The Revolution Continues!

By Jon F. Merz

So some big news today in the world of ebooks and indie publishing. Specifically, the fine folks at Kobo have inked a deal with the American Booksellers Association to sell ebook readers AND ebooks through independent bookstores – potentially 2,000 of them. Why is this big news? Because it opens up a whole new market demographic to indie authors who have previously been unable to penetrate the indie bookstore scene. It also brings indie bookstores into the fold and makes the selling of ebooks and actual income stream for them. This is great for everyone involved – authors, booksellers, publishers, and Kobo itself (as well as Zola, another outfit doing the same thing in the above article)

This announcement is also one further indicator that the walls are crumbling in the traditional publishing world. Now is a fantastic time to be a creator. If you’ve ever wanted to write a book – about even the most niche topic – I think this is the time to do it. As more and more big name authors turn their backs on the traditional publishing world, those publishers will have no choice but to change their Draconian rates and outdated system of business or risk perishing amid the new indie revolution.

I’ve got a fantastic indie bookstore in my town and the thought that the owner might be able to sell ebooks now is wonderful. While many indie store owners have resisted the push toward ebooks, this gives them a huge opportunity to get involved, earn a profit without needing to give up shelf space or hold unpopular inventory, and embrace the future of change – something their customers might really love. Not everyone likes buying from Amazon and would rather support a local indie store, but they might also like the convenience of ebooks. Now they can get both in one place.

I really think this is a great thing for indie bookstores and I’ve been wondering who would be the first company to lead the charge into this incredibly opportune market. I’m glad this is here because things like this raise the tide for all of us indie authors. These are exciting times and as more and more indie bookstores see that ebooks can add to their bottom line, I expect a larger segment to embrace the idea that they can be both a printed bookstore and an ebook store.

Congrats to the fine folks at Kobo for spearheading this charge. Support the indies – authors and bookstores combined!

Marketing & The Indie Author

By Jon F. Merz

I’m extraordinarily fortunate to do what I love for a living. After spending ten years in the traditional publishing world where I wrote lots of novels for many houses, I’ve pretty much made the conversion to only going indie. The money’s better, the control is yours, and the readership is there if you know how to find it. Best of all, if you keep control of your rights, the ebooks you write will earn money for you forever. And forever can be a mighty long time – even with the current copyright laws.

I get contacted by a lot of writers. Lately, I’ve seen a trend in the messages I receive. They generally read like this: “Hi Jon, I’ve written a novel and I’m thinking about bringing it out myself. Can you tell me every one of your secrets for selling as well as you do. And by the way, I’m too lazy to do any real research on you and see how many posts you’ve written on your blog about this very thing, so kindly write back to me and take more time out of your schedule to only help me when you could be writing more.” Actually, that last line isn’t in any of the messages, but it’s frankly how I feel when I get one of these things. The author is about to embark on a huge undertaking and yet they’ve done no research on how to sell their work or market it. Instead, it’s easier to drop me a line and hope I’ll respond.

Marketing and sales techniques are not something I think I’m particularly good at. So I make it a point to study the tactics of several people I respect who have their finger on the pulse of new ideas much more than I do. And they’re not authors, either, which I think makes them even more valuable. What I’ve managed to learn from them and apply to my own sales and marketing efforts is something any author should be doing: study what works and then experiment with it to see if it will work for you as well.

I read a blog post earlier today about scheduling and one of the commenters dismissed marketing as unworthy of her time. “A book will sell moderately on its own merit,” she stated proudly.

I think that’s a pretty stupid assertion to make. Whether or not an author likes marketing, they’d sure as hell better be willing to do some. The indie author movement is a great thing in many respects, but it also means a LOT more ebooks are out there clamoring for readers’ attentions. If you don’t have a brand or a platform or some other way to get your work noticed, then chances are your sales may not be as good as they could be.

A little over a year ago, some well-know schmoe wrote a book about how he’d managed to sell a million ebooks. I, like many others, immediately went and downloaded his book and read it – anxious for any tidbits he might have sprinkled throughout the pages. The book was a massive waste of time. In fact, it so infuriated me that he’d written something so clearly designed to only give him a boost and not help others, that I immediately wrote my own book and packed it full of hardcore advice on what I use to sell ebooks. The book has gotten some great reviews and I still hear from people thanking me for writing it, which is nice. Some folks don’t like the fact that I push a particular piece of software in the book for managing Twitter (and I am an affiliate of this software because it works so incredibly well) but that’s what I use every day to help increase my audience. You can still get the book for the Kindle or for the Nook.

So for those who are new to this or for those who are looking to increase their sales, here’s a quick list of marketing techniques I engage in every day.

1. Facebook Page: Get a Facebook Page! I don’t know how else to put this – your personal profile is not enough and it’s limited by Facebook. Your page is not. Need help building one? I wrote a two-part guide to doing it – HERE and HERE

2. Twitter: If you read my ebook HOW TO REALLY SELL EBOOKS, you know I recommend Tweetadder as the single best Twitter management software you can buy. I still recommend using it (use it wisely, however!) in my ebook and the techniques I use are in there.

3. Blog: Start blogging. You don’t have to do it every day, but it helps. Make sure you sign up for Authorship at Google and you’ll see your blog posts start to score better in search rankings.

4. Interact: Are there fans on your page asking questions or commenting? Interact with them. Same goes for Twitter. I astounds me when I see bestselling authors ignoring fans. It’s stupid and it hurts your bottom line.

5. Study: Find sales and marketing gurus and study what they do. Read business articles, tech articles, publishing industry articles and ferret out the things that can help you sell more.

6. Write: You might think this is at the wrong end of the list, but it’s here for a reason: to stress how important it is to make sure your sales & marketing systems are firing on all cylinders. Yes, you absolutely need to write as much as possible, but you also need to make sure you SELL what you’ve written so that writing new stuff makes sense in the first place.

Here’s what I DON’T do:

1. Hang on out Kindleboards. I used to. But it’s a massive time suck. And while there are some great people out there enjoying incredible success (which is awesome) there’s also a lot of what I affectionately call “groupthink.” And groupthink is dangerous. You need to chart your own course, not follow in the path of others.

2. Hang out on Goodreads: Pretty much the same reason as above.

3. Pay attention to reviews: the simple fact is some people will love your work and others will hate it. This is the price of admission to being a writer. If you bask in the glow of a good review, that means you also have to wallow in the stain of a bad one. The best course? Ignore reviews. Sure you can post about them when you get a 5-star (as I often do) but don’t place any real value on them. They’re valuable to readers who want to know what they’re getting into when they click buy, but for you as the author, try to ignore them.

I’ve written many other posts on promotion and publicity for indie authors. Use the keyword categories to the right of this page to search for posts. It’s always been my philosophy that a rising tide floats all boats. That’s why I write these posts – I want you to be successful, too! As I said at the start of this post, I’m very fortunate to do what I love for work and earn a very good living doing so. If you want to be a writer, the dream can be yours as well. But don’t look for shortcuts. Study and work hard!

GORUCK CHALLENGE UPDATE

Entering the 3rd week of Insanity for cardio endurance. Morning runs are being transitioned over to night runs. And I’m doing many, many push-ups with the weighted vest on to build muscle endurance for the event. Good livin’!

Vook vs. Kobo

By Jon F. Merz

There are two new platforms for indie authors to potentially sell their ebooks on that have come out in recent months: Kobo and Vook. I’ve been experimenting with both platforms and thought it might be helpful to let you know what I’ve experienced.

Let’s look at Vook first. When Vook first appeared on the radar screen, it seemed as though its main focus was on selling authors and publishers on their ebook conversion service. In other words, you pay them a certain amount of money and they take your files and turn them into a completed ebook. Vook has said it can enhance ebooks published through them with multimedia content, etc. Obviously, as an indie author, I didn’t need to pay them to do the conversion for me – especially considering their prices at the time were rather expensive.

And then Vook also said that it welcomed indie authors who wanted to publish on their Vookstore without distributing to their other content partners. (Vook has a wholesale relationship with Amazon) Anyone choosing to do so would earn 85% royalties per sale. Attractive, yes, since those are the highest in the industry right now.

But let’s look at the process before we jump to the conclusion that Vook is the new powerhouse to publish with. I had registered with the Vook system months back when I first heard about them. However, despite putting my email into the login section and trying to access my account, Vook repeatedly claimed i had the wrong password. When I went to reset my password, Vook told me that my email – the very email they’ve been sending updates to – wasn’t in their system. Grumble grumble. So I registered with another email account and finally got access to the system.

I’m going to hazard a guess and say that whoever designed the Vook interface was an engineer and not an author. In fact, I’d wager that no authors were even consulted during the design process of this interface. Because, frankly, it’s incredibly awkward and not user friendly. The first thing that happens is a pop-up box that asks the title of your ebook. Once you enter this, a whole new screen comes up that looks more like a WYSIWYG editor than a platform to upload your ebook.

And this is important because Vook’s primary focus is NOT (it seems) on servicing experienced indie authors. An experienced indie author will hit Vook’s site and already have good-to-go epub files and cover art images that they simply want to upload, put in the basic info, and then publish.

Unfortunately, Vook wants you to use their services – which cost money – and so, you have to navigate through accordingly. Ignore the first tab and click on the “Upload + File Manager” since that is what indie authors will want. (I’m walking through the process as I write this, and right now, Vook’s site is lagging horribly. >whistling< So, how 'bout the Patriots this season, eh?) Okay, it's back. You'll see the "upload files" icon so click on that and you can upload your epub file. Vook doesn't say if they want you to also upload your cover art at this point or not, but underneath the "upload files" icon they list the supported file types which include .jpg and .png, so I (incorrectly) assumed this was also where I was supposed to upload the cover art. Uh uh. So just upload your .epub file and move on. Click on "Details" and Vook takes you to a new page that asks how you want to distribute your ebook. You can either publish to Vook for free and earn 85% royalties. Or you can pay $99 bucks and have Vook distribute your ebook to Amazon, B&N, and iTunes. Here's where I frowned and gave myself some more wrinkles in my forehead. This is the exact language under the $99 option: "Vook pays you 100% of the royalties the distributors pay to us. We take no cut off your sales in Amazon, BN, and iBooks." Well, not exactly. As I mentioned earlier, Vook has a "wholesale relationship" with Amazon and your cut at other vendors gets a bit "weird." Here's how they break it down: Amazon: You keep 43.2% of royalties of the list price you set Amazon takes 56.8% Barnes & Noble: You keep 50% of royalties, Barnes & Noble takes 50% Apple: You keep 70% of royalties, Apple takes 30% Now, the obvious question is why would you pay Vook to do this for you when you can do it yourself and keep more money? And as an experienced indie author, the fact is, you shouldn't. Vook is focusing itself as an answer to those authors/publishers/media companies who don't want to hassle with preparing files. This seems to be where Vook expects to make its money. Pricing for its services - aside from the $99 distribution - are not available that I could find without contacting Vook and requesting a free evaluation of what you need them to do. I don't know about you, but a lack of transparency always makes me suspicious as to how much Vook charges. Once you get past the distribution pricing screen, you're back to filling out the basic info about your ebook. This section has three more tabs to jump through. This is also where you'll finally upload your cover art. But wait - they only accept .png files for cover art. Mine was in .jpg so that was an extra step I had to go through. The other tabs are fairly basic stuff. Once you've gotten everything filled in, they run your ebook through epubcheck and make sure it's up to snuff. They have terms & agreements you have to agree to and then you publish it. My ebook was supposedly live within about a half hour, but doing a search for "merz" and "ninja" - both keywords I used in the keyword section they asked me to fill out failed to produce results. So I have no clue if the thing is actually on-sale or not. It probably takes a fair amount of time for the info to migrate through their systems. My big problems with Vook come down to this: 1. Interface = clunky. Seriously. It's not pretty or intuitive. It's also clearly geared toward the inexperienced and getting them to pay for services. I would have liked to see two options upon logging in to create a new ebook. One for folks who already have their stuff good-to-go and one for those who might actually want to use Vook's services. 2. Too many steps to go through to publish. Much of it could be accomplished on one screen instead of breaking it up as they have done so. Again, this feels like a serious design problem. 3. Payments - can you say "ugh?" I knew you could. They're quarterly, within sixty days of the end of the quarter. Yuck. Not only that but they only seem to pay by check. And they charge you $5 bucks to process the check. Dear Vook, it's the 21st century. Get with the rest of the innovators and offer net 60 days terms along with the option to direct deposit or Paypal the money over. Check? That feels like a throwback to the publishing dinosaurs of yesteryear. No thanks. Also, I haven't yet seen where I can enter my mailing address for this check to be sent to. It's like Vook forgot that not everyone will be paying them money, so they ignored that option on where to capture that info from. >sigh< As may be obvious by now, my experience with Vook was not the best. I'm not impressed by the platform design, the payment process, the amount of time it took me to get the ebook uploaded (about forty minutes-one hour because Vook also kicked me off and I had to re-login after being idle for a few minutes), or the transparency issue. Vook is new, so I hope they fix a lot of the issues they have right now. Let's move on... I was fortunate enough to be one of Kobo’s beta testers for its Writing Life platform. And again, not to harp on this, but Vook should have gotten beta testers that were actually indie authors to help streamline their own platform. I’m sure the results would have been much, MUCH better.

Kobo’s platform from the outset, is incredibly easy-to-use. There are two screens of information to fill out. The layout is simple and friendly. The information needed is the same as any other publishing platform, and I found Writing Life a very relaxing and simple experience. Exactly what an indie author would want. I had ebooks uploaded within ten minutes. Remarkably fast.

Since Kobo is a Canadian company, they require a Swift code and mailing address for US banks for direct deposit payments. In talking with Mark Lefebvre who is the director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations at Kobo, they have plans to begin using routing numbers and the like in the future. That was about the only hiccup I had to jump through initially because I had to find out what my bank branch mailing address was. UPDATE: After reading this post, Mark contacted me to let me know they have since changed that field to now accept routing numbers as well – further evidence of how committed Kobo is to providing excellent service to indie authors!

Once you get your material uploaded, Writing Life takes approximately 30 minutes to bring a title out for sale. That’s pretty fast considering both Amazon and Barnes & Noble can be anywhere from a few hours to days. During the beta testing phase, there were a few delays, but that has been cleared up now and my recent uploads have all been processed extremely fast.

Kobo is also incredibly author-friendly. Any questions or problems I had with the process during the beta-test phase were immediately addressed. Ideas and suggestions were incorporated and Kobo’s focus seems to be really on capturing a segment of the indie publishing movement. They’ve done an incredible job of starting to achieve that goal by making things as easy and simple-to-use as possible. There’s nothing confusing about the process. There are no fees or extra gimmicks. You can choose to have your prices set automatically for foreign countries or override them yourself and set the price point where you want it.

Kobo’s Writing Life platform is, frankly, awesome. They obviously took a great deal of time learning what worked for Amazon and Barnes & Noble and then spent an equal amount of time refining the process. Not only that, they went out and recruited Mark Lefebvre, who happens to be an incredible resource for indie authors. Mark is a pleasure to work with – a dedicated writer himself – and clearly knows what indie authors are looking for because Writing Life has everything they need.

Now, I think it’s fair to say that the goals of these two companies are clearly different. Vook is aiming at the inexperienced or the lazy media conglomerate looking to outsource the job of producing ebooks. They’re looking to make their money on their services. Experienced indie authors are a sort-of “extra” bit for them. At least that’s how it felt after using their system.

Kobo’s Writing Life, on the other hand, is clearly aimed at indie authors. And while it’s nice for experienced indies, it is also incredibly easy-to-use for the inexperienced. Aimed as it is at the indie publishing community, I expect Writing Life will easily assume a very powerful position within the industry. They’ve done things in their design than both Amazon and B&N can actually learn from. That’s powerful stuff.

At the end of the day, I’m not convinced that Vook is worthwhile for experienced indies. I’ve got one book up there right now and that’s probably all I’ll do at this point. By contrast, I’m getting all of my 40+ titles up onto Kobo’s Writing Life as soon as possible (I’m under deadlines right now, so the process is on-going.)

Your own mileage may, of course, vary if you choose to publish with either platform so as always, experience them for yourself.

Here’s to your success in publishing!

Indie Authors & Business Sense

By Jon F. Merz

The summer doldrums have set in. Each year around this time, I get tired of the blanket of humidity that threatens to suffocate and I dream about crisp autumn days and cool nights that warrant good jazz on the stereo, a stiff drink, and a blazing fire in the hearth. But we’ve still got a way to go before those days are here, so it’s time to make the best of the situation by checking out how my business is doing during these hot months.

I know a lot of indie authors. Blog posts like these tend to bump up friend requests on Facebook, Twitter, etc., which is always cool. One of the things I’ve noticed, though, is how few indie authors treat their career like the business it is.

On one hand, it’s understandable. Never before have writers been able to actually create a career for themselves without needing to rely on New York City publishing. And when new authors figure out they can make a living doing this, they often spend the first year or so amazed at the success they’re enjoying and lose focus on the business side of things. Because what writers now are is most definitely a business. As such, it’s critical that you keep checking out your various systems to make sure your success continues.

Look at last summer, for example. It was my first real summer doing the indie thing and around the end of June, the bottom fell out on the strong sales I’d been enjoying during the Spring. I was still selling well, but not nearly what I had been. With that in mind, I was determined not to see a repeat of the sales slump this year. How have I done so far? Excellently. My sales have actually gone up each month this summer. Needless to say, I’m very pleased about that.

Here are some of the steps I took to combat the summer sales slump:

1. New work: my philosophy now is that it is absolutely critical that indie writers increase their output as much as they are capable of doing. If you can successfully write something and get it out every month, then I think that goes a long way toward ensuring continued success. Not only does new work increase your virtual shelf space, it also spreads the heavy lifting across multiple titles (meaning that no one title has to sell a whole lot of copies in order for your income to remain steady or increase. The more titles you have, the fewer copies you need to sell of each in order to reach your income goals.)

2. Series: I’ve said this before, but I really believe that authors need to create a series. Having a series that sells well virtually guarantees that you have a ready audience for the next adventure you release in that series. And once you have one series, you can experiment and start new ones. Zombie Ryu is my latest series – and it’s episodic with a new adventure out each month.

3. Top sellers: I hope that you’re using a spreadsheet to track your sales (if not, for crying out loud develop one and use it religiously) and that you have access to previous month’s numbers. Over time, you’ll naturally see what titles sell better than others. If it happens to be a series, then it’s obviously a good idea to plan new releases for that series. You want to keep adding fuel to that fire that’s burning. More sales in that series are always important. My Lawson Vampire series is one of the primary income generators for me, so you can bet that I have new releases mapped out well ahead of time. I shoot to release four new Lawson adventures each year: one new novel, at least one novella, and at least two short stories. If you don’t have a series but a single standalone title that makes the most for you, is there any way to write a sequel or turn it into a series? If so, you can capitalize on the popularity of that title.

4. New stories: throughout the summer, there have been lots of topical news stories that savvy authors can use to help promote themselves – especially on Twitter, and especially without being blatant about it. What do I mean? Here’s one example I used recently: two weeks or so ago, the Olympics opened. NBC did a horrible job of covering it and then populated the broadcast with moronic commentary from Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera who seemed incapable of simply shutting their mouths. I took to Twitter and posted several tweets expressing my frustration with the broadcast. Tons of people re-tweeted my posts. And many more wandered over to my Twitter profile page. Guess what? Sales went up that night and for that entire weekend. As I’ve written previously, it’s vital that you maximize your selling power by creating your own Twitter background. That way, when people wander over to see who you are they see the book covers and you might just entice them to pick up some of your books. My Twitter profile background shows the first four books in my Lawson series – the same books that sold more that weekend. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don’t think so. And I was able to generate sales passively – that is to say I didn’t have to hit them over the head with a tweet pushing my latest book. I picked up a whole lot of new followers as well that weekend – and everyone who follows me gets a nice message inviting them to sign up for my free newsletter. And wouldn’t you know it, my newsletter subscription numbers went up that weekend as well. The point here is that there are new stories happening all the time that you can take advantage of to introduce yourself to new readers.

5. Holiday Season: We might still be in the midst of summer, but you’d better already be developing a plan to take advantage of the Christmas shopping season. E-readers will no doubt be the hot gift item this year, so what are you doing now to make sure your brand gets noticed by eager new readers? How will you interact with your new readers? Do you have a newsletter yet? How is your Facebook Fan Page? Your personal website? Take advantage of the lazy days of summer to get your entire business in shape now so that come the chaos of the holiday season, you’ll know all of your systems are firing exactly as they should be.

Like this post? Share it around with other indie authors!

GORUCK CHALLENGE UPDATE:

I’ve spent the last two weeks on vacation and then redecorating my sons’ bedrooms, so my regimen has been off slightly. That said, I did the first Insanity workout today (and it kicked my ass).

Couple of Quickies…

I’m back from vacation well-rested and ready to get cranking again. Today, however, is devoted to painting my sons’ bedrooms. I started one yesterday and will finish today. That Monday adrenaline rush never gets old, eh? 😉 GORUCK Challenge updates will return soon…

Joe Nassise and I have a brand new ebook bundle out called DOUBLE TROUBLE. It features two full-length novels. From Joe, you get the first book in his awesome Templar Chronicles, THE HERETIC. And from me, you get Lawson in THE FIXER. The bundle is just $8.95 for two incredible reads. You should buy it here for the Kindle and here for the Nook and here if you shop at Kobo.

ZOMBIE RYU Episode Two will be out later this month. Make sure you grab the first episode and if you love it, then leave a review on Amazon, B&N, and anywhere else people purchase fine ebooks. The second episode cranks things up even more. Zombie vs. samurai and ninja in feudal Japan is a winning combination! Again, KINDLE | NOOK | KOBO

Finally, while many of you were asleep last night, I got a phone call from NASA. Seems that Curiosity Lander touched down and its first picture caught a lot of folks by surprise. Who knew Martians had such good taste? Apparently not even the best minds at NASA knew, so I’m being flown down today on a private Gulfstream 5 (after painting) to discuss the inherent galactic implications this photograph entails. I have no idea if Lawson will be chosen for first contact or not, but all options are on the table. More news when I have it…

🙂