From the personal update section of the 04-Oct-2022 episode of The Indy Author Podcast:
I’m back from two weeks in Maine, during which I had planned to focus mainly on finishing a draft of Ann Kinnear 6 that I could share with beta readers. However, I got derailed right away when I discovered, almost by accident, that Amazon had taken down the first book in the Lizzy Ballard Thriller Trilogy, ROCK PAPER SCISSORS. This was especially alarming because having Book 1 of the trilogy unavailable was obviously going to impact the sales of Books 2 and 3.
I ended up spending a good part of a couple of days trying to get that resolved. I contacted KDP Support via chat and at first, they told me that the issue was that I had submitted the book as a pre-order, but that it contained already published content. Acknowledging that, if the KDP UI allowed it, it was possible that I had accidentally and erroneously hit a “pre-order” button and asked how I could resolve it. They told me that the only way to resolve it was to delist the current book and create a new book, including a new ISBN.
I pointed out that that would mean I would lose 151 reviews with a 4.4-star average, and they assured me that once the new book was up, they would transfer the reviews to it. Even assuming they did that, I further pointed out all the other problems that would cause, such as breaking every online link to the original version. I also pointed out that if the issue was copied content, I couldn’t see how spinning up an identical version would solve the problem. I asked to have the issue escalated, which they did, but I could only be able to talk to the escalation team via phone or email. I didn’t want to use the phone, because I wanted a record of my conversation (warning: even using chat with KDP support was not a guarantee of an electronic record—at least one I had access to—because they can’t send a transcript of the conversation until it’s complete, and then they have to remember to do it, so always copy the transcript before you end the chat). I was afraid of waiting through turnaround time for email, but that seemed to be my only option.
Fortunately, turnaround on the escalated emails was very prompt—within 24 hours. Unfortunately, this was their response:
We've reviewed your book(s) and are upholding our previous decision. The book(s) impairs customers' ability to make good buying decisions because of the following:
• Similarity of the title to a previously published book
I finally realized what the issue was and replied with this:
I'm suspecting that you're referring to the fact that Alice Feeney's , published in 2021--four years after I published the Lizzy Ballard Thriller Rock Paper Scissors--shares the same title. On the basis of that logic, you should be taking down Ms. Feeney's book, not mine, but I assume you know that book titles are not copyrightable, and I certainly bear Ms. Feeney no ill will for "taking" the title I had already used.
Within another 24 hours, I got an email that they had re-reviewed the case and had reinstated the book, which indeed showed up again within another 24 hours, all reviews and other metadata intact.
This was not how I had wanted to spend the first few days of my vacation BUT I was relieved that it was resolved as quickly as it was. I sometimes feel like a lone apologist for Amazon in the indy world—and I acknowledge that there are many, many ways that Amazon makes the life of an indy author difficult, not to mention indy bookstores—but it’s also important to remember that most indy authors wouldn’t be where we are without access to the world’s biggest bookstore, not to mention Amazon-blazed technologies like e-readers and print on demand books.
I also recognize that when a retailer is managing a bookstore as huge as Amazon’s, it’s going to have to rely on automated sweeps and not human curation to monitor the content they make it so easy to make available for sale. Since I’m sure there are many unethical people who will try to take advantage of a popular title by putting up content with the same title, it makes sense that Amazon would have automated tools on the look-out for such content, and if I accidentally flagged my 2017 title as a new release, then I’m not surprised that it got caught in that sweep.
I was impressed that the KDP escalation team responded so quickly to not one but two follow-ups, and were willing to reconsider their position when they and I were in sync on what the actual issue was.
So my learnings from this are ...
... don’t give up on trying to get an issue resolved after one or two unsuccessful attempts. (I recognize that for every satisfactory resolution to and issue, where is at least one unsatisfactory result, but don’t assume that there is no recourse.
... remember that when you’re dealing with KDP support, you’re not dealing with technology, you’re dealing with a person, AND that you’re not going to improve your chances of a successful resolution by being unpleasant. You want to be pleasantly, or at least professionally, persistent. Even when I was dealing with the first-line support via chat, and even though they were giving me erroneous information (for which I can easily imagine their systems could be blamed), I was impressed with how long the rep was willing to stay on chat with me as I thought through all the various issues and considerations.
... keep a record of all your contacts with KDP support, and even if the chat rep says they will send you a transcript after the chat is ended, copy out the chat before you close it. (I never received the transcript that the chat rep promised to send.)
Finally, while I may be an apologist for Amazon in some situation, I’m still working continuously to reduce my reliance on Amazon, because if my appeal of the take-down of ROCK PAPER SCISSORS had gone differently, I would have been in a world of hurt.
Erin Wright of Wide for the Win explains why indy authors should go direct to Barnes & Noble (not through an aggregator): to take advantage of B&N's extensive category options and to be eligible for in-house promotions.
Erin also discusses the mechanics of moving an audiobook from an aggregator like Findaway Voices to ACX, since loading direct to ACX will greatly improve your audiobooks "find-ability" on Amazon and Audible, and will enable you to set your own price.
[00:00:00] Erin: If you're ready for some unsolicited advice, I will do a little mini consultation with you. Where you were talking about which storefront you go direct to you and which ones do you use a distributor for? My best suggestion to you actually is to go direct to Barnes and Noble.
[00:00:19] Right now you use Draft2Digital for them, is that correct?
[00:00:22] Matty: Yes. And Ingram for the print.
[00:00:27] Erin: Okay, perfect. Yeah, the print, whatever. It doesn't honestly matter. But their eBooks, I don't know if you're on TikTok or not, but there for a while, there was a trend on TikTok, say, blah, blah, blah, without saying the words, blah, blah, blah.
[00:00:43] And, if I were ever to join TikTok as an author instead of just somebody who likes to watch cat videos, I would put up a TikTok that says, say you make no money on Barnes and Noble without saying you make no money on Barnes and Noble. I'll go first. I use a distributor to get to Barnes and Noble.
[00:01:02] You cannot make money on Barnes and Noble if you go through a distributor. The way that they have their system set up, they have some really amazing categories. When some poor schmuck at Draft2Digital or Smashwords or any of the distributors program in that distribution system in the computer, it all has to be automated, right? You cannot have some poor person sitting there and manually directing and routing things based on which storefront and all that good, fun stuff. It all has to be programmed in. So there's some poor schmuck at Draft2Digital who was handed a list of 12, 15 storefronts that Draft2Digital will get you to.
[00:01:46] All of those storefronts have their own categorization system. A lot of them will run off something like a BISAC, which is what Draft2Digital uses, but not all of them. So if anybody who ever wants to go check out Kobo, they definitely do not have BISAC categories for their books. Kobo categories are terrible and they're well aware of this. I have talked to them at many an author conference of like, are you guys ever going to fix your categories? Because right now my books are in Romance on Kobo, which is thrilling beyond words, let me tell you. I think I might even be down into Contemporary Romance, which is quite the spread going on there.
[00:02:30] Each storefront has their own set of categories, and some poor schmuck has to program the website of Draft2Digital to equal all of these different categories. And some of them equal quite easily, but some of them are very obscure and there's not going to be a great way to write programming to have it go from Draft2Digital to this other storefront, to this specific category in this other storefront.
[00:02:58] So what ends up happening quite often with distributors is that you end up in the more general categories. You'll end up in Contemporary Romance. You'll end up in General Romance. You'll end up in Western Romance. That is usually a category available, except for on Kobo. Thank you, Kobo. But you have those very general categories and Draft2Digital can easily make an equation to say, okay, when the author picks this category, they should equal this category on these storefronts.
[00:03:25] Barnes and Noble, to the heart and soul of it, is a bookseller, more so than any other storefront. They do not sell TVs. They do not sell cool wristwatches. They do not sell you phones. They sell you books, period. And you can see that DNA in their system, very, very obvious because they have got some categories that are crazy. Where over the years of selling books to American readers, they're only in America, they have come up with some really specific categories that do not exist anywhere else.
[00:04:08] So, you'll have categories like, Lust in the Dust. Legit, that's a category on Barnes and Noble. Love and War? is another one. I mean, there's some really interesting categories that you do not have anywhere else. And they do that because they are booksellers at their heart and soul. That's what they do, and so they've developed over the years, this really intense categorization system.
[00:04:37] Because they are not a technology company, God bless Barnes and Noble tech people, they are not going to win when it comes to search optimization versus say, Google Play. Google, Apple, their search engines are going to be a lot more robust. Barnes and Noble, their search engines are not so robust. If you find the book you're looking for by using a search, you should feel very lucky. And so, readers, quite often, instead of going up to the search bar and looking for the next book that they're going to read, we'll just go back to the category that they found their last favorite book in and go find all the other books that are in that category.
[00:05:19] So the categories on Barnes and Noble are really well used by the readers. And unlike all the other storefronts, the categories on the backend of Barnes and Noble exactly match the categories on the front end of Barnes and Noble. Unlike Amazon, where you have to keyword into some things and you have to request other ones and you have to do this and then it depends on which storefront, you're in, where you're at around the world, all the different storefronts show you different categories depending on blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Barnes and Noble is a hundred percent match.
[00:05:52] So you have to go direct to get into these really kind of obscure, fun categories, because the distribution companies could never program to get you into those. That just could not work because what would you do for all the other storefronts? So you have to use Barnes and Noble direct to get into these really cool categories. And these really cool categories are used heavily by their readers. So that's reason number one, that you really should go direct Barnes and Noble.
[00:06:20] And number two is that, and this is true of all distributors, Barnes and Noble does not do in-house promotions unless you are direct. It isn't that Mark Leslie Lefebvre or whoever at Draft2Digital could bat his eyes at Juliet Barnes and Noble and be like, but no, really, please, include our books in an in-house promotion. They will not put your book into an in-house promotion unless it's direct. And the two best ways to get traction on Barnes and Noble is through their categories and through their in-house promotions. And those are the two things that you cannot access unless you go direct.
[00:06:59] Matty: I think in my conversation with Orna <Ross> about distribution, and this is kind of tied in with the promotion, is that Barnes and Noble has this enormous email list of people who just love books. And they're doing much more direct outreach in that sense than, I won't say the Amazon necessarily, but that's their wheelhouse, like you're saying. They're selling books and they have this list of people who love books, and they keep in touch with them and know how to do that successfully.
[00:07:26] Erin: Very much so. And the cool thing about Barnes and Noble is their in-house promotions are all free. So unlike Amazon, where you have to pay to get any sort of visibility, with Barnes and Noble, you just need to go direct and you get loads more visibility because you're in all the right categories and you get loads more visibility from in-house promotions, which really move the dial at Barnes and Noble. And you will make significantly more if you go direct to Barnes and Noble.
[00:07:53] Matty: You know how Kobo has Kobo Writing Life, does Barnes and Noble have a site that authors go to?
[00:07:59] Erin: Yeah, it's https://press.barnesandnoble.com/. In case anybody else is listening to this, Barnes and Noble does not work with all countries around the world. So there are a lot of people who can't go direct to Barnes and Noble because they don't live in the right country. But they work with most major English-speaking countries around the world. So for the longest time, you couldn't go direct to Barnes and Noble unless you lived in the US and the UK. So at this point, if you live in a major English-speaking country, you almost guaranteed can go direct to Barnes and Noble.
[00:08:34] So there is a list that you will find there, but there's 16 countries on it. So that's one of the downsides, I feel like going direct to Barnes and Nobles that you just can't if you live in certain countries. But the most part, most authors will be able to go direct.
[00:08:50] Matty: Very cool. I'm going to do it.
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[00:08:53] Erin: Yeah. So what you want to do, I'm just going to walk you through it because this is the number one question I get, as soon as I talk somebody into going direct, because this is something I talk to with a lot of people in consultations. I'm like, let's talk about Barnes and Noble. Because just as an FYI, Barnes and Noble is my second storefront, my top wide storefront, I make more Barnes and Noble than I do Apple, kobo, Google Play, and it's good money. So for me, I'm like, go direct! It's definitely worth it.
[00:09:25] If you choose to do it, you will want to set up your account in Barnes and Noble, publish your books direct on Barnes and Noble, and you will now have two listings. You'll have your direct listing to Barnes and Noble, and you'll have your distributor listing to Barnes and Noble. You're going to watch those two listings and compare between them. And let's say you have 14 reviews on the distributor version. You're going to wait to all 14 reviews populate on the new version and then delist from the distributor. So they are okay with having two different versions on the storefront at the same time. This is what they tell you to do.
[00:10:04] Kobo is exactly the opposite. So please don't be like, oh, this is how I transfer for all book for all storefronts. This is not that. This is Barnes and Noble only. You have both versions up. Wait for the reviews to automatically populate both of them. If you get to the end of two weeks and you have 12 reviews on the new book, but of the 14, two of them didn't transfer over for whatever reason, and that's happens sometimes, you will want to email Barnes and Noble and say, here's the URL for the distributor version. Here's the URL for the direct version. I have two reviews that are missing. Can you help me transfer them over? They will move any remaining ones over manually at that point. And then you go to the distributor, and you delist.
[00:10:49] Matty: Okay, that's great. It's especially good information because I had one of these, aha, I'm such an idiot moment when I was talking to Orna Ross during one of our conversations when we're talking about audio. And she was saying, in the same way that for eBooks, a common approach is to go direct to Amazon on KDP and then cover everybody else through if one or more aggregators, in the same way, of course you would do it with audio. You go direct to ACX to get to Amazon and Audible, and then you go through a distributor like Findaway for everything else.
[00:11:21] I was like, oh my God, because I had just put up one or two audiobooks on Findaway and had just clicked everything in terms of distribution. And I've been spending freaking months trying to get Findaway and ACX to agree that my audiobook has been delisted on Findaway so I can put it up direct on ACX. And bless Findaway's heart, I especially want to give a call out to Findaway, because there was nothing in it for them to help me get my books direct to ACX. But they were calling ACX themselves and saying, would you take that down? So I'm still in the middle of that, but that's very helpful to know, to be walked through the steps that would be needed to go direct to Barnes and Noble. Hopefully it will be a less painful experience.
[00:12:08] Erin: Yes. Honestly, with Barnes and Noble, if you're going to run into problems with going direct to Barnes and Noble, it's almost always during the setup process of your account. If you can get through the setup process and you now have a live dashboard that you can upload to, you're going to have very few problems. Sometimes if you live in the wrong country, or if you have a different business, I there's been a couple of times where the setup portion has been difficult to get onto Barnes and Noble. But once you got through that, it's actually one of my favorite dashboards to work with, because I'm actually a beta tester for Barnes and Noble. And so I helped in my own little way, I gave them feedback on their dashboard. And so their dashboard is really slick. It's really great to use.
[00:12:54] Matty: That's a pleasant surprise because I was not expecting to hear that Barnes and Noble was going to have a slick user interface.
[00:13:00] Erin: Five years ago, I would have been making jokes, because I absolutely did, about how terrible the Barnes and Noble interface was. That they used squirrels to chisel into stone tablets, and they would just not feed the squirrels any nuts or something, and then they would all wander off into never never land. Who even knew what was going to happen? Their interfaces used to be terrible. And I would complain a lot because I hated it. And that's probably why they made me a beta tester because she won't shut up. Let's just have her give us information. Sure. Okay. So they completely revamped it and now it is my top storefront to work with in terms of uploading to them.
[00:13:41] Amazing sales reporting that no other storefront offers, really in depth where you can compare sales within series and across series and things that no other storefront does. It's just really, really cool. They've done some massive work on that part of it. So, God bless Barnes and Noble.
[00:13:58] But, yeah, I'm glad to hear that you're going direct to ACX because when, back to TikTok, how do you say you're not making any money on Audible without saying you're not making any money on Audible? I'll go first. Are you Findaway Voices to get to Audible? Amazon to the depths of its core as a company viewpoint on the world is I hate everybody else. I never going to work with any of you. And authors who don't work upload directly to me, screw you. That is just their operating philosophy.
[00:14:33] So I've had authors, good friends of mine, who use Findaway Voices to get to ACX, found out that after months, their books still weren't even listed on ACX. Or if they did get onto to ACX, you had to know the name of the book and the name of the author to find it. It was otherwise not find-able because ACX would just bury it. And then, they would move it directly to ACX and their sales shot up. You just cannot make money on Audible if you don't go direct to them. And that's very much by design. They do not play well with others. So moving direct is a really good idea.
[00:15:13] Matty: The first books that I did in my series, I did as a royalty share. So I'm still within that seven-year period where it's exclusive to Amazon and Audible and Apple. I think that actually next year 2022 is when my first book will become available, that I can do something with it, and so I've been kind of pushing a more strategic look at my audiobook approach to the bottom of the list until I can start sending listeners to one platform and have them get everything. Because I know I've had people say, well, I like to use whatever, and I looked at Chirp or whatever, and I only saw two of your books there. And so, yeah, that's one of those ones that I'm dreading when it comes to the top of the list, because I think it's going to be just a huge admin thrash, but I think we'll pay back eventually.
[00:16:06] Erin: So here's the thing. ACX gets you to iTunes. Findaway Voices gets you to iTunes. You are going to end up with duplicates on iTunes. There is a form that I can email you the link for that you fill out <click here for the form> and Findaway Voices uses it to tell ACX to suppress their version and not send it to iTunes. You want to do that. You want to choose the Findaway Voices version on Apple, rather than the Amazon version on Apple, because first off, you'll make more money, which is always, always a bonus. And second of all you will actually be able to set your own pricing. If it goes through, ACX it doesn't let you set your pricing. So it's just going to be whatever it is that they want it to be.
[00:16:54] So if you go through Findaway Voices, you'll make more money, and you get to set your own pricing. So that is the one to choose, and you want to suppress the one from Amazon. So you just fill out this form and then about a month later, check back on iTunes. Is the ACX version gone, yes or no? If it's not, then you reach out to Findaway Voices again, because as you found out, Findaway Voices will fight on your behalf. But Amazon and Audible, ACX, they're just pains in the butts to work with. And so you really do have to kind of babysit this. Okay, is it off yet? How about now? And just keep sending reminder emails. I really want to get this down and you're talking to Findaway Voices that whole time, and they are going to go to ACX and get them to suppress the version coming from Apple.
Click here for Barnes & Noble Press, the author platform for B&N.
Note: When initially setting up a B&N Press account, if you are a Sole Proprietorship LLC and want to use your EIN for the account rather than your SSN, you need do select Other (rather than Sole Proprietorship LLC) in order to be able to enter an EIN. I've submitted a request to B&N Press to make this more intuitive.
Click here for the form to provide to Findaway Voices to enable them to request ACX to remove duplicate audiobook listings from Apple.
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I shared this information in the interview wrap-up for Episode 079 - Making the Most of Your Short Fiction with Douglas Smith.
I hope you found my conversation with Douglas Smith in Episode 079 helpful! Doug's PLAYING THE SHORT GAME was one of the key sources I studied during the drafting of TAKING THE SHORT TACK, and I recommend that any writer who is interested in exploring the opportunities offered by short fiction read both of them.
I thought it would be interesting to compare Doug’s approach with the approach I’ve taken with my own short stories. When I was working on TAKING THE SHORT TACK, I took a stab at every approach we describe in the book using a new Ann Kinnear Suspense Short, but I quickly found that the time needed to research and submit works and the long response timeframes were deterrents to me to pursue publication in the traditional short fiction market. Plus, as a committed indy, I didn’t like the idea of having gatekeepers between me and my readers. I ended up retaining one short as a reader magnet and have just submitted a new one to an anthology, but the rest are available as standalone ebooks for $0.99 on all the online retail platforms.
I looked up the royalties I’ve made from those. I only checked Amazon and D2D because I’m sure I have more sales on those platform than the others, and it’s pretty tedious to pull the numbers, so these are understating the results a bit.
Obviously I’m not doing much more than have a fancy dinner out with my husband on what I’ve earned so far (maybe including a nice dessert and after-dinner drinks once I factor in the earnings from the non-Amazon platforms), but the thing that is appealing to me about this is that the stories keep selling pretty with me doing pretty much no additional work, and will be for years and years to come. I find that I get a little spike in suspense short sales when a new Ann Kinnear novel comes out, which I attribute to the fact that fans read through the novel series and then are looking for some more of Ann to tide them over to the next novel. I have also been reading the shorts in my monthly Full Moon Giveaway Facebook Live events, and those also create a little bump in sales. I don’t count the time spent on those events as specific to promotion of my short stories because those are really intended to attract people to the novel series, and as general reader outreach and community building.
I’m looking forward to the point when I have twelve shorts available and can publish them as a collection—a Year of Kinnear—because, as Doug reference in our discussion, that will provide another piece of content for suspense-loving readers.
I’m going to post this information as a blog entry on theindyauthor.com and will include a link to that post in the show notes.
What are you doing or plan to do with your short fiction? Have you changed your approach based on the information in this episode? Cruise on over to the episode page to let me know.
This is material I included in the introductory segment of The Indy Author Podcast Episode 075 related to my 2021 04 18 BookBub Featured Deal.
For today’s personal update … on the publishing front, I thought I’d give you an update on a BookBub Featured Deal I ran on April 18.
I got accepted for a BookBub Featured Deal for Ann Kinnear Book 1: THE SENSE OF DEATH, which I had applied for in the run-up to the launch of Book 4: A FURNACE FOR YOUR FOE, on 4/26, hoping that readers will like Book 1 enough that they will run through the whole expanding series.
I was especially interested in how the Featured Deal would do because, despite continued tweaking, my Facebook Ads performance has been dropping. I realized that one problem was that when I got my new cover for Lizzy Ballard Book 1: ROCK PAPER SCISSORS, I retired the ad that featured the old cover, and it had almost 550 post reactions—pretty much all positive—so I lost that social credibility. I’m thinking I might turn those ads back on even though the new cover is so much cooler—at least until, I hope, the ads with the new cover catch up in terms of engagement.
On 4/18, just on Amazon, I sold 1,702 copies of TSOD at $0.99, which, factoring in a 35% royalty rate because the cost is below $2.99, delivery costs of about $0.10 per ebook (which is an easy cost to overlook), the $20 I spent yesterday on Facebook Ads, and the $478 I spent on the BookBub Featured Deal, means that I lost $78.76 just on Amazon and just on THE SENSE OF DEATH.
However, I also sold 79 copies of Ann Kinnear Books 2 and 3 and the Books 1-3 Ebook Box Set, which is many more than I normally sell when I just have Facebook Ads running. And, because the novels are $4.99 and the box set is $8.99 and earn a 70% royalty, that meant I earned $175.81 just on Amazon and just from the Ann Kinnear Series. (In fact, I made more than that because I’m not bothering to break out the higher box set price—I just count those sales the same as sales of the single novels.) Plus, I also sold 12 Ann Kinnear Suspense Shorts, which I normally don’t factor into my profit analysis at all.
I was very disappointed that there were NO sales on Google Play. I’m trying to follow Mark Leslie Lefebvre’s advice on giving all the platforms some love, but it’s hard to do when it’s so difficult to break in, even with something as big as a BookBub Featured Deal.
I sold 73 copies of THE SENSE OF DEATH on Kobo—which I’m now going direct to—four copies of Books 2 and 3 in the series and, interestingly 4 copies of the ebook box set, which is a much higher percentage than on any other platform. That bears out what I’ve heard—that Kobo customers like box sets.
On Draft2Digital, I checked my sales throughout the day and was seeing nothing, but I was gratified to look up my sales from 4/18 today and see that I sold 333 copies of THE SENSE OF DEATH and 10 of the other books in the series. That was fairly evenly divided across Apple and Barnes & Noble.
I was hoping that my sales of the Lizzy Ballard Thrillers might see a spillover uptick, but I really didn’t sell many more of those yesterday than I normally do. However, I think it’s reasonable to assume that people who read and enjoy THE SENSE OF DEATH will not only continue to buy the follow-on Ann Kinnear novels, box set, and suspense shorts, but might also move over to the Lizzy books, because they share the same theme of what happens when an extraordinary ability transforms an ordinary life.
Another super fun result of the BookBub Featured Deal was that for a few glorious hours, THE SENSE OF DEATH was number one on Amazon, in Psychic Suspense. Ghost Fiction, and Ghost Suspense, and at one point reached number 49 in the entire Kindle store.
I think some of the success of the Featured Deal is that I have 230 ratings for the sense of death on Amazon. It has a 4.5 average rating. And so if people could get to that page and see the details, I think they were incented by the good reaction that previous readers have had to it.
Of course every BookBub Featured Deal is going to shoot a book into these desirable ranks, but I’m hoping that with continued care and feeding of my Facebook Ads, and as more readers can add their votes to the ratings and help spread the word to their friends, I can retain some of this momentum over a long tail.
Tune into The Indy Author Podcast for continued updates!
2021 04 20 Update
Sales continued strong the day after the BookBub Featured Deal, with 312 sales of THE SENSE OF DEATH and 39 sales of Books 2 and 3. Having accounted for the full cost of the BookBub FD ($478) on 4/19, that means a profit of ~$190 on the Ann Kinnear series just on Amazon.
On 4/19, also got 104 sales of THE SENSE OF DEATH via D2D (Apple and B&N, plus a sale on Overdrive) and 30 on Kobo.
Finally seeing some sales on Google Play--woo hoo! 47 sales from the series from 4/18 only showed up today (4/20).
Still #1 in Psychic Suspense, Ghost Fiction, and Ghost Suspense--woo hoo!--even though the rank is dropping.
There’s been a lot of discussion among the author communities I belong to about whether or not to reflect COVID in one’s stories. Most have decided, as I have, that readers are looking for an escape from the pandemic and so have chosen not to include it explicitly, although there’s still the tricky question of whether to describe actions that might take the reader out of the story. For example, do you have characters hug? Shake hands? How do you handle a scene in a crowded room? I used the phrase “doom scrolling” in the draft of Ann Kinnear Book 4 to describe a character obsessively reading news coverage of a friend’s death, but I’ll probably change that because I think it’s so closely tied to current events.
I’m also coming up to a tricky decision as I begin to think through the next Ann Kinnear novel. I’ve had a story percolating in my head for a couple of years now and I’d love to use it for the basis of AK5, but it would almost have to take place in New York City. That’s a trip I’m not willing to take, and I can’t imagine that I would be able to do the needed research online. Researching Mount Desert Island, Maine, online is different because I’m generally just reminding myself of details of places I’ve been; the NYC storyline would require me to construct settings based on some places I’ve never been, or have only visited once, which would be quite different. It may be that Ann’s next adventure takes place in my own home base of Chester County, PA, as was the case for Book 1: THE SENSE OF DEATH and Book 3: THE FALCON AND THE OWL.
I’d love to hear how you’re handling these types of decisions and issues related to choosing settings for your own work: please leave a comment to let me know!
One of the virtual community-building events about which I was most skeptical but which has ended up paying the greatest dividends for me has been online writing sessions.
I had heard about writing sprints and couldn’t imagine participating in them myself. How could writing in a group be any better than writing on one’s own? In fact, how could it not be worse, with the self-consciousness engendered by the group setting and the possibility of a competitive environment in which each writer bragged about their word count.
Then I interviewed Julie Duffy of StoryADay.org for The Indy Author Podcast and she mentioned that the Story A Day writers participated in online writing sprints. I was even more skeptical. Wouldn’t such an event combine the worse of an in-person session with the added downside of the awkwardness of online interaction?
However, I was curious, and not long after that, Julie opened a series of Story A Day online writing sprints to guest participants. I felt I couldn’t dismiss the technique without giving it a try.
I called in to a couple of Julie’s sessions … and it was great! The sessions began with a few minutes of socializing, then Julie would begin a series of timed writing sprints, during which participants’ microphones were muted, and in between which participants would share their progress, their challenges, and their support for their fellow writers.
For me the power of the sessions was that I was honor-bound not to step away from my work during the sprints to let the dogs out, put in a load of laundry, let the dogs in, make a cup of tea, let the dogs out … you get the picture. The fact that I had committed to the writing session kept me in my seat writing, and that commitment often extended beyond the session itself.
The fact that the session was online meant that a daily sprint was possible, whereas it would not have been feasible for me to travel to a physical location on that same schedule. It also enabled me to continue sprinting on my own without interruption, rather than having to travel home, during which time my mind would no doubt wander to other subjects.
I believe that one of the keys of Julie’s Story A Day sprints was that the participants knew each other from other interactions. I decided that I wanted to create my own writing sessions with people with whom I was already friends, and whose approach to their writing I knew to be similar to mine. I put the word out to my authors’ group and two members expressed interest. We have been holding daily writing sessions ever since.
I continue to enjoy the benefit I had experienced from the Story A Day sprints, which was that at a specified time each day—for us, it was 2:00 p.m.—I have to stop whatever else I am doing, open my work in progress, and work on it in a concentrated manner at least through the end of the session. This has been a tremendous help because before we instituted the sessions, I tended to get bogged down in marketing, promotion, and administrative work, and didn’t have a trigger to extract myself from it to focus my attention on my writing.
The added benefit with my own group was that our familiarity with each other enabled the sessions to function not only as writing sprints, but also as opportunities for plot brainstorming, career counseling, or general moral support.
Even if you are skeptical, as I was, I strongly recommend you give the online writing session a try. I’ve provided below some practices which have worked well for the group I participate in.
There are three roles that come into play for writing sessions: moderator, facilitator, and participant. Depending on the formality or informality of the group, these could be quite structured roles or more fluid, with one person sharing more than one role or multiple people sharing one role. Adapt as makes sense for your situation.
The moderator, perhaps the founder of the group, establishes the schedule for the sessions, the tool to be used, the goals of the sessions, and the ground rules to be observed. They or the facilitator will also sends out the invitations or post the sessions on a calendar, depending on the group’s scheduling approach.
The facilitator is responsible for managing a specific session. He or she greets participants as they arrive in the virtual room, provide technical assistance during the sprint if needed, manage any socializing within the established ground rules, time the sprints, and remind people to mute as necessary (or mute them him- or herself if the tool and ground rules allow).
The participants are responsible for complying with the ground rules and not monopolizing conversation during the pre-, intra-, and post-sprint chats.
Ground Rules & Logistics
Here are some ideas for ground rules and logistics that will smooth the way for successful writing sessions:
If you are establishing / moderating a new group, you have the benefit of being able to choose the participants.
Although I’m generally a believer in the benefits of casting one’s net wide in cultivating relationships in the writing and publishing communities, for writing sprints I believe that commonality among participants is helpful.
I recommend Zoom; it is becoming ubiquitous, it’s easier for host and participants to manage than Skype, and as of this writing a free account gives you unlimited time with one other participant and a forty minute limit with multiple participants. (Since my writing sessions generally last longer than forty minutes, I just spin up another Zoom session.)
If rather than forming a new group you are considering joining an existing group, ask about their goals, ground rules, and logistics ahead of time and assess them once you’re in a session. If the group isn’t right for you, don’t feel bad about letting the facilitator know that it just isn’t a good match and looking elsewhere. Invest the time to find a group that is a good fit; I believe you'll benefit from the practice.
Thank you to Julie Duffy of StoryADay.org for introducing me to the concept of the online writing sprint, and thank you to authors Jane Kelly and Lisa Regan for being my daily online sprinting partners.
One disconcerting thing about ACX is that, unlike with print or ebook, the author has no control over the price of the product. In general, audiobooks on Audible are priced based on length—for example, a book less than one hour is generally priced at less than $7, a book over 20 hours is generally priced at $25-$35. However, this is a guideline only, and “Audible retains the sole discretion to set the price of the audiobooks it sells.” (https://www.acx.com/help/what-s-the-deal/200497690)
In addition, there are a couple of ways an audiobook customer can purchase your book beyond the a la carte option described above. One is via credits if he or she is an Audible member. This results in a lower cost for the book and, I believe, a lower resulting royalty. Another way a customer can purchase an audiobook on certain eligible books is via Whispersync, meaning that a customer who has a Kindle version of the book can purchase the audiobook for a deeply discounted price. (See my April 9, 2016 blog post "Audiobooks - Part 2 - Picking a Platform" for more information.) In its “What’s the Deal?” write-up, ACX says, “The royalty you earn <on Whispersync sales> will be the royalty rate based on your contract times the Whispersync upgrade price.” I gather this to mean that both sales to a customer using Audible membership credits and sales to customers eligible for the Whispersync discount will result a lower price and thus a lower royalty.
Audible doesn’t control how iTunes prices a book, but will pay a royalty as if the sale were an Audible a la carte sale.
For an overview of ACX royalties, I’m going to rely on this clear and concise description provided by the Author Marketing Institute:
… there are different potential royalty splits depending on how you created your audiobook. If you selected Pay for Production by paying up front for your book, then you’ll have a 60/40 royalty split. Audible will receive 60 percent of each sale, while you collect 40 percent. You must choose to be exclusive to Audible for seven years to get the 40 percent royalty, which drops to 25 percent if you go non-exclusive. …
If you’ve used the Royalty Share option to get your book produced, then you’ll split the 40 percent royalties in half. Audible will take 60 percent of exclusive books, your narrator will take 20 percent, and you’ll get the remaining 20 percent. Non-exclusive contracts are not available through Royalty Share. All contracts with ACX are for seven years. If you sign the exclusive contract, you won’t be able to sell your audiobook on any other platforms for at least seven years.
I used the Royalty Share option for The Sense of Death and the Pay for Production option for The Sense of Reckoning, and have pros and cons for each that I will share in my next blog post!
In my last post, I discussed how you can Maximize Your Reach by adding audio in addition to print and ebooks formats in order to cover all the ways that your audience may want to consume your content. In this post, I'll discuss picking a platform.
This was actually a pretty easy decision for me. As in so many areas of independent publishing, Amazon is the leader through their Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX). Amazon owns Audible and has more than 90% of audiobook market, so the reach is great. And from an indy publisher point of view, using an Amazon platform offers desirable benefits in terms of links with the print and ebook versions. For example, here is the Amazon product detail page for The Sense of Death showing all three format options—print, ebook, and audio:
In addition to displaying all the formats together, you can see that Amazon also gives customers who click on the Audible option easy access to the reviews posted by readers of other formats.
Another cool feature of using ACX / Audible / Amazon is Whispersync:
Whispersync is a program that allows readers who enjoy both ebooks and audiobooks to sync up their reading experience when they purchase both versions. These readers get a significant discount on the audiobook when they buy the Kindle edition first or they already own it. The discount can be over 80 percent when they want to buy both.
The jury is out over whether Whispersync is a positive or negative feature for authors. On the positive side, you’ll likely sell more copies of your audiobooks and fans can get immersed deeper into your world. On the negative side, 40 percent (or 20 percent on a Royalty Share deal) of $1.99, isn’t all that exciting to see on your monthly royalty statement.
I’m definitely willing to sacrifice some royalty money to build a more engaged audience, so Whispersync was a draw for me.
ACX is such an overwhelming presence in the industry that it’s difficult to find information on alternatives, but here is an article by Jane Friedman on CD Baby:
I was quickly sold on using ACX—my next area of investigation was pricing and royalties. Stay tuned!
When I published my first novel, The Sense of Death, in print and ebook formats, I thought I had all my bases covered. Then my mentor, Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, encouraged me to consider audio, and I discovered a whole new way to Maximize My Reach to my potential audience!
(My three guiding principles of independent publishing are Focus Your Goals and Efforts, Professionalize Your Product and Presentation, and Maximize Your Reach and Exposure.)
When I began considering audio for my own book, I thought I should first familiarize myself with the current state of audiobook listening—it had been a long time since my Books on Tape days, back when they really were on tape. I got an Audible membership and began using my credits to download books. I listened on my way to work and realized one of the great benefits of audiobooks—fitting more book consumption into an already packed day.
One of my favorites was The Martian; Andy Weir’s very funny writing is supported by R. C. Bray’s equally funny narration. I’m glad I listened to the book rather than reading it because I would have been tempted to skip over some of the more technical sections that turned out to be integral to the story. (It also made me appreciate the art of effectively-used profanity—maybe I should add more swearing to my third book!)
A less well known but equally fun listen was James Hynes’ Kings of Infinite Space, a story that manages to be both amusing and creepy, bolstered by a fantastic narration by Adam Grupper.
Becoming an audiobook listener made me enthusiastic about pursuing that platform and set me up for the next steps of audiobook production—picking the platform I would use. Stay tuned!
I was in the middle of Tom Harper’s Zodiac Station, a thriller set at a research station in the Arctic, when The Blizzard of 2016 hit Chester County, Pennsylvania. What better time to be reading a book with scenes like this?
The wind roared like it was sucking the life off of the planet. Damn near carried us away before we got down the steps. Ice crystals peppered my goggles. I thought I’d covered up pretty good, but the wind cut through cracks I didn’t know I’d left. Fine snow filled the inside of my goggles and froze my eyeballs.
I thought I’d post a recommendation for Zodiac Station and went to Amazon to get a link.
I was shocked to see that the Kindle version was $10.99, not much less than the paperback at $13.59. (I had gotten it for $1.99 through some now-expired promotion.) I couldn’t in good conscience recommend it at that price.
I thought about dropping a note to Mr. Harper letting him know that I would be happy to recommend his book (as I have other books on my Matty Recommends page) if he dropped the price to be more in line with the competition. Even Dan Brown and Michael Crichton’s ebooks, to which Amazon compares Zodiac Station, don’t cost that much.
Then I saw this note next to the price: “This price was set by the publisher” (HarperCollins).
What could be more frustrating than knowing that you're likely losing potential readers because your publisher chose to price your book way above market norms?
One of the benefits of independent publishing is the ability to determine what price you want to charge for your book. For example, I’m thinking of pricing my ebooks in India at 99 rupees (about $1.50 USD). That’s significantly lower than a straight currency conversion, but some industry experts recommend setting a low price in India as a means of getting known in a country where ebook sales are expected to rise dramatically.
The ability to set your own price for your books is a key to the principle Maximize Your Reach, one of the five guiding principles of independent publishing that I am developing as part of The Indy Author platform. To see the full list of guiding principles, sign up for my monthly email newletter here!