Friday, May 09, 2014

Tend Your Garden

Your ebooks function much like a garden. 

One rare occassions, a plant will thrive with little help from you.

Others may whither and die no matter how much help you give them.

But the majority need to be constantly tended. Planted, watered, fertilized, weeded, pruned, mulched, replanted, harvested. In other words, lots of work.

Ebooks aren't a Mr. Popeill invention where you can set it and forget it. Quite the opposite. You need to pay attention, and keep active, or your garden won't thrive.

Everyone experiences slow downs in sales. It's inevitable, and it seems to be cyclical, but not in any sort of way I've been able to prodect. Sales seem to rise and fall for reasons unknown.

But if you're doing what you can to make your books discoverable, you have a better shot at sales than those authors who self-publish then self-ignore. 

Here are some tricks to tend to your garden.

1. Change prices. As an indie, this is one of the biggest advantages you have over the legacy industry. You decide what the customer pays, and this is powerful. Don't be afraid to weild that power by experimenting with prices, both lower and higher.

2. Newsletter. There is no excuse why you don't have a newsletter. People who sign up are actively looking for your titles. Make them aware a new title exists.

3. Sales. Unlike a change in price, a sale only lasts for a short time. KDP Countdown is what I'm currently using, because it offers 70% royalties when I drop the price. I've been pleased with my results.

4. Advertising. Bookbub and Booksends are the ones I use regularly. If you've had success with another company, list it in the comments.

5. Change cover art. The original cover you loved might not be that good. When all else fails, can't hurt to try something new. You can also try tweaking/adding to your description. 

6. Web presence. You should have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a website, and keep them updated. Don't spam people. Do what I do on this blog--I offer information and entertainment. You aren't trying to find people to sell books to. You're trying to reach people who are looking for books, and you do this by giving them information and entertainment, not a sales pitch. 

7. Multiple platforms. There is more out there than just Amazon. It can't hurt to see what's happening on Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and B&N.

8. Stop worrying about how other authors are doing. Their failure or success has no bearing on you, even if you are intentionally trying to ride coattails. You need to be concerned about your writing and your sales, not anyone else's. 

9. Experiment. Try things that seems silly or counter-productive. Take risks. Look at your own buying habits, and try to figure out what makes you spend your money. 

10. Share. Tell each other what's working and what isn't. The Internet is a hive mind, and we can all benefit from each other.

Ebooks are forever. What you write today can potentially earn money for your heirs in 2095. But only if readers know those books exist. This involves never-ending vigilance. 

Ultimately, you can't make readers find your books, or buy them. But you can make it as easy as possible for readers to discover them, and once they're seen you can make it easier for them feel strongly enough to make a purchase.

Which brings us to the last tip:

11. Stop complaining. Writing and self-publishing is your choice. No one is forcing you to do this. If you went into this business thinking it would be easy, you were wrong. It would be awesome if every ebook written became a huge bestseller, but only a small fraction will. You should be thinking about the long game--amassing a backlist ten years from now, and cultivating that backlist so it constantly has new eyeballs discovering it.

No one said it would be fair. Or easy. Or fun. No one owes you a living. No one cares about your art. If you want to be a writer in 2014, you have to learn a lot more skills than just how to write, and there are no guarantees. 

Keep your expectations low. Celebrate successes and learn from failures. Keep writing. Keep trying. 

If your writing good books, there is an audience out there, looking for you. Your next job is to help them find you.


56 comments:

Ty Johnston said...

Stop complaining?

My gosh, the indie community would have nothing else to say! :-)

Lisa Yarde said...

This is one of the best posts I've seen on this blog. Thanks for the reminders, they're easy to forget while obsessing over KDP reports.

Cher Gorman said...

Great post today! I definitely needed these reminders especially the last tip. Indie publishing is a brutal world. They say that getting older isn't for sissies but throwing your baited hook out into the Indie waters isn't for sissies either. Thank you for the reminder. Would love to read your thoughts on how to coordinate "tending your garden" with writing books. I find I waste a lot of time and effort. Again thanks for the great post today.:-)

Cheryl G

Sydney Katt said...

That was exactly what I needed to read this morning. Thanks for the reminder. Maybe this weekend I can finally figure out what to put in the newsletter I need to start.

J.R. Pearse Nelson said...

Joe, this is all stuff you've said before, but summing it up in this fashion was very effective. I agree about the focus on the long game. Anything you're making money on today was likely something you wrote years ago....keep that in mind and keep on writing. It can be hard to balance the tending of books already released with the creation of new work, but that's something each writer has to decide based on where they are. Since I don't have much of a backlist yet, it seems like a much better investment of limited time (over the long run) to write, write, write.

middle grade ninja said...

No one said it would be fun, but I think it is. We're making books! Books people anywhere in the world can read! And we can write as many as we want about anything we want. Every time I sell one I feel like John Grisham.

If people want to be rich, they shouldn't waste time writing books. There are far more practical ways to make money. If I spent my writing time working overtime, I'd be a lot richer, but I wouldn't be having nearly as much fun.

R. Mac Wheeler said...

ha ha

"stop complaining"

Hollis Shiloh said...

Being able to set your own prices is really amazing. Sometimes it seems like publisher-produced ebooks have a brief shelf life and then disappear. When you own the rights, you can play with pricing, free days, discounts, all kinds of great ideas.

I've been able to experiment with 99 cent launch pricing recently, and it's been amazing. There's so much possibility there because 1) it rewards your fans, a great way to say 'thank you' 2) it encourages people to go ahead and take a chance if they haven't read your stories before, and 3) it gets your books into the ranking system of Amazon; the more people who buy it, the more they'll show it to, even when it goes back to full price.

I wish KDP would let me use Countdown for launches, but so far they don't. Oh well--maybe someday!!

LK Watts said...

Hi Joe,

All great advice. If you're a writer with a short term outlook then you'll probably give up. Like you say, don't focus on sales - focus on planting new flowers.

David Rheem Jarrett said...

I enjoyed this post. You tell it like it is and keep it simple. It is just the advice an unpublished writer needs in order to become an author. I'm bookmarking this on my computer for future reference. Thanks!

Randall Morris said...

ENT (Ereader News Today) is also a great marketing tool. They just take a percentage of the sales they send your way, so you always make money with them. I've also had some small success with free promos via FreeBooksy and Digital Book Today.

Jill James said...

It's a pity I have to keep being reminded to celebrate the small successes. Thank you. I sold 27 books at Flipkart. People in India bought my book!! Reason enough to celebrate right there.

w.adam mandelbaum said...

Said it before, say it again...every buck earned passively is one less you have to actively earn. Ebooks do that for us.Labor might omnia vincit, but I'll take passive earnings any day of the week. Of course we need a little labor to increase passive returns,but no times no shorter.

w.adam mandelbaum said...

That should have been no ticket no shirt in pigin English.

Anonymous said...

Joe,

Do you have any idea what sort of impact the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) has for authors of young adult fiction when it comes to collecting email addresses for a newsletter?

Technically, you need the parents permission to collect email addresses for anyone under age 13.

Do you know any self-pubbed authors out there who publish ya fiction and manage a newsletter?

Alan Spade said...

I've sent a paperback book I offered to a reader in Australia (Sydney) today. It felt great (although the postage price was stinging).

I only have written a few books, but I'm already comparing myself to a juggler, with all the possibilities we have nowadays. I can only imagine what it must be for you, Joe.

So many gardens to tend, but the one we have to not forget is the writing garden.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

I've been pretty amazed at what work and luck have brought. I started self-publishing mostly because of this blog, Joe. Thank you for all you've done to reach back.

Southpaw said...

"Stop complaining?" Killjoy

I have visited so many author sites that haven't been updated in well over a year. I know because they say their lasted book is releasing Fall 2013.

karenmbryson said...

I would like the opportunity to use Booksends and Bookbub but neither will accept my books or my money. I guess I'll stick with Book Gorilla.

JKBrown said...

Please delete the above post. I botched my twitter account name.

Thanks Joe for another batch of good advice. I'm publishing in a month or less and the falling markets have bothered me a bit. You're right as usual though and I'll persevere. I know my ideas are solid as one person after another tells me so. Just a matter of cannonballing into the water rather than dipping my toes.

Once I finish the professional editing (Thanks Chris Eboch!) then getting the next one ready ASAP. If I make just a couple thousand dollars over the next couple months, I'll be thrilled and know that can only mean good things in the coming months. Curious: does this mean your sales are dipping too?

Thanks again,
Josh K Brown

Erik Schubach said...

Complaining? I think self publishing rocks! It is easy and fun! If people don't see it that way, they are doing it wrong.

Erik Schubach said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Konrath said...

If I make just a couple thousand dollars over the next couple months

Yikes. Temper your expectations, Josh. A couple thousand dollars is possible, but for a new writer with a first book you should shoot very very low. If you can make $50 in three months, that's fine, and more than some people make.

does this mean your sales are dipping too?

Sales always fluctuate. Dunno why, can't pinpoint any triggers. I haven't done a BookBub in a month, so I'm overdue. I also need to put out more titles--I've been overburdened lately and my output has suffered.

Anonymous said...

Joe,

Do you have any idea what sort of impact the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) has for authors of young adult fiction when it comes to collecting email addresses for a newsletter?

Technically, you need the parents permission to collect email addresses for anyone under age 13.

Do you know any self-pubbed authors out there who publish ya fiction and manage a newsletter?

Silas Payton said...

I have to ask -- Joe,
By any chance, did you find any weed in your garden that helped you come up with this analogy??

Elisabeth Zguta said...

I hope I can market better than garden 😎 thanks for the tips and support you give this community

CW Browning said...

Great post! Just to reiterate how important it is to experiment, here's my latest experience with meager attempts at marketing. I currently have two titles published, both suspense novels and part of a series. I had my first public book signing in April. Because I'm self-published, I had to get inventive. An opportunity came up to have a table at a huge community yard sale in a very busy area here in New Jersey. So, I set up my book table, complete with banner, flyers, candy and books. I advertised it on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. At the last moment, a couple days before the Big Day, I decided to run an Amazon Free promotion for the weekend of the signing. Then, I figured, what the hell? If I'm doing a free promo for my first book, I'll do a Kindle Countdown for the second book once the free promo ends. And so I did, not really expecting much.

I'm still stunned at the results.

I sold 4 books at the signing and handed out over 50 flyers, and had numerous people stop by and look. Those were all eyes that hadn't ever heard of me, and I was okay with the results. Then I went home and checked my Amazon Free Promo. My first title was sitting at #15 on the Kindle Suspense list!!! I think my jaw hit the floor. It stayed there the whole weekend. I couldn't have been more thrilled. Again, more eyes seeing my name and books. But...that's not all. When the free promo ended and the Kindle Countdown began, my sales went up 400% for both titles.

400%!!!

But the crazy part is that the Countdown ended a week ago, but the sales have not. I have sold more books in the past 3 weeks then I sold in 4 months.

Now, I know that the sales will taper off. However, the experiment with the signing and the promo and the sale all did their job and boosted sales to such an extent that I'm wondering why I waited so long to try this. I'm currently finishing up the third book in the series and will be releasing it later this year, which will boost sales again. It really IS an ongoing process, but with the success I've just had, I'll be tweaking and experimenting more often. Some things will work, some won't, but it's all experience and it's all worth the shot. :)

James Thorn said...

As always, great post, Joe. No sale comes at the expense of another author. When people read, everybody wins. Thanks for sharing what you've learned.

R. Q. Garcia said...

Exactly the advice, encouragement, and general cajoling that I needed! Thanks, Joe! I've been following your blog for the past year and a half. It's given me the push I needed to finally finish my book. Now I'm setting the stage to publish within the next few weeks! As excited as I am, I know there's a lot of work ahead (especially while juggling a law career). All the more reason I appreciate your blog and willingness to share your experiences.

Burton said...

Great advice as always, Joe. I wish more authors would realize that others' success does not take away from theirs. I still remember the days when Kboards' Writer's Cafe had great writers like Russell Blake and Hugh Howey posting regularly. Now they're gone because every time they post something, petty asshats bombard their books with anonymous negative reviews. It's disgusting.

Hillary Rettig said...

I believe the single best thing many writers can do to boost their profile and sales is to get listed in Wikipedia. I'm not talking about your own page (although if you merit that, fine), but adding a link to your site to existing pages where you're relevant.

I would think of the various elements of your book that correspond to wikipedia entries and try to get a mention on those pages. They could be historical persons or events, geographic locales, technologies, etc. And then add a line and link about your work.

Of course, there's an art to getting listed (and, more importantly, staying listed). You shouldn't edit yourself in, but get a fan to do it. And you have to do this with a super light hand (no hard sell) AND be persistent (but know when to quit :-)) if you get nuked.

Not only will be listed on wikipedia give you a traffic bounce, but it might also help your SEO.

I also think Quora and Reddit are good ways to raise your profile, but more work intensive.

Shaun Horton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shaun Horton said...

I'm saving #11 for every time in the future that I see some wanna-be author whining they can't pay off their house yet, or they can't get reviews, or they get bad reviews. I can't count how many times this past month alone I've seen indie writers spouting off "If they can't say something nice, they shouldn't say anything at all."

Jake Needham said...

In light of the success others have had, I'm baffled at the total lack of success for me with Kindle Countdown. The last time I did a free promotion using KDP Select, I gave away 65,000 copies and had a bounce in sales of at least 5000 copies over the next two months. Then last month I did a Kindle Countdown. I don't think I sold more than 30 extra books and saw absolutely no bounce. Go figure...

Anonymous said...

Great post as usual Joe. What is your advice on planting different crops? I have been quite successful with one species but would love to try my hand planting a different variety and wonder about "diluting my brand" by branching out.

In all seriousness, my current readers (romance) will probably not read this other genre (SF). Should I start over with a new pen name and build a separate platform or should I see if my existing audience will read my other work? I don't want unhappy readers...

Sue

Michaela Debelius said...

In regards to the comments about author hostility, I don't understand the animosity among authors. I don't read just one author, so why look at each other as competitors? There's no reason to turn on each other, especially since we're not vying for just ONE sale.

...Ahhh social media strikes again.

Scott Daniel said...

Great advice, as always, Joe. I wondered if you read Michael Hyatt or Jeff Goins? Hyatt is a Platform-Building guru and Goins is a writer...

Anonymous said...

There is currently an ongoing thread in Kboards Writer Cafe by an author who claims all Amazon reviews are rigged. His/her entire argument can basically be summed up as: "I am a better writer than all of you, but no one has reviewed my books, and I'm not making any money, thus, all Amazon reviews are fakes by lousy writers!" Of course, he/she doesn't come out and say this, because they are couching it in, "It's bad for indies!" But clicking on their books, you see that they have 3 out within 5 months, and zero reviews, and sales rankings in the seven digits. This, more than anything, drives the animosity from author toward other authors. "If you're successful and I'm not, and since I'm CLEARLY the superior writer, you must be cheating, and thus it's my job to take you down a peg!" It's one reason why I won't use my real name on Kboards. The risks are too great, the jealousy too rampant among the indie community from people who are too stubborn to change/improve. The thread starter I mentioned? Three books, but atrocious covers. If you tried to point that out, I'm sure they will fight you to the death. Some people have such huge egos, that when their books don't sell, they can't accept that it's anything they did/didn't do. No, it must be OTHER people's faults for gaming the system/cheating/etc.

John Ellsworth said...

Joe, after killing myself as a lawyer for forty years (and always writing, always trying to get a legacy deal), I finally found you. I started back with your 2009 blogs and came forward. Now I'm beginning to see things more clearly. I now have two books on KDP, both were written over the past six months, and another just finished first draft. My books are selling and, like you said, I didn't like the covers so I changed those and it helped sales even more. I hold you in the highest regard, totally admire your openness with the financial aspects of all this, and consider you a true friend of the writer in me. Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

Agree with everything except number 8. How can you not compare yourself to other authors? They are the benchmark. Even your ranking on Amazon is determined by comparing you to other authors.

And you can bet readers are doing it. "Well, I thought it was okay, but he's no Stephen King."

If we don't compare ourselves to other authors, then we are all Shakespeare and our next titles will all be tied for #1 on the NYT bestseller list.

Libbie Hawker said...

For places to advertise, keep an eye on EbookSoda. They are still very new and not returning great results for very many authors yet (YET)...but as a reader, I buy almost everything I get in their recommendation emails, every day, while I might buy one or two books from BookBub or BookGorilla or the other sources every week. EbookSoda seems to have that magic touch with curating their mailing lists/knowing what their readers really want. Well worth keeping an eye on them as they gain more traction with readers and get bigger subscriber lists!

Dean Wesley Smith said...

Joe, fantastic post. I agree all the way down the list. Thank you!

And I too love #11. I did a post lately about how this indie publishing isn't easy, but it can be done. Never thought to say it as bluntly as you did. (grin)

R.E. McDermott said...

Joe, a question. In No.3 Sales, you speak of using the Kindle Countdown Deals (which implies enrollment in KDP Select), while in No.7 you encourage multiple platforms. I realize that with your back list, you have sufficient content to do both, but what would you suggest for those laggards among us that have only a few titles. (Other than to write more, which is in progress.)

I enrolled my books in Select last November, in an attempt to couple BookBub promos with the Kindle CDs. It has worked the two times I've done it since, but my sales are still far below what they've been in the last two years, even with a third book out in March.

Any advice, Obi-Wan? :)

Alan Spade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Spade said...

@ R.E. McDermott: for myself, I would advise to experiment. No use sticking with Select if it doesn't work so much with you.

There are authors who have very good sales with Kobo or B&N. It may be worth to try that for a limited period, just to check if your readers are not waiting you there.

You can also try other tricks with Kobo, B&N and Smashwords, like permafree. Might help being discovered.

Kboards can also be scanned for useful purposes, Select and Countdown being often discussed there.

Joe Konrath said...

but what would you suggest for those laggards among us that have only a few titles.

Experiment to find out what works for you.

And write more.

Joe Konrath said...

What is your advice on planting different crops?

See what works for you. I write in several genres and use pen names.

James said...

A quote I found recently by Self Publishing Jedi Dan Poynter...

"It is easier to promote a book twice than to write a new book."

There ya go! :)

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Great advice (esp. the willingness to experiment!). I'd just point out that you can't explore Kobo/Smashwords, etc, and do Kindle Select Countdowns/Freebies at the same time. I've found going with Kindle Select has been worth it so I can time my freebies, but I know other indies who sell a substantial number of books via Barnes/Noble, Kobo, etc. So that's something worth experimenting with, too.

K. A. Jordan said...

This is a good reminder for me. My garden has some weeds and needs some tending.

This is the time of year to get started because I'm planning a book launch for fall.

Anonymous said...

I've been really stressed out about taking my books off KDP Select. I get hundreds of lends each month and I'd hate to see the loss of that income. At the same time, I get a lot of readers asking when my books will be available at B&N and iTunes, etc. I don't like being totally dependent on Amazon for my income in case they pull a royalty switcheroo. I took one book out of KDP Select in April, and my sales fell like a rock at Amazon, I had no lends, and my sales at B&N and iTunes were miniscule. :( I feel like an Amazon addict.

Sue

Vincent Martinez said...

Great post! I've just published my first works about a month ago, and I'm always trying to find new ways to tweak this or that or try this or that. Sometimes all the options for marketing your work can get a bit overwhelming, but you just have to keep pushing forward.

For too long I'd hold myself back out of some sort of fear, and I'd tell myself, "Maybe you shouldn't try this or that," but as an indie writer you've got no choice: get to work and try what you can, or just give up being a writer forever.

Anonymous said...

"No one owes you a living." Great Quote - Can you run for office? Since it seems the opposite of what the Media and public believe.

Jen said...

The number of likes on my author page doubled today because of this post. I read it a few days ago and your point about having a web presence motivated me. I decided to run a little contest and I shared my author page from my personal fb page. People just kept liking my page, friends and friends of friends. I've shared it before, but never had such a response. I went from 63 to 122 today. I'm sure that number is way less than most of the writers on here, but I'm still excited about it. Thank you so much!

CALarmer said...

I have found a simple mention on Pixel of Ink and/or GoodReads has led to huge boost in sales. Incredible stuff. Not sure if you can advertise with them, but a review certainly helps.

Anonymous said...

Whew! New to self-publishing world and starting to get cold feet after reading all this. However,I'm committed to slugging through it because I want to check-off Novel Published on my list of things to do before I die.I gave up trying to get published with "old school" ways and dumped three finished novels in the trash. This new way of doing it has ignited the spark in me again. Hope my 70 yr. brain can handle all the "tech" stuff. To finish a novel and commit to getting it out there at my age is an accomplishment! Dreams never die they just curl up in your heart and wait for the right time to spring to life again.