Indie Author Tip – Facebook Ads

Advertising is a necessary evil for an Indie Author. You don’t want to do it. If you studied literature or writing you did it to improve your craft. It’s not likely you studied marketing which means it can really feel like you’re flailing around in the dark feeling for a light switch. I don’t like marketing. It’s hard and I don’t always understand it. I’m reading every book and article I can get my hands on, watching videos, just to teach myself how to do it, how to do it well, and how to do it more efficiently, so I can write more and hopefully one day make enough money to do this as a day job. Today I’m going to talk about my experiences with Facebook Ads, especially what worked for me and what didn’t. Marketing requires a lot of knowledge about your target audience and so I’ll talk a little about that too.

I also want to preface this article with: it’s been some time since I last ran a Facebook ad. I discovered last week that Facebook Ads has now been incorporated into the Facebook Creator Suite software and somethings may have changed. I planned to run a test ad in the near future, and when I had that data back I’d write another article with the changes (more on why I won’t be doing that at the end of the article), but this information was accurate the last time I ran an ad (circa May 2020).

One of the great features I found Facebook Ads has is the ability to save pre-set audience groups. You can set up a profile for a specific group of people and then the algorithms the software uses will try and pick up people it believes you want to market to based off those key words and demographics. I had two profiles one for an American audience and one for Australia. If I remember correctly each ad run only lets you use one profile at a time which may be something you need to consider to make the most of your budget.

Getting your profiles right can be tricky. For example I intended my target audience to be 20-40 year olds, but most of my sales have been in the 50+ age bracket. This may be because this age bracket has more disposable income or is more inclined to stay home and read, or it could be that I haven’t identified where my ideal market actually is. The ability to save these audience group profiles helps you save time if you want to re-run an ad, or at a future date run another ad to the same group (i.e. you might run an ad to advertise your newsletter signup and another one several months later for a Christmas Sale). It also has the potential to tell you what doesn’t work. Set your last ad to view only in Orlando, Florida and got 0 views/clicks? Your audience might not be there. Next time you can try somewhere else like California or New York.

I admit I haven’t done extensive research/experimentation with FB ads due mostly to financial limitations. Being an Indie Author is tough, especially financially, when you don’t have steady sales money coming in to reinvest in your brand as advertising. Which, as an Indie Author promoting your first book, you probably won’t have. I invested money from my normal income into publishing and advertising costs but funds were still limited and I had to choose strategies to get the most for my money. I always try to be real with you in these articles and unless you have a large enough “day job” income, a partner willing to support you emotionally and financially, or are very creative with how you spend your money, the financial side of being an Indie Author is super hard. It’s doable, but it’s hard.

Some of the leaders in the Indie Author scene advocate for reinvesting 30% of your income as an author as advertising. While this may be effective I find this highly unrealistic for new authors trying to make a name for themselves. Reinvesting your spare funds in your author business is important if you want to turn it into your day job, but being realistic about how you spend your money is important too. You have rent/mortgage payments, food, utility bills, etc. Everyone’s financial situation is different so I personally would advocate for assessing your own finances, setting a budget for your life, author business, savings, and anything else that is relevant to you that you need money for.

I seem to have gone off on a slight tangent there so let me redirect back to the topic: Facebook Ads. A second feature I found useful to use is the ability to choose your daily rate. Facebook does not offer advertising packages to choose from (i.e. $50 for a week’s run of ads) it offers you the option to choose how much you want to pay and how long you want your ad to run for. The more you pay and the longer you run your ad then the larger your viewing audience will be. It’s a little bit of you get what you pay for in some ways but it allows authors with a limited ability to financially invest to still get their ads in front of readers. I would recommend if you only have a small amount to spend then you want to be specific with your audience profile. It may take you a while to play with the features and figure out what works for you, which I admit isn’t something I’ve spent a great deal of time doing. My target audience so far hasn’t been buying my books, but the demographic that are buying my books are the 50+ women on Facebook. For some reason The Kingston Chronicles has been most popular with this demographic.

As well as being able to set your budget on Facebook the app also gives you an estimated breakdown of the dollars per click your budget gives you. At the end of your promotion it gives you an actual breakdown of how much you spent, how many people viewed your ad, how many clicks you got, and effectively what each click cost you. “Click” meaning how many people clicked on the link in your ad to go through to the purchasing page. I know this confused me when I started. Views will usually be considerably higher than the click rate because not everyone who sees your ad is going to click through or be interested in your product. My click rate has generally been larger than the industry normal but its important to note click rate doesn’t translate to sales. It can be really exciting to see a high click rate (MailChimp even gives you an industry average click rate to compare to for your mailing list) and feel this is a sign that you’re heading in the right track. But getting a potential customer to click your link is the first step in the battle to get them to the point of purchase. You have to intrigue them with the ad, hook them with the blurb and cover art, and get them to want to commit to the purchase. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. If you find you’re getting a high click rate and not seeing corresponding sales then it can be an indication of problem further down the purchase chain. You may want to try changing the blurb or product description on the info page or your cover art. Your price point may also be a problem. I don’t have all the answers but I’ll come back to this topic another week and discuss how you can set a reasonable and realistic price on your book.

These audience demographics and flexible pricing points in Facebook Ads function together allow you to monitor which audiences are engaging with your content, which content they engage with, and can be an indication of spending habits. For example, I did an experiment with the two audience groups I talked about above and came to the following conclusions. American audiences are more geared towards buying books than Australian audiences. Based off using the same age bracketing, gender identifications, and other common factors, more clicks through to my book link were from the American audience. By cross referencing this with my sales records in KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) it also seemed there was correlation between my sales while running the American promotion while there were not sales during the Australian promotion.

There could be several reasons for this. There could be a cultural difference between the two, with Americans being more likely to buy books than their Australian counterparts. It could be a case of simple ratios: there are more people buying books in the American marketplace than there are in Australia as there are significantly more people in America. Likewise are Americans more engaged with Facebook than Australians, therefore more Americans see the ads than Australians? Are Americans more inclined to click on ads where Australian’s are more likely to ignore them? I know I tend to ignore ads on Facebook myself. Another factor to consider is the target audience data input into Facebook Ads was slightly different. From memory I believe setting up the profile for the American audience allowed more input options than the Australian one but I could be remembering it wrong.

Facebook Ads can be a useful tool but if you are not seeing the results you want it might be worth investigating whether your target audience is actually using Facebook. To effectively market your book requires a lot of knowledge about your target audience, a lot of which is usually learnt through trial and error. Author groups can also be a beneficial source of information. You can swap tips and tricks with each other and learn from each other’s mistakes. Not everyone has access to an Author/Writing group and that is one of the reasons I write these articles: so you can learn from my mistakes and be more successful faster.

To market effectively you need to have an understanding of your audience habits, especially buying habits, and audience visibility. I said this in my social media article, but if your audience isn’t on Facebook, Facebook Ads is not going to help you. If they are, it can be a useful tool. I’ve had way more success with advertising on Twitter (and I haven’t tried their advertising service yet) than I have on Facebook. This has nothing to do with Facebook Ads as a service and a lot to do with the fact it seems most of my audience hangs out on Twitter. I recommend you do your own research as for what works for your audience and try some of the free advertising strategies to market to them while deciding if Facebook Ads are right for you.

**Addendum: When I started writing this article I fully intended to investigate Facebook for Business thoroughly and look at re-establishing a presence on the platform. However during the course of writing this article I became aware my Facebook Business account was linked to my ex-husband’s business and, after over 3 hours of trying to fix it, I could not separate the two nor find any way of contacting Facebook directly to address the issue. As such I deleted my account and opened a new one in the hopes of starting over. This effort was hampered by Facebook banning me within 24 hours when my only post had been on my private profile saying this was my new account and I’d deleted the old one. Facebook had completely disabled my account permanently and given “violating the community standards” as the reason although there was no evidence/explanation given of what it was they meant by that. I appealed the ruling and received a notification that the decision couldn’t be reversed. As such I am no longer using Facebook as a platform and am thoroughly unimpressed with the whole shemozzle. I believe the issue to be a glitch in their system rather than anything I personally did but I have no intention of wasting my time fighting the matter on an app I was already hardly using.

You will still be able to find me on Instagram and Twitter at @bforresterbooks.

Indie Author Tips: Facebook Creator Studio

There’s a number of ways you can use Facebook to enhance your marketing efforts, if you determine that Facebook is an avenue you want to invest time and money into. Now that Facebook and Instagram are part of the same company you can use one easy suite of software to control your content on both platforms from your Facebook account. There’s even ways to monetize your content but as this isn’t a feature I’ve used I won’t be discussing that at this time. What I will discuss is how you can use Facebook’s Publishing Tools and Creator Suite to your advantage.

In case you are not familiar with Facebook, as with most social media platforms it allows you to post visual and textual content. Facebook allows you to have a private profile as well as “pages” which can be utilized for a number of applications from Fan Pages to Business pages. As an author you could focus on either, depending on how you want to engage with your audience. Do you want to be seen as an entertainer or influencer? Or do you want to approach the market from a business perspective? These questions will inform your choices. Your page can allow you to interact with your target audience without giving away too much of your own personal information. Some authors use it simply for marketing, others use it as an extension of their approach to life, sharing memes, tidbits from their life, and more.

Facebook allows you to post videos, and now even has a dedicated section of the platform called Watch (which is a bit like YouTube). I haven’t used this feature myself, but if book trailers, or video content is in your skill set this may be something worth investigating for you.

Facebook Creator Studio was something I used a lot when I was marketing heavily on the site. With it you can control your Facebook and Instagram content uploads, create advertisements, create events, and more. Utilizing the content library feature you can publish posts/pictures, schedule posts, and even draft content if you need to. Scheduling posts was my number one way to ensure I engaged with the platform and still had time to write. I would schedule the majority of my posts for the week on a Sunday, and then when I felt like it, I could add in additional content on the fly.

Creator Studio also offers “insights” which gives analytical breakdowns of page, post, and other content performance. This information can critically inform your approach to your marketing strategy. By knowing exactly what type of content is attracting your target audience you can cultivate a feed that appeals to your audience and increases engagement, as well as marketability. Additionally, using their cross-posting feature you can ensure one upload goes direct to both your Facebook and Instagram accounts without spending time duplicating your work on both platforms.

Facebook gives you the option of paying for ads for your content/product and creating events. This can also be managed from Creator Studio. I won’t go into much detail here as I’d like to save that topic for next week.

As an author I’ve found the best way to utilize the Events option is to send invites to physical events (book launches, author talks, workshops etc) and to host digital events. When I launched The Horn of Gabriel, I was living in the middle of the bush with no way to host a physical event. So, I did an online launch party. The attendance was low, but those that did attend were engaged. An engaged audience is much better than a large audience who isn’t interested. We played games, I discussed inspirations for the book, and more. The event flew by and I’d really like to do another one.

I’ve created several groups on Facebook, from social to business, but for the purpose of this article I’ll focus on my business group. I created a group associated with my author page with the express intention of drawing readers in for a sense of community and for the opportunity to exchange ARC (Advance Reader Copies) of my books for feedback. I’ve discussed in another article the importance of ARC Copies and BETA readers, so I won’t go over that again now, but I had hoped to engage with my readers through my group. So far it hasn’t had the results I was going for, but I also haven’t invested as much time into it as it possibly needed. It may be a case of “you get out what you put in”. Additionally, if I can make an aside, I started the group in the hopes of giving out free books for feedback as I’d had trouble getting feedback in my previous approach. I had less engagement than ever with the Facebook group approach, and I don’t know whether that was a reflection on my activity or whether it was because of the trend of younger users away from the platform. You could use the Group feature in anyway you’d like to interact.

Facebook also has a dedicated Business suite. I didn’t know what this looked like until recently as I hadn’t used it. However the last time I logged in to my business page it immediately took me into Facebook Business Suite. I’ll play around with it for a little while before I make any comments on it. Tools like Facebook Creator Studio help consolidate your social media efforts to save you time and energy – leaving you more time to do what you really want to be doing: writing. As I now have four social media handles (between private, business, witchsona, and public service) across at least seven platforms (that’s a total of eleven individual accounts I think) I’m looking to invest in a social media managing software such as Hootsuite to control everything from one place.

Once I’ve investigated the options and played around with them a bit I’ll do an article on how to further consolidate your marketing efforts. It can get really out of hand really quickly. When you run your own business you do not have time to mess around so do not underestimate the importance of organisation and consolidation. This was especially clear to me this year when I moved house, something I’m going to have to do again before the end of the year, I’m still living out of boxes and won’t be able to settle in properly for some time yet.

I’m going to leave you there for now. Next week I’ll discuss my experiences with Facebook Ads including what worked for me and what didn’t.

Indie Author Tip: Social Media

Social media can be our greatest asset for marketing and also a time-wasting vortex. I know I’ve justified hours of being unproductive because I was “networking” and “engaging” on social media. Like the work-life balance I was talking about a couple weeks ago, we need to balance our essential engagements on social media, personal investment in the platforms, and actually being productive as writers.

One way I’ve found to successfully get the most out of social media is to be selective in which platforms you invest your time in. I wrote more about this previously, but basically, it boils down to using the platforms your target audience uses that compliments your skill set and art.

Artists making videos for example may be more inclined to use Youtube, TikTok, and Instagram, for their visual content-based approach. This works to both their strengths as an artist, and is a natural place their target audience is going to be found. As a writer I have found Twitter to be my best social media friend, and have scaled back my time on both Facebook and Instagram, partly due to my hectic schedule and partly because I have some concerns over the ethics of the company. That said, I’ll likely continue to use Instagram but continue to scale back my Facebook interaction. I am a visual person and my audience uses Instagram, whereas Facebook itself seems to have lost its momentum with a younger crowd. I don’t currently see value in pursuing advertising there.

Knowing which platforms to use and why is essential. If your target audience is twenty-somethings and they’re all using TikTok but not Facebook – they aren’t going to see your content. Additionally, if you’re paying for advertising on Facebook and your target audience isn’t seeing it because they aren’t there, you’re wasting money that could be better used improving your craft or paying for advertising elsewhere. You wouldn’t waste money advertising gardening products at a travel agency. You’d advertise your brand of luggage, or products you can use while travelling, right?

Twitter is currently my favourite social media platform, even though I was originally hesitant to use it. I didn’t understand it and didn’t think I was witty enough, or have enough of a voice, to warrant setting myself up on the platform. It’s actually turned out to be my most successful avenue for both interaction, reach, and advertising due to the high level of engagement on the platform. This is both in terms of discussion and consumption of content. In fact, I now have three twitter accounts for my various ventures.

Engaging on social media is necessary. But in my experience, it is not as important as creating quality work. Without engaging with your audience and marketing on social media the books you write are going to struggle to find a readership. But on the flip side, if you spend all your time on social media, and very little time creating your actual books, then you have nothing to market to your audience. Quality writing, and quality content, is going to be the best marketing you are ever going to have. A well written, engaging, book is going to entice a reader to pick up your next book, and to recommend it to their friends. A poorly written book is going hurt your goals. A professional cover, a gripping story, and a well edited manuscript, is what you should be aiming for if you want to be a successful Indie Author.

Part of using social media successfully is budgeting your time adequately. This will look different for every author. It could be a few minutes a day to a few hours a week. If you find you get sucked in to the social media vortex it might help if you have specifically scheduled social media time and designated writing time. Then you can engage selectively and have time to create content.

Next week I’ll go into more detail about how using these platforms is a key part of my marketing approach and how you can use them to extend your reach. I’ll be focusing on Twitter and Instagram, but I will also describe some of my experiences using Facebook, especially managing pages and groups.

As an aside, I mentioned earlier I have three twitter accounts for my different projects. I’m in the process of separating my witch-life content from my writing content. It’s really hard seeing as there is so much overlap between my three projects, but my newsfeed was getting out of control, and I have some secret projects in the works that I believe need their own space. If you want to follow any of my accounts you can find them listed below.

Writing Content: @bforresterbooks

Witchlife Content: @CedarRoseWitch

Aphrodite Content: @cypriangoddess

Indie Author Tip: Working for Exposure

When someone comes to you with an opportunity it’s exciting. You’re probably going to feel flattered that someone wants to work with you, and you’re probably feeling validated as a writer. In our post-COVID world things are changing rapidly when it comes to how – and where – we work, and how we interact with one another. But if I could give you only one tip when it comes to opportunities, it would be to investigate them thoroughly before jumping on board. Some “opportunities” are misery waiting to happen – an opportunity, not for you but, for someone to use you as free labour to further their agenda. 

Of course everyone has their own agenda but some people, some companies, will pretend they value your time and effort when really they’re just milking your creative energy. I can’t think of a single time where I’ve done free work for “exposure” where it’s actually been worth the effort I’ve invested.

I have done co-writing projects, taught classes in public spaces, and given lectures on indie publishing. I’ve provided content for publications, donated time, and been on committees. The only projects I could say have helped me career-wise, or have made sales, have been the lectures. That’s not to say co-writing projects or teaching classes can’t help you move forward in your career. They definitely can. But who you work with, and why you work with them, makes a huge difference to whether or not the collaboration will eventually help or harm your own professional goals.

Sometimes the proposal seems too good an opportunity to miss, like being part of a group with a large reach (social media, newsletter, or other) or appearing as a guest speaker at an event. If you decide to take the plunge here are some things to look out for – before making your commitment. I’m not here to tell you not to take the opportunities that come along, merely suggesting you examine whether or not they are the right move for you, and if they really are an opportunity for you

To that end I’ve made a list of some of the things you can do to make sure an opportunity is likely to be beneficial to you, and ways to avoid being conned into a time and energy sucking venture.

1.  All Take For “Exposure”.
Look over any contract or written agreement carefully and ask yourself the following questions.

  • Are they getting more out of the arrangement than you? 
  • Are they getting paid subscribers/attendees etc. to their project for your free labour? 
  • Do you get a percentage of any merchandise sold related to the project, especially related to content you have created for them.
    (Basically if you aren’t getting a steady paycheck are you getting royalties on your art?) 
  • Who is benefiting more from this arrangement, and how vast a difference is there between each party?
    (Ideally the split should be 50/50 but unless you’re co-writing a book where everything is split down the middle (profits, royalties, liabilities etc) it’s highly unlikely to be this even.)
  • Basically is the pay off you’re going to receive by “exposure,” or learned skills, worth you investing your time and energy. If other people are making money off your work and all you’re getting is your name on a by line or a shout out on social media is that really something you think is fair?

On that note, something that authors should specifically pay attention to is contract terms. Specifically look for clauses dealing with the following questions:

  • How long do they have rights to use your work? 
  • Is it a fixed term (i.e. they can use your work for a year? Or is it in perpetuity?)
    (I personally think it unwise to allow other people access to your content in perpetuity. This then includes not just the person(s)/company you originally allowed the rights to, but any descendents, and if a larger company buys them out, then that company has the rights to use them. Trust me, this does happen. Look at the lawsuit between Disney and Alan Dean Foster.)
  • Does your contract allow you to retain rights to your own characters and content?
    (Some contracts allow you to use the content you create for them as you like. Others will specify that any content you create under the terms of the contract belong to the company/project/whatever you are providing content for. Some may be hybrids (i.e. you can post it on your blog but not sell it to a rival project/magazine/blog etc))
  • Are the rights you are giving to the company/project/etc exclusive or non-exclusive.
    (I.e. If you write an article can you also publish it on your professional blog? Or does the company/project have the exclusive right to the content. If you have already published you may have come across this before. I know from my experience to be included in the  KindleUnlimited program your titles have to be exclusive to Amazon.)
  • If in doubt I always, always, recommend getting a lawyer to look over the contract. Most western countries have access to free legal services, and there is a lot of information that can be found online with a simple google search. A lawyer will be able to advise on industry standard, whether or not a contract is legally binding (not all of them are), and what key terms mean to you.

2. Time Commitment.
This has two different facets. First, how frequently are you expected to produce content for their project? I.e. weekly blog posts, or weekly interviews on a podcast etc. Second, Do they require you to make time commitments that will take away from your life demands?
(I.e. Is the “exposure” a couple of hours at a festival one weekend? Is it a weekly commitment of creating content? Are there weekly staff meetings? Is there intensive training or recurring training specific to their project that is required?)

3. How They Treat You When You Say No.
This is huge. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to say yes to an opportunity, you can try a soft no. “I’m too busy to take on new projects at the moment” for example, doesn’t say, “no I don’t want to work with you,” and it leaves the door open for them to approach you again in the future. You could even leave an invitation at the end to encourage them to do so. A yearly festival for example will be an opportunity that comes around again. You could say, “I’m too busy this year but I’d love you to keep me in mind for the next one.” A project that really wants to work with you will generally ask again further down the track. If they treat you badly after you say no, then I would take that as an indication that it wasn’t really an opportunity, but rather someone looking for free content. Business focused people with legitimate opportunities will understand that sometimes schedules clash, especially for things like festivals, and that notice periods are a must. 

4. Talk To Other People
This is the #1 tip I can give you. Talk to people already involved in the “opportunity.” Find out if there’s anything you should know before you join. Contract clauses, toxic work environment, actual pay off vs how much work you put in etc. No one is going to be able to give you these kinds of answers other than people already involved. Additionally, if you can see that the people behind the “opportunity” are trying to fill a void where someone has left, it doesn’t hurt to contact that person and ask what made them leave. They might be able to tell you positives or negatives about the people they worked with there.

On the feedback front other things to keep in mind are:
      –    Does the negative outweigh the good? 
– Does the person giving you feedback clearly have an axe to grind?
– Does the person giving feedback have something to gain by enticing you?
Basically, what motive does that person have to give you the kind of feedback they are?

5. Do You Still Have Time And Energy For Your Writing?
This is so important. If you are working for exposure then you want to be seeing actual return on that time investment. If you are not reaping the benefits of that exposure and you do not have the time or energy left to pursue your own writing goals, then what is the point of doing the work? If you are a novelist trying to make it as a writer, spending all your free time writing free articles or content for someone else, and you aren’t working on your own books, then you aren’t going to reach your own goals. You’re slaving away bringing someone else’s dream to life.

6. Do They Provide Opportunities For You To Grow?
If you’re working for “exposure” or other benefits rather than pay, what are they? Are you engaging with your target audience? Are you getting “paid” in experience or learning valuable, transferable, skills like marketing. Or is your art being improved? Be mindful that they may consider opportunities to rise within the ranks of their project (i.e. become a spokesperson for the project/festival, become a committee member, etc) and opportunity to grow. I don’t. If the opportunity doesn’t allow you to grow personally or professionally, only to grow within their organisation, then there is a good chance that the project is going to be a time suck for very little gain. Opportunities to provide more free labour are not opportunities. Additionally, are you opinions and ideas respected?

7. Do They Provide Avenues For Sales?
I’ve done a lot of talks and market stall volunteer work in exchange for free space to show off my books. This has in the past generated a small amount of sales. Part of this is because people can see what you as an author are offering. At a market stall they can pick up your book. They can flip through it. You can have a discussion about it with them. If your only sales opportunity is you name with an “author of” next to it, how likely is it to be an avenue for you to market your own work? Ask yourself:

  • Does the project you are thinking of joining have a physical or online store where you can sell your other content or merchandise for profit?
  • Is having my name on something like a poster or blurb going to help me professionally?
    (It can. If you are being cited as an expert in a panel, or on the back of a book, it can help your credibility to sell existing work and to find professional opportunities, so long as the project/festival/panel is run by a reputable group in the field.) 
  • Are you expected to promote their content on social media, and are they willing/expected to share your unrelated content as well?
  • Does this project/committee/etc have connections in the industry? Are there editors, agents, publishers associated with this project that you can talk to? Are there opportunities for you to pitch to people in the industry? 

I’m not here to poop on co-writing projects, festivals, panels, or anything else where people come together to strive for a common goal. But I do have a distrust of group projects after having been burnt in the past. Volunteering, or being part, of writer’s festivals and conventions can be immensely rewarding. So can group writing projects. But its imperative to find people who really are working with you – and not people you are working for. If you’re getting very little out of the arrangement, if you don’t have time to do your own writing, if they treat you badly, and if they have unrealistic or exceedingly high expectations of what you are expected to do for them, then how much of an “opportunity” is the project?

At the end of the day it is up to you how much you are willing to give, and what you are willing to give it for. I can’t make that decision for you. But the industry is growing, our attitudes are changing, and in our new post-COVID world where more people are leaving behind traditional ways of working, I felt it was an appropriate time to have this discussion. As with all my Indie Author Tip articles, I want you to learn from my mistakes. I don’t want to sound like a pessimist but I don’t want to see anyone lose their love of what they do, or the shine from their eyes, because they’ve been taken advantage of. The key take away I can give you from this I can give you is to look at opportunities critically. Some opportunities aren’t opportunities for you, but for someone else to take advantage of you.

Indie Author Tip: Why You Need to Run the Numbers

Running the numbers on your business is tedious and boring but it can make a huge difference to the business of writing. Maggie Steifvater recently wrote some fantastic tweets about how number crunching determines what she writes, because at the end of the day what we create as artists and writer’s also needs to be marketable. Crunching sales numbers is vital to understanding if what you’re writing is marketable, especially as fads change.

I want to spend my time writing, not marketing and crunching numbers. But as an Indie Author its one of the things I need to do. It is always a good feeling when you check your store stats and see that you’ve sold books or a giveaway has generated a lot of movement, and it’s always a downer when sales peter off. Either way it is important to look at the final numbers once in a while. It’s something I put off for some time, but I finally did it on the weekend. I learnt some valuable things so let’s talk real figures for a moment.

Across my entire range of books, since I published The Kingston Chronicles in June 2017, I have moved over 600 books across all my channels. That’s no where near a “successful” number, especially when you consider that most of these “sales” (roughly 88%) were free promotions on online channels. But it does tell me something insanely important for me to know: there is genuine interest in what I’m writing, and that on some level I’m reaching my target audience (or at least an audience).

As an Indie Author you need to know this. In comparison if I’d only moved say 10 books since I’d first published anything, it would indicate that whilst my family is supportive, I’m either not succeeding at my advertising strategy or there’s a problem with my content (content problems can either be interest based or quality based). Either way you need to fix it if you want to be more successful in the future. There’s no point continuing to do things the way you’re doing them, if they don’t work.

Furthermore, by running the numbers I can assess which sales channels are working for me and which ones aren’t. It gives me data to make informed choices about how to improve my reach and perhaps which channels I might be wasting my time in. I work a day job as well as doing my indie author thing. I don’t have time to waste on something that isn’t working.

For a little more context let’s break that 600+ number down a little more. I currently share my books with the world across three basic platforms: Amazon, BookFunnel, and physical sales direct to the reader through books in physical stores and my personal appearances. For the sake of this article, I will focus on the digital sales numbers.

So, what are the numbers?

I’ve sold 69 paid copies of my books and given away and 517 free copies.

406 of these sales (paid and free) moved through Amazon.

151 free copies moved through BookFunnel (largely The MacKay Chalice, which you receive for free by joining my newsletter).

10 free copies have been given away through Goodreads (I wrote more about how Goodreads Giveaways work HERE and I plan to write another article on the subject now that I’ve had some time to assess how it may have affected my sales).

These figures tell me Amazon and BookFunnel are sales engines its worth me investing time in. It also tells me doing a Goodreads Giveaway didn’t really work for me. This year I’m looking at taking my books “wide” (which means selling digital copies in multiple places rather than just Amazon). When I run the numbers again in a year or so, I’ll hopefully be able to see if that was a successful venture. Indie Authoring and marketing strategies are largely trial an error so taking time to look at the numbers and see what’s working and what isn’t is key to moving forward in your career.

What else has running these numbers taught me? On average I’ve sold 122 books a year. I might not have made my costs back considering most of these were free, but it’s nice to know. Sometimes you don’t sell anything for months at a time. When that happens its easy to feel like you’re wasting your time or you’re never going to make it. Having solid numbers behind me tells me I’ve accomplished something, and that I should be proud.

It’s also taught me that The Kingston Chronicles series is considerably more popular than The Lady of Zion series. Now there are two reasons this could be. Firstly, until quite recently I haven’t been actively advertising The Lady of Zion, and secondly, The Lady of Zion can be a little controversial in the opinions held by some characters, and is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Now if I’d been actively advertising/promoting The Lady of Zion as much as I had been The Kingston Chronicles this data has the potential to tell me something else. It could have told me that people just don’t like The Lady of Zion series, and it wouldn’t be worth my time to pursue spin off books once the immediate series had finished. It would indicate that pursuing The Kingston Chronicles and its planned spin offs (or books like them) would be a better use of my time.

 So, if you haven’t been checking your numbers I highly recommend you do so. It will help you plan better for your profession future, allow you to set realistic goals, and give you an idea of which steps to take to progress. If you are paying for advertising services and can make correlations between where you spend your money and how it affects your sales, you can make smarter choices to save money, or invest it more wisely. How’s the saying go? “It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it”.

Indie Author Tips: What is Success

Last week I touched on avoiding burnout and how the key to avoiding burnout is the work-life balance. I also touched on the pressure modern society puts on people to “succeed” regardless of their career or vocation.

But what exactly is “success”? How do we quantify it? We certainly don’t hesitate to say when other people are successful (Taylor Swift, Jameela Jamil, Beyonce). But when it comes to ourselves we hold back. Feelings of success are often short lived, or the bench mark moves. So I wonder, how many people that you think are successful, think of themselves as such?

Some profession have clear markers for “success”. Lawyers consider making partner a success. Doctors in a hospital might consider becoming the head of their department “success”. Artistic careers have less obvious markers.

When I was younger I dreamt of the future and wanted to be successful as a writer. I had no idea what that would look like. None of my family are professional writers (though there are a lot of published poets) so I couldn’t look at someone, at their career path, and go “that’s the benchmark for success”, having a best selling book published, or making a million dollars for example.

Having benchmarks is not a bad thing. It gives you something to strive for. It gives you a road map. But sometimes it also blinds us to the “little successes” along the way. As a writer if you wait until you’re a household name to consider yourself “successful” you’ll miss so many celebration worthy successes along the way. Like publishing your first book. Publishing any subsequent book. Signing with an agent or publishing house. Or Indie Publishing your work.

I’ve published six books. Do I consider myself successful?

Yes and no. A book requires a LOT of work. To complete one and publish it is an amazing feat of work. I have done it six times. In that I am successful. Some people like my books. Some don’t. That’s normal. In that I am successful.

But when will I consider myself financially or commercially successful? I will consider myself financially successful when writing is my day job. When I don’t have to work a main job, or worry about money.

I am proud of the things I have acheived. Even if I never become a household name or comfortably make my living based off my art, I will feel that I have been successful on the most important levels. Money is important in our consumerist society but it’s not everything. I wanted to publish my writing and I did. I wanted to learn a second language and I am. I wanted to live in the country and I did. I am a person who succeeds when I put my mind to something.

The point I’m trying to make is success is subjective. Everyone sets their own markers. The important thing is not to be so busy chasing a moving marker that you never enjoy where you are in life, or the things you HAVE achieved. The only person you ultimately have to satisfy is yourself. The only person you have to impress, is yourself.

My other point is that financial success and fame are not the only forms of success, and I daresay not even the most important type of success. Success is achievement. Setting a goal or a task and following it through to completion. That may not be how the financial world views success, but its how I view it.

To be successful you need clear goals and determination. Success, in essense, is immaterial. But you need to be successful at the completion of your goals before you can hope to be successful financially, and still financial success can be hit and miss, driven by multiple factors. The market, the opportunities you come across and the ones you make, education, having financial stability enough to invest in yourself all affect your ability to be financially successful, and unfortunately in many places in the world so do prejudices against race, gender, “class” amd other factors. It would be stupid to think, especially after recent events of 2020, that these things don’t impact your ability to make money or achieve fame.

I’ve seen many people trying to sell road maps to success to Indie Authors. I’ve even tried some of them. Most of them seem to work off the principle that you gotta spend money to make money, or you have to give away fred books to hook a reader in so they will buy your other works. Not everyone has the money to spend thousands of dollars in advertising and marketing. Sometimes giving books away free hurts more than it helps.

In conclusion: there is no one way that “works” when it comes to financial success and what works for others may not work for you. Which is why I emphasise focusing on the non-financial success of writing. If you only focus on fame and fortune that may never come you are likely to become disilluisoned with your writing. I believe that you can overcome just about anything, and maybe that’s naive, or coming from a place of privilege, but one of my goals here on earth is to help empower people. Celebrating the little successes motivates you to strive for the next one. Success brings success.

Small successes make you believe in yourself. Belief in success is the most important thing, because what is going to motivate you to continue if you don’t believe you can achieve your dreams? No one else can make you feel successful. Only you can do that.

Indie Author Tips: Avoiding Burnout

Avoiding burnout. It’s something we all have to do, no matter what industry. There is such an overwhelming pressure to perform these days that you need to be constantly hustling and producing to be “successful”. Of course, this says a hell of a lot about our concepts of what “success” is, but that’s a topic for another time.

I get it. The feeling of needing to be constantly busy to make it. As an indie author I have no one to delegate tasks to. If I don’t do it or organise it, it doesn’t get done. If this was my full time gig I can understand the fear that drives people to hustle the whole time, depending on the pay check associated with the work they produce. I’ve also managed a trade business from home that was my family’s sole source of income. Trust me when I say I get it.

But avoiding burnout is essential because it can take months to get back to producing art when you’ve crashed and burned. Whether it has affected your physical or mental health, it can be hard to pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and get back to work. And that’s if you can do it. I have a degree in photography and I haven’t picked up a camera (except to do my book covers) since I graduated, because the last year of my degree burnt me out so bad. Artistically speaking, there’s nothing I can say with a camera right now.

As fellow author Wayne Davids put it, one way to avoid burn out is to have a “realistic schedule”. This is going to look different for everyone. Some people have full time jobs they have to factor in, or family that needs caring for. I’ve talked in previous articles about Ella Barnard’s Done in Three Months program, and why I found it unrealistic for me. I’m not going to go over it again here. But programs like this are designed to take advantage of things like Amazon’s internal algorithms, and to keep your name in front of reader’s eyes. It may be suitable for a full-time writer, or perhaps someone who has a partner to financially support them, but if you’re like me and have a full-time gig and health problems, they can be unrealistic. When you feel like you’re failing it can be the start of burn out.

A realistic schedule looks at all the time you have, all the tasks that need to be achieved, and includes rest time. I think it should also be flexible and include “flex time” for when life gets in the way. Your realistic schedule might not look like anyone else’s. That successful author you admire may be churning out books month after month. But sheer volume and speed of publication is not the only answer to “success”. Trying to game algorithms is a short-term solution to your “success” based goals because the algorithms (and therefore goal posts) shift over time. What worked last year, or even last month, may not work now, or in two weeks, or at some point in the future.

Scheduling is huge for me. I try to not over schedule myself any more. Last year my goal was to write a book a month. I crashed and burned. I also had the unexpected collapse of my marriage and the need to move from my home to build a new life somewhere else. I think the key to realistic scheduling is flexibility and not setting the bar too high. Know you can write 3000 words a day? Schedule 1000. You’ll have the flexibility to get ahead (and if you don’t make it to the computer on a given day you aren’t in a position not to catch up to your goals), and the endorphins released at achieving your goal will help drive you to continue on.

Our brains work on a hormonal “reward” system where our brain releases feel good chemicals when we accomplish something. It’s part of why video games are so addictive. I read somewhere we can “hack” our bodies to be more productive by setting smaller goals. In a writer’s case this not only releases the endorphins we need to avoid burnout but also sets us up to succeed by driving us to reach the next check point quickly.

Another way to avoid burn out is self-care. I know, I know, “self-care” is such a hype word at the moment but it’s true. I believe the beauty industry and the food industry have given us warped perceptions of what self-care actually is though. For me self-care is not a new anti-aging wrinkle cream or indulgent chocolates for dessert on cheat night. Self-care for me predominantly looks like self-improvement. Yoga classes. Therapeutic treatments to manage my pain levels. Foreign language classes. Marketing and business-related courses. Things that make my life better.

Sometimes it includes cutting people and things from your life that don’t help you get to where you want to go. Like binge watching Netflix every night instead of writing those 1000 words. For you it might look entirely different. We all have different needs, and therefore different self-care methods. I’m definitely not an expert on the subject. One of my friends said quiet time is essential to his self-care. Someone else said meditation. Perhaps it’s as simple as a twenty-minute break to have a cup of tea in your garden.

Avoiding burnout is essential but there’s no one answer on how to do it. Just as there is no one right way on how to be “successful” as a writer. Last week I wrote that the only right way to write a book is to continually put one foot in front of the other and get it done. Avoiding burn out is the same. Find something that lets you relax, whether it’s one day a week off, or a break every hour for a cup of tea. The important thing is to not get so caught up in the hustle that you do not stop to recharge.

Witchcraft and The Kingston Chronicles

I get asked a lot if I’m a witch, especially by people who’ve read The Kingston Chronicles. Today I want to talk a bit about real life witchcraft and the realism presented in The Kingston Chronicles.

The witches of The Kingston Chronicles can do some pretty awesome stuff. From conjuring orbs to astral projection, from scrying to telekinesis, these magically endowed humans can create some stunning physical displays of their powers.

I have never once been able to move something with my mind alone: or conjured a pretty orb of energy. Which is probably a good thing to be honest. If I had the power to move things with my mind there would be a number of motorists out there surprised to find themselves stuck at an intersection with four suddenly flat tires. Why four? Because you only carry one spare, and I can be over-dramatic.

Real life witchcraft may not be as showy as the things we read in books, or see on TV, but the practices and theory discussed in the book come from my own life experience and research. I infused as much real-life witchcraft into the story as I did fictional witchcraft.

So, what are some things real life witches might recognize in the story?

Dreams/nightmares as messages: I am a big believer in dreams (most of them) having meanings or being messages. Whether that’s just our subconscious working through our day or whether it comes from a higher power I don’t know. But my wacky dreams are just too crazy to be random. Just because I believe in dreams as messages doesn’t always mean I’m smart enough to figure out what the message is. But, I firmly believe that if you remember your dream it was probably a meaning. If it haunts you or you can’t get it out of your head: it was probably a message. Dreams as messages are highly symbolic, and the nature of those symbols varies depending on your own personal context. Witches listen to their dreams and have been known to prepare for future events based off their dreams.

Knowledge is everywhere: In The Kingston Chronicles Iris tells Anastasia to read widely, both fiction and non-fiction, and even books that may not be viewed as favourably as others. Why? Because not only is it good to understand other points of views, or arguments on a subject, but because hidden gems of knowledge can be found anywhere. Kind of like how you can watch the same Disney movie several times over your life and get different jokes as an adult as you did when you were a kid. Every book can teach you something: even if it’s teaching you that, that writer’s message, isn’t for you.

Daily Practice: A lot of witches have a daily practice the way Esther has her morning ritual of coffee and tarot. Not all witches do, every path is unique, but daily or weekly practices are part of many witch’s lives. Sometimes this is to grow their intuition or skills. Other times its to feel connected to something bigger than themselves. For some its divination. For others it might be daily motivational mantras or charging their coffee to bring them a good day.

Family Tradition: Not all witches come from witching families. But every family has its own traditions whether its cultural, historical, or just something special to the family. Dionne’s Summer Party is half subtle ritual celebration of the sabbat and part family tradition shared with friends. Similarly as stories are passed down through families, in a witching family so too are books of lore. In the series Anastasia receives several such books from her family. In some covens and families passing down the Books of Shadows (or Grimoire) is a sacred rite of passage.

Chanting: Chanting and spellwork features often in The Kingston Chronicles. I chose for the Kingston’s to use Greek as their chosen vehicle of speech. Language changes for every witch depending on family heritage and traditions, choices, and locale. Latin is often used in fictional witchcraft as well as actual witchcraft, but as the background of the Kingston family is Greek I thought using the Greek language fitting.

I hope you found this interesting. If you have further questions about the witchcraft of The Kingston Chronicles hit me up on the comment bar below. I’ll happily natter on about it and answer your questions.

Indie Author Tips: Pantsing Vs Plotting

On the battlefield of writers and so-called experts hurling grenades of advice into cyberspace, there are two generalized camps when it comes to how to plot your novel. These two schools of thought, as best as I can simplify them, are as follows. I’m not going to go into too much detail because there are heaps of articles about this kind of thing out there already. But if you have never written a book before these may help you get started.

In the first camp there are the “Plotters”. Writers and editors who advocate sitting down and painstakingly plotting out the entire course of your novel and characters until you know exactly how the story gets from point A to point B. The depth to which Plotters plot varies. Russell Nohelty I believe structures his books in 250-word scenes. Others have a broad chapter by chapter overview of the essential action. But essentially, they know what is going to happen in their story at any given moment. The second camp is the “Pantsers” who believe in sitting down and just writing.

The first thing I want to tell you is this: there is no wrong way to write your novel.

I don’t care what someone is trying to teach you, sell you, or give you. As long as each step you take, each thing you do, gets you one step closer to that story being finished: you’re doing it right. Just like there’s no single right way to paint a picture, there’s no one right way to write a book. That said, I recommend researching the different ways to plot, and trialling them in your own work, so you can find a way that best suits you.

So, what do you need to know about Plotting? Some writers dislike the rigidity of plotting. I struggle with it, especially when you need to change something in the story and the plot suddenly takes a 90-degree turn, something that happened to me when I wrote The Horn of Gabriel. A throw away character suddenly became a major plot point and a part of the supporting cast. Others need the structure to get anything done. If you write to a schedule (for example if you’re doing NaNoWriMo or following Ella Barnard’s Done In Three Months) you’ll probably find plotting everything out before you begin is beneficial. It can help eliminate writer’s block (although I don’t know anything that will inoculate against it 100%) because at no point in the story do you not know what’s coming next. There is a logical progression of what happens from point A to point B, and you simply have to add the action, dialogue, and description. It’s one of the ways successful writers (Indie or Trad) churn out book after book on a yearly basis.

Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? But some people’s brains don’t work like that. They bounce from idea to idea, or just have a very vague idea of where they want to go. That’s where pantsing comes in. As a term I believe “pantsing” comes from the saying “flying by the seat of your pants”. In terms of writing a novel it means sitting down and writing whatever the hell comes out. Maybe you know your character starts their story by jogging down the street and meeting a Fallen Angel like Grace does in The Lady of Zion. When you pants you uncover the story in much the same way the reader does when they read it, although you have an idea of where the story is going. This way doesn’t work for me particularly because I find that when the inspiration disappears and writer’s block sets in, I just don’t know where to go next. It’s part of why it took me nine years to write my first book. Plotting helped me write my last book in two months.

Are you thinking, “Wait a minute! She said she isn’t a plotter and she isn’t a pantser. What the hell is she?” (Imagine a montage of horror movie monsters with someone saying “what is she?” Please.)

Well, I’m more of a Lamp Post Tarzan. Maybe you will be too. I picked this term up from an excellent article describing the different ways to plot a book, but do you think I could find it again to reference in this article? All my varied searches of “Lamp Post Tarzan” came up with were a lot of hits for Edgar Rice Burroughs and IMDB. ((Side note: If anyone comes across that article can you send me a link to it? It was fantastic))

But what does it mean? It means that you have a rough idea of how a character gets from A to B, with the major plot points between the two, but there is room for the story to grow organically between the check points.

Sometimes you can find benefits in using both approaches in conjunction like I do. Personally, I like to plot out a vague idea of my story and see what happens between the plot markers. There are a couple reasons for this. First, sometimes dialogue or scene will pop into my head and I have to write it down or I’ll lose it. This may mean that while I’m writing something in the beginning of the story, something that happens towards the end may require me to write it until I run out of steam. For example, in my first novel, The Kingston Chronicles, I knew that Anastasia needed to leave Tennesse and go to LA. I knew she would end up falling in love with Aidan, I knew who her stalker was and why, and I knew where the story would end. I didn’t know what each date would look like in great detail. I didn’t know what the magic classes would look like, or exactly how conversations would go. I just let it flow.

Another way you can combine the two to great effect (I’ve used this technique quite a bit for The Lady of Zion Series), is to have an idea of the story, pants the first draft, then using that, build a more structured plot for the second draft where you can layer in more detail. It also allows you to clean up sub-plots and invest more time in building the character relationships, knowing that the main action has already been taken care of.

Want to find out if you’re a pantser or a plotter? There’s a few ways to tell. Sometimes your personal life will indicate what approach might work for you. Are you a schedule everything down to the minute type person or do you just take the day as it comes? If you need a game plan you might just be a plotter. Another way to tell is to just pick an approach and see how it goes. Couldn’t stick to that chapter-by-chapter outline? You might just be a pantser. The only true way I’ve learnt to be even halfway successful in finishing writing a book is to just do things by trial and error. At the end of the day the only approach that really matters is the one that gets the work done.