OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
In today's show, I tackle more of your questions from The Creative Penn survey about self-publishing and marketing. The last Q&A show was one of the most popular of the podcast, so I hope you enjoy this one too.
In the intro, I mention that I visited Highgate Cemetery yesterday and if you're a fellow taphophile, you can see my pics on Pinterest here. I also mention the ups and downs of Amazon this week, with Joe Konrath and Hugh Howey both singing the praises of KDP Select, while a report on working conditions in the New York Times has been getting a lot of negative press.
This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
In the Q&A section, I go through:
- Book translations, foreign rights sales and audio books. Here's my roundup of translation posts.
- Getting into libraries and the advantages / disadvantages of KDP select. Here's the Alliance of Independent Authors' guide to libraries.
- Draft2Digital and Smashwords and the different sites they distribute your book to.
- Paid advertising, hiring help for all that indie publishing entails, and the motivation behind being an indie author.
- The different lengths of novels and novellas and the distinction between book series and serials and Wattpad's model for serialized book releases.
- The different audiences for print and eBooks.
- Blogging and ISBNs and whether they're necessary for a writing career.
- On the advisability of crowdfunding for authors and the motivations for marketing your books.
- Getting traffic to a website without a platform and the reasons for that traffic.
- The hard work of being an indie author and the choices we make about what we want to do with our time.
Joanna: Today we are doing a Q&A session and I have again picked a whole load of questions, mainly on self publishing and marketing from the survey I did a few months back. I still have 2,000 questions to get through but I'm going to go through a number today. I picked a random selection. So first of all:
“Can you give us an update on translations and foreign rights sales as well as audio books? What do you suggest for newer people without any money to invest and who don't have agents?”
I have been planning a blog page on translations for ages and ages but I just haven't gotten around to it. The main reason I haven't gotten around to it is because it's been super disappointing.
What's so interesting is if your question was, “What do I do, I only have one book.” Of course the answer these days is write another book and another book and don't really stop marketing until you have three books because its very difficult to market with one book. And of course what's happened is I've ended up with one book in Spanish, one book in Italian, one book in each series in German and surprisingly none of them have sold very well, or unsurprisingly I suppose.
It's very difficult to market when it's not your own language.
I know some people are using Babelcube but I have my reservations with that because of the various rights issues and the quality of the translators. Obviously most people don't have an agent for foreign rights, and I must say I do have an agent for foreign rights but I haven't sold any yet.
I feel that where we are with translation and self-publishing is it's way too early.
Most other countries in the world are not a mature eBook market yet. I mean even Germany, which is the next top of the rank as such, is at 2%. It's probably more in romance and there are some romance authors who are making money in German. Tina Folsom is probably the most obvious but she is German so she writes her books first of all in English and then in German.
I would say if you are not somebody who has a massive backlist, and money to invest, don't even bother with translations and don't worry about foreign rights, just leave that aside for later. That certainly what I'm doing now. I do have one more book that's under contract, or two actually. I have a French non-fiction and a Spanish fiction. But again I'm not expecting to make mega bucks or perhaps any bucks.
I wouldn't bother with translation unless you have a big portfolio and money to invest.
Audio books are another issue and I've done a lot of sessions on audio books so I'm not going to go into them in detail now except to say if you have three books in a series in a genre that sells well it's definitely worth doing audio.
“How do you get into libraries without sacrificing a ram, a goat, a duck or a virgin?”
I wouldn't suggest you sacrifice any of those and I don't think a duck is that much use anyway 🙂
But getting into libraries: there's a couple of ways. First of all there is a really good blog page called eBook Library Services for Authors and Alliance of Independent Authors Report published on July 23, 2015 on Selfpublishingadvice.org which is from the Alliance of Independent Authors and they actually go through some of the options for getting Indie authors into eBooks into libraries.
The three options for eBooks in libraries are Overdrive, and you can get into Overdrive through Smashwords, which is one of the reasons I'm on Smashwords. However I haven't sold any books to libraries on Overdrive.
Library Self-e and eBooksareforever, which is Joe Konrath's new service, is aiming to provide eBooks to libraries. eBooksareforever was started by Konrath and August Wainwright. Again I haven't sold anything there but I'm quite happy that they have a longer term plan but they don't take everyone. eBooksareforever they are taking people with bigger backlists, because obviously libraries want more than just individual books.
Have a look at those three options, eBooksAreForever, Self-e and Overdrive. I know there have been a few comments around Self-e because of their affiliation with Library Journal which also has affiliations with Author Solutions. But there you go. Have a look at that.
The other thing with libraries is if you are on IngramSpark then you can get into library catalogs and also CreateSpace you can as well. The word on the street is that if you are with IngramSpark it's more likely that you're going to get into libraries. I don't know. I think some of these things are unknown.
The main thing is with libraries is your own contacts and I know authors who have developed relationships with libraries. So just start, and librarians have networks so go to your local library, especially if you're a kids author. Do some readings, donate some books, do events in your local library, get to know the librarians and then ask them how do I get my books further into libraries.
“Should new authors use KDP Select?” “When should you go wide to other retailers?” “Which companies are the best for first time authors and when should you use Draft2Digital or Smashwords instead of going direct?”
Quite a few related questions there. I personally I have KDP Select for a few of my books, my translations and my career change book. For any standalone book I'm using KDP Select and that would be my advice to you as well. If you have individual stand alone books that are not related to other books then KDP Select is great. I mean if you're new as well. So say if you have one book, just one book then yes, why not use KDP Select.
I think probably up until you have three books in a series KDP Select is probably a good idea because you get the benefits of the free books, you can do price things easily and you can start to build up an audience and you can get some money. Anybody with fewer than three books like my dad who only has one book. We just stuck him in KDP Select.
I think the other stores like iBooks, Kobo, Nook work much better when you have more books and you can put the first in the series as a Perma-free. That's much more sensible. I definitely think that if you want to do this for a living and you're taking your book sales very seriously then you should definitely go wide but it does take time to grow an audience at Kobo, at iBooks, Nook and the other places.
I would say that on an international level and looking forward five years, I'm personally always thinking about the future, and Amazon doesn't own the other countries in the world. They definitely own the mature markets of the U.S. and pretty much the U.K. but ibooks also. I wouldn't do that with my Kobo money and my iBooks money and Nook, who recently pulled out of the international markets I'm not so pleased with Nook. But it's still got to be there because there are customers there.
So yes, I do think new authors should use KDP Select and you should go wide when you have more than three, preferably in a series, then Draft2Digigal and or Smashwords.
Smashwords and Draft2Digital actually distribute to different companies. They do have some overlap. At the moment Smashwords does Overdrive for example. You can use either of them for all the services. You can get through iBooks, Nook, Kobo, etc., through Draft2Digital or Smashwords. I personally use both of them and for different things. So Smashwords for Overdrive, I use Draft2Digital now for Nook because Nook Press is a pain in the neck. I know people who don't have a Mac should use Draft2Digital for iBooks. It's also really easy interface so if you just like, “I just don't want to go on these different sites,” then use Draft2Digital, it's super easy.
I go direct to Amazon KDP, I go direct to Kobo Writing Life, I go direct to iBooks and then I use Draft2Digital for Nook and some other things and Smashwords for Overdrive.
“When should you use paid advertising like BookBub or Facebook advertising?”
I do believe that paid advertising is really an important part of a marketing strategy, but the thing to remember is that it only lasts as long as you pay. So you really do need a strategy in place.
Again, what's the point in using paid advertising if you only have one book? Because all that's going to happen is the only thing they can buy is one book. So the main thing I think with paid advertising is you have to consider what is your strategy. Say for example, I do BookBub for my first in series so Stone Of Fire, permanently free. I do a BookBub free promotion every time I can which is like every six months. I am using Facebook advertising for a box set. I'm currently using it, as this goes out, for a German book.
Now I do only have one book, well I actually have two books. I have Pentecost in German and also Desecration. But because I went with a traditional publisher in Germany for that book, the publisher is doing a promotion push so I said I would join in with that as well. I'm doing a couple of days of Facebook advertising that.
Generally I would say that it's well worth paying if you have more in the series.
So if say 15,000 people download my free Stone of Fire then maybe a thousand of them will go on and buy the next book in the series after a while. It's difficult to see how many people actually go on unless you use all kinds of hotlinks and track them and I don't really do that. I definitely think that paid advertising has its place but it is a spike marketing approach and runs out pretty quickly.
I recently did a BookBub on Desecration in English as I released the third in that series. I did get a nice spike. I made it up to Number 7 in Crime in the U.K. which is good, and in the top, Number 1 in Psychics above Steven King in the U.S. and that was great for a day. The important thing when you do these is to take screen prints, so I got hold of screen prints and that's good and then the book drops out again. So yeah, it's worth doing but have a strategy.
“When should hire people and when should I do it myself?”
This is a good question. I don't call myself a self-published author anymore. I don't like the term self-publishing because I actually have 11 people that I pay to do things. And please, obviously as contractors just for job by job at different editors. I have three different editors. I have a cover designer obviously a technical person. I have a bookkeeper, accountant all those different things. So in terms of when should you hire people there are two things.
One if you are not good at it yourself, and I really do believe that the first two people you should be hiring for the project are an editor and a cover designer. I really think that most people, well 100% I would say, you cannot edit your own work. You can self-edit to a point but then you won't be able to see the problems anymore. Certainly in terms of bang for your buck, I've found that having a good editor is well worth the money. And I have a list at thecreativepenn.com/editors. There's a whole list there.
Then cover designers definitely. I did my first few books way back in 2007, 2007, 2008 I did my own covers and they are terrible. I would say book cover design is super important. It's also marketing so think of that as your marketing budget.
And you can get really reasonable covers. You can do them for free but definitely do a tutorial. There is a tutorial on my site as well as a list of cover designers and that's at thecreativepenn.com/bookcoverdesign.
Then in terms of when should you do it yourself, if you are willing to learn and if you can do a capable job. Say, for example, I do my eBook formatting myself. I hire out my print book formatting because I'm just not good at it so I'd rather pay than go through the pain. So it's kind of like do you want to spare yourself some pain, so that's important.
The other thing is a bookkeeper. For example, if you have enough of a business that you have receipts piling up everywhere and its becoming difficult to track, hiring a bookkeeper was for me very liberating and its really very reasonable. I use Gumtree or you can use Craig's List to find a bookkeeper and she only comes for like three hours every quarter and does all my paper work and its well worth the money.
So a combination of when you're not good at things, when you really need things, and when it lessens pain for you.
“What was the deciding factor for you in becoming an Indie author? Would you take a book deal?”
Good question and it's so funny because it all seems so long ago now. Basically I guess I've always been a businesswoman. I've run my own businesses before. I started looking at writing a book and I wrote my first book, which was called How to Enjoy Your Job or Get a New One which was the precursor to what is now Career Change, and I wrote that book and then I actually did send one query to an agent in Australia where I was living at the time.
This was way back in 2007 and I got like a one liner back which was something like, “Not for us”. It was literally a one liner and I took one look at it and went, “This is crazy. I'm not going to have somebody say no to me”. It really offended me that somebody was treating me like that. I mean it was a really curt email. And I was like, “What? That's crazy.”
I'm very much a believer in empowerment and taking control and action and you know I've started businesses before. I was a highly paid business consultant at the time, and I was like, “I can do this myself,” so I looked into self publishing at that point and went through . . . all of this was before Kindle and so I did a print run, made all the mistakes you make and later on discovered the Kindle.
The deciding factor in becoming an Indie author was the sense the need for positive forward movement and the empowerment of doing it myself, of learning the business of the business side.
I mean when I found out how much royalty you get as a traditionally published author I was just appalled. I was just like, “What? That's crazy.”
For Amazon and Kobo and iBooks and all of that you get 70% and most traditionally published authors will get 10 to 15%. I think the main factor is essentially that I'm a businesswoman and believe in empowerment and I found the whole traditional publishing merry-go-round to be incredibly dis-empowering and I wasn't going for that kind of negative energy.
As for whether I would take a book deal: I mentioned I do have a German licensing deal. It's not like a big traditional book deal but I'm fine and happy with them because they're a German company and they can do better marketing than me. I did take that but it's on a 3-year license so that's pretty good, so I can get the rights back in three years.
I think absolutely I would take a book deal if it suited what I wanted to achieve.
Say for example I am considering doing a non-fiction book proposal for 2016 which would be for a traditional publisher because you can get better speaking opportunities with a traditionally published book. So that would be one reason, like a me using them as opposed to the other way around.
I wouldn't take a deal that didn't give me some things that I wanted I suppose. I might take a book deal for fiction because it might market my self-published books for example. So never say never for sure. If someone offered me a very good deal I would most likely take it. After all, I can write a book pretty quickly these days so I don't think it's the end of the world to take one or not to take one but I'm very happy. I'm very happy Indie 🙂
“What is the sweet spot for length in terms of novella, novel and non-fiction?”
It depends on your genre. For example, a full-length romance novel will be around 50,000, 60,000 words which is quite short. A full-length fantasy novel might be a 100,000, 120,000.
The length of a novel will depend on your reader's expectation. A novella is what usually is between a short story and a novel. My novellas are around 25,000 to 35,000 words, which is quite cool really.
And for my non-fiction books, a full-length, non-fiction that you would see in a book store would probably be around 60,000 to 70,000 words. But do remember that the main thing is to give value to your audience. So for example if you put a short story up at the price of $5.99 U.S. Dollars nobody's going to buy that, and if they do buy it they'll be disappointed. If you put a 120,000 word fantasy novel up for $5.99 that seems like a good deal. I think in terms of length think about your genre, think about the value you're giving. So for example I price my novellas at U.S. $2.99 and my full-length novels at $4.99, so for me that's good value.
“What's the difference between a serial and a series?”
To me a serial is novellas, so let's say five novellas or seven novellas in a serial, which are regularly released and they tell a story across the episodes. So say the seven individual books in the serial group, each of those episodes would not round out the whole story. You would need to read all of the serials to get an end-to-end story.
For me a series is made up of a number of say novels and novellas, like mine. My Arcane series has four full-length novels, three novellas. Each book is stand alone so you can read an individual book in a series and you will get a whole story, or you can read all the books in the series and there's those kind of things that carry on but essentially you can read each individual one and it will still have a nice rounded ending.
I don't like reading serials because I want an ending. So if I put down a serial episode I'm like, “Okay, that hasn't ended properly, there's all these cliff hangers.” So again it really depends. Wattpad is doing really well with serial writing, people putting up really short chapters and that's kind of a serial. Have a look at Wattpad. I think they have a good model for that.
“Is it worth bothering with print and eBooks?”
If you're not bothering with print OR eBooks, then maybe you're just doing audio books. I do get emails from people who only have print and I get emails from people who only have eBooks.
I think the main thing is that there are different audiences for print and for eBooks. And I, for example, only read pretty much, well 99.9999%, now I read digitally on my Kindle. I do not want your print book, whereas I know people who will only read print books.
If you have both then you can appeal to both markets. I would say that having done my income numbers recently that I think its 96% or something of my income is eBook. If you are only doing print you're missing out on a big market. And Indies certainly make the bulk of their money with eBooks.
Definitely it is worth doing eBooks and I certainly think it's worth doing print.
I mean it barely costs you very much money, a couple of hundred dollars for a cover and you can format it yourself if you use CreateSpace or IngramSpark, it's not a big deal, and then you've got a print on demand book. It also looks good on your Amazon page to have a comparison price. So if you've got a print book that's $12.99 and your eBook is say $4.99 it says, “You will save $7.00,” and that makes it look like a better deal. Personally I do print and eBooks for all my books and even the novellas I have print. They're quite small but they're quite cute too.
A kind of related question:
“Do you really need an ISBN? Do you have to start a company to self publish and use an imprint name?”
You definitely don't need a company or to incorporate or anything like that to self publish.
You can use an imprint name if you'd like without having a company. You could use Wild Rose Romance or something as an imprint name without having that as a company. I believe in the U.S. you can even set up bank accounts and do these things with like a trading as name and a checking account. Helen Sedwick, we had an interview on the show a few months back. I'll put a link to that in the show notes, but Helen Sedwick has a great book on legal issues for self publishing. So that would all be in there.
In terms of ISBN this is a matter of opinion and one that I find quite funny. Yes, you really do need an ISBN if you are serious about getting your book into physical book stores. That is the thing that they use to order things and I suggest you don't use a free one. If you want to use IngramSpark to get into bookstores and libraries then yes, buy your own ISBNs. If you are living in a country where ISBNs are free like Canada, then yes, get an ISBN.
But do you need an ISBN? No, you don't.
I don't use ISBNs for any of my publishing. You do not need an ISBN to publish on any of the stores. And for CreateSpace I use a free CreateSpace ISBN and I really don't think that customers shop by publisher so I don't really care that it says CreateSpace on my publishing name. It doesn't affect my copyright. I still own the book and I don't see the point in paying x amount of money, and it's not that cheap in Britain or America to get an ISBN.
I also haven't heard of any evidence that demonstrates that an ISBN will make you more money than if you self publish without one.
I'm doing quite well without using ISBNs, but then as I said my business model is not around physical book stores and libraries. You have to make the decision and certainly the Alliance For Independent Authors and my very good friend, Orna Ross recommend that Indies do use ISBNs. As I said I don't. I know Hugh Howey also is not that enamored with them and there have been comments about the mean sort of legacy dinosaur things from back in the day when people couldn't track things. So it's not something that I use, not something that is necessary, but you have to decide for yourself based on your business model.
“Do I need to blog?”
No, is the short answer. No, you don't need to blog.
Again this will come down to your business model. If you write fiction then blogging is entirely not necessarily. You can use your word count to write more books. If you want to blog, there's a difference between need to blog and want to blog. I think as writers, I mean I love blogging. Blogging changed my life. It helped me find my voice. It helped me find a community. It helped me help people, but on my fiction site, JFPenn.com I really don't blog. For fiction I definitely don't think its necessary. It won't necessarily build you an audience for your fiction.
For non-fiction it can be very useful for getting search engine optimization to your site, for building authority, for getting speaking, for building an audience.
Certainly I think you can build a business around a blog as I have at thecreativepenn, as Joel Friedlander has at thebookdesigner.com. But you will see, for example, that Joel's site, thebookdesigner, makes money through sales of product and not really books. So you have to consider again what your business model. Are you blogging for a particular reason? To bring people to your site in order to build up a reputation? And if you're doing that are you sharing the type of stuff that will enable you to do that?
Obviously you can also podcast, do videos, there are other ways of doing content marketing. I think the word blog is difficult now. The phrase content marketing is used a lot more now.
Text blogging, it's very hard to stand out but still people are doing it. You have to decide what your business model is. I certainly think that I don't really do guest blogging for other sites. I don't find it the best use of my time. I do podcasts with other sites, I do find that useful as a way of getting traffic. But yeah, if I was starting again now purely writing fiction I would not blog. As a non-fiction author if I was starting again now I would and I would also podcast as I do. So I hope that helps.
“When should you use Crowdfunding for editing and for your books?”
My personal opinion is that I think Crowdfunding should be used very, very rarely. If you have an audience already then yes, use Crowdfunding for a special project. So my friend Orna Ross did a beautiful hard back special edition for Yeats' anniversary of her Secret Rose and The Secret Rose and this was a big project. Very special like a once in a lifetime type of thing and she used Crowdfunding for that and that's a good idea. It's a special project, she already has an audience and that's good. I know also Ben Galley who's done stuff for graphic novels.
You can use Crowdfunding for special projects. I wouldn't ever recommend to use it for your first book or for editing, or for basic things that you should do as part of publishing. It should be a special occasion. I haven't used Crowdfunding yet for that reason. I think it has to be a real commitment and also you get a load of bosses and I'm not very good with bosses. If you get 200 people who've paid you money to deliver a product then you really have to deliver that product. What if you change your mind?
Be very careful with Crowdfunding. I think it became a bit trendy but certainly there are pitfalls. There's a really good post that Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt did on Copyblogger about the things they learned doing KickStarter. I will link to that on show notes. It is a good thing to read. So there are a lot of cautionary tales out there around Crowdfunding so just be careful.
This is a question I get quite a lot:
“I just want to write. I don't want to be a sales person or learn about marketing.”
Well, it's kind of not a question its almost a statement. So I would say, fair enough. That's actually fine. If you just want to write and you don't want to learn marketing and you don't want to sell then just write. I mean I think what's happened is that people are writing for the love of it as they always have, and then they're assuming that they're going to make money. See that's not how it works.
If you're writing for the love of writing don't expect to make money.
Just like if you write poetry, write poetry, don't expect to make a living from it. That's not how it works.
If you want to make money from writing and you judge your success by sales or income, then you have to write books that people will read, you have to learn about marketing, you have to learn how to sell. Only you can decide what your definition of success is. If your definition of success is, “I've written a book,” then go ahead and write the book and just write. If your definition of success is $50,000 a year, $100,000 then you have to measure your sales, you have to care about marketing. So yeah, if you just want to write then go ahead.
“What's the quickest way to get traffic to your website if you haven't built up a platform?”
My main question here is why do you want to get traffic to your website?
Because people kind of have jumped the why question. So what is on your website that you want people to do? Do you want them to sign up for your email list? In which case following the advice of Nick Stevenson is a good one, which is have a free book that directs people to your website where they can get another free book and in exchange for their email list and then talk to them once you've got their email. So putting a free book out and doing a BookBub is probably the quickest way to get traffic to your website. If you have a free book available and a free book on your website it works very well.
But what is your aim then once you get them to your website? Are you writing non-fiction, you're going to sell them a course? Why do you want people there? If you want people to buy your books then you should be thinking about, “Well, where are my books sold,” and what is the way to get traffic to the website where the books are sold. So again really think about what is your aim.
Another really quick way to get traffic is to pay for it.
If you have more money than time then buy Facebook ads or Google ads, or YouTube ads or whatever else. Buying traffic is the quickest way to do anything but for most authors listening money is the thing in short supply and time is the thing that you might have more of. Personally most of my traffic comes from search engine and it's just based on the fact that I've been putting up content for nearly seven years. December 2008 I first started my site thecreativepenn. So that does take awhile.
First of all look at why do you want people to come to your site and what is it you want them to do there and then consider what to do next.
“Being an Indie author sounds like hard work. Is it?”
I like this question a lot because there are a couple of answers. The obvious one is yes, it is hard work. But the second part of that is we all have to work and it depends what you want to work at.
I used to have a job that I hated. I would cry at lunch time. I would call my husband and cry because I was so miserable. I was working really hard then at something I didn't enjoy and I felt was pointless. And when I look back at it I'm like, “What did I achieve in 13 years of being a business consultant?” I achieved money that paid for me to live. I didn't achieve anything else.
Whereas now I work really hard, what I achieve is money to live on, yes, but I also have a shelf next to me with my books on it, so I actually have something to show for my time, which for me is well worth it. I also love what I do so I work really hard.
I work much harder than I did when I had a day job but I love it.
So the word work is difficult. I don't have any work/life balance. I don't need it because I think you only talk about work/life balance when you really don't like what you do. Whereas if you love what you do like I do – writing and this whole thing is my passion as well as my job as well as my hobby and my social life and everything. So yes, it's hard work but it's the best work ever.
For me the question is whether it's what you want to do with your time. I guess the bigger question should be, “Is it worth it?” And that's a question only you can answer. For me it's definitely worth it and I love this Indie life for sure.
Okay, so thanks for all the questions and I'll be back next week.