Tonight we chatted with Ben Zackheim, middle-grade fantasy author, or “writer of smart books for smart children.” He’s worn a lot of hats in his working life and a few years ago switched from the game industry to self-publishing his own novels. He’s also a teacher at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, where he shows creative people how to market their work. You can say hi to him on Twitter and check out the first book in his Camelot Kids series on Amazon.
Here’s a little of what we talked about tonight:
The challenges of marketing middle-grade books
How independent publishing differs from film-making and video game creation
Working with artists for quality covers and possibly in-book material
Thoughts on blogging, social media, and “building a platform”
How many people are overlooking local markets in their marketing attempts
Utilizing visual artwork to help sell your books (Don’t have any? Commission some for your world and your character.)
Costly ads and other marketing schemes that should be avoided
Focusing on a series and publishing regularly
Is it worth trying to target fans of a popular series by writing something similar?
Getting a table at conventions and selling directly to your target audience
Amazon ads (and what analytics Amazon shares with authors) — will they be better in the future?
Tonight, we had Smashwords founder Mark Coker on the show, and he gave us a lot of great information on working the pre-order system on Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc., marketing on Smashwords and sites it distributes to, and selling more books overall. Here are some of the highlights of the interview:
How Mark’s book, The Boobtube, led him to create Smashwords back in 2008
How to take advantage of pre-orders on Smashwords, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, etc. (Unlike with Amazon, you get a big boost on release day, because the orders accumulate and all count toward your Day 1 sales.)
Possibly getting extra merchandizing love with retailers such as Apple, based on strong pre-order interest and early sales
New features coming to the Smashwords pre-order system, such as assetless pre-orders (so you don’t need to have the finished manuscript in order to make your book available for order)
Don’t worry — no penalties at Smashwords for missed deadlines on pre-orders, but you can upload up to 12 months ahead, so you can give yourself plenty of time
Why still use a distributor? Makes it easy to get books out without having to be on each platform (on Barnes & Noble, you actually end up making more on books priced under $2.99)
Scribd, Oyster, and other smaller retailers that you can only get into via a distributor
The Smashwords affiliate program (getting other people to plug your book for you — and giving them an incentive to do so)
Common mistakes Mark sees authors making
Are permafree series starters still working?
What’s coming next to Smashwords
Whether you use Smashwords or not, you might gain something from checking out Mark’s helpful books: Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (Amazon | Smashwords) and Smashwords Book Marketing Guide – How to Market any Book for Free (Amazon | Smashwords)
Today Lindsay had some laggy internet going on, so naturally we did a show with just the three of us, where we all needed to talk a lot! With a few more pauses than usual, we discussed all aspects of book reviews: why you need them, how to get them, and how to deal with those pesky 1-stars. Here are a few more specifics of what we covered:
Why it’s so important to get reviews (social proof, proof for advertisers, and also possibly getting a bump from the Amazon algorithms for lots of reviews right after a release)
Things we did to get reviews of our early books and whether give aways and blog tours are worth it
What we’re doing now, as more established authors, to get reviews, especially for new series and new genres we may be exploring
Looking beyond Amazon to Goodreads and getting reviews in the other stores
How we deal with bad reviews
Whether we think you should ever respond to reviews
Ways to possibly make a bad review work in your favor
Tonight we had dark fantasy author Becca Andre on the show. She’s a relatively new author with three novels and two novellas out so far in her Final Formula series (the first ebook is free at Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers if you want to check it out), but she’s gotten off to a great start.
Here’s some of what we talked about with her:
Writing and publishing while working a full time job and being a mom
The usefulness of writing workshops when you’re getting started
Branding the covers in a series and choosing an Amazon category (and even cover design) based on what’s less competitive (assuming a couple of options would work)
Novellas related to one’s main series and whether they’re worth doing or if readers are mainly interested in novels in the SF/F genre
Pricing for novellas versus novels
Effective ways of marketing a series, such as whether to focus on advertising the first book all the time or whether to spend money on plugging new releases too
Writing to a “key demographic” versus just writing what you want
Launching your very first novel at 99 cents so there’s less of a barrier to entry for potential readers
What to do as an author on Twitter and Facebook (i.e. posting snippets, updates, book news, etc.)
Using a Goodreads Giveaway (of a physical paperback) to get people to add the book and leave reviews there
Trying giveaways at times other than during a book launch, such as between books to generate interest and keep your name out there
Giving away a free “alternate PoV scene” to entice people to sign up for your newsletter
In today’s episode, we talked to John P. Logdson and Chris Young, a comedic fantasy and science fiction writing duo. We covered a lot of ground. Here are some of the highlights:
Any special challenges with writing humor/comedy?
Dealing with one-star reviews from people who don’t “get” the humor
Collaboration — who does what and how do you manage to put out cohesive novels?
Does collaboration offer any advantages over titles written by a single author?
Can any writers collaborate well, or does it take a special personality and/or a certain skill set?
Writing to target less competitive categories on Amazon
Tricks for producing books more quickly
Should you mention that the books are humorous or comedic in the blurb or on the cover? So people looking for serious fiction won’t accidentally grab them?
Are there any marketing advantages to writing fantasy/science fiction comedy?
How to set up your tweets to market successfully on Twitter (effective hashtag use and Hashtagify for seeing what’s popular or trending + BookLinker to send readers from different countries to the right store)
Twitter groups and networking with other authors in a smart way
Marketing/advertising on Facebook, Goodreads, and using giveaways
The types of marketing John and Chris have tried and that hasn’t done well + what has worked
What they do to encourage newsletter signups
A new site for crowdfunding/getting pre-orders specifically for authors: Publishizer.
Tools they use for collaboration: Scrivener, Trelby (screenwriting program), and Dropbox.
Want to check out their work?
For more character-driven stories, try Starliner or the Land of Ononokin books. For more humor, check out Platoon-F. They’ve got a new project coming soon as well, a book called Queen Aurthur, a different (very different) take on the King Aurthur story. You can get in touch with them or find out more at their site, Crimson Myth.
You may have heard that the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association) is now allowing small press and indie authors in, so long as they’ve made the earnings requirements. We invited MCA Hogarth onto the show to talk about some of the changes and what they mean for indies, as well as why you might want to join.
After that, we talked a little about marketing, but Lindsay was curious about some of the extra ways MCA is making money from her work, so we also jumped into Patreon, Kickstarter, Paypal tip jars, and coloring books!
Here’s a list of what we hit on:
The SFWA, which has been around for 50 years, is now accepting small press and indie authors.
What does the organization offer and why might authors want to join? (Networking, invitations to anthologies, legal help, and more.)
We interviewed C. Gockel this week (don’t tell anyone, but we found out that C stands for Carolynn), urban fantasy author of the I Bring the Fire series (the first book is free, so go check it out!). She hasn’t quit her day job yet, but it sounds like she’s getting close to making “professional income.”
Here’s a summary of some of the questions we asked her:
How did writing fan fiction lead to a career as a successful indie author?
Are there any advantages to starting out with fan fiction? Any lessons a new author can learn?
When you start thinking about publishing (and making some money!), is it better to modify a successful fanfic to make it an original story, or are you better off starting something new?
How has having a permafree Book 1 affected the sales of later books in your series? Is it still effective, even though your first ebook has been free for quite a while now?
What do you do to promote your permafree title and keep the sales of subsequent books rolling in month after month?
Have you tried discounting other books in your series, or do you stick with the first?
Are any advertisers more worth it than others, or do some charge too much? (Carolynn wisely did not want to dis anyone, but she gave some tips for evaluating whether a sponsorship site is worth it.)
You use Tumblr for your blogging platform — does it offer any advantages over more traditional spots?
Do you ever get fans offering to help “edit” your books or offering other advice? How do you deal with that?
Looking for the free resource spreadsheets we mentioned in the show? Here are Carolynn’s links:
After a week off, we’re back, and we had a good long chat tonight, covering all sorts of useful topics (we hope they’re useful, anyway!). We didn’t have a guest, so we interviewed each other on marketing/publishing subjects that we’re experienced with. Jeff answered our questions on Smashwords formatting, Jo talked about his experience with pre-orders and whether they’re a good idea for increasing book sales, and Lindsay talked about her experience in KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited (with her pen name).
Here’s a list of some of the topics we hit upon:
In the opening news, Lindsay argued why it’s a good idea to bundle the early books in a series
The gang discussed the fact that the SFWA is now allowing in small press and indie authors
Pre-orders on Amazon, yea or nay?
Why pre-orders on Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo are a good idea
How far out you can list pre-orders and what happens if you fail to get your finished manuscript up in time
Lots of formatting tips for dealing with the Smashwords meatgrinder
How KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited can increase visibility and be useful for new authors
Whether the perks of KDP Select are worth the exclusivity requirement or whether it’s better to go wide