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

Write and publish with love and fury.

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

The Secret Alphabet of Independent Publishing

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

A is for All of it, which is what we want. (A used to stand for Agent.)

B is for Book, of course, and ebooks are “real” books, too. Literature is about the content not the container.

C is for Cutting prices. It would be bad for writers, but at 70%, we’re still getting paid more per unit sold than in traditional publishing. Also, price cuts sure make now a great time to be a reader.

D is for Deadlines. Don’t take forever to write your book. More time procrastinating doesn’t make a better book.

E is for E-books on E-readers. But you know your kindle is a transitional device, right? The phones are getting bigger again and tablets are coming down in price. We don’t want a device to do one thing. We want one device to be a web surfer, camera, phone, app catalogue, music box, GPS, ebook reader and best friend on our hip.

F is for Future. It’s the direction to look. If you don’t like it, you can change it whereas the past requires an annoying child named Sherman, a dog named Mister Peabody and a Wayback machine.

G is for Guidelines, because guidelines are malleable. There really aren’t many unbreakable rules worth obsessing over. You already know the rules because they’re obvious or you ignore common sense or you’re a slave to unthinking tyranny. The cool kids prefer more options.

H is for Hope. It’s good to have some, especially in this business. When there’s no reason to have any, that’s when you need it most.

I is for Intermediator. Have as few of these as possible. Upload your books yourself if you can, or get help from an independent contractor. This will allow you more choices of forks down the road.

J is for Just you. The myth and prejudice against independent publishing is that’s it’s just you. You are alone, except for the editors, graphic artist, beta editorial team, volunteers, publicity teams and whoever else you can hire or cajole into helping you get your book discovered. Sure, other than that little cyclone of industry, it’s all you.

K is for Killing characters. Killing someone readers love who they were sure would make it to the end? Delicious. (Note: killing darlings is overrated.)

L is for Love. It’s why we write. If you have other motivations, that’s fine, but releasing dopamine as you create is, like reading, a very rewarding addiction. The biological pharmacy in your brain simulates love. Endorphins won’t land you in a dirty rehab unit with a roommate who won’t stop telling that story about the time he tried to get high on burnt bananas and smoking his own hair.

M is for Money. It can happen, but probably not so don’t write for money. As above, write for love. If money does happen, people will resent you slightly less when you claim you never expected it.

N is for Naysayers. Most of them will never write near as many books as you will. Just say no to naysayers. If you sleep with your naysayer, someone’s in the wrong bed.

O is for the Obsession to know things. It seeps into the writing so you can drench your fiction with non-fiction and trenchant verisimilitude. For instance, This Plague of Days, Season Two weaves the Apocalypse with interesting tidbits about Irish legends, military history and the mortal wounds inflicted by the blue-ringed octopus. Mine is the only zombie/plague/autism story that teaches you Latin in an entertaining way, guaranteed!

P is for Portent. Warnings that something big is about to happen are especially fun when you give readers an earnest warning and they still don’t see it until it coming. They’ll only see the clues in retrospect. Secret trails to revelation and love of language are why people reread books. Do it well and someone might think your book isn’t just suspense, but maybe even “literary” or (praise Thor) “important”.

Q is for Quitting. If the project is wrong, quit. If it’s right and you’re just whining, quit whining and finish it. If you aren’t excited to write this book, find another you will be excited about all the way through or for our sake, please do stop. 

R is for Ripoffs. It’s a minefield out there: Fake agents who try to make money off reading fees; publishers who won’t pay; people who use disreputable business practices and call them policies. (R is also for Research. It’s how to avoid R is for Ripoffs.)

S is for Sustained Action. Promoting your work need not be an exhausting blitz. Dig in for the long game and promote at a slower pace. Don’t promote the same stuff to the same audience all the time lest you exhaust them. Keep writing new books. Don’t pin your hopes to one book. Sure, you might accidentally hitch your wagon to a star, but chances are excellent you’ll hitch your wagon to a stump, especially if this is your first rodeo.

T is for Trying. You’ll hate yourself if you don’t try. Losers will hate you because you did try. That’s why they’re called losers. They work from a different definition of failure than you and I. They confuse boring with winning.

U is for Unpublish. If something isn’t working, take it off the market and replace it with your tweaked story, new cover or new edition. Unlike traditional publishing, you have more options. You can adapt. Ours is a different, more flexible, business model. Use that advantage.

V is for Victory. There is no victory. Banish the concept from your life. There are only ups and downs and we’re all trying to make more ups.

Victory is very useful in fiction, however. Readers want to escape real life’s mundanity so it makes them happier when the protagonist achieves victory at the end of a story.

To go all Conan and see your enemies driven before you and to hear the lamentation of the Evil Mort from Accounting? That’s fiction. Working in a cubicle farm with no hope of retirement while Mort gets promoted and vacations in Brazil? That’s real. The real-life Mort is why we all crave escape into stories.

W is for Wit. They say brevity is wit’s soul, but I can take a pounding of wit in dialogue all day and all night, Mr. Sorkin.

Please note that snark is not quite wit. That’s a blunt tool meant only for peeling the outer layer of flesh. Meanness is the opposite of wit. That’s a blunt fool’s weapon. Wit’s funny and smart. When that sword cuts, we see light flashing down the steel blade. Wit allows the victim to take the hit and nod, “Touché!” with a smile.

X is for X-ray vision. All writers have this power. I can see into purses and pockets and the lives of strangers at the mall. I can work backward or forward to tell you who they are and their story of heartbreak in their senior year of high school. I diagnose disease at a distance. I know what you did last summer. I can give your life history and your death meaning, so do not screw with me.

Z is for Zero. It’s what we’re paid for writing. We are never paid for writing. We write for love, remember? If the money ever arrives, we’re paid for putting up with dehumanizing reviews, pretending to take them well and staying silent about them forever. We’re paid for the sad paperwork at tax time. We’re paid for the sting when someone sneers with casual cruelty, “So, are you a big deal yet?” We’re paid pennies an hour for the sacrifices our loved ones make so we can keep writing. 

Writing a good book is a happy, selfish act for the writer.

We are addicts, helpless in our defiance and desperate to monetize our work so we can have the freedom 

to score more of Creation’s sweet biochemical cascade.

Escape reality. Get high on a story.

~ I am Robert Chazz Chute, the author of Self-help for Stoners and this was the high I was talking about. This Plague of Days, Season Two scintillates brains October 1. Get Season One and check out all my books here. I hope to be your favorite candy man one day.

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

FAQs: Leverage free to move more books

The question comes up constantly: Is the exclusivity of KDP Select and giving away books (“selling” free) worth it? 

Can't have just one chip? Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99.

Can’t have just one chip? Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99.

For many, it’s not worth it, but maybe that’s because they haven’t combined enrolment in the program with other tools. When the KDP Select program launched, it was lucrative and an excellent tool for discoverability. Now? KDP Select is not easy and perfect certainly. For instance, top free books used to be listed beside top paid books. Now free ebooks are found by clicking a tab. That’s an important difference. It cuts down on happy discoveries by kismet. People who find free ebooks now are searching for free books (and quite possibly are committed to never paying for a book again.)

However, Amazon is where I move and sell books and get traction with new readers.

Some authors seem to have success moving books on Barnes & Noble if they sell romance or science fiction, but generally? The alternative sales platforms are far less helpful than Amazon and KDP Select.

For instance, sometimes I can’t find books on Apple that I know are there! It’s also a pain publishing to Apple at all unless you go through Smashwords or Draft2Digital. (I used to like Smashwords but now I’m past impatient with their failures to upgrade their site.) Meanwhile, I sell little on B&N. Sony isn’t worth the time it takes for me to format for them even though that’s just a click of a button. Kobo does some things well and they’re in many countries. However, Amazon is preferred because it works best for me. (Maybe it’s different for you but if you’re doing better on a platform other than Amazon, statistically you’re an outlier.)

The alternatives usually suck.

The other book sales platforms continue to refuse to steal the best ideas (i.e. promo coupons from Smashwords; user interface and customer focus from Amazon. And they still wonder why the Mighty Zon is the big dog eating their lunch. True, KDP Select is not a flamethrower anymore. It’s a six-gun. However, the competition is still trying to figure out slingshots, so going with Amazon exclusively 90 days at a time is still the best bet.

Yes, be careful of exclusivity.

When you in enroll in KDP Select, do not set it up to automatically renew. Reevaluate whether the program is working for you every three months and change tactics as necessary. If it becomes intolerable for some reason, we can bail out within 90 days.

To make KDP Select work, use the Author Marketing Club and Bookbub wisely to make the promotion go big.

I recommend doing no more than two days of free at a time. Have lots of other books to sell, preferably series or serials. Pump those promo days with the tools at AMC (like the free ebook submission tool.) Bookbub is probably the best PR tool available. It costs, but that’s because it targets readers interested in your genre so it works. You can promote sales of free ebooks or discounted books (under $2.99.)

If your goal is visibility, being in KDP Select is only one tactic in a larger strategy. Brace yourself for bad reviews from the one-star wonders. That tells you you’re reaching new people who don’t get you. Don’t worry. Others will get you and what you’re doing. Giving away books so new fans can find you isn’t the death of literature. Obscurity is our enemy. Get the most you can from KDP Select and use these tools to avoid wasting your promotion days.

I highly recommend serialization.

It’s working for me. Episode One of This Plague of Days promotes all the other episodes in the serial plus sales of my other books. I give away individual episodes. However, I don’t generally give away all of Season One except to book bloggers for reviews. This Plague of Days is a sprawling story that’s my investment in a long-term career so I give away the appetizer but sell the other courses. All my strategies are long-term strategies.

Who shouldn’t use KDP Select to promote their books?

I’d caution anyone with just one book to hold off on great expectations and write more books before waging major campaigns. Once readers discover they love you, have something else ready for them to buy.

Don’t go big if your book isn’t ready for prime time. More publicity for a bad book will make it go down in flames faster. Get back to the keyboard instead, develop, work with your editor or find a new editorial team.

If you already have a huge mailing list and a substantial fan base, you have more options instead of relying on KDP Select and exclusivity could hurt your sales figures (though I’d still consider it for one three-month contract period at KDP Select.)

If you find me unpersuasive and giving books away in the hope of finding new readers offends you, don’t do it. Gifts should be given with a light heart.

 

Filed under: Publicity & Promotion, publishing, This Plague of Days, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Authors and Publishers: Six things to do immediately to get more readers and keep them

We are in a battle for attention. Here are three things to consider today to get readers’ attention and keep it:

1. List posts, like this one, are popular because they are easier for readers to scan. (They’re also pretty quick to write.)

2. There’s a good chance your blog posts are too long. Mine often have been. I changed that once I realized how few people give blogs a deep reading. You probably aren’t reading this. You’re scanning this for what you can use.

3. I put the font for this blog in bold after a few readers complained the font was thin. Some readers, either because of their devices or their eyesight, still had problems reading the font. I bumped it up again.

4. When you write a blog post, you often have the option of adding links outside your blog. Click the underlined word and blog readers get whisked away for more on “kerning” and its history. I used to do that within blog posts but not now. Those links are excuses for readers to put their attention elsewhere. If they need something explained, explain it for them. I still provide related articles at the bottom of most posts for added value. New readers often find me through those links.

5. Go to your author profile on whatever sales platforms you use. Shorten it. I wrote a hilarious profile for Amazon. It was funny and informative, but it wasn’t doing its job because it was too long. People want to know enough to have confidence you could write an informative or entertaining book. Leave some mystery and make it an invitation instead of forcing the full bodacious on them all at once. If they want to know more about me, they can visit my author site or (gasp!) purchase my books. We want browsers to read our books, but they’re merely scanning our author profiles, if that.

6. Add video. Your blog is a charging at us too hard on the first date and it’s intimidating.

You’ll notice a new feature at the top of this blog on the main page. A spokesperson tells you about some of my websites and the free ebook promotional offer. I added the text to the video for added punch. Since adding the video a couple of nights ago, traffic to my author site has risen 66 percent.

New visitors will stay if you use video to welcome them and get them acclimated to what you’re about. Regular visitors will discover something about you they didn’t know. We’re visual creatures and people are used to taking in information that way. Too much text all at once puts them off. Text is for books. (I use a spokesperson for the  Cool People Podcast page, too. “What? You have two podcasts, Chazz?” See, somebody found out something new already. Notice, I’m tickling their ears with yet another medium: podcast.) For my author site, I’ll soon add a personal message from me instead of using a spokesperson.

To win eyeballs, hearts and minds, heavy text isn’t the answer. That’s for book readin’!

More white space and YouTube helps readers discover how awesome you are.

Robert Chazz Chute

Robert Chazz Chute

~ Add an author profile, pic or note (like this one) at the end of your blog posts, too, if you want. Glad you found me!

I’m a former journalist and columnist who has worked in all aspects of book and magazine publishing. Have you checked out all the cool videos and excerpts from my book about an autistic boy facing the end of the world? Go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com to learn more about my serial. Looking to lose weight and be healthier? Check out another of my blogs, DescisionToChange.com.

Filed under: author platform, blogs & blogging, book marketing, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Set Your Internet to Ignore (Psst! The fun is in the parentheticals)

Comment threads and reviews are interesting windows to the human heart. Well, maybe not always the heart. Sometimes the comments come straight from the toe jam.

If you want to be disillusioned with the future of the human race, read YouTube comments. You won’t have to read much before you actually welcome the massive meteor that will destroy Earth this Friday afternoon around 2 pm EST. (Wear a sweater.)

Recently some fool seemed said anyone who criticized a single Amazon policy was against capitalism. No point worrying about people who conflate one thing with a different thing. (“Brainless communists are behind every rock and tree!” is so ’50s.)

In another thread that was very anti-indie, a snarky commenter replied to an indie’s post by correcting a minor typo. The indie made great points about the industry, but the message from the traditional author was clear: A single typo invalidates your argument. (I almost commented, “Bitch move, traddy.”)

But then it occurred to me, I am not a lone genius. If I see it, everyone sees it.

When you read an illiterate one-star review or when someone slips into a screed about  unrelated topics, everyone sees it for what it is. That’s a good feeling isn’t it? I’m even starting to regret that meteor strike burning up all the planet’s oxygen before the next Game of Thrones. (Perhaps I should cancel the order. Hm.)

This week a person of my acquaintance was criticized because, at the end of his post…wait for it…he dared to point out that he sold stuff for a living. As if that’s a bad thing. (Wait! Maybe Communism is coming back, after all.)

Stop worrying

These comments don’t hurt you as an author or blogger. They hurt the snarker. I’ve gone out of my way to block people who are mean to others. I report abusive reviews that libel the author instead of talk about the book. I know who’s naughty and nice. If the offenders are authors, they are banished and I never buy their books. I’ve gone out of my way to purchase books because of egregious reviews.

 

Here’s the math:

Idiot reviewer hates book + nastiness + condescension (+ possible libel) – a kind thought =  it’s probably not a book nasty, condescending idiots enjoy < I’d like to think I’m not an idiot, therefore, I give that book a try. (Was that condescending?)

Don’t act like a knob

No, you don’t have to be sunshine and sweet cakes all the time, but if you’re going to be mean, you better be twice as smart and savvy with facts. (For instance, Scalzi, Konrath and Wendig can be cutting, but they’re always smarter than they are savage.)

Act like a knob and you’ll be treated like a knob should be treated:

I won’t give you more thought.

I won’t think you’re clever.

I’ll set the Internet to Ignore.

~ I am Robert Chazz Chute and I sell stuff. 

Filed under: author platform, authors, book reviews, ebooks, publishing, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Was this post helpful to you?

I bought a book today by an author previously unknown to me. At six bucks plus, it was the most expensive ebook I’ve purchased in a long time. (Usually my ebook purchases are from indies, not trad publishers.) I bought this ebook because of one of its reviews. I did not buy because the review raved. The book caught my attention because the review’s tone was so damnably condescending, I had to make the purchase. This wasn’t a case of pitying the author. There were good reviews, too. Also, it helped that I suspected this was a book I would enjoy. It sounded smart and sure and people who liked it said it elevated and challenged its genre.

Whatever the book’s merits will be, the key component for the purchase was that the reviewer was too much of a jerk. What is it about bad reviews that so often reveal more about the reviewer than the book being reviewed? I emailed the author to tell him I bought his book. It sounded interesting and I wished him success with it. I look forward to reading it, but what can the rest of us take from this?

Take this post as a small salve to authors’ bruised egos.

People will love your work and others will hate it, but I want you to know that readers are generally intelligent people. They often see through the reviewer’s veil more than you might think. Readers divine intent when they read over-the-top malice and subtract value from a nasty review. Yea or nay, readers like thoughtful reviews. They get it when a reviewer sounds disrespectful or less than literate. Good readers (people who buy a lot of books!) aren’t easily impressed by cheap shots and snarky remarks. When a review is especially egregious, you might even get a sale out of it. 

I’m not saying bad reviews are better than happy ones, but don’t take the bad ones too much to heart. Also, when you spot a really nasty one that goes at the author personally instead of the book? Be sure to click “No” beside the question, “Was this review helpful to you?”

Filed under: reviews, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Great ebook cover design: More on what to look for

Our book covers must not sucketh.

But how do we make covers that blow readers away?

You don’t have to know how to make a cover to recognize a good one, but it helps to be guided in the principles of solid design by experts. Fortunately, I know a couple people whose art and instruction are incredibly helpful to authors and publishers.

Joel Friedlander’s ebook Cover Design Awards are here! 

Regular readers know my covers are magically manifested by Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. Incredibly, Kit won another non-fiction design award for the second month in a row.

His previous winner was this little guide to Vine marketing by someone or other:

Click it to grab it. Just 99 cents!

How deliciously self-serving.

Congratulations to Kit, of course. Make sure you read all the comments on Joel’s site to cram all that good art learnin’ inside your brain box.

Filed under: awards, book marketing, ebooks, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Amazon: Throttled Part 1

In today’s mega post, Part 1 of 3, I explore Amazon’s change of Terms of Service that throttles free ebook promotion and what it might mean to you.

Or, skip to Part 2, where I give new, pointed advice about book promotion dos and don’ts (and some of it is not very nice )

Or skip to Part 3, where I invite you to join me in a new way to reach readers who would otherwise never know you or your work.

 

Amazon’s Terms of Service have changed.

Amazon sent out this decree recently:

“In addition, notwithstanding the advertising fee rates described on this page or anything to the contrary contained in this Operating Agreement, if we determine you are primarily promoting free Kindle eBooks (i.e., eBooks for which the customer purchase price is $0.00), YOU WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE TO EARN ANY ADVERTISING FEES DURING ANY MONTH IN WHICH YOU MEET THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS:
(a) 20,000 or more free Kindle eBooks are ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links; and
(b) At least 80% of all Kindle eBooks ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links are free Kindle eBooks.”

Ed Robertson broke down the numbers and some possible implications here. 

Free is throttled.

That’s okay. For most of us, free was in a coma, anyway.

From the flaking, protective teflon coating of your brain pan to the tip of the peak of Despair, indie authors everywhere wonder, “Amazon is discouraging websites that publicize free books? What Next?” Amazon doesn’t make emotional decisions. It makes business decisions. Now it’s time for us to make business decisions, too. I come to praise Amazon, not to bury it. (I’m relieved Free is over or at least reined in, but that’s because of Parts 2 and 3 of this thought train. If you only depend on KDP Select free days to promote your work, it’s time to get new egg baskets.)

Why Amazon’s bad news is a good thing and what we can do about it in three parts:

You’re going to hear a lot of uproar about free days going away. It’s understandable. Websites promoting free ebooks won’t be getting those juicy affiliate commissions anymore, so there are fewer choices in promoting our books. Authors need help to get the word out about their books. Some thoughts on our predicament:

1. For some, Free rocked as a short-term strategy. Free was always a poor long-term strategy. It undermined the market. Many readers, feeling entitled and smug, filled their kindles but never got around to reading all those hoarded books. I sure couldn’t read them all. Aim a 500-pound-per-square-inch fire hose at a teacup. That teacup will not retain a lot of water. Our overly full kindles are teacups.

2. Free was over, anyway. Everywhere I look, someone’s offering a giveaway but I’m already overloaded. I’m giving Six Seconds away as gifts to get honest reviews, but I’m not trying the scatter shot of Amazon free days anymore. Free helped for a short time. The biggest bumps came in the earliest KDP Select Days. If you got in early, you had a good shot at making money. After the algorithm changed? For most of us, the answer is “much less so”.

3. Some people still made money, and will continue to do so, with Free. These sturdy outliers have good books, but just as important, they have marshalled forces to get the word out about their books without relying on those throttled websites to spread the word. I know a couple of authors who did so well with free listings that they don’t cower one bit at paying a bunch for advertising their books. They’re happier because we can expect more signal and less noise since free ebooks won’t crowd out the paid ones as much.

4. Some of those free ebook websites will continue without the affiliate sales. Amazon is like the cops announcing it’s time to shut off the stereo, end the party and go home. Some other sites will simply shrug and start referring their subscribers to non-Amazon platforms.

5. Some websites will adapt well. The TOS changes were pretty much met with a shrug at Digital Book Today because their business model doesn’t rely on free book links to make them rich.

6. Fore sites that do rely heavily on those affiliate links, far fewer free ebooks will be pushed and it will be harder for us to be among the chosen few. For many of those sites, it was already darn hard to get your giveaway listed anyway, so many authors won’t notice a difference.

7. Cheap books can be pushed without punishment, therefore 99 cents is back in play. The “I’d buy that for a dollar!” price point is back. It had a brief spike before Free rose up to crush it, but now 99 cents looks fresh and ready for vengeance. Thirty cents or so isn’t an impressive pay out to authors. It is more than zero, but the bad news is you’ll still have to sell whatever tattoo space that is left on your body on Fiverr.com to pay for a can of beans to share with the other hobos under a bridge.

8. The good news is that there’s a huge gap in the buyer’s mind between free and cheap. With that tiny investment, you’ll get fewer one-star reviews from disappointed people who mistakenly grabbed up your book in a free book spree. (You know the sort. They blame you for their unwillingness to read a product description.)

9. We’re going to have to adapt more. Even more. Sure, you probably aren’t making money and this profession is usually a glorified hobby that disappoints your parents. Your friends make encouraging sounds with their mouths, but their sidelong glances say they’re worried about you. Nonetheless, this is the game. Calling this a game suggests this is play. That might help you get through this. Take it too seriously and you’ll be out here with me on a ledge worrying about bills. If you’re a worried indie author out on a ledge, take comfort in the fact that (look left, look right) twas always thus and plenty of traditionally published authors are out in the wind contemplating doom, too.

10. KDP Select has less and less to offer. Are those library sales worth it? Are five free days (over 90-day, exclusive commitments) going to pay off when you have a harder time promoting them? Probably not, in most cases. It’s a reasonable guess that Amazon throttled back on free because they were paying out too much for those affiliate referrals. Will Amazon come up with another program to address our problem created by their solution? I don’t know. No one knows (but I do doubt it.)

Despite the TOS change, a lot of authors are still stuck in KDP Select until their 90-day term is over. It happens I have only one book left in KDP Select and I used up all my free days before Christmas as I launched Murders Among Dead Trees. Lucky timing. If I was stuck with all my books in KDP Select now, I would be very annoyed at being in that canoe without a paddle.)

11. Kobo and Apple smell opportunity. Draft2Digital rises and maybe Smashwords will, at least and  finally, update their look. The great migration across other platforms had already begun. KDP Select has been steadily turning off authors since last spring. Now there’s more reason for us to explore our options. Perhaps the #2 contender, Kobo, will offer a new program to lure us to their lair. Or maybe you’ll get around to selling books straight from your website.

12. As detailed in Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, the only book promotion tool I have confidence in (that isn’t unethical) is: Write More Books! I amended that decree with: Write shorter books. And more of them.

But what else can we do to promote our books?

I have some ideas about what we can do and

some strong ideas about what we shouldn’t do.

CLICK HERE FOR

PART 2: THROTTLING YOU (AND SOME OF THIS ISN’T VERY NICE)

SKIP TO PART 3: What we can do about this, together.

Filed under: book marketing, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Amazon sales secrets you’re probably missing

When you scan your book sales page and stats, it can be pretty dry, depressing and really not tell you much except what happened in the past. I’m more interested in what will happen and how I can make it so. There’s more information on Amazon than you’re currently using, but it’s all right there if you look. You can use this data to become more profitable. Delve deeper to divine what’s really going on with your readers. Here are some ideas about discovering who your readership is and how to reach them:

1. Categorize for Visibility

Yesterday I mentioned optimizing your books’ visibility by examining your sales and how your books are categorized. You may be invisible in a large genre category, but if you can drill down and pinpoint an appropriate category you could make your book a bigger fish in a smaller pond. In a category that is too general, you’re in a sea of books and harder to find. But don’t just look at the stats and numbers Amazon supplies at Author Central. There’s much more you can do. Let’s go further than the usual cursory glance at graphs, numbers, green up and red down arrows.

2. Surprise: Paperbacks versus Ebooks Revisited

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

Micro-publishers are often told that ebooks are the crux of our business and that’s where our focus should be. I agree that’s true in general but that doesn’t hold true for all books.

Naturally, we often compare sales of one book to another. Each of us probably has a good handle on which of our  books sells most and least, if only for curiosity’s sake. Now compare each ebook against its brother in paper. I discovered one of my books in paperback, Self-help for Stoners, outsells the ebook version. I’ll hold back on making easy jokes about why this would be (Okay: Paper makes for good rolling after you read it. Happy, Stoner Stereotype Brigade?)

The why is just guessing and doesn’t matter, but the what is significant to me. It tells me the revamp and reload I’m planning for Self-help for Stoners (also discussed in yesterday’s post) is worth my time. A new edition in paper will be worth the effort.

The same thing is happening with my writing and publishing guides. I’m sure this is so because they are reference books. According to a recent study, students still prefer paper reference books to ebook texts. Since they sell better in paper than ebook form, I plan to reformat Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire

When I revamp these paperbacks, I’ll sell them in a smaller size. They’re currently huge honking trade paperbacks. I couldn’t get them down in size on my first attempt, but the next edition will be more like a thick 5 x 9. If the software won’t cooperate, I’ll call on a friend who is a book designer to help. With a smaller format, I’ll be able to bring the price down and sell more paperbacks. (Expect the format change at the end of summer to coincide with release of my next guide on writing and publishing. Don’t wait! Get them now or grab the ebooks. People are loving them.)

3. “Frequently bought together”

Crack the Indie Author CodeFrom your sales page topped with your author bio, click through to see what’s selling under the “Customers Also Bought” list.

We spend a lot of time, energy and free giveaway days trying to get on this list on other author’s sales pages to increase our books’ visibility. When Self-help for Stoners came out, over time it became clear that readers found me through my connection with director Kevin Smith. On the Self-help for Stoners sales page, Amazon still has my book paired with his book, Tough Sh*t, under “Frequently bought together.” However, on my main sales page, Kevin’s not on the author list anymore (discussed in #4). I noticed him dropping away as other authors took his place.

If your book is paired with another author’s, you could work together to promote both books, either through advertising together or doing a podcast for mutual benefit, for instance. 

4. “Customers Also Bought Items By” 

On your main sales page on Amazon, look at the list of authors under this category, down the right sidebar. Number one for me as of this writing is John Locke. That makes sense since Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus are funny and fast-paced crime novels with contemporary references. (I’m suddenly self-conscious about constantly plugging my books here, but since it’s my damn blog and I’m drawing on case study experience — poof! — I’m over that self-consciousness. I’ll hold on to all the other neuroses, though.)

Here’s the current screenshot from my sales page:

Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 3.07.29 PM

If the same authors turn up consistently over time, that’s a stronger indication you share a common niche and audience. The Guy Kawasaki occurrence here is no doubt because he just came out with APE and that’s the identical reader demographic who would go for my Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire.

How is this useful and what does it tell you?

Aspire to Inspire eBook JPGThinking about the authors on your page could give you an idea where your readers are coming from. For instance, if you did a blog tour and soon noticed a familiar author on your sales page list, it would serve you well to guest blog for them again or host them on your blog.

It’s rare in book marketing that we can identify a causative marketing solution. That’s positive feedback that is actionable. (Is “actionable” too jargony?) Usually, when we see our sales go up and down, we can’t link it to a particular event. For instance, maybe your sales today came about because of a recent press release or maybe it was that giveaway you held two months ago. Who knows? Establishing causal relationships between promotion, publicity and sales is rare unless you’re doing a measurable campaign (like a rewards program, for instance.) Whenever you can identify something that worked, do it again!

I know a couple of authors on my “Customers Also Bought Items By” list personally. I suspect they show up here because they’ve been kind enough to promote me. I’m especially pleased to see Chuck Wendig on this list. I don’t know him. All we’ve exchanged are a couple of funny tweets and I’ve read a couple of his books. However, we both wrote funny writing advice books, so that’s undoubtedly the common audience.

From what I know of the other authors, it suggests to me that I’m hitting male readers somewhat. I reach writers who read about writing and publishing, of course. However, from that list, I suspect most of my readers are female, between thirty and fifty-six, well-educated and into suspense with romantic elements. It’s my crime novels in the Hit Man Series that will make the splash with most of them.

What this analysis could reveal

I want to know who reads my stuff so I get more ideas about how to reach them. That helps me target bookBigger_Than_Jesus_Cover_for_Kindle reviewers who have demonstrated that they tend to like similar work by authors on my “Customers Also Bought Items By” list. It might also help me choose which blogs to apply to for a guest post. If the authors on this list have already guest blogged there, that’s a clue. I might also request guest blog spots from some of the authors on the list directly since we already have readers in common.

This awareness is most helpful by finding those authors most like you. Watch success and emulate it. What might I learn from these authors whose audience overlaps with mine? I could learn a lot from figuring out where my fellow authors appear, which book reviewers adore their flavor of madness, how they handle their blogs, their book releases etc.,….

I loved Stephen King’s On Writing, but as much as my Maine town has in common with Derry, I can’t learn much from him about reaching new readers with a shoestring book promotion budget in the New World Ebook Order. In the author hierarchy, Mr. King is on a distant planet from little old me. Authors closest to me talk my language and we can relate to each other’s problems.

What this analysis shouldn’t tell you

Don’t avoid engaging your audience by relying on numbers and conjecture. The real fans will tell you what they like best (and, if polite, let you figure out what they liked less by simple deduction.) I don’t write what I’m told to write, but I listen. Readers have told me that, after reading the Poeticule Bay short stories, they want full novels about the creepy town in Maine everyone wants to escape. That bumped it up on my priority list. Others have emailed to request that I please get to that dystopian thriller with the autistic protagonist I mentioned once. I’m on it. Thank you for your encouragement and support as I prioritize what comes next from Ex Parte Press.

Love acknowledged and that said, I write what I’m inspired to write. This analysis is to figure out how to be found by more people, not to figure out what to Higher+than+Jesus+Front+1029produce before I’m found. I’m not interested in identifying my audience so I can try to write for, or pander to, any one demographic. That’s artificial and would yield sub par results (at least in my case.) I write for myself first and hope others enjoy what I enjoy. The writing, insulated from any audience but one, comes first.

This analysis gives me ideas about how to help readers discover my books once I unleash my mind viruses upon the world. In art (or Art, if you prefer) the customer always comes second. I don’t chase markets. I stay true to my vision. The market will chase me…eventually.

Me B&W~Robert Chazz Chute writes blog posts that are way too long. He even (by Thor!) writes about himself in the third person in that little bio thingy at the end of blog posts. He’s also the nut behind the All That Chazz Podcast. But perhaps, if you aren’t allergic, he’s your kind of nut. Find out at AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: Amazon, ebooks, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Micro-publishing is publishing: Tools, tech and committing to change

Crack the Indie Author CodeWordPress Widget: Milestone

Your greatest tool is your mind, but your armoury doesn’t stop there. There’s that baseball bat under your driver’s seat. Oh, and glance to the left for my new deadlines, on display for Thor and everybody. I’ve struggled a bit with two works-in-progress. I had a false start and have to backtrack a bit with one (for the greater good). The other book is in revisions. It’s a huge project. It’s so secret, a team of kidnapped international scientists are working on it in a fortified base under a volcano guarded by an army of cloned ninja monkeys.

Projects need deadlines and production schedules. Successfully meeting those goals requires that I broadcast those commitment to my peers. That’s you, and that’s where the time trackers to the left come in. It’s a countdown to the launch of my metaphorical rockets. The timers are created with a WordPress widget you can use, too. On the Widgets menu of your WordPress dashboard, it’s called Milestone. Easy-peasy-here’s-a-reminder-to-stay-on-track.

Use Animoto for quick and easy video messages 

The second tool for spreading the word is Animoto. Videos get more attention than text. That’s our world. Deal with it. Many readers will click the video without reading these words. That’s okay. I just wanted to point out that a couple of months ago, I made a loud declarative statement that I would soon have all my books available everywhere. After polling a number of fellow authors and chatting with friends and allies through this blog, it’s apparent to me that I’m not ready to ditch KDP Select entirely just yet. The migration to other  platforms will be slower than I anticipated because the consensus is that exclusivity with Amazon is still the better bet overall. My forays into other platforms will be experiments, measured and evaluated.

Here’s a link to my first Animoto video.

Make a video of your own at Animoto.

Aspire to Inspire eBook JPGDitching intermediators

The beauty of micropublishing is that we can be flexible and change our minds without calling a meeting or paying extra fees for each detail. In the spirit of taking full control of my books, I’m ditching BookBaby. For my first book, Self-help for Stoners, I used their service to publish the ebook. It might even have been the right choice for me then. I was too intimidated by the details of dealing with formatting and taxes and I  wanted to get my book published faster.

Now I’ve got it together eight or so books later, it’s apparent I’ve sacrificed too much flexibility in giving up Self-help for Stoners to an intermediator. Any minor change in strategy costs more money, takes more time and, frankly, they’ve been slow to respond to my requests in the past. I like when the check arrives, but with a little more effort, I can cut costs, regain control and optimize the book. Once I withdraw it and republish, I can make those changes quickly and easily. I’ll release Self-help for Stoners as a new edition with new material. This baby’s growing up. No more hesitation or excuses, hoping things will get better. I’ll make them better.

Book category Bingo

Speaking of switching tactics easily, readers may find you by your book categories. They may not discover your awesomeness for the same reason. When is the last time you revisited your book’s categories?

I reviewed all my books’ assigned categories yesterday. For my writing and publishing guides, I changed to “Editing and proofreading” for the first book and “Authorship” for the second. You are allowed two categories per book. Choose wisely. For Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus, I switched from “Hardboiled” to “Crime” and from “Suspense” to “Crime” respectively. I’ll give that some time and if there’s no improvement, I might try switching to “Men’s Adventure” and see how that flies. It’s free to experiment when it’s all under your direct control.

Experimentation, improvement and getting it right is fun when it’s under your control. 

Higher+than+Jesus+Front+1029~Robert Chazz Chute is that guy who thinks like a hit man but has learned to sublimate his rage with humor, usually. Hear the first chapter of Higher Than Jesus, in which his hit man, Jesus Diaz, looks for love in all the wrong places (and Vicodin and bombs in Chicago.) It’s on the All That Chazz Podcast, broadcast chapter by chapter once a week. Or just go read the book. It’s fun and funny.

Filed under: 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.

Write to live

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

See my books, blogs, links and podcasts.

I interview the people you need to get to know.

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

Join 10,689 other followers

Brain Spasms a la Twitter

%d bloggers like this: