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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!

 

Yes, I’m Podcasting on Self-Publishing/Writing and Marketing Science Fiction & Fantasy

| Posted in News, Videos & Podcasts |

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Hello, everyone! I’ve got my nose buried in a new novel for the pen name (12,000 words written yesterday, and I’m shooting for 10k more today, pant, pant), so the blog is getting neglected, but for those who enjoy the self-publishing/marketing information, I wanted to point out that I’m a part of two podcasts right now, both of use to writers (I hope they’re of use anyway… I’d like to think so!).

If you need something to listen to while you’re walking the dog, working out at the gym, or perfecting your spaghetti sauce in the kitchen, here are the links to the shows:

The Writing Podcast — (iTunes subscription link)

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast — (iTunes link | YouTube Channel Link)

In writing news, look for Warrior Mage, the first book in the Nuria-based Chains of Honor series, in February. (The manuscript is done, but it’s still going to be a few weeks before the cover art is ready to go.)

Ebook Marketing Strategies for 2015 — What Will Work?

| Posted in Book Marketing, E-publishing |

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Lately, there have been quite a few people blogging about how 2014 was the year of the quitter, when it comes to independent authors, or that it was, at the least, the year that things got tougher.

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen more and more ebooks available in stores (more competition), we’ve seen adjustments to the Amazon algorithms that make it harder to “stick” at the tops of categories, and we’ve seen reports that ebook sales are no longer growing (at least in the U.S.). In 2015, traditional publishers started using indie author tactics, such as running sales on first ebooks in series and discounting backlist titles. On top of all that, Amazon rolled out Kindle Unlimited this past summer. It’s been a boon for some authors (mostly authors who signed the KDP Select exclusivity deal and are in the program), but for those unwilling to go exclusive and for those who were already big sellers, KU has meant an income hit.

So, yes, things have probably gotten tougher. And the general consensus is that it’s not going to get any easier from here on out.

For myself, I definitely noticed the sales rank hit to my Amazon titles when KU came out. (More about why that happens in this post: KDP Select & Kindle Unlimited: Why Ebooks Not Enrolled Are at a Disadvantage) In 2015, I found that I sold less of each title overall for my backlist books (specifically my Emperor’s Edge books, which are part of a series I completed over a year ago), most likely because the permafree Book 1 is being downloaded a lot less now — there are more free titles available at Amazon and elsewhere, and also I believe KU has siphoned off some of the deal seekers who used to peruse the free lists.

All that said, I didn’t take an income hit. I’m up overall in 2014 from the previous years, despite my efforts being scattered, instead of focused on one main series. Some of my success this year was simply because I was prolific, but I don’t believe, as some others seem to, that this is the end of the golden age of e-publishing. It’s probably the end of the “gold rush” years, but we all knew that was coming (some say it “came” back in 2011).

The industry is maturing, and we’re past the stage where you could sell piles of ebooks just by being an early adopter. But I think for those who are fairly prolific, who put out solid stories, and who can watch, learn, and adapt, it’s still a great time to be an independent author.

As I’ve talked about recently, I launched an anonymous pen name from ground zero in October (details here and here), and had very respectable sales numbers. The days of becoming a best seller with your first book are probably gone (there will always be exceptions, but I’m talking about for the majority of us here), but they’ve been gone for a while. More than ever, you’ll have to have a solid launch plan, make sure you nail the cover art and the blurb, and make sure your stories are as professional as possible and that they give the readers what they want.

Oh, you want some specifics about what’s going to work this year? I’ll give it a try. We talked about some of this over on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast last week, too, so check that show out if you like podcasts. But for the readers among you, here goes…

Ebook Marketing Strategies for 2015 — What’s going to help sell books and make more money?

Networking with other authors

You guys don’t know how hard it is for me to encourage networking, since I’m the stereotypical introvert, and I cringe at the idea of going out and schmoozing with people. (The internet makes it easier, but still!) But in the last six months or so, I’ve been invited to join a couple of multi-author book bundles, and I’ve seen how much more effective promotions can be when 10 authors are involved instead of 1.

Bundles aren’t the only thing you can do with others. On the day after Christmas, I joined about 50 other authors who all made a book free for a couple of days (or used a permafree title) and agreed to email their newsletter subscribers to plug the big list. Even though my book was borderline on fitting with the theme, I ended up with an extra 2,000 downloads in about 36 hours, something that a lot of the paid advertising sites can’t deliver (I paid about $85 for similar results on such a site a month earlier). For those downloads, all I had to do was send out a quick email to my list with a link to the page that the organizer put together.

Now for those of you who say, of course you get invitations to networking opportunities, because you’ve been out there blogging and building a list for years, here’s my response:

First off, my pen name got invited to a bundle w/ her 100 mailing list subscribers, because “she” raised her hand on a forum thread, so there’s that. Second, if nobody’s knocking on your door, then you have to be the organizer. Be the person who’s willing to organize the bundle or the group email event.

You may think that some authors will be too popular or too busy to bother saying yes to something you put together, but a lot of those authors are worrying about keeping their sales up, too. You might be surprised how many will sign up, especially if you make it easy for them, and all they have to do is email their lists/social media followings and chip in a little money for formatting/advertising.

What types of networking promotions can you do? Here are just a couple that I’ve seen work (or participated in myself):

  • Multi-author themed email blasts — Try freebies or 99-cent titles so it’s a deal to readers
  • Themed book bundles — These may not be as effective as they were a year or two ago, but they can still be one more funnel you have out there that leads into the rest of your work
  • Anthologies of short stories/novellas with new material — Recycled material can work for big bundles, but new material will appeal even more to your existing readers. Try short stories or novellas, so writing something new isn’t as big of a commitment.
  • Finding other authors who share your style and have similar sized fan bases, and plugging each other’s books in the back matter (this can be nothing more than cover art and a blurb) — You guys probably remember seeing publishers doing this in paperbacks back in the day.
  • Grabbing other authors with a similar style and sharing a pen name, so you can put books out every month — I’m just starting to see some of this among indie authors, specifically in the romance genre. It’s not something that would appeal to me, but I can see where it could be effective for people who are less prolific but want to take advantage of the Amazon algorithm benefits that can help new releases.

So how do you find these other authors in your genre to network with? Find out where they’re hanging out and go hang out there. When I started my pen name (science fiction romance), I joined the Romance Divas forum. Even though I don’t post a lot there, I watch for people starting threads such as, “Hey, I’m putting together a boxed set about XYZ — who’s in?” or “Who wants to do a multi-author mailing list promotion?” and I throw my name into the hat if it’s a fit.

I’ve also seen such threads on the Writers’ Cafe on Kboards, but you may have better luck if you can find out where the authors in your genre hang out. I’ve seen a lot of genre-specific Facebook groups, and some people are starting to put out genre-specific podcasts, as well. Even though our SF & Fantasy podcast has only been going for a couple of months, I’m seeing how having guests on is an opportunity to meet new people, people you might be able to collaborate with later on.

Yes, the first-in-a-series-free tactic still works

If you checked out my first pen name posts up there, you’ll see that I launched with the first two books in the series and made one free as soon as Amazon would price-match it. Even though my first and second books featured different heroes (the first-in-a-series-free tactic works best when you’ve got the same heroes and the second story is a continuation of the first), it worked well enough. In two and a half months, the pen name made over $10K.

The tactic is pretty simple: upload your book to Amazon at the regular price, then upload it for free at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Sometimes Amazon price-matches it to free on its own, and sometimes you’ll have to report the price difference on the book’s sale page (and get some buddies to report it too). It’s been my experience that if a book is already selling some copies, Amazon price matches fairly quickly.

Make sure you mention the second book at the end of the free book. At the least, put the name of it in there, but you may want to make it a link right to the store page. Some people also add a blurb or an excerpt.

Note: I’m finding that it’s easy to get a lot of downloads for a newly listed permafree (especially if you buy some inexpensive ads to plug it), but that they drop off a lot after the first month or two. Something I’m planning to play with in the future is going in and out of permafree with a book 1, so that when it is free, it’s more of a deal, and it’s not something people have been seeing day in and day out for years.

Consider taking advantage of the opportunities that KDP Select offers, especially if you’re not selling on the other platforms

Like many indie authors, I’ve never been a fan of the fact that Amazon requires exclusivity to participate in its KDP Select program, and I completely ignored it (actually, I glared at it and gave it the squinty eye) for years. This summer, after I saw what an advantage it was to have books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, I finally decided to try it. Oh, not with my regular books, since I have a lot of readers on the other platforms, but with the pen name. I believe that, in addition to the free first book, it was a big part of why the pen name books not only rose to the Top 20 in their little category but stuck there for quite a while.

Since the borrows currently count as sales for calculating sales ranking (and category placement) and they’re easier to come by, it’s easier over all to stick. It’s quite possible that will change a few months down the road, but as we start out in 2015, KU is helping with visibility on Amazon.

I ran my first three-day Kindle Countdown Deal over Christmas, as well, lowering a 3.99 title to 99 cents, and I definitely found that it helped give that book a rankings and sales boost that lingered after the sale. I didn’t do any other promotions of it, but I’ll try to schedule some next time I try a Countdown Deal.

Note: just enrolling in KDP Select isn’t any kind of magic bullet. You still have to do enough promotion to get a title into the Top 100 of your category, otherwise it’s not getting any kind of visibility boost, especially if it’s a newer title and isn’t in many other books’ also-boughts. That’s why I did the combination of first-in-free and then KDP Select for the following titles in the series.

Working the other vendors 

Yes, this is the opposite of the try-KDP-Select advice. You might not be interested in going exclusive with Amazon, or you may decide to only enroll some of your books (since we’re being paid around $1.30-$1.40 for borrows right now, a number that may continue to drop, a lot of people are only putting their shorter/cheaper works in the program). So how do you make it work on these other sites?

Here again, having a permafree book 1 can really help, along with not going on and off the platforms. For instance, even though I was all-in from the beginning, it took me a while to start selling books on iTunes, Apple, and Kobo, in particular. I found it easier to get some momentum on Barnes & Noble, after using Smashwords to get a freebie into their store, but I know other authors have had different experiences with these vendors.

With Kobo, your freebie might not get much notice unless someone over there helps you along. Note: on Kboards, you can mention if you have a first-in-series-free, and Mark Lefebvre might add it to a special first-free page on Kobo. Kobo also does some promotions for those publishing in Kobo Writing Life (indie authors, essentially), so it doesn’t hurt to get on their radar. I’ll leave it to you networking pros to figure out the how, but hardly anyone comments on the Kobo Writing Life blog, so that might be a start.

iBooks is starting to do some indie promotions as well. They did one for 99-cent bundles last fall, and they’re running one for first-in-series-free right now. Again, you have to figure out how to get on their radar to get invitations (with these things, it seems to be a matter of getting added to the mailing list of the person in charge of indie relations). My invitations came through Mark Coker of Smashwords, but I know some people who upload directly to iBooks are on the Apple guy’s list too. Like I said, I suck at networking, but there are perks for those who put themselves in the position to be noticed, especially at these other vendors where it can be tougher to figure out “the algorithms.”

If you can’t summon the interest to network, at least check out the interviews Mark has done, as he’s very open about what works and what doesn’t at Kobo:

I’d love to hear Mark Coker and someone from Apple do some more podcast interviews, too, so go bug those guys if you know them. ;)

A note on Google Play: I’m not there yet (soon!), but I’m hearing from authors who have their books there and who are seeing their earnings grow. I interviewed my co-host for The Writing Podcast about his experience with Google Play in the second half of this show. He’s making over a thousand dollars a month there, right now, and I think he said it’s become his best earner after Amazon. For now, the keys seem to be a first in series free (notice a theme here?) and also to use keywords in the product descriptions. You do also have to be aware that Google will discount your books (there’s a chart at the bottom of that link that shows how much extra to charge in order to have Google’s prices match what you’re doing on Amazon and the other stores).

Making sure you’re not leaving money on the table (audiobooks, paperbacks, translations)

This isn’t necessarily about marketing, but as long as you’re trying to make more from selling your ebooks, why not try to add additional revenue streams to your income? Much of this advice is for myself as well as well as for others, since I need to do more of this too. In 2014, I focused on writing and publishing new material. I still plan to do that, but I’m going to try to make myself take a week away from writing/editing here and there to take care of the things I haven’t gotten around to, things that could be earning me more money:

  • Audiobooks — I have the first three Emperor’s Edge books out there on Audible and Podiobooks, but I got derailed when my narrator couldn’t continue. Since most people downloaded the free versions, I never made much from sales anyway, but one of my goals for 2015 is to get the rest of the series out there (I’m planning to go straight through ACX and not do free versions for the rest). I want to get my Dragon Blood and Rust & Relics books out on audio too. These are investments that only need to be made once (ACX also has a royalty-split option if funds are tight) but can continue to provide a trickle of income over the years. And every now and then, I come across an indie author who makes a lot from audiobooks.
  • Paperbacks — I have all of the EE books out there, along with Encrypted and Decrypted, but I need to catch up with the other novels. I’ve never made much from the paperbacks, aside from Nov/Dec when people buy them for gifts, but having a $12 paperback listed next to the $3.99 ebook can really make the ebook price look like a deal and might encourage more sales.
  • Translations — Honestly, I haven’t heard of anybody knocking it out of the park yet with foreign language translations of their books, but there are some indie authors who are trying it for markets where they believe their books would be popular. I just got an email from someone who translated my first Emperor’s Edge novel into German, and we’re going to look at getting an editor and then getting it out there to see if it would be worth continuing with the series (aside from the countries where English is the native language, Germany is my highest earner). The cost of having a novel translated makes it cost prohibitive, but sites such as BabelCube are coming out, where a translator may be willing to do a royalty split (it probably goes without saying that you’re going to need to have a popular book to attract someone).

All right, as usual, I’ve rambled on for a long time here. If you would like to share some of the marketing tactics you think will work well in the coming year (or years), please leave a comment!

Update: Joanna Penn beat me to the punch with talk of audiobooks and translations. Also check out her recent article on surviving and thriving as an indie author in the years ahead. “Write Books You Love. Think Global. Consider Multiple Streams Of Income

Pen Name Update: 10 Weeks In (Earnings: $12,824)

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales, Pen Name Project |

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I’m about ten weeks into my pen name experiment, which I first blogged about back in November: Pen Name Launch: First Month Earnings $3043 (what worked and didn’t for marketing).

The first book launched around October 10th at 99 cents and went permafree about a week later, at roughly the same time as I launched the second book. The third book was ready to go four weeks after that. On Christmas Eve, I launched a fourth book, but there hasn’t been time for it to do much, so today’s post will focus on the first three books.

For those curious as to the earnings, my pen name has made approximately $12,824.88 between October 10th and December 25th. (I say approximately, because the second and third books are in Kindle Unlimited, so I’m guestimating what the December borrows will be worth, based on November’s rate). Also, several regular readers emailed me after my last blog post on this matter, letting me know that they had figured out who my pen name was. I know some of them picked up books, so we could subtract $200 or so from the earnings, since those books would not have been sold if the pen name author was not me. As far as influencing Amazon rankings, I believe those sales were statistically insignificant (as of December 25th, only one LB book appeared in the also-boughts for the pen names books, and it was eight pages deep).

I revealed my pen name to my newsletter subscribers and Facebook followers yesterday, so whatever earnings and rankings come from these books in the future may be a little fuzzier. I don’t know how many of my fantasy readers will cross over and try the science fiction romances, but I would guess it to be less than 10%. That will be hard to judge, though, so this will be the last post where I can say that these results could be achieved by a brand new author, coming into this without a following or even any family/buddy early reviews starting out.

I detailed my launch strategy (such as it was) in my last post, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much, but I’ll discuss the last 5-6 weeks or so, whether I experienced the 30 Day Cliff, and how I managed to “stick” in the Top 20 of my sub-genre for a good eight weeks or so before dropping. I’ll also talk about some of the things I could have done better, in the hopes that what worked and did not work for me can help others.

Sales Rising and Falling with the Success of the Peramafree Title

All of the books except for the first one are in KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited (so they’re exclusive to Amazon). I’ll go into the why later on, but let me talk about the book that isn’t first.

The first book in the series, Mercenary Instinct, has been permafree since the second week I released it. I made it 99 cents at Amazon and free at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords. Eventually, Amazon price-matched.

As I mentioned in my last post, it did well as soon as it was dropped to free. Even though it wasn’t picked up by Pixel of Ink or any of the major sites that monitor such things, I think the 70 or 80 sales I manage to get while it was 99 cents helped thrust it onto people’s radars. Even though the cover art is just made with stock images, I think it’s better than a lot of what you see in the science fiction romance niche (admittedly, a tough genre to nail with stock art, since models so rarely dress suitably for a galaxy far, far, away), and I’m sure that helped get people to download it. It reached around 225 in the free list at Amazon and hung out in the Top 500 of its own accord for quite a while.

I did buy a few ads, the most useful being an Ereader News Today ad for $15. Later in the month, around Thanksgiving, I spent a whopping $85 for an ad on My Romance Reads. That was the most I spent on any ads, and it resulted in around 2,000 downloads, which was nice since the momentum had started to wane by that time.

In December, the freebie dropped further, hanging around 1,000 for a while, and it’s now dropped to 1600. A couple of days ago, I tossed $40 at eBookBooster to see if they could try to get it onto some sites that hadn’t already featured it. I also paid $30 at Kindle Nation Daily for a spot in their automated daily freebie roundup this weekend. I don’t think either service will give it a big boost, but maybe it will pop up a bit in the SFR free chart for a little longer.

Why bother?

As you might guess from the sub-title of this section, the sales of the second and third books have risen and fallen in sync with the freebie. As long as the freebie was getting a lot of downloads, the other books stuck in the Top 20 of the SFR sub-category on Amazon, which has resulted in steady sales. Lately, the books have been dropping off, appearing on the 21-40 page. They’re still selling — I can hardly complain about a 3,000 sales ranking (paid) in the Amazon store, especially when none of my LB books are in that range, except for the recently released Patterns in the Dark. But they haven’t sold as well as they did in November, when both were under 2,000 in the Amazon store for quite a while.

If my second and third books featured the same hero and heroine as the first book did, I suspect the sales would have been even better. Once of the tough parts of writing romances is that you typically wrap up the story at the end of the book and bring in different protagonists in future novels. All of the stories center around the same spaceship, and main characters become side characters in later books, so I’m sure that does help, but for those of you writing a clearcut series with the same heroes continuing the story from book to book, you might do much better than my pen name has done, especially if you can push a permafree Book 1 and keep it up there in the free rankings.

What I’ll be trying in the future with the permafree angle:

The big thing is that I’m mulling over making the first book $3.99 (the price of the others) after a while. I don’t think there’s much point in having a permafree that hangs out at 6,000 or some such in the free store. My Emperor’s Edge Book 1 is dealing with that now, after being free for years, and the sales have really dropped off on the rest of the series. I’m kicking around some ideas for bringing it back to life in 2015, but it’s definitely a challenge to keep even a free ranking up, because there are so many offerings out there. Also, for people who are KU subscribers, they have no need to browse the free books when everything in the KU store is essentially “free” for them.

If I revert Mercenary Instinct to a paid book, I’m thinking that I’ll either make something else in the series permafree for a while or I’ll use the Kindle Countdown Deals (an option for those in KDP Select) to temporarily make the other books free or 99 cents. One perk of this being an open-ended series, with different heroes in each one, is that people don’t have to have read Book 1 for Book 3 or 4 to make sense. So I do have the option of trying to get people into the series using the other titles. As I get more novels out, it may make sense to cycle between the first three or four, having a different one free at different times in the year.

Of course, it’s possible the pen name will get to the point where it has a big enough fan base that I don’t need to use permafree to gain momentum and keep relatively new releases in the Top 20 for the sub-genre, especially if I’m able to keep putting out books regularly. I would love to manage one a month, but I’m still writing books for my regular name, so it’s more likely that I will get a new novel out every 6-8 weeks. Still not shabby. We’ll see how things work out. In the end, science fiction romance is a small sub-niche, and the space operas I like to write are even smaller (I’ve been watching the Top 20 of the niche for a while, and the stories that are set on Earth, usually involving hunky aliens coming to visit, seem to be a much easier sell than the far-future outer-space stuff). I’m not sure how many readers there are, overall, to tap into. There’s a reason why the Big 5 doesn’t touch this niche.

Still, I’ve found a lot of people so far, and I can hardly complain about the early results!

Launching with More Than One Title (and why I wish I’d had Book 4 ready to go sooner)

A permafree alone doesn’t do much for you. As I’ve mentioned, one of the reasons the pen name books (2 and 3) sold decently right from the start is because Book 1 was free and a lot of free ebooks were being downloaded at the same time as I released Book 2. When I released 3 about four weeks later, the freebie still had some momentum. I did see some of that momentum wane in December, at which point I was basically ignoring the pen name stuff (not attempting to promo anything) and working on getting the new Dragon Blood book out.

I wish I’d had the fourth and fifth books in the pen name series ready to go like clockwork, 30 days after the release of the previous ones, as I think this would have helped keep the momentum going. No, not everyone writes that quickly, but if you’re launching something new, it might make sense to hold back on the release of that first title until you have some more in the pipeline.

I believe the reason launching with multiple titles really helps is because it gives you some more promotion options (you can make one free, or maybe trying some rolling Kindle Countdowns if you are in KDP Select), and it also gives readers more of a chance to connect with you as an author. A world or a set of characters is much more likely to stick in a reader’s head if they’ve read several of your adventures instead of just one. Assuming they like the experience, they will be more likely to remember you and seek you out in the future, even if they don’t sign up for a newsletter or follow you on the social media sites.

Also, when you’re releasing something every month, you have the opportunity to be featured as a hot new release in your category on Amazon. If you’re worried about falling off the “30 Day Cliff,” then having a new title to take the place of the old makes sense (I didn’t notice the cliff, but I think that’s because the permafree was what was feeding my Book 2 and 3 sales, rather than any particular loving from the Amazon algorithms).

Do you have to keep up this pace indefinitely? A book a month? I don’t think so. Ideally, you’ll reach a point where you have XXXX newsletter subscribers and so many people waiting for your new releases that even if you’ve got a 3- or 4-month gap between titles, your new releases should make it to the top of your category lists.

Of course, if you can put out a book a month, it can only help, especially if you’re writing in any of the romance sub-categories, where readers tend to be voracious. But it’s a pretty nutso pace for most people, and I’m sure I’ll drop back to one every other month or so, since I’ll be writing and releasing my usual LB fantasy novels too.

How often you need to publish to keep the momentum going likely depends on your genre. I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of churn in those romance categories, but in some other categories, where readers might take longer to consume books on average, it may be easier to stay in the charts without publishing every month (if you have thoughts on this, feel free to comment below!).

How Kindle Unlimited Helped with the Pen Name Launch

I talked about this in the last post, but right now, there’s an advantage for any author in Kindle Unlimited, because borrows get weighted as heavily as sales, insofar as your overall Amazon sales ranking goes (which affects how high up in your chosen categories you will appear). To get paid for borrows, a reader must get to the 10% point in the book, but right now, every single borrow that is made gives a boost to your sales ranking, regardless of whether the person reads any of it. (Here’s my earlier post where I hypothesized about this, and here’s a more scientific approach from a German publisher that backs up my suspicions).

What’s the big deal, you ask? A borrow is a heck of a lot easier to come by than a sale. As I mentioned above, for anyone enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, every book in the program is free under their $10 monthly fee. They can borrow 10 books at a time, and all they have to do is return one to grab another one. Just think about how you used to grab books off the shelves at the library (back before we were all doing this digitally). If you’re like me, you’d leave with a huge pile every time, even if you only ended up reading two of them. There was no punishment for checking something out, not getting past the first paragraph, and returning it, so why not do so?

In short, if you’re selling enough books to get into some Top 100 lists, being in KU can be a huge advantage right now, especially if you’re a new author. (As others pointed out on my earlier posts, being in KU doesn’t do much at all if you’re not moving enough copies to make those lists and show up in other authors’ also-boughts.)

Will my pen name stay in KDP Select indefinitely?

I doubt it. Even though I’m talking about the advantages right now, I believe that if you’re trying to build a career and want this to be a reliable source of income, then it doesn’t make sense to rely completely on Amazon. With my LB books, I could pay my bills and make a living (albeit a more modest living), based on my iBooks/Smashwords/Kobo/Audible/CreateSpace(paperback) sales. Even though I sometimes lament that I’m missing out on the opportunities that being exclusive offers (for the moment), I feel a lot more comfortable knowing I wouldn’t be dead in the water if Amazon decided to freeze my account tomorrow or if Amazon suddenly decided all ebooks only receive 35% royalties instead of 70%.

Because I don’t depend on the pen name income, and because KDP Select offers tools that help a new author with visibility, those books are in the program for now. I do plan to start cycling some of them out later in 2015. As long as being in there is an advantage, I’ll probably put new releases there, but I think these titles could do well on other sites too, especially since the first book is already out there as a permafree.

Social Media and Mailing Lists — did I use them?

I talked about this in the earlier post, so I’ll keep this brief, but I did start a mailing list and website for the pen name. Right now, I’m only giving information about book releases on the blog, and I send out a newsletter when I have a new release. There are 120 subscribers, so far.

I’m debating if I’ll give away a free novella or something like that in the future, as an incentive to get more people to sign up for the list. I haven’t done that with my regular list, but I know a lot of authors do give away extras, designed to entice existing fans onto the list (i.e. You finished the first book and want an extra epilogue with these characters? Sign up here…). I wouldn’t bother trying to get people onto the list who haven’t read at least one of the books, such as by giving away gift certificates or the like. Those guys don’t usually stick around, and they’re not the true fans you really want to gather to you.

As for social media, I haven’t done anything yet. I may do a Facebook page eventually, just because I enjoy sharing snippets of the works-in-progress, but as far as promotions go, I’m seeing that social media can help but that it isn’t necessary for every author. If you write fun stories and you’re prolific, you can probably focus on putting out good books frequently and on taking advantage of advertising and less time-intensive methods of increasing visibility at Amazon.

Advertising — how much did I spend?

Less than $200. For kicks, I tried to get a Bookbub ad for the permafree, but they rejected me. It’s probably just as well since I’d have to put these under science fiction, there being no SF romance category, and I’m not sure how many of those readers would turn out to be romance fans too. ENT, at $15, was the best deal, and My Romance Reads did decently, though I suspect that site is better for contemporary romance authors. I’ll see how the eBookBooster thing goes (these guys, for $40, submit to a big pile of the sites that will mention your free book for free), as some of those plugs should come out in the next week or two. Overall, though, I didn’t spend a lot, especially not when you consider the overall earnings in the last couple of months.

Cover Art — anything special?

A few people mentioned this in the comments of the last update, that I had money to spend on really professional covers (they hadn’t seen my covers yet at this point, har). With few exceptions, these are the cheapest covers I’ve had made. They’re completely based on stock photos. I’m lucky that this is pretty much what everyone in the genre does, unlike epic fantasy, where custom illustrations are common (and expensive).

So what’s the pen name… name, anyway?

For those who want to check things out, here’s the author page for the pen name. As I mentioned, the genre is science fiction romance (specifically space opera romance, so it’s a tiny niche, but I think it’s a lot easier to gain visibility if you can come on strong in a small niche).

Will there be more updates?

I just released a fourth book, and I’m enjoying writing these stories, so the pen name will continue. But since I’ve now shared the name with my regular readers, future results wouldn’t be as pure, insofar as the new-author-starting-from-scratch concept goes. I’m planning to continue to blog about how things go, though, most likely sharing what I’m doing with KDP Select and Amazon-specific promotions. So if that’s of interest, please stay tuned in the new year!

Patterns in the Dark (Dragon Blood Book 4) Available Everywhere

| Posted in Ebook News |

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I know some of you are waiting for more updates on the pen name, or just more on self-publishing in general, and I’ll be posting some more articles in the new year (in the meantime, check out the new marketing/publishing podcasts I’m a part of: Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing and The Writing Podcast). For today, I’m announcing that the fourth book in my Dragon Blood series, is available everywhere now.

DB4-Web-CoverYou can grab Patterns in the Dark at Amazon, iBooks, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Everyone knows dragons have been extinct for over a thousand years. Everyone is wrong. At least one dragon remains, and military scientists from the Cofah Empire are experimenting with its blood, using the magical substance to power deadly new weapons that could be used to bring the world to its knees.

That’s a concern for Zirkander, Cas, and the rest of the Iskandians, but all Tolemek wants is to find his missing sister. The last time he saw her, their father had locked her in an asylum because of a mental illness with no cure. Now the military has taken her. What use the Cofah have for her, Tolemek can only guess, but he is certain she is in danger. He must save her before it’s too late. But her fate is inexplicably tied to the dragon’s, and he must find it to find her.

If you haven’t checked out this series yet, the first book, Balanced on the Blade’s Edge, is available for free for the holidays in most stores.

Thanks for taking a peek!