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Wednesday, 21 October 2015

It's Never Been a Better Time to Be a Writer - Kindle Part Two

It has taken me a while to get back to writing the second part of this, because I've already been taking my own advice. It really is a great time to be a writer, and I wanted to capitalize on the changes I'll be telling you about here in this post. In fact, I wrote a whole book between September 15th and October 15th. Actually, I finished around the 12th of October if I remember correctly, and since then I've been editing and revising as madly as I wrote it. Yes. That was me. I did that! 120,000 words worth at the time, though it's since crept up to 125,000 with the addition of some new scenes I felt were necessary. (I'll be announcing a release date soon, and sharing the cover design around that time.)

In this day and age anyone can be a published author. I really do mean anyone. Even me. You don't have to go through stacks of envelopes, a zillion e-mails, or receive a hundred rejection letters. No, you can let your readers decide whether or not they like your books, not some executive sitting in the ivory tower of traditional publishing. Let's face it. Readers know what they want far better than some stranger.

Traditional publishers try to convince authors that they can't go it alone. Well, here's where my true-false meter flashes a big, red light. They're lying to you on three counts. One, it's entirely possible to go it alone. Two, you really don't have to be alone out there. Three, the majority of writers who go through a traditional publisher often end up going it alone anyway. There is very little support for a writer when it comes to promotion. You have to hire your own people for that.

The best you can expect from your traditional publisher is to be included in the information they send out to book stores. You don't usually get any bookmarks to hand out, they don't book radio and television appearances, and they don't take out ads promoting your book. You have to do all that yourself. And for all that nothingness that you get from them, what's the bottom line? About ten or fifteen cents per book sold.

In other words, to receive about $40,000 per year you would have to sell up to 400,000 copies of your book. That year and every year thereafter. Pretty tough to make a living as a writer under those circumstances. Sure, the idea is that you're going to write more books, and then the effect would be cumulative, but why would you want to give all that money to a traditional publisher anyway? What have they done for you lately?

So, here's the deal. Self-publishing used to be a great way for printing companies to gouge desperate authors. The industry has cleaned up a great deal, however, and now it's at the point where publishing a book can be completely free, or so ridiculously cheap that it might as well be. It all depends on what you need the self-publishing company to do. If you publish through Kindle, the formatting costs absolutely nothing. Same with CreateSpace, which is the print-on-demand side of Amazon, as opposed to the e-book only side. CreateSpace will try to up-sell you on stuff, but if you have any competence with a computer this should be a non-issue. Or you can go to websites like Fiverr and pay someone $5 to do the work for you.

The same holds true for cover design. If you're no good at graphics, and you don't know anyone who is (and who would be willing to do it for free), there are a lot of cover designers on Fiverr, as well as a number of very reasonably-priced graphic artists out there who specialize in cover design. Believe me, you want someone good. I did a mock-up of the cover I want done, but it totally sucks as it is. That's why I'm having my daughter deal with the heavy-lifting there. Your cover is what will sell your book, far more so than the blurb that accompanies it. As a reader, I know very well that I tend to skim the back-cover paragraph. If I see certain keywords I'm happy, but the cover has to get me to pick up the book in the first place. If my daughter can't come up with something really grabby, then I'm going to talk to some of the wonderful folks on Fiverr.

My book's cover art is a bit of a challenge, however. It's hard to define it in an image. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but can you encapsulate 125,000 words in a single image? Well, I guess we'll see what we can come up with there.

As for the rest of it, the resources that are out there if you do a simple Google search are amazing. Truly amazing. So many blogs and articles about how to take on different aspects of writing and self-publishing. Everything from the nuts and bolts of forcing yourself to sit down and write, to the hundreds of ways you can market the finished product (including how to time your promotions for the best results). There are some really great ways to promote your books that are completely free. Things like joining pages and groups on Facebook that include people with an interest in the topics your book centres around. For example, my book deals with preparedness and survival, along with an oncoming end-of-the-world scenario. So, any page that talks about those things has the potential to help me market my book (I should say 'books,' since this is the beginning of a trilogy).

A great way to market your book is through those e-mail lists I mentioned in my last post for Kindle readers. BookBub and Sweet Free Books are two of them. There's also FreeBooksy, which I just discovered recently. You can hire people from Fiverr to promote your books for $5, through banner ads, radio shows, or podcasts. I mean, seriously, what's $5 when it comes to advertising and promotions. BookBub, Sweet Free Books and FreeBooksy cost way more than $5, usually, unless they're running a special. Currently Sweet Free Books is actually $5, but that could change at any time, so always look at their pricing. Last time I looked, I think it was 99-cents. Some e-mail sites require your books to have a certain number of reviews on Amazon, or a rating of a certain amount. BookBub can go out to as many as a million (or more) people, however, and their rates of return are really quite good. Well worth the hundreds of dollars they charge (and the amount depends on the genre and listing type - whether you're offering your book free or for discounted rates).

Amazon has a built-in tool for marketing that I'd suggest you use if you publish through Kindle. It's Kindle Select (check out this article for tips to leverage it). It means agreeing to a 90-day exclusivity contract, so you cannot publish through any other e-publisher, no matter what format it is, and you can't give your e-books away to anyone unless it's through the 5 free days they give you as an optional promotional tool. This does not apply to any print versions of your books. The reason I suggest you use it is two-fold. First, because your book automatically gets marketed through Amazon - are you really going to get any better advertising than that? Second, your book goes into their Kindle lending library, from which you make a percentage of the royalties. People can read your book for free by subscribing to the service, but you still get paid. If you're looking for exposure, this is one great way to get it.

Seriously, when it comes to marketing, the options are myriad to the point of being limitless. I'm the kind of person who despises selling. Marketing is just not something I want to spend any time on at all. I'm going to have to, of course, but I'll be very picky about what I'm doing. Mostly that means paying someone else to do it, but I'm also a cheapskate, so that means I'll be paying as little as possible at the very beginning. I'll funnel book profits back into marketing on a sliding scale. If I can afford it, I'll do it, because the only way to sell your books is to let people know you've written them. Bestseller Labs has some really great advice on its site that you should check out, too.

So, what's the bottom line on profit? Okay, most writers write because they have a compulsion to do so. They really do it for love, if they're any kind of writer. (I've been doing it since I was twelve. Not that I was any good at that age, but I was still writing. I'm 44 now, so I've had writing in my head for 32 years. I wasn't writing the whole time in a physical sense, but my head was always telling stories to me.) However, people still need to eat, so we all have to make money at doing things if we don't want to starve. Kindle offers you up to 70% royalties, and CreateSpace offers up to 60%. I'm focusing on those for two reasons. One, their royalties really are the highest I've found. Two, this article has Kindle in the title. I will be using them both, because I want print version of my books. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but it's also a vanity thing. I want them in my house. I want to be able to give them out. When I read I tend to read e-books these days, but it's pretty damn hard to sign and hand out e-books.

What do those royalties come down to? Well, let's do the math. If you have a trade paperback selling for ten bucks (which is extremely cheap these days) through a traditional publisher, and you only get ten or fifteen cents per copy sold, you have to sell up to $4 million in books every year to your readers to get $40,000 per year. If you're getting seventy cents on the dollar, however, in order to get that much in annual income you only have to sell a little over $57,142 worth of books per year. You can easily charge $2.99 a book and still make out like a bandit, only having to sell about 19,048 copies each year. In other words, your readers have to shell out seventy times more money, just so you can earn a semi-decent income, if you choose to publish the old way.

If you're writing a series, the options are amazing when it comes to promotion and sales. You absolutely must take advantage of this stuff if you're writing a trilogy, or a giant series. For one thing, every single book in that series will work to promote all the other books. Your sales will increase exponentially, if people like what they're reading.

This blog is a good example of that, if you think about it. When I first started writing it my readers were pretty thin on the ground. As time went on, even though I don't have a serious theme going here, I got a lot more readers. That's because they've clicked on something they found on Google, and ended up getting sucked into the black hole of my brain. I've been writing a lot fewer posts, and getting a lot more activity on each post, yet without much in the way of promoting them. Half of what I write on here is just to chat with the people who have become loyal readers. Okay, maybe more than half - I'm not really sure, since I just write what I feel like writing. When I do have a post that has some seriousness to it, I'll usually promote it a little bit through HootSuite, which shoots it out to all my social media platforms.

At the end of a Kindle book (at least it works this way for the Android app), Amazon automatically asks for a rating of the book. If the book is part of a series, Amazon knows this (assuming the author entered that information correctly when they published their books), and it will direct the reader to other books in the series, as well as other books written by the same author. I've bought a lot of my books this way. I start out with a free book, but then the rest of the series I willingly pay for if I'm hooked. It's perfect for readers and authors. Readers find new authors they love, and writers can promote a series of books.

Offering books for free can be a very good idea for other reasons, too. You see, Amazon has a ranking system for all books, and your rank is based on how well your book is doing within its genre. Picking your category is extremely important (see this article for an explanation on categories and what they can mean for authors), because the fewer books there are in a genre, to more likely you are to rank high. The higher you rank, the more likely Amazon will help to promote you. Your book may end up going out to millions of potential buyers, without you having to do the heavy-lifting. I know, if your book is always free then it's not possible to make money from it. However, the idea is to space out your free promo days (Kindle Select will give you five of them that you can schedule based on your own needs, if that's the promo type you choose), so that you spike your readership enough to increase your ranking. And if you've already got another book published that's part of the same series, then you're getting massive promo for it.

Honestly, I cannot begin to cover everything I've learned about self-publishing in a single blog post. People dedicate entire blogs to just the marketing end of it. All I can do is tell you that I'm convinced it's the best option for me when it comes to publishing my own novels. A traditional publisher would have a long way to go to convince me that it was worth signing a contract with them. What they do offer is massive editing and proofreading, plus professional cover design. All of those are available through freelancers, however, and just for the record, the top five things of importance when it comes selling a book are these: Good writing, a good story, a top-notch cover, pristine editing, and marketing. If you want your book to succeed it really should have all five of those elements. Not every successful book does, but if you want to guarantee you sell oodles of books, you should do everything you can to have every one of them in place. And you don't need a traditional publisher to do that.