rank feature allows buyers to evaluate the popularity of a product. Any attempt to manipulate sales rank is prohibited. You may not solicit or knowingly accept fake or fraudulent orders, including placing orders for your own products. You may not provide compensation to buyers for purchasing your products or provide claim codes to buyers for the purpose of inflating sales rank. In addition, you may not make claims regarding a product’s best seller rank in the product detail page information, including the title and description.

If you’re paying $10 for an ad, most sites will put your book somewhere that you can see it. They send an email to their list or have a website or both. But if they don’t do this, if their answer to how they generate the sales is “blogs” or some mysterious thing you can’t see, then how do you know they’re not doing any of the above things that break the TOS?

Not an issue? See this story of the SFF Marketing Podcast’s Jeff Poole, whose book in KDP Select received page reads from fake accounts without his knowledge. Amazon states that checking out advertising service is the author’s responsibility. He did not use any ad sites, and spam accounts probably registered reads for his book in order to mask other activities. Because of this, he was able to restore his account. What if he had, unwittingly, paid for a service using tactics that don’t pass the TOS? Amazon loves the ban hammer, and it wields the weapon hard.

So, if you are looking at spending money on an advertiser’s or promoter’s site or project, any amount of money, but especially if it’s a fair bit of money, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How do they advertise, where is their site and can I sign up to see my own book being featured?
2. Did I google them and am I happy with what I found? Multiple reports of tardiness or poor customer service usually does not bode well.
3. Do they come across as professional in their correspondence with me? Big no-nos would be slagging off other promo sites, putting you on mailing lists you haven’t asked to be on and being overly defensive.
4. The biggie: if you’re going into collaborations, how good is their contract, in particular with regards to refunds. Don’t think you won’t need it. We all go into things in good faith, but shit happens, people get sick, stuff gets delayed and you want to make sure their contract covers all these eventualities. How do they list your responsibilities and theirs? Who owns the resulting work and for how long, and do they ask for tax documentation as they should? Do they give you a invoice and do you pay to a business name rather than a person? Are you paying into a Paypal business account? Those are all things that I’ve found out to be important.

Do a bit of research, and save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run.

Writing success: There are no shortcuts

Let’s repeat that: there are no shortcuts to writing success.

You will often see people recommending that when you want to sell well, you have to copy what the bestsellers do.

Yes, you do, but there is a genuine way and a misguided way to go about it.

Misguided? Well…

Bestsellers have books with lots of reviews, so people will do all sorts of things to get lots of reviews. Make no mistake, it’s not a bad thing to give out copies to your fans to get a few reviews immediately when the book is published. But large-scale review-gathering? What’s the point? The successful books got those reviews because they sold a lot, not the other way around.

Bestsellers may have quotes from reviews in the description. Sure, if you have a quote that looks good, use it, but if you have to put “Amazon reviewer” in your quote, then it looks a bit silly, doesn’t it? Again, those quotes came about because people read the book. If you pay for quotes or reviews (Kirkus!) then you probably end up looking a bit desperate if the book doesn’t sell.

Bestsellers may have (emphasis on may) have made bestseller lists. While publishers have gamed these lists for many years, gaming by self-published writers has reached epic proportions, which is why the NYT bestseller list has combined some categories, making it harder to get on those lists.

But why would you want to, if you haven’t actually written books that have anywhere near earned their place? If readers go to a page of a touted whatever-list-bestselling author and all they can see there are books that don’t look in the slightest like they could have earned that listing, what are they going to think? It just devalues the list, if readers actually took notice in the first place.

So what does matter?

When you look at the pages of successful writers, you will see either of these things:

  • One or two books that sell an insane number of copies a month
  • Lots of books, most of which sell a decent number of copies each month

All of them sell books that people want to read. They get reviews because those readers love the books, and the writers occasionally make lists because people buy the books when they’re on special.

Goosing reviews or bestseller lists is putting the cart before the horse.

Write books first, work on your craft, produce material regularly. The rest will follow by itself. Yes, it’s likely to take a while.

You can toss any amount of money at tricks that will make you look better, but ultimately it is about the books. People are not dumb. Social proof comes about because people read the books, not the other way around. Therefore, make your books the best and spend your energy on doing that.

There are no shortcuts. You can’t buy long-term, viable success.

Sorry, probably not what you wanted to hear.

Writing: The two traps that will cost you sales

As I prepared to go to the gym this morning, I scrolled through my marketing podcasts to see which one to listen to.

It struck me that they were all one of two varieties.

Type 1:

How to write a novel in 5 days
How to write 24 novels a year
How to write 5000 words while you’re on the loo

Type 2:

If you don’t advertise on Youtube, you’re missing out
If you don’t do all these things on Facebook, you’re killing your sales
You have to have a profile on all these new social media sites

Titles are made up of course, but you can see the trends. The first type is all production. The belief that if you write yourself to death, you will sell better.

The second are all marketing, and subscribe to the belief that you have to do this endless list of stuff (ads, optimise your profiles everywhere, check them every month, be in all the groups, etc. etc.) or your sales will die.

I’m saying: both of these routes are a pretty good way to kill all your momentum.

If you go the production route, but never stop to think whether a book is going to be worth your time writing, and, once you’ve written it, never spend any effort marketing it, you’re leaving a lot of sales on the table.

If you go the highly-strung advertising route and spend hours optimising everything and driving people to your page, your mailing list or whatnot, you lose out big time when people arrive at that page and you don’t actually have a decent arsenal of chunky series with full-price novels that they can buy.

With very few exceptions, successful writers do some of both. Authors who don’t produce regular books but do well usually sell additional things like courses. Authors who don’t advertise rely on an audience they might have built elsewhere.

That said, I’ve seen enough of either type, all-production or all-advertising writers fall on their faces to believe strongly in a combination. Writing and advertising augment each other. If your sale slow down, advertise a bit. If your ads fall flat, write another book.

The evil kangaroos of DSS and other things Canberra

At the back of the Department of Social Services in Tuggeranong, there is a paddock adjacent to the staff car park. When you’re there at dusk, you’re greeted with this sight:

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Seriously, how many kangaroos is that?

They’re not cute little weeny wallabies. These are kangaroos. KANGAROOS. Look at the one in the middle of this picture, with his arse to the camera, and the department building in the background:

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I mean LOOK at him (definitely a “him”). That’s the biggest kangaroo I’ve ever seen. If he stands up on his hind legs, he’s taller than a person. The lawns are irrigated and in summer, the roos invade the courtyards. They don’t tend to be afraid either. They’re quite intimidating.
No Australian city does kangaroos like Canberra. They’re everywhere.

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Out of all of the places in Canberra, I like this one the best. That paddock in the first picture? If you cross it, there is a bush path that leads straight to the Murrumbidgee River which has swimming holes. But this here is Lake Tuggeranong in the morning.

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Another pretty view, with complimentary galahs:

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Why you should totally write about politics and be proud of it, too

This morning, the Twitterspere was all aflap about this piece of garbage:

The Top 7 reasons why posting politics kills your career

(please note that this post has been taken down by the site. They cited as reason that “it was acceptable to write about politics when the subject was academically well-researched”, and thus continued to completely mis-understand why this got so much vitriol on Twitter)

Writing about politics kills your writing career. Really?

Do these writers think that if you write any kind of fiction, you can write bland, faceless pap that does not touch on any political points?

Or maybe they confuddle “writing about politics” with “telling people how to vote”.

No, unless you’re a politician, you should probably stay away from the latter, at least in your fiction, and at least as narrator (your characters can totally tell people how to vote!), and maybe most of the time. Maybe. But… if you like politics, go kill the internet with it. We live in a free world.

So let’s just deconstruct this garbage article.

1. You’ll abandon your brand
So? My brand is fiction that cares about issues. It’s impossible to write about issues in society without touching on politics. Even if you wrote the most pappy of faceless pap, you’d still write about politics, by the sheer admission of avoiding politics. That’s politics, too. You know: don’t care, don’t vote, then complain your head off when you don’t like the results. Aren’t I glad voting in Australia is compulsory?

2. You could lose a reader
Yes, I could lose one. I could gain many more by being genuine and not talking rubbish faceless pap.
This is the problem with writers, or people in general: they want to be liked by everyone. This is impossible. It’s better to be hated by some and loved by others than for everyone to go “who the hell is that?”
Bullshit.

3. Productivity And Quality Will SUFFER from flame wars
Yes, it does.
But why every in the world does she assume that writing about politics automatically draws you into flame wars? Ultimately, whether you get involved in flame wars is up to you. If you’re too juvenile to control your impulses to always have to have the last word, fine, avoid the subject. But then avoid Twitter and Facebook, too, and your friends and family might just appreciate it if you did an anger management course.
Sorry, we’re not all impulse-driven angry people. We’re adults and can discuss issues in an adult way, and walk away from those who can’t. Nothing to do with writing about politics.

4. You Could Be Marketing!
Seriously. I got no words. What does she think marketing is? Tweeting BUY MY BOOK? Social issues get people emotionally involved. Emotion forges connections. Connections sell books.
End of. Never heard anything more stupid in my life.

5. It’s Not A Good Look On You. Or Anyone
Do you think I care? Actually, do you think I care about people who care that I get passionate about things… that I get passionate about that also happen to be political. Stuff like equal opportunities for all, education and the biggie, environmental politics? Do you really want me to scrub that off my writing and are you telling me that will make me look better?
What absolute ROT.

6. You’ll Demolish Your Career Opportunities
Feel free to do a bank-account-off. Show me yours, I’ll show you mine. End of argument.

7. You’re Not An Expert (Unless You Are)
I have no words. So now we are supposed to have degrees before we can comment? Holy crap-a-mole. What, so my degree is in agriculture and that means I can only comment on that? Does it mean I am not qualified to vote.
Seriously FFS, I have never heard anything more stupid.

The entire article is just made of stupid.

To repeat: writing about politics is not the same as trying to convince someone that your viewpoint is right.
Writing about politics involves showing the different viewpoints and showing characters with those viewpoints and why they think the way they do.
Writing about politics involves characters expressing their opinions.

Where do you think Ambassador would be without politics?
On one side we have the inclusionist groups that includes Cory and much, but not all, of gamra. Then you have the conservatives including Sigobert Danziger (who is very much into local aid) and later the Pretoria Cartel, who are about business.

And what about Shifting Reality, which is all about how minorities and the disenfranchised are treated. It’s also about minorities within minorities, for example the gay community within the Indonesian section, as well as the ultra-right hypertechs.

Even the Icefire/Moonfire series is full of politics. The whole plot of the second trilogy would fall down without the climate/science aspect.

But any opinions are voiced by the characters. You do not get to know (although you can probably guess) what I as author think, but some characters represent viewpoints I don’t agree with. These are not always evil characters (actually, they rarely are).

My fiction is FULL of politics. I’m proud of it.

Research with Google Streetview

Ambassador 6 and 7 are set on Earth, and therefore I get to look at real locations.

Ambassador 6 is mostly set in The Hague, which the home of the Nations of Earth court. This is, of course, and offshoot of the international court. I’ve built a new building for the Nations of Earth court, and renovated sections of the inner city (heh! Things you get to do when you set your story in the future).

The building on the left is where I’ve put the hotel:

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The canal on the other side of the grassy strip features prominently in the story.

When Cory and his team catch the tram and are followed by someone on foot, this is where they catch up with him:

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In Ambassador 7, Cory and his team are on holiday at his father’s beach house in the Bay of Islands in the northern part of New Zealand:

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He lives in a small community along Parekura Bay:

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Also featured in the story are the game parks in the northern part of South Africa. This is where Robert Davidson has his property:

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This is Fred, Cory’s father’s dog:
screenshot-2016-11-25-12-47-22

How to sell 11,000 books in less than 4 weeks

icefire-99c-special-fb

The title might be a little click-baity and just a tad misleading. I can’t tell you how to sell 11,000 books in four weeks, but seeing as that is what I’ve just done, I figured I’d have something to say about it.

My annual sales report for Oct 2015 to Sep 2016 mentions that in those 12 months, I sold 16.6k books. Then in the month of October I sold almost as much in just a single month. The 11k mentioned in the title was just one book. I sold other titles as well. In fact, the very point of selling the 11k books was to sell more different books.

So, what happened?

Well, I finished the Moonfire Trilogy and wanted to do an ad campaign to get more people into the series. I’d made book 1 99c for a while immediately after launch back in June and sold about 700 copies. But then I put the price back up so that I could concentrate on finishing the rest of the series (because refreshing sales dashboards is very distracting).

When that was done, I didn’t want to do another 99c promotion on the same book, but I did have something else. The Moonfire Trilogy is a sequel to the Icefire Trilogy. That series is now about four years old, and while it’s still selling, I felt I could play with it a bit. It also feeds into the Moonfire Trilogy. I spent a bit of time correcting some oopses I’d found, paid for another proofread, because there are always mistakes, always. I tizzed up the covers, and I put one very important line at the very end of the 900-page book: “The Moonfire Trilogy is set in the same world twenty years later. Click here to get the first book”.

Then I did something outrageous: I lowered the price for the entire trilogy to 99c. Then I applied for Bookbub. They said yes.

The ad ran on 8 October.

This happened:

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And this:

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And this:

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I sold 3046 books on that day on Amazon, with another 1500 on other platforms. The Bookbub site gives an estimated number of sales of 2400 copies. I needed to sell 1500 to break even on the cost of the ad.

I was happy. I know from running my own promotions that sets of books always do better than single books, because obviously they’re a better deal.

So I was very happy.

I expected the book to quickly sink into my usual comfort zone: oblivion. This particular book sells a good bit on Kobo, but rarely sells at all on Amazon (people there tend to prefer the individual volumes). I had planned to leave it 99c until this upcoming weekend’s Science Fiction and Fantasy promotion and I hoped to ride a bit on the tail of the promotion. I thought I might sell another few hundred. I sold EIGHT THOUSAND.

The book didn’t sink back down. It stuck to a ranking of around 3000 in the Amazon US store and it’s pretty much still there when I’m writing this. And yesterday, this happened in Amazon UK:

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I have NO idea why any of this happened, except to say a huge THANK YOU to all who bought it. It’s been a tad nuts, to be honest.

The ingredients to this success? Bookbub, no doubt, but to do so much better than their estimate? A good deal, lucky timing, and decent-sized community already familiar with your name. I’ve been featured by Bookbub seven times, so readers of Fantasy and SF will have seen my name a few times, and many more readers will have heard about my books from the SF/F promotions. That’s all I can think of.

The book will be featured in the SF/F promotion this week, and I’ve decided to keep it 99c until 21 November. Next week and the week after, a number of SFF promotion buddies will post to their mailing lists about it. It’s truly amazing to have such a great community.