To Cliff-Hang or Not
It’s August. Wow. So far this has been a busy summer. We have been cleaning our backyard, a task we’ve put off since we finished the last round of renovations. We’re hopeful we’ll get it cleaned up so we can spend at least one weekend outside lounging. I have this fantasy of sitting outside with a glass of wine and a charcuterie board reading and writing. I’m very hopeful this will happen this summer. I may even open one of the bottles I brought back from France.
The other thing I’m hopeful will happen this summer is the completion of my book The Good Girl Part Four. Man, this book is turning out to be way more than I expected.
Mid way through writing The Good Girl Part Trois, I felt myself rushing to finish. I was so confident I told readers that I would have everything tied up with Part Trois. The joke was on me. It’s amazing how characters have the audacity to tell you when their story is finished. These characters made it very clear they were telling the story and not me.
I figured I’d go with the flow and once I realized there was going to be another book, I told my readers. I even promised it wouldn’t be long before the next book. Again, the characters put me in my place.
I have been working hard to bring this series to an end, but it seems like it’s not done. As much as I don’t want to admit it, there just might be a fifth book. I was faced with the possibility of a fifth book a few weeks ago. So far The Good Girl Part Four is 97k+. I was shocked. I haven’t written a book that big since my first book. And that was the first draft, which I later attacked with an electric saw.
So here’s my dilemma. Keep writing and see where the story ends or end book four with a cliffhanger like the other books in the series. Where I am in the story right now, I feel there’s a good six thousand more words…at least. That would make the book well over 100k words…way too big, I think.
I’ve been kicking around the possibility of a fifth book long before the word count got this high. When I was selecting cover images for the series, I held back one just in case. So finding a cover won’t be an issue. I’ve even been thinking about possibly using “book five” as an entry to a spin off series featuring Gabriella’s brother. If I do that, it would allow me to tell a little more of Gabriella and Phillippe’s story as well.
If I go with this plan, Part Four would definitely end with a cliffhanger. Adding a fifth book to this series would throw a monkey wrench in my publishing plan for the balance of the year. I really wanted to finish Unexpected Love Part Two this fall. I also wanted to write a holiday novella. Neither of which seem possible if I add a fifth book to The Good Girl Series.
The upside to adding a fifth book is I would have about a third of it complete. I did a read through and found a good spot to end Part Four. In doing so, it would give me a strong opening for Part Five. Because of where Part Four would end, I’d have about thirty thousand words to start Part Five.
As a reader, I’m of two minds when it comes to cliffhangers. If I like the characters and the story, a cliffhanger will not stop me from reading the next book. I have bought (at full price) into series without thinking about the price. I can think of three series right now where I purchased deep into the series without giving any thought to the price. Not only did I buy the books, but because I really enjoyed the series, I told others about the books.
I think if your readers are used to your giving them cliffs, it’s not a problem. However, if you’re new to reading an author and are presented a cliffhanger it can be annoying especially if the next book isn’t available. In the case of The Good Girl Series, each of the books ends on a cliff so I might be able to get away with this series plan.
Cliffhangers are a subject riddled with debate in the world of romance fiction. Everyone loves an HEA (Happy Ever After). In my writing world HFN (Happy For Now) and Cliffs are common. No matter how hard I try, cliffs seem to be inevitable and dare I say, my writing style.
What would you do…end book four with a cliffhanger and write a fifth book or make part four a super novel?
Happy July. I hope you had a safe Fourth of July.
Last year before the pandemic I made a bold decision. I wasn’t going to do any book signing events. Let me clarify. I wasn’t going to do any signings out of state and very few local events. For me, it was cost prohibitive. It isn’t my attention to sound pretentious, because I’m far from it.
I do signings so I can meet and gain new readers. I discovered I was doing more selling and not getting sales. More specific, I was trying to convince people to buy my books. I know that’s part of the process, but it was a little disconcerting when you see most of the other authors in the room making sales, earning out their fees and you’re going home in the deficit. In some cases, not even getting new additions to my mailing list.
Of course there have been some incredible book signing exceptions. My favorite book signing event and one I hope to participate in again is the LA Times Book Festival. I love the diversity and atmosphere. I’ve met some amazing authors and the readers are fantastic. I met a reader who asked if I’d come to her book club meeting. I told her if she invited me and I was available, I’d attend. Ironically, she invited me to her book club a month before the shelter in place order hit California. I had a good time at the meeting talking about a variety of subjects including my book. Plus the food was amazing. But here’s the icing on the cake. One of the club members was someone I grew up with. We hadn’t seen each other since we were kids. Some of the ladies from this meeting are part of my reader group and mailing list.
Fast forward the pandemic and things changed. There were no signing events. I felt sympathetic to all the authors who had put out money for events that were cancelled or postponed. I saw the occasional virtual signing, but let’s be real most of those events yielded few if any additional readers. I set a goal to increase my mailing list. That was one of the main reasons I did signings. Now because of the pandemic I was forced to stand by my decision.
I searched for paid promotions and found a service I liked. I did pretty good…up a few hundred new readers. But shortly after the promotion the freebie seekers left.
I have worked hard to grow my list. It’s not huge, but respectable…3700+ and an average open rate. I think I’ve lost about twelve percent pre-pandemic.
I started participating in group promotions and that’s when things changed for my mailing list. I started last year with 2379 readers. Hallelujah. However, prior to the pandemic at the list peak it was approximately 3000+/- readers. In a matter of a couple of years, I’d lost about twenty percent of my readers. I was upset, but found solace in knowing that was normal and there’s a good chance they were freebie seekers.
I set a goal to get my list to 3000 and started looking for promotions. I did a couple of paid free giveaways and newsletter swaps. Those events added over 1300 readers to my list. But like any free promotional event, there’s some loss. So far, I’ve lost less than 200 readers, putting me around the 3700+ readers.
The other reason I am a huge fan of the freebie promotion and newsletter swap, is reviews. I have asked my readers to leave reviews and some will. I’m glad they bought the book, but it would be even better to read a review or even post a star rating. After my first newsletter swap, I noticed a few new reviews on the book in the promotion. But I really saw an uptick in reviews the second time I did a newsletter promotion. I talked about this before. I paid a service for reviews which was good. I got forty plus reviews. However, with the newsletter swaps the book I put up has more than tripled in reviews. I’m on my way to my first 100 reviewed book. Did I say that correct?
Another plus to a freebie giveaway promotion or newsletter swap event, backlist sales. I talked about this strategy before. For me, it’s a matter of selecting the right book for the giveaway. Let’s be real none of us wants to give away a book, but if me giving away a book hooks the reader they’ll keep buying until they’ve completed the series. And if I’ve done my job well, they’ll pick up one of my other series. When you look at it that way, heck yeah, I’ll give away a few books.
Heres some numbers. Last year, I gave away 7416+/- books, but I gained 500+ new readers. So far, this year I’ve given away 14276+/- books and gained 400+ new readers. Plus, I earned reviews on all the books in the promotions and backlist at Amazon and Apple Books. The pièce de résistance of this, during those events my books shot up the ranks…top ten in their categories in the Kindle Store, US and a few foreign markets. I think the thing that surprised me the most was hitting the top 100 Free Romance in the Apple Books store US and Germany.
I’m convinced because of the number of downloads and ranking, it effected the Amazon algorithm in my favor helping me sell my back list. This jump in free downloads has increased traffic at Apple Books as well.
If you ever get invited to a newsletter swap giveaway or a paid freebie promotion, do it. The benefits far out weigh the imagined loss in revenue.
Enjoy the rest of the month.
Happy June. Let’s get right to it. Let’s talk about print.
I finally took the plunge with Ingram Sparks. I have been reading a lot of things on blogs and Facebook groups, plus a few YouTube videos about the service. I have to be honest, the main reason I hadn’t tried Ingram was the set up price. Let me preface this by saying, I dipped my toe in the Ingram water with a personal project and one for my lingerie business. I liked the results, but they were mostly 4-color images. These were my fiction babies and I would be sending them out to strangers who had no problem criticizing their print quality.
The other reason I finally took the plunge with my fiction is because I was a little disappointed in my last proofs from KDP. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not a fan of that black bar wrapped around the cover. I wanted to see what a reader would see. I also didn’t like the new order process. Unless I did something wrong, I didn’t like not being able to order author copies until the book was live. What if I wanted to make changes, what if I didn’t like it. Don’t get me wrong, I love selling books via Amazon, I just don’t like the proof policy.
I had used my Ingram NANO discount for my other projects and when I was ready to do these proofs it had expired. A friend told me to check the Ingram Facebook group and other author groups for a discount code. I went hunting and found a code. Hallelujah.
I never would have said searching for a discount would be easier than reformatting my books. Take that back. It would have been easy if I hadn’t wanted to add fancy chapter titles, but it was so worth it. Even with the fancy titles, it still didn’t take me as long as it had in the past to format a book. I am so grateful for the template I got from Kitty Bucholtz. Now I use it for projects that require a lot more graphics and odd size books. But for fiction, I’m a Vellum girl. By the way, Kitty turned me on to Vellum.
The thing that really had me concerned were the covers. I was prepared to have to do at least two or three proofs. Why so many? My covers have African Americans and it’s a little tricky getting the skin tones just right even with me submitting CMYK files.
I triple checked the interior files and was pleased with the digital proof. Unfortunately, I made a mistake in the set up process with book one. I accidentally selected white paper instead of cream. I also had an additional page in books two and three and one typo. I was so upset with myself. However, I was elated with the finished product. These books are so pretty. Believe the hype. Ingram is amazing. I love my covers. The colors are perfect. I only had to do one cover test.
I compared the Ingram books against my KDP books and there is a definite difference in the quality. My books look very professional. I know I sound like a novice first author, but it’s the truth. I love my proofs. I have a few things to clean up before ordering author proofs and making the books available for sale.
A bonus to working with Ingram is more exposure. I’m pretty sure I knew this, but it didn’t click until recently. Using Ingram Spark means my books are available to small and independent book stores. Which means I’ve just opened myself up to another revenue stream.
A con against Ingram, due to COVID, their phone lines are down. Customer service is via email. They’re pretty good about responding in twenty-four hours. One other con, shipping. I thought since I was ordering three proofs at the same time, they were shipping from the same location. In my mind that would have been one shipping fee and one handling fee. Nope. The books arrived the same day, but from different locations. Con/Pro, I paid the same amount for one beautiful proof as I did for the multiple proofs form KDP.
The next thing I’ll be trying is a hardcover book. It’s safe to say I’m hooked on Ingram Spark for my print books.
See you next month.
This is one of my favorite times to post, because it’s my birthday. So Happy Birthday to me.
The past month while preparing my new release The Good Girl Part Trois, I realized it had been over a year since my last release.
The other thing that shocked me was the size of the book. I knew it was going to be slightly larger than the previous two in the series. Those are novellas. However, I had no idea it was going to finish out at 70,000+ words. I know what you’re saying, didn’t you have the page count on while you were writing? Yes, I did, but it’s not until I formatted it that it clicked. Based on the way I format my print books, I think this book is going to officially be my biggest and longest print book.
I’m just beginning release month so I have very few things to share with you about this release.
Prior to the release, I started listening to the Six Figure Author podcast. I don’t remember how I discovered it, but gleaned a lot of information. I also listened to Tim Grahl’s “Your first 1000 Copies”. I also reviewed some of my Self Publishing Formula lessons.
I did all of this research because I wanted different results with this release. It might sound vain, but I really want that NYT, USA Today, WSJ, Amazon bestseller tag. Don’t judge. I know a bestseller tag doesn’t necessary equal sales. Nor does it validate you. It’s one of those unexplainable author things. But because I write a very different type of romance…faith and sex, hitting the list would mean people get me. In a nutshell, it would validate my writing. It also means readers understand and appreciate the stories I’m telling.
All that research led me to make a decision to do a soft or small launch. This is because I’ll be releasing book four in the series in a few months. An author in one of my Facebook groups suggested I “plug the crap out of book four and the series”. I could do that, but how?
I mentioned last month why I pushed the release date back, but now I needed a plan. How was I going to set up a small launch? All of the launch plans I researched had some of the same components…get
reviews, schedule ads, alert your list and post to social media. Possibly do a giveaway. Also, don’t focus so much on the day, but the month and how to turn that into sales with tails.
I changed my focus, which was hard. I really wanted to go after a list spot. Let’s be real, I’ve never come close to a list position with a paid release. Now free books is something different. The first two books in The Good Girl Series have been doing very well as freebies. So much so, that I am seriously thinking about making book one permafree. Since I made it free, I’ve seen an increase in reviews for both books.
Here’s what I did and will be doing during release month.
I participated in a massive one day free book giveaway. I used my first two books in the series as a lead in for book three. The giveaway yielded several thousand downloads plus preorders for book three. For the first time in my writing career, I had almost 100 preorders. For some this is a small number, but for me it was huge.
I offered a preorder. In the past I sometimes waited until the last minute to put up a preorder. The reason being, I didn’t want to get boxed into a corner with Amazon in case I missed the date. Another first for me, preorders across all platforms.
Facebook. This is where I ran into a little problem. I had what I thought was the perfect image for my Facebook Ads. Unfortunately, they disagreed and shut my ads account down for being too suggestive. I freaked out because I was testing ads. This set me back a couple of days. I immediately started praying and asking my groups for advice. I did as suggested and appealed to Facebook and the following day, my account was reopened. This pushed my plan back, because of the necessary testing period. Looking back now, I consider this to be a good thing, because it means my ads will be set for book four’s release.
AMS and BookBub. I set up ads for all three books on these platforms. Books one and two are doing well. Unfortunately, book three isn’t. I’m not going to freak out. Once I get it right, it will be set for book four’s release.
Newsletter ads. I took advantage of The Fussy Librarian’s special and booked two free slots for the first two books. I don’t have any proof, but I’m pretty sure it led to some preorders on the days the ads posted. I also, booked an ad for later in the month with another site.
Promotions. The promotion I mentioned involved free books which meant I had to make the books free in advance. Doing this pushed me in the top ten free in several categories in a few countries. Once the promotion ended, I left the books as free to drive sales to book three. I’m doing another free promo in a few days and I elected to use book one in the series. I’m hoping this will drive more sales to book three.
Social Media posts. I posted to all of my pages with some hits. What surprised me the most was people commenting on the ads thanking me for the free books. That’s nice. To my knowledge, there’s no way for me to know if those will turn into sales.
Newsletter swaps. I did one with a friend and want to do more. I think it’s important as authors that we help each other. Sharing or exposing my readers to other authors is something I want to incorporate in my newsletter on a regular basis.
Reviews. This is where I dropped the ball. I was still tweaking the book up to a few days before release so I didn’t do ARCs. I know I should have gotten reviews which was part of my plan. I have no reason for why I didn’t do it. I did seek out a review service and they said I would need to offer the other two books as well. If that’s the case, I’ll wait until book four to use the review service. Good review news, as of this morning I had two five star ratings.
How do I feel about the small or slow launch? It’s too soon to say. I did review my past release month results and so far, this is working. I will admit my best release month so far, was with Unexpected Love. I followed a different plan which called for a 99c release price. So far, I sold more books with that release, but money wise, this release has made more.
So what have I learned with this release so far? Making the bestseller list is a goal and can be achieved anytime in a book’s life. Rank is good, but not the only measure to a book’s success. You can’t use the same launch plan for every book. Steady sales pay the bills. Write what you want to read, because there are a few readers out there with similar reading tastes.
I have a confession. I am a writer who hasn’t released a new book in over a year. There, I said it. I can’t believe my last new release was late 2019.
I will not lament about the ups and downs of 2020, nor will I use the pandemic as an excuse for not publishing a book. Instead of publishing a new book, I concentrated on completing a book, which I did. Truthfully, my plan was to release The Good Girl Part Trois last year, but that didn’t happen.
Instead, I reread it and realized it needed a little work. A little work quickly turned into a lot of work. I’m not complaining because I’m very pleased with the story. However, I’m a lot disappointed I let so much time lapse between releases. The extra time gave me some perspective and an opportunity to figure out a launch plan.
I listened to several podcasts and You Tube videos searching for a new release launch plan. In the end, I decided to try something completely different slow and escalating. I would love to land in a bestseller spot at the end of release day or week. To accomplish such a feat would take a lot more planning than I have. My plan takes patience. I look at it as setting my book up for long term sales.
First step in my plan, push the release date back. This was a difficult decision to make. After all, in Jann’s post as well as mine, I said my release date was February 23rd. Why the change? A couple of things…lack of time and a couple of amazing promotion opportunities. As it got closer to the middle of February, I felt rushed. Although I was going with a slow crawl release plan, I still felt rushed. The other reason was promotion slots.
I forgot it was difficult to book premium newsletter slots without reviews. Since I hadn’t finished tweaking the edits, I didn’t have time to secure additional beta readers. I was in trouble. Thank God, I had the opportunity to participate in a couple of free giveaways.
I was already considering making book one free as a lead in for the series. When these opportunities came up, jumped on them and made the first two books free. This got me to thinking, instead of trying to buy a lot of newsletter ads for the new release, I’m buying ads for the first two books. I’ll stagger them for maximum the exposure. Bottom line, I’m going to promote these free books like crazy for a month. Hopefully, this will lead to a lot of pre-orders for book three. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Second, reformat books one and two. I knew I had to upload the new covers which would only literally take a few minutes with Vellum. All I needed was the original file. Sounds easy, except for one minor detail, I couldn’t find the file. It wasn’t until I had spent a couple of hours searching my computer, that I remembered I didn’t format them.
Once I found the original files, I loaded them and in a matter of minutes the books were formatted. However, before calling it a day, I reread the books and made a few tweaks. That’s a joke. I re-wrote a few chapters. In the end, I added a few hundred words and modified some of the character behavior to match up with books three and four. This little task took about a week to complete. I didn’t stop there. I also decided to update the style of the book which led to another week of work.
I thought I was done with the first two books, until I realized I needed to update the print versions as well. If this was a new release, this step could have waited, but these were books that were already out. I took them down on Amazon, but I think they might still be up. This may sound bad, but I hope no one buys a print version until I get the new version uploaded.
Amazing how something which seemed simple turned into a major project. I wasn’t looking forward to reformatting the print books. Again, I was feeling pressured. I use Vellum and this turned out to the the perfect time to try their print version. In a matter of seconds, I had a print version of my book. It was nice, but I tweaked it with some special chapter headers. I like the file, now all I need to do is order the proof. I’m going to try to release the print version for book three on release day, but it might have to wait a couple of weeks. I need a break.
What does the rest of my release plan look like? A lot of ads. I already have a Facebook ad running, but I’m going to increase the spend and add another one. Funny thing, I mentioned two of the promotion events I’m doing are for free books. I set the books as free on all the platforms except Amazon. I was waiting a few days. However, someone must have requested a price match for The Good Girl Part One, because Amazon set it as free. As of this posting, it was #11 in Black & African American Romance and #14 Two-Hour Romance Short Reads. Seems like my plan is working.
Now all I need to do is finish the edits, format and continue with my launch plan. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
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