rss
twitter
  •  

Marketing Your Series: a Plan for a Solid Launch and Sales for Years to Come

| Posted in Advertising, Book Marketing |

38

Let’s talk about publishing and marketing a series today. It’s generally what you’ll hear authors recommend doing, since it can be tough to gain traction with readers when you’re doing unrelated stand-alone novels.

A series has the potential to be a bread-winner for an author, with later books in the becoming “auto buys” for fans who enjoyed the earlier books. But if you don’t see a lot of early success (or you do well with the launch, only to have sales drop off for subsequent books), you can have a love-hate relationship with your series.

Maybe you’re getting some sales, but not the kind of sales you hoped for. And maybe you’re doggedly pushing on because you keep hearing people say, “Oh, my series didn’t take off until Book 3 or 4,” or “You’ve got to have at least five books out in a series before you can expect to make it.”

If you’re on Book 5 of Your Awesome Series, and you’re wondering if it’s worth continuing, I probably can’t answer that question for you, but there are some things you might want to try before giving up. And if you’re just starting a new series, here’s a little advice based on what I’ve done in the past and I’m doing now. For the new visitor, I’ve got a number of series going, including one that I started anonymously with a pen name (I published the first four books in that one before sharing the name and managed to get it off to a good start. More on that here and here.) Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I wouldn’t recommend writing a bunch of series at once unless you’re super prolific, and even then I keep telling myself to finish some and streamline things! (I keep waiting for myself to listen.)

Here’s my MO for marketing a series these days:

The Book 1 Launch

I usually tell people not to put a lot of time and effort into marketing the first book, especially if you’re a new author and this is your first series. Why? Because there’s nothing else for readers to go on to buy, so you’re spending all of this time trying to sell something where you can only get one sale maximum per buyer. When you have numerous other books out, you stand to make much more per customer.

That said, everyone wants to get things off on the right foot, so why not try to get the ball rolling? Every now and then, you see a new series taking off from the beginning with a good Amazon sales ranking and lots of reviews within the first month. It can happen. I’m actually seeing it happen more often right now, thanks to Kindle Unlimited (more on the why of that here).

Note: on the chance that this happens for you, it’s a good idea to have the second book already almost ready to go; these days, I’m a fan of holding off on a release of a Book 1 until a couple more books have nearly been completed, so you can publish them a month apart or so.)

To have any hope of doing well with this first book, you’ll probably need a great cover, a great blurb, and a good book. Yeah, state the obvious, right? But let me say that by “great,” what I really mean is: this book looks exactly like the books that are selling really well in my genre, and the blurb sounds pretty close to what’s selling too.

If you have a super original story, that’s okay, but I’ve learned that it’s better to emphasize the stuff that is the same, or even generic/formulaic-sounding to you, rather than showing off how different your story is. Be honest, of course, but you’ll probably find that even in your original story, there are some common elements that appeal to the masses. I’d highlight those.

(I’m in the process of doing this for some of my older works myself–redoing the covers and the blurbs to more closely fit genre expectations. Just a couple of days ago, I put up a new cover and blurb for my Emperor’s Edge 1-3 omnibus, and the sales ranking went from well over 100,000 to under 40,000 without a price change or any marketing. That surprised me, because at that ranking, it’s not like the bundle is super visible on Amazon anywhere. The reason I made the change is that I’m hoping to snag a Bookbub ad this spring, and that will be the real test. I ran this bundle with BB in May 2014, and it didn’t have horrible results, but it didn’t do anywhere near as well as my Dragon Blood boxed set, which I advertised in mid-Jan with a typical fantasy-esque cover and a typical blurb.)

Launch price for Book 1

Even though I have readers now, I’ll often launch a new Book 1 at 99 cents, at least for the first few days.

I’m going to tell you something that probably isn’t a secret: if you can get enough momentum at Amazon, meaning enough sales spread out over the first few days of your launch, Amazon will start selling your book for you. What I mean is that your book will be appearing in your category lists, and it will appear in the also-boughts of lots of other books, so you’ll have the kind of visibility we all hope for. If your book has wide enough appeal (note stuff about typical blurb/cover), it could “stick” and continue to sell well, based on its merits and that visibility.

In addition to mailing your list (if you have one), this is the time to try and snag some ads too. Most of the big sites won’t accept books without at least 10-20 reviews, so it’s going to be hard to picked up, but there are a few advertisers who will plug new releases, and the ads usually aren’t that expensive. Fantasy author C. Gockel maintains a big list of advertisers who promote 99-cent titles. (I wouldn’t spend more than $50 on advertising at this point.)

Note: This isn’t something that can only happen at launch. For example, I dropped the price on my Dragon Blood bundle to 99 cents for that Bookbub ad back in January. It had been out for a couple of months at $7.69, and that’s the usual price, based on the individual titles being 2.99/3.99. In the past, I had always raised prices again shortly after an ad like that because the sales ranking started to rise (this is typically what happens with Bookbub–you get a big spike and then Amazon sales gradually settle back down to normal) and there wasn’t much of a perk for only making 35 cents per sale on a book that wasn’t selling heaps. Well, the DB blurb and cover must have worked for a lot of people. For the first time ever for me, the book stuck at a pretty high level, hanging out in the 300s in the overall Amazon store for almost two months (I’m waiting for it to fall off any day now, and I keep debating whether I should raise the price up to 3.99 or so — still a bargain compared to the usual price — to see if I could make more before it drops off more drastically. But, I’ve seen increased sales of Book 4 and also of my other series, so I haven’t changed it yet.)

But back to the focus of the post…

In order to have a good chance of getting a bunch of sales early on, going with a 99-cent price tag for launch (i.e. the first week) can make sense, even if you already have fans and a mailing list (I’ll often do a 99-cent Book 1 just because I know I’ll discount it later anyway, and I want to give loyal readers who are on my list a good price).

Should you keep the book at 99 cents? Probably not. The exception might be if you’re selling so many books that you’re still making money and if you’ve got Book 2 ready to go soon, so people have something full-price to go on and buy. (The new pre-order system on the various sites can help out with this; if your Book 1 release has been hot, putting the pre-order up for 2 can help you grab sales before people forget about you.)

So what happens if your book doesn’t take off?

This is much more typical than the scenario I’ve written about. Even though we all hope for that awesome early success, it’s atypical.

So if Book 1 doesn’t take off, put the price up to 2.99 or 3.99 or whatever you’ve decided your regular price will be, and then forget about it (seriously, forget about it), until you publish Book 2.

Note: I don’t recommend leaving your book at 99 cents if it’s not selling that many copies. Later, you’ll want to run sales on it, and it’s easier to get ads on a book you’re discounting, rather than one that is always inexpensive.

The Book 2 Launch Strategy

First off, as soon as you publish Book 2 and get the store links, you’ll want to update the back matter of Book 1. (Do what I say, not what I do, because I’m not sure if I’ve done this with all of my older titles; I do make sure to do it now.) It’s up to you what you want to do (include an excerpt? just a link?), but you’ll want to let the readers know that the second book is available, so that anyone who picks up the first book and finishes it can easily go right on to the second.

Pricing

I’ll usually launch a Book 2 at full price, figuring the visibility on this title is less important (most people aren’t going to start at Book 2, so I feel Book 1 should still be getting most of the attention); there’s less incentive to start with a rock-bottom price. Besides, this is where I want to start earning some money by taking in the 70% earnings split from the vendors, especially if I decided to leave Book 1 at 99 cents, because it was doing well.

I’ll send out a notice to my mailing lists and plug the book on the social media sites, but I’ll probably put my focus on Book 1 again. I’ll often drop it down to 99 cents again and buy a few ads (if it’s only been a few weeks since it launched, I might not bother, especially if it’s still selling well, but if it’s been a few months, it’s time to renew interest in the series and try to get some new readers into the world).

I don’t do much on social media to seriously try and sell my books. I do know some authors who swear by their Facebook Events and Twitter links, but I find optimizing the sales page (especially on Amazon) and buying ads is a better use of my time and can get me far more noticeable results. Yes, it’s tough finding advertising where you come out ahead (make more in earnings than you spend on the ad), but this is still my preferred method, because it doesn’t take much time, and if you can sell enough to get on those lists and in those also-boughts, it can be worth taking a hit on the ads themselves, because you end up earning more in the long run. (Keep close track of this, as it’s not always the case. You have to have a plan. These days, I’ll try to line up five or six days’ worth of ads in a row to try and gain that momentum and “stick” on Amazon.)

Right now, I have more money than I have time, so time is a far more precious commodity. However, when you’re getting started, it’s often the other way around. That’s when social media and blog tours and such can make more sense. The good thing is that you’ll find it easier to use social media to plug a book that’s 99 cents rather than one that’s $4 or $5. That said, it’s even easier to plug a free book, which brings us to the next section.

Book 3 Launch

As with Book 2, update the back matter of the previous book.

This is often the time where I’ll make Book 1 free for a while. It’s up to you if you want to go with that tactic. You can try another 99-cent sale instead, but you can often get a bunch of extra visibility from bargain-watching-and-sharing blogs (I.e. Pixel of Ink) by making a book free, especially if it’s the first time it’s ever been free. Chances are, you’ll get a lot more people checking out your first book, people who might not otherwise have tried a new-to-them author even at 99 cents. (Don’t assume that the freebie seekers won’t go on to buy your other books; I’ve found that simply isn’t true. A free ebook is basically the same as a physical book checked out from the library. Haven’t you found authors whose books you went on to buy after first discovering them at the library?)

You’ll probably want to throw down some advertising to plug your free book. Even though that sounds counterintuitive (pay to advertise when the book won’t make you any money?), remember that you’ve got two more full-priced books in the series that people can go on to buy.

Note: you may briefly lower the price of Book 2 to 99 cents while you’re running ads on Book 1, especially if you get a big site like BookBub or Ereader News Today to advertise the first. If you make mention of that in the Book 1 blurb (i.e. Book 2 is also on sale for 99 cents, and here’s the link), you might get some people buying the second book at the same, or shortly after they download the first for free. I’ve definitely found that this works, and I think that if you can get more than the first book into the hands of readers, they’re more likely to get sucked into your world and become committed to the series.

To stay permafree with Book 1 or to boost it back up to full price or 99 cents?

This is up to you. My first Emperor’s Edge book has been free for three years. If people haven’t tried my stuff before, they can always try that one. It’s the library book strategy. Because I like having a free sample out there, I’ll probably continue to leave it free.

That said, with newer series, I haven’t been leaving the first books free. I had my Balanced on the Blade’s Edge free around the holidays, but after about three weeks, I put the price back up to $2.99. Part of this was to make the three-book bundle look like a better deal, but part of it is also because free downloads really drop off after a few months. You have to keep buying ads if you want that first book to stay at the top of the free lists, and with more people belonging to Kindle Unlimited (where they can get unlimited borrows a month), there seem to be fewer people surfing through the free lists overall.

If you’re not getting a lot of downloads of the freebie, you won’t be getting that many people checking out the following books in the series, so you might as well be getting paid for the sales Book 1 does get. Also, as I said before, it’s easier to get ads when you’re lowering the price of a book, as opposed to simply plugging something that’s always free. Most of these ebook sites and mailing lists want to share bargains with their readers.

David Gaughran, in his Let’s Get Visible, calls this strategy price pulsing. It’s up to you to see what works best for you, but if your Book 2 sales ranking is above 100,000 on Amazon, chances are your permafree isn’t doing much for you right now.

Book 4 and Beyond

By now, you’ve probably sensed a theme here. Every time I release a new book in a series, I’ll go back and put Book 1 on sale and buy some ads for it. Sure, I’ll plug the new book to my mailing list and social media followers (in short, the fans who have already read all of the other books), but I don’t do much else to promote the new book. It’s all about getting people into the series back at Book 1.

Now, if you have the kind of series where a person doesn’t have to read the books in order, then you might do things differently (for my pen name, any of the first four books could technically work as stand alones, so I may eventually do more advertising of books other than the first). But if your series and world will be confusing for those who don’t start at Book 1, I believe it makes sense to focus on getting people to try that.

By the time you reach Book 4, you do have a new advertising/sales strategy that’s available. You can, as I mentioned above, box up the first three books in the series into a bundle. I talked more about the whys in my 3 Reasons to Bundle the Early Books in Your Series post, but in short: it’s easier to get ads on bundles because you’re offering a big discount, such as $9.99 to 99 cents, and people who read the first three books all at once are likely to become more committed to the series than those who only read the first one. Also, it gives you the opportunity to play with covers and blurbs. Maybe you want to go a different direction, try to rank in different lists, try to target different keywords, etc. This is your chance without possibly ruining a good thing with your regular series books and sales.

Book 5 and Beyond

I only have one series (okay, two, since the pen name has five books out now) that I’ve gone this deep with, and I’ve been neglecting it (my Emperor’s Edge stuff) this last year, since it’s been finished since 2013. But I’m planning to see if I can get it some more loving this year (step 1 was redoing that boxed set, since that’s a lot cheaper/easier than redoing the covers for the entire series).

With that caveat shared, what I would recommend here is to do some evaluation. If you’re selling well enough that it makes sense to continue, keep going. Keep trying to get more people into that first book. Now and then, make it 99 cents or free and make the rounds with the advertisers. Once a year or so, make the bundle 99 cents and advertise it. I’ve even seen a few authors with big series out there make the entire 3-book bundle free, at least for a while. I’ve also seen people box up books 4-6, not with the intention of selling them at 99 cents but to give readers deals by giving them a couple of dollars off the regular price.

An idea I’m kicking around, since my entire EE series is finished (it ended up being seven books or seven and a half books, if you count a substantial novella), is boxing up the entire thing. The only reason I haven’t is because Amazon drops the cut back down to 35% if you price an ebook over 9.99, and I wouldn’t want to sell the entire series at such a low regular price.

But back to that evaluation stuff.

If you’re five books in, you should be able to tell… is this series thing working? Am I covering the costs of cover art, editing, and advertising for each new book? Am I making enough money after all of those expenses are accounted for that all of the effort is worth it?

If this is your first series, you want to come into things with realistic expectations, but at the same time, if you’re up to Book 5, and you’ve been doing all of the things I’ve talked about here, and you’re not making any money (or you’re in the hole), it may be time to either wrap things up or to put the series aside and try something else for a while. If you’re just writing it for the love of it and don’t care about money, then that’s one thing, but most people who are this committed to publishing their work (who have put this many books out) want a return on their investment.

If you’re worried that your existing readers won’t give a new series a try, that’s a valid concern, but if you stay within the same genre, maybe even the same world with some crossover between new characters, then they might just come along for the ride. You also have the opportunity to appeal to all new fans by starting over again with a Book 1.

Or… you could take what you’ve learned and try a different genre or sub-genre. A whole new world. Some authors strike gold with their first series, but your next idea might be the one that appeals to a lot of people. One thing I do know: it’s really tough to predict what’s going to be a winner ahead of time.

Final note: before scrapping anything, ask other self-publishers what they think about your covers and blurbs. We authors can be really bad at evaluating or our own stuff. But you would be surprise how much of a difference these two things can make!

Thoughts? Questions? Experiences you want to share? Please leave a comment below!

 

Amazon Advertising Services for Indie Authors, Yea or Nay?

| Posted in Advertising, Amazon Kindle Sales |

27

If you’re in KDP Select (i.e. exclusive with Amazon), you now have the opportunity to sign your Select titles up for pay-per-click advertising campaigns. As you can see in the screenshot below, your book will appear on other books’ sales pages, under the buy links. (That’s not my book; I enrolled a title in the program but couldn’t find it on display anywhere — more on that later.)

Amazon-Advertising-on-book-pageSo, is it worth trying? From what others have shared and from my experience with other pay-per-click advertising programs, such as Google Adwords, Goodreads, and Facebook, I assumed it wouldn’t be, but I threw some money in just in case I was wrong (and so I could blog about it). Before I jump into my experience thus far, let me go over a couple of the basics, for those who are new to this kind of advertising.

What is Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising, Anyway?

There are a couple of kinds of advertising available to us as authors. You’re probably already familiar with the flat-fee stuff, where you pay a site like Bookbub or Ereader News Today $X (or maybe that should be $XXX/$XXXX for Bookbub) to have your book featured for a day. It doesn’t matter how many views or clicks you get. The price is the same.

There are also sites that will display an ad or banner for you for $X amount per thousand impressions. (Not many authors have had luck with these–Banner Blindness is a horrible disease that has been affecting web surfers since 1997).

Finally, we’ve got the pay-per-click stuff, where you pay $0.XX amount every time your ad is clicked. If that sounds expensive, it’s because it is, especially when you’re talking about something low-priced, like an ebook that might only sell for $2.99, netting you a maximum of $2.05 for a sale.

If you’re only paying ten cents a click and one in eight people who click buy the book, you’re coming out ahead, but with most of these sites, you have to pay more like $0.30-$0.50 a click in order to have your ad displayed with any regularity in the rotation. (You’re bidding against other authors for this display space, and sometimes people are desperate and pay far more than makes sense for advertising. Basically, they’re willing to lose money to sell books. That could possibly make sense if doing so can get you into some category Top 20s on Amazon, where your books would be more likely to be noticed and sell themselves, but my first impression of this advertising system is that you’re not going to get enough clicks and sales per day for it to make a difference in ranking, at least at the lower end, where it could help with visibility.)

My Amazon Advertising Campaign

Campaign is a lofty term, since I have one ad running for one book. Since my pen name is the only one with titles in KDP Select, I’m limited with what I can experiment with. So I picked a book that could work as an entry point in the series and gave Amazon the OK to charge my credit card a hundred dollars. That’s the smallest amount you can pay to get started.

Amazon walks you through setting up an ad, and it’s pretty easy, because you don’t have the option to write copy. As you can see from the screen shot, they basically just show the book cover, title, author, and the star rating. If you don’t have an amazing, OMG-must-click! book cover, this program probably isn’t for you. (I’ll admit that my pen name doesn’t have any covers like that. They’re inexpensive stock-photo covers, which is very typical for the genre–I’m not hiring models for photo shoots for my side project. :D)

After you’ve selected a book, Amazon asks you how you want to choose where your ad is displayed, “by target” or “by interest.” 

If you choose by target, you can search for specific items in Amazon’s catalogue, such as books that are similar to yours. This is what I did (I’m sure those authors will be so tickled to see my book on their sales pages). My pen name writes space opera romance, which is a small niche genre, so it didn’t take long to pick out similar books. I picked a couple of the top sellers, even if I hadn’t read them, because I was afraid I wouldn’t get many ads displayed if I was too narrow with my focus (this turned out to be true, even with picking some top sellers, books with sub-500 sales rankings).

If you choose by interest, you get to pick from the book categories at Amazon, but you can’t drill down. I could have my sci-fi romance showing in general romance (not a good idea, since 99.9% of people reading romance are not looking for spaceships and aliens in their stories), or I could have it showing in general science fiction & fantasy. Also not a good idea, IMO, because that’s too broad. Even if I was advertising a book with a much wider appeal, something that falls squarely into epic fantasy, let’s say, I wouldn’t want it showing up on the pages of science fiction thrillers or paranormal romances set in Chicago. Those readers aren’t likely to be my target audience.

So I went with “by target” and picked about 25 books, going for top sellers in the niche. I figured anything with a sales ranking over 20,000 or so wasn’t getting enough eyeball attention to bother with sticking an ad on the page. I could have chosen more books, and I may go back and try and add some more in an attempt to get more impressions, but this really is a small niche, and there aren’t that many sub-20,000 books in it.

The last thing Amazon asks you is how much you want to bid. For my book, The Assassin’s Salvation, it suggested $0.05. I have no idea if it makes different suggestions, based on how much competition is in a particular niche. I would guess so, but maybe someone can verify that for me. Since five cents is so low compared to what Goodreads suggests, I was happy to go with the flow there.

I agreed to the price and clicked the button to make my campaign live.

Results (or not) for My Campaign Thus Far

After the first 24 hours, I checked in. I had about 50 impressions (meaning my ad had shown up fifty times on other books’ pages). I didn’t have any clicks.

I wasn’t surprised about the lack of clicks, given the placement of these ads (since they’re tidily worked into the same column with the buy links, they’re pretty easy to overlook) and the fact that readers are presumably more interested in the book on the page they actually surfed to rather than some random ad on the side. Even if I had an awesome cover, I don’t know that it would make much of a difference, since the ad itself is so small. The book does have over 70 reviews, which is something that’s fairly prominent in the ad.

Since 50 impressions is kind of laughable (you’d really need tens of thousands of impressions to expect to get noticeable clicks and book sales), I boosted the bid to ten cents, to see if that might get me more displays. It didn’t. The ad has been running for just under a week, and it’s only up to 159 impressions (still no clicks).

The good news is that I’m not being charged for those impressions (although Amazon does have my $100 sitting in their bank account), but the bad news is that I’m not getting any clicks and thus I’m not getting any extra sales from having the ads running.

For kicks, I just boosted it to 20 cents to once again see if that might get me more displays. I’m not sure how high I’ll go. Probably not above 50 cents. I may end up asking for a refund, simply because right now it’s not looking like I can even spend the money I’ve paid in.

Sometimes these things (how often ads get displayed) are based on what the CTR or click-through-rate is. Ads that get clicked more often get preferential treatment. But it’s not as if I can do anything to tinker with my copy and try to increase that CTR in this situation, since, as I said, Amazon doesn’t allow you to write any copy.

I’m sure I would get more impressions if I selected that broad “science fiction & fantasy” category and had my ad displaying on books all across the genre, but as I explained, that’s really too broad of an audience for a book in a small niche.

Conclusions

It’s hard to reach any really useful conclusions when I’m only using one book and haven’t even received a click for it yet, but based on my experience so far, I wouldn’t recommend giving this a try if you’re in a smaller niche or sub-category. If your book has really wide appeal (and that awesome cover we talked about) and it makes sense to go broad, maybe you could get some clicks and sales. I do have a feeling, though, that in going so broad, you’d end up paying a lot for few results (i.e. paying for clicks from people who aren’t your target audience and who aren’t going to buy the book).

I would absolutely love to hear from other authors who have tried the program. Have you had different results? Anything positive to report?

 

Finding a Good Editor, Talent Vs. Training, and Writing Banter

| Posted in Writing |

11

A couple of weeks ago, I started answering reader questions that came in via a Facebook post. Here’s the first batch, if you’re interested: Writing Humor, Writing Quickly, and Well-Rounded Characters.

Today I’m back with another round.

Patricia asks, “I’d like you to let other Indie writers understand how important it is to have a good line/copy editor. Your books come out in a timely manner and yet are so well edited compared to many Indie authors I’ve read. How is it that you are so prolific, yet have time to get excellent editing done? Or are you just that good right off the bat?” And Liberty adds, “Tagging onto Patricia, how to go about selecting the right editor for your project(s).

Well, good is in the eye of the beholder (or reader), I suppose, but I’ve written enough now that the rough drafts usually come out pretty close to what the final book will be. I have a couple of overworked and underpaid beta readers go over the manuscripts to let me know if my characters’ names changed, or if my mystery is confusing instead of delightfully engaging, or if I’ve unintentionally offended large portions of the population. Then I send the manuscript off to my editor, Shelley Holloway, and she can usually go through a full-length novel in a week (I only get copy-editing, not developmental editing or anything major). I do need to book her in advance, since she has other clients. Because I write quickly, it can be a challenge to guess when I’ll have things ready and to book far enough in advance, but she’s always great about working me in when she can.

I think most independent authors know that having an editor is a good (crucial) idea, but it’s not inexpensive, so I understand why some authors can’t hire a professional, especially when they’re just starting out. I also think some authors rush to publish before they’re really ready, and no amount of editing can fix a fundamentally flawed book.

I’m probably lucky that self-publishing wasn’t a trendy thing when I was getting started. I joined a writing workshop, assuming that I would have to query agents, and I also assumed I would have to write a few novels before I had anything that might catch someone’s eye. Even though I never liked reading short stories, I wrote lots of them so I could submit them to magazines and anthologies, in that hope that I might sell some and that those sales would look good on a query letter. This was all good practice and taught me a lot (even if I still don’t like short stories).

I did end up selling some short stories, and I was on the verge of sending out query letters for Encrypted (EE1 was sitting on my hard drive, because agents weren’t looking for high fantasy in 2010) when I got my first Kindle and stumbled across J.A. Konrath’s blog on his success with self-publishing. This rest is history.

My rambling point is that if a writer hasn’t learned the basics, they’re not ready to find an editor or to publish. There aren’t many first novels that should ever see the light of day. But you do need feedback on first novels, so that you can learn what you’re doing well and what needs improvement. That’s where workshops, either online or locally, can be a big help. Some people prefer writing classes and conferences or learning from books, too, but it’s important to get feedback from objective parties at some point (not your family).

As far as finding the right editor goes, ask for references, and then once you pick one or two likely candidates, ask if they’ll edit a few sample pages for you (most professionals will). Look and see what changes they suggest. Do they make sense? Do you agree with them? Are they rewriting things that don’t, in your opinion, need to be rewritten? You should be able to tell after you’ve seen a few pages of their work if you’re going to mesh.

Kantami asks, “I would love to know how you manage to keep the banter between your characters so fresh, it always works well within the story and makes me laugh.”

I talked a bit about humor in the other post and the straight-man-funny-man set-up. Usually the dialogue flows out naturally for me, based on the differences in the characters. Strong personalities and interesting quirks give you a lot to work with. Usually my point-of-view characters aren’t overly eccentric, because I want the reader to connect with them, but with the side characters, you can play around more.

I try not to go overboard, because humor is subjective and because it’s possible to try too hard and have things feel forced and unnatural. Most of the time for me, it’s just the characters talking about the plot and the conflict and the strange situation I’ve put them into. If it happens to make the reader smile, great. If not, hey, we’re still moving the plot along.

Nancy asks, “The ability to write a novel is a mysterious and awesome act of creation, at least to me. How much of your ability to write such consistently good stories is pure talent, and how much is due to training and experience? What kind of writing training have you had?”

I’m old enough now to have found a measure of success in a handful of hobbies and entrepreneurial activities (still waiting to become awesome at tennis!), and that’s taught me that some people are born with more talent for X, Y, or Z than other people, but that talent alone doesn’t get you very far. If you sign up for a martial arts class, you’ll see that a lot of people who start at the same time might seem more talented–or maybe you’re the one for whom everything comes easily–but several years later, maybe one in a hundred or even one in a thousand will actually get the black belt and win trophies at competitions. Was that one person the most talented back on Day 1? Probably not. He or she was just the one that liked the sport enough to make time to do it week in and week out, without letting life get in the way for long.

For myself (let’s talk about writing instead of the way I dropped out of karate…), I mentioned the workshops I belonged to already. In addition to that, I wrote as a kid, and I wrote all through school. I drifted away from it for a while as an adult, but I came back to it and decided to get serious about completing works and finding and audience for them. From that point on, I kept chugging along. I didn’t have any meteoric success with my first book, but enough people left good reviews that I was encouraged, and I had sold enough short stories at that point, too, that I believed I was good enough. Not great, but good enough.

I believed that I could write stories that at least some people would enjoy. And I learned to play to my strengths. I suck at world building, probably because I don’t care that much about it beyond a few interesting details here and there, so I don’t spend a lot of time on it in my novels. Designing big complicated plots with cunning twists and turns? Not really my thing. Usually I confuse myself when I try to write a mystery. But humor? Yeah, I seem to have a bit of a knack for that. Characters that people care about? That seems to come naturally, maybe because I put all of my own fears and insecurities into my heroes. So, I write character-driven stories with heroes who don’t take themselves too seriously, at least not for very long at a time.

A lot of finding success is just being the person who kept going after everyone else quit. If you do some of the writing stuff well and some of the marketing stuff sort of okay, and you keep publishing books, chances are, you can get to the point where you’re doing this for a living.

Lou asks, I always find that thinking of names gives me issues when writing – how do you come up with so many original names?? …Do you plan it all or just take the Amaranthe approach of having a rough plan and playing it by ear as it develops?” 

Are you sure you want to ask this from the author who named a town Wolfhump? And who named a character Sardelle, only to later find out that this is the Gernam word for sardine?

Okay…

So, I’m fairly horrible at naming characters, towns, and novels for that matter. Character names in early stories came via digging through Latin-to-English dictionaries (Sicarius, ahem). Not that creative. Later, I adopted more of a smash-keyboard approach. These days, I tend to write down street names or surnames that I see and like, and I’ll change a couple of letters to give it some fantasy flair. (Tolemek came from Tolemac Street, which I drive by every day; I noticed it was Camelot spelled backward, so it stuck in my mind.)

If I’m fit to give advice on this topic (questionable!), that would be it. Keep a swipe file on your phone or a pad of paper you always have with you and stick names or even cool ideas for stories in it. You never know when you’ll hear something that intrigues you and want to use it.

Pantsing vs. Outlining

As for planning things, I’m guessing this refers to the plot of the novel? I started my writing life as more of a pantser (I learned fairly early on that if I knew how things ended, I could find my way there), but as I was wanting to learn to write more quickly and be able to publish more novels in a year, I realized that outlining was key in learning to write faster. As long as I know what’s going to happen in a scene, I can sit down and write 1500-2000 words in an hour. If I’m kind of finding my way through the scene, the output drops considerably. 15 minutes of planning before a writing session makes a big difference in how much I get done in a day.

These days, I usually do about a 2,000-word outline before getting started. It’s not that neat, and there aren’t any tidy numbers or bullet points; it’s mostly a big picture overview of what I think the major plot points will be. If any cool dialogue jumps into my head, I’ll write it down, but it’s usually not until I’m writing the scene that dialogue comes to mind.

I don’t stick religiously to the outline. It’s just what helps me get the story firmly in my mind. Sometimes I end up following it fairly closely, but other times, I’ll have deviated by the end of Chapter 3. Sometimes I deviate so much that I’m not even looking at the outline from Chapter 5 onward. But I’ll continue to brainstorm the next 2-3 scenes out before I write them, often the night before, but sometimes on a dog walk during the morning. I have yet to knock myself out while typing notes into my phone, but I’ll keep you updated on that…

I have a few more questions to answer, so I’ll do another batch in the future. Thanks for taking a look, all!

How to Get a Custom Book Cover for $5 Using Fiverr by JP Medved

| Posted in Guest Posts, Tips and Tricks |

26

I’ve got a few thousand things on the plate for February (as usual), so I was glad to accept a guest post from a fellow steampunk author for this week. J.P. Medved is going to talk to you about how he got some nice covers made very inexpensively, by using talent found on Fiverr. I’ve paid for a couple of book-promotion gigs on Fiverr (only one was even worth the $5), but I wouldn’t have thought to look for cover artists there. I can see where it would make a lot of sense for an author without much money to spend and especially for an author publishing serials or short stories that aren’t likely to earn back the cost of more expensive artwork.

Anyway, enough from me. I’ll pass you off to J.P., so he can explain how he found good designers and how the process went.

How To Get an Awesome, Custom Book Cover for $5

covers banner cropped

First off I want to thank Lindsay for hosting me here.  Her blog is one of the main resources that inspired me to get into self publishing.

For this post I wanted to walk through my strategy for getting several, high quality covers made for $5 each.  I’ve done it for all of the books I have for sale on Amazon, and I’ve gotten numerous compliments on the covers from readers and fellow authors alike.  I’ll include images throughout the post so you can judge their quality for yourself.  This method is ideal for authors putting out a high volume of shorts or novellas, who don’t have the artistic ability to design their own covers.

To get the covers I used Fiverr.

Fiverr is a website where you can hire people to do services for $5.  There’s a whole section of the website for designers offering to do eBook and print book covers.  It’s a great way to get quality-looking book covers for cheap (given that most outside designers charge $100 and up for a single custom cover).

However, there’s a lot of dross on Fiverr, and if you’re not careful you could end up paying for an amateurish-looking product, or one that doesn’t fit your book at all.  To avoid that problem I follow three careful steps.

Step 1

Browse the book cover section of Fiverr for artists and click into the job postings (‘gigs’ in Fiverr-speak) of several of them that look appealing to you.  Look at the samples of their work, and their reviews.  Ideally you want artists with at least 20 reviews, and a 4.5-5 star average, with art you like and think fits your book.

fiverr ebook page

You’ll find that most artists will include “extras” with their gigs.  Things like “provide a fully editable PSD file of your cover” for an extra $10 or “purchase a stock photo” for an extra $5 etc.  I highly recommend springing for the stock photo option where possible, since this greatly enlarges the range of professional images you can get for your cover.

Select at least three of the top designers you like (remember, you’re saving a lot of money with this option, so it pays to compare) and order their gigs.

Step 2

You’ll get automatic messages from most artists asking for what you want on the cover.  Here’s an example I got from one:

Please provide the title, subtitle (optional) and author name.

Upload your stock image here if you’re supplying one, if not please give me an idea of what you’d like on the cover. Please remember if you’re not supplying a stock image I will do my best to find a suitable free one.

If you have any examples of covers you like you’re welcome to post links!

All covers are 1000px longest side unless ordered with a gig extra.

You should send the same response to all three (or more) designers so you can really compare apples to apples when you get their work back.

Here’s an example response I sent to three different artists:

This cover is for a steampunk short story. Here’s the details and an uploaded image as a guide:

Colors I would like to be earthy/subdued (dark reds, khakis, muted browns).

Text/headings should read:

Main title: To Rescue General Gordon

Subhead: A Clockwork Imperium Short Story

Author: J.P. Medved

Style: Old timey, Victorian, steampunk

Graphics/images on the cover: Ideally an airship/zepplin with the British flag on it

Examples of covers I like: I’ve attached a picture of essentially how I’d like the cover to be laid out, with the airship image going into the top circle.

Other details: The story is about British soldiers in 1895 stealing an airship to rescue a famous General in the Sudanese desert, so anything evoking the desert, the time period, or airships works well. Also, I’d like to use this style for future stories, so an easy way to change the main background color in the PSD/AI file would be a plus.

Fiverr allows you to upload files in messages to artists, and I’ve taken advantage of that ability multiple times to showcase examples of covers I like, sample layouts, or design elements I’d like to include.

In this case, I’d found an old Canadian Pacific Railway menu from 1910 that was laid out in a fashion I though perfectly illustrated the steampunk/Victorian vibe I wanted to capture, so I uploaded that to give the artists a rough idea of design.

canadian pacific menu

With this message and direction, I got several initial options back from artists.

rescue

trgg

Again, I only paid $10 for those two covers (I did opt for the PSD file for both, which added another $10, but the covers themselves were only $5 each).

Step 3

Fiverr cover artists typically allow one free revision, and I recommend using it wisely.  Show the cover drafts to friends, family, or others you trust with an eye for design to get their feedback.  Don’t take it personally if they actually provide it and suggest changes!  Almost always they have the necessary distance to recognize issues with the designs that you, as the author whose baby the artist is bringing to life, may not.

In this case since I vastly preferred one artist over the others, so I only asked her for revisions.  Here’s the email I sent with revisions:

Love it! Wondering if you could use this airship picture instead (perhaps cropped to get rid of the buildings): http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-105576374/stock-photo-the-oil-painting-with-the-airship-flying-above-the-old-style-fantasy-buildings-my-artwork-oil-on.html

Also wondering if you could use a slightly heavier, more Victorian font, this one looks a little too pirate-like. A couple examples I like are:

http://davidadriansmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/victorian_upload.jpg

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-mh4BztHUB2s/T04-r1amNBI/AAAAAAAABFQ/VfrrlcwleFY/s1600/stbkcv008.jpg

And perhaps add some color to the top title-text to make it stand out in a thumbnail (a light/gradianted red like this? http://www.colourbox.com/preview/4727539-696209-vintage-background-antique-victorian-gold-ornament-baroque-red-frame-beautiful-old-paper-card-ornate-cover-page-label-floral-luxury-ornamental-pattern-template-for-design.jpg)

Thanks!

You can see the final cover here:

rescueedits1

Advanced tips

If you know you’re doing a series with branded covers, make sure to get the PSD of the cover image, so you can manipulate the image for future covers, or pass the file on to another designer to do so if your chosen designer disappears from the site or becomes too busy.

I did this with the cover above, and have been able to use the same template to create a series of branded covers myself for cheap:

Clockwork series covers

Switch up cover designers for different genres, as often an artist good at one type of genre will be only so-so with another.  Here are some covers I got across multiple genres, almost all using different cover artists:

Other covers

Hope this was helpful; any other tips you have for getting great covers on the cheap?

~

J.P. Medved has just released the third novella in his steampunk, Clockwork Imperium series, called Airfleets Over Ostend.  The first novella in the series, and the one bearing the example cover described in this blog, To Rescue General Gordon, is now free at Amazon, so pick it up for a fun, quick read!

Sign up for his newsletter at www.JPMedved.com to learn about new steampunk stories in the works, and to get a free short story as well.

3 Reasons to Bundle the Early Books in Your Series

| Posted in Tips and Tricks |

21

For some indie authors, bundling is a no-brainer. If you have three or more books in a series and plan to write more, then it’s a given that you’ll box up the first three (at least). You’ll work out the numbers, give the reader a buck or two off, and stick the bundle out there into the world.

Of course, if you haven’t experimented with bundling your own books yet (I’m not talking about being a part of a big multi-author bundle, which is a whole other beast), you may not see the point. Why discount your books when you could (maybe) make more by selling them individually? Why go through the hassle of formatting that big file and having new cover art designed? I’m glad you asked. I present…

3 Reasons to Bundle the Early Books in Your Series

1. The Potential to Increase Visibility on Amazon (and other stores)

There’s a saying that every book you have out there is a potential doorway into your world. You never know when and where someone will stumble across your work, grab the first book, and then go on to become a fan. But, you might argue, won’t your bundle end up being seen in all the same places as your regular series? Maybe, maybe not.

With a lot of authors, they find that there are multiple categories where their books might be a good fit, but they have to pick the top two. Granted, you can get in some other ones by knowing the right keywords, but you can still only be in two overarching categories, such as science fiction and fantasy. What if you’ve written something that could easily fit into the sub-categories under science fiction, fantasy, and romance?

With a bundle, you have an opportunity to put your series leader into different categories than your Book 1, and you have the potential to start showing up in the also-boughts for different books.

2. The Ability to Tinker with Different Blurbs and Cover Art for the Same Books

In the marketing world, there’s something called split testing, where you show different ad copy to different groups of potential customers to see which ad is more effective. That’s tough to do on Amazon and the other stores, where you can only have one cover and blurb in play at a time. You can change things up from month to month (and many successful authors do exactly that), but with the bundle you can do more of a side-by-side comparison of what’s more effective, or you can deliberately take a different angle with the bundle blurb, in order to possibly attract a different group of readers.

This is what I did with my Dragon Blood boxed set.

When I wrote the first book in that series, Balanced on the Blade’s Edge, I designed it as a stand-alone steampunk romance novel, and the blurb I created for it reflects that. The romance blurb formula is usually three paragraphs, one about the heroine and her problems, one about the hero and his problems, and one about how they’ll have to work together and overcome great difficulties to make their love work.

That blurb was appropriate for that book, but there was action, adventure, humor, etc., too, so I didn’t think that only romance readers could enjoy it. Also, as I continued with the series, I realized there was a lot more going on than smoochy bits. There was a war to fight and a nation to protection, and then we had this whole mystery of whether or not there were dragons left alive somewhere in the world.

So, when it came time to put the first three books together in a bundle (because I was about to release the fourth book and was, as always, hoping to draw in some new readers), I tried a very different blurb for it. I also tried some new cover art for the “box” too. I emphasized the romance elements less and played up the elements that were important in the series as a whole. I also gave the cover art and the blurb more of an epic fantasy feel than a steampunk feel (I’m one of those authors whose work rarely fits neatly into categories, and aside from the fact that there are dirigibles and WWI-style planes in this, the books are similar in style to much of what would be considered high/epic fantasy).

Now, I fully acknowledge that I may get reviews from readers who were unenthused that they got airplanes and a romance in their fantasy, but I did still mention the tech and the romance elements in the blurb, so I’ll hope I end up with more people who like the stories than who don’t. Even if I get less than enthusiastic reviews from some, I already know that readers who had never tried my work before picked up the bundle, enjoyed it, and went on to grab the fourth book in the series (some were kind of enough to email me and tell me so).

Of course, for most of us, a bundle does not sell itself. So, let me talk about one of the other benefits of boxing up your early books.

3. It’s Easier to Get into Bookbub and Some of the Other Pickier Sponsorship Sites

Now, I can’t promise you that boxing up your first three books is the magic thing that’s going to get you accepted by Bookbub if you never have been before. What I can tell you is that, now that they’ve gotten bigger and pickier, they reject my stuff as often as they accept it (I couldn’t get a holiday ad for anything). However, they have yet to reject one of my bundles. I’ve advertised the Emperor’s Edge 1-3 omnibus twice with them (and I’m going to revamp it for a third run later this year, using the very advice I’m offering in this post), and they grabbed this one right away too.

I know that’s not a huge sample size, but if you go hunt around on the Bookbub blog and on their site, I’m fairly certain they’ve mentioned a couple of times that they’re more attracted by being able to offer bigger discounts to their readers. If you’re like most indie authors, you probably sell your full-length novels for $3-$5. Offering a $4 book for 99 cents is a nice discount, but it’s not as good of a discount as a three-book set discounted from $8-$10 to 99 cents.

Not only did Bookbub pick up my Dragon Blood set earlier in January, but I applied to Ereader News Today’s “Book of the Day” sponsorship and was accepted for that too. I’m pretty sure they’ve never accepted me for that before (I’ve been on some of their lists of bargain books, along with numerous other authors, but mine hasn’t been featured in a dedicated post before).

The end result was that I sold over 10,000 copies of the DB boxed set between the 18th and now (the 29th), about 8,000 at Amazon and more than 2,500 at Barnes and Noble (unfortunately for me, I didn’t have it up at iTunes and it never really caught on at Kobo). Not all of these sales came directly from the sponsorships (I attribute about 4000 sales, between Amazon and B&N, to Bookbub and another 1000 to the more recent ENT plug). The others came as a result of people seeing the bundle at the top of the epic fantasy and steampunk lists and, presumably, deciding it looked interesting and was a great deal.

In the past, I’ve bumped the price back up to normal soon after a Bookbub ad, but in this case, the ENT and BB sponsorships were about 10 days apart, and I decided to leave the box at 99 cents and let it ride in between. This is largely because it continued to sell fairly well during that time. (I didn’t check every day, since I kept expecting things to fall off, as is the norm for my stuff, but I believe it stayed under a 500 sales ranking during that time.)

Eventually, I will put the bundle back up to $8 (which is still a deal, compared to buying the three books individually), because selling novels (especially three novels combined) at 99 cents is something I’ll only do in a special situation like this, where I can potentially get lots of new people trying the series. You have to weigh the value of that against the fact that you may end up making less than you usually would by selling the novels individually at higher prices, but for all of the reasons I’ve outlined above, I think it’s a good idea to bundle up the early books in your series (and then put them on sale periodically).

Bonus Reason! 

I almost forgot about this one, but it’s the reason I made a bundle of my Flash Gold novellas.

You can reach the 70% royalty split on a bundle of less expensive short stories or novellas

If you’re like me and don’t feel comfortable charging $2.99 for a short story or even a novella, then you’re probably grumbling because you’re only making the %35 royalty rate on those 99-cent or 1.99 sales. If you do a series of short stories or novellas (or if they can logically be grouped together because they fit a theme), then bundle them up and offer them at $2.99 or higher. The readers can still get a deal, while you can end up earning more on those shorter works over all.

All right, this time I’m really done. Have you had any experience with bundling your books? How has it gone?