Originally published 2016-01-30: Exposing Yourself with Mark Gardner | Indie Publishing Tips from a Pro
There’s a lot of advice out there — good and bad — for self-publishing success. If you try to follow all of it, you’ll lose your mind. Not only is there just too much to take in, but a lot of tips are conflicting, which makes it difficult to filter out all the tricks that work from the one-hit-wonder or downright terrible advice.
Mark Gardner, author of Champion Standing, Forlorn Hope, and several other books, believes highly in the power of exposure.
Here’s what he had to say.
NO! Put that trench coat back on the hanger. Close the door. Walk away.
I’m talking about book exposure for indie authors. You know, the stuff that traditional publishers took time off of screwing their authors to make you do. Book signings, conventions, interviews, etc. If you were a hot commodity, they would even pay for you to go to these things. It was against future royalties of course, but hey, you had no out-of-pocket cost. They might even have an audiobook produced, because they could. After all, they snatched all your rights for pennies on the dollar.
The 800-pound gorilla came onto the scene in 2011 or so. Amazon whispered sweet nothings into the ears of eager authors.
“Self publish,” they said, “we only want the digital rights for our shiny eBook reader.” They were offering a whopping 70% – for some authors this was a 700% increase in royalties, and they didn’t even want paperbacks or audiobook rights.
A few authors made a killing in the early days of the Amazon self-publishing craze.
“Forget waiting a year or two for the next book to come out,” readers started saying, “there are thousands of books on Amazon.”
Romance and all its subgenres were, and continue to be huge on Amazon. Prolific romance authors can crank out a new book four times a year or more. As more and more people decided that the dream of being an author had better odds than winning the Powerball, more and more authors started producing.
In 2011 it was much easier to be an indie success story. Early indie heroes gave traditional publishing the finger and continued watching their monthly royalty checks show up in their bank accounts. All you had to do was write the book, and they’d beat a path to your door.
Well, not quite.
These authors had to put in ten-hour days. They would write posts on their blogs, pay their own way to go to Comicon, writer conferences, reviews in text and on Skype. They also put as much of themselves on out there. Paperback or hardcover for the local library to have? Check, lets get it done. Audiobook, because their great aunt Libby suggested it? Mmm-hmm. They tried everything that could to get their names and product out there. Because without exposure, no one knew who the heck they were.
Some of them spent some money… After all, you gotta spend money to make money, right? Some of them spent a LOT of money. Author Solutions and their ilk crawled out of the woodwork. Their business model was solely to separate desperate and otherwise authors from their money.
I decided long ago, that if I was going to spend money, it was going to be on things like covers and proofreading, and the occasional co-op NetGalley run. I may have been able to get a wider audience if I had spent some money on splashy advertising campaigns, but I just don’t have the money.
One of the things that you, as an independent author, can do is make print-on-demand (POD) paperbacks, and audiobooks. CreateSpace and the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) are easy avenues to these products. They’re both owned by Amazon, but they for the most part are throwing authors a bone.
You’re probably thinking, “I get it, but it’s just so much effort.”
I get it, but for a relatively small investment of your time, you can do your exposure wonders. Consider if you will, my novella, Forlorn Hope.
When someone looks at the offerings, here is what they see: a $2.99 eBook, a $6.99 audiobook, and a $13.99 paperback. I make about $2.00 on the eBook, $1.40 on the audiobook, and $3.20 for the paperback. Obviously, I want to sell the paperback, but we live in a digital world, and the Kindle and its competitors have drastically transformed the way we read stories. I only need to sell two eBooks to get the same royalty as the paperback.
Which do you think has a better chance of selling? $6 worth of eBooks, $21 worth of audiobooks or a single $14 paperback? The odds are that I’d sell the pair of eBooks. Not only that, but the $2.99 price point for the eBook looks to be an awesome savings over the other two versions to the average reader. In a world of thin margins, and deal websites, $11 off the paperback is a sweet deal. If I sell a paperback or audiobook, that’s cool too, but my focus is moving eBooks.
So, producing audiobooks and paperbacks seems like a good idea, right?
The best thing is that they can both be produced practically for free. When a very talented artist was making the eBook cover for me, I told her that I planned on making a paperback. She provided layered files, and I was able to use her paperback wrap-around for an audiobook. My branding is in tact with the three versions of the book.
The production of the CreateSpace paperback is pretty straightforward: I downloaded their templates, and pasted my eBook contents. It took me a few hours to get it right, and I was ready to order my proofs. The first time I got my five proofs, I wasn’t happy with the color. CreateSpace worked with me to get it right and sent me out five more to replace them. I sold the ‘defects’ as limited edition error proofs. (I have a lot of fans that love to have something that is limited, and unlikely to exist again.)
I’ve talked to many authors since I went professional. A lot of them see the advantage of having the paperbacks, but they often criticize ACX’s royalty-share option for audiobooks. They’re disinclined to split their 40% royalty with the narrator. I ask them to consider the split royalty, and remind them that audiobooks are a vehicle to sell eBooks. Personally, I don’t care if I sell any audiobooks at all; I just want the exposure. If my goal is selling $0 in audiobooks, what do I care if my royalty of $0 is 20% or 40%?
You saw in my above example that Amazon has the audiobook of Forlorn Hope listed as free with an Audible subscription. If my ‘free’ book is the first audiobook they get on their subscription, then ACX pays a bounty of $50. My split of that is $25 after the royalty-share. No too bad for a single ‘sale.’ And what did I need to do to get Forlorn Hope produced as an audiobook? I listed it on ACX. That’s it. My narrator, Juan G. Molinari saw it listed, and auditioned for it. Juan took all the risk producing the audiobook. It turned out hella awesome. All I had to do was to listen to what Juan produced, message him changes I wanted, and approve the final audio.
For Forlorn Hope, Juan’s narration went from me approving his audition to a finished project in about three weeks. ACX also has a stipend for eligible royalty-share projects. On eligible titles, they will pay the narrator $100 per finished hour as long as the project is completed in 60 days or less.
So I need you all to expose yourself. Audiobooks and paperbacks are too easy to not have them produced, and the rewards are too great to ignore.