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

 

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?

Goodbye, ABNA. Hello, Kindle Scout. (For some.)

As I wrote last year after my own experience with it, I thought Amazon Publishing’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award was a brilliant way for them to acquire new authors of quality work, usually without the fuss of agents, while building engagement among its self-published authors and readers.

But last year, it turns out, was the final year for ABNA. This January Amazon announced that it has essentially replaced it with Kindle Scout, an ongoing submission process in which authors can put up their books in pursuit of a contract with Kindle Publishing.

How it works

Kindle Scout How It Works -- Amazon illustration

Illustration from Amazon’s Kindle Scout “How It Works” page

Authors upload a copyedited Word manuscript, a short blurb, a description, a cover, and a bio plus author photo, and try to get readers to nominate their book for publication.Those who generate enough buzz to get noticed and meet Kindle Publishing’s editorial requirements might just be accepted for publication with a small advance and what I would consider reasonable contract terms for authors who don’t mind being exclusive to Kindle.

Kindle Scout appears to be a similar to ABNA in that it forces authors to pursue social engagement. It’s also much faster than ABNA — in thirty days, a work has either made it or not (though it may take a little longer to get the final word, and then it goes into production). Certainly, it’s a route to publication that is much faster than a search for an agent and traditional publication.

There’s also an incentive for readers to check those books out — they get the book free if a book they nominated is accepted for publication.

Those are all good things.

But I’ve also seen ABNA fans complaining about some big changes:

  • Books cannot have been published at all before, not even self-pubbed, except in avenues where no money is being earned. ABNA was awash in already self-published books (including mine and the one that beat mine and the three other semifinalists in General Fiction last year).
  • The only genres welcome are romance, mystery/thriller/suspense, and science fiction/fantasy. (Edit in May of 2015: Amazon has added “literature and fiction,” which includes contemporary fiction, action and adventure, and historical fiction)
  • Authors must have US social security numbers or tax ID numbers. So most foreign writers need not apply. (Edit: But I’m told there are ways to work around this.)
  • There’s no formal set of feedback on the excerpt for those who make the first cut, and no Publishers Weekly review of the whole manuscript for quarter finalists (not that this was ever quite as exciting as it sounded).
  • There’s no official social component for contestants who want to discuss the process with each other, though I’m sure authors will find other ways to discuss and collaborate.
  • It’s not obvious how any given book is doing, unless it makes it to the “hot and trending” list. There’s a definite limit to how much you can flog a book to your friends and family, so authors with an existing readership are at a distinct advantage — surely a benefit to Amazon.
  • Authors take on all the cost and risk of cover design, while Amazon gets to sit back and see what works. Most submissions I see appear to have professionally designed covers, so people are obviously investing in this. (Of course, that means  they’ll also be all set to publish whether they win a contract or not.)
  • Quite a few authors say they will miss the motivation of the yearly deadline for ABNA. Kindle Scout is a rolling process you can begin at any time.

I suppose there may also be some ineffable damage done to an author’s relationship with her local bookstore or potential future agent or editor if she were to be published exclusively by Amazon, but ABNA and Kindle Select are just the same in that. (I also suspect all parties concerned would quickly get past that if they thought there was money to be made.)

I left Kindle Select with the first novel last spring and haven’t regretted it. While I haven’t exactly burned down the town at the other retailers, my last 99-cent promotion did bring in some very nice extra crash from Nook and iTunes (especially Nook), making the advertising investments that much more profitable (especially since BookBub and Fussy Librarian carry all the links, not just Kindle). And I feel a bit less vulnerable to sudden changes like the advent of Kindle Unlimited, which has impacted the income of many indie authors.

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

Currently in Kindle Select, with a promotion coming later this month.

I do still have the second novel in Kindle Select to begin with because I still think it’s the best tool to get this book discovered and reviewed. I’ll be able to judge whether I was correct about that by next month (assuming it’s a title that can gain any momentum at all), but in the meantime I’m just working on another book. As most successful authors will say, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time and money on promotion until you have enough titles out that they can cross-sell each other.

If you have other wisdom or opinions on ABNA or Kindle Scout, feel free to comment!

Which reminds me: A fellow author I respect recently told me I’m making a big mistake associating myself so clearly with self-publishing when my stuff could pass as professionally published. I told him I would miss the interaction with other self-published authors far too much to try to pretend I wasn’t indie. (Also, I told him I just can’t keep my big mouth shut. I fear this may be the one big thing I have in common with all my heroines so far.)

Happy publishing, however you get it done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Awful Mess is an ABNA quarter-finalist…

… which means … what?

So far, not much. I peek in at the discussions every once in a while to see if there’s something I’m missing about this process, but apparently nothing much has happened yet.

I’m trying to mostly ignore it. I didn’t enter this contest because I expected to win. “General Fiction” is such a broad category, it could go in any direction. And I am quite sure that my women’s fiction is likely to be regarded as “light” if it goes up against a compelling, manly sort of novel. It’s not terribly literary, it has Christian themes but can’t sell to the traditional Christian audience, and at least a few people would call it a romance. This is not the stuff of contest winning.

I DID want to win the free Publisher’s Weekly review, however, and that I have done.

Of course, I’ve since learned that “Publisher’s Weekly review” is a bit of an overstatement. Apparently these PW reviews are by freelancers who are not the usual PW writers, and they are being paid about $40 a pop to work their way through their assigned titles. At that rate of pay, it’s perhaps not surprising that they sometimes get a little snide. They’re earning even less per hour than I do as an adjunct.

And, alas, I think this also means that it’s unlikely the review will ever actually show up in Publisher’s Weekly.

There might also have been some business risk in doing this. Here’s someone who says that her product description for her self-published title got hijacked by Amazon’s free sample download, ruining her sales while the confusion existed.

I’m not going to freak out if that happens to me, though I think it means I’ll have to postpone some planned promotions (thankfully not scheduled yet). I just enjoyed a nice little burst of sales with the last Kindle Countdown Deal, and I’m currently in that steady drift back down to ignominy that I’ve learned to expect. But I’m not complaining. I tallied up my numbers recently and I’ve sold over 1,200 copies (and have given away over 50,000) since the book came out in June. That’s really not too shabby a reach for an indie debut.

So, if my current Amazon product page gets hijacked for the purposes of the contest for a while, it’s just not that big a deal.

Of course, the contest rules appeared to discourage sex scenes, so my actual book and the contest entry vary in that regard. If that becomes problematic, it’s possible that I’ve found an exciting new way to mess things up.

The next round of five titles for each genre will be chosen in June. I’ll let you know if by some wild stroke of luck I make it into that round. There are also rumors that one needs to have a social media push for support at this stage, but I don’t quite understand why yet. If I ever figure it out, I’ll let you know.

If you want to see the list of quarter-finalists for each genre, it’s here, alphabetized by author’s first name.