book promotion, book reviews, publishing

Strategy update

front cover2

I’ve been busy. Still am, but starting to see the end of the tunnel as regards my marketing strategy. The first tunnel anyway – there are lots more to come. Here’s what I’ve done so far.

Using Draft2Digital, I’ve made One Green Bottle free on Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. It was up there already but shifting no copies, so it’s not much of a change. Now I need to write to Amazon to ask them to match that price, i.e. have it permafree. They’re under no obligation to do that, so I don’t know how they’ll respond. But they’re well aware that many authors do this as part of their marketing.

I’ve written Making a Murder, six essays about the writing of One Green Bottle, which I’m offering free to anyone who signs up to my newsletter. The offer is at the front and back of One Green Bottle, so anyone downloading it has an incentive to sign up and I get their email address, which obviously I can’t get directly from Amazon. I don’t know if Making a Murder will appeal – it’s not fiction, and the essays are humorous, so it’s a gamble. It would probably be better to stay in the same genre, which is what I intended, but my novella, which was to serve that purpose, needs more work.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to my mailing list. I had around 700 subscribers after doing a joint promotion and a giveaway (many more from the first than the second) and I then sent different messages according to whether they opened my first email or not. I offered Perfume Island free, prior to its release in November, and removed over 200 subscribers who didn’t open that email. Of those that did, 112 signed up to receive the book.

That’s a lot of giving away of two books that have taken me five years to complete. Not so long ago I’d have thrown up my arms in horror at the very idea. Now? I’m quite relaxed – 112 reading the sequel is 3 or 4 times more than read the first. Not all will like it and of those that do, only a few will write reviews, but I’m still at a stage when I need to reach out to those few.

The worst part of all this work? Converting Making a Murder to epub and mobi formats, which I have to do if I’m sending it out myself. Converting a text is fine – Calibre handles that easily. But getting a text with pictures just right is a challenge. Or a nightmare, depending on your mood.

From time to time, I step out of my marketing bubble and see that the world continues to turn and hurricanes to blow. I’m working on a third book in the series, which I hope to bring out before the Apocalypse.

 

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publishing

POD?

There is a discussion on Scribophile about Print On Demand, specifically, can you make money with it? Here are some of the comments:

> One entry says:

I formatted and uploaded my book to Amazon paperback format today. I went to price the book.  Amazon informed me that the print cost as about $7 bucks.  I chose 60% royalties.  And the lowest Amazon would let me price is $13.  And at the $13 price point, I make exactly $0 dollars.

Ok, I figured that the missing $6 would go to shipping. I went to order a few copies for myself, and Amazon is charging shipping on top of the base price. Also, I have heard something about “author copies” that cost less.  (Is this a real thing?)

> Re: CreateSpace.

It’s really ridiculous how much they charge for POD. At first it seems very reasonable – they get 40% and the author gets 60% BUT added to their 40% is a “flat charge” of $.85 on books 180+ pages and a per page charge of $.012 per page for 180+ pages. After all is said and done the author only get less than 15% – after US taxes it’s less than 10% – UGH. All of this was based on a price point of US $8.99.

Also I believe the author copies are $4 and change – but I’m sure that people that are more “in the know” can answer better.

> I don’t actually . . .

self pub through Amazon. I use Lulu.com, once you approve your book then they link it to Amazon and couple of bookstores. If you order your copies and sell yourself you can make quite a lot of money.

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Does anyone here do POD? It occurs to me that to set up at a sidewalk/school arts/craft fair with copies of your book would at least have your thing seen by a lot of people. Best would be to get yourself written up in your local paper and blow it up into a poster.

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> Here are some words of wisdom from Jay, formerly of Book Country:

As someone who has a work available in POD you will be in that great fraternity of the self-published. No one on planet Earth will be aware that you have a book available for sale, other than because you sent them to that Internet sales page. Does my telling you that I have one of my novels available free on Smashwords motivate you to rush over there to read it? Probably not, and that’s free.

Would it make you rush were I to tell you it’s really good (just as every self published novel’s blurb does)? Again, probably not.

How about if I tell you that you can buy a printed copy for twelve dollars, plus shipping? Not much of a plus, when you can buy an award winning author for a lot less in your local bookstore, and pay no shipping fee.

I don’t mean to be discouraging, but my view is that if we can write well enough to be worth the money—professional level writing—we can sell our work to a publisher. And if not…

Well, I disagree with that. Trad publishers are looking for work that is commercial, highly salable, according to their idea of that elusive quality. That method bypasses a lot of good stuff.

> And, a rebuttal: 

That’s a pretty gloomy outlook and incorrect IMHO. I have a friend who has written a series of 6 novellas, no more than 30 minute reads each that sell for $1.99 for digital copies and $9.99 for print, she’s making a cool $60k/yr. Self Published and POD. It just takes a little work. If you’re a midgrade author with a “normal” publisher you’re not going to do any better than that and still have to do 90% of your own advertising and promotions.

Several people on Scrib say that small publishers use POD, CreateSpace, whoever. Is this true? Atthys, you should know the answer to this. I have imagined that POD must have a giveaway lesser quality of materials. But if a legitimate small publisher uses it, that can’t be true.

> Finally, another rebuttal . . .

to the first rebuttal to Jay’s gloomy words: Jay’s post is the cold, hard truth. Sad but true and what aspiring writers need to know.

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I want to know if POD is a waste of time or not. Who’s dipped a toe into this fountain? Somebody thinks it useful. I begin to see POD jobs move through our compositor process at work. All but first-run titles are followed by a description, pbk (paperback), rerun, enlargement, create final file (for fully illustrated books set up by the publisher’s designer, tricky text wraps and the like), etc. I see, not often, but more and more: POD.

I suppose these jobs must be from small publishers. Next time I get hold of one, I am going to look at the info to see who the client is. Here’s an interesting thought: can it be that even large publishers are going this route, small runs, to manage inventory and returns?

Why do we label them POD? Is there some technical difference between the set up of  a traditional print run and POD? Are costs trimmed/shortcuts taken in one way or another? Are hawking-their-wares authors the main market for POD? Is this the new generation of vanity press? It seems to me more valuable as a sales tool than anything else. I’m going to pay more attention to our POD jobs, try to figure this out.

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> A final Scrib post sums it up for us:

Q: How is a writer supposed to make any money?

A: Day job.

 

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About Writers

And Now, Ursula K. Le Guin

It looks like my time to blog post has come ’round again. Are Curtis, GD, Mimi, Atthys, Sue and I the only writers in regular rotation here? I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say: We’d love to hear from others! (Perry, Tom, Amber, et. al.) You’ve got a ready-made soapbox and a built-in audience here on Writers Co-op; let us know what’s on your mind these fear-fraught dystopian days, eh?

Truth is, however, that I have nothing urgent to communicate at present. Therefore, I’d like to step aside and let Ursula K. Le Guin take the stage. Here is the speech she gave when accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters a couple of years ago. (After clicking on the url, scroll down and click on the embedded video link three-quarters of the way down the landing page to watch this 85-year-old dynamo in action.) Her speech is a marvel of concision, eloquence, truth and power.

:::applause-applause:::

http://www.oregonlive.com/books/index.ssf/2014/11/ursula_k_le_guin_on_reaction_t.html

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About Writers, book sales

Study Finds Number of Writers May Soon Exceed Readers

Industry insiders report that the number of downloads from amateur authors now exceeds the number of consumers who are actually interested in reading them.

“Readership has been declining for decades, of course,” said an industry insider who wished to remain anonymous. “What with television and the internet and the proliferation of flash mobs, there are simply too many readily available forms of entertainment out there. Plus, they’re all so much easier than reading. Let’s face it, reading requires a lot more effort than just staring at something.”

Though the trend toward shorter, easier entertainment has been developing for a long time, it is an entirely different trend that now threatens to overwhelm the American book reader: the growth of self publishing. Ever since the advent of ebooks and self-publishing services such as Kindle Direct Press and Smashwords, the number of books being published has ballooned. In 2015, the number of self-published ebooks was anywhere from 600,000 to 8.2 million depending on whose sources you believe. When pressed for an exact number, a representative at Amazon told us, “It’s hard to know for sure. By the time we finish counting, the number’s already obsolete. We can’t keep a handle on it.”

“Writers are usually readers,” our anonymous source added, “and there’s part of your problem. A lot of those folks who would formerly have been reading are now working on their seven-part epic fantasy series or writing Kidnapped by One Direction fan fiction. It’s a real quandary. It’s like with photography, or being a singer-songwriter. Way more people want to produce their own albums than will ever want to buy them.”

Indeed the tsunami of new fiction may well be unstemmable. “In many cases, authors aren’t even asking for money anymore,” according to our anonymous source. “They’re giving the books away for free, just begging people to take them.”

Unfortunately for would-be authors, free may no longer be a sufficient discount.

“Good lord!” one reaimg_5974der told us, “My kindle is stuffed with free books! If I started now, I couldn’t read them all. But there are so many more out there! Everyday, my email gets more mailers with more free stuff, and it’s kind of hard to resist. It’s so frustrating!” She added, shaking her head, “Besides, I’m already hours behind in my Netflix binge-watching. There just aren’t enough hours in the day!”

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book promotion, writing technique

What would you do?

dilemma

In my last post, I wrote of my tribulations regarding the release of Perfume Island, which effectively put a halt to the whole process, forcing me to come up with another strategy. (Writing that, I realize I’ve made progress: at least I had a strategy. With One Green Bottle there was none.) Having read of the pulling power of reader magnets, I thought, ‘Yep, that’s the way to go. Offer something free to draw readers in, so then they’ll buy the rest of the series. And while I’m at it, make it permanently free and run a few Facebook ads to promote it.’

I could do that with OGB, my publisher having kindly returned the rights to me. But hey, it was a lot of work, so while I’m happy enough with the idea of periodic giveaways, I balk a little at making it permafree. A novella, on the other hand, would be perfect.  Less work, and people don’t need a full length book to see if they like your writing. 30,000 words is plenty.

So that’s my current, top priority WIP. Closed Circle, prequel to OGB. A 15-chapter murder mystery. Magali isn’t a detective yet, but she’s right there in the thick of it.

A novella, I’m discovering, isn’t easy. You’ve got to cram it all into half the space. In this case, a dozen characters of more or less equal importance, the usual twists and surprises, and above all an in-depth insight into Magali herself. After all, she’s the mainstay of the whole series, so the reader has to connect with her and like her enough to continue.  Technically, all that is a challenge. My initial breezy assumption that I could dash it off in a month has been drastically revised.

Still, assuming I manage to sort it out more or less satisfactorily, it might be ready for release in January or February 2017. So my question is this: when do I release Perfume Island?  I could do it tomorrow if I wish, but as things currently stand, it would go pretty much unnoticed. So I like the idea of having Closed Circle ready first. Is there a logic to that? Not really. But if I’m going to promote anything (and bearing in mind that Facebook ads cost money), it seems to make more sense to concentrate on promoting the free magnet.

Now, I could of course do that later, but do I want Perfume Island to be met with the resounding silence that greeted OGB?  Obviously not.

So there you have it – my marketing dilemma in all its glorious confusion.  Any advice will be welcome!

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book promotion, book sales, Uncategorized

Got You Covered

Never mind any old adages you have hanging around about how not to judge a book, it’s pretty much universally acknowledged that book covers matter. In fact, a book’s cover may be the single most important factor that you, as the book’s producer, have some control over. There are certainly bigger reasons for why buyers buy—author name recognition, word of mouth, personal recommendations—but all of those exist outside your scope of influence. You gabbing about your book on Facebook probably will not create a significant word-of-mouth buzz, and until you actually are famous, your name isn’t going to sell anything.

So covers matter. Granted. But how much? A poll at Book Smugglers of 616 respondents gave an overwhelmingly positive response to the question: Do covers matter at all to you? That is, do covers play a decisive role in your decision to purchase a book? Seventy-nine percent said YES. Twenty-one percent said NO.

On the other hand, when asked whether an eye-catching cover for a book you’ve heard nothing about was enough to make you buy it, only 6% said yes. And only 3% categorized the role of a cover in a purchase decision as “dominant.” And, conversely, about 83% of readers said they will go ahead and purchase a book they are interested in reading even if the cover is “truly hideous”(this figure drops when paying for a trade paperback or a hardcover, naturally.)

Polls like this don’t tend to produce definitive marketing numbers, but they do give us a general lay of the land. A good cover helps your chances of selling a book. In most cases the difference isn’t trivial, but neither is it normally a make-or-break factor.

At its most basic level, a cover is an invitation. Open me up. Check me out. Take me home. It’s meant to intrigue the prospective reader into checking out the blurb, maybe reading a page or two (though it is surprising how few people include “reading a sample” among their decision making tools.) What works for one reader might not work for another, so most cover designers aim for somewhere in the middle, which is to say they tend to be pretty conventional. There are plenty of professional book designers out there with their own list of dos and don’ts.  Avoid clashing colors and elaborate fonts. Keep it simple and eye-catching. Make it easily readable, even as a thumbnail. Beyond question, the one piece of advise they all agree upon? Don’t do it yourself. Hire a professional.

The webpage on book cover design at iUniverse provides this handy list:

Your Cover Should:
1.  Fall within the norms for your genre but visually stand out among other books.
2.  Appeal to readers and convince them to take a closer look at your book with a strong visual presence.
3.  Reflect the content of your book and expose readers to your writing style.
4.  Convince a potential reader to invest in a literary journey with your story.

Yeah, no problem.

Your cover should fall within the norms for your genre… Fair enough. Your book cover probably ought to give readers some idea of what to expect inside. If you’ve got elves in the story, maybe you ought to put one on the cover. But the use of genre tropes can lead to a tired sameness. Generic genre covers proliferate, and while these might be a comfort to the diehard genre reader, they hardly entice anyone else, and certainly don’t make your book stand out in a crowded field.

And so the second part of the quote: …but visually stand out among other books. Great advice—only a little weak on the how part of it. Any decent cover artist is already trying to do exactly that. That’s pretty much the first line of the job description. But there’s no secret formula for success. As John Lennon said when asked why the Beatles excited people so much, “If we knew we’d form another group and be managers.”

When I think about the whole question of how a book cover sets the expectations of the potential buyer, I wonder if I didn’t make a mistake. Here. Have a look at the covers for my two books:   spark   and  ag_flightofthewren_hires

Both were created in house by Lycaon Press (now defunct), specifically by Victoria Miller. Victoria does extremely nice work, and she is very easy to work with. I highly recommend her services. Her covers are polished and professional, easily comparable to books published by major publishers.

But I’m always just a little nagged by the suspicion that they are, ultimately, not the right covers for these books. My audience for both books was assumed to be young adult. Lycaon (a YA publisher) certain saw them that way. So did I. With young protagonists and the fantasy elements, it seemed obvious that my ‘target audience’ was younger readers.

But I don’t think that has turned out to be true. I think the largest part of my readership actually comes from adults who like YA stories. And if so, are my covers a hindrance? Are they too kiddish? Do they, perhaps, turn off some readers who like to consider YA as serious literature rather than simply a fun read? I have no problem with either characterization, but I have a feeling most of my own particular group of readers probably fall in the former camp. And if so, might a more restrained—more mature, perhaps?—approach to cover art be more appealing?

I don’t know. I’d welcome any feedback, either specific or general.

As far as the bigger question goes, sure, a nice professional cover is always a plus. But unless you’re talking a faced-out cover on a bookstore shelf, there’s no guarantee anyone is going to see it unless they go looking for it. I don’t think many people browse online waiting for book covers to catch their eye. Most people still shop based on word of mouth or personal recommendations or by looking for the latest book by an author they already know. If they ever do get to your page, then it’s absolutely better to have an appealing, well-wrought cover. But getting them to that page in the first place?

That remains the challenge, folks.

Comments? Questions? Criticisms? You know what to do.

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