How I Sold Fifty Thousand E-books Without Spending Money

character: Lazy Sal, Futurama.

This the kind of click-bait/low-quality post you see on author boards like Kboards and elsewhere. Basically, some author wants to brag about how s/he banged out a book in two weeks, bought a stock image book cover, added their name and book title on it, and uploaded the completed file to Amazon with no editing or formatting, and then saw the book go to #1 on the Amazon bestsellers list for three straight weeks. It’s tough to know who’s telling the truth and who’s just looking for attention, but they do bring up a good question: How much should you spend on a self-published book? Estimates vary, with some people going all out for about $1500-2000 a book and some people saying the spent $5 on a stock photo and otherwise no editing, no formatting, just plopped a cover on there and soon it was making them tens of thousands within a month.

I honestly cannot figure out how any serious author can produce such low-quality work and expect to be successful. Yes, maybe once or twice someone spent, like, ten bucks on a cover, threw a book up on Amazon, and sold 100,000+ copies and is now seeing their movie being made into a Hollywood film. Maybe. Realistically, those people with the shortcut attitude will be lucky to sell more than 500 doing that. But who knows? Apparently you can write Justin Bieber fan-fic and get a million or billion views, or write a poorly written book and sell 100 million, so why not?

The answer should be, there is no “right” answer. If you can barter for editing services, good for you. If you’re a natural artist and you can make a great cover, good for you. Otherwise, any good book should have 1-2 qualified editors (people with a background in editing, at least one of them an actually book editor), at least three reliable beta readers (helps you test plot holes and pick up anything the editor could have missed), and someone who can actually create a book cover. Whether you spend $40 or $400 is irrelevant, whether your total is $300, $500, or $2000, as long as you get the cover you want and can make sales with the best looking product you can make. It’s not the cost, it’s the quality.

The bottom line: You don’t see major publishers or bestselling indies skimp on every process of book creation any more than Rolex skimps out on producing a luxury watch. Wouldn’t you rather emulate the successful than the bragaholic cheapskate looking for clicks?

I can’t answer for you, but I know A LOT LOT LOT of people with that kind of attitude. They want to show off how cheap they are or how little effort they can put in. It’s like someone saying that, instead of producing a great video, they just farted on their webcam, uploaded it to YouTube, and had 500,000 views in a month. Oh wait, I think that did happen.

They put in the minimal effort into everything, and then wonder why they aren’t successful. Hm.

For the record, on one of my just-completed novels, I hired an editor with six-plus years Big 5 experience. She actually was reasonable, in the triple digits for a full development and line edit (the line was the major cost). I will let you know how she does after she finishes work, but so far I’m very enthused about working with her.

What about you? How much do you spend on producing your book? Do you do any marketing?

Seven Things I’ve Learned Using Social Media

Anyone trying to build a personal brand knows you have to use social media. All of us are increasingly spending more and more time online, whether from a desktop or mobile device, so being where people are is important if you want to reach folks.

The question is though, how many social media sites does one need to be active on to be successful? I’m not just talking about Facebook, etc., but blogs and “hang out” places like Kboards.com or whatever it is in your field you like. I’m still learning but here are seven things I’ve learned from trying to create my online platform.

1. Contrary to popular wisdom, you really don’t need to be a star with every site Conversely, you should be using more than one. I would say if you can use 3 social media sites and stay active on at least 2 blog boards (your personal blog counts for this, as does someone else’s blog) that’s more than sufficient. Stretching yourself too thin will dilute your impact but too few limits your ability to find new fans for your brand.  There are so many social media sites (Do you use Keek? Vine? Tumblr? Instagram? Snapchat? Flickr?) you just can’t star at ’em all unless you either a) use social media like a full-time job or b) hire someone to manage your social media full time. Ignore anyone who says that if you’re not on dozens of social media sites you’re “missing out”. There are very few people or businesses which can use that many sites and all of them have social media managers.

B&B: I use Facebook for personal use, Twitter (personal), LinkedIn (professional), Google+ (both), my blog (both), and I just signed up for Pinterest (which you can visit at https://www.pinterest.com/samfriedman100/). Check out my blog this Thursday for some great Pinterest tips. I also have a Vimeo account but it’s inactive at this time.

2. YouTube is a great tie-in to your other sites, but useless without a strategy Unless your direct objective is to be a YouTube celebrity or to get just enough viewers to collect a little ad revenue, producing even basic quality, simple content is time-consuming. It takes me about an hour to make a 2-5 minute video, edit it, add a free music soundtrack for intro and outro music, and publish with keyword rich videos. If I need photos it could take a little longer given my computer’s age and hard drive speed. Absolutely use YT to promote your brand but make sure YT fits into your overall platform plan. Otherwise your random videos will be drowned out by gamers, sketch comedians, DIY celebrities, and anyone willing to do basically anything to become famous. Hmmm…..

3. Visit blog boards in your area of interest and post, but don’t be worried if you aren’t a heavy poster I’ve been a registered member of Kboards for about 6 months and I have maybe 30 posts. Working a full time paid job and managing several other part-time jobs and volunteering keeps me too busy to post a ton but I do try. On at least one occasion a woman on Kboards snarkily commented how I had been on 3 months but had 8 posts (at the time) when I tried to post a topic question. Get your name out there but focus on your brand first and foremost and don’t feel bad if you’re not a board addict.

4. Identify the best posting times for each site Not all social media sites are created equal when it comes to posting. Did you know the best times to post to YouTube are Wednesday-Friday from 12-3 PM, but Saturday and Sunday 9-11 AM? Did you know some Pinterest brands in areas like cars and fashion do better if Pinned Friday afternoon, which is a total dead time for LinkedIn posts? Experiment and measure your data to see how you’re doing and when you find the times which work best for you, get those posts in as consistently as you can.

5. Experiment with different ideas per site, and keep track of what works and what doesn’t For LinkedIn I found that posts about social media were my most popular, giving me hundreds of readers and followers at a time. In contrast, posts about anything else had far fewer hits. Twitter does well when I follow accounts tied into writing but less so tied into other things. I agree that branding only works when you follow a somewhat consistent pattern to make yourself identifiable with a brand, so in my case writing and personal branding tips. But I disagree with anyone who thinks you have to use the same concepts for all your social media platforms. So long as you stay within your brand image, it’s OK to post one type of post to LinkedIn and then a variant of that post, or a whole new one, to your personal blog.

6. Consider using Hoostsuite or Buffer to manage posts Eventually you will discover just how difficult it is to post to all sites consistently. Do I write a LinkedIn Influencer post today or post for my blog? Should I post a photo of my uncle’s adorably kitty to Twitter or Pinterest? Why not both? Eventually you will outgrow your ability to manage all posts so look for a social media manager like Hootsuite or Buffer. I use Buffer for personal stuff and Hootsuite for CRI which allows me to test which one is better, and there ARE other options as well. Find one you like and stick with it. Post as consistently same time/day as you can, but don’t get alarmed if you aren’t 100% consistent. You’re only human, even if your scheduler isn’t, and those who insist you manage half a dozen sites at the same time every single day fail to note this. Anyone who stops reading or following you because your post is a day late isn’t worth your worry, anyway.

7. Your Search Engine Optimization improves with your relevant online use Have you ever been contacted by someone promising to get you on the top page in Google’s search engine for your category? Obsessed over how to be found? The truth is, your total online presence and relevance is the top driver for SEO. The more relevant posts and publications you have which can be identifiable by you, the higher your SEO ranking will go. Don’t spend money on these “experts” who offer to boost your rating if you give them a lot of money. They can’t do anything productive for you and money you could have spent on Google AdWords to advertise your brand (or similar services such as Bing Ads) will be swallowed in the black hole of worrying about your SEO ranking.

Coming up next: National Pancake Day! Why I’m getting involved

Coming up soon: Some Pinterest posting tips I’m learning about.

Another publication!

Writing about Intellectual Property, mind you, not for fiction. Watchdog.org is “a collection of independent journalists covering state-specific and local government activity. The program began in September 2009, a project of Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to promoting new media journalism.

Our established investigative journalists and capitol news reporters across the country are doing what legacy journalism outlets prove unable to do: share information, dive deep into investigations, and provide the fourth estate that has begun to fade in recent decades. By enhancing communication between reporters and providing a forum for published journalism, Watchdog.org promotes a vibrant, well-informed electorate and a more transparent government.”

The bottom line is that I can’t speak highly enough of the great work they do. Watchdog reporters are doing investigative reporting and holding people accountable, and they do it for free. As a non-profit of course they need donations, which is why it’s so critical for groups like theirs to receive support. 

Anyway, my article is, by coincidence, a follow-up to my recent article about why giving away your work for free forever with no strings attached is a bad idea. The more I see this on Kboards or other blogs the more annoyed I get; yes, there are good legitimate reasons to give away items free IF you meet one of my criteria in that article. But believe me, if perma-free on everything worked, everyone would do it and everyone would make $100,000+ a year just by “building an audience”. All this does is tell me that I should be willing to completely devalue my work for all eternity in the low, low hope that people will discover me against everyone else doing the same thing, think I’m a genius, and suddenly agree to pay $3-$5 for my next book and soon I’ll be making bank like the roughly 1.8% of self-published authors who are instead of the roughly 90% who certainly will not be quitting their day jobs to write. Especially if you don’t write romance or mystery.

This argument is about “creations of the mind” like books, movies, music, etc., and why we must respect these copyrights. Unfortunately the digital age it’s far too easy to simply lift other people’s work and distribute it free to everyone without really attributing it to the original creator, or to end up in a race war to the bottom where eventually someone will come up with the brilliant idea of giving away ALL books free forever, and will just sell a few ads in each book to offset the cost. Naturally, people will get mad at first when authors start selling a few ads in their e-books, but once a few more do it and people realize a few ads are worth it to get everything free, then why should anyone pay for books? It will be just like YouTube, where people expect free videos with the occasional annoying ad they may or may not be able to click out of. Those who are talented, internet/business savvy, and/or lucky will command top dollar and crowd everyone else out, while everyone else will be crushed by the sheer number of free-books available now. Here you go:

“When you ask someone “What makes a culture?” you could come up with many answers, but most of your answers will lead back to Intellectual Property (IP). Music, books, clothing designs, technologies , and new inventions of products or services such as medicines or engine designs are born and thrive in free societies where these ideas are encouraged and respected.

IP is considered “property of the mind” and all the copyrights, trademarks, and legal protections associated with it. The Founding Fathers recognized the importance of protecting these creations and thus, in Article I section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, wrote:

The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Read the full article here

Five Reasons I Believe You Should NOT Give Away your Books Perma-Free

Should you give away any of your books for free, forever on the internet? This topic is frequently posted on the Kboards site of which I am an infrequent poster. If you didn’t know before Kboards.com is an Amazon-affiliated messaging board for writers, authors, editors, and anyone else involved in producing indie books. While a few of the editors and authors also have traditionally published books, most of the posters are like you and me, self-published or never-published types.

The consensus from most of the authors on that site, ranging from “small fish” to “big fish”, is that yes, give away free books on Amazon. Lots of books. Maybe just the first one or two you write, maybe the first in every new series. The argument goes like this: If I, anonymous author, want to get visibility, I need to let people “test drive” my book first. Not by merely provided sample chapters from a book before you buy, but the big kahuna. Then people will be more willing to give me a chance, and thousands will download my book free. Then when I charge $3.99 or $4.99 for the next book or rest of the series, people who liked it will pay the money knowing they liked it. After all, in a free market economy, don’t we all want the maximum value for the lowest price?

To be honest, I don’t think free-books is such a great idea as a long-term strategy. While innovation is based on people experimenting with new ways of doing things, the adage that “if it was such a great idea then everyone would do it” also bears some truth. Not that I am NOT talking about sending free copies for review, or having a special deal of “sign up for my e-newsletter” or “buy 2 get 1 free” or “buy a book and get a free bookmark or customized stylus pen” or “free e-book for 30 days”. Act now!. I am talking about leaving your work free, forever, to anyone who wants to download it, with no strings attached. I also included 5 reasons it MIGHT work for you.

“But,” you say, “so-and-so indie-published author did perma-free and she went from 10 sales a week to 500 a day! Clearly it works for everyone.”

Ahem, my friend, if this was true for everyone then all authors, including mid-list or low-list authors whose trad-pub contracts are expiring, would stop trying to seek a literary agents and would instead throw their product up on the web for free, assuming that somehow people will recognize the genius of their book and by book 2 or 3 so many copies will be purchased you won’t have to ever get a literary agent. It will not happen with 99% certainty. Below are my five reasons NOT to give away any of your books perma-free:

1. A well-published book, print or e-book, has costs. Editing, graphic design, advertising (if you choose), and most importantly, your time. What else could you have done instead of write? Yes everyone loves free samples and free stuff, but you tell me ONE business which gives away labor for free for all eternity without getting something in return and I will check dailyjobcuts.com to see if they’re still in business. While there is a high percentage of our population which never wants to pay for anything, most people are willing to pay at least a token amount for a product or service.

2. Giving away a “test drive” is no guarantee of future sales. Unless you just want people to read your story and costs and connection don’t matter much, you can’t be sure that test driving an entire book will somehow make people fall in love with your story. First off, how many people download your book and actually read it? How many WANT to discover new writers, instead of just scoring free e-books? And finally, the more someone pays for a book the more likely someone is to actually read it. I’m not saying price e-books at $9.99, but do you think a person who spends $5 is more or less likely to read at least some of a book than one they got free?

“But,” someone says, “e-books technically don’t exist since you create one copy and an unlimited number of people can download the file and it costs roughly zero dollars after the first e-copy.” True, but you still paid for editing, graphic design, maybe even beta readers for that one e-book. With REAL money.

3. The average book sells fewer than 500 copies in its entire lifetime. Now maybe you’re the superior author and it will turn out that giving away one book and selling 50,000 next time will happen to you. But think of the odds; if you are unlucky enough to be even “slightly above-average”, you will not make enough money from book 2 on to cover what you spent on book 1. Plus there’s the cost and value of your time. Don’t expect a free-book to necessarily get lots of downloads, and expect even fewer people to be interested. If you are “average Joe or Jane” and you sell 450 of each book, think of how many you would have to write to make up for book #1 being free forever at no cost.

3. Your new (and old) competition. “When you offer your work for free, you set yourself up for a massive new competition—namely, all the free stuff on the internet. Seriously. You are now competing with all public domain work (H. P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, etc.), fanfiction, and freebies from other writers of your own status or higher—not to mention torrents of books from popular authors. If you think competing with the open market is hard, try competing with the above.” (K.H. Koehler)

4. You are NOT guaranteed lots of reviews because you gave it away for free (K.H. Koehler and my own observations). For example, I have accepted free e-books in exchange for reading them and posting reviews on Amazon. That author may have 25 reviews but no sales, and all of his reviews he got from soliciting people like me to read them for free. Plus his time and money.

5. If you get caught up in the “free-book” movement then your followers may start to expect it. Yes, one or maybe two won’t hurt your reputation IF you are talented and savvy enough to sell significantly more copies. But start doing it at the beginning of every series? 1. you’re losing money on your work and costs that someone would have paid for (who among Orson Scott Card’s fans regret paying for Ender’s Game?) and 2. Don’t be surprised when you DO charge for your books and suddenly find a lot of your “fans” are a lot less enthusiastic to pay you for your work. Remember, I’m talking about throwing up your book to the universe for free forever. Are there really no people just looking for free stuff?

Even Brian Jud, a book-marketing consultant who supports perma-free, wrote (italics mine): “Invest in your future by giving books away now. But only do so with the expectation that you will be repaid with additional revenue over the long haul.

So then, are there times to give away free work forever? There actually are, but only if you’re going to meet any of the following criteria:

1. You’re giving away smaller content or content which no one would reasonably be expected to pay for. For example, short stories, sample chapters, a “guide” to your fictional universe, poetry, etc. This is done to highlight your main work to get them to the “prize”.

2. You’re getting something in return for your free-book. E-mail subscribers? Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or Facebook followers? a book review in a place where it’s likely people are going to see it? Free services like beta reading and reviews? Anything at all.

3. At the very beginning of your writing career AND/OR you are really unsure if you’re going in the right direction– I am in this spot and the temptation to offer a free-book is tempting; why should I get to charge anyone? If you want to dip your toe in the water, or test a radical concept this may work. Then see rule #2 above.

4. If you are seeking publication which does not offer payment for publication. Self-publishing has lots of advantages, but if you can get published in a credible publishing establishment, take it. This section is for tiny publishers or academic journals where you’re mainly seeking a little prestige or ego boost. Especially if you’re just starting out AND #3 above.

5. You have a serious, solid plan for what you’re doing. If you have a well-planned long-term strategy for exactly how you will generate interest, or make money, giving away a free-book could get you the initial attention you want

So that’s my list. Feel free to send in your own ideas of why you should (not) give away your books perma-free. I’ll sweeten the deal: If I get at least five unique comments on this blog, I’ll choose one of you who posted at random and send a $5 gift card to you for Amazon or B&N, your choice. This is a way for me to build engagement. See? I’ll pay to get something in return.