Starting At Zero

Hello, and welcome to August! I hope you are staying safe, healthy, and sane. A lot of things are up in the air right now, but I did want to talk about one thing that’s been on my mind. I joined a Facebook Group for Amazon ads. Most of the members are holdovers from the Ad Profit Challenge that Bryan Cohen hosted last month. But I did notice a common theme.

Lots of us are starting at zero.

We all start at zero. Even Steven King started at zero, submitting stories through snail mail, hoping a magazine would publish his work. It’s a little hard to believe that huge writers like King and Nora Roberts, Neil Gaiman, and others started at a typewriter or computer, stared at a blank page, and started writing their books for no one but themselves.

These days starting at zero doesn’t seem so daunting. There are writing groups, publishing groups, publishing conferences, virtual conferences, Zoom rooms, Facebook rooms, and more. Writers have a million places to share links and drive traffic to their book, blog, or social media sites. But even if you have a hundred people starting from zero around you, you’re still in it yourself, and when you feel like you can’t make any traction, that journey seems very lonely.

What’s even worse is starting from zero means you’re probably making mistakes that you don’t know you’re making. Mistakes that could effect you and your business for years to come. Some things can be fixed like a bad cover, some might take longer, like re-editing a poorly written book. One of my biggest is no newsletter.

But there is a ton of information at your disposal, and David Gaughran has helped with that. In his new course, Staring From Zero, he talks you through what you need to do to get your book published, and published well so it sells. The course is free, and I’m half-way through it. It’s a great resource, even for those who have been around for a little while. Things change, and David provides information that’s relevant as of July 2020. I would sign up and watch the videos. He gives you two free ebooks also, and all you need is a little time to make your books better. He doesn’t even try to sell you anything!

I’m enjoying the course so far, and because of Bryan’s Amazon Ads Profit Challenge, I’ve done some of David’s suggestions already for some of my books. What I need to do is take a couple hours and do all the things so I can give my books the best chance of selling as I can.

If only selling your book were as easy as writing it!

Click on the photo for the website to get started! Tell me what you think

Photo taken from David’s Facebook Page

Adding categories to your book

In Monday’s blog post I talked about relevancy and mentioned that the categories you put your book into when you publish should closely fit what’s inside your book as possible.

There are a lot of questions about categories, such as, is there a list to choose from and where do we find it?

Amazon hasn’t provided us a list of categories they offer their authors, but they do let you add categories to your book–up to ten. All you have to do is ask.

But how do we do that?

The first thing we need to do is find a book that is most like ours on Amazon. This can be a traditionally published book, or choose an indie who has been publishing for a while who knows what’s going on. Meaning, they have probably already done this process, and we’re just going to borrow their categories.

To show you, I’m going to do The Years Between Us. The categories that the book is in right now is what I chose when I published:

You can choose two, and I think I did choose Coming of Age Fiction and, well, let me look. It’s easy enough to remind yourself if you go into your Bookshelf on KDP and look at the ebook details.

Unfortunately, it made me save changes and republish, so if you plan on going in and doing any promotions or anything, don’t check on your categories until you’ve done what you need to do because while KDP publishes your “changes” they lock you out. Anyway, so you can see that Amazon stayed true to what I set when I first published, but those categories are not a complete representation of what that book is. The Years Between Us is an older man/younger woman novel, and I’m not sure if that’s actually a category, so we need to snoop around. I don’t think it is, but I do know that I can do better than the categories that book is in.

I’ll go to Amazon and search in the Kindle Store, Older Man/Younger Woman and see what comes up. It can be a naughty sub-genre, and mine isn’t dirty like that. So finding a comp book might take a little bit of time. We might need to click through a few books to find a close match.

I’m going to go with this book for the sake of this blog post, but once you know how to check a book’s categories, you can check as many books as you like and search for as many categories as you think will fit your book.

The cover doesn’t look that naughty, and it’s obviously an older man/younger woman romance. I haven’t read it, and never heard of Suzie before, but let’s see what categories she used for her book:

I can’t choose Billionaire Romance because The Years Between Us doesn’t follow that sub-genre, but this isn’t the only way we can see what categories this book is listed under. If you go to www.bklnk.com, you can use this website to insert the ASIN number for any book and we’ll hopefully see if there are more categories this book is in.

Click on Catfinder and enter the ASIN in the field provided.

After you click, Go Find! you’ll be presented with a list of categories that book is in on Amazon.

It doesn’t look like there are going to be any discoveries here, except I do see that it’s listed in Romantic Comedy. She may have asked for that category to be added. That’s not something I can use for my book because my book is all about drama and secrets.

Let’s try another book. After some hunting, I found Reckless Suit: A Hero Club Novel, by Alexia Chase.

You’ll remember The Years Between Us wasn’t even listed in contemporary romance, so that’s a category we can add right away. But looking at the categories for this book gives me a couple of ideas. City Life could be one, because the book does take place in a huge (albeit made up city), and I could add Women’s Romance Fiction. So there are three I could add. Contemporary Romance, City Life, and Women’s Romance.

If your book has a lot to do with families, you could probably add Family Life Fiction, but that might be more aimed at a women’s fiction book dealing with family issues. I would prefer to aim my book at readers who want more romance in their plots.

So now that we have the categories we want, how do we as Amazon to add those categories?

  1. Go to your KDP Dashboard and click on HELP in the top right menu next to Sign Out.
  2. Scroll to the bottom and click on Contact Us. That will be a yellow button on the bottom left of the page.
  3. Click on Amazon Product page and Expanded Distribution.

Then click on Update Amazon Categories.

There it will even give you a template you can fill out, and from here all you have to do is give them your book’s ISBN and ASIN numbers and the exact categories you borrowed from the books like yours.

Here is my list for The Years Between Us that I found from searching Amazon for books similar to mine, and using www.bklnk.com for the string of categories that Amazon requires you to include:

  1. Kindle Store » Kindle eBooks » Literature & Fiction » Contemporary Fiction » Contemporary Romance Fiction
  2. Kindle Store » Kindle eBooks » Literature & Fiction » Genre Fiction » City Life Fiction
  3. Kindle Store » Kindle eBooks » Literature & Fiction » Women’s Fiction » Women’s Romance Fiction
  4. Books » Books » Literature & Fiction » Genre Literature & Fiction » City Life Fiction
  5. Books » Books » Romance » Contemporary Romance

This is the exact text in the message I sent to Amazon through my KDP account:

Please add these categories to The Years Between Us in the .com store.

The ASIN number is: B07Q4143R1
and the ISBN number is: 978-0999677568

Categories to be added (list each category as a separate line item for all applicable titles)

  1. Kindle Store » Kindle eBooks » Literature & Fiction » Contemporary Fiction » Contemporary Romance Fiction
  2. Kindle Store » Kindle eBooks » Literature & Fiction » Genre Fiction » City Life Fiction
  3. Kindle Store » Kindle eBooks » Literature & Fiction » Women’s Fiction » Women’s Romance Fiction
  4. Books » Books » Literature & Fiction » Genre Literature & Fiction » City Life Fiction
  5. Books » Books » Romance » Contemporary Romance

Thank you for adding these to my book! Your time is very much appreciated! Stay safe and healthy. 🙂


I’m always polite, and I’ve never had a problem asking them to do something. It takes about a day to get a response, and if you give them the entire string in the categories you need added, they shouldn’t have a problem fulfilling your request. Unfortunately if you want to add your book’s categories to the other stores like Canada (.ca) or the UK (.co.uk) then you have to send separate messages. (This is per Bryan Cohen and what he teaches in his ads course. I have never added categories in the other stores.)

As with the relevancy post on Monday, you want to make sure you choose the most relevant categories for your book. The correct categories will only help Amazon sell your book by putting it in front of readers who most likely to want to read it.

I always give credit where credit is due, and I learned this tip doing the Amazon Ads Profit Challenge with Bryan Cohen. He’s going to leave the video up for a little bit, so if you want to watch him in action choosing categories for his book, you can check it out here. https://www.bestpageforward.net/july-2020-challenge-prep-work/ The talk about Categories starts about 25 minutes in, but the whole video is very useful! 🙂


Amazon got back to me before I published this post, and they added my categories without an issue:

Let me know if you’re going to add some categories, and what your thoughts are with adding the correct ones. I hope you found this useful! Until next time!


What do you NEED to be a writer/author? Pick and choose at your own peril.

So if any of you follow Mark Dawson or you’re concerned about marketing strategies, or you were thinking about taking an ads course, or if you’re in any writing groups at all on Facebook, you know that Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors course closed last week. Whenever Mark opens up his course, I have a huge case of the nerves. Why? Because everyone raves about this course. How helpful it is. How it’s a lifetime pass to ads and all your questions and all of the answers until you die. You can’t be an author and learn how to sell your books without it. After hearing it’s God’s gift to sales, you’ll run out and sign up, right? Well, the next time it opens is in the winter, and you’ll need that time to save up the fee, because you know why I haven’t signed up? It’s $849.00. You read that correctly. It’s almost a $1,000. And if you take the cheapest payment plan, it does cost over $1,000 dollars payable over two years’ time.

You know how indies say, “I can’t afford a cover, or a professional edit, etc, etc, etc, because I’ll never earn my money back?” Yeah. That. How many books would I have to sell to earn back $849? That’s the whole point of the ads course, right? To learn how to make that kind of money? Sure.

So how about this one? In Mark’s SPF University, there’s a course on how to write a bestseller by Suzy K. Quinn. People have raved over this, and I’m always wanting to work on the craft part of being an author. Some would say working on craft is the most important part of being a writer because it always starts with a good book. But her class is a whopping $297.00. People say they learn so much from that class. But hey, that’s two car payments for me. Or half a month’s rent.

And I’m not picking on Mark Dawson. John Truby also has a writing class. He gave a intro talk about it at the 20booksto50k conference in November last year. And you can watch it here.

His course is $397.00. You can check it out here if you’re interested.

My favorite Amazon Ads School guy, Bryan Cohen, runs an Ads Course, too, and his costs $397.00. During his ads challenges (the next one is in July) he’ll throw in some blurb writing or something a little extra to entice you to sign up. And that’s great. A lot of these indies who are offering courses try to throw in a little something for nothing. But where does it stop?

Adam Croft, under his Indie Author Mindset brand offers courses under $50.00. You can check them out here. I love his Facebook group, and I encourage you to check that out, and his podcast, too. Andrea Pearson, one-third of the Six Figure Authors podcast and Facebook group offers classes too, also in bite-sized fees, and if you listen to the podcast she just recently gave out a code for a percentage off. Her classes range anywhere from $5.00 to $50.00. Jane Friedman offers classes, as well. I’ve taken a couple and they are usually about $25.00. You can look on her blog to keep up-to-date on the courses she offers.

And that’s just classes. We haven’t talked tools yet.

Bookbrush. A platinum yearly fee with them is $250.00. Canva. A yearly membership with them is $120.00 a year. But if you compare the two, you get quite a lot more with Bookbrush, as you should since it’s double the cost. There there’s Vellum, and if you don’t have a Mac you have to run it through Macincloud, and if you do want a Mac, well, everyone knows how much they cost.

Then there’s ProWritingAid (lifetime is $224.00), the Hemingway App ($19.99 one-time fee), Grammarly (the premium is $139.95 a year).

Scrivener ($49.00).

Publisher Rocket ($97.00).

Let’s do promotions: A Freebooksy with Written Word Media is all over the map, with the popular genres around $100.00. E-reader News Today is between $50.00 to $140.00 depending on the price of your book. Book Barbarian runs about $50.00. Fussy Librarian is isn’t terrible, but you still have to sell books to make a profit.

Never mind paying for clicks on Amazon Advertising, and the same goes for running Facebook ads and Bookbub ads. (Don’t bother with running ads on a platform you don’t understand. You might as well give me your money. I’ll use it to buy promos.)

Can we add newsletter providers too?

Oh, I forgot about website hosting and a domain name. Maybe a business upgrade on WordPress.

A yearly subscription to Microsoft Office 365.

Forgot coffee. And booze. Are you even a writer if you’re not drinking something like a fish?

Let’s just say that indies have a lot of resources and not all of them cheap, ah, budget-friendly.

How much does it cost to be a writer? Well, nothing. I mean, literally 0 dollars. It takes no money to be a writer. Maybe two dollars. Grab a pen and notebook from the dollar store. Or scrounge your kids’ school supplies for things they didn’t use after everything moved to online learning because of COVID-19.

There’s a joke in the running world that running is the most expensive free sport there is. Shoes, race fees, GPS watches, the rest of the gear. The list is almost as long as what a writer needs to be an author. Being an author is the most expensive free thing you can do right? Tell that to my $150.00/pair Brooks running shoes so I don’t get tendonitis in my ankles.

But how much money does it really take to invest in your business?

The problem is, not anyone is going to know but you.

I had a friend step back from writing. She’s focusing on her family. That’s great; she has to do what’s best for her. And while she’s never said she won’t come back into the writing/indie space, what she did invest in will just sit while she decides what she wants to do. She bought a Mac, she purchased Vellum. She bought a yearly subscription to Canva Pro. Granted, that can run out, but I don’t know how much of her paid year will go to waste while she’s not using it. She purchased her domain name for a blog she took down. I gave her a free developmental edit of her book, so there’s something, but she paid for a cover for a book that will sink in the Amazon store because she won’t be promoting it (and by promoting it, I really mean writing the next book) while she takes a break.

So how much money should you spend? Start small. I pay for Word. I don’t use a writing software like Scrivner. But you don’t have to purchase Word, either, though the .docx is compatible with Vellum and other conversion websites as well as KDP. There are free options like Open Office or Google Docs.

There are some things indie professionals say you can’t skimp on like a professional edit, or a decent book cover. And that’s true. You don’t have anything if you don’t have a good book. That’s why there’re craft classes out there. But you don’t have to pay $300.00 for a class. There are a ton of craft books, and all you need is to invest some time into reading them. In fact, there are a lot of free resources on YouTube if you learn better listening to a speaker. Brian Sanderson has a set of lectures on Youtube people say are really good, and you can get started here. And over the years John Truby has spoken about craft and you can watch those YouTube videos for free. I’ve shared several talks I’ve enjoyed from the 20booksto50k conference in Vegas last year. The group puts those on YouTube for free too. Chris Fox’s channel is valuable, as is David Gaughran’s new channel.

I suggest narrowing down what you need at the moment you need it. If you only have one book out, probably you don’t need an $800.00 ads course. If you only have one book chances are working on craft would suit where you are in your career a lot better than learning an ad platform or any kind of marketing strategy.

I have fear of missing out, and a lot of writers I know do too. It’s tough not to want the newest brightest thing. Especially when all your groups on Facebook are raving about it. I can’t afford Mark Dawson’s class, and if you can’t either, there’s no point in feeling bad about it. It is what it is. I’ve learned a lot taking Bryan Cohen’s free ad challenges, and he doesn’t push you to pay for his class. I break even with my ads, and that’s okay. I’m not losing money and I’m picking up new readers. At this stage in my career, that’s a win for me.

Having all the tools and technology won’t make you a writer and I have a feeling that was what my friend was aiming for. She was collecting the tools of the trade, but in two years wrote only 60,000 words. For some indies, that’s a word total per month.

Think about what your goals are, what you want out of your career and when you want them. My fiancé bought me a Mac and purchased Vellum for me. I format a lot of books, and pay my fiancé’s kindness forward and will format free for others. Like I said, I pay for Word. It’s my main (umm, only) writing software and I use it every day. I pay for Canva. I bought Publisher Rocket because I do experiment with ads (and right now those small ads are my main source of sales). I’m ashamed to say I threw $40.00 at something I don’t even know what it is or how it will help me. All I know is she said it was her final offer because she wasn’t going to sell it anymore, and I swallowed it hook, line, and, sinker. Some kind of author toolbox website that I probably will never be able to find because I was too busy throwing money at her to pay attention to what I was buying.

It happens, and probably more frequently than we want to admit. The panic sucks. The fear of missing out on something that will make us a bestseller. And we especially panic when we think everyone else but us has the magic bullet.

A good rule of thumb is to exhaust all the free possibilities before going to paid. Newsetter providers have tutorials. So do lots of people on YouTube wanting to help you. Podcasts have been a great way to learn things, and I like to multi-task. Listen while you’re doing chores, or running errands, or taking a walk. I use my phone to take notes if they mention something of interest I don’t want to forget.

No matter how you learn what you learn, probably the one thing you’re going to need to invest is time, and in a lot of cases, that time is better spent writing.

How much does it cost be a writer? Nothing.

Okay. Two dollars.

Tell me what you think!


Happy Thursday! Author musings, and holy cow, why is it so hot outside?

Minnesota has been going through a heatwave, and I’ve never been more glad than when I emailed our property management last week and had them look at our air conditioner. The maintenance man cleaned it out and now we hold steady at about 71F in our apartment. I don’t mind the heat, and I’ll go walk in it or run errands without bitching, but only if I can find some relief when I’m tired of baking my brains out. Trying to sleep when your bedroom is 85F is tough. And trying to write without any sleep is tougher yet. Am I right? First world problems at their finest, I suppose.

Health Issues.

I had a scare last week when a new brand of coffee made me sick to my stomach, and I mean, SICK. I drink a lot of coffee, and for a handful of days I felt so terrible I thought I had stomach cancer. Luckily I put two and two together and after I switched back to an old brand, I felt a lot better. I’ve also started wearing my splints again. I wear my elbow compression sleeves off and on to keep the nerves in my elbows in check, but I forgot about my wrist splints, and wearing those again have helped my pain, too. For a little bit, between my back pain and my stomach issues, I was feeling pretty miserable. But I’m back up to 98%, and as a friend said, after you hit 40, 98% is about as well as you can hope for. I know I’ll always have carpal tunnel issues, and like anyone else with a chronic health problem, it’s easy to get lost in a mini pity-party. But I took a walk yesterday and a cyclist zoomed past me on the trail. This guy had a prosthetic arm that attached at his shoulder, and it shut me up real quick. I’m sure he’d trade a bit of carpal tunnel pain to have his body whole, and it’s always a gentle reminder to be thankful for what you have.

Back to the writing part of it.

In writing news, I finished the second read-through of the last book in my first person trilogy. I’m so happy with this trilogy, and the writing went very smoothly. Now I’m worried about how the second trilogy is going to go, but I want to start writing the first book soon. While I write, I’m going to go ahead and format the first three (and hahahaha, do their covers) and order the proofs. There’s no rush to get these done. While I was going to do a pen name for these books, I’ve decided that yes, I won’t publish under Vania Rheault, but I don’t want to distance myself using a whole different name like I was thinking about. So I’ll publish these under VM Rheault. It won’t be a secret I wrote these, but I do want to keep them separated from my 3rd person books. I’m thinking more about my brand this time around and every book under VM Rheault will be a lot more consistent with feel and sub-genre than my other books. Not sure if this will help sales, but I’ve been sniffing around my FB groups learning, and it’s time to apply what I’ve picked up and see if it helps me too.

Last month, I ran a handful of ads to my Tower City Romance Trilogy Box Set and I got a few nibbles but no sales, so I shut the ads off. It included the sequel novella I wrote a couple months ago when I re-edited the trilogy, but because I didn’t sell any of the box set, I published the novella separately this morning. There’s no point in keeping it exclusive material for a set that’s not selling. I can throw some low-bid ads at the first book and see if anything happens. I have it set up as a paperback too, but the cover needs tweaking. I’ll do that later this week, I suppose, though I doubt anyone is going to want to buy the paperback. It won’t be worth the price. It’s a substantial novella as far as they go (29,500 words), but it was still too slim to put text on the spine (at least, KDP couldn’t center it correctly and I finally just took it off rather than fight with the uploading system on KDP and the PDF). But it will be available, so I guess it doesn’t matter in the end.

This morning I also set up a freebooksy for book one of my Rocky Point Wedding series. I was thinking about doing a Christmas in July type thing, so I was able to tailor the ad copy in that general direction. Whether it will hit or miss remains to be seen, but I have that set up for the middle of July and my free promo days are already set up on Amazon. I actually did okay buying a freekbooksy a couple years ago for the first book in my Tower City Romance trilogy. I made back the cost of the promo and then some in KU page reads, and I can’t remember how many downloads my book got, but I made it quite high (in the top ten) in the free steamy contemporary romance category. I’m hoping I do better this time around with an extra book and better writing. I haven’t calculated read through for my series yet, since the last book has only been out two weeks, but people are buying it, so I’m hoping this series has better read-through potential. I just checked because I was curious, and I noticed that the last book in my series wasn’t enrolled in KU. Sigh. I can only blame myself for not checking, and I hate to think what that has done to potential page reads when the first three are in KU and the last wasn’t. Everything else is, but at least I figured it out before the promo went live next month. Live and learn, folks. Live and learn.

Newsletters.

I’m still looking into starting my newsletter. I’ve decided to go with MailChimp since Jane Friedman and Mark Dawson use it. That was probably one of the hardest decisions because there are so many newsletter providers out there and they all have their own sets of pros and cons. But if heavy-hitters like Jane and Mark use MailChimp, then it should be good enough for me. I did have a newsletter set up with them a couple years ago, but I never sent out anything, not even to myself as a tryout. I wasn’t as research-savvy as I am now though, and I’ll be watching plenty of tutorials on how to set up a newsletter effectively. And I’ll probably need to blow off the dust on my author email account. I’m not worried about content, just the over all learning the platform and setting things up so my emails are sent smoothly. Everything is a learning process. I’ll also be typing out a novelette that I wrote at work over the course of a few weeks, and though it’s got kind of an ambiguous ending, I’m considering using it as a reader magnet. I have to type it out though first–20 handwritten pages front and back. I think that equals about 15,000 words give or take. Not terrible, and written in first person present, so it’s a lead-in to my pen name. Now I’ll have to look into group promos to build my list but that’s more research and a post for another day.


How is everyone doing? Getting stuff done writing-wise? This is a great tip from my friends Petyon and Scarlett on Twitter:

I would definitely encourage you to follow these lovely ladies on Twitter! Until next time, everyone. 🙂


How important is social media if you’re a writer? A published author weighs in.

I have a friend who constantly struggles with social media. She hates it, but not for the idea it’s a time-suck. For now we can all agree that with the JK Rowling stuff, the #publishingpaidme hashtag that’s gone crazy on Twitter, police brutality, COVID-19, and our president, things on social media are more than just a dumpster fire. It’s a raging, out-of-control forest fire. Think Australia. Really, let’s think about Australia since we haven’t heard anything about their fires in quite some time, but they’ll be dealing with damage control for years.

As a writer and author, we can agree that social media is a necessity. BUT as a writer and author, social media isn’t necessary in the way we’re told it is at the beginning of our careers. Namely, we need to be on social media to sell books. This is only partly true, and in the part of it that is true, it takes a lot of scrambling on our end to make it happen. In my 2020 predictions blog post from a few months back, I quoted Mark Coker (the founder of Smashwords) as saying that Amazon ads have stolen the writers’ platform. Why work for reach when you can buy it? Why work for reach when it’s EASIER to buy it? I know for the books I’ve sold in the past year, it’s due to buying ads on Amazon.

And yet. Is social media worthless?

Let’s take a look at social media from an author’s standpoint. Just a quick one, since I’ll start off by saying I’m not doing this but I know I should be. One of the only ways to use social media as an author is to set up a Facebook Author Page. (Ads aside since you need an author page if you want to run FB ads for your book.) The idea is having someplace for your readers to find you. Like your page. Interact with you. Some authors form groups instead of pages, but the downside to a group is that you’re constantly moderating and making sure posters are behaving. That doesn’t sound like fun (and a true time-suck), but an author page is doable. Especially since FB offers a scheduling option for your posts. A downside to this is you’re building your castle on someone else’s property. We know Zuckerberg changes his policies all the time and we’re told it’s better to send your readers to your website or newsletter. The problem with those two options is it’s harder to interact with you. So an FB author page is probably going to be the best thing you can do to use social media to help sell your books. Recommend books in the genre you write in. Host giveaways and post about your books. I’ve seen lots of robust FB author pages with lots of engagement. I don’t give my author page enough love but I should start.

Twitter is bad for selling books and I don’t promo on there. I follow a few industry leaders and retweet the articles I find useful to me. That’s about all I do.

Instagram can be a fun place to hang out, but when you’re a writer, you get sucked into the social circle of other writers. So you’re not going to be selling books on there unless you can crack out of the writer/author bubble and find readers. I don’t post on Instagram with the idea I’m going to sell books. You can run ads on Instagram, but besides paying for exposure, I’ve never sold books buying ad space on Instagram. If you wanna see pictures of my cats, look me up.

So, social media isn’t the best for authors. Unless you’re into content marketing and you’re constantly posting snippets of your books. That might not be a valid option if you’re a slow writer, because by the time you release your book, you’ll have posted every single line already. It’s good for non-fiction. But I’m not a non-fiction writer, and I’m not an authority on anything, nor do I want to be.


So, what is social media good for if you can’t sell books?

This is where my friend, I think, throws the baby out with the bathwater when she cuts herself off from social media.

As a PUBLISHER, there are a ton of benefits of being online. Facebook is where I learn 99.9% of marketing and keeping an ear to the ground when it comes to the industry. My friend says– and I’ve heard this from others too–is why would she need to know about marketing, publishing, or anything in-between if she doesn’t have books out? Isn’t writing the most important part of it?

Sure, you need to be writing to be a writer, to eventually be an author.

But.

What are you gonna do when you’re done with that book? How are you going to learn ads? How are you going to know where to promo your book? You’ve cut yourself off from marketing and publishing groups and now you don’t know what the current trends are. Best practices?

If you cut yourself off from author groups on FB, when you’re done with your book and you start up your social media again, you think you you’re just going to join these groups, guns blazing, demand answers to all your questions because you needed the answers yesterday because your book launches tomorrow and you don’t know what you’re doing? I’ve seen people do that in some of these groups. Some of them are met with kindness and people will walk these authors through what they’re doing to sell books. Many others, though, are ignored because it’s evident that they expect other people to do their work for them. Networking and keeping apprised of industry news is a process. It’s an ongoing process. I’ve said before that being an author/publisher is no different than other professions. Would you want to go to a doctor that didn’t keep up with the newest (and maybe better) treatments? Do you want your children to go to school and be taught by a teacher who doesn’t keep her certification up to date? Do you want to be represented by an attorney who doesn’t keep up with changes to the law? Maybe you don’t feel your publishing company is that important, but suddenly you’ll feel like it is when you want to buy promotions for your book and don’t know where to buy them. And even suckier, don’t know who to ask because you’ve taken yourself out of the game.

I LIKE knowing what’s going on with the publishing industry. I like keeping up with Amazon changes, new aggregators, what IngramSpark is doing. Even if I don’t need the information, I’ve been able to help others, and that’s what networking is all about. My blog would be pretty useless if I didn’t keep my head in the game and pass along information to you.


What are some of the best groups I’ve joined on Facebook?

  1. Six Figure Authors. https://www.facebook.com/groups/504063143655523/ It’s moderated by Lindsay Buroker, Andrea Pearson, and Jo Lallo. It accompanies their podcast by the same name, but you don’t have to listen to the podcast to benefit from the group. Though the podcast is awesome and a lot of the discussions are based on a podcast topic.
  2. Mark Dawson’s SPF Community. https://www.facebook.com/groups/SPFsecretgroup/ I like this group because Mark Dawson is very protective of Amazon and won’t let anyone talk shit about them. Amazon did indie authors a great service with the Kindle, CreateSpace (back in the day) and KDP. I don’t know where indie publishing would be without them. I also just love the conversations on there about publishing and marketing.
  3. Level Up Romance Writers. https://www.facebook.com/groups/LevelUpRomanceWriters/ Moderated by Dylann Crush, this group is for marketing romance. There are so many generous writers in that group, and it’s a place where I have started to post more and get to know people there.
  4. 20Booksto50k. https://www.facebook.com/groups/20Booksto50k/ There are a lot of generous people here, too. They are more than happy to tell you how they are selling books. Craig Martelle is pretty strict with what is allowed and every post is moderated, but I mainly lurk and soak up information.
  5. Vellum Users. https://www.facebook.com/groups/VellumUsers/ I format my books (and sometimes for others) with Vellum. This group is for questions about the software if you run into an issue, or if you want to ask if something you want to do formatting-wise is available. Jody Skinner and Erica Alexander are in touch with Brad and Brad (the creators of Vellum) and they both know their stuff. I learn something new about software capability every day.
  6. Indie Cover Project. https://www.facebook.com/groups/20CoversTo50k/ I’ve gotten feedback about covers from here before. You can develop an eye just by looking at what other authors are doing with their covers and reading the suggestions and critiques. This is a great place for blurb help, too.
  7. Book Cover Design 101. https://www.facebook.com/groups/bookcoverdesign101/ This is a great group if you want to learn tips on how to do your own covers. I find a lot of my fonts here when people post deals. There are wonderful people part of this group and very happy to help you if you have a technical question. Both this group and the Indie Cover Project can point you in the right direction if you want to order a premade or custom cover instead of doing your own.
  8. Launching Indie. https://www.facebook.com/groups/launchingindie/ Cecilia Mecca is amazing. She’s so generous and loves to know the best way to do anything with marketing. I heard her speak at the Sell More Books Show Summit last year.
  9. And no list is going to be complete without Bryan Cohen. Everything I learned about Amazon ads I learned from him. For free. I’m a member of The Five Day Amazon Ad Profit Challenge and his other group, Selling for Authors.

There are other groups I’m a part of, about 40 if you want me to be honest, and not all of them have the same level of information as these do. I’m the most active in the ones listed above, when I’m on Facebook, at any rate.

My friend has told me she shies away from social media for mental health reasons. There’s not much I can say about that except I have told her in the past that if she’s having issues, to find help, like anyone should. I don’t spend a lot of time on social media because of my carpal tunnel. If I’m online I like to make my time worth it either by blogging or if I’m on the computer at all, writing and editing my books.

When it comes to social media and your business, they go hand in hand whether you want to admit it or not. The main trouble I see a lot of writers have these days is separating their writer self from their author/publisher self. Engaging with writers while at the same time hoping to find readers. It doesn’t work like that. We tend to join a clique and follow that clique from platform to platform, but that’s not going to sell books.

I take social media for what it is. A place where I can network and find resources for my business.

And I hope you can, too.

Do you have a Facebook group you benefit from? Let me know. Have a thriving Facebook Author Page? Link it in the comments!

Thanks for reading!


Amazon Ads Adventures: how did my May go?

Because I have nothing else to talk about, let’s see how my ads did for the month of May. Right now I’m running ads for four books: All of Nothing, Wherever He Goes, The Years Between Us, and His Frozen Heart. I actually came in ahead last month, making about $60.00 after ad spend. That’s not terrible–breaking even for me so more than acceptable at this point–and I’m aware that it’s more than what some people are making on their books right now.

Before I get into the numbers, I’ll tell you that my daily ad budget is always $5.00, and that my bid per click is always between .25-.35. I never EVER go with Amazon’s suggested bid. I know click bid can depend heavily on genre, and everyone always says how competitive romance is. But I’m not willing to up my bid on the off chance that it will make me more money. Right now all I’m concerned with is tweaking my covers, blurbs, and look inside so that my books are profitable, and my lower bid per click is working. I get impressions and I get clicks and that’s more than enough for now. There is plenty to worry about without hoping Amazon’s suggested bid won’t blow your grocery budget for the month.

My ad spend for the month of May:

Don’t let the spend versus sales fool you. If your books are in KU, the sales don’t include KU page reads. Sales are readers who buy the ebook/paperback. And in this case, I didn’t sell any paperbacks.

Here are the royalties:

Using the royalties estimator from the KDP reports dashboard is the easiest way to look at your royalties. Some people use BookReport, a Google Chrome extension, but I haven’t put Chrome on my Mac.

I took screenshots of the royalties vs. ads for each book individually. I don’t normally look at that–so long as I’m not wasting money, I don’t mind which book is making more than the others. You can see All of Nothing made the most–and also spent the most. Wherever He Goes is the unpopular one of the group, and maybe a new blurb could help. But I’ve already rewritten it, and at this point I’m done going back.





My numbers might not add up 100% just because I do make a couple cents here and there on other books, but these are the main four I run ads for. You can see that All of Nothing is the leader in sales. Sales for that book allows me to lose money on ads for the others. Is that smart? Probably not–all your ads should run in the black, but I’m just playing around and experimenting.

I’m happy to see that The Years Between Us is doing better with the new cover and blurb. People are actually reading it and in the past few days I have been selling the ebook; people aren’t only reading it in KU. I wish they’d buy the paperback because the new cover looks gorgeous in print.

Anyway, so that’s how I’ve done for the month of May. So far for June I’m in the black, but just by a few dollars. I may not be making a ton of money, but I’m picking up new readers, and that feels good. The last book in my series launched at the end of May, so I don’t have any reports yet on how my read-through is for the four books. I think next month I may plan a Christmas-in-July promotion and buy a BargainBooksy promo and see if I put His Frozen Heart on sale for .99 if I can get some read-through for that series. I’ll be playing around with ads for the next little while because I won’t have anything coming out for a few months.


What I know I learned from Bryan Cohen’s free ad challenge that he does every once in a while. He gives out such useful information, and he’s even usually around to answer questions. I can’t say enough good things about the guy, and I really encourage you to sign up for his challenge in July. It makes a big difference if you know how to use an ad platform before plunking down the money on experimentation. Trust me, there’s a lot to experiment with (like ad copy) without worrying about wasting money on ad spend because you don’t know what you’re doing. If you want to sign up for the challenge next month, you can find Bryan’s sign up link here. I don’t get anything if you sign up. I learned a lot from his classes and homework, and I know you will too!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re all having a wonderful June so far!

Using the pandemic to sell books: a short discussion.

The Six Figure Authors podcast interviewed Alex Newton of K-lytics for their most recent podcast. I love Alex and his data. I’ve talked about him before on the blog. He scrapes Amazon and publishes his findings on genre trends for indies. He sells a lot of his studies, but he also gives out a lot of free information during his talks.

His talk on the podcast was about reading habits during COVID-19. Knowing what is selling is good for us indies because if we have books in those categories, we can amp up our ads, right?

A lot of people question the ethics of this practice. Taking advantage of the pandemic to sell books. But are we?

I think using an ad like this:

might be a little tasteless because while people are at home because they have to be, they might not be in the right mindset to settle in with a book. We can’t ignore the real issues of people on unemployment, or the people with anxiety who have to go to work and are worried that they’re going to bring home the virus to their loved ones.

On the other hand, you could argue that since people ARE staying home, that supplying the demand isn’t unethical, it’s just good business.

When the pandemic first started and we were ordered to shelter in place, a lot of my FB groups discussed this. Some authors even turned off their ads because they didn’t want to be viewed as taking advantage of the situation.

But the fact is, with people staying home, if they really are reading more ebooks because Barnes and Noble is closed, or Amazon wasn’t/isn’t prioritizing shipping on physical books, who is it going to hurt to keep your ads going? You aren’t raising your prices, you aren’t ripping people off, or trying to, anyway. Doing a promotion on a book in a genre that’s selling I feel is just good business sense.

Now, you might write in a genre that has fallen to the wayside and maybe you don’t feel that marketing your books would do much good right now, and you may be right. But you don’t necessarily have to blame the pandemic, either. All genres, subgenres, tropes, and trends have their day in the spotlight, pandemic or not, and those books might always take a little more push to make sales.

Anyway, I haven’t done anything to my ads outside of turning off the ones that were losing money. The pandemic doesn’t seem like it has done much to my marketing attempts. One of the best things I ever did was swap out my cover for The Years Between Us and that had nothing to do with the pandemic.

At any rate, if you want to watch Alex’s talk (and I recommend you watch it as he throws up a graph or two once in a while) you can watch it here and come to your own conclusions. For me, I’ve been too busy to put up more ads, trying to get through my backlist checklist and start on my first person books again. But it might be advantageous for me to do so.

Let me know your thoughts!

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.

Brown Photo Independence Day Twitter Post-3

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.

Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 12.36.22 PM

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!

end of blog post graphic

 

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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