Adventures in Self-Publishing

 This page is a compilation of my “Adventures in Self-Publishing” blog posts from Mid-Willamette Valley RWA’s blog. It’s mostly out of date, but some aspiring self-publishers might find it interesting to see what the biz was like in the olden days (2012).


Part 1
January 11, 2012 

Back when dinosaurs walked the Earth, I won the Golden Heart in the Romantic Suspense category with In Deep Water [now titled Shadow’s Lady], a sweet romance set at a lighthouse in the coastal village of Pajaro Bay.

Since every writer on Earth (and his brother) is now self-publishing books on the Kindle, I’ve been feeling left out of the fun.  So I have decided to publish my dear old first manuscript,In Deep Water, and use it as a learning experience to see how this self-publishing game is played.

I think it goes without saying that even if I’m doing this mostly for experience, and not expecting to become the next Amanda Hocking, I still want it to be my best work.  So I’ll be revising the manuscript over the next month, working to update it and polish it up until it’s the best story I can make it.

While I work on the text itself, I’m finding I have to learn how to:

•design book covers

•format text for the Kindle

•write my own blurbs, descriptions and sales copy

•figure out the bizarre world of pricing

•publicize my work

•put my book up for sale and then evaluate what happens over time, hopefully learning from my mistakes and deciding whether I want to do it all over again with another manuscript.

Whew.

So far I’m completely overwhelmed, but I’m also having loads of fun.  Creative control is a heady thing, and I can see how this could become addictive.

I’ll let you know what I find out, and I welcome your advice and feedback as I play in this new (to me) playground.

In my next blog (Wednesday, January 25), I’ll post what I’ve learned about cover design (pixels and image rights and display fonts, oh my!).

So are you self-publishing?  Or have you considered doing it? What do you think about this new part of the book market?

 

 


Cover Design
January 25, 2012

In my continuing journey to learn about self-publishing, this week I’m going to discuss cover design.

First, the technical.  Here are the basic facts about book covers for the Kindle: Kindle publishing

Next, I found a really good talk on book covers by a librarian, looking at how readers judge covers: You CAN Tell a Book by its Cover.

I found this article fascinating, because she noticed things like how the font on the cover lets the reader know what kind of story will be inside.  She looks at fonts, colors, images, and puts together a way to quickly find a particular kind of book on the shelf in the library.  This got me thinking about what a cover is trying to convey.  It’s easy to get caught up in pretty pictures and forget that what you’re creating is an ad for your book.  (After reading this talk, I immediately scrapped a bunch of really pretty but impractical art designs I had found on stock photo sites.)

Next is a really good article on cover images, full of useful information about design and formatting.  This blog post talks about the difference between the tiny thumbprint images used in search results versus the large images that are used for the actual cover seen when reading the book on the Kindle:  Kindle Cover Size

I hadn’t thought about the idea that book covers online are not usually seen in all their full-size, carefully designed glory.  They are usually seen as tiny images readers glance at among a sea of other, similar images.  This was a new concept for me to consider, and again, made me reconsider my approach to designing my covers.

The next useful article I found was by a long-time cover designer who compares designing for print versus designing for ebooks.  He is another who emphasizes the need to consider what your cover looks like as a small thumbnail image: Ebook Covers.

“A page of search results will show very small thumbnails—60 x 90 pixels—that are extremely challenging to carry off as any kind of good design.”

“A beautiful illustration that would be a powerful eye-grabber under the spotlight in a bookstore may become a tiny incomprehensible blob when displayed on a website.” –said Michael N. Marcus, commenting on this post.

The designer’s advice: use one, dominant object of focus, something still recognizable at a small size.

Next article, again discussing print versus digital design and the demands of each, from the NYT.

“We often get requests to make the type bigger,” said Mario J. Pulice, creative director for the adult trade division of Little, Brown & Company. “Because when it’s on Amazon, you can’t read the author’s name.”

Starting to see a theme here?

Another article on covers from CBS News.

“A good cover tells you what kind of book it is – without giving too much away. . . . Which is why a romance novel often has the clinch.  Books aimed at women (Chick Lit) may feature some article of clothing, a shoe, a dress . . . while jackets on crime novels are usually dark, with a shadowy character or weapon as part of the design. “

So, what did I learn from all this research?

•Remember that the first thing readers will see is a TINY (60×90 pixels) image of your cover.

•Think of your bookselling as a “campaign,” not an isolated cover image.  This was an idea repeated by many experts.  How does the cover relate to the title, description, the excerpt, the design of your website, the author page on Amazon?  Think of it as a package and make sure all parts tie together into a coherent whole.

I decided my own design goals were:

•Something simple, something not beyond my limited design skills, because I don’t want to pay someone to make me a cover at this point.

•Something with a theme or idea I can carry over from book to book, because I’m writing a whole series.

•Something giving a hint of the flavor of the story, but not too much detail.

•Something not strictly screaming romance, because I realized if I put a nekkid guy on the cover it would really annoy people when they find no nekkid guy inside the book.  (If you have nekkid guys in your book, DO put them on the cover.  Sexy sells like hot buns!)

•Something that has a resemblance to the most successful books in my subgenre, but is distinctive enough to stand out.

So, how to go about all this?

Try this exercise.  Go to the current top Kindle romance bestsellers.

Look at the SMALL images on the page in front of you (don’t click on them and look at them full size). Which ones catch your eye?  Which ones look interesting to you at that small size? Now, look through the books and pick out a half-dozen bestsellers that are in the same subgenre as your book.  For me, these bestselling Kindle books are closest in voice/style/plot to mine:

Keep in mind your choices will look completely different than mine.  Don’t choose the covers you think are the “prettiest,” but the books closest to the style and flavor of your work.

I had been mistakenly designing a “suspensy” cover, with sharp graphic designs and a block font that conveyed DANGER in capital letters.  Big mistake.  I write suspense, but it’s small-town, a-woman’s-journey-to-find-herself with a hint of suspense, not nail-biting thrillers. Looking at these covers sent me in a completely different direction.

I noticed most of the books like mine had author names in a serif font and titles in a script font (the big-name authors naturally had their names big; because I’m not a known author, my title should more prominent on the cover).  I also noticed that it’s hard to keep a script font readable at such a small size.  I tried many fonts before finding one I felt was fairly readable when small, and said romance without screaming it. You think fonts aren’t important?  You can spend hours on this alone.  Try these on for size:

I also saw that most of these covers do not emphasize suspense elements, even though some of them have those elements in the story.  Neither do any of them have a “clinch,” or even a couple or a bride on them (as many of the bestselling romances do–again, if your book is all about those things, put that on your cover to let people know).  But most of these covers are scenic, emphasizing the location and atmosphere of the story.  The bestsellers have lovely artwork that I’m sure was custom-painted for them by talented artists.  Clearly that’s beyond my budget. What could I do that would have a similar effect without breaking the bank?

This is what I came up with:

•The design ties in to my new website design for Pajaro Bay, creating a coherent image for the series.

•Text is fairly readable even at small sizes, and it’s a script font that conveys that it’s a “woman’s” book.

•The images are simple enough to be recognizable at a small size. They are really nice photographs that do look great when blown up to a large size. Most e-readers don’t have color yet, and the images look clear when in grayscale, too.

•Location/setting is emphasized.

•There’s some hint of danger in the ambiguity of the cover, but it’s not red and black with shadows lurking in the corners.

In the full size, the covers emphasize that this is a series (“A Pajaro Bay Romance”) and tout my credentials (“Golden Heart Winning Author”), but neither of these things is readable at the small size.

The full title that will be visible in the listing will show that these are romances (“The Honeymoon Cottage: A Pajaro Bay Romance”), and the description and excerpt will give more of the flavor of the book.

Are they perfect?  Not by a long shot.  But it’s a start on developing a theme and image that can carry through to the rest of the marketing.

And lest we get too serious about all this, here is a completely different (and hysterical) take on romance novel covers.

So, what current books do you think are closest to your own writing style?  How would you (or do you, for our published authors) convey the flavor of your stories to a reader using only a 60×90 pixel image?

Next time I’ll talk about blurbs, excerpts and author pages. Until then, happy writing (and marketing!).


Getting the Details Right
February 8, 2012

Today’s post on the mysteries of self-publishing is on “Getting the Details Right.”

One of the most exhausting parts of this process is being in charge of everything–not just writing, but editing, proofreading, design, publishing, publicity. It’s easy to slip up in one way or another, and it can cost sales… and hurt your brand in the long run.

I’ve seen a couple of mistakes made by very successfully self-published authors during my research that I want to pass on today.

First, I saw an author whose work I enjoy was self-publishing some older books after the rights reverted to her. I was thinking of buying an anthology of these stories… until I started reading reader reviews. Over and over I saw low ratings and complaints, and I was surprised. This is, like I said, an author I personally enjoy reading. So I did some digging into the negative reviews and saw a pattern: people weren’t complaining about the stories themselves, they were annoyed by little things that ruined their enjoyment of the stories. The two most-mentioned problems were 1) spelling and grammar errors, and 2) technical problems with reading the text on the Kindle. I’m guessing that this author simply took the raw text she had originally turned in to her publisher and uploaded it to the Kindle. The problem was, this copy had not been copyedited and was full of typos and grammar mistakes. Oops. The second problem was that the text had no markers, page breaks or bookmarks, which made it impossible for readers to find an individual story in the anthology. The complaints had gotten so numerous that other readers were saying things like “I won’t buy it because of your negative review. Thanks.”

The second author is one of my personal favorites. She’s doing very well with publishing her backlist, but one of her books I noticed had many negative reviews. When I looked I saw that the one-star reviews were by readers who said things like “this was supposed to be a thriller/mystery/suspense story, but it was some mushy romance. I hate romances,” and “there weren’t enough twists and turns in the mystery and the characters spent too much time talking to each other.” The problem? The cover design had a suspenseful feel to it, and the book description described the mystery part of the plot, and said nothing about the fact that it was actually a romance with a suspense subplot.

What’s the lesson from this? Both of these authors have large fanbases, so I’m sure a few negative comments aren’t going to do them much harm. But those of us who don’t have the large built-in audience count on that word of mouth to bring us new readers. We can’t afford to make easily correctable errors.

In the first case, it brought home to me the importance of editing and proofreading, and getting that darned Microsoft Word to Kindle formatting conversion figured out (my current bugaboo). The little things, like having clean, easy to read text and good navigation within the book can profoundly affect the readers’ enjoyment, or lack thereof. Check, double-check, and check again before uploading the book. That’s my lesson.

The second case is a different lesson. This shows that writing a good book, formatting it well and providing compelling description and an interesting cover design isn’t enough. Look hard at what message you’re sending to potential readers. If your book is sexy, make sure your cover and description and keywords emphasize that; if it’s funny, let ’em know. Don’t assume that anyone will know what your book is about just based on your name, or what category your book is listed in. A few sales roped in by misleading promotion will cost you in the long run, when those readers tell all their friends to avoid your work because it’s not what they expected.

Whew. Who knew this was going to be so complicated? But it’s a fascinating process, and I look forward to posting next time, Wednesday, February 22, when the subject will be the mysteries of pricing.


 

Pricing
March 7, 2012

Hi, all.

After exhaustive research, I’ve learned the truth about pricing your self-published novel: No one knows what works.

When you start researching the subject, you’ll read all sorts of advice, from “you must price at 99¢ to sell” to “price your novel at $5.99 like a print paperback to show your work is worth more.”

They can’t both be right–or can they?

I think the point is that this is a new world. A lot of people are buying Kindles (and Nooks, and iPads, and iPhones, and etc., etc.), and are looking for reading material.

So there’s a huge potential market out there.

But I think there are several questions you can ask yourself to help figure out what *might* work for you:

1) Do you already have a name (or a “platform,” as all the self-promotion experts call it)? If you’re already a New York Times Bestselling Author, why are you reading this blog? Get your work out there and rake in the dough from your loyal fans who are aching to buy your older, out-of-print books, and any new material you can give them.

2) Assuming #1 doesn’t apply to you, have you written one book or ten? If you have one book (and don’t plan to have more for a while), your marketing strategy will likely be different from someone who has a lot of different books to work with. I think if you have multiple books to sell (and maybe some novellas and short stories to throw in the mix as well), then you can really do some marketing experiments to see what works. Try a giveaway of a short story or novella, and see if that drives sales to your other (connected) books. Or try giving away a whole book, maybe on just one platform (Amazon Prime Lending Library? Nook? Your blog? Smashwords?), and see if sales of that same book rise on other platforms. Have a Valentine’s Day-themed story? Give it away on Valentine’s Day, and then re-price it later and see if that jump-starts any sales. Try advertising different books in different places, or to different types of audiences. Play with the various options with your different books, and see what kind of response you get.

What I’m going to try with my first book (The Honeymoon Cottage) is the Kindle KDP Select program. For those who don’t know, this is a controversial program by Amazon that offers several interesting incentives to authors– but only if you agree to sell your work exclusively on Amazon.com for 90 days. There are a lot of different opinions on this program, and I’ve waffled on whether or not to participate. My decision finally came down to the opportunity it offers to jumpstart attention by strategically using free giveaway days. I think this feature works better for those with multiple releases, but it is a way for anyone to get a burst of attention for a new book, even if it’s my first and only book for sale so far. The other thing that helps self-pubbed authors is that many of the big publishers don’t participate in it, which helps indie authors get more attention within the program. The fact that it only commits me to the program for 90 days is another incentive to try it. After that time, I should have two more books ready to put up for sale, and can launch the group of books at all the online retailers at that time. So I’m thinking of this as a pre-launch sneak peek, and later will be a full launch of the series. We’ll see what happens.

If you’d like more info on the pros and cons of the KDP Select program, here are a bunch of sources I used in my research:

http://wahoocorner.blogspot.com/2012/01/how-kdp-select-saved-my-book.html

http://wahoocorner.blogspot.com/2012/02/my-amazon-kdp-select-free-experience.html

http://jenniferblood.net/wp/2012/02/dont-join-kdp-select-yet/

http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/amazon-the-importance-of-popularity/

http://mlouisalocke.com/2011/10/24/categories-key-words-and-tags-oh-my-why-should-an-author-care/

http://www.derekhaines.ch/vandal/2012/02/the-kdp-select-experiment-one-month-later/

http://www.deannalynnsletten.com/2012/03/after-my-free-days-on-amazon.html

http://brianjjarrett.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/transparency-in-indie-publishing-feb-2012/

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/02/20/kindle-advertising-kdp-select/

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/02/29/kdp-select-gods-gift/

http://publishingperspectives.com/2012/01/is-kdp-select-salvation-or-damnation-for-indie-authors/

Yes, that’s a lot to read (and these are only the tip of the iceberg). But it’s important to understand the business if you want to take advantage of these opportunities. What I found interesting was the wide variety of experiences people had using the same publishing program. I think this is a variation on the old adage: there are three important things you need to do to create a bestseller. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

My next blog, on Wednesday, March 21, will be on my beginner’s attempts at promotion.

Happy writing, everyone!


The Giveaway

March 21, 2012

On Tuesday, March 13, I finally published The Honeymoon Cottage on Amazon Kindle, with a list price of $2.99 (the minimum for the KDP Select Program).  I planned to use one free promotion day that Friday, so didn’t do any advertising or promotion during the week while it was listed at $2.99.

By the end of Thursday, I had sold a whopping 3 copies (thank you, mom and friends) and was ranked around 200,000 in sales overall on Amazon.  Basically the book was invisible.  It didn’t show up anywhere unless someone searched specifically for my name or the book’s title.

On Friday I posted on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter and email that the book was free for that day only.  I also took out two ads:  First, a listing on Kindle Nation Daily’s Free books list ($29.99), and then two pay-per-click ads on Goodreads, one directing readers to my book’s Goodreads page, and one sending them directly to the Amazon buy page.  I wanted to see which of these ads had better results.  Within a few hours I discovered the Goodreads ads were not generating any attention, so I cancelled them (so I wouldn’t be charged anything).

The book was free from approximately one a.m. on Friday until midnight Friday night.  During that time I had the following results:

2841 people downloaded the book for free (2498 on amazon.com; 315 downloaded at amazon.uk, and 28 on amazon.de).

My book rose from the #200,000 range to a high of #1 Romance Series Free Bestseller, #8 Romantic Suspense Free Bestseller, and #121 overall in the Kindle store.

The part I was most interested in was what would happen once the book was no longer free.  Would it drop like a rock back to the invisibility of before, or would it get a bump from the increased visibility the free promotion gave me?

I quickly found out.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, the book is among the sea of novels listed at $2.99. But so far it’s still…

#1 “Hot New Read” in Romance Series

#18 “Hot New Read” in Romantic Suspense

#9 Bestseller in Romance Series

hovering in the 3000-4000 range in overall Kindle sales

I also received my first review from someone who gave the book a try because it was free (a nice, detailed, 4-star review).  I’m really pleased with this because the review gives an accurate description of the type of book The Honeymoon Cottage is–sweet, gentler, with suspense but not breakneck pace or hot-n-sexy tone. Exactly the audience I’m going for, so it should help potential readers decide if it’s the right book for them.

The other really important place of increased visibility is one I’d heard about but never paid much attention to:  the “people who bought this book also bought the following” area. This is a scrolling bar on the book’s page that shows similar books to the one you’re looking at.  The thing I found out is that free downloads count as “sales” for this list.  This is incredibly important.

In other words, if those 2800 people who downloaded my book for free also bought or downloaded other books, my book will now show up on those books’ pages (and vice versa; anyone looking at my book will now see a list of other books that people also bought/downloaded when they got mine). This means I have essentially a free ad for my book on 95 other books’ pages (I counted ’em). Basically 95 more opportunities for my book to be discovered on Amazon.com.

So overall I think the experiment was a success. It is helping me “jump the divide” between just selling to people I know and reaching people who’ve never heard of me or my books but are looking for something to read.

My goal was to earn enough to cover the cost of the ads.  I far exceeded that goal. I’m actually making enough to start thinking about what I’m going to do with the money (new yacht? trip around the world? pay the plumbing bill from when the pipes broke this weekend?). At this point I’m selling enough to keep the book near the top of the “hot new reads” lists, which keeps it visible for people browsing those categories, and in turn drives more sales. I don’t think that would have happened without the giveaway.

So where do I go from here?  I originally had the idea that I’d do another free day if the book dropped really far. At this point I’m thinking I’ll just let it go without further promotion no matter how far it drops, and work on getting my next two Pajaro Bay books up within the next month. At that time I have to decide whether to do a free promo on the new ones, the first one, or all???  We’ll see how this month goes.

I think once I have more books for sale, I can play more with the various promotion opportunities. In the meantime, I’m having a lot of fun on the journey (and the money’s not bad either!).

Happy writing, everyone. 🙂


 

A Rose By Any Other Name…
April 4, 2012

One of the fun but frustrating things about self-publishing is the complete control one has over one’s books.

Titles, for instance.  Most published authors will tell you that the working title they use for their manuscript is often not the title that ends up on the published book. By the time agents, editors, and marketing experts have given their input, the title may be changed to something “more commercial.”

Not so when self-publishing.

I can call my book anything I want.  But is that a good thing?

My first self-published book is doing quite well, three weeks into the project.  Its title, “The Honeymoon Cottage,” I think might be helping it a bit.  That wasn’t the book’s original title. The Pajaro Bay romantic suspense series books all had, at one time, titles that kind-of “fit” together: Off the Deep End, In Deep Water, Under the Boardwalk, Out of the Blue, Overboard, etc.  But when I was reworking Off the Deep End, I realized that the title The Honeymoon Cottage fit the story much better, and conveyed the atmosphere of the book.

Now I’m working on the next book in the series, In Deep Water. Hmm. This book was originally called Shady’s Lady, because there’s a dog in the book called Shady, and it seemed like a catchy title. But along the way the name In Deep Water came along and it has been called that ever since. So, do I stick with In Deep Water, do I change it back to Shady’s Lady, or come up with something completely different? If I had a marketing team, I could ask them.  But I don’t, so I’m trying to imagine what cover image and title would best convey the mood of the book.

How do you decide on titles? If you are self-publishing, or working with a small press, have you given thought to changing your title to be more “commercial”?  If you have worked with a larger publisher, have they changed your titles?

What titles have caught your eye recently? And how important is a title, anyway?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this perplexing topic.


Stories of the Heart
April 18, 2012

Back in 2009 I drove 700 miles to go clean out my parents’ house while my dad was very ill. On the trip I got horribly sick with the swine flu (remember the swine flu?), and while lying in a hotel room with a fever and wallowing in self-pity (don’t ever have the flu alone in a hotel if you can avoid it), I heard the then-breaking news of Jaycee Dugard, the woman who had been kidnapped as a child and held prisoner for 18 years before finally being freed. So I sat around, sick as a dog, watching dvds of vampire shows and pondering the amazing story of this courageous woman.

In the next 24 hours I wrote a story I called “Cat’s Blood,” a rather fevered stream-of-consciousness tale about a woman held prisoner by evil vampires.

I later tried to turn the story into something commercial–it won a couple of contests, I reworked it as a novel, but the spark went out of it. The story never sold to New York, coming along toward the end of the publishing industry’s vampire craze, and at its heart being more a musing about the nature of forgiveness and free will than anything else. So I set it aside and let it go.

But the nature of this new publishing landscape has changed that.

While I’m working on revising my next two novels, I went ahead and published my old story in its original form, and it’s now available on the Kindle.  Because it’s not at all like my usual “brand” of sweet, heartwarming and G-rated cozies, I published it under the name Barb Lee (not exactly a pseudonym, but a bit different from my full real name).  It’s a 99¢ short story in a glutted market so I’m not expecting to really make any money on it, but it’s out there now, in the world.  I’m glad, since it was always something that I wrote from somewhere deep inside me, not a story written to be commercial or to impress anyone else.

Do you have any story like that?  Something you wrote because it mattered to you, because you had something you wanted to say? Something you never really thought about as part of a career plan, or publishing strategy, but something you just wrote because you’re a writer, and writing is how you work out things in your mind and make sense of the world you live in?


Facebook Ads
May 2, 2012

Last week I got a coupon offering $50 worth of advertising on Facebook for only $7.95.  I was really busy, but I wanted to give it a try.

So I quickly made up an ad, targeted it, and set it to run until I used up $50 worth of credit.

Here’s how it went:

Although they recommend that you link your ad to your Facebook page, I linked it to my Amazon.com sale page, since I really haven’t got much of a presence on Facebook.

So in a few minutes I made up an ad:

You’ll notice the picture’s tiny, and the headline and description have very few words. I actually used every character allowed in the title and description, so that gives you some idea how cryptic you have to be.  I later figured out that the experienced advertisers use the rectangular space where the picture goes more efficiently than I did.  But this is what I went with for my little experiment.

Next, targeting. One of the big advantages of advertising on Facebook (and this also applies to Goodreads ads) is how narrowly you can target your ad.

Say you’re a hairdresser with a hip, young clientele, based in Portland, Oregon. You can have your ad only appear to women in your zip code, who are between the ages of 16 and 30, and who are interested in fashion. You can go that narrow in your targeting.

I looked at targeting to women in the US, UK, and Australia (since those are the countries where I’ve had sales), and then looked for women interested in romance novels.  Nope, that was too broad. That group was millions of people.  So I started typing in names of famous authors who write stories in some way similar to mine:Debbie Macomber, Sherryl Woods, Susan Mallery, JoAnn Ross,Kristin Hannah, Susan Wiggs. That narrowed it way down, to 160,760 people who could potentially be interested in my sweet, small-town romance.

(Interestingly, I couldn’t find a keyword for Barbara Freethy, who is one of the most successful romance authors, has sold millions of Kindle books, and who writes romantic suspense a lot like I do.  Maybe she doesn’t have a fan page set up on Facebook?  I didn’t have time to look into it, but it was interesting that I couldn’t find her quickly like I did the others.)

So, I’ve got $50 worth of credit. I’ve got an ad. I’ve got a target audience. I said go!

What happened?

In one day (one day, mind you): 9874 people saw the ad an average of 5 times each, for a total number of “impressions” (page views, basically) of 51,096.  Of those 9874 people, .139% clicked on the ad, for a total of 71 clicks.  I spent $49.97 to get those 71 clicks. (I really spent under $8, like I said, but it was $50 worth of advertising.) So if I paid full price, I would have spent about 70¢ for each time someone clicked through the ad to get to my amazon.com sale page.

I looked up what a normal Click Through Rate is for Facebook ads, and found that my ad results were at the top of the range (“optimal”), so I think the ad was surprisingly effective.

But was it worth it?  That’s the part that’s hard to tell.  Theoretically, if you earn over $2 per book (like I do), you would need to make 25 additional sales to justify spending $50.  That’s the break-even point.

My sales go up and down daily, and they did go up that day, but not by much (certainly not 71 sales more, and I don’t think even 25 sales).  But, my book was only available on the Kindle, so a lot of people who like romance novels, and liked the ad enough to click on it, might have said, Oh. It’s on the Kindle and I don’t have a Kindle. Never mind.  I think that’s a common problem, since many people don’t realize that if you’re surfing the web, you probably already have all the technology you need to read a Kindle book.

One thing I did see was in the next few days I was getting a lot more people who bought this book also bought the following links that connected me to NYT bestselling authors. Not sure if that was related or not.

Would I have had a more dramatic “conversion rate” (meaning people who not only clicked on the ad but actually took the next step to buy the book) if I’d linked to a paperback version of the book instead?  I don’t know.

Next month I’ll release The Honeymoon Cottage in paperback.  Perhaps I’ll try another ad at that time and see if I get a different result.

In the meantime, here’s the link to a blog talking about all the various coupons for advertising on Facebook (WARNING: you must read all the fine print and follow the instructions exactly and make sure you qualify for a coupon before you buy it–the one I got was only for new advertisers and gave absolutely no refunds.).

My questions for you:

As a reader, have you ever clicked on an ad for a book?

If you’re published, do you ever do paid advertising?

Happy writing, all.


POD

May 16, 2012

Hi, all.  Was gonna write a long, involved explanation of POD (print on demand), and how I came to choose CreateSpace to print the paperback versions of my ebooks, but, alas, this guy has not visited me:

So I am way behind on my writing.

The lesson:  trying to be your own author, editor, designer and publisher is like, totally, time-consuming.

Short summary of the CreateSpace thing:  it’s easy (just pick a book size, download their book template and format your text to match, save as pdf, upload, proof), it’s fairly quick (they take a couple of days to review your submitted text before approving it), and it’s cheap (I’ll be able to sell paperback versions of my Pajaro Bay novels for $7.99, the same price as a typical New York-published mass-market paperback).  What’s not to like?

Eventually I’d like to offer a hardcover large-print edition of the books as well. For that I’ll try Lulu. They offer hardcovers, which CreateSpace does not, and my understanding is that they are a better choice for worldwide distribution, while CS seems more U.S.-based.

There’s also LightningSource, a subsidiary of Ingram (the giant book distributor). They are definitely not user friendly, but do appear to have the best distribution options available.

So that’s all on the POD subject for today.  Happy writing, everyone!


 

 

How Long is a Book?
May 30, 2012

One of the interesting things about self-publishing is the redefinition of what a “book” is.  Many people are self-publishing short stories, either alone or in collections; people are selling novellas (20,000-40,000 words); they’re selling huge 200K-plus works.  Length doesn’t really matter in an electronic format.  The pricing is whatever the buyers think is fair. The length is whatever the story needs, no more and no less.  No longer do we need to cut work to fit the page count, or pad with extra scenes because the book is “too short” to be marketable.  It’s up to the writer–and the reader–to decide if the story works.

One of the things I am doing now is deciding how to market my “Deeds of the Ariane” stories. These are a series of fantasy stories about a band of magical women swordfighters whose mission is to protect the royal family of the Silver Isle.  I had been trying to write them as a trilogy of novels (about 250,000 words total), but now I’m thinking I might try selling each section as a novella, and releasing them on a monthly or bi-monthly basis (thanks, Genene, for that idea!).

Do you have any pet peeves about story length?  Do you prefer a quick read, or one you can get wrapped up in for a long time?  As an author, how would you feel about doing something like Charles Dickens did, releasing a chapter a week of a book, without fail?  Would you find the idea of writing a serialized novel fun, or scary? (I’d find it both!)

***

A quick note:  There’s a brand-new magazine about indie romance novels, called InD’tale.  They reviewed my book, “The Honeymoon Cottage,” for their first issue.  (Yay!)  You can get a free subscription for a limited time at their website.

Happy writing!


 

 

Goodreads
June 13, 2012

Here are a few tips I’ve learned about Goodreads in the last couple of months:

*To become a Goodreads author, you simply “claim” your author profile.  Search for your books, and then where the author name is listed, click on it, and there should be a place to click to claim the profile.  Fill out the form and in a day or so your status will be changed from reader to author, which opens up a lot of promotional opportunities.

*Set up an author user profile for each separate pseudonym.  Unlike a lot of social networks, which limit you to only one account, Goodreads actually encourages you to set up a separate account for each pseudonym, since they don’t have a way to link various pseudonyms to one author profile.  To do this, you need to sign up as a new user with a different email address, then “claim” your profile by clicking on the author name on one of your books.  Do this for each pseudonym.

Having a bunch of accounts (or two, in my case) makes it more difficult to keep up, so I set up my pseudonym to link to my real name.  I wrote in my author profile for “Barb Lee” that I could be found under “Barbara Cool Lee” (my main name), and wrote a blog post referring people there, and put that information in the pseudonym book’s description as well.  That way I don’t have to spend much time logged in on the pseudonym account.

*If your books aren’t listed (common with small press or self-published books, you can manually add your book athttp://www.goodreads.com/book/new.  But be sure it’s not listed already before you do this!  Adding a duplicate could mess up things, so do a thorough check before adding.

*Dashboard.  Once you have claimed an author profile, and Goodreads has validated it, you can do a lot of things to promote your work.  Start at your dashboard:  http://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard. Your profile is listed, showing the number of books you’ve written, the number of people who’ve added your books to their lists, the number of ratings, reviews, etc. Then each book is broken down individually, with the same information.

You also have a blog.  This is easy to create (just write a post), and you can make announcements about promotions, releases, and/or just copy the same info you post on your regular blog.

*Next comes the Advertising section.  I have used Goodreads’ self-serve advertising, but honestly I’m not seeing much response to it.  It’s easy to do:  just follow the directions and it’ll pull the cover photo and link from the isbn you enter.  You have a very small space to enter advertising copy, so think about what you want to say and play with it a bit.  They recommend a “call to action,” for example, “click here to add the book,” instead of simply telling about the book.  You can also target specific genres and authors, which they recommend (this means the ad will appear when people who expressed interest in those genres and authors are surfing Goodreads).

As I said, I didn’t get much response to my ad for The Honeymoon Cottage:

but I did get some results from my Cat’s Blood giveaway ad:

*Which brings me to Giveaways, one of the best promotion tools I’ve found.  On Goodreads, you can give away a copy of your book (must be a printed copy, not an ebook, and must be published with the last 6 months or be an advance copy).  How is that a good promotion?  Well, you simply list a giveaway (they walk you through the steps from your author dashboard), and they do all the work.  They list it, gather the entries, and pick the winner.  When they inform you of the winner, you mail it to the person (do NOT add the winner to your mailing list, by the way; it’s against the rules to ever send them anything but the book they win), and that’s it.

I did my first giveaway last week.  From June 5-10 readers could enter to win a copy of The Honeymoon Cottage.  Results?  507 entries, 1 winner, and… over 90 people added the book to their to-be-read list.  That’s the big payoff.  All of a sudden, 90 people became aware of my book, thought it sounded interesting, and put it on their list of possible future reads.  The intriguing thing is that when they did, their 2000+ friends saw  a message that said “Jane added The Honeymoon Cottage to her to-read list.”  So those are the numbers from a mere 5-day promotion:  507 entries, 90 adds, 2000+ potential readers who at least had a chance to glance at the book.

Last week I had my highest sales of the previous 6 weeks.  I don’t think it was a coincidence.  Good return for a promotion that only cost me one paperback and postage.

My only mistake I think was doing such a short giveaway.  I noticed the books with the most contest entries were not just from famous authors; they also were giveaways that ran for at least a month or two.  So I’ve listed a second copy of The Honeymoon Cottage, and a copy of Cat’s Blood, and am running the giveaways for a long time.

*The last three items on the author dashboard are E-books (you can actually sell your ebooks directly through Goodreads, unless you are doing the KDP Select program which restricts sales outlets), Q&A groups, and Facebook Fan Page tab.  I haven’t done any of these yet.  I’ll write another blog when I get to them.

So that’s what I’ve learned so far on Goodreads.  I’m finding it one of the best places to directly interact with readers, but I’ve barely put my toe in the water so far.  There’s a lot to learn.  If you’re on Goodreads, stop by and enter my giveaways, and be sure to “friend” me if you haven’t yet so we can follow each others’ journeys!

Happy writing, everyone!


 

 

Some Quotes and BSP
June 27, 2012

A few quotes and some blatant self-promotion…

I released my third book this week.  I started this particular book when I was a teenager.  All these years, it’s been back and forth, in one form or another, never really finished and never really in a form that seemed to be what I wanted it to be.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” (Maya Angelou)

But I could never let it go.  It kept coming back, needing to be told.  There was something way down in the heart of it that I had to work out.

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.” (Stephen King)

Eventually it became a whole book.  When it was done, I was kind of surprised at what the story ended up being about, because I hadn’t consciously set out for where I ended up.

“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.” (Lloyd Alexander)

It made all the rounds of agents and editors, and got a lot of positive feedback, but it just “wasn’t commercial.”  It just “didn’t fit the market.”

“Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.” (Olin Miller)

So now, out it goes into the world.

“The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all.” (Mark Twain)

Will it be a success?  Who knows.  So far it’s starting to sell without me even announcing it’s been released, including two copies sold in Germany on the first day (who knows why).

“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent.” (Neil Gaiman)

It served its original purpose, which was purely personal.

“I write to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” (Joan Didion)

Now I can just hope it serves some purpose in the world, and isn’t just a waste of pixels on someone’s overstuffed Kindle.

“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.” (Charles Dickens)

Happy writing, everyone!  May your journey be smooth, and may all your stories find an understanding ear. 🙂


 

 

Quotes of the Day
July 11, 2012

I have been working seven days a week, so I thought I’d gather some quotes on balance to help me figure out how to get past this frenetic place I’m at:

“It’s all about balance and, I think, being in the moment.” (Jennie Finch)

“The trick to balance is to not make sacrificing important things become the norm.” (Simon Sinek)

“I believe that being successful means having a balance of success stories across the many areas of your life. You can’t truly be considered successful in your business life if your home life is in shambles.” (Zig Ziglar)

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” (Thomas Merton)

“The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.” (Euripides)

“I’m afraid I’m still trying to find that balance. Especially now that everyone wants a piece of me. I find that I have to become more and more reclusive, and pick and choose when I am public and when I am private.” (Sandra Cisneros)

“Life is like riding a bicycle – in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.” (Albert Einstein)

“I want to caution you against the idea that balance has to be a routine that looks the same week in and week out.” (Kevin Thoman)

“Work, love and play are the great balance wheels of man’s being” (Orison Swett Marden)

“But if you can create an honorable livelihood, where you take your skills and use them and you earn a living from it, it gives you a sense of freedom and allows you to balance your life the way you want.” (Anita Roddick)

And that last one is my goal. Perhaps I have to accept that right now I am intensely focused on my work, and this will lead to a more balanced life in the future. I hope.

My next blog, on July 25th, will be on another aspect of self-publishing I’m currently exploring: audiobooks.

Have a good week, everyone!


 

 

Audiobooks
July 25, 2012

(I am heading to the RWA national conference in Anaheim right now, so I wrote this blog before I left.)

My subject for today’s “adventures in self-publishing” is audiobooks.  Yup, you can self-publish audiobooks.

I think this is the neatest thing since the iPod.  My first audiobook project, the short story Cat’s Blood, is now available.  It is a bit daunting to hear one’s words read by a professional narrator, let me tell you!

What I like most about doing this particular project as an audiobook is how it takes a 10,000-word short story and turns it into an experience. Sitting and listening to a storyteller narrate the tale for an hour and a quarter allows you to follow along on Henri and Cat’s journeys as they both learn and change from beginning to end.  Hearing a story in this way slows down the experience, making it something to savor.  I now get the appeal of audiobooks (I had not been an audiobook listener before this). Now I want to buy a bunch of audiobooks by other authors, too!

So how does a self-published author create an audiobook?  Once again, the giant company Amazon.com has come up with a plan (or a way to get their fingers into one more pie, a cynic might say <g>). They own audible.com, a major retailer of audiobooks, and also distribute audiobooks via amazon.com and iTunes.

To get started creating your own audiobook, go to acx.com (the Audiobook Creation Exchange). You sign up, and list the book(s) you want to turn into audiobooks (making sure, of course, that you own the audiobook rights–check any publishing contracts to be sure where you stand).

Once you have signed up, you can list your project, describing the book itself, giving a sales pitch to potential narrators (I’ll get to why in a minute), and then listing what you are looking for in a narrator: genre, gender, language, accent, style, and last but not least, price.

For Cat’s Blood, I ultimately decided I wanted a male narrator who could do a French accent for my French-born vampire. I wanted a more mature voice (not a teenager), something that would capture the darker element in the story. This part of your decision is important. I’ll provide a link at the end to a free sample of Cat’s Blood. Imagine how different the story would sound if I’d decided I wanted the voice to be representative of Cat, the teenaged, very traumatized heroine. I deliberately went with the male voice to emphasize Henri’s story (he makes the greatest change in the story), and to not dwell as much on Cat’s trauma (which personally freaks me out, even though I wrote it).

So then we come to actually finding a narrator.  The pricing becomes important here. There are two approaches to this.

One, you propose that the narrator does the audiobook essentially for no money up front (except for a stipend that AFTRA actors must be paid), and then you split the royalties 50/50 for the seven-year term of the audiobook contract. You can see how this puts a huge burden on the narrator to invest in your work (10-15 hours of labor per hour of finished audiobook). This means you must pitch your project to the narrator, convincing the actor to spend time on a project with no guaranteed profit.

The second option is to pay for the work up front. You agree to pay by the hour for the finished audiobook. The narrator’s investment is then done, you own the audiobook for seven years, and have the right to distribute it according to the terms you agreed to, keeping all the profits for yourself.

As you can imagine, the more experienced audiobook narrators tend to go for the pay by hour terms, and the newer or less-experienced narrators are more willing to go for the split-royalty terms.

I started out thinking I would do the split-royalty terms, but then decided I would see if I could find someone who could complete the project for about one-month’s worth of Cat’s Blood‘s current ebook and print royalties. I decided I was willing to invest that much to see how this would work. For this short project, that actually put me on the high end of hourly rates (about $300/pfh — per finished hour).

For this first project, I approached a few narrators and asked them to audition (you can hear samples of narrators’ work, and then ask them to try a short reading from your book). I listened to both male and female narrators, with several different accents and approaches, and then decided on Gary Dikeos, who really impressed me with his audition.

The project was completed quickly, within a matter of weeks, and once the narrator was paid, the audiobook went live on July 18th, with distribution to amazon.com, audible.com, and iTunes.

So was it worth it? At this point, who knows. The first day I had 7 sales. Ten days like that and I’ll start turning a profit. Hard to tell what the long-term earning potential is so soon.  But I see a lot of options for using the audiobook sample for promotion, and it’s yet another way to increase visibility for the story. So I’m pleased with the experiment, and time will tell.

You can hear a free sample of Cat’s Blood at the places below:

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/MzXooW
Audible.com: http://bit.ly/MAyuna
iTunes: http://bit.ly/SR5clp

And here’s my first promotional postcard for the Cat’s Blood audiobook:

Coming up in “Adventures in Self-Publishing”: I hope to return from the RWA National conference in Anaheim with a bunch of new promotion and craft ideas, which I’ll share with you in my bi-weekly posts for the rest of 2012.

Happy writing, everyone!


 

 

Quick Tips
August 8, 2012

I attended a lot of workshops at RWA National in Anaheim. It was a pretty overwhelming schedule, but I came back really fired up about my work and my plans for the rest of this year.  I’ll try to pass on some quick tips I picked up in the various workshops during my next few blogs.

My first workshop was Jackie Allen, Terry Blain, Teresa Carpenter and Jill Limber‘s 3-D Story Development (not recorded):

*The conflict between hero and heroine is always about trust. No matter what the “conflict” is, the fear of commitment is about trusting each other–why specifically for these characters, in this story?

*They use 16 Master Archetypes to start the brainstorming process for their characters. (I think this is the book they’re talking about.) It helps them clarify why these two people are at odds, based on their underlying motives and personalities.

(I left this workshop early because I was writing so many notes for my current WIP that I stopped listening to the workshop. It was very helpful for me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t recorded, but I’ll try to think of some of their other ideas that set me to brainstorming and share them next time.)

Next, I attended Sylvie Kurtz‘s Writing at Peak Productivity:

(I highly recommend this workshop, which was recorded, and should be available for download soon at the billspro.comwebsite.)

*Productivity isn’t time management, but energy management. This is a big one. We all have the same amount of time, but we need to have the energy to make the most of that time. That involves physical, mental and emotional health, as well as focus on our purpose and goals.

*Growth works from the bottom up, but change from the top down (you have to visualize where you want to go in order to get there).

*Reconnect with your passion and purpose. Why do you write?

*Script your personal purpose.  One sentence, saying why you do this. Mine is “I write to give people faith, hope and charity: faith in humanity, hope for the future, and charity toward others.”  Everyone’s will be different, but having your purpose written down makes clear where to focus your energy.

Next workshops was agent Ethan Ellenberg‘s New Paradigms in Publishing (not recorded):

Mr. Ellenberg’s workshop was more of a question and answer with the (packed) audience. He answered a lot of questions authors had about rights management, reversion of rights, foreign rights and translations, etc. He’s obviously an advocate of having an agent represent you (which differs from my opinion at the moment <g>), but he gave some advice that I think was applicable to everyone, no matter which choices we make.

*As everywhere at the conference, his focus was on change in the publishing industry.

*The question is, do you want to take on all roles? To be author, agent, publisher, publicist? If you don’t want to do it all, which roles will you take on yourself, and which will you pay someone else to do?

*As always, it all comes down to the book itself, the author herself. We are the heart of the industry, and a great story remains the key to everything.

*Print distribution is still 80% of the market–how do you maximize both print and ebook markets? It’s hard to tell if mass market paperback market is actually shrinking–some contraction, probably, but data is not clear yet.

*You can’t just throw something out there into the sea of a million books; have a thought-out, planned, deliberate campaign.

*When thinking about reversion of rights, it’s best to have a minimum sales level in the contract. What this means is if the book doesn’t sell X number of books in a year/quarter, it is no longer “in print,” and the rights revert to the author. Otherwise, a book can be listed in a print-on-demand catalog and technically be in print forever. This is generally how this issue is being handled now, but make sure understand this part of your contracts.

That was my last workshop for Thursday. I did some more writing on my WIP after my last workshop (that first workshop really got me going on my plot–yay!). The rest of the conference I concentrated on marketing and career tracks, and got a lot of good information from the 10 workshops I attended on Friday and Saturday. I’ll cover all (or maybe half–it’s a lot of info!) of Friday’s workshops next time, on August 22.

Happy writing, everyone!


 

 

Marketing Workshops
August 22, 2012

Here are a few highlights from the next batch of RWA National workshops I attended.

(I’ve included the billspro.com workshop numbers where available–I definitely recommend listening to these when they’re released on audio.)

17-039 Hook a Reader in 140 Characters: How to Promote Using Social Media – Andrea Laurence, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Rhonda Nelson, & Kira Sinclair

*Great workshop–the info came so quickly I had trouble writing it all down

*Social media allows you to make a personal connection with readers, to build your author brand, and build reader loyalty

*Freebies for loyal readers are always a good thing (sneak previews, extra deleted scenes, any tidbits that further involvement in the world you’ve created)

*Relate all your posts/your blog design/your comments to your author brand. This doesn’t mean constantly selling your work, which is quickly annoying to readers. It means giving readers more of whatever your brand is about:

–quotes from your books

–extra character info

–a look into your writing process

–weather/locations/background

–books, movies, tv shows that inspire you or that relate to your stories in some way

–pictures get the most feedback (always remember the rights issue and post only legally obtained pics)

*Recycle/repurpose/link your posts/tweets/blogs. Make multiple use of your social media efforts.

*Maintain an up-to-date website (if you do nothing else, do this)

*Respond daily to comments; don’t let your account stagnate

*Have a main platform–you can’t do it all so pick one or two places to concentrate and link to those places from other sites (if you blog, tweet links to your blogs, instead of spending all day tweeting, too, for example)

*”Facebook is probably the biggest time suck ever created”–don’t let social media take over your writing time. Plan your time and use it efficiently

*I have about two pages of notes just on Pinterest. You can use hashtags on Pinterest. If Pinterest is something you want to pursue, be clear on copyright issues (give credit to sources!) and don’t just re-pin, add your own content. Making sure you have permission to pin is important–pinning products is usually safe because the companies want you to spread the word–so pinning images from Pottery Barn to show how much you love their sofa is not going to make them mad at you!

*Newsletters. Main Chimp, Constant Contact, and MyEmma are good newsletter management tools. Don’t just use newletters to sell your book, again, use them like above–connect, build your brand/identity, give readers that extra something to keep them engaged.

There was a ton more info. Definitely get the workshop and listen if you’re trying to maximize your social media efficiency.

17-050 Integrated Marketing Plans for Writers – Jennifer Fusco

*speaker was Jennifer Fusco, the author of “Market or Die” guides (http://www.marketordie.net/). Every word out of her mouth was a gem on marketing. She has worked in the field for years and really knows her stuff.

*Spend less time on executing and more time on strategy.

*Define your position in the marketplace (she spend quite a bit of time on this). What is your brand about? Create a positioning statement that defines you as an author. (Example:Convince ROMANCE READERS that LAURA MOORE in the CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE MARKET can deliver ROMANTIC SAGAS that INCORPORATE BUILDING FAMILY BONDS THAT LAST.) This part was the least interesting to me, I guess because I have a clear idea of my Pajaro Bay brand–what it means, what it stands for. But the idea is that you examine everything in light of this position: does this post, does this picture, does this web design convey the position, or is it diluting my message or even worse, sending a conflicting message? Be clear, be consistent, and know who you are in the marketplace.

*Competitive comparison: look at an author you admire. See what they are doing and how they’re doing it. What technology do they use? How do they connect with readers? How are they defining themselves?

*Execution: build a list of goals; analyze not only what works, but what doesn’t and why it didn’t work. Continue to learn and improve.

This is already a long blog so I’ll continue the reviews next time, when I’ll cover Building Reader Loyalty andDeconstructing Book Videos. I hope people are getting some use out of these blogs–it’s helping me to go back over my notes–I’m remembering so much info I want to start using!

In the meantime, I’ll do my own little bit of marketing: if you’d like to subscribe to my author newsletter (which hasn’t come out yet, ’cause I have no idea how to do it yet, but I plan to put out about once every couple of months starting this fall), email me at barb at BarbaraCoolLee.com.

Happy writing, everyone. 🙂


 

 

Copyright
September 5, 2012

(FYI: All of the following post applies to the issue of copyright for authors within the United States. YMMV)

Here’s an aspect of self-publishing I totally overlooked–and I imagine I’m not alone in that.

Copyright.

Yeah. I know. Yawn. But hey, it’s worth spending a little time thinking about.

If your work is published by a major publisher, generally they will register copyright for you, but if you self-publish, you need to decide if going through the registration process is something you want to do.

http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf has a good explanation of copyright. Your copyright exists from the moment you create the work. That’s the law. You don’t have to do anything for your work to be copyrighted; it is automatically yours from the moment you create it. That means you may sell it, or give it away. It’s yours. Others do not have the right to sell, loan or give away your work without your permission.

So if you already own the copyright, why register it?

For one reason, if you don’t register your copyright, it becomes more difficult to prove that your work belongs to you. For example, some authors have received letters from Amazon.com asking for proof the author has the right to publish the book.

If the work was previously published, and the rights have reverted to you, it’s generally easy to prove. You can show the letter or contract stating that the rights have reverted to you and the book is yours.

But what if this is original work and you just put it up online for the first time?

Yes, the law says it’s yours, but registering your copyright with the United States Copyright Office is a form of protection. It is a legal record of your work, and a legal claim of your rights to that work.

So how do you register copyright? The United States Copyright Office has actually made this remarkably easy for digital authors.

Go to http://www.copyright.gov/eco/

You wil need to create an account with them, which enables you to file copyright claims.

Then you fill out the form online, pay the fee ($35 for online filing), and upload a digital copy of your book.

You will then receive a receipt showing you have applied for copyright registration, and approximately 2.5 months later (according to their site), you will receive your registration certificate.

That’s all there is to it.

Not the most exciting topic, but an important one, so I thought I’d mention it.

(I’ve been super-busy this week, so I threw this topic out there. Next time I’ll get back to reviewing workshops from RWA National.)

Happy writing everyone.


 

 

Audiobooks Part 2
October 3, 2012

In my July 25th blog, I discussed creating audiobooks through acx.com, which helps you find narrators who can produce a finished audiobook for you. The audiobooks are then distributed to Audible.com, iTunes and Amazon.

I dipped my toes in the audiobook water with my first project,Cat’s Blood, a vampire short story. In the three months since its release, the audiobook for this short story has earned back only about the cost of producing it. So it’s not exactly a barnburner, but it broke even, and I own the audio rights for seven more years, so it might in the end be a bit profitable.

I decided to do a second project, just to see how a full-length book would work.

For this project, The Honeymoon Cottage, the first book in my Pajaro Bay series, I wanted a young woman’s voice to match the age and personality of the heroine.

I ending up working with a narrator named Elizabeth Siedt, a younger actress (in fact, I think this may have been her first audiobook project). I went with a newer narrator because the price was a lot more reasonable than the very experienced actor I had hired for my short story. Since you pay by the finished hour, I was able to produce the entire full-length book for about the same cost as the short story.

So, did I learn anything from this second project?

First, if your book contains any regional terms or foreign words, you’ll need to tell your narrator how to pronounce them (think of how someone from outside of Oregon might pronounce Willamette for a good example!). I had several Spanish phrases in my book, and of course the title of the series itself contains a Spanish word, Pajaro (the Spanish word for bird). Many of the auditioning narrators didn’t pronounce the words correctly, and I realized how, because of my own background, I hadn’t considered the variation in accents and pronunciation in other parts of the country. So I ended up creating a pronunciation guide for narrators. I was able to find a vocabulary lesson online that provided audio of Spanish words, and linked to that. If you are using something more unusual (say, you created a new language for your fantasy world), you might need to record yourself reading those words and upload it. Funny how we don’t think about things like that until we hear our own work read aloud.

With that little issue solved, I narrowed down the auditions to a couple of potential narrators. One was an experienced actress from San Francisco. She had a wonderful delivery, but had a bit more mature and soothing voice that wasn’t quite what I was looking for. The other was the one I picked. I had several people listen to the samples, and the decision was unanimous to go with Elizabeth Siedt. She captured the tone of the story well, and read in a really appealing way that seemed to fit the young heroine.

The audiobook was released September 19. Surprisingly, it immediately jumped into the top 40 in audible.com’s romantic suspense category. It’s been selling steadily since release, though I haven’t done any real promotion for it. I noticed the majority of buyers were audible.com regulars who used their membership credits to buy the book, so I think they were just stumbling across it.

This project has already, in twelve days, earned back more than its production cost, and appears on its way to becoming quite profitable. I’m now scrambling to get another one produced ASAP, and would love to have my Christmas book available in audiobook form by holiday time.

My second attempt at producing an audiobook appears to have been more successful. It’s hard to tell at this point, but I understand some listeners like to read along in the text while they listen, so that may account for a bit of a spike in e-book sales for this title that happened around the same time.

So, as I asked in the first blog, is it worth the bother to produce an audiobook version of your self-published work? In this case it clearly seems to be. I’m already making money on the book, and two of the reviews specifically mentioned wanting more in the series to listen to. So I think this could be a good supplement to my writing income.

Now I just have to scramble to finish my Christmas story and see if I can get it produced before this year’s Christmas trees end up in the recycling pile….

Happy writing, everyone!

Hear a free sample of The Honeymoon Cottage


 

 

Building Reader Loyalty
October 17/ 2012

Today I’ll be talking about my impressions of this workshop from the 2012 RWA National Conference: 17-056 BUILDING READER LOYALTY 

Speakers: Nancy Berland, Sheila English, James Rollins, Barbara Vey, Rebecca York

The speakers were:

Nancy Berland of Nancy Berland Public Relations (bestselling clients like Debbie Macomber)

Sheila English of Circle of Seven Productions (she popularized the book trailer)

James Rollins, author of bestselling thrillers

Barbara Vey, book blogger at Publishers Weekly

Rebecca York, NYT betselling author

What a line-up! This workshop was packed with information on connecting with readers. I’ll try to highlight some of the discussion, but I highly recommend getting the workshop audio on this one as well.

Here are some of their tips, in no particular order:

•First, last, and everything in between: be respectful, kind and interested in all your interactions with readers. Treat readers well and they will be loyal.

•subscribe to Barbara Vey’s twitter feed–she’s one of the top 10 book bloggers

•the core of reader loyalty is forming a relationship. Ways to do that: answer your own email; provide a contact button on your web site; make interaction with you easy and fun.

•social media takes time from writing. You have to balance it. You must get the writing done first. The book is most important.

•Rebecca York: only put up positive stuff on social media; make people feel excited about you. Do not engage with negativity. Don’t respond to bad reviews or negative people. Stay positive. People are attracted by positive personalities.

•Be consistent in your writing (consistent with your book brand, in other words). Tone, genre should be in keeping with your writing style. Don’t write dark and gloomy posts if your books are humorous. Don’t get into off-topic areas that clash with your brand.

•Off-topic areas that are consistent with your brand are great, though. For example, if you write cozy mysteries, topics like cooking, gardening, or travel might be of great interest to your readers. Just keep with the same type of topics that your readers will be interested in.

•You have to care about your readers. Connect with them. Don’t just push books at them, but talk about common interests and find ways to get them involved. Talk about them, too, not just about yourself. See things through their eyes and ask them questions.

•Consistency builds trust; be consistent in your books and in your social media.

•Readers want to believe you are a wonderful person; don’t betray that trust.

•Some people hire assistants to tweet or post for them. No one on this panel liked that idea. It’s a kind of lie to the reader, to imply they are getting to know you but you’re not even there. It feels forced and false, and betrays that trust you want to build with them.

•Maintain a privacy wall. Don’t reveal personal things you want to keep private. Don’t talk about your kids or your location in detail if you want that private. Choose your topics wisely. Sharing a recipe is great. Sharing your child’s school location is not.

•Remember that if a reader contacts you, they are trying to engage. Welcome them and make them feel happy about that connection. Ask them about themselves; don’t always talk about yourself. Ask questions.

•Reader appreciation luncheons (like Debbie Macomber does) are wonderful. Any in-person event is golden. Book festivals, signings.

•Pick some venues. You can’t do everything. Website is the basic starting point. (Look at James Rollins’ website–apparently it’s very well done.) They recommend also doing something more immediate than a website–Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Something immediate with a lot of interaction.

•Give gifts and prizes. Digital giveaways are good, like a short story or first 3 chapters of a book. Enter to win a book dedication; enter to win a mention in the book (make sure they sign a disclaimer so they don’t sue if they hate their namesake character!); enter to name the pet of the hero, etc. These are really fun for readers.

•James Rollins sends bookplates overseas–see his website to see how he does it.

•Asking for volunteers or ambassadors or street teams (whatever you choose to call them) is a great thing for readers. Many love to feel they are helping you succeed. Send them periodic thank yous/excerpts/bookmarks. They are glad to talk up your book, like it on facebook, retweet for you, write reviews, etc. Be appreciative; let them know how much they are helping you.

•Reward loyalty. Make the reader feel special.

Whew. Like I said, I recommend this workshop if you’re getting involved with promotion, because it focuses on what’s important: connecting with readers and making them feel involved.

Next time, I’ll be posting a summary of the book video workshop I attended. Unfortunately that one wasn’t taped (probably because it had so many visuals), but it was fabulous and I’ll try to gather some coherent thoughts from my notes to share here on October 31st.

Happy writing, everyone!


 

 

Book Trailers
October 31, 2012 

Today I’m going to talk about the 2012 RWA National Workshop, Deciphering Book Trailers.

The speaker was Jeannie Ruesch.

In addition to being an author, she also owns a design firm called Will Design For Chocolate (which makes me hungry just looking at it!).

I went to this workshop knowing nothing about book trailers. I’d never even watched one!  After the workshop, I really think it’s something fun and interesting to do for your book promotion.

It can get expensive, though, so I haven’t done it yet, and am not going to spend a bunch of money for a professional to create one for me. I will have to invest time to make one myself, so for now it’s on the back burner for me.

Here are some of the book trailers she showed at the workshop:

Death of a Cure (notice not too many details/cryptic)

Jonathan Fields (incredibly powerful)

Room

It’s hard to summarize the workshop, since she went through each video, showing what worked and what didn’t, but here are some general tips:

•create an emotional response in viewer. Push their buttons. Make them feel.

•set up expectation/anticipation

•You have 10 seconds at most to hook them.

•Don’t try to squeeze in a whole synopsis! It’s not a query letter. You’re setting mood, expectations. Trust the reader to fill in the gaps.

•”You have to respect the fact that imaginations are deeply private.”–Peter Mendelsund, Knopf book jacket designer

•Don’t tell the story! Create an emotional connection, pull them in, make them want to find out what happened. Leave them wanting more.

•Short sentences–none longer than 5 words. A power word in every sentence.

•Use the images. Don’t just have an image of kissing to illustrate the word kissing. Don’t be so literal. Use an unexpected twist. An example was a video for a suspense book that first showed a woman tied up to convey, duh, a woman held captive. But when the image was changed to images of a dark, scary place/a hand coming out of the darkness/shadows, it was actually more effective than a literal image of kidnapping. Look for that compelling image, not the most obvious one.

A final word, not from the workshop, about all this marketing jazz: http://youtu.be/OFki2O8-28s

So, have you made a book trailer? Do you want to? Have you ever seen one? If you have seen some book trailers, which ones have you liked/found effective?


 

 

Winding Up or Winding Down
November 28, 2012

Hi, all.

This will be the last of my “Adventures in Self-Publishing” blogs at Mid-Willamette Valley RWA, so you could say I am winding down.

But I’m actually just getting started. This year has been wonderful for me. I dipped my toes in the self-publishing water, and found the ocean so fine I dove right in!

I’m making as much money as I would as a mid-list author with mainstream publishers. No, I haven’t hit the big-time yet. But I’m paying some bills, while writing *my* stories my own way.

I will release six books in 2012. I plan to top that in 2013. My biggest concern now is that I can’t write fast enough to keep up with my plans:

I have a set of four books for next year called “A Year in Pajaro Bay.” Each story is complete in itself, but there’s also a continuing storyline that will wind up with the Christmas story late in 2013. I have another eighteen Pajaro Bay books outlined after that, so I hope to continue the series for a very long time.

I also have a new series which I’m calling “PB DARK.” These are books set in the same world of Pajaro Bay, but they are darker stories (hence the name), with a heavier emphasis on the suspense, and plot twists that don’t fit into the cheery world of the main Pajaro Bay brand. I have three of them so far, and am really looking forward to that mini-series, too.

Then there’s the cozy mystery series I’ve got in mind. I don’t want to give that one away, but it’s a trilogy plus a Christmas story that I can hardly wait to write.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover the fantasy side of things. I have “Deeds of the Ariane” sequels, and another series that is more directly based on my Medieval Studies degree, with a present-day immortal who was a figure in medieval history.

So my biggest problem is writing quickly enough to keep up with my imagination! And that’s the ultimate plus of self-publishing. I am no longer confined by “the market.” I put my work out there, and see what readers like and don’t like, and go from there. The fantasy is on the back burner because it’s not selling as quickly as the Pajaro Bay books, but I still have the freedom to write the less-lucrative storylines as I find time. I’m not worried about being “dropped” by a publisher. It’s up to me.

And this year has given me the best gift of all: I have regained my joy of writing. I had gotten so sick of being told “you write well, but you’re doing it wrong.” Turns out I was writing something that an audience wanted (as I believed all along, but couldn’t convince New York). It wasn’t that they were wrong–I didn’t fit into their marketing plans, and by their standards wouldn’t be a success. But as a self-publisher, my books can go directly to an audience that is hungering for them. With a much larger slice of the pie coming my way, it is just as lucrative for me to work for this audience as it would be to reach the NY publishers’ definition of a good audience. I am now blessed to be connecting directly with readers who want what I’m selling. No middlemen, no rules. Just the readers and me on a journey.

And that’s the ultimate happy ending.

I’ll be blogging in different places and with a very different format next year. I’m now at a point where I need to connect more directly with my readers with my blogging, so I will be centering my blog activity at my site and Goodreads.com (I’ll put in one final plug for Goodreads: I highly recommend it for all authors; it’s a great way to connect directly with avid readers). My 2013 blog will profile the “People of Pajaro Bay.” I have over 120 brief character biographies now, so I’m thinking I’ll be posting the bios twice a week. I will be posting at my site, Goodreads.com, and Pinterest, with links to Facebook, Twitter and who-knows-where. Whew.

I wish all my former chapter mates in Mid-Willamette Valley RWA the best. It’s been wonderful knowing you all, and I hope to continue that in the new year (maybe I’ll even get around to doing weekly goal-setting).

Happy holidays and a wonderful new year to you all!

And happy writing, everyone. 🙂