So I was messing around on Google, which I don’t do nearly as much as my husband thinks, and I came across a hit several pages into the search results for myself that piqued my interest. It involved the eFestival of Words and my very own novel, Shattered.
Having working knowledge of eFestival of Words and respecting some of the authors who have been nominated/won their categories in previous years, I was more than intrigued. So I clicked on the link, learning that the nominees for 2015 had recently been named. In order to access the complete list, I had to register for an account, which I did.
Lo and behold, somehow Shattered has been nominated for Best Chick Lit / Best Women’s Lit.
Okay, so I understand how the nominating process works. People with ties to the publishing industry (authors, editors, bloggers, etc.) nominate their peers in order to celebrate the best in indie publishing. All nominations are made anonymously, and authors cannot nominate a work that they are intimately connected to. So no, I didn’t toot my own horn.
Which means that someone out there somewhere respects my work and that’s extremely flattering. Or they had absolutely no idea who to vote for in that category, so they just named me instead.
In any case, of the three books that were eligible for the nomination (Changed was released too late for consideration), Shattered is the one that I would never have guessed would be chosen. While I’m proud of all of my books, I realize that Shattered is the red-headed stepchild of the series. It’s forever lurking in the shadows of the first book, which it’s a companion to. Though some have read and enjoyed it as a standalone, it really isn’t. And it doesn’t pack the emotional punch of the third novel, which can be read on its own.
What comes next in the grand scheme of things is that a committee selects the finalists in each category, then those finalists are voted on by the general public beginning July 1st.
A number of factors are considered in choosing finalists: book cover, book blurb, quality of reviews and social media presence among them.
I realize that Shattered doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. Why? Because what works for me as an author bucks tradition. I am the epitome of someone who does everything wrong according to conventional wisdom.
1. Book cover – I love my covers personally, but they don’t look like other people’s covers. No half dressed man candy, or couples almost nearly kissing. Granted, in the Chick Lit / Women’s Lit category, there’s a bit more leeway on this than in the broader romance genre. My covers are artsy and definitely recognizable as being tied to the series, but some people hate them.
2. Book blurb – Okay, Shattered probably has the best blurb (in my opinion) of any of the books in the series. But blurbs are harder for me to write than the actual book, so what do I know?
3. Quality of reviews – Out of all four books I have released, Shattered has the fewest reviews on Amazon. On Goodreads, it has a few more than Designed. They are all honest and genuine though, so that’s a plus.
4. Social media presence – Yes, I have a Twitter, Facebook, Tsu, Google Plus and Goodreads account. I have a blog (duh). Google me and tons of stuff pops up. But my experience with all of this is that the less I post, the more I sell. No kidding. This past month, I’ve been virtually silent and it’s been my best month yet. And forget about a street team or a PA.
So, I’ll take my nomination and run with it, being happy that I can forever associate a fleeting token of recognition with something that I wrote. It’s really more than I ever expected, or than most authors like me ever get.
This past week, Amazon price matched Intoxicated, making it free across all platforms. All in all, it wasn’t as lengthy of a process as I expected it to be. I believe that I started on 5/7/15 by changing the price at Smashwords, then waiting for the trickle down effect to take place.
Every day since the book went free at some of the bigger sites (iBooks, B&N, Kobo), I clicked over to Amazon to see if they noticed. I reported my own lower prices quite a few times, even though I’ve heard that it’s not effective if the author does it. I did enlist a few friends to help, but I’m not positive that more than two other people reported the lower price.
The tipping point in my eyes is when I uploaded Intoxicated to Google Play as a free download. Not because I plan on selling tons of books there, or even uploading the rest of the series there, but solely because I stumbled across advice that suggested this was a surefire way to get Amazon to make your book free. And the logic makes sense. After all, Google is, well, Google. Imagine when the search engine results pulled up for your book, showing free at Google, and paid at Amazon. With the way Amazon dominates the ebook market, it’s not good for them to be publicly undercut.
Sure enough, within two days of my book going live on Google Play, it was also free at Amazon. I had achieved success, and didn’t even know it until I saw the first three free downloads hit on my dashboard, a lovely green color among the (very) sporadic red line of paid sales.
As I expected, perma-free works better on Amazon than it does on other outlets. Though making it free at other retailers has guaranteed at least a few downloads per day, the response elsewhere has been nothing like over at Amazon. It was fun the first day to periodically check my dashboard to see the downloads climbing by what I considered to be leaps and bounds. Mind you, I did nearly no promotion of this – just a simple tweet, a Facebook post, and a mention over on Tsu, so most of the downloads came from people stumbling across it themselves.
For the first two days of free at Amazon, I did so much better than I expected. Intoxicated hit right around sales rank 1,200 of all free books at its peak (at least what I witnessed) and was also (just barely) in the top 100 of both the Romance and the Women’s Fiction categories. Pretty good for an experiment.
The interest has subsided since, which I fully expected. I’ve submitted it to a couple of free book websites for editorial consideration, as I’m hoping I can get some promotion at no charge. I’ve just started a targeted Facebook ad for the next week, but am not throwing a whole lot of money at it. So far, I am the only click, because I couldn’t stop myself from trying it out to make sure the damn thing worked.
What’s my goal here? Ultimately to get people to take a chance on my series by reading the first one for free. And the early results are promising. Prior to Amazon setting it to free, I’ve had a few paid sales of Book Two at the other retailers. And a purchase of the rest of the series at Smashwords, each subsequent book selling two days after the last. And since going free at Amazon, I’ve gotten one new review of Intoxicated, and paid sales of Book Two each day.
Still not setting the world on fire, but it’s a start. I’ll take it.
After a lot of debate, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and price the first book in my series at perma-free. I know that starting out, I was hugely skeptical of this practice, and I’m still not entirely sure that it will work out for me. But it’s worth a shot, right?
Besides, Intoxicated is the book that I always give away if I’m doing a mass freebie. It’s the one that I want people to start with, because all the others come after it chronologically, even if they focus on different characters. And it’s the one that’s been pirated, so there’s already plenty of free – unauthorized – copies floating around. Why not make it legit and have a way to actually track how many downloads I get?
As you might already know, Amazon does not let you price your books for free. Sure, they have their free days for those that are exclusive, but the list price has to be 99 cents or above. The only way to get a book perma-free there is by price matching.
So I’m enlisting the help of all of you if you’re fair game. It’s easy to report a lower price to Amazon; you just scroll down on the book’s page until you find the link to “tell us about a lower price”. Then you click, copy and paste the other retailer’s link, and specify what price is being charged there. Repeat for each retailer and you’re done.
I’ve changed the price to free at all retailers that I control. Smashwords, iBooks and Kobo had it free within hours. Barnes & Noble will have the price updated shortly. Now we’re just waiting for Amazon’s algorithms to kick in and price match.
Here’s the links you’ll need to help out. And by all means, if you use one of the other retailers anyway, be sure to download your own copy. I’ll add B&N when the price change is effective, and I’ll definitely advise when we’re successful over at Amazon.
Update as of 5/11/15: B&N is now free (it was a penny over there for a few days), and I lowered the list price at Amazon to 99 cents, but I still need your help in getting it free.
Thanks for your help!
Is the series king?
Common wisdom in the fiction world tends to back this up. And it’s certainly understandable. If your readers grow to love your characters, what better way to keep them excited about your next book than to continue telling tales with the people they are comfortable with? Provided that the stories are still fresh and that you aren’t dishing out too much of a good thing, this can be a useful tactic to keep your fans where you want them – poised over the one click button.
Series also provide for some unique marketing opportunities. You’ve probably heard the oft-repeated gem that some authors swear by: offer the first book for free. Obviously, this works much more effectively if you’re already a few books in and can hook your readers into continuing on right away. Even if your first book isn’t perma-free, you might still enjoy this “I’ve got to know what happens now!” phenomenon. Chances are, if someone raves about the first book, they’ll eventually pick up at least the second one. Maybe they’ll even get around to reading it one day.
Something that isn’t talked about quite as much? The difficulty that comes with gaining exposure for subsequent books – especially when you’re relatively obscure. When you’re trying to gather reviews prior to release, it can be a daunting task to try to convince someone that: a.) It’s worth their time to read Books 1-3 in order to catch up and be in the loop, or b.) You don’t have to read the other books to enjoy this one.
In my series, I took a hybrid approach to this. My books do go in order, building one upon the other. I think it’s because of their genre. Since I categorize them as a mix between contemporary romance and chick lit, they deal with relationships – both romantic and platonic. Things that occur in Book One still get mentioned in Book Four. Characters grow and react to things that have happened in the past. It’s not like a mystery – for instance – where the character development isn’t the point, it’s the plot. That being said, while Books One and Two are joined at the hip, Books Three and Four could be read as standalones.
I’ve had readers successfully pick up the series at both Book Three and Four (and a couple even at Book Two) and be perfectly happy with the experience. Most of the time, they indicate that they are so intrigued by the hint of what came before that they need to go back and read the others. Which is a win in my book for sure.
Occasionally, I do hear from someone that wishes I would have held their hand a little bit more and led them through the forest. These are the people who I haven’t won over, who won’t continue on (or go back) for whatever reason and that’s fine, too.
In a perfect world, readers would start at Book One and go forward in order. That’s the ultimate experience, no matter what book I’m marketing that day. And if you listen to the fans that have read from the beginning, they’ll tell you the same thing.
I’m not the type of writer who wants to bore people with 100 pages of backstory in every book. And considering that there are now four of them, that’s over 1,200 pages and 400,000 words to recap.
For that reason, my marketing plan for Book Five will be drastically different. It can’t be a standalone by design, since it’s the end of the series. For it to make any sense, you’ll have to read all the others before it. Which renders a blog tour relatively useless, because there have only been two blogs that have featured reviews on every single book. I’ll likely open up ARCs to those readers that have read and reviewed all the others and call it good.
Me being me, I’m already planning out what happens next. After this series is said and done (with a companion book very likely), I’m moving forward with a few true standalones, which I plan on marketing the hell out of.
My hope is that the standalones will impress new readers enough that they’ll check out the series. And read it from the beginning.
Several months ago, in the infancy of the launch for my upcoming release, I joked that this book may just be the death of me. Honestly, I didn’t know how prophetic those words would be.
This time out, I had some new ideas – things I wanted to try. I’ve been around the book releasing block a few times now and have established some opinions as to what I think works and what doesn’t. And, with Amazon finally allowing self-publishers the opportunity to list preorders, I had yet another tool in my arsenal.
Excitement reigned in the early part of this year as I sat with a newly finished book on my laptop and visions of a marketing plan dancing in my head. Like the previous installment of my series, this novel can be read as a standalone. It also builds quite nicely upon the rest of the action, so those who are reading in order will be pleased as well. Unlike Book Three, this one is not dark and twisty and profound. This one is light, naughtier than I’ve ever gone before, and snarky with a fair amount of angst for good measure.
It’s also my favorite of the series. Then again, I say that about all of them when they first come out. Quite honestly, though, it was the easiest one yet for me to write and format in all of its versions, and that in itself is endearing.
I’ve already covered here the Facebook strategy that I used to try to drum up early reviews. This was marginally successful, though I didn’t give out anywhere near the 75 copies that I had limited myself to.
I also offered ARCs to the Facebook group that my tour company runs. The usual suspects read and reviewed, for which I am grateful, but no new interest.
In addition to the Release Day Event that has become a tradition since Book Two, I also scheduled a Preorder Blitz that happened at the end of February. And this is when the headaches started happening.
I’ve had the beginnings of a Goodreads comment war on an early review that literally had me in tears. No, I really wasn’t personally involved, but still. I’ve had winners of my preorder giveaway that did not claim the ebooks that I gifted to them on Amazon, though the money has clearly been debited from my account for the purchase price weeks ago. I’ve had a winner who wouldn’t respond to me at all, but accepted the prize without as much as a “thank you”.
To which end I threw up my hands in the air and asked myself why I bother with any of this anyway. Not the writing, but the marketing part.
I have always written my books first and foremost for myself. I don’t write to make sales. I don’t even publish for the tax write-off that I’ve been able to get from two straight years of business losses. I write because I love to do it. I love creating and the entire frustrating process of seeing a story through to the time it goes live and gets printed in a paperback version.
And if some readers want to join me along the way, then that is great, too.
I’m seriously considering not doing any presale marketing for my next book. Just quietly put it out there for sale and see if anyone notices.
It will help save my sanity.
And, after all, it worked for Beyonce.
Out of all of the bonus content type posts that I write, the top ten list I do for each book is my favorite. It’s an opportunity for me to share some insight into why things ended up the way they did in the finished product. I also try to limit the spoilers, but add to the anticipation of what’s to come. Whether I accomplish any of that is up to you to decide.
So without further ado, here’s my top ten list for Changed:
1. The very first sentence in Chapter One does poke fun at Book Three. “Flashbacks suck.” If you’re reading along in the series sequentially, you already know that Blake’s book was full of flashbacks. If you read the top ten list for Designed, you’ll know that I was hesitant to include as many of them as I did, but couldn’t really see any other way around it. So leave it to Gracie to say what many people were probably thinking – right before she flashes back, though to just a few hours prior.
2. After I committed to the name for Book Four, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it sounded more fitting for a paranormal romance rather than a contemporary one. I named the installments fairly early on and have regretted some of them ever since. Shattered because everybody and their brother seems to have a book with a similar title, and Changed, because it evokes a picture of someone falling in love with a werewolf or something. I promise Will does not shape shift in any way. Changed, as the cover art suggests, is a nod to Gracie’s job as a bank teller.
3. Gracie and Will are the first characters whose appearances I’ve actually based off of real people. It’s a big thing nowadays to have a dream cast, and I haven’t been able to do that with Matthew, Lauren or Chris. Blake is so unique, I have a picture of her that I don’t think could be compared to anyone else. For Gracie, I’ve always imagined a cross between Katy Perry and Zooey Deschanel, except with brown eyes. Will’s doppelganger is way more obscure, but when I saw him on a YouTube video, I knew I’d found him. The goatee was inspired by him, because I never really mentioned facial hair in any of Will’s previous appearances.
4. Gracie’s obviously read 50 Shades. There’s a lovingly snide remark that I threw in there. Can you find it?
5. I usually listen to music when I write, but during this book I kept turning to two songs in particular. Which are? “Twinge” by Chevelle and “True” by Amaranthe. I guess I like songs that begin with T. But really, take a listen to both of them because they’re pretty awesome in their own right.
6. Gracie is the only main character that hasn’t cried yet. Definitely of the girls and likely of the guys, too. We all know that Lauren and Blake have turned on the waterworks. It’s also been hinted at that Matthew, Chris and even Eric (!) have gotten misty-eyed once or twice. Will doesn’t count, since he hasn’t been a main until now. So will Gracie’s dry spell end?
7. Gracie intimidated me to write as a main. In her supporting role, you could always count on her for the best line in each book. This was intentional, because I always had her be the voice of reason, saying the things you as the reader wanted to say. And she always had an off-color, unfiltered way of saying it. The pressure was on to make her that witty throughout this book, balancing humor and seriousness, because not everything she’s up against has been or will be a joke.
8. I so wanted Gracie to buy a coppery orange luxury car. I could have sworn up and down that there was either a Lexus or Volvo out there that fit the bill, but when I did my research, I learned that they were apparently no more. I did have fun car shopping though, and for several months I got ads in my Facebook feed for overseas Volvo delivery.
9. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a reason for Matthew to get naked in this one. It’s been a tradition in all the other books to have the original Intoxicated book boyfriend in some state of undress somewhere within the story. I tried to think of a reason for him to lose clothing here, but it just didn’t make sense. He is still, however, quite hot.
10. The Grace/Christopher friendship just kind of wrote itself. I had so much fun writing the two of them together. They establish a brother/sister kind of relationship during this book, and they engage in a bit of oneupsmanship as far as giving each other a hard time. But when things go awry, Gracie can count on her Chris.
In the past two years that I’ve been blogging, I slowly developed a theory that I was hesitant to vocalize. We hear good-intentioned advice from those in the know that all self-published authors should have a blog. And obviously, since you’re reading this on my blog , I halfway agree with that sentiment.
Blogs are great tools for getting your name out there on search engines. Let me tell you, I felt like I had arrived the second I Googled myself and actually came up with something that pointed back to me. Now, there are pages and pages of results, but I’ve also written hundreds of blog posts, been relatively active on various social media outlets, and of course published four books.
Blogging is also a great exercise for making a commitment to writing on a regular basis. Common convention suggests that a successful blogger should be posting new content at least once a week with few exceptions. No one’s going to come after you with a wet noodle if you take a week off for vacation or over the holidays, but you don’t want tumbleweeds to roll across your page either. Sticking to a consistent schedule forces you to devote a certain responsibility to creating posts, even if they aren’t all going viral. At least you’re in the habit of writing and publishing for the entire world to see (if they so choose).
So what then is the epiphany that I’ve been loathe to announce?
Blogging hasn’t helped me sell books.
You see, the target audience for my blog is authors. I talk about publishing, advertising, social media and the like. Things that would bore laypeople to death.
The target audience for my books is not authors, but readers. And the readers are way too busy reading to look me up on the internet and see what I’m ranting about this week. A lady who is quite possibly my biggest fan (and no, we aren’t related) – as in I chat with her online at least once a day – told me this very thing. She has never been to my website. She doesn’t have time.
Maybe this would be different if I was writing non-fiction. If I was the go-to person for insurance questions or home mortgages or something and my blog content was directly related to the books that I wrote. But I’m not and it isn’t.
True, I do post promotional things from time to time here because I can, but my readers don’t see my bonus content, or my top ten lists or my character studies because they aren’t looking for them. And I can’t blame them one bit. I know I don’t stalk my favorite authors online. I read their books and move on, because I’m too busy reading myself.
This further cements my idea to curate all of this promotional content into ebook format and offer it at retailers. Then it would actually be getting to the correct audience.
So does this mean that I’m going to stop blogging? No way. But I won’t fret as much about page views or post shares or retweets because it’s a very small facet of my writing life. If I had to choose where I wanted to be ultra popular – in the blogging community or in the author/reader one – I know hands down what my answer would be.
Fiction authors: do you notice the same thing?
It’s official. In 2014, I joined the club of authors who made more money on outlets other than Amazon than at the ebook behemoth itself.
This was something that I predicted way back in July, when the rollout of Kindle Unlimited happened on the same exact day as the launch of my third title. Though my release day event quite heavily featured links to Amazon, my sales there were absolutely nothing. Instead, I watched as readers flocked to iBooks – and B&N, to a lesser extent – to purchase their copies.
It was several months before my third book even had a sales rank at Amazon, because no one pulled the trigger there. And the first person that did promptly returned it. Since then, I’ve gotten a sale here or there but nothing to write home about.
Actually, my sales anywhere are nothing to write home about, but since I’m not in this for the money, that’s beside the point.
What is the point is that I moved more copies at other outlets than at Amazon, which further backs up my decision not to limit myself to distributing to only one retailer. Granted, if that one retailer was Amazon, I’d be able to take advantage of their free days, countdown deals, Kindle Unlimited and their new pay per click advertising.
I understand what Amazon is doing with their exclusivity deal, but I really wish they would extend those marketing options to every self-publisher. After all, Amazon benefits from all ebook sales, not just those from their Kindle Select program. Instead, they pretend that they’re the only player in the game, which isn’t true.
And I could pretend right along with them.
But it would exclude those readers – who are obviously there – who want to read on their Nooks or iPads and iPhones. And yes, I know all about the Kindle app and they likely do, too. But the whole point of having another ereading device is to not purchase your content from Amazon, but rather from B&N or iBooks. And clearly, this is what is happening.
When I entered my journey into self-publishing, I fully intended the bulk of any sales to come from Amazon. In fact, I published to Smashwords as sort of a trial run – to get a feel for things before I unveiled my book to the big dog. By doing so, I learned that overall, I liked dealing with Smashwords better. After all, they allowed me to do many of the things Amazon is just starting (preorders, tying books to a series, subscription models) long ago. And I always publish there first, because I find that formatting my book to Smashwords specifications eliminates a lot of work later. Quite honestly, once my book is vetted for Smashwords’s Premium Catalog, it’s a quick five minute process to upload my book to Amazon.
I’m well aware that the tides may change as readers get complacent with the Kindle Unlimited model and cancel their subscriptions. Let’s face it: Amazon readers are used to getting books for free anyway; is it really worth most shoppers’ $10 per month to read unlimited books? For most, I’m thinking it would be cheaper to supplement the free downloads with paid sales of the books that they can’t live without.
So I’m eager to see what happens with my upcoming release. Now that Amazon has – finally – allowed me to list a preorder there, we’re again on a more level playing field. And I’ve ramped up my marketing efforts as well. Of course, my marketing efforts plainly include all retailers.
Could 2015 be the year that Amazon reclaims its dominance in my Schedule C?
One thing that I started doing on my blog way back in the day before I had any kind of a following was character studies of my mains in each book. There were a whole bunch with the first one. Because most of the characters are the same throughout, with each successive book, there’s been a little less to do on that front, because I didn’t update them from the first time we really met everyone. So you can dig through the archives here and find out what I had to say about all of them: Lauren, Blake, Gracie, Matthew, Chris and even Eric.
Which leads us to Will. And I’m not giving away much here, either. Sorry – but I promise he is worth the wait!
Will has been pretty much an enigma ever since we first met him back in Book Two, when he pulled over Lauren. He’s been sort of a side dish to the main event, flowing in and out of the scenery quietly and almost undetected.
So what do we know about him? Well, obviously, he’s a cop. He’s divorced, and from outward appearances the ending of his marriage affected him deeply. He’s not really close to any of the Intoxicated crew, though one could probably argue that out of all of them, he’s most friendly with Chris. After all, they share the whole public service bond.
I’ve always written Will as a nice guy. The kind of person that will do anything for you: rat out the whereabouts of the one that got away, accompany you to a hockey game so the tickets don’t go to waste, observe as you assault a creepy stalker, stand up for you at a wedding, listen as you mull over the secret that’s been kept from you for ten years.
I also knew when I introduced him that he wasn’t going to be a bit character forever. In the back of my mind, I was busy fleshing out his past. And just like I created Gracie for Lauren, I created Will for Gracie – always intending for the two of them to hit it off. It just took a while to get there.
So what am I willing (pun intended) to reveal about the hero of Changed? First off, I purposefully didn’t make him as attractive as either Matthew or Chris. Will’s no slouch, but he’s definitely more of the cute, adorable type rather than the smoking hot alpha male. I wanted to explore that dynamic – here, it’s Will that assumes he’s out of Gracie’s league. So often in romance books, it’s the other way around. I’ve even kind of done it myself with the Lauren/Matthew pairing.
And yes, Will has been a man of few words to date. We’ll really get to see him open up with Gracie, and he may just surprise you in the same way that he does her. Sometimes, their conversations are a battle of wits, and Will’s the only person so far who can render Gracie speechless.
Of course, being aloof leads to being under the radar. And though Will hasn’t exactly hidden relevant information from everyone, Gracie still needs to get over the shock that comes with learning some things about him. Can the fact that they have absolutely nothing in common on paper prevent them from finding their own happy ending?
Writing Changed was quite possibly the most fun that I’ve had creating an installment in this series. This one definitely has more of a romantic comedy feel to it, but what else would you expect from our favorite raven haired beauty?