My experience with KDP Select

KDP Select picMuch has been made, and discussed, about KDP Select, and much of this discussion has been about the necessity to be exclusive to Amazon for a minimum of 90 days. This, according to the sales copy from Amazon is offset by the chance to be automatically enrolled in Kindle Unlimited where subscribers can borrow books free of charge. Authors are then paid out of a global fund administered by Amazon. Borrows count towards sales and therefore rankings.

I wanted to experiment with KDP Select and to determine if there was any advantage to being enrolled.  I couldn’t do it with my existing books as they were already available on other distribution channels and therefore would not meet the criteria for exclusivity.  So I decided to launch the first three books in a new series and enrol all three in KDP Select for the full 90 days.

This was a considered strategy. The books were junior fiction and I was working on the assumption that, while children in the target age group would not be allowed to buy books using a credit card, they would be allowed to borrow, with their parents having set up the monthly subscription payment.  This was the theory anyway.

I released all three books, Speed, Velocity and Maneuvers over the Easter weekend 2015. The Select period ends on 2 July.

The first thing to report on as the Select period nears its end is that there were zero borrows.

Perhaps I was naïve for thinking that I could just enrol the books in KDP Select and let the Amazon machine do the rest. But that was part of the plan. If KDP Select is the great savior of obscurity in Amazon and, as a writer, I was foregoing the opportunity to distribute through other channels, then surely Amazon would do something in return for me?

Not at all. Like anything else, marketing is required. Even with the allure of Kindle Unlimited, an author must still do their own promotion, or sink into the morass of other titles in the program. I didn’t just stick the book up and hope for the best either. I read a lot about Amazon algorithms and used a number of strategies including keywords in the metadata, careful consideration of the categories, placement of a tagline on the cover, and a book description that, to my mind at least, would excite the reader. In other words, I did everything right, according to the experts, and still the books didn’t rank particularly well or generate lots of sales.

So did anything work?

Giving away the first title for free worked extremely well; while in KDP Select the author has a chance to promote a title for 7 days for free only once during the 90 days exclusive period. I did that early on with the first in the series “Speed”. This strategy placed it at #4 on the bestseller list for that category.  Heady stuff indeed. However, once the free period ended, the book plummeted down the rankings.

I thought, at the least, that a good ranking during the free period might bring it to prominence in Kindle Unlimited once the free period ended.

That was not the case. Authors talk about the ‘cliff’ at the end of a free promotion and I certainly experienced that.

I am now coming to the end of the Select period and I have not renewed it for a further 90 days.

Was I disappointed? Not in the least. I wanted to play with this new way of distribution and gauge its effectiveness. I had shunned KDP Select in the past, thinking there was no advantage to the program, and I was proved right. I tried it, it bombed, I move on.

So what next? I am now going to launch across as many distribution channels as I can, including Smashwords (and therefore B&N and Apple) Kobo, Wattpad. The first ebook in the series will be permafree, except on Booktrack where readers can read the complete book with a soundtrack. I will also release the first three books in a box set at a reduced price and promote the release of number 4 in the series wherever I can. Then I will report back on the results of that strategy after another 90 day period.

Then I will be able to say which strategy worked the best.

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Write Another Book!

So you’ve written a book and now the really hard work begins – query letters, agents and maybe a publisher to deal with if you’re lucky. You’ve sweated blood over this manuscript, it’s your baby and you’re sending it out into the world. What can you do while your baby takes its first steps into the world.

Write another book.

I’m sure there’s more than one book inside every writer and yet they can focus on the book that already exists, instead of the one that exists only inside their head. There’s only one way to get that out.

Write another book.

In this day and age, writers can write a book, have it edited, commission a great cover, upload onto Amazon, Kobo, Nook, iBooks and get that book into the hands of readers. Then they bog themselves down in ‘social media’ – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, SnapChat, Wattpad, Google+ and blog posts believing that this will increase their ‘discoverability’ and lead to sales. They spread themselves thin and agonize over followers, likes , reviews… or lack of them. What’s the best way to create an on-line presence?

Write another book.

So, before you log on to Twitter today, or Facebook or Google+ or whatever social media platform is the trend of the day, just check in with yourself –

Have you started writing your next book?

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Just Do It!

Jason Shaw Logo

Jason Shaw Logo

Today I launched three books at once on Amazon Kindle Store. This sounds like a grandiose statement to make but the truth is that these books have been in various stages of production for about the past five years.

I wrote these books with a certain reader in mind – the reluctant junior reader (ages 8-12), mainly boys, although the books would appeal to girls as well. I wanted them to be fast-paced so that the reader has to turn the page to find out what happens next, short so that the reader wasn’t too intimidated by the number of pages/word count, but by the time they’ve read three then they will have read almost 100,000 words. The idea is to engage the competent but reluctant reader who is so easily tempted by the electronic media available to him/her.

In writing this series I was heavily influenced by Enid Blyton for one, having read most of The Secret Seven and the Famous Five books as child. I still have a tatty 1959 edition of Secret Seven Fireworks on my bookshelf! Recently the influence has been Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz. When creating Jason Shaw I knew I didn’t want another boy spy but a boy detective.

The decision to base the book in America was not to capture US sales (although it does help) but to take advantage of all the story opportunities that exist in such a big country as the USA. Anything is possible! I’m sorry, but New Zealand is too much like a sleepy village to provide story lines for a young boy detective. Child Services would be in as soon as we finished the first story!

The decision to launch all three books at once was a conscious one. I was going to stagger the launch of the books, staring with Book 1 Speed in January and launching the following two, Velocity and Maneuvers  a few months apart thereafter but after meeting Joanna Penn, who  advised me to launch all three at once even if it meant holding off launching Book 1 in January as I planned. The reason, she explained, was that readers don’t want to wait for the next book in the series but want to binge read, much like people these days are binge-watching TV series these days.

So I held off and while books 2 and 3 were being edited, I researched my best launch strategies. I read “How to Supercharge your Kindle Sales” by Nick Stephenson and started to formulate my launch strategy around keywords and Amazon categories. I can’t claim to have got it right and only time will show whether I have or haven’t but at least I was able to put in best practice from the get-go instead of reverting back to change metadata or keywords on existing books.

With each book I write and each book I publish I learn new things and as writers in this digital age it’s become more important to stay abreast of these numerous challenges and opportunities. It’s both exciting and scary but the only way to do it is to just do it! A certain sport apparel manufacturer certainly has that one right. So go ahead, just do it!

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How to Work the Rule Of Seven

10805818_10152600805588380_3531354223583300553_nI met Z R Southcombe recently at an indie author meet up in Auckland. She’s published one book which fits somewhere between a picture book and a coffee table book, so she found it helpful meeting with authors who have been in the game a bit (or a lot) longer than herself!

Amongst the general chit-chat about writing publishing and marketing the ‘rule of seven’ concept cropped up, and I asked her to write a post about this for my blog . Over to you, Zee.

The rule of seven states that a consumer (or in our case, a reader) needs to have contact with a brand (in our case, our book) seven times in an 18-month period to make ’significant penetration’ – a theory instigated by Dr Jeffrey Lant.

What do we mean by ‘significant penetration’? In marketing terms, penetration refers to the number of people who buy your goods in relation to the number of people in that market. In order to penetrate the market, and to build that significant number of readers, we need to build our readership one by one.

In marketing, we talk about ‘know, like, trust’. In order for a sale to happen, readers first have to know we exist they need to like us, and then we need to gain their trust. This is how ‘the rule of seven’ works.

Before I get into ways to make contact with readers, I want to break the rule down a little bit. By ‘contact’ we mean a place where the reader is aware you exist. For example, if you’re on Twitter and you tweet regularly, then you can count your activity on Twitter as one point of contact. If you have a book in a brick & mortar store, this could count as another point of contact. But the same person who sees your product in the bookstore, may never see you on Twitter so you’ve only made one point of contact in each case.

The way I see it, you want to gain exposure – or ‘make contact’ – with your readers and potential readers in as many ways as possible and I think of this as an opportunity to be creative. Making contact with readers – or potential readers – from 7+ different angles can sound like hard work, but seeing it as a creative challenge makes it more doable, and more fun. Below, I’ve outlined some possible ways of making contact.

Events

For example, I have a book launch coming up in late March, and this is one point of contact I am making with my readers. I also have a couple of school visits lined up, and will be attending the NZ Indie Book Festival in October this year. One great thing about events is that it doesn’t feel like blatant self-promo – you’re inviting someone to an event, not ramming your book down their throat.

Social Media

Yeah, you can’t avoid it. Well, you can, but I find it one of the easier ways to connect with readers (and with other writers). Once you grow your readership, it’s a great way for fans to have access to you. The key is to finding the platforms you enjoy, and tweaking your way around until you find a way of using it that suits you.

Blogging

I think it’s important to at least have a website, as it gives you a bit of cyber-cred. It’s also a good place to keep all your info and links. Blogging is useful because it keeps your site current, which search engines such as Google like. It also means that people can get to know you on a more intimate level and interact with you through the comments – if that’s what you want. Guest blogging is a wonderful opportunity, and one I have used over the years to gain exposure and network with the blogging community.

Print Media

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been told by several authors who have had print media articles or interviews that ‘articles don’t sell books’. Well, that’s not really the point! At least not immediately. The point is that you and your books reach a new audience, and remind your existing audience about your books. It’s another point of contact, and a legit one at that. Over time, it will help sell books.

Advertising

By ‘advertising’ I mean things like posters in shop windows, banner ads on other people’s websites, car magnets, and other traditional signage. This is a tried and true way of making your book known. From people I’ve talked to, it tends to work best if your products are available widely.

A final note – I’m in my first year of publishing, and my main aim this year is publicity – I’m trying to make real contact with my readers in as many different ways as possible over the course of the year. I have done or am planning to cover all the areas I discussed above, and I’m really interested to see what comes out of it by this time next year. Watch this space!

If you found this post helpful and want to read more of my ideas and experiences with writing and publishing, visit my blog at zeesouthcombe.com.

And of course, if you’ve got some ideas or experiences to add to this post, leave a comment below

Z.R. Southcombe is a children’s fantasy writer and artist / illustrator. She is the author of recently released picture book ‘What Stars Are Made Of’ and upcoming chapter book ‘The Caretaker of Imagination’. No matter what project she is currently working on, Z. R. is usually accompanied by a cup of tea.

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The Art Of Waiting

11530584604_8f560e03f5_mOr why writing is as much about waiting as it is about writing.

It seems like everyone is using this time between Christmas and New Year to review the past year and make predictions/set some goals for next year.  I did the same thing at the beginning of this year:

https://dcgrantwriter.wordpress.com/2014/01/

The only thing I can say is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

A few years ago, before I was published, I attended a program mentored by Graeme Lay.  He told an anecdote about flying into the country and having to fill out the arrival card.  On it he wrote ‘writer’ and for some reason passport control read it as ‘waiter’ and Graeme thought at the time how true that was for as a writer he was always waiting, waiting for that next contract, that next commission, that next royalty cheque…waiting…waiting…waiting.

Jump forward a few years and whether you are traditionally published or self-published, it is still a waiting game, waiting for the next big thing, the next promotional gimmick that will get you discovered, bring in the million dollar contract and the film option…

The thing is, no matter what the pundits are saying about ebooks and self-publishing, the best time to do something is now. I learnt that this year.  I started off with a hiss and roar by publishing  my  YA books, What Love Is in March.  Then nothing.  There was a reason for this.  I got an agent and that agent pitched my series of junior thrillers to US publishers.  I got excited. I waited…and waited…and waited.  There were a few nibbles but nothing certain. I’m still waiting.

This is no reflection on the agent who believes in the books as much as I do but it is just a statement of where the publishing industry is right now.  So, with the agent’s blessing, I have taken the plunge and decided to publish them myself and will release the first three early next year.

This is the essence of self-publishing. You don’t have to wait any more.  Of course, you do have to wait for the copy editor to do a full edit and you do have to wait for the cover designer to finalize the cover but that’s about it.  The rest you can control and determine the release of your novel and the launch/marketing strategies that go with it.

No more waiting.

So my advice for 2015 – be a writer, not a waiter!

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My Five Top Tips for Using Booktrack

Follow this link to Joanna Penn’s site for a podcast about Booktrack and my five top tips for using Booktrack

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2014/12/17/booktrack/Booktrack Author user guide

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The Things I Have Done For My Art

Antique rifleSometimes as a writer, the things we do in the name of research can raise eyebrows, and I write for boys so some of my research can be a little strange.  But then it’s only by doing that we learn the little facts that we can mindful of when writing. Here’s a short list of some of things that I have done, all in the name of art.

Walked the Fugitives’ Trail in KwaZulu Natal.

I used to live in South Africa and I was researching the Anglo-Zulu War. This war is known primarily for the defence of Rorke’s Drift portrayed in the 1964 film “Zulu”. The battle of Rorke’s Drift was preceded by the massacre at Isandlwana that practically wiped out an entire British army battalion. The few that escaped the massacre used a route that became known as the Fugitives’ Trail.  The word “trail” here is a misnomer -there is no trail. The route is unmarked and there is no path to follow. When I heard that the MOTHS (Men of the Old Tin Hats, similar to RSA) were organising a walk of this trail, I was keen to join. What followed was a two and half hour hike over rough terrain and a boggy swamp under a hot Africa sun with no shade in sight. I developed a huge blister on my right heel but I had to keep going because there was no way out other than walking that ‘trail’ – the one that didn’t exist. About two thirds in, I decided that if I was being chased by angry Zulus with big spears, I’d just lay down and die, such was my exhaustion. Of those that did survive the massacre, and very few did, most of them were on horseback. Virtually no one on foot made it and I can understand why. Several years later that experience inspired my book “Beneath a Blood Red Sky” (unpublished at this stage).

What I learned: it takes a certain amount of perseverance to make it through a difficult and arduous journey, and some don’t make it.

Fire a rifle similar to that used in the New Zealand Wars

As I was researching the New Zealand Wars, I decided I wanted to know about the rifles that were used at the time. So I met someone from the Antique Arms Association, alternatively known as Black Powder (Powder, not Power) Club at the shooting range at Waiuku. During the New Zealand Wars the rifles used a cartridge i.e. a lead ball wrapped in waxed paper with a measured powder charge enclosed within the paper. The procedure was to rip off the end of the paper with the teeth, pour the powder down the barrel, follow it with the paper and the lead ball, tamp it down with the ramrod, put a percussion cap on the nipple and fire.  (Anyone who’s watched or read the Sharpe series will know the procedure) Result: a mouthful of saltpetre, which, as the name suggests, is salty, a big cloud of smoke through which you can see nothing and the smell of rotten eggs. I’ve never had so much fun!

What I learned: saltpetre makes you thirsty, gun smoke can blind you, the barrel gets very hot after a while which makes loading tricky, and you become covered in spent powder. And those guns are very, very heavy, especially after a few rounds of loading as above and firing!

Learnt Self Defense

I decided that my character had to know a few self defence moves so I did some research and settled on Krav Maga, a self defence system developed in Israel. I signed up for classes! Now my work colleagues comment on my bruises and want to know who beats me up – about twenty guys each class, although not all at the same time, some of whom are twice my size and half my age.  But I can take them down! That’s empowering for a woman.

What I’ve learned: it’s not possible to continue a fight for a sustained period as it’s physically and mentally tiring. There’s a reason why boxers only go three minutes. In a fight, you strike fast and get out, like Jack Reacher! Now I know to be mindful of this if my character is in such a situation.

Now, my current book has sword fighting in it…mmmm…

So tell me, what have been some of the absurd things you have done for your art?

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Doubt

mysterybookWhy is it that self doubt is one of the biggest things that we struggle with as writers? Writing itself is an isolated activity seldom done in groups and we reluctantly share only after we have polished and polished our WIP. No one gets to see the agony of getting words down on paper (screen?) when each one feels like it’s being sucked out of mud and splattered on the page, dirty and inadequate, when nothing we what to say comes out right and every piece needs to drafted again and again.
Each time we look at it, we see it’s imperfections and want to draw it towards us and hold it fast and never let it go for others to examine and criticize. And yet we do. And we feel the agony of having those words exposed, muddied and sub-standard in our eyes and available for everyone to judge and criticise.
We are either mad or passionate, whatever, we keep on doing it. And every time I being out a new book, I still expect people to jump out at me like school-yard bullies and declare “You can’t write for toffee nuts!” And a part of me would believe them too.
I think that’s why we hanker for the publishing contract, the agency representation, the positive review, something, anything that validates what we do, and conversely why a scathing review is so crushing.
Like any artist, we have to believe that what we are doing has merit, that our words, no matter how inadequate they may appear, still need to be written. That someone, somewhere will take to heart what we want to convey and give praise, or just acknowledgement.
And yet we still doubt, even when acknowledgement is given, when awards are won. I believe it is this that keeps us striving for perfection and is something that is necessary for each writer. For the moment we fail to perfect what is imperfect and lose the passion to improve ourselves as artists, we will henceforth be satisfied with imperfection.
So maybe doubt is a good -isn’t it?

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One Year Anniversary as an Indie Author

This weekend marks the moment, a year ago that I started my self-publishing journey.  I never meant to be a self-published author but it was a progression born out of necessity. After Pear Jam Books closed and I, like so many of the other authors, was left in limbo, I knew that the only way to pursue my goals and achieve my dreams was to do it myself.

So what have I learnt in a year?

I can’t do it all

While the world had opened up in terms of being able to publish your books in all kinds of forms and in all kinds of places, it doesn’t mean that you should do everything everywhere.  For a start, trying to keep a track of what is where and at what stage it is at is daunting.  I cover the bases by publishing ebooks with KDP and Smashwords and print books with Createspace. I don’t chop and change, neither do I try to upload direct to Kobo or iBooks which I know can be done. Audiobooks are gaining ground as are books with sound tracks and I may do these one day but at the moment there’s enough to be getting on with. 

I can’t do it all

You will need help with something, you cannot do it all yourself  – the least you will need is a cover designer and a copy editor. A beta reader is also a help, to cast a discerning eye over your words, as is a support network of other indie authors who share your triumphs, disasters, problems and solutions.  What has come out strongly with this new publishing world is how indie authors help other indie authors, creating a community that makes the whole indie industry strong.  I value my network of fellow indie authors.

Money is not the prize

One day I would like to make enough money from my books to be able to write full time…one day.  That day is not going to be any time soon, if at all, but I can dream.  What has become more valuable to me these days is the words, “I really enjoyed your book” or even better, “I couldn’t put it down” (this from a 12 year old girl whose mother was struggling to get her to read).  One day these words will convert into full time income but for the moment it is the empire building on which I need to concentrate.

It’s hard work

I work full time as well as write so working on a book, or preparing it for publication has to done at the times that I am not working which is usually at the evening or the weekend. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) I live on my own which means that if I want to delay dinner in order to get something done, I can. However, it still involves sacrifice, giving up a relaxing evening of mindless TV in order to bash out a chapter or two, or get the formatting done on a manuscript in order to upload to Smashwords, or suggesting changes to a cover design.  We all have things that get in the way of our writing but we can get around these by giving something up. And yes, whatever it is, it will be hard to do so.  No one said it would be easy.

I’m excited by what’s ahead

It is being said that right now there is no better time to be a writer.  For many years the big publishers have been the gatekeepers for authors, the guards that stand in the way of getting a book from an author to a reader.  That barrier is being removed.  Now authors can connect directly with their readers and vice versa.  It’s a scary brand-new world. More and more it is the reader who is deciding what is good and what is bad.  There has been criticism that now the floodgates will open for all the bad writing that is out there and while this may be true, who are we to deny an artist a means to display their art to the world.  We’ve done this for eons by displaying dubious artworks and declaring it ‘art’ and the masses accept it because it is viewed as a right of expression. Now we view with distain the same process for written works, but who are we to judge?  Good art will always endure and it is also true to say that even the most marginal art form will have an audience. 

Go out and find yours!

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An Unintentional Self Published Author

978-0-473-23618-2 cvr

For a long time I resisted the call of self publishing. For a start it seemed like a lot of work – working platforms, building brands, learning how to format books into epub and mobi and all the other formats out there. I could see the attraction but I couldn’t face all the hard work.

 

Not that I don’t like hard work. I work fulltime in a job totally unrelated to writing and I write in my spare time. “Spare time” – that’s a misnomer if I ever heard one!

 

But then the publisher of my book “Where the Flag Floats” closed unexpectedly and I was forced to consider the fact that, if I wanted to be published, I was probably going to have to it by myself as I could no longer rely on other people to do it for me.

 

That meant learning a whole new skill set, like how to format a book for epub and mobi; how to convert a file to pdf.; how to hyperlink my chapters; how to get the books that were sitting in boxes in my study out into the world.

 

I wilted. It all seemed too much to do. How was I going to learn all this? Well the same way you eat an elephant – one bite at a time. (Not that I would eat an elephant, there’s too few of them left in this world!)

 

When the rights to In Too Deep, my first published book, reverted back to me I started the process of converting it to an ebook. It was my practice piece and I took it a step at a time, following word for word the style guide provided. It took two afternoons of a long weekend and I was done.

 

There was some satisfaction in seeing that up as an ebook. I’d done it! I listed it for free and sat back and watched the download numbers climb. I promised myself that when it reached 100 downloads, I would upload the next in the series – Three Times Dead.

 

I uploaded the next book a month later.

 

I started experimenting with Print on Demand. Using Createspace I managed to produce a fairly presentable print edition. There’s nothing like having the actual print edition in your hand.

 

A chance encounter at an evening function introduced me to my book distributor. Not afraid of taking on a book by a self published author, they soon exhausted my stock of books produced by the now defunct publisher and I was forced (in the nicest possible way) to reprint my own edition of Where the Flag Floats with a new ISBN.

 

This year I have started by producing another book making a total now of three in twelve months. When I look back now at those first unsteady steps I took in June, I’m amazed at how far I have come but aware that I have still more to learn. It is still ‘one bite at a time’ stuff and as one task is accomplished, I find another one looms but as each is learnt, practised and mastered, I feel more and more empowered.

 

To round it all off, on 29 March the book that started it all – Where the Flag Floats won a Notable Book Award from Storylines Children’s Literature Charitable Trust in the Junior Fiction category. The publisher was noted as “now defunct” but the demise of the publisher in June last year was a beginning not an end and I have now come to the conclusion that losing my publisher last year could possibly be one of the best things that happened to me, not that I realised it at the time.

 

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