Amazon Ads: Worth It?

As an indie author, I’ve relied mostly on word of mouth and social media to sell my books. Why? Limited $$$. Let’s face it: Advertising can be pricey. And time-consuming, unless you’re hiring someone to help you, and then it’s just pricey. However, I think it’s important to try new things, and I’ve experimented with various kinds of low-budget advertising, such as Facebook ads (with limited success).

This week, I’m coming off my first Amazon ad campaign for Baby Bailino, and I’m actually surprised at how dismally the ad performed. Like most indie authors, I think I went into the advertising campaign with thoughts of super high conversion rates dancing through my head. I set a budget of $100, 25 cents per click, just to dip my foot into the ad waters. I mean, in an ideal world, if every click translated into a sale, that could have meant more than a thousand bucks in sales! However, the realist in me believed I’d probably sell a handful of books. Maybe 10, maybe 20, if I were lucky.

I wasn’t.

The ad ran for 10 days, and…crickets. Not a click. Granted, I didn’t set much of a budget, so I’m not sure how much that hurt me, but by the end of the promotional period, this is what I saw:

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Clean Reader? F-ck That Sh-t.

Have you guys heard about Clean Reader? It’s a new app that prevents swear words in eBooks from being displayed on screens. The app features three settings:

  • Clean, which will remove words such as the ever-popular “fuck”;
  • Cleaner, and
  • Squeaky clean, which will take out words such as “damn” if they bother you.

The text itself isn’t changed — after all, that would be a violation of copyright. Instead, the offending word is blacked out and the lesser word put in its place.

My first thought when I read about this was that Baby Grand would be a completely different book if read with this app. A mob story with characters who talk like choir boys?

My second thought was: Who would want to read Baby Grand this way?

By taking out the profanity, this app is not only sanitizing the text, but sanitizing the author’s intentions, the grittiness of the story’s texture, and the authenticity of the characters and the way people communicate.

I would challenge those who feel they need Clean Reader to try and open their minds to new ways of communicating and thinking. I know it may not seem that way to some, but every curse word in Baby Grand has been carefully considered. Also, there are oodles of books on the market that cater to all kinds of tastes. If profanity really offends you — and, hey, that’s perfectly fine (although I don’t get it, probably because I’m from New York) — read books that have been written by someone like you for someone like you. In my opinion, if you are dying to read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo because you’ve heard it’s such a great book — and it is — why would you want to delete some of the very elements that help to make it great?

The Role of the Agent

As the publishing industry undergoes tremendous upheaval and change — mostly because of the arrival of eBooks and self-publishing — there has been lots of talk about the role of the literary agent in all of this.

As readers of this blog know, I secured representation for Baby Grand in January 2010. And even though two years later I decided to self-publish my debut novel, I’ve said this before: Having my agent for those two years was invaluable, and Baby Grand is a FAR better novel having gone through the traditional publishing process in the early stages. Why, you ask. Not because my agent helped me to write Baby Grand or gave me ideas or even did “light editing,” as I’ve seen a literary agent’s “role” described on websites. My agent actually did no editing at all.

What she did do — among other things — is similar to what is depicted in this scene from Walk the Line, the 2005 film based on the early life and career of country music artist Johnny Cash and starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Here, Cash and his band/friends are auditioning for a record label executive, who is explaining to them what he needs in order to sell their music. He’s not asking them to be something they’re not. He’s not asking them to sing the songs HE wants them to sing. What he does is what I think a good agent does for writers — pushes them. Pushes them to dig deep down and find their true voice. Pushes them when they think they have nothing else to give.

So while, yes, there are sure to be changes in the industry regarding agents’ role in the writer/publisher relationship, to me it seems the core of the writer/agent relationship will always stay the same.

Meet Emma Woodcock

“You may get a bad review. Take it professionally, please.” So advises today’s featured author Emma Woodock who discusses the road to publication for her debut novel, Darklands.

Name: Emma Woodcock
Name of book: Darklands
Book genre: Young adult fantasy
Date published: August 2011 (eBook), April 2012 (paperback)
Publisher: Feed a Read
What is your day job? Web designer
What is your book about? Fifteen-year-old Sophie is not the most popular girl at school. She’s not thin enough, she’s not pretty enough, and she’s way too interested in math and physics to be even remotely cool. So when she finds herself mysteriously transported into another world where it never rains, the sun always shines, the people all think she’s fantastic and their impossibly handsome King dotes on her, she can barely believe her luck. But Sophie begins to realize that all is not as well as it seems in the Darklands. Why are all the visiting delegations so angry with the king? What is the mysterious millenniversary everyone keeps talking about? And quite what is Sophie’s role in it all? As the seemingly idyllic Darklands reveals its grim secrets, the fate of both worlds relies on Sophie escaping the despotic king and finding her way back home—preferably without turning the universe inside out.
Why did you want to write this book? The initial idea was that I wanted to write about something sinister occurring in an incongruously beautiful, serene setting. My first point of reference was the 1975 film, Picnic at Hanging Rock. There is something very powerful and unsettling about that story, particularly how it remains unresolved. I echoed that in the prologue to Darklands, in which a school girl disappears while playing in the woods on a bright, sunny day. You don’t find out anything more about her until right near the end of the book.
Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write this book (visit certain locales, etc.)? Very little research was needed for Darklands, as it takes place in a small town very like the town I grew up in, and in a fantasy world, where I could make up the rules. On the other hand, my next novel Kikimora takes place in sixteenth century Hungary and is largely concerned with mining. I’m in the middle of the second draft, and I still find myself regularly having to do extra research. It’s been really hard work, and perhaps the hardest part is knowing when to ignore the reality and just go with what makes it a good story. Too much harsh realism just doesn’t sit well in this sort of story.
What motivates you to write? I love telling stories. I love magical worlds and alternate ways of looking at the universe. I love speculation—what if the world was like that instead of like this? What if…? Writing is the best job in the world. Well, I say job. It’s more voluntary work at the moment…

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Kindle Nation Daily Sponsorship: Worth It?

On August 19, 2012, Baby Grand was Kindle Nation Daily’s eBook of the Day.

My goal for the sponsorship was to introduce Baby Grand to readers who have never heard of the book or of me or my blog — to connect with complete strangers who might enjoy a good thriller. And, hey, if I could make a little money too, even better.

Kindle Nation Daily is a popular promotional choice for Kindle authors (when I purchased the sponsorship back in June there were only two dates left for August). KND offers all kinds of sponsorships, including daily and weekly options, as well as packages, that run from about $30 and up, and their newsletters and websites connect with tens of thousands of readers.

The sponsorship I purchased, eBook of the Day, is priced at $159.99. A bit steep. So right off the bat, I knew there was a good chance that I might not recoup my investment since I had planned on selling Baby Grand at the promotional price of $1.99 that day, which meant that I’d need to sell about 270 books (since Amazon offers 35 percent royalties for books priced under $2.99) to break even.

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Goodbye, KDP Select

Yesterday was the last day of my three-month exclusivity agreement with Amazon’s KDP Select (Baby Grand made its debut as part of the program on May 23). For those who don’t know about the program, when you sign on to KDP Select, you agree to sell your eBook only in the Kindle format (you can continue selling your paperbacks anywhere you wish). In exchange for this agreement, you are given some marketing assistance, including several free promotional days, where you can basically give your book away, and also your book is included in the Kindle Lending Library — every time an Amazon Prime member (and there are oodles of them) “borrows” your book, Amazon pays you a royalty.

When I agreed to participate in the program, I looked at it as a limited release of my novel, much like an independent film might be first shown in New York and Los Angeles before going wide, and as a way to cultivate a following in the Kindle community while taking advantage of additional promotional help from Amazon.

Overall, I was satisfied with the results of KDP Select, particularly with a mass email intended for thriller lovers that included my book. Yippee!

But, in the end, I decided to leave the program after my first go-round. Here’s why:

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Guest Post: Why I Chose to Self-Publish after Being Published by New York

One of my favorite things is hearing about the publishing experiences of other writers. Today, author Carole Bellacera tells us why she chose to self-publish her novels after having had deals in the past with traditional publishing houses.

I admit it. I was a snob. Back when I finally sold my first novel to a major New York house, I looked down my nose at anyone who’d self-published their books. For thirteen years, I’d struggled to sell a novel, coming close a few times, but always falling short. But even then, after working with three different agents, and suffering years of rejection, I held fast to my belief that if I had to stoop to self-publishing, I wouldn’t be a “real author.”

And now here I am, almost 30 years later, a self-published author. How did that happen? Well, it’s a rather familiar story to many authors. After my fourth book came out by the New York publisher, my editor left for greener pastures, leaving me an unwanted orphan. No one else, apparently, saw in my work what my editor had, and all support dried up. Of course, my sales sucked swamp water, which, I’m sure, accounted for the lack of excitement on Fifth Avenue.

Burned out and discouraged, I took a few years off from the business side to renew my love affair with what was important to me – writing. I wrote two complete novels and then waded back into the quick sands of publishing – only to find that I was starting over from the very beginning. Agent hunting, editor hunting… rejection followed by rejection. Having a track record didn’t seem to make a difference.

That’s when I decided to take back control of my career. I was sick of being told “no, your work is not worthy.” I knew it was worthy. I was the same writer I’d been when I sold four novels which earned raving reviews, if not sales. So I got my rights back from my New York publisher and put my backlist out on Amazon’s Kindle program. But I didn’t stop there. I’m in the process now of reissuing all my backlist in print, too. And then I took the two unsold books I’d been shopping to New York and put them out through Amazon’s CreateSpace.

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