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

Write and publish with love and fury.

What’s the right price for a book?

When discussing book marketing, writers often debate free versus cheap versus charging what a book is worth. “What a book is worth” can be a moving target, depending on who you ask and when. Here are some factors to consider:

1. Length of the book.

My friend and co-author, Holly Pop, wrote a novella, Ouija: Based on a True Story. It charted at 99 cents, but since going up to $2.99, it’s still charting and doing well. Short doesn’t have to mean 99 cents. It’s around 8,000 words and people still want it. Pick it up. It’s really compelling.

2. Genre.

Some genres, like epic fantasy or historical romance, seem to have readers who expect higher word counts. They often want more than 100,000 words.

I think many readers are becoming less sensitive to word count. That’s good. What should matter to us, as readers and writers, is providing value for money. My books are getting shorter. I start looking for the exit around 50,000 words and I generally find it north of 60,000 words. Still a good-sized book that doesn’t feel to the reader like it’s full of shortcuts. Consider that a lot of people are grooving on shorter, fast-paced books, too. They don’t feel they have time for very long books. (I think that trend will continue.)

3. Intent and timing.

Is this book a loss leader? Is it meant to be an introduction and sales funnel for a series? You might put it at perma-free or you might decide to offer an introductory price of 99 cents. You might also choose to put it at whatever you consider full price and hold a sale once in a while to move more books (and include a call to action to your other, similar, books.) You might even just write the bloody book, slap on the price you think is fair, never drop the price ever. You might start high and slowly drop (the traditional approach) or you might start low to get more attention and reviews and slowly raise the price.

4. Is it time to reevaluate your book prices? 

Here’s my little case study:

I had the first Season of This Plague of Days set at 99 cents for a long time. I don’t personally like that price — not much sense having a pulse sale on a 99 cent book — but it got people looking at it who might have passed me by otherwise. It’s at 100 reviews now and more people are opting for the This Plague of DaysOmnibus Edition (greater value for the price and it contains all three books for an epic saga many compare favorably to The Stand.) All things considered, time to assert worth, right?

I put the price up to $3.99 today. According to Amazon’s price estimation tool, I should be charging $5.99 for a revenue increase of 451% and a drop in unit sales by half. However, Season One is the first in the series and the other books are also $3.99 each (while the TPOD Omnibus is at $6.99 and around 300,000 words.) No reasonable reader could say I’m trying to gouge them by keeping the price to $3.99. Arguably, I priced the first book in the series too low for too long. In the long-term, price should reflect value, but value is not the lone factor.

5. You.

Another consideration when setting prices is your sensibility and your confidence in the value of your product. Do you feel you’re well-known enough to set a higher price or are you still stuck enticing them with a low price? (Note: that strategy may well be deep in the Law of Diminishing Returns since competing on price is far less effective now.)

Also: Is the quality high? Do the reviews back that up for someone happening across your author page for the first time? Are you marketing your work well? What does “full price” mean to you, anyway? If you get a complaint about a price point, comparing it unfavorably to a low word count, for instance, will that send you reeling into a rage and/or depression?

Here’s one thing you don’t have to worry about: history.

If you priced a book too low or too high, you can always change it. You can experiment with price until you find the price that moves books effectively but still pays. Some writers worry that readers will complain about cost, comparing it to what it has been priced in the past. That’s rare. If I hadn’t just given you the history of a couple of my book prices, how many of you would really know what I charged yesterday? A few to none. Feel free to experiment.

6. Don’t discount free unnecessarily, either.

The truth is this: I think my crime novels rock. The Hit Man Series is a fun and funny romp with some serious power and punch behind it. (My fave is Hollywood Jesus, for the John Leguizamo joke alone.) However, it’s one of those best kept secrets that needs to get out there and mingle. I’m not seeing enough movement nor enough reviews on those titles. To get more readers to take a chance on my funny Cuban hit man, Jesus Diaz, I’m going to make the first novel in the series perma-free or at least tempo-free. Bigger Than Jesus is already on Kobo for free and I’m hoping Amazon will price match soon.

(Let Amazon know it’s free on Kobo here.)

If a series isn’t moving the way it should, consider doing a giveaway so you draw more readers into the fold. It’s not necessarily that your book series is ugly. It could be that Book #1 hasn’t gone on enough dates yet. Those who know it, love it, so eventually, everybody is going to love Jesus.

7. Stay flexible.

It may take a lot of experimentation and experience before you find the price move that’s right for you. Then you’ll have the same journey of discovery when you publish the next book, too. I’m on that journey, still experimenting. I don’t think that experimentation ever really stops. It’s just forgotten for a while until we figure it’s time to reassess sales and marketing and pricing again.

~ Robert Chazz Chute will publish his next novel (with co-author Holly Pop) later this week. It’s called The Haunting Lessons, an urban fantasy about a young woman from Iowa who, when tragedy strikes, discovers she has powers she never suspected. It’s the beginning of a fun series packed with jokes and disaster. If you want to join the fight and survive Armageddon, look for it on Amazon this weekend.

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

You are not an idiot Part II

“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

~ H. L. Mencken

“Still! Don’t be that guy!”

~ Robert Chazz Chute

This part is about writing.

If you’re as cynical (or perhaps as realistic) as H.L. Mencken, you’ll dumb down your books to appeal to a wider audience. As Chris Rock observed, “Most people are B and C students.” A critic once told Sly Stallone his movies were for dumb people. Sly’s brilliant answer? “That’s okay. There are lots of them.”

It would be snobby to suggest every book should be “literature”, whatever that means. I like lots of dumb things. (For instance, I’ve seen every ninja movie ever made.) What I write, a lot of people would call “pulp.” They wouldn’t be wrong, either. (Check this link to The Vintage Library to read what pulp was really about. It’s not the pejorative some critics think it is!)

I’m not demanding that anyone write “up” or “down” to their audience. I’m not in the tell-you-what-to-do business. I’m in the brain-tickle business. I will tell you a quick story, though.

I just got a positive review of This Plague of Days by a person who identified themselves as autistic. My protagonist for those books is on the spectrum and, for that reader at least, the hero passed muster. That review is very precious to me for obvious reasons. I wouldn’t have received it if I didn’t reach a little.

This Plague of Days plays with language and expectations. It’s got a lot of Latin proverbs and a tiny bit of poetry amid the evolving carnage. It’s soft sci-fi with zombies and vampires and family dynamics amid disaster. The plot ventures into dark fantasy. Though readers may come in with low expectations because it’s essentially an end of the world dystopian saga about ordinary people facing infected monsters, the narrative never assumes the reader is an idiot. Escapist ≠ dumb.

The problem with stretching out and reaching as a writer is that someone, as a reviewer, will slap your hand for trying too hard. It’s true that some readers won’t read as closely as you’d like. They won’t “get it.” But few one-star reviews are worthy of serious consideration anyway, right?

Those who do grok it will love your work more.

What can I tell you about aiming higher versus what H.L. Mencken would consider “playing it safe”?

This is my 1336th post on this blog. Sift through and you’ll find I’ve frequently implored my fellow writers to “Follow the Art.” By that I mean, write what serves the story.

Today, I’m asking that when you write, be you. Be unique. Whether your goal is to write something fun and silly or earth shattering in its literary aspirations, be real. Whatever we do, our goal is to entertain. I write to entertain myself first, though. If readers dig my trip, cool. I try not to let reviews influence my game.

I’m taking the question away from a debate about whether to aim lower to achieve higher commercial success. I’m suggesting, as always, that we follow the Art. Be you because there’s only one of you. Don’t try to write like other people. Please don’t envy other writers’ success because envy is irrelevant. Please write what only you could write. Ultimately, it’s not about what seems smart and what’s really dumb. It’s about story.

All stories say something about the world and the writer who is the lens to that world.

Be a true lens that delivers clarity. The sights we point to may please the eye and ear and heart. Often the mind, but not necessarily. Lots of Charles Bukowski’s work is pretty dumb, but his lens was honest and I love his stuff. Though I admire their capacity for terrible vengeance, ninjas don’t say much about today’s world. They don’t say much at all. However, American Ninja 2 is still more fun for me than trying to stuff Ulysses in my head. Ooh! And Sho Kusugi in Pray for Death? Genius! Especially the execution with the buzz saw.

Robert Chazz Chute Bio Picture~ Hi. I’m Chazz. I write my variety of suspense. You can find all that stuff on Amazon here.

And now, some of it’s on Kobo.

 

 

 

 

Filed under: author platform, publishing, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

Amazon buys Goodreads. Mostly? So what?

Death and Resurrection (How appropriate!)

Sometimes change is forced upon us. It sure was forced on me today so I had to redesign this blog. Then I got the news Amazon bought Goodreads. More change. In both cases, it was worrisome at first, but I think it will work out fine. Mostly.

This Plague of Days 0328Today’s trouble started as I redesigned one of my new websites. I clicked a few buttons. Nothing good can come of that. I tried what I thought would be a five-minute experiment with this blog. I found I couldn’t revert to the merely acceptable design you usually see here. (The user interface in WordPress themes is a little different from with my self-hosted blogs, so I hit unexpected snags.) I couldn’t put the broken vase back together and Mr. and Mrs. Brady told me not to throw the football in the house! My five-minute experiment turned into lost hours. I did some pretty creative swearing. 

After I worked through the redesign, I reloaded my lost widgets. That took quite some time. Then, too late, I realized WordPress had saved my widgets. I just had to scroll down farther to find them. I lost a lot of time reinventing the wheel. However, perhaps it’s for the best. I found a couple of things that needed updating and now I’m pretty happy with how the blog looks. I get enough traffic here that it was time to spruce up. I won’t wear a tie, but I had a shower and put on clean underwear for you guys. Hope you like the new look.

Let’s talk about the Goodreads acquisition by Amazon

Some are panicky that this move heralds further world domination by the mighty Zon. Getting Goodreads is good for Amazon, but will it make that much difference to us? Some GR reviewers are saying they won’t be back since their independence has been compromised. Some authors are hoping the change will help them sell more books (yes), revamp GoodReads’ awkward interface (God, I hope so) and clean up the overly hostile atmosphere at GR some have suffered (which probably won’t change.) 

I don’t recall making a buying decision based on a GoodReads review. I prefer the user interface at Shelfari, by the way, but I don’t think I made any buying decisions over there, either. Like most people, I go to where I’m buying and decide there. I weigh genres, covers, descriptions and samples. I read reviews, but I don’t decide not to buy because of reviews. However, not everyone makes their shopping decisions the way I do. I’m guessing most people probably read the reviews and never look at samples. 

I’m not worried about the dreaded Amazon monopoly. Amazon made a good move for Amazon, but I don’t think they’re out to get us. Indie authors are a tiny factor among many larger variables. Interestingly, GoodReads assures us that the links to Kobo will not be shut down and GoodReads will remain an independent entity. I’m sure that’s true…for a while.

The part I don’t believe

Neither Amazon nor GR wants reviewers fleeing to some new, truly independent site. Their announcement about the buy-out makes the right noises about not shutting down the feed to Kobo. However, I can’t believe that will remain GR policy. Amazon is getting their data now and will further optimize with that information. However, if you spent a buttload of money to buy a company, would you let it continue to feed your competitors? I wouldn’t and I’m the nicest guy you know. I’d wait a bit to let the happy PR machine make everyone settle down and get comfortable. Then I’d announce one day that “There’s been a slight change in policy.” Do what everyone feared incrementally and you can do almost anything. I’ve seen it happen before.

I’ll leave you with that quibble, and refer you to the great David Gaughran’s blog, Let’s Get Digital,  where he has a much more sober, non-alarmist analysis. Be sure to check out the comment thread, too.

Happy Bunny Day! I understand he craps chocolate eggs…so…no, I wouldn’t eat that if I were you.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , ,

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.

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TOP TEN: Reach more readers with these blog tweaks

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

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

Besides writing more books (I am), I’m always looking for ways to improve so I can reach a larger audience. Here are a few things I’m doing to help my audience find me. To reach more readers, consider these improvements for your blog, if you aren’t already doing them.

1. Scannable posts.

I tend to write long posts. If I’m going to do that, I need subheadings so readers can find the information they want quickly. The average amount of time readers spend on anyone’s blog is somewhere between two blinks and a click.

2. List posts (like this one.)

If it’s going to be long, make it a list if it’s logical to do so. Everybody loves list posts and the Top Tens in Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire are among the most read and most popular chapters.

3. Shorter posts. 

Funny is great, but I should use it to make a point memorable. Otherwise it delays getting to the point. Shutting up about that now.

4. More internal links.

Readers love certain posts more than others. They should get links to similar posts so they can fall in love more deeply…er, I mean…um, get better informed.

Chazz 25. Speakpipe.

Some readers want to connect more. Now they can leave me a voicemail on my author site. Check it out and leave me a message to see how it works. It’s the tab off to the side on the right. You can do this, too. Speakpipe is easy to sign up for and yup, it’s free.

6. Upping my verbal game.

Regular readers know I broadcast the All That Chazz podcast once a week. It’s fun, but it needs more punch. Brace yourself for the new episode airing Jan. 1. It’s full of testicular fortitude (or brass ovarian fortitude, if you prefer) and explores the subject of changing our lives and New Year’s resolutions in a way that will blow your mind. I can expand my audience to even more strangers if I podcast better.

2013 will also bring more interviews (maybe you!) for fresh energy to the podcast. My elocution is much better and my stammer less pronounced when I’m in conversation. Or when I do my Hannibal Lecter impression. The serial, week-by-week reading of Higher Than Jesus is coming, too.

Bigger Than Jesus Final 96dpi7. Serialization on the author site.

I’ve already podcast Bigger Than Jesus. I’ll soon post a new chapter on the author site weekly. Serialization seems to be working well for other authors and, since I have a long series planned for my Cuban hit man, I want as many readers as possible to get the opportunity to get hooked on Jesus (Diaz, that is.) That’s also why the Hit Man Series introductory book is only 99 cents at the moment.

8. Embedded book samples on the author site.

I will soon include more pages so you can check out each book as a kindle sample. You can do this too. India Drummond explains how here. 

9. Expansion to new platforms.

After signing on to KDP Select, I’ve acted as if Amazon is the only game in town. At the end of January, my exclusivity clause runs out the clock and I’ll expand to all other platforms so expect more download options and links for whatever your tablet or e-reader of choice is. Kobo and Apple are not as big as Amazon, sure, but they are in more markets and are coming up. With an eye to the long-term, I’ll be everywhere.

Each new book will still get its first shot at Amazon in 2013, but after that first three months, I’ll give readers everywhere a man-hug, no matter their device. Yes, I know you can read any book on Amazon with a free reading app for any device, but even if you’ve got a crappy Sony e-reader, that’s what you want to use. 

10. I’ve got to make sure I reply to every comment.

This should be a no-brainer. It’s a time management issue. I appreciate it when people leave comments. However, I don’t necessarily acknowledge them all and I have to do better at that to encourage interaction and affirm I’m fully engaged. (That’s a dickish, marketing-speak way of saying, “I care. Thank you.”) When you comment somewhere and it’s not acknowledged in some way, it feels like your hand got slapped when you were going for a friendly handshake. 

BONUS

I’ve got to do more guest posts on other blogs and I must do more with my author site.

ChazzWrites gets a lot of traffic. I need to make sure there’s more discoverability among strangers, spillage and funneling to more great content for those interested in my work. Hence, more links to the author site for more opportunities for us to fall in love with each other (in a platonic, non-creepy, man-hug sort of way.)

More tips and tricks to steer your authorship.

More tips and tricks to steer your authorship.

 ~ Robert Chazz Chute is…does this little bio at the end of posts make me look like a douchebag who takes himself too seriously? Does this bio make me look phat or just fat? Check out the All That Chazz podcast at AllThatChazz.com. For not much longer, you can find all my books of suspense and hardboiled action here.

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2012: The Peak of Independent Authors?

See on Scoop.itWriting and reading fiction

Back in October, when my sales weren’t really strong, I simply figured everyone was waiting until mid-November to get their early Holiday shopping in. Once December hit, I’d be off to t…

Robert Chazz Chute‘s insight:

Today’s disturbing observation comes from the King of Disturbing, zombie master Armand Rosamilia. Learn more and soak up Armand’s brutal honesty at the Scoopit! link below.

We can look at falling sales as a challenge to write more. (I do.) We can try to  find new and creative ways to market. I agree, though I’m not sure what that manna from heaven might look and taste like, if it arrives. We can write better books, though sadly, it’s actually debatable how important that really is. (See Fifty Shades of Gray…actually don’t! Buy a book from an author who could actually use the dough to eat.)

A while back, a fellow author confessed she saw no need to buy any books, ever again. Why buy when so much is free? I confess I’ve ridden the KDP Select free train and contributed to that problem. I can’t say Amazon’s  destination is riches with those magic five days of free. Last I checked, with Kobo, it’s free as much as you want (!). It shakes the foundations of the market when an author says she sees no reason to purchase a book.

To that, I say we must develop our voices so our reader base appreciates our unique, special snowflakeness. I don’t think authors are interchangeable, but with infinite choice, prices do fall toward zero. (I’m still betting on my unique voice and sticking with my prediction that all ebook prices are about to rise. Mine will, anyway. We’re going to be cheaper than big house ebooks, but compete on the new algorithm’s terms.)

It’s not that the Mayans were right and it’s not about a false sense of entitlement. It’s that if book sales are really bad across the board, we don’t care much if it’s the end of the world. Am I worried about the end of the world? No. That solves the VISA problem. Am I worried about the state of publishing? I’m writing this under my desk in the fetal position.

(Armand’s not alone scary observations about book sales. Author Derek Haines wrote Self-published Authors Get Ready, You’re being Dumped on his blog, The Vandal. Find that at this link: http://bit.ly/WQdWIu)

Mull both links and riddle me this, Batman: Are you hopeful that post-Christmas morning (after all those new tablets and e-readers are unwrapped) authors might then feel a sales deluge?

Sucking my thumb… ~ Chazz

See on armandrosamilia.com

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Marketing Your Books: #11 is really harsh. Sorry.

 

More tips and tricks to steer your authorship. This book is free to you until Saturday, Dec. 15! Please click to get it now.

More tips and tricks to steer your authorship. This book is free to you until Saturday, Dec. 15! Please click to get it now.

Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire is free on Amazon Tuesday to Saturday. 

Here’s where to get it on Amazon. 

 

(No Kindle? Get a free kindle reading app here.)

 

Now, continuing from yesterday’s post, let’s talk more about book promotion:

6. Try a variety of approaches. In Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, I talk about my successes and

Click here to get Higher Than Jesus, #2 in The Hit Man Series

Click here to get Higher Than Jesus, #2 in The Hit Man Series

failures. I learned a lot from the failures and I hope you will, too. What has worked best is appearing in more than one spot at a time. (Amazon free days plus blogging plus World Literary Cafe Tweet Teams plus appearing on other podcasts, for instance, is an example of repetition across different platforms.) Too often, we bet the farm on one thing and end up disappointed. Some guest blog their brains out, but their level of success varies widely. Pace yourself to avoid burnout.

7. Be willing to be flexible. There’s still a lot of resistance to podcasting among authors, for instance. They worry about the cash outlay (which is minor by most standards) and the technology obstacle (which is easily dealt with, especially if you get help as I suggest.) Resistance to marketing isn’t any different from resistance to sitting down to write or a reluctance to dealing with paperwork or exercise: Begin and it’s not so bad. I’m sympathetic. I put off getting my tax number for the IRS for some time. When I sat down with a scotch to finally deal with it, it was over and done long before the scotch was gone.

8. There is no magic bullet. I’d be very suspicious of anyone who says they have The Answer. I’ve read many books from people who say they have it, but they sometimes suggest things that don’t make sense to me, don’t apply to me or my book or are unethical. Look at these proposals as if you’re the consumer. Have you ever bought anything off a Facebook advertisement? I haven’t, so I’d never buy Facebook advertising. That’s not being inflexible. That’s doing what makes sense to you.

9. Beware of gurus. In my writing and publishing guides, I warn authors to be careful about one-track prescriptive advice. Instead, I present encouraging information about what you can try, but to help, not to pontificate on how to “Do it my way!” There is no one way for all books or all authors! Some experts have been in the field so long, they should be appreciated for their experience, but some of their information is dated. I approached the writing guides as a fellow traveller. I’m not the guy telling you what to do to succeed. I’m the guy walking beside you saying, I tried that trail. It’s pretty steep and dangerous. Try this. See what you can handle. See what works for you. 

10. The only sure thing is to write a good book and put a really good cover on it. Okay, there are good books that get ignored all the time. However, when you go through all those heavy marketing efforts, make sure you’ve hitched your wagon to a star, not a stump. The answer is certainly not to put out a bad book with an ugly cover. I tried a do-it-yourself cover and it hurt. Write the best book you can. Put the best face on it you can. Then write more good books to expand your chance at being found. A big bookshelf is your friend at home and on the web.

11. (Given the title of this post, you skipped right here, didn’t you?) Here’s the blasphemy you’ll hate: You are not above marketing. If you think you can poke along and do nothing to be discovered, your odds of failure shoot way up. Brilliant prose doesn’t count for near so much as we’d like to think. Writers tell other writers that the prose is paramount. Meanwhile, readers flock to Fifty Shades of Gray. I wish literature mattered as much as writers say, but the readers’ sensibility determines our success in the market. I’ve read plenty of suspense that, frankly, I don’t think is all that great. Though I can write rings around them, those authors are doing better than me financially. Bitter pill. I’m sorry. I hate it, too.

12. Ease up on the gas pedal. Your daily word count and the editorial side of production is your first priority. Do not exhaust your network and blow out the marketing engine by trying to push too much all the time. The guy who announced he now hates Rafflecopter might lighten up if he saw fewer half-assed promotions with uninspiring prizes.

13. Get help. I read as much as I can stand about publishing, of course. (Note to anyone writing about writing and publishing: Please make it more fun. Thanks.) But I also mean delegating where possible. I have been resistant to advertising in the past, but for a few dollars, Masquerade Crew helped me move more books recently than I could have on my own. I’m seeing the benefits of that small outlay now as I roll closer to achieving escape velocity. I had to admit to myself that I can’t do it all. I tried and it led to sleepless nights, bad health and my wife crying.  Progress is being made because I asked for help. Friends and fans and colleagues stepped forward to assist. (Thanks again, guys!)

14. Change a losing game. Most indie buddies of mine are going the same route. Either they’ve already abandoned KDP Select’s exclusivity or they do it once for 90 days and then open up to the wider market on more platforms. Market share is in flux. Amazon is still the big dog with about 60%+ percent of the ebook market, but iBooks are getting bigger because Apple’s devices are becoming more ubiquitous. Kobo’s revamped their platform and they’re present in more countries. When I first approached Kobo, they acted like they were trying to get rid of me. They’re apparently much more user-friendly now and I look forward to taking them for a test-drive after Christmas when my own KDP exclusive contract runs out.

Those are my thoughts on book promotion. What are yours?

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

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

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Self-help for Stoners, Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus, The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories, Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit), Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. Check out all the samples here or for all the links and the All That Chazz podcast, check out AllThatChazz.com.

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Amazon: My last stab

GET BIGGER THAN JESUS, FREE ON AMAZON TODAY, TOMORROW AND FRIDAY

Free promotions sure aren’t what they used to be. Last December, with Amazon’s old algorithm, friends of mine made big money. Success on the free list actually translated to success on the paid list. Then everything changed and many of us have been slow to react, me included. I notice that, among my writer friends, many (most?) are selling their books on KDP Select exclusively, five free days and all, for the first three months and then they aren’t renewing with KDP. They’ll continue to sell on Amazon, but there are plenty of other places to sell besides Amazon. After that first three months of trying to take advantage of the Amazon advantage, they put their work up everywhere else, too. That’s what I’m doing with the foundation book of my crime novel series, Bigger Than Jesus.

BY THE WAY: 

Bigger Than Jesus is available for free in ebook form

until Friday, and then that’s it.

As The Hit Man Series continues, I don’t know if I’ll go exclusive at all, even for those first three months. The math just doesn’t seem to add up to a marketing strategy that’s advantageous. In truth, it hasn’t been helpful to many indie authors for some time. I stuck with it because of the timing as my previous books launched. I have three books to release before Christmas and the eggs won’t be going into one basket anymore.

Someone asked me recently, “What’s the latest success strategy for indie authors?” I encountered some resistance when I replied, “There isn’t one.” We’ve had the publicists, advertising, press releases, blogging, podcasting, Twitter (and various  derivative Twitter strategies), Facebook, Pinterest (maybe?), the 99 cent strategy, blog tours, free, Goodreads, book bloggers, etc,…. Some combination of these elements may work for someone. Though they’ve all been effective for someone individually in the past, no one strategy seems to deliver a knock-out punch. When I say there isn’t one, I don’t rule out the possibility of their effectiveness in the plural, if you have the time to do all that. (You don’t. Go write instead.) 

Which brings up the question: Will Amazon change its algorithm again so it makes sense for us to stay exclusive with KDP Select? Who knows? Amazon’s algorithms and their rationale may be deduced, but are never made explicit. That information is solely on a need-to-know basis. (Apparently, we don’t need to know.)

Amazon is good at what they do — or has been — but it’s unreasonable to expect they’ll be right all the time, even with their vast resources. More to the point, Amazon’s looking out for Amazon, not me. My evidence is they aren’t making the exclusivity clause worth it for a lot of authors (even the true believers who, in the past, made a lot of dough.) I’m losing sales on other devices because I’m not selling enough with KDP. The Amazon sales don’t make up for lost sales elsewhere. Listening to my writer buddies, it’s clear I’m not alone in that assessment.

This is a business decision and has nothing to do with damning Amazon. I’m not one of the haters whining about monopolies and painting Amazon as a bully. The market is a competition and Amazon is on top because they made a lot of great decisions early on. However, I’m not looking for a new mom to take care of me, either. Being indie doesn’t mean supplanting one boss with a new boss just because it’s easy to go on inertia and formatting anew is a pain in the ass. Next month, as soon as my three months are up, Bigger Than Jesus will be available more widely (Hello Kobo, Nook, Sony, your smart phone, your iPhone, your iPad…maybe even your toaster.)

As for book marketing’s next knock out punch? People will tell you they know what the next big thing is. Some will even try to sell you books based on giving away one ultimate secret of indie author success. I think those people are often well-intentioned and they give out a lot of good information. I’ve read a bunch about marketing ebooks lately and, frankly, I’m also skeptical about some of those easy, plug-and-play answers.

Only one strategy I know of seems like anything close to a sure thing and (WARNING!) it’s a slow, steady grind. It’s not a popular idea because it’s not easy and quick. 

Write more books.

(Do a great job!)

Put them up.

(Do what promotion you can that doesn’t interfere with your writing schedule.)

Write more books.

(Make sure they are wonderful.)

I aspire to inspire, but as for marketing? Hm. Sorry.

“Write more books” is honestly all I’ve got in stock at the moment.

I’ve said it before and it’s still all I have to say on that subject.

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.

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

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