Sunday, December 22, 2013

Amazon Exclusivity and KDP Select: Book Marketing without B.S. #7

Book Marketing without B.S. is a weekly publicity and marketing advice column for writers and other creators who prefer a realistic, clear, and no-nonsense approach. My goal is to help you cut through the bullshit with direct, understandable advice you won't be embarrassed to follow. Send your questions to beverly@beverlybambury.com.

Once I began working independently of a publisher, I ran into an issue that I hadn’t dealt with before: exclusivity with Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select program. From a publicity perspective I found it frustrating, as I have contacts affiliated with other book-buying outlets and I am unable to call on them in exclusivity situations. Why would they help with a book they can’t sell, after all? Still, I know it is more complicated than that, so here are some thoughts. I hope you'll share yours, too.

I want to make clear that I have no problem with authors and publishers who choose to use the KDP Select program. I understand why. What I am bothered by is Amazon's program itself. Since people make a large percentage of sales through Amazon, they’re often going to be tempted by the higher royalty rate, or rather, seek to avoid the punishment of the 35% royalty rate. There are other benefits as well, such as five days of being able to offer your ebook for free download (though Amazon has nerfed the impact of that  by changing the visibility of the top free books list) and members' books are available for free borrowing by Amazon Prime members, which may net more reviews and definitely nets a share of money.

In a fascinating article by Eoin Purcell,  he compares KDP Select's desire for exclusive content to Netflix’s production of exclusive content. The point that sticks out the most to me is that it reduces user churn. In other words, Netflix wants to keep its current viewers as much—if not more—than it wants to attract new ones. It does this in part by producing and purchasing content that only appears on Netflix. Netflix then promotes this content and funnels it to viewers' eyeballs.

While we have no direct evidence of this one way or another, it makes a lot of sense that Amazon may be trying to do something similar. It wants to keep people paying for Amazon Prime membership, and one of those benefits is free borrowing of ebooks exclusive to Amazon Kindle. It’s no-overhead income for Amazon. Indeed, retaining subscribers is a big moneymaker for pretty much anyone who does subscriptions. While Purcell contends that Amazon is getting this exclusive content without paying for it, I’d argue that it's paying for it with higher royalty rates. Still, they’re not paying publishers and authors what they probably should be given the extent of the benefit to Amazon, and given that all the work of writing, editing, layout, marketing, advertising, and publicity falls squarely on the creators and publishers.

Purcell raises another interesting point when he says that Amazon also gets to see how self-published authors sell during this exclusivity period, which gives them an edge in possibly offering publishing contracts for Amazon Publishing, and of course scads of general sales and marketing data, all paid for (in many ways) by publishers and writers.

One thing that was previously difficult for creators and publishers to control was the timing of promotional pricing. It was hard to predict exactly when it would kick in. Now Amazon has introduced Kindle Countdown, which lets one set parameters of timing. But, naturally, one has to sign up for KDP Select to use it, creating yet more pressure for exclusivity, when someone really ought to be able to schedule the dates and pricing anyway.

How big is the benefit to creators? Many argue that it’s not worth the exclusivity to limit yourself. I myself don’t have any experience that is definitive one way or another. Two publishers I’ve worked with prefer to go this route, but others don’t. I can't argue with the ones who like it when they feel they get a consistent benefit from it, after all. Still, both publishers are fairly young and neither had large marketing and publicity campaigns (of which I am aware, anyway!) prior to doing the exclusive arrangement.

This piece by Jane Litte over at Dear Author raises a really good point that gets to one of the reasons I feel uncomfortable with exclusivity. It starts to feel (to me, not in Litte’s words) a bit like the “company store” phenomenon. What Litte does say is that it can be dangerous because with all your eggs in one basket, what happens if the bottom drops out of the basket? Remember when Amazon removed lots of erotica? What if they come for what you write next for some reason? I know that’s a long shot, but exclusivity gives them complete control over that if they choose to exercise it. What if they decide to change terms in some other legally-covered way? You’ve undoubtedly agreed to a host of terms and conditions when you go with KDP Select, and Litte points out that Amazon changes terms at other times writing, “Just recently they increased the amount you have to buy in order to get free shipping from $25 to $35.” Do you fully understand what you signed when you joined KDP Select?

She also argues that exclusivity harms readers, too. Litte says that by reducing or eliminating competition, some of the drive for innovation—and thus perks for customers—disappears. If Amazon has no competition, they don’t need to win your business. They’ll be the only game in town, then we’re back to the company store of books. Again, though, I can’t blame people for doing it. When most of your sales come from Amazon, and Amazon sweetens the deal, then what’s a struggling small publisher or self-publisher to do?

In any case, many people have looked at this more closely than I have, and authors have generously written about their experiences. You can read, in addition to the above, the below interesting posts, and I am certain that a quick search will net more.


To sum up, on a purely theoretical basis I encourage people not to use Amazon’s KDP Select/exclusivity; but, in the pragmatic sense, I understand why people use it, and I still gladly work with publishers who are part of the program. We all have to work with the resources at hand, and when money is tight (and when isn’t money tight for a small publisher?) then we take what we can.

I am really interested in your experiences and I can even do a follow-up post about what readers are willing to share. Contact me at beverly@beverlybambury.com if you want to discuss your KDP Select experiences. I imagine there is a wealth of experience out there!

Keep those questions coming, and sign up to get my posts sent directly to your email by clicking here. Thank you once again for your continued support.

Remember, I am on blog hiatus until the second week of January. Happy New Year, everyone!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Inspiration vs Newsjacking: Book Marketing without B.S. #6

Book Marketing without B.S. is a weekly publicity and marketing advice column for writers and other creators who prefer a realistic, clear, and no-nonsense approach. My goal is to help you cut through the bullshit with direct, understandable advice you won't be embarrassed to follow. Send your questions to beverly@beverlybambury.com.

My client, writer Chris Irvin, did a blog post about the assassinated Mexican physician and politician Maria Santos Gorrostieta, which inspired his novella, Federales. He was concerned that the post might be interpreted as using a tragedy for his own marketing benefit. I advised that the post was just fine, and that the real problem were things such as the infamous Cairo tweet from Kenneth Cole. Sure, Kenneth Cole got a lot of attention; but, the majority of it was bad, and despite what you may have heard, bad publicity is not as good for your company as good publicity. 

It's not hard to learn more about this concept of marketing tie-ins to tragedy or events. In general, this is often called “newsjacking”, a term coined by David Meerman Scott. Scott does not advocate the use of tragedy in this way; however, and even spoke out against marketers making light of Hurricane Sandy, which you can see in the comments of this controversial HubSpot blog post.

I admit I don’t see how newsjacking could ever be a positive term. I think appending “-jacking” onto something creates a negative connotation. So, what is good newsjacking, then? Why is it a thing? This blog post was a helpful run-down of positives and negatives to watch out for. Finally, if you're interested, it may be useful to also read Danny Brown's reply to the HubSpot post and its replies. .

Consensus is definitely on the side of staying empathetic, kind, ethical, and.... well... classy. Of course there still seem to be people who have no problem making light of tragedy with an eye to profit. I personally find things like that distasteful and certainly the person doing the newsjacking may create a negative association for the brand or individual in the eyes of many potential customers. It's risky at best, and dangerous and cruel at worst.

So did Chris newsjack in a bad way with his post about Maria Santos Gorrostieta? No, not at all. For him--and for all artists--this served as inspiration to create a bigger story, to create art. This wasn’t a casual, off-the-cuff tweet intended to drive traffic to his web site. Indeed, I think painful or tragic incidents are often the inspiration for people to create, which is a healthy, humanist response. A callous marketing effort this was not, and so I feel comfortable saying that inspiration is not newsjacking. They're totally different things, and respectful blog posts about one's inspiration, such as what Chris wrote, is something you should feel completely free to do. If you're ever worried about the tone, ask a trusted (and 100% honest) associate for his or her thoughts.

What do you think about newsjacking and using tragedy to inspire art? Is there a difference? What examples have you seen (of either) that have been particularly bad, or particularly good?

Keep those questions coming, and sign up to get my posts sent directly to your email by clicking here. Thank you once again for your continued support.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

GenreLitChat #1: Storify Transcript

The first #GenreLitChat this past Thursday went well. The three authors who were on the panel (John Mantooth, Heidi Ruby Miller, and Nathan Ballingrud,) had a good time, and as the moderator I found myself surprised by how quickly the hour went. I had several questions I wish I'd had time to ask. All in all, it's not a bad thing to be left wanting more!

If you missed it, you can check out the Storify transcript below. You can also follow the #GenreLitChat hashtag via Twitter itself, or on Twubs.

Let me know what you think in the comments, and thank you--as always--for reading.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Calls for Submission #2

Greetings! Thanks to Beverly, and to you readers, membership on the Facebook Call For Submissions groups is growing every day.

In this week's column, I'd like to bring everyone's attention to the upcoming changes to the SFWA's membership requirements. At present, both the Horror Writers' Association (HWA) and SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) consider professional payment to be $0.05 per word. In order to become a member of the SFWA, one must have three paid sales to a Qualifying Professional Market, for a cumulative total of at least $250. As of July 1, 2014, in order to qualify as a professional market, the minimum payment will be raised to $0.06 per word. The HWA has not announced any plans to change their membership requirements. Note: Any sales made prior to June 30, 2014 at the old rates still qualify.

As with most changes, there will be positive and negative returns. The concern is, of course, that writers should always be paid, and the SFWA requirement for a Qualifying Market means that writers might be paid a little more. This is good news for writers. However, it may (somewhat) limit the number of Qualifying Markets and in effect make membership to the SFWA a little more exclusive. For more information, please visit the SFWA page.

In that spirit, here are a few markets that currently qualify for the new SFWA rates. Be aware, competition is stiff. These are very tough markets. Most have ongoing deadlines, and prepare for a long response time. And yes, sci-fi tends to pay better than fantasy or horror.
Now, heat up the computers and sharpen your pencils, because December is going to be a very busy month! Read guidelines carefully before you submit, and I hope some of these listings end up as a happy holiday surprise. Have a great holiday and I'll be back the first week of January with more.
Pro Rate ($0.05 per word) Paying Markets currently accepting fiction submissions: Semi-pro paying markets accepting submissions:
  • Lamplight. Quarterly market. Looking for "literary dark fiction," 2k-7k, pays $150 for stories ($50 for flash up to 1000 words). Next deadline: January 15, 2014. http://lamplightmagazine.com/submissions/
  • Tesseracts 18. For Canadian writers only. Theme: Wrestling with the Gods (Faith in Sci-fi/Spec-fic). Max 5000 words, deadline December 31, 2013. Pays $50-150 for short stories and $20 for poetry. http://tesseracts18.com/tesseracts-18/
  • Weird Tales. No deadline listed. Upcoming themed issues: Tesla (must have inventor Nikola Tesla as a character) and The Ice Issue. Pays $0.03 per word. http://weirdtalesmagazine.com/submission-guidelines/
  • The Midnight Diner. Quarterly publication. Looking for hardboiled fiction, 3000-6000 words, with "a Christian slant." Not interested in hard sci-fi or sword and sorcery. Pays $60 for fiction, $40 for non-fiction, and $20 for poetry. Deadline December 31, 2013. http://www.themidnightdiner.com/submit-your-work/
  • Insert Title Here. Fablecroft's unspecified spec-fic anthology. Pays $75 (AU) and a contributor's copy. http://fablecroft.com.au/about/submissions Deadline February 28, 2014
Token and Royalty Markets accepting submissions: Contests

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Review Copies, Ebooks, and Pirating: Book Marketing without B.S. #5

Book Marketing without B.S. is a weekly publicity and marketing advice column for writers and other creators who prefer a realistic, clear, and no-nonsense approach. My goal is to help you cut through the bullshit with direct, understandable advice you won't be embarrassed to follow. Send your questions to beverly@beverlybambury.com.

Want reviews? Of course you do! This means that you have to send review copies, and this can get expensive with numerous physical books to send. Many of you are paying for these directly or are with a small publisher whose budgets are as tight as your own. A few of you lucky devils will be with large publishers who furnish all review copies, whether physical or through NetGalley. In fact, this post may not be as useful for you if you're on a major publisher. Check back next week!

Anyhow. I digress.

For the rest of you, this means you're thinking about ebook review copies. For some writers this is a stressful idea, bringing on fears of piracy and the death of sales. First this post will look at how to prioritize physical vs. electronic review copies, and then I'll discuss piracy fears and why you probably shouldn't worry too much about it.

How should I prioritize who gets physical review copies and who gets ebook review copies? Generally it's good to prioritize this with a simple cost/benefit analysis. If a site or publication is higher-traffic or is heavily influential, seriously consider a phsyical copy--if that's their preference. Some actually will prefer an ebook. If it is a lower-traffic or a less influential site/publication, then it is most cost effective to see if they will accept an ebook version to review. This applies to comics as well as prose books. The final choice is between you, the reviewer, and your publisher; these ideas are simply decision-making tools.

You can determine priority by checking site traffic using a tool such as alexa.com to compare statistics among the places you want to review your book. A lower number is better (i.e. a higher rank), and if you can get sites better than a 500,000 rank, it's a great start. I can't suggest that you only decide with site statistics, however. You should be aware that some sites might have lower traffic ranking, but are influential. A good example of this is Weird Fiction Review. It's a site with strong influence among many authors and readers in genre circles, but its Alexa ranking is so-so at over 1.8 million. Still, it would be a plum spot if you wrote the type of things that they like. Try your best to strike the balance between web traffic stats and less measurable aspects of influence. And, as always, take the time to read submission policies, reviews, and articles so that you get a good feel for what the site is looking for. It always benefits you to ensure that it's a good fit for your work before you approach them.

One other note: if you send a physical review copy unsolicited, make sure it comes directly from you or your publisher, and includes a one-sheet. If you've corresponded with the person on the other end and they're expecting it, it becomes solicited and this is when you can consider having it shipped right from the source (without the one-sheet) if you're doing print-on-demand.

What about ebooks and piracy? First, let me be completely, unequivocally clear: I want creators to be paid for their work. If you don't get paid, I don't get paid. So read this with the understanding that I am firmly on the side of your intellectual property rights.

OK, all that out of the way, I want to say that piracy is not likely to be a big deal for a majority (though not all) writers and comic creators. Let me explain: chances are if you're looking for marketing advice you are in need of audience growth. Audience growth will result from reaching more readers. Reaching more readers happens with word-of-mouth and well-placed advertisements. Ads are really expensive, so the majority of your marketing, especially early on, will be reviews by professional reviewers, and reviews by readers who share their thoughts on Amazon, Goodreads, and other similar sites.

Reviewers to whom you send an electronic review copy are nearly all good, ethical people who will not share the ebook with anyone. The few who may leak it can't be helped. If the book gets out and gets read by people who then discuss it with others, some of those people will end up with a pirated version; but, some of them are going to buy your book. If you somehow are lucky enough to go viral on torrent sites, you're going to get more sales and more fame even with people illegally downloading your work. This will ultimately translate into more money for you down the road. And really, the chances of your book going viral are quite slim anyway, so your lost revenue is negligible, if anything at all.

One of the best ways to get more readers for your work is to keep writing. The more you write, the more you tend to sell. So focus as much of your energy on writing and creating as you can, and over time it is most likely that you will get better sales.

One other thought about piracy is that it's difficult to measure the impact. Are the people pirating your ebook the kinds of people who would have bought your book in the first place? It's impossible to say, really. I suspect that in many cases they wouldn't have bought it anyway. I know, I know. I don't have evidence, but going on the principles of word-of-mouth marketing and the effectiveness of samples as a sales tool, I think it's rational to conclude that over time a few pirated copies will ultimately benefit you.

So send review copies, ebook and paper, as you need. Don't worry about it. Don't fuss over DRM. (Unless, of course, you're with a larger publisher and don't have a choice. In that case you can use NetGalley, or send plenty of paper review copies that aren't out of your own pocket. Lucky devils indeed.)

Keep those questions coming, and sign up to get my posts sent directly to your email by clicking here. Thanks for all the support!

Tonight don't forget to join #GenreLitChat with John Mantooth, Nathan Ballingrud, and Heidi Ruby Miller. Tomorrow is Calls for Submission #2.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

#GenreLitChat: An Occasional Twitter Chat about Genre

Introducing #GenreLitChat, an occasional Twitter chat with writers on the state of genre, and how their work does--or doesn't--fit.

The kickoff chat is just in time for your holiday book buying needs! It's this Thursday, December 5th at 8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST with John Mantooth, author of The Year of the Storm (Berkley/Penguin), Heidi Ruby Miller, author of Green Shift (Raw Dog Screaming Press), and Nathan Ballingrud, author of short story collection North American Lake Monsters (Small Beer Press).

When you join the chat, you can use this page (http://twubs.com/GenreLitChat) which will focus only on the hashtag, and even automatically insert the hashtag for you if you ask questions or reply.
Alternatively, you can follow the hashtag #GenreLitChat right on Twitter, but make sure you use the hashtag or your questions and comments may be missed!

You can send questions to me, the moderator, during the chat (@BeverlyBambury). You are also encouraged to send questions ahead of time to beverly@beverlybambury.com and I'll add the best ones to the list.

Questions? Email me or ask in the comments. Hope to see you during #GenreLitChat in a couple of days!

SFContario 2013 Wrap-Up and Upcoming Webinar

My Sunday presentation at SFContario, Self-Planning for Self-Promotion, went well. The audience gave great feedback and seemed to get a lot out of the material. They also had several good questions and comments around topics such as users of the Create Space platform being able to get into book stores to do readings, the uses of video, and timing for back list versus upcoming releases. I'll be expanding the slide deck and adding more detail, and in the new year I plan to do a webinar for which I'll charge a small fee. I may even do an in-person class locally, but that will depend on several factors.

In any case, thanks again to everyone who came out, and thanks also to the people who expressed interest in my doing the course in the future. Your support is deeply appreciated.

I enjoyed my other panels, too, even the ones in which I may not have been a good fit. People had a lot of good things to say, and I had great company up at those front tables! I had fun being in the audience, too, such as when author GoH Seanan McGuire (a.k.a. Mira Grant) spoke passionately about epidemiology on the same zombie panel that also featured my husband, James Bambury, and one of my favourite local authors, David Nickle. I even got treated to a fantastic politics and science panel with the highly knowledgeable Hayden Trenholm, Derek K√ľnsken, Lorne Kates, and David Stephenson.

I had a good time at the convention, though there were some organization issues and it appeared to be a little more sparse on attendance than last time. Hopefully things will bounce back for next year.

Later this week are "Review Copies, Ebooks, and Pirating: Book Marketing without B.S. #5" and "Calls for Submission #2". Don't forget to sign up for email delivery of blog posts by filling out this easy form: http://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=BeverlyBamburyPublicity. See you soon!