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.

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.

The importance of Amazon categories

Amazon categories are tricky but essential. They’re tricky because for some inexplicable reason Amazon makes them very complicated, but they’re of the utmost importance because they give your book visibility, which is, in these days of abundant self-publishing, the single best marketing tool you can get your hands on. (Note: this post is about our experience with Amazon US. The European Amazon stores seem to handle categories differently.)

Say, you’re a beginning author with no extensive mailing list, nor a very big author platform. In other words, you don’t have much of an audience yet. How on earth do you get your book out there? How do you get it noticed amongst the other hundreds of books published that day? Here’s how we managed to get Harper Bliss’ Learning Curve into Amazon’s Lesbian Fiction Top 20. (Note: this blog post will specifically deal with lesbian erotica/romance but the same principles apply to other categories.)

First off, Amazon Best Sellers lists are a rare (and probably the best) gift to self-publishers. Your book can be listed alongside titles by well-established authors, giving you enormous exposure. And, in the end, that’s what it’s all about. While the lists may be great and all that, they’re quite complex to figure out.

Let’s take Learning Curve as an example. We published it on 25th July, starting with five free days on KDP Select. Essentially, it’s a lesbian erotic story, and for the free days we picked the categories ‘Lesbian’ and ‘Erotica’. (Amazon allows you to choose two categories when you publish your book.)

Amazon is not overly fond of erotica as a genre (but that’s a whole other post) and it doesn’t offer any sub-genres. This means that when you publish a book in this category it has to compete with all other books in that genre, and there are a lot of those. Nevertheless, on free days, with a bit of promotion and a lot of luck, you can hope to graze the edges of the Free Erotica Top 100, which does wonders for free downloads (and that’s what it’s all about on those days).

What about that other category? Is it not easier to get into the Lesbian Fiction Free Top 100? Well, it would be, if only there were one. There is, however, a Free Gay & Lesbian Top 100 (Lee Harlem Robinson’s Dirty Pleasure has been hanging out near the top 20 for a while now), but this list doesn’t mix well with the Erotica category. In other words, once you catalogue your book as ‘Erotica’ and e.g. ‘Lesbian’, you’re only eligible for the Free Erotica Top 100, which, due to humongous competition, is very hard to get into.

So, moving on to non-free days. Despite the expected boost in sales after its free run, we realised that keeping Learning Curve in the Erotica category wouldn’t make much sense. It would have to sell too many copies to even reach the outskirts of the Paid Top 100. But, we had another trump card to play. We diversified and focused on the other category. We wanted Learning Curve to get noticed by lesbians, who are still our prime audience, and fortunately, the Amazon’s Romance category has an ‘Adult’ section. We updated Learning Curve and kept it at the lowest price possible and this is what happened:

Amazon categories

No, I’m not seeing the ‘Adult’ bit reflected in that either. You see, to confuse us even more, the categories you choose when publishing (from the KDP dashboard) do NOT correspond with the ones consumers get to see. And instead of popping up in Books > Gay & Lesbian > Lit & Fiction > Fiction > Romance > Adult (which you would expect after choosing your category), it pops up in ‘LGBT Romance’, where again, the competition is much stiffer.

This is what you get when you publish a book in the ‘Lesbian’ and ‘Romance > Adult’ categories (and the case for Learning Curve):

More categories

Out of these, Amazon magically distills Best Seller Lists (based on ever-changing algorithms). This is also the reason why so many erotica titles appear in the general LGBT lists, despite being catalogued as ‘Adult’.

Anyway, this post is not about criticising the lists (although making them more transparent and easier to use would make a lot of self-publishers’ lives a lot easier), but about stressing the importance of getting into them.

To summarise:

  • When publishing, narrow down your category as much as possible and don’t be afraid to change it. (But be careful not to switch once you’ve hit a list!)
  • Experiment and see in which category you can score the highest (the more drilled down, the better.)
  • Once you make it onto a Best Sellers List, sales will jump. People love lists and they’re an excellent browsing tool.
  • Breaking your head over Amazon categories is well worth it, and once you figure it out, you’ll know what to do for subsequent books.
  • (But hey, it is a bit of a Learning Curve.)