This week, we chatted with Barry Hutchison, a full-time author who started out writing children’s books for a traditional publishing house and who is now dabbling in self-publishing with adult science fiction. After a bumpy start with his first self-published project, a serial called The Bug, he learned the ropes and had a successful launch for his Space Team comedic SF series. With the release of the fourth in the series coming, he expects to hit his first five-figure month in June.
Here are a few more details of what we talked about:
Why Barry chose to self-publish his adult fiction after working with a traditional publisher for so many years.
Not being discouraged by a less-than-stellar launch with his first self-published project.
Why he went into the Space Team series bootstrapping it by doing his own cover art and handling his own editing.
Launching at 99 cents and into Kindle Unlimited.
Differences in marketing between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
Writing quickly and launching subsequent books in the Space Team series with only two months between releases.
What kinds of covers make sense for comedic science fiction.
The importance of a mailing list over social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Whether holiday stories can make sense for writers of space opera.
How Barry used a preview of his first Space Team novel on Instafreebie to get people to sign up for his mailing list before the book launched.
How promoting other authors on Instafreebie ended up with him being featured by the company.
Science fiction author T.S. Paul joins us to discuss how he’s sold thousands of copies of his short fiction since getting started just over four months ago. Not only that, but he sells those ebooks at 2.99 instead of employing the typical bargain basement pricing. He’s publishing in the space opera field and gaining momentum by putting out new ebooks every two weeks. He’s currently in KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited, so he’s also getting a lot of borrows on those books too.
Here’s a little more on what we covered:
Using an on-going series to make shorter fiction work and keep people coming back for more
Selling short fiction ebooks at 2.99 (and collections at 7.99)
Whether more people buy or borrow (for those in Kindle Unlimited) at the higher price points
If short fiction is still doing well now that KU pays based on page reads instead of straight-up borrows
Publishing character interviews and short fiction on your blog to keep up reader interest between releases
Using Canva to create images for Facebook ads
Making Facebook ads work for science fiction
Do bad reviews actually affect sales?
Getting troll reviews taken down on Amazon
Finding original artwork on Deviant Art and licensing it to use for your ebook covers (T.S. finds this much more affordable than commissioning custom artwork, and it gets you something far more original than grabbing images from stock photo sites)
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.
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.
This week we welcome Nick Webb. Nick grew up in the Seattle area, and bounced around California, Argentina, with a quick stop in Utah to pick up a Ph.D. in Experimental Physics. From there it was on to Huntsville where he fends off weeds from his tomato garden, plays legos with his kids, and somehow fits in time to write his novels.
He is the author of the Pax Humana Saga and The Legacy Fleet Trilogy and has hit the USA Today Bestsellers list, as well as selling a lot of books through Amazon in the last year.
If you’re not pushing it (your release) or marketing it and promoting it, the odds are it’s just going to languish there because there is so much competition. — Nick Webb
We hope you enjoy these notes!
Nick read all of the extended universe Star Wars books and sort of grew up in the world of science fiction as a youth. Star Trek even got him to pursue science!
In six months, Nick had played # hours on his new Xbox. When he realized he had spent so much time on the XBox he was shocked to realize how much time he had spent playing video games. He decided to make a resolution to mostly give up video games and to write a book.
Nick didn’t know very much about writing, but he sought out information on the industry on KBoards. He still has some great relationships with people who helped him along his way.
Fourth book reached top 500 (thanks to mailing list–50 to 100 sales which helped with the algorithms).
Wanted a series that had multiple entry places to give him more options. It helps having different avenues for people to get into the world, and to have more options for BookBub and other places.
Build the mailing list to get thousands of eyes on the new releases
Space Opera versus Hard Science Fiction and his experience… The extra challenge. Nick tries to make his handwaving as believable as possible but doesn’t focus on things or explain everything. The difference between Space Opera and Hard Science Fiction generally comes down to how many technical details there are.
Nick joked that he wished he’d known ‘everything’ before he’d gotten started. But his main wishes would be how to work at marketing, selling, and branding.
He’s working all the time… Even if its just on Facebook and marketing (or ‘goofing off’ but it’s also work… tips and tricks) Working till midnight.
Facebook adds are no longer working as well, and are getting more expensive because writers are sort of competing for the same clicks. Audio adds don’t allow you to track their results.
Mailing list is timeless and an insurance policy. Facebook, Amazon, and website hosting can’t take it away from you. Direct contact with your readers. You can have people sign up to your mailing list to get a free short story.
It can be easy to think that writers who have put in a lot of time and effort simply hit the jackpot when they’ve worked hard toward it. It can give a false expectation when people have both hard work and luck.
You have to expect to succeed in the business, you have to invest something. — Nick Webb
Nick is willing to have a negative turn of investment during launch to get it up there on the ranking. He spent a few hundred in Facebook adds for direct sales during his release for Victory. About $600 for Constitution. (Broke even on the advertisements)
Leads which link readers to the page where there was a direct signup and when they confirm they get free books to download (from Dropbox).
You have to expect to succeed in the business you have to invest something. It might be hard, but it can be worth it.
Places that might give a lot of exposure with your debut novel: Book Barbarian Book Sends, etc. You might get the first 30 or 40 sales.
Preorders can sap/dilute a book’s visibility on launch day/launch week because you spread out the initial purchases instead of boosting your visibility.
It’s the opposite for iBooks.
Nick says the main perk for Select is the borrows boosting visibility (or KU depending on genre).
Nick’s main marketing focus is his mailing list, Facebook ads… But he is careful to spread out his marketing beyond just the first day by doing things like mailing some of his list on one of three days.
Marketing venues you can get into with a traditional publisher behind you (and the challenges of getting into the same spots as an indie).
Giveaways and contests and what kind of prizes she uses to inspire fan art.
Beth’s tips for getting an agent and a publisher (she recommends batch querying to test your query letter, sample pages, etc. before flinging your queries out to everyone in the database)?
Using QueryTracker to find agents suitable for your genre (newer agents may be quicker to respond and more eager to find clients than established veterans)
How Beth decides if a project is more suitable for self-publishing or if it might appeal to a traditional publisher.
Getting involved with more than Facebook when it comes to social media (she recommends Instagram and Tumblr especially for YA authors).
Occasionally Tweeting or Facebook posting about the perks of being on your mailing list (such as that you’ll debut book covers or teasers to subscribers)
Using apps like Word Swag and sites like Canva.com to take fun quotes from your book and turn them into graphics that are more shareable on social media.
Using Wattpad as a way to organize non-fiction projects and also to get exposure to the YA readers out there.
If you’re interested in Beth’s books for writers, the links to all three are up above. If you want to check out her fiction, you can find her novels and short stories on Amazon or get more information on her website. Her latest novel, A World Without You, will be available in July (you can pre-order it now). She’s on social media in all of the usual places too, so stop by and say hi!
Today Jeff, Jo, and Lindsay discussed how to improve your Amazon sales page so that people are less likely to click away, especially now that there are sponsored results and other distractions everywhere. They also answered some listener questions and shared some of their recent news and helpful tips.
Here are some of the highlights and the links mentioned during the show:
Selling to male readers or getting more readers overall as a female author of science fiction
How many words do you have to write for your work to be considered a novel, and at what length is it OK to charge novel prices for your ebook?
How can you gauge if a series is selling well enough to continue or if it’s better to move on to something else?
Using Bookfunnel to make it easier to give out free ebooks (they handle helping your readers with side-loading)
The Kevin Kelly 1000 True Fans idea that you don’t need to be a best seller to make a living as an author, just to gradually accumulate enough true fans
Whether entering keywords in your KDP dashboard can actually help