To Pre-order Or Not To Pre-order

On most retail platforms, self published writers now have the opportunity to use pre-orders.

Should you do this?

There are some people in the industry who are very much in favour of pre-orders. There is a Smashwords survey that says that authors who use pre-orders sell better than those who don’t, but I think there are a few different things going on here and you cannot simply draw these results from the survey. In short, I think that conclusion puts the cart before the horse.

In order to ultimately answer this preorder question, it would be a good idea to go back to your own behaviour and by extrapolation the behaviour of other readers.

When you find a book by an unknown author that looks interesting, would you preorder that book out of the blue without prior recommendations?

It is my bet that you wouldn’t. Especially because many sites don’t offer a sample for a preorder book.

You would however, preorder a book by an author that you are familiar with, especially when it is in a series that you are already interested in.

So it seems, that pre-orders have their uses.

Pre-orders retain readers for series that are ongoing, and maybe to lock in readers for a bundle if the price is an extraordinary good deal.

But come to think of it, there are so many books already available for free or just 99c, that a reader will just find another book instead rather than waiting for a book to be released just so that they can have it for 99c. Instant gratification is a big thing.

Of course people who use pre-orders sell well. They are using preorders to capture orders for new books in a popular series. People who use pre-orders successfully already have an audience. If an unknown author puts up a pre-order, it is very unlikely that they would sell a lot, unless they already have an audience.

But on the other hand, preorders are about strategy. What would you rather have: that these people pre-order the book or that you have them sign up to your mailing list so that when you decide to send out an email that the book is available, they’ll rush out and buy it? And then if they don’t buy it immediately, that you can send another email a month later to remind them that is available?

I know what I would choose.

I have found pre-orders quite useful for making sure that the book releases on time.

I will use a pre-order for a short period only, like a week or two, to make sure that the book uploads properly and that there will be no delay in the release of the book due to technical or Internet related difficulties.

For everything else, even existing series, I use a page where people can sign up so that I have their email address and I can notify them when the book is out.

Note also that on Amazon, your ranking will jump the moment a preorder hits, so if you have a three month pre-order period, you will dilute your sales ranking compared to the spike you would normally experience when you release a new book. If a rank spike is important to you, then don’t release books on pre-order.

In the end, it is all about tactics. Is it more important that you get sales over a longer period, or is it more important that you have your dedicated fans on your mailing list who will rush out to get the book?


The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

What To Look For In A Book Cover Designer

We all know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, except people do this all the time. People judge books by the cover when they see other people carrying those books on the train, they make judgements about what sort of people they are. This is of course why erotic fiction took such a leap with the event of ereaders. Nobody could see what you were reading.

Book covers are extremely important, and I would even say that they are more important for e-books than they are for physical books. Because an ebook has no tactical properties, the visual appeal is all you get to judge its attractiveness.

If you’re starting to self publish or you have published a few books but you know your covers are not up to scratch, how do you find a cover designer who can make book covers that sell, and what you look out for in this person?

The first port of call will be to look at a selection of books in your genre that are selling well and preferably that are also published by self published writers. Why not publishing houses?

Well, publishing houses often have other aims with their covers. In the first place they usually try to appeal to a buyer in a bookstore, and this is a different market and you can do different things with a print book. You will find that print book covers are often too intricate to work well on postage stamp size thumbnails.

So you would be looking for books that have been self published and that are selling well.

A lot of these authors will list their cover designer in front of the book. If they don’t, simply google the author, go to their website and ask. Not all will be happy to share, but many of them certainly do.

Now when you do this, you should find a moment to take yourself out of the equation. It doesn’t matter that you dislike the type of covers of books that sell well in your genre. Your aim is to make your book sell better, and you want to clearly communicate to the reader what genre it is.

Then find the cover designer through the authors—preferably find a couple of designers—and start asking for quotes.

How much should you typically pay?

Most good cover designers who serve self published authors and have proven themselves in terms of quality and reliability will charge from $250-$500 for a photo manipulated cover. Illustrated hand drawn covers are often a bit more expensive, but in general it should not be necessary to spend more than $800 on a cover.

If you wonder whether to go with a friend who is also a graphic designer, I advise against doing that. There are a lot of really good and effective graphic designers around, but good book cover design is a special art, and if you have never done it before, you don’t know what its requirements are. You’ll end up with a less-than-effective cover which you can’t replace without upsetting your friend. That’s a horrible situation to be in.

And you don’t want to go with a family member or friend who is an artist either, no matter how awesome they are. Naturally, artists have an increased sense of the importance of art on the cover. In reality, the effectiveness of cover design is about 50% art and at least 50% typography. I have seen great art ruined by horrible typography. I have seen great art custom-made for a cover that left no reasonable quiet space for the title and the author’s name, so that either had to be added with too many hideous text effects to even make the text legible, or it had to be added in a super small front somewhere down the bottom. That is just horrible and nobody is going to buy that no matter how much you spent on that book cover.

A good book cover designer is someone who has experience in book cover design. Someone who has good typography skills and who knows that a cover contains both art and typography which should enhance each other.

It is also someone who can work to deadlines, give you a timetable of events and then stick to it, and will make reasonably small changes to the design. A good book cover design most likely has a list of customers and you can ask them what they thought of the process. A good cover designer also has a well-designed website that displays book covers they have done.

If you can’t afford a custom-made cover, many designers also sell premade covers—where all you get to change is your name and title—at a much cheaper rate.


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The Ingredient Is Time

In the days of what seems like instant success, viral posts and overnight careers, a lot of people seem to forget that for someone to have a decent amount of success takes time.

When a writer or a blogger or a singer or anyone creative puts out a product which is an instant success, what you don’t get to see is that there is often a long story of preparation. Often these people have worked for years to get to the point where they can launch a product to great success, or write something that catches the immediate public interest and goes viral. Often these people have spent a lot of time not on the product, but investing in themselves to find out what the market wants and how to best deliver that. Often, too, they have had a number of failures which conveniently get left out of the story.

Why is it then, that we expect immediate success when we start something new?

It is probably because we can’t see the learning and preparation time, unless we are personally involved with the person in question.

There is a important distinction between spending the time on the actual product and spending it on yourself, investing in your own education, investing in business strategies that won’t work just so you can find out what does work, that people don’t see.

So they burst onto the scene, expecting to make a splash with the first book they have ever written. They get taken off track by the fact that a very select one or two people indeed did find success with their first book. They don’t want to see that these people are the exception rather than the rule, and that in many cases, when it comes to their second book, these writers have not the faintest clue in the world how to repeat that first success.

To build an audience that will reliably buy your books takes time. It is easy to get a large number of subscribers onto your mailing list with things like giveaways and competitions and Instafreebie, but it takes time to sort through all of them, to retain those who are interested, and to turn these readers into fans. It takes quite a long time to build an audience that delivers you the results that you want. It takes a while to figure out who these people are, and it also takes a while for them to read enough of your books to want to buy the next one in any significant numbers.

The main ingredient in a successful writing career is time.

How do you use this time?

You learn as much as you can. You learn from people who are at the stage in their career where you want to be and you learn from people outside your genre comfort zone. Apart from that…

The companion ingredient is testing. If you have published three books and they are not selling as well as you want, why do you think publishing a fourth book in the same series is going to make any difference? Why do you think that creating volume for the sake of creating volume while it doesn’t sell is going to deliver you any different results?

Use your testing time to figure out which of the things you are doing are most successful, then stop doing the things that are least successful, and continue with the things that are more successful. Meanwhile, try something new to see if that is yet even more successful. As you learn more about the market, you’ll probably find that the chance of a new project being successful is greater.

But it is about time. It is about having the patience to give something decent amount of time to see if it works. It is about time to learn, to improve and time to let the processes you have set up kick into action.


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The dreaded M word

The mention of the word marketing gives a lot of writers hives.

I think this is mostly because they misunderstand what is meant by marketing. They think that marketing means shouting buy my book on Facebook and Twitter. They think that marketing means sleazy tactics and mentioning your own book at every available opportunity, whether appropriate or not.

They remember when they went to a con and a writer on a panel sat down at the speaker table and displayed all his books in front of him, they thought it looked silly, and they desperately didn’t want to be like that.

The news is that you don’t have to do this at all. Schlepping your books is not marketing. Schlepping your books is ick. Effective marketing is both fun and smart. It’s fun because, having created the product, marketing is where you get to see the sales and make the money. It is where you can make the difference between seeing almost no return to gaining a healthy income, if your book does its job.

Effective marketing is to position in your book in places where people will naturally find it. Marketing is to display your book in a way so that people who normally like those types of books will be intrigued and prepared to give it a try.

You are right to be turned off by the hard selling author, and there are not many good reasons for doing this. If fact I would say it turns most people off.

Marketing isn’t even about doing promotions and holding sales, although some of it can be. But promotions and sales are nothing if there is no tactic behind them. If you promote the first book in your series, you hope that people will buy the rest at full price, because that’s where you make the money. If you give away free books for people to sign up to your mailing list, and you will have their address for new releases and develop a better relationship with your readers, which, if done well, will result in increased sales.

Your cover is marketing. Your blurb is marketing. The way you interact and do promotions with other authors is marketing. Marketing is purely about finding where you audiences are and making it possible for them to find your books. Most of this is done behind the scenes.

Marketing is not sleazy. Selling can be sleazy. Marketing is not selling.

Writing the book is only one part of the equation. Once you have written the book, it would be silly not to try to position it so that people can find it and if they like the sound of it, buy it. That is marketing. That is where the fun begins.


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Don’t kill yourself over daily word counts

In the three year plan that is the foundation of my self-publishing books, I mentioned the example of writing 1000 words per day to achieve a publishing speed of four novels year.

But this is assuming that you write relatively clean fiction.

How many words do you really need to write per day in order to publish successfully?

Some people write huge amounts, like more than 3000 words a day. Is this necessary, is it feasible, and how do you do it?

I don’t write that much. I find, and a lot of people share that feeling with me, that I simply don’t have enough material that is ready to be written to produce that many words each day on a consistent basis. It’s not that I can’t write words, it’s that deciding which words I need to write requires more time. If I write words, I want them to be words that count and words that have resonance.

I hate writing words for words’ sake. I will bash out a framework of a story and will then spend several read-throughs adding little bits of emotional or informational language where they are needed. I need time to think about how I’m going to do this, and can’t do it when I don’t already have something written.

My story editor can attest to the fact that my first drafts are always extremely underwritten.

When I started publishing, I wrote a lot more than I do currently, but one of the things I have learned is to write more efficiently. I hardly ever delete any scenes or large numbers of words.

In fact, I consider myself a perfect example why you can still publish a lot of books per year without a huge daily word count.

Yet, a lot of the focus in advice on how to publish more quickly centres on actual words on the paper. That you need to “train your writing muscles” and other things that completely rub me up the wrong way.

You do not need to write 5000 words a day to have a writing career. You need to know where your story is going and you need to be confident that you have control of the story structure, to not let it meander in useless directions (that you will then have to cut out). You need to get to know your characters well enough so that you don’t have them doing things that would be—well—out of character. You need to know the setting well enough so that you don’t have something happening that’s inconsistent with the worldbuilding and that you’ll have to fix later.

It’s not about written words. It’s about finished words. If you write 500 finished words a day, you’re way ahead of someone who writes 3000 words but then has to spend months agonising over a revision.

It’s not about written words. It’s about how well you know the story and how you can shape and deepen it in a subsequent draft, rather than having to cut huge chunks.

This comes with experience. Your first book is likely to take you ages and you are likely to have to cut big chunks.

Focus less on the number of written words, and more on the story you’re telling. If you’re like me and find word counts useless or depressing, but you want to measure progress, measure it in scenes. Give yourself one or more scenes to write each day, then give yourself one or more chapters to edit later.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

Why do you hate Amazon?

I admit, that’s a click-bait title. I don’t actually hate Amazon at all, although sometimes people could be mistaken for thinking so. I certainly make enough comments about the things that they do and we have to watch out for. But hate? Nope.

My position on Amazon is indifferent. Amazon just is. I use it. I don’t buy Amazon hype and I don’t buy Amazon hate. I don’t think either of those two options are healthy for the independent writer. Use with care. Watch your chickens and don’t let your own prejudice stand in your way.

One position I see touted at times is that if you sell on Amazon you have to love everything they do or get out because we have to be grateful they let us play in their sandbox.

Seriously what bunk.

Just because you list your books on a site that means you can’t criticise them?

Amazon deserves our criticism. So does Google or Apple or any other large company when they do something that doesn’t pass muster. By their very nature, very large companies slip in their standards. They may perform one part of their service well, but might have problems in others.

They may exploit their content providers. They may treat their workers poorly. They may source their materials in dubious ways. Whatever it is, the only way they get called out on it is if we, the public, kick up a stink. And we need to do this, no matter how much we enjoy other parts of their services.

In short, if Amazon does something dinky, speak up as part of the community that has an interest in selling there and being treated fairly.

If Amazon does something dinky, the answer is not to take your books off or shut up. The answer is to make sure they live up to their promise to treat us fairly.

I, for one, am not going to fight my battles over the heads of my readers.

Trends in self-publishing in 2018

The end of the year always offers time for reflection, and I make no exception for this blog. Here are some trends I see coming in 2018.

More people going wide or diversifying income
As the market becomes more mature, people who are interested in a lasting writing career will realise that they need to diversify to spread risk particularly in relation to the second point in this post. This could mean taking books to more distributors, but also doing print and audio and branching out into different genres, different pen names, or creating another income stream from non-fiction, crowdfunding, direct sales or providing services.
This is necessary because…

Amazon will continue to do things that will make sense only to Amazon (and even that could be debated)
And who knows what it will be?
In 2017, writers in Select saw their page reads spectacularly eroded through page flip. And we saw that Amazon doesn’t care that it can’t tell how many pages a reader has read.
We also saw Amazon taking a publicity hit when a scammed book went to #1 in the store. Of course, in Amazon-style, they responded extremely heavy-handed, punishing legit writers. I know they cancelled a bunch of dubious accounts as well, so that’s something at least. But there was a fair bit of collateral damage.
Amazon is known to use a sledgehammer when all they need is a screwdriver.
For us, it’s a constant battle, so…

People will give up
I’ve seen the tone in self-publishing forums change markedly in the last year or so. It’s no longer super-buoyant. People realise that this gig is a lot of WORK. Some don’t want to do it. They will quietly disappear. They will realise that they’ve written the one book everyone is said to have in them and move on to basketweaving.
For the rest of us…

More people will have a go at selling books direct

OK, I already set up my web store, mostly for ebook cover design, but with Bookfunnel, we now have a secure ebook delivery mechanism that doesn’t include having to provide the reader with instruction on how to put the book on their device. So more people will start doing this. How successful they are remains to be seen, because discoverability is an issue. I see this function valuable for large collections and special material for fans.
But to continue in this vein…

Bookbub will take steps to start selling books
OK, this one is a little bit out there, but why not? With Amazon eroding affiliate income, it makes sense for Bookbub to retain a higher percentage of the cut and start selling direct to customers.
Which brings me to…

A reduction in the number of rented lists
Anyone who says that the efficiency of “rented” lists (Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy, Ereader News Today, Free Kindle Books & Tips) has declined markedly is not dreaming. I’m not entirely sure what is to blame, but my guess is poor curation could be part of the problem. For some of these lists, you only need a credit card to join the fun. It’s a pay-to-play environment, and that benefits no one.
These lists should be curating what they feature, not rely on lazy-arse selection through “star ratings”, but actually, y’know, look at the books that are submitted, and only feature books that meet their criteria. Anything else might make a little bit more money in the short term, but is otherwise just shooting themselves in the foot.
So my prediction is that some of these sites will have to reinvent themselves or bite the dust.
For authors, it means finding new ways to promote…

More people will jump on the collaboration bandwagon
If the hot buzz last year was author cross-promotion, this year it’s co-writing. Since output is the name of the game (to some people at least), what is better than to write and publish twice as fast with someone else? Nothing, in theory, and so people will jump on the co-writing bandwagon in order to make millions…
Except when they don’t.
Realise that it is a bandwagon and that the head of the column—where the most profitable deals are—has already passed.
If you want to collaborate, nothing is stopping you. Just make sure you do it for the right reasons. Making a metric butt-tonne of money is not a reason.
And also…

Some multi-author collaborations will explode. Spectacularly. Like, in a take-me-to-court fashion
I’m seeing some stuff that gives me hives. While it seems fine to try to publish a book with a friend, what happens if tensions arise over content or payment? What happens if one of the partners suddenly finds spectacular success and resentment builds in both directions? What happens if a partner fails in their commitment through no fault of their own? What happens when a writer realises that the co-writing contract they signed is poor and/or exploitative?
Pleaseplease, if you co-write, make sure you have a proper contract. Please ask the hard questions before the difficult situations present themselves. What if someone can’t do it anymore? What if one partner wants out? How are you going to make the accounting transparent to all involved? What if one of you gets hit by a bus? Before you embark on a co-writing project, run the contract past someone with a strong BS meter and ask them to poke holes in it.
But to close off…

Some things never change. Keep writing the best books you can. Attempt to own and control as much of your audience as you can. Sales are cool. Readers on your mailing list are better. Don’t rely on the retailers to market for you. Learn to do it yourself. No one is going to care as much about your work as you do.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

The Things That No One Talks About

I first started publishing in 2011. It was an exciting, vibrant time when the sky was the limit and the world was your oyster.

There were a couple of well published cases of writers who started making a lot of money that got a lot of publicity from the news. For us, the writers still submitting to publishers, self-publishing was an ever more attractive option.

I published my first book in January 2011, and I have watched this industry grow and evolve. While there are still a lot of positive stories, negative stories have gotten a lot more screen time recently. People are saying the self-publishing space is too crowded, people are saying the deck is stacked against them.

At first, those types of stories only came out during the months of the northern hemisphere summer. This is the time where traditionally not as many books are sold as in the months after Christmas. People were seeing a downturn in sales and started wondering if the industry was declining.

However this year the negative stories seem a lot more pervasive.

Newsflash: it is hard to make a living as a writer.

It seems like the industry’s boundless positivity has finally caught up with reality: most writers won’t succeed.

So here are a few things that nobody talks about. This is not a negative post, just an attempt at putting a few things in perspective.

1. People talk about 2009 or 2011 as being the golden time of self publishing. As if when you published back then, your manuscript would instantly turn to gold. But nobody talks about is that there are a lot of us around, myself included, who did not get easy sales and did not make millions. We were doing just exactly the same thing as new writers are doing now: figuring out what works what doesn’t.

But nobody talks about those writers. And nobody talks about the complete lack of services or knowledge that was available to people self-publishing at that time. At the time when I came to self-publishing forums, it was still extremely common to see people with the most horrid covers on their self published books. While it is still happening, most people realise that as soon as they come to forums and see the covers on the books of the writers who are selling well, that these are things that need to be fixed first before you can sell. The tools to do this are so much more easy to find. The many ways of marketing your book are also easy to find out about. So no, for the individual writer it has certainly become a lot more easy to put out a book of quality that will have a chance.

2. While we’re on quality. Nobody talks about it. It’s considered downright rude to tell another writer that their book isn’t very good. Good is a sliding scale anyway and what is good to someone is complete rubbish to someone else.

But even with gorgeous covers, there are too many books that fail the most basic concept of quality. No it’s not that they’re free of grammatical errors, it is that they fail to tell a story that enough people want to read to give the book viable market.

Now to be honest, this also applies to traditionally published books. But because with a traditional publisher a lot more people look over the book before it’s published, someone who wants to publish this book through a publishing company has to convince a lot more people that the book is worth spending money on. With self-publishing, the only person who is going to make that decision is you.

While writing by committee is in general not a very good idea, marketability by committee is almost mandatory. When you self-publish, you bypass this process, and you may well be publishing a book in which the first three chapters are so insanely boring to most readers that nobody will go and buy the second book.

So at the risk of being crucified by the comments, I will say that a lot of self-published writers spend far too little time in their early careers figuring out how to write books that more people want to read. This is not about grammar and it is not about editing except to say that you could be helped by developmental editing, but even a developmental editor will not fix your story. You have to learn the craft of storytelling.

3. The marketing slide. If you have a book that doesn’t sell, marketing may make little difference or it could make a lot of difference. Books that require absolutely no marketing and just sell themselves are quite rare. Books that cannot be made to sell with any amount of marketing also not terribly common although more common than the first.

Most books fall somewhere in the middle, where some marketing is required to make them sell on a continuous basis. With every book, there is the point at which the return just isn’t there in terms of money and time spent.

4. There is no magic trick. Yet, we see new and less successful writers searching for the one trick that will make them a bestseller. The one secret that they can do that will suddenly drag their books out from the bottom of the charts. The one marketing trick that will make them a lot of money. Many of these people start becoming bitter when they don’t find that trick, and some of them will never stop looking for it. They blame the bestsellers for holding it back, they hang onto the skirts of those that they perceive as more successful than them and hope that some of the magic will rub off.

In a way, they’re right: there is a magic trick. It is called: write a book that readers want to read. It is called: do the work. It is called: learn continuously to write better fiction and serve your audience better.

But sadly, that is not the trick that these people are looking for. They want an easy fix, and they demand that it be given to them by those they perceived as more successful.

There is no magic trick.

Sometimes when you hang around for long enough and participate in enough different things, you will find something that works really well for a little while. It may be a new promotion site with a particularly engaged audience that buys a lot of books. It may be a particular ad platform that suddenly starts delivering some good results. But not only are these tricks often short lived, they rarely make or break a writer’s career. What does make or break a career is for a writer to throw themselves into learning how to apply themselves best to their chosen tools.

There is no magic sauce. Don’t waste your time looking for it. Definitely don’t antagonise people by demanding that they give it to you.

5. There is a perfectly good living to be made from your fiction without ever having a bestseller. There is even a very good living to be made without any of your books ranking anywhere in any top hundred listing in the Amazon US top lists. Ever.

In the first place, the world is much bigger than just that particular market. In the second place, you often have to run promotions to hit those charts with regularity. Promotions require you to mark down your book.

You make a lot more money from selling at $4.99 than at 99c, although it is much easier to rank with the latter.

If it’s about money in the bank, and ultimately, it always is, then worry less about rank and more about the dollars and cents on your sales dashboard.

6. What goes up must come down. It is very rare that book starts selling and keeps selling at an amazing level for very long time. I think we can all name those books in our genre and count them on the fingers of one hand. There are many more books that did well for a while, and then disappeared from sight. There is nothing wrong with that. But let’s acknowledge that it happens. So ride the highs and then put away money for when sales are less. Manage your income through advertising your backlist during the time that you don’t have any new releases.

7. The good part. Around the year 2000, I ran an Internet business selling non-fiction books on very specialised academic subjects. At that point in time, this was a gold rush. I bought books new from publishers or as batches secondhand, I marked them up and sold them on online platforms which were only just starting to gain popularity.

It was in the pre-Amazon days, and people were looking for places to buy rare books. There was one time that I flew to New Zealand to buy two books in an auction, which, when I sold them the week I got home, funded my entire trip. I was constantly thinking but what if these book buyers learn how to look online for themselves and find these bargains?

Which of course they did.

Not only that, but selling print books and carting them to the post office is heavy and time-consuming business. There is a lot of investment needed in terms of storage space, stock, furniture to put the stock, accounts at the post office, for running this type of business. Our entire house was full of books. In my best year I sold multiple six figures, but most of that went into buying new stock. A lot of it also went to the post office.

You need almost no investment when you self-publish online. Even my online book business never saw as much investment as some other business types, because I did not need to rent a shop, although I considered it, and I never needed to employ any people.

Self-publishing is at the low extreme in terms of the capital investment slide. The only stock you might need is a handful of copies of your books to give away to people you meet or maybe to sell at cons. You can even choose not to do this.

The other prior investment you need is a decent website and editing and covers for your first books. It baffles me that people even complain about this investment. Make no mistake, self-publishing is extremely easy to get into compared with just about any other business.

It is also extremely easy to get your money. We are dealing with a couple of large retailers who pay regularly and pay on time. All you need is a bank account and Bob’s yer uncle. You may need some tax numbers, and again self-published authors complain their heads off about this, but it is nothing compared to what you need to set up a business with a storefront.

Not only that, but you don’t have to chase non-paying customers. The only fraud you’re going to have to deal with is that of those annoying serial returners on Amazon. They’re not even costing you any real money.

So step back, and appreciate how easy this business is.

8. You need to keep changing and reinventing yourself. You need to keep learning. If you keep doing exactly the same thing year in year out, you die. You need to keep improving your fiction, you need to keep on top of underlying trends, you need to give your readers something new to look forward to all the time. You need to make sure that you’re not caught unawares by certain trends or closures of certain businesses like we have just seen with Pronoun.

One of the main advantages that we have over businesses with employees and offices in New York is that we are agile and can completely turn around a business strategy in the matter of days.

This may well be the golden time self-publishing, and it may well be, as doomsayers say, that it will only get harder from now on. It will get harder because everybody is doing it, but it also means that the rate of attrition is going to be huge. Many people will try self publishing but give up after they have found that it’s hard work.

And frankly that has never been any different in the world of writing. So don’t fear, if you’re doing your work properly and you’re learning and you continue to learn about business, and have persistence, then I guarantee that you will have a reasonable career.

Ironically, this is exactly the same thing I heard as a new bright-eyed and bushy-tailed writer at my first con: the ones who succeed are the ones who do the work and persist.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

Are you sending spam?

Spam, we all hate it. Or at least we say we do. Unless we don’t, and we do it ourselves. Oops.

We like to talk about whether something is spam or not in very black-and-white terms. But in reality it is a much more grey area than that. If you shop at a particular store, and they have your email address because the transaction took place online, do they have the right to send you emails? Are those emails spam?

Some people might think they are, because they did not ask for those emails to be sent. Some people would be happy to be reminded of special deals. In an ideal world, there would be a checkbox at the checkout process to let the recipient choose whether to put their name on an email list or to opt out. However, many companies don’t do that and start sending email regardless. In general, it is considered to be fair use of an email address to send someone who buys something from you a couple of emails after their purchase.

But what about those people who have nothing to sell, and want to promote a new business or a new service?

This is what the Australian anti-spam act has to say about unsolicited email. Or read about the CAN-SPAM act in the US.

Both (and the laws of other countries) specify the following I would like to highlight:

  • Each email you send must have an unsubscribe link. If you use an email service (Mailchimp or the like), they will do this for you. But if you send regular email to a list, it is the law that you offer people a way off the list.
  • You must also identify yourself with a physical address.
  • The biggie: you may not harvest email addresses from forums, participant lists, customer lists of other but related businesses or activities.

I will not sugarcoat it: many small presses and writer organisations are terrible about the latter.

This is the sort of stuff I’m talking about:

  • You go to a writer con, and because you register online, the organisers have your email address.
    They didn’t expressly ask people if they wanted to be emailed, but I don’t think anyone will have an issue if the organisers email you again when the con is on the next year. This is fair use. So far, so good.
  • But one of the con organisers has a small press. They use the con attendee email list to advertise their books. This is NOT COOL.
  • Someone who works as volunteer for the con takes the list and starts emailing, a few years later, about a second, rival con. This is NOT COOL.
  • Someone from this con regularly visits a forum and adds in people who frequent the forum and starts emailing about their editing business. This is NOT COOL.

Those last three items are illegal.

Yet it is exceedingly common for this to happen in the world of small press and volunteer organisations. Every month I have to unsubscribe myself from several lists collated by overly eager small press people who clearly have no idea what they are allowed to do. I don’t think any of these individuals mean ill, but certainly the cumulated effect on my inbox is infuriating. And despite plenty of publicity about spam as well as warnings by the email companies that they signed up with, these people do not seem to get it.

We—the recipients of the emails—are asked to grin and bear it “to support the community”. Well, I’m through with it. I’m reporting them all for spam. I have to comply with the laws, and so can they. They’ve had over a decade to learn.

Please stop sending people email that they have not asked for. You are giving small presses and volunteer writing organisations a bad name.

If you want people on your list, do this in the same way everyone else does it: by adding a signup box to your website, by adding a link to forum posts, by putting it as pinned post to your Facebook and Twitter profiles, by putting it on all publicity you send out, by using paid ads to increase your audience.


The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

Single Opt-in And Double Opt-in–What Should You Use?

Recently, the email marketing company Mailchimp announced that the default setting of their signup forms was going to be single opt-in. A lot of people who use email marketing were up in arms about this. Why and what should you use?

In most email list providers, double opt-in is the default. It works like this: when a subscriber enters their email address in the signup form, they get an email asking them to confirm. There is a link in that email that they have to click in order to confirm that they want to be on the list. In single opt-in this does not happen. The process might take you to a page that says thank you, but at that moment, you are already on the list.

As you will understand from the above examples, it is much easier to get a lot more addresses when using single opt-in. Less hassle, less chance of an email going unopened, forgotten or undelivered. So why use double opt-in?

Before I go any further, I am going to tell you that I use both, so I am not advocating one over the other, just that there are situations where you want to use double opt-in and situations where single opt-in will do.

According to its advocates, double opt in reduces the chance of someone accidentally or maliciously ending up on an email list. It may be hard to understand the sort of sick people who enter other people’s email addresses on email lists just because they can, because they have time and obviously nothing better to do. It is also amazing what sort of robotic entering processes exist for entering email fake addresses in all kinds of places where emails can be entered.

It really boggles the mind why people would do things like this, but the fact is that it happens.

I have experienced this. I have an app that allows me to run competitions where you give away a prize and people can increase their chance of winning by getting other people to enter in the competition. There are obviously apps that generate fake email addresses on free services like hotmail and gmail and automatically enter these into the competition so that the original entrant (the owner of the app) can have more chance of winning the prize. I am sure these apps are sold at forums that shall not be mentioned, but as owner of the competition, you can spot it easily when you get thousands of entries within a short time period that all point back to the same address and that all use the same syntax.

So, yes, robotic entries happen. It is a risk of single opt-in forms.

If you are with an email provider that charges you per email address, as most of them do, this can potentially inflate your costs. Because all these bogus email addresses don’t need to be verified and because they are normally valid, meaning that if you send an email to them they won’t bounce, if you send an email to your list and include addresses like that, your open rate will plummet.

The potential for misuse of a single opt-in system is huge.

On the flipside of the coin, I don’t know how many email lists I have tried to subscribe to where the confirmation email never arrived and I therefore could not get material I wanted. Also, filling out forms like entering captchas on a tiny mobile screen is a pain, so people would just prefer to do the one click subscribe.

I use a single opt-in form for internal signups and confirmations*, for example in the process where people want to change their email address or put themselves on the ARC list. It seems silly to ask these people to reconfirm their intention, because they’re already on my list and I do not want to risk losing any of them because they can’t jump through the hoops.

So in short, yes, I think you should use double opt-in as default, but also I think that it should be the default option on your mailing list subscribe form. A lot of people won’t have the technical gumption to find out how to change it or won’t even know that they should. This move by Mailchimp seems to encourage artificial inflation of people’s lists and cannot be seen as anything other than a money grab.


* I use Mailerlite which allows the option to enter a tick box on the single opt-in form. Since bots can’t tick boxes, the chance that you’ll get a flood of junk subscribers is vastly reduced.

Here is the box:

Screenshot 2017-11-17 16.49.31

Here is how to turn it on:

Screenshot 2017-11-17 16.50.06

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find out about the Three Year Plan self-publishing books here.