In celebration of my son and my upcoming birthdays (we’re two days apart), and to celebrate the April 6th launch of Eddy’s Treasure which we wrote together, I am making my other titles e-books either free or super-cheap ($0.99) over the next couple of weeks.
In chatting to a few people it seems there are quite a few who have children’s stories or who would love to write one with their child or children.
From the experience writing Eddy’s Treasure (US, AU, UK) with my son, Michael, I can say it is a very worthwhile thing to do and you wind up with a pretty awesome keepsake. I’ll say more on that front in a few days time as it goes on sale on April 6th. Suffice to say, Michael and I have gained a lot from this and think others would too. So here’s how you can achieve the same for under A$200:
If you haven’t seen the sneak peek of the book, here it is again (provided by the artist):
It may surprise people to learn all the artwork for the book (ten illustrations plus cover) cost A$150. This was the main expense. If you create all the images and text yourself your cost to produce a book would be under A$50.
Our overall book length is 24 pages and in hardcover form it costs about $18 per copy (it would be $9 for paperback) for you to purchase as print on demand (ie: you can order from a single copy to thousands). The only reason ours is this expensive is because Michael insisted we make the book landscape. Had we chosen a portrait or square book, these print costs would be halved. We chose hardcover because the aim was to create a memento we could give to family and friends and that seemed appropriate… and more hard-wearing (good for my kids).
The steps are quite simple:
- Write the story. Eddy’s Treasure is only ~300 words. Stories don’t have to be long.
If your book is for you and your family, why not make it about something related to you? Eddy’s Treasure is set at Michael’s grandmother’s house and I used photos taken there to give the illustrator an indication of how we wanted the illustrations to look. You could write a story about getting a puppy, new sibling, or anything which your family has experienced or wants to.
- Storyboard the story – ie separate the text into the paragraphs you want on each page. Add a description of what image you’d like to accompany each piece of text. There are many ways of doing this. Some children’s books have the text on a blank page opposite the picture (saves on illustration costs), some have text and images on every page. I chose to put a faded out copy of the image with the text over the top on my pages with writing. I did this because I think it looks better than plain white. It doesn’t cost any more to do it this way, you pay as though every page is full colour, so it seemed like that was making better use of it. Curiously, it’s often the first thing people comment on when they read the book. So far everyone has liked this design choice. Many have commented on what a great idea it was to do it that way.
- Sketch images of your scenes. Stick figures or photos of similar scenes are fine (this can be a good activity to occupy your child in these home-bound times). The artist just needs a guide to work from. If you ask the artist to only imagine something from the text, you might be disappointed. You can see the first few pages of what we sent to our illustrator HERE.
- Sign up with your printer, so you can download free templates to send the artist. There are numerous square or portrait sizes to choose from, but only one landscape size (if you use the same printer as me, which was IngramSpark, see their paper sizes and costs here). However, the cover size will vary depending on whether you’re going to have a hardcover or paperback. Knowing the dimensions required beforehand will save much angst later.
- Contact an illustrator (there’s a link to ours at the end of this post). Obtain quote and discuss needs. Make sure you specify what size you want the images and cover to be. If you’re illustrating your book yourselves, then skip steps 6-8.
- Illustrator will provide some sketches.
- Check them over and discuss required changes. Repeat steps 6 & 7 until you’re happy.
- Receive final sketches. Approve them to receive images.
- Layout book. You can use something as straightforward as MS Word (just format page to the size of your book), when complete use the save as pdf function if you don’t have adobe (there may be some settings to change to make everything work such as turning off image compression and embedding fonts, these setting are in a sub-menu of the save dialogue box).
- Upload files – I use Ingram Spark. Registration is free and they are pretty simple to use. There are codes available that give you free setup and revisions to your books, this will save you $50, so it’s worth googling (and if you find the right one, free revisions). This, effectively means the only costs you’ll have are the illustrations & an ISBN (You’ll need one if you want distribution to online bookshops, if it’s just for you, family and friends, you can get a non-distributable SKU instead. These are free.)
- When Ingram (or whoever you use) approve the book (usually takes a couple of days), place an order for a proof copy. (depending on your chosen book size, paper and colour choice this will cost between $13-$25).
- Receive and review proof. Even with a three hundred word story, there may be typos which don’t get noticed until you see it in print. Things may be slightly out of place which will need tweaking. Do not skip this step.
- Upload revised files if needed. Order another proof if needed.
- Order as many copies as you want. Enable distribution if you want (this will get your book into all the online retailers).
Illustrations: $150 + Proof copy ~$16 + Final copy ~$16 + You locate a code for free setup = $182 (Assuming you choose a non-landscape design). Non-distributable SKU (only you can order).
For us: Illustrations $150 + Extra rights $20** + Proof copy $26 + Final copy $26 + ISBN $10 + Distribution & setup $FREE (We had a code) = $232.
Other things to note:
If you go the ISBN route and you’re Australian, you will need to send “legal deposit” copies to the national and your state library. (search “legal deposit australia” for details)
Minimum page count is 18 pages. Don’t forget to allow for a title page. Look at some existing books for layout ideas.
Hardcover books cost roughly twice as much as paperback to produce. You can easily go for both (they use the same interior, it’s just the cover which needs resizing as hardback covers ‘wrap around’ the book, so you need to crop or resize your cover image).
Think about your RRP if distributing it. For Eddy’s Treasure we set it at A$34.95 (US$19.95). This is high and we don’t expect to sell many, but at that price we make under $3 profit. It’s worth mentioning we could have had an RRP of A$9.95 if we’d gone for a square shaped paperback, but a low RRP wasn’t our goal in producing the book. The good thing is that you don’t have to pay for distribution, nor “stock” since it is all print on demand. It is awesome to be able to show people your book for sale online at Amazon, Book Depository, Readings, Dymocks and thousands of other retailers.
If there are other details you’d like to know, please leave a comment below.
* I used https://www.freelancer.com/u/lalaalmero73 for the artwork, as I’d published Horizons by Henry Grossek, which used her illustrations, and I liked her work. If you want to use her services on Freelancer, please sign up using this link as it means I get a referral credit. https://www.freelancer.com/get/robert318?f=give
**Cost for the illustrations was A$150. I chose to spend an extra $20 to purchase all the rights of the illustrations. This wasn’t necessary, but does mean I can use them in other ways in the future.
Earlier this year, I was very excited to achieve a goal I set myself when launching Incite Insight— my first real novel.* The goal was to sell a thousand copies and I did it! I’d been laughed at when I told people this was my goal when launching it. But those people must not have realised how stubborn I am. 😊
Importantly, I never set a time-frame in which to achieve the goal. 1000 copies in my first month? Totally unrealistic. But, 1000 copies in less than four years, it seems, was achievable.
So how many have I really sold? Well at the time of writing: 1005** (this excludes a further 55 e-book review copies given away via an online e-book mailing list).
The 1005 copies are made up of:
218 Paperbacks (including 8 by distributor, 11 in libraries)
38 e-books (full-price)
105 Kindle Unlimited
644 Promo e-book sales (at 99c/99p).
Most authors will say their sales are usually 80% paperback and 20% e-book. Mine are reversed since I’ve focused on selling e-books, since they are very easy to market. I’ve paid to promote my book when it’s discounted (on a Kindle Countdown deal) and used pretty much all the major mailing-list based promotional services that are out there. My favourite ones (in no particular order) are: Book Gorilla, Bargain Booksy, Book Barbarian, Fussy Librarian, Robin Reads and FKBT.
Other promotional things I’ve done: presented at sci-fi conventions and libraries, been interviewed on the radio and online, had a book launch and used social media. I’ve also done some pretty unconventional marketing at times.
The most effective thing has been to simply tell people I’d written a book. To not be shy about admitting it, and then following up if someone showed interest. The goal, in this regard, is to be tolerably persistent to get the sale. This is often the hardest thing for authors, who, it seems, aren’t big on self-promotion. You don’t want to pester too much (ie. become intolerable), as this will cause you to lose a sale (and potential sales of your next book), so learning to recognise when someone is just being polite vs showing a genuine interest is a skill authors need to learn. Unfortunately, some people are very good a making politeness seem like genuine interest. If you haven’t converted someone’s interest into a sale after three attempts, then it isn’t going to happen, and any further attempts will get you into intolerable territory.
If I count the free e-books I’ve given away (ie. review copies and via a free promotion on Amazon), there are about 2700 copies of Incite Insight out there. I know many authors who’d scoff at such numbers and say they’d sell that many in a month, but I’m still excited by what my book has achieved and that’s what’s important.
I’ve published two books since Incite Insight, but never felt the need to set a sales target for them, so, we’ll have to see how they go. While I’d love for them to reach the same sales target, I’m kind of content with what I’ve already achieved. I’ll still chase every sale and keep writing, but will try to ration my promotional budget a bit more as my cost of acquiring readers has far exceeded my return on investment.
*I’d self-published The Conversationist before this, but that book barely had a plot and was a more a series of musings between characters and, thankfully only 98 copies of that exist (and only 32 in print).
** For the purposes of this statistic I’m counting the 79 hardcopies I’ve given away to people since I usually managed to get at least a coffee out of them. When I ran a free promotion over 1600 people got a free e-book copy of the book but I’m not counting those as sales.
Image from an early promotion
When I published Incite Insight roughly three and a half years ago, I said I wanted to sell a thousand copies. I was laughed at, more than once, right to my face. I was naïve about what it took to sell books, especially at that quantity, but that number wasn’t randomly chosen.
I wanted people to read the book, and thought that, with some luck, I could sell 200 paperbacks and 800 e-books. The e-book number came from what Bookbub indicated they’d be likely to sell if I landed a promotion with them, which I, once again naively, thought I could. I’ve applied to them a couple of times, without success. I also thought that since I had a distributor on board through Tale Pubishing, sales would just happen.
So that meant using e-book promotion sites (which use email lists & social media to promote your book to readers), and I’ve used many of them with variable success. By stacking several promotional services together, in conjunction with a discount on the book to 99c, I’ve had campaigns sell between 37 and 92 books. My previous campaign (in Dec/Jan) sold 77 copies and I was sure that with the number of services I had stacked for a promotion last week, I’d reach the 55 sales I needed to break the 1000 barrier. I spent a lot more money than usual, and was hoping I’d not only break the 1000 mark, but maybe have my most successful promotion yet.
Unfortunately, after the sale finished on Friday, I was left on 999 sales (and with a couple of promotion services crossed off my recommended list).
I made an appeal on the final day of the promotion to my social media followers to buy the book while it was discounted, and be my thousandth sale. In exchange, I’d promote them in my blog (the version of this post I was intending to write).
Sunday was my birthday. Maybe someone would buy a copy?
This morning I did my usual check and saw I’d made a new sale overnight (actually on my birthday. I’m Australian, so it whilst it was the 8th here, it was still the 7th in the US where the sale occurred). My thousandth sale. Goal achieved.
For what it’s worth that’s made up of 207 paperbacks and the rest as e-books; pretty much what I’d envisioned when I launched the book.
I’ll give a breakdown of sales/channels in a future post. I’ve also given away over 1600 e-books of Incite Insight during a ‘free’ promo. I know many authors would scoff at those numbers, but, to me, the thought that there are over two and a half thousand copies ‘out there’ is very satisfying.
Mug Punter has past 50 sales too. This was an experimental/promotional book (only 46 pages), and 50 was my target for it. Nearly all of those are paperbacks rather e-books, which shows the intent behind it was reasonable.
I also recently sold my 250th copy of Movemind. I’ve never set a sales goal for that title, but I’m really happy with that number. It’s also had nearly 700 free e-books given away too. So soon that will have a thousand copies in circulation.
In a ‘writers bucket list’ milestone, two people I’ve spoken to this year have said they’ve seen my books in their local bookshop and they were excited to make the connection between the books they’d seen and me. Still on my list is being recognised by a stranger as an author they’ve read (and, ideally, enjoyed). That will be quite a milestone.
This week a member of my writers group sent me an image of a display of my books that had been set up in her school’s library (where she works). It was really wonderful to think that my books will be appreciated by some new readers.
- Next Novel
In February I repeated my trick from last year, which was to write 250 words a day on weekdays and 500 a day on weekends. Somehow, I averaged over 650 words a day and wound up writing about 18.5 thousand words of my next book. I’m hoping to repeat the performance in March, but even if I only hit my original target, I’ll still be 30,000 words into the novel when I start my long service leave. That sounds good to me, and means I may (just may) have time not only to complete my first draft of the novel, but also make significant progress on my non-fiction project which has currently stalled. Maybe, I’ll have two books ready for release in 2020. That would be amazing. I only have one novel and about four short stories that I have ideas for and particularly want to write after these current projects, but I’ve previously been in the situation of having written all the stories I’d wanted to write and still found new inspiration to write more. So, I’m not worried I’ll run out of ideas any time soon. I’m heading back to uni (degree number 6!) in July, so we’ll have to see how things go.
- One last thing
I may be a little late, but I just found out that back in 2015 when I released Incite Insight, I made a bloggers list of notable Australian authored fiction for the year. Curiously, they had me in the horror section (it was a fantasy and horror list). Still chuffed to have been included.
- First Lines
On the 20th of February it was my pleasure to launch the anthology, The First Line, which I wrote the foreword to, and contributed a short story, The Coat Hanger (also in Mug Punter). I chair the Monash Writers Group, whose anthology it was and helped publish it through Tale Publishing. The launch was well attended and it was great to get the 15 contributors together to celebrate having a story published. The launch was ably MC’d by Councillor Lynnette Saloumi from Monash City Council.
- Mug Punter
In November my latest book, Mug Punter was released. This was an experimental project for me. The book is only 48 pages long and contains three short stories. It’s intended to be something I can just give away or use to promote sales (ie: buy two books and I’ll throw this in), but it seems to be gaining a bit of life of it’s own as online sales keep trickling in.
- Colours of Death
In July my next full-length book, Colours of Death: Sergeant Thomas Casebook will be released. It’s a collection of nine short stories featuring the detective from Incite Insight, although, it should be stressed this is a stand-alone collection. The stories each feature a colour theme. I recently received the proof copy. It was great to finally hold the book in my hands. That feeling of having produced something never gets old.
This technique is the opposite of foot-in-door (see Compliance Techniques). Here you make an extreme request which you think will be turned down (ie door slammed in your face) and then a smaller request (the target). It is based on the idea of reciprocity. The reciprocity principle isn’t only for gift giving, it can also occur when you feel that someone has already compromised on what they wanted, and this compromise should be acknowledged with some behaviour. With door-in-face, people are more likely to accept the second request because they feel the person has already lowered their request/expectation to accommodate them and this puts the target person into their debt.*
A study which supports this was conducted by Cialdini in 1975. A control group was only given the target request which was to chaperone a group of juvenile delinquents to the zoo; only 17% agreed. A second group was asked to sign up for two hours of voluntary (unpaid) work per week as counsellors for two years. Unsurprisingly, no one agreed. They were then asked if they’d chaperone a group of juvenile delinquents to the zoo and 50% said they’d do it. That’s nearly a 300% increase for virtually no extra effort.
How you could use this as an author, might be to approach a bookshop to stock your books. You could ask them to take a firm sale of thirty copies of each of your titles. When that is refused then ask them to take two copies of one title on consignment. They are more likely to say yes and you achieve your goal of getting them to stock your books.
Deliberately underestimating a cost, price, rate etc or leaving out crucial information in order to get compliance. Essentially it means getting the commitment to do something before finding out information which may have altered your decision. Eg: Have you ever been asked: “Can you do me a favour?” without knowing what the favour is?
This is often used to sell things like cars. They advertise cars as being from a certain price, but then to get the better paint add $, extra safety add $, extra luxury add $, auto transmission add $ etc. Usually one or two of the add-ons will put you close to the model up in the range which for just a bit more gives you those extras you wanted and a whole lot more, so you might as well…
Like the other techniques discussed (see An odd way to increase and below) sales this has been demonstrated in research:
Cialdini et al (1974) asked if people would agree to participate in a study starting at 7 am. Only 24% agreed to take part. This was used as a basis for comparison for the second group who were asked to participate in a psychology study, but not told the time. This time 56% agreed to take part. When they were then told it was at 7am and they could back out if they wished none did. What is particularly interesting (and shows the power of the compliance technique) is that on the day, nearly all (95%) of those who’d agreed to participate turned up to participate.
For authors using this technique can be as simple as asking someone to buy a copy of your book at a cheap price, for example $5, when they say yes, then add that is how much the second copy is (ie once you’ve paid full price for the first). Alternatively, get the commitment for $5 and say well to get it for $5 all you need to do is buy this other book for $20.
* I’ve experience this first hand when looking for someone to restore the roof of my home. They started by quoting a price which was nearly three times the two quotes we’d already received (thankfully). When we baulked at the price, they then ‘graciously’ brought the price down by ten percent. After a few such price drops (including the obligatory call to a manager for approval, getting us to agree to put a sign up advertising them for one month) they brought the price down about 35% of their original price. We politely said we were not willing to pay that much and the person left (after repeating each price drop he’d made directly implying we owed him for being so considerate). The following week we had a call from their head office offering an even further discount if we agreed to keep their sign for an additional two months and paid a deposit over the phone then and there. This absolutely final, best offer price was still a lot more than the other prices we’d been quoted ($6k vs $4 and $3.5), so we said no. I couldn’t help but think how many people would jump at that offer though, especially if you hadn’t got more than one quote.
Another time, a tree removal place tried the same tactic with me. I laughed as I knew what they were doing, and took over the negotiation by offering a really low price, which was refused, then slowly raised my offer. When they mentioned how much they’d come down in price, I mentioned how much I’d come up. The poor person was terribly confused. They were a laborer and not a salesperson and probably had been told offer price x then price y, but without really understanding sales technique. Eventually we agreed on a price we were both happy with.
My previous post Odd ways to increase your sales seems to have interested a lot of people, so I thought I’d discuss a few more techniques to increase sales. Before I begin discussing compliance techniques, I should point out that they will neither guarantee you a sale, nor convert a firm “no” into a sale. All they do is make it easier for someone who has not made up their mind to make up their mind in your favour. This is important as their commitment is still their choice and you are not forcing them into it (Freedman and Fraser refer to it as compliance without pressure). As someone trying to get a sale, you need to always respect this, and if someone says no accept that as their decision. These techniques are distinct from those involving obedience, where there is an authority or power imbalance, and conformity where there is no direct request to do something.
This is where you make a small request which is likely to be agreed to and then a larger request which is what you actually want to achieve. Agreement to the initial (small) request makes people more likely to agree to the (larger) target request than would have been the case if the latter had been presented on its own.
I joke that my wife is the master of this technique – she claims it’s always unintentional, but I’m not so sure. For example, she’ll ask me to put her coffee mug in the dishwasher, then after I’ve agreed, tell me I’ll need to empty it first and might want to also load all the other dishes from the sink. And yes, despite knowing how I’ve been goaded into it, I still do all the tasks.
Some research studies which support the effectiveness of this include Freedman and Fraser (1966) who canvassed a residential neighbourhood in Palo Alto, California where they asked women to complete a brief survey about the range of household products that they used.
After a period of three days these same women (the experimental group) were asked if they would allow a team of researchers to catalogue the types of household products they had in the house for a 2 hour period. In this instance 55% of the women said yes compared to 22% in a control group who only received the target request.
In a separate study Freedman and Fraser asked some people to sign a petition or to place a small sign in the front window of their homes for “Keep California Beautiful” or for a safe driving campaign. Most participants agreed to this initial request. The residences that were bypassed during this process became the control group.
Different researchers returned to the neighbourhood two weeks later and approached all of the households and asked to put a large safe driving campaign sign in their front yard. Those who complied with the initial request had a compliance rate of 54% for the larger request, in comparison to the control group whose compliance level was 16%. Think about that. They obtained a 337% increase in people displaying what was termed “an ugly billboard” in their front yard just by asking them to put a small sticker or sign a petition first.
As an author you could use this by having a cheap promotional item which you get people to purchase and then ask them to buy something bigger from you. I’m experimenting with using Mug Punter like this – it’s only 48 pages long and cheap to produce, but if someone has bought that from me, then I can follow up with asking them to buy my full-length books.
Two other compliance techniques are Door-in-Face and Low-balling. They are discussed in my next blog post compliance techniques part 2.
Everyone knows the traditional places to sell books – ie bookshops or online retailers, and selling them yourself at markets, author talks and amongst your friends. These work and work well, but there are other places you can make handfuls of sales, which add up over time.
Small independent shops with high volumes of ‘foot traffic’ are the key. Chain stores tend to have regulations about what they can and cannot stock, which is why independent stores are the ones to target.
Your local chemist or milk bar are good examples of such places. A diverse mix of people shop there, they already have the intent to purchase something when they walk in and can more easily be persuaded to add to that purchase. Your display of your book won’t clash with their other products (and hence, will actually stand out) and selling in such places implies the book is from a local author, so by mere location, you’re making an appeal to the community mindedness of people to purchase your book.
One of the oddest places I was able to set up a display was in a hair salon. They sold 3 books in two months. This may not seem like many copies, but if you have several such shops selling for you it adds up (and this was one more than the local bookshop too!) Importantly, these are readers you wouldn’t reach through other means and gaining new readers is crucial for authors.
All it takes is to create a simple display such as the image above and below and the courage to ask your local shops to help an aspiring writer out. I bought a few desk organisers and repurposed them to sell books. On the back of each is my phone number so the shop owner can tell me when they’ve had enough of the display or to order more books. Remember if a shop does agree to help you out be grateful and courteous, you might need them again for your next book.
For ways to increase your chances of converting an interested person to a sale see my blog post on Odd ways to increase your sales.