Indie Authors and Your Books: Where to Sell Online

Hi there. In today’s post, I want to talk about a few different online platforms where you can self-publish your book. I’m in the process of branching out and wanted to share our options to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. I’ve been with Amazon KDP for the last year or so (due to only having one book out, then using the Select program to promote the new title). Now that I’m free to publish elsewhere, I’ve joined NookPress and KOBO and am interested in the research as well as future results. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

AMAZON KINDLE DIRECT PUBLISHING: There are 2 things to address here. If you’re an indie author and your book isn’t on Amazon, then I’m gonna need you to go straight to their website and hit “Publish.” Amazon is the king of e-books right now and without them, you’re missing the biggest market available to indies. And YES, you can be on Amazon KDP and still publish on other online platforms! It’s only if you’re enrolled in Select that you can’t publish elsewhere. Which leads to…

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KDP Select. Now how about that part where your book can have free promotion days with KDP Select? Both WITCH HEARTS and GIFTED have been part of the Amazon KDP Program for several months. (You can read more about my success with KDP Select here.) Due to their rules, if you’re enrolled in this program, you cannot have your book listed anywhere else online until you’re finished with your 90 days – this includes your blog and website, too.

I always recommend to indies to start with Amazon KDP – if you’re a tiny name like me and are working your way up the writing ladder, it’s a great way to get exposure. I know there’s skepticism over whether KDP works, but when you’re just getting started with your first book or two, honestly, what do you have to lose? I’m perfectly happy with the idea that 22K people have my book on their Kindle – I’ve gotten 20 new reviews out of it (resulting in more sales), so I’m certainly not complaining!

KoboLogoKOBO: I’m new to KOBO, so any tips we can share is appreciated. I just uploaded both books to this platform; while I have yet to see any results, I’m pleased with the ease of usage as well as responses from other authors about it. When I posed the question about KOBO in one of my indie author groups, I had a few varied, but mostly positive responses. (Most preferred KOBO over say, Smashwords, and have had an easy time uploading their books; many are even moving about $100 a month, which is nothing to sneeze at – sure you can make more, but even that much cash is music to any indie author’s ears!) Indies Unlimited has a terrific article about publishing with KOBO and I highly recommend checking it out.

One of the downsides to KOBO is that you can’t write reviews – they pull your reviews from GoodReads, which, as we all know, can be for better or worse. Here’s a tutorial of how to get your reviews from GR up with your KOBO book pages.

This is a terrific list from IndieBound on bookstores carrying KOBO published books.

nooklogoNOOK: Admittedly, I put GIFTED on this site last year, before the release of my second book. I wanted to branch out, but was unfortunately disappointed in the results. That’s not to say others don’t do well there – again, as a small name building my way up, it comes as no surprise that people aren’t throwing their money at me.

So now that both titles will be available for the Nook, I’ll be able to promote a new platform. I’m excited about this, because according to most research, while the Kindle is the top-rated e-reader, the Nook is second in line. And of course with Barnes & Noble being like, the last major bookstore in the US (at least it sure feels like it in my city, minus a comic book shop and a couple used bookstores), you want to be able to tell people that yes, they can get your book through B&N!

SMASHWORDS: This platform produces multiple formats of your ebook, so customers can read it on many different e-readers. The site also distributes to other online retailers, like Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBookstore, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, and Baker & Taylor. The thing is, I’ve found Smashwords to be enormously confusing due to the formatting guidelines and distribution times. Like, gives me a straight 2 week headache waiting to be approved and distributed.

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Personally, I’m skipping the Smashwords platform because I use Scrivener, which allows me to automatically convert my manuscript to an epub or mobi file – this means I can upload directly to my KOBO or NOOK sites without needing a third party to do it for me. (In the past, you had to use Smashwords to upload to KOBO, but now they’ve got their own self-pub site, so I see no reason to use SW.) I’ve also heard some scary stuff about pirating via Smashwords and while I know that can happen pretty much any time, anywhere, I tend to shy away from any platform where people blatantly admit they’re getting pirated.

Once you’ve chosen your platforms and your books are published online, make sure to include all your links. Promote them through your various social media sites, on your website and blog, and maybe even include QR codes on swag or other stuff readers will pick up. We can put our stuff online, but if we’re not promoting it, we’re just spinning our wheels.

I would LOVE to hear your opinions on this, where your books are located online, and how you feel about the platforms you’ve selected (as well as why you selected them). Are you in the Apple iBookstore or Sony? I’m interested to hear what you guys think, as well as any recommendations or tips for how to be successful in the platforms you’ve chosen.

Scrivener: Best Writing Tool in the Author Utility Belt

Today we’re going to talk about a writing tool that changed the way I write (and maybe even my life):

SCRIVENER (!!!) Keep in mind when I talk about Scrivener, I’m only referring to how I use it to produce my novels. There are lots of other options – Non-Fiction, Scriptwriting, Poetry and Lyrics – but I am unfamiliar with those steps. I’m in no way an affiliate, either – strictly a fiction indie author who highly recommends this program to interested writers.

Now, for today’s lesson, I’m using screenshots I took of my second book, Witch Hearts, as well as a shot of the upcoming second Donovan Circus book. (No spoilers.) Keep in mind in mind these are notes for your own reference, so you can put in whatever information you want; readers aren’t going to see this show up in your published books.

Let’s start with my favorite part about the program: it gives me the ability to rearrange my chapters and scenes in seconds. Screen shot 2013-07-06 at 10.57.54 PM

The drag and drop is perfect for writers like me. I don’t write my chapters in order; in fact, I typically have the first and last few scenes done before anything else and then I have to connect the dots in the middle to figure out how they got from Point A to Point Z. When I wrote Gifted, I used Word, which is admittedly fine for anyone to write a book. Not a problem at all – but it’s a little inconvenient when I’m looking for a particular chapter or I’ve copied and pasted a scene in the wrong spot.

My next favorite thing in Scrivener: Creating Characters 

I love using the character sketches to keep track of my character quirks and personalities. Once again, Word is fine and I put pen to paper for many of my circus characters. Using the charts for Witch Hearts, however, I discovered the main points of who the character is and what makes them tick.

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I also love that you can add in photos for your own inspiration while you write. Creating the character behind the face is always fun for writers and Scrivener notes a few qualities that might get you jumpstarted. They cover the basics of course (name, relationship to protagonist, occupation, physical appearance), but you can also list background, external and internal conflicts, and of course you can add whatever else the character needs. (You can also write out settings sketches.)

The composition mode is also a win in my book – I tend to get easily distracted when writing. I have to cut myself off from the wifi when I settle in for a session or I’ll play on Facebook for 45 minutes. So when I can hit that button and make it go to a one-column, in your face document, my focus is better. Plus I still have a toolbar that pops up at the bottom to give me options on the best view. I’ll also add that there’s a fantastic feature to Show Project Targets that shows my word count and can also show word goals, if you make them (for example, I’m shooting for at least 80K words in the next circus book; by seeing my goals met or my halfway point, it gives me a better idea of how scenes fit together or if I can add on that conversation I deleted and can edit later).

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When it came time to put my first book together, I totally forgot about the standard stuff, like the dedication and copyright pages. Luckily, Scrivener has these ready to add which made the second round so much easier to compile. I also love the easy Search Document feature, plus how simple it was to upload the book cover for the ebook version. (And it’s just as simple working with paperback formatting, too.)

And then of course there’s the compile feature – here’s where the bang for your buck lies – you can control your page set up (margins, page sizes, etc.) as well as save your file as a .mobi (Kindle) or .epub (Sony/iPhone/Nook) file. So.much.time saved. You can also save as a PDF.

FYI, there’s also a terrific article at The Creative Penn for three top reasons Scrivener is your new friend. She’s got a great point about using Project Binders with your research and photos, but as I haven’t used that feature, you should let her explain it.

You can download a copy of Scrivener for Mac over at Literature & Latte. The program is also available for PCs and if you’re feeling hesitant about spending $40 on it, you can try out the free trial version. I’m pretty sure you get the idea, but I can’t recommend this program enough if you’re looking for a new tool. Word is fine, but I feel more organized, more in control, and more comfortable with Scrivener than I ever have with any other writing program. If you give it a try, I hope you do too!

Amazon KDP Select: How I Got Over 20K Downloads

Last month, I made GIFTED, A DONOVAN CIRCUS NOVEL, free for 3 days to celebrate my new release WITCH HEARTS. I spent weeks beforehand preparing a strategy, figuring out how to promote it, and goals that would hopefully be achieved during it. The hard work paid off, because I had over 20,000 downloads, stayed at #5 in the Top 100, and even got new reviews out of it. (Update: I have received 13 new reviews, which is definitely awesome!)

Put simply, KDP Select is a program authors can sign up with through Amazon for Kindle. You are enrolled for 90 days (and automatically re-enrolled once it’s over, so if you only plan on using it once, pay attention to your days) and your ebook can only be available on this platform. You get 5 promotion days to use throughout the 90 day program. You can use them as you see fit – 3 days and 2 later, 1 and 1, etc. Most authors recommend using at least 2 days in a row and I would have to agree – if you’re trying to get as much bang for your buck as possible, 1 day won’t cut it. (And while you could schedule all 5 at once if you wanted, you probably want to stash a day or two for later. Remember, you’re enrolled for 90 days, whether you use them or not. And no, KDP Days do not roll over to the new 90 day period.)

So I signed up for the KDP program and scheduled out my 3 free days for GIFTED. Many people differ on when to host your days, but from my research, you get better sales days (actual purchases) on the weekend, so perhaps in the middle of the week would work better. Because WITCH HEARTS released on a Tuesday, my free days for GIFTED ran on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Tuesday was my biggest download day as that’s when my scheduled promos through various sites posted them. I still had plenty of downloads Wednesday and Thursday, but there was a distinct plunge of downloads by the last half of Day 2.

Because I can’t get too technical with my numbers (Amazon doesn’t like you revealing exactly how many downloads you got), instead I wanted to offer up the links I used to research as well as submit my free days. You’ll have to be willing to put in the work, but I have yet to meet an indie author who isn’t already quite prepared for that 😉

The biggest thing I did, at least in my opinion, was submitting my book for a BookBub submission. Many authors worry about the cost, as it can get a bit pricey. However, I found their customer service to be excellent and the results from their marketing absolutely boosted my downloads and ranking (I hit #5 of Top 100 Free bestselling books and stayed #1 in SF/Fantasy and #1 in Fantasy Adventure for all 3 days). I originally submitted GIFTED as a Fantasy novel and was ready to pay the $90 fee. To my surprise, I heard back from a real person who looked over my listing and suggested a better placement in YA – a $40 fee. The fact she helped me to put my book in the correct spot even while knowing it would save me money was a HUGE bonus to using them. (It’s not often you find businesses willing to part with extra dollars!)

Anywho, the email that went out about GIFTED on the first free day compared the story to The Hunger Games trilogy, a comparison that both tickled and terrified me. Regardless, I will absolutely use BookBub’s resources for all future advertising, especially on free KDP days. It’s worth the price, assuming you’ve got a decent marketing budget.

The Author Marketing Club has a page here for authors looking to submit their free KDP days for promotion. If you scroll down and click on the list of logos, it brings up a window where you can enter your information – just make sure to do it ahead of time, say at least a week, so you’re guaranteed to have it listed (plus, it’s just polite AND keeps you from going crazy at the last minute).

I also used a bit of marketing help from thedesertgirl on Fiverr. For $25, she promoted my days to several sites I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. I was happy to pay the small fee for her to handle it, since the day my sales started all I had to go was log in to see she’d tagged and promoted me with several book listing sites. I will definitely use her again for future free book days.

I  took out a Facebook ad too, promoting a post about the free download days. I think I put in maybe $25 – I got a ton of new fans for my author page and feel confident it converted into at least a couple handfuls of the 20K+ downloads.

I would absolutely recommend checking out these links for other advice too. They not only list great links for where to submit your listing, but also offer tips on when to choose your days, how to promote through social media, and more.

Laura Howard – Finding Bliss – KDP Select Layering Strategy

Interviews with India Authors – My KDP Success Story

World Lit Cafe – Maximizing Free Days on Kindle Select

A Place for Aspiring Writers of Fiction – Benefits of KDP Select Days

Before your days, make sure to submit your listings to all of the sites you can find like these (Pixel of Ink, Free Booksy, etc.). I also have amazing friends (authors and readers alike) who shared out my posts on Facebook and Twitter, hosted me on their blog for the day, and/or promoted it however they could. Next time, I hope to better implement a hashtag on Twitter (#WitchHearts/#Gifted) that will catch on with any of my communities.

On the day of, make sure you’re posting on all your networks! Use your Facebook fan page to your advantage and talk it up. Same goes for Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. Write up a blog post announcing it and make it live that morning so it reaches your fans and followers early. Ask your fellow writing groups and author contacts to share it out  (and make sure to offer to repay the favor for them). And for all that is holy, thank every. single. person. who shares, RTs, and helps to promote YOUR product. We wouldn’t get far without them.

Marketing Tip: Writing Your Author Press Release

Today I wanted to share a press release I wrote for the release of WITCH HEARTS. I’ve edited it to also includes my signing on June 1st.

Press releases aren’t hard to put together, though it’s tough to get them picked up by local media. I tried to spin it in a unique way – the fact that self-publishing is on the rise – as well as attract local attention – using Roanoke as a setting. I also learned that sometimes it’s better to break up chunks of text with an image or two, in this case a book cover and author photo.

Your headline should be straightforward, with a small deck that gives the basic overview of the press release. Leave your contact info at the top and bottom. I offer a short intro with my background and a little about the book; then a quote about the title; a brief synopsis; and a summary of my previous work plus the notification about my signing.

DuoLit has a great article on keeping it simple yet informative. They also have another good piece on the 3 places to send your press release, including listing it on your own website. Any questions or comments on writing your press release?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Liz Long
lizclong@gmail.com

Magic, mystery, and murder in local author’s second independently published title 

With independent publishing in the news and on the rise, Liz Long releases her second novel, WITCH HEARTS, a paranormal thriller geared towards readers who enjoy magic, mystery, and murder.

Roanoke, VA – Liz Long has released her second independently published title, WITCH HEARTS. Available in paperback and for Kindle on Amazon, her novel has been described as ideal for readers who enjoy dark fantasy and thrillers. Long works for Leisure Publishing as the Social Media Editor and is active in the Roanoke writing community. WHCoverWeb

“While I never name the city, Roanoke is absolutely where I see my story taking place, from the first page on the greenway to the last page on a mountain hiking trail,” said Long.

WITCH HEARTS begins with Ruby learning of her best friend Courtney’s grisly murder. With the return of Courtney’s brother, they vow to save other witches from the same fate. They must reunite with the High Priest of her old coven, who also happens to be Ruby’s cheating ex-boyfriend. Courtney’s ghost haunts Ruby’s dreams as she hints that her brother’s past could get Ruby and him killed. As they search for the truth, the serial killer becomes fixated on Ruby and the more she discovers, the more she fears she won’t be able to keep her heart in her chest.

DSC_0089Long’s first title, GIFTED, A DONOVAN CIRCUS NOVEL, released in May 2012 and currently sits on Amazon with a 4.4 out of 5 star rating. Long frequently offers independent publishing and social media marketing advice on her website, as well as helps other indie authors with interviews and publicity for the online community.

Long will be signing books this Saturday, June 1st, from 1-3pm at Viva La Cupcake on Grandin Road. Both books will be available for purchase in paperback and Kindle. The first ten purchases will receive a free cupcake and all purchases will be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

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If you’d like more information, or to schedule an interview with Liz Long, please email her at lizclong@gmail.com.