Tag Archives: publishing

Status Update – Are We Still Talking About This?

Mar 27, 2017

image courtesy of goXunuReviews via flickr commons

I don’t know why, but writers seem to be meaner to other writers sometimes than non-writers are. Specifically when it comes to decisions about which course to take with their writing and the results of those decisions. Nothing seems to bring out the claws than someone who chose to follow a different path than someone else.

Case in point… I was privy to a discussion recently about how an as-yet unpublished writer who aspires to be traditionally published said something nasty to a formerly trad, now indie author. The comment was along the lines of “self-publishing is dying” and “only one author is still making 7 figures a year self-publishing.” These snarky comments were incredibly hurtful to the author on the receiving end of the comment.

They’re hurtful to me, in a way, too. First of all, the snarky author in question is wrong on several accounts. There are still MANY indie authors making 7 figures. And while the golden days of being able to self-publish and make a mint without working hard and treating it as a business have indeed passed, there are legions of indie authors—yours truly included—who are still making a comfortable living by writing, even if it isn’t 7 figures. Un-factual “facts” always bother me, whether in business or in history. So I call shenanigans on Snarky Author’s comments.

But what really ticks me off about this comment is what Snarky Author considers “success” as a writer. Evidently, she defines it as having the stamp of approval of the publishing establishment in New York and making 7 figures. Well, if that’s her standard, then only a small handful of authors are actually successful. Because let me tell you, those books that you see at your supermarket check-out are a teensy fraction of the books that have been published. Only the tippy-top of authors get that kind of recognition and placement. The vast majority of traditionally published authors are midlist authors who barely make a living wage. So does that mean they’re not successful? Or could it mean that the midlisters are more successful, even though they make less money than many indies?

(Writing is) Berry Hard Work, by JD Hancock, courtesy of Flickr

Okay, but let’s take it back a step further, because I, for one, absolutely, unequivocally do NOT think that success as a writer has a price tag attached to it. I consider myself a wildly successful writer because writing is my full-time job (which is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream), I support myself comfortably, I pay a friend to be my assistant, thus enabling her to launch her career, and I have enough left over to donate to my church now and then. And I manage to pay my (completely eye-popping and sob-worthy) taxes. Oh, plus I get to travel to places like London, Paris, Cardiff, Sweden, and Australia and call it work.

And I neither make 7 figures nor have any interest in being published by NYC.

So where does this attitude of dismissiveness come from? Why is there still, after all this time, a prejudice against self-publishing? And, to throw an issue that might not seem related at first but is into the mix, why are some people who attempt to go indie crashing and burning and becoming jaded?

Frankly, I think at the heart of it, nothing has changed from the time before self-publishing, when aspiring authors who couldn’t get an agent or a deal poo-pooed their fellows’ manuscripts in critique groups or turned up their nose when someone got a deal with a small press. The simple fact is that not everyone who wants to be an author has what it takes to actually be an author. And by that I mean they don’t have the talent or they don’t have the ambition and drive.

It takes an incredible amount of dedication and hard work to sell any books as an indie author, let alone to reach a point where you can self-support on your writing. For the first four years of my publishing career, I worked a full-time, soul-sucking, corporate day job. I woke up at 5:30am and wrote until I had to get ready for work. I ate a quick dinner and sat down to write for hours in the evening before bed. I wrote for hours on the weekend to get stuff done. No TV, no hanging out with friends, no extracurricular activities. (No husband, no kids, and no house to take care of either). For four years. Every day, every week. When I finally did leave the day job to just write, I had to reacquaint myself with the concept of “free time.”

If you’re not willing to do that, you might want to reconsider whether you have the ambition and drive part of what it takes to succeed as an author, indie or otherwise.

But more than that, I figured out pretty quickly that there were things I needed to know that I didn’t. I had to learn about marketing and promotion, not to mention how to format books and network with other authors. Those things don’t just magically happen without effort. Even deeper than that, I knew that I needed to be a better writer. And that’s an ongoing thing. You might be surprised to know how much I study the craft, how much I reexamine my methods and analyze the quality of my output. I attend workshops at conferences and read craft books. All the time. Even now. Always.

Behold! The first book I ever published! And while I like the characters and storyline, I’m embarrassed to go back and read it. I’ve gotten so much better as I writer!

Maybe I’m dead wrong about this and letting my biases show, but I think perhaps the authors who report more disastrous than normal declines in their sales and income are the ones who aren’t bothering to work on their skills. Now, I’m not talking about those of us who are buffeted by the changing market. Sales have gone down across the board for just about everyone. But I am angrily mystified by those authors who insist they have nothing to learn, that their writing is awesome the way it is (in spite of reviews and declining sales), and who make no efforts to improve and grow. No one has anything that they want to hear about changing up their writing methods, improving the tension in their plots, or making their characters more vibrant and three-dimensional.

Because the simple fact is that the market is saturated in every genre. The only way to stand out and attract sticky readers (not the ones with lollipops, but the ones who will join your newsletter and buy everything you write) is to write well. We can’t squeak by on the novelty of eBooks anymore. Quality is king. Furthermore, as readers have said to me personally, we have to be original these days. With so many authors writing so many books, the same plots and characters are being recycled over and over. Each of us needs to focus hard on whether we’re writing the same story as everyone else. Different is king, and in my humble opinion, the authors who are going to make it through the storm are the ones who turn out unique, intriguing stories that readers haven’t seen before on a consistent basis.

So there you go. This probably should have been two posts, but it all needed to be said. The indie world is definitely alive and well, and will continue to be so in a successful and fulfilling way, if we all stay vigilant and put in the work.

Status Update – RITA Finalists!

Mar 24, 2017

I intend to read all of the historicals, starting with these guys

Yay! The finalists for the 2017 RITA Awards were announced on Tuesday! And for those who don’t know that that is, it’s the industry award for romance novels…like the Oscars of Romance. Also FYI, the finalists are chosen by romance-writing peers who read a selection of novels in multiple genres and score them based on a series of guidelines. And to take it back one step further, those novels are submitted by traditionally published and indie authors, with a contest cap of, I think it was 2000 books this year. So after everyone reading and judging all of those 2000 books in a variety of categories, we now have finalists!

Click here for the complete list of finalists in all categories courtesy of the RT Book Reviews blog.

But today I want to talk about the finalists in the two Historical Romance categories, because when it comes to Historical Romance, I think the industry/category has some serious problems.

First, though, let’s celebrate these magnificent authors who made the finals!!!!

Historical Romance: Long

Dukes Prefer Blondes by Loretta Chase

How I Married a Marquess by Anna Harrington

No Mistress of Mine by Laura Lee Guhrke

Susana and the Scot by Sabrina York

 

Historical Romance: Short

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt

A Duke to Remember by Kelly Bowen

Left at the Altar by Margaret Brownley

The Study of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries

Taming the Highlander by May McGoldrick

 

A round of applause for all of these authors!

Bonus points to whoever came up with Tessa Dare’s title, because every time I see it, I get that song stuck in my head.

And now, let’s talk about what’s wrong with this picture. First of all, I hope you clicked on that link to the RT blog to see all of the finalists in all categories. See how many of them some of those categories have? Up to 10 per category! But notice how many there are for both historical categories combined? Only 10. And notice something else? Of those ten finalists, five of them have made the finals many, many times, year after year. That’s half of the finalists in the category popping up perennially.

So why do I feel like that’s just dead wrong? As my friend Caroline Lee said when we were discussing this, doesn’t that just mean that those authors are the best in the field, especially if they’re finalists almost every year?

Yes. Absolutely.

And that’s the problem.

As I said to Caroline, where is the new blood? Where are the hot young authors in the genre? If the same excellent authors are reaching the finals every year with relatively few first-time finalists in either of the historical categories, what does that say about the health of the genre as a whole?

Personally, I think it means two things. First, it’s just a fact that Historical Romance has been on a downward trend for a while. It doesn’t sell as well as it used to. Even my historical novels—which make up about 70% of my total catalog—don’t sell as well as the contemporary novels I have out there. And I think that becomes a problem when people are judging the books. Overall, they’re scoring them lower, because they’re just not that in to historical romance.

Okay, that’s fair enough. You can’t expect someone to get super excited over books that aren’t their cup of tea. But the other problem I have—and it’s not just this year, it’s every year—is that the number of non-Regency novels that make the finals are…well, there are two this year—one Scottish and one Western. And this is not just a problem with contests, it’s a problem with the industry.

Let me explain… Regency Romance takes up a gigantic percentage of the historical romance market right now. HUGE. But there are so many more eras and locations of history with rich, fabulous stories to be told. So with all of the vibrant history out there, why so much Regency and so little of everything else? Because traditional publishing claims that any historicals other than Regency don’t sell. But the vast majority of what they publish is Regency. So how can they sell something that they don’t publish or claim that volumes of ignored history won’t sell when there are so few case studies of non-Regency books out there?

Okay, I’ll admit that Elizabeth Hoyt is one of my very favorite novelists!

This is why Indie Historical Romance writers have become so valuable to the industry. We write the stories that no one else will publish. And guess what? They sell. Not as well as contemporary romance, mind you, but they put kibble in my cats’ dishes. So if we have proof that other historical eras do, in fact, sell, why isn’t the traditional publishing industry putting more effort into publishing them (and I won’t say they don’t publish anything non-Regency at all—they do, just not very much). Furthermore, and this is more of a question based on reality, have readers been trained to only consider Regency and to block out any other historical eras? (Except maybe Scottish, which is also mildly popular, but honestly, I’m not a fan)

This brings me around to my other question/concern/problem with the industry and readers and awards these days. Is it possible that Historical Romance is seeing such a huge downswing because readers are dead tired of dukes? Is the genre as a whole failing to attract new readers because those readers are SO over Regency, but that’s the bulk of the entire category these days? Is it not possible that the category as a whole could get a huge boost if publishers and contests alike pushed more Western, Medieval, later Victorian, 20th Century, Non-European titles? I’d give my eye teeth to read a romance novel set around the founding of Australia, for example. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to read a series like that. Or what about a romance or two set during WWI? Hasn’t Downton Abbey proven that the material there is rich and crowd-pleasing? What about romances that explore the history of People of Color? I definitely want to read those!

Why don’t we see more variety in Historical Romance?

… That’s basically what it’s all about.

Status Update – Persistence

Mar 17, 2017

Woo hoo!

This one partially goes out to my fellow writers, but I hope a lot of what I’m about to share can help everyone in navigating the sometimes choppy waters of life. Because I had a REALLY good day yesterday, personally and professionally, and I owe it all to one thing: Persistence.

So career-wise, I had my very first 99 cent BookBub promo on one of the books from my Brides of Paradise Ranch series, His Remarkable Bride. I wrote this book back in June of last year, but I have to say, it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve written. I had a lot of fun writing a portly hero with a heart of gold, his eight children, and the Englishwoman and former governess who travels west as a mail-order bride to marry him, mostly so she can wrangle his children. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue. Who would have thought that a non-traditionally handsome, non-alpha male hero would capture so many hearts?

But let’s go back and focus on the BookBub part of this whole equation. Readers, if you haven’t signed up for BookBub’s daily deals emails, you’re missing out. Because they send out a LOT of great stuff! And authors, yeah, I know. One reason those BookBub emails are so great is because they have a VERY stringent process for choosing which books to promote. They only accept a tiny fraction of books that are submitted. And it drives authors to despair. Because some of us submit over and over and over and get rejection after rejection.

Believe it or not, I was one of those rejected authors. True, I haven’t had trouble getting freebie BookBub promos, and I have a theory about that which I’ll share some other time. But up until yesterday, after about five years of trying, I’d never had a 99 cent deal. Okay, granted, I didn’t try super hard to get one up until the last year or so because my marketing strategy relied more on freebies. But I was turned down plenty of times before being accepted.

And when I was, it wasn’t for the category I applied for. They wanted to put me in a new category. I had to take a chance…and it paid off! I was on most retailer’s Top 100 charts, including #34 on Amazon, when I woke up this morning! But it didn’t just happen easy-peasy, lickety-split. Not only did getting to that spot involve a lot of persistence when it came to submitting for the BookBub deal, dude, His Remarkable Bride is, like, the 35th book I’ve published or something.

It’s easy to get down in the mouth when we see other people in our same field or with our same life circumstances succeeding in ways we want to but haven’t, whether that’s getting a BookBub promo, getting a promotion, or getting pregnant after dealing with infertility. I know that I am particularly susceptible to jealousy, and it’s something I’ve had to work on HARD for most of my life. But this is a story not just of persisting in applying for one particular promo. I feel like my entire career so far, my entire life, has been about persisting in improving my writing and making it as technically good, original, and emotional as possible. It’s been about persisting when I felt trapped in a corporate job with no way of getting out. It’s been persisting when I didn’t think I was going to have enough money to pay bills. And I’m sure I’ll have to continue to persist. My heart tells me that I might have to persist enough to fight to keep this life I love so much as external forces (like that money thing) try to chip away at it.

This is what really matters

Persistence is key! If you give up on your dreams at any point, not only is that a sadness, it becomes that much harder to jump back onto the tack of pursuing them once you feel inspired again. In a way, persistence is the antithesis of inspiration. Inspiration is a glorious high, but persistence is a plodding, sometimes miserable and unrewarding, daily task that you have to do, whether you feel like it or not. But I have an image that always comes to mind when I don’t feel like writing or marketing or doing anything besides lying on my couch covered in cats, playing games on my iPad. And of all things, it’s a football analogy. You have to move the ball forward. Every day, even if it’s just a single yard, you have to move the ball forward.

And as far as my personal life goes, it was an awesome day yesterday because I got to hang out with this guy all morning! It’s an even more awesome day when I get to hang out with him and his sister, but oh, my heart! My career could have fallen apart yesterday and I still would have counted it a great day because of him (and his mommy). Because that’s what’s really important in life.

Status Update – Why Series End

Mar 01, 2017

In my writing career so far, I have written eight different series (and a few odds and ends). Of those series, I only have two “active” right now (The Brides of Paradise Ranch and Nerds of Paradise). Four of those series are definitely done (The Noble Hearts, Montana Romance, Hot on the Trail, and Culpepper Cowboys). And the other two (Second Chances and Grace’s Moon)? Ugh, that’s where my heart and my head get into serious debates.

But first things first….

Why does an author choose to end a series? If you’re a reader, it might be heartbreaking to say goodbye to your favorite characters and a world you’ve fallen in love with. The same is true for the author too, but sometimes things have to end. Like with my Noble Hearts series. That decision was easy, because I realized Medieval Romance wasn’t the way I wanted to go. Or with Montana Romance, I felt like I’d told all the stories I needed to tell in that world and wanted to move on to other things. Hot on the Trail was a slightly different story, because I just got burnt out of writing about the Oregon Trail. I mean, there are only so many stories you can tell about people headed west in wagons. But you’ll notice, I sort of just rolled that world into Paradise Ranch, so it doesn’t really end, it just shifts.

Incidentally, I’m thinking that later this year, I might spin-off Paradise Ranch into a 3-5 novella series about the girls that Bonnie has rescued, educated, and helped to find a new life. And thanks to Elspeth and Gunn, those lives are as servants in British households…which would be a great transition from my historical westerns to the British Victorian stories I really want to start writing. It’s all organic, and everything fits together!

But I digress. For me, the Culpepper Cowboys books ended because the well went completely dry for those books. I got to the point where I was just blank. I had no new ideas for the length, tone, and atmosphere of that world. But that sort of rolled into Nerds of Paradise, which are longer, deeper, more complex, and deal with more serious issues. So if that’s the case for those books, what about Second Chances, my contemporary series set in Maine?

This is where I start to cringe on an emotional level. Because I LOVE those Maine books. I love Maine! And I’m very proud of what is now a trilogy. I have people asking me if I’m going to write more in that series all the time. And I hate to say it, but the farther away I get from the last one of those that I published, the less likely I am to continue the series. Because the thing about writers is that their writing brains are not static. I am constantly coming up with new ideas, new worlds, and new characters. Which is a wonderful thing! But the consequence is that other things can be left behind because there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Also, when other series and types of books start to pick up in sales, it’s really hard to forego that income to write something that will need a bigger marketing push. We gotta eat!

And finally… Grace’s Moon. *epic sigh* So, so few people have read my Sci-Fi books or even know they exist. The thing is, I love that genre. I love the books that I’ve already published in that series, and I love the ones that are still floating around in my head. And I keep saying that someday I AM going to come back to that series and write more. Unlike Second Chances, I’m unwilling to say, willingly or grudgingly, that I’m done with Grace. Because I have generation after generation of those characters already planned out. In my mind, that world is epic! Someday I’ll get back to it. Someday!

Going Wide – A Post For My Author Friends

Oct 18, 2016

I’m going to start this blog post with the thesis statement. If you read nothing else, read this:

Going wide is not a magic bullet means of staging a protest against Amazon because you don’t like recent KU payouts! It’s a long-term strategy for diversification that requires long-term effort, patience, and above all, a plan.

There. Whew! As long as we understand that, this blog post is going to go well.

I am a firm believer in the idea that it’s better to have as many books in wide distribution as possible than to keep all of your eggs in one basket. Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more of my fellow authors either thanking the heavens that they are and have been wide from day one, or wishing and lamenting that they didn’t owe so much of their career to the mostly fickle whims (and occasional cringe-worthy errors) of The Great and Powerful ‘Zon. Building a career in which your books are available on every platform where readers want to read them is ideal, but there are some definite things to watch out for if you’re about to jump into the wide transition.

THIS:  Don't do it!

THIS: Don’t do it!
Courtesy of Madison Gostkowski, via Flickr Creative Commons

Facts are facts. Amazon just IS about 60% of the eBook market. On a good day. Now, that number might be way higher for some and way lower for others, but on average, I think it’s still about 60%. Maybe even more. Honestly, I think for me, Amazon represents about 85% of my book sales. The key is that those are flat-out sales, not page reads that net a fluctuating amount of money based on other people’s page reads or are subject to bizarre technical problems (like the one that seems to be a problem right now). Sales are much more dependable than page reads, and depending on the length of your book, net you more income than all the pages of your book would.

So if you have been exclusive to Amazon and put your books wide, you will no longer collect on page reads, but you will have the steadier income of Amazon’s 70% (or 35%) royalty rate per buy.

Sounds obvious, but I feel the need to state it. Because one key factor to consider in the decision to take your books into wide distribution is to do a little math and figure out if the total income from your page reads is more or less than, say, 15% of your sales royalties. If the amount you are making on page reads is less than 15% of what you’re making overall for royalty sales, you might not find yourself screaming at the end of the month when all the sales numbers come in.

Different genres perform differently on different devices. As a general rule, historical and sweet do better on Amazon, and contemporary and spicy do better in wide distribution. Though my recent personal observations are that they all do about the same on Barnes & Noble. (But B&N these days is a whole other, weird story). If you’re a sweet historical western writer, you might find yourself with a bit of an uphill struggle if you’re going wide. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

I have a theory about why this is the case. It has to do with audience demographics. Amazon has made Kindle eReaders really affordable. You can get a Kindle Fire for about $50 if you catch a promo. Conversely, iPads cost around $399 for the cheap models these days. Barnes & Noble has sort of given up on the Nook—although you can get one for about $129—and are pushing Samsung tablets, which start at $139, on their site. You can get a Kobo eReader for as little as $89, but Kobo does most of its business in Canada and other English-speaking countries. Things being what they are, in a general sense, readers who love sweet and historical books are often from more rural areas and have tighter budgets, whereas readers who indulge in the steamy contemporary stuff tend to be from more urban areas where people are into flashy gadgets.

That’s a HUGE generalization, btw. Another factor in Amazon’s market dominance is that they started the eBook revolution and have strategically marketed Kindles for years more than the competition. Plus, if iPad owners are anything like me, they spend more time playing games on those puppies than reading books.

So whether everything I’ve heard and am assuming is gospel truth or not, the facts remain—sweet and historical do well on Amazon, steamy and contemporary to well everywhere else.

Courtesy of Susan Schultz, via Flickr

Courtesy of Susan Schultz, via Flickr Creative Commons

If you build it, they will come…as long as you put a LOT of effort into getting them to go there. Which of course is the thing that everyone wants to know the most about and figure out. How do you get readers to find your books on other platforms besides Amazon?

Man, I wish I had a perfect answer for that! I can only start by telling you what other platforms don’t quite have the same way Amazon does—algorithms. Sure, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo (and maybe Google Play, but I know virtually nothing about them because their pricing policy scares the *%#^$%#! out of me) DO have “Also Bought” sections, but I don’t know if they work quite the same way as the ones on Amazon do. They have categories that you can search through, but books don’t end up ranking the same way they do at Amazon, and for some of those sites, searching through the categories is an exercise in frustration.

So if you can’t rely on the sites themselves to position your books in such a way that readers can find them, how do you get readers to find them?

In a way, the answer is “The same way you get readers to find them on Amazon.” Through targeted promotions, newsletters, and Facebook ads. You have to target them specifically for each of the other retailers, though. For example, with a Facebook ad, you’ll want to have a specific Facebook ad that targets iBooks readers (or B&N or Kobo, etc.) and you’ll want to make those links available. And as with everything else, scoring a BookBub ad with links to all of those retailers does wonders for your visibility on those platforms. Same goes for those other promotional sites and newsletters.

Now, there’s one new thing that Kobo is doing that may or may not end up being helpful there. They’ve recently started beta-testing a promotions tab, which will lead to select books being featured on a special page on their site. It’s something you have to ask them for, though. My friend Angela Quarrels wrote a whole blog post about that, so I’ll send you over to her. (P.S. Her post is part of an entire series about, you guessed it, going wide!) But I can tell you that I emailed them, they put me in the program, and I have my first test in those waters at the end of November. I’ll let you know how that goes!

One other thing that is probably going to get me in deep trouble with someone… If you happen to find yourself at a conference and are able to set up an appointment with the iBooks rep, that’s always worth a shot. But honestly, I met with them a couple of times, they promised me the moon, and I got literally nothing. It hasn’t endeared me to their process all that much.

But really, at the end of the day, it’s a long-game. As I said, I highly, highly recommend going wide with as many books as possible, but it takes exponentially longer to build up a fan-base on other platforms than it does on Amazon. If you’re thinking of going wide because you’re fed up with Amazon and you imagine that the moment you put your book up for sale on other platforms you will see a similar amount of sales immediately…um, it ain’t gonna happen. I know one writer who got fed up with Amazon, pulled her books from KU, put them wide, and then was massively disappointed when she “only” sold a couple dozen copies elsewhere on her first day wide. (This was a few years ago) I had a hard time not laughing. Selling any copies wide right out of the gate is a very good thing!

Yes, go wide. But go into it with lower expectations. Remember that it takes longer to build an audience on other platforms than it does to build one on Amazon. You have to put the effort in, seek out promotions, and invest time in making them work. But once things do start to work, the benefits are awesome. No more reliance on Amazon’s page counts and the corresponding snafus! Higher royalties for the books that you actually sell on Amazon instead of page reads! And sales from other platforms which can serve as a buffer for the Weirdness of the ‘Zon! But it is work, and it’s not right for every book every time. I still have my sweet historicals in KDP Select. But one of the reasons I’m trying to move away from sweet is so that the books I’m writing will have greater sticking power on those other platforms.

It’s an ever-changing business, and those who survive are the ones who seek out opportunities and change as everything else changes.

If you have questions about something I didn’t cover, feel free to ask in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer!