Tag Archive | digital

Digital Discoverability

It’s been a year since the article “Digital…Eventually” came out (Novelists INC newsletter) and the digital world is a lot like the dog world—time is compressed. It’s not exactly a seven-to-one ratio, but a lot has happened. This year, the buzz word is “discoverability” as in how does anyone find you, given all the hoopla and noise? The noise has been big stuff, too.

Barnes & Noble began publishing more than just classics, and Amazon became a publisher, which has shaken up New York publishers. Amazon also launched the Select program for lending books, to additional flurry. Amanda Hocking became the 2011 poster girl for digital success. We’ve had existing publishers announcing their digital plans, ranging from Berkley/NAL bringing back Signet Regency romances as e-books under the InterMix imprint to HarperCollins publishing work from their Authornomy writers’ site. Apple launched a new program for textbooks that has a whole lot of fine print. (But NY is still not talking about raising e-book royalty rates.)

You can follow the rest of what’s going on at DigitalBookWorld.com, on Bob Mayer’s Write it Forward blog, and at Publishers Weekly. But that’s all big picture stuff. I’m here to talk about my year in the trenches. It may help with your own digital discoveries.


Let’s start with what everyone wants to know—the numbers. I’ve sold more than 90,000 books this year. Yes, that’s right, more than 90K. These are U.S.-only sales; the number doesn’t include giveaways. Last year, I didn’t pay much attention to international sales from Amazon; this year the numbers are growing fast, so I’ll be watching that. My bestsellers last year were A Proper Mistress and A Dangerous Compromise (one also sold great in print, the other did not, so go figure).

I’ve given away just over 15,000 copies of my Regency novella, Cat’s Cradle, so total e-books out there for me is more than 100,000. That’s respectable—not huge numbers, but not bad. It’s also the first year I’ve made enough to say that I’m supporting myself with my writing—and not starving while doing so. Always a plus.

With this in mind, I brought out my first self-published book, a Regency Historical romance, Paths of Desire. Last year, my sales did not start moving upward until after June/July—just after I brought out all eight of my Regency romances, so having a quantity of work out there does seem to make a difference. Sales really took off in September/October, when I dropped the price from $2.99 to $.99. I’ve pretty much left the prices there. Before we dig further into pricing and promotion, let’s step back a bit and talk some basics.


This one’s still a must for any e-book; I see books from the NY publishers that have the same formatting issues. It’s a tricky thing to get an e-book to look as it should, particularly across all the various platforms.

Last year, bringing out my backlist meant getting a very clean Microsoft Word file, setting up a simple style sheet, and then letting PubIt, Amazon, and Smashwords do the formatting to e-book. This year it’s a different story.

A few programs have helped with additional format clean-up, so the books look better. I’ve learned to take my Word files and save them—once they’re in clean, simple style sheets—as “Web Page, Filtered.” This HTML file gets cleaned up with a simple HTML editor; I love Coffee Cup for this.

NOTE: If you don’t know HTML, I recommend learning some basics over at W3school. com–they have some great tutorials.

Once the HTML looks good, I import the file into Mobipocket Creator. Like Coffee Cup, this is a free program. While Mobi has its quirks, it’s pretty easy to use. With Mobi, I add the cover, metadata, book description, ISBN, and suggested pricing, and convert the file into e-book format. I then look at the e-book file in Calibri, a free e-book manager that lets me make sure the formatting is correct. Seeing how the book will look in an e-reader helps me, and I can add additional tags and information to make the book highly searchable.

NOTE: I’d recommend that when you buy your ISBNs from Bowkers, make sure you upload a CSV file, which you can create in Excel, with keywords so searches can more easily find your books. Keywords or tags should include your name, the book title, and any special characteristics or genre information about the book.

In Calibri, I look for odd paragraphs and font formats, weird spacing, and symbols that don’t belong in the text. If I find such things, I go back to the Word or HTML file to sort it out (it’s almost always an issue with the style sheet). I’ve slowly been moving my other books into this new formatting process to give the e-books a cleaner design. I’ve also been correcting typos as I go, and adding promotional information into the back of the e-books, because this year it’s all about how readers find the books.


It’s a Technical Thing. Word-processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, provide several ways to format text. You can apply formatting—italics, bold, different fonts, etc.—to individual words, sentences, or paragraphs but in an e-book document, this introduces extra formatting code that can cause issues later. Instead, set up universal formatting using a “style sheet.”

You can work from preset template styles (Word has the option to “change styles,” allowing you to select a template of styles) or modify existing styles by right-clicking on them. For instance, you can redefine “Normal” text to suit you (e.g., 12 pt TNR, first paragraph indented .5 inch, singlespaced, no spaces before or after the paragraph), highlight the paragraphs you want to be “Normal,” and apply the “Normal” style.

Follow similar steps to format styles for chapter headings, scene-break marks, title, and other special text. You can format individual words as needed, but if you have an entire paragraph of italics, it’s worth setting up a style. With your style sheet in place, the file can be converted cleanly to HTML and ebook formats. For more information on setting up style sheets in Word, go to the post on Twelve Steps to a Digital Format on my website.


“Discoverability” was the word batted around at the NINC conference this past October—how does a reader find your books? I was fortunate enough to get my books onto the top-selling list at Amazon—A Proper Mistress was in the Top 10 overall sellers (not Regency category, not Romance, but overall). So, success does breed success. Sometimes it is just an issue of luck or timing. Other than this, I didn’t do much for promotion. However, I am online.

I blog regularly at sd-writer.com, I’m on Twitter and Facebook, and I do promote my work, but I don’t have huge reach. My Klout score hovers in the high 30s (and if you don’t know what Klout is, it may be time for you to improve your Social Media awareness). I’ve tried a couple of online ads, but haven’t noticed any impact from them. Same with reviews; I’m not sure they do much for a book, but I figure they’ll help with awareness.

I believe awareness is the key.

To help with reader awareness, I put Cat’s Cradle up as a free novella. It’s been on the Amazon Top 100 free e-books list, but I can’t say that the free novella has really helped the other books to sell more. I do think free works best when it’s the first book in a series—I’ve gotten hooked on Bob Mayer’s Atlantis series that way. With the free book promotion, I’m selling steadily, but not at the peak numbers. I’ve left the novella out there for promotion, but it may get a price tag put onto it at some point. Which brings us to the issue of pricing.


My sales took off at the $.99 price point. I know publishers complain about this number; in fact, I think they turn pale when this number comes up as a price point for any book. Others think it’s undervaluing your work (and folks seem to forget that paperbacks started off as cheap dime novels). For me, the $.99 price made sense for two reasons.

First, my backlist has already made money. These are books that were done and finished and sold, so it’s all gravy from here. Second, aren’t we all watching the budget these days? The economy is bad, and my book buying budget no longer includes any book that’s over ten bucks. In fact, I really like books that sell for a buck or two. (I can go three or four at a stretch, and that’s about it.) I love the low-cost books because I still read a lot, so what’s easy on my pocketbook is an easy sale. The way I figure it, I’m not the only one looking for a bargain.

This notion showed up, too, at the last NINC conference in the data presented by Carolyn Pittis of HarperCollins. Over the past year, the bestsellers at Amazon have been priced either low ($.99) or high, but not in the middle. I don’t have a household name (or a huge marketing budget) that will make that high price point work for me—and Regency romances aren’t big blockbuster books. This same statistic about pricepoint sensitivity also showed up in a recent Publisher’s Weekly article. So, at the lower price point, I make a better profit in quantity.

Last November, I tried out a price increase back to $2.99, but this impacted sales numbers, so now all my books are priced around $.99 to $1.99. However, I’ve brought my new book out at $3.99, so I can discount it and do specials (it’s on sale for .99 through the end of March 2012).

I’m also still trying to make sense of all the data from the last year. Why does one book sell better at $1.99 than it did at $.99? Is it the cover? The cover copy? The timing of its release? The lunar cycle? Why does a book that did not-so-well in print do great online? What’s the difference? Do the monthly trends mean anything, or is this market in such flux that there are no trends, just an ever-changing tide? Sometimes my head hurts from trying to make sense of everything, so I go back to writing; this marketing stuff is not for sissies.

Which brings us to the next big issue for being discoverable.


For me, 2012 is all about experimental promotion. I’ve sent Paths of Desire out for reviews (if you want a free copy and will post a review at Amazon or BN.com, email me). I’m trying cross-promotion with other authors on their blog sites. For additional exposure, I’ve posted my backlist to Backlist Ebooks. I also regularly give workshops. I’ll be speaking at the 2012 RWA conference, and I’ve brought out one of my workshop books as an e-book: Story Showing; Story Telling. I want to experiment more with cover designs, and with bundling some of my books, which should work great given that some of the books are connected.

Most of all, I want to get more books out there.

I’ve had readers asking for Diana’s story, a character from Lady Scandal whose story I’ve always wanted to write, and Jane’s, from A Dangerous Compromise. I’d also love to put out two other Regency romances sitting around that need editing. So, much more writing must be done because I can’t sell a book I haven’t finished. Then it’s time to edit, format, and get the word out there.

But, really, the truth is that no one knows what works.

Some books just sell better than others. Some authors sell better than others. And some books sell better on Amazon than on Barnes & Noble. (I include these two big outlets because, for me, Smashwords does not produce great sales, and I’ve left the prices higher there because the numbers do not justify a price drop.) I haven’t figured out why BN.com is lower for me, but Liz Scheier of Barnes & Noble was at the 2011 Novelists INC conference and was made aware of how many authors (besides me) found their books to be lagging at BN.com but doing great at Amazon. I have seen performance improve at BN.com since last October, so maybe Liz is having an impact. I know Amazon has a lot of great promotion tools, and it’s really hard not to give Amazon the focus when they’re producing the profit.

I’ve put two books into the Amazon Select program. The downside is that the books must be exclusive to Amazon to be in the program. The upside is that Amazon will pay for every book borrowed. This payment may not be enough to offset the loss of sales from other sites, but I do like the idea of book-lending—I got my reading start at a library, so I’m a supporter of book-lending.

Which brings us to…


For me, this is still a non-issue. If you have a huge brand, maybe this is something you need to look at. But Digital Rights Management (DRM) still sucks, and even Amazon has started moving away from it, with their changes to allowing authors to set DRM in 2010 (see the article on Amazon’s change for DRM management), and with their Amazon Select program to lend books. As noted in a recent article in Publisher’s Weekly, calling for publishers to become sane about the DRM issue: “…a study last year by Rice University and Duke University contends that removing DRM can actually decrease piracy.”

Fighting piracy has just about killed the record industry. I have neither their resources nor their interest in this battle. I still maintain that if you post your work for sale at a price buyers consider reasonable and it’s easy to buy, most folks will opt to purchase it.


When I wrote the article last year, I’d started down the digital path in November 2010 and wrote the article in mid-December, when I was putting my third book online. At that point, the three titles (Under the Kissing Bough, Proper Conduct, and A Proper Mistress) had netted $201.96 from Amazon, $147.70 from PubIt, and $57.09 from Smashwords.

In other words, this time last year (in 2011), I’d made about $400 for the previous year. My total budget for covers, ISBNs, and some online promotion was $5,000. At that time, I’d noted:

  • Sales of Kindle and Nook are anticipated to explode (they did)
  • Digital media consumption is on the rise (it still is)

In fact, the Kindle Fire is reported to have sold over six million units. BN’s Nook sales are up 70% this year over the previous year, but are still behind Kindle sales. All of this means that while you may not see your book hit the bestseller lists, your sales numbers could still go up (a larger market means more sales are needed to hit the tops of the lists).

So what’s ahead for this year in the trenches?

For me, more books, more experiments. The noise is going to be noisier this year. By next year, I’ll let you know how the self-publishing is going. And I hope to have a couple of more books out and available. Would I say no to a NY deal? Maybe. Or maybe not. But the NY deals are no longer the only path, and a lot of times, they’re not a great deal, either; not with lower advances and royalties than you can get from doing the work yourself. The world has changed in the last year. It’ll change even more—that’s one prediction you can bet on. And it’s no longer digital eventually…it’s become digital inevitably.

This article was originally published in the NINC newsletter as a follow up to the “Digital…Eventually” article. For more information, see also the post on “Setting up for Digital.”

The 99 Cent Lesson

It’s almost a year ago since the last NINC conference, which inspired me to get my books back into print. I’d gotten the rights back, but I’d done nothing with the books, other than to let them sit on the ‘out of print’ shelf. Last November I brought the first out into the digital age. Getting all eight Regency romances into print took longer than I anticipated–I wanted all done by the first of 2011, but it was more like July of 2011 when the last rolled into the digital world. Covers took longer to have done–I paid for professional covers, all of which I love. I also had edits and some revisions to do to update the books. And I move to New Mexico during that time, so that was a distraction.

I also went from just using a clean (very clean) formatted Word document to using MobiCreator to convert a Word document that’s been saved as “Web Filtered” and add my covers and metadata there to produce better formatted ebooks.

And I learned about pricing.

Initially, I priced all my books at 2.99. That seemed reasonable. They’d been priced at 4.95 in print editions, but the electronic copies didn’t have paper, ink, or warehouse costs to defray. Sales were good, but not great, so I started experimenting.

I also noticed my own Kindle-buying habits. With the move and everything, books at .99 on Amazon started catching my eye. They were easy buys–more like the old days when you could pick up a paperback for just a couple of bucks, and so there was no worry about an investment of money (and time). For .99 I could take reading risks. And so I started pricing some of my books at .99.

They sold well. Very well.

A Proper MistressSo I put all of my Regency romances up at .99. And now I have one book (A Proper Mistress) that’s in the Amazon Top 100 (top 50 actually, and #1 Regency). All eight are in the top 50 Regency romance best sellers.

Now, maybe they would have made it to best sellers without the .99 price. On the other hand, I have to figure that in this economy lots of other folks are being careful with money. And why not sell for .99? Publishing houses may have overhead–and maybe they’re worried that if ebooks are so affordable folks will stop buying the print editions, where a publishing house can make a better profit margin. They’re right to worry. Particularly since mid-list authors can now actually make better money with ebooks than with print editions (I haven’t yet out-earned what I made with print editions, but I’m on my way there).

And, finally, the bottom line is that if I’m looking for those .99 bargains, why not participate and offer them up as well. I believe in walking the talk–and the talk is that digital is not just the future, it’s a reasonable one where good books can again find their way into reader’s hands.

I’m going again to the NINC conference this year — what’s not to love about white beaches, blue ocean, other writers, and tons of great ideas.

And NINC has adjusted its membership requirements–if you’re earning money (good money) with a book you’ve brought out online, you can be a NINC member. This not only seems wise to be for the organization, but it’s supportive of authors–it’s about supporting money into the author’s hands so that you can both write and eat (and not have to eat canned soup).

Will book prices ever go up? Maybe. I can see bringing out a new book at 2.99, or 1.99 — or maybe even free. But I love the flexibility–and the ability as the author to have more input into my own books.

It’s funny since I write about the Regency era–an era when authors often participated financially in their own book production costs, an era when an author had a great deal of say about publishing. Technology is taking us back again to those days.

Sustainable…worlds, careers, businesses, lives, arts, etc.

So, I’ve been thinking — a sometimes dangerous thing (yes, I once thought tuna and PB sandwiches would be a good thing — on a hike…I am surprised at times that I made it home from summer camp). But thoughts of late are of how do you keep things sustainable — worlds, careers, lives, etc, etc, etc.

The works usually applied to green living these days — a very cool, hip in-thing, and let us hope it stays cool and hip and in long enough to make a dent in changing excessive living habits. But even this seems difficult when you have folks wanting to gut the EPA which cleaned up the air, and BP trying to pretend all that oil has magically gone away. It can be difficult, too, to sustain your art…sustain a writing career…which is always a struggle, since need books must be thought of and marketing a book is as vital as writing it. And the current publishing model is not sustainable.

Fellow author Stephanie Laurens has come up with a blog Of Dinosaurs and Daffodils which speaks to this same point, with publishers taking the dino part of the analogy. And we all know what happened to them — some of them became birds. More of them wound up creatures no longer able to sustain themselves. This is very bad for writers whose work is attached to those bones.

And the main thing is, a writer used to be able to make enough from a few books to keep writing books, to keep improving craft. A writer could start out and work a career path. Publishers could and would work with writers, grow talent, help writers get past that occasional stumble. I’ve known writers who did this–heck I’ve watched Stephanie grow as a writer. But I don’t know anyone who has done this of late with a NY publisher. It seems more like authors hit, or the starve. And the middle ground is what’s fading into memory.

I know a lot of midlist author friends who can’t even think about writing for a living–and they are getting what’s considered a decent advances. But that’s all they get. The print runs are shrinking, and with Borders on the edge of dino-land, that’s going to get worse. There’s no real promotion for a book that’s expected to do okay. And with distributors ordering based on an author’s name and waht the last book did, good luck getting growth in that career.  It’s just about getting the next book out–oh, and keep them coming.

Now it’s true that not everyone can be a bestseller. There are factors that have nothing to do with talent–and sometimes nothing to do with the book. Sometimes things just hit. But the publishing business is starting to look like one that only wants the hits–and doesn’t want to spend money building its future (and future talent). This may well be due to the debt conglomerates carry–or it may be that the world is changing too fast for them. Adapt or die still holds true.

And one thing the Internet does really, really well is to satisfy niche markets. (Yes, there are horse shows for folks who customize model horses and take pictures of the outfits and settings and compete with these — something I find fascinating, and no way would this happen without the Internet since how else would you find a fellow horse model shower?) So, actually, the Internet does better with niche books — and it doesn’t do so badly with mass market either. This gives it an evolutionary edge.

There’s another big advantage to digital publishing — we’re coming back to the author being in full control of the publishing.

Back in the day…way, way, way back, before New York publishing became mega corporations, publishing started off a much more intimate affair. Someone put money on the line to print and publish books–that someone might be the author, or it might be the individual printing the books (the publisher), or it might even be fifty-fifty for them, and they’d split the money. I’m not advocating we go back to that model — I’m not even sure that’s possible. But it shows that change comes to every business. So what you have to look at is what’s sustainable and what’s not.

And what sustains your own self and craft.

I’m biased here. I think artists need to step out on edges, to be daring, and sometimes stupid (see earlier note re tuna and pb — which has since evolved to a much better, and more sustainable tuna curry). One thing that sustains art is trying new things — coming up with new things. That’s not something big corporations do very well, not unless they’ve structured and built themselves around the idea that their job is to innovate.

The next big thing to hit publishing already has hit — Kindle and Nook and they didn’t come from publishing houses or New York. The next ones after that aren’t going to either. Meaning time for authors to look at all options for what really does sustain a career, or a life, or your art.

What gets you going and keeps you going?

And what puts food on the table and a roof overhead and a computer, or pencil and paper, in your hands to give you time to keep writing?