Thursday, February 02, 2017

Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Master Plan? Part Two

By Jami Gold, @JamiGold

Part of the Indie Authors Series

Over the course of this Indie Publishing Paths series, we’ve covered a lot of information. Indie authors can understandably feel overwhelmed by all the decisions we have to make, especially as each of those decisions comes with pros and cons for us to consider.

In this series where we’ve been covering our options, we first focused on how to decide which path will work best for us. We figured out our goals and priorities and walked through our options for the where, when, and how much of putting our book up for sale.

Following along with the second phase of our indie publishing journey, we then explored our options for how best to hold onto our readers from book to book, covering everything from using special links, including excerpts, or offering extras on our website. Over several posts, we also dug deeper into the most effective method for keeping our readers: using a newsletter.

Now we’re stepping back to take a broader look at what choices make the most sense for us. Once we know how we measure success and can identify our goals, we can think about which options will give us the best chance of meeting those goals.

Going along with that, today, we’re talking about how our goals affect the best way to hold onto readers from book to book.

Recap: Our Goals Affect Our Strategy

As we’ve talked about throughout this series, there’s no one right way to be successful as an indie author. Just because our favorite virtual mentor chooses one method to reach success doesn’t mean that method will work for us.

So starting with last month’s post in this series, I’m sharing how I made my decisions—and specifically, how my goals led me to those choices—so others can see how to think through our options. Depending on your goals, you might want to make choices similar to mine—or you might want to use me as a “what not to do” example. *smile* There’s no wrong answer.

For example, last month, I shared several of my goals and talked about how they affected the where, when, and how much of my release plan. One of my stated goals was:
Prioritize Readers over Sales Income: This can be expressed by making decisions that aim for high availability and acquiring new readers.
That same goal also affects my strategies for holding onto my readers from one book to the next. And those are the details I’ll get into below.

As I mentioned last time, while my sales numbers aren’t anything to brag about, I’ve obviously thought a great deal about each of these choices. So simply following along as I share my thought process might help you clarify your own decisions for your indie publishing path. 

What Does It Mean—to Me—to Prioritize Readers?

When we’re talking about reader retention, I decided that while income was nice (I’d certainly never say no to monetary success!), my goal was to focus on building a committed readership over the long term. To me, sharing my stories and characters with readers is just plain fun, and as a bonus, those readers would be more likely to buy future books. Win-win.

The choices I made on everything from promotion to backmatter all focused on how to capture potential and repeat readers. For example, I decided that doing a cover reveal before setting up buy links would be a waste of potential readers’ attention. If I had their attention, I wanted readers to be able to take action by clicking on a buy link right away.

Similarly, I decided to focus first on a series—which often encourages readers to stick around—and to release my first several books in a daisy-chain schedule that I’ll go into in a future post. Basically, I ensured that readers could preorder the next book as soon as they finished the current one.

In other words, from a freebie short story to introduce my series to immediate buy links, I focused on making it easy for readers to try out my work and stick around. At the same time, I tried to avoid being obnoxious about holding on to readers. I’m not interested in making them jump through hoops, nor am I a stalker. *smile*

In general, this has worked for me. Readers do try out my freebie and then work their way through my backlist, buying one book in the series after another. Due to health issues for the past year, I haven’t had a new release in a while, so when I release the next book in the series (soon!), it will be interesting to see how many readers I’ve retained even after the delay.

Reader Retention Techniques

Let’s talk about some of those specific ways I make it easy for readers to stick around…

I include:
  • buy links for my books on the “Also By” page of my frontmatter (currently this page includes links to previous books in the series, but as I update the files, I’m adding all my books)
  • a link to my newsletter in both the front and backmatter
  • information about the next book in the series in the backmatter
  • a buy link to the next book in the series in the backmatter

For all of those, the point is to keep readers around once we have their attention. If they read our work and like it, they should be able to either purchase more of our writing or sign up to get updates.

Retailer-Specific vs. Generic Buy Links

As we discussed in a previous post, we have a choice about the type of buy links we include:
  • Retailer-specific buy links send clicks to the buy pages for our books on each retailer, such as directing readers to our book’s page on Amazon or iBooks/iTunes or GooglePlay, etc.
  • Non-retailer-specific buy links send clicks to a “clearinghouse” page, such as on our website, where we’d provide more information about our book and list the buy links to all our retailers, allowing readers to pick whichever retailer they wanted.

With my goal of always keeping the readers in mind by making things easy for them, I wanted to provide my readers with buy links to their preferred retailer if possible, saving them extra clicks. So I paid my formatter extra to create multiple versions of my ebook files. I have Amazon versions of my books with Amazon-specific buy links and so on for the other big retailers, as well as generic versions that I use for other miscellaneous retailers, which links to my website.

My experience touches on a couple of problems that illustrate why others might make different choices:
1. Offering retailer-specific links requires multiple files (as Apple, for example, doesn’t allow buy links for other retailers in files at their store).

2. Those multiple files can add cost to our releases and updates.

3. Those multiple files can make updates more of a hassle (including updating our Also By page for later books).

4. In addition, if we use a distributor such as Draft2Digital to get our books into retailers, their systems often can’t handle multiple files of the same book title, so we can use only generic versions of our book files with them anyway.

If I were to make this decision today—especially given my use of a distributor for many retailers—I’d consider focusing on only two versions: an Amazon file with those retailer-specific links and a generic version with links to my website for the other retailers. That compromise would give the large chunk of my Amazon readers the benefit of easy, direct buy links, while also saving money in formatting and limiting the amount of hassle I outlined above.

Depending on our use of a distributor, or finances, or ability to format our own books, or where most of our readers purchase our books, we could easily justify different decisions. While retailer-specific links save readers clicks, that’s often not the only consideration.

Long-Term Planning

One of the other goals I shared last time was:   
Think and Plan for the Long Term: This can be expressed by making decisions that ignore short-term gains or would lead to burnout.
One way I think for the long-term is to use redirects for all those links. Redirects allow us to keep the links in our ebook files up to date—even without uploading an update.

Redirects have helped me in several ways. For one of my retailers, I set up preorders through a distributor and switched to a direct upload after the release (at the time, the retailer didn’t play nicely with directly uploaded preorders). By using the redirect link in all my preorder promo and the initial release newsletter, I was able to change the sales page on the retailer without making all those links obsolete.

Along similar lines, I use a smartURL redirect for my Amazon links, which directs clicks of international readers to their local Amazon store. I don’t control those redirects as much as those I run off my site, so they’re not quite as guaranteed for the long term, but I figure it’s worth it for reader convenience—which goes back to my goal of prioritizing readers.

Our Goals Direct Our Plans

I hope you’re getting the idea of how knowing our goals can help us navigate all the decisions we have to make as an indie author. For me, just the few goals I shared last time have kept me on track through my debates of what to do.

At the same time, I want to emphasize that we can change our minds about those decisions down the line. Maybe we discover that our strategy no longer works to get us closer to our goal, so we can try something else that might get us further along.

Or we might have competing goals, and we could prioritize one at first and later try prioritizing the other to see if it works better for us. For example, I currently have an excerpt of the next book only at the end of my freebie short story. As that story is meant to introduce the story world of the series, I wanted to include more information about the first full novel of the series in an effort to keep readers. Yet at the same time, I know the potential cons of using excerpts, so for the time being, I don’t include them at the end of my other novels—a compromise for competing goals.

Or we might have goals where we simply haven’t gotten around to implementing our planned strategies yet. I have all kinds of intentions to include more extras on my website, but my time is limited. It’s okay if we can’t meet our goals right away, but I feel better just knowing that I have plans because of those goals.

As I said last time, we each have different priorities, so you might follow my thought process and decide to do the opposite—and that’s okay. As I’ve tried to point out, there are pros and cons for every situation. There are many ways to be successful as an indie author, so we each have to find the right approach for the goals we set to reach our definition of success.

We don’t want to blindly follow what a successful author did because their choices might not be right for our goals. Hopefully, learning the what and the why behind my choices will help others hone in on their own thoughts as they apply their goals to the options for their success.

Next month, I’ll continue this exploration of my thought process by taking you through my choices about newsletters. Until then, let me know if you have any questions. *smile*

After escaping Area 51 armed only with a ukulele, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in causing her to sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.

Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | GooglePlay | Kobo | Additional Retailers

About Unintended Guardian, the free short story introduction to The Mythos Legacy: 

A shapeshifting gryphon cursed to eternal darkness…

Sunlight shouldn’t be deadly to Griff Cyrus. Determined to break his curse, he follows an oracle’s bizarre instructions to have a magical package shipped to his apartment. Since when do brown trucks deliver mystical cures?

A lonely woman craving the spice of life…

Kala Kaneko’s social life couldn’t be more bland. When a strange parcel arrives at her door by mistake, she seizes the excuse to introduce herself to the intended recipient, her mysterious neighbor.

Fate has a twisted sense of humor…

Griff expects the package to free him from the curse, but opening the box unleashes a mythical creature bent on Kala’s death. Yet if Griff follows his instincts to protect her, he could sacrifice his last chance at freedom.

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  1. I use SmartURLs as well, but I will add a word of warning. They do need to be checked regularly. For some reason, a bunch of my links "died," and when people clicked on them, they were given a warning that the link could be taking them to a dangerous page. I didn't realize this for months, and I know it cost me sales :(

    1. Yeeks! Good to know--thanks for the warning!