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Kindle Unlimited buy box

This past week, Amazon rolled out Kindle Unlimited.  At first glance, it looks like a reader's dream come true --- for $9.99 per month, you can read any ebook you want for free.  On the other hand, many indie writers are running scared, wondering why anyone would buy their books if the works can now be downloaded for free.  It turns out that neither analysis is quite right.  I did some poking from the author's perspective and signed up for the free trial as a reader, and here are my early thoughts on the program.

A reader's perspective
Kindle Unlimited notationAs a reader, I suspect I'll cancel my subscription to Kindle Unlimited after the free period ends.  While Amazon brags about having 600,000 free books in the program, the truth is that these are primarily indie authors who enrolled their books in KDP Select, plus a few big-name authors Amazon probably paid to participate.  In other words, if you struggled to find a book to borrow using your prime membership, you're going to struggle even more to find enough books to make your $10 a month worthwhile.

Plus, Kindle Unlimited isn't truly unlimited.  I started poking through all of the authors whose books I wanted to read, finding that about a quarter of them had books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.  (Most of my books and all of Aimee's books are there, in case you're curious.)  So that I wouldn't have to repeat the legwork, I went ahead and downloaded all of the ones I was at all interested in...until Amazon told me I'd hit my 10 book limit.  Yep, that's right, their book limit is lower than that of the public library --- nowhere near unlimited.  However, from a practical standpoint, you can always return a book and borrow a new one, so you could keep reading using Kindle Unlimited for as long as you wanted.

What would it take to keep me subscribed?  If Amazon found a way to get the big publishers and all indie authors on board and had every kindle ebook enrolled in the program, so I really could read whatever I want for $10 per month, I would totally pay for it.  I doubt that's going to happen anytime soon.

A writer's perspective

Books bought and borrowed

Okay, moving on to the writer's point of view.  Although I was slightly leery of the Kindle Owner's Lending Library when it first came about, I've since grown to love the program (which Kindle Unlimited seems to be piggy-backing on).  Every time a reader borrows one of my books using their prime membership, I get a chunk of the fund Amazon has set aside to remunerate authors, and the chunk is pretty hefty.  Over the last year, borrow income has averaged $2.27 per book for me, bringing in a whopping $2,756 --- nothing to sneeze at!  Now, authors who charge a lot more for their books are probably less keen, since if your book costs more than $3.27 (with no photos to lower the net amount that goes to authors), you'll lose money on a borrow rather than a buy.  However, I suspect that some borrowers will still go on to buy your book so they can keep it for a reread, which evens things out.  Meanwhile, for those of us who price our books to sell, we get quite a bit more from a borrow than a buy.

Although I'll have to wait until I see my first sales report to confirm this, everything I've read so far suggests that Amazon plans to treat borrows using Kindle Unlimited the same way as borrows using Amazon Prime.  The only difference is that they won't pay authors until a reader has consumed at least 10% of the book, a way of preventing kindle stuffing from breaking Amazon's bank.  So, from a writer's standpoint, the only concern is to keep an eye on Amazon's global fund to make sure the borrow income per book doesn't decline, something I was concerned about at first, but am less worried about now that the fund has been in operation for years and has only dropped below $2 per book once in the last twelve months.

It's a good thing that Kindle Unlimited looks like it won't hurt indie authors since we don't really have a choice in the matter.  If we want to keep the benefits of KDP Select, our books are automatically enrolled (although we have the option of unenrolling right now rather than waiting until the end of our usual 90-day contract if we're scared of Kindle Unlimited).  I'll try to remember to post a followup in a few months once the dust settles and the data is in.

Posted Sat Jul 19 11:25:36 2014 Tags:

A Lonely MagicI'm afraid I don't have quite as many good books to recommend to you this month.  In fact, most of the freebies I downloaded on Amazon in June were duds, with a significant quantity of the books below sent to me by the author to review or borrowed via the kindle owner's lending library.  But, don't worry, half of the titles I recommend this month are free, and all will capture your interest and keep you hooked until the bitter end.

A Lonely Magic by Sarah Wynde.  Last month, I sang the praises of Wynde's Tassamara series, and this month I was thrilled when Wynde sent me a review copy of her newest book (which will be available to the general public on Tuesday).  A Lonely Magic is set in a different fantastical world than Wynde's previous books, but it has the same great character development and world-building as the Tassamara series.  A Lonely Magic was a real treat to read, and I'm waited with bated breath for the next installments in the series.

A Scandalous Husband by Bev Pettersen.  I looked forward to borrowing another Pettersen novel all month, and when my lending-library privileges rolled around again, I downloaded this book immediately.  I wasn't disappointed!  Take a dose of equine therapy, mix in the struggle to survive without losing yourself in prison, shake up with a sweet love story, and you have a winning novel that will be hard to put down.  Plus, unlike many Amazon authors, Pettersen has enrolled nearly all of her titles in the KDP select program, so if you have Amazon Prime, you can borrow one book for free each month.

Prisoner by Lia Silver.  I'm not sure if this fascinating werewolf fantasy is perma-free or just free right now, but either way I highly recommend it to those who enjoy great world-building and characters.  (You can see my review of the companion book in my March sumup.)

The Chocolate Heart by Laura Florand.  I'm not so sure this is an indie book, although I downloaded it for free (which is no longer the price, unfortunately).  Unlike most contemporary romances, this one had meat in the form of fascinating information about high-class French restaurant culture.  Plus a truly romantic story between two characters you won't want to leave.

The Duchess of Love by Sallie MacKenzie.  This is a great regency romance, complete with a Greek-scholarly, reading-obsessed family.

The Passion of Patrick MacNeill by Virginia Kantra.  This perma-free book is straight contemporary romance, but is a fun read if you like fluff.

Winters Heat by Cristin Harber.  Okay, the lack of an apostrophe in the title drives me crazy, but otherwise I recommend this perma-free book to all lovers of romantic suspense.

Saving Grace by Norah Wilson.  This perma-free book is good romantic suspense, with a slightly more thought-out version of the classic amnesia hook than you usually see.

Hopefully these recommendations will keep your kindle full this month.  Happy reading!

Posted Sun Jul 6 18:34:01 2014 Tags:

TrailersteadingReviews make or break indie ebooks by relatively unknown authors.  And I hear a lot of authors complaining that their readers won't write reviews.  In case you're having trouble getting reviews, here are some tips for bringing in those essential ratings.

How many reviews should you expect?  You're probably reading this post because you think your books aren't getting enough reviews, but it's possible the problem is simply that you haven't sold or given away enough copies yet.  Looking at all of the books put out by Wetknee, we average about 87 paid downloads per review, so if you've only sold a handful of books, you probably won't have many (or any) reviews.  Our most-reviewed books are all fiction, in which category ebooks average only 14 paid downloads per review, while the non-fiction titles average closer to 98 paid downloads per review.  (As a side note, you should keep in mind that I put in the effort with fiction to carry out review swaps and that I tend to give away a lot more fiction books during free periods than I do non-fiction books, so these numbers may not be entirely due to the fiction/non-fiction divide.)  If you do the math and find that your book isn't stacking up, keep reading for more options.

Have you contacted potential reviewers?  Review swaps are a tried-and-true method of garnering reviews.  The theory is simple --- you read and review the book of another author while they do the same for your book.  This strategy depends on you being a fast reader and being able to find authors who write in a similar genre and at a similar level (meaning that they're not best-sellers who have thousands of fans itching to leave reviews through no effort on the author's part). 

I use Goodreads to track down potential reviewers, checking out indie authors whose books I've enjoyed reading in the past and whose rank on Amazon is a bit below mine (meaning they're probably even hungrier for reviews than I am).  I usually sweeten the pot by reviewing one of the author's books even before I send the message to ask if she'd like to take part in a swap.  If you follow my lead, be sure to make it clear that you're looking for an
honest review, but include your standards if, like me, you prefer to simply leave no review on books by new authors that would merit fewer than three stars.

On a related note, I sometimes also let my fans have the opportunity to download a free review copy right before or right after a new book goes live, but I haven't decided whether this strategy is the best use of fan-power (since it reduces those critical early sales).  No matter how you go about soliciting reviews, this strategy is most helpful when used just before or just after a book launches so the title jumps out of the gate.

Number of ebook buys in proportion to number of reviewsHave you run a free period?  Giving away a few thousand copies of an ebook is a great way to net at least a few reviews.  As a plus, people are naturally inclined to leave nicer reviews when they get a book for free, so chances are many of your reviews will be good.  To do this on Amazon, you'll have to sign up for the KDP program, meaning you promise not to sell your book anywhere else for 30 days, then you simply use the dialogue within Amazon to "Manage benefits."

I'm still deciding whether the best period to set a new book free for the first time is about a week after launch or a few weeks later.  The first strategy gets more good reviews faster, but also tends to make my fans wait to get a free copy rather than buying, which lowers the early sales rank of the book. 

As a side note, if you run a free period and give away at least 1,000 copies but don't get any reviews, that may be a sign your book isn't as awesome as you thought it was, or at the least that the book doesn't have much appeal for the masses.  Scroll down to the end of this post for more thoughts in that direction.

Do you explicitly ask within your book for readers to leave a review?  Don't forget to add in a page or two of back-matter after your story to plug your other books, to mention your email list, and to beg for reviews.  If a reader really loves your book, they'll be much more likely to write a review if they see the request at the same time they bask in that sated afterglow of a perfect story.

If you want even more reviews, you might follow the lead of a few indie authors I've noticed recently who tell readers at the end of the book that if you leave a review and email the author a link, she'll send you a free copy of a book of your choice. 
The author I emailed actually sent me all of her books to review (presumably because my first effort passed muster).  This strategy often leads to even more good reviews by readers who adore your work.

How effective is an explicit request for a review?  I haven't updated some of my older books to include either type of ask, and the un-ask books average about 190 paid downloads per review while the ask books average about 43 paid downloads per review, so the ask definitely seems to help.  Take these numbers with a grain of salt, though --- I also wasn't soliciting review swaps for early books and don't currently run free periods for most of the early books for various reasons.  That caveat aside, it's a safe assumption that the ask strategy should garner you a slow-but-steady stream of reviews, proportional to how many books you've sold. 

ShiftlessWhen should you stop worrying about reviews?  More reviews are always better (unless they average below 4 stars on Amazon or below 3 stars on Goodreads), but I generally stop hustling once I achieve 10 to 20 reviews.  That's about how many reviews it takes for strangers to decide your book isn't only being reviewed by your mother and best friends, so after that you can let the book gain review momentum by itself.

Should you read your reviews?  Many authors will tell you not to read your book's reviews, and it is definitely bad form to comment on them (except to note when an issue has been resolved).  However, if you can take a step back from your ego, there are benefits to be gained from keeping an eye on those reviews.

On Amazon, you can vote a review up or down, which helps the reviews that you decide are most marketable rise to the front page, especially early in a book's life.  You can also take excerpts from these reviews and add them to near the top of your product page using Author Central.  Both of these strategies can help turn specific reviews into sales.

In addition, once you learn to separate the constructive criticisms from the random comments, you can learn from bad reviews.  I was selling ebooks on Amazon for years before I bought a Kindle, and it was an early review that alerted me to the fact that readers expect linked tables of contents. 
Reviews also helped me realize that readers expect about 10,000 words per dollar in the non-fiction category but significantly more in the fiction category.  Finally, readers are quick to note if your book has an inordinate number of typos (which, thankfully, hasn't been a problem with my books) and to mention other easily-solved problems.

Why are your reviews lower on Goodreads than on Amazon?  If, like me, you enjoy Goodreads, you may be saddened to see that a book with a 4.5-star rating on Goodreads has a 3.6-star rating on Goodreads.  What's up?  I think that many reviewers realize that reviews on Amazon affect an author's bread and butter, so those readers tend to round their Amazon scores up, while they often rate for purely personal reasons on Goodreads and thus trend toward lower ratings.  In addition, I suspect I'm not the only one who rates books on Amazon only if I feel comfortable giving the book five stars, while I rate just about everything I read over on Goodreads.   You can see this effect by looking at the Amazon and Goodreads reviews of some of your favorite authors --- I'll bet their report card on Goodreads is much less impressive than on Amazon.  Here, my advice to authors is: don't stress about moderately low Goodreads reviews.  Reviews on Goodreads help your books spread by word of mouth and everyone understands average ratings will be lower there.

Pasture BasicsAre there book-related issues that make you less likely to get reviews?  With free books, especially, it's essential to hook readers within the first few pages.  Amazon now has thousands of free ebooks available at any one time, so if a reader isn't sucked in immediately, she'll probably turn elsewhere.  In my own experience, I tend to delete three free books for every one I finish, and in most cases I give up on those supposed "losers" within a few minutes of virtually opening the book.

Yet another point where your book might be losing reviewers is if it's too far outside the mainstream genres.  Readers tend to be confused by books unlike anything they've read before, so you might have written the next great American novel...but will see no reviews because readers are too confused by the work's unusualness.  On a related note, you may simply be misclassifying your book --- if your readers are expecting chick lit, they're not going to be interested in hard-boiled mysteries and will quickly hit the delete key.

What if you've tried everything and you're still not getting reviews?  It's a tough thing to accept, but if you've done everything I mention in this post and you still aren't seeing many reviews, now might be the time to ask yourself whether perhaps readers are being nice by not saying anything at all.  The solution is: keep writing!  Your next book will likely be better and will garner more glowing reviews.

Do you have other review-gathering tips I didn't cover here?  I'd love to hear other authors' experience getting those critical first reviews.

Posted Wed Jun 18 19:12:16 2014 Tags:
Smashwords book

Over 6,000 readers have enjoyed The Working Chicken on Amazon, and now this popular title is available from non-Amazon retailers!  The Working Chicken is a short but picture-heavy guide that helps new chicken keepers learn the basics about their new flock, and the ebook has enjoyed dozens of glowing reviews.  Now you can download a copy for 99 cents from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, or from several other retailers.

As a side note, I suspect The Low-Cost Sunroom has been on Smashwords long enough that it has showed up in the Apple store, but I don't think I can actually provide a link since their store appears to be searchable only using an app on Apple devices.  I'd be curious to hear from someone who reads ebooks from the Apple store.  Does The Low-Cost Sunroom show up in a search?  Is there a way for me to include links to it here, or is the app feature the only way to buy apple books?

Thanks for reading!

Posted Tue Jun 17 19:44:58 2014 Tags:

Fillies and FemalesMay was a great month for quality, free-or-cheap, indie books.  Here are my top picks from most to least recommended (with the usual caveat that even the books at the bottom of the list were thoroughly enjoyed, or I wouldn't include them here).

A Gift of Ghosts by Sarah Wynde would be my favorite novel of the month...if I hadn't also tried out and adored all of the other books in her series.  All of Wynde's books are paranormal fantasy with light but lovable romances and plenty of fascinating world-building.  A Gift of Ghosts is free, and if sign up for the author's email list, you'll also get a free copy of the fun short story The Spirits of Christmas.  Then you'll have to decide whether to splurge $3.99 on A Gift of Thought (excellent by other authors' standards, but my least favorite of Wynde's books) and $4.99 on A Gift of Time (not to be missed!).  If you're smart, you'll read them all!

Disembodied Bones by C.L. Bevill is the one book I bought last month, and it was worth every penny.  Disembodied Bones is the second book in a series, but it can be read as a standalone (although why you would skip Veiled Eyes when it's equally good and is free is beyond me).  Both books are riveting suspense stories with a very light romance and a hint of fantasy and I lapped them right up!

Fillies and Females by Bev Pettersen is a romance with a fascinating
glimpse into the culture of horse-breeding and -racing.  Although it's pretty much fluff, I enjoyed the book enough that my borrow of the month was Bev Pettersen's Hearts and Hoofbeats two-book set.  Of those, Thoroughbreds and Trailer Trash was an absolute delight while Studs and Stilettos pushed some of my not-quite-so-enjoyable buttons but was still a good read.  I'll probably borrow more of Bev Pettersen's books in later months.

Under the Sassafras by Hattie Mae delves deep into bayou culture, and also mixes in a good story and a sweet romance.

Irreparable Harm by Melissa Miller is highly recommended if you enjoy Grisham-style legal thrillers.  It's free and is the first book in a series, but there's no cliff-hanger ending.

The Icing on the Cake by Rosemarie NaramoreThe Icing on the Cake by Rosemarie Naramore is a delightful chick-lit novel about living with and loving your birth family when you're all grown up.

The Vow by Georgia Fallon is more literary than the books I usually read, but is not literary in the non-enjoyable way.  Instead, the book reminds me of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo combined with J.D. Robb-like mysterious intrigue.

Meant for Her by Amy Gamet is a fun, free romantic suspense.

Never a Mistress, No Longer a Maid by Maureen Driscoll is a sweet regency romance that I got for free, but which I would have been willing to pay the asking price of 99 cents for.

Some Like it Charming by Megan Bryce is one of those rare romances that really work for me despite having no redeeming qualities.  Plus, it's free, so why not try the book out?

Do you need more book recommendations?  Check out last month's post (and follow the links back to previous months if you need yet more reading material).  Happy reading!

Posted Sun Jun 8 19:19:56 2014 Tags:

Thrifty Chicken BreedsI'm excited to have a new installment in the Permaculture Chicken series available for 99 cents on AmazonThrifty Chicken Breeds answers the difficult question --- how do you make your chicken habit pay for itself?

Many backyard chicken keepers are surprised to learn that they spend more on store-bought feed than they would have paid for eggs and meat at the grocery store.  If you're on a budget and want your foray into poultry to save money, not lose money, your first step should be to select thrifty chicken breeds.

The best breed for the cost-conscious homesteader will be a dual-purpose chicken that forages well, doesn't cost much to feed, stands up well to predators and weather, and lays copiously in the winter.  In addition, Thrifty Chicken Breeds covers a variety of other factors homesteaders should look for when choosing new birds, then explains why a dozen common breeds do or don't make the cut.

This new installment in the popular Permaculture Chicken series helps make backyard chicken keeping cheaper, sustainable, less smelly, and more fun.  Join the thousands of readers who have used tips from the first two books to turn chickens into a frugal part of their permaculture homesteads!

Posted Fri Jun 6 22:07:29 2014 Tags:

The Naturally Bug-Free GardenI don't usually publish a second edition a mere four months after the first edition came out.  But I was able to make a deal with Skyhorse to turn The Naturally Bug-Free Garden into a print book (due to hit bookstores in spring 2015) while leaving me the ebook rights.  That's why you haven't heard much from me on the writing front for the last month --- I've been getting the revised manuscript together to send to my publisher.

I'm a perfectionist, so whenever something's going to be on paper, I tend to polish, polish, polish.  And, in this case, I also tracked down several permaculture suggestions from readers, added a couple dozen more photos, and streamlined the text.  The result is a book that's 30% longer and is 100% higher quality than the first edition.

Which is all a long way of saying that, if you've already purchased The Naturally Bug-Free can just wait a few days until Amazon emails you to see if you'd like a free copy of the revised edition.  And if you haven't made the $1.99 splurge yet, now's a great time!  You'll also probably be hearing me oohing and aahing over Skyhorse's rendition of the cover and interior soon --- I appreciate your patience in advance.

In other news, I've also got a chicken ebook coming down the pipeline soon, hopefully ready to hit Amazon next week.  So stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Posted Tue Jun 3 23:25:25 2014 Tags:

Anna Celeste BurkeA: I met Anna Celeste Burke (who goes by Celeste, thank goodness) over on Marcia's blog, where she caught my interest because, like me, she did a lot of non-fiction writing (traditionally published, in her case) before delving into the world of fiction (self-published).  Her books A Dead Husband (on sale for 99 cents this week) and A Dead Sister are cozy mysteries that owe a lot to Celeste's experience working in the fields of mental health and substance abuse.  "Some of the themes that interest me in writing fiction have to do with pondering whether human problems are psychological or existential…sickness or evil, problems ‘determined’ by our circumstance or entered into by choice," Celeste explained when I asked her how her previous career has fed into her current fiction writing.

I thought you might all enjoy hearing about Celeste's experiences spanning the fiction and non-fiction divide, so I figured I'd follow Aimee's lead and do an author interview.  Thanks for dropping by, Celeste!  You mentioned in an email that part of the learning curve involved in switching over to fiction included having to wage war against "weasel words."  I made some similar changes in my writing style even before starting to write fiction since my non-fiction writing is for the popular, rather than the academic, press, and it felt very freeing to let go of conventions like writing in the third person.  What made you decide to branch out into fiction instead of popular non-fiction when you chose to self-publish?  Was it a marketing decision or simply a book itching to be written?

A Dead HusbandC: Writing fiction began as a way to break out of the confines of the academic writing I was doing.  The methods required of you in science place such strictures on what you say and how you say it.  Progress, when it occurs, is incremental, and bounded.  When I talk about using weasel words, I'm talking about all the disclaimers and conditions you put into every sentence to make sure you're not overstating your case about a research finding or treatment outcome.  It is valuable work, but complex and tedious. Like coloring within the lines.  There's even something satisfying about that, and I suppose that's why I chose that line of work.  Most often, I studied unbounded, out of control subjects like madness, drunkenness, compulsions and addictions to drugs and other things.  So a cool medium in which to explore hot subjects makes sense.  I did consider writing in the self-help genre at some point.  In addition to research, I did lots and lots of teaching and training of practitioners in helping professions.  Some in the classroom, but in community agencies as well.  Mostly about how to evaluate the outcomes of prevention and intervention practice.  So figuring out how to translate scientific knowledge into practice matters.

I was drawn to fiction because it's so different.  More use of visual imagery, a freer flow of ideas, a faster pace, and more expansive use of language than what I used to in academic writing.  So, I think you could say I had the itch to do a different kind of writing without regard to marketing.  Making stuff up is just more fun.

A: I know what you mean about making stuff up being more fun.  Writing non-fiction is restful for me, while writing fiction is invigorating (and sometimes heart-wrenching).  I've also found that the two different types of writing are very different from a marketing standpoint.  Readers seem to really enjoy short non-fiction (10,000 to 20,000 words, with photos) and I've found it's easy to get into the mid-list range with non-fiction (selling 1 to 10 copies per day) and stick there.  With fiction you either sell a lot of copies or very few since there's so much competition for the top-100 lists.  Plus, reviewers often complain if your book is shorter than about 50,000 words, even if you're only charging 99 cents.  Have you had a similar experience with the differences between marketing fiction and non-fiction?

C: Marketing is a whole new world to me.  My previous publishing was done through established outlets with very specific, targeted audiences.  They generally accept articles in that 10,000 to 20,000 word range, by the way.  They often have strict guidelines about that, and the format in which the article must be written.  That structure is good and bad.  Makes it clear what you need to do but chafes!

A Dead Husband (cover)The best 'marketing tool' you have is to pick the right journal outlet.  If you do that, and your article is accepted after going through a peer-review process, it'll get read by the audience you're seeking.  The idea is to reach the community of scholars, doing similar work in your field, so you can learn from each other and move the field of study along.  Many of those journals have small numbers of subscribers so the 'targeted audience' may only be a few hundred people.  Some practice journals have larger audiences, since both academics and practitioners may subscribe and read what you publish.  There's an anti-marketing ethos in academia, although departments in universities that sponsor particular journals do so because it brings them 'greater visibility'.  Professors are also encouraged to participate in conferences to gain visibility for their work, often before it's published.

Novel-writing is still pretty new to me, so I still have a lot to learn.  Yes, you're right that there's a threshold somewhere around 50 or 60,000 words that's expected for novels.  Even more ambiguous, but floating out there, is some kind up upper limit at around 100-125,000 words. Authors of young adult novels are expected to stick to the lower end of the range, while most adult novels are expected to be in the 80-100,000 word range.  Writer's Digest posted a piece on this matter in 2012.  There is the 'novella' category for shorter pieces, but I haven't explored that format, much, have you?

A: In my experience, customer reviewers don't seem to understand what a novella is, so it's a bit dicey to market a work with that description.  A lot of the authors I see simply use the term "short story" even for longer works as a way of bypassing bad reviews from confused customers.

It's interesting to hear how small the audience is for many of the journals you wrote for.  I sometimes feel a bit daunted when I realize how many thousands of people read my ebooks, and how diverse their wishes and experiences are.  At the same time, it's exciting to live in an era when anyone can put an ebook up on Amazon and, if the book captures the public imagination, the text can be downloaded hundreds or thousands of times per month.  Do you feel like Amazon (and, to a lesser degree, other e-retailers) have changed the face of publishing in the last decade?  Would you have tried your hand at fiction-writing if we still lived in an era when you had to query agents and publishers in hopes of getting your work out into the world?

A Dead SisterI did go, for several years, to the Maui Writer's Conference and loved it.  Interesting courses on writing, meetings with authors, agents and publishers.  I got good feedback and encouragement to keep writing.  Several agents were interested enough to offer representation.  What they asked in return was more than I could do!  Things like register with the National Speakers Bureau, guest appearances, and other promotional activities.  I already had a 60+ hour per week job.  Everybody knows the best advice to struggling writers is "don't quit your day job."

Call me chicken, but the traditional publishing industry has been challenging for decades.  Stories abound about well-regarded, best-sellers finding the light of day only after amassing dozens of rejections slips.  Even with representation!  Years ago, a traditionally published book had an average shelf life of 3 days!  And that was before the decimation of independent book stores and the demise of Borders.  I'm a 'bird in the hand' kind of girl, I guess, so I put off fiction writing until after retirement.

There's a lot to be said for the self-publishing revolution.  The future for books depends on it.  I feel nostalgic, at times, about the loss of book stores.  Libraries, too, that are struggling all across the country.  Still, it's miraculous when you realize, with ebooks, you can carry an entire library on a reader, smartphone, tablet or laptop.  How cool is that?  Those of us who love books, will never be without one again--one or two or ten or one hundred or more!  No more getting caught waiting without something wonderful to read, yay!

A: I agree --- having so many ebooks at my fingertips makes it hard to do anything except read some days.  Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences, Celeste.  It's been a pleasure chatting with you.  I hope our readers enjoyed this as much as I did.

Posted Tue May 27 20:11:18 2014 Tags:

A: Marcia interviewed me over on her blog last week, so I figured it was time to interview her here in exchange.  I gave Marcia a firm admonition to answer each question with only one paragraph, and she said she'd do her best.  Welcome to Marcia Meara, author of Wake-Robin Ridge, Swamp Ghosts, and Summer Magic!  Marcia, would you mind telling us a little about yourself and why you started to write?

Marcia MearaM: Great to be here, thanks.  I can't remember when I didn't want to write.  At five, I was filling yellow legal tablets with poems about cowboys and horses, and by twelve, I had mapped out a future that included living on the beach with dozens of cats, painting and writing all day long.  I do have cats, and I've lived on the beach, and painted, as well.  But I never got back to the writing, having been told it was a silly pursuit and no way for a woman to make a living. I'm 70 now--a grandmother twice over--and one day I realized if I still wanted to write, I could darn well do it.  So I sat down, wrote my first novel, Wake-Robin Ridge, then taught myself to format and self-publish it.  I followed that by publishing a book of poetry, Summer Magic, and this month, I published my second novel, Swamp Ghosts.  It's the most fulfilling thing I've ever done, and I don't plan to stop any time soon.  I'm already working on sequels to both of my novels, and have several new poems done for my next volume of poetry.

A: I think the stories I wrote at that age were about cats, not cowboys, but your childhood sounds familiar.  Were you a big reader as well as a young writer?  If so, what were your favorite books read during your formative years?

Wake-Robin RidgeM: I was BORN a voracious reader, I think.  I read and wrote before kindergarten.  As a child, I read all of the horse and dog books out there: Black Stallion series, Black Beauty, Lassie series.  Then I started the Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Hardy Boys mysteries.  But by the time I was in third grade, I had read everything our children's library had to offer, and my mother was faced with skimming through books in the adult section that she felt were suitable for a nine-year old to read, so I advanced into grown-up fiction pretty early.  (Easier to do in those days, when a single swear word could get a book banned.)  My mother wanted me to spend more time outdoors, so I would hide books under my shirt, climb a tree in the backyard, and read all day, undetected.  She was happy, and I was, too.  After I turned twelve, I read everything I could get my hands on from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, to Bram Stoker's Dracula, to anything and everything by Daphne du Maurier, including my all-time favorite book, Rebecca.  I loved Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and all the gothic romances, especially if they were set on the moors in England or Wales.  There really was nothing I wouldn't read, though, and I always adored poetry, as well, being especially fond of Poe's The Raven, and The Bells, and everything by Amy Lowell.  Ray Bradbury was a huge favorite, and later, Stephen King, until I discovered Dean Koontz, and switched my allegiance.  Vampires would get my attention every time, even as a very young girl, and today's glut of Urban Fantasy makes my heart happy, though I still read plenty of other things, as well.

A: That's quite an eclectic collection of books!  Many writers seem to be torn between writing what they know and writing what they read.  Do you feel live you've found a happy middle ground between the two options?  Are your books based more upon your experiences or upon the worlds you read about?

Swamp GhostsThese days, I read more Urban Fantasy than anything else, just for the pure escapism of it.  I like really well-thought out supernatural or paranormal worlds, but frankly, I have no idea how to go about creating them, myself.  I tend to go with what I know, instead, and at my age (70), I feel I do know a thing or two about love and loss, so I lean toward Romantic Suspense.  Straight romance doesn't interest me as much as romance with an element of danger does.  But I feel perfectly entitled to throw in some spooky stuff here and there, too, if the mood hits, as it did in Wake-Robin Ridge.  If I think I can pull off a "Woo-Woo Moment," and it adds an interesting element to the book, I'll go for it.  But at heart, my books--at least so far--are more love stories than anything else.  A lot of my own experience does go into that, but even more goes into the settings.  I love the North Carolina mountains more than any place I've been (so far) in the world, and feel I can do that setting justice.  So that's where I've envisioned the fictional town of Darcy's Corner, and the mountain known as Wake-Robin Ridge.  And I know the rivers and wildlife of central Florida pretty thoroughly, too, having canoed many, many miles on them.  So that's the setting for Swamp Ghosts, in the fictional town of Riverbend.  The next Darcy's Corner book will be a sequel to Wake-Robin Ridge, bringing back Sarah and Mac in a whole new story.  And the next Riverbend novel will be a (mostly) stand-alone book called Hunter, which features one of the characters introduced in Swamp Ghosts. Both Darcy's Corner and Riverbend have become very real places to me, and I wouldn't mind writing several more books set in each location.

A: Writing (and reading) series is an interesting topic.  From a self-publishing standpoint, series have a lot to recommend them since you build up a fan-base who will (hopefully) want to read each subsequent installment.  But series also have the potential problem of creating a barrier to entry late in the series if you use the same protagonist throughout --- people want to start at the beginning.  And it can also be tough to keep your writing fresh and character-driven if you use the same protagonist for each book in a series.  How did you decide to get around these problems in your upcoming novels?  And, as a bonus question, which series have you read that have dealt with these issues in a fashion you really enjoyed?

So much to ponder, here.  First of all, I'm not sure late entry into a series is really a barrier.  For myself, nothing makes me happier than to start at Book 1 and read straight through an entire series, back to back, with no waiting a year for the next book.  And I know I'm not alone in that.  So I think that one's a toss-up.  Now keeping your characters fresh is tougher.  I think the best series do that in two ways.  First, the character has to grow and adapt.  Emotionally, in more realistic series, or perhaps via new powers or skills in the paranormal worlds.  And second, I think the best series have new and exciting plot lines in each book, related to previous books, yes, but with new situations and problems to be dealt with.  If an author can provide character growth and ever-expanding plot lines, then I think they will have a successful series.  Jim Butcher's Dresden Files comes to mind as my favorite example of a character whose personal growth has continued through each book, along with his wizardly power and strength.  Plus the plots get bigger and more compelling with each Summer Magicbook, too.  It's an amazing series.  Others I love would include Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series, Kim Harrison's Hollows series, Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series, and her YA Morganville Vampire series, Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series, and her Alpha & Omega series, the Eileen Wilks World of the Lupi series, and Dean Koontz's wonderful Odd Thomas series.  All Urban Fantasies, and all with excellent growth and development of characters and plot lines.

Bonus question, bonus paragraph. For myself, I never intended to write an actual ongoing series featuring the same characters.  My goal was to feature a different character in each book, telling the stories of other people in Darcy's Corner, or in Riverbend.  I've discovered while writing my two published novels that minor characters can catch my attention, and let me know they have a story that needs to be told, too.  In the case of Swamp Ghosts, there is a quirky friend of the hero who tugged at my heart in every scene he was in.  I knew early on that he needed his own book.  With Wake-Robin Ridge, there was a minor character working at a local diner I wanted to get back to, but before I could make that happen, I realized Sarah & Mac's story wasn't quite over, after all.  Hence the sequel, in their case.  But for the most part, I'm planning to write books that can stand alone, though there will be some overlap of characters, since both of my settings are small, and everyone knows everyone else.  Those who have read Swamp Ghosts and know the next book will be about Hunter Painter, have told me they can't wait to learn more about him, since they liked him so much.  So reading them in order would be ideal.  That way, you'd go into the second book knowing a bit about the main character already.  But I don't think it would be a necessity.  Hope that makes sense.

A: Thanks for such thoughtful replies, Marcia (and for doing your very best to keep each answer to a paragraph).  As you can tell, Marcia has a lot more to say, so why not check out her books, or subscribe to her blog Bookin' It?  She plans to interview authors every Wednesday, so you're bound to find out about books you've never heard of (but should have) if you drop by midweek.  Enjoy!

Posted Sat May 24 14:33:29 2014 Tags:
Amazon sales dashboard

In the past, I've sung the praises of Amazon's KDP Select Program.  Sure, they require you to only sell books on Amazon, but by enrolling in the program, you get access to five free days per three-month period, which is an astonishingly effective marketing tool.  So why did I just yank two books out of the program?

Amazon has a handy new reporting feature known as Sales Dashboard (shown above), which allows you to visualize day-by-day sales for each of your titles individually.  By browsing back through my stats, I realized that only some of my free periods were giving me a boost.  Specifically, free periods for books that have a potential to appeal to a very broad audience (and which thus tend to hit the top 100 free on Amazon) boost both the title itself and related titles after the free period ends.  On the other hand, niche books generally move fewer than 1,000 copies during a two-day free period, and the promotion doesn't seem to give me any benefit at all.

With those niche books, I next took a look at borrows through the Kindle Owner's Lending Library, another way that KDP Select members get an extra boost.  Some of my niche titles are averaging about 9 borrows per month, which equates to about $18 revenue --- probably worth keeping the book in the KDP program for that reason alone.  But since Amazon sales equal about 50% of total ebook sales across the board, titles that see only a couple of borrows per month might be better off distributed to a wider marketplace.

Expanded ebook distributionThat's why you'll soon see Microbusiness Independence and can already see Low-Cost Sunroom for sale at most ebook sellers.  (You can download Low-Cost Sunroom for 99 cents on Smashwords and on Barnes and Noble, and the title should soon show up on Apple, Kobo, Sony, and in other stores.)  I chose to use Smashwords to distribute my ebooks to non-Amazon sources partly through laziness (it often takes a couple of hours to format a book for each store, especially the first time around as you learn their particular quirks) and partly because of the excellent advice here.  The short version is --- Smashwords takes a little cut of the action, but does the format conversion and listings for you.

Will the expanded distribution route be worth it?  I suspect that my best option will be to keep my best-sellers in Amazon's KDP Select program, then to put lower-ranking books on Smashwords and on other sites.  Only time will tell, but I'll definitely keep you posted.

Posted Mon May 19 15:01:38 2014 Tags:

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