Showing posts with label business. Show all posts
Showing posts with label business. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 8

Russell Blake's 26 Tips On How To Sell A Lot Of Books

Russell Blake's 26 Tips On How To Sell A Lot Of Books

Who Is Russell Blake? 

This advice comes from Russell Blake. So, before we roll up our sleeves and get into the nitty-gritty of advice giving and, perhaps, taking, let's see who this guy is. Russell writes:
By way of background, I write conspiracy-based action/adventure novels. I published my first novel on Amazon June, 2011. I published my 20th novel in April, 2013. My first month I sold about 7 books. In 2013, from the start of the year to today, May 7, I have sold just shy of 100K books, and look good to exceed 200K for the year by a decent margin. I do not sell books at .99, or $2.99, or $3.99. The vast majority of my titles are $5-$6. I lay this out there not to crow, but to establish why it might be worth considering my approach.
That means Russell has published 20 novels in 23 months. Wow. Just wow.

But, how much money has he made? Russell has sold 100k books at, say, $5 each. Let's say he gets 70% of that, so that's about $3.50 a book. $3.50 times 100k is $350,000. Divide that by 23 months and we get an average income of just over 15k a month. Nice!

Looks like Russell Blake knows what he's talking about, so let's check out what he has to say. How'd he sell 15k worth of books a month?

Russell Blake On How To Sell A LOT Of Books

1. Pick a genre you know and stick with it.

If you want to write different genres, use a pseudonym, and if you like, let your readers know that moniker is you. But stick to one name, one genre, because you're building your brand, and brand building is a function of clarity - clearly communicating what you do, and what your product is.

2. Write a series

Why? Because readers like series, and you want to give readers what they like. Or you won't sell as much. You can try stand-alone - I have - but my series outsell my stand-alone books 4 to 1. Once you have at least three books in the series, make the first one free. Make your money on the rest, but give readers a whole novel to decide whether they like you or not.
Also see: How to use the power of permanently free books to increase sales.

3. Write at least 3 novels a year: Momentum breeds success

Don't bother with short stories or novellas (40K or under) if you're writing fiction (non-fiction might do better) unless it's erotica or your name is Hugh. If fiction, write 60-90K installments in your series, and release them AT MINIMUM every four months. Every three months would be better. Every two, better still. Momentum breeds success, and readers have short memories. The current market is a hungry animal, and you need to feed it, or risk being forgotten by the time your next one releases.
That goes against what I had thought, that writing novels in series would be the most profitable because you would sell each book in the series and you'd get the revenue from bundling the books and selling them as a whole. Also, you can write a novella faster than a novel.

But, hey, there's no arguing with success, and Russell Blake has been very successful.

4. Read. A lot.

To write well, you need to read things that are well-written, and that serve to inspire you to greater heights or provide insight on how to improve your work in some way. You are what you eat. If you aren't reading a decent amount, start, because otherwise you're unlikely to write nearly as well as if you do.
I've never read a successful author talk about writing who didn't say this.

5. Write at least 1000 words a day

Allocate time every day to write, and be disciplined. I suggest minimum one hour per day, or 1000 words. I actually ignore that and shoot for 5000-7000 a day when writing a novel, but that's just my approach, and it's not for everyone. My point is that you must be disciplined about your writing and develop that muscle. If you don't make it a habit, you won't write enough to put out one novel every four months, and you'll already be way behind the curve.

6. Write 75%, Market 25%

I recommend a 75%/25% writing to marketing mix. So spend an hour writing every day, and fifteen-twenty minutes marketing (social media, blogging, interviews, message boards ...). Two hours writing, half hour to forty minutes marketing. And so on.
That's a sane approach. And if you want to market more you can, just write more.

7. Stay off the internet when you write

Set aside the writing time, and do only that. Leave placeholders for stuff you need to research later (XXX city is Y distance from ZZZ city, etc.). Stopping your writing to research breaks your momentum. Don't do it. Checking your e-mail, checking in with your facebook group, reading a tweet - none of these are going to write your book for you, so stop it already.

8. Get professional help to publish your books

Do pro covers. It's the first thing your potential readers will see. ... Get pro editing. You are asking people to pay for your product. They won't, and shouldn't, if you haven't ensured it is a pro product, which means it must be edited and proofread. If you're too cheap or too broke to pay an editor, barter something of value to get someone qualified to do it ...

9. Have a great product description

After your cover, the product description has to sell the book. Don't give too much info, don't spell out the plot like it's a test. Give the high points that will interest a reader in knowing more.
Trying to summarize your story in one sentence can help with this.

10. Make the first five pages amazing

You've got five pages to hook the reader, make those the best five pages you've ever written.

11. Know your audience before you write your book

Do a bit of market research and get to know your audience. Russell writes:
You do that by reading a fair amount in the genre, and by looking at the reviews of your competitors/the bestsellers in your genre. If you're writing for a genre that's 90% cat ladies, you need to know that going in. If mostly older males, know that too. Teen girls, ditto. Whatever your audience, figure it out before you start writing. Do a little research. It will pay dividends later.

12. Dream big

Turn your name into a brand. Russell writes:
As an example, Dan Brown is synonymous with a genre Umberto Eco pioneered with Foucault's Pendulum - the theology-based conspiracy treasure hunt. Nowadays, when readers try to articulate that, they say "it's a Dan Brown kind of book." You should live so long, but make that your goal.

13. Price competitively

Look at your genre. Where are most books priced? Are you undervaluing/underpricing your work? Price to sell, but don't go cheap, no matter what Locke or Hocking did years ago. Use low prices occasionally to move product, as promotional pricing. But price your product consistently with the rest of your peers. Over time, you can increase prices, if your product warrants it and your readership is willing to pay it. My advice here is don't price too low, or too high.

14. Always strive to improve. Always be learning.

15. As you get better, rewrite and republish your old work.

16. Keep in mind that each of your books could be a reader's first impression of you, so make each book your best.

17. When you write think like a writer but when you sell your books think like a business person

In the book selling business, saccharine bromides of "just go for it" and "follow your dream" are about as useful as a bowling ball to a fish. Writing is art and self-expression, something beautiful and intensely personal. Book selling is a commercial enterprise. Confuse the two, and you hurt any chances you have of success, if success to you means selling a bunch of books.

19. If you want to excel you have to do more and you can't give up

Look at what the average person does in their first year, and their second. That's average. It ain't pretty. If you want to be different than average in a good way, you need to do something better/different, and you need to make your own luck. Don't get bummed because you haven't been an overnight sensation. I sold $300 of novels in November, 2011, after six months of 15 hour days and seven releases. In December, 2011, I released five novels I'd been working on for months, to create a massive Xmas surge. I leaped to $1450. With a dozen books out. That's not exactly a ton for the big Xmas season. But I continued writing as though my work was in hot demand. And I kept investing in my product, losing money, until it turned the corner and I started making real money in Jan of 2012.

20. You have to promote your books

Book selling is a retail business, and retail businesses are promotions intense. You're only going to be as good as your last, and next, promotion. Promotions are a necessary fact of life in retail. You have to generate noise - the product won't do it by itself. There are millions of books out there. Yours are just more books. Figure out how to get some visibility. I won't advise you on how - there are plenty of 'experts' that will charge you $5 for a book on what worked two years ago. Simply put, it's constantly changing, so you need to experiment and push the envelope, share information with others and stay ahead of the curve. But if you aren't promoting, you're stalling. In business you're either shrinking, or growing. If you aren't promoting, chances are you aren't growing.
I think it's pretty uncontroversial that after you have 10 or so books out on the market it's a good idea to invest in some sort of promotion. Joe Konrath recommends and

21. Have a business plan

[E]valuate what it will likely take to get where you want to go, and then calculate what it will cost - in time, effort, money. If you can't afford whatever that is, then you either need to scale back your goal, or you need to increase what you're willing to invest of yourself and your resources. 

22. Be yourself

Your readers will spot insincerity and be turned off. Be yourself. There are billions of people in the world. No matter who you are or what you're like, there are going to be a few thousand like you; all you have to do is find them.

23. Keep records

Keep track of what worked and what didn't.

26. Write the next book

Having said all this, your best chance of making it is always writing your next book. You should always be working on the next one, and the next, and the next. Nobody ever succeeded by quitting. So if you're going to do this, do it, stop whining, suck it up, and get to work.
Excellent advice!

The material I've quoted comes from Russell Blake's post on the Kindle boards, How To Sell Loads of Books - My Approach. FYI, Russell also has a similar post up on his website: How To Sell Loads Of Books.

Thanks to The Passive Voice Blog for talking about Russell Blake's post.

Other articles you might like:

- Is There Such A Thing As An Aspiring Writer?
- Creating The Perfect Sleuth
- Penelope Trunk Discusses Time Management

Photo credit: "Cheek" by daita under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, May 3

How Many Books Would You Have To Write To Quit Your Job?

Ever wondered what the value of a book is?

Jeff Posey, project manager for Lucky Bat Books, tells us this in his post, What’s Your Novel Worth? NPV and Cash Flow. Not only that, he gives us the Excel spreadsheet he used so you can do it for yourself.

When Jeff talks about how much a novel is worth he's talking about its NPV or Net Percent Value. Here's what the NPV tells you:
... the NPV tells you the present monetary value of your intellectual asset if it generates the expected cash flow over the next forty years. It emphasizes the value of long-term steady flows of small amounts of cash, and also helps quantify the value of your time investment (you only have to write a novel once for it to earn income for forty years or more).
Clear as mud? Let's look at a few examples:

Example 1: The Casual Writer

Let's say you don't want to make your living from writing but you'd like to make enough to pay for the lattes you buy while you write.

You've published a novel and you plan on publishing another one every five years.

Number of books published: 1
Royalties per book per month: $15
Number of new books produced per year: 1/5
Money spent publishing each book: $0
Each new book boosts sales by: 15%

Estimated net monthly cash flow:

*- after 2 years: $3
- after 3 years: $10
- after 5 years: $34
- after 10 years: $174

Not bad. You might even be able to afford biscotti!

* These numbers are from Jeff's post, but when I ran them myself using his spreadsheet here's what came up:

*- after 2 years: $34
- after 3 years: $56
- after 5 years: $112
- after 10 years: $335

Example 2: The Professional Writer

You want your writing to be your main source of income.

Number of books published: 5
Royalties per book per month: $50
Number of new books produced per year: 2
Money spent publishing each book: $2,500
Each new book boosts sales by: 5%

Estimated net monthly cash flow:
- after 2 years: - $198
- after 3 years: - $70
- after 5 years: $780
- after 10 years: $8,224

Example 3: The Seasoned Writer

You've been doing this a while, your books sell well, and each new book helps the rest of your book sell even better.

Number of books published: 12
Royalties per book per month: $150
Number of new books produced per year: 3
Money spent publishing each book: $5,000
Each new book boosts sales by: 3%

Estimated net monthly cash flow:
- after 2 years: $1,753
- after 3 years: $3,710
- after 5 years: $10,371
- after 10 years: $50,414

Example: The Lone Gunman

I have a problem with using Jeff's calculations for real world concerns such as: When can I quit my job and make writing my full time profession?

Let's say you write one book, publish it, win the lottery, travel to Europe and forget all about writing. Here's what Jeff's spreadsheet told me.

Number of books published: 1
Royalties per book per month: $10
Number of new books produced per year:0
Money spent publishing each book: $0
Each new book boosts sales by: 0%

Estimated net monthly cash flow:
- after 2 years: $20
- after 3 years: $30
- after 5 years: $50
- after 10 years: $100

That seems wrong. If I only published one book and then, at least as far as my readers were concerned, disappeared off the face of the earth, I think it is much more plausible that, after 10 years, I'd be lucky if I sold $2 a month.

Yes, absolutely, if a writer keeps writing, keeps publishing, keeps blogging, then her backlist books are going to be much more visible and I could see sales staying strong even after 10 years. But whether they will increase, and whether they increase exponentially, is another question.

So, with this in mind let's redo Example 2. Instead of assuming a book will sell progressively more, let's assume that the sales will stay constant.

Example: The Part Time Writer

Number of books published: 5
Royalties per book per month: $50
Number of new books produced per year: 2
Money spent publishing each book: $2,500
Each new book boosts sales by: 0%

Year 1:
5 books for sale so $50 * 5 = $250 per month.
Net gain: $250 per month.

Year 2:
2 new books published ($2,500/12=208) * 2 = $416 per month
7 books for sale so $50 * 7 = $350 per month
Net gain: - $66 per month.

Year 3:
2 new books published = - $416 per month
9 books for sale so $50 * 9 = $450 per month
Net gain: $34 per month

Year 4:
2 new books published = - $416 per month
11 books for sale so $50 * 11 = $550 per month
Net gain: $134 per month

Year 5:
2 new books published = - $416 per month
13 books for sale so $50 * 13 = $650 per month
Net gain: $234 per month

Year 6:
2 new books published = - $416 per month
15 books for sale so $50 * 15 = $750 per month
Net gain: $334 per month

Year 7:
2 new books published = - $416 per month
17 books for sale so $50 * 17 = $850 per month
Net gain: $434 per month

Year 8:
2 new books published = - $416 per month
19 books for sale so $50 * 19 = $950 per month
Net gain: $534 per month

Year 9:
2 new books published = - $416 per month
21 books for sale so $50 * 21 = $1050 per month
Net gain: $634 per month

So, after 9 years, assuming her books keep selling, on average, $50 per month, this writer will earn about $1,000 per month.

But what if one has to pay (as many do) $2,000 a month for health insurance then $1,000 a month is a drop in the bucket.

How many books would a writer have to have on the market if they wanted to make $3,000 a month ($36,000 a year)

Let's approach this from the other end: How many books would a writer have to have on the market if he wanted to make $3,000 a month ($36,000 a year) and each book brought in $100 a month?

The answer: 30 books. Stretched out over 5 years that's 6 books a year or one new book every two months.

A highly motivated person could probably do that. Keep in mind, though, that once you have the books on sale they keep selling at the same rate so at the end of five years you can ease back a bit. Or not.

Word count

How many words per year would one have to write to produce 6, 80,000 word, books? Answer: 480,000 words.

If instead of writing an 80,000 word book one wrote, say, a 40,000 word novella, 6 books would only equal 240,000 words which is, I think, completely doable. 240,000 words is about 4,600 words a week or about 650 words a day.

Keep in mind that Kris Rusch writes as many as 1 million words a year! That means she writes, on average, 3,000 words a day and could complete approximately 24 40,000 word novellas in a year.

Also, keep in mind that books in a series can be bundled together and sold. To read more about this idea take a look at Dean Wesley Smith's post on the idea of a magic bakery.

If the thought of writing 24 novellas a year has left you a bit shaky, remind yourself that in my scenario you only need to write 4,600 words a week or about 650 words a day. Now get a nice hot cup of tea or coffee, give yourself a (short) pep talk, and start writing!

The bear knows you can do it. :-)

"Michelle, zoo manager/our tour guide" by BrianMoranHDR
under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.
Click to enlarge.

By the way, there's more discussion of Jeff Posey's post over at Dean Wesley Smith's blog and at The Passive Voice Blog.

Other articles you might like:

- Advice For New Writers
- 25 Tips For Writing Great Sex Scenes
- Book Design: What NOT To Do

Photo credit: "New Forest Foal" by StuartWebster under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, December 17

Getting Ready for 2013: A Writer's Guide

Getting Ready for 2013: A Writer's Guide

It's much easier to make our dreams come true if we craft goals that can get us there.

Jan O'Hara, in her article Tormented by Toothless Writing Goals? Try These Tools, tells us how to create goals that can make our dreams a reality. (For more on this see: Writing Goals Versus Writing Dreams: How To Get From One To The Other.)

What's the secret to making one's dreams come true? Making SMART goals:

Specific: Goals not Dreams

As I wrote yesterday, we don't have direct control over our dreams (Earning a living from your craft) but we do over our goals (Write 1,000 words a day, Publish 4 books next year).

Let's use a concrete example:
Goal: Write, and complete, 2 books next year.

That's a good goal. It's specific. We'll make it even more specific and say that each book will be around 80,000 words.


A good goal is one we can use to check our progress and see how we're doing. For instance, if we're going to complete 2 books next year we'll be writing (2 * 80,000) 160,000 words.

But we won't write the entire time--we need to edit the book, go through re-writes, and so on. Let's give ourselves 3 months to write a book and 3 months to edit it.

To write 80,000 words in 3 months we will need to write 80,000/(30 * 3) = (about) 889 words per day. If you do more, great! You'll get done quicker and have more time to edit.

Measuring your progress

We could put a calendar on the wall and use Jerry Seinfeld's chain method to keep us on track by putting an "X" through each day we complete our 889 words.


Decide WHEN you are going to write as well as WHERE. Many writers find that when they have a set schedule--always writing in the morning, or always in the evening--it helps get their muse accustomed to waking up and being active during that time. (See: Vanquishing Writer's Block)

It doesn't matter what time you choose (Amanda Hocking is nocturnal!) just so long as you're consistent. (That said, flexibility is important as well. It's better that you write, even during an 'off-time' than that you don't write at all.)

Also, you know there will be times when you'd rather walk over hot coals than write. Decide now how you're going to handle that. Could you bribe yourself with a treat? Write for, say, 10 minutes then take a break?


In my example we're writing 2 books a year. That might not be realistic for you. Although there is something to be said for trying to stretch yourself it's important that these goals are realistic. If you know you'd never be able to write two books than try for one. Or perhaps two novellas, or even a few short stories.


Goals need deadlines.

For my examples I've chosen the time frame of a year but perhaps weekly or monthly goals would work better for you. For instance, perhaps you'd like to try writing one short story a month--or one a week.

Choose deadlines that work for you and then find some way to make yourself accountable.

Accountability is something I'm still working on. I check in with my local writing circle every week and we share our goals but there is no consequence if we miss them. We're all very sympathetic and understanding--which is great! But it's easy for a deadline to slide by, unnoticed. (If you have a suggestion to make, something that works for you, please do!)

Jan O'Hara mentions a couple of motivational options: and You can read about them here, at the end of her article.

That's it! If you'd like to share your writing goals for 2013, please do. :-)

Other articles you might like:

- Writing Goals Versus Writing Dreams: How To Get From One To The Other
- The Structure Of Short Stories: The Elevator Pitch Version
- Where Ideas Come From And The Conspiracy Against Nothingness

Photo credit: "Zsa Zsa gets to work" by mpclemens under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, October 2

Amazon's KDP Select: The Best Long-Term Strategy?

Amazon KDP Select: The Best Long-Term Strategy?

Last week I discussed how Kris Rusch, in her weekly business column, urged writers to prioritize their writing and only check sales of their books once a month. She also called Amazon's KDP Select program bad for writers and laid out why. She writes:
The million words are under my control. The number of sales, once a book is released, is not under my control. Not when you look at the worldwide market, at all of the distribution channels. I can get the work out there, then I have to trust it to sell.

Write more. Fret less. Stop watching your sales numbers. Beat my million words this year.
As you can imagine, this created a terrific discussion in the comment section. Dean mentioned this on his blog but, since I was on vacation at the time, I didn't read it. I have now, and want to share a few of the comments with you. I don't feel right posting an entire comment without the author's permission, but I'll post enough of it that you can get the gist of what is being said. (Also, I've embedded a direct link to the comment in each subtitle, below.) If you'd like to go directly to the comments section and read them for yourself, click here: Watching The Numbers, Comments.

Two main, and interrelated, discussion threads developed, both centered around questions. First, should writers spend most of their time writing as opposed to, say, marketing? Second, is using Amazon's KDP Select program the best long term strategy? Kris says yes to the first and a resounding no to the second. Here's why:

1) Writing versus Marketing

Kris: Writers should write what they like, not write what they believe will sell.
This was what kicked off one, sometimes heated, conversation:
Writers should write what they want to write even if no one wants it. Because the latest break-out book is always a surprise. We readers never know what we want until we see it. (That was in response to William Ockham.)
Blanche: Writers need to eat
It’s easier not to worry about your sales numbers when you have a day job or when you’re established enough to have enough income saved up that you don’t depend on them for rent.

I went into this year with four months of income saved up, and I’m very good with money. I’ve done the best I could with what I had. I made budgets and I stuck with them, even when it looked like I had more money that I could spend. I saved it. But it doesn’t matter how much you save when your sales dry up and they don’t revive. When they keep getting worse. At some point, there’s just not going to be enough money.
This is just the beginning of Blanche's comment, it is truly excellent. If you are a writer trying to make ends meet, you need to read this. It won't provide any answers, but it'll show you you're not alone.

Kris: We've all been there
Unfortunately, Blanche, what you’re going through happens to all writers at various stages in their careers. Sales drop off for unknown reasons. Read Lawrence Block’s essays. He couldn’t sell a book into traditional publishing for (I believe) two years, after years and years of making a living at writing. I’ve gone through those downtimes. Other writers have too. Back when we taught the Master Class, we had writers participate in a role-playing game that showed them the ups and downs of a freelancer’s career. There are always periods of no money, periods of too much money, and almost no periods of steady money.

I wish I could be more encouraging than that. The key is to get a part time job to go through the lean times and to keep writing. You’re right to have only one career–writing–but sometimes you must support it with supplemental income. If you read back through my blogs, you’ll see that I considered doing the same thing as recently as six or seven years ago. It happens. It’s hard.
Again, this is just the start of Kris' answer and the rest is absolutely worth reading.

That was an interesting exchange but it soon transformed into an, at times, heated debate about the thorny question of whether Amazon KDP Select was worth the price of exclusivity.

2) Is Using Amazon's KDP Select The Best Business Strategy?

Here is what Amazon's KDP Select offers writers:
1. Your ebook is available exclusively on Amazon for 90 days.
2. You have the right to promote your ebook for free for 5 out of the 90 days.
3. Your book is automatically enrolled in the Kindle Owners Lending Library from which Prime members can borrow one book per month.
4. You are paid for each time your book is borrowed from the Kindle Owners Lending Library. The payment varies from month to month, depending upon how many books are borrowed, but typically is a little over $2 per borrow, so it’s pretty close to the royalty generated from selling an ebook for $2.99.
5. The most recent change is that KDP Select enrollment allows you to earn 70% on ebooks sold through Amazon’s new Indian store. (From: KDP Select – Worth the Exclusivity?)
Kris: Bargain hunters don't become loyal readers
[B]argain hunters are rarely long-term clients of anything except the bargain store. Wal-Mart has done hundreds of studies of this. It’s found that customers who shop at Wal-Mart want the lower prices, not the brand names. So if the brand doesn’t show up at Wal-Mart, the discount customer buys something similar.
Good point! Or so I thought ...

Lisa: Amazon KDP Select helps sell books. Period.
My novels priced at $2.99 and $5.99 after a free run have helped me to sell in the one thousand to four thousand dollar range in the months following the free run.

And yes, sales on the rest of the books in my series which have never gone free and are not in Select, pick up dramatically after a free run.

So a free run can positively affect the sales of all books in a series and enable a new self-publlished author a chance to make real money. There is nothing bargain priced about my books. I sell several hundred (and one month broke a thousand) of my titles.
Very impressive! What is the key to success? Lisa offers that it is discoverability. She writes:
Discoverability is key.

Select, if used correctly, can assure your book is in several of those short stacks on the front row. Hot new releases, also boughts, best sellers in your genre, popularity, Koll Lending Library, suggested for you, and emails of the top ten best sellers they send out to genre buyers.
The chances of making these lists goes up when releasing a book through the Select program. Making any of these lists increases sales because suddenly a reader has your book in front of them at full price after the free run.

If my emails are any indication, I’m building up a loyal fan base for both my series. Select does help bonafide buyers “discover” books after a free run because now they’re on the lists.
Kris: Amazon's KDP Select is a way for Amazon to promote its brand
Kris wasn't responding to Lisa when she wrote this, but I thought it was instructive:
Of course we’ve explored Select, and saw it for what it is: a way to promote Amazon’s brand. That a few writers are making money on it is good for them. But Select benefits Amazon more than it benefits anyone else. Not that that’s a problem: Amazon has the right like all of us do to improve their business. But it is something that writers should realize.
Breakaway: KDP Select Works
Breakaway knows a thing or two about marketing and he holds that Select works not because those who download the book for free reading it, love it, and search out your other books but because it gets your book in front of the eyes of people who do buy books. He writes:
Those who claim (in the few comments I did read, as well) that most people won’t read the freebies are 100% correct. Those who do search in the bargain bin will probably always search in the bargain bin, I agree as well. Those who use this as a mark against Select fail to understand the true power of Select. I recently gave away 26k books in 4 days. I don’t expect most who downloaded it for free to ever read it. That is not the goal. I use their bargain bin mindset, to utilize the promotional power of the Amazon algorithms and their calculation of free ebooks, to boost my books in the catalog/store shelves/bestseller lists/popularity lists on Amazon… TO GET MY BOOK IN FRONT OF THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE WHO DO BUY BOOKS, via the bestseller lists. THAT is how I use Select free promotions, to great effect. Not to Konrath or Grisham effect, but to enabling me to make 2x more monthly than I did at my highest-paying job ever, with less than 10 books published total, publishing my first book in March of 2012. That is success in my eyes, even if not compared to a Konrath, a DWS, or others.
 That is just a small part of Breakaway's comment and the rest is well worth reading.

Kris: The flaw in Select
[H]ere’s how it happens. The writer writes a very good book. He puts it up on Select, gets great word of mouth, and gets lots of other readers from Amazon/Select to find/read his book. Then they go to other books by the same author.

Here’s the problem. The book is what’s causing the growth in sales, not Select. If the writer used Select as a tool, and then dropped Select after 90 days and went to other markets, the writer is using Select correctly. But if the writer says the sales are because of Select, and then throwing everything into Select, the writer is making a mistake.

The writer isn’t crediting his good work, and isn’t believing in it, letting it grow over time. Sure, he jumpstarted it, and then he’s driving around the neighborhood and never seeing the world. If readers on Select are buying it in large quantities, then it stands to reason they’re discussing it with readers not on Select. Those readers will want the book and won’t be able to get it causing a loss of sales.

And that’s what I’m arguing against. Essentially writers are crediting Select when, in fact, it’s their own work that continues to bring in the readers–not the platform.
I'm stopping there. This is the best discussion of KDP Select I've seen and it just keeps going! Again, you can join the fun here:  Watching The Numbers, Comments.

If you don't read Kris' weekly business post on the business of writing, you're mission out. And don't forget to read the comments, often the blog post is just the beginning.


Update: PG has a great post about Amazon's KDP Select program over at The Passive Voice Blog: KDP Select – Worth the Exclusivity?. A lot of great comments, too.
PG also recommended: Risks and Rewards of Kindle Select Publishing

Other articles you might like:
- How To Start A Blog
- How To Build A Platform: Why Every Writer Needs A Website
- Writing Rules! Advice from The New York Times

Photo credit: Unknown

Thursday, September 6

Writing: Contract Negotiation Horror Stories

Writing: Contract Negotiation Horror Stories

This is from the blog of Kris Rusch:
... I got something from a New York Times bestseller who, in the middle of a contract negotiation, was promised 10 and 12.5% royalties on a mass market paperback as a deal sweetener in a contract negotiation. The publisher added this sweetener in lieu of better terms elsewhere in the contract, terms the writer had asked for and the publisher refused. The writer then discovered through another source that the publisher never planned to publish a mass market edition of the book.

In other words, the sweetener became sour. The great royalty rate was only added to get the writer to sign on, not because the publisher ever planned to publish that kind of book. If the writer had been a little less savvy, he would have lost some other positive contract terms by believing that this one was important.

Not illegal or even unusual these days, but still, bad enough to make the writer feel cheated in the midst of negotiating a new contract. Dumb on the publisher’s part, but only because the publisher got caught.
Read other stories as well as how to avoid this happening to you: The Business Rusch: A Good Offense.

Other articles you might like:
- Amazon's KDP Select Program: The Power Of Free
- 8 Tips For Blogging Success
- Book Promotion: Where's The Line?

Photo credit: Unknown

Monday, September 3

Orlando Figes, Award-Winning Historian, Wrote Fake Reviews

It seems that, ever since the New York Times article about buying reviews was published, the one which revealed indie bestseller John Locke had bought reviews, the floodgates have opened.

Every day a new writer with an, as Sir Humphrey Appleby might have said, 'a creative interpretation of the facts,' is brought to light. What is perhaps most notable about the latest dramatic revelation is that it doesn't involve an indie author. This comes from The Telegraph:
Orlando Figes, the award-winning historian, has admitted writing derogatory reviews about his fellow writers' work.
Apparently Dr. Figes even "threatened to sue a fellow historian for libel when his name was linked to the online reviews."

But not only did Dr. Figes rubbish the work of his colleagues, he heaped praise on his own:
The reviewer [Figes] meanwhile described The Whisperers, Prof Figes's latest book, in more positive terms.

"Beautifully written ... leaves the reader awed, humbled yet uplifted ... a gift to us all," he said.

A spokesman from Birkbeck College said of Prof Figes: "He's on sick leave and we're offering our support."
You can read the article here: Award-winning historian Orlando Figes: I posted anonymous reviews on Amazon. Thanks to the Passive Voice Blog for posting a link to this article.

I must admit I'm stunned by the apparent ubiquity of the problem; I'm guessing this could be the tip of a very big iceberg.

Other articles you might like:
- Book Promotion: Where's The Line?
- John Locke Paid For Book Reviews
- 8 Ways To Become A Better Writer

Photo credit: A miniature painting of the Baum des Todes und des Lebens (The Tree of Death and Life), by Bertold Furtmeyer for the Missal of Archbishop Bernard von Rohr of Salzburg, a handmade miniature manuscirpt commissioned by him around 1481 and now in the Museum of the Bavarian State Library (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek), Munich, Germany.

Wednesday, August 29

Book Promotion: Where's The Line?

Book Promotion: Where's The Line?

Buying Reviews
The world recently learnt that successful indie author John Locke bought reviews for his novels. Locke was confident in his writing ability so he stipulated reviewers were to give their honest opinion, but the fact remains he paid for reviews, something which goes against Amazon policy and at least one law.

A couple months after commissioning the reviews, sales of John Locke's novels took off. Coincidence? Perhaps. It was in December, a time book sales explode, but even so it seems as though Locke's decision to pay for reviews may have been a significant factor in his success.

My first reaction was astonishment. I had read Locke's book, How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months and his emphasis was on building a community and, as any indie author knows, building a community takes time and a lot of hard work. In The New York Times article which exposed Locke's business practises, I read this:
Mr. Locke is unwilling to say that paying for reviews made a big difference. “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” he said. “But it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.” [Emphasis mine]

Then I remembered, indie authors have been offered the opportunity to pay for reviews for a while now, and from no less a name than Kirkus.

Kirkus charges $425 for a standard review, $575 for their express service. They guarantee the review will be approximately 250 to 350 words.

From the Kirkus website:
Kirkus Indie will send you the review via email, at which point you may choose to keep it private or publish it on our website (at no extra charge). If you choose to keep it private, it will never see the light of day. If you decide to publish the review on our site, you may use it any way you choose—on the back cover of your book, in marketing collateral, on your website or in a letter to an agent or publisher.

If you choose to publish your review on our website, we will also distribute it to our licensees, including Google,, Ingram, Baker & Taylor and more. On top of that, our editors will consider it for publication in Kirkus Reviews magazine, which is read by librarians, booksellers, publishers, agents, journalists and entertainment executives. Your review may also be selected to be featured in our email newsletter, which is distributed to more than 50,000 industry professionals and consumers.
So Kirkus gets a minimum of $425 per review and the author has the opportunity to bury the review if they don't like it.

My question: Why is it okay for Kirkus to sell reviews?

Sockpuppet Accounts
Recently Stephen Leather told the Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival, and so the world, that he uses sockpuppet accounts. I'll let wikipedia explain what a sockpuppet account is:
A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception. The term—a reference to the manipulation of a simple hand puppet made from a sock—originally referred to a false identity assumed by a member of an internet community who spoke to, or about himself while pretending to be another person. The term now includes other uses of misleading online identities, such as those created to praise, defend or support a third party or organization, or to circumvent a suspension or ban from a website. A significant difference between the use of a pseudonym and the creation of a sockpuppet is that the sockpuppet poses as an independent third-party unaffiliated with the puppeteer. (Wikipedia, Sockpuppet (Internet))
For instance, let's say Matilda has published a book--whether herself or through a traditional publisher--Keeping Hummingbirds Happy and she creates an accont on Amazon under an assumed name, Hummingbird1. This is a sockpuppet account. Using this account she will give her book a good review. Of course one positive review is unlikely to make much of a difference so she creates Hummingbird2, Hmmingbird3, and so on.

I would like to stress that Stephen Leather never publicly said he had made a sockpuppet account on Amazon. He admitted to having one on Twitter, which is a very different thing. Stephen Leather is a fellow indie author and I have no wish to attack him.

That said, what startled me about Stephen Leather's admission (well, that he admitted it at a writers' conference in front of dozens of people surprised the heck out of me!) was that he apparently thought everyone had sockpuppet accounts. Here's how it went:
Stephen Leather: I’ll go onto several forums, from the well-known forums, and post there, under my own name and under various other names and various other characters. You build this whole network of characters who talk about your books and sometimes have conversations with yourself. And then I’ve got enough fans…

Steve Mosby: So you use sockpuppet accounts basically?

SL: I think everyone does. Everyone does. Or I have friends who are sockpuppets, who might be real, but they might pick a fight with me.

SM: Are your readers aware of this, or…?

SL: Well, I think that everyone … well, are the readers aware of it? No … But they’re not buying it because of the sockpuppet. What you’re trying to do is create a buzz. And it’s very hard, one person, surrounded by a hundred thousand other writers, to create a buzz. I mean, that’s one of the things that publishers do. They create a buzz. One person on their own, difficult to create a buzz. If you’ve got ten friends, and they’ve got friends, and you can get them all as one creating a buzz, then hopefully you’ll be all right.
If readers aren't buying one's books because of ones sockpuppet account(s), then why go to all the bother of setting them up? Sure, to create buzz, but if there's no connection between 'buzz' and booksales, why do it?

Does it work? Do paid reviews and sockpuppet accounts help sell books?
I would imagine the answer is yes, they do. Or at least the folks who pay for the reviews and spend the time to set up the sockpuppet accounts believe they do.

But I think the real question isn't whether these techniques help sell books, but whether an author's time is best spent buying reviews, setting up sockpuppet accounts or writing new work.

How many books do you think Stephen Leather would have been able to write if he hadn't been busy with sockpuppet accounts? Does the amount of money that SL made due to his sockpuppet accounts exceed the amount of money he would have made on sales of new books?

It is, of course, impossible to know. I think the best way of selling books is to write more books. I know how much time it takes me to maintain my @woodwardkaren Twitter account, I can't imagine maintaining two. I would have no time for writing! If a person has a real twitter account, a couple of fake twitter accounts and three or four fake Amazon accounts, when are they going to find the time to write?

You've heard the old saying: Are you a man or a mouse? Here's mine: Are you a writer or a sockpuppet? We are our choices. Let's write.

Other articles you might like:
- John Locke Paid For Book Reviews
- Fifty Shades of Alice In Wonderland: Sales Peak At $1,000 Per Day
- Hugh Howey, Bestselling Author Of Wool, On The Key To Writing Success

Links to articles (off site):
- Anonymous Author Shares Fiverr Experience
- The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy
- Publishing's Drug Problem
- Fake Reviews: Amazon's Rotten Core

Photo credit: johndal

Monday, July 23

Self Publishing: 3 Steps To Success


I love Kristen Lamb's blog! She doesn't pull her punches. This week she takes aim at 5 common mistakes of self publishers--last week she wrote about the 5 top mistakes that are killing traditional publishing--and that was an excellent article as well.

Kristen's post made me think about what advice I'd give to someone brand-new to self publishing.

1. Master the basics 
As writers we're constantly learning, both about the business of writing and about ourselves as writers. A writer standing at the beginning of her journey--if they're anything like I was!--needs to study both the craft of writing and the book publishing industry.

The craft of writing
There are many things a writer can do to improve their craft. Read books, attend writers' conferences, get together with other writers, just to name a few. If you don't know anyone in the place where you live, search for kindred souls online (I can recommend

You've probably heard that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill or, in the case of writers, about one million words. That's right, a million! It makes sense, though. At 100,000 words a book, that's 10 books. But you don't have to write 10 books and condemn them to live out their lives beside the dust-bunnies (or dust-ghoulies as the case may be) under your bed.

You can write short stories, blog posts, love letters (always the most fun!), blurbs, critiques, book reviews, and so on. Also, no one is saying that your first 1,000,000 words are going to be horrible, not fit to see the light of day. It will likely take you a while to find your voice but no ones saying you can't have fun along the way.

The publishing industry
It is easy to get taken advantage of. After reading Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Kris Rusch, Laura Resnick, and many others, I've ... well, I've probably become cynical, at least when it comes to the publishing industry. But writers as a class seem to be easy marks. It's our responsibility not to be so we need to educate ourselves and help spread the word to our fellow writers.

2. Give it time
Although there's an exception to every rule, even this one, success at anything takes hard work and a lot of time. Don't rush it.

Yes, getting your book edited will take more time but it's worth it. I know some of you don't have the money to pay a professional editor--I've been there!--but you can get a fellow newbie to to look over your manuscript and give you feedback. Ideally many more than one.

Don't take the advice/criticism of any one person to heart, no matter who they are. Ask yourself: What do they know of the genre I'm writing in? Also, if you give your book out to, for example, six readers and they all say different things you know you're hearing their personal opinion. But if, say, four of your readers say the same thing--e.g., the pacing in your second chapter needs work--then listen to this! Even if you think your pacing is impeccable. It doesn't matter what you think about this, it matters what your readers think.

3. Writing a new book is more important than promoting one already written
The pros are agreed: The best advertising is the release of a new book. You'll sell more copies and many of the new readers you attract will be interested in reading a few books from your backlist. Kristen puts this beautifully:
Here’s the thing. Self-publishing, in many ways, just allows us to accelerate the career path of the author. Even in traditional publishing, it usually takes about three books to gain traction. In traditional publishing, this takes three years because we are dealing with a publisher’s schedule.

In self-publishing, we can make our own schedule, but it still takes THREE BOOKS MINIMUM. I know there are exceptions, but most self-published successes hit at about book three. The ability to offer multiple titles is a huge part of why John Locke became successful.

This is why it is critical to keep writing. Not only will writing more books make you a better writer, but once people discover they love your writing, they have a number of titles to purchase. Being able to offer multiple titles is how we make money at self-publishing. It also helps us maximize the whole FREE! tactic. Even I am putting my nose to the grindstone to come out with more books in the next six months. I don’t tell you guys to do anything that, I myself, am unwilling to do.
Above all, remember Heinlein's first rule of writing: Writer's write. Be a writer.

Related reading:
- How To Sell 100 Books Per Day: 6 Things You Need To Do
- 4 Reasons Why Writers Will Always Have Work
- Why Writers Need Editors

Friday, July 13

Writers & Blogging: Should You Host Your Own Blog?

Jane Friedman has published a terrific blog post today about whether writers should host their own blog or go through a free service like or a free-to-start service like Jane comes down firmly on the "thou shalt self-host," side of things and makes excellent points. For instance, free services can be much more limiting (in design, in your ability to monetize, etc.) than one you have complete control over.

In another equally great article, blogger Roz Morris explores the other side of the issue (Blogging – should authors go self-hosted or not? Part 1: two bloggers who don’t). Roz points out that if something goes wrong with your self-hosted blog you're responsible for fixing it or for paying someone else to. (Of course it helps if you have techie friends willing to lend you a hand!)

For instance, websites can and do get hacked. Kristine Kathryn Rusch experienced this firsthand in May. She ended up paying a specialist to fix the problem and help her restore the website. Kris hasn't blogged about how much it cost her but I don't imagine it was cheap. Kris has been making a living through her writing for decades and her website is, I imagine, an integral part of her business so it makes good business sense for her to spend money on it. Someone just starting out and trying to do everything on a shoestring budget might not want to take on this kind of responsibility, this kind of risk.

Split strategy: blog on a free host, website writer-hosted
Some writers--J.A. Konrath for instance--employ a mixed strategy. They host their blog on a free site like and then set up a website in a hosting account they pay for and control. I suspect that, like me, Joe started blogging on and then realized he needed a website but didn't want to move his blog.

Perhaps not, though. There are reasons for keeping ones blog with a service such as even if you host your own website:
- Although you should back up your blog regularly, just in case, you don't have to sweat the technical issues like combating hackers, fixing broken software and upgrading software. You have professional website admins taking care of all this for you behind the scenes. For free.

- Spikes in traffic. What would happen if your blog got featured on Reddit? My guess is it would go down., on the other hand, will likely keep your blog up and running even under the most extreme conditions. You might be thinking that it's not at all likely your blog will be featured on Reddit. That may be the case, but even more modest spikes in traffic can bring down a site and I like to be prepared.

Although my little blog definitely gets far less traffic than Joe Konrath's (his landing page has a Google page rank of 6!) I've had a few spikes in traffic and I enjoy not having to worry about whether my blog can handle it.
Whatever you decide to do, getting out there and blogging is better than not blogging so my advice is: don't over-think it. Do what feels right for you. 

Related article:
-How To Build A Platform: Why Every Writer Needs A Website

Photo credit: Hubspot blog

Tuesday, June 5

Joe Konrath: Are You Ready To Quit Your Job And Write Full Time?

Isaac Asimov

Joe writes:
Every writer needs to figure out what their goals are, and decide upon the best ways to reach those goals. Quitting your job to write full time is a big risk, with no guarantees. Remember that luck is extremely important. You can write a great book and it could take years to find an audience. It might not find an audience within your lifetime. Betting your entire future on luck may not be a wise way to approach life.
- Guest Post by Jude Hardin
I couldn't agree more.
As I read these words Isaac Asimov came to mind. Asimov, one of my all-time favorite authors, was a professor of biochemistry at Boston University and one of the most prolific writers of all time. Did you know he wrote or edited over 500 books? 500! By the way, that information comes from Asimov's Wikipedia page, which is bursting with interesting facts. For instance, I had no idea he had published books in all 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal System. That's prolific.

Back to Joe.
If you are thinking about writing full time, here are some questions you might ask yourself before telling your boss to go to hell.

Do I Write Quickly? The faster you can write, the better chance you have at making a living. I can comfortably write four novels a year, plus a handful of shorts.

What Is My Financial Situation? You need to understand how much money is required to stay afloat, and when you guess how much your book income will bring in, guess low. Ebooks aren't a steady paycheck. Sales fluctuate. 

Do I Have A Back-Up Plan? Do you have money put aside if things get rough? Would your job take you back six months from now? Do you have an alternate stream of income (spouse, investments)?

What About Insurance? I couldn't afford health insurance the first seven years I was writing full time. I got really lucky my family had no serious health issues. 

Can I Write? Every writer thinks they can write good books. But not every writer actually writes good books. Obviously, some people are deluding themselves. Are you one of them? How do you know for sure?

We all have different goals, and there are many ways to reach those goals. There are no right ways and wrong ways. The best plans can be derailed by bad luck. The worst plans sometimes succeed. But the more informed we are, the more we understand, the likelier we are to make smart choices.
- Guest Post by Jude Hardin
It's all about risk management.

I once took a course at my alma mater that was taught by the owner of Talon Books Publishing. His main focus was on drilling it into our heads that the number one thing we had to focus in any business was on was how to manage risk.

This is true for writers as well, at least writers with their business hats on. The creative artist inside us doesn't give a fig about risk, nor should she, but when we think about marketing, sales, etc, when we think about how nice it would be to continue eating and not having to fight Big Joe for the good cardboard box, then we don our business caps and think about risk management.