Sunday, April 25, 2021

Why "Going Wide" Can Work for Authors

Prolific authors -- whether they work with a publisher or self-publish -- sell many books through Amazon. I find it humbling (and fun) to sell books in so many countries.

As a largely self-published author, I've weighed the benefits of publishing solely through the KDP Select program, which provides incentives for selling only on Amazon's platforms. 

Through KDP Select, authors can provide books free for a few days per quarter and be paid when readers essentially 'rent' (and read) books through a subscription program called Kindle Unlimited. The theory is that exposure to an author's work will lead readers to buy additional books.

I ultimately decided to leave box sets of one series on KDP Select plus a few family history books. Others I sell on all sites, which is termed "going wide."

I now make as much money selling on other sites as on Amazon -- more some months. It took a lot of experimentation to get the scales to tip to the wide side, so to speak.

Sell Through a Distributor or With Each Retailer

Initially, I placed books with Amazon (which produces mobi files), then separately to Barnes and Noble. I added Kobo and loaded each ebook three times. I couldn't easily sell to Apple, because they required books to be published using their software. I was not going to spend time learning more software to get books to readers when other options were available.

That led me to Smashwords, to which I load books once and they send them to a number of retailers beyond Amazon, using largely the epub format. They charge what I consider a small fee for the service. With practice, it's become an easy process.

I've left a number of books as direct sales on Barnes and Noble and Kobo, but generally publish all new books via Smashwords as well as Amazon. I have a soft spot for BN, so occasionally publish directly with them, but it's more work. I also publish all my paperbacks through them (in addition to Amazon). I think there's some selling synergy by doing both versions, but can't prove it.

Pros and Cons

The sites have varied requirements, so there is extra time in formatting books for Amazon and Smashwords. Marketing has multiple targets. Tweets become more time-consuming because they must be constructed for all websites -- and sometimes the sites' international links as well. 

You buy more ISBNs, add more components to an author website, and maintain an author profile in many places. I have to be careful to do this work in "chunks" or it would detract a lot from writing. 

The additional time could be considered a big con, but it can add to a lot more readers -- and money. 

I don't write for fun -- okay, I do, but it isn't what I publish. If I'm going to polish and publish a book, I want to make money. Going wide lets me make more, and that's the big pro.

How Did Going Wide Translate to More Readers?

In theory, more places to sell should mean more books sold, but it did not happen quickly for me. At first, a new book would sell a bunch of copies and then sales would taper off again.

Many of my family members are iphone users, so they read my books on ipads or their phones. I didn't sell many books on Apple, and it ticked me off. 

My Jolie Gentil series has eleven books, and after considerable thought, I created distinct box sets for BN, Apple, and Kobo (via Smashwords). That increased sales some, but not much. 

I work too hard to like giving away a lot of books, but decided to make the first box set of the Jolie series free. The plan was to do so for a few weeks. 

You may have heard that luck is opportunity meeting preparation. I had some good dumb luck. I was working on two books and forgot to reinstate the price for the free box set for several months. Didn't even notice it until I saw a slight uptick in sales of the next two box sets.

And then sales of the succeeding box sets took off and readers began to notice my other books. I honestly don't think the experiment would have been successful if I had reinstated the price on that first box set after only a few weeks. 

The pie chart shows how the last month of sales has been split among the key markets. In March, Apple led sales. I'm happy to have the top site move between BN and Apple, and wish I could do more with Kobo and Overdrive (library ebook sales). 

Now, if you're a USA Today bestselling author, these numbers may not look all that good to you. I like them, and they continue to grow. 

The Smashwords Assist

While readers can buy directly from Smashwords, most go through the better-known retail sites. Smashwords lets author run sales on books via a discount program that runs for a specified periods of time. They promote the sales and the reduced prices appear on all the sites to which an author distributes books.

I rotate books through the sales, and usually offer one book free. The pie chart shows a decrease (over the last 30 days) in Smashwords sales because I sold more books during a recent sale, which is now over. 

The Smashwords sales have introduced readers to books in all my series and stand-alone fiction. Slowly those sales have grown, especially since I made the first books in the River's Edge and Logland series 99 cents all the time. 

The site also lets readers know which books sell best -- two of my Jolie box sets are now near the top of best-selling box sets. (Not the first set, because it's free.)

Recently, Smashwords has sent weekly emails telling me the books are selling well. Sweet. More important -- readers see them on the site's front page.

You can't do box set covers in 3-D format, which makes the set 
look like books on a shelf, as you can on Amazon. I think that's a more professional look, but you won't hear me complaining.

Lessons Learned

I want to reach readers everywhere, but I also want to take full advantage of every marketing opportunity possible. To me, the biggest advantage of Amazon's KDP Select  program is the income earned when people borrow the books through Kindle Unlimited. Having some books in that program is an important way for new readers to find my books.

If I were publishing my first book, I'd definitely put it on all sites. I'd probably try for a publisher first, too, but I'm used to self-publishing and enjoy the flexibility (for now). 

If a new author wants to experiment, s/he could publish a book via KDP Select and then go wide after three months (the KDP Select commitment). I can't think of a single reason to publish on all sites and then take books off a platform to be exclusive elsewhere.

The methods I've tried the last year work as well as they do because I've written a lot of books, so readers can go from one to another. That takes time. In the meantime, you want to reach readers everywhere you can.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to or subscribe to her newsletter.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Writing Blogs I like

My Sisters in Crime chapter is going to pull together a list of good blogs for writers, and asked for input. I dashed this off without much thought. That doesn't mean I think these are not worth thinking about -- it means they came to mind easily. 

I use all of them.

I think K.M. Weiland's site, "Helping Writer's Become Authors," is exceptional. She focuses a lot on story structure, but also other aspects of writing. She covers fiction and nonfiction.

Jane Friedman's site mostly deals with the business of writing, but there are guest posts on creative aspects.

Joanna Penn writes the "Creative Penn" Blog. It's a mix of publishing, marketing, and writing. She also does podcasts and writes many books on publishing and writing.

C.S. Lakin does "Live, Write Thrive." She deals more with writing, and it's an exceptional site.

I find the various university writing sites to be very helpful. There are links to many here. It seems anytime I google an "odd" question, these are the kinds of blogs that come up. 

This is one I especially like

Whatever your genre or interest, someone else is providing resources for you.
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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Seeing a Story from Each Character's Perspective

 If I had to pick one thing that has made a difference in my writing it would be seeing a story from each character's perspective. It puts the pieces into a cohesive puzzle.

That doesn't mean expressing all that to the reader. They may only need to know what the protagonist shows them. However the protagonist operates in a world with other people, and they march to their own drummers.

If you write traditional mysteries, they likely have an amateur sleuth who discovers a body -- as opposed to witnessing a gruesome murder. As word spreads, family members of the murder victim (let's say a 57-year old man) react very differently. His wife is stoic, his oldest son is so upset he cries easily and can't go to work, and the youngest daughter hosts her book club the next night because, as she puts it, life goes on and she'll appreciate the support of her friends.

The varied emotions could simply be reactions the writer shows because it's traditional to have a family grieve. Let's say that one of the family members gives the sleuth an important piece of information about the victim's actions the day before he was killed. It could be anything from where he ate lunch, who he played tennis with, or who he thinks was trying to undermine the father's company.

If the writer doesn't know the supporting character's perspective or background (and I'm not talking about a data dump), then the information about lunch seems like a simple recitation of what a family member knows about the victim's prior engagements.

But what if the writer knows that the daughter is furious with her father because he touted her brother's accomplishments and resented paying a dime of her college tuition? Through his passive aggressive behavior, he has always implied that teaching social studies is not as important being the CFO of a tech company, and his son makes good money as a CFO.

The resentful daughter may offer a caustic assessment of her father's ridiculous spending to dine out. That's very different than simply saying he ate at the Big Spender Diner. 

The acerbic comment could cause the sleuth to explore the father's spending habits more than s/he might have. That could lead to the sleuth learning that the victim spent lavishly on business lunches for all of his employees except one. That resentful employee's anger built until he confronted the victim in his office after hours and threw a punch that led to a head injury, dead body.

And the son's tears? Because though his father spoke well of his career choice, he never offered any indication that he approved of his son. Now the son will never be able to win his father's praise.

At this point, you may say, "So what? As long as the daughter said he spent a lot of money dining out, who  cares why she emphasized that point?"

Because knowing why she dissed her father's spending habits tells the writer a lot about the murder victim. Does the writer want to show other examples of a man who belittled others? What about showing him as someone who liked to spend big but struggled to pay tennis club dues in addition to basic expenses?

Does the author ever give readers the full story on the family relationships? Unless one of them was the killer, the story may not need more than a hint. 

But in learning the perspectives of the son and daughter, the author learned more about the victim. Well-rounded characters are far more interesting to writers and readers.

Along the way, those secondary characters may have become more intriguing and end up with bigger roles. You never know where a story will take you.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

What People Say About Books

So many young people say they "don't read." It saddens me. I suppose video games have taken the place of  books for many, and they do let people use their imaginations -- to a point. I'm not sure they can carry you around the world, other than to play against people in other parts of the globe.

Imagination keeps children playing with blocks and puppets and has taken us to the moon and back. Lucky the child whose parents read to them.

Some of my favorite quotes about books are:

A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others.         Abraham Lincoln.

Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.       Joyce Carol Oates

I still love books. Nothing a computer can do can compare to a book. You can’t really put a book on the Internet. Three companies have offered to put books by me on the Net, and I said, ‘If you can make something that has a nice jacket, nice paper with that nice smell, then we’ll talk.’ All the computer can give you is a manuscript. People don’t want to read manuscripts. They want to read books. Books smell good. They look good. You can press it to your bosom. You can carry it in your pocket.       Ray Bradbury

The cool thing about reading is that when you read a short story or you read something that takes your mind and expands where your thoughts can go, that's powerful.                           Taylor Swift

The bottom line is: Books are the Best.

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Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Eyes that Give Descriptions in a Book

 I've had a number of discussion with people about how much to describe a character's appearance, a room  they walk into, or scenery viewed from a car. Using an omniscient narrator gives an author the leeway to describe a room down to the coasters on a coffee table. 

But what if you write in first person or close third person? I subscribe to the belief that all information has to be provided through the eyes of the person narrating the story. The "I" individual in first person stories. In close third person, such as the Harry Potter stories, everything (except occasional chapters he's not in) is through his filter. 

A first-person book may offer information from the character's point of view -- even long paragraphs. Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone provides in depth background on a neighborhood, criminal, or crime -- but it's always something Kinsey knows or is learning.

Sometimes it may seem hard to tell a reader about a setting if the point-of-view character has been there previously. They wouldn't walk into a good friend's home and recite (to him or herself) the layout, style of furniture, or color of the walls.

However, there are ways to tell a reader what they need to see without doing a full stop as the character tells herself what she already knows. To use the friend's house (we'll call her Chloe), the sleuth could admire how Chloe manages to put so much antique furniture in a small living room without blocking access to the second-floor stairway. The reader learns  the house is small and has a second floor. Knowing Chloe values antiques may be something that goes with other characteristics she exhibits. (Or tells the reader something else, such as the kind of stores she burglarizes.)

I go to a lot of conferences and short classes about writing. I've learned pearls of wisdom from John GilstrapLeigh Michaels, William Kent Krueger, and Julie Hyzy, to name a few. These authors write very different kinds of books, but they impart knowledge well and offer good discussions on point of view. 

First person works well for traditional or cozy mysteries, when the reader is solving the crime with the sleuth. Third person (especially multiple points of view) is almost essential for thrillers. It's the best way to learn what the bad guy (a.k.a. the antagonist) is up to. Even then, a writer has to be "forever conscious of camera placement" -- John Gilstrap's way of saying don't stray out of the point-of-view character's vision.

Authors have their preferences. As long as they, their readers, and at least some reviewers like them, books sell. In the Harry Clifton novels, Jeffrey Archer announces each POV change by putting the character's name and a time period on a separate page. 

Contemporary romance novels usually have two POVs, since the focus is on a couple's relationship. The more racy Regency romances may have several, often associated with different subplots and clearly delineated. 

One method that will make me close a book is shifting points of view in the same scene or even paragraph. Authors may see this as more appropriate now that we've watched movies for...more than a century. The camera takes in everyone's view, including the audience's. I find constant POV shifts to be a lazy way to tell a story.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a guest blog post for Dru's Book Musings. I took a scene from Final Operation, one of the Logland Series books, which are generally from Police Chief Elizabeth Friedman's point of view. Then I rewrote the scene from the medical examiner's POV -- which is never expressed in the book. What a difference! I'm going to do it more often.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Writing Scene By Scene

I'm working on Mountain Rails of Old, third in the Family History Mystery Series. I finished the basic outline a month ago, and have written about a third of it.

As I get to know the characters -- especially resident ghost Uncle Benjamin -- I have almost more ideas than I can use. Rather than develop each one, I'm doing short scenes about the various events. It's liberating.

I'm mapping out conversations and actions and putting words into the characters' mouths, so to speak. Because these are a jumble of scenes, for the moment I don't have to create smooth transitions or worry about whether I've done adequate foreshadowing. That can come later.

This is a new approach for me, and possibly not one I'll use again. In the meantime, it's enabling me to work on the different subplots in and of themselves. I can put them together (in order!) later.

Why try this? For a time, I'm doing some 'day job' work. I wanted to be sure I kept writing at a fast pace, but I can't always do four to six hours at a time. I'll have to think of a name for a method. Scatterbrained doesn't seem quite right...

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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Quotes Bring Ideas

I'm always jotting notes, sometimes in a notebook other times on odd pieces of paper. The challenge is remembering what my abbreviations mean.

Today a friend mentioned a Mark Twain quote: "I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure."

It would be a great thing for a character to say upon learning of someone's death. Then the death is ruled a homicide and people remember him/her saying this. Opens the door to wondering about motive.

I'm working on the third book in the Family History Mystery Series (Mountain Rails of Old). The idea won't fit there, but at some time it will come back to me.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to or subscribe to her newsletter.