Tag Archives: On Thin Ice

Killer First Lines

PJ Sharon here, chatting today about “Killer First Lines”. So what constitutes a great first line? Is it action-packed? Does it evoke emotion or imply conflict? Maybe it sets the scene or reveals the tone of your story. Or does an awesome first line combine all of these elements and more in order to grab the reader and compel them to read on? Consider these first lines:

1)      It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

2)      It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

3)      I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

4)      You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

5)      If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

6)      Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. —Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850)

These classic first lines might seem antiquated in terms of today’s genre fiction standards and rules, but they remain powerful examples of compelling prose. They say something about the author, expressing their unique voice, and setting the tone for what’s to come. They inherently ask a story question and open the eyes of the reader to a new world in which the author’s imagination comes to life on the page.

I spend a good deal of time contemplating first lines. I want my first line to pose a question to the reader—a question that compels them to read on and keep turning pages until that question is ultimately answered at the end of the story. In my current WIP, PIECES OF LOVE, the first line is, I’ve heard it said that it takes twenty-one days to make or break a habit. Hopefully that makes you wonder what habit our teen character must break. Maybe you’re asking what good habit she would like to adopt, and why she would be concerned about making or breaking a habit in the first place.

Here are a few more first lines. These are from more recent books and by authors some of you will recognize. Analyze each of them, not for what they say, but for what they tell you about the author and the story.

1)      The day Honor Grace Holland turned thirty-five, she did what she always did on her birthday. She got a pap smear. Kristan Higgins, The Perfect Match, 2013

2)      My fingers drum into the desktop, beating out the rhythm of my hammering thoughts. TL Costa, Playing Tyler, 2013

3)      The Garretts were forbidden from the start. Huntley Fitzpatrick, My Life Next Door, 2012.

4)     He lifted the limp body out of the trunk, wrapped the girl in a woolen blanket, and tossed her like a rag doll over his shoulder. PJ Sharon, Savage Cinderella, 2012

5)      I’m a liar. I know it. I hate it. And I can’t seem to help myself. PJ Sharon, On Thin Ice, 2011.

Yes, I realize those last two are mine, but they are, nonetheless, decent examples of first lines that hopefully compel readers to read on. Notice the tone in each of the above first lines. With Kristan Higgins books, you know you’re in for some laughs and you can bet that every reader who read that first line had an instant smile plastered on their face. TL Costa’s book, PLAYING TYLER, puts you squarely into the mind of a teenage boy with ADHD. You can hear the noise in his head as he struggles to find focus. And in Huntley Fitzpatrick’s contemporary YA romance, you can feel that you are in for heartache and conflict based on this enticing first line that immediately makes you want to know the Garretts.

Savage Cinderella FINAL 200x300

The opening line of SAVAGE CINDERELLA gives you a chilling look into the calculated actions of a serial killer and makes you instantly care for that little girl and wonder what happens to her next.

And in ON THIN ICE, teen readers are faced with a mirror into their own lives. What teenager can’t relate to the ever-tempting desire to lie?

on thin ice front cover jpg

Look at books you love. Analyze them for how that first line makes you feel. Does it propel the story forward? Does it grab you and pose a question that you have to know the answer to? In my opinion, as long as the first line makes the reader a) think, b) care about the story/character, and c) read on, the author has done their job.

Have you written any fabulous first lines you’d like to share? Can you think of any books you’ve read that had a killer first line?

The Unlocked Secret of the Niche Market.

So what is Niche Marketing? Wickepedia says, “A niche market is the subset of the market on which a specific product is focusing.” Really, Wickie? Who wrote that? Is that the best you’ve got? Of course they go on to explain further with words like demographics, market shares, and some other marketing terms and examples that didn’t do much to help me figure out how to define where my books might land on the book shelves.

The first question a professional marketer asks is, “Who is your target audience?” Truly understanding this question is probably the number one best marketing tool a writer can have. We’d all like to say, “everyone, of course.” And while that may be sort of true that many different demographics might enjoy your book, it’s more likely and infinitely easier to reach a smaller group of readers specifically interested in your genre, subject matter, and characters. Think “low lying fruit.”

Targeting “your” readers may be easier if your book falls into a specific genre. If you’ve written a cozy mystery about a librarian who is a quilter turned amateur sleuth, you might consider marketing your book to librarians and quilters, a pretty small “niche” market that might be easier than trying to reach “everyone.” This is why agents and editors want to know what “genre” you are writing. So they can determine the marketability of your book based on their experience with that particular readership and their understanding of where the market is currently trending. Women 30-55 years old are the greatest book-buying demographic that marketers are competing for. Publishing houses are trying to meet that supply. So sending a query for your “Sci-fi/ Historical, Inspirational/ Regency might be a tough sell.

The problem for many authors is that our stories don’t always fall into one genre. Diana Gabaldon had difficulty getting OUTLANDER published at first because she couldn’t clearly define it as a romance, a historical, a science fiction/fantasy, or a time travel novel. Of course it’s all of those, but it was so fabulously written that some smarty-pants publisher decided that they would take a chance and market the book to readers across multiple genres, essentially including “everyone,” and the series took off.

It worked out well for her, but most of us aren’t so lucky. In most cases, if your book falls outside of a specific proven market, agents and editors don’t want to touch it. Most of my rejection letters a few years back were because my manuscripts didn’t “fit the market.”

Now that I’m self-publishing, I see their dilemma. When I put my books up on Amazon, BN, and Smashwords, I have to pick categories that best describe them so that they are listed where my target audience would find them (good old search engine optimization-SEO). The frustrating part is that the choices are limited to the old model of publishing and haven’t caught up with new trends. “Teen/YA fiction” refers to books with protagonists ages 14-17 and are a subcategory of “children’s fiction”. But the books coming out these days for teens are arguably for a much more mature audience, and the demographic isn’t so clear-cut. Ideally, they should be much more delineated. There should be choices that would target older teens and adults who enjoy reading about that all-important transition from teen life to adult experiences. I had no idea when I chose my categories that some sites would lump my books into “Children’s fiction” because I labeled it a YA. They aren’t likely to find a readership there!

So what’s a writer to do? Well, you can choose to write for a particular market, ie; cozy mystery, romantic suspense, thriller, or romantic comedy. This is a very viable approach and is the most likely road to becoming traditionally published if you do your research and watch what’s selling and who’s selling it, and target your agent/editor query appropriately. But if you consistently find your stories falling into “genre no-man’s land,” you can join the new age of genre-bending authors who have literally created new markets by taking risks and writing what they want to write, self-publishing, and then finding their readers by focusing on certain niche markets and using that SEO to their advantage.

Whether traditional or indie-published, when it comes time to market your books and find your readership, look at who your target audience really is. Be creative and look at it from all angles and try different approaches. If you aren’t reaching readers by promoting the book to one segment of the population, try another. My book ON THIN ICE could be marketed to ice skaters, teens who become pregnant, sufferers of eating disorders, or teens experiencing the grief of losing a parent. Over time, I can market this book to several different niche markets, keeping it relevant as long as I can keep reaching new readers and targeting new niche audiences who might not otherwise have found the book. That’s why SEO is so important. And why creating whole new genres may be the best way for your target audience to find you.

Heaven is for Heroes 72 dpi 600x900 WEBSITE USEFor instance, I’ve been promoting HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES as a “Contemporary YA Romance.” But the story deals with the tragedies of war, overcoming loss, and the determination of one seventeen year old girl to find the truth—pretty mature themes that 14-17 year-old readers wouldn’t necessarily be looking to read about. Because of the protagonist’s age, the book falls into the YA market, but our hero is a nineteen-year-old Marine Veteran struggling with a difficult recovery, which changes the demographic for this story. Because the focus of the book is a tenuous teen romance with the underlying plot of a family’s search for peace in time of war, HIFH will appeal to adult readers as well as older young adults, but listed as a YA, it may never reach those adults who might enjoy the book.

The hero’s age and the subject matter make it fit more appropriately into the New Adult genre—a relatively new niche market targeting 19-23 year-old readers previously forced to read “teen” novels or jump right into “adult” romances. This segment of readers wants more than the typical high school experience, but they may not be ready for the white-picket-fence-via-total-abandonment-to-love-and-sex that rules the adult romance world. They are looking for relatable characters faced with real life issues that they themselves might be facing; such as leaving home, going off to college, or dealing with friends coming back from war.

Filled with moments of poignant reality, hard lessons, and the angst and sexual tension of first love, HIFH combines family drama and the relationship between childhood sweethearts, Jordie Dunn and Alex Cooper, who must overcome some pretty “grown-up” obstacles to find their way to a hopefully ever after ending.In Savage Cinderella, Brinn is eighteen and Justin is twenty-three. Add the subject matter and this book clearly falls into the New Adult category rather than YA. I might have tried marketing my books as Mainstream fiction and put them up against books from authors like Nicolas Sparks and Jodi Piccoult, but that would again put me in a very large pool with some very big fish, and without publisher backing, it’s tough to swim in that pond. Literary fiction is an even tougher sell than genre fiction.

With many of today’s YA books fitting more appropriately into the New Adult category, this niche market is catching on. Entangled Publishing, St. Martin’s Press and I believe even Harlequin Teen are adding New Adult titles to their acquisitions. Publishers are finally willing to recognize that yes, college students do read for pleasure in their limited time, and that they want more of what the New YA market has to offer. There are loads of twenty-something’s looking for books that go beyond the teen dramas focused on high school but who still want stories that deal with all of those wonderful (and hideous) firsts. Many of my readers fit into this category. If I had to guess, my average reader is between 19 and 33. That’s a pretty big demographic, but by listing my books as YA, I’m potentially focusing on the wrong group of readers. I don’t want to misrepresent the books by having them listed in the “Contemporary Romance” section either, since they definitely have a younger voice and reader expectation is important to consider.

Re-branding my work might take a bit of time and effort, but if it means reaching my target audience, I owe it to my books…and my readers to give it a shot.

Have you thought about who your target audience is, and what niche markets you might be missing?

Is it really all about the numbers?

So long Christmas TreePJ Sharon here, coming to you from the hills, and enjoying country life. As many of you spent Superbowl Sunday watching football, laughing at commercials, and being entertained by Beyonce, I was out ringing in the spring. For me, the beginning of February marks a turn toward warmer weather and longer days. I know there will likely be plenty more cold and wintery weeks ahead, but I figure there are less ahead then there are behind. It’s also my birthday month—time to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Whether we’re talking about football scores, rising temperatures, or adding another year to my age, life seems to be all about the numbers these days. It certainly is when it comes to the book promoting business. Sales figures, rankings, budget—all very important to pay attention to when seeing what’s working and designing any future marketing plans. One of the benefits (or curses) about Indie publishing is that you have immediate access to your numbers. You can follow your rankings and sales to determine if your current promotion is working or if you need to change tactics the next time around.

I’ve done a few FREE promotions through Amazon’s KDP Select Program so I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at them. Whether they are as effective as they once were, or if all of these FREE books are killing the publishing industry are topics for another day. For today, I’m happy to share the all-important numbers of an Indie-published author trying to make a dent in this tough book economy. Last week, I had my second Contemporary YA novel, ON THIN ICE, available for FREE for three days. I thought you’d be interested in seeing how one of these FREE runs is done, and decide for yourself if it’s worth the work and expense.

Pre-FREE
January 1-25th 20 copies sold (2 borrows) (I won’t include all the foreign sales, but this title does tend to sell well in the UK)
Amazon Ranking: #75,623 in Kindle Store

FREE Run January 26-28th
Saturday, Jan 26th
7,984 downloads
Amazon Ranking: #64 in Kindle Free Store
#2 in Kindle store>Kindle e-books>Teens>Romance

Sunday, Jan. 27th
4,171 additional downloads
#19 in Kindle Free Store (highest ranking achieved in Free Store)
#2 Kindle store>Kindle e-books>teen>romance

Monday, Jan. 28th
3,791 additional downloads
#1 in the Teen Romance category…woohoo! Not bad for a book that has been on the “shelf” for a year.

Also notable were the foreign downloads. It’s always so cool to imagine people overseas reading my books!
UK=143; de (Germany)=24; France=5; Spain=2; Italy=1 (crazy Italians!); Japan=3; and Canada=15

Now, realize that when the book went back on sale in the paid store, no one had actually purchased it in three days so the ranking dropped to about 245,250th in the Amazon Paid store (yikes!), but once post-promotion sales started, the rankings jumped back up and hovered between 11,000th to 15,000th all week. I got a slight bump from pre-promo sales of 1-3 books a day to about 10 a day. That’s already beginning to fall back down to about 5 a day with total sales since coming off the FREE promo adding up to 50 copies of that one title sold in the past week. That’s more than double what I sold in the first three weeks of January. I’ve seen a slight boost in sales of my other titles as well. There have also been 24 borrows (as good as sales at $1.81 per borrow), and I’ve gotten a few positive reviews for ON THIN ICE.
Not the results I’d hoped for, but worth the effort? Sure. So here’s how I advertised the sale.

I gave myself a $100 budget figuring I would make up the cost with a post-promo sales bump of about 50 books. I’ve broken even on the promo after one week. Running the promotion on a Sat.-Mon. made it easier for me to be there to monitor results and landed at the end of the US Figure Skating Championships, which I wanted to honor by giving the book for FREE that week and getting it into skater’s hands.

I contacted the following sites several weeks (a month ahead of time in most cases):

Book Bub-It cost me $30 to advertise my FREE run but they are the current “premier” advertising site. It costs more for other genres, but most people are saying it’s worth the ad cost, especially if you’re offering a discounted book.( .99-2.99)
Story Finds-$20
Authors on the Cheap-$25
Book Goodies-$15 for 3 day ad.
Bargain e-book Hunter-$5
Orangeberry Book Tours-$10

The following sites were free to advertise with:
(ENT)E-reader News Today (they book up months in advance and sometimes aren’t open for scheduling), Indie Book of the Day, Pixel of Ink, Awesome Gang, E-reader Café, Free Book Dude, Ask David, Books on the Knob, Free Booksy, The Kindle Book Review, E-books Habit, YA Promo Central, Book Blast (Kindle Fire Department), and I did a post on the Readers Guide to E-Publishing (RG2E) on Saturday.
You’ll find many of these sites and their links listed on Kindle Book Promos at Kindle Book Promos and Media Bistro/Galley Cat.

The day of the sale, I also posted to Snicklist, Addicted to e-books, Free Kindle Fiction, Good Reads (Free Romance Books group), Google+, World Literary Café (WLC), and as many FaceBook pages as possible that had to do with Figure Skating and the US Championships—(Stop back next week when I’ll be talking about niche markets).

Some of the sites have restrictions (many won’t publicize erotica-not that I’m writing that, but some of you are), and some have some gate-keeping systems in place. Digital Book Today requires 18 reviews with an average 4.0 star rating before you can advertise with them. It took some time to weed through all of these sites, but now that I have my list and links, it only takes me a few hours to set up a really comprehensive and relatively inexpensive promotional blitz. Of course I also schedule my tweets to go out three to four times a day, ask my network peeps to spread the word, and spend some time promoting on Face Book throughout the three days.

I know it sounds like a lot of work. That’s because it is. I haven’t found an easy way to reach this many new readers so quickly, or give my sales a boost in any other way that doesn’t require an equal amount of effort or money. I try to do one big promotional event per month. February’s event will be a three day FREE run with HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES right after Valentine’s Day, hoping to hit those new Kindle owners whose thoughtful men bought them an e-reader. After that, these two titles come off of the Select program and will be available once again on BN and Smashwords. I also plan to upload them to I-Tunes and Kobo this go around so that they are available on as many distribution channels as possible. Then I’ll leave the kids alone to see how they fend for themselves while I focus my efforts on gearing up for the release of book two in The Chronicles of Lily Carmichael, WESTERN DESERT, due out in June. It’s going to be a busy spring!

As far as other promotions, there are always the .99 cent sales, blog hops, blog tours, Good Reads giveaways, and contests. Each requires effort and planning and will yield different results depending upon the genre you write in, whether it’s your first or fifth book, and how the wind is blowing on any given day. All we can do is keep writing, add quality material to our cyber shelves, and hope our sails (and our sales) catch the wind when it blows our way.

Today’s Unlocked Secret: Don’t get too hung up on the numbers. Like age, the number doesn’t define us. How we navigate the rough seas tells us who we are. Happy sales!

Any questions?

Blessings,

PJ

Trust Your Story

Tuesday’s Scribe, PJ Sharon here. Have you ever been writing along, minding your plot and meeting your daily word count, only to have your character take you “off track”? Do you catch yourself swearing at your characters and asking them, “Where the *&%*@# are you taking me?” Well, let me tell you…I’ve learned to let them have their way—at least on the first draft. Let me explain why.

After several manuscripts and three or four published novels, I’m finally beginning to trust my internal process. It seems that my unconscious mind knows a lot more about my characters than my conscious mind does and if I let the story evolve organically—rather than trying to control every word that lands on the page—some miraculous things happen. Characters take me to the most interesting places, and if I go along for the ride, there is usually some grand reason they needed to go there. A piece of the puzzle is found, a character flaw is brought to light, or an opportunity for character growth presents itself.

When I wrote ON THIN ICE a few years ago, Penny’s story unfolded and jumped onto the page with such abandon, it seemed as if it was writing itself. I hadn’t planned on all the twists and turns that her story would take, but as it developed and each thread wove itself into her character arc, I had no choice but to follow and see how everything came together in the end. Amazingly, her journey turned out to be profoundly complex and beautiful. Of course, my problem was then trying to sell a story that had multiple subplots and more drama than a season of Dallas.

I had several published authors, a few agents, and even a couple of editors tell me the same thing…get rid of at least two—preferably three—of the subplots. I was told “One teenager could not possibly deal with all of these issues and one or two is enough for any one book if you want to explore them in depth.” So I tried to unravel my plot to remove some of the “unnecessary” subplots. The problem was that I couldn’t. I struggled for several months trying to make the story “marketable” by choosing one story line and then bleeding all over the page for 250 pages. I couldn’t make it work. Deconstructing the story seemed like an impossible task without it losing that special something that made it unique and authentic. Worse, was that it felt like I wasn’t being true to my character. Penny needed to go through all the trials and tribulations she endured in order to become the person she was at the end of the story. It was her journey—not mine—and I didn’t feel right about robbing her of any of the experiences that made her who she was.

Ultimately, I shelved the story and began writing Heaven Is For Heroes, which turned out to be a much more “marketable” story, but by that time, I had decided that the kind of stories I wanted to write were likely not going to fit into a specific mold and that I wasn’t willing to have a traditional publisher “brand” me (ouch!) and put me in a “box” (NO…Not the box!). Enter—Indie publishing.

One of the many things that drew me to Indie pubbing was the freedom to be true to the creative process and write what is in my heart. I’m convinced that there are readers for every well-written book—even if/especially if—it fits outside the box. Why should readers be fed only stories that publishers have deemed saleable? As it turns out, many Indie authors are finding great success because they are taking risks and writing something different. The upsurge in the “New Adult” market proves that readers of all ages want something new–stories that bridge the gap between YA and adult romance–stories about what happens when young adults are faced with real life issues that push them into adulthood.

Although I’ve learned to rein in my characters a bit before they take me too far off course or lead me into some corner I can’t get out of, I’ve also learned to trust my story to take me where my characters need to go to become who they are meant to be—even if it takes me places I never dreamt I’d go. I’ve gotten better at plotting and planning rather than flying by the seat of my pants, but the real joy in writing for me is when my characters take over and lead me on an adventure greater than my mind could have imagined.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart if you’ve already read the book. I greatly appreciate all honest reviews. If you haven’t yet left a review and would like to do so, you can click on the Amazon link below and write a brief line or two about what you liked/or didn’t like about the book. This helps other readers find books that might appeal to them and helps us authors reach new readers. 

So what did you think? Was it too much drama for one book, or did it somehow all work together to make a worthwhile and unique story?on thin ice front cover jpg

If you haven’t read ON THIN ICE, you have one final opportunity to download it for FREE from Amazon this weekend. I won’t be renewing my KDP Select contract, so this is the last time it will be offered as a FREE download for the foreseeable future. It will be available Saturday through Monday, January 26-28th in honor of National Skating month and the US Figure Skating Championships taking place this week.

Bookmark this page and stop back this weekend to download your FREE Kindle copy from Amazon

Although Penny’s dream of Olympic Gold is derailed by life’s cruel twists of fate, she learns what all fierce competitors learn…follow your heart, and never give up.

Results of FREE Promo

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, Scribe fans. It’s been an amazing year. Four YA novels and a short story published, and I’ve learned tons about the business. A huge thanks to all those who have read and helped spread the word about my books this past year. There is no way I could have done all of this without you. I’m truly grateful and humbled by the generosity of my writing community. You guys rock!

I just came off a two day Free promo for Heaven is for Heroes and On Thin Ice. Sales for both books had trickled to a slow drip over the last six months and I thought a run in the KDP Select program might breathe new life into my visibility through the holidays. As with all of my promotional efforts, it’s pretty much of an experiment each and every time since what works one day in publishing may not work the next.

In hind site, my biggest mistake was that I didn’t plan far enough ahead to garner a spot in any of the paid advertising sites like Pixel of Ink, E-reader News Today, Kindle Nation Daily, or one of the newer sites Book Bub, a site that I’ve heard is getting some impressive attention. Some of these sites take one to six months to get an ad, and some cost as much as $200 for a one day advertisement. Pricey, but usually worth it to reach the 10,000+ mark for downloads in a two day period. The consensus seems to be that two days is the charm, as downloads usually drop by day three and if you haven’t hit the top 100 list on Amazon, you’re not likely to beyond day three. The idea is that if you can get enough volume of downloads, it will affect your rankings and set you up for a nice bump in sales once the book goes back into the paid store. At least that’s how it used to work.

Amazon appears to be fond of changing the rules on us Indies as soon as we figure out how to make the system work for us. I’m sure you’ve heard or read about incidents of things like reviews disappearing arbitrarily, algorithms changing to favor traditionally published and higher priced books, and the shifty way they manipulate the rankings after a free promo. In other words, it’s beginning to feel like the cards are stacked against us.

For example, in March I did a two day FREE promo for Savage Cinderella. Granted, I was part of a group of 19 authors giving our books away and cross-promoting the event, clearly able to reach many more readers than going solo, but I had 28,000 downloads, made it into the Amazon top 100, and had an uptick in sales for about three weeks after the promotion, selling about 800 books that month. This week’s promotion didn’t do nearly as well, but I didn’t expect it to given I hadn’t advertised ahead of time and didn’t have the cross-promotion benefits. I did get several new twitter followers and a few new FB “likes” out of the deal and my books are in the hands of a few thousand new readers—always a good thing! Hopefully, it will translate to some postiive reviews.

Here are my results:

Heaven is for Heroes:

2,868 US downloads, 96 (UK), 25 (de), 3(Fr.), 1 (es.), 4 (It.), 1 (Jap), and 7 (Ca.)

Amazon Bestseller Rankings:

#130 Free Kindle store

#8 Kindle store>e-books>teens

#32 kindle store>e-books>fiction>genre fiction>romance contemporary

On Thin Ice:

825 US Downloads, 114 (UK), 22 (de), 2 (Ca.)

#453 in Kindle store

#14 Kindle store>Kindle books>teen>romance

OBSERVATIONS:

Not bad numbers overall, considering there were no paid ads and I basically depended on Twitter and Facebook for advertising. I listed the books on half a dozen Facebook pages that allowed for promotion of free books, focusing on YA sites. I belong to several writers loops and had lots of help spreading the word (THANK YOU Wana Minions, CTRWA buddies, Authors Network and the WG2E Street team folks.)

I had low expectations of this promotion since it was a last minute decision and I scrambled to pull it together. I’ll see over the next week whether sales are given a boost, but I’m not anticipating that since the rankings dropped back to the pre-promo numbers as soon as I came off of FREE. It used to take a few days for this to happen, but Amazon’s new practices seem to expedite this process, making it that much harder for authors to take advantage of short term boosts in rankings. I was hoping I’d stay in the visible top 100 to catch those new Kindle owners after Christmas, but I’m thinking that’s not going to happen either. They’ll likely be loading up on the FREE books going up next week, the zillion .99 cent books that will be available over the next month, and the lucky ducks sitting on the Top 100 list that most people find as soon as they fire up their Kindles.

One interesting note is the number of downloads of Heaven is for Heroes verses On Thin Ice. On Thin Ice has been my best seller for several months, selling twice as many in the UK as here in the US, and outselling my other titles three to one. Heaven is for Heroes 72 dpi 600x900 WEBSITE USESince the only thing I did to change the game was to change my cover for Heaven is for Heroes, I’m wondering if that might be what gave the book a boost.

My favorite takeaway from this promotion is seeing downloads in Italy, Japan, and Canada, new markets previously untapped for me. Very exciting!

I hope Santa was good to you all and that whatever you’re doing today, you’ll find some downtime to escape into a good book. Merry Christmas everyone!

Any questions? Thoughts? Ideas?

Marketing Makeover

As the end of 2012 looms on the horizon, I’ve been working on my first quarter marketing plan for 2013. Being a relative newbie to indie-publishing with much more to learn, I’ve been studying the results of my first year efforts, and in retrospect, I can say I’ve definitively learned one thing. Well, I’ve learned a LOT actually, but one thing in particular stands out for me. I’ve learned that there are no constants in this business. What worked for one book didn’t work for others. What worked yesterday might not work today, and no matter how hard I work, there is an element of luck and timing that I have no control over. PJ Sharon here, welcoming you to the Writing Secrets of Seven Scribes. Today, I’ll be sharing what I think is a more focused approach than my previous “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” marketing plan.

Not that I haven’t had some moderate success with this approach, but like any business, the only way I can survive is if I trim the fat so to speak, and look for areas where I am wasting my time, effort, and resources. To that end, here is what I plan to do differently in 2013.

1) KDP Select-The exclusive 90 day enrollment that I did last spring with Amazon for Savage Cinderella was by far the most successful (at least in the short term) promotional tool I found. With 39,000 downloads, a temporary spot on the top 100 list, and a significant uptick in sales for several weeks after my FREE days, I felt like I was seeing some real progress forward. However, shortly after coming off the Select program, my sales declined in June, and the numbers tumbled every month after that for my first three books. I heard from industry veterans that the best way to rebound was to publish another book, which I did in September. Despite a month long blog tour and several group promotions, I have not seen much improvement in sales since then.

I resisted continuing with the KDP Select program because I didn’t like the idea of exclusivity, and I was hearing that results for the Select program had reportedly not been as good as they were last spring. That being said, I’ve decided to take the plunge again—for several reasons. I would be foolish not to tap into the Amazon pot that is set aside monthly to be divided amongst Select participants, paid out for “borrows” from the Kindle Lending Library. With 1.5 million dollars available for December (twice the norm), “borrows” should offer authors a nice Christmas bonus. Being able to offer my books for FREE for five days during that 90 day period without jumping through all the hoops of playing the “price matching” game is a simple and effective marketing tool. It also helps me to increase my reader base and my visibility, which are probably the greatest challenges that an author must focus on.

So I’ve revamped my cover for Heaven is for Heroes Heaven is for Heroes 72 dpi 600x900 WEBSITE USEand enrolled both it, and On Thin Ice, into the program for the next 90 days. That means Only Savage Cinderella and Waning Moon are available on all platforms. If all goes well, when my 90 days are up, HIFH and OTI will go back onto all distribution channels and I’ll put Waning Moon into the Select program for a few months prior to the release of Western Desert, book two in the trilogy. I hate feeding the Amazon “monster,” but until I see real sales on B&N et al. I can’t pass up the opportunity. I literally have made an average of $15 a month from B&N—and less through Smashwords–hardly worth giving up potentially hundreds of sales through Amazon.

This is where I was supposed to mention earlier that both Heaven is for Heroes and On Thin Ice will be available for FREE on Amazon this Friday and Saturday, December 22-23. If you haven’t read them, I’d love it if you would download them or tell anyone you know who might enjoy some YA romance drama. The more downloads I have, the closer I’ll get to that top 100 list so all those new Kindle owners can find me after Christmas. I appreciate it!

2) I’ll keep exploring available social media platforms-I now have almost 500 FB likes and nearly 1000 Twitter followers, which is where I have put my focus over the past year. I’m not sure how that translates directly to sales, but it sure helps me connect with some great authors, bloggers, readers, reviewers, industry professionals, and some all-around awesome people. Since word of mouth is still the best advertising, it’s clear that social media is here to stay and is a useful medium to help get the word out. I would like to try to focus on finding what works for me and best helps me connect with my target audience. That will include more time on sites like Good reads, Pinterest, Tumbler, Wattpad, and Kindle Boards.

3) Budget funds for paid advertisements and production costs. Short cuts are not the way to go in this business. It’s a very competitive industry and becoming more so every day. Hiring a cover artist, quality editors, and paying for advertising that has proven to be effective are worth budgeting funds for. My husband and I doing everything ourselves at first seemed like a way to save money and maintain control of my product, but in the long run, I can see I didn’t give my books their due.

The nice thing about Indie publishing is that I can make changes whenever I want. The books won’t be taken off the market if they don’t sell in a month or two. My backlist can become my front list if I want to start a new advertising campaign and change up the cover, try a new venue, or target specific groups of potential readers. The sky is the limit, but it all costs money, so I’ve realized that I have to budget money to give the books their best chance to succeed.

4) More than anything, though, I’d like to become more organized about my time management-This is a business. But without writing good books in a timely manner, I will have no business. That means that the writing has to come first. I’m not kidding myself into thinking I’ll be able to keep it all under perfect control, but I will budget my time differently, allowing for 50-60% of my time to go towards production of new material, with only 40% of my time spent on administrative details.

There have been times over the past year where I haven’t written a word on a WIP for weeks because of getting caught up in all the crazy business chores and responsibilities. I’m finally beginning to let go of all that, and bring my focus back to the writing. If it means less time building my network or promoting the books, then so be it. And if I only get one quality book out this year, then that’s okay with me, too–though I’m planning for two and possibly another short story.

Most importantly, staying healhy, sane, and having some fun along the way is much more important to me than sales figures these days. When I start stressing about all the “to-do’s,” I remind myself to relax and enjoy the ride. You never know what’s going to come over that next big hill.

What will you do differently this year?

Are you a Holiday Movie fanatic?

PJ Sharon here on this fine and busy Tuesday. I’ll keep it brief today since I’m doing double duty. In addition to my Scribes post, I’m hanging out with my WG2E Beach Book Blast buddies who have a slew of new Christmas stories for sale today and tomorrow, all for under $5. We’re calling it a BeachBookBlast e-Book Extravaganza!

HIFH Book front cover 2 jpgSince two of my YA romances culminate with a Christmas surprise and a heartwarmingly sweet ending, both Heaven Is For Heroes and On Thin Ice are part of this great sale. I hope you’ll stop by the site and check out the fantastic selection.on thin ice front cover jpg Rest assured, we have plenty of uplifting Christmas stories to keep you in the holiday spirit. Speaking of uplifting stories…

One of my favorite parts of December is watching all my favorite holiday movies. Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life are two of my favorites, but I have to admit I’m glued to the Hallmark Channel’s 25 Days of Christmas. I know; the movies are sappy, unrealistic, sticky sweet, and totally romantic, and I love them. A cup of warm cocoa and a box of tissues are a must, however. So far this season, my top three Hallmark Channel movies have been, A Christmas With Molly, Come Dance With Me and A Princess for Christmas.

What about you? Are you a holiday movie freak? What’s your favorite classic? Have you seen any new ones this year that you’ve added to your favorite’s list?