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Shaking things up

It’s hard to believe I’ve been indie publishing as long as I have. Thanks to Sarah, I crossed over to the Dark Side as soon as Amazon opened the doors to the unwashed masses that had been kept out of traditional publishing by the oft-lauded gatekeepers. In the years that followed, I’ve made a pretty good living at it. However, it could be better and I’ve spent a great deal of time over the last month or so looking at what I do as a writer and indie publisher and what I need to do to increase not only my exposure but my bottom line.

The final judgment? I need to shake things up some.

The only problem is I’m not quite sure exactly what needs to be done and to what extent.

Unfortunately, there is no magical formula we can use to maximize our time, get us the best promo of our work, help us find the exact right words to use as our tags or help us select the best category to place our work in. There is a lot of trial and error involved. That means math because part of that trial and error requires keeping track of money — both money made but also money spent and then the return on investment. Yes, my eyes are glazing over because I don’t do math.

There is more to it than that. Part of the equation those of us who write a lot or who have been writing for a long time have to look at is our backlist. You know, those books and short stories we wrote more than a couple of years ago. The titles that, hopefully, sold well in the beginning but whose sales have dropped to basically nothing now. Oh, sales might spike a bit if you do a promo for the old title but they aren’t sustaining. Instead, when you check your sales at the end of the week or month, you get mocked by low to no numbers from those titles.

What to do about them?

Or, should you do anything about them?

That’s actually one of the many questions I’ve been asking myself lately as I study my backlist. I have one series I wouldn’t mind going back to and one book that could easily be fitted into a current series — with a little work. But should I tackle each project and, if I decide to, how should I go about it?

It was with those questions in mind that I found myself wandering through one of the FB groups where authors ask questions and post advice and such. I belong to a number of those sorts of groups (some I joined willingly and some I got pulled into without my knowledge.) In one of those groups, the book, Relaunch Your Novel: Breathe Life Into Your Backlist, was recommended. Mind you, I’m usually skeptical about books like this. However, some of the recommendations came from people I knew. So I did my homework and checked with them. Then I clicked the buy link and sent the book to my Kindle Oasis.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve read (and re-read some parts) of the book. Much of it makes sense. Part of it is scary. What I like about the book is that the author doesn’t say he has the one true way to do it. In fact, he outlines several different ways to relaunch. He gives examples and there are exercises aimed to help you decide whether or not a relaunch is something you should do.

Most of all, he stresses that you have to be brutally honest with yourself. Not only do you have to be honest about the quality of the particular title (or titles) you are considering relaunching. Then you have to decide if it is worth the time and effort and, yes, the money necessary to do a relaunch. But no question can be answered until you’ve taken that hard look at your work.

I don’t know about you, but I hate re-reading my work. But it is eye-opening to go back and look at something you wrote five or ten years ago. Not only do you see how your craft has changed but you can see how the conversion and formatting of e-books have changed.

So, looking at the single book I’ve been considering relaunching and making part of a current series, there are a number of factors I have to consider. First, the book would need a rewrite. It wouldn’t be a toss everything out but a few scenes sort of rewrite, but it would mean going in, changing the location, bringing in some of the characters from the series and tying it all together. Not difficult but tedious and time-consuming. It would require a new cover. It would also mean taking the original work off-sale (those who have already bought would still have it in their “library”) and republishing it under the new title and brand. That means making sure the description includes the disclaimer that it was originally published as “XXX” and that this new edition contains new and/or updated content.

For one book, I’m not sure it’s worth it. Especially since I’m not sure it would add all that much to the series it would be slotted into. Instead, what I will probably do is a “soft” form of relaunch where I update the description and keywords, take a hard look at the categories, and do some reformatting that makes it look more like e-books being published today.

For the series, however, my decision is different. I do want to relaunch it. In the time since it first came out, the sub-genre it’s in has changed and it is no longer categorized correctly. I need to update the keywords. The covers need to be changed and the series needs to be rebranded. I will also do some rewriting on the series. Probably not to the level I did for Vengeance from Ashes, but the prose needs to be tightened and some information added. Then they will be reformatted and uploaded to Amazon.

The one thing reading the book, as well as researching a few other things has taught me is I need to put everything on hold for a week or two and get caught up. I need to finish formatting everything current for print. By current, I mean everything not currently under consideration for relaunch. I need to update key words or tags as well as categories. I need to talk with some of my fellow authors about doing some joint promotion for a set period of time. I also need to revisit my advertising budget and see where I’m getting the most bang for my buck and where my ROI isn’t worth the time, effort or money.

So, for the next week or two, I’m going to be butt in chair doing the business end of writing so many of us hate doing. I’ve already seen some of my efforts paying off. But those efforts have been behind the scenes. Now I need to get out in front of everything and get caught up to where I need to be in order to go forward with a solid, working plan.

In other words, I need to adult in my writing career even though I’d much rather just write.

Any thoughts? Or are you guys already dialing the number for the men with the nifty white jackets with the long arms that secure in the back, hoping they will come pay me a visit before I do anything rash? 😉

43 Comments
  1. Mike Houst #

    I hate redoing work I’ve completed and put to bed. Granted, these are reports, analyses, and technical writing, and not fictional (I hope!) Partly because I have a streak of perfectionism in me that I have to overcome to make deadlines. (My graphics arts son is the same way. Gets it from his old man?) So is it good enough to do the job I wrote it for? Is it complete as is? Am I dragging my heels on it because I don’t think it will be well received? Am I taking it too seriously? (Writing short vignettes may be a sneaky way of overcoming that one as I’m not worried very much about seriousness, just about the form and requirements.)

    However, this is something I’ll store away for later consideration since I don’t really have a pile of old material waiting for a second look.

    August 14, 2018
  2. Or, WIBBOW a new story?

    I’m all for a new edition: cover, typesetting, and metadata revision. But, rewriting is such a drag, and you might be better off writing something new.

    August 14, 2018
    • I’m not talking major rewrites, at least not at the moment. But more of freshening up and clearing up consistency errors that arose as the series went on.

      I’ll be honest, I wondered the same thing about doing rewrites until I saw with another book that it did help revitalize a series. The sales for all books in the series have been helped simply by updating the one book. Now I need to go in and do it for the other early books.

      Another thing to consider, and it’s not something I’d thought about until reading the book on relaunching, is that your backlist really can be that steady income stream you know you can rely on — if you put a little work into it. I’ve seen other writers do it and never quite twigged onto why until recently.

      Again, it is an experiment and one I will report back on as it goes along. For now, Taking a week or two to get it rolling — and not just the rewrites but other things I have in the work — while letting my head wrap around a couple of issues I’ve got with the two WIPs I have going won’t do any harm — fingers crossed.

      August 14, 2018
    • Very likely I will do some omnibus collections of the Luna City chronicles – put three books together, and clean up some of the goofs, gaffes and layout oopsies when I do – but not rewrite totally. Not when I can be doing another fresh installment of Luna City adventures.

      August 14, 2018
      • Exactly. I just finished doing a run-through of the first book in the series I’m looking at. Most of the issues are formatting but I saw a few things I want to clean up, a few inconsistencies with later work in the series to be set right. It is, at most, a single day’s work. That’s not too much to rebrand a title and see if it kick starts not only that title but the series as well.

        August 14, 2018
        • Rereading, I find I like my stories, but tend to cringe on the poor dialog tags, and notice–especially on the Kindle–all the huge paragraphs.

          And half of them still need new covers. Sigh.

          August 14, 2018
  3. I’m of two minds when it comes to rewriting, because I’ve seen two dramatically different outcomes present.

    The first, which is easiest to see in webcomics, is when the author/artist realizes that in the course of the tale, they’ve grown as an artist and a storyteller, and stop telling the current story to go “fix” the story from the start. At a minimum, they start redrawing every panel – sometimes they start redrafting the story, too. And when their focus moves from telling new story to fixing old story, the webcomic goes on hiatus, then has a few stuttering “I’m back!” fits and starts, and is then eventually abandoned.

    In indie authors, one way this presents is “My early stuff was terrible! I don’t want that representing my brand now!” I’ve seen several authors, mostly romance, pull their early books with the intention of at least a copyedit pass – but then they get sucked in to rewriting the books. And when they stop putting out anything new because they’re rewriting the old, 1.) their visibility tanks, because they’re not putting out new stuff, and 2.) if they do manage to break out of the endless editing loop and republish, they piss off a portion of their existing fanbase who liked the story before they changed it. (“Han Solo shot first!” is not just in SF/F.)

    ….oops, husband wants to go shopping. Finish this comment with the positive side in a few hours.

    August 14, 2018
    • Dot, I’ve seen the same. Part of what the author of Relaunch discusses is not going down that track. You have to be honest with yourself on different levels. Some I already mentioned and one I will here — that is you have to be able to judge accurately if you can set a timeline and stick to it with this. All the work in the world on your backlist won’t help if you don’t keep putting new stuff out.

      That is why I have decided against doing the single title and rebranding it. The rewrite, while not a complete “throw the water out and maybe the baby, too” sort of thing would mean spending at least a month tearing it apart and figuring out how to fit it into the current series it could go into and then writing it to fit the feel and style of the current series. I don’t have that sort of time nor am I convinced it would help the sales in the long run — for either the single title or the series.

      For the series I want to rebrand and update, we’re talking three books in a week at most. It really is ore of simply going in and doing a fresh copy edit on them and then updating categories, tags and getting new covers and blurbs. That is minimal time outlay to see if this new strategy might work. The reason it’s important is a new story in the series has been bothering me for some time and it is getting louder and more persistent. To justify writing it, I need to have a solid foundation for it to fit into.

      August 14, 2018
      • Uncle Lar #

        One of the reasons I find it difficult to copy edit your works is that I get so caught up in the tale that I forget to nitpick. I think I’ve read most of your stuff, so a bit easier to focus on the gory details with something I’ve read before;
        Of course RAH had some things to say about rewrites. I’ll dig out my copy of Channel Markers and see if I can cadge a quote or two and post in a later comment.

        August 14, 2018
        • Uncle Lar, you should know better than to say stuff like that. I might actually take you up on the implied offer. VBEG

          August 14, 2018
          • Uncle Lar #

            To be perfectly clear, there are about five authors whom I would never decline the opportunity to do a beta read or copy edit.
            You my fine young lady are one of them.
            May be out of pocket for a few weeks while I get my eyeballs fixed, but barring complications there feel free to bring it on.

            August 14, 2018
            • Let’s just get your eyeballs fixed and then we’ll worry about it. There are several things in the hopper now that will need you looking at them.

              August 14, 2018
    • Okay, part 2 now that I’m back from shopping.

      Republishing as an indie publisher (because we are indie publishers, as well as authors.) All trad publishing houses used to go through their perennial sellers about every 10 years, and re-did the covers. It’s happening roughly every 5, now – including rebranding every time a major book goes viral and related ones want to brand the covers as similar. For example, the entire Laurell K Hamilton Anita Blake series was rebranded with 50-shades-of-gray-style covers, or, the way Larry Correia’s Son of the Black Sword had the initial Larry Elmore cover swapped out for a Game of Thrones style cover (and those GoT covers were rebranding released with the TV series.)

      So similarly,especially if your indie house has been around long enough to see the major cover style changes from ebooks 10-6 years ago compared to today, rebranding for looking similar to the current market and at the same graphic level is a very wise move. (Sedgefield Press, itself, rebranded all Peter’s Maxwell series last year, along with the audiobook releases.)

      I have seen several romance authors pull early lines, rebrand, give it a new copyedit (or a copyedit, if it didn’t have one the first time, new formatting, covers, keywords, categories, and relaunch with lucrative success.

      So to sum up, going over old work and fixing it as an author can easily sink you. Going over old work as a publishercan really help keep the backlist selling.

      (On the gripping hand, there’s at least one author out there in romance who pulled all her early books, rewrote them as well as updated formatting, covers, et al, and did really, really well for herself on the relaunch. So, um, as Amanda says, be very thoughtful about it, but do what’s best for you. Because there is no One True Way For Everyone. )

      August 14, 2018
      • Uncle Lar #

        In particular, when you have a back shelf of works that you’ve gone to the trouble to get rights back for, doing a fluff and buff update and finding an appropriate to the current style cover for simply makes good business sense. Have to use both hands to count the novels and short story collections I’ve copy edited for one author in particular in that exact category. Thing is, they were all trad pub originally and almost without exception suck for typos and other egregious errors. That in addition to the inevitable artifacts created when porting over from an obscure and obsolete word processing program.

        August 14, 2018
  4. TRX #

    > soon as Amazon opened the doors

    Moving from tradpub to Amazon isn’t independence, it’s just changing one master for another. They’re still the intermediary between you and your customers.

    You’re not independent when an intermediary has their thumb on the scale.

    August 14, 2018
    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

      Huh?

      Amazon is first & foremost a retailer.

      Unless you want indies to do the equivalent of “setting up a shop on the street corner” to sell their books then somebody like Amazon is necessary for a writer to reach a wider market.

      I really don’t understand your “concern” about Amazon.

      August 14, 2018
      • Paul, absolutely. Amazon might be an intermediary because they are the “store”. You have to give TRX that much. However, they aren’t telling you what to publish and when to publish it. At least not yet. For that, we can all be grateful, imo.

        August 14, 2018
    • Technically true. But you have much more power over what you do with Amazon and when you do it than you will ever have with a publisher, at least not one you don’t own.

      August 14, 2018
    • Uncle Lar #

      Nope. Tradpub and to a great extent agents were always gatekeepers, picking and choosing who got printed and who got a form rejection letter.
      Now Amazon does have a few rules regarding plagiarism, illegal or obscene content, and the like, but absent such violations they will offer for sale anything that conforms to a standard format. And too, they happen to be the big dog because they developed an excellent business model, but you have other options such as Barnes and Noble, iBooks, or simply set up your own web site and sell your e-books yourself.
      Seems that most folks who bitch the loudest about Amazon have either gotten stung by people gaming the rules to their advantage, which Amazon does come down on in a rather draconian fashion that squashes guilty and innocent alike, or they’re violators who hate that they’ve been caught out in one of the Zon’s reactive corrections.

      August 14, 2018
    • There certainly seem to be enough horror stories about innocents getting banned for life from KU and ebooks generally for nothing but the mildest of algorithm wonkiness to give this idea a degree of credence.

      August 14, 2018
      • Lots of stories but when you start digging, most of them are either false or the situation was corrected in fairly short order. My problem with those stories is most of them hit the internet as soon as the problem is discovered. They spend hours screaming to the internet gods about how they’ve been abused, etc., by Amazon, but they aren’t following good business practice of simply working their way up the chain of command. That’s not to say Amazon doesn’t screw up because it does. But it is usually pretty good about fixing the problem.

        Also, a lot of times they say they didn’t do anything wrong but if you look at what they’ve been doing and compare it with the Terms of Service, you find there were violations. One thing I can’t stress enough is the need to keep up-to-date with what the ToS says. Better to spend a few minutes each month checking it than to be caught with your proverbial pants down around your ankles.

        August 14, 2018
        • Amazon self-published authors: Our books were banned for no reason – From August 10th.

          I’m sure I could find more, but I’m not sure how many links I can post without (understandably) being picked up as a spammer.

          Note that even with their accounts restored, the “offending” authors have no idea what they did wrong, nor how to prevent this from happening again. So this is still very much a “thing,” and that Amazon’s ToS is not particularly helpful.

          Or at any rate so they’re claiming. Your point that at least some authors out there are a bit less pure than Caesar’s wife also having more than a bit of empirical verification.

          August 15, 2018
          • I saw the story. I also saw some of the other stories concerning those involved in that particular instance. Yes, some were innocents caught in the net, some not so innocent. My concern with so many of the stories is we see their “we still don’t know”, etc., but very few of them ever tell us exactly what steps they took to get their accounts restored or who they talked with. In fact, many of them admit they never went beyond the general low level CSRs who have neither the authority to restore the accounts or the ability to find out why accounts might have been suspended.

            I’ve been caught in one of Amazon’s goofs. Fortunately, it only impacted one book and, yes, it took several days to get things corrected and it was a time of pure hell. But — and this is a big but and very important — I didn’t sit back and cry in my cereal. I worked my way up the chain of command. I didn’t let them tell me they couldn’t do anything. When I got that response, I asked for the person one step further up the chain of command. I documented everything — and that documentation began before the trouble. I keep copies of what I upload to Amazon. Then I download the “converted” file after they have accepted it. That gives me “before” and “after” files to refer to.

            But going back to the process. When it began looking like I was going to hit a brick wall, I went to the top of the Amazon food chain.Jeff Bezos has a group of employees who deal with trouble-shooting issues for him. Within an hour or two of emailing him, I received a phone call asking for more details about what was going on. It took about another 36 hours but everything was worked out, I received apologies and I knew what happened.

            Too many of those caught up in this sort of situation would rather panic and then beat their breasts in public, whining about how they are being done wrong. Not all of them. But enough that I tend to look at their complaints with a jaundiced eye unless I see they dealt with the issue in a professional way — and that means showing what steps they took beyond running to social media right away.

            August 15, 2018
            • snelson134 #

              ” In fact, many of them admit they never went beyond the general low level CSRs who have neither the authority to restore the accounts or the ability to find out why accounts might have been suspended.”

              “Jeff Bezos has a group of employees who deal with trouble-shooting issues for him. Within an hour or two of emailing him, I received a phone call asking for more details about what was going on. It took about another 36 hours but everything was worked out, I received apologies and I knew what happened.”

              Amanda, I have 30 years of tech support experience. Those two statements describe a fundamentally broken support process. The reason for an account being banned should be clear and consistent.

              August 15, 2018
              • SNelson134, there is nothing in those two statements to indicate what you said. Most low level support, no matter what the business, knows the reason why an account has been terminated. It doesn’t matter whether it is Amazon, AT&T or your bank. Why? Because so much of the lower levels of CSR are outsourced phone banks, many of which are located overseas. Businesses don’t open deeper levels of their data banks to those contracted employees.

                Where the real problem comes is in the difficulty of getting connected to a KDP rep as opposed to a general Amazon rep. Many (in fact, I’d wager most) indie authors don’t know they can go to their Amazon Author Central page and click a button there to be connected with a CSR with at least a passing knowledge of the KDP program. If they use the help function from the Amazon main page, they get a standard Amazon rep.

                And, while I agree the reason for an account being banned — or for a book being taken down or anything else — should be clear and consistent, it isn’t fair to put all the blame on Amazon. That’s especially true when we aren’t getting the full story from most of those who take to social media to piss and moan about what happened — or all those who pick up the story and light their torches and scream “Evil Amazon” without knowing everything that happened.

                August 15, 2018
          • Dang it, I may need to eat some crow here. I did some more digging, and it turns out there’s a thread on the litrpg subreddit about this article where even fans of a few of these authors are less than shocked about their being banned, with appeals denied. I’ll shut up now.

            August 15, 2018
            • Don’t shut up. You’ve brought up some good points and you’re willing to discuss the issues. Amazon is far from perfect and we have to keep on top of what’s happening to keep them from taking too much advantage of their position. Please keep up the comments.

              August 15, 2018
              • Uncle Lar #

                I’ll Second that.
                The Evil Zon is a common meme, and as with a great many internet memes there is enough fact behind it that it has legs. Soon “everybody knows” takes hold.
                Bringing such perceptions out in the light of day and sharing information with the ones who have actually been there and done that educates all of us.
                But then that’s why I try to visit MGC every day both to share what little I might know and to learn a host of new facts and ideas.

                August 16, 2018
    • Luke #

      If Amazon cannot instruct her on what she should write next, nor prevent her from selling whatever writing she chooses to do, then Amazon is in no way her Master.

      All producers of goods require distributors.
      All distributors need products to distribute.
      This does not intrinsically make the producer slave to the distributor, any more than it makes the distributor slave to the producer.

      Right now, Amazon is the market.
      In time, Amazon could wish to become a gatekeeper and exert control over a walled garden. As the major publishers do.
      But if it made such an attempt, it would immediately become subject to the same disruptive forces that have been destroying the business models of the major publishers.

      August 14, 2018
  5. Uncle Lar #

    Back in 1973 Robert Heinlein spoke to the students at the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.
    Now at that time his bread and butter was short stories, even his novels first sold as serials in the many monthly SF magazines then available. Whole different universe than today. But some truths still hold. One of his five rules for selling as a writer was that you must refrain from rewriting except to editor order. His rationale follows:

    Take a cabinetmaker specializing in handmade furniture. He must make furniture and he must complete each piece he makes. He never tears up a chair he has finished because he has thought of a better design. No, he offers that chair for sale and uses the new design to build another—this is the “no rewriting” rule.
    Having finished a chair, he puts it on display and keeps it there until sold. At worst, he’ll mark it down and put it in his bargain basement—and a writer does the same thing with a manuscript that fails to sell to high-pay markets; he puts his cheap-rate pen name on it and sends it to the endless low-pay markets . . . with no tears; words are worth whatever the market will pay—no more, no less.

    Again, different world than now, still worth considering.
    The entire address was published in Analog under the title Channel Markers.
    I’d love to see it posted here in full if we can track down the rights.

    August 14, 2018
    • I agree with the advice, up to a point. A book, while handmade, is also easily adapted — just like most manufactured furniture is. If formatting requirements change, you need to go in and make the changes to your title. I rarely recommend a full rewrite — heck, it would have to be exceptional circumstances for me to agree to do a full rewrite of anything. However, if I’m bothered because I need to correct inconsistencies or realize there is a scene or two that really should be in, say, book one to make book three make more sense, that’s an easy fix. That’s the sort of thing I’m looking at doing right now.

      August 14, 2018
      • Uncle Lar #

        Sure, why I included the caveats. Robert did write in a far off distant land a century back and to a vastly different market. Still and all, the man could tell a damn fine tale at the drop of his proverbial hat.

        August 14, 2018
  6. Synova #

    So should you label your re-issue prominently like, 2nd Edition, or something? I can easily see someone getting annoyed if they think it’s a new book so they buy it twice.

    August 14, 2018
    • If you don’t remove the book from sale and then put it up under a new AISN, they will have notice on the product page that they’ve already bought the book.

      If you do a new edition with new material, yes. You need to show on the cover that it is an “expanded” edition or newly revised or something. You also should note in your description that it was previously published under X-title and that the new book is different because of new material or whatever.

      August 14, 2018
      • Uncle Lar #

        And requiring a new ISBN if you are so inclined as to use them.

        August 14, 2018
  7. Uncle Lar #

    Since I’ve mentioned it several times I should probably post Heinlein’s five rules for successful writers from his Annapolis presentation.

    Five Rules for Success in Writing:

    First: You must write.

    Second: You must finish what you write.

    Third: You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.

    Fourth: You must place it on the market.

    Fifth: You must keep it on the market until sold.

    Keep in mind that in those days the periodical market for short stories was huge. Book deals were few and far between, and often arose from a reputation as a prolific magazine writer.
    Full disclosure, my first published sales were short humor to various mens’ magazines at $25 to $50 each plus a free copy of that issue. Knew several writers who where doing formulaic erotica under house names at $500 a book.
    For all its faults Amazon has totally overturned what once was as far as publishing goes.

    August 14, 2018
  8. 23 skidoo

    August 15, 2018
  9. mrsizer #

    It’s probably a bit late to be commenting on this thread, but… I just read Tales of Anyar. It’s book 5 in the series(*). It seems to be (mostly) stuff that got pulled out of the other four books and turned into short stories.

    I enjoyed it. As a stand-alone anthology, it would be horrible. As it is, it lets you see things that don’t normally make it into print. For example, our intrepid heroes are stuck babysitting while their wives shop and chaos ensues. I can see why that was cut from the novel; it does nothing to advance the plot. However, it was fun to read about day-to-day life.

    Something to consider when editing: Don’t forget that their is a “paste” option after “cut”. Save that material for later. Once you have a fan base, the vignettes may sell.

    There was also some (potential) backstory for book 6. It wouldn’t have fit at the end of book 4 and would make a really long prologue to book 6. We’ll see what happens.

    (*)Destiny’s Crucible is the series. I like it.

    August 16, 2018
    • Absolutely. I have a file for each book/series for just that purpose.

      August 16, 2018

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