The dreaded M word

The mention of the word marketing gives a lot of writers hives.

I think this is mostly because they misunderstand what is meant by marketing. They think that marketing means shouting buy my book on Facebook and Twitter. They think that marketing means sleazy tactics and mentioning your own book at every available opportunity, whether appropriate or not.

They remember when they went to a con and a writer on a panel sat down at the speaker table and displayed all his books in front of him, they thought it looked silly, and they desperately didn’t want to be like that.

The news is that you don’t have to do this at all. Schlepping your books is not marketing. Schlepping your books is ick. Effective marketing is both fun and smart. It’s fun because, having created the product, marketing is where you get to see the sales and make the money. It is where you can make the difference between seeing almost no return to gaining a healthy income, if your book does its job.

Effective marketing is to position in your book in places where people will naturally find it. Marketing is to display your book in a way so that people who normally like those types of books will be intrigued and prepared to give it a try.

You are right to be turned off by the hard selling author, and there are not many good reasons for doing this. If fact I would say it turns most people off.

Marketing isn’t even about doing promotions and holding sales, although some of it can be. But promotions and sales are nothing if there is no tactic behind them. If you promote the first book in your series, you hope that people will buy the rest at full price, because that’s where you make the money. If you give away free books for people to sign up to your mailing list, and you will have their address for new releases and develop a better relationship with your readers, which, if done well, will result in increased sales.

Your cover is marketing. Your blurb is marketing. The way you interact and do promotions with other authors is marketing. Marketing is purely about finding where you audiences are and making it possible for them to find your books. Most of this is done behind the scenes.

Marketing is not sleazy. Selling can be sleazy. Marketing is not selling.

Writing the book is only one part of the equation. Once you have written the book, it would be silly not to try to position it so that people can find it and if they like the sound of it, buy it. That is marketing. That is where the fun begins.


The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

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Why do you hate Amazon?

I admit, that’s a click-bait title. I don’t actually hate Amazon at all, although sometimes people could be mistaken for thinking so. I certainly make enough comments about the things that they do and we have to watch out for. But hate? Nope.

My position on Amazon is indifferent. Amazon just is. I use it. I don’t buy Amazon hype and I don’t buy Amazon hate. I don’t think either of those two options are healthy for the independent writer. Use with care. Watch your chickens and don’t let your own prejudice stand in your way.

One position I see touted at times is that if you sell on Amazon you have to love everything they do or get out because we have to be grateful they let us play in their sandbox.

Seriously what bunk.

Just because you list your books on a site that means you can’t criticise them?

Amazon deserves our criticism. So does Google or Apple or any other large company when they do something that doesn’t pass muster. By their very nature, very large companies slip in their standards. They may perform one part of their service well, but might have problems in others.

They may exploit their content providers. They may treat their workers poorly. They may source their materials in dubious ways. Whatever it is, the only way they get called out on it is if we, the public, kick up a stink. And we need to do this, no matter how much we enjoy other parts of their services.

In short, if Amazon does something dinky, speak up as part of the community that has an interest in selling there and being treated fairly.

If Amazon does something dinky, the answer is not to take your books off or shut up. The answer is to make sure they live up to their promise to treat us fairly.

I, for one, am not going to fight my battles over the heads of my readers.

Trends in self-publishing in 2018

The end of the year always offers time for reflection, and I make no exception for this blog. Here are some trends I see coming in 2018.

More people going wide or diversifying income
As the market becomes more mature, people who are interested in a lasting writing career will realise that they need to diversify to spread risk particularly in relation to the second point in this post. This could mean taking books to more distributors, but also doing print and audio and branching out into different genres, different pen names, or creating another income stream from non-fiction, crowdfunding, direct sales or providing services.
This is necessary because…

Amazon will continue to do things that will make sense only to Amazon (and even that could be debated)
And who knows what it will be?
In 2017, writers in Select saw their page reads spectacularly eroded through page flip. And we saw that Amazon doesn’t care that it can’t tell how many pages a reader has read.
We also saw Amazon taking a publicity hit when a scammed book went to #1 in the store. Of course, in Amazon-style, they responded extremely heavy-handed, punishing legit writers. I know they cancelled a bunch of dubious accounts as well, so that’s something at least. But there was a fair bit of collateral damage.
Amazon is known to use a sledgehammer when all they need is a screwdriver.
For us, it’s a constant battle, so…

People will give up
I’ve seen the tone in self-publishing forums change markedly in the last year or so. It’s no longer super-buoyant. People realise that this gig is a lot of WORK. Some don’t want to do it. They will quietly disappear. They will realise that they’ve written the one book everyone is said to have in them and move on to basketweaving.
For the rest of us…

More people will have a go at selling books direct

OK, I already set up my web store, mostly for ebook cover design, but with Bookfunnel, we now have a secure ebook delivery mechanism that doesn’t include having to provide the reader with instruction on how to put the book on their device. So more people will start doing this. How successful they are remains to be seen, because discoverability is an issue. I see this function valuable for large collections and special material for fans.
But to continue in this vein…

Bookbub will take steps to start selling books
OK, this one is a little bit out there, but why not? With Amazon eroding affiliate income, it makes sense for Bookbub to retain a higher percentage of the cut and start selling direct to customers.
Which brings me to…

A reduction in the number of rented lists
Anyone who says that the efficiency of “rented” lists (Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy, Ereader News Today, Free Kindle Books & Tips) has declined markedly is not dreaming. I’m not entirely sure what is to blame, but my guess is poor curation could be part of the problem. For some of these lists, you only need a credit card to join the fun. It’s a pay-to-play environment, and that benefits no one.
These lists should be curating what they feature, not rely on lazy-arse selection through “star ratings”, but actually, y’know, look at the books that are submitted, and only feature books that meet their criteria. Anything else might make a little bit more money in the short term, but is otherwise just shooting themselves in the foot.
So my prediction is that some of these sites will have to reinvent themselves or bite the dust.
For authors, it means finding new ways to promote…

More people will jump on the collaboration bandwagon
If the hot buzz last year was author cross-promotion, this year it’s co-writing. Since output is the name of the game (to some people at least), what is better than to write and publish twice as fast with someone else? Nothing, in theory, and so people will jump on the co-writing bandwagon in order to make millions…
Except when they don’t.
Realise that it is a bandwagon and that the head of the column—where the most profitable deals are—has already passed.
If you want to collaborate, nothing is stopping you. Just make sure you do it for the right reasons. Making a metric butt-tonne of money is not a reason.
And also…

Some multi-author collaborations will explode. Spectacularly. Like, in a take-me-to-court fashion
I’m seeing some stuff that gives me hives. While it seems fine to try to publish a book with a friend, what happens if tensions arise over content or payment? What happens if one of the partners suddenly finds spectacular success and resentment builds in both directions? What happens if a partner fails in their commitment through no fault of their own? What happens when a writer realises that the co-writing contract they signed is poor and/or exploitative?
Pleaseplease, if you co-write, make sure you have a proper contract. Please ask the hard questions before the difficult situations present themselves. What if someone can’t do it anymore? What if one partner wants out? How are you going to make the accounting transparent to all involved? What if one of you gets hit by a bus? Before you embark on a co-writing project, run the contract past someone with a strong BS meter and ask them to poke holes in it.
But to close off…

Some things never change. Keep writing the best books you can. Attempt to own and control as much of your audience as you can. Sales are cool. Readers on your mailing list are better. Don’t rely on the retailers to market for you. Learn to do it yourself. No one is going to care as much about your work as you do.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

The Things That No One Talks About

I first started publishing in 2011. It was an exciting, vibrant time when the sky was the limit and the world was your oyster.

There were a couple of well published cases of writers who started making a lot of money that got a lot of publicity from the news. For us, the writers still submitting to publishers, self-publishing was an ever more attractive option.

I published my first book in January 2011, and I have watched this industry grow and evolve. While there are still a lot of positive stories, negative stories have gotten a lot more screen time recently. People are saying the self-publishing space is too crowded, people are saying the deck is stacked against them.

At first, those types of stories only came out during the months of the northern hemisphere summer. This is the time where traditionally not as many books are sold as in the months after Christmas. People were seeing a downturn in sales and started wondering if the industry was declining.

However this year the negative stories seem a lot more pervasive.

Newsflash: it is hard to make a living as a writer.

It seems like the industry’s boundless positivity has finally caught up with reality: most writers won’t succeed.

So here are a few things that nobody talks about. This is not a negative post, just an attempt at putting a few things in perspective.

1. People talk about 2009 or 2011 as being the golden time of self publishing. As if when you published back then, your manuscript would instantly turn to gold. But nobody talks about is that there are a lot of us around, myself included, who did not get easy sales and did not make millions. We were doing just exactly the same thing as new writers are doing now: figuring out what works what doesn’t.

But nobody talks about those writers. And nobody talks about the complete lack of services or knowledge that was available to people self-publishing at that time. At the time when I came to self-publishing forums, it was still extremely common to see people with the most horrid covers on their self published books. While it is still happening, most people realise that as soon as they come to forums and see the covers on the books of the writers who are selling well, that these are things that need to be fixed first before you can sell. The tools to do this are so much more easy to find. The many ways of marketing your book are also easy to find out about. So no, for the individual writer it has certainly become a lot more easy to put out a book of quality that will have a chance.

2. While we’re on quality. Nobody talks about it. It’s considered downright rude to tell another writer that their book isn’t very good. Good is a sliding scale anyway and what is good to someone is complete rubbish to someone else.

But even with gorgeous covers, there are too many books that fail the most basic concept of quality. No it’s not that they’re free of grammatical errors, it is that they fail to tell a story that enough people want to read to give the book viable market.

Now to be honest, this also applies to traditionally published books. But because with a traditional publisher a lot more people look over the book before it’s published, someone who wants to publish this book through a publishing company has to convince a lot more people that the book is worth spending money on. With self-publishing, the only person who is going to make that decision is you.

While writing by committee is in general not a very good idea, marketability by committee is almost mandatory. When you self-publish, you bypass this process, and you may well be publishing a book in which the first three chapters are so insanely boring to most readers that nobody will go and buy the second book.

So at the risk of being crucified by the comments, I will say that a lot of self-published writers spend far too little time in their early careers figuring out how to write books that more people want to read. This is not about grammar and it is not about editing except to say that you could be helped by developmental editing, but even a developmental editor will not fix your story. You have to learn the craft of storytelling.

3. The marketing slide. If you have a book that doesn’t sell, marketing may make little difference or it could make a lot of difference. Books that require absolutely no marketing and just sell themselves are quite rare. Books that cannot be made to sell with any amount of marketing also not terribly common although more common than the first.

Most books fall somewhere in the middle, where some marketing is required to make them sell on a continuous basis. With every book, there is the point at which the return just isn’t there in terms of money and time spent.

4. There is no magic trick. Yet, we see new and less successful writers searching for the one trick that will make them a bestseller. The one secret that they can do that will suddenly drag their books out from the bottom of the charts. The one marketing trick that will make them a lot of money. Many of these people start becoming bitter when they don’t find that trick, and some of them will never stop looking for it. They blame the bestsellers for holding it back, they hang onto the skirts of those that they perceive as more successful than them and hope that some of the magic will rub off.

In a way, they’re right: there is a magic trick. It is called: write a book that readers want to read. It is called: do the work. It is called: learn continuously to write better fiction and serve your audience better.

But sadly, that is not the trick that these people are looking for. They want an easy fix, and they demand that it be given to them by those they perceived as more successful.

There is no magic trick.

Sometimes when you hang around for long enough and participate in enough different things, you will find something that works really well for a little while. It may be a new promotion site with a particularly engaged audience that buys a lot of books. It may be a particular ad platform that suddenly starts delivering some good results. But not only are these tricks often short lived, they rarely make or break a writer’s career. What does make or break a career is for a writer to throw themselves into learning how to apply themselves best to their chosen tools.

There is no magic sauce. Don’t waste your time looking for it. Definitely don’t antagonise people by demanding that they give it to you.

5. There is a perfectly good living to be made from your fiction without ever having a bestseller. There is even a very good living to be made without any of your books ranking anywhere in any top hundred listing in the Amazon US top lists. Ever.

In the first place, the world is much bigger than just that particular market. In the second place, you often have to run promotions to hit those charts with regularity. Promotions require you to mark down your book.

You make a lot more money from selling at $4.99 than at 99c, although it is much easier to rank with the latter.

If it’s about money in the bank, and ultimately, it always is, then worry less about rank and more about the dollars and cents on your sales dashboard.

6. What goes up must come down. It is very rare that book starts selling and keeps selling at an amazing level for very long time. I think we can all name those books in our genre and count them on the fingers of one hand. There are many more books that did well for a while, and then disappeared from sight. There is nothing wrong with that. But let’s acknowledge that it happens. So ride the highs and then put away money for when sales are less. Manage your income through advertising your backlist during the time that you don’t have any new releases.

7. The good part. Around the year 2000, I ran an Internet business selling non-fiction books on very specialised academic subjects. At that point in time, this was a gold rush. I bought books new from publishers or as batches secondhand, I marked them up and sold them on online platforms which were only just starting to gain popularity.

It was in the pre-Amazon days, and people were looking for places to buy rare books. There was one time that I flew to New Zealand to buy two books in an auction, which, when I sold them the week I got home, funded my entire trip. I was constantly thinking but what if these book buyers learn how to look online for themselves and find these bargains?

Which of course they did.

Not only that, but selling print books and carting them to the post office is heavy and time-consuming business. There is a lot of investment needed in terms of storage space, stock, furniture to put the stock, accounts at the post office, for running this type of business. Our entire house was full of books. In my best year I sold multiple six figures, but most of that went into buying new stock. A lot of it also went to the post office.

You need almost no investment when you self-publish online. Even my online book business never saw as much investment as some other business types, because I did not need to rent a shop, although I considered it, and I never needed to employ any people.

Self-publishing is at the low extreme in terms of the capital investment slide. The only stock you might need is a handful of copies of your books to give away to people you meet or maybe to sell at cons. You can even choose not to do this.

The other prior investment you need is a decent website and editing and covers for your first books. It baffles me that people even complain about this investment. Make no mistake, self-publishing is extremely easy to get into compared with just about any other business.

It is also extremely easy to get your money. We are dealing with a couple of large retailers who pay regularly and pay on time. All you need is a bank account and Bob’s yer uncle. You may need some tax numbers, and again self-published authors complain their heads off about this, but it is nothing compared to what you need to set up a business with a storefront.

Not only that, but you don’t have to chase non-paying customers. The only fraud you’re going to have to deal with is that of those annoying serial returners on Amazon. They’re not even costing you any real money.

So step back, and appreciate how easy this business is.

8. You need to keep changing and reinventing yourself. You need to keep learning. If you keep doing exactly the same thing year in year out, you die. You need to keep improving your fiction, you need to keep on top of underlying trends, you need to give your readers something new to look forward to all the time. You need to make sure that you’re not caught unawares by certain trends or closures of certain businesses like we have just seen with Pronoun.

One of the main advantages that we have over businesses with employees and offices in New York is that we are agile and can completely turn around a business strategy in the matter of days.

This may well be the golden time self-publishing, and it may well be, as doomsayers say, that it will only get harder from now on. It will get harder because everybody is doing it, but it also means that the rate of attrition is going to be huge. Many people will try self publishing but give up after they have found that it’s hard work.

And frankly that has never been any different in the world of writing. So don’t fear, if you’re doing your work properly and you’re learning and you continue to learn about business, and have persistence, then I guarantee that you will have a reasonable career.

Ironically, this is exactly the same thing I heard as a new bright-eyed and bushy-tailed writer at my first con: the ones who succeed are the ones who do the work and persist.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

Is there still a point to use free books?

In Self-publishing Unboxed, I mentioned that I don’t use permanently free books any more.

People have asked me when I would recommend using free books, and when not to use them.

Free books are excellent for giving away samples of your writing. People will download the free book and then will read the other books if they liked it.

But if you have a permanently for a book on Amazon or any of the other retailers, you will find that after initial burst of downloads, the number of people downloading your book reduces quite a lot.

When that happens, you will have to advertise.

And with advertising comes a cost. Also, there are only so many venues where you can effectively advertise your free book, like ENT, Freebooksy and, if you can get it, Bookbub. Eventually you’re going to run out of places to advertise, and it will be harder to get free downloads. You can ask fellow writers in similar genres to post about your free book to their mailing list, but you have to work harder and harder to give your free books away. There are people doing this very successfully by the way. But don’t expect the fact that you have a free book to just lead to higher sales by its self.

On Amazon, I tend to only get free downloads if I have advertising going, on Kobo, the free books are right at the bottom of the rankings, so people will only find them when you point them to the free book, and this is the same at Google play. Apple is the only retailer that still shows free books to readers in a place where they can actually find them, but unfortunately, a soon as you make your book free on Apple, Amazon will make it free, too.

When I say that I no longer use free as a tool, that is not entirely true. I definitely use free, but I give away free books in exchange for people’s email address so that they can be on my mailing list.

This is a huge advantage, because now you know who your readers are.

I started doing this when I noticed that all the downloads on the retailer sites were through activities of mine. If you’re going to have to pay to get people to download your free book, you might as well pay for a place where they need to leave your email address to get the free book.
I uploaded my free books on Instafreebie and Bookfunnel and required mandatory email signups for people to download their copy.

I will occasionally make a book free for month or so, but I won’t leave it like that, because the downloads diminish when your ad campaigns have finished, and there is no point leaving the book free if you are driving all the downloads.

In short, free is useful when there are external mechanisms that will direct new readers to your books. If you are the only one directing the readers, you should dictate where people download it. It might as well be in a place where you can get their data.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find out about the Three Year Plan self-publishing books here.

Mailing lists–what about blacklists?

This is for people who take part in multi-author promotions that run a competition where people sign up to be in the draw for a prize. The competition organiser will send you a list of mailing list subscribers. In addition, the organiser may keep a spreadsheet with a blacklist for email addresses who have filed spam reports or have otherwise been abusive.

This would be a good thing, right?

In principle, yes. It happens that competition entrant who has never taken part in any of these competitions didn’t read the fine print, and suddenly they start receiving a whole bunch of emails from authors claiming that they signed up for that mailing list. It happens at these people fly into fits of rage and send abusive emails to everybody.

Yes, seriously, the rudeness of people cannot be underestimated, nor their inability to read (often not so) fine print.

You do not want these people on your list and you would be best to unsubscribe them.

But what about the people who did not email anyone but who, according to someone’s mailing list provider, reported them for spam?

In the past, when I have had such lists provided by competition organisers, I searched for a couple of the addresses, and half the time, I found that some of them are engaged and valued subscribers who open my emails and sometimes even reply to me, or they may even be on my advanced readers team.

So what is up with that?

Well, like opens, spam reports are unreliable. I have had people I know supposedly report me for spam while knowing that they would never have done any such thing.

Internet service providers tend to be very nervous about spam, and while they filter out much of the deluge that washes across the Internet every day, they will also record false positives. Rather a lot of them, even.

So if you get handed a blacklist, I would absolutely remove people who have been in contact with members of your group and have sent them rants or abusive emails. But I would do nothing with people who have reported spam because they may not have deliberately reported anyone for spam at all. They may just have moved the email in the bin, and that can count as a spam report.

So let them come in, and give them an easy unsubscribe option.

If you have proper processes in place, your spam percentage will be quite low anyway, and it’s not worth worrying about if it means that you may also accidentally unsubscribe a good number of loyal readers.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you comment and ask additional questions.

The Three-Year, No-Bestseller Plan To A Sustainable Income From Self-Publishing

Copied from a post I made at the Kindleboards. Posted here to give it a more permanent home.

I started self-publishing in 2011 by putting up some short stories from trade pub where the rights had reverted back to me. For at least the first year and a half, I published a lot of what we shall call “random crap”, most of which is still online in one way or another, but I knew squat about series and branding and all that stuff. I didn’t really understand any of that until late 2013-ish, when I started making a decent effort towards completing and branding series.

I write Science Fiction and Fantasy, everything under one name. I have no pen names to speak of, or at least none that I’m doing anything with. That may change, but I find it annoying to have to double up on everything.

On Amazon US, my books usually hang out between 50k and 300k. I’ve never had a book in the top 1000 on Amazon US (I have in the UK and other countries. France!). I’ve never had anything that you can remotely classify as a bestseller. But I have been #1 in Fantasy at Kobo, does that count? 😛

I sell on all platforms and am direct where I can. My Amazon sales have varied from 5-50% of my total sales. Yes, you read that right, 5%. It was in the Kobo heydays when 80% of my income was from Kobo. I have no true dud platforms. I sell at least a few hundred dollars worth on each of: B&N, Apple, Google Play and Kobo. My current income is 3-5k per month and has doubled every year.

Enough about me.

For the purpose of the plan I’m going to make some assumptions:

  • That you can produce four books a year, or an average of 1000 words of edited fiction per day, averaged over the year. Not write 1000 words of fiction, but add 1000 words of completed manuscript every day, for 365 days a year average.
  • That you are willing to work pretty damn hard
  • That you have done the nitty-gritty about learning to plot, write and sustain interesting stories.
  • That you write in a genre that both holds your passion and that is reasonably popular.
  • That you are willing to edit you ebooks properly and give them decent, genre-appropriate covers, and pay for this if necessary.

A small word on the last point. I am not one of the “OMG, you must absolutely have this done by someone who charges for it!” crowd. It *is* possible to self-edit to an acceptable standard. It is possible that you have the skills to make covers that sell (my overall best-selling books still have covers I made). It’s totally possible to format your own books.

But. Big but.

All of it costs time. Is it the best use of your time to force yourself to read your manuscript backwards in order to find those last few typos? At some point, the answer becomes a solid: I don’t think so.

You need to write four novels a year after all.

If you have trouble reaching the four novels a year goal even without distractions, you need to write more. I know it sounds like the ol’ squeaky wheel, but it’s true. Write more = more skill, both in writing style and in plotting a story. And finishing the book without getting side-tracked, starting over ten times or writing meandering stuff that never goes anywhere (believe me, I’ve done all those things).

TL;DR:

Four novels a year.
Editing, good formatting, good, genre-appropriate cover.

OK, here goes the plan.

Part 1: the product.

  1. Write a series of three books in a genre you like. It’s best if the books are full-length 70-80k at least. There are people who can get away with novellas, but selling well gets harder the shorter your books are. Unless, maybe, your genre is erotica or romance. Maybe. Just make the books full-length, OK? It makes life so much easier (insert whisper that sounds like Bookbub).
  2. Make the first book free.
  3. Play around a bit with advertising if you feel so inclined (I mean–why the hell not?), but don’t worry about stuff that takes you away from writing too much.
  4. Make sure you have the following in all your books: a link to your mailing list signup form, and, at the end, a live link to the next book in the series.
  5. When you finish the series, or even while you’re writing it, start a next series. Make it a slightly different subgenre, or use a different setting and characters. Make sure that people don’t need to have read the other series in order to follow it. Write three books. Make the first book free.
  6. Repeat 5. Twice, if you can. Three years @ 4 novels a year = 12 books = 4 trilogies.
  7. Advertise your freebies, but don’t fall down any rabbit holes that take you away from writing for major chunks of time (insert snort that sounds like Facebook advertising).

Part 2: the marketing.

  1. After a while, your mailing list will start to build up a bit (see point 4 above). Get a paid account at Mailchimp or wherever you are. If you are not at a list provider that allows automation and segmentation, and most importantly, automation *based on* automatic segmentation, move your list. Yes. Mailchimp and Aweber & co are not the cheapest. The cheapest providers suck for the purpose I’m going to show you here.
  2. Set up mailing automation. When people join your list, send them an email with the freebies, even tough they’re already free. Don’t email the freebies to them, but include download links in the email. Then booby-trap those links so that you can track who downloads what. You’ll be using this later.
  3. Next, send your subscribers to an automated program that sends them something at regular intervals (Amazon genre newsletters arrive every two weeks, that’s good enough for me). What do you write about? About you, about your fiction, free short stories, you ask them questions, tell them about tidbits of research you’ve done, or places you travelled for your writing. Tell them about box sets you’re in, and even plug your friends with similar books. Anything. Boobytrap any links to your books so your mailchimp/Aweber/whatever account knows who clicked what.
  4. Siphon people who clicked all the links to series 1 (and downloaded the freebie!) off to a side list, and say three months later send them an email saying: hey, this is book 2 in the series. Do this will all books 2 in all your series.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4. Create new emails, use the links and who clicks them to segment your list and send them further information based on who clicked what.
  6. Presto! You have now created your own marketing machine that crawls like a giant slug over your subscriber list.

Part 3: your tasks.

It’s now really clear what you need to do:

A. Keep writing new books that people want to read, continuing your most popular series, starting new series maybe (make book 1 free again). Add new emails about those books to your mailing sequence.
B. Keep feeding people into your giant mailing slug.

Doing A is pretty simple. Stop series that sell the worst and continue the ones that sell the best. Start new series.

Do, however *finish* each series, don’t abandon it. Series planning should include having several rest points where most plot threads are resolved and where you can walk away from it for a while or forever. Also, don’t unpublish the books. And don’t stop advertising book 1 (see below).

How do you do B?

Easy:
You advertise. Any old way will do. Bookbub is pretty good for getting new people on your mailing list. So are cross-promos. The more freebies you fling into the world, the more people will sign up. ENT is pretty good as well.
Put your mailing list signup everywhere on your web page and then drive people there using interesting blog posts, and linking your blog to Facebook and Twitter.
Advertise your list directly. This does not need to remain limited to Facebook. Be creative.

There you go. That’s the plan. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme (that’s where the “three year” bit comes in). In fact, it sounds an awful lot like hard work.

No bestsellers required. I would love it if one day I published something that went into the top 1000 at Amazon and stayed there for months, but the thing is, that’s a dream. I can try for it (I will with the planned launch of my next series), but it may fall flat on its face. I’ve seen that happen often enough to know that there is no such thing as a guaranteed success.

But even if I never have a bestseller, all these steps outlined here will guarantee me a pretty darn solid and even income.

The Three-Year, No-Bestseller Plan To A Sustainable Income From Self-Publishing was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Should I self-publish, the 2016 edition

I’ve made two posts with the title Should I self-publish? before, a few years ago. The focus of the first post was shooting yourself in the foot with the publishing industry which, once upon a time declared you persona-non-grata if you self-published a single thing. Remember that time? Ridiculous!

The second post was about concerns of quality of self-published books, when we were all having “oceans of crap” conniptions and we wanted to stop the great unwashed putting up crap. You know what? Crap got published, a lot of it. We didn’t all drown in a vast sea of word-vomit.

Yes, you should be concerned about the quality of your book if you self-publish. But be concerned about the quality of books that other people publish? Nup. You have better things to do.

OK, so since this post is not going to be about those things, then what is it going to be about?

It’s about career choices.

It is about: if you want to have a shot at achieving an aim, should you self-publish?

First: define the aim.

What do you want to do achieve with your writing?

Let’s walk through a few scenarios that will hopefully make the choices and opportunities clearer.

1. Do you want to win awards?

The literary and award circuit relies heavily on a peer review network, even if this is not immediately obvious. Voters for voted awards are predominantly other writers. Judges in judged awards are often writers, too. Behind the scenes, everyone knows one another. Nor in a bad way, but simply because the scene is small.
It is incredibly difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to get into this circuit if your works have not been peer reviewed (as in: selected by an editor, who is also part of the network).
If winning awards is your game, don’t self-publish.

2. Do you want to see your book in a bookshop?

Often I see questions from people who have self-published who dream of seeing their name on bookshelves for the world to purchase.
I have my book on some very pretty worldwide bookshelves. They’re called Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play and Barnes & Noble. You can even buy a print book at some of these places, delivered directly to your door.
Oh, you mean real bookshops?

It’s not impossible. A number of years ago, before ebooks, I published a non-fiction book. It pitched it to publishers, but they all said no* and I thought screw it, I know where the market is, I’ll do it myself. So I did. I had the book printed in full colour in Hong Kong, and then manually wrote to 800 Australian bookshops. Sold a buttload of copies. My book is in something like 64 public libraries in Australia, and most university libraries.
Sounds like a lot of work? You bet it was! I was lucky because I wrote non-fiction in a niche subject where there were no other books. If you write fiction, bookshops have many other, similar books than they can stock and that are much easier and less risky for them to keep on their shelves. They have accounts with books distributors who give them at least 40% discount, and have this awful thing called a returns policy that allows the shop to return the book if it doesn’t sell within 30 days.

Schlepping physical books to bookshops is soooo 2001. Returns and accounts are an absolute pain in the butt. They might be interested if you’re an authority on a non-fiction subject, but they probably don’t want your self-published fiction unless you’re a friend or a local.
We have ebooks now. They cost nothing to send and nothing to print. Self-publishing means overwhelmingly selling ebooks.

Want print books on bookshelves? Find a publisher to handle all this crap for you. They have the inroads, they have the reps, they have the computer setup.

3. Do you see writing as a fun hobby?

One assumption embedded in this question is that you have sufficient income and have no necessity or great wish to make money from your writing.
You are totally free to submit to publishers to see if you can crack the door, or to self-publish and become part of the community.

Most likely, you will have a day job so not much time to devote to writing and publishing-related things. This will limit your sales, especially on the self-publishing side.
But, you know, you can publish a book and see what happens, or at least allow all your friends to get a copy.

4. Do you eventually want to pay some or all of your bills?

This article made some waves when it came out. Shock, horror! Authors don’t make a liveable wage! There was also this article for Australian authors, with even worse figures of only $12,000 per year. Both articles are about traditionally published authors only.

Author Earnings is attempting to fill in some of the strange omissions made by people who report on the publishing industry. About 30% of ebooks on Amazon don’t have ISBNs and get omitted from the publisher reports. The ISBN-less books are almost exclusively self-published. In one of the latest Author Earnings reports, they estimated the income of bestselling authors of all types on Amazon, without having to rely on self-reporting by those authors.

OK, this is about authors who already sell well. What about if you’re just starting?

This is a balanced view of your choices

I quote from the Huffington Post article:

7. Believing that “traditional” is better, no matter what.

This mindset will limit your publishing opportunities. I’ve seen authors languish for years (literally) in the space of trying to find an agent or waiting for an agent to secure a publishing deal. Traditional publishing is also suffering in two distinct ways: the barriers to entry are so high that it’s alienating its base; and it’s so focused on author platform and “big books” that it’s losing relevance fast. Many more authors than ever before are opting out of traditional publishing for more control and better profit margins on their sales. It’s cool to aspire to traditionally publish, but if you’re not getting bites, don’t let your book die on the shelf just because you harbor some sort of judgment about alternative publishing paths.

If it is your goal to make money from your writing, do you have the years and years it takes for a publisher to come to the table… to then be given a $3-5000 advance (or no advance at all)… that may or may not earn out… that may or may not be paid on time. And if, after a period of a few months, the publisher didn’t like your sales and stops promoting your book, do you have the years it takes to get your rights back?

Even if you get 70% of a sale of a self-published ebook and 25% less agent costs from a publisher?

An advance of $5000 is rare these days (well, in SF/F at least). It’s more like $3000. When I sell a self-published ebook at $3.99, I get about $2.50. If, instead of sending it to agents, I hire an editor and self-publish, I can have it available within weeks. If the book earns $100 per month, I need to sell for 30 months to earn out. Oh, add $1000 for cover, editing and formatting, so 40 months. If you submit to the traditional industry, you wait 6 months to find representation, and your agent waits six months to get the go-ahead from the publisher, and they take a year to publish it, after which it doesn’t do much and you take 5 years to get your rights back. That’s more than 80 months.

There is also the publisher-saturation issue. Publishers have many authors, which means that for each individual author, they will only buy a limited number of books per year or even ever. If you can write four or six books per year (and saying you want a $5000 advance for each, this is what you’ll need to earn anywhere near a liveable income–and yes I’m assuming a worst-case scenario that this is all the books will earn, which may be true a lot more often than it isn’t), you’re going to run out of publishers who want to publish your books pretty darn fast, especially if you were daft enough to sign non-compete clauses and right-of-first-refusal clauses.

There are not enough publishers to sell 4-6 books a year (in SF/F at least) who will pay you a $5000 advance and will not ask you to sign stupid exclusivity clauses. Which means you’re banking on your books to earn out. As much as we’d all love to believe we sell awesome bestsellers, the reality is that it ain’t gonna happen for most books, and you really don’t know whether your books will or won’t until you’re a few years down the track. You can’t pay your bills with hope and crossed fingers.

Want to pay your bills? Self-publish, or a least start off self-publishing. If it is still your wish to find a publisher, you are in a much stronger position if you can offer them just one of your series, and you know that your work sells, and you have your own mailing list.

But. And there is a big but.

How do you get your book to sell at least $100 per month? (actually, once it starts selling, it will probably sell a lot more).

Point one: product. A single book rarely sells. A series has a much better chance, and then only if you promote book 1. But it’s even better if you have more series.

Self-publishing = high production schedule.

Point two: marketing.

If you self-publish, you’re the front and back end of the business.

You need to have the interest in learning marketing. There are a lot of places on the web where you can do this either as paid course or for free by just being a fly on the wall. There are sites and courses that are geared towards selling fiction.

You HAVE to devote time to this.

Most books don’t sell themselves, at least not initially, and I seriously pity people whose first book takes off like there’s no tomorrow and have no idea why, have no idea how to capture those readers and hold their interest after they finished the book. Because when, inevitably, the time comes that the book stop selling, and you don’t know how to run Facebook ads without blowing your budget, you have no idea where to advertise, you don’t have a mailing list, you haven’t capitalised on ANY of the attention you got while your book was out in the sun and receiving algorithm love from the big retailer websites, then when your book stops selling, you’re up the creek without a paddle and it’s a very long, muddy and humbling slog back down.

You HAVE to learn how to do this stuff, not to make your book a great bestseller, but to determine what works for you and where you can reach your audience so that you can keep steady sales going.

If you produce books at a decent rate in series, and if you are happy to learn the best marketing practices and implement them, then the world really is your oyster.

If not, you can still self-publish, have fun and wait for lightning to strike while you treat writing as a hobby. Or you can find a publisher.

* Ironically, one of those publishers wrote to me last month, asking if I wanted to write the book I originally pitched to them. I told them no, they were about ten years too late.

Should I self-publish, the 2016 edition was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Why don’t my books sell?

“Why don’t my books sell?” I get asked this question a bit, so I’m making a post about it, so that I can easily refer to it.

Remember that I don’t have all the answers either, and there are people who sell a lot more than I do. How to sell well also depends on genre and the individual author’s circumstances. That said, I have spent a few years in the self-publishing scene and have picked up on a few things that are often associated with writers who sell very little at all.

1. The covers suck.

Anyone who tells you people don’t judge books by their covers is telling you BS and doing you a disservice. It could be that *some* people don’t judge a book by the cover, and they may not. And they’re often extremely vocal about it, as if they have to convert everyone else that what’s inside matters the most. Yes. We get it. And yes, what’s inside should matter the most, but people won’t get to the inside when they can’t get past the cover.

The cover matters. A lot. Like: A FUCKING SHIT-TONNE. So get a good cover as soon as you can afford it.

2. No branding.

Yes, I know. Branding is marketing speak and as self-published author you’re meant to just do whatever, Fuck Teh Ebil Gatekeepers. Marketing speak is anathema to that, but if you’re serious about selling, and you want to write to supplement your income, or even just to take your family out to a nice dinner once a month, then you should learn from people who sell stuff. Marketers. We all write for pleasure first, but there is very little that justifies your time spent writing as much as money. Welcome to the capitalist age.

Branding is nothing more than structuring your works in such a way that people can see in a second, without having to read anything, that these books all belong together. It’s what you do when you have series covers with a repeating element.

But branding is more than that. It’s also making sure that all your books have a certain feel about them, that this feel and design is repeated across your website, your Amazon page, your newsletter signup form, and wherever your books are displayed.

Branding is also having a clear body of work that consists of books of a certain length in a certain genre. It’s about numbering books in a series and about keep dissimilar material out.

One thing you tend to see a lot is authors who have a bunch of “books” to fill up their profile, but a good number are not books, they’re short stories. Short stories sell like crap. They detract from your novels and clutter up your page. Get rid of them by bundling them as soon as you can.

3. The writing and storytelling are just not ready for prime time.

I know it’s hard to hear this and it’s hard to tell someone, and there is a what-the-fuck-do-I-know element about it. And yes, it’s subjective as hell, up to a point. People (including me) swear by writer training through beta reading and workshops. Others are very much against it. I know people who never did any workshopping, published their books and started to sell like hotcakes. If this is you, awesome. But those are flukes. Most people are not born bestselling writers. They develop skills through learning.

Spelling and grammar are objective measures of quality, but it’s amazing how many people publish material that just doesn’t make the grade.

Plotting is a more tricky thing, and extremely important. It’s not immediately measurable, but if you do promotions, give away free books and have a very poor sell-through to other works, I bet my bottom dollar that the plotting in the promoted book is off.

If you have trouble with plotting, I highly recommend Take Off Your Pants by Libby Hawker. It’s an awesome summary of everything a good plot should have.

If, despite your best efforts in all the other points in this list, your books refuse to sell, poor craft is very likely the cause. People don’t mention it often because of the subjective and arrogant-sounding nature of comments about writing quality, but a book of a beginning writer is usually not good enough to sell in any quantities. Note the word “usually”, and also never, like, ever, assume that you will fall outside the “usually” demographic.

4. No promotion.

Ah, the dreaded P-word that has writers quaking in their boots. Many simply publish books and don’t even know where to begin in marketing them. Promotion is a lot more than buying the occasional ad slot on a promotion site. It’s not about book launches. It’s not about bookshops. It’s not about ISBNs or other tradepub gimmicks. Promotion is about setting stuff up behind the scenes so that readers can easily find your books.

But rather than me blathering about it, here are three books that capture the behind-the-scenes essence of selling stuff:

Launch by Jeff Walker is very salesy and sounds like a get-rich-quick scheme, but it’s a really good blueprint for how to sell stuff. It deals with some of the psychology of why humans decide to buy and how to, sometimes quite subtly, get people to commit their credit cards.

Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran is a very good summary of how retail site sales algorithms work and how you can use them to your advantage.

Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt and Johhny B. Truant is an excellent outline for how to capitalise on your readers, how to capture them so that you can target them and how to use what you love doing most–writing another book–as your number one marketing technique.

The painful fact is that none of any of the above guarantees good sales. Not the covers, not the branding, not the marketing. Yeah. The writing. The book and concept don’t appeal greatly. Ouch. But, and this is the beauty of self-publishing, if you publish well-crafted books with nice covers and set up all the marketing stuff well, then a promotion in the form of a paid ad on a single book will have so much more effect, even if your books are not hugely popular. Often not immediately, but in the longer term. And you will see your sales increase, in a slow, non-spiky manner. And they won’t fall completely flat as long as you keep writing new stuff, and all of a sudden, you’ll have gone from Macca’s once a month sales to nice dinner once a month sales, to paying the electricity bill kind of sales to paying the mortgage kind of sales.

Why don’t my books sell? 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.

So…

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