An Audio recording of this post is available below. If you wish to download it to your computer, tablet, or phone, RIGHT CLICK on the audio and select SAVE to your device. It is an MP3 file. So, it will open in whatever APP you use to listen to audio music or speech.
Every December I do a blog post for Romancing the Genres. This is a blog that has been around for more than a decade and is run by Judith Ashley and Sarah Raplee. This year, I decided to do two posts. The first is my usual predictions/trends which are related more to the technology and business/marketing end of publishing. The second post is focused on the writing–not the craft but the decisions on what to write and how to capitalize on the content with more than a single book.
What I learned during the pandemic is that I had spent too much time over the past four years focusing on branding, marketing, and all the aspects of an author business outside of writing. The business side is important. However, If I’m not producing more books, I’m losing traction in the end. Below is that business post. I’ve deleted some parts and added or edited a few others here. The original post is found at Romancing the Generes, December 10, 2022
Part 1 – Books As A Product Multiplier
As we’ve seen since 2008, digital content has taken over the world. It has also taken over the book business. No matter what the big traditional publishers stay, ebooks are here to stay and I still predict will take over print in the next few years. The pandemic and the ongoing supply chain issues has pretty much assured that.
But it is more than ebooks. It’s the concept that books in a digital world are no longer a single entity (if they ever were). They are a piece of content that can be rendered in many digital formats—ebook, audiobook, podcast, serial, bundle, game, puzzle, TV series, movie, and more I haven’t even contemplated. Then duplicate all of the above in different languages and one must realize a book is only the start of multiple product possibilities.
Without books—the written prose—you have nothing for readers. You also have no starting place to create more products and income opportunities. A single book can become multiple products. A connected series of books can become a multiplier that is unstoppable. But it’s not easy to make that the case.
With everything the question continues to be what time it takes you to do it versus paying for it or bartering for someone else to do it. You must guard your time so you can write the next book.
This is Where All the New and Previously Developed and Growing Technology is Key
SEO is still important for discoverability. Without discoverability you have no product to sale. SEO applies across all products: ebooks, audiobooks, podcasts, websites, translations, etc. It really is important to get this down. Fortunately, there are tools (Yes they are a type of AI tool) that make it easier to do. Some tools I recommend to help with SEO are:
- Using Yoast SEO for your website. Start with the free version and make sure you are using it before you pop for the Premium at $99/year. It helps guide you through the elements you need.
- Use Publisher Rocket to determine the best categories and keywords for your books when you load them. Even though Rocket is geared to Amazon categories and keywords, Amazon bases their information off BISAC categories that is used by other vendors, libraries, and traditional publishers. If you are traditionally published I would still use it and suggest things to your publisher. Trad publishers are notoriously bad at SEO. Help them! Make it habit to define your themes and use those as keywords in everything you do—on your website, in your blog posts, whenever you talk about your book.
Additional AI Tech I Would Consider to Create Other Products From My Books
Translation AI—particularly DeepL is really quite good. I’ve done tests with German and French (because that is what my husband speaks) and he didn’t find any translation problems over three chapters EXCEPT when onomatopoeia is used. If you want to feel it’s perfect, then do the AI translation and pay a proofreader in the language to follow-up.
My plan is to go ahead with a few books and get native beta readers in each language, pay them a fee to read and let me know if they liked the book or found problems.
Audiobook AI – I’ll probably try it for my nonfiction that I’ve been promising I would self-narrate for three years now and never get around to it. I’m still researching. Most text-to-speech AI is designed for short voice overs like commercials or a 30-minute podcast. Narrating an entire book is more like 7-10 hours of speech. That is where AI can start to sound repetitive.
The area I often see as problematic in fiction, even with pre-prepped narration, is dialog. That transition from deep POV to dialog and the attempt to do more than one character voice is hard with automated narration. I’m not sure how much editing one can do and how time consuming it would be.
There are two narration AI programs I like so far:
MURF has 120 realistic sounding voices and allows you to go in and pre-edit the text to emphasize certain words (all caps, large) that is to indicate to bing more emotion or emphasis to the speech. The pricing could be wonderful though at $156 per year for 48 hours of recording or $312 per year for 96 hours of recording. That is significantly less than professional narration. The question is how much time it takes to do that prep and is it worth it?
This type of written to spoken word is also good for other parts of your author career. It can be used for adding narration to your blog posts, to reviews, to contests, to pretty much any short or long piece of content you create.
DeepZen has been around for a while. It was designed with the option for AI generation for an entire book (e.g., load the file and it comes back complete with narration). It has plenty of voice options. There are two ways to approach it. One is with prepping your text file with all the places it needs to have special instructions (e.g., louder, softer, angry, scared, etc.) . That ends up to be in the $129 per finished hour cost ($1,200 for a 10-hour book, Approx. 90K words). That is a little less than half the minimum paid human narrator cost of $250-$350 per finished hour.
DeepZen’s other offering is the completely automated service which is $69/per finished hour. ($690 for a 10-hour book). Again, for nonfiction it may be a good service. For fiction, I’m not sure. It depends on how much the variation in the voice matters to the story.
Multi-book author and entrepreneur, Joanna Penn, has a comprehensive book out about Writing in the age of AI. As usual she was ahead of the trend, with this book coming out in 2019. But she certainly captures the variety of possibilities creators can embrace. Just realize that AI, like much of technology, changes really quickly. Here we are three years later and it has improved quite a book in how real the voices sound.
Speaking of audio, did you know that Audio recordings are also indexed by all the search engines as much as the written word is? In fact, when written content also has audio content for those words, it ranks higher in search engines. Think of how often people search using spoken language now instead of typing something into Google. You may have noticed that I’ve recorded an audio version of this blog post and it is linked at the top of the page.
What type of audio may you already be doing, where you need a transcription of it? An interview? A podcast? A conference presentation? A bookstore or school presentation before a signing?
Here are some additional tools related to create audio and subsequent transcripts that I use regularly. These also use a combination of AI and web-based distribution.
I do author interviews for podcasts, and videocasts to YouTube and Vimeo, through my Dust Jackets: Conversations with Authors program. There are several tools I use for that.
- Zoom. I do the interview in Zoom. That creates both a video and an audio feed. The Zoom recording gets edited to add intro music and pictures and then is uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo. There are a variety of plans with Zoom, ranging from free to a monthly or annual payment. It depends on how many hours you plan to use it each month and what other bells and whistles you need.
- Otter. My Zoom is connected to Otter, which creates a transcript both for closed-captioning and as a PDF for download. You don’t have to have Zoom connected to Otter (if you are on lower price plan on Zoom). Otter can also take any audio file and create a transcript for it. So, as long as I have a recording, I can send it to Otter and it will still transcribe it. In fact, I often end up doing that because, in the editing of the Zoom file, I take out minutes of audio here and there and it needs to re-sync. I can also use it to transcribe any recording, such as a dictation into my phone or Audacity (which is what I used to record this blog post).
- Filmora 11. I do all my audio and video editing with Wondershare’s Filmora 11. There are many great tools for editing video and audio from free open source software to professional editing tools that cost hundreds of dollars or more. What I like about Filmora is that it is reasonably priced (between $50 and $80, depending on which plan you choose); yet it provides all the editing needs I have without getting overly complicated. All I need to do is basic cuts, add some music to the beginning and end, and a couple images to the video. There are some special effects, but they are pre-templated, so I don’t have to create them. I’m not an artist. I’m not a real film-maker. I’m just a writer with a little tech background trying to make things look and sound a little more interesting than the Zoom video or podcast audio alone. This program does A LOT more than I use.
- Buzzsprout. This is a podcast distribution network which gets my podcast into all the major markets (similar to the way an aggregator like D2D, Smashwords or Publish Drive gets your books into all the major markets). You can create a podcast for any content you’ve created—it doesn’t have to be something separate from your book. It could be narration as a serial offering. It could be reading poems. It could be you talking each week about your progress or what you’ve learned. IF it’s interesting and can gain listeners, it can be a podcast. I currently use this for interviewing authors. However, I am considering trying a serial podcast by uploading audiobook chapters from a backlist book and seeing how that works.
Technology, and the implementation of AI programs into that technology, has become critical to authors today. In fact, it is this technology that levels the playing field for indie authors versus major publishers. It also levels the playing field for small independent publishers competing with major publishers.
What About “Traditional” Technology like Social Media Platforms?
Something the pandemic did was to put the power and the horror of social media in front of us every day. Consequently, social media has lost much of its appeal. There has always been a disagreement among authors as to the importance of social media and sales. It is a way to reach readers, but for most authors social media it is not a good way to do that organically.
If you hate social media, you can leave it altogether. If you are on it, be sure you are posting regularly—whether that is once a week or once a month. The usual suspects of Facebook and Twitter have lost their luster for me. Instagram and Pinterest, as well as TikTok are still very popular but are they actually engaging readers? Or are they just bits of entertainment with no relation to discoverability or sales. I think the jury’s still out. I don’t know of anyone who says simply posting on social media increases sales. Author Media wrote a great post this year about why social media no longer works for authors. I think it is well presented.
There are thousands of authors who will tell you that advertising on social media does increase sales. Yet traditional publishing, who increased their advertising budgets to tens of thousands every month on Facebook, Instagram, and with TikTok influencers, have now backed off. They did not increase sales enough to even break even. I don’t know about you, but I can’t spend that kind of money and without known ROI, it really doesn’t make sense.
For myself, I’m still on Facebook as an author for whoever is coming by, and as myself for family and close friends. I’m using it “socially” and for information; not as a platform to sell books. I dropped Twitter last month in spite of having 15K followers. I’d be surprised if even 10 of my followers ever bought a book from me.
For extroverts, social media has always been a welcome way to get to readers. For introverts (the overwhelming majority of authors), it has always been a chore they’d rather ignore. IF you want a social media presence, choose something you like (or at least don’t dread) and post consistently—whether that is once a week or every day. Don’t try to be everywhere with no time or desire to post regularly. Make sure people will actually find content when they follow a link to a social media account. That means more than three or four posts in a year.
The best way to reach READERS continues to be through your email list and newsletters. That is going to be my focus in 2023.
What are My Goals for Technology in 2023?
- Reader Engagement
- Backlist Revival
- Front List Discoverability.
Yes, it is in that order.
My Reader Engagement Will Be Focused on My Newsletter. Newsletters have never gone out of style. I built my list to 12,000+ back in 2014 to 2018. Then, from 2019 to 2022 I became more and more irregular in putting out a newsletter. Instead, I was drawn into the social media connection to fans touted by so many authors. I focused on continued building of my social media presence to the detriment of keeping my email list growing.
No one can do everything. Some people do it all by hiring help. I wasn’t in a place to do that. So I made a choice to do social media and rare newsletters. I lost that regular connection with consistent fan input. I lost the ability to make offers just for fans, keep them apprised of what was going on with new books, and to KNOW who receives my email, opens my email, acts on my email. I can’t get that in any other environment. So, I have to get it back.
I’m returning to newsletter engagement as my primary mode of connecting with my fans. I’ll be back to once a month, minimally, and more if I can put together a schedule I can meet. It fits my longer form communication style. It allows for them to email me as well, and I can track where they go, what offers they respond to, and what they are willing to share with me. My goal is to increase by a minimum of 5,000 additional fans during 2023. I hope it’s more, but we will see. Times have changed, and engagement is harder to get.
I put Backlist Revival second because I primarily write in series. If I can revive my backlist, I can lead readers to new releases more effectively. There are several tools to doing this. I’ve even taught a class in this; but then failed to make the time to do it myself. Here are the primary ways to keep your backlist alive. On the analytics end, consider the following:
- Re-assess covers, pricing, and blurbs.
- Repackage, bundle books together, and promote.
- Focus on related content to each book to get new eyes (e.g., audiobooks, translations, new options like hardcover or a special edition book, a short story or novelette that relates to the series).
- Rethink or create new series for backlist products.
- Use Scheduling tools for evergreen marketing.
- Tie backlist titles to your front list.
Create Evergreen Marketing Plans
Automated social media reminders. I use Publer for posting to social media. There are a number of similar tools you could choose for this (e.g., Buffer, Appsumo, Hootsuite, etc.). It’s a platform that allows you to create posts and schedule them. You can also schedule them to repeat if you like. It posts to many platforms—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, Instagram, and many more.
Blog Posts that feature a backlist book with new, interesting information. New information might be the inspiration to write the book, a particular character that came to you under unusual circumstances, a problem or a triumph you experienced while writing the book, something funny or unusual that happened.
Have a section in every newsletter that features a backlist book. With 17 fiction titles, that’s more than one a month for me. Maybe that’s another reason to do an extra newsletter each month.
Run a special on a backlist book (contest, price reduction, free first in series, etc.). Particularly if you write in series, this is a great way to build reader fans—assuming of course your first-in-series is a good book.
While all this backlist promotion is going on, I’ll be writing new books that lead readers from my backlist to the new releases. By having built a backlist, it gives me a little more space to write the next book. I’m definitely done with the three or four books a year schedule. I want to have and spend more time on each book.
Frontlist discoverability becomes much easier when you’ve already done the work of building a good email list and your backlist is finding new readers and sending them forward. With new releases I should have a built-in base of fans to begin promoting the book. I can early release to my email list fans, perhaps at a discount or bundle the new book with something from the backlist. Again, there are many technology options to help with that—my newsletter, contest software, combining themes with other books, and scheduling social media posts. All the things I listed in Backlist Revival apply to new releases as well.
Part 2 of this “What’s New” post will focus on these same three goals for 2023 in terms of the writing part of the equation. I’ll talk about trends in genre, balancing writing, business, technology and all those things we do outside of being an author (family, friends, sleep!). See you in a few days.