It should be apparent to anyone following this blog that a weekly post is probably too much to ask, so I shall try to make this a bi- or tri-weekly occurrence. Let’s see how that goes.

This week, I would like to write about BookBub and how it can be a very powerful advertising tool for authors and publishers.

For those of you who are wondering what BookBub is, here’s a little excerpt of their About page:

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 2.48.48 PM copyBookBub is a free service that helps millions of readers discover great deals on acclaimed ebooks while providing publishers and authors with a way to drive sales and find new fans. Members receive a personalized daily email alerting them to the best free and deeply discounted titles matching their interests as selected by our editorial team.

For readers, it’s a great way to discover books that are temporarily on sale or free. They can choose which categories of books they are interested in and will only receive deals featured in those categories. And they can also follow authors they like (if the authors have claimed their author profile on BookBub) and they will get an alert whenever these authors have a new book out.

For authors, BookBub, with its millions of subscribers, feels a bit like the holy grail of advertising. Every day hundreds of books are submitted to the BookBub editorial team, hoping to get included in a daily email, but only a few are selected. The criteria for acceptance are not clearly defined, but we know several things factor in: is it an interesting discount for the readers? Does the book have reviews and how good are the reviews? Does it look like a professional product? Will enough people potentially be interested in this book?

The cost of having your book featured in a daily email depends on the category in which you advertise and the price at which your deal is set, and for some categories it’s not cheap. But still, people submit because they know that a book featured in a BookBub email will earn back the price of the ad, and more, either through sales of the advertised book at the discount price and even after it gets back to normal price (the so-called halo effect), or, especially for free books, through sales of other books after people have read the advertised one.

We have submitted a book to BookBub four times in the past nine months and have been lucky enough to get selected every time. We think one of the reasons for our success in getting accepted is that the category we advertise in, LGBT, is less competitive than others, such as contemporary romance or crime fiction. But we also like to think that the books got picked because the editorial review team at BookBub saw that we were offering a qualitative and professional product that could bring in a substantive number of sales. BookBub is in it to make money as well of course, so they want to make sure they offer products that people will want to buy.

French Kissing: Season OneSo far we have only advertised Harper Bliss novels or series, and they have all earned back the cost of the ad through sales of the discounted book. French Kissing: Season One was especially successful because we saw an impressive sell-through of Season Two and Three in the weeks after the ad.

We’ve seen other publishers advertise anthologies in BookBub daily emails so next month for the first time we will submit an anthology. We have no idea whether it will be accepted, and if it is, whether it will sell enough to recoup the cost and what, if any, the sell-through will be. But as we have several anthologies in our catalogue, we are curious to see what the BookBub effect can be for that kind of book.

BookBub has really become an important part of our marketing strategy, and we recommend it wholeheartedly. Even if you’ve tried and been rejected, keep submitting, because it’s really worth it.

Don’t forget to check out our weekly podcast Harper Bliss & Her Mrs on The Lesbian Talk Show!

Print is not dead, hurray!

Hi, remember me?

I started this blog a couple of months ago, full of ambition to keep it updated on a weekly basis. And now it’s been two months since the last post. Let’s attribute this delay to travelling, moving office, book launches, taking courses. Definitely not to fear of the blank page, or even less to laziness…

For the first post in this new attempt at regular blogging, I thought I would write about print books, and how they have become more important to us recently. You see, Ladylit reached a milestone in June. For the first time in our history we sold 100 print copies in a month. This may not seem like a lot, but to us it was a significant number.

We have always produced a print version of books above a certain length through Createspace, ever since we started publishing. Even though our focus is on (and our income comes from) ebooks, there is something quite magical about being able to hold in your handScreen Shot 2016-07-06 at 10.30.33 AMs a hard copy of a book you wrote or had a part in producing. Maybe it’s because we grew up with print books; it’s quite possible the younger generations who grew up in a mostly digital world will not have the same feeling. So, in the beginning the main purpose of producing the print version was just personal satisfaction. Holding the book in our hands made it somehow feel more real, I think.

We soon also started using the print version as a promotional tool, for giveaways or for gifts. After all, quite a bit of work goes into producing the files for the printer, both the cover and the interior. Especially at that time, when we still used the Createspace Word template file. Too much work just to stroke our egos…

We also realised that having the print version on the Amazon page next to the Kindle version, gave the book a more professional look, and made the Kindle version seem like a good deal, as Amazon helpfully shows how much money you save by purchasing the Kindle version.

We always sold a few copies each month, but never enough to get a monthly royalties cheque from Createspace (the payment threshold is US$100). As we put out more titles, the numbers increased slightly, but were still pretty insignificant. We also never put any marketing efforts towards selling more print books.

In the last few Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 10.30.08 AMmonths however, since Harper started publishing regular full length novels, we have seen a considerable increase in the number of print books sold, especially newly published titles. Whereas before a new book would sell maybe 5 to 10 copies in its first month, the last two Harper Bliss novels we published each sold about 30 in the same period of time. As I write this, on July 6th Hong Kong time (but it’s still July 5th in the US), Harper’s most recent book The Road to You has already sold 6 copies this month, and we’ve sold 17 print books in total. (That’s more than 3 per day!)

This means that nowadays, instead of getting a $100 cheque every few months, we now get a few 100 dollars every month. It’s not enough to live off, but it’s a nice enough extra, especially since we still don’t do any promotion or marketing specifically for the print books.

We can’t really pinpoint what the increase in numbers is caused by. Of course, the print books benefit from our marketing work for the ebooks, since their visibility is improved by being linked to the Kindle version on Amazon. Harper’s reader base is increasing steadily and surely some of these new readers enjoy reading print books as well as or more than ebooks. We do know the extra sales do not come from bookshops, as they tend to not order books from Createspace. Additionally, at least one of the more successful titles is not even available to them to buy, as we are in the process of distributing through another company that does sell to indie bookshops more easily (hopefully more on that once the book is available.)

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 10.31.34 AMIn any case, these increased sales are starting to make me wonder if we should maybe look into promoting our print books more. And they are a confirmation that print is definitely not dead. It takes a bit more work than an ebook to put it out there, but it is definitely worth the effort.

Work-life balance

This post is less publishing related and more general and personal than the previous ones, I apologise to anyone who was hoping for some publishing wisdom. However I think it’s an important topic for any self-employed person, including in the publishing business, so here goes.

Questions we’re asked often are “How do you find a good work-life balance? How do you keep your work and home life separated?”

As a self-employed couple who live and work together, it’s an important question. When you’re passionate about your work, as we are, it’s very easy to let it invade every aspect and moment of your life. I don’t think a single day has gone by in the last few years when we haven’t discussed some work-related stuff, even when we were on holiday. So many times we’ve caught ourselves talking shop when we were supposed to be enjoying time off and had to explicitly state: “No more work talk!”

Ladylit HQ - AfterOne of the things we did after deciding to try to make Ladylit a full-time business for us both, was find an office space outside of home. It was important to me to try to keep work outside of the home as much as possible, after several years of working from home and finding myself replying to emails from my laptop in the couch at 10 p.m. (which partly had to do with the time difference with Europe, but was also definitely related to the fact that home equalled office and work).

This outside office for me to go to every morning allowed Harper to have a dedicated writing space at home where she could create in complete isolation, without me around to distract her. It also gave us a space to discuss work related issues, leave them there when we went home, and the ability to say, “Let’s talk about this at the office tomorrow,” whenever we found ourselves drifting towards a work topic over dinner or when we were supposed to be off the clock. This definitely helped achieve some kind of balance and is something I can highly recommend to any freelancers/entrepreneurs.

Of course this does not stop us completely from talking about work even on our days off, especially since we’re in the business of creating and the world around us is a constant source of inspiration. An experience while on holiday can spark an idea for a new story for Harper to write. She will usually bring it up and we’ll discuss it and make some notes in order to not forget. And I think that’s okay because that’s the fun part of our business and it doesn’t feel like work. But as soon as we start on things that do feel like work, we try to stop and make plans to discuss them later, when we are at the office.

This balance that we’ve found in the last couple of years is going to be thrown overboard somewhat starting in February next year. You see, we have decided that part of what helps us be happy and inspired and balanced, is traveling and seeing new places. We’ve come to realise that we value experiences much more than things.

We love going on holiday and discovering somewhere new, and being in Asia for several years has allowed us to do just that. But staying somewhere for a week or two is too short to really experience a place fully. So we’ve decided to take advantage of the fact that most of our work can be done pretty much anywhere and see more of the world by becoming what is now commonly called ‘digital nomads’. What that means is that we’ll be going somewhere and staying there for two to three months, so we can experience what it’s like to live there, at least for a short while. Our first stop will be in New Zealand. We’ve tentatively decided on having Christchurch as our base so we can explore the beauty of the South Island. (Any Kiwis out there, please feel free to offer any pointers on places to stay, things to see, etc.)

We’ll be renting a flat or house for our time in each destination but of course we will no longer have our own outside office to go to in order to talk about work issues. However we think we’ll still be able to find the right work-life balance, albeit in another way.

We’ll be in a new place, experiencing new things, which, apart from providing fresh inspiration for new books, will give us plenty to talk about other than work-related stuff. Additionally, even though we’re already in a position where we can choose when we work, and are not bound to a regular Monday to Friday schedule, we do tend to stick to one because most of our friends are in jobs that are in that pattern. If we worked at weekends and took weekdays off, we would never get to see them. But when we’ll be ‘nomading’, that will no longer be a factor and we will truly be able to make our own schedule, depending on how much we have to do a specific day, week or month.

In the last few months we have worked really hard at streamlining our work process (we’ve had to with Harper publishing a book every month!) and we think we’ve developed a rhythm that allows us to be very efficient in the time we spend working, so that we will have enough time to explore and experience every destination we choose to go to. Of course, we’ll only know if it works out that way once we actually do it, but we’re very excited to try!

We’ll be talking about this topic more on next week’s Harper Bliss & Her Mrs podcast and I’ll be posting regular updates on our plans and adventures so stay tuned to find out if we manage to find our balance on our travels.

How we keep learning in order to grow

In this week’s episode of Harper Bliss & Her Mrs. we talked about the most important tools and software we use for writing and publishing. Something we did not get into, but is a big part of what we do every day, is our constant endeavour to keep learning and educating ourselves on new developments in the publishing industry, as well as possible techniques to use and avenues to explore to grow our business. These days the internet offers many resources—books, blogs, podcasts, coursesto do just that and in this post I would like to share some of our favourites, which we also consider important tools for writing and publishing.

Iterate and Optimize

One major source of valuable information for any independent author or publisher is the trio of Sean Platt, David Wright and Johnny B. Truant, also known as the guys behind The Self-Publishing Podcast. Their weekly flagship show is hugely entertaining and offers insights from them and their guests on the writing as well as the publishing side of things and they also have other podcasts, like The Authorpreneur’s Almanac and The Smarter Artist which offer very specific tips on the many facets of being an indie author or publisher. In addition to that, they published a book that inspired us a lot to get to where we are now: Write. Publish. Repeat. And they now have a follow-up to that title with Iterate and Optimize, which I am currently reading. There will be a blog post in the next few weeks about how we have iterated and optimised our work here at Ladylit.

Successful is THE place to go to learn about marketing books as an indie. Joanna Penn is a very successful author of both fiction (under the name J.F. Penn) and non-fiction books, such as Successful Self-Publishing: How to self-publish and market your book in ebook and print, and her weekly podcasts always feature very informative interviews with the creative movers and shakers in the publishing world and beyond. We listen to it religiously and have definitely been inspired to apply to our business some of the things we learned from Joanna and her guests.

Supercharge Your Kindle SalesAnother great source for marketing advice, specifically on how to grow and use your mailing list, is Nick Stephenson. He has books (Supercharge Your Kindle Sales is one of them) a paying course (which we took and has helped us in various ways, like growing our mailing list, building a launch team, getting extra reviews), but also some free videos that are a good place to start for anyone reluctant to spend any money.

The Self-Publishing Formula PodcastOne of the things we are planning to get better at this year, is Facebook ads. The authority on this is Mark Dawson. His website has some instructional videos and he has just started his own podcast with beginning author James Blatch, called The Self-Publishing Formula Podcast. The combination of an experienced and successful author with a newbie, makes for an interesting exchange of perspectives on publishing. Mark also provides monthly income reports where he details how much he spent on advertising and how much he made as a result of that advertising, which is very informative for us, in view of our plan to do more Facebook advertising ourselves.

2k to 10kFor the writers among you, a book that Harper found very helpful is 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. As her followers will probably know, she is obsessed with her word count and this book has really helped her crank those words out faster, and also better.


Finally, some blogs we follow:

Joe Konrath is a pioneer and one of the most staunch defenders of indie publishing (and Amazon). Check out his blog for, among other things, entertaining takedowns of the traditional publishing industry.

– Even though here in Hong Kong we seem to be geo-blocked from accessing the site directly, we follow The Passive Voice through a feed reader for links to articles about all things publishing.

This is just a short sample of resources and there are so many books and blogs that could be listed here as well, but hopefully they can provide some interesting reading to anyone looking to start or grow their author and publishing business.

About KDP Select

A hot topic in indie publishing is Amazon’s KDP Select program and the frequent changes to it.

For people who don’t know what KDP Select is, here is the short explanation: books enrolled in KDP Select are available to download for free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, but Amazon requires them to be exclusive to Amazon, and therefore not be available on the other eBook retailers, such as Apple or Kobo. Every enrolment is for a period of 3 months after which the author can choose to stay in KDP Select or pull the book out and go wide.

The program has many vocal supporters and detractors. In this post I will try to explain how we at Ladylit feel about it and our future plans with it.

We have participated in KDP Select with many books since pretty much the start of KU, when authors got paid a fixed amount for every borrow where a reader read more than 10% of the book. This was quite beneficial to us, as at the time we mostly had shorter stories and the payout for a borrow on those was about the same as for a sale. When Amazon changed their payout scheme to a per-page-read last year, this was not the case anymore, but this was also the time when we started to publish more novel-length books. And as these were longer, the payout for a completed read in KU was higher than it was before, closer to what we make on a sale. So we continued putting new full-length titles in KDP Select.

Amazon has always been our biggest source of sales, and the potential sales on other platforms definitely did not weigh up against the extra income from borrows and the added visibility being in KDP Select gave us. Amazon does make books that are in KDP easier to find for consumers, so it’s not just a matter of whether the income from borrows will be more than what the book could sell on other platforms. Amazon is a search engine and visibility is key to any book’s success, so if Amazon shows your book to more people, you’ll sell more copies.

However, we are very aware that with Amazon being such a big portion of our income, we are at their mercy in a way. If all of a sudden they decided to lower the royalty rate they pay authors, we would definitely suffer. We realise that if we want to be successful in the long term, we have to build an audience on the other platforms as well, especially on Apple and Kobo as they have such a global reach. Which is why we have started taking some titles out of KDP Select and offering them for sale widely on other platforms.

OIAL_NEW_180x288The first major one went wide at the end of March, Once in a Lifetime by Harper Bliss. This book came out about a year ago and is still a steady earner for us, but the amount it earned monthly from borrows through KU was not that significant anymore. Not enough to compromise our livelihood if we were to lose it. And because it has been out for a while and still sells enough copies every month, it does have some visibility on Amazon. So we decided to take the plunge. It has only been wide for a couple of weeks so we can’t say yet whether the sales on other platforms will make up for what we’re no longer earning through KU. However we know there is an audience for our books on other platforms as we’re asked regularly by readers when certain books will be available to them on Apple or Kobo. So this is just the first step to building that audience. We have a list of other books that will also be going wide in the next couple of months.

Our current policy regarding new titles, and what we plan to keep doing for the foreseeable future, is to enrol them in KDP Select when they come out, for at least one or two cycles (so three or six months). We have seen with the last couple of titles that this gives the book a lot of visibility, gets it more reviews early on and makes the book attractive to Amazon. After these first three or six months, we plan on taking the books out of KDP Select and go wide with them, hopefully gaining new readers on the other platforms with every book.

We’ll have to wait and see to know if this plan works out the way we want, but we are confident that going wider than we currently are is the way forward to ensure our long-term career in this business.


A brief history of Ladylit

Spring is the season for new beginnings and so I have decided to dip my toe in the writing pond. Mind you, nothing like a book yet—I’ll leave that to my prolific wife—but a weekly blog.

Harper (Bliss, my partner in business and life and everything really) and I have recently started a weekly podcast Harper Bliss & Her Mrs. on The Lesbian Talk Show where we answer questions about publishing and writing lesbian fiction. This sparked the thought of starting a parallel blog where I could answer questions we don’t have time for on the podcast, share some of my thoughts on running a lesfic publishing business, and generally write about our experiences and plans in the current publishing industry.

For this first post I’ll start with a little history. Five and a half years ago I was transferred from Belgium to Hong Kong by my then employer. Having no job of her own, Harper started writing, something she had always wanted to do. Her work seemed to appeal to people so we set up a company through which to sell her stories. That was the birth of Ladylit Publishing in June 2012.

I was still working full-time but was helping Harper out in bits and pieces with some editing and covers. Over the next couple of years Harper’s output and popularity kept growing, so much so that we started entertaining the idea of having Ladylit be our full-time business in a few years. As a teenager who always had her nose stuck in a book, my dream job was working at a publisher, reading for a living and deciding what would get published. And now that seemed like a real possibility.

When my situation changed at work two years ago, and I was faced with the choice of keeping on at the same company but going back to Belgium, or staying in Hong Kong and quitting my job, Harper and I decided it was the right time to take the plunge and try to make Ladylit a successful business that could support us both.

Now, two years later, we are finally at that stage, where we are confident that we can support ourselves with Ladylit on a monthly basis. It took hard work, a steep learning curve, a lot of trial and error and it will continue to do so if we want to maintain and grow the business. But we are both excited and motivated and full of ambitious plans for the future. Which is what I will endeavour to write about.

I hope you will enjoy reading along and feel free to leave questions and comments below.