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While we'd all love to have publishing houses courting us for reprint rights, the harsh truth is that collections don't sell well and publishers are understandably reluctant to take a financial risk on authors without a strong reputation. That's unfortunate because a collection is an excellent way to build name recognition prior to releasing a novel.

For authors who've decided to take advantage of the e-revolution and go it alone, I'd like to share a few thoughts.

(1) Some people recommend opening a collection with your strongest story. This may seem like good advice, but I recommend against it. Think about it: do you want readers to buy your book on the strength of the sample and then feel let down by what comes afterward? Or would you rather risk losing a few purchases in exchange for customers who are satisfied with what they got and hungry for more?

My advice: select an opening story with a good hook, but save the best few stories for the end.

(2) Most authors name their collections after one of the stories it contains. So did I. Twice. And I will never, ever, ever do it again.

Naming a collection after a story is problematic on multiple levels. Firstly, it creates confusion as to whether a title on Amazon or Barnes & Noble refers to the short story or the collection. If you're considering releasing the stories as standalones in addition to the collection, this could cause serious problems with Amazon's price-matching algorithms. Let's say you have a collection priced at $6.97 on Amazon, and a short story by the same name on sale elsewhere for $0.99. If Amazon's algorithms mistake the short story for the collection, you might well wake up to find that Amazon has put your collection on sale for $0.99, too.

Secondly -- and in my opinion, more problematically -- a book's title and accompanying cover image are two of your best marketing tools. You want them to capture the feel of the collection as a whole; basing them on a specific story is only effective if that story embodies the spirit of the entire book.

Which brings us to my third point.

(3) In my experience, collections and anthologies tend to sell better if they have a sense of identity. By which I mean, the book should feel like it's about something rather than simply being a hodge-podge of stories by a given author. I learned this lesson too late to apply it to Dead Men Don't Cry and The Breath of Heaven, and am grateful that they sold decently despite this lack. It's not a mistake I intend to repeat.

New Editing Rates

Since being booked four months in advance and then turning away clients because I'm unwilling to be booked out even farther in advance is starting to drive me batty, I am applying the classic laws of supply and demand. In other words: I'm raising my prices.

Hopefully, this will result in a lower workload, more capacity to take on projects at short notice, and more time to spend with my family. Plus, I'd like to spend some time, you know, actually writing and stuff.

My new rates are as follows:

Developmental Edit -- $100 per 10,000 words
I'll read the entire novel, making notes to myself along the way. I'll then provide my client with several pages of analysis regarding the book's strengths and weaknesses, including suggestions for improvement. I work on the assumption that the author is still open to major revisions, so I may recommend significant changes to the plot, characters, or setting.

Continuity Edit -- $200 per 10,000 words
During a continuity edit I read the entire novel, using MS Word's Track Changes feature to make notes in the margin. I'll watch for continuity errors, plot holes, ambiguous phrasings, suspension-of-disbelief issues, and pacing problems. I may suggest individual word changes if I spot an obvious fix, but my focus will be on "big picture" stuff.

Line Edit -- $300 per 10,000 words
Some people call this a copy-edit. A line-edit includes everything I do when continuity editing (see above). In addition, I'll go over the manuscript line by line and suggest word changes, alternate sentence structures, insertions and omissions designed to streamline the text and make it an effortless read. I use MS Word's Track Changes and will generally make several changes per page.

I don't offer proofreading or fact-checking services, although I will mark grammar, spelling, and factual errors if I happen to spot them.

Payment, unless otherwise agreed upon, is half in advance and half on completion, via PayPal.


Continuing Clients
Price changes do not apply to edits that have already been scheduled or to ongoing projects like series consultations. Hourly editing rates will continue to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

New Clients
I am currently accepting clients by referral only. Loosely stated, that means you need to get someone I know and trust to introduce you to me. I know that sounds unfair, but I simply don't have the capacity to manage a slush pile at the moment. Sorry... :(

Oh yeah, one more thing: I'm a fairly conservative reader. I prefer not to work on manuscripts that would be rated PG-13 or higher in a theater. If your book has strong language or mature relationships, I might not be the right person to edit it.
This is the last book I'll be self-publishing for a while. The process is incredibly fun, but it does take up a lot of time. I need to move forward with other projects.

This Halloween collection brings together five stories of ghosts, witches, vanishing chocolate, and haunted pumpkins. It includes my Codex Halloween Contest winner "The Scream" and my Apex Digest Halloween Contest winner "Ghost Chimes". I think "Like Rain From Silver Skies" may have been written for a Codex Halloween Contest, too, although at this point I can't remember.

Two of the stories are humorous. Two are thought-provoking. And one of them might keep you up at night.

Happy Halloween!

(By the way, the cover art for this book and for In the Halls of the Sky-Palace were done by Kiki Tayler, an extremely talented young artist whose abilities are increasing at an alarming rate. I'm very grateful that she let me use her artwork.)

And the Kindle Kraziness Continues

(I swear, this doesn't count as a platypus post. It's what's on my mind, and I won't be able to get any work done until I write it down somewhere. Fair LJ usage, says I...)

So Blue Ink and Hexes and Tooth Decay went free on kindle a few weeks ago. After hearing all the hype about free stories driving sales, I watched carefully for trends in the sales of my other work. Guess what? Nada. I sold, um... I think about 4 kindle books while the freebies were running, and I'm pretty sure all of those came from other sources. So I was about to write the freebie thing off as a nice ego bump (because, hey, 2000 downloads in a day ain't bad) and focus my attention elsewhere.

But.

Then they came off the freebie wagon... and kept getting downloaded. I thought at first it was a glitch in the record-keeping, that the books were still listed as free on some of the Amazon mirrors or something. But last week I got my royalty report and, yup -- at least some of those numbers were genuine sales. If my KDP report can be believed, two short stories that were averaging 3 sales per month are now selling 2-3 copies per day.

As near as I can figure, Amazon has utilized data from all those freebie downloads to link the stories to similar works, and interested buyers are now seeing the links and following them.

Still not getting rich off of this, but highly intrigued. Making money off of other people's impulse buys? What a potentially disturbing thought.

Project Platypus

Ok folks, it's like this. Ever since I started indie publishing, I've felt incredible pressure to be visible online. Because that's how you sell stuff: by being nicely, unobnoxiously present at conventions, water coolers, and other social gatherings.

Except -- I've moved so far into self-promotion territory that I cannot make a post on any forum, anywhere, without evaluating whether I think it's a good promotional strategy. I cannot read a review without instantly wanting to tweet, facebook, and blog it. My brain has latched onto the idea of self-promotion like a wolf with a tasty bone in its jaws.

And I don't like it.

I keep telling my brain, "It's time to stop promoting. The book's sold more than you originally expected. Be happy, already."

To which my brain replies: "Promote! Promote! You've gotta promote! Send more review copies! Visit more forums! Launch this book to stardom!"

Okay, now. That's just crazy talk. No one ever got rich off of a self-published collection of early writing, and I've no delusions that I'll be the first.

Self-promotion has become a time-sink. I don't want to be the author who brings out one book and spends the rest of her life trying to sell it. I want to be the author who writes novel after novel, catapulting readers into unexpectedly breathtaking worlds and making them wish they could have my protagonist as their best friend.

So.

I am taking a vow of promotional abstinence.

Until the end of September, I am not allowed to link to my own stuff anywhere online. Not even to tweet my latest blog entry. I am also not allowed to visit online forums simply because I feel I ought to make an appearance. If I come, I am coming to interact, not to promote. I have removed all links from my forum signatures to reinforce this notion to my recalcitrant brain. For the duration of this experiment, I shall avoid even the appearance of self-promotion.

Here's how you can help.

If you spot me spending too much time online or -- heaven forbid -- venturing into promotional territory, I'd like you to work the code word platypus* into the conversation. This is a polite way of letting me know I screwed up.

For example, if I post about a new short story sale, you might reply with: "Is that the story with the platypus in it?" or "That's nice. By the way, the platypus population has really been skyrocketing this year."

The idea is that if I stop promoting cold turkey -- er... cold platypus -- I might be able to shake my brain out of self-promotional overdrive and return next month with a healthier, more moderate relationship to internet marketing.

I expect you'll be seeing a lot less of me online for the next few weeks.

*Why platypus? Because I think it's a funny word. Also because it doesn't arise very often in casual conversation.

5 Ways to Support an Indie Author*

*We are assuming, of course, that you actually like said author's stuff and feel, well, rather fannish about it and would like very much to see him or her make the New York Times Bestseller List. Don't try the following steps if you aren't in love with the fiction. At worst, it's unethical; at best, it will leave you feeling vaguely dissatisfied and probably won't help the author all that much anyway.

1. Send fan mail.
Nothing motivates a writer to keep going quite so much as knowing that someone out there is waiting for the next book. If you've read something that changed your life, broadened your perspectives, or gave you a good laugh, take time to say thank you.

Seriously. Authors pour their blood, sweat and tears into their writing. Fan mail refills the reservoirs.

2. Signal Boost when appropriate.
Did your favorite author just win a big award? Do an interview? Write a particularly insightful blog post? If something made you smile or think, wow, cool, then take time to blog about it or share the link or even just call your family over to the computer screen to take a look.

(Do NOT slavishly retweet every banal comment your favorite author makes on twitter. That is called spam, and nobody likes it.)

3. Review their stuff.
Indie authors love reviews.

Most online retailers allow customers to write reviews about their purchases. You can also review on GoodReads or on your personal blog. The biggest enemy of an indie author is obscurity, so if you can help your favorite author's work stand out from the crowd, you'll be doing him or her a big favor.

When writing reviews, don't just say, "This was awesome!" or "This sucked!" (even if it's true). Take time to write several well-thought-out paragraphs. Say what you liked and what you didn't like. The more honest and specific you are in your reviews, the more useful they will be to potential buyers.

4. Recommend your favorite author when your friends get an e-reader.
It's an amazing phenomenon. The instant someone acquires e-reader -- a kindle, a nook, an ipod, whatever -- he or she begins craving books for that device. The trouble is, e-books by big name authors cost a lot of money. Almost as much as a hard cover edition. Ouch!

So help your friends out: Recommend your favorite indie author. Indie books are cheap -- between 99 cents and 5 dollars per book, generally -- and while some indie books do have editing problems, the ones you recommend to your friends won't. So your friends get cheap books, your favorite authors get new readers, and you get the satisfying knowledge that you've made the world a better place.

Cool, huh?

5. Time your Purchases Strategically.
Ok, well, since we assume you're already a fan of this author, you probably own most of their backlist. What about new books? Is there a way to make your purchase more helpful?

As it turns out, there is. Big online retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble use sales data to decide which books get displayed to customers who are browsing. They track books that have sold a lot of copies in the past few days and display the books with the best running tally in their "customers who bought this book also bought..." links. The closer together a book's sales are, the higher it jumps in the rankings, and the more likely it is to get attention from new readers.

So: Time your purchases so that you buy when the book is on the upswing. Release day is a good bet. So are days when the book was featured on a really good review site, or when it's getting 'buzz' in online conversations. Buy when other people are buying, and your purchase may help your favorite author jump into the "top 100" rankings.

Self-Promotion for the Internet Mom

Traditionally, science fiction and fantasy authors have sold books by going to conventions, holding signings at bookstores, and generally meeting people face to face. This allowed fans of a book to meet the author, and allowed authors to win new fans purely on the strength of their personalities.

It's a great system. And it so completely totally doesn't work for me, because I've got three small kids at home and our family priorities don't leave room for signing tours or massive convention schedules.

Fortunately, I have the internet.

Seriously, for writing Moms, the internet is the best thing since sliced bread. It lets us get out and meet people without having to hunt for a babysitter. It lets us promote our books without feeling that we've abandoned our children.

How does one leverage the internet most effectively? It's tough to give a definitive answer because every book and author is so different. But in the end, I believe that promotion is about connecting with people, one-on-one. Technology may have moved forward, but promotion is still very much about hand-selling.

Here are a couple of promotional strategies that work well for me:

Blogging
My blog doesn't have a huge ton of followers, but every once in a while I'll make a post that resonates -- like the Kindle Starter Kit -- and it will drive a ton of traffic.

Interviews
I love interviews. It's a chance to attach a personality to the book, and a fun way to v-meet new people at the same time. On the entire internet, I think interviews are the closest approximation to discussion panels at conventions.

Discussion Forums
I don't have any stats on this, but I'm of the opinion that if you can integrate into a community and engage in interesting conversations there, it's an excellent promotional tool. The trick is to actually talk to people -- you know, have conversations -- rather than drive-by posting in an attempt to look like you're part of the community when you really aren't.

Review Copies
So far, reviewers have responded very positively to my stuff. I've seen a jump in sales every time a review went live.

Freebies
I've heard a number of people report that having one book free on kindle was an effective way to drive sales of other books. I've gotten positive reviews off of freebies distributed via Smashwords. Hopefully, that equates to happy readers who will remember my name and pick my stuff up off of shelves in years to come, but of course it's hard to tell.

Riding the Worry-Go-Round

You know, it's funny. Nine years ago when I first got serious about my writing, I sent short stories off to magazines and wondered, "Will anybody print this?"

Someone did.

When I put together an ebook collection of my published work, I wondered: "Will anybody buy this?"

People did.

And now that Dead Men Don't Cry has earned out the financial investment for cover art, I keep wondering, "Will anybody like it enough to come back for more?"

I have this dreadful fear that when I release the second collection, nobody will buy it because they didn't really like the first one.

And if they buy it after all, I guess I'm going to have to find something else to worry about.

Holy Magic Algorithms, Batman!

To everyone who bought a copy of Dead Men Don't Cry yesterday, thank you. The book just jumped from 93,000 to 32,000 on Amazon's Bestseller Ranking and hit the top 100 in Science Fiction Short Stories.

All of this came from just a handful of sales, so if you were one of the purchasers, please know that you've played a significant role in improving my day. :)

Dead Men Jumps Sales
When I made my first halting steps into kindle publishing, I was fortunate enough to stumble headlong into Maria Schneider, author of Catch an Honest Thief. She's been treading the independent waters for years, and taught me pretty much everything I know about indie publishing. Thank you, Maria!

Today, I'll focus on kindle publishing, but the principles apply equally well to Nook, Smashwords, PubIt, and other distribution systems.

LESSON #1: Content Comes First
This ought to be a no-brainer, but I'm going to spell it out anyway. Don't assume that just because kindle publishing has no gatekeepers, you can skip important steps like revision, peer critiques, proofreading, and so forth. Take your time and write a manuscript that's every bit as worthy of New York publishing as the ones you were actually sending out to agents.

When the manuscript's finished, watch out for formatting errors in ebook versions. It's not uncommon for blank lines, wonky characters, or unusual spacing to slip in during the conversion process. For heaven's sake, look at the book once or twice on an actual e-reader. Don't just assume your conversion software did a good job.

LESSON #2: Covers Matter
Your book's cover is probably your single biggest selling point. It's visual, it's immediate, and often it will be the biggest reason why potential readers visit (or fail to visit) your Amazon page.

You need an effective, marketable cover, something pretty that you can flash around on the internet. That doesn't mean that you should shell out money to a cover designer if you can't afford it. Here are a couple of effective principles for do-it-yourself covers.

Legibility. Customers should be able to read the book's title. Yes, even in thumbnail versions of the image. Watch out for small or unusually elaborate fonts. Don't place text in the middle of a high-contrast picture; it will become difficult to read. Instead add a solid-color band behind the text or move it to a more homogeneous region of the image.

Product Placement. Customers will use your cover art to determine (a) what the book is about and (b) the book's overall tone. If your cover doesn't accurately reflect the book, you'll lose most of your potential customers. The people who would have loved the book will never see it because they didn't bother to click the cover image. The people who clicked on the cover image won't buy it because it's not what they expected to find on the other end of that click.

Keep your cover true to the book. Don't select a dramatic, gruesome cover image for an upbeat chick-lit novel. No, not even if the scene actually occurs in the book. Similarly, don't use bright, cheerful colors on the cover of a novel that deals with weighty issues like depression, psychosis, or guilt.

Stock Photography A lot of authors don't know it, but there are hundreds of thousands of images on the internet available for commercial use at very reasonable rates. Stock photography is your friend. Spend a few minutes poking around Shutterstock, istockphoto, or Dreamstime to see what's available in your price range. There are also public domain image repositories, although the quality of the artwork is generally inferior.

LESSON #3: Reviews Are Also Important
Ever visited a product on Amazon that had no customer reviews? It screams "newbie", doesn't it? It screams "bad product". It says things you don't want any Amazon page saying about your work.

Yes, customers pay attention to reviews. Yes, a good rating will help sell your book. And yes, reviews are notoriously hard to get.

Sure, you can ask your mother to post a review. But if she's never reviewed anything else on Amazon her review isn't likely to get much attention from serious online customers. They're savvy. They know how easy it is to plant a review, and they know how to check on a reviewer's history. In fact, a stream of five star, "This is the awesomest book EVER!!!" reviews might even turn customers off.

While we all hunger for positive reviews, what we need most are HONEST reviews. Reviews written by real reviewers, people who will provide customers with useful information about the book.

How do you get them? Send your work to review sites, of course. There are listings of review venues that accept indie publications here and here. Be sure to read each site's guidelines and resist the tempation to media blast every email address you find.

Not only will review sites drive traffic to your book, but many of them will post their reviews to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and GoodReads. And they review a LOT of books, which makes their reviews more credible.

The downside to this process? Most reviewers are dreadfully backlogged. Expect 3-6 months to pass before reviews start coming in. Some reviewers are booked out more than a year in advance. For this reason, some indie authors have begun sending ARCs to reviewers well in advance of the book's release date.

If you need to get reviews up faster, try offering free copies of the book in exchange for an honest, thoughtful review at an online retailer. Also, once you've set up your Amazon Author Central page, you'll be authorized to place editorial reviews in the book's information page.

One more note: I spent two weeks trying to figure out how to send out free kindle review copies. It turns out, there's no way to do this via Amazon. You can gift a kindle book to a friend, but you have to pay for it with your own money. Kind of silly, huh?

Fortunately, there are other ways to get review copies. I've heard good things about the Calibre software package. Also, if you upload your book to Smashwords you'll have access to file formats compatible with kindle, nook, and onscreen PC reading. Smashwords also lets you create discount coupons that you can give to friends and reviewers.

LESSON #4: The Blurb is Important, Too
Seriously. You've got like, twenty seconds to hook a customer's attention or it's --click -- off to the next product. The marketing description displayed next to your book cover at Amazon and other online retailers may be short, but it's critically important.

Ask other writers to critique your blurb the same way you'd ask them to critique the story. Let them tell you what catches their interest and what doesn't. Listen to what they say. Consider adding a catchy tagline at the top of the blurb to attract interest.

LESSON #5: Appropriate Reverence for the Almighty Algorithm
This is perhaps the single least understood thing about independent publishing. Amazon has spent -- I don't know how much -- probably hundreds of thousands of dollars fine-tuning a product matching system that puts books in front of the eyes of readers who bought similar books. You can see this in action on virtually any Amazon product page. Down beneath the product description is a field labeled "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought".

This "Customers Who Bought" algorithm is priceless. If you have a good cover, a good blurb, good reviews and enough sales to give Amazon statistically reliable data, the algorithm will put your book in front of the eyes of thousands of readers who are already predisposed to like it.

I have heard successful kindle authors say things like: "I didn't do it. The algorithms picked me up, and the book just took off."

Is this going to happen for everyone? Heck, no. But those product matching algorithms are a distribution channel worth fighting for. I know authors who are selling in excess of 500 books a month on kindle purely on the strength of those algorithms.

According to Maria (and this corroborates with my experience selling Dead Men Don't Cry), Amazon's "People who Viewed..." feature starts appearing at around 10 sales, and the "People who Bought..." feature starts appearing at around twenty sales. Also, Amazon can't match your book up effectively unless it knows what kind of book it is. In Kindle Direct, be sure to set up accurate categories and tags for your book. Also add tags as a customer, and encourage your fans to do so, as well.

From what I've heard, sales tend to start small and build slowly. It's not uncommon to spend 3-6 months inching along at five sales per month before the algorithm data reaches critical mass. Also, if you don't promote, sales won't build at all. You have to prime the pump.

LESSON #6: Pricing is Powerful
What price do you think is appropriate for a 211-page ebook? $7.99? $4.95?

Got an answer? All right, do me a favor: click through this link and look at the pricing. (UK readers, use this one.) I'll wait.

Took a lot of you by surprise, didn't it? In fact, at that price, you were almost tempted to buy it. There's a rabid impulse buyer in the back of your brain whispering "Why not?"

That purchasing urge gets stronger the lower the price goes. Get down into the $0.99 range, and you are in Happy Impulse Purchase Land. People won't think twice about buying; if the book looks remotely interesting, they're likely to just toss it in the shopping cart.

Here's something I didn't know a month ago: The kindle market is not primarily populated by early adopters and techno-geeks. The Cheap Book Crowd -- the customers who never even made it onto most publishers' radar because they go to libraries and shop in used book stores -- has fallen in love with kindle. Buyers have been known to spend up to $200 per month on $0.99 books.

Price matters.

I'm not sure what the optimal price for any given book is. Romance -- especially YA romance -- seems to do extremely well in the $0.99 range. More academic books may need a higher price to maintain their image and credibility. Also, that 70% Amazon royalty ratio is awfully tempting and it doesn't kick in until the price reaches at least $2.99. My point isn't to advocate any particular pricing strategy, but to make it clear that your price WILL affect your sales rate. Sometimes drastically.

For a fascinating example of the power of price, see Victorine Lieske's guest post on J.A. Konrath's blog.

A strategy I've seen commonly applied -- to extremely good effect -- is to price the first book in a series at $0.99 and the others somewhat higher. Buyers are more likely to take a chance on an unknown author if the financial risk is minimal. Once you've established their trust, they're sometimes willing to pay more.

LESSON #7: Don't Mislead the Reader
If your book is a short story, for heaven sakes, label it clearly! No one likes buying a "novel" only to discover it's 4000 words long. Include a page count / word count in your product description. If your book is an anthology or collection, clearly state how many stories it includes.

LESSON #8: You Guessed It -- Promotion
Books do not sell themselves. Amazon will sometimes sell your books for you, but only if you've first collected a decent sales history.

Don't be afraid to promote, and take care to concentrate your promotional efforts online, where the ebook readers are. If you link to your books from your web site, use the format name (Nook, Kindle, etc.) rather than outlet names like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. (My experience is that the general public knows what kind of reader it has, and doesn't much care which retailer they buy from.)

Also, be sure to include hotlinks at the back of each book. If you have five or six books on the market, and each one links to two or three others, they can become an effective sales-driving force for each other.

Many people recommend being active on the Kindle Boards and other discussion forums as a form of promotion. I haven't noticed any sales benefit of belonging to these groups, but I think you should do it anyway. The information you glean there is priceless.

Profile

nancyfulda
nancyfulda

Publications

Nancy Fulda -- Hugo and Nebula Nominee

Web Site | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Google+






That Undiscovered Country
Jim Baen Memorial
Award Winner


paperback | kindle | nook | PDF | Other





Movement
2011 Nebula Nominee

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, March 2011

paperback | kindle | nook | smashwords





The Breath of Heaven
Stories from Distant Worlds

paperback | kindle | nook | smashwords






In the Halls of the Sky-Palace
Jim Baen's Universe, June 2009

kindle | nook | smashwords





Backlash (novelette)
Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, 2010

kindle | nook | smashwords





The Man Who
Murdered Himself

Phobos Award Winner

kindle | nook | smashwords





Dead Men Don't Cry:
11 Stories by Nancy Fulda


Paperback | kindle | nook | smashwords | DRM-free






Nothing This Fun Could be Good for You (article)
Available at:
Clarkesworld Magazine





Like Rain From Silver Skies
Available at:
Basement Stories





Knowing Neither Kin Nor Foe
Available at:
Beneath Ceaseless Skies


Nancy Fulda is a 2012 Hugo and Nebula Nominee, a Phobos Award winner and a Vera Hinckley Mayhew Award recipient. She is the first (and so far only) female recipient of the Jim Baen Memorial Award. Her fiction has appeared in a number of professional venues.

Nancy Fulda is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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