Friday, March 30, 2012

One Writer's Journey to Margaritas and Indie Writing

In 1983 I completed my first novel, Glorietta. My sister Rita was the only human who read and edited the manuscript from cover-to-cover. Bless her heart.

With the naiveté of a Chihuahua taking up residence with a pack of wolves, I began the journey of submitting my “baby” to agents and legacy publishers. Like so many novice writers, I was convinced my semi-autobiographical tale would be hailed as the new great American novel followed by fame and fortune.

A good friend had an in with a well-known agent. After querying Mr. Agent, he offered to read the whole manuscript. Time for celebration and margaritas with my hubby.

For the next few weeks, I checked the mail each day waiting for the ticket to my dreams. Weeks turned into months, and at some point, I lost hope of ever receiving a response. The question now, should I call him? Would I be annoying him or would he even remember me? I agonized for another few weeks. To call or not to call. Then one day a letter arrived from NYC.

The letter’s body was one sentence: “Too right on for me.”

That was it. A summary of my life’s work in five words. Definitely time for margaritas with my ever-so-supportive husband.

It didn’t get better from there. Numerous form letter rejections, a couple partials sent with ultimate rejections. I finally got an offer for publication, only with a caveat. I had to “pay” them to publish it. In those days, that was like telling someone your father cheated on his taxes. Mine worked for the IRS.

So I stopped sending the manuscript out and did what any other writer would do: I wrote another novel. Many form rejections, a couple full and partial manuscript requests later, I moved on to novel number three.

One day a fellow novelist brought me a screenplay she’d written. I’d never seen a screenplay before and had always thought those people, (screenwriters), weren’t real writers.

However, by the time I’d finished reading my colleague’s manuscript, I thought, hmmm, I could write one of these things. And it will take me a quarter the time of writing a novel.

I began reading Chris Vogler, Syd Field, Robert McKee, and Michael Hauge, the gurus of how-to screenwriting. Three months later, my first screenplay was born. Within the next few years, number two and number three were added to my résumé.

If you think New York agents screw with your head, try Hollywood. In the next ten years I had three option agreements, two agents, and one manager (don’t ask what the difference is between an agent and manager). But did I ever see one of my scripts on the screen? Well, no. Did I see any $$$? Ah, a little.

However, I received a lot of “this is the best thing I’ve read in years, awesome, fabulous” etc., followed weeks later by receptionists responding to my calls with, “Laura who? No, Mr. Agent (who formerly thought you walked-on-water) is on a conference call.” No return phone calls or e-mails. How hard is it to write a damn e-mail and say, "Sorry, no longer interested?"

So what did this now older, but obviously not wiser, gal do besides go out with her hubby for margaritas? Duh. She began another novel.

Does it make sense that this time around she doesn’t want to get on the merry-go-round? No sir. Not again. She may be dense, but she ain’t no masochist. This time she’s going to control her own fate. She’s going Indie.

Laura Resnick-Chavez is the author of the upcoming novel The Girl From Long Guyland.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Benefits of Amazon's Select Program

I opted into Amazon Select with a couple of titles on the first day it was available, despite being somewhat skeptical of a program that locked me into selling only on the Kindle for 90 days.

I was lucky--I had a couple books on writing that were already exclusive to the Kindle, so I didn't have to do any fast take-downs of my books on other venues.

While those titles did marginally well in the program, mainly through the offering of free promotional days, I never removed my main books (Baby Dust and Jinnie Wishmaker) from Barnes and Noble or iTunes. Why? My sales are perhaps a bit unusual in being 50% Kindle, 25% BN, and 25% iTunes. I was not interested in losing half my sales on a gamble.

But for a new, unpublished indie title, Amazon Select is actually an excellent way to start promotions. You can make the book exclusive to the Kindle for 90 days (the minimum Select period) and then take it out of the program and upload to the other sites.

The benefit is two-fold:

One: the Kindle Owners Lending Library. While your rate of getting "borrowed" by Prime members tends to mirror what sales you might have gotten, the new popularity rankings tend to benefit books that are in Select. And that means higher visibility for sales as well.

Two: free promotional days. The five free promotional days get your book OUT onto Kindles. When someone downloads your book for free, it is registered as a "sale" in Amazon's algorithms even though it was free. So when the person buys or downloads any other book, your cover appears on the page of the other book as something this person "also bought." The more free downloads you have, the more visible your book gets on other book's pages.

Also, the more free downloads your book gets, the more "popular" it becomes in the Amazon system. These popularity lists are very prominent in the store. It most often shows up under your ranking. For example, right now this is the Hunger Games' popularity ranking:

Doing pretty well, eh?

It seems that a lot of Amazon readers click on these links to find other books like the one they are looking at, and so if you are on these popularity lists, you get buys.

Going free tends to get you on the popularity list not only while you are free, but you STAY on it when you go back to paid (after a 24-hour "transitional" period between free and paid that I call the "dark ages" where you have a horrid ranking and no popularity.)

Between this and the also-bought covers on other book pages, many authors find that 5000 free downloads tends to translate into about 300 paid sales in the week after being free.

After that, your popularity ranking goes down, other free books knock you out of the also boughts, and you lose your sales "bump." But you never get as low as you had been before you went free. And typically you've made back any investment you put in your book. Most books are $3-$5, so it translates into $600-$1000 earnings for going free. If you have more than one book, you can increase that by 30% if the books are similar, as people sometimes buy your paid book while your other one is free.

The key to the whole thing is getting more than 4000 free downloads, which should get you into the top 100 free books on Kindle. If your free days only get you 1500 downloads or less, you may not see any increase in sales after you go back to paid.

So the key is to get those free downloads rolling. And the key to THAT is to get listed on the main sites with large subscriber bases who download free books.

Before you do a free promotional day with Select, let these web sites know. If you get picked up by Pixel of Ink or Ereader News Today as a featured free ebook--sit back and watch the downloads roll.

The big sites: Add your book to the tracker and KND will know when your book is free. They also offer $29 promos on your free day.

Smaller sites:

You'll find a number of sites will pull you automatically when you go free, such as and You can help your book be found by adding KindleFreebie and Free tags to your book on Amazon, as well as tweeting with hashtags #kindlefreebie #freebook #free with links. You can shorten your links at and get access to real-time stats of how often it is clicked.

There is no magic way to get POI or ENT to list you. Tell them early, tell them late--it doesn't seem to matter. They seem to look at your overall ranking and the number of reviews you have and choose a variety of books across genres. But don't skip them. Their backing of your free day is what turns the freeloads into payloads.

Good luck with your promotion!


Deanna Roy is the author of Baby Dust, Jinnie Wishmaker, and Single Edged Blades.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Size Matters

Last month Tosh addressed the question of Ebook Covers: Do It Yourself or Not?

An excellent question. In my not-very-humble-but-quite-accurate opinion, if you don't have experience in graphic design, you're better off hiring someone, even if you have a limited budget. Classic platitudes notwithstanding, people do judge a book by its cover and when those people can't pick the thing up and hold it, the cover is even more important. (If you're doubtful, search on "do ebook covers matter" and try to find a credible argument to the contrary.)

As an indie author, you can't expect readers to take you seriously if you don't take yourself seriously. That means a professional cover. (And a professional copyedit, but that's another blog post.) That doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money. I've seen some very nice covers done for under $100.

However, whether you pay someone else or do it yourself, there is one detail that is critical for the success of a cover.

How does the cover look in the sizes that readers will see it online?

When evaluating covers, it's common to view them full screen in high resolution, but online shoppers are going to see lo-res thumbnails in search results. If you have a beautiful cover that is indecipherable at 85x115 pixels, it's not much use to you.

Amazon uses images at 56x86, 85x115, and 190x260, the middle size being the one returned in search results. Check your cover concept at all three sizes.

Since I was not the publisher of the Fred books, I didn't see the early cover concepts. However, the final covers, designed by Brand Navigation, turned out fairly well in thumbnail, with clear images and the title legible on the first and third in the series. The second, not so much.

Consider these cover concepts for Muffin Man, designed by Amanda Cobb. Both looked great in print size (6x9 inches). In thumbnail size, the images on the first are fairly clear, but the title is difficult to read. In the second the title is very legible, but it's hard to make out what's going on in the image.

We found a good compromise in the third, and final, cover concept. Both image and title are clear and legible.

Now more than ever, covers matter, and when it comes to covers, size matters, especially the smaller ones.

Brad Whittington is the author of the Fred trilogy, What Would Jesus Drink? and the soon-to-be released Muffin Man.