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Smashwords kicked off its 8th Annual Read an Ebook Week yesterday. It’s a giant promotion of ebooks published on its platform. Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of ebooks are discounted anywhere from 25 to 100 percent from March 5-11.

It’s a great opportunity to get a great deal on ebooks from new authors. Because Smashwords is an aggregator, meaning they distribute their books to around two dozen ebookstores, you can find an ebook that fits your ebook readers.

I checked the promotion and saw that 10 of my books have been included. I’ve got history, historical fiction, biography, young adult, and horror titles that are part of the promotion. So if you are looking to stock up on some of my titles, here’s your chance.

50% Off Books

Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town ($4.00 promotional price)

9f2a936d3ba79285caad2a928ffd477705b98828-thumbIn fall turned to winter in 1949, the residents of Shallmar, Maryland, were starving. The town’s only business, the Wolf Den Coal Corp. had closed down, unemployment benefits had ended and few coal miners had cars to drive to other jobs. When children started fainting in school, Principal J. Paul Andrick realized the dire situation the town was in and set out to help.

 

 

October Mourning: A Novel of the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic ($3.00 promotional price)

cabd7e2edf73bcd3295d24eba5d467e89829e78c-thumbIn October 1918, Spanish Flu left behind 40 million dead. In Cumberland, Md., Dr. Alan Keener wants to take steps to prevent its spread, but he is met with resistance from old-school doctors who believe that the flu’s deadliness is overblown and easily treated. His work is complicated as a street preacher named Kolas aids the flu’s spread.

 

 

Beyond the Battlefield: Stories from Gettysburg’s Rich History ($4.00 promotional price)

58bc7189378b3328a38ab711142c5868a7e9cef2-thumbBeyond the Battlefield is a collection of 47 true stories and 56 photos that tell the history of Gettysburg and vicinity beyond the famous Civil War battle.

 

 

 

A Byte-Sized Friend (Hackers #1) ($3.50 promotional price)

e0da6fbdc837e571342e9880a63a6abed1279ea2-thumbChris Alten’s world is limited to the wheelchair that an accident has confined him to. He is lucky, though. The same accident killed his father. Chris also has a mysterious new friend whom he meets online and shows him a brand-new world where he can once again walk. This new world comes with its own dangers when it is discovered that Chris’s new friend is an artificial intelligence program.

 

 

25% Off Books

Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy ($5.99 promotional price)

096b0d8946bc2b824034ba68d473b09b647f2bb2-thumbChuck Caldwell is a WWII vet and Purple Heart winner who has met Civil War soldiers, fought at Guadalcanal and Tarawa, and studied atomic bomb explosions in Nevada. Through it all, he painted and sculpted miniature figures that have become sought after by collectors around the country. Clay Soldiers is the story of a man who became part of the history of America and chronicled it through his art.

 

FREE Books

My Little Angel

e64185333e93433b9b7be9da00c1e7585bd02946-thumbJanet Sinclair is not looking forward to her first Christmas without her daughter. Janet still doesn’t know how she will go on without Danielle. Then Janet receives a beautiful porcelain angel that looks so much like Danielle that she can’t bear to look at it. As Janet tries to deal with Christmas, she finds out that the angel is more than just an ornament.

 

 

When the Babe Came to Town: Stories of George Herman Ruth’s Small-Town Baseball Games

85d5ff6c190421c86439ef06e7dfef0c142737f0-thumb“Babe” Ruth was a baseball legend. You can find out why in “When the Babe Came to Town.” This book shows how the Babe connected with the fans through his many exhibition and barnstorming games.”When the Babe Came to Town” is a collection of some of these stories highlighting games that Babe Ruth played in Emmitsburg, Maryland; York, Pennsylvania; Oakland, California and Cumberland, Maryland.

 

The Race (Canawlers, Book 4)

295dc0e85e623c2c13f705aa78fdc5168b1c4bc3-thumbFollow the lives of the Fitzgerald family on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal as Tony and Thomas Fitzgerald race their canal barge against a train. If you enjoyed “Canawlers” and “Between Rail and River” by James Rada, you’ll want to follow this adventure set a few years after the Civil War during the canal’s heyday. Originally published as a limited-edition chapbook for CanalFest 2003.

 

 

Welcome to Peaceful Journey

8c8a7ab5d44d5d8a40c59c4f008be84ed971912b-thumbA collection of short stories featuring the most-unusual funeral home you will ever see. Welcome to Peaceful Journey Funeral where the journey from life to death can be anything but peaceful.

 

 

 

Kachina

ae894698c3f44c84c60a38c4864370d5cea5158c-thumbDavid Purcell was on his way to meet his girlfriend when he fell into a cave. Now he can’t remember the five weeks he spent in the cave. With the help of Adam Maho, a Hopi, David discovers that he must remember that lost time if he if he going to stop the ancient Hopi evil, the dark kachinas, from being released into the world again. To do so, David will have to find his way back to Kuskurza.

Publication1-CS.jpg

The cover for the first book that I will be releasing in 2017.

So a book that I had hoped to have published later next year just isn’t going to happen. I’m still finding too many gaps in my research that I need to fill in. If that turns out to be impossible to do, then I will have to reframe the story to minimize the need to have those gaps filled in. Either way, I’ve got a lot more work to do than I thought I did.

That messes up my publishing schedule for next year. I had planned to have out a new historical fiction novel, a non-fiction history book, and a short historical fiction ebook all under James Rada, Jr. I also wanted to publish a paperback edition of a horror ebook that I wrote as J. R. Rada and a new ebook collection and the second book in a middle reader series as J. R. Rada. Postponing one of the books had a domino effect on the others.

Enter one of the nice advantages of self-publishing. It’s flexible.

I love the Marvel cinematic universe. Not only do I get to see the classic superheroes of my youth come to life, but I love the interconnected movies. However, Marvel Studios plans those movie release dates years and years in advance nowadays. I think I saw where they had some movies planned for 2020 releases and beyond.

So what happens if one of those movies of a particular superhero flops? What if the superhero movie dies off? What if they can’t get a successful actor to extend his or her contract?

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The Marvel movie schedule that was released earlier in 2016 and has already had to change.

They’ve already had some kinks in their well laid-out plans. The Inhumans movie got pushed back and may be cancelled for instance. On TV, they actually added a Punisher TV series to their plans because the character from the Daredevil series turned out to be so popular.

When you are a behemoth like Marvel, making those types of changes is like tossing a big boulder into a pond. It creates a big splash with a lot of ripples.

I know some indie authors who make far-reaching plans like Marvel, but what happens when they run into unforeseen problems?

I like to plan my publishing schedule out a year in advance, but I keep it fairly loose. It only starts to firm up as we draw closer to the end of the year. Meanwhile, I have a lot of projects partially written or outlined that I review every so often just to update.

Being flexible as an indie publisher means that I was able to move the project that needed more work into my unscheduled active project pile. I looked at what I had that might fill the gap while not totally sucking up so much of my research time that I couldn’t work on the delayed project.

I even looked at the other projects. I am trying to keep things fairly balanced between the two names that I write under, fiction and non-fiction, and the different geographic areas where I have strong sales. Removing that one book, caused me to make some other changes to my schedule as well.

My point is that I was able to do so. I have a new publishing schedule for 2017 with just as many projects that hits my goals. I think it is a version that will work because I’m feeling the excitement that I feel when things click into place. It’s an aggressive schedule that I can meet with new exciting books, and this time next year, I’ll have even more projects planned, some brand new and some from my unscheduled pile.

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Logans Fire

My first novel. It’s out of print now, but I hope to one day bring it back in print the way I envisioned it.

I didn’t start out to do indie publishing. My first two novels back in the 1990s were publishing with a small press and mid-size press. My small-press experience was that it was virtually worthless for me, and my mid-size press experience was pretty positive.

My problem with the mid-size press came when I tried to get the second book published in what I hoped would be a series. The company sent each manuscript out to pre-readers and had it reviewed by an editorial committee. All it took was one person to say “no” and the book wouldn’t be published. I kept running into that problem as the company also started to shift its focus.

Meanwhile, I was also shopping another manuscript in a different genre around and getting frustrated from the lack of response. It wasn’t that the publishing houses were saying “no,” it was that many of them weren’t saying anything even after six month!

Then in 2000, I decided that I wanted to write a historical fiction novel after I took a bike trip along the C&O Canal in Maryland. As I was writing the novel, I started to wonder if I wanted to go through all of the hassles that I was going through to get a publisher interested in the book especially since I couldn’t take it to the two publishers I had already used. They didn’t handle that genre.

I knew someone who had been self-publishing since the 1980s, though. I talked to him about what it involved. He published targeted books that were generally collections of postcards that he owned. He also did very well with it.

So I started doing more research and I realized that everything my publishers had done for me, I could either do myself or farm out to someone. The biggest obstacle I saw at that time was distribution. I wasn’t sure how I could go about getting national distribution. It wasn’t a big concern for me, though. I thought that my major sales outlets would be places near the canal, and I could visit them myself. Also, by the time, the book was complete, I had found a way to get into the Baker & Taylor catalog to get my national distribution.

As far as marketing went, well, the publishers I had used hadn’t done a lot of marketing. I knew that I could do at least the same level. Besides, who was going to promote my book more enthusiastically than me? I had invested part of myself in it. I wanted it to succeed.

Canawlers

My first indie-published novel.

I took the jump into indie publishing and Canawlers became my first project. It is still in print and selling 16 years later when my first two novels have long since gone out of print.

I discovered that I liked having the control over the project. If there was something that I didn’t like about a project, I could change it. By contrast, with one of my first novels, the publisher didn’t like the title and changed it without asking me.

I also started making decent money from writing. I remember that my very first novel sold around 10,000 copies in three years. It had a cover price of $10. I made an average of 50 cents a copy or $5,000 over three years. My first indie published novels has a cover price of $18 and I make an average $8 a copy, taking into account printing costs, shipping, and bookseller discounts. That’s a 5% versus a 44% royalty!

About half of my income is from my books and the other half is other types of writing. I wouldn’t have been able to make the jump to a full-time writer if I hadn’t taken the indie-publishing track. I have since found out that many popular authors with mainstream publishers still need other work, despite their books being successful (just not bestsellers).

Indie publishing is certainly not the easy way out for authors.

You take on more responsibilities and duties, so much so that I would say it’s harder than simply being an author. If you stick with it and work at it, though, the payoff both financially and with a book that is just how you envision it are worth it.

13495202_1621866381464597_7330204706107365068_n (1)

Me, Chuck Caldwell, and Bernadette the book store owner.

I had a book signing recently that went really well. I sold a lot of books and the book store owner was delighted. However, I can’t say that I was the reason for the big turnout. Sure, I had written the book everyone was buying, but they came to meet the subject of the book.

Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy is a biography of a man named Chuck Caldwell. Chuck lives in Gettysburg and is well known there from his years of running an shop where he made miniature figures. In fact, the store where we were doing the book signing was literally next door to where his shop used to be.

People were coming into the bookstore and purchasing two, four, ten copies of the book, and they all wanted Chuck to sign them. I was an afterthought. I guess I should be grateful that they even had me sign them. I went to the unit of the Marine Corps League that Chuck is a member of last month with the book. Again, plenty of books sold, but there no one even had me sign one. They were all chasing after Chuck to get him to sign them.

Besides keeping me humble, the lesson I learned from this is:

  • It’s all about the story not the storyteller.
  • Tell a good story and tell it well.
  • A good storyteller doesn’t draw attention to him or herself, but keeps the reader lost in the story.
13413556_1621866608131241_2377003082375270240_n

Chuck signing a book for one of his fans.

I hope that’s what I’ve done with Clay Soldiers. I know I had plenty of good material to work with and I found myself getting swept up in certain parts of the book as I wrote it.

I think that readers can identify with Chuck. His story is not that of a general, a high-level politician or a multi-millionaire. It’s about an ordinary guy. He was a private at Guadalcanal and charged into machine gun fire when told to do so. That’s more interesting than being the general who gave the order to charge. During the above ground atomic bomb tests in the 1950s, he went in with minimal protection to find the balls of fissionable material, sometimes even as the mushroom cloud was rising from the explosion. Meanwhile, the scientists who examined that material were safe in bunkers miles away.

Chuck is just an ordinary guy who played the cards life dealt him and did his best to be a good husband and father.

Another reason I didn’t mind being the center of attention at these events is that I got to watch Chuck’s face light up when someone he knew from years ago came in to get his book. I got to listen to him talk to people about stories in the book. Most of all, I got to see him smile.

That tells me that I got things right.

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Chuck sees someone he knows come into the book store.

 

As my income from ebooks continues growing, I find myself paying more and more attention to the trends in the market. My income is not at the level where I think it could be so I can see a large market that I’m not fully going after yet.

I know some readers don’t enjoy reading ebooks, but the market for them is still going strong. Sometimes that can be hard to tell from the reports that you read. Depending on the source of ebook data, it can be very skewed.

  • Some studies only look at ebooks with an ISBN number: More and more e-books are being published without one, though, because it’s not needed. My physical books need one to make it easy for bookstores to use. My Kindle ebooks get an Amazon code for tracking through their system so I don’t need an ISBN, which saves me money.
  • Some studies include all ebooks, including free copies: Free copies will make your sales numbers increase, but they aren’t really sales in my mind. The author isn’t getting anything out of the transaction. Ebook sellers will separate free and paid bestsellers because a book has more value when a reader
  • Paid sales do include reduced-price ebooks: Selling a book at a reduced price will certainly bump up your sales and it can be argued that if you run a lower-price offer for a book that is normally sold at a higher price, the results will be somewhat skewed when comparing that title to other ones. However, the same is true for physical books that are sold at a discount in bookstores.

Another author introduced me to Authorearnings.com. It shows the most-complete picture I’ve seen of the market and breaks it out in ways that I understand.

The most-recent report that looks at the previous 23 months ending in February 2016 shows that indie-published ebooks account for nearly half of e-book paid sales while the ebooks from the big publishers has fallen off dramatically. This seems to dovetail with the news that Amazon gave the big publishers more control over the pricing of their titles.

From my experience, I’ve seen titles from my favorite big-name authors priced at $7.99 or higher. I am reluctant to pay that much for an ebook unless I really, really want it. This doesn’t happen much because I’ve got something like 40 ebooks on my reader that I haven’t read yet. Instead of buying that high-priced book, I put it on my wish list and check to see if it goes on sales. Meanwhile, I’ll read my other unread books. It’s a pile that never seems to shrink because I do buy books by new authors who have priced their books very competitively.

Ebooks should be priced lower than paperbacks since there are no physical costs to producing them. It’s not devaluing the product, it’s just pricing it reasonably. You wouldn’t expect to pay hardback prices for a paperback book. That’s because the production costs of a hardback are more than a paperback. The same thing holds true for ebooks vs. paperbacks or hardbacks.

This difference in pricing strategies between indie publishers and traditional publishers can be seen in this chart.

gross-sales-trend-20160110

From Authorearnings.com

Indie books sell for less and so they generate fewer overall dollars (45% of unit sales but only 25% of dollars). That fine because ebooks are very profitable for an indie author.

Selling a $25 hardback earns the author around $3.25 (15%) and selling an $8 paperback earns the author around 80 cents (10%).

An ebook priced at $8 will earn the indie author about $5.40 (68%). A traditionally published author will be lucky to earn $3.20 (40%) from the sale.

An indie author selling a $5 ebook will make around $3.40 (68%). That means indie authors can sell their books at a lower price and earn more per copy than traditionally published authors get from selling higher-priced ebook or even hardback books. In addition, the lower price of an indie ebook helps it sell more copies.

The reader gets a value-priced ebook and the author gets a higher royalty. There’s nothing wrong with that unless you’re a traditional publisher.

 

Clay SoldiersMy new book, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art & Atomic Energy, is finished and formatted. I printed off some set to send out to beta readers.  This is the nervous time for me. Essentially, it’s the public debut of the book. People have seen bits and pieces of it, but this is the first time it has all been put together.

I am using a mix of beta readers. Some I know, some I don’t. Some are writers and some are just people who like to read history. I figure that I have a good mix of readers.

Their feedback is important, particularly if more than one reader mention it. A lot of the feedback that they give me is opinion and I have to take that into account, but I do consider each comment. Some of them are very insightful even if I don’t want to hear it.

Beta readers are a great resource for you as a writer. If you don’t have any people who you trust to give you an honest opinion, you can join a writer’s group or even find a Facebook beta readers group.

Some things to keep in mind with your beta readers:

  • Don’t take everything they say as gospel. Everyone has an opinion and some of those opinions will be conflicting. If five people say the same thing and one person says something different, then you should give more weight to the five. However, if it three saying one thing and two saying another, then you have a more balanced consideration to take into account.
  • You can’t please everyone. There’s an old saying that a camel is a horse built by committee. If you have a vision of what you want the book to be. Don’t give it up easily. If you try and please everyone, you will wind up with something bland that probably won’t please you.
  • Ask your beta readers for a review. Reviews are important for a book. Give your book a jump start and ask all of your beta readers to post an honest review about your book.
  • You don’t need dozens of beta readers. I like to use three at a minimum because I feel that gives me a good well-rounded opinion of my book. For this particular book, I’m using six, mainly because more people got back to me when I started making inquiries about beta readers. More doesn’t mean better, though. You still want people who are readers and/or knowledgeable about writing and who will give you an honest opinion.
  • Show your appreciation. I always make sure to send my readers a finished copy of my book as well as telling them, “thank you.”

Here are a couple other articles by other writers about getting beta readers.

Peer Reviews: Seek Quality in Your Beta Readers, Not Quantity

How to find a beta reader

Untitled

Here’s a draft cover for an upcoming novel. It’s exciting to have my words coming to life, but sometimes the author needs help to make it happen.

Certainly one of the benefits of independent publishing is control. You, in your role as publisher, get the final approval on everything. That’s nice when you are trying to create the book that you envision in your mind. You don’t have that kind of control with mainstream publishing, and sometimes the result is a book you barely recognize as your own.

Publishing isn’t the only place where this happens. It happens when books are made into movies, too. I remember a story about the western, Bend of the Snake by Bill Gulick. The book was made into the James Stewart movie, Bend of the River. Apparently, it was changed so much between book and movie that Gulick took out a large ad that said that the only thing that the movie had in common with his novel was the first three words of the title.

Independent publishing gives an author control over a book that he or she has poured blood, sweat, tears, and a little bit of their soul into.

However, in the immortal words of Dirty Harry, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Writers write, but they can’t always edit, do layout, or create a cover. In those instances, you need to recognize where your talents fall short and find someone who can do the job you envision.

I’ve designed some of my book covers and the results have been mixed. I have one book that I definitely want to create a new cover for at some point.

To make up for my lack of ability with graphic design, I have also hired designers to help out cover design. What has never failed to amaze me in working with cover designers is that they can take my initial ideas and turn them into something so much better than I even envisioned. I’ve also discovered that the covers I hear comments on the most are the ones that I’ve had a cover designer put together for me.

Right now, I have covers being worked on for three different books. I needed original art work for one book and found a young designer named Kate Shepherd. She posted some of her art on her Facebook page. I liked the style and thought it would work well for the cover of a book I was formatting. I’ve seen the ideas that she came up with and she hasn’t disappointed. She has actually been able to create pictures of my characters from my words.

The second book cover is from a different designer named Grace Eyler. It’s the one showing above. What do you think of it? The designer still has some small tweaks that she wants to do it, but I think she captured the essence of the story I’m telling? What does this cover make you think of?

I haven’t seen anything for the third cover yet, but I am excited to see what the designer comes up with. Mainly because with the two previous covers, not only have I been pleased with the result, but I doubt that I could have created either of the covers. I’m not only talking about just the technical aspects, but both of these ladies have a lot of creativity that expresses itself in a different way than my creativity does.

While I’m all for stepping outside the box as you write and publish, know when you’re taking too big a step and get help. Then keep working to improve your own abilities.

new-amazon-kindleI was reading Joanna Penn’s Author 2.0 Blueprint the other day and she noted, “If you’re self-publishing, most of us make the vast chunk of our income from ebooks, because there are no restrictions on sales and readers don’t even have to know who published the book.” (BTW, you can get this book for free from her web site and it’s a great resource.)

This statement in the book struck me because it’s far from my own experience. I get about 45% of my income from my books and about 5% from my ebooks. I certainly wouldn’t mind it being the other way around if my current book level made up the 5%.

With a $7.99 ebook, I earn a $5.42 royalty for each sale. For $2.99 ebooks, I earn $2.04 and for $0.99 ebooks, I earn $0.35. That a pretty high percentage (35% to 68%).

By contrast, for a $19.95 paperback, I earn between $5 and $15 after subtracting the book production costs. That means I’m earning between 25% and 75% in net profit for each book.

So per book, I make more for each print book than I do for each ebook. Ebooks tend to be less expensive, though, but you need an e-reader to read them. I still run into plenty of people who tell me that they don’t have an e-reader or that they like the feel of a book in their hands. To be honest, I also meet people who look at my books and ask if they are available on Kindle, Nook, or Kobo.

I still need physical books to sell when I do festivals or presentations. People are there ready to buy and are looking for them.

My book sales have been growing nicely over the past couple years, but the e-books haven’t kept up. It certainly seems like it would be a more efficient use of my time if I was selling a couple thousand ebooks a month.

I think Penn’s statement just shows how much better my marketing needs to become. It’s all right, but it needs to be better. It can be better.

So what are your experiences? Do ebooks or physical books sell better for you? What are your best marketing techniques?

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