Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Going Indie - Day 13: Awards

July has come and gone, and now it's time to assess my performance. Once I got my act together, I published 22 titles from June 29th - July 31st . (I’m including the last two days of June since this was the turning point.)

Here is the list, in order of publication:

            1.            Alphabet All-Stars (English)
            2.            Alphabet All-Stars: Trivia Time (English)
            3.            Alphabet All-Stars Flashcards (English)
            4.            Alphabet All-Stars: Animal Edition (English)
            5.            Alphabet All-Stars Academy Volume 1 (English)
            6.            Taming Your Pet Monster: An Operational Guide (English)
            7.            Aveline (English)
            8.            Alphabet All-Stars: Clever Cards (English)
            9.            Mein Kleiner Lieblingsdrache (My Little Pet Dragon) (German)
            10.            Dos Cuentos Antes de Dormir (Spanish)
            11.            Deux Histoires au Coucher (French)
            12.            Mein Verrückter Lieblingsfrosch (My Crazy Pet Frog) (German)
            13.            The Most Beautiful Flower (English)
            14.            Adorable Dogs: Beagles! (English)
            15.            Adorable Dogs: Pugs! (English)
            16.            Adorable Dogs: Labradors! (English)
            17.            Zwei Geschichten für Kinder (German)
            18.            Due Storie per Bambini (Italian)
            19.            Alphabet All Stars: Funny Flashcards (English)
            20.            Duas Histórias para Crianças (Portuguese)
            21.            Adorable Dogs: Bulldogs! (English)
            22.            Adorable Dogs Collection Volume 1 (English)

So am I entirely pleased with my performance? No. Even though I had my most productive month ever, I could have done more.

As I mentioned before, I made a few mistakes. I should have written Secret Agent Disco Dancer and tied it to the promotion of My Crazy Pet Frog. I also should have tackled the sequel to My Little Pet Dragon at some point in July. I will not make that mistake again.

Still, 22 titles is an impressive feat, even though these are children's books and 8 of them are collections and/or translations. I managed to grow my library 56%, and even though I didn't experience a 56% increase in sales, I did lay down the groundwork for substantial future sales. I suspect that the alphabet books will sell better once kids go back to school.

But don’t get me wrong, I'm proud of my achievement. So while I’m in a good mood, let me hand out awards for my new releases:

Best New Cover

I did a decent job with cover design this month, producing 24 covers in all (22 were used in new releases). Although I'm pleased with most of them, the one that stands out the most is The Most Beautiful Flower. It was trickier than it looks, and surprised me by its overall simplicity. Easily the best cover that I put together this month.

Buy it now for your Kindle!

Best New Series

Since I put together two new series, Adorable Dogs and Alphabet All-Stars, why not choose the best one? While Adorable Dogs was fun, Alphabet All-Stars was a great entry into the children's alphabet book market. Each volume is different, and provides its own unique take on the alphabet. And while I could have taken the easy route, I forced myself to make each as entertaining as possible, while also being educational.

Clever Cards was the most innovative, incorporating American Sign Language on each card, while Trivia Time was the best overall release. So which one sold the best? The Animal Edition, of course. Kids love their animal alphabets!

Buy it now for your Kindle!

Most Satisfying New Release

Most of my friends would be surprised to hear me say that a book about fairies was my most satisfying new release, but it’s the truth. I enjoyed writing Aveline. It came together effortlessly, and pulled me away from the traditional picture books that I’ve been writing.

Buy it now for your Kindle!
At the request of a fan, there will be more books about the adventures of Aveline. Here's a cover I put together for an eventual novelization:

Best Sales for a New Release

Honestly, sales weren't great for any of my new releases, but Taming Your Pet Monster: An Operational Guide easily outsold the rest.

Biggest Surprise of July

Without a doubt, the German language version of My Little Pet Dragon was the biggest surprise of the month. I gave away over 2,000 free copies during its promotional run, and sold over 40 copies. Sure, these aren't big numbers, but I didn't make a single sale in Germany the month before.

The lesson learned? Ignore the German market at your own peril.

Buy it now for your Kindle!

Best New Release Overall

Taming Your Pet Monster: An Operational Guide takes the grand prize as the best new release for July. At 55 pages, the book is fairly long for a children's picture book. It's also quirky, full of wacky humor and has memorable one-liners. Readers seem to be excited about it too, giving it glowing reviews. All in all, a very satisfying release. At $2.99, the higher royalty also helps.

Buy it now for your Kindle!

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. The hard work paid off, and I was able to turn my sales around. I'm really excited about August, and despite what I've said, I'd like to put out even more titles next month. I will tackle everything that I've been avoiding, and fit it into my schedule.

But I won't be turning off my creative mind anytime soon. Smaller titles help tremendously with free promotions, and sell well when they are bundled in collections. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone; publishers have been selling collections of short stories for centuries. Why would this suddenly change?

So expect to see a healthy dose of yours truly this August, along with plenty more blogging. Eventually I'd like to get back to making $6,000 per month, and then later, $10,000. Throwaway_Writer averaged over $30,000 per month last January and February, so if he can do it, I most certainly can.

And you can, too!

Scott Gordon
Part of the Indie Revolution

Monday, July 30, 2012

Going Indie - Day 12: Bonus Content

The Dog Pound Volume 1: Beagles, Bulldogs, Pugs and Labradors!
Now Available!
Perhaps I’m a bit of a nut when it comes to content creation, but I love it when authors take the time to add bonus content to their works, whether it’s an author’s note, an interview or additional stories. I love getting a glimpse of their inner world, sort of like when you visit a friend’s house for the first time.

Back when I was an avid gamer, I would buy tons of videogames from a company called Working Designs. Every time I purchased a game from them, I looked forward to reading the Translation Notes located in the back of the instruction manual. There they talked about the various challenges that they had to overcome, and how they improved upon the original Japanese release. When they closed their doors, I was very sad, but tradition of adding bonus content stuck with me.

Only recently have I gotten away from doing this. I had done this with my first few releases (somewhat religiously, in fact). I made the call today to slow down a bit and add bonus content to my latest collection, The Dog Pound, Volume 1: Beagles, Bulldogs, Pugs and Labradors, before I publish it. Although the interview that I wrote is a bit odd (I use one of my previous pets as the interviewer), it’s all in good fun and loaded with great information about self-publishing.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the wacky space that I inhabit.


An Interview with Scott Gordon

SCOTT GORDON (SG) and his dog COCO stare at each other. Suddenly Coco begins to bark, over and over again.

SG: What’s the problem, Coco?

Coco continues barking. Scott’s other dog SNOOPY strolls into the room and stops dead in his tracks.

SNOOPY: Well, aren’t you going to answer him?

SG (rubs his eyes): You can talk?

SNOOPY: Oh, it’s nothing special. I dug up this universal translator from the backyard the other day.

Snoopy paws at a silver device attached to his collar.

SNOOPY: I guess aliens have visited us in the past. How exciting! Hopefully those slimy creatures won’t come back to get it.

SG: What?

SNOOPY: I’ve used it to talk to squirrels, birds and even fleas. It’s really quite handy-

Coco snatches the device from Snoopy, and attaches it to his own collar.  Snoopy’s perfect English turns into a series of barks.

COCO: Ah…much better….

Snoopy continues barking and bares his teeth at Coco.

COCO: Calm down, my friend. I’m just borrowing it for a while so that I can interview our master about his new release, The Dog Pound, Volume 1: Beagles, Bulldogs, Pugs and Labradors. I’ll return it to you as soon as I’m done.

Snoopy growls, and then leaves the room.

COCO: All right, then. Let’s get down to business, shall we?

SG: This is crazy. Is that an English accent I’m detecting?

COCO: Oh, that must be the device. I’ve never set foot in England, but I wouldn’t be against taking in a game of football or visiting the Tower of London. Perhaps I could even give a speech at Parliament.

SG (scratches his head): Yeah, well…I don’t know about that. Maybe if you’re a good dog I guess I could-

COCO: And maybe if I bit you, you’d take me on more trips.

SG: You wouldn’t dare!

COCO: Try me.

Coco growls.

SG: Ok, so what do you want to know?

COCO: First off, where are you hiding the Beggin’ Strips?

SG: In the cabinet above the stove.

COCO: I knew it! Excuse me for a moment…

Coco runs off.

Scott cringes as pots and pans clang off the kitchen floor. After a few barks and growls, Coco returns with a shiny bag of Beggin’ Strips dangling from his mouth. He jumps on the couch, and sets down the bag.

COCO (to Snoopy): Don’t worry, chap. I’ll save you a scrap or two.

He rips open the bag with his teeth.

COCO: Now then, where were we?

SG: You were going to ask me a few questions about my book…

COCO: Oh yes, the interview. That’s right!

Coco sticks his nose in the bag and inhales a mouthful of Beggin’ Strips.

COCO (burps): Excuse me. It’s been a whole hour since I last ate. You may not know this, but deep down inside, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Since I’m a dog, no publisher will ever take me seriously. There will never be any seven-figure contracts or hob-nobbing with publishers and agents. I have no choice but to go indie, and I was wondering if you could share some of your personal experiences with me.

SG: You want to write a book? I thought you were content sniffing other people’s butts.

COCO: That was totally uncalled for! I was young then, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m far more sophisticated now.

He inhales another mouthful of Beggin’ Strips.

COCO: Now come on, old man. Spit it out or I’ll pee on your prized iMac.

SG: Who are you calling ‘old man?’

COCO: And why are you laughing at me for wanting to write a book? Imagine if I did the same to you.

SG: Fine, let’s get this over with so that I can get back to work. What do you want to know?

COCO: How long ago did you start writing? Seriously writing, that is.

SG: About six years ago.

COCO: And when did you finally publish your first e-book?

SG: Last October. It’s been about a year.

COCO: So that’s a gap of five years before you were finally published. What were you doing during this time?

SG: Working. Going to school. More work. That sort of thing…

At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go the traditional route or not. I’ve read horror stories about authors never getting their royalties, print runs being slashed, the sales numbers being wrong, etc. Deep down inside I knew that I wanted to self-publish, but the infrastructure wasn’t in place yet. E-books weren’t big like they are today. So I wrote for awhile, learning my craft but never finishing anything.

COCO: Did you eventually wind up submitting your manuscript for consideration?

SG: Never. I guess I was just biding my time until e-books finally took off. Boy did they ever!

COCO: So what was the turning point? What helped you break through?

SG: The first thing that happened was I discovered J.A. Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. Konrath is a traditionally published author who was treated like garbage and decided to break out of the vicious cycle and publish his own work. This was the first time that I actually saw any sales numbers.

When I found out that he was making hundreds of thousand of dollars a year off e-book sales, I realized that e-books had finally arrived, and it would be only a matter of time before I jumped in.

But I still had the same dilemma: I hadn’t finished anything yet.

COCO: So did you bolt yourself to your chair and finish one of your novels?

SG: No. I kept grinding away until one day I got this weird idea for a science fiction story. It’s very strange, so I won’t even mention the title. But the book taught me how to finish. In 10 days, while also working a full time job, I wrote, edited and published it.

Finally I had finished something!

It was around this time that I discovered a thread on Reddit about some guy named THROWAWAY_WRITER (TW) who claimed to have made $1,000 in one day off e-book sales. I read the entire thread several times, and integrated his ideas into my process.

Plenty of brilliant insights are hidden throughout the thread. First off, even though TW hadn’t published a novel, he was still making $1,000/day. That floored me. So I guess there really is a market for short fiction.

Next, TW had written over 80 different titles at the time (he now has over 200), which had been published in a span of 8 months. He got a lot of criticism for this, and many doubted his claims. But remember, he was writing short fiction, and as it turns out, he’s a fairly quick writer.

So what kinds of e-books did he write? Detective novelettes, contemporary thrillers, children’s books, business primers, science fiction and some naughty works that I best not mention. Of all the various genres that he described, it was the children’s books that caught my attention. I told myself that if I found the right artwork, I would consider writing one.

COCO: So did you?

SG: No, not immediately. I took one of the best short stories I had and overhauled it. I extended it from 1,200 to 3,000 words (the minimum length that TW suggested), and added some inspirational posts from my blog as bonus content. After working on it part time for five days, Literary Dynamite was born.

COCO: And how did it do?

SG: Awful. It’s sold about a dozen copies thus far, but I’m proud of each sale. It was a great effort, and I feel like it provides excellent value for 99 cents. It’s also a source of inspiration for aspiring authors.

What I found strange about Literary Dynamite is that I had been giving it away for free on my website for over a year, and people didn’t bother reading it all. I was more than willing to give away all of my content for free if I could make decent ad revenue, but it didn’t pan out.

So I went to Plan B: I packaged the content into an e-book, put it up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and even with its paltry sales, made more money off it than I had before.

There’s a valuable lesson to be learned here. If you have content sitting on your hard drive that could be making money, you need to get it up. Consider these works as your employees. Put them to work so that you can bring you money while you’re working on your next masterpiece. You have no idea how much money you’re missing out on by not having your work published.

Get it up! You’ll be glad you did.

COCO: So is this when you decided to experiment with children’s books?

SG: Yes! I came across some outstanding dragon artwork and immediately knew that it would work well as a children’s picture book. But I’d never written a picture book before, so this was going to be a new experience.

But my real motivation was my son. He has a development delay, and while his speech is improving, he’s far behind other children his age. At the time, he couldn’t say the word dragon, so I was determined to use this children’s book to expand his vocabulary.

I wound up publishing it on Thanksgiving, and to my surprise, My Little Pet Dragon performed better than anything else I’d published to date. On top of that, it was fun, and my son really liked it. So I wrote another. And another. And another. Soon he was saying words like “frog,” “cat,” “monster,” “pig” and so on.

In the back of my mind, I remembered TW’s advice. Keep moving forward and focus on the shorter works. Once you have enough of the smaller works, package them into a collection. Go back and finish your novels once you can afford to.

COCO: So have you finally published a novel?

SG: Not yet. But it will be happening really soon.

COCO: Ok, and how many works do you have up now?

SG: Sixty. I published twenty in July.

COCO (nearly falls out of his chair): Excuse me? You can’t be serious.

SG: Dead serious.  At the end of March, I decided to quit my full time job as a Front End Web Developer for Fannie Mae to focus exclusively on writing. I’d just made more money the month before on e-book sales, so I knew it was time to make the leap.

But instead of jumping into my new occupation, I took some time off and relaxed. Too much time, in fact. And when my sales crashed in June, I realized that I wasn’t doing the things that I had promised to do. So I got my act together, and put out twenty new works.

COCO: No kidding!

SG: A lot of people doubted TW’s output, but if you’re motivated, focus on shorter titles and have all day to write, why can’t you? In time, you get better at everything that goes into the creative process.

For me, the ideal turnaround for a short story or children’s book is 2-3 days, but I’ve done several projects in a single day. It just depends on what you’re writing and how fast it comes together.

COCO: Wow, I’d be happy to write one book. How did you break through and finish something?

SG: There are a few factors that went into this. First, scaling back my expectations and choosing shorter works. Second, by disregarding the editor in my head and letting myself write the story in its entirety. Typically my first drafts are terrible, but get better with each successive draft. Get it all out first, and then go back and correct it. You can do it, but you have to believe in yourself first.

Once you put it all down, it’s just a matter of finding the right words to describe what you’re trying to say. Each new draft may feel like raising the Titanic, but you’ll be proud when you finally arrive at your intended destination.

Believe that you can succeed, and then do it.

COCO: I noticed that your collection contains pictures of Beagles, Bulldogs, Pugs and Labradors. Is there any reason why you didn’t write about Jack Russell Terriers? I mean, you and I are family. You could at least write one about us.

SG: Well, I haven’t acquired the assets yet.

COCO: Sure. Don’t be surprised if your computer smells a little funny tomorrow.

SG: No, seriously. I’m telling the truth. As a matter of fact, I just located some great photographs today.

COCO: So when can we expect Adorable Dogs: Jack Russell Terriers?

SG: In the next few weeks or so.

COCO (shakes his head): Your iMac isn’t going to be happy with me.

SG: All right, the next few days.

COCO: And I want you to do multiple editions.

SG: You got it!

COCO: And I want a collection exclusively for us.

SG: Done.

COCO: It’s nice doing business with you, master.

Coco searches the bag of Beggin’ Strips, and realizes that it’s empty.

COCO: Oops. So…uh…what else can we expect from you in the coming weeks?

SG: Fewer dog books, that’s for sure. Except for Jack Russell Terriers, of course. A few more volumes of my Alphabet All-Stars series are also on the way. I thought I had written my last alphabet book, but I keep coming up with more ideas. I’ve decided that I’m going to write three more, and put out one large collection, similar to what I’ve done with Mega Collection #1.

But that’s not the focus. I’ll be zeroing in on my two most successful franchises: My Little Pet Dragon and My Crazy Pet Frog. Expect novelizations of each as well as sequels. Readers should expect My Little Pet Dragon Ness and Secret Agent Disco Dancer shortly.

I’ll also be finishing off a few projects that have hung around for a while. Although Braedyn Bunny and the Missing Eggs was an Easter project, it’s a solid title despite the holiday theme. I expect it to do well once it’s finally released. It’s a very special title; you’ll see. And of course, I’ve always got a top-secret project or two in the works.

COCO: Great! Well, I guess that’s all the questions I have for you.

SG: Good, because I have one for you.

COCO: Ok, let’s hear it.

SG: How do you plan on typing up your book? I don’t think your paws can operate a human keyboard. And if you use your nose to type the letters one at a time, it will take forever.

COCO: That’s why I have you, oh master.

SG: What?!

COCO: You’re going to type it up for me. And do the cover. And create the e-book. You already feed me and take me for long walks, so it shouldn’t be a big deal.

SG: But I’ve got my own books to write.

COCO: Consider it an investment into the longevity of your iMac. Any last words you’d like to say?

SG: Yes. I’d like to thank to every single reader out there who has ever bought my work. Every sale means something to me. Knowing that I’ve created something of value that someone is willing to pay for is meaningful.

Thank you. Thank you for taking a chance on me.

I’ll be following up all of my successful titles in the coming months. And if there’s something you’d like me to write, let me know on my blog. Since I publish directly, there’s no middleman. No agent to go through, no representative to tell me that it’s a bad idea or that it will never sell.

I take risks. That’s what successful people do. And the day that I shy away from this is the day that I should stop writing. I don’t believe in taking the well-worn path. I prefer to strike out on my own.

So if you like my work now, you’ll love what I have in store for you in the coming months. It will truly be my best work to date.

COCO: Is there a point when you’ll eventually stop writing children’s books?

SG: Perhaps when I’ve written 1,000 of them. Yeah, that’s probably when I should move onto something else. Perhaps…

COCO: Well, we better get cracking on my book. It’s already getting dark. Quick, hide the empty bag. I hear Snoopy just around the corner.

SG: He’s going to find out, anyways.

COCO: Then tell him you ate the last of the Beggin’ Strips. Oh no, here he comes. Hide!

SG: Yeah, right. It’s not a big deal, is it Snoopy? Uh, Snoopy?

Snoopy barks, and then charges Scott.

SG: No, it’s not my fault. He did it. Ahhh!!!

And they lived happily ever after.


The Adorable Dogs Collection Volume 1: Beagles, Bulldogs, Pugs and Labradors is Now Available!

Buy it now for your Amazon Kindle!
Four great puppy books for one low price. Over 140 pages. A $3.96 value!

What's included:

Adorable Dogs: Beagles!

Your new dog is one demanding little puppy! Find out what makes him tick in this humorous little book about beagles. Give your child a four-legged surprise without all the mess. Guaranteed to make you laugh!

Adorable Dogs: Bulldogs!

How can you not love that face? Meet Marvin's family, a bunch of droopy-faced bulldogs that are constantly scolded by their overbearing mother (I swear she has a little pitbull in her!). Can they get past their differences, or will they wind up nagging each other to death?

Adorable Dogs: Pugs!

So you think it's funny dressing up your new Pug in a bunch of ridiculous outfits? He doesn't think so. And he's certainly not shy about giving you a piece of his mind.

Adorable Dogs: Labradors!

An unwanted puppy finds himself at the local dog pound, baffled by his new surroundings. Visitor after visitor strolls by, but no matter what he does, he's unable to win their affections. Will he be stuck there forever? Or will someone come to his rescue?

A comprehensive list of labrador rescue organizations in the U.S. is also included.

Bonus Content!

A special interview with Children's Book Author Scott Gordon is included after the main feature.

Note: No animals were harmed, teased or publicly humiliated in the production of this book. ;D

Adorable Dogs: Bulldogs is Now Available!

Buy It Now for Your Amazon Kindle!
How can you not love a face like that? Meet Marvin's family, a bunch of droopy-faced bulldogs that are constantly scolded by their overbearing mother (I swear she has some pitbull in her!). Can they get past their differences, or will they wind up nagging each other to death?

This humble book is over 30 pages in length and contains adorable imagery that will melt your heart. Descriptions of my other popular children's books are included after the main feature (an additional 8 pages).

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Going Indie - Day 11: Lessons Learned

My Bestselling Title!
My neck was feeling better today until I pried myself away from the keyboard.  Still, I managed to publish Adorable Dogs: Bulldogs in one day. Did I push myself too far? Probably. But I wasn't about to be denied. I've got books to write, and I can't afford to miss out on another opportunity.

Today was different in the sense that I didn’t know I was going to do any real work when I turned on my computer this morning. I figured I'd take it easy because of my neck. Famous last words. I was dying to get my hands dirty, so I picked a "simple" project, which wound up taking the rest of the day. (Eventually I will learn not to underestimate these children's books, but I have a very hard head.)

I did clear some potential hurdles before jumping in, which made all the difference in the world. Progress was smooth and effective, and I didn’t get stuck at any point. I also did a better job of putting my thoughts down beforehand. It feels good to finally follow one’s own advice. ;D

Now that Adorable Dogs: Bulldogs is done, I can create the compilation and step away from dog books once and for all (or at least until the following week). While it was fun, I really need to move on. My popular works need sequels, and I'd love to do something more sophisticated, like Enura.

Slowly but surely, I'm getting there…

As for the month of July, I was able to stop the bleeding and turn my sales around. I added 21 new products, and put many of them on free promotion. Although none of them were blockbusters, I learned quite a bit:

Germany Is A Decent Market

Doing German translations of My Little Pet Dragon and My Crazy Pet Frog was an excellent idea. I gave away nearly 3,000 copies in all (the most I've ever given away in a foreign market), and was able to trigger a few sales. This is a big deal to me, because last month I didn't sell anything in Germany. I've heard of other people doing well over there, but not with children’s picture books. It was definitely worth the risk.

If You're Going To Do An Alphabet Book, Make It An Animal Alphabet Book

Unfortunately I learned this the hard way. I created 6 different alphabet books this month, but only one did decent numbers during its free promotion. (Ok, 2,500 copies isn't great, but some of the others didn't even reach 500.) A few alphabet books by other authors have done well (Dragon's Alphabet Soup by Rachel Yu comes to mind), so I'll keep trying until I find the right chemistry.

It's Better To Follow Up Your Successful Works Rather Than Build A New Franchise

The title speaks for itself. Although I was extremely productive this month, my time would have been better served writing the sequel to either My Little Pet Dragon or My Crazy Pet Frog. I took a gamble with Taming Your Pet Monster: An Operational Guide, but it didn't pan out. Still, I'm satisfied with the final product, but it's time to move on.

It Only Takes One Product To Change Everything

I gave away over a dozen different products in July, and while sales improved, it wasn't until my free promotion of My Little Pet Dragon that things turned around. It’s hardly a surprise. My Little Pet Dragon is my bestselling title.

Put everything into the title you're working on. You never know. You may just have a hit on your hands.

Choose Wisely

I have tons of ideas for new books each day, but unfortunately, there's not enough time to do all of them. As your sales will indicate, not every title is worth doing. Some wind up being great books that no one wants to buy, others, only minor hits, and the select few, blockbusters. But if you never experiment, how do you know what will sell?

I've followed my instincts thus far, but I'm slowing beginning to realize that it's very much a game of hit and miss. Not every title is a winner. Analyze your catalog. Take a look at what’s selling. That should give you plenty of ideas on where to invest your time.

Ultimately, if you love what you're doing, it doesn't matter. It's those pesky bills that get in the way.


Expanding my catalog by 50% didn't result in 50% more income. That's because I didn't choose the best titles. In many cases, I took the easy path and picked some low-hanging fruit.

That will not be the case in August. I will make significant financial progress, even if I only publish a few titles. I have to be cautious with my next few moves; a lot is riding on it. It's not good enough being productive anymore. I need a legitimate hit.

That's why I'm trying to wrap up all these alphabet and puppy books before the end of the month. I don't want these projects hanging around; I want to be totally focused, and put out the best quality work that I am capable of. Afterwards, I will return to my crazy/productive ways.

Live, learn and adapt,

Scott Gordon
Proud Indie Author

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Going Indie - Day 10: Limping Along

Free to Download 7/29 Only!
Ugh! So it turns out my neck pain is a little worse than I had thought. I was forced to take it easy today, scaling back my productivity, and performing a series of 'light jobs.' Thankfully I was able to get my last mini collection out the door, the Portuguese language version of Bedtime Story 2-Pack. It wasn't a lot of work (just a couple hours), but I felt terrible doing it. I persevered, and hopefully I'll feel better tomorrow.

I did do some actual writing, though. Not mind-blowing output, just a couple thousand words. Although I was supposed to take the day off, I found myself tinkering all day. There’s no rest for indie authors, just active rest.

My scattered efforts reminded me of how important it is to focus, and to have some light work lined up for when I get sick or play too much with social media. Sometimes the most difficult task is identifying the next step. The true power of productivity involves moving seamlessly from one task to another. It’s easy to get sidetracked when you don’t know what the next step is.

Staying disciplined and not allowing oneself to jump right in is an art form all in itself. Even 5 minutes of planning can be an invaluable investment. When I sat down to work on Alphabet All-Stars: Funny Flashcards, I identified a number of obstacles that threatened to delay the project. I told myself that I wasn't going to allow myself to do the major work until all of those issues were resolved. After acquiring the additional assets I needed and fixing a few flashcards, I realized that I had created the 'easy path' (also called the happy path) to get the project done. Predictably, the project went smoothly once I cleared the hurdles (it also helps that I've done this before).

This got me thinking. Why don’t I set up the happy path every time? Why don’t I invest more time into planning so that I make it easier for myself? When I don't do this, projects tend to wear me out. As I come across issues, I have to switch hats and become a graphical artist or an editor. It would better if I eliminated all of the jumping back and forth. (It would go a long way towards preserving my sanity.) And if I always aimed for the happy path, projects would come together more easily, rather than being forced to fruition.

Keep in mind, I'm not planner/plotter; I tend to jump right in. I love the thrill of discovery and don't mind letting the project define itself as I get my hands dirty.

Guinness World Record Holder Ryoki Inoue creates a detailed outline that covers just about everything before beginning a manuscript. After he fills in the necessary information, he writes the book from start to finish. At his height of his productivity, he’d write a 30,000-word manuscript in about 6-8 hours. Insane!

How is that humanly possible? Because of his superior organization and discipline. He's taken the time to study himself and pinpoint his flaws. A little practice also doesn't hurt (he's written about 1,100 books). In one of his interviews, he mentioned that he doesn't suffer from writers block because he works to an outline and always knows what happens next. Still it’s impressive that he can execute so flawlessly.

This isn't the only approach, however. Georges Simenon, a prolific French author known for his Detective Maigret novels, wrote largely by free association. He’d spend days beforehand digging through old newspapers and phonebooks until ideas began crystallizing in his head. Still there were scant notes, often scribbled on the front of the same envelope that he would mail his manuscript in. Even he admitted that he did not know where the story would take him. He had a profound sense of his story; the real magic happened on the page.

Of the two approaches, I gravitate more towards Simenon's approach (which I'll call the discovery approach). I prefer not to know too much about what I'm writing (I hate knowing too much, actually). But it does become a problem as I get deeper into the manuscript, typically after the first 10,000 words.

A powerful combination would be to combine the raw energy and excitement of the discovery approach with the precision of Inoue's plot-based outline. It's the best of both worlds, eliminating drafts and taking full advantage of ideas that are born on the page. I am currently seeking this balance, but haven't perfected it yet.

The truth is, everyone wants to be more productive. If we simplify our commitment by setting small, repeatable goals, and genuinely try to start and finish projects (give yourself a deadline!), there's no limit to what we can achieve.

Scott Gordon
Proud Indie Author

Friday, July 27, 2012

Going Indie - Day 9: All Jacked Up

Download it for FREE 7/27/12 - 7/29/12!
So I jacked up my neck a couple days ago, and I have no idea how I did it. All I know is that when I turn my head at a certain angle, pain shoots through my muscles and tendons. It's even uncomfortable when I swallow. Perhaps it's the result of sitting down too long, but I suspect I strained it while playing with my son. I also could have just slept on it wrong. Who knows?

Eventually it will go away, but it isn't any fun. I found out the hard way that I shouldn’t be driving. But I can write…

Despite this annoyance, I got Alphabet All-Stars: Funny Flashcards out the door this morning. I wasn't planning on doing another flashcard book, but all the pieces fell into place. It was better that I went ahead and did it now rather than add another project to my never-ending queue.

With today's release and the mini-collection that I published last night, I'm up to 58 total works. Three of them are banned on Amazon because they're in Indonesian, which isn't one of the approved Kindle languages. It's crappy when I scan over my backlist and see these titles in bright yellow; but the situation will correct itself, as will my neck.

Occasionally I take a break from the rigors of content creation and look at what other indie authors are doing. Sharlene Alexander has a unique approach. She has an e-book called 100 Fun Stories for 4-8 Year Olds which is currently #482 overall. With that ranking, she’s probably averaging 100 sales/day. Since her royalty is 70 cents per copy, she's making at least $70/day, not to mention borrows and any other sales in her catalog of 60 products. She's royally kicking my butt by targeting the value-conscious shopper. Very impressive.

Keep in mind also that this product started out as a collection of 20 stories, which then grew to 40, and eventually 100. I've been thinking of putting together something like this for a while, but she beat me to it. After locating the artwork this morning, I will be putting together my value title with a slight twist: humor will be the aim rather than traditional fairy tales/bedtime stories.

With that in my arsenal, I should be able to ignite sales; however, I will take the same staggered approach as Sharlene and build it a little at a time. Personally, I would love to have 1,001 funny stories for kids, but that's a little overboard. 100 stories for $1.99 is an exceptional value. Heck, let’s make it 101!

All in all, it's been a decent month. I've added 19 new products in the last 4 weeks, and have been able to turn my sales around. There's still a lot of work to do, and I'm not even close to where I want to be. But my performance in this challenging month gives me hope, and no pain in the neck or anything else is going to stand in my way.

Better days lie ahead. I will make this journey a success.

I know what I must do. I will not falter.

Scott Gordon
Proud Indie Author

Alphabet All-Stars: Funny Flashcards is Now Available!

Get It Now for the Amazon Kindle!
Uncle Ozzie is filling in, and he's brought with him a funny-looking set of flashcards. This volume features ugly fairies, crazy leprechauns, hardhat hippos, and more!

Approximately 35 pages in all. Descriptions of my other popular children's books are included after the main feature (an additional 6-8 pages).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Going Indie - Day 8: Charlatans

FREE 6/27/12 - 6/29/12!
A year and a half ago, I discovered a blog that would later change my life. At the time, I had no idea that one could actually make a living selling e-books. After going back and reading all the sales numbers that J.A. Konrath was kind enough to provide, I realized that e-publishing had finally arrived, and eventually I'd make the leap from part time to full time author.

Though I try to keep up with his blog, I often fall behind. His most recent post (about a week old) deals with the class action lawsuit against Harlequin, and it makes me sick to my stomach. In a nutshell, Harlequin agreed to pay authors 50% royalties from e-books sales (it's in their contracts), which sounds like a sweet deal, but "…then they took those rights and sub-licensed them to another company for 6%, which means the author got 3% of the wholesale price, not 50%."

It's screw the author all over again, the standard operating procedure that's been going on since dawn of print. I'm sick of reading these horror stories about royalties being incorrect or not being paid or dishonest agents and publishers trying dupe authors into signing their rights away.

Thank God I'm an indie writer; I don't have time for this garbage! I've got books to write, bills to pay. I've seen what happened to my own mother when she was basically told what she could and couldn't write. I don't care if I'm kept out of bookstores; I earn a better living than a lot of traditionally published authors. Writing should be about hard work, creativity and trusting your instincts; not games, deception and legalese.

Perhaps in the future I will try my hand at traditional publishing, but I don't see it going well. If a publisher or agent tries to get me to sign away 'the life of the copyright' to any of my works, I'll swiftly give them the finger and walk out the door.

For those who aren't familiar with the terminology, the life of the copyright is the rest of your natural life plus seventy years, standard verbiage in contracts these days. Your family should be ones benefitting from your work when you die, not these parasites.

So why do they do this? Because they don't want you to know what you're worth.

You are the content creator. Without you, they have nothing. The longer they can keep this from you, the better; otherwise, their goose is cooked.

Take me, for instance. How much could I hope to make as a children's book author through traditional publishing? Let's say I sold My Little Pet Dragon to them, what would they pay me? I've heard that you’d be lucky to get $5,000 for a debut novel these days. But this isn't a novel, it’s a children's book.

So what could I really expect? $500? $50? $5? 1,000 query letters, along with 1,000 rejections? A publishing date in 2015?

No thanks.

I made over $5,000 in January from my children's books, and then another $6,000 in February. I have all my rights, and I will continue to reap the benefits of my hard work until the day I die. I've already sold over 17,000 e-books this year, which is beginning to look more and more like a respectable print run.

And I'm only making a fraction of what other authors make.

So before you sign your heart and soul over to a group of charlatans, consider the indie path first. It might not initially get you into bookstores, but you might find yourself earning a respectable living.

Scott Gordon
Indie Author, and PROUD OF IT!

Incredible FREE Children's Book Giveaway #3: July 25th - 29th Only!

Another week, another amazing giveaway! For the next five days, I'm giving away three of my most newest children's books for FREE! And only on Amazon.

The free titles are: The Most Beautiful Flower, Adorable Dogs: Beagles and Alphabet All-Stars: Clever Cards. Download them all before they return to full price!

Be sure to also check out my other published works and upcoming titles!

Download for FREE 7/25 - 7/29
Download for FREE 7/25 - 7/29
Download for FREE 7/25 - 7/29

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Going Indie - Day 7: Tweaking Prices for Free Promotions

Grab a Copy of Adorable Dogs: Beagles!
It's about time I woke up and smelled the virtual coffee.

Back in May, Amazon changed their algorithms, making it more difficult for lower-priced e-books to achieve higher rankings. I knew this was affecting my free giveaways, but I wasn’t sure exactly how. For a moment, forget about the fact that three of my works are currently free, and consider the value that I've assigned to them.

The titles are:

At 3:00 PM today, I checked the numbers and was surprised by what I had found. Here are the three same titles, ranked by numbers of giveaways:

1. Adorable Dogs: Beagles (351 copies)
2. The Most Beautiful Flower (138 copies)

At this point, Adorable Dogs: Beagles had two and a half times as many giveaways as The Most Beautiful Flower and three times as many as Alphabet All-Stars: Clever Cards.

So what did the rankings look like? Take a gander at this:

That’s right. Adorable Dogs: Beagles was nearly 500 spots behind Alphabet All-Stars: Clever Cards despite moving three times as many copies. In no way does this reflect reality. Right now, my beagle book is my most successful giveaway. Period.

So what did I do about it? I raised all my prices to $2.99. That seemed to straighten it out immediately:

1. Adorable Dogs: Beagles (711 copies, #284)
2. The Most Beautiful Flower (249 copies, #777)
3. Alphabet All-Stars: Clever Cards (191 copies, #907)

As part of my new process, I'm going to raise all my prices equally to $2.99 (except collections) the night before, and lower them on the final evening of the promotion. No doubt this is what kept My Little Pet Dragon out of the Top 20 last week. It was $1.99, while many others were $2.99 and higher.

If these e-books are going to return to their normal (lower) prices, aren't I going to run into the same problem later? Yes, and most definitely once I get closer to the higher paid rankings.

But what is the goal of a free promotion? To give away as many copies as possible, right? And why do we do that? Because the numbers show that the more copies you give away, the more you sell in the weeks following a free promotion. The e-books that have been promoted always have an uptick in sales, while others that haven't had exposure eventually die down, sometimes to the tune of a couple copies per day.

What is going on behind the scenes? And why does a book magically receive sales after its free promotion? It's a good question, and I don't pretend to have all the answers, but it has something to do with Amazon's recommendation system.

When you give away 1,000 copies of your book, you're creating over a 1,000 new patterns to associate with prospective buyers. You’ll eventually be recommended to them on behalf of Amazon at some point in their shopping experience. This directly leads to sales. The more patterns you have, the more sales and borrows you will get. The more sales you get, the higher your visibility (ranking). And when you start showing up on the higher lists, this new visibility combined with recommendations leads to tons of new sales. Slowly it will fade, but you should be able to get a few solid weeks of sales out of it.

So if you're going to kick off a free promotion, why do it crippled? You need those free giveaways, as many as you can get. The higher your numbers, the longer your tail will be (though I suspect that the maximum effect is about 4-5 weeks before sales return to a normal levels, which still might be higher than what you had before).

Since visibility is the key component to sales, what can you do about it? According to Amazon, you have to raise your prices. But as I've seen before, it may not be in your best interest to do so. If you raise your price too high, no one will buy your product. It has to be a reasonable for the price assigned to it when compared to other products.

Some products are meant to be 99-cent e-books. There's really nothing you can do about it. If you raise the price too high, the customer will turn a cold shoulder on you. If you set it too low, Amazon prevents you from getting too high up their lists.

So you can either:

1. Extend the content and make it worth a higher price (may or not work, but worth a try)
2. Accept the lower rankings and continue to sell as many copies as you can
3. Accept fewer sales and try to make as much money as you can per copy

Personally I’ve found that #3 doesn't work too well, but it depends upon the title. I tried this with My Little Pet Dragon and it wound up tanking in sales at the $2.99 price point.  I’d gotten too greedy; $1.99 was the perfect price for it.

With #2, you also have to consider all the other things that your title is doing for you. Is it your top seller? Is it a gateway to other products?

With My Little Pet Dragon, I found that it had a tendency to push my entire catalog as long as I kept prices reasonably low. Once I raised my prices, my sales dropped and I lost the add-on sales it was triggering. Without decent rankings or cross-promotional sales, it eventually died. Big time.

As for #1, shouldn't we be trying to do this anyways? E-books are living documents. They can continue to evolve and be improved upon. Is it worth investing time in older products rather than putting out a new one? If it's your top selling product, yes. And if there’s a way to offer your entire catalog at $2.99 and above (assuming that customers are willing to pay those prices), why shouldn’t you do it?

Providing value is at the heart of what we do. If it no longer makes sense to create content that sells for less than $2.99, then we need to change our philosophy. Perhaps we should be putting out less content and publishing only larger works. Of course, if these works are meant to be compiled, then who cares how bad the individual components do as long the collection sells?

I don't pretend to have all the answers, and different people will come to different conclusions based on the DNA of their catalog. For me, it makes sense to play the game of adjusting the prices for free runs, and dealing with the lower rankings on a case-by-case basis.

But if there’s one thing that you take away from this, it’s that you should always strive for a higher price point. If you can justify it, do it. If not, when you roll back your prices, customers will acknowledge that they’re getting an exceptional value, and your products will begin selling by the virtual truckload.

Learn and adapt,

Scott Gordon
Children’s Book Author