Check Your Scribd Sales for a Pleasant Surprise

Scribd author

You might want to check your Scribd sales.

If you read that sentence twice and don’t think it applies to you, you could be wrong. I just discovered lately my books have been selling more with Scribd than with Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Google Play. My Scribd sales are also to customers in more nations than those other 3 combined! That includes places like Cyprus, Aruba, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Netherlands, Singapore.

I had no idea. And I admit my sales are nowhere near what some of the super successful indies have done, but isn’t it nice to discover sales at vendors you never thought would really have sales in amounts you’d consider substantial. Let me explain.

Since 2007 Scribd has more or less flown under the radar as a major player in the ebook industry. It was created as a means for publishing documents online for anyone to read. That included business papers, theses, poetry, comics, short stories, novellas and even full length books. These were primarily free documents, and Scribd was called the YouTube of documents since users could browse through a bounty of free items to read. That platform eventually grew to 60 million documents and 90 million users.

Authors could also use Scribd to sell ebooks. Their self-publishing platform has existed for ebooks with price tags almost as long as the DIY platforms at Amazon and Smashwords. My free and paid “documents” have been at Scribd since 2010. Early on, my freebies got read by the thousands but sales of priced books were essentially non-existent. During those years Scribd appeared to be a location where users only wanted free books. I considered it an optional place to sell, more value for the exposure than the payoff.

Then in Oct. 2013, Scribd switched to an unlimited subscription service for ebooks giving users full access to their library for a monthly fee of $8.99. The library contained not just indies but plenty of big publishers. Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Macmillan are some of the biggies offering ebooks at Scribd. The method of uploading priced content also changed, so DIY types used Smashwords and other distributors to upload their content to Scribd.

By 2014, I had almost stopped thinking about Scribd. Were they on the about to be gobbled-up list? I wasn’t the only one with concerns. Many romance writers had titles pulled from Scribd since the subscription based model proved challenging when too many voracious readers devoured more each month than Scribd could afford to pay. Authors who had books removed felt like the rug had been pulled out. Compound that with a lack of corporate communication to authors except for DMCA copyright infringement notices that sometimes were and sometimes were not accurate… let’s just say the water felt turbulent.

The crux of it is experimenting with newer business models for digital content, similar to what the music and film/TV industries have been dealing with. Vendors like Amazon and Scribd have been determining how to pay content providers (authors) in a way that’s profitable and sustainable while being good for the reader. So many questions enter the mix. How much of a book defines a full read? Should authors be paid a flat rate per page read, or a percentage of the list price, or a pool of the monthly subscriptions? While you and I have been busy writing books, vendors have been experimenting with pricing and payouts for subscriptions.

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited gives full access to ebooks and audio books enrolled in the program for $9.99/month. KU is well established at Amazon, but it has some issues including lower payments per read and the whole exclusivity clause to Amazon that turns off so many authors and publishers. Oyster, another ebook retailer that tried subscription based selling, was acquired by Google and essentially closed doors for business. Google Play hasn’t shown intent on making its digital content subscription based, but I’ve learned many times not to make predictions with Google.

Scribd still allows DIY types to upload free content, but it’s necessary to use an aggregate source for paid content. Many authors use Smashwords for this. On the subject of the business model, Mark Coker of Smashwords said, “Oyster faced the same headwinds Scribd is facing – namely that romance and possibly other genres were too popular with their subscribers and therefore too expensive to make profitable under the current model.  The solution is you either need to pay authors less, charge readers more (or limit their reading), or something in between.”

Scribd made this announcement in 2015:

As you know, in starting Scribd, we bore the majority of the risk when establishing a business model that paid publishers the same amount as the retail model for each book read by a Scribd subscriber. Now, nearly two years later, the Scribd catalog has grown from 100,000 titles to more than one million. We’re proud of the service we’ve built and we’re constantly working to expand the selection across genres to give our readers the broadest possible list of books for $8.99 per month.

We’ve grown to a point where we are beginning to adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to expand the overall size and variety of our service. We will be making some adjustments, particularly to romance, and as a result some previously available titles may no longer be available.

We look forward to continuing to grow subscribers, increase overall reading, and increase total publisher payouts in a way that works for everyone over the long term. We of course want to keep as many of your authors and titles on Scribd as we can, so we’d love to discuss our plans and how we can best work with you going forward.

Today Scribd is being called the Netflix of ebooks. Sounds like business is working. Easy for authors like me to assume upward trends when sales start trickling in where before there were none. Last month my titles had sales from the US as expected, but also Spain, Canada, India, Japan and even 2 sales from Mexico. At Scribd? Have a look at the image below from my Smashwords dashboard and let me mention a few things.

Scribd ebook sales

  1. Sales are happening in Mexico. I mentioned other nations like Aruba, the Netherlands and Cyprus. It seems Scribd is becoming popular with international readers even at countries where Amazon gives no data or has very few sales if any for the average indie author. Why are international readers important? English is the most common 2nd language on the planet with more new readers each year. A successful author is likely to see international sales continue to grow as a percentage of their income. Just a few years ago much of this wasn’t possible. Let’s hope Scribd continues to enlist international subscribers.
  2. Notice the middle example highlighted, where only 11% of the book was read beyond the sample 10%. It paid 30 cents. Sure, the sale fell short of full price but still earned some money on what likely would have been nothing from the reader just sampling. Personally, I like that. Others may disagree, but I’d prefer a sure-thing partial payment to the likelihood of none. The subscription model also allows a reader who is more of a browser to get further into a book than just the first 10%, which can lead to good things.
  3. In the bottom example 36% of the book was read, and a full payment of 60% of the sales price was paid. It only takes 20% of a book to be read (beyond the 10% sample) to receive full payment. Less than one-third of the entire book is enough to be paid for a full read. That’s good for authors in my opinion.

What does all this mean? Subscription is probably the future and it’s terrific. Or maybe it’s totally ruining the industry. It’s debatable. People are going to figure out ways to read, write, sell and design a system that supports it. As for Scribd, it’s thrilling to see sales where before there were none, and it could be a business model more retailers adopt. I’m hoping it continues to grow.

How are your books doing at Scribd? Are they selling better these days, or do you still have romance/erotica titles that haven’t made it back on their shelves?

Leave any thoughts or questions in the comments section.

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The 12 Steps to Self-Publishing

Liz Lazarus shares her recipe for self-publishing success in this guest post. Enjoy!

My mother used to say, “Good thing you got your father’s math skills and my English skills, and not the other way around.”

My mother was an art major and my father owned a small business. Mom and I would make up stories together with fascinating characters and my dad taught me the old-school way of manually counting change, rather than relying on the cash register. It was no surprise that my SAT scores for English and Math were identical!

As a writer, I’ve relied heavily on my creative, intuitive, artistic right brain – it takes that to write fiction. But, boy did I need my engineering, process-driven, logical left brain to navigate from finished manuscript to commercialization. Since I’ve now traveled that road, thought I’d share my 12 Steps to Self-Publishing with “Women Writers, Women’s Books” with a few tips I learned along the way.

12 Steps to Self Publishing - Mitchel Cove Publishing LLC

1 – If you plan to spend or make a significant amount of money on writing and if you plan on writing multiple books, it makes sense to set up a business. Though it may seem daunting at first, there are only a few steps.  First, you can set up an LLC by talking to your accountant or going online – the cost is usually around $100. Next, you’ll need a FEIN or Federal ID number and a State Sales Tax certificate if you plan to sell books directly. And lastly, once you have your LLC, you can set up a bank account under its name.  By doing this first step, all the expenses and income of your business can be kept separate for other activities. If this step is just too complicated, you can always stick with your own social security number for tax purposes, when reporting expenses and book sales.

2 – Creating a Marketing and PR plan involves deciding when you plan to launch your book (launch date), how much you plan to spend (budget), knowing your ROI (return on investment) and the number of books you need to sell to break-even. For the marketing side, I’d encourage you think about if you’d like to approach traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio & TV). To do this, you need a strong news angle or a hook into the news cycle as mainstream media is highly competitive; for example, “Free of Malice” is based on factual events and promotes the right for a woman’s educated self-defense). Another route is using social media which I highly recommend. Setting up accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest is fairly quick – and think about your target audience and which channels they frequent.

3 – The editing phase is one of the most critical and it’s important to know that there are several kinds of editing. Start with a BETA reader – this is a trusted friend or colleague who can act as a sounding board and point out what he/she likes and dislikes about your manuscript. Next, a Critique Partner, someone who isn’t afraid to give you harsh feedback, a fellow professional who is invested in your success but can tell you where your baby is ugly. Then, a Content Editor will review the storyline, readability, character development and provide feedback where changes need to be made. Only after a thorough round (or more!) with the Content Editor should you move to the Copy/Line Editor who serves as a professional proof-reader, fact-checker, authority on grammar, punctuation, spelling, word usage, etc. The Copy/Line editor can be two different roles or combined into one. Is this editing process costly? Yes, but I feel it is the best place to spend your money. Early reviews of my book, “Free of Malice” had comments like, “I can’t believe this is a debut author.” I can say that lovely praise was due to 3 rounds of editing!

4 – When it comes time to design your cover, I suggest going to a professional designer. Give him/her any ideas you have plus any key points about the plot to consider. Also, think about your audience. Go to a bookstore and see what other covers in your genre look like, take pictures, analyze what they have in common and what stands out. An interesting tidbit I picked up during my field trip to a bookstore was that fiction books have “A Novel” on the front, so I added that text to my cover. Another rarely noticed tip for indie authors is to put your publisher’s name on the spine.

5 – Your photo is your identity so have your headshot done early in the process so it is consistent across your social media, back cover, media kit, etc. Like the cover homework, look at other authors in your genre and see what their photos have in common. You might notice that a lot of author photos are taken at an angle and the person is leaning forward, in an inviting pose. When you have your photo session, take a few options for outfits and take several shots so you can select from a range of options.

6 – What is an ISBN? It stands for International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and is a unique numeric commercial book identifier. “An ISBN uniquely identifies your book, and facilitates the sale of your book to bookstores (physical and digital) and libraries. Using ISBNs allows you to better manage your book’s metadata, and ensure maximum discoverability of your book. Your book is listed in Bowker Books in Print®, which is used by all the major search engines and most bookstores and libraries.” You can purchase them via Bowker at https://www.myidentifiers.com/Get-your-isbn-now. I suggest buying a 10-pack as you’ll need a different number for your paperback, e-book on Nook, e-book on Kindle and hard cover. If you don’t own your ISBN, you don’t own your distribution, so this is another expense worth making.

7 – Now that you have your cover design and your photo, you have a few of the parts for your jacket. There are 2 versions of your book that you can create – your ARE, or Advance Reader Edition (sometimes referred to as ARC – Advance Reader Copy) and your final book. The cover for your ARE should indicate it is an Advance Edition and the back should have the book synopsis, your bio/photo, your marketing plan and a “Not For Sale” blurb. Look at any ARE and they all basically have the same information. When you are ready for your final copy, remove the marketing plan and “Not For Sale” and replace with endorsements. Before you have the interior of the book laid out, be sure you are 100% ready. Typos and other fixes are not difficult in a Word file—they get much harder in an InDesign or other graphics file. On the interior, be sure you leave space for your Copyright page, your dedication, your text, your acknowledgements, etc. Also, most books start with the first chapter on the right-hand side.

8 – Websites can be expensive so it’s your decision if you want one and how much to pay. I’ve been told by several people that it is your “identity” so worth having one. Templates can make the creation easier or you can go to a professional designer. Be sure to ask about the upfront cost of creating the page and ongoing costs for hosting it or adding email addresses.  The basics for a Website are: Home page, Author page, About the Book, Media Kit, Blog should you choose to do one, Upcoming Events and Contact Info.

9 – Once you have the book layout completed, it’s time to print your AREs. I’ve found CreateSpace to be a great option as you can print on demand and they don’t charge for changes. It typically takes 2-3 days for the PDF upload of the book and cover to be approved, about 1-2 weeks for proofs to ship (you can order up to 5 proof copies) and 2-3 weeks for bulk shipments. No matter how much you have proofed your book, there will be typos and edits so avoid printing in bulk at this point. The AREs can be used to send advance copies to media, for awards submissions, for additional proofing, etc.

10 – With the ARE available (either PDF or hard copy), you can submit for professional reviews: Foreward, Kirkus and Midwest Book Review are a few and range in price from $50 to $500 so decide what your budget will allow. Awards are also an option, like IPPY run by the Jenkins Group. A little research or talking to fellow authors will give you genre specific ones that are worth the cost/effort to apply. If you don’t want to mail out a ton of books for reader reviews, NetGalley is an option. For about $300, members of NetGalley can download (at no cost to them) an electronic copy of your book to read and review. The copy expires at the date you choose and cannot be forwarded which protects from pirating and unauthorized distribution.

11 – At this point, you have a paperback book via CreateSpace but will need an e-book as well. There are a myriad of companies that will convert your book to e-book, some for free and some for a fee. I used BookNook, but it’s worth some research to find the best price. Note that Kindle books need a mobi format and Nook and others need ePUB so there are 2 conversions that will be required. Does this remind you of the old Beta / VHS wars? There are also some one-stop shopping options like Smashwords and Draft2Digital.

12 – Finally, it’s time to offer your book for sale. CreateSpace will allow you to sell on Amazon and Ingram Spark does the same for Barnes & Noble. For pricing, I’d suggest checking out similar books and price accordingly. You can always change the price so don’t get too stuck on this step, and know that your royalty will likely be less than 1/3 of the sales price so hope for a real blockbuster to make that Return on Investment equation work.

Liz LazarusAs noted in my bio, I’m a first time author so please take my advice with a grain of salt. Hopefully my 12 steps will provide some assistance as you navigate the process of publishing and not drive you to need a different kind of 12 Step Program!

About the Author

Liz Lazarus is the author of Free of Malice, a psychological, legal thriller loosely based on her personal experience and a series of ‘what if’ questions that trace the after effects of a foiled attack; a woman healing, and grappling with the legal system to acknowledge her right to self-defense.

She was born in Valdosta, Georgia, graduated from Georgia Tech with an engineering degree and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern with an MBA in their executive master’s program. She spent most of her career at General Electric’s Healthcare division and is currently a Managing Director at a strategic planning consulting firm in addition to being an author.

Free of Malice is her debut novel, set in Atlanta, and supplemented by extensive research with both therapists and criminal defense attorneys. She currently lives in Brookhaven, GA, with her fiancé, Richard, and their very spoiled orange tabby, Buckwheat.

Please leave any comments or questions in the comments section.

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Indie Author Earnings Continue Upward Trend

indie author trendThe latest reports from AuthorEarnings (Hugh Howey, Data Guy et al) are very encouraging for indie authors. Just look at the graph! Indie published market share (blue line) continues to take away from that of Big 5 publishers (purple line) with apparent increasing momentum. Here are the conclusions, and you can scroll below to read the full article:

Conclusions

In 2016, the reach of indie self-published authors isn’t limited by any means to ebooks. Every indie author should seriously consider releasing print-on-demand paperback editions and — as soon as quality narration can be afforded or arranged — audiobook editions of their books. It’s also critical to note that 2015 marked a tipping point of sorts for online retail, with some reports claiming that fully half of online sales gains took place on Amazon.com alone. Sales on Amazon.com overtook Walmart in-store sales for the first time. More and more, online is where shoppers are going. And independent authors have equal access to this storefront. In fact, with lower prices, greater creative freedoms, the ability to publish to market much faster, and the ability to appeal to a wider variety of readers, indie authors have huge advantages online. As the market moves away from physical bookstores — which must necessarily limit their selection, and so limit the free expression of ideas as a consequence — we expect to see a greater flourishing of independent authors finding their voices and taking home an ever-growing slice of consumer dollars.

read the entire article here

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Linkredirector Smart Links to Amazon, Apple and Google

LinkredirectorLinkredirector is not the only free smart link service, but it’s a good one. Try it by entering your book’s URL at one of the major retailers.

It will detect your title in all nations for Amazon, Apple iBooks and Google Books. The universal link it creates redirects customers to the most suitable store based on location and their device, like iPhone users to iTunes and customers with the Kindle app installed to Amazon. It even checks if the Kindle app is installed on Android devices, so it knows whether to show the book in the Kindle app or to take a buyer to Google Play.

You can actually use Linkredirector for any store or website you want; just go into the destinations editor and use the URLs you want. And if you want a QR Code for your book, Linkredirector can handle that too.

Plenty of other similar services exist. BookLinker is popular but only works with Amazon. Geniuslinks works with Amazon and iTunes but not Google. SmartURL works with whatever retailer you set it up for, but isn’t designed to determine a user’s preferred retailer.

Below is what your link will look like. Test it to see if it sends you where you like to shop.

Linkredirector 2

Linkredirector earns money by adding their affiliate tag to the URL for your ebook. This doesn’t take money from you unless you use affiliate tags for a substantial number of sales. In my experience, a few dollars lost from affiliate tags would be worth having more major retailers covered by the smart link. That’s just one opinion.

For more info visit https://linkredirector.com.

Sell More Books at Amazon and Global Retailers

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2015 Smashwords Survey Key Findings

smashwordsMark Coker has released findings that may help you sell more books. Let’s jump straight to the highlights, but you can also read the entire Smashwords blog post. These are Mark’s words below.

Key Findings of the 2015 Smashwords Survey

1.  Wow, preorders.  For the first time we analyzed the percentage of books born as preorders (as opposed to simply uploaded the day of release) and compared the sales of preorder-birthed books to non-preorder books.  During the survey period, less than 10 percent of books were born as a preorder, even though this feature has been available to Smashwords authors since mid 2013.  Yet despite the low usage, two thirds of our top 200 bestselling titles were born as preorders.   That’s right folks.  That small tiny minority of preorder books accounted for the majority of our bestsellers.   On a median basis, ebook born as preorders earned the authors 3 1/2 times more income than books that were simply uploaded the day of release.  The average was even more stunning.  The survey contains a full page of caveats about these numbers and why I think they’re exaggerated so I hope you take the time to read that.  The bottom line, however, is that about 90% of indies are failing to take full advantage of this amazing tool.  If you don’t have your next 12 months of planned releases listed as preorders today, then you’re leaving readers and money on the table.  I’ll go a step further:  Preorders are such an essential best practice that it’s simply dumb not to take the time to learn how to use them to your advantage.  I make it easy to learn because I’ve written multiple article on preorder best practices.  Learn more about our new Assetless Preorder feature here,  access the Smashwords preorder page here (includes links to my blog posts on preorders) or check out my NEW article I wrote last month on ebook preorder strategy for Publishers Weekly.

2.  Series with free series starters earn more money.  For the first time we analyzed the difference in sales between series with free series and starters and series without free series starters.  We looked at our 200 bestselling series with a free series starter and our 200 bestselling series without free series starters.  Then we added up the numbers and compared them.  First we looked at the average.  The free series starter group earned 66% more.  Impressive.  And then, assuming that maybe a few big sellers were skewing the average, we looked at the median.  The median is the midpoint if you arrange the sales results from highest to lowest.  Often in big data sets, the median can give you a more typical result.  The result?  Exactly the same!  The median title in the free series starter group earned 66% more.  This is the strongest quantifiable evidence that I’m aware of to date that proves what many of our authors already know by personal experience over the last several years.  If you write series and you haven’t yet experimented with perma-free series starters, then give it a try!

Best Tips to Publish with Smashwords

3.  Free still works to build readership.  For each survey year, we’ve looked at how free ebook downloads compare to paid downloads using iBooks as our apples to apples comparison each year (bad pun, sorry!).  In the 2014 Survey, we found that free books got 39 times more downloads than priced books, down dramatically from 91x in 2013 and 100X in 2012.   I expected the power of free to fall further this year, given that this secret – which I’ve been advocating for nearly eight years – helps authors earn more money.  The result for 2014?  41x.  The effectiveness of free increased despite the glut of free books.  I think a couple things are going on here.  First, I think more and more readers are using free as their primary discovery path to try new, unknown-to-them authors, especially with free series starters.  Second, iBooks, more than any other retailer, provides amazing merchandising support for free books and free series starters.  Third, it’s a multi-step path to build a loyal readership of superfans who will buy everything you write.  Superfans are your evangelists.  They trust everything you write to be super-awesome.  You earn them one by one, word by word.  If you reverse engineer the trust building process, it starts with discovery which leads to a reader trying you for the first time, and then your book must earn the reader’s continued attention from word one forward.  A free book allows a reader to try you risk free, and if you’re offering them a great full length book, that’s a lot of hours the reader has spent with your words in which you’re earning and deserving their continued readership.  Free works!

4.  Longer books sell better than shorter books.  This finding is consistent with each of the prior year’s surveys, though as I mention in the presentation, this year’s finding comes with a lot more caveats.  In a nutshell, I suspect the rise of multi-author box sets, often at deep discount prices, is probably throwing off the data this year, and as I discuss in the presentation, some of the dynamics will cause it to understate impact of longer books and some will cause it to overstate it.

5.  $3.99 remains the sweet spot for full length indie fiction.  For the third year in a row, authors sold more units and earned more overall income with books priced at $3.99.  This is significant because it counters the concern of some authors that the glut of high-quality will lead to ever lower prices.  For great authors, readers are still willing to pay.  The pricing, earnings and unit sales data we share has been remarkably consistent now for four years, expecially when you consider how this translates to a competitive advantage for indie ebook authors compared to traditionally published ebook authors.  Indies still have the ability to price lower, net more per sale and reach more readers thanks to the lower pricing.  But traditional publishers are now making greater use of lower pricing, so this advantage will diminish in the years to come (more on that in my 2016 predictions to come).

6.  99 cents is still good for building readership, but not as good as $2.99 and $3.99.  And from an earnings perspective, 99 cents underperforms the average of all other prices by about 65%.

7.  Avoid $1.99.   For the fourth year in a row, $1.99 was a black hole in terms of overall earnings.  On a unit sales basis, although $1.99 books outperformed all books priced $5.00 and above, it dramatically underperformed on overall earnings, earning 73% less than the average of all other price points.  If you write full length fiction and you have books priced at $1.99, trying increasing the price to $2.99 or $3.99, and if your book performs as the aggregate does, you’ll probably sell more units.  Or if it’s short and $2.99+ is too high, try 99 cents instead because the data suggests you’ll earn more and reach about 65% more readers.  I’m not entirely certain why this is the case.  It’s not because our retailers pay lower levels for sub-$2.99 books.  They don’t.  Our retailers pay the same for $1.99 as they do for $9.99.  There’s something about the price point that readers don’t like.  Who knows, maybe readers see 99 cents as an enticing promotional price, $2.99 and up as a fair price, and $1.99 as the price for lesser quality books that couldn’t make the $2.99 grade.  Your theory is as good as mine.

8.  Bestselling authors and social media.  Bestselling authors are more likely to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and more likely to have a blog.  Not a huge surprise, though it’s worth noting there are plenty of successful authors who have minimal presence on social media.

9.  Top 10 Fiction categories during the one year period:  1.  Romance.  2.  Erotica.  3.  YA and teen fiction.  4.  Fantasy.  5.  Mystery & detective.   6.  Gay and lesbian fiction.  7.  Science fiction.  8.  Historical.  9.  Thriller & suspense.   10.  Adventure.

10.  Top 10 Non-fiction categories during the one year period:  1. Biography.  2.  Health, wellbeing and medicine.  3.  Business & economics.  4.  Self-improvement.  5. Religion & spirituality.  6.  Relationships and family.  7.  Sports and outdoor recreation.   8.  Education and study guides.  9.  New age.  10.  Computers & Internet.

Share any thoughts in the comments section.

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