Why not let a little reality into the room?

Let me start by saying I have not successfully carried out a coup here at MGC and taken over. Nor did I draw the short straw and get stuck with filling in for everyone. Brad did me a favor last week by switching days with me. That left me posting Sunday, his usual day, and yesterday, mine. This morning, knowing Sarah is on the homestretch of her novel, I offered to fill in for her. I blame the fact that I am in the last third of my final edits and that gives me brain mush. But, in a way, I’m glad because it lets me continue talking about about the DBW conference and some of the information coming out of it.

Once again, I want to thank The Passive Voice for pointing me in the direction of the post that is today’s inspiration. For those of you who are not currently following TPV, why not? All kidding aside, I highly recommend the site.

Ron Vitale attended the DBW conference and has blogged about the experience. I will admit up front that I don’t agree with everything Vitale has to say. That doesn’t mean he is wrong, just that my experience as an indie shows me different aspects or approaches to the subject. His comments are italicized.

The biggest take home message from Digital Book World Indie is so simple that I almost missed it while preparing for the next talk. When we as indie authors unite, we have strength. We are the sum of our individual skills.

I totally agree with this. There are very few of us who have all the skills necessary to put out a quality project. Sure, we are writers. Some better than others. Some of us are excellent self-editors and others, to be honest, suck at it. Some of us are also awesome artist or can do a beautiful job lettering a cover. However, those who can do it all are few and far between. So what are the rest of us to do? If you are like me and most of us here at MGC, you find other authors or artists who will trade services. Or you hire someone to do it for you. This is not a new idea. There are any number of loose, informal co-ops for indies out there. We do not have to work in a vacuum.

The second most important lesson I learned at DBW Indie is that traditional publishers, to quote Jane Friedman, “are kicking ass in marketing.”

Now, this is where the OP began to lose me. What? How are trad publishers “kicking ass” in marketing? The only real advantage I see with going the traditional route is that it can get you into bookstores — for a limited period of time. But, as we’ve discussed before, how much of an advantage is that really when more and more readers are going to online sites to buy their print books?

But, I’ll give the OP the benefit of the doubt and see why he believes this to be the case.

Not only are publishers creating apps such as Crave, but they are performing A/B tests with their advertising, targeting the appropriate readers with the ads as well as sending out thousands of ARCs in advance to build reviews online.

Wait, what? Publishers are creating apps and testing their marketing targeting and sending out ARCs?

First of all, as PG noted in his comments about the piece, just about anyone who wants to can create an app. So what is Crave and can it really help you, the reader?

I remembered vaguely reading something about Crave, but I didn’t remember the details. So I followed the link and, omg, all I could do was shake my head. In case you haven’t looked it up, Crave came out in 2015, iirc, and was built to keep the Twitter and Snapchat generation interested in a book. Here is a description of what Crave was meant to do:

As you scroll through an ebook on Crave, the app periodically breaks into the narrative to show you a text message conversation between two characters, a video of an actor portraying one of the characters doing an interview about the book’s events, a filmed moment (like the hero first looking up at the heroine) or even a reaction GIF.

But after around 1,000 words, you’re cut off. Crave slices each book into mini-chapters intended to take only three or four minutes to read, including multimedia. You can tune back in the next day for another bite-sized installment, generously salted with supplementary videos and text exchanges.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is for some idiotic text message to pop up in the middle of a scene I am reading — or a video or pretty much anything else. I sure as hell don’t want to be forced to stop after 1,000 words. Can you imagine how long it would take you to read a book that way? A 100k word book would take almost 1/3 of a year. Would you remember the beginning? Would you even care about finishing it? And yet this is supposedly one of the ways traditional publishing is winning the marketing war against indies.

The mind boggles.

As for the testing of advertising to see if it hits the right target market, hell’s bells, that is what advertising agencies have been doing since their inception. It is not new.

The sending of ARCs? Again, not new. Also not limited to traditional publishers. Indies do this as well. Indies also utilize social media, email, mailing lists, etc., to get the word out.

I’m not convinced traditional publishing wins the marketing war in any way except for getting books into bookstores and that is no longer nearly as important as it used to. Do you agree?

There is more and I’ll let you read it. The one thing the OP brings up that I will admit I have been thinking about again is diversifying my catalog beyond Amazon. For a long time, I had my books in every major online outlet. I followed the adage of not putting all my “eggs” in one basket. It made sense to make my work available on all platforms.

Then came the day when I realized I was actually losing money doing so. I wasn’t bringing in enough from the other sites to justify the time needed to put together different upload files, the time necessary to upload the files and build the product page on the different sites, the time necessary to check to make sure the other sites had the correct information on their sites, to check the sales pages, make sure I got paid on time, etc. Then Amazon started Kindle Unlimited and the monies for “borrows” went up dramatically.

There was also a change in technology. More and more people were reading their e-books on tablets and smartphones. That meant they were not tied to a single store like they were with dedicated e-book readers. Folks who had been buying solely from BN could not buy their books through Amazon and read them using the Kindle app. That was another thing that saw my sales on Amazon increasing. No longer was I getting folks asking when my books were going to come out on BN?

Now, however, more and more indies are taking part in the KU program. That is great in some ways but when you look at the bottom line, there is an impact. Just as there was after about a year of the old Kindle Lending Library. The monies being brought in are decreasing. I know this isn’t what is happening for some indies but a number of others I have spoken with are experiencing the same thing. So it is time to sit down and determine whether to remain solely with Amazon or to give up the monies coming in from Kindle Unlimited and expand my marketplace once again.

Any way, read the OP and let me know what you think. The one thing I agree with completely is the best way for indies to not only survive but to flourish is to share ideas and information. That is what we try to do here at MGC and each of you are a big part of that.

31 Comments

Filed under AMANDA, MARKETING, PROMOTION, WRITING: PUBLISHING

31 responses to “Why not let a little reality into the room?

  1. I’m a little spooked by what’s happened over the past 3 months with K-Select. Aside from my new release, reads/borrows have replaced sales by 95%. Yeah!, people are reading my work. Boo!, my income is down. I’m really starting to consider pulling one series out of K-Select, seeing what happens, and then going from there.

    • I’m contemplating leaving my backlist in KU but not new releases.

      • What I am considering is taking some of my older work and one series and doing not only re-edits but some major re-work. That will give it new content and I can legitimately rename it (making sure the description shows it is a new version of the previous work). Once that is done, then I will release it across the major platforms and see what happens. Of course, that means finding the time to fit that sort of work in between the other projects already on the table.

        • Why rework your old work, instead of releasing new when going wide?

          Understand, this isn’t a “you’re doing it wrong” sort of thing, but a “I’ve seen these problems when people do that, so I’m curious how you’re planning to mitigate” sort of question. Problems as follows:

          First, re-releases almost never do as well as original releases, especially as your fan base has mostly already bought the book, and thus won’t drive sales and visibility like they will with a new release. (I’d say never, but Open Road Media has been putting out a lot of major authors’ backlist on the $1.99 – $2.99 Bookbub ads, and has used that to drive the backlist up the charts. They pretty much have an open playing field, because Bookbub will ditch indies trying for 99 cent deals in return for the extra money of a 1.99 deal, and the higher power of known author names – and note that BB themselves said they wanted to aim for a 50/50 trad/indie mix in their mailers. Thus, it’s been harder to get a Bookbub for the past year, on top of very few indies wanting to pay the extra $300-$1500 per ad to compete for those slots.)

          Second, for a more nebulous gut-feel “reason”, I’ve seen a lot of authors and webcomic artists wither on the vine when they start looking back instead of forward. Off hand, I can’t think of one webcomic I’ve read where the author continued on to complete the story after deciding that the original artwork / storyline needed to be redone… but I’ve seen a lot of them get abandoned mid-story and never finished after the artist started updating the early artwork.

          With a few exceptions, like Dave Freer putting in the ending he originally wanted but got editorially cut on Morningstar, I’ve rarely seen an indie book improved by rewriting after publishing… usually it ends up being the novel that was workshopped to death, only this time the author’s rewriting to Amazon reviews instead of a crit group in person. So I tend to agree with Dean Wesley Smith, and Elsa in Frozen: after you’ve written it, let it go.

          Clearly, though, you disagree. So I ask in curiousity, like a cat, why?

          • LOL. I know you aren’t telling me I’m doing it wrong. Hell, at this point, I’m not sure there is a right or a wrong. However, my thought process is that these books aren’t making in KU what the other books are. They are also of a genre where I know other authors in that genre have good luck selling on other platforms, often selling more than on Amazon.

            I’m also not talking about major revisions. Simply another edit pass-through and a couple of new scenes or a new chapter. The reason for this is because I am a better writer now than when they were put out and the additional couple thousand words will help strengthen the story. It is minimal effort to test the waters.

            I am also considering putting my new standalone titles out across the board — maybe. As I’ve said before, I never really saw much play from the other sites, so I’m still not convinced it is worth it to spend the time necessary to put anything up on them. We’ll see. I’m not making any decisions until I get this book finished.

            • TRX

              > additional couple thousand words

              A lot of 1940s-1960s SF novels were originally published in a magazine in abridged format, then later in novel format, and sometimes as a “restored” or “author’s preferred version”.

              Frankly, the longer versions are seldom better than the original shorter version, and to my mind you just went from one story to two, or three, or however many *different* stories sharing the same title.

              That sort of thing really ticks me off.

              If you’re going to have more than one version of a story, at least put a version number in the title. Otherwise, somewhere down the line, you’re going to have some upset readers.

              • Orson Scott Card has two versions of an early novel out. The first is under the name A Planet Called Treason, and the longer revised version is simply Treason.

                I kind of like that one, though some of his early stuff is just flat-out odd.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            A Girl and her Fed. Has been updating old and new for quite some time.

        • And I know I don’t have that time – like you, I can see all the flaws that I could fix… but for now I’ll focus on making new material. If I have time down the road I’ll try that.

          • I hear you. If I do it — and it is a big if — it will be when I have finished one novel and am not yet in the mindspace to start a new one.

            • I have a bored Beta Reader going through mine and giving me lists of typos. If I’m going to update the master copy . . . I really ought to fix the klutzy dialog tags that had me wincing the last time I had the nerve to reread my earliest books. But that’s a lot different than adding thousands of words.

              However, aiming books at the retailers that seem to move that sort of book the best sounds like a good idea. Until the market shifts again.

      • A little unsolicited consumer input… I don’t know it I’m typical or not, but I have a hard time committing to buy short stories, anthologies and novellas. KU has opened those up to me, and if I find I reread them I convert to buying them. I’m not sure what kind of metrics you get from Amazon but if that is common it may be a factor in what you want to put in KU.

        • I know what you mean. I used KU to read works from authors I was not familiar with and to read shorter work. I will pay 99 cents for a short story from an author I know. But I will not pay more than that for a short story, no matter who the author is. Call me cheap. That is one of the reasons why I have stuck with KU as an author. I know there are a number of readers out there doing the same thing, as well as those who can’t afford to buy a number of ebooks each month but can justify the cost of KU where they can read as much as they want of books in the program.

        • I think that is a good factor to consider.

    • I have seen the same thing, not quite to that level however. I have to wonder if it is because of the election, fear about the economy or just more folks realizing they can get more for their money with KU. That is why I have hesitated pulling out. Will I be able to regain the sales revenue for older books that are getting borrows on KU but not really having sales?

  2. Christopher M. Chupik

    What? It’s not a coup? But I made and went all those “Amanda Green: Dictator For Life” banners . . .

  3. What advantage when there are very few bookstores left?
    I suppose that leaves wholesale clubs,airports and truck stops.
    KU has treated me very well but I have BIG books and apparently people read them to the end. I started KU mid-September and got three and a half million views by the end of the year. Why not write FOR KU as a market?

    • Mac, as I said, KU right now is paying me as much, if not more than my sales do. And that is why I haven’t pulled out. But some books do better in it than others — and those are the ones I may take out of the program and see how they do in the other markets.

      Basically, until I see something different, I will continue to write at least some of my work for KU only. However, if it starts looking like it is going to go the route KOLL did, I will re-evaluate. The one thing I will say is that Amazon noted our concerns when we started seeing the payments from KOLL decline dramatically and adjusted the program, leading to KU. It is very likely they will do the same if they start getting complaints about the KU payouts — or if they start seeing readers canceling their membership in the program for whatever reason.

  4. I interpreted the “after 1000 words it cuts you off” to be the hard stop, then you have to buy the whole book the old way to see how it goes from there. I that the wrong assumption? Either way its dumb.

    • If I read the article correctly, you got to read 1k words and then had to wait until the next day to read more. But, as you said, either way is stupid — and I’m being kind.

  5. “The second most important lesson I learned at DBW Indie is that traditional publishers, to quote Jane Friedman, “are kicking ass in marketing.” ”

    In this vein, I note that today Kameron Hurley bemoans the fact that “The Geek Girls Revolution” isn’t a big sales success.

    http://phantomsoapbox.blogspot.ca/2017/01/the-geek-feminist-revolution-not-huge.html

    Traditional publishers are -not- kicking ass in marketing. I take it that is because they’ve built a bubble and don’t even know they’re in it. Poor little Ms. Hurley is getting the super positive feedback from everybody including the New York Times reviewers, book sellers, the lot.

    Sales are meh. They can’t get more than “meh” sales for a Hugo winning book from one of their special pets.

    I would say, off hand, that a Hugo Award is now the official seal of approval from the denizens of a bubble now shrinking rather quickly. Making it the kiss of death for an aspiring artist.

    • Funny that. No matter how much they keep telling us that the Hugo and other awards are relevant to the average reader, they also keep proving how wrong they are. No matter how much they whine about the low sales, no matter how much they tell us award winning books are “the bomb”, it rarely seems to translate into sales. Until they learn readers want books that entertain, they won’t get it.

    • TRX

      I’m pretty sure the average buyer has never once looked at a New York Times review, never heard of the Hugos, and has no idea why they should care what booksellers think of a title.

      Somewhere around the turn of the century a lot of paperbacks went to a new cover format. I’d see a spine with a likely author and title, pull it out, and flip to the back cover to see what the blurb said. No blurb, just some goofy schmuck’s face goggling at me. I open the inside cover, and there’s just a bunch of one-line or one-word quotes from people I never heard of.

      Nowhere on the book is there any indication what it might be about.

      So it goes back on the shelf.

      If you’re going hardcopy, I recommend *not* following that pattern.

  6. mrsizer

    On KU vs purchase: If I expect I’ll read it more than once, I’ll buy it. If not, I borrow it. I have been reading a LOT more with KU. It has probably hurt a few individual authors, but I think my money is going to many more people.

    Most of you are on my “buy everything” list, but my author range has greatly expanded. A series is a great buying hook – get me to buy the first one and if I like it, I’ll buy the rest since I already own one of them.

    I love the Kurthurian Chronicles, but I probably wouldn’t buy them. They’re too “fluffy” to reread.

    Lindsay Boroker (sp?) has a bunch of books that I’d like to read – but she’s not in KU and I’ve read enough of her work to be able to quickly guess what’s going to happen, which is also a “not rereading” flag. See also Mercedes Lackey (I have all the Valdemar books as actual paperbacks; I’ve been reading her for a very long time).

    Then there is the cost differences. I think I may be done with the 1632 series. Each book is the cost of a month of KU. And there are so many, now. Am I really going to reread 1636, book seven?

    FWIW.