We chatted with return-guest Patty Jansen this week, a science fiction and fantasy author who’s gone from a part-time income to a full-time income since we interviewed her in 2015. She’s also started running some very popular group promotions for SF&F authors, and we asked about the nuts and bolts of that, as well as if it’s been useful for improving her bottom line and selling more of her own books.
Here’s a little more of what we covered:
The challenges of splitting focus between multiple series and genres
Planning ahead (how far) and committing to publishing installments in series
Wrapping up series that aren’t huge sellers and focusing on ones that show more potential
How Patty’s big SF/F promo has evolved to have more than 500 authors and 4500 reader newsletter subscribers
The nuts and bolts of how her promos work
Curating a big promo and keeping it a good value for both readers and writers
Some of the pitfalls of trying KU, especially as an Australian author, and why Patty is staying wide for now
Whether new covers on older books are worth it
Staggering a launch to try and make a book sticky on Amazon
Trying to target less frequently targeted countries with Facebook advertising
We chatted with science fiction and urban fantasy author Elliott Kay today. He’s self-published, but he also has two books published with Amazon’s SkyScape imprint, so we asked him about that in addition to what it’s like to write in both fantasy and science fiction genres. Oh, and we also asked him how he’s sold so many books!
Here are some more specifics on what we covered:
Getting started on a writing site such as LitErotica, finding readers, and getting their support when you publish
The pros and cons of working with an Amazon imprint such as 47 North (SF/F) or Skyscape (YA)
The challenges of getting sponsorships when you’ve got erotic material in your fantasy or scifi
Going wide versus jumping into Kindle Unlimited/KDP Select (Elliott has gone both ways)
Being a panelist at a convention
Whether it’s worth getting a table to sell books at a big convention
Keeping two series in different genres going when you’re publishing a book or two a year
Selling well with audiobooks
The challenges of marketing on Twitter, and why Elliott prefers Facebook for selling books
Bryan got to the point where he was hitting a struggling point. He had been doing copywriting for various sites as well as some ghost copywriting. He was doing well with the copywriting, but it wasn’t until someone in his Mastermind group suggested that he do copywriting for authors — Bryan got going right away!
Once Bryan announced his service he had over one hundred orders for book descriptions in a month. This was obviously something people wanted.
Since there was such big interest in copywriting, Bryan set up coaching and classes to help authors do their copywriting.
Youtube videos can be difficult when you don’t have a process, as Bryan found out when he tried to do a video a day (he did 30). He thinks it was a good experience but it was a lot of work and didn’t really fit his brand.
Bryan doesn’t think that most writing-related things are doing well on Youtube. However, teaching and longer-style fiction (like Welcome to the Night Vale) does well. And John Green, of course.
While it’s hard to make a splash in Youtube, it is something that is possible and certainly someone can build a platform on Youtube and carry it into publishing books.
Bryan is planning on working with Chris Fox to help authors speed up their production speeds.
After Chris’s successes, Bryan picked Chris’s brain and tried to find a good genre that he would enjoy. If someone just writes for the numbers then they won’t be able to stick around long.
He is now working on a fairy tale retelling series that is a bit of a medieval, a little urban fantasy. He is working to be able to launch with a ten day spike.
Bryan agreed that it is not always necessary to write to market, but did add that it can be helpful to try it if you’re struggling or haven’t been able to get traction.
Bryan is planning on doing a balance between non-fiction and fiction since he spends time in both areas and fit it to where he has been building. He has things coming from non-fiction and fiction.
He is tempted to re-release his Ted books, even at the loss of many reviews, in order to release it into KU and get a large initial boost. Along with now having a large social media presence and understanding advertisements, Bryan thinks that it would be a great way to get re-started.
When it comes to doing audiobooks, make sure that it is ‘credit worthy’–So that someone feels like using their Audible credit feels that they are getting a good value.
When Bryan writes a blurb, he first asks questions. Some include–What is your blurb like now? What is your summary?
Bryan does not care if people credit him for the blurb.
These are Bryan’s steps for copywriting.
The Headline– A short statement, a hook, that grabs a reader’s attention.
Synopsis–Bryan suggests having the hook ahead of that. You want to establish an emotional connection between the reader and the character. “A character who…” and something that a reader can relate to. If the reader cares about the person then they are more likely to connect to the plot in the summary. Make sure that you end the synopsis on a cliffhanger sort of way to make them want to buy the book.
Selling Paragraph–Break down reader barriers to read your book. Include things like “Tentacle Love is the first book in a new sci-fi romance series” followed by adjectives to describe the book that people who read your genre should like.
Call to Action–Make sure that you have a ‘Call to Action’ that tells them what to do–“Buy this now!”
When trying to hook a reader, it can be difficult to know what to go into without revealing a big twist. Bryan suggests that you only go into information that is revealed in the first half of the book but hint at what will be coming.
Don’t go into too many subplots and name only one or two characters. You don’t need to name the villain.
Fantasy authors sometimes have a difficult job writing a summary when the book takes place in a different world. Introductory statements like “When he travels to a far off moon…” followed by more emotional stuff to connect the reader to the character can help build the world without bogging down the reader.
Some writers create stories with many PoV characters. It can be best if you have one character that you ‘hang your hat on.’
Since Amazon now hides the blurb unless someone clicks, the headline can be very important to get someone to click to read more.
You often must be more vague when you are writing the summaries of books that have progressed through part of a series. Sometimes you can still do a concise summary, but don’t be afraid to have to go vague.
It’s important to highlight the placement in the series in the selling description.
One of the biggest mistakes people can make is focusing too much on keywords. Amazon does not index Kindle book descriptions–They index your keywords, title, subtitle. However, Google does.
The guys chatted about their recent experiences with book launches and also how their genre hopping adventures are going. In addition, they discussed the slow-burn launch strategy that a lot of indie authors have been using to great success.
Here are a few more details of what they covered:
How does their launch strategy differ now than from when they were first starting out?
Using three books to launch into a new genre or a new pen name, or at least committing to writing and publishing three before giving up.
The challenges of genre hopping (even within the umbrella of science fiction and fantasy) and whether or not it’s going to be a career killer.
How they’ve gone about finding beta readers to use before sending a manuscript off to an editor for a final pass.
This week, we’re chatting with time travel author Monique Martin. She’s been publishing about two novels a year since 2010 and has seen a lot of changes since the early days of self-publishing. We talked to her about what’s working now and what’s changed as far as marketing and selling ebooks goes since she got started. We also found out which tropes are popular in time travel science fiction and time travel romance!
Here’s the breakdown:
After starting her career in television (with shows like Murder She Wrote), then a family business and even insurance marketing… She wrote at night to keep herself sane.
After trying to get an agent she decided to self-publish her first novel a few months later in 2010.
She started her book as a standalone but when she finished writing it she knew that it could be a series. You can still do a series with romance.
She is straddling two different genres now. She said that it can sometimes alienate readers since not all of them like the same elements of both genres.
She spends a lot of time researching for each book. She says that she sort of regrets not setting it in one time period because of the research.
When it comes to other writers writing historical, you can get higher numbers rank-wise with less popular genres, but some genres has a bigger readership. Ultimately it should come down to writing what you love.
When asked whether or not she thinks that time travel is most viable when it is used as different settings or creating phenomenally complex plots, Monique said that it will depend on what you accomplish. She likes to play with the aspect of changing history and the ripple effects as well as the characters having a commentary on the culture as an outsider (unlike a historical, where the character only knows that world).
Monique says she’s a big plotter and makes sure that she plots out her books carefully so that she doesn’t have any issues with the time traveling aspect.
She has had some pushback about her straddling genres on having a vampire in a time travel book and it threw a lot of people with that sort of paranormal being in the book.
The minutiae of writing time travels/historicals has to do with the details from the historical time period.
Monique says that series fatigue has happened to her. She started to have struggles around book five. She decided to have more entry points into the series so that she could do a side series as well.
Monique fixes things that readers have pointed out as historical inconsistencies. She is very willing to make adjustments as necessary.
Monique has seriously considered having someone create a series bible for her to make things easier in regards to consistency.
If she could go back in time, she would have done sketches of the plots of the books in the series before writing them. She says that having an overarching plot planned is advice she’d want to give.
Monique is publishing 2-3 books a year. Even though it has been going on for awhile, she is still doing well with her series. She says that the way that she works to keep fans is by engaging with them on Facebook, advertisements in BookBub and creating box sets for promotions–She could do individual BookBubs per book, and then per box set.
She does a little advertising on Facebook, mainly pushing people towards book one. She cultivates readers on her Facebook page by doing things like a contest for someone to get a character named after them. Their enthusiasm is a great grassroots element.
KindleUnlimited has effected her sales due to people subscribing in large numbers and passing up buying books by staying within the Kindle Unlimited.
One way that she is thinking of bringing in new readers is selling books 1-3 in a box set since her series has gotten so long and she hopes it could invigorate her sales.
Monique has been wide for most of her career. She has found something of a place on various avenues. She does not think that she could go to KU because she is doing a lot of business outside of Amazon.
She suggests putting in at least 4-6 months to try to gain traction in non-Amazon sites. She also suggests trying to get a rep in order to get involved in more promotions.
Her original cover was DIY but around book two she realized she needed a professional, branded cover. She chooses to use the same image with different washes.
She keeps an eye out on new trends so that she can keep ahead in marketing, although she puts her effort into her writing and research.
Monique has found that engaging with her readers on Facebook has been one of the most effective methods of marketing that she has had.
She uses a mailing list and wishes she had started one earlier. While she’s not doing any reader enticements but she wants to add some to help add to her sign ups.
Monique’s advice for new writers is to find writers, maybe an in-person writers group or online group. She says that KBoards is very valuable.
Today we talked with science fiction author Ann Christy, who has been tracking Kindle Unlimited and reporting on what scammers are up to in the program and why that’s important to us as authors. We also discussed how she came to be writing in Hugh Howey’s WOOL world and the pros and cons of publishing in Kindle Worlds.
Here’s a little more of what we covered:
Kindle World is restricted to US accounts and limits non-US readers.
Kindle World can be positive for many writers because Amazon deals with many details. For example, they set the prices. There are a lot of things writers don’t have to deal with.
The split is 65/35% for the creators of the world and the authors of the books.
Ann said that when she started, she didn’t understand everything involving self publishing and didn’t even know what was a ‘good’ tally of sales day to day. She was concerned that she only had 100!
Ann wrote four books in Hugh Howey’s WOOL world before writing fiction set in her own worlds.
Ann made sure that she kept her own worlds open for people who wanted to write within her world. After her positive experience with Hugh Howey, she wanted to give opportunities to other writers.
There will always be scammers in Kindle Unlimited because they can move faster than Amazon.
One method that scammers do is to put together a large number (sometimes 3,000) pages of unreadable material. They hire people to ‘click farm’ and the hired clickers open the book and skip from the first page to the last page. The authors get paid as though someone had read 3,000 pages.
It’s so refined and organized that the collectives of scammers sometimes ‘take turns’ for who gets their bogus books “read” by the collective that week.
The books don’t stick around for long. The scammers will remove the copies that were up after they have been click farmed and then they will re-release them under another title.
To ensure that their ‘books’ were not well reviewed by Amazon, the scammers were careful about what days and times they submitted their projects that reduced the chances of being caught by Amazon reviewers. As long as they take down the book before Amazon notices it, then they can collect the money made through click farming.
It seems that Amazon has begun cracking down on the scammers. There are fewer scamming books then there were before.
There are other forms of scamming for Kindle Unlimited that will be more difficult to catch with an algorithm, so Amazon has a lot of work ahead of them.
To reduce the chances of Amazon thinking you’re a scammer, be careful about the number of times you include specific stories into box sets. It can appear that you are trying to scam by spreading out the story that many times. But things like bonus chapters of the next book are completely fine—It’s more of the over saturation that can get you watched.
Ann says that if she were in charge of the situation at Amazon, she would put a system together where new authors would have their books looked at by a human, and perhaps the next three books and/or any books within a 90 day period. She thinks that they should still allow authors who are in the system to publish to keep new content coming in.
Can you report scammer books? Yes. You can scroll down to the bottom of the book page and report books as scam books. Unfortunately it hasn’t proved to be as effective as we could wish it was.
Honest authors should leave links to mailing lists, etc. and limit your clicks within the book. This will reduce the potential red flags. Anything that is in the legitimate table of contents can stay.
Ann says her major marketing tool is to ‘beg BookBub.’ Besides that she admits that she doesn’t really know how to market and needs more tutelage.
We also discussed whether being anthologies help and how hot of a genre dystopian fiction is right now.
Today, we had a podcast first: three guests at the same time. They are all steampunk authors and are a part of a shared world anthology called The Faraday Cage. (If you happen to catch this in the next few days, head over to the site; they’re doing a book giveaway.)
Steven Turnbull was the editor and publisher of the anthology. Peter A. Smalley and Virginia Marybury were contributors. We had them on to talk about the steampunk genre and how to go about putting together an anthology full of shared world stories by different authors. It was a little different from our usual interviews, but we hope you find it to be interesting.
Here are the authors’ links if you want to check out more from them:
This week, we chatted with epic fantasy author Garrett Robinson (http://garrettbrobinson.com/) who got his start with genre hopping and serialized fiction before deciding to settle in and focus on epic fantasy. Several novels later, he’s selling a lot of books and making a great living.
Here’s some of what we talked about:
Outlining and planning when you’re building a big world with multiple series and storylines
Juggling multiple series and having publication schedules that satisfy the readers and make marketing doable
Why it took three books and a boxed set before the ball really started rolling for Garrett
What kinds of book covers are expected for epic fantasy
Live vlogging a novel as a way to interact with readers and also as an accountability tool
Creating a YouTube channel where videos actually convert to book sales
Why Garrett is sticking with KDP Select for the time being
The perks of getting a Bookbub ad while in Kindle Unlimited
Why he’s enjoying Tumblr as a social media platform
Author Platform Rocket — a resource Garrett uses for generating Facebook leads for his mailing list
Tips for Facebook advertising (don’t be shy — imagine yourself as a marketing firm that was hired to plug your books)
If you want to get Garrett’s first book for free, stop by his page and sign up for his newsletter.
Today we chatted with Mark Leslie Lefebvre, a horror author who also happens to be the Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations at Kobo.com. We talked about how to increase visibility and sell more books at Kobo, and also about trends for science fiction and fantasy, both in the main Canadian store and in the numerous international stores that Kobo works with.
Here’s some of what we covered:
Keeping things in perspective: Kobo is a much smaller store than Amazon (but they often go toe-to-toe when it comes to non-U.S. markets)
Reasons to go direct to Kobo through Kobo Writing Life (versus using Smashwords/Draft 2 Digital distribution)
The new “promotions” tab that’s available to authors (currently in beta) via the dashboard in Kobo Writing Life
Tips for getting on the radar of those who handle merchandising for Kobo
Best pricing tactics for science fiction and fantasy
Which countries are growing and friendly to speculative fiction?
Pricing considerations for international markets
How science fiction and fantasy are trending upward and more authors are appearing in the Top 10 of overall best selling indie authors at Kobo (it’s not all just romance anymore!)
A tip for visibility: make sure to fill out your series meta data, keywords, and put something in the imprint field (even if it’s your author name), in addition to having a good cover and blurb.
Increasing a book’s “temperature” at Kobo through sales (even looks and clicks can help)
Mark suggests SF/F authors hit up their local ComicCon and pay for a booth there (hint: he sells tons of books when he goes)
Today we chatted with fantasy author Michael James Ploof. He’s published two YA epic fantasy series, and he’s also experimented with a pen name writing the naughtier stuff (paranormal/urban fantasy with romance).
His pen name was a recent Kindle Scout winner, and his Whill of Agora boxed set made the USA Today Bestseller’s list last year. We pumped him for information on how he sold (in one week!) the 6,000+ ebooks (including 500+ at a non-Amazon vendor) necessary to hit the list.
We also talked about how Facebook ads are an ongoing part of his sales strategy and how he’s using them + a permafree Book 1 to keep sales steady month in and month out.