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Blood Charged Is out & Enter to Win a Signed Paperback of Republic

| Posted in My Ebooks |

131

The latest adventure with Sardelle, Ridge, Tolemek, and Cas is out, the third novel in the Dragon Blood series. You can grab it at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo (Apple coming soon).

BloodChargedCoverForWebSardelle Terushan, sorceress and healer, should be lying low. Magic is forbidden in Iskandia, and magic users are drowned, shot, or otherwise slain. The problem? She’s fallen in love with ace fighter pilot and national hero, Colonel Ridge Zirkander, a man whom everybody notices, including the king. It’s not long before Sardelle has spies dogging her steps and people trying to blow her up. Worse, her presence is jeopardizing Ridge’s career. If she can’t find a solution to the nation’s centuries-old hatred of magic, the only way to protect Ridge—and herself—may be to leave.

Ridge Zirkander isn’t used to worrying about more than shooting down Cofah airships and keeping the officers in his squadron alive, but his world has gotten more complicated since giving his heart to Sardelle. It’s difficult to keep people from noticing a mysterious and enigmatic woman, not to mention her chatty sentient sword. He’s been passing her off as an archaeologist to his fellow pilots, but when the king calls him in to a private meeting, Ridge fears his secret has been discovered.

But the king—and the rest of the country—has a greater problem. Cofah military scientists have acquired something that shouldn’t exist in the world any longer: dragon blood. In addition to having countless mysterious properties, it’s a powerful energy source that can be used to create devastating weapons. Ridge, Sardelle, and their allies must travel to the empire as part of a secret strike force to steal the dragon blood. If they fail, the Cofah will finally have the power to destroy all of Iskandia.

In addition to having the new book out, I’m giving away some signed paperbacks of Republic (yes, I’ll ship anywhere in the world). You can enter here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Update: It looks like some people are having trouble responding to the Rafflecopter form (I didn’t want to require Facebook likes or Twitter shares or anything like that, but RC wouldn’t just let people plug in an email address to enter). You can also leave a comment here at the bottom of the blog post (favorite character from the EE series or anything you’d like to share), and I’ll pick some winners out of there too. I have ten books to give away!

Last Update: The contest is now closed, and I’ve picked winners, four via the Rafflecopter widget and four from the comments here: Lindsey, Gwynneth, Cath, Daniel, Natalie, Genevieve, Anna, and Joanna. Thanks for entering, everyone! 

Pricing Strategies for Ebooks in a Series

| Posted in E-publishing |

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I’m about to release the third book in my Dragon Blood series (the opening chapters of the first book are here if anyone is curious), and I have some advertisements scheduled this week for the first. Since this is officially a series now, pricing is on my mind. Just now, you ask?

I originally wrote the first one as a stand-alone. I had an idea for a steampunk romance (stolen from inspired by another story), and I thought, hey, let’s do it. Then it turned out that I enjoyed the characters and the world and wanted to revisit both. Thus a series was born.

I released the first book at $2.99, lobbied for reviews (something I hadn’t bothered to do much of before), and sent an announcement out to the mailing list (they were more interested in the Emperor’s Edge book that was also coming out that month, but some people did give the new adventure a try). It turned out that it did well, hanging out at the top of the steampunk rankings for a couple of months on Amazon. I released a second one in late May, also at $2.99, and, as I mentioned, I’m getting ready to release the third.

After the first three months, sales on the first book dropped off some, as you’d expect, but the Amazon ranking was still under 10,000 most days, which isn’t too shabby for a more obscure category. I just dropped it to 99 cents for a Bookbub ad this weekend, and it’s had a nice boost again (Pixel of Ink mentioned it yesterday).

I’m deciding now whether I want to do a $2.99 release for Book 3 or bump it up to $3.99 (it’s nearly 100,000 words, so it’s longer than the first two). I’m also going to watch how Book 1 does at $0.99, because it may be worth leaving it there longer than the planned week if it does well after the ads have come and gone. That would fit into one of the main series pricing models I’m going to talk about below.

(I like to stay flexible and experiment, rather than committing to any particular pricing model, especially for more obscure niches like “steampunk romance.” Sometimes some books are just never going to be huge sellers whether they’re free or 99 cents, even when they have lots of good reviews, so in that case, it might make more sense to stick with a $2.99 price tag to at least get the 70% cut on sales that do come.)

I’ll update y’all on my doings later on, but I mostly wanted to write this post for others who are trying to price their books to get the most (earnings and visibility) out of their own series.

Common Series Pricing Models for Indie eBooks

Option A:

  • Book 1: 99 cents
  • Book 2: 2.99
  • Book 3 (and subsequent books): 2.99 – 4.99

Option B:

  • Book 1: free
  • Book 2: 2.99
  • Book 3 (and others): 2.99 – 4.99

Both of these options let you draw in new readers with Book 1 that’s priced lower than the rest of the series, in the hope that they’ll be more likely to try your work, like it, and go on to buy the rest.

My Emperor’s Edge series needs a facelift and some loving, but it’s earned me the bulk of my income over the last three and a half years (I published the eighth and final-for-now book earlier this spring). I’ve tried a number of strategies, but I’ve been pretty close to Option B for the last three years. I started out with the first two books at 2.99 and made some sales, but gained a lot more readers when I released Book 3 and made Book 1 permanently free (I also had some luck early on when, with two books out, I ran sales of Book 1 at 99 cents.)

In ye olden days, Amazon listed the Top 100 free next to the Top 100 paid in each category (no need to click over to free books to see the covers), and you got a lot of visibility if you were in the Top 20 free for your category. I’ve talked more about whether or not free is still a good strategy in other places, so I’ll just say here that, yes, it can be, but prepared to pay for ads and promote the freebie, because there’s less visibility for those lists than there used to be. Free still works very well as a series starter in iTunes and Kobo (people always ask how to sell books there, and I always say that I didn’t sell much of anything in those stores until I had a free Book there).

That said, I haven’t made anything else free of late. Part of it is because I’ve mostly been writing pilots this past year, trying to figure out what my next big series should be, but part of it is because 99 cents seems almost as viable, if not as viable, for enticing people to try a series. And, unlike with the free books, you show up in the paid listings alongside all of the other paid books — being 99 cents when the surrounding books are 2.99 and up can make yours look like as much, if not more, of a bargain as a free book surrounded by other free books. There’s also the consideration that people may be more likely to jump right into reading a book they paid for, whereas they might randomly download heaps of free books and wait until much later to check them out.

As I go forward with the Dragon Blood series and other new ones (I have my pen name project in mind here, too), I’ll probably stick with something closer to Option A. I may do free sales, i.e. permafree for a couple of weeks in conjunction with advertising, especially after I have 4+ books out in a series, but I don’t think I’ll do another permanently free book for a while.

With pricing a series (or anything), I think it’s useful to be flexible and try different numbers. Keep track of how much you earn from the series overall, rather than from any individual book, and see what works best. (I wrote a post on this last winter: What You Think Your Book Is Worth vs. The Point at Which It Will Make the Most Money.)

Other Series Pricing Models

What if you just don’t like either of the two options I mentioned? Or maybe you’re also writing a series in a less popular niche. Maybe you’re in an extremely popular niche where it’s hard to get noticed even at 99 cents. Here are a couple more models to consider.

Option C:

  • Book 1: 2.99
  • Subsequent books: 3.99+

This one keeps you in the 70% range for earnings.

There are a couple of reasons you might consider this. First, if you already have a fan base or your new series ties into an old one, you might not need to make the first book a loss leader, as they say in the biz.

Also, if you don’t have the rest of the books in the series out yet, running sale prices on Book 1 may not do much for you, in terms of your income. Yes, it can bring in more readers, but if you don’t have anything available yet for those readers to buy, will they still remember you when you publish Book 2? Maybe, maybe not (don’t forget to include a newsletter sign-up at the end of the first book!).

Lastly, if you’ve already tried 99 cents combined with sales and there just didn’t seem to be enough interest to give you the boost you were hoping for, you might as well go back to the 70% cut. That way, when you do make a sale, it’s at least latte money (or Americano money, anyway).

Option D:

  • Book 1: free
  • Book 2: 99 cents
  • Book 3 and beyond: 2.99 and up

I see this fairly often in the romance genre (especially with series). Giving away the first two books for nothing or next to nothing is hard to stomach, but it’s possible you’ll get a lot more visibility and readers getting invested in the series this way. You’re in the free lists for people who surf there, but then you’ve also got a 99-cent title (remember how this appears as quite the bargain next to more expensive titles) in the paid listings.

I’ve done sales like this with my EE series, and, for me, the second book never sold well enough at 99 cents that I was tempted to leave it there for long. If, however, you’re in a popular genre and have written books that really give people what they want, a pricing strategy like this may get you the attention you’re hoping for.

Okay, I’ve burbled on for long enough. Do you have any thoughts on pricing a series that you would like to share? Please leave a comment!

New Authors, Should You Self Publish or Seek a Traditional Publishing Deal?

| Posted in Writing |

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Since I’ve been self-publishing for three and a half years now, and it’s all I ever did, it’s hard for me to imagine what things would have been like if I’d been dead-set on finding an agent and publishing traditionally. I know I wouldn’t have quit the day job after the first year and sincerely doubt I’d be making six figures a year now. But it turns out that I write fairly quickly and publish often, so I’m not necessarily representative of the typical indie author experience (of course, some people who write in more popular genres, and/or are just better at writing/marketing than I am, have a lot fewer books out than I do and make a lot more, too).

I thought I’d do a bit of a comparison (as much as I’m able from my side of the fence) for those who are wondering which route is best for them. Before I jump into that, I want to make one point that often gets forgotten in these discussions:

Most people will never be offered a traditional publishing deal.

Not with a big house anyway (and I’m not a big fan of signing with small publishers, just because I don’t feel most of them bring much to the table that a moderately savvy indie can’t accomplish him or herself). It’s not as if you get to just decide that you’ll traditionally publish, remember. You can try to find an agent and try to find a deal, but there aren’t any guarantees.

Of the couple dozen people who I kept track of who were in the same SF/F online writing workshop as I was back in 2008-2010 or so, I only know of two who got agents and traditional deals (one is now a hybrid author, self-publishing in between her regular releases). Both worked very hard to get those deals, one by writing tons and tons of short stories and racking up some pro magazine sales before having her third or fourth book picked up. The other really worked the RWA route, entering all the contests and going to the conventions to meet agents and such. (Note to other science fiction and fantasy authors, if you have romantic elements of any sort in your novels, that organization seems to be a lot more helpful for new authors than the SFWA.)

So, just to be clear, what we’re talking about here is whether you should self-publish from the start or try to find a traditional publishing deal.

Advantages of Self Publishing

  • Speed — I finished a manuscript last week and sent it to beta readers, who should get it back to me this week sometime. I’ll spend a couple of days editing it, based on their feedback, then send it off to my editor, who should get it back to me a week or two after that. I have someone working on the cover art right now. I expect to publish this book in mid- to late-July. I started writing it in mid-May (and wrote some other stuff in between the first and second draft).
  • Calling all the shots — I can pick the cover I want, write the story I want, and choose whether to make changes an editor suggests… or not. I don’t have to worry about someone not publishing my story if I’m not willing to make changes that may or may not be in line with my vision.
  • Control over pricing — I suppose this falls under calling the shots, but it’s such an important part of the equation that I think it deserves special emphasis. It’s one of the main reasons self-published authors have been finding so much success over the last few years: news flash, nobody really wants to pay $14.99 for an ebook. Even $9.99 is a lot for an author you’re not already a fan of. At $4.99 or $2.99, your books will look like a deal. Of course, you can try higher prices if you want. You can change the price every week if you want to, until you find that sweet spot.
  • The ability to take advantage of opportunities — As the publisher of my own novels, I can change the price anytime I want to take advantage of promotional opportunities. I can go in with other authors to bundle my books for a chance to reach tons of new readers. I can say, yes, absolutely if Amazon emails and asks to make one of my books a daily deal. I can see, within days of release, if a new book is going to be a winner and, if it is, start writing a second in the series right away. Or, if it’s not looking like a winner, maybe I’ll shift focus to another project.
  • The ability to track sales hourly and adjust marketing tactics — I don’t think this gets mentioned enough. You are so in the dark if all you’re able to do is look at an Amazon sales ranking and get twice yearly royalty checks. I can only imagine how tough it must be to stay enthused about promoting a book when you’re not actually able to go in and see if your efforts are making a difference.
  • The potential to earn more money and sooner — It’s not easy to get the ball rolling as an indie (advice you’ll see over and over is to write the next book and the next book because there are marketing opportunities that come to those with series that just aren’t there with stand-alone books), but if you’re prolific, you have the potential to turn this into a career much more quickly than you can with traditional publishing. Sure, there are exceptions (every now and then you hear of someone getting a huge advance or becoming a best seller with her first book, but I can point out indies who have had freakish success too), but you don’t have to be an exception to start making a regular income. Note all the comments/success stories on this post about Indie Authors Quitting Their Day Jobs.

Advantages of Traditional Publishing

  • Someone else foots the bill — I put together my first novel, The Emperor’s Edge, as inexpensively as I could at the time, without sacrificing what I believed were necessities (professional editing and cover art), paying around $800 total back then (I’ve since redone the cover once and am planning to again). I threw away $200 on someone who was utterly worthless as an editor and learned a lesson about people who claim that they’re good editors because they’re teachers, ahem. These days, I have my people lined up, and it costs me $1,000-$1,500 to get a novel out there, depending on length. That’s for an ebook and paperback. Brian McClellan recently did a post on how much his publisher had invested in his book to get it out there. I don’t believe for a second that every publisher is putting that much money into their authors (there are too many really bad or really simple covers out there for me to believe every publisher is coughing up $4-$6K for cover art!), but the point is that he didn’t have to pay any of the costs to publish ebook/hardback/audio for his book. The publisher covered it.
  • You’re in more stores and get more exposure — Even if I buy all of my books from Amazon, that doesn’t mean everybody does. A traditional deal should get you in all the brick-and-mortar stores. I imagine there must be something cool about seeing your book on a shelf at Barnes & Noble or in the airport bookstore.
  • Extra income from foreign rights sales — I’ve priced the cost of book translations, and it just doesn’t seem like it would be worth it to me, not when I’m looking at doing it for a seven-book series. At the same time, I’ve had inquiries from publishing houses in different countries, asking about the rights to my books. I keep meaning to look into that (or find an agent who might be willing to work on it), but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. From what I’ve heard from other authors, you don’t usually make a lot in each country, but if you sold the rights to a whole series in ten different countries, I’m sure it would add up. (Note: savvy indies can negotiate their own foreign rights sales; I’m just someone who prefers focusing on the marketing and on writing the next book, so I’ve definitely lagged behind here, and with audiobooks too.)
  • More review copies sent out and more sites/blogs willing to review trad published books — I’m a little dubious about how much this actually helps, especially after you have a mailing list of fans built up, but it can certainly be tough getting the first 10-20 reviews as a new author.

One thing I didn’t mention up there, and it’s one of the big myths, is that you won’t have to worry about marketing if you sign with a traditional publisher. The only time that seems to be true is if you get a big advance and they’ve got an investment they have to make sure earns out. If you got a 5k advance, and twenty other authors in your genre got that same deal this month, they’re probably just throwing darts at a board and hoping one lucks into hitting the bulls-eye, not even particularly caring which one it is. Most authors have to market, and I’ve heard that most agents look at a new author’s “platform” before thinking of signing them.

I’m sure this isn’t a complete list (if you have anything you’d like to add, please leave a comment), but I hope it’s enough to help those of you who are on the fence. There are pros and cons whichever way you go. Some people are just cut out for one path, more than the other.

For myself, I was determined to make a living at this, and that’s something I sensed I could do much more quickly as an independent author, because I was willing to write and publish a lot and to figure out enough of the marketing stuff to have a chance. I also have the patience of a toddler on a sugar high. It would drive me nuts sending off a manuscript, then having to wait two years to see it in print.

How to Create, Publish, and Market an Anthology (and why you’d want to) with J.M. Ney-Grimm

| Posted in Guest Posts |

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Hi, I’m J.M. Ney-Grimm. I write fantasy with a Norse twist. I love writing novellas, but I also produce short stories and novels. This year I edited – and contributed a story to – the indie anthology Quantum Zoo.

I want to thank Lindsay for hosting me on her blog. I’m a big fan of her Emperor’s Edge series. No, I’ll go farther than that. I’m a big fan of Lindsay’s writing. All of it! Whenever she releases a new book, I buy it and read it. That simple!

So, why am I here on Lindsay’s blog? To share exactly how two indie writers collaborated with ten other indie writers to create an indie anthology, along with what we learned from the whole process.

My co-conspirator in the anthology project was D.J. Gelner. He’s a gifted writer who enjoys splashing into just about every genre known. Okay, I exaggerate! But thus far he’s written science-fiction, mythological fantasy, non-fiction, time travel, and a sports tale. All of these stories have two things in common: powerful drama and “gotcha” kickers at the end. It’s been great fun to tackle Quantum Zoo with him.

When I consulted with Lindsay on the scope of my post, she encouraged me to dig into the nitty gritty specifics. To present all the how-to’s (and how-not-to’s) that would make my account really useful to other writers, whether they intended to create their own anthology or not. So that’s exactly what I’ve done.

First off…

Why Create an Indie Anthology?

Building Quantum Zoo has been a lot of fun, but it’s also been a lot of work. Why did we do it? What did we hope to achieve?

D.J. and I had three goals from the very start.

Cross-pollinate reading audiences

We figured that some of my readers would become his readers. Some his readers would become my readers. Some of our readers would go on to read the works of the other writers contributing stories to the anthology. And vice versa. All of us would increase the size of our audience.

Experiment with new marketing techniques

I’ve been following the more conservative approach recommended for writers with patience and a desire to be frugal with time and energy: write the next book! I write, release, announce, and repeat. Yet I’ve harbored a secret yen to try some bolder and more direct promotional techniques. This would be my chance to approach vast numbers of blogging reviewers and hold a Facebook launch party. ;) D.J. has always been quite open about his desire to experiment with different marketing projects.

Learn from the project and report back to the indie community

We hoped to learn more about what kind of promotion was effective and what wasn’t. Naturally we’d use that knowledge to better guide our own publishing careers, but we’d also share what we’d learned with other writers. We envisioned our anthology project as benefitting many, not just ourselves.

Before You Start, Take One: Choose Your Partner Wisely

I wouldn’t have wanted to tackle a project like this alone. But pick your teammate carefully! D.J. and I were members of a small and active online writing group for more than a year before we hatched the idea for Quantum Zoo. We admired one another’s skills. We knew that each of us would contribute a high-quality story to the project. We had complimentary strengths.

I have two things for you to consider in this first “before you start” phase:

Compare your skill sets

D.J. calls me a “front woman with the smarts, tact, and grace necessary to communicate with all sorts of folks online” and “a crackerjack cover designer.” (Blushing a little as I copy & paste that.)

D.J. has experience in law, business, and entrepreneurship, plus a real gift for seeing the big picture and identifying exactly what needs to be done now to make everything fall into place.

I created Quantum Zoo‘s cover, a website for the book, a Quantum Zoo Pinterest board, and a flyer for contributing authors to distribute at conventions. D.J. wrote the contracts and selected the accountant who will handle the money earned by the book. Between us, we could do everything.

Assess your working styles and personalities

The only ego D.J. and I permitted ourselves was a dedication to putting out the very best possible finished product. We didn’t indulge in turf battles or power struggles, and didn’t take anything personally. Any of that could derail a cooperative project like this. We worked as members of the same team with our eyes firmly on our goal.

TIP: Chose someone you know well to be your partner.

Before You Start, Take Two: Genre & Theme

Decide the genre and theme for your anthology

How easily you manage this will tell you something about your partnership right off the bat!

Readers generally don’t want a random assortment of stories in an anthology. Would-be anthology builders must decide what the unifying principles for their collection will be.

Genre was easy for us. We both enjoy speculative fiction, reading it and writing it. Quantum Zoo would be science fiction and fantasy.

Selecting a theme was a little more challenging. D.J. and I held several brainstorming sessions. We wanted a prompt that would be fun to write about, had a broad range of applications, and would work equally well for both sci-fi and fantasy authors.

TIP: Be flexible and don’t lock in on a theme right away. Play with ideas for a while.

I’ll confess that I had a story I was longing to write that stemmed from the concept of living exhibitions. But D.J. agreed that “zoo” was an excellent prompt when I suggested it. I’ve never asked him when the inspiration for his “Echoes of Earth” arrived. Now I’m curious. Was it when we were brainstorming? I’d love to know!

Before You Start, Take Three: Contracts, Expectations, and Other Messy Business

First of all, have a contract! Without some kind of baseline agreement between yourself and the authors in the collection, no one will know where they stand, and things can get messy quickly. At the bare minimum, you should have an independent contractor agreement with each of your authors; it simplifies taxes and any legal problems should they arise. (D.J. can dig more deeply into this in the comments if anyone has questions about the specifics.)

At the same time, it was important to us that the contracts for Quantum Zoo be very author-friendly. There are too many horror stories these days about authors who sign unfairly one-sided contracts just to be “accepted” by a publication.

By contrast, we wanted Quantum Zoo to be a collaborative effort that authors could join without feeling “railroaded” by the goal of the process. To foster that collaborative atmosphere, having fair, author-friendly contract terms was absolutely necessary.

Be sure the terms of your contract protect the rights of the contributing authors

Our authors retained their rights. They can submit their stories to magazines that accept already-published material. Their stories can be included in other anthologies, such as Year’s Best SF. Each author may also indie publish his or her story.

TIP: Make sure to have signed independent contractor agreements with all of your writers with terms that are fair to the writers!

Anthologies have a strong history in traditional publishing. The usual framework is that a publishing house or a magazine decides to publish an anthology of stories, often reprints, sometimes new titles. The publisher puts out a call for submissions, selects the stories, issues contracts, pays the authors, and puts out the book.

We would be following a similar path, with one important difference: this would be a collaborative effort similar to the book bundles that some indies are now creating and selling.

Be very clear about the nature of your project

It was important that we communicate accurately what we had in mind. That it was a collaborative project. That our focus was audience expansion and marketing experimentation. That this was not a traditional anthology primarily consumed with making money. Although we do hope to make money, the proceeds from sales will initially be plowed back into marketing the book until we reach a relatively high threshold, at which time we’ll all split the loot, one-twelfth each. :)

We wanted to be sure that the indies who chose to submit knew what we intended and what to expect. We included all this information in the detailed guidelines we sent to interested writers who emailed us. Which leads me to my next topic.

How Do You Find Authors?

This is the issue that stopped us for several months after we first conceived our anthology project. We couldn’t put out a call for submissions in the traditional places, because this wouldn’t be a traditional anthology. Plus we wanted indies (or hybrids), not folks traveling the legacy route exclusively.

Writers who are members of really large online writers’ groups might seek interested writers there. But neither of us were in one of these groups. How could we make this work?

Eventually we decided to go ahead by posting a call for submissions on our own blogs. D.J. gets quite respectable traffic on his, a couple hundred visitors a day. Mine is more modest, a mere twenty to thirty a day. Still, we figured those relative “trickles” of traffic just might be enough.

As it happened, we’ll never know. We caught a lucky break.

There’s a lesson there, I think. Sometimes you just have to dive in, even when you don’t have all the pieces in place.

What was our lucky break? The Passive Guy decided to run my “Calling All Indies” post on his massively popular blog: The Passive Voice.

D.J.’s words about that: “I think it’s pretty clear that Jessica’s thoughtful comments on PG’s blog, DWS’s blog, Kris’s blog, and others contributed to her standing in the community, which in turn led PG to run the post. Without that, we may have had too few submissions to bring together something as special as QZ.”

TIP: If you’ve got 90% of what you need to do figured out, consider trusting yourselves – trusting that you’ll use your smarts and savvy to figure out the other 10%.

Whatever the cause, we were definitely out of the starting blocks from that moment.

We received many, many fine stories for consideration.

How Do You Pick the Right Stories?

D.J. volunteered to read the stories first. His idea was that he could weed out the ones that weren’t right for Quantum Zoo, thus saving some of my time and attention.

As it happened, the vast majority of the stories were so good that he couldn’t definitively rule any of them out. So we both ended up reading all the submissions.

Read as a reader, not an editor

Editors read with an eye to what is wrong with the story, looking to see how to strengthen it. That’s not how readers read. Readers let the story have its way with them. If it doesn’t pull them in, doesn’t hold their interest, they stop reading.

D.J. and I read through the stories the first time as readers, merely noting which ones drew us in most strongly, held our interest without letting go, startled us or moved us or both. Those are the stories we chose.

We had to consider one other thing. Several of the stories focused on humans held captive in alien zoos. No matter how good they were, including six stories with the same premise was never going to fly. We picked two: D.J.’s own – an intense twist on an old pulp classic, and a humorous piece by S.E. Batt that goes in a completely different direction.

What about deadlines?

We had them. Both for the writers: submit by January 31, 2014. And for ourselves: decide which stories to include by early March.

TIP: Give yourselves some wiggle room with your own deadlines. Do have them. You need them to coordinate well with one another. But say “early March” rather than March 4. This is a huge project and you are fitting it in around the rest of your responsibilities.

Once the decisions were made, we sent out emails all in a batch. D.J. drafted the letters: one to inform the writer we were passing on the story; one to say that we’d like to include the story if the writer were willing to make certain, specific revisions; and one to say that the story was exactly what we were looking for. This allowed us to ensure that that the authors were “on board” with making changes to their stories before moving forward – again, we tried to be as author-friendly as possible throughout the entire process.

All of that work was before even starting the actual editing!

How Do You Edit Stories?

Once again we divided things up, but this time we did it very subjectively.

We both liked all the stories and were wholeheartedly behind each one. But certain stories really spoke to D.J., and he chose to edit those, while others really spoke to me, and I selected them for my purview. We described ourselves as being the “captain” of a story. At the start of the process, we just hoped we could guide each one safely into harbor instead of crashing the story on the rocks! Fortunately, all of the authors were very accommodating through the entire process, and I think this method worked well for everyone.

After the captain completed his or her work with the writer, the story went to the other editor for review. This kept one set of eyes fresh for finding the little things that escaped correction.

What about the stories that spoke to both of us? As it so happened, those were the ones that needed the least revision. It was feasible for both of us to review them as “captain” and then simply send a compiled list that combined our suggested revisions to the writer.

What about our own stories?

D.J.’s went to a first reader from our writing group for feedback and then came to me for editing. Mine went to one of my usual first readers and then to D.J. for editing. We didn’t give those stories a “pass” or a leg up on anything; they had to meet the same standards as the other stories that ultimately made it into the anthology. We both had revision work of our own, just like every other contributing writer.

TIP: Let the writers know that some time will pass before you get editorial feedback to everyone. There are ten (more or less) of them and only two of you. Some writers will get feedback right away. Others may wait several weeks.

The stories fell into three distinct states of readiness for publishing.

About half were in great shape. They needed no structural changes, perhaps half a dozen small changes for clarity or consistency, and a smattering of typos corrected.

The other half needed more work: an important character given more “stage time,” repetitious word use fixed, verbal tics corrected, a more emphatic final sentence devised, and so on.

One story was perfect! The author found and corrected the sole error – a noun that read better as singular rather than plural – before D.J. and I got to her. We focused on the stories that needed the most work first, to give the authors time to make the necessary changes.

In our revision requests, we were careful to emphasize to the writer that we loved the story – in all honesty, we wouldn’t have picked the story if we hadn’t! As writers ourselves, we know it’s easy to give extra weight to criticism and less credence to praise. My emails started with some of the things I loved, then listed the changes I wanted (with mention of a few specifics that I loved), and closed with more things I loved. I should ask the writers if I got the balance right! :D

When Should You Start Marketing?

As soon as possible! In a weird way, this was the “meat” of the whole project: we wanted to try out all kinds of “off the beaten path” ideas we had, but in order to do so, we had to nail down the basics first.

The Cover

Covers are (obviously) some of the most important passive marketing you can do. They glow on the book’s web page, enticing readers to give them a second look or to click Amazon’s “Look Inside” button.

We had several options for creating our cover. D.J. is modest about his design abilities, but he’s built some eye-catching images for his own books. I think he could have tackled the cover for Quantum Zoo. One of our contributing authors is also an excellent designer. (Check out Morgan Johnson’s Skipdrive, published solo with a fabulous cover, as well as included in our anthology.)

But we wanted the contributions of all the authors (except D.J. and me) to be exactly equal: one story. Since I have more design experience than D.J., I got the job. (Gotta say it was fun to do – I enjoy playing with Photoshop!)

I finished the cover roughly a month before our release date. Cover reveals tend to generate a lot of interest among fans, so they’re a good way to start buzz. And one of the authors was headed for a convention: we wanted a flyer ready for her to distribute there. The flyer featured our cover.

The Website(s)

The instant the cover was complete, we created a website for the book.

I had been resistant to this step. My thinking: we all have blogs, so why try to drive traffic to yet one more page on the vast, indifferent web?

Then I looked into our overall web presence across all 12 of us.

Turns out I was wrong to think everyone had a blog. One new author who submitted an absolute gem of a story had no web presence at all. This would be her first story published! One author had a Facebook page, but no website. Another author was starting a new pen name, so his existing web presence would help Quantum Zoo not at all.

Our book did need a website.

It ended up having two!

I’m going to explain the pros and cons of WordPress versus Blogger, which is the only way to understand why we have two websites. Crazy, I know!

WordPress

My own author blog is on WordPress. Over the last two years, I’ve learned how to make it do what I want it to. I didn’t want to learn another system. WordPress has a free version we could use – important to keep costs down. WordPress has more design templates, giving more flexibility for the visual look of the site.

So I created a WordPress site for Quantum Zoo.

When I tried to place a newsletter sign-up form on the site, I ran into trouble:

It couldn’t be done!

You can place such a sign-up form on paid-hosted WordPress sites, but not on the free ones. Only a link to a sign-up form works on a free site. So we did that, but we weren’t terribly happy with the result.

Blogger

What about Blogger? Blogger’s free, like WordPress. But as with anything, there were definitely trade-offs. Not as many template options. No slick, off-center designs. And a different interface from WordPress.

But it will accept a MailChimp newsletter sign-up form.

That was crucial; with every extra “click” that you put readers through, it’s one more place along the chain to lose their attention and interest. We were starting to build buzz before the book ever appeared on Amazon. How would we let readers who were interested now, pre-publication, know when the book launched? We needed those email addresses so that we could keep in touch with them, and we needed signing up to be as easy as possible.

So D.J., who is familiar with Blogger, got a Blogger site up. Then I came in and started tinkering and learning and making it reflect our vision for Quantum Zoo. You can check it out here. I’m very happy with how it came out. And we did get some readers signing up. Not a lot – perhaps a dozen – but enough to help on release day.

TIP: Be sure to feature your book cover on its website and use images from the cover as elements on the website, especially the header bar and the background – Quantum Zoo‘s web presence is all the better for it. Plus, it’s just good, old-fashioned, consistent branding.

We decided to leave the WordPress site up. One more page blowing in the internet breeze and potentially attracting a reader who missed the main site couldn’t really hurt anything. Since we intended these to be static sites, with just a few updates, keeping both would not add much to our workloads.

Review Bloggers

We fell down on this one. We should have asked our authors to start rounding up bloggers who reviewed books much earlier in the process. Most bloggers have huge TBR lists and work at considerable lead time. Finding bloggers to read and review Quantum Zoo needed to happen months before release date, not mere weeks, especially given the “fluid” nature of a lot of review sites these days: the site that was thriving and vibrant only a few short months ago could have an owner who’s totally swamped with reviews, or worse, utterly burnt out now. It’s challenging to dig through all of the lists of book review sites and blogs given that they’re constantly going out of date!

The problem was that D.J. and I had so much on our plates with reading submissions, managing communication with the authors, and editing that we simply couldn’t add one more task.

By the time I tackled the rather daunting task of combing the lists to find bloggers, it was much too late.

TIP: As soon as each author turns in his or her final draft, ask him or her to start seeking book reviewers.

I checked the science fiction & fantasy list of the Book Blogger Directory with 35 entries. Eleven of them were still in business, accepting submissions, and suitable for Quantum Zoo. (A few accepted only fantasy or YA books for review, so they wouldn’t work for QZ.)

I searched “science fiction” on The Indie Review, which narrowed 352 entries down to 57. Of those, many were predictably not accepting submissions or no longer in business. I found 13 suitable for Quantum Zoo and followed their submission guidelines.

As of now, none of these bloggers have read or reviewed Quantum Zoo. However, it is likely that some of them will eventually do so. Which will (I hope) give sales a boost when it happens.

Ask Your Authors to Help

Fortunately, Quantum Zoo‘s authors are all go-getters! They were busy talking with their own connections long before I said, “It’s time to make some noise!”

Several found readers who promised to read the book and post a review soon after its release. A.C. Smyth knew a very influential Goodreads member – many readers follow his lead in order to find their next read – who has already posted a very positive review. He’s a tough reviewer and didn’t give us a free ride anywhere, including the typos that were present in the e-ARC he read, but not in the final ebook. But his conclusion was: “Quantum Zoo is a collection of good writing… While I had some quibbles with several of the stories, there weren’t any that I outright disliked – not the case with several of the pro anthologies I’ve read recently – and some of them were very good indeed.”

Morgan Johnson educated us about Fiverr and a promo package there that he’d used successfully to bump his sales. This Fiverr campaign is likely one of the main reasons that QZ continued to sell enough to remain on several genre top 100 lists almost a week after release.

John Hindmarsh was beta reader for a popular indie who was willing to mention Quantum Zoo on his newsletter, which reached hundreds of his SF fans.

One of the benefits of publishing an indie anthology is that you don’t have to shoulder the marketing alone. Use the extra reach you have by encouraging all the authors to connect with their friends and fans.

TIP: It’s smart to plan your promotions in waves rather than all at once. Steady sales on Amazon will put the Amazon algorithms to work much more effectively than one huge (but lonely) sales spike.

From 12 Stories to Completed Anthology

D.J. built the ebook in Scrivener using his own custom template, then exported a .mobi file for Amazon, an .epub file for the other e-tailer sites, a .pdf file for reviewers who require that format, and a .doc file that I will use when I create the trade paperback edition of Quantum Zoo.

D.J. exported more than ten early versions, fixing all the errors that he saw, before he passed it to me for my review. My eyes were fresh at that point – I’d been working on the cover and marketing, so I found many of the problems that were hiding from him.

My process went like this:

First, more typos jumped out at me. (Ugh!)

D.J. corrected them and sent me a new file.

Then the major formatting issues became apparent.

D.J. fixed them and sent me a new file.

Then the more subtle formatting problems became obvious.

Not only that, but there were some late nights throughout the process debating (always very civilly :) ) how punctuation should be standardized, obscure (but important) rules of grammar, and even things like how to end each story. (“The End” seemed too old-fashioned – we ended up using proper asterisms, which are three asterisks in an upside-down triangle.)

The point of all of this is to say there were plenty of spots along the way where we could’ve wasted time arguing about who’s right and who’s not, but as we mentioned above, we didn’t let our egos get in the way – we always had the highest good of the project in mind.

And, as D.J. adds, “Jessica was right most of the time, anyway…” ;)

(Naturally, I solicited D.J.’s feedback on this post. His revision suggestions were excellent, as always. And he added that sentence about my rightness. LOL!)

Again, pick your editing partner wisely!

D.J. made the last corrections to the ebook file. And then we sent it to all the authors to get really fresh eyes seeking errors and issues. Good thing we did, because they found another dozen typos!

At that point, after 19 versions of that file(!), it was ready to upload.

We chose to start Quantum Zoo in Amazon’s Select program, with plans to use those promotional tools. We’ll place it in Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple (iBook), and Smashwords 90 days after its release.

We uploaded Quantum Zoo to Amazon. It was an exciting moment when it went live – cheering was heard in Casa Ney-Grimm!

How Do You Market an Indie Anthology?

One of our goals at the very start of this project was to experiment with different promotional techniques. I summarized many of our marketing efforts under “When Should You Start Marketing” (above), but we have plans for much more.

This is an adventure that should persist for quite some time, and one that we’re delighted to share with the rest of the indie community!

One of our authors is a frequent visitor to the Writers’ Cafe on the Kindle Boards. He started a thread there that eventually garnered more than 2000 views. Did we get any sales from it? At least one – the reader posted to tell us so. But I suspect more than one buyer saw the thread.

Several writers who showed early interest in Quantum Zoo, but don’t have a story in it, followed our progress as we went from the idea to the collecting of submissions to the release of the book. They kindly emailed us messages of congratulations. Emboldened by their warmth, I ventured to ask them if any of them would like a free e-ARC to read and review. Two of them said yes!

TIP: Consider all the people interested in your anthology as part of the community that you’ve created by building the book. Some of them will be happy to help you.

As I write this guest post, we’re planning a launch party, to be held on the Quantum Zoo website. It will take place after I finish this post, but before this post goes live.

You can be sure I’ll blog about it after we have results. Indeed, D.J. and I plan to blog about all of our marketing experiments. We want to share what we learn. His blog is At Wit’s End. Mine is JMNey-Grimm.com. Check in with either of us from time to time to see our latest reports.

How Did Launch Day Go?!

I’ve always soft-launched my own titles, so I had no idea of what to expect for Quantum Zoo‘s release day.

It started quietly, with Quantum Zoo creeping softly onto the science fiction anthologies bestseller list at #84 or something like that.

But the news just got better and better as morning turned to afternoon and then evening.

By midnight, we were at #4 on science fiction anthologies and #11 (I think) on fantasy anthologies.

The next morning, Quantum Zoo was #3 on science fiction anthologies and #1 on Hot New Releases for the genre.

Wow! I’d never dreamed we’d get to #1 in anything. It felt great!

Much as we like the fabulous launch, our focus is long term. It will take time for our readers to read all the stories in the anthology. More time for them to decide to seek out other titles written by the authors of their favorite QZ stories. More time for Quantum Zoo to reach its full audience. Yet more time for that audience to buy novels by R.S. McCoy or Bridget McKenna or Sarah Stegall or any of our other wonderful writers.

But that is what we ultimately hope for: ripples going out for many years, that eventually become great tidal waves of sales for all of us…

…or at least let us set up house somewhere near the same zip code of the indie world where Lindsay resides! ;)

What About the Book Itself?

quantum-zoo-anthology-sf-fYou’ve just read the detailed saga of how Quantum Zoo was born. I’d like to tell you a little bit about it.

From a ghost park to a time-travel penitentiary of murderers to a menagerie of Egyptian deities, Quantum Zoo presents 12 compelling stories involving 12 very different living exhibitions. Including a wonderfully atmospheric tale by Hugo- and Nebula-nominated Bridget McKenna.

Visit 12 exotic worlds on a thrilling ride through Quantum Zoo!

Amazon.com I Amazon UK I Amazon DE I Amazon ES

Lindsay, thank you so much for hosting me here!

Anyone with questions, feel free to ask them. D.J. and I will check back from time to time and do our best to answer. :D

Book Promotion When Time Is Limited — What’s Most Worth Doing?

| Posted in Book Marketing, Social Media |

19

A blog reader sent me a note asking what I would do to promote a series like my Emperor’s Edge if I was starting from scratch and had an hour a day to work on the marketing side of things.

I rambled a bit and tried to give a helpful answer, but I wasn’t sure I articulated myself well, because the truth is… enh, there’s not an easy answer or one specific thing you can do to find certain success. Oh, I know what I would do if I were starting from scratch (I recently laid out my plan for launching a pen name in a different genre and getting — I hope — reviews and sales as a new author), but what should you do if you only have a few minutes a day for book promotion?

I’ve seen different things work for different people with having a free/cheapie Book 1 in a series combined with advertising (ideally several sponsorships on high-traffic sites/mailing lists spread over a few days) being the easiest way to make #1 (below) happen. Having a mailing list and encouraging people to sign up as soon as they finish your first book (with a link in the back) is how you get to never having to start over from scratch for the next book or the next series.

But how do you sell those first books in the first place? Especially if you can’t afford advertising or you haven’t been able to get enough reviews to qualify for the most trafficked sites? Or you find, as I have, that there just aren’t that many good sites where you can advertise, and they’ve either booked up and don’t want you or you’ve already pimped your stuff there.

Basically, there are two ways to sell books:

1. Gain visibility on Amazon (and, we can always hope, the other stores) so lots and lots of people find your books while you’re sleeping, eating, and vacationing in Hawaii thanks to your book earnings. We all want this. Some people get it, usually after doing a lot of #2, and building up a mailing list/fan base that helps them launch future releases into the tops of category lists at Amazon.

2. One reader at a time.

#1 is so awesome and profitable and awesome (yeah, I said that twice) that it’s no surprise that’s what we all want. But it’s hard to make it happen when you’re just starting out. Instead you end up on social media sites and blogs and forums, spending hours a day, hoping that you’ll find readers by splattering yourself and pictures/blurbs of your books everywhere. Maybe you get some sales, but you really have no idea why or where they came from, and you’re afraid that if you stop doing all that stuff that you’re calling promotion, your sales will dwindle to nothing at all.

I actually think aiming for one reader at a time is the sanest way to go about building a fan base (you can make yourself crazy reading every success story out there and scheming up ways to gain Amazon fame) and the most sustainable, but there are ways to go about it that are smarter than others. I’m going to give a list of ideas — these are things I’ve done and that have worked, and they’re things that should continue to work no matter how competitive and crazy Amazon gets — but first let me point out one thing (for those who are underwhelmed by this one-reader-at-a-time-thing):

If you acquire one loyal reader a day, that’s 365 people at the end of the year. (We’ll assume others tried your work, but one a day liked it enough to sign up for your newsletter because he/she wants to buy what’s coming out next.)

If you send out a new-release email to 365 loyal readers who go out and buy your new book within the first couple of days, it’s enough to:

  • Sell at least 365 books in the first week! 365 x (3.99 x 0.70 royalty) = $1,019 (this may completely cover the costs of the editing and cover art for many authors, meaning everything after is profit)
  • Get into the Top 20 of a small to medium category on Amazon, at least for a couple of days (who knows — maybe you’ll have a blurb/cover that attracts new eyes and you’ll stick there for a while)
  • Get 20 reviews within the first few weeks your book is out (make sure to ask and don’t be afraid to give out some review copies to your proven readers), thus qualifying your book for a lot of advertising options.

In other words… a reader a day adds up. Before you know it, you could have the kind of following that turns you into one of those visible-at-Amazon-and-selling-books-in-your-sleep authors.

So let’s talk about efficiently finding those readers without spending hours a day on book promotion (seriously, if you’re spending hours a day, you need to apply the 80/20 rule and use some tracking links so you can figure out what’s selling books for you and what isn’t). If your books are good and you’re able to consistently spend an hour a day doing this stuff, you should see results.

4 Things You Can Do Right Now to Find Your Next Reader:

1. Have a free ebook or have a nice long free excerpt on your site — promote this.

It’s not that you can’t sell a full-priced book as a no-name author; it’s that it’s much easier to get someone to check out something for free. If they read it and like it, you get a sale anyway (either of the full-priced book or of the non-free next book in your series).

2. Write a blog post in the same engaging style that you write your fiction in (assuming you’re trying to sell fiction) on a topic that might be interesting/helpful for your potential reader — promote this.

You can start your own blog or ask to do guest posts on other people’s blogs (make sure their blogs get traffic and are places where your readers might hang out). Either way, you want to tailor your blog post so it’s useful to the target audience. You know your genre, so you know what this might look like. If you write fantasy novels with smart/geeky heroines, maybe you’ll want to write a post on the five best geeky heroines in fantasy (mention your stuff and throw in a link to your site/book at the end, but make the focus on characters lots of your readers will already be familiar with, and encourage engagement by asking them what they think).

Note: I write about self-publishing, not the best subject for attracting fantasy readers, but it works to help me sell books anyway because a) some self publishers happen to be fantasy readers and b) the content tends to get tweets and link-backs from the writing community, which ultimately means more traffic from social media and the search engines and more of those fantasy-reading authors finding my site.

3. Join one or two communities or follow blogs where your potential readers hang out and put your free excerpt link in the signature/profile/url space. Then post helpful and/or entertaining comments regularly. 

This kind of thing can be a time sink, so be careful and monitor whether you actually end up getting any traffic (clicks on your link) from those sites (if you install Google Analytics on your personal site, you can see where traffic comes from; if you use a service like bit.ly, you can make trackable links that go other places, such as your book page on Amazon; if you sign up as an Amazon affiliate, you can see which sales of your book come directly from your site/affiliate links — and make a few bucks on the side).

I’d only pick the communities where you’d enjoy spending time even if you didn’t have anything to sell. If I wrote science fiction and loved doing book reviews, I’d find the SF/F people on Goodreads. If I loved forums and wrote steampunk, I might post on a popular steampunk forum. If I enjoyed reading blogs and wrote romance, I might leave comments on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

You get the gist.

4. Join one or two social media sites and put the links to your profiles in the backs of your books.

When it comes to marketing, people talk about social media this and social media that and how awesome-sauce it all is. It can help, but it can be another time sink if you’re not careful. Again, I’d say pick one or two sites that suit you and that you could see yourself hanging out on whether you had a book to sell or not. My main one is Twitter. I was on Twitter before I had any books to sell. Posts have to be short, and that appeals to me. Others like Facebook. Others like Google+. Others like Pinterest.

Pick your favorites and post there regularly. What do you post? Again entertaining/interesting/useful stuff. Which might include links to your excerpt/free book and your blog posts. But which should probably include some other stuff too. Links to other people’s entertaining/interesting/useful stuff.

Any why are you here? So your existing readers can find you (that’s why you’re putting your links in the backs of your books) and so they can easily share your cool stuff (including the occasional self-promotional tidbit) with others. You’re not going to sell piles of books on Twitter, but every now and then, especially if people other than you are sharing your posts, a new reader will find you.

There you go. Four things that can all be done on an hour a day (or less). Writing a blog post is probably the only thing that could take more than an hour, but there’s no rule saying you have to compose it all in a day. With social media, I wouldn’t spend more than a few minutes a day on it. When commenting in other communities, it shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to read and contribute something worthwhile.

With a lot of this, the secret is consistency. I’m not all that brilliant at marketing (none of this is utterly creative or going to sell me a bazillion books tomorrow), but I’m there, day in and day out, publishing new books, posting on social media, and scattering blog posts around the web. The little things add up. A reader a day.