The Tweak That Changed Everything

Marketing & Promotion, Self Publishing

I can’t even remember how I stumbled across Nick Stephenson’s blog or newsletter but I’m so glad I did. The author of a successful thriller series, he’s recently been promoting a series of videos and workshop opportunities for other authors looking to increase their sales. I signed up for his newsletter on a whim, my curiosity piqued by all of the comments and feedback left by authors who’d already been helped by his advice. The first three videos were free so I had nothing to lose and after implementing the advice from just the first two videos alone, I’ve already experienced some amazing results.

In just one month I’ve gone from selling a couple of books a day (if I was lucky) to selling 10-40 books a day. And as far as free downloads go, I’ve gone from twenty or so copies a day to 300-800! My books are actually reaching readers and every day my audience is growing exponentially. I know some people might scoff at my results. Maybe it took them one book to achieve what I’m just now experiencing after publishing six novels, but as an indie author and as an artist, I know how detrimental comparison is. All that matters is my journey and I couldn’t be happier with the road I’m on and the results I’ve achieved.

When I first started self-publishing I knew absolutely nothing about the online retailers where my books were being sold. I was familiar with Amazon only because I was a frequent customer there but I’d never taken the time to understand how their search engine worked, especially when it came to keywords. But after watching Stephenson’s videos I’ve come to realize that keywords are KEY to an indie author’s success. Each online retailer is a little different in how they utilize keywords and allow customers to search but since Amazon is where I make 90% of my sales I decided to devote most of my time to making changes there.

Before making big changes to all of my books listed on Amazon I decided to experiment with just my paranormal series. Since it’s genre fiction I figured it would be easier to apply specific categories and keywords, not to mention the fact that those changes could be applied to all three books. It took me a few hours of digging up comparable titles, checking their rankings, and evaluating the competitiveness among each keyword–meaning how many books were categorized by that term (all these steps are explained more in-depth in Stephenson’s training)–but the changes I made were significant.

Prior to watching Stephenson’s videos I was using keywords that were way too specific. I thought narrowing down the keywords would place my book among less competitive search results, meaning it would be closer to the top of the list and much more visible. In fact, this was the very thing making my books invisible. For example, I might have used keywords such as “nightmares” or “dreams”. These mean nothing to Amazon customers. Think about the way you search for things on google or Amazon or any other search engine. Most people would search using broader terms first, especially if they’re just browsing. So instead of using keywords like “nightmares” or “dreams” I replaced them with keywords that were more genre specific like “paranormal romance for teens” or “free paranormal romance.”

Stephenson goes much more in-depth in his training videos and I highly recommend checking them out. I’ll be moving on to video three soon and if his suggested changes continue to provide me with stellar results I’m definitely going to consider paying for his other training as well. I’ve benefited so much from his generosity already so I encourage anyone who’s interested to please check out his videos for yourself or his Leopold Blake thriller series. Indies helping indies is a beautiful thing so if you’ve come across any life changing advice or resources please feel free to share in the comments below!

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The Domination of the Light Read

Self Publishing

Finding the right readers has been a big challenge for my first book. It’s a coming-of-age story with equal parts political violence, historical intrigue, and romance. But I’m beginning to realize that maybe readers don’t want all of that other junk complicating a character’s relationships. Maybe they don’t want a raw, real, not-so-happy ending when it comes to love. And infusing your book with social issues and other uncomfortable subject matter? Why bother? No one cares.

Or do they?

This is what I’m trying to figure out. Lately it seems like all of the books skyrocketing up Amazon’s bestsellers list are strictly romances, most of them under the umbrella of New Adult. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, I’m wondering where a book like mine will ever fit in. Where the other books I’ve been working on will fit in. One of the bloggers lined up to review my book abandoned it after the first few chapters because it was “too dark.” I totally understood. I expected that reaction from some people. But I’m starting to wonder how the rise in popularity of New Adult romances is going to effect the tastes of readers long term.

Without the influence of gatekeepers, you’d think we’d see an increase in diversity among books being read by the general public. But it feels like there’s been a huge influx of one particular genre and in fiction that closely resembles all of the other guilty obsessions most Americans indulge in on a regular basis—reality television and top 40 pop radio and summer teenage blockbusters.

And while, like I said, there’s nothing wrong with preferring pastimes that are on the lighter side, I’m wondering if people still find value in things that aren’t. In things that are real and multi-dimensional and have some depth. Do people even care about depth anymore? Is that what they really want these days? I’m not sure and that’s a little scary.

I’m curious, has anyone else struggled with finding an audience for work that might be more on the literary side? Is there anyone out there self-publishing something other than genre fiction? And readers, what do you think about New Adult romances? And do you find yourself gravitating more toward lighter reads these days?

KDP Update-The Things They Didn’t Bury

Self Publishing

The last day of my free promotion for The Things They Didn’t Bury expired last night at midnight and after three days of watching my rank fluctuate I topped out Sunday morning at #75 in the Top 100 Free Amazon Bestseller’s List!

AmazonRank050513

Downloads started trickling in Friday morning and by noon I was averaging 50 downloads an hour—which is pretty accurate since I was frantically checking throughout the work day every chance I got. At first I was like…is this real? Can they really be calculating it this quickly and are there really that many people digging through Amazon’s inventory five digits deep? When I started the free promotion my rank was around 30K and I was surprised that people had even found the book. But they did and over the weekend my rank just kept climbing higher and higher until I finally cracked the top 100 list!

I was a little surprised that the top 100, though it definitely increased my visibility, didn’t necessarily increase my downloads. There was a huge surge of them all day Saturday but after I reached the top 100 list on Sunday, they started to finally slow again around 3PM. The last I checked before I went to bed I was #100, just about to fall off the list.

By the end of my KDP free promotion days I had a total of 3,855 downloads!!!!!!

I’m not sure if this is normal or if this is some kind of miracle. I can tell you that it sure feels like one. 3,855 people have downloaded my book. 3,855 people might actually read my book and half of them might even finish it. Half of those people might even like it. And half of those people might even tell their friends! Which is all I can hope for at this point. As of right now, almost 24 hours after the promotion has ended, I’ve only had 2 actual sales. Not sure if that elusive “bounce back” phenomenon is supposed to be instantaneous but it looks like word just hasn’t traveled fast enough yet.

I’m still crossing my fingers but, for me, this promotion has already been a huge success and totally exceeded all of my expectations. Honestly, I’m still stunned. I just can’t believe so many people were moved by the blurb, the cover, and the sample chapters to actually download a copy. Though, for me I think that trifecta was pretty essential and that’s the only advice I would give to anyone considering joining KDP Select and taking advantage of the free promotion days.

My essential ingredients to a successful promotion:

1.       Invest in a great cover. Writing a book is hard and it’s a little insulting when non-writers try to insinuate that it’s not. We should have just as much respect for artists and graphic designers who have invested both time and money in honing their skills and not assume that just because we downloaded Photoshop that we can slap something together just as good ourselves. Expect to spend in the triple digits. But trust me, it’s worth it. I can only assume that since my cover was the first thing people saw as they were scrolling through the ridiculously long list of free books on Amazon that that’s what enticed them to actually click on the link and read the description.

2.       Write a killer blurb. Writing blurbs is hard so take your time. Again don’t just throw something together. Examine blurbs of books that are similar to your own or just blurbs that really entice you to want to read more. It takes practice. I’m still learning how to get it right but I do understand that there’s a specific formula when it comes to writing a successful blurb and that if I do it right it can make the difference between someone buying my book or passing it by.

3.       Most importantly write a good book. Always be conscious of putting out a quality product. The Things They Didn’t Bury probably went through 8 drafts over the course of two years. Is it perfect? No. Nothing is ever perfect but I never tried to abandon it before it was ready; before it felt complete and before I felt like I’d use every skill in my arsenal to get it in the best shape I possibly could. But like I said, nothing is perfect and seeing as I am just a mere mortal nothing I write ever will be. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good enough. And that doesn’t mean that I didn’t almost drive myself insane trying to get it there.

Have patience. You will finish the book when you finish the book and daydreaming about how much money you’ll make once it’s published is the last thing you should be thinking about. It’s a waste of time and only distracts you from the most important part of being a writer—writing the damn book.

Last, but not least, I did submit the book to some websites that feature free kindle books. It’s hard to say how much this influenced the overall outcome of my promotion. I was tagged in a few tweets from people who’d seen the book listed on one of these websites and decided to purchase it so at least I know the book was actually visible and that the submission forms I filled out weren’t for naught. I found the link to a website called Author Marketing Club via Gwen Bristol’s blog. From the linked page you can submit to various websites with one click. Frankly it’s way too simple and convenient not to try it yourself. I even submitted to Booksy.com who hand select which books they feature. Luckily my book was chosen and they even sent me this cool badge!

freeboooksybadge

I’d love to hear if anyone has some comparative results from their own KDP promotion.  The only way we can really take advantage of information like this is if we share with each other so please feel free to leave any insights and/or personal testimonies in the comments!

Taking The Plunge With KDP

Self Publishing

So I’ve decided to take the plunge. I’ve never been a fan of exclusivity but I’m also not a fan of the artist’s purgatory better known as corporate America—a place to which I’m currently slave until this whole writing thing takes off. And if I’m going to be completely transparent here, I mean totally and shamelessly honest, The Things They Didn’t Bury has been on sale for almost 3 months and I have sold 10 copies. Yes. 10. Every single one of them to someone I know by name.

Discouraging? Definitely. But I’ve got patience, I’ve got the will to experiment, and I’m just wrapping up book 2 which means my virtual shelf space will no longer be the equivalent of a black hole by the end of June.

A lot of writers seem to be split on the subject of KDP and going all in with Amazon. It’s controversial and a little scary—especially for us indies who tout our independence like some war wound we acquired while trying to learn HTML and format our e-book for free, or from the amount of money we got misled out of while trying to find a decent cover artist. It’s intimidating to put all of your eggs in one basket, and according to some ideology, just plain wrong.

My biggest trepidation with KDP was its effect on readers. Luckily all 10 of mine have kindles but what if some didn’t? Would they feel slighted? Would it matter at all? Obviously, exposure is everything, and as a new author my goal is to reach as many potential readers as possible—whether through my blog or other social media, through ad space, reviewers, or retailers. And I wanted those readers, regardless of which reading device they owned, to be able to discover my books.

But here’s the issue. I can make my book available on every e-book retailer, I can make the file DRM free, I can give over a hundred copies away for free, which I did. But I’m still a new author—an obscure anomaly that no reader is scrambling for, that no reader is seeking out, or even giving a second thought. In fact, none of them even know I exist.

So even before tackling the hurdle of actually selling copies of my book to strangers, I have to conquer the hurdle of being invisible. And I think KDP can help me with that.

Now, why would I want to participate in KDP free days when I’ve already given away over 100 free books, none of which have translated into any sales? Well, first of all, giving away free books is always a gamble. There are a lot of factors at play. When I reached out to book reviewers I sent out almost 150 emails. Approximately 30 responded saying they would review my book, and in the past 3 months only about 10 of them actually have. Maybe they got busy. Maybe they just didn’t like the book. These are things I can’t control.

Other things I can’t control are who enters a giveaway I may be hosting on my blog or someone else’s. Maybe they don’t read contemporary fiction but they entered anyway just to see if they’d get lucky. Maybe they enter every contest they find. Maybe they don’t even read. Finding the right readers, the right audience—it’s like finding a needle in a haystack—and them finding your book, well that takes a needle, a few stars aligning, and some divine intervention. And when you consider the size of a blog’s online readership versus the size of Kindle owners, they’re not even comparable.

Amazon is huge.

So while I may enter into the abyss that is KDP Select, competing with every other self-published author and free book on the market and getting sucked into further obscurity, I also might find that one reader who is looking for a book just like mine. That one reader who will tell their friends and their family and the clerk at the grocery store and that guy across from them at the gas pump. They’ll tell their Facebook friends and twitter followers and the people in their Friday night book club and their Sunday morning bible study.

That’s the goal. So I’ll start with KDP, trading temporary exclusivity for the hope that I’ll find my readers, one by one until one day all I have to worry about is writing amazing books for them and all they have to worry about is reading them.