Sunday, 5 April 2015

Tattooed Writer's Method for Making Sales

I've been asked by quite a few people to repost this. It was originally on the Lair last year, but I took it down when some moron decided to incorporate it into a booklet and sell it. Remember you saw it first here first, folks, and for free.

Kindle Unlimited Addendum
When I originally wrote this post, KU was just a twinkle in Jeff Bezos's eyes. Now that KU is here, I would add that to maximise the number of readers, and give your new series a good chance of ranking highly in the store, you should put all parts into KU.

So, here is the original post, back by popular demand...

Anyone who knows my history in writing and self-publishing knows I am not an overnight success. It has taken me 3 years of hard work to get to where I am today…and there is still a long road ahead. 

I like to think that during those 3 years, I have gained some knowledge about how to sell books. Not the only way to sell books, but a way.

A lot of the people who email and message me are writers just starting out on their journey or writers who aren't getting the sales numbers they want and are ready to try something different.

So, for what it's worth, here is Tattooed Writer's Method For Making Sales.

From what I have learned, I believe this method would give a writer the best chance to make sales, gain readers and earn some money. It should also give a good return on investment. But remember, no method can promise overnight success.

-you can write an entertaining story
-you have enough skill to make your own covers or you have a designer who will give you exactly what you want
-you are willing to put in some work

What You Are Going To Do
-write 3 stories of 25k-35k words. Any genre.

Huh? How is That A "Method"? It Sounds Easy
I didn't say it was going to be hard. To be effective, something doesn't have to be difficult. What you are going to do with these 3 stories is attempt to gain as many readers in your chosen genre as possible. You are going to do that by tapping the power of series.

What's Different Between these 3 Stories And any Other 3 Stories I Wrote?
You are going to link these 3 novellas together. Not as a serial, not with cliffhanger endings, not as a single story chopped into 3 parts. They are going to be 3 complete stories. Each novella will be standalone story with a satisfying conclusion.

But the 3 stories will be connected.

Connections: everyone lives in the same town or everyone works for the same company or the main characters are members of the same family. Or your connector could be the same character appearing in each book. A detective, for example, who takes on 3 different cases.

Whatever you choose as your "connector" will be the name of the series. So if your connector is that everyone lives in a town called "Sleepy Moor" for example, the books will be subtitled "Sleepy Moor, Book 1", "Sleepy Moor, Book 2" and "Sleepy Moor, Book 3".

If, for example,  each story follows a brother from a family called the Cunninghams, then the books will be subtitled "The Cunningham Brothers, Book 1", "The Cunningham Brothers, Book 2" and "The Cunningham Brothers, Book 3".

If your connector is the main character (like the detective mentioned above), then the character's name will be the series name.  e.g. "Joe Finn, Book 1", "Joe Finn, Book 2", "Joe Finn, Book 3".

I'm sure you'll be able to think up you own names for towns, families or detectives. 

The Writing
Now, you need to write three stories that are connected by the "series connection".
As well as the main connector, put in events that might be mentioned in each story. So let's say you set your stories in a small town and in the 1st book, one of the local bars is blown up. In the 2nd book you might have the characters drive past the ruins of that bar and mention how it got blown up last summer or whatever. The event doesn't have a direct impact on this story but is mentioned to give your series a cohesive feel.

Or you might have a restaurant where everyone in town goes to eat. So the characters of your first book would go there and so would the characters in the 2nd. Populate that restaurant with a minor character (a waitress, let's say) who appears in both books (and might even be in a later book as a major character). You make sure your description of the place is consistent in every book. Again, it gives readers who read more than one of the books a deeper sense of setting for your series.

These things are fun to think up and connect. You can even have characters from different books at the same event. So there might be a scene in one book where a cop shoots a fleeing criminal on the main street. In a later book, you mention that your MC was going to a job interview one morning when she was pushed over by a criminal who ran past her before being gunned down by a cop. In another book, you might have an MC who is a cop who is traumatised by the one time he had to use his gun and kill a criminal on Main Street. That sort of thing. Just a generic example. You'll be able to think situations up that are unique to your stories.

Your actual plots will be determined by the genre you are writing in. Use your imagination to come up with 3 entertaining stories that readers of the genre will love.

I can't stress this enough. Just as your stories are connected, so must your covers be connected. If a potential reader sees your books on Amazon, there must be no doubt in their mind that the books are in a series. Use a template so the fonts, title placement and author name are identical on every cover. Use a graphic that is identical on each cover.

This subject seems to be misunderstood. I've seen series books on Amazon that look like totally separate books. This isn't about putting 3 separate pieces of pretty, unconnected artwork on your covers just because you like the pictures. This is about making the cover work for you. A cover has a job to do. It must convey the genre and be clearly connected to the other series books.

Whatever your genre, look at the best-selling books in that genre. You want the readers who read these books to see yours and say to themselves, "These are the kind of books I read. I'll try them out."

If you write a series and your covers are not clearly in a series, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

The goal is to get more readers and build a fan base. Create a mailing list and make sure you put the link in the books so it's easy for readers to join. The idea is to get the "net units sold" number on your report as high as possible.


The higher that number is, the more readers you have reached.

Because you want to attract a large amount of readers to your series, price the books at 99c. This will mean that readers of the genre will be more likely to try out your books. Three books well suited to genre and priced at 99c have a good chance of hitting the hot new releases and/or Top 100 in the genre and therefore attract even more readers.

THIS IS IMPORTANT: Don't make any judgements on whether the method worked or not until the 3rd book has been out at least a week.Questions? Leave a comment.

Ready to go for it? Good luck! Let me know your results!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Tor, Novellas, and the Resource of Time

Here's an interesting article that readers of the Lair might find interesting. Tor are moving into publishing novellas and explain why they made that decision:

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

It's OK to "Fail"

Here's where I'm at right now. I'm almost 19,000 words into a romance novella and I've just said to myself, "I could have written this story so much better."

I started off just fine. Writing happily away with no real idea where I was going with it but the story was moving forward and it was interesting. It kept me interested, anyway, which is always the yard stick I use. If I'm interested in the story developing on the page…if I'm still intrigued enough to keep watching the movie playing in my mind…I'm probably writing a story readers will like.

Then I watched a few lectures on storytelling and thought about my novella when I was doing other things…cooking or taking walk…and I realised I knew how to tell that particular story in a much better way.

So now I either have to start again or go back and insert scenes and dialogue to lay the foundation of the new story.

In a way, I've failed. I went into this story without considering the optimal way to tell it. I took a wrong turn at the 5,000 word mark and kept going down the wrong road for another 14,000 words.

But that's okay. Now that I've faced the reality of the situation, the resulting book will be better.

I have to go back and do a lot of work. Time-consuming work. Yesterday, when I thought about what today might bring, I didn't think I'd be scrapping a lot of words. I was getting ready to write a good few thousand new words and bring this project to completion.

But today's reality will never live up to yesterday's dream. As writers, we sometimes let enthusiasm take us over. We say things like, "Tomorrow, I'll write 12,000 words. I've never managed that many in a day so far but I will tomorrow."

Then tomorrow comes and we manage 4,000. Or 2,500. Bleh. We suck. Can't even write 12,000 measly words.

No, we don't suck. It's easy to say, "Tomorrow I'll write 12,000 words" when tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. It's much harder to actually write those 12,000 words when the time comes.

So don't beat yourself up about it. Accept the words you did get done and move on.

"But yesterday I said I'd write 12,000 words."

That was yesterday. That time is gone. You can only live in the present. Yesterday is a memory and tomorrow is a dream. Reality is only happening at one moment in time…right now.

It's good to make goals for tomorrow and it's good to be enthusiastic about them but if you "fail" to achieve them, don't be too hard on yourself.

What I think might happen tomorrow:

What might actually happen:

And it isn't only word counts. If you're writing something and it doesn't live up to the idea you had in your head and the writing is becoming a chore, don't be afraid to say, "You know what? I'm going to scrap this and start again. Or work on something else. Or rework what I have." It's all part of the process and it leads to putting out your best work.

Everyone makes mistakes. I once published two episodes of a sci fi series then realised I didn't have the time to continue it.  I pulled the episodes. Some day, I'll go back to that series but for now it's a "fail". I've written romance novellas and novels that failed to sell and I can see why when I look at them. They were't my best work, to put it mildly. Luckily I found a romance niche that suits me and I'm now writing a bestselling series.

It's okay to fail. Just pick yourself up and move on. 

If you write a few books that fail to set the literary world on fire, so what? Write another. And another. You're a writer in an age when you can write anything and get it to readers. If your political thrillers fail to sell as well as you'd like, try writing a couple of mysteries or a thriller involving pearl divers.

There's a lot of doom and gloom going around at the moment. Remember that nobody represents the entire industry and just because someone says the latest changes at Amazon are killing their sales, that doesn't mean you have to throw yourself on your sword too. Many people are thriving right now. 

While the more vocal doomsayers moan about KU and lack of discoverability, there are many writers quietly working away and making plenty of money.

So if you've failed at something today, don't dwell on it. Do what needs to be done and move on.

After all…tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Create a Brand for Your Books

Every company has a brand. The most successful have a brand which is instantly recognizable. Recognition creates a sense of comfort in customers. It's origin, the Latin word recognoscere , means "to know again, to recall to mind".

So when someone is miles from home in a strange city and they find a Starbucks, they get a sense of familiarity. They know they can go in and order their favorite coffee and it will taste exactly like it does in the Starbucks at home. Just seeing that brand identity will make them recall the last time they were in a Starbucks enjoying their favorite coffee.

We fear the unknown. We are attracted to the familiar.

As a self-publisher, you are a business. You have customers and you have products. Do you have a brand?

Countless time, I will see an author on a forum saying something like, "My series isn't selling very well" and when I look at the books in their signature, I ask myself, "Those books are in a series?" What I am usually looking at is a selection of books that don't look related to each other in any way whatsoever. Yet apparently they are in a serial or series.

If you are writing books in a serial or series, you owe it to yourself to brand them. 

Just like the Starbucks logo gives someone a sense of familiarity and stirs subconscious memories, you want to do the same with your books. If a reader enjoyed your first book, seeing a similar brand on the second and third in the series gives them that sense of familiarity and a memory of the pleasure they had reading the first book. The fact that the second book is branded similarly to the first tells the reader they will get the same experience they had from reading the first book if they buy the second.

We'll look at how to brand books in a moment but first, let's look at what a brand is not. 

1. A Social Media Presence is Not a Brand

"I interact with my readers on Facebook/Twitter/TSU/my blog. That's my brand."

No, that is not your brand. Interacting with readers on social media can help your brand but it is not the brand itself. You want your brand to attract potential readers in the retailers. Most of those people won't know or care if you have a social media presence. 

If you think it doesn't matter that all three books in your series look disconnected from each other because, "I told all my followers they are the next books in the series", you aren't seeing the bigger picture.

2. You Are Not a Brand

I hear this one a lot. "I want readers to love everything I write. When I write sci fi, romance, and erotica, I want a readership who will buy it all. Because I am the brand."

You are not a brand. Most readers don't even know who you are. If you release a sci fi book, followed by a mystery, followed by a romance, then a YA coming of age story and expect readers to buy them because they were all written by you, it might be a good idea to squash your ego now. Because if you don't, your lack of branding strategy will.

Go into a bookstore and look at the signs above the shelves. Are they author names? No, they are genres. "Mysteries & Thrillers", "Science Fiction". People who have been in this business a long time know that the first thing a reader looks for is their favorite genre. Then they look for their favorite author within that genre.

Unless you are a famous celebrity, you are not a brand.

3. Writing All Books in the Same Genre is Not a Brand

The opposite of number 2, this thinking goes along the lone of, "Well all of my books are sci fi so that's a brand. I have a brand."

No, you don't. You could have written 20 sci fi books that all look like they were written by different authors.  That is not a brand.


So let's look at how a series of books can be branded properly.


Imagine a potential reader logging onto Amazon, or B&N. They are looking for books to buy. the first thing they will do is go to the virtual shelves for the genre they want to browse. Whether that is the top 100 list for the genre, or the popularity list, the first thing they are presented with is a display of book covers. As they click on these books, they are also presented with a display of also boughts.

They might scroll through the shelves. As they look at the covers, they are searching for a book that fits a mental genre checklist in their head. So if they logged on thinking, "I want to read a mystery," they are looking for something that will give them the mystery experience. A lot of covers are going to be scrolling across that screen and the first thing the reader will do is reject any that don't look like they are a mystery.

So your cover must reflect the genre. It must say to that reader, "I'm a mystery. Just what you are looking for." Same for sci fi. Same for fantasy. Same for any genre.

The genre you write in has certain conventions for cover design. If you don't know what they are, look at the successful books in your chosen genre. Get a feel for the tone of the covers, the types of images used.

So the first thing you book must do is say, "I'm the genre you're looking for."

Now if that reader looking at all those covers sees a number of books that are all branded and obviously belong together, the message is more powerful. "I'm the genre you're looking for and so are these." 

Many readers are drawn to series. They know if they love the first book, they can have the same reading experience with subsequent books in the series. 

So instead of setting up a single unknown coffee shop, having a series is like setting up a chain of Starbucks. 

So your series covers must

1. Clearly belong to the genre
2. Clearly belong with other books in the "chain"

Let's take a look at the first point. Your books must clearly belong to a genre. 

Genres are Powerful

Ask some people what types of books they like. You will probably get answers like, "Thrillers," or, "Romance," or, "Mysteries." 

Probably not so much this: "Well I like sci fi stories with a touch of crime, a little fantasy, and some romance." 

As a writer, you probably want people to read your stories. So if readers all have favorite genres, why are you writing a book that defies genre expectations? 

Is it because you are special and your snowflake of a book is "art" and can't be fit into a defined genre? Fine. You write your art but you are probably reading the wrong blog if that is your goal. 

Writers who want to produce stories that are read will make their stories fit into the defined genres. Why? Because that's where readers are looking for their next book and they don't like things that don't belong.

So your crime novel should look like a crime novel not a YA dystopian. Your sweet romance should look like a sweet romance, not a thriller.

Genres are powerful because just by being on the shelf of a particular genre, you will attract readers if your book clearly belongs there and offers the readers the "mystery experience" or the "military sci fi experience" or the "steampunk experience"

But My Book is Special

No. It isn't.

Now onto point 2. 

So your book's cover clearly states the genre. And like all good businesses, you have branched out into a chain. Now, how do you let your readers know all the books belong in that chain?

When you create a cover (or hire a designer to create one for you), there are always three elements you need to consider.




Here's the simplest way to ensure your books look like they belong together: put the title and author name in the same place on each cover and use the same fonts every time. (I don't mean use the same font for the title and author name, of course. Use the same font for the author name on each book and use the same font for the title on each book.)

Make sure your cover image conveys the genre. A good idea is to use images that are connected. (same characters, same color scheme, etc)

If you make your own covers, create a template in your graphics program and save it so each new book will have those elements exactly where they should be.

You might want to use a repeated graphic behind the titles or the author name.

If you have more than one series, you can distinguish between them by branding each series differently.

Another branding trick is to use connected words in the titles.

…or the same word repeated.

Think about how you want to brand your chain of products. Make sure every book in your series looks like it belongs there and all the books belong together.

If your brand doesn't seem to be working, rebrand the series. Try something different. 

Have fun!


Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year!

I'm still at my desk but I'm about to close everything down and go celebrate the end of 2014 and usher in the beginning of 2015.

I wish all of you a happy new year. Whatever your goals, I hope you achieve them. There was never a better time to make writing dreams come true.

Here's to a successful 2015!


Monday, 29 December 2014

2015 Could be YOUR Year

"Everything flows and nothing abides,
 everything gives way and nothing stays fixed."


There's been a lot of wailing, teeth-gnashing and histrionics lately regarding Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program. Some authors who were big hitters a couple of years ago are reporting heavy losses in income. Writers who were once full time are going back to their day jobs in droves. The sky is falling and nobody can make a living in the writing game anymore.

It's all over...what's a writer to do?

From someone who has weathered the (so-called) storm and knows a lot of other writers who are just as full-time now as they were before KU ...and some who are doing better now than they were before KU... here are a few suggestions.

Rise Above the Drama

Don't take on someone else's problems as your own. Your focus should always be on YOU.

Remember, only sensationalism makes the headlines. Don't be distracted by sensationalism.

There's a lot more I could say on this subject but the purpose of this blog post is to be positive, so I won't. Suffice to say, if one of the top hitters in KDP sees a decrease in sales, they might think the sky is falling but they do not represent YOU or many other authors. They are not in your position and you are not in theirs.

If 10 people fall out of the top spots on Amazon, 10 others take their place. Are those 10 new people going to be complaining about recent changes or celebrating them?

Nothing stays the same forever. Everything moves in cycles. Those who were shining brightest in the past must make way for the new stars of the future. This is how it should be, or things would get boring very quickly. As Heraclitus said in the 5th century B.C. "nothing stays fixed".

When Everything Changes...Be Prepared to Change Also

KU has changed the publishing landscape. There is no escaping that fact, and whining that things aren't like they were in 2011 isn't going to make you any sales.

When everything changes, be prepared to change also. Adapt. Survive. Thrive in the new environment.

If you're driving along a road and the road suddenly turns, you make the turn and stay on the road. You don't continue straight ahead as you've always been doing, driven by inertia, and go off the road into the swamp. It doesn't matter who you are, you need to make that turn.

Do You See a Problem...or an Opportunity?

Like it or not, Kindle Unlimited is here. you can whine all you want about it but in the end you have two choices.

1. Ignore it
2. Use it to your advantage

Whichever choice you make, you must accept the consequences of that choice as being of your own making. 

If you choose option #1, that's fine. 

If you choose option #2, that's fine too.

But whichever option you choose, it is your free choice and therefore your responsibility. You know about the exclusivity clause and the payment pot and you will make your decisions accordingly. 

If you have a large enough catalogue of titles, of course, you might choose to put some in KU and leave other out. Whatever you choose is, again, your responsibility.

While KU might have allegedly toppled some authors from the cherished top spots (and put others up there in their place), for the average write there are opportunities in Amazon's new program.

1. You are now less of a risk for readers who are interested in your work. In the pre-KU world, readers had to buy your book to take a chance on you. This could be why the same relatively small number of authors were always at the top; readers stuck with what they knew. Now, they are more willing to try other authors because those authors' already part of their monthly subscription package. The only thing they are risking by choosing a new author is reading time.

2. Visibility. Borrows count toward your book's ranking. Visibility is so important to your career, this overshadows all else.

3. Shorter works earn the same borrow rate as longer works. Writers of longer works complain about this but that's the way it is. 

So, seeing all these opportunities...what's a writer to do?

I have long been espousing the advantages of writing novella length books in a series. Kindle Unlimited is the perfect marketplace for such a strategy to succeed, and succeed well.

If you can publish a set of well-written, interconnected (not necessarily serial) novellas that satisfy the expectations of the genre you are writing and put them into KU, you will probably attract a lot of readers. 

Here's one I did earlier...

That book at the top there was released a couple of weeks ago and attracted 891 readers through the KU program. Now I could gnash my teeth and say that I have "lost" 891 sales to the evil KU monster or I could accept the FACT that I have 891 readers who will go on to read later books in the series if they enjoy the book they borrowed. If the book wasn't in KU, those 891 readers might not have taken a chance on it and become ensnared by my compelling writing. :P

And when I'm about to throw my hands heavenward and cry out, "I would have made $2.09 on each of those if they were sales but KU is only going to pay me $1 plus change for each one," I need to remember that I might not have any of them at all and $1 plus change X 891 is better then zero.

I talk to a lot of authors and many of them are making more income now by being in KU than they were before it existed.

So some writers are making less income while some are making more. It's up to you to decide your next move in this new landscape. If you're willing to put in the work and adapt to the twists and turns in the road, you could pass all the cars stubbornly driving into the swamp.

2015 could be YOUR year.


Thursday, 4 December 2014

Eat My Shorts

With the introduction of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited, there have been some instances of scammers uploading crap into the system to get a piece of the money pot. This crap is usually short because all the scammers are interested in is getting $$ for as little effort as possible.

This is wrong. All authors and readers should be appalled at this behavior and the scammers should be dealt with by Amazon. We can all agree on that.

But now I'm hearing statements like the following being bandied about:

"Short story writers shouldn't get as much share of the monthly pot as writers who have entire novels in KU."

"Writers of short stories and serials are just trying to scam readers."

The people spouting this nonsense seem to think that short fiction isn't as worthy as a novel because it is shorter. I've said it before and I'll say it again…the value of a book is not determined by how many words it contains. If you think it is, then go read a dictionary. It has plenty of words in it.

Every story has a purpose and its value is determined by how well it serves that purpose. A story's purpose is not to be as long as the author can possibly make it, as if that confers some magical "value".

If a story serves its purpose, it doesn't matter how long or short it is.

A short erotica story and an epic fantasy novel have very different purposes. The short erotica piece is meant to titillate and serve a need that the reader may want served quickly. An erotica reader doesn't want to plow through thousands of words of description before arriving at the good parts.

The epic fantasy reader, on the other hand, does want to read lengthy descriptions of the world in which the story takes place.

To compare the value of the erotic short story and the epic fantasy novel by number of words is ludicrous. Each story is the correct length to keep its particular readers happy.


…delivers a very different reader experience to this…

...and is a different length. But that is how it should be. A reader who buys the first book is looking for a particular experience, as is a reader of the second book. But it isn't the same experience.

Each book has a totally different job to perform and requires a different word count to do that job. Each book has an appropriate length for its genre.

A movie and a TV episode both entertain but the TV episode takes less time to tell its story. Does that make it of a lesser value? Do the people who attack short story writers only watch movies, and the longer the better? Do these people email TV show writers and tell them they should be only writing movie length material? Do they only eat big meals, even if they are full, because more is always better?

And while we're here, let's dispel another myth. Writing short stories is not easier than writing novels.

Because of a novel's greater length, the author can get away with sloppy writing in places because those parts get lost in the larger whole. In a short story, the writing should be tight from beginning to end.

A short story writer needs to constantly come up with new ideas. Writing a lot of shorts means coming up with a lot of ideas. Novel writers get more words out of each idea because they are writing in a longer form.

Writing short stories is an art. There is less latitude to make the same mistakes which can be overlooked in a novel. Knowing what to leave out as well what to put into a short story is a skill.

In no way am I saying short story writers are "better" than novel writers. I write both shorts and novels and each has its own challenges. What I AM saying is that short story denigrators who say writing short fiction is "easy" are talking BS. And to say short fiction writers should get paid less for entertaining readers is ludicrous.

If YOU don't like short fiction, fine, don't read it. But don't assume everyone else has the same tastes as you and don't try to penalize short story writers just because they don't write what you read. Their stories are just as valuable as anyone else's and they work just as hard.

If someone said, "I think crime writers in KU should get less of the royalty pot because I don't read crime fiction," you'd think they were bigoted and selfish and had delusions of grandeur wouldn't you?