A few years ago Silver Empire launched its first major product – an anthology of short stories themed around “Manly Courage.” My wife Morgon contributed a story she’d had rattling around in her brain for some time. The story sprang in its entirety from a simple opening line she’d come up with after a panel at DragonCon one year:
There was a sword-wielding buffoon in the library shelves again.
The first draft of the story wasn’t that great. For one thing, it took itself far too seriously. And it carried a bit of a dour tone. So she reworked it. The new version came out fun and light-hearted and became the tale now known as Down the Dragon Hole. Frankly, I felt it ended up being the strongest story in our collection.
So she wrote some more. That spawned the School of Spells & War series. Currently, we’ve published three stories in the series. We have another three almost ready to launch. And with them, we’re launching a new way to get those stories.
Today, Morgon launches her new School of Spells & War Patreon. Now, obviously nobody has to support her on Patreon. But those who do will get several benefits:
Her support tiers are set to pay out per story, so you won’t pay until and unless you get finished products. And as an extra bonus, we’re throwing in the first three Spells & War stories to all of her Patreon supporters, even at the lowest tiers. The lowest support tier is $1 per story – the same price we charge for the cheap stories on Amazon, and actually less than we charge for the longer, novella sized stories there. It’s a great deal.
Just in case you need some more encouragement, listen to her tell the story in her own words. Then be sure to drop by and support her.
Here’s a pro marketing tip that far too many indie authors desperately need to hear: stop whining.
Let’s recall one of our lessons from a few posts ago:
Nobody will ever read your book if they don’t know it exists. Nobody. Ever.
Stop thinking of marketing as a dastardly activity and think of it as precisely two things:
- Letting people know that your book exists.
- Letting them know why they should read it.
Forget making people want to read your book (step two on our list). Before you can do that, you have to stop actively turning off potential readers. Making somebody want to read your book is hard. But making people not want to read your book? That’s so easy an idiot can do it – and a great many of them do exactly that.
You’ve probably already heard all kinds of great marketing advice: make sure your description makes the book sound interesting, etc, etc. But today I want to focus on one very specific aspect: your public presence. Not your books, yours.
So you’ve started a blog. You’ve started social media: Facebook, Twitter, etc. You’ve written hundreds of blog posts, thousands of social media posts, but nobody’s buying. Why not?
Here’s my absolute first question: how much do you whine on your blog and/or social media? Because I see a lot of it. A lot of it.
Remember, your public platforms are there to help you sell books. How are they going to do that? You want to look like the kind of person who writes interesting books. To do that, you have to actually look interesting yourself. And do you know what isn’t interesting to most readers?
I’m not even saying you’re wrong. Whatever you’re whining about is probably legit: book piracy, having to charge too little in order for your book to sell, someone in the industry treated you unfairly. It all happens. Readers don’t care.
I’m going to take it one step further, though: stop self-deprecating yourself. It doesn’t sound humble. It sounds like you’re really not interesting. If you can’t even find a reason to think of yourself and your books as interesting, I can guarantee you that nobody else will, either.
Every single time you say something negative about yourself, every single time you whine, imagine that you’ve just lost two book sales. That’s money rushing out of your bank account. Is it really that bad? No, it’s actually far worse. Because the effects aren’t additive, they’re multiplicative. The more you do this, the worse it gets over time.
So stop it. Be yourself – that’s great and fine advice. But be the best version of yourself – or at least present that version in public. Stop killing your own book sales.
Not to step on Russell’s toes, but I’ve got lots of experience with book giveaways. The result is that I’m much less bullish on giving books away for free than Russell is.
The best advice, as always, comes from Larry Correia: only do free if you have a plan.
Here are some pointers to help you make that plan:
- If you only have one book, don’t give it away for free.
- Most authors will tell you to make the first book in a series free. Consider giving away the second or third book in a series. I’ve found that people are more likely to go back and buy previous books in a series than they are to buy later installments after getting book one for free, but your mileage may vary.
- Give away free copies of your books through your web site/mailing list. Kindle Unlimited requires a 90 day commitment, and it sucks. Seriously, getting paid based on number of KENPs read amounts to a pay cut from Amazon to tradpub royalty rates.
The moral of the story? Always. Be. Closing!
I should have included some of these caveats in the original post. But I made an assumption – an assumption I know to be erroneous. I assumed that you always have a plan. I assumed this because proceeding into something like this without a plan is fundamentally foreign to me. On the other hand, I’ve known enough indie authors by now to fully understand how bad of an assumption this is.
I’ve witnessed lots of indie authors “try their hand” at marketing. For the vast majority of them, it goes something like this:
The Thing changes constantly, but you can see several consistent threads: book giveaways, Kindle Unlimited, popup ads to join the e-mail list, Facebook ads, Amazon ads, Google AdWords ads, etc.
Now, all of those things are fine. Any of them can work for you. But here’s the issue: over and over and over again, I see authors essentially just throwing these at the wall hoping something will stick.
That’s not how marketing works.
The thing to keep in mind is that any one of these techniques, on its own, will almost never work. If you run one ad – of any kind – and then don’t do anything else for three months, you will get terrible results. If you want success, you need several things.
Above all, always have a plan. I’m launching a novel in August. I have an e-mail chain with 1400 words of notes about my marketing plans for the book launch. I have similar notes about Declan Finn’s new novel that we’re re-releasing next month. I’ve got a plan for consistent marketing. I already know how I’m going to track everything. I’ve got experiments I want to run. I’ve coordinated about a dozen separate marketing methods (and I’m still adding more). I’m planning sales to create urgency. And I’m already planning how I’m going to leverage this to launch the next book.
Because I always have a plan.
I put in my nominations earlier today. Have you done yours yet? Nominate here!
Submissions for our upcoming superheroes anthology are now closed. We’re still combing through all of the submissions we’ve received. If you’ve submitted a story and haven’t heard back from us yet, please be patient! We’re targeting a September release date for this project, and everything is looking good to make that happen.
We’re still accepting submissions for our upcoming Stairs in the Woods anthology, and will be until August 31. The target release date is October. We lined up a few authors ahead of time who should be turning in some very interesting stories! This anthology has very specific requirements, so please make sure you read them thoroughly before submitting.
We’re also accepting submissions for a space science fiction novel. Specifically, we’d really like to have either a pulpy space opera, a hard science fiction novel, or a military scifi novel. Submissions should be part of a series – bonus points if you have the second novel written or partly written already! Again, please be sure to see the submission guidelines.
And last, but certainly not least, we always need more short stories for Lyonesse. We’re looking for tales of wondrous, heroic adventure in the science fiction and fantasy realms. We run a new story every single week, so we burn through works rather quickly.
Earlier this week I noted that marketing is an intrinsic part of business. You can’t escape it if you want to make money. But I also laid out some rather stark math about how bad certain types of advertising can be. The math is real – advertising your book can be a poor return on investment. But you can’t let that stop you from marketing your book.
First of all, you have to understand that marketing and advertising are two separate but related things. Any business you run (and remember, selling your own books is a business!) must do both!
Marketing is everything you do – everything – related to letting people know that your product (book) exists and why they should purchase (and read) it.
Advertising is when you pay somebody to include some kind of ad for your product – a video, a little image, a blurb, a text segment, whatever. It’s a subset of marketing.
Advertising almost always costs money. Sometimes you can work out a trade with someone, but usually you’re going to have to pay for it. With other forms of marketing, on the other hand, you can very often trade hard work for money. And you must keep doing it.
You hate marketing? Suck it up, buttercup – or go get a day job. If you want your books to sell, you have to market them.
You’re probably used to thinking of marketing as a dirty word, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time to rethink the word. Look at it this way:
Nobody will ever read your book if they don’t know it exists. Nobody. Ever.
Stop thinking of marketing as a dastardly activity and think of it as precisely two things:
The first part is actually the easy part. It’s the second part that’s hard. And that’s the part you probably associate with sleazy used car salesmen.
But it doesn’t have to be slimy. Is there a good reason why people should read your book? Great! Then your marketing step 2 is just to communicate that to them. If there’s not a good reason why they should read your book, then it’s time to go back to your desk, sit down, and write a new one. Or rewrite the old one.
And if you can’t articulate a reason why someone should read your book, then it’s time to think pretty hard about whether or not there is a reason that they should.
Despite the bad math of advertising, you should keep marketing your book, even if you only have one – especially with free, cheap, or easy marketing methods.
Here are some cheap or even free things you should start early and keep at to market your book:
Here are a few other things that you should consider spending some money on, even if you only have one book:
A good cover. It’s not so much that good covers sell books (although they do). The bigger issue is that bad covers kill books. You don’t have to spring for the best cover ever. But a bad cover is worse than “not worth the money.” It will actually work against you. There are some good places you can get decent covers done for under $200. They’re worth it. This is also the gift that keeps on giving. You pay for the cover now for book one… but when book two comes out, book one still has that excellent cover you paid for. So book one’s sales boost from book two’s release will be better. And so on.
A good web site. Did you read what I said above about bad covers killing books? Ditto for bad web sites. The good news is, it’s pretty easy to build a not-terrible web site these days. But you want more than that. You don’t just want a web site that looks good. You want a web site that’s built to sell your book. If you’re not technically inclined, or if you’re no good at marketing, save yourself a lot of headaches. Pay someone to build a web site for you. You can find some not terrible web designers for a few hundred dollars. Like your book’s cover, this is the gift that keeps on giving. A good web site will keep selling book one… and then take only a little modification to start selling book two. Invest your time and energy here and, if necessary, your money.
Some sales artwork. The internet is a fantastic place and you can find artwork pretty inexpensively if you look. For $10-30 a piece you can buy very high quality stock images to use. For $30-200 a piece you can pay for some pretty good quality artwork. This is especially worth the money if your book is the first of the series. You can reuse that character art for every single book in that line – and add to it with each book. Eventually you’ll have a really huge collection of art you can choose from for flyers, posters, ads, etc. But you can also start small and cheap and build this collection as you have money.
Give away books. Yes, you heard me. Give them away. Give away as many books as you possibly can, especially book one in a series. Ebooks are best for this, of course, because they’re free to you. But give away print books, too, if you have to. The more the better. My experience is that about one out of every one hundred readers will actually review a book (maybe fewer). But you need those reviews. So get those books out the door to anyone who will read them. Remember: this is helpful for getting reviews and selling books now. But even more importantly, you’re laying a foundation of fans who will buy your future books. So give them away like candy.
If you’re still on book one, then check your focus. Making a fortune on book sales now is unrealistic for most people. You want to lay the best foundation you can for your next book release. In fact, no matter how many books you have out, you should look at every book release as a chance to grow your base for future releases. Always plan at least one book ahead. “If I do this, I can build up more fans for next time!” Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
There’s an old saying: it takes money to make money. I hate to tell you this, but there’s no way around that.
But let me back up for a minute. My wife tagged me further down the thread in this Twitter discussion earlier today.
Watch @BrianNiemeier He knows what he’s doing I believe. I suck at marketing. I spent 800$ to add 13 new followers lol
— Oghma (@Oghma_EM) May 31, 2017
Note 1: I am not picking on Oghma in anything I’m about to write. He asked some fantastic questions today and exhibited the mindset of one truly willing and ready to learn. That’s where all of us started.
Note 2: The thread itself is pretty good. It’s worth a read if you want to sell books.
Now back to the meat of the post.
Self publishing a book means going into business for yourself. Congratulations! I love small business. Welcome to the lifeblood of America! You’re foreign? That’s fine, too – way to go helping to make you’re country great!
But going into business for yourself means that you want to make money. And if you want to make money – real money – in business, you have to do marketing. It is not optional.
Now, some forms of marketing are cheap. I run this blog for an annual price tag lower than what it would cost me to take my family out for a single nice dinner – and even that is a cost that I mostly share with two small businesses. It’s cheap. But cheap marketing brings two issues.
Now, rule 2 isn’t magic. You can’t just drop a million dollars on advertising and expect to just get it back. You still have to work at it, be smart about it, and choose the right kind of marketing. But if you want to make money, you have to spend money.
So Oghma is asking the exact right questions. He knows he needs to spend money. He’s trying to figure out how to spend it intelligently.
Here’s the thing about the publishing market: spending a lot of money marketing one, single, solitary book is almost always a waste of money. If you only have one book, it’s very difficult to get a good return on investment. It can be done – especially if you’re very good at marketing, or if you’ve written a very good book. But it ain’t easy.
Let’s run through some math as an example. I’m not the best Facebook marketer, but neither am I the worst. And I don’t have the best web sites for my businesses, but again, neither do I have the worst. I’m in the somewhat typical range. So this is actually a pretty reasonable example.
On my typical Facebook ads these days, I can usually achieve a click through rate between 4% and 8%, discounting the occasional outliers in either direction. That means that out of every 100 people who see my ad, 4 to 8 of them will click through to my web site. This is a pretty decent rate in the marketing world.
Depending on the ads, the targeting options I’ve selected, the product I’m marketing, etc, those ads usually cost me between $0.50 per click and $2.00 per click. That’s not really terrible, either.
The next step of the funnel is conversions. For every 100 people who click through my ads, typically somewhere between 4 and 8 will actually buy a product afterward. That’s also pretty typical.
But it’s also the problem.
Let’s assume the best case scenario on both fronts.
I’ve now spent $50 on ads to get 8 sales.
Now first of all, this is a best case scenario. I, personally, rarely have a marketing campaign do this well. If I could pull it off every time, I’d be quitting my day job and working at the dojo full time.
Second, this is fantastic… for my dojo. A typical new customer at the dojo nets me either $95 (ish) or $250 (ish). Let’s take the worst case number here: $90 per sale, or $450. I spent $50 for that. That’s $400 in revenue increase, and that’s fantastic! Seriously, if I could do this reliably I’d quit my day job.
Now, let’s talk books. Say I’ve sold 8 e-books for this at a cost of $4.99. Amazon gives me 70% royalties, so that’s $3.493 per book. For 8 sales, I’ve made $27.94 – well less than the $50 I spent to get it. At this rate, the more I advertise the more I’m losing money.
And, remember, this is a good ad campaign.
The secret (It’s not really a secret – you can find this all over the internet) to making money off of this in the book world is to have lots of books – preferably in the same series. Then, some portion (but not all) of the customers who pick up one book will buy all of your books, or at least all of the series.
So let’s add one more assumption: let’s assume that 12.5% of the people who buy book one in my series will end up buying the entire series, and let’s assume that I have 10 books. Note: I don’t have many books out yet, and I don’t have good figures for this rate. I’ve completely made this number up for my example.
Now I’ve sold 8 books at $3.493 per book, for $27.94. And I’ve sold one of those people (12.5%) another nine books ($31.44), for a total return of $59.377.
My return isn’t great in this example, but at least I’ve made a profit. Multiple books change everything. And in this example, now I’m at a point where I can start tweaking every step of my process in the hopes of improving my return.
The point is, once my return on investment is positive, I can start tweaking it to make money.
But if I’ve only got 1 book, then just about the best I’m going to do is spend $2 on ads for every $1 I make back (my general experience is more like $5 in ads for every $1 I make back, on a single book).
The moral of the story: writing 10 books won’t necessarily make you rich. But if you want to get rich from writing, you pretty much have to write 10 good books. Unless your name is J.K. Rowling.
by S.D. McPhail
On a quest for vengeance against a criminal known as the Viper, Prince Rasteem becomes suspicious when his army easily conquers Dodrazeb. Princess Laneffri is desperate to expel the Persian invaders from her kingdom and will stop at nothing to protect its secrets--especially the Origin Key, a powerful, ancient device. Is Dodrazeb hiding the Viper or something even more dangerous? When Rasteem learns what the Origin Key can do, he must find a way to make the princess an ally to save both their kingdoms from annihilation.
Only $0.99 on Amazon through Memorial Day weekend!
FREE on Amazon through Memorial Day weekend!
by Russell Newquist
FREE on Amazon through Memorial Day weekend!
by Morgon Newquist
FREE on Amazon through Memorial Day weekend!
Surprise, surprise, Vox.com author Constance Grady completely fails to understand how business actually works. Specifically, in this case, how Amazon.com works.
Amazon routinely takes a loss on its book sales, often charging customers less per book than it pays publishers and swallowing the difference. It’s a priority for the company to be your preferred bookseller, even if it has to take a hit; its business model can accommodate the loss, because it generally makes up the extra dollars on the last-minute impulse buys customers toss into their shopping carts. Meanwhile, on the e-book side of things, Amazon’s low prices help drive sales of its Kindle.
That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
Like most big corporations, Amazon engages in a primary business and a few dozen complementary businesses.
Let’s think through an example: Google. Google earns 78% of its revenue by selling ads on its search engine. Obviously, Google stays focused on search ads. But to keep making that money, Google must remain the dominant search engine. Also, Google wants to get more and more people using online search altogether. To help meet those goals, Google invests in business areas that complement online search: mobile phones, high speed internet connections, etc. Google doesn’t make much revenue or profit off of Android or Google Fiber. In fact, they don’t even need to make any profit to meet Google’s goals. The point of these endeavors is to keep people – preferably more and more people – using Google search, and therefore clicking on the ads that make Google money. These are the complementary businesses that Google engages in.
Like most big corporations (and many small companies, for that matter), Amazon also sometimes uses loss leaders as a sales tactic. Companies like to pick a small number of products to sell at a break-even point, or even at a loss, knowing that they’ll make it up later. People buy product or service A, but then they end up also buying product or service B while they’re shopping. The largest local gun store in town has a range attached. Given their pricing models, they can’t be making any profit off of the range itself. That’s not the goal. The range brings customers in the door – then they spend money on more ammunition, more firearms, more accessories, etc.
Both of these tactics work, and they work best when the loss leader product is also complementary to your main business. In other words, they work best when you use them together.
Ms. Grady’s post shows that she seems to have some understanding of these concepts. But she’s gotten it all backwards. Amazon’s loss leader isn’t books. Books (and, these days, other digital content such as movies and television) is Amazon’s primary business. Amazon may, indeed, occasionally take a loss on specific books. It most definitely does not do that on a general basis with books. Pay attention: Amazon sells more ebooks than print books, and has since 2011. EBooks tend to sell for less money. But because it spends less on distribution and storage costs, Amazon makes a lot more profit off of them. The same is true of streaming music and movies. Amazon has focused on the primary business of delivering digital goods for years now.
Kindles are the complementary business – and the loss leader. That’s why it sells Kindle Fire tablets for so much less than other comparable tablets. That’s why it put so much effort into dominating Kindle sales. They’ll replace Kindle Fire (kids edition) tablets for free for basically forever – so that you’ll keep buying content. That’s why they got into the FireTV market. They replaced my first Kindle e-reader for free even after I straight up told them that my two year old son stepped on it. And Kindle e-readers themselves are dirt cheap to begin with. You can buy a brand new entry level reader for only $80.
As Brian Niemeier notes, however, this article isn’t about getting the facts right. It’s about the Big 5 publishers being terrified of Amazon.
The last time I saw that many weasel words was in an MRK rant. To translate from the demagogue, they don’t know. Note to Huffpo: “And this goes on and on” is not a data point.
What Vox.com and Puffho are studiously overlooking here is the minor detail that, if any of these speculative scenarios are true, all of the books ultimately came from the publisher. The most risible theory is that unscrupulous reviewers are able to sell ARCs because review copies aren’t marked “not for resale”. Apparently, protecting their copyrights isn’t worth the expense of a ten dollar rubber stamp.
Amazon selling books through third party distributors isn’t a big deal for indie publishers or self published authors. As Brian notes, there’s no way for a third party distributor to get our books in the first place except through us – unless they’re engaging in practices that are already both illegal and against Amazon’s terms of service. This is just one more way for Amazon to sell more of our books. Ultimately, that’s a good thing.
This doesn’t mean that Amazon is our friend. Amazon cares about Amazon. But at the moment, Amazon is also good for the publishing industry.
It’s just not good for entrenched interests and old power.
Back in December I left a review of the Shady Rays sunglasses I’d just picked up. I also promised a follow-up on that review. Six months have passed since then, making it time to fulfill my promise.
Miraculously, six months later I still have both pair of sunglasses. Part if this is luck. I haven’t lost either pair yet. My spare pair is momentarily misplaced, but it’s somewhere in the house. I haven’t needed them in a few months, so I haven’t looked for them. I set them aside when I first bought them, but I had to use them when I left my primary pair at work one day. They never made it back to their designated set-aside location. When I need them, though, I feel confident that I’ll find them.
A nice bonus, however, is that neither pair has broken in the past six months. That’s hardly a record for my sunglasses, but by my standards it’s a good run. My experience over the past few months also confirms my initial impression: Shady Rays built a sturdy product. I don’t know how they hold up to expensive sunglasses like Ray-Bans, but their construction quality definitely exceeds the Iron Man sunglasses I’d been wearing.
I do have one complaint after some time with them, but it’s relatively minor. The rubber nose pieces detach easily and unexpectedly. My primary pair is missing a nosepiece at the moment. Shady Rays sells replacement nosepieces at a reasonable cost. I’ve never bothered to order any, but the option exists. Next time I find my nose piece – or, more likely, whenever I finally buy replacements – I plan to superglue them in place so that they don’t fall off. I would recommend the manufacturer do something similar in future pairs.
In every other way, I’m even happier with my Shady Rays than I was when I first bought them. They’re durable, affordable, comfortable, and stylish – at least by my standards of stylish! I heartily recommend this product, especially if you manage to find one of their “two pair for $45” deals. Even at $45 a pair, however, these are reasonably priced for what you get.