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2.16.2015

Facebook, Twitter, Blog Promotion Services for eBooks Rounded Up for Your Convenience

I’m Robert Stanek, a pro author since 1994 and an indie since 2001. Today, I have a special report in a continuing series of articles on book promotion services. Book promotion services are marketing services that help authors promote their books for a fee. As these services often charge a pretty penny for such work, the participating authors and I decided to research the low-cost book promotion services available at Fiverr. After all, we thought for $5 what did we have to lose? 

Our findings may shock you – they certainly shocked us.

For this study, 24 authors participated, using the services to promote 39 books from 8 different genres, including:

Mystery
Thriller
Romance
Scifi
Fantasy
Horror
Literary Fiction
Nonfiction

At least 12 of the 24 participants used each service discussed one or more times, as well as 44 similar services for a total of 53 services. What follows is a summary of results gathered between June 2014 and February 2015. In the interest of full disclosure, I gave each participant $20 of fun money to start them off.

Book promotion services at Fiverr are largely the kind that say:

“I’ll promote your book to 2,000,000 on social media!”
“I’ll tweet your book to 50,000 followers!”
“I’ll promote your book to 200,000 on Facebook!”
“I’ll promote your book to the Top 50 Facebook kindle groups!”
“I’ll pin your book, tweet your book, post your book on Facebook to thousands!”

That alone should have been our first clue that we might be wasting our time and money, but what the heck we thought because it’s only $5. Or is it?

Although the name of the website is Fiverr, you typically end up paying much more than $5 for each gig, and a gig is simply an offering from a seller in Fiverr vernacular. For example, Facebookprogig (https://www.fiverr.com/facebookprogig) offers a gig that says “I Will Promote Your Amazon Kindle Ebook to the Top 60 Groups, Twitter, Pinterest for $5” but the gig has up to $30 worth of extras you can add on.

The extras are where the sellers make their real money. Many of the participants fell for the extras big time, figuring if the gig costs $5 I must be getting some extreme value from this $10 or $20 add on. They were wrong. Wrong, as anyone could ever be.

The problem is the buyer really isn’t getting much—if any— additional value from each extra, even though the extras may cost $10, $20, $40, $50, or more each. As an example, with the gig from Facebookprogig mentioned earlier choosing $20 of extras was no more effective than simply choosing the $5 gig itself. 

But was the gig effective in the first place? From the hundreds of reviews, you’d think absolutely that it must be the bees knees of gigs—yes, a 60’s term to hint at our collective gullibility.

The problem we discovered quickly with gigs at Fiverr is that most have a tremendous flood of high praise, along with 100% positives, 98% positives, etc. However, there’s no way of knowing if any of it is legitimately earned or deserved.

Many of those with promotion services at Fiverr hail from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Russia or some other distant shore. Nothing wrong with that whatsoever. However, their profile photos then typically show themselves as a beautiful blond woman, a fair-skinned brunette or something equally out of place.

Blog Promotion

Blog promotion is one several categories of book promotion services. (Our categorization, not Fiverr's) With blog promotion, the seller will post an article on his or her blog about your book.

Lincolnrocks (https://www.fiverr.com/lincolnrocks) promised to promote a book on a Kindle Book Club blog and also tweet about it. Now that seemed like a great idea. Why not have a book on a popular blog? The extras though added up quickly. $20 for extra fast service. $20 to post about your book on Facebook. $50 for side bar advertising on the blog. $10 for an Author Success guide. Meaning, you could quickly be out $105 and not $5. If you want a blog post about your book, spend the $5 and not a penny more, but you’ll be writing your own post.

DreamTheAnswer (https://www.fiverr.com/dreamtheanswer) offers to promote your book on two blogs for $5. You write the articles and they are posted (but quickly drowned in the sea of others following you).

The participants tried many other blog promotion services as well.

Results: The results of using blog promotions of this type from Fiverr were a mixed bag. We’re not sure of the actual value—or if there’s any value at all. Sometimes the articles didn’t even show up in search results.

Our advice: Lots of authors have used blog tours to help find success. Join a blog tour or start your own! The cost then is not $5 or $25, but nothing—and you’ll have a lot more fun.

If you’ve already tried blog tours and want to give blog promotions a try, send a message to any potential seller and ask them for the link to their blog before you buy. That way you can see what you’re getting yourself into.

Facebook Promotion


No shortage of promotion services promise to promote your book on Facebook pages and in popular Facebook groups. Here, by promote, they mean posting a description and buy link for your book.


BookKitty (https://www.fiverr.com/bookkitty) offers to promote your book on several Facebook pages, with a total following of about 15,000 for $5. Not a good value.

Jazzy7 (https://www.fiverr.com/jazzy7) offers to promote your book to 90,000 Facebook fans for $5. For $10 extra you can get 3 additional posting, for $20 you can pin your website URL to the top of her page, for $40 you can get 25 statuses (whatever that is), for $10 you can get social bookmarks. With 2000 reviews and a 96% positive rating, what could go wrong? Plenty. Not a good value.

Best Graphic 201 (https://www.fiverr.com/best_graphic201) will promote a book to 50 kindle reader groups for $5. Her 300+ reviewers seemed to love the service. But is it a good value? Uncertain.

Merlin George (https://www.fiverr.com/merlingeorge001) said she’d post a book to the Top 60 Kindle readers groups and best 20 ebook promotion groups for $5. Reaching 80 groups for $5 isn’t a bad value, and it could save time if you really wanted to post the same message to these groups.

fanni121 (https://www.fiverr.com/fanni121) promises to promote your business / product / ebook to 4 million Facebook fans and said a refund is guaranteed if unsatisfied. The problem is no one who used this service saw any results. Recently, in a follow up test of the service, we also saw no results and contacted fanni121 after he/she stated the gig was delivered. Our lengthy message explaining our test of the service for our research report, also suggesting ways the service could be improved, and making a request for an order modification was met with a rejection of the modification request and no follow up message whatsoever. We followed up again and stated that the gig was supposed to have a money back guarantee and that we were trying to help them give actual value. The response was a single word: Refund. And, we did get a refund.
 
However, Fb_dami (https://www.fiverr.com/fb_dami) says he can promote a book to over 5 million Facebook fans for $5 (the gig title says 2.5 million but the gig itself says 5 million). For $10 extra, he’ll add a picture or video. For $20 extra, he’ll promote for 3 days. For $50 extra, he’ll bring people to your website and raise your ranking. For $50 extra, he’ll do a huge promotion for 7 days. For $50 extra, he’ll give daily views for 30 days.
 
Fb_dami's 900+ reviewers seemed to love this service. While you can get everything including fast delivery for a whopping $180, why in the world would anyone ever spend more than $5, or perhaps $15 if you wanted to display a book cover or video? If the promotion works, you can simply run the promotion again.

But does the Fb_dami promotion work for surely it must if actually reaching 5 million? Do the extras work any better? Some limited results were seen for the $5 gig, but it’s a resounding no on the extras. For $20, $50 or $100 you are not getting 4X, 10X or 20X value or results. You’re getting less extra value than if you simply purchased the original $5 gig again at a different date.

UPDATE: 2/24/15. We tested Fb_dami's service again just recently. He now says if you agree to give him a good rating when you sign up for the gig, he'll throw in some free extras worth $30, including pictures with posts and twitter promotion. What you actually get though seems to be the $10 Silver package or part of it. At any rate, if you mention "ReadIndies" when you get the gig, you are supposed to get the same whether you give him a rating or not.

The participants tried many other facebook promotion services as well.

Results: We saw negligible results from BookKitty, Jazzy7 and similar offerings. With offerings that reached many groups or many Facebook users (through many groups), there were some results, especially click through, if few actual sales.

Our advice: Join any of the hundreds of book-related Facebook groups available, many of which are focused on sharing free and discounted books with readers. Where allowed, share posts about your books. You’ll quickly accomplish a few things. You’ll likely get better results than you would if someone made posts for you, and you’ll also get to meet other authors and readers. 

Post to 10 popular groups and you’ll reach 50,000 to 100,000 all by yourself and without spending anything. You’ll likely sell books too and with no cost at all. Want help reaching your first 25,000 or so? Join the GoIndie and FreeToday groups on Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/groups/goindie/ and http://www.facebook.com/groups/freetoday/. This'll cost you the grand sum of $0.

Twitter Promotion


With twitter promotions, the seller promises to tweet about your book a certain number of times, usually once or twice for $5.

Indie Book Value (https://www.fiverr.com/indiebookvalue) will tweet your book to his/her 75,000 followers for $5 and says he/she is a #1 bestselling Amazon author in his/her category. For $10 extra, you can get four tweets per day for a month. For $20 extra, you can get 12 tweets a day for a month. For $40 extra, you can get twelve tweets for two months. Not a good value, not even for $5.

Gsmolin (https://www.fiverr.com/gsmolin) says he is a "#1 bestselling Amazon author who will tweet your book to 665,000 ebook lovers and has the only twitter promotion service with proven results". For $10 extra you can get the Gold service -- one tweet a day for 5 days. For $20 extra you can get Platinum service – one tweet a day for 5 days with hash tags, which is the same strategy the author says he "uses to get his books into the Amazon Top 100".

Although George was friendly, very responsive to questions and helpful, his service doesn't have the following suggested. In fact, the tweets from his accounts have little actual following. For example, the account used for .99 books has only 150 or so followers. The 665,000 ebook lovers the tweets are supposed to reach is based on using hash tags in tweets, such as #kindle #ebook, etc.

George did craft great tweets, but were they worth $5 each? Not in our opinion. It's also worth noting that George is the only one who took me up on the second chance offer I discuss later under Disclosure and seemed to be one of the few who actually, genuinely wanted to help authors succeed.

The participants tried many other twitter promotion services as well.

Results: We saw negligible results with Indie Book Value and similar offerings from those with less than 100,000 followers. It was refreshing to find that some gigs in this category had a relatively few reviews as compared to the floods of gushing praise found elsewhere for gigs of highly questionable value or merit.

Our advice: Twitter’s free to use. Tweet with appropriate hash tags when talking about your books and you’ll reach beyond your followers to others who follow those hash tags. A hash tag is simply a keyword, such as book, preceded by the number sign (#), as in #book. Tweet with #GoIndie #ReadIndies or #FreeToday as your hash tags and I may retweet you to 30,000+ followers. My fee since forever for a retweet: $0. That's right, nothing.

Disclosure 

Though I tracked and compiled the results with the participating authors, I myself did not participate. Before writing this report, I tried to give every seller listed a second chance. I posted a private message to each explaining I was researching book promotion services. I explained the research and asked them to give a free test run of their service, the results of which I would also include in the report. There was only one taker, though plenty of complaints, and that should tell you everything you ever needed to know about these services from Fiverr. We will continue this research throughout 2015 hoping against the odds to find services of actual value.

Closing Thoughts

Working on this special report was an eye-opening experience for everyone involved. To a one, we came away with a single, overriding thought. That thought was this: 

When you see a gig at Fiverr with hundreds or thousands of rave reviews, get the hell out of there. 

Increasingly, the same is true of Amazon.

Remember also that $5 in Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia is an excellent hourly wage and that $50 can represent nearly a week's wages. Average monthly salary after taxes:


Sri Lanka $265
Indonesia $275
India $460

Therefore, it was extremely disappointing to find that nearly every one of these services treat your gig as if it has no value to them, often using automated means to perform the actual work required or simply copying and pasting something over and over -- and always doing as little as possible. Worse, the same remained true even when we bought gigs extras that added up to a lot of money.

The participants and I didn't expect a lot for $5 or even $20. However, we did expect that when we worked with parties in countries where this represents a good wage, we would actually get good, earnest efforts on our behalf -- and that rarely, if ever, happened.



Thanks for reading,


Robert Stanek

1.30.2015

Book Promotion Sites Ranked & Rated: More Thoughts & Tips for Getting into BookBub from BookBub, Plus 20 Questions & Answers with BookBub

So many have pinged me about Book Promotion Sites Ranked & Rated and asked questions that I added more to the article originally and in comments, but will now put those together with additional tips for getting into BookBub from the BookBub team. The details come from research and discussions between January 2014 and December 2014 as well as updates and additions from January 2015.

Before I get into more details and tips for success, remember, a promotion that doesn’t do as well as hoped isn’t necessarily a failure on the author’s part. It can be a failure of the marketing done on the author’s behalf – and marketing does fail frequently in my experience. That said, it's up to the author to put his or her best foot forward. You really need to take your time with any submissions to these services, make sure your work is highly polished with good cover art, and provide as much detail as possible in your submission.

Further, to be clear, no one who participated in the study was disappointed with BookBub. Participants gave BookBub two thumbs up with caveats and our highest rating.

Did the participants think BookBub was a good value? Yes, that's what the score of 10 indicated.

Did the participants think BookBub was perfect? No, that’s why the score was a 10 and not a 20. Online promotion services in this category have a long way to go towards perfection—BookBub included.

Will the participants be using BookBub again? Yes, absolutely.

I was asked many questions about the residual value of online book promotion services, as in: Is there value beyond the promotion period?

To be clear, the study looked at the value of the promotion not just on the day of promotion but within a reasonable window of time that extended beyond. As an example, a book may see 80% of its boost on Day 1 and Day 2, 15% of its boost on Days 3 to 5, and 5% of its boost on Days 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, and that windowing effect was taken into account.

These offerings are really one-time and done, with little residual value. Remember, many of these services are featuring 20 – 30 or more books a day with promotions appearing on “daily feature” pages, promoted through daily emails, and often on social media. It’s important to remember that success with these services isn’t just about the daily newsletter emails to followers. It’s also about the service’s web site and social media channels. Thus, there are 3-parts to promotion strategies using these services that must be considered.

With the “daily feature” page, your book is one of many. Successive daily promotion pages quickly follow the page your book is on. Thus, after 7 to 10 days, your book is already several hundred books back in the queue. Some promotion services distinguish themselves by making their web sites about more than the listings, and that helps to build traction.

With daily emails, your book is included in a daily email. Successive daily emails quickly follow. Thus, after a few days, the email containing your book has already been superseded several times.

It’s also important to remember that just because a service has 1,000,000 followers doesn’t mean 1,000,000 are going to see your promotion. Typical open rates for promotion services that use daily emails are likely 2 to 3%, though I’ve seen claims as high as 6 to 12%. Open rates are posted by some services if you look for them, though self-reported and based on all classes of recipients.

With an open rate of 2 – 3% and 1,000,000 emails sent, that means about 20,000 to 30,000 are opening the email. With an open rate of 6% and 1,000,000 email sent, that means about 60,000 are opening the email. With an open rate of 12% and 1,000,000 email sent, that means about 120,000 are opening the email. Once those emails have been opened, some subset of those who did so will make one or more purchases based on what they read.

Going back to the idea of residual value. Marketing isn’t just about the sales made, but also building brand, following and cache. However, most of these services would have to rethink their entire approach to build any actual product awareness: daily pages and daily emails don’t build anything.

With 20, 30 or more books featured at a time each and every day, readers are simply being overwhelmed and it’s highly unlikely any value is being built. ENT and BookBub might be exceptions, as their larger followings make the building of traction more likely. As ENT and BookBub are quite popular, they may also have higher open rates than smaller services.

Anyone working at these services may wonder how they can start providing more value more consistently. There's no easy answer but here's a start: Don't feature so many books at once. Build additional value using your website and social media. For examples of better websites, start by looking at how ENT is doing things.

The effectiveness of this category of book promotion services has changed over time. Services focusing on free and discounted ebooks have grown and matured with the ebook/kindle marketplace itself. A mature following isn’t the same as a new, hungry following.

When many of these services started, they were rapidly expanding and growing their following. Now much of their following has matured along with the services themselves. As a result, there’s likely a growing percentage of members who may not be actively seeking new reads or who may not be seeking new reads as frequently, as well as a base of members who continue to actively seeking new reads. Because of this, these services must constantly grow their membership base with not just new members, but with members who are actively seeking new reads.

I know when I first started following these services, I couldn’t wait to open the emails each day to discover new deals. A few weeks in though, I was only checking every few days. A few months in, I was only checking sporadically, and mostly when I needed something to new to read. Now after several years, I check only every now and again—and I’m someone who reads ravenously, daily.

Regarding repeat advertising for the same product, some discussion should be made about the possibility of diminishing returns—and that should definitely be highlighted. The first time you advertise a product in a new market you are likely to capture the attention of a larger part of the market than with subsequent advertising in the same market. In fact, with each subsequent ad for the same product, you may find less and less of a return.

Keep in mind, the concept of diminishing returns applies to advertising the same product in the same market repeatedly. Thus, one way to get continued success is to market different products rather than the same product. Also, keep in mind the market itself can change over time. In the early days, this was especially true with BookBub. BookBub with 2 million members didn’t have the same market as BookBub with 4 million members. Not only did BookBub have 2 million more members, but the company also started doing things in different ways. Growth and change create new opportunity, and if BookBub continues to grow and change these opportunities will continue to flourish.

Open rate is only one metric for success in email newsletters. Other important metrics include clickthrough rates and conversion rates. Going back to what I was talking about earlier with open rates for the email newsletters from these services. The open rate is the percentage of members who open the newsletter. If a service has 4-million members and a 10% open rate, that means about 400,000 will open the email on any given day.

The clickthrough rate is the number of members who click through to a sales page after they’ve opened the email. If the clickthrough rate is 26%, that means out of those 400,000 about 104,000 will click a book link and land on a sales page, whether at Amazon, Google Play, Barnes & Noble or somewhere else. Thus, in the end, the 4-million member base is whittled down to about 104,000 who have progressed far enough to make a purchase decision:

4,000,000 to start

400,000 who open the email

104,000 who click through to a sales page

Those who click through may do so more than once, but typically are only counted on the initial click through. Because the newsletters always have multiple features, each book typically receives some portion of the click through.

Sometimes an additional metric called the conversion rate is used to track the number of people who then make a purchase. However, that’s a difficult metric to track because it relies on sales reporting, which is often estimated or self-reported.

Tips for Getting into BookBub from BookBub, Plus 20 Questions and Answers from BookBub


Like Country Clubs and Men's Clubs, BookBub builds buzz among authors by seeming to be exclusive. In 2014, they accepted 1 out of 4 submissions. For 2015, they’re currently reporting that they accept 1 out of 5 submissions and that’s what we’re seeing as well. But the only real criteria they seem to have relate to:

Current sales rank
Current sale price relative to past on sale prices
Number of favorable reviews relative to total reviews

Or in other words, they're largely looking for already successful authors to make even more successful.

Never forget, BookBub is offering a service. They exist to serve authors, authors don't exist to serve them. In 2014, BookBub earned about $12,000,000 from authors (our estimation, not theirs). If they want to keep earning that kind of money, they'll need to start being fair about their selection process, start looking at the product offered itself, start posting real sales numbers for all authors and not just the winners, and stop paying attention to what we all know can and are being bought: reviews and sales rank.

So what does BookBub itself have to say about all this? Do they have specific tips for successfully getting featured? Yes, they do, and here they are with my revisions as appropriate for clarity.

What is the biggest factor for getting into or not getting into BookBub? Discount. More specifically, the discount relative to the everyday price of the book. Books must be discounted by at least 50%. As an example, a book priced every day at $5.99 and offered at $2.99 has a 50% discount. A book with a discount less than 50% will not be accepted.

BookBub accepts novels. Does BookBub accept novellas, short stories or picture books? Any work of fiction must be at least 150 pages. Any work of nonfiction must be at least 100 pages. The exceptions are for cookbooks, middle grade readers, and pictures books. Cookbooks must be at least 70 pages. Middle grade books must be at least 70 pages. Picture books must be at least 20 pages.

So novellas and short stories are acceptable as long as they meet the length criteria? Yes. We don’t currently accept stand-alone novellas or short stories, but we do accept collective works.

Does BookBub use reviews to determine whether to feature a book? Yes. Customer reviews and ratings are used to determine whether to feature any book. BookBub also looks for critical reviews from trusted editorial sources.

Such as? Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Amazon editors, book review sections in newspapers.

Do deeper discounts help to get into BookBub? Yes. BookBub promises members that any book we feature is deeply discounted or free. The deeper the discount from the everyday price, the better. Remember, the deal BookBub features must also be the best deal available at the time.

Does BookBub accept always discounted books? Not usually. A book that’s always discounted doesn’t meet our criteria for a limited-time offer.

What is the best price point for a deal to get accepted? BookBub rarely accepts deals priced higher than $3.00. For the best chance at getting featured, make sure your deal is $2.99 or less.

Does the price history affect a submission? Yes. BookBub doesn’t accept submissions for books that have had a better price in the previous 90 days. We don’t accept submissions for books that will have a better price in the near term (approximately next 30 days).

Does BookBub accept free books? Yes. BookBub only features books that are free or discounted. Free books are our most popular listings, and we’re always looking for submissions of good free books.

Does BookBub accept always free books? Not usually. A book that’s always free doesn’t meet our criteria for a limited-time offer.

Books that were on sale at the time of submission often weren’t selected. Can you tell us why that could happen? BookBub looks for limited-time offers and typically 14 to 30 or more days in advance of a feature. If the book is already on sale, it won’t be a limited time offer by the time we feature it.

During the submission process, we are asked for how long after the feature will the offer be available. We found that our answer here really seemed to matter. Does it? Yes. Again, BookBub looks for limited time offers. A book that’s going to be on sale for 60 days isn’t a limited time offer.

A deal has to be widely available for acceptance. Can you explain? Yes. A deal must be available on at least one major retailer in the US or UK.

An example? Amazon US or Amazon UK.
 
I notice BookBub is looking at Amazon Canada too, and breaks out US, UK and CA separately in pricing when you get accepted. Yes. US, UK, and CA pricing is separate. The audiences are separate.

Does the number of retailers matter? Wider availability is better, but a deal only at Amazon US, Amazon UK or both is sufficient.

How often can an author submit a book to BookBub? Each book must have at least 6 months between features. A book featured in February can’t be featured again until August.

But what if a book is rejected. When can the author resubmit? BookBub asks that authors wait four weeks before submitting a book for consideration again.

But what if an author has multiple books? BookBub looks at submissions for individual books. An author with many books can submit each that meets our requirements.

But BookBub will only feature the same author once every 30 days? Yes. BookBub won’t feature the same author twice in any 30-day period.

ReadIndies recommendation: Authors with multiple books should wait to see if they are accepted before submitting a different book for consideration.

Submit your book to BookBub @ https://www.bookbub.com/submit-order/new

Learn about BookBub pricing @ https://www.bookbub.com/partners/pricing

 
Hope this special report helps you get into BookBub! To share your BookBub success story with our readers, send an email to williamstanek@aol.com with subject BOOKBUB STORY TO SHARE. Be sure to include full details about your promotion including the cost of the promotion, the total sales attributed to the promotion, the category you were featured in, the sale price, the number of days for the sale, the everyday price of your books, the number of reviews and the overall rating at the time of the submission. No attachments, please enter the details into the body of your email.

Thanks for reading,
 
Robert Stanek

1.20.2015

Book Promotion Sites Ranked & Rated Part 1: AwesomeGang, FussyLibrarian, Ereader News Today, EbookSoda, ReadCheaply, BookBub

With millions of published books out there from authors, there’s no shortage of book promotion sites looking to cash in. Some of these are honest, hard-working folks offering good services at fair prices. Others, not so much, especially some of the ones that are the talk of the town in certain circles.

To help the thousands of ReadIndies, GoIndie, FreeToday and AmBlogging members find the gems and avoid the duds, myself (Robert Stanek) and 14 others tried many of these services and tracked the results. What follows is Part 1 of a summary of results gathered between January 2014 and December 2014. We will be following up with these services for 2015.

The 15 participants promoted 42 books from 11 different genres, including:

Mystery
Thriller
Romance
Scifi
Fantasy
Young Adult
Teen
Horror
Literary Fiction
Nonfiction
Children's

Each and every service was used by at least 10 of the 15 participants, one or more times. Our overall rating for these services is a simple thumbs up or thumbs down system:

Two thumbs up - Excellent
One thumb up - Good
One thumb down - Not Good
Two thumbs down - Not Recommended

To this, we added a numeric indicator from 0 to 20 to indicate level of success regarding downloads or sales during the promotion:

0 - the lowest score, the worst value for your time, money

10 - the middle score, a good value for your time, money

20 - the highest score, the highest value for your time, money

Before you try any of these services, be sure to read the “tips for your success” at the end of this article. Also note that any service listed who wants us to give them another chance, simply needs to write williamstanek@aol.com with the subject “Book Promotion: Give Us Another Try!”

As you consider using these services, never forget for a moment that book promotion is big business, and that many of these services are making quite good livings from their offerings. For example, we estimated based on the number of listed features each day that AwesomeGang is earning $50,000+ a year. Writers are we in the wrong business?


AwesomeGang


AwesomeGang (http://awesomegang.com/submit-your-book/) Kudos to AwesomeGang for offering a free submission option along with their $10 paid option. With the free option, each of the ten participating authors saw some nominal results. With the $10 paid option, we saw slightly better results, though not always enough sales to pay for the $10 promotion.

AwesomeGang features 20 to 30 books a day, with each featured book getting two days on the home page and some social media promotion. There are also 20 to 30 free listings of books a day on the home page. Some books seemed to be given preferential treatment over others, which we didn't like, especially if we were all paying $10 for our feature.
NOTE: The recommendation for this service is under review and may be removed. Sorry for unintentionally misleading anyone with the statement that this was a friendly service. Please read the comments regarding this service below and make sure to expand to see the full details.
Rating: One Thumb up. Service would be much better if listings were limited to 15 - 20 a day.

Success Level Free Book: 2. Fewer than 20 downloads on average for free listings and fewer than 35 downloads on average with $10 promotion.

Success Level .99 & up: 1. Fewer than 3 sales on average for free listings and fewer than 5 sales on average with $10 promotion. .99 and 2.99 books had the best results.

FussyLibrarian


FussyLibrarian (http://www.thefussylibrarian.com/for-authors/) Kudos to FussyLibrarian for changing the restrictions regarding number of reviews and ratings as services requiring authors to have a 4.0 rating or higher and specifically at Amazon only was causing some to toss 1- and 2-star reviews around to keep others out of services like these. However, points detracted for requiring an author with a new release or pre-order to have at least one other book with 50 reviews AND a 4.0 rating as again such a requirement encourages shenanigans.

Current pricing ranges from $5 (for genres with 12000+ subscribed) to $14 (for genres with 80,000+ subscribed). FussyLibrarian features about 25 books each day. Featured books appear on website and in daily email. When contacted, the team at FussyLibrarian was friendly.

Rating: One Thumb up. Service would be much better if listings were limited to 15 - 20 a day.

Success Level Free Book: 3. Fewer than 50 downloads on average for lower price ranges and fewer than 65 downloads on average with higher price ranges.

Success Level .99 & up: 1. Fewer than 5 sales on average for lower price ranges ($5) and fewer than 10 sales on average with higher price ranges ($14).  .99 and 2.99 books had the best results.


Ereader News Today (ENT)


Ereader News Today (http://ereadernewstoday.com/requirements/) Kudos to ENT for having one of the largest subscription bases at over 500,000 members. This service is also used by traditional publishers for their special promotions. Also looks at Amazon reviews to determine whether to carry a listing for a book. Price for promotion varies according to price of the book and genre.
Books must be free or discounted to $2.99 or less. Free books: $15 to $25. .99 books: $15 to $45. $1.99 books: $30 to $60. $2.99 books: $60 to $120.

Ereader News Today features 5 to 6 books at a time, several times during the day, on its website. Each set of featured books appears in an article that is skillfully put together. Featured books appear in daily emails as well. Because ENT has fewer featured books at a time, there is a higher potential for success than with services featuring 30 or more books all at once --and we liked that.

Rating: One Thumb up, though high marks for being creative and trying to give value.

Success Level Free Book: 4/5. Fewer than 100 downloads on average for lower price ranges ($15) and fewer than 500 downloads on average with higher price ranges ($25).

Success Level .99 and up: 3. Fewer than 20 sales on average for lower price ranges ($15 to $45) and fewer than 30 sales on average with higher price ranges ($60 to $120). With these sales level, authors didn’t earn enough to recoup the cost of the promotion.

At .99, authors earned back $7 on average from royalties and paid $30 on average. At $1.99, authors earned back $14 on average from royalties and paid $45 on average. At $2.99, authors earned back $62 on average from royalties and paid $90 on average.

EbookSoda


EbookSoda (http://www.ebooksoda.com/authors/requirements/) Kudos for accepting novellas, short stories and children’s picture books, which not all services do. However, points detracted for looking at reviews rather than the actual book to determine whether books have grammar errors and typos as qualifiers like this encourage shenanigans. Also points detracted for requiring a specific number of reviews and for not specifying any details on the size of its following.

Currently charges $10 for promotion. Ebooksoda features about 25 to 30 books a day.  Features appear on website and in daily email. Unlike many others, listings don't have much information to help readers make purchase decisions. This makes listings easy to browse, but harder to make a buying decision from.

Rating: One Thumb up. Service would be much better if listings were limited to 15 - 20 a day and some details were added, such as limited descriptions.


Success Level Free Book: 2. Fewer than 25 downloads on average.

Success Level .99 & up: 1. Fewer than 5 sales on average.

ReadCheaply


ReadCheaply (http://readcheaply.com/submit/) Even though free, not worth the time it takes to submit. Points detracted as well for making their website all about signing up authors.

Selects books based largely on having lots of reviews and high ratings. Looks primarily for free and discounted books from large, traditional publishers.

Features books in its newsletter and a deals page. However, the only link for the deals page is currently hidden all the way at the bottom of the home page. Other sites move the author sell page to secondary pages and focus on the deals, which is how it should be done.

Wasn't responsive to our emails, even when we were trying to give them a second chance.

Rating: Two thumbs down. Not recommended.

Success Level Free Book: 0-1. Fewer than 5 downloads on average.

Success Level .99 & up: 0-1. 0 sales on average.


BookBub


BookBub (https://www.bookbub.com/partners/pricing) Kudos to BookBub for being the largest and most successful in this category of promotion services, with 4 million members. Kudos also for having requirements that focus on the book itself, but points detracted for actually looking at the number of reviews and ratings to determine whether to feature a book. For 2014, BookBub states that they received 37,280 submissions from 13,791 authors but only chose to feature 8175 ebooks from 5042 authors across 30 categories/genres. Or put another way, an average of 22 books were featured each day.

BookBub gets a little crazy with pricing, however, which varies according to cost of the book and genre. Books must be free or discounted. Most free books cost $65 to $350 to promote. Most .99 books costs $130 to $700 to promote. Prices go up from there. For $1 to $1.99 books, the cost is $195 to $1050. For $2 to $2.99 books, the cost is $325 to $1750.

Are the prices justified? Hard to say. For all of 2104, BookBub states that the 8175 ebooks featured from 5042 authors across 30 categories had approximately 10 million sales. One assumes these are paid sales only, as the average free book is supposed to get 17,000 to 32,000 downloads during its feature. If approximately half of features were for free books and half for paid books, the average paid book then is supposed to have 2446 paid sales (10million / 4087).

BookBub does indeed list some huge stats for average number of books sold and range of total sales achieved during promotions. There’s also a large spreadsheet that goes into details for each price range. However, these numbers are largely reported to them by authors and not actual sales numbers, and it’s hard to say whether these numbers are truly representative of anything.

How good are BookBub paid promotions? BookBub states that the average Mystery book featured had 3,020 total paid sales as a result of the promotion, the average Fantasy book featured had 1,450 total paid sales, the average Thriller book 2,380 paid sales, and the average cook book had 1,840 sales. None of the participants who used BookBub saw numbers like these. Mostly, paid sales were well below what was listed as the low end of the range, which is 520 paid sales for Mysteries; 250 paid sales for Fantasy; 410 paid sales for Thrillers; and 310 paid sales for cook books.

Paid promotions didn’t meet even the most modest of expectations:

  • At .99, books didn’t recoup the cost of the promotion or even come close. The average .99 book earned $108 (.35 from each sale) but the average promotion cost was $420.


  • At $1.99, books didn’t recoup the cost of the promotion or even come close either. The average $1.99 book earned $224 (.70 from each sale) but the average promotion cost was $772.


  • At $2.99, books came closer to recouping the cost of the promotion. The average $2.99 book earned $788 (2.04 from each sale) but the average promotion cost was $1294.


How good are BookBub free promotions? BookBub states that the average Mystery book featured had 32,400 downloads as a result of the promotion; the average Fantasy book featured had 22,100 downloads; the average Thriller book had 23,500 downloads; and the average cooking book had 33,400 downloads.

None of the participants saw numbers like these. Mostly, downloads of free books were slightly to modestly below what was listed as the low end of the range; which is 9,500 for Mysteries; 6,500 for Fantasy; 6,800 for Thrillers; and 9,900 for cook books. However, the average cost of the promotion was $280.

It's also important to point out that BookBub is primarily about the daily email and that's a major disappointment because their website has so much potential. The home page has a scrolling banner of supposed "recent deals" but it's primarily past deals from big name authors that they're using as a hook for new subscribers. To give authors value, the scrolling banner should feature current deals or at least not the same deals as months ago.

The BookBub homepage doesn't have a direct link to currently discounted books. You must join the site as a member and then sign in each time to access this. If you look hard enough, you can find links on the homepage to the pages for free ebooks and free kindle books. The links are all the way at the bottom of the page and what you find when you follow the links are the current day's deals for free books. To find current deals for discounted and free books without signing in, use these links:

bookbub.com/deals

Or

bookbub.com/ebook-deals/latest


Rating: Two Thumbs up (with caveats)

Success Level Free Book: 10. 8400 downloads on average.

Success Level .99 & up: 10. 336 sales on average.


Tips for Success

When using these services or any other, you’ll do best if you follow this advice:
  1. Take your time with each and every listing. Provide as much information as you can and as much detail as you can. If the service allows you to include links for many different retailers, include links for as many as you can.
  2. Make each listing unique, if possible. If you are asked to provide a summary of your book, try to make this unique each time.
  3. Choose specific dates for each listing. If you want the biggest bang for your time and money, make sure each listing has a different promotion date. For example, have one listing on Monday, the next on Tuesday, the next on Wednesday, and so on. You also may want to have several days between each listing, such as one listing on Monday, the next on Wednesday, the next on Friday, and so on.
  4. As you’ll often be providing some of the same information over and over, create a promotion document for each book you plan to promote in this way. Be sure to track the dates you request for your promotion, and the actual date assigned for a promotion.
  5. Most listing services require payment through PayPal and will email a request for that payment to an account you specify. Make sure you have a PayPal account set up beforehand. Make sure you provide an email address that you check regularly.
  6. Before using ENT or BookBub, make sure you really want to spend that kind of money on promotion and then take extra time in preparing your listing.
  7. Authors with multiple books published will have a better chance of a successful promotion, especially if offering a book free and hoping for a boost in subsequent sales of other books.
When signing up for these services or any other, you need to pick a promotion date and you may be wondering if any particular day of the week was better than any other. Based on our results, it didn't really seem to matter what day of the week was selected for the promotion. That said, a key determining factor for success seemed to be how many books were listed each day. As an example, you'll do much better on a day when 20 books are featured than a day when 30 or more are featured.

In Part 2 of this special report, we'll share results gathered from:

Freebooksy
Bargain Booksy
Genre Pulse
Book Gorilla
Kindle Nation Daily

and others.

We also hope to have a Part 3 where we evaluate other types of book promotion services, including those for social media promotions through Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.


Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek

-----


A follow up to this article is now available:

Tips for Getting into BookBub from BookBub, Plus 20 Questions & Answers with BookBub


Thanks again,


Robert Stanek

1.16.2015

Paid Reviews: Myths, Truths and Misses (Kirkus Reviews, Indie Reader, BlueInk Reviews, PW Select, Self-Publishing Review, BookRooster, Net Galley)

Anyone who’s visited Amazon knows there’s a problem with reviews. Some books have thousands, many from questionable sources. But are paid reviews the real problem? And what really is a paid review?

Amazon seems to have no problem with authors buying reviews through giveaways and special offers designed for the express purpose of getting readers to write reviews. I’ve seen authors giving away thousands of dollars’ worth of swag to readers if and only if they write reviews, everything from $5000 vacations to $150 kindles to $50 Amazon gift cards. Sometimes these approaches to buying reviews are as blatant as headlines in social media that read: “Review my book, win a kindle.” Sometimes these approaches to buying reviews are pitched right under Amazon’s nose, as in through Amazon’s own social media channels.

Amazon also seems to have no problem with authors buying reviews through certain recognized paid review services, including:

Kirkus Reviews (formerly called Kirkus Discoveries and Indie Book Review) – Kirkus Reviews writes a 250-word review of a book in 4-9 weeks and charges $425 for standard service or $575 for express service (https://www.kirkusreviews.com/author-services/indie/).

Self-Publishing Review - Self-Publishing Review writes a 500-word review of a book in 2-4 weeks and charges $59 to $249. (http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/)

Indie Reader – Indie Reader writes a 300-word review of a book in 4-9 weeks and charges $225 - $300. (http://indiereader.com/authorservices/service-sample/)

BlueInk Reviews – BlueInk Reviews writes a 250-word review of a book in 4-9 weeks and charges $395 - $495. (http://www.blueinkreviews.com/purchase)

The paid review game is so lucrative Publishers Weekly even got in on the action with PW Select, which is now BookLife (http://booklife.com/). Under PW Select, authors were charged up to $475 for reviews of their books and the reviews would then appear in special indie sections of their magazine. Authors who got in that game early get to say for all time their books were reviewed by Publishers Weekly, even if they bought and paid for the review out of their own pocket.

So if these paid reviews, costing hundreds of dollars are okay, why is a $5 review from Fivverr.com or any of the other cheap review services not okay? I couldn’t tell you. But I do know this: The problem with paid reviews isn’t with singular paid reviews. It’s with paid reviews bought by the barrel full for the same book. 

Some authors are buying paid reviews 20, 50, 100, or more at a time for a particular book. Some authors have hundreds or thousands of reviews from these services—and that’s the real problem. A problem that makes honest authors whose books have few reviews by comparison or few reviews relative to actual sales look unsuccessful and unpopular—and publishing, like a gallup poll, is a popularity contest.

Okay, so there I’ve said it. I believe there’s nothing wrong with an author buying a single paid review for his or her book, but everything wrong with an author buying reviews by the barrel full. If an author wants to pay $500 for a review, she should have at it and Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and the rest of them will gladly take her money. Some authors will even double or triple down, buying reviews from one paid review service after the other in the belief that all these paid reviews will help them become successful. But do they? And what does it say about an author who shells out $1200, $1500 or $2000 to buy a handful of reviews? After a while, are they any different from the author who paid $1000 for 50 reviews?

Also, is there really a difference between that $500 review and a $5 review? I honestly don’t think there is. I think an honest $500 review and an honest $5 review have similar value. If you’re an author of 10 books and you want to buy a review for each of your books, whether you pay $5000 ($500 x 10) or $50 ($5 x 10) for the privilege should be up to you and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say there’s nothing wrong with either approach if that’s what you want to do. Why? Tens of thousands of authors already have bought reviews. The five review services I mentioned, two of which are from industry titans, collectively have written more than 50,000 reviews. Paid reviews are big business, after all.

To be clear, I’m not talking about buying 10 reviews from 1 review source for 1 book, which is wrong and unethical. I’m talking about using established, recognized sources to obtain a review for each of an author’s books, and in this example that author has 10 books. Also, to be clear, whether from industry sources or otherwise, all of these reviews, the $500 review or the $5 review, can end up on Amazon as a customer review or an editorial review with Verified Purchase / Real Name tags. Verified Purchase and Real Name tags have no bearing whatsoever on whether a review is from an actual reader who was not incentivized in some way to write the review.

In the old days of publishing, one way authors and publishers would get honest reviews legitimately was by sending out galleys. Sending out galleys was costly as publishers and authors had to pay for printing the galleys, shipping and postage. In the Internet age, there are several services that improve upon the galley model, including BookRooster (http://www.bookrooster.com/for-authors/) and Net Galley (https://www.netgalley.com/home/request).

The idea with BookRooster and Net Galley is that they’ll help get a galley of an author’s book into readers’ hands and that some of these readers will then write reviews of the book. BookRooster is the most economical, with prices ranging from $42 to $67. Typically, a book may go out to several hundred readers, and out of these hundreds a small trickle may like the book enough to write a review. Net Galley is the most expensive with prices starting at $300 for one-week of availability and going up from there. Typically, a book may go out to several thousand readers, and out of these thousands a small handful may like the book enough to write a review. At Net Galley, there’s also an indie special at $399 to $599 for a six-month listing.

Disclosure: I’ve never used Kirkus Reviews, Self-Publishing Review, Indie Reader, BlueInk Reviews, PW Select, or BookLife. Although I haven’t tried Net Galley, I tried BookRooster once, but had extremely limited results.

And yes, I have talked much about reviews before:

Amazon’s Broken, Unfixable, Rotten Core

Selling Your Soul to the Company Store

Authors “Writing” Their Own Reviews



Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek 

12.23.2014

Translating Hugh Howey: No Hugh, Self-Published Authors Don't Treat Readers Like Dirt. If You Do, That's Between You and Your Readers.

I'm Robert Stanek, a pro author since 1994 and an indie since 2001. Normally, I wouldn’t comment one way or another about Hugh Howey. We swim in different oceans and our paths rarely cross. In truth, I didn’t know the guy existed until he made several direct responses to me in online discussions I participated in last November/December.


Clearly, based on these posts, Hugh Howey wanted me to know he existed. The fact I didn’t have a clue who he was seemed to wound him deeply and a fisticuffs ensued with several of his online associates. I had no clue why Hugh Howey would care so much whether I knew who he was until I learned later he had been taking shots at me for quite a long time.

Over the past year, Hugh Howey seems to have been waging war against traditional publishing, a long string of a-list authors, and anyone who supports traditional publishing. To give you an idea of some of the things he’s been saying, here are his thoughts on David Streitfeld of the New York Times:

David Streitfeld of the New York Times has now cemented himself as the blabbering mouthpiece for the New York publishing cartel, and while he is making a fool of himself for those in the know, he is a dangerous man for the impression he makes on his unsuspecting readers.


Recently, I chanced upon a discussion in response to Hugh's blog post entitled, “Are Indies Treated Like Second Class Citizens?”. As you can see from the screen shot (at the end of this article), there’s some simple discussion and then Hugh Howey appears out of the blue saying:

How am I bashing Amazon? I'm guessing you just read the first line or two? Really asking.

The only bashing I see is from the usual suspects and aimed at me. Thinly veiled, of course.


Read the posts from the screen shot. If Hugh thinks he's being bashed somehow by that, he really needs to get out more or at the least learn how to take some simple criticism. 

Intrigued by his hubris, I decided to read “Are Indies Treated Like Second Class Citizens?” Knowing what I know about publishing from over 20 years in this business, I want to translate a few things Hugh says in the article.

Based on my read of the article, it seems Hugh Howey has recently learned that trad publishers not only get higher royalty rates than him but also get more money for borrows in KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited than he does—and he wants to figure out how to get the same pay day. A few choice quotes:

[A KU author gets] $1.30-ish for a borrow. A $9.99 ebook borrowed from a trad publisher, meanwhile, will pay 70%, which comes to $6.99. It’s worth pointing out here that the trad-pubbed author of that ebook will only receive around $1.48 for that same borrow of a $9.99 ebook.


Hugh bases the $1.48 on a 21% royalty rate from the publisher. In actuality, the royalty rate paid for ebooks by trad publishers to their authors can be anywhere from 10% net to 25% net, so in the range of .70 to $1.75.

Hugh also states:

indies aren’t just treated like second class citizens by Amazon — self-published authors treat Amazon’s customers like second class citizens.


Um, speak for yourself, Hugh Howey. Most authors, whether self-published or traditionally published, don’t treat their readers (who are Amazon customers) poorly. If you do, then that’s between you and your readers.

Next, Hugh tries to figure out a plausible way to get more money for himself and authors like him. His words in bold italics. The translation of his words in normal type.

The same freedom to publish that has changed the lives of thousands of authors also brings a wild west where others take advantage and try to game every system in every way possible. A handful of rotten apples spoils the entire bunch. The only way to prevent this is heavy curation, which I certainly don’t want. I want freedom, but with freedom comes the need to curb abuses. The logical step (and many have argued for this, some with compassion, some out of spite) is a tiered system. Classes of treatment for publishers based on the class of treatment given to customers.

What Hugh's really saying: Authors like me who sell lots of books and have thousands of rave reviews should get paid more than authors who don’t. After all, in the class system I'm proposing, I'm in the top tier (and the rest of you aren’t.) Also, while we’re at it, let’s make sure there’s real incentive to take down any author who tries to climb the class ladder.

So you have a class of authors who make their deadlines and a class of authors on probation for not meeting their deadlines. You have a class of authors who get regular feedback from readers about typos and a class of authors who rarely get this feedback (or who act on it promptly when they do). You have authors whose ebooks are read in a few days and authors whose ebooks are read in a few weeks, a reflection, perhaps, on the quality of the customer experience but not on the quality of the work.


What Hugh's really saying: Sorry the rest of you authors are fuck ups. In the class system I'd like to build, you'll be at the bottom anyway and guys like me will be at the top. 


I think we should have the same opportunities... but I don’t think we have the right to expect the same outcomes. That’s where the classes start sorting themselves. Should authors who sell a lot of books get better treatment than authors just starting out?

What Hugh's really saying: My success isn't something you'll ever achieve and the class system I want to build will help ensure this by making sure none of you get paid anywhere close to what a guy like me gets paid. The class system has worked so well throughout history. Peasants should not mix with us nobles and royals. I've been an author for 5 years now. If you haven't, you shouldn't have any of the same rights as I do.

Of course, it will be impossible to prevent abuses by the untoward and impossible to agree on metrics of quality (an exercise that I abhor). But now we can ask again whether Amazon should pay indies — as a whole — the same way they pay trad publishers. ... do I think indies as a whole should get paid the same as trad publishers as a whole? I do not.


What Hugh's really saying: Indies as a whole don't deserve the same pay as someone like me. Authors like me who sell lots of books should get paid more than authors who don’t. Although I abhor having to be the one to determine metrics of quality, I will as it'll help ensure the class structure I want to build remains top light and bottom heavy. I want to control the class ladder to make sure it's impossible to climb to the same lofty heights as me.

The authors who respect Amazon’s customers by providing high quality reads with professional covers at a great price should be treated better than those who upload short error-riddled rough drafts at high prices. And the latter should be treated better than those who break Amazon’s TOS, like having KDP Select books available elsewhere. And this group should be treated better than those who break the law by uploading stolen material (or by profiting from open-source or crowd-sourced material).

What Hugh's really saying: You must overlook the fact that the rules don't apply to me. My books are in KDP Select and also available everywhere else. Further, even though I became a success by cutting my books into parts and selling them in as many pieces as I wanted, that's not something anyone else should be able to do. In a class system, guys like me will make the rules anyway and they'll only apply to the rest of you. Also, while we're at it, let's find ways to make sure that everyone recognizes that everything I produce is a flawless gem and that everything the rest of you produce is flawed crap.


I am biased. I think Amazon should tweak their KU payout system to make it more fair among us indies. 99 cent short stories and novels should pay the same 35 cents that they do on KDP. The payout should also come at higher than the 10% read range (maybe more like 50%). Works priced from $2.99 – $6.99 should pay $2.00 per borrow.

What Hugh's really saying: Take a look at the price of my books. Since my work is better and costs more, I should be getting $2 a borrow and the rest of you shouldn’t. Further more, no one should be able to price their books at .99 like I did. That approach to success is only reserved for people like me at the top of the class structure I'm building.

The fairest thing I can think of is escalators. Amazon’s self-publishing audio book program, ACX, used to employ earnings escalators. The payout rate might start at 40%, but it can go up to 90% with enough sales. This puts the job of rewarding customer experience where it belongs, and that’s with the customer. Keep them happy and coming back for more, and the payout goes up.

What Hugh's really saying: Authors like me should make more than everyone else. After all, in a class system, we’re the top tier (and the rest of you aren’t). Also, while we’re at it, as authors like me start to earn 90% royalties, it’s highly likely the payout for the rest of you will go down closer to 0%, but don’t worry about that. I’ll spend my millions wisely and I encourage you to help me fight for my pay raise. I earned it. I'm Hugh Howey.

I’d love to see that 70% payout creep up to 85% with enough titles sold. Maybe 1,000 sales moves the peg up to 71%. 5,000 sales gets you 72%. Perhaps reaching 85% requires selling ten million ebooks (something no single self-published author has yet done on Amazon). I don’t dream of ever reaching that sort of level, but I would applaud those who do for being rewarded for it.

What Hugh's really saying: I’m on track to get to 10 million sold in a few years. Authors like me who sell lots of books and have thousands of rave reviews should get paid more than authors who don’t. After all, in a class system, we’re the top tier (and the rest of you aren’t). Also, truth be told, no one is going to get a raise after 1,000 sales or even after 5,000 sales, but those of us with 1,000,000 or more sales will. When we do, it’s highly likely the payout for the rest of you will go down considerably, but don’t worry about that. We’ll spend our millions wisely, so keep fighting for our pay raises.

As I said in the original post, it is cosmically unfair for all KDP users to be lumped together. That’s the conundrum. I don’t see an easy answer to any of this, just more problems.

What Hugh's really saying: I really hate the fact that I get paid the same royalty rate as everyone else. It’s not enough that I get perks and privileges the rest of you don’t, like having my books in KDP Select while they’re also on sale everywhere else. I’m supposed to be paid more than everyone else. I’m Hugh Howey. It's cosmically unfair that I don't get 90% royalties.


Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek


12.22.2014

Translating JA Konrath Translating John Sargent: Are Subscription Models Bad For Authors?

I'm Robert Stanek, a successful indie author since 2001 and a successful pro author since 1994. Joe Konrath is quite outspoken about his dislike and disdain for traditional publishing. Some would even say Joe is quite angry. I don't blame Joe for his anger considering he labored for many years as a traditionally published author, barely making a living, until he went indie and finally found true success. In past blog posts, Joe has angrily tore apart trad published authors like James Patterson and others, including the Authors Guild, for their defense of traditional publishing. (For the record, this is not meant as a dis on Joe.)

Personally, I think Joe should be more angry about the broken state of publishing and many of the things I've been blogging about right here: runaway ugliness in publishing; Amazon's broken system; Amazon's unfair business practices; etc.

There is no doubt Joe's an unfettered champion of Amazon, but Joe has much to learn about the heartless, soulless company in Seattle that puts smiley faces on its boxes while working to destroy everything we love about books and reading. If Joe really thinks any executive at Amazon gives a damn about his loyalty, my advice is this: wait a few years and see how they repay your loyalty when you're not making $1 million a year.

I became a pro author the same year Amazon became a company: 1994. I was one of the guy's who put Amazon on the map. My bestselling books, widely read articles, and highly popular websites all told readers about Amazon. I brought millions of new customers to Amazon's doorstep. My reward for years of steadfast loyalty? A handful of shit from a company that could care less about years of loyalty or the millions brought to their doors. And when they use you up, Joe, and shit you out on the pavement, there'll be a thousand guys in line to take your place who all will also think their loyalty means something.

Recently Joe's war against traditional publishing has taken him in new directions. He posted a tirade as a  response to Macmillan CEO John Sargent’s open letter to authors regarding tactics the company is taking to preserve market share in these difficult times for publishing (and books in general). Personally, I think John should have posted such a letter on Macmillan's site and not a Tor.com blog, but that's neither here nor there as I'm sure the letter went out in printed letters, email, etc as well.

As my books have been published by Macmillan, Random House, Pearson, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, etc, John's words were of particular interest. One of the biggest takeaways from the letter is that Amazon sells 64% of Macmillan's ebooks (meaning all other markets represent only 36%). I was not surprised to learn Macmillan was going to begin trials of subscription-based services. I had just done the same in September/October with my ebooks and audio books going into several subscription services.

I was surprised that Joe, whose books are all in Amazon's subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, was suddenly telling Macmillan authors that they should be screaming their heads off about Macmillan's potential use of subscription services. Is not what's good for the goose, good for the gander?

If subscription services devalue authors' works and are bad, why are 100% of Joe's works in Amazon's subscription service? Also, with current payouts for Kindle Unlimited not being far off from what Joe earns in KDP Select, isn't KDP Select devaluing his work and bad as well? As far as I know, Joe has been fine with the ~$1.70 payout of KDP Select, making north of $1 million from borrows, so what makes the ~$1.50 payout of Kindle Unlimited any different?

Joe's questions for John Sargent on behalf of Macmillan authors. My responses in normal type.

1. Can I opt out of this new subscription idea?

Likely, many/most authors are excited about these opportunities, especially with dwindling sales for most, increasing competition and decreasing market relevance. Recently, another publisher (Pearson/Microsoft) did allow me to opt out no questions asked from a new plan I didn't like.

2. My books aren't available in print anymore, or the print sales are minuscule. Can you give me my rights back?


Regarding reversions of rights, there's not a whole hell of a lot authors can do. Joe was fortunate to get his rights back from Macmillan. Many others won't be as fortunate. 

Macmillan made a huge amount of money from my books, north of $50 million, give or take. In the early days when I was writing for Macmillan, I worked hard to make my contracts more fair and balanced, but rights were something they held fast to. A lucky few might get back their rights, but may have to wait a decade or two until Macmillan believes the rights no longer have any value.

There are worse things than publishers holding onto rights. Ever heard of the Creative Commons? The Creative Commons basically is a set of rules for putting an author's work in public domain before copyright expires. In plain language, Creative Commons makes the work freely available to all.

In and of itself, Creative Commons is not a bad thing and was in fact created with the best of intentions. However, some publishers have turned those good intentions to their favor. As an example, O'Reilly Media's standard contract puts an author's work into Creative Commons automatically when it goes out of print or sells fewer than X copies a year (and then also grants O'Reilly Media a perpetual grant to use the work for free). 

For many O'Reilly Media authors this has meant that in 2 - 5 years after publication, their hard work is suddenly in the public domain and O'Reilly Media is free to start using it however they want in perpetuity. Now that's something to be outraged about.

Questions 3 - 17 are all pretty much the same: Why a subscription service? What does this mean to me when you went to war with Amazon over prices?

The fight with Amazon wasn't about price at all. It was about who gets what share of the royalties. See Selling Your Soul to the Company Store.

Joe's further comments in bold italics. My comments in normal type.

Macmillan supporting Oyster and withdrawing titles from Amazon is going against what the majority of the world is doing. That isn't kicking Amazon in the nuts. That's throwing away potential money, and pretty stupid. At this moment in time, competing with Amazon isn't wise. Look for markets Amazon doesn't care about.  Throwing support behind one of Amazon's competitors--when Amazon has the same program--is like starting a fire by burning piles of cash. Yeah, you get heat, but at what cost?

Um, earlier, you said this:

I'm unclear: are you only pursuing this subscription model with Amazon's competitors? Or are you going to also enroll my ebooks in Kindle Unlimited? If so, doesn't that negate everything you've done previously? If not, and you put my ebooks into Scribd or Oyster or wherever, will my ebooks still be sold on Amazon? Or will you pull them from Amazon?

I think a test of the subscription model will be exactly that. A test to determine viability. Likely, Macmillan will use Oyster and possibly Scribd as well for this test. Further, John states exactly this: We plan to try subscription with backlist books, and mostly with titles that are not well represented at bricks and mortar retail stores.

And can someone answer how any author, other than a big bestseller, would ever sign with Macmillan knowing their books are going into a subscription plan?

One could ask the same of any author who has considered or used subscription plans. Joe, you currently do this, and you also use KDP Select for all of your titles. As far as I know, the ~$1.70 payout of KDP Select and the ~$1.50 payout of Kindle Unlimited aren't much different.

The reason most writers sign legacy deals, other than getting an advance, is legacy's ability to get paper books onto retail shelves.

Strongly disagree. The reason most writers sign legacy deals is because of the worldwide reach of traditional publishers coupled with the belief that there is more potential for sales success. I'm not saying this is true any longer, but it is a long-held perception.

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek