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!

Things I’ll be working on this weekend, and how I did something small for the reading community. #allinthistogether

Besides trying to get the last of my thoughts on the 2020 predictions from Written Word Media into this blog while they are still relevant, I’ll be working on a few other things.

I’m done editing the Tower City Romance Trilogy. I lost the Vellum files for the single books, but I did still have the boxed set file. That means I could extract the formatted books from the boxed set and turn them back into single books. I didn’t have to read through them again, but I’m glad I did. I found typos, lots of telling, some passive voice, and even some slight formatting errors. I think my books sound better, and they’ll definitely look better.

I know we’re not supposed to read reviews, but one in particular stuck out at me on Goodreads.

She said I ended my books too quickly. I felt that in book three, and to fix that, I’m going to write an extended Epilogue that will put a pretty bow on top of the trilogy.

The plan right now is to jump about a year and a half into their future and show the reader what happened to everyone.

Epilogues aren’t Band-aids, and I don’t have plot holes or loose ends (I would have fixed them in the editing if I had) but as with couples who were about to get married and have babies, this will be a nice closure. I’m not sure if I’ll just add that to the boxed set to encourage KU read-through, or tack it on to the end of book three.

I’ll write it first then decide. If things go to plan, I should be able to write 8-10k words at my work over the weekend, then type it out on Monday.


The next thing I want to do is submit a new cover for The Years Between Us. I think the cover is holding the book back. There are steamy scenes, and the cover doesn’t portray the heat level. So, I’m going from this:

The Years Between Us Paperback Cover

to possibly this:

THE YEARS BETWEEN US

This isn’t set in stone yet, and it’s not a cover reveal. (I don’t bother with those.)

I darkened the bottom (that gradient is becoming a trademark I don’t want and something I need to stop doing for later books) because she has a garter on and a pretty little butt-cheek is hanging out, and I didn’t want it to show. I plan to pay for ads to these books and Amazon doesn’t allow for too much spicy. I found a lovely couple before this one, but he was holding a glass of champagne, and booze in AMS ads is a no-go. I didn’t want to change the cover then discover my ads wouldn’t be approved.

I like that their faces are in shadow–it’s difficult finding a stock photo that has an older man and a younger woman that does not depict and old man in a nursing home and his nurse. You do with what you can when you’re not willing to pay.

I may experiment with the placement of the title. Some people aren’t fans of words over the models’ faces.

Let me know what you think of the new one. My main concern it’s too much like All of Nothing. My skills are limited and it’s beginning to show. I love doing my own covers though, so after I get all these little odds and ends wrapped up that I started because of COVID-19, I’ll start teaching myself how to do more with covers while I focus on my first person projects.


How is everyone doing lately? Some states are opening up. I know I won’t be jumping in line to go to a restaurant any time soon. I’ve been happy as a clam staying at home working on my stuff. I hope you’re hanging in there!

As a side note, I gave away two Kindle Fires to two lucky winners of Brenda Novak’s readers group on Facebook. Some of their stories break my heart, and I wish I could have given more.

I encourage you, if you have Kindles or reading devices to spare, to look up Brenda’s group. It’s heartbreaking to me that people can’t afford a $50 tablet, but there really are so many who can’t. They appreciate anything you can give them so much. When I offered my two new Kindles, I received over 1,000 posts of interest. It was very difficult to decide who to give them to. I hope I was able to to turn two lives around; I wish it could be more.

I love this writing/reading community I’m part of and always look for ways to pay it forward.

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Chat soon!


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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

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    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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Another update, because, why not? And other musings of a #stayhome life

I had a blog post planned for today, and it’s even written out in my notebook. I need to type it up and get it out there, because it’s part of the 2020 predictions from Written Word Media. I would like to get that series finished up so I can blog about other things. Though, with this virus stuff going on, (and I don’t mean to make light of it at all; I know it’s affected many people) it feels almost strange to be carrying on in any normal sort of way.

silhouette-4233622_1920Even with my rah-rah-sis-boom-bah, write, write, write mentality I like to shove down people’s throats on this blog, I haven’t been doing much of that.

That’s not to say I haven’t been doing something. I was dismayed to find one day that some of my Vellum files for my books went missing. It’s not technically a big deal. I mean, I still had the .mobi files for Kindle the PDFs, but I didn’t like not having the actual files that upload into Vellum. So I took it upon myself to take the PDFs, convert them back into a Word docx and put them back into Vellum.

It’s just as convoluted as it sounds, and when you convert a PDF into a Word docx, the formatting isn’t 100% the same. And when you put that Word docx into Vellum, it gets messed up even more. So what I did (for my own peace of mind and my weird anxiety I get when I think about my books) I decided that while I was fixing the formatting in Vellum, I would give them a light edit and push them back into the world.

I’ve taken the last two weeks and I did All of Nothing, The Years Between Us, and Wherever He Goes. I guess because the formatting changed, or maybe I chose a different font for the text, who knows, I had to redo cover dimensions for All of Nothing and Wherever He Goes. That wasn’t too big a deal, since everything was saved in Canva and I had all my stock photos still saved there. Recreating them with a different canvas size didn’t take too much time, and I’m getting good enough that I didn’t bother ordering proofs before publishing them (something I used to do every time I made a change to the paperback).

It was actually kind of interesting to go back and read my books again, and I learned a couple things along the way:

1. I need to keep my baby name book with me. ALWAYS. I used the same names over and over again. There’s a Jared in Wherever He Goes, and there’s a Jared in my Wedding series. I reused the name Max, as well. Dismayed, I found I used Erik in All of Nothing, and there’s an Eric in Don’t Run Away. There’s an Elmer in Wherever He Goes, and an Elmer in the new trilogy I’m editing (I’ll change his name, for sure). You know, there are so many names available, I shouldn’t have reused the names at all. It’s not like I’m 60+ into my backlist and I’ve run out of choices. For consistency and scared I would do more harm than good, I didn’t change any of the names. Maybe in the future an Excel sheet will come in handy.

2. I use the same imagery. I’m consistent in imagery, and I guess that’s what people mean when they say they know a book’s author by the way it’s written. Though some of the metaphors and cliches change from book to book, it’s evident I like the sound of a certain way of comparing things.

In the mirror, I give myself one last look. The dress shows off just enough leg, my hair is a blonde mess of curls down my back, my eyes have just the right amount of shadow and eyeliner.

I’ll pass, if no one looks too closely.

After all, even imitation gold shines in the light.

This is an example of some of the language I like to use from book to book, and while it’s pretty, I need to make sure that I’m mixing up my imagery or my books will start to sound the same.

3. My themes are the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I’ve been told that a consistent theme weaving your books together will help with marketing. My theme, so far, is when you fall in love with the right person, you can find your place, you can find your home. Of course, in romance you have to be careful that the woman isn’t losing herself in her man, that her world doesn’t revolve around him. So it’s important that you give your female main characters their own backstories and make sure they have their own arcs so they fall in love and find their place with their man on their own terms. All my female characters battle their own demons before allowing themselves to find happiness in a relationship. This is the way romance has evolved, but I don’t have any complaints. No one wants to read about a doormat who doesn’t have her own life outside of her love interest.


I could tell that when I was writing Wherever He Goes that I was a bit stiff at the beginning and I did take the chance to smooth out some sentences and make the scenes and paragraphs flow a little better. I didn’t hit my stride with that book until the middle, and I find it interesting because already by Wherever He Goes I had already written quite a few words. But that book was my first standalone after the my Tower City Trilogy and I guess I was getting used to new characters and plot.

I don’t know if I’m going to do every single book I’ve published. The box set file for my trilogy is still intact, so pulling those out and making the books single again to recover my Vellum files won’t take that long, and they won’t require proofing unless I want to go back and read them. I suppose I could since in the back of my mind I feel like those are mediocre offerings at best and I’m reluctant to advertise them. If I read through them and fix typos, etc, then maybe the time I invest doing that will come back to me since I’ll be more comfortable promoting them. That’s committing to a lot of work, and for now I’m going to do 1700. I don’t have the file for that cover anymore–that was way back when I was doing covers in Word, and Canva wasn’t available yet. So I want to revamp that and reformat the insides with Vellum. I’m excited to do that–and it won’t take me long. The whole book is barely 50k. I already edited an old paperback so I just need to add them in and make the interior pretty. It’s a romantic fantasy, and once I update the cover and keywords, it might actually make a few sales. It’s a cute little story, and even though it’s the first one I published, I’m still proud of it.

I think I even found a stock photo that might work:

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I know the font will play a big part of the cover, and to be honest, I totally fucked myself with the title. On the Corner of 1700 Hamilton is atrocious, and if I cared at all, I would unpublish and start over. But while it’s a sweet little thing, it doesn’t mean enough to me to completely revamp it. As they say, mistakes were made, so what’s the point of pretending they weren’t?

Anyway, so that’s what I’ve been doing with my time. It’s amusing, at any rate, and it’s actually kind of heartening to know that I like what I write and I feel like though there were typos I had to take care of, my books are solid and I’ll have confidence in running ads to them in the coming years.

Tell me what you’ve been up to! Are you doing little things to keep your mind busy or have you been able to write?

Let me know!


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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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