KDP Select/KU vs. going wide, IngramSpark and other musings

GOING WIDE VS KDP SELECT

The other day I pulled my books out of KU. For those of you who may not know what that is, Kindle Unlimited is a program through Kindle Direct Publishing that is offered to authors who don’t publish their ebooks anywhere else. They get paid from a giant slush fund for “pages” read.  Some authors think that Amazon is the best, and there isn’t anywhere else to publish. But where is there to go if you decide you don’t want to give Amazon exclusivity? Kobo, Books (aka iBooks), Nook, Google Play, and a few others that can be reached through an aggregator like Draft2Digital or PublishDrive are available for indie authors. Thank goodness indie authors have a choice.

choice street signs

It’s a little scary, since I have been getting a few page reads here and there, mostly since I paid for a FreeBooksy promo not long ago. Usually that will put my book on the radar for a while, but tends to taper off. Like today, I’ve only made $4.81 in page reads, compared to my highest day ten days after my promo, which made me $56.80. That’s just for All of Nothing, when I ran a free promo for it on November 9th. It’s been a pretty long tail, still getting page reads more than a month after my promo, but I’m thinking I can do better.

It is scary, thinking about losing even those meagre page reads, but there is one thing I have to remember: even if my books aren’t in KU anymore, anyone shopping on Amazon who wants to read my books, can still buy them. What I’ve made today in page reads would calculate into 2.5 people buying my book at $2.99. Sometimes I think authors forget about that part of it. Just because you’re not in KU anymore doesn’t mean authors can’t buy your book. That is really a powerful thing for me to remember, and it makes it easier to feel better about the decision I made to go wide.

I’m really excited about the opportunity publish my books on Kobo. Kobo is growing and right now, according to an old 2016 stat, they have 26 million users worldwide. That’s a lot of readers. And with Kobo Writing Life, I’ve heard they are very friendly and want to work with indie authors.

Some indies go wide from the start, but lots more, not knowing how or where to publish, stick with only Amazon. Neither of these paths is wrong. When I first moved into publishing, I was happy to deal with one vendor. I only had to deal with one file to format, and one upload. One price. I stuck my books in KU and mainly forgot about them as I wrote the next.

But as you publish more books, and you start to learn what other successful indies are doing, you have to think about where your want your business to go. You hear about the risks of putting all your eggs into one basket. But then you hear about authors making hundreds of thousands of dollars in KU reads. (And you also hear about how Amazon can, at random, target one of those authors and essentially take all their income away with a single push of a button.)

Joanna Penn continually says you need to think about more than one stream of income. For her that means speaking gigs, writing non-fiction, her podcast, and other things she has going on in her career, but for indies who don’t do as much as she does, it could simply mean not counting on one company for all your income.

I’ll be going direct with Kobo, since that is how you access their promotions tab. But I’ll likely use Draft2Digital to publish my books everywhere else.

If you’re interested in going wide, and you want to learn what Kobo can do you for you, Joanna Penn recently had a guest on her podcast who works at Kobo, Camille Mofidi. You can click here to listen to it. Mark Lefebvre used to work at Kobo, but now has moved to Draft2Digital. I love Mark and used to listen to the Kobo Writing Life podcast where he would frequently talk about what works on Kobo to sell books. He also wrote a book, Killing It On Kobo: Leverage Insights to Optimize Publishing and Marketing Strategies, Grow Your Global Sales and Increase Revenue on Kobo (Stark Publishing Solutions) on how to use Kobo to sell your books. Mark also did a recent interview on The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast hosted by Lindsay Buroker, Jeff Poole, and Jo Lallo. You can check it out here

My books won’t completely drop out of KDP Select until February, so I have to wait. You don’t want to make Amazon mad at you, so if you decide to go wide, please make sure that your books have completed their three months within the program. If you have several books like I do, you’ll need to wait until they have all dropped out before going wide, as their months could overlap. Plus, they don’t do that automatically–you have remember to uncheck the box in your KDP dashboard.

As for my paperbacks, I am changing that up, too. I’ve seen first hand that if you don’t use KDP Print to distribute to Amazon (or CreateSpace before) Amazon can play hardball and sometimes make your book unavailable or out of stock. To me, this would be a pain in the butt because who has time to police their books all day? I’ve published all my books through CreateSpace/KDP print, and I have found no issues with quality as I’ve heard some complain about. But I have moved my books out of Expanded Distribution on KDP Print and only use them to supply to Amazon. Then, after they drop out of their system, I’m going to publish my paperbacks with IngramSpark and use them for Expanded Distribution. The reason I’m doing this is because I want to approach my local bookstores about carrying my books.

Seeing the benefits of going wide may take a while. But I’m in this for the long haul, and I don’t mind waiting. I need to start thinking about what I want for my business as I grow my backlist, and going wide and using IngramSpark for paperback expanded distribution feels like the right way to go. But only time will tell.

Wish me luck!

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for a little while longer. 🙂 

 

My not so happy review of the Happy Book Reviews service

I listen to the Sell More Books Show podcast. I love listening to the self-publishing indie news they cover every week. Some weeks are lighter than others, but it’s a great way to keep up with all the changes in the industry.

The show is hosted by Bryan Cohen and Jim Kukral who are also hosting the 2nd annual Sell More Books Show summit I’m delighted to attend next year in Chicago.

Bryan does a lot for the indie community. He’s published several non-fiction books including How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis,  a book I recommend regularly, as I use it every time I need to write a blurb. He also runs a business based off that book, in case you ever feel like you just can’t write another synopsis.

Jim Kukral also does a lot for the author community: creator of Book Marketing Club, he also founded and curates the Happy Book Reviews website.

I went into the brief history of these gentlemen because I trust them and I admire all the hard work they do for us indies.

But sometimes things don’t work as well as they could, or should, and Jim’s Happy Book Reviews is one of those things.

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As indies, we all want those five-star reviews for our books. 

At $25.00, he promises to put your book in front of thousands of readers who want to download your book for free and leave a review. This sounds great! At this low fee, my book was available for twenty-five downloads on a first come, first serve basis, to people who would read it and review it with no obligations for me to do the same.

It really could be a boon for us authors who need reviews for that social proof we’ve written a good book.

But my enthusiasm waned the moment I received the email that contained the newsletter that featured my book.

In the whole month my book was available for download, my book was downloaded twice. Yep. Twice. Out of twenty-five copies available.

There were, in my opinion a few reasons for this:

When you sign up, you’re encouraged to sign up for the newsletter. This seems like a no-brainer because you want to see what your book looks like in the newsletter. But as my friend Aila points out–if all the recipients of the newsletter are other indie
authors . . . writers don’t read. If they do, they are helping out their friends by beta-reading or acting as a critique partner. Jim promises he’ll put your book in front of readers, but I suspect that what he’s doing is putting your (and my) book in front of a whole lot of indie authors. Who don’t read other indies, at least, not for pleasure.

The first email went into my Promotions tab and not my inbox. You can fix this, of course, but how many emails do people miss because their email marks the newsletters as ads? (Which, technically, they are.)

Happy Book Reviews will take anything. I’d never speak negatively about someone else’s work, but I have to admit, I was appalled at the company my book kept. I try to be professional in all ways. And while my books may look indie (there’s really no help for that no matter how good you are) some of the books featured in that newsletter looked downright cruddy. Jim will accept any book when what he should be doing is vetting them. While the information isn’t available to me, I wonder how many readers unsubscribe when they see the lack of quality in these books.

quality control

Someone needs to be in charge of quality control

 

**I can understand why he doesn’t do this. Jim and Bryan frequently talk about gatekeeping and I realize Jim doesn’t want to be in the position of determining what is “good.” But I don’t think this is any different than any other promo site where they only allow in quality books. They have a readership to keep happy, and offering them schlock is not the way to go about it. Someone, somewhere, will always play God, and with the products and services Jim, as a book coach, offers, he’s in a better position than some to determine what is “good.”

Only the blurb is available. I know it would take up more space or cost more to send it out the newsletter, but it would help if a potential reader could read the first couple pages of the book they’re considering downloading. It would have helped me avoid the boring contemporary romance I downloaded 1) because I wanted to try the service myself and 2) the cover and blurb looked okay.

The newsletter isn’t broken up into genres. My book sat next to children’s books, paranormal romance, thrillers, and history books. If he could separate the books into genres that could help readers find the books they like. I had a positive Freebooksy experience because of this.


The time for my book has run out, and there’s no time limit for those two people who have downloaded my book to leave a review. So I’m not even sure if those two people who downloaded my book will come through. But $25.00 for two reviews is too much.

I know why Jim will never do any of my suggestions–it’s too much work. He’s a savvy businessman, and I’m sure these suggestions have been brought up to him by other people in the past.

But it must work for some authors, or he’d close down the website. Everyone who uses his service can’t have the experience I did, or his inbox would be full of complaints.

Maybe I’m a black sheep, but somehow, I don’t think so. Wherever He Goes is a solid book. Anyone who reads the first page knows I don’t head hop, I don’t have any typos, and my inciting event happens on the first page of the book. Not Chapter 4.

Unfortunately, I do not feel like my book fit in with the others featured, and unless he makes changes, I won’t be using his service again.

You may have a different experience, and at $25.00, it’s a cheap risk. But I’m also aware that $25.00 could buy you two paperback books, five Starbucks coffees, or could reimburse a beta-reader for her time. If you’re poor, $25.00 can go a long way, so you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the risk.

My blog is about my experiences with the services offered to indies, and my adventures in publishing my books. I want to help. This was my experience, and unfortunately, it could have been better.

I’ll still listen to the podcast (and I encourage you, too) and I’m looking forward to the meeting Jim at the summit.

But the Happy Book Reviews feature isn’t for me, and I wish you luck if you decide to ever give it a go.

Marketing Our Books. It Sucks, so Let’s Talk About It!

Marketing is different from branding. Marketing is the act of pushing your book/brand/product out into the world.

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I think this is one reason indies get branding and marketing confused. We’re often told to start marketing ourselves before we have a solidified brand, or before we’ve published a book.

Build your brand (remember, that’s who you are as an author) by blogging, tweeting and posting about what interests you. You need to build your brand, then market that brand.

What can you do to prepare to market your brand?

Start a Blog 

But who are you blogging for: readers or writers? They usually are not the same audience. Joanna Penn is a good example of this. Joanna Penn writes non-fiction to help indie writers like herself. Her blog contains information for indies. But she also writes paranormal thrillers under JF Penn, and JF Penn writes a blog for her readers about her books. Right out of the gate I’m going to guess you don’t want to run two blogs. So choose who you are writing for. Then when you have a following you can use your blog to market your book by posting snippets of your WIP, short stories, etc. Hopefully, you’ll be cultivating your blog followers to want to buy your book when it comes out.

 

Tweet

Tweeting is easy, but again if you dive into Writer Twitter you won’t sell many books. Writer Twitter is helpful to your author brand if you can cultivate a helpful image. Offer to beta read. Retweet helpful articles about the publishing industry. Follow agents and retweet their query tips.  Network with others. Make writer friends.

This is also helpful if you ever decide you want to dive into non-fiction to help your fellow authors. I’m currently outlining a self-editing book. If there is something you know about the publishing process and you can help others by writing a book about it (you just might want to someday!) Writer Twitter is the perfect audience for a helpful resource book! 

My favorite indie nonfiction books:

favorite non-fiction indie authors

 

Join Goodreads as a reader.

Read books in your genre and join discussion groups. This can take years, but the idea is that your friends on the platform will organically want to read your book after your release. If you read the study released by Goodreads about Celeste Ng’s book Little Fires Everywhere, it explains why and how her book was so successful. One of the points was that she was an active member of Goodreads for 10 years before she published. Her network helped make her book popular.

 

Join Instagram

This platform is the only one where I get personal. I’ve posted selfies. Pictures of my cats. Things that are interesting to me. And as my numbers grow I do post graphics with a line or two of my WIP, to build buzz for my books. I don’t do it often, maybe one photo ten will be something about my book.

Instagram is a good example of both branding and marketing. My photos allow my followers to get to know me. Chocolate. Cats. Books I’m reading. Pretty scenery. I’m a  chocolate-eating, coffee-drinking writer who loves to read. I hope my Instagram reflects that.

For a good list of writer hashtags you should use when posting a picture, look here.


Start a Facebook group for readers who love your genre.

Because not only do you write [insert genre here] you’re supposed to be reading it, too. Announce a book every couple months then talk about it. Authors these days, if you tell them their book is featured, may even participate in a question-and-answer discussion. If you read indie, that’s a win-win. A win for the indie author because it gives them exposure. A win for you because you’re networking and supporting a fellow author.

These types of marketing ideas are connected to your brand. You are a nice, friendly writer who writes yummy books your readers will want to devour, right?  Right. 

There are other marketing strategies that don’t take so much time and/or participation:

Pay for promos. Pay for Amazon ads. Pay for Facebook ads.

After you publish, use your promo free days if you are in Select to build buzz, or if you’re wide, price a prequel novella to a series permafree.

If you’re just starting out, you may not have a series, or a novella for that matter, which brings me to a good point: it’s easy to get caught up in all of this brand-building and not have time to write a word. Remember, you don’t need a brand if you don’t have something to sell. Get your book written. Blog about it – post snippets. But in the end, the following/readership you’re building will eventually want to see some progress. Namely a book they can buy to support you.

So where do I fall in all this? I don’t market much. I play on Twitter, but as I said, Twitter doesn’t sell books. I buy a promo here and there. But to be clear, even though I have my trilogy and a standalone, and another standalone I hope to release next month, I still consider myself a baby in this industry. I do very little with my author page on Facebook. I’ve heard popular indies post two or more times a day

I’m liking Instagram more. I bought the Canva app, and I’m playing with that so I can post cuter graphics on the platform. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet, as it’s a little different from the desktop software.

The strategies I’m living by right now?

Blog. I like to help; it’s part of my brand.

Write. There’s no better marketing for your book then releasing another.

I’m going to keep studying. I read a ton of self-publishing books. Marketing books. Editing books. That may not do too much for me marketing-wise currently, but they’ll help me write better books and market them more effectively in the long run. And anything I learned I pass on to you. 🙂 

Throwing money at, and trying to market, one or two books won’t do you any good. Fiction is a long-term game, and your focus should be on building your backlist.

But by the same token, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and there’s no harm in building your brand. Eventually, you’ll want your brand and your backlist to meet where your marketing efforts will do something rather than waste money. I’ve been publishing for two years and still at the foot of the mountain. I won’t reach the top for a long time.  But that means I won’t stop trying.

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It will take a while, but you can do it!

Tell me what you think.

 

Happy writing and book selling!

Branding. What Does it Mean for You as an Author?

There are a lot of questions about how marketing and branding are different and how they are the same. In this two or three part blog series, I’ll explore what branding and marketing are, and how they work together.

What is branding?

What do you think when you think of a brand? Sometimes you think of a logo right away.

Starbucks mermaid.
The Nike swoosh.
The golden arches of McDonald’s.
Verizon’s red check mark that looks like a V.

But brand is just more than a cute logo. What do you think of when you think of Starbucks? Pumpkin spice lattes. Fairtrade coffee. Maybe sensitivity training after that one barista called the cops on those two black men who hadn’t gotten around to ordering coffee yet because they were waiting for a friend.

As a business, when people see your logo, or think of your brand, you want them to think about good things. Pumpkin spice lattes. Good. Fairtrade coffee. Good. Racist employees. Not good.

McDonald’s has yummy fries. Cheeseburgers. Heart attacks and obesity. Shake machines that never work. Probably every big-named brand will have some things that will mar their reputation.

As a person, you have a brand whether you realize it or not. As an employee, are you dependable? A team player? The person your boss knows will stay late? Or are you a slacker? No one wants to work with you on projects because your coworkers know you won’t pull your weight.

You have a brand as a friend. Are you always late? Maybe it’s so bad your friends tell you a different time than when they show up because they’re tired of waiting for you. You have a brand as a bad friend. Or maybe you always buy the drinks when you go out for dinner. Good friend. Good brand.

These brands associated with you take years to cultivate, years of the same behavior. That’s why creating a brand as an author is difficult and confusing. It takes years.

branding a heifer

Author branding doesn’t have to be this painful! Poor cow! 

It’s also why thinking about your brand when you are just starting out is important, because once people start to think of you in a certain way, it’s hard to change their minds.

What do you want your readers to think of you in relation as an author?

You don’t want people to hear your name and have bad thoughts associated with you and your author brand or books.

Examples of bad things people can associate with your brand (YOU):

  • She fights with people who leave poor reviews
  • He doesn’t put out books in a timely fashion. She makes her readers wait.
  • Her books are full of typos
  • She’s not friendly or supportive of other authors in her genre
  • She complains a lot online. ie, she’s a whiner
  • He doesn’t seem friendly, and fans are hesitant to reach out

The way you are perceived by people who pick up details about you, as an author, is your brand.

If you don’t believe me, think of some big-time authors:

Stephen King
His brand is horror. Other things I think of when I hear his name: He hates Trump. He got hit by a truck and almost died. He probably didn’t intend the latter, but I read about it in his book, On Writing. The former wouldn’t surprise him—his tweets are full of disgust for our President.

Nora Roberts
Contemporary Romance Author
Redhead
Maybe you think of her pen name, JD Robb
Prolific. She always has a new book out. And it’s always a bestseller, too.
I’ve read a lot of her books, and I know she loves Ireland. Lots of her books are set there. It’s part of her brand to me.

JK Rowling
Harry Potter, naturally
Billionaire, philanthropist
Maybe you think of the Harry Potter theme park. Maybe you’ve been there.

EL James
Overnight success
Poor writing
BDSM
Twilight fan fiction
Bitch

Her brand is less than favorable. Be it jealousy, or whatever else, maybe the way she behaves in interviews, rumors of the way she acted on the set of the 50 Shades movies, no one likes her. She’d have to hire a good public relations firm to fix her reputation–if she cared what you thought.

You really don’t want people hearing your name and thinking “bitch” or “asshole.” No matter what area of your life you’re talking about.

First and foremost, write good books. Your brand won’t matter if your product sucks. You’ll have a great brand with nothing to sell.

Be friendly online. Be professional. It won’t take much for people to associate you with being a nice person—if you really truly are a nice person. Help people. Stay away from drama. Don’t interact with trolls. Don’t defend yourself and your books if someone gives you a one-star review.

Maybe look at creating a logo. Some authors’ trademark is simply having their names look the same on all their books. I suck at this because I have fun designing my own covers. But that’s a conscious choice I make whenever I release a book.

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Maybe my imprint will catch on. I could make a different logo with a free logo maker, but I don’t want to give people too much to remember.

When people hear my name I want people to think Contemporary Romance. Well-written books. Happy endings. Friendly, cheerful. Awesome blogger. Maybe people will think about my cats because I post pictures of them on Instagram from time to time. These are all good things.

That is author brand. It takes time to build. You have to start slow and you have to do it right.

That’s why publishing just an “okay” book your first time out is a bad idea. That “okay” book may not be enough to impress your readers and they won’t give you another chance.

Wow them from the get-go. In every aspect!

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

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And if you have to turn your brand around, that makes the marketing part of it that much harder and difficult for you.

This blog post is already close to 1,000 words, so we’ll visit Marketing in the next post, and talk a little bit about how to combine Brand and Marketing!

See you next time!

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