BATTLES REPORTS FROM THE FRONT LINES

A Stephen Jay Schwartz Exclusive

Many authors kvetch and scream and cry about the changing world of publishing. They worry about the shrinking market for hardcover and paperback releases, the reduction in the number of publishing deals, the reluctance for publishers to support an author’s desire to deviate from the strict guidelines of their genre, the shrinking size of their advances. Many authors, myself included, seem stuck in a quagmire between old world tradition and new world opportunity.

There are also a number of authors who push forward, paving the way for the rest of us to proceed. They put in the hard, hard work necessary to take control of their careers, freeing themselves from the rules and restrictions placed on authors since the first days of publishing.

Brett Battles is one of these authors. What Brett has been able to accomplish in just a year’s time has given hope to all of us. In my opinion, Brett is one of the leaders of the new age of self-publishing, and he comes to it after a successful (and frustrating) career as a traditionally published author. Brett speaks from experience and he speaks from the heart.

I am honored to reintroduce my good friend and fellow Murderati, Brett Battles…

 

Hello Murderati! Nice to pop back for a visit.

It’s been an interesting year since I was last here. I call it my Wild eBook Adventure, and Steve thought you might like to hear about it and what I’ve learned along the way.

Twelve months ago, I had one simple goal: To continue to be able to write full time.

Looking at the publishing landscape, it was clear that if I was going to accomplish that, it wouldn’t be by the same means I’d used in the past, i.e. via a traditional deal. The dollars were getting smaller, and who knew how long it might take to hook up with a new publisher (assuming I could.) As I saw it, ebooks could provide me the opportunity I was looking for. No, I didn’t think it was guaranteed, but I felt it was well worth the try.

When I left Murderati last June, I had just released my first three self-published titles: LITTLE GIRL GONE, SICK, and HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE. Thankfully, they began selling right away, and I was actually making some decent money. It wasn’t enough to live on though. To do that, I needed to have more titles for sale, and I don’t mean just one or two.

Putting the old nose to the grindstone, I set a schedule that has seen me release six more novels between last June and today (my latest, PALE HORSE, came out over the weekend). Yes, that’s a lot, but it plays directly to what I’ve learned about the ebook world.

And what would that be you ask? Here you go, the top six in no particular order:

Nothing is more important that writing a good book. That sounds obvious, but it needs to be said.

Editing, especially copy editing, is not a step to ever be taken lightly. Pay the money. It’s worth the cost

Covers are incredibly important. A cover should look like it could be on a book out of one of the Big 6. Pay the money. It’s worth the cost.

Your virtual bookshelf is forever. The more (quality) work you get up there, the better you’re going to do. A book in a brick and mortar store is lucky to stay on a shelf for more than a month. In cyberspace, it never goes away, so if someone stumbles upon one of your books, likes it, then wants to buy more, they can do it immediately. AND they do.

Your virtual bookshelf mean your books have the ability to sell month after month after month. My books that have been out over a year still sell at a steady monthly rate.

Experiment: with promo opportunities, with pricing, with covers, with product descriptions. A tweak to a book not selling this month, might help it sell well next.

For the rest of last year, as I worked to build up my virtual shelf, I struggled financially month-to-month. I mean really struggled. The ebook money was coming in at a nice rate, and was even increasing each month, but it was not enough yet to make my monthly nut, so I was using what savings I had to cover the difference. There was one month in the fall that was I down to less than I would need for rent, but the ebook month came in at the end of month and I squeezed by.

But then last November, I actually made more than I needed for the first time. I was numb when I realized this. Maybe, just maybe, this was going to work, and I would be able to keep doing what I loved full time.

December was down just a bit, but not much. Then came 2012.

To say this has been a better year than 2011 would be a massive understatement. I attributed that to a few things. The first and foremost: having more books up that people can purchase. This way no one title has to carry the load. Think of it as a small snowball rolling down the hill that is slowly growing and growing. The father it goes, the more formidable it becomes, taking on a life of its own. Second: changing my novel prices from $2.99 to $3.99. Both are low prices and there has been absolutely no fall off from the increase. Third: giving books away through the Kindle Select Program. This method has become a little more iffy lately, but what basically has happened in the past is that once you put your book in the program (giving Amazon a 90 day exclusive), two important things happen: one, Kindle Prime members can now borrow your book for free while Amazon will pay you an amount that is usually somewhere between $2.15 to 2.50 per book; and two, you can give your book away for free to anyone for up to 5 days during the 90 day period. If you’re able to give away a ton of copies (I’m talking 30 grand or more), and you can get in the top ten or so on the free list, there’s a good chance your book will go pretty high when it goes back on sale.

Sample: BECOMING QUINN. I gave it away for three days in early March, ending up with about 32,000 takers. By the end of the month I had sold over 6,000 copies, for which I make a little more than $2 a copy. You can do the math. Also note that my other titles continued to sell.

March was a very good month for me. As was April. As was May.

I mentioned that the giveaway seems a bit iffy now. In the last month or two, the giving away option isn’t always seeing quite the success on the selling front as it had before. Two exceptions to this are our own Rob Browne’s first self-published title TRIAL JUNKIES, and Ann Voss Peterson’s PUSHED TOO FAR. They’ve both done very well.

Because of this, I’ve decided to try it again. Blatant self promo part here: I’m giving away the Kindle version of my novel SICK, the first of my Project Eden Books, today through Thursday. You can click on this link and download it for free, no strings. I would actually appreciate it if you would. Every free download helps, and—BONUS—you’re going to get a book I think is one of the most suspenseful I’ve ever written.

I’m sure a lot of you are saying “I can’t write six books in a year.”

Don’t worry, we all write at our own pace (a pace that should not sacrifice quality). Just write at the pace you can and see if you can pick it up a bit. Instead of one book a year, try one and half or two.

Others might be saying, “But you already had a following, so you had a leg up. Didn’t you read that article where a majority of self-published authors aren’t even making $500 a year?”

Let’s talk about a following first. Yes, I do believe mine has helped, but I also know I have gained a ton of new readers I never had before who knew nothing about me. Also there are plenty of examples of authors who had no following and are now doing well. And I did see that article, and it didn’t surprise me. It depends on the genre someone’s writing (thrillers and romances do better than a lot of other areas), the quality of the work (refer back to the what I’ve learned list above), and how many titles they have available (same note).

“What about luck?”

Yeah, there’s probably some involved. But I believe we make our own luck. You’ve got to keep plugging away even if it’s not working right now, because I can guarantee one thing, if you don’t work hard at it (or whatever it is you want to do) you WILL fail.

Me, I’m still plugging away. Yes, I’ve had a few very good months, but I can’t just sit back and expect that to happen all the time. I need to continue to expand my virtual bookshelf. To that end, I’m in the middle of a personal three year plan where I’m trying to release at least four books a year. At some point in 2013 I’ll assess where I’m at and see if that pace needs to continue, but, no matter what, I still plan on putting out at least two or three a year for the rest of my life.

It’s kind of weird to just discuss this in financial terms, because I’m not doing it just for the money. I’d write whether I was getting paid or not. I can’t not write. Of all my (limited) skills, writing is what I do best. I’m not trying to claim I’m the best writer, just that when measuring my strengths, it’s at the top.

Okay, here are a few things I love about self-publishing in the new e-reality:

Writing what I want to write. No one is telling me my idea won’t sell, or isn’t big enough, or anything like that. If I want to write a story that I know will have a limited audience? So what? I will. If I want to write a book in a different genre? Same answer.

 – A series never has to end until the AUTHOR wants it to.  In the past my popular Quinn series would prbably have died after I parted ways with my old publisher.  Now I can continue writing it as long as I want.  Case in point:  I’ve released BECOMING QUINN and just this last spring THE DESTROYED myself.

The ability to release a book as soon as it’s ready. My books usually come out a day or two after the copy edit is done, and within a few months of when I actually started writing it in the first place. I love that.

The ability to release as many books as I want in a given year. The only limitation is my own abilities.

Controlling all the creative aspects of my book. Cover, editing, formatting, print versions, I either hire the people to help me or do the items I’m capable of myself (specifically formatting for ebook and print).

Getting paid every month. Amazon and Barnes & Noble pay every month with a two month delay, meaning at the end of June I’ll receive the money I made in April, end of July the money from May, and so on.

Here’s the bottom line. I am the small business owner of a small creative business. I work everyday like all small business owners—even on weekends and vacations. But, my God, I’m writing. Nothing else makes me as happy.

Let me be clear. I don’t think everyone will be able to write full time, but I think this new world means that there will be more of us who can. And even those who aren’t able to achieve full-time status, a writer who puts out a good book or two a year could still make a nice extra income. Will some succeed and others fail? Yes. But, let’s be honest, that’s the same in traditional publishing.

eRead on everyone! And don’t forget to download SICK, it’s free! Who doesn’t like free?

 

36 thoughts on “BATTLES REPORTS FROM THE FRONT LINES

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Brett, THANK YOU for being here and being so detailed and specific about your journey. You are an inspiration to so many of us (and a doll besides that!).

    I think of you every time I have a panic attack about releasing my new one direct to e, which I haven't tried yet, but I put Book of Shadows (a backlist title) up in the US last week through Select and had 27,000 downloads, and have been in the top 10 in two genres and selling over 100 books a day of that one, and 100 borrows a day ever since, and going UP in the lists rather than down, post-giveaway.

    I have a couple of questions. Does a title have to be enrolled in Select to be available in the Kindle library? It's a weird thing, because I have a couple of titles that are NOT currently in Select that seem to be being borrowed, but one title that is selling really well but getting no borrows at all, which I've never had in Select. Can't figure out what's going on.

    Also – do you have any books up for Nook, or are they all Amazon exclusives? Because it seems to me the borrows on Amazon are MUCH better than sales are ever going to be on Nook – unfortunately!

  2. Brett Battles

    Hi Alex….It think technically borrows can only happen when a book is enrolled in the Select Program. I do think sometimes there are "glitches in the matrix." Perhaps that's what you're experiencing. You might want to contact Amazon directly for an explanation.

    I do still have titles up for Nook. So far, I only leave books in the Select program for 90 days, as they tend to find an even level near the end of the period, and I want to make sure Nook readers have a chance to purchase also. While I do have great borrows on Amazon in the Select Program, I actually sell at least at a comparable level on Nook during an average month (no the same when it's closer to one of my giveaways, of course.)

  3. Mark Terry

    Congrats. I agree with you on every point, actually. I'm not making enough money from my ebooks to make a living off them – yet. I'm a freelance writer, so writing is my day job anyway, but this year marks the first time where I can honestly look at my royalties and say, "Hmmm, well, we're 10 to 20% of my income and rising."

    Some of that has been the free book thing (I sort of expect that to eventually fade because you get like me, you have a ton of free books you downloaded, but never got around to reading), some of it has just been getting the number of books out there to increase, and some of it is just a gradual build.

    Kristine Kathryn Rusch commented on her blog recently about how 5 books a month for a title isn't much, but leverage it over 120 months and it starts to seem like something, especially if you continue to bring out other titles.

  4. billie hinton

    Thanks for this update, Brett. I have 5 titles up on Amazon and have also experienced a slow but steady uptick in sales. I think as I get more books published it will get even better, but I can't write much faster than I'm writing so my journey may take a bit longer.

    I absolutely LOVE the freedom this offers for all the reasons you listed.

    The one thing I need to do more of is experiment – I've done a little and had great results. It's actually kind of refreshing that there seem to be no hard and fast rules here – lots to explore and try. And yes, I'm writing and earning – no complaints at all from me on that count. 🙂

    Will head over and get your download right now.

  5. Jamie Freveletti

    Hi Brett! Very nice post and glad to hear you're doing so well. It certainly sounds like product in the marketplace is the key, and I like your personal three year plan. I'm a planner myself, so it was great to read another writer who does that. Will you be updating this post when some time has passed? Would love to see a follow up. Thank you!

  6. Brett Battles

    Thanks, Mark. Definitely all a build.

    Exactly, Billie. The freedom is awesome! And thanks for picking up SICK!

    Hi, Jamie! Will definitely update in the future.

  7. JD Rhoades

    I finally took the plunge and enrolled all of mine in Kindle Select. I know some Nook, Kobo, or Sony users are going to gripe, but when every title's selling in the high triple or even quadruple figures on Kindle and the total on Nook never gets above 20, it's an easier choice. And don't even talk to me about Smashwords.

    So far, I've had one HOLY SHIT I'M RICH month, followed by two "well, not as good as that, but still WOW" months. Not quite steady enough to quit the day job yet, but we're getting there. I do love being able to write what I want, particularly when it comes to genre. I had a blast writing the "vampire space opera revenge epic", but my agent was so negative about the prospects of ANY "new" SF author getting a contract, I went indie with it, and I'm loving watching the book's sales ramp up, albeit slowly. I also like being able to do shorter works, like novellas. Brett, how have you done with those? And how do you price them?

  8. Amy

    Brett, great post. Thanks so much for sharing your lessons learned and congratulations on all of your success! It is well deserved, and may it continue!

    A million southern bible-thumpin' 'Amens' and 'Hallelujahs' to your comment about investing in a good copy editor. Can you please recommend a good copy editor? Or tips on how to find one? I think this is the biggest struggle of self-pubbing authors today. Most of us realize by now that we need good covers, and we need good editing. The covers are the easy part. One look at an artist's portfolio of work, and you'll know if it's up to par. With editors, how do you know? English/creative writing degrees, dozens of years of experience and good samples don't always add up to editing skills. What else do you look for to measure ability?

  9. Brett Battles

    I've done well with shorter stuff, Dusty, but don't have that much up there. I have three short stories that have been up for over a year now. I price them at .99¢. Combined today, I have sold just over 17,500 copies of them, and have made just shy of $6,000. And they keep selling. They're a nice little extra. Would love to do more, but have been concentrating on novels. My shorts novel is BECOMING QUINN, which I've left at 2.99, and it's, as mentioned above, been doing fantastic.

  10. Brett Battles

    I have a great copy editor! She also does story editing, too. Her name is Elyse, and here's the link to her website: http://theeditninja.com/ . I won't release a book without her going through it first. Experience and recommendations a ret he best way to find a copy editor in my opinion.

  11. Boyd Morrison

    Congrats, Brett! I'm so happy it's working out for you. I'll be going back to the self-publishing thing this summer and was wondering about pricing. Why do you think $3.99 is the sweet spot for a novel versus $4.99 or $2.99?

  12. Brett Battles

    I'm not sure if $3.99 is the sweet spot or not. I do believe that $2.99 is okay, but could undervalue the work. I'll probably be experimenting with $4.99 in the future, but for now 3.99 seems a nice comfortable place. No fall off in sales, and not super cheap in a way that might be perceived as an item of questionable quality. (that's not saying books priced less ARE of questionable quality. In fact, I still have two titles at 2.99). In my mind, .99 should only be used for short stories are novellas of say 30k words or less. I know a lot of first timers go out there a .99 to gain an audience, and that may work, but I also think readers have come to realize that novels priced at .99 can be very hit or miss. Again, these are just my thought, your mileage may vary.

  13. Lance C.

    Congratulations on your success.

    How do you market your books beyond Kindle Select? What venues or outlets do you find to be especially effective or ineffective? Do you pay for advertising?

    How do you get reviews? Do you think it's easier for you to get reviews because you've been traditionally published in the past?

    How did you find your editor and cover designer?

    Of those six novels you released in the past year, how many were backlist? If none, how the &@%#^ did you manage that?

    Thanks for the info.

  14. Elaine Raco Chase

    Loved all the advice and forwarded it to my college students. KDPrime worked well for me – in one day made #1 contemporary romance for Rules of the Game…all other books saw a jump…am going to put next book: Caught in a Trap up on KDPrime as well.

    I do see very nice sales as well on Itunes via Smashwords, although they have been taking a longer time to post books there. KOBO at the end of June will allow author's to sell direct.

    Don't forget there's xinxii for foreign sales as well…but that is slow.
    BTW – Brett will be joining me on The Author's Corner..this Thursday nite 6/21 – 8PM EDT over at http://www.trianglevarietyradio.com – great promotion site and I'm always looking for authors: elaineracochase@gmail.com

  15. Brett Battles

    Hi Lance,

    Most of my promotion is just me on the web…facebook, twitter, etc. When I run a free promo, like now, I'll lest several blogs that highlight free books know about it. There one, Kindle Nation, that I'll actually pay to have my book listed, but that's it. Don't spend any other direct money on promo.

    As for reviews, I rely now more on customer reviews at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with the occasional more traditional, web-based review. I'll often offer to give say 50 free copies away around the time I release a book in exchange for a review, good or bad. That works pretty well.

    Editor was someone I'd known for a while, so that worked out well. My cover designers are Jeroen ten Berge and Robert Browne. Rob does it for me because I'm a friend, but doesn't have a business for. Jeroen I found because I loved the covers Blake Crouch was using and asked. He introduced me to Jeroen and the rest is history.

    Those six books…none were back list, though one was written about five years ago, and the other just the year before. That said, I DID do extensive rewrites on both books last year in addition to writing the other four. This year I've already written and released two books, and am half way done with a third (a new Quinn novel) which should be out sometime in September. Planning on writing one more that will be released by Thanksgiving (Project Eden #4), and have a good start on a fifth book that probably won't be released in until 2013, or never depending on the Mayan apocalypse.

  16. Tom

    Fabulous news, Brett. It's wonderful to see good things happening to such a fine writer. The stories just get better and better.

    I'll be referring members of my old crit group to today's blog.

    The copy editor I know best is Dr. Anne Mini. The link for personal consultations is on the right side of the web page:

    http://www.annemini.com/

  17. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    It's so great to see such vibrant, positive feedback to your blog, Brett! You've got a message, and it's having an impact!

  18. Sarah W

    I'm still a bit nervous about ePublishing, but you and Alex are slowly settling my fears.

    Your explanation makes it clear that this isn't 'the lazy way out' and it's not 'too good to be true.' It's a valid option. Knowing that ePublishing takes as much-if not more–hard work, systematic planning, and dedication as traditional publishing is actually a comfort.

    Thank you.

  19. Brett Battles

    JD, they are a bit shorter, but I was actually already moving in that direction with my traditionally published books. My first Quinn book was about 100k. My latest book at Bantam, a standalone called NO RETURN, was closer to 85K. My ebook originals tend to be around 80 to 85K…a few longer, a few shorter.

  20. David Corbett

    Brett:

    I think you've proven that either Squarespace figured out how to solve our comment problem or the comment problem was we weren't writing about something that got readers as energized as this. Thanks so much for being so generous, specific and thorough — and, as others have noted, so positive. Best of luck.

  21. KDJames

    Sigh. I want to be you when I grow up.

    Love this post, Brett, and you know I love your writing. SICK was the first book of yours I ever read (though certainly not the last) and I stand by what I said in my review of it: one of the best thrillers ever.

    [Can we still post links over here? Here is my review, in case anyone is interested:
    http://kdjames.com/2011/04/22/sick-by-brett-battles-a-book-review/ ]

    Actually, now that I think about it, I read an unedited ARC and, as you warned it would be, it was full of typos (so I can attest to the skills of your editor) and normally that kind of thing drives me absolutely batshit crazy, but after the first page or two I was so absorbed in the story, I just didn't care.

    The second book EXIT 9 was just as good and I bought the third one the other day, but can't read it until I finish this novella I'm writing. Close to being done, so soon…

    Your energy and optimism are an inspiration and I'm just absolutely thrilled to hear you're seeing some financial success to go along with the creative output.

  22. Lisa Alber

    Coming to this discussion a little late. Thank you so much! Man, I would like some tips about how to write faster! I know we all write at different paces, but surely there are things we can do to speed up to the next level, whatever that may be. What are your secrets?

    Also, you mentioned in passing that you also provide books in print form. How do you sell those? What percentage of your book sales come from print sales? Do you sell them mostly through Amazon also? Is there really a need to have print books? Do you find they're mostly useful to have around for giveaway/self-promotional purposes? Print on demand or do you always keep a small inventory around?

  23. Brett Battles

    Lisa…I don't know if there are any secrets to the pace I keep. One thing I do is set a daily and weekly goal. The main of the two is the weekly, meaning if I don't make my daily one day, I need to pick it up on another and make sure to hit that weekly goal. Do I always make it? Not every week, but most. I also don't let myself dwell too long on any one bit or scene. If something is hanging me up, I'll mark it as something to come back to later, and move on. Usually when I come back later, my subconscious has already worked out a solution.

    Printed books…mine are only sold online. I use Createspace.com (an Amazon company). The books are print on demand trade paperbacks that look great! You can find them online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and at Createspace. Is there a need? Well, I don't make very much per month on my print books (a couple hundred bucks or so), but there are those people who only want print, so I do it for them. It's kind of break even for me. Pricing…all mine are priced $13.95 which gives me a decent return but is consistent with the marketplace.

  24. PD Martin

    Inspiring! I'm very late to the party but thanks for a great post.

    I'm planning to blog about ebook price points tomorrow, actually. Although mine will be from a less ebook mature viewpoint 🙂

    I've just downloaded Sick. And for the Quinn novels, would you recommend starting with Becoming Quinn or The Cleaner (even though the latter is NOT one of your self-published ebooks)?

    Phillipa

  25. Brett Battles

    Phillipa, look forward to reading your post. On Quinn, you can actually start with either. BECOMING QUINN is a great introduction to the character, but I think it also works after you've read some of the novels as a kind of look back, ah-ha novel where you can see how some of the dots connect. In other words, either way is fine.

  26. Diane Capri

    Brett, thanks for this post. As I said on FB, I want to be you! At least, I've done one thing right — Jeroen ten Berge designs my covers, too. And his design for Fatal Distraction won the e-book cover award for May. So I feel very blessed there. Otherwise, you're way ahead of me in every respect and I'm totally jealous (and not kidding). Maybe I could just change my name to Brett Battles? Congratulations, my friend. You're a fine writer and your success is well deserved. Couldn't be happier for you!

    Best,
    Diane

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