self-publish

So it’s time for another update on my self-publishing journey. Mostly because a lot of people have been asking me questions about the process and what I think of putting my books up by myself.

This post is about money … and how much it costs to self-publish.

A lovely writer was asking me about book covers for her new book that Createspace (the printed book arm of Amazon) said should be out in 2-3 months. Wai … What? *hear a needle scraping across an album* Before I could tell her about a wonderful cover artist, I needed her to explain to me about what Createspace had to do with when her book would be released.

Well, she’d paid them $1400 to “self-publish” her book. I almost fell over backwards. After I recovered I asked what was included in that price. Well, they were giving her an ISBN for both print and ebook … umm, both are free from Amazon. Okay, what else? Well they’d format her book. This is definitely something many people pay for because they don’t want to worry it’s not done right. But the fee I’ve found tops out around $30 per format. So this brings it to about $120 (epub, mobi (kindle), nook, kobo). And it included some editing which you can purchase for upwards of $.01 per word, so about $750 for a 75,000 word novel. It did NOT include a cover.

So she paid $1400 for services that she could have gotten for $870 … tops. I was so sad for her. I wish she had done just a little more research before jumping in. (Keep in mind … in the publishing world money should flow TOWARDS the author. That one piece of advice should be in the back of your brain as you’re making all your decisions.)

Then on the other end of the spectrum I’ve had more than one person mention they can’t afford to self-publish. But with a few really good beta readers (one to read for story consistency and a couple to read for typo/grammar), services you can trade with another author … you may be able to skip the editing fee. With patience, uploading to Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Smashwords, even getting your book ready for print is easy enough. And if you’re not tech savvy, there are pre-made book covers for as little as $25.

There have been many bestsellers I’ve read in the self-publishing realm whose covers aren’t intricate. Yes, a cover is a reader’s first impression, but people will buy a book on a list even if the cover didn’t roll off the NY presses. When you make some money, switching out covers is a simple process. I’ve switched out several original covers for something that better fit the genre.

Let’s face it, this whole thing is a learning process. My feeling if you’re toying with the idea of self-publishing is that it’s better to have a book up and making some money than having it sit unpublished on your computer making nothing.

And to catch you up on what’s going on with me (because I think it’s important for people to share their numbers) … August Sales were amazing and I thought I’d finally found a formula that works for my books. Unfortunately my sales are pushed by the first book in my romantic suspense series being free. Amazon has decided they are no longer going to run the “free” book list next to the top sellers in a category. I have no doubt many of the readers who downloaded my free book saw it because they were perusing the paid books in the same categories.

Guess what happened in September … sales plummeted.

Amazon:
Blind Her with Bliss: Free 9079 downloads (16% drop)
Deceive Her With Desire: 360 sold = $711.30 (43% drop in sales)
Cheat Her With Charm: 282 sold = $563.75 (45% drop in sales)
Shadows of Fire: 14 sold = $34.38

Barnes & Noble:
Blind Her With Bliss: Free through Smashwords
Deceive Her With Desire: 18 sold = $34.92 (32% drop in sales)
Cheat Her With Charm: 14 sold = $27.16 (33% drop in sales)
Shadows of Fire: 4 sold = $9.71

Kobo:
Blind Her With Bliss: Free (no report)
Deceive Her With Desire: 10 sold = $20.90
Cheat Her With Charm: 2 sold = $4.18
Shadows of Fire: 1 sold = $1.23

Smashwords:
The report is difficult to sort through in its current format, it appears I’ve made apporximately $150 in September across all vendors.

I am sure Amazon’s changes had a huge effect on my sales. I can’t say exactly what happened with B&N. Perhaps that’s just the ups and downs of sales. But the fact is … I wouldn’t change my decision to jump on this crazy ride. Feel free to ask me any questions. I’m an open book!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Publishing is a tough gig! Since I’m only in my adolescence when it comes to writing and publishing I can’t tell you if the days of the typewriter and printed manuscripts were harder than publishing is now. I really don’t know if the number of digital publishers and the ability to self-publish is making life easier or harder for the author.

What I do know is that there are a TON of books being released every day. No, I didn’t look up the exact numbers. (Feel free to google it.) But just think of all the traditional publishers, then add in small e-presses then add in self-published books and you have a lot of authors trying to find readers. It’s a regular cacophony of word music and it’s definitely hard for an individual instrument to stand out among all the overlapping songs.

There are only a few soloists who stand out, which means most authors are trying to find that one little trick that gets them heard. What will make their melody resonate above the river of music? Figuratively turn up the volume.

Okay, enough music metaphors. LOL! You get the idea.

Let’s face it, we all tag and like each other’s books. Why? Because there are rumors that the “likes” on Amazon affects the algorithms for a book and possibly give it a little extra to get up on the lists. (Since no one knows for sure, that information can’t be verified.) At the very least, when a reader pops over to a page and only 6 people have liked a book, it doesn’t quite have the psychological boost that a book with 231 likes gets. People wonder what they’re missing if that many people like a book. Is this gaming the system? Could be.

Knowing the impact of reviews, last year I began writing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for the books I’ve read. And guess what? I read a lot of self-published writers because that’s who I’m hanging with these days. If readers wanted to start pointing fingers they could say I’m padding the reviews of my friends … even if my reviews are totally honest.

The internet is a buzz about authors buying honest reviews. Yet, publishers (and authors) buy advertisements in romance magazines and books get reviewed. Isn’t that the same thing? There are stories of bestselling author buying thousands of copies of their own releases to have the new release climb the charts. So is all this gaming actually cheating the system? How far does it have to go before it steps over the line?

Is offering a book for free as a loss leader considered cheating? Some say yes. I don’t think so. What I think is that it’s one of those tools that’s allowed my books to actually stand up in front of readers and scream “Try Me!“.

I’ve had three self-published books out for nearly a year. And you can see March Sales, May Sales and June Sales were nothing that could be called a living wage. But after several backflips (which ain’t easy for a woman with MS) and lots of groveling (see the post with the June sales), I finally got Amazon to price match BLIND HER WITH BLISS, the first book in the Tilling Passions series for FREE.

And guess what? I can actually say my writing is starting to make the kind of money I’d always hoped it would. Here are sales for the last six weeks.

Amazon:
Blind Her With Bliss: 80,000 Free, 14 sold = $30.00
Blind at UK site: 4663 Free, 0 Sold = $0.00
Deceive Her With Desire: 760 books = $1550.40
Deceive at UK site: 34 books = $35
Cheat Her With Charm: 563 books = $1148.52
Cheat at UK site = 22 books = $23

Barnes and Noble:
Blind Her With Bliss: Free
Deceive Her With Desire: 47 books = $91.18
Cheat Her With Charm: 39 books = $75.66

Smashwords:
Approximate sales for Apple, Kobo, Sony and Diesel = $480.33

As many of you know, I released a 4th self-published book this week. I’m hoping with an excerpt at the end of the third book that readers will begin buying that book and sales will only go up.

Will this last? I don’t know. I’m really pleased after all my back-breaking work last year that something is finally falling into place for me. All I can do is keep writing the best books possible and hope the readers continue to enjoy them.

So, what do you think? Do you think there’s too much “gaming” going on in the book business? Are the truly great books rising to the top or is it the author who knows how to play the system that comes out ahead? Let me know what you think, I’m curious about stuff like this.

This is just a little bitty rant tirade story of a discouraged woman. (I hesitate to rehash my bad luck on Friday the 13th, but I’m feeling daring. So here goes …)

Last year, after thinking about it for a long while, I finally self-published a book. It was an easy decision for me. I had a three book series that had gone out of print at my original publisher and I didn’t see any reason not to self-publish. I’m very happy I did. I highly recommend it. (Seriously, even after you read this little tale of woe, I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything different with this series.)

But … (isn’t there always a but?) I really can’t seem to catch a break. *sigh*

The books were originally written as erotic suspense. They were basically my first attempt at writing erotic romance and I was still learning the craft of telling a sexually explicit love story. What I discovered is that they weren’t the right kind of story for erotic romance readers, but were too explicit for main stream contemporary romance readers. I rewrote them and toned down the sex and amped up the suspense.

In 2011 when I released BLIND HER WITH BLISS and DECEIVE HER WITH DESIRE, I had my artist design sexy covers for them. Though they weren’t erotica, they were still on the “hot” side of romance. When they didn’t sell, I stepped back and reassessed. I had the covers redesigned, changed the titles (the ones they currently have) to reflect the suspense element and edited even more sex out of the books.

I was really pleased with the changes and set out marketing. In the fall of 2011 the third book CHEAT HER WITH CHARM was released, but still I couldn’t help people find my books. A sale in December popped the sales a little, but still not what I was hoping. I decided to offer the first book free in February. The downloads were going well, when Amazon decided to throw my book out of romantic suspense and contemporary romance into the erotic category. And the downloads came to a screeching halt. Readers that downloaded the book thinking it was erotic romance were very disappointed. It took me over a week to get Amazon to correct the problem. By the time Amazon had it back in the right categories the momentum had been lost and the number of downloads never did rebound.

Mid-April I made the mistake of taking it off free. Thinking sales would continue as they had, the sales went completely downhill.

I decided to make it free again at the beginning of June. But in Amazon’s infinite wisdom they price matched the wrong book. It took a week to get that straightened out. But now I have BLIND HER WITH BLISS free at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, Sony and Diesel, but Amazon won’t price match. As a matter of fact they have now decided this book … that isn’t erotic romance … is too explicit to list in general searches by Amazon readers.

Try searching it. It’s gone.

Yes, my direct links work. But you can’t go to Amazon and search “Nina Pierce” and have it show up in my list of books. You can’t find it by searching the title. And now I am fighting with Amazon to convince them that the book is not explicit and should be listed and searchable.

I’m ringing my hands. What I’ve learned is that when this is all said and done I’m leaving it. No more messing with prices. No more trying to price match. Just sit back and let things percolate and let Amazon lose sight of me. In the meantime … anyone have any suggestions?

Today I’d like to welcome dear friend and fellow author Pam Champagne. A Maine author, Pam writes romantic suspense novels with enough danger to keep you riveted to the edge of your seat and sweet love to keep you turning pages late into the night. Take it away Pam …

Thank you Nina for inviting me to your blog to promote my latest release, Missing In Action.

Many of you weren’t around in the sixties and early seventies when our country was at war with Vietnam. The memories of those years still haunt me. Too many good friends and classmates were lost. I was not one of the war protestors flooding the streets. Perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but like Nina, I tell it how I see it. I’m ashamed of U.S. citizens, like Jane Fonda, who supplied the enemy with propaganda. It was a scary time.

When I was in college I used to go every day after classes to Chelsea Naval Hospital where the badly wounded were brought in by the dozens. I’d read to them, talk with them and listen to stories of their wives and girlfriends back home. Sometimes they’d just want to hold a warm hand.

In later years, I became involved in groups who pressured the U.S. Government to account for those still listed missing in action. Time has a way of making memories fade and many families and relatives wanted closure to the extent they accepted government proof of their loved ones deaths. Most of the so-called “proof” wouldn’t stand up in a court of law. Bone fragments near the site of a crash or a battle that even forensics couldn’t identify the DNA.

Hence, came the idea for my book, Missing In Action which is available at Amazon. And the really good news? It can be downloaded FREE July 11, 12 and 13th.

BLURB:
Zoe Zanardi was born with a gift. She paints pictures of people she’s never met. One day an unseen force draws her into an antique shop where she finds an old POW-MIA bracelet. Through the bracelet, she discovers her biological father, a pilot, missing-in-action, during the Vietnam War. Zoe is convinced the bracelet is communicating with her and her father is still alive somewhere in Southeast Asia. She is determined to travel to Vietnam to find him, with or without the help of Chad Stone, a private investigator and former CIA agent, who turns up at her mother’s house one day with information about her father. Coincidence? Or is there more to her father’s disappearance? Are Zoe and Chad mere pawns in a deadly game?

EXCERPT:
Zoe burrowed further under the damp sheet in a futile attempt to recapture her dream. She’d been on the beach back in Maine with the waves lapping her toes in the sand. A safe, secure haven.

“Zoe! Wake up.” The harshly whispered command did its job. She wasn’t home on the beach. She was in a hotel in Vietnam with a man hot enough to burn the morning bacon and who seemed to have the morals of Sushi before he’d been castrated.

She bolted upright. “What do you want?” she rasped, pushing her heavy hair out of her eyes. “What time is it?”

Chad backed away from the bed and glanced at his watch. “Four o’clock,” he whispered.

“In the morning?” she croaked. “Why are you waking me so early?”

His low voice had a hint of huskiness. “We’re leaving.” He tossed some clothes on the bed before putting his mouth to her ear. “We’ve got to get out of here before they realize we found the hearing devices.” Chad walked around the bedroom, checking under chairs, under the beds. “I’ve tucked what we’re taking into one backpack. Leave the other one here.”

Wide-awake now, she sat up. “What about Sam and Kiko?”

Chad barely glanced at her as he continued checking under furniture and behind pictures. “Keep your voice to a whisper. We’re leaving without them.”

Zoe’s heart pounded. Didn’t Chad realize that Kiko and Sam wouldn’t just give up and go home? “Sam can have us arrested with one phone call. He’ll put out an APB or whatever they call it here.”

Chad’s gaze finally settled on her, the gray of his eyes dark, but calm and determined. “That’s why we won’t be traveling on main roads. I’ve got a destination. Once we arrive, we’ll have new identities.”

Not traveling on main roads? New identities? Zoe swallowed hard when she saw Chad push a handgun into the backpack. Where had that come from? Zoe continued sitting in bed as she scrutinized his changed appearance. He’d shaved his beard, making him look more like the man she’d met.

“Come on,” he said. “Get dressed. We’re walking out of here in five minutes.”

No matter what he looked like, this definitely wasn’t the man she’d first met. Zoe scrambled from beneath the covers and threw on her clothes. One quick trip to the bathroom, and she was ready to roll. On their way out the door, she leaned down and grabbed her sketchpad from the coffee table. She ripped off the drawing of the War Crimes Museum and tossed it on the table. It might buy them some time.

Chad touched her arm. “Good thinking. Let’s move.”

In the hall, they moved passed the elevators and headed toward the exit stairs. Chad led, pausing to glance over his shoulder a few times. Making sure she stayed close? Zoe figured she wasn’t doing too badly for a woman who normally couldn’t function without at least two cups of strong black coffee. Must be the adrenaline.

Their footsteps sent an eerie echo spiraling down the stairwell. At last they reached the bottom, and he stopped her with his hand. He disappeared through the exit door. Zoe waited on the bottom step, the only sound she heard was blood pounding in her ears.

The door creaked open. Chad waved her outside. As soon as her feet hit the sidewalk, he grabbed her arm. “We’re going to a safe house. There’s a car waiting there.”

Zoe matched his long strides with little problem. Every now and then, he’d lean close ask if she was all right. To an onlooker, they’d look like two tourists.

She soon lost track of the turns they made. The street twisted and curved through one of the strangest neighborhoods she’d ever seen. Row after row of houses made from old tin cans. They must have been left over from the war. Most labels were in English. The cans had been flattened and nailed onto some sort of wood then fit together to make outside walls and preserved with lacquer. The sight was odd and colorful, adding new meaning to recycling.

At one of the entrances, Chad stopped and knocked. How did he know which door he wanted? They all looked alike. Perhaps he recognized it from the can of spinach above the doorknob. She almost giggled at the thought. A few doors away dogs started to bark.

A light went on. The door opened enough to allow them to slip inside. Zoe stayed behind Chad, not sure what to say, if anything at all. A Vietnamese man, whose age would be anyone’s guess, came forward. “I’m Tahn. Sgt. Jack say you come.”

Chad shook the man’s hand. “Have you got the Jeep? And maps?”

“Jeep not far away. First, you come with me.”

The two men left the room through a door on the far wall. Zoe whirled around when someone touched her arm and met the eyes of a young, doe-eyed woman. “Tea?”

Zoe smiled. “Yes, thank you.”

The woman waved her to the table. Zoe sat down and accepted the minute cup handed to her. Steam curled upwards, releasing the sweet scent of green tea. Zoe sipped the tea while she glanced around the shadows of the tiny room. Sparsely furnished, the single room served as a combination kitchen and living room and den.

Her mouth watered at the smell of food that preceded her host, who’d returned to place two more dishes on table. “Rice and pho. You eat. It good.”

Having had nothing to eat for longer than she could remember, Zoe grabbed the chop sticks and wolfed down the rice. She ate the noodles and bits of meat from the pho, a type of soup, before picking up the dish and drinking the broth. Probably wasn’t the proper way to eat it, but at this point, she wasn’t too concerned with manners.

“This is very good.” Zoe smiled at the woman seated opposite her.

“Thank you.”

Now that her stomach was full, she wondered exactly what type of meat she’d eaten. Bile rose in her throat, but she swallowed it and concentrated on the tea.

“We do anything for Sgt. Jack,” the woman offered, a smile lighting her face.

Sgt. Jack. That must be Chad’s friend. The one helping them to escape. The word escape brought a chill to her overheated skin. She and Chad were on the run in a foreign country. Not only a foreign country—a communist country.

A small hand extended across the table. “I’m Bi’hn.”

“Zoe.”

Bi’hn raised her hand and stroked Zoe’s hair. Her face seemed sad, almost as if someone had died. “So pretty.” Bi’hn picked up the scissors next to her plate.

“I don’t understand—” Zoe broke off when Chad returned to the room.

“Chad, I…” She trailed off and took a box he held out to her. A picture was worth a thousand words. Even though the instructions were in Vietnamese, she didn’t need a translator to know she held a box of black hair dye. Her gaze flew to his face.

“It’ll make for safer traveling.”

Zoe dropped her gaze and nodded. Bi’hn touched her arm. Sighing, Zoe followed her to do the deed.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Missing in Action is a story near and dear to my heart. Do you have memories of this turbulent time in history or stories of soldiers bravely defending out country today? I’d love to hear them.

Thanks so much for having me Nina.

Glad to have you Pam! To find out more information about Pam’s books, please visit her website or follow her updates on facebook. And don’t forget to download Missing in Action!

Any of you who stop by my blog on a regular basis know I’m an over-achiever. I always have been. I blame it on being the middle child of five and my mother. (Aren’t all problems the mama’s fault?) Just kidding mom. I have no idea what drives me. I just know that when I decide to do something I learn everything I can about it and plunge in with both feet fully expecting to succeed! Failure is not an option. It’s not just a motto … it’s how I’m wired.

And so it was with the writing career I began 7 years ago. In anticipation of leaving my teaching job I took a “Writing Fiction” class at the local university. No sense going into something new without having the tools to do it right. (It would take me a whole year of writing to figure out I’d spent $400 on a class that wasn’t worth the cost of paper the syllabus was written on. But that’s a rant for another blog …) My point is, I was ready to buckle down and write! I had dollar signs in my eye. After all I wanted to replace my teaching salary.

I won’t repeat the road I’ve travelled since most of you already know so let’s fast forward.

After years of publishing books with traditional digital publishers, I was discouraged by my lack of sales. Regardless of what sub-genre of erotic romance I wrote or what marketing I tried, I just couldn’t seem to hit the same numbers as other successful authors with the same publisher. After watching the success of so many writers who went before me, I decided to self-publish three previously published books whose contracts had expired. (It will be a year at the end of the summer that the books will have been available.) I mean, the money is in self-publishing, right? Well, okay, not for everyone. I’ve been very open about my numbers. What’s worked for me and what hasn’t. I do this because I’m hearing so many authors making HUGE money. Like, win the lottery kind of money. In light of that, it’s hard to stand up and say “I finally got a check this month from B&N”. (Minimum payment $10.) That would be THIS post.

My sales have continued to grow as can be seen HERE and HERE. I credit the growth of my sales to offering the first book in my series BLIND HER WITH BLISS, free across all retailers in February and March. I stopped the free promotion at the beginning of April and sales plunged.

Just as I was trying to offer that first book free once again, Amazon made a mistake and price matched the second book, DECEIVE HER WITH DESIRE at the beginning of June. For a week it was given away free. A huge advertising site picked up the promotion and before Amazon corrected the mistake 20,000 books were downloaded. (I would have been ecstatic if it were the first book as that was my plan, but if I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck. LOL!) I also learned during all of this that Amazon has changed its terms of service. Even if it price matched in error you are NOT due royalties from lost sales. Bummed me out it took them 5 full days to find out they had made an error. Fortunately, when it came off free this time the book continued to sell (as you can see on Amazon). The sales at B&N on the other hand, haven’t been the same since BLIND was offered free. And I’ve figured out why my books aren’t selling through Sony … I discovered the first book in the series is completely missing in their listings and the book descriptions of the other two are missing on the book pages. (Lesson learned: periodically check book pages at all vendors to check price and book info.)

So here are the approximate sales for May & June:

Amazon:
Blind Her With Bliss: 140 books = $240.00
Deceive Her With Desire: (20,000 free) 160 books = $310
Cheat Her With Charm: 137 books = $265

Barnes & Noble:
Blind Her With Bliss: Distributed through Smashwords (so it can be offered free)
Deceive Her With Desire: 56 books = $109
Chear Her With Charm: 39 books = $77

Smashwords (approximations since reporting is inconsistent here):
Apple: 186 books
B&N: 1187 (free and $.99 Blind Her With Bliss books)
Diesel: 12 books
Kobo: 43 books
Sony: 2 books
$700 across all venues

Self-publishing these books was a great decision for me. I don’t regret it at all. With formatting and uploading becoming more user-friendly it’s getting easier to publish direct. I don’t see any reason why an author wouldn’t want to include self-publishing in their marketing plan. My sales are steadily growing. And yes, self-publishing is a marathon. But this impatient over-achiever always wanted to be a sprinter even if it meant jumping a few hurdles.

Check back next month to see how my sales are going. If all goes well (and luck is on my side) Amazon will stop being so stubborn and finally price match all the other sites and the first book in my series will be offered free at all retailers boosting sales for the other two books.

Have I ever mentioned how hard it is to write a book? I mean getting from Once upon a time to They rode off into the sunset is not only a difficult process … doing it well takes a lot of brain energy! (Well, for me anyway.)

There are all kinds of people who believe they have a book in them. Very few sit down to actually give it a try. A smaller number of those who try ever get to the end. A small portion of those that finish actually edit their story and send it out or publish it themselves. That’s an itty bitty bit of the population who actually have books available to readers.

And there are hundreds of thousands of readers out there looking for their next book to read. When they’re surfing Amazon or B&N do you think they care if it was published through a big NY publisher, a small press or if it was self-published? Okay, yeah so some of them do, but there’s a huge majority of readers with kindles and nooks and iPhones (and a whole bunch of devices I know nothing about) who are downloading books onto these devices and all they really want is to be entertained for a few hours.

And if the readers don’t care how the book they’re reading got to be published … why would another author?

I’ve only been in this publishing world for 7 years. In the grand scheme of things I’m just a toddler. I’ve never written a manuscript long hand. I’ve never typed my manuscript on a typewriter and piled the accumulated pages. I’ve never worried if the print on my computer was set so there was exactly 250 words a page (because a publisher wanted to know how many pages a book would be in the print version). I’ve never gotten my edits through the mail with red editing marks on my printed manuscript. My “call” came in the form of an email. I even signed my first contract electronically.

But even in the short time period since I began this journey, publishing has changed.

When I published my first full novel with a digital only publisher, many writers (and Romance Writers of America) felt I wasn’t really published. I can’t tell you how many people looked down their nose at me even as I cranked out eight books in two years. It took years for many people to realize e-books were here to stay. I think it began right about the day that Oprah announced on her television show that she’d discovered a Kindle. Oh, well if Oprah said …

Yeeeeah, I’ve already been through an “us vs them” attitude.

And you know what? It’s starting all over again. Only this time it’s “traditional” publishing (meaning NY authors who have chosen to sign a contract with an advance and a print book) throwing stones at the self-published (also called indie-published) faction. Oh, and don’t get me wrong, the name calling, hair pulling and clawing is going both ways. There are some big name authors who have blog posts claiming all self-published authors put out unedited drivel with no entertainment value. There are indie authors claiming all traditionally published authors are literary snobs.

Really? All?

Let’s face it, with so many people reading, everyone feels there is crap on both sides of the publishing aisle. And the fact is … what one person sees as crap another sends to the top seller list. (50 Shades? Twilight? Hunger Games? Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?) There are authors that are auto-buys for me, but a friend would never pick up.

This whole thing is really dividing the author community and I just want to scream WHY? On the one hand authors are some of the most giving people I know. There have been many who have helped me when I didn’t understand the publishing process. Many who critiqued and taught and took time to point me in the right direction. But they can also be some of the most stubborn, judgmental people I know.

Just this week I put out a long post about all the roads to publishing a book. Do I care how someone gets their book published? No. Do I feel they’re only valid if their agent got them a six figure advance? No. (Though I will be just a taaaad envious for a little while.) Do I care if an author’s success came from books they self-published? No.(Though again with a short pause to entertain my envy that they just bought a new BMW with their last royalties.)

I’m really sick of people pointing fingers and being angry and screaming that one way is more right than another and saying mean things about other authors. Really? What right does someone have to tell another author what’s right for their writing career. They don’t. And I’m not even sure why they would want to spend the time trying.

I’m a scientist in my soul and a teacher at heart. I research and I share. I don’t judge. I answer questions when asked and support when needed. I’m not interested in taking sides. And I’m getting really tired of people who do.

***NOTE I guess I’m not alone. Check out this post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and this post by Dean Wesley Smith and an open letter by Anna Elliot. Guess LOTS of authors are tired of this finger pointing and name calling.

Seven years ago when I began this writing journey my vision of how a book would go from my imagination to a manuscript to the readers’ hands seemed like a pretty well-worn path. The whole author —-> agent —-> publisher direction was the only avenue I understood.

Enter digital books and small presses and publishers who read manuscripts without having them submitted by an agent. Suddenly the publishing world opened up and more authors were jumping up and down over signing their first contract. Many (including Romance Writers of America) were appalled by the lack of advances. They felt authors weren’t making good business decsions or worse yet, that they were treating their writing career as a “hobby”. But the truth is, with a higher royalty rate, authors (including me) were pleased with their contracts.

Then along came a respectable way to self-publish (called indie-publishing by some) and the world exploded for authors. There were authors talking about leaving their jobs to write full time and others talking about making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Not just the NYT and USA bestselling, big name authors, but authors new to the publishing world (EL James anyone?) and exploding onto the scene.

Now, before I go any further, I need to explain that I’m one of those people who wants to have all the information I can gather before making a decision. I received 4 contract offers on the first book I published. I actually went through their author lists and emailed to ask several questions about their publisher. From the author’s responses (or lack thereof) I was able to make an informed decsion and signed a contract that fit me. This blog post is really just me sharing some current information. I would not presume to make any judgments about other author’s choices for publication nor am I trying to steer people away from traditional publishing. I’m just throwing out some food for thought.

As far as traditional publishing, there may not be a better time to have your manuscript read. Recently, I’ve seen several publishers putting out calls for submissions. I suspect it may be due to the fact that slush piles aren’t quite as high with all the authors self-publishing. And if you choose that avenue, just go in with your eyes open. Not all traditional publishers are created equal. Ann Voss Peterson gives a great run down of her Harlequin vs self publishing experience. And Courtney Milan also gives a great accounting of her Harlequin and self-published book royalties and expenses. It’s easy enough to find out information about other publishers by simply asking around.

Maybe the disadvantages of traditional publishing outweigh the advantages for you. And you’re wondering .. Why wouldn’t I self publish? The answers are as individual and varied as authors. I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of traditional vs self-publishing. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has done a great job in THIS POST blogging about the differences between the two publishing options. (It’s really a wonderful post and totally worth reading if you have a manuscript and you’re sitting on the fence trying to decide what you want to do with it.)

So why did I choose to go the self-publishing route? For one, I had books whose rights reverted back to me after their contract expired at my first publisher. I didn’t think they fit at my other publisher and frankly, I didn’t have any solid reason not to try. As it turned out, self-publishing has been the financial boon I hadn’t quite achieved with my publishers. Yes, I’m still submitting and publishing traditionally, but I’m also choosing to spread my business across the self-publishing venue. With my last royalty statement from my publisher it’s become apparent that sales of my Tilling Passions Series has prompted sales of other books. Readers around the world are finding my books and that’s a very cool thing. But mostly it makes me happy because, for the first time in my career, my ledger is running in the black and I’m only 6 months into 2012!

I’m not shy in encouraging authors to give self-publishing a try. I know it made my knees quake before I actually ventured into the waters. But now that I’m there I’ve got to tell you, the swimming is easy and the water is refreshing. Am I saying I won’t pursue a NY contract? I’m not sure. Right now I don’t seem to have the patience to sit and write that novel that would fit the NY market. With everything going on in my life, my muse doesn’t seem to want to settle down. But with all the changes in publishing, I’m willing to stay flexible enough to take my career in the direction that works best for me.

What about you? Are you comfortable where you’re sitting right now? Are you looking to make changes or is status quo working for you? You know me, I’m curious about stuff like that.

 

One of the things that I’ve learned in this publishing business is that sales beget sales.

You just have to look at 50 Shades of Grey to see what I mean. Readers who wouldn’t have picked up an erotic romance novel, let alone one with a BDSM theme can’t get their hands on this book fast enough! Yet, the fact that this is the best-selling book across all venues (Amazon, iTunes, B&N) says that readers are buying it because everyone else is and they want to find out what all the fuss is about.

This is true of any book on the best-sellers list. A book reaching the top catches the attention of potential readers who buy the book and keep it on the best-selling list. Do the lists drive each and every person in the book-buying population? Of course not. But enough readers look to the top sellers either by category or in general to make decisions about their purchases.

Which means, as an author … WE WANT OUR BOOKS ON THOSE LISTS!

Until I was published for awhile I never quite understood the ranking numbers on Amazon. (And now B&N is showing rankings on books as well, but no categories like Amazon) Here’s a good break down for Amazon sales that I think is pretty accurate:

Bestsellers Overall Rank 8,500 to 40,000 – selling 1 to 10 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 3,000 to 8,500 – selling 10 to 30 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 1,000 to 3,000 – selling 30 to 100 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 450 to 1,000 – selling 100 to 150 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 200 to 450 – selling 150 to 300 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 80 to 200 – selling 300 to 600 books a day
Bestsellers Rank 50 to 80 – selling 600 to 3,000 books a day

But the fact is, no one has been able to crack how Amazon calculates its sales algorithms. Which makes sense. They don’t want publishers to somehow manipulate sales and therefore rankings, which of course would then push more sales.

al·go·rithm
[al-guh-rith-uhm]
noun
a set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps, as for finding the greatest common divisor

With the number of books being self-published growing exponentially it seems Amazon is now revising their algorithms to change how FREE! and $.99 books show up on the lists. Did they mention this? Well, no. And as much as I love math, being a science geek and all … I certainly didn’t put the numbers together. But some authors who have had their books in the KDP Select Program–where you can put your book up for free for up to 5 days in a 90 day period–are finding sales after going free have significantly reduced from when the program began. The theory is that the change in algorithms is making it so you have to sell more at a lower price to make it onto the best-selling lists.

Check out THIS post that discusses in depth the changes at Amazon. The original posts by Edward Robertson can be found HERE. Whether you’re an author or a reader you should take a look. Go ahead, I’ll wait …

Interesting what Amazon appears to be doing isn’t it? Are they trying to move authors (and therefore readers) away from the FREE! and $.99 bargains where they make little or no money from sales? Hard to say. But many authors are finding better success with higher prices. Question is whether that’s getting them up on lists where readers are finding them and purchasing the books or are readers perceiving higher priced books are better quality? Wish I knew the answer.

What I do know … and what I’m advising authors just starting out in the self-publishing business … what worked two years ago for John Locke and Amanda Hocking, heck what worked for your author friend just six months ago probably isn’t going to work as a marketing strategy for a book being published today. $.99 rolled into hundreds of thousands of sales a year or two ago. I don’t believe that will work anymore, especially with Amazon (possibly) working to change the rules of the game. Check out THIS POST to see how I’ve used the FREE! marketing technique for my series. Am I saying NEVER put a book out for FREE! or $.99? Not at all. I’m simply saying, carefully look at your particular circumstances and find a marketing strategy that works for you.

So blog readers … Is your book buying driven by lists? Are there other factors that influence your choices? Of course I’m asking … you know me, I’m curious like that.

 

With Amazon, B&N and other venues making it so easy to publish a book, there’s lots of talk in the publishing world about editing.

When I first started writing I believed I’d send my manuscript in and some editor-type person would have a look at it, tell me they liked it, but …

And I thought that “but” would be how to improve, make it stronger and yes, could they please send me an advance check and they’d be happy to work with me to get my manuscript ship shape and on the local bookstore, Target and Wal-mart book shelves.

Ha! Make that a hearty, roll on the floor, bust a gut, hahahahahahahahaha!

What I’ve learned in the years since I submitted my first manuscript is that publishing companies don’t have the resources to take a newbie writer and help them polish. Agents don’t want to represent someone who is still learning the craft. I’m not criticizing … I’m just stating fact.

I do think there was a time when publishing houses molded and refined a manuscript. But that was loooong before the first “Once Upon a Time” ever got typed on my computer. I used to quake in my shoes when I read the words “polish to one inch of your manuscript’s life” on the submission guidelines for an agent or a publishing house. I don’t anymore, because I get it.

After I write my manuscript, I have a couple friends read it. Does it flow? Is it free of typos? Did I answer all the questions for the suspense plot? Did I do a reasonable job of making you care about the hero and heroine? I’ve got some awesome friends who are amazing when it comes to that stuff and I wouldn’t have the confidence to continue to submit my work if it weren’t for the efforts they put in for me.

Then, and only then, after I’ve gone through it line by line and they’ve gone through it line by line do I submit. That’s what the publisher/agent wants to see. They aren’t interested in seeing the first draft of my work. Heck, half the time, I’m not interested in the first draft of my work. 😀

But once the manuscript is accepted … that’s only the beginning. One of my novellas … which will remain nameless 😉 had to have a couple scenes rewritten before it even went into editing. No problem. I happily made the changes because the suggestions were awesome observations by the acquisitions editor.

Not all publishers edit the same and you should be aware of this before going through the process. There are some who simply do line edits … look for typos, misplaced or missing commas or the wrong “there”, “they’re” or “their” word. That kind of stuff. The editing department isn’t looking for plots that don’t come together or storylines that aren’t complete. They assume the author has done that already. Just be aware your potential publisher may fall into this category and make sure your novel(la) has been read by more than one person and all the ends are tied up (or not if it’s a series) satisfactorily.

Fortunately for me, the publishers I’ve worked with have full service editing department. That means the editors I’ve worked with (and I’ve had some amazing editors in my writing journey), point out poor wording choices or plot inconsistencies. (They’ve all given up trying to teach me about comma placement … I’m a hopeless cause when it comes to that. As a couple of them have said, I sprinkle commas like a pepper shaker.) Fortunately I’ve only had one who’s actually tried to change wording which actually changed my voice, but understood when I stuck to my guns. You have to remember, an editor’s job is to push me to write the best story I can.

Now that I’m looking to self-publish my first original book, I need to find a freelance editor. I won’t have a trusted person at a publisher looking through my book. I’m gonna tell you, it’s just a little intimidating, but I feel more comfortable knowing I’ve been through this process and I know what I’m looking for in an editor. It certainly will make it easier searching for someone who fits with my style.

Editing doesn’t hurt … it’s an awesome learning process for me. And I’m grateful to the publishers I’ve worked with who are so thorough with their editing. So don’t be intimidated when a publisher/agent asks you to edit your manuscript before you submit. They aren’t looking for you to be a NYT best seller right of the starting block … they just want to know that you care enough to send them your very best work.

So it’s been a month since I shared sales figures for my self-published romantic suspense series. In the spirit of full disclosure I thought I’d share what’s happened since I put the first book in my series up for free! I have to tell you, there are still LOTS of people who cringe that authors are doing this for fear it may set up 1) unrealistic sales expectations for readers or 2) that it is devaluing the time and talent required to write a full novel. But as you’ll see, this is working for me.

I didn’t enroll these short novels in the Kindle Select program where Amazon asks for exclusivity to any books in that program. They also offer authors the opportunity to take advantage of 5 free days during the 90 day period it is in the select program. This just didn’t seem to fit for my books and I chose to upload my book through Smashwords and have it distriubted for free to all venues save for Amazon. Once the lower price was reported to Amazon, my book was price matched at the $0.00.

And I want to repeat what I said last month. There are many authors making goooood money through self-publishing. Some of these authors are even being courted by Amazon to pull their book from the virtual self-publishing shelves and sign a contract with their Montlake publishing arm. There are many success stories, including Debra Holland, who has also been forthcoming about her sales success with her self-published series. But remember it ain’t all roses and royalty checks for everyone.

And there isn’t one right path to success in the self-publishing business. What works for me and my books, may not work for you. The only consistency is writing the best book you can and making sure it not only is well-edited, but also presented in the correct format for the platform whether it be kindle, nook, sony or iTunes. So don’t hesitate to try different price points or different methods of promotion. Find out what works for you.

Listing the first book in my sexy romantic suspense series, BLIND HER WITH BLISS has been a real boost for promoting my books. Following are the sales I posted last month for books released 4/11, 6/11 and 11/11. (Sales figures are just for Amazon, because there weren’t enough others at B&N, Smashwords or ARe to make an impact on my royalties.)

December: 136 books = $142.80
January: 74 books = $84.22
February (until the 20th): 4695 free books 20 books = $40.00 (approx.)

And here are the sales for the full month of Feb and March (to Date). And just a note, I took my books down from All Romance Ebooks because they really weren’t selling over there:

Amazon

Free Downloads: 6280
Deceive Her With Desire: 73 books = $76.65
Cheat Her With Charm: 62 books = $65.10

Barnes & Noble
Free Downloads: 2319 (through Smashwords)
Deceive Her With Desire: 87 = $168.78
Cheat Her With Charm: 56 = $108.64

Apple (through Smashwords)
Total Books:   264 = $448.85
(That’s if I’m reading my Smashwords report correctly. It’s the first time I’ve had sales there, so I’m trying to figure this one out)

So there you have it. It may not be the blockbuster sales other authors are experiencing, but seeing as March is turning out to be my most successful month ever, I’m extremely pleased. I whole-heartedly believe that offering my book for FREE! is working for me. BLIND HER WITH BLISS floats between 15 and 30 on the free romantic suspense list right next to the PAID list. And 25 to 40 on the contemporary list. (It was lower on both lists at the beginning of the month when downloads were at their peak.) Being listed next to the paid books means that readers who search particular categories may peruse books listed for free as well.

B&N doesn’t have a ranking system, but I have no doubt it is the free book that allowed readers to try out a new-to-them author and brought about the sales of the second and third books in the series. Since I haven’t seen any sales at that venue prior to this, it is the only thing I can attribute my sales success this month.

Again, this method might not work for you. But with my sales the highest they’ve ever been, I know offering the first book in my series is working for me. Writers, have you tried something different that worked to get your books noticed? As a reader, what makes you willing to try a new author you’ve never read before?

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