Friday, 18 July 2014

Don't Panic!

This week Amazon leaked and then launched Kindle Unlimited in the USA. It's an all-you-can-eat reading service for $9.99 with approximately 600,000 titles in it so far.

The service includes hundreds of thousands of KDP titles (i.e. those in KDP Select like our own Cleaver Square Spanish Edition) plus some big names.

The latter, I believe, are not on the same terms as the KDP lot. From the rumours on the net, it appears the big names are getting their full contractual royalty.

But indies aren't. Here's what we get according to the KDP Select Terms and Conditions (scroll down within link to see original context):

"2.3 KDP Select Fund. We will establish a fund on a monthly basis and
you will be eligible to earn a share of that fund for each of your
Digital Books included in the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners'
Lending Library Programs. You will earn a share of the monthly fund,
calculated as the number of qualified reads of your Digital Book
through Kindle Unlimited plus the number of qualified borrows through
the Kindle Owners' Lending Library as a percentage of the number of
total qualified reads and borrows of all KDP Digital Books. This share
is your total Royalty for customer access to your Digital Book through
the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners' Lending Library Programs. For
example, if the fund for a particular month is $1,000,000, your
Digital Book has 1,000 qualified reads through Kindle Unlimited, 500
qualified borrows through the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, and
there are 300,000 total qualified reads and borrows for all
participating Digital Books in that month, your Digital Book will earn
$5,000 ($1,000,000 x 1,500/300,000 = $5,000). We will determine in our
sole discretion the criteria for determining which customer events
qualify for this calculation. A maximum of one event per customer
account will qualify for each Digital Book. We may publically announce
the top Digital Books, including the author, publisher, number of
qualified reads and borrows, and KDP Select fund royalties earned."

In short Amazon create a 'fund' then divide it up by 'units' neither of which are all that fixed.

Firstly, the fund - Amazon set this, in their sole discretion. Authors have no control over it.

Secondly, the 'qualified reads'. The terms don't actually define qualified read but my understanding is that for KOLL (the one book per month free with prime) a qualified read is 'on download' whether the book is read or not. Conversely, a qualified read for Kindle Unlimited may well mirror other subscription services like Scribd where partial reads under 10% are discounted and over 10% count as a unit (or part thereof).

From a 'I want to know how much I'll be paid' perspective, this sucks. We don't know how big the pie is or what slice of it we'll get.

We can guess. If Amazon charge readers $10 and maintain the 30%-65% cut they charge on books at the moment then that leaves $3.50 - $7 on the table.

I suspect it may be a tad more - subscriptions are cheaper for Amazon as there are less micropayments (taking one big $10 chunk costs less than 10 x $1).

Let's be really generous and say it's $7.50.

There are 4.3 weeks in a month.

  • If, on average, a KU reader reads past 10% once a week  then that's about $1.74 per book into the fund.
  • If they read two a week then that's $0.87 per book into the fund.
  • If they read one a day then that's $0.25 per book into the fund.


Of course, it isn't this simple. Amazon are merging the Kindle Unlimited Fund into the Kindle Online Lending Library fund. That has historically paid about $2 a borrow give or take about 15%.
Now, that's one per month per reader (who has prime).
Not everyone has prime, so not all KU subscribers will be prime members. I don't know what proportion will be.
Let's guess at half - probably on the high side but early adopters are probably big Amazonians.

Fund share = assumed $7.50 from above.

Non-Prime:

  • One read a week (Fund share /4.3) ---> $1.74
  • Two a week (fund share/ 8.6) ---> $0.87
  • One a day (fund share/ 30) ---> $0.25


Prime (assuming ALL use their borrow):
One a week ---> $2 for the first read plus 3 more at the rate of (Fund share/ 4.3] = $1.74 ---> $1.81 on average.
Two a week ---> $2 for the first read plus 8 (rounding up) at the rate of $0.87 ---> $1.00 on average
One a day ---> $2 for the first read plus 29 at $0.25 ---> $0.31 on average.

Now, if half are prime members then we'll be dead in the middle on an average pay to author basis so $1.77 / $0.93 / $0.28. I suspect less than half will be prime, and that only a proportion of prime members use their borrows.

We know that there are 'over 20 million prime members' (http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-prime-members-2014-1). We also know the average royalty in KOLL has been $2 - indicative of about 600,000 borrows per month... suggesting less than 3% of prime users actually use their free book each month.
On that basis, the 'non prime' figures likely to be much closer to the truth. Even if they aren't, we're talking about a swing of pennies per copy caused by prime.

Now if we suggest Amazon want a bigger cut of the $9.99 e.g. the half off that they've been rumoured to be asking for as their margin from hachette then we can take a knife to a third of those royalties reducing them to:

  • One a week -  $1.15
  • Two a week - $0.57
  • One a day - $0.17

So how does that compare to the amount earned by the author on a sale? An author selling for 99c gets a flat $0.35. If the average reader reads less than four Kindle Unlimited books a week, the author gains on average.

But at $2.99, the author gets $2.00 (minus a few cents if the file is huge as authors get charged for delivery). He only wins if the average subscriber takes out 3 books a month. If the average reader grabs 4 ($1.75 a copy to the fund plus adjustment for prime) then he's making less.

At $4.99 ($3.50 royalty) then you'd need Mr Average KU Subscriber to read two books a month or less.

What this tells us is that authors are unlikely to maintain their current margins. Unlimited subscriptions increase usage (as proven with buffets the world over, netflix, spotify etc). We're talking of course about averages. On average, authors lose out - and Amazon gain as authors have to give them exclusivity to get into KU.

In my experience borrows cannibalise sales.  Why would a sensible reader buy what (s)he can have for free (or included with a prepaid plan of some kind)?

Individual authors may do very well - I forsee a 1% economy in play here as in the rest of the kindle store. The big names will get tens of thousands of downloads while others languish. We know that one sale a day at present nets a ranking under 100k on Amazon.com. That suggest the other 2.4m+ don't get one a day i.e. downloads are concentrated into a very small number of authors nabbing very large numbers of downloads. Those doing well now are likely to get a disproportionate share of the fund. Think of YouTube - the big get bigger and the unloved stays unloved. There may well be a few break-outs, but this is going to depend both on word-of-mouth and on exposure algorithms within the KU store pages.

But what about readers? Is Kindle Unlimited worth $9.99?

The 'occasional reader' of a handful of titles is best off just buying their books. We can already see that. So those who subscribe are likely to be voracious - which means we're probably looking at royalties under a dollar on average. If you're spending more than $9.99 a month at the moment then KU is obviously worth considering - IF the content contained within it is what you want to read. With a one month trial available for free there's no harm in giving it a go (just untick autorenewal!).

But, will savvy readers go for it? Those who want to save a few pence (i.e. the demographic KU is targeted at) might realise that Select titles (i.e. ALL the indie books in the KU offering) were probably given away for free at some point. KDP Select free days and countdown are the reason authors/ publishers opt in. As a reader, I'd personally rather pay slightly less and go to Scrib'd for a wider selection... or I would if they could deliver to my e-Ink kindle. But they can't and Amazon can. I don't see the point in paying a sub for titles that may well be free at some point in the next 90 days (the length of the KDP Select term).

KU may fail for lack of quality content - or Amazon will suffer the hit and pay full royalties on the big names just to get the content that will hook everyone. I think it'll be a lot like early video streaming - that early adopters will soon read everything they want to and may unsubscribe until the content selection is more mature.

Amazon may also take a hit on the cost. They might run Kindle Unlimited at breakeven rather than profit, or even take a loss to increase subscriber base. Books are great, but Amazon makes a lot more money getting readers to engage with their ecosystem - their devices (inc phone, tablets etc) AND their store. Books cause engagement - and they deliver rich customer behaviour data. Amazon might decide that information is worth forgoing a cut (or some of the cut) of the eBook subs.

Or they might do what most big corporations do - keep content providers happy in the short to medium term to gain market share then use that dominance to slice margins to a razor thin level - and if you look outside of ePublishing, Amazon has pressured suppliers in the past.

Why then, is this entitled Don't Panic?

A few reasons. Firstly, some people want to own rather than buy. We don't stop selling. DVD sales are down, but they do still sell. We will probably see less sales in the long term in eBook format. But it won't drop to nothing.

Secondly, indies can adapt. We can put out shorter works - they still count as 'a unit' so those putting out short stories (particularly in erotica) stand to gain a huge number of units at the expense of longer books.

But thirdly, we can survive on less. Big publishers cannot operate on 17c royalties. They just can't. If they get forced into similar terms then they'd go bankrupt. Authors with those publisher on 25% lockstep net royalties would end up with 4c per copy.

If you think about that, we're a million miles better off. We don't have high overheads. No staff (except freelance) for most, no New York/ London offices.

Of course we should keep an eye on this. It might well work best for back list/ specially created titles to help engage readers to buy the rest of our books. It might be a great discovery tool like Netflix. It might mean we have to think about other ways to monetise - and we're well placed to innovate in that regard. Indies can react and adapt very quickly - much more so than our competitors.

So proceed with caution. The sky isn't falling and book sales won't nosedive this week - but do think about where your place in this new publishing paradigm is.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Price match / Mallory update

Hi all,

It's been a while since we updated the blog - especially with regards to Operation Mallory. As you guys know, Steve is going for a permanantly free first book - following our approach.

To do that, Amazon have to price match somewhere else that is already free. Steve is now up and running for free on Barnes & Noble. If you've got  a Nook - go grab a free copy!

Then do us a favour - and tell Amazon to price match. Here's how:

Step 1: Go to the Amazon page for It's Always Darkest

http://www.amazon.com/Always-Darkest-Paul-Mallory-thriller-ebook/dp/B0098LS2MA/ref=la_B006UPQVC0_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400271099&sr=1-2

Step 2: Scroll halfway down the page and click "Report a lower price".

Step 3: Enter the price as $0 and include this URL:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/its-always-darkest-steve-spencer/1105584269?ean=2940045934367
A massive thanks to those that take the time to do this - it'll really help Steve as once he has a free eBook available, the marketing should become less time intensive giving him the rest he needs.

Sean & Dan

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Blurbage: does this blurb make you want to buy? (It's Always Darkest)

Today is the first of my Operation Mallory blurb posts. Steve's books have great new covers, you guys have been blogging all over the net and we've seen thousands of tweets/ likes/ emails.

But, as Elle Casey says the trifecta of awesome for eBooks is cover/blurb/sample. We've tested the cover - it's been through split testing, and we struck a balance between 'most clickable' and 'best fit with the story'. I highly recommend people adopt split testing as one of their methods prepublication - if you know a cover doesn't work, change it (which we did).

We had some debate about the cigar - it did divide opinion. The final call was to keep it in - because it's important to the story.




So, let's assume the cover is fine. Let's also take it as red that the sample is where it needs to be, just so we can focus in on the blurb.

Here's what Steve's got for book #1, It's Always Darkest:

Small-town sportswriter Paul Mallory doesn't need much to keep him happy: Red Stripe beer, H. Upmann cigars, and enough money to put down a few bets at the track every so often will do the trick nicely. He likes his quiet, undemanding life in upstate New York, and he really likes his quiet and undemanding girlfriend Pam. Maybe he even loves her. 

What Paul doesn't like is travel, complications, and most of all, responsibility for the welfare of others. But when his insatiable curiosity—along with a propensity for showing off—gets the better of him one fine June day, he has to leave his old life (and Pam) behind to take on a lucrative new job; a job he never really wanted in the first place. 

Then, on his very first assignment with the mysterious Cramer Press Syndicate, Mallory immediately finds himself in the spotlight at a Russian handball tournament and must decide whether to become personally involved in the biggest story he's ever covered—putting both his career and his life on the line in the process. 

Whatever he does, he'll never be the same again.

I always think there are 3 golden rules to writing blurbs -
1. Introduce the protag
2. Set up the conflict
3. Do that quick enough to get and keep the reader's interest.

It tick box 1 straight off, and it does set up the broad conflict.... but it doesn't give us any detail about it. It's very non-specific. Paul is a journalist, he's reporting on Russian handball. Should get involved?

While it does give us the plot, I'm not sure it's got the same level of tension as the book itself. Underselling can be useful - it makes buyers happy, but we need to have buyers first.

Remember that a blurb is sales copy. It's job is to get the reader to look inside, grab a sample or buy the book. It's not the right time to be getting into detail.

My opinion - cut the first two paragraphs. Cigars, beer, a girlfriend. None of it screams "thriller".

But the plot is very tense. We've got not merely a handball tournament but a decapitation - and the infamous Russian White Nights.

So let's flip it upside down - and skip the basics to get to the action.

When sports journalist Paul Mallory is sent to cover a women's handball tournament for his first assignment with the Cramer Press Syndicate, he expects a working holiday - beer, sports and gorgeous women.
But then the woman he was due to interview is found brutally decapitated, and Paul finds himself not reporting the news, but becoming a part of it.


Now, this isn't perfect. It's a quick 30 second mock up. but it does most of what the original does. Conflict, tick. Curiosity value, tick. Protag introduced, tick.

What do you guys think? Can you do better? Leave a comment if you can!

Monday, 14 April 2014

#OperationMallory Update #1

Hi all,
The response to our plea for help on behalf of Stephen C Spencer has been staggering. We've already seen 20+ blog posts go live, and hundreds of you have been tweeting us on #OperationMallory. There's a huge list in the original post acknowledging your contributions. If I've missed you, please let me know so I can add your name to the list.
Before the public phase of Operation Mallory, we did a lot of groundwork - the new website, the new covers and preparing for this public phase. Now, we've got even more to do.
In the last 24 hours....
  • It's Always Darkest (Book one in the Paul Mallory series) has gone live on Smashwords. It's free, and you can pick any format you like. Grab that here.
  • A series facebook page has been set up.  Many thanks to those that have already liked it, and a big thank you to Clarissa Yeo for designing the header graphic.
  • All the covers have been swapped over on Amazon
  • We've added to the #OperationMallory google drive folder. It now contains a couple of banners (including one specifically for the free book) and an author headshot.
We're still waiting on some retailers to go live. Once they do, we'll update the Links pdf with the new information. We're also still waiting on Amazon to go free on It's Always Darkest. If you fancy popping over to your local Amazon store and telling them it's free elsewhere then feel free. They don't typically price match Smashwords, but it's not impossible. To do that, click "Tell us about a lower price" which is roughly half way down the product page.
The other big ask is reviews. If you're a reader then please consider trying the free book, and leaving a review when you're done - good or bad. We'll be submitting to a number of thriller book blogs this week now we've got the new files with the updated art, but every single review is helpful.
Here's what we're doing in the immediate future to help Steve:
  • Preparing a media kit - Q&A (from older interviews), series info, review extracts, 3rd person bio. That'll go in the folder.
  • HTML ready blog posts - optimised for Blogger & Wordpress. We'll try to put up a few options with different content. Again, those will go in the folder.
  • Optimising the product page. That means using all the spaces available in Author Central on Amazon, working with Shelfari to expand the Book Extras and updating series information. One easy change that'll pay big dividends is putting the series info on every page.
  • Updating the website with more and new content
  • Making sure the reader experience is perfect. This means minimising front matter and making sure the format conversions haven't introduced new errors. Amazon use .mobi but other stores use .ePub, .PDF, .rtf, .lrf, .pdb and .txt files. We need all of them to be perfect.
  • New print versions, using the shiny new cover.
  • Ensuring professional price points in all regions. Using a $ pegged price means some regions end up with odd looking prices like £0.77. We're aiming to get to .99 in all the regions that is possible in.  Pricing controls aren't quite granular enough to do it everywhere (as the prices are broken by Amazon store rather than country) so if yours still look odd, please accept my apologies. If we ever get that level of fine control, I'm sure Steve will use it.
  • ...And generally, more promo. More tweets, more facebooking, more google plus, more pinterest, more blog posts.
We're replying to emails as fast as we can. As you can imagine, there's a lot of work going on behind the scenes.
There may be some split testing going on this week as well. We want to make sure that things like blurbs are the absolute best they can be. Feedback here, as with everything else, is much appreciated. Don't feel the need to pull any punches either - no one is going to be offended if you say "this line doesn't work for me". It's much better to identify weaknesses now and fix them, than it is to have a paying customer find out later.
I'm sure there are a few other tasks on the list, and I'll update this post if any occur to me (or, more likely, someone emails to tell me I'm missing something obvious!).
Thanks again to everyone who has helped so far. You guys rock.

Sean, on behalf the #OperationMallory team.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Operation Mallory

OPERATION MALLORY

Normally, this blog is about offering help. We've put up our own experiences, and tried to figure out how to best maximise that elusive exposure we authors all crave.

We've talked about our books, our covers, our marketing techniques. Some  of you have tried many of them. But a technique only has value to you if you can use it, and get the same results each time (assuming quality is sufficiently high to merit a book being considered fungible). Do A, get B. That's the sort of simple, straightforward advice that we like to get, so it's the kind of advice we try to offer.

So this blog post is about a real world test of our techniques - and a request for your help in doing it.

Many of you will know Stephen C Spencer. Steve is United States Navy veteran, and a world class author of thrillers. He's got seven eBooks, all in the Paul Mallory series, under his belt. Reader reviews have been almost universally positive. In short, he's a good author with good books - good books which aren't selling.

All that makes him a wonderful test case.

But Steve also has cancer. He's suffered with a brain tumour for a while, and kept it pretty quiet. The observant among you will notice he stopped blogging and tweeting. The very observant will have noticed his twitter profile being amended...


All the authors who follow this blog will appreciate how hard it is getting your book noticed. If you can't promote, then your books go unseen and unloved. For someone in the USA (where medical treatment isn't paid for by the state), this is a double whammy. You lose income while incurring huge unexpected bills.

In the fast paced world of eBooks, it really is a case of out of sight, out of mind.  It  also doesn't help that Steve's artwork is... rather 2011. Expectations have changed, and high end artwork is now a must for any author with high hopes of maintaining sales.

Steve hasn't been able to do all the stuff we take for granted - tweets, facebook shares, blog posts, review requests from book blogs,  keeping the art current, running short term pricing, releasing new books. We're going to do it for him. Another author, the lovely Julia Hughes, has been helping me to plan a whole marketing plan for Steve. We've put together a small group of authors who have laid the groundwork up until this point but now we need to scale it up, and get everyone who loves books and knows Steve involved.

Here's the plan:

STEP 1: New artwork.

This is what his art looks like now:

These are the four novels out. Steve also has two shorts (already out), and has one finished manuscript awaiting publication (which needs some final polish).

Thanks to some very generous authors' donations, we've been able to change this already. We hired the very talented Clarissa Yeo of Yocla Designs to redo all the art. Clarissa is one of Singapore's best graphic designers, and she really knows the eBook market. We've now got new, well branded covers that look like this:
Book 1 in the Paul Mallory series - going free soon!


Book 2 in the Paul Mallory series

Book 3 in the Paul Mallory series


Book 4 in the Paul Mallory series


Book 5 in the Paul Mallory series

A Paul Mallory Short Story

A Paul Mallory Short Story


As you can see, they follow genre conventions closely - a palpable sense of danger, lots of mysterious shadows and  a strong, highly legible font.

As well as these eBook covers, Clarissa has also prepared CMYK print-ready PDFs for the five novels.

We're also unifying his online branding - so that it's consistent on all social media, the books and of course his website...

STEP 2: A new website.

Steve has been using http://www.pauldmallory.com/ for some time. This was his only active domain name - but,  he's now dropped the 'D' middle initial to give Mallory more of an everyman persona. So the old domain had to go.

Unfortunately, during his illness he didn't keep hold of StephenCSpencer.com so we had to buy it back (many thanks to the other Stephen for not price-gouging here!).

Once we had done that, we rebuilt the site. It's under construction, but what we're going for here is a clean, simple design that omits a blog. We don't know how often Steve will be able to update his site, so we want this to be as timeless and low-maintenance as possible. Part of this new site is going to involve mailing list integration, and will serve as a landing page for the books' backmatter (so readers can easily find out about the rest of the books).

Check out a book page for yourself - everything is open to feedback http://stephencspencer.com/book/its-always-darkest/

STEP 3: More distribution, and the introduction of a pricing curve.

Amazon is the 400lb gorilla in the eBook market, but iTunes, Kobo and Google are all working hard to gain market share. In some regions, like Canada, Amazon isn't the frontrunner. It makes sense to get the Mallory books out to as many people as possible.

It also makes sense to try and set up a low-maintenance marketing plan. In order to do that, Steve has agreed to give away the first book for free (which will be done via Amazon price match; much like our own Dead on Demand).

We're introducing a 'laddered' approach to sales which will look something like this:




The reasoning behind this is simple - it gives readers a no-risk chance to try Steve out. It helps convert readers to fans by giving the second book for next to nothing, but moves Steve into the 70% royalty range with books 3 and 4. Frontlist (new) titles get a small premium.

This represents phenomenal value for money. $12 for all seven books, and you don't have to risk a penny to try him out. He'll be up shortly on all the major etailers - Amazon, Kobo, B&N, GooglePlay et al.

Step 4: Eyeballs

This is the last step, and arguably the most important. We need people to see the books if we have any chance of moving copies. We're going to do this via:
  • Social media - twitter shares, facebook posts; facebook groups, G+ groups, Pinterest etc 
  • Blog posts - cover reveal, review stops 
  • Press releases - on re-publication 
  • Media interest - as a local interest story in Indiana, as a success story (we hope!) 
  • Review copies - as many as humanly possible 
  • Targeted advertising

This is where you come in. Operation Mallory has a very small warchest - provided by author donations - to place a very small number of adverts. These are going to be targeted to the websites we found success with - because Steve writes in a similar genre, so the audiences will have crossovers. That means BookBub, FKBooksandTips, ENT, Booksend, Fussy Librarian, Freebooksy etc as the budget allows (if anyone wants to see the full plan - email sean@90daysnovel.com and I'll ping a copy over).

But this isn't a big corporate campaign. We need your help. If you've got a blog, use social media, review books, or know people that do, we need you. We need space to tell Steve's story. Help us spread the word about the free book - there's no hard sell here. Steve isn't looking for charity. You get a fantastic free book, and Steve gets the chance to make a new fan.

If you're an author, we'll even throw in a value-add. Tell your readers about Steve and his books, and we'll give you space to talk about your own books here at 90daysnovel.com. It gets a couple of hundred unique hits on quiet days, and has had significantly more on busy days. It's not a big blog, but it's free if you want it.

So if you can help, comment here or drop me an email on Sean@90daysnovel.com.

All the files you need to take part in Operation Mallory, and some exclusive Helper Rewards, can be found at http://goo.gl/D3TrCK

If you can't help, please consider sharing this post/ those files with a friend who can.

Many thanks,
Sean, Dan and the rest of the Operation Mallory team.



With thanks to all the wonderful Operation Mallory supporters (in no particular order)...
Charlie Plunkett, Author
Ava K Michaels, Author
Clarissa Yeo,Yocla Designs
Izabel Brekilien
Rosie Amber, Author
Charles Yallowitz
Kat's Indie Book Blog
Wicca Witch 4 Book Blog
Wordspi
John W Howell, Author
L K Jay, Author
1WriteWay
Doreen Cox, Author
S K Nicholls, Author

Are we missing your blog post/ facebook mention/ tweet about Operation Mallory? Leave a comment, and we'll get you added.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

What is a brand?

A brand, at its most basic, is a mark that identifies something. It could be a name, a symbol, a slogan or pretty much anything that distinguishes the thing being identified.

For authors, branding is simple:

· Brand by author

· Brand by series

· Brand by book




Harry Potter is a brand. So is JK Rowling. There can be a degree of overlap in that something can have multiple identifying marks.

Sticking with Harry Potter, that could be

· JK's name

· The Potter name

· The book covers

· The lightning scar

· That music at the start of scenes in the film

All of them are brand because they're unique to Harry Potter, and they distinguish Harry Potter from other books/ films.

So, to carve out your brand you need to know what you're branding. What is YOUR unique selling point? Good books are different from what's gone before. Great books are unique (though we may still draw on past literature in creating that new unique thing).

What you brand is as important as how you brand. People have to want the thing you're offering for that brand to have any value. In law, a brand is the promise of an experience.

My brand is simple - British police procedurals set in London starring an aging cop with an eidetic memory. You pick up a Campbell Bros book, you get a taste of modern London, a look at how and why crimes are committed and what happens when the police investigate.

But I can't stick that statement on every book. So I brand my series - by using similar artwork, keeping the fontwork the same, staying to about the same length.

I can protect my brand - the execution is copyrighted. I could in theory trademark my series name - though that comes with headaches as you have defend a trademark.

The simplest way to brand is to be consistent - unified artwork, same names on all social media, and a domain name that reflects it.

I can't emphasise that last point enough - your domain name is your digital presence. If you're an indie author, your big market is probably eBooks. It might be almost all of your revenue. If you can't be found on search engines, you'll lose business.

There are costs - if you want everything looking the same, you'll be tied to one artistic style if not one artist. Changes are expensive - as you'll be changing everything at once.

And if you choose badly, you can brand in a negative way. Think budget car brands of the 70s - a brand is a promise of an experience. That doesn't say anything about the quality of that experience.


Next time - we'll look at what makes a GOOD brand versus a mediocre one, and give you an idea of what work and costs are involved.


See you next week (back Tuesday).

Monday, 17 March 2014

Éire go Brách! Two years, already?

Morning all, and a very happy St Patrick's Day!

Today marks the two year anniversary since that fateful bet. It was exactly two years ago that we set out to write a book in ninety days. Our only aspiration was to prove it could be done - and we did.

We made mistakes. We rushed things. But two years, and hundreds of thousands of copies later (note to taxman - most of them free), it's proving to be one of the best stupid/ drunk decisions ever made.

We've now got two novels out that we've co-authored: the titular 90daysnovel, Dead on Demand and its sequel Cleaver Square. On top of that, we've released a should-be-free marketing guide (that's being updated soon), a few short introductions to legal skills and published half a million words in blog posts on everything from publishing to economics to human rights.

Book three in the DCI Morton series in underway - and we're well on track to keep up a one-a-year release there, as well as various pseudonymous projects. The reason we do other stuff is to even out the downloads - publishing is subject to extreme swings in sales counts. Dead on Demand's best hour equals its worst eight months. It's that extreme.

OK, I might be exaggerating for effect, but you get the gist. Top 250 for a few days can be as many sales as 50,000 for a full year. If you've only got one novel, as we did for a long time, then your royalties swing with that pendulum. Over time, the combined average of a backlist should stabilise things and make it easier to plan.

We've said in the past that author remuneration is odd. Authors put in months or years up front, and, in a digital age, can take years to get paid. Money used to be front-loaded - advances were often all the author got, and even if they earned out the bulk of their royalties were usually earned in the first few months post publication (though perhaps not paid for a while thanks to withholding for returns etc).

I'll be totally honest, because this is an author focussed blog. It will take a long time before our books match our 'non-author' earnings potential. We've explained why before - the short of it is that an author's portfolio is back-loaded. Right now, we have two novels. In 20 years, that could easily be 25 or 30 novels.

Guess who has the bigger sales potential, the guy with one book, or the guy with twenty plus? It's pretty obvious that an author's pay is often delayed gratification. But if you can make it through the lean early years, then the potential later on is enormous. Proper planning helps - if you write in series, the book to book retention rate increases each time. Lee Child sees a reported 80% of his readers return to a sequel. That series loyalty is one of the reasons that he's a household name.

We're way down the sales curve from Lee, but we have been fortunate enough to grace the top 100 Crime, Mystery and Thrillers list here in the UK a few times with Dead on Demand, and we often rank in the niche sub-categories. I love the little categories - they make finding a reading niche really easy. If you want Scottish Police Procedurals, Amazon will serve you up a list of best 100 (small hint, they're all Ian Rankin...).

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be doing a few author-focussed posts again. We're starting tomorrow with the question 'What is branding for an author?' and looking at the high level stuff. In a digital age, it really comes down to your web presence and how it comes accross, so we'll go through a few simple techniques on how to maximise both your reach (the # of people who see you) and your appeal (the % of your reach that like what they see). It'll touch on a few nitty gritty issues like SEO, but only just - we're not here to bore the pants off you.

So, thanks for a great two years - here's to many more.

See you tomorrow!

Dan & Sean