Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why go with a small press?

I happened across a discussion of publishing options, big publisher vs small press vs indie. I am biased toward going indie, but I was surprised to see such a long list of the advantages of a small press offered by Jeff Gerke , Nicole O’Dell, and Kerry Nietz.

The advantages of a good small press include:
  1. The author isn't paying anything for her book and it is more blessed to be paid than to pay.
  2. The book will get a professional edit that the author didn't have to arrange or pay for.
  3. The book will get a terrific cover that the author didn't have to arrange or pay for.
  4. The author will get the benefit of a publishing partner rather than going it alone, which appeals to some but not to everyone.
  5. The book will get some distribution and exposure, which in many cases is more than what will happen to an indie book.
  6. A small press is more likely to allow a book to be written as it ought to be written without worrying about pleasing the masses. This is a huge benefit of small presses.
  7. The author will be eligible for contest and reviews that won't look at self-published books.
  8. The author will be eligible for more media opportunities. Many radio hosts don't interview indies because they don't have time to do the research it requires.
  9. Not everyone is a DIY'er no matter how much others try to convince them to be.
  10. Sales numbers may be smaller in most cases than with a large house, but the royalty split is often higher. And sales numbers aren't as crucial a concern for those who are deciding between a small house or self-publishing. They have often let go of the idea of a big house, especially as the big guys restructure, combine, shut lines, close doors.
  11. Small publishers have little to no marketing budget, but they're often creative and willing to think outside the box, which is often not the case with big houses who are still doing things that don't work.
  12. Often a small press is the only way to have niche work considered by a partner/publisher.
  13. The author, if she's lucky, will get advice from an editor who lives inside their chosen genre.
  14. There is an advantage in being associated with other brilliant authors in the same genre instead of being a lone wolf.
Perhaps our own small press folks have some thoughts to add?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Using Your Also-Boughts to Find Natural Marketing Connections for Your Books

One critical element to the ongoing steady sales of your books is the pairings Amazon makes between your title and other books in the online store.

Whether you are just interested in what books are bought alongside with yours, or if you are trying to evaluate whether or not your own books are paired well with your other titles, Yasiv.Com is a nifty tool for reviewing your also-bought chain, if you know how to use it.

The also-boughts are the list of books on your product page on Amazon. For my novel Baby Dust, they look like this:

If your book is new, it may not yet have any also-boughts. If it sells slowly at first, it may have also-VIEWS instead. One of my books for kids alternates between also-boughts and also-views.

Over at Yasiv.Com, you can type your book into their tool and see the initial chain of books that are connected to yours.

It shows 53 connections to Baby Dust. The arrows give you an idea of what books point to each other, but you'll notice no arrows are pointing to Baby Dust. It would appear at first glance that nothing sends you to my book.
I know this isn't true, because sales are steady, and I know Amazon is keeping that humming via also-boughts. So I typed in another one of the books that I could see on my chart. It took a few tries, but I finally found one that showed my book, and this chart gave me a better picture of the also-boughts leading to and away from my book. Remember that you can click and drag on the chart to move around and see books that have fallen off the page.
Once you see the also-bought connections, you can explore further to see how those other books are doing in the rankings, and strengthen the connections by cross promoting.
One of my favorite ways (cheap, easy, effective and FUN) to promote books is to contact authors whose books are already being connected to mine based on buying patterns and have us promote to each other's readerships.
We can't possibly write enough books to satisfy our readers (I'm doing one per year that ties into this readership) and so it makes sense to find authors whose books are a natural fit and sell to each other's audience when we can. Using our mailing lists (try MailChimp for a free way to get started), give aways (share a Rafflecopter), and social media, we can spread the word about each other's books and feel confident that their readers are also our readers.
Deanna Roy is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction on issues of finding love and building a family.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Evaluating the ROI on paid book promotions

Many times when I ask how a fellow author has done on a recent book promotion, I hear, "I got to #500 on Amazon!" Or maybe, "I sold 300 copies!"

Both of those things are squee-worthy, but the excitement of zooming up the charts does wear off during the plummet back down, especially when you take a look at what the financial numbers bear out.

Last weekend, I did a promo with the KBoards. Now, I mainly did this promo to support Harvey, who created an excellent forum that has gained me many amazing author friends and priceless advice. So even bombing out on this promo would have been fine by me. Supporting a site you love is still a valid reason to pony up cash.

But it provided a great opportunity to objectively view a common type of promotion--an ad sent out via an email and social media blast by a web site with large lists of followers and fans.

Baby Dust has been through many promos, so I have a good idea how it does compared to other books like it. A Pixel of Ink promo in June 2012 (which you can't buy, POI chooses you randomly), netted 311 sales in two days. And an Ereader News Today promo last September got me 427 sales in two days for a cost of $30. But those are the heavy hitters, and getting booked with them is partly eligibility requirements and partly luck.

Lots of us will try the more usual outlets, and the Kboards are pretty typical in their numbers of subscribers and social media following.

Since most promos want to promote a sale, I dropped the price of Baby Dust to $2.99, half price, for three days to give all the late viewers time to click through, plus to build on any bonus exposure on Amazon. Three days is what I have found to be a typical longevity of a paid promo.

Normally in three days for Baby Dust on Amazon, I would sell 12 copies at $5.99 and make $50.
  • For the three days starting with the spotlight ad, I sold 27 copies at $2.99.
  • This made an income of $54.
  • Subtract the cost of the ad ($50) and I made $4.
  • I hit a high rank of #900 during the promo.
Breaking even on an ad is nice, but I did actually lose $46 by doing this promotion when the full ROI is evaluated, including how much I would have made without it.
  • Now, there are other benefits to doing ads. If you have a series, you could sell through to other books.
  • You can gain longer exposure due to a bump, although this particular promo didn't create a bump that helped with sales. I was back to 4 sales on day 3.
  • If you are getting nowhere at all, and you don't have money coming in, or if it's a new title, then doing a promotion like this is a good idea as it is break-even on its own.

Certainly squee when the squeeing is good, but for long-term sales of a steady book, always evaluate the big picture. What does this promo really do for my book? Will I be better off after the promo effects have died down? And even if the promo breaks even, did I actually end up in a good financial place afterward?

One thing I've learned after two years of self-publishing, when you have a slow steady seller that provides a base income, let it be. Clearly your also-boughts and listings are balanced.

For new books or failing books, an ad like the Kboards is one way to try and launch you into that steady place of regular sales with a low outlay of investment. You can take a look at what their spotlight ads look like (here was mine) and the various types of other ads they offer.

Deanna Roy is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction titles under four pen names.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Launch Infrastructure: Amazon Reviews

A few months back Deanna wrote an excellent post on the timeline for a book launch. I'm going to tackle one small but crucial aspect of a successful indie book launch: getting a critical mass of reviews on Amazon. Laying aside the various issues with Amazon reviews for the moment (mentioned here and here), let me lay on you one method for getting reviews up there when you need them. You may have done some of these steps already.

Step One: Create the email infrastructure

Sign up for an account with Mail Chimp or some other free email service. Put a link to the signup form on your web page. (You do have a web page, don't you?) Put it on your blog, if you have one. Integrate it with your Facebook account and add a tab with the signup form.

Of all the ways to promote a book launch, by far the most effective is a targeted email list. (In a future post I'll relate a very graphic example of how true this is.) Right now I have under 200 people on my email list, but they're solid addresses of folks who love my books. My last email got a 50% open rate, which is double the expected rate in the industry for a targeted list. I'll talk more about how solid this list is in Step Four.

Step Two: Build a tribe

If you don't know your tribe, or the concept of the tribe, stop right now and do some research.
OK, now that you're back, realize that you can't build a tribe overnight. It takes years of building relationships, online and offline, and, most importantly, gathering email addresses of people who want to know when your next book comes out.

Some people balk at this, feeling like it's shameless self-promotion. That's baloney. If you think that, you didn't watch the video. Don't you have a favorite author or two? Don't you want to know when the next release is available? All you're doing is providing a service to the people who enjoy your work. If they sign up, it's because they want to know. Get over it and put yourself out there.

Note: Your tribe does not consist of other authors. You have to connect with readers who love what you write, not other writers who are desperate to market their latest release.

Step Three: Build an ARC and a sneak peek

The mainstay of the book review promotion is the advance reader copy, known in the industry as the ARC. The ARC gets sent out to reviewers. For a highfalutin traditionally published A-lister, these go to Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, the New York Times, and other notable venues for book reviews. Good work if you can get it.

For us indies, ARCs go to a subgroup of the tribe. More on that in Step Four.

When I first went indie, I planned on ebook-only releases. For the somewhat technically competent, it's easy enough to create an ebook, and inexpensive enough for the technophobes to hire it out. But then I discovered through my precious email list that most of my tribe did not have an ereader. So I also produced a print book via POD and CreateSpace. Now, when I build an ARC, I build it in three formats: print, epub, and mobi.

The sneak peek is a 30-50 page sample of your upcoming release. You can do it in PDF only if you like, but I do it in the same three formats as I do the ARC. It doesn't take that much more time and it shows your tribe that you value them and their reading preferences. Anything I can do to value my tribe, from writing the best dang book I can to giving it to them in the way they like to read it, is important to me.

Step Four: The call to action

A month before your book release, send out an email to the tribe with at least two elements.
  1. Info on how to get the sneak peek, which you will post on your website, preferably in a section that is quarantined from spider bots with the robots.txt file. (Here's an example sneak peek page for my latest work, Endless Vacation. If you're serious about tracking and managing your bidness, you'll create Google Analytics tags to see how many downloads you get.)
  2. A call to action for what I call the Book Buzz Team (BBT).
The BBT is the inner circle of the tribe, those who are willing to post an Amazon review in exchange for an ARC. When I place my call to action, I don't put any qualifiers on the kind of review to post. I don't ask for five star reviews. I don't ask for only positive reviews. I just ask that whoever requests a free copy commits to writing a review stating what they really think about the book. Since this is my core tribe, if I have written a book that targets the tribe, they will like it. If not, then I deserve what I get. ;-) (I'm still wondering what kind of response I'll get with my release next month. Oh well.)

I tell my tribe I'll send a free book in the format of their choice (even mailing print copies at my expense) to the first ten people who commit to the BBT. In reality, I fudge and send an ARC to people who aren't in the first ten. The wording creates a sense of urgency to respond, but if someone in my tribe is willing to commit to writing an Amazon review, I will embrace them with open arms and a free book.

To illustrate how solid my list is, when I put out the call-to-action  for Muffin Man last year, I got over 20 responses, which was close to 20 percent of my very small list at that time. By my launch date, I had over 20 reviews on Amazon. And that gave me the credibility to get picked up by two of the top sites for publicizing Amazon freebies, which translated to 55,000 downloads and a gratifying amount of follow-through sales. But more on that in a future post.

Step Five: Followup

Keep track of who you sent ARCs to and who has posted. No need to berate the laggards who don't come through, but also no need to send them an ARC for the next release if they ask for one. I include this line in my call to action: "Please don’t reply unless you’re certain you can meet the deadline. If I play Santa Claus, I can also make a list and check it twice."

Conclusions and next steps

All of the above positions you to launch a KDP Select freebie promotion. But the details of how to make that successful will have to wait for a later post.

Brad Whittington is the author of the Fred trilogy, What Would Jesus Drink? and Muffin Man.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Great Amazon Review Wipe Out, Part 2

I wrote last month about one of the ways Amazon was culling reviews by authors, using our IP addresses to match up accounts. Sure sock puppets (fake accounts used to review each other) were caught, but so were a whole lotta other accounts.

I personally had almost every review I wrote in 2012 removed. Reviews written in 2011 remained, and a new one I wrote a few weeks ago also got through. But the clearcutting has done its damage--all the reviews of books I read, whether I knew the author or not, are gone. From now on I plan to copy them to Goodreads so I don't forget myself what I loved.

Today we'll talk about another way Amazon culls reviews--Amazon gift cards.

I don't give away a lot of gift cards, but they are a very common prize for Rafflecopters or Facebook give aways. Many authors use them in promotions and on blog tours.

When some authors got complaints from fans that not only had the fan's review been deleted, but also writing Amazon to ask about it had resulted in threats to remove the book (panicking the fan), they started looking deeper into these fans and what could have made Amazon react so harshly.

Eventually, it became clear that a practice on sites like Fivrr often included sending Amazon gift cards in exchange for five-star reviews. To shut down this practice, Amazon would link the account where the gift card originated to the recipient, and that recipient was no longer allowed to write reviews.

This was a terrible linkage to make, because any time you gift a book to a reviewer using the Amazon system, it was treated as a gift card. In fact, if you buy an ebook and send it as a gift, the recipient has the option of just cashing out the card to use on other products. Because of this, Amazon made an across-the-board change in who could review. So even though giving a free copy of a book to a reviewer is accepted practice, you can't do it via the Amazon system. If you do, you'll look like you just paid for the review.

Additionally, your most hard-core fans, the ones who comment on every blog stop, who sign up for every Rafflecopter--they become people who can no longer support you with reviews just because they were lucky enough--or determined enough--to win a gift card on one of your promotions. We risk losing some of our best and most fervent supporters due to a system where every apple is tossed with the rot.

So what is an author to do?

  1. Don't use Amazon gift cards as prizes if your fan base is loyal but small.
  2. Don't log into KDP on public networks, especially large ones where many will share an IP address or when with fans who might want to review you later.
  3. Be very careful about whose books you review and what you say. Certainly do not mention that you are an author, and definitely don't violate the Terms of Service by trying to put a link to your book into a review (Amazon will delete it AND it will tip off the auto-bots.)

Since the review kerfluffle finally began hitting the mainstream press (Forbes and NYT to name a few), Amazon seems to have calmed down. Apparently they like the news of their overreaction better than the news of the fakery, and maybe are calling off the bots. I don't know. I'm trying to write a review of a book today for an author I've never met; a book that randomly caught my eye and that I liked.

We'll see if it's still there next week.


Deanna Roy is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction titles.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Indentured Servitude by Design

Often when I read one of Brad Whttington’s posts, I get the feeling of “being behind the power curve.” That’s an aviation term for an undesirable condition in which full engine power is offset by very high aerodynamic drag, resulting in minimum airspeed. That same power setting with the airplane ahead of the power curve would result in maximum airspeed. You can think of it as using the most fuel to travel the least distance. In your automobile, it would be like pushing the accelerator pedal to the floor and spinning the tires trying to get out of the mud.

Two characteristics of Brad’s posts put me there: 1) I always learn something in retrospect that I should have known, and 2) he has a tendency to throw down the gauntlet with a statement like, “Now maybe we can convince Tosh to do a post on paying people royalties to do day-rate work.”

This subject relates to an essential consideration for any author when comparing the pros and cons of indie versus legacy publishing, especially now that literary agents are scrambling to offer publishing services to authors. Let’s ignore the fact that this is in violation of the Association of Authors’ Representatives canon of ethics and deal with the practical result of agents acting as publishers.

At the core of the current turmoil in the industry lies the prime motivator for agents and publishers alike, to carve out a piece of landscape in the new world out there. They no longer have a monopoly on printing and distribution, and it’s easier than ever for authors to create their own books and put them up for sale with the potential for reaching a market limited only by how aggressively the products are promoted. We have an alternative to legacy publishing that is more viable than ever before.

Authors and prolific bloggers Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch have written an extensive series of informative articles on how to think like a publisher. Two of their specific topics relate directly to the issue at hand, and they serve as the cornerstones of the title of this post.

Today’s publishing contracts typically contain addendums to the standard boilerplate of the past. One such alteration is to what’s called “the sunset clause” and refers to the criteria in the contract for determining when a book is declared out of print and all rights revert to the author. When sales drop below a defined number of units for a specified number of successive months, the author has the right to request and receive control of the book’s future, whatever that may be.

This is a very important point, because over 40% of all print books published end up as remainders, sold at deep discount or tossed into the maw of a pulping machine to become recycled paper. If a publisher has thousands of copies of a stagnant book lying around in a warehouse, they have every incentive to declare it out of print.

But with ebooks, unlimited virtual online shelf space costs them nothing. Why not hold on to the book rights and benefit from whatever profit potential exists in the future? The result is that publishers don’t want authors to utilize this escape clause, so they alter it to effectively retain rights to the book in perpetuity.

Let’s combine that with how publishers, and now their mutinous agent-cum-publisher sidekicks, establish the structure of royalty payments. They deduct expenses from the list price and pay the author a fixed percentage of the net. To toss a gauntlet back to Brad, we’ll let him provide the figures on how much he earned per copy in his traditionally published Fred trilogy. (Hint: Comparing list price to his cut of the profit pie was a jaw-dropper for me.)

The egregious result of this business model is most apparent when considering how the old guard is positioning itself to snatch control of the ebook from authors, most of whom don’t want to bother with production details. Understandably, they want to spend their time writing and leave the business side of publishing to others. And therein lies the trap.

“Let us handle all that,” they say, which supposedly will cover content/developmental editing, copy/line editing, proofreading, manuscript conversion to ebook digital format, cover design, and promotion/marketing.

“Oh, boy,” says the author. “That sounds like a great deal. No money upfront, and they just take a percentage of each book sold. What’s not to like?”

A lot, actually.

It’s as if you have just made a deal with your lawn maintenance company to pay them a percentage of the value of your home for a task worthy of no more than hourly-rate compensation. Your legacy-inspired and -trained compatriots in this business endeavor have just tricked you into paying in perpetuity for something that cost them a few flat-rate hours. The number of ebooks sold divided into their total venture capital expense quickly turns the concept of net into a dinosaur. After they get their money back, you are giving them the lion’s share of the list price forever. (Please pardon the mixed metaphor . . .)

Authors thereby become indentured servants to the new, improved legacy business model, and it’s totally unnecessary. Hire someone to accomplish each of the production tasks under the simple concept of this service for that compensation and be done with it. Don’t fall for the temptation of making it easy.

In the long run, it’s just not worth setting up your lawn guy to inherit your house.
Tosh is the author of the aviation mystery/thriller Pilot Error, the second-in-series Red Line (Spring 2013), and two non-fiction series: Book One of Wings On My Words, tales from the writer's desk, and Book One of Words On My Wings, tales from the cockpit. Visit him online at toshmcintosh.com.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

In legacy publishing your book is a high-risk stock

When you ask a legacy publisher why you should look for a contract with the Big Six, now the Big Five, soon to be the Big Four, you will get a predictable list of questionable responses. Most of them involve day-rate services that they provide (copy editing, cover, formatting for pbook and ebook) for which they want to take a percentage in perpetuity. The one legitimate point they can offer is the advance, the publisher serving as an investment banker, fronting $50K to $100K or so (their inflated costs as a dinosaur) to make it all happen and get your book on the shelf for 30-60 days.

One of the more amusing, and debatable, justifications is that they will finance marketing your book to generate exposure.


I got a legacy publishing contract in 2001, long before the era of the Kindle, and was happy to do so. When Welcome to Fred was released, and also the subsequent books in the trilogy, I was dissatisfied with the publisher's marketing efforts. I'm afraid I became a pain and was ungracious in expressing my displeasure.

The fact was that I was unlearned in the ways of the industry. Now I see things differently. The publisher did everything they said they would do to make my book successful and in retrospect I appreciate what they did. But whatever they did, it was not enough to push my novels past the tipping point into financial success. And in my mind I (wrongfully) blamed the publisher.

At the time my day job involved marketing for an international telecommunications testing manufacturer. My company spent millions of dollars to develop a product and then marketed the beans out of it to generate the required revenue to turn a profit and pay the bills. I couldn't understand why my publisher wasn't doing the same thing with my novels. It seemed that the A-list, king-of-the-mountain authors got all the marketing dollars when they didn't really need it and up-and-coming authors such as myself were virtually ignored. It made no sense to me and I wasn't reticent on the subject.

Then one day I stumbled upon an analogy that explained how legacy publishing allocates their marketing dollars between competing books in their catalog. At a mixer at a recent Writer's League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference, I posited this theory to a veteran agent in the industry and he said, "I just learned something about the publishing industry." I was a little surprised. After all, this was his day job and had been for a few decades. He should have been teaching me.

The paradigm comes down to managing risk.


A legacy publisher's catalog is very similar to a stock portfolio for a risk-averse investor. Put most of your money behind blue-chip stocks, proven earners, but dedicate a limited amount of your portfolio to unproven, high-risk stocks in the hopes that one of them will take off and become the next Apple or Google or Facebook.

In book terms, that means that Stephen King and James Patterson, et. al., will get the lion's share of the marketing dollars, even if it seems they don't need it. Does anyone think that the next Patterson novel will fail due to lack of advertising? Don't you think fans will buy it when it comes out, even if they don't see an ad?

But for the first-time author very little marketing is done, and it continues to decrease as budgets tighten. Most of the budget for the book was spent in production and getting it on the shelf. The publisher won't be placing ads or financing book tours or slots on the morning news shows. They may get review copies out to their usual media outlets, perhaps finance a blog tour, do things that costs hundreds of dollars rather than tens of thousands. And then they will wait for one of their high-risk speculations to take off. If one does, they will follow it with money to see if they can ride the wave. But the publisher will never create the wave for a first time author.


Back in 2001 I met my editor for the first time in Atlanta. He drove down from Nashville. I was at the premier telecom industry trade show, exhausted from a day on the show floor and a month of travelling North America and Europe marketing test gear. I wanted two things desperately: to go home to Honolulu to collapse for a week, and for my not-yet-written novel to break out and rescue me from this rat race.

I spent a break from the grueling trade show floor wondering what would make thousands of total strangers buy my novel and grant me financial independence. I put the question to the editor after dinner. He described the things the publishing house would do for my novel. I told him that, with all due respect, that sounded like a lone guy pissing into the ocean. He said I had just described self-publishing, that an established publisher taking on a book granted it a significant level of credibility. I conceded the point and modified it to say it sounded like a fire department directing a fire hose into the ocean. Perhaps the stream was hundreds times the strength of the lone guy, but it was still the ocean.

He answered with the truth as I now understand it. A daunting truth.

"You have to write a novel so good that when someone finishes it, they immediately call their friends and say, 'You have to read this book!'"

I said, "Then we're screwed. I can't write that book."

He smiled and said he thought I could do it or he wouldn't have signed me.

Obviously his faith was misplaced. As good as I thought Welcome to Fred was, despite the fact that it won awards and garnered favorable reviews from Publisher's Weekly and many fans, it didn't cause thousands of people to demand that their friends and family read it immediately.

It comes down to my post on How to sell lots of books. Write a good book.

So, if you go looking for a legacy publisher, remember one detail. That marketing thing, they're going to treat your book like a high-risk stock, whereas if you believe in it and publish it yourself, you'll probably treat it more like a blue-chip stock.

Now maybe we can convince Tosh to do a post on paying people royalties to do day-rate work.

Brad Whittington is the author of the Fred trilogy, What Would Jesus Drink? and Muffin Man.