Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Guest Post by Nick Kristof

I want to start this post by thanking Joe for offering the Tess Gerritsen blog post challenge.  You might not remember it, because it happened all the way back in July of 2013, but the gist was this:  If an individual donated $200 to a gofundme campaign by author Tess Gerritsen in support of Alzheimer's Disease research, Joe would allow that person to guest post on his blog.  Great deal -- and many people took advantage of it.  I immediately realized the potential in having that opportunity.  At the same time, Alzheimer's struck very close to home for me personally.  It is a cause to which I have donated money on many occasions.  Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.

I have always wanted to be a writer.  I had not really considered it, having a full-time career and a family to look after, until I stumbled across A Newbie's Guide to Publishing.  Joe's blog inspired me to go for it.  My reading tastes cover the gamut, but I have a special place in my heart for science fiction and fantasy, so I decided to write some fantasy.  Now, 180K words later, I can at least call myself a fantasy writer.  The story, which I am going to publish as two novels, is called The Ramparts of Tharrenton Deep.

My intention in July of 2013 was to complete my novel, which I had been working on for over a year by that point, and then post about my experiences.  Needless to say, things did not quite work out that way.  My single novel grew to be two, and then life got in the way:  The writing came in fits and starts.  I relocated to another country across an ocean.  I started in a new position that required lots of travel.  And so on…

Well, two and a half years later, those two novels are finished.  In all, it took me four years to write them, and I am now in the final stages of preparing them for publication.

Quick aside:  I believe that one of the strengths of Joe’s blog is that he and his guest posters almost always include tips or advice for would-be authors.  Let’s face it:  That’s why so many of us come here repeatedly.  Well, here’s my advice:  Don’t ever quit.  Don’t.  Ever.  Quit.  I certainly didn’t expect my story to take four years to write.  But it did.  There were many occasions where I thought to myself, “Self, Just put it away.”  But I ignored that voice, persevered, and it is done; I am extremely proud of the result.

With the writing complete, I knew I wanted to produce a professional book for publication.  I knew that in order to do that, I needed to spend some money—professional editing, proofreading, E-book design, and cover art all cost money.  A glance to the right will show you who I am hiring for those tasks: 52novels for E-book design, Grammer Rules A to Z for proofreading, and You’re Published for print design.  I will also be purchasing original art for my cover.

These services do not necessarily cost a lot of money, but for someone on a tight budget, it is a not-insignificant amount.  It was for this reason that I chose to attempt to fund the publication of my novels with a Kickstarter campaign.  Kickstarter has its supporters and detractors, but I have watched numerous publishing projects successfully fund over the past few years.  My campaign is live right now; I don’t know if it will be successful, but I’m going to give it a shot.

If you have a spare moment, please go check it out.  And if you don’t, thanks for at least reading to the end of this post.

Now get back to writing.  And remember:  Don’t ever quit.

Joe sez: I've been out of the blogging loop for a month, working on some novels. I hope to get back to blogging soon. In the meantime, let's use this guest post as an opportunity to discuss funding campaigns for books.

I've never done a Kickstarter, though I've thought about it. Who reading this has tried Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or similar? What has you experience been?

Also, throw a few bucks Nick's way. His contribution to Tess's campaign was generous, he's a soldier serving out country, and someday you might be the one needing money. Pay it forward. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fisking the Authors Guild

The Authors Guild just lost one of their ongoing cases against Google. The Guild have been whining that Google Book Scan--a service meant to digitally scan every book so the entire world could gain searchable Internet access to all of that info--is in fact violating copyright and stealing from authors. 

Hey, Authors Guild! Why not also charge readers a fee every time they recommend a book via word of mouth? If you want to give the middle finger to free discoverability, why not go all in?

The Authors Guild has lost similar battles. During Authors Guild vs. Bill Smopey, they sued him because he'd sat in a Barnes & Nobel and read half of The Terror by Dan Simmons but hadn't bought it. Smopey's defense, "After the first 500 pages, the monster wasn't even in it anymore, and I got bored and put it back." The Guild claimed that Smopey owed Simmons's publisher half of the cover price for reading without paying, and for partially crinkling page 342. The court dismissed the case, on account of it being really fucking stupid.

With Authors Guild vs. Janet's Mother, they sued because Janet bought a full price hardcover of Stephen King's The Cell, then loaned it to her mother to read. The Guild demanded Janet's Mother pay Stephen King a royalty, because she had no right to read what she hadn't bought for herself. Janet's Mother's legal team dazzled with the famous, "Well, what about libraries?!" defense and the suit was dropped.

That lead to Authors Guild vs. Libraries, where the Guild insisted that every library extract a pound of flesh from patrons who borrowed a book, in lieu of collecting royalties. But unlike the impossibility of separating blood from flesh,  making the acquisition of a pound of flesh quite impossible, the court did decide it was possible to separate the experience of reading a book with the fiduciary duty of monetarily compensating the author for having done so. Yep, you can read without paying.

In Authors Guild vs Used Books, the Guild assembled its hydrocephaletic brain trust to waste more members' dues to institute law that used book sales are illegal. Since authors only make royalties for the first sale, anyone who reads a book any other way is literally going into that author's house and stealing food from their starving children's mouths, which doesn't make much sense because no one wants to eat something that has been pre-chewed. The case was dismissed when it was discovered the AG legal team was relying on language they'd found in a 2011 edition of Black's Law Dictionary, which they'd bought used on Alibris.com.

Other failed cases include supporting Wendy Dobesky's claim of copyright infringement by Star Wars LLC. In 1976, Wendy claimed to have a dream about some people fighting in space with bright swords, and some guy frenching his sister. She didn't write any of this down, but when she saw Star Wars she knew George Lucas must have used a Thought Stealing Machine on her. The case was dismissed when Discovery failed to find anything thought-related in any of Lucas's notes or outlines. Years later, the Authors Guild again supported Dobesky who said, after seeing Twilight, "Damn! I dreamed about sexy vampires before! Someone owes me fifty million bucks!" That suit was also a waste of members' dues. 

Perhaps it is time to rethink copyright in this digital age? But I've beaten this dead horse before.

The Guild recently remarked on their latest loss, to follow. Their nonsense in unreasonable bold italic font. My replies in sensible plain font.

Today, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals released its decision in Authors Guild v. Google. “The Authors Guild is disappointed that the Court has failed to reverse the District Court’s faulty interpretation of the fair use doctrine,” said Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of the Authors Guild in New York. 

Apparently making all books discoverable on the Internet, which would not only add to the collective knowledge of the world, but help interested parties find the right books to buy, wasn't fair use. That it would help people find more books to buy seems lost in the fear that people would rather surf the internet and piece together a book random page by random page at great frustration and time cost to get a maximum of 16% of the full title, out of order no less. We all love reading like that, don't we?

“America owes its thriving literary culture to copyright protection. 

Actually, America owes its thriving literary culture to writers who are compelled to create. Copyright doesn't ensure a writer makes money. Readers do. And if the readers can't find the writer because--let's take a wild leap here--the writer's work isn't searchable on the world's biggest search engine, then copyright isn't going to put one cent in that writer's pocket.

Someone explain to me how a text searchable on Google differs from a text on a shelf at a local library? I'll tell you how. A library book can be loaned and read dozens of times, cover to cover. A Google scanned book cannot be read cover to cover. But Google is the bad guy.

It’s unfortunate that a Court as well-respected as the Second Circuit does not see the damaging effect that uses such as Google’s can have on authors’ potential income.

Yeah, damaging. Someone Googles a topic, and it leads to a free except of my book. Every author wants people to browse a bookstore and find their book among the thousands of others. But to be able to do this online, 24/7? That's stealing.

There are many ways to read a book without compensating the authors. Buy used. Go to a library. Borrow from a friend. Steal online. Use a paperback exchange. Read fan fic. 

Authors shouldn't fear being read. Being read will eventually lead to getting paid. Authors should be worrying about not being read, because readers don't know they exist. Google Book Scan wants to show the world books that the world hasn't ever seen before. The Authors Guild wants to micromanage this boon to authors and readers by collecting royalties.

Can someone call Mary Rasenberger on her landline, or if that's too technologically advanced for her, send her a telegram, and let her know the rest of us are living in 2015.

Dead trees are limited in reach because of scarcity (how many there are), proximity (how close they are to a reader), and dicoverability (how a reader searching for that type of book is able to find it). Google Book Scan solved all those problems.

So let's sue them.

Most full-time authors live on the perilous edge of being able to sustain themselves through writing as a profession, as our recent income survey showed, so even relatively small losses in income can make it unsustainable to continue writing for a living. 

What are the losses incurred when no one knows your book exists?

I write funny books about cops chasing serial killers. If Google scanned my books, anyone searching for "funny serial killer thriller" could learn about my titles, read excerpts, and perhaps become interested enough in them to seek them out.

Fair use? Hell, if I paid for Google to do that very same thing, I could write it off on my taxes as advertising.

We are disheartened that the court was unable to comprehend the grave impact that this decision, if left standing, could have on copyright incentives and, ultimately, our literary heritage. 

Because our literary heritage is dependent upon corporations squatting on the rights for Sherlock Holmes and Buck Rogers and Happy Birthday so other writers can't use them in their own work without paying a squatter's fee. 

I'm not saying that copyright still doesn't have a purpose. I'm saying, in a digital world, it needs to be reformed. Writers don't need to dwell on DMAC takedown notices. They should be dwelling on getting as many readers as possible. Even readers who don't pay. Because there is a whole bunch of entertainment out there, for free. Being discovered is a matter of numbers. Restricting access to your writing IN ANY WAY reduces your chances of discovery.

As for money? Show me anyone revered by a large group of people who isn't able to earn a living. If your writing is being widely read, the money will come. There isn't any better advertising for your work than 1M people pirating it. 

But if you can't stand the idea of someone Googling some random term and it leading to your novel which can then be read, in non-consecutive chunks up to 16%, then maybe you need to switch your art to something you have control over, like stoneware. You can decide who touches your stoneware on a case-by-case basis and otherwise keep it locked in a box so no one can steal it. 

Unless, of course, someone takes a picture of your stoneware, puts it on Pinterest, and you get thousands of likes. I mean, think how horrible that would be for your stoneware business...

We trust that the Supreme Court will see fit to correct the Second Circuit’s reductive understanding of fair use, and to recognize Google’s seizure of property as a serious threat to writers and their livelihoods, one which will affect the depth, resilience and vitality of our intellectual culture.”

Calling Google's book scanning initiative a "seizure of property" is like suing a hospital for "unwanted physical contact" when they intubated, catheterized, and pushed IV fluids and meds after the ambulance brought you in. I mean, what were those doctors thinking, trying to save your life without your permission? They have no right!

If you don't want your work read without your permission, write on paper and keep it locked up. But once you try to sell it, you can't put the genie back in the bottle. Some people will read it without paying you. There's no way around that. Suing the companies that give your work free exposure is stupid. 

Or perhaps the Authors Guild only wants "intellectual culture" to exist behind closed doors, at invitation-only events, far away from the prying eyes of the unwashed masses. Because there is nothing so threatening to the vitality of our literary heritage than a bunch of readers looking for stuff to read.

If I joined an Authors Guild, this is what I'd want.

1. A group that would fight for and pay to make my books visible and easily discoverable on Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and other places where readers search for books. Why doesn't the Authors Guild have a BookBub-type service? Wouldn't dues be better spent on that than suing Google or petitioning Congress

2. A group that DEMANDED new contract terms from publishers, including better royalties, no non-compete or next option clauses, and automatic rights reversion after a set amount of time. The Guild's much touted Fair Contract Initiative is nothing more than navel-gazing mutters that things aren't fair. Even Oliver Twist grabbed his bowl asked for more gruel. He didn't blog about starvation being unfair, while plaintively hoping things will change soon--but no naming any names here! Grab your bowl and demand what you're owed, you chickens.

3. A group that studied and experimented with piracy to expand awareness of books. I'm still waiting for any controlled study to measure the effects of piracy on an artist's income. I only am able to find a lot of hot air, coming from the Authors Guild hellbent on making sure they collect royalties if someone mentions a book title in a Skype conversation, and the fear mongering of companies who get paid for fighting piracy. 

4. A group that tried to reform copyright for the better of humanity, and authors.

5. A group that can be looked upon by authors with pride, rather than as the punchline to jokes about the tragically outdated,

Until the Authors Guild gets their collective head out of 1985 and learns about the Internet and ebooks and how their role has changed from majordomo to the Big 5, they will not survive. 

Take a cue from Authors United, who have taught us that a group of major bestselling authors, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, can be embarrassingly ineffective when their agenda is so self-serving and stupid.

You can try to sue the clouds for raining on you. Or you can make a fortune selling umbrellas. Which is smarter?

Amazon, ebooks, and piracy are here to stay. No law can ever work if it goes against what people are going to do anyway. The spread of digital media must force us to study how it is being used, so we can benefit from it. It isn't something you can control. It's something you observe. Prohibition didn't work for alcohol, or the war on drugs. Net neutrality will remain, and piracy will always be a part of it. Treat Google as a partner, rather than as an adversary. The same with Amazon. Treat the Big 5 as adversaries, until they reform their contracts. Use the media to push a positive agenda. Hire Data Guy at AuthorEarnings.com to teach you how to conduct your own studies or the marketplace. Abandon the status quo, drop your preconceptions, and start fresh, figuring out how all of your poverty-level members could have a shot at making a living.

If I were in charge, it would take me a week to put the Authors Guild on the right track. 

My first job would be to give the current Board of Directors new responsibilities, the sum total of which would be a daily meeting at Dennys spent brainstorming, and the notes generated will serve as an example of what not to do.

Then I'm bringing in a bunch of young, smart writers to get shit done. Such as:
  • An advertising partnership with Amazon to feature AG members' titles.
  • An advertising partnership with Facebook to feature AG members' titles.
  • An advertising partnership with Google to feature AG members' titles.
  • Letters to the Big 5 demanding better contract terms, and a media campaign held in the court of public opinion exposing the unconscionability of publishing contracts. If it leads to litigation, all the better.
  • Letters to the Big 5 to demand lower ebook prices, for both retailers and libraries.
  • Petitioning Congress to reform copyright law.
  • Health care.
  • Conducting actual studies on piracy.
  • Fighting SOPA and other threats to free speech and net neutrality.
  • Striking if needed.
The Authors Guild isn't beneficial. It isn't neutral. It's harmful. Every time Robinson or Ravensberger whines in the media, they spout nonsense that less-informed readers and writers accept as truths. Until this bullshit stops, and real problems start getting addressed, the Guild will exist to ensure the Guild continues to exist, and do very little for the authors it purportedly helps. If your average member is earning $10k a year, stronger piracy laws aren't going to help. Advertising, better contract terms, and teaching alternative forms of publication will help. Biggering discoverability by saturating the Internet, social media, and retailers with Guild books will help. Relaxing copyright law so more IP can be used by all.

Unfortunately, change won't happen overnight. And it is unlikely it will happen from within. So the best thing an author can do is quit the Authors Guild. Don't lend your name to their weight, or your dues to their war chest. If membership drops enough, and they become weak enough, and orchestrated coup could seize power and rebuild them as an effective tool in protecting authors' rights. Until that happens, ignore them. Or look upon them as you look upon the many mistakes found in history books. 

Just don't get those books on bit torrent. The Authors Guild will send a takedown notice.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Guest Post by Andrea Pearson

Hi, everyone! My name is Andrea Pearson. I write mostly YA fantasy and horror with a bit of romance thrown in. (Cause kissing makes everything better. :-))

Back in 2008, I finished my very first book—a middle-grade fantasy titled The Key of Kilenya. By the end of 2009, I was picked up by an agent who landed me a contract with one of the Big Five. Exciting as that was, I couldn’t get over the feeling that I’d end up regretting the choice if I signed with them. I turned down the contract, much to the chagrin of my agent (and trad-pubbed author friends). Over the next year or so, as I tried to figure out where I needed to go that would serve my books best, I ultimately decided to self-publish.

It’s definitely been worth it. But one of the hardest things about publishing is putting out books and watching them flop or not move as fast as we hoped they would. Success, for me, has come in spurts. Some months, I’ve earned a nice four figures. Others, barely two. Even though the Kilenya Series has downloaded very well for a middle-grade fantasy series, it’s been a long, difficult road, and I learned the hard way that I’d chosen a very tough genre to sell. Things are going much better with my newer series, thank goodness.

It isn’t in most authors’ best interests to depend on one book, or even one series, to float a career. Yes, I’d planned to make a long-term career out of my writing (and I’ve been delighted at how naturally writing and being a mom go hand-in-hand), but I didn’t truly develop an eye for long-term success until recently.

Because I was impatient and couldn’t handle the thought that people weren’t finding me right now and reading me right now, I made a lot of mistakes. I tossed money at advertising (Goodreads, Google Adwords—which may have worked if I’d known what I was doing . . .) I ran pointless blog tours. Pointless, because I didn’t know what a blog tour was for and didn’t utilize them well—I expected downloads and was unhappy when that didn’t happen.

Basically, like many new writers, I was willing to take risks without anything to back those risks, and we suffered financially and emotionally. It took a long time for the business to reimburse us.

Here, I’ll share the things I’ve learned that help books be more successful over the long term and that help others develop an eye for a future of writing, rather than just a “now” of writing.

With our sights on an ultimate goal, little things when we first start, such as no reviews and low sales, are not as big a deal as we sometimes feel they are. It’s okay to take a couple years to figure out how to do things right—it’s okay to be invisible while we learn the ropes. And we can actually enjoy that invisibility while getting mistakes out of our system, because we’ll have a plan for success and if we don’t give up, we will reach that success.

Our aim is to have as many high-quality books available as possible. Everything else will be somewhat easier after that. In the meantime, there are several things we can do which will help success last longer, when we’re ready for it.

Some of the things I’ll be talking about (and feel free to skip around):

1. Setting up a newsletter list and getting subscribers

2. Collecting reviews

3. Writing more books

4. Testing out book covers and descriptions

5. Getting social media set up (and a website)

6. Testing out small promotional and marketing campaigns

Please note that a lot of these methods won’t be new to many readers of this blog. But I’m hoping there will be something for everyone and especially something for newer writers.

1. Setting up a newsletter list and getting subscribers

A robust list is arguably the most important thing you can do for your author career. If you have a good enough one in place, you won’t ever need to run BookBub (or any other) promotions—they’ll be optional, and getting that rejection email won’t derail or depress you.

Mailchimp seems to be the best newsletter service out there. I’ve recently started using it and I love how much information and control it gives. (My original list is still hosted on my dad’s server.) If you use a different service, please mention which one in the comments and tell us why you like it.

Here are a few ways to get subscribers:

a) Put an invitation to sign up at the start and end of every book.

b) Offer a free ebook in exchange for signing up. (My monthly subscribers tripled when I started doing this. I now offer one full-length novel and a boxed set of three novellas. Don’t think about these as lost sales—a loyal reader will buy most everything you write down the road. That’s more important than one book now that he or she may download.)

c) Have sign-up forms on your blog and website.

d) Post on social media every so often about your newsletter list and the opportunity to get free ebooks in exchange for signing up.

e) Encourage interested friends and family members to sign up. (As they keep up with what you’re doing, they’ll be more likely to share with others.)

f) Run targeted giveaways, with one of the entries being a newsletter sign up. (Targeted: find print books by famous authors who write in a style similar to your own and give those away.)

g) Consider calling your email list something else, such as Stephanie’s Reader’s Group. Some authors have discovered that people are more interested in signing up when the word “newsletter” isn’t mentioned.

h) Put a sign-up form on your Facebook author fan page (using your Call to Action button).

Speaking of Facebook, I’ve successfully used ads (not promoted posts, but actual ads) to gain new subscribers by offering them free ebooks for signing up. Mark Dawson, Nick Stephenson, and a few other authors have free courses that teach how to create and manage ads.

2. Collecting reviews

Only one of these methods actually costs money. I’ve got more ideas listed on my blog here, including a couple of services that find reviewers for you. (You pay the company, not the reviewer.)

a) Ask a few beta readers to be the first to post honest reviews. (This is considered taboo by some, but it works as long as the review says they were beta readers (and, if applicable, received a free copy of the ebook), and that they are posting an honest review of the published version of the book. It’s only to get you over that zero-reviews status so paying customers will feel more comfortable posting their own.)

b) Set up an email list of people (from your newsletter subscribers, etc.) who are interested in posting honest reviews in exchange for a free ebook. (When they post their review, enter them in for a giveaway for an Amazon gift card. Do this for every book you want reviews on. Make sure you instruct them to say they received the book for free.)

c) Set up a blog tour and have reviewers post on Amazon, as well as their blog. (I usually arrange these on my own by asking around for volunteers, but there are plenty of services out there that do it for a fee.)

d) Have your book be permafree for a year to gather reviews organically. (Reviews build slowly this way, but that’s fine. In the beginning, the point isn’t to sell a few books here and there, it’s to get a book attractive enough to promote and sell a lot of later.)

e) Use http://bookbloggerlist.com and other websites that list book reviewers. (Make sure to pick people who review in your genre and double check that they’re currently accepting submissions. Read their submission guidelines.)

f) Go to Goodreads, search for people who like similar books, and message them, offering a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. (People on GR tend to be a bit harsh sometimes, so keep that in mind.)

The first book in a series can be a permafree that is collecting reviews while you’re writing the next several books. Don’t worry too much about promoting it—an occasional mention or free promo will do the trick. Same goes for standalones. Choose one to be permafree that will lead readers to the rest of your work, then let it gather reviews while you write more books. Remember that this isn’t a fast path to reviews, though, and it will need time to gain traction.

3. Writing more books

Nine out of ten authors agree that the best way to success is through writing more quality books. :-)

Here’s the shocker for new writers: the first few books we write won’t be spectacular. This was very disappointing to me, actually. I learned that while The Key of Kilenya is a good book, it isn’t a great book. It reviews and downloads well and I’ve never had a young reader not like it, but it simply isn’t great. It has been out for over four years and has generated barely over 100 reviews. Seven novels later, Discern, first in my Katon University series, has been out for just over a year and it quickly and easily generated the same number of reviews, with zero promoting on my part.

Our earlier books are great teachers that will lead us to produce much better work later on. As we write more quality books, we’ll eventually have enough available where it won’t matter if each one is only making $100 or even $10 a month. The money adds up!

4. Testing book covers and descriptions

a) Create control groups, made up of people who read your genres. (Set groups up through email, Facebook, or wherever works best for you.) Post covers and descriptions and ask for feedback. Have more than one group with at least 30 members each so you can see different trends in the comments (and to avoid bandwagon jumping). Listen to these people—they may not know what is wrong or how to fix it, but they’ll know something is off. Your job is to figure out what that is.

b) Test out professional book covers too. (Tread softly, though, and be kind. You don’t need to tell the designer “so-and-so said this.” Just let them know you think something may be an issue and see if they’re willing to fix it. If there are too many problems, consider hiring another designer.)

c) Ask for comments from friends and family.

d) Ask for comments from author friends in your genre.

e) Take comments with a grain of salt, especially the outliers. (If you start noticing trends across groups, pay attention.)

f) Go in with the attitude of “This potentially sucks. Help me make it better,” and you won’t get upset so much if/when people say it does suck.

5. Getting social media set up (and a website)

a) Make sure your blog/website is professional and has all the necessary information. (Contact info, purchase links and book covers/descriptions, social media links, sign-up for newsletter, bio section, etc.)

b) Create a Facebook account and a fan page. Even if you aren’t into Facebook, this is important, since most everyone is.

c) Use Twitter—this is huge in the book world. (Use www.tweetdeck.twitter.com as a way to organize incoming messages. Watch #askbookbub, a Q&A held every Thursday by BookBub Partners at 3:00pm EST. Also consider setting things up so tweets from important accounts get sent as texts to your phone, enabling you to read articles at your convenience.)

d) Pick two social media sites and stick to them, rather than trying to use everything available.

Once you’ve got enough well-written books available with plenty of reviews, a newsletter list set up, social media stuff organized, and a website running, you’re ready to start gearing up for major promotions! You’re also more ready for any success that may find you down the road. But before you start throwing money on promotions, consider:

6. Testing small promotional campaigns

I’m in the middle of a huge promotion that has been over a year in the planning, with my second series, Katon University, as the target. I recommend preparing for major promotions the way I have, as it hasn’t been stressful, expensive, or time-consuming, and I’ve been reaping the benefits for several months. Here are a few steps you can follow:

a) Set up a separate book as a permafree (or use whatever price you plan to have your main book at when you start your big promotion). Have it be in a similar genre and of a similar length as the book you ultimately want to promote. (I’ve been using The Key of Kilenya as my control. Like Discern (the book I’m promoting now), it’s a permafree and is first in a series. It’s middle-grade fantasy and Discern is YA fantasy, so they’re similar enough to give me an idea for what works and what doesn’t.)

b) Create a list of websites that promote ebooks. (Ask around and search online for these sites. I’m really liking readersintheknow.com as a way to discover and keep track of websites.)

c) Put the info in a spread sheet where you’ll note sites, dates, number of downloads, costs of promotions, special information, etc.

d) Make sure you know how well your ebook does throughout any given month without specific promoting. (To avoid skewing your numbers once you start testing.)

e) Run a promotion on each website, spaced three-four days apart.

f) Where possible, always choose the free advertising option. (Which is more widely available for permafree ebooks and will help save money. If you get a good number of downloads from a particular site, consider trying their paid options.)

g) Keep track of downloads, using Book Report or Amazon (and other retailers your book is available on).

h) Don’t think setting this all up will require a lot of time. It won’t. (Take a couple of hours once a month or every other month to set up the promotions, then track results once a week. Many websites allow you to schedule well in advance.)

i) Don’t promote your main book on these sites until your big promotion. (You’ll want your book to be “fresh” to them.)

j) Don’t test more than one website at the same time. (There are sites that will send your book to multiple places for a fee, but if only one of those places actually gets a decent ROI, you won’t know. It would be easier and cheaper to approach that website separately for your main promotion and take out the middle man.)

k) When it’s time for your main promotion, decide which method you’ll use: all of the good promotions stacked on the same day (to get as high a ranking as fast as possible) or having them spaced out over a couple of days to a week (to get Amazon to notice and help push your book). There are plenty of great discussions about the pros and cons to both methods over on kboards.com.

The websites I’ve personally found to be useful so far are BookBub (of course), eReaderGirl, Fussy Librarian, Digital Book Today, eReader News Today, Book Gorilla, Kindle Nation Daily, BookSends, Pixel of Ink (have teamed up with BookSends now), BKnights, eBook Bargain News, and Kindle Books and Tips. A couple of these websites only produce 50-100 downloads, but even that much (especially when it’s free to promote with them) can really help a massive campaign.

I’ve also been hearing good things about StoryFinds, BookSCREAM, Midlist, My Book Cave, eBook Hunter, Kindle Book Review, and Pixel Scroll.

What other sites have worked well for you? Mention them in the comments! The more authors who use these sites, the better they’ll do for all of us.

A few additional notes about promoting and marketing in general:

What NOT to advertise:

Full-priced ebooks. (It costs a lot more to promote them and readers are less likely to download. There are exceptions, of course. Facebook ads being one of them.)

When NOT to run big marketing campaigns:

When you only have 1-3 full-length ebooks available (or less). (Most authors won’t have a significant ROI until they have around 4 books available.)

Remember, our goal is for the long-haul and to be long-term authors. Save some money, stress, emotional anxiety, money, depression, time, worry, money, unhappiness, marital angst, etc., by holding off on promoting until you have several high-quality books published with plenty of good reviews.

How to know you’re ready to start advertising and promoting:

How many books do you have available? Are they reviewing well? How many reviews do they have? How much business cash do you have? (My rule is that money used for promoting should never be personal money.) Are you in a good place, emotionally? (Running marketing campaigns is stressful when you’re already overloaded. If you’re doing it because you’re desperate, you’re more likely to make mistakes, make rash decisions, neglect plans you’ve created, and not set things up efficiently and effectively.)

How many reviews should you have?

It depends on your genre. I recommend going through previous BookBub emails and calculating the average number of reviews in your genre for previous months. Aim for that average (possibly ignoring the outliers), remembering that most books will have over 100, if not 200. If you write romance or another popular genre, you’ll probably want more.

Thank you for reading this post, and thanks to Joe for letting me share it with you. I hope you’ve found something useful that will help you get started or that will give you the encouragement to keep going.

About Andrea

Andrea Pearson graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor of science degree in Communications Disorders. She is the author of many full-length novels (the Kilenya Series and Katon University series), and several novellas. Writing is the chocolate of her life—it is, in fact, the only thing she ever craves. Being with her family and close friends is where she’s happiest, and she loves thunderstorms, the ocean, hiking, public speaking, painting, and traveling.

Andrea and her husband are expecting their second, a boy, coming October 2015. They and their two-year-old daughter live in a quaint little valley surrounded by hills.

You can learn more about Andrea by visiting her website.

Andrea was recently interviewed on the fabulous Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast. She and Simon Whistler discussed the topics mentioned in this post, along with others. Feel free to check that out by clicking here. (And consider subscribing—this is a top-notch author podcast.)

About Discern

Nicole Williams is an Arete—a fourth child with magical abilities—yet no matter how hard she tries, she can’t Channel her power. In fact, she seems to be the only student at Katon University who fails at magic.

This doesn’t stop her from competing to be included on a university-led expedition to Arches National Park. She is determined to show everyone, but mostly herself, that she does belong. Yet, to qualify for the trip, she must produce at least a speck of Wind magic, and that appears to be impossible.

Nicole turns to her best friend, Lizzie, for help, along with fellow student Austin Young, who is considered by all a magical rarity. He also happens to be the hottest guy on campus and just might be interested in her.

As the competition progresses, Nicole wonders if she’s making the right choice—especially when she learns that the strange fossils they’ll be studying in Arches might not be as dead as everyone thinks.

Readers of Lovecraft and M.R. James will recognize and enjoy themes from both authors.

Download it for free from Amazon and all other major retailers.

Thursday, October 08, 2015


Random stuff that's bugging me lately.

1. Emails from newbie authors asking if I want to review their book.

Look, I'm a writer. I know how hard it is to get reviews. In years past, I've asked readers who follow me on Goodreads if they'd like to review my books. I may have even asked readers who have signed up for my newsletter if they were interested in reviewing me.

But I don't spam people.

I don't know what list I got on (Maybe because I used to be an Amazon Vine reviewer? Maybe someone compiled a list of top Amazon reviewers?) but I get asked to review free books every day.

You might not think it's spam because you're offering a free read, but if it is unsolicited, if I have no idea who you are, if I never followed you on Twitter or Facebook or Goodreads, then it's spam. If it annoys me, it most certainly annoys others, and if you keep doing this you're going to get some really unflattering reviews. Not from me; I don't cut down my peers' books, and I pretty much stopped reviewing on Amazon. But a friendly word of warning; some reader is going to get annoyed and the only person you can blame is the one in the mirror.

2. James Patterson's Masterclass.

Maybe it's awesome and helpful and will teach a whole new segment of writers how to write a 60,000 word novel in just 150 chapters. Maybe, if you pay extra, you can co-write Jim's next blockbuster. I don't like a lot of the stupid things Patterson says in public, but I don't begrudge him his success, and if he can buy another summer home in Languedoc-Roussillon with the extra money he makes from this endeavor, more power to him.

But get out of my cookies, man!

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, your browser stores data known as cookies which can carry info from one website to the next. So I click on Patterson's class once, and see ads for it everywhere I go, unless I delete the cookies or use an ad blocker. Which annoys me.

To recap: I'm not mad that Patterson is getting even richer selling hope to the clueless, I'm ticked he paid for a website that infects my browser with his face every time I try to surf porn.

Also, my free advice to newbies; writing tips, books, websites, and classes can help you become a better writer. But they don't beat reading and writing. When I taught writing, I always told my students they should be home, writing, instead of being in class.

3. Amazon sales figures.

In a previous blog post about KU 2.0, I wrote about Amazon sharing sales data with authors (this carried on into the comments). Amazon knows where readers stop reading, if they ever pick the book up again, how many borrows per pages read, and other figures that authors could really benefit from, but they aren't sharing.

They don't have to share that stuff, and I'm not going to reiterate that debate. But I would like to have access to cumulative sales figures, which is a much more reasonable and rudimentary request. This hit home the other day where I wanted to see how many unit sales, and how much money, a particular title of mine had accrued over the years, and I realized I had to add it up month by month myself.

Come on, Amazon! I should be able to press a button and generate a spreadsheet that lists all the sales data for a title for any given time period. Can we have that option, please? I've been asking since 2009. It irritated me that I couldn't just pull up those figures. It's not like they're top secret, or that it would require a lot of work for you to do. Just let me know how many damn ebooks I've sold.

 4. Pinheads who claim ebook sales have plateaued.

I shouldn't care about this, because one person's misconceptions are another person's opportunities, but I admit that it irks me whenever some publisher or survey or periodical crows about how ebook sales aren't growing. Even ignoring the burgeoning global market, ebook sales are destined to grow. Younger generations have learned to read without paper, and they're going to consume nearly 100% of the written word electronically as they age. My generation will be retiring in 15 to 25 years, and we grew up reading novels. We're going to defer to them when we have more free time.

Technology keeps getting better, and cheaper, and we still haven't tapped the hidden potential of ebooks as a unique, and superior, storytelling device. I'm working to do some tech stuff with my new horror thriller, WEBCAM, that should enhance the reading experience and make it more fun because ereaders can do more stuff than dead trees. Plateaued? Ebooks haven't even gotten started yet.

Okay, rant over. Now stop reading blogs and go write something.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Maybe You Suck

Some people don't like me preaching on and on about how luck is possibly the single most important factor of success.

Some of these folks insist that good writing will always find an audience.

Some say those with success deserve it.

Some say my insistence that luck is important is a form of humble bragging, since I've sold a few million books.

Some don't like the fact that luck is beyond their control, and they believe talent and hard work always win out.

Some think they make their own luck.

I'll bite. Let's say I'm wrong. Let's say luck isn't as big of a factor as I think.

Have you reached the level of success you want? If so, and you don't believe luck was involved, good for you. I suppose you can make a case for yourself, the same way every self-made millionaire makes a case when they write their inevitable "How I Did It" books. I don't know how many people have read the Essays of Warren Buffet and then became billionaires, but perhaps a lot have. Maybe good, solid advice, a strong work ethic, and loads of talent, coupled with a how-to template, can make anyone a raging success.

But what if you aren't a raging success, and you still don't believe in luck?

Well, maybe you suck.

Maybe your writing isn't as good as you think it is.

Maybe those covers you bought on Fiverr look like they cost $5 and are scaring people away.

Maybe you were wrong to think that Loch Ness Monster LGBT BDSM Amish Space Opera was the next big thing.

Maybe you need a better editor. Or an editor, period.

Maybe you signed your rights over to someone else who sucks.

Maybe you published before you learned how to write well.

Maybe you'll never learn how to write well.

Maybe you spend too much time whining online about how everyone is against you, and not enough time putting out good books.

Maybe you're incapable of putting out good books, no matter how much time you spend at it.

Maybe you dwell too much on defending your publishing decisions, when you should be questioning your publishing decisions.

Maybe you've bought into what the media says about ebooks waning in popularity, because you're stupid.

Maybe your spouse and Mom telling you they like your book doesn't qualify as constructive criticism.

Maybe you're reading too much about publishing and not experimenting enough with publishing.

Maybe your drop in sales isn't about the marketplace; it's about readers not liking your work.

Even if you do account for luck in your definition of success, you might still suck. Maybe it isn't bad timing and crummy breaks that have stalled your career. Maybe your writing is the problem.

Yes, you can self-publish.

That doesn't mean you should.

And it certainly doesn't mean the world owes you a read.

If your sales suck, it might be because you suck.

Maybe you deserve that 1 star review.

Maybe you deserve that #2,543,677 ranking.

Maybe you should go bury your nose in the Elements of Style.

Maybe you need to workshop your next story with a writing group before trying to publish it.

Maybe proof reading isn't an option; it's a necessity.

Maybe all of your excuses are bullshit.

Maybe you're 100% to blame for your depressing career.

Maybe you should quit.


Maybe you can do everything right, and still not reach your measure of success, because you haven't gotten lucky yet.

But I'm willing to admit I might be wrong.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Gentle Reminder

This post goes out to no one in particular for no particular reason. Maybe it will motivate some. Maybe it will make others think a little bit. Maybe it will irritate you. But it's good, tested advice, and worth repeating.

1. Nobody owes you a living. I'm old school, and I busted my ass to get where I am. But I don't feel any sense of entitlement. Yeah, I worked hard. Maybe I've got talent. But I don't deserve readers, and neither do you.

2. Success is mostly due to luck. You can do everything right, and still not be satisfied with the state of your career. That's life. No one ever said this would be fair, fun, or easy.

3. Stop whining. The internet is forever. No one likes a person who constantly complains. Even if you feel that bemoaning (insert whatever here) is justified, it will always be linked to you if someone Googles your name.

4. Don't Google your name. What people think of you is their business, not yours. Remember, one of life's greatest journeys is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit.

5. Never respond to criticism. It will make things worse. And if you apologize, it will get even more worser. Keep out of any discussion about you and your work. You may think you know better, but you don't.

6. Remember your Serenity Prayer. Fix what you can change, accept what you can't fix, and learn to know the difference between the two. If it is beyond your control, drink a beer, do yoga, go for a run, or bitch to a close friend where it can't be seen online. And if you can't stop dwelling on your bad fortune;

7. Quit. The world will keep turning without your work. If writing and publishing is so traumatic, go use your time doing something else you can derive some pleasure from. Life is too short.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Guest Post by Gary Ponzo

It’s been over a year since Joe invited authors to use his characters in a collaborative story with their own protagonist. The offer came at a time when I was searching for a writer to collaborate with and this seemed like a perfect fit. His Jack Daniels character is a no-nonsense detective with a sharp wit and a penchant for fashionable clothes. It seemed there was plenty of meat on that bone to chew on. Also, Jack has issues with bloated government agencies and it made the relationship with my FBI agent Nick Bracco character even that more appealing. Who wants a puppy-dog cop following agency instructions?

That’s when the idea of a rogue terrorist came to mind. What if FBI agent Nick Bracco’s team, including his mafia-connected cousin Tommy, came to Chicago to track down a terrorist cell about to set off a bomb in downtown Chicago? And what if Nick invited Jack to join the task force to help find a teenage terrorist who was considered the main threat? This sounded like an intriguing concept.  Especially when Jack doesn’t believe the kid wants to carry out the attack. Jack believes the kid was being manipulated into performing his tasks. It’s something she can’t prove so she has to go out there and find this terrorist on her own. Behind Nick’s back. This is a risky proposition since the threat of a detonation is almost guaranteed by agency intelligence.  This was the juicy part of the collaboration for me.

Fast forward a year.  The book is finished. I contact Joe only to discover his plate is full, Kindle Worlds being one of many projects he’s juggling. So my choice was to add this project to the Kindle Worlds platform, or release it as my own book writing in the world of JA Konrath. When discussing this with Joe he showed support for either direction, so I decided to release it as a standalone thriller. That’s when this became a Nick Bracco/Jack Daniels Thriller titled A Touch of Tequila, currently on sale on Amazon. 

Since all my Nick Bracco books start with A Touch of . . . it was easy to keep that theme going along with using Tequila in the title which is the name of a character from one of Joe’s earlier books, A Shot of Tequila.  I am the author of the project, but make no mistake about it, people will feel Joe’s presence on this book and hold him accountable should the writing be subpar. That’s where he showed a leap of faith, even writing the foreword for me.

Although I wasn’t able to collaborate with him, I felt a responsibility to make sure Joe’s characters were properly portrayed and behaved within the realm of their personalities. I read and reread many of the Jack Daniels thrillers for research and feel confident my work will resonate with his readers. At the same time, my own readers will definitely welcome the return of Nick, Matt and Tommy Bracco.

If you’re a fan of either of ours, or just a thriller fan--take a look.  It took a year to accomplish, but I had fun playing in Joe’s sandbox and I think the wait was worth it.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Zombie Publishing Meme #4: Self-Publishing is Costly and Risky; Legacy Publishing is Guaranteed and Free.

This is the fourth in an ongoing series that Barry Eisler and I are writing. When we talk about zombie memes, we’re referring to arguments that just won’t die no matter how many times they’re massacred by logic and evidence. Because we’ve been shooting down so many of these memes for so long, and because they just keep reanimating (often repeatedly from the same people), we thought it would be useful to create an online source for easy (and time-saving) reference.

We’ll be tackling these memes one at a time over the course of the next few weeks and then publishing a free downloadable compendium, so if you’ve encountered a zombie meme yourself and don’t see it listed here, please mention it in the comments. And if you’re aware of articles on these or related topics, please refer us to them so we can include links. The complete list of zombie memes we’ve addressed so far appears at the end of this post.

Self-Publishing is Costly and Risky; Legacy Publishing is Guaranteed and Free

This meme takes a couple different forms. Sometimes it expresses itself as a comparison of the worst possible example of self-publishing to the best possible example of legacy publishing. Other times, the comparison is between the typical reality of self-publishing and the rare ideal of legacy publishing. Either way, the framework is misleading.

The meme is customarily introduced by someone claiming she explored self-publishing and was shocked to find it involved such high costs--$4000 just for editing, for example. The writer paid anyway, then was disappointed to discover that her ebook, which she was selling for $14.99, sold poorly and seems unlikely ever to recoup its costs (for more, see this shocking Wall Street Journal discovery that higher prices can lead to lower revenues).

The writer then compares this unfortunate state of affairs to the possible ease of mailing out a few query letters, landing a six-figure deal with a Big Five publisher, and having all publishing services delivered smoothly and expertly.

In fact, many authors self-publish for nothing (both in ebook and pbook). They do it themselves, or barter for services (I'll proofread yours if you proofread mine.) There are also many affordable freelance editors, artists, proofers, and designers (here is a partial list). So the notion that self-publishing necessarily costs thousands of dollars upfront is chimerical, akin to wild stories of hundred-dollar melons told by western travelers returning from Tokyo. Yes, such specimens can be found in the gift departments of certain high-end Ginza department stores, but they are far from the norm, and certainly not representative of what food actually costs in Japan or how the vast majority of people go about nourishing themselves.

But regardless of what a self-published author chooses to spend on publishing services, it’s critical to understand that the author keeps her rights and the majority of revenues (typically 70% in digital). In other words, the costs of self-publishing--whether the self-published author prefers to spend a few dollars or a few thousand--are generally upfront; the payout is over the long term.

By contrast, the upfront costs of the legacy route tend to be relatively modest (if you don’t include time spent mailing out query letters and manuscripts, and waiting, perhaps permanently, to hear from an agent or editor). If you do land a legacy contract, you can expect some sort of advance (probably a few thousand dollars) and a promise that you’ll receive all relevant publishing services. In exchange, you’ll have to give up approximately 85% of revenues and you’ll almost certainly be surrendering your rights forever. The costs of legacy-publishing are therefore long-term; the payout, in the form of whatever advance you are offered, is upfront.

If a writer is lucky enough to get a gigantic advance--which Joe guesses only happens in less than 0.1% of legacy contracts--royalties don't matter because they won't ever be earned out. The advance is the only money the writer will likely ever see. But any advance less than life-changing money functions as an ridiculously high interest loan.
If you were a genre author offered a $100k advance earning 17.5% royalties off of the digital list price, and your ebook is priced at $4.99, you earn $0.88 per ebook sold. You need to sell 113,600 ebooks to earn out your advance. And when you do, you're stuck with 88 cents per sale, FOREVER.
The same ebook, self-published, earns the author $3.49 per copy sold. If they sell 28,653 copies, they made the $100,000. Every copy they sell after that, they make 4x more money than they do on a legacy ebook.
Which seems like a better deal for authors?
Not only is the loan high interest, it's also forever, because the author will never get those rights back.

So while it’s technically not inaccurate to note that self-publishing isn’t free, it’s more accurate--and useful--to note that this is because no form of publishing is free. To discuss the costs of only one system while ignoring the costs of another is fundamentally misleading. To be empowered to make good decisions for themselves, authors need to be able to compare. To be able to compare, they need information about the costs and benefits of both systems.

For more on the unfortunate tendency to compare the reality of self-publishing to the ideal of legacy publishing, we recommend Publishing is a Lottery/Publishing is a Carny Game. The general idea is that all publishing systems are, statistically speaking, lotteries, and that to make good choices for themselves, writers need information about four things: (i) the cost of a ticket; (ii), the odds of winning (iii); the size of potential payouts; and (iv) the nature of opportunities for influencing the lottery’s outcome. It’s rare that legacy publishing boosters are willing to discuss all these categories. More commonly, the boostership consists of discussion only of the size of item (iii), in which to date the legacy lottery has the clear advantage. Anyone who is trying to sell you on one system or another without including information about each of the four categories is not providing sound advice.

But even the lottery metaphor can be unnecessarily limiting. Which system is right for you will depend on many other factors, as well, including the size of the advance (if you receive a legacy offer), how important digital is to you vs paper, how much you value control over business decisions vs how comfortable you are delegating, how much you value time to market, etc. For more on how to develop a proper framework for evaluating which publishing route makes the most sense for you, we recommend this summary of a keynote Barry gave at the Pike’s Peak Writers Conference in 2013.

Previously addressed zombie memes: