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Topics - erikhanberg

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Writers' Cafe / Opinion on two cover options
« on: June 06, 2018, 09:37:38 am »
So wayyyyyy back in 2008, I started my self-publishing journey. I self-published a book on fundraising for small nonprofits using Lulu as a print on demand service.

This was the cover (and remains the cover today):

I've written more books in the series since then, including this book on how to be a board member of a small nonprofit, which has better sales than the fundraising book.

I suspect that's because it has a wider audience (there are more board members than executive directors) but also because the fundraising cover isn't as good.

All of that is to say that after nearly 10 years, it's time to update the cover!

These are the two revisions I've deciding between these two:

One is a fully new cover and the other is more of an update of the previous one. Because they keep the same font style, I think it's pretty clear that they are related books. But otherwise, I'm not sure which way to go. I thought the hive mind of KBoards might have an opinion. :) Any thoughts?

Thank you!

Hello all! After being cocooned in a writing cave recently, I've decided to turn to the web for help threading my prose together. I need some silky words to weave together this blurb about a world where humans live in harmony with spiders.


Ok, that's all the spider jokes I can think of. Anyway, it's a short story I'm working on, about 10,000 words. I'm pretty happy with it. The title is Red Silk Spider. It's sci-fi with one big action scene. Kind of feels like an X Files set 400 years in the future maybe? With spiders. Here are three blurbs that tackle it from different sides. I'm not sure if short story blurbs should be as long as novel blurbs, so I've tried to play with that too.

Any feedback on which blurb you think sells the story best would be very appreciated!

Blurb 1
Four hundred years in the future, spiders and humans will live in harmony. Arachnophobia is bigotry. And the silk of spiders decorate our bodies in elaborate tattoos as part of the spider mating ritual.

For Charlotte and her spider Helena, itís all perfectly natural. Until a volcanic eruption unleashes a new force on the world that threatens them both.

Blurb 2

Four hundred years after humanity's reckless abuse of the environment causes a catastrophe known as The Fall, humans have bioengineered replacements for the species we used to share the planet with. We live in harmony with everything, even black widow spiders.

But Charlotte and her spider Helena are about to learn that something can still threaten that balance: nature itself.

Blurb 3

"I'll scratch your back, you eat my face."
So thinks Charlotte of her pet black widow spider, Helena. Between the red silk tattoo Helena created on Charlotte's body over night, and the cloud of volcanic ash threatening the city, it's going to be that kind of day.

But when it's discovered that the volcano may have released more than just ash, Charlotte and Helena are going to learn that there are some things more urgent than a spider's mating instinct and more deadly than a black widow's venom.

Writers' Cafe / Audiobook refunds (through ACX)
« on: August 02, 2017, 09:12:40 am »
Over the past couple weeks I've seen a handful of Audiobook refundsóthis almost never happened before that I can remember. Has anyone else seen this recently? Did something change in Audible that makes it easier for people to return an audiobook?

Curious if it's just me!

Writers' Cafe / I read only women for a year. [blog post]
« on: July 17, 2016, 09:45:05 pm »
I've finally written up my thoughts from reading exclusively women for a year and I thought KBoarder writers might be interested in the topic.

Here's the post

One thing I didn't get into much in this is the research about bias in publishing: a surprisingly low number of the reviews in industry publications and awards go to women. Self-publishing, combined with the algorithms of Amazon and Goodreads, can help subvert that bias (though obviously the publications and awards committees need to work on dealing with it as well). It was interesting to note that after reading only books by women for a year, Goodreads has started to recommend a lot more books by women. So there's something of a feedback loop: the algorithms finally caught up to my reading challenge, even though they didn't know about it!

Anyway, I hope the post is good food for thought.

Writers' Cafe / How I revamped a dying two-year old book
« on: January 26, 2016, 09:42:55 am »
I always enjoy reading these kinds of stories in the Writers Cafe, and since this community has been so helpful to me as I write these books, I thought I should share my own turn-around story.

So here was my problem.

Back in late 2013, I released The Lead Cloak, a science fiction book that I already billed as Book I in a trilogy. Unlike some of the incredibly fast paced writers on this site, my writing speed is slow, so I was releasing the book with only 5 pages of Book II written.

I was really happy with it though, and sales kicked off modestly well. 59 the first month, 96 the second, 50 the third, 108 the fourth (my first month of a real promotion).

And then sales really started to drop. I had a high price ($4.99 for 100,000 words) and from the readers that actually read it, I heard great things. I knew I had something, but didn't worry about the marketing and focused on writing Book II.

Slow pace, new child, and suddenly it was May of 2015 by the time I finished the first draft of Book II, almost two years later. That same month, I'd sold just a single copy of The Lead Cloak.

One copy, and I'd just spent years working on a sequel. Who was going to read the sequel if they hadn't read the first book?

I started to get really clinical in my assessment of what needed to be done. I believed I had a good book. (Two good books!) But how to sell them?

I turned to the two most common tools we have for these things: price and cover.


Thanks to the commenters here, they confirmed what I was already realizing: my covers weren't the right genre for a science fiction adventure. They had a certain old-time sci-fi feel, but it wasn't obvious. And for a book with big action and global stakes, I needed to be obvious. So I found a new cover designer (Rachel, also on this forum) and set out to match cover to reader expectations. (New covers in signature)

Price and Promotions

First, I decided to set a low cover price for Book II. So I settled on $3.99 there. With a highly discounted Book I price.

I was able to get The Lead Cloak into a sci-fi Storybundle. I was in the second ever StoryBundle, so I knew it was effective, and I had some amount of relationship with the site. I was ready to assemble a bundle myself if I came to it, but I was included in another bundle. That was the anchor for my pricing and promotional strategy:

  • As soon as Book II of the trilogy was ready for pre-order in October, I dropped the price of Book I to $0.99.
  • A few weeks later, it went into a "pay what you want" bundle.
  • A few weeks after that, I was able to secure a BookBub (after several previous attempts with the old cover, so clearly the old cover had a lot to do with this) and made The Lead Cloak permafree, which is its status now.

The result:

In three months, I've sold more than twice the number of copies of Book I that I'd sold in two years. Even with the book in permafree as of January 1, I had a good number of sales from the Whispersync for Voice matching with the audiobook, which was a welcome surprise.
Nearly 45,000 free downloads of Book I in the last few weeks, thanks to BookBub.

  • Reviews more than doubled, from 22 to 52.
  • I added 70 addresses to my email newsletter.
  • I got 195 pre-orders of Book II at $3.99.

I know a lot of people don't like pre-order, and I totally get it. But for where I was right now, I felt like it was the thing I needed to really help Book I sell. I'm not sure all of those things would have been as effective if Book II wasn't even out. AND, I didn't want to wait for Book II to get out before doing the promotions. I felt like it would have led to a really slow first 30 days for Book II. Instead, I feel like I'm primed to have a lot of sales over the next 30 days.

We'll have to see how that goes for the real report on Book II, but the way Book I shot up makes me very hopeful.

It wasn't a lot of re-tinkering, but with some good planning and reader-focused changes to price and cover, I was really able to kickstart this all-but-dead book into something kind of cool!

I truly don't know if I would even be in a place to have diagnosed my problem, let alone fixed it, if it weren't for all the wisdom everyone has shared here. Thank you!

Writers' Cafe / How does KOLL pay if you're not in Select?
« on: January 13, 2016, 07:41:05 pm »
I feel like I should know this, but I just can't track it down. I had a permafree book really take off (thanks to a BookBub). The column for KENC shows 90. But since it's not in KU, I assume those are KOLL? And if that's true how does that payout?

Let me know if anyone knows how this works! Thanks.

This is the first time I've run a Bookbub for a book I also had in audio. I was counting on earning the cost of the sponsorship back from pre-orders (and then sales after January 26) of Book II in the trilogy.

What I didn't count on was 269 audiobook sales in two days. The audiobook is published through ACX at the 50% revenue rate, so at $1.99 for the audiobook tie-in with the Kindle, that right there paid for Bookbub.

Additional download numbers for context: 26,000 downloads on Kindle, 8500 downloads between Nook and iTunes. I reached #4 in the free Kindle store and #6 in the free iTunes store. I'm guessing that since this was a January 1 promo that a lot of people weren't on email that day so it's possible I could have gotten higher on a different day. Alternatively, I'm probably seeing a longer tail as people check their email: I'm still at #16 in the free store!

Pretty happy with how it's gone, but if you didn't know about the extra boost from audiobook sales, here's another reason to try to get your book in audio before a Bookbub!

Writers' Cafe / My new writing theory: raid the spam folder
« on: December 06, 2015, 10:30:44 pm »
While trying to think of a character name, I happened to check my email (because I'm easily distracted) and deleted a piece of spam from a Milten Mike. And then I thought: say... that's an interesting name.

Turns out there are loads of great names in here! Bertha Savage, Florence Mayer, Brigitte Justice...

I bet there's a whole novel in here if I dug deep enough.  ;)

Writers' Cafe / Star Trek Friday
« on: November 20, 2015, 02:52:40 pm »
No one started the Star Trek Friday thread until 2:50 PM Pacific Time.

Did it really die after only its second week?

My writing these week. I revised a particularly thorny Chapter 1, so yay?

My aunt Mildred emailed me. She heard something on CNN that Amazon is going to do this thing that will destroy everyone not in KDP Select. It was either about Amazon sending a plague of locusts to descend upon us from the heavens or altering their search algorithm slightly.

I wasn't quite clear what it was, but I'm already freaking out. Going to unpublish my books and wait out the storm. Wish me luck.

Writers' Cafe / KDP Author Experience Survey
« on: November 04, 2015, 10:38:22 am »
Interesting, I got a survey from Amazon about my experience publishing to Kindle.

How satisfied am I with images, fonts, indents. The software I use to create books, etc. No thread here yet on it so I started one. Anyone else receive it?

Writers' Cafe / Why aren't KindleWorlds books in KU?
« on: August 28, 2015, 11:35:41 am »
I have a Veronica Mars novella in the KindleWorlds program and I was surprised not to see it available in KU. It is, after all, already exclusive to Kindle.

I emailed KDP and got this response:

I apologize, but Kindle Unlimited program is only for books published on Kindle Direct Publishing directly. This feature is not available for books published on our Kindle Worlds platform.

However, I do consider it would be a great to have this feature available for Kindle Worlds authors, so the books can gain more visibility and popularity. For this reason, I've contacted and shared this information with our Developers team as we plan further improvements.

Kindle Worlds wouldn't exist without authors, and this feedback serves an important role in helping us to improve our platform and provide a better service.

It was nice to get a human's response. I think it makes a lot of sense. If you're already exclusive, why not?

Writers' Cafe / sci-fi cover. Looking for feedback!
« on: August 03, 2015, 10:05:54 pm »
So, two years ago, I published the first book in my sci-fi trilogy.

This was the cover:

I'm getting ready for the second book to come out this fall. Here's the cover I'm working with right now.

Thoughts? Either individually or as part of a series? It's a very different route from some traditional sci-fi covers but (my hope) is the custom artwork and style really set it apart.

This style would be carried through to Book III of course.

My book "The Little Book of Gold" had 18 check outs in KU and KOLL in June. Then Amazon pulled the book from Select at the end of the month because Flipkart never took it down (side note: aaarrrghh. Smashwords has been great talking to, but c'mon, Flipkart. It's been a month since you got the notice.

Anyway, the book was pulled from KU before July.

And so far it's had 228 pages read in July. That means that I know for sure those pages read came from books checked out in June.

Maybe Amazon has a way to correct for this, but it seems like Amazon is double paying me. Will I get credit for the borrow in June AND the pages read in July for the same book? Anyone know?

Writers' Cafe / Testing out $100 on Amazon's PPC ads. Will report.
« on: June 04, 2015, 09:52:41 am »
Over the years for my day job, I figure I've managed more than $20,000 of pay per click (PPC) ads on Google and Facebook for clients. I *think* I've gotten pretty good at it.

So testing PPC for my own books seemed like a worthwhile experiment.

Here's why I think I might have a chance at making this work:

  • The book is about fundraising for nonprofits, which means I should have pretty easy targeting to other books on Amazon.
  • The book has a high price point at $9.99/Kindle, plus it's out in paperback and audiobook. So there's a good chance to make some real money if I do get clicks.
  • There are three other books I've written for small nonprofits, one on social media and one on of boards. So a successful purchase that gets a customer into my ecosystem gives me the chance at two more sales, also each at $9.99

Here are the cons:
  • PPC advertising takes awhile to get right. I will need to experiment, so some of the first $100 won't be well spent. That's assuming it CAN be viable.
  • I had to put my book in KDP Select, which I wasn't crazy about. It has made sales on other platforms, although just a handful. I also don't know how much the borrows will affect my chance at real sales.

I thought I would keep folks here in the loop on how this experiment goes. I know it won't affect a lot of you with fiction, but hopefully the data should be revealing.

Here's my starting criteria:

  • I'm targeting 22 books about fundraising and nonprofit management. I would have chosen to target by genre, but I can't drill down to the same level of the list I can when I select my category (Nonprofits and Charities) and anything higher than that will be too broad. This might be too small, but we'll see.
  • My maximum bid is $0.75/click. This is higher than the average they recommended. My goal is to test the viability of PPC, so driving people to the page is more important (initially) than figuring out the sweet spot for ads. If people buy, I'll start gradually reducing the average price I pay per click.
  • Budget is $100, and I told Amazon to spend it as fast as possible. This is the opposite of most budgets I run for PPC where I spread it out over a month. The benefit (I figure) is that if it *does* work, spending it at fast as possible will have the side benefit of driving me up the charts. Again, we'll see.

I was approved today. According to Amazon it will take 2 to 3 days for full data to begin.

Previous sales:

Last month I sold 11 Kindle copies of the book, 21 paperbacks on Amazon, and 19 audiobooks.

So far this month, I've sold 3 Kindle copies, 1 paperback, and 2 audiobooks. It will take at least 15 new Kindle sales to break even on the $100 (not counting any additional sales of the other two books over time, which really should be counted, but that's harder to measure at this point).

So there we are. Let the games begin!

I started self-publishing in 2009. Having nonfiction titles is the only reason I'm still self-publishing today.

I don't think there are many writers on KBoards who are doing anything similar, but I wanted to share my strategy because it's been modestly successful and one I think others can emulate. I'm not a full time writer (yet!), but in the last three years, I've only had three months of sales less than $500. The nonprofit books have created a pretty solid floor of revenue for me.

Here's the gift of what I'm doing:

In addition to my fiction, I've made time to publish three "how to" books for nonprofits. This is my professional background and I've had enough experience that I think I have something to offer. I write "little books" (one is about 150 pages, one is 110, and one is 176). They are designed to give the basics of a particular topic for someone who is too busy to read anything more.

For the first two, I basically just uploaded them and let Amazon's algorithms do the work. They performed pretty well. Better in paperback than in ebook form, interestingly. They also don't really stop selling. They don't sell huge numbers of copies, but they never sell none, either. And when they do sell, the revenue is above $6.50 for the paperback and ebook editions. So it's worth it when they do sell. And now that I'm taking marketing for them more seriously, the books are selling better too.

That gives me a floor to my revenue. I mentioned three months where I'd earned less than $500. The lowest of those three months was $416. I sold only 92 copies of my books that month, for an average revenue of $4.52/copy.

In many ways, these books have financed the publication of my fiction, because they give regular (if modest) revenue to support marketing plans for the fiction. If I haven't just had a Bookbub run or some other marketing push for my fiction, that's a pretty common average for me (so far in 2014, it's at $4.55/copy).

But if you're feeling the self-publishing blues, consider writing something informational and helpful. It doesn't have to be about your profession. It could be a how-to about your hobby or something else useful. And it doesn't have to be a mass appeal, either. A narrow focus might help it get noticed by the people who need it most. Small nonprofits is an incredibly niche segment. My social media book is applicable to most businesses, but I kept it tailored to the niche I was writing for instead of throwing it out into the huge segment of social media books for business.

I talk a little bit more about this and other business decisions in writing in an interview on (which was picked up by PassiveGuy, yay!) if you want to read a little more about how I balance the fiction and nonfiction:

Anyway, I hope that's food for thought. YMMV but without that modest revenue, I think I would have burned out on self-publishing my fiction years ago.

I thought kboarders would be interested in this. I interviewed my podcasting co-host Brent Hartinger about what it was like to see his debut novel, Geography Club, turned into a Hollywood film--a film co-starring Scott Bakula, no less! (It's on Netflix now if you want to check it out.)

Short answer: if you're willing to give up all creative control and luck out with a good producer (Brent describes this as being willing to get married to someone after a 45 minute phone call) it might be a great experience! For Brent it was especially interesting, seeing a film adaptation of a book he wrote that was partly autobiographical. Layers upon layers there.

He is more eloquent than that in the interview, though, so if you want to check it out, here are the links:

iTunes link:

web link:

We can all dream of being so lucky...

Writers' Cafe / Media Carnivores! A new podcast
« on: May 08, 2014, 06:52:10 pm »
Cool news! I'm working with author Brent Hartinger on a new author podcast called "Media Carnivores," where we talk all things media.

Here's our first episode:

My hope with this is that by talking not just about our own work, but about popular things in media (like Game of Thrones and Orphan Black) that we can expand a base of listeners and maybe eventually turn them into readers.

Hopefully that will be another side effect of working with another author. Brent's first novel, Geography Club, was made into a movie last year (with Scott Bakula!) and he's got a lot more access to media, so there might be a small halo effect for me. I've been intrigued with podcasting because it is an opportunity to reach people outside of Facebook. While I think there can be some good Facebook marketing opportunities, I like the idea of developing news ways to reach an audience outside of the proprietary systems of any single company platform. Podcasting and email seem like two great ways to do that.

So. It could be a good marketing tool over the long term! But in the short-run, if you're interested in the subject matter, I hope you'll check it out.

I'm assuming Kobo has cookies on their site that make them know I visited my own book in the Kobo store? Is anyone else seeing anything like this? I noticed it at the top of KBoards as well but didn't get a screenshot. Here's what it looked like on VRBO.

Writers' Cafe / I CAN HAZ LIST OF 100000 READERS?
« on: January 18, 2014, 02:03:39 pm »

Writers' Cafe / New Smashwords web site design!
« on: December 17, 2013, 03:12:27 pm »
Anyone want to weigh in?

Responsive design. Seems like a very good improvement.

This kind of notice is so rare for self-publishers, and I was just too excited not to share.

But I was so excited to see that a Q&A I did with the Weekly Volcano (Tacoma's alternate weekly paper and the entertainment section for two other newspapers) ended up on the COVER.

Made my whole week.

The write-up was very complimentary as well!


Writers' Cafe / Kobo question about sales rank
« on: November 22, 2013, 12:07:41 pm »
So my book The Marinara Murders is listed as #87 in the police procedural category on Kobo.

Except ... I haven't sold a copy of that book on Kobo since ... wait for it, July 5.

Is there any chance my Kobo sales haven't updated? Or is that only 86 other police procedurals have had a sale on Kobo since July 5?

Either way ... wow, that's slow.

Some local self-publishers and I weren't having much success getting mentioned in our local paper (note, the arts reporter told me that they pitches on a at least a dozen self-published books a week).

We tried a new tactic: pitching them on a trend of writers going indie. It worked out very well! I and three other writers were able to get in today's Tacoma News Tribune.

If you try it, it really helped to have an author in the mix who had traditionally published and then gone indie.

I noticed that there are way too many titles that come from Hamlet's famous soliloquy (the one starting "To be or not to be").

So I decided to find out if there are any left that are unused. :)

Here's the page with results of my search: I linked each phrase to the book, movie, album, or song that had the title.

Not every good potential title phrase is taken! In fact, I found four pretty good titles left, if you want to be a fancy writer who uses Shakespeare quotes to title your book. :)

Since I'm super helpful, I've also added some plot ideas to each one. :) Maybe we'll see one of these books emerge during NaNoWriMo?

Thereís the Respect
A father has to teach the son he didnít know he had about the ways of the world.

His Quietus Make
A socialite who seems to have it all commits suicide. No one reads it, because they donít know what quietus means.

To Grunt and Sweat
A scrawny 99 pound weakling challenges the biggest bully in school to a fight.

Those Ills We Have
A tearful novel about a husband and wife who want to hide their terminal disease from each other so as not to burden them.

In unrelated news, it's amazing what you can fill your time with when you're putting off writing the next book in a trilogy.

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