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Putting Short Stories into Multi-Author Anthologies for More Exposure (and more money)

| Posted in Advertising, Tips and Tricks |

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Anthologies have been around for a long time, and it’s no surprise that indie authors are editing and publishing them, along with all other types of fiction.

We’ve talked before about how it’s tough to do well with short stories, in part because readers often prefer longer fiction, and in part because the minimum price you can list your ebooks for on Amazon and the other stores (without doing free) is 99 cents. When you sell entire novels for 3.99 or thereabouts, it can be tough to ask a dollar for a story that might only be 5,000 words and take 20 minutes for someone to read.

I thought I’d present another option, something that I’ve done in the past with my pen name and that I’ll be participating in again this summer (this time with my usual name).

Right now, I’m working on a new science fiction series (for regular readers, think The Emperor’s Edge in space). Since it’s a new genre for me, and I’m not sure how many of my fantasy-loving fans will jump over to it with me, I’m looking for promo ideas. I was pleased when fellow SF&F author C Gockel approached me about putting a short story into an anthology with about ten other authors. Right away, I got excited about writing a short story that could work to lead people into my new series, much as Ice Cracker II did several years ago for my Emperor’s Edge series (long before I made EE1 free, I made that short story free).

With the Ice Cracker II ebook, I made a single short story free. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are a few reasons why I’m more excited about multi-author anthologies now (and why you may want to consider organizing one for short fiction too).

1. Multiple authors involved means multiple people promoting it

If you publish a short story on  your own, chances are you’re going to be the only one promoting it.

Much as with boxed sets, if you do an anthology with 8 or 10 authors, you have 8 or 10 people promoting it. You’ll send word of it out to your mailing list, and they’ll send the word out to theirs. If you get a couple of established authors in the mix, with thousands of people on their mailing lists, that can be quite a bit of exposure that you wouldn’t usually have.

Instead of a few hundred people checking out your short story, you may get thousands, or even tens of thousands, especially if the book ends up sticking on Amazon, something that’s more likely to happen with all of those people helping promote.

2. You’ll probably make more money overall

In the case of our scifi anthology, I believe we’re going to make it permafree, since our goal is to get as much exposure as we can (I want to get people to try my series more than I want to make money from the short story). But you don’t have to do that.

With an anthology, you’ll likely end up with an ebook that has as many words in it as a novel, so there’s no reason you can’t charge 2.99 and get the 70% royalty.

You can also charge 99 cents if you want more sales overall. Believe it or not, with lots of people promoting these multi-author collections, you can make some money even at 99 cents and even divided eight ways.

3. It’s possible to get ads for an anthology

There are precious few promo sites out there that will let you plug a short story, even if you try to throw money at them. Their readers want full-length novels, and for the most part, that’s what they take. This can make it super tough to sell many copies of your short stories unless you already have a big mailing list of fans and unless you’re writing something that ties into one of your regular series.

But an anthology is a different beast, and numerous sponsorship sites will accept them. Even Bookbub will run anthologies now and then. If you want a BB ad, you’ll probably have to start at a higher price and be prepared to discount to a lower price if you’re accepted (i.e. going from 2.99 to 0.99 or from 0.99 to free). Some people will launch their collection at a low price, such as 99 cents, and promo it to their lists, and then raise the price to 2.99 for a few months before applying — Bookbub likes to give their readers discounted books.

If you’re able to snag a Bookbub and can combine that with all the promo that everyone is doing to their lists, then you can definitely get a lot of eyes on your short story. Compare this to just launching a short story on your own, and I think you’ll see a big difference in the results.

I’ll let you know how my own results are this summer when I have the new series out and when we publish the anthology (as I mentioned, I’ve already had good luck doing this with the pen name — I joined several other authors last summer in writing original novellas for a boxed set, and we hit the USA Today list on our release week.)

Free Chains of Honor Prequel Story: A Question of Honor

| Posted in Cut Scenes and Fun Extras |

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To celebrate the release of Snake Heart, the second novel in my Chains of Honor series, I’m sharing the first of the prequel novellas, A Question of Honor, on my site for free. If you’ve already read Warrior Mage and were wondering how Yanko and Dak first met, then you’ll want to check out this adventure.

ChainsOfHonorPrequelsWeb

A Question of Honor

Part I

The bamboo cage rattled as it descended into the depths of the earth, the cool stale air laced with the scent of old sweat. Pressed into the corner by far too many bodies for such a small space, Yanko struggled to keep his breathing slow and even, to loosen the tightness clutching his chest.

Snake Heart (Chains of Honor 2) Available Everywhere

| Posted in My Ebooks |

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SnakeHeartWebFor those of you following along with my Chains of Honor series (a spin-off set in the same world as my Emperor’s Edge series), the second book, Snake Heart, is now available. If you haven’t checked out the first book, you can read the first few chapters on my site: Warrior Mage preview.

Here’s the blurb and the store links for Snake Heart:

Tasked with an impossible mission, hunted by the very people he wants to protect, Yanko White Fox is the only one who can save his nation from famine and anarchy. Armed only with his fledgling skills as a wizard and accompanied by allies he’s not sure he can trust, he must track down an ancient relic before his enemies find it first. But countless obstacles stand in the way, including his mother. The deadly and infamous pirate Snake Heart cares nothing for the family—or the son—she abandoned, and wants the artifact for herself.

You can grab the novel at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Google Play, Kobo, and Smashwords. Thanks for reading!

Another Look at Amazon Advertising (with someone who is having success)

| Posted in Advertising, Amazon Kindle Sales |

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Last year, I did a blog post on Amazon’s then-new advertising program and whether it’s working for me. It wasn’t, and it still isn’t (I tried again recently with a couple of my pen name books, since they’re in KDP Select), but I had a recent comment from another author who is using Amazon ads to good advantage.

Since it was a useful comment, I decided to post it here where more people would see it, and I also asked the author, Yancy Caruthers, some follow-up questions (if you’re not already familiar with Amazon’s advertising opportunities for authors, check out my earlier post for more on the basics of what the program is and how it works).

Yancy writes:

As I read through the comments, the consensus seems to be that this is a waste of time, but I have had a very different experience.

First, connecting your book to specific titles doesn’t work. People go to that title because they care about that book, not yours. You can be creative with your genres – my book is a military memoir, and I advertise in action/adventure as well as military and medical biographies. Cast the net wide! If I was writing Sci-fi romance, I’d advertise in both sci-fi AND romance, and make sure my cover and title reflected my genre accurately. People who weren’t interested simply wouldn’t click. But some would be, and would want to read more.

I started out bidding at 5c, but wasn’t getting more than a few thousand impressions (in a month) and a handful of clicks. After a couple of months, I increased my bid to 8c and started getting more. Impressions don’t sell books, but they do give you data. Out of several thousand impressions, I was getting 0.8%CTR, and my conversion rate was about 5%. I calculated that at that rate, I could pay up to 12c for clicks and still break even, so I increased my bid to 10c. Realize that you won’t get any impressions at all until the Amazon computer connects your ad to a page or keyword.

I went from selling a handful of books per MONTH to selling a handful every day. I’m averaging between 100-200/month. I’m not getting rich, but for every dollar I spend on the ad, I’m making back about $1.50 (about 30c of that is from KU pages read). Those numbers bring reviews now and then for an added bonus.

The ads are flaky, and I think that’s Amazon’s formula – I’ll get sales every day for a week, then I’ll go a few days without any. It averages out – I even had two days when sales were so good, I hit #848 in the entire catalog. Then I didn’t sell any for almost two weeks and was back down into the high five digits with the one-book-a-day-ers.

A couple of things people should understand – The number of impressions you get is a result of your bid and in what market you are bidding into. Your CTR depends on having a great cover, title, and a catch phrase for the ad – and 1% is considered very good. Your conversion rate depends on having a good landing page with a catchy blurb that makes people who land there want to buy. They are already interested or they wouldn’t have clicked. Just reel them in.

So before you pass judgment on Amazon’s PPC, realize that it’s a lot more complicated than “Does it work or not?” The PPC thing now drives 75% of my online sales. Everything else I do drives the other 25% as well as my physical copy sales (about 10% of the total) but that means I’m spending 98% of my time on 28% of my revenue. I’m currently looking at eliminating my time-wasters (like Twitter – ugh – I’m obviously not doing that right) and focusing on things that I have figured out how to make work for me.

After commenting here, Yancy agreed to answer a few more questions:

You mentioned going really wide with your targeting (i.e. all of science fiction and all of romance if you’re writing science fiction romance, even though that’s a pretty small niche). When I used to do Google ads, I’d find that you would be punished (your ad would be shown less) if you had a low click-through-ratio. It seems that when you go really wide like that, there would be a very small percentage of people who would click and that your CTR would suffer. Thoughts?

Amazon doesn’t want ads that don’t sell anything, but those tend to weed themselves out.  It’s possible that somewhere buried in their magic formula is a mention of CTR and Conversions, but that hasn’t slowed me down as far as I know.

Targeting a wider audience makes sense, within reason.  I made the assumption that readers of fiction action/adventure would be potential readers, even though I wrote a piece of narrative military non-fiction.  Even people who read a narrow genre like sci-fi romance also read other genres.  Which other genres are the most common?

Since CTR is simply a function of the quality of an ad and where it is placed, one could certainly run identical ads in two different genres and measure the CTR.  If one is getting impressions but no clicks, you’re in the wrong market.  If neither is getting clicks, maybe the problem is the ad itself.  If it’s getting clicks but no sales, take a look at your landing page, cover, and blurb.

Do you have any advice for authors on how to measure what their earnings per click end up being? Since you can’t use your affiliates links, the way some do with Facebook ads, there’s no way to tell which sales came from the Amazon advertising campaign. If you weren’t selling any books, and suddenly you’re selling some at the same time as you’re getting clicks, I guess it’s pretty doable, but what if you already sell books, and the amount varies quite a bit per day?

Amazon tracks this data for you, independently of your other sales!  They list impressions, clicks, total spent, total sales, and cost per sale.  You can calculate your CTR by dividing the clicks by the impressions.  The number of sales can be calculated by dividing the total sales by the cost of the title ($2.99 in my case).  Cost of sale is also an important number, even though it’s misleading.  Since Amazon already takes 30% of my $2.99 sale, then 70% is the break-even point.

[Lindsay: Hah, I didn’t remember this feature from when I was tinkering last year, but maybe it’s just because I never got clicks! That’s excellent then.]

I assume you’ve played with ad copy quite a bit. Are there any tips or tricks specific to Amazon that you could share?

I have, but I know very little about it.  I think of it like a Tweet – there are a limited number of characters to tell the viewer why the book is interesting.  Play with it, but be patient and give it time.  No ad generates meaningful data until it’s been seen a few thousand times.  The quality of the ad is important, so check out what others have done.  Equally if not more important is the landing page. Back in September when I started my first campaign, I looked at the landing page and thought, “This is boring.  I wouldn’t buy this.”

It sounds like you also haven’t had much luck targeting specific books. Have you tried doing bestsellers or something that’s just gotten a Bookbub ad in your genre? (With sci-fi romance, I think there just wasn’t that much inventory to pick from.)

After I read your blog, I gave the title-linked ads a try. I chose the top 20 sellers in my specific category and added several more.  In the past 3 weeks I have gotten less than 100 impressions.  My theory is that the more popular titles require a higher bid-per-click.  If I could get impressions on those pages, I would probably sell books, but if I bid that high, then I lose money and I won’t pay people to read my title.

I have scaled it for demonstration purposes, but the CTR and Conversion Rates are actual:

Impressions     x    CTR    =   Clicks.    Clicks x Conversion Rate = Sales.

100,000           x     0.8%  =    800.        800 x 6.2%    =    49 sales…

Assuming a $2.99 title on which I make $2.05 in royalty, those 49 sales made me $100.45.  As long as I didn’t pay more than that for those 800 clicks, then I’m making a profit.  I currently bid a maximum of 10c/click, so my 800 clicks would cost $80 at the maximum and I still make $20.45.  Since my title is also enrolled in KU, then I also get paid for KU pages read.  This has varied, but covers the cost of almost 40% of my clicks.

You may also observe that a very slight variation in CTR or Conversion Rate will make a huge difference in sales.  If I could get my CTR to 1%, for instance, I would average 13 more sales per 100k impressions.

Yancy’s plan going forward:

I am going to stop my title-linked campaign at the end of this month.  It doesn’t seem to get me impressions since I am only bidding 10c/click.

I am going to split my current campaign into two parts.  I want to separate the fiction action/adventure from the non-fiction genres, to see what actually produces the most impressions.  I’ll use exactly the same ad, but I want to see if there is any significant difference in CTR and conversions.  It is possible that I am losing money on half of my campaign and making it back on the other half.

I’m also going up to 12c/click for a month.  If nothing else changes, I’ll be giving away a good chuck of my remaining royalty, but I want to see if I can get a substantial increase in impressions by bidding just slightly higher.

Yancy’s recommendation:

Start out at 5c/click in your own and substantially similar genres.  Be patient, give it a month.  See if you get exposures (some genres are more expensive than others).  Once you have some data (and hopefully some sales) then you’ll know more and can make adjustments.  Understand that none of this happens quickly and real data comes with time.  Steering an ad campaign is a lot like piloting a battleship in a crowded harbor.  I’ve been doing this for almost 6 months and am still making adjustments, trying to find that sweet spot for sales.

Visit Yancy at:

http://yancycaruthers.com/

Facebook

Twitter

Check out his book on Amazon: Northwest of Eden.

Update: He’s provided an example of his ad for us:

NWoE ad

How to Appear in Popular Books’ Also-Bought Sections on Amazon

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales |

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My January release, Shattered Past, has been getting a little extra advertising on Amazon. By that, I mean it appeared in the first slot of the also-bought section for several other fantasy books that were selling well because they were new releases or because the author was running a Bookbub promo. I’ll pretend it was planned and that I’m smart, but in truth, I noticed the effect later and realized what had happened. (Though I have theorized that this could work before on my podcast!)

Screenshot 2016-02-03 14.33.19I’ll tell you what I did, but before I jump in, let me fully admit that I can’t prove that being in the also-boughts actually led to more book sales. I figure it can’t hurt if people are seeing your book all over Amazon, but I have no way to track sales that might have come that way. Also, in order for you to do this yourself, you’ll need to have at least a small mailing list and/or social media following already built up, so it will probably be tough to do if you’re launching your first novel.

Okay, enough of that. The nitty gritty:

The TL;DR version:

If you plug other books in your genre at the same time as you plug your new release, and if people buy both, it’s likely that you’ll appear on the first page of those other books’ also-boughts.

The longer version with more explaining:

I’m in a new permafree boxed set with 14 other authors (if you like swords & sorcery, make sure to grab it!), and it happened to launch about the same time as my novel Shattered Past. We all plugged the set, Legends, to our lists, but I also plugged Shattered Past in the same newsletter announcement.

Even though we all presumably had readers who picked up the boxed set, my book is the one that’s been in that first also-bought spot since release (I’m sure that will change eventually, as my book isn’t a sequel to the one I have in the boxed set; it’s likely that those also-boughts will eventually populate with direct sequels to the various books in the collection). I suspect this is not only because a lot of people picked up both but because they were picked up at the same time, thus making a very close link in the eyes of whatever algorithm-bot figures these things out for Amazon.

The result is that Shattered Past was in that first slot during the main push of the boxed set. The collection reached as high as 16 in the free store, so a lot of people saw my book, if only out of the corner of their eye as they were clicking the download button for the freebie.

I don’t know how many people looking to download a freebie would randomly go on to buy a $2.99 book they’d never seen before, but that’s not the only book I plugged that week. One of my writer buddies, C. Gockel, dropped her urban fantasy boxed set to 99 cents because she had a Bookbub ad coming. She mentioned on Kboards that she was hoping to hit the USA Today bestseller list (and she did!), so I shared her Facebook post on my author page. Judging by the comments, several of my readers picked up her boxed set.

Don’t bother looking for me in the also-boughts on her book page now, because I just checked, and SP has been bumped all the way to the 22nd page, but that’s because her Bookbub ad ran last week, and thousands of people bought her book after that. You’ve probably noticed that anyone who runs a Bookbub ad will share the also-boughts with a lot of other Bookbub books from the previous days’ mailings — in essence, Bookbub does exactly what we’re talking about here.

But on the day of Gockel’s Bookbub ad, and I believe even the day after, those also-boughts hadn’t been reset with Bookbub books yet. Shattered Past, even though I’d only plugged it on Facebook and not to my mailing list, occupied the #1 slot for her boxed set, so I got some more free advertising. I’m not sure how high her book made it in the Amazon store, but I know that I was #1 in her also-boughts on that day that she got thousands of extra eyes on her book page. Essentially, I’ve gotten a lot of extra views of my book cover this last couple of weeks, even though I haven’t spent a dime advertising that book yet.

Here’s another book that I finished reading last week and plugged to my people yesterday, when I was again mentioning SP (just in case my readers had missed the last newsletter!):

Screenshot 2016-02-07 15.15.21As you can see, SP is already in the first also-bought spot again.

So, what’s the message here? 

Like I said, it’s unlikely that appearing on the first page of also-boughts for a book results in piles of piles of sales, even if it’s a popular book, but I do believe it’s likely that it will result in at least some sales over time. I know that I’ve grabbed samples of a lot of books I’ve seen in the also-boughts of other books I’ve purchased, especially if they have cool covers that really draw my eye.

So, not only does it pay to plug other authors in your genre, but it might pay to scheme a bit in the way you go about it. In the very newsletter where you’re mentioning your latest release, you might mention another new release by an author, one that you maybe read and enjoyed yourself. (I think you’ll get more mileage from plugging a newer release, because the also-boughts won’t have filled in with all of the author’s other titles yet, something that usually happens with a series writer.)

I haven’t tried this method yet with a real big name in fantasy (for good or ill, I tend to prefer the quiet little books that aren’t best sellers to the heavy hitters, and I’ll usually only recommend what I’ve liked, especially to my newsletter subscribers), but if I see the opportunity someday, I certainly will.

Can you do this with a small list?

If, as I mentioned above, you’re thinking that this won’t work for you because you don’t have many mailing list subscribers yet, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that. All I did with the Gockel book was share her post on my Facebook page, so I’d guess that a maximum of 10 people (10 people who also had purchased SP) bought her boxed set. That was all it took to get me into the first slot on a book that had been out for a while — who knows how long I might have hung out there if she hadn’t wiped the slate clean with a Bookbub ad?

I think you’ll find that unless people are actually doing what I described here, most of the typical also-boughts may only be linked by a couple of shared buyers. It shouldn’t be that hard to appear on the page of the book of your choosing, assuming some of your readers pay attention to and buy your recommendations!