Thursday musings: What I’ve completed, what’s next, and a small pet peeve.

Brown Photo Independence Day Twitter Post

Happy Thursday! It’s a rainy day here and I thought the picture was apt. I’m not having as much fun as they are, but that’s okay. Rainy days are good for writing, or in this case, catching you up on all that I’ve been doing.

I’m going to start with a something that has been bothering me a lot in the past couple days. All the writing groups on Facebook can provide an endless stream of fodder for any blogger, and the other day I took particular offense to one post. I won’t mention the group because I don’t to get kicked out, and I don’t want to mention the poster because maybe she didn’t know what she was doing (though I’m sure she did). At any rate, she posted something to the effect of, “Whew! I wrote two books this month! Now it’s time to relax and celebrate!”

Of course she got the obligatory congratulations, and there were some people who were a little down, because, hey, that announcement really sounds like something good. Who doesn’t want to be able to write two books a month?

The problem is, and I’m sure you know where I’m going with this is, what really is a “book?” How many words is that? You know me and my big mouth and my nosiness couldn’t leave it be and I asked her how many words she’d managed to write in a month’s time.

You know what? She didn’t answer me. It could be that she missed it. It could be she never checked that post again, because the whole point was to a brag in the guise of, “If I can do it, you can do it, too!” Or it could be she didn’t want to admit that she wrote two novellas that were about 25,000 words a piece.

Even if she did do that, it’s an accomplishment and I don’t want to take that away from her. But I think it shows complete lack of courtesy for the writers and authors in that group who struggle just to write a couple thousand words a week. Be proud of yourself, share your victories, but come on, be honest about it too. You’ll get more appreciation that way.

Brown Photo Independence Day Twitter Post-2

This is why comparisonitis is a bad thing. You don’t know the real story. You don’t know what is really being accomplished. It could be she “wrote” 100,000 words–in dictation, and hired someone to transcribe it all. That sounds pretty cool, too, but not how the majority of us write. Be careful who you compare yourselves to. Get the real story, then mine their experiences for the real-life tips that can help you achieve your own level of success.


I took the feedback from comments on a different blog post, and I found a different photo for The Years Between Us. I think there were a few photographers who uploaded new stock photos on depositphotos.com because I had never seen this couple before, but they hit the nail on the head when it came to my characters.

After I changed out the cover and ordered a proof to make sure it looked good in print, too, I started running some ads using keywords from Publisher Rocket. The ads haven’t turned on yet, so I’m getting some impressions but not many. As I said in a previous blog post, a new cover, a fresh editing sweep, and a new blurb is the best I can do for this book. It could just be that I didn’t hit the mark, and it will never sell. That’s something I’m going to have to come to terms with, but at least I can say I gave this book my all.

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I’m not going to write it off just yet. I can bid very low and continuously run ads to it, as impressions are free and running ads as long as they don’t cost you money without return never hurts. I’ll keep you posted.


I am using COVID-19 and the #stayathome order to still go back and get some messy housekeeping done.

Yesterday I went on IngramsSpark and uploaded new insides and uploaded new covers for some of my books. I have this thing where my books need to be the same everywhere, and even though dealing with IngramSpark can be a pain, and I did three out of six books. I’ll wait to make sure they go through then do the other three. They do not have the online previewer that KDP does, so you can upload your files, but you won’t know if they pass until someone from Ingram looks them over. At least with the KDP previewer you have an idea if the file is going to be approved, or if you see a mistake you can fix it before submitting. Ingram did make some changes to their website and it’s more user friendly, but it still doesn’t work the way I wish it did.

I did my standalones, next I’ll do my Tower City trilogy. When those are all uploaded and approved, I’ll publish my Rocky Point Wedding Series there. I haven’t done that yet, though I did not select expanded distribution on Amazon. I do like seeing my paperbacks other places even if they’re not selling.

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And please keep in mind for anyone who does not know, you have to be listed in the IngramSpark catalogue for someone to walk into Barnes and Noble and ask them to order your paperback. They will not purchase a book from Amazon. You may approach the manager of your local Barnes and Noble and see if they will carry your book on consignment and then bring in your author copies from Amazon, but you’ll look more professional if you say your book is available through the IngramSpark catalogue. It is a pain dealing with them, but they will list your paperback book on all the marketplaces. You do have to buy your own ISBN though. IngramSpark won’t take the free one Amazon gives you if you go that route.

Robin Cutler is the director of the indie side of Ingram, and she did a wonderful interview with Craig Martelle in the 20booksto50k group! Take a few minutes to give it a listen. There’s some really great advice there if you’re interested.


I wanted to add a little bonus content to my Tower City trilogy. After I edited the books again (took out some telling, smoothed out the writing) I wanted to add a little something to the boxed set. I intended to write a novelette, but it turned into a 29k novella. I’ve been writing that for the past few days (ten to be exact, ahem) and I’ll spend the weekend cleaning it up and putting together a new boxed set with extra novella. Then I’ll run some ads to it and see if I can’t get some page reads. I said in a previous blog post I didn’t think my books were worth selling, and I feel better now that I’ve given them a read through and corrected a few typos and small inconsistencies. I haven’t looked at those books since I published them, and going at them with a fresh eye was beneficial.


That is all the news I have to share–unless you want a quick update on my ads.

I lost 14 dollars for the month of April with a spend of $180.97 and royalties across all my books of $166.92.  I turned off my big spenders to see if my KU page reads would eat up the difference. Not so much, but I’ve operated in the red before. Obviously the main goal is making money, but at this point I’ll be happy to break even. It’s cool. Still learning, still playing. Going forward I won’t bid so much and hopefully lower cost per click.

I’m up for the month of May, with an ad spend so far of $41.16 and estimated royalties of $78.73. I only have two ads going right now for All of Nothing, still my biggest earner. I put up some fresh ones for The Years Between Us, but nothing to write home about yet, and Wherever He Goes is DOA. Not sure what I can do to revive that either. His Frozen Heart is going okay, and I’ll run a promo later after the last book in the series releases at the end of this month. As I said, it was an ill-timed release, so maybe a Christmas in July type thing. We’ll see.

I really will shut up now since I talked your ears off. I hope all of you are having productive days and weeks, as it seems this may not get back to normal until the fall, and maybe not even then. It’s hard to keep your head in the game, but every little bit helps!

Until next time!

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Scammers Gonna Scam

 

2020 indie publishing predictionsI’ve fallen a bit behind with the 2020 predictions published by Written Word Media at the beginning of this year. I try to always finish what I start and I wanted to at least end this series even if half the year has already gone by and maybe no one really cares what’s going on because we’re dealing with bigger things right now.

I’ve forgotten where we are when it comes to the numbering of this series, but we’ll keep going.

Another prediction that Written Word Media predicts is that scammers are going to become even more prevalent as the the industry grows.

There will always be scammers. From the big guys who ask $10,000 to publish your book to the jerk who charges $25 to use a free photo and slap some text on it to make a book cover, someone is always looking to take advantage of someone else.

This is the part of the in the industry that I despise. There isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not online getting bent out of shape about something. I’m a member of lots of groups on Facebook and every day there’s someone who posts, “My client asked for XYZ for their book and I don’t know how to do that.”

This bothers me on two levels: 1) these guys are charging for a service they don’t know how to provide. If you don’t know how to do something like hell you should be charging for it. And 2) they’re asking the group to do the work. You have the audacity to charge for a service you are not qualified to provide then you ask someone else for the answer.

A case in point: Lots of people have started a formatting service using Vellum. Fine. Whatever you want to do, but if you are going to charge for your time and “expertise” the least you could do is look up answers for yourself. I’m not the one getting paid to answer your questions.

Another thing I can’t stand is all the crappy book covers for sale. Buying a book cover from a shady designer will get you into trouble. If they steal artwork, or use photos not available for commercial use, or they use fonts not available for commercial use, that is all on you – your name is on that book.

There are scammers out there who have whole premade cover businesses made entirely on free images off Pexels, Unsplash, and Pixabay, put some text on it in Canva and sell it for $50 or $100 for paperback. Some of these people don’t know any better. They think anything online is fair game, but some just want to make a quick buck off a new indie author who is excited they wrote a book and want to publish it.

These guys are dangerous. Trusting them is stupid, and with a couple of hours of practice in Canva you can do for free what they are charging for.

Another place where scamming has become popular is editing. You need an editor to proof or edit your book and you have a ton of offers when you ask around on Twitter. A lot of people who edit charge way more than their experience allows, or they shouldn’t be editing at all.

There’s a guy on Twitter who wanted to edit for me, for a fee, and I’m glad I never took him up on it. He published a book and it’s complete trash. If you’re going to solicit at least put out some quality work on your own or you’re going to look like a complete ass–not to mention look like an asshole–charging for a service you have no business telling people you can provide.

At any rate, those are only my pet peeves. The predictions article is a bit more encompassing.

Don’t pay someone to publish your book. Watch out for “small presses” where it’s just a guy living in his mom’s basement eating Cheetos and charging you to upload your book into KDP.

Learn how to do things on your own. Or network and develop a couple friendships and add them to your publishing team. Always ask for a sample and/or reviews and testimonials from other authors. Be responsible or you’ll pay $500 for an edit and your book will come back with typos and a million other things wrong with it.

There are legitimate people out there. Take your time in luck. And seriously, if you aren’t happy with what you get as a finished product, say something. If you find out you’ve been scammed, maybe you can file a claim with PayPal if that’s how you paid or ask your bank for a stop payment.

You can contact Writer Beware if you feel you have been scammed. There are resources to take assist you in legal action, and perhaps add the person who scammed to a list so they can’t scam anyone else. This is a wonderful resource provided by SFWA and you can  look at it here. Also, you can, and should, look at the list before you hire someone and make sure some else hasn’t reported them.

Your books are your business and responsibility. Take care and be careful. On the same token, don’t charge for a service you don’t have the skill or expertise to provide.


The article didn’t go into this kind of scammer but they are out there. One type are the writers who take advantage of Kindle Unlimited. Scammers like Chance Carter, who used to bookstuff and offer prizes to readers who would review the most.

Or the authors who will put blank spaces between paragraphs (making their book “longer”) to up their page read. In fact, I just read the look inside of a book like that a couple days ago. Sometimes this is ignorance–authors don’t know how to properly format a book. Most times it’s

intentional, trying to scam Amazon out of page reads. And hurts us. Kindle Unlimited Authors are paid out of a giant fund, and if those funds go to authors who haven’t earned the page reads, then they are stealing our royalties.

Another type of author scammer is the kind that uses click farms to get page reads. It was rumored that the writing duo/trio Alexa Riley used click farms for page reads to catapult them to the top of the charts. That was what I had heard in a romance group I’m in on Facebook. Upon looking up an article to link to this post, it seems they were banned from Amazon for bookstuffing, but it could be they were also using click farms for page reads.

Another author said they were plagiarizing and using ghostwriters to publish their books faster. Whatever is true, and whatever is not, Amazon took their books down for violating terms of service and/or using their account illegally.

David Gaughran likes to keep track of these “black hat” authors as he calls them, but he doesn’t publicly denounce them. Lots of us want to know who they are so we can avoid them, not work with them, etc. But as he states, there does come a risk when pointing fingers and sometimes it’s best just not to say anything at all.

The point I’m trying to make is that scammers can be on both sides of publishing. Yes there are people who offer services and charge exorbitant prices for those services, when they do not have the skills required to offer any type of services at all. And then there are the authors who think they can make a quick buck or two scamming Amazon and Kindle Unlimited, and therefore, their fellow authors.

It’s too bad that an industry can be so riddled with people who would do anything to make a bit of cash. (And sometimes it’s a lot more than a bit. A top selling book on Amazon has the potential to make thousands of dollars a month.)

The one thing you can remember is that authors like Chance Carter and Alexa Riley, even Faleena Hopkins, do end up getting theirs. I’ve heard that Chance has tried to come back under different pen names such as Abby Weeks, and Amazon has blocked those as well. Alexa Riley may end up coming back too. She could already be out there writing books under a different pen name. It’s difficult keeping track of these authors when you are trying to build your own business.

Scams will continue to pop up as the article suggests. They aren’t going to go away.

As an author who requires services, be careful who you hire.

If you’re an author who needs to supplement their income by offering services, make sure you know what you’re doing and that you’re earning your fees ethically.

And for the love of God, don’t try to earn a quick buck with your books. Even a simple question like “Can I publish a book in KU but put a different version wide?” will put you into scammer territory. (This is a real question I’ve seen posted to try to take advantage of being in KU but also being able to sell her books wide. The answer is no.)

I fell down the rabbit hole looking up what Chance Carter, Faleena Hopkins, Alexa Riley, Cassandra Dee and others have done. There’s not much recent, a lot of it comes between 2015-2019, but it’s interesting reading all the same. I’ll add some links below if you, too, don’t have anything else to do today besides read what kinds of things authors will do to make it to the top of the charts.

It’s fun, y’all. 

This isn’t going away. Keep your eyes open, and your white hat on.

Want to read more about Chance, Alexa, Faleena, Madison Faye? Here are some links I skimmed to write this post:

#BOOKSTUFFING AND WHY IT MATTERS

Kindle Unlimited – A Cheater Magnet

An interesting Twitter thread from two years ago:
https://twitter.com/CAlmeidaAuthor/status/1002942665019846656

More by David Gaughran: https://davidgaughran.com/2018/06/10/cassandra-dee-mosaic-book-stuffing/

Reactions to the Amazon Clickfarming Scandal

BAD ROMANCE To cash in on Kindle Unlimited, a cabal of authors gamed Amazon’s algorithm


We have one or two more blog posts to finish up this series. Next up, a prediction that ebooks will continue to be grow and be the top way indies make their money.

See you there!

Is your book worth the blood, sweat, and tears, or is it time to move on?

We all want to feel like our books are worth reading. It’s why we write them, it’s why we publish them. It’s why we spend money on them with book covers, editing, and ad spend.

We want people to love our books.

But there comes a point in an author’s career when you look back and think that maybe that book isn’t worth any more time or money. It didn’t quite hit the mark with story/trope/character, or the cover is never going to be quite right, or you’ve changed the blurb so many times you wanna puke. No matter what you do to it, no matter how many ads you run, you just can’t get it to move.

And that happens. Even in the traditional publishing space. A publishing house throws hundreds of thousands of dollars at an author in form of an advance, and the house scrambles to push that book and make it a bestseller. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. An author who doesn’t earn out is screwed, but we can shake it off and go write something else.

I’ve complained about my books before, but I don’t sit and bitch and then do nothing. I’ve redone blurbs, I’ve redone covers. Heck, I’m using the #stayathome order to re-edit most of my books. I’ve found small inconsistencies and typos, even some small formatting issues. In some of my earlier works I’ve smoothed out telling, a lot of passive voice. They’ll be better. But better enough to start earning me money?

Probably not.

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about Bryan Cohen’s Amazon Ads Challenge. In this challenge we learned how to bid, what our daily spend should/could be, where to find keywords. This challenge was great because he even taught us how to do some very simple ad copy, and this was so helpful. I hope whoever read that post took the challenge. It was worth the time, and it was FREE. Can’t get any better than that.

I did the challenge, and I’ll share my numbers with you in a minute. I chose All of Nothing, my strongest book, the book that I’ve sold the most of, and it did great. But I still came out on a loss. I ran a few ads to other books too, and I’ll give you my results on those, but for now, let’s take a look at All of Nothing.

At first I started the challenge with His Frozen Heart. First in series, it’s a no-brainer. I have book two out, book three is about to drop at the end of the month. Book four at the end of May. But in the middle of the challenge I changed tactics because something Bryan said resonated with me. He said, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Choose the book that sells the best.” You could have twenty books in your backlist and one is always going to sell better than the rest. Some books are just going to carry the others, and that’s the way it is. Especially if you sub-genre hop like I do.

Anyway, All of Nothing has outsold my other books by an extreme margin, and all I can think of is that it hits closer to home in terms of what’s selling right now in the romance genre (a little more grittier, a little more raw). That doesn’t mean I’m making money, but I’m selling books.

So, I changed gears and used Publisher Rocket for keywords for All of Nothing. (Folks, if you run Amazon ads and not using this magnificent piece of software, go get it right now. I’ve had it for a while, but never used it because I was using Bryan’s free way of gathering keywords. Free is fine, but in this instance, you get what you pay for.) About a year or so ago I changed the cover, six months later I redid the blurb. Those changes paid off, and now there’s nothing more that I can do to it to make it sell.

In the month of April I’ve spent $135.22 in ads and I’ve made $103.93.  I’m in the hole $32.00.

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My rank fluctuates between 15,000 and 12,000 in the Kindle Store. 12,xxx is the lowest (highest) ranking I have ever achieved. (Sorry, no screenshots. I check rank just to see if my ads are working.) But I am still in the hole. According to Bryan, I may not be in the hole forever–people borrow books and that makes your ranking go up, but don’t sit down to read right away and you don’t earn KU page revenue until they do. So while I lost money, maybe I really didn’t. There’s no way to really know. I can’t operate in the red to that extent, and I stopped my ads. Maybe the KU page reads will catch up to my ad spend and one day I’ll break even. Maybe not. All you can do is wait.

Obviously my book has the capacity to sell. And there are a few things I can do: bid lower. Not run so many ads. (I had about twenty going.)

Is it worth it to run ads to All of Nothing? Maybe. But the problem is, if they like Enemies to Lovers, or Bully Romance, or Billionaire Romance (those are the categories I used to search for keywords) then they have nowhere else to go in my backlist. None of my other books are like that. So they buy that book and move on to a different author.

The Years Between Us e-reader coverI run ads to The Years Between Us, too, and that was the book I was thinking about when I decided to write this blog post. The Years Between Us is an older man/younger woman trope. The problem with that is the indie industry has made that book naughty. When a reader in KU picks my “My Best Friend’s Dad” and there’s half-naked people on the cover, they know what they’re going to get. Lots of forbidden, naughty sex. Maybe even the heroine giving away her virginity, or at the very least, finally having sex with a “man” who knows what he’s doing. My book has that too, but it’s not gritty. I’ve tried running ads to it, and I’ve reworked the blurb. (I’ve blogged about this book in the past, and I’ve lost a lot of money in ad spend [about $70] before I changed the blurb.) Changing the blurb worked a little bit, and the cover is next. I don’t think the cover is working, but I ran some ads to it during this challenge too.

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Definitely not the loss that All of Nothing suffered, but I didn’t run nearly as many ads to it this time around because I’ve been burned before and I killed them when All of Nothing started operating at a loss. The last thing I can do is change the cover. It’s the only cover in my collection that doesn’t have a couple on it. After that, I’m just going to have to move on and admit that the book missed the mark.

It’s tough when you’ve written a book and it doesn’t sell no matter what you do to it. And in KU, like a friend and I were talking about last night, a reader could get to page 20 and not go any further because the book wasn’t what they expected it to be. 100 readers could do that, and in KU speak, that’s 2000 pages read. So you have no idea, really, if a book is being read cover to cover, unless the reader happens to leave a review.

The book I started the challenge with, His Frozen Heart, isn’t doing so well, either. And the poor reviews right out of the gate probably didn’t help it.

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I have twenty ads going for this book, and it’s dead in the water. I used Publisher Rocket for this book too, but it’s a Holiday Romance, Small Town, and people are looking forward to spring. If I want to market it after all the books in the series release, I could do a Christmas in July promo, or really push it hard this October when the holiday books start coming out. I didn’t plan very well for the release of these books, but I wanted to wait until I had them all done and edited. I’m not counting this series out yet, but I have a feeling these four books aren’t going to make much of a splash.

The problem isn’t just with the books though, it’s with me and how I’m operating my business.

I don’t have a newsletter going, and I don’t have any place for my readers to go to talk about books. I’ve blogged about that before. You need a place for the readers of your books to meet up and chat. And chat with you. There are plenty of people who say that they don’t want to start a newsletter because they themselves don’t open them. But listen, you’re in this as a writer, not a reader. Readers who only read, who are not part of the writing community, they LIKE hearing from you. The love the giveaways that are exclusive to them. They like the short stories that are especially for them. There’s a reason the theory 1,000 true fans exists. Because it works. All you need is 1,000 true fans who will read buy anything and everything you write and you are on your way to a real career.

Sticking with a sub-genre would help exponentially. All Billionaires, or all Small Town. I write what I wanna write, and lots of indies will stand on that hill until they die. But in this business, “Build it and they will come” doesn’t always work. When I first started writing, I thought Contemporary Romance was a thing. It’s only a thing if you’re trad-pubbed and already have an audience 20 years in the making.

You have wiggle room with plots, sure, even if you stick with a sub-genre. Maybe had I written The Years Between Us as also Small Town, that would have helped. But it’s placed in the city and Matthew is not a Billionaire, either. I could make him one, but he doesn’t live that lifestyle in the book, so it would mostly be a lie in the blurb the story couldn’t uphold. I don’t want to do that to my readers. Damn you Christian Grey and the expectations you created!

What will I do from here? I have a first person trilogy I need to work on after I’m done editing my backlist. I’m switching gears that way, and maybe that will help. I have no problem writing Billionaires, and my first person is more on target with what’s selling at the moment, but that might not always be true, either. I need to be smart, and I’ll create a newsletter to go along with that pen name.

It’s really tough, putting time and creative energy into a book only to find it’s not going to resonate with readers. We all want our babies to be loved. But at the end of the day, sometimes you have to realize the book missed the mark and move on. There are a ton of stories out there to write.

What do you think? Do you have a book you’re ready to give up on? Let me know!


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Free for Commercial Use*

I had an interesting exchange with someone in one of my Facebook writing groups this morning.

She was asking about a website where she could make graphics for her book for Instagram. We like the pretty graphics. I like making them though I don’t post them anywhere very often.

Anyway, she didn’t like using Canva because the learning curve was too steep. She asked for other suggestions, and she always had an excuse why she didn’t want to try other design programs. I told her to try BookBrush, since I’ve heard good things about that, but I told her, she needs to make sure the photos she’s using are for commercial use. I read a discussion about BookBrush in one of my design groups on Facebook and they said BookBrush’s terms of service won’t cover you if you use a photo that’s not available for commercial use. Canva probably won’t either–not everyone using the software is going to be trying to sell books. Some people do use the photos and fonts for personal use, such as wedding invitations, and you just have to be careful. We’re part of the writing community, so naturally we think everyone is using everything for book marketing.

This aggravated her, and she said that she just wanted to make some graphics for Instagram. Simple. Easy-peasy.

If you’ve been in the game for any amount of time, we know that it’s never that easy. It’s intimidating and scary because using something that you don’t have the right to use can be very very costly. I wasn’t telling her to be careful to give her a hard time; I only wanted warn her that using a stock photo for book marketing is considered using it for commercial use.

She said she’d hire someone.

That’s fine, but in this day and age of scammers, hiring someone doesn’t always take care of the risk.

Finally I realized the problem: she didn’t want to learn a software. Canva is simple, but she didn’t want to bother. She turned down others’ suggestions and BookBrush, as well, because she simply didn’t want to take the time. That’s a whole different ballgame–I mean, how do you expect to get anywhere if you’re not willing to take the time to learn? When you’re an indie author, you’re suddenly a marketer, graphic designer, maybe a book formatter, and editor. It’s a lot to take in, and if you’re in it for the long haul, some of those things are unavoidable.

But anyway, what can you do to safeguard your business?

  1. Make sure the photos are for commercial use. 
    This doesn’t mean you can’t use photos from Pixabay or Pexels or Unsplash. Check the photographer’s guidelines and attribution requirements. I use photos from Pixabay, but never anything with people in them. The free sites don’t secure model releases.
    More often than not though, I buy my photos from Deposit Photos. Right now you can buy 100 for 39 dollars going through AppSumo. They don’t expire, and you know you’re safe using a photo from there. Click here for the deal. If you don’t have a Deposit Photo account, you’ll need to create one to redeem the deal. (The link is David Gaughran’s affiliate link. I used that because he was the one who posted it on Facebook where I first found out about it. If you don’t want to use it, Google for the deal and find a separate link for the promo.) I’ve redeemed a couple of these AppSumo deals and now I have 300 downloads that will never expire.
  2. This goes for fonts, too.
    It doesn’t matter if you Google free for commercial use fonts, or if a font is free for downloading. You still have to do your due diligence and make sure the fonts you use, especially on your book covers, are available for commercial use. There are a lot of free for commercial use sites out there, but artists who want their fonts to be used for personal use only also list their fonts on these sites. InkyDeals and Dealjumbo have font bundles that are inexpensive and you can use the fonts for more than one project (although always make sure of the extended license before buying). Bookmark these sites because they give you lots of good deals around the holidays, too.
  3. Be careful if you hire someone on Fiverr. 
    If you hire someone on Fiverr, make sure you know where they purchased the photos and fonts. It never hurts have the licenses for your records so if you are ever approached you can defend yourself. I’ve heard lots of stories about artists stealing art or using photos that aren’t available for commercial use. When you hire someone, you are taking the responsibility that they are on the up-and-up. After all, it’s your name on the book, not theirs.
  4. This goes for hiring anyone, anywhere.
    So many premade book cover websites offer a free photo with font slapped on there for the title and author name. Anyone can start a “business” doing that, and even if they have some skill with Photoshop, that doesn’t mean they have a legitimate business. Always cover your butt and make sure you know where the photos, elements, and fonts came from.
  5. Offer attribution even if the photographer or artist says it’s not necessary. 
    I always put the photographer’s id and photo id in the copyright page of all my

    Screen Shot 2020-04-20 at 12.02.59 PM

    It’s easy to offer attribution in your front matter. It’s professional, and not to mention, kind. 

    books. I credit Deposit Photo as the source, and credit Canva as the website where I made the cover in the first place. It’s the polite thing to do. In the acknowledgments always credit anyone else who has helped you. I listened to a podcast by the SPA Girls and they interviewed Rebekah Haskell, and she said it was common for authors not to offer attribution to their cover designer because they wanted to keep the designer for themselves so they didn’t get too busy. That sucks, and it’s selfish. This is a professional business. Act professionally. (If you want to listen to the podcast, Rebekah offers good info about book cover design click here.) Do you see what I did there? Offer attribution.

In the end, it’s not hard to safeguard your business. It might take a little money (buying stock photos isn’t always cheap and I think that’s why free photos offer such an allure) but I would rather spend for a pack of stock photos on Deposit Photo, or buy credits on CanStock Photo and cover my butt instead of having trouble down the road because I used something that wasn’t available for commercial use.

I don’t know what the woman I was speaking with today will do. I feel bad that it seemed like I was telling her information that scared her, but not knowing what you don’t know can be dangerous in this business. We all make mistakes, and there’s a chance that nothing will come out of it if you happen to use a free photo with a person on it that doesn’t have a model release, but why take the chance? Pixabay won’t cover you if a photographer goes after you for damages. Especially, if by chance, your book does really well.

I recommend Facebook groups like the Indie Cover Project and Book Cover Design Marketplace. The admins and moderators don’t let fishy people post, and they seem to know what’s/who’s legit and what/who is not.

Canva and BookBrush are only machines–if you use them without knowing, you, the operator, will definitely be held accountable.

Take care, and stay safe!


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Free, interactive way to learn Amazon Ads hosted by Bryan Cohen

I use this blog to pass along the information about writing and especially publishing I’ve heard about, information I’ve learned from, especially the free stuff since I know how difficult it is to scrape up cash for every little thing that seems to come up when you want to write and publish a book.

In Written Word Media’s predictions for 2020, one stood out among all the others–this is a pay to play industry, and there is no getting around it. (I did a blog post about that prediction, and you can read it here.) You need to learn an ad platform to make your books visible in a vast sea of other books.

Use Amazon Ads to make your book stand out!

If you think you don’t need to learn, if you think that publishing a book and telling your Twitter followers will be enough, it won’t be. Not for the kind of sales you’re hoping for. It’s tough breaking out of the friend and family bubble, but if you want strangers, ie, READERS to find your book, you’re going to need to pay to shove it in front of them. It’s that simple.

And that scary.

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Photo taken from the FB group. To ask to join the group, click here.

Bryan Cohen is a leading figure in the indie industry (he weighed in on some predictions in the Written Word Media 2020 predictions article). He runs a blurb-writing business, has written HOW TO WRITE A SIZZLING SYNOPSIS, is co-host of The Sell More Books Show podcast, is founder of Selling for Authors, and runs an Amazon Ad School. He knows how to sell books, not just ours, but his own. If you want to see his backlist, look at his Amazon author page. I met him at the Sell More Books Show summit last year in Chicago (no, I didn’t, I was too shy to introduce myself, but he seemed to be a very nice guy, and it was my fault we didn’t chat, not his) and I participated in a different ads challenge last year. It was participating in that challenge that taught me:

  • the importance of using correct keywords
  • where to find them
  • how to navigate the Amazon ads platform
  • how to bid for clicks, and how to keep them low
  • how to set a manageable daily budget
  • how to correctly identify if your ad is a money suck or if you have any ROI (in other words, are you getting sales or KU page reads?)

    and most importantly,

  • you don’t have to spend a lot of money to see results

That was one of the main concerns that people brought up the ad challenge I participated in, and a subsequent challenge I had to drop out of because I was too busy putting my series together to give it any real attention. I was part of the Facebook group, and I did pop in and encourage other authors, and unfortunately, it was a worry for many using the ad platform.

Ads are scary, and yes, you do need a little bit of cash to experiment with. But you remain in control of the ads the whole time. You can pause an ad without penalty. If you’re getting tons of clicks and your ad spend is a little too high for your liking, you can kill an ad, and that’s that.

Bryan has a new ad challenge that will be starting April 13th. While Covid-19 is heavy on people’s minds, a lot of us are staying at home, and this might be a great time for some of you to take an hour from your day for a week and learn something that could help you for months, maybe even years, to come.

The ad challenge is free (besides ad cost). He’ll walk you through how to find keywords, what to do with them, how to bid, how to set your daily budget. He shows you how to do all this for FREE, though he is transparent in that he wants you to sign up for his Amazon Ad School. Some of you may decide to do that after taking his challenge, some of you may join the challenge just for the free information. He gets it. But he also gives you enough information that you can run some low-cost ads and get comfortable with the platform without breaking the bank and without needing to pay for his ad school for additional information.

There is one caveat to the challenge, and it’s this: HE ASSUMES YOU’RE ADVERTISING A GOOD BOOK. He assumes that your cover is on point, that your blurb on your Amazon product page is hooky and well-written. He assumes your look-inside will grab a reader to want more and buy your book.

IF YOUR BOOK IS NOT UP TO PAR, DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME ON THE CHALLENGE.

People waste money on ads because their cover is on point, but their blurb sucks. Or they don’t get any clicks because their cover is too plain, doesn’t convey genre, etc. Impressions are free (which is great!), but if you end up with 200,000 impressions and no clicks, you’ll get discouraged.

The ad challenge won’t work if you don’t have a good product to sell.

That said, I’m writing this blog post specifically to ask you to join it, learn the platform, and get your books into the hands of readers. Break that Twitter and Facebook bubble, and reach out to people who read your genre. There are hundreds of thousands of readers out there and you need a way to reach them!

man in white dress shirt and black pants sitting on bench

Do you want him reading your book? Of course you do!                                                   Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Here is the link to sign up for his ad school: https://bryancohen.lpages.co/amazon-ad-profit-challenge-landing-april-2020/?affiliate=bestpageforward

One of the best things about the challenge is the community that it brings together on the Facebook page. We share our impressions, clicks, disappointment. We ask questions, and they’re answered either by Bryan himself, so someone else. It’s a wonderful community and I’ve met some amazing and helpful authors on there. Here is the link to the FB group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2230194167089012/ He’ll tell you about the group in the welcome video that’s available to you when you sign up.

You’re probably wondering why I’m pressing this so hard–Bryan is so generous, and I’m always impressed by what he’s willing to share for free. Trust me, what you learn in this ad challenge will get you started on the right path–he doesn’t leaving you hanging at all. Not like some webinars that are really just infomercials to try to get you to buy something. This isn’t like that.

I’ve had some small sales since learning how to do the ads. Admittedly, I don’t pay nearly enough attention to them, but this ad challenge will be different. My series is slowly dropping. Book one is out, and book two will be by the time the challenge starts. Book three will be available at the end of the April, and book four at the end of May. Shoving some money at the first in the series won’t hurt, not at all. I’ll share my numbers with you for the month of March:

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This makes it look like I’m losing money, but Sales doesn’t include KU page reads, and Bryan will go into that with us, so I’m not freaking out that my spend is more than my sales. But see, I have only spent not even $20.00 for the month of March, and I wanted to show you that to prove to you that ads don’t have to be expensive!

For the $19.13 I’ve spent so far this month, I’m running:

10 ads for All of Nothing

4 ads for His Frozen Heart

10 ads for The Years Between Us

0 for Wherever He Goes and the other books in my backlist

That’s not a crazy ad spend for 24 ads, and a lot of authors run more ads than that at any give time.

What I’ve made so far in sales and KU Page reads:

Screen Shot 2020-03-29 at 11.31.46 PM

So I’ve spent 20 dollars to make 20 dollars. That’s a little more than breaking even, but when you’re just starting out that’s better than losing. Since I’ve adjusted my blurb on The Years Between Us, I’ve started getting sales so don’t despair right away if you get impressions or clicks without sales. Things can be changed. They aren’t set in stone–take comfort in that. Plus you only have to run the number of ads you’re comfortable with. I dip my toes in, obviously. I don’t have time to do more than that.

Anyway, it’s late here, so I need to wrap up. I just really can’t say enough about Bryan and his challenge. He taught me so much, and I can’t wait to do the challenge again! I hope you join me!

Until next time!


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COVID-19 Check in, what’s been going on, and still trying to get things done.

This is a hard time for everyone, and I just wanted to check in with my readers and ask how everyone is doing. How many of you are working from home? How many of you are not working at all because your workplace has closed? How many of you are considered essential personnel and still need to go in? If you’re still working, please be safe, and thank you for doing all you can during these trying times.

when-you-find-out-your-nomal-daily-lifestyle-is-called-quarantine-memeI’m considered essential personnel (I type for the deaf and hard of hearing) so I still go in for my shifts at the call center. For right now, things haven’t changed too much in my life. My daughter is no longer in school, and her teachers are preparing to start online learning soon. Tomorrow she has to go to school and clean out her lockers and bring everything home. Though they haven’t announced it for her school, I don’t think she’ll be going back to finish out the school year.

My son had a wound check last week, and we were screened by gowned and masked nurses before being allowed into the clinic. They pushed back his next appointment to the middle of next month, but I have a feeling that that appointment, too, will be pushed back. He’s healing well, though, so I give thanks for that. It would be hard to worry about him and feel like we don’t have access to his doctor and nurses. I know they are limiting people going in and out, and I’m thankful we’re not in a position to need them on a regular basis. I pray for those who do still need to attend the doctor regularly.

I go to the grocery store only when necessary, and I went yesterday for milk and a few things for dinners. I won’t have to go back for a while now.

I still try to have some motivation to get things done regarding my books. The secondkeep motivated during qurantine book in my series will release on March 31st. I’m working on my first person trilogy. I sent book one to my friend Sarah, and she proofed it and found some mistakes. She was also a bit taken aback because this trilogy is going to be more of a serial than a series, and book one ends on a massive cliffhanger. She did have one observation, so I’m going to take a look at the ending and see what I can do in regards to that, but otherwise, I think she liked it.

It’s hard to focus during a time like this, but I have to remind myself that if I let this time go by, once it passes, I’ll feel terrible that I didn’t get anything done. I know lots of people are panicked now, and a lot of us are just trying to get through one day at a time. But if you can, try do a little something for your writing every day. If you have the time to write a little, you should try to put some words down. If you can’t focus on the words, there are other things you can do to forward your career.

  1. Keep blogging. If you choose topics that don’t depend on current events, you can write evergreen posts that will always be part of your platform. Lots of us are reading more, so post reviews, recommend books in the genre you write in, or if you’re writing to writers, dissect books and explain what you liked about them as a writer, what you learned as a writer reading them, and how you can apply what you learned to your next book.
  2. Look back at your 2020 goals and see what you can check off the list with some of your new free time. Did you say you wanted to start a newsletter? Revamp your website? Trust me, after all this is over, if all you did was binge Netflix because you couldn’t wrap your mind getting something done, you’ll regret it later.
  3. Learn an ad platform.posted quite a few free resources that can help you learn ad platforms, and now is a great time to dip your toes into experimenting  with something. There’s been a lot of talk of stopping ads during this time, and authors are reluctant to promo because it seems self-serving. There are a lot of books out there, and I don’t see the harm in running ads and helping people who are stuck at home find good reading material. I haven’t turned off my ads, but I’m not making all that much anyway. I’m still coming out ahead, making about .50 a day in sales after subtracting ad cost. But learning is just that, learning, and it takes practice to figure out what will work for you.
  4. Practice something else that you wanted to master. Lots of authors do their own covers just because it’s difficult to afford editing, formatting, and cover services. There are lots of tutorials out there that will help you learn GIMP and Photoshop, and Canva has free online resources that teach you how why things look pleasing to the eye. The best thing you can do is practice. Look up the top 100 on Amazon in your genre and practice copying the elements that make the cover look good. This is one of those things where you’re going to have to take time over the course of months and maybe even years because developing an eye is just something that takes time.
    This is an example of doing your own cover and graphic just as practice for when you need to do the real thing. I took a look at the top 100 Contemporary Women’s Fiction books on Amazon right now.
    I liked this one. It’s doing pretty well. Number four in sister’s fiction in the Kindle store at the time of this blog post.
    515+yEzlUHL
    So I decided to try my own hand at it, and I came up with this:
    the forgotten bride
    It’s not exactly the same. I don’t like the swirly things on the other one, but I did like the concept of the blurry woman. Here’s my take on it. Us indies are held to a slightly different set of standards, and it’s frowned upon to have a review on the cover of our books, so I skipped that part, too. But you get the idea. The image was purchased on depositphoto.com and the cover was made entirely with Canva. The Font is an italicized Playfair Display, and the font for the author’s name is Raleway. And I do practice what I preach. I try my hand at fake covers a lot.
  5. Do some busy work. Is there a book that needs to be reformatted? Were you going to refresh a cover and didn’t want to make the time? Rewrite a blurb? If you can put on some music and lose yourself in an activity, you’re not wasting time, and you’re doing something that can have rewards later on. Even if you just sit in your email and unsubscribe from some pesky emails that you never look at and always delete, that can be helpful, too.
  6. Work on craft. If you can’t sit down and work on your book, try a short story, flash fiction, poem, or something else.
  7. Get outside. Social distancing and living in quarantine doesn’t mean you can’t go outside. In Minnesota, the weather is warming up, the snow is melting. I spent a lovely day yesterday at Buffalo River State Park getting air, hiking around. Take the opportunity to get away from the news and plot out a new book or work out a plot hole that you can’t resolve. Sometimes unplugging can be a stress reliever and exercise will give you a hit of endorphins that can ease anxiety.

The fact is, we’re not sure when this will all be resolved. It could take months. I’m not planning to go to my book marketing summit in May. Even though they haven’t canceled it yet, it wouldn’t feel the same, and I think we’ll still be dealing with the aftermath of all that’s occurred. To be sure, it won’t have the same feeling as before the coronavirus outbreak, and it’s best to just stay home and look forward to a conference in 2021.

For right now I’m working on my trilogy and planning the second trilogy that will end the first. There will be six books in this series, and I hope to write these and be done with them by the end of the year. I wrote the first three very quickly but with summer coming, I do have plans, and may be a little slower with the second three.

Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.

I hope you all are doing as well as you can, and try to remember that even if you’re self-isolating, you’re not alone.

Until next time!

the forgotten bride graphic


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2020 Indie Publishing Predictions: Pay-to-Play and ad platform resources for indie authors

2020 indie publishing predictions

Thank you for staying with me through this blog series about Written Word Media’s predictions for 2020. I’m discussing these predictions as an Emerging Author who has less than 10 books published and making less than $60,000 a year (let’s be honest according to my 1099s I made less than $2000 in 2019).

In the last post we talked a little bit about author collaboration because there is power in numbers, though the group opportunities don’t mean much to me because I’m still building my own career in my own right. Just as I’m sure most readers of my blog are.

The next point WWM predicts is that running ads will become a requirement. This isn’t a prediction so much as it’s already a fact. You need to learn an ad platform and not be afraid to use it. Meaning, you can’t be afraid to spend a little money to make a little money.

Various people say that Amazon ads are the smartest way to go. You’re putting your ad in front of shoppers who’re already in the mood to buy books. I like Amazon ads, too, because you’re selling books to readers who do not have a KU subscription and your enticing readers to borrow your book if they do.

It shouldn’t need to be said that running successful ads means you’re advertising a quality product. Unfortunately you may waste a little money on clicks figuring this out. You may recall in a prior blog post of mine where I described losing some money in ads for The Years Between Us. My ad copy was good, my cover was good, but I was losing people at the blurb. The Years Between Us is an older man/younger woman novel, but it’s not naughty. I was marketing it as a older man/younger woman, when maybe my blurb should have emphasized the forbidden love aspect instead. At any rate, you may need to experiment. If your ad doesn’t get any clicks, but you are getting some impressions, maybe your ad copy isn’t hooky, or your cover looks too homemade or doesn’t reflect the genre clearly. In any case, the blurb cost me clicks. I should have turned my ads off a lot sooner than I did. I was optimistic and I paid the price.


Mark Coker has is own opinion on this prediction–it’s evident he hates that Amazon took this direction. He claims that being pay-to-play makes us compete against other authors. He also states that since Amazon took away the also-boughts at the bottom of the product pages and replaced those with sponsored ads, Amazon is pitting us against each other. (Amazon is always playing with their platform looking for ways to improve the customer experience. Just because they are gone today doesn’t mean they won’t be back tomorrow, or a variation of them.) My book, All of Nothing, does still have some also-boughts, and I’m happy to say that they seem to fit into the kind of book All of Nothing is.

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It’s true that when you search an author, their product pages can be peppered with ads. That’s business. It’s no different than driving down the main strip of the city and having your choice of Dairy Queen, Hardee’s, Burger King, McDonald’s, Sonic, Popeye’s, KFC, and a million other places. It’s up to their marketing team to make them stand out, just like it’s up to you to have a good cover, blurb, title, and look inside, so your potential reader isn’t lured away by a prettier cover and better ad copy.

The motto of the 20booksto50k group is a “A rising tide lifts all boats.” There’s no competition. Be the best you can be, put out the best quality product you can. If you write against the grain (the book of your heart), and/or can’t afford an editor and/or can’t find someone to trade with you, if you have to make your own cover, these are choices in situations you’re going to have to work with. Your book isn’t anyone else’s responsibility.

I don’t agree much with Mark Coker. We aren’t competing against each other. It helps to look at other authors as allies instead of competition. Make friends, not enemies, and stay in control of what you can–the quality of your own books.

I like Amazon ads. They don’t cost much money, and they are surprisingly easy to learn how to use. I haven’t ventured into the UK, or Germany territory. I advertise in the US store, and small sales I do have are because I run ads. But you may find better luck with Facebook or Bookbub ads. In my experience, they eat up money faster. We can blame, or try to blame, Amazon for a lot of things, but taking your money isn’t one of them. Except for when they do–but then that usually is due to operator error not the machine.

No matter where you advertise, you’ll need comp authors and their book titles. You need these because in Amazon’s case they’ll be your keywords, in Facebook’s case they will help you find an audience to target. That’s why it’s important to know what genre you’re writing in, and what books fit with yours. Always stay up-to-date with what’s happening in your genre. Keep an eye on authors who are doing well who write the same kinds of books you do.

Take time to learn how ads work. There are a lot of free resources out there. All they take is a little bit of time to listen to a podcast or to read a book a generous person (usually an indie author himself or herself) has taken time to write for the rest of us. Going in blind is silly and will cost you money. As a writer, you should be used to researching. This isn’t any different – you’re only researching wearing your businessperson’s hat and not your writer’s hat. I’ll list them at the bottom of the blog post.

When it comes to this prediction, the future is now. You won’t get far without some kind of paid advertising. You won’t have a launch, strong or otherwise, without ads, and they are especially important in keeping your book in front of readers if you’re going to take a while to release another. Jami Albright has said she wouldn’t make the money she does releasing one book a year without depending on ads.

They are a huge piece of the indie–publishing puzzle.


Resources

Amazon

Bryan Cohen hosts an Amazon ads challenge every once in a while. The next one is scheduled for April 2020. In this ad challenge, he teaches you the fundamentals of Amazon ads: where to find keywords, how much to bid, what to set your daily limit at. Ultimately, he wants you to buy his Amazon Ads course, but in the challenge, he’ll teach you beginning information for free and it’s enough to get you started. It runs for a week, then a week after that he closes down the information. If you miss participating, you have to wait until he does it again. Eventually he may stop doing the ad challenge and think of something else to advertise is Amazon Ad course.

Follow Bryan on Facebook. This is his Facebook group for his business, Selling for Authors. Join his group for lots of Amazon ad tips, blurb help, copywriting tips and more. This is where he’ll announce a new ads challenge. You can request to join the ads challenge group here. He may not approve your request until the ads challenge opens up again. He’s very generous with his time, and if you have a question, he’ll do his best to answer it. He posts a lot of info on Instagram, too. I would follow him there, as well.

Dave Chesson has made how-to-learn Amazon ad videos. You can access them for free and watch at your own pace. He teaches you the same as Bryan: how to find keywords, how much to bid, how much to set your daily limit. His way is a little different from Bryan’s methods. Though like Bryan, he wants to sell you something and Dave wants to sell you a Publisher Rocket, a software to analyze what the competition is doing, how much they’re making, how many books are selling. It’s also a keyword grabber, though both gentlemen kindly teach you how to find keywords for free. I have Publisher Rocket and it’s worth the money.

Reedsy also has a course that is delivered in chunks to your email. Taught by Ricardo Fayet, this course is free, and you can sign up for it here. 

Facebook

There is only one free way to learn Facebook ads, that I know of, that’s signing up for the email class by Reedsy. Otherwise, you need buy a book explaining how to do them, or take a paid class. I recommend you do something before diving in because Facebook loves to take your money, and if you don’t have the proper audience targeted, or your ad isn’t put together correctly (bad graphics, bad ad copy) you’ll be broke and your ads won’t attract any engagement, never mind convert to sales. Mal Cooper is the powerhouse here, and she has an updated Facebook ads book available (you can even download the ebook version for free though I would encourage you to throw her some coin for being so great!), and she was just interviewed about Facebook ads on the 6 Figure Authors podcast. You can watch it here.


Bookbub

41hhK-35Z0L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_As with Facebook ads, free ways to learn the platform are scarce. To be clear, Bookbub ads are not the same as being approved for a featured deal. Those are expensive and you have to submit and be approved. Bookbub ads are what they sound like — ads you make yourself using Canva or BookBrush that are placed at the bottom of their newsletters they send out to their subscribers. The only authority I know of is David Gaughran. He wrote a book about them, and you can find it here. In partnership with Reedsy, he also did a course that is delivered in segments for free to your email address. You can sign up here.

He’s very generous with his time, and he includes links in the book to a forum where you can ask questions. He’ll answer or someone else will help out. The book is a year old, so if you have a question and you search the forum you might find your answer without having to ask. But Bookbub is good for discounted books only. That’s the basis of their whole platform and they’ve trained their readers to look to them for deals. Don’t advertise a full-priced book there. You’ll get plenty of clicks and no sales.

The pros say to choose one platform and get really good at it.

Good luck!

PS: Since I love throwing podcasts at you, this is one by Joanna Penn with Russell Blake and Michael Beverly. Michael founded Adwerks, a business that runs Amazon ads for indie authors who don’t have the time to manage them on their own. They are a wealth of information on how the Amazon ads work, and they give you a peek into the mysterious Amazon Algorithms. I highly recommend it!


The next prediction that Written Word Media talks about is the Big Five putting books into KU. See you there!


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