Tag Archives: self-publishing advice

Understanding the Smashwords Survey — Sex For Money, Post #20

Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance. All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ. It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there. To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.


Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve written a Sex For Money post! The last one was in December 2016 — so it’s about time I got back into them!

I’ve been fairly dormant lately, at least online, because I’ve been working on getting my new publishing company kicked off and into high gear. Now that it’s underway and the bumps have been smoothed and the team is working together well, I’m finally able to start getting back into writing and blogging and publishing (my own stuff).

And I figure a necessary part of getting back into my role as a smut writer is to get back into these self-help posts. And the timing is pretty much perfect.

Late last week, Smashwords released their annual survey, which compiles massive amounts of data collected by Smashwords in relation to book sales. While, for most authors, Amazon is the powerhouse of sales and Smashwords is a distant second, this data is still useful. (On that note, though, I should point out that for many authors, myself included, Smashwords is a prime source of royalties. I make about 1.5-2 times more on Smashwords than on Amazon.)

The first reason this data is useful is that it shows you trends regarding what’s selling through Smashwords and their third party vendors. If you’re wondering what sells on Smashwords, you’ll find our answer here. The second reason this data is useful is that even if you’re a devoted Amazon fan, Amazon gives its publishers almost no data.

If you haven’t already, I’d strongly suggest taking a look at Smashwords’s annual survey and flipping through the slides. You might take something different from the data than I did.

Some of the data is likely useless. For example, they found that the bestselling books had longer titles. Does this mean you should come up with longer titles for your books? The problem is we don’t know if the better sales was because of the longer titles… or if it was more or less coincidental. If JK Rowling released a book through Smashwords, it would be a phenomenal bestseller, regardless of the length of title. We don’t know if the books were selling because of their titles or because of the author.

However, it could be that the longer titles were better for keyword searches. While I generally don’t like “keyword stuffing” — which is where you have something like Title of Book (gay erotica with lots of gangbangs and forbidden hook up discrete encounters tentacle sex BDSM) — a slightly longer title that catches search traffic is a good idea. One of my bestselling titles is Seduced By My Best Friend’s Dad. It’s also one of my longest titles. What drives sales? I doubt it’s the length of the title that is making sales. But I bet that because I have a more descriptive title, I’m catching search traffic, clicks, and sales. If I had gone with something artsy like Hotter Than The Campfire or simply Camping Trip, I wouldn’t get that search traffic — and even if I did get that search traffic, the titles are not sexy or appealing.

Smashwords found that bundles and box sets sell well. That’s something most authors in the industry have found. As soon as you have a number of related titles or a completed series, it’s to your benefit to create a box set or bundle and price it at a low price. It’s believed by many that those who buy individual ebooks are a different market than those who search out bundles and sales and deals — so by offering a cheap bundle, you’re not necessarily undercutting your sales, rather, you’re reaching a new market you weren’t reaching before.

Their findings on prices were interesting. $3.99 might be the new norm. I firmly believe (right now anyway) that short stories should still be $2.99. If you’re in a non-erotic genre and you’re reading this post, you might want to price a short story a little lower — it’s really in the erotic genres only that readers will spend $2.99 on a short story.

If you have something longer, then maybe $3.99 is the way to go. I generally price my novellas at $3.99.

On that note, the Romance Writers Association found a few years back that $6 was considered by readers to be an appropriate price for a romance novel ebook. So, I tend to price between $2.99 and $5.99, depending on the length. ($5.99 is a good price for a bundle.)

However, again, we don’t know if the surge of $3.99 books is because that price is somehow appealing… or if there were a number of appealing books that happened to be priced at $3.99.

The lack of clarity in the data can be frustrating sometimes, but it’s not like the staff at Smashwords necessarily know what’s causing these trends. They’re just crunching the numbers and presenting it to us. Even so, it’s far more helpful than what we get from Amazon.

Part of being an author in the erotic genres is simply going out there and trying your ideas and seeing if they work. Erotic authors and romance authors have been at the forefront of the ebook revolution and have led the industry into that new realm. If you do something that doesn’t quite work, that’s fine — dust yourself off and try something new. And if you find something that works well, then ride that wave until it runs out.

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Quick and Clean Formatting — Sex For Money, Post #17

Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance. All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ. It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there. To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.

If you find these posts handy, or you’re looking for more information on the business of writing, publishing, and selling gay erotica and M/M erotic romance, check out my in-depth book, Sex For Money.




You’ve written the hottest story ever and you’ve had it perfectly edited – don’t let it fall flat on your face by submitting a poorly-formatted document to Smashwords or KDP! Too often, I’ve seen people panic when they discover that their ebooks show up all wonky when people download them – bizarre indenting, strangely-colored text, changes in font and size – I’ve seen them all.

To prevent all of these mishaps, all it takes is about ten minutes of formatting in Word, to help you produce a professional and top-notch product.

This post assumes that editing has been completed – there are no typos, your grammar is correct, and plot holes have been filled. If you haven’t done that yet, do it first! Formatting for publication should be your last step. If you do editing after formatting, you run the risk of accidentally introducing new errors into your file.

These steps should fix most, if not all, of the problems that appear in your manuscript. I’ve followed these steps and have had no problems (that I’m aware of), and I’ve had no difficulty getting my file through Smashwords’s notoriously-finicky “meatgrinder” software.

Correct Spacing

If you’re like me, you double-space after a period. It should only be one space. (Even if you don’t have a habit of doing this, it’s still advisable to complete this step, in case you put one in there without knowing.)

Do a Find and Replace with this:

  • Find: [space][space]
  • Replace: [space]

Of course, replace [space] with an actual space!

Correct Indentation

Ideally, your paragraphs should be indented, rather than “block style.” (Block style is where you do not indent paragraphs, but you have a blank line between them.) However, you should not use your TAB key to indent paragraphs.

Highlight the text that needs to have correct indentation – this could mean highlighting the whole thing OR doing a chapter at a time, as you don’t want your centred chapter headers to be indented. Click on Paragraph Styles (in the newer version of Word for Windows, at the bottom right of the section of the toolbar that has the paragraph alignments, there’s a small angled arrow in the corner – click that). Set the indent to “first line” at .3”. We’re setting it at .3” rather than the standard .5” because if someone is reading on a small device like a phone, a .5” indent is massive. Click okay.

If you had used the tab key while writing your manuscript, you need to get rid of the tabs.

Go to Find and Replace and enter this:

  • Find: ^t
  • Replace: [blank]


Correct Font

Dedicated ereaders (Kindle, Kobo, Nook) tend to have, at most, eight basic fonts on them. You generally don’t want fancy fonts in your file. Ideally, it should all be Times New Roman, 12 pt. If you have variation in your file, for whatever reason, make judicious choices, but don’t rely on people reading it in the exact font you chose – if you chose a weird one, the ereader will default to one of the fonts pre-loaded in them. And if you choose something too big or small, your readers can adjust the size on their device.

If, for whatever reason, you changed the color of the font – even if you set it to black – then you need to correct this. Highlight the whole document and choose “automatic” from the font color list.

Correct Punctuation

Depending on how you wrote your book, you may have a mix of apostrophe and quotation mark styles. You may have some that are straight up and down lines and others that are curled properly. To ensure all is proper, go to Find and Replace and enter:

  • Find: “
  • Replace: “

It will automatically correct it to curled right and left quotation marks. Then do the same for the apostrophe.

Minutiae

You may have a space at the end of a paragraph or a space at the beginning of a paragraph and not know it. Here’s how to find them and get rid of them. Go to Find and Replace and enter:

  • Find: [space]^p
  • Replace: ^p

And then follow up with:

  • Find: ^p[space]
  • Replace: ^p


One Last Step

Smashwords will only take a DOC file, and not a DOCX. Amazon’s KDP apparently doesn’t care if it’s DOC or DOCX.

But here’s the tricky part – if you just go File, Save As and then save your document as a DOC file, Smashwords will sometimes recognize that at one point in the file’s lifetime, it had been a DOCX and Smashwords’s meatgrinder will reject it.

Highlight and copy the whole document, then paste it into a new document. Then save this file, making sure to select DOC from the file type option at the bottom of the window.

You’re Done!

Once you do all that, your file should be fine to submit to Smashwords and KDP. I say “should” because there might be other errors in there that will make things go screwy. The trick is to be patient and to work through things slowly. It’s a steep learning curve if you’ve never done it before, but once you get the hang of it, it just becomes automatic.

Happy self-pubbing!

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Seven Perspectives on Author Branding — Sex For Money Post #14

Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance.  All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ.  It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there.  To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.


 

As you have have noticed here on the good ol’ blog, I’m now part of the Oh Get A Grip! blog, in which ten erotic authors tell it like it is.  The topics each fortnight cover pretty much every area of life possible, only sometimes returning to the actual topics of writing and self-publishing.

This past fortnight, the topic was “branding,” which could be taken multiple ways — the author brand, marks on your skin, or whatever way branding speaks to the author.

Most of the contributors spoke about the author brand, which is an important consideration for the erotic author (or authors of any genre, for that matter).

Here are links to the author branding posts:

 

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DRM and DMCA and Preventing Piracy – Sex For Money Post #13

Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance.  All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ.  It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there.  To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.


Piracy is, unfortunately, a common crime in our modern world.  Why pay for something when you can get it for free?  I doubt any of us are truly innocent — I’ve downloaded my share of music over the years, as well as a TV show that I couldn’t wait to be released on DVD.

Ebook piracy happens.  Some people will buy your book and then post it publicly somewhere so that others can download it for free.  Other times, piracy hasn’t occurred, but it appears your book has been pirated, but it’s a ruse for other purposes.

So what is an author to do?  Mostly nothing.  You’re honestly not losing much, if anything, in sales.

Stick with me — I’ll explain.

Let’s start with the basic habits of the reader.  Some readers will always buy the books they read.  Others will only read it if they can get it for free.  These are largely two separate groups of people.  Someone who always buys books is unlikely to scour the internet for the free copy they can illegally download.  Conversely, someone who only downloads pirated books is unlikely to read your book if they have to pay for it.

Last time I searched for free copies of my books — and I did that search maybe two years ago — I found my first novel, Autumn Fire, and my first short story, Go Deep, on torrent sites, as part of larger m/m ebook bundled downloads.  I didn’t put up much of a fight about it because I realized that if someone is going to download an illegal bundle of m/m ebooks, then they’re likely looking for whatever they can get for free — they’re unlikely to say, “Hey, that one specific title I wanted to read isn’t here.  I better go buy it.”  Rather, they’d just move on to something else for free.  I also realized that readers who usually purchase ebooks are unlikely to go in search of an illegal download to save three or four dollars.  Did I lose some sales?  Possibly, but I don’t think I lost many.

Now, let’s move on to the other scenario.  There are sites all over the internet that appear to have your ebook for illegal download.  Ninety percent of the time, they don’t actually have it.  Instead, they’ve posted your cover and blurb and claim to offer it as a free download — but before the reader can do so, they need to enter a credit card number “for verification purposes.”  They’ll then find out the book isn’t there and these scammers now have their credit card info.  Some of these sites instead package viruses into the download — so the reader doesn’t get the book, they get a virus.

That scenario is a little more insidious.  However, since they don’t have your book, you’re not losing sales on them.  If anything, your readers might be angry at the website for conning them.  But on the other hand, a smart reader can see there’s something wrong about the whole set-up.

So what can an author do to prevent all this?

As authors, we’re told that enabling DRM — Digital Rights Management — on our titles helps prevent piracy.  It’s a little bit of code that’s added to your ebook to prevent it from being shared.  What we’re not told as authors is that DRM is largely ineffective and a real pain in the ass.

If I were unscrupulous and wanted to buy your book and then distribute it illegally (or even if I was an honest person that just doesn’t like the hassle of DRM), I can “crack” it in seconds.  A quick Google search of “how to crack DRM” brings up immediate results that even a not-too-capable tech person like me can follow.  To someone who’s determined to share your book illegally, DRM means nothing.  (And I see I can crack DRM using Calibre, a program I already have on my computer.)

For the honest person, DRM can be a real pain in the ass.  Some of the books I read have DRM on them — and now that I’ve got the process down, it’s not too huge of a hassle, but the first couple times, I was like, “Oh, fuck!”  After purchasing the book, I downloaded it, then had to download a DRM management program, then had to create an account, then had to unlock the ebook in that program, then I had to sync my ereader with that program, then copy the file over.  What should have taken about ten seconds instead took about ten minutes.  (In hindsight, if I had downloaded directly to my Kobo, it might’ve avoided all those steps.  However, I prefer to side-load via my laptop.)  This whole process left a sour taste in my mouth and made me feel like I couldn’t be trusted as a reader.

So, whether or not to enable DRM is completely up to you as the author.  DRM can add the feeling of security, but keep in mind it’s just a feeling.  It doesn’t actually secure your ebook.

Let’s say that someone has uploaded your ebook and is either offering it as a free download or even charging money for it.  Or, let’s say that a site claims to offer it for free but you know it’s one of those scam sites.  Can you do anything?

Yup.

If you want to invest the time in doing so, you can send the site a DMCA notice.  (DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act.)  To do this, do a search for “DMCA notice template” and you’ll find free samples of takedown notices.  Plunk in your information and send it to the email address attached to the website.  They are legally obligated to take your book (or if they don’t have your book, take the cover image and blurb) off their website.  From what I’ve seen when people have tried this, the website complies, even if it’s a scam site run be people who don’t care about theft.

So what happens if they don’t comply?  Your next step is to report this infringement to Google.  Do a web search for “report copyright infringement to Google” and you’ll find the proper links.  While this may not remove the site from the internet, it will be removed from Google search results.

But there’s one last thing to keep in mind.  Remember I found Autumn Fire and Go Deep listed on a torrent site?  As far as I know DMCA notices are ineffective for torrent sites.  Here’s why: Normally, when a site has your book illegally, it’s on their servers and they can just delete the files.  Torrent sites are different — torrent sites don’t actually have your book files.  Instead, these sites connect individual users who have the files.  So, while my books were listed on a torrent site, they weren’t on the site’s servers, they were instead on some random person’s hard drive.  I didn’t bother sending the torrent site a DMCA notice as they don’t actually have my books, rather, they’re facilitating the connection between two people who want to share my books.  While a torrent site may choose to block the transmission of certain files, all it takes is for someone to change the file name to work around such a block.

Does piracy suck.  You bet your ass.  Is there something you can do about it?  Yes.  Is it worth your time?  That’s totally up to you and your answer might vary based on the individual situation.  For myself, I don’t worry too much about piracy, but then, I’m not exactly raking in the cash.  I’ve maybe lost a few dollars over the years.  Personally, my time is worth more than that.  But I totally get if someone feels personally violated that their book has been pirated, or if their book is being used to scam someone out of their credit card number.  I felt violated the first time it happened.  But after about the fifth or sixth time I found it, I just stopped caring.  I don’t even Google my book titles or name anymore to find out what’s happening because I just simply don’t care — because for every site you successfully have your book removed from, another site has just uploaded your info.  It’s a never-ending game that takes away valuable writing time.  Instead of worrying about a few lost dollars due to piracy, I’d rather work on creating a new work that will bring in ten times more than what I’ve lost.

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Google Play and Price Matching – Sex For Money Post #10

Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance.  All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ.  It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there.  To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.


Anybody who has self-published and read the fine print of the contract between publisher and vendor website will know that there’s always a clause that the price must be no higher than elsewhere.  Each site that an author publishes to wants to have the books listed at a price that is competitive with all other vendors.

Usually, this isn’t a problem.  If an author prices their work at $2.99, they do so on all sites that they upload to.

However, there are two notoriously difficult factors in this.

The first is that Amazon scours the web for your products and, if it finds your book elsewhere for cheaper, it will automatically lower the price of your product on their site so that it is competitive with the lowest price it can find.  It does this without your permission and, from what I’ve heard, is almost impossible to undo.  They’ll either undo it on their own, or they may accommodate your request to do so, but it’s more likely they’ll leave it at that lowered price and, if ever, raise it at their leisure.

The second is that Google Play will automatically discount books above a certain price.  There is no set percentage that they take off of a book’s price, but rather there is a range of percentages.  (This forum post gives you a good idea of the spread of discounts.)  If an author’s not careful, their book will be discounted by Google Play, making it cheaper than anywhere else.  And when Amazon catches on, their prices get lowered.  Authors have lost tons of money over this.

The strategy that authors take, including myself, is to price books on Google Play much higher so that the automatic discount brings it down to close to regular price.  However, while that forum post linked above is an excellent guide to the discounts, I find Google Play will make random deviations of a percentage point or two in their discounts.  The only real way to fix it is to set the price to what you think is appropriate, give it a couple hours to change the price throughout their system, then check up on it by accessing it through the storefront… then go back into the publisher portal and adjust the price accordingly and waiting a few hours to see if it’s correct.  It can take several tries, I’ve found, to get it right.

Even if this goes smoothly, there are still problems now and then.  I noticed on Amazon (accessing the .com version from Canada, so your results may differ) that Men In The Hot Room: The Complete Series is priced at $1.95 USD, despite me setting it at $1.99 USD.  The only explanation I can come up with is that Google Play has my book priced just under $1.99 USD and Amazon has price matched.

But here’s where it gets difficult (for non-Americans).

Presumably, all of this price adjustment stuff is based on the American prices on the American sites.  When I go to Google Play it shows me Canadian prices.  (I have to run everything through a currency converter, which helps me set the right price for Google Play.)  However, Google Play seems to have this tendency to display “nice” prices for me in Canada.  My short stories are all priced at $0.99 USD.  This is below the level where Google Play automatically discounts my prices, so I don’t have to worry about that.  Or so I thought.  Google Play doesn’t want to show me the correct Canadian-converted price of $1.31 (as of right now).  Instead, it shows me $1.09.

$1.09 CAD is equal to $0.82 USD (as of right now).  I think Amazon has picked up on this.  When I recently checked my Amazon catalogue, nearly all of my short stories were priced at $0.84 or less.

Because of Google Play’s tendency to do whatever-the-hell it wants with book prices, Amazon has subsequently slashed my prices, which cuts into my royalties.

However, I don’t think I’m going to do anything about it.  All of my $0.99 short stories are older stories, so at this point I’m glad for any sale.  And the royalty change between $0.99 and $0.84 is six cents (for a 35% royalty rate on Amazon).  That’s nothing to cry over.

With my more expensive stories — the novellas and novels — the price matching has only taken a few cents off the retail price, which has a negligible effect on royalties.

Additionally, I seem to have the unusual result of Google Play being one of my bigger sellers.  Most authors complain of Google Play as being a wasteland for ebooks, where a sale might happen once every few months.  For me, sales are not very high, but they rank higher than Smashwords (and through Smashwords I get distributed to iBooks, B&N, Kobo, and more).  My top two sales venues are Amazon and All Romance eBooks — they switch first and second place often — and then Google Play is usually close behind.  My profits gained on Google Play far outweigh the profits lost on Amazon.

There is a lesson in here, though.  An author must always read and understand the terms and conditions of any self-publishing site, as well as research everything they can on the industry.  (I usually lurk and read the erotica authors Reddit, but don’t post there.  There’s tons of good info there.)  An author must also be adaptable and responsive — quick to change prices if need be, always looking for new revenue streams in case profits dwindle on a regular site, and be willing to experiment to find out what path in erotica self-publishing works best for that person.

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