Patty’s epic trip to the US 3. When in Vegas…

I have to admit that I don’t like cities, and so we left LA as quickly as possible (and I don’t like LA in particular), and had no great desire to go to any more cities, except Las Vegas was on the way, and a friend here in Sydney said: you have to go to Vegas, even just once, because Vegas is ridiculous.

And it is.

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This replica of Venice is quite something. Well done.

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This canal is actually inside a building, on the first floor (for you ‘muricans out there, that’s the floor *above* the ground floor)

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All I can say is that the real Eiffer Tower is bigger than this 😛

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Fountains set to music. Hate to think of the power bill. Hate to think of the power bill of Vegas in general. LOL.

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We were staying at the north end of The Strip and I think we walked about 18km that day, seeing that the previous post in Death Valley was on the same day. So this was the obligatory Vegas visit. The pizza was good.

We were ready to hit some bush and see some rocks.

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When Should You Self-publish And When Should You Submit To A Publisher?

This question comes up quite a bit amongst new writers.

They have finished manuscript and I wondering what to do with it. They may feel discouraged by the long and arduous process of finding a publisher, and they’re wondering whether to just self-publish.

One thing I should say. Whether or not to self-publish should never be a question of publishing what you could not get published by a traditional publisher. You should always self-publish your best work.

Surprisingly to many people, I very often recommend that when new writers have finished their first manuscript, they should be submitting it to a publisher.

Why, since I am obviously a proponent of self-publishing.

Well, in the first place, submitting to publishers buys you time.

One of the main problems of self-published writers is that they often do things in far too much of a hurry. They self-publish their first books before those books are ready.

I know this may sound quite arrogant, but I don’t mean ready as in that the book has polished prose and is of literary value, I mean that the plot is tight, and that book fits well in the market.

Submitting to publishers gives you a better idea of that market that you are trying to sell to. It is not about whether your book is good or not by whatever standards you want to measure “good”, it is about whether it fits the current desires of readers.

For all they’re maligned in the self-publishing community, publishers have not survived for many years by ignoring the type of books readers want to read. In fact, they employ professionals who in general have a pretty good understanding for what makes a commercial book. When you submit to publisher, you are a encouraged to see what else this publisher sells. You are encouraged to read those books and to socialise with those writers. This can give you a much better idea of the current book market.

Since a lack of understanding of this market is the main thing you’ll have to overcome whether are you self-published or submit to publishers, it is a huge advantage to gain this knowledge.

When you have been submitting for a little while and have gotten some encouraging reactions, this is when I would courage you to make the decision whether to self-publish or continue submitting.

This is when you have to consider how much work you are willing to do. Self-publishing is a very hands on experience. There is a lot of work that needs to be done that you may not necessarily want to do. If your goal is to just see your book out there then that just fine. But I assume that you are interested in giving your book the best chance possible and actually making some money. So, consider for yourself whether you are interested in learning how to market your book and whether you are interested in sourcing editors and cover designers. Whether you are interested in doing this for significant amount of time, all the time, for the lifetime of your writing career.

One of the major disadvantages of publishing traditionally is the loss of control and the extraordinary amount of time everything can take. Add to that the complete randomness of some decisions as they are influenced by internal changes within the publisher’s business. Are you happy to roll along with this, say for example if an editor who was really keen on your book leaves the publisher and the new editor suddenly doesn’t want your book any more? Are you willing to wait or resubmit to another publisher while you thought you had it all in the bag?

The frustration of waiting times and being scuttled at the very last minute is real.

On the other hand, a publisher can help you get into bookshops so if your aim is to find your book on the shelves, you really cannot do this half as well when you self-publish.

In the end, it is about educating yourself first, and then deciding based on your personality. By the way, no one says you can’t do both. But you need to do it with two different books, preferably into different series.

The beauty of today’s world is that you have this choice.


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How Important Is The Book Launch?

The book launch. How important is it for success?

In some circles of writers, there is a lot of talk about book launches. Certainly in the traditionally published world, book launches can be a vehicle for promotion. A book’s launch period is the time where it sits in a prominent position on the bookshelf before the industry decides whether it’s going to sink or swim. The book launch itself is a swanky party usually in a bookshop where the author invites their friends and the publisher invites industry people.

But how about when you self publish a book?

Is the book launch going to influence how well it sells down the track?

We all know that e-books are forever, and when you self publish, the bulk of your sales are likely to be in e-book.

I don’t know any buyer who looks at the year of publication when they purchase a book. So in theory, a book can sell just as well regardless of when it was published.

It is true however that Amazon favours recently published books, so there is some merit in trying to use that tendency.

But it is also entirely possible to keep the book afloat by constant low-level promotion.

It is even possible to renew interest in a book by promoting a book that is already a couple of years old. Most retail sites determine the likelihood of recommending a book to readers by how much it has sold in the previous month, so it is highly possible to spike your own sales by running a promotion that places it in a better position. You can do this at launch, but there is nothing that says that you can’t do it when the book is already a couple of years old.

So how much effort should you spend for your book launch?

I have to admit that I am of the opinion that whatever I do for the book launch should not take me away from writing the next book.

Other than that, I will usually spend a bit more effort if the book is the first book in the series, because I am trying to get interest in the series and I may be trying to get people to pre-order the next book after they have read the first one.

If the book is a second or sad or later book in a series, I concentrate my main efforts of marketing on the first book of the series, and then market the new book to the people who have shown interest in the first book. For those later books, my mailing list is the main advertising vehicle.

There are people who go all out on the book launches with Facebook parties and launch promotions. This can definitely get you some sales, but in the end, you have to weigh up the amount of time and money spent to judge whether or not it is worth it.

A good launch can make your book sell for longer, but it is entirely possible to revive and old book or keep a book selling at a lower level with ads that don’t require terribly much maintenance.

The book launch is not so important for self published writers as it is for traditionally published writers. A book in a bookshop gets six weeks to three months before the bookseller decides whether or not it has been successful and re-orders the book or returns and sold copies to the publisher and never orders it again. The publisher will also not promote older books.

As self-published writers, we don’t have the expectations of the first three months to deal with. Our books are on virtual shelves and always available. We can sit back at launch, run some ads, but otherwise concentrate on the next book.

This is a major advantage that we have over traditionally published authors.


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Patty’s Epic Trip To The US part 2. Death Valley 2

In the previous post, I already said that we enjoyed Death Valley a lot. We stayed overnight in Beatty, just outside the park boundary, and when we got the park ticket, they said it was valid for three days. We were not meant to be in Las Vegas until in the afternoon, so why not go back?

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Pretty much nothing grows in Death Valley.

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But the rocks are of all different kind of colours. We learned that people used to mine borax there. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what borax is. Apparently, you can use it to get rid of ants nests.

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This picture doesn’t show how windy it was here. The little silver speck in the middle is our rented Toyota Corolla, when it was still clean LOL.

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On the salt flats. The ground was actually a bit wet here.

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The lowest point of the valley.

Mailing Lists Will Stop Working

A lot of crystal ball gazing for this year made by various people has included the prediction that mailing lists will stop working. Everyone is complaining that people are getting too much email and the author mailing list will stop being so effective because readers have subscribed to too many newsletters. Readers have told them so, and therefore it must be true.

How many readers told them this? Oh, one or two. But “everyone” is saying it.

Ok, you can feel my sarcasm now.

What is really going on?

In the past few years, we have seen a lot of authors jumping onto the mailing list bandwagon. They did competitions, they did Facebook ads, they did mailing list swaps, and huge variety of schemes which concentrated on fast tracking their mailing list building.

All of a sudden, a lot of authors had huge mailing lists without ever having given any thought on what to do with these people on their list. So they did what you would normally do with an author mailing list: they started emailing them when they had new books out. Surprise surprise, these people did not buy their books. Huge lots of them even unsubscribed or reported the emails as spam. On top of that, a lot of authors increased their list while using expensive mailing services, so while on one hand their list was not buying their books, on the other hand they were paying a lot to keep all those people there.

I have seen all this happen more often than I can recount.

So therefore the conclusion must be that mailing list don’t work, that people are getting too much email, because some people responded to their emails telling the author so, and therefore that means list building is a thing of the past.

Seriously, what utter rot.

Email and mailing lists in various forms have been around since the beginning of the Internet. If you buy something from online retailer, chances are that you will be receiving the emails about special offers. These days you even get emails when your parcels are put in the mail, when they have been delivered to customs in your country, and when they have been delivered to your house.

People appreciate these emails, so what was this about too much email?

One of things I have learned in the past few years is not to listen to what people say, because it will very often differ markedly from what they do. So, a single reader who complains about getting too much email might just be writing a polite email to all the authors whose emails she is now getting as a result of taking part in a competition. This person is not your true target audience. And of course she is right.

I get it, if people take part in a competition and as a result a hundred authors will be sending them emails, it is likely that a few people get sick of getting so much email that they didn’t realise they would get. You will hear from these people, but you hardly ever get to hear from those who appreciate your emails.

Mailing lists are not about the few complainers, they are about the people who enjoy getting author newsletters. In fact, you want to get rid of the other people as soon as possible because they will never buy your books and they were only there for the contest or the free books that were part of your subscriber drive. Don’t worry about these people. It was never about them. It is about the ones you keep.

People who say that readers are getting too much email and that mailing lists will stop working are using the wrong argument to draw the wrong conclusion. They don’t know how to use email as an effective marketing tool, or how to separate what to send out to which people according to how they arrived on your list. In short: you need to ease competition entrants into your regular newsletter program or even send them completely different material.

The best feature about mailing list providers is that they are required by law to have a prominently displayed unsubscribe button. In fact I suggest that you make that button more prominent. If the subscribers don’t want to be there, you don’t want them there. Celebrate your unsubscribes. Your mailing list is not about people who unsubscribe, it is about the people who stay and start reading and buying your books because they sound cool or because you entertain them.

People who become your fans expect to be able to stay in contact with you. To email them about a new release is a great way of getting a good spike in sales when you book releases. To ask them questions about what you should do with the book’s storyline, to ask for title suggestions, or to name characters in your book after them is a great way of making them feel personal about your writing.

The author mailing list is the only tool that the author controls.

But make no mistake, getting signups from the back of the book and aggressive recruiting strategies like competitions and Facebook are two entirely different animals. There are tactics and philosophies attached to both of them and they do not mix. It is people who do not understand this who make comments about author mailing lists no longer working, and people are getting too much email. They say this, because they don’t understand the different mechanisms and strategies. They say this, because they have used the wrong strategies for the wrong group, and have held the wrong expectations for the wrong type of lists. And they’re impatient.

My entire business is built on my mailing list. Without it, my sales would be very small. I have taken care to build my list to include people who I want, and have done my best to sift out the rest. All it takes is an understanding of the tactics, patience and time.


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Patty’s epic trip to the US. Part 1

So.

When I returned from the US two weeks ago, it seemed that I took a little nasty passenger called a chest infection and I’ve only just recovered.

I promised to post some pictures, so here is the first lot. I have no idea how many there will be.

First off: I was away from 6 January to 4 February. The first 13 days of the trip were a tour with a community wind orchestra. We did some touristy stuff (Disney!) but a lot of those days were dedicated to music and musical things (none of which produce great photographic material).

When the rest of the group was dropped at LAX, my second daughter met me there. I had hired a car and we did an epic 2500km through California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. I managed to drive all this without once venturing on the wrong side of the road, although I’ve distributed dust (or snow) over the windscreen plenty of times, because the position of the windscreenwipers and indicators are swapped.

Anyway, after staying for one night in Santa Monica, we made for Death Valley.

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We enjoyed Death Valley much more than expected. I’d expected it to be dead-boring, but the colours are amazing.

So we stayed overnight in Beatty, and then went back the next day, because we only had to drive to Las Vegas.


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Going Wide: Direct Or Aggregator?

When people decide to put their books on more than one retailer, they invariably face the question: should I go direct to other retailers or use one aggregator who does the distribution for all the books?

There are some very good aggregators like Smashwords and Draft2Digital. They make life very easy for the author and some, especially Draft2Digital, offer a lot of additional services that are very useful.

What are the pros and cons of using these platforms?

In the first place, when you start going wide, the number of tasks that need to be performed can seem overwhelming. And the amount of work that needs to be done multiplies across however many books you have. At the moment, I have 44 different products. They are not all individual books, because some are box sets of multiple volumes, but each is an individual project that needs to be uploaded separately. I go direct on platforms where I can, so uploading all those books to all those platforms represents a significant amount of time. In the past few days I have spent hours preparing my books to upload them directly for sale on my website. I fully appreciate how hard it is and how daunting if you’re faced with this task and have to do it all at once. So the main pro is: aggregators are easy.

However, what do you lose by using a distributor, uploading it to their website just once and then clicking a button for each place where you want your book to appear?

In the first place there is the money. Aggregators usually take 10% of your earnings. Now this may seem like chickenfeed to you when you’re not selling much, but when you’re selling a lot, it quickly becomes an annoying cost.

But in my opinion, the biggest cost to you is not a monetary one. It is that you lose control over your appearance and pricing and individual categories on those websites.

Each retailer has a different way of categorising their books. Each retailer has different ways of displaying your book’s information.

For example, Apple gives you an incredibly long and detailed list of all the different categories you can use. Different countries use different library categorisation systems for their display in stores. If you are using aggregator, they determine the category, and you lose the ability to fine-tune your listing.

Some sites give more importance to the description, and some force their pricing into an even amount, and some give you special promotional opportunities that you cannot take part in when you use an aggregator.

For example there is absolutely no good reason not to go direct on Kobo. Kobo gives the author a promotions tab which allows you to enrol your book in as many promotions as you like. Most of these have no up-front cost. You pay 10% of the books you sell through that promotion.

When you use an aggregator you cannot set your pricing different from one retailer to the next. Sometimes, you want to do this, like when you have a promotion on that retailer.

Another issue is the display of series. Some retailers have series pages, some do not. Some allow you to add non-numbered books to a series, some do not. Some allow you to add books with odd numbering to your series page and some do not.

If you want to change something, like your cover, blurb or price, these changes usually take (much) longer with an aggregator.

It is this level of control that you give up when you go through an aggregator. It also makes it very hard to have personal contact with the retailer. You must decide for yourself if the convenience is worth giving up this control.

None of this means very much when you’re just starting out, but when you’re just starting out, you also have few books. It is when you have to upload a big catalogue that the project becomes daunting.

However, it is important that you make the right decision as early as possible. Once you have your books listed through a distributor, if you upload your own version later, it is likely that you will lose all your views. People on some platforms are much more likely to review than they are on Amazon. Losing all those reviews would be quite painful. The retailers may be able to accommodate you and move them over, or they may not. It is up to you to email and try.

It’s up to you. Make your choice and stick to it.


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Can You Make A Living Selling Short Fiction?

There are many things you can do with short stories. They don’t take as long to write as novels and you can try out a lot of different worlds and styles. They can be pilots for books you plan to write or expansions or delving into backstory of characters of existing novels.

If you have a short story to give away, you can use it to get people to sign up to your mailing list either by offering it as a prequel, or offering it as an extra bit of interest after people have read the first book.

But it is possible to make a living selling short fiction as a self published writer?

I certainly know writers who are doing this, and they fall into one of two categories.

The first type of writer starts off in the traditional circuit, submitting and selling to major genre magazines and then reselling the same stories to different markets and eventually self-publishing it digitally.

This is the type of writer who would have come up through the ranks of the traditional circuit. They would have come up through writing workshops and traditional writing events and would, after selling a few stories, realise that they can resell the stories in many different ways.

Short stories can be made into a longer stories, they can be translated, they can be made into graphic novels, you can sell them as reprint, they can be made into audio stories. Each of these can be re-sold. The possibilities are endless.

The second type of full-time short story writer is a writer who writes volume to a specific audience. They know this audience well, they know how to deliver the stories this audience is looking for, and they write a lot, like a story every week. The stories never get submitted anywhere, half the time they don’t even get edited very much, it is all about satisfying the readers who are keen to read more of the same. Most of those latter writers are in the genres of hot romance and erotica. The demand for short stories in those genres is quite high.

Anywhere else, you’re going to find that you have to provide a pretty strong driver for people to want to buy your stories. Either you have to put out a lot of them, they have to be connected to a certain world, and you have to bring a market ready to buy those stories.

When putting out short stories on retailer sites, they are definitely much harder to sell than full novels. And then there is the presentation. A lot of writers think they can just fling a short story onto Amazon with a home-made cover because it’s only a short story, and then they’re surprised if it doesn’t sell. Short stories still need great covers. Great covers cost money.

This past year, I have found a decent amount of success with the Jonathan Bartell series. These are technically novellas since each of them is over 20,000 words long. I have clearly branded them as series. I have paid for an editor, but since I can do my own cover design, the only costs I have for the cover are the images, if any, and other costs such as the font and the graphics software.

As is the case with novels, short stories to do better when there is more of the same available for sale. I feel that a lot of people don’t mind reading short fiction, but I hate having to invest in different characters all the time. So publishing them in a series is a good alternative. People can then read one short story every day if they want, and at the end you can bundle them into a bigger book which will then make a it a worthwhile investment for a novel reader to buy. And you can also make a print edition.

So if I wanted to make money with my short stories , I would do either of these things. I would try the traditional route as first port of call, keep my stories in circulation until they sell, and then self-publish and re-sell them. Or I would write them in series and publish a lot of them quickly.


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To Pre-order Or Not To Pre-order

On most retail platforms, self published writers now have the opportunity to use pre-orders.

Should you do this?

There are some people in the industry who are very much in favour of pre-orders. There is a Smashwords survey that says that authors who use pre-orders sell better than those who don’t, but I think there are a few different things going on here and you cannot simply draw these results from the survey. In short, I think that conclusion puts the cart before the horse.

In order to ultimately answer this preorder question, it would be a good idea to go back to your own behaviour and by extrapolation the behaviour of other readers.

When you find a book by an unknown author that looks interesting, would you preorder that book out of the blue without prior recommendations?

It is my bet that you wouldn’t. Especially because many sites don’t offer a sample for a preorder book.

You would however, preorder a book by an author that you are familiar with, especially when it is in a series that you are already interested in.

So it seems, that pre-orders have their uses.

Pre-orders retain readers for series that are ongoing, and maybe to lock in readers for a bundle if the price is an extraordinary good deal.

But come to think of it, there are so many books already available for free or just 99c, that a reader will just find another book instead rather than waiting for a book to be released just so that they can have it for 99c. Instant gratification is a big thing.

Of course people who use pre-orders sell well. They are using preorders to capture orders for new books in a popular series. People who use pre-orders successfully already have an audience. If an unknown author puts up a pre-order, it is very unlikely that they would sell a lot, unless they already have an audience.

But on the other hand, preorders are about strategy. What would you rather have: that these people pre-order the book or that you have them sign up to your mailing list so that when you decide to send out an email that the book is available, they’ll rush out and buy it? And then if they don’t buy it immediately, that you can send another email a month later to remind them that is available?

I know what I would choose.

I have found pre-orders quite useful for making sure that the book releases on time.

I will use a pre-order for a short period only, like a week or two, to make sure that the book uploads properly and that there will be no delay in the release of the book due to technical or Internet related difficulties.

For everything else, even existing series, I use a page where people can sign up so that I have their email address and I can notify them when the book is out.

Note also that on Amazon, your ranking will jump the moment a preorder hits, so if you have a three month pre-order period, you will dilute your sales ranking compared to the spike you would normally experience when you release a new book. If a rank spike is important to you, then don’t release books on pre-order.

In the end, it is all about tactics. Is it more important that you get sales over a longer period, or is it more important that you have your dedicated fans on your mailing list who will rush out to get the book?


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What To Look For In A Book Cover Designer

We all know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, except people do this all the time. People judge books by the cover when they see other people carrying those books on the train, they make judgements about what sort of people they are. This is of course why erotic fiction took such a leap with the event of ereaders. Nobody could see what you were reading.

Book covers are extremely important, and I would even say that they are more important for e-books than they are for physical books. Because an ebook has no tactical properties, the visual appeal is all you get to judge its attractiveness.

If you’re starting to self publish or you have published a few books but you know your covers are not up to scratch, how do you find a cover designer who can make book covers that sell, and what you look out for in this person?

The first port of call will be to look at a selection of books in your genre that are selling well and preferably that are also published by self published writers. Why not publishing houses?

Well, publishing houses often have other aims with their covers. In the first place they usually try to appeal to a buyer in a bookstore, and this is a different market and you can do different things with a print book. You will find that print book covers are often too intricate to work well on postage stamp size thumbnails.

So you would be looking for books that have been self published and that are selling well.

A lot of these authors will list their cover designer in front of the book. If they don’t, simply google the author, go to their website and ask. Not all will be happy to share, but many of them certainly do.

Now when you do this, you should find a moment to take yourself out of the equation. It doesn’t matter that you dislike the type of covers of books that sell well in your genre. Your aim is to make your book sell better, and you want to clearly communicate to the reader what genre it is.

Then find the cover designer through the authors—preferably find a couple of designers—and start asking for quotes.

How much should you typically pay?

Most good cover designers who serve self published authors and have proven themselves in terms of quality and reliability will charge from $250-$500 for a photo manipulated cover. Illustrated hand drawn covers are often a bit more expensive, but in general it should not be necessary to spend more than $800 on a cover.

If you wonder whether to go with a friend who is also a graphic designer, I advise against doing that. There are a lot of really good and effective graphic designers around, but good book cover design is a special art, and if you have never done it before, you don’t know what its requirements are. You’ll end up with a less-than-effective cover which you can’t replace without upsetting your friend. That’s a horrible situation to be in.

And you don’t want to go with a family member or friend who is an artist either, no matter how awesome they are. Naturally, artists have an increased sense of the importance of art on the cover. In reality, the effectiveness of cover design is about 50% art and at least 50% typography. I have seen great art ruined by horrible typography. I have seen great art custom-made for a cover that left no reasonable quiet space for the title and the author’s name, so that either had to be added with too many hideous text effects to even make the text legible, or it had to be added in a super small front somewhere down the bottom. That is just horrible and nobody is going to buy that no matter how much you spent on that book cover.

A good book cover designer is someone who has experience in book cover design. Someone who has good typography skills and who knows that a cover contains both art and typography which should enhance each other.

It is also someone who can work to deadlines, give you a timetable of events and then stick to it, and will make reasonably small changes to the design. A good book cover design most likely has a list of customers and you can ask them what they thought of the process. A good cover designer also has a well-designed website that displays book covers they have done.

If you can’t afford a custom-made cover, many designers also sell premade covers—where all you get to change is your name and title—at a much cheaper rate.


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