Alive and Writing

With 2015 nearly half over, it seems an update is well overdue. The lack of updates this year isn’t so much about nothing happening, but more about there not really being any real milestones reached (or none that I thought to be worthy of a post).  I think I’m far enough along on things to talk about them now, so here we go…

Badlands Book Three

The good news is that the manuscript for third book in my Badlands trilogy–Out of the Badlands–is halfway to completion. I hit 50k words this week and I expect the manuscript to clock in around 100k words. So far I’m on track to deliver the book by end of year. I’m really, really working hard to make that happen because I don’t want to delay its release again (it’s already going to be published a year later than I originally planned).

Another Badlands Novel

Around the beginning of last year I nearly finished the manuscript for another Badlands novel called Vengeance In the Badlands. The novel follows one of the main characters after the events that took place in book #2, but the story goes on its own tangent and thusly falls outside the trilogy. The good news is that because its already so far along I think I’ll be able to release it later this year, directly on the heels of book #3. Keep your eyes peeled for that or make it easy on yourself and sign up for my newsletter so that I can let you know about all my new releases (you’ll also receive a free ebook for signing up).

Other Works

I have a couple of other projects in the pipeline. These won’t be released until next year, but I’ve done some work on them already. I’m planning a novella crime series about a damaged guy who hunts down serial killers and I’ll be concurrently working on a new novel. I have a few ideas in the works for said novel, but it’s too early to say which one will grab my attention. It’ll be a surprise for both of us, I suppose. 🙂

Sales & Marketing

Sales continue to be mediocre, even on Amazon. I’ve seen sales really climb on Kobo and Barnes & Noble is holding a steady third place. After my experience in Select at the end of last year, I won’t be heading down that path again anytime soon. Right now I only have two short stories in Select; for me it just doesn’t work for my novels.

I did, however, temporarily reduce the price of my first Badlands book to $.99 for a few months on all platforms. It really helped to move some additional copies, anywhere between two to three times more. But like any sale, the price has to go back up again or it’s not really a sale. Still, book one is a dollar cheaper than the rest of the books to make it just a little easier to pull the trigger and give the series a try. When book #3 and the standalone novel are released, I’ll probably run another sale on book #1, dropping it to $.99 again. I might even try to get a Bookbub ad to see if I can move some copies.

That’s about all for now. Remember, if you enjoy my work the best thing you can do to help is tell your friends. And if you really want to be super helpful, leave a review. It really does make a difference.

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KDP Select Six-Week Update

I’ve been back in KDP Select for about six weeks now. In other words, around half of my required 90 day term. I mentioned before that I wanted to test the program again after being out of it for nearly two years. Here’s what I’ve found:

Quantity-wise, my sales are down. Not by much (if you include borrows), but they’re still down compared to the last few months.

Revenue-wise, my sales are down. Quite a bit, actually. I’m earning a lot less money with so many of my sales coming in as KU/KOLL borrows. At $1.54 paid out per borrow, I’m earning around $1.00 to $1.25 less per novel than I was earning per sale. That said, I dropped prices across the board last month too, so some of my drop in revenue is due to the price drop. Still, I’m not selling or lending enough to make up for the difference and that also means something.

I kinda got screwed on two of my scheduled promotions. I’d planned on putting my horror novel on a Kindle Countdown sale. I scheduled the promotion, but then dropped the price on the book. That caused the promotion to cancel, which is fine, but now I can’t run another promotion. So apparently if you schedule a promotion but do something that causes that promotion to cancel then that’s all she wrote for that period. No reschedules, no do-overs. So I lost any opportunity I had to promote that title and another title. Sucky.

I had around 30 borrows last month. Thing is, I’m finding that I’m selling more than that at other outlets (B&N, Kobo & Apple). I’m also earning more there because they’re sales. So I’m earning less money and not really finding any more readers by being exclusive to Amazon. One could argue that I’m giving up even more by attracting new “buffet” readers at Amazon (KU subscribers) while giving up a la carte readers (pay-per-title). A la carte readers spend more money.

Given all this, I’ve opted out of Select and I’m just waiting for the second half of my KDP Select period to run out. I have a couple of promotions scheduled still, so we’ll see how those go. Without any outside advertising I doubt they’ll make much of a blip (one of my tests).

Was it a mistake? I don’t know about that. It was an experiment. The results have definitely been underwhelming. I’m looking forward to getting back into the other stores. I just hope I haven’t lost whatever momentum I built up outside Amazon.

My conclusion is that if your B&N, Apple and Kobo sales (combined or not) are 30-40% of your total sales, then going exclusive to KDP Select is likely to hurt your sales. But if you’re selling 90% or more at Amazon, it might not be a bad idea. Hopefully they’ll get the borrow rate up a bit higher than $1.54. If Amazon would remove the exclusivity requirement then it would be a no-brainer to join up. But giving up those outside sales channels might cost you more than it’s worth (that’s been the case for me). As always, your mileage may vary.

Quick Update on KDP Select

I opted in my Badlands books to Select on September 25th. I opted in the rest of my books less than a week before that. I wanted to answer some questions as to how effective Select might be for me again (I spent all of 2012 in it before opting out at the end of that year.)

Here’s the first update.

I ran a free promo on my short story, giving away around 100 copies. Day one it moved around 85 units before dropping off a cliff the second day (it probably got picked up on one of those free book sites the first day). Combined, the remaining four days moved around 15 units.

The results are negligible. No noticeable increase in sales of my other titles and not a single copy of the free short story sold.

Free is still something that’s never really worked for me. Others swear by it. Others do not. I’m not sure I’ll ever run a free promo again. The only reason I did it this time was because it was my $.99 short story. I’m giving up little by making it free.

One of the questions I asked was whether or not simply being opted in to Select sells more books because of increased visibility. So far after two weeks in I’m seeing nothing to indicate this is true. Sales are dismal. In fact, without my Kobo, B&N and Apple sales, I’m not earning shit.

I still have another two and a half months for things to turn around. During that time I’m going to be running Kindle Countdown deals on all my titles. We’ll see if those have any effect on sales.

And in case you’re wondering, I’m not running any Bookbub ads or anything like that. The experiment is to prove whether or not Select alone will help me move more books, using only Amazon promo tools.

Time will tell, but right now my decision to opt in seems like a bad idea. I only hope that I don’t lose the velocity I was gaining on Kobo. That would be a real shame. It was a risk I was willing to take, but it would still be a shame.

End of Year Blitzkrieg

So here we are at the end of September, with three months left to go in 2014 (as hard as that is for me to believe). NaNoWriMo is coming up again in November too.

I’ve been messing around with KDP Select and pricing and whatnot for some time now. That stuff doesn’t produce new words. I’ve also been revising, editing and proofreading The Crossover Gene, which has sucked a lot of my time away from writing new words.

I need to finish Badlands #3 and I also want to write a novel for NaNoWriMo. I was going to do it last year, but since I ran behind on Badlands #2 it got pushed. This year I’m on schedule, so I’d really like to knock out that novel this time around. I also have some short stories I want to finish.

So with the decision to do a 90-day stint in KDP Select already behind me and with The Crossover Gene being uploaded to Amazon tomorrow, I figured I’d just go nose to the grindstone and write the hell out of the rest of the year. Finish Badlands #3 and the new novel and those short stories. No editing or proofing, just new words.

I’ll likely go silent here on the blog for a bit, but I might try to check in once a month or so. I’ll definitely check in again by end of year and tell how things went, what worked and what didn’t, etc. I’ll also update with info on my current KDPS stint.

So until then, take it easy.

More on KDP Select

I’ve been mulling over KDP Select pretty hard the last couple of months. As I mentioned in the last post, I moved all my non-Badlands titles into Select to test it out.

Today I opted in my Badlands books.

Why, after all I said about Kobo sales increasing and non-Amazon markets making up 35% of my sales? Well, for starters I’m curious about a few things.

How might Kindle Unlimited perform for me? Might it hook new readers who want to try me risk free? KOLL borrows used to be pretty good for me, so maybe there’s still potential there.

Also, how might free work for me now in 2014? I had mixed results in 2012 when I did free runs, but I definitely sold more books overall.

Kindle Countdown deals? Do they work?

And the tough question that’s hard to prove…does simply being in Select give my book more visibility? Will I see sales increase across the board? Will I show up in more also-boughts?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. The only way to find out is to opt in and see what happens.

Select requires 90 days of exclusivity. That puts me eligible to opt out around the end of December. Badlands #3 won’t be out until January or February, so if Select turns out to be a crappy decision I have time to opt out before book #3 comes out. Readers who bought into the series on other devices won’t be affected.

In other words, now’s the window I needed to get my questions answered. If I wait, I’ll have to make some tough decisions around my best-selling series.

But what if Select works wonders for me? Will I keep all my books opted in? I don’t know. Will that piss off readers on other platforms? Possibly. But I’ll say this…if you started my Badlands series outside Amazon and want to finish it on your preferred reader and can’t, contact me. We’ll work something out. I wouldn’t be allowed to sell you the books, but that doesn’t rule out review copies.

I have a few promotions scheduled, staggered over the next 90 days. Two free givaways and two Countdown Deals. Not sure what I’ll do with the Badlands books yet. I’m considering a free giveaway on book #1 and a Coundown Deal on book #2, right before the pre-order page for book #3 goes live (which would be at 40% regular price). That could really build momentum around the series.

For now I’m seeing no borrows for any books after being in there for less than a week. Sales are slightly up, but not so much that I can correlate it with opting in to Select. Could just be normal fluctuations. I’m currently running a free giveaway right now on one of my short stories. That did pretty well on the first day, but fell off a cliff by day two. I think I’ve given away maybe 85 copies so far.

While it might seem that that I’m all over the place, there really is a method to the madness. Having the guts to change course is a strength often downplayed by political talking heads as ‘waffling’. I don’t listen to those assholes. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if you keep doing the same thing you’re going to keep getting the same thing. I’d rather be doing something than sitting back and just letting things happen to me.

We’ll see how it goes. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Reconsidering KDP Select

I recently read an article by Hugh Howey wherein he discussed his considerations around going all-in with Amazon. I won’t go into every little detail here (that’s why I provided the link), but it got me thinking (again) about my choice to opt-out exclusively.

I spent nearly all of 2012 in Select and I made a decent amount of money from the borrows. I’m sure I also garnered new readers (some of whom said so in the reviews). I sold incredibly well, but that was back in the good ‘ol days, during the Kindle Gold Rush, so to speak.

I opted out in 2013 and have been out ever since. I’ve also watched my sales plummet, though I think that has more to do with a cooling market than opting out of Select (I hope so at least).

I’ve been reconsidering Select for the past six months or so, especially after they added Kindle Unlimited and Countdown Deals. Part of what KDP Select exclusivity brings is a collection of discovery tools. Kindle Countdown Deals, Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL), Kindle Unlimited (if the customer has signed up) and Free Promotions. I also suspect that Select books are given better visibility, but that’s conjecture on my part.

Kobo does allow for free promotions and price-reductions, which is great. B&N doesn’t really do crap for indies, but I suspect that’s because they’re still in bed with all the big publishers. By all appearances their Nook platform is slowly dying and could go away altogether before too long anyway. Apple iBooks doesn’t really do much for indies either and it’s a major pain in the ass to upload directly to them (I use Smashwords).

So I asked myself…if Amazon is providing all these tools, what are the other guys offering? Simply being “not Amazon” isn’t really enough. I feel like these vendors need to do something to convince independent writers to distribute through them.

That said, I’m leery of going all in with Amazon for every title I have. Also, I think I’d piss off more than a few people if I yanked my Badlands series from the other ebook vendors. People who started that series on their Nook or iPad should be able to finish it there, without having to jump to Amazon.

I decided to land somewhere in the middle. As I’ve posted before, non-Amazon channels account for as much as 38% of my sales now. But…of those non-Amazon sales, 99% of them are in my Badlands series. My other stand-alone books sell virtually no copies on the other platforms.

So now that I have a decent little backlist, I opted in four of my six titles: a stand-alone horror novel, a collection of short stories, a novella and a stand-alone short story. These haven’t sold jack outside Amazon, so I figure I have nowhere to go but up. These lagging titles will now be eligible for Kindle Unlimited borrows as well as KOLL borrows.

I scheduled two books with Countdown Deals and the remaining two with free promotions. This gives me an efficient and cheap way to promote them. More importantly, I can test out Select again after being out of it for so long and see if it can still push a title up in the ranks.

By opting in only my lagging titles, I can test out Select without affecting sales of my best-selling series. This mitigates my risk and doesn’t really penalize readers (as much). My two Badlands novels are still available everywhere. Book three should be out later this year and I plan to opt it out of Select as well.

I’ll be watching my Amazon sales closely over the next 90 days. If I see huge spikes in sales, I’ll know the move was worth it. I’ll also be watching my sales of the Badlands series on the non-Amazon platforms to see if those sales drop. Could be that I’m penalized for de-listing titles (hopefully not).

As much as I want to make my books available on all platforms,  I also want to reach as many readers as I can. That could mean Amazon is the place for that, to the exclusion of Kobo, B&N and Apple. I won’t know until the data rolls in.

I’ll post updates as I go. I’m interested in seeing where this experiment takes me and my books.

Lapsing Out of KDP Select

kindle

As self-published writers, not only do we write the books, we also price them and market them. One of those pricing and marketing tools is KDP Select. I’ve written about Select before (and the reasons behind my choice to opt in), so I won’t bore you with those details here.

What I’m discussing here today is my choice to opt out.

I opted my debut novel, Into the Badlands, into KDP Select back in February of this year. Each month after it averaged around 35 borrows. I left it in Select for nine months (three ninety-day terms). I began seriously considering opting out after the second term, but I opted for a third term anyway. At the time I leaned pretty heavily toward opting in because of the poor performance of non-Amazon sales channels.

Mark Coker wrote an article about Amazon playing authors like pawns in a chess game. While he made some good points, the tone of the article made indie authors sound naive and gullible. Like we didn’t think about what we were getting into. He also did not place enough responsibility on Amazon’s competitors’ inability to step up their game and actually compete (including Smashwords).

But what really compelled me was this article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It really got me thinking about my long-term readership.

While I contend that what I’ve said about KDP Select and Amazon’s competitors is still true, I’ve come to the conclusion that Select is a short-term tool. I plan on writing for the rest of my life (and self-publishing for as long, should the existing system hold up), so the decisions I make should be geared toward the long-term.

Simply put, making my work available everywhere, to anyone, regardless of device, is a better long-term plan to acquire and retain readers.

But I had concerns about opting out of Select. Badlands is my best-selling title and I didn’t want to risk damaging that. My first concern was the fact that I’d lose all my borrows, about 35 per month on average, or around $70.

My second concern was that Amazon would “punish” me for opting out by knocking my book down in the rankings. If true, not only would I lose the borrows, but I’d lose paid sales.

I decided to risk it in the end. Long-term it was the right decision, so I allowed Into the Badlands to lapse out of KDP Select in November.

What happened was surprising.

Sales increased. I actually ended up selling more books than the two prior months. I have two theories around this. One theory is  it’s all seasonal. We are approaching Christmas and Amazon likely sold a ton of Kindles on Black Friday. Those Kindles need books.

The second theory is that borrows were cannibalizing my paid sales and once folks couldn’t borrow the book for free they simply ponied up and bought a copy. Badlands is ranking higher than it has for months. Simply stated, it doesn’t appear that Amazon is penalizing my book for lapsing out of Select.

Also, non-Amazon sales have improved since last year. Barnes and Noble, while not stellar, performed best, with Kobo ushering in a sale. Alone, these sales didn’t cover the gap I lost with my borrows going away, but combined with the additional Amazon paid sales it went a long way toward filling the gap.

Utilizing Select Short-Term

That said, I do think Select can be utilized short-term. My second novel, The Desolate, got off to a slow start when released. For three months it languished until I opted it in to Select and ran a two-day giveaway. After that sales nearly doubled. I think the trick was the giveaway, placing my book on many different “also bought” lists for other horror novels and getting it in front of more paying readers.

I think that a “Kindle First” approach might be valuable. The idea being: give the book to Amazon for 90 days and do a giveaway to seed the “also bought” lists. Let it ride for 90 days and then let it lapse out and get it into the non-Amazon stores (B&N, Kobo, Apple, Smashwords, etc).

And some books, like novellas and short stories, might be better suited for utilizing the free promotions that come with Select, since Amazon’s algorithm changes don’t boost paid sales after a free day anymore. Giving away stuff you don’t make very much on (with previews to your full-priced novels included) is like cheap advertising.

It’s hard to say how long Amazon will extend the Select program. If it goes into next year I’ll likely take the “Kindle First” approach with my upcoming sci-fi thriller. My sequel to Into the Badlands, however, I don’t plan on opting in to Select at all. The first book already has a readership, so I don’t need to seed “also bought” lists with a free promotion. The book should sell on its own.

No Reader Left Behind

So as Kris Rusch suggests, I’m taking the “no reader left behind” approach. It’ll probably cost me a little in the short term, but with the long tail of this new publishing paradigm I think that I (and my readers) will benefit more in the long term if I make my titles available to everyone, everywhere.

“The Desolate” and KDP Select

When I published my horror novel, The Desolate, near the end of July I purposely opted it out of KDP Select. Kobo’s Writing Life platform had just gone live and I wanted to give it a try. I also wanted to give Smashwords, Sony, Apple, and Barnes & Noble another chance. After opting both of my other books into KDP Select back in February of 2012 I’d been exclusive to Amazon for the better part of the year. I thought maybe things had changed with the competition while I was away.

Well, it seems things are pretty much the same outside of Amazon.

After nearly three months on the market, 90% of The Desolate‘s sales were through Amazon. That left 10% to be shared across all other reader platforms combined. It sold 2 copies on Smashwords before that channel went dead. 1 copy sold on Kobo, but they won’t pay out until I accumulate $100 in sales. At that rate my grandchildren might see that money. Barnes and Noble’s Nook platform performed the best out of all the non-Amazon channels, selling a whopping 11 copies. And after nearly three months Sony still didn’t have the book available in their store for sale.

So I decided to give KDP Select a chance with The Desolate and see how it fared. Continue reading