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If you want to build a long-term career as an author, you need to grow your readership on multiple platforms, with multiple quality products. Today, superstar indie author Liliana Hart shares her experiences and tips.
[To clarify, this is a discussion between two authors with a lot of books who both make a full-time living writing. If you're a new author or have fewer than 3 books, here are the pros and cons of exclusivity. And here are my recommendations for a first time author. Both of these do suggest going KDP Select if you are just starting out.]
In the intro, I talk about the latest Author Earnings report which shows that indie books now make up 42% of all Kindle books bought on Amazon. Many of those don't have ISBNs (including mine) so are not counted in the publishing industry reports showing a flat or declining digital market.
I also mention the article from a Huffington Post author this week urging self-published authors not to put out 4 books a year. This sparked a whole load of witty rebuttals, including this one from Larry Correia. I would add that, as independent creatives, we can do what we want, so listen to this interview with Liliana and then decide what your own definition of success is. Then go write 🙂
Plus, last call for the free webinar on Using Scrivener to write, organize and publish your books with Joseph Michael, the Scrivener Coach. Join us live on Thurs 24 Sept at 3pm US Eastern, 8pm London or you can also register to get the recording.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Liliana Hart is a New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling romantic suspense and mystery author of over 40 books.
She's also an entrepreneur, running the SilverHart author resources site as well as SWAT Academy and Camps for authors with her husband, former Chief of Police Scott Silverii.
- Liliana's writing and publishing history, including loads of rejection and experiences of not being able to fit into a common marketing slot with traditional publishers.
- The changes Liliana has seen each year in the indie publishing world, the lure of KU, and why thinking like a business is the best long-term strategy.
- The advantages of iBooks, including pre-orders, giveaway codes and reviews, as well as comments on audiobooks on iTunes.
- ACX and the disadvantages of royalty splitting.
- The future in publishing and why it matters to pay attention to the business side of publishing, including contracts with translation companies, for example.
- Liliana's writing resource site that provides information for those writers doing research about public safety professionals (police, fire fighters etc.).
- Work-life balance and juggling a writing career with raising children.
- Why obstacles will always exist and how those who are successful in business get around them.
You can find Liliana's books at all online stores and at LilianaHart.com. Her new site for writers is at SilverHartWriters.com
Transcription of the interview with Liliana Hart
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I'm here with Liliana Hart. Hi, Liliana.
Liliana: Hello, how are you?
Joanna: Oh, I'm good. It's so good to have you on the show, but just a little introduction for anyone who doesn't know you. Liliana is a New York Times, USA TODAY, and Publishers Weekly best-selling romantic, suspense, and mystery author of over 40 books. She's also an entrepreneur running the Silver Hart author resources site with her husband, chief of police, Scott Silverii, which is just brilliant.
So Liliana, look, you're a mega star Indie. You've sold over 3 million books. You've made all these best seller lists and you're incredibly successful. But it wasn't always this way, was it?
Joanna: Maybe you could just take us a step back, tell us how you got into writing, self-publishing. So back where a lot of people listening are today.
Liliana: Yeah, I hear that a lot. Overnight success and I'm like, “Well, I've been writing for 17 years and only the last four of them have been successful.”
I started writing, I actually completed several novels. I landed an agent. Actually, after my first novel, I landed my first agent, and I have the, well, knock on wood, but I don't have all of the best agent luck. So my first agent, books went out on submission, and then almost immediately pulled because she had to close her business because her husband got sick with cancer. So those books came back in.
And then second agent, I had written another book. And then she got pregnant, went on maternity leave and she decided not to come back. And then my third agent…and I had more books by that time. And actually it was my third agent, that was right at 2010. And in 2010, just publishing was just in the toilet. Nobody was buying anything, there was really a freeze on everything. And she was really the one that mentioned to me, “Why don't you self-publish?” And she was a good agent and she had a lot of huge authors.
I started self-publishing during her time and actually ended up parting ways on good terms, but it was just, I kept saying, “Something big is about to happen. I can feel it. Things are about to happen.” And so I left and actually it was a week later that I hit the New York Times list for the first time. And then…I'm still with my current agent, I've been with him a couple of years, and it's not been just overnight success.
It's been a lot of hard work and a lot of hours and a lot of books written, a lot of words on the page, and a lot of wanting to quit but not quitting.
So the first, like I said, 17 years that's a long time and the first 13 of those were rejection…hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of rejections. I actually had four different books, Addison Holmes is one of them. J.J. Graves is one of those first books, and they were acquired by editors from different houses. “We want to buy this book,” and then when it got to marketing, marketing said, “We can't shelve this anywhere. We can't shelf it in mystery. We can't shelve it in romance. It's too much of both.” And so that happened four times to me. A book acquired, an editor loved it, and then it got to marketing, and then it got shot down. And so about the fourth time that happened I was like, “Okay, I can't.”
You just get to that point where you're like, “I can't take it anymore. When is this going to happen?”
And it turned out that having that kind of cross-genre appeal is really what helped with self-publishing I think, because readers don't like to be told that they can only have this in mystery and only this in romance. They like the cross-genre appeal.
Joanna: So what do you use an agent for now? Because you self-publish all your books yourself right now.
Liliana: I do, yes. Right now he does all foreign stuff for me. Just with traditional publishers, and he does any film, things like that. And I do get offers from big houses occasionally. So he filters all that and comes to me with whatever information he has to come with.
Joanna: So I think it's really important for people to know how long your journey is, but also then everything took off for you.
Liliana: It did.
Joanna: And we're going to come back to that in a minute. But ThrillerFest, we met earlier this year at ThrillerFest and you mentioned that you are against exclusivity and one of the things that many people are doing right now, of course, is pulling off going back to KDP Select, they take you over the world.
Many people think you can only make money in KDP Select. Why are you so into non-exclusivity?
Liliana: First of all, because this is not a flash in the pan career. It is for some people, it's a hobby and they're looking to make that quick money.
I spent that long going through rejection after rejection, and those were the people that are looking for careers. I'm not looking at tomorrow. I'm looking 5 years from now and 10 years from now, and where are the markets going to be, where I'm going to be, where publishing is going to be. And for anyone to think that 10 years from now that Amazon is going to be the only game in town, I think is…I don't want to say the word “foolish”, but I think it is foolish. I think from a business sense it is. It's not having a broad scope of the spectrum, because it is a business. I'm a publisher. I run a publishing house and anybody that self-publishes, that's what you do. It's a business. And people need to treat it that way.
And one of the things I did for the workshop I'm doing this weekend, when I started in 2011, 2010-2011 is really when self-publishing started taking off. It was still very looked down upon. It was almost like this, everybody was sneaking in to it, because nobody wanted to admit they were doing it, but we were seeing immediate results. So it was like this, “Is this really happening? Is this really real?” And then 2012 came along and it's like, “Oh my gosh, this can't last forever.” And it's almost like play money. And you keep working and you keep doing, and it's exciting, and you put more books out, because for somebody that didn't make money for 13 years while they were writing and all of a sudden you're seeing all this money, the more you do, the more money you make. And then it gets to be almost like a game, it is. It's like Monopoly money.
And then 2013 hits and you're like…I think 2013 was the golden year. It was a good year for really everyone, I think. It was still easy to be visible. Amazon hadn't figured out how to manipulate the algorithms altogether. Publishers hadn't gotten enough information to put dampers on everything, so it was a free-for-all, 2013 was.
We were speaking for the first time at big book fairs with London, and BEA, and Frankfurt. So it was really a power year, I think, because that's when publishers started adopting self-publishing models, and using the same tools that we're using, the same pricing structure, and the same sales, and the same freebies, and they started adjusting with all of that and really copying the self-publishing model. Actually I've gotten emails from Big Five publishers before asking how I did something a certain way.
Joanna: Did they pay you to consult?
Liliana: No, but they don't mind sending the emails to ask.
So 2014 hit and I think that…I call 2014 the year that the wheat's separated from the chaff, because at that point, it's a job, it's a business. The fun and games and monopoly money are over. It's who can sustain at that point, because that's when the real hurdles started happening. KU rolled out in July of 2014 and, January, starting in January 2014, publishers came out hitting hard and heavy.
There were a lot of blog posts from CEOs of the publishing houses, with all these bear stats about how eBooks were in the decline and there was a 35% decline in the eBook market, which yeah, their market is in a decline but none of those stats included self-publishing books.
It was a lot of fear and scare tactics, and then as the year went on and then KU rolled out…And I think that is a lot of it is with the exclusivity, it is fear that drives that, because to be quite honest, it was easy to make money those first three years, and people kept quitting their day jobs and they're not making the wisest…they're not thinking like a business. They're not ready to…it was just play at that point.
And so that's when you really see 2014 who's going to be able to sustain. I think anybody that is looking to be here in 10 and 20 years and still continue to do this is not going to be able to do exclusive. Hugh is one of my dearest friends and we will argue about this 'til the day that we die, because he's all on the exclusivity train, but to him, he's about to sail out…
Joanna: On his boat, yeah.
Liliana: He's about to sail on his boat. To him, he just wants to write and he doesn't look at it the same way I think a lot of us do, as that career. It's pleasing one day at a time kind of thing, instead of a really goal-oriented-futuristic look on how to sustain for the long haul.
I think that's really important to realize, is that…I think the biggest issue with KU, in my opinion, is that it's teaching readers to devalue books. Aside from the exclusivity, I was one of the authors that was offered the opportunity to be in KU, right when it rolled out first. And I guess for six months, without having to be exclusive. And I did it and I actually pulled out of it early, because even with the extra all Star bonuses and stuff like that I was getting, no way would I have made up the money that I make from other retailers.
I've never actually got negative emails or comments about my pricing, ever. I charge 4.99, 5.99, and up for my books, and I always have, and I've never had complaints from readers about my pricing. And the first emails that I got after I pulled out were, “Well, you have a new book out, but I'm used to getting it for free.” And they're like, “I'm not going to pay 4.99 for a book.” And I'm like, “Well…”
Joanna: Then you're not reading my books.
Liliana: “…you're not going to read my book.” I think you're going to see similar to what happened in the music business. But just from a business standpoint, when you're going exclusive like that. I sell three times on iBooks what I do at Amazon. iBooks is huge. They have a billion…Apple has a billion devices. And KU has 700,000 books to be offered in their program.
But when you're looking at the competition as far as the stats of rising, like who has come the furthest in the five years? iBooks charts, they have progressed much faster than any other retailer, as far as what they've done and book sales and stuff like that. And I think to put all your eggs in Amazon's basket is a mistake.
Joanna: Well, let's just talk a little bit more about iBooks. Because when you said that at ThrillerFest, there was an audible gasp in the room. And people are like, “How can you make more money in iBooks than Amazon?”
Maybe, could you talk about what are some things people can do, or what did you do, to actually move the needle at iBooks, which let's face it, doesn't have an algorithm in the same way that Amazon does.
Liliana: No, and I can't explain. The reason that I like iBooks is because they, of all the retailers, all the big, the five retailers, and I'm including Google Play and Kobe, Barnes & Noble, Amazon into that. The reason I like iBooks is because when you go to their store that is the truest sense of what readers want to read.
You're right. They don't have algorithms that…you can't buy spots. You can't buy the number one spot in the store. You can't buy paid advertising. The book that is number one in the store is number one in the store, because the readers put it there. And so you can really get a sense of a true top 100 in each category. And the readers are a little different.
Free books work extremely well at iBooks, and actually the percentage of downloads of free books increased by 39% last year. And it's not free book hording like you see at Amazon. You see them go through and then you don't see the sell-through in your next books in the series.
I actually had a book, the first book in the series of J.J. Graves, “Dirty Little Secrets,” it was an editorial pick for Book of the Week, which means I had to make it free for the entire week and then the editorial team would promote it through the site. And that book was downloaded at iBooks at the time, and this was a couple of years ago, so 60,000 downloads in a week was incredible. But within three days I saw the rise of the next books in the series. So people were reading the book immediately and then buying. All of those books are still in the top 100.
Joanna: Really? Wow.
Liliana: From that one promotion. And the sustainability at iBooks is…you're not going to see those crazy jumps in ranking. And ranking is skewed in Amazon now anyway, because it's prioritized to KU and KDP Select.
I think that's hard for authors to see, because I've been number five, number six in the Amazon store for sales, and I'm selling the same number of books, but my rankings are way lower, and I think everything is purposely done.
Amazon is a business, they're not stupid. They're a corporation, they know exactly what they're doing. And I love the people at Amazon. I talk to them all the time, but at the same time, they're running a business and I'm running a business, and they're going to do what's best for their business. Let's face it. If that fear is in there, that's what authors are going to be like, “Well I got to make money now. I've quit my job. I've done all this stuff and I have to make money now.” But in 10 years from now when you've alienated a huge percentage of your readership, that's hard to get back.
Joanna: I guess there we talk there about having a free first-in series that is really important and writing a series, which I think everybody knows now.
But do you drive traffic differently for iBooks than you do for Amazon? So do you do specific Facebook ads to iBook, for example?
Liliana: I do. Yes, I do. I'll drive them directly to iBooks, I'll drive them directly to Amazon. And I'll run them at different times to see, to just I guess test ads and stuff like that.
But I'll tweet directly to iBooks. And they recommend that. When you promote your book, don't promote a glut of links for every store. Divide them up and then they'll retweet you once you start doing that.
I've found free books work especially well, and also pre-orders are a great way to gain a foothold at Apple. They are the only ones that will let you put in an asset less pre-order, which means you do not have to have a finished book. You do not have to have any part of the book. You don't have to have a cover. You don't have to have anything. And you can put it up for pre-order a year in advance. And that's huge as far as sales and just getting the word out.
And also drawing attention to yourself from them, because if they see that a book is getting good pre-order numbers and you've got that long, they're going to do something about it. It also gives the marketing and merchandising team something to do about it.
I actually talked to someone last week and they're like, “Well, I let iBooks know that I had a new release come out and it was two days away from the release.” Well, we're in September right now and I have a February release and we're already talking about marketing and merchandising for my February release. So you've got to give them plenty of time to do stuff for you. You can't just send them an email and be like, “Hey, do this stuff for me.” You know what I mean?
It's a well-oiled machine. They really do. There's a team involved and they sit down and have meetings and they talk about the books. And I think they're very much in the book business. They're going to promote and sell books.
And really my romances don't sell at iBooks. They sell, but my mysteries are the ones that sell at iBooks. It's a different kind of reader. They don't mind paying a higher price. Free books work well, but cheap books do not work well at iBooks, so price high.
But those pre-orders are amazing and they also don't count against your rank, like at Amazon. So you can actually be in the top 100 as a pre-order and then when the book drops, you'll still get the rank of all the pre-orders for that day. So pre-orders help sell books a lot, along with the freebie. Trying to think what else I'm missing.
Joanna: I think from what you've said, you always have to completely change your mindset around iBooks, compared to the way that people have been doing books at Kindle.
Joanna: And like you said, you need a production schedule.
You need to know when the release is coming, so you can actually organize that. And let's face it, most Indies don't do that.
Liliana: I know my production schedule at least a year in advance. I can't stress that enough. It's a business. It's a publishing house.
What publishing house doesn't know what books that are coming out a year from now? Or really, two years from now? They're already shelving for 2017. I've a schedule and a board and I'm scheduled through next December. I know exactly what's coming out, when it's coming out, and what I have to write, the amount of words I have to write, and what books.
Joanna: Hope you've put some holidays in there.
Liliana: I am getting better at that. I haven't looked at it.
Joanna: Okay, so one other thing on iBooks is that they've recently changed…because obviously there's been iBooks and iTunes completely separate for years. They've now slightly more integrated it, so from iBooks you can see the audio books.
How are the audio book sales going on iTunes given that most people are now kind of going with ACX exclusive deals and stuff? How do you feel the audio book market is shifting and what is your advice around audio books with iTunes specifically?
Liliana: I was actually just looking at the audio book. Audible became a billion dollar industry last year, for the first time. It is a huge increase in percentage of market sales just with audio books. If you're not in audio books, you should be in audio books.
But that is my caveat is with ACX, I was fortunate enough to be in on that original contract was the 50 to 90% graduated royalty rate. And now it's the 40% flat. And when they changed that, I actually scheduled my next five or six audio books, so I could get in under that contract. I have not signed a new audio contract with them since the 40%, and I probably will not at this point, because just doing the math, I can't see the point of paying upfront a couple of thousand dollars for my production of my audio book and then only retaining 40% of the royalties.
I've never been a fan of the 50/50 split. I don't think that that's…just splitting your royalties with anyone is a bad business move, because six years from now if you become the next Twilight or whatever and…it did. What, it took Twilight six years to be a hit? It was out six years before…Stuff like that happens all the time. These sleeper books that gain word of mouth and slow moving like that. You never want to be in a fix, where you're that sleeper-hit and then all of a sudden you're having to give 50% of your royalties away to somebody that didn't write the book.
Joanna: I love how you think that big. That kind of big is great.
Back on actually selling audio books. Do you have any tips for people to market on iBooks specifically?
Liliana: On iBooks, specifically, its slower market for iBooks. I am seeing the increase, but I actually have on my website an audio page and there's Soundcloud clips on there. Every one of my audio books people can go through and listen to samples and then they can purchase, the iBooks link is right beneath it. They can click on that and go directly to the store to buy the audio book.
But I found that it increased my audio sales a lot, just having that accessibility on my website and the samples right there. And I promote them just on social media. I'll put all four covers of the audio and they do have so many giveaways that you can do for audio books and also for your…what is it? Just your regular eBooks. Download codes and stuff like that that you can do giveaways with, and I'll give away like five first copies, and then…
Joanna: We should just stress that a bit more. So iBooks have 250 codes that you can give away.
And how important do you think reviews are on iBooks? Because you get the sense that Amazon now reviews count for algorithm ranking but what does it matter on iBooks?
Liliana: Basically at iBooks, people look at the star percentage rating. You don't have to leave a review to star it, which I've always thought is nice. And people at iBooks review, the readers, because at the end of your book that star comes up and you can star it. I think just like anything, I always look for four stars and up just as a reader.
And they have the statistics to tell you iBooks readers, they are career-driven people, they're busy people, they're people that read on the train while they're travelling, commuting, things like that. They want efficiency. So they're going to do things like that. Just look at the star rating and make a quick purchase, download, and go. So I think it's a different type of reader for sure.
Joanna: And what do you think about, for example, the foreign…because most people's sales are still big in the U.S. and UK, Canada. But the biggest phone in China is the iPhone, for example. And of course Germany people are seeing the sales.
What do you see is the global expansion of digital?
Liliana: Well, I was going to say a year ago, and well 2013, that golden year when there were no obstacles, and then the beginning of 2014 that was a big thing for all of us that had been in it a while, was the global market, the global market, translations, all these things, and then the VAT tax came along. And I think that's hurt authors, it's hurt readers. And so I think there's been a huge slowdown in the global market.
One of our biggest things two years ago was to get started on translations. Now it's kind of a waste of money, right now, because the global market cannot sustain what you're having to spend on translations.
Joanna: Yeah, I agree in translation, but in English I'm seeing sales in lots more companies.
Liliana: Yes. In France, Germany is always huge for English sales, and I'm seeing a huge uptick of English sales in France also. But really I'm not seeing a huge…it's pretty much stayed the same. I do think the VAT tax has hurt everyone.
Joanna: Damn the EU.
Liliana: Well, it's either we as authors raise our prices to equal it out and then the reader has to pay more, or we eat it and we lose money to keep the cost down for the reader, so it's not a good situation for anyone, but I think it's for sure slowed the global market.
I think my wisest advice there, especially everybody that's entrenched with translations and just stuff like that is just slow down. There's no hurry now, because there's not a market to sustain it right now and it's a huge expense.
Joanna: Yeah, I've stopped doing them as well.
Even Spanish in the American market, you'd think Spanish eBooks would be selling.
Liliana: Spanish has never been big. And I always tell people, they're like, “I'm going to get them done with Spanish.” I'm like, “Don't do Spanish. Spanish is probably your fifth language you need to do. German is one and then you've got French, you've got Italian, you've got Brazilian, Portuguese, and then Spanish.” It's not a big selling language for books.
Joanna: Then what else do you see? Because like you said, people should be looking ahead, thinking of this as a longer term career.
What else do you think is coming? What should people be doing to position themselves?
Liliana: Well, I think Barbara Freethy started when she made the deal with Ingram. I think you're going to start seeing a lot more indies come out in print, and then the deal that Create Space and Jamie McGuire did with Walmart. I think you're going to see a lot more of that kind of thing.
I think it's going to upend things for a little bit, because that's the argument I've been hearing from publishers for the last year or so when they'll come to me with offers and stuff like that. It's like, “We are your avenue for print.” And now that's no longer the case.
So I think you're going to see a shift there, and they're going to have to re-think things and it's going to be interesting for print, because I think, especially indies that are selling a lot, they're looking for print, they're looking to get that next corner of the market, a different avenue of readers, so I think that's going to be a biggie.
I think audio books right now, they're probably the safest thing to do. I would probably sell the rights to my next audio books instead of going just to ACX. Just because of the percentage. I'm just not happy with the contract now. And that's something I think is really important.
With translations too, I've had the biggest headache with translations and that's something that Bella Andre she's talked about several times. She went with one company for translations, it was a disaster. She was out thousands and thousands of dollars, so we all got together and we're like, “Okay, we're going to try this company.” And I guess I was the test dummy for that one, because I went all in and had a lot of translations done. Total ended up being something…it's a couple of hundred thousand dollar investment to do translations, and well here I am a year later and I don't have any translations, but I'm out 100-and-something thousand dollars.
It's just finding companies that are reliable. And what are you going to do? I'm in the U.S., they're not. You're looking at legal battles. And look at your contracts. This is where…always having an attorney look at your contracts and stuff like that is handy. Thinking like a business. There are things that you're good at, and things you're not going to be good at. Learn what to farm out and what your expertise is.
Joanna: And then of course, you're taking your business.
You're CEO of the multi-million dollar company, and now you and Scott have started Silver Hart. Tell us about that and what the plan is with that.
Liliana: We basically just decided that we need to be able to combine what we do, because otherwise we never see each other or get to spend time together. I write mystery, I write romantic suspense, and he's been in law enforcement for 26 years, and he actually just retired last week.
Joanna: Oh, congratulations.
Liliana: He's got a retirement beard and everything. He's going all crazy. But we just combined those two things, self-publishing and writing, and then law enforcement. It's a site designed really as a resource for writers. Very rarely do you come across a book that doesn't have some kind of cop or fire fighter. Some kind of public safety reading these articles, just about ridiculous stuff.
Joanna: Oh yeah, crazy.
Liliana: So it's just like the bane of your existence. Well, it's fun. I love research, but I'll spend three days looking at one knife or something like that instead of writing 10,000 words or something. But we have all those resources on the site.
So if you need to talk to a Navy Seal, if you need to talk to a cop, if you need to talk to a fire-fighter, or a medical examiner, paramedic. Or if you need to talk to an inspector from London, or a Canadian. We've got somebody from South Africa, just different perspectives from all over the world of public safety. And if you have a question or need to know a procedure or how something works, you can go in and you can talk directly to them and ask the questions.
There's also video libraries, where you can go in just from how to things as basic as this is how you put on a uniform, and this is the order, this is how it's supposed to look, to duty rigs and weapons.
Same thing with arson investigators, things like that – law enforcement and public safety subject matter experts. And then on the publishing side we have a whole group of New York Times bestselling authors that are very successful self-publishers, and you can go in and ask them any questions that you might have, and there's a whole list of frequently asked questions and things like that. Everybody is very accessible. That was our whole goal, is just save everybody some time, and have everything in one location.
Joanna: So just tell people where that location is.
Liliana: Okay. It's at SilverHartWriters.com.
Joanna: Brilliant. And that's Hart with an A, H-A-R-T.
Liliana: Yes, H-A-R-T. Silver Hart.
Joanna: Brilliant. And then I just wanted to ask you just one more question on the balance, because you've put on your blog, and it's written there that you worked very hard, you got sick last year. This high volume production model which has been popularized by romance writers mainly, and that many people feel has become their burden, is that the way it has to be?
It seems like you've now found more of a balance, and you've got married and everything, so I hope you're managing your personal time. So how can people balance that: running a business and real life?
Liliana: No, I think you said the right word. It should not become a burden. Something that you love to do and that you're passionate about should never become a burden.
Everybody's got to push at different levels. You're going to be able to accomplish different things and have different goals. I'm always going to push hard and push fast, because that's just the way I am. I don't know how to do it any other way. And if I don't do it that way, then I start thinking of other ideas and businesses and things like that, and so I just add to my plate.
But I think my biggest thing was that I never took time outside of work, or writing, or traveling. There were a couple of years in a row when I had 50 flights a year, and I was speaking, and I was signing, and I was traveling everywhere, and I was still writing several books a year and I'd have eight or nine releases in a year. Your body can't sustain it. Your mind can't sustain it. And it's just, it's not healthy. Getting sick was almost a good thing. I should say it was not a good thing, but it was a good thing, because I was forced to slow down and heal. But just you find out very quickly that nothing has…it doesn't have to be done.
You're setting your own pace with this. As long as you are continuing to write and continuing to put out quality content, it doesn't have to be every week, every month, every three months, every four months. My long term goal is to be able to get down to two books a year. And I'm completely happy and satisfied with that and I know that I can sustain.
I think that's why I pushed so hard, is because I knew I had to get to a point where I could sustain to be able to take some time off. We'll add an extra couple of days to each end of a trip that is a business trip just to…and we might be working. I might be writing, but we might be sitting out by a pool or whatever, enjoying ourselves, and going to dinner or shows or whatever in the meantime. So it's not just all work and nothing else.
Joanna: We should also tell people about…you have children too.
Joanna: So many people say, “Oh, you must be just a woman on your own,” or whatever, but you've got kids, right?
Liliana: Yeah, a bunch of them, yeah.
Joanna: So people can do this with children.
Liliana: Oh yeah. When I started writing seriously, I had a two and a three year old at home, and I was a band director. And I don't know if you guys have band directors there, but in the state of…I was from Texas, and Texas it's like being a football coach. You're working 80 hours a week. So I had two small children and I was doing that, and I was writing during my conference period, and lunch periods, and passing periods, and I was getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning to be at practice, but I would still have my writing time and I'd write when I got home. You find the time to do it if you want to do it.
Those two children somehow increased and now we have a lot more children. We have a lot of kids, and they're all small. The youngest is still 6 and they go up from there up to 23. So it's not like they're not involved in things. They're not out of the house and gone, they're still…but you figure out how to do it. You have to make family work. You have to make the business work, and the career work, and you have to make your personal relationships work.
Liliana: So it's not easy, but you can do it.
Joanna: And you still love it, right?
Liliana: I do.
Joanna: This is still what you love?
Liliana: Oh yeah, I can't imagine doing anything else. I think that's why I have those 5 and 10 year long term goals like that, because I have to see that. That I can keep going and still sustain and things like that.
And actually one of the things that, I've been doing a lot of research, just statistical research for a lot of workshops that I do and stuff like that. I was going back through and I'm like, “How amazing that we're in 2015, and since January 2015 there has been an Indie author on the New York Times list every week but two.”
Liliana: That's amazing. And we've seen the New York Times list shrink from 30 to 25 to 20 and now it's at 15.
Joanna: Really? To try and push us all out.
Liliana: Basically. And so you see that. And it's like all these stumbling blocks get in the way. There are always going to be stumbling blocks, there's always going to be a KU, there's always going to be the New York Times list shrinking. There's always going to be a VAT tax. There's always going to be royalty chains like ACX. There's always going to be something.
The people that are successful at what they do in this business are the people look at that and then figure out a way around it.
They'll figure out a way to where they're still making money, and they still have a career, and they're still producing books, and they're still able to live off what they do. Those are not going to be the people that you're hearing the sky is falling, and it's all over, and I've got to jump in exclusive now, or I'm going to lose my whole career. You will never hear those people that are successful saying those things. They're going to keep their head down and they're going to move around it.
Joanna: Yeah. Brilliant. So good to talk to you. You've been so inspiring as ever. Just tell people where they can find you and your books online.
Liliana: Well, my books are everywhere at all the retailers. But you can check out my website at LilianaHart.com.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Liliana. That was great.
Liliana: Thank you. Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
I’ve heard the advice for an author just starting out to go Amazon exclusive in order to use the promotional tools. Once you’ve built up your series/readers, then go wide. Is this good advice? I find it difficult to run promotions on other platforms.
Joanna Penn says
Yes, absolutely – and I generally advise people who have up to 3 books to go KDP Select. Here’s 2 more articles that will be more relevant for new authors:
Once you have 3 books in a series, it will be much easier to market on other platforms.
Okay, two things: 1) apologies, this might go long, 2) if at any point this sounds snarky or combative, it isn’t meant to. I’m smiling while I write this, and trying to work out a direction to take, so will value any input.
So — I’m probably being naïve with all this, but here goes.
The question of exclusivity vs going wide is very tough for any new author. I am only in my first publishing year, whilst working a full time day job and trying to keep a 4 and 5 year old alive, well, and educated, so selling well on Amazon and virtually zero on every other platform makes it so tempting to dip into exclusivity.
I know, I know, “patience, grasshopper.” We all want immediate results, of course, and even though I set out a 5 year plan, and am actually exceeding that plan at this stage in terms of income, it is only Amazon that sends me money every month. It does get very frustrating to see that big fat zero on the Kobo dashboard week after week.
I’m trying to remain strong, though. My current series (two meagre entries right now with not-wonderful covers) will remain wide.
However, I now have two out of five books in KU neither of which are in a series. One of them – The Dead and the Missing – is the first in a *planned* series, but with no sequels out until book #2 launches this winter, why would I be anywhere that sells zero?
Since all the advice, from this podcast and every author I’ve heard who has had success outside Amazon is to “write in a series with first book free,” it seems unwise to me to worry about placing a solo book elsewhere until the sequel is out – perhaps even 3 or 4 sequels.
Those two I placed in KU bring me an additional $50-70 or so through page reads (with zero marketing), so perhaps ignoring other platforms isn’t going to hurt me long term, providing I pull out of exclusivity once I have a sufficient catalogue. I only have two in the other series, so it’s tempting to ignore the outside world until I have 4-5 books in each series.
As I said, I’m TRYING to remain strong. But the more times I see zero, the more that strength saps.
So, to summarize: I do not expect success right now, or to be able to quit the day job anytime soon. I aim to have ten books out by the end of year two, which will mean 3 in one series, and 3 in another, plus 4 stand-alones. Year 3 should be slower (I had a back-catalogue of badly-written work to call upon for years 1 and 2 so it was mostly rewriting). End of year 3 should mean I have 5 books in one series, 4 in the other. So, to even hope for success on a platform other than Amazon, shouldn’t my plan be to start my “wide” plans at the end of year three, when I have something to offer? That is, if the market is in any way the same in three years time? We know how fast things move. Or should I just hope for some sort of lucky strike?
Does that make sense at all, or am I being naïve? (I can take it – honest!)
Joanna Penn says
I’ve added a clarification to the top of this post:
[To clarify, this is a discussion between two authors with a lot of books who both make a full-time living writing. If you’re a new author or have fewer than 3 book, here are the pros and cons of exclusivity. And here are my recommendations for a first time author. Both of these do suggest going KDP Select if you are just starting out.]
Basically, with 2 books, it’s worth being in KU. Once you have 3+ in a series, it is much easier to market on the other platforms. I hope that helps. Thanks!
Antony Davies says
As ever thanks for the info. Something I probably should have known already, of course. Obvious now you say it 🙂
Terry Maggert says
I’m ready to launch a third and fourth series in audio format– I may have missed it, but is there a viable alternative outside ACX (which we agree about– their contract is draconian)– thanks!
Joanna Penn says
Hi Terry, right now, there is no viable alternative to ACX. Hopefully one will come along in the next year 🙂
Suzie O'Connell says
Hi! First of all, great podcast. You both touched on a lot of points that served as a good refresher and also some that were eye-opening, particularly about iTunes/iBooks (which is my favorite as both a writer and a reader).
I have a question for you. The idea of a permafree first-book-in-a-series has been around for a while now, and I’ve personally benefited from it. Without it, my sales would still likely be trickling in at a few a month instead of coming in at a rate that I now make more writing than I did as a teacher. However, over the past several months (I might even say as far back as the introduction of Kindle Unlimited), I’ve noticed a distinct decline in its viability everywhere but iTunes, where permafree seems to still hold the same series-promoting power. My question (at last) is this: have you also noticed this, and what are your thoughts about this? Will it continue to decline or will the market level out?
Joanna Penn says
Hi Suzie, I find it incredibly useful on all OTHER platforms 🙂 It really helps get people into the funnel and many of the other publishing sites have merchandizing options on free first in series.
But it’s also still valuable on Amazon, IF you’re using it as a lead gen into other things. On my fiction, I still get a good trickle every day into Stone of Fire, ARKANE #1 and it’s essentially free promotion – so I think it’s one of those baseline promotional things all authors should consider on all platforms.
Suzie O'Connell says
Glad to hear that! A good chunk of my problem could be the fact that my freebie has been downloaded well over half a million times in the year and a half it’s been permafree 🙂 I think the point in the podcast about free book hoarding being common at Amazon but not so common elsewhere is a valid one, and I can say that my conversion rate from the free book to the next in the series is quite a bit higher at Kobo, iTunes, and BN than at Amazon and always is… with or without a big ad.
Pete Bauer says
I loved this podcast. I have a 10 year plan and I agree with the idea that, if you were creating any other business, you’d never rely solely on one source of income. You would diversify. I think Amazon will continue to rig the game in favor of books in KU to the point where it will create a tipping point. And those unsatisfied, who have not started developing content and audiences on other platforms, will be desperately behind.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Pete – I agree and think that most people with all their books in KU have a shorter time frame in their head, or have other streams of income. A long term business plan can never be reliant on one source or one other company. As I learned in 2008 when I was laid off along with hundreds of thousands of others, if you let one company have all the power, you’re asking for trouble when things change – as they inevitably will.
Stephanie Ward says
I am still behind the curve, trying to figure out the different types of publishing platforms.
🙂 Its amazing how many opportunities exist.
Great article –
To do the promos with iBooks do you have to use a Mac?
I’ve uploaded to them through D2D because I use a Dell computer (I heard you can only upload direct using a Mac).
Joanna Penn says
You can definitely go through D2D or Smashwords for these – both retailers work with iBooks for promos
Wow thanks for this. I started writing in 2011 and had some minor success with erotica shorts. In 2013 I lost my job and became quite ill. So all writing stopped. I’ve been looking at rekindling my writing career, and then KU2 hit. The small sales I was making with short stories tanked 🙁
This podcast was so very helpful and motivated me. I’m making the move towards longer form romance. This was perfect.. thank you Liliana and Joanna for being so generous with your knowledge.
Joanna Penn says
I’m so glad you found it useful 🙂
B Dass says
beautiful job! thank you and you have the best voice ever 🙂
I enjoyed the pod cast. I did notice her romance book did not do as well on iBooks. I write the dreaded clean and wholesome romance. I Read them myself, And romance readers are voracious Readers. But they don’t pay a lot for books. Unlike mystery readers. My mother will buy paperback mysteries by the dozens. I would be interested in an update now that it’s three years later, in how things are going in wide distribution. I do have a long-term plan.