Friday, October 07, 2016

Amber Fang: Why I'm self publishing a vampire novel (and you can too!)

Vampires! They just won't stay dead.

I'm going to lay out the steps I'm following to self-publish Amber Fang on October 25th, 2016. I'll make big ol' headings so you can skip any sections that don't interest you.

Why Are You Doing This?

I wanted to test out self publishing fully. I've put my traditionally published books up for sale on various e-vendors (after I got the rights back, of course), have used Createspace to resurrect three of my paperback books and I've put an audio book on Audible, but have yet to take a project from scratch and release it on my own. I've been following a variety of blogs, Facebook groups and podcasts about the writers who are thriving as indy publishers. I have a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit alongside my creative mind, so I like the challenge.

Why Not Go With A Publisher?

I did show this book to a few publishers and was told that Vampire books don't sell. They're probably right. Or at least, they're right that big publishers can't sell vampire books. Publishers are great at going wide. But if you can find the right niche, an individual self-published author can make a tidy sum. I also do not like the 25% of net deal that publishers are offering for ebooks. Especially when Amazon is offering 70% of gross. Obviously they can't match Amazon, but...well, anyway that's a long conversation.

Amber Fang: The Concept
I can't remember when I first got the idea. But I loved the thought of a librarian vampire who becomes a hitwoman for a secret organization. It's a little cheesy. A little bloody. That's what I wanted from this story. So when I wrote the book, I really thought about creating a quick read. The final version is only 45,000 words long (Kobo says it should take the average reader about 4 hours to read) It zips along at a rip-roaring pace. It's a book that is targeted at the older young adult market, the new adult market and older readers, too. So it's for an older audience than I usually write to.

Uh, did you edit it yourself?
Bev the Editor

No, I did not. I really wanted the book to be professionally edited from top to bottom. So I hired Bev Katz Rosenbaum who did an excellent job on the "overview" edit.  Lots of great comments and a helpful writeup about the overall story.

When it came time for the copy edit and proofread I used a company in Australia called Polgarus Studio. They've worked with several authors that I recognized including Hugh Howey and Mark Dawson (he's one of the brilliant self published authors I've been following).  They're speedy and professional and I'll gladly use them again. I found Polgarus through Joanna Penn's "editors" page. I should point out that I also got quotes from Reedsy (it's a great site) and Book Butchers but they were a little more costly than I was looking for (the sample edits were great from both places and I'm sure they were worth the $).

Can I See A Chart Now?
There! It's an outline of all my expenses, including advertising. These are in American funds.

What About the Cover And Formatting?
With the cover I went to Go On Write. I've worked with the designer there on several projects and he's fast and does a great job. And he has a very British (and funny) sense of humour. I actually found the images and he did all of the fancy dancy designing. 
With the ebook formatting, I originally was going to use Scrivener (where I do all my writing). They have a great export to ebook function (though, like all things Scrivener, it can be tricky). But eventually I settled on using Vellum.  I. Love. It. It's expensive ($199). But totally worth it (since I'm juggling about 14 different ebooks right now).  Alas, it is Mac only.

What's Your Big Ol' Clever Sales Plan?
There are more theories on how to sell ebooks out there are zombies in The Walking Dead. Really, there are. I have the website page here along with a pre-sales offer of a fun gift. That's to reward people who pre-order the book (pre-orders are very important for launch day). I'm using a universal link from Books2read. The idea is that there is just one link that people click on then it takes them to their favourite ebook vendor. Actually try it out here please:
I am curious as to whether it works for you. It should be able to detect what country you're in then take you to the right e-vendor.

I chose to go wide. By that I mean the book is not exclusive to Amazon. I didn't like the idea of just having one company selling my book (even though they are such a large part of the market and there are huge advantages to being in their exclusive KDP Select program). Many of my readers are Canadian, and there are more Kobos up here than in other countries! 

The pre-sale for Amber Fang is on now at Kobo, Kindle, and iBooks (but not NOOK since they don't have a pre-sale option). The book is priced at .99 cents. It won't stay at that price, this is mainly to encourage as many sales as possible during the first thirty days of the launch. On October 20th there will be a "soft" launch on Kindle. It will be available for sale on that day (though the official sale day is the 25th). The soft launch is so my beta readers can put up their reviews and when October 25th comes along I can push as many people towards the book and they will see that it has already been reviewed (glowingly, one hopes).

Here's a calendar:

Amazon is the big gorilla in the market place. According to Adam Houge, Amazon uses a thirty day rolling Algorithm. What this means is that Amazon decides where you end up on their sales rank partly be measuring how well you do over a thirty day period. So for the first week of my campaign I have ads running on Facebook. Then on the 16th I will pre-sell the book to my newsletter subscribers (3000 people). On the 20th I'll ask my beta readers to put up reviews. Then I'll increase my ads on Facebook and also have the book reader ads (like Kindle Nation Daily and Bargain Booksy) on specific days leading up to launch day. On the 25th of October I will send another blast to my newsletter. That should be the highest sales day. Then I'm done. A few days later I will raise the price to 2.99. And later to $3.99. Hopefully by that point Amber Fang will be "sticking" to a good place in the rankings. I'll be spending a lot of time crossing my fingers.

As far as the other vendors like Kobo and iBooks, the pre-sales all count toward the first day of sales so the book should climb up the charts that way.

What About a Real Book? Err, by real I mean paperback.

Right now I'm putting together the Createspace version of the book (that's Amazon's Print on Demand version). Though that means most other traditional bookstores won't order it. So I am also looking at putting an Ingram Spark version together. I do have a great relationship with bookstores, since I have eighteen traditionally published books, but I do see paperback sales for Amber Fang as being secondary to ebook sales. That's partly because it's just too hard for an individual to promote to the bookstores.

What will you consider a success?

Making my money back is my first goal. The second goal is to make a profit. Whether I will make enough to pay me for the hours of writing, well, that's up to the readers. And the algorithm gods and goddesses. It is the first book in a three book series, so in many ways it's a lost leader. Once the launch is done, I plan on writing book 2.

Please share any thoughts you have about this plan. I'd love to hear them.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Ease of Createspace

Books go out of print.
It's one of the horrible truths of the publishing industry. That novel you spent years on, that was the epicentre of your blood, sweat and spiritual tears was released into the world. It was available. Then gradually (or far too quickly) it went out of print. And it's gone. Poof! All you hear about are occasional sightings in second-hand stores.
Cue the horror scream. 
This is, of course, the digital age. And one of the great gifts of this age is that old, out-of-print books can be resurrected in digital form (and sold into markets you didn't have access to before). It is relatively easy to put the ebooks out there with services like Draft2Digital and Reedsy. And, of course, it's also easy to put the paper versions of your books back on the shelves.
There are several options including Ingram Spark & Createspace. I have only used Createspace, so far. And it took me less than two hours to publish a paperback.

Yep, a book made of paper on the presses and ready to be printed in less than two hours. I had tested Createspace two years ago with Megiddo's Shadow, and found it just a little too labour intensive in terms of setting up your manuscript.

Recently I decided to revamp my back list and added both Dust and Tribes to Createspace. These books have been out of print in the US and UK for several years (but available as ebooks). There are two advantages to putting them up as "real" books. One: I might sell a few copies. Two: when people look at the books on Amazon, the ebook looks like a great bargain compared to the paperback, so people might buy more copies of the ebook.

This is what you need to publish on Createspace. A clean copy of the novel and a cover. Thankfully, I had both already. I took a Microsoft Word copy and imported it into Reedsy's online word processing program. It's a clever free online tool that will export your books into handy ePubs or Mobi files (for digital books) but also PDF's for printing on Createspace (or other publishing systems). The only time consuming part is that you have to copy and paste a chapter at a time (you can't import the full book, yet--apparently that option is coming soon). But this saves so much time in formatting. I just had to hit SAVE to get a PDF that was perfect for Createspace.
I already had excellent covers created by the one and only Christopher Steininger. So I uploaded the cover and the PDF to Createspace. And, with another hour of noodling around using their cover creator tool, was able to put it all into place (You can, of course, click the covers below and see for yourself).

The whole experience was relatively painless. In fact I intend to revamp Megiddo's Shadow now that I understand the system better and add several other books. The cost to me was 0$ (other than having to pay for my own copies, of course, which the author gets at a discount).
All in all a relatively easy experience.
P.S. I do have a contest to win signed copies of each book. Just enter here. Hurry now. It ends soon. Etc., : )

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Well, that's a long title for a blog post. That bodes ill for the length of the post itself. But let's dive into my experience with my latest novel, Flickers.
About this time last year I signed up for Tim Grahl's Launch A Bestseller course. Grahl is a book marketing expert, he's an authentic & trustworthy voice on the internet because he tells it like it is and he has a good background in the publishing industry and in getting books of a variety of types onto various bestseller charts. His website is here.
Flickers, my middle grade suspense novel, was going to be out in just about a year and since his course suggested a nine-month program to prepare for launch day it was perfect timing for me to get me some "bestselling" learning. I ante'd up the money and dove in. All I'd every really done in terms of a national launch was to post on Facebook or Twitter when the cover was released then post again on the actual day the book came out. I, too, would dutifully inform my email newsletter subscribers. And I'd do an in person launch in my local bookstore. But this course forced me to have a plan.
I won't go into great detail about the contents of the course other than the focus was to reach out to influencers (people you know or would like to know in the industry), to build your email "following" and then really aim at promoting the book for the final month before it was released. The idea is that you want people to pre-order the book and therefore those sales, which have been accumulating for a few weeks, will all count on book release day and that will place your book higher in a variety of in-store lists across the country and launch you onto the national bestseller lists (charts, of course, work differently in different stores, from Amazon to Indigo to independent stores and quite differently in different countries). Because this was the Canadian release I was only concentrating on selling the book in Canada (it is not yet available in any other countries)
I gave away free "goodies" to anyone who pre-ordered (my goodies included a PDF about the creation of the book, a director's cut chapter, audio of the first chapter & a thank you video). My email list was 1300 at the time, Facebook friends was at around 5000, and Twitter at 15,000. Of those people only 42 signed up for the pre-order goodies. That was much lower than I expected but you do have to remember that those 42 are my superfans and many of them were purchasing multiple copies. They went into a variety of stores across the country (or online) and ordered the book which meant that the stores would order more copies. I also did find out that many (I didn't have an adequate way to poll this) ordered the books but didn't bother with the freebies (some said they didn't want any aspect of the story spoiled by spoilers that might be in the giveaway). 
As I said, my normal launch modus operandi was to mention the book once in awhile online then a few times on the actual day it was released. What all of this pre-sales "talk" did was allowed me to stretch out that promo and create more buzz than usual. I was also going to be launching the "real" book at a theatre in front of about 500 students (that deserves another post) and had set up a website so that parents could pre-order the book (this also added to pre-sales, of course). 

The book debuted at #4 on the juvenile bestseller lists for Independent Bookstores. It did get momentum because two weeks later it was the #10 book overall on that same list (overall means that it was competing against all the books in the bookstore). I couldn't track sales in Chapters but on it went as low as 500 overall (Amazon doesn't add up the pre-sales on launch day, it just keeps track of them as they are bought, so it's harder to go up the charts). And I won't get the actual number of copies sold until my publisher sends me my royalty statements.
So I'm left with a bit of a jumbled study. And there's no way to measure this against past success because, well, I wasn't so good at measuring past success. Plus, I would have to launch the exactly same book without the promo. I am mostly certain that none of my novels had made the top ten overall list before. So I'm very happy with that. I also have the support of HarperCollins Canada and their mighty sales team, so my sense is that their "sales" heft along with my own launch program gave the book its best chance possible to succeed.
Things I learned in no particular order:
1). Launching a book is work. From writing emails, to contacting bookstores, to building my subscriber base for my newsletter. It was very time consuming. But all that work paid dividends now and will continue to do so in the future.
2) Put on your "sales" hat in a clever way. There's nothing more boring than an author shouting "buy my book." So I was often looking for new ways to get that information across. And, at the same time, trying to be genuinely helpful to people.
3) Your fans don't mind hearing from you more than once. My newsletter usually comes out once a month but I sent eight emails in the six weeks leading up to launch day (first teasing the "goodie" pre-sale, then promoting it, and finally sending out a launch day email). I did lose subscribers (which is normal), but generally readers were excited by my excitement, so to speak, and understood that the emails would slow down once the book was out.
4) Launch Teams are a great help. I formed a launch team by asking for "joiners" on social media and my email list. Their only duties were to post about the book two days before it came out and again on launch day. I made a "share" page so that they didn't even have to write the posts (in other words I wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to share). And I sent them reminders on those days, so they didn't have to put it in their calendars. 46 people signed up and those posts were instrumental in getting the word out and building buzz.
5) I now have a great template for my next book launch. Ummm...I better start writing that book. Now!
Overall, I'm pleased with what I learned from the course and how I was able to apply it specifically to my book launch. I'll continue to use the method that I learned, tweaking it here and there.
Thanks for tuning in. As I said I can't be entirely sure about my sales numbers until I get my royalty statement from HarperCollins. And I'll be waiting with baited (or is it booked?) breath until that day.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Five Greatest Silent Films

It’s one week until my “silent film horror” book comes out! And yes I highly suggest you click here to see the “Jazzy Pre-sale Gifts.” Click, I dare you. Anyway, sales hat off: as part of my research for Flickers I watched a large selection of Silent Films. These were the five that stood out for me.

 1. The General
 I knew little about Buster Keaton before writing this book. Everyone talks about Charlie Chaplin. He is brilliant. But Buster Keaton is his equal. Today we live in a world with giant budget special effects and grandiose 3D spectacles. But nothing tops the live on the scene “real” special effects of this movie.
 2. Nosferatu
 Dracula! Well, not Dracula because they were trying to avoid copyright issues when they made this movie thus they called it Nosferatu. Bram Stoker’s widow won the court case and had every copy of the film destroyed. Except one. It was shipped to the US (where copyright had lapsed) and the movie was release there. Luckily for us, it lives! It lives! So many of these scenes will look familiar because so many horror directors paid homage to this film.
 3. The Kid
 Charlie Chaplin made better movies. Deeper movies. But boy…this is just so much fun.
 4. Metropolis
 It’s one of the first and greatest science fiction epics. And I have no idea what’s going on sometimes. But the grandeur of imagination comes across.

5. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

 Okay. This is like a nightmare inside a nightmare inside a shadowbox full of nightmares. Artsy. Gutsy. Scary. It sticks with you.

 There are, of course, many more brilliant films from that age. Educate me! Leave a comment to tell me which ones I should have included.

 Originally published at

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Writers: Using Giveaways to Build Your Newsletter/Email List

One of the latest “trending” theories on book promotion is the idea of creating a newsletter/email list so that you can communicate directly with your fans. Part of the reason there’s been a movement towards this is that Facebook and Twitter are so “busy” now. If you post on your own Facebook “like” page about 16% of your “fans” will see the post. You need to pay to “boost” the page to the rest of your followers (Clever move, Facebook). And I’ve seen numbers as low as (or even lower than) 5% of Twitter followers see a tweet. Like I said, it’s busy out there.
So an email list is a way of reaching out directly to readers. And more writers are catching on to this (which is why there are so many pop-ups and email boxes on writer websites these days). I’ve experimented with pop up boxes on my website with some success. But you have to drive traffic to get sign ups and that can be difficult and time consuming. And frankly, I like writing books instead.
My most recent attempt is to use a giveaway to encourage fans (or potential fans) to sign up. With the generosity of my publisher, who gave me five “adventure” books to giveaway, I ran two contests. One was with Rafflecopter where people could enter to win but if they joined the email list they’d get an extra entry. I ended up with 88 entries.

I ran the exact same “Adventure” prize a few months later, but this time used the KingSumo Giveaway Plugin (on Wordpress). I had read a rather amazing (and somewhat alarming) account of one person using the app and getting 200,000 email addresses. Read it here. Of course, I didn’t expect to get that many. The way KingSumo Giveaway works is that in order for people to enter for the prize they need to sign up to your newsletter. That’s made clear on the contest rules, so it isn’t a surprise when they get an email from you. And it’s also made clear that they can unsubscribe at any time. The clever thing about KingSumo is that if someone enters the contest then they receive a special link that they can email, Facebook, or tweet. And if other people click on that link and enter the contest, the original entrant gets more entries (3 in the case of my last contest). It’s a way to reward people for sharing the contest. In other contests every time you share it and more people enter then your odds of winning go down. This gives each entrant a way to stack the odds in their favour. And it can help build buzz about the contest.

The key is to pick a prize that will attract the type of people who would be interested in your writing. So I didn’t give away a Cadillac. Or two hundred golden ducks. Instead I gave away the Adventure Prize Pack that you see above.
And here were the results:

So 175 people entered. Because several of them shared that magic link there were 229 entries in total. And one person won (and I tell you, he was overjoyed!). I imported all of them into my newsletter list (I use Mailchimp) and ended up with 103 new subscribers (the other 72 were already subscribed). I sent them all a “hello” letter and explained that they were welcome to unsubscribe, but also mentioned how hilariously funny my Somewhat Clever Newsletter is (click here if you want to find out for yourself). Three people unsubscribed. Since my biggest month of signups was just under 100 people, this was a success in my books.

One caveat, I did spend $75 on Facebook ads. So that cost, added to the cost of shipping books, makes this whole experiment about $100. Or a dollar per new subscriber. Next time I’ll skip the ads and see what happens. (Actually speaking of next time; I am doing another giveaway at this moment: A Writing Critique Giveaway, contest ends April 8th, 2016).

Anyway, that was my experiment with KingSumo Giveaways. Thanks for tuning in!

Friday, April 01, 2016

Pro Writing Critique Giveaway

Well, I'm giving away a writing critique session with moi. Yes, you could have my scribbles on your text! Just click the image above for more information. Or click here. Contest closes April 8th, 2016.
Best of luck!