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.

Launch Strategy: THE CROSSOVER GENE

While I agree with Dean Wesley Smith’s view on not making a book an event, I do plan to have some sort of strategy in place when I release The Crossover Gene. I don’t plan to sit and dwell on it though because I have another book partially finished and yet another still to write in order for me to finish out the series. In other words, I’m gonna be busy.

That said, I do have some plans in mind. I’ve been toying with pricing on my backlist recently (admittedly backtracking on some of my best-laid plans) and also thinking about how to price The Crossover Gene upon release.

Ed Robertson has some great thoughts on frontlist and backlist pricing, namely pricing your frontlist like your backlist. Instead of charging full price when the book comes out, price it cheap and move the units. This is great because it makes the book attractive for purchase and rewards long-time fans with a lower price.

My plan is to release Crossover for a reduced price, say $1.00. Loyal fans get a price break and the reduced cost will hopefully spur initial sales, pushing my rank up and getting a nice collection of “also boughts”.

But it’ll only last for a limited time. Once the introductory period is over, the book will revert to its full price of $4.99.

KDP Select

This is where Select comes in. I’m not a big fan of exclusivity. I spent all of 2012 in Select, but opted out in 2013. I’ve been out ever since. One of my goals is to be as accessible as possible and being on all ereader platforms is the right way to do that (in my opinion).

But Select can work for writers. With the addition of Kindle Countdown Deals and now Kindle Unlimited, Select is looking viable again, albeit for a limited  time. My plan is to put Crossover into Select for 90 days. During that time I’ll run every promotion I can: free days, Kindle Countdown, whatever. It’ll be available for borrow in KU. Then, when the 90 days are up, I opt out of Select and put the book up on Apple, B&N, Smashwords and Kobo.

I’m calling this approach “Kindle First”.

What do I expect to gain? Well, for starters, this book is slightly different than my other work. It’s a sci-fi thriller, not horror or post-apocalyptic. I’m hoping to get some new eyes on the book via Countdown Deals and Kindle Unlimited borrows.

Some of my existing readers will no doubt follow along with me for the ride. I don’t want my most loyal readers to pay more, so the sale price is meant as a reward for these readers.

One of the perks of being on my mailing list is finding out about new releases before anyone else. Providing a discount to these people makes signing up even more of a no-brainer.

Do I need Countdown deals to discount the book? No, I don’t. But I figure it’s worth testing the tool out to see if those deals drive more buys.  I’m also excited about Kindle Unlimited as readers can very easily and cheaply take a chance on me. Most books peak and drop within 90 days anymore, so I figure I’ll strike while the iron’s hot.

Other Platforms

Unfortunately, this means that any of my readers on non-Amazon devices are going to have to wait for three months before they can buy the book. Sucky, I know. That said, Amazon says that I’m not allowed to sell the book on another digital platform for 90 days while in Select. But…if a reader should happen to contact  me about wanting a “review copy” for free, then I think something could be arranged. 🙂

Other Titles

Does this mean I’m moving my other titles exclusively to Amazon? Hell no. And I’m doubly sure I’m not doing that with my Badlands series. Imagine how pissed off Kobo or Nook readers would be if they were waiting on a new book in a series, only to find out it’s exclusive to Amazon? My cardinal rule: if the other books in the series are available outside Amazon then any and all new books in that series must be as well. So that means Badlands #3 and #4 will not be exclusive and will be available immediately on all platforms. In the future, if my “Kindle First” approach works, then standalone novels might go Amazon exclusive for 90 days. We’ll see.

Mailing List

I’ve built a decent little mailing list over the last year and a half and I’ll be using it again with this release. I will tell folks about the exclusivity caveat, but assure them that the book will be on other platforms in 90 days. I’ll likely email the list again after the book goes live everywhere, reminding them it’s available for purchase. I might even discount the price again so that these readers can get it for a reduced rate.

So there you have it; my plans for releasing The Crossover Gene. I’m really excited, especially since it’s so close. Outside of editorial changes, my work is finished, so I’m just waiting on the editor and proofreader now. I’ll post again after the book launches and let everyone know how it all went.

How I Write a Book

Now that I’ve written four novels (with a fifth nearly complete) I think I’ve finally settled into a process and routine that works. I titled this post “How I Write a Book” and not “How To Write a Book” because I don’t think there’s one “right” answer. Different people do things differently than others. I thought, however, that sharing my process might provide ideas to other writers on how to settle on a process of their own (should they not already have one).

The Idea

My books tend to start with an idea. Sometimes it’s a thought or a feeling of the type of book I want to write. Other times it’s a world that I’d like to create and explore. Sometimes the ideas just come from nowhere, other times it’s more deliberate. Either way, without an idea you really have no story.

The Outline

I outline. Some don’t. For me, the outline is the best approach because I know that if I can finish the outline then I can finish the book. I have too many off the cuff books that I got 20k words into before watching them die a painful and slow death. That said, an outline is just a rough blueprint. Things can and will change as the book is being written.

The Manuscript

Once the outline is finished I write the manuscript. I set a 1,000 word per day quota and I hit that quota hard. This is critical. Setting and meeting word count can’t be underestimated. I try to shoot for 75k to 80k novel length, but sometimes they run shorter or longer. I simply adjust my due dates when this happens. Writing a book is a creative endeavor, after all, and one that can’t always be accurately estimated.

Put Out the Call for Beta Readers

Once the manuscript gets a month or so away from completion I put out the call for beta readers. I have a stock of betas who always read for me, but getting a few new faces at the table provides new perspective from book to book. I look for betas who have a good idea for story and who aren’t afraid to tell me when something sucks.

First Revision

After the manuscript is complete I do the first revision, one chapter at a time. I work all week on the revisions, sending out the revised chapters to the betas on Sunday night. I repeat this process until the entire first revision is finished. This allows the betas to get the story in bite-sized chunks, which means they’re more likely to stick with it until the end. It also avoids the scenario of keeping betas waiting until I finish the entire first revision and then me having to wait while they consume an entire novel. That all takes time and this multi-tasking approach shaves months off the process.

Second Revision

This is where I go over the book again, incorporating the beta reader feedback and cleaning up any clumsy prose and spelling/grammar errors. I run the manuscript through several different spelling and grammar checkers including Scrivener, Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, Apple Pages and Google Docs. They all catch something different and provide different suggestions for improvement. (Sometimes it takes more than one pass to get through this revision.)

To the Editor

With the second revision complete, I’ve now gone over the manuscript three times (including writing it). Now I’ll send it off to my editor. She’ll have the manuscript for maybe two to four weeks, depending on her schedule and how long the book is. Her job is to check for spelling and grammar issues and to ensure that the story is reads well. She looks for inconsistencies, repetition, awkward phrasing and other areas that need improvement.

To the Proofreader

Once the manuscript is returned to me, I’ll make the changes she suggests. I’ll then send the manuscript off to my proofreader. She looks primarily for spelling and grammar errors. She’ll also find weird stuff that both my editor and I missed. Improper word usage and other stuff like that. She’s the last set of eyes on the work before it goes to publication, ensuring I’ve done all that I can to catch and fix all errors.

Final Read

Once the proofreader’s changes are in, I’ll copy the book to my Kindle and read it as if I were one of my readers. This allows me a final look at the entire book, start to finish, after all changes have been made. This way I can ensure it reads as I want it to and that something didn’t go awry during the editing process (like accidentally deleting entire chapters).

Publish

Once the final read-through is complete it’s time to hit the publish button. I export the manuscript into both Kindle and ePub formats and get busying uploading to Amazon and the other vendors.

Back Cover Copy

This is the synopsis or product description, the bit where you pitch the salient points of the plot to potential readers. It tells readers what the book is about, sets up the problem that needs to be solved and leaves the reader guessing as to whether or not the problem can be solved. I usually start this process when I get the outline finished and tweak it along the way. It needs to be finished before I upload my finished book and hit “publish”.

Notify My Mailing List

I now have a mailing list compiled. I use MailChimp to collect and manage this list and I use it only to inform readers of my new releases. By signing up for this list, these readers have told me they’re very interested in my work. As such, they get notified the moment the book is available on Kindle, Kobo and Nook (the other vendors take longer and I don’t want to make readers wait that long). At this point I don’t post anything to my website about the new book being available, nor do I post on Facebook, Google+, Twitter or anywhere else. Think of it as a silent release (where only a select group of readers are notified).

Advertise the Release

This is the part where I tell everyone else that the book is avaiable. I hit Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and my website with the news. I only do this once, because I don’t want to push a hard sell on people. I don’t want to be the BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! guy. I don’t know a person alive who likes that sort of marketing approach. The time between notifying the mailing list and notifying the rest of the world can vary. Last time I waited a couple of days, but next time I might wait a week or two.

Start the Next Book

I usually take a short break, maybe a week or two, and then I start the next book and do it all over again.

So there you have it, the process I use to write and release a novel. You’re bound to do things a bit differently, but this approach has worked very well for me during my last several releases. It keeps me on a reasonably quick production schedule and ensures the books are high quality. Hopefully some of what I’ve said here will give you some ideas, whether it’s your first release or simply the next one in line.

And if you’re a reader, you now know that publishing a book isn’t simply finishing a manuscript and hitting the “publish” button. There’s a serious amount of work that goes into each release to bring you the best quality work I can produce. I hope you enjoy it.