Tag Archives: kindle rank

2010 in review: The story of Hush Money

So I need to do the look back at the year thing. I’ve kind of been waiting to see what the end of the year numbers were. When the month rolled over, it seemed like I lost some PubIt sales. They finally showed up again, and then they found a few more stragglers over the next few days. I mean, I realize the report itself is always 2 days behind and you have to add those separately, but mine kept changing after that. This makes me a little nervous about them…

But that’s neither here nor there. It’s been a really big year for me, so I thought I’d try to talk about where I started and where I ended up. Be warned, this post is incredibly long.

Prologue

Some of you know that, when I started Hush Money, it was after a period of not having seriously written for a lot time. The only thing in my idea file that really interested me was my Talents, but even though I worked some on their stories and new characters showed up all the time, I couldn’t really bring myself to get a real story going. Part of that was a matter of motivation. Even if I finished one book of the Talent Chronicles, the idea of shopping it didn’t appeal to me, for a lot of reasons. I thought about, maybe, just starting to write it myself and putting it up on a website somewhere. You know, for fun. But writing is pretty emotional for me. I love creating this stuff, but most days…it is not fun. That idea wasn’t motivation enough.

Act 1: The world before

But Kait, my writing buddy and best friend going on, what, four years now? kept after me. Because of her, part of my mind was always in the writing world. She’d send me articles, talk about writing and bookish topics, and of course we worked a lot on her various writing projects.

And then, of course, there were books. I’d run of out room for books, had to feel guilty about any new book I brought into the house, but ebooks bought me back to book-buying and collecting big-time. I found myself getting passionately pissed off about availability issues, format incompatibilities, and DRM, and did a lot of reading and research on ebooks. Part of that was reading some of the stuff that Konrath was saying about ebooks vs. paperback; ebooks, DRM, and piracy; and then he was talking about his ventures in self-publishing.

Which was really interesting because Kait’s friend Zoe was also self-publishing. I was one who thought self-publishing was great for niche-markets and how-to books, I’ve got a bunch of self-pubbed how-tos, but I had been less than impressed with some of the fiction I’d read, and my opinion had been pretty negative. However, the more I read about it from the writer’s perspective, the more I started to think about it the same way I thought about crafting.

I’d had a good run selling intricate and pricey items on Etsy, and I was burnt out on that. But for a while there, I’d been having a blast, being creative and having my work sought after and appreciated. (I really thrive on that shit, but who doesn’t?) Etsy took crafting for money to a whole different level. It no longer mattered if there was a market for what I wanted to make in the place I live. I wasn’t going to have to try to make a bunch of inventory to try to sell batches to local shops or try to do shows to reach more customers. I could just do what I wanted, at my own pace, in my own home, and reach that niche of customers around the world who were interested. Freakin’ awesome.

I started to see indie publishing as the exact same thing. And, for the first time in a long time, I started to get excited about the idea of writing a novel.

Kait decided she was going to go ahead and do it. I was totally encouraging because, hey, she’s good at learning all the stuff, and if it went well, I could totally benefit from her knowledge later. Kait published Foraken by Shadow at the end of March. And people bought it. With money! And it was freakin’ awesome.

I really wanted to do it too.

Act 2: Into the story world

I got my outline together. I’d been studying story structure via Larry Brooks’ Storyfix blog, and suddenly, planning a story from beginning to end seemed so much easier! In fact, all the writing books and articles I’d been reading over the last few years seemed to be coming together in my head, like everything was just there waiting for me to get started.

I had a startlingly positive attitude going into Hush Money, that if I would just sit down to do the work, of course the words would come. Words had never been a problem for me, unless it was having too many of them. I was going to start the book, I was going to finish it. I was going to make it good, and then I was going to see what I could do with it.

But I was up against a ticking clock. It was already May, after all, and there weren’t that many more days of school. Soon my daughter would be with me to destroy any hope of concentration or immersion in character and world. I had get moving.

I wrote the first draft of Hush Money in 30 days. That last week or so, school was out, but Vacation Bible School filled the gap. When I might have gotten scared of the end and stuck in a slump, I pushed forward, knowing I only had a few hours a day for one, more, week. I would drop her off at the church, rush home, write like a maniac. Then go pick her up, go to McDonald’s, wolf down a double cheeseburger and write at least another one or two thousand words while she played on the playland with other kids.

After that week, I was almost at the end. I wrote the last several scenes in one day. I asked my mom to have my daughter over to play so that I could work on getting my first draft finished before my upcoming visit to Kait’s house. I wrote thousands of words that day.

I’m still very happy with the way the book ends, but the biggest criticism of the story is that the ending is somewhat abrupt. Maybe I was just exhausted.

Act 3: In which the Wanderer becomes a Warrior

Well, I’m not sure Susan as a protag will ever be considered a warrior, but certainly there was a lot of self-doubt to be overcome. I had to get 11 beta readers with overwhelmingly positive responses on Hush Money, before I started to believe that it was good enough to put a price tag on it.

I was editing a manuscript, something I’d never really done before. I’d finished a few things, but nothing I’d ever loved enough to want to make it better. And I was learning about formatting and all the other stuff that goes into publishing an ebook.

During this time, I’d finally hooked up with Zoe Winters one-on-one instead of going through Kait. It was fun and exciting to talk to her. She was in the crazy period of having released Claimed and Mated and having incredible success with those. Kait was having record sales of Forsaken by Shadow. Evenings would go by, with both of them in separate chat windows, both of them giving me their stats, rankings by the hour, in stereo.

And I was waiting for Hush Money to return from 11 betas and feeling absolutely desperate to join this party. By the time I had to leave my original cover artist and hire a new one at the end of July, I was crazy obsessed with getting my work out there to see how it would do.

Act 4: The exciting climax sequence

Finally, at the beginning of August, I was finally ready to get this thing out there! I uploaded on August 2nd, and the book started to go live all that week. First on Smashwords on the 3rd, then I think the Amazon listing started show up on 4th, with a buy button by the 5th.

And then commenced the crazy. I had to start doing that which I had dreaded. Marketing. I had to go back to blogging. I had to active on Twitter. I had to try to learn Facebook. And it was hard to find the time for all that because I had to check my stats EVERY. FREAKIN’. HOUR.

The week after Hush Money was released, I went to Disney World. While I was there, Kait sent me a text to let me know I’d made my first Amazon bestseller chart.

I had to check out Goodreads. I did the ebook giveaway event there, got great response, and had people reading my book.

In August, I “sold” a total of 113 copies.

36 of those I gave away.

I was also very busy researching print-on-demand and trying to figure out the best method for doing that for my non-existent budget and attention span. I chose Createspace. The print version of Hush Money was released on September 24th.

Hush Money was finally finished, I was getting started on Heroes ‘Til Curfew, and by the time the second month was over, I’d sold four times what I’d sold in the first month.

Epilogue

Five months later, I still struggle with making this sequel happen. Just like I’d never liked anything enough to do serious edits (though at least I’d edited for others!), I’d also never tried to write a sequel.

Hush Money continues to do incredibly well. I went into this with no idea what to expect, hoping, perhaps, to reach 1000 copies by this time. I’m astounded to be able to tell you that I was able to reach well over 6000 copies by the end of this year.

I can’t begin to tell you the joy that sharing this story has brought me. I’ve met so many incredible people this year, made so many wonderful friends. At least a few times a week I experience the wonder of finding that someone has taken the time to contact me, by email, or by leaving a comment on my About Me or Talent Chronicles pages, or somewhere else, just to tell me how much they enjoyed Hush Money. I get fan mail! Internationally!! I have been thanked countless times for doing something that I loved doing. And I’ve been damned, numerous times, for the sins of keeping someone up past their bedtime or making them remember how it feels to be a teen.

This will probably be the last time I talk about numbers for a while. Certainly, for me, the subject will always inspire excitement and a measure of awe. In the beginning, I really did believe that sharing these numbers was helpful for those who might be considering indie publishing and might want some ideas what to expect. But sometimes more is just more, and I don’t want to invite negativity into my life by having anyone take my sharing of this information in a different spirit than it’s intended.

What I hope I have managed to express, in this post and in this year, is the profound sense of gratitude I feel for everyone who’s helped me. Toward everyone who has (in no particular order) reviewed the book at a retail site, left a review on Goodreads, talked about it in a forum, voted for it in a poll, tweeted about it, blogged about it, told a friend, written to me, asked me a question about it, longed for the sequel, encouraged me during the many times I get nervous and feel like I’m losing my mind, bought it for someone else, sent me interview questions, and, hey, bought it and read the freakin’ thing.

Thank you all for making 2010 an absolutely amazing year for me.

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Filed under Hush Money, Talent Chronicles

Lessons from the Universe Continue to Plague Me

Some days are just full of headaches and embarrassments.

The headache is mainly just that I’m sick with one of those nasty, painful colds. At least we didn’t have a snow day for the THIRD day in a row. I know I’m not supposed to consider school my babysitter, but come on.

Anyway, I feel terrible about this, like I just have total promo fail. I can’t believe my reach is still so small that I can’t even give away 10 copies of a book. And it may be partly that Imogen and I have been doing cross-promo and she’s already tapped as much of my small network as she’s gonna. And it’s probably also that I had to go our around 12:30 yesterday, didn’t get home until 8pm, and then just crawled into bed, so the PM world didn’t really know about the giveaway. So basically, everyone who commented yesterday wins, and I appreciate it. I’ve already sent those out.

So a friend of mine, who is somewhat down, has written to me with some questions about self-publishing. And like the indie fiend that I am, I’m responding with a long letter, attempting to take advantage of his frustration and bring him over to the Dark Side.

And while I’m doing this, an email I wrote a few weeks ago come back to haunt me.

While I was away for that reunion thing over Thanksgiving weekend, I got this email from the people at BookBuzzr, basically saying: hey, since you’ve been with us, your rank has gone from this to this. Do you know how that happened and have any marketing tips we could share with our readers?

Well, now, you guys know that I am always happy to babble about that stuff, so I did. With my husband tapping his foot, I furiously typed this really long email in which I brain-dumped everything I could think of, most of which you guys have already read. Only, you know, I thought I was just talking one-on-one, and I was pressed for time, and I left out the self-effacing humble stuff that I actual feel, but just didn’t have time for that morning.

So in the middle of what’s supposed to be a kick-ass, indie-rah email to my friend, I get a promo in my inbox that mentions my name in a link. And follow it to the reprint of this previous email.

Now, don’t get all mad on my account. I say I didn’t know it was coming out, but I’m sure it was a misunderstanding on my part and I’m not mad. You’d be AMAZED and frightened by the amount of stuff that goes over my head and that I just plain forget. If you’re one of those writers who goes about in a fog most of the time and makes the absent-minded professor look like Franklin Planner-Man, you know what I’m talking about. (I am, actually, the antithesis of Kait Nolan. And suddenly the Anti-Kait has a ring to it…) But it leaves me sort of nonplussed and kind of embarrassed, and concerned about whether, perhaps, I came off as a big no-it-all with a huge, bloated head. Plus I might have tried to sound more smarter than I do around here, talking with you friends.

The lesson here, for all of us, is to remember to be careful in our communications with others, to pay attention to whether or not we’re projecting what we intend, and that what we say electronically can live on for a long time in ways we didn’t originally expect.

Heroes ‘Til Curfew, for enquiring minds who want to know, is going fairly well this week. I enjoyed the 2500+ words I wrote yesterday from Dylan’s perspective, many of which were written in Burger King, with its wonderful indoor playground. You know, when I mention fast food playland, NO ONE takes their kids to unhealthy places like that. Oh well. Deal. I got words down and no one had to die, and if someone had to suck down some chicken and fries for the cause, so be it.

I have now exercised two days in a row, and three times within a week. Now, I will grant you, it hasn’t been a lot of exercise, but I have turned on the Wii and done something, and I demand at least partial credit for this. Plus, there was water consumed that was not even carbonated. I know, right? But I did it anyway.

That’s it! That’s all the babbling you get for now. I have things to do, tissues to destroy, and vulnerable writers to corrupt, and I must move on.

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Filed under Contests, Heroes 'Til Curfew, Increasing Kindle Rank, Laws of the Universe, links, self-publishing, Talent Chronicles, what not to do, word count, writing

This, That, Stuff, and Things

I used to have this social studies teacher who absolutely hated “stuff and things.” Use either of those words in an essay question at your peril. So now I often say them, just to say them, because I’m just ornery like that.

I’m also constantly behind. Everything’s just late, crazy, and overdue.

Take the 1000 Sales Giveaway. I was supposed to draw that on Monday. Just did it now.

It has been such a week. Sales started a random upswing over the weekend and then just exploded. It was all very exciting, finally slowing back down again, but I’ve been so obnoxious this week that I’m lucky I have any friends left at all, and you’re all lucky I forgot to blog.

So I’m not going to bore you with a play by play, but I’ll just record that my highest rank in the Kindle store was #327, and at B&N, where there is less competition right now, I think the highest I got was #140. Don’t know how that happened, and I think I’m pretty much going to have to retire from trying to figure this stuff out because I haven’t got a clue.

Ok, I know, tell us the winner already. I’m just messing with you. The winner of the signed paperback of Hush Money is Marta! Because Random.org thought to itself: which number feels like international postage?? Hahaha. That’s awesome, though, and Marta, I am very excited to send this to you.

Speaking of contests, I think Robin and I have settled on a cover concept and images for Heroes ‘Til Curfew. Last night I sent her a bunch of spew, descriptions of Dylan, some recurrent themes and imagery from the new book, that kind of crap. What she came up with is pretty awesome on the first try.

It’s not ready yet. I have to buy the stock images, she has to play with the color and make some adjustments, and I apologize for just teasing you like this with nothing to show. But I’m sure we’ll have it ready for you soon. I already feel so much pressure about this sequel that, to be honest, I’m sort of afraid of the cover reveal. Because I just think Robin’s work is so awesome it’s going to make a mob come to my house and chain me to this machine until I finish the story to go with it.

Which Kait suggested might not be a bad thing.

Smartass.

Anyway, I asked Robin if she was inspired by any of the responses in the Find My Dylan contest, and it seemed that her image selection came mainly from what I told her about the story. We agreed that it’s probably best to go with random selection on that too. So when we’re 100% on everything, and ready to reveal the cover, I’ll announce the winner on that as well. Thanks to everyone who helped look for Dylan.

In other news, my husband and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary on Tuesday. I’ve now been married half my life. Whew.

NaNoWriMo is going pretty slowly. November is always a bear for me. Just in this week I had my attention sucked away by the awesome upswing of sales, our anniversary, election day means a day of no school, I should have had my knitting day but got sick, then doll club with my mom today, and tomorrow I have a bazillion errands and a social commitment I should honor. So that’s all interfering a bit with my whole BICHOK program, but most of what interferes with that program is me. I got 1230 words today of what is mainly note-form to be turned into proper prose later (well, as proper as we get in the Talent Chronicles), which brought me up just over 4100, I guess. I forget, but I updated it at the website, so it’s probably in the sidebar. The stats tell me I’m behind. Big surprise.

How is everyone else doing?

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Filed under Contests, Heroes 'Til Curfew, Hush Money, love, me me me, nano, NaNoWriMo, progress update, romance, self-publishing, Talent Chronicles, word count, writing

Quick Exciting (to me) Update with Stats and PubIt Stuff

Hush Money was in the top 250 when I looked at Barnes & Noble this morning, at #246. When I looked just now it was #242. Seems like their ranks are updating more often than they were earlier in the week, or I could just be more obsessed. :eyeroll:

 

#246 in ebooks

Sales at Amazon were down yesterday, but I got back into the top 1000 this morning, at #840 when I looked earlier.

I was going to mention about that “Hot New Releases” list on Amazon we were talking about the other day. I can’t believe I never noticed this thing, but my dear reader, Marta, actually screen-shot it for me the other day. It’s a tab under the bestseller lists that I click to all the time. You know, the ones right under your rank in your listing. Dur. So anyway, as there’s plenty of stuff on the list with less than 20 reviews, I’d say it’s just based on the magically mysterious Amazon sales-tracking formula, and being on the new releases list is just a matter of…release date.

And so, another theory bites the dust.

Back to PubIt. I’ve been there for two weeks and I’m really liking it. Since B&N hasn’t reported their numbers to Smashwords since I got listed, I don’t have comparison numbers for you, but just based on ranking, my B&N ranking was abysmal before PubIt. I’ve been there two weeks with ever-increasing sales, which makes sense with that whole visibility thing we talked about recently. The more sales you make, the better visibility you get for customers who are browsing, the more sales increase.

And browsers have got to be key here, because the main difference between my Smashwords listing and my PubIt listing is that PubIt allows you to choose categories like the Amazon DTP that actually work in the store. Through Smashwords, you’re just not searchable that way. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Smashwords, am grateful to them, etc., but this step-children attitude the stores have to their Smashwords listing sucks.) And I’m sure the fact that you get more than 400 characters to pimp your book doesn’t hurt.

As a 99cent book, I’m at a 40% rate at BN. It’s about a 3 cent loss per book, I guess, compared to my share of the sales when I used Smashwords to get into BN. Who cares? I’m actually selling now.

Indies, if you haven’t gotten those EPUBs done and made your listings at PubIt, get off your butt and just do it. If you download your EPUBs from Smashwords and edit the license info using Sigil, it should go very quickly. I did four of these for a friend the other day. Besides, we need to start making enough money for B&N that other sites will want to carry us and take care of our books so they’ll sell.

Be aware that after you do your thing with PubIt, your Smashwords listing will disappear after a week or two, and eventually take all your previous reviews with it. You’ll be starting over in that respect, and there have been some delays and problems getting new reviews to appear, but I still think it’s worth doing.

P.S. I forgot to tell you, since I was on Stats and the me me me thing in this post: I’m over 800 total sales for October, across all channels and formats. I was afraid to dream about selling this well so soon as a total noob.

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Filed under books, Hush Money, Increasing Kindle Rank, PubIt, self-publishing, Talent Chronicles

Konrath’s Cross-Pollination: What do you think?

This post is eventually going to be about character cameos, guest-appearances, and working with other authors on the same book. It’s inspired by this post on Joe Konrath’s blog. Readers, I would love to hear what you think of these ideas.

I’ve talked a lot about Kindle rank lately and one thing I think about often is that it’s going to be harder and harder to break into those higher numbers as more authors/publishers seriously enter the ebook market. (Seriously as in stop insulting us with higher-prices for digital than paper, $10+ ebooks, etc.) As we continue to analyze what works and more motivated people do what they need to do to move up those ranks more quickly.

And, as Joe Konrath keeps hogging up all the slots and filling more…

Did you read that post? Does it make you grind your teeth how you’re pushing for a few hundred measly words a day, and he’s at a point, reached through a combination of talent, drive, experience, and discipline, at which he makes it look like child’s play.

Yes, I greatly esteem him. And not in an Elinor Dashwood way, though I’ll admit that past posts of his have induced Misery-inspired thoughts from time to time.

But beyond being boggled by the output, and by the amount of different stuff he must be able to hold in his brain at any given time, the massive amounts of creativity, I really enjoyed that post because the concept of working with other authors to cross-promote is one that has been very attractive to me.

Besides talking about his own characters crossing into different series, he also talks about working with other authors, having his characters appear in their series, and vice versa, writing stories together, etc.

Since Kait Nolan and I talk every day, work so closely together, and have complimentary specialties when it comes to writing fiction, we’ve often said that we should write something together. But it never happens. And there are good reasons for that. She has multiple jobs and not enough time to write her own stuff. I have to spend a lot of time spinning my wheels with this whole emo-artist persona that I wear around the house like bunny slippers. But I sort of think that, at the end of the day, we just  might not be ready to do that yet. I think maybe ego-wise, and probably mine more than hers, we might not be ready for that level of sharing and cooperation yet.

We do have a super-seekrit project proposed with a handful of other authors. An over-arching world concept under which each participating author would be able to write their own, autonomous story or stories. Sort of like writing fan fiction, except that the aforementioned concept was an original one that Kait came up with, not something taken from a book, movie, or TV show.

This was a marketing idea that captured my attention when I saw the Legend, TN website, the group of authors who created it, and read their first collection of novellas. I stumbled across that while Googling for something else and was intrigued because the fictional town is where I lived. The concept was able to get me to read not one, but four authors I had never read before. I thought it was quite brilliant.

It was not a new idea for me. Have I ever showed you my wall of Harlequin Intrigues. Remind me to dig up a photo when I have more time. Need a few hundred of those from the 80s and 90s? I need to move them and the idea of recycling them is too sad. Anyway, Harlequin’s done a lot of short series branding, having a few authors write books about the same family or bits of the same over-aching plot. A great idea that had customers looking for the next book in the story, no matter which Harlequin author had written it, possibly generating new readers for some of their authors.

I’m not really optimistic about us getting around to the super-seekrit project any time soon. Everyone is really busy with their own worlds right now, but fictional and real-life.

I’ve recently been offered a spot in an anthology. I would LOVE to be able to participate in that. It was an honor to be asked, as there are really good indie authors involved, and I’m sure it would help me find new readers. And yet, I’m not sure about my ability to write something at the requested length. I’ve never done a short before. But I’m going to try.

Anyway, I’ve gotta wrap up this rambling, so…

Q for writers: What do you think about the idea of working with other authors? Think you could do it? Think you could let another author write YOUR character into her book? Think you could stand back and let someone else tinker in your universe?

Q for readers: What do you think about these ideas? Do you buy anthologies for a single author’s story and find new authors to love? How would you feel about trying a new author in order to follow your favorite character?

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Filed under author blog, books, characters, ideas, Laws of the Universe, self-publishing, Violations, writing

1000 Sales, Giveaway, Mini Writer Conference, and a Puzzle Piece

Hush Money went over 1000 total sales last night, within 12 weeks of release, and, naturally, I’m very happy about that. I’ve passed my break-even point as far money I’ve put into the book. Next financial goal would be to earn enough to pay for the art and copyright for Heroes ‘Til Curfew.

That’s going a little better, in that I think I’ve figured out why anything I manage to write has been so chock full of suck lately. Now that I know the problem, if I can figure out how to work through it, I should be able to get back to writing like crazy to get this book out by late December/early January.

I was really inspired by our mini conference over the weekend, which some people would call lunch, but whatever. Those of you who follow Kait and Lauralynn will already know that we drove from all directions to a central point to have lunch and spend a few hours talking about writing and indie stuff. Then Lauralynn and I met Zoe, who wasn’t able to make it to the lunch, and spent some time with her, too. I had a lot of fun. More importantly, I have been living so mojo-free since September, that it was a really big deal for me to get inspired by all the writer talk and actually whip out my notebook to jot down some ideas for my WIP when I got home.

The last bit of news I’ve been meaning to come and tell you comes from a lovely email exchange I had with one of my readers who is also an ebook enthusiast, just as I am. Except that, rather than stamp her feet over availability issues like I do, she just has multiple e-reader devices. Possibly this makes her my new hero.

Anyway, I’m not going to clip the email because I neglected to ask her permission, but she told me that she found me in a “Hot New Releases” list on her Kindle. I was on the romance list, on the 41-60 page when she found me, read the excerpt, and bought the book in mid-October. This coincides with the period of crazy sales I had on Amazon at that time.

Thank you, Amazon!

So why did Amazon put me there? Why Amazon does anything could probably be its own In Search Of… style TV series, but my theory here is about reviews. There’s been a rumor going around that 20 is the magic review number that gets Amazon to start recommending your book to others. I don’t know if that’s true. But I looked through my reviews and I can see that I got my 20th review on October 4th, so just after 8 weeks. I had also broken into the top 1000 for the first time by September 28th. Maybe it was a combination of those things that inspired Amazon’s algorithms to choose my book for that list.

I don’t know anything about the list itself, like how long I was on it, how often it updates, etc. I had broken into the top 1000 a two weeks before my reader saw my book on the list, but the sales I had around that time I know I was on it were the days I was firmly in the 600-700 range, when I hit my current best of 623.

Long story short, those reviews really count, and that’s as much of a lesson for readers as it is for writers. If a book made your day, if you want an author you enjoyed to succeed so she can keep writing, an Amazon review is a big deal and something that doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

Writers, make it easy. I should start counting the number of sites and blogs I visit where authors talk about their books and don’t link directly to the book on Amazon, or even mention anywhere one can purchase it. Admittedly, half of these are traditionally published authors who may think facilitating purchases is not their job for some reason. I don’t know. I’m not suggesting pop-up ads (don’t make me hurt you), just don’t make me search. I’ve got a lot on my plate.

[ETA: Now that PubIt! is finally here, a lot of us have been looking to generate more reviews over there for the Nook crowd. If you’d like to copy and paste your Amazon review to the PubIt! listing, I’d be grateful.]

Oh, did I say giveaway? Ok, in honor of the 1000 sales, how about if I send out a signed, paperback copy of Hush Money to someone who leaves a comment between now and October 31st.

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Filed under book review, Heroes 'Til Curfew, Hush Money, Increasing Kindle Rank, self-publishing, Talent Chronicles, tips, what not to do, writing

Visiting…

As promised, this morning I’m visiting Reena Jacobs’  with a post that continues ideas from the Increasing Kindle Rank series. This one focuses on your listing, things under your control, particularly Samples and Blurbs.

Please don’t forget to stop by tomorrow to learn fun facts about Invictus author, and loud-mouth indie, Chris Kelly.

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Filed under Guests, Increasing Kindle Rank, self-publishing

Increasing Your Kindle Rank: Cover Art and Your Website

Here we are at the end of the week (well, it’s the end of the week for you; for me it’s Tuesday, I think, and while you’re reading this I’m probably spending quality time with my mom and boring the crap out of her about stuff like kindle ranks and DRM and all that stuff she listens to with feigned interest), with what I think is the last post in this series. If you’re new, I introduced this topic last Saturday, yammering about cracking the Kindle top 1000.

(Also, if you’re new to my blog and commenting for the first time, I’d like to let you know that I’ve written this post ahead and scheduled it. I don’t plan to be online to moderate comments until late Saturday or Sunday, but if you’re moved to reply, please don’t let that stop you!)

Why Cover Art Is Important

Before releasing my book, I was definitely of the mindset that cover art was not a deal-breaker. I was in the process of getting professional cover art, because I seriously lack graphic design skillz, but I didn’t think it was such a big deal. After all, if people I trust tell me a book is great, I’m not going to care what the cover looks like, and that’s the biggest factor for me in reading new-to-me authors.

But I finished Hush Money, it was all edited and shined up, I was learning about formatting, and I was almost ready to go. It was time for me to start talking about the book, what I’d been doing, getting people interested in the release, and I had nothing to show. (At that point I ended up leaving the artist who wasn’t able to get the job done, and going to Robin Ludwig.)

While we do a LOT of reading words on the internet, it’s also very image-oriented. You see that, right? Think of one of your virtual friends, someone you chat with, a Twitter friend, maybe a blogger or a regular commenter to your blog. What image comes to mind? Their avatar. When I was very active on LJ, I had all these dear friends whom I really thought of as Star Trek alien girl, funny old man girl, and Joan Jett. And I’d be kinda shocked when people changed their long-standing avatar. When we think of people and things, we sort of need a visual placeholder.

I didn’t have that for Hush Money, or for me, as a writer. I think it helps to have that, and to have it as early as you can create it so you start building that graphic representation in the mind of your future reader. Of course, it helps to know what the book is going to end up being about before you run out and make the cover for it.

Thoughts That Went Into the Hush Money Cover

In my mind, cover art should be:

  • Professional quality
  • Genre-appropriate
  • Unique in some way
  • Related to the book
  • In some way intriguing to the reader
  • Able to tie into future books in some way to create a brand appearance

It’s not always going to be easy to do all these things, but they’re things that Robin and I were trying to keep in mind as we developed the cover together.

Robin sent me a few mockups early in the process that I rejected on the basis of genre-appropriateness. They were great, very professional attempts. But they were not the kind of covers that I would expect to see when browsing Teen Paranormal. I was looking at a lot of vamp books:  Twilight, Vampire Academy, House of Night..dark covers, soft edges, attractive girls. I told Robin, “I don’t want another white-throated young female vamp cover, but something with similar elements.”

I think it helps when a book stands out without looking out of place. Two things help my cover in that way. One is the Talent Chronicles stripe. When I talked about elements I had seen and liked, I mentioned that I was sometimes drawn to covers with that colored band element with the author and/or title on it. I had also mentioned branding, that I’d like to have a way to tie the books in the series together. Robin’s red, vertical stripe gives me that way to brand going forward, but it’s also pretty eye-catching, isn’t it? The other thing that’s kind of unique is Joss’s “hush” gesture. You’re like wait, why do you want me to be quiet? or What’s the big secret? And the “hush” gesture relates to the title. And to thence to the book. So hopefully, that makes you want to know more, maybe enough to read the description.

So I hope that gives you some things to think about when developing covers, and gives you some ideas you can take to your artist. [cough]go to Robin[cough]

Because Robin is so full-service, she also made my website elements that match my book cover: background, header, avatar. They’re very pretty. I don’t actually know enough about web design to really talk about them beyond, ooh pretty, though. What I think is most important in the look of a website is: can I read it?

Some website Do Nots, IMHO

If you want me to hang out on your site, do not make it hard on my eyes. You may be 22, but I’m not.

  • Avoid putting lots of text on dark backgrounds, especially colored text.
  • Avoid like the plague putting text on a patterned background.
  • Don’t assume everyone’s running at your speed, you don’t need every widget ever made
  • On a related note, don’t assume everyone will wait for your pages to load
  • When choosing security/anti-spam features, remember that no one wants to fight to leave you a comment

Remember to include

  • Easy ways for me to subscribe. Give me choices. Do you know I don’t subscribe to most blogs at Blogspot because most don’t offer an email signup? (Of course, I’m also turned off a lot of Blogspot blogs because they have every widget known to man, so pages take forever to load, and leaving comments is often a struggle.)
  • All your information. Make it one-stop info shopping. Do you know I’ve visited author blogs, where the blog is not integrated with the website, and the blog doesn’t even have a link to the website? And the website is where the rest of the info is.
  • Descriptions of your works. I’m at your site, checking you out. I see three book covers with no descriptions or anything. I click the most interesting one, and it takes me to Amazon (and uses the same window!). Now I have left your site and am wandering Amazon. What if I never come back to check out those other books? One of them might have snagged me, but we’ll never know. It’s your website. It’s all about you. This is not the place to be shy about talking about yourself.
  • Tell visitors you’re a writer. No, really. You don’t know how they stumbled on your site. A while back, someone asked for opinions on a blog/website they had just set up. I went to look at it. A lot of work went into that thing, but nowhere on the landing page had this person made it clear to the visitor that the site was about a series of books he was writing.

Why the blog-centered website?

When I visit author websites, it’s usually because I want to know the reading order of books in the series because the geniuses at the publishing house listed the authors works freaking alphabetically at the front of the book. Destroying any chance that I would pick up that book while it was in my hand at the store, btw. Seriously, that kind of information is generally my only reason for looking up an author site.

When an author keeps a blog, there are two things going on. One is that the author is attempting to engage the audience between books, on another level, about different topics. The other is that the author is potentially being discovered by other citizens of the internet, some of whom may become readers. Changing content and varied topics, make it more likely that posts will get picked up by search engines, and bring in those new readers. Lots of them? Probably not, unless you’re a fab blogger like Mr. Konrath. And even for him, lots of us love his blog but don’t buy too many thriller novels. So becoming a fabulous blogger should not be the totality of anyone’s marketing plan. But every little bit helps, right?

Another reason is that developing at website, at least with WordPress.com, is really easy. I mean, really. You have your blog, but you can also make all kinds of static pages for whatever you want. You can make one of those static pages your landing page, just like a lot “regular” websites.

If you want to have your own domain name, you register and pay for that through a separate company, like GoDaddy. Then you come back to your WordPress.com blog and you pay WordPress $10 a year to associate your content with that name. Not necessary, but also not hard.

This, by the way, totally covered in @kristenlambTX’s We Are Not Alone.

You can still decorate a WordPress-based website all pretty, with a header that establishes brand, and you can use lots of widgets in your sidebar (though there are a lot of widgets that don’t work, grr, but then see above about Blogspot blogs) to advertise and direct traffic elsewhere, etc. It’s always easy to add pages and make changes.

I have another website, fairly dormant at the moment, for my doll stuff (which I need get back to someday). That’s one I’ve built, with website design software (hopelessly outdated, but still), pay for monthly hosting, and it has a self-hosted blog attached to it. It’s not rocket science, but doing this site through WordPress.com has been a lot simpler, it looks more professional, and it leaves me time to write and stuff.

This was another one that probably could have been two posts, but hey, why wait? Now you can go get back to work. I hope this series has been helpful for you. Thanks for stopping by.

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Increasing Your Kindle Rank: Pricing

Yeah, I don’t like to talk about money. Like politics and religion, it can ugly. That’s why this post is longer and rantier than usual. But it’s part of this whole series I’m taking you through this week, and it’s my opinion. I’m keeping it. If you don’t like it, just go do your own thing, ok?

Ok, so the series, if you’re just joining us… Last Saturday I talked about reaching the Kindle top 1000 and some things I think were helpful,  and now I’m going through and expanding on those ideas.

When most of my friends put out their first books, everyone was all about 99 cents. It’s the lowest price an indie can set on Amazon. And there were a lot of 99 cent ebooks out there, competing for space. At the time, it was even harder for the 99 cent books to get found because, when searching by price, you had to start with the freebies that the trad publishers are allowed to run, pages and pages of freebies, many of which were merely excerpts from books.

The two things happened: first, Amazon broke the freebies away from the rest of the Kindle store so that they could be searched and ranked separately (yay!), and they went to the 70% royalty rate for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99.

Since that time, $2.99 has been on its way to becoming the new 99 cents, possibly in the same way it seems that just yesterday a regular sized Milky Way bar was under 50 cents and the “fun size” was a whole lot funner. /accidental chocolatey tangent.

And I’ve certainly got no beef with anyone who wants to make $2 off their book instead of 35 cents. What I do have a problem with is people implying that I am doing something wrong by pricing my book at 99 cents. That I am undercutting other authors, devaluing my own work and books as a whole, and somehow behaving as a bad citizen of the indie author community. In a sense, reading (SOME and not all of) these articles on why we should all move on up to $2.99, feels a lot like reading some of the not so nice things the trad authors have said about the indies.

Last month I sold over 300 books through all channels. This month I’m on target to sell that many by halfway through the month. But I’m making 35 cents per book, or a bit over $100 when I could, in theory, be making $600. OMG, why don’t I raise that price.

Because there is no way on this Earth that you are going to convince me that, as an 8 week old, baby author with NO name, NO ad budget, and one title, that many people are going to buy my book at $2.99.

But Susan, it doesn’t matter if 300 people buy your book. At that rate, fewer people can buy your book and you’ll still be making more money. Great. If making money were the most important thing to me right now, I’d be all over that. Would I like to be able to make back what I paid my cover artist, the copyright registration, the paper copies I’ve sent out? Would I love to be able to give away more paper books, t-shirts and other swag, do the Kindle Nation sponsorship thing, have contests that give away Kindles? Hell yes! Am I there yet? No. I haven’t earned that yet. Would I love to be able to pay some bills, figure out what’s wrong with my car, and not have to roll down the window to open the door from the outside? Yes. But I haven’t earned that yet either.

I’m pretty sure I once read where Holly Lisle (who has many smart and helpful things to say to writers) said that you shouldn’t quit your day job until you have 11 books published. Because that’s the point at which your royalties may be stable enough to support you writing full time. Now that was a few years back, and the industry has changed boatloads in that time. I have no idea what she’d say about that now. But that has really stuck with me.

So what do I think I’m getting at the 99 cent level? Sales and rank. Rank comes from sales. Once I started to push up from the middle of the category lists I was on, sales increased. See, I had trouble figuring this out because, remember all those reviews I had? Well, things had a been really quiet on that front. And then sales, like, doubled. Not that that was totally crazy, because it wasn’t a huge number either way. But I’d Google myself and no one was really talking about the book. I wouldn’t be able to put my finger on what prompted someone to check me out. But the thing that had changed was my placement in the Kindle rankings, which was moving me up those category lists.

The biggest hurdle is visibility, the second is credibility.

There are some people out there saying that people who buy books for 99 cents are then not motivated to read them. That’s their loss. It’s a fun book. I believe that plenty of people do read it and are then unmotivated to tell others about it. So in that way, as far as sales of this book are concerned, non-reader and reader have done me the exact same service. They’ve registered a sale that has increased my rank, and therefore also my visibility. When they come across another blogger talking about it, maybe they’ll move it to the top of the TBR list.

I know people are searching me by price, and I’m pretty sure some are choosing free reads over mine. And this is because, on my Kindle page, I can see What Do Customers Ultimately Do After Viewing This Item? Most of them are still buying me. That percentage, often referred to as “conversion rate” has gone down a lot since I started. That’s because, in the beginning, people were going to my page via direct link because of me, a tweet, a review, etc. They went with the purpose of buying my book. As I got out of that, and browsers became a bigger part of my sales, that rate goes down, because some browsers by you, and some pass you by. The browsers who do not buy Hush Money generally buy other free reads or other 99 cent ebooks. So far, I don’t have a lot of people looking at my book and walking away to buy a $5 ebook instead. Because I’m only 99 cents, so why not try it?

When people come across me, unknown, under-vetted, baby indie author, it’s a lot easier for them to throw 99 cents at Amazon than it is $2.99. It just is. It may very well be that $2.99 is no big loss for lots of people if the book doesn’t suit them, but it’s still more than 99 cents, and any increase in price has the potential to increase customer resistance of the Buy button.

Yes, there is more to marketing than just a low price point. We need to learn to market effectively, build a brand, build a readership. But it has to start somewhere, and I think new authors who start higher are denying themselves some perks of the 99 cent slot.

I said on the Indie Reader blog recently that I don’t devalue my work. That makes no sense to me. I don’t have an ad budget, so a discounted price for the work is what I have to trade with right now in order to develop an audience for my future work. If my work had no value, that wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t net me anything. I’d get no word of mouth, and no one would come back for the next book. If I didn’t believe my book was going to earn me some loyal readers, and if I didn’t believe in my ability to produce good work in the future, I’d set a higher price, take the money and run. Wouldn’t I?

Authors talk about all the work they put in. The years they spent honing their craft, the months they put into this book, the planning, the writing, the editing, money they put into producing and marketing. They deserve to get paid for that. Well yeah. And so do all the artists selling over at Etsy who have done the same thing. And a lot of them realize that they have to sell at a break-even point for a while to build a brand and a business.

That’s all I’m saying. I believe in my future work. Hush Money is an introduction to my writing and my world, and it comes at a discounted rate. I earn very little on it in cash terms, but that gets made up to me in other ways that I hope will help me in the long run.

Will it be 99 cents forever? I don’t know. I’m still feeling my way through. What I do know is that the first books in Amanda Hocking’s My Blood Approves series and Imogen Rose’s Portal Chronicles series are both currently priced at 99 cents and both have been very high on their category lists for quite some time. I’ve also seen new printings of first books of some series, like Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, reprinted with $2.99 on the cover as an incentive to draw new readers into the series.

To review:

  • Your share of your 99 cent price is more than 35 cents. It’s just not all in cash.
  • Despite what others are saying, a low price does not mean “lack of faith in the work” to all people. Don’t be bullied. Do what’s right for you.
  • Biggest hurdles? Visibility and credibility. Think of those when thinking about pricing.
  • Remember that, in many professions, it can take years to begin to earn what your work is really worth. We may do it faster, but maybe not right of the gate.

My recommendation to other new indies is to price at 99 cents. I feel it’s been very beneficial for me, and plan to leave the price at this level at least until after the release of Heroes ‘Til Curfew, if not longer.

No matter how much I really want to buy six seasons of Supernatural on DVD.

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Filed under books, Hush Money, Increasing Kindle Rank, self-publishing, Talent Chronicles, tips, writing

Increasing Your Kindle Rank: Blogging and Social Media

Saturday, I posted about reaching the Kindle top 1000 within 8 weeks of self-releasing my first novel, Hush Money. This post is part of a series in which I’m talking about some things I think helped me get there.

I have pretty much decided that blogging is the thing on which I get the worst ROI (return on investment), as far as my time is concerned. Pretty much every post I write takes more than an hour, often more than two hours. When I look at my blog stats, I can see how many people clicked links from my site to the places where my book is available for purchase. Even on days where I get better-than-normal traffic on the blog, there’s not the kind of clicking of my buy links to my 99cent ebook, of which I get 35cents per download, that’s gonna pay for those hours of work.

But blogging, and all social media activities, are a little more complicated than that, and time spent building and maintaining a network, in whatever way you do it, is about more than a ratio of visits to clicks. For more about the importance of such networking to authors, and a detailed method by which authors can approach it, I highly recommend Kristen Lamb’s book, We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I talked a bit about what’s in the book…here.

I didn’t put the time in on my blog, prior to my book release, to build a good, ready network of readers who were impressed by my brains, curious about my work in progress, and waiting for its release. In fact, I’m still having trouble figuring out what to talk about, and content is inconsistent in both topic and availability. (Hint: if your book’s not out yet, this might be something for you to work on.)

But you know who did? Kait Nolan. When Kait released Forsaken By Shadow, not only did she have a number of readers who were interested in her and knew that it was coming, but she also had a many contacts in the online writing community to approach for a blog tour that exposed her to the networks of, what, thirty different bloggers? In addition to blogging about her writing life, the Shadow and Fang blog focuses on topics of interest to writers: informative articles giving Kait’s perspective on many aspects of craft, as well as on industry news items she reads, and the changes taking place in publishing. This is something she enjoys and has been working on building for the last three years or so.

And I totally benefited from that base when she recommended my book to her readers.

Who else is a good blogger? Book-Crazy Jenn is an example, and one of book bloggers who took the time to share Hush Money with her network. Jenn is an avid reader (I think she’s read over 170 books already this year), and so updates her readers regularly with new books for them to read. She’s full of enthusiasm and warmth, and is a pleasure to read and to work with. She works to develop relationships with authors, which bring them back to her so that she can provide more content of interest to her readers, as well as occasional giveaway items.

And I totally benefited from all her effort when she reviewed Hush Money on her blog, as well as when she published a Q&A we did together. And when she mentioned my name in a post titled: Fangirl, Me?

Do you see where this is going? So you’re not a great blogger…yet. So what? You’re a great fiction writer, right? So buck up, ’cause maybe that’s all you need to be. Do what you can, and then leave the blogging greatness to others and just help them find you.

And then, just take that idea and rubber-stamp it onto other social media. I think it’s important to have some kind of presence, and to try to keep it up to date. After all, the more places you are, the better chance people have to stumble upon you. I have a Facebook profile, but I’m not good at Facebook. I put a little more time into my Facebook (fan) Page because I think it makes more sense to maintain that for people who go out of their way to say they’re interested in that aspect of you. Just because I don’t like Facebook is no reason neglect getting my information to the people who do like it. I do this by having my FB information in Tweetdeck. I do NOT funnel all my tweets to FB. If I were a regular FB user with tweets coming through on my NewsFeed all the time, I think that would really get annoying. But I do use Tweetdeck to send status updates of breaking news to my FB Page when I’m thinking of it without having to actually go to FB. And I try to check the page regularly to respond to any comments. I know the people there can tell that I’m not a FB user, but as long as I don’t make them mad, I think that’s ok.

I treat MySpace the same way, except that my MySpace is a wasteland where I don’t think anyone is listening. I have no idea how it works or how to make friends there. So it’s most just there for informational purposes, should someone happen to stumble across it.

Twitter is the place that I think requires the most hands-on approach. And fortunately, it’s also the easiest and most engaging, once you get into it. I have days where I’m really “on” on Twitter, and others when I have absolutely nothing to say. And still others where I don’t manage to get there at all. One thing I have on Tweetdeck that I want to mention, is a column with a search for my name. You already know when someone’s talking to you with an @mention, but what about when people are talking about you? If you set up a column for your name, you’ll see all those auto-tweets from Goodreads where members have just given you 5 out of 5 stars. So you can RT those if you want, or just send an @reply and say, “Thank you, I’m glad you liked it.” Make friends with people who like your work. They might RT some of your news later on.

And again, with Twitter, it’s not always about the size of your network, but also about the size and quality of your friends’ networks. When @kaitnolan spontaneously decides to send out a great tweet about my book, sometimes people buy. When I ask @zoewinters to RT something important for me, she’s very gracious and always does it right away. People I don’t even know who are just out to support indie writers will RT my tweets and help me sell books. Author Belinda Kroll, aka @worderella is an example of someone who does a lot of spontaneously helpful RTs. So don’t get too down on yourself over your number of followers. Just make friends, be nice to people, and wait for the karma to work its way back to you. (To avoid being a spammy tweeter, maybe check out this recent article on Parajunkee’s View.)

We can’t be everywhere and do everything, but at the same time, isn’t it kind of audacious to decide that readers should work to find you, in the places you’re most comfortable with, because you refuse to maintain any kind of presence in the place they prefer to get their information? I mean, as an author, who’s paying your salary? Just sayin’.

So what are you supposed to take away from this post?

  • You’re probably going to need to suck it up and do this stuff
  • But it’s also not as difficult as it feels
  • Concentrate at least as much on being a mensch as on adding people to your network
  • Get Kristen’s book if you need guidance

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Filed under Hush Money, Increasing Kindle Rank, links, self-publishing, Talent Chronicles, tips, writing