2017 Goals #1: Writing More Blog Posts

newspaper-clip-art-1201187650_b7db851855Once I start to think about goals for a new year, I start to think about goals I failed to achieve in the previous year. And one of those goals was to blog more frequently. Well, guess what? Having written only 6 blog posts of substance in 2016 (only about half the number I did in 2015), I think I can firmly say that goal wasn’t met!

However, being the analytical person that I am, I decided to blog a bit about why I think that happened.

First, when I began blogging in December of 2009, I was primarily detailing my own journey as an independent author, in a time when we were rare enough creatures to actually be quite interesting to others.

Second, I soon discovered a few selling strategies that were working very well for me that not everyone had heard of (for example, using free short stories to hook readers, tweaking categories to help make a book more visible, using KDP Select marketing tools), and as a result I felt that I had something valuable to share with other authors.

And in addition to blogs about my writing journey and strategies, I wrote pieces detailing the historical background to my mystery series, set in Victorian San Francisco. And as my readership for this series grew, positive reactions to these pieces followed.

And frankly, what writer doesn’t like to write about things that other people are interested in reading?

So what happened this year?

Well, first, indie authors are now a dime a dozen, and many indie authors are enormously more successful than I am in terms of books written and sold.

And, not only have most of my strategies been discussed to death in detail elsewhere, but they are no longer as universally applicable, so I feel I have to qualify every piece of advice I give.

In short, I began to find it harder and harder to believe that continuing to tell about my writing journey or providing detailed discussions of my current marketing strategies was of much interest or particular value––or couldn’t be found just as easily on some other author’s blog.

As a result, I found myself hesitating whenever I looked at my to-do list and saw “write a blog post” on it. And what I usually decided was that I would rather spend my time working on my next work of fiction. Or, if I was going to spend time doing something on social media, I would rather do something that takes less time.

Which brings me to the third reason I haven’t been blogging. I take too long on each blog, including the historical ones. Generally, it took me at least a day, if not more, to review what others are writing on a subject, put together my own marketing and selling statistics, or gather together the historical research I have done on a topic. Then at least another day, to write and edit the actual piece.

So each time I get to that “write a blog piece” on my to-do list, I ask myself how many chapters could I write on my WIP in that time? How many facebook posts could I compose? How many pages of someone else’s manuscript could I edit?

Well, you get the point.

Yet the truth is, that I know people still want to hear more about Victorian San Francisco…something I am uniquely qualified to write about. And at least once a week or more I find myself giving marketing advice on different group forums, or answering emails from beginning writers about things they should consider as they make the jump to independent authorship. In short, it does appear that there might be some people who would still find what I have to say on these subjects of value.

So, this year I have decided to try something different. I have decided to try to write a post at least every week. But to only let myself spend one hour researching and writing a draft, and one hour editing that draft, before I hit publish. This might mean simply taking an old marketing post and updating it, or breaking my posts up into smaller segments. Or just trying to be more succinct!

So here goes. Post number one of 2017! And I seem to have completed it in under two hours from start to finish. (Smile)

M. Louisa Locke, January 7, 2017

Oh, and by the way, Maids of Misfortune, the first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series is still perma free everywhere and Between Mountain and Sea, the first book in my Paradisi Chronicles science fiction series is also 99 cents on Kindle for two days, (January 7-8).

Marketing Strategy for 2016: There I go, Pivoting Again

R.D._Hubbard_and_Co._(3093755038)Apropos of one of my 2016 resolutions—to stay nimble when it comes to marketing—I have once again changed my primary marketing strategy for the first part of 2016.

In 2014, my main strategy rested on having my series of Victorian San Francisco mysteries in KDP Select and doing monthly 99 cent promotions of each book through the Kindle Countdown tool provided for books in KDP Select. With no new book out that year, this strategy did a great job at keeping the three books in my series visible and selling. Then, in the summer of 2014, when Amazon introduced the subscription service Kindle Unlimited, I found this strategy no longer served my books as well as it had.

That was when I decided to switch strategies for 2015. See Time for a Pivot: Kindle Unlimited and Marketing in 2015 for my reasons for shifting my books out of KDP Select to offer them in most major ebookstores while making the first book in the series perma-free and Pivot Post Update for details on the success of this change in strategy.

However, towards the end of 2015, I began to see two new trends in terms of my sales on Amazon. The number of downloads of my perma-free book began to slow, even with a second BookBub promotion, and the sell through rate to the other books was weaker.

I agreed with the analysis put forward by other indies that the promotional opportunities for books in Kindle Unlimited had changed the playing field, making it more difficult for independently published books not in KU to compete for visibility—at least in my categories.

The majority consensus among indies currently appears to be that the only way to fight this trend is to keep your books wide (in numerous books stores) in order to compensate for the loss of income on Amazon.

However, those authors who swear by this “going wide” strategy tend to be authors who are putting out five or more books a year—often fairly short books—and are able to use these frequent launches and the pre-order system to keep their books visible in all bookstores.

They also seem to be authors who have been successful in establishing relationships with representatives from other bookstores. I know from my own on-going experience with a representative from KDP how invaluable that kind of personal relationship with—say a rep from Apple, or Kobo, or Nook­­­––can be in getting promotional opportunities.

Yet, I noticed that a number of authors were saying (often quietly since they were usually in the minority on discussion threads) that the introduction of what was being dubbed KU2 (paying for pages read) was helping increase their Kindle income substantially…more than enough to compensate for having their books exclusive with Amazon (a condition for having a book in KDP Select—and therefore KU).

I was intrigued by this information, in part because I am lucky to get a book out every 2 years (so the frequent launches and pre-order strategy wasn’t going to work for me the way it was working for other authors who were keeping their books out of KDP Select. I also wasn’t looking forward to doing the networking I would need to do to get those special promotional opportunities that would expand my books’ visibility in non-Amazon bookstores. So, I began to think about switching strategies again.

This fall I decided that I would experiment by putting two of my books back into KDP Select (books three and four of the series) and shifting back to doing free rather than 99 cent Kindle countdown promotions of those books.

In October, with Bloody Lessons and Deadly Proof back in KDP Select, I had a BookBub free promotion for Deadly Proof . The result was I made the single highest monthly income from Kindle that I have made in years. The promotion increased my sales of all the books in the series , with the total income from Kindle sales going up four-fold over the previous month. Not insignificantly, over half of that income came from the “pages read” of Bloody Lessons and Deadly Proof in KU.

The very length of my books became an asset when they are borrowed through Kindle Unlimited. If a person reads the entire book, I earn nearly what I earn from an outright sale of the book, and the “borrow” boost’s the book visilibity. I found that my increase in income for these two books in KDP Select more than compensated for the income I lost by not having them in the other bookstores.

I subsequently put books one and two (Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits) back into KDP Select as well and I am having a free BookBub promotion of Uneasy Spirits January 20-22 that I hope will have a similar impact on my sales.

But this is not a permanent shift in strategies. Once Pilfered Promises, the fifth book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series is completed (spring or summer of 2016), I intend to shift back to having the series be available everywhere, with the first book perma free. This will permit fans of the series who do not use Kindles or the Kindle app to buy the new book (and any of the books that come before it that they haven’t bought yet).

As should be obvious by now (if you aren’t suffering from whiplash following my different pivots), I believe that when it comes to marketing there should be no hard and fast rules. What works in certain seasons, for certain books, at certain stages in the life cycle of a book can vary. And just when I think I have found what works, the publishing landscape can and will change, and my strategies change accordingly.

What stays the same is my commitment to writing the best books I can and doing the best job I can to help them get discovered by the readers I think will enjoy them.

What is the main marketing strategy you plan to purse in 2016? Is it any different than your strategies for 2015? Let me know. In sharing there is strength!

M. Louisa Locke, January 8, 2015

Looking forward to 2016

2016 Resolutions:

Spend a greater percentage of my time writing:

dreamstime_m_42093656This seems to be a common theme among fiction writers this year. For me, this means putting the writing first, being more efficient with the time I spend marketing, and continuing to use the strategy I developed last year to increase my productivity. This strategy (which consists of alternating between my historical fiction and my new science fiction series so I am writing on one series during the times when I am researching, plotting, and publishing work in the other series­) enabled me to actually double the number of words I wrote last year.

Write more but shorter blog posts:

I have neglected my blog this year. On one hand, I felt increasingly like I had nothing new to say in the rapidly evolving self-publishing/ebook environment. On the other hand, my tendency to write long posts that took a week to finish seemed a waste of precious fiction writing time. The solution I am going to try this year is to write shorter posts, with more of them addressing readers than other writers.

Read more:

Fildes_Woman_reading

During my long first career as a history professor, I would binge read fiction during my vacations (between semesters and at the start of the summer). However, since my so-called “retirement” (which in fact has turned out to be a second career), I have left little time for reading for recreation. I do read other authors’ manuscripts, and blog posts about the business, and historical monographs for research. But that is work, and I need to get back to reading just for fun. So I am going to try to read more during holidays and reserve one day a week for reading fiction for my own enjoyment.

Remain nimble when it comes to marketing:

Woman_jumping,_running_straight_high_jump_(rbm-QP301M8-1887-156a~7)I did not start my publishing career in the fall of 2009 with an established fan base, a backlist of previously published work, several manuscripts already written, or any marketing or tech experience. Once I started down the self-publishing path, I discovered that I was not a fast writer, in part because the research required for my genre was time consuming and because I was not willing to sacrifice my sleep, my wide circle of friends, or my service commitments to churn out four or five books a year (which seems to be one of the keys for financial success within self-publishing.)

What I had on the plus side was a fairly tech-savvy husband to help me master the skills needed to self-publish and a book I had worked on for three decades in a sub-genre (cozy historical mysteries) that turned out to have a large market. It also turned out that a career as a community college professor meant I knew how to tell engaging stories and had developed the analytical and organizational skills needed to market those stories.

I believe much of my subsequent success as a self-published writer has come from being willing to 1) stay in touch with changing marketing trends 2) experiment with new marketing tools 3) analyze the results of these experiments and 4) change my marketing strategies when needed.

In short, to stay nimble.

And, finally, my last resolution is to continue to be eternally grateful for the wonderful people I have met on-line over the past six years, readers and other authors alike.

I wish all of you the very best for the coming year.

M. Louisa Locke, January 1, 2016

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

Time for a Pivot? Kindle Unlimited and Marketing in 2015

North_Korea_-_Sonbong_school_(6146581889)Everywhere I hang out as an author, I see blog posts discussing the effect of the introduction of Kindle Unlimited (KU) on authors’ sales. For those authors just waking up to this discussion, Kindle Unlimited is the subscription service Amazon introduced in July. Subscribers pay a monthly fee and can borrow all the books they want that are in the KU library. For most books by indie authors to be part of that library, the book must be enrolled in KDP Select.

If you have ever read my blog before, you will know that I found that enrolling the books in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series in KDP Select was very rewarding—even though it meant accepting the terms of enrollment that prohibited me from selling my ebooks in other stores. If you are interested, click here for a list of the posts I have written on that subject.

In fact, last winter I announced that my strategy for 2014 was to keep my books in KDP Select and use the new promotional tool called the Kindle Countdown as my major form of marketing.

Which I did, quite successfully.

However, when Amazon announced the introduction of the Kindle Unlimited program, I, like many authors, was very interested in how this new program would affect my income.

Now, after using the KU program for five months, I have come to a conclusion. The overall impact of the introduction of Kindle Unlimited has been negative for my books.

As a result, I decided to remove my series novels, Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons, and my short story collection, Victorian San Francisco Stories, from KDP Select.

However, my experience may not be representative of what is happening for all authors, so I would like to share how I came to that decision. To that end I will:

1) Briefly evaluate why the strategy of keeping my books in KDP Select and using the Kindle Countdown promotional tool worked for most of 2014 (and might still work for your books.)

2) Describe what happened to my books when Kindle Unlimited was introduced.

3) Describe why I think the program had a mostly negative effect on my income.

4) List what strategies I intend on pursuing for 2015.

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