20 books to 50k London

Notes on the 20 Books to 50k London Conference

I spent most of January back in my home city of Bristol, partly to connect with the vibrant writing meetups that take place and re-connect with some old faces but also to travel down to Runnymead on Thames for the recent 20books London event in early February. In case you’re unaware, the 20booksto50k group began life as a forum and Facebook group for indie publishing authorpreneurs who are looking to make a living out of writing. Michael Anderle, author of the Kurtherian Universe books worked out he just needed to sell two books a day from a back-list of twenty books to make the $50k needed for his retirement plans. He came up with the number after noticing he was averaging $7.50 a day in income.

20 books to 50k London
Guest speakers take questions from the room

Michael emphasises; “It’s not that you write 20 books and make $50k. It’s not that you have to publish a book a month. It’s not about any must-do things besides one — You have to find readers willing to pay for your stories.”

With that goal rapidly overtaken, LMBPN Publishing has become a major force in Indie publishing. His universe has expanded, now involving over fifteen other collaborative authors, all producing multi-genre books that have transformed into a multi-million dollar publishing business. Michael also credited his team who have weighed in on the management and co-authoring of this sprawling enterprise. Authors such as Craig Martell, Martha Carr, Steve Campbell, and many others.

This is my attempt to distil the takeaways from the conference.

Craig Martell hosted with typical marine like precision and we watched a series of great presentations from authors, both working with Michael and otherwise. Beats, series arcs, covers, blurbs and keywords were the focus of the first morning with an in-depth ‘murder boarding’ of some authors who volunteered up their books for scrutiny from the room. These are the crucial elements to converting eyeballs to sales and it was appreciated that a good chunk of time was dedicated to this.

Derek Murphy over-delivered in a list-building presentation that floated strategies well outside the box, in his typical rapid style. Giveaways, Instafreebie and the like all play their part but finding the true fans is the golden ticket. Just one great idea was running physical book competitions from other authors in your genre to help ease open the door for a networking relationship.

A change in the schedule accommodated Mark Dawson who shared his data on his recent dive into Kindle Unlimited with his Milton series. ‘Dive’ sounds reckless. Mark actually took the time to make sure a lion’s share of his readers were on Amazon via a survey before taking the plunge and it appears to be paying off. A jump to $86k in sales during January of this year. Nice!

Michael Cooper focused on Facebook ads, a bugbear for many authors and drilled into what Facebook is looking for. Turns out they don’t want ads to look like ads clogging up users feeds so my main takeaway was to source great images and test repeatedly.

Faleena Hopkins brought something very different to the proceedings with ‘Fighting your demons, achieving your dreams.’ Writers commonly suffer from self-doubt especially when it comes to reaching for a full-time income. In the Romance community, apparently, there is a lot of ‘hating’ and Faleena has been a victim of this. With affirmations, Faleema has helped herself and other authors take back the power to turn it into something positive.

Martha Carr took us behind the scenes with ‘Worldbuilding’. She is one of the creators of a second universe (A second Universe!) for LMBPN called ‘Oriceran’. Tools such as the Project management platform Asana and Storyshop are used to help coordinate the complexities of having different writers create in the same universe. We were left in no doubt that Martha ran a tight operation over there.

Abby-Lynn Knorr presented ’40 days to 4 figures’ a more attainable reach for most. Abby-Lynn’s story really resonated with me, being a bit of a nomad myself. She found herself in Italy with an opportunity to write and after making the decision within five minutes that this would be her career got straight to work. She also offered really useful insights into the craft that got me adding a few resources to my learning schedule. These were K.M Weiland’s outlining techniques and two screenwriting courses: Beyond Structure by David Freeman, and the Story Seminar by Robert McKee.

Going Wide with Dan Wood from Draft2Digital and Ricardo Fayet from Reedsy gave us insights into the benefits of taking our books across multiple outlets. The debate is strong on this one. Many, like Joanna Penn, cite this as the best strategy for a longer-term goal yet many authors, especially those writing in the urban fantasy and romance market have found great success in staying within the walled gardens of KU. A recent Walmart partnership to get ebooks from the Kobo platform promises to be interesting and the general consensus is to wait and watch. My own takeaway is to try both wide and KU with different series. So far, KU is winning but I’m convinced the landscape will change. Reedsy is a great platform for sourcing editorial talent and one I have recently used with great success. Their book editor for ebook production and layout is on my list to test out. Draft2Digital also have an exciting partnership with Findaway Voices for audiobook production and distribution.

Jonathan Brazee gave us an overview of professional organisations that can help support an author’s business. My takeaway is to join one. The networking and contacts alone is well worth it.

Barry Hutchison presented ‘bootstrapping a series’ laced with Scottish banter on minimising the costs involved in book production and marketing. You’ve either got the time or money. If you haven’t got the budget, make sure you have the time to learn and test with covers, production and editing and all the other cogs in the machine.

And so we came to the final stretch. The Open Floor questions with all the guest speakers ran on awhile but gave the audience a chance to question any one of them, if not all. Snippets of information, candid insights into working practices and a shed load of questions were answered.

For me, Michael Anderle made this event worth the modest ticket admission alone with powerful insights into his business and how he sees it moving forward. I love Michael’s story and feel the same need to publish page turning stories as well as writing my own.

20books LondonSo, there it was. A packed weekend with frenzied note-taking, great conversation and endless coffee. The added bonus of the weekend was, of course, the coffee breaks, inclusive lunches and networking over dinner. Nothing beats catching up with fellow authors in this solitary profession.

I’ll leave it with one great sentence from the conference literature that, for me, sums up the weekend. “You work alone, but you are not alone.”

Nanowrimo at the castle

IMG_0768v2cropAs I write this it is the last day of Nanowrimo 2017. Looking at my count from a cafe in Bratislava with one eye on the snow falling outside, it’s likely I’m not going to hit the required fifty thousand words. But I had a metric shit-ton of fun trying.

Before November I was thinking to myself how I really wanted to go away and immerse myself in Nanowrimo around other writers where we could all ‘suffer’ together.

Then, I saw there was an opening for CreativCastle in Austria and I didn’t hesitate for a second. Fiction writer and Indie Publishing guru, Derek Murphy aka the creativindie is always up for doing really interesting stuff around writing. I met him and his wife, Lana on the Nomad Cruise and we occasionally met up for ‘write-ins’ to counter-act the all-inclusive debauchery and get some ‘shit done.’

Borg Rappottenstein was no letdown, exceeding my wildest expectations of what this experience might be like. The castle was huge and the seven of us had it all to ourselves! The woods surrounding the castle made for fantastic walks to mull over and talk through the indie publishing business with each other. Yes, that’s right, we weren’t just writers barricading ourselves away inside the Borg but ‘publishers’ with a grip on what it took to create and market our own books. Or at least an attempt to pillage Derek’s extensive knowledge on the subject.

IMG_0753It was also an intense experience, writing from early morning to late at night but this is what we all signed up for. To immerse and break the back of our individual books and destroy the Nanowrimo fifty thousand minimum. (That early gung-ho ambitious bravado is, at least on my part, now a smouldering husk). Still, I now have another book to mound and shape and one which I’ve been meaning to write for two years.

For me, the most valuable experience for the castle was the accountability of working with other writers and doing sprints together in order to stretch those word count sessions. I’m pleased to say I exceeded my pitiful record to six or seven hundred words in forty minutes.

Now I’m focused on taking the Nanowrimo habit forward and keep it rolling on a daily basis. I’m also keeping close eyes on future castle events because that was one experience I won’t forget in a hurry.

Here’s the Nanowrimo video tour:

Finding the right environment for writing

After around three months in Colombia, I’m back in Europe and enjoying the historical city of Lisbon in Portugal. Overall, staying in Medellin was productive and I managed to stick to a routine, working from various cafes as well as joining the co-working space to churn out some words.

We got another novel published through the Dark Paradigm imprint, as well as two short stories. I’m also coming to the end of another novel in the Dark Paradigm series, so it’s been a fairly good first quarter for producing content.

Being productive is a constant battle for me and there have been some lessons learned. I am pretty slow when it comes to writing and am easily distracted. There are plenty of techniques and strategies when it comes to productivity and I am working on increasing the daily word count. However, travelling and writing, while it sounds idyllic actually are often at odds with each other.

Writing requires consistent routine, and for me at least, certain rituals and sometimes a big block of time in which to reflect and mull over the options of whatever I’m writing. Fiction especially requires me to think through scenarios carefully while considering the implications of a character’s decision or a complex plot. For this to happen I find I really need the right environment to work in. Busy cafes or workspaces sometimes don’t cut it and although I have been known to plug into the music and work in some really distracting environments, they’re not ideal. So, to that end, it can be hard to find the right spot when on the road but not impossible.

While I consider my next move, location wise, and look at options, for now wherever I lay my laptop, that’s my home.

Listbuilding for authors with instaFreebie

An effective way of building your email list for your author platform is using giveaway and newsletter swaps. Services like instaFreebie can give you powerful options.

instafreebielogo_teal

Here you can build a dedicated list of fans by offering free book in return for their optin details. Instafreebie will then deliver the book file and you can either download a csv of emails or it will happen automatically if you have mailchimp (Aweber integration coming soon apparently).

You can control the amount of copies and the duration of the giveaway from your dashboard and access stats.

Of course you can do this on your website (and you should be) but Instafreebie potentially gives you a wider reach, especially if they feature your free book on their website. Also by teaming up with other authors in your genre you can create a more powerful offering. I’m fast approaching an extra 800 subscribers and expecting to double my list over the next two or three weeks with upcoming promotions.

Coordinate giveaways with other authors on the Instafreebie forum or better still join Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors group. They have set up facebook groups for several genres so you can arrange giveaways and email swaps with other authors. You’ll need to join Mark Dawson’s list to get access. Mark and his team have also set up The Book Locker, a portal for genre specific instafreebie books available.

Join InstaFreebie here

Nomad Cruise December 2016

The idea of the Nomad cruise fired and excited my imagination ever since I came across it on the web last year so to be stepping onto the Zenith on December 10th was the realisation of a crazy plan to kick-start a new lifestyle.

pool
Nomads invade the pool

As the older cruise ship (I nicknamed it The Tank) headed out onto the South Atlantic towards the Caribbean, the Nomad Cruisers took over the disco area for a programme of talks and workshops. These covered online marketing, SEO, blogging, photography, travelling, nutrition and the nomad life in general. There was a wide mix of people on board; web developers, marketers, entrepreneurs, writers, so there was always someone to connect with.

talk

A ship routine was quickly established. Nomads tended to sit together in groups at meals to catch up on the latest cruise rumours and gossip. Having a routine (breakfast, lunch and dinner are all at a scheduled time) you were able to plan your day in a bit more detail. I chose to generally get up early, hit the gym, have breakfast and get on with the day.

Alternatively there was lure of the deck sun loungers, pool and Jacuzzi or the library and gym, all of which I made fair use of. Late afternoons and early evening usually involved grabbing a drink from the pool bar and watching a series of spectacular sunsets on the ocean. Every night there would be a gathering of nomads somewhere on the ship, jamming with instruments (there were a few talented musicians), playing table tennis or just making full use of the inclusive bar and seeing out the night in an alcoholic haze.

sunset

If the socialising onslaught became too much, and for a secret introvert like myself it sometimes did, there were always possibilities of quiet retreat to the cabin or the library.

My cabin was pretty good, a fair size with a perfect sea view which made a great personal basecamp for writing. Some other nomads had problems with the plumbing in their bathrooms apparently but my cabin was fine.

Part of the attraction of taking a slow boat across the ocean was to experience the passage of time. Adjusting to the time zone involved a change of clocks (back by 1 hour every couple of days when heading west) which made for the bonus experience of gaining time on a regular schedule and a really nice way to avoid jet lag. The other attraction was the chance to have a detox from the world, mostly without Wi-Fi. As getting online was so expensive I decided not to sign up for any packages apart from a PAYGO option just to sync documents and a very quick check of emails. (At 61 cents per minute you want to be fast.)

Of course cruising is usually for the older retired crowd and there were a plenty onboard but with over 150 nomad cruisers, average age mid 20s it never felt like being on a retirement home. Although it was sometimes interesting to watch the elderly couple sit in the bar from 10 am drinking beer all day.

There were also a few surreal moments like the message on the address system that continually interrupted the talks with Bingo, bingo, bingo announcements or reassuring messages such as: Please ignore the previous signal. Everything is normal. Please return to enjoying your cruise.

The foundation and achievement of the nomad cruise, I believe, was the forming of relationships, friendships and business connections that will undoubtedly reach far into the future. It wasn’t perfect. There is always room for improvement in any ambitious project but Nomad Cruise are certainly having a go at building a community for nomads wherever they are from and have the ambition and know how to expand the concept.

Nomad City report from Las Palmas

I landed in Las Palmas, one of Europe’s fastest growing digital nomad hotspots on the first leg of my big life change trip. Nomad City, the local organisation that hosts and promotes the movement has been busy with talks, tours and general networking. A lot of digital nomads (people who travel and work remotely) have been converging on the capital of Gran Canaria for the event as well as the Nomad Cruise.

img_0157
Arriving for the Nomad City Talks

Unfortunately I missed out experiencing a tour of the island with the nomad posse on the initial island tours,  but managed to attend the Nomad City Talks and the Siete Viejas Tapas night meet up and the Nomad cruise farewell fiesta.

nomadcitytalks1
Johannes Voelkner from Nomad Cruise presents ‘How to travel the world as a digital nomad’

Stand out talks by Niall Doherty on travelling and working for many years around the world without flying, Jacob Hiller on his Jump Manual internet marketing strategies, Maartje Smit from Wanderlicious, Stella Airoldi on her 22 stars project and Derek Murphy from CreativIndie. There were also a host of pitches by businesses based in Gran Canaria.

This was a first step, experiencing a new lifestyle and meeting so many others who are travelling the world while they work online.

Full report on the nomad cruise on the other side!

 

Countdown to being a digital nomad

Right now I am selling or giving away the last of my possessions, trying to tie up a million loose ends, saying goodbye to friends and family…and generally panicking.

In around a month’s time I will be flying to Gran Canaria to meet up with a group of digital nomads who have perhaps once gone through the same process before boarding the nomad cruise bound for the Caribbean.

Prepping for the nomad lifestyle
Prepping for the nomad lifestyle

Much as I’d love another six months preparation time, that ship will sail and I’m determined not too miss it.

Rewind five years or so.

Running a struggling business, on the tail-end of a divorce, renting out my living room because I couldn’t make ends meet. I remember flipping through International Living magazine, just dreaming — because that’s all I could do. It felt like being strapped to a runaway train that was steaming to the end of the track.

Things slowly improved over the next few years and a fire was reignited as I witnessed the global digital nomad movement gain momentum and watched videos of people living their dreams in far off lands.

So, after years of careful planning and lining up the ducks the moment is finally here. The notices are in with the landlord and the employer while fear, mixed with excitement simmer under the surface in equal measure.

There have been a last minute issues such as the dive in the value of sterling, that was a bitch. Plus a few higher pre-costs than expected such as all the vaccinations, new kit, updated glasses and all the few thousand other things you have to do when giving up your life and hitting the road.

But they’re small problems to overcome, mere insignificant gripes, as I look forward to immersing in travel, writing, meeting like minded nomads and getting my teeth into launching an exciting book imprint.

There’s also the dreamy prospect of sipping exotic drinks from a hammock pondering the next novel plot-lines leaving just one question: Am I there yet?

Save

Save

Using ACX for Audiobooks

We have been working hard to produce another audiobook in a series to beef up our fiction imprint offering and give readers a different way of consuming our content. We’re on our third audiobook so I thought I’d report on progress so far.

Once you put all that work into your book then it makes sense to diversify and turn it into other products. After all, most of the hard graft is done. Adding audiobooks to your catalogue is well worth looking into as are print books.

The audiobook market is currently worth around $1.2 Billion and growing. More people are turning to audio as a way to consume books as life becomes seemingly busier.

For indie authors and publishers there are several ways forward in getting your book turned into an audio version. For this post I’m focusing on ACX with a few alternative suggestions at the end.

acx

The most popular platform is the ACX marketplace where narrators/producers and authors/publishers can link up to get the production done.  Using ACX also gives you easy syndication access to Audible, Amazon and iTunes.

As an author you can search by type of voice, gender, accent and other criteria to find narrators to work with.

We simply added our book details, entered some meta data as well as a pitch that focused on our marketing plan. Simply showing the narrator that we are willing to do promotions and marketing for the end product definitely helps if you want to do a royalty split. You also need to upload a sample to be used as an audition piece.

The next step was finding a narrator. Once live your book shows up on the market it can be viewed by narrators. However I took a more proactive approach and submitted to narrators directly, inviting them to audition.

acx-narrators

I was strictly looking for British male voices that were willing to do the royalty split deal.

Once you have found a narrator or producer who has agreed to do your audition and you have approved it the next step is to set a deadline and upload your manuscript. Our narrator uploaded chapters as he did them.

Give your audio a careful listen through. I read through my manuscript as I was listening in order to keep the book as close to the audio version as possible. This was because I wanted the audiobook to be whisper sync ready. Whisper sync is where the listener can jump between their Kindle version and the audiobook without losing their place. If you’re adapting the audio version (abridged) then you won’t be able to have a whisper sync version.

Once approved the audiobook will become available after around 5 days and after that ACX will send you codes that you can give to a select audience to garner reviews.

Financial options:

The royalty breakdown is as follows:

Royalty Share with Exclusive Distribution to Audible.
40% of retail sales split between the Rights Holder and Producer. Each party gets 20% of total retail sales.

Pay For Production (Flat Fee) with Exclusive Distribution to Audible.
40% of retail sales paid to Rights Holder.

Pay For Production (Flat Fee) with Non-Exclusive Distribution Rights to Audible.
25% of retail sales paid to Rights Holder.

Cons to the exclusive deal:
Tied to them for 7 years. You cannot sell your audiobook anywhere else once you’ve opted into their deal.

Fairly hefty cut. They keep 75%-60% depending on which option you take so if you do a split percentage exclusively you’ll end up with 20% (60% to ACX and the remaining 40% split between you and the narrator.)

Doesn’t sound great, does it? The reason we have taken this option for our early works is simply down to the cost of production. Paying a narrator just isn’t affordable at the moment with other costs eating the funds so to be able to team up with a talented narrator who will work for a percentage makes perfect sense to us right now.

However I’m really keen to look at alternatives for future books and did investigate the options.

Alternatives to ACX:

There are alternative ways to produce audiobooks from recording the audio yourself to using platforms such as ListenUpCD baby, Author’s republic and Infinity Publishing. I haven’t personally used any of these methods but will be looking in alternatives for future audiobooks.

For a more indepth post on ACX alternatives check out Jane Friedman’s post here.

Save

Bookfunnel review

When you’re a self published indie author or small imprint you will need to deliver ebooks to readers, subscribers, supply advanced copies or review copies to your readers and that can involve a lot of support.

Then, thank the powers that be (and the creator: Damon Courtney) for bookfunnel!

Options for reader starting with ‘What device do you own?’ and then they can drill down through the options depending on their preferred choice.

bookfunnel

If at any point they struggle there is a ‘contact support’ option and bookfunnel will handle the support requests for you. This is what makes this service such a valuable arsenal to your publishing business.

I think it was Mark Dawson who said he was wading through multiple support requests every day for ebook download problems that ate into his writing time and any author will know this frustration. Letting bookfunnel handle the support and delivery allows you to focus on other aspects of your business (like writing the next damned book).

Adding your books:

After signing up under one of the plans you can begin adding books right away by uploading PDF, MOBI and ePUB versions, your cover and basic title and description. Bookfunnel then generates a unique link that you can pass onto your readers.

Each book gives you a nice dashboard of stats so you can check your download rates and other info including the type of device (Kindle Fire, iOS device etc) your readers used and which type of file (PDF, Mobi or Epub).

bookfunnel

You can generate any number of links for the same book if you wish to split out your stats. This gives you data on your reader behaviour and is a fantastic

Use different links (gives you basic download rates)
Authors are using bookfunnel as a delivery system for serials, exclusive books for their lists, bonus materials.

Pricing:

The payment plans start from $20 per year (for up to 500 downloads a month) to a premium plan for $250 per year which gives you unlimited books/downloads, 3 pen names and advanced features.

Bookfunnel have added a Bookfunnel certified mail feature for Midlist, Bestseller and Small Publisher plans.

Bookfunnel certified mail enable you to email unique ARC links and the books are watermarked. You can remind readers and follow up with anyone who hasn’t downloaded the book yet to give them a prod. All data is available as a downloadable CSV file.

Future plans include giveaway campaigns and integration with popular email platforms like aweber and mailchimp.

Any author or publisher serious about creating their own lead magnets and product funnels need to get on board with this now. You’ll love it.

Notes on writing and ePubbing progress

2016-03-12 10.21.16As I write more fiction I’m finding it increasingly difficult to focus on blogging (not that I ever did that much) and non-fiction projects. However I think, even as a diary style exercise I should blog more and mark the journey, so to speak.

Medium looks like it could be another way of reaching a bigger audience but if I’m going to increase the output I want to make sure there’s some kind of strategy in place rather than a half heartened reboot.

So onwards and upwards as the first half of 2016 approaches where have I ended up exactly?

Well, the fiction series is going well and we are hoping to finish the first in the new series this Spring. My main obstacle is finding the hours alongside a full-time job but I have a writing schedule that involves meeting up with a local group of writers on Sundays and some week evenings. We all work on our own projects and I also meet up with story collaborator and biz partner, JN, twice a week. This has been hugely helpful for keeping a consistent work count going and slowly pushing the book imprint forward.

I am really keen to get our publishing start up going but it seems like the chicken and egg scenario…without a considerable traction of the existing titles there doesn’t seem much point in putting a lot of time and money into marketing. But…a lesson learned from a previous business I was involved in – plan for success and it will more likely happen. Hence why I’m coming around to the idea of a Kickstarter (or Indiegogo) campaign to help pay for the editor and cover art. If everything goes to plan I will be hitting the road and won’t have the disposable income to put into these costs , as I have so far. Food for thought.

There’s a lot of things, like promotions that are not really working and this is causing a fair amount of frustration. We’re nowhere near having enough reviews to try and get an infamous Bookbub ad so getting reviews has been a slow process.

Facebook ads have brought in around 200 subscribers in the last year and a handful of sales but I’m a long way from actually getting it working on auto pilot!

2016 is all about content creation for me and although there will always be an ongoing marketing process going on until we have a good body of work it’s difficult to commit money to any big pushes. My ambitious target is to write and complete at least two full length fiction novels (the first one is 80% there) and at least one novella this year. It would be great to put out a non-fiction this year but we’ll have to see how it pans out. It may have to come in the form of a series of blog posts (now there’s an idea). In the spirit of re purposing content: build up a series of chapters from the blog posts then re-work them into a book and possibly an e-course. I believe Dean W Smith does this on his website.

Till next time.