Capturing the Golden Goose: More Information for Indie Authors

WRITERS! Thinking about going Indie? There’s a huge-ass FREE online workshop THIS week!!! Register for IndieReCon here and then register for my webinar, “How to Sell a Bazillion Books,” here.

Looking for more information? Let these posts guide you on your self-publishing crusade:

Evolution of a Book Cover
Cover Suckage, Bad Branding, & Other Indie Marketing Oopsies I’ve Made on My Way to Selling 1.5 (now 5+) Million Books (A Post for Self-Published Authors)
The Roses are Dead (Too Much Manure in Publishing)
Author Tips: Book Bombs, Release Days, & Other Good Free Marketing Tips
Shattering the Myth: You CAN use facebook to promote your book! (marketing basics for writers and authors)
How I Did Facebook Wrong and Got 48,000 fans – A Writers Guide to Social Media Updated
Bounce Theory & The Magic Beans of Marketing
Tips for Young Writers
Tips for Young Writers Part II: Plot, Dialogue, Descriptions
The Taleist Self-Publishing Survey & Typical (and not so typical) Indie Novel Sales
Writer Beware: Stupidity is the Latest and Greatest Selling Tool of All

Happy Writing!

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4 Million Reasons To Self-Publish Online Author Workshop by H.M. Ward


Get ready! It’s finally here! H.M. Ward’s online author workshop!

DATE: March 22nd, 2014

TIME: 2pm EST – 3pm EST

LOCATION: Online – this is a webinar/ online workshop

COST: $49 (100% of your payment for this workshop is being donated to NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP, an early infancy non-profit organization that helps grieving families with infant loss). I’m paying the payment processing fees, webinar costs, and anything else that comes up myself.

I’ve been asked to speak all over the place this year, and decided this is an easy and inexpensive way to hold a world-wide workshop for authors without ever leaving your living room.

About me:

  • H.M. Ward is an Indie author (self-published).
  • H.M. Ward has sold 4 MILLION books since her debut novel released in 2011.
  • Her novel DAMAGED: THE FERRO FAMILY was the #1 bestselling Indie Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace title of 2013.
  • DAMAGED: THE FERRO FAMILY was the #14 bestselling title on Amazon of 2013.
  • In 2013 alone Ward had 11 different titles on the NEW YORK TIMES bestsellers list.
  • She is a NEW YORK TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL, & USA TODAY bestselling author.
  • Her readership has grown to a social reach of over 20 million people.
  • H.M. Ward became a full time writer less than a year after her first novel appeared on the market.
  • THE ARRANGEMENT is her bestselling series of new adult romance serials about the eldest Ferro brother, Sean.
  • H.M. Ward has been a top 100 Amazon author every month of 2013.
  • On average in 2013 she released a new title every 2.5 weeks.
  • H.M. Ward owns H.M. Ward Press.

Series: Ferro Family, including: Damaged, The Arrangement, The Proposition, & Stripped. More romance series include Scandalous, Secrets, and The Secret Life of Trystan Scott. Paranormal Romance Series: Demon Kissed, Vampire Apocalypse.

If you haven’t attended an online workshop before, it has audio – you’ll hear me speaking, and you can see my computer screen. If you want to ask questions, there’s a place to type them in. It works really well.

The content of this workshop will be based on the feedback given by the registrants. From speaking with many people, it sounds like we’ll be talking about how to increase readership and marketing techniques. During the first part of the workshop I’ll talk and address the info you sent in prior to the workshop, then we’ll switch to a Q&A format. I think that will be the most productive way to do things. It should give you information that you can run out and use right away, which is a big deal.

You are welcome to attend whether you have published or are getting ready to publish your first book. :) I’m obviously happy about self-publishing, so everything will have that slant. Yeah Indie writers!

Before the workshop, you will get log in information so you can attend this event online. Have I mentioned this event is online? :)

Click the button below to register. Please note that seats are non-refundable. There are a VERY limited number of slots. In the event of a cancellation on my part, you will be refunded in full.


Last time I hosted this workshop it sold out in 2 hours, so grab a seat now if you want to attend.

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Evolution of a Book Cover (aka Dude, that’s fickin awesome! How’d u do that?)

It’s been drawn to my attention that I have an unusual perspective when it comes to being a writer.  Not only do I write and market all my books, but I also create the covers–from scratch.  And not stock photography, pre-fabby, template kinda scratch.  I’m talking non-Betty Crocker insta-cover, going-the-full-mile kinda scratch.  The kind of covers that truly start with nothing but a camera and an idea.

Here’s what I got to work with.  (Yes, I am speaking in my muppet urban vernacular in this post, because it’s fun and trendy, so you’ll have to deal).

You see this?  I got a regular girl, a camera, and my brain.  That’s it.  That’s all I start with.  (Want to see everything bigger?  Click the image and it’ll open full size).

We usually shoot a few different outfits, something plain–but who likes plain?  I mean, why not pull out all the stops and throw on a ball gown?  These are Young Adult book covers after all.  (And once you own a ballgown, I’m convinced you’ll wear it everywhere.  Because they are that much fun!  It’s only a matter of time until ballgowns become street clothes).  Anyway, a big dress with lots of folds in the fabric adds texture, depth, and interest–in other words it photographs really fricken awesome!

Next, I find stuff that will help the flow of the final image and tie into the story.  In this shoot, the model is wearing Collin’s ring and holding Shannon’s dagger.  The images were shot (usually) with one large soft box and fill light.  I wanted high contrast between the skin and the background and dress, so I made sure this series had more evenly lit skin in the shots for the TORN cover below.  On the Demon Kissed cover (jacket pictured below), things are much more shadowy.  The short lighting gives that tense ominous feeling that I <3.

After the model is set up, we start shooting.  The shoot runs 2-3 hours depending on what we are doing.  Going into a new shoot, I usually have an idea of the kind of feelings I want from the final image and then try to figure out the poses that match.  So its like reverse-engineering a little bit.  The entire series will have all the covers shot on the same day at the studio.

Most images tend to be low-key (dark images with a lot of black) since that reflects the mood of the Demon Kissed series. When I shoot romance covers next week for more Ella Steele’s upcoming releases, they’ll be brighter to match the moods of those books.  (YES!  I’m writing more romance under the name Ella Steele.  I’ll talk more about that in another post).

I can’t tell you how important it is to make sure the mood of the book matches the mood of the cover.  If you have happy hearts, bright colors, and unicorns–then read Demon Kissed–you’ll have a wtf moment and your brain will explode.  Okay, maybe not explode, but if you were looking for something fun and light, and got something dark and sexy, you might not be too happy with me.  The cover is one of the things that worried me about going the traditional publication route, since I’d have no control.

So, if you remember one thing from this post it should be this: MOOD MATTERS.

After the shoot, we look through the images.  You might be thinking, FUN!  Well, in a way it is, but what is actually happening is that I am looking at a series of sister shots (a bunch of shots that look nearly identical).  It’s like looking at a filmstrip, and playing spot-the-diff. After going through each and every image, I’ll chose the one that I like best for the cover.

The 4 images above are unedited and uncropped.  They’re straight out of camera – which I NEVER show to anyone cuz it’s like walking around the mall in nothing but underpants, and I’m not that kinda girl.  But for the sake of art, I decided to post them today, so you can see the process that goes into making the book cover.  Parts of making the cover are fun.  Parts are tedious.  I mean, do you see the difference b/t #1 and #3?  Imagine looking at 30 shots of those, where the differences are so minor most people can’t see them.  This is where being a freaky OCD perfectionist helps.  I can use my super-critical skills for good instead of evil, and all while not donning a cape.  (Although capes are really fun, right?)

So I chose an image.  We hold a huge ceremony and bust open champagne and… well, no.  Not yet.  But keep your cape on.  We’re almost done and you’ll want to fly and show all your friends.

The next thing is editing the image.  My models wear stage make-up when we’re shooting. It makes editing go a lot faster.  The thick make-up hides skin issues and makes certain that the model still has color on her face after the cover is fully processed.  During the final stages of making the cover, the image’s brightness is pushed, and it’s possible to lose skin tones, so the edited image above is actually intentionally underexposed.

The next step is pulling her off the background and starting the cover design.  If you purchase stock to make your covers, this is where your cover begins.  If you’re a control freak like me, look at all the things you didn’t get to control!  Sometimes it pays to use stock, but if you are writing a series, promoting the hell out of it, and then have the same cover models as everyone else–well, it’s not very good branding.  Dude, I’ve seen at least 17 covers, all by different authors, who have the same exact couple on the cover.  The images were being used by the Big 6 and Indie authors.

It makes your branding moot when other people have access to the same images.

Business brains might be thinking, Yes, but is a photo shoot cost-effective?  The answer:  Hell yes!  Stock images are expensive and now Indie authors can’t buy the little images because the pixel dimensions are too small for Amazon’s new requirements (they are asking 2500px on the longest side for ideal viewing).  You want ideal viewing.  That’s the whole purpose of the cover – to lure in readers.  Having it showing like crap won’t help you.  So, your covers suddenly shot up in price if you are using stock.  Price a photoshoot.  You can find anything from $30, which can include the disc, and up.  Photographers’ rates are all over the place.  In other words, it’s worth looking into.

So I chose the shot I want to use, but it’s not perfect.  It’s not EXACTLY what I want.  It has the feeling, and she looks pretty, but it needs something.  I can see Shan’s blade and Collin’s ring, but I want the dress to pop more.  Although I LOVE purple, the Demon Kissed cover is purple, I want this cover to be different.

So, for TORN, I decided to make her gown red to match her lips.

As soon as I change her gown to red, I can see everything.  I know I want the gothic-ish overlay.  The entire series uses those to help tie them together.  I need to add her Martis mark to her forehead, the violet mark Ivy has in the book.  I change her eye color and make them rimming violet, like in the book.  And I brightened her hair.  It was getting lost a little bit after applying the layers of the overlay.

So, now my image has about 35 layers.  Here is a screen shot of what things look like at this point.  (And I’m working in CMYK for print.  I’ll convert it later to RGB for computer screens.  I’ve found it’s easier to maintain rich colors that way).

Next, I take my cover image (minus the words) flatten it and drop it onto the print template.  I check my gutters and crop lines (the little blue/ green rulers) to make sure everything lines up correctly so that it will print right.  My books are printed at a standard trade paperback size, in this case 5″x8″.  If I just made the template at 5×8, when the book is printed, it won’t look right.  You have to leave extra room so the cover can be cut before it’s bound to the rest of the book. You also need to leave a place for the barcode.  Your printer can give you the margins so you can place guidelines on your cover to make sure everything lines up correctly.  If you can do the interior margins, this is the same kind of thing.

Next, the text is added.  All my covers have large text on the back.  It’s the hook from the first book in the Demon Kissed series, then they go into their own description.  Then I add my other book covers from this series to the back of the book.  Again, images lend to mood.  The more images you have, the better.  There’s a jewel pic on the spine, a little glimpse of the cover pic.  And the number in the series, author, publisher, etc.  I also put on the back cover a new series that is coming out next.

And this is what it looks like when the jacket is complete and ready to print.

It’s kind of cool to see the process from start to finish.  It has that awesome-esk feeling of seeing a before and after shot.  Below is another completed book jacket.  It’s for the first book in the Demon Kissed series.  Remember how I told you that I LOVE purple?  Yeah, well, I have to make a consious effort not to make every single cover purple.  That also means my favorite cover in the entire series is this one… cuz it’s PURPLE!

That’s the evolution of a book cover.  It starts as a hunched-over, slobbering hairy guy, and ends with a pretty girl in a dress holding a dagger.  Tah-dah!



H.M. Ward is the bestselling author of the Demon Kissed series, and an award winning photographer.  To see all of her covers, click here.

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The Taleist Self-Publishing Survey & Typical (and not so typical) Indie Novel Sales

So I was flapping around on Twitter like a maimed bird, and saw references to a survey of Indie authors called the Taleist Survey.  I was intrigued.  Can you say spontaneous purchase?

From the description, I felt like I stumbled on the marketing mecca of Indie author awesomeness!  Or at least Vegas – lots of sparkles and flash.  I like sparkles and flash!

This is one of the first studies I’ve read about the current state of the Indie author market that was done on this scale.  Me hopes for more in the future. Okay, so I admit that I’m a  bit of a marketing whore and totally wanted this book for that marketing section.  So I slapped down my $4.99 and read that bad boy.

So.  There were two a-dher things with the marketing that I skipped.  Other than that, I was surprised to find many of the stats and figures were a reflection of my experience.  I’d be lumped into the people who live off their writing.  I’m in that younger crowd of go-getter chicks with a higher level of education, who tends to write more than your average Joe, had an agent, and chose to self-publish.  I brought my own fanbase with me, but I snagged them before my 1st book was released.  I jumped in without a net and hoped I wouldn’t land on my head.  My head’s okay.  So far, so good.

Things that surprised me – chicks dominating the Indie sales.  Wahoo!  Go girls!  Women make up most of that pool of super-sellers, and of that group the biggest chunk of the pie is going to romance writers.  Which makes sense since other stats say romance titles make up 40% of all book sales.  I write mostly YA and just started writing adult romance (SCANDALOUS under the pen name Ella Steele).  This book had no spring board.  It’s doing well, better than some of my other titles, chugging along at a steady rate.  I didn’t know what to expect shifting genres like that.  I wish there were more details in the survey about writers who wrote dual genres.  Alas, it wasn’t there.  The top catagories were romance, thrillers and sci-fy.  Not YA.  I’m an anomaly.  But you can see that those three genres dominate the market by scanning the top seller list at any time.  So the facts mesh.  They are lining up like nice little ducks.

I would have liked to see more information on sales platforms and the affect on profits.  The survey mentioned that most people had all their eggs in the Amazon basket, but didn’t address the other platforms very much.  Maybe that was because the survey is only for sale on Amazon.  Screw B&N!  Ha ahahahaa!  Okay, maybe not.  My B&N sales are roughly the same as my Kindle sales.  Just saying.  Might be worth looking at in the future, book survey boys.

You might be wondering what the average income for a self-published writer was in 2011.  According to the survey, it was $10,000.  Don’t get all excited, because the average is an average isn’t actually what most people make–it’s not the typical self-published author’s total sales for last year.  Out of about 1,000 people that responded to the survey, ~1/2 answered questions regarding income.  So you’re down to around 500 responses.  The pool is kinda small.  The average author – the median – only netted $500 last year.  The average was bumped up by the superstars rocking it out to the tune of $100,000 last year.  Those rock stars had 8 or more books that they were selling.  They took more time to write, edit, and professionally awesomeify their books.

At one point in NOT A GOLD RUSH the author hypothesized that the self-published rock stars just had better books.  All fingers point that way if they sell more, had an agent, and walked away from traditional publishing with a drooling puppy fan base in tow.

I’m not sure what I think about that.  Maybe I have self-esteem problems and can’t admit my books are good.  I’d say that the book can’t suck, but that’s a far cry from saying that its better than the rest.  A solid C book can rock the sales charts.  We’ve all seen it and wondered how it happened.

I think rising to rock star status is primarily based on three things:

  1. Avoiding sucking.
  2. Writing something that has obvious marketability.
  3. Luck.

Avoiding sucking.  That’s self-explanatory.  As for the marketability, I have to remind myself that at times.  I had an awesome idea and then think about it as wonder who would want to read that?  If the only person you can think of is your mom and that weird guy on the bus–you know, the one that thinks you’re hot–well, you probably can’t rock that title.  But then I read the comments of the WOOL guy (Hugh Howey), and think, What do I know?  Can you really predict these things?  According to him, the answer to that is a big fat, hell no.  He’s adorable, btw.  The way he’s handling his instant rock star status makes me what to pinch his cheeks.  His book follows step #1.  It’s great.  And it’s marketable with mass appeal… even if you hate wool.  Dude sold movie rights last week.  It fits into the top three best selling genres, too.

Luck plays a part too.  Right place right time.  I think that goes that way for everyone.  I’m not the lucky one in my family, so I’m hoping to be standing next to my brother at some point and having a money tree fall from the sky with a legacy contract stuck in the branches.  I’d kill the tree with my blackthumb (in case you wondering why I wouldn’t fight him for the tree).  We both know what a sucky gardening girl I am.  :D

All in all, I think The Taleist Survey had interesting information.  I’d hoped they would have released more of the actual stats, instead of presenting mostly their interpretation of the facts and figures.  Sometimes my crazy brain connects other dots and sees other parallels.  Not giving out more data made me unable to do that.  An appendix with all that stuff would be nice.  Ah-hem.

This is the book, in case you wanna peek: Not a Gold Rush: The Taleist Survey  Prime members can check it out for free.

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KDP Select Free Promo Days/ Bounce Theory & The Magic Beans of Marketing

kindle select, kdp select, kdp bounce theory, promo days kdp, free days kdp dataThose of you who have known me for a while probablly noticed that one of my cardinal marketing concepts is free does not work.  Giving things away for free diminishes their value, because people get stuck on the fact that it was free, and won’t cross over to actually paying for your product.  The concept “once free, always free” holds true in all things that aren’t of an addicting nature.  This goes with my studio, artwork, or books.

General rule of thumb: Free is bad.

Enter KDP Select and their 5 days free promo.  I remember getting the email while I was sitting, eating lunch at Disney World last December.  I thought it was an interesting concept, but free doesn’t work.  As a marketing person, I know this.  But I’m still staring at it wondering if it can be used as a tool.

As for the lending library, I thought that sounded like a wonderful idea, as a Kindle owner and as an author.  There were two major downsides for me:

  1. I’d get paid less for the title that was enrolled.
  2. I’d lose revenue from Barnes&Noble on that title.

So, I didn’t rush to sign up all my titles.  In fact, I waited a month to hear what the first wave of Guinea Pigs had to say.  This is what they said about the lending: The 99centers were doing the happy dance.  They got paid about $1.70 per lend and their books were given visability by appearing in the people who bought this also bought scrolling marquee on Amazon’s listing pages.  That alone is major, but my books already had those.  My rankings have gotten into the coveted overall bestsellers list, appearing in the top 300 paid books on kindle, and held many #1 slots in different categories.

As I tried to find more info about KDP Select, all the chatter was about the free days, and a theory emerged from all these reports.  It’s being called “bounce.”  To understand bounce you need to understand how the bestseller lists on Amazon work.  Here’s a drive-by version.

First of all the paid bestseller list and the free bestseller list on Amazon are two different lists.  And then there are more category lists, and then there is the popularity list.  The pop list has nothing to do with sales.  The popularity list is driven primarily by the free promos and the lends.  So it’s directly anchored to titles enrolled in KDP Select.  The popularity list is big and eye catchy, and most people don’t even realize they are on it. Research has shown that this list is important.

magic beans of marketing, kdp select, self publishing marketing promosThis is where the bounce theory comes in.  What is it?  In short, it’s the afterglow that your book has had after its scandlous free exposure via the promo days is over.  Due to the fact that your book was free, the theory states that the book’s rank rises on the free list – and the popularity list – and that when the promo is over, your book is still sitting pretty on the popularity list before it falls back to its regular ranking.  This is the bounce–the afterglow period before your book comes back down.  It’s supposed to get more paid sales during this time.

The first time I tried the promo day and offered the VALEFAR title for free, it was for 24 hours only.  I plugged it the way I normally do on my facebook page, twitter, and blog.  As a result, it climbed to around 2,000 (which was slightly worse than the ranking achieved when the title was first released) and following the promo period, the ranking/ sales quickly sunk like a stone.  There was no bounce.  The rank and sales were smashed, dropping about 20,000 lower than it was prior to the promo.  It took about 60 days to recover to it’s previous sales rank.

Which brings me back to where I am now.  I’m testing the bounce theory and giving it a better chance.  The theory says the higher you rise on the free bestseller list, the better the bounce after the promo is over.  Maybe I didn’t bounce my book hard enough last time.  So, let’s try again.  I still think that free is bad, and my expectation is that KDP Select isn’t for me.  I’m skeptical.  I’m not a believer, but I’m giving it a try and will report my findings here.

To ensure that I get the best results, I am going to drive the free purchases as high as possible, ideally into the top 100.  If you want to help me test my KDP Select theory,  spread the word.  If we get a hard bounce, and the book hits the top 100 and then sinks like a stone, you guys will know it was a waste of time and money.

Here are the OPERATION BOUNCE breakdowns so far:

Prior to promo free days: I promoted the free days for about 5 days prior on facebook, twitter, and submitted the info to Pixel of Ink and other kindle bargain sites.  The sales rank prior to the promo was ~30K.  When I announced the free days, the rank dropped to 75K as people stopped buying in expectation of getting it for free.  Starting at 10am on the day of the promo, I facebooked, tweeted, and spread the word that today’s the day of the free promo, drawing attention to it.  I also submitted to Indie Book List, Bargain ebook Hunter, and The Frugal Reader.  I didn’t do this last time, not to this extent.

My hourly book stats for Valefar:

  • March 24th (9:00am) Rank 27,874 (Tweeted to #kindle #free, posted on FB, blog, and email)
  • March 24th (10:00am) Rank 1,200
  • March 24th (12:30pm) Rank 1,300
  • March 24th (3:15pm): Rank 1,188 (148 free books have been claimed so far)
  • March 24th (4:28pm) Rank 877 (haven’t done anything else or noticed any new sources picking it up)
  • March 24th (7:31pm) Rank 832 (was retweeted a one time)
  • March 24th (9:26pm) Rank 804
  • March 24th (10:31pm) Rank 780 (last check for tonight. noticed uk store rank is at 1,009.  Been retweeted 3x.  Nothing majorly major.  Expecting the rank to rise overnight, since that’s what it usually does with paid sales).
  • March 25th (9:10am) Rank 783
  • March 25th (2:39pm) Rank 917 (Tweets, RTs, and posting again now)
  • March 25th (6:18pm) Rank 1,094
  • March 25th (9:23pm) Rank 1,215 (RTs, Tweets, & FB)
  • March 26 (9:20am) Rank 987 (Haven’t done anything since yesterday)
  • March 26 (3:01pm) Rank 1,144 (several RTs)
  • March 26 (6:52pm) Rank 1,248
  • March 26 (10:38pm) Rank 1,128
  • March27 (8:46am) Rank 1,073
  • March 27 (noon-3pm) Rank unknown: Sales page down (Site error said that item could not be purchased in the US)
  • March 27 (5:21pm) Rank: 1,121
  • More TBA

My expected findings are this:

  • Any bounce achieved is minimal and does not warrant the cost of the promotion (lost sales).  Results: NO BOUNCE RECORDED
  • Would-be buyers got the book for free, instead of buying it, and the writer’s fan base of potential purchasers decreases.
  • As a result of the ebook being obtained for free, the book is not valued and read in a timely manner, if at all.
  • The ‘Customers Who Bought this Item Also Bought’ window gets jacked-up.  They no longer show my other titles.  They now show unrelated free books that were near them in ranking. Results: CONFIRMED.

Additional possibilities:

  • Those getting the free promo books are not author loyal and are happier placing their loyalty in all things glorious and free.
  • Last possibility, I’m totally wrong and have to eat my hat.  The bounce from the free day makes the book visible to new buyers outside of my fan base of 45K+ fans.  This new flow of fans buys the book while its flying high on its bounce, and steers them into reading my other titles. Results: NEGATIVE, this did not happen.

The last option would be like magic beans of marketing.  In short, my desired goal with KDP Select is to utilize it as a marketing tool that will help sell books and increase revenue from those sales.  Simply, I would like to know if it’s a viable business tool.  This is a live post.  I’ll post more hourly updates to this blog posting as the free promo days continue.  The book is free right now.  If you want to help out and grab one that would be great.  More data to come!

Note: Book sales tend to slump at the end of the month, especially on Sunday.

Additional findings:

Thought I’d follow someone else who hit #1 in the free store.  The book sat in the top 15 for 24 hours straight, hitting #1 for over 12 hours.  The book is the same genere as mine (YA Paranormal Romance).  I’m watching/ logging that book’s bounce.  Here are the details.

Last known ranking on March 24th at 11pm: #4 in Free store.

Bounce rankings/ stats in PAID kindle bestseller’s list:

  • March 25
  • 9:30am- 7,314
  • 2:38pm- 7,763
  • 3:39pm- 5,150
  • 6:08pm- 5,270
  • 9:24pm-5,146
  • March 26
  • 9:19am-2,883
  • 3:00pm-2.475
  • 6:52pm-2,218
  • 10:38pm-2,313
  • March 27
  • 8:47am-1,711
  • kdp down – same issue: not available in US
  • 5:22pm-1,662

Anticipated findings:

The bounce given by the free days is on level with my regular sales stats.  For someone who’s titles lurk in the lower rankings of 100,000+, the free days may act as a way to bounce their title up the list when they had no idea what else to do.  For someone who already has a firm fan base and steady rankings, it looks like it isn’t worth it.  The bounce I’ve read about sounded too good to be true: book hits #1 in the free store and then stuck on the top ten list in their category.  Maybe it happened to someone at some time, but it’s not the norm.  I don’t see that happening for my title or anyone else’s as a predictable, repetitive pattern that can be duplicated.  Don’t get me wrong, I would love to eat my hat, but it doesn’t appear to be happening.

Actual Findings:

During this experiment, I became acutely aware that Amazon has issues.  At multiple times over a two-day period the sales page for my book was unavailable.  Other titles were also effected.  These titles belonged to me as well as other writers.  When I pointed this out to the other authors, they seemed to be aware that kdp was ‘gltichy’ and acted like it happened occasionally.  I’ve been trying to track the bounce on my book, but it appears that there isn’t any.  Like at all.  There has been no sales rank at all on March 28th on the sales page.  I should have had a soft bounce.  Instead, I appear to have no sales at all.  It appears that the book can be purchased now, but according to kdp, the titles affected by the glitch yesterday show no sales today.  Sales ranking on these titles have plummeted.

KDP has some serious issues:

After days of tracking stats kdp had issues on several of my titles.  About half way through March 27th, kdp had a note on all but 2 of my titles saying they were not available in the US (which they are).  There seemed to be a site glitch that lasted several hours.  The glitch appears to have continued into the 28th.  My sales ranks has gone wonky and my dashboard shows minimal movement across the board–all of which began on the 27th when the site underwent tech issues on select titles.  The tech issues didn’t only affect my book, but it affected the other title I was tracking.

This is a serious issue for writers who’s books finally get good rankings.  Site glitches could send them slamming back down into the gutter.  My other titles lost rankings of about 20,000 from being down for all that time.  If I hadn’t been logging this, I wouldn’t have seen it and would have wondered what caused the blip.  Now, I’m wondering how often glitches like this one are appearing.  I will be watching my titles more closely and certainly do not think it is prudent to put all your eggs in one basket.

What I’ve learned:

It is beyond insanity to put all your eggs into the Amazon basket.  Site-wide glitches that stagger sales are not desirable.  If I’m promoting a book, which I certainly was during this period, I want my readers to be able to get it.  Not being able to provide that with 100% certainty is enough to make me so that I don’t want give them sole access them a title again.  90 days of lost revenue from B&N/ Pubit was not worth the free day promo period.  In short, bounce is not reliable.  And right now, my B&N sales are kicking Amazon in the butt.  The promo period and the bounce was the only benefit and I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get to monitor the bounce in this posting.  Instead, it turned into monitoring how Amazon site issues kill your promos and crash your rank.

In conclusion, I would seriously hesitate to include a title in kdp select.  I won’t be re-enrolling this title.  I’ll be keeping a closer eye on my rankings.  It would be nice to know that sales slumps were from site issues on Amazon’s side and not something I did.  There are so many facets that cause a book to climb the sales charts, and even more that cause that same title to be slaughtered.  Pin pointing exactly how much of this has to do with website functionality could be staggering.  What do I mean?  Well, this site issues over the past two days did not affect all my titles.  They only affected some.  That means some titles falsely sank (because the readers were not able to purchase and in turn, sales ranking dropped and so did my spot on the bestseller lists), and other titles falsely rose.  The books that remained available cut their way to the top simply because the site glitch didn’t affect them, and the other books were no longer in the way.  This doesn’t sit right with me.  I don’t think it’s mallicious, but I do think it negates a lot of hard work.  Marketing is all about finding prediciable patterns and repeating.  Amazon kind of sucked the predictablity out of it if I can’t count on their site working over a prolonged period of time.  Two days is too long.  If my book had been sitting pretty at 297 where it was a few months ago, I’d be tearing my hair out right now.  It took months to achieve that rank, and to have it stolen by something like this, well, it’s hideous.  The bestseller lists matter.  That’s what bounce theory is all about.

Well, those are my findings.  I discovered things that I hadn’t expected.  Good luck to you as you try to navigate the changing publishing industry.

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How to Write a Query Letter that Doesn’t Suck

self publishing, query letter, query, how to write a hook, indie publisher, agent

The woman in the picture isn’t in the process of constructing a query letter.  You can tell from the lack of ARGHS! in the painting, and the pleasant expression on her face.

Writing a good query is HARD.  I went totally insane trying to figure out how to write a killer query letter.  I read, read, read — I even paid to take a class on how to write a query letter.  And guess what?  Every single one of them said what a query letter kinda, sorta is.  Lots of these resources said what a query letter isn’t.  That’s like saying ice cream isn’t an apple.  Correct, but not helpful.

My query letter for DEMON KISSED received several requests for full manuscripts, and multiple offers of representation from top NY agents.  I thought I’d share what I’d learned since a lot of people have problems with it.  The query letter is a crucial part in the publication process whether you self-published or go traditional.  The query is the same thing that goes in the description line on Amazon, and the back cover of your book – minus the intro and conclusion.  The query will also be used when your book goes on submission to publishers.  If you are a writer, the query letter comes up over and over again.  It’s important to rock it.

So, how do I write a good query letter?

These are the best tips I’ve come across.  Forget everything else for a second and see if this helps.  Getting overwhelmed is the track to instant query letter suckage.

Every query needs a HOOK.  A hook is something that ensnares the reader to read on.  Its a concept – an idea that grabs your attention.  A good way to think of the hook for your book is to ask yourself this: what is the one event that spurs my book into motion?  If you removed this event, your book wouldn’t exist.  In my book, it’s the initial fight with Jake and the demon kiss that followed.  That one thing totally screwed up Ivy’s life.  If that event was removed from the storyline, there would be no novel – no series.  It’s crucial.  It’s the catalyst for the entire book.  So, what’s yours?

Less is more.  Hone the body of your query down to 300 words or less.  You’re a wordsmith.  Act like it.  Use the words that pack the most punch.

Word things positively - It uses fewer words and tends to be more concise.

Make the stakes crystal clear.  What happens if your protagonist fails?  What are the repercussions?

Remember that the query is a sales letter.  This is the most important thing I realized.  I’ve been in sales for most of my adult life, so sales is nothing new.  But, I had other writers swear to God that a query was not a sales letter.  They said that I was wrong and going straight to Hell for suggesting such a thing.  Well, my query got lots of attention very fast, so my sales theory worked.  Why?  Because that is exactly what the query letter is doing – it’s selling the highlights of your idea for a novel.  The query is fast, action packed, and a succinct showcase of your book.  They query is meant to grab your attention and make you want more.  It’s a tease.

What does this look like in a query letter?  Here’s the query I used for DEMON KISSED that got so much attention:

“The Valefar boy tricked Ivy Taylor into kissing him, but he took much more than a kiss – he stole her soul and left her within inches of death. By surviving, Ivy is drawn into the conflict between the Martis and the Valefar. The war between these two immortal forces has raged for millennia without distraction. Until now.

Ivy is an anomaly—she is the only person who has ever walked away from a demon kiss alive. Her survival gives her unique and deadly abilities. Too powerful to ignore, Ivy is a threat to both armies. These two ancient enemies will stop at nothing to kill the seventeen-year-old. Surviving is nothing new for headstrong Ivy, but her survival has never depended on another person before. This time it does. And if she misplaces her trust, she’s dead.

To her horror, she starts falling in love at the worst possible time—with the enemy. He appears to be protecting her. But she can’t be certain if he is trying to help her, or help himself to her power. For Ivy, trusting the right person is the difference between love and survival, or a deadly demon kiss.  -Query for YA Paranormal Romance novel Demon Kissed by H.M. Ward.

This is the hook: The Valefar boy tricked Ivy Taylor into kissing him, but he took much more than a kiss – he stole her soul and left her within inches of death.” 

The query is a short little tease – that’s it.  What ever you do – don’t write a summary!  And don’t feel bad if you submit and keep getting rejections.  Many authors will submit a query 100 times before they get positive replies.  The authors who submit one query and then land a legacy book deal with one of the Big 6 – well, they’re imaginary.  That doesn’t happen.  Keep a list of who you submit to, and don’t waste time submitting to agents or publishers who don’t do your genre.  Remember, this is about refining your query til it sparkles.  Make your query a sparklie tease, and you’ll get agents requesting your manuscript in no time!

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News on BANE by H.M. Ward-the 1st book in the new VAMPIRE APOCALYPSE series

I’ve had a lot of people asking me about BANE-the 1st book in the new VAMPIRE APOCALYPSE series by bestselling author H.M. Ward.  I thought I’d post the cover and leak some information.

BANE will be released this spring – April 15, 2011.  This is a dystopian paranormal series.  Although it’s not young adult, it is written with the same fast pacing as my other YA series, DEMON KISSED.

The VAMPIRE APOCALYPSE books are a stand-alone series.  That means you can read them out of order.  There isn’t a book #1, #2, #3 that you have to read in order.  This will make it possible to enter the series at any point.

There are no ARC’s of BANE.  However I do have swag and cool stuff you can put on your blog if you are a book blogger looking for something new to review.

BANE is a tense dark paranormal romance.  The world as we know it is gone.  The ice caps have melted and shifted south, devastating the northern territories and eradicating major cities such as New York and London, which are now under water and frozen.  Humans died off during an epidemic prior to the ice disaster, and many more died during the floods at the start of this new ice age.

These events have forced vampires out of hiding.  In order to ensure that their food source wouldn’t completely die off, the vampires have sequestered the remaining humans into farms and taken control of all that remains of civilization.  Over time, the humans breeding on these farms became anemic. Their blood no longer sustains the master race.  But not all of the humans were captured and sent to the farms.  Some of the humans evaded the hunters, hiding in safe houses across the frozen tundra.  As decades passed, the free humans disappeared, died, or were captured, until all that remains is one.  Kahli is the last wild human.  BANE is her story.

The first chapter of BANE will be released with THE 13th PROPHECY on March 6, 2012.  More information will be avalaible on the official website, which will be up shortly.  The facebook page for BANE is over here.  Come visit!  And I still haunt the Demon Kissed page like crazy.

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Tips for Young Writers Part II: Plot, Dialogue, Descriptions, & Age

-This is a repost of one of the popular topics from Holly’s old blog, originally dated Mar 6, 2011.-

I recently asked Demon Kissed book fans via our Facebook fan page what questions they had about writing.  There were several about plot and publishing.  I’ll answer stuff Q&A style this time.

“Do you believe a 17 year old should get a book published?” – Audrey

Age has nothing to do with your ability to tell a story.  There are people who write well and are natural born storytellers.  They enjoy writing, so their ability begins to exceed their age.  That happened with me.  And of course there are several writers that were young and published – Eragon author Christopher Paolini is a contemporary writer who started writing his first published novel at age 15.  He took two years to complete his manuscript at which point his family self-published his book.  That was how he started.  Jane Austen wrote Sense and Sensibly when she was 21 years old or younger.  I’ve read that she was 18 years old in some sources, and 21 in others.  At any rate, she wasn’t an old crone.  Her novel wasn’t published until later, but the story originated when she was young.  Which is awesome!  I think there is a place for teen writers, and I think it would be awesome to see more of their work spread into the marketplace.  The folks that are hesitant are the ones who don’t think you guys pay attention to grammar and spelling.  Prove them wrong!  Write a kick ass story, and go for it!

“Dialogue please – mine never feels like real.” -Grace

Recognizing that dialogue doesn’t feel real is the first step in correcting the problem, so you are half way there.  Writing dialogue is somewhere between reality and make-believe.  If you transcribed an entire conversation, it gets dull.  The words need to be tweaked for reading.  Basically, you cut out the fat-anything extra that does not propel the plot, but you have to leave enough so the reader knows what’s going on.  The easiest way to practice is to write down a conversation you had.  Don’t try to polish it at all.  Just notice what’s there.  Next, take a red pen and start striking out anything that isn’t central to the conversation.  You should automatically remove: um, like, and other filler phrases.  You can also watch conversations.  A good conversation goes back and forth, but not with every sentence.  Changing speakers too often stunts your story.  If you hear a conversation in real life, and someone is telling you a story or explaining something, you may interrupt from time to time, but not every sentence.  If a BFF is spilling coveted info about some guy that you’ve been dying to hear about, you want the info as fast as possible.  Your readers are the same way.  You may slow things down to create suspense or for your story’s flow, but it should be done intentionally and not throughout.  So the short version is – dialogue should reflect real conversations, but cut out the fluff and jump to the important stuff.

“How do you add enough desciption? Like for the charecters surrounding.” -Jessica

This varies between genre.  Example: Fantasy, epic stories, historical fiction, and literary fiction have a LOT more descriptions going on.  It seemed like the first 80 pages of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was description.  I read that when I was 19 years old, for fun.  I love that book.  Anyway, in YA books the surroundings are more like snapshots that are infused into the story.  Their purpose is to support the story, and not distract or slow the pacing.  It’s a carefully orchestrated balance to let your reader know where your hero is, without that becoming the focal point.  In one contemporary series (meaning something that was written in the last decade or so), you know where Stephanie Plum is in One for the Money, because it’s smooshed throughout the story.  The author, Janet Evanovich, sprinkles it in throughout.  You can’t forget Stephanie’s a Jersey girl – it’s part of the story.  The descriptions should always be lending toward your story.  And avoid info dumps.  That is where you dump a bunch of info the reader needs to know instead of threading it into the story.  Weave it into your story, and you’ll be good.

The rest of the questions were about plot and publishing.  I’ll answer the publishing hoopla in another thread because there are so many things going on that it totally needs its own post.

Plot, Story Lines, & Sorting Things Out

Several of you asked how the heck can you keep the plot and all it’s intricacies straight in your head.  I talked about this a little bit in a previous post about how I did it for Demon Kissed.  As I started writing the second book, Cursed, I changed what I was doing a little bit.  I’ll share with you what I’m currently doing.

The first part of turning the amazing story in your head into an amazing story on paper is to map out your plot.  The plot is the sequence of events that leads your hero from the beginning of the story to the end of the story.  Some of you asked how to identify the beginning of the story, which is an excellent question.  If you start too soon, you bore people.  If you start too late, people aren’t sure what’s going on.  General rule of thumb – start as late as you can.  I think it should be near the story’s catalyst.

There is a catalyst, an event, that spurs your story into motion.  Without this event, you would have no story.  Identify what that is and it will help you decide where to start.  I can’t talk about Demon Kissed too much because it’s not out yet, but since this event occurs in the first chapter (which has been released), I’ll demonstrate with that.  The event that spurs Ivy’s story into motion is when Jake attacks her.  Without that key event, there is no story.  That single event creates a domino effect, which when combined with her decisions, propels her along the plot line and through the story.  Make sense?  You MUST have that moment in your plot.  If you don’t have one, you will have serious issues trying to control where the plot is going, what is happening to the character, and why.

When you start your story, have a beginning and an ending in mind.  I’ll pick a story that everyone knows - Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone. The story starts with normal Harry not knowing he is a wizard, and ends with Harry, the novice wizard, defeating Voldemort.  The writer can then go and fill in the plot holes from there by asking questions: How does Harry find out he’s a wizard? How does he learn his skills to defeat Voldemort?  All the stuff he learned in the book supported the task he had to accomplish at the end of it.

As for keeping things straight while you accomplish this daunting task – remember most YA books have 80,000-100,000 words right now.  That’s a lot of stuff to organize.  Trying to keep it all in your brain may not be the best method.  In my other post I mentioned using cork board and index cards to try and keep things straight.  The progression I made since then is easier for me.  Maybe it’ll help you too.

I mapped the beginning and ending of the book on paper – the middle is blank.  This is a stepping stone/ bridging method.  The writer knows the beginning and the end and must connect the two.  Honestly, I didn’t see how to bridge the gap in all it’s glorious detail.  Normally, I would have started writing now and assumed my brain would close the gap as I wrote.  I didn’t do that this time and it helped me much more.  Instead, I imagined the opening scene in my head over and over.  My imagination started to spread past that with several different ideas, and then finally latched onto a plot path that made sense, was interesting, and added another stepping stone to the plot.  That became chapter 2.  After I had all the key details of that scene I wrote it down as an outline.  So I had a complete chapter outline on the opening scene, scene two, and the ending.  (I think of chapters like scenes – it helps me organize the story).  Then I did the same thing, trying to move forward to scene 3.  There were several different directions to go, but the one I chose had to be awesome and line my story up with the final chapter.  I moved along like that, dreaming up the scene, determing which version to use, and then writing down the scene’s key components in an outline so that I wouldnt forget.

Holy crap!  This helped my writing and plot like nothing I’ve ever done before.  I love stories with a rich plot, that turns and threads the story together in an intricate pattern.  Organizing all the thoughts that go into it were insane.  Doing it this way: Map, Dream, Outline helped SO much.  Now, I can sit down and write 60 pages at once.  And I don’t have to stop because I got stuck and don’t know what to do next.  The plot is all mapped out on paper well enough to tip the vivid memories I created in my mind.  It also helped with revisions and editing.  Now I don’t have to go back and junk as much stuff because I planned it all out.

Plotting this way can seem really intimidating.  It was for me.  Seeing a blank page for such a long time, while working things out in my head was scary.  I thought I might lose some of the details and forget stuff.  But I didn’t.  I put enough info in the outline to keep my thoughts in check.  It even allowed me to write more freely because I knew where the story was going.  I could scatter in deeper meaning and foreshadowing into places on the first pass, instead of adding it much later during revisions.

Every writer handles plots differently.  Some people write on the fly, while others spend 12 months plotting points in their novel without ever writing a word.  I found, the more info you can capture and pre-map, the easier it gets to actually write the story.  I spent about two to four weeks dreaming the scenes in Demon Kissed: Curse of the Valefar one by one.  Everyone will find something that works for them.  The main thing is to grab that plot and smooth it out in a way that makes it easy for you to remember and work with.

I hoped this stuff helped!  We now have over 30,000 Demon Kissed fans, of which many are young writers.  You guys have amazing talent!  Thanks so much for following Demon Kissed and telling your friends!  I cannot wait to share the book with you!!!

This popular post originally appeared on Holly’s old blog on Mar 6, 2011.

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Tips for Young Writers

I’ve had a lot of fans asking me questions about writing.  I thought I would take some time to post info on here, so I can go into more detail than on my facebook fan page for DEMON KISSED.  There isn’t much room to write a response over there.

Personally, I write because I have to.  It’s a means of expression.  It’s the same reason why some people paint, and others sing, or play an instrument.  Creative expression is a do-or-die thing for me.

I’ve been writing stories since I was ten-years-old.  They mirrored folklore when I started, and slowly developed into fantasy.

When I was younger, I would hand write my stories.  They grew from a few pages to several hundred.  I didn’t edit much then.  I wrote to write, and for no other reason.  I followed one storyline, that I loved, and the stack of papers grew.  I kept them in a Robert Frost folder that I got from my middle school.  I still have that stack stored in there today.  It’s fun to go back and see what the mind of a child came up with.  Some stories were so imaginative, that I surprised myself when I went back to read them later.

My first and foremost tip is this -  Write.

Write because you love it.  Write because you have to.

I had no intention of seeking publication with my early writings.  I did them for me, and no one else.  That type of writing is important, and will foster a sense of self that you can’t get any way else.

When I was in 10th grade, I wanted to write poetry.  I sucked at it.  I remember sitting on my bed, trying to spill my feelings onto the page in a few eloquent words, and finding I filled up both sides of the page.

It looked like a story, not prose.  I forced myself to slash down the words, choosing more vivid images, and stronger words to tell the story.  Eventually my poems became what I wanted – a reflection of my soul.

In college I had no trouble writing papers.  None at all.  While other kids thought writing a 10 page paper sucked, I totally thought it was fine.  I still remember getting the assignment for my first 30 page paper.  The entire class looked ill.  I thought about it for a second, and knew I could do that.  No problem.

I have a secret for you:  The people who write, just to write, have a much easier time writing when writing’s required.  I think the longest paper I had to write for my masters work was 75 pages.  By then, I thought 30 pages was fluff.

Natural writers have a very unfair advantage, because we have been using words, molding them to our will, long before someone told us we had to.  We think it’s fun.

And dude, it totally is!

So, onto how do you keep the storyline straight in your head, work out the plot, and subplots.  Several of you asked me about this, and different writers do it different ways.  For DEMON KISSED I utilized several methods.  First, I collected my ideas, having a general idea of the flow, but unsure of the secondary conflicts.  I made outlines.  That helped me see how the story was progressing.  The only bad thing about sticking to an outline is that ideas come to me while I’m writing, so I’d abandon the outline.  So it’s there to help, as a guide, but if I want to go off-roading, I do that too.

At one point, I tried making a storyboard.  That’s where you take index cards and write out your storyline, and post it on a cork board.  This works really well for linear thinkers.  I mapped out my main story line at one point, but the secondary plots that wove in and out were more difficult to capture on cork.

Personally, I think very abstractly, so linear isn’t my thing.  My cork board now holds notes I make to myself.

Notes were the best thing I did to keep the plot moving forward, and keeping things straight.  It’s not like I’d forget huge things, but I found little details (that help tie the whole story together) would come to me at odd times and be quickly forgotten.  Now, I jot down whatever I’m thinking and stick it on the board.  When I adapt the idea into the novel, I toss the note.  That was a HUGE help.

The most challenging thing I’ve encountered, so far, is having enough guts.  Yeah, I wrote the entire novel before I told anyone.  I sat down one day and decided to write.  My storyline formed and I just kept going.

For me, telling people that I did it was the hard part.  I write, paint, sing, play the cello, so it’s not like it’s a shocker to anyone that I’d do something that I love.  At the same time, it’s like learning to fly by jumping off a cliff.  You’ll find out if you can’t do it when you hit the bottom.  That’s a pretty brutal way to learn, but you’ll learn über fast.  That is the Holly way of learning things – things that weren’t covered in school.

Have a good week!

This popular post was from Holly’s original blog dated Oct 26, 2010.
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