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

Write and publish with love and fury.

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Et tu, Kobo? Anger and the Cost-benefit Analysis

By now, most authors know about Kobo’s rash move to yank all indie authors from its platform. Today, we talk about Kobo and reevaluating our marketing strategies so we can manage time and energy and make more money.

If you came in late to the debacle, here’s what started it:

They condemned indie authors in an over-reaction to a news story about pornographic ebooks invading WH Smith through Kobo. Instead of weeding out individual books they deemed offensive, they painted us all with the same brush and pulled a digital-ton of indie ebooks.  They didn’t just hit indie porn and erotica titles. They hit all of us, the tall and the small, and legal. (For more details, check “Related articles” below).

Hitting the big, red nuke button was a major tactical error. Failing to open lines of communication also didn’t help. Kobo was put in a tough position because of their relationship with WH Smith. Kobo did announce the bulk removal was temporary and they’d review books before putting them up for sale. How long that could take, we have no idea. Kobo probably doesn’t know, either. Sounds like a gargantuan task. Better filters would have served them well.

Two of my crime novels were pulled from Kobo.

Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus disappeared from the store. Bigger Than Jesus is now back, but not for long. I’m pulling it from Kobo and everywhere else, except Amazon and CreateSpace. I’ll also begin selling paperbacks from my website (but more on that another time.)

Some authors are (or were) making money with Kobo. Amazon is not the only game to play, so you’ll see the same advice everywhere: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Put your books across all platforms! Amazon’s free books scheme with KDP Select doesn’t work anymore.”

Today, I’m going to challenge the egg basket wisdom. First, let’s talk Kobo beef.

1. Kobo’s platform is flawed. Where are the reviews? And (I’ve said this many times) why aren’t they stealing the best ideas from the other platforms? Amazon is the model they aren’t emulating. Kobo isn’t alone in this regard. Over at Smashwords, the website is still very ’90s. Still!

2. Instead of taking the time and energy to spread ourselves across many platforms, I suggest you look where books are actually moving. This won’t help you if you have one book, but after a few, you know which platforms butter your bread and which poop in your cereal bowl. My books sell on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and in print. That’s it. Avengers, assemble! Activate the 80/20 rule! 

3. Some people love Kobo. They’re in a lot of markets and there are nice people there. I’ve spoken to someone from the company and she couldn’t have been nicer. I’ve heard interviews on the Self Publishing Podcast. Kobo has awesome representatives who communicate their respect for authors and care about what we’re doing. I want to love them! But the company screwed up all that good will in one big, bad move that was not thought through.

4. Then I got this email this morning from Draft2Digital, informing me that a book I published to Amazon (within 24 hours) back in February 2013 was finally on, you guessed it, Kobo.

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 9.27.16 AM

Barnes and Noble published Six Seconds in July and Kobo’s right on the case, finally getting my book about marketing with the Vine app out into the world today? What the bloody hell? It’s been so long, I’d forgotten I’d even selected them as a sales channel.

Trying to publish this book with Apple is also a hassle. That’s two of Amazon’s competitors failing the cost-benefit analysis. The tragedy is that Amazon doesn’t have to be perfect to dominate. It just has to avoid the razor wire and landmines its suicidal competitors throw themselves upon. In a healthier market, the competition would be smarter and closer on Amazon’s heels.

5. Then there’s the hypocrisy. Kobo says they aren’t for censorship as they pull indie authors. They’re free to publish and not publish what they want, but this was a blanket condemnation of indies. That no doubt pleased traditional publishers. It must have been particularly gleeful for the legacy publishers of erotica who were immune from the cull.

It has to be said, there are all kinds of works of literature that contain intense violence. Many of my books contain violence, but not all were pulled. I’m arguing none should be pulled because, if you want to protect children from pornographic ebooks, it’s your job to make sure your kids don’t buy them. Kobo is a company. Parents are parents.

I don’t want media companies to act like parents, especially when we’re talking about fiction. I had parents already and look how that turned out. I’m nobody’s kid anymore and I’ll make my choices for me and my kids, thanks. (As all preachers’ kids know, it’s the suppressed and repressed ones that go too wild once they hit Frosh Week, anyway.)

6. Okay, so that’s enough spanking Kobo. Let’s talk book marketing strategy and rethink it.

As far as KDP Select goes, it’s true it doesn’t work as well as it did. However, does it not work for so many authors because they’re expecting it to work on its own? The book has to be strong and the cover art must be awesome. We all know that, but are author-publishers stopping short, assuming those variables are enough gas for their sales engine? How many oft-referenced cases of KDP Select “failures of free” are actually KDP failures? Are authors doing enough to promote those free days?

Using Author Marketing Club tools and Bookbub, Freebooksy and other advertising and promotion services in combination with free promo days through the exclusive Select program, This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two became bestsellers. This was long after many authors abandoned KDP Select because “free doesn’t work anymore” became common currency among us.

Your cost-benefit analysis may be different, but I urge you to do a cost-benefit analysis.

As pressures mount, spreading ourselves everywhere takes time and energy we could be using more profitably. If you sell books on Kobo, keep them. If you’re that one author who makes cash selling on Sony or Diesel, go for it. The only platform I’d say everyone should to be on is Amazon because they’re the bus that’s gassed up.

“But what if Amazon makes the same mistake Kobo did? They’ve pulled books willy-nilly before! Isn’t Kobo’s fiasco an example of why we have to spread our books to all platforms to minimize risk?”

After the hoopla Kobo’s decision caused, I don’t think Amazon would be or could be that stupid. Besides, it’s not about allegiance to a platform or blind tribalism. It’s going with what works for you. At worst, if you really can’t stand being in Amazon’s exclusive contract, you can reevaluate and bail at 90 days.

True, spreading everywhere insulates us from dumb mistakes, but it would also minimize potential profit drastically. Unsuccessful businesses play not to lose.  Play to win. I mentioned I sell some books on B&N, but the return is so low, it’s not even a factor. Until the other platforms come up with better ways to market us, Amazon is my puddin’. 

This is math. Look at where your books are selling.

Put your time and energy into getting more books into those channels and leveraging that advantage with books like Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran. (And if you haven’t published yet, buy Crack the Indie Author Code by some thoughtful and encouraging idiot.)

Are you selling even a little bit on Kobo? Who cares? Use the 80/20 rule. Focus your energy where it does the most good. That’s why I’m pulling my crime novels from Kobo. I had other plans to market the Hit Man Series. Now I’m going to pull them back to KDP Select and leverage that series better than I did the first time. I wasn’t in the Author Marketing Club when Bigger Than Jesus came out. I only have two series, so I must reevaluate non-Amazon successes and failures and act accordingly.

This is also emotion.

I admit it, emotion plays a role. Nothing’s broken so I’m not in a rage. I am annoyed. Kobo made their decision for short-term reasons that did not respect indie authors. We are the publishing revolution, remember? They pulled our books without warning. We don’t matter to them and I’m hurt. It’s not just the principle. It’s the money.

I’m sure I don’t matter to Amazon, either, but at least Amazon can publish my books in a timely manner and move them. Ultimately, I’m not leaving because of Kobo’s instability. My annoyance led me to reevaluate what Kobo was doing for me. I’m not punishing Kobo at all, but the fact that I can pull my crime novels and not hurt myself tells me I should refocus my energies.

I’ll go back to Kobo one day, if they’re still around by then. Who knows? Maybe this debacle is just what they needed to reevaluate their platform and marketing strategies, too.

Tips and inspiration for the indie author's journey to publication.

Tips and inspiration for the indie author’s journey to publication.

~ Hi. My name is Chazz and I’m much nicer than I appear here. I’m usually pretty sweet and funny unless I’m writing suspense. Then the serrated knives come out and things get twisty. I love people, though books give me less back sass. I’m a contrarian, but not for the sake of being contrary. I just don’t understand how the world works. There are so many example of how it doesn’t work, I get distracted easily.

I believe in love and readers and curiosity and the written word’s power to release dopamine. I’m in the brain tickle business and I’m grateful for that every day. Find all my books here for the foreseeable future.

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

Another Easy Tech Tool Authors and Publishers Need Part 3

I’ve become quite a fan of the Author Marketing Club.

Another tool in their arsenal is the Amazon Enhanced Description Maker. It’s simple, but effective: Make your Amazon book descriptions easier to read with headlines and lists. Best of all, the html coding is taken care of for you. I’m into anything that simplifies my life while attracting readers.

Yes, Amazon allows this. In fact, here’s a sample of the end product. 

Note what makes it different:

The header (Armand Rosamilia’s blurb); the attention-grabbing subhead; the bullet list; and the call of the “Special Offer”. You can make that a numbered list if you want. 

Highly recommended. See AMC’s demo tutorial here.

Related articles

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

Part 2: The next tech tool authors and publishers need

The Author Marketing Club has a new tool you’re going to want. Actually, they have a bunch of tools you’ll want, but today I’ll tell you about the latest one:

The Book Widget Creator Tool

On your author site, you have your books displayed in the sidebar. You’ve used image widgets and text widgets and tried to make your list look attractive for readers. The Author Marketing Club just came up with a tool for premium members that makes it easy and uniform. Here’s a sample of what it looks like on my author site. (Scroll down the right sidebar. You can’t miss it.)

Before you reject premium membership, I hasten to add that the Author Marketing Club offers a lot of cool tools to make your writing life easier and your image professional.

The tool pulls from Amazon, so it updates star ratings automatically. It’s a set it and forget it situation. At some point, you’ll be able to link to other sites besides Amazon. Within the tool, there’s an option to input your Amazon affiliate code so you’ll get credit for those clicks.

To use it, all you have to do is choose a widget width and plug in AISN numbers from your books on Amazon. Premium membership costs $105. Over the next few posts, I’ll tell you why I joined and why that fee is entirely justified.

Stand by for more AMC advantages.

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

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

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

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.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

See my books, blogs, links and podcasts.

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