Paths to Publication–Part 2

by Tosh McIntosh

After inserting comments in Lolly’s document I “revised and extended my remarks” as follows:

Not being familiar with your references to Friedlander 2012 and Friedman 2017, I can’t comment on the information provided there. What I can do is repeat my oft-offered suggestion that the three most beneficial sources I’ve found for both the historical background on the rise of indie publishing and current trends: Authors Barry Eisler, J.A. Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, and Kristine Rusch.

Resistance by legacy publishers to accept the reality of the rapidly altering landscape and their “circle the wagons” approach put them way behind when they finally woke up. Their treatment of Eisler and Konrath is what drove both of them out from under the legacy mantle and into the world of indie. Their blogs (and particularly their online “conversations”) provide a wealth of information.

Rusch has published a series of articles detailing how legacy publishers began altering their contracts to include eBook rights, and she cites instances of authors who got caught unawares and lost those rights in perpetuity, with no clause that reverts rights to the authors. Smith’s “Think Like a Publisher” series is excellent, because it’s by an enormously successful indie author talking to indie authors, and the same can be said of Eisler and Konrath. The bottom line for me is that those who work in legacy publishing have nothing to say of interest, particularly since literary agents began crossing the line into publication and publishers began bypassing agents.

If you haven’t seen this February 2016 Author Earnings Report on Amazon’s Ebook, Print, and Audio Sales, it validates what anyone in the industry knows, that Amazon is by far the largest online retailer: No one else comes even close. One of the reasons is that their business model is so well constructed, and they offer in-house promotional opportunities. Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo don’t. Smashwords is an outlier of sorts, in that they do have promotional options.

I published Pilot Error in Nov 2011 and learned how to do that on Amazon, iTunes, B&N, and Smashwords. About 3 weeks later, KDP Select entered the fray, and I didn’t sign up because the program requires a 90-day exclusive period, it hadn’t proven itself, and I’d just spent weeks solving a series of problems getting the Epubs accepted. Laura and Brad put Guyland and Muffin Man into Select and both of them made out like bandits in terms of earnings, reviews, and rankings.

By the time I decided to put PE and then Red Line in Select, Amazon had changed the program significantly. And while comparing the sales/reviews/ranking results for one book to another and trying to find a reason for differences in the promotional and marketing side of thinking like a publisher is a wasted exercise, I’ve always wondered about what might have happened had I initially chosen Select.

While working with Laura over the past 5 years or so, both on her books and those of mutual clients, it has become abundantly clear that certain promotional and marketing tactics appear to offer a reasonable chance that a new book will do as well as it can based on the book and its genre. Which means that an author’s first objective is to write the best book possible at this stage of the author’s writing journey. It doesn’t have to be the best the author will ever write, and that’s a hard reality for any of us to accept.

Here’s a summary of what the past few years of publishing experience has taught me about initial launch and promotion:

  1. Do the most professional job you (and anyone you recruit or hire to assist) can on editing and formatting the interior and designing the covers for both the eBook and print editions. Barry Eisler has a terrific 2-part post on the first challenge of book marketing, which begins with the choice of title and cover design.
  2. Forget about ePubs for the initial launch.
  3. Upload the interior and cover PDFs to CreateSpace, order proofs, and put them in the hands of sympathetic readers who agree to proofread it as their primary objective. It’s not about editing for content/developmental issues, line/copy, “my happy for your glad” word choices, but using the crowd-sourcing approach to get the cleanest possible manuscript.
  4. While that’s going on, upload the MS to KDP in one of the recommended formats. The process of checking the result as a Mobi file takes another of those multifaceted approaches because digital conversions can be glitchy for a lot of reasons.
  5. When the print and eBook editions are ready to publish, approve the print book for sale and put the eBook on preorder. This requires an established publication date no more than 90 days in the future.
  6. This tactic is valuable because once both editions are “linked” in the Amazon bookstore (which means they both appear on the same book page), potential buyers can see the covers, read the description, use the “Look Inside” feature for the print book to read a sample, then buy the print edition if they want, and/or preorder the eBook.
  7. And here’s where you can shift the algorithm in your favor. Have as many sympathetic readers as possible ready to order the print edition. If need be, you can reimburse them for the cost and ask that they agree to write a review. Assuming that the reviewer isn’t a family member with the same last name, or uploads the review from the same IP address as yours, or is another Amazon author (all of which can get the review yanked by Amazon as not being valid) the review will be labeled “Verified Purchase.” And with the print and eBook editions linked, any review posted for the print edition also appears for the eBook (and vice versa). This is super critical, because the number of reviews and preorders helps the author qualify to buy ads for the initial launch and marketing campaign.
  8. Note the bold emphasis above. Just because you want to spend money to promote your books doesn’t mean you can buy an ad on BookBub, for example, the gorilla in the room of free and discounted eBook sales outlets. That’s because once legacy publishers finally pulled their heads out and climbed aboard the eBook bullet train, they effectively hijacked it out from under indie authors. The reason is simple: A new eBook from a NYT bestselling author will make far more money for BookBub than one from a relatively unknown indie writer.
  9. A launch in KDP Select is without question the only way to go. It’s probably best to stick with Select at least for the first year, and the decision to take it out so you can publish an ePub somewhere else will likely never be worth the effort. No other indie-publishing option can come anywhere close to the same performance for the vast majority of indie authors. Those who have hit it big for whatever reason, and legacy authors with substantial name recognition, are a different story, but we’re talking a very small percentage.
  10. I’ve never done anything to market my books, but that will likely change with publication of Test Flight. Here’s why:
    • I haven’t tracked sales (ever) or checked reviews more than a time or two for either of my books. Ann will tell me, “You sold some books last month,” but that’s the extent of it.
    • Last week in a 3-way email conversation about marketing and promotion with Laura and Sharon, Laura wrote [paraphrased], “Of all the authors for which I track sales, Tosh consistently sells the most books. I think it’s a matter of professional writing, formatting, interior and cover design, and likely that he’s tapped into a niche market for aviation thrillers.”
    • That got me to checking and I found an eye-opening graph (screenshot inserted below and attached) of my historical sales. From the Nov 2011 publication of PE up to publication of RL in July 2014, sales barely registered, then suddenly shot way up.
    • That said, the early portion of the graph only reflects sales, and the later portion indicates the effect of the Amazon program called “Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) Read from Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL).”
    • The bottom line is that Amazon authors don’t have to sell books to get paid. Based on the number of pages read on KOLL books lent and KU free books, you can be paid by disbursement out of the Global Fund, monthly amounts in the millions of dollars deposited by Amazon to compensate authors.
    • No other sales outlet even comes close.

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