Category Archives: Self-publishing and marketing

Mr. Hue finally comes to life

Well, sort of.  I have not sold the movie rights, at least not yet. But as promised, here’s the result of the last Crash Test Drafts event. Note that the actor had just one hour to rehearse the monologue, that’s why he has the text in his hand.

If anyone lives in Melbourne, I highly recommend connecting with Crash Test Drafts on Facebook, either as a writer, director or writer. I have learned a lot from the judges’ feedback, and surprisingly most of it from the feedback given to other writers. The one bit of advice that really stuck with me was that we as writers have to make the reader care about what’s happening to the characters, care about what they are going through, and why. Elicit a response. The most intricately plotted novel would fail with flat characters.

The next Crash Test Drama event is on 3 June, so there’s still time to submit your play or excerpt. And if you are not in Melbourne, why not start your own?

Next on my list of promises was a stand-up routine. I have not done that yet. Because I’m scared, that’s why. But I will.

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Drumroll…BookBub results! Spoiler…they are awesome!

I’m not one to wish that every day was Christmas or my birthday, but I wouldn’t mind reliving the 6 March 2017 a few times. Well, 7 March, actually, because even though my BookBub promo was international, in Australia the email didn’t go out until 1am on 7 March. I spent the entire prior day checking the stats and telling myself to just calm the hell down, while worrying that something went wrong. I didn’t need to worry – when I woke up the next morning, I could see that long-awaited spike. Over 2,000 copies were already downloaded in those first six or so hours, and the green line keeps moving since. It has completely dwarfed my prior stats, which were in 5-10 per day range (without advertising). Isn’t it beautiful?

That’s a total of an amazing 5,094 downloads over the first three days. The breakdown per country is as follows:

  • UK: 2,698
  • Canada: 1,172
  • Australia: 754
  • India: 329
  • The US: 139

Three things surprised me: first of all, that more than twice as many books were downloaded compared to the BookBub’s own estimate of 2,500. Secondly, even though the US was excluded from the promo, somehow 139 copies were downloaded via the amazon.com site. Thirdly, that despite including Kobo and Nook in the promo, I had no spike whatsoever in my Smashword sales. Maybe the data is delayed, and I will check again in a week, or maybe I should just concentrate on Amazon.

I’d spent the last three days marveling at the stats and trying to decide what to do next: should I make Shizzle, Inc full price and hope a few people actually buy it? Should I pull it from wide distribution and enroll in KU? Should I finish the third book in the series instead of going down the path of the new one? After much deliberation of myself, I kept everything as is and applied for the US promo in hopes that the excellent result will convince BookBub to give me a fair go. I’d also submitted Indiot as a $0.99 deal. I should know in about a week’s time if either deal is accepted.

Meanwhile, I’d updated my Super Duper List of Book Marketing with the results. When I first announced that after 18 months of trying I was offered a BookBub promo deal, a few people on Twitter mentioned how expensive BookBub is. Well, just compare the cost and the result to anything on that list – no other company comes close. If you are so lucky as to get a deal with them, just take it. Take out your credit card and just ask “How much?”

You won’t regret it.

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Quick How-To: add bold and italic text to your Amazon book description

I’ve promised a hurricane of activity leading up to my Literary Speed Dating date on 24 June, and one of them is updating book blurbs. Content is king, of course, but even a king could benefit from a little mascara. Just ask Johnny Depp.

So, speaking of using the equivalent of a Kohl pencil to give your book description that extra impact, have a look at Shizzle, Inc’s updated book blurb. What do you think? Have you always wanted to bold the hell out of your tagline but never knew how to do it? I have good news – it’s easy.

As it turns out, KDP’s supports some HTML for book descriptions. I’ve only used bold and italic so far, but it’s good to know where to go for reference if I ever want to add a horizontal line or something else fancy. If you’ve come across a beautifully composed book blurb, please share!

Back to the nitty-gritty. This is how Shizzle, Inc description looks in HTML, when I paste it into the “description” field of KDP form:

<b>What could possibly happen when a gloriously dippy millennial becomes the right hand of an equally clueless playboy billionaire?</b>
Be prepared to face-palm as you follow Isa Maxwell on a dizzying ride through the world of corporate intrigue; roll your eyes at the dubious business advice of Mr. Hue, the owner of Shizzle, Inc.; cringe as you are sucked into the Maxwell family drama.
Praised as “not only a hysterically funny romp through corporate practices but an astute satire on current American culture,” Shizzle, Inc. offers a hilarious escape from reality.

<b>Praise for Shizzle, Inc.:</b>

Writers Digest:
<i>”I loved this book. It has everything that we want to see in a great story. The situation is unique. The character is relatable and likable. The opening was fantastic. It drew the reader in and made them want to read more. The production values would stand up to any book being published by New York today.”</i>

<b>Independent reviews:</b>
<i>“Ana has delivered a fresh and completely novel, pun intended, novel. If you are up for a joy ride with all the bumps, crashes and with the characters running around like something right out of the Keystone Cops, this novel is for you.”
“This is smart kind of humor – blondes would not be able to understand it.”
“Funny beyond words! Sort of like Forest Gump but with a higher IQ.”
“The top-notch humor hides poignant critique. This is a very intelligent silly story!”
“Some of us fancy ourselves more evolved than Bridget Jones, others don’t. Either way, Ana Spoke got you.”</i>

Try it for yourself. If you make a mistake, it’s easy to change, but it’s a good idea to compose your text first in this Try It Editor to quickly work out any issues.

Have fun, but beware: just like with makeup, more is not necessarily better.

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I GOT A BOOKBUB!!!!

Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I actually screamed when I got the email – Josh thought someone horrible happened. Instead, something almost miraculous did.

For those of you that may not know, BookBub is the holy grail of e-book advertising, for both self-published authors and traditional publishers. It’s head and shoulders above any other online marketing tool, and I have tried them all, as you may already know if you’ve seen my Super Duper List. The only one that I haven’t tried was BookBub, not because I couldn’t afford them, but because they didn’t want me or either one of my books. Believe me, I’d tried. I have been applying on nearly monthly basis for about eighteen months, and have been getting stock-standard rejections. I have tried different categories. I have tried getting BookBub followers (I have 27 of them now). I did everything I could to increase the number of reviews (Shizzle, Inc has 82 reviews). I even tried replying, begging for feedback. Still, “not at this time” was all they said.

Until now! Look at it! Look!!

bookbub-offer

I have confirmed and paid – Shizzle, Inc will be one of BookBub’s Featured Deals on 6 March! As you can see from above, there’s a catch, though – it was NOT selected for the US market, which is only, you know, my target market, but hey! I got my foot in the door, and every time I’d managed to do that before, I eventually got the rest through. The subscriber list will be Humor and it’s 200,000 strong. The estimated number of downloads is 2,500, which is not too flash, but let’s see what actually happens. The cost is $36 USD and I hope for at least a few buy-throughs to Indiot. But mainly, I hope that sometime in the future I get the whole world covered in free copies of Isa Maxwell’s Escapades.

It’s a sign. I mean, I don’t believe in these things, of course, but what else can it be? I have a crisis of confidence, take a three-month hiatus, return, and finally land the coveted prize. Oh, wait. It’s persistence. That’s right, that dogged persistence does eventually pay off. Maybe not the first or seventh time, but you never know, it could be the next one.

Just keep going. I will too.

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Who can call Mr. Hue a douche now?

I was flipping through the channels today, trying to find anything but the commentary on the US election, when I had a strong deja vu feeling. I went back to Amazon and looked through the 1-star reviews of Shizzle, Inc. until I found its source:

“…the behavior of Mr. Hue was unrealistic and quite frankly, shockingly rude. A complete douche. If this were reality, his company would have gone down in flames before it ever got off the ground.”

Sorry, dear Gloria Louise. Turns out that if Shizzle, Inc. was set in reality, Mr. Hue would now be President-elect of the United States. So what if he spouts dubious business advice, insults people, or fires loyal employees? If anything, he’s not controversial or shocking enough. I mean, these quotes are almost polite when compared to some of the stuff that has come out of Donald Trump’s mouth:

Meme #9 Mr Hue

Meme #8 Mr Hue

Meme #6 Mr Hue

So guess what? I’m gonna bring him back! Somehow, I’m gonna use this recent drama to spin and sell more copies of Shizzle, Inc., because, as one extremely successful man has taught us all, you “can never be too greedy.” Mr. Hue probably won’t be groping anyone or making lewd comments about his own daughter, but maybe he can, I don’t know, call someone “fat and ugly” before firing them, that kind of thing. Maybe he will deport the Japanese instead of merely taking advantage of them. This may anger a lot of people, but what does that matter if I get to push my own agenda and sell more copies of my book? And in any case, who cares what people think about Shizzle, Inc., as long as I “got a young, and beautiful piece of ass.” Sorry to drag you into this, Joshy.

Not sure what I’m gonna do yet, but I have a feeling it’s the perfect time to try the New York agents again.

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How to catch a Moby Dick

UPDATE: how truly awful, I didn’t know that Gillon Aitken has died just a couple of days ago. I can’t stop reading about him being “the true gentleman” and “literary giant.” RIP, Mr. Aitken.

If anything, the news gave me the shake I needed – life is short and I better get going. The plan still stands, although I will have to find another literary giant to help make my dreams come true.

ORIGINAL POST: I don’t know why, but after a year and a half of self-publishing game, I am once again dreaming of the elusive white whale of traditional publishing. It could be the exhaustion of all the marketing effort that has gone into promoting my books, or the recent confidence boost from finally nailing a big fat dream job. Suddenly I want to change everything: the pricing strategy, the plot of my third book, the marketing buget. It’s been a big few months and I have all the excuses to take it easy, but I just can’t. I feel like I need to take the writing dream by the collar and shake it until it wakes up and gets going again.

As previously lamented, a couple of years ago I started with an attempt to break into the traditional publishing. That time, I went with “cast the net wide” strategy. I penned about 70 applications and sent them off to American agents and a few big-name publishers. The best reply I got was “it’s funny, but we don’t know if there’s an audience for it.” It felt like a whole lotta effort for nothing and it felt like my dream of being a published author was dying. That’s when I decided to give it a great big shake by self publishing my first two books.

Now the dream once again feels like its flatlining, and I need to shock it back to life. I’m thinking adreanline. I’m thinking a big dream, hence the Moby Dick. This time, I won’t cast my net wide, instead zeroing in on one big target. Here he is:

gillon

Yes, the literary agent of Helen Fielding. And why the hell not? As soon as I had this insane/brilliant idea, I fired off an email to Gillon asking if he’d be interested in having Isa Maxwell series republished with a traditional publisher. The way I figured, he’d probably say no. This is where my strategy will differ from the previous salmon-like application spawning.

I shall not take no for an answer. I will not move onto another agent until I am absolutely sure that I have bothered Mr. Aitken enough to at least have a look at Shizzle, Inc. Here’s my multi-step plan of ever-increasing pestering:

  1. Send an email (already done).
  2. Send copies of physical books.
  3. Contact other agents in the same agency asking how to get to him.
  4. Find him on social media and fire off @ messages until he figures out how to block me.
  5. Start an online petition of “Mr. Aitken, please read Shizzle, Inc!”
  6. Start a website http://www.mraitkenpleasereadshizzleinc.com and publicise it on social media.
  7. TBD. Something viral, preferably.

The way I figured, what do I have to lose? Okay, so I may eventually piss him off, but is that really worse than him not knowing who I am? On the bright side, what if he finds all this nonsense hilarious and decides to check on who the hell is this mad woman Spoke? Stranger things have happened.

Anyway, that’s the plan. If you have any crazy suggestions for the mad woman Spoke, let me know. Cause I’m doing this!

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This is why you should complain to KDP

Let me start with a disclaimer: I’ve never been a conspiracy theorist. Perhaps it’s because I was never invested in the causes: I don’t really care if the moon landing was real or who killed JFK. But lately, one conspiracy has been getting under my skin, and it’s Amazon’s glitchy system, specifically KENP.

Quite a few authors have complained online that their pages read count went down. My own count was zero for the entire month of October, but at first I chucked it to the pathetic sales figures in general. Then, after I published the blog the other day and seeing a number of comments mention the issue, I decided to complain to KDP. I told them that it’s impossible that I would have zero pages per day for the whole month because a friend of mine tested the system by downloading the book and reading a few pages.

Ok, so that was an outrageous lie, but look at what I saw this morning:

kenp-on-1-nov

Coincidence? Maybe, but I suddenly remembered that this scenario happened before, a few months ago. That time I complained after about two weeks, was promptly told that there’s nothing wrong with the system, but the pages showed up immediately and kept showing up every day. It’s been less than 24 hours since my latest complaint and I have not heard from KDP, but I expect another assurance that everything is fine.

So if you are an author with a book in KDP Select and you feel that your pages count is down, don’t beat yourself up. Complain to KDP and see if the count jumps within 24 hours. And if it does, please let me know.

Oh, and my apologies to conspiracy theorists out there. Keep up your good work. Somebody has to.

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Saying goodbye to permafree. Or the 70% royalty. Or both.

Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus

Promoting and marketing

Only to see my sales tumble

The watched pot may never boil, but whenever I take my eyes off the sales charts for a few weeks, the algorithms bury my books in the bottomless pit of the millions of unknown titles. Even worse, when I run back to the kitchen and fan the flames with marketing, the download peaks last only a day or two. Just look at the Exhibit A:

free-downloads-in-october

Fyi, the companies responsible for the peaks you’re seeing are as follows:

5 October – I don’t know whom to thank for the 367 downloads as I’d applied for a number of free services and apparently got picked up by somebody without confirmation.

24 October – BookHippo featured author, 102 downloads for FREE.

25 October – BKNights with 226 downloads for $11.

29 October – My Book Cave with 117 downloads for FREE.

As you can see, the “normal” downloads between promotions are just 3-5 books per day. What makes this even more frustrating is that I’m trying to give the first book away FOR FREE. Not only that, the permafree strategy has been in place since May, and yet instead of the snowball effect, what I have is that proverbial boulder, freefalling back to zero the moment I stop pushing. Wait, it gets worse. I jumped into permafree hoping for 2% “buy-through” of the second book, but so far it’s been less than 1% with the second book priced at $2.99. And for whatever reason, my KENP pages for Indiot have completely disappeared. Here is the Exhibit B for the same time period:

paid-sales-in-october-2016

This sucks big time, which means that I need to do something about it. Considering that I don’t want to “write to the market” or go on yet another cover redesign go-round, I’ve decided to change my pricing strategy. Radically. Like, smash it into pieces. Here are the two strategies I’m considering:

  1. Make both books $0.99 and available only through Kindle Select. Promote both with paid ads.
  2. Keep Shizzle, Inc as permafree and make Indiot $0.99 and promote only Shizzle, Inc as a freebie.
  3. Make both books free. Well, not really, but what the hell, how do I get Isa to go viral? She is destined for the big screen. I’m even more convinced of that having just suffered through “No Stranger Than Love.”

I’m thinking of trying both strategies 1&2 in stages. For starters, I am about to run a Countdown Deal on Indiot, before I make it perma-$0.99. Then after a month or so, make Shizzle, Inc $0.99 as well. Wait another month. Finish the third book. Send it to a hundred literary agents. Give up on Isa and write something along the lines of “How To Sell A Ton Of Books Without Really Trying.” That has worked for some.

If anyone has any better ideas, I’m all ears. Thank you in advance.

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My experience with a NetGalley co-op by Patchwork Press

If you’ve seen my Super-Duper List of Book Advertising Websites, then you may have noticed my moaning about the $399 NetGalley signup fee. That’s just so you can give your book away for free to book bloggers and other professionals, in hopes that they will post a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Needless to say, I was in no mood to take that big of a financial hit, until I came across another author mentioning Patchwork Press and the NetGalley co-op service they provide. Basically, instead of paying $399 to list one of your books for six months, you get to try the service for much, much less – in fact, a year-long listing through the co-op would cost only $360. You can try NetGalley for one month for just $50. It sounded too good to be true, but I can spare a fifty, so I was willing to try it.

I listed Shizzle, Inc for one month from late July to August. To simplify things, I’ve decided to break my review into two parts: my experience with Patchwork Press and my opinion of NetGalley.

Patchwork Press:

  1. First of all, the co-op is not a hoax! Yay! Shizzle, Inc was listed on Netgalley as promised (the listing is now archived). The reason you pay less is that (I assume), Patchwork Press (PP) pays a publisher fee and gets to list a large number of titles, at a fraction of a cost for each.
  2. PP has a responsive customer service – all my emails were answered promptly. There was a glitch when Shizzle, Inc was not posted on the day I wanted, but I got a prompt apology and the listing was extended as a bonus.
  3. Great customer service continued throughout, not just until I paid the bill – something was wrong with my epub file, but PP offered to sort it for me. I was given an option to provide a Word file, which they converted.
  4. PP did all the assessments of requests and chose who should or shouldn’t get a copy of my book. You may prefer to have control over this aspect of the service, but I was happy to let them use their experience and judgement.
  5. Every time a review was posted, I got an email from NetGalley asking if I wanted to have it added to the book’s page. I had to forward this email to PP if I wanted the review to be added, and they did so very quickly (in less than a day).
  6. There’s no option to use NetGalley’s marketing services, but I’m about to ask PP if that option exists but is not advertised by them.

NetGalley:

  1. I don’t know how many requests Shizzle, Inc had, but I got 5 reviews in the span of a month – 4 positive and 1 negative.
  2. Turns out that people have the option to vote on the cover. This was an added bonus, as I’ve designed the cover myself and continuously worry if it’s good enough. The cover got 9 “thumbs up” and 1 “thumbs down.”
  3. I can’t weigh in on the marketing option (which is an additional $200 for your book to be included in a newsletter). NetGalley claims to have 30,000 subscribers to the newsletter, so I would imagine it would be a huge difference in the number of reviews.
  4. You may choose not to add the negative reviews to your book listing (as I did). However, you can’t control what gets posted on other platforms, so I got one negative review as a result. Bummer. But I did get four positive reviews, including one after the listing was archived. That’s an average of $10 per review, via an acceptable and perfectly legal platform.

Overall, I would recommend trying a co-op service. Apparently, there are others out there, such as Victory Editing for as little as $40/month. If you know of any others, please let me know!

May the positive reviews be with you.

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Happy belated birthday to Shizzle, Inc!

With all the recent health drama going on, I completely forgot that on 4 September was the one-year anniversary of Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell Escapades Book 1) hitting the Kindle “shelves.” My brain is slowly returning to its usual programming after I finally heard the three sweetest words in the English language – “it was benign.” While I’m facing several more weeks of tough recovery – I still can’t stand up straight or walk for more than a few minutes at a time – it’s nothing compared to the agony of anticipation and anxiety.

I’ve been a published author for just over a year. How crazy. I have a bottle of champagne in my fridge, which will pop as soon as I’m off the cocktail of painkillers. Too bad I can’t have a sip right now, because I do have quite a few reasons to celebrate. I transitioned from a decade of dreaming about being a published author to having two books self-published. I took a massive five months off work to pursue this writing dream. I started #ComedyBookWeek and saw the inaugural event soar with 117 participating titles. I have made lots and lots of connections with other authors, have learned from them, and shared my experiences in turn.

Speaking of experiences, few things compare to the joy ride of getting your first book published. The high of seeing it on Amazon. The low of pathetic sales. The high of doing something about the low sales, be that paid advertising or trick after marketing trick. The low of realizing this is one of the worst ROIs you’ve ever had. The high of the first 5-star review. The low of the first (and second, and third) 1-star review. It doesn’t end, and it doesn’t get old, and eventually you learn to accept it for what it is. The learning curve is very steep in that first year, and I have learned lots, namely:

  1. I have improved as a writer as I continued to work on the second novel, so it’s been difficult (but necessary) to let go of the first book and stop trying to fix it. I did hire the fourth (!) editor to clean out Australianisms, but will not worry about it again. I will move on and write more, because Ana’s opus is yet unwritten.
  2. I have learned A TON about marketing a book. From cover design to launching, to which paid advertising sites work, and which don’t. If you haven’t seen my Super-Duper List of Book Advertising Sites, check it now. It may save you a few bucks. I haven’t hit NY Times list yet, but while Shizzle, Inc sold 12 copies in it’s first week, Indiot sold over 100 in the same amount of time.
  3. Speaking of sales, Shizzle, Inc sold a total of about 800 copies in its first 8 months, at $3.99, then $2.99, and finally $0.99. Its permafree now and thousands of free copies have been downloaded (I wish I kept a better eye on the numbers, as I can only look back at the last 90 days). It was hard work to push these sales along – I have not made my money back on all of my paid advertising experiments, and even the free downloads have withered down to nothing over the last few weeks, without ads. Just for fun, here are the last month’s charts: Shizzle, Inc free downloads shizzle-on-12-sept …and Indiot paid sales indiot-on-12-sept
  4. Going permafree was a difficult, but exciting decision, and one I still stand by. No, it’s not helping to pay back the investment, but Shizzle, Inc now has 73 reviews, and I am inching my way towards that elusive BookBub promo. Indiot is not doing too shabby, either, with 12 reviews in its first two months of existence.
  5. Speaking of reviews, I’ve learned to accept them as they are. At first, the 1-star reviews hurt so much that I’d even written A Simple Guide to Overcoming 1-star Review Grief. Now I just make sure that I read those bad reviews only once. The 5-star reviews, however, I read again and again. Kid you not, some of the early positive reviews I’ve read at least twenty times, and will undoubtedly read again. They have been a healing balm and a fuel to keep me going.
  6. I’ve learned that moving a book in a brick-and-mortar store is practically impossible. It was a thrill to see my book on a bookstore shelf and then into the bookstore’s front window, but I sold just two copies that way. From now on, I will concentrate on electronic book sales, until one of the big publishing houses offers to take this chore off my hands.
  7. Social media. Oh, boy, what have I not tried with social media? I went wide, and now there are dead accounts on just about every platform. My main lesson there was not to spread myself thin and to concentrate on just a couple of venues, which are this blog and Twitter for me. I did learn a lot about Goodreads, but Found Instagram and Facebook to be too much of a chore with little return.

This was an intense year, and I could probably go indefinitely with the dot-points, but I think the most important thing is that I’m still here and still kicking, despite now being well aware of the realities of self-publishing. It’s difficult, it’s often discouraging, expensive, time-consuming, and confusing. Good thing that it’s also liberating, empowering, educating, and inspiring. I’ve been a self-published author for one year, which is both a long time and not nearly long enough to count any chickens yet. I like to play this game sometimes, where the future me has something to say in terms of advice or encouragement. I’d like to think that Ana 2020 would thank me for not giving up on this dream the way I gave up on sculpture or breeding rare fish (okay, that one was a doozy).

Happy Birthday, Shizzle, Inc. I’m so glad to have you in my life.

 

 

 

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