For about a year and a half I had a good run with basic AMS Manual Keywords ads — those ad farms of thousands of keywords. Then, in the fall of 2018, something significant changed at Amazon, besides just the AMS reporting system upgrade, and my ads which had been running at a smallish but steady profit basically stopped working well.
At the time, I didn't concentrate on the issue, content to spend several months working on getting my feet wet with Facebook Advertising while my AMS ads ran feebly in the background (at least I wasn't losing money on them). Let's just say that two separate attempts at Facebook product ads ended unsuccessfully and I shut them down to rethink my approach.
So, there I was in June with no effective advertising running and, let me tell you, that is no place you want to be. In the absence of any recent new release, my organic sales on my primary (1st-in-series) books are, at best, less than 1 per day.
But there's an upside to poor organic sales numbers — they make a great background to test against for advertising!
Whether you write to an outline, or churn it out by the seat of your pants, all of us are likely to come to a moment in the creation of a story where we are struck by a realization: if character X only did this instead of that, it would be so much better for the story.
How much trouble this causes you chiefly depends on how far along you are in the story at that point. It may cause you to revise your possibly painfully detailed outline, or it may force you to reconsider exactly where the story should be headed, if you're not confined to an outline, thus revising some of the highlights to come.
As a pantser instead of a plotter, I find this mostly happens to me when I brainstorm “what next?” for the moving boundary of the current words, but it can strike for older character actions, too, further back in the body of work.
I don't know about you, but my typical reaction when this happens is first elation (whoopee — an improvement!) followed by depression (look at all the changes I'm going to have to make to what's already been done and what is to come). Generally the former outweighs the latter, but I do have to get past the moment of deep despair at the work involved.
It could be worse. We could be George R. R. Martin.
And when I die,
and when I'm dead, dead and gone,
There'll be one child born in this
world to carry on,
There'll be one child born
to carry on.
Let's talk about estate planning for independent-author/publishers. Not a fun topic, I know, but there's no point shoving our heads into the sand in the enthusiasm of the young indie-author revolution and pretending that we're going to live forever.
Business succession planning
All businesses face succession issues — who will take over for key managers and employees. In larger firms, this is just a normal plan, part of the annual review of the business's readiness to handle change.
Family businesses have additional challenges — what will be the role of the family members in the business once the founder dies or retires? Will they run the business, or will they just own it and let others run it? Will they sell it, and how?
A business is an engine for making money. Without the right people in place to make it work, or someone to sell it to, it falls apart.
We indie-authors/publishers are typically one-man businesses. We don't think in terms of key employees, since we haven't got any, but we are ourselves the key employee, and we need to make plans for what will happen when we are no longer able to run our business. And if we've managed to grow large enough to have actual employees, we have the same issues as any other small business. We need a business succession plan.
You've written a book or several, you've presented the world with a few well-written, well-formatted, well-edited stories, and you're settling into a world of writing, pleased that you've come some distance up the path from your initial indie panic at all the different skills you need (not least your writing skills).
Your pencils are sharpened and you're ready to really bear down on the writing process, now that you have a handle on it and know how your books will actually make it into the book retail trade, and who you can call upon for extra help when you need it for covers, etc.
STOP. WAKE UP.
What is it we find backward about traditional authors and author-wannabes? The notion that all they need to do is write, and someone else will take care of all that stinky stuff like marketing and all the business issues.
Is that what you want to do?
Don't forget — you're not an indie AUTHOR, you're an indie AUTHOR-PUBLISHER. You don't get to just disappear into your writing and hope that everything else can just follow the initial methods you've chopped out of your research for how-to-publish, as though that were something static and unchanging.
All manufacturers and merchants assign tracking numbers to their products. The generic term for this is SKU (Stock Keeping Unit). Each firm has its own SKU codes and conventions, private to the firm or perhaps shared among a few partners. For the book trade, the ISBN is their SKU and, unlike almost every other industry, that SKU is used throughout the trade, from the manufacture of the physical edition all the way through to the retailers.
The ISBN is a set of numbers that uniquely identify an individual book product (title, format, size, edition, etc.). The old ISBN was 10 digits long, but that was replaced by a 13-digit standard in 2007. Technically, the 10-digit version is called “ISBN” and the 13-digit version is called “EAN”, but colloquially they're both referred to as “ISBN”. The name for the new standard is “EAN-13”.
Barcodes are for machines to read, using scanners. They were introduced in the 1970s and are now ubiquitous. When you look at the bars, each cluster of lines (bars) above a number represents that digit to a scanner, The contrast and exact widths matter.
Different international standards for different uses have different barcode layouts. (Look at your groceries or other purchases for examples.) In the book trade, only the layout for EAN-13 is relevant.
The big cluster on the left is for the SKU (the ISBN, for the EAN-13 standard), and the small cluster on the right is for PRICE, mostly. The value “90000” for the price means “no price”, that is, the retailer's own system will be used to lookup the price when the barcode is scanned in at the register. This allows a retailer to set whatever price they want, sometimes by slapping their own barcode sticker over the book's barcode, or sometimes by just reading the price printed elsewhere on the cover, or a discount applied to it. Most indies use “90000” as the price, for the convenience of the retailers.
Every human-readable bit of text in a barcode is just for humans — the scanners pay no attention to those letters/numbers.
How do you get a barcode?
Many companies want to sell you a barcode, and some try to get as much as $25 for the service. Don't fall for this, as an indie author — it is never necessary to pay for a barcode.
To begin with, both Amazon KDP and Ingram will supply a barcode for your book for free. When you use their templates to design your cover, you will see a space marked out for the barcode, and you can shift that to wherever you want it to appear (along the bottom of the back cover).
But what if you want to print your book via some other POD supplier, or do a short-run print locally? You will need to give them a barcode to use. There is nothing proprietary about the barcode that Amazon or Ingram have added to the back of your book, but just copying that won't deliver a very clean image. Instead, you want to use a fresh image generated by a barcode service, and there are many free ones out there.
One of the things I like about it is that they look up my ISBN and accurately decompose it (I have a range of 1000).
I also like that the height and layout is identical to that used by Amazon. The only thing Amazon does differently is to add the text “ISBN 9781629620633” above the left block, and we can do that, too, if we want to. Remember, that's only for humans to read, not machines.
I can output the barcode into any number of formats and give it to any other printer to use, or stick it on the back of my cover image myself.
There's no reason to ever buy these from someone else, not for our simple needs.
Last year I spent many months upping my game with regard to building technical engines around marketing. I tackled a lot of new tools and systems, but I ran out of steam before I got to Facebook Ads, the most complex system of them all, and one that's critical to international and target marketing.
Well, I'm paying for it now. I got revved up, re-listened to my Mark Dawson “Ads for Authors” course for Facebook (highly recommended) and started putting mailing list (subscriber) ads together.
I have a new series coming out circa year-end and a German translation in the works, and I've been unserious about my mailing list (200 people), so I'm way overdue for winding this all up again and getting back on the newsletter horse.
I'm not going to complain about the general complexity of the Facebook ads system (and it's equally impressive power as a platform for ad management). No, today I'm going to rant about the integration of technical systems that's required to actually make all of this happen.
Last year, before I wound down, I made some tool choices which I didn't put into use, but I did the research well and now I'm, as it were, unwrapping the packages and digging into them. I feel fortunate, a year later, that I'm still happy with my choices.
But look at what it takes to run a simple mailing list ad for Facebook, from the perspective of all the pieces required, esp. if you're as obsessive as I am about tracking as much data as possible.