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Amazon Advertising Services for Indie Authors, Yea or Nay?

| Posted in Advertising, Amazon Kindle Sales |

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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 |

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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 |

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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 |

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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?

Writing Humor, Writing Quickly, Well-Rounded Characters and Other Reader Questions Answered

| Posted in News |

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I was recently interviewed on the Upgrade Your Story podcast, and the host asked if I had any reader questions that people might like answered. Several people chimed in on Facebook with questions. We didn’t end up having time to bring them up in the interview (we mostly talked about marketing and self-publishing… yes, such an unlikely topic for me!), so I decided to answer them here. Thank you to those who submitted a question. I hope some of the answers are of interest.

Reader Questions: 

Doug asks, “How do you make your books have funny moments without allowing the humor to consume the book’s plot or character development?”

The funny moments come from the personalities of the characters themselves. When you’re constructing a protagonist or a side kick, if you give that character a few quirks or a distinctive personality, then you’ll probably find that jokes come naturally. Not every character needs to be over the top, or you run the risk of things getting a little ridiculous (which is fine, if you’re writing a parody, but you’ll need more balance for dramatic fiction), but some eccentric personalities can go a long way toward increasing the opportunities for humor. The straight-man/funny-man pairing is an old and effective standby in comedy, but you’ll also find tons of examples in dramatic fiction and on TV. Spock and McCoy, anyone?

In my stuff, Sicarius is the perfect straight man. You wouldn’t want to tease him too much, since he has all of those sharp, pointy knives, but if you’re Amaranthe, you can get away with a few jokes, and the fact that he never smiles and is always looming darkly gives her a lot to work with.

As far as not letting the humor overshadow the story, that can definitely be a challenge. I’ll be the first to admit that my characters often like to make jokes, even when the situation is supposed to be serious. I try to shut them up if they’re fighting for their lives, and it’s supposed to be a tense moment. Sometimes that works… and sometimes they rebel against me.

For a newer writer, I would say to let your heroes yammer however much they want in the rough draft. Then when you go through to edit, ask yourself, “Is this dialogue moving the plot forward?” Sure, you can get away with a couple of extraneous jokes here and there, but you don’t want characters bantering back and forth for two pages when the exchange doesn’t have anything to do with resolving the conflicts you’ve set up in the story. It’s tough to cut the dialogue when you love the humor in it, but you can always chop it and place it in a “cut scenes” file. Maybe you’ll be able to work it in later.

Oona says, “What I like so much about reading your books (outside of the stories themselves) is how, unlike so many other authors, you actually are continually putting out new books. I think that talking about what it takes to put out the amount of work you do in a year and how that helps as an independent author would be interesting. You are always updating, working on things, keeping contact. I feel that is such an important process and one that makes the fans even more loyal to you as a writer but also shows the amount of work you have to put into the career itself.”

I decided early on that I wanted to be able to write full time, so I was very serious about publishing often enough that this could be feasible. When you’re always working on something, you have more tidbits that you can share on your social media sites. I can’t even imagine what authors talk about with readers when they only publish a book every year or two, but I would guess that’s why their updates are less frequent.

One of the cool things about self-publishing is that you can monitor your sales numbers real time, and most of the retailers pay you within 60 days of the end of any given month.  This makes it a lot easier to see the fruits of your labor. Compare this to being in traditional publishing and getting a royalty check twice a year. I would have a harder time staying excited about writing and marketing in that situation, where reports on how you’re doing are infrequent and less transparent. Money isn’t the only thing that motivates a writer (we hope), but getting paid every month and having it correlate to the amount of work you do is wonderful for discipline. If you don’t publish anything for a few months, sales tend to drop off, and you’re earning less. That’s a pretty powerful motivator to keep going!

Since I do treat this like any other job, I feel pretty lazy if I’m not working on something every week and if I’m not getting X number of words written or X chapters edited. If you plug along like that every day, it’s natural that you’ll finish novels regularly and have new work to share with readers. And yes, publishing regularly (even if you’re doing novellas and short stories between novels) can help you remain in your readers’ minds, and it also helps make the income more reliable and predictable. We all hope for best sellers, but it’s saner to treat this like the pulp writers of old did, sitting at the keyboard and writing stories day in and day out, knowing they only brought home the bacon if they sold one that week.

Rebekah asks, Your characters are always so well rounded. How do you develop all of them to have such interesting personalities?”

Thank you, Rebekah. I think part of the character formula is to make sure your hero and side characters all want something (and then set up the story to make it hard for them to get that thing). If we can relate to what they want, it’s even better, but even if we can’t, we can all relate to the feeling of wanting something elusive. A lot of times when characters feel flat, it’s because they were dragged off on some adventure and never get a chance to be proactive.

Beyond that, as I mentioned up above, I’ll try to give characters a few quirks that make them memorable, because most people do have some idiosyncrasies that others find a touch odd. EE fans will know Amaranthe is a neat freak and has to keep a tidy lair/hideout/subterranean tunnel. It was on the second pass of Balanced on the Blade’s Edge when I decided Ridge would be a little superstitious and have that dragon carving that he rubs for luck. Even though the carving only appears a few times in the novels, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it.

When it comes to designing the adventuring party that’s so often a part of fantasy, it’s worth remembering that not everyone needs to be likable. You probably want your protagonist to be likable and relatable, but having a group of people that are all nice and all get along makes for boring reading. If you’re a Firefly fan, think of all the conflicts that existed between the crew. Mal and Inara were always sniping at each other, Wash was jealous that his wife argued with him but followed Mal’s orders without hesitation, and you were never positive that Jayne wasn’t going to sell everyone out. That made for interesting viewing.

Linda asks, Being a professional author requires a lot of discipline. If you have a “typical” writing day, what is it like? Do you plot out your books, do you start writing and see where you end up, or is it a combination?”

On a typical writing day, I’ll take the dogs out for a hike in the mornings (I live in the mountains and have a young and high energy pup, so these outings tend to be a couple of hours long) or I’ll go play tennis. I’ve never been a perky morning person, so I like starting the day with some fun exercise before the work starts. That said, I’ll often plot out a few scenes on my phone while I’m out with the dogs.

Somewhere between 11 and 12, I’ll get serious about work and spend most of the afternoon writing or editing, depending on where I am in the current project. I’ll usually work for an hour, take a fifteen or twenty minute break to do laundry or dishes or something around the house, then do another hour and so on. Sometimes I’ll have something social going on in the evening, but more often, I just keep working until I finish the day’s goal. The afternoon is my best time, and I try to get the majority of my words down there. I might write 8,000 words between 12 and 5, then break for a class or to go to the gym, and it’ll end up taking me four hours when I get home to get those last 2k down, because I’m more apt to screw around online at that point in the day.

I’m still working on a good system for email. I like to prioritize the writing and publishing, so I tend to put off email if it’s something that will take more than a minute to answer, and sometimes those messages that require longer responses pile up and don’t get answered in a timely manner. I may simply need to start making a policy of giving shorter replies. I seem to remember that some bigwig out there has a rule of never spending more than five sentences on an answer. That might be tough for me. I’ve only answered four questions, and we’re already 1600 words into this blog post…

On the plotting question, yes, I sit down before I start writing and sketch out a 2- or 3,000-word outline for the manuscript. I didn’t always do that, but I’ve found that it’s much easier to get more words down each day and finish a novel more quickly if I outline. I deviate from the outline sometimes (usually), but having the general framework laid out ahead of time does help.

Heidi asks, What are your grammar pet peeves?”

I’m not sure if I have any peeves. I’ve never been in the grammar nazi camp (honestly, grammar is not something I ever had in school, so outside of the basics, my understanding of the rules is more intuitive than anything else), but at the same time, I can’t read a book where the basic sentence construction is off, which you do sometimes run into when picking up random titles by indie authors. I’m always shocked when something like that is selling well and has tons of 5-star reviews. Commas in the wrong places, incorrect subject/verb agreement, dangling participles… These are things I can’t get past, no matter how good the story may be.

Okay, I have more questions in the queue here, but I’m going to split the post and answer the rest next week, because I have a manuscript to edit! Thanks for reading!