Help Needed for Author of Children’s Books

I have been asked for help by an author who is ready to publish her first children’s book. She’s interested in self-publishing, and has the finished book with illustrations ready to go, but has no idea what to do next. While I’m very happy with CreateSpace, and could offer her help with them, I’ve read they are not necessarily the best choice for image-intensive books.

Can any of you offer alternative suggestions that I can pass on to this writer? I’d love to be able to point her in the right direction.


What makes a book a bestseller?

teasersquare600After two years of pounding the keyboard and putting out indie fiction, I finally hit what I consider a bestseller. Half Wolf had 6,000 combined sales and borrows during its first three months of life, and the sequel seems to be enjoying even better reviews (and, hopefully, sales).

While my figures still don’t hold a candle to those of some authors, I thought it would be worth mentioning what I did differently in case you want to follow suit. Here’s a quick rundown in what went into my bestseller.

  1. Studied the genre harder. I read widely and often and write what I love to read. That said, I noticed repeated criticisms of my Wolf Rampant series surrounding lack of sex and action scenes. At first, I turned up my nose and said, “Hmmph! That’s what makes me an indie author — I can write what I want!” But then I decided to give it a whirl. And I have to admit I feel like the resulting book was more powerful for the inclusions (even though those component are still below average on a modern chart).
  2. Paid for an amazing cover. I have basic photoshop skills and thought I could make my own covers…and I did manage to make passable ones. Then I upgraded to hiring a cover artist…and was amazed at the difference in sales. Rebecca Frank is, unfortunately, now booked months in advance and no longer accepting new clients. However, I highly recommend shopping around and paying for a top-notch cover to match your top-notch book, hitting all of the same genre buttons to signal exactly what’s inside.
  3. Workshopped my blurb to death. Seriously, I think about ten people helped me make approximately 100 revisions on my blurb. Even before that, I studied the blurbs of the bestsellers in my genre, noting word count and other factors. Overall, I spent nearly a week on the project! But the result is tight and humming with life and it sells books.
  4. Launched with forethought. A lot more goes into a sticky launch than just telling your fans and waiting for the sales to roll in. If you haven’t read it, I recommend Chris Fox’s Launch to Market as a primer. I used a spreadsheet and every bit of social capital I’d built up in recent months on my launch and it was very much worth it.

I hope that gives you some ideas for pushing your next book into the stratosphere! And, if you’re curious, Half Wolf will be free Saturday and Lone Wolf Dawn is already marked down to 99 cents for launch week. Feel free to lurk and see whether my second launch does as well as the first.

#Proofreading – How Important Is It?

Spelling Concept

Of course, it’s very important–absolutely critical to producing a book that impresses readers as being professional. As independent writers, many of know just how quickly reviewers will pick up errors and typos, and then alert the media about same! Here is a link to a great interview that says it all better than I can. Check it out!


An Interview With Julia Gibbs

Preparing for the post-Christmas rush

Bloodling WolfWith my newest release at the copy editor, I’ve been spending a few days cleaning up my backlist in preparation for the post-Christmas kindle craze. Here’s what I’m doing:

Updating keywords. Supercharge your Kindle Sales is the best book I’ve found so far on this topic.

Cleaning up blurbs. Gotta Read It! is really helping me get a handle on writing blurbs that sell books.

Checking on back matter. I’m busy adding buy links to all of the titles I mention in the back of my books and am checking to make sure my email-list call-to-action is also clear and easy to follow.

Changing out covers. All of my covers were originally homemade, so I’m spending a bit getting replacement covers for a few titles that needed it the most. For example, take a look at my new cover for Bloodling Wolf to the right.

Planning a sale. I’m running a free period for a couple of my books the week before Christmas, hoping they’ll get in the public eye and be higher in the rankings once they go back to the paid store. I’m also thinking of a countdown deal right after Christmas, although I suspect everyone else will be doing the same, so that might not be a realistic time to try to move up the rankings.

I’d be curious to hear from others. What do you typically do to put your best foot forward for the Christmas season?

Things I Learned About Keywords

I wanted to post an update related to Aimee’s post last week about using categories and keywords on Amazon. These are a few things I learned over the weekend:

1. The categories I picked do not match the categories that actually show up on the bottom of the book page. I chose FICTION>GHOSTS and FICTION>FANTASY>DARK FANTASY. At the bottom of the book’s page it says:

HORROR is one of my keywords, but not one of my categories. I don’t think this is related to the keyword though so much as how screwy their categories are: the ones you can pick don’t match the ones you can browse, and neither seem to match the ones they use on the book pages themselves.

However, if you browse to FICTION>FANTASY>DARK FANTASY, it will show up there.

2. You can use keywords to get into the smaller, more specific categories. I used HUMOR as a keyword. If you browse to FICTION>FANTASY>DARK FANTASY>HUMOR, it will show up there.

3. But not the bigger ones. Using PARANORMAL and WOMEN’S FICTION as keywords did not put me in those categories. That meant WOMEN’S FICTION wasn’t doing me much good, so I took it out and added DEMON instead. I kept PARANORMAL though because I think there’s still some benefit to having that as a search term. People might type “paranormal ghost story” into the search box, but I don’t think many will type “women’s fiction ghost story.”

ebooksmAnd yes, Ghost in the Canteen is in the store! But not officially “launched” yet. Amazon and CreateSpace both did everything so much faster than they said they would that I was a bit taken by surprise to have it available so quickly. After 24 hours I sent Amazon an email to link the two formats (didn’t happen automatically in that timeframe), and they did that within a few hours as well.

I hate the idea of starting my release announcements on a weekend rather than the nice tidy Thursday I planned, but I’m going to anyway because I think it’s the lesser of two evils. The way I figure it, you only get 30 days in which you qualify as a New Release, and you want to make them all count!

Per David Gaughran’s advice in Let’s Get Visible, I’m spreading the love a bit on launch communications. Newsletters/my mailing lists today, then blog/Twitter/Facebook tomorrow, then my other blog the next day.

Of course, you guys should, like, totally check it out now. 😉

What I learned from erotica writers

Amazon keywords

I know, I know — that subject line is totally unfair. Except that I did learn everything in this post from reading the thoughts of erotica writers on kboards..then I decided to try out their techniques in my far-from-erotic works.

The hot topic among erotica authors at the moment is keywords. Remember typing in those seven words or phrases on Amazon when you were publishing your ebook? I’ve added a screenshot at the top of this post to jog your memory.

If you’re like me, you probably went for the obvious and perhaps also added in keywords that Amazon uses to put your book into categories you can’t choose out of the dropdown menu. This latter technique is especially useful for new authors like me, who can only dream of selling enough books to make it into Amazon’s Paranormal Fantasy category…but who can find some new readers in New Adult Fantasy in the meantime.

But, beyond getting me into book categories, I have a feeling the rest of my keywords were a total waste of my time. Why? When you search on Amazon for “werewolf,” 32,920 results pop up. Who’s going to page through those endless covers and stumble upon my book? Nobody!

Amazon search resultsWhich brings me back to those wily erotica authors. I’m not going to mention some of the keywords they suggest because I think I need to wash my brain out after reading them and don’t want to share the joy. But here’s the G-rated version. Rather than using the keyword “werewolf” for my book, why don’t I try out something like “werewolf kindle unlimited”? That phrase only turns up 504 results, or 20 pages of books. Someone who has enrolled in kindle unlimited and is looking for a werewolf novel to read just might pick up Shiftless if I was listed under that keyword phrase, so I decided to give it a whirl.

Adding “kindle unlimited” to one of your keywords is a no-brainer if you’re enrolled in KDP Select, but should you go all-out and add the term to all of your phrases? Probably not. Amazon will mix and match words from different keyword phrases when indexing your book, so you’d probably be better off choosing other terms entirely so you get more bang for your keyword buck. After all, you do only get to choose seven phrases for your book, so it’s best to make each one count!

Now, let’s talk numbers. What’s the sweet spot in terms of keyword search results — are you looking for a phrase that turns up as few results as possible or as many as possible? The answer is: neither. As I mentioned above, if your keyword phrase is too vague, you’ll get lost in the shuffle. But, at the other extreme, a keyword so specific that only five other books turn up is totally useless if no one searches for “basket weaving with werewolves.” This is where keyword choice becomes an art, but as a rule of thumb, I generally aim for phrases with 50 to 500 results, hoping specifically to find those that clock in around 100 to 300 books.

One erotica author swears that you can make $100 in your first week with an unpublicized 5,000-word erotica short if you get the keywords right, and while I suspect less-sensational fiction won’t get you that far, it can’t hurt to play with those keywords and see how far they’ll help your book rise in the rankings. I’ve just updated Shiftless‘s keywords and will keep you posted about the results, and I’d also love to hear from other authors who have gotten more scientific with Amazon’s keyword options. Have you found keyword phrases that helped your undiscovered book see the light of day?

Making indie audiobooks

Shiftless AudiobookWhen Kindle Unlimited was rolled out, I read the fine print and realized that subscribers can download audiobooks as well as ebooks for free (with the author receiving about $1.50 per borrow and possibly gaining new fans).  Since there are about 700,000 ebooks enrolled in Amazon’s lending library but only about 2,300 audiobooks, I decided I wanted to swim in that much smaller pool.  Was it possible for an unknown indie?

The answer is a resounding yes, but like most aspects of self-publishing you’ll need to spend some time and possibly money on the endeavor.  ACX is Amazon’s audio wing, where authors hook up with narrators to make independent audiobooks happen.  You can choose to pay up front for your narration (a process that will likely cost $1,000 to $5,000), or you can opt for the revenue-sharing possibility as I did.  Revenue-sharing costs the author nothing up front, but you split all future audio royalties fifty/fifty with the narrator after the audiobook is produced. Although that sounds like a lot of money to give up, your revenue-sharing narrator does have a vested interest in making your audiobook soar and might help you sell more.  On the downside, though, you will have to make your project look very enticing to potential narrators if you want to find a really top-notch voice actor in this scenario.

As you might guess, I used the royalty-share option to produce my first audiobook (which is now available on Amazon, Audible, and (soon) iTunes).  I learned a huge amount on the process, too, namely:

Be patient while you wait for auditions.  At first, narrator auditions trickled in, but after a week, Amazon chose my project to be eligible for an ACX stipend and they featured the book in their newsletter to producers.  That meant that even though I chose the revenue-sharing feature, the narrator would also be paid $100 per audio hour up front.  In other words, the stipend made my project look very enticing and attracted some higher-end narrators.  (You are most likely to get the stipend if your ebook is already selling very well.)

Stay in touch with your narrator as they work.  My narrator and I got our wires crossed and she thought the audiobook was due three weeks later than the date I’d set in the dashboard.  Don’t assume your narrator read all the fine print!  Send them a message every week or so and make sure you’re both on the same page.  And, before you start, make a list of any strangely pronounced names or words in your story as a sort of cheat-sheet for the narrator.  (I didn’t know to do this either….)  Help make their job as easy as possible!

Consider the pay-up-front option.  One of my recent time-sinks has been lurking on kboards, where indie authors share what has and hasn’t worked for them.  A few authors there note that they’ve been making as much per title with audiobooks as with ebooks lately, but their method of success involves paying up front for top-notch narration.  I’m still not sure whether I’m willing to sink such a huge sum of money into my next audiobook, but if Shiftless does well, I might go that route with book two.

Tell your fans about Audible’s free trial.  Audible gives revenue-sharing authors $25 each time someone signs up for a new membership and downloads your book as their first audio adventure.  This is a relatively easy sell since your fans probably want to listen to your story and will love the idea of getting a copy for free.  So push those free trials!

If you’ve got any questions about audiobooks, feel free to leave them in the comments below.  Although it’s taken a bit of time, I’ve vastly enjoyed the experience of turning Shiftless into an audiobook, in large part because hearing my words narrated has made them feel more real.  Go listen to the free sample and see what you think!  (And, while I’m mentioning free things, I’ve set the ebook version of the prequel short story free at the moment as well, so be sure to snag your copy!)

David Gaughran, Sean Platt, and Johnny B. Truant


There are so many interesting books out there with ideas and information on writing, on self-publishing, and on marketing, it’s hard to know which ones are worth your time. Here are three you might consider.

The first is David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital. If you are new to the idea of self-publishing an eBook, this is the one you should start with. Gaughran gives you all the scoop on why eBooks are such a good option for new writers (or any writer, really), and plenty of tips on how to go about it. I don’t know when the book was last updated, so there could be a few things that have been changed since it was originally written, but by and large, it is a book that will help you understand why eBooks are dominating the market right now, and why the trend is likely to continue a very long time.

Let’s Get Digital

My second choice is also by David Gaughran. Let’s Get Visible is for those of us who have taken the digital self-marketing plunge. We have a book or books out there, but are having trouble figuring out a good way to market them. One of the things I liked about this book is the way Gaughran explains the way Amazon’s algorithms grow and change, and how that should guide your marketing strategies.

Let’s Get Visible

And my newest discovery, Write. Publish. Repeat,  is a book even David Gaughran praises to the skies as the best book on self-publishing out there. I’m only one third of the way through it, but I’m already learning new concepts from Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, who share their own wildly successful methods for becoming self-supporting writers of eBooks. This one could really make a different in how I proceed with my marketing strategy in the months ahead.

Write. Publish. Repeat.

What books or blogs have you discovered on self-publishing and self-marketing you really learned a lot from? We’d love it if you’d share with us. Thanks!

Sharing a Blog On Writing

One of my favorite blogs is The Creative Penn. I have learned so much about writing, in general, and CreateSpace in particular, from the blog, and especially from guest blogger, Dean Fetzer. There is an ongoing post on the Top Ten Tips For Self-Publishing here, and the questions and answers below are fantastic sources of information about the CreateSpace process. Check it out. Or better yet, follow it, and you’ll learn something every time a new question is posed. The mail load isn’t huge, but the information IS. While you’re there, check out Joanna Penn’s books, too!