My Indie Publishing Adventure to Date

2016-02-01 latte coffee laptop computer tableBrew Your Own Adventure: Post 1

We announced in the IPT Newsletter that we were about to start a new thing: Monthly progress reports on my (Danielle’s) indie publishing venture. Carrie’s and my goal is to make a full-time income writing through self-publishing. The Brew Your Own Adventure series will document my progress!

To get you oriented, this first post will summarize my indie publishing life thus far. Then I’ll end with my goals for the coming month. Let’s go!

2016-03-07 My Indie Publishing Adventure to Date

Where It All Began

I first heard about indie publishing in 2013. After some research, I realized this was exactly the thing for me. Why wait for a publisher to give me a nod of approval when I could sell directly to my readers? My research also revealed that a lot of work was involved. I wasn’t daunted. I love a challenge. And I was strongly drawn to the liberty to make my publishing decisions myself – from pricing and promotions to cover art.

My First Book

Journaling Front Cover lores (432x648)My first book happened by accident. It started as a series of blog posts here at IPT that did quite well. I decided to write up a quick booklet based on those posts. Well … it grew and became a full-length creative writing guide: Journaling to Become a Better Writer: Seven Keys to More Authentic Fiction. I self-published it in December 2014 – my first book!

How My First Book Did

I decided to go wide (non-KDP Select) and put up my book on both Amazon and Smashwords. (Smashwords is a company that will automatically publish your book to multiple platforms, like B&N, iTunes, Kobo, etc.) Like all authors, my best sales were at Amazon (which dwarfs the other platforms), especially during the first three months.

Then it kinda tanked. The 90-day cliff, as they call it. After three months, Amazon no longer promotes your book as a new release, so you’re on your own.

The old cover for Journaling to Become a Better Writer

The old cover for Journaling to Become a Better Writer

I floundered with marketing for quite a while, primarily because I wasn’t proud of my book cover. It was a home-made cover Carrie and I put together. I eventually realized I wasn’t going to market the poor thing until it sported professional cover art. So I kissed some money good-bye and hired a professional designer through 99Designs. Once I had a better cover, I was absolutely raring to go with my marketing.

One of the first things I’ve tried is Facebook ads. (Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula is the go-to for that info.) I’ve been running ads for a few months now and have been earning back my investment plus a little income over the top. Yay!

I also released a paperback edition of the book in summer 2015. Formatting it for the print-on-demand company CreateSpace – and holding my first book in my hands – were extremely satisfying experiences for me. Can’t wait to create another one!

What’s Next?

My goal is still to make a full-time living writing. I want to clarify that there’s a difference between full time hours and full-time income. I’m very lucky to have the former and still working diligently towards the latter.

DSC03349 (640x480)The more I study up on profitable indie publishing, the more I hear that you can’t expect a full-time living off one book. Having put my first out there, I heartily agree. I’m on the brink of putting out my first published fiction books, The Mailboat Suspense Series, which will contain four or five titles. Once I have multiple books, I can experiment with setting the first in the series at permafree or $0.99, see how follow-through sales go from that, and Facebook ads on the boxed set.

March Goals

2015-11-18 target bulls eye darts arrowsSo, what do I want most to accomplish in March 2016?

  • Finish edits on Book One of the Mailboat series
  • Invite fifty bloggers to read and review Journaling to Become a Better Writer
  • Mess around with a Facebook ad for signups to my personal newsletter

What are your goals for March? Let us know in the comments! I’ll check back in with you guys in April to let you know how I did!

Using Amazon Giveaway to Grow Your List and Thank Your Readers

The holiday season is upon us (in case you hadn’t noticed), and the spirit of gift-giving is in the air. How about giving a gift to your loyal readers? I recently learned about Amazon Giveaway. While not built specifically for authors, we’re in a great position to take advantage of it – and let our readers know how much we love them.

2015-12-09 How to Use Amazon Giveaway

What Is Amazon Giveaway?

2015-02-20 BenchAmazon Giveaway is a tool that lets you choose any physical item from the Amazon store – your book, somebody else’s book, a Kindle, whatever – and use it as a prize in a drawing. Any physical item works, so long as it’s eligible for Amazon Giveaway. How do you know if an item is eligible? Check the bottom of the item’s product page; scroll waaaaay down below the customer reviews. You’ll find a button that says, “Set up a giveaway.”

You can also choose how many prizes to give away, and how winners are selected. Amazon can select winners randomly, or via a lucky number (such as every third entrant), or first come, first served. (Great for those, “Be one of the first ten to reply!”)

Finally, you select what the entrants have to do to be eligible for the give-away. The options Amazon makes available are following you on Twitter, watching an Amazon Video Short, or watching a YouTube video. Also, you can make your giveaway no-strings-attached.

You pay. Your selected number of entrants win. Amazon ships.

It’s that simple.

“Grow Your Following”

2015-12-09 at symbol, twitter, follow, social media, green, growOn its home page, Amazon Giveaway advertises itself as a way to “create buzz” and “grow your followers and customers.” However, I’m not sure how exactly they expect that to work.

Amazon Giveaway doesn’t appear have any built-in  feature to help you grow your following. For example, there is no requirement for the participant to SHARE a social media message to be eligible. A feature like that, combined with, say, a Kindle tablet or a boxed set by a famous author, would be HUGE.

You might argue that people might share your tweets and Facebook posts that advertise the giveaway. Well, I wouldn’t count on that. When there’s a contest for a limited number of prizes, why would a participant reduce their own odds by inviting everyone in their circle to enter the competition, as well? The only way you could encourage sharing is if it were a requirement of participation, or if the participant could increase their own odds by sharing. (“Click share, and we’ll add your name twice.”)

As far as I can tell, the only way to get people engaged in your Amazon Giveaway is to tell them yourself (and through your network) that you have a giveaway going on. You’ll have to use your own means to get your giveaway to reach people beyond the following you already have.

Sure, you can require interested parties to follow you on Twitter. But chances are, you’re using Twitter to tell people about your giveaway. Hashtags will be your only salvation here to attract participants from outside your current following.

Okay, so this isn’t an Insta-Grow solution to your followship woes. What are some other ways to turn an Amazon Giveaway into a mode of growing your following? Maybe start a Thunderclap campaign. Maybe ask all your friends in your network to let their  followers know about your giveaway. Maybe go on a blog tour and tell everybody that you’re holding a drawing.

Grow Your Mailing List

2015-12-09 book plus love equals mail reading fans mailing list subscribersOne review I read about Amazon Giveaway lamented that there wasn’t much of a way to keep in touch or follow up with the participants after the giveaway is over.

Your most valuable asset as an author is your mailing list – your direct link to those people most interested in buying your books. If you have a small list, your top priority should be to grow it. (And write books.)

So here’s one idea for linking an Amazon Giveaway to growing your mailing list: Choose your product to give away – either your own book, or a book by a best-selling author whose work is much like your own, or even a Kindle. Then instead of directly advertising the Amazon Giveaway itself to your social media outlets and network, invite people to join your mailing list in exchange for a chance at winning the product you selected. Don’t share the Amazon Giveaway link on Twitter or Facebook; put it in an auto-responder and share it only to the people who sign up to your mailing list.

Can we make this even better? And can we curb the disappointment of your new subscribers who didn’t win? Sure! Try this: All subscribers to your mailing list will receive a free copy of one of your own books (that’s author mailing list 101, right?) PLUS they get a chance at winning a book (or boxed set) by a popular author whose writing is similar to yours. Pow! Everybody wins, because everybody gets your  book, but you’ve also got the power of a well-known title behind you, which should draw even more people in.

One way or the other, you’re going to have to advertise your Amazon Giveaway. Why not make all that work count, and get all your participants on your mailing list?

Combine with Facebook Ads

2015-12-09 Free book, leather, old bookI’ve just started experimenting with Facebook ads. (Promising results so far!) One way you can use Facebook ads is to (again) grow your mailing list. Advertise your free book in exchange for readers’ email addresses.

Oh, wait. What if you don’t have a free book?

Well … why not use Amazon Giveaway to give them somebody else’s book? Again, make it a book that’s both well-known and similar to your own writing. Amazon Giveaways only run for a limited time, though, so this would be a way to create a boost of new subscribers … such as just before you release your first book. (Clever, eh?)

Or Just Thank Your Followers

2015-02-20 Humor (1)The place where Amazon Giveaway promises to excel is in taking all the hassle out of running your own giveaway, packaging items, and dropping them off at the post office. You select the prize, Amazon handles the rest.

As you can see from my comments, I don’t see Amazon Giveaway as a simple way to magically grow your following. (Contrary to what they seem to imply on their homepage.) You have to get creative to advertise your Giveaway to people outside your current following.

So why did I get excited about Amazon Giveaway when I first saw it? Because I value the people who have already signed up to my email list. What a great way to let them know just how much they mean to me!

At some point in my career, I would absolutely love to make a Giveaway an annual, holiday thing, just to let my subscribers know how much I appreciate them. These are the devoted people who enjoy my writing so much, they want to be the first to know when my next book is coming out. They want to receive my blog posts and/or newsletter in their inbox every week and month. One of my subscribers even sent me a handwritten Thanksgiving card! My fans mean a lot to me, and Amazon Giveaway would make it really easy for me to show them just how much I appreciate them.

So, I’ve proposed several ways to make Amazon Giveaway work for you. Your turn! Have you ever run a giveaway? What did you like or dislike about it?

My Blog Sucks and I’m Kinda Clueless

Indie Plot Twisters, please welcome Dan Alatorre to the blog today. Do you have a blog? Is it not going as well as you’d hoped? I’m sure we’ve all been there! Dan’s got some great advice to get more traffic and interaction, and for an all-around more successful blogging experience. So sit back, enjoy, and please help Carrie and me make our guest feel welcome.

2015-12-07 My Blog Sucks and Im Kinda Clueless

– – –

Dear Dan,

My blog sucks and I’m kinda clueless about what to do with it…”

Okay, nobody said that… directly.

Indirectly, LOTS of you have.

Here’s some mistakes I see in unsuccessful blogs. They have no followers and they have no/few comments. That indicates that they don’t write interesting content OR they don’t know how to attract people to their blog.

Been there.

My blog had very few followers for about two years. Now, we add new followers to the blog every day.

I can guarantee these bloggers don’t track their stats. They don’t know what works and what doesn’t. (FYI, I achieved President’s Circle with two different Fortune 500 companies, so I tend to analyze stuff.)

I’m not saying I’ve mastered these things, I’m saying I may be a step or two higher on the ladder than you are, and it looks like a mountain from there but from here it looks easy-peasy.

Okay, okay! Enough preamble! What do we do? Sorry. I’m a writer. I get wordy.

Social Media, Kinda

2015-05-13 laptopWhen you looked at Twitter and asked how to get more followers, Twitterites said to find people with the same interests as you and follow them. That same theory applies to blogs. In fact, just about every rule of social media applies to blogs.

If somebody follows your blog, follow their blog – within reason. Puppies? Cool. Photography? Sure. Whips and chains? Um, I’ll probably have a peek but I’m not going to be a regular visitor or comment much because…

Comments = GOOD

Comment on their sites and click “like” when they post stuff you like! Duh, right? It’s the Golden Rule. What do you wish people did on your blog? Read it, like the post, make a comment. Then do that for them!

It takes about three minutes to read and like a typical blog post. That means you could read and like about 10 blogs in about 30 minutes. Now, whether you have that kind of time once a month or every day, that’s up to you. My advice? Do it every evening after dinner for two weeks and see the results. You’ll be happy.

How to comment

When you comment, make it a worthwhile  comment. Each lengthy comment I made on YOUR blog is in fact – ready? – an audition for MY blog to YOUR readers! If your readers saw my comment, maybe they liked it enough to click over to my site and read some more of my stuff there, and as a result, follow my blog.

No spamming!

Here are the rules for that. The comment should be an added value to the readers of that blog, not a spam for your own blog. Don’t say “I’m awesome and here’s my link.” Instead, if they are talking about something funny, ADD to the humor with a funny, relevant anecdote of your own that their readers will enjoy. That way, the blog owner gets a benefit from your comment. Golden Rule, right? You don’t want spammers; don’t be one. It’s not necessary because…

Network!

2015-10-14 Two Women Friends in Coffee Shop CafeAnd network through your network. For example, I mostly follow and comment on WordPress blogs. Anyone there can follow me with a single click when I make an interesting comment. It doesn’t get any easier than that, and while I have nothing against other blog platforms, if I have to jump through a bunch of hoops to subscribe to you, odds are I’m not gonna do it.

Occasionally check your stats and see how you’re doing. That means see what works and do more of it. Post on big days for blog traffic, largely Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, depending on what you’re posting about, and…

Talk about your blog – the right way

Write an amazing blog post, then tweet about it. Wait, I have NO blog readers AND I have NO Twitter followers. Like I said, follow people with similar interests and make interesting contributions to the conversation and soon enough you’ll have both. Amplify that by posting your blog onto Facebook and by sending out a popular Instagram link with a cute picture of your dog or something.

Since I scan my Twitter stats, I take the day’s popular tweet and send it to Instagram, using the same hashtags. That takes less than a minute. You have a minute, trust me.

Occasionally I’ll post a pic of my kid or an amazing sunset, cos I do interesting stuff – and so do you! Readers and followers want to get to know you. Have fun. Act like friends. Yes, on your blog. Why? Because…

Comments Matter! More = Better

A “Great post, thanks for sharing” comment on somebody’s blog is nice. It helps – a little. But some witty banter goes a long way. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Let the OTHER people have the spotlight on your stage. That’s positive encouragement, and people love it. You’ll want to…

Say Thank You!

Each commenter gets rewarded by you for playing “Reply”! Most readers don’t comment. They’re intimidated. When they do, reward them for it. Thank them. Add on to their line of thought. Once they do it a first time, they are much more likely to do it again, and that means…

MORE COMMENTS = more popular, more attention, more everything.

People want to do what other people do. If you have ten comments, they’re less intimidated. Walk before you run or you will get overwhelmed quickly. Take on one new thing every two weeks until you’re comfortable with it.

Be generous

2015-04-01 Laptop (640x427)So you FOR SURE want to post on your other author friend’s blog posts when they come out – Golden Rule. Don’t be afraid to ask them/remind them/beg them to post on yours.

Yeah, it’s a lot, but ya gotta start somewhere. One last tip: ASK a question that encourages readers to make a comment.

What do YOU do to increase your blog traffic and avoid the abyss?

About the Author

Dan AlatorreBest-Selling author and humorist Dan Alatorre turned his sights on fatherhood in Savvy Stories, and the results were hilarious. Since then, Dan has racked up a string of #1 Bestsellers in family humor, novels, illustrated children’s books and cookbooks, and has been published in 12 languages throughout 14 different countries. His romantic comedy Poggibonsi: an Italian misadventure, set in Tuscany, will be released in a few weeks.

Website | Twitter | Facebook

About His Book

Dan Alatorre, PoggibonsiMike hopes an assignment in Italy will get him promoted and bring passion back to his marriage. His wife is the only woman in Atlanta not flirting with him, and what better place to pursue romance than the land of naked art, Valentino, and yoga pants? His working vacation shatters when a heart attack hospitalizes his Italian partner and Mike’s family does nothing but fight. After seeing his wife and daughter off, a stunning Tuscan beauty captures the attention of everyone in the train terminal. Mike returns to work thinking the flirtatious goddess will remain a fantasy – until she introduces herself as his new assistant!

Sign up for an alert on this title’s release!

 

Four Things To Do With Negative Reviews (And One Thing Not To Do)

2015-11-30 five stars, review good, happyIndie Plot Twisters, it is our pleasure to introduce Allison Maruska as our guest blogger this week. She’s got some great advice on what to do when you get negative book reviews! Also, we’re holding a drawing for her intriguing mystery, The Fourth Descendant. Details at the end!

– – –

 Pop quiz time.

What do the following things have in common?

  1. Traffic jams
  2. Fish in the ocean
  3. The full moon appearing every month
  4. Negative book reviews

If you answered they are all certain to happen, then you pass!

Every book gets negative reviews. The Hunger Games, a book I absolutely love, has 443 1-star reviews. No matter how good your book is, eventually, you will get negative reviews. So since we can’t avoid them, we should have a strategy for what to do when they appear on our product pages, else we collapse into a blubbering heap or decide to quit writing and join the carnival. Sure, the endless access to funnel cakes would be awesome, but your family would miss you.

Below are four actions I’ve gathered from personal experience, talking with author friends/reading similar posts, and research. I hope that by the end, you’ll be able to read negative reviews of your work in the most objective way possible.

2015-11-30 What to Do with a One-Star Review

Action 1: Understand negative bias

Negative bias basically says feedback of a negative nature affects us more than feedback of a neutral or positive nature does (click here for the Wikipedia article). It has an evolutionary basis, because our prehistoric ancestors needed to pay more attention to the lion’s den than to the pretty flower growing next to it. It was about survival. In our current day setting, the bias plays out in our reactions to problems that need solving. Emails of an urgent, negative nature get attention first because we want the problem to go away.

Our brains see negative reviews as problems (because they feel like attacks), but we can’t solve them, so they sting more. Neural activity and heart rates increase, as if we’re preparing to go to battle. This is normal. It’s also why they get stuck in our brains while positive reviews blend in with the rest. Anyone who works with kids has heard the advice that for every piece of negative feedback you give a child, there should be ten pieces of positive feedback. This is why.

Action 2: Realize the negative review isn’t more valid

2015-11-30 chalk board, sad, frown, smiley faceThis goes along with negative bias, but it’s important enough to merit its own point. The negative reviews just feel more true, don’t they? Even if cognitively you know they aren’t (especially when the reviewer dings you because of the ebook price set by your publisher, or they were mad because they didn’t like how your character dressed), you feel like you could have done something to prevent the bad review.

Here’s the thing: reviews are opinions about your work. That’s it. They’re not about you, personally (in most cases. Reviews that leave personal attacks are a whole different issue). My book has received side-by-side reviews, one positive and one negative, both discussing the characters. One thought they were great and well-rounded, the other thought they were cardboard. Is one more right than the other?

We can’t control where readers are in their lives when they read our books. Perhaps a negative reviewer just lost a job and a character reminds them of their jerk boss. Even if they aren’t fully aware of the connection, that experience will taint the reading. Of course, we don’t get to read all that in the review. All we see is “the story sucked and the characters were unlikable.”

I’ve read that 1-star reviews tell more about the reviewer than the thing being reviewed. I tend to agree. There are people out there who seem to really enjoy complaining, and reviews are a great vehicle to do that. I would say a truly 1-star book would have no redeeming qualities. I’m not sure I’ve read such a book, but apparently, some people have read several, including The Hunger Games.

Action 3: Look for patterns

Sometimes, negative reviews are more than just opinion. If many say the same thing, like the book needs editing or the formatting was a mess, that’s probably something you need to address (if you’re an independent author and have the power to publish updated material). I read a post by an author that said she accidentally published an early draft and didn’t realize it until the negative reviews rolled in, criticizing her poor editing. You may also see a pattern if you’ve miscategorized your book. I know if I bought a book thinking it was a mystery and it ended up being a western romance, I wouldn’t be a happy reader.

However, it’s possible that no patterns exist. My book has a handful of negative reviews, and while a few kind of say the same thing, overall they’re pretty different. Most solely talk about the story’s content (characters and events) rather than the writing itself. This leads us to…

Action 4: Realize negative reviews help sell the book

2015-11-30 Dislike, not good, bad, sad, unhappyI know, it seems completely counter intuitive. Bad reviews = scared away readers, right? While that may be true in a few cases, negative reviews often contain something many positive reviews don’t: specific details.

Small picture, a detail the reviewer hated could be something the potential buyer enjoys. Or if the negative review is especially ranty, the buyer may wonder what all the fuss is about.

Big picture, the total number of reviews your book has affects how visible it becomes on Amazon. It doesn’t take into account if those reviews are positive or negative. More reviews = better visibility = more sales.

And now for the one thing not to do: Respond

I said reviews are not about you, personally. They are also not for you. They are readers talking to other readers. Granted, the online forum opens the door for more negativity than you’d probably see in an in-person book club, but the idea is the same. Reviews are readers talking about content.

Responding to a review puts you in a position of challenging someone’s opinion. The chances of you changing the reviewer’s mind with a comment are zero. Just don’t do it. People don’t like to have their opinions challenged, and responding brings attention to the negative review you don’t want people to see.

Instead, read all your positive reviews. Print out a few of your favorites and tape them around your desk. Internalize them. You wrote a book that people love! Those ideas are much more deserving of your mental energy.

The Book Giveaway

Allison has one free ebook copy of her mystery, The Fourth Descendant, for our readers. To enter the drawing, just scroll down and leave a comment in answer to this question: How do you approach negative reviews, either as a writer or a reader? The drawing will end on Sunday, December 6, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. CST. Good luck!

If you tweet the following, we’ll enter your name twice! 1) Don’t remove the @IndiePlotTwist tag. 2) Let us know in your comment that you tweeted! It’ll help us match your tweet to your comment.

About the Author 

Allison Maruska headshotAllison is a YA and mystery/suspense author, writing/humor blogger, teacher, mom, wife, coffee and wine consumer, and an owl enthusiast. She published her debut novel, The Fourth Descendant, in February, 2015, and it has been on Amazon’s historical mystery best seller list since April. Her newest book is a YA dystopian/urban fantasy called Drake and the Fliers, which she released on November 20th, 2015.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

About Her Book

Allison Maruska - The Fourth DescendantWhen Michelle receives a call from a Richmond historian, she sees the chance for a much-needed adventure. All she has to do is find a century-old key.

Three others – a guitarist, an engineer, and a retiree – receive similar calls. Each family possesses a key to a four-lock safe found buried in a Virginia courthouse, though their connection is as mysterious as the safe itself. Their ancestors should not have interacted, had no apparent reason to bury the safe, and should not have disappeared thereafter.

Bearing their keys, Michelle and the other descendants converge in the courthouse basement and open the safe, revealing the truth about their ancestors – a truth stranger, more deadly, and potentially more world-changing than any of them could have imagined. Now it’s up to them to keep their discovery out of the wrong hands.

Amazon