DRM – should you use it?

Whether you are published or self-published, you have choices to make about the Digital Rights Management (DRM) of your ebooks. DRM, if enforced, helps you protect the copyright of your work. Logic would tell you that if you protect the DRM of your novel, then it forces people to purchase your book instead of share it and sales should go up, right? Then why did this July 2014 Earnings Report just reveal that indie authors without DRM sell twice as many books compared to indie authors with DRM?

Disclaimer: Just because you turn off DRM for your ebook does not mean you will automatically double your sales. (Note: Amazon does not let you change your mind about DRM once you’ve published your book.)

book sales with and without DRM

This issue isn’t localized to the publishing industry. It has dramatically affected the music industry as well. In fact, the two industries are more alike than they are different, which suggests that the book industry should learn from the mistakes that the music industry made. But, what is at the core of the DRM issue that makes non-DRM novels sell better? Are consumer’s even aware if a title is protected by DRM before purchasing? I looked everywhere on the Amazon page for my short story (The Ravenous Flock), but did not see anything that mentioned DRM. That means that user’s are the ones that spread the word about a specific title having DRM protections. However, Kindle readers can still lend my ebook to other users for a short period even though I have DRM enabled. Additionally, they can still purchase the book as a gift for another user from the Kindle store.

As a side note, it’s also important to point out that DRM only applies to the ereader format that you selected it for. If I were to sell The Ravenous Flock on the Nook, I could set it for non-DRM.

So is DRM actually the root reason why sales were lower? Or is that just a correlation that was made? The folks that created the sales report believe that it is more than a strong correlation since non-DRM indie books sell better at almost every price point. But all that tells me is that price isn’t a factor. While I trust the fact that non-DRM books do sell better, (and is echoed in the music industry) I can’t help but question the reason why. According to the logic of the report, the answer lies in the behavior of the Kindle users. Apparently, the Kindle readers that purchase indie books must somehow find it easier to share the book when DRM is not enabled, and therefore become a word-of-mouth marketing machine for those books. Perhaps that is what is occurring, I can’t be certain. But whether or not we understand the true reason of why, it would be wise of us to learn from the music industry that has suffered from this same issue in the past, and would behoove us to follow the path that successful authors have already blazed before us.

What are your thoughts on DRM? Please your opinion in the comments below.

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How to Market Your Book and Increase Sales, Part 1

Allow me to state upfront that I currently don’t have any books published at the time of this writing, so I don’t have personal success to reinforce my marketing plan (though you are reading this on one of my marketing mediums). But what I do have, in terms of credibility, is a business background. My comprehensive marketing plan simply applies basic marketing principles toward advertising your book; so as authors, we need to treat our novels as a product. In addition, as a currently unpublished author, I have zero dollars allocated toward a marketing budget, so you will find that most of my ideas can be implemented for free.

The marketing plan that I have outlined below goes into great detail and can be utilized by any author (published, indie, or otherwise). All of the other blogs and articles that I have come across about ways to promote/market your book only speak in generalities, however I have gone to great lengths to provide a very detailed marketing strategy so that you know exactly HOW to get things rolling. It probably doesn’t need mentioning, but you don’t have to do/try everything on the list. Things that work for some people don’t work for others. I will encourage you to pick and choose from my list so that you can tailor your marketing plan to your liking. But I will also encourage you to exit your comfort zone, try new things (especially if they are free) to see how well they work for you.

First, I’ll start with the goal of any marketing plan: Increase sales of your product. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, he talks about how to purposefully start a social “epidemic” around your product, that is, to make your product be the next “must have” item. To summarize, there are 3 agents of change that cause a product’s success to “tip” into the epidemic stage; they are:

  1. The Law of the Few (Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen) – Products that have the potential to be “contagious” can tip simply by being associated with a particular type of person. There is always a critical person involved in spreading information that helps cause a tipping point.
  2. The Stickiness Factor – There is a maxim that an advertisement has to be seen at least 6 times before it will stick. But without a large marketing budget, your messages need to revolve around the target-market’s emotion, coupled with info on how to “act now” so that the message is irresistible. Ideas must be memorable and move us to action.
  3. The Power of Context – Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.

Keeping those principles in mind, please see Part 1 of my marketing plan below, but I feel that I must stress that you must have a quality product to begin with for any of this to be effective. The strength of your writing, the captivation of your story, the realism of your characters, everything that lends toward the quality of your novel all need to be a precursor to a marketing plan. Without it, the reviews of your product will speak louder than any marketing campaign:

  • Use products to promote other products. Published authors usually have the first chapter of their next book at the end of the one you just read to hook you in and create hype for their upcoming release. You can do the same thing, even on a smaller scale. As a fantasy author, what I am doing is writing short stories based in the same world as my novel (same characters too) and will sell them on Amazon (for $ or free). The story itself should be compelling enough to make readers want to read more, but in addition, I will tell them exactly how to find my novel at the end of the short story.
  •  Keeping the Law of the Few in mind, you may want to try to develop a relationship with an author that you think carries some clout in your genre and ask them for a favor. Ask them to write the Foreword for your novel. Don’t stop until you get a yes.
  • Begin generating a following of potential readers/buyers as early in the process as possible so that you have a mature online platform with which to deliver news and messages. This means that you need to participate in as many social gatherings and websites as possible.
  • Make a blog or website. I use WordPress because there is a built-in community of users that allows for more website promotion. I talk more in depth about the benefits of having a website here. I did pay $99/year for this service, but I felt that their templates gave me a professional look. Having a website gives you a place to link your potential readers/buyers to, so all the content on the website should make them curious about your book. You want it to create new readers, new subscribers, and ultimately new fans. So once they visit your website, it must be a place to capture them. To accomplish this, I believe having a sample chapter is necessary so they can see your writing style, put all your best book reviews on your website, and any extra content to keep them coming back.
  • In order to “capture” them, establish a mailing list on your website, where fans can enter their email address to subscribe to your newsletter. The best way to get people to sign up is to offer something for free in exchange for their email address. Maybe a desktop wallpaper of your book-cover, a free short story, etc. MailChimp.com is the only free place that offers this service, but you have to pay if your mailing list grows too large.
  • Link absolutely everything you can back to your website to increase traffic. Meaning, in every profile you ever create on any website, there is usually a spot where you can enter in your own URL. That’s your opportunity. So how else can you direct traffic to your site? Read on.
  • Sign up your website for Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Center. Both will allow you to view the traffic coming to your website and enable you to help their search engine better display your website. These are free services that let you market your website through the world’s two largest search engines. They require you to verify that the website is yours by copying & pasting a Meta tag in the header of your website. If you use WordPress, you can easily accomplish this within your Dashboard. Click Tools > Available Tools and you’ll see it right there.
  • Submit your website into StumbleUpon.com to generate more traffic.
  • Use Pinterest to generate more traffic. This is the best website to explain how: http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/pinterest-traffic-to-your-blog/
  • Register on MeetUp.com and find a book group in your area. Tell them about your book and your website, give them free samples, they may just be your word-of-mouth promoters that bring your book across the tipping point.
  • Add yourself as an author to Wikipedia. Add your book too (with a synopsis) while you’re at it. Since I created new races of creatures in my fantasy novel, I will also put them up in Wikipedia – crediting me and my book as being the origin of their appearance across fantasy lore.
  • Have your website always call your visitors to action. Use this Buy-This-Book widget on your website: http://www.twliterary.com/buybook.html
  • If you are a member of a Critique Group, they usually have a system in place to allow members to brag about recent publications. Critters.com has over 15,000 members and allows you to make an announcement to all of them here: http://critique.org/c/telldaworld.ht
  • YouTube: Create a video book trailer. It’s just like a movie trailer, but for a book. Animoto.com is a free service with an easy user interface that lets you put together a 30 second movie, but the controls are very limited. For a more custom tailored movie-making experience, I used Windows Movie Maker. Read more about it here. For more indepth information on the importance of creating a video book promo, please read http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2010/03/08/7-reasons-why-writers-need-to-start-using-video-for-book-promotion/
  • GoodReads.com. Is your book in their inventory? If not, you can manually add it in here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/new. Be sure to join their community so that you can promote yourself as an author here: http://www.goodreads.com/author/program
  • Reddit.com is a great online community that really promotes and supports their members. Be sure to join early and participate by commenting in discussions so that you look like a seasoned member as opposed to a newbie or a lurker. This way, when you announce on Reddit that you got your book published, they may up-vote it to the front page. Reddit.com is the 137th most popular site in the world (65th in the U.S.) as of 10/10/2012. Gaining visibility on popular sites like this can only generate more traffic which, with well thought out marketing on your website, means more customers.
  • If you are an indie author, you should love these links as they specifically offer marketing support for indie authors: http://www.thebooksdebut.com/ and http://www.epublishabook.com/2012/01/24/40-book-promoting-sites-part-1/#axzz20RtGJnzZ and http://www.books2heart.com/advertising/
  • Twitter.com. Start trending the hashtag (#) of your novel before its release to get the buzz going. In addition, you should follow each of these users on Twitter. Read each of their short bios to understand how to leverage each one to your benefit: @TweetYourBooks @GoodBookIdeas @WiseGreyOwl @FrontRowLit @TwitterBooks @IndieKindle @AuthorsLaunch @IHB6 @Whizbuzz @addthis @Authorupub @AuthorKarma @WorldLitCafe @ThirdSundayBC
  • Obtain more followers on Facebook and Twitter so that your messages and posts reach more people. The fastest way to do this is to use the following programs provided by World Lit Cafe for free. http://www.worldliterarycafe.com/ (See them on the right hand side of the page) They involve you liking/following every person in the list and then sending those people a specific message so that they will follow you back. (I actually suggested to World Lit Cafe that they add a WordPress Follow program. They said they loved the idea and would implement it soon.) Gaining more followers is the name of the game, so that when you have something important to announce, you can spread the word to a larger audience.
  • Join author discussions to spread awareness. LinkedIn.com has great author groups such as AuthorU and The Writer’s Network.
  • To utilize the Stickiness Factor, make your profile picture on every web site that you are a member of a picture of the cover of your novel. Don’t promote your face, promote your product.
  • Here are some helpful tips about how to run a successful Amazon promotion: http://heatherhummel.blogspot.com/2012/06/how-did-it-happen-over-25000-copies-of.html?spref=tw
  • If you have the money, you can pay for a professional book review to lend credibility to your work on your Amazon page. Kirkus is one such reviewer http://www.kirkusreviews.com/ I bring this up because of this lengthy article that details the success of a self-published author. Her only expenses were paying for a Kirkus review and for an online advertisement on a website that promoted ebooks. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/how-i-became-a-best-selling-author-.html

To end Part 1 of my detailed marketing plan, I would like to remind you that you must apply the 3 rules to each of the bullet points in order to purposefully create a social epidemic around your product. Don’t just sign up for Twitter and do the WorldLitCafe follow program and expect success. With each tweet you craft to your new legion of followers, you must apply the Stickiness Factor and give them a call to action. You must try to find the right people that exert influence onto others to spread the word of your book. I will continue this segment at a later date as I gain more experience with the traditional forms of book promotion. As always, feel free to leave a comment/question incase you would like me to elaborate more.

How Much Money Do Authors Make

Authors are often stereotyped as being very wealthy, when in most cases, that is not accurate. Only the heavy weight authors (those with the most fame attached) are pulling in the big bucks. For me, being an author was mainly about providing me with a creative outlet as well as being a potential supplement to my income. While I have dreams of having movies and merchandise made after The Soul Smith and The Blacksmiths series, the realist side of me has become comfortable with the idea that my book sales may never become my primary source of income. So, in order to get an idea of what to expect, I started doing some research. According to fellow fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan, (writer of The Riyria Revelations series) the breakdown for how much authors make is shown below:

“Let’s look at some examples for a typical release that starts out in hard cover and is later released in mass market paperback

  • Hardcover: $25.95
  • Kindle: $12.99 (1/2 of hardcover – set by publisher)
  • Amazon buys the books at a discount (usually 50-55% off cover, so they pay $11.57) and might sell it at a discount for $15.24.

The money breaks down as follows:

  • $3.67 to Amazon ($15.24 – $11.57 they pay)
  • $2.60 to author (10% of list price)
  • $8.97 to publisher ($11.57 they get from Amazon – $2.60 paid to author)

On the ebook priced at $12.99 the breakdown is:

  • $3.90 to Amazon (30% of the price the publisher sets)
  • $2.27 to the author (25% of net price)
  • $6.76 to the publisher (Net price – 25% for the author)

Once a book is in mass-market paperback the ebook and paperback are usually priced the same and Amazon does no discounting.

So for $7.99 mass market paperback the print breakdown is:

  • $3.59 – Amazon (No discount – and assumes a 55% discount)
  • $0.64 – author (8% of list price)
  • $3.76 – publisher ($4.40 from Amazon – royalty paid to author)

For the e-book it breaks down like this:

  • $2.40 – Amazon (30% of the list price set by the publisher)
  • $1.40 – author (25% of net price)
  • $4.19 – publisher (Net price – royalty paid to author)

Bottom line, when in hardcover the author makes slightly better money if you buy the print book ($2.60 versus $2.27). When in mass-market paperback the author makes MUCH more if you buy an ebook ($1.40 versus $0.64).”

-Quoted from source: http://bit.ly/QgY3IJ

Books are, of course, the primary product that is being produced when you are an author, however, there are other products that are made that can bring in revenue to the author. There are obvious things, such as Audio Books – and then there are non-obvious things (merchandise) that become obvious once you have a successful brand (and Trademark), such as: T-shirts, board/card games, video games, movies/television, etc.

According to Forbes, the world’s top-paid authors this year (2012) are:

  1. James Patterson, $94 million
  2. Steven King, $39 million
  3. Janet Evanovich, $33 million
  4. John Grisham, $26 million
  5. Jeff Kinney, $25 million
  6. Bill O’Reilly, $24 million
  7. Nora Roberts, $23 million
  8. Danielle Steel, $23 million
  9. Suzanne Collins, $20 million
  10. Dean Koontz, $19 million
  11. J. K. Rowling, $17 million
  12. George R. R. Martin, $15 million
  13. Stephenie Meyer, $14 million
  14. Ken Follett, $14 million
  15. Rick Riordan, $13 million

The majority of the authors listed above make that much money because their novels got turned into a movie or TV series (or in O’Reilly’s case, use TV to promote their books). With media attention like that, many people see the movie/show, buy the book, and purchase the merchandise.

The alternative is self publishing, and statistics show that over half of indie-authors make less than $500 a year. In fact, less than 10% of indie-authors make enough to live off of their earnings. http://bit.ly/Qh7l7J

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, independent writers with the highest earning potential can expect to earn a median salary of approximately $93,420 per year, as calculated in May 2009. The National Salary Data listed on PayScale lists the average author salary, tallied in December 2010, as being between $30,678 and $71,045 per year, with the middle 50 percent earning less than $50,000 per year.” (Quote from source: http://bit.ly/V5ONKW)

Only time will tell if I will be on the Forbes list, or be a statistic for the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the National Salary Data.