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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Writing: Where the money is

Everybody wonders what the next big thing will be in our expanding industry. In other words, “Where’s the money?”

As it relates to writing as an industry, money looks sparse at first glance. I mean, banking, drugs and guns is where the big money is. However, for our industry? The big money in writing is in the beams and braces. Infrastructure. The money will go to people who service our needs as indies. So ask yourself, what do we need?

1. Book apps. We don’t really understand book apps. Programmers do. Book apps with a subscription service could work, especially for certain authors who are in traditional publishing now but will soon make the leap to self-publishing.

2. Author cooperatives. Box sets may already be on the way out, but I think more authors will share resources and trade skills, either in small, structured groups or as part of a time bank organization, or both.

3. Organization provision: Many of us cringe at the idea of a union because it reeks of gatekeepers. I’d say that’s only because the writers unions that have been proposed for indies so far stink of more gatekeeping. Innovators out to advocate instead of control could do better than that, for us and for themselves.

4. An alternative to ACX that’s more generous to creators. ACX was awesome. Technically, it’s still awesome though the creator share is down. Have you noticed that, since ACX lowered the pay rate, we aren’t talking about ACX near so much anymore? We’re still using it because audiobooks are our future. For some, they’re our today! We’d like more choices and we’d like to get back to the bigger cut, though. (The obstacle is effective distribution, so that will have to be bankrolled.)

5. Selling direct from websites will become more popular. You can use Gumroad to sell digital products now. The problem is, no one wants to sideload their kindle with a pdf. Find a way around that problem and we’ll all be doing it to some degree. Fewer buttons, one click. That’s key.

6. Discoverability tools are more important than information. Make more discoverability tools (like you’ll find at Author Marketing Club, for instance.) Information is free everywhere, including here. Ways to help readers find us are harder to come by.

7. Services that promote indie authors will make money. Bookbub is at the top of the heap now, but BookGorilla is cheaper. The Fussy Librarian is very low cost. if I recall correctly, the latter was built partially in response to Bookbub’s fees. Bookbub has big lists of subscribers, sure, but they have competition and it’s growing because Bookbub is so hard to get into and can be so expensive.

8. The company that finds a way to make it easier for books to be printed and distributed (cheaper, faster and easier than it can be done at present) and get it to libraries and bookstores will make a lot of money. Be the new Lightning Source, for instance, but make it as easy to deal with as CreateSpace. (LS has improved in this regard, but I’ve checked it out and it still feels like a hassle.)

9. Translation houses. Everybody knows foreign language publishing is going to be huge. What we don’t know is whom to trust to translate our work and whom to ask to make sure the translations are any good. We’ll also need people (formerly known as agents) whose sole occupation is dealing in foreign rights sales. The markets are waiting, but most of us aren’t ready.

10. The next destination website for our readers. We need a destination website that operates as a cool magazine that curates our work to readers. We need to provide a way for readers to find us and vice versa. We don’t need another Writer’s Digest. We need a Reader’s Digest, if you will, for our work but catering to readers. If there aren’t click to buy and click to explore buttons at the end of each story or sample, it will still miss the mark.

You could, of course, simply write the next big thing.

We are writers, after all. We don’t want to think about all this tech stuff. That’s why someone with the skills to fulfill these needs will eventually appear and get paid.

If you’re still bent on writing to make money, the trouble is that no one knows what the next big thing really will be. No one saw Fifty Shades of Gray coming. It’s not like it was the first book of erotica to go on sale, but it went huge. Its imitators didn’t make near as much dough. Breaking out is not something you can chase, exactly. It happens to you and there are too many variables outside your control.

Just write the best book you can. When your book is ready, I really hope those trusty translation houses will be up and running and ready for business.

What are your ideas for the support structure our industry needs?

~ The good news. I’m now in the Top 100 Horror Authors on Amazon! The book launch bargains continue for This Plague of Days here. See what all the fuss is about, see the video and find the secret.

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

How Amazon’s new sales dashboard got me moving (plus Art that sells books)

Lily BG-1

Click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

Click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

I wasn’t going to blog about the new Amazon sales dashboard.

Then I gave it a second look. The quick, detailed analysis is interesting and sometimes disheartening. Seeing all the outcomes across various countries at one glance is great. (Thanks, Australia. This Plague of Days is gaining ground Down Under.) I suspect the new dashboard will be an obsession to which we can lose a lot of time. The clarity delivered is better than what other retailers offer and absolutely crushes mainstream publishers for their lack of transparency. 

More information (or at least data that informs more easily) can change behavior. It just did that for me. Knowledge of weaknesses is more useful than knowing strengths. I checked through which books were moving and which weren’t. I asked myself which books could move better than they do. 

The ebook is also available in paperback for $9.99.

I settled on my funny crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus.

I’d just received three more fantastic reviews recently, so the book is sitting, highly rated, with 17 reviews. But it’s not selling. Several people have told me Bigger Than Jesus is my best book. It’s a fast read with a careening plot and there’s a follow-up with Higher Than Jesus

So why no love for Jesus?

There’s an issue with the title (you can guess) which I plan to remedy with the third installment in the Hit Man Series. Meanwhile,Bigger_Than_Jesus_Cover_for_Kindle I’ve failed to market it well enough. I think of myself as a suspense novelist, but most of my sales are coming from the horror side of the equation with This Plague of Days. Because I was letting Bigger Than Jesus sell “organically” (translation: not doing anything) I wasn’t paying attention to promoting my luckless Cuban hit man.

Bigger Than Jesus is not getting the visibility it deserves, so I must make it visible.

There are many complicated and expensive ways to do that. I’m opting for the easiest vector. This morning, through the Author Marketing Club website, I set up various free ebook sites to give the book away next week. I’ve applied to BookBub and paid a visit to The Fussy Librarian. More visibility and reviews will translate into more love, and more buyers, down the line. 

Dark Higher Than Jesus banner ad

I wouldn’t have changed my strategy if not for the change in the sales dashboard.

The changes make it easier to identify where the ball is not bouncing. Since my crime novel is well placed to fly higher, I’m attaching a booster rocket to it. 

~ Now you’re wondering about the art, right? That’s awesome work done by my buddy, Kit Foster of Kit Foster Design. More than just awesome covers, he can do ads and web banners, too. Spruce up your author sites and campaigns to sell books. He’s a very nice guy and his rates are very reasonable. You’ll be glad you did. Tell Kit that Chazz sent you.

Filed under: Amazon, book marketing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Marketing books: Thirteen video options

Season One of This Plague of Days is free until midnight tonight.

Season Two launches in two weeks.

Book trailers are problematic. Video can be done well. It often isn’t.

Most of them are too long. Production values are typically lower than viewers’ expectations. We’re trained to expect CGI on the level of major movie studios. Also, there’s little evidence trailers generate any sales. Go big and you’ll spend money with no return on the investment. Go too small and you might not be proud of it. Here are magnificent options, ranging from giving up and doing zilch to going big. Since I’m in touch with reality, most options are no-budget or low-budget.

Alternative 1

Don’t do it. It’s not worth the bother.

Alternative 2

Play with iMovie in your spare time. If it’s fun, great, but certainly don’t lose writing time to it. 

Alternative 3

Rather than worry about making a little movie and learning an editing program, do six seconds on Vine and/or fifteen seconds on Instagram. Focus on one quick, easy message. Don’t spell out the link to the camera. Leave the link in the caption. Note that people love video with cats.

Alternative 4

Upload to Youtube from your camera, iPod, iPhone or Android. Viewers will be more forgiving of low production values if they see you didn’t try to make it fancy. Just talk to the camera with a joke and/or announcement.

Alternative 5

Video pulls more clicks to your blog. Combine it with punchy posts for greater effect and more subscribers.

People have more tolerance for a short, laid back video than they will for long blog posts. For instance, yesterday’s post went deep into serialization and book pricing strategy. It was only for the most serious of book marketers and publishers. However, many more readers will click the video above and read this blog post for information because it has video and the text is breezy and scannable.

Alternative 6

Focus on what’s cool or ironically cool. Make it fun for you and the viewer. Try for the opposite of earnest and don’t try to tell too much of the plot of your book. Let the visuals do more work. Entertain first and come sideways at giving out information. One of the best book trailers I’ve seen was an author who talked about the glamour of the writing life while he scrubbed toilets.

Alternative 7

As I’ve suggested in the past, try a quote trailer. A quote trailer simply pulls intriguing quotes from your book. Don’t forget to include a buy link. Keep it short. No spoilers.

Alternative 8 

Use Animoto, as I did, for the video above. I already had the book covers. It took all of five minutes to use the free option for a video shorter than 30 seconds. The fire effect was appropriate and the music was a nice fit. Cool, huh? Animoto includes sharing options so you can export it to Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook, etc.,…

Alternative 9

If people don’t respond to your stabs at filmmaking, try making it more about you and how you can help others instead of making it about the book. Video reviews and how-to stuff get more hits. Funny’s always good, too.

I put up video of my podcasts to get more viewers and listeners. Some people simply prefer video to audio, or a YouTube video is how they will discover a podcast. Interaction in an interview setting can be easier to pull off than talking directly to the camera. Some people, like Hugh Howey, do it well and even dance for reviews. For most of us, solo videos look like hollow-eyed, stuttering hostage videos pleading for ransom under the threat of death.

Alternative 10

Have you set up your YouTube channel yet? It’s a great place to collect your video book reviews, too. Video reviews get more attention on Amazon than written ones, so it’s worth doing, for you and for authors.

Alternative 11

Go with Fiverr.com and get help to create quick videos like I did for my promotion plan for This Plague of Days. Check out my video samples at the link.

Alternative 12

If you really want to go big, get a semi-pro involved. There’s no proven ROI and most professional video production is expensive. Therefore, consider approaching a drama class or a film school. If your book trailer becomes a school project, at least your vanity project will benefit the education of a young actor or filmmaker in a concrete way. You could go the Scott Sigler route and make it a contest. Since every entry went up on YouTube for judging, Sigler’s books got multiple ads and multiple hits.

Alternative 13

I think Kevin Smith and Steven Spielberg are available for princely sums, but if you’ve just won the lottery, go with any of the above options and get your video production done free or cheap. Starving children everywhere would appreciate your generous donations. If you’re rich enough to consider professional directorial help, good karma’s the better way to go.

BONUS

Are you on Bookbub? Here's what the email looks like for my TPOD promo. Sale ends at midnight, never to return. Enjoy.

Are you on Bookbub? Here’s what the email looks like for my TPOD promo. Sale ends at midnight, never to return. Enjoy.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 12.53.17 PM

Bookbub allows you to showcase deals to many targeted readers who are interested in your genre. Got a deal? Get noticed with Bookbub.

Filed under: author platform, book trailer, Books, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ebook pricing, free promotions and you

The complete first season is FREE for two days. Click now.

The complete first season is FREE for two days. Click now.

Generosity feels great and, in this incarnation of the book business, generosity is a marketing strategy if done right. Today, a giveaway and a case study in real time. (If you don’t know anything about This Plague of Days, check out ThisPlagueOfDays.com for sneak peeks.)

I released This Plague of Days, Season 1 as a serial. There were many reasons for doing it this way. I wrote it like a television mini-series and serialization opens up marketing opportunities. On the first day of Season One, I published the complete first season and Episode 1. Four more episodes followed each Monday. The episodes sold for 99 cents each or readers could get the whole season for $3.99.

For my initial giveaway, I put the first episode up for free for two days. I don’t believe in long promotions. By the time you’re done more than two days, you’ve exhausted your connections and momentum slows. I gave away about 1500 downloads of Episode 1 and stayed at the top of the Post-apocalyptic and Dystopian charts on the free side of Amazon for those two days. It’s really exciting sitting at #1 and #2 beside Hugh Howey.

An interesting thing happened next:

A bunch of readers liked Episode 1 but they stuck with the individual episodes. I watched my dashboard charts light up green with sales of Episodes 2, 3, 4 and 5 as people who got Episode 1 for free worked their way through the serial. The complete book of the season sold a bit, too, (at $3.99) but it seemed for readers to jump from episodes to the season at once, the discount would have had to be even deeper.

Pros and Cons of This Strategy

Pro: I gained a bunch of reviews for This Plague Of Days. Most readers dug it.

Con: Readers of Episode 1 only see the dad is an atheist and they may not stick around for the sweep of the story’s longer arc. The atheist dad has doubts about his lack of belief and his religious wife has doubts about her faith. I don’t dump it all in Episode 1 so, with serialization, you get judged by what you lead with. I’m not complaining. If you do something similar to what I’m doing, stay true to your vision, but don’t expect everyone to wait patiently for the payoffs later on. I have secret seeds planted in Season One that don’t bloom until Season Three.

Con: You’ll always get your worst reviews from free promotions.

Con: Some people who click free will never click “buy”. (Actually, that’s unfortunate, but it’s not really a “con” per se. I mention it because I anticipate resistance to these tactics. However, it’s not a true deficit in that it’s mostly irrelevant. These readers aren’t in my long-term equation for the same reasons the cobalt industry, Cadillac and Vera Wang don’t target me as a customer. Just as I’ll never be in those businesses’ target demographics, I’m hunting for converts, not free book shelvers.

Pro: All those downloads got me Also-bought listings and Amazon started selling the book for me with their mailing list. That’s a major plus on the brand visibility side of the argument.

Pro: As summer sales of Season One ebbed, I saw the momentum from July evaporate. I did what few say makes sense. I put the price up to $4.99. No one’s buying the episodes now, but they are buying the complete first season at the higher price. That could indicate that Season One was underpriced. Probably, but as I’ll argue below, that’s okay. I’m in this for the long-term. Discoverability is more important than sales for now.

What I’m doing differently for Season Two

In This Plague of Days, I’m trying to give a B movie an A treatment. To get traction for an unknown serial aimed at a smart crowd in an unfamiliar format, I think the starting price was fair and good for Season One. If you didn’t jump aboard before, for two days only, Season One of This Plague of Days is free to download on September 18 and 19th. (If you love it, please review it.) Season Two will also have some bonus material in the back.

Why give away an entire book? Isn’t that evil and the death of literature?

Season One is the gateway drug to Season Two and, for two days only, the first taste is free.

I’m using Freebooksy and Bookbub to let the world know. This publicity does cost money, potentially a few nasty reviews and maybe I’m leaving money on the table. However, it will get my name and Season One into the hands of at least 5,000 people. (If that doesn’t sound like much to you, consider that 5,000 paid sales equals a bestseller in Canada. I expect to hit #1 and #2 again and have some sales momentum behind me as I slide into the October launch of Season Two. This is marketing as an exercise in delayed gratification. I’ll sell more of Season Two because I’ll get more readers in on the ground floor of the serial. Besides, it’s a one-time only sale. Most readers will find the cash for the full price under their couch cushions, so let’s not get too dramatic about the losses or gains.

To put it another way, a la Seth Godin, “Too many people are reading my free ebook is not a problem” (as long as there are other books to sell.) To paraphrase author Cory Doctorow, Free isn’t my problem, “obscurity is my problem.” And finally, I quote myself for emphasis, “Generosity feels great…(and) discoverability is more important than sales for now.”

Season 2 launches Oct 1.

Season 2 launches Oct 1.

The Rationale: Season Two of This Plague of Days launches in a couple of weeks.

The story and the virus evolve together. This time out, TPOD has a different pace. Season One was like a television serial. Season Two is the action movie. It gets more paranormal and it’s loaded with surprises, chills and blood spills. Expect new villains and more twists from Ireland to Iceland to the Indianapolis Speedway. You’ll see the invasion of New York, the Midwest and the terrible events at Canada’s border with Michigan. It’ll sell for $4.99 this fall. In a month or so I’ll do a giveaway of Season Two, Episode 1 only.

Eventually I’ll put This Plague Of Days across more platforms and go for a price match so Episode 1 of Season One will be perma-free. I’ll experiment with price points, but the complete Season Two will never go free. The law of diminishing returns kicks in if you’re trying to get people to jump into the middle. (Ironically, you could jump straight into Season Two without reading Season One and you wouldn’t be lost at all. However, people don’t believe that. I never got into Ally McBeal because I missed the first episode.)

About Audiences

People who love zombies were very patient with Season One. The zombies don’t show up immediately but the dread keeps rising so I guess the suspense satisfied them until the heavier horror kicked in. They don’t have to wait for any action in Season Two, so I expect this phase of TPOD will go big all the way to Christmas (especially as other promotions kick in.)

The other thing that surprised me was how readers with family connections to autism, developmental delays and handicaps responded to the story. The protagonist is on the spectrum and those readers enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes. It’s not a long screed (and certainly punchier than this post) but those readers responded well to discussions of what it’s like to be the parent of an autistic kid. The family loves Jaimie, but they don’t romanticize his disabilities and his sister treats him like a normal kid treats a sibling who is often difficult to live with.

About Price Resistance

Selling episodes at 99 cents with 30% to me won’t keep me in cat food, but it did help with visibility. I gather those who started buying episodes in Season One will mostly choose to get the complete second season so they can find out right away what happens to the Spencer family and the British refugees.

It seems the greatest resistance to price increases lay not with the readers, but with yours truly. More readers are discovering my books at higher price points. I guess those higher prices make them confidant I know what I’m doing. So, while I’m still advocating short-term discount promotions, the trend with all my book prices is for them to climb. Done right, with a giveaway of sufficient numbers, free can still work. If I thought I could get more traction on other platforms, I’d try a different strategy. However, regarding promotion, it appears the other platforms are still lacking.

If you’re reading this on September 18 or 19th, 2013,

grab your free copy of the complete first Season of This Plague of Days here.

And please tell a friend. Thanks!

 

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

Writers: Are you sitting on the money?

They call it the Cliff. You can do Author Marketing Club and Bookbub and free promotions and blow giveaways out the digital door. You can even start catching fire and getting traction and selling books for (gasp!) actual money. Then, the fall from grace comes. Sales drop off, often steeply. What happened? You ran off the Cliff. Lots of people do. In this post, we’re going to think about climbing back up and promoting our previous works again (and doing it better this time) because I suspect we’re sitting on money.

I’m rethinking the old marketing paradigm that’s always oriented to what’s new. 

It’s the thing we should question most: accepted wisdom. Despite all my efforts, old wave thinking is still permeating my brain. In traditional publishing, you get a short window to get traction and then the bookstores return your books to the publisherCrack the Indie Author Code for credit. That’s the structure of the short tail market. In long tail marketing, our books are up forever (or at least until the cyber war brings us all low). Still, we tend to think of our books as hitting big (or not) and then the graph points down. We’re mimicking thinking and marketing patterns from traditional wisdom because all old ideas are awesome, right? Oh, wait…

Case #1

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while and by not sleeping, I’m finally getting to it. I pulled Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book, Aspire to Inspire from print. I didn’t like the look of the interior design. I’m fixing them and will make Crack the Indie Author Code available in print again soon. (They’re both still out there as ebooks.)

Self Help for Stoners JPEGCase #2

Self-help for Stoners was my first book. It’s funny and strange and with an intermediary. I used Bookbaby for that collection and I want to get it back at Ex Parte Press and put it out myself. I’m sure I can make it go higher once I have full and instant control of the marketing. I queried Amazon about the process today because I’m afraid of losing the reviews. Either way, I do need to steer my ship and reach out to stoners and non-stoners, alike and anew. (If you’re a Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus fan, my luckless Cuban hit man appears first in Self-help for Stoners, by the way.)

This post won’t help you much if you only have one book to sell, but here are my thoughts on renewed marketing efforts: 

If you have one book, write more. No whining,

If you have a backlist, who is to say what’s old and what’s renewable? You’re the one to say.

If you have a bunch of books, I bet you’re a better writer by now. Why not revisit those books and do new editions?

Consider the power of bundling books. You could enliven your Amazon dashboard with more happy green up arrows. Stop sitting on the money.

Lots of people missed your fledgling efforts the first time. You didn’t know what you were doing. Who did? Any book they haven’t read is new to them. 

The most powerful promotions tend to be the first ones. But maybe that’s because we don’t put the same marketing efforts into books we published a couple of years ago. In digital, the term backlist is less relevant. As long as it’s clear it’s a new edition or a new launch or you’ve added material, what’s the problem? 

Maybe those early efforts flopped because you had a lousy cover. Get a new, better cover* and launch it right this time. With all you’ve learned about marketing since your early efforts, it’s bound to do better, right?

Most fiction doesn’t get stale. Our efforts get stale because we want to focus on the new thing. Maybe the old thing is only old in your mind. With some tweaking, a fresh edit and a new campaign, you might have a book people will love and buy. Reuse, recycle, repurpose. Turn short stories into collections. Open up to new possibilities with prequels to your books. Tie books together. Add to your series. Serialize. There’s plenty of fun to be mined in what you’ve already accomplished.

Your problem with these suggestions isn’t necessarily that my head is full of feathers. Your problem is the same as mine. This will take a lot of time and you feel you’ve already covered this ground. But most of us didn’t cover this ground well the first time. There are new promotional tools now. Yes, time management can be tough and we can only do what we can do. But that’s business. We are not special snowflakes, but we’re letting good stuff go cold.

*About good covers, I know a guy. He’s Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. He’s an award-winning graphic artist with an extensive portfolio who works well with indies and traditional publishers. Like my covers? Kit did them all. Check out his site. You’ll be glad you did.

Dark Higher Than Jesus banner ad

Filed under: author platform, Books, ebooks, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FAQs: What book promotion are you paying for?

I sent a close friend the gift of an ebook hoping that he would read it, enjoy it, possibly review it and maybe even spread the word to his vast network of connections. Instead, he sent me a scolding reply: “You’re paying people to read your books!” And by people, he meant him. Ouch. In my defence, I don’t know that he’s read it yet, so that’s my double fail.

Before anybody thinks he’s harsh, a little history and context: I understand that he felt fine paying for the book himself. Also, I got him his first job in book publishing. He’s still thinking about publishing from that perspective. I’m sure he didn’t want to sound mean. I caught him on a bad day. Also, I’m sure he’s worried about me and that’s why he was so undiplomatic and reactive.

However, he’s only thinking of me as a friend and writer. I’m also a publisher.

Publishers have a long history of sending out Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) to key reviewers, the sales force, bookstores and media. That doesn’t require an apology. That’s business and doing less is hiding your light under a shitstorm called, “Everything else that exists to read, do and enjoy.” Yes, you’re even competing against sex! Clearly, books are doomed!

How many ARCS go out from traditional publishers? Hundreds per book. I can’t afford to do that, but I do send out some that way. I wasn’t paying anyone to read my book. I was paying for advertising and promotion (to teh wrong target, I found out.) You can do the same thing for free by emailing a pdf, though if they can’t instantly stick it on their kindle, most people won’t bother with it. Chances are good they won’t get around to reading it even if you make it very easy for them so avoid handicaps where possible. That’s why I prefer to use Amazon’s gift option where possible and within budget.

About sending copies to book blogs

Check out the book blog first. Review the reviewers and their guidelines before you send anything. Many book blogs are awesome. However, I’ve encountered noobs whose site is nigh-illegible, their traffic is minuscule and their reviews give spoilers without warning. I’d rather let a blindfolded med student practice minor surgery on my tingly bits.

Services to invest in

In the previous post, I mentioned Bookbub is a worthwhile investment. The cost of advertising with BookBub varies depending on genre. Horror and science fiction is $70 to push a free ebook. Find the full range of pricing here.

I also mentioned the Author Marketing Club. That costs $105 per year for an annual membership and it’s worth it for the tools and seminars. My book descriptions look better than ever, for instance. The free submission tool got This Plague of Days at number one in Dystopian and Post-apocalyptic. The book sales widget looks awesome.

Where can you cut corners?

Anyone reading this is probably working on a shoestring budget. To make any money, we have to keep our expenses down to nothing or close to it. We blog and tweet and use Pinterest and Facebook and do Google+ and throw Tumblr in the air and shout out of windows because it’s free and we’re trying to engage new readers. I’ve used Fiverr for videos* (see my video/book promotion strategy here) and free apps from Apple and the Chrome Store. 

We get what services we can for free where and when it makes sense. We swap services and cooperate and consult and promote each other for free. We learn to format books and publish DIY wherever we can so we can keep something of what money might trickle in, knowing the odds are heavily against us. (That sounds bleak, but more indie authors are making a living from their efforts than the traditionally published so it’s not all bad news.)

About ineffective promotion services

Lots of advertising isn’t worth the expense. Some sites say they can promote your books and they’ll do so for a fairly low fee. However, you won’t get even that small fee back. Before you go with another of those sites, review the promoters. Reach out to the indie authors you know. Use your Facebook connections to gather intelligence and ask about other authors’ experiences and results. This is most valuable if their books are similar in genre, quality and look to your own. (In other words, don’t blame the book promotion service when a bad cover sunk the author’s efforts.)

I’m always looking for ways to save money so I can put it into pushing books. The other day I realized I was the only 48-year-old walking around a bookstore in old jeans with ripped up hems. I don’t buy new pants! Think what Bookbub advertising I could buy for the price of a couple of pants! And you know what? I wish I had a bigger budget because however you promote your books, you pay. (And I want new pants. I rocked this look in college but it doesn’t fly now.)

If you don’t pay in money, you pay in time.

Without the cash, you lose time with your family (okay, not always a bad thing). You will lose time going to the gym and end up paying with your health. Time is more important than money because you can make more money but the waking hours are all you get. Worse, if you aren’t careful, marketing cuts into writing time. Be careful. Hemingway was Hemingway, but he never had to share your problems.

Expect to pay something.

Can you go viral and pay nothing and still be successful?  It could happen, but to expect it is stupid. That’s not a strategy. That’s hoping something will happen to you instead of making it happen and that’s not the way to bet. Use AMC and Bookbub now at least. Then be clever and different and promote your brand with long-term strategies that will make a career.

Should I set a budget of $10,000 for a book promotion budget?

I’m not buying new pants. 

*I have a new intro video at AllThatChazz.com, in addition to the intro video at CoolPeoplePodcast.com and of course, here at ChazzWrites.

Filed under: author platform, 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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10,166 other followers

Brain Spasms a la Twitter

%d bloggers like this: