Posts Tagged ‘indie publishing’

I started the AmazonLikes hashtag in August of 2011 out of a pretty simple observation.  There are hundreds of thousands of authors that have published their books on Amazon.  There are thousands of authors that I have followed or have followed me on Twitter.  Yet, I consistently see people struggling to get any “likes” on their book(s).

You may first ask, why does it even matter?

Good question.  It matters because there are hundreds of thousands of ebooks on Amazon.  Millions of paperbacks.  How do you sort through big lists when you have to?  Easily identifiable markers.  So, on Amazon, what are those markers?  For a book, it’s the cover image first, then the review ranking, then the number of “likes.”  To answer your question then, if the number of likes is the third most important thing people use in considering whether to consider your book further, should you ignore that?  To analogize that to something, such as sports, do you think a good pitcher in baseball will focus on their first two types of pitches, but ignore their third and fourth?  Nope.  Not a good one, at least.

So, if you’ve bought into the importance of the number of “likes” on your book’s page, then read on.  If you’re still a skeptic, best of luck to you.

With that framework in mind, I set about to figure out a way to increase likes on books.  There were already groups in Goodreads and elsewhere that focused on the venture.  I participated in those groups, but I found a couple things out.  First, people don’t reciprocate as well as they should.  Second, the groups were rather small in nature (i.e. 20-40 authors) so the number of likes that could be obtained was limited.  Sitting at a small desk at a hotel room, and talking to an awesome author named D.A. Graystone (check out his book Two Graves), I came up with the idea for #AmazonLikes.  

For people unfamiliar with it, here’s how it works.  You create a tweet that includes your book’s title, the link to it on Amazon, and the hashtag #AmazonLikes.  That’s it.  You tweet it.  Because you have included the hashtag #AmazonLikes, the post immediately goes into the hashtag stream.  This means that if you perform a search for “#AmazonLikes” on Twitter, your tweet as well as hundreds of others from authors doing the same thing pop up.

Getting it now? 🙂

What #AmazonLikes has created then, is a stream of authors tweeting their book’s link to each other.  People that participate can simply click on those links, like the books, and go to the next one.  If we do something SIMPLE, like going into the stream and liking 1-3 books a day, the results can be tremendous.

That’s where you come in!

Tweet your book’s link to #AmazonLikes.  You don’t have to ask someone twice to do something beneficial to them.  So, what I’ll ask twice is for you to get into that stream and help other indie authors out.  Without each other, we aren’t much.  Together, as we’ve seen, we’re a force to be reckoned with!


So, I just read this article by Derek Haines, which is edgy and maybe a bit over the top.  But, a lot of it resonates with me at the same time. Specifically:

(1) Reduction of the value of our free downloads.  This 100% happened.

(2) The Amazon review purge.  This 100% happened.

(3) Changing of algorithms to reduce the success of indie books in comparison to big six books, including Amazon’s new imprint (Thomas and Mercer).  Remains to be seen.

Read the article by Derek Haines, entitled “Self Published Authors Get Ready, You’re Being Dumped”

Ask yourself this at the same time.  Have the price of indie books, including the fact that we are flexible enough to offer our books for free, forever changed what consumers are willing to pay for books?  Stated otherwise, will consumers still pay $12.99 for an ebook, which is the thievery rate the big six charge?  It would be nice to know that, at a minimum, we changed that.

I’ll be upfront–this blog post is as much for me as it is for you.  Catharsis. 

My first book, Enemy in Blue, has been selling wonderfully.  That means one of my goals in writing the book is starting to be fulfilled.  Namely, people are reading a story about a difficult and challenging subject.  What does that mean?  It means that some people are getting REALLY pissed off.

Okay, no worries.  I knew that would happen and am glad it has.  How else can you draw attention to a controversial subject?

That said, it still stings to get bad reviews.  I believe I had the honor of a recent reviewer saying my book would destroy Kindles because readers would barf all over them. Excellent.

With Enemy in Blue out a little over a year now, and having gotten a few bad reviews, I’m going to do this for you, and for me–okay?

There is No Final Answer in this Blog Post

Let me be upfront about one more thing.  I don’t have the final answer regarding how to handle bad reviews.  This is almost as much about me asking the question as me answering the question.  Further, this is a very emotional analysis.  You can’t really rationalize bad reviews, especially the really bad ones.  So, understand off the bat that you may very well deal with bad reviews differently.  Just like we all deal with emotions differently.  That’s fine.  In fact, it’s good.

Don’t Kid Yourself, Bad Reviews are Inevitable

I’ve heard this a few times.  “It’s not going to happen to me.”  Hold on while I choke back a laugh.  If you’re selling books, even if you’re selling the best book ever written, you’re going to get bad reviews.  Imagine if you went into a movie theater after an award-winning movie like The English Patient played.  You think everyone in that theater would give it 5 or even 4 stars?  That movie bored me out of my mind.  Bottom line, everyone is going to have a different perspective.

Add to the whole perspective issue the fact that with our books, people sometimes buy our genres when they don’t really like our genres.  For instance, if you wrote a romance and a person that typically reads and enjoys thrillers picks up your book, guess what, you’re behind the eight ball to start. The final exacerbating factor to getting bad reviews? Complete anonymity.  People can hide behind nondescript profile names on Amazon and leave nasty reviews.  Without the buffer of face-to-face interaction, there’s nothing stopping a bad reviewer from letting loose.

In short, if you’re selling more than a book a month, you are likely to get some bad reviews.  So, what to do with them?

Don’t Feed the Monster!

You can respond or comment on bad reviews at Amazon’s site.  Did you know that?  Well, you do now.  But, before you go responding to every person that leaves you a review, whether good or bad, remember this.  That cloak of anonymity?  If you, the author, start responding to people’s reviews, you intrude on the anonymity that people enjoy about Amazon.  They like the fact that if they want to, they can leave a bad review to “warn” other consumers about a product.  Similarly, they like leaving a good review when they have enjoyed a product.  If you step into their space, it will no doubt get ugly.

As an example, I have heard an anecdotal story of an author that responded to a bad reviewer, got into it with the person that left the review with back and forth posts on Amazon, and then Amazon lifted that author’s book from the website.  Yessir, don’t forget, Amazon cares about their customers more than their suppliers.  And, rightfully so.  Thus, think twice before you engage.  Secondly, if you engage, I would expect that other consumers would be more inclined to do the same.  Stated otherwise, your response could piss 1, 2, 3, etc. people off that may otherwise have just put your book down and not left a review.  But, if they see you advocating on behalf of your book, then they may feel justified to advocate against your book.

Again, the short and sweet of this section is to take your punches and move on.

Can Those Bad Reviews Actually…Help?

Let’s just take a behemoth book for example.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  That book has a whopping 7,254 reviews!  (An interesting analysis for another day is trying to determine the ratio of sales to reviews.  At last count, The Hunger Games sold about 18 million copies.  That means only 0.04% of people have left a review.  Innnnteresting).  Out of those reviews, Ms. Collins has 210 one-star reviews.   You think those have hurt her sales?  How about we take a classic, Pride and Prejudice?  Over 1,000 reviews, including 57 one-star reviews.  How about this trending book called Fifty Shades of Grey?  Out of 3,360 reviews, there are 962 one-star reviews.  Almost 1/3 of the reviews have been one-star!  Guess where it is ranked?  #1 overall on Amazon in the United States.

Our conclusion?  Bad reviews don’t always spell doom for your book.  Especially since we aren’t selling a high priced item, such as a tablet, people are still willing to plunk down a few bucks to give something a shot.  On top of that, I have heard from readers that some bad reviews actually lend credibility to a book.  When readers see nothing but positive reviews, they tend to think something fishy is going on.

So, remember a few things.  You’re gonna get bad reviews.  Cry, scream, throw things–you ain’t gonna change it.  When you get bad reviews, don’t exacerbate the situation by responding to them.  Create voodoo dolls, go for a run…whatever.  Just don’t respond.  Finally, those bad reviews won’t necessarily spell the end of your book.  Work on getting some good ones by submitting your book to friends, family, and other authors.

There, I feel better.  What about you?  What do you think?  Go on, comment and get a little healing yourself.

Interesting article referred to me by another author, entitled “The Uncommon Truth About Marketing Your Books.”  It poses a valid question–are we marketing our books, or just networking?  I really had to take a step back and consider my approach to getting exposure for my book.  Read the article and let us know what you think.  Specifically, are you marketing on Twitter or networking?  Or both?

Goodreads.  Facebook.  Bing.  Twitter.  Countless websites that have varying degrees of dedication to indie authors.  All of these are options for your precious advertising dollars.  And, all of them can be money pits.  Over the course of the next few months, I’m going to try to relay to you which ones work, which ones don’t, and why they have worked or not for me.  The first one on the list is Kindle Nation Daily (“KND”).

KND seems to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, website dedicated solely to books on the Kindle.  They have over 48,000 likes/followers on Facebook, and state the following with respect to their traffic:

“One way or another, we connect with over 84,200 readers every day.

In the past 30 days there have been 158,200 unique visits to our website, totaling over 349,800 page views. Over the past three months Kindle Nation Daily’s website traffic places it among the top 40,400 websites in the world, and among the top 8,200 websites in the U.S.

48,200 of you connect with us through Facebook, 26,700 though our email newsletter, and 2,025 through Twitter.  Between eInk Kindle  subscribers and subscribers to our free Kindle Fire app, over 9,100 of you are subscribers to the Kindle edition of our blog.

In the past 30 days you have visited 646,000 Amazon pages and purchased over 14,500 Amazon items directly from our website — and that’s just the paid items.”

Those are some big numbers.  That’s why I decided to take out an “Option A,” Special Sponsored Post with Facebook Triple Play (SSP-TP) advertisement with them.

When I say “them,” I am really referring to Stephen Windwalker, the founder/CEO and “chief bottle washer” at KND.  He was my primary contact, and from a customer service perspective, he was very good.  He responded relatively timely to emails (would give him an A-/B+ there, but I know he is inundated with correspondence).  From a customer accommodation standpoint, I give him an A+ for two reasons.  First, when I purchased the SSP-TP package, KND sent me three days when my ad would run.  I wanted to change those days a bit due to another event I was in, and Steve was happy to make that change.  Second, there was an issue with my ad not running on one of my days.  I emailed Steve about this and he immediately took ownership, and extended me the benefit of three more days of advertising due to the error.  THAT, my friends, is excellent customer service.

Another aspect of KND which I found to be of superior quality is the sponsorship tracking data provided on their website.  Steve has provided the results of advertisements taken out by authors for approximately the last year in a handy spreadsheet (click here to see).  That level of transparency is ridiculous, and almost unheard of.  You can take those results and do two things.  First, see what authors are using KND, and what their results are.  You’ll find that top selling indie authors such as Richard Bard use KND.  Second, look at the results, and the corresponding pricing during the events, to calculate what type of advertising may work best for you.  This is much better than the Google Adwords trial and error money pit.

For my advertisement, I priced my book at $0.99.  That decision was based on several factors, including the fact that my book would be part of a $0.99 single day event during the ad, Steve’s own recommendation, and my gut.  I made the $179.99 cost of the ad back and then some.  In full disclosure, I don’t think the advertisement was wildly profitable from a purely monetary perspective.  But, you know that profit isn’t everything, especially early in a career (or, you SHOULD know that).

Perhaps one concern I have with KND is that with the mix of free Kindle books they advertise, do those advertisements cannibalize purchases of paid books?  I saw one comment from a reader on KND’s Facebook page, and she essentially wrote, “Thank you KND for these great free Kindle books.  Since I bought my Kindle, I haven’t had to pay for a single book I’ve read.”  Yowch.  I’m sensitive to the fact that readers may start expecting their Kindle books to be free, and wonder how much of KND’s target market expects that as well.  Promotion of increased prices would be ideal.  However, I’m certainly not going to blame KND entirely or even in large part for what may be attributed to market forces.  It is something to watch, and I’m not sure you would have much success advertising on KND at price points above $2.99.

In short, I was very happy with KND’s customer service, very happy with the data available to me before I paid a chunk of money to advertise, and content with the results.  Enemy in Blue has held onto a low 1,000s rank since the KND ad (and the Indie Book Collective event referenced in my last post), and is now a top 10 seller in Legal Thrillers on Amazon.  Will I use KND again?  Absolutely–I intend to with my second book, the release of which is imminent!

Writing can be extremely solitary.  In fact, many authors would argue that solitude is a necessary part of the writing process.  However, there’s no doubt that once you exit the writing phase and enter the marketing/promotion/sales phase, solitude is the last thing you need.

Point in case?  A couple months back, I wrote a blog entitled, “How to Get your Book Downloaded 5,141 Times in Two Days.”  I thought that number was pretty damn snazzy, especially since I went it alone on those two KDP Select free days.  Fast forward the calendar to February 2, 3, 4, and I’m involved in a free event with the Indie Book Collective.  The mastermind behind the IBC is Carolyn McCray, author of several books including 30 Pieces of Silver.  (I almost called her a criminal mastermind, because her level of intelligence and insight is freakin’ criminal, but that’s another story).  She organized an event where approximately twenty-five authors cross-promoted, linked their arms together, and lifted each other to the tops of their respective genres.

My personal outcome?  12,600 books downloaded in just over two days (about 2.3 days).  The outcome of some of the other authors?  Nina Bruhns and Catch Me If You Can reached #1 out of ALL free books.  Ann Charles and her Deadwood  series had tens of thousands of downloads, and the series is now doing extremely well since coming off of free.  The moral of this story?  There is power in numbers, especially for indie authors.


Perhaps the most important thing for an author starting out on this journey is to link up with other authors.  Traditionally, I believe the writing group fulfilled this need.  At least for me, the writing group is nice, but not on a large enough scale.  I want to bounce ideas off of 50, 100, 500 authors, and social media is the best place to do that.  So, to become a part of the numbers, start with a few things.  First, join a group like the Indie Book Collective, which not only has an amazing core group of authors, but provides educational online classes and seminars to help you hone your marketing and promoting skills.  Second, go onto Goodreads and join a couple of the writing groups on there.  You can join liking and tagging groups, marketing for authors groups, etc.  I would suggest starting with two, as following more than that can get overwhelming.  Finally, once you get to know other authors, see if any of them will invite you to Facebook groups.  Right now, I’m in three that all serve different purposes, and that all include amazing authors.  (If you’re interested in being invited, send me a message).

A word of caution.  You will need to strike a balance between how many groups you get involved with, and how much time you are able to dedicate to your writing.  These groups can quickly suck several hours out of your day…hours you could have spent writing.  Another potential concern–joining multiple groups and not contributing to them is almost worse than not joining them at all.  Only join as many groups as you can contribute to on an every other day basis.  If you break this rule, I promise you’ll only stress yourself out, and possibly lower your credibility with the people in the groups.

In sum, can you do this writing and sales thing without really getting involved with other people?  Eh…you can, but you aren’t likely to have success.  Team up with people, truly help other people, and your success(es) will be amplified–I promise.

Really, REALLY interesting article here by Sarah Lacy of the Pandodaily.  In short, pretty much what we as indie authors have sensed, and why we look skeptically at people that want to submit to traditional publishers anymore.  I think a follow up question is this.  Do you think indie authors will get crushed under Amazon’s thumb someday?  (Think getting 30% of your sales price rather than 70% because there is no other game in town).

Why do you tweet?  It’s pretty established that Tweeting does not necessarily increase sales in a substantial fashion.  H0wever, there’s no doubt that it keeps you and your work at the shiny front (rather than the cobwebbed rear) of minds.  Read this NY Times article entitled “Why Authors Tweet,” and then let me know why you tweet.  Very interested to hear!

Has anything shaken up the book industry as much as KDP Select in recent memory?  Low sales in December are being blamed almost entirely on the KDP Select program.  Despite admonitions regarding joining the Select program, I decided to roll the dice and see what good, and bad, would come from the program.  Here are the early results.


I don’t want to spend much time on this, because all the information is available on your KDP page.  Basically, the Select program is this: (1) you give up all rights to distribute your EBOOK anywhere but on Amazon (does not apply to paperbacks, doesn’t apply to any ebooks which are not enrolled); (2) consumers with Amazon Prime and a Kindle device can borrow your book for free (has to be a Kindle device, not just a Kindle app); and (3) based upon the number of times your book is borrowed, you get a slice of the monthly pie, which is currently $500,000/month.


Part of the Select program is the ability to choose dates on which you want to promote your book for free.  (As an aside, you can just change your price to $0.00 in KDP.  I believe the only difference is that you won’t know, with exactitude, when the price change will take place).  I chose December 27-28 to have two free days.  Did I base my selection on extensive market research?  Wish I could say yes.  Rather, I picked those days because it seemed logical to me that people would have new reading devices from Christmas, and would want to download new books.  Call it prescience, call it dumb luck, but people downloaded Enemy in Blue like it was a new Grisham book.

Enemy in Blue had around 800 downloads as of 8am MST on the 27th.  Literally, every time I clicked the refresh page on my KDP monthly report, the number seemed to go up by around 100 downloads.  I can tell you it was a feeling like no other, and I envy the big time writers that are used to this type of success on a yearly basis!

I think this issue of timing begs the question of whether now is a good time to run your free days?  If push came to shove, I’d say hold off for a bit until people have had a chance to run through the books they just undoubtedly downloaded.  How long is that?  No idea, but my gut says that people’s readers are loaded with books right now.


I honestly believe timing was not everything.  If my book had a big goose egg for reviews, I don’t think people would have downloaded it, free or not.  If I hadn’t started #AmazonLikes several months ago, Enemy in Blue wouldn’t be liked and tagged as much as it is.  If I hadn’t done the countless other things (blog tours, interviews, building a Twitter following, etc.) written about here on my blog in other posts, no 5,141 downloads.  Finally, one more thing because this post is just as much about me assuring myself that I had some part in this near-miracle, but if I hadn’t taken optimization classes for every detail of my Amazon page, then “no go,” my friends.

In short, way back when I started writing this blog, I analogized the writing process to building a house.  I started the analogy with a reference to putting in your foundation.  All those efforts listed in the last paragraph?  The foundation.  Without it, simply no way people would have downloaded Enemy in Blue so much.  Remember, even a free book costs time.


Obviously, a huge question is whether the success in those two free days has spilled over to the following paid days.  Short answer, it has.  Enemy in Blue was ranked #552 in paid books at its peak, which amounted to over 200 books/day.  Sales have slowly decreased each day thereafter, with some of that necessarily flowing from the New Year’s break.  (I don’t think many people wake up on January 1 with whiskey on their breath and say, “Durnit, I wanna read a book!”).

It remains to be seen what impact all the downloads have on Enemy in Blue.  Hopefully, it will result in reviews, and word of mouth.  Seems like a given, with that number of downloads.  Also, I’m currently ranked #31 in Action and Adventure as a result of the whole effort, and peaked at #19.  I believe that a big list such as A&A can drive further sales, as opposed to some of the strange, extremely niche lists that I see next to other books.  I’m keeping track of sales on a daily basis, and will update the blog with that information in the future.


I’m frequently getting asked how Enemy in Blue shot up the charts, and whether Select has been worth it.  Obviously, for me, it was.  However, I would stick to my caution that without the proper elements (good cover, great reviews and not just 5 of them, likes and tags, best product description possible), I don’t think you will see tremendous success with the Select program.  Plus, you will be limited selling on Amazon for 90 days.  My suggestion would be to build that foundation for your book, and once you get there, pick a couple weekdays to offer your book for free.  I have seen my best sales figures on Thursdays/Fridays.

One more tip from my time spent analyzing all this–having multiple books is another catalyst to success in using free days.  Point in case?  J.A. Konrath.  The guy is a beast of an author.  He has nearly written more damn books than I have on my bookshelves!  A couple of his books were free at the same time as Enemy in Blue.  I watched all of his books, free and paid, rise to the tops of their various bestselling lists.  And, they’ve stayed there.  So, if you can use the free days to help promote multiple books in a series, for example, then Select absolutely seems worth it.


I would be remiss if I sat here, writing this post, and failed to disclose that I’m hesitant to even publish it.  I mean, I’ve just experienced success, but who’s to say that wasn’t a flash in the pan?  Some cosmic alignment.  I’m certainly not sitting here with any notion that “I’ve made it.”  In fact, if anything, I’ve got more of a knot in my stomach now, as I watch my ranking oscillate.

That disclosure aside, here are some of my unanswered questions:

(1)  How do you get the initial “burst” of downloads when your book goes free?  This is the burst that puts you on a bestseller’s list, and being on those lists undoubtedly builds your momentum.

(2)  How often should the free “tool” be used?  As a part of the Select program, you can schedule five (5) free days in a 90-day period.  Should that be your limit of free days in a quarter?  At what point is more not better?  I’ll be testing this in the next few months to further hone the results.

(3)  The critical question–what is my royalty going to be calculated at for the borrowed books?  If I’m making 40%, instead of 70%, is it worth it?  Will it just result in a way for Amazon to pay lower royalty rates, while at the same time locking up its monopoly?  Call me neurotic, but businesses exist to maximize their own profits.


If you came here looking for an easy answer and now hate me, don’t forget your New Year’s resolution was to go easy on other people, k?  Bottom line though, and we always know it, is that hard work underlies nearly all success.  Take some time to read the other blog posts on here, put some sweat and blood into your foundation, and then give Select a shot.  If you have any questions/additions/comments, please add them to this blog post, and I’ll try to respond as quickly as possible!

Here’s to our mutual success in 2012!

<Begin rant> So, a few of my own thoughts from the article.  First, screw a major publisher that is now trying to profit from INDIE published authors.  I may be alone in this sentiment, but one of the great parts of being indie is that it feels like a movement, like a frontier.  It feels like major corporations are having to adjust because of what we are doing on a daily basis.  The last thing to do, in that case, is to assimilate with them.   If they want to pick up indie authors to publish them through traditional means, by all means.  Second, take a look at the comments to see how much of a farce the service is.  That 70% royalty to authors?  Only if you sell through “Book Country.”  WTF is that anyway?  </end rant>

Sorry, but other services such as Createspace and Lulu have been there for indies since before the beginning.  My experience with Createspace/Amazon has been nearly flawless, they have my loyalty.

Okay, on to the article.  What do you all think?