A newbie writer’s guide to getting your first Bookbub ad (or other major advertising)

In conversation.

GH = Grasshopper
VA = Veteran Author

GH: Soooooo, I hear Bookbub is all the rage, but is that site even open to us indies, because I submitted my book once, and they didn’t want it.

VA: *loud belly laugh* You submitted ONCE? Mwahahahahahahaha!!!

GH: But they didn’t even tell me why they didn’t want it. The whole site is a stitch-up between the trads and the people who already sell well. Those people don’t even need it. Look at meeee. I’m down in the rankings and no one is seeing my book. It’s a conspiracy.

VA: OK, so let’s look at your book.

GH: *blushes*

VA: Is your cover the best you can make it? Is it appropriate for the genre? Is is skilfully made?

GH: Well, it was made by a friend who has a design business–

VA: Book cover design?

GH: No, she designs business cards. But it’s all the same, isn’t it?

VA: No, it isn’t. The format is too wide, making the cover look odd. The type is far too small. The picture is OK, although the photoshop skills could be better, but it doesn’t represent the genre. Get another cover.

GH: Okaaayyyy.

VA: Let’s look at your blurb. Is it short and snappy? Does it give a clear idea of what sort of story we’re going to get? Does it support the genre indicated by the cover?

GH: Well, I got my friend and her mother to review the book, so I copied those reviews into the blurb. I don’t want to give too much away about the story.

VA: Get rid of those reviews. They’re already in the review section. Don’t be too coy about what happens in the book. Lift a corner of the story and entice readers. Look at blurbs of successful authors.

GH: Okaaayyyyyyyy…..

VA: What about your sample? I see that you start the book with a dedication to your dog, a poem by another writer (do you have permission to use this?), a glossary of terms and a long prologue that’s a condensed history of the world. Get rid of those things, or at the very least move them elsewhere. The back of the book would be a good place.

GH: But why?

VA: They’re cluttering up your sample. People downloading the sample get hit with a wall of irrelevant stuff–

GH: But they need to know–

VA: Trust me, they don’t.

GH: Okay, but tell me, I asked why lowly indies like me never get featured on the big sites. What does that have to do with all this?

VA: Hear me out. What about your formatting? I see that your book uses HUGE indents and sometimes has empty lines for no reason.

GH: Formatting is the easy part. You just upload a Word file.

VA: That will work, if you have your Word file correctly formatted. You DON’T EVER use tabs for indents.

GH: You don’t? Really?

VA: Learn how to do it properly.

GH: Okaaayyyy, but I still don’t see–

VA: Reviews, how many do you have?

GH (sigh of relief): All right, you’re getting to the problem. It’s simply impossible to get reviews. And then you do giveaways and people will only review on goodreads, where the reviews are of no use to me. Everything is conspiring against new authors getting reviews.

VA: Nope. Reviews are a function of sales. Sell more books, and get more reviews.

GH: But they’re saying you need at least fifty to get into Bookbub! That’s impossible. Everything is stitched up by the older crowd.

VA (annoyed): Stop blaming other people for your failure.

GH: *blushes* Sorry.

VA: Because reviews are a function of sales, you must sell more books. Have you done all the things I mentioned earlier?

GH: I’m getting to it.

VA: OK, when you’ve done them, lower your book to 99c.

GH: WHAT? Do you know how much all this cost me? *faints*

VA: Do you want to do this or not?

GH (weakly): I guess…

VA: Lower your book to 99c for a week every month and run promotions on it. Start with the cheaper ones. Sell as many books as possible. Offer your book free to people who want to review. This will take a while.

GH: But! FIFTY reviews!

VA: They will come.

Six months later.

GH: OK I have 45 reviews, but it’s really slowed down a lot. Should I apply again?

VA: Yes, you should.

GH: What if they reject me?

VA: You apply again, as soon as you can. And again, and again. And again.

GH: But what if they never accept me?

VA: It happens. But by doing all the steps above, you’ve ensured that you may not even need it anymore. And above all, stop obsessing and keep writing.

GH: That’s what I most enjoy doing anyway.


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.

First in Series Free: Mythical by C.E. Martin

Colonel Mark Kenslir is the last of the Cold War supersoldiers–and he’s just come back from the dead.

Sent to Arizona to hunt a heart-devouring shapeshifter, Colonel Kenslir and his team of supernatural-smashing soldiers thought it was just another mission. But instead of stopping the monster’s murderous rampage, the Colonel and his team became the latest victims in a trail of carnage blazed across the Southwest.

Suffering from partial amnesia, with no weapons and no support, Kenslir must rely on two reluctant teens to help him remember his past, complete his final mission and avenge his men.

Author website

Book 2 in the series

Get it for free here


First in Series Free: Mythical by C.E. Martin was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

How do you promote on Kobo?

FacebookheaderWhen other writers hear that I sell quite well on Kobo, the reaction is invariably: How do you do that? I don’t even know how to promote my books there?

Last month, this post appeared on the Kobo Writing Life blog. There are also a few Facebook groups that concentrate on sites other than Amazon. Kobo Writing Life and Kobo Indie Ebooks are two I can think of.

Invariably, a lot of these sites have the same problem in common: they are populated mainly by writers wanting to “promote”. You may sell a copy or two, but those books are bought by someone who came to the site wanting to advertise their own books.


So, maybe we need to step away from that tacky word “promote”.

What does promote mean? Since the start of self-publishing, it has come to mean spam the living daylights out of all your Facebook and Twitter friends, and pay big bucks for advertising that may or may not work, but even if it works, effects are usually very short-lived.

Many people seem to survive on this crash diet of expensive promos and free days and so many of them are becoming disillusioned with the process. It’s a draining and tiring and takes you away from writing.

The reason people do this is because they want to find people who will champion their fiction. The more books you have in circulation, the better the chance of finding people who will love your work. With free days in Select, Amazon offers an easy way to give away lots of books. Hang on, only if you can get mentioned on one of the main blogs, which don’t list as many free books as they used to, because of an Amazon crackdown in affiliate links (story too long to recite here). The free spots on those blogs have become competitive, which means that the blogs charge for them. Yes. To advertise a free book.

This may work if you have more books in the series, and it may not lose you any money if you discount your book a lot but don’t make it free, but still…

In my opinion, this is spiralling into all the wrong directions.

Some time, in some industry called the traditional publishing industry (remember that?) someone said something that went like: money flows to the writer. Not to the service providers. I do sometimes pay for advertising, but I’m starting to feel very uneasy about this whole free/cheap book blog money-grabbing business. You can bite me in the comments.


(yes, and I totally know that I exceeded the maximum number of allowable instances of “some” in that first sentence)


How DO you promote on Kobo? Because Kobo doesn’t offer this crash-course diet.

The same way as you can let people know about your fiction everywhere else:

1. Write a good book

2. Write a sequel. Make sure you brand books as a series. Make sure you number the volumes.

3. Write another sequel. Make book 1 free if you want, but that’s not really necessary.

4. Talk about your book on your author and Facebook page, and on Twitter. I mean talk about, not spam.

5. The three Be’s: Be there, Be genuine, Be interesting

6. Do a LibraryThing give-away (free), casually give away ebooks to whoever shows interest in reviewing.

7. Do an occasional guest post.

8. Make sure your author website has a page for each book that lists links to *all the places* where people can buy the book. Remember that if they use Google Chrome with adblocker, people WILL NOT SEE your links if you use affiliate codes.

9. The most important thing is that this process is a constant, low-key affair that need not take you away from the rest of your life for more than 15 minutes a day.

Right. Did I mention the word “Kobo” in any of these points? I did not. Because this method is a one-stop-shop and works everywhere. The most valuable thing an author can have is a reader base that’s not linked to any one retailer. Just in case one of them spits a dummy on you or goes broke.

Patty writes hard Science Fiction, space opera and fantasy. Her latest book is Trader’s Honour, in the space opera series The Return of the Aghyrians. If you’d like to be kept up-to-date with new releases, remember to sign up for Patty’s new release newsletter.

The “I made it” syndrome

One aspect of self-publishing that not many people mention as disadvantage is that you are largely unsheltered from the highly erratic nature of the market.

Another aspect is that many people don’t like “marketing” and wish to stop doing it as soon as they can.

Enter the “I made it” syndrome.

It looks like this:

After X number of months (or, for that matter, years) a writer achieves a level of sales that corresponds with that writer’s ideal of earnings.

Bingo! The writer has made it. For now on, sales will take care of themselves. The writer can relax and stop the annoying marketing and pull out of advertising.

Yeah–right. Remember the first line of this post?

Here are a few further truths about ebook sales:

1. The “floor” number of sales is zero. Seriously. The fact that your book has sold X number of copies last month means squat for this month’s sales.
2. You may get a sales boost from publicity events like a blog tour or a review, but this doesn’t last, especially if not followed up with new releases or further low-key involvement from your part.

Unless you start selling thousands of copies a month (and probably even then), your direct involvement will make a difference to sales. You need to maintain and herd your books. I don’t mean market them to death. I mean maintain their pages at various sales platforms, garner reviews, register with new opportunities as they open up, take part in relevant communities and make use of all the free listings you can get. You need to be on the ball.

A few good months mean nothing and is no incentive for you to count on the money, to assume that sales will always rise, or give up your dayjob. Ebook selling is a game of cliffs. Sometimes we go up, sometimes we fall down.

Charlotte’s Army

I’m going to do something silly. Out of all the works I could promote, I’m going to promote a self-published work for the Ditmar Awards.


Because I’m silly.

But also because it’s the damn most fun thing I’ve published this year.

And I did sell it, but the publisher folded.

It’s a novella, so markets for those are very limited, except in electronic form.

So there. Here is an excerpt from Charlotte’s Army. Download the entire 23,000 words temporarily free from Smashwords.

* * *

It was 4.06am ship time when the emergency bell went off in the corridor. In the few seconds it took me to jump out of bed and into my pants, I realised that the ringing bell signified a medical emergency and furthermore, that I wasn’t on duty. But I threw on my shirt and went outside anyway. In the corridor, Julia almost crashed into me.
‘Charlie! You’re going the wrong way. Not the hospital, the docking bay.’
I ran after her. ‘Docking bay?’
‘A shuttle came in from the Forward. Stab wound. A bad one.’
No. Another one.
We ran into the docking area, where a number of dock personnel and medical grunts already waited. The screen of the airlock camera, showed the shuttle already in place. Lights flashed. Flight assistance personnel were manoeuvring the ramp into place. A few nurses waited with trolleys. Dr Spencer was there, too, in full gown and gloves.
There were some low metallic noises, a squeak and the airlock hissed open. Two flight personnel ran out, carrying a stretcher with a blanket-covered form, which they put on the trolley the nurses had pushed up the ramp.
The whole scene passed in quiet, grim efficiency. Walking back to the hospital behind the patient, I tried to see the soldier’s face, but an oxygen mask covered it. Dark curls peeped from between insulating covers.
Into the operating theatre, the blankets came off.
His skin was pale and clammy. He was breathing irregularly. He had a deep gash in his stomach. The onboard medbot had done a reasonable job at stemming the bleeding, but this would require surgery. Dr Spencer spotted me and gestured me over to assist while he repaired the wound.
I worked in detached efficiency.
Later, after a tasteless breakfast and too-hot coffee, fatigue and shock hit. Another construct injured by his comrades. This one Landau, our pride stock, the recipients of the most advanced leadership modules. What ailed them?

Catch 22: announcing a new project

A new blog project!

Readers of speculative fiction like finding new authors and books. They may be looking for something a bit different, or something in a subgenre that’s not widely available. That’s why we read things online.

More and more authors are self-publishing their books. They either do this to keep out-of-contract material in circulation or they publish entirely new fiction. They like to let the world know, but a lot of conventional reviews sites are closed to them and it gets tiring to beat your own drum. They’re in a catch-22.

Readers may want to try out a few of these authors, but they don’t like the risk of buying something that is not up to scratch. Another catch-22.

This blog series will be about meeting the two in the middle.

For each post, I will give the stage to an author to talk about their self-published book. But, in order to be featured here:

– the author must have some publishing credentials or be seriously underway to getting them (published at least one story at pro level, be a member of SFWA, have attended intensive writing courses such as Clarion, or won awards).
– the book must have a cover
– it must be freely available on ebook sites such as Smashwords and the Kindle store
– it must be speculative fiction
– it must not be free

At this stage, I have no idea how many posts there will be, but I envisage posting no more frequently than once a week, and I’ll keep this open for as long as I think this is useful.

Want to write a 500-word post on your book? Reply below.

Because April is Aussie Author Month, I’ll giving first dibs on Aussie authors.