Author Archives: Amanda

About Amanda

writer, mother, owned by a cat and not necessarily in that order.

Amazon’s at it again

Before I go any further, my heart and my prayers go out to the victims (and their friends and family) of the tragic bombing at the Ariana Grande concern in Manchester last night.

Now, to get to the post. Of course, that means I have to have a post. Hmmm, what’s lurking in my head? I hear rattling up there but that might just be my brain waiting for the coffee to kick in.

There are actually a couple of things I’d like to discuss today. The first is a new feature from Amazon that has some authors and traditional publishers in a tizzy. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if there aren’t more than a few suits in the vaunted towers of NYC publishing that are having to change their pants. Why? Because Amazon has taken a swipe at the NYT Best Sellers List and similar lists and started what it calls “Amazon Charts“.

Why has this new list caused such an uproar? Because it shakes things up, mainly (I presume) because it will be easier for indies and small presses to be listed. There’s something else that probably upsets them as well. Not only does the list show the most sold books (Top 20 right now) but it also shows the most read books. These lists include Audible downloads and downloads/reads through the different Amazon subscription services. So, those titles enrolled in the KU program can and will be recognized if they hit high enough.

Gasp!

Now, let’s face it, this really isn’t much different form what Amazon has been doing with its various best sellers lists. But now they have the Top 20 books and the look and feel of it is so similar to the Best Sellers lists of the NYT and others that they don’t like it. People might actually pay attention and see that the books Amazon is listing aren’t what they are listing.

There’s another reason they might be panicking as well. These lists are promulgated by actual numbers — numbers of purchases, numbers of downloads, number of page reads. That’s not quite the same as the various best seller lists that rely on the handwavium that is Bookscan, the Neilsen rankings of books. In other words, Amazon is removing the blindfold from authors when it comes to their sales slowly but surely and that scares most of traditional publishing witless.

Of course, that’s not the only thing publishers are upset about. Amazon has instituted new rules about their “buy” button. These rules allow 3rd party vendors, if they meet certain requirements, to win the “buy” button. In the past, when it came to books, the buy button automatically meant a purchase from the publisher. Oh, you could look at what other sellers were offering by clicking the right link on the page — something most readers I know do, especially for a book that’s been out for awhile. But now, that’s not automatically the case. You see, one of the criteria for winning the buy button is price.

Gasp!

That means it is possible for a reseller to be the “preferred” seller using a lower price than the publisher offers. Oh, it’s not that simple. There are other requirements as well. But just the possibility of it happening has publishers and some authors up in arms. I even get it. No one wants to see a revenue stream drying up. But publishers have to understand that readers have been looking at price for a long time.

One of the arguments I’ve seen against allowing this is that those resellers aren’t paying royalties on the sales. According to one thread in social media, the authors involved were trying to convince the naysayers that all these resellers are selling returns and books that should have been pulped because there was something wrong with them. Nope. Sure, some of the books were books they received as advanced copies or should have been trashed but the vast majority of them were purchased legally and are now being resold. That means the royalties have been paid and, as long as our laws are what they are, royalties are paid on only the first sale.

Instead of raising hell about allowing someone to undercut the publishers and win the buy button, these authors ought to be asking the hard questions of their agents and their publishers. Why are they pricing books so high people are looking for alternative sources? Yes, print books have a certain cost threshold they have to meet just to make money. But when you see retailers, both in brick and mortar stores and online, discounting books by 25% or so on a regular basis, you know the markup is huge. Believe me, these retailers wouldn’t be discounting new releases that much unless it was. After all, the retailers have to make money as well.

What else?

I’m sure there’s more but the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. Besides, Amazon always gives us enough fodder to think about not only how it will impact traditional publishing but our own nook in indie publishing as well. What do you guys think? Is Amazon wrong to allow third-party vendors the access to the buy button? And what about the Amazon Charts?

Oh yeah, don’t forget I’ve a new short story out. ¬†ūüėČ

Battle Wounds is the third short story set in the Honor and Duty universe. The stories all take place before the events of the first book, Vengeance from Ashes. The short stories came about because some of you wanted to know what happened to make Ashlyn Shaw into the women we meet in Vengeance. They’ve been fun to write and there is at least one more planned.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING

Of pricing and release dates

I don’t know a single indie author who doesn’t wish there was a handbook out there that was constantly kept up-to-date with information about formatting, blurbs, promotion, when to release your books and pricing. The best we can do is watch trends and be ready to adapt not only when necessary but as quickly as possible. It also means making hard decisions sometimes as well as taking the long view. That is especially true when it comes to pricing.

Last night, I finished setting Battle Wounds up on Amazon so it would be live this morning. For those of you not familiar with it, BW is a short story set in the Honor and Duty universe. I started writing the short stories a little more than a year ago when there was a glitch, to put it nicely, in the upload process of Honor from Ashes. Somehow, the wrong text file was attached to the product page and, well, let’s just say the next week was an exercise in frustration to get it corrected. The short stories were my way of thanking my fans for hanging with me as things got straightened out.

When I made the decision to write a series of short stories in the universe, I had several things I needed to consider. The first, of course, was where in the timeline they would fall. Since the books in the series follow very closely on one another, I couldn’t see an easy way to slip short stories in. Besides, I had folks who wanted to know how Ashlyn Shaw became the character first introduced in Vengeance from Ashes. So, that’s where I decided to begin — at the beginning. ¬†With three shorts stories now out, I am closing in on the events that directly led to the events that kick off the series.

Anyway. . . .

Last night I uploaded the files and checked to make sure they converted properly — and, yes, were the correct file with the correct cover — and then continued on through the publication process. Part of that is choosing when to release the story. If you ask a dozen indie authors, you’ll probably get a dozen answers about when they think the best times are to time your releases. I’ve tried any number of different times and days. I’ve studied what other indies and small presses, as well as trad publishers, do. It seems there is a growing trend to release new titles on the first and third Tuesday of the month.

I’ll admit to pondering and wavering on deciding to follow this trend. After all, if I followed it, I would be one of who knew how many authors releasing a new title at the same time. But, let’s face it, that’s something we have to deal with no matter what day we choose to release our titles on. That’s the downside. The upside on releasing on either the first or third Tuesday is that there are a large number of readers who check for new titles on those days because they have learned to expect new releases then.

Hmmm.

So, guess what. I chose to try a third Tuesday release. It’s going to be interesting to see if there is more traction for this release than for the other short stories.

The next thing I had to determine was pricing for Battle Wounds. There’s been a lot of discussion since Amazon first opened up to indies on how much we should price our work for. If you ask indies, you’ll get a wide range of answers. Some look at pricing and take the long view on it all. Others look at the amount of money they earn per sale. Both sides have pros and cons. The problem with both, however, is that we are looking at it from the viewpoint of the author. Instead, we need to look at it from the point of view of the reader. After all, they are the ones making the decision to buy the short story or title.

And, like it or not, as indies, we operate in a world where our readers understand, on the whole, that we don’t have the overhead trad published titles have. Therefore, they aren’t going to pay as much for our work as they will for Nora Roberts or Stephen King or David Weber.

So how do we figure out the best price for our work?

The first thing we do is listen to our readers and to readers of our genre in general. We can do that by checking blogs and other social media platforms. We can also do it by checking the best sellers lists on Amazon. Look not only at what indie titles are on it but at their prices as well. Compare the price of the work and its length to what you are about to publish. Then there is the beta pricing tool you can use once you are setting up the title on Amazon.

There is something else we have to take into account when we are setting prices. Sarah, Dave and Brad can get away with charging more for short stories than I can. Why? Because they have a following of readers who have known them not as just indie authors but as trad published authors as well. They’ve earned their bones in the eyes of those readers. They have more published than I do as well. So, because they have the reputation and the experience, they can charge more for their work. Readers even expect them to.

But for me, even though I have 16 novels, 2 (?) novellas and a handful of short stories published, all but one of the shorts have been indie. I can charge more now than I used to — and I should — for novels, not so much for short stories. There are two reasons for that. First, and most obvious, I’m not a “name” that people are willing to pay additional money to read. Second, I look at short stories as loss leaders, which they are. They are promos in many ways to keep people interested in my work until the next novel comes out.

But there is something else. I know what I’m willing to pay. I can’t think of a single indie-only author I will pay more than $0.99 for a short story (for the purposes of pricing, I’m including anything under 20k words). I’ll pay $1.99 for work between 20k and 50k words or so. After that, I’ll pay $2.99 up to $4.99. There are a few indies I’ll pay $5.99 for a long novel but those are very few and far between. So I keep that in mind as I start thinking about pricing.

I also realize there are many, many, many readers who feel the same way I do about how much they are willing to pay for a title. Yes, readers to look at the price and, if they think you are pricing a work too low, they wonder if you aren’t convinced your work is any good. However, for a short story, you can quickly price readers out. So it comes down to deciding if you would rather sell more copies at a lower price and royalty or fewer copies at a higher royalty. For me, because I don’t look at my short stories as a major income generator in the short term, I price them on the low end, where most other short stories are priced. What I’ve discovered by doing so is I tend to sell more over time, more than making up for the difference in royalties.

But the decision is yours. Just remember, you need to look at more than how much are you going to make per sale. You need to take into account what the going rate for stories in your genre with a similar length. If you price yourself out of the market, you are not only cutting your own royalty throat, so to speak, but you are denying your readers the opportunity to read your work.

Shrug.

I really wish there was an easy to use manual that told me the best way to promote my work, the best price point, the best day for release, etc. Instead, I get to watch my hair turn even whiter as I try to figure it out for myself when all I really want to do is write.

Oh, go buy Battle Wounds. My kitties need kibble. ūüėČ

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

The Blinders are Still in Place

Ten years.

That is approximately how long it’s been since Amazon first allowed the infidels to dip their toes into the sacred waters of publishing. ¬†From the beginning, traditional publishing has taken a two-pronged attack against not only indies but readers. They have told us that e-books were a passing fad, something that wouldn’t last. They also warned that allowing just anyone to publish without having to prove themselves by finding a way past the gatekeepers would allow nothing but dreck into the holy waters of publishing.

Well, almost 10 years into this so-called experiment in mediocrity, e-books are still here and more and more indie authors are earning more than pocket change for their work — and the blinders are still, at least as far as most of those in traditional publishing are concerned, firmly in place.

We’ve seen the Big 5 (which used to be the Big 6) and Apple run afoul of the Justice Department for price fixing in an attempt to undermine Amazon. All that accomplished was costing everyone involved in the conspiracy money in the form of fines and payouts to customers who got caught up in their antics. Oh, and let’s not forget about how it started readers asking why traditionally published e-books cost so much.

We’ve seen a few traditionally published authors condemning their counterparts, not only those who have never been traditionally published but also those who have chosen to go the hybrid route of both indie and trad publishing.¬†Friendships have been strained and, in some cases, lost and over what? The fact someone didn’t take the same route as another? (yes, I’m rolling my eyes.)

In this time, we’ve seen not a gradual acceptance of e-books by traditional publishing and its proponents but a continued attack on them. All you have to do is look at the prices charged for the digital release of new titles to see what I mean. Here’s a perfect example. Echoes in Death by J. D. Robb is available for pre-order right now. The price? $14.99.

Yes, you read that right. By the time you add tax, you will pay more than $15 for an e-book.

Nor is this an anomaly. Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs sells for $13.99. Fast & Loose by Stuart Woods sells for $14.99. There’s more, much more. All you have to do is look. When you do, you’ll discover a couple of more things. Amazon, not being a fool when it comes to marketing, makes it clear that these high prices aren’t set by anyone except the publisher. Also, if you, as a reader, check the terms of service when you buy your e-books, you’ll discover a couple of things. First, I bet you dollars to doughnuts that almost every e-book you’ve purchased from a trad publisher is filled with DRM (there are a few exceptions, like Baen). Second, you will discover that you haven’t actually bought the book. You purchased a license to read the book. Now, in some ways, that’s nothing new. It’s what you do when you “buy” software from most software publishers. Still, it rankles but the DRM rankles more because that smacks of the publishers telling us they don’t trust their readers not to do something evil like — gasp — loan the book to a friend, exactly what we do with our hard copy books.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have a line in the proverbial sand when it comes to how much I will pay for an e-book. It’s a line that I will very rarely cross. I’ll admit I will rarely even get close to the line. That price, for me, is $9.99. It used to be lower but I had to change that when Baen finally got into Amazon. I groused, like a lot of others, because that move meant Baen now charged more. However, there are several Baen authors I will pay that much for instead of waiting for the price to come down. But paying $15 for an e-book when the publisher won’t even admit I own the book? Nope, not gonna happen. I will wait for the price to come down or, if it doesn’t, I will borrow it from the library.

The problem is that doesn’t really hurt the publisher but it does hurt the author. I hate that part but there isn’t much more I can do to voice my displeasure — not that the Big 5 listen.

A perfect example of how they don’t listen and don’t pay attention to market trends is this article from Publishers Weekly. Sure, the article is about how e-tailers are continuing to survive but the premise is what had me shaking my head. According to this post, e-book sales are down. Yes, it did say e-books by traditional publishers but then it basically acted as if those are the only e-books out there. That is the same sort of premise the Big 5 works under. They seem to think that the fact their sales are down for e-books, they are for everyone. No, what they need to do is look at their pricing, something indies and readers have been telling them for years.

Unfortunately, the idea that “the more I charge, the more I make” isn’t limited to trad publishers. Indies suffer from it as well. Pricing is a bitch to figure out and to make sure you are hitting the sweet spot. Part of the equation is also figuring out that the higher the price the fewer buyers you will have. So, while you may be getting more money per sale, you are actually losing money in the long run because you are losing readers. But that’s a post for another day.

But, to me, even more of a slap in the face when it comes to the Big 5 and their ilk is the insistence on trying to lock their e-books with DRM. That is especially egregious when you look at how much they charge. Sorry, but if you want me to pay more than $10 — heck, who am I kidding? If you want me to pay more than, well, anything — for an e-book, I’d better own it just as much as if I bought the hard copy version.

And then they wonder why people figure out ways to break DRM or why they go to pirate sites to find the book they want. It’s a lesson publishing should have learned from the music industry and didn’t.

Finally, for one more piece of “Huh? How is that going to work?” we get this announcement. Bill Clinton and James Patterson are teaming up to write a book. The premise is that the President goes missing. Okay, that alone isn’t all that strange. Where I did a double-take was seeing that the book is being published by both¬†Knopf Doubleday and Hachette. Oh, and it is supposedly going to be edited by the chairman of Knopf Doubleday and the CEO of Hachette. Am I the only one going “riiiiight?”

Let’s look at this for a moment. By doing it this way, the publishers split the costs of production and distribution (one would assume). They both get the benefits from the promotion of the book and I guarantee you this book will be promoted. Hell, the publishers won’t even have to pay for it because the media will be all over it. They also get to split the advances. Of course, that might not be such a big saving for them because I have a feeling both “authors” are getting close to their usual advances.

However, it also means they will split the monies coming in from the sales of the books.

It is going to be interesting to see how this impacts their bottom lines over the next few years. Not that I expect them to admit if the book fails to perform as expected. Remember those blinders I mentioned earlier?

10 years and publishing has changed and yet, in all too many ways, the same mindset continues to permeate the ivory halls of NYC publishers. Sigh.

Next Tuesday, Battle Wounds, the third short story set in the Honor and Duty series universe, will be published. So, a little promo for two of the titles in the series.

Vengeance from Ashes

(Book 1 in the series)

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

Taking Flight

(1st short story)

Duty, honor, sacrifice. That motto meant everything to newly commissioned Second Lieutenant Ashlyn Shaw. She thought she understood the meaning of those simple words. Little did she know.

Challenged by those who believed she made it through the Academy on her family‚Äôs coattails, a roommate who just wants to see ‚Äúsome action‚ÄĚ and a gunnery sergeant determined to make a real Marine out of her, Ash soon realizes what it means to be a Marine. As the signs point to war on the horizon, she is determined to do everything she can to serve Fuercon and do the Corps proud.

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It’s really a business, pt. 2

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about how writing is a business and we need to treat it as such. In that post, I talked about some of the things we need to do after we hit the publish button. No, I didn’t discuss marketing, at least not in detail. Why? Because I’m still figuring that out myself. Instead, I talked about things we do, or should do, to make our product pages attractive. Today, let’s talk about the Amazon author page and one or two related topics.

First of all, if you have released anything on Amazon and haven’t set up your Amazon author page, do so now. Don’t finish reading this post. Hie thee off to Author Central. You will sign in with the same user name and password that you have set up for your KDP account. Once you have, the first page you encounter is a general information page. Review everything there because there is some interesting information, especially if you haven’t been publishing for long.

Now, go to the Author Page tab (or follow the link on the first page). This is your first, and most important, chance to increase the connection you build with your readers when they search for your name or your titles on Amazon. You can update your author bio, add information and links to your blog, talk about upcoming events you’ll be at and more. Take time to look it over and see how you can tweak the information there to make it Amazon author page more interesting to your readers.

The Books tab is probably as important as the Author Page tab. If you search your name on Amazon, I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that you will find not only your titles but the titles of other authors as well. That’s thanks to Amazon’s search function. It is also why you want to make sure all your books and short stories are listed on your author page. Yes, it is usually done automatically but mistakes happen. Using the Books tab, you can add titles yourself. Or remove them if a wrong title has been assigned to you.

The next tab, Sales, is a useful (if sometimes depressing) tool. It gives you not only your¬†Bookscan numbers but also your author ranking and title rankings. I’ll admit, I don’t tend to pay much attention to these numbers except when a new title comes out. I want to see how that impacts the rest of my sales. It also helps track trends pertaining to the best time to release a new title, how many titles need to be released before the next sales jump takes place, etc.

The last tab is for Customer Reviews. The reviews are posted chronologically and aren’t for the faint at heart. After all, that one-star review will be right there with the five-star, not broken out by how many stars the reviewer gave you. There is no new information here. All the reviews are available on the individual product pages. This just gathers them all together in one place for you.

All of that is a long way of saying set the page up so your name will have that nifty little link on Amazon that your fans can click on to see all your titles in one place without having books by other authors added to the list. So spend a few minutes and set it up.

While you’re doing that, look at the website or blog you link to from your Amazon author page. I finally sat down and redid my blog a week or so ago. I really love the new look. It is cleaner and, imo, easier to read. But there are still problems with it. I hadn’t realized when I changed themes that there is no link from the home page to click through to comments. You have to open each individual blog entry to see — or make — a comment. Not good. Not good at all. So, I’m off on a hunt for another blog theme that looks pretty much the same but that has the comment function enabled for the home page.

I also need to redo my banner. I haven’t done so yet because of the need to find a new theme for the page. Each theme has its own requirements when it comes to the size of the banner. Since I’m lazy, I only want to do it once. Plus, I want to make sure I do it right or Sarah will yell at me. (She usually yells at me when I do graphics because I don’t do the lettering properly.)

Another issue I ran into when I redid the theme was discovering that Amazon no longer has an easy way to make a carousel widget to display your work with buy links active. So, when you go to my blog now, you see the books, well their covers, listed individually in the sidebar. That’s not too bad but I need to edit the CSS to fix the alignment. Again, I’m not going to do that until I find a new theme. Otherwise, I’ll have to repeat the work and, as I said earlier, I’m lazy.

But redoing the blog isn’t enough. I need to redo all my sites and combine them. The combining isn’t difficult. It’s simply a matter of redirecting URLs so I’m only maintaining one actual site. When the pen names were not “open”, it was necessary to have different sites for each one. Now that they are open, that’s not necessary. So, once the theme is found and the child pages set up, the other sites will be redirected and their information updated. What that means is I need to set aside a day or two in order to get it all done. That’s hard for me to do because there are always other things I need (or would rather) do.

Our blogs and websites, our Twitter and Facebook accounts are our faces to our fans. We might prefer to be sitting around the den in our underwear but is that really the image we want our fans to see?

Just as we have to take a hard look at our product pages, blurbs and covers, we need to look at what sort of “face” we present with our blogs and websites (and I haven’t even gotten to what we put out on social media).

I’ll leave you with this. Take a look at your blog and/or your website (whichever one gets the most traffic). Does the visitor see links to your work right away? Do you have a widget in place that allows them to donate money should they want to? If you live in a state where you can take part in the Amazon Associates Program, are you links set to your Associates account? In other words, how are you monetizing your page? That was something I learned long ago. I might not make a lot from my Associates account but it is nice to be able to buy an extra book or ten or more from time to time. (Hint: the more you use it, the more money you can make.)

Your website, blog and Amazon author page are ways you advertise your work. Don’t they deserve to look the best they can? Now go forth and put your best digital foot forward.

Oh yeah, check out my blog for a short snippet from Battle Wounds, the next short story set in the Honor and Duty universe.

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Filed under AMANDA, MARKETING, PROMOTION

What do you want?

As I was preparing for today’s post, I cam across a couple of things¬†I thought I’d share. The first is a perfect example of one of the problems facing traditional publishing today. The second is a post about why it’s a great time — sort of — to go indie. Both are, in my opinion, things we need to think about.

Last week, the Buffalo News posted an article about Gov. Andrew Cuomo. No, it wasn’t about his politics. Instead, it was about his book and how much he’s made — and how many copies the book has sold. But before we get into the finance aspect, a little background. Cuomo was elected governor of New York in 2010 and took office January 1, 2011. His book,¬†All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life, was published by HarperCollins on October 4, 2014. Even assuming HarperCollins pushed to get the book out as quickly as it could, I doubt they had the book for less than a year before publishing it. So, at most, Cuomo had been in the governor’s mansion for two years when the book came out.¬†And this is where things get interesting.

Now to the money. According to the Buffalo News, Cuomo has made, to date, $783,000 for writing his book. The publisher is reported to have laid down a first run printing of 200,000 copies of the book. Now, based on all that, you’d think the book sold well, possibly going into second and third printings, right?

Wrong.

The book has sold approximately 3,200 copies since publication. As of the time I’m writing this post, the hard cover price is $8.45, more than a buck less than the e-book price (which is still set by the publisher at $9.99. More on that in a moment).

It is more than fair to say the book tanked. HarperCollins basically through Cuomo under the bus for¬†the poor performance of the book back in 2015. It seems Cuomo didn’t tour to promote the book and turned down media appearances. They were surprised, I tell you, surprised. They thought he would do at least some promotion. That, it seems, is one of the main reasons the book didn’t sell as expected.

Riiiiight. Putting on my cynic’s hat, I could say HarperCollins never really expected the book to sell. They paid all that money to Cuomo as a legal bribe. But that’s the cynic and I have no proof of it. However, I’m not the only one that thought came to. Google the book and its poor performance and you will see a number of others who have thought the same and have made no bones about it.

Taking off my cynic’s hat, this poor performance is indicative of some of the problems in traditional publishing. HarperCollins didn’t consider the fact Cuomo isn’t all that popular outside of New York. Considering the low sales numbers, I wonder if he is all that popular outside of NYC. They made the mistake of paying on inflated and unrealistic expectations just as they did with the initial print run. As for the promo claim — or should I say no promo? — pardon me while I laugh. I’m sure if you asked Cuomo, he would say HarperCollins didn’t promote the book that way he thought they would. They expected Cuomo to do the promotion. Welcome to the world of publishing. Publishers, at least some of them, promise to promote a book and their idea of promotion is not the same as the author’s.

The long and short of the story is, however, a simple one and it is a cautionary tale. Publishing cannot continue to pay huge advances and guaranteed payouts to political darlings and Hollywood-types, giving them outrageous initial print runs without doing at least a simple market review first. How much money has been lost by traditional publishing houses like this? More importantly from a writer’s point of view, how many mid-list writers, those who have pretty much guaranteed sales of a certain figure book after book, have been dropped because publishers feel they can’t afford to keep them and how often has this happened AFTER a book has bombed by someone like Cuomo?

Next up is this post about why it’s a great time to be a writer, sort of. ¬†I’ll leave you to read the post but the short version is simple. If you want to go traditional, not much has changed. You can keep slogging for months and years, trying to get your work picked up by an agent and then on an editor’s desk where you can hope to get a contract. While there is nothing wrong with this, the length of time it takes to break in this way is a negative, as is the declining number of bookstores.

Then there’s indie publishing. That’s the great part. If you have the drive and you have a book finished, you can publish it now. There’s no waiting to shop the book around, looking for an agent and then a contract. You make it the best book you can, slap a cover on it and push the publish button.

Of course, there’s a but. There’s always a but and that’s where the “sort of” comes in. To be successful as an indie, you have to work at it. You have to take on much of what the traditional publisher does. You have to make sure your book has a great cover, is well formatted and edited. You have to market it. You have to do the accounting and pay the taxes. In other words, you have to remember that this is a business. It’s a lot of work and there is no guarantee that you’ll be a “success”. However, there is an advantage in that you aren’t at the whim of a traditional publisher, held to releasing a book only according to their schedule.

The decision as to what is best for you is, of course, up to you.

Now, since I’m an indie, here’s a bit of promo.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.

Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

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It really is a business

Maybe it’s because taxes are due today. Maybe it’s something else. But, for whatever reason, the last few days have been spent looking at my writing from a business standpoint. I try to do this on a regular basis, but I know I don’t do it nearly as often as I should. Part of the reason is because I would much rather write. After all, I am a writer, not an accountant, etc. But the business aspect is a necessary evil.

It also includes much more than simply looking at sales and making sure taxes are paid.

But it does include numbers — ick — and looking at trends, seeing what other authors are saying about their sales and making determinations about what needs to be done, if anything.

So, the short version of what I’ve done over the last few days is simple:

  • Reviewed my sales for the last year
    • by title
    • by genre
    • by price
  • Looked at pricing for similar titles, including age of title
  • Reviewed blurbs and keywords
  • Reviewed covers and compared them with what is currently selling well, indie and trad published
    • looked at the art elements
    • looked at the font
    • looked at overall cover design
  • Reviewed my publication schedule for the next year
    • made determinations about what should be released when
    • made determinations about new titles (unrelated to current series)
  • Reviewed my meager promotion operation with an eye to expanding it

Now, don’t start running to the hills. I’m not going in-depth into what I did and what my plans are. For one, a lot of those plans are still being made. For another, right now a lot of it is subject to change, at least until I work some more on it. Still, some of the things that are factoring into my decisions are, I believe, things each of us need to look into when it comes to our writing.

Because numbers (ick) are involved, I’m still looking at my sales figures and comparing them with the last several years. In some ways, this is an exercise in comparing apples to oranges. In others, it is interesting. For one thing, I can definitely see a trend. Once I hit 10 novels, my sales across the board went up. Also, once I started linking my pen names with my name, sales across the board went up. Still, numbers are involved, so this will take several more days for me to winnow out all the information I’m looking for. (sorry, I’m a writer, not an accountant and numbers make my head hurt.O

The next thing I looked at happened to be my product pages. Oh my, there is so much there we have to take into consideration and we don’t tend to. At least I don’t. Sure, I want to have the best possible cover to draw the reader’s eye. I want a snappy and interesting blurb to grab the reader and make them want to buy the book. But I don’t tend to check the product page on anything other than my laptop. I forget to look at it on my Kindle Fire or Mom’s iPad. I sure forget to look at it in my phone. Or, more accurately, I used to forget it. After the last few days, I won’t. What I learned is that the longer blurbs will work on a tablet or computer screen but, on a phone, they are a pain because you have to keep scrolling. Not good. Scrolling for a screen or two is one thing but for screen after screen after screen — nope. Not gonna happen. Fortunately, most of mine weren’t that bad and those that were happen to be on two titles I am going to withdraw because they were supposed to be short term promo titles initially.

Another thing I don’t always do, and it is now on my list of must do, is check the preview function for my books. I’m not talking about the downloadable preview (although that should be checked as well) but the “click to see inside” preview. A number of readers, myself included, use this to determine if we want to buy or borrow a book. This is where they will get their first real impression of that particular title.¬†It’s important to make sure the preview doesn’t appear to be poorly formatted. Even more important is making sure there are no misspellings or outrageous grammatical errors present. I can’t stress this enough. This is a free promo and so many of us don’t bother checking to make sure it is accurately representing our work and that, in turn, can cost us sales.

All that showed I have some blurbs to update. As a reader, one thing that will stop me from buying a book is a badly written blurb. If I find misspellings or poor grammar or punctuation in a blurb, I’m going to assume the book is written in much the same way. Also, look at the formatting of the blurb. If there is no white space between paragraphs, you are basically screaming one of two things. Either you are in newbie who doesn’t know how to format blurbs or you are careless and don’t care. Either way, it isn’t the image you want to put out for your readers to see.

I also need to update my keywords on several books. This is important because the keywords help with the search function. Also, in case you didn’t know it, keywords can also help determine what genres and sub-genres your work is listed under. Amazon is starting to crack down on what keywords you use because they had so many complaints by readers about searching certain keywords and finding books that were not “romance” or whatever. That means I need to go back and make sure I have not run afoul of the rule by mistake.

Also, the keywords change from time to time. So to sub-genres. That makes it imperative to regularly make sure we are using the best keywords we can. It helps sales by helping readers find out books.

While doing this, I also looked at my covers. Now, I’m not going to spend any time on the making of covers because, duh, I’m not an artist. I will say this. Don’t be afraid to periodically change your cover. Now, I’m not talking every month or even every six months. But, just as sub-genres change and expand, covers for those genres change as well. As indies, we need to be aware of what the trads are doing in our genres, both with images and with fonts. While we don’t have to copy them, it never hurts to at least have the same “feel” as they do. Why? Because if you write books with the same feel as the Mercy Thompson or Jane Yellowrock books, it will only help for your covers to have the same feel. Why? Because readers of those series will see something that is familiar when they look at your work and the cover might just entice them into reading the blurb and buying the book.

But there is something else to look at as well. If, like me, you write series, your covers within the series have to relate to one another. It is another way of cuing your readers that the new book is part of the series they are already reading and enjoying.

Finally, even if your cover worked when the book came out two years — or ten — ago, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will now. So look at what is selling well in your book’s genre and sub-genre and then look at your book cover with a critical eye. If it doesn’t feel fresh, if it looks and feels dated (or worse, amateur), then change it. But do your homework. Know what works — both in images and in fonts — in your genre and sub-genre.

Now you see why I said I wasn’t going in-depth today about everything. All this was just off the product page. More than that, it was off the product page of just one one-line store. More than that, it isn’t everything off the product page that I’m looking at as an author. By the way, I am also looking at it as a reader, trying to think about what strikes me and grabs my attention when I’m looking for a book to read. If you guys want, I’ll continue with this next week. Otherwise, the next scream of frustration you hear is me when I once again return to the task of looking at my numbers and trying to see if I can make sense of their arcane magic.

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Le Sigh

Yesterday, I blogged about writers and editors behaving badly in social media. No, I’m not talking about those writers who go after reviewers. I’m sure none of us will ever forget NB and his responses to anyone who might have ever posted a negative review to his masterpiece — and I use that therm loosely. This time it was a series of posts by different authors and editors complaining about how the authors who hired them to do work didn’t tip them after paying the agreed upon fee. Oh, that wasn’t the only complaint. There were cries of “foul!” when they weren’t greeted with profuse thanks for their work instead of question or — gasp — complaints. All that resulted in a blog about how you need to remember not to air your dirty laundry on social media because it will be seen by more folks than you think and it can — and probably will — run off business. The point of the post was that if you contract for editing or art or anything else, you need to price your services at a level where you don’t have to rely upon “tips”.

I’d expected that to be the end of the “but it’s a business, damn it!” reaction I’d had to the different Twitter and Facebook posts. Then I turned on the laptop this morning and checked the usual social media sites and, well, realized it wasn’t over. So repeat after me, “Writing is a business and needs to be treated as such.” Repeat it again and then, if it helps, print it out and put it on your desk somewhere.

Today’s post comes after seeing several folks take to social media asking how to sell more books. Usually, such a question wouldn’t bother me. After all, it’s a question we all ask ourselves on an almost daily — if not hourly — basis. Most of those asking were looking for honest answers and advice.¬†And, again, it all comes down to treating the writing as a business. You have to know your market. You have to actually write. And you have to be able to make the hard decisions some times.

One of those decisions is when to end a series. It doesn’t matter how much you, as the author, love the series or the characters. It doesn’t even matter if the series hasn’t run the full story arc you have in mind. Sometimes, you have to step back and look at your sales numbers impartially and make the hard call to stop writing that series and move on to something else.

But, before you do that, you need to have something else already going. Again, you don’t stop making widgets without having the machinery up and running to replace them with cogs or whatchamacallits.

I’ve made the decision to end a series before I initially planned to. I liked the characters but I had to take a hard look at what was going on with sales. Oh, each new release made money, but not as much as my other books. Worse, sales did not continue. There would be an uptick after a new book was released but then sales would fall off. Sure, I got reads on KU but not enough to spend time writing more of the series. So, I back burner-ed it. One day, I may return to to it. But, for now, much as I like the series, it has taken a backseat to other books and series.

I even know what at least part of the problem with the series happens to be. It’s multi-fold and the problems are ones I see other authors having as well. The first is covers. The covers on this particular set of books don’t match the genre, especially now. The second are the tag words. These books came out before Amazon gave us the handy dandy list of words to use. I need to go back and redo those meta tags. The descriptions need work as well. Finally, the books are really a different sub-genre now than they were when they were written. That makes a lot of difference. Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t completely write that series off after all. Maybe I should put the time into updating the info and seeing what happens.

Now, before I put that particular series on the back burner, I made sure I had something else to take its place. Fortunately, I rolled the dice right and that series has far outsold the one it replaced. And no, I’m not going to tell you what series and you won’t find it because — bwahahahaha — it is under a closed pen name.Not even my fellow bloggers here know that name.

But back to the issue. If you are writing a series and it isn’t making the money you think it should and you have done every reasonable — and even some unreasonable — marketing ploy, then you have to ask yourself if it isn’t time to move on. To help make that decision, you need to look at your sales numbers, going all the way back to the beginning of the series. Look for trends. Do you get an uptick in sales when you release a new book and what is the drop off after the first few weeks and months? Is that drop off the same from book to book or does it lessen with each additional book you publish?

There are other things to look at as well, especially when it comes to what you are doing to market your work. Do you have active links in the back of your book, complete with descriptions, of your other titles? How about links to titles of books by other authors that you like and think your readers will as well? Are you blogging about your work and your writing process? Do you post on FB and other sites when you have a new book coming out?

Conversely, if you do utilize social media platforms, are you pissing folks off by spamming your notices everywhere, including on other authors’ pages? If you have an email list, do you only send out to those who asked to be included or have you captured email addresses for other people and send to them? If the latter, DON’T! That is another way to make people want to NOT buy your work.

You also need to remember that readers and fans will have a perception of you based upon your social media posts. This is why so many publishers for so long told their authors to be apolitical or, more recently, have required them to be anything but conservative in their posts. These publishers and editors thought readers wanted their authors to be liberal on all things. What they didn’t get is that, by doing so, they alienated even more readers than they were gaining — at least in a number of cases.

So, if you are busy posting on FB and elsewhere whines about how badly your sales are going, you have just shot yourself in the foot. How? By telling potential readers who might see the post that your book isn’t worth buying. Remember, it is all about perception and appearance.

But that’s not to say you can’t ask questions about how to increase sales or how to best market your book. Far from it. But what I’m suggesting is you consider who might see your post. There are any number of author-centric groups and pages on FB where you can ask such questions and get responses from people who have been there and done that. You can ask your crit group or find a mentor — waves as Sarah and Dave — all of whom can make suggestions.

Sometimes, however, you just have to admit that the series that is near and dear to your heart isn’t as special to the reading public. So, pull up your pants, tell your characters you love them but it is time you give some love to some others characters and plots and move on. You can always go back — in months, not days or weeks — and look at that series with a fresh and critical eye. Sometimes, stepping away gives you the space you need to breathe new life into it. But, if you don’t step away, you don’t give yourself that chance.

It all boils down to this: if you aren’t selling what you think you should, why? Have you looked at your work with a critical eye, compared it to the books in your genre or sub-genre to see what those other authors are doing that you aren’t? Have you looked at your social media presence with that same critical eye to see what sort of appearance you are presenting to the reading public? Remember, as a publicity tool, social media isn’t there for only your established fans but to help you read new ones as well. So what sort of impression are you giving them?

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