C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

The publishing revolution already happened.

TOP 10 in Publishing: What’s changed again? Amazon.

If hope you enjoyed my interview with Simon Whistler on The Rocking Self-publishing Podcast (see the post below this one for details if you missed it.) We recorded the episode on July 4. It didn’t take long at all for some details to change since the interview. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Yes, on too much coffee, I can get pretty manic. Also, some of the interview was edited for excessive Sean Connery impressions.

2. I was in Kobo briefly. I made $27. Finally and at last! I can retire! …Mm…no, actually, I pulled the plug on Kobo except for some short stories.

Everybody agrees. The folks at Kobo are nice people. Then I heard a horror story of someone who couldn’t move books on Kobo even when Kobo promoted them! I was to meet with the good people of Kobo in Toronto. After evaluating the track record and potential, I blew off the meeting so I could stay home and write and edit my next books. The trip literally wasn’t worth the gas. I do hope things will improve in this regard in the near future for Kobo and several other platforms. Amazon needs healthy, not anemic, competition.

3. Kindle Unlimited was introduced soon after the interview. Seeing so little movement on Kobo, I promptly pulled out and slapped my books back into KDP Select. With their value added proposition, suddenly there is more marketing juice to squeeze out of Amazon. 

4. Kindle just announced they will reward early adopters of the program by relaxing the 10%-read-to-get-paid rule on the first round. They also added to the shared fund for borrows. I missed out on the money bump when they introduced KDP Select in the first place. I wasn’t going to miss out again.

5. Since returning to Select, My KU earnings frequently surpass my regular sales. People are taking to the program. This is especially nice because This Plague of Days, Season One is a whole book, the first in the trilogy. It’s selling at just 99 cents. More readers are willing to check it out through the KU program. That pays roughly a couple bucks per borrow instead of 30 cents. Am I a huge success, yet? No. However, I’m getting exposure that other platforms can’t seem to give.

6. This Plague of Days is getting promoted on a couple different lists by Amazon. Seems it’s getting some traction with teens most, science fiction second and fantasy third. (Interesting, yes? Maybe I should revamp the sales descriptions to skew away slightly from horror since its layers and appeal may lie elsewhere.)

7. Amazon just upped the ante in the value added column by opening up the pre-order button to little guys like me. Holy crap! I have some thoughts on how that could be useful, but I’ll save it for another post once I’ve gone through their submission process firsthand.

8. When we recorded the interview, Simon and I discussed whether the Amazon-Hachette debacle would still be a thing by the time the interview aired August 14th. As I recall, neither of us were that optimistic the battle would be over by then and we were right. In an attempt not to bore the audience or appear dated too soon, we largely avoided that discussion. We’re all suffering Amazon versus Hachette fatigue, aren’t we? Looking forward to the titans figuring it out for themselves.

9. We had a great time with that interview and I hope you laughed along with us. There’s some good information sifting through that hour of self-publishing talk. The field is growing and changing so fast — or at least Amazon is changing their game so fast — several things changed in a very short time.

The other platforms? Um. Can anybody name an innovation from any of the other platforms in the last six months? (There must be something, but nothing strong has stuck with me.)

10. What didn’t change? Pretty much everything else. I’m still glad I serialized This Plague of Days but I don’t intend to serialize again (too many gears and pulleys and cons versus pros on that machine.) 

What’s next?

More series (not serialization) and another omnibus edition. 

Stay tuned.

Filed under: Amazon, author platform, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kindle Unlimited: Connection and Market Correction?

Kindle Unlimited is up and running at Amazon. For about ten bucks a month, readers can read a lot and authors will get paid if 10% of the book is read. Across the writerverse, we are speculating. Is it good news or bad news?

I suspect it’s good news. Here’s why I’m not worried:

1. There are other subscription services and there wasn’t really much outrage about them. Questions, certainly. Usually the question was, “Is this new thing I’ve never heard of legit?” Since it’s Amazon, the question is often, “Why are they out to destroy the world?”

The answer is, they want to own it, just like every other company. Competition and all that. That’s all of us. We’re all selling something, so let’s keep calm and bang a gong. 

2. Those other subscription services have failed to usher in The End Times. This is one marketing idea among many. Some of the loudest concerns seem to be raised from a section of the marketplace that generates no new ideas. I’m suspicious they are decrying Amazon’s potential for success because they’ve failed to remain agile and open to new ideas. New ideas are always scary, but being scared and playing a defensive game is no way to score. 

3. Amazon often knows what it’s doing. They test and survey ideas and probably didn’t come up with this just last week. They want reader and author participation so they want to make the new service profitable for Amazon and for us. If it doesn’t feel good, too many authors will drop out. A lot of authors left KDP Select’s Clause of Exclusiveness. This will probably bring a bunch back, to test the waters if nothing else.

4. You can limit your participation. It’s just for those titles enrolled in KDP Select so, just like always, any 90-day commitment you may choose today is only 89 days long if you change your mind tomorrow.

5. Anyone who subscribes to this service is a hardcore, enthusiastic reader. Different rules apply to power users.

The parallel to piracy is obvious. Some authors worry about pirates, but there is evidence that pirates are power users. They take a lot, but they also tend to be power buyers. Ultimately, I most want to connect with readers who want to read the next Robert Chazz Chute book. Power readers are more oriented to author brand and less so to particular genres.

To build 10,000 true fans, I need to find those people who say, “I liked the autistic boy versus the apocalypse. But I wonder how that voice shows up in Murders Among Dead Trees or his crime novels?”

6. Subscribers who will go for this deal are a subset of the reading public. It’s not for everybody. Many will stay away because they’re already paying for a gym membership they don’t use. They’ll prefer to buy books one-by-one because they’re already stressed out and guilty about they’re TBR pile.

7. If you’re making money from other platforms, stay diversified. If you’re unknown, this is another avenue to consider to become better known.

If you’ve already got it made, there is an argument that you might make more money if you lived in a plane of existence that doesn’t include Kindle Unlimited. If that’s you, you may need to work your massive email list harder, diversify further, sell direct or use a few dozen other strategies to stay relevant.

However, we have no data on that group yet. The good news is, they’re in a good position to finance adaptation.

8. When Amazon innovates, it makes me more hopeful because it’s more pressure on other platforms to up their game. The market is changing, but once again, it’s Amazon that’s innovating and trying new things to reach readers, not trad publishing or the other sales platforms.

If I were CEO of another sales platform, I wouldn’t be sleeping well. I’d be offering bonuses to my creative teams to be creative. Come up with new tools and plans to boost market share. KU is pressure that may squeeze a diamond out of their competition’s butt.

9. However, I’m not “all in” for Amazon. Some people think that. They don’t know I’m moving more of my books across many platforms and I don’t have anything in KDP Select at the moment.

I am in favor of experimentation.

I’ll have another couple of books ready soon. When they are ready, just as before, they’ll go into KDP Select and therefore into Kindle Unlimited automatically, too. I’ll see how they do and make more decisions from there.

We need more data, but cautious optimism seems reasonable at this point. Let’s try it out, maybe find more readers. Let’s write more, read more and worry less. In the end, it’s all about you, you, you and the readers you have not yet met.

Me B&W~ Robert Chazz Chute is a suspense novelist who does not tend to be Zen about anything so, in light of today’s post, maybe there really is nothing to worry about in this one, tiny regard. Otherwise, we can be sure the universe is indeed out to get us. And it will.

Filed under: author platform, Publicity & Promotion, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Art matters. Writing matters. We matter.

Graphic designers make a big difference to readers and the success of authors. A snarky writer once told me I was a hack, too concerned about the look of my book covers. Once.

Everyone else knows, yes, of course we do indeed judge books by their covers.

You can say it shouldn’t matter all you want, but beautiful people and beautiful things get more attention. I won’t find out if you have a great personality and keen intelligence if, when I spot you from across the room, you appear to be surrounded by flies because you’ve rubbed dog feces in your hair. That’s life. That’s science. 

My graphic designer is the brilliant Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. Check out his portfolio.

Kit is my friend and ally. He helps to make my existence matter. He’s helping me get my message out, subliminal and subtextual. It’s that important. All my books are about escaping who I was. They’re about all of us rising to the higher potential of what we could be. Everything I write is about making our existence — yours and mine — matter. Book covers are the come hither stare that lets me into your brain, to play in the Mindfield, to turn the words, to entertain, laugh and think. That’s what it means and why Art matters.

That’s the why. A book cover with solid art is part of the how.

Here is the new cover for the This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition. It’s not at all what I pictured for the Omnibus cover. It’s better. I just let Kit do what he does best so I can concentrate on what I do best.

This Plague of Days OMNIBUS (Large)

To find out about more about secret video and to get a free ebook with your purchase of the TPOD Omnibus Edition, click here.

~ I am Robert Chazz Chute and, even though I occasionally write books with zombies in them, I am not a hack. It’s not the subject matter that makes the hack. It’s a lack of passion. Ultimately, with every twist, turn, joke and murder, I’m writing about me. And you. 

The suspense is in making our existence matter. Can we do it?

We will.

 

Filed under: book marketing, self-publishing, This Plague of Days, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

TOP 10 in The Art of Seduction (and getting read)

Helpful or informative blog posts shouldn’t be hampered by headlines that repel readers. Here are some how-to suggestions for better headlines and variables that hurt the spread of your word:

1. Relentlessly negative headlines. Occasionally going negative with headlines can increase the number of people checking out what you have to say. If condemnation is all you’ve got, I’d rather watch puppies and kittens wrestle on YouTube.

2. Sex sells, but not too much. You’ll get fewer retweets among the squares. Many of the people who aren’t square won’t retweet, either. It’s not that they’re prudes, but Mom’s on Twitter, too. Stay classy…like “The Art of Seduction” instead of the sexier headline I’m really thinking of. 

3. Insular headlines don’t help. “Cover reveal”, for instance. Please give us more of a reason to click that link. It’s not that cover reveals are necessarily bad. It’s that it’s only for the people who already know you. We all want to expand our audiences beyond our inner circles, so be more welcoming to the uninitiated.

4. Vague headlines. “Author interview” seems a tad lacklustre, especially if you don’t at least name the author.

5. Pull quotes are better. You just did a hilarious interview with an author. Quote them in the headline or add the joke to your tweet. To get us to click the link, we want to know we’ll have fun when we get to your blog.

6. Provocative is fine. Don’t be misleading or a dick. In the case of today’s headline, I added the parenthetical “getting read” so those clicking quick would still have their clothes on by the time the page loaded. Please note that all my blog content is enjoyed best naked, however. That’s how I write it.

7. A headline is a promise of a sort. The headline should fit the content, but make both more fun. When I was in Journalism school we were told to only write headlines with verbs in them. I don’t believe in putting writers in straitjackets, but it’s not a terrible idea.

8. Brief is better but your tweet doesn’t have to be limited to your headline. Add appropriate hashtags. Add a pull quote. Offer more clues so we know what to expect. Can’t do it with one attention-grabby headline? Follow up with another tweet tomorrow that doesn’t use the headline but points out an angle of the content. Or write a better headline in the first place. 

9. Spend more time on writing headlines. What would get you to click? The words, “how to” and “review” get more clicks. Asking a question can get people to check out what you have to say. Using key words in your tags will help you find more readers, so think about what words you would search to find out about your topic. However, don’t overuse key words. Google spiders are smarter than they used to be about that and, worse, that kind of thinking lends itself to flat, repetitive articles.

10. Write your headline last. Some people write headlines first to maintain focus, but that can lead to plain and linear headlines (which aren’t necessarily bad if it’s something people need immediately and it’s something they’re searching for.) The first stab is not always best and it will be more clever if you give it some time to percolate as you write. People like Top 10 lists, perhaps for the brevity (and so they get less of me naked.)

BONUS

It’s okay to tweet old posts if the material is evergreen. Get more mileage out of your work. It’s still going to be new to a lot of people.

Robert Chazz Chute Bio Picture~ Have you seen that new gorgeous and bodacious you asked for? Check this out at ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

Filed under: author platform, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The book marketing tool! (That’s a five dressed up as a nine?)

Every marketing guru will tell you to build your mailing list because that’s where the money is. They’re not wrong and I’m no marketing guru, but here are some deeper considerations, past the hype:

1. It’s gotten much harder to build that mailing list. The tools are there. I use Mailchimp on my author site (AllThatChazz.com.) Aweber is another good mailing list management tool. It’s lovely to be able to announce your latest book launch to a huge mailing list of eager fans. It’s also much more rare than the marketing gurus pretend. Everybody’s got a mailing list and they aren’t all equally special.

2. You need a really great giveaway to entice someone to subscribe to a mailing list: free fiction, a useful white paper or some other shiny thing. I offer free mentions on the All That Chazz podcasts, but through Facebook, Twitter, my blogs, Triberr, enthusiastic readers and my rebel writer allies, I’ve got a much wider reach.

3. If people are subscribing to the mailing list just for free stuff, will they keep that subscription after they’ve scooped up said free stuff? Periodically prune your mailing list by asking if your subscribers are still into you. Wise list owners seem to ask if you wish to continue receiving mailings annually.

You can check open rates and find out when interest has waned. A huge mailing list boosts the ego. However, if they’re mostly disinterested and cruising on momentum, that big list can cost you money and, worse, it won’t help. Better to have a smaller list of people who can’t wait for your next mailing.

4. Are your blog readers more interested in your latest blog post than your pestering through the mailing list? I’d rather be a destination blog than an obligation blog. By that I mean, it’s great when people make a point to come here or follow my posts.

Mailing list subscriptions are often ignored or deleted. Test your mailings and ask your subscribers what sort of material they want. It may be that all they really want is to know what your next book is and when and where they can buy it.

5. Subscriptions get deleted or ignored, especially when they come too fast and too furiously. Sure, you’ll mark it to read for later, but when the email is rolling in too often, it’s easier to delete it.

6. I’m currently following many blogs officially. Unofficially, with as many as 200 emails a day or more, I tend to stick with reading destination blogs. In other words, there are certain blogs I feel I have to check out and I don’t need a subscription service to remind me to go look.

7. If you’re producing material for a mailing list and for your blog, too, you’re doubling your effort. True, we all hope email subscribers are more invested in what we do. However, the folks who come to ChazzWrites just because they’re into what I do (which is to generally inform in a more entertaining fashion than I’m doing today)? They might be much more invested than those on the mailing list. Mailing lists aren’t quite as hot as advertised.

So my suggestions are:

Keep in touch with mailing list subscribers, but don’t overwhelm them.

I’m far behind on Seth Godin’s blog, but at least his posts are pithy and short. I’ll never get to some I’m subscribed to. If that describes you, save time and unsubscribe. Deleting posts each day as they come in is a time suck.

Content is king. Yeah, yeah, sure.

Lots of bloggers repeat that mantra, but they all think their content is great so it’s kind of an empty slogan. All I can add is, don’t post unless you have something to say. If you’re straining for a topic, you’re working too hard. Rest it. You’ll get more hits the more you post, until it feels to the reader like too much good content too often or too much drivel. Blogging is a high wire act, isn’t it? (And if all your content is that good every day, sell it as a book, instead.)

Take the opportunity to promote someone else’s excellent content instead banging your own drum.

Not feeling inspired for a blog post? No problem. Write your books instead or reblog. Point to other great content. You don’t have to be brilliant every day if you’re an excellent curator. Scoopit is another tool you can use to curate content and build a following.

Ease back on the throttle sometimes.

We talk a ton about getting out there and marketing books like mad and spreading the literary word. However, lots of readers appreciate us more if we know when to shut up.

I’m shutting up.

~ Chazz is preparing to release This Plague of Days, Season 3, on Father’s Day. The full TPOD compendium will launch then, too. Find out more about the zombie apocalypse with the young, autistic hero at ThisPlagueOfDays.com. It’s much more than a single zombie apocalypse. It’s your future.

 

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top Ten: Renew your readers’ interest between books

As I finish revisions to the finale of This Plague of Days, I’m entering that crazy time between the writing and the publishing. We all go through it. There’s still editing and proofreading to do and you aren’t done until you’re sick of it and not even then. But I am excited!

Today, I had my first back and forth with Kit Foster, my graphic designer. We talked cover designs. Out of context, my description of what I had in mind was pretty dumb or nigh-impossible, but through the magic of his art, Kit will transform that raw material into something awesome that makes browsers into buyers.

But how do you keep the sales going between books?

Sales always drop off. They call Day 30 after your book launch “The Cliff” because you lose attention from readers as you disappear from the bright, shiny new thing list. Interest can be buoyed and sustained, however. You don’t have to try all the strategies from this list (or any), but I do suggest you try at least one. Experiment and let me know what works for you.

Here are some ideas to extend your influence with all your books.

1. Write more than one book because your next book helps promote the last one. At a book event, authors talk about the next book, but readers talk about the last book.

2. Write more books. The bigger the stable, the more horses you have in the race, cross-promoting each other.

3. Write (slightly) shorter books. Sadly, my next tome (after TPOD) will (again!) be more than 100,000 words. I’m writing huge books. Many will see this as over-delivering and they’ll love it. It can also intimidate those less invested. The main problem is it makes you appear less prolific even if you’re very productive. It’s #2’s horse and stable issue.

I’m not saying you should shortchange anyone, but keep it reasonable. Few reviewers complain about a quick read. If you’ve got that much to say in a single book and you can’t make it shorter, make it a series.

The complete series for This Plague of Days will be over 300,000 words. The first draft took ten months and then I doubled its size in another eight months. Down the line, I’ll put out more books by keeping them down around 60,000 – 70,000 words.

My crime novels took 3 months each, for instance, from concept to completion. That length is what I’ll be aiming for in the future. Feeling more productive and hitting more milestones also feeds my excitement between books and keeps energy high. Less time between books also gives readers less time to forget about you.

4. Write in one genre. If you can dominate one list, you’ll be more effective in focussed marketing efforts and provide consistent branding. (I should have done this, but it’s not how my mind works.)

5. Collaborate. Writing with another author can expand your influence to each other’s audience and, if you work it correctly with the right person, you’ll get more done faster. Some people think writing with a partner is more work for half the money, but actually you have more people helping with the load, increasing productivity. The guys at Self-Publishing Podcast have proved it over and over, so there you go.

6. Cooperate. Soon, a new horror anthology will be released and I’m in it. My bit will be a sampler of Episode 1 of This Plague of Days. In joining forces with other authors, we’ll co-promote and raise each other up.

7. Have more to give away. I serialized the first two seasons of This Plague of Days. In the run up to the launch of Season 3 and the stand alone (This Plague of Days, The Complete Series), I’m using KDP Select to give away episodes as samples. Those giveaways always bump up my sales in between books when I would otherwise be in the doldrums. I’m a big believer in pulse sales to help new readers find me.

8. Diversify. To sell more between books, have more to sell in different media. There’s interest in turning This Plague of Days into a TV series. (It helps that I wrote the story like an HBO or Netflix dramatic series in the first place.) However, I’d love to see it as a graphic novel, too. I want to sell it as an audiobook. Each iteration feeds the potential for another opportunity.

9. Repackage. Converting This Plague of Days from serialized episodes into seasons, and then into one, big book that stands alone? That’s one example of repackaging. It’ll also give a new crew of readers what they wanted since quite a few people seem to misunderstand the cliffhangers and twists of a serial or they hate serials on principle. (I don’t know what that principle is, but I recognize it and I’m listening.)

Taking different books and selling them as one bundle is another way to go. (I’ll be doing this with the Hit Man Series by turning three books into a bundled trilogy with a new and better name for the whole.)

10. Stay in touch with readers between books. I don’t have a large mailing list, but I do connect with a lot of readers on Facebook and through podcasts. I also have a blog dedicated to This Plague of Days.

Recently, when I needed to add more beta readers to my team, I went to Facebook first because I knew I’d find people who are already into what I’m doing. I’ve got three new, enthusiastic volunteers now.

Staying in touch with readers keeps projects alive for authors, too. When I get another tweet or email asking when the next book is coming out, it helps drive me to get to the keyboard as fast as I can to oil the roller coaster. I know my readers and I can’t wait to make them scream.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How I sold This Plague of Days, PART II

This Plague of Days Season 2

If I had to nail down what strategies worked to sell This Plague of Days, here are the elements that had to come together:

1. Good story. A selective mute on the autistic spectrum versus the Sutr plagues + a CDC virologist’s band of refugees on the run as Europe falls to the infected = Cool.

2. Kit Foster’s great covers. You can have a great story, but without KitFosterDesign.com, who would have bothered to have a look in the first place?

3. Serialization. See yesterday’s post for oh-so-many details on how and why that worked.

4. Bookbub. I got a flood of great reviews from the giveaway. Season One was a bestseller in September because of the free Bookbub giveaway. Season Two became a bestseller two weeks later in October.

5. Amazon exclusivity. This Plague of Days couldn’t have been free for the duration of the Bookbub giveaway if I wasn’t enrolled in the KDP Select program exclusively. (Note that while it is possible to price match down to free on Amazon, it’s not dependable or predictable if or when you’ll get the price down or back up when you want it. Price matching to get to free is not practical for pulse giveaways.)

The Ins and Outs of Bookbub

Bookbub wasn’t very expensive in the horror and science fiction categories, though I believe those fees went up since my promotion. (Click here to see Bookbub fees and stats on ROI.) If I wrote romance, I couldn’t afford their advertising program. I’ve heard some complaints about Bookbub lately, mostly about the fees for service. However, author and Cool People Podcast guest Renee Pawlish also raised questions about its reach on her blog. (Click this link to read Renee’s analysis and be sure to read the comments for a lively discussion and more factors to consider).

It will be interesting to see how prices for advertising change in a more competitive market. I advocated for Bookbub early on. However, while strategies may be long-term, tools are not. As more services like it arise, Bookbub won’t be the only free ebook promotion service on authors’ minds. In fact, many of you may already be using The Fussy Librarian or opting for the multitude of promotional services listed at Author Marketing Club. If you want more options, I suggest you support those services. For instance, The Fussy Librarian’s influence is growing and the operator has pledged to keep fees from authors low.

We don’t have to hit home runs with big services if we percolate into readers’ consciousness by hitting a lot of singles, doubles and triples. (There goes the only baseball analogy I understand.) Book bloggers and smaller, up and coming book promotion companies may be viable options or become more so. Author Marketing Club makes it easy to hit a bunch at once. 

Some book promotion services aren’t very strong, but it’s a new year and our infrastructure is deepening. Other book promotion services that have been around for a while are harder to get into.

If you get onto Pixel of Ink’s offerings, that’s a tribute to luck, your blurb and your cover art. Some services ask for so many reviews before allowing inclusion, the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in. For instance, it gets to a point where the author thinks, I needed the service more when I had fewer reviews! If a book promotion service demands fifteen to twenty rave reviews to qualify for inclusion, they better deliver sales at a reasonable rate (whatever “reasonable” is will vary by author.) 

The Ups and Downs of Amazon

Over a year ago, several gurus said the advantage of being exclusive with KDP Select was gone. In the last few months, I’ve read several successful writers again report that they’re moving books on other platforms and anyone who doesn’t broaden their reader base with more platforms is an idiot.

I guess I’m an idiot, but I’m a happier idiot than I’d be if I’d diversified as many have advised. I did experiment quite a bit with those other platforms and ended up pulling several books back after good trial runs. They did nothing for me. My books sell on Amazon and, as long as that continues, I’ll stick with it.

In my experience, the other platforms are far behind the Mighty Zon and can’t seem to come up with ways to get my books moving there. Vague terms like “establishing a presence” on other platforms and worries about putting my eggs all in one basket won’t dissuade me as long as I still see returns on my work that the other platforms can’t seem to touch. KDP exclusivity is not as lucrative as it once was, but you don’t torch the car because it’s not as good as when you rolled it off the lot. If I want to escape KDP exclusivity, the worst case scenario is I’m free of the agreement within 90 days.

I’ve talked to writers for whom diversification is working. If that’s you, carry on happily. See my screenshot of my latest news from Smashwords?Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 7.16.53 PM

No, it’s not time for me to diversify yet. When it is time, that jump can be made in pretty short order.

If Kobo were to offer to pluck me out of the rough and promote me, it would be a different story. If Apple weren’t so difficult to deal with, I might go for it. I’m not banning my books from other platforms forever, but I won’t abandon the exclusivity at KDP as long as it’s still working. It’s important to understand that other platforms work differently from Amazon. Other platforms choose what they’ll push at customers much as brick and mortar bookstores do. With Amazon’s algorithms and search engine, the customer’s choices determines what is marketed to them. The readers are the gatekeepers there.

This allegiance to Amazon is not an ideological stand. It’s accounting. The other platform paid me pennies. Amazon still pays me dollars. As soon as I’ve determined I’ve squeezed as much as I can out of Amazon promotional opportunities, I’ll give Kobo et al another try. I hope the other platforms will have stolen the best ideas from other players by then. At the very least, everyone should take something from what Smashwords does best: give us promo codes so we can better publicize out work. Amazon is the industry leader. I’m surprised the other platforms don’t experiment with emulation more.

~ As stated in yesterday’s long treatise, one author’s poison is another author’s chocolate latte birthday cake. Amazon’s still cake for me. 

Next post: What didn’t work for me in promoting This Plague of Days.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This Plague of Days: How I sold my autistic zombie apocalypse through serialization PART 1

This week, I’m making This Plague of Days a case study for those interested in drilling deep. This will be a series of blog posts about strategies, platforms and book marketing: what worked, what hasn’t worked, what won’t and what might. I hope it helps you to sell your books, if only by avoiding my errors.

Topics will include various format releases, selling in different ways, pricing and publicity. You’ll find out how This Plague of Days became a bestseller (in its teeny-tiny category) and the ways in which I’ve failed miserably. I’ll also hit on how my strategy is changing for the conclusion of This Plague of Days. Season 3 comes out this spring. I’m always experimenting, looking for new and different ways to reach readers and make them happy. Sometimes what I thought was the wide road to glory turned into a goat path into a dead-end. As always, I’ll be honest about it.

On sale now for just $2.99. I mean, c'mon!On sale until Feb. 1, 2014 for just $2.99. I mean, c’mon!

HOW I LAUNCHED THE SERIAL

My strategy for launching This Plague of Days, Season One was to put the whole ebook out first. I waited a week. The sky didn’t shatter with raging need for my latest contribution to suspense and horror literature. Then, over the next five weeks, I released the book broken into episodes as a serial. Each episode came one week apart at 99 cents each.

Each section ended on a cliffhanger so readers were given a choice:

Wait another week to find out what happens next, come back to Amazon and download the next episode. (0.99 x 5 = $4.95)

Or, preferably:  forget all that nonsense and just buy the book for less money than it cost to get all the episodes piecemeal. I sold the ebooks at $3.99 with pulsing price dips to $2.99 plus a couple of promotional giveaways at $0.00. (More on that in another post, but hey, Seasons One and Two are at $2.99 until Feb 1. Take a hint and have some fun. It’s too cold to go outside so you might as well read.)

Print has been so little of my income in the past that creating the paperback was a low priority. I did that last. (That’s changing, as you’ll soon see in a post coming later this week.)

HOW TO SERIALIZE CORRECTLY

My nastiest reviewer noted with dismay that I’d written it like a television serial (as if I’d somehow done so by accident.) Most people actually liked the format and appreciated its quirks as added value.

That said, serialization doesn’t work if you break the narrative the wrong way. Take an ongoing television drama. Let’s say, The Walking Dead or House of Cards. Cliffhangers, wit, surprises and reversals are the gears of the engine that give a serial forward momentum. Each transition should scream, “That’s not the end you expected. Now turn the page for more!”

Not all books are suited to the serial format and it’s not just about taking any book, breaking it apart and selling off the chunks. It’s about adding value to the reader and certainly not making more cash off selling episodes at 99 cents. For get-rich-quick ideas, boy, are you on the wrong blog!

ABOUT ADDED VALUE AND STANDING OUT

With an autistic hero who mostly doesn’t speak and a story that spans Europe, America and Canada, my story is unusual. You meet a lot of characters but they don’t meet each other for a long time, if at all. The plagues start off based in reality and later supernatural elements à la The Stand develop as the Sutr virus evolves. I did weird things with how I laid the saga out, too.

The Table of Contents comprises a long, dark poem with clues to what’s coming. Each episode begins with “Notes from The Last Cafe”, which adds to the intrigue. That mystery is not actually solved until late in Season 3. Also, Seasons One and Two contain a secret. The first three readers to guess it correctly will get characters named after them. I’m receiving guesses every week, but so far, no one has won. (Check out ThisPlagueOfDays.com for more on that.)

THE PROS OF SERIALIZATION

1. My also-boughts proliferated on Amazon so customers saw the work of my brilliant graphic designer, Kit Foster, pepper those lists. They didn’t just see one cover. They saw six, each different, but in keeping with the tone and theme of each season. Repetition and increased exposure got attention to the book it wouldn’t have caught otherwise. Here’s what that looked like:

TPOD 0616 EP 1 cover
The Also-boughts (below) harnessed the power of repetition in advertising.

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 3.49.28 PM

 

2. Best of all, readers who dig This Plague of Days went ahead and bought the entire season immediately. Some even took Season One, Episode One as a big, cheap sample and went back to buy both seasons in their entirety.

An important detail that’s a pro and a con

Those people who were tepid on an autistic kid in the zombie apocalypse tended to just try Episode One. Each episode ranges from 15- 25,000 words, so they got a generous read. The zombies don’t actually show up for a while and they aren’t even “true” zombies in the Romero sense. If readers didn’t care for the pace at which I built the tension, early instalments took the hits of less-than-entranced reviews and readers dropped away.

The majority loved it and went on to leave stellar reviews on each season. This somewhat inoculated the books from negative ratings because the non-enthused bailed out. Serialization gave them that easy option.

THE CONS

1. Serials are a harder sell. Some people hate serials and won’t buy them. Others click indiscriminately and then will rank you lower even if they like the book. (Yes, I know that’s crazy, but I’ve seen it. Fortunately, those few are outliers.)

2. Despite going to great lengths to explain and differentiate between seasons and episodes with covers and sales copy warnings, some readers still got confused about what they were buying in what sequence. Each cover was clearly labelled and to some, that didn’t matter. (Too quick to click the one-click buy, I guess.) That got me a couple of bad reviews. I explained to those reviewers in the comment thread of their review that anyone who buys something in error can easily return it to Amazon for a full refund. Still, those negative reviews remain.

3. Episodes that sell for 99 cents make next to no money. Somebody’s going to object to that, but the math on my sales reports says it’s true. I’d have to sell way more episodes to equal the sale of one book/season. In my quest to find 1,000 true fans, this is one of the trade-offs along the way to helping us find each other. I don’t resent the journey.

4. Maybe it’s my sense of price resistance, but I don’t see charging more than 99 cents per episode. You could give less in word count per episode, but you also have to ask yourself, how much and how often do you want to format and upload files? Drag it out with more episodes and other costs rise higher.

5. I can see by my sales stats that The Law of Diminishing Returns has kicked in with respect to sales of each episode. With so many positive reviews on Season One and Two, it makes less sense for me to serialize now. As I move away from serialization in Season 3, those who liked serialization might ding me for it (even though, with the way I priced it, that’s irrational.) 

6. Serialization that’s not hooked up to Amazon’s auto-delivery system is problematic. The customer has to remember to come back each week and download the new episode. I did apply to Amazon to publish this serial with them. I never heard back. Had they gone for it, you might have heard of me before today.

7. Now that my Amazon sales page is populated with all those episodes from Seasons One and Two, it looks too busy. I’d rather just display the seasons (and eventually The Complete This Plague of Days) so it’s easy for readers to zero in on those books and click buy. How long must I wait before I can clean it up? I can’t simply unpublish the episodes in case someone’s still thinking of getting around to finishing the serial episode by episode? Do I wait a year? Two? Three?

CONCLUSIONS

You’ll note that the Pro column has two entries and I list seven disadvantages. I wish the analysis were that simple.

In my final analysis — not necessarily yours — the disadvantages I list are the cost of getting the book known. In this case, any damage was mitigated by moderate success. Serialization helped readers and hardcore fans find This Plague of Days (and in some cases, my other books.) Therefore, the sacrifice of getting roughly 30 cents on the sale of episodes is the cost of experimentation. For advertising so well in the also-boughts on Amazon, it was worth it. Season One has 72 reviews so far. Season Two has 31. That’s much more attention than my other books got. (Shocking because Murders Among Dead Trees is genius, dammit! And only 99 cents until February 1, 2014. I’m trawling for reviews from the bargain bin so…well, you know. Check it out, if only to read my favorite three-star review ever.)

Those two pros carry more tonnage than the feather-light cons. I don’t regret serializing Seasons One and Two. Without serialization, I wouldn’t have those problems. Some problems are the good kind to have. Without serialization, I’d probably be (even more!) anonymous in the literary landscape.

That’s why marketing Season 3 will be interesting. The revolution will not be serialized. Stay tuned.

~ This is a case study which may or may not apply to you. I’m not telling anyone what they should do. This is just my experience and my reasoning on serialization. Next post: Amazon, Bookbub and all those other platforms.

 

Filed under: author platform, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, self-publishing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

TOP TEN: Publishing paradoxes and problems

1. We discount one-star reviews because of their typically venomous, dismissive hatred yet we read every one.

2. We strive to get on big media to help sell, but not much media is big anymore and it won’t move the sales needle anyway.

3. We hope to be picked up by old traditional media, but we’d connect with our audiences better and get more time, for free, going after podcasts.

4. We’re putting ourselves out there, daring to dream big, but get discouraged by people who do neither of those things.

5. We get jealous of the success of other authors when we should learn, emulate and be inspired.

6. We say “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but that’s what covers are for.

7. We spend time thinking about being a writer instead of writing.

8. We all hope to catch fire with our first book, but if success came today, many of us would be unprepared for it and wouldn’t have anything else to sell.

9. We spend months or years on our manuscripts, but many of us aren’t taking a few minutes to make sure our hard work is safely backed up (in two different ways.)

10. We call it self-publishing, but it’s a team effort and the author who truly tries to go it alone is a fool or a monster.

Filed under: author platform, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

How NOT to sell books at a reading

I did a reading a while back. I sold a book. Yeah. One. Let’s just take a moment to take that in. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Okay…here’s what I’ll do differently next time:

1. Advertise and/or promote more and work my network beforehand. Most of my friends are of the cyber variety. I’ve been a nomad/recluse so long that, locally, I don’t have a network. I’m connected to a lot of people who are too far away. Not just Skype calls and a long car ride. I’m talking long plane flights. I’m working on that, mostly through Twitter (#Ldnont) and connecting with local humans within handshake distance. It’s not entirely excruciating.

2. Have a sign. I had brochures, which was a good move. I didn’t have a proper sign that told people the books’ prices. A helpful friend took the money…or would have but, ahem…that turned out to be a non-issue. The forty dollar float in fives proved much more than adequate. (Do make it easy for potential customers by charging round numbers. Nobody wants to search for nickels.)

3. Rock the books you came with. I should have talked more about the books at the back of the room while I was at the front of the room. Instead, I rocked a short story that always gets laughs. I’m very confident reading that story to an audience, so I took the easy way out. I can sell that story, Another Day at the Office from Self-help for Stoners, easily. I should have pushed the books I brought instead, and harder. I should have read a piece from my books that sell most now (This Plague of Days) and a chapter from Crack the Indie Author Code (indies were the theme of the event.)

Being confident, instead of looking confident: I’ll figure it out and try it sometime.

4. I gave a good talk about writing and publishing. Actually, it was a great talk. People smiled and laughed in the right places. At one point I sang and even threatened an audience member with a grisly death, mostly for entertainment purposes. People went away smiling and happy…but they did go away.

The main problem was that I should have ended it sooner. We used the whole time allotted for the event. You’d think that would be delivering on expectations and promises. Instead, it gave people no time to shop for books. They ran to get their parking validated before the library closed. Rather than talk at the front of the room (which I enjoyed immensely) I should have mixed with the audience more before the event began and I should have built in more one-on-one chatting/selling/handshake/hip bump/high-five/hula dancing time at the end of the reading.

5. When the reading’s done, don’t get waylaid by the sweet, little old lady sitting in the third row. Push her out of your way and to the ground if necessary. She is killing you. At least, that’s what she did to me. I should have rushed straight to the back and engaged people there. By the time I answered her tangential question about who I might be related to (I wasn’t and oh, sweet Jebus, who cares?), most people had filed out, off to make sure their parking was free. Damn old lady. And damn parking. And damn me. 

To the one guy to whom I sold This Plague of Days in paperback, may Thor bless you with smart, stout-thighed, stress-resistant children with perfect teeth. It’s great signing a book for a reader who digs what you’re doing.

Back on the net that night, another audience member hit me up on Twitter to let me know he had a good time and was buying my ebooks, not paper. That was cool and eased my roiling sea of torment. Somewhat. 

I’ll do better next time.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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