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:

Promotion: Ambassador and free books

I should probably do some pimpage.

Most of my regular pimping goes on to my mailing list, but I guess I can make an exception for a new release.

Book 6 in the Ambassador series comes out on the 14th, and I’m running a special bomb on book 1 of the series. Now if you’re on my list, you get this for free, but if you hate being on mailing lists, you can get it for 99c.

If you’ve already bought it, you can retweet it!

or you can Facebook it!

Marketing: increasing your mailing list–be careful!

When you start selling books online, one of the first things that marketing peeps will tell you is that you will need a mailing list.

Even way back in the mid-90s when I sold non-fiction hard-copy books, I knew the value of a mailing list. I would buy second hand libraries of specialised non-fiction, send an email to the list (in the low hundreds) and sell half of the stock. It was magic!

Way back then, the list was accrued in a way that would be considered illegal now (but there was no CAN-SPAM and no one knew any better): by finding email addresses in the specific interest communities. At that time, those people appreciated getting the emails because the internet was opening up and they were delighted that someone sold the type of books they wanted.

Fast forward twenty years, and you have to be really careful with mailing lists.

Just how do you increase your list safely?

Organic signups

First and foremost, you should try to get as many organic signups as you can.

Organic means that people sign up after having read your book and they choose to part with their email address so that you can notify them when the next book is out.

For this, you put a live link to the signup page in the front and back of your book.

Why the front? Well, there are quite a few (really anal LOL) peeps who don’t like their books showing as partially read. You know how the books always contain a few pages of backmatter, including a sample and in order for the books to show “read” you have to page through all that just so your device can stop reminding you that you’re reading this book (which you’ve finished, stupid ereader!) and aaargh I may just have outed myself as one of those peeps.

If they’re still thinking about the book two days later and want to sign up, they don’t have to page through the whole book.

There is another was in which the front matter link can be beneficial. Click this link. It goes to Ambassador 1 on Amazon. Click on the cover and in the window that opens (the “look Inside”), scroll down. See the image? See the offer? Put the mouse over it. Click it.

Ta daaaa! A live link to my signup page on Amazon.

But! Why would I direct people away from buying a book for $2.99 to signing up? Because an address on my list is worth more to me than $2 from a single sale.

(P.S.I’m running a sale on this book and astonished Amazon has already changed the price LOL)

Competitions, giveaways and cross-promotions

This is a very powerful way of building a list and increasing your readership.

This method uses a single website that advertises a bunch of books, usually with a giveaway attached, and the authors of the books get a list of the email addresses of the entrants.

But first, let’s put a few oft-repeated objections out of their misery:

  • People only want to win the prize. Yup, some people do, that’s why you need to clean the list of non-openers once you start sending to them.
  • People are not interested in your genre. Sure, that’s why you need to clean the list of non-openers once you start sending to them.
  • Your open rate goes down. Probably, that’s why you need to clean the list of non-openers once you start sending to them.

See a pattern?

You need to maintain the list and delete inactive peeps.

Which you should also do for your regular list, by the way.

This you must understand about lists: there are two types:

  • a back-end list
  • a front-end list

The back-end list is a service to people who are already your readers. Organic signups are a back-end service.

A front-end list advertises your books to people not already familiar with them. This is what you do with competitions.

There is overlap. It’s quite astonishing if you ever do a survey of your list, how many people have not read all your books, despite having volunteered to be on a new releases list. Who are better people to advertise your books to than those who have already shown this level of interest in you?

Competitions are a GREAT way for advertising your books personally to people who are interested in your genre and interested in readers.

BUT!

Big but.

You need to be really selective in which giveaways to take part in.

I will tell you hands down the best method:

Go to Instafreebie. Sign up for the lowest level paid account. It’s $20 per month, but the first month is free. But seriously, this is the BEST money you will ever spend on advertising.

Put your first-in-series books up on the site, set up a giveaway for each, and make opt-ins required. Join your Mailchimp account to Instafreebie, or if you don’t have Mailchimp, get a free account with them and then use Zapier to automatically transfer the email addresses to whichever service you do use.

Then join one of the many Instafreebie promotion groups on Facebook.

I’m a big fan of this one:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/instafreebiepromos/

In this group, and others like it, authors will ask for fellow author peeps to take part in genre-based cross-promos. You sign up, the organiser sends you the information, and on the allocated dates, everyone kills the internet with it. The beauty about Instafreebie is that it will also advertise these promotions to their readers.

The giant pluses of this method:

  • The people who end up on your list are avid readers
  • It’s 100% author-run, so there are no businesses trying to make money off running promotions.

There are some commercial competition sites. I have used a good number of them. You have to be extremely careful with them, mainly because of the issue I mentioned at the top of the post: these days, we have CAN-SPAM laws and too many complaints can lead to your account being banned from your provider.

In terms of spam complaints, these are not many complaints at all. I’ve never had any issues, but I know people whose Mailchimp accounts have been shut down due to ONE badly-chosen promotion.

In terms of commercial promotions, I’ve not heard any bad stories about (although they may send you a lot of promotional emails advertising their promotions):

  • AuthorXP
  • RyanZee
  • Author Platform Rocket

There are likely to be other reputable services. There are some services out there where I’ve heard (or experienced) LOTS of bad stories about fouled-up lists. Some services copy old lists to artificially inflate the paying authors’ results. Some harvest addresses from other sites.

Do your research!

Or simply stick to author-run non-profit cross-promotions.

Marketing: tips to beat the sharks and save yourself a lot of heartache

As I’ve said before, once you become a self-published author, there are some who will view you as a walking wallet to be divested of as much money as possible.

There are a good number of reputable sources of advertising. Some will give you spectacular results, some are decent, some don’t work for your book. You need to experiment to see which are the most effective. At best, you make money, at worst you lose some money.

There are also the sharks. Quite different from the reputable advertisers which just don’t work for your book, the sharks can harm you substantially, even if they might also increase your sales.

How, if you’re only paying $10 for an ad on their platform?

Well, there is this section in the Amazon Terms Of Service:

Misuse of sales rank:

The best seller rank feature allows buyers to evaluate the popularity of a product. Any attempt to manipulate sales rank is prohibited. You may not solicit or knowingly accept fake or fraudulent orders, including placing orders for your own products. You may not provide compensation to buyers for purchasing your products or provide claim codes to buyers for the purpose of inflating sales rank. In addition, you may not make claims regarding a product’s best seller rank in the product detail page information, including the title and description.

If you’re paying $10 for an ad, most sites will put your book somewhere that you can see it. They send an email to their list or have a website or both. But if they don’t do this, if their answer to how they generate the sales is “blogs” or some mysterious thing you can’t see, then how do you know they’re not doing any of the above things that break the TOS?

Not an issue? See this story of the SFF Marketing Podcast’s Jeff Poole, whose book in KDP Select received page reads from fake accounts without his knowledge. Amazon states that checking out advertising service is the author’s responsibility. He did not use any ad sites, and spam accounts probably registered reads for his book in order to mask other activities. Because of this, he was able to restore his account. What if he had, unwittingly, paid for a service using tactics that don’t pass the TOS? Amazon loves the ban hammer, and it wields the weapon hard.

So, if you are looking at spending money on an advertiser’s or promoter’s site or project, any amount of money, but especially if it’s a fair bit of money, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How do they advertise, where is their site and can I sign up to see my own book being featured?
2. Did I google them and am I happy with what I found? Multiple reports of tardiness or poor customer service usually does not bode well.
3. Do they come across as professional in their correspondence with me? Big no-nos would be slagging off other promo sites, putting you on mailing lists you haven’t asked to be on and being overly defensive.
4. The biggie: if you’re going into collaborations, how good is their contract, in particular with regards to refunds. Don’t think you won’t need it. We all go into things in good faith, but shit happens, people get sick, stuff gets delayed and you want to make sure their contract covers all these eventualities. How do they list your responsibilities and theirs? Who owns the resulting work and for how long, and do they ask for tax documentation as they should? Do they give you a invoice and do you pay to a business name rather than a person? Are you paying into a Paypal business account? Those are all things that I’ve found out to be important.

Do a bit of research, and save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run.