Checklist for New Authors

Wyvern's Angel, book #9 of the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeIndie Thursday is back! I’ve met a lot of authors lately who are starting out on their publishing adventure, so thought it would be a good idea to create a checklist (rather than saying the same things over and over again). This also works for new author brands.

This post looks like a wall of text, so I’ll pop in some of my book covers to brighten it up. 🙂

First, you need to make some choices.

Decide where you intend to publish your books and in what formats.
Most authors who are indie-published create digital editions of their books first. You can also create print-on-demand print editions – in mass market size, trade paperback or hardcover – and audiobooks. For each format, you’ll want to choose where to make your books available. There are two big options: exclusively at Amazon through Kindle Unlimited, or at all portals (commonly called “wide” distribution). There are marketing advantages to each choice, and what you decide will depend upon your genre, your preferences and what other authors in your genre tend to do. Following the established pattern will help you to find new audience. Some niches, for example, are very well-represented in KU, which means the readers are there. Because they are subscription readers, they are more inclined to try you as a new author if the book is available in KU. Here’s an article from another blog about KU and how it works, geared to consumers. There are other subscription services that don’t require exclusivity: Kobo has one called Kobo Plus, and there are subscription portals like Scribd that you can reach via aggregators.

Assess where your strongest market is likely to be.
For many new writers, this will be the American portal of Amazon (.com), but if you are in Canada, for example, like me, you might have strong sales in Canada. If you’re a Canadian writer and a new writer, you might not expect strong sales at Barnes & Noble/Nook which sells only in the US. If you’re a new writer, you might not expect strong print sales – unless you’re going to do a lot of booksigning events. If you write in German and live in Germany, you might expect strong sales at Amazon.de and Tolino. Every author has a unique footprint in the market and the better you understand yours, the better you can market to it. You’ll want to make decisions that ensure the availability of your titles to consumers in that territory so give this a think. At the very least, you can use it prioritize what you do first. Keep an eye on your sales as they come in and refine your idea of your strongest market, making changes to serve that market as necessary.

One Knight Enchanted, book #1 of the Sayerne series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixDecide how you will get your books to each retail portal.
You can create accounts and publish directly to Amazon via Amazon KDP, Apple via iBooks Author, Kobo via Kobo Writing Life, Barnes & Noble via NookPress and (sometimes, when they’re allowing new accounts to be opened) to GooglePlay.

You can also use an aggregator, like Smashwords, Draft2Digital or PublishDrive, to deliver your ebooks to these portals. Most authors go direct as much as possible – it means more uploading but also more control and faster changes to pricing and meta-data. If you choose to use an aggregator, I’d strongly suggest that you upload directly to Amazon at the very least. Your target market may influence your choices here – again, for an author in Canada, it’s a very good idea to publish directly to Kobo. There is a promotions tab on the Kobo Writing Life dashboard and you can’t apply for these portal-specific promotions if your content is delivered to Kobo from an aggregator. In contrast, Apple will merchandise any books in their store, regardless of how they’re delivered. If you want to reach libraries, aggregators are an excellent choice. I keep life simpler by using one aggregator for all library feeds. All three of these aggregators let you cherry-pick which portals should receive your content from them, so you can ensure that your book has only one delivery path to each portal.

Be aware that if you change your method of distribution, you may lose consumer reviews at the portal. This is especially true at Apple – they consider an ebook coming via another delivery route to be another product and will not transfer reviews between products. The other portals will link editions, so that reviews are displayed for all editions, but sometimes you have to nudge them to do it. So, it’s a good idea to choose your distribution plan and stick with it.

For print editions, many indie authors choose print-on-demand options. Both Amazon and Nook offer POD options through their dashboard (for paperbacks and hard cover editions). These editions will be available only at that portal – and at Amazon, they may not be available at all geographic stores. Another option is Ingramspark, which offers wide distribution for print-on-demand titles. For those of you in Canada, Ingrams is an excellent way to get your POD titles distributed to Chapters-Indigo – they may not order your books to stock in their stores, but they will list them on their website for sale. (Ingramspark also offers ebook distribution as an aggregator, but I don’t know anyone who uses this service, mostly because it’s all-in: you can’t choose which portals receive your content and opt-out of those you wish to reach in another way.)

For audiobooks, you can use ACX to contract with narrators, produce audiobooks and distribute them to Amazon, Audible and Apple. You can also distribute audiobooks through Findaway Voices and Listen Up, among others. This niche is expanding right now and you can expect to see a lot more options appear. There are also subscription services for audio and you can opt in (or out) of them at the various aggregators. You can also use these aggregators to make your audiobooks available to libraries.

Decide how you will do business.
If you intend to incorporate, this is a good time to do it. If you do it later, you’ll have to open new accounts (since publisher accounts are keyed to the tax information) and transfer everything over. Set up your banking and your tax identification, too. If you are a sole proprietorship, you’ll use your personal identification for your taxes. It’s a good idea to have a bank account for your writing income, to keep it separate from your personal stuff. You may need a sales tax number in your jurisdiction, too. You might want to use a P.O. Box to keep your home address more private, and if you intend to do business under another name, you’ll need to register that, as well. Get it all sorted out in advance. If you’re going to use a pseudonym, check the availability of the most obvious domain name.

Going to the Chapel, a short story and #5 in the Flatiron Five series by Deborah CookeAnd now, we get to the checklist.
1. Open accounts at the portals selected above and fill in all the forms. Supply all the tax documents. Set up all the payment information. You only have to do all of this once.

2. Buy your domain name, get your website hosted, and start building it (or hire someone to build it). Remember that domain name registration is public and can be seached on sites like WhoIs, unless you buy the privacy option. You might want to use your P.O. Box as the address. As for your website, you may want to have a blog. You may want to have a store on your site. (Okay, there are more choices to be made here.) You can set all of this up before you have a book published, and start gathering followers and newsletter subscribers. A blog is a good way to generate interest while your book is on pre-order or before it’s available – you’ll see some suggestions for that below. If you’re going to have a store, you’ll want to compare options and decide how you’ll deliver your ebooks to customers. BookFunnel offers a number of integrations to do this.

3. Choose your social media, set up your accounts and brand them to match your website. You don’t have to use all social media, but should focus on the services most popular with your target audience, or the ones that you enjoy the most. (It shows when you have fun!) Put the links on your website for readers to follow you. Some obvious choices are Facebook (you’ll want to create a page for your author persona), Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. If you have audiobooks, you might want to have a Soundcloud account, where people can listen to samples. Some authors (esp those who do podcasts) have YouTube channels. I share my Ravelry link. Your website template may have widgets to display any or all of these in the footer or sidebar. If you have a blog, you can have your posts automatically be shared with your social media. One word to the wise, here – begin as you mean to continue. It’s really easy to over-extend yourself, but you need to defend your writing time. Start small instead of trying to do everything.

Serpent's Kiss, a paranormal romance and Dragonfire #10 by Deborah Cooke4. Sign up for a newsletter service, build your sign-up forms, and get them on your website. Popular options are Mailchimp, Mailerlite, Constant Contact, and Mad Mimi – among others. They all have pros and cons, and most have a free option. You’ll want to add a welcome email that goes out automatically to new subscribers, or even an onboarding sequence. You may want to offer some special content for signing up. One tip – build a template that you can use for each newsletter, with your social media links and other info. It’ll save you time. Also make sure that the branding is consistent (and appropriate) between your social media profiles, your website and your newsletter. Again, start as you mean to continue – don’t promise a weekly newsletter unless you think you have enough news to share weekly and enough time to create a weekly newsletter.

5. If you are going to use ISBN numbers, then purchase a block of them. If you are in Canada, you can get them free, once you open an account with the Canadian ISBN service. Ensure that the ISBN is in your book interior when it’s formatted.

6. Create affiliate accounts. Affiliate links pay you a teeny tiny bonus for directing a consumer to a portal’s website, if they make a purchase after following your link. You can open affiliate accounts at Amazon, at Apple, at Rakuten for Kobo and at B&N. (I think it’s run by Rakuten, too.) Again, your idea of the location of your target market will affect your choices here because affiliate codes are a bit of a pain. If you’re going to make three cents a month, you might not want to bother. Once you have an affiliate account, there will be instructions on modifying your buy links to include the affiliate. Smashwords gives you an affiliate code automatically – once you’ve published a book, log in to your SW account and scroll to the bottom of that book’s product page to find the affiliate link. Here’s Amazon’s affiliate program – if you apply for them, you’ll get a different code for each Amazon geographic store. You also can only use Amazon affiliate links on your website, not in newsletters or on social media, according to the Terms of Service. Here’s Apple’s affiliate program, run by Performance Horizon, which you can use anywhere, plus here’s Apple’s nifty linkmaker. It’s very handy for building links for any product in any territory. And here’s Rakuten’s Linkshare, which is the affiliate program at Kobo.

7. The book! Get your book edited professionally and commission a professional cover. Either buy Vellum to format your own books or hire a formatter. I love Vellum. You can use it for format ebooks and print books, and it makes it easy to update book files quickly. I did use a formatter for years, though, and I learned a lot from her. Either way, make sure your book interiors look good. You’ll also need to decide if you’re going to create generic ebook editions or tailor the end-matter to each retailer. Vellum will support the use of your affiliate codes in all links. There’s more on that below.

8. Upload your book at the portals of choice. Ensure that your metadata is consistent across all platforms. It’s a good idea for your pricing to be consistent, too. Each portal has its idiosyncrasies, but the uploading process is fairly easy. It will take 24 to 72 hours for your book to go “live” in the store if you upload directly, and may take longer if you use an aggregator. (Check their site FAQ’s for info on that.) You’ll want to add the buy links to your website for the book.

You can use your newsletter and social media to start building interest in your book. I don’t share covers until I have buy links, but you might choose to do otherwise. For a first book, I probably wouldn’t bother with a pre-order, but the sooner you can get your pre-order up for book #2, the better.

Abyss, #4 of the Prometheus Project of urban fantasy romances by Deborah CookeYou may notice that I use a service called Books2Read for links. This is because Amazon doesn’t re-direct buy links based on the geographic territory of the consumer. Apple, GooglePlay and Kobo all do, and Nook only sells content in the US. What does this mean? Amazon has a number of different geographic stores that exist as separate entities. for example, I live in Canada. I can look at the Amazon US store (Amazon.com) but it always suggests that I shop in their Canadian store (Amazon.ca) because it detects the location of my ISP. The problem is that when I follow a link to a book in the US store, Amazon might just tell me that the book isn’t available to me, instead of re-directing me to that book’s product page in the CA store. This is happening more and more often for those of us who live outside the US. I can then search for the book in the CA store, but people don’t. They want to click to the book product page. (You also can change the url, since the book will have the same ASIN in all Amazon stores – just change the om in Amazon.com to an a to get the Amazon.ca link.) Books2Read is a free service from Draft2Digital, which allows you to create a product page for your book that includes all of the buy links, including those to smaller portals. This is important for readers outside of the US. Even better, when the reader clicks the Amazon link, Books2Read will send them to the product page for that book in their geographic Amazon store. The other really nifty thing is that Books2Read supports affiliate codes – so instead of having numerous Amazon links on every landing page of my website, I can put the .com link there with its affiliate code, and let the other geographic affiliate codes work through B2R. Ha.

9. Register your copyright on or before the on-sale date of your book. (It costs more if you pre-register it.) Some authors don’t register copyright, but it gives you defense in any instance of plagiarism. You should register your copyright in either the nation of first publication or the nation in which you reside. Here’s the website of the Library of Congress for US copyright registration.

10. Once you have one book uploaded and published, you can add some additional links to your website and your books. (Remember your affiliate links.) Claim your author profile at Author Central, in order to customize your author page at Amazon. You can include an RSS feed from your blog on your author page. Readers can follow you on Amazon and Amazon should send them a notification of any new releases from you. And yes, Amazon supports author profiles in other territories (FR, DE, UK, Japan) so if you expect to have a strong audience in Germany, for example, you’ll want to claim your author profile on the DE Author Central. (Other geographic stores will display some information from your US Author Central page.) You’ll also want to claim your author profile on GoodReadsAmazon now feeds book information to GR directly, so your book should be there – and you can add the RSS feed for your blog to that page, too. Claim your profile on BookBub, too. This is a different account than one you might hold as a reader – it’s called BookBub Partners. You can customize your author profile to some extent and check that your books are listed. BookBub will send a new release notification to your followers. Add all these links to your website. If you click on your name in the Apple Bookstore, you’ll also discover the link for your author page there.

11. Alternative editions of your book (audio, paperback, hardcover) should automatically link with the ebook edition and share reviews at all portals. When you’re starting out, though, you might need to give the portals a nudge. There are no print editions at GooglePlay or Apple, and the Kobo ebook will be linked with the print edition at Chapters-Indigo. (From Chapters-Indigo, you can see both, but you’ll only see the ebook on Kobo.) If they don’t link up at Amazon within 72 hours of publication, check that the metadata is identical on both. If it is, send a message to KDP Support requesting that the editions be linked. They’re pretty quick. At any portal, if your books aren’t linking up correctly, contact Support.

One Hot Summer Night, #3 of the Secret Heart Ink series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke12. When you publish a second book in a series, you’ll want a series page so that readers can find the next book in the series. This is separate from your author page. At Kobo and GooglePlay, this happens automatically if the metadata is identical. (The series name has to be spelled exactly the same.) NookPress has a series manager on their dashboard, as does Smashwords. At Apple, you have to request a series page if you upload directly. If you deliver via an aggregator, it should happen automatically. Once the page is created at Apple, subsequent books should be added automatically – again, if the metadata is identical. At Amazon, you have to request a series page. Sometimes new titles are added automatically within 72 hours of publication and sometimes you have to ask. You can share the series link on your website etc. – just copy it from the navigation bar on your browser – but remember that Amazon will change the url with every book added to the series. (Yes. Really.) Also, series numbering at all portals has to be in whole numbers. Although it’s intuitive (at least to me) to use a decimal for a short story or novella that appears between two full-length books, series pages will only accept whole numbers and the lowest possible number is 1. Remember also to go into Author Central and claim each new book you publish so it appears on your Amazon author page. You’ll want to double-check that your new book appeared on your BookBub profile, too.

13. Update your end-matter in your ebooks regularly. Most authors start out updating it with every new release, but as your list grows, you might come up with an alternate plan. You should have a newsletter sign-up in your ebook interior, as well as links to find you online. Each portal allows “neutral” links – your website url, for example – but will reject a book file with buy links for other portals. One of the nifty things about Vellum is that it allows you to build versions of your ebook that are customized for each portal. The Apple edition, then, has Apple buy links and Apple is good with that. You have to be uploading directly to use these versions, though – if you’re using an aggregator, you’ll probably want to upload a generic ePUB edition, which points back to the landing page on your website rather than product pages at retailers. The same is true of library editions. When you publish a new book, you’ll want to go back to your first book and update the file so that there are handy buy links for that second book, especially if the books are in a series.

Phew! That’s a good start for setting up your online presence as an indie author.

You can find this post again by either bookmarking it or by following the hotlink on the Author Resources page.

©2019 Deborah A. Cooke

Throwback Thursday – eBook Covers

I thought it would be fun to look at some old book covers, and play compare and contrast. We’ll start with my first four ebook covers for my first four indie-published books. I created these covers and was quite pleased with them, way back in 2011. I think I’ve learned a bit about covers since then…The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance II, an anthology of vampire romances including "Coven of Mercy" by Deborah Cooke

original ebook cover for Coven of Mercy, a vampire romance and short story by Deborah CookeFirst up, Coven of Mercy, my vampire romance and short story. This was first published in an anthology, the Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance II (which was called Love Bites in the UK, a title I still love) in print only. The anthology cover is on the right. At left is the cover I created for it in 2011.

Coven of Mercy, a short story and vampire romance by Deborah CookeHmm. I knew I didn’t have it right, so had a new cover designed. Here’s the second cover on the right.

Coven of Mercy, a short story and vampire romance by Deborah CookeAt left is the current cover, which I love. This guy looks just as I envision Micah.

Every time I write about this story, I’m reminded that it was supposed to be the first in a series. Then I try to figure out when I’m going to write that series. I’ll let you know when I do solve that riddle!

In the meantime, Coven of Mercy is available at all e-retailers.
Amazon.com
Apple
Nook
KOBO
GooglePlay
Books2Read Universal Link (Find international stores and other Amazon stores here)

Amor Vincit Omnia is a short story, a medieval romance that was originally published in a digital anthology called the Seven Deadly Sins. This story isn’t available on its own anymore, but is included in my anthology, Beguiled, in both digital and print formats.

The Leaves, a short story by Deborah Cooke, in its original ebook editionI also got some extra mileage out of that image I licensed for Coven of Mercy and used it for the cover of The Leaves, a short story I’d written and never published before this ebook edition in 2011. This story is also available now in the anthology, Beguiled.

The interesting thing here is that, in 2011, we weren’t sure people would read long stories in digital editions. Popular thinking was that short stories would rule the format, which of course, hasn’t proven to be true at all – but that’s why I published short stories first.

Beguiled, a collection of short stories and novellas by Claire Delacroix and Deborah CookeWriting this post made me realize that Beguiled hadn’t been updated for a while and was no longer available at all retailers – I had to take it down when the Ballad of Rosamunde was in Kindle Unlimited – so I’ve fixed that this week. I also am in the process of republishing the print edition, which disappeared in my distribution transition from Createspace to Ingrams.

Buy Beguiled in ebook at:
Amazon.com
Apple
Nook
KOBO
GooglePlay
Books2Read Universal Link (find international stores and other Amazon stores here)

Once Upon a Kiss, a Scottish time travel romance by Claire Delacroix (writing as Claire Cross), out of print mass market edition

Once Upon a Kiss, a Scottish time travel romance by Deborah Cooke, published under the pseudonym Claire Cross and republished as a Claire Delacroix titleOnce Upon a Kiss is a Scottish time travel romance that was published in 1998 by Berkley and was the first book I published under the name Claire Cross. Here’s my first ebook cover for it, at left.

Here’s the Berkley mass market edition at right.

Once Upon a Kiss, a Scottish paranormal romance by Claire DelacroixAnd here’s its current cover at right, created by Kim Killion back in 2011 when I realized that my cover wasn’t getting the job done.

Of course, Once Upon a Kiss is currently available at all ebook retailers, with the pretty cover by Kim.

Buy eBook:
Amazon.com
Apple
Nook

KOBO
GooglePlay
Books2Read Universal Link (Find international stores and other Amazon stores here)

Original ebook cover for Love Potion #9, a paranormal romance by Deborah Cooke, first published under the pseudonym Claire Cross and now a Claire Delacroix title

Love Potion #9, a paranormal romance and romantic comedy by Claire Delacroix (writing as Claire Cross), out of print mass market edition

Love Potion #9 is a paranormal romance and romantic comedy, and was my fourth book published under the pseudonym Claire Cross. My first ebook cover is at left. The original mass market cover is at right. I always liked the cover art, which was painted by Judy York. It depicts a scene in the book, which is a rare and wonderful thing.

Love Potion #9, a paranormal romance by Claire DelacroixLove Potion #9, a paranormal romance and romantic comedy by Claire DelacroixI subsequently licensed the cover art from Judy and she added type to it for me. (You can see with this title that we didn’t have fixed proportions for ebook covers for a while.)

Eventually, I had Kim make the type consistent with my other books, and this edition on the right is the one that’s available now.

Buy eBook
Amazon.com
Apple
Nook
KOBO
GooglePlay
Books2Read Universal Link
(Find international stores and other Amazon stores here)

A BookBub International Featured Deal

The Princess, book #1 of the Bride Quest trilogy of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix

Original mass market edition

The Princess, book #1 of the Bride Quest series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixEarlier this week, I had a BookBub Featured Deal for The Princess, book #1 of my Bride Quest series of medieval romances. The book is discounted to 99 cents. The Princess was my very first book to land on the USA Today list – it was #93 in its first week on sale, way back in 1998. In those days, of course, it was a mass market edition. That’s the original cover on the right.

This was the first time I had a featured deal for international markets only, and I was curious about its effectiveness. This week’s Indie Publishing post is about my results.

My previous BBFDs have been for all markets. At BookBub, this means US, UK, CA, AU and IN. An “international-only” deal means that BB will only email the deal to readers in the UK, CA, AU and IN, not those in the US. The book doesn’t have to be discounted in the US, but I discounted it there anyway – that discount was promoted only on my website, newsletter, and social media.

There are two variables here: the relative size of each market itself, and the number of BookBub subscribers in each market. My Claire Delacroix BookBub profile shows that I have 18,780 followers.

BookBub profile for Claire DelacroixWhen I sign in, BB tells me that 15,618 of those followers are in the US. That’s 3,162 non-US followers or 16%. I know that I have a lot of audience in outside of the US market so the BB follower list isn’t reflecting that. (Click that link above or the graphic to follow me on BookBub, regardless of where you are.)

(In contrast, and just for comparison, my Deborah Cooke BookBub profile has 87,884 followers, and 55,579 are in the US – which means 32,305 (or 36%) are international followers. That’s a break that fits better with my own perception of my audience and their location.)

Since these four English language markets are much smaller than the US, the assumption is that resulting sales will be lower than for a full deal and the ad is priced accordingly. Here’s the pricing chart for BookBub ads – the prices listed are for full ads. If you scroll down to Historical Romance, the featured deal for a 99 cent book is priced at $692 US. If that ad only runs internationally and not in the US, as mine did, the price is $108. So, $584 is for the US market, which gives you an idea of comparative reach.

For $108, I decided to give the international deal a try. The deal ran on Monday, December 3.

So, what happened?

The Princess, #1 in medieval romance in the Amazon.ca store on December 4, 2018

At Amazon.ca on Tuesday morning, The Princess had a #1 bestseller ribbon for medieval romance.

The Princess, a number one bestseller at Amazon.ca in medieval romance on December 4, 2018It was also #52 paid in the Kindle store overall, which is pretty cool.

The Princess, a number one bestseller in historical romance in the Amazon.AU store on dEcember 4, 2018It also had an orange #1 bestseller ribbon for medieval romance in the Amazon Australia store.

The Princess at #1 in medieval romance in the Amazon Australia store on December 4, 2018

It was #119 paid overall in the Amazon Australia store on Tuesday, too.

In terms of raw units moved, the traffic was almost equally divided between CA, AU and UK, with slightly more units sold in the UK. There were a few in the US, too. The halo was strong in these territories: at 8AM on Tuesday, sales for the day for The Princess were already 1/3 of what they had been on the day of the feature. The Damsel, book #2 in the series, and The Heiress, book #3 in the series, began to sell at full price on the day of the ad.

At Kobo, which has a large customer base in the territories covered by the international deal, The Princess was listed as #2 in historical romance on its product page on Tuesday morning.

The Princess, #1 in historical romance at Kobo on December 4, 2018

But when I clicked through to the bestseller list, it was actually #1 🙂

The raw units at Kobo were less than at Amazon, of course, but almost half – and more than sold at Amazon.ca. This is a very good showing at Kobo for a BookBub ad and likely a result of the territories matching Kobo’s market footprint. (Although I have had some BBFDs show very strong results at Kobo this year.) Kobo customers do love their boxed sets and Kobo does display them on the series page (unlike other retailers), so the first products to move in the halo at Kobo were the two boxed sets: The Bride Quest I Boxed Set and The Bride Quest II Boxed Set.

At Apple, The Princess popped onto the First in Series Bestsellers list, but without the US market, there weren’t enough units moved to place it high on any of the charts. The halo there will only be from links in the books that were sold and probably won’t be that significant.

In terms of money, there were enough units sold of The Princess on the first day to cover the cost of the ad. And as noted above, there is a halo, both in sales of The Princess in those markets afterward where it had visibility thanks to its placement on the charts and in the linked books. (There are five more titles in the series.)

One of the interesting things was that the book’s appearance on the charts was stickier in those smaller markets: typically, in the Amazon US store, a BookBub feature makes the book spike for a day, hitting high on the charts, then it drops hard. If it remains on a list for three days, that’s cause for celebration. But in these smaller markets, probably because there are fewer units being moved, the book stayed on the list longer.

On Wednesday, The Princess was at #2 in Medieval and #215 overall in the Amazon.ca store.

The Princess at #2 in Medieval romance and #215 overall in the Amazon.ca store on December 5, 2018

Similarly, it was still #2 in medieval romance in the Australia store on Wednesday, though it had dropped to #508 overall paid in the store:

The Princess at #2 in medieval romance in the Amazon Australia store on December 5, 2018

This is a good thing. One of the benefits of running a promotion like this is the visibility that the book gets on the bestseller lists, and more visibility is better.

In conclusion, it wasn’t a failed experiment, but it wasn’t such a success that it left me dizzy with joy. I don’t think I’ll run a BookBub featured ad in the international markets in historical romance again.

By the way, the book is on sale until December 8, so you can still pick up a copy on sale.

Buy The Princess
Amazon.com
Apple
KOBO
Nook
Googleplay
Books2Read Universal Link
(Find international stores and other Amazon stores here!)

ACX for Canadian Authors

Today’s the day so many Canadian indie authors have been waiting for! ACX is now open to authors in US, UK, Canada and Ireland. 🙂

ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) is a portal that helps indie authors create audiobooks of their work and distribute them. There are many many (many!) voice samples there from narrators all over the world, and you can request auditions – that’s when narrators read a sample of your book, so you can hear their interpretation of it. You can contract for the audiobook through ACX and once the book is done, distribute it to Amazon, Audible and iBooks.

ACX has a blog post today about this new opportunity for Canadian and Irish indies: you can find it right here.

Pre-orders, Placeholders and Final Book Files

I’ve decided to make some changes in how I work, which will be mostly invisible to you. The one thing you’re going to notice is a little gap in new books being released. What’s happening is that I’m switching the order around.

Here’s why.

To date, I’ve listed books for pre-order (and shown you the covers) when they were still being finished. The idea is that when you finish book #1, you might like to order book #2, so I’ve made those links available for you. Even though I leave what seems to be enough time, plus a buffer, schedules have been getting tighter and tighter over the past year. The reason for this is pretty simple. The vendors I use are very good, which means they’re getting busier. They have more clients and tighter schedules. Everything works as long as everyone keeps to deadline—not just me, but ALL of each vendor’s clients. If someone gets sick, or there’s an unexpected development in their personal life, the domino effect kicks in. When vendors are less busy, they can move things around, but I’ve noticed in this past year that it’s become much harder for everyone to be flexible.

In a way, indie publishing is becoming like traditional publishing: when one deadline is missed in the production schedule, the domino effect might mean that the book’s publication date has to be moved. Each step in the production process is scheduled for a certain date, and the book can’t just move a week down the schedule because there’s another book scheduled for that time.

The Crusader's Vow by Claire Delacroix, book #4 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series of medieval romances.Another thing that’s been happening this year is that portals have been delivering the wrong file to readers. How can this be? At some portals, a pre-order can only be made available with a book file. Of course, if the book isn’t done, the correct book file isn’t available. The best solution is at iBooks, which doesn’t require a placeholder file at all. There’s no chance of confusion there. (This is called an asset-less pre-order.) At other portals, it’s common to use a placeholder file—for example, the placeholder file for The Crusader’s Vow at Kobo is a single page, which says that if you receive this file instead of the book, you should contact Kobo customer service. I like this solution, as there’s no chance of confusion, but it doesn’t work elsewhere. At Amazon, for example, the page count displayed on the product page is derived from the book file—if I upload a single page like the one at Kobo, the book will be listed as having one page and I will receive many emails complaining that a single page book shouldn’t be priced so high. (I know, because I’ve done this before!) The book will also automatically appear in a lot of quick read categories based on the size of that file, which would be wrong. So, the placeholder file for The Crusader’s Vow at Amazon is the final file of The Crusader’s Kiss. I had expected the two books to be about the same length (but actually Vow is longer). The benefit of this strategy is that it will be immediately obvious to a reader if the wrong file is delivered to them. Since B&N requires a book file and has been delivering the wrong file a lot this year, there has been no pre-order or placeholder file for The Crusader’s Vow there. The book will be listed for pre-order only when the final file can be uploaded.

There’s a deadline, of course, for providing the final file at each portal. Once the final file is uploaded (and uploaded on time) the portal should deliver it to the customer on the on-sale date. What’s been happening this year is that the placeholder file is being delivered instead. As you can imagine, this creates a huge mess. (If this happens to you, btw, please contact customer service at the portal in question. Please do not leave one-star reviews for the book or send hate mail to the author. Neither of these actions will get you the right book file. Of course, it’s frustrating, but only the portal can deliver the book you’ve paid them to receive.)

I’ve been thinking for a while that the best strategy is to only ever upload one book file.

Something Wicked This Way Comes, a Regency romance novella by Claire Delacroix and #1 of the Brides of North BarrowsTo give it a try, this year I set up a pre-order for a book that was already done. Something Wicked This Way Comes was written last summer and published in the Spellbound anthology last fall. I have the right to publish it on its own in March, so in December, I put it up for pre-order. I had the final book file, commissioned a cover, had it formatted and put it up for pre-order with the final book file. This has been a wonderful experience. Not only does the book have a nice volume of pre-orders because it’s been available longer as a pre-order, but its publication has been completely stress-free. I’ve even forgotten about it a couple of times, then remembered that I should make some memes. I want all of my book publications to be this easy!

Addicted to Love, a contemporary romance by Deborah CookeSo, my strategy going forward is going to be listing the book for sale only after it’s done, when the final file can be uploaded.

There’s one last asset-less pre-order out there—it’s for Kyle’s book, Addicted to Love, and is only at Kobo and iBooks. I’m going to write that book next and get it all loaded up early. When you see the Amazon pre-order, you’ll know Kyle’s book is done!

It will look to you as if I’m not writing much for a bit, but things will be busy behind the scenes. Once we make the transition, the publication schedule will look as busy as ever and ALL pre-orders will be for completed books.

I’m looking forward to it.

New Series Mailing Lists

I’ve been creating some new automated sequences in my mailing list.

Addicted to Love, a contemporary romance by Deborah CookeDon’t worry if you don’t know what that means. Two months ago, I didn’t know either. This is a pretty cool thing. An automated sequence is a series of emails that are set up to be delivered in order, and are triggered by some action. My first automations were added in November and are “onboarding” sequences. These two automations welcome new subscribers to my newsletter with a series of four emails. The emails talk about my books and series, tell where to find me on social media, etc. An onboarding sequence familiarizes new subscribers to bring them onboard. It’s an “automation” because once it’s set up, it just rolls. It doesn’t matter when someone subscribes to the list, their email is added to the onboarding sequence whenever they do subscribe. Twenty-four hours later, they’ll get the first email. The second, third and fourth are delivered at seven day intervals, then those new subscribers are added to my main newsletter list. There are two different sequences which are slightly different based upon what link the new subscriber uses to sign up for the list.

How cool is that?

Wyvern's Warrior, #3 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeWell, it gets even better. Once I had my feet wet, so to speak, I decided to add some sequences for people who shop in my online store, to follow up on their purchases. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make this work for a while – the store has the ability to follow up, but allows a single follow-up for all purchases and products. I wanted the follow-up to be specific to whatever the customer downloaded. If, for example, you download the sample of Wyvern’s Warrior, it makes sense that you’ll be most interested in the full book of Wyvern’s Warrior. The Selz people helped me to figure out a way to do that, by using a new integration with a service called Zapier.

Now, I can set a specific sequence to trigger on any product. Ha! I’ve grouped the products into series and created new mailing lists for each series of books. The idea here is that you might not want to read all my news every month to learn what you want to know. You might not even want to read all my paranormal romance news. You might just want to know when the next Dragons of Incendium story is available—either for you to download a sample or for you to buy.

The Crusader's Bride, a medieval romance by Claire DelacroixAnd here’s the super-cool bit—you might even be interested in getting it on sale. One of the wonderful things I can do in my online store is create a discount and offer it to specific people. The discount is targeted, rather than being available to everyone who shops at Amazon, for example. On these series lists, subscribers are being offered discounts on the books in the series, either in digital or in print editions. It stands to reason that the subscribers on the list might be interested, since the only way to get on one of the lists is to download a sample from that series or buy one of the books in my online store.

If you’ve downloaded samples for Flatiron Five or the Dragons of Incendium series, you’ve probably received at least the beginning of one of these automated sequences already. I’ll be adding more series lists in the new year – next will be the Champions of St. Euphemia.

If you want to be added to the series newsletter lists, all you need to do is download a free sample of one of the included books. You can find all the book samples in my online store right here.

If you have any troubles with the sequence, suggestions for improvement or comments about it, please let me know!

New Tricks

In a constantly changing market, there are always new marketing methods to explore. Some work, some don’t. Most work for some authors and genres, and not so well for others. There’s really only one way to find out for sure – experimentation. This week, we’re not only having Wild West Thursday on Wednesday, but we’re taking a look at my newest experiments.

The Beauty Bride, first book in the Jewels of Kinfairlie series of medieval Scottish romances by Claire DelacroixThe first one isn’t that new. I tried out a couple of multi-author promotions last summer and found them to be a both fun and effective. Free books have lots of downloads in these promotions, probably because they’re exposed to a lot of readers who don’t already know your work. I think these promotions are a good way to get more exposure for a free title that introduces readers to an author’s work and/or a specific series. I’ve signed up for a few more of them for November, for The Beauty Bride and Double Trouble.

One of the terms for participating in these promotions is always that each author shares the promotion with his or her followers, in order to spread the word. That’s the point, really, to expose the landing page to more people. So, you’ll be seeing more of these promotions posted here and will receive notices of them if you subscribe to my newsletter. I’m booked into four this month, although news of two of them will ride in the already scheduled newsletters for my November releases. Some of them are sorted by genre or sub-genre, and I’m curious to see how that affects results.

Wyvern's Prince, #2 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeMy second experiment is a new thing: I’m trying out a service called Instafreebie, which delivers free books to readers. You can find The Beauty Bride and Double Trouble there, at least until November 20. (The titles are linked to the IF giveaway page.)

At first glance, this service wouldn’t seem to add anything beyond having the book free in my online store or at various portals, but IF gives people the option of opting into the author’s newsletter. My online store does that, but the various portals don’t.

Simply Irresistible, a contemporary romance by Deborah Cooke and first in the Flatiron Five series.IF also offers the option of offering a free read to specific readers – to set up advance reading copies, for example, or to reward regular readers and newsletter subscribers with a bonus read free. This offers more control over pricing and the availability of a free read. I noticed authors using it for sneak peeks and samples of upcoming books, too. IF has a special category for excerpts, which should help to avoid any confusion for readers. I’ve added my medieval romance sampler, Knights & Rogues, to IF as well as the sample file of the first chapter of Simply Irresistible, the sample files of the first chapter of Wyvern’s Mate and Wyvern’s Prince.

The third bonus of IF is that they feature books and promotions on their own site and blog, and there are many, many (MANY) multi-author promotions that are set up to feature IF titles. Several of the promotions I’m participating in during the month of November are of this type. I like when authors work together for everyone’s advantage, so am excited about these promos.

Finally, my theory is that IF will offer the opportunity to get new visibility for a free title on an ongoing basis. In the past, a free title might stick on the bestseller list for a particular genre or sub-genre at any given portal, which would provide visibility for it. As more and more books enter the marketplace and more authors use a free series opener to find new readers, this is a less reliable strategy. Free books spike and drop on the lists, just like paid books do, and once the free book drops below a certain point, it’s not achieving the goal of aiding in discovery. I’m curious to see whether this works better.

If you’re an author and would like to try Instafreebie, you can follow this referral link to sign up and put a little $ in my budget for telling you about it. 🙂

Knights Dragons and Heroes, Welcome to Deborah Cooke (and Claire Delacroix)'s newsletter.
My third experiment is one that I find geeky but cool. I set up an onboarding sequence for my newsletter, using the automation feature at my newsletter service provider. An onboarding sequence is a series of emails that welcomes new subscribers to the list, orients them with regard to the product or service (in this case, my book series and author brands) and engages with them. The idea is that they’ll be more likely to remain subscribers with this kind of a welcome transition. Does that work? I have no idea but am intrigued.

I set up a sequence of four emails (actually there are several series of four emails, which vary based upon how the person subscribed to the newsletter). It’s set up to give them an overview of my books and series, as well my social media, but divided into stages. Even better, the newsletter service offers many nifty stats and graphs of who’s opening what and which links are being clicked. It’s just a trickle of activity now, which is how I wanted to start, but will start to cast more results as these promotions run and more readers step into the stream. The sequence began to run on the 29th of October, so if you subscribed after that date, you’ll receive the emails. You could also subscribe to my newsletter right now if you haven’t already. As a side bonus of doing this, I found a new template in my newsletter service which I like better than the one I was using, so my newsletter has also gotten a fresh new look.

There are the new tricks and some treats from my end for November. Do you subscribe to any newsletters with onboarding sequences? Do you like them? Do you find new authors with free reads? Where do you find free reads?

My New Planner

As I’ve mentioned to you before, I took it as a challenge earlier this year to find better ways to  manage my time. By last spring, it seemed as if I was working all the time and that my work was running my life, instead of the other way around. Part of this is certainly due to my decision to indie-publish my work. There are a lot more tasks that are my responsibility, since I’m both author and publisher. Not only have I had to learn how to do them or find subcontractors to do them, but I’ve had to fit them (or their delegation and management) into my schedule. A couple of weeks ago, I completely forgot one of them. Fortunately, the portal in question sent me a reminder and everything was done on time, but it was a good warning that I need to be even MORE organized.

I belong to several writers’ groups and in one such group, there’s been a lot of discussion about planners and organizing tools. Many of these aids are printed books or sheets, and while I like the tactile experience of organizing on paper, I wanted a more fluid tool. I also want to be able to easily move a missed task from one day to the next. I was officially on the hunt for a digital planning solution. That way, when something goes wrong or unexpected obstacles appear, I’ll be able to re-adjust the schedule more readily.

The first thing I did was start a spreadsheet of what had to be done, and when. I listed all my upcoming projects, from those that are already scheduled and available for pre-order to those I’m dreaming about. I listed the projected length of the finished project (long book of 100K words, short book of 75k words, long novella 50K, novella 25K, short story 10K). I then set up a formula in the next column to calculate the number of working days it would require to complete this project. I took a low estimate of my daily word count to allow a little bit of wiggle room. Presto- each project had a precise number of days required to write it to completion.

Mr. Math pointed out to me that Excel has a multi-page calendar template. How wonderful! I created a calendar for 2016 and one for 2017. You choose the year, and it automatically populates the calendar so that the right date is on the right day of the week. Here’s what the page for January looks like, after I changed the template colour. (The other months are on separate tabs.)

Calendar Template from ExcelThis looked like a good solution.

Before I filled in the jobs for this year and next, I made some basic rules:
– no more working on Sundays
– I’ll work only every second Saturday
– there are other days like family birthdays and holidays that I won’t work
– I’ll take one day to clear my mind between writing projects
– each day that I write, I’ll write in the morning and do other tasks in the afternoon
– I’ll aim to have two tasks per day, a writing goal for the morning and an admin or publishing task for the afternoon.

Next, I marked out my travel days for next year. Even though I always have good intentions of working on airplanes or in hotels, I never do it. I blocked off the dates for the conferences I’ll be attending, added a travel day on each end and an organization day right after I get home. If there are booksignings associated with those events, I added a note to order books 60 days before the event, and another to post a pre-order form 150 days in advance.

Then I began to fill the calendar. The first tasks I had to fill in were the projects that were already listed for pre-order which aren’t done yet. I had to count back from the publication date to ensure that there’d be enough time for editing and formatting. I had to make some choices in November to fit them in, but nothing too drastic.

For new projects, I scheduled the writing first. Because I’ve worked with my editor for a while, I have a good idea of how long it will take her to turn a project around and send it back to me. I also know how many days I’ll need to do the edits and revisions. I counted out from these dates to establish publication dates. When I added in the second project, I had to skip the days when I’d be writing and editing the first project. I wiggled things around a bit to ensure that the publication schedule for each series was reasonable. I have some backlist titles to republish. Checking the files and packaging the books again will take some time (but not as much as writing a new book). I thought about release strategies and added those books to my schedule. I also intend to commission new covers for some books, which means that there are some admin tasks associated with updating them. I looked for gaps in my schedule and strategically placed those rebranding projects.

Then I put the production dates in. There are a lot of guidelines and hard dates. For example, the final file for any book has to be delivered to Amazon 10 days before the book goes on sale. A pre-order can only be set up at Amazon 90 days before the publication date. Kobo and Apple allow for pre-orders to be longer, so I marked them on my schedule for 180 days before publication. That means the digital cover needs to be done 180 days before publication, which means I need to contract a cover artist or contact an existing one 210 days before publication. Many of you like the free downloadable samples of my books, and I can upload them to Apple, so they should be done when the 180 day pre-orders are loaded. I’ll need the first chapter of the book done in order to create that sample. I set up the print edition of the book after the edits are final and the digital edition has gone to formatting. Once I have the final page count, I order the print book cover from the artist, upload it and proof it. I moved back and forth through my schedule, filling in these tasks for each book.

When the writing and the production were covered, I began to think about promotion. I usually send out my newsletter on the date of a new release. I can look at each month and choose a date for my newsletter. I can also see what other items to feature in that month’s newsletter. I often put the first book in a series on sale when the third or fourth book in that series is either on sale or available for pre-order. Those sales take about 30 days advance notice to set up. I looked through the calendar and noted when I should be setting up a sale and for which title. Right now, I keep Post-it notes reminding me when to return a sale book to its regular price. I added those dates to my schedule instead.

I was walking the dog when I realized I could add even more things to my schedule! There are still a few of my books under publisher control that will be eligible for reversion requests in the next year or two. I added those dates so I don’t forget them. I could add notations for payments or for sales reports, but Mr. Math tracks a lot of that for me. He can keep it on his schedule. 🙂

I’ve been using my new planner all week, and it works well. Looking at the tasks for the day first thing in the morning gives me focus, and that seems to ensure that I get them done. I also realized the spreadsheet opens to the month I last looked at—so, if I update  the spreadsheet at the end of the day to mark what’s done and save it, tomorrow, it’ll open right where I left off. There isn’t a checklist for completed tasks, but I’m just typing DONE or moving what’s undone to the next day. It’s already proven useful for working with subcontractors—both my editor and formatter asked for estimated dates for upcoming projects and I just looked them up on my planner. Perfect!

I still have a few stray Post-It notes on my desk and some details to corral, but by the end of November, I’ll be completely reliant on the planner. I’ll also have my pre-orders up for 2017 in good time, with complete confidence that the delivery dates will be met.

How do you stay organized? Are you a planner or a listmaker?

Statistics on Romance eBooks

We’re back to talking about the business of writing and publishing on Thursdays. I thought we might be done for a while, but an interesting post came across my feed on the weekend, and it’s well worth sharing.

If you’ve ever taken a course on statistics, or thought about them much, you’ll know that statistics can be used to “prove” just about anything. It depends what data you collect and which bits of it you choose to present. It can depend upon how the questions are asked, and it certainly depends upon who is asked the questions. One of the intriguing things that authors noted very early in the digital revolution was that the statistics about the publishing industry presented by traditional publishers and by media that typically reports on the publishing business didn’t seem to mirror the indie author’s experience. Many people began to wonder just what the truth was.

Neilson Bookscan, for example, is a service that publishers use which gathers point-of-sale data for individual books. The thing with Bookscan is that it tracks titles by ISBN#. All traditional publishers use ISBN#’s on all of their books, of course, and it is a unique identifier. BUT a publisher doesn’t need an ISBN# to publish a digital book to Amazon KDP, or to several other digital portals, and many indie authors (and some digital publishers) forgo the expense of getting an ISBN#. That means their books and the sales of those books aren’t included in Bookscan’s reports. That’s just one example of assumptions shaping results.

It was a few years ago when I first saw a presentation made by Hugh Howey, based on data he and a programmer friend (“Dataguy”) gathered from Amazon’s website. (I think it was at NINC in October 2012.) They developed a software program that walks the HTML of the website to gather the data behind rankings, which let them extrapolate sales numbers and trends in the marketplace. They also have their assumptions, so the data isn’t perfect, but I doubt it ever could be (without Amazon and the other sales portals actually sharing their sales data). Their results do provide another view of what’s happening in the book market. Last week, they made a presentation at RWA National about digital book sales of romance novels, which is pretty interesting.

A couple of take-aways for me:
• “The US digital market for romance novel is 235 million units per year.”

• “Amazon US sells 328,537 digital romance novels per day.”

• “67% of US romance sales are not tracked by any traditional industry metric.”

You can see a slideshow of their presentation on their website right here.

Evolutions

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post about the emergence of indie publishing called Six Years. One of the comments was a question about how digital publishing had changed my own work and writing process. The answer isn’t a short one – the answer is actually this post.

First, let’s talk about what changed behind the scenes of publishing, as well as out there in the visible world. The impact of evolving technology is huge on both sides of the proverbial curtain.

• The Publication Process
When I first started to work with a publisher, books were delivered by authors in hard copy. I wrote my book on a computer, then printed it out on 8.5″ x 11″ paper (double-spaced, in Courier so it looked like it was typed, with 1 inch margins), wrapped up the resulting manuscript with rubber bands and shipped it to my editor in New York. I used FedEx – a book manuscript was about the size of a ream of paper (one of those packages of 500 sheets) and fit in a FedEx medium box, which cost $75 to send to NYC overnight. When I signed with my agent in the late 90’s, I sent him one, too. The typical process was to deliver the ms to the agent, who would read it and then courier it to the editor, but time was always of the essence 🙂 so I’d ship TWO boxes by FedEx the same day, one to my editor and one to my agent. My laser printer invariably ran out of toner in the middle of this print-a-thon, and I learned to buy an extra cartridge before the book was done.

The editor would then line edit the book with a plain pencil, and the copy editor would copy edit the book with a red pencil, and the whole thing would be shipped back to the author to review the changes. It would be shipped back to the editor afterward, then the book (with changes) would be typed in by a typesetter and the page proofs would be shipped to the author. After review, they’d be shipped back to the editor.

Darkfire Kiss, a paranormal romance and part of the Dragonfire series by Deborah CookeThis process of shipping large bundles of paper back and forth didn’t change in a hurry. By the late 90’s, authors had to deliver a diskette with a file of the book as well as the printed version. This saved the house from having it typed in again, but the paper went back and forth until it was time to typeset the book. The first book I delivered electronically, without sending a paper version, was Darkfire Kiss in 2010. It was also the first book that was edited in digital format. (Each publishing house must have had its own timeline on making these changes, and I’ll guess that digital-first houses were way ahead of the big traditional houses on this.) Instead of shipping the physical book back and forth, we emailed a Microsoft Word DOC file back and forth, with Track Changes enabled. Each editor worked in a different color. The file got bigger with each pass – it started out at 800k, but was 1.5mB by the time the edits were done. Working in this way required authors and publishers to upgrade their processing capacity and their internet connections. I remember the house doing a series of IT upgrades during my time writing for them, and I certainly upgraded my hardware, software and internet connection. (Remember dial-up?!)

Kiss of Fire, first of the Dragonfire series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeDigital Editions of Books
My first book to be published in simultaneous print and digital editions was Kiss of Fire, the first Dragonfire novel, in February, 2008. This was front-of-the-curve stuff. NAL believed that the Eclipse line of paranormal romances was more likely to be read by readers of a younger demographic, who would be more likely to read in digital format. It was one of their earliest programs to be offered this way. In contrast, Fallen, my urban fantasy romance published by Tor in October 2008 was not made immediately available in a digital edition. Tor was acquired by Macmillan during this time, so there were a lot of internal changes as systems were integrated.  Either way, that house wasn’t so quick out of the gate on this—in fact, my next book with them, Guardian, published one year later, would be my first with that house published in simultaneous digital. They then published book #1 in digital before book #3.

Fallen, book #1 of the Prometheus Project of urban fantasy romances by Claire Delacroix, out of print mass market editionWhat’s interesting about these early digital books is the number of formats. In 2008, most people reading digital books were reading them on their computers, so PDF was a popular format. (Ironically, I was assigned a publicist who sent out hundreds of PDF files of Fallen. That book was all over the place in PDF, before there was even a print edition, never mind a digital one.) There was a Microsoft reader that used a format called LIT. Early Kindles used MobiPocket. There were still RocketBooks out there, and some people even wanted to read in HTML. There were others, too. It wasn’t clear what format would triumph, so the early books were made available in seven or eight different formats. At that point, each was assigned its own ISBN #. The dust eventually settled and EPUB (a variation of HTML) was the winner. MOBI is Amazon’s proprietary version of EPUB.

Writers who wanted to digitally publish their books had choices to make with regards to formatting. Some portals – like Amazon KDP – offered conversion engines on their dashboards, to convert a DOC file to the format they chose to distribute. (They still do, but the conversion engines are more sophisticated. Most portals offer a preview option now of the converted or uploaded file, and KDP has a spellcheck integrated into theirs.) There were also aggregators – like Smashwords, founded in 2008, and later Draft2Digital, founded in 2012 – which would convert a book into multiple formats and distribute it to multiple outlets. At first, digital books looked a lot like print books, in terms of the order of the interior, but a new protocol quickly evolved. A clickable table of contents (a TOC) became key to navigating the digital book. As e-readers became more prevalent and more sophisticated, digital book interiors became prettier, with more flourishes beyond basic functionality. Some writers chose to keep it simple, others chose to learn how to format their own work, and a number of formatting companies appeared on the scene which work on a freelance, contract basis.

Wyvern's Mate, book #1 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeThe latest wrinkle is the formatted sample. Many portals offer a free sample of a digital book to a prospective customer. It’s often generated as some % of the actual book – 5 or 10% is typical. Now, there are portals like iBooks that permit an author/publisher to upload a sample book file in addition to the book file. This means that the sample won’t end in the middle of a sentence. It’ll end (ideally) with a nice hook that induces the reader to buy the book, and have clickable buy links in the end matter to facilitate that purchase. That means more functionality and more formatting to be done. (I also make free downloadable samples available in my online store, in both EPUB and MOBI formats, right here.)

• Discoverability and Search Engines
Search engines – either in online bookstores or on browsers – look for answers to queries. They find answers based on information provided by publishers and website owners. How well this information has been compiled and organized, and how consistently it’s presented, will affect results and thus discoverability. The importance of this has grown astronomically in the past couple of years.

For books, the key is metadata. Metadata is literally data about data. It’s always existed – even without the cool name – but has become significantly more important since the rise of digital publishing. The metadata is the information about a book which helps it to be found by search engines. Traditionally, there was metadata that rode with the ISBN#, like the title, the author name, the publisher name, the date of publication and maybe the genre of the work. In the world of digital publishing, though, metadata has become much more sophisticated. It needs to be, for a proliferation of content means that search engines have to sift more and more finely to deliver a reasonable suite of results. (4 million matches isn’t useful.) So, metadata now can include the title, the author name, the publisher name, the ISBN#, the publication date, the series information (Dragonfire novel #3), the subgenre of the work (Scottish romance, medieval romance), and in keywords, it can contain tropes (fake rake, beauty and the beast, etc.) and popular search terms for readers (reunion romance, second chance at love, etc.) The book rides into the world with its cover and its metadata, and with any luck, both are baited well enough to help readers to find it.

Metadata is a moving target and one that will continue to become more detailed as processing capability increases. It’s one area where indie authors have an advantage, because indie authors tend to regard their books as fluid products. They update the book itself, the front and end matter, the links, the cover, the metadata on an ongoing basis to address changes in technology or the market itself. Big publishers tend to consider a book to be done once it’s done. Nothing will be revised after publication, unless the book subsequently goes into a new edition. This is a good management technique – you don’t have thousands of dockets that are perpetually open – but it means less agility in a changing marketplace. The metadata on my books that have been traditionally published is inadequate at this point, mostly because it was set up before the uses of metadata evolved to their current point. As the books revert to me, that’s one area I’m looking to improve dramatically.

The concept of SEO is the same but it’s for websites not books. SEO or search engine optimization is a suite of techniques that improve the likelihood of a website being listed in the results by a search engine when someone somewhere types in a search query. It also influences how high in the listed results that site will appear. Ideally, an author’s website should appear on the first page, if not in the first position, of any search upon that author’s name. One way to improve SEO is to include keywords and searchable terms all over a website. The Princess, book #1 of the Bride Quest trilogy of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix

This has changed in recent years, like metadata. Once upon a time (ha) publishers mailed printed cover flats to authors and we scanned them to create jpegs for our websites. Little tiny jpegs, ideally less than 30K so they’d load fast. Here’s one of those old ones, for my book The Princess. It’s 99 pixels wide. The file is called tp.jpg There is no SEO associated with this image. It’s actually a bit big.

The Beauty Bride, first book in the Jewels of Kinfairlie series of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix

This is the new cover of The Beauty Bride. It’s 200 pixels wide, still comparatively small, but the name of the file is ClaireDelacroix_TheBeautyBride200px.jpg. The alternate text on the file is The Beauty Bride, book #1 in the Jewels of Kinfairlie series of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix. I should have my publishing credentials in there, too, but I got tired of typing. Even though the image is not tracked by search engines, every place it appears, the title and the alternate text feeds the SEO for the site. It’s just one of many techniques to improve SEO.

Managing the metadata and the SEO for an author’s book list and website, and optimizing both, is another comparatively new task for authors that has grown in importance at the same time as these other changes. It’s also something that is best managed at the author’s end, IMO, for the sake of consistency.

• Changes in Consumer Habits
As consumers began to be more likely to shop online, they became less likely to frequent a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. We know this happened because chain bookstores have been closing for the past decade—although indie bricks and mortar stores are said to be increasing over the past few years. This may mean that the change is more important for authors of genre fiction than those of literary fiction. Publishers have always bought display space in physical bookstores to highlight books, but if readers don’t see those displays, they aren’t very effective. Although similar space can be bought on digital book portals, readers may not even see the home page on the site. You can bookmark a genre page (Top 100 in Medieval Romance) and go straight to it every time you want a new book, whereas in a physical bookstore, you always have to walk through the entire store to get to the Romance section at the back. So, promoting a book with an end cap display or a position on a feature table or at the front of the store, physical or virtual, has become much less effective. This is one way that it became harder for publishers to market books well.

To address the void of the bookseller who handsold books in those bookstores and made suggestions to avid readers (you can’t really fill that void, but if the consumer isn’t in a bookstore, that bookseller isn’t able to facilitate reading choices) social media sites like Goodreads began to provide a conduit for readers to make suggestions to other readers as to what to read next. Communities of readers evolved, and it’s really cool how easy it is now to discover another reader with similar tastes to your own on the other side of town or of the world. Word of mouth, which was always a great force in selling books, became much much more powerful. When portals like Amazon added the ability for readers to post reviews about books right on the product page that took it a step further. Mr. Math calls this “the democratization of popular culture” – you didn’t need a major newspaper to tell you whether the book was good or not. You could ask your friends on GR, or check out the reactions of other readers like you on Amazon and other portals. There’s not a good way for a publisher to manage this organic reference network, so the shift to bloggers and readers everywhere instead of a few choice vehicles was another change that made it harder for publishers to market books well.

I don’t think we can leave out the growth in the importance of social media for the promotion of books (and other things) over this same time period. I’ve had a website since the early 1990’s, plus a newsletter and a blog for years, but social media like Facebook turned my interactions with my readers to a conversation. While I used to get some cards at Christmas from readers (yes, written on paper and mailed in an envelope) and I would answer them in kind, now I socially interact with my readers online daily. No advertising or publicity can compare in power to these personal connections, but they take time to develop and to maintain. When I was with Warner in 2005, they expected authors to have websites. By the time I sold to NAL in 2007, they wanted authors to be building social media platforms. That’s another big change in this era, and it’s a result of the accessibility of technology. It also shifted the responsibility for marketing an author’s books from the publisher to the individual author.

• Author as Publisher
Spellbound, a Regency romance anthology by Claire Delacroix, Jane Charles and Claudia DainThe indie author is also a publisher. This means that in addition to writing the book, the indie author must oversee its production process and get it published. Because I have long roots in traditional publishing, my process echoes the routine I know so well. So, in addition to the tasks I’ve always done as the author, I’m also the production manager who hires the cover artist and oversees the creation of the cover, who hires a freelance editor for the project, who hires a proofreader and a formatter for the digital edition, and a typesetter for the print edition, who keeps everything on time and on budget (or tries to do so). I’m the production manager who books ISBN#’s, updates the public record on each one, registers the copyright of each work, compiles the metadata and publishes each version of each book to each portal. I am the sales manager who tracks sales, who books promotions, who manages the author brand, who schedules price changes and tabulates results. I am the finance manager who manages the interface with each portal, who gathers financial reports, compiles an overall report, and tracks payments due and received. I curate editorial opportunities for myself (like Spellbound) and chart the course of the future years of my publishing career. I do all of this in an environment which continues to evolve.

It’s kind of dizzying to look at this list of changes. It has been a wild and crazy six years, but it’s been very, very interesting. If I wasn’t fascinated by it all, I’d be worn out! The thing is that a great many of these responsibilities would be mine, regardless of how I chose to publish my work. Social media and the optimization of SEO on my website would remain my concern. Promoting my books would be primarily my concern, as well as writing them. I’ve learned a tremendous amount, because I believed I needed to understand things (like formatting) before I could subcontract them, and I think that’s been a good exercise.

Nero's Dream, a short story in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeTo get back to that original question as to how my work rhythm has changed, the answer is simple: I work a lot more hours than was once the case. I work every day of the week. Despite so many more hours at the desk, the toughest thing for me to do is protect my writing time and my dreaming time. It’s so easy to see both nibbled away by other tasks. I remain fascinated by the changes and evolutions of this business, and excited by the challenges and opportunities. I’ve built a team of subcontractors, each of whom I can rely upon and each of whom I admire. I’m excited about the future, because I believe the rate of change has slowed. I like being an author/publisher. I like being nimble in an evolving marketplace. A very big reward that comes to me as a result of going indie is choice. I can choose which stories to develop into books, and I can decide how I want to tell a story. I love that, and I’ll never give it up willingly. There’s no going back from here, and I wouldn’t want to. It’s onward, to new adventures and new opportunities, to finding new methods and rhythms.