I get a lot of questions about ebooks: writing, marketing, and publishing. Because, well, there are a lot of questions to ask and so many ways to tackle each step. If you are new to publishing, it is easy to get lost or confused in the process.
So I thought I’d round up the most frequent questions with answers and post them here. After all if one person asked, I know someone is wondering the same thing!
What You'll Learn
Which is better plotter or pantser?
Everyone has a different writing method, one that is constantly evolving (at least it is if you keep writing). I started as a panster, writing with only a vague idea of where the story was going. I immediately got lost and bored. So I became a plotter, outlining every aspect of the story. This helped when I finally finished all the plotting and got a chance to write again!
Now I’m somewhere in between. I have a solid theme for both the book I’m writing, the series, and each book in the series. I know who the “main character” (out of the plethora inhabiting my books) is, the one whose success or failure on which the book will hinge. Usually, I’ll have a few hurdles that need to be overcome to get to the climactic scene. And that is it.
I’ve learned to trust my characters and the process. They’ll make the choices leading to new adventures as well as the ones expected. This means like a lot of pantsers, I’ve got to keep tabs on events that develop later in the book so that I can add in clues earlier. Moving to Scrivener as my writing platform has helped immensely in keeping myself organized. And I have a specific editing sequence that helps me clean up the plot holes and make the needed corrections without going crazy or wasting a lot of time.
How do you get into writing a chapter?
With only an idea of where the book is heading, the characters lead the story forward. That all sounds well and good until you move to a new chapter and have to figure out what is going to happen in it.
I always start by choosing a POV character for the chapter. That gives me structure as I can review what motivations that character has, what happened to them recently, how they reacted, where they are and what needs to happen in that chapter to move the story forward. Every chapter is a brick built on the previous ones to form the structure. That is why I write in order and don’t jump around the novel (usually!). And normally, I outline ideas and notes for several chapters ahead as I write, to keep the story flowing.
I write all those pieces of information about the character and story in a set of notes for the chapter. They give me direction as I find a good opening scene, something with action or strong dialogue to draw the reader. This creates a window into the story through the character. Once I find that the chapter usually progresses quickly.
If I run into writer’s block or lose the story thread, I re-read the notes and try to pick out what significant event must happen in this chapter to move the story forward and then consider how the character(s) will cause or react to that event. Focusing on character action and reaction keeps me anchored in the world and the story when there are multiple plot threads. If I’m stuck, I figure out what the character is seeing and feeling that moment and why. Then I start writing.
Plus, I know the chapter doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to capture the essence of the idea. Editing will straighten out the problems, but if I don’t get the first draft finished I won’t have anything to fix!
KDP Select or Wide?
For a new author without any fan base, I’d advice KDP Select. The built-in promotion days provide opportunities to reach readers while an author is still learning the marketing ropes. BUT if the author has been blogging about their story and gathered a following, I’d advise them to ask their audience what device they read on. You never know and it is best not to assume!
She might find out that only two people need ePub files and everyone else uses a kindle. In that case sticking with KDP Select is best. But it might be a 50/50 split and going wide to hit all platforms out of the gate is the best option to reach all fans.
But in the end, after a round or two of KDP Select, I’d say go wide. I have sales every day in platforms other than Amazon. Plus under KDP Select, you can’t give your book away on platforms such as Instafreebie and Watpad. Having the ability to share your book when and how you want is the BEST marketing technique.
KDP Select curtails your ability to share your work as you want. You can only have so many excerpts on your blog. Amazon actually checks. And with the problems with click farms to inflate the number of pages read, advertising can become an issue. Well meaning authors have hired the wrong advertiser and had ALL their books removed from Amazon for illegal practices.
The few times I was with KDP Select I felt like a very big brother was watching my every move with my book. Don’t get me wrong, I love Amazon and most of my book sales come through them. But I stay out of KDP Select. The scrutiny and limitations are not worth it for me.
But when you are starting out, the help can be worth the price, partially because you have a lot less to risk and a lot more to gain. At some point that tips and going wide, not just to reach new readers on iBooks, B&N, and Kobo but also to be able to use Instafreebie and other cross-promotion and giveaway sites, is the best way to grow your career.
How do you get reviews?
Ask for them. Seriously. You should always have a blurb in the back of your book mentioning how important reviews are for authors. If you build a mailing list, which I highly recommend for all authors, one or twice a year ask for a review on a specific book that is lagging. If you create a launch team, ask for reviews on previous books as well as the new one. These are the best way to get organic reviews.
Besides the above, there are review clubs (Goodreads has a few as does Facebook) as well as book reviewers you can track down. I highly recommend checking out the Reviewers List at Indie Book Reviews. If you are starting out, getting those first 10 or so reviews can feel like a huge hurdle. But stay optimistic and pleasant as well as persistent. They’ll come.
Does a free book gain enough readers to make the loss in sales worthwhile?
Absolutely. The idea of loss leaders, free samples, is prevalent in many product lines. Of course, the size of the free sample varies!
I give away a whole book in my epic fantasy series and a compilation of 11 short stories in my dystopian. Many authors use short stories or novellas as free offers.
Why? A free book is easy to give away. With good keywords, great cover, and awesome blurb, a free book will sell itself with no paid advertising. Of course, paying for advertising on a free book leads to a lot of downloads. My marketing strategy is to give away as many free books as I can.
The argument, though, is will the reader actually read the book and do free books create a culture of cheap readers? Yes and yes.
I’ll start with the later. There is a whole industry developed to give away free books. In some ways, that drives me crazy. Many authors are trying to make a living at this and if readers only expect free books, earning an income becomes difficult. But if you break down the number of books free in my catalog, it is only two. Two out of twelve. Two chances for a reader to sample my writing and decide if they like it enough to read the next book.
But do readers go on to read free books? Yes. Not every single one, but I can say after months and months of crunching the numbers, I have an 11% sale rate. That means for every 100 books I give away, 11 people go on to buy the next one in the series. That may not seem like much, but talking to other authors that is about the average. With a complete series, the read through rate goes up. But that first book, the free book, has to be good. It has to be the best of the lot.
Like it or not, readers expect to be able to sample books from newly discovered authors for free, either from their website or a book retailer. Is it worth fighting that expectation and alienating readers? No. Find a way of offering a sample of your writing for free.
Does Social Media really do anything?
Yes. But it doesn’t sell books.
Well, maybe it sells a few books. Really, though, it brings awareness. It could be an awareness of your books but most often it is an awareness of what you are writing and a reminder to readers of you and your books through posts and sharing insights to the stories you write.
If you use it for anything more than that, you threaten to alienate readers.
A post or two in various groups or a tweet here and there specifically pointing to your books or author page is fine. But post after post or tweet after tweet that says “Here is my book, buy it!” isn’t gaining any ground and most likely is losing the battle.
Attract and keep reader interest with fun posts. Be yourself. Wait. Change that. Be your BEST self. Be kind and engaging. Share fun facts. Share other author books that are on sale. Don’t let readers who are fans forget about you. That is what social media is for.
If you want to sell your backlist, use advertisers, swap newsletter spots with other authors, run sales. But don’t spam social media. It is for being social and connecting to readers.
What about you?
What challenges do you face as an author? I’d love to know!
Take my 6 question survey and tell me what drives you the most batty. Once I know, I’ll see what tops the list and answer your big questions!
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this one is truly a gem. I read it, and re-read it. I’m not too worried about an audience, as you know, but this says so much about how to get readers and have a fan base. My favorite part is the writing method. I’ll probably always just wander into what I’m doing, but this last book of my trilogy refuses to end. Now I’ll have to seriously consider having a firm plan for the work, because I’ve got a dozen stories in this last one, that could surface at any moment, but it’s just not coming to a conclusion. I’ll have to fix that, but in the meantime, it’s really fun to edit. That’s new for me, actually enjoying working on getting everything to mesh smoothly and such. Thanks for all your help. I can write now, if I live…lol