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!

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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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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An Author’s Thursday Thoughts: How book one is doing, what’s up next, and cliffhangers.

Happy Thursday!

Happy Thursday! March seems to be going just quickly as February did! I hope you’re getting a lot done while the weather is still a bit dreary, as I know how difficult it is to get those words down when all you want to go is go outside.

I’m still doing the 2020 publishing predictions from Written Word Media with a dash of Mark Coker (from Smashwords) thrown in for good measure. But sometimes life gets in the way. My son had a procedure done that needs wound care, so that has created a new morning and evening schedule. It wasn’t serious, and he’s healing, but I’m still his mother and sometimes doing something while you’re stressed doesn’t work. Hopefully things will get back to normal in a couple weeks.

Until then, I can update you on a few things.

My second book in A Rocky Point Wedding will drop at the end of the month. My manuscript is loaded into the pre-order, but I still need to go in and add the pre order link to book three to the back matter. Not that it matters. Because I have one pre-order for book two. So I’m doubtful if putting the pre-order link in the back of book two for book three will do anything. Such is life.

His Frozen Heart went live on February 11th, 2020, and I suppose you want to know how the launch did. It didn’t break any records, and even though I tried to drum up a little enthusiasm, which is a lot more than I usually do before a release, it didn’t help. Since its release I’ve made $16.51 and that includes both KU page reads and ebook sales. I’ve had no paperback sales. I think the only thing I’ve managed to do is gather some bad reviews, which I have to admit, let bother me for a little while. Now I just shake it off because it is what it is.

I tried to keep an open mind given the fact that both the main characters went through something unpleasant. Truthfully, even the other characters seemed to be carrying enough baggage to sink a ship, which makes up for unnecessary drama.
This is a nice enough book, it started well for me then just went downhill fast because of some of the character’s wishy-washy attitudes. — Goodreads Reviewer

Anyway, I’ve blogged a lot about what I think is selling right now, and we’ll just see what happens with the other books I have lined up to release under a pen name this year. I think I’ll concentrate on the pen name for a little bit. I’m having more fun than I thought writing first person, and I have a continuation in mind that is spun-off from one of the characters from this new trilogy. I’ll spend my summer writing that, and honestly, trying not to worry so much about sales.


I’m done with the last book in my trilogy I just mentioned. It took a little longer than usual to finish this book, mainly because I wanted to make sure that I ended the trilogy on a good note, and end that book well in general. I have a tendency to rush endings because, well, it’s the end, and even with what I have I’ll probably add a little more in editing. I’ve been looking at stock photos for the covers, may have even picked out the couple since I managed to find a nice male and female in different poses that might look good next to each other.

But there is one thing about this trilogy that has me thinking now. I was scrolling through Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Facebook group and there was a woman posting about cliffhangers, particularly in romance. Should she, shouldn’t she? Do readers like them? Loathe them? A little of both?  As you can imagine, she got quite an earful, both pro and con.

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Then it made me wonder, I have a MASSIVE cliffhanger at the end of book one. I had already planned on releasing these books pretty close together, for that very reason. It’s one big story, after all. A reader has to read book one first, or two wont’t make sense, and reading three before either one or two, well, they just wouldn’t get anything out of it. Now I’m wondering if that’s the death knell for the whole entire series. I mean, I’m all for writing what you want, do that (at your own peril) and if I can avoid some issues before publication, then I should do that. But honestly, I have NO IDEA how I would fix the cliffhanger short of just taking a little bit from the beginning of book two and tacking it on there. But that’s silly. I started book two exactly where I wanted to start it, and it would water down book one’s ending.

It’s a dilemma.

As a writer, we don’t care we write cliffhangers, because the information and “what’s next” is at our disposal. But as readers, is it fair to make them wait, even one second? Would an excerpt from book two be enough to appease them?

I’ve already thought that this isn’t your typical romance. I might not even categorize these as such. Perhaps domestic thriller with romantic elements, or plain thriller, though there’s not too much mystery involved. The thing is, the couple featured aren’t together all that much, though the romance part of it is more than a subplot. I already knew in the back of my mind trying to market it as a full-blown romance won’t cut it.

That’s what happens when you write from your heart, kids. You have a book you don’t know what to do with.

Well, whatever, I suppose. I’ve had more pressing problems in my real life at the moment.

On that note, I am going to bed. It’s already been a long week. With my son’s wound care, sister time, editing for a friend of mine, and of course, all the cats doing all the things, I’ve been pretty busy.

There’s never a dull moment.

I hope all of you are doing well, and I will try my best to be back at it on Monday! Have a lovely weekend!

Happy Thursday!-3

 

Do you need money to write? A poor indie author weighs in.

There’s an article in the Guardian that is making the rounds on social media right now. Written by Lynn Steger Strong, she talks about writers and money. The title is an eye-catching:

A dirty secret: you can only be a writer if you can afford it.

If you read my blog, you know I love to talk about money. In particular, writers making money, or more precisely, not making money. This is a favorite topic of mine because I’m convinced there is money out there, somewhere, but only the lucky few find it, and even fewer are able to hang on to it for any length of time.

Lynn, (I’m sure she won’t mind if I call her that) publishes traditionally, has a Master’s in I’m going to assume, writing of some kind, and teaches college classes. That’s a pretty common way to be a “serious” “full-time” writer and author. Through her graduate program, she found an agent, and she teaches, again I’m going to assume some kind of English class, creative writing class, or even literature. She says her husband’s job helps, and she seems (according to the tone of the article) content, or at the very least semi-satisifed, to write and publish the academia way.

But not everyone can do that, or even wants to do that. A lot of writers I know whom I have met on Twitter, especially, don’t have an English degree, or American Lit, or Brit Lit, or have never taken a creative writing course. So, right away, opportunities (teaching jobs and agent referrals) aren’t accessible to many writers who want to go the traditional route. And surprisingly, many still do. It’s actually quite amazing to me how many writers want to query, want the book deal. They think theyr’e going to be the next JK Rowling, Cassandra Clare, Sarah Maas, Leigh Bardugo. They write epic YA fantasies, or they’re trying their hand at “serious” literary novels, wanting to be short-listed for the Booker, and they think “book deal” means money and fame, and really, does traditional publishing even deliver that anymore?

It’s no secret even if you get The Book Deal, you’re often on your own with marketing and publicity, (and editing. I hate throwing Jasmine Guillory under the bus, but go on Goodreads sometime and look at the reviews for her books. It’s a shame really, that her publishing house *cough* Penguin, couldn’t invest in a a couple editing sweeps and continued to let her flounder for many subsequent books) something new writers who query still don’t seem to understand. Even Lynn, in this article, mentions a published author spending her advance on a publicist. I suppose some want book deals because they think they’re going to luck out and land an agent who will hold their hand through their whole career. They’ll nurture them, and guide them, mold their novels into bestsellers. (Where did you go, Max Perkins?)

Publishing doesn’t do that anymore. In fact, Lynn’s way to publishing, I’m going to predict, will go the way of the dinosaurs in the next few years. Indie publishing is taking over, and the die-hards don’t want to admit it because there are still some successes. In Scratch, by Manjula Martin, you can read an account of how Cheryl Strayed lived hand to mouth with her husband while she wrote Wild. It paid off because she landed a huge book deal, and was able to pay off the credit cards they lived on while she wrote. She didn’t give numbers, but she also admitted that when Reese Witherspoon picked up her book for a movie deal, that also help her finances. I’m sure it did. She must have had a huge amount of faith to think her creative memoir was going to sell big. And she was lucky it did. Who else can put their rent on a credit card? I wouldn’t want to.

So, yeah, sure, you need money to write. Time is money, and if you have time because your significant other pays the bills, or your kids are old enough not to need daycare and you don’t have to make that up in wages, or you’re renting instead of buying and your rent is half the cost of a mortgage, you’re fortunate and have twenty hours a week to write.

But, you need money to sell your books. How many of you would really, let’s be honest now, throw your book deal advance into marketing? How many of you would would throw your 10,000 dollar advance at a publicist? Really? Whether you’re trad published or not, you still need to pay for marketing your own book.

This is where I think most people get hung up. They make time to write, and maybe it takes six months to a year to finish a novel. But then what? Never mind paying for ads. If you’re a debut novelist and you don’t have an MFA or even an under graduate degree in creative writing, you’re going to need a developmental editor ASAP, and those don’t come cheap. Because let’s face it, every day people publish absolute crap. They do. Some of them even know it, but they don’t know how to fix it. Everyone says, hire an editor, but people (often the people who can afford it) forget that a developmental editor costs as much as two months of my rent. I’m sure it’s that way for other people, too. Hmm, a roof over my head, or an editor? Sometimes you can’t choose. So they publish crap and moan when they don’t sell books.

Then there’s the cost of cover design and formatting and throwing a great launch, and paying for ads for the rest of your life.

You can be a writer–that’s free. It’s the rest that slows us down.

I understand where Lynn is coming from. Hell, I’ve even been tempted to try to apply to an MFA program. I picture us sitting around a university classroom, sipping on espresso and discussing why Hemingway was such an asshole, or if F. Scott Fitzgerald was a good writer because he was an alcoholic, or despite it. I picture myself pulling a Donna Tart and spending the next ten years writing the next great American, Pulitzer prize-winning novel while I teach English 101 classes to kids who can’t spell because our educational system is going down the toilet. But how am I living doing that? Hand to mouth because teachers don’t make anything, and programs at universities are shrinking because no one can afford school anymore.

What can you do then?

  • Recognize that it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of time to start making good money. I’ve been writing and publishing for three years, and I made sixty dollars in the month of February–and you need to subtract the 20 dollars I spent on ads. A 40 dollar return on investment is nothing, and at this stage of the game, I’d be better off appreciating the fact that people are paying to read my books, even if that number is few. But, forty dollars won’t even pay my cell phone bill every month.
  • Do what Lynn suggests in the article and find a job that won’t zap all your creative energy so you have the mental and emotional capacity to still write at the end of the day while you’re trying to make it big.
  • Find the sweet spot between what’s selling and what you love to write. You don’t have to write a literary work of art. Half the battle is writing what people enjoy reading. 
  • Focus on craft. We all can do better with plotting, character arcs, and finding our voices.
  • Learn an ad platform and make it work for you. You can start small–five dollars a week.
  • Network with bigger players in your genre and see if you can get a little help with the marketing end of it with newsletters swaps and sniff out promotions that won’t break the bank. One can hope that you’ll always make more money than you spend.

There is money out there. There are readers out there. They want to read good books. Write one and then pay to find them.

No teaching required.


If you need proof there’s money in indie publishing, Publisher Rocket has the goods. I use that software to find keywords for my Amazon ads, and it scrapes data from Amazon. How much is the hottest contemporary romance novel projected to make this month?

51QY58RfpnLLauren Landish put out a book a few days ago: The Dare. At the time of this writing, it’s number 10 in the entire KINDLE STORE, and number 1 in her genre categories. Do you know how much that book is projected to make this month? Almost a quarter of a million dollars. Yes you read that right. It seems almost . . . I don’t know, illegal, to have that kind of information out there. So much for privacy in the digital age. But no one, especially traditionally published authors, wants to admit that that kind of money is out there. That it’s ACHIEVABLE. (I would also be amiss not to point out that her book is exclusive to Amazon, and I bet most of that money comes from KU reads since her book is available in Kindle Unlimited.)

And admittedly, that book is number one in contemporary romance meaning she must have worked her ass off to get that far, and she’s written a lot of books. So there’s no way I’m going to resent her that income. But let’s try the book that’s listed in the 100 slot in the top 100 of contemporary romance today:

The book is by Rich Amooi, and I have to admit, I’ve never heard of him before. He’s 41F7yYZ+yJLprojected to make $12,000 dollars this month. That’s a steep drop from Lauren’s paycheck, but probably you wouldn’t turn your nose up at that kind of royalty check from KDP.

Lynn, the author of the Guardian article, has a book coming out, Want: A Novel, and I wonder how much her advance was from Macmillan, how much of it went to her agent, and what her own plans for marketing her book will be when her book is finally published (it’s on preorder). I wonder if she looked at genre trends, researched the market before she wrote her book. I wonder how long her agent shopped it around before she found the book a home. I wonder if she’ll earn out her advance. She’s not going to make a quarter of a million dollars. I’d bet my next year’s royalties on it.

So where am I going with all this? 1900 words later, I guess I want to say that the money is there, but it depends on the path you choose to determine how long it’s going to take you to find it. I’m working my butt off–I write every day, I try to publish consistently and put out good books. My books haven’t caught on yet, and that’s okay. I’m exploring new things, (switching to first person present for one) and I’m flexible (I don’t mind learning what’s going on the indie publishing world). I’m lucky that my fiancé supports my writing–he pays my rent and makes a credit card payment every once in a while so I can buy groceries. My ex-husband pays me alimony and child support, and I do work. I piecemeal an existence together like a lot of writers. It’s probably why I sound so hardcore whenever I blog about writing. I don’t want to waste the time granted to me by other people’s generosity. I want to make that time count. My life would look very different if I didn’t have money coming in from different avenues, and I probably wouldn’t write as much. It’s Lauren’s numbers that keep me going.

I’m going to make it some day.

And you can, too.


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Where Did Organic Reach Go? (And what you can do to find it.)

2020 indie publishing predictions

The reason we’re so crazy about marketing is that organic reach is disappearing.

What is organic reach? It’s when someone finds what they need without the company or publisher spending money on advertising. When people talk about ads and marketing  and say organic reach has disappeared, they mean free advertising.

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Click on the graphic to read the entire article.

Free platforms on social media. Free exposure. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see an author in one of my writing groups ask how they can find exposure for their book without spending any money.

Twitter has promoted tweets. Facebook makes you boost posts on your own page so everyone will see it. Instagram (in conjunction with Facebook) will promote your posts. Authors are clamoring for attention, and if you can’t, or don’t want, to pay, your post will get lost in the fray.

Is there anyway for an author to find free traction? There are some ways to get around disappearing organic reach, but they take a lot of time and work, and there are no guarantees you’ll see results.

  1. Look for other websites that pertain to you and your genre, and ask them to interview you or ask if you can write a blog post about your book. That’s free. Check the blog for the kind of content it offers and ask to contribute. Everyone is looking for quality content. You’re helping them, and they’re helping you. But make sure they have a good-sized audience or you’ll be wasting time.
  2. Simply ask. Ask for a retweet or ask for a share. If you’re blogging, use hashtags on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to tag your work when you and others share your post. I can get quite a few eyes on a blog post on a Monday using Rachel Thompson’s #MondayBlogs hashtag on Twitter. That’s for my blog, though. I don’t push my books on Twitter, and she has a strict no self-promo rule. Research hashtags and use them appropriately on social media platforms.
  3. Network. People don’t like to network because it takes time to build relationships. It can take years to build a foundation in your genre. Join groups that read the genre you read and write in. After you establish trust and made friendships, you can say, “This month’s selection was amazing. I have a book I just launched that is similar if anyone wants to give it a try.” And that’s it. Taking years to build a group only to be able to say one or two things about your book is a huge time suck. But if you can’t spend the cash, you have to spend the time.
  4. Ask your local newspaper or area magazine to interview you. I’ve even seen local authors on my local morning news program. Who knows who is watching at 5:30 AM but if you can’t spend money on ads and promos, every little bit helps.
  5. Send out a press release. There are press release templates online. Explain what your book is about and send it out into the world. You can find a list of paid and free places to submit a press releases here. You can Google a list of press release templates, and Word has a press release template you can search for in their templates menu.
  6. Write for Medium. Instead of blogging, write on Medium and build an audience there. This is especially ideal if your book is nonfiction. Then you can write short articles on your topic. If you don’t know how to go about it, but it sounds interesting you to you, check out Make Money on Medium: Build Your Audience and Grow Your Income with Medium.com.
  7. Start a newsletter. Start it now, even if you don’t have a book out yet. Some email aggregators don’t charge until you reach a certain amount of subscribers. It can take a while to build your list, but the sooner you begin, the better off you’ll be.
  8. Contact your independent bookstore in your area and develop a relationship with the

    68439602_2590399361023194_7744828669033447424_n

    Photo taken from Black Birch Books’ Facebook Page.

    manager and staff. A good example of this is Dave Koster. He has a relationship with Black Birch Books in his city. They carry his book and have hosted book signings for him. He gets to post about it on social media to build buzz, and he’s making local connections. If you don’t have money to spend on ads, or don’t want to take the time to learn how to use them properly, you will have to do the footwork to try other things. (To take a look at Dave’s book on Amazon, click here. If you want to follow him and his publishing journey, click here and follow his blog. He has another book coming out soon!)

 

A lot of the 2020 predictions are based on the fact that organic (free) reach is gone. Everything is pay to play, and this isn’t going to change. How much money do you think Amazon makes double-dipping their authors by charging to sell their books and charging them to advertise? The more important question – how much do you think Amazon makes off indies who waste money on their ad platform because they don’t know what they’re doing?

Mark Coker accuses Amazon of stealing the author platform, that we need Amazon to sell books, but I don’t think that’s only an Amazon problem. Facebook makes you boost a post in your own group or not everyone will see it. Some of Kobo’s prime promotions are paid or you aren’t eligible. They have free ones you can apply for too, but as you can imagine, they are very competitive and difficult to secure. Amazon isn’t the only one making you pay for exposure, yet they seem to take the most heat for it.

2020 indie publishing predictions-3

If you’re going to depend on free marketing when you publish, start building your platform long before your book comes out. Have all your social media intact in the niche or genre you’re writing in. Every little bit helps, I just can’t promise you how much.

Some other blog posts on organic reach:

https://www.tckpublishing.com/why-authors-should-not-use-social-media/

https://www.janefriedman.com/author-without-social-media-presence-now/

 

Do you have other ideas for free exposure? Let me know!


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Being a Career Author. Do you have what it takes? Wrap Up!

In this blog series we’ve been going through a survey by Written Word Media, and what it takes to be a career author. They surveyed authors who are emerging authors, authors who make 60k and authors who make 100k from their writing.

I went through their points as an emerging author who has six books in her library and I make less than $2,000 a year from my books. They went through how much authors spend in editing and covers. It’s no surprise that they found authors who put out quality books make more money.

They went through how they marketed, with easy and affordable promo sites heading the list.

They surveyed authors about being wide or exclusive and found it didn’t matter – authors still need to take time to build a readership no matter where they publish.

They also went into the time authors write, which not surprisingly, revealed at 60kers and 100kers spent the most time writing. In that blog post I tried to hammer in to the emerging authors that to make the leap from emerging author to 60ker, you still need to put in the writing work, no matter how many hours you put into your day job or how tired you are. Career money requires career time.


There are some variables as to why some authors make more than others, and the bonus material revealed some of these differences.

But first if you were curious about the amount of money an Emerging Author makes, take a look:

The difference between the emerging author and the 60ker. It’s quite a leap to be sure. If you’re single, you don’t need to make 60k to support yourself. At least in my area, you can get by okay on $30,000 a year. You’re not living in the lap of luxury, but a nice two-bedroom apartment with its own washer and dryer runs about $700/month. As an emerging author, even if I made an extra $300 a month, that’s a car payment on a newer car I desperately need. You can take a look at the graphic to check how much an emerging author makes.

EA-Income-768x400

 

Now for some of the reasons why one author would make more than another:

  1. Audiobooks. While audio is on the rise and it’s easier than ever to hire a narrator and get your audiobook out into the world, there’s no point in spending the money if the e-book isn’t selling. It makes sense to invest in audio if your book takes off, but if it doesn’t, there’s no point in spending the money to make an audio version. So while audio is a great supplement for 60kers and 100kers, they were already selling books and the audio is a complement to their library. Also, when audio finally fits into your publishing plan, indies now have their shit together and release the paperback, ebook, and audio all at the same time.

    Audiobook-s-768x560

  2. Genre differences. I’m surprised they didn’t add this to the original survey because the genre you choose to write in is really important. As you can see by the graphics, authors made the most writing commercial fiction. Romance took the lead, and mystery, science fiction, and fantasy follow closely behind.

    Genre-Differences-768x400Genre-non-Differences-768x400
    Children’s books are a hard sell as they depend heavily on print, bookstore and library sales.

    Young adult is broken into lots of sub genres like fantasy and romance, and broken down further into sub sub genres like coming of age, new adult, or college. I don’t see many indies right now writing plain YA like Five Feet Apart or The Fault in Our Stars. They tend to lean more toward dystopian or fantasy like the Hunger Games or Harry Potter. At least, that’s what I get from seeing what others on Twitter are writing about. (Agents turned authors are the ones writing vanilla YA like Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments. Maybe because they have their fingers on the pulse of the market and they’ll write what sells. Who knows.) If you look at indie romance YA, they tend to lean toward paranormal or urban fantasy. Paranormal Academy is hot right now and that usually includes a younger MC. It’s difficult to completely separate the genres, especially since indies like to mash as many genres together as possible.

    And with Amazon allowing you to choose 10 categories for your books, there’s a lot of space to move around.

    We can all agree that while you can make money writing nonfiction, it’s a lot different than writing fiction and it takes a different set of skills to market it. Authors like Bryan Cohen who wrote How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis, Mark Leslie Lefebvre who wrote Killing it on Kobo, and Brian Meeks who wrote Mastering Amazon Descriptions, all have solid foothold in the indie community and pretty much have a built-in audience. They’ve been a part of the indie community for many many years, and they have the platform required to succeed.

    In my experience many indies who venture into non-fiction write creative nonfiction also called memoir. Let’s face it. Everyone’s life is hard. I could write a book about how I survived my divorce, but that wasn’t anything special. I just joined the 50% of other American couples who also have divorced. Hardly book worthy. Unless you have something super special to say, it will be difficult to be the next Michelle Obama.

    Most emerging authors have no platform, and that’s what you need to get a nonfiction book off the ground.

    When you’re an indie, it makes a difference what you choose to write, and, not only that, what you keep writing. Genre-hopping has never done an emerging author any favors, either, something I am finding out subgenre-hopping under my Coming soon!-2contemporary romance umbrella. From what I can see, the most successful indies stay within the same sub-genre like Aidy Award and her curvy girls or Alex Lidell’s academy books. Even Jami Albright writes romcoms and makes a killing with her Runaway Bride trope.

    Mystery, too, is seeing more segregation with subgenres, and authors who choose to write run-of-the-mill detectives might always want to stay with that, only moving the setting to other states, different police departments, and other tragic backstories.

    Indies do like to go their own way, though, and I like to write the stories I like to write as well. Hopefully we can all find a happy medium between writing what we want in writing what sells.

  3. The last point they went into was if the authors had a job outside of their writing. It’s not surprising emerging authors worked. Bills need to be paid somehow. The problem with needing to work is that sometimes your day job is so emotionally draining you don’t have any emotional energy left to write. I’m lucky that I can write and read at my job and that it isn’t emotionally draining. But I do trade that luxury with a lower wage and only because I have help paying bills can I continue to do so. I’m working hard to write as fast as I can to build my backlist so I can eventually hop from emerging author to 60ker. Eventually the sacrifices I’m making to put so much time into my writing will pay off. I’ll make sure it does.

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Even though they did add some additional data, they did leave out some other variables that I find are important in making an author successful.

  • Newsletter. The survey mentions newletter swaps saying that swaps aren’t an effective marketing tool. But that’s only swaps. Swapping implies an author has one to begin with, and I’m willing to bet there is a large gap between emerging authors who don’t have a newsletter and the 100kers that do.
  • The cost of ads. While the survey did go into how authors promoted their books, it’s not often authors reveal how much they’re spending on ads. If you make $50,000 a year but you’re spending $10,000 in ads you’re still doing well obviously, but the amount that author is claiming to have made is a bit deceiving. Bryan Cohen, when he does his mini ads courses, says any profit is good profit. At the core that is true. But if you have to babysit your ads so you make $2.00 for every $1.75 you spend, at some point you have to decide if you’d be better off writing. Ad creation takes time, especially when you need to take the time to write (or learn how to write) catchy ad copy. If you start a newsletter and add the link and call to action in the back of your books and pay for a promotion now and then, you may find that a bit easier, and a little less terrifying, than learning an ad platform and watching your ads like a hawk so overnight you suddenly aren’t $50 in the hole because people hated your blurb.
  • Writing in a series. I hate to keep harping on this, but this is also another component that the survey didn’t go into. Readers like series. They get invested in the outcome. They fall in love with the characters they follow through all the books. 60kers and 100kers know that and they capitalize on it. Emerging authors write what they want, and that isn’t always a series. But I would’ve liked the survey to ask its authors how many emerging authors versus how many 100kers write series. I doubt I would be surprised by the answer.
  • Frequent publishing. The survey didn’t go into how often authors publish. It stands to reason that the faster you put out books, the faster you can make money. But emerging authors have a hard time with timely output. They have their jobs. They are probably still learning craft and the critique partner/beta-reading stages they go through slow them down. Besides Jami Albright, I haven’t heard of an author who is not prolific making $60-$100,000 a year. And she admits she has to rely heavily on ads and other marketing techniques between releases. She knows her limits and embraces them. But you have to wonder if she could write more than one book a year, what that would do for her bottom line. I write as fast as I can, but I am not 100% confident in my ability. So the beta-reading stage slows me down as well, as does making sure of consistency and wanting no potholes in my stories. Maybe one day I won’t need so much reassurance. But I’d rather do it right the first time than pay for my haste with bad reviews.

In conclusion, the money is out there. There are different paths to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But whether anyone wants to admit it or not, some paths are easier than others. Write commercial genres. Publish quality work. Publish often. Start a newsletter. Use promos like Freebooksy and Bargainbooksy to promote your work.

If you’re not doing these things, success may take longer to come. We all make mistakes and maybe telling your story the way you want to tell it is more important to you than money. That’s cool too, but be honest. Writing the story you want, with no editing, using a cover that’s not professional, and tweeting it out day after day won’t earn you any sales. So no whining when it doesn’t.


Thank you for joining me in this blog series where we broke down the Written Word Media Survey and the bonus material they later released. I hope the information given can steer you in the right direction to a productive and lucrative writing career.

Thanks for reading!


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