Saturday, 30 November 2013

KDP Select - What is it and should you use it?


When I brought out my first book, The Five Day Writer's Retreat, in March this year, I didn't enrol in Amazon's KDP Select program. However, bringing out my most recent book, The Nice Guy's Guide To Online Dating Profiles, just two weeks ago, I've decided to enrol it and see how it goes. I get a lot of questions about KDP Select, so let me explain my reasoning and how it is useful.

First of all, what is KDP Select?
Amazon's ebook self-publishing platform is called KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). It is the easiest way to get an ebook listed on Amazon, you just go to their website, sign up and then load your book up through them (you need to have it all formatted and the cover already created, you just upload it and they turn it into an appropriate file format and put it on for you).

When you upload your title to KDP, you will be offered the chance to join KDP Select, which is slightly different to just KDP. KDP Select is a program that you enrol in for 90 days at a time. With this program, you promise that you will exclusively sell this ebook through Amazon for the 90 days (though you can do what you want with hardcopies), in return they give a number of benefits such as higher royalties in certain countries, the chance to be paid for Amazon Prime members to 'borrow' your book, and the chance to do a temporary promotion of your book for free, just for 5 days within the 90.

When I brought out my first book, I was put off by the fact that I couldn't sell my book elsewhere. I wanted to sell it through my own website, as well as use Smashwords to get it onto Barnes and Noble, iBooks, etc. I assumed that the sales from these other avenues would make up for any benefits that the program could offer.

My other logic was that the biggest thing they offer is that you can give your book away for free. However, I didn't want to give my book away for free! I had worked hard, and it deserved to be paid! So, they could just keep their program.

Since then, I've realised a few things:
1. For the majority of indie authors, about 80-90% of their sales come from Amazon. All the other platforms such as Barnes and Noble only make up a small percentage of sales, particularly at the beginning. Therefore, going exclusive for just 90 days is not a big loss.
2. If you don't have a very large platform, for example 1,000 dedicated followers who would all buy your book the first week it came out, offering your book for free is the best and easiest way to get noticed. It is sometimes the only way to get noticed.

Let me explain how this works:
First of all, there are literally millions of books on Amazon and other online bookstores. Yes, there are also millions of readers, but I am not exactly sure how I expected those readers to find me. If they did find me, why would they buy my book? How often have you bought a book by an unknown author that hasn't been recommended to you? I've done it occasionally, but really not that much. So, even if they did find me, strangers are not going to pay full price for a work that they have no proof is going to be any good.

So, indie authors need to overcome two problems: they need to be found, and they need to convince people to take a chance on them. Amazon has set up systems to overcome this, but it does require some movement of your books. 

Amazon actually has a very good marketing system. Once some people start buying your book, Amazon will add you to their recommendations, you know the 'customers who bought this book also bought this one...'. If you can start appearing in these, you are suddenly being found by readers who have never heard of you. This expands your reach beyond what you can do yourself.

Next, they also help promote you as an unknown author in two ways. First, they allow readers to write reviews. Shoppers feel more secure when they can see other people have reviewed and liked a book. The more reviews, the greater likelihood someone will take a chance on you. Second, Amazon creates lots of different lists which you can get yourself ranked upon. If you can get yourself in the Top 10 of any of the lists, then not only are more people able to find you, but they also have more security that you must be good (because other people are buying you).

This is all great, except that as most new indie authors will tell you (and as I found out with my first book), you need sales in order for any of Amazon's systems to start helping you. This is where listing it free really comes in.

The Advantages of Listing It Free:
There are people constantly searching the free promotions on Amazon that will take a chance on almost anything. My aunt's book, which is a very specific book about church abuse and bullying got 79 downloads in two free days, and this is considered a very low amount. However, these were 79 people who would have never found the book otherwise.

Now, sadly not all the people who download your book will bother to read it, and if they bother to read it, only a few of them will write a review. However, it is still one of the easiest way to get reviews (especially if you put a call to action at the end of the book asking for them).

But even if you don't get anyone reading your book from the free sales, you still start moving up the sales rankings, and still get added to the 'customers who bought this...' marketing system. Though, as of March (I think), Amazon did change its algorithms, so that 'free' sales are not worth as much as paid sales, but if you don't have any paid sales, it is still a great way to start appearing on some of these ranking lists. There are also specifically free ebook lists that you can climb.

What Is Considered A Good Promotion?
I said that my aunt did a two free day promotion, and got 79 downloads. This is considered a reasonably low success rate. When I did it for Dave's book, Tom Grafton Vs. The Environmentalists, in three days we got about 380, which is a much better number, but not great.
Based on what other indie authors say, it seems that above 250/day for a non-advertised promo is good.

How Do You Make It Better?
Now, the interesting part. There is now an even better reason to try doing free, you can get free advertising on other websites because of it. 
There are a whole lot of websites and mailing lists that send out emails promoting books that are free on kindle. Some do ask you to pay, but there are many that are free, you just have to give them a week's notice (though they can't guarantee you will be featured).
Someone is advertising your book for you, and getting it in front of people who would never have seen it otherwise. How great is this? And they only do it because you are listing it free.
If you do get featured by one of the big ones, such as Pixel of Ink, then your free downloads can be in the 10,000's. This can shoot you up the rankings, and means you are much more likely to get reviews, which can equal sales later.

The problem with this is that it is very hit and miss. There are hundreds of lists out there, and it takes time to submit your book to them all, and they may or may not even bother to run it. And even if they run it, you don't actually know how many people will read it. I did Dave's first promotion without any external advertising, and we got about 380 over three days. The next time I submitted the promotion details to probably around 20 different websites with plenty of advanced notice, and even paid the 'guaranteed' fee on some of them to make sure it was listed, and in two days we only got about 220. So it doesn't automatically mean it will get you anywhere. And even months later, we only got one or two reviews from the promotions. However, I have noticed that a lot of people in GoodReads have added the book to their shelf because they got a free copy, so that's an extra way to be found.

And Even Better?
The best benefit of this is when you have more than one book for sale. If you only have the book you are offering for free, you get some advantages from everyone downloading it, in that you are in the marketing system, but you have pretty much lost all those people you have touched. (How often do you remember a single book you read a few months later and make the effort to see if the author has written anything else?)
But, if you have more than one book available,when they find you through the free promotion they have something to actually spend money on. This is particularly true if the books are in a series. (and you are giving away the second one for free.)

So How Can You Make the Most Of Your Promotion?
1. You need the book to look attractive: great cover and good description.
2. Try and get as many reviews beforehand as you can. I know that part of the purpose of this is to get reviews, but you should have a few already up to encourage people. Send out review copies before you actually publish the book so that you can get some reviews as soon as you can. A lot of the free kindle promotion sites will only take books with a certain number of 4+ star reviews. So the more reviews you have, the better chance you will be picked up by a website to promote.
3. Price your book a bit higher just before the promotion starts. A $4.95 book for free is much better value than a 99c book for free. Just don't be ridiculous. 
4. Organise your promotion at least a week in advance. Most of the websites require at least a week's notice before the free promotion starts in order for you to be featured. A few will only take promotions on the day it actually happens, so keep note of these and come back on the day to do it.
If you are looking for sites to submit to, I recommend goind to those listed at the Author Marketing Club submit your book page (you don't need to sign up to the club, just go to this website and click on each of the links at the bottom:
5. Get the word out on facebook, twitter, any way that you can. Most people don't mind being offered free stuff, so let everyone know that they can support you by downloading a free copy of your book. Once people start downloading it, you go up in the 'free kindle book' rankings, along with other rankings.
6. Run the promotion for more than one day. You have a maximum of 5 days you can use in any combination that you want. One day is usually not enough to get the ball rolling, so you will need to experiment with 2-5 days. With Dave, I wasn't particularly happy with three days, because we started to drop off the front of the 'free books' listing, and so didn't get much on the third day. But if you list it for two days, and it's going really well, you can always add on extra days as you go.
7. Time it: from what I've heard, the weekends are better for listing, because more people are searching. But in some fields there are certain days people are looking for new content, so know your market and target your promotion days to them.
8. Analyse, rinse and repeat. Work out which parts worked well for you, and keep trying until you start to really take off.

I am currently running a free promotion for the Nice Guy's Guide on Amazon, and would love your support downloading my book for free (and then reviewing it if you get the chance!).
So if you are reading this on the weekend of the 30th Nov - 1st Dec 2013, I would appreciate it if you took two minutes to stop by and download your free copy. If you wanted to got the extra mile, let your facebook friends or twitter followers know that they can pick up an awesome book for free just for this weekend!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

I'm Not Dead

Hello everyone,
I thought I should send out a quick message just in case some of you were beginning to fear.
I'm not dead, I'm just writing... which sometimes can appear the same: closed door, never coming out, strange smell starting to gather. You know, the usual.
Though, for those of you who missed it, I just released my latest ebook last week:

Now available on Amazon for just $4.95US. And I have to admit that it has some pretty great advice, if I do say so myself. Even re-reading it for editing I was like 'wow, that's a good idea, where did that come from?' As with a lot of my good advice, I'm better at sharing it than implementing it myself. But at least I hope it will help a few nice guys out there find happiness. (Though, the advice actually works just as well for nice girls, you just need to think of different examples.)

And a personal shout out to my wonderful parents: David and Sue Greentree who have been married for 40 years!
Last weekend we had a wonderful celebration for those 40 years, and found out that for all this time neither of them had realised that the other also listed Pavlova as their favourite dessert. Oh, the missed opportunities.

I was also pretty proud of my YouTubing abilities, which allowed me to make this Ferraro Rocher tower as their celebration cake. (Just to give you a hint: over 90 chocolates, a craft cone, foil and lots of toothpicks.)

I am now heads down and tails up trying to get a few more first drafts finished and something else out by Christmas. The theology book, I suppose unsurprisingly, is taking a little longer to write. Possibly because it is three PhD theses rolled into one. But I battle on. 

And as a little reminder, I can always do with a few more reviews on Amazon/GoodReads/Smashwords. Your support is always appreciated. It helps me keep turning out the good stuff.

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Problem with Writing Characters From Real Life

There are many advantages to writing characters who are based on real people. The most obvious are that you don't have to think them up, and you can finally give them the endings those people/actions really deserved. (Yes, I am assuming most people write as wish fulfillment. Just me? Really? Well, me and all the other romance writers out there at least.)

However, today I want to talk about the difficulties and problems of using real people to base your main characters on. (You can continue to use them indiscrimentently for minor characters, that's completely fine by me.)

The topic comes from my recent efforts producing my brother's book for publication: Tom Grafton Vs. The Environmentalists (available any day now on Amazon in hard copy! Just waiting for it to move over from Createspace).

The main character, Tom Grafton, is based (unsurprisingly) on my brother. I make no judgement about this, as nearly all first works of fiction are autobiographical in someway, which is why my first creative writing subject at Uni was called 'Autofictions'. However, while reading it, I came across some of the problems that occur when you develop a character from a real life person, even one who you know as well as yourself.

1. They don't always make sense.
In real life Dave acts based on a set of motivations developed from years of different experiences. Therefore, when Tom is faced with a situation he simple does what David would have done in that situation. However, for the reader it sometimes doesn't make sense, because they only know a little bit about Tom, not all the factors that have led David to act as he does. Even the most complex character does not have all the intricacies of a human being and why we act as we do. (Have you ever noticed that bad guys in real life are rarely as satisfactory as in stories, because they are generally not as clearly evil or predictable?) With too many motivations, desires and backstory, people are not going to be able to connect with the character within the space of one book.

Therefore, to create stronger characters, you need to narrow down on just one or two aspects of your personality that you really want to gift to your character, and pull out the backstory and current desires which support that.

2. You have both done things the other hasn't.
In Tom Grafton Vs The Environmentalists there is a really good scene where Tom goes deer hunting for the first time, and Dave records the emotional impact that making that first kill had on him. This gave me a very interesting insight into Dave and his love of hunting. However, I had a slight problem with it for Tom.

Tom, unlike Dave, had been in Iraq, and in a series of short stories, he had gotten into gun fights with terrorists and fearlessly rescued a captured ally, killing those who had taken him hostage, and saving the day.

The fact that he had no emotional reaction to killing a number of human beings, but then goes on to have this revelation while killing a deer caused certain problems for me. Now some of it is the difference between an action short story and a more serious novel. However, the fact remains that in any fiction story, by the end the characters should have gone through something you haven't, so you need to make sure they react appropriately.

3. All because it happened, doesn't make it a good story.  
Often we base scenes in fiction on things that really happened, because they were important to us or seem easier to write that way. However, often we also need to put on a different ending to follow the appropriate narrative arch. As a hypothetical example, imagine that you liked a girl who in real life ended up knocking you back. However, you use some of the dialogue and situations between the two of you for the romance in the book. As it turns out, this makes for pretty dull writing, because the reader keeps thinking 'wow, that really doesn't sound like she likes him that much!'

Or the other extreme is that you put all your wish fulfillment fantasies into her mouth, and it sounds even more unrealistic than if you had just made up the character to begin with. So be wary, very wary.

4. Always keep in mind that fact is stranger than fiction. 
All because it happened in real life, doesn't mean that someone is going to believe it if they read it. This is sad, but true. This isn't a trap that Dave has fallen into, but one that I've seen other people succumb to. When you give such writers feedback about it they always get defensive and argue 'oh, but that's how it really happened.'

Well, I don't care how it really happened, unless you are writing a memoir. I only care about whether it is a good narrative feature, and in this case, it isn't. It makes no sense and turns your reader off.

So, writing characters from real life can be great, but in my personal rule book, only minor characters should be exact copies of people. Major characters can contain certain elements, but don't one-for-one try and copy a person into a book. It's lazy writing and comes across as such (or takes so much work to do well, you would have been better off just starting from scratch at the beginning).

Quick update on me since I last posted:
1. I finished the thorough edit of my Christian YA, Sally Hunt Vs. God, and sent it off to a publisher who had shown some interest. Fingers crossed. (The website said they would respond to submissions in 3-6months, so have got a while to wait. Hoping for a nice Christmas present, though that is pushing the timeframe a bit).

2. I re-wrote the first section of The Nice Guys' Guide To Online Dating Profiles, made it less academic, and quite funny, if I do say so myself. That is now with one of my editors getting a thorough red-ink workout (or Word track changes, as the case maybe). Am still open to suggestions on making the title snappier, by the way.

3. I've started (/continued after my failed attempt earlier in the year) to write my first theology book, The Great Divide, a layman's guide to the fundamental differences in concepts of knowledge between liberal and conservative (Protestant) theologians, and how to protect against them. This is my morning writing workout, for 2+ hours a day. I can't guarantee this one is going to take two weeks, as it is a bit more challenging than historical romances :D

4. I am currently spending my afternoons re-writing A Little Bit Of Leaven, the book my great grandfather wrote.

(So, either I've been quite prolific, or I just haven't posted for a while. I'm going with the former.)

On the nomadic side of things, I've finished house sitting for my parents in Woodend, as they have come home from America. I am now squatting at my brother's place in Sunbury for the foreseeable future. It's working pretty well, as he leaves for work before I get up, so I have the house to myself all day. Then he comes home, we eat dinner together, then he does his own thing and I can do another few hours of work. We'll see if that is enough to get a number of things out by Christmas!

By the way, on request I've created a new cover for Tom Grafton, which is being used on the print on demand version (only tell me if you like it, as it's too late to change now. The old cover is more appropriate to the second book in the series, as it turns out, because it has the girl and guy together (spoiler alert!)).

Anyone got any really good examples of characters based on real life that totally blow my theory apart? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Late For NaNoWriMo!

It's the second of November! When did that happen? Are you already into your NaNoWriMo project?

If you are a writer, you will very quickly hear about NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. It's simple, you just have to write 50,000 original words on one project in one month. How hard can that be? (She laughs as she remembers the two years it took her to write the first draft of her first novel). 

Last year was the first year I've ever done it, and while I did make the 50,000 it was by the skin of my teeth. The month really did not go as I planned (for more read my end post). My big lesson to anyone is definitely spend time planning or at least getting to know your characters before you start writing. Even now is not too late! 

(Annoyingly, I've finished the first draft of The Five Day Writer's Bootcamp, which perfectly covers preparing you to tackle a new project, which would be super useful for everyone doing NaNo, but it's not edited or ready for general consumption, so you'll just have to wait until next year for it to help you.)

Last year for NaNoWriMo I successfully did my 50,000 words for After The Winter, my 1920's Romance. I was quite proud of that story, and thought I was near the end. However, I've just spent another three weeks trying to fill in the gaps, writing nearly everyday, and I'm still not finished. 50,000 words is not a novel. 

I've been saying to myself, probably for the last week: Oh, I might be able to finish it today! Hopefully today is the day that comes true :D Maybe tomorrow. Does anyone else find the finish of a book always feels just another scene away until you start writing, and a few scenes in it is still just a scene away? 

NaNoWriMo is a wonderful kick up the pants to get you writing. If you are stuck putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, this is the challenge for you. However, sadly a lot more work needs to happen before you even finish your first draft, let alone redrafting, editing, polishing etc. 

Why am I writing this discouraging post? Largely to make myself feel better for not having turned last year's project in a published book yet, but also to help you stay on track. It is an awful thing to cross what you think is the finish line, only to find that you are actually only halfway through.

It feels like forever since I've given you a general update, so here goes:
- I've finished the first drafts of The Nice Guys' Guide To Online Dating Profiles, but it is sitting on a shelf for a bit because I need to re-write sections to be less academic. 
- I've also finished the first draft of The Five Day Writer's Bootcamp, Book 2 in the series after Retreat. However, that is also sitting /third edit etc.).
- For the past two weeks I've been writing After The Winter in the morning, and doing a thorough edit of Sally Hunt Vs. God in the afternoon (It is truly amazing how much I've improved my craft in a year and a bit since I finished the first draft of this). I'm hoping to finish both of these off this weekend.
- Then I'm moving to spending the mornings re-writing A Little Bit Of Leaven to smooth it out and make it more readable to the modern reader, and the afternoons editing The Nice Guys' Guide, or perhaps After the Winter

As such, I'm not going to be doing NaNo this year because I'm not going to be working on anything completely new. It is definitely time I polished things up and got them out there into the world, rather than just telling you about them all. So, hopefully within a month, there will be more online from me for you to enjoy. 

Anyone signed up for NaNoWriMo?