Category Archives: Self-publishing

The Perils of Making eBooks Free

Free books
Free books (Photo credit: randomduck)

Free ebooks can be a great way of getting the word out to potential readers about your books. This helps by putting your book into “others also bought” lists, putting it on free best seller list and hopefully getting reviews.

But there can be some downsides. These are some of the ones I have experienced:

  • Freebie collectors: lots of downloads and very few reviews. Why because people basically download free stuff and hoard it with very little intention of reading it – or maybe with the best intentions, but then don’t bother.
  • Reviews of free books tend to be more critical. Usually I think because the reader got a book that wasn’t really what they were looking for – they misunderstand what the title is about because they haven’t considered their purchase very much. For instance one of my publications – Alt Hist magazine states clearly in the blurb that it contains all sorts of historical fiction, but got criticized recently by a reviewer because it wasn’t just alternate history. I guess they just looked at the title.
  • “Good for a freebie, but I wouldn’t pay for it”. Well thanks for that review! I have also seen a review of a free book that complains the book was too short! But it’s free, what is your problem! If I was charging it would probably be $0.99 – which I think is a legitimate amount for a short story. If they enjoyed the read would they really not even pay that much for it?

I think these issue can also happen to a certain extent if you price at $0.99. People who collect freebies and bargains don’t often seem to make informed decisions!

But having said that I have definitely had some success with making titles free. Usually for a limited time and then putting the price up again – as this does help with getting into related title lists.

But writer beware, some readers value their free downloads higher than anything they might purchase! 🙂

How to Stay Motivated as a Writer

Keep calm and write it down!

I write fiction. I am not a bestselling author. My work is mostly self-published at the moment and the work I have available sells modest amounts. I write because I love writing, but also because I would like my work to be read by others and I would like to be successful. So I am probably like many other writers starting out on a career in writing. I have had some good feedback and reviews, which is nice, but I also feel that I could reach more people with my work.

How do you stay motivated when success and fulfillment as a writer seems a long way off?

I am not going to offer a secret bullet, a magic cure, but there are some strategies that you can employ to keep yourself going – which I need to keep myself going. Here’s some ideas that are working for me at the moment:

Write Every Day

This really is important, I think. Like anything – exercise, brushing your teeth etc – if you do something on a daily basis it becomes habit forming. If writing becomes something you do every day then you will keep doing no matter how you feel your career is going. You could choose a certain time of day, but it could just be squeezed in during the day in an odd moment in the same way you might check out Twitter for ten minutes!

Keep Going With Projects

What I mean here is don’t give up on stuff just because you’re having a few bad days with writing it and you think its no good. Sometimes you can be writing good stuff and its still a real struggle. You can always take the attitude (used by Neil Gaiman no less) that whatever you write is just a really rough first draft and therefore doesn’t matter – you can always go back and fix it. If there seems to be something fundamentally flawed in what you’re writing then yes maybe stop, but if you can think of a way to rewrite it so that it is what you want to write.

Multitask Writing Projects

This is something that works for me, but may not work for others and I know goes against some other writing advice out there. I know from experience that I get pretty distracted if I’m writing a novel or other long piece of writing. I am also keen to write short stories and develop that part of my career, so instead of trying to fit those in between novel-length projects, I actually write novels and short stories concurrently. I always prioritize the novel-length work, but if I have a second writing session available in a day then I will use that to do some short story writing. I find that it keeps me fresh and also gives me the satisfaction of finishing a piece of fiction every week or two, which I can then send out to editors.

Don’t Worry About Sales and Promotion or Rejection

This is the one that is really difficult to come to terms with as a newbie writer – and after nine years trying to write I still class myself as a newbie! It can feel like you put a lot of effort into writing with very little gain either financially or from praise of readers or editors. The best way to handle that I think is to remember that you are just learning still. I haven’t written a million words of fiction, but I will do one day if I keep writing every day. And I know that I will get better and that the small number of readers who like my work will start to grow and then hopefully my career will begin to grow too.

Cherish the Positive Feedback

When you’re feeling bad go back and read the good reviews or comments you have – don’t use them as an excuse to ignore criticism, but do remind yourself that you have skills and talent as a writer that you can develop and that readers enjoy. Build on that. Spread the love!

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How Sustainable is the $0.99 ebook Price Point

inflation
inflation (Photo credit: SalFalko)

In terms of eBooks the $0.99 price point is still very common – its taken some criticism over the last few years, but by and large a lot of self-published and public domain classics still retain the $0.99 price point. I don’t use it for pricing my novel length titles, but I do have some short stories at that price.

But how long will it last? Surely with the effects of inflation we won’t always have the $0.99 price? The retailers will realize the costs associated with selling titles at this price are unsustainable at some point. When will that be?

I thought it would be interesting to see how much the revenue for indie/self-published publishers has declined at the $0.99 price point over the last few years and what might happen in the future.

I’m not economics expert, so if my maths is awry then let me know. I used a US Inflation Calculator to do the sums.

Let’s say you started publishing titles in 2010 at $0.99. If you are publishing via Amazon you get 35% of that back in royalties, which is $0.35/sale according to the reports I get from Amazon.

That $0.35 is now worth in reality $0.33, 6.8% less than it was worth in 2010. That’s quite a dramatic difference! Customers are paying effectively the equivalent of $0.99 – assuming of course their disposable income has increased at the same rate as inflation.

What would happen if inflation was a similar rate for the next 5 years say?

If you go with an inflation rate of 2% a year, then $0.99 in 2018 is worth only $0.89 now, the royalty is $0.32, not too bad perhaps, but still a 10% reduction. If you applied that over all your sales you can see that sticking at a $0.99 is unsustainable.

I think it’s likely that those sticking with the $0.99 will inevitably have to start putting up prices fairly soon. And I suspect there will be more pressure from retailers to decrease the royalties on books below a certain price.

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Tricky to give away eBooks on Amazon – and getting trickier

144/365 - Free Stuff
144/365 – Free Stuff (Photo credit: Loimere)

Sometimes giving stuff away for free can be a good way of getting publicity for something. We see it all around us as a common promotional tool. In the field of publishing its a common ploy – some authors have done well building up a fan base in the past by giving away free content, and free previews of content are a key way for readers to decide if they like something before they buy from an online retailer.

With eBooks, a lot of self-publishers have used Amazon’s Kindle Select programme to promote their books. The strategy being that if you get lots of downloads you’re going to get some reviews and also more “Others also bought/viewed” type related sales after the free promotion has finished. There is evidence out there that this strategy can work, but it seems that it’s getting more difficult.

Amazon only allows you to give 5 days free content for your book over a 3 month period (during which you can’t distribute your eBook with anyone else). In the past you could get a good number of downloads without really having to do anything – I’ve done this in the past and as soon as the free promotion period starts the free downloads start tallying up. However, I tried this with Hell has its Demons recently and hardly anything happened until I started unleashing some pretty serious promotion of my own – blog posts, email campaigns etc. Having read a bit more about this now online it seems that as a bare minimum you have to start using promotional sites like Bookbub and others to get your book out there.

What’s going on? Are Amazon simply trying to hush up free content on their site in order to get people to buy things? Is there such a large micro-market of publicity services available that Amazon feels they don’t need to to it.

In contrast if you want to give away free eBooks you can still do this in fairly good numbers on other retailers and get some stats on how many – such as Barnes & Noble and Sony for instance. I use Smashwords to distribute to these retailers and they provide monthly stats usually. Unfortunately you don’t get starts from Apple’s iBookstore or from Kobo – but your book is still free there as long as you want it to be.

Seems like a lot of things in self-publishing are changing – it’s actually getting harder to promote and get your work out there – and potentially more costly if you need to pay for advertising so that anyone notices. You can’t even give it away unless you pay!

Is self-publishing still a nirvana for the aspiring writer, or a money-making opportunity for the middlemen?

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Amazon Author Central – possible improvements

I use Amazon and other ebook distribution services to self-publish some of my short stories (I am planning
to use a traditional publisher though for novels if what I am writing is good enough), and also for publishing issues of Alt Hist and Fantasy Short Stories.

Amazon has a service called Author Central, which allows you to provide more information about yourself (here’s my humble page), feeds from your blog or twitter profile, and also check on details of your books, their sales rankings and reviews by customers. That’s all quite interesting and sometimes useful, but I do find myself wondering about how readers interact with this information.

I would like to know:

    How many views my Author page gets
    What happens after people view the page?
    How many people see something compelling enough to click through to a title and which titles do they look at
    On a related note, I would love to know number of kindle ebook sample downloads for my titles, or the number of clicks on the search inside feature. Again I’m interested in knowing what sort of engagement there is with my titles.

If you’re an author using Amazon Author Central, what would you like to see added?

Self Publishing Pros and Cons: Distribution

A while ago I did a couple of posts regarding the pros and cons of Self Publishing, with the intention of doing some more posts at some point. Well this is the next one. It’s on distribution and an area that is bugging me quite a lot at the moment and where I think there is quite a big gap in the market to help self published authors.

On the eBook side self publishers have quite a good choice for distribution. They can get their eBooks published via all the main eBook retailers through a variety of means – either going direct with Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble or Apple or using distributors such as Smashwords and Lulu to do part of it for them. It seems that of the retailers only Amazon demands direct engagement from authors and won’t let a distributor take some of the pain of multiple platforms away – but then Amazon don’t want authors distributing their work via other retailers anyway. Going direct to retailers has its benefits, but self published authors have the choice usually of doing that or using a distributor for their work.

On the traditional publishing side it really depends on what arrangements have been made by your publisher. Some publishers have a difficult relationship with Amazon for a whole host of reasons. And I think some others – more small to medium sized – are still only just getting to grips with eBooks. I was surprised to find that some recent Science Fiction books that I was trying to buy recently from well known authors were not available as eBooks. So it’s possible that to go the traditional route may inhibit eBook distribution if the publisher has a tiff with someone like Amazon, or just is slow in getting its systems together – worth taking into account when selecting a publisher.

Print is not dead – still the majority of the market

This is still true and I think a major problem for the self-published author. The one clear advantage of being published by a traditional publisher is that your book will appear in print and will get some sort of decent distribution to bookshops, book wholesalers and to library suppliers. Maybe even into book cataloguers/book clubs and supermarkets if it is a bestseller. Even if the shelf life is short there will be some exposure and book shop customers can place orders for a book through a book shop and have that order fulfilled.

For a self published author to achieve the same level of distribution is difficult. To get the same face time as a publisher sales rep with book shop chain buyers who decide whether to buy copies of a book is impossible.

On the logistical distribution side it seems that the main options for self publisher are to purchase a more expensive package than the standard ones from Lulu or Createspace – you need something like the Extended Distribution from Createspace or to go with Ingrams’ Lightning Source service to even get in the major bibliographic databases, otherwise online sales via Amazon are probably the only means for customers to purchase print.

Opportunity?

For some bright spark there has to be an opportunity here. Either a start-up company or one of the book wholesalers perhaps could step in and offer enhanced sales and distribution for the self published author. They could produce a catalogue and actively sell these titles to bookshops. I think they would have to impose some sort of vetting process – the author would have to somehow justify why their book should get attention from the bookseller – previous eBook sales or direct online print sales history could play a major role here I think.

Interesting times and an area that’s still in development for self published authors.

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My One Year Writing Plan

Full speed ahead for the fourth and final year...
Full speed ahead for the fourth and final year of the Five Year Plan! (Photo credit: IISG)

I was inspired to write a one year plan of writing goals after skimming through Jeff Vandermeer‘s Booklife. Booklife is a guide to for authors keeping your sanity in today’s world! It gives you tips on how to cope with social media, blogging and generally building your public persona as an author, as well as how to build strategies for developing your career, finding time to write etc. I haven’t read the whole thing, just glanced at it in the library so far, but it looks like it has some good tips for any author.

The section on goals caught my eye as I realized that I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do in the future, but no concrete lists or targets to measure success against. Like any business, an author’s career I think could benefit from having targets – not sales targets in the case of an author, but targets on what you produce or where you are published. Jeff recommends having a shorter-term one year plan and a longer term five year plan. Here’s my one year plan (I’m keeping my five year plan private for now):

  • Have 40+ short stories finished and available for purchase (eBooks or printed collections) – in various pen-names. I currently have 11 available, so that means publishing another 29 in the next twelve months.
  • Finish editing the two novels I have completed in draft format: Hell has its Demons and Return of the Free. Approach agents/publishers about these novels.
  • Complete one non-fiction title and self-publish it.
  • Gain one sale at a fiction magazine with professional rates (over 5 cents  a word and recognized as a professional market by SFWA).

For me I think these goals are challenging, but achievable at a stretch. I’ll keep readers of this blog updated on how I get on.

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New Cover Art Style – Bird Talk and Bisclavret

I have instituted a new cover style for my self-published short stories with Bird Talk and Bisclavret being the first examples. The main purposes was to make the author name (sounds horribly egotistical!) more prominent and also of a consistent style. My decision to do this was influenced by Dean Wesley Smith’s post about how self-published authors shoot themselves in the foot by not acting like a proper publisher – one example he gave was by not having a consistent author brand on covers, so this is a change I decided to make.

Hope you like the results!

 

 

And for reference here are the old covers – similar style as each other, but to my mind not as effective:

Bird Talk

 

Bisclavert

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Self-publishing Pros and Cons – Revenue

I’m going to split this analysis into two sections and a conclusion. First I will look at the evidence for revenues from Traditional Publishing, and secondly from Self-Publishing. What I am trying to do is find an average figure. Of course if you are J. K. Rowling or one of the new breed of million selling self-published authors, the figures will be much higher. But what I’m trying to achieve is a comparison tool for a newbie writer who doesn’t know which path to choose. Don’t shoot me if you don’t like the answer, I’m just presenting the evidence as I see it!

 The Evidence for Traditional Publishing Revenues

If you Google publisher or novel advances then you get quite a few different bits of evidence. But in summary these are my findings:

The Wall Street Journal claims that $15,000 is a mediocre advance, but also states that advances from Independent Publishers average between $1,000 to $5,000 advance.

About That Book Advance … is an essay in NY Times from 2009 suggests $30,000 as an average advance.

Author Advance Survey by Tobias Buckelll

Tobias Buckell surveyed 108 science fiction and fantasy writers back in 2005. There’s quite a bit of data available, but the main finding that I think is relevant for this post is that the median first novel advance was $5,000. This is probably enough information for this pros and cons comparison. He has done a more recent survey I think, but I can’t see the data from it on his blog – maybe not enough responses yet? But let’s go with his $5,000 figure.

Traditional Publisher Revenues – Conclusion

If we err on the side of caution then perhaps we can take Tobias’s figure of $5,000 per novel as a starting point. We should also remember that advances aren’t the only potential source of money. Hopefully of course one’s novel should outsell it’s advance and bring in further funds. There is also the potential sale of other rights – film/TV and foreign-language publishing rights. Again Tobias Buckell has some useful information on multiple income streams.

But let’s assume that we make as a minimum $5,000 per novel publishing via Traditional means.

Evidence for Self-Publishing Revenues

Despite the number of self-published authors blogging out there and talking about their sales figures, in a way getting an average for this is quite difficult. There are of course the success stories, like Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking, but I can’t see their revenue stats as anything other than outliers, which is not what we want for this analysis.

So what evidence can we use? Well I decided to take some information from a well-known self-published author who doesn’t have mega-sales. I won’t name him, but he blogs quite a bit and seems to be well-known, so I would say that he would be a good example of a self-published author who has got his marketing right, seems to right popular books and knows what he is doing. But he hasn’t broken out yet to bestseller status. His figures in general seem to indicate sales of about $800/month, but this is across 4 titles. So looking at a whole year, he might be making $9,600. I’m not sure if one title makes up most of these sales, but the figure does seem to be similar to the survey mentioned below in the Guardian for average self-published revenue.

A survey posted on the Guardian website states that the average income of self-published authors was $6,375 in 2011. Half of those surveyed made less than $500. It’s interesting that those who were more successful were the ones who got more help – they engaged editorial services etc. So effectively employing the same services that a publisher would provide, but on a freelance basis. It is worth noting that most of these writers will have several titles on sale – the most successful ones planned to release 5 or more titles in the next year. So average revenue/book must be $1,000 I would guess?

Another piece of evidence I found was on Mike Cooper’s blog. This presents Amazon’s own figures that the average book makes less than $500. What’s the average book? Does this includes rafts of Public Domain stuff and short stories. Difficult to say. But it’s a stat so worth including in our evidence.

Self-Publishing Revenues – Conclusion

I think from the evidence I have read for self-published authors its all about volume – if you can churn out a lot of decent quality material then you can make an average of $6-10,000 per year. If you get successful then you could make a lot more.

Self-Publishing Revenues – Pros and Cons – A conclusion of sorts

The problem with statistics is that is difficult to compare between different sets of data. However, I think it is possible to draw some general conclusions from what I have presented above. Here they are:

  1. Traditional Publishing can provide a better per title revenue with advances of around $5,000 vs average per title self-published title revenue of $1,000 (even for successful authors). And remember I am underestimating the traditionally published revenue stream by not taking into account any other sources of revenue other than an advance.
  2. Self-published authors have to produce quite a lot of material – 4-5 books a year – to make what a traditionally published author could get from their first novel advances.
  3. Self-published authors have to invest in editorial services to make their book more marketable. These costs for traditionally published authors will be covered by the publisher.
  4. Self-published authors will find it harder to access sources of other revenue, such as foreign rights.
From this evidence I have to say that the traditionally published route looks more attractive. The problem though is getting your work signed up.
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eBook Blurbs Experimentation

Yesterday I decided that the blurbs for my short stories might be, how shall we say, rather poor! And decidedly boring!

Well last night I decided to update a couple of them. See what you think of the changes:

Bird Talk: A Tale of Medieval Magic

Old Blurb:

Bird Talk is a short story about a young priest, Roger, living in a small medieval English town, who is trying to uncover what he believes are foul magical deeds. But instead he manages to implicate the women he loves in accusations of witchcraft. With only the town drunk to help him, Roger must work out a way of saving the woman he loves.

New Blurb:

What do you do when you have accused the woman you love of necromancy?

Roger Draper suspects that a necromancer is at work in a small medieval English town. But rather than uncovering foul magical deeds he manages to implicate the women he desires in accusations of witchcraft. With only the town drunk to help him, Roger must untangle the mess he has created.

Be prepared for a heady concoction of gritty medieval life, humour and magic.

Bird Talk: A Tale of Medieval Magic is an Historical Fantasy short story.

Bisclavret (The Werewolf)

Old Blurb:

“I am the last survivor of the noble family of Trigoff…This is my confession.”A tale of knights, castles, maidens and werewolves set in Medieval France. This short story is a retelling of Marie de France’s classic Medieval Romance.

New Blurb:

 “I am the last survivor of the noble family of Trigoff…This is my confession.” A tale of knights, castles, maidens and werewolves set in Medieval France at the height of the Hundred Years War.

What happens when the man you thought would protect you is more than a man? When another suitor comes calling would stand by your werewolf husband or be tempted to seek protection against the dangers of the wild forest elsewhere?

This historical fantasy short story is a retelling of Marie de France’s classic Medieval Romance Bisclavret.

What do you think are these better? Do you think they will help the short stories sell better?

With Bisclavret I wasn’t sure whether to keep the quotation in there or not?

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