How often should you publish?

In the three year plan, I use the example of publishing four books a year. I did this because it is a comfortable publishing pace for me, and I think it should be very achievable at just a thousand words a day.

But how often do you really need to publish if you want to have a successful career?

There are some people who say that they want to publish every month or even every two weeks, and others who live comfortably off publishing a book a year or in some cases even less.

Both these approaches use very different mechanisms to keep sales going.

If you publish frequently, you will make use of the algorithms of the retailer sites, most notably Amazon, where this has the most effect. If you sell well on Amazon, and especially Amazon in the US, it can be very effective to publish shorter works frequently to keep your books being recommended to readers. Amazon thrives on a high level of churn. This is much less for other retailers, so if you sell well worldwide, it is much less important to publish as frequently.

But the frequent publishing method assumes two things.

In the first place, it assumes that you can produce books that people want to read at this speed, and keep doing it. Some people find it relatively easy, some people end up publishing shorter works, but most of us cannot write a book every month let alone every two weeks. We have lives, we need more time, we write in genres that require extra work like research into various aspects of the story. Writers of historical fiction or technothrillers or hard science-fiction will find it very hard to write that many books in a year.

Even writers of fantasy or people who write about real life things that they have to crosscheck to make sure that they got everything right. That stuff can take a lot of time.

And some people’s brains just don’t work that way.

So assuming you can put out quality books that people want to read, if you can write that quickly, a high speed of publishing is better than a slow speed.

Algorithms. You will hear people talk about 90 day cliffs and 30 day cliffs on Amazon, but the problem with getting fixated on things like that is that Amazon can change how it shows your books to prospective readers by changing one line in the code. They may not get around to doing that for two years, or they can do it next week. You cannot build a business on that kind of uncertainty.

However, it is always better to have more books, and to publish more frequently. It seems that three or four books a year is a comfortable pace for many people.

But what if you have a day job, or you simply can’t write that quickly for whatever reason.

Well there is always George R.R. Martin, and in a small way, we have our own self published writing equivalent in Mark Cooper, who makes a living and published his last book in December, but the book before that 3 years ago. All that time, he kept his income up through diversification and advertising.

If you write big and chunky books that people like to read, that get good levels of word of mouth, and you publish them in a series that people love, they will very often be happy to wait. Just make sure that while they wait, you have them on your mailing list so that you can let them know when the book is out.

If you don’t write a new book every two or three months, you will also have to be much smarter with advertising. You cannot rely on the retailer algorithms to recommend your books to everyone once the initial burst of sales from the release is gone. You have to advertise your book, you have to get inventive. Make bundles with other writers, run cross promotions, use the wide range of advertising options, including Facebook and AMS ads and try everything and continue to do it if it works. Make sure that your books are out on all platforms in all different formats including print and definitely audio, because the audiobook market is a completely different animal with a different audience.

So: how often should you publish?

The answer is: as often as you can while maintaining quality and avoiding burnout. This is going to be different for each writer, but if you try to push yourself too hard and put out books before they’re ready, you will lose readers. If you push yourself too hard and get burnt out, you harm yourself. If you don’t publish books and don’t advertise, you will lose your readers, so there is a balance in between publishing frequently and getting smart with advertising. Unless you sell so much that you can employ someone to advertise for you, you will probably have to choose between either of those activities. You can either spend a lot of time writing, and not that much advertising, or you can devote more energy to marketing and less time writing.

Somewhere in that equation, there is a balance that everyone needs to find for themselves.

The comments on this blog are closed because of excessive spam, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can discuss it or ask further questions.

Is it worth to invest in my book?

This is a question I get asked quite a lot. Is it worth to invest in my book?

As usual, the infuriating answer to this will be: it depends. It depends both on your situation and your publishing history.

I’ll be answering this question for the situation that this is your first book, you have published it a while ago and it has been sitting in the seven figure “telephone number” ranking range on Amazon for about two years. Maybe you have been able to get a review or two, but you have not been able to sell great numbers of them. You have an inkling that maybe the book is not as good as it could be. You want to know whether it is worth investing money in that book to make it better and hopefully to get it to sell.

In the first place, let me say something. To get a dead book like that to sell is not impossible, but it is very hard. You have to know what you’re doing and understand why your first attempt didn’t work and how to change things to have a better go at it.

But more likely than that, it is your first novel ever. In the dark days of traditional publishing, there was a saying that first novels should stay in the bottom drawer.

Now, the moment I say this a vocal handful of people will go up in arms saying that so and so published their first book after typing “the end”, never showed it to anyone, never did any writing training, and it really well.

Well good for them.

However, if this is you—completed your first novel, gave it an edit and published it—there are a number of things that are solidly stacked against you.

Most importantly: storytelling is a craft. It needs to be learned.

Oh, but you will say, I am great at English and I always did really well at school and I write reports in my day job. I can write.

Wrong.

I repeat: Storytelling is a craft that needs to be learned.

Not writing. Story telling.

In fact, the writing can be severely mediocre, and even riddled with errors, as long as the story is engaging.

Second fact: Few people are natural storytellers.

So before you stare yourself blind at cosmetic issues, like the cover, like proofreading, like pretty writing, and whether or not it is a problem that English is not your first language, worry about learning to tell a good story.

And for this, you probably need to take a step back and ask some people for advice. These people cannot be your friends, or any people who have a vested interest in your happiness, because they will probably make you very unhappy.

Alternatively, enrol yourself in some courses about storytelling or buy some books about this, and learn about story structure and how to write engaging characters, and point of view.

Notice that I have not mentioned the individual book here.

When you start to invest in your fiction, you don’t start by investing in your product straight away. You start by investing in yourself.

It is best to set the book aside, and write another book with the things you are learning. Learn about story structure, learn about writing engaging characters, learn about point of view.

Yes, again, some people are born storytellers, but for the most of us, it is a craft that needs to be learned. In fact, I hazard a guess that the more you assume that you are a natural born storyteller, the less you actually are. The people who are runaway successes either have history of storytelling in other forms, or they luck into writing something engaging and are taken completely by surprise by their success (a significant percentage of the latter actually find it really hard to repeat that success with a second book or series). If you struggled for a while, that runaway success is obviously not going to happen to you, therefore you need to work for it.

So to come to the question: if you have published one book and it is not selling, is it worth getting it reedited, gutting the book and getting a new cover on it and re-launching it?

Is it worth spending $1000 or more on a book that is already not selling?

I would say it is not at this point. Write another book. Develop your storytelling craft. Then write a third book.

Then maybe go back to the first book, gut it and then do the work using all of the aspects of the craft you have learned.

Do not fall into the trap that great editing and a great cover alone can make your book sell. You can make your book sell by learning to tell a more engaging story that people want to read. An editor can’t (and won’t) do this for you. Don’t throw good money after bad.

The last chapter in my self publishing guide Mailing Lists Unboxed is called Patience Really Is A Virtue. Self-publishing writers have far too little of it. They want shortcuts to bestseller sales without having to do work. They want to pick up a violin and walk into a symphony orchestra.

Forget about the prodigies that people talk about all the time. Seriously, forget about them right now. Do the work. Fix the major problems with your storytelling and then write another book and another book and another one. And then maybe think about re-launching your first book. I can guarantee you will be embarrassed how bad a writer you were and how good you thought you were.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can ask for advice.

Ask me a question

Hey guys, I’m getting a lot of questions about self publishing.

While I would like to help everybody and answer the questions, I’m afraid I don’t have time to email everybody individually. I’m an author and don’t run a coaching business. Also, questions have a tendency to repeat, so here’s an idea: if you ask me a question, I will answer it here, so that everyone else can see it, too, and this site becomes a depository of useful answers.

Don’t worry, if I answer your question, my default is that your question will be stripped of identifying features and you won’t be mentioned by name, unless you really want to of course.

To ask me a question: comment on here via the Facebook link to my page, or send me a message through the comments form on my website (link in the header).

It is probably not a very good idea to message me through Facebook, because I often don’t see those messages, especially if you are not already in my friends list.

All kind of questions relating to self-publishing or writing are welcome, either from beginners or more advanced people.

I will start very soon with the first of the questions.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can ask for advice.

The Self-publishing Three-year plan is now a book

ThreeYearPlanSeriesHeader
Hello all, I haven’t been here for some time.

I’ve been busy writing new books.

But I have just published a series of three books that readers of this blog might find useful.
Over the years, I have found that a lot of people ask for advice on self publishing. I think this is a good thing, because when you google self publishing, a lot of vanishing publishers come up.

Asking other authors is certainly the best way to find out about the best practices, so I don’t want to discourage that. But there are only so many hours in my day! I need to spend more time writing my own fiction instead of talking to people and answering questions via email or Facebook.

Often, the answers will repeat the same things over and over again, so I have decided to make it a series of books.

The first book, Self-publishing Unboxed, is 101 guide to self publishing for people who know nothing about it. It covers the basic principles of self publishing, the dos and don’t’s, the potential pitfalls, and the attitude necessary to turn this into a successful venture.

There are quite a few books out there that cover a lot of the nitty-gritty, but not many of them give an overall perspective from the viewpoint of a writer’s career. Books will concentrate on marketing, on the publishing process, or on writing craft. But in reality, all three of these need to come together. I have attempted to give a bird’s eye view of all three.

In the self publishing community, I have become known as someone uses mailing lists to great effect.

In the second book, Mailing Lists Unboxed, I describe some of my tactics and the underlying principles and attitudes necessary to use your author mailing list to its full potential.

Again, this is not how to guide with detailed instructions, because I assume that you can read the instructions on your email provider’s website on how to set up the processes I talk about in the book.

Rather, it is a book that describes how the things work and why they work. I cover different types of mailing list and the different strategies necessary to engage them, how to recruit people for your mailing list and what are the consequences of each type of recruiting, the risks with mailing lists, the unspoken rules about them, and how to use your list to sell books.

The last book, Going Wide Unboxed, is a short companion guide for writers who are listed in Kindle Unlimited, and who want to take a stab at listing at other venues than Amazon and take their fiction into the world. Kindle Unlimited has its largest market in the US. That is all very well if your fiction is geared towards the US, but it is not even the majority of English language readers.

These days, I sell a lot more outside the US than inside it. The sales of English ebooks is a growing market in countries other than the US, and in general, not even on Amazon, one that has embraced Kindle Unlimited in great extent.

By increasing your focus on international sales, you can also increase your sales on Amazon, especially in non-US stores.

This book discusses the non-Amazon venues that are open to self-publishers and where it is useful to list your books. It discusses if you peculiarities of each platform that can be useful to know.

It also discusses the fundamental shift in attitude that you need to have with regards to marketing your books. For one, your mailing list will become much more important.

There isn’t anyone easy way to increase your sales. Taking your sales worldwide is hard. This book aims to better prepare you for taking that step.

The book is only short, and will be free for a limited time.

The three books will be available to all writers, and not just the ones who sent me messages on Facebook or send me emails.

I hope to have served the writing community by writing these books. There will not be any online courses or any webinars to sell. I will get back to my fiction.

You can see more information about the books and find out where to get them here.

PSA and reminder for hopeful writers

This needs to be said every now and then:

If someone calls themselves a publisher, you DO NOT PAY them. Ever. End. Of.

A publisher takes risks on your behalf. They invest in the presentation and advertising of your book. They make money from selling that book, not from selling their services to you.

If you want to take on your own risk (aka “self-publishing”), and you do not want to get into the nitty-gritty of the production and marketing process, there are companies that will edit, format and design the book for you. This is a service from them to you, you pay for it, but they do NOT NOT NOT call themselves a publisher.

Why is this so important?

Well, everyone wants their book to sell, right?

Who has the most interest in selling your book? That would be the person who invested in the book, right? If the publisher pays an advance, the saying goes, the bigger advance, the more they’re going to do to advertise it (aka “recoup their investment”).

If you’ve paid to publish (aka “vanity publishing” although they may dress it up as “partnership publishing”), the “publisher” has finished their business commitment once you’ve signed off on the book, have taken delivery of 1000 copies to sit in your garage, once you have purchased their “publicity plan”, and once they have sent out what they agreed to send, their commitment is over. Done.

From that point, you’re on your own, dude, because this “publisher” will care most about signing on the next sucker to be milked. They DGAF about your book and the success or failure thereof. Their business model is to charge you twice, three, four, five times as much for the same stuff you can source yourself, but pretend they are a legit publisher, because “we arrange distribution to bookshops”.

Here’s a hint: EVERYBODY can list their books in catalogues where bookshops can buy. That part is easy.

The hard part is making sure that bookshops actually, you know, order the books.

That is the job of a real publisher. If they’re not out there batting for your book (because they paid you an advance and they bloody well want their money back) then they have zero business calling themselves a publisher.

Do NOT sign with them.

They don’t do anything illegal, but they give you hope that you’re somehow getting the full treatment. If you sign, you are self-publishing. Except you’re being charged far too much for services that, in one case I have seen, are second-rate. As in, the writer handed over thousands and the editing job they got was poor. I could have told the writer numerous places where editing would have cost $500 and would have been of better quality.

They give you the impression that if you buy one of their marketing packages, the book will sell. It won’t.

Lemme tell you this: marketing books is hard.

Marketing books is a long-term commitment and no company will do it beyond some “press releases” and a few ads unless they have money invested in it. A vanity press has recouped its money the moment your book is out the door. They’re done.

They don’t give a fuck.

About your book.

Not a single little fuck.

They’re just looking for the next person with a book.

Don’t deal with these businesses.

Please?

If you want to self-publish, contact me. The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can ask for advice.

This will be a thing soon

JonathanBartell

To be published soon: a series of three novellas featuring agents Jonathan Bartell and Gaby Larsen.

Realistic science fiction mixed with mystery and a touch of whodunnit.

Set in the real solar system, the three novellas explore the difficulties in maintaining healthy environments for people in space and the many, many ways in which people can sabotage them.

When micro-organisms were discovered on Mars, Jonathan was one of the flood of students who went to study exo-biology. Students who are now all flipping burgers because the micro-organisms weren’t very interesting and no one was willing to fund enough research into the them to absorb all the new graduates.

Jonathan wants a job in space. Any job. Quarantine Officer at the Orbital Space Station is a start, right?

Gaby Larsen is a doctor in the tiny hospital at the Orbital Launch Station.

Jonathan is new and blunders into things that he would be better to keep out of.

Gaby has seen these things and knows for sure that the truth is better hidden.

This is the main premise of three novellas in this world. Each will be an independent story that follows the previous but that does not require that you read them in order.

The first novella should be done shortly.

If you’re on my mailing list, you will get a notification. You can sign up in the column to the right and here.

P.S. This blog will be closed to comments until further notice. If you want to comment, blog posts are syndicated to my Facebook page. You can comment here.

Getting hung up on the wrong things

Further to the epic rant I shared last week, I listened to Mark Dawson’s interview with the mysterious Data Guy this morning. I got up at 4am, drove to the city to drop off my husband to the bus to Canberra (where he has a course this week, so has to start early), went back home (still very dark), walked to the gym (scared the bejesus out of a possum in the dark, or maybe it scared me), where it was still very empty at 5.15am. I always listen to podcasts at the gym, because gyms are boring and I can learn something while I’m there.

An interview with Data Guy is a real scoop for the show. I guess Mark knows who he is, but we’re all speculating. In short, every three months, he rents hundreds of servers for an hour or two and they crawl across the entire book section of whatever site he chooses (mostly Amazon US, but he’s done others) and collect publicly visible data. Title, author, publisher, ranking. He does this for an ever-increasing portion of the books for sale. He uses this data to create an immediate snapshot of the industry. The book industry at large is now beginning to see the value of this, because all of the data they can collect does not offer them as complete or immediate a picture.

Data Guy writes the quarterly Author Earnings reports together with Hugh Howey, and these reports give a lot of insight into what’s happening in the book industry. Too much to mention here, but everyone should read them, whether you have a publisher or are self-published. If you’re really keen, the data is publicly available, so you can download it and play with it.

Back to the podcast.

Apart from all the things I mentioned in the rant from last week (people don’t use ISBNs and those books are not counted; people buy even their print books online), I’d like to highlight this quote from the transcript (bolding mine):

James (interviewer):
Is there a particular area do you think you could point people towards they should be looking at?
Data Guy:
Absolutely, and that is marketing and advertising. What is conventionally understood by traditionally published authors to be important absolutely isn’t. Newspaper and radio ads, book signings at the occasional book store, they’re fun. They are enjoyable. I’ve done them. I’ve really enjoyed as an indie author signing at Barnes and Noble. But 70 books in a day in print, where you basically earn very little with your POD books, is not comparable to selling 1,100 or 2,000 books in a day, which is what you can do with an online promotion without too much difficulty if you plan it right. Focus the energy on what works today.

Yet, I see authors getting hung up on in-person sales, signings, presence of their books on shelves, con appearances etc. every day.

This stuff is FUN. It strokes your ego. For sales, it does diddly squat.

Next month, I’ll go to Supanova on the Gold Coast. It’s a tax-subsidised holiday. That’s it. It’s fun. Yet at these events I meet people who don’t even have ebooks. Or who have their ebooks farmed out to daft third party joints that are inflexible and expensive.

Selling print books at stalls or signings is successful when you sell 50 books or more. During my biggest sales day online, I sold 3046 books. In a single day. I can go back the next day and sell 1000, and the next day, and the next day, and…

Ebooks, online, that’s where it’s at. That’s where you should advertise.

Yes, it was still dark when I got home at 6.30. The possum was gone because the rubbish trucks were prowling the streets. We need the end of daylight saving, please?

Selling your writing: on having success, or not

Here is a philosophical post for a lazy Saturday.

When you write, invariably, you get asked the question: are you successful? When people ask me, I’m never sure what to say. I sold my work to publishers and got into some good magazines. I guess that’s success. I never made much money doing that. I then bowed out of this industry and now sell enough books that we could live on it. But no one knows who I am, I’ve won no awards, have received no accolades in the traditional sense in recent years. But I’ve sold a lot more books and have hundreds of reviews. I guess I could call myself successful, but that’s really hard to say about yourself. I also know people who sell way better than I do. I know people who sell less who I consider more successful.

So what, really, is success?

Here are some thoughts.

First, define success

You will hear this line often from people who want to diffuse discussions about the subject. They say: not everyone wants to make millions and retire on a yacht in the Bahamas (looking at you, Hugh Howey). Some people just want to sell 50 books to people that are not their friends and family. Some people consider success the simple fact of having completed a book.

Really?
Really, really?

I would prefer to set the bar at least a little bit higher.

But how? Money? Awards?

Success is one of those things: you’ll know it when you see it. It’s not quantifiable by income. Some very successful writers especially in the trad world don’t make their living selling books.

Here are a few things I believe to be true about success:

There is always someone who is more successful than you

Seriously, this never gets old. As soon as you have shifted the bar, someone else will put it higher still. Compare-itis is a recipe for disaster for your personal mindset and productivity. Don’t forget all those people who are less successful. Look at them and feel happy about where you are.

When you’re doing well, acknowledge it

Nothing more annoying than a writer who’s doing pretty well whining about standards or sales levels that most people would find unattainable.

And enjoy it while it lasts

Everything that goes up must come down. Make hay while the sun shines.

There are a variety of cliches that deal with this very issue. Don’t forget that amazing sales never last, and bank for the leaner times in between releases.

This happens to everyone, and there is nothing wrong with you or your books when sales slow down. Just write the next book.

Most importantly: Check your expectations

If you go into a project as unknown entity, you realistically can’t expect a huge success story. Yes, it has happened, but here is my law about it: the more confident/cocky you act about the potential of success, the less likely it will become a reality.

Experienced creators know that they can make certain sales based on the size and engagement rate of their mailing list, but unexpected successes are pretty much that: unexpected.

If you go into a project with no reader base and/or no mailing list, the chances of a hit are very, very slim. Know that, acknowledge it, and keep plugging on.

The most important rule about success that I adhere to: in the public space, I don’t put myself forward as successful. I let other people do that. Or not. It’s not up to me to judge.

Ambassador 6 is now out!

If you are looking for something to read on this miserably rainy weekend, I’m happy to announce that Ambassador 6: The Enemy Within is now live on all platforms. To celebrate, book 1 in the series is now 99c or get it for free if you sign up for my mailing list in the right-hand column.

Or see all the books in the series.

I’ll leave you with this pretty graphic of all the books in the series. Tom Edwards rocks!

Ambassador seriesFB

Patty’s epic rant on the book industry

Last night, I spotted a Guardian article about the supposed decline of ebooks.

When something like this comes up, much handrubbing ensues from the traditional industry. We’ve defeated the beast. Ebooks were a fad. People have seen sense and appreciate the real product.

But what’s actually happening?

Publishers won the right to publish ebooks at the price they choose (and so they should be able to IMO, it’s ludicrous that a retailer should be able to set prices).

But.

The don’t know how to sell ebooks and are not interested in them. Their model is to sell to bookshops, not customers. I had an industry professional tell me a while back that they started reader groups to find out what their readers want. I was going like FFS, you’ve been in the industry for 100 years and you’ve never talked to readers?

But no they haven’t. They sell to bookshops. And people, whether you’re sad or happy, this model is about to come crashing down.

Why?

Because people buy online, not just their ebooks but also their print books.

Why?

Because bookshops don’t have what you’re looking for. An e-retailer can afford to have millions of books in their catalogue. Search it, order, and it’s delivered to your door. Whatever quaint and fuzzy notice you entertain about bookshops, they can’t compete against the juggernaut of the internet with the current model.

Anyway, every now and then, people go into episodes of glee about how ebooks are dying, local bookshops are “fighting back” and how we should stop all the naughty imported booksies.

But.

Bookshops are not dying where they offer extra value. We have a local bookshop (hey, Scott!) which does home deliveries and reading days in nursing homes. I rarely buy there, but a lot of the elderly residents in this area do. Specialisation and excellent service will set these shops apart.

But what is even more insiduous: ebooks aren’t dying at all!

As traditional publishers were allowed to raise their ebook prices to higher than print in some cases, they drove customers to either buy print or buy cheaper ebooks. And, here is the rub:

37% of all ebooks sold are self-published or published by small presses and have no ISBNs and are therefor not counted in the industry roundups produced by Nielsen etc.

So the article in the Guardian is untrue, it misrepresents what is happening in the industry and it pulls the wool over the eyes of many people on the ground, people who have the right to better information so that they can make better decisions for their own future.

Anyway, here is my rant: