Calculating the cost of marketing your book

Everyone knows that producing a novel costs money. You have editing costs, cover design costs, proofreading costs, printing costs… but once your book has been released you stop paying, right?

Well, the answer is that you can but you probably shouldn’t.

As with anything worth time and effort, marketing costs money. Be it email marketing services, website hosting fees, promotional giveaways… these all come with an associated cost. The question is, how much would you pay in order to sell a copy of your book?

Putting a price on a sale

At first glance, assigning a value to a sale seems like quite a difficult thing to do. But, in reality, this is something we easily do in other areas of our life.

If you own a house and you decide to redecorate, at the back of your mind you are probably considering the resale value of your home. While you may want to convert a bedroom into a working model of the death star, not everyone is a Star Wars fan and it might make your property more difficult to sell should you decide to move in the future.

In the marketing world we call this Return On Investment, or ROI for short.

ROI sounds boring

ROI does sound boring. But think of it this way, how much would you pay for someone to buy your book? While the concept of paying someone to sell your book may sound strange, it can be very beneficial. 

If you’re selling your book for $7.99 would you pay $0.30 for someone to buy a copy? $1? This may change over time, what would you pay in the first weeks of sale? What would you pay after the book has been out for a year?

Knowing this threshold is an important first step in understanding marketing techniques that may be appropriate for you. 

Deciding what works for you

Different marketing techniques have different associated costs. And also different ways of calculating ROI.

For example, if you send email marketing you need to take into consideration the cost of your time and the cost of the email marketing software.

Let’s say you pay $50 a year, and you send around one email a month and you make two sales from each email you send. That’s twenty-four sales per year for $50. This equates to $2.08 per book sold before you take into consideration your time.

Have a look at how much you are willing to pay for a book sale, does this add up? If it doesn’t, is there a way to either reduce your email marketing costs or increase the amount of sales?

The easiest way to see the cost of marketing a book

Working out the cost of different marketing techniques varies. Some are more complicated than others. For example, do you know the exact monetary value of having a Twitter account? Most people don’t. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time, but it’s worth looking for a way to check if it is.

The easiest way to assign a cost to your marketing is paid advertising.

Services like Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) provide you with an exact cost per click on your ads. For example, one of the books I’m advertising at the moment has recently sold a book at a cost of $0.13. This falls well beneath my threshold and I would happily pay $0.13 per book sold.

If you’re not using a service like Amazon Marketing Services then you are really missing out. I advise anyone to have a try, it’s easy to set up, costs are low and easily manageable and the transparency of costs and sales is fantastic.

Simply go into your KDP portal and click on Reports and then Ad Campaigns and go from there.

As with all marketing, be sure to keep an eye on the costs versus the income to ensure that you are selling at a cost that you feel is worth it.

 

 

 

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Kindle Unlimited and the fast moving train of subscription-based media, what it means for Authors

When I first became an author, I asked what Kindle Unlimited was. The question was met by a lot of huffs and sighs and, eventually, proclamations that it was no good for authors. It was even referred to as the devil once or twice. The general consensus was that no author is lesbific ever made money in KU. In fact, I was more than once quoted that authors made “pennies” in the Amazon subscription system.

As a marketer, I wanted to check this out for myself so I’ve spent the last month talking to a lot of people and conducting a lot of research on the matter.

But, what is Kindle Unlimited?

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription based service offered by Amazon which offers access to over a million eBooks and thousands of audio books.

In short, readers pay a subscription of around £7.99/$9.99 a month and in return, they get access to a vast library of reading material and audio books with the option to cancel the monthly fee whenever they choose.

KU also offers members access to a number of newspapers and magazines.

How do authors make any money?

While a lot of people will use the phrase “read x book for free on KU” the books aren’t actually free.

Authors get paid by Amazon based upon the number of pages read. Every month KDP, Amazon’s publishing company, will announce the KDP Select (KDP’s name of KU) Global Fund. They will also announce how many pages have been read by the membership that month. Through the magic of mathematics, a price per page is announced, or KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages). In case you hadn’t noticed, Amazon loves to name things in the most complicated manner possible.

KENP is quite low at the moment and currently (June ’17) stands at $0.0038 per KENP read. But, and it’s critical to remember that KENP is not the same as print pages or even eBook pages. A print book with 312 pages could come in at 440 KENP pages.

$0.0038 per page, isn’t that kinda terrible?

Yes and no. Because authors are paid per page read, they are paid for books that aren’t finished. And books cannot be returned so authors don’t have to worry about readers returning books.

But the absolute best thing about KU is the ability reach new readers. While a reader may not be willing to pay $5-10 for an author they don’t know, they are more than happy to pick them up at no additional cost on KU.

This means that KU books receive vastly more traffic than non-KU books and almost always dominate the top charts. Because of this visibility in the charts, books are “bought” more often and authors can make more money through KU than they do through normal sales.

When I put Huntress into Kindle Unlimited last month, I expected a drop in sales. I was pleasantly surprised to see that profit made remained broadly the same. In the chart below you will see an example of this with the red area of the chart representing usual sales and the blue part representing KU pages read. The chart shows overall profit made and, as you can, there’s not a lot of difference between before KU and after KU.

Obviously this is a small test and I would recommend you conduct your own tests in order to establish if things are the same for you and your auidence before making any major decisions regarding KU.

Kindle Unlimited, some things to know

Enrolling a book into Kindle Unlimited requires selling that book exclusively through Amazon. This means that you are not allowed to sell your book through any other distributor while your book is enrolled in KU. When you enrol in KU you are signing up for a minimum of three months.

Although in KU, your book is still available to buy as a normal eBook through Amazon, and as a paperback.
You will not know what money your book has made until the KDP Select Global Fund has been announced. This happens on the 15th of the month. For example, the June amount was announced on the 15th July.

KU is an unknown quantity but can provide huge rewards. I’ve spoken to many lesfic authors who claim that they make more money since putting their books into KU than ever before. Other lesfic authors say that KU has given the access to new audiences who they wouldn’t have reached before. And KU books dominate charts, to get your book into the Top 10 of any lesfic category for a prolonged period without being in KU is a very tall ask.

The change in media consumption and the subscription model

For every one person who says that KU is devaluing books, there are twenty people signing up and enjoying cheaper access to books. I’m not going to debate the devaluing of books and whether that is right or wrong, I am going to talk about the subscription business model.

Subscription is the in thing right now. Take Netflix, pay under $10 a month and you can have access to all the movies and box sets you like. Do you have a dog? Sign up to a dogbox service for $10 a month and every month they will mail you a box filled with treats and toys. Do you or your children identify as geeks? Then sign up to Loot Crate and have crates of unknown, often exclusive merch sent to you.

Society is getting used to paying a small monthly fee to have wider access to products. It’s becoming the way we shop, or, in many cases, don’t shop, for things. People enjoy gifts being sent to them. A Loot Crate appearing in the mail with all kinds of goodies feels like a present, one you bought yourself without even realising it. Signing up to KU means you get notifications about all kinds of books and audio books just waiting for you to download.

There’s a psychological satisfaction in having paid up front and feeling that you are getting products for free… even if you know you’re not really getting it for free.

KU membership is growing and it’s a model that is going to be pushed and incentivised, by Amazon. As more, younger, shoppers start to sign up it will start to become the norm.

Soon authors who aren’t in KU will start to suffer. Especially those charging a premium for their books. If readers have a choice between accessing books in their “free” library or paying $5-10 for a book outside of their library, which do you think they will choose?
As a genre, we need to catch up to this trend and be aware that it is happening. We can’t sit on the fence and complain that KU is devaluing our books, well, you can… but I wouldn’t recommend it.

It wasn’t long ago when publishers could say that no big author is in KU and it’s only real benefit was to unknown authors. Not anymore. J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter and Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games are both now in KU, though, presumably, they have different deals regarding exclusivity. Mainstream publishers are catching onto the subscriber trend and they don’t want to be left behind. They are having to re-work their royalty structure to encompass the confusing world of KU and exclusive deals, but it’s worth it because… like it or loathe it… subscription based models are the future of book buying.

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Should authors bother with creating paperbacks?

I recently asked what questions people had about writing, publishing, and marketing. One that came up a lot was about paperbacks.

Mainly, writers wanted to know if paperbacks are profitable and worthwhile.

To answer this questions, we need to explore the process of creating a paperback.

So, how do you make a paperback?

Creating a paperback and creating an eBook are two very different things.

There are some pages that are relevant in an eBook that you wouldn’t want in a paperback, for example, any pages that have links in them.

Some authors organise pages in different orders depending on eBook or paperback format.

But, the biggest difference is in the formatting. The margins, headers, footers and, page numbers needed for paperbacks can make the creation process quite long and complicated.

Paperback creation tools

Many people start out using Microsoft Word, it’s a tool that many of us are familiar with and, despite its clunkiness, it is an incredibly powerful tool. It’s also the tool that many authors write and/or edit with, so it’s already paying for itself. While it’s a great tool, it can be time-consuming and buggy.

Other tools like Reedsy’s online editor, Scrivener, and Vellum are also available. In the case of Vellum, a paperback can be created in a handful of clicks. This means that hours of work in Word can be condensed into minutes of work with Vellum.

But that convenience comes at a price, $250 to be exact. Although for that money you can create unlimited eBooks and paperbacks with some state of the art software that substantially reduces your formatting time.

Know your markets

While it’s impossible to predict sales of an upcoming novel, there are reasonable assumptions that you can make regarding your market.

It’s common knowledge that paperbacks in Australia are very expensive, prohibitively so. If you know that the majority of your market are Australian then you might want to think twice about creating paperbacks if there is an associated cost of you doing so.

On the other hand, readers of books that originate from fandom worlds are more likely to want to hold the product in their hand. A book with a fandom audience should always have a paperback option available.

Some genres are more likely to encourage paperback purchase, science fiction, and fantasy being prime examples. The increase in artistically beautiful covers in the fantasy genre is encouraging readers to want to own a hard copy. Romance is considered more of a “disposable” genre, with large volumes of work being produced and prices being driven increasingly lower. Many romance readers expect a cheap, steady stream of new fiction to be available to them and often won’t want to pay extra for a paperback version.

It’s important to take a reading on your books subject matter, genre, and any information you have about your audience.

The importance of POD

If you are wondering if paperbacks are worthwhile then it’s absolutely essential that you use POD (Print-on-Demand). Never pay for a print run of books unless you know they will sell.

POD is the system that Amazon uses, via CreateSpace. It means that authors upload cover art and an interior PDF of their manuscript and the book is only printed when a customer buys a copy.

While this is more expensive than a large print run, it means that books are only created when necessary and there is no initial outlay of costs. The only cost is the creation of the artwork and the interior PDF file.

Don’t forget the cover costs!

Something that often gets overlooked in the paperback discussion is the extra costs involved with cover creation. An eBook doesn’t need a spine or a back and therefore the costs of just creating an eBook cover are slightly lower.

Once you venture into the world of paperbacks, you need to create the extra artwork.

Whether this is something you do yourself or something you ask someone else to do, there is probably an associated cost to take into consideration.

Putting it all together

Now it’s time to put it all together. And this is where the maths comes in.

You need to calculate how much it costs you to produce a paperback. And by that I mean the cost of creating the files, not the cost of printing a book.

If you pay a formatter, what is that cost? Do you own software like Vellum? How much did you pay for it? Even if you use Word and do it yourself, how much time are you spending on creating a paperback and how much is your time worth?

Once you have a cost of creation then you need to look at profit margins.

Let’s say that you treated yourself to a copy of Vellum at the cost of $250. Amazon/CreateSpace/Lightning will provide you with your profit margin per book sold, let’s assume that it is $3 per book sold. You would need to sell 84 copies in order to start turning a profit. It’s worth considering if you will use the Vellum software again, let’s say you have another book out in the next six months. With two books out, both making $3 per book, you’d need to sell 42 copies of each book to make a profit.

If you pay a formatter $50 to create the print interior, then you’d need to sell 17 books in order for it to be profitable.

If you use Microsoft Word and you take on the formatting yourself, then technically the first book you sell will make you a profit. Unless you put an hourly rate on your time and know that you could have made more money if you had spent that time marketing or writing. It’s always important to cost up your own time.

And don’t forget to add in any extra costs with regards to the cover. Work out the difference between an eBook cover cost and a paperback cover cost and add that figure into your calculations.

The bigger picture

But it’s not all about pounds and pence or dollars and cents. It’s also about the kind of author you want to be.

If you want to do public readings, book signings, or publicity events, then you’ll need paperbacks.

And, even though some of the stigma of indie publishing is starting to wane, there is still a feeling that a paperback solidifies the “realness” of a book. Family members will often want a paperback copy of your book, digital copies are sometimes considered nothing but a series of 1’s and 0’s and not a real product. No matter how much blood, sweat, and tears went into it.

There’s a lot to consider when deciding whether or not to convert to paperbacks. But I think the most important thing is, don’t take what other people tell you on face value, test it for yourself. Every book is different, every audience demographic is different. Most authors are grateful for any sale at all, don’t lose yourself a sale because you didn’t test your own market.

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Everything you wanted to know about reviews, but were afraid to ask!

Whether you’re an author wishing you had more reviews, or a reader who is unsure about writing them, reviews are something that is frequently debated. The results from my lesbian and bi women fiction survey had some surprising results when it comes to reviews. Over 56% of responders only sometimes review books they have read. 16% never review. Many people said they didn’t review because they didn’t know how, or they were frightened of being criticised for their own spelling or grammar. Some even questioned why their point of view was important. You can see the results for yourself here.

The topic of reviews is a big one. With reviews being essential for the success of authors, I wanted to spend a bit of time talking about why reviews are so important, how they work and how the novice reviewer can start their very first review.

Why do authors need reviews?

Believe it or not, a lot of time and money goes into creating the average book. When you download an eBook or pick up a paperback, it’s easy to forget the sheer work that has gone into producing that book.

We all know about the months of writing, but what about the months of editing? Beta checking, developmental editing, rewriting, copy editing, proofreading. Then there’s the cover artists, the formatters.

Those professionals need to be paid, and that’s before the book has even made a penny.

Many authors/publishers shell out thousands to create a book, in the hope that it will one day turn a profit. On top of this, the royalty system is set up in such a way that from day of purchase to the funds being received could be up to three, or even six, months.

To put it another way, a book I write today could take six months to be released, and another six for me to see a penny. Thousands are spent during that time, but money doesn’t come in to replenish those costs for months.

Okay, but what’s that got to do with reviews?

I’m glad you ask 😉 Book sales aren’t just nice to have, they are essential for an author to recoup high production costs. On websites like Amazon, three things are immediately visible to shoppers:

  • The book cover
  • The price
  • The aggregate reviews

The book cover and the price can be controlled by the author/publisher but the reviews are in the hands of the readers.

When someone is choosing which books to buy, they invariably look at the ratings to make a decision. A book with no reviews is a risk. On top of this, Amazon ranks all books and the reviews are an essential part of that ranking process.

I’ve heard about Amazon rankings, what are they?

There is an urban myth that no one truly knows how Amazon ranks books, but this simply isn’t true. The Amazon Algorithm is based on a very common product search engine, designed by a company called A9.

A9 is a collaborative algorithm, which sounds more complicated than it is. Basically, Amazon takes all of its products and catalogues them into an easy to display manner. The collaborative part simply means that signed in customers behaviours are added to the system. Amazon can use this information to find out what is popular, and what could interest similar customers.

The Amazon algorithm is quite in-depth so I may blog about it in the future, but for the sake of this blog let’s just say that reviews are one of the many items that Amazon uses to rank and suggest books to customers. 

Quite simply, books with more reviews rank better and are found by more readers. Books with lower, or no, reviews slip into obscurity very quickly.

It’s not just about sales

Of course, sales are nice but that’s not the only factor. Authors like to receive feedback. As you know, writing takes months and to get some feedback that it was all worthwhile is frankly priceless. Reading a positive review encourages and motivates authors. It makes it all worthwhile.

And don’t forget, we’re much more likely to post a negative review than a positive one. Studies show that the majority of people who have a positive reception to a product won’t bother to review it.

This can mean that authors only ever see negative reviews. On top of the time and cost of publishing a book, there’s also a lot of courage involved. Authors aren’t selling pet beds on Amazon, they’re selling their creative output. Something they have slaved over and feel deeply connected to.

A one-star review on Fido’s bed because the stuffing is a little thin is different to a one-star review on a book.

It’s also worth pointing out that one person’s “couldn’t put it down” could be another person’s “dull as dishwater”. We’re all different and we all like different things. It’s important for as many people as possible to review products to help the next reader to make a decision of their own.

Okay, how do I review?

A review doesn’t have to be long or complicated. 

First, you choose the overall star rating for the book. But, wait!

Amazon has a very specific approach to star ratings. It considers 1 or 2-star reviews as negative, 3-star reviews as neutral and 4 or 5-star reviews as positive. So, a 3-star review won’t benefit an author.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t post one, reviews are personal and the choice is yours. But be aware of what you are doing, your own personal view on a 3-star review may not be shared by Amazon, and the book you are reviewing could suffer as a result.

Once you have chosen a star rating, it is onto the freeform text box.

But I hate the freeform text box!

I know!

This is the bit that puts most people off. What do you say? How long should it be? Does anyone care about what I think? Am I qualified to leave a review?

It can be a minefield.

But here’s the thing, a review is a personal opinion. It doesn’t have to be wordy or witty, it just has to be your own thoughts. Did you enjoy it? Would you recommend it to others? Did it entertain you?

Below I have put some quick examples of reviews for you to use as a starting point. None are very long but an author would be happy to receive any of them.

Some review examples

I enjoyed this book, it had a good blend of humor and romance. If you’re looking for something lighthearted then this is the book for you.

A perfect weekend read. I could hardly put it down. The characters were well-developed and the plot kept me entertained.

A solid read! I liked this story and would recommend it to other people.

If you enjoy snappy dialogue and interesting characters then this book is for you.

What if I didn’t like the book?

It’s bound to happen eventually, you’ll come across a book you didn’t like. Many reviewers have a policy that they only review books they like. I also do this. If I don’t like a book, I simply don’t review it. This means I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, I don’t put the success of the book or the author at risk, and I don’t feel guilty for leaving a negative review.

However, leaving a negative review is your choice. If you want to leave one, then do. As I said before, it’s you’re personal opinion. If you have a reason for disliking a book that you spent money on, then you have the right to leave whatever review you like. 

I still don’t want to write a review, how can I help an author?

If you really don’t want to write a review, don’t worry. There is still a way you can help your favourite authors. Reviews on Amazon can be up-voted and down-voted by just clicking a button. At the bottom of all reviews, you will see “Was the review helpful to you?” as well as a yes button and a no button.

If you like a book, but you don’t want to write a review, go and up-vote positive reviews that you agree with. This gives these reviews more presence and makes them “worth” more to the Amazon algorithm.

Likewise, if someone has left a bad review on a book you like, you can down-vote that review so it doesn’t have as much of an impact.

I hope this blog has cleared up any questions you may have had about reviewing and encourages people to review more. If you have any specific questions then let me know in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer.

Thanks for reading!

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Why print books are getting smaller, and why that’s a GOOD thing!

Recently I ran a survey on lesbian and bi women fiction to get some feedback from readers regarding their thoughts on our industry. You can see the results here.

Lots of interesting information came out of the survey so I thought I’d spend some time addressing some of the points made. Today, I’d like to talk about one of the issues raised: paperbacks. More specifically, the size of paperbacks.

Where did my book go?

One of the things highlighted by the survey, was that people felt that paperbacks were getting smaller.

While this is almost certainly the case, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the actual book is any smaller.

To explain this better, let me explain how paperbacks are made…

Demand or Run?

When an author/publisher decides to print books, they have two options.

1) Order a print run from a printer

2) Use a Print On Demand (POD) service

Print Run

A print run involves asking a printing company to print books in bulk. The more books that are printed at one time, the cheaper an individual unit costs. 

However, there are problems with this. 

Firstly, the author/publisher needs to make a decision on how many books to order. One hundred? One thousand? It can be hard to know. Secondly, they have to store the books they order. And then they have to distribute those books. Ordering a print run of hundreds or even thousands of books can be risky as well as expensive. 

There’s always the chance that they could order too many and have to pay to have them pulped and recycled. And even though the excess books are recycled, none of this process is kind to the environment.

Print On Demand

Many authors/publishers have moved onto Print On Demand, or POD as it is also known. POD means that the cover and the print interior are uploaded to an online platform, such as Amazon, but a book is only printed when a copy is purchased. When a customer orders a POD book, the book is printed and dispatched to them. There’s no waste, no storage cost, no disposal costs, it’s kinder to the environment, and it’s easier all round. 

The only problem with POD is that no one benefits from the bulk purchase discount of a print run. Printing one solitary book is obviously more costly than printing one hundred at a time.

But, what about stores?

Paperbacks are cheaper in bookstores, supermarkets, and anywhere else where you can physically browse books, because these books are printed in a print run. The more books that can be printed in one go, the cheaper the individual unit.

Books in physical locations are often printed by large publishers who can print tens of thousands of books at a time. They have their own printing presses and warehouses. They ship books out to thousands of physical stores. With scale comes a reduction in price.

Unfortunately, the average lesbian and bi women fiction author can only dream of such things. Our market is small and print runs are impossible.

The workaround

With the POD costs high and print runs out of the question, authors/publishers are forced to find other workarounds in order to reduce the expense of producing a paperback. And, as we all know, the best way to make something cheaper is for there to be less of it. But this doesn’t mean that the books have fewer words in them. On the contrary, most books are the same word count as before. It’s just that a few tricks of the trade have been introduced to slim those paperbacks down!

The Diet

Formatting a print book is a fiddly business. There are so many elements to take into consideration! The size of the book, margin, fonts, headings, scene breaks. All of these individual elements have an impact on the overall size of a book.

Reducing the margin by half a centimetre may not sound like much, but that small change over many pages soon adds up. Reducing the font size by half a point can easily lose 10-20 pages in a full-length novel. And then there are the fancy spaces between chapters and scene breaks. It all adds up.

Good book formatters have found innovative ways to trim our books down, all without the reader noticing!

Therefore a book that was originally weighing in at 340 pages may now come in under 300. While this is a smaller book, it is not a smaller story. It’s no longer possible to judge a book by the number of printed pages.

Hooray for design

So, the next time you are looking at paperbacks in our market and you think that you are getting less for your money, remember this might not be the case.

It could just be a contentious author/publisher trying to save you some of your hard-earned cash through some innovative design!

Look out for the word count to see the real size of a book, most publishers will list word count on their website.

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eBook piracy vs clickbait

I’ve recently seen quite a few authors discussing that their book has been found on various piracy sites. I wanted to write a blog explaining a little bit about the difference between piracy and clickbait, as often, these piracy sites are not entirely what they seem.

If you go to Google and type the word “free” as well as a book title and an author name, you’ll be presented with pages of websites, claiming they have a link to a free copy of the eBook. Naturally, many authors see this and take it at face value and assume that their book is being pirated.

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