The long road

woman-1081873Have you ever had that feeling that you’re chasing your tail, trying to do it right, but won’t “get there” until you do just one more, or two more, or maybe three more things?

That’s how I feel right now.  I have 2 new series being released, but advertising them is frustrating.  Why dump a lot of money into them until there’s something for the reader to go to next time?  I have a series that will be finished in late summer.  Not releasing the other books won’t make it get done any faster.  I have a stand alone book that is now going to be a part of a series.  I could write in that, but see above.  I feel like a creation that is still a work in progress, and I so badly just want to GET THERE.

I’m debating whether or not I should shift around my upcoming releases.  Should I send out the books that are basically DONE, one right after the other?  That would leave my gamer series to wither for a bit, but that could be ok.  I mean, the book doesn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger (I seriously hate those).

The more I think about it, the better this idea sounds, except for ONE little thing.  I haven’t sent book 2 to the editor for the “last pass” yet.  I don’t have cover art.  I’d have to do a whole lot of groveling to get that done in time.  I have learned from this, though.  From now on, I will not release a series until the entire thing is done.  If that means a few months of publishing nothing, then that’s ok, because that’s how most authors do it.  I just don’t want my book list to get away from me again.

So, while I prepare for the next cover reveal and the one after that, I will be pondering the long road of my career as an independent author.  I will make mistakes.  I will have successes.  Most of all, if I keep treating this like a business, I think that my fan base will stick with me.  At least I hope they will.  I have some amazing fans already, and I certainly don’t want to lose them!

What is Indie Author Success?

refugees-1020163_1280I research my profession – a lot.  Ok, kinda obsessively.  None of the data seems to be consistent, until I realized I was asking the wrong question.

I wanted to know what percentage of independent authors are successful.  Well, that’s a real broad term, isn’t it?  What does that word mean?  Above the median?  Profitable?  Able to quit their day job?  Millionaires?  Until I defined the question better, there’s no way I was going to get a good answer.

So, what does it mean to be successful?  For me, I hope to one day stop working “somewhere else” and focus all my attention on writing.  I’m currently halfway there.  I have a lovely part-time job with a team leader who spends the day talking plot outlines and a boss who checks up on my latest release results.  Saying “I have a book emergency” is a valid excuse for running out the door like my hair is on fire.  I can’t beat this job, but I still would rather write full time.

But still needing to work doesn’t mean I’m not successful.  All of my books are profitable.  They bring in more money than I spend to create them.  That, my friends, is the definition of profit.  I include everything in that calculation, too.  From ad campaigns to design costs and website hosting, if I spend it on the books, then it is an expense.  If it’s vague – like web hosting – then I break the cost evenly among the books.  If it’s specific (like an ad push) then I expect the book to make it back.  So far, my only book in the red is the one that released last Friday, and it’s quickly earning out.
But what kind of money can an author expect from doing this?

To be honest, not much – but what do you expect when you sell something for the price of a cup of coffee?  This game isn’t about making it rich on one book.  It can’t be.  On a book priced at $2.99 (USD) I make less than $2.00, and that money gets divided up by the expenses.  You see, THIS IS A BUSINESS.  I have to treat it like one, and that means volume of sales is the only way to be successful (i.e. a full-time author).

money-1090815_1280So how do I sell a whole lot of books?  Well, it usually helps if there’s a little variety.  I mean, really, how many people are going to rush out to buy a series about some princess turned gladiator?  Not exactly a “high draw” storyline.  Instead, I wrote a novel that hooked the people who DID take a chance on it.  I make them love it enough to want more, then feed it to them like a narcotic.  Once they are addicted, I show them the next shiny thing, then the one after… I mean my books, of course.

Which means I need to keep writing some damned good books.  I can’t put all my eggs in one basket.  I can’t expect that The Rock is going to RT my tweet about a girl fighting cancer.  I certainly can’t sit around and expect my BOOKS to find people to read them!  Sounds silly, right?  But how many people have done exactly that?  How many people think that “if you write it, they will come”?  How many people are so blinded by the passion of their art that they forget that critique is necessary to get better?  They refuse to fix something because the LIKE it like that – and then wonder why it never sells.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am NOT saying that we authors should sell out and write vampire BDSM magician school stories because those sell like hot cakes.  I’m saying that whatever story we have to tell, we need to treat it as art, and make the best art we can.  We need to LISTEN when someone posts a bad review.  We need to celebrate when we get a good one.  Most of all, in order to be a successful author, we have to work our asses off, because overnight success usually takes a few years to make happen.

And if you’re wondering, I make approximately $125/month/book right now.  With each release that number grows.  The more books I have, the more chances for someone to stumble upon my work and read everything else I wrote.  The more books I have begging for readers, the greater my odds of success are.  Remember, 1 in 4.2 million isn’t as good as 1 in 2.1 million (2 books), or 1 in 1.4 million, or where I’m at now – 1 in 1.05 million (with 4 books available).  Never mind the quality of the books, because if your book sucks, no one will pay you for the torture of reading it.  If you’re not getting sales, look there first.

STUCK!

woman-945822The plot is all twisted.  The subplots aren’t wanting to fall into place.  The tie-in to the rest of the series is refusing to cooperate in a manner that makes sense.  I’m stuck.

I know, from someone who writes an absolutely insane amount of words a day, how is this possible, right?  (I was just padding my own ego there, forgive me).  But seriously, the truth is that this happens to everyone.  I usually solve it by breaking down the story.  Not the book.  Not the novel.  The core story.

For One More Day, the story is about a girl with cancer who just wants to survive.  In When We Were Kings, it’s about a princess who never wanted to be anything but a wife, and now that choice is gone.  For Challenge Accepted, it’s about a girl who wants to be the first female professional gamer in the PLG.  For BloodLust, it’s about a humanlike woman who wants to no longer be alone.  One simple goal.  One single line that the character follows through all those other twists and turns.

Oddly, reading the above, I realize that I need to write a few more books about men.  I have them, they just aren’t on the schedule, yet.

But, carrying on…. I’m currently stuck simply because I don’t KNOW what I need to know.  That means I’m off to do research.  I can’t even imagine how authors used to write stories in a time before Google.  It’s mind-boggling, to say the least.  They’d probably spend years of their lives in a library, thumbing through countless reference books, then interviewing people who really couldn’t care about this crazy book.  And just imagine if you weren’t a published author?  No one would give you the time of day!

And so, here I am, taking a little break from reading about this and that to ponder the ease of modern writing, all because I got stuck.  Yeah, I’m going to work out this little problem, and my book will probably be better for it – but so will the ones that come after.  I got stuck somewhere in my plot, and spent almost an entire day thinking about how exactly I design a story.  How do I make a journey that will be convincing to the reader?  WHY is it that people enjoy my books?  After mulling it over, trying to figure out why I can’t write the ending of this story, it’s all suddenly clear.

I’m stuck because I was trying to end the wrong story.  I got stuck in my writing because I was trying to force the story instead of tell it.  I got stuck because I stopped thinking about why the reader will care about this person, and started thinking about what I could impart.  That’s not story.  That’s my own ego getting in the way, and all my ego is good for are a few cheesy jokes in my blog.

Lesson learned.  I’m gonna go make sure the next novel is the best one I pur out…. until the next.

How I produce a Book/month

still-life-690705_1280So I keep getting asked how I plan to release a FINISHED book each month.  The answer is very simple, really.  I wrote them all years ago.

What, not the answer you wanted to hear?  Probably not.  So many people are trying desperately to crank out work fast enough to bump them up the lists, often thinking only of volume, not quality.  I went the other way.  I had stories to tell, and hoped that one day they’d become “real” books.  Yeah, except that whole “real” part was never well defined in my head.

As a child growing up with only physical books, but an adult who loves her ebooks, I never stopped to think about HOW people would read them.  I just knew I had this story, and I would finish it.  Naturally, when I had the book ready for the public, I contacted an agent, then another, then another.  While waiting for their response, I started researching this whole kindle revolution.

It took time – both for the queries and the research – but I eventually came to a simple conclusion.  I don’t LIKE the direction traditional trade publishing is going.  I DO like the control independent publishing offers.  Unfortunately, by the time I felt confident with dedicating all my hard work to a specific course of action, I’d written so many books I had no idea how to get them to the public!

Kinda people told me to release a book each year.  Uh, if that’s the case, my author career is over!  I have 35 books.  Many of these are book 1 in a series – from trilogies to 10 book epics.  Why would I wait to release them?  They’re DONE (well, my part).  Instead, I began looking at editing, cover art, and how to FINISH a book.

But it’s easy to hem and haw, convincing myself that I need to do something before I release THIS book.  It’s hard to admit that it will never be PERFECT, but can still go out into the world with a missing comma, or in the case of WWWD a “finance” instead of “fiancee”.  No, those mistakes aren’t allowed, but they were missed 5 times.  It happens.  I can still fix them.  And I am/have/will.  But the books are seeing the light of day.  One by one, they are all getting the best polish I can offer, then turned loose on a pre-determined day… because deadlines HELP.

I know, it’s not the fancy “cheat code” people want to know about.  It’s not the miracle cure that you and only you will find on Google.  This is the truth.  If you want to produce a lot of books, then write a lot of books.  Hopefully GOOD ones.  Do everything right.  You see, no matter how many people say the best way to make it big on kindle is to pump out a book/month, they forget one VERY important thing.

You need to release GOOD books.

It doesn’t matter how many books you have if they are all crap.  If there are typos, plots that make no sense, shallow characters… no one will buy them.  That’s just the truth.

Refreshing doesn’t make it faster

wonderful_life_by_erinbird-d61oylyContrary to popular belief, hitting F5 doesn’t really help anything.  I know, I’ve been doing it all day.  Some is watching the internal hype for the release of Challenge Accepted later tonight.  Some is watching the ads that I mentioned yesterday.  Mostly…I’m in between writing assignments, and don’t have the spare time to get sucked into Tristan and Leyli until tomorrow night.

So, I’m plotting.  I have a few hiccups in a few books that I need to work out.  I also have a raging headache that is begging me to lay down and pass out…..but it’s almost RELEASE TIME!  And so I hit F5 again.

It’s still not helping.  I think I’m going to go read a good book that someone else made. Immortal and Sane, by Benedict Martin sounds like a good candidate.  Vampire/cyborg love affair!  And if you’ve never read any of his work, I highly recommend it.  Imagine Alice in Wonderland, with a whole lot of dark humor.  Definitely worth the price of admission (or purchase, as the case may be).  I’ve been waiting on this book for a while, and still haven’t managed to finish!

Advertising Experiment

face-1103708_1920Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Tumblr, Instagram, Imgur…. the list goes on and on.  Social media is often an author’s best means of exposure, but it’s impossible to hit them all.  I think most of us just try to focus on a few.  For me, that’s twitter and facebook – along with my blog here.

Why those?  Well, I actually LIKE Twitter.  Facebook gives me a larger method of communications.  It’s literally about the characters in that instance.  Granted, the familiarity with it for many users is pretty nice.  And I might show up in other places later, but I’d rather be writing a book than writing a post to people I really don’t know.  I think my stories express more than my 140 characters or less ever could.  If I had MY way, I’d probably forgo social media completely, and just live the rest of my life in my dreamed up fantasies… I mean my books.

But, even if you build it, they won’t come unless they know it exists (to badly quote that old movie).  Which means I need to advertise.

Last month, I started an experiment.  I chose two different twitter blasts that had similar styles.  Both offered their services for just under $15 bucks per month.  Both put out a tweet once a day about my book.  The results?  One was MUCH better than the other.

BookTweep featured my cover art and a catchy phrase, with a clear link to the product.  I had fans retweet the post, comment to me about it, and direct message me.  Sales went up.

BeingAuthor cost me a couple bucks less, and gave so much less.  The post had an overpowering image of my twitter avatar posted next to the cover.  The catch phrase came right from the book’s description, but chose the wrong part!  “This is a complete novel without a cliffhanger ending”.  Yeah, that’s going to bring the masses in!  When I sent a direct message asking for a tweak, I got nothing.  After 20 days, it was adjusted, though.  Sales increases?  Not noticeable.

cash-1169650_1280I will definitely use booktweep again.  For $14.99/month I think it’s a great deal.  Granted, I don’t want to make my audience exhausted of the content, either.  We all know that most of the twitter lists for these massive marketing tweets are made up of other indie authors like myself, but that isn’t a problem.  I’m sure I’m not the only author who enjoys reading!

And now, I’m focusing ONLY on Amazon’s Marketing Services this month.  Each add requires a “minimum” commitment of $100, but that doesn’t mean you’ll spend that much.  Last time I ran an add through Amazon, I think I spent about $50 bucks.  The trick is to manage the advertising each day.  If it’s spending too much, tweak a few details, or even pause it.  Right now, I have two different ads running for One More Day.  The first is product based.  The second is interest based.  This allows me to see which method works best for that book.  As of today, it seems to be working better than anything else I’ve tried.  Sales for One More Day just overtook When We Were Kings.  Considering that book 2 of that series just came out on the 12th… that’s rather impressive to my way of thinking.

The only downside is that there are limits to what cover art can be used with AMS ads.  When We Were Kings had to get a SLIGHT cover tweak:

I prefer the cooler colored vignette on the left, but couldn’t quite replicate it on the right without losing the character details.  Now why did I have to make this change?  I mean, it’s almost inconsequential, right?  Because Tristan’s nipple violates the rules.  I’m serious!  The customer service rep suggested a cover alteration, so I’m trying it.  If the new cover is denied, then I will revert back to the preferred cover.  Otherwise, get used to seeing Tristan’s arm bent to prevent anyone from being offended and his man boob.

Here’s hoping the added draw to my work is worth it.

Nerdy, dirty, and down right in your face

Challenge Accepted FinalWhat happens when the alpha male meets a girl so headstrong he’s left in her dust?  Sure, it’s a story that’s been told before – if you get right down to it.  Boy meets girl.  Girl has a dream.  But here’s where it gets tricky.  What happens if dating the hot guy could ruin everything?  What if the girl has plans that don’t include becoming someone’s bitch?  What if, this girl doesn’t need anyone to come to her rescue?

This is real life, people.  Women don’t have to fall down when terrified.  Guys don’t have to get into a fight to prove their love.  And above all, people can be a whole lot more than just a gamer, a horse lover, or a virtual celebrity.  You see, nothing in life is as simple as books make it.  It’s dirty, messy, and difunctional… and still magical for all of that.

Challenge Accepted takes the mould, breaks it into millions of pieces, and then puts it all back together.  There’s beauty in the little things.  Every day we all face challenges and come out the victor.  All of us have struggled against something that no one else can understand.  We know what it feels like to have a dream, and if we lucky, to see it through.  This is Riley’s story.

It could be yours.

Pre-order from Amazon for just $0.99 before March 4th.