Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Break My Stride? Nope.

Quick update:

My other jobs and family life have kicked my tail. I'm not giving up. I wrote 627 words today at the airport. :)

That brings my total for the week so far to: 1679. I have 4 writing days left in the week. That's 4,580 words per day.

I could feel daunted, but instead I'm going to get a glass of tea, grab my Kindle Fire with keyboard and type for 30 minutes before bed. Another 600 words and I'll be happy.

Ain't nothing going to break my stride... oh no I've got to keep on moving!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Survivalism and Project Everest

This morning I woke up, I made my bed and did the dishes. This sounds trivial but it's a part of my plan of "oh grow up, Elizabeth." I will be 31 years old at the end of March and part of me still clings to an idea prevalent in my generation regarding "downtime." It goes like this.....we deserve downtime. But why? My husband's grandparents don't EVER stake a claim for leisure time, and they're actually "retired!" My parents are more of a cross between that generation and mine, with no sense of balance at all, it's full throttle work or full throttle play. 

My generation benefits from the most advanced technology to date to ramp up production yet what are we producing? Not a whole lot. Sure, there are visionaries my age that are multi-billionaires from their good ideas, but as whole, most people my age aren't really willing to work hard. We're GREAT at hardly working though! :)

If I don't step up my game I'm going to blink and my life will be just a series of doing the bare minimum until I can "relax" again. That's not a legacy to leave behind! Hence Project Everest: 750,000+ words by December 31, 2013.

Where Do I Stand?

I have 19,140 words on His Parson's Wife. I typed another 140 this morning (get to that in a minute). I have 8,022 on Stone. 3,094 words on Daughters of Derbyshire. Grand total: 30,256.

This morning I tested myself on just plain old WRITE for 5 minutes and came up with this, an additional 140 words for His Parson's Wife:
Tea was served at Netherfield Park promptly at four in the afternoon and the mistress wouldn't have it any other way. Caroline Bingley walked around the parlor to check once more that every detail was perfection. Groomed for society's highest demands at an exclusive finishing school in London, where most young ladies with the stench of trade to their money would shrivel up and know their place after three years of the Ton daughters shunning them, Caroline Bingley was a different breed altogether. As the months passed by that the peerage daughters demonstrated Caroline would never be good enough, Caroline hardened her heart to making the most advantageous match possible: Fitzwilliam Darcy.

The inconvenience facing her now was waiting out his wife's death and talking her brother into taking her to Rosings to help console the man.
They're rough words, but words all the same. This means a potential rate of 1680 words per hour. When I originally calculating my "work hours" I planned 750 words per hour. I'm going to do a few more tests, including slower writing to see where I land, but I'm fairly confident I'm more in the 1,200 words per hour range, a savings in time required for the project by 40%.

I Didn't Want To

I didn't WANT to write those words, either. I forced myself to get started. Day One and already I'm thinking "Ugh, what's the point?" But it's all about survivalism and while I know the inspiration song is more about our complete disregard for the Earth, I like the pacing of the song because for me writing is like that. The verses are plodding, a march beat, a slogging through it if you will. But then, I get times where I'm like the chorus, an elated punch through the fake obstacles my mind builds up that IS pure propaganda.

I got my fist
I got my plan
I got survivalism

Now your turn. Get some! Because I'm going to go get mine right now and bang out a few thousand words, then take a break and do my HTML work for the day.

UPDATE: 12:35 PM
Just did #wordmongering on Twitter, where you write for 30 minutes. I was still interrupted twice by my daughter annnd 1,052 words were still written. Very encouraging. Just got to keep on keeping on. Now time for HTML work, will write more later tonight.

Back In the Saddle...Writing

I fail a lot. I'm that person with a hundred ideas and the ability to execute maybe 5 of them. That's okay.

For a few days now I've mulled an incredibly ambitious goal, and it's all because of a conversation I had with a newer writer. Straight up she asked me if I was writing anything new.... how do I say I've been writing SIX something news for over a year? Wait, just like that.

In the course of the conversation, I confessed that I am a mountain climber. I only wrote Cancelled to see if I could. It was my Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountain chain (6,683 feet/2,037 meters).

I'm scaling Everest! (29,029 feet / 8,848 meters)

Now, this is NOT my fault...I blame James Scott Bell. I am reading his Fiction Attack, which is a bit disjointed as far as writing help books go and recycles some of his old stuff that I know well because I like his books on writing, but all the same, it's a great book for a refresher course for me.

What would I do if I was truly fearless?

789,000 words between now and December 31, 2013, that's what.

Say what?

I know, you're thinking "Holy Cow, Elizabeth, that's um, beyond ambitious!" It sure is. It's 18,000 words a week between now and then. I'm aiming for 20,000 starting tomorrow. 

What happens if I fail?

Wonderful things. If* I fail, I will still produce a ton of words since I'm really good at only managing 25-50% of my bigger goals. That's STILL 200,000 to 350,000 words! Oh, woe is me! LOL.

Yeah, but does this mountain even like exist? In this reality?

YES! I type 750-1500 words per hour, depending on how much I have outlined. More when I have fewer distractions. I am trained. I've groomed myself for this for ages to just type, and type, and type. I know I can write 18,000 words in 48 hours. I did that to FINISH Cancelled. I know I write thousands of words in responses on Kindle Boards in just 20-30 minutes.

I can and I will do this. 

And that tomorrow is now today, so this counts as my "journaling" and since I'm up, no time like the present to get started. Later on I will break down all fo the projects etc. I am working on. For now, I have 6 that I can throw words at.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Appartment 325

I have "bought" a new web real estate location for my latest project chronicle: how I'm going to bring a new digital magazine to market as an app.

Come visit me at : Appartment 325

Monday, December 31, 2012

Confessions of an Ebook Marketer

It's time for some tough love.

It's no secret for anyone who has followed this blog for the last two years that I am a web entrepreneur in the writing and publishing industry more than just "an author." In the last 6 years, I've made money

  • writing non-fiction SEO content
  • opinion pieces
  • working as a marketing copy freelancer
  • in social media campaign management
  • as a fiction author
  • as an ebook formatter
  • and most recently as the director of author advertising for a reader website and Facebook pages, The-Cheap.net, KotC and Cheap eReads.
The Internet brings a very REAL economy right into our living rooms and buying behavior is impulsive.

I buy memberships to wordpress template companies.... on impulse. (Check out elegantthemes.com)

I buy ebooks and apps for my e-reader..... on impulse. Gotta love One-Click!

Even when I shop for more durable goods online, if I do NOT finish the transaction right then and there, chances are strong I will never get the product. Why? Because there is just too much selection. By the time I'm considering a product, let's say a new MP3 player, and I put one in my cart and then I talk myself out of paying the money for the product and leave it in my cart, the product already has a negative connotation in my mind. When I come back three days later, because I decide I really want a new MP3 player, I will need to shop around again because there might be a new sale price on one I considered before. If I don't find another MP3 player with better features and a better price, I might go with the original, but it's not looking good. Rarely will I buy a product I abandoned in my cart. Do you?

And that brings me to my next topic: authors thinking like a customer. (Not a reader as we all read, but a customer, someone who BUYS ebooks).

#1 feeling a customer wants to feel after clicking Buy Now or Deliver To My.... is they got a great deal. This doesn't mean a specific price point, but rather an appropriate price point for YOUR product, your ebook. You never want a customer to feel like they overpaid for your product. This means

  • quit pricing your short stories and novellas at $3.99 and $4.99, then wonder why you're in the nosebleed section in the Paid Kindle store
  • quit slapping a homemade cover on the front of your ebook and complain that customers won't give your book a chance
  • quit padding the front of your ebook with advertisements for your other books so that your sample doesn't even cover your first chapter
  • quit paying hundreds of dollars in paid advertising when you have no other title and no reviews on your new release

I want to be very clear here: every single book has an audience. All of them. Even the broken English, error filled books authors like to laugh at when the worst of the worst indie titles are rolled out. Why? Because every customer has a different reading level.

Shocker, huh? For the last six months, I've been in the trenches with ebook customers. Same title, read by 10 people, some love it, some think it's okay, some hate it. Every. Single. Time. One reader dislikes any book with profanity, plain and simple. Another reader only likes books that are genre mashups because he doesn't have time to read too often, so he wants to be impressed every time he picks up a new book. One book I personally thought was rubbish from the sample was a delight for a reader I admittedly have a hard time not correcting her their/they're/there confusion and remind her there is no letter "D" in the word "congratulations" in social media posts. She cares about the story, not the grammar, since she can read right past the mistakes.

It's just like television shows. My husband and I love documentaries and don't watch shows like Jersey Shore and the Kardashians. My sister hates stuffy documentaries and DVR's all of the reality show celebrities. 

Ebooks are entertainment. And there are fans of all kinds. As an author, the Herculean task is to find the customers who will like your ebook.

Test your product.

Your product consists of:
  1. Your cover. This is the shiny bright plastic that grabs your attention to products on the grocery shelf. BE shiny and bright.
  2. Your product description. Work that thing like your life depends on it. Every word counts triple than any other writing you will create. Get the customer's attention and make them want to own your product.
  3. Your price needs to be a good deal for the page count. Customers devour books. No one wants to pay full ticket price at the movie theater for a 30 minute sitcom. Don't get caught up in what you can GET for the book, but what price can you live with that lets your customer feel positive about your product's VALUE.
  4. Your author biography needs to sell YOU. No, you've been writing cutesy little stories since you were three. We all have, crayons and paper are the cheapest educational toys on the planet next to sticks and rocks. Include your interesting NON WRITING life information so customers can relate to you as it's not likely that they are all authors, too.
  5. Your product's metadata including reviews, keywords, tags, and any other tie-in features an ebook store will let you add on (like Amazon's Author Central will let you connect your blog or video to your author account). 
The only way to test your product is to place it in the path of customers. Beta readers are one way authors get early reviews up the day the book comes out. Other authors rely on networks and writing groups to help them publicize their novel. Another way is to use paid advertising.

I sell cheap ebook ads for a reason. I know I have 10,000 views of The-Cheap.net every single day, and 23,000 likes between our two most popular Facebook pages. When a book buys a $15 3 Facebook Posts in 1 Week ad from us, chances are good at the $2.99 price point, they will make that money back. Many authors, who have rocked 1-5 above, see a nice profit. The blog post/Facebook combo is only $25, and a great investment for authors with multiple books, because we promote all of them in the blog post.

There are books that do not make their money back, and as I look at the click reports, affiliate traffic and purchases, and sales ranks, I can usually identify the numbers above, 1-5, where the book product is lacking. I've helped authors who can't figure out just why their book won't appeal to customers via phone conversations, email, and even video chat. I'm not a snake oil salesman, I've turned down books that were not ready for paid advertising, and tried to gently let authors know their price is too high for a place called "the-Cheap."

If you've never paid for advertising for your ebook, for the love of God, don't start off with a $100+ ad. 

Start small. If you want to buy an ad, just to see how customers react to your product, go for $25 or below. Sites that charge that do not generally have the hundreds of thousands of followers that the more expensive places have. But here's the thing, you could have one little problem with your listing, and it won't matter if a million readers look at the book if the cover/description/price turn off 999,900 of the people who view it.

But Why Should I Pay for Advertising When xyz.com gives it Free?

Here's where we go behind the curtain. 

A reader site falls into one of two categories: hobby and business. The hobby blogs are typically your review blogs, run by one or maybe two people, who have organically grown their audience over time. This blog here is a hobby blog, I don't monetize it nor have any plans to do so. I write here when I want to, and the last two years of blog posts gets me about 100-200 views per day. 

A business blog is a site usually run by more than one person and requires 24/7 maintenance. Increasingly, these reader communities are not just a blog, but also Facebook pages, Google + accounts, Twitter streams, etc. etc. Yes, you can schedule posts, and automate SOME of the work, but trust me, most of those tools are temperamental in the extreme.

There's a natural cycle to every reader community. Early on, it needs content. It needs books it can promote to help draw in regular visitors as a place to get VALUABLE ebooks when they go on sale. To do this, the blog owner must reach out to authors and publishers to get in the "know" before a book goes on sale. They often tout they will promote your book for free.

Eventually this need for quality products to showcase turns into an avalanche, and there's no rescue dog. There are many review sites and reader sites that opened up advertising for the year that quickly see their spots fill up for months out! The number of quality books out there written by indies outnumbers the spots available to advertise books. Plain and simple. Add in the books that aren't quite ready for prime time advertising, and it's an even bigger mismatch. 

Owners of reader blog and sites quickly realize they can get the cream of the crop in two ways: charge authors a small fee to be listed so only serious authors will apply, or just copy what another successful website is promoting. Either way, the ability of an author to get this advertising for free is tougher every week as more ebooks are available and fewer sites are able to stay up on the work involved to keep readers interested and adapt to the ever changing rules of social media sites.

Affiliate Monies

Unless you've had a Nook or Amazon Affiliate account, you might not have heard what this is, or you've heard other authors mention it in passing. When sites use affiliate links, they make a small percentage on the total sale completed within a specific time frame from when the link was clicked. 

For example, every book cover on The-Cheap.net is an Amazon Affiliate link. Each month, all of those monies are divided by the staff it takes to run the site and Facebook pages 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If someone clicks our free ebook link, buys that, and then also buys another ebook recommended in the Also Boughts, we make 8-10% on that transaction, depending on the volume we've sold for the month already (I believe you must sell 500 products to move up to the first tier above 8%). Some products DO NOT pay affiliate monies at all, like all of the video on demand content. But if the customer purchases something else within an hour, and hasn't clicked on another affiliate link in that time frame (almost all reader communities use affiliate links), that sale counts for affiliate monies for us.

Now I know you're thinking, 8-10%, that's a lot! Sure, but look at it this way: in a month where a site makes $1,500 in affiliate money, that site brought in customers who spent $150,000 at the Amazon store. 

One could argue that reader sites get enough money from affiliate programs. But you'd be wrong.

These programs are not dependable. Amazon changes their rules every few months about what products it will and will not pay affiliate monies on. Barnes and Noble does their affiliate program through Linkshare, but doesn't pay on ebooks and you can't directly link to products. Barnes and Noble wants you to put up a banner and give you a paltry cut of the non-ebook products you sell, meanwhile getting free visual advertising on your site. Yeah, no thanks.

Plus, if these programs think, even for a second, that you've not followed any of the rules on the 4+ pages of legal jargon, you don't get paid. The-Cheap.net ran into that when Barnes and Noble arbitrarily killed a number of book blog affiliate accounts last year with monies owed. We once had to change our Facebook pages to remove Kindle from the name to comply with Amazon's rules (and other sites have had to do this, too). 

The target is always moving, and while it's nice, a few hundred dollars doesn't compensate for the job is takes to RUN a reader community with thousands of members.

Alright, why should authors pay for advertising?

Most reader sites worth their salt will always have a way to feature your book for free. We do. Authors on the Cheap on Facebook is always open for authors to post once per day a link to their book. 5 seconds will tell you we are inundated with book links every single day there, sometimes as many as 50 different books! 

We can't run the same titles every single day, so we grab books we know our readers have liked in the past if we think enough time has passed since the last time we ran it, and new titles with great covers that grab our attention. Remember, when you are advertising for free, WE are taking the risk that customers will be attracted to your product and click and buy your ebook or other products on Amazon so we make a little bit of money. If readers only download your sample and buy your book later, we make nothing. 

In August 2012, we opened up paid sponsorships, where authors could schedule their time on our Facebook pages and website, for a nominal fee. For $15-$25, authors can pick a week they want their book featured. 

We are also doing a unique combo for authors using KDP Select to promote their freebie run and then also the book once it goes back to being available for paid status. I'm an author, too, I know the goal is to go as high as you can on the Free Charts, then turn around and sell as many ebooks as you can once it's back to regular price. The smart authors last year did this naturally: they booked promotion for their free listing and separate promotion for their paid listing. We're doing this all in one.

How do you think you're worth that money, though?

Two of us are the primary staff for author ads, meaning we are the ones getting up everyday to make the Facebook posts and blog posts. We also make the HTML pages authors sign up on, maintain the schedule, track down authors who paid for promotion but don't have their ebook out yet, handle email questions from authors who are new to this world or self-promotion, and design, run, and complete giveaways to attract new readers to increase traffic. We check to see if books are available on every ebook outlet and make each post by hand because prices are not consistent across the board. A book can be $2.99 on Monday, FREE on Wednesday, and $4.99 on Friday! 

Our two staff salaries are paid with 80% of the author ad money. I do the majority of the HTML work, schedule maintenance, emails, and giveaways. My friend and co-worker, Tobi, does the majority of the physical posts. We both work, just on THIS part of the equation, 10-15 hours per week, and we average about $8-$10 an hour. 

The other half of our staff hunts for deals and maintains the blog, The-Cheap.net, and have built the Facebook pages over the last two years. That side of the team also runs giveaways, and responds to the lion's share of reader correspondence. They rely most on the affiliate monies for their pay. They get up at the butt crack of dawn to get the best deals out in time for the morning Facebook check on the East Coast.

We walk readers through converting DRM free Kindle books to epub and sideloading them to their Nook. We provide both indie and mainstream published deal books so readers keep coming to us every single day for deals. And this helps indies because it brings mainstream published books into their Also Bought algorithms  We don't skip a day of posting deals, because the second you take a day off, you lose readers. We answer weird questions, like "I want Wizard of Oz to be free. Can you please post the link?" as if we have control over what books go on sale and when! We explain features and tips and tricks of the various ereaders in a friendly customer support way that Kindle and Nook don't offer.

All of us spend at least 5-10 hours a week just being human with the readers. Talking about what they're reading now, their personal struggles with exceptional children, or lingering disabilities from an auto accident, etc. We care, genuinely, for these people that patron our deal store every day. This is the interaction MOST authors miss out on doing because they're too busy either writing or spam linking their book on social media. They forget to BE social.

Yeah, but I could do that....

You're right, you could. You could easily spend 15-20 hours a week building a reader community, responding to spam and issues and discussions all week long, even on holidays. Some authors do, quite successfully. They call them Street Teams and the like. But for the most part, most authors do not have the organizational skills and discipline to run a reader community. It's like that getting up and writing 2,000 words every single day philosophy. Some authors have it, and they don't only rely only on paid advertising. Other authors choose to spend that time more wisely by writing new books or working on their day job, etc.

The bottom line is that running a reader community that buys ebooks is not an easy feat. It takes slow, methodical work, and a willingness to keep at it, even on days when you only earned $2.17 in affiliate monies. :) To allow authors to schedule promotions, even free ones, takes man hours and attention to fine details. Finally you have to do this not just for the money. It doesn't pay enough to feed a family, so all of our staff have a genuine joy of reading and promoting indie books, for a variety of reasons. That's what helps us ignore our families for an hour or two on Christmas to make sure deal posts go up, or checking our email one last time before going into a movie theater.

Once upon a time... 

I too was against paid advertising. I was right, back then, that I should NOT pay for advertising as I was lacking in a few of the five areas of my product I list above. My cover wasn't appropriate for my genre and I had only a few reviews. Now that my book has an attractive cover for my target audience, romance readers looking for something different, AND I have 23 book reviews, AND I've tweaked my product description to really send a clear message that my book is not a typical romance, I buy advertising all the time.

My book will be free tomorrow through Thursday. I've paid $60 for a KND sponsorship, $25 for The Kindle Book Review, and I will promote my book in an ad spot on The-Cheap.net (which is free, since I run that). $85. Last year, I made it to #12 in Free Fiction. Tomorrow? Who knows. I might not make it anywhere because too many other great books are going free for the New Year. I might crack the Top Ten Free. I haven't promoted my book in a few weeks because I knew I was going free, and I didn't want to encourage readers to pay for my book knowing it would be free a few days later.

No matter what though, I know as a business woman I have a great product for a great value and I'm going to advertise it. Paid advertising is about putting my book in front of the eyes of strangers to me, my book, and everything I do in the web world to help others around me. It's a one-shot, split second moment to see if I can hook the customer into an impulse Buy Click, or not. And at the end of the day, that has very little to do with the advertising site, since it's the same X thousands of readers that see my book as who saw the books yesterday, and the day before that, etc.

It comes down to MY product and the value I offer to readers. If I take care of that, then it doesn't matter what I pay for advertising, my customers will buy my book. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Writer Beware MWiDP and My Role In The Mess

Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
And loathsome canker lies in sweetest bud.
All men make faults.
~ William Shakespeare, Sonnet 35

In September of 2011, I published my first novel, Cancelled, after 6 months of hob-knobbing with other “professional” authors online. I was a regular comment maker on The Writer's Guide to e-Publishing, and one of its biggest cheerleaders. As soon as the book came out, I received no help from anyone there at the time save for Tonya Kappes, who to this day is one of my author acquaintances I will bend over backwards to help anytime she asks. Yet, still a noobie, I remained a regular reader and learned about Mark Williams international Digital Publishing.

A few of the major players at WG2E vouched for working with Mark and Saffi and shared the signup to join MWiDP. The premise was simple:

Saffina Desforges, the dual writing name of two individuals, was already a best-seller. They were going to help upcoming authors with the UK side of things, being able to negotiate new channels of distribution over there because we wouldn't be a hundred authors negotiating one or two books each, but one cohesive organization negotiating for a large catalog of hundreds of ebooks. Bigger authors than me had already signed up and confirmed they were signed up in the comments section.

You can see in the comments just how “fresh” I was to publishing.

I was picked up and giddily “signed” my contract in early October 2011. I felt like I was being very smart, as I was only lending distribution rights with a 30 day removal if I chose at any time. I mean, I read all of the contract warning posts on The Passive Voice Guy, I had nothing to lose. Who wouldn't want to ride the coattails of successful authors?

By the end of that year, it turned out that many of those big names left the “publishing company.” I hesitate to call it that, though that's what Mark and Saffi wanted, because at least in my case, there was no cover art done, no editing, nothing like that. The excuse given was KDP Select, and Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award, but I later found out well after the fact it was mostly due to non-communication and other bigger issues.

Still, I was very small potatoes, and dealing with a very demoralizing situation where I had allowed myself to be taken advantage of for technical skills in return for nothing. Mark's shoulder was where I proverbially “cried.” As a way of cheering me up, I became involved in the technical side of MWiDP, first formatting ebooks then stepping up to make a website. This truly helped me stay in this industry as the other situation had me ready to quit fiction altogether and go back to ghost writing non-fiction articles. I had a purpose again.

Mark and Saffi paid for the hosting costs, and the understanding was that I would make the shell, they would populate it with information and/or give me the information and I would make it. I made two shells, and never got the simple list of authors in MWiDP at any time. Should have been a red flag that there was no spreadsheet of publication schedules, who was in, who was out, etc. And admittedly it was, even back then, but it didn't affect me and I was so eager to be a part of something bigger, I overlooked it. They must just be too busy to get to me, was my rationalization.

By spring of 2012, the few emails I had with Mark were mostly can you give me the login again to the site, I'll get you the content, and more talk about the “exciting” things just around the corner. I had stopped formatting ebooks for them as it was never a paid position and just a barter for editing help with my next book, but I wasn't finding time to write it. I admittedly did not step down from that position very well, telling them I would get to it, get to it, get to it, and then didn't. I own that. But at the time I was rather lost in what I was even doing as a person, and there had been no reciprocation of any work on their part, so I don't feel too terribly guilty about a momentary flaking.

I have since learned that compensation has to go both ways in this business or the person doing you strictly a “favor” will disappear. So don't make agreements to recompense in the future or BE recompensed in the future as none of us really know what that future will even hold. Living in the NOW is a good rule of thumb when it comes to monies.

By June of 2012, my royalty statements for Cancelled had not been updated since March. I was the listing agent, for lack of a better word, for a few MWiDP titles on Nook as I am a U.S. Citizen and can publish directly through them while UK authors still can't. I pulled my book from MWiDP cordially, and was asked to continue being the listing agent for the other books. I insisted on a contract between us before I would agree to continue (as I had been operating on the PROMISE of such a document for 3 months, and I needed to cover my butt in case an author accused me of stealing their work). I received it that day.

Now I knew Mark is in a remote location and Saffi was in the UK, but during all of this, all of the excuses of no access, can't get this done, the pen name Saffina Desforges kept publishing books. So the technical and banking difficulties they shared with us only go so far in my mind. Really, my personal experience was every time I gave a firm “This or else,” something was done within 24 hours.

I routinely checked with my authors they were receiving royalty payments from Mark and Saffi after I forwarded them the monies due from Barnes and Noble. I knew even in the back of my mind I could not rely on their ability to conduct business (really, what publisher doesn't have a spreadsheet of their authors? I run an author ad marketing company and I can tell you who bought when and where at any given moment!)

October 12, 2012, I learned that an author wasn't receiving royalty payments or statements about the original anthologies. At first, I was told it was a miscommunication about monthly versus quarterly statements. Another caveat for other authors: don't treat email communication as written communication. Yes, it IS, but for major changes to a contract, rewrite and re-sign the contract. Email is a pain in the butt to try to fish out the sequence of correspondence, and even timestamps can be altered and then you have to try to contact the ISP and that's a mess.

I defended MWiDP on the basis of knowledge I had at the moment, as was asked by the original poster on Kindle Boards. I knew my authors had been paid. I had an email from Mark saying all of the anthology authors agreed after the fact to quarterly statements. I posted the information I had, and the background information I knew about the organization.

After taking a break due to a tooth mishap for the weekend, I learned Saffi made some extremely poor decisions to publicly post private email correspondence with the original author, AND, then insulted other authors including current MWiDP authors. I never got to see the original message as it was removed by the time I followed up on the post. This is probably a good thing as I doubt my tooth pain would have allowed me to be particularly graceful.

In good faith, I am not perfect. I've made many mistakes in the last year learning my way as a self-published author. Now I work mostly as an ebook marketer and soon will be directing a digital magazine all about e-reading. I don't care if an author makes $5 a month in royalties or $5,000,000 a month in royalties, we all put our periods in the same place. We are all equally valuable, we are all important. No one should EVER tell an author he or she is unimportant because of the amount of royalties he or she makes. Ever. It is rude, unprofessional, and not a person with values that I want to work with.

Therefore, in light of the public inappropriate behavior by Saffina, and some more private correspondence with Mark that left me with a troubled feeling in my gut, I have served official notice that I will no longer be a listing agent in any capacity for MWiDP books. I gave 30 days notice, as per my contact, that the listings will be pulled no later than November 14, 2012 unless other arrangements are made earlier than that.

For new authors out there reading this, don't get discouraged about every opportunity that comes your way. I had 3 really terrible business situations happen to me between when I published and now, and my 4th opportunity has been a complete blessing. There are ethical people out there. There are sound businesses to work with. I still don't think in my heart that there was malicious intent in the MWiDP organization, I think there was more work involved than Mark or Saffi ever realized and that 10% of not a lot to begin with is still not a lot. Where I don't care for their decisions is I think the handwriting was on the wall long ago that this idea wasn't going to work, and when the first exodus of authors left, that was probably the time to say “Wait, maybe we should rethink this.”

I know Mark didn't want to tell any authors “No.” I'm probably one of those authors as my book earns very, very little overseas (like single digit monthly sales figures). But really, true publishers that take on the risk of making money need authors that sell books. The problem is that if an author is selling books, why does he or she need a publisher?

I've accepted where I am as a self-published author. Hopefully, by my second publishing anniversary, I will be celebrating 1,000 books sold and a new title. In the meantime, I'm having a blast running the author ad program for The-cheap.net and designing our magazine. I'm part of a team, as I hate the solo aspect of this career choice, but I still have areas under my control. I'm sad about MWiDP as it is a great idea on paper for authors to band together under an umbrella organization for negotiating purposes, but quite a mess to actually make happen in real life.

I wish Mark and Saffi great luck in the future, and I hope that by sharing this story of my own mistakes it will help other new authors make better decisions in their own careers, whether or not they decide to share control of their ebooks with other organizations or not.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

To Kobo I Will Go.... Publishing via WritingLife

It's no secret Kobo, the most popular ereading device in Canada and other countries, has been working on their own self-publishing platform called Writing Life.

I am pleased to share that it is now out of beta and open to all!

I uploaded Cancelled without hesitation! And this is a very, very good thing for authors and readers! And here it it!


About Kobo

Kobo ereaders were sold at Books A Million until recently, and are now sold by Target in the United States. There are also Kobo reading apps. Read here about Kobo's market share internationally!

Why are Readers Going to Like Kobo?

Kobo does not allow public domain content to be published, which should cut down on the "crap." And books can be free at any time, NOT for only 5 days and only on a Kindle.

The .epub file format is convertible to .mobi with Calibre, as long as DRM is not applied (make sure you uncheck that, by default in WritingLife DRM is applied!). epub is THE ebook standard, not .azw or .mobi which are Amazon's proprietary formats. That means, ANY ereader, other than the Kindle family, can read a non DRM file purchased at Kobo.

Kobo still has an affiliate program, unlike Barnes and Noble, so for Nook users and Kobo users, reader communities can still share reviews and links to epubs and make a small amount of money in affiliate monies for their trouble.

Oh, and let's talk about the Kobo website shall we? It integrates with Goodreads! Yep! And, the site has social media buttons integrated right into the page listing, so I can Pin a book on Pinterest, or share it on facebook, or tweet it (Amazon has this after you buy). And on my own listing, where I have downloaded the sample, guess what? It shows right on the cover a blue box that says this book is IN my library! As someone who reads 3-5 books a week, I NEED this feature. I don't know how many times I've sat, wasting 10 minutes to try and decide if I've read a particular Pride and Prejudice continuation, or maybe just one similar, ah forget it I'll buy it, and THEN Amazon tells me "You already purchased this book." GAH!

Finally, and most importantly to readers with multiple devices like me, a Kobo listing CLEARLY states if there is DRM on the file in the eBook Information section. Amazon does too, but it uses the vague terminology "Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited" Huh? Confuse me much? Just say DRM or no DRM.

I am impressed as a reader.

Why Should You As an Author Like Kobo?

Kobo is international. Kobo was international before Amazon cared about those markets. Kobo doesn't have the stigma (and yes, there IS a stigma) of being an "American" gadget. It's Canadian. ;) Best yet, the Writing Life interface is AWESOME....

Royalties: $1.99-$12.99 is a 70% royalty rate.
All other prices are 45%

You can make your book free when you want to. Anytime. :)

Tired of checking KDP daily for your sales and making your own reports? Yeah, me too. Kobo's WritingLife has many of that reporting built in, including your daily sales! YEAH! So now, you can really tell when a book's marketing has made any kind of difference instead of a guess, assuming Amazon updated their KDP stats that day.

Now I have to learn a few more languages and see about advertising my English written book on some international reader sites. :)

Oh some quick FAQs:

You can upload epub straight to Kobo, or they will convert .doc, .docx, or .odt if you follow their style guidelines... (I make epubs with Jutoh as then I can control the metadata)

You can put your book in 3 categories.

DRM is default, make sure you remove it in step 3 if you don't want it.

You don't need an eISBN, but it's optional. After you get an eISBN from Kobo, put it in your Goodreads listing to integrate the two systems.

Uploading is a bit buggy, I kept getting error messages, but once I clicked save and went pack to that step, my cover and file were uploaded. Weird, I know. Might just be today's flurry of publishing activity.

A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby. CANCELLED is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and KOBO

WIP: STONE. Never up Mom's expectations, a clothing designer kicks "Mr. Right" to the curb.

Totally for fun I am also working on a Pride and Prejudice What If? His Parson's Wife is supposing both Darcy and Elizabeth make hasty decisions to marry others and then defy society's rules to let love find a way. Yes, it is OH so scandalous!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

How to Choose Between Self-Publishing and Traditionally Publishing Your Book.

There appears to be an uptick in articles condemning the self-publishing option. I went the self-publishing route, but I have very good friends who are traditionally published. And as someone with just one book and a small amount of sales (500 to date in 9 months), I think I am qualified to speak to new writers out there still on the fence. I am NOT like any of those big time self-pubbed authors that are cited in the articles. I will not sell thousands of copies any time soon.

What do we want? When do we want it?

As individual as our stories is what an author dreams to get out of publishing his or her story. Before we get too far, BOTH paths to publishing take work and time. So let's not discount anyone with a manuscript working towards publication as taking an easy way out. Nothing is easy about publishing a book.

What do YOU want?

There is nothing wrong with feeling that your writing is validated because it is published by a publishing house. That's WHAT they sell. They sell a service to you, for a percentage of your future earnings on that book, that offers a professional publishing experience. If you don't feel that you possess skills in areas of technology, negotiating with service providers (and not everyone does and there is absolutely no shame in that), and managing marketing and distribution channels, then traditional publishing is definitely for you.

A lot of the anti-traditionally publishing rhetoric I read from self-pubbers involves the fact that many publishing houses now require an author to go through an agent first. You know, this doesn't make them evil. Let's face it, talk about writing a book with any acquaintance and you'll hear all about how they too would just LOVE to write a book. The DEMAND for publishing has grossly outstripped the supply for a very long time. What does this mean? It means that publishing companies have enjoyed many decades as the hot girl at the dance all the boys want to dance with, so she doesn't have try to spark up conversations with guys to get noticed. They can't publish everything that is well-written, they can't. At this point in time, they have bills to pay, salaries to cover, and can only publish the books that are going to bring them the best return on investment (the investment being the cost to publish the book, including the author's advance and marketing).

Now, there is another side to that publishing service that authors need to know and that is bringing more cooks into the kitchen is GOING to change the dinner menu. In most cases, the traditionally published authors I have spoken to feel that traditionally publishing has made their book better, though that doesn't always mean they made more money because they traditionally published. So if control over your creative endeavors is a very important part of your publishing journey, you are going to need to work hard to find a publishing contract that gives you that control, and it won't be easy to find.

Self-publishing isn't all it's cracked up to be, either. You are an island. Sure, you can network with other authors and cross-promote one another, but those are all temporary. Not to mention, the amount of details you have to stay on top of is insane. Yes, you can publish a book faster than the years it takes going traditionally published, but not as fast as you think. It can take weeks to work with an artist for your cover art, or a few hours if you can make it yourself. Editing passes with a freelance editor can be stressful, especially if one of you go on vacation, and you have to be disciplined enough to work usually to their calendar of availability. If you say your final draft will be ready for them in three months, don't be late, or it could be months before there is availability again.

Unless you enjoy managing your book, and I am someone who does, it can feel distracting to an author who loves to just write to have to check sales, look for new sales channels, read blogs and publications that tout the latest changes in ebook formatting guidelines (I'm glaring at YOU Kindle 8 formatting and your many, many headaches) and still work on new projects. Personally, I get bored with just the writing side of things. :) I love writing blog posts and working on technical stuff. I love managing my social media and working with readers on a one-by-one basis.

Now the later is all stuff that ANY author can do, including traditionally published ones. However, I find that I am VERY motivated when my efforts directly bump my sales figures and since traditionally published authors have to wait months or quarters to see sales data, that wouldn't work for me.

What IS your book?

Remember how I said that publishing houses want to publish that which is successful to their bottom line? It's not completely true that is their ONLY motivation. Certainly it's a big deal, but the bigger deal is if the book will make money AND fit into the brand of the publishing arm publishing it. See, to help sales, many companies break down into imprints, smaller companies that focus on a certain type of book.

When I was researching publishing options for CANCELLED, and all I had was an outline, I scoured the requirements for every single Harlequin imprint, even the ones not currently accepting submissions (where there is a will, there is ALWAYS a way). I knew after a few days that my book, a romance without a traditional ending and a non-traditional main POV, was not going to fit any of their imprints. This isn't bad, it just is what it is. My book has been purchased by more than 500 people (and no, my family is NOT that big... lol) and downloaded by nearly 15,000 people. Harlequin can't take the time to serve them and keep their overhead good, but I can. So I did.

Books that really push genre lines and especially the books that are mashups of multiple genres (which I love to read myself) are great for self-publishing because those books usually take a creative and targeted approach to marketing. A chick-lit/mystery isn't just for all mystery readers or all chick-lit readers, it's for readers who enjoy both. As a publisher-author you have to go out and FIND THEM. A marketing department with hundreds of books to promote in a given quarter may not be able to take that time for each title.

No matter WHAT path you choose to publish your book, define what is different about you and your book. If your book is exactly like book XYZ that was a best seller in your genre, guess what, the publisher is going to think "been there, done that." Not to mention, a publishing company has the schedule set for at LEAST the next 12 months. If your book is something that is HOT right now, it won't be hot by the time it comes out.

The more differences you find about your book than the genre you want to sell it in probably means it's better to self-publish it. Certainly, query agents and don't give up on your dreams of traditionally publishing if that is your dream (see what do you want above). But reading ANY agent's blog will tell you that as a new author, you are already an unknown. If your cowboy/alien/cozy mystery/women's fiction novel is loved by you and all of your beta readers, take it as a sign that someone out there will like it too; it just might not be something an agent feels he or she can sell. Big time authors with long-standing con,tracts are allowed a few misses, since they've more than made their money for the publishing company. As a new author joining a publishing company, we have to hit at least a double or a triple to be asked to bat next inning. A walk or a single just won't cut it, and heaven help you if you strike out (well that's not true, because you can always self-publish, teehee).


What does your gut tell you? By all means, do NOT self-publish just because of the money. No matter which path you choose, believe me, the money is slow coming. It all takes time. Second, there is upfront cost to both options. It isn't cheap to mail out manuscripts, unless you just do email submissions.

Authors should follow the publishing path that makes them feel good about their writing, because ultimately, that's where an author is going to be the most successful, personally and financially. Yes, many of us who pursue self-publishing have an independent streak a mile and a half long and a passion that few could match for our work. I'm a great saleswoman in other arenas, so I knew without a doubt that I could sell my book reader by reader if I had to. In fact, do you know I chat up my book with people in real life, handing them my business card with the information about my book on it? You bet I do! And I enjoy every minute of that.

But not every author has that same personality. I know other authors who cared about getting traditionally published and WANTED more than anything to get an agent and they did so without batting an eyelash because they did their homework first. They will also have something I don't, a safety net. If I decide to take 6 weeks off and work on my next novel, my marketing machine stops. In their case, their publisher should still be promoting the book (although I don't know how long exactly publishers will promote a work, many reports on the web are that books only get X amount of time to go big or go home, but I can't see that's always true since books like the Hunger Games were out long before they made it to #1 on any kind of list).

Most of life, and publishing too, is about knowing what you want and making a plan to get it. And when Plan A fails, Plan B fizzles, and Plan C was a non-start, be the person who implements Plan D-Z with just as much faith and excitement as you did with Plan A. The only wrong choice is leaving your manuscripts on your hard drive and giving up.

A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby. CANCELLED is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble 

WIP: STONE. Never up Mom's expectations, a clothing designer kicks "Mr. Right" to the curb.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Google's Keyword Tool: How Authors Can Use It To Choose Their Blog Keywords

Remember in our early writing classes we were taught to not be cliché, to use interesting words and phrases to describe the world around us? Yeah, toss that out the window for this discussion. Keyword strategies involve using the same keywords over and over again so that search engines can process your posts. Today's algorithms are very, very smart, and have started to correctly process most metaphors and related terms the way a human would. But for professional writers, our more obscure metaphors do not translate.

Now this can technique can also be used for a blog on writing, but I am going to tackle the more elusive blog traffic we all want: readers.

Who is your perfect reader?

I don't want to hear any whining that you don't know who your reader is. Please. As writers, we get into the heads of our characters with the snap of our fingers. Do the same thing.

Who is my perfect reader? (This is not meant to exclude readers who don't fit this demographic, just gives me a target to shoot for. You might have different “perfect readers” each book!)


My reader has some education after high school, and she had a mother who read romance novels, but she considers herself above the “traditional” romance novels because she cut her reading chops on the more modern, contemporary “chicklit” tales. She works, and has to budget her money. She has a family member that is screwed up and causes drama in her life. She has had at least one serious relationship.

Her favorite stores are Kohl's and Target. She drives a foreign made sedan. For fun, she reads on her ereader, and in her group of friends, she's normally the one with plan or new thing everyone must copy. She doesn't do forums, and her social media is updated with her smart phone, because she spends enough time in front of the computer at work. When she comes home, she likes to unwind by reading, watching reality TV, and she has a secret thing for Johnny Depp. Like she owns every single movie he's ever made. On the weekends, she wears jeans, but at work she has to wear casual business clothes. She likes to cook, but also loves the convenience of food made for her. It's a luxury she indulges in more than she should if she wants to get ahead in her savings.

So that's my perfect reader, one I think would read Cancelled and LOVE IT.

Now let's look at some keywords (I highlighted above) with Google's Keyword Tool.

Let's tackle the easy ones first: “watching reality TV and Johnny Depp”

Reality TV Shows

I love “So You Think You Can Dance.” I typed that in as a keyword, searched, and found a great, low competition keyword: SYTYCD videos. Now here's what I can do. I can write up a blog post once a week highlighting 3 favorites SYTYCD videos on Youtube with them embedded. That's fun to me, and it gets searched 290 times a month in the U.S. alone. Now, I would also put in some other keywords, like “so do you think you can dance” which is searched 5,400 times a month and also has low competition.

Going a step further on my “platform” I could make a special video trailer for Cancelled that somehow worked in So You Think You Can Dance, such as a video that I think reminds me of a part in my book. For example, I LOVE Season 4's Bleeding Love by Mark and Chelsie, and it could easily be a video from Kellie's point of view in my book.

Even a post every week or two, over a few weeks would give me organic results. And I could pick other shows that I like, too.

Johnny Depp

I searched “Johnny Depp” and a result I immediately like is “mad hatter johnny depp” which is searched 5,400 times a month and has LOW competition. This is more of a creative type post idea. Mad Hatter Johnny Depp Mondays. I could share the absurd, the funny, or just play around with 6 words I have to turn into a story (flash fiction that many authors like to write). But see how I incorporate a keyword phrase? Linking to an image of Johnny Depp as a Mad Hatter would help even more, and this is the kind of post shared on Pinterest that would resonate well. Working with keywords ties into everything! :)

Her phone, her car, and her clothes

I imagined what my reader uses. This could go a few ways. I could blog about three great purse deals I find online that I think she'd like. “Purse deals” is another low competition keyword phrase with 4-5,000 searches per month. Saturday's Shopping Spree: Purse Deals gets TWO keyword phrases in there! “Shopping Spree” is searched 22,500 times in the US alone and has low competition. I could tie this into the next section, too. Make it an interactive thing where on the comments readers can share their great deals online in the comments and I'll put them in the blog post. My friends and I all LOVE to find great deals, but can't always spend the money. But if you blog about them, you get the kudos for finding them.

My reader's phone I could turn into a weekly syndicated post. I could go out and find helpful articles on how to use iPhones, Android phones, etc. and share little bits and link to the original article. This helps my traffic, gives those sites a pingback, and helps my readers get information they need.

Budgeting, Saving Money

Like the above keywords, this is another “educational” type keyword. “Money saving mom” is searched 49,500 times per month in the US and also has Low competition. I searched “funny money saving ideas” but that is only searched 39 times a month, so rather worthless. In the suggestions, Google had in there “money saving mom.” Now, that I could work with.

I could make the stories funny, like failed attempts to save money. I could write on serious things, like cutting the grocery bill. I could share great restaurant deals, remember my reader likes to eat out.

I know this is a lot to take in. But I hope you get the gist. Imagine your reader, make your keyword lists. Search them in Google's Keyword Tool and then choose 1-3 to make a regular feature on your blog. Make sure it's something YOU enjoy writing about.

BIG BIG NEWS, Micro-search engine optimization

Remember how I have said over and over again that keywords alone will not make or break your blog? Here's more proof:

When I am logged into Google (my gmail account) and I search a term, in my results are matches from the blogs and people I follow IN my social media. Yes! So if you really get into the head of your reader, you don't have to always worry if your taking on a highly competitive keyword, because Google will share your content with your followers!

This is all long-term blog audience building. Certainly, you can accelerate the reach by tweeting and sharing your blogs. But the basic building blocks of your blog should be there before you get busy with a social media campaign. Make sure your blog is pleasing to the eye (black text on light backgrounds) and that readers can easily find information they need.

Oh, and absolutely have a signature at the bottom of every blog post that sells you and your book. :)

A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby. CANCELLED is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble 

WIP: STONE. Never up Mom's expectations, a clothing designer kicks "Mr. Right" to the curb.