Month:

May, 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with considerable pleasure and no small amount of awe that I bring you indie sensation and bestselling author CJ Lyons, author of countless acclaimed thrillers and a regular chart topper. Her latest, BLOODSTAINED, is scorching up the rankings. She routinely places among the very biggest selling indie authors in the world. And for some reason, she was willing to risk sullying her reputation by being pestered with questions by yours truly. Without further ado, pull up a seat and join me with an inspirational indie success story unlike any other.

RB: You’re a physician, as well as a wildly popular fiction author. What got you interested in being a writer, and when did you start? What was your journey?

CJ: I was a storyteller long before I even dreamed of being a doctor. Used to get me in tons of trouble as a kid—but all those hours in time out because I didn’t know the difference between reality and fantasy (or truth and lies according to my parents and teachers) just gave me more time to listen to the voices in my head.

For a small town girl from rural Pennsylvania who had to work her way through college and med school, becoming a doctor was a dream come true. But once I had a few book contracts and realized how much time and energy it would take to be a writer, I decided that if I wanted to be good at either job something had to give. I’d already had seventeen wonderful years of living the dream of being a doctor, why not try a second dream come true as a full time writer?

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NEW! Three Questions – a hyper-short interview with Van Heerling. Worth a moment of your time.

BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION: New interview with Deanna Jewelon my process, including an excerpt from my latest!

WOW! New 5 star rave from The Kindle Book Review for The Geronimo Breach is truly worth reading

BOX BOX BABY: What’s that,  you ask? Why don’t I have any box sets? I do now! Three of my enduring faves at a 20% discount!

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RB: Let’s talk process. Do you outline, plot and structure, or do you just sit down and write? Have you done it both ways?

CJ: After seventeen years of being tied to a pager and trauma radio, I thrive on never knowing what time it is or even the day of the week. I have no set schedule, never keep track of word count or page count—some days I don’t even write! Heresy, I know!

All I need is a deadline. That keeps me on track. And on those days I don’t write, put words on the page? I’m still writing—the story is fermenting in my head so that when I do get back to it, it’s like scratching an itch, letting all that out onto the page.

I’m the same way about the books—each one is written differently. I don’t plot ahead of time, so if I’m surprised, I hope the reader will be as well. I write out of order, then string the scenes together in the second draft—one book, CRITICAL CONDITION, I actually wrote backwards! I knew who was alive at the end and scene by scene worked my way back to the beginning to see how they got there. It was the most fun writing a book I’ve had!

 

RB: Do you have monthly or annual word goals?

CJ: Nope. I just know when I need to finish a book by–juggling 3 to 4 books a year, I live and die by my deadlines.

 

RB: Longhand or computer? Any trick software you favor for writing?

CJ: MacBookAir–lighter than an iPad, power enough for anything I need to do, and my secret weapon is Scrivener–I tripled my productivity once I began using it.

 

RB: How do you come up with your characters? Based on real people, pure invention, or a combo?

CJ: Pure invention. All the medicine and most of the criminal cases are real, but none of the characters are. To protect the innocent as they say <g>

 

RB: Do you ever have issues with motivation? Writer’s block? If so, how do you move past it?

CJ: I don’t believe in true writer’s block. When I’m blocked, I see that as a good thing–it almost always means that I screwed up somewhere about 30-50 pages back (my momentum takes me that far) Once I figure out where I went wrong, it leads to a much, much better book in the end. So “writer’s block” is often my best friend.

 

RB: Describe your work environment. Quiet? Music? Window? What is it like?

CJ: Music (usually head-banging rock n roll) or the sound of the birds outside, doesn’t matter. Window–definitely. Couch, exercise bike with lap top stand, standing at the counter (it’s healthier), curled up on a chair–again, doesn’t matter. The one essential is that I’m alone. I’m a hermit by nature and can’t write around other people, it just saps my energy.

 

RB: How many hours does it typically take you for a first draft? When you rewrite, what’s your process for doing so? How many drafts or passes will you do before it’s ready for an editor?

CJ: Lately with my deadlines I have about four months from initial story idea to final draft, no idea how many hours that adds up to. I write my first drafts fairly fast as they are for me, me, me. The first draft is my chance to play, have fun discovering the story.

The second draft is a true re-vision. And work. I try to approach every scene and turning point from the point of view of the reader, asking myself: what will excite them? surprise them? delight them? If I’m asking a reader to invest their time/energy in my books then the final product has to be all about the reader, not about me navel gazing.

The final draft is a polish draft. I usually don’t tackle it until I’ve gotten feedback from my beta-readers and developmental editor (I use at least two professional editors on my indy-published books, often three).

 

RB: Have you ever been tempted to go back and rewrite or freshen once a book is released? Or once it’s done, it’s done?

CJ: Actually, that’s exactly what I’m doing with the re-release of BLIND FAITH by St. Martins Press. I loved the first version that I indy published–apparently readers did as well, since it sold 250,000 copies and debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list.

St. Martins bought the rights to it and my editor there fell in love with one of the secondary characters, so we re-wrote the last third to give him a chance at redemption.

It’s now a bit more traditional, a few less twists and turns, definitely more realistic, but by changing this character’s storyline we increased the emotional depth of the entire book. There’s now more at stake and also the characters have to work harder than ever, risk more than ever, in order to achieve any chance at a happily-ever-after.

It will be out July 31, 2012, so we’ll see what the rest of the world thinks!

 

RB: What do you think about the current state of trad pub vs. self-publishing? If someone came to you and asked which to do, what would you say?

CJ: I’d say know what you want. If you want to make a living at writing and don’t care if it’s via ebooks or print, go indy. But be prepared for hard work–it takes 4-6 books about 4-6 months before you start to build an audience on average.

If you want to see your books in bookstores, however briefly (the average traditionally published book has a shelf life of only a few weeks) then go traditional. But learn the business first and understand exactly what you’re getting into and what you’re giving up.

Neither is right or wrong on its own merits. It’s about what’s right for you and your audience.

(By the way, I share everything I know about becoming a bestseller on my No Rules Just Write.com site.)

This is a Renaissance for writers. For the first time we can not only make a living wage while engaging our readers in ways traditional publishers can’t. I believe the future lies in publishers doing what they do best: creating keepsake print books and distributing them; agents selling subrights; authors writing their best books possible; and readers reaping the rewards.

 

RB: What counsel would you offer a newbie who was interested in pursuing the author’s path? Is there anything you feel you have done that is primarily responsible for your remarkable success?

CJ: The best piece of advice for either my writing or my business came from Jeffery Deaver. He told me: the reader is god.

In other words, think about the reader with every decision.

Unsure about a plot twist? Will your readers love it?

Should you spend your money giving away free books or free pens/notebooks/bobbleheads? What do readers want?

Should you spend your time tweeting or writing the next book? Write the next book, of course–that’s what your readers want.

Once you keep that vision in mind, your path becomes so much easier, profitable, and much more fun!

 

RB: What’s your biggest writing regret? The one thing you wish you could do over, or differently?

CJ: No regrets. I’m having a blast and hopefully my readers are as well!

 

RB: Whose work most influenced you, and why?

CJ: Ray Bradbury had the greatest influence on me as a child. He was the first author who taught me that the words themselves can be as beautiful as the picture they create. I also love the way he can evoke emotion on a very subliminal level.

My stories have been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and I owe that to a childhood spent reading EE “Doc” Smith, Harry Harrison, Leslie Charteris, Dashiel Hammett, John D MacDonald, and CS Forester.

 

RB: If you could pick another genre to write it, what would it be, and why?

CJ: YA. I’ve dabbled with a YA medical thriller (not sure yet if it will be traditionally or indy-self-published) but I really want to tackle an idea I have for a trilogy involving alternative timelines and multiverse quantum theory. I’ve promised myself that next year once I turn in the books I’m under contract for and have promised my readers, then I’m taking time to indulge myself and have fun playing with it. We’ll see if anything comes from it.

 

RB: What’s your current project? Can you tell us anything about it?

CJ: I just released BLOOD STAINED, the second in the Lucy Guardino FBI Thrillers. It was the toughest book I’ve written to date because it dredged up so many memories and feelings from my own work with victims of violence during my seventeen years as a physician.

I hate when thrillers depict violence (especially violence against women) in a gratuitous, almost “titillating” manner, such as opening a novel with a rape or torture scene in the point of view of the victim to “grab” the reader. It does an injustice to the reader and to real life victims. Plus, as a writer, it’s clichéd, taking the easy way out.

If I was going to depict these dark, twisted crimes, it had to be about the impact on the characters. I wanted readers to read these scenes and feel as if they were living through the experience of a professional law enforcement officer who has to deal with this every day in an empathetic fashion while not allowing their emotions derail their work.

It was a very tough balancing act. I think I pulled it off, both by using an immature character’s point of view in Adam, and by using the victims’ own words describing their abuse during police interviews.

I hope by going the extra mile to not use the clichéd serial killer torturing his victim scene, that I served the victims I’ve worked with and honored my readers, allowing them to appreciate the pain in a way that propels the story forward but also makes them empathize with what real life victims have suffered as well as the challenges facing the professionals who work with them.

RB: Well, I guess I dodged that one with the only opening torture scene I’ve ever written in Fatal Exchange – wasn’t from the victim’s POV, and not a woman, no serial killer, and mercifully short. (shifts uncomfortably, scratches face, clears throat) Ahem. If you could sit down with one author and spend an afternoon picking their brain, who would it be? Living or dead, presuming they could respond if dead…

CJ: Actually, not the author, although he’s welcome to come along, I’d like to meet Dr. William Bell, the real life inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

 

RB: Adverbs. Satan’s minions, or useful tools?

CJ: There’s no such thing as “bad” words–only writers who use them badly (adverb pun intended).

 

RB: Reader e-mails. Respond to them all? Some? Never?

CJ: I respond to every single one. Even the book giveaways–I recently launched my new Thrillers with Heart e-zine (you can find it at www.ThrillerswithHeart.com) and gave away almost 300 books in one day, all via emails, with me answering each and every one. Same with my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/cj.lyons) I answer every post and comment and message.

With so many deadlines to juggle this year, I toyed with the idea of hiring an assistant, but decided if I did I would use them for jobs like formatting rather than answering my fan mail–getting letters from fans, especially the ones who have been empowered or inspired by my books, is the highlight of my day!

 

RB: Any thoughts on pricing for self-pubbed authors? Heuristics you use deciding yours?

CJ: Each author and each audience has a sweet spot for pricing. For my full-length thrillers it’s been $4.99. For my shorter novels it’s $2.99. If I see a book gaining momentum or want to draw attention to a new book in a series, I’ll lower prices for a limited time special offer but then I take them back to their original price point.

 

RB: You’ve been extremely gracious sharing your time and views. What advice would you leave budding authors with, if you only had thirty seconds to impart it?

CJ: Don’t get caught up in the promotion whirlwind, your best promotional tool is writing the next book. The more books out there the more your fans will do the promotional work for you.

As a pediatric ER doctor, New York Times and USA Today Bestseller CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.

CJ has been called a “master within the genre” (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and “riveting” (Publishers Weekly) with “characters with beating hearts and three dimensions” (Newsday).

Learn more about CJ’s Thrillers with Heart at www.cjlyons.net and everything she knows about being a bestseller at www.norulesjustwrite.com

 

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I have gotten a number of e-mails from concerned authors asking what the Amazon change on the ranking weighting and the Free promos means to them. I thought I would answer those in a general, public manner so everyone can see my thought processes.

First, I believe that at any moment, Amazon may reduce the weighting of free downloads to zero, or close to it. They will do that whenever they get around to it – they have already won the war with Select – there is no credible competitor, so they don’t need to create a scenario where their higher price titles are displaced by indie authors, whose work is by now clogging millions of kindles from all the free downloads. Sure, if someone wants to put their title up for free, in the hopes that translates into greater exposure, they’ll let ‘em, but it won’t have any effect on sales, so most will not do it as it won’t make any sense any longer, except perhaps for the first book in a series (to pull along the rest, assuming anyone actually reads the free first book, and then likes it enough to pay to read more).

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NEWS: New interview with Deanna Jewel on my process, including an excerpt from my latest!!!

WOW!!! New 5 star rave from The Kindle Book Review for The Geronimo Breach is truly worth reading.

UPDATE: Yours truly was in the Top 50 indie authors by sales for the second month in a row!

UPDATE REDUX: What’s that  you say? Why don’t I have any box sets? I do now! Three of my enduring faves at a 20% discount!

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I think that succeeding in self-publishing will get even tougher, so much so that the majority of self-pubbers who have enjoyed some small success will see their businesses dry up. That will discourage most, and result in the mad self-publishing gold rush we’ve seen to abruptly come to an end. It will take a while, like an oil tanker shutting down its engines and requiring five miles to stop, but once folks figure out the implications of a world where the big names command most of the virtual shelf space, the love will be out of the game.

Stories of John Lockes and Amanda Hockings will be comfortable fairy tales, when back in the good old days you could hit big in self-publishing with seeming ease. But what will quickly become apparent moving forward is that if the lists don’t have you on them because they favor higher priced offerings, then nobody knows you exist, and all the Tweeting, Facebooking and Google Plusing in the world won’t broaden your reach. If you can’t have a list price of $14, you won’t be able to compete with those that can, unless you sell a sh#tload of books – the odds of which decrease given that the algorithms that are the kingmakers won’t tout you, and so your sales will be meager. It’s a vicious circle, where if you aren’t already part of the club, then you won’t stand much chance of ever being invited into it.

I don’t know what Amazon has up its sleeve, but I do know a few things. First, it costs them something to upload every book and create a page. If that book never sells enough to cover those costs plus a tidy operating profit, the chances are poor that they will keep doing it. They’ll want to discourage it. Or perhaps even start charging to create a presence for those who aren’t traditionally published. I don’t know, but I do know that it doesn’t make sense to do free stuff once you have won the war.

And make no mistake – they have won the war. I can’t say I will be sad if they do that, because let’s face it – there’s a glut of books that should never have seen the light of day. Every person in the world has by now dusted off every manuscript they churned out in the last twenty years, created a cover, and slapped it up on Amazon, hoping to cash in on some of that easy self-pubbing money. After all, didn’t Konrath make $100K in three weeks selling stuff that was rejected? Didn’t Locke sell a million of penny dreadfuls? Anything is possible, and in all feeding frenzies and manias, the sense is that this time is different. Anything can happen. And if you don’t buy a lottery ticket, you can’t ever win.

I think we are seeing the not-so-slow-motion popping of the Amazon self-publishing bubble. Whether it will be abrupt, or gradual, is the only thing I’m unsure of. The dawning awareness that this is an extremely hard business, where the odds favor those who are already successful, will come slamming us all in the face, and for many, will be a kind of epiphany. No, sweetie, you can’t pick dot com names with a dart and wind up a millionaire. Sure, for a while the game was rigged to make it seem like you could, but most didn’t, and that era is over. Likewise, it seemed like you could always depend on there being a sucker to pay more for your McMansion than you paid for it the prior year – until you couldn’t. It’s human nature, and all manias have that characteristic. The impossible becomes achievable, at least conceptually, to most everyone – and by the time everyone is participating, the odds of all but a slim minority exiting with a profit are slim to none.

If you haven’t read it, pick up a copy of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Written a century and a half ago, it’s still a great book. And human nature hasn’t changed. We want to believe that we can prevail, and that winning doesn’t involve being part of a club we have no hope of ever joining. We live in hope. We have to. The alternative is too depressing.

I’ve said numerous times that you shouldn’t be writing if you are motivated by selling a gazillion books. Or even earning a living at it. Because 99%+ odds say you won’t. For a brief moment there was a kind of Camelot, a renaissance in the industry, where for a few giddy years the sky seemed to be the limit. I believe that is now over.

Perhaps I am overreacting, and Amazon will act as a proud parent, dolling out treats to us all for being good. My hunch is that ain’t going to happen. What’s more likely is that they focus on their own Thomas and Mercer brand, making it successful, and push the offerings of the trad pub world, because they make more, and because those are likely higher quality than most of the indie stuff.

I see every reason for them to do so, and few to foster a world where every man is a self-publishing empire. The economics are against it. And in the end, ALL commercial enterprises are about making a profit. As much of one as possible without getting arrested. That’s what businesses do. It’s their reason for existing. If you want to know what Amazon will likely do in the future, just look at what will make Amazon the most money. This isn’t hard, folks. It’s common sense.

I think this is the first salvo in a continuing strategy. I don’t think they want to kill indie. I don’t think they care about indies much, beyond the leverage catering to that market bought them in achieving their short term business objective. Which they did. They shook up the trad pub world, got a proud and vain industry to understand where the real power lies, and changed the negotiating landscape. So now, time to tweak the software and get down to making some money.

I don’t blame them. I frankly have always viewed the Pollyannaish sentiment that they would treasure us and nurture us like precious hothouse flowers to be somewhat naive. Why? Why would they? What’s in it for them, other than selling a lower profit SKU in place of a higher profit SKU? Who would push the lower profit SKU? I wouldn’t. Not if I understood that my market would largely buy the higher priced one if that’s what they were exposed to. Because running a business, the smart business decision would be to sell the item that will make you the most money, all things being equal. So that’s what they are likely to do. The end.

What does the future hold? I believe it holds tough times ahead. I think the lower sales most are seeing this month are the start, not the end, of a trend.

I have never wanted more to be wrong about anything.

Time will tell.

I will try another free promo next week to confirm what I’m hearing from just about everyone, however I have very low expectations – maybe 10-15% of the impact on sales the same promo might have had in March or April. It may net out to still being worth doing – if you see a 200% bump in sales for four days, hey, that’s something. But what won’t be happening is placing in the top 10 with ease, and then seeing a thousand books sold in the following week. Those days are over. Sad, too. I loved those days.

Better buy me a drink. I start crying in a few minutes.

On a shameless self-promotional note, I launched Return of the Assassin today – the fourth installment in the continuing adventures of El Rey, the “King of Swords.” It’s another barn burner and has more twists than a mountain road. Buy one for every person you know, or would like to know, or think you might know at some point. It’s for a good cause.

Me.

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17 May 2012, by

How it works

Funny thing has happened of late.

Many midlist indie authors who were ranked fairly well fell into a black hole around the first of the month, and their sales never recovered. A few of my titles did the same thing.

I found it suspicious that all of a sudden, one day, several of my titles could drop from being ranked in the 2000 area to the 6000-8000 level.

Seemed weird to me.

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WOW!!! New 5 star rave from The Kindle Book Review for The Geronimo Breach is truly worth reading.

GUEST BLOG: Sex. How much is too much? Yes, I’m writing about sex this time around.

NEW: Author Spotlight with screenwriter and novelist Lee Chambers! First of the season.

UPDATE: Yours truly was in the Top 50 indie authors by sales for the second month in a row!

UPDATE REDUX: What’s that  you say? Why don’t I have any box sets? I do now! Three of my enduring faves at a 20% discount!

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Equally odd was how several of my other titles could sell 60% less than a few of my fellow authors’ books, and yet be ranked higher. I saw that multiple times. It wasn’t a glitch.

So I developed a theory.

As theories go, it wasn’t much. I posited that Amazon must have changed more than the way free units were accounted for around the end of April. I guessed that they had started basing ranking on dollars, not on units.

That gut feeling has been validated, at least partially. You can see an excellent blog on the topic here. I won’t duplicate effort by belaboring its points. Just read it.

This marks a turning point for indie authors. Amazon’s apparent tinkering with their algorithms has just made the now poor counsel to price your books at .99 a disastrous one. Besides undervaluing your work (unless it’s crap, in which case, you know your work better than I) it is now a recipe for lower ranking, and poor sales. Self-fulfilling prophecy, that.

I have mixed feelings about all this. On the one hand, I believe that the .99 cent thing was a shoddy gimmick and poor branding. And it will now be even worse for anyone who followed the advice, because as I’ve said numerous times, it is very hard to move from being a .99 author to one where your work can command many times that amount. So not only are you now facing the whammy of having to sell 5 times as many books as a $5 book to rank the same (at least on popularity lists – don’t know what the future holds for bestseller lists), you don’t have any pricing power for your work, as you’ve valued it at a third of the price of a cup of big city coffee. On the other hand, I wonder how we indie authors will get any visibility, if Amazon is calculating ranking based on list price, not on sales price, as it would appear they are doing. That gives the trad pub gang, and Amazon’s own trad pub label, a huge advantage, as they can list price a book at $14 even if the actual selling price is $7. If I am correct and that artificially inflated price is the one the algorithms recognize as the “price” of a unit sold, then the game is forever rigged in favor of trad pub books. They will virtually always place better on some of the lists, if not most.

Is this the end of the world?

Not really. It just means that the crack high of free books and boom times from the associated promotions are largely over for indie authors. Because now that Amazon has won the war for market share and dominance, it is going to get down to making money. And a $10 title makes it a lot more than a $3 title. So which would you focus your efforts on selling if you were the company? To me it’s obvious. You go where the money is. Companies are not in business to better humanity or prove points. They are commercial enterprises whose sole reason for existence is to make a profit. I get it.

I don’t think Amazon is targeting indie authors for extinction in any way. I think that many will become extinct as a byproduct of this, though. Which brings me back to my blogs of six months or so ago. About why you write. To repeat myself, if you write because you hope to hit it big, or even make a decent living, you are writing for the wrong reasons, as the odds say you’ll starve. To me, that’s the wrong reason to write.

If, however, you wish to open a self-publishing business, where you create a product you hope to sell enough of to recoup your investment of time and money, and generate a profit, you need to care about these developments, as they radically impact your chances of succeeding. My own company included.

In the end, I think we can safely assume that Amazon will do what’s best for Amazon, just as your company will do what’s best for you. That’s how things work. But if you are still hoping to use last month’s strategy of going free to boost sales, or are thinking that cheap will translate into sales success, you’re badly mistaken, and will learn the hard way.

Or you can read this blog, and know about trends real time. Or at least, as soon as I become aware of them.

Good luck out there. For what it’s worth, I also believe that free is rapidly going the way of the dinosaur. It still has a tiny bit of life in it, but it’s on life support, and I bet it is dead within 30 days. I’ve pulled all but one of my promos for that reason.

Oh, and check out my new boxed set below. It will build strong teeth and bones, and keep Satan from your door. Mostly. Mileage may vary.

As always, if you want the artist’s contact info, drop me a line.

Until next time, go buy a bunch of my crap. Buy two. I need to pay my bar tab.

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Sales for every author I know have been dumping since March, on a month over month basis. This could be due to seasonality, but I suspect that it has far more to do with changing consumer behavior. We, as authors, have trained readers that they don’t have to buy books. They can just wait for them to go free. What kind of chump pays for a book when they can get the same thing for free, fer chrissakes?

I’ve heard this again and again. So while free has been good for some authors (like me) in the short term, in the longer term, it has established a new kind of hoarding behavior where the value of the work is degraded. We have done this to ourselves. We have seen the enemy, and it is us.

I’m guilty of it. Most I know are, too.

And sales across the board are languishing. Since Amazon changed the algorithms, my sales are down 35% from April, which were down about that much from March (which were almost 5X what Feb and Jan were, so can’t complain too much). The difference is the free promotions, or rather, the success thereof. In March, I would do a free promo, see 15K downloads in two days, and the sales would boom to couple hundred a day of that title for four to five days, then slow gradually, maybe hundred and fifty day six, hundred day seven, sixty day eight, and then settle into a “long tail” where they would bottom at around fifteen to twenty a day by week three.

The point is that by running a free promo every week, I would see that spike on one title per week, which was an extra eight hundred to thousand books a week. Averaged across a month, that was four thousand books. That’s a lot of books.

Now, though, I have done three different promos in three weeks, and seen 10K per free promo, I’ve seen sales struggle to maybe 20% of what I saw in March and early April, with the fall happening much faster. I believe that’s because of how the books appear on Amazon’s lists – they aren’t getting favorable placement any more, due to the algorithm change. So now you are invisible to readers, just as you were before, except for maybe one or two days of placing far down a list that has also been changed, again, as noted in earlier blogs.

That would argue for pulling out of KDP Select. No more free lunch. No benefit. And an actual harmful net effect.

And yet, I am staying in, for now, even if I’m not going to do many more free days.

Why, you ask?

Loans. As of April, Amazon increased the loan fee for each borrow to just a hair shy of $2.50. So if you get 1000 borrows, there’s an extra $2500. It’s actually not extra, as it cannibalizes a sale, but at $2.50 net, what do I care? That’s great compensation on a net basis (even if you have your book at $3.99, you won’t see $2.50 average net, as all the affiliate and non-US territory sales cut into that at a 35% commission rate, as opposed to 70%, blending out at more like $2.25 on average across a month). To my thinking, I’m now being compensated as if all my titles that are borrowed were retailing at $4.50 or so. That’s a sweet deal. Sweet enough to have me keeping my titles in the program to reap that reward.

I see about 30% borrows to sales. Sell 1000, you see roughly 300-350 borrows. How does that suck? Well, you are foregoing nook and other platform sales (although not really, if someone is willing to convert the MOBI and you haven’t enabled digital rights management). But no way are my nook sales 30% of my total.

One tell is that my UK sales have now grown to be 30-40% of my mix. But they don’t have borrows there. That would explain why sales have been growing even as US sales are falling. Far fewer seem to take advantage of free promotions there, and they can’t benefit from loans, so they just buy the books. I also note that the refund rate is far lower. In the US, I see roughly 1.75-2.25% returns. Doesn’t matter what title. That’s the average. I used to think it was because some were offended by language or politics or religion, but no – my dog bio sees the same returns as my most controversial work. In the UK, the return rate is more like around .25 percent. Perhaps there’s just a philosophy in the US of refunding things for whatever reason. Perhaps UK Amazon’s return policy is harder. Dunno. I just know that UK readers seem to whine less, return less, and buy more.

Viva the UK!

So what does this all mean for authors? Free is over, as I said before, unless you consider a 10%-20% effect worth it. Instead of seeing 150 books day two, you’ll maybe see 20-30. And that’s if you placed in the top 40 free overall. There will be exceptions, but that’s become the new rule, so free as a mechanism to increase sales due to the heightened visibility of the free/paid cycle is done. I do think the negative is that it is going to be a long time before the fringe crowd that would pay to read a new indie title does so – why buy when you have 100 free titles already on your kindle? That fringe buyer is who many of us were courting, and they are largely out of the game. Hence, sales slump, in addition to seasonality. And what you are trading for that extra 20-30 books sold for 5 days, is the death of your longer term sales market. Seems like a dumb tradeoff, to me, anyway. Maybe it’s worth it to some. But only, by my math, if you plan to sell maybe 200 books total per title. Otherwise, free is a bad deal now.

My tactic moving forward will be to run out the clock on the promotions I have scheduled, keep my books in KDP Select, but not offer them free. I will do this for the $2.50, no other reason. And if that declines, I’ll be out completely, focusing on other promotional tools.

And writing.

I think the single biggest differentiator I have from most of my peers who started publishing when I did, is my large and growing backlist. I’m so convinced that makes a difference I have committed to writing five more novels this year, if it kills me. I think once you have critical mass of, say, 15 paid titles, there is a lot more chance for someone to stumble upon one of your works. And when they do, they might work their way through all your books, which translates into considerably higher revenue over the long term. Because you have gained a reader, not made a sale.

In the long run, and I’m talking years or decades, I believe making a living as an author will come down to supplying consistently high quality work in the genre your readers like and want. Promotions, pricing, giveaways, hype – all are good, but nothing will build a career like putting your head down and writing as well as you are able. Not as fast as you can, but as well as you can, at a sustainable rate. So if you can only get out one or two novels a year, my advice would be prepare to do that for the next five years, and dig in for the long haul. That’s what I’m doing. My magic number is to have 15 paid titles, then next year I will back it off to maybe 3 or 4 books a year from there on out. Because it’s not like I don’t have enough titles out. But all of last year, I felt hunted and driven, because a part of me said, “You need more.”

Turns out that was right.

I have been told that summer will be miserable from a sales standpoint, and also, in the same discussion, that sales will increase due to summer beach reads being bought. My gut says free saturated a lot of those discretionary indie beach read purchases, but I hope I’m wrong. However that may turn out, I’ll still write my five more books, and be gearing up for the Dec-March boom again.

Because Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nor will any career be. Unless you’re a Kardashian. Meh.

Speaking of shameless self-promotion, check out my new box set – that’s a lot of books for a lousy ten bucks. As always, the art was done by my usual guy, whose contact info can be yours for the asking.

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The crazy, mad crack high of free books is now officially over.

I can’t say for sure, but I am about 99% confident that Amazon has made changes to its algorithms, so instead of seeing massive spikes in sales coming off free, you will see a paltry spike, if that.

I have several friends who just came off free in the last week, saw 15K downloads, and saw a marginal increase in their sales – maybe 10% of what they would have seen a month ago.

+++++++++++

BREAKING NEWS: New interview with Kevin Rau and yours truly. Because it’s all about me.

NEWS: An excellent new blog featuring my thoughts on promotions by @inkwellHQ. A good read.

MORE NEWS: New book review for King of Swords sequel, Revenge of the Assassin, by bestselling author Steven Konkoly.

UPDATE: Yours truly was in the Top 50 indie authors by sales for the second month in a row!

UPDATE TWO: A lengthy interview wherein I cover everything from the war on drugs, to central banking, to writing.

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I just did the same thing with Zero Sum. Actually, that was an odd one. I think Amazon hates Zero Sum. Remember that it “lost” the book for 24 hours, trashing the ranking when it “found it.” Went from #1300 or so to #8500, and never recovered. Nice. Thank you, Amazon. Whoops!

But this time, Amazon didn’t pull it off free at midnight when it was supposed to, at the end of day two. No, 12 hours into day three, and it was still free. Which made the promotions I’d scheduled a moot point. But it saw over 10K downloads and hit #30 overall. So not terrible. Certainly not bad for the third time it’s gone free.

Day one paid, I priced it at .99 for one day, to boost paid sales on the critical first 24 hours, when the algorithms used to give a sh#t. I saw a whopping 100 sales at .99, versus 350-500 on similar promos just a few months ago. So not as large a bump – maybe a quarter or less what April might have brought. Then, in the first 24 hours at a discounted price of $3.47, I saw 21 sales.

To put that into perspective, the book typically sells 20 a day. Some days 15, some 25.

So a modest effect on deeply discounting the book, and then virtually nothing once at normal price.

Two months ago, I was seeing 150 a day following a free promotion at full price, and that lasted 7 days. Now, not so much.

Thus, the giddy days of big sales from going free are officially over. I’m hearing similar tales from everyone I know. So it’s O-V-E-R. We’ll have to come up with something new.

I won’t be doing any more free promos if there’s no lift from the free days. Makes no sense. I’ve already seen well over 150K of my books downloaded free over he last 6 months, so another 10K of one title or another ain’t going to bring in the tide of readers. I’ll run out the clock on the existing promos, and collect the loan fees on the borrows – which DO offset sales, contrary to some claims to the contrary (I’ve seen it now for several months, where the first few days of the month borrows go through the roof, and sales drop by precisely the same amount – makes sense, as those folks are waiting for their free book from Select, rather than buying the title). But as to breaking big on a book because of free, I believe that’s finito. It was certainly fun while it lasted. But now the hangover sets in.

I wonder how long it will take others to figure this out? My prediction is 30-60 days, if they don’t read this blog. Allow me to be the first to proclaim the end of the free era on Amazon. Long live the new, new thing. Whatever that might be.

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One of the things I get asked a lot, besides “When does the statute of limitations expire?” and “You seriously don’t understand why you can’t say that in a book?” is “What steps have you taken that have made a difference in your promotions?”

I would have to say that the KDP Select free days have had a massive positive impact (although how long that continues is anyone’s guess), as has my my participation with Melissa Foster’s World Literary Cafe.

+++++++++++

BREAKING NEWS: New interview with Kevin Rau and yours truly. Because it’s all about me.

NEWS: An excellent new blog featuring my thoughts on promotions by @inkwellHQ. A good read.

MORE NEWS: New book review for King of Swords sequel, Revenge of the Assassin, by bestselling author Steven Konkoly.

STILL MORE NEWS: Book review for pet biography An Angel With Fur from Pets Weekly.

UPDATE: Yours truly was in the Top 50 indie authors by sales for the second month in a row!

UPDATE TWO: A lengthy interview wherein I cover everything from the war on drugs, to central banking, to writing.

+++++++++++

WLC, as it is known in shortened form, is a gathering place, author resource network, promotional site, and much, much more. I originally was introduced to it by Andy Holloman, for the launch of his book, Shades of Gray, in which I featured The Geronimo Breach as one of 9 books that helped support his launch. My experience was positive, so I signed up for their tweet teams (reciprocal tweet groups) and then did a few launches – most noteworthy being The Voynich Cypher, my first launch with them March 20, which sold 4,000 copies within a week of the launch, to which I attribute much to WLC – it was a featured book, had an excerpt on the site, featured a blog by yours truly, etc. I have no doubt I wouldn’t have gotten the visibility I received absent those promotions, and I continue to use WLC for my launches – I’ve integrated them into my strategy. The cost is a no brainer, more than reasonable, and the results speak for themselves. I used them for the launch of Revenge of the Assassin and saw a big run of sales, and will continue using them for the foreseeable future. They’re a quality outfit, and the founder, Melissa Foster, is a caring and supportive bestselling author in her own right.

They can be found at WorldLiteraryCafe.com.

Another thing that’s made a difference is @TweetYourBooks doing promotional tweets for me. Hard to measure the success directly attributable to that, but my gut is that it is substantial. Their sister service can be found here.

I have also tried advertising with little success, blog tours with some success, interviews with some success, and all sorts of other promotions, with inconclusive results. The few things I can say that are part of my arsenal moving forward are the two I just mentioned, as well as trying to respond to every e-mail and comment from readers, and keeping my blog interesting as I can – although I’ll grant you that it is very author-centric at the moment. Perhaps next week I’ll focus more on fluffy kitties or cute puppies. Or clowns, and the ever-present menace to thinking upright bipeds that they represent.

While the aforementioned types of promotional vehicles (except for the clowns and puppies/kitties) definitely can add to your visibility, the truth is that success in publishing is as much luck of the draw as it is skillful planning. Being in the right place at the right time, luck, a fluke, a mention from out of the blue…any or all of these can have just as much to do with exposure and sales as any strategy I’ve seen. Having said that, I can’t help but think that the harder you work at promotions, the luckier you will be.

That’s it for this installment. My philosophy is to just keep writing, and hope that eventually quality will rise to the top. Or in my case, that I’ll get lucky.

And since no blog of mine would be complete without shameless self-promotion, here’s the cover for my new one, to be released by the end of the month. Sequel to King of Swords and Revenge of the Assassin – Return of the Assassin. If anyone wants the contact info for my cover artist, e-mail me through the site and I’ll be happy to provide his info.

Now go buy some of my books so I can afford my bar tab this month. Papa gets thirsty. Wink.

 

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