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,, 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

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 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 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 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. 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,, 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 (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 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.

Friday, June 1, 2012

eEKLY: The New Face of the Weekly Newsletter

The problems:

Email newsletters have notoriously low conversion rates for reader sites, even more for authors. Industry standards are well below 25% (

Clicks inside of email newsletters are even more abysmal.

The solution:

Test a new weekly publication that goes straight to a reader's ereader without charging the reader a subscription fee.

Although Amazon has experimented with a subscription type service for blogs and magazines, none of us have heard of any runaway success. If anyone knows of one, please share. But by and large, individual authors won't/don't have the time or resources to run a successful blog subscription service through Amazon's service.

Proposed: the eEKLY

The eEKLY is a weekly publication put out by an ereading community website, a publisher, or other group of authors with a similar marketing plan in mind. This electronic publication is made available in .mobi, .epub, and PDF so that readers can download or send the file straight to their Kindles, Nooks, or computer.

Benefits of the eEKLY

Links to books (and other products on affiliate sites) are hosted inside of the ereader so the reader has immediate access to a one-click buy environment.

Authors can use the eEKLY to give away a free copy (serialized over 3 to 4 weeks) in a qualified manner. No more thousands of downloads that who knows who will read? By serializing a "free" book, authors have access to their conversion rates of sampling, answering the question of how many readers who read the first section of your novel come back for more?

Serialized books through the eEKLY can foster discussion for a publisher or e-reading community as it taps naturally into a book club type setup, opening the door for direct author/reader interaction about the novel, because the community is on the same page with a novel at the same time.

By choosing other books to feature at the end of each section, including an author's other books and books in the same genre, there is an opportunity to humanize the "We Also Suggest" algorithm.

Readers receive a valuable publication, meaning there is content inside they WANT to open and read as opposed to an email newsletter that is 100% disposable.

Because the novel is serialized in 3-4 parts, readers will hold onto and possibly repeatedly reference the material inside each eEKLY.

Drawbacks of the eEKLY

Authors must be willing to serialize their novel, for free, with no expectation of royalties, up to 10,000 downloads or for 30 days (sites publishing the eEKLY would agree to take down the files 30 days from their release). Instead an archive file would be offered: a catalog of books that were featured that week.

Readers need training to sideload or send the file to their ereader. This is a great opportunity for authors involved in a specific eEKLY to talk to a reader about their ereader, but could also be a huge headache/cut down on reader adoption.

Eventually, involvement in the eEKLY would require a fee paid by the authors featured to compensate the editor for time compiling the files (There is no fee to be a part of the test, which is what this is).

So who wants in?

I am making a test prototype of the eEKLY (4 issues) for two ereader community sites, and One of the books I am serializing for free is my own, but I am willing to serialize up 2 other books, and I can advertise books in each issue.

I am looking for up to 2 other titles to serialize (need word documents of manuscript and cover art to make ebook files of the eEKLY issues) that are romance, chicklit, contemporary fiction, or women's fiction oriented. There's nothing wrong with the other genres, and eventually, if the test is successful, there will be multiple genres for the eEKLY so that the "Also Bought" type algorithms are more humanly influenced.

I am looking for up to 15 additional titles per issue, for a total of 60 other books that I can feature. I will need an image of your cover (longest side 200 px) and the ASIN. I can match up and find the book on Nook if it's available there. If your book is on Nook too, first priority will be given to those titles because is strong Nook community.

If you are serializing your novel, you agree to allow each "chunk" to be made available for no more than 30 days or up to 10,000 downloads (as calculated by clicks).

What do you get?

Test out a new innovative spin to the reader newsletter housed within an e-reader for free.

Full disclosure of the clicks (Amazon) and # of downloads each eEKLY issue receives, as tracked through link clicks.

So let's get started!

Click here to register how you want to be featured in the first month of eEKLY issues.

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.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dark Dealings Release

This Tuesday, MAY 23rd, join me in celebrating my friend Karen Victoria Smith's new release DARK DEALINGS.

At thirteen, Micaela O’Brien was found wandering a pasture in Ireland, the sole survivor of a mid-air explosion. Now, as a successful investment banker, she will discover that Wall Street has fangs and claws. When international power brokers, creatures hiding in plain sight, threaten her and those she loves, will this heiress to a Druid legacy deny her power and let loved ones die again? 

A thrill ride of money, monsters and murder across the globe.

Karen is also going out on tour! :)

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.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Breaking Into Writing Nonfiction Articles For Pay Part 1

Before fiction, I wrote non-fiction articles for websites and content for private clients. In four years of working in the time it takes to do a hobby, I made over $8,000 (I did take about 18 months of maternity leave from when my pregnancy became problematic until my little one was about a year old). Could I have made more if I wrote more? Absolutely. My articles that I wrote on speculation, meaning just what I wrote because I wanted to, have a greater than 85% sales rate. After three years in the business, I knew if I wrote 10 articles, 5 would be sold within three months, 2 within six months, and one or two of the stragglers within a year. In fact, even though I have not written a non-fiction piece for profit in almost two years, I still made $20 this year alone in residual licenses selling.

I'm not an expert, but I know what I know. The first tenet of breaking into nonfiction writing is to never, ever PAY to sell your writing. Never. A site that sells memberships is not making enough money off the content they are selling, and therefore not a site you want to waste time with.

I've written for/sold writing on
Associated Content (now Yahoo! Contributor Network) (by far my biggest money maker)
And another one briefly that feed eHow and Lance Armstrong's site, but the name escapes me.

Every online writing site is great for a specific type of writer. Here are the main categories:

Revenue Sharing Sites

You write, they pay you based on the page views you get because that equates to advertising dollars for them. Yahoo Contributor Network and many others do this kind of revenue. Some, like Helium or the various lenses pages (aggregators like Hubpages, Squidoo etc) have incredible hoops to jump through before you see a dime. I encourage new non-fiction writers to try out Yahoo! Contributor Network for two main reasons:

  1. They offer upfront payment on exclusive content in certain categories (not oped, humor)
  2. They pay $1.50 per 1,000 page views across all of your articles.
You want to be a subject matter expert on local geological digs and write a weekly column about it? YCN is for you. You can tweet your articles and develop a niche following, and people can easily follow you through their Yahoo account. I still earn about $5 a month on my articles listed there. The upfront pay is very small, a few dollars per article, IF it's accepted by their editors for upfront payment.

Bidding Sites

Other sites, like Guru, and the elance sites out there have what's called opportunities for work. Here, you write up proposals or bid on how much it will cost you to do a job. requires a good nose for BS. The legitimate customers on there are tough to find, but when you do find one, and win the proposal round, the working relationships can be some of the best I've found. I had three long term clients from the site, and more than made up my $85 yearly membership fee (I know I said don't pay, and you shouldn't when you're just starting out. Guru doesn't require a paid membership, and I only bought one after I landed my first client with the free membership and my profits from the site covered it).

Bidding sites require some experience, that's why starting off with revenue sharing sites helps. Each bidding site requires a profile and portfolio pieces. After you've been on a revenue sharing site for a few months, you can see the articles that are getting the most hits. That's a great way to see what's resonating with readers. You have stats you can use to help a prospective client judge you: I have five SEO optimized articles this month with over 4,000 hits each. Also, and this is very, very important, you will know how long it takes you to write. You can't bid on a job that is "Write 50 blog posts for me, 500 words each, $5 a piece" unless you know that you can write that fast to make it worth your while. Many of the jobs are going to seem like peanuts. Keep in mind not everyone lives in the expensive USA and grumbling about it won't help. There are two types of writers using bidding sites: those that will roll up their sleeves and take any kind of work, and those who cherry pick for the best assignments because they have the luxury of experience or time to do so.

Auction Sites

If you want to skip bidding sites, auction sites are awesome. On auction sites, you write and set the price of your work. is one of the best sites I've worked for in this regard. The basic system is geared towards high-end non-fiction content where you set your own price. Once the article clears the editors, then it's up for sale. Once it sells, you get 65% of the article price you set. There are three types of licenses, Use, Unique, and Full. A Use license lets the buyer use the content as is, and allow you to sell it to another buyer down the road. My article "Fun Springtime Activities For Kids" sells 1-2 licenses a year at $10 for 500 words. It's been out there for 4 years.

Here is an article I wrote and sold for full rights, meaning no by line.

Here is an article that sold Use licenses (2 times for $20 a piece) meaning they can't change it and I have a by line.

Some auction sites also include a bidding site type system as well. Here, clients can give specific writing job needs and then look through the submissions that come in. Some sites require the client to buy a submission, others do not. This is a shot in the dark for the writer. For me, I only wrote the Public Requests as they're called on if I could easily spin the content another way if the buyer passed me up. For example, one client asked for somewhat specific articles on solar panels. My article joined probably twenty other submissions. I did price mine a little higher than others (clients give a budget range) hoping a little it wouldn't sell. It didn't. I raised the price to what I would normally sell 1,000 words for (at that time, $45 for full rights, the market changes depending on demand, the topic, etc), and put up two companion pieces that I was able to write from the same research.

I sold one solar panel article for $85 (that was the original request that was only going to pay about $25) about three weeks after the original request closed out, and another shorter article for $20 for a use. That article has sold one additional time, in 2010. The original articles sold in February of 2009. The $85 article was 1,350 words long, and titled "What's Really Involved in Installing Solar Panels for my Home?" and tied with the tax breaks being offered at that time. The $20 article was 650 words on "How to Maximize a Solar Panel System in Less Than Ideal Weather."

Before you sign up with any website, I would write up a resume (to make profile writing easier), take a professional photograph (a home digital camera will work, but it should mostly be a head shot with you in professional looking attire) and setup a professional email account (your name or initials on a free email account, I prefer google myself for the added benefits of Google Docs, video conferencing, and other built in goodies). Finally, you need to set up a Paypal account. Also, if you do not want to give out your Social Security number (and I don't recommend that you do) sign up for a EIN with the IRS. To learn more about the differences between a SSN and an EIN, read here.

Next time I will talk more about the craft of writing for internet outlets. Stay tuned.

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.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Vector Graphics vs Jpgs

Graphic arts is my new hobby/pastime. Since buying a Bamboo Create tablet, I've been playing with graphics non stop. :) Over two years ago I heard about vector graphics, but by and large it sounded rather intimidating to me. You see, I was just really getting the hang of manipulating a JPG.

This weekend, I learned how to play with vector graphics and OH BOY is it fun!!!! You know that part of us that remembers how excited we were to get a new Lisa Frank product? It's like that.

My tool: Inkscape a 100% free to use, open source vector graphics manipulator.

Here's the basics of what a vector graphic is: each shape is an image to itself you can modify and manipulate. the star tool is the coolest, you can change the color, the number of points and manipulate the little squares on the edge called "handlers" to kaleidoscope into all kinds of shapes!!!! And the shapes will stack and go behind one another etc. It reminds me of the old type of drawing on Microsoft Word. You can also move items like WORDS to lay at an angle so that they look like they are on an object. Like below:

(I'm going to be signing ebooks LIVE on May 19th in a promotion with They have many promotional spots still open for only $10. My ad with them will run May 16th, and I can't wait!)

See how the words look like they are on the bill board, not flat to the bottom edge of the image? That's something Inkscape does very easily. You can also treat a word as individual letters, of hold down shift, click them and treat them as a word! 

Here's a quick little graphic I made of hearts. There is no heart shape per se, I had to make two circles and a square, rotate the square to the diamond orientation (or 90 degrees) laid them on top then click Union, which morphs the shapes lying on top of one another into one! Great for a person like me who can see the geometry of things, but I can't "sketch" or draw very well.

All I've learned was from Inkscape's tutorials which are SVG vector files themselves, so it's an interactive tutorial! And I've only been at this about 24 hours. One day... I'll be able to make something like this:

This is a free vector available on http://vector4free.com

So go play with Inkscape. It's free and fun to learn about vector graphics. While I won't be firing my cover artist anytime soon (actually NEVER) it IS nice to learn the capabilities because even if I can't execute it, I can at least know what can be done by a professional. And, I do feel like if I do decide to write some short stories, I can make inexpensive covers on my own for lower priced novels, etc. Not to mention ads and graphics to go with my blog posts! :)

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.

Friday, May 4, 2012

United We Stand or Together We Fall: Kristine Kathryn Rusch Post of Royalty Scandal

Background: The following post was originally posted on Kristine Kathryn Rusch's business blog when it was shortly infected with malware. Assuming a coincidence (though a very smelly one, in my book) she reposted the blog on an unlinked blog she uses for a pseudonym. Something happened to that post too.

But we are smarter and stronger than those who would wish to silence us. The call is out for indie authors to post the original post (including the copyright statement at the bottom) on their blog ASAP. By exponentially increasing the targets, they can't take us all down. :) So please, copy what's below and post it up and share it. Let's prove our might!

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Welcome to one of my other websites. This one is for my mystery persona Paladin, from my Spade/Paladin short stories. She has a website in the stories, and I thought it would be cool to have the website online. It’s currently the least active of my sites, so I figured it was perfect for what I needed today.
Someone hacked my website. Ye Olde Website Guru and I are repairing the damage but it will take some time. The hacker timed the hack to coincide with the posting of my Business Rusch column. Since the hack happened 12 hours after I originally posted the column, I’m assuming that the hacker doesn’t like what I wrote, and is trying to shut me down. Aaaaah. Poor hacker. Can’t argue on logic, merits, or with words, so must use brute force to make his/her/its point. Poor thing.
Since someone didn’t want you to see this post, I figure I’d better get it up ASAP. Obviously there’s something here someone objects to–which makes it a bit more valuable than usual.
Here’s the post, which I am reloading from my word file, so that I don’t embed any malicious code here. I’m even leaving off the atrocious artwork (which we’re redesigning) just to make sure nothing got corrupted from there.
The post directs you to a few links from my website. Obviously, those are inactive at the moment. Sorry about that. I hope you get something out of this post.
I’m also shutting off comments here, just to prevent another short-term hack. Also, I don’t want to transfer them over. If you have comments, send them via e-mail and when the site comes back up, I’ll post them. Mark them “comment” in the header of the e-mail. Thanks!
The Business Rusch: Royalty Statement Update 2012
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about the fact that my e-book royalties from a couple of my traditional publishers looked wrong. Significantly wrong. After I posted that blog, dozens of writers contacted me with similar information. More disturbingly, some of these writers had evidence that their paper book royalties were also significantly wrong.
Writers contacted their writers’ organizations. Agents got the news. Everyone in the industry, it seemed, read those blogs, and many of the writers/agents/organizations vowed to do something. And some of them did.
I hoped to do an update within a few weeks after the initial post. I thought my update would come no later than summer of 2011.
I had no idea the update would take a year, and what I can tell you is—
Bupkis. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zilch.
That doesn’t mean that nothing happened. I personally spoke to the heads of two different writers’ organizations who promised to look into this. I spoke to half a dozen attorneys active in the publishing field who were, as I mentioned in those posts, unsurprised. I spoke to a lot of agents, via e-mail and in person, and I spoke to even more writers.
The writers have kept me informed. It seems, from the information I’m still getting, that nothing has changed. The publishers that last year used a formula to calculate e-book royalties (rather than report actual sales) still use the formula to calculate e-book royalties this year.
I just got one such royalty statement in April from one of those companies and my e-book sales from them for six months were a laughable ten per novel. My worst selling e-books, with awful covers, have sold more than that. Significantly more.
To this day, writers continue to notify their writers’ organizations, and if those organizations are doing anything, no one has bothered to tell me. Not that they have to. I’m only a member of one writers’ organizations, and I know for fact that one is doing nothing.
But the heads of the organizations I spoke to haven’t kept me apprised. I see nothing in the industry news about writers’ organizations approaching/auditing/dealing with the problems with royalty statements. Sometimes these things take place behind the scenes, and I understand that. So, if your organization is taking action, please do let me know so that I can update the folks here.
The attorneys I spoke to are handling cases, but most of those cases are individual cases. An attorney represents a single writer with a complaint about royalties. Several of those cases got settled out of court. Others are still pending or are “in review.” I keep hearing noises about class actions, but so far, I haven’t seen any of them, nor has anyone notified me.
The agents disappointed me the most. Dean personally called an agent friend of ours whose agency handles two of the biggest stars in the writing firmament. That agent (having previously read my blog) promised the agency was aware of the problem and was “handling it.”
Two weeks later, I got an e-mail from a writer with that agency asking me if I knew about the new e-book addendum to all of her contracts that the agency had sent out. The agency had sent the addendum with a “sign immediately” letter. I hadn’t heard any of this. I asked to see the letter and the addendum.
This writer was disturbed that the addendum was generic. It had arrived on her desk—get this—without her name or the name of the book typed in. She was supposed to fill out the contract number, the book’s title, her name, and all that pertinent information.
I had her send me her original contracts, which she did. The addendum destroyed her excellent e-book rights in that contract, substituting better terms for the publisher. Said publisher handled both of that agency’s bright writing stars.
So I contacted other friends with that agency. They had all received the addendum. Most had just signed the addendum without comparing it to the original contract, trusting their agent who was (after all) supposed to protect them.
Wrong-o. The agency, it turned out, had made a deal with the publisher. The publisher would correct the royalties for the big names if agency sent out the addendum to every contract it had negotiated with that contract. The publisher and the agency both knew that not all writers would sign the addendum, but the publisher (and probably the agency) also knew that a good percentage of the writers would sign without reading it.
In other words, the publisher took the money it was originally paying to small fish and paid it to the big fish—with the small fish’s permission.
Yes, I’m furious about this, but not at the publisher. I’m mad at the authors who signed, but mostly, I’m mad at the agency that made this deal. This agency had a chance to make a good decision for all of its clients. Instead, it opted to make a good deal for only its big names.
Do I know for a fact that this is what happened? Yeah, I do. Can I prove it? No. Which is why I won’t tell you the name of the agency, nor the name of the bestsellers involved. (Who, I’m sure, have no idea what was done in their names.)
On a business level what the agency did makes sense. The agency pocketed millions in future commissions without costing itself a dime on the other side, since most of the writers who signed the addendum probably hadn’t earned out their advances, and probably never would.
On an ethical level it pisses me off. You’ll note that my language about agents has gotten harsher over the past year, and this single incident had something to do with it. Other incidents later added fuel to the fire, but they’re not relevant here. I’ll deal with them in a future post.
Yes, there are good agents in the world. Some work for unethical agencies. Some work for themselves. I still work with an agent who is also a lawyer, and is probably more ethical than I am.
But there are yahoos in the agenting business who make the slimy used car salesmen from 1970s films look like action heroes. But, as I said, that’s a future post.
I have a lot of information from writers, most of which is in private correspondence, none of which I can share, that leads me to believe that this particular agency isn’t the only one that used my blog on royalty statements to benefit their bestsellers and hurt their midlist writers. But again, I can’t prove it.
So I’m sad to report that nothing has changed from last year on the royalty statement front.
The reason I was so excited about the Department of Justice lawsuit against the five publishers wasn’t because of the anti-trust issues (which do exist on a variety of levels in publishing, in my opinion), but because the DOJ accountants will dig, and dig, and dig into the records of these traditional publishers, particularly one company named in the suit that’s got truly egregious business practices.
Those practices will change, if only because the DOJ’s forensic accountants will request information that the current accounting systems in most publishing houses do not track. The accounting system in all five of these houses will get overhauled, and brought into the 21st century, and that will benefit writers. It will be an accidental benefit, but it will occur.
The audits alone will unearth a lot of problems. I know that some writers were skeptical that the auditors would look for problems in the royalty statements, but all that shows is a lack of understanding of how forensic accounting works. In the weeks since the DOJ suit, I’ve contacted several accountants, including two forensic accountants, and they all agree that every pebble, every grain of sand, will be inspected because the best way to hide funds in an accounting audit is to move them to a part of the accounting system not being audited.
So when an organization like the DOJ audits, they get a blanket warrant to look at all of the accounting, not just the files in question. Yes, that’s a massive task. Yes, it will take years. But the change is gonna come.
From the outside.
Those of you in Europe might be seeing some of that change as well, since similar lawsuits are going on in Europe.
I do know that several writers from European countries, New Zealand, and Australia have written to me about similar problems in their royalty statements. The unifying factor in those statements is the companies involved. Again, you’d recognize the names because they’ve been in the news lately…dealing with lawsuits.
Ironically for me, those two blog posts benefitted me greatly. I had been struggling to get my rights back from one publisher (who is the biggest problem publisher), and the week I posted the blog, I got contacted by my former editor there, who told me that my rights would come back to me ASAP. Because, the former editor told me (as a friend), things had changed since Thursday (the day I post my blog), and I would get everything I needed.
In other words, let’s get the troublemaker out of the house now. Fine with me.
Later, I discovered some problems with a former agency. I pointed out the problems in a letter, and those problems got solved immediately. I have several friends who’ve been dealing with similar things from that agency, and they can’t even get a return e-mail. I know that the quick response I got is because of this blog.
I also know that many writers used the blog posts from last year to negotiate more accountability from their publishers for future royalties. That’s a real plus. Whether or not it happens is another matter because I noted something else in this round of royalty statements.
Actually, that’s not fair. My agent caught it first. I need to give credit where credit is due, and since so many folks believe I bash agents, let me say again that my current agent is quite good, quite sharp, and quite ethical.
My agent noticed that the royalty statements from one of my publishers were basket accounted on the statement itself. Which is odd, considering there is no clause in any of the contracts I have with that company that allows for basket accounting.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with basket accounting, this is what it means:
A writer signs a contract with Publisher A for three books. The contract is a three-book contract. One contract, three books. Got that?
Okay, a contract with a basket-accounting clause allows the publisher to put all three books in the same accounting “basket” as if the books are one entity. So let’s say that book one does poorly, book two does better, and book three blows out of the water.
If book three earns royalties, those royalties go toward paying off the advances on books one and two.
Like this:
Advance for book one: $10,000
Advance for book two: $10,000
Advance for book three: $10,000
Book one only earned back $5,000 toward its advance. Book two only earned $6,000 toward its advance.
Book three earned $12,000—paying off its advance, with a $2,000 profit.
In a standard contract without basket accounting, the writer would have received the $2,000 as a royalty payment.
But with basket accounting, the writer receives nothing. That accounting looks like this:
Advance on contract 1: $30,000
Earnings on contract 1: $23,000
Amount still owed before the advance earns out: $7,000
Instead of getting $2,000, the writer looks at the contract and realizes she still has $7,000 before earning out.
Without basket accounting, she would have to earn $5,000 to earn out Book 1, and $4,000 to earn out Book 2, but Book 3 would be paying her cold hard cash.
Got the difference?
Now, let’s go back to my royalty statement. It covered three books. All three books had three different one-book contracts, signed years apart. You can’t have basket accounting without a basket (or more than one book), but I checked to see if sneaky lawyers had inserted a clause that I missed which allowed the publisher to basket account any books with that publisher that the publisher chose.
I got a royalty statement with all of my advances basket accounted because…well, because. The royalty statement doesn’t follow the contract(s) at all.
Accounting error? No. These books had be added separately. Accounting program error (meaning once my name was added, did the program automatically basket account)? Maybe.
But I’ve suspected for nearly three years now that this company (not one of the big traditional publishers, but a smaller [still large] company) has been having serious financial problems. The company has played all kinds of games with my checks, with payments, with fulfilling promises that cost money.
This is just another one of those problems.
My agent caught it because he reads royalty statements. He mentioned it when he forwarded the statements. I would have caught it as well because I read royalty statements. Every single one. And I compare them to the previous statement. And often, I compare them to the contract.
Is this “error” a function of the modern publishing environment? No, not like e-book royalties, which we’ll get back to in a moment. I’m sure publishers have played this kind of trick since time immemorial. Royalty statements are fascinating for what they don’t say rather than for what they say.
For example, on this particular (messed up) royalty statement, e-books are listed as one item, without any identification. The e-books should be listed separately (according to ISBN) because Amazon has its own edition, as does Apple, as does B&N. Just like publishers must track the hardcover, trade paper, and mass market editions under different ISBNs, they should track e-books the same way.
The publisher that made the “error” with my books had no identifying number, and only one line for e-books. Does that mean that this figure included all e-books, from the Amazon edition to the B&N edition to the Apple edition? Or is this publisher, which has trouble getting its books on various sites (go figure), is only tracking Amazon? From the numbers, it would seem so. Because the numbers are somewhat lower than books in the same series that I have on Amazon, but nowhere near the numbers of the books in the same series if you add in Apple and B&N.
I can’t track this because the royalty statement has given me no way to track it. I would have to run an audit on the company. I’m not sure I want to do that because it would take my time, and I’m moving forward.
That’s the dilemma for writers. Do we take on our publishers individually? Because—for the most part—our agents aren’t doing it. The big agencies, the ones who actually have the clout and the numbers to defend their clients, are doing what they can for their big clients and leaving the rest in the dust.
Writers’ organizations seem to be silent on this. And honestly, it’s tough for an organization to take on a massive audit. It’s tough financially and it’s tough politically. I know one writer who headed a writer’s organization a few decades ago. She spearheaded an audit of major publishers, and it cost her her writing career. Not many heads of organizations have the stomach for that.
As for intellectual property attorneys (or any attorney for that matter), very few handle class actions. Most handle cases individually for individual clients. I know of several writers who’ve gone to attorneys and have gotten settlements from publishers. The problem here is that these settlements only benefit one writer, who often must sign a confidentiality agreement so he can’t even talk about what benefit he got from that agreement.
One company that I know of has revamped its royalty statements. They appear to be clearer. The original novel that I have with that company isn’t selling real well as an e-book, and that makes complete sense since the e-book costs damn near $20. (Ridiculous.) The other books that I have with that company, collaborations and tie-ins, seem to be accurately reported, although I have no way to know. I do appreciate that this company has now separated out every single e-book venue into its own category (B&N, Amazon, Apple) via ISBN, and I can actually see the sales breakdown.
So that’s a positive (I think). Some of the smaller companies have accurate statements as well—or at least, statements that match or improve upon the sales figures I’m seeing on indie projects.
This is all a long answer to a very simple question: What’s happened on the royalty statement front in the past year?
A lot less than I had hoped.
So here’s what you traditionally published writers can do. Track your royalty statements. Compare them to your contracts. Make sure the companies are reporting what they should be reporting.
If you’re combining indie and traditional, like I am, make sure the numbers are in the same ballpark. Make sure your traditional Amazon numbers are around the same numbers you get for your indie titles. If they aren’t, look at one thing first: Price. I expect sales to be much lower on that ridiculous $20 e-book. If your e-books through your traditional publisher are $15 or more, then sales will be down. If the e-books from your traditional publisher are priced around $10 or less, then they should be somewhat close in sales to your indie titles. (Or, if traditional publishers are doing the promotion they claim to do, the sales should be better.)
What to do if they’re not close at all? I have no idea. I still think there’s a benefit to contacting your writers’ organizations. Maybe if the organization keeps getting reports of badly done royalty statements, someone will take action.
If you want to hire an attorney or an auditor, remember doing that will cost both time and money. If you’re a bestseller, you might want to consider it. If you’re a midlist writer, it’s probably not worth the time and effort you’ll put in.
But do yourself a favor. Read those royalty statements. If you think they’re bad, then don’t sign a new contract with that publisher. Go somewhere else with your next book.
I wish I could give you better advice. I wish the big agencies actually tried to use their clout for good instead of their own personal profits. I wish the writers’ organizations had done something.
As usual, it’s up to individual writers.
Don’t let anyone screw you. You might not be able to fight the bad accounting on past books, but make sure you don’t allow it to happen on future books.
That means that you negotiate good contracts, you make sure your royalty statements match those contracts, and you don’t sign with a company that puts out royalty statements that don’t reflect your book deal.
I’m quite happy that I walked away from the publisher I mentioned above years ago. I did so because I didn’t like the treatment I got from the financial and production side. The editor was—as editors often are—great. Everything else at the company sucked.
The royalty statement was just confirmation of a good decision for me.
I hope you make good decisions going forward.
Remember: read your royalty statements.
Good luck.
I need to thank everyone who commented, e-mailed, donated, and called because of last week’s post. When I wrote it, all I meant to do was discuss how we all go through tough times and how we, as writers, need to recognize when we’ve hit a wall. It seems I hit a nerve. I forget sometimes that most writers work in a complete vacuum, with no writer friends, no one except family, who much as they care, don’t always understand.
So if you haven’t read last week’s post, take a peek [link]. More importantly, look at the comments for great advice and some wonderful sharing. I appreciate them—and how much they expanded, added, and improved what I had to say. Thanks for that, everyone.
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“The Business Rusch: “Royalty Statement Update 2012,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

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