New Release Misstep

I received an email today from a writer friend who had just published their first novel on Amazon. And the email was basically asking friends and family to buy the novel and leave a review.

Which sounds like a great idea for a new release, right? Get some sales and some reviews.

Except, especially on Amazon, that can be the kiss of death. Because Amazon is all about the algorithms. What is this book you have published and who can I shove it in front of to generate sales?

And the problem with having friends and family be the first people who buy your book is that it’s very confusing to those algos. Because your middle grade fantasy is being bought by someone who reads 90% mystery and also by someone who reads 85% non-fiction and by someone else who reads gritty books across fantasy, sci fi, horror, and mystery. So what reader can Amazon find that fits all those categories?

None.

Now, granted, I myself have made this mistake. Because who wants to publish a book and have no sales? So you tell people about it. And because they like you (hopefully) they buy it even though they may never actually read it and generally don’t read things like it as a general rule.

Which means you end up trying to swim against the current to get to your actual audience. And you don’t have a lot of time to do it in because Amazon is relentless with its 30-day, 60-day, 90-day cliffs. It’s an environment where your book either proves itself or it sinks. Fast.

Better is to not tell friends and family about your new release until your also-boughts have populated. Also-boughts that you have hopefully helped craft via advertising towards your actual target audience, so that when those friends and family come by to show their support Amazon already knows what you’re selling and who it will sell to.

It’s a bit counterintuitive to a lot of businesses. When I was a broker you were encouraged to find friends and family members who’d invest with you first and then move out from there as you did well and got word of mouth. Lots of businesses are built that way. But books don’t work quite the same. Because people will pay a dollar or five for a book but it does you no good if that sale doesn’t help build towards more readers. Better to have people share links on your behalf with people they know who might be your target audience and hope those people buy it.

Anyway. Something to think about for the brand new author with no established audience.

 

 

Some Thoughts on Book Covers

I have friends who swear by using professionally-done covers. And some of those friends do very, very, very well. Much better than I do. (Although I suspect that’s down to writing skill and speed of publishing more than cover quality.)

Me, I tend to do my own covers. And I’ll tell you why. Because coming from a corporate background it drives me absolutely batty to deal with cover designers.

This last week I redid two series’ worth of covers. It was 20+ covers and I was able to create them and upload them and be done within a few days. At the same time I’ve been paying to have the covers redone for my YA fantasy series by one of the really good cover designers out there and it’s taken six weeks (?) so far to get three covers done. If I’d gone with one of the other top designers out there I’d still be waiting for them to get started because most have waiting lists of three to six months, assuming they’re taking on new clients.

So let me walk you through my cover designer experiences. I’m not naming names, because that’s not the point there. The point is to understand some of the challenges of dealing with cover designers and why, if you can do it at all, it might make sense to do your own instead.

Cover Designer #1: Pre-Mades

As with all things self-publishing, I ventured into paying for covers the cheap way by buying a couple of pre-made covers. One was for a romance novel, one was for my SFF short story collection. And they looked good. I have no complaints about the appearance of the covers. I mean, I chose them after all, they were a completed product before I paid for them.

The cover designer was also easy to work with and provided my files within a few days of my placing my order. I had no complaints about that designer’s responsiveness or professionalism.

All good.

Until I started poking around on some stock photo websites and realized that the cover designer had literally taken existing stock photos and just slapped text on them. No edits to the photo whatsoever. It was the same exact image, not zoomed in or cropped in any way. No extra border. No combined images. Nothing changed.

Which means that the pre-made they slapped up on their website probably took ten minutes to create and another ten to customize it when they got my order. They needed an eye for placement and font choice, but that was pretty much it.

Now, granted, that’s probably all you can expect when you spend $35 for a cover. But it made me realize that I could probably do that myself. And when I did the next romance cover I did buy that original stock photo and put new text over it to match my second romance novel cover rather than go back to that cover designer and pay for them to create a custom cover to match the first one.

So decent to work with, decent result, but something anyone could slap together with minimal design skills.

Cover Designer #2: Custom Cover

When I published my first fantasy novel I decided it was time to quit playing around and do things “the right way”. I’d seen a trade-published cover designer’s work that I thought was really good and I reached out to them about what it would cost to have them do my covers. Turns out the answer was $650.

That was a lot to spend, but I wanted to give that book all the chances in the world, so I paid it. And the cover is gorgeous. The artist actually did a photo shoot with a local girl who worked at Starbucks and turned her into exactly what I was looking for. It was an illustrated cover and that artist nailed it. The first draft had a bad font and the image needed moving a bit but we fixed that easily enough.

I really had no complaints about that first cover. (Later when I had that book on display at a convention I realized it didn’t look as good from a distance. My homemade covers on other books on that table drew in far more readers than that very expensive cover did.)

Of course, there was no way to do the second cover in that series without using the same artist. So I had to go back to them a year later and see if they were available and what timeline I was working with. They said it would be a month to get the cover done, but they missed the deadline and I had to delay my release while I waited for them to finish.

We also had some back and forth on that one that was a bit painful. But I was stuck with them at that point. Fortunately design of the third cover went smoothly but I do seem to recall that they were late on that one, too.

The bigger problem was that when I wanted to change the back cover copy on two of the print versions a year or so after that I was told it would cost $200 to do so. I don’t sell enough in print on those books for that to make any sense.

So gorgeous covers but production delays and high costs to make edits.

Cover Designer #3: The Designer That Never Was

When I decided to publish my first cozy mystery I looked a the covers in the genre and found that most of the best in the genre were a style I couldn’t replicate myself. So I looked around to see who did covers in that genre.

One top designer was booked out six months but another said they just needed a month’s notice and to let them know when I was ready to go. They were about $250 a cover I want to say, so reasonable for what they did and available in a workable timeframe.

Great.  I reached out about a month later, and…nothing. They never replied to me again. Not via email, not via their website. They were just gone.

Fortunately I hadn’t paid them so I wasn’t out any money, but it frustrated me enough that I just went ahead and did my own covers for the cozies.

So one man shop, disappeared without notice.

Cover Designer #4: High End Cover

This year I had some money to spend on my business so I figured it was time to try new covers on the fantasy series. (Even though it took two and half years to pay off the first set of covers. I sometimes don’t learn my lessons.)

I poked around and most of the top designers were not available or had a long wait time, but one had a website that said they’d send through options within a couple weeks, so I submitted with them.

They don’t have a series option so I had to do each cover one at a time even though my ultimate goal was three covers for a completed trilogy. Again we were in the $600 range.

First, I had to chase them down after that two weeks passed without any response. It took a few more days but then they sent through some ideas which were…okay? But not worth $600.

I had specifically said I didn’t want a cover that looked muddy from a distance like my first fantasy one had turned out to be. I even gave them the link to that cover, but one of the options they sent through was mostly brown colors that would be muddy from a distance.

I ran the options by a private group I’m in and those folks agreed that, no, not worth continuing if that’s what I was going to get. I could’ve paid a third as much to a different designer and had covers on par with what they sent me in that first round.

I gave them one more try with much more specific guidance based on work I’d seen them do for others and they finally came back with something much, much better, so I stuck with them.

After that little hiccup the first cover was fine.

But then the second cover–which was part of the series–was done as if the designer hadn’t thought “hey, this cover needs to fit with the other two”. It was fine on its own, but not as part of the series. It was like someone hadn’t liked aspects of the first cover so had decided to fix those aspects with the second cover. But that didn’t work because the two covers had to sit side-by-side and I already had the first cover.

(My other expensive cover designer actually changed the font on my on my second book, too. It was a better font, yes, but it meant anyone who already owned the first book was stuck with books in a series that didn’t match.)

This lack of continuity with the first cover really frustrated me. This is the type of thing that if I’m paying you $600 for a cover I expect you to handle without my guidance. But I was stuck in at this point because I’d already paid for the first cover. So I told them all the fixes that needed to be made and they were done.

But now we’re on cover three. There were some fixes to the central image because the first round of choices were not good, but that was pretty simple. And they made a basic error they shouldn’t have, but that got fixed, too.

When they sent me the print proof the coordinator pointed out something to me about the text on the back cover that I agreed needed changed. It was a simple fix and since they’d pointed it out to me, I figured it would be done within the day and done right. But the next proof I got they’d fixed the wrong thing. It was even worse than before. And it took three days to get that first fix back. And then another two days to fix the bad fix. So five days for a change that literally was a five-minute change that they identified first.

And I’m still waiting for the final files.

So beautiful work but long delays in getting it and challenges in getting a product worth what I paid for it and in having to manage someone who wasn’t managing themselves well.


Those are my cover designer experiences. I’ve also had a few cover designers I reached out to who said they couldn’t do the type of cover I was looking for, which is fair enough. I hold nothing against them for saying that. It is what it is.

I do believe that covers matter. My mom is one of those people who will buy a book just for the cover. But I also believe there’s a “good enough” standard for most genres and that there are ways to do good enough covers in most genres that don’t require massive design skills.

Just like with writing, I think it’s a process of leveling-up over time as you see and think about what works and find ways to get the appearance you want. And, this will sound sort of strange, but I figure all of it has to work together and sometimes a non-million-dollar cover is actually the better choice because it more accurately conveys to the reader what they’ll find inside.

(One of the reasons I gleefully use alright instead of all right in my books is because I know that the Strunk & White purists will be turned off by that and leave my books alone which is a good thing for both of us.)

Too Lazy

I was thinking yesterday about how I’m too lazy to ever actually succeed at the traditional publishing route. Which is ironic given the amount of additional effort that self-publishing requires. But in a sense I’m also lazy there, too.

I’ve determined it’s because I’m missing the “please like me” gene.

Let me explain.

This week I redid over twenty covers for my short stories and loaded them to five different distributor sites. This was for two pen names so once I had the basic template in place it was relatively easy to create each of the covers, but it was still probably a day or two of design work and a full day of updating and uploading the files.

I had recently bought Affinity and wanted to experiment with it and also have bought over the last year a large, large number of fonts through Design Cuts’ bundles as well as a few fonts that were just really nice, fancy ones.

And it was time to level-up those covers.

When I did the speculative fiction covers, I also decided I’d go ahead and publish a couple short stories that have been moldering away on my hard drive and were doing no good there.

This is where it gets back to that laziness. Because one of the stories (The Taste of Memory) was a semi-finalist sometime recently in the Writers of the Future contest. That means it was top 16 in that quarter’s entries. And the critique I got back on it was essentially you could tweak this one thing, but this story should be sellable as is.

So I sent it out to a handful of pro-paying markets, I think maybe five of them. And then I lost interest and just let it sit.

Because I’d done the part that interested me–I’d written my story and explored the nature of memory and the creative process and how much trauma plays into that. That’s what I cared about, personally.

Which meant that all that was left was to put in a bunch of effort trying to find someone who’d like it enough to pay me for it. And that’s…boring to me.

I know other authors who write to be read. They get their satisfaction from others reading and liking what they’ve done. But that’s not me. I’m missing that gene. I’m like, “Oh, you don’t like it or me? Okay. Whatever.”

So after a little bit of effort to see that the story wasn’t going to sell to one of the top markets, I moved on.

Which is not how you succeed in this business, by the way. If you want to break in with short stories you have to write a story and keep that story going from one market to the next to the next to the next until someone buys it. And while you’re waiting you just keep cranking out new stories.

It can take years for one story to sell. (I once had an almost sale with The Bearer and I want to say that Tor.com held onto it for over six months. Six months for that one submission to finally get a no. Have a few of those on the same story and, yeah, years. I got great personal rejections on The Bearer, but after a while I was just bored with sending it out again.)

But that’s what you’re supposed to do. Keep sending it out until it sells. That’s how the game is played. You keep submitting until someone says yes.

Same with queries, right? You’re supposed to query something like a hundred agents before you give up on that particular novel. And then you write the next novel and do it all again. And again. And again until someone says yes.

(Dating works that way, too, by the way. But this post isn’t about dating.)

It turns out I’m just too lazy to deal with all of that. So I self-publish. Where the work is ten times as hard. And, really, you’re having to pursue the same sort of “do you like it” thing that you do with traditional publishing, but you just do it with advertising instead.

It’s crazy. And honestly it’s a miracle I’ve made any money at this thing given where my particular laziness lies…

So anyway. Look at some of my pretty new short story covers:

In Search of a Hero7 small  The Taste of Memory small  The Bearer5 small

Puppy Love Holiday Surprise small  Puppy Love Volumes 1 to 13 small

(That now won’t sell because I did the fun part already and am now going to move on to something else like writing a new novel instead of doing anything more to promote them. Hahaha. Sigh.)

 

Nine Years

Nine years ago today I decided to try to write my first novel and get it published. My goal at the time was to be traditionally published, so I wrote that novel and queried it and found out I should write short stories so did that for a bit and submitted those and got some “send more”/”almost there” type of rejections before I turned back to novels which is what I really wanted to write. And I attended some conferences here or there.

And then I wrote a non-fiction book that I had no hope of getting published through a publisher because I had no platform and no reason that I had written that book other than having a very strong opinion about the matter. So I self-published it. And I self-published some of those rejected short stories.

My results were…underwhelming.

My covers were horrible, SFF short stories are not where the money is in self-publishing, and then I got derailed by taking a consulting project that kept me from writing for eight months. (But did pay very well and let me qualify for the mortgage on my current house.)

After that project, I gave it another try.

I got sucked into the “just write a bunch of short sexy stories” thing that was going around at the time. Those did sell better. The billionaire story I wrote in one day on a whim sold the best. So I went ahead and threw the romance novel I’d written as therapy up and it sold well (for me at the time), too.

But I didn’t follow-up well on those little nibbles of success. It took me three more years to write a follow-up to the romance novel.

I kept throwing whatever I thought of at the wall. Lots of it failed because I was still writing short stories and non-fiction not many people wanted.

Then I realized I didn’t want to go back to consulting so I finally published one of my fantasy novels with a gorgeous cover and real advertising spend behind it.

The results were…not so good. It was depressing. I’d finally done what everyone said to do and no one wanted my book. (I did launch at full price which didn’t help, but still. I’d bought a pretty cover! I’d paid for ads!)

I kept pushing, though. I kept trying.

I eventually finished the trilogy, but it took me a year to get out each of the other two titles which was not good.

Then I went to a writing workshop and let it get in my head. Was my writing too emotional? Too angsty? Was it too cliched? Me and my European settings and white people. (Although the first series was actually neither of those things. But when you let the doubt creep in…)

So I turned to non-fiction. And saw some success. Not immediately. Four months after publication a couple of those titles took off. And they’ve sold steadily for three-plus years now.

I added what I could to extend that success. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t.

Rather than go back to fantasy, I branched out into cozy mystery. I still wanted to do well with fiction and I had a contemporary story idea I thought would work. I also promoted the fantasy trilogy that hadn’t done well initially and finally got it profitable. Ironically the year I priced it at $7.99 per title was my best year profit-wise for that title. But that could be in part thanks to a Bookbub feature.

And so now here I am. Thirteen novels later, eleven of those still published. Too many short stories to count. Too many non-fiction titles to count. Nine years in. 2.65 million words written. 2,800 hours spent writing/editing. Over $150K in revenue. Over $70K in profit.

I’m proud of where I am, but I’m still a hot mess.

Do the math on those numbers and you’ll find that I only spend about six hours a week on writing/editing, which is pathetically low for someone who does this full-time. (And probably a good part of the reason I’m not further along with this whole thing. That and splitting my efforts in so many different directions.)

My top-earning pen name has almost 600K words of published material out and it’s 20x as profitable as the next-highest-earning pen name which only has 270K words published. For my top three pen names, profit and word count are in the exact same order. The one with the most published material is the one that’s made the most. The one with the second-most number of words has made the second-most, etc.

Number four breaks that pattern, but it’s also my only written-to-market pen name.

I know what I need to do. I need to focus better and produce more work. More cozies, more fantasy novels. New material that leads back to what I’ve already done. Without a deep enough bench of material it’s hard to advertise effectively.

I’ve never done a 99 cent promo on the boxset of my fantasy trilogy because there’s nowhere for those readers to go after that. Also, I know that the more related titles someone has, the better able they are to make a profit off of ads on a first book. Assuming they write well enough to pull people through the entire series that is.

I looked a few years ago and figured it would take 8-12 novels to really be firmly established in a genre. I have 3 fantasies and 6 cozies. I need at least double what I already have for both.

That’s what Year 10 is going to be about for me. Trying to fill that in. Trying to push myself to write enough that I can add a new fantasy trilogy and at least four more cozies to my catalog.

I have a few non-fiction titles I might add as well. Non-fiction writes easier for me than fiction because it’s just a data dump for the most part and not creation of something brand new. So non-fiction fits well between drafts or fiction projects. But my focus will be on the fiction.

I want to write/edit for 10 hours a week instead of 6. Or even 20 hours a week. Imagine that…

It’s not going to be easy. Internal motivation is not as easy to generate as the responsibility that comes with an external deadline. I can easily work sixty-plus hours for someone else, but not for myself.

I figure I have one more year to make this sustainable. I’m close. But I’m not there yet. Not unless I want to live in a dingy apartment with a bunch of weird roommates and eat canned tuna fish for every meal.

So. One more year. 500K more words. With focus.

Here we go. Wish me luck. Haha.

 

A Few Thoughts on AMS Ads vs FB Ads

As I mentioned earlier I’ve finally been taking a more serious look at Facebook ads in the last few weeks. I’d dipped a toe in here or there but never really stuck with them long enough to see if I could  make them work like I did with AMS ads. But I felt like maybe I should circle back to them for a few of my older titles where Amazon makes it harder to advertise them because they’re no longer new and shiny.

So, some thoughts. (And I talked about some of this a bit in Data Analysis for Self-Publishers, too, but this is specific to these two ad platforms.)

I think that Facebook ads are probably an excellent choice for someone who writes squarely in their genre and whose genre is big enough to support ongoing ads. So that would be thrillers, traditional mystery, contemporary romance, etc. (And you’ll notice that the people who run the big ad courses for FB ads meet this criteria.)

One of the issues I’ve had to struggle with when advertising my books on Facebook has been target audience and audience size. My books sell best to fans of certain authors and a lot of those authors are not available as a choice on Facebook. Or if they are available the audience size is small enough that I can’t imagine running ads to that author name for more than a limited period of time. My frequency goes up fast, especially in the foreign markets where the audience sizes are even smaller.

Compare that to Amazon where I can advertise to the most obscure name I can find if I want. (I don’t recommend doing so with just one name like that, but I could. And I can use any name or any combination of words I want.)

The other factor with FB ads is their complexity. I think this can be a benefit for some authors but is a problem for most.

On FB ads you can have any image you wantas well as a lot of text both above and below the ad image. Amazon ads on the other hand pretty much have the book cover and a few lines of text, if that. And the star rating and price.

The complexity of a FB ad is likely a benefit for more experienced authors who have a lot more bells and whistles they can use in an ad. They can include glowing review text AND a punchy little tagline AND a killer image that draws people in.

But for those who are new it’s more opportunities to get it wrong. You can have a killer book cover but if the ad image you choose is bad or the text you choose is clunky, all that choice can work against you.

Another thought about the two is that for FB ads tracking performance is trickier. Which is saying something because we all know that tracking AMS ad performance is challenging enough. But with FB ads, if you aren’t violating TOS and using your affiliate links or reducing ad performance by going to a landing page first, you really can’t tie specific clicks to specific sales.

This becomes a problem if you’re trying to run an ad that has multiple target audiences, for example.

I had an ad running with both Tamora Pierce and Anne McCaffrey as target authors at the same time. And I was getting good cost-per-click for both. Tamora Pierce was actually better at 7 cents a click, but Anne McCaffrey was good at 12 cents a click.

Here’s the problem, though. Turns out that Tamora Pierce doesn’t convert for me. People love the ad, they click on it, they go to Amazon, and then they don’t buy.

Whereas with Anne McCaffrey they do.

So if I were just looking at the data I can see on FB it looks like I’m doing really well getting low-price clicks with Tamora Pierce. But it doesn’t matter what those clicks are costing me because I’m not getting sales. And the only way to know that’s happening is to just run ads to Tamora Pierce one day and just run ads to Anne McCaffrey another.

FB itself has no way to know which of my clicks (if any) from their site actually bought the product on Amazon. (I would love for there to be a feedback system in place where i could manually tell them my estimated performance and have them incorporate that into their allocation algorithm, but that’s not going to happen.)

So it can be easy with FB to focus on the wrong metric. “Ooh, I’m getting lots of cheap clicks, woohoo!” What matters is are you making a profit. Are those clicks resulting in sales. And that takes more effort to figure out than AMS ads.

I do think if you’re in a good genre for it and have everything aligned that FB ads have probably far more potential than AMS ads. But I am also very glad that I started with AMS ads before I tried moving to FB ads. Because I would have probably lost a lot of money on FB ads early on because the books I had to sell were not packaged to sell well through FB ads.

One final thought. I’ve seen both on author boards and in the group for the class I’m taking people say, “What am I doing wrong? My cover is fantastic, my blurb is great, my reviews are wonderful, my landing page is stellar, and yet I’m not getting the sales I would expect.” And I have to say that most times when the person provides a link in those situations that’s not actually true.

I saw one where the color scheme for the cover was completely different from all other books in the genre. Another where the review quote at the top of the landing page was formatted in such a way it wasn’t clear it was a review quote. Another where the blurb text was clunkier than it needed to be.

Trust me, I don’t get this right myself half the time, so I’m not going to wade in there and tell anyone what they’re doing wrong. But if you think everything is perfect and you’re just somehow not getting sales, then everything is not perfect. There is a disconnect somewhere and you have to keep poking at it to find where that disconnect is. That’s true of AMS ads or FB ads. You either aren’t targeting the right audience or aren’t packaging your book in a way that appeals to the audience it should appeal to.

Anyway. Something to think about. (And now the dog must be fed because she’s big enough to make a meal of me if I fail to provide for her.)

 

Amazon Advertising Problematic Change

I’m sure some people received an email this week from Amazon Advertising and were incredibly pleased at the change they announced. Per the email, “As of 1 July 2020, sales for current and new Sponsored Products campaigns featuring Book ASINs will be reported for the advertised ASIN only. Prior to this date, reporting may have included sales for various formats of the title advertised.”

I will tell you why this is bad. My AMS ads for ebook often generate paperback sales and my adds for paperbacks often generate ebook sales. Having that type of data reported in the dashboards confirms that that happens and better lets me see my ad performance.

Now, they think the simple solution is to just list all formats of the book in your ad. But here’s the thing, I’ve found that for each of my books one format or another is the better one to advertise. It’s the price and image that appeals more to shoppers. And I’m not going to list multiple versions of the product in my ad and decrease my ad performance just to see which products are selling.

I know a lot of authors freak out about “OMG, AMS says I sold something but that book I was advertising didn’t sell” so I figure Amazon got tired of hearing about that and having to explain over and over and they thought this was a solution.

But it’s a bad one for Amazon long-term. People will assume that the ads are not doing as much as they actually are and back off on ad spend. Which I guess is good for me since I rarely use the dashboard as the ultimate arbiter of my performance. But monitoring ad performance in the short-term is about to become very annoying.

What they should have done in my opinion is added one more frickin’ column to the dashboard. So you could have sales of advertised products in one column and sales of other related products in another. While they were at it they could’ve included sales of other books in the series when someone one-clicks the entire series…That would’ve been nice.

But no. They had to go and make it worse.

2020, I tell ya. I’ve decided based on events in the year so far that this is the last year in the decade rather than the first year of a new decade.

Three Publishing Choices

When I’m stuck on writing (which is disturbingly often these days), I look at my numbers and try to decide what to do next. It’s all a big stalling game because moving in some direction is better than sitting around trying to figure out the “best” direction to go.

But, well, yeah. Some days spinning in circles is all there really is to do.

When I do this I focus on three key choices I can make. I think I’ve discussed this before, but it never hurts to go through it again.

1. Increase sales of existing titles

This is partially why I’m taking the FB ads course right now. Because I feel like I’ve maxed out what I can do with AMS for my existing titles and I wanted to find some other form of advertising that I could do day in and day out.

This could also involve putting an existing title out in a new format. Or moving a title from wide to KU or KU to wide. Or listing your books direct. Or listing them with all the little distributors you can find.

Sometimes that three hours of effort to do something like that can make more money per hour than writing the next book. Or it can make more money in the short-term than writing the next book.

If you’re not properly leveraging what’s already there, there’s a lot of room for improvement in this area.

(I would probably include as a lesser option here rewriting or rebranding existing titles. It can feel good to rewrite an existing title, but I’d argue it isn’t the best use of your time/efforts. I still remember going back to my very first short story and wanting to rewrite it and realizing there was no point because there was no central conflict to rewrite around. The idea was simply flawed from the get-go. And I did rewrite my first novel after I’d written a million words, but that was time I probably could have better spent on a new novel instead.)

2. Write more of the same thing

The second option is to write more of what you’ve already written. So you look at what sells best and you write more of it. More in that series, more in that world, more in that genre, more under that author name. You add to what’s available to feed your existing fan base and get another chance to bring in more new readers.

This is probably where most self-publishers spend most of their time and effort although I might argue that pursuing 1 and 3 may be the better option for a lot of writers. Not when you’re new, though. When you’re new production is king.

3. Write something new

The third option is to do something brand new. I usually do this at least once a year. So, for example, this year I wrote a book on regulatory compliance. It had nothing to do with what I’d published before but I figured it was worth the time and effort to see if there was any sort of market for it. I’m not rushing to write more but it did well enough I’m pleased I took the time to write it.

I added the cozy series two years ago and Data Principles last year. If something works, it goes into category 2 where you keep doing more of it. If it doesn’t, you move on. But you don’t know until you try. As I mentioned in Data Analysis for Self-Publishers, data analysis is good for what you’ve already done. Not near as helpful for what you haven’t tried yet.


Yeah, so that’s what I think about. And then I come up with a list with four ways to increase existing sales and eight ideas for writing more or something new. And then instead of doing any of it, I come write a blog post instead. Haha. Being creative while the world burns is not easy to do.

Ah, Amazon…

It took six days but the paperback version of Data Analysis for Self-Publishers is now live on Amazon. Or at least it was when I checked this morning.

This was the first time they ever managed to link the ebook and print versions of one of my M.L. Humphrey titles without my asking them to do so. But it didn’t help much when the book wasn’t available for purchase and no price was listed. I wrote them about it and they told me that was the standard publishing process. No, no it isn’t. But thanks for playing.

I had to wait two more days to politely email again and say, “Hey, this isn’t right” and then it finally got fixed.

While I was at it I noticed that my YA fantasy books which are about 400 printed pages as is were showing as 700+ pages because of the large print edition I did at one point. I’d actually gotten them to fix that six months or so ago and unpublished the large print editions to make sure it wouldn’t happen again, but there it was.

I do find that they generally fix things when I ask them to, so kudos for that, but it’s just one added level of angst on everything else especially when you have a lot of books and can’t possibly sit on top of each one all the time.

Like sometimes I forget that they require you to use HTML coding if you want paragraphs on your print book description. Or that you often have to email to ask them to add a new book to a series page listing. Or that they will often only do so for ebooks and not print books. Or the stupid linking of book formats if you use initials in your pen name. Or, or, or…

But they’re the big player so we’re all stuck with them and their many, varied quirks.

Alignment

I’ve been enjoying the Skye Warren FB ads class I’m taking right now. I have a successful ad running for the series I tested it on which is exciting. Fingers crossed it continues.

I’ve done okay with FB ads in the past, but I have this innate dislike of pricing low so I only ever ran them when I had a promotion going on elsewhere, but now that I have a completed six-book series it’s more palatable to me to put Book 1 at 99 cents to bring in a lot of readers.

I’m telling ya, the more books you have out there that tie to one another the more options you have.

The class uses a FB group so we get to see what other authors are doing with their ads and what questions they have. Today there was a post that reminded me of a conversation I had re: AMS ads a while back. It hasn’t been answered yet but for me it brought up the idea of alignment.

If an ad is getting lots of clicks but not getting lots of sales and price or KU enrollment aren’t the issue, then often the issue comes down to one of alignment.

To bring someone from clicking on an ad (AMS is what I know, but the principle holds for all types of ads) to your product page and on to purchase your book, everything has to be aligned.

I could put up a really sexy picture of a man with no shirt and killer abs and get people to click on that ad. But if the book I was advertising was Excel for Beginners, I wouldn’t get many buys from that click. Because people would click looking for a hot sexy man and find…Microsoft Excel. Not what they wanted.

The person I talked to a while back had an issue where they had written a book that was fiction but targeted the book as if it were non-fiction. So readers would click on the book thinking it was an academic sort of analysis of a historical event and then find that it was a fictional retelling of those events. This led to a lot of clicks and no sales.

Because the ad and the book page weren’t aligned.

Another way to think of this is that you don’t want any friction along the way.

It’s like when writing your story. You don’t want to say things that pop the reader out of the story and make them remember that they needed to do laundry today. You want to grab ahold and pull them all the way through without them having to think about it.

To create alignment with advertising you need everything to tell the same story: cover, ad copy, ad image, product page, customer reviews, etc. All of it has to point to the same potential experience.

That customer has a need and is trying to determine if what you’re offering will fill that need.

To carry this further, if you want sellthrough in a series then you actually need to continue that alignment through the entire book.

The customer has a need, you tell them you can meet that need, everything external to the book indicates that you can, and then you have to actually meet the need if you want them to ever buy from you again.

“This is a rip-roaring adventure that’ll grab ahold of you and never let go” sounds really good to a certain type of reader. But if you give that reader a book that has a hundred pages of navel-gazing ponderings about the nature of the universe, you will never see them again.

Just like a book advertised as “a cerebral examination of man’s search for meaning in a desolate world” can’t then be an action-packed comedy.

You’ll get the first sale if you do that, but you won’t get any more sales.

So, bottom line.

If you’re getting clicks on an ad but no buys, something isn’t lining up between the promise the ad is making and the product page.

If you’re getting buys and no follow-through to other books then the promise you made to the reader with your cover, blurb, and advertising wasn’t met.

(In non-fiction it could have been met and the need is now satisfied so no need to continue on but with a fiction series that first book is building trust and a promise about what experience you provide as an author. You need to deliver on that promise to keep that reader.)

Anyway. My thoughts for the day as I (yet again) struggle to start the next novel. (This is the hard part about finishing a series. There’s no pressing need to continue on with a specific project. Sigh.)

 

Data Analysis For Self-Publishers Now Live

I published a book yesterday. One I actually didn’t set out to write. What I wanted to do was quickly update the screenshots and text in Excel for Self-Publishers since I’d just gone through 600+ screenshot updates with my other books and I figured why not do it real quick and get it back out there.

Instead I ended up realizing that what I actually wanted out there was something more high-level that just dealt with the concepts of what data to look at as a self-publisher and how I use that data myself. (This is all in the introduction, by the way.)

Publishing this book shows that I don’t listen to my own analysis as often as I should. But this is my way of dealing with writer’s block. I get stuck on one idea so I do something else rather than just sit there and wait for inspiration to strike. Hence, the absurd number of non-fiction titles I have out at this point.

Anyway. The book is in KU and only $2.99 ebook instead of the normal $4.99 I’d charge. And the paperback whenever Amazon actually decides to show it as genuinely available will be $7.99.

So if this is something you need, enjoy. I will say that I published it yesterday and was already having mental debates with myself today about one of the things I said in there, so it’s not gospel truth, just one way of approaching things.

Also, I made the self-publishing/writing books I’d unpublished from the wide channels available on Payhip for anyone who comes looking for them because I ended up mentioning two of them in the book. You can go to https://payhip.com/mlhumphrey and then click on “Titles Removed from Wide Distribution” to find them.

Data Analysis for SP 20200522