Saturday, 2 January 2016

Chris's Tips for New Indie Publishers in 2016

Happy New Year!

January 2016 marks four years that I’ve been self-publishing. In that time I’ve sold something like 8000 books, a respectable if unspectacular number. My current output stands as follows

9 full novels
3 boxed sets
4 novellas (pen name)
30+ short stories under my own name and two pen names, including 5 short story collections
1 work of non fiction (pen name)

I have three novels finished and in the editing queue, and an insane amount planned for 2016.

However, this post is not about me, it’s about you. The last four years has been an interesting ride. I had the initial learning curve/no sales year (2012), the year of minor gains (2013), the year of decent success (2014) and then a crash down to earth annus miserablis year (2015). I’ve learned a hell of a lot, the most important thing being that you’ve never made it until you’ve made it (and I certainly haven’t made it), and if you ever want to make it, you’d better get writing and get learning and get smart.

Even in the short time I’ve been self-publishing, the landscape has changed a lot. We had Select free promos sending people up to the top of the sales charts, perma-frees being the best way to sell a series, the constant tweaking of the algorithms to make visibility for free books nearly impossible, then Kindle Unlimited and its crazy pages read system. Smashwords used to be the king for the other vendors, then Draft 2 Digital came along which is way more user friendly. Audible opened up in the UK and Europe. Vellum appeared on the scene (for Mac users) to make awesome formatting really easy.

My own books went from uploaded Word files with dodgy Paint-created covers to rather quite snappy looking things with awesome pro covers. I know a bunch of really talented editors and covers designers, so there’s always someone who fits the needs of any one particular book. In short, producing books has become relatively straightforward. Selling them on the other hand, has got harder and harder.

After the trials and tribulations of my own rocky road, I thought I’d compile a short list of things you should do or learn about in order to give yourself the best chance of success if you were starting out now. I’m not going to go into detail about how to do these things, because there are way better tutorials available than anything I can come up with, and for many of them, I’m still a student too. This list is just a starting point.

1.     Write good books

Don’t try to game the system, don’t try to write crap and get away with it, because you’ll fail. It’s hard enough getting anywhere writing good books. If you write junk you’ll get bad reviews, and no one will ever buy your other books, which is what you want. You want every new reader to stay on board through your entire catalogue and beyond. Saying that, it’s not necessary to be Charles Dickens in order to sell books. As long as you know how to weave a good story, you’ll be fine.

2.     Get them edited

Please don’t self edit, and please don’t spin me a line about how you can’t afford it, or you think you can do it better than a professional. Sorry, you can’t. What an editor is more than anything is a second set of eyes that will spot all the things you missed. They don’t have to cost thousands of dollars (I usually pay between $200 and $600, depending on the editor and the length of the book). And please save the “I can’t afford to spend a single penny on my books for (insert reason)!” line. I’m VERY tired of reading it. If you can afford a computer and a wi-fi connect you can probably save up a little bit of money. And if you really can’t, do a swap, or find someone who’s willing (I don’t know, maybe they’re starting out and want experience) to do it for free. But save the no money line. Please. Have you ever gone to a restaurant where they’ve just dumped the food on the tabletop because they’re saving money on plates? No, me either. So don’t expect me to pay money for your half-finished book. This is a professional business, so if you want to be a professional, act like one.

3.     Get good covers

If you have badass Photoshop skills you could actually do this yourself, but if you haven’t just pay someone else. Again, doesn’t have to cost a fortune. A lot of my short story covers are cheap pre-mades that cost $25 each, while I think the most I’ve ever spent on a cover is about $150. I’ve worked with several different designers with professional design skills and I’ve never been disappointed. Ignore people who talk about covers costing a grand or more. They might if they’re custom art, but even most trad-published books only use photo manipulation. If you need recommendations for cover designers, drop me a message.

4.     Write good blurbs

I’m still pretty rubbish at this, but I’m getting better. Say what the story’s about, but keep it snappy. Don’t waffle, don’t use clichés, and if you can, try to get a bit of mystery and intrigue in there, get the reader wanting to know what happens straight away.

5.     Brand your books, and don’t hop genres

This is a case of do what I say and not what I do, haha. I am USELESS at this, but I’m getting better. My four Tube Riders books (yes, there’s a new one coming) have lovely branded covers, as do the four Crow books (next one out Jan 15th, plug plug), but otherwise I have some sci-fi, some horror-sci-fi, some straight horror, a romance, and a kind of drama thing. I tend to write what I feel like writing, but if you want to be successful stick to the same genre and make sure your books have covers that show both the genre and that they’re part of a series.

6.     Write series

Again, I like writing standalones, which is really stupid because they sell nothing. Literally. Write long series and set the first book free to give yourself the best chance of making money. Do this by not being exclusive to Amazon. Set your books up somewhere like Draft 2 Digital or Smashwords, then set the price for a book to free. Once it's free on iTunes and Barnes&Noble, Amazon will likely price match. Best way to get them to do this is by asking them directly with an email sent through the help function of your Author Central page. That's what I usually do.

Now we’ll go on to some marketing/networking type stuff.

7.     Set up a Mailing List.

The single most important thing you need to do. I use Mail Chimp, but there are others. This is very, very important. It’s your number one way to contact your readers. I was publishing for at least two years before I got around to it. Don’t do what I did. Have one ready to go with your very first book, sign ups in the front and back of the book, and plug it wherever you can. And if you have a series, offer the second book free with a sign up. At the moment you can get Crow 2: The Castle of All Nightmares free if you sign up to mine, and since the first book is perma-free, you can get half the series for nothing. This has worked pretty well since I started doing it, although the series isn’t a huge seller, but hopefully what you lose in sales of the second book (some people still buy it anyway), you’re hopefully gaining in long term fans. Don’t spam them, by the way. A couple of emails a month is plenty, and nurture them. Give them free stuff, special discounts, etc. List-only competitions. You’ll figure it out, but start that list. Now.

8.     Advertise

I live in a city of 360,000 people, but there must be 100,000 restaurants. They’re seriously everywhere. Sometimes I’ll spot them when I’m driving along, but more often than not I’ll go to a new one because I see it advertised somewhere, or I hear about it from a friend, who probably saw it advertised somewhere. Then, if it’s good, I’ll go back again. This is how your books should be. Sure, you’ll have people randomly finding them, but there are so many available that your chances are slim. Advertise on sites that post books to increase your chances, and hopefully things like word of mouth will build from there. Keep a tab of sites that work, though. New sites appear all the time, and some that worked when I started out are a waste of money now. Also, always be looking for the next thing. Facebook ads are big at the moment, and Mark Dawson is your man. Also, podcasts and YouTubers might become the way forward in 2016, so look into them.

9.     Have a website

And make it snappy. This site you’re currently reading is a blog. Google owns Blogger. If they decide to shut me down for no reason, I’ll lose everything. Get a site that’s owned and run by you. You’ll likely have to use a domain hoster (I use Weebly but there are others), but have something that’s yours. And keep it tidy. Mine used to be reams of messy information, then I turned an old blog into my news page and keep my main site just to act as a kind of store front / landing page so that people can quickly and easily see what books I have available. Again, links in the front and back of every one of your books.

In addition, you can have all the usual Facebook / Twitter / other places sites, but their effectiveness varies. You mostly just want to be contactable, but the eventually you want to lead people to your mailing list.

10.  Be nice!

If someone takes the time to read your books and contact you about them, don’t be a douchebag. I read of some many writers that are, and it’s so sad. You have to value every single one of your fans, because their money is providing you with an income. Plus, they’re people, and we’re social animals after all. It helps if you’re natural a nice person, but if you’re naturally an anti-social douchebag just try to rein it in a little. And don’t shit on your own books. If someone says they liked your book, don’t say, “Thanks, I thought it was pretty rubbish, but thanks for reading it anyway.” If you do that, you’re telling them their time was wasted. Be appreciative, be thankful.

And that’s about it. Good luck for 2016, and if you want to thank me for all these awesome tips, go to my site and buy one of my books. They’re pretty awesome too!

Thanks for reading!

Chris Ward

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Don't give up!

I don’t have time to go to forums all that much (or indeed blog, mores the pity), but it seems that recently whenever I have I’ve come across writers throwing in the towel. There seems to be a common assumption that poor writing / storytelling is the reason for poor sales. In truth, it could be any of a number of factors why you’re not selling as well as you would like. Everything from weak covers to switching genre too much or not spending enough time marketing can leave you struggling for sales. Also, as you publish more your perceptions change, and I’ve seen people giving up in disappointment at failing to meet their expectations when they’re actually selling more per day than I am, and I have no intention whatsoever of giving up (to be honest, I’m too busy writing and publishing to think about it). The goalposts are constantly shifting, and you’re going to take a lot of knocks. I’ve come across people who couldn’t take a word of criticism without acting like it was a knife in the gut, and the answer might be that if you really can’t handle such criticism then perhaps you shouldn’t be doing something that’s in the public eye. In short, though, we all get slated at one time or another. I’ve had plenty of bad reviews, but I’ve had plenty of good ones too.

Bad reviews are part of a writer’s life, but remember, that one man’s junk is another man’s gold.

Here are some I’ve had for my short story The Cold Pools, which really seems to polarize opinion. You have:

It was short so the fact that I wasted my time is balanced out against it
 being free is some Karma. I have put the author on my "do not read" list.


… the author must hate his life situation. There must be some glimmer of hope
 for the world which is lost in his vision of the last days of humanity. 
I feel sorry for him...and that i read this book.


This was a traumatically beautiful short story.


Heartbreaking and beautiful. You couldn't write more with out ruining the story.
A masterpiece of a short story. Thank you sir for writing it.

Which illustrates how two people can love and hate the same thing. As long as you’re getting more good ones than bad, you’re doing okay.

Don’t give up!

Chris Ward
11th September 2015

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

New interview series on the way

Things have been a little inactive on this site of late, mainly because I've been busy working on my own books and these things tend to be a bit of a time suck. However, starting in the new week or so, I'll be running a series of interviews with some leading lights and up and coming stars of the writing world who'll be giving you some unique insights into the world of self-publishing. So stay tuned for that...

Chris Ward

Wed 5th November 2014

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Short Stories and Organising your front/back matter

On publishing short stories

After two years and a bit of self-publishing, I now have a pretty substantial backlist available on online for purchase, currently something like 40 items (you know it’s a lot when you can’t immediately recall the exact number!). Only five of those are novels, of course, with almost twenty being short stories.

I love writing short stories. I am shamelessly (and poverty-inducingly) an artist first and a business-minded writer second, and short stories are where I do my experimenting. Some of you may have read some of them, but I have everything from diaries (The Tree) to second person instructive (?) (Three Two One), and lots more equally weird stuff still on the hard drive. It gives you a chance to try out a different writing style or write in a different genre without investing a whole lot of time. I can hammer out a 5,000 word short story in about three hours if I’ve got the plot ready in my mind. For every finished one though, there are 5 – 10 unfinished ones, everything from a couple of lines to several thousand words. They are in my writing scrap heap (A.K.A. the Unfinished Stories file), but if you’re like me and you run out of gas a lot of times, never, ever delete them. Remember, no writing is ever wasted, and you never know when you might come back to it.

But, I digress.

However, when you publish a short story, you have to think about it the same as any other product that you want to sell – what will make people most likely to buy this item?

Of course the basics are a nice cover, good clean formatting, editing and proofreading.

Short stories, however, won’t make a lot of money, particularly when you’re starting out. Mine are usually proper short – 2 – 6,000 words, because when I was submitting to magazines that was the ideal range. The closer to 2,000 words, the more likely you were – as an unknown – to be accepted.

Here’s the truth about the short stories I publish – I scrimp. I edit and format them myself, and I do the proofreading too. They’re 99% clean (in fact, I’d be happy to challenge anyone to find me a typo in one of my shorts – point it out via Facebook or my Mailing List email and I’ll send you a free ebook of Tube Riders: Exile), partly because I’ve been doing this a long time, most of my day job is correcting errors in English, and I trust myself over a short distance. If you’re in any doubt do a swap with someone or keep practicing until you trust yourself. Putting out error-strewn work is a really bad idea.

Recently, however, I did start getting new covers for a lot of my shorts. This is because the cover is basically the door – if it’s unattractive no one will knock, and once you get them knocking you’re good to go. Again, covers can cost a fortune, so I bought a job lot of premade ones from a site called I bought 10 for $225, which as the mathematically minded will notice, is $22.50 each. It’s pretty hard to get a decent stock photo for that price, and what I got was perfectly adequate covers. I’ve only ordered five so far, but you can see them on The Tree, Benny’s Harem, Castles Made of Sand, Once We Were Children, and Ms Ito’s Bird & Other Stories.

The majority of my short stories are designed either to be used as perma-free introductions to my other work, or are priced at $0.99 to tempt people to take a chance. At $0.99 I make roughly $0.35 profit, which is not a lot, and means I have to sell about 60 copies just to make the cost of the cover back. On a good month, I will sell two copies of a short story. It’s usually one or zero.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m not in this for six months, or a year, or five years, I’m in this until I die (or until I make so much money I can sit back on a beach drinking sangria for the rest of my life, haha). That’s hopefully a long time. Thinking long term is absolutely key in self-publishing, as it is in practically every other kind of business. Also, there is that wonderful little business term to consider – the upsell.

The Upsell

Here’s where I’m going to start talking about business stuff. If you’re going to get anywhere in self-publishing you have to LEARN LEARN LEARN, all the time.

It’s no good sitting in your ivory tower acting all high and mighty. You have to get down on the ground looking up at everyone standing taller than you and listen to how they did it. Then you can pick and chose your own method based on what you have learned.

I choose to publish in multiple genres. I chose to publish short stories which won’t make much money. These are my choices, but they come from learning how things work so that at least I know what I’m doing wrong. However, even with these choices, I still concentrate on the upsell.

I recently read a brilliant book called Write. Publish. Repeat. by two guys called Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. I’m lucky enough to be in a multi-book anthology with Platt and his co-author David Wright, who also contributed to Write. Publish. Repeat. I strongly recommend anyone wanting to self-publish to read this book.

In it, they talk a lot about the upsell. Basically, you have a cheapo/free item which is designed to draw a reader in, after which ideally they will purchase a higher priced item. It’s simple economics. I offer Tube Riders for free, hoping that people will then purchase Exile and Revenge, or ideally the Trilogy Boxed Set, which is at the top of the chain. The boxed set is cheaper than the two individual sequels, but a sale of the boxed set over a sale of Exile guarantees a purchase of Revenge.

With the short stories, you need to have some kind of upsell. Admittedly, it’s more difficult unless they’re part of a series. What I have are collections of five genre-themed stories, and I offer a choice of two of these in the contact section of my back/front matter (which is what this blog was originally supposed to be talking about!). Wright/Truant talk a lot about tone of your contact info, and the importance of offering a choice of purchases over a purchase vs nothing.

Here’s an example of my contact matter for my short stories –

Did you enjoy this story? If so, please consider signing up for the Mailing List where you can get free stuff, special offers and discounts on new releases.

If you would like to read more stories like it, perhaps you would like to try one of my collections, such as Five Tales of Dystopia or Five Tales of Fantasy.

Also, you can chat to me on Facebook at Chris Ward (Fiction Writer) and follow progress on new books on my blog at A Million Miles from Anywhere

Thank you for reading!

Chris Ward
March 2014

I structure it in order of what I deem most important. First is the Mailing List sign up, because once they’re on that they get to hear first about all my new releases (and hopefully buy them). Second is the choice of two collections. This is from The Tree, which is a dystopian story. They get offered Five Tales of Dystopia first, and Five Tales of Fantasy second. After these I give them links to the more unimportant stuff, my Facebook and my blog. Everything is hyperlinked.

Having an upsell option on a short story to a product selling for $2.99 suddenly makes that $22.50 less of an investment. I still only sell a handful of collections a month, but again I’m thinking long term, plus I want as much material in place in the event that one or more of my books take off.

Front/back matter placement

So you’ve got your upsell info in place. Where do you put it? As always, I’m doing the failing so that you don’t have to. The door for a reader is the cover, but the second level of interest is the sample they can download on to their Kindle, generally 10%.

Until recently I had all my links and info at the front and back of everyone of my books. That included an author bio, a list of my other works, a copyright statement, and also the contact stuff. Then, the other day, I downloaded the sample for one of my short stories.

I didn’t actually get any of the story. All I got was the front matter. 10% of 2000 words is only 200, less than a page. It’s still enough to capture a reader’s attention if it’s good, but if all they get is a list of other works and an author bio, they’re not going to purchase anything.

It’s fine to have all that stuff at the front in a novel. Tube Riders is 160,000 words, so you get roughly five chapters in the sample. In a short story, however, it makes sense to put all that stuff at the back.

What I do now is have a simple Contents page like this –


(story name)

Also by Chris Ward
About the Author

All the back matter is at the back, in reverse order of what I consider important. Straight after the story is the contact page, followed by my other stuff, a short bio if they’re really interested, and a copyright page (which is interesting to basically no one). The contents page is important particularly for other vendors (Apple requires one, even for short stories), but its so short it won’t take much away from the sample. If you’re just publishing to Kindle you could probably do without one. Most importantly, they’re now getting some of the story, and if they get some, they’re likely to want more, and if they like it they’ll be keen to click on the links they find at the back.

Hopefully you found this blog useful. If you did, sign up for my mailing list, go and buy all my books, or at least download Tube Riders, which is permafree. Then you can come back and tell me I’m awesome.

Until next time…

Chris Ward
May 15th 2014

Monday, 31 March 2014

Separating the Heart from the Head

Recently I heard about a wonderfully successful and deservedly so writer friend of mine who got regularly asked both privately and in person for her “secret” to success, even to the extent where she was offered money to divulge it. While there are surface issues of basic politeness that such people need to address, it got me thinking about why beginning writers tend to have such a desperate craving for a supposed miracle potion that will magic them on the way to literary success. After all, how many times have you heard of someone running up to a banking executive, grabbing him by the lapels and demanding to know his “secret”? No, neither have I.

I quite clearly remember being 17 and having a book physically torn out of my hands during a free period in the Sixth Form common room, along with a “stop wasting your time reading” admonishment. The culprit, a kind of mate at the time, is now as far as I know an engineer. He probably builds bridges or whatnot and is probably a lot wealthier than me. I also remember floundering my way through woodwork class while another kid who sucked at English created the most beautiful chairs and tables in half the time it took me to make a jewelry box with a drawer that didn’t shut properly.

People are all different, and some people are better at certain skills than others. People good at maths tend to do well in banking jobs, people good at crafts tend to do more hands-on work, while people good at writing often end up as journalists or writers.

Someone who wants to be a banking executive will look at the CEO he wants to emulate, figure out where he went to university, what he studied, where he first worked, which positions he held and how he gradually made his way up the corporate ladder. The wannabe bestselling writer will look at a real bestselling writer, get all gooey-eyed and start jumping up and down in frustration.

Anyone who writes stories tends be a lot more emotionally charged than someone who draws plans for building projects or analyses chemical reactions. I know this is a gross generalization, but it makes sense that someone who regularly wears their heart on their sleeve in their fiction will view real life in the same way, with a romantic, heroic notion than success is based on luck, unexpected fortune, or pure chance, because of course, these are the kind of plot devices that drive their fiction.

Not so.

Repeat the mantra - “writing is art, bookselling is business”. Do it ten times. Every day. Then realise that if you’re going to be successful you’re going to have to learn to wear two different hats, the one that writes the stories and the one that ships them.

There are seemingly a lot of “overnight” (read ten years of trying) successes in self-publishing, but that’s only because they’re the ones that stand out. There are countless thousands of writers under the radar for every one who achieves great success, but here’s the key - you don’t need to sell thousands of copies per day to be successful. Just ten copies a day will add up. Trust me.

When I started out in self-publishing just over two years ago I felt like I was standing at the bottom of a mountain. EVERYONE seemed to be doing better than me, and I felt like I was forever playing catch up.

What you have to learn is that the writing mountain is climbed in the same way as every other mountain, one step at a time. While there might be the odd helicopter that will pick you up and fly you to the top they are few and far between, so get your best hiking boots on and start walking. It’s the only sure why to get to the top.

Remember, this is not a race. Self-publishing isn’t going anywhere, and while every day there are new writers starting out there are also those who are giving up, and there will always been room in the market for good writing. You have to separate your heart (the writing) from your head (the business side), give each equal weight and don’t let one encroach on the other. Write the best books you can with your heart, then shift them over to your head to prepare them and shop them for sale. Rinse and repeat. Work on building up YOUR brand and YOUR backlist, and don’t go chasing after other people’s success, because that’s just what it is - someone else’s path to the top. Work on following your own.

That is all.

By the way, if you're wondering if my books are as good as my blogs, sign up for my mailing list to get offers, discounts, and notification of new releases. Here's the link.

Chris Ward

April 1st 2014

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Pricing for Ebooks - How and Why I do it

First of all, I’ll talk a little bit about the different sales vendors and the regular prices you see when you buy books off the internet, then I’ll talk a little bit about my own decisions when it comes to pricing.

The Basics

If you’re new to self-publishing (SP), on Amazon you can basically price your books how you like, as long as they’re over $0.99 or other currency equivalents. So, yeah, I could price my books at $50 each, but of course no one would buy them. The important thing to remember with pricing is your royalty.

On Amazon you get 35% between $0.99 and $2.99, then 70% from $2.99 to $9.99, before it goes back to 35% over $9.99, but to be honest, you’re unlikely to sell much priced that high. Good luck if you want to try, though.

This is true for most branches of Amazon, but they have certain rules, for example at the moment if you want 70% in India, Japan, Mexico, or Brazil you have to be enrolled in Amazon’s Select program, otherwise it’s 35% regardless of what you charge. All of this is visible on your pricing page when you’re publishing your book.

Amazon’s Select Program

What is Select? If you enroll in Select through your Bookshelf on your Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) page, you have to grant Amazon exclusivity (meaning you can’t be published on any other vendor) for 90 days. In return, you can set your book free for five days per 90-day period, or run a Countdown Promo, and benefit from borrows made by Amazon Prime members, for which you’ll get paid roughly $2 each time.

Some people like Select. I'm not a fan, which is why I’m gradually pulling my books out of it. It used to be awesome - a free run would get a ton of downloads, then when your book reverted to paid you’d get a load of knock on sales for a month or so afterwards. I came into SP when Select was at the end of its golden period. My first free promo on Tube Riders got me 4000 downloads and 60 knock on sales at $4.99 over the next month, which was nice at the time. The second time I did it, knock on sales stopped dead after a week. The most recent one I did (on Head of Words) netted me just 3 sales after giving away 1500 copies.

I’m not going to bitch about Amazon because I love Amazon - both as a publisher and a customer. They absolutely rock. However, they’re a business and they do what they consider best, and if reducing the visibility of free books post-free is in their best interests then it’s up to us writers to roll with it and adapt. I never really liked free promos unless I could find a way to benefit my other books, plus I wanted to publish on other platforms.

Other Platforms

These are the smaller venues, such as Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Google Play. If you’re US-based, you can publish to them direct, or for Apple you need to have a Mac. Alternatively, you can publish through an online distributer such as Smashwords or Draft 2Digital.

I currently use Smashwords for most of my stuff, and while I don’t hate it, I’m not particularly fond of it. It works, but it has certain annoying features. Many people complain about the uploader, known as the “meat grinder” and the fact that you have to put “Smashwords Edition” in the front matter of your book. I find these things irritating, but for me the big downside is the ridiculous lateness of the reports. Amazon updates sales as they come in, or with a short, pretty unnoticeable time lag, but for Smashwords you’re lucky if you get sales updates once a month. I go through all of the other vendors with Smashwords, but for example, on my Smashwords dashboard this morning it says that the free downloads through Kobo, for example, were last updated on November 30th, 2013. That’s like, five months ago? What the hell? Most updates are once a month, but even that is pretty poor. There really isn't any reason why they can't provide reports at least once a week.

I’ve only used Draft 2 Digital once, but it was far easier and I’ll probably be using it for most future publications. One advantage that Smashwords apparently has, though, is that you can price books at free on Barnes & Noble, whereas Draft 2 Digital only pushes free books to Apple and Kobo. However, as Apple becomes bigger and B&N becomes smaller, this may not be such a problem. Anyway, if you’re interested in more of a comparison, here’s an interesting blog I came across this morning which talks about them both in more detail.

One last point and then I’ll get back to my original topic(!) - I don’t currently use Google Play. To be honest, I don’t know much about them, but one thing I have heard is that they have a tendency to discount your books without warning. And this can cause big problems with Amazon.

The Price-Match

Amazon is the undisputed God of SP, and you should upset them at your peril. Amazon likes to have the lowest price around, and as a result they will often price-match their books if a book is priced lower on another vendor. If you go to my UK Amazon page you’ll see that Tube Riders: Revenge is priced something like £3.08. This isn’t the price I set. I set it at £3.99, the same as Exile, but somewhere Amazon has found a lower price and matched it. I can’t for the life of me figure out where, unless they’ve actually price-matched it to the US Amazon, where it is priced $4.99 (£3.08 at current exchange rates). There’s not a lot I can do about this. I could email them, but it’s selling and I kind of wonder if it being a fraction cheaper than Exile might be tipping those on the fence about Exile into taking a chance on Revenge. However, this price-matching is why I don’t use Google Play, because its notoriously difficult to get Google Play to change their prices, whereas you are in control of all the others either directly or through Smashwords or Draft 2 Digital.

You can effectively set your prices as you want on other vendors and Amazon will likely price-match it if it is lower. Be careful, though - Amazon won’t be happy if your price is $0.99 on another vendor because pricing matching it to $0.99 on Amazon forces them to pay you the 70% royalty on a book that they usually only pay 35% for, unless you quickly go in and change your requested royalty. If not, you’ll get The Email. I’ve got it, and it’s scary. I don’t want to get it again. Therefore, if you reduce your book to $0.99 for a bargain book promo, be aware that Smashwords can take a week or so to up the prices on the other vendors. Don’t get caught out.

The only real use of price-matching is to get your book priced permanently at free. This is what I’ve done with The Tube Riders. This means you can reap the long term benefits of having a book free without having to be in the Select program. I currently have several perma-frees - The Tube Riders book 1, the short stories Going Underground, Fallen from the Train and The Cold Pools, and the first in my Beat Down! novella series, (under the name of Michael S. Hunter) (if you love me go and grab them all!). All of them (except The Cold Pools, which is only perma-free because it was popular) act as funnels to drive people towards other connected books.

One of the downsides of perma-frees (and frees in general) is you get a lot more bad reviews from people who don't really like your genre but grab it because it's free, the "there was a bloody skull on the front but I wanted to a read a romance and it was a horror, so here's your one star" types. The Cold Pools and Beat Down! have several. There's nothing you can do about it except roll with it, because it comes with the territory. As a word of warning, unless you're a bestseller, making you pretty much immune from the flamers, don't waste your time trying to stand up and justify your books in such cases. It's a huge waste of time and energy, and at the end of the day people are entitled to their opinion, even if you think its grossly unfair or way off the mark. Shrug it off and get back to writing the next book.

Amazon sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t price-match. You can’t guarantee it. Sometimes it just happens (Tube Riders took less than a day) and sometimes it never happens (Beat Down - Clones is still not free in the UK after more than a year). There is a report box on the book’s page on Amazon, so it’s a good idea to report your book as often as possible. I’ve found that the higher priced the item, the quicker it gets price-matched. Also be aware that they can un-price-match at any time. This happens a lot in the UK. Just this week, Tube Riders reverted to paid, meaning my wonderful free ranking got reset. I emailed them and its been set to free again now, but that could be disastrous if it happened on the eve of a big promotion. Make sure you keep an eye on them.

I’d quickly like to take a moment to shout out to a book I’m reading at the moment called Write. Publish. Repeat. By Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. This is basically the self-publisher’s bible, and if you haven’t read it you should check it out. I’m happy to note that I’ve been doing a lot of the things they talk about, but not nearly enough. They talk about a lot of the same things regarding pricing, particularly the “funnel”, and a few more besides.

My prices

In the US I price short stories at $0.99, collections and novellas at $2.99, standalone novels at $3.99 and my Tube Riders sequels at $4.99. On the other Amazons I round up my higher prices to the nearest -99, just to make them look tidy. As a long term strategy I’m moving away from lower prices and also free promotions. Other than my perma-frees, it’s my intention that the only way to get free or discounted books will be through my mailing list (sign up here!) with coupons via Smashwords or Draft 2 Digital. Arbitrarily giving away free books is akin to the often used metaphor of slinging mud against the wall and hoping it sticks. I’ve been trying it for two years and I can tell you that it doesn’t.

I have absolutely no intention of ever giving away Exile or Revenge for free. I’ll just point that out now. It is very easy for self-publishers to cultivate a “culture of free”, where they’re known for giving away everything so much that fans will just wait around until the price eventually comes down. I’ve been there, done that, but after two years of building a base I’m moving away from that now. If anything, I consider Exile and Revenge to be underpriced, but for now $4.99 works for me. I’m a nice person, very generous and all that, but I’m trying to make money, not spend all my free time slaving away at a computer screen to then give books away to people for free. If people want to read my books, I expect them to pay for them.

I’ve had a number of people ask (or even criticism me for) why The Tube Riders is free, considering it took me six months just to draft, and god knows how much longer to revise and get ready for publication. The Tube Riders is my loss leader, the funnel which draws people into the Tube Riders world where I hope they will part with their money for the sequels and eventually the prequel trilogy I am currently writing. I view the series as a set, and each free download of book one is potentially $10 of revenue, which works out at $7 in my pocket. Of course, only a fraction of free downloaders actually go on to even read the book, let alone buy the sequels. I’ve heard of sell-through rates of everything from 0.5% to 15%, but if you can get 5% you’re doing great. Since Tube Riders went permanently free in the US on January 29th and February 5th in the UK I’ve had almost 26,000 downloads. My sell-through rate is currently less than 2%, but since the first book is so long I’m hoping that it will have a long sell-through tail.

I also recently released a boxed set, which is now linked to in the back of The Tube Riders, rather than Exile, which was linked to before. My boxed set is $7.99 in the US and 5.99 in the UK, meaning a saving of about 20%. This is pure marketing. While many readers will (and do) buy the individual books, if there is a boxed set available I’ll likely hang on to some readers that might have read Exile, not enjoyed it (impossible, I know!), and moved on. It also looks nice and shiny, adds another item to my author’s page, and could provide the series with a boost through promotions if and when interest in the initial series begins to wane.

Anyway, like a lot of my blogs, this one has expanded into a two-thousand word beast, so it’s probably a good idea to set it free now. Any questions or comments are welcome, and one more time, please signup for my new releases mailing list if you're interested in what I write.

Chris Ward
19th March 2014

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Two years in self-publishing and some thoughts on what I've learned so far

24th of January 2014 marks two years since I entered the world of self-publishing. It’s been an interesting ride, that’s for sure.

First up, the reveal-all stats. I have nothing to shout home about but I’ve not done as bad as a lot of people probably think.

First, the stats…

As of today, I’ve sold 1943 books across all platforms and formats, and made roughly (Jan’s report isn’t in yet) $2400.

Of those sales, roughly 1500 were in my second year, so my sales basically tripled from my first to second years.

In total I have 32 items available across four different pen names. Four novels, a novel sampler, five collections of short stories, twelve individual short stories, four novellas (comedy) under a penname, five short stories (sports) under another penname, and one “work” of non-fiction.

My biggest seller is The Tube Riders, which has sold 754 copies across all platforms. Next up is my standalone horror/thriller, The Man Who Built the World, which has sold about 600. The only novel that sells without me doing anything is the sequel to The Tube Riders, The Tube Riders: Exile. All the others require constant promotion.

During that time I've also written a shade under 600,000 new words, although I was lucky in a sense that I was writing for many years beforehand, and a lot of my published work was written over the last ten years or so.

I consider myself the very definition of a lower midlister – I sell enough and make enough to call myself an author and justify what I do, but I’m not making enough yet for it to make any significant difference to my life. In fairness, when I started out in 2012 it was with a seven-year plan to become full time, and I expected to make nothing for the first three years. I’m still spending more than I’ve earned, but the gap is closing. With the third in a trilogy out by the end of January, I’m hoping that 2014 will be a bit nicer to me.

Here’s a list of things I’ve learned. Some of these are serious, some are a little tongue-in-cheek. Be aware this is not really advice, just things I’ve come to understand, but I tend to talk to myself because I don’t have many friends. Different things work for different people, and while for me Twitter sucks, for someone else it could be the key to world dominance. And as always, everything I say is subject to change.

1.      Social media alone doesn’t sell books

But, it’s extremely important for maintaining your fanbase. Nothing sells books like paid promotions. All the Twitter, Goodreads and Facebook in the world won’t sell you as many books as a Bookbub, but they’re great for fans to come to AFTER they’ve read your books. Basically, you steer the fans towards you with promotions, then you net(work, ho hum) them with your social media presence. Once they’re there you can cultivate them as you choose.

2.      Never assume anything

Run your Bookbub promo or your ENT Book of the Day, but never get too excited. Always expect the worst – zero sales. Then everything else is a bonus. I’ve crashed and burned too many times to get excited these days, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep coming back. I just refine the way I do things, maybe change the covers, then have at it again. Be optimistic, but thinking things like, “Yay, I’ve got a Bookbub, I’m going to make 2000 sales today,” is just asking for trouble. It’s all part of the process of hardening yourself against the knocks.

3.      Be flexible

I once promised myself I’d never write a sequel. I’m now just finishing the final touches to a trilogy and have at least two more books planned in the same world. Write what you love (more on that later) but always be open to new ideas. Self-publishing requires the most open of minds.

4.      Always look for new opportunities to promote

You name it, I’ve lost money on it (including Bookbub). In fact, I think the only promotion site I’ve not lost money on is ENT, and only because they charge a percentage rather than a flat rate. However, you have to be looking at long term gains, and especially if you have a series, because you could make your money back further down the line, in sequels sales or sales of your other books. And you have to be constantly looking for new ways to promote. New sites appear, people create multi-author boxed sets and anthologies, and you never know when one might give you the lift-off you need. Get in on as many different promo opportunities as you can, but don’t turn into one of those annoying spammy types who send me private messages on Goodreads or Facebook asking me to review their book. Remember, for spam, Twitter is your best friend.

5.      Don’t trust online converters :-0

The worst – or at least most frustrating – review that I’ve received (which was kindly plastered across two Amazons, Goodreads and blog, complains mostly about my formatting (it also says my book sucks, but I can deal with that haha). The reviewer received a review copy I made through an online converter, a mistake I’ll never make again. If you know what you’re doing with computers that’s great, but when you’re computer-illiterate like me, it’s better to only use copies you can trust. When I send out review copies now, I either send a PDF or a Word and ask the reviewer to convert it to their preference. Amateurish it might be, but I dread to think how many sales I’ve lost because people have assumed my Amazon formatting sucks, when it’s actually pretty decent.

6.      Don’t condemn someone for a single breach of etiquette (but block repeat offenders!)

Everyone is a noob at some point, and like me, not everyone knows the rules on spamming or pestering people. Several people I’m now good friends with came across as “please read my book” types at first, and I’m glad I didn’t automatically pull the shutters down. Give people a chance. However, if someone is repeatedly spamming your blog or Facebook page, be ruthless about wielding the axe. Dispatch them like a rotten tree stump and heave their broken remains into the nearest e-fire.

7.      Do not expect or ask for help from those close to you

If you have supportive family and friends then that’s great. If they no more care about your writing than what you did at work or what you ate for dinner, don’t lean on them and expect them to buy your stuff. They are not your crutch. Everything – 100% – of your motivation must come from inside you. If you get support later on from other writers, then great, but if you need just one person to give you a gee up then learn to deal without them or you will never be able to survive. If you’ve come up the hard way like I have, through bloody-minded perseverance in the face of months and months of pathetic sales while everyone around you is laughing behind their hands because you suck and you’ll never amount to anything, there’s no point in being a pansy or crying into a pillow. Go and scrape your fingertips on some sandpaper, dip the bleeding stumps into some salt, growl into a mirror, and get back to work.

8.      Write in a bubble

When you’re hard at work writing, you’re entirely alone. People can encourage you but no one can write the book for you (unless you pay them, haha). As I said above you have to find the motivation but you also have to discipline yourself. Find time. I work full and part time, but I made the sacrifices necessary to get in the time I needed – about three hours a day – to do what I need to do. It wasn’t that hard; I just ditched the waste of time stuff like watching TV and having friends :-0. I still need more time – but I have enough to produce a volume of work that keeps me - if not happy - then for the time being, content.

9.      Have absolute faith in your work

There’s a difference between being self-critical and thinking that you suck. I’m my own biggest critic but I take criticism from others very well because I always want to push my writing to another level. However, at a base level, while I might be a bit rough around the edges, I know that I rock. I don’t just think it. I KNOW it. My books are almost painfully good. People can tell me I suck a million times but I will still believe that the narrative I’m creating is a good one and has merit. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing this. You have to be your own biggest critic but also your own biggest fan. Confidence is attractive. Have it.

10.  Write what you love

Okay, here’s the controversial bit. The internet is full of writing advice – pick a popular genre, write a series, copy all the big guns and do exactly as they do, blah blah blah – but it is only YOU who is sitting at your desk and it is only YOU who is writing your book. Forcing yourself to write something that you have no interest in or that you’re only writing because you’re hoping it will sell better than the story that you actually want to write is only cheating yourself and will make you miserable. Sure, some people can deal with it – but it’s a lot easier to do something you don’t enjoy when you’re earning $1000 a day. That’s why there are so many lawyers. And once you actually have a fanbase, then is perhaps the time to redefine how you approach a story that will please both yourself and the people waiting to read it. If you’re struggling to make $100 a month though, you should be concentrating on writing the stories that you can put the entirety of your soul into. Empty your heart into that story and weave it out of strings of love. It’ll be a better book for it, and you won’t dread getting up and going to that writing desk every morning. You’ll be staying up late at night to write it, or like me, getting more and more dependent on coffee.

11.  Cultivate and nurture relationships

I’ve met dozens of awesome people over my time in self-publishing, and while the writing itself is a solitary affair, there are thousands of others out there in exactly the same boat. Your family might not want to talk about how you felt after a tough day at the desk, but there are other writers that will. Find them. Meet them on forums, in groups, even in real life, if you have a life away from your desk (I go to work and band practice but that’s about it). Be nice to them, and help them when you can, and they’ll do the same for you. And then in ten years time when someone you knew as a floundering noob is a literary superstar, you can sell the paperback they signed for you as a joke on eBay.

12.  Give back

Everyone starts a noob. Today’s noobs are tomorrow’s bestsellers. If anyone has ever helped you or given you advice then take a little time to give a bit back. People will appreciate it and they might even read your books. I’ve found that in general no one really cares what you have to say unless you’ve sold more than them, but the nature of this business is that we’re all standing on a very long ladder, and there will always be someone below you. There’s always someone you can help, so give back what you can. It takes time to develop a thick skin in writing, but you can help someone else out simply by identifying with the struggles they’re going through on a daily basis.

13.  Set low targets but aim constantly to break them

Nothing boosts confidence like a bit of success, but one man’s success is another man’s failure. Set low targets for yourself and attempt to smash them into oblivion. Then, when you’re confident you can top them regularly, shift them up a level. Never set completely unrealistic targets, at least not until you’ve been punishing yourself at this for a couple of year and you’re sure you can take it. Hitting yourself in the face with a hammer really kind of sucks, unless it’s made out of sponge. Then it’s a massage.

14.  Never stop learning

Even after twenty years of writing I still pick up new tips almost every day. Get critiques from better writers to improve your craft and listen when more successful people offer advice on marketing and branding. Think with your eyes open and NEVER stop learning. You might not agree with everything that you hear but successful people have become successful for a reason and you owe it to your dreams and your career to at least consider what they have to say.

15.  Work your ass off and be prepare to work it off for no reward

Two years in, and I write/promote probably three hours a day for roughly $1 an hour. I've got 51044 words for January already (NaNo, what's that? haha) but I'll be disappointed if I don't hit 70k. And I work full and part time around that. Almost every day I hear of success stories where someone has put out a book and sold 100 copies off the bat without knowing why, or has maintained a steady rate of sales over several months or years for no reason and with no promotion. These are outliers. Applaud them, then push them to the back of your mind. The majority of indies are floundering. Even with my modest sales I’m probably in the top 5% when it comes to success, and I barely make enough to pay for my next cover. At the end of the day I love what I do and I will continue to bust my ass at it in order to become as successful as I possibly can. And if I never make it to the higher echelons of sales, at least I will have given my best effort. Don’t sell yourself short by spending your time whining about not selling or getting bad reviews. Chain yourself to that desk and get words down on the screen.

And that’s about it. Onwards to year three ….

Chris Ward
January 24th 2014