Random Inspirations

Welcome to my blog, full of fun inspirations and insights on writing, self-publishing, and more!

The Beauty of Box Sets: 5 Reasons to Combine Your Series into a Box Set

Yesterday, I released my first-ever box set on Amazon! It contains the first three novellas of the Amish Hearts series: Rumspringa BreakAmish Summer, and Mercy’s Fall.

Here's the book cover from the new Amish Hearts boxed set!

Here’s the book cover from the new Amish Hearts box set!

Naturally, before I released my box set, I did some market research–and couldn’t believe how many box sets are out there in the Amish fiction genre alone! Box sets might contain anywhere from three to 45 stories (in the case of the prolific Becca Fisher). Some are priced near $10.00, while others are only 99 cents.

In such a diverse market, it’s often difficult to decide how to price, design, and promote a box set, and I’m learning more about those things every day. I decided to price my box set at $2.99–low enough to be appealing but high enough to reap the rewards of the 70% royalty, and I’m using word-of-mouth (and social media) promotion during the launching period, much as I did for my other eBooks.

Why do authors like box sets so much? And why do readers love them? If you’re writing a series, should you jump on the bandwagon? Here are 5 reasons to combine your series into a box set.

  1. There’s more likelihood fans will read all the books in order – Many times, fans will read the eBooks of a series in no particular order, especially when they’re discovering a new author. But let’s face it: it’s always a better experience to read the books of a series in order, and box sets ensure that will happen.
  2. It’s one more product for your list of books – The best way for authors to build more fans is by putting out new material; your discoverability as an author will increase with each new book released.
  3. You can release a new revenue-generating book without actually writing new material – You’ve already done the hard stuff: written the books, had them edited, commissioned the covers. Creating a boxed set is quick, easy, and profitable. It’s really the only time an indie author can be lazy. 🙂 That’s why everything from books to music to movies is available in box sets.
  4. It gets fans pumped for the next book of the series – If your fans read and liked the first books of your series in the box set, they’ll be hanging–and eagerly awaiting the next one. Or, if you’ve included your entire series as a box set, make sure to attach an excerpt from one of your other new books at the end. Reading is addictive, and you should always give your readers their fix.
  5. Fans see bundles as cost-effective – Fans like box sets for the same reason shoppers like BOGO deals or buying in bulk at Costco: they see them as economical!

So there you have it…5 reasons to combine your books into a box set. Authors out there, have you ever released a box set? How were the sales of your box set compared to the stand-alone books? Can you think of any other reasons to love box sets? As always, I welcome your feedback!

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99 Cents Is the New $2.99: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of eBook Pricing

eBooks have increased in popularity by leaps and bounds over the last few years. In fact, sales are up 4,456% since 2008! And why not? They’re accessible, they’re delivered instantly, there’s a wide variety to choose from…and they’re cheap.

KDP Select free days and Kindle Countdown Deals are the current trends on Amazon. Kindle Countdown Deals allow authors to discount their eBooks priced at $2.99 or higher for up to 7 days per 90 day KDP Select period. The book must be discounted by at least $1.00, and the minimum price with discount is $0.99. Authors like Kindle Countdown Deals because they continue to receive a 70% royalty on the books sold during this period — even if the books are priced lower than $2.99, the usual 70% royalty cutoff. And, of course, readers like Kindle Countdown Deals because they can get deep discounts on their favorite books.

cheap ebook

 

There’s a definite discount vibe that has pervaded the eBook industry in the past few years. When I published my first eBook in December 2011, most eBooks were priced at $2.99. However, in subsequent years, the hot price point has decreased to $0.99. Today, many full-length novels only cost $0.99 — in essence, 99 cents is the new $2.99. And with the advent of KDP Select free days, free eBooks have become so common that free is like the new 99 cents.

Free and cheap eBooks are awesome for readers. Low pricing allows them to take a chance on new authors or genres, and with the KDP Select free days, savvy consumers can download eBooks without ever paying a penny.

Many authors appreciate the concept of 99 cent and free eBooks as well. For new authors, low pricing is the perfect way to get their names out there and deliver their work into the hands of readers. When I first began publishing eBooks, I saw the 99 cent price point as my gateway; sell tons of cheap eBooks, and readers would be more likely to buy my later books priced at $2.99 or higher. But while it’s been relatively easy for my 99 cent books to rank in the top 10,000s on most days, I’m still working on cracking the $2.99 code.

Some authors, however, detest the cheapening of eBooks. Sometimes, I find myself falling into that camp. After all, writers are artists, crafting pictures with words. We spend weeks or months on our manuscripts, capturing the images and stories in our minds that just have to be told. We spend even more time honing those manuscripts, submitting them to editors, making changes, and doing the finishing touches. We hire cover designers, because people really do judge a book by its cover. We do keyword and SEO research to find the most discoverable category for our books. And then we promote the heck out of those books. I’ve said it before, and I’ll reiterate it here: indie authors aren’t just artists, they’re small business entrepreneurs. And the Walmart-esque standard of “everyday low prices” on our eBooks sometimes drives me crazy. No artist wants to feel like his or her art is cheapened.

What do you think about the trends in eBook pricing: good, bad, or ugly? I’d love to hear your opinions!

 

 

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To Outline or Not to Outline: That Is the Question

I’m not sure whether Shakespeare outlined his well-known literary works, but I do know that many of today’s authors do, and they swear by the results. The advanced creative writing course I took a few years back incorporated outlining into the assignments. Yet many authors consider themselves practically allergic to outlines. Ask a roomful of writers the question of, “To outline or not to outline?” and you’re sure to spark a lively debate.

Supporters of outlines say that sketching out the characters, key scenes, conflicts, and climax beforehand makes the writing process go more smoothly. But others say that outlining kills creativity. Famously, in his book On Writing, Stephen King wrote, “Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story that results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.” Wow.

writing

I tend to take the middle ground in this debate, since I’ve written with and without an outline. Whether or not I outline really depends on my mood, and how easily the storyline takes shape in my mind. When I discovered I loved storytelling as a child, I would write my “books” sans outline, i.e. organically (as author Steven James would say). Vivid short stories full of twists and turns would spring across the page. I continued to write organically until adulthood, only using an outline when a teacher demanded it. My first published novel, Unlucky 13, was written entirely without an outline.

However, I was introduced to helpful outlining techniques when I took an advanced novel-writing course. For me, taking writing courses was much like honing any other natural talent: I went in thinking I was much better than I actually was, had my world rocked and hit periods of insecurity as I learned, and graduated full of enthusiasm and excitement. I realized that Unlucky 13 had a practically nonexistent story arc and meandered around too much, so I completely revamped it to make it more concise and relevant. Then, I wrote my next full novel, Winnerwith the use of a chapter outline.

My Amish fiction novellas have been a mixed bag: some I’ve outlined, others I haven’t. Mercy’s Fall, for example, was written right after I’d spent a month revamping Unlucky 13 and doing final revisions on WinnerIt was difficult for me to switch gears from contemporary YA to Amish YA, and I also went to Lebanon, where I was relaxing more than writing. As a result, the writing process was, in a word, arduous, and outlining helped me to stay on track, flesh out the story, and, ultimately, finish it to the specifications of myself and my editor. 

By contrast, I’m now in the process of writing Book 4 of the Amish Hearts Series, Amish Valentine, and it’s going along famously — without an outline. The conflicts and plot twists are leaping into my brain with wild abandon, and who am I to stifle the creative process?

Do you like to write organically, with an outline, or by using a hybrid of the two?

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Book or Movie: Which Do YOU Like Better?

It’s an age-old debate, but one that never seems to get tired: When we read a book and then watch the movie based on it, we always ask each other or at least ourselves, “Which did you like better, the book or the movie?”

An Instagram representation of one user's thoughts on the old book vs movie debate

An Instagram representation of one user’s thoughts on the old book vs movie debate

A lot of people say, “Oh, the book was so much better!” And why is that? My guess would be because books allow readers to use their imaginations to fill in the details of the scenes and characters. Reading the book is more of an active process that engages the mind, while watching the movie is a more passive one. As a result, readers have certain expectations of how the characters will appear and how the plot will unfold, and because everyone’s imagination works differently, many people will be disappointed in the way the movie represents the book. Think about how many times you’ve heard people say, “Why did they pick so -and-so to play that part? That wasn’t how I visualized him at all!”

Also, many movies fail to pick up on the subtle undertones and themes that permeated the books. “The Wizard of Oz” book, for example, was written as a political satire, but the movie portrays a more lighthearted version of the story, focused on beautiful images and dramatic action. Another example is “The Hunger Games” series. The movies capture some of the political themes of the books, but miss out on other important ones. As riveting as the movies are, the books have more depth and dimension.

However, some people prefer the movies to the books because they are more visual people and enjoy seeing the action unfolding before their eyes instead of reading about it. Another reason why some prefer movies to books is because the act of watching a movie, especially in a theater, is more of a social one, while reading a book is more of a solitary activity. And finally, some prefer the movie to the book because it’s fairly magical to watch the book they read come to life. In fact, I think that’s why we all want to watch the movies of our favorite books, even if we insist we always like the books better.

I love both the books and the movies, for all of the above reasons. Sometimes, I’m just in the mood for a movie, while other times I want to lose myself in a good book. I enjoy comparing the book and the movie, and eagerly anticipate the interesting new twists that Hollywood screenwriters sometimes incorporate into the movies.

Which do you prefer, the book or the movie, and why?

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5 Ways that Indie Authors Can Act Like Small Business Owners

Since I’ve become a full-time indie author, I’ve attended several networking events, some in publishing and others in general business and marketing. I’ve connected with many entrepreneurs , and I’m continually struck by how similar small-business owners are to indie authors.

There used to be a schism between the business world and the world of literature, at least for authors themselves. Before the advent of self-publishing, there was only one way for novelists to get noticed: by going the traditional agent – publishing house route. Authors didn’t have to be business people, since they had agents and marketing teams to take care of that stuff.

Now, however, it’s exciting to be in a brand-new paradigm. Self-publishing has risen in popularity, and today’s great indie authors have enabled the business to shed its previous inferiority complex. Readers themselves are excited about eBooks; a recent survey showed that the majority of US respondents estimated that over half of the books they’ll purchase in the next three years will be eBooks.

This dramatic switch in the way readers consume books means that we, as indie authors, must find innovative ways to build our readership and connect with readers. And that’s why I believe indie authors are small business owners.

I became a huge fan of small businesses while living in Wicker Park, a trendy community in Chicago that was just brimming with them. The sandwich shop, hot dog stand, florist, spa, bars, and boutiques I frequented were all small businesses. I knew the people who worked there, they were friendly, and I could tell they appreciated my business. They brought a personalized touch into their services; I never felt like I was in a quasi-corporate, big box store type of environment.

Small-Business

So as I build my own business as an indie author, I’ve been incorporating these small business principles into my work, and guess what? I feel successful and fulfilled.

Here are some ways indie authors can act like small business owners:

  1. Connecting with readers and writers on social media – The internet has made the entire world into a small one. I’ve found that Facebook and Twitter are the best media to connect with my audience and colleagues. Facebook author groups have been invaluable in my quest for Amazon reviews, and I’ve built a group of supportive, smart writer friends. And my Facebook author page has been an amazing way to interact with fans!
  2. Giving readers the hookup – Just as small business owners offer freebies and discounts to loyal clients, indie authors should reach out to their loyal readers about their promotions. I’ve interacted with some fans and reviewers on my Facebook page who are interested in my latest books but are unable to download them for whatever reason. And when I read these kinds of messages, I offer to gift the book immediately. It works, and fans become even more loyal! I also offer subscribers to my website extra perks like a free short story or Free Book Fridays.
  3. Encouraging reviews – Small businesses love Yelp reviews; indie authors love Amazon reviews. That’s why it’s important to encourage reviews at the end of your eBooks and even to offer a prize to reviewers. Which brings me to the next point…
  4. Holding a contest – Everyone loves entering contests. That’s why so many small businesses hold periodic raffles and giveaways. Indie authors can do the same, with great payoffs. I recently hosted a contest called the “Buy Winner & Win” contest. Anyone who bought, gifted, or reviewed my book was entered into a drawing for a new Kindle Paperwhite. All they had to do was forward me their receipts. The contest generated more traffic to my blog, and increased my book sales.
  5. Bringing a personalized touch – Successful small businesses get out there in the community, talking to people and doing good. Indie authors can learn from this. I find that one of the most helpful, personalized ways to connect with readers and increase readership is to always be prepared to meet new readers. When I meet moms with teen daughters who like to read, I tell them I write clean YA and hand them pocket-sized bookmark flyers with info on my latest eBook. When I meet teen girls who adore eBooks, I find out what kind they like to read and let them know about which of my eBooks would be a good match for them. Connecting with potential fans on a personal level turns them from potential to actual fans!

Indie authors, do you think of yourselves as small business owners? I’d love to hear your opinions!

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New Book Release: Book 3 of Amish Hearts is Here!

I’m excited to announce that my new Amish YA Romance novella, Mercy’s Fall, is now live on Amazon! Mercy’s Fall is Book 3 of the Amish Hearts series. To celebrate, I’m giving away Book 2, Amish Summer, for free today and tomorrow (1/14/14 and 1/15/14)!

Mercy's Fall, Book 3 of Amish Hearts, is now live on Amazon!

Mercy’s Fall, Book 3 of Amish Hearts, is now live on Amazon!

I wrote Mercy’s Fall after my “educational field trip” to two Amish communities in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania: Volant and New Wilmington. There, I admired the simple way of life and spoke to some Amish and “English” who had business dealings with the Amish. I noticed the relatively close proximity of several colleges to the Amish communities, which led me to devise the character of Chase, Mercy’s college-student crush. I also observed the Amish people’s avoidance of cameras and all things media-related and/or worldly, and incorporated these themes into Mercy’s dealings with Chase and the other Englischers who frequent the bakery where she works. Mercy’s Fall is equal parts love story, character study, and culture clash, so check it out if you’re looking for a romance eBook with some drama.

During my visit, the weather in Lawrence County was, in a word, snowy. This “winter wonderland” look continues to inspire me as I write the fourth and final book of the Amish Hearts series, Amish Valentine, due out next month. If you enjoy the Amish Hearts books, look for updates coming to this blog, as well as Facebook and Twitter, in the coming weeks!

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Life on Fire Event: 3 Takeaways to Help Indie Authors Ignite Their Passion

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the Life on Fire meeting in downtown San Diego. This event included entrepreneurs with diverse business backgrounds ranging from DJ to marketing expert. At the event, I was able to network with individuals from all over; most people were from SoCal, but some attendees came from “faraway” places like the U.K., New York, and Chicago.

I would highly recommend a Life on Fire seminar to anyone looking for more inspiration and empowerment in career and life. The theme of the day was, “You can do anything you put your mind to,” and I definitely left feeling that way!

However, because of the wide spectrum of attendees and their varied backgrounds, the tips were pretty general. Here are some of my takeaways from the conference, tailored to indie authors.

Rumi-Set-your-life-on-fire

3 Takeaways from Life on Fire:

  1. Your income is the average of your 5 closest friends: Who you network with is important. I believe that in self-publishing, an indie author’s income is the average of his / her 5 closest contacts, meaning those writers he / she most interacts with at conferences, on social media platforms, and in everyday life. Self-publishing is a very collaborative field, and there’s so much to learn from our fellow authors. If you’re a beginning indie author, forming a group of successful indie author friends is a great way to learn tips to increase readership and financial gains.
  2. Imperfect action is better than no action at all: The speakers at the event emphasized the concept of “imperfect action,” which is so applicable to authors. I think many of us are perfectionists, and don’t want to put our work out there unless we’re convinced it’s flawless. While this is a noble goal, I’ve heard too many aspiring writers say, “I’ve written a book,” or, “I’m writing a book,” but they never finish and/or publish it because they’re so sucked up in being “perfect.” We’re human — we’ll never be perfect! That being said, I do think it’s important to put your best work out there, and that means professionally edited and re-edited. So “imperfect action” is a balancing act.
  3. Setting goals is the way to go: Okay, I knew that, and I’m sure you did, too. But I learned many awesome goal-setting techniques at the meeting. For example, the speaker outlined a strategy of goal-setting that revolves around making small goals at first, meeting those, and creating a quantum leap over time. Also, posting goals publicly (Ex. on Facebook) is a great way to increase your accountability and chances of success.

The event organizer, Nick Unsworth, is a Facebook marketing expert, and posted a video with Brett Gregory that helped me to dramatically increase the likes on my Facebook author page with targeted members of my readership audience. I got about 500 likes in 48 hours using this technique, so if you’re an indie author looking to grow your readership by connecting with your audience on Facebook, I’d definitely recommend this video!

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Reflections on a Holiday in Lebanon

Remember when you were in elementary school, and you missed class to go on an “educational trip?” And then, when you came back, your teacher asked you to write all about it, just to make sure you’d learned something?

Back in the day, this felt wrong to me. My elementary school brain was like, “What? I just got back from vacation and have all this catch-up work, and now the teacher is giving me even more work?”

But now I realize it’s a helpful exercise, and that’s why I looove blogging about my reflections after I return from various trips. Call me a nerd, but I actually get excited to do it. After my vacay, I’m excited to get back to work!

My holiday in Lebanon was extremely restful…perhaps too restful (check out my recent blog post about dreams if you don’t believe me:) I enjoyed the gracious hospitality of my in-laws, who not only let us stay in their private downstairs guest suite, they also threw two parties to celebrate our wedding and Antonio’s birthday. And just to make our stay even better, Antonio’s mom cooks the most phenomenal Lebanese food I’ve ever tasted!

Holiday pic

Because of the gut-wrenching Middle East situation and the perceived danger of visiting, Lebanon is not considered a tourist destination. That’s a shame because it is a truly unique and amazing place. The night scene is full of super-fun bar/lounge/club areas, like Jounieh and Uruguay Street, and the late-night dining is second to none. The night life is especially vibrant during the holiday season, when twenty- and thirtysomethings who work in other countries return “home” to celebrate.

Dancing the night at Club Mad, part of Lebanon's night scene.

Dancing the night away at Club Mad, part of Lebanon’s night scene.

There are also plenty of nature activities: gorgeous, paradise-like beaches, awe-inspiring caves, hiking trails, and acres of forests. The snow-capped mountains are so breathtaking that they hardly look real, especially at sunset. And there’s even Faraya, the fun ski resort community where we spent New Year’s Eve at our friends’ chalet. I know what you’re thinking…skiing? In the Middle East? Not exactly what I’d pictured, either.

The people I met in Lebanon were friendly, and most were able to speak three languages, English, Arabic, and French. The food is fresh, and so packed with super-nutrients that I fought off the yucky cold I’d picked up in three days flat! The Lebanese cook with healthy olive oil and lemon, and definitely get their recommended dietary allowance of fruits and vegetables. My personal favorite exotic fruit was “ashta,” a sweet and succulent delicacy that I practically inhaled.

Ashta, my Lebanese fruit obsession.

Ashta, my Lebanese fruit obsession.

By the end of my holiday getaway, I’d immersed myself in this intriguing culture, and I’d even picked up some Arabic. My brain was swimming with words, and, strangely, I’d think of random Arabic phrases either at night after a few drinks or the next day when I woke up. Interesting how the brain works.

During my stay in Lebanon, I was desperately trying to complete Mercy’s Fall, my Amish fiction novella, but I was completely uninspired. I was fed up with myself until I realized that I couldn’t possibly think or write about the Amish when I was in this fascinating, relatively new (to me) foreign land. So, I focused on drinking in the unusual experiences and journaling, and two totally new story ideas came to me: the dream YA novel from my previous entry and a YA novel about a Lebanese-American girl discovering herself in her family’s ancient homeland. And on the flight home, my imagination was so ignited that I returned to Mercy’s Fall and finished writing it in two days!

The trip back to California was a long one (thirty hours to be exact, through Moscow, where it was dark until 10 AM), but now that I’m back, I’m feeling rested. The getaway was just what I needed. It broadened my horizons, and also made me thankful for the fast internet we have in the U.S. 🙂

Are you more inspired after you return from a particularly stimulating vacation? What kind of inspiration do you find in other countries, or even new cities in your own homeland? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Winner of the Kindle Paperwhite Giveaway Announced!

Today, I’m excited to announce the lucky winner of my first-ever reader giveaway, the “Buy Winner & Win” Contest!

But I don’t want to ruin the surprise here. Tune in to my YouTube channel for a short video where I randomly select and announce the winner of the brand-new Kindle Paperwhite!

Contest FB Cover

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Turning Dreams into Stories

Happy New Year! I hope everyone has had a sparkling holiday season, full of family, friends, and memories. And even if you felt more Grinch than Whoville during the festivities, it’s amazing to have that fresh start that we all feel this time of year!

This holiday season, I was in Lebanon visiting Antonio’s family — more about that in a future blog post! The local time in Lebanon is ten hours later than that of California, so, needless to say, my sleep schedule was toast. We were sleeping late and long, yet always tired. Thank goodness for that potent Turkish coffee they’re always drinking there…

But the incredible side effect of my weird sleep habits was that I had incredibly vivid dreams. I have always wanted to write a paranormal YA novel, but I never could come up with a cool enough premise for a story. I’d basically resigned myself to the fact that my mind just didn’t work that way. Well, maybe it doesn’t when I’m awake, but it sure did one night when I was deep in a REM cycle (or was it morning? We basically never woke up before 1 PM!).

I don’t want to give much away, but I dreamed an entire paranormal novel with myself as a heroine. Of course I didn’t think of it that way — I was in the dream, after all, as my grown-up self. And the dream felt totally real to me when I was lost in it. But when I was telling Antonio about the dream the next day, he said it could very easily be modified for a YA heroine.

Antonio and I during our Lebanon trip, where I had some of the wildest dreams ever!

Antonio and I during our Lebanon trip, where I had some of the wildest dreams ever!

While I was having this incredible dream and immediately afterwards, I did a few things that I just have to share with you. Hopefully, these little mind exercises will help you to capture some of your coolest dreams and turn them into stories! After all, inspiration can come even subconsciously (and sometimes, it’s more vibrant that way).

  • Keep the dream alive. In the middle of the dream, my sleeping self actually realized how cool it was. So, when the REM cycle started ending and I felt myself waking up, I continued the dream in my head as if I was telling myself a story. Then, I nodded off again and the dream resumed. Bizarre technique, but it’s worked for me in the past, so I know it’s legit.
  • Tell someone about it. As soon as I woke up, I told Antonio about the dream. Retelling it made it more real and confirmed its value as a future writing project. Plus, it cemented the events of the story in my mind. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of an awesome dream or thought slipping away. Articulating the dream is the best way to prevent that horrible feeling.
  • Write it down. This one is obvious but worth mentioning. I’m pretty sure that all of us writers have inspiration notebooks, but if you don’t, picking one up should be your New Year’s Resolution. Before I agreed to do anything else, I scribbled down the dream in its entirety, and now it lies waiting to be resurrected in the form of a later project. Can’t wait!

Have you ever had any dreams that were so cool you turned them into stories? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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