Tag Archives: self-publishing

Updating your ebooks?

About a month ago the internet got all aflutter when it was leaked that George Lucas had messed with his classic once again for the blu-ray release. As you probably know you can’t even buy the original Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi anymore — without Lucas’s little “updates.” He’s added scenes, cgi, and, of course, the imfamous “Noooooo!” Darth Vader utters above.

Some people are cool with these changes. Heck, the kids who watch the films today have no idea a more muppet-like, less special effects Star Wars ever existed. But others are furious that he would mess with a classic…without even allowing fans to purchase the old version. “It’s a moment in time,” my husband says. “And it’s okay if that means today it’s outdated.”

I feel for George. I really do. As an author who loves to ply her novels with pop culture references and slang of the day, as the years go by, the novels can end up sounding dated. So when my publisher told me they were repackaging the first three books in my Blood Coven series, I thought GREAT! Let me fix them! I went through and updated all the pop culture references so the book would seem brand new and of our time. A couple years later, they repackaged the first two books in one volume. Again, I was allowed to pull a George Lucas and update them, much to the annoyance of my husband.

But while I only have the opportunity to update books once every couple years with physical, traditional publishing. With ePublishing, I have the opportunity of always staying fresh. A celebrity mentioned dies? No problem. A slang term goes out of fashion? Fixed! A technology is replaced? No problem. For a writer like me, this is a heavenly prospect. And now I can thumb my nose at anyone who insists books should be “timeless” without slang or pop culture.

Yeah, I wasn't even allowed to play this on the "tame" level....

The other thing that may be possible in the future? Different versions of the book for different audiences. I remember when I was a kid there was an old video game, produced by the makers of Zork called “Leather Goddessses of Phobos.” When you started the game, you could choose your level of “naughtiness” from tame to lewd. Now I don’t know who actually played the game on “tame” (if anyone) but I imagine this could be a huge hit with eBooks, especially amongst romance readers. Some like it hot – others like it sweet and up until now, they have to choose their books and authors by sensuality, rather then plotline. What if authors created two versions of their ebooks? One sweet, one spicy. One that closes the bedroom door and one that pulls back the sheets for you. It could bring the author a ton of new fans.

I think everyone is so busy talking ebook sales and ebooks vs. traditional publishers in terms of advances and author rights and all that. But we really should also be looking at the content possibilities. I mean, Choose your Own Adventure eBook anyone? Piece of cake with hyperlink technology. The possibilities are endless. And I, for one, plan to take full advantage.

MARI

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Choosing your role models: Gemma Halliday

There are a lot of articles appearing on blogs and in newspapers these days about authors raking in thousands of dollars a month by putting their backlist or frontlist eBooks up online. Usually these articles are really interesting reading–especially since many of these authors are actually talking real numbers and real money–which is hardly ever done in traditional publishing. They’re also usually pretty inspirational and get me very excited about the possibilities that are out there in the wild, wild west of digital publishing.

But, I realize, I also have be careful, when reading these articles, to look at who’s writing them and what their background might be. For example, it’s amazing that Barbara Freethy just sold her one millionth eBook. Or that Maya Banks is banking $35,000 PER MONTH on digital sales.  And how many freaking books has Amanda Hocking sold now? (By the way – reading and LOVING Hollowland!! Currently free on Kindle or Nook.)

But those aren’t necessarily realistic goals for me. Barbara Freethy is a #1 NYT Bestselling romance author. Maya Banks is also a NYT Times bestseller and has been writing erotica ebooks for years through online publishers. Amanda Hocking started from nothing–she was completely unpublished and built her empire entirely through digital means. (Until recently when she scored a 7 figure contract from St. Martin’s and will add print to the mix.)

None of these authors have the same background as me, so it’s likely my experiences in the epublishing world will differ from theirs. So I try not to create goals based around these success stories. Instead, I look for authors with similar backgrounds. Midlist authors who still publish with traditional publishers but have delved into epublishing to put their backlist online and maybe started doing some frontlist on the side.

"Smart and Stylish!"

And I’ve finally found the perfect poster child! Gemma Halliday. She actually started publishing around the same time as me and though she does mysteries, we have a similar chick lit style. In fact, her editor asked me to do an author blurb for her first book, Spying in High Heels.  (Which I loved and called “Smart and stylish!”)

And lest you think Gemma is just a good writer–she’s also an amazing person. When my house burned down in 2005 and I lost everything, she volunteered to help coordinate a huge writer auction on my behalf. I owe her big!

Well, now it seems that good karma has come back her way. Last year, she put her backlist online as ebooks as well as some new frontlist titles and recently posted a huge milestone. 500,000 ebooks sold–in one year!!  So amazing! I’m really proud of her! (She talks about how she did it — really simply with no upfront expenditure! – here.) And just FYI, she didn’t quit print to do this. She somehow manages to keep up her print contracts and self-publish as well. Exactly what I aim to do.

Talk about a perfect role model. A girl who came from the same humble publishing roots as me. Probably suffered lost royalties from her publisher as I did. But she didn’t cry over spilt cash. She made it back…and then some! Now this is the kind of writer I need to emulate.

Will I be able to also sell 500k next year, just because Gemma and I have a similar background? Who knows? But at least I’ve found someone in my sphere to model myself after and look up to. Someone who has been there, done that, got the “publishing sometimes sucks” t-shirt–but didn’t give up. And is now living the dream.

So Gemma – congratulations on your milestone! I’ll be hopefully following in your footsteps soon! 🙂 And the rest of you? Go check out Gemma’s eBooks. I guarantee you’ll get a great read–and she’ll get closer to her next milestone. One million books!

MARI

 

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It’s a marathon, not a sprint

When you’re traditionally published you have to move fast to get those sales. Sure, you have a lot of lead time BEFORE your book comes out and you can use that time to build hype through blogs and reviews and social media. But once that book comes out? You’ve probably got 2 months to get those bookstore sales–before those paperback copies are sent back to the publisher for recycling and you get a big, fat “Returns” negative on your royalty statement. A tiny window to make enough sales to justify another print book. It’s tough on the author, to say the least. Especially a midlist author who doesn’t get a lot of publisher resources. You’re pounding the pavement–both virtually and in real life–that entire first month, only to be rewarded by dropping Bookscan numbers each week, as bookstores clear off their shelves.

eBooks are completely the opposite. They’ll stay online FOREVER. Your readers will always have access to your complete series and it will never go “out of print.” This allows you to build an entirely different type of marketing plan around your book. A long-term plan that will grow your audience over months and even years. So what if month #1 you only sell 10 copies? With the right marketing plan, in a year, those 10 might have ballooned to 1,000. Or 10,000. Or 100,000. How many books can you sell in a lifetime?

This book is in stores now--but for how long???

It’s a thrilling prospect for those of us who write series. Right now, every time I have a new book in my Blood Coven Vampire series come out, the bookstores only stock the latest book. Which in March will be #7. Now imagine a vampire lover walks into a store. They see Book #7 on the shelves. They say, “Well, that sounds interesting, but I sure don’t want to start at book #7 in a series.” They look for the first book, but don’t see it. So they decide to read something else. A lost reader–maybe forever.

With eBooks I no longer have that problem. The reader goes on Amazon, sees Book 7, then clicks on my name and finds Book 1, no problem. They click and they purchase. And they can read it instantly. Heck, they can read the sample chapter for free before they buy.  Then they can go back and purchase the rest of the books at their leisure, never worrying about them going out of print before they get to the later books in the series.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is, as an author, to have people post on Facebook that they can’t find my book. I try to tell them they can go on Amazon and order it or go to a bookstore and ask them to order it. But most people don’t have the follow through to do that. They take the path of least resistance. In this case, buying a different book. That’s how bookstores can get away with only stocking huge bestsellers like James Patterson or Stephanie Meyer. They know the customer wants to walk out of the store with a book. And if it’s not the book they walked in looking for, well, whatever. It’s all a widget to the store.

Once eBooks become the dominant medium for books, this will no longer be a problem. Authors will have the ability to build their audience over years instead of weeks. They’ll be able to create long, drawn-out series and always have every book available to readers. As a series writer, the prospect is mindblowingly awesome!

But authors must remember, when selling ebooks online, that this is a marathon, not a sprint. And your marketing plan should reflect this. Time and time again I see amateur authors so excited about having their book available online that they pimp it out nonstop on Twitter and Facebook, much to the annoyance of their followers and friends. It’s one thing to announce you have a new book available. But to push it every single day on social media? It gets old. Fast. And you’ll see people dropping off your list at a rapid rate.

So don’t think of eBooks as a get-rich-quick scheme. Think of them as a long-term career. Build your readership slowly. Take your time marketing to your target audience. Enjoy the luxury of no longer having to rush to sell your book within the two months it has store placement. I know I will!

And remember, even if it takes a year to sell in eBooks what you might sell in a month in bookstores, well, you wouldn’t have gotten the royalties from the publisher for those first two months’ sales for over a year anyway! So it’s all the same to your bank account in the end.

Marianne

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Filed under Marketing, Print vs. eBooks

Going at it alone?

When I first decided to make my backlist available online, I figured I’d go at it on my own. Make my own covers, format my own books, put them up for sale myself–then reap all the profits! What a perfect plan!

Except, not so much.

I want to spend time with her--not PhotoShop!

First of all, I didn’t have the time. I only have a finite amount of work time each day and that is usually spent writing new books or marketing them–two things I’m good at. If I end up spending most of the day formatting, proofing, uploading, etc. then that’s time taken away from writing. I don’t want to be an editor or a cover designer or a page proofer. I want to be an author. And also a mom. Those two things are worth my time. The others are not.

My best cover to date. But still not perfect by a long shot!

Second, even my best efforts looked amateur. My cover art was cool, but only because someone else took the stock photo. The rest looked flat. The type looked funny. The dimensions were off. It just looked unprofessional. Something I am a hundred percent positive influences sales.

Sure, back in the day you might have been able to get away with a homemade cover. Amanda Hocking never had any thrilling cover art and look how well she did! But nowadays, with more and more authors hiring professional cover designers for their online books, you don’t want to stand out in the crowd in a bad way with a cover that makes people cringe.

Also there was the formating. I slaved over these manuscripts, trying to get them Smashwords friendly so they could appear in their premium catalog. But try as I might, I just kept getting turned down. In fact, to date, I only have one book in the Smashwords premium catalog and one that is up on their site, but still rejected. I gave up entirely after that–it was too much work. And my self-published books never looked as good on my reader as my New York published ones. (The damn paragraph indent alone has succeeded in driving me bonkers!)

And that worried me. As a professional author the last thing I wanted was to look amateur. To portray the idea that these ebooks were somehow inferior to the ones found in paperback. I found myself posting again and again “This was originally published in paperback” as if I felt the need to defend myself against someone thinking they might be inferior works because of their covers or formatting.

So I decided it was time to stop going at it alone. It’s called self-publishing, but that does not mean you have to do every single thing yourself. Pick your strengths–mine are writing and marketing–and then farm out the rest. Professional covers are a lot less expensive then you might think–you can get one for around $100. And there are many freelance editors out there, ready for hire. Companies will even format and upload your manuiscripts for you–taking away all the stress of Smashwords!

Sure, there’s an upfront cost to all this. But I believe in investing in my writing. Over the years I’ve spent thousands of dollars marketing my books by going to conferences, running contests, taking out advertisements on blogs, etc. etc. I just see this as one more element to that. Maybe the most important of all.

In any case, I will be beginning the process of “fixing” my books in the next couple weeks and will be documenting the process on this blog. And then, in the end, I’ll compare sales from what I have now (completely self-published) to after I’ve had a little help from professionals. I could be wrong, but I’m betting there will be a big difference.

And now back to writing!

Marianne

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Filed under My publishing journey