Amazon Ads: Bad news.

Amazon ads and bad news probably go together in sentences from a lot of indies. I’m no exception, but not through any fault of my own. Kinda.

When I did my last update, I was breaking even, and pretty happy with that.

After some ads took off and ate up all my money with no return, I had to pause them. I was 70 dollars in the hole, and I had to try to figure out why.

The culprit was easy to spot.

ads.jpg

These are my ad results for The Years Between Us from September 20th when I started Bryan’s ad challenge to today October 19th when I’m writing this blogpost. The numbers look impressive. Look at those impressions! Look at all those clicks!  I mean, in all the times I’ve tried running ads, I’ve never had results like this. These tell me a couple things:

  1. Bryan’s advice works. (My keywords were good.)
  2. My cover is good.
  3. My ad copy is fabulous.
    They fell in love.
    The wrong person found out.
    Now he’ll do anything to protect her.
    Even if it breaks her heart.
  4. My daily spend was good enough for Amazon to show my ad around.
  5. My bid for clicks was high enough for Amazon to show my ad around.

But.

My ads, in roughly a month period, generated only $26.57 in sales and KU page reads with an ad spend of $95.52. That’s not good. (The sales column above doesn’t include KU reads so that’s why the numbers are different. The Amazon ad dashboard does not include them and BookReport does.)

book report results for the years between us

You have to be honest ask yourself why that is.

In my case, I’m sure it’s the blurb. I have a good number of clicks. I should have made more than $26.57. They liked the cover and the ad copy enough to click, but they got to the blurb and it turned them off.

That’s the only thing I can think of.

This is the blurb without having to click READ MORE (or above the fold, as they say):

Zia Bishop is in love with an older man.
On the night of her high school graduation, she persuades him to take her virginity, and the wrong person discovers their secret.

Matthew Harcourt knew he should never have made love to Zia, his best friend’s daughter.

And I guess that is enough to make people turn away. Now, this story is not naughty. It’s not dirty. If it was, then I would have used a grittier, sexier cover and marketed it as a “Daddy’s Best Friend Makes Me Wet” novel.  This is a pretty romance, with the bulk of the story taking place when she is 25 and he is 50. Still a wide gap, but maybe it doesn’t sound as weird when she’s 18 and he’s 43.

So, I paused all my ads. I’m going to rewrite my blurb, focus on a different aspect of their relationship.

The first page introduces them at her high school graduation party. So I could still lose readers if they borrow it in KU and decide after five pages they don’t want to read more.

If that happens, I may need to change the cover and target readers who will read OM/YW (older man/younger woman) romance and hope they like the softness of it, or pull it from KU and see if I can find a way to get more reviews, though I’m hesitant to try Booksprout again. If nothing works, I may just have to write off The Years Between Us completely and just forget about it.

There are things I can do, and everything needs to be tested to find out what works and what doesn’t. The blurb is the easiest experiment, so I’ll try that first.

Everything in stages, but that’s the plan so far.

The point is, there are steps I can take to try for sales, and if you find yourself in this position, you need to make sure you are constantly checking on your ads so clicks don’t eat through all your cash.

I should have paused my ads earlier, but seeing those results was pretty amazing. I have a little money to experiment, and I wanted to see what would happen. Sometimes page reads can come in later. In the Kindle Unlimited program, readers can borrow up to 10 books at a time. The Years Between Us could be sitting on quite a few Kindles waiting in a reader’s queue. But I’m not going to let clicks eat up my ad dollars if I don’t have proof of that.

All of Nothing is still making me some spare change every day, so I’ll keep my ads paused until I make up that ad spend money.

Then we’ll try again.

How are your ads doing? Let me know!

Want a list of older man/younger woman books? Goodreads has a shelf of recommendations. 🙂

Until next time!


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Market or Write? If you have only one book written . . . write another book!

When I did Bryan Cohen’s 5-day ad challenge, he did some Facebook live events where he would help us in real time with any questions we had. While this challenge was tied-in to him selling his course, I still can’t believe all the work he put into the free mini-lessons, and I’m very grateful.

Anyway, I would watch along with everyone else, picking up tips where I could that would apply to my own books.

After a few of these videos, I realized something . . . so many people were worried about the fate of their ONE BOOK.

Don’t get me wrong, having written and published a book is fantastic. It’s a feat many people say they want to do, but hardly anyone does. If you’ve done that and are trying to sell it, you’re already one step ahead of 98% of everyone who wants to write a book but never does.

The problem with this, though, is that if you’re only selling one book, if you’re taking courses, learning ad platforms, listening to podcasts about book marketing, doing anything that takes away from writing your next book, you’re BEHIND 98% of the writers who are concentrating on building their backlist.

I keep up with publishing news and what’s changing in the industry; which small presses are closing, what Amazon is up to, what Draft2Digital is offering next. Ads are a little bit different. What you know today might might be different than what you need to know tomorrow. In fact, as an example, Amazon changed the way their ad platform looks right as Bryan was done with his 5 day challenge! What he taught us was still invaluable and we could put that into practice, but his segment for visual learners was almost irrelevant the minute the course was over. Anyone watching the videos would be confused because the platform doesn’t look like that anymore.

One day after his course ended! Jeez.

What I want to explain going into that is, if you’re learning an ad platform for one book, you’re wasting time when you could be writing another book because by the time you need to know it for book two, it could be already changed.

But, you’re saying, maybe it’s not a waste because their book will sell with ads.

Sure, maybe it will. If you have a solid stand alone with a good cover and a good blurb, you might make some sales. 

BUT, raise your hand if you have only one book in your backlist that

  • is a novella
  • is the first in a series but you don’t have any of the others written yet (and have no idea when you will)
  • is a mishmash of genres and you don’t know who your audience is
  • is written in a genre you’re not sure you’re going to stick with
  • your book is wide

If you have an only book that is any of those above, you are better off leaving ads alone and writing another book.

the best marketing for a book is to write another.We’ve all heard that writing the next book is the best marketing there is for the first one. It’s not just the writing, it’s social media/networking, too. When you’re on social media sharing snippets, you’re blogging about your writing process, who your characters are, etc, you’re doing more than promoting one book. You’re laying a foundation of being an author. Readers will know that you’re planning to write for a while and they’ll feel more comfortable investing their time in your book(s).

It would be interesting to know how many books on Amazon are singles and their authors aren’t planning on anymore. They’ve walked away for various reasons. Maybe you don’t plan to walk away, but a reader isn’t going to wait three years for a book 2, either.

The number of books you need to make traction rises every year. When I started out it was three. Now, the latest statistic I’ve heard is 6-10, and that was last year. This year? I’ll safely assume that you need 10+ books in your backlist before you see any kind of movement toward actual sales. Learning ads is a big part of this, of course. But the time you spent learning and the money you spend experimenting could be going toward your backlist.

I’m a member of the 20booksto50k Facebook group. Michael Anderle came up with the idea that that if you have 20 books in your backlist you should be able to make 50k a year in sales. He does some math, and I won’t get into that now. It’s an easy concept to buy into. I rather like thinking that after my quartet comes out and I’ll have 10 books in my backlist, that I could potentially make 25k a year in sales. That would change my life.

It’s definitely something to work toward.

But you can’t make that a goal if you’re going to waste time marketing one book.

james scott bell marketing

Click on the photo for a link to the book. It’s a good read and worth your time. 

James Scott Bell has a great book out right now called Marketing For Writers Who Hate Marketing: The No-Stress Way to Sell Books Without Losing Your Mind. In it, he talks a lot about marketing books, (and I did say this in my review on Goodreads) and he does spend a great deal of time talking about writing. Write the next book, and the next and the next and the next. In my review, I pointed out, well, you gotta learn how to market at some point, or you’ll have a big backlist and no one reading it.

I think that’s true. Natural momentum only goes so far.

And while I’m happy to spend some money on ads, to try them out, get a feel for them, I have six books in my backlist, I have 4 more coming out in the next couple months, and I’m 30,000 words into a secret project.

My writing time is not taking a hit.

It’s a mindset. There’s no harm in getting your feet wet. There’s no harm in being curious. But when you publish a book you’re not a writer anymore, you’re a business person filling a need (readers of your genre). Remember that when you’re selling one thing in your store, and you’re spending money on ads.


That’s all I have for today! Likely, my blog posts will be hit and miss for the rest of the 2019. I’m editing my quartet and books one and two will be off to the proofer soon. I have three and four that I’ll be diving into soon, and my secret project is well under way.

I love to share whatever is on my mind, though, and I’ll try to keep up my posts!

I’ll be updating you with my Amazon Ads adventures over the weekend. Let’s just say . . . it’s been quite a ride, and not all together inexpensive, either, but that’s what you get, I suppose.

All of Nothing ebook coverI can share this little bit with you . . . All of Nothing, before I started Bryan’s 5-day ad challenge was at 81,xxx (dont remember the exact number) in the Amazon Kindle Store. Since promoting it with ads since September 20th, it’s at 16,399. I know rank doesn’t mean much, not really, but it is kinda cool to see people are reading it.

I think the new blurb and cover have made all the difference!

 

Until next time!

 


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Another try with Amazon Ads. Am I finally selling some books?

amazon advertising logo

If you don’t follow Bryan Cohen then you should. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and listen to the podcast he hosts with Jim Kukral.

This guy knows what he’s talking about with Amazon ads, and a lot of the stuff he puts out into social media is free. Don’t get me wrong, some of what he puts out there is a hook to get you to buy some of his courses, but he’s a businessman, and well, that’s what they do. But following him on social media for the free tidbits is totally worth it if you’re starting at zero.

I was starting at zero, and even though I had read Brian Meeks’ book on the subject, trying what he suggested didn’t move the needle. But to be fair, that was a while back and I didn’t have as many books published as I do now. They didn’t have the good covers they do now, and I didn’t know how to find keywords.

Bryan Cohen has a different approach, and I totally encourage you to try different things. We all publish different kinds of books, and lots of people get frustrated when something kills it for someone but then they try it and it does nothing, or even worse, it wastes money.

I took a free 5 day ad challenge Bryan hosted a couple weeks ago on Facebook. Of course, it was to sell an ad course that I didn’t buy because I couldn’t afford it (did you know scraping a cat’s bladder for stones cost 2,600 dollars? Yeah, Harley is fine now.), but during the five days I did his challenge, I learned a lot about ads, and more specifically, where to find keywords.

Keywords will make or break your ads. And I know you’re going to call me a cop-out writing this blog post and not telling you where to find them. But in a show of integrity and out of respect for Bryan, I’ll point you in his direction and let him tell you how (or you can use Publisher Rocket, or try Alex’s K-lytics and read his blog). After all, I wouldn’t know what I know without his help, and I’m all about attribution. I will feel comfortable saying this though: all my keywords are titles of bestselling books in my genre that are in KU. How you go about assembling this list will be up to you, but using a list comprised of titles that sell that are similar to yours works.

I started the challenge on September 20th, 2019. He told us to focus on one book, so I chose All of Nothing. That still proves to be my strongest book, and it’s made me the most money with the challenge. After the 5 day challenge was over, I did ads for my other two standalone books, and All of Nothing still blows it out of the water.

Since September 20th, on my three standalones I’ve had 110,709 impressions (impressions are free), 226 clicks, and $50.29 worth of ad spend. That might seem like a little bit of money to you, but remember that you’re hopefully earning most, if not all and beyond, that money back. Those stats are based on 42 ads. All of Nothing has the most, which may be why I’m selling more of that book, at 27 ads running right now. Some are from the challenge and some are ones I did on my own. Wherever He Goes has 7, and The Years Between Us has 8. I focused on keyword ads and I wrote a couple lines of my own ad copy for each ad. Bryan said to bid low, and while that’s up to you, I’m getting clicks and impressions with bids under 40 cents, which is really good considering my genre is contemporary romance, and that is a highly competitive genre. Keep in mind you don’t necessarily pay 40 cents just because you bid it. My cost per click average is .22 cents.

Now, I’ll tell you how much I’ve made since September 20, 2019, and learning ads is going to be a slow process. If you break even when you first start out, you should consider that a success.

To accurately know how much you’ve made, I suggest you use BookReport. It’s free until

bryan ad on instagram

These tips are a great reason to follow Bryan Cohen Blurbs on IG!

your monthly earnings exceed 1,000 dollars. That will tell you how much you’ve made with sales and KU READS. Your ads dashboard does not include KU reads, so if you’re in KU and you see you’ve spent 50 dollars on ads, but only made 13 dollars in sales, those are Kindle/paperback sales, and not KU reads. Bryan was very adamant about making sure we knew that. You could turn off a profitable ad not figuring in your KU page reads, so make sure you take those into consideration. After all, those are the main reason we’re in KU–so don’t forget to include them in your sales data.

I check my ad spend and sales every morning before I go into the writing, and today my ad spend is since I started the challenge, like I said, is $50.29.

What I’ve made so far since I started the challenge is 55.06. I’ve made 5 bucks. That might not seem like a lot, and it’s not. Not in the grand scheme of things. But I’m in it for more than the cash right now, so let’s look at what else we can glean from this data:

book report for ad challenge for blog

book report for ad challenge for blog 2

BookReport shows me that I’m getting sales as well as page reads. This is super since I wasn’t barely getting anything before the challenge, never mind when I was wide and trying to get traction spending money on promos.

All of Nothing has had 10 sales, and 7,894 page reads. All of Nothing is 420 KENPC, so if you divide 7894 by 420, you get the equivalent of 18.79 (almost 19) books read. For me, that’s pretty good for sales.

The Years Between Us is less at 420, so without doing the math, 603 is the equivalent of about 2 books read. Wherever He Goes, I can say just one book in KU page reads was read.

At this stage of the game, I’m happy with breaking even. Why?

  • Readers are seeing my ads. With a low bid, this is a big deal. Lots of people think they need to bid high to be seen, and clearly, that’s not the case. Bryan did not tell us to go after the big-named trad authors in our genre. He told us to target authors that are in KU in our genre that are doing well. Should I target Lauren Landish or Nora Roberts? Which obviously would be cheaper? Lauren is in KU and number one at the time of writing.
  • I’m getting clicks. This is also a big deal. Why? Because it tells me my covers are good and my ad copy is pulling readers in to click my ad and take a look at my product page.
  • I’m getting sales, though small ones. Part of ad maintenance is making sure your clicks convert to sales. If they aren’t, then something is wrong with your sales page. Maybe your blurb is bad, or your look inside doesn’t sound good. You’re losing readers between the click and the sale. Maybe your cover doesn’t hit the mark after all (or maybe you’re not in KU and readers were hoping you would be). Maybe based on your cover they thought it would be about one thing, but then they read your blurb and thought it was about something else. It could be anything, so make sure you keep up with clicks and if they are turning into sales.
  • Hopefully some of these sales and KU reads will turn into more reviews. I need reviews and if people enjoy my books, maybe down the road they’ll leave a review.

Ads aren’t always about making money. When you’re starting out you don’t want to lose money, but you’re also paying for exposure and hopefully reviews.

What am I going to do moving forward?

  • Keep an eye on my ads. Obviously a five dollar return can quickly go from plus to minus, so I will need to make sure I’m always earning or at least breaking even.
  • Work on my ad copy. Find a hook and reel in your readers.
  • Do more ads for All of Nothing. If that book is going to be my biggest earner, I need to exploit that.
  • Explore ads for my trilogy. Someone read Chasing You, so my trilogy has read-through potential. I always forget that they are decent books and people are reading all three of them. In my head I’ve kind of written them off as average, but maybe if I throw some ads at Don’t Run Away, the trilogy will make me some money. (I’ll need to rewrite the blurbs for those books and put in better keywords in my KDP dashboard before I try ads with those.)
  • Look for more keywords. New books pop up on the bestseller list all the time.  Keep adding titles to your keyword list.
  • Have patience. It’s easy to want to bid high, but Bryan has taught me that I can get impressions and clicks and not go broke. I’m going to follow his advice and keep my bids low.

I feel like that 5 day challenge was successful. His ad course digs a lot deeper into other things but I’ll take what I can for now. Learning ad copy and not being afraid to create more ads is what I’ll be focusing on for the next little while.

What do you need to do before you do ads?

  • Know your genre. If you don’t know your genre you don’t know what authors to target.
  • Make sure your cover is genre-appropriate. If you don’t run ads with ad copy, all your potential readers will see is your book cover. A picture is worth a thousand words, and it really is if that’s all your using to draw readers in.

    ads without ad copy

    The ad without ad copy sticks out, huh? But she’s got a hot cover, so it’s not so bad. 🙂

  • Make sure your blurb sounds good on your product page. Make it look good too with bold and spaces between paragraphs.
  • Make sure your price is genre-appropriate. Before the challenge, I lowered my prices from 4.99 to 2.99. Without testing I won’t know for sure if the lower price is helping people buy. That’s marketing strategy, and you’ll have to decide for yourself.
  • Fix the keywords in your KDP dashboard. I did a blog post about how to find real ones for your books. You can also search blurbs of books that are similar to yours and if the same words keep popping up (like action-packed) then include those too. You’re not limited to 7 just because there are seven spaces.

I’m not an expert at any of this. All I can tell you is what is working for me. Slow or otherwise. In the past 21 days I feel like I’ve finally found something that might work to get my books in front of readers. Hopefully it will help you too!

Thanks if you’ve made it this far. I’ll keep plugging away and I’ll start giving you guys monthly updates! Have a great weekend!

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A Rocky Point Wedding series update.

I haven’t posted an update for a while because well, there wasn’t much I could say besides, I’m writing.

But now I can at least announce I am done. I finished book four the other night, and while I did get a little teary-eyed, there is still much to do, and I’ll save the tears for when the last book is published. As authors, though, we know that we never really say goodbye to a book. There’s front and back matter updating, updating a cover if trends change or you decide you don’t like what you published, marketing, keyword updating, and all that other stuff you have to do to keep selling your babies. It’s not enough to hit publish, so while publishing them all will be a relief, I’ll hardly be slamming the door shut on them forever.

In total, I wrote 297,204 words. I started in December 2018, and tried to do as much as I could before the carpal tunnel surgery I had in January. I was out of commission for six weeks, but it should have been longer. My doctor gave me the okay to go back to work though, so did I make a mistake when I took that to mean “type my fingers off on this series”?  Probably. But the damage is done, and maybe I’ll always live with a little bit of pain in my left arm and hand. It is what it is.

I’m not going to add how many hours I spent on each file, it’s suffice enough to say that I plowed through four books in about 8 months.

I’ll be editing them now, starting with book one, taking notes making sure things stay consistent. I need to keep track of Autumn’s (my FMC in the last book) blog posts and write them . . . maybe as I edit since my mind will be in the story and I’ll have an easier time manufacturing those interviews.

I have a proofer/beta reader lined up as a fresh pair of eyes. He’s willing to read all four books, so that takes a load of worry off me. I don’t recommend publishing without some kind of feedback, and if you’re willing to beta any of my books, let me know!

I’ve been messing around with covers, and of course, they go through many many variations before I decide on the one I want to publish. I’m keeping my eyes on the top contemporary romances, but again, a lot of those romances are bad boy, tatted up dudes, and my small town romance series would not be a good fit for those types of covers. While All of Nothing has seen an uptick in KU reads since I changed the cover/blurb/keywords, an edgy cover only works if the book is . . . well, edgy.

This is what I have so far, and you can tell me if you like the concept:

a rocky point wedding book cover mock up for blog

The font is a placeholder font. Bad script font is bad, so I’ll be going through fonts. The titles for all four books are still up in the air, but it’s difficult to make up book covers without those elements.

Anyway, I just wanted to see if the overall effect works, and beside it not fitting in with the top 100 right now–which, I have to admit, is pretty important–I think it blends together. There are indie authors who do their covers like this. Melissa Foster and Zoe York are two that come to mind.

But I admit those are covers from books a few years ago, and both those authors have a backlist so extensive, I doubt they go back and redo covers to keep up with changing trends.

In that vein, I want to do mine right, so they have a bit of longevity as well, and I’ll get a few more opinions on the covers, too, before I decide anything. The point is, I’m working on them so I don’t get all cranky when my books are done and I have to pull four covers out of the air like magic.

Besides editing and working on the cover, there isn’t much else I can do with them. I’m hoping to start releasing them this winter, still in 2019, so we’ll see how that goes.

I’m also 10,000 words into an experiment, and I’m excited. I’m not going to say anything more about it since the outcome of the experiment depends on me not divulging information about it. At any rate, it will give me something interesting to do on the days I need an editing break.


That is my update, and I can’t wait to share these books with you!

a rocky point wedding social media graphic

While you wait, look for my other books that are available in KU!

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Why I wrote a series, and why you should write one, too!

Writing a series_ Why I did, and why you should too!

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like writing a series. Probably not the best thing to admit because it implies I’m not having fun writing my books, and when an author doesn’t have fun writing their stories, a reader won’t have fun reading them. We hear this a lot, and I think it’s true.

I don’t want to imply that I’m hating writing this series to the depths of my black soul because it’s not true. I have loved all my books in this wedding quartet and consider my characters friends, but I will not be sad to see them go.

Fly away little birds into the happily ever afters I have given to you.

If I don’t like writing series, or a better to way to say it is, if I prefer writing standalones, why did I write a four book series, and why am I recommending you do the same?

This is why I wrote A Rocky Point Wedding series, and why after a couple of standalones (to cleanse my palette and to lay some single plot ideas to rest) I’ll plan another.

  1. Writing to Market.
    I believe this. I say AMEN to the preacher who shouts this to his congregation. Writing to market simply means giving the readers of your genre what they want, and more importantly, what they expect. Tropes. The twists and turns they come to associate with plots of that genre. Writing to market means you are writing to an audience already established. You have a built-in comparison authors.
    What does this mean for a series? Readers like reading a series. How do I know? Ask Nora Roberts who writes trilogies and quartets, and the popular long-ass futuristic series she pens under J.D. Robb. She started writing those back in 1995 and the 49th book of that series is coming out in September. She couldn’t have gotten that far without readers GOBBLING those up the minute they come out.
    Series give readers what they want, and as an author, that’s my job.Writing a series_ Why I did, and why you should too! (1)
  2. There is a lot to play with when you write a series.
    You can do a map, mark where your characters live on the cutesy-named streets you make up.
    There are opportunities for novellas and prequels and even more sequels than what you originally planned. It’s nothing new for a side character to wiggle their way into a book of their own.
    Add extra content like I am. If your character is a reporter, write the articles mentioned in the book, or in my case, I’ll be adding Autumn’s blog posts.
    Extra content means:
  3. More ways to Market.
    I could add Autumn’s blog posts to a newsletter as a sign up cookie, or write a novella about Marnie and James’s honeymoon. (The last book stops after their ceremony.) What did they do? Where did they go? Can I fly there for research?
    Market the first book in a series with ads, social media, and if the first book is strong and captivating, the first book sells the rest of the series without any extra work. If you’re wide, put the first book free and drive traffic to that book. Use a drip campaign on BookBub and continually use ads to bring in new readers. Or use your free days in Select and buy a promo to drive traffic there for a certain number of days (or just one) and hopefully if your book is strong enough, over time your page reads from all your books will pay for your promo and then some!
  4. That’s something else you get with a series. Read-through.
    Any non-fiction book that talks about making money will talk about read-through. If you read a Chris Fox book, he’ll assume that’s all you write because it’s the smart thing to do, and Chris always assumes you’re smart and willing to put in the work. Read-through is your bread and butter. It’s especially true for romance, but you see this done in the thriller/suspense genre, as well as YA and women’s fiction. (See Patricia Sands and her Love in Provence series.)Indie books versus traditionally published books (1)
  5. The release schedule can give you time to write another book.
    I go back and forth between thinking I’ll drop my series all at once, or give time between each release. I suppose the smart thing to do is get them all ready to publish, publish the first one and then put the others on pre-order. That way readers can see the rest of the series will be available in a reasonable amount of time. Then, while my books drop, I push readers to the first book while I write another book. That’s not so much factory work as it is good planning.

Those are my reasons for writing A Rocky Point Wedding series.

Always first is giving readers what they want, and when you do that, natural sales will follow. That’s not to say releasing a series doesn’t come with its own challenges:

  • Editing and formatting them all.
  • Consistency from book to book. (Green eyes stay green, occupations stay the same, names stay the same, and no one knows something they shouldn’t.)
  • Making sure the covers belong together.
  • Where to put the extras, and what they’ll be.
  • Taking the time to create those extras.

Will it be worth it in the end? Sure. I’ll have four 70k+ word books that will be a lovely addition to my backlist. I’m smarter about covers and blurbs now, and keywords, too, so taking my time and being smart when I publish should help me avoid having to go back and redo them. Let’s not repeat going back and doing covers again like I had to with my trilogy.

But will it be nice to sink my teeth into a new standalone when this is done? Yes! I already have a story idea I try not to think about too much because I’m not done with book 4 of these quartet yet. I’m 37k into it though, and I’ve given myself until the end of September to get it done. Then while I edit them, I’ll do the busy work of blog posts and cover design. (The jury is still out if I’ll hire these out. If I do, I would at least like to have some couples pegged for the designer.)

Writing a series_ Why I did, and why you should too! (2)

I know planning a series can be daunting, and if you have a plot that spans through all the books that’s even worse. I don’t have a plot that takes place over all four books, unless you count wedding activities, but I don’t. Those activities are a natural progression as anyone who has been in a wedding party knows. There’s bridal showers, dress fittings, parties and the like, so while they may not add conflict, the characters do pass along information to each other, and they are easy ways for me to cram them together into the same room.

If you want to tackle series, the best thing you can do is plan. Plan your books out. Plan how you’ll end each one, and if a subplot weaves through each book and will only be completed at the end. I write romance, so I definitely need each couple to have their happily ever after, and a reader can jump into the series wherever they want.

Writing a series_ Why I did, and why you should too! (3)

A Rocky Point Wedding series isn’t the first series I’ve done, (my Summer Secrets erotica series contained six novellas and more than 150,000 words) and it won’t be the last. Look at your genre and if you see that series are a primary offering, look to your own publishing schedule and see what you can do to give your readers what they want!

Thanks for reading!

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Other blog posts on why you should be planning a series:

Why You Should Be Writing in a Series by Tom Ashford on Mark Dawson’s blog.

Why and How to Write a Book Series on the IngramSpark blog.

What Readers Want – Series vs. Standalone Books on the Indies Unlimited blog.

 

Booksprout Review Service

 

book sprout logo

We all need reviews, and finding a platform that can deliver for a low cost or free is like a goldmine to an author. Reviews are social proof our books are good. They show potential readers that others have enjoyed it. They help us create ads either by being able to pull out the review itself for a graphic, or using keywords in all the reviews for our ad keywords.

For an example, here’s the graphic I made in Canva for Bookbub:

bookbub don't run away ad fourth try

There’s a lot of controversy around reviews. Some indie writers/readers insist on leaving poor reviews when reading books to “warn” other readers what a piece of crap it is.

I’d written blog posts about that before, and it’s one reason why I don’t promo my books on Twitter. Writer Twitter is full of people who think they write better than you and they are not shy letting you know about it.

There is even a review of Don’t Run Away by someone I gave a free copy to with a Starbucks gift card. I was getting rid of author copies that had a significant typo in it. Two years later her review pops up on Goodreads. Three stars, and her review starts “This normally isn’t my genre…”

I know they say that a mix of reviews is actually better for your book, but those kinds of reviews I can do without.

You’re probably in the same situation I am. You need reviews beyond family and friends, and the odd Twitter person who wants more than anything to say something bad about your book.

Real, helpful reviews are hard to come by. A reader’s first thought usually isn’t to leave a review of a book unless they were blown away. All they care about is what they’re going to read next.

I’m a member of quite a few groups on Facebook, and one group was talking about Booksprout. I always thought Booksprout was a tool to deliver books and arcs to readers from a list you provided, but Booksprout actually provides their own reader list. You can give away up to twenty arcs with the free option, fifty with one tier option, or unlimited with the second tier option.

booksprout pricing plans

Anyway, 20 out of 20 arcs were claimed for Don’t Run Away in 13 of 20 arcs were claimed for The Years Between Us.

You can choose how long to give your readers to read the book before a review is due, and I gave my readers a couple of months, just to be realistic. Then the reviews near that date started rolling in. Around this time, I was having huge doubts about being wide, and I gave my readers a few extra days to leave a review before deleting the arcs. I put my books back into KU because the quality of the reviews wasn’t worth waiting for. Meaning, I didn’t get all twenty for Don’t Run Away, and I didn’t get all thirteen for The Years Between Us.

The reviewers who did review my books gave them favorable stars, and maybe that’s all that matters to you. But the actual review was just a quick summary of the book. And I don’t mean one or two reviewers did that—most of them did it. At the end of each review was the sentence, “I was given a free copy of this book through books proud in exchange for an honest review.”

Here’s a sample:

booksprout review one

I mean, that’s not a bad thing. Honest transparency. But too many of those on all your books make you look like you’re buying reviews—which is exactly what you’re doing, free service or not.

I didn’t keep an eye on my reviews, and this one popped at me while taking screenshots:

booksprout review two

There are people on there who read the books, it seems, not just skim them. And I thank this reviewer from the bottom of my heart to see she got what I was trying to do with The Years Between Us. 

But overall, the quality of the reviews may not matter to you. If your book has zero you’re trying to gain some traction, you might think a review is a review, even a cardboard-sounding one. And that would be your choice.

I’m not against using Booksprout in the future. Put your arc out there ahead of time, have reviewers leave the review on the day the paperback comes out, wait a week for the reviews to populate, delete your arcs from Booksprout, and then announce your Kindle version is live. You’ll already have reviews for your book. (Thank you to Jami Albright for this release tip. One I’m going to try for the first book in my new series coming this winter.)

I don’t know if you really need to pull your arcs, but I prefer not to give Amazon a reason to give me the stinkeye.

If you have a book that doesn’t have many, if any reviews, give Booksprout a try. You never know if it will work for you.


What are some other ways to get reviews?

  1. Write a good book first. Most readers prefer to review good books. Give them thought-provoking material, or give them a good laugh, or information that will change their lives. The product always comes first.
  2. Ask. Authors are terrible at asking. Put a request in your back matter. If you enjoyed this book, please leave a review. That’s it. Don’t squish it in there with other calls to action. If you want reviews, ask, and leave it at that.
  3. If you have the cash, use a service like NetGalley. Make sure the services reputable otherwise you’re wasting money. You can take a look at my review of the Happy Book Reviews service here.
  4. Create an arc team. This can take some time, but it might be worth it in the long run. Start a Facebook group of readers in your genre and ask them to review your book when it comes out. Building a team can take a long time and lot of work.
  5. Start a newsletter. Build a newsletter following. Your fans will be the first in line to buy and review your book.

Not all reviews are created equal. I have more reviews on Goodreads than I do on Amazon. Maybe readers are more comfortable leaving reviews there, or maybe that’s their preferred platform because they feel they can be more honest. (Or just leaving a star review, something Amazon won’t let reviewers do.) Whatever the reason, a review is a review, so we should celebrate when our readers take the time to tell us what they think.

Let me know your experience with Booksprout, or if you think you’ll give it a try!


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Mid-August Check-in and What I’ve Been Doing

August 2019 blog photo

I usually have some writing-related blog post today, or commenting on something in the publishing or independent publishing space, but today I’ll just update you on what I’ve been doing, what I’m reading, and the things I’m going to try to do before the holidays hit. Christmas is in 128 days, if you can believe it!

It’s hard to believe summer is almost gone, and my daughter (maybe your kids already are) is going back to school in a couple weeks. I’ve done a bit of back to school shopping for her and ordered her pictures online.

I live in Minnesota, so I’m not looking forward to summer’s end. In fact, it’s always nice if the snow can hold off for as long as possible. Last year, we had a bad winter while I was recuperating from surgery and if we only get half the snow that we got last year, I’ll be happy. I’ll be figuring out my new writing rhythm when my daughter goes back to school, and that will take a little time to adjust to, but it shouldn’t be that bad. My work schedule won’t change, so that’s nice.


I changed All of Nothing‘s cover, blurb, and keywords. It’s still too soon to say if they made a difference.

But I am also doing the same for Wherever He Goes.

This is the old cover:

wherever he goes old cover jpg

Pretty and sweet. I have no qualms about it, but it also doesn’t give off the steamy contemporary vibe. So I changed it to this:

wherever he goes new cover jpg

They are both dressed, but I feel it ups the steam factor a bit. I also rewrote the blurb, but I won’t get into that, eventually I’ll get to the keywords. Looking for those will be interesting, as it’s a road trip romance, and that’s a sub-genre I know exists, but I haven’t seen the category for it on Amazon. I ordered a proof so I can see how it looks in print, but the ebook cover is already live. I’ve gotten great feedback on it, so for the skill I have and for the cost I paid ($7) I think it’s a nice change.

Of course, IngramSpark is giving me another pain in the ass about it. Since I published on Amazon, they are saying my ISBN is in use and not mine. I didn’t click on expanded distribution on KDP Print, so the ISBN should be (and is) available for other retailers. It’s just more going around in circles I’m going to have to do with them. Plus they keep insisting I didn’t build my cover within the correct guidelines, but I did. So, I think after I get this book straightened out with them, I won’t be using IS for expanded distribution anymore. Until they can become more indie-friendly, I’ll stick with Amazon.

I can honestly say that through all this wide business and going back and forth, I’ve learned what matters and what doesn’t.


Now that all my covers are how I want them to be for a while, I’ll be focusing on finished up my quartet. Officially called A Rocky Point Wedding (Books 1, 2, 3 and 4) I started book four a couple days ago, and I’m 10,000 words into it. At this point I’ll be trying to figure out covers and get a more concrete idea of what I want. I don’t know what I want yet, and when I don’t feel like writing I poke my eyes out look at stock photos. If I thought doing my trilogy was a pain, this quartet will be the death of me.

I am planning on a slow release . . . possibly one book a month, and while I’m releasing I’ll take a break write a new standalone that I’ve been planning for a while.

But first, book four. This book has its own plot to figure out, plus wrapping up wedding stuff. I do have a book 0 I could write if I ever feel like revisiting Rocky Point, or if I ever feel like starting a newsletter, I could write a prequel novella and offer that as a newsletter sign-up cookie. So there’s that potential, anyway.


I’m reading a really great book right now called Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living Paperback by Manjula Martin. It has a lot of great essays in there by authors like Cheryl Strayed. They talk about giving work away for exposure and opportunity, living in poverty while trying to make it big, what they do with their advances if they do. I’m enjoying it a lot so far, and I recommend it if you’re interested in the money/business side of writing.

If you like books like that, I also recommend The Business of Being a Writer (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) by Jane Friedman. She breaks down the publishing industry and what you can do to make money off your writing. Being that it’s always being said writers can’t make a living wage anymore, I like to hear other people’s opinions.


August 2019 podcasts graphic blog post

I listen to a lot of podcasts, too, and here are some of my favorites:

Joanna Penn. The Creative Penn Podcast

We know she’s a powerhouse in the indie space, and she has a lot of great guest interviews. I don’t listen to every episode, and I have to pick and choose what tips I jot down for my own use since she’s a big believer in being wide, but overall I her podcasts are very useful.

***

The Sell More Books Show hosted by Jim Kukral and Bryan Cohen

These guys used to talk about the news, and they still do, but they have started to pad their podcast with “news” of indies making money. They don’t get into the hows or the whys (not in great detail, anyway), and if you’re not a member of the 20booksto50k group on FB (where they cull these stories) you’re not able to dig out the nitty-gritty details for yourself. I understand there are slow news days, and I listen for the big stories like Dean Koontz moving to Amazon from a Big Five. They pull stories from other places like the Hot Sheet by Jane Friedman and Porter Anderson, and if you don’t subscribe to that newsletter, this is one way to hear about the stories they report.

***

Stark Reflections by Mark Leslie Lefebvre

Mark’s a super nice guy, and I can’t wait to meet him at the Career Author Summit in Nashville in 2020. With so much history in the industry, his podcasts are very interesting to listen to, and he also has a bevy of author and publishing expert interviews. In the last podcast I just listened to, he interviewed Craig Martelle, who puts together the 20booksto50k conferences with Michael Anderle.  As with Joanna’s, I pick and choose what I want to listen to. Mark moved from Kobo to Draft2Digital, so it goes without saying he’s a big cheerleader of also being wide.

***

Self-Publishing Formula hosted by Mark Dawson and James Blatch

I listen to this one off and on. He has great interviews with authors and industry professionals, too, and again, I just pick and choose what I like to listen to by reading the details of the podcast episode. Sometimes they can get a little heavy with advertising their courses, but they all sell something, so listening to them tout their wares is going to be part of listening to a podcast.

***

Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast hosted by Lindsay Buroker, Joseph Lallo and Jeffrey M. Poole and Laura Kirwan.

These guys took a break this summer, and so far Lindsay hasn’t said when they are coming back. She alluded to them changing their format, so I’m looking forward to them doing more episodes. Even if you don’t write Fantasy or Sci-fi, this is a great podcast to listen to. Keep an eye out for new episodes.

***

Print Run Podcast hosted by Erik Hane and Laura Zats

Erik and Laura are agents at a literary agency in Minneapolis, MN, and that was one of the primary reasons for listening. They talk about a lot of the literary stuff in the state, and if I had a more dependable car, I would go to some of them (the Twin Cities is a 4.5 hour drive away from where I live). But anyway, being that they are agents, they give an inside look at the traditional publishing industry. The last episode I listened to, though, they talked about Dean Koontz and his defection move from the traditional publishing marketing space to move to Amazon. They didn’t say very nice things about it, or about Amazon in general, and be aware, if you’re an indie making money off Amazon, that that is their stance. If you can look past their bias, their takes on books and publishing can be interesting at times, though they defend traditional publishing and an agent’s place in it (of course). Publishing is publishing though, and whether indie or trad, they all fit together, so keeping an ear to the ground isn’t a bad thing.


ku graphic

My books have been moved back to KU since the first of August. I boosted an announcement to that effect on from my FB author page and that grabbed a little attention. I used the audience I created for one of my ads for The Years Between Us that didn’t do anything because my ad copy was poor and the pictures I used weren’t the best. I ran two ads for three days a piece and I think I got one sale. But I blame the ad and the copy and the fact I was just messing around to get a feel for the platform. Anyway, so I already had an audience I’d created for that, so I used it and I think I got about 150 likes ad and a little engagement. It will take some time to let people know my books are in KU again, and I haven’t been very vigilant about it because I’ve been changing out covers.

Seeing page reads again is fun, I’ve made $21.00 since moving my books back to KU. You can look at my numbers in this blog post, but I can tell you that during my two months wide I made $66.00. So in a week with just a little boosted post on FB I’ve made 33% of what I made with wide while spending money on a Freebooksy ad. I feel better being in KU and I don’t check my numbers all the time like I was doing when I was wide. That is all KU reads though, not sales. I think I may need to research price more as maybe $4.99 is a bit too expensive for books by an unknown author. I said in a previous post that it was freeing being back on one platform and it is. I feel like I can focus more on the work instead of sales, and with a small backlist, writing is more important to me right now.


Well, that’s the personal update I’ve got for you. In my next blog post I’ll tell you about my experience with Booksprout, and if it’s useful or not.

Thanks for reading!

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