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mlouisalocke_bks_medWelcome to my Front Parlor, where I hope to engage you in some stimulating conversations about my journey as an indie author, the lessons learned about marketing, and the joys of writing fiction. The past five years have been enormously rewarding, with the publication of four novels in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy SpiritsBloody Lessons, and Deadly Proof, a short story collection, Victorian San Francisco Stories, and the forthcoming publication of my first science fiction novel, Between Mountain and Sea. Do come in, look around, comment, and before you go, please leave a visiting card (url, twitter, fb address, etc) so I can return the courtesy and visit you next time.          

The unexpected effect of the “perma free” strategy on my productivity

dreamstime_m_42093656In a post entitled Time for a Pivot? I detailed a shift in my marketing strategy for 2015. In 2014, all my books were in Amazon’s KDP Select (which requires exclusivity) and I used the 99 cent Kindle Countdown KDP Select tool as my primarily form of promotion. In December 2014 I took all my books off of KDP Select in order to sell them in a variety of bookstores (Apple, Nook, Kobo, GooglePlay), and for these first six months of 2015 I have been using the perma free strategy (making Maids of Misfortune, the first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, permanently free) as my major promotional tool. I also committed to writing more short stories, getting audiobook editions out for the next two novels in my series, and writing a short story for a new science fiction collaborative project called the Paradisi Chronicles.

While the table below demonstrates that this shift in strategy worked—in terms of maintaining my monthly income—the unintended consequence and perhaps the most important positive outcome from my shift in strategies is revealed in the last row of the table. My writing productivity quadrupled.

January to June 2014          January to June 2015
1 4 books on sale all in Select 5 books not in KDP Select 1 perma free
2 Total Sales and Borrows 21,200 13,626
3 Ave per month 3,500 2,200
4 Total royalties $36,000 36,500
5 Ave per month $6000 $6000
6 Free books 10,000 129,000
7 Promotions 5 KC (including 2 BookBub) and 1 Free promotion 1 BookBub of permafree book
8 Words written 2 short stories 18,000 words Draft of novel 85,000 words

How did this happen?

First of all, let’s look at the numbers. In the first six months of 2014, I had three novels for sale as ebooks (Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons) and a boxed set of those books, with print editions for the novels, and an audible edition of Maids of Misfortune.

In the first six months of 2015, I had three novels for sale (Uneasy Sprits, Bloody Lessons and Deadly Proof––the 4th book in my series), Victorian San Francisco Stories (a collection of short stories) and my boxed set. I also now had audio book editions of Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons, and Victorian San Francisco Stories. This meant that even with the loss of the ebook version of Maids of Misfortune as a source of paid income, I had two more ebooks available for sale and several more audio books as a source of income.

Second, while I had lost the income I was getting in 2014 from borrows from KOLL (Kindle Online Lending Library) because none of these books were in KDP Select in 2015, I had picked up sales from Apple, Nook, Kobo, and GooglePlay that made up for that loss of income. For example, January thru June 2014 (before the Kindle Unlimited subscription service was started by Amazon) I averaged 370 borrows a month from KOLL — about $700 a month in income. For 2015, with none of my books making money from borrows, I made on average $1000 a month (which included sales in the Apple, Nook, Kobo, and GooglePlay stores as well as the Kindle store).

Third, while I sold more books in the first six months of 2014 than in 2015 (see rows 2 & 3), a lot of those books were discounted to 99 cents as part of Kindle Countdown promotions (my main promotional tool in 2014). This explains why I was getting the same income for selling fewer books (averaging 1,300 fewer a month in 2015; see rows 3, 4 & 5). In 2015, I was giving away a lot more of copies of one title (see row 6), but I was also selling all my other titles at full price.

Which leads to the fourth and main point. Those Kindle Countdowns took time. As you can see from row 7, in 2014 I did a promotion every single month. And while this strategy produced more book sales, promotions took a lot of my time — which I could have used for writing. I had to schedule each promotion a month in advance, often with multiple promotional sites. The week the book was on sale, I engaged in daily activity on social media to further the promotions, and in order to determine the profitability of each sale, I spent additional time in record keeping to track average sales before, during, and after the sale.

While the time I spent in 2014 yielded income, it also meant that I only got two short stories written during that six-month month period (a total of only 18,000 words). In contrast, in 2015 I spent much less time on promotions. I had a one-day Book Bub promotion of my perma free book, Maids of Misfortune in January and I ran several Facebook ads for that book whenever the number of downloads per day fell. That’s all.

And the short story in the Paradisi Chronicles I said I wanted to write? It became Between Mountain and Sea, a full-length novel (85,000 words) that I wrote between February and June of this year. A much higher rate of productivity and an unexpected bonus from my shift to the perma-free strategy for my series.

So, have any of you authors noticed perma-free freeing up your writing time? If so let me know.

And for the rest of you, why don’t you go and check out Between Mountain and Sea, the fruits of my greater productivity, which is now available for pre-order. You will notice this book is in KDP Select because I am anxious to see how the new “payment by pages finished”​ process of Kindle Unlimited works. Stay tuned!

M. Louisa Locke, July 21, 2015

The Paradisi Chronicles: or how I ended up writing science fiction

Paradisi Chronicles…

A science fiction adventure through time, space and generations, brought to life through the creativity and independent perspectives of multiple authors. Enter the world of the Paradisi Chronicles, where every new journey is a surprise ride you’ll never want to get off.

The Beginning:

Almost exactly a year ago, on July 19, 2014, a fellow indie author, Amanda Allen, brought up the idea (inspired by this post by Hugh Howey) that a group of us should get together to create a science fiction world in which we could all write, with the goal of publishing the first round of works all at once. We could then open up the world to any author who wanted to write in that world. A sort of open-source indie version of Kindle Worlds.

I loved the idea. While I write historical mysteries, one of my favorite forms of recreational reading has always been science fiction, particularly the kind that focus on world-building. So, after a lively online discussion, I recklessly wrote, “sign me up!”

strange-planet-outer-space-backdrop_zyEPe59dThree days later, we had a group of over ten interested authors, and we started the collaborative process of deciding the parameters of that world (would it be Earth in the future or another world or multiple worlds? Would there be aliens, or not? People with paranormal powers? Did we want a “Men in Black” scenario? Fantasy elements? Would the stories happen in a single time period or range over time?)

We voted on the various options, and the most popular was the creation of worlds (not Earth) in a single planetary system outside our galaxy, with our stories ranging over time. However, there was strong support for a MIB scenario and a strong interest in some sort of paranormal or psychic element.

Amanda, Cheri Lasota, and I took what the other authors said they wanted and brainstormed online feverishly over a few days, and then I was asked to write up the basic backstory for what we started to call the Paradisi Chronicles about New Eden and Tenebra, the worlds we were creating, planets in the fictional Paradisi System.

The Paradisi Chronicles Backstory:

In the last decades of the twenty-first century, ten families, seeking to escape an increasingly devastated Earth, focus their power and wealth on building spaceships that will allow a select few to leave Earth and colonize the world they call New Eden. Here, on their new home in the Paradisi System, these Founding Families hope to avoid the environmental and political disasters that were destroying Earth. But they find that the world they claim for their own is already inhabited, and the Ddaerans, although human in their appearance, possess abilities that the Founders and their descendants find both intriguing and frightening …

Now, I had no business starting a whole new series in July of 2014, because that was the month I started writing Deadly Proof, the fourth book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series. I am not one of those prolific writers who are able to write across multiple genres, producing multiple books, in multiple series, multiple times a year.

In fact, Maids of Misfortune, my first historical mystery, took 20 years between first draft and publication, the next two books each took just short of two years from beginning of research to publication, and I had already spent over a year doing the research for this fourth book that I was starting to write. I am, as you can see, the opposite of prolific.

But I told myself that I would just write a short story in this new world I had helped create, something I could do while Deadly Proof was being beta read. Since I had already written several short stories between novels, this seemed like a reasonable plan.

What really happened:

What happened is that while I spent my days recreating a world that existed 135 years in the past (1880 San Francisco) I was spending my evenings doing the research needed to create the new world, New Eden, set nearly 300 years in the future.

Black Hole in Space Violet Background

I read scientific articles on things like wormholes, space stations, EmDrives, and whether or not species can cross breed, poured over the maps Cheri Lasota was creating for this new world, and created backstories for the Yu Family, one of the ten Earth Families that would settle New Eden found the nation of Caelestis.

I also participated in the lively online discussions with other authors like Andy Bunch, Roslyn McFarland, Auburn Seal, and Sarah Woodbury to settle such questions as what language should the colonists from Earth speak once they were on New Eden? From what language should the speech of the New Eden natives be derived? What kind of transportation system would they build and should they have money or just online credits? How would the psychic powers work? And could the new settlers from Earth and the Ddaerans (the natives) be able to have sex and reproduce? Heady stuff!

And in the end, I fell in love with New Eden and its inhabitants. And when I began to write, the short story became a full-length novel––the first in a planned series about this world called the Caelestis Series.

So, on September 1, 2015, I will be one of seven authors who are launching our first works in the Paradisi Chronicles.

MSHR800x1200Between Mountain and Sea, is the novel I wrote feverishly between February of this year, when my fourth historical mystery came out, and now. It has two main protagonists. The first is Mabel Yu, a young girl who came from Earth with her family to settle New Eden. In diary entries we follow her life from young adulthood to her death over a century later. The second and primary protagonist is Mei Lin Yu, one of Mabel’s descendants, a young girl of sixteen who spends the summer at Mynyddamore, the ancestral home that Mabel built, and discovers secrets about her family, the Ddaerans (the native inhabitants) and herself that will change her life forever.

ButlersBroWorking as part of the Paradisi Chronicles group resulted in an unexpected bonus. I got the chance to collaborate on the writing of a short story with my daughter, Ashley Angelly, who had joined our group of authors.

The story, Butler’s Brother: A Tale of New Eden, is about two Ddaeran brothers who were separated when they were young boys by the Kuttners, one of New Eden’s ten Founding Families, and about what happened when they finally were reunited.

Call to action:

If you like science fiction, I would like you to go over to the Paradisi Chronicles website and learn more about the other authors writing in this open source world and the novels and novellas that will be available on September 1.

Subscribe to the site to get news of the launch and how to find these books and subsequent publications.  This is also the best way to be notified when we offer giveaways, run contests, or offer promotional discounts on our works.

If you are an author, be sure to check out the For Prospective Authors Page to see if you would like to join us!

And finally,  if you are curious about what science fiction written by an historian is like, look for my announcement on this blog with the buy link to my novel, Between Mountain and Sea, September 1.

M. Louisa Locke, July 17, 2015

News, new books, new strategies, new results

newspaper-clip-art-1201187650_b7db851855I was just reading a blog post entitled, “Short is the New Black” and I thought…why haven’t I posted anything in…over 2 months!!!! And the answer is, in the past my posts have been long….very long….sometimes longer than a short story. And I have been too busy writing fiction to write blog posts. So I am going to try something different. Short and sweet.

News:

The audiobook version of the third book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series, Bloody Lessons is now available, and the ebook version is 99 cents in most ebookstores for the next 2 days (May 6-7), and if you by the Kindle ebook version you get the audiobook version on audible for only $1.99) A very good deal.

New Books:

Deadly Proof, the fourth book in the series, (which is also available in all major ebook stores) has been out for three months and has sold extremely well and had 56 reviews and a 4.3 star rating. I am consequently starting the process of doing the research for a new short story and the fifth book in Victorian San Francisco Mystery series.

New Strategies:

As reported in previous posts, my 2014 strategy for keeping my books visible through KDP Select promotions wasn’t working for me any longer, so I shifted strategies to put my books out there in most ebookstores and I made the first book in my series, Maids of Misfortune, perma free. I also was fortunate enough to get a BookBub promotion for that book in January.

Part of my strategy was to make this shift before the fourth book in my series came out to make sure that the book would be discovered by fans who didn’t depend on Amazon to find their books, which is why Deadly Proof came out 2 months after the other books went off of KDP Select.

Another strategic move was to offer my ebook collection of my short stories for free for anyone who signed up for my newsletter, to try to capture a larger percentage of the people who were reading the perma free book. I also started using Facebook ads for that perma free book (rather than periodic promotions with the various competitors to BookBub.

Finally, I have been writing a book that will the first in a new (non-historical) series, a collaborative effort with other authors (including my daughter) that will be announced shortly. My hope was that this would keep me writing steadily while I was doing the research for the next historical work.

New Results:

For perma free to work, you have to keep that perma free book visible. On Amazon that has been easy, with Maids of Misfortune staying in the top 5 of the historical mystery free list since January. The result is that in April the average number of daily downloads has remained high at 137 copies a day. My downloads in non-Amazon stores are more difficult to measure because I publish through Draft2Digital and neither Kobo nor Barnes and Noble report free downloads. But for Apple and GooglePlay combined, my average number of downloads a day of Maids of Misfortune for April was 51.

Occasionally sites that feature free books have featured this first book in the series (without any cost to me), and the Facebook ad for the perma free book that has been running for a month has increased the likes for my author page and resulted in a more than 5% click through rate (percentage of people who got the Facebook ad who then clicked on the link to see the book), which seems a decent return on a tiny investment (click throughs are costing me 17 cents per click.)

Perma free only works well for an author if people who read the book that is free actually go on to buy other books by that author. This has been the nicest result for my strategic shift. November 2014, before I made Maids of Misfortune perma free or went off of KDP Select, I sold on average for all my books (ebooks, print, audio, etc) 6.7 books a day. If you included borrows through KDP Select, the average went up to 16 books a day.

In March 2015, the last complete month I have statistics for, I sold 100 books a day (which included all versions of all my books–not short stories.). This is a combination of sell-through, selling books through more than Amazon, and the publication of the new book, Deadly Proof (which has more than compensated for the fact that I am not getting any direct revenue for the ebook sales of Maids of Misfortune.)

The combination of the perma free book and offering my collection of short stories free has dramatically increased my rate of subscriptions to my newsletter. In the 4 months before these two changes, my average number of subscription a month was 13. My average afterwards has been 47 a month. Not world shaking–but very satisfactory.

Finally, I am very pleased with the way that having a non-historical fiction series going while I do research has increased my productivity. This WIP, which started out as a short story, then a novella, has so engaged me that it is now going to be a book. I have 44,000 words written, and my plan is to finish the draft by the middle of June (it will be much shorter than my historicals) so that it will come out with the other works in this collaborative enterprise September 1, 2015. This would mean that I will have published a book six months after my last book (instead of taking the 1 1/2 to 2 years it has taken me between books.) A definite improvement in productivity and one that has been very rewarding creatively.

Ok, maybe this wasn’t short, but I hope it was informative.

Meanwhile, do think about ordering Maid of Misfortune for free or Bloody Lessons for only 99 cents as the perfect gifts for Mothers Day!

M. Louisa Locke, May 6, 2015

Deadly Proof and Historical Fiction eBooks

NewHFAClogoI am a member of the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, a group of authors who banded together several years ago because we wanted a way to reach people who were interested in finding good historical fiction ebooks. The group started small, and our membership is by invitation only, but we now have 47 members and nearly 200 books in our catalog on our website http://hfebooks.com.

We feature books and posts by our authors every Monday, and every Thursday we post a list of books that are currently free or discounted and announce new publications. If you are at all interested in historical fiction, I strongly suggest you go on over to the site and subscribe so you will get these posts.

Meanwhile, today with the publication of Deadly Proof, it is my turn to have a featured book and a blog post. Click here if you would like to read my blog piece about my inspiration for writing this series and a little about women in the printing industry.

M. Louisa Locke, February 23, 2015

Deadly Proof–anatomy of a book launch

DP_cover_800x1200I am proud to announce that Deadly Proof, the fourth book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series, is now available for sale (see links below).

As with the other three novels in this series, Deadly Proof finds Annie Fuller and her beau, Nate Dawson, investigating a crime that will lead them (and the reader) into an exploration of the lives of working women in the late 19th century—in this case women who held jobs in the printing industry.

If you read my last two posts on my marketing strategy for 2015, you will know that I decided to take all my full-length books out of KDP Select and upload them everywhere and make the first book perma-free. My hope was that this strategy would provide a fertile field for this newly published book. So far, my hopes have been realized.

First of all, Maids of Misfortune, the perma-free book, is still being downloaded at a nice pace, making it highly visible in the popularity lists on Amazon and on the free lists in the iBook and Barnes and Noble stores, and I can see sell-through going on. The sales of the second book in the series, Uneasy Spirits, and now the third, Bloody Lessons, have been increasing each week. And now, some of these new fans of the series should be just about ready to  try this new book.

Second, while more complicated than back in the day when I only had to upload my books on Amazon, the process of uploading Deadly Proof for publication in multiple online stores was quite easy since I had recently gone through the process for my other novels and my short story collection.

In addition to KDP and CreateSpace, I used the distribution service Draft2Digital to get Deadly Proof into the Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and Page Foundry bookstores and into the subscription service Scribd. I also uploaded the epub that Draft2Digital generated iinto GooglePlay, and then used Smashwords to make it available on various library channels and the subscription service Oyster.

This process was also made easier because my books are very simply formatted––no drop down caps, special fonts, or illustrations, and I start with a word document for the ebook editions and a pdf for the print edition—both generated from Scrivener. Besides making sure that I didn’t have Amazon-specific links in any of the books I was uploading elsewhere and making a few changes in the front and back matter, there wasn’t much work to change the word document from the Kindle edition to upload elsewhere.

Deadly Proof went live in less than 12 hours on KDP, Apple, Scribd, Page Foundry, and Smashwords and it took a less than 24 hours to go live on Nook and Kobo. The CreateSpace print edition took four days to go live. In short, within seven days of getting my book back from the editor–it was published everywhere.

When you consider the time between the final edit of a book and publication for traditionally published books–this is essentially going the speed of light!

And this brings me to the puzzling question of why an author would decide to only offer their books in the two or three largest online stores. Yet I read statements by authors on various author forums asking whether or not they should bother putting a book up on GoglePlay or trying to decide whether to use Smashwords or Draft2Digital–instead of using both.

While I understand and have quite frequently discussed the benefits of going exclusively with Amazon through KDP Select, what doesn’t make sense to me is not making a book available in as many on-line stores as possible when you haven’t gone the exclusive route. Even if the number of sales from a particular store are small. A sale is a sale—and each sale is potentially someone who will eventually by some of your other books.

For example, in the ten days in December that the second book in my series, Uneasy Spirits, was on sale as an ebook in the Barnes and Nobel online store, I sold nine copies and made $26.73. Not an overwhelming amount of income, yet it took me less than a half an hour total to upload, preview, and publish this book through Draft2Digital so this is decent rate of hourly pay. Even if I never sold another copy of the book in this bookstore. But I did sell more copies; in January I sold 143 copies of Uneasy Spirits for the Nook, making over $400, and those sales didn’t cost me anything more in terms of time or money.

I don’t even regret the fact that my sales of Uneasy Spirits haven’t been nearly as successful on GooglePlay (I sold only eight copies of Uneasy Spirits there in January) because all I risked in putting that book up on GooglePlay was, at most, an hour of my time. And since there have been 3500 downloads of Maids of Misfortune, the perma-free book in my series, on GooglePlay, I assume that some of the people who downloaded this book will go on to buy and read Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons and, in time, Deadly Proof. This is a long game–but isn’t that one of the benefits of ebooks–that we can afford as authors to play that long game.

Finally, as part of this more organic approach to selling, I have done what you might call a slow launch of Deadly Proof. No virtual book tour, no facebook event, no expensive promotional campaign.

I had already decided not to put the book up for pre-order because I wanted to make Deadly Proof available as soon as possible after I got it back from my editor and made the final corrections. It had been a year an a half since I published Bloody Lessons, the book before Deadly Proof, and I felt I shouldn’t keep fans of the series waiting a day longer than necessary. These are the readers I am most interested in reaching at this time. And I quite frankly love getting messages from them as the buy the book and start reading.

Consequently I only announced the availability of Deadly Proof on my facebook pages, on a few mystery facebook sites, and in my newsletter (and now here on my blog). All places where I am likely to encounter people who have already read the earlier books in the series. The hope is that over the next few weeks I will get enough sales from these fans of the series so that the book will achieve some visibility in the popularity category lists on Amazon (which rewards steady sales rather than rapid spikes) and begin to garner positive reviews.

So far so good. In the five days it has been available, I have sold over 200 copies of Deadly Proof on Amazon, and 35 outside of Amazon,  it is showing up in the top 100 best seller lists in most of my main categories on Amazon, and I have 2 5-star reviews.

Once I feel I have gotten enough reviews, I will then start on the next stage of spending some money to promote the book. And meanwhile, I will be thanking my lucky stars that I am an indie author who doesn’t have to worry that if I don’t have enough sales in the first weeks of publication that this means that my book is dead in the water or that my chances of getting another book contract has been ruined.

M. Louisa Locke, February 21, 2015

Deadly Proof: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery (Book 4) is now available in the following stores.

eBook: Kindle   Nook   Apple   Kobo   GooglePlay   Scribd  Page Foundry     Smashwords   

Print: CreateSpace Store    Amazon     Barnes and Noble