Frustration and hope: An interview with self-published author Lisa Marie Latino

Sandra Hutchison interviews an indie author whose romantic comedy debut was written to give hope to anyone who feels they’ve fallen short of their dreams.

What inspired Ten Years Later?

I went through various periods of self doubt in the years after college. I, too, was single, still living at my parents’ home, and went through some very trying times that all entrepreneurs do while forming their own businesses. As I opened up to others about my frustrations I realized that nearly everyone, no matter their circumstance, was dealing with the same insecurities. That theme — visions of what one thinks life SHOULD be versus reality — really inspired me, and since I’ve always wanted to write a book anyway, I channeled that angst into writing Ten Years Later .

A lot of readers assume Carla and I are the same person because we share a similar background and common interests — we’re both New Jersey-based sports fans of Italian descent. Obviously, I drew on a lot of my life’s experience in shaping a relatable fictional character, but Carla has her own set of unique circumstances that represent the plight of driven millennials everywhere trying to claim their stake in the world.

The book was originally written for women in their twenties and early thirties who are struggling to find their way; I wanted Ten Years Later to be their beacon of hope and motivate them to accomplish their heart’s desires. But as I’m getting to know my readers, I’m realizing that they come from all walks of life. High schoolers to middle-aged men have read and loved it. To write a book that can touch a wide variety of people is very fulfilling.

How did you come to publish it?

I did the blind-pitch dance to about fifty literary agents…and got rejected by all of them. I have built my career by creating opportunities for myself that no one else would give me, so I figured I would add one more to the list! I enlisted an editor, proofreader and illustrator to craft an ultra-professional final product. I published through CreateSpace and they were very helpful in guiding me through the process. It’s another “business” to worry about but I wouldn’t want it any other way!

What most surprised you in the writing and/or publishing of your book?

My experience as a business owner alleviated a lot of the “shock” in my new career as a self-published novelist. I knew the work was going to be hard and the reward not so instant. But I’m still learning something new everyday, from distribution tips to new blogs or online book communities to tap into!

What’s been your best experience so far as a published author?

Getting feedback from readers. I am so humbled by the fact that people chose to spend their time in my little world I created. Professionally, there is no better feeling.

What comes next?

The ultimate goal for Ten Years Later is to turn it into a movie. In my humble opinion, I think it would smash at the box office as the next great romantic comedy!

As for the future, I have many ideas for books; some in the same lighthearted vein, some in a much darker voice.

As an indie-published author, what advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Find a subject that absolutely consumes you with passion and run with it! That passion will take you through the writing, editing, tweaking of the final product, and marketing yourself.

Find a subject that absolutely consumes you with passion and run with it! -- Lisa Marie Latino Click To TweetAbout Lisa Marie Latino

The CEO and executive producer of Long Shot Productions, a full-service media production company based in Fairfield, New Jersey, Latino has produced numerous commercial, corporate, and entertainment programs that have taken her throughout the United States as well as Europe. In 2014, Latino co-launched HipNewJersey.com, an online lifestyle program featuring the latest trends around the Garden State.

Latino has appeared on a wide variety of local television, network cable, and radio shows, including TLC’s Cake Boss, SNY’s Oh Yeah, and WFAN Sport Radio’s Boomer & Carton and works in-season for the New York Giants Radio Network. She has also served as an adjunct broadcasting professor at Seton Hall University. Latino graduated from Montclair State University in 2006 with a degree in broadcasting and speech communication.

Learn more about Lisa Marie Latino on Facebook or her web site, lisamarielatino.com, which has more social media links.

Ten Years Later
Carla D’Agostino is not your typical heroine. Stuck in a seemingly dead-end job, single, and still living with her overbearing Italian-American parents, Carla is thrown for a loop when she realizes her ten-year high school reunion is fast approaching. True love, a career as a sports radio talk show host, the perfect body–every dream remains frustratingly out of reach no matter how Carla strives and schemes. Out of reach, that is, until unexpected events lead her right back to where she started, and Carla discovers that all she ever wanted was right in front of her the whole time. “Ten Years Later” is a witty, unpredictable tale of one ordinary young woman’s race for the top as she throws caution to the wind and decides to go for her dreams.
WHERE TO BUY IT:
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / iBooks

Published every way: An interview with author Denise Deegan

Sandra Hutchison interviews multi-published Irish author Denise Deegan (who also publishes women’s fiction as Aimee Alexander).

Denise, in terms of being published you’ve moved from traditional to indie to Lake Union (as Aimee Alexander) and back to indie again. Quite an adventure! Can you share some of your ups and downs?

So, I had seven novels traditionally published, four contemporary works of women’s fiction, followed by a YA trilogy. By the time the last YA novel was published, the rights to my women’s fiction works had reverted to me. I thought that self-publishing would be an adventure, so I renamed myself Aimee Alexander (my children’s names combined), edited my books afresh, renamed them, hired a cover designer, and uploaded to Amazon. One of those novels, The Accidental Life of Greg Millar, was spotted by Amazon imprint Lake Union Publishing and then republished by them. My latest novel, Through the Barricades, is self-published.

Being traditionally published and having your novels translated into other languages is exciting. However, I love the control that comes with self-publishing. You choose your own covers, you do your own promotion, you see the results of that promotion immediately, and you can adapt with great flexibility. Importantly, you have a much higher royalty rate. You are an entrepreneur as well as an author. Having run my own PR business, all of this appeals very much to me. I like juggling different roles, working with different people, being creative in lots of ways, not just writing.

Being picked up by Lake Union Publishing was tremendously exciting because it came out of the blue. They approached me unexpectedly. I was aware of them; I had seen their books on Amazon. I loved their covers and their books. Mostly I loved their rankings! Being published by them was a treat. Their editing was wonderful, as was the cover they designed. They have been a pleasure to deal with. And they know their business.

I still have an agent and a manager in LA for my children’s and YA books. The market for children’s books is still very traditional.

I self-published my latest novel, Through the Barricades. 2016 was the centenary of a revolution that changed the course of Irish history. I wanted to get my story out before the end of the year. The fastest way was self-publishing. I just about made it. The book was published December 8. One of the highlights so far has been the cover, which I adore. That my daughter Aimee graces it makes the book all the more special to me.

As you note, you’ve published in multiple genres. Do you have any wisdom to impart on that?

Traditional wisdom states that authors should stick to a genre to build an audience. I had written four novels of contemporary women’s fiction. I didn’t plan to change. However, the next story that arrived to me was a teenage one. When I say arrived, I mean that I began to hear the characters’ voices in my head (which is how I’ve always written). The first conversation I heard was between sixteen-year-old Alex and her father. Alex’s voice was filled with rage, sarcasm but also a vulnerability that I couldn’t ignore. I scribbled that first dialogue onto a napkin in a coffee shop. Alex’s story became And By The Way, the first of The Butterfly Novels, a contemporary YA trilogy. I have since written a historical novel of love and revolution that is suitable for both adult and teenagers. I also have two novels with an agent, a YA thriller and a middle-grade pirate adventure.

The first thing I would say is that my novels are very strong on voice and emotion, no matter what genre they are in. That is because I hear and feel my characters. I become them as I write. If I ignored that process and stuck diligently to a genre, I would lose the realness of my stories. It would all become clinical and prescriptive, and my novels would, too. Then I would lose the desire to write.

A wonderful thing happened when I followed the teenage voices of Alex, Sarah, and Rachel. They really touched people. Girls began to get in touch on social media to say how they had connected with the books and characters. They spoke of how much they had learned from the issues that arose in the stories. They told me that they had read them over and over, wanted them made into movies, movies in which they would star. The reaction of teenagers to my books has touched me hugely and reminded me of why I write. I love what I do. If I changed how I do it, a little part of me would die. And I like living!

What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

The absolute thing I would say is: get your stories out to the world. Make them the best they can be. Hire professional editors. Learn the craft. Because it is a craft. Then get your stories out. Do not be stopped by the middlemen. If you can’t get an agent or publisher, do it yourself. The New York Times bestsellers list always includes self-published books. These are books that were not picked up by middlemen. Therefore they don’t always know a winner when they see it. And they will admit that themselves. Still Alice and The Martian were self-published, picked up by traditional publishers, and turned into movies. Why? Because the authors got their stories out to the world.

...get your stories out. Do not be stopped by the middlemen. -- Denise Deegan Click To Tweet

 What inspired your most recent novel?

Through the Barricades is a story of love and revolution. I’m a rebel at heart. If you want me to do something, tell me I can’t do it. I wanted to write a story of rebellion. Being Irish is an important part of my identity. My country’s history is one of oppression and a very long struggle for freedom. I wanted to tell that story through the eyes of Maggie, an idealistic girl who is prepared to sacrifice everything for what she believes in, and Daniel, a boy who is prepared to sacrifice everything for Maggie. I’m proud of my country’s history – its fight, not just for freedom, but to hold on to its identity, its stories and culture. I love this novel. More than any other, it is who I am.

What’s your number one hope for what your readers will get out of it?

I hope that people will connect with my characters, not just Maggie and Daniel, but their families and friends. I want them to feel as if they are right beside these ordinary people as they struggle in extraordinary circumstances for what they believe in.

I also very much want to share the story of a regiment of Irish soldiers that was stationed in Gallipoli in WWI. Researching (and writing about) this, I felt an incredible connection to the young men who fought and died in the trenches in Turkey.

What most surprised you in the writing of your book?

  • The connection I felt with soldiers in WWI, especially as I hadn’t originally planned to write about the Great War
  • How history is interpreted differently by people
  • The unplanned characters who stole into the book and built roles for themselves: a little orphan girl, Lily; Patrick, the rebel with a tough shell but soft center; and Michael, Daniel’s happy-go-lucky friend who grew up fast in Gallipoli but whose humor was so important in the trenches.

Tell us more about you and your book and where we can find it.

I’m an optimist. I find good in bad, light in darkness, and humor in difficult times. There’s something very Irish about that and it filters into the book. Though life in the trenches was appalling, humor was ever-present among the Irish soldiers. In a way, it defined them.

Family is hugely important to me. This comes across in all my books. Author Martina Reilly, who kindly attributed a quote on Through the Barricades commented: “The pieces written about the trenches in the First World War were really moving, as was the devotion Maggie’s family had to each other.”

I started life as a nurse. Medical issues always find their way into my books. Through the Barricades was no exception.

You can find Through the Barricades in paperback and ebook formats on Amazon.

About the author

Denise Deegan lives in Dublin with her family where she regularly dreams of sunshine, a life without cooking and her novels being made into movies.

She has been a nurse, a china restorer, a pharmaceutical sales rep, a public relations officer, an entrepreneur and a college lecturer. Her most difficult job was checkout girl, though ultimately this ‘experience’ did inspire a short story.

Denise’s books have been published by Penguin, Random House, Hachette and Lake Union Publishing. Her novels for Young Adults include The Butterfly Novels: And By The Way, And For Your Information, and And Actually.

Denise writes women’s fiction as Aimee Alexander. Her titles have become international best-sellers on Kindle and include: Pause to Rewind, The Accidental Life of Greg Millar, and All We Have Lost.

Learn more at https://denisedeegan.wordpress.com/about-denise/

Book Blurb

She was willing to sacrifice everything for her country. He was willing to sacrifice everything for her. 

“Make a difference in the world” are the last words Maggie Gilligan’s father ever says to her. They form a legacy that she carries in her heart years later when, at the age of fifteen, she tries to better the lives of Dublin’s largely forgotten poor.

“Don’t go getting distracted, now,” is what Daniel Healy’s father says to him after seeing him talking to the same Maggie Gilligan. Daniel is more than distracted. He is intrigued. Never has he met anyone as dismissive, argumentative… as downright infuriating.

A dare from Maggie is all it takes. Daniel volunteers at a food kitchen. There, his eyes are opened to the plight of the poor. It is 1913 and Dublin’s striking workers have been locked out of their jobs. Their families are going hungry. Daniel and Maggie do what they can. Soon, however, Maggie realizes that the only way to make a difference is to take up arms.

The story of Maggie and Daniel is one of friendship, love, war and revolution, of two people who are prepared to sacrifice their lives: Maggie for her country, Daniel for Maggie. Their mutual sacrifices put them on opposite sides of a revolution. Can their love survive?

Sandy’s note: It’s also very affordable right now if you buy it for Kindle at amazon.com.

Follow Denise Deegan on

Twitter: https://twitter.com/denisedeegan

Website:  https://denisedeegan.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/denise.deegan.3

Ditching the nudity, but not the sex

by Sandra Hutchison

I’ve been contemplating bringing THE AWFUL MESS: A LOVE STORY (2013) in from wide distribution to Kindle Select, where various promotional opportunities can give it a boost. But the cover was a problem. Because it had a naked lady on it, sort of.

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire -- showing a (dressed) teenage girl on a bed, looking rather pensive.

Still widely distributed, without any recent promotions, I get the occasional foreign sale through Kobo and almost nothing in domestic or foreign sales from any of the other retailers except Amazon. About about one in five Kindle purchasers of THE RIBS AND THIGH BONES OF DESIRE (2014), which is in Kindle Select, also buy THE AWFUL MESS, which is nice, but will never get it ranking high on its own.

As indie authors with any experience know, if I go back into Kindle Select, even for a while, I can more easily try to goose those sales a bit. (This will indeed hurt my ranking at the other sites, but as noted above, I don’t have really have one.)

However, there was little point in going back into Kindle Select if I couldn’t at least promote it on Amazon from time to time. And so I had an exchange with Amazon about their AMS marketing standards and whether this cover would meet them. (Thankfully, they were willing to consider the question.)

No, I was eventually told, there could be no nudity. Not even tasteful, blurred nudity.

Evolution of a coverSo I tried going back to a more professional version of my first (homemade) cover. But sales fell during that test, so I returned to the naked lady.

Next, I tried drawing a blurry underwater bathing suit on that naked lady. That was pretty funny.

Then I decided to try to cover up her blurry naked behind with a nice blurb. 500x700theawfulmess_ebookyellowquoteWould that be okay, I asked Amazon? Nope, that was still no go. Even if we couldn’t see it, nudity was being suggested. (The helpful representative told me that standards have toughened a bit recently — even a male nipple disqualifies AMS marketing nowadays.)

I suppose this sensibility may also explain why I’ve had a harder time getting BookBub and other slots lately. Who knows why, though? My books are getting dated now, definitely backlist, so that’s a possibility. I won’t shut up about the current election, or race issues, or whatever, so maybe they think I’m too outspoken. Or maybe they blacklisted me for my post “The Five Stages of Grief of Being Rejected by BookBub,” even though it was free advertising.

Making your opinions public as an author or any small business person is always a risk. But so is publishing a book, right? I’d rather err on the side of telling the truth as I see it than tip-toeing around.

Of course, I’m not depending on my writing to pay the bills, so I get to make that choice from a position of privilege. Many others cannot.

Besides the really beautiful design by Damon Za, what I like about that semi-nude cover is that it signals the book might include some racy stuff. Which it does, in two short sex scenes. Some readers have an issue with that, which is understandable, although I could wish they would read the whole product description before they start reading.

Meanwhile, of course, other readers are disappointed when I don’t have any explicit sex, as I’ve noticed with my beta readers on BARDWELL’S FOLLY. It has some bedroom scenes between heroine and hero, just as RIBS does, but getting graphic about slot A and tab B in the two of them didn’t, to my mind, serve any non-prurient artistic purpose.

Occasionally I’ve thought of excising the explicit aspects from THE AWFUL MESS, too. But I feel those explicit scenes do add something to the characterization in that novel. And anyway, what’s done is done (except, cough, with covers and typos).

I do still, sometimes, toy with bringing back the clean PG-13 version, much as MM Jaye did with a recent romance, but since my clean version sold a total of two copies back in the day I doubt it would be worth the trouble.

tugboat-cover-for-the-awful-messIt’s not as if a novel addressing misogyny and gay rights is suddenly going to find great favor in Amazon’s Christian romance market. The only reason I still toy with the idea is that I’d just like to try marketing it as a progressive Christian novel. Many Evangelicals are more progressive or at least less prudish than you might expect, and there are plenty of Christian readers like me who are quite liberal.

Anyway, I just recently purchased from Tugboat Design a pre-designed cover of a fully dressed woman that I hope gives at least a suggestion of sex while also, perhaps, hinting at the theme. I really like it, even though I personally envision Mary having slightly darker brown hair and even though I’m still not entirely sure what is going on in this photo. (What do you think?)

As long as I was investing in real design work, I had Deborah at Tugboat clean up my design for BARDWELL’S FOLLY, and get the paperback cover done, an effort I was procrastinating figuring out for myself. Hopefully this means the ARC will be ready next week to start going out for review. (If you’re a blogger or reviewer, feel free to request one).

bardwells-folly-tugboat-designIf you’re a writer who includes bedroom scenes that are more or less explicit, how are you handling that issue in your cover design and marketing?

Or, if you’re a reader who has strong opinions one way or the other, I’d love to hear from you. Do you think explicit scenes usually add to your experience of a novel, or get in the way? And even if you don’t mind them yourself, does it keep you from recommending a book?

 

 

 

How author Florence Osmund “never lost money” on a promotion

Sandra Hutchison interviews indie author Florence Osmund.

Osmund Photo 250X250Florence, you mentioned in a recent helpful blog post for new novelists that you had “never lost money on a promotion.” My ears pricked up at that, since I’m sure I’ve had some losing promotions (or, at least, promotions without an immediate, verifiable profit). What do you think is the secret of your success there?

The way I look at it, there are six basic rules when it comes to launching a successful book promotion.

  1. Make sure you have a good product. An article that I wrote for The Book Designer last September talks about what book reviewers expect in a well-written book: professional editing; a beginning, middle, and ending that carry the story forward; a consistent POV; an engaging writing style; a good balance of action, dialogue, and description; an appealing plot; accuracy of stated facts; and a cover that grabs attention. These are all elements of a good product.
  2. I have found that readers look at the Amazon author page even when considering downloading a “freebie.” Get the most out of it by including testimonials and interesting facts about yourself. For your Amazon book pages, create descriptions that are intriguing and thought-provoking.
  3. Use book promotion websites that have been vetted and are relevant for your book. The shotgun approach seldom works.
  4. Go all the way. Whether you choose one big promoter such as BookBub.com or one or more less expensive ones, don’t rely on just them to get the word out. Post your promotion on every free site you can find. Here is a link from my website that lists sites that I’ve used in the past: http://florenceosmund.com/linkedwheretopromotefreeand.html. Promote it on social media as well. On Twitter, to reach as many relevant people as possible, I use these hashtags (no more than three in any one Tweet) when I promote a book: #amreading #amazonkindle #bookaddict #booklovers #bookworm #ebooks #eReaders #fiction #freebie #freebooks #freereads #kindlebargain #kindlebooks #kindledeals #novels #readers #readfree #whattoread and #weekendreader.
  5. Share, share, share. Once your free or discounted book has been posted on a promotion site, share it on your own social media pages. Ask your friends to share it on their pages. It’s all about exposure.
  6. Take advantage of your e-mail subscriber list. If you don’t have one, you may want to consider developing one. Announce the promotion to your subscribers and ask them to spread the word too. I have found that people who are fans of your books are happy to help promote them.

It doesn’t matter whether I pay $200+ for a BookBub promotion, $25 for an www.fkbt.com one, or anything in between, I have never lost money. And the more I pay for the promotion, the better the return on investment. The first time I ran a BookBub promotion and paid $220 for it, I feared that I wouldn’t even break even. But after I gave away 76,769 freebies and then sold (or readers borrowed through Kindle’s lending library) 4,648 copies during the thirty days following the promotion, my fears were quickly allayed. You have to spend money to make money.

You mention at your web site that you had a long career in business before taking up writing. How has that impacted your practices as an author? And what would you say was the single most useful aspect of your previous career when you came to writing?

In my previous career in administrative management, I constantly sought out challenges—ways to improve my skills, someone else’s skills, departmental performance, or my own job performance. Things haven’t changed much as an author—challenges still motivate me. The most useful aspect of my previous career is the importance of communicating the written word in the right manner to the right audience. As an author, you may have an interesting story to tell, but if you don’t communicate it well (that’s why we have editors) to the right people (your target audience), you will have missed opportunities.

I write women’s fiction and your lovely covers strike me as fitting that genre, although your subject matter doesn’t, exactly—at least two of your novels are focused on a man’s emotional journey rather than a woman’s.  How do you think about genre and your covers, and your work? Has there been any evolution in that?

I’ll get this out of the way first—the covers for my first two books were going to be renditions of my family home no matter what. I had just lost both parents, and I wanted to dedicate my first two books to them with their home on the covers. Not the best marketing decision, but something I had to do.

I find that genre descriptions are fairly subjective and somewhat overlapping. That being said, I strive to write literary fiction, which I define as having characters with depth and complexity and thought-provoking plots that challenge readers as to their own values and beliefs. But at times others have pegged my books as women’s fiction, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, and even cozy mysteries. My goal is to create covers that reflect the literary fiction genre while portraying the essence of the story and providing enough intrigue to cause the reader to turn the book over and read the back cover.

The conversation that led to this blog post was held in an Awesome Indies group. How much has networking through various writer’s groups impacted your career? Do you have advice for other writers in this regard? (I also notice that you don’t use your various seals of approval from these curated groups on your covers. Is there a reason for that?)

When I was new in the industry, I joined every social media writer’s group I could find, and while it was time-consuming keeping up on all of them, what I learned from my fellow authors was invaluable. Now I’ve narrowed the list down to a few where I believe I can contribute the most. The writer’s groups that have had (and still have) the most impact on my career are the closed social media groups where members share their experiences and knowledge with a known faction of authors, Awesome Indie Authors Facebook group being one of them. Members of closed groups tend to share details of their successes and failures more freely than in open groups, making each closed group a great learning venue.

With regard to using group seals of approval on my covers, I’m embarrassed to say that it never occurred to me. I typically note the award/honor in the book blurbs I post, and I have affixed physical stickers to paperbacks when they’re made available, but I could also incorporate them on the covers of the Kindle versions of my books. I’ll have to look into that.

I notice your web site includes some rather entertaining comments from agents who passed on your work before you self-published. Is it safe to say you’re completely satisfied with your life as an indie author-publisher? Would anything ever entice you to switch?

The only scenario that would entice me to switch from self-publishing to traditional publishing is if I could make more money and spend less time with promotion. I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Tell us something about you that might surprise an audience of readers and writers.

I am often asked how I conceived the story line ideas for my books. I knew that I wanted to write novels when I retired, so for years prior to that, I accumulated an assortment of ideas that I thought could be useful in my writing later on. Whenever I heard an interesting conversation that could potentially lead to a plot or sub-plot, or observed an incident that would make an effective scene, or saw a movie that inspired me in some way, I jotted down the thought on any scrap of paper that was handy. Then, when I was ready to start writing my first book, I emptied the large shoe box that contained these hundreds of scraps of paper, categorized them, and put them in separate piles. When I was finished, three distinct story lines had emerged that later culminated in four books.

'You have to spend money to make money.' Florence Osmund on indie book promotions. #interview Click To Tweet

Learn more about Florence Osmund, and how you could win a free e-book!

After a long career in the corporate world, Florence Osmund retired to write novels. “I strive to write literary fiction and endeavor to craft stories that challenge readers to survey their own beliefs and values,” Osmund states. Florence’s website offers substantial advice for new and aspiring writers, including how to begin the project, writing techniques, building an author platform, book promotion and more. Florence lives in the heart of Chicago on the shore of Lake Michigan, where she continues to write novels. You can learn more about her at her Facebook page, on Twitter, or at LinkedIn.

WIN a copy of RED CLOVER!

Florence Osmund will be giving away an e-book of RED CLOVER to someone who responds to this post (and she might just give away some of her other titles, too). If you’re having trouble finding the comments, make sure you’ve scanned down the page all the way, or click the little conversation bubble up next to the headline.

Red Clover cover Amazon 200 X 300He had felt like an outsider in his own family his entire life. Now twenty-six—confused and emotionally bankrupt after suffering a childhood fraught with criticism and isolation—Lee leaves his dysfunctional upper-class family to find his true self.

Determined to cultivate a meaningful life, Lee discovers a world poles apart from the one he had left behind and an assortment of unforgettable characters to go with it. But just when things start falling into place, he is made aware of an alarming family secret that causes him to question who he is and where he’s going.

What do you do when the people who had been entrusted with nurturing you during your formative years are the same ones responsible for turning your world upside down?

Remember: Leave a comment below and you might win a free copy!

Romance author offers both “clean” AND “spicy” versions

Sandra Hutchison interviews indie author MM Jaye

MM JayeMaria, you’ve recently tried something that I tried and failed with back in 2013 – publishing a new book that has both a “spicy” (NC17) and “clean” version. I had done that with fanfiction in the past, and I thought it would be nice to offer two different versions since THE AWFUL MESS has some progressive Christian themes, but the two explicit sex scenes might be too much for some religious readers. Your book doesn’t appear to have any Christian appeal per se, though. What prompted you to try offering both a spicy and clean version?

I’ve seen a number of Facebook and Goodreads groups that feature “clean” books only, and since my stories are a lot more than just the physical attraction between the protagonists, I thought I’d offer a version of the story minus the sex scenes to appeal to those readers as well. Later on, I discovered that there are also a lot of bloggers who are willing to host only PG-13 books and covers on their blog, and in author exchange posts, having a “milder” version proved useful.

How did you actually go about it?

It was fairly easy. I wrote the spicy version, then went back and deleted the sex scenes and some heavy foreplay and also toned down the language in certain parts. (I decided against including “f” bombs in the clean version just to be on the safe side.) The only challenge was rounding up the parts where I deleted a scene, so that the story flow was seamless.

At this point, I’d like to note that I feel there’s a difference between “sweet” and “clean” stories. “Sweet” romances have a more wholesome feel with an inspirational theme, whereas “clean” can be sassier reads (in my clean version, the protagonists have pre-marital sex), just without the “which part goes where” bits. I don’t think I could turn the spicy version in a “sweet” read, bearing the above distinction in mind, simply because I’d have to write a different story.

I notice you use the same title, but different subtitles, and beautiful covers that are related but noticeably different. What was your thinking there? Did it cost twice as much or did you get a break on the pricing?

Thank you for the positive vote on my covers. Luckily, my cover designer didn’t charge more for the “clean” cover. I bought all images myself, used the same background for both versions, so it was just a matter of placing two different images on the same background. Same fonts. No extra charge.

Fate Captured spicy (small)Fate Captured Clean (small)As for the concept behind the covers, since this is a series, I chose a stunning backdrop with a predominant color (green for FATE CAPTURED, orange for FATE AWAKENED, the upcoming Book Two in the Greek Tycoons series) and then chose a portrait image of a girl that bears resemblance to my heroine for the “clean” cover and an image of an intimate couple for the “spicy.” The tricky part was finding a girl in the couples’ image that looked like the girl that would go on the “clean” cover, but browsing those stock photo sites is fun.

When I tried doing this with my debut novel back in 2013, I slapped a “PG-13” burst on the cleaned-up version and added that as a subtitle, but despite the separate ISBNs, Amazon ultimately decided to list both editions together on their site. I felt that led to some confusion for readers. Have you managed to avoid that so far? Would it bother you if it happened? Did you have any discussions with Amazon or other authors as you undertook this dual publication?

I had no problems with Amazon. The covers are different, and I made sure the titles (not subtitles) were different as well. FATE CAPTURED (CLEAN ROMANCE) and FATE CAPTURED (SPICY ROMANCE). I guess since the covers and titles were different, Amazon saw them as two separate books. I also used different keywords. Naughty, naughty words for the spicy version, milder and more generic (no bad boy alpha male) in the clean one.

With my book I discovered that very few people seemed interested in the clean version vs. the more adult one. I think in its first month the difference in sales literally ran 25 to 1. Have you noticed a difference in sales between the two editions?

I have had the exact same experience. Just a trickle of sales for the clean version. But, to be honest, I don’t promote it as much as I do the spicy one. It helped me a lot when author friends wanted to review my book and didn’t feel comfortable with explicit sex scenes, so I had something to offer to them, and I also offer the clean version to blogs that host only PG-13 books. So I feel that the clean book helps more with marketing and connecting with other authors rather than with bringing income. Oh, and, of course, I have something to show to relatives. Let’s not forget that!

Which sells better, clean or spicy? Two indie authors' experiences. Click To Tweet

Your price point on all your books right now seems quite a bargain at 99 cents. Do you have any thoughts about pricing and promotions based on your experience so far?

Well, both FATE CAPTURED and my Gothic mystery romance, HOUSE AT THE EDGE, are under 50K words. They’re borderline novellas. That’s why I priced them at 99 cents. FATE AWAKENED, which stands at 80K words, will get a $2.99 price tag. But the group of authors in the World of Gothic series (atmospheric mystery romances in exotic locations around the world) I’m a member of are currently discussing raising the price of all novellas to $2.99 as it better reflects the quality of the work involved in releasing the titles, and I agree. FATE CAPTURED will remain at 99 cents as I want it to be an attractive lead-in for my contemporary romance series.

Do you feel that indie publishing is getting easier, or harder?

I’m a new author. I feel it’s getting easier for me to write stories because gradually I’m getting faster (and hopefully better), and there are a number of nifty tools available out there to either help your writing (Scrivener, Grammarly), or to boost awareness of your work (from bloggers willing to host new authors and Facebook groups to Thunderclap and Headtalker campaigns which help spread the word). However, the competition is getting tougher and although the availability of tools is great, reaching a larger audience is becoming more difficult. I have friends who have earned serious money from writing romance, using Facebook ads as their main advertising tool, who told me recently that Facebook ads seem not to work anymore because of the staggering number of marketers using them. So, to sum up, it’s easier to get things done but harder to make money from indie publishing.

In addition, I’d love to share a great free tool for creating beautiful landing pages for your books. I’ve noticed that adding the URL I get from this app to my Twitter posts (instead of my book’s Amazon page) sales have increased. It’s a free app for an iOS device (Adobe Spark for iPhone or iPad) but it’s also available online: https://spark.adobe.com/. It’s basically drag-and-drop easy. Here’s the landing page I created for my Gothic romance: HOUSE AT THE EDGE.

Comment on this post and you could be the lucky winner of your choice of the clean or spicy ebook FATE AWAKENED. (Please check back by next Saturday to see if you’ve won, unless one of us already knows your email address.)

More about MM Jaye and FATE AWAKENED

Fate Captured spicy (small)In FATE AWAKENED, a meddling thriller writer ruins the career of a Greek shipping heir then tarnishes his family’s name and faces his inevitable wrath—because to fix him, she needs to break him first.

MM Jaye’s mother claims that she spoke her first word at the age of six. Months. As a kid she would record fairy tales in her own voice, play them back, and then re-record, adjusting the pitch and tempo. Later, she used her voice to inspire young adults and teach them the art of translation. But there came a time when life took a turn for the worse, and her voice temporarily died out. That’s when she turned to writing. FATE CAPTURED is the first book in her Greek Tycoons series, set on the Greek island where her husband proposed. MM Jaye lives in Athens, Greece, with her husband, daughter and Kindle.

Learn more at:

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/MM-Jaye/e/B00OX44NSO
Blog: http://mmjayewrites.com
Facebook: https://www.fb.com/MMJayeauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MMJaye
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/mmjaye1/
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+MMJayeauthor

 

Updates, Kobo deal, Goodreads giveaway

Bardwell’s Folly

BardwellsFollylibreblur200x309“Bardwell’s Folly” has been read by five beta readers now, and thanks to that feedback I’m making some good revisions.  I’m hopeful this version will be done by the end of the week. Then it goes to my fussiest beta readers in the hope they will throw in some proofreading, too. Then it’s into Kindle Scout, unless I chicken out and just put it up for pre-order. I did stick a toe in the water with regular querying (if a tweet and one query count), but my heart just wasn’t in it.

The Awful Mess

This week I finalized a new (or, actually, old, re-imagined) cover for the ebook edition of “The Awful Mess” because Amazon won’t allow me to advertise with a nude-ish person on the cover. (They also refuse anything with blood, I’m told by author Julie Frayn.) Now I just have to upload the new cover and update, like, everything. (Actually, the paperback will retain its lovely and striking and not exactly prurient Damonza.com cover — and I did lean heavily for inspiration on an option he’d given me back in the day, when I’d asked for something with those rocks as well as an original option.)

Evolution of a coverOf course, having made that decision, I finally got an offer to do something interesting  just because it’s a SELF-e Select title, so I might hold off on trying it in Kindle Select until after then. I’m still going to change the cover, though. For all I know, that’s why BookBub keeps turning it down lately.

Speaking of Self-e, why Amazon considers a program that gives curated indie ebooks to libraries free as infringing on Kindle Select is beyond me. If I were them, I’d be happy to see my indie authors building a library readership, especially since SELF-e books now include buy links.

SPECIAL DEAL FOR KOBO READERS: Use code 50Jun through June 27 (midnight EST — that’s coming up fast, of course) to save half off “The Awful Mess” and many other indie titles.

And next up?

For the next book I keep stalling out on my original plan. I’m thinking of returning to Lawson, New Hampshire instead. They do say series are the way to go. I’ve had a story in mind that would offer interesting challenges to Winslow and Mary, one related to issues that sometimes arise over immigration in small town New England. And Annie Soper deserves a love story. But I’m just beginning to flesh those ideas out.

A Goodreads giveaway of “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire”

While you wait for a new book, you or your reading friends might want to sign up to enter the Goodreads giveaway of an autographed paperback of “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire.”

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire by Sandra Hutchison

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire

by Sandra Hutchison

Giveaway ends July 09, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Awesome Indies founder Tahlia Newland on challenges and opportunities for indie authors

Tahlia Newland

Author Tahlia Newland

I first met Tahlia Newland months after I had submitted my first novel to Awesome Indies. This organization seeks to curate the best indie works — not just for quality of writing, but for editing and production values, too. I remember that when I first stumbled across it, I was impressed that it evaluated submissions based on a book I think is terrific — Renni Browne and Dave King’s SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS. It also demanded literary qualifications from reviewers. Perhaps best of all, it offered ways to submit that didn’t require payment — so it clearly wasn’t just another sketchy prize mill. Eventually, I became a volunteer myself. But I never really asked Tahlia how Awesome Indies got its start. So…

Tahlia, what prompted you to begin Awesome Indies?

ai_square-300x300When I first got an e-reader back in 2009 or so, I discovered cheap books and read them voraciously. They were all self-published, of course, and I soon discovered that even books with high star ratings on review sites like Amazon and Goodreads could be really badly written, even some that were selling thousands of copies.

Though I picked up many terrible books, I also discovered some real gems, and I really wanted to tell the world about these great books where self-publishing authors had beaten the odds and produced something excellent. I began writing reviews so I could tell readers which self-published books were well enough done that readers could be sure they were getting a good product.

Next I came up with the idea of listing them all on one website so interested readers could have a one-stop quality shop for indie books. I created that first Awesome Indies site on a WordPress.com free blog, and it grew from there. At the point I decided I needed to create a submission system and get some helpers, I made the decision that if a group of people were to set themselves up as determiners of quality, then they had better be people with the kind of qualifications that no one could argue with, so it had to be people with formal qualifications in writing, English literature, or editing.

What would you say are the greatest challenges and opportunities facing
Awesome Indies? What would your dream be?

The biggest challenges are getting the website’s existence and value widely known, finding sufficient assessors and volunteers to keep it running smoothly, and dealing with author egos, in particular those who refuse to accept our assessors’ opinions as valid and like to spread their opinions on the matter.

My dream for the Awesome Indies is that it becomes the first place readers go to find indie books, that in people’s minds Awesome Indies Approval equals the kudos of getting a mainstream deal, that it changes the perception of the world as regards to the quality of indie books (as least as far as books listed on the site goes), and that it becomes really popular with the kind of people who usually would only read mainstream books.

 How can readers and writers who value quality indie work support Awesome Indies?

By submitting their book with an administration fee, or by volunteering to help. We have a very good admin team at the moment, but I am always short of qualified assessors and people willing to help spread the word about our existence. What we need more than anything is people who can write blog posts about the Awesome Indies and get them published on influential blogs and newspapers. (I should note that I am a volunteer for Awesome Indies myself — primarily by writing occasional web copy and notification emails to authors.)

As an indie author yourself, what are some of the greatest challenges and opportunities you see facing such authors today?

The biggest challenge is selling your book. A good book does not equal a best-selling book (and vice versa), and great authors are often not natural salespeople. The very nature of indie books is that many of them are so not mainstream that they only have a small niche market — at least at present. Finding the readers for unusual books is not easy, and selling few books can be soul-destroying for authors of truly great works with enormous literary merit. But so long as a book has some kind of independent professional assessment like Awesome Indies Approval, then the author can at least know that the problem is not with the book. Without that, the indie author can never be sure.

The biggest challenge is selling your book - Tahlia Newland. #amwriting #indie Click To Tweet

The greatest opportunity indie authors have is that we can publish what we want, when and how we want. There is nothing to stop our creativity going in whatever direction we want it to — so long as we aren’t concerned about making a living. But with that freedom comes a great responsibility: to do it in a professional way. If the majority of us can do that, then eventually the stigma attached to indie publishing will fade.

Tell us about your new release, THE LOCKSMITH’S SECRET, including what inspired it.

THE LOCKSMITH’S SECRET is a multi-narrative-strand novel about a woman who finds that her boyfriend is not who she thought he was, and she finds herself having to choose between him and her beloved property in the Australian rain forest — a situation that challenges her ability to live up to her Buddhist ideals. The story looks at sexual abuse, women’s rights, and the various aspects of a person that make up their sense of self, including dreams, memories, past lives, creative expression and metaphysical experiences. The themes are explored from these different angles, one of which is a steampunk murder mystery that the protagonist Ella, an author, is writing.

What inspired it? My stories just appear vividly in my mind, playing out like movies. I can’t pinpoint any particular inspiration, though the image of a locksmith creating keys for inter-dimensional doors in an otherwise deserted ethereal city of transparent buildings floating in space was the image that drove me to fill in the story around it.

01The_Locksmiths_SecretwebAbout THE LOCKSMITH’S SECRET

Ella’s locksmith boyfriend Jamie seems to be her perfect match, at least until a death in the family calls him back to England. While he’s gone, Ella discovers he’s hiding something so astounding that it completely changes her perception of him and his place in her world.

While Jamie struggles with family responsibilities, Ella’s steampunk murder mystery develops a life of its own, raising disturbing memories of her time as a striptease artist and a past life as a sexually abused Italian nun. She also dreams of an ephemeral city, where she seeks to unravel the locksmith’s secret and find the key that opens a door to other realities.

All these, together with a lost brother, a desperate mother, a demanding cat, and a struggle to live up to Buddhist ideals, weave together in a rich tapestry that creates an extraordinary work of magical realism.

Intrigued? Learn more about THE LOCKSMITH’S SECRET at:

kindle store    smashwords     kobo     barnes & noble     apple

When you probably shouldn’t self-publish (and when it might be best)

When is self-publishing going to be more trouble than it’s worth, or downright counter-productive? Here’s when:

#1 You just want a single book to share with friends and family

Everyone tells me I should write a bookLet’s say you’ve written a memoir about your long and interesting life, and you want to be able to share it with people you love. Everyone tells you that you’ve really had a fascinating life, and you really have. But you don’t plan to make a career out of writing, and you don’t want to make a career out of publishing, either.

Unless someone who does have some knowledge of publishing (traditional or self) gets excited about your book and wants to get it out there, you’re going to be better served just getting some books printed up and understanding that this is really vanity publishing. Which is okay. That’s exactly what it exists for.

Yes, you can do vanity publishing cheaply through self-publishing outfits like Createspace or BookBaby, and you may want to take advantage of some of the extra services they offer to help you create a nice book. But since this isn’t going to be your career, it doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t need to research the market. You don’t need to study up on everything, or buy your own ISBN at $125 a pop. You just need a physical book friends and family can read.

For many people in this situation it might make more sense to use a local vanity press. In my area, the folks at Troy Bookmakers know what they are doing and can guide you towards a nice paper book. You’ll pay more than you will going to a big online firm, but you’ll get more personal help along the way. They’ll stock it in the two related independent bookstores, and you can have a signing in one of them. A lot of local bookstores are developing this kind of service.

Unlike some other operations — Author House, iUniverse, etc. — they won’t try to sell you over-priced or fraudulent services or suggest that you could experience great publishing success. (Tip: Any time you’re asked to put significant money into a publishing undertaking, check Preditors and Editors to see if there are complaints about that company or individual, and evaluate other books that entity has published.)

And although most presses and publishing services will make it an option, maybe you shouldn’t create an eBook. Think about it: If you’re someone who doesn’t have any social media marketing savvy and has never even read an eBook yourself, trying to sell one is going to require a tremendous learning curve. Is that something you want to undertake for one book?

#2 Your fantasies include book tours, bookstore signings, or seeing your book on the shelf.

That isn’t going to happen with 99.9% of self-published books, except perhaps in your local bookstore with a kind and supportive bookseller. It doesn’t always happen even with traditionally published books.

So if this is what you really want, your best bet is to slog through the traditional publishing process. Revise and polish that novel (or novels, if required), build your platform, network in your genre, get an agent, get a contract, and work like a demon to promote the book so that you can continue writing and publishing that way.

And no, as Jane Friedman has explained quite well, self-publishing is not a shortcut to traditional publishing. Not an easy one, anyway.

#3 Literary status matters to you.

Untitled design-1Maybe you’re secretly competing with that guy in your writing group who got a three-book deal, or maybe you need publications in order to get that teaching job you want, or maybe you just really, really want some official affirmation of your talent. Self-publishing will not serve your purpose. The stigma associated with self-publishing is not as bad it once was, but it’s still there.

If this matters to you, but you’ve had no luck getting published mainstream after a heroic effort, you might find your goals can be met by a university press or well-regarded regional or small press. You won’t always need an agent to sell to them, either. (Some previous literary publications may be required.) Just be careful out there.

#4 You don’t want to give your creation to those blood-sucking “Big Five” publishers and agents.

This is where we find people pointing out that self-publishing pays a higher royalty rate than traditional publishers pay, or asking why they should give an agent 15% of their writing income, or bringing up bad contract clauses.

And some of the people saying these things are published midlist authors and they may have some legitimate complaints, but what you need to remember is that if they were at any time midlist authors they were by definition already doing better than the vast majority of self-published authors will ever do.

Both agents and traditional publishers bring substantial expertise to the publication process. They will usually help you publish a better book than you can publish on your own. An agent will also usually get you better placement and a better advance than you would have gotten on your own.

Second, earning 70% on an eBook is no substitute for a good advance, especially since most self-published eBooks sell fewer than 200 copies. Even with a bad advance, your publisher is better positioned to sell your debut novel successfully than you are. (Remember, advances don’t have to be paid back.)

Publishers make money by putting out a bunch of new books each season, a few of which do very well and keep the lights on, a few more of which do well enough to keep that writer publishing, and a good many of which fail. They try to pick the best bets. It’s a tricky business, with low margins, and the pressure to meet corporate and individual goals doesn’t exactly foster risk-taking. But it’s not, in fact, a conspiracy to defraud authors of all the fruit of their labor (not that this means authors should be willing to put up with some of the more egregious contract terms). Most people go into publishing because they love books.

And only traditional publishers can easily distribute to bookstores, which still drive a lot of the book business. (Bookstores also exist because people love books.)

It’s a no-lose situation, because having a traditionally published book or two to your credit is an advantage if you eventually choose to self-publish. Those traditional titles are a badge that says “This author doesn’t suck.” (Just make sure your contracts don’t bar you from going indie in the future.)

But yes, there are still some GOOD reasons to try self-publishing

Just understand the #1 requirement for all of them:

You are comfortable either doing or supervising every step of the publishing process, from writing to editing, cover design, interior design, proofreading, distribution, sales, promotion, and finance. You have reasonably good knowledge of the genre you are publishing and how readers find and purchase those books online.

Furthermore, if your goal includes making money from it, you must be willing to keep doing it on a steady basis until you have published enough books in the same genre to reach a critical mass and begin to gain some traction in the market place. (This actually applies to traditional publishing, too.)

Beyond that, maybe you fall into these groups:

  • You already have a base of readers who appreciate your work as a consultant or speaker or blogger, and your book will complement that area of expertise and sell alongside it. Ideally, you also already have a nice long list of email subscribers. Furthermore, you couldn’t find a good traditional publisher for this book even with that excellent author platform.
  • You’re passionately writing types of books that traditional publishers have no interest in because the market is too small, or they think it’s too small, but you are certain it could find an audience online. (Think Amish science fiction.)
  • You write for a voracious niche of the eBook market. Furthermore, you write and publish good books fast. Ideally, you write highly addictive series.
  • You have a whole stable of out-of-print traditionally published books you’ve regained control of, and you want to give them a second life as eBooks.
  • You’ve had one or two failed books in traditional publishing and nobody will talk to you anymore, so this is your only option unless you change your name, and you don’t want to change your name.
  • You want to take your time building an audience instead of feeling under pressure to succeed with that first book or two, because you know that if they fail you’re probably done. (Of course, if all your eBooks fail, that won’t help.)
  • You enjoy publishing in itself (I thought this was me, but I no longer fantasize about publishing other people’s work. This is mostly because I’ve discovered I hate accounting. I already put it off until tax time for my own books. That won’t fly if I’m publishing other people.)
  • You don’t have the years that it may take to find an agent, get a sale, and wait for publication. Maybe you’re ninety, or you have a degenerative illness, or your book is extremely topical and truly won’t interest people a year from now. All good reasons to just get it done.
  • You’re more interested in gaining readers than literary status or income, and you won’t fret about your sales rank or compare yourself to other authors. You’re willing to give books away to gain more readers, and even after a bad review or two, you consider it all great fun. (This is what I try for on a daily basis, though I won’t claim to have reached quite this level of Zen contentment yet.)

Your thoughts?

Adventures in Amazon keyword padding

by Sandra Hutchison

Note: The specific keyword examples mentioned in this post are out of date now, because Amazon has changed the way keywords are input (possibly to cope with just this kind of issue). However, you might find it amusing anyway — and I suspect I could have gotten into just the same trouble using the current form. (This is also a reminder, fellow Kindle authors, to check your backlist titles to see what’s going on with the keywords.)

Authors sometimes work very hard to get keywords into their product descriptions on Amazon, but there’s actually a better way to come up in Amazon searches. It’s a technique called keyword padding that I first learned about in this helpful post by David Penny.

But you’d better be careful how you do it. I learned this the hard way.

TheAwfulMess 396 x 612 pixelsMy first novel, “The Awful Mess,” was on sale for a time in August, with a BookBub promo in the UK, Canada, and India and some other support for US and international sales as well. When I found out about keyword padding I thought, “Hey, great! Maybe I can leverage my current rank to capture a few more readers!”

A more cautious soul might suggest that I should enjoy a strong rank for a while without fiddling around.

“The Awful Mess” is in two main fiction categories: contemporary women, and literary. My seven keywords at the time of the promotion were romance, American, general humor, dating and relationships, love story, suspense, divorce.

Divorce isn’t really a strong theme in the novel (unless you count the increasingly  problematic ex-husband), so I replaced that one with a padded keyword:

“progressive Christian novel about an Episcopal or Anglican priest committing adultery in contemporary take on “The Scarlet Letter” set in a small town in New England during the time when openly gay Bishop Robinson was being elected.”

You can have up to 400 characters. What you can’t have is a comma. I could just list terms one after the other, but I’m a writer and English teacher and that felt like cheating, so I wrote it up as a (ridiculously long) keyword phrase instead.

I wanted to get “The Scarlet Letter” in without having to add it to my product description, where it would probably scare away everyone who remembered hating that book in high school. (Although a reviewer or two has noticed and mentioned the correction, that never makes it show up in Amazon searches on “The Scarlet Letter.”) EDIT: Turns out adding another title to your keyword is a violation of KDP policy. I’m not sure why this made it through. It may be because nobody would attach their book to “The Scarlet Letter” and expect to generate significant sales because of it. It’s not like putting in “Harry Potter.”

I wanted “Episcopal or Anglican” because the terms vary in the rest of the world, and the book should interest some folks who like to read fiction about Episcopal/Anglican priests (if they can stand the sex and irreverence — I’m no Jan Karon).

When I first published this book I actually used “Episcopal” as a keyword, but that’s a tiny, tiny market and thus not worth spending a whole keyword on — but here it’s just one of a whole bunch of little niches I can mention. Note also that although I have always had the words “Episcopal priest” in my product description, the book usually would not come up in searches on Amazon for that.

“Bishop Robinson” in that padded keyword phrase is a reference to the heated debate that was going on at the time and place this novel is set. Gene Robinson was the first openly-gay Episcopal priest elected a bishop in the United States — in New Hampshire. Gay rights are a sub-theme of the novel (the hero’s sister is a lesbian in a committed relationship, though her father the Evangelical doesn’t know it … yet).

And the result of this change? About 24 hours later in the UK my novel was immediately ranking in the top 100 for Christian women’s fiction and Gay & Lesbian fiction.

#9 in Christian in the UK

Unfortunately, this book is not what readers would expect in either category. AND these two markets are pretty much mutually exclusive.

In theory, this gave me added visibility. But it didn’t strike me as worth confusing and quite possibly offending my readers. My companions in the Christian women’s fiction category were largely Evangelical, and their readers might have little sympathy for my characters — sinners that they are — or, worse, the suggestion of liberal theology. Not to mention, my main character is an agnostic for 99.9 percent of the book and it’s debatable what exactly she is for the other 0.1 percent.

Meanwhile, someone looking for gay and lesbian fiction to likely to be pretty unexcited by what is predominantly (and pretty clearly described as) a heterosexual love story, though presumably the inclusive theology wouldn’t offend this audience.

Anyway, though it may be coincidental with a natural slide a month after my price promotion, sales that had been percolating along in the UK immediately slid a bit. But on the plus side, my book DID come up when I did a search on “The Scarlet Letter” and on “Episcopal priest fiction.”

I wanted to keep those, so I ran and changed my padded keyword again. I took out “progressive Christian” and “openly gay” and used something like this instead:

Episcopal or Anglican priest committing adultery in contemporary take on “The Scarlet Letter” set in small town New Hampshire in New England at time of election of Gene Robinson.

I decided to stick New Hampshire in there, too, since New England was working, and I used “Gene Robinson” because a search on that at Amazon had turned up a bunch of books that targeted Episcopalians … so why not? Of course, if I had thought the least bit carefully, I might have predicted that this change would result (about twenty-four hours later) in this:

geneticengineeringwtf

Yes, I was now writing science fiction about genetic engineering, thanks to Bishop “Gene” Robinson. And while Bishop Robinson may indeed have caused a revolution, it was not in human genetics.

Oops. Let’s try that again. Today, my seventh keyword reads:

“Episcopal or Anglican priest committing adultery in contemporary version of “The Scarlet Letter” set in a small town New Hampshire or small town New England at time of Bishop Robinson”

That could still use work (it’s clear I was in a bit of a panic when I wrote it). However, the categories are back to what they should be, and the book now come up in searches for “The Scarlet Letter” and “contemporary version of the Scarlet Letter.” It also comes up in searches for “Episcopal priest” and “Anglican priest.” (Faster if you add “adultery.”) It comes up in searches for “small town New England.” (Both novels do, actually.)

So, dear colleagues, I invite you to go for it. But please… be careful out there!

Update October 12: My sales at Amazon slid so abruptly after this post that I became paranoid they didn’t like me writing about keyword stuffing. But it’s probably just coincidental with me pulling back from some day-to-day marketing. So this technique is not a huge instant boon for sales, clearly, but it can help readers who are searching for something very specific find you. I would also think that if you write nonfiction, it might be absolutely invaluable.

Scurrying back into the warm(er) embrace of Kindle Select

That’s what I’m now doing with the second novel. At least for a while, even though my inclination is against exclusivity. What changed my mind about it, at least for this book, was a recent 99-cent promotion of the earlier novel “The Awful Mess” to all the retailers. Along the way I discovered some things that surprised me.

Which retailers give you a better “sales tail”?

For the Canadian market, Kobo supported by BookBub proved a touch stronger than Amazon — but Amazon appeared to reward a strong performance better. I sold 77 copies of “Mess” at Amazon Canada during its recent 99-cent promotion (supported by BookBub to Canada). This landed me — very temporarily, of course — at #1 in literary fiction.

ingoodcompanyincanadaFor days after the promotion, I was still floating near the top. Almost a month later, it has sunk to #28,000 and my discoverability there has pretty much evaporated. But I’m still selling the occasional copy.

On Kobo during that same promotion, I sold a little more — 80+ copies in Canada. But while those sales were being racked up, my sales rank just kept worsening. Since then I’ve sold more — yes, there’s been a bit of a tail, probably from also-bought appearances. I have gotten a couple more ratings to add to what had been the solitary review there. But to this day, my sales rank has only worsened.

It’s as if sales simply don’t matter to Kobo, or maybe sales outside the U.S. don’t matter (one single sale, about a month ago, did suddenly halve my sales rank). I’ve noticed this for months now. And although I did have some promotional support across retailers for a U.S. sale (just not from BookBub), not a single copy sold in the U.S.

The truth is that without actually putting in my name or a title, I can’t browse to my book in the Kobo store no matter how hard I try — during the promotion, after the promotion, privately in the Canadian store, or here in the US store. Furthermore, browsing women’s fiction means plowing through endless public domain versions of the same Jane Austen novels. Who’s going to bother? (This is on my PC. I suppose it may be completely different on a mobile device.)

It didn’t used to be that way. There was a time when selling a few books on Kobo could push me into the Top 100 at least temporarily. People would see the book. It’s almost as if Kobo has redesigned their algorithms to punish promotions, or redesigned their store front to discourage browsing for anything but top titles.

I asked them via Twitter about this. No response. I tried to ask them on my dashboard, even though the character limit there makes it difficult. Also no response. No doubt I could try sending an email, but … meh. Maybe they’ll read this and explain what is going on.

With BookBub support I also sold more than 200 copies in the Amazon UK store, more than double my Canadian sales, although my rank didn’t get quite as impressive. (I sold four copies in the UK via Kobo.) And there have been some continuing sales, as well as a couple of reviews.

003Back home in the U.S. at Amazon.com, where I had some promotional support from eReader News Today, Fussy Librarian and Read Cheaply, I sold just over 160 units during the promotion. Not too exciting at a 35% royalty. However, today, three weeks later, I can do a search for humorous literary women’s fiction with four stars or more (granted, this is fairly specific), and “The Awful Mess” shows up on page two. I’ve also sold copies of my second novel there in the days since, presumably to people who wanted to move on, though it’s impossible to know for sure.

Now, none of this changes my mind about where “The Awful Mess” is — widely available. That’s backlist for me, now, and it does sell here and there without much work on my part.

But that second novel, “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire” has sold exactly one copy at Kobo since I made it available there, despite at least one (non-BookBub) multi-retailer promotion. Last time I tried to follow my link to Ribs at “Nook” it wasn’t even available, for reasons I don’t know (my price promotion at Nook with BookBub didn’t take because they didn’t change the price fast enough.) No doubt it’s possible I screwed something up. But that’s another reason it can be preferable to keep things simple.

At iTunes (via Smashwords, since I don’t own an Apple computer), I saw some nice sales of  “The Awful Mess” during my promotion — over 80 copies sold.  Before the price promotion, I was actually seeing some fairly steady downloads of my free single on iTunes, and usually a few of the people who downloaded the freebie would move on to buying one of the novels. But since the price promotion? Crickets.

I’m probably promoting the freebie less, but clearly there’s no tail from the sales I earned. I don’t shop on iTunes myself, so I don’t know how discoverability works there. From where I sit, though, I’ve not only got none, I’m actually doing worse than I did before the promotion.

And then there’s Google Play. I sold 11 copies during the promotion. Not a single one since. Only one or two before the promotion. (Ever.) However, I spent hours trying to get my price discounted properly for the promotion, and more hours trying to get it back to where it needed to be to prevent price-matching from Kindle.

Which brings me back to Kindle, with its simple and responsive author interface. Sales since the promotion have been fairly steady, if not exciting. I feel I’ve been rewarded for the promotion and ongoing sales with decent discoverability (of course, I also recently discovered I’d left my royalty at 35% by accident, so I suppose they might have been more excited about promoting it because of that.). I feel the kerfuffle over Google Play’s discounting was handled in a friendly manner once I got past the vaguely threatening first warning email.

Unexpected pleasure in Kindle Unlimited

The other thing that attracts me to Kindle Select right now, though, is exactly what drove a lot of folks out of it recently: the joy I’ve taken in watching the occasional Kindle Unlimited reader finally taking on my second novel “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire” from back when it was available that way.

I love watching that blue line. I especially enjoy watching people read the book in two or three days. I  don’t know how that translates into money, but at this point in my career, money is secondary to simply knowing that I’m being read — and, usually, being read all the way through. (As I’ve noted before, I take evil pleasure in holding readers hostage.)

Harnessing the power of free

And, finally, I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that not offering “Ribs” free while I could reduced its sales potential. Going free is still the best promotional tool for an unknown indie author short of a U.S. BookBub price promotion, which I haven’t been able to get.

Granted, my review average is undoubtedly higher now than it will be after going free (you get a few nasty folks who don’t bother to read descriptions during free days, perhaps because they enjoy being outraged). But that’s just the price I’ll have to pay. This title hasn’t had a chance to really catch on the way it might if thousands and thousands of people download it and at least a chunk of those people actually read it.

That’s assuming I can make that happen. I still don’t expect it to do as well as the first book did. It’s gotten a lot tougher out there, by all accounts. This book is less of a crowd pleaser, though some readers think it’s better (I include myself in that). But I’ll never really know until I give it a try. So,although I’m still a bit wary, I’ll be setting up a free promotion eventually, and the only easy way to set that up is through Kindle Select.

In the meantime, going to Kindle Select also lessens my product management duties and simplifies my marketing.

Now, ALL of this promotional effort is still a bit premature in the sense that I only have two novels and the third isn’t ready for pre-order yet. If you really want your promotions to work for you, you need a stable full of books that can sell along with whatever you’re promoting. But letting the few you have put out sink into oblivion doesn’t make it any easier to resuscitate them when the time comes.

So I’ll work with what I have. And at this point, Kindle Select simply looks like the best deal for a title that hasn’t found its legs yet. What do you think? Does your own recent experience match this, or vary from it?