Six Years

RWA National conference 2016 San DiegoThis week is the Romance Writers of America annual national conference. This year, it’ll be in San Diego, but I’m not attending. I don’t always go to RWA, but I always think about it while it’s going on. This year, they’re showing a documentary called Love Between the Covers, about the business of writing and publishing romance. It’s an excellent piece, which I saw a few years ago – if you have the chance to watch it, do so! – and discussion about it is making me think back.

Whisper Kiss, a Dragonfire novel and paranormal romance by Deborah CookeOne of the time stamps RWA members use for events and memories is the location and date of the annual RWA conference. Accordingly, I remember that it was the 2010 national conference in Orlando where I first encountered the team working on this documentary. Another time stamp writers use is the publication date of a book – my Dragonfire novel Whisper Kiss was going to be published in August, as well as the finale of my Prometheus Project urban fantasy romance trilogy, Rebel.

Rebel, book #3 of the Prometheus Project of urban fantasy romances by Claire Delacroix, out of print mass market editionSix years ago today (more or less) I flew to Orlando for the conference. As always, the industry discussion started at the airport in Toronto. There were other writers on my flight headed to conference and we started to talk shop early. Kate Bridges and Anne Lethbridge both shared news of changes at Harlequin – we had all written for Harlequin Historicals, although I no longer did so. Editorial had moved to the UK for that line and Harlequin was also offering more content in digital-first. By the time I got on the flight, I was already thinking about changes in the business.

Discussions at RWA conferences since 2005 (Reno, The Jewels of Kinfairlie trilogy) had been primarily about changes in the business that negatively impacted authors, like the trimming of the midlist, the shrinking print market, the closing of bookstores and resulting loss of shelf space, the diminishing popularity of certain sub-genres (like historical romance), the conglomeration of publishers and the impact of that upon each house’s list. The tone of conferences had been informative, but not always uplifting. I thought I was in for more of the same, but that wasn’t the case in 2010.

There was a woman entering the conference hotel ahead of me, who looked a lot like Julie Ortolon. I hadn’t seen Jules since our days at Dell, probably ten years before, so I surreptitiously read this woman’s luggage tag to confirm that she was Jules before I tapped her on the shoulder. After many happy greetings, Jules began to talk about digital self-publishing and Amazon’s new KDP portal. I was fascinated. We dumped our bags in our rooms and met up in the bar, and she talked more about the opportunities and possibilities. Her enthusiasm was infectious. We talked about pricing. We talked about rights reversions. We talked about packaging. This was an excellent example of the open sharing of information and ideas between authors that would come to characterize the indie movement. It was exciting! The bar had a strange location in that hotel—it was along one side of a corridor—but that meant that people caught a few words in passing and stopped to join in. The group kept growing and the exchange of ideas became faster and faster. It was wonderful to talk about the opportunities becoming available to us. It was wonderful to see people sharing email addresses and giving advice about requesting reversions of book rights and much more. It was wonderful to feel this kind of electricity and excitement. There was good news!

This was when we met the film-making team working on the documentary. I don’t think they were prepared for the energy of this group, and the lead film-maker clearly was more interested in writers pursuing a more traditional path. She left us fairly quickly – but the conversation carried on. It was revisited and expanded over and over again for the next few days.

That 2010 conference was amazing because it marked the beginning of a major shift in thinking for me and many other writers. In the PAN (Published Authors Network) retreat – a full day of sessions geared for published members – Lou Aronica spoke about indie publishing and its possibilities. I still have the notes from that discussion. There are a lot of exclamation marks in them. It was so exciting to think that we had choices, and choices that might prove to be financially viable.

Kim Killion was working full time in those days and writing books, too. I remember we had a discussion in their room as to whether authors would pay for cover art for their digital books. Kim’s design business, Hot Damn Designs, now The Killion Group, was established after that conference.

Once Upon a Kiss, a Scottish paranormal romance by Claire DelacroixI had the rights to my time travel romances already, but began to pursue more reversions when I got home. I remember telling my husband about the conference when I got home and what I’d learned, and him reminding me to breathe. 🙂 I published my first digital edition of Once Upon a Kiss that August, with my own cover. (I soon realized I needed Kim’s services! The cover to the left is her design.)

When I look back, I see that the people who did best in the emerging market were the ones who leapt right in, either starting new series or republishing books that had never been available in digital format. I was “hybrid” before we knew what it was called. I had just signed two new contracts with NAL before that conference – one for the books that became Flashfire and Ember’s Kiss, and one for the Dragon Diaries trilogy – and spent the better part of the next two years delivering those contracts. Leaping in wasn’t an option due to time constraints, but I did re-publish backlist titles during that period and learned a lot about digital publishing. I left traditional publishing in March 2012, on the twentieth anniversary of my first book sale to a publisher, a choice that would have been unthinkable just two years before.

Wyvern's Mate, book #1 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeSo, here we are, six years later. (San Diego, Wyvern’s Mate and The Crusader’s Handfast.) It’s amazing to look back and realize how much has changed and how quickly it’s changed. I’m very glad to be working the way I do now. I love the camaraderie between writers now, and the sharing of ideas and suggestions. The writing community on the indie side is warm and supportive, because there’s room for everyone to succeed.

The years have gone by in a flash. Thank you, Julie Ortolon. Thank you, Lou Aronica. Thank you to everyone who helped to open eyes to the possibilities. Thank you to all the writers who generously shared their expertise and even their mistakes. And a big thank you to readers, who followed me from print to digital, and who kept reading my books. The next six years will be even better!

So, You Want to Indie Publish…

Most of you know that I belong to a local group of authors. We have a wide range of experience—from newbies to old-guard like me—and we get our books to market in a number of ways. Most of the members of our group have some experience with publishers, either digital-first presses, small presses or the big kahuna publishers in New York, but many of us also indie-publish our books. We have a few who have only ever indie-published their books, and still more who want to jump into that particular pond. I’ve been asked for a pre-release checklist from two different people this week, so thought I’d post it here.

When an author indie-publishes his or her work, that author becomes the publisher as well as the author of the work. That adds a lot of jobs to the To Do list. The interesting thing is that there are a number of ways to approach the publication of your work, so there’s no One Right Way to do it. You’ll have some decisions to make, too.

There are many steps to publishing a book independently. You can do all of them yourself, assign all of it to a service firm for a fee, or do some and delegate some. The choice is all yours.

• Prepare your cover
Your cover is the one thing that every potential customer will see. Spend some time on it (and some money.) Many people make their own covers, which works out better if they have a graphic talent and understand the licensing agreements for stock photographs. If you hire a designer to create your cover, research your genre thoroughly beforehand and provide some samples to him/her or what you like and what you’re looking for. Hire a designer who already designs covers for your sub-genre. I often have mine done several at a time, because I write in series and it’s the best way (IMO) to keep the look consistent.

No matter how you create your cover, be sure to size it down to a thumbnail (which is how most people will see it) and ensure it still conveys your message. Each portal has restrictions and specifications on cover size. Many designers are on board with this and will deliver a number of different sizes. Upload the highest resolution possible at each portal so the cover looks its best.

——>>>Ensure that you have a professional looking cover that is easily read in thumbnail (both your name and the title) and is clearly evocative of your sub-genre.

Decide upon your publishing identity
How are you going to structure your publishing company? This is the foundation of your business and will be a lot of trouble to change later. It’s better to decide upfront. Your business name, your financial data and your tax information all need to match.

Will you publish as a sole proprietor? If so, your personal tax identification will suffice. (Until recently, non-US residents needed a US tax number to collect revenue from US companies—which includes most of the book portals—without having tax withheld, but that’s no longer true. Yay for tax treaties!)

A couple of caveats here—your tax identity will be displayed on the book product page on some portals (iBooks)—so if you’re writing under a pseudonym, you might want to think about that. You might want to get a post office box to protect the privacy of your home address, and a “public” email account. Remember that domain name registrations are publicly searchable (unless you pay for private registration) and that ISBN# registries and copyright registries are also publicly searchable resources. If any of these items pose a concern, you may wish to incorporate or file a DBA to protect your personal information. There are a LOT of decisions to make in this arena.

——>>>Choose how to structure your business, and obtain the necessary documentation. Your tax identification must MATCH the legal name of your business.

Where do you want to sell your books?
You can make your books exclusive to one digital portal, or “go wide” and make them available in as many places as possible. Often, portals offer merchandizing and promotional opportunities for exclusive titles. Whether that’s worth the exchange of losing wide distribution is a personal choice and can be a strategic one.

An associated question—do you intend to publish directly to your portals of choice, or will you use an aggregator? Most authors publish directly to Amazon for Kindle. You can publish directly to iBooks and Kobo or go through an aggregator like Draft2Digital or Smashwords. I believe that GooglePlay is currently closed to new accounts. Barnes and Noble only allows US and UK writers to publish directly to Nook. If those last two are among your target markets, you’ll have to reach them through an aggregator. Sometimes aggregators can offer merchandizing and promotion opportunities to authors and books that are distributed to all portals through them. If you are writing romance, you might also want to publish directly to All Romance eBooks.

There are a lot of other portals and your book might end up in some of them without knowing how it got there. Kobo distributes to WH Smith in the UK, for example, and to FNAC in France. As aggregators, Smashwords and Draft2Digital allow you to opt in or out of a list of portals. Note that Smashwords is also a portal in its own right, while D2D does not sell to individual consumers.

One thing to keep in mind if you plan to start one way (perhaps through an aggregator) and later switch (to direct distribution) is that at some portals (iBooks) reviews and rankings will not transfer between editions of a book. You lose them all when you change distribution channels. Another thing to keep in mind—some portals don’t allow you to set a book to free when you publish directly. B&N is one of them. So, any book you intend to make free should go to B&N from an aggregator. Amazon doesn’t allow non-exclusive books to be set to free, either, but must be encouraged to price match the free at another portal.

——>>>You will need to create accounts at each portal where you intend to upload content, and provide your payment and tax information to each one. Some portals will allow you to publish works under multiple author brands via a single account, while others require each author brand to have its own account.

Do you intend to use ISBN#’s?
The ISBN is a tracking number for all book products. In traditional publishing, a unique ISBN# is assigned to every edition of the book. Most digital portals offer the option of providing your own ISBN# or using a portal-specific tracking code as an alternate.

Be aware that the portal-specific tracking code often cannot be used for distribution to other territories. Kobo, for example, offers such a code, but WH Smith in the UK will not accept digital books from them without an ISBN#.

——>>>If you choose to use ISBN#’s, you will need one for the digital book and one for the print/POD edition (if there is one). You can get ISBN#’s from some portals (Smashwords, Createspace) or buy them at Bowker. Canadians can get ISBN#’s free from CISS. You must register for an account, however you intend to get your ISBN#’s and acquire them.

• Compile your metadata.
Metadata is the information that travels with the digital book and is used by search engines to find that book. Metadata includes: the title, the author name(s), the date of publication, the series, the book’s number in the series, the ISBN#, the BISAC subject codes, the search keywords, and maybe more. It might include the cover, the author bio, and the book description. If you are producing a simultaneous print edition (or POD) some portals allow you to include the ISBN for the print edition in the metadata for the digital book. Different portals allow more information or less.

——>>>Collect your metadata and make it consistent with your other titles. It should also be consistent for each book across all platforms. I compile a lot of the metadata on the book’s product page on my website, then I can cut and paste from there into the publishing interface. Be sure to investigate key words in your genre and sub-genre.

• Do you intend to earn affiliate income?
An affiliate account allows you to earn a commission for sending shoppers to a digital portal. Amazon offers affiliate programs through their US, UK, CA and DE stores—the accounting is done separately—and iBooks’ affiliate program gathers commissions from all territories under a single umbrella. Rakuten offers an affiliate program for Kobo and I believe there’s also a program for B&N. When you publish a book on Smashwords, the product page that you can see when logged in includes your affiliate link.

If you are an affiliate, you add a bit of code onto the hotlink that takes the buyer to a product page on the portal’s website. Whatever that consumer buys after following your link in, is eligible for a commission payment. Each portal’s program has different rules and restrictions, so read the agreements before you click.

——>>>To become an affiliate at any portal, you must apply for an affiliate account. Usually, you must provide your website’s traffic numbers for consideration. Once approved, you will be given a code to add to your hotlinks. Some people choose to use a link shortening service like bitly when using affiliate codes. iBooks allows affiliates to also add a campaign code, so that various promotion methods can be tracked for their effectiveness.

• Do you intend to create portal-specific versions of your digital book?
People like to buy a book with a single click. It makes sense then to have buy links in your digital books for your other digital books, and (if you are an affiliate) to include affiliate codes in your links. The trick, of course, is that each portal wants only links to their own portal in the digital books distributed there—or “generic” links that go back to the author’s website.

——>>>Make a choice and a list of your formats and editions. You can create an EPUB that can be uploaded to every portal with links back to your own website; you can create portal-specific versions (with or without affiliate links) for every portal; or you can do something in between. Remember that if you’re going through an aggregator, you can’t have portal specific links, because the same file goes to all the vendors you select through that distributor. Remember that if you’re using Smashwords as your aggregator, they will take an EPUB for distribution but will need a DOC to generate other formats for direct sale from their site.

• Prepare your book
The two prevalent formats for digital books are MOBI (used by the Kindle family) and EPUB (used by other e-readers). Most of the portals offer a conversion engine, to convert your DOC or TXT file to the format that they distribute. This may or may not create an attractive digital book. You can also use an application like Vellum to format your own books, or you can hire a formatter to do it for you.

Here’s an interesting detail and option: you can upload a book file in DOC or TXT to Smashwords and their engine (the “Meatgrinder”) will create an EPUB for distribution. This EPUB, however, is proprietary – although you can download it to check it, you can’t legally upload it at any other portal. In contrast, you can upload a DOC file to Kobo (when you’re logged into Kobo Writing Life) and let their engine create an EPUB. You can edit this EPUB in KWL, and also download it to use it wherever you want. That’s another way to get an EPUB book.

When your book is formatted, you will have the option of adding other content to the book, like an excerpt from the next book in the series, the cover of this book or other books, an author bio, a newsletter signup link, a list of your published books and/or buy links for your other books. If you have the book prepared by a formatter, he or she may include the metadata in the book file. (You can do this yourself if you know how.) Draft 2 Digital has a new utility which will add the same end matter, book list etc., to all of your books and update it automatically.

——>>>Prepare all front matter, end matter, links, cover images and metadata for the book before sending it to a formatter or formatting it yourself. Ensure that your digital book includes a clickable Table of Contents (a TOC). Increasingly, Amazon prefers an NCX so the TOC can be displayed in the sidebar of a Kindle.

• Are you going to offer a pre-order?
A pre-order is convenient because you know exactly when your book is going to be available for sale. That can allow you to coordinate some promotion around the release date, and also to sell some copies of the book in advance of publication. Now, most of the portals offer a pre-order utility. Some are asset-less (that means you can make a book available for pre-order without a final book file) and some require a draft file. There are hazards in uploading a draft file, as periodically, one portal or another will deliver the draft file to customers instead of the final file. Those portals that accept draft files require that the final file be delivered by a specific date—Amazon, for example requires the final book file ten days before publication. There are many thoughts on the merit of pre-order, its pros and cons, so do some research and decide—or try it. YMMV after all.

Remember that there is some apparent skew as to the actual date of delivery of the book to consumers. The portals begin to ship out units at 12:01AM Greenwich time, so it appears to us as if they’ve shipped the night before. Depending on how many pre-orders you have, the deliveries will be scattered over that 24 hours period, AND some will disappear completely. Those are the people who pre-ordered the book, but whose payment information couldn’t be processed on the day of the transaction.

There are many pricing and promotion strategies for pre-order, so do some research before you choose your price and your on sale date.

——>>>If you intend to offer a pre-order, make the pre-order available at least two weeks in advance of the publication date.

• Upload Your Book to the Various Portals
This isn’t complicated but it’s time consuming. Log into each portal in succession and follow the steps to publish your book there. They all take the same information in a slightly different way. As the book “goes live”, add the buy links to your website, including your affiliate codes if you’re using them.

• Nits to Pick
Here are a couple of simple things that need to be done separately, after the book is published:
– when you publish a book on Amazon, you need to claim your book through Author Central so that it appears on your author page. Log into your Author Central account after the book is available for sale, search for it and add it to your book list. It may take several days to appear on your author page.
Check your series. All of the portals have started to add series information to their book product pages. This is comparatively new and not always automatic. Be sure you use exactly the same series title for each book in any given series. It has to be exact, because bots don’t see “The XYZ Series” as being the same as “XYZ Series”. At some portals, you must request that a series be created (iBooks) and at others, you have to request to have a book added to an existing series (Amazon). Some portals will provide a series page link: others won’t. If you write in series, double-check this.
Add your new book to Goodreads. To do this, you must be a Goodreads author under the same name as appears on the book. (Each pseudonym needs its own GR log-in.) Readers can be very helpful in adding this information for authors, but I find that adding it early myself ensures that it’s right.
List your book on your BookBub profile. To do this, you must first create a log-in at Bookbub and claim your profile (you might have one even if you’ve never run a BB ad.) Once you’ve been approved to claim your profile, you can add to the booklist that is automatically generated. You should also add new books to that list as soon as they’re published on all portals, because BB will send a message to your followers about your new release.
Register your copyright. A lot of indie authors don’t bother with this, but I think the registration is well worth the $35 fee. Register your copyright on the on sale date at the registration office of the nation of first publication. Because my Amazon.com edition goes on sale first in the US, I register mine at the US Library of Congress.

Phew! There’s a good start to an indie publishing checklist. Of course, I didn’t talk about having your book edited and polished, or about promotion, but just focused on the nuts and bolts. You can also think about publishing a print edition of your book or not, about producing an audio edition of your book or not, about exploiting other subrights to your book – like foreign translation – or not. When you’re the publisher, all of those decisions are yours to make.


Here’s the Tip Jar. If you found this post useful, please follow the buy links below to shop at your favorite portal, and make my day. Buy one of my books. Buy someone else’s books. Buy some new shoes if you’re on Amazon – but put a little something in my affiliate accounts as a sign of appreciation. 🙂 I thank you in advance!

The Crusader's Kiss, #3 in the Champions of St Euphemia series of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix

His dream of becoming a knight achieved, Bartholomew heads home to avenge his parents—only to find himself hunted and in need of the assistance of a most unlikely and unpredictable ally. Anna seeks justice with a disregard for the law that shocks Bartholomew, but the bold maiden’s tactics are as effective as her kisses are seductive. Does she truly wish to aid him in regaining his legacy, or is she using him as a pawn in some scheme of her own?
Buy from Amazon.com
Buy from Amazon Canada Buy from Amazon Germany Buy from Amazon UK Buy at iBooks

Take It Or Leave It

Things have been quiet on Wild West Thursdays here for a while, mostly because I had my head down to finish The Highlander’s Curse. This week, though, that book is published and I’m home from RWA National. I realized that I have a number of WWT draft posts sitting here which have never been published. Here’s the first one as we re-start the discussions about the changing publishing industry.

I had an interesting discussion with Chris Almeida at our Writers Making Connections event in the spring. She noted that my industry experience in traditional publishing must help a lot in my going indie. I had to think about it for a minute, because it was a counter-intuitive conclusion. Traditional publishing is very different from indie publishing. There are a lot of assumptions I’ve learned that don’t really apply in this publishing environment. All the same, there are things I’ve learned that are useful. I thought we’d take a stab at defining what we can carry forward and what should be left behind. Some of these are sayings frequently repeated, while others are over-arching concepts and not quite so punchy.

• “Romance sells itself”
That was never really true, and it still isn’t true. It remains a fact, though, that romance readers are the most ravenous readers and the most loyal readers. It also remains true that romance books sales are a huge proportion of the new book market. Most digital portals list romance as their best-selling genre, and say that their bestselling authors are romance authors. Many also acknowledge that romance authors are the most innovative in this digital market. Mark Coker said at RWA National last week that the best practices for digital publishing that are evolving are a direct result of the work of indie romance authors. So, romance doesn’t sell itself, but a whole lot of variables come together to make romance the powerhouse of this digital book market, just as it was dominant in mass market.

• “Front list sells backlist”
The idea here is that a new release sparks interest and visibility for an author with other available titles. In traditional publishing, the sales team would sell in copies of backlist titles to support the front list (i.e. new) release. In digital, the backlist is beautifully linked by the portal, and some portals actually will suggest backlist titles by the same author to consumers who buy a front list title. This one still works, but I think its effect is somewhat diluted. Any title can surge to the visibility of front list at any given time, so the sales of backlist titles tend to remain at a more constant rate than the spike and drop that was typical of paperback sales. That’s a result of availability – digital is always available.

• “Audience is built one reader at a time”
Delivering good content and consistent content is still the cornerstone of an author’s success. This is one thing that has not changed and (I suspect) never will.

• Linked series build readership
This appears to be a more vehement trend in digital than in print – and it’s pretty strong in print. We all love to read about families and siblings, and keep track of all the characters whose stories we have read before. Linked series are huge in digital, perhaps because they lead to impulse shopping. If you’ve read my medieval The Beauty Bride, there are two more books and a short story in the Jewels of Kinfairlie series, then two more siblings’ stories published in the True Love Brides series, then the stories of the forebears of the family in the Rogues of Ravensmuir. When The Beauty Bride is on sale, I see sales increase for all of those titles, in direct proportion to how closely they are linked to TBB. The boxed sets are particularly popular with readers who are catching up. Digital also lends itself to shorter content – many authors are publishing novellas and shorts in between longer books in a series, to keep readers up to date on the character’s doings. I think that’s a terrific idea.

• The cover is part of the marketing and promotion budget for a book, and may consume all of that budget for a midlist or debut release.
Traditionally, the cover is the one thing that every potential reader sees. They might not see ads in magazines or hear radio ads. They might miss reviews and endcap displays or blog tours. But they all see the cover of the book before they purchase it, so the cover is the most important piece of marketing that exists for any given book. A publishing house will always spend money on creating a cover for a book, and often will use the entire marketing budget on it. The cover is even more critical to building sales in digital, because the cover has to communicate the tone of the book, the sensuality, the genre and subgenre, and be consistent with the author’s branding – and it has to do all that when it’s two inches high in thumbnail.

• If at first you don’t succeed, start again.
This one is really interesting. I’m referring to the established practice in traditional publishing of giving an established author a new chance in the market by branding that author’s work with a different name. This can happen because the author is moving into a new subgenre, particularly if it’s into a market niche that the publisher doesn’t feel her established readers will follow. It can also be suggested when an author’s sales are not as good as the house would like—rather than trying to build sales up again, they might find it easier to start over again with a new author name, as if the author was a debut author. (Surely you all know that all “debut authors” are not really debut authors, don’t you?) This strategy is seeing so much action in our new publishing environment that we’re going to talk about it separately next Thursday.

Did I miss anything? What other sayings and realities from the marketing of traditional print books do you see carrying forward – or not – to indie digital publishing?

Strange Magic at B&N

Things have been very strange in the land ‘o Barnes and Noble this year, particularly on the indie side. It all started with an update to the dashboard in December of last year, presumably to accommodate the additional variables for distribution in the UK. As per the norm with these publishing portals, none of the changes were documented and there was no call to action from authors to verify that books were published well.

Plus there were weirdisms in this update. For example, when publishing a book, there is always the option of defining the territories where the book can be sold. This metadata mirrors traditional publishing – traditional publishers don’t always buy world rights. Rights are sold on the basis of territory, language, medium and format. So, a publisher might buy US English print mass market rights, or Commonwealth English rights (which would include print and audio, for example) or German hard cover print rights. As a result of this, when rights revert to an author, that author might not have all rights revert at the same time. So, it makes sense for the portal to allow authors to select territories for the English language edition they’re uploading for distribution. Some portals have a very comprehensive list of territories, but B&N did not. They offered US and World with nothing in between. The thing was that in December, when they actually began to distribute outside of the US, all of this data was automatically reset to US. Authors had to verify again that they had the right to sell the work in question outside the US, i.e. in the UK. While this seems like a prudent and cautious step, B&N didn’t mention this to any of us. Checking your rights options is not something that people ever do once it’s been set and the book has been published.

Secondly, there was metadata lost in the December change. Keywords for search engines were deleted, for example, and the indication of whether the book existed in print was lost (along with the page count of the print edition), etc. etc. There were lots of bits and bytes dropped in December, again with no notice, documentation or call to action.

Thirdly, they changed the conversion engine. If a book was updated or published in December, chances were very good that something messed up in that conversion. I was updating my editions then, substituting lovely formatted editions from professional formatters for my very rudimentary formatted editions. They all looked great in the files from the formatters. They looked great in the Nook preview. They even looked great when I downloaded a copy. Unfortunately, a lot of people who bought one of them got a book of blank pages. Finally, the engine was updated and I got my files republished in January, but there are lots of reviews on B&N for unhappy readers who got the blank editions. (Incredibly, B&N shows no desire to remove these reviews, which are a/ referring to a previous edition of the book and reflect an error which has been fixed, and b/ could be detrimental to sales. There’s a reason why some authors believe B&N wants to go out of business.)

Then came NookPress in March. In the migration of titles from the old portal PubIt to NookPress, more strange things have happened. Rankings have obviously changed and also-buys seem to have lost connections. My sales on B&N have plummeted since March, to the point that the portal might not be worth my trouble. Again, there is no documentation and there are no calls to action. There are also no replies to queries made through the dashboard. My books are no longer listed in the Nook UK store. They were in December. I had very low sales through Nook UK in first quarter, which is odd because I sell well in the UK through all other portals, so didn’t notice they had dropped to nil.

I talked to a B&N person at BEA who checked on this – here’s my last B&N weirdism for today (although there are lots more). Evidently the books are available for sale there, but Nook UK’s own search engine doesn’t find them. (Now we know the Secret of the Disappearing Sales.) I have to wonder if this is a result of the conversion from PubIt to NookPress, because the only title I have that returns as a search result is one that was published after the conversion, and published through NookPress. It also is the only one that’s selling at a volume I’d expect, so its ranking, temperature and also-buys must be correct. (This isn’t absolute, though. I have a second title published after the transition, also through Nookpress, which is completely invisible. I also republished everything through NookPress, which made exactly no difference but chewed through a day of my time.)

The B&N person sent me all the direct links and I spent this past weekend updating my sites with direct buy links for Nook UK – that’s the only way you’ll find my books there. The bizarre thing is that even if you follow in one of the links, you still won’t find the others – they’re not in a secret room where all is revealed once you find your way in. They’re just hidden. This isn’t good for sales, and I’m not getting an answer, which tells me that I’m not special – there are lots of authors with this issue. Again, you’d think that someone would notice that sales had gone away and wonder why.

There is btw an additional issue with my Dragonfire titles on Nook UK which is still being sorted out. It’s possible that the metadata from NAL is incorrect, or the glitch might be at B&N’s end. When I have direct buy links for those titles, I’ll add them to my site, too.

They do have another weird glitch that they say is being fixed – under the books of mine that do appear on Nook UK, there’s a strange line that they are “digitized from the 1920 edition” or the 1910 edition or similar. I’ve no idea what’s up with that. B&N admits they’re looking into that, so I’m not special there, either.

When I learn more, or hear of a solution, I’ll let you know. The adventure continues!

Digitally Publishing at Kobo

Well, it turns out that I miss talking to all of you each week, and that compiling these posts does help me sort out my thoughts. So, I’m back! And I hope you’re back, too. 🙂 You get two Wild West Thursday posts this week, just because I’m catching up.

Today, I wanted to tell you about a visit from Mark LeFebvre, Director of Author Relations at Kobo Writing Life, to our local group of readers and authors. If you ever have a chance to hear Mark speak, you should go. He’s a good speaker, providing that perfect combo of content and humour. He taught a workshop about digitally publishing your book. He gave some tips for indie authors, then did a demonstration of publishing to Kobo. He also talked briefly about some upcoming changes to the KWL dashboard, which were interesting to those of us who have already digitally published to Kobo.

I was going to summarize his tips in a blog post, because they were good ones, but it turns out Mark did it already. His blog post, including his five tips for indie authors and a shot of Barnaby, is right here.

And that, I think, was the easiest blog post I ever composed…

I have a longer post queued up for tomorrow about BEA.

The End of Free?

We’ve talked about authors making books free in past posts here on Wild West Thursday, and about the way that free can give visibility to an author. (Here’s one of my earliest posts about free, and some reflections on implications, then a more recent one about free’s effectiveness.) The benefit of free is particularly seen in linked titles — for example, when Double Trouble was free, sales of One More Time, All or Nothing and Third Time Lucky increased dramatically. In a nutshell, making Double Trouble free gave the Coxwell series the visibility it needed to populate the algorithm at the various online portals and to find readership.

Free, however, doesn’t directly make money for the online bookseller. It creates expense but not revenue. It requires capacity in the network and storage space on the servers. There are many authors who don’t use free strategically to drive sales of other titles. Before Christmas, the rumor was that there were over 2 million titles that were free on Amazon, and that 3000 – 4000 titles went free every single day on that site through KDP Select. With that kind of volume of titles available free, it’s fair to say that a culture is being established that ALL books should be free—or at least that an ever-growing number of readers are coming to believe that they need never again pay for a book.

It stands to reason that online booksellers would want free to go away. The question is how will they do it — and the problem is that it works so very well to promote linked titles. (I talked about this a bit in January.)

Amazon is one portal on which authors can’t set a free price. Every book must have a minimum price of 99 cents. (B&N is another portal that doesn’t allow authors to make a book free.) Amazon chooses to match a free price elsewhere, or not, at their own discretion. What authors often do is make a title free at Apple, KOBO, and/or Smashwords (which feeds content to both of those portals as well as B&N and others.) Amazon then may choose to match the price. The other option is to register a title in KDP Select, which allows the author to pre-select 5 free days in a 90 day period, but also requires exclusivity of that title for those 90 days.

In my experience, going free everywhere has been much more effective. It has helped to build my sales on every portal by populating their respective algorithms, which diversifies my income source. It also doesn’t require exclusivity, which is something resented by readers who shop at portals other than Amazon. You can probably guess that having done this has weakened my own relationship with Amazon: in December 2012, probably 95% of my online indie sales were made at Amazon. In December 2013, that would have been closer to 60%. My sales at KOBO and Apple exploded in the last half of 2012, and B&N grew significantly, as well. That’s a big change and if my experience is mirrored across the entire publishing platform, that’s an issue from Amazon. (Last week, I saw an industry report that Amazon’s market share had dropped from 90% to 60%, which indicates that my results are typical.)

In December, I had several books free on all portals, which were driving sales of linked titles very nicely. I was all ready for the Christmas gifts of e-readers and finding new audience with those free titles. To my surprise, Amazon unmatched free on my books just before Christmas, returning them to their regular prices. My marketing plan, at least on that portal, was completely trashed. I think they must have had some pushback from customers, though, because they were matching free again before New Year’s. The momentum had been lost for my titles, though, so I returned them to regular prices elsewhere, too, and changed strategies.

By mid-January, though, free was back in place at Amazon, much as it had been a month before. It appears that the first attempt to get rid of free – by teaching new Kindle users that content must be bought – was unsuccessful.

Tomorrow, the next stage in the plan goes into effect: Amazon has changed the rules for Amazon Associates accounts. These are sites that drive traffic to Amazon with buy links and receive a percentage of all purchases made by those customers who follow their link. Although the amount of money per unit sale is small, sites that drive high volumes of traffic—like many of the services that advertise free books to readers—do well enough to pay their expenses. As of March 1, however, Amazon has changed the terms of payment. If most of the downloads/sales driven by an associate’s links are for free books or if downloads of free books exceed a specified number of units, that associate will forfeit payment from Amazon for that month.

This is an interesting strategy and it remains to be seen whether it changes the game or not. Either way, get ready for more discounted books and fewer free ones. Will Amazon continue to encourage authors to sign up for KDP Select? I suspect they will, and as getting rid of the free price-match may be a means to compel authors to use KDP Select to get books free on Amazon. We’ll see.

But the funny thing is I had booked a sale for March well in advance of this announcement. I feel psychic!

Jewels of Kinfailie Boxed Set by Claire Delacroix

March 4 – 31, the Jewels of Kinfairlie Boxed Set will be discounted from $9.99 to $2.99. That’s three  full length medieval romances and a linked short story for less than $3. It’ll be on sale at Amazon, KOBO, B&N and Apple.

Check back on Monday for one-click buy links.

Dissolving Boundaries – II

Last week, we talked about the disappearance of territory as a real boundary in the distribution of digital books. That was one boundary inherited from traditional publishing that doesn’t make a lot of sense in our brave new world of e-books. My thinking is that the real barrier is now language.

Today, we’re going to talk about another dissolving boundary: that of the author brand. It’s not disappearing, but it’s mutating.

So, let’s talk about traditional publishing and how authors ended up having pseudonyms in the first place. From there, we can see how those reasons might not apply anymore.

There are several reasons in traditional publishing for an author to use a pseudonym:

• The author might wish to hide his or her real identity.
This has been a traditional reason for authors writing erotica to take a pen name, and that remains true. I know a lot of erotica and erotic romance authors who would prefer that their friends, families and neighbors don’t know what they write.

In the age of the internet, though, such secrets are tough to keep.

• The author might have a name that is either too common to be easily remembered or too unusual to be readily spelled (or remembered.)
Actors take stage names for this same reason. Some authors undertake this decision by choice, while others have it suggested to them by their publisher. US publishers of commercial fiction prefer authors to have short names – so they can be printed in larger type on the cover – and names which are easily pronounced by English-speaking Americans. Long names are perceived to be complicated and non-Anglo names are perceived to be ethnic.

In the age of digital publishing, though, we’re seeing a lot of different names in the marketplace. People are using their own names or names that are deliberately chosen to be exotic (or even improbable). This can help an author to stand out from the pack, and also to ensure that the domain name is available for sale for that author’s website.

• A pseudonym can be used to rebrand an author making a new start.
In this case, the suggestion traditionally has come from the publisher. Publishers perceive that the author name is part of the author brand, which is part of the marketing for the book. An author changing subgenres might be encouraged to take another name, to “start fresh”. Names are generational, so an older writer named Caroline who is publishing her first contemporary romance featuring characters in their 20’s might be encouraged to use the name Cara on her new work. In that way, the target audience might believe that the author was “one of us”.

Again, this is less of a concern when we focus our careers on long tail marketing instead of driving for those high sales numbers in the first week that the book is available. Over time, an overlooked work might come into it own, times might catch up with the farseeing author, or ideas in a book might mirror concerns in society better than when it was published. Having books available more or less permanently in digital and POD formats means that we don’t need the sharp spike of first week sales, which makes rebranding less relevant.

• Pseudonyms can be used to divide the author’s work for contractual purposes.
When an author writes for more than one publishing house, the option clauses must be constructed so that it is clear which house has the rights to which categories of the author’s work. This can be defined by genre, by sub-genre, by length and/or by author brand. Sometimes the easiest short form is to define the work by the name under which it will be published. So, an option clause might say that the house had the option to review “the author’s next paranormal romance over 90,000 words written as Suzie Q” or even “next romance written as Suzie Q”. Different houses have different ideas about how much of the author’s brand they wish to control, but it’s not uncommon for an author to be encouraged to take a new name with a new contract at a new house, just to give that house an author brand that is entirely their own. It simplifies the option clause, too.

This reason will continue to hold for those authors doing business with publishing houses. For those who choose to indie-publish, however, these kinds of contract clauses are not a concern. That’s because these parameters are really an artificial construct. They’re not the ways that readers distinguish between different works, even works by the same author. Would you read an 80,000 word work by an author but not a 110,000 word one? You’d read them both if you liked the author. Length of the work is only concern for readers when it comes to setting expectations and pricing.

Similarly, readers might read everything by a given author, independent of whether it is a paranormal romance or a contemporary romance, independent of the name under which the name is published. Readers might like the way Suzie Q mixes suspense with romance, or the kind of heroes Josie B portrays in her books.

So, there’s a lot less reason for dividing the work of any given author by author name in our Wild West of Publishing.

I think there is still a place for using different names. If there is no potential crossover of readership between different branches of an author’s work, it makes sense to delineate the work by author brand. There is a lot of crossover reading going on, though, maybe more than publishers have ever thought. There aren’t that many examples of two genres that wouldn’t mix and mingle. An author writing erotic romance and middle school magical adventures might want to use two different author names, based on the expectation that the two audiences would be mutually exclusive. But for all the sample author knows, there might be women in their 20’s reading her middle school magical adventures, readers who might also like her erotic romances. Once upon a time, the two brands would have to be kept secret or at least veiled from each other, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. It’s more a case of ensuring that the reader knows what to expect from any given work by using author brands, if indeed the author chooses to use any.

What do you think? Are there authors you only read in one subgenre, or do you follow your faves no matter how their work is classified in the virtual bookstore?