Saturday, November 24, 2012

Targeting the audience

So here we are 4 years later (5 years?).  We still exist.  But we haven't "hit it big". 

The trouble is, marketing.

Really simple:  4 P's.

Product - our product(s) is(are) very good; customer feedback, reader satisfaction, and positive reviews in official media confirm this.

Price - the price is certainly reasonable.  It does not compete (or try to) with the "penny horribles" at the Crazy Store, but it is not as pricey as the books in a certain chain...

Position - that is where we fall smack on our faces.  (No thanks to a certain bookshop chain who told us to get reviewed by the country's most respected reviewer before they would bother stocking our books.)

and Promotion.   In this self-same blog and its sister-blog, the P'kaboo Blog, I detailed often enough our loud, active, off-the-wall style promotion.  Also, the Solar Wind has been reviewed several times now, and four times (4!) in mainstream printed media (newspapers, a glossy mag).  But without positioning, the promotion can go nowhere. People read about the series and want to buy it, can't find it and give up.

Where is your book's best position?
Right in your reader's face.  He has to walk into it around every corner until it is such a part of his reality that he can't help but pick one up out of curiosity.

How does one get into a reader's face?


Ok this is circular logic, but it should be obvious from this that having the book shoved in your face is a lot more effective than reading a review.  What sells the book best is - well - the book!

Going to work on this a bit, but from all this it should become clear that right now the name of the game is distribution

Monday, November 19, 2012


There comes a time in every business (and usually it comes round and round again) when one needs to focus.
It doesn't matter if the business is small or enormous.
It took 4 years to determine which way we make our best sales. I still believe our selection of titles (including my own, yeahh..) are good; and there are avenues we have never yet explored (due to, mainly, financial constraints).
Here are my findings, and I'm sure others have completely different experiences.

Our best sales have been, so far, in descending order:
  • Violin Tunes for Beginners, mainly to a distribution agent, and directly to music shops; of course, I have a captive market there as every new student also buys one.  But the real sales have been to the distribution agent who sold to music shops all over and to CNA.
  • Solar Wind 1.  Mostly direct sales, and a few to bookshops.  
  • Solar Wind 2.  Again mostly direct sales, plus a few to bookshops.
  • Almost Dead in Suburbia.  Direct sales mostly, again.  Some internet sales.
  • Everything else.
The markets:
  • Overall primary market, direct sales to friends, contacts and people we know.  These would be in part beneficiaries of gift copies if some huge publisher were to publish the book instead of a little one-girl-show. 
  • Secondary market, music shops and CNA via agent.  Music sells better than novels.
  • Hardly any sales online.
  • Sales to book clubs:  None - but that might be because the focus has not been on them.
Successful ways of advertizing:
  • Word-of-mouth, alerting friends and relatives by email and phone call. 
  • Some response:  P'kaboo Website, Lulu, Amazon
  • Little to no response:  Reviews in local paper, magazines.
  • Little to no response:  Community events with music.
  • Little to no response:  Blogging.  Very time-consuming and a nice hobby in itself but can cost one the very time it takes to generate new stories and marketing ideas.
  • Haven't tried:  Youtube uploads; radio ads; TV ads, full-colour ads in mags and newspapers. Which of these will work, if any?  They all cost money to generate.  So each of them will be a bit of a gamble, and to gamble too low means to lose because it will not generate enough interest for any return.
  • Another angle:  Targeting interest groups.  Not yet tried.

Well, there we are. Most important commodity right now:  My time.  Where do I apply it best?  Because it is alas, as usual, dreadfully limited. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Organizing my mind

The purpose of this blog is to splash, in rough draft, my experiences and observations in the publishing project.

My experience at this point is one of being a bit overwhelmed, so I'll just jot down point-wise what I have to do until December (except for getting printed and launching the 3 new books).

Right now:
  • Upload all our books to BookData
    • following which, contact Waterstones
  • Upload the rest of our books to Amazon
    • for which purpose:
    • Straighten the insides of VT1
    • Finish the insides of the "workhorse" version of "Not Another Scale Book" (+get it an ISBN)
    •  PDF them in the right format
    • Finish formatting SW3 for Kindle; ISBN and upload
  • Publish: "Naked in the Sea" (Marie M) -> format, ISBN and Kindle; P'kaboo ISBN and P'kaboo version ebook
  • Books to Paul
  • Books to Les
  • Monday: Dispatch books to Malaysia
  • Done: Proofed SW3, Lupa and SW1 in paper, requested reproof (position issues)
  • Check that the improved pages on P'kaboo are uploaded
  • Finish the new order form PHP 

  • The issues with Paypal and shipping cost calculations are unbearable.  Need to install a different shopping cart on the website.
  • "A Tensional Guitarist":  Reformat so it can be made into a Kindle book.
  • The ShortStory Project:  
    • Find a title; 
    • ISBN, 
    • select collection, 
    • get cover
    • ?Audience participation? 
I'm sure I'm forgetting a few things.  But I may remember them when I'm through the list.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Amazin' Amazon

Five of our titles are by now uploaded on Amazon.  Find them here:

Our books on Amazon:

There is also Forest Circle Quest, not yet in the Amazon Store but can be obtained from CreateSpace under P’kaboo imprint, It should be in the general store in a day or two.

This works.  At least, it looks as though it ought to.  Twelve books (including paper and Kindle copies) are already downloaded.

Converting from A5 to 6x9 inch is quite compatible.  The trouble comes with the music books.  I'm trying to convert A4 music books to 8.5x11 - and 11 is simply not tall enough!  Things get cut off, at least an inch off the top.  I'll have to go back to basics and change everything in "letter" and potentially ask our graphic "ou" to redo the covers (again)...

On the other hand, Amazon opens doors.  It really is quite phenomenal.  It downright changes my business model!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Remembering Clare

At the outset of my self-publishing journey, in 2008, there was this site, "Bookhabit".  You could self-publish your book as an ebook up there, which is what I did... for the first 5 Solar Wind sequels.  The 6th was in progress when I got sidetracked into paper-publishing & starting P'kaboo.  (The other place I uploaded to was

Clare Tanner was the owner of Bookhabit.  She had something going:  People bought ebooks at $2.99, and the author got a $1 royalty per sale.  That meant, $1.99 profit for her for every sale.  Also, she paid out after you had a minimum amount in your account ($50 I think it was?).  I never got that far.  That side of things of course goes under loose ends; I also think her profit margin as compared to author royalty was a bit big, considering that there was no running cost (other than the web hosting).  In the light of Kindle having a 70% royalty program, and EPub and some other sites allowing you to keep all your royalties, one would expect service from a place like Bookhabit.

Service she did give.  She got in touch with authors and helped them tirelessly with their upload issues etc.  She didn't review the books unless they peaked her interest (there were over 600 titles and I do believe the intent was to read them all but of course she needed to select). I was amongst the lucky few whose books she actually read and I hope sincerely that this was worth it for her, as mine weren't exactly runaway sellers.  She did call me, all the way from Australia, to put up a podcast for me.  I (stupid me, newbie) said all the annoying things first-time authors say, like, "I hope the books will get as famous as Harry Potter", and going on to discuss the whole plot.  I hope since then I've wised up a bit, poor Clare, she was working with absolutely raw material there.

Clare had something there.  She definitely did.  The concept of publishing books as ebooks only, and then presenting paperbacks of same when the sales figures warrant it, really teases.  I wouldn't allow people to self-upload (yet); they'd have to submit.  For Kindle, you self-upload and an automated system checks your files; and then they get re-checked, I don't know whether via a more sophisticated system or actual people but the latter seems likely, seeing how they "fix issues" with minimal fuss.  But:  Nobody proof-reads your story and tells you it's sub-standard.  Nobody refers you to an editor.  Nobody physically does the layout for you (unless of course you contact those people on Kindle yourself and ask - and pay - for those services). 

Now, P'kaboo would do it differently.  We'd actually read your manuscript (so it's a full submission).  We decide whether it's up to our standard and within our scope (I've to date read a couple of very well-written manuscripts but their content fell outside of what P'kaboo wants to represent, whether they were violent, overly political, or in other ways didn't suit our concept - so if we reject your book, try submitting your other book, it might be more acceptable).  We'd do the internal layout for you, to publish the book on our site as pdf; and later, when the machinery is in place, as DRM-managed Kindle, Ipad, Kobo, Nook etc etc files.  We would then also place your book in such stores as Amazon.  If you need editing you can get it from our Author Services.  Also the cover graphic is something you need to consider.

In other words, you'll not be self-publishing your ebook.  You'll be getting it polished and perfected, and promoted into various places,  and most importantly, you'll have been approved. You'll be published via us.  Your book will bear our logo.  And in time, if the sales figures warrant it, there shall be a paperback of same.

Sounds good?

Let me put my mind to it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bogus Sangoma busted!

The young author we counselled (see last post) has moved forward with his self-publication.  Have a look at this sweet site!  (I think it's well done - especially the dog bowls are a nice touch!)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

At which point may I call myself a "veteran"?

Today I counselled a young author (both in years and publications) as to how to go about self-publishing.

He has exactly the same issues I had the first time round.

He is afraid someone will steal his work.  So afraid that he doesn't even dare hand a file to me for consideration.  Not even if I offer to co-publish him - one of the ways in which P'kaboo, who is not currently accepting full submissions, can still support new authors and get them going.  Co-publishing is gentler than self-publishing in that the publisher does take responsibility for part of the cost, and of course for the process (quality control & the works).

He talks of selling his car so he can print a big run of 2000 books.  O my hat!  And that without having any idea where to start with marketing and distribution?  Without knowing whom to approach for printing - and what it means to police the quality of printers in South Africa? And he would have possibly run with us co-publishing his work...  if we could get it done in a month.

If I wait for a proof for six weeks from the printer that gives me the best prices by a margin, just to discover the proof is still seriously flawed...  how can I promise an author to deliver his print run in a month?  And that would include the editing - which is a highly interactive process with our expert editor, who is set apart from other editors by the fact that he works closely with the authors; and it would also include the process of generating a cover graphic.

Which he had - of sorts.  The colours:  Striking.  But the whole effect was confusing, and needs streamlining. This is generally what happens when people try to do it themselves instead of leaving it to those who earn their bread and butter with that art.  A cover is an advertisement.  It has to have an immediate, strong message and must still make sense if it's the size of a thumbnail graphic online. 

And then the layout...  I've seen this in many self-published ebooks, they are basically manuscripts.  Formatting = Zero. One should think that the authors have never yet read a shop-bought book in their lives...  one needs paragraphs, margins, indents etc etc.  Tricks such as font size, margin size, gutter...  how to make a book easier on the eye. 

It got me thinking that I ought to put a brochure on P'kaboo, with tips for self-publishing authors on how the process works, what to watch out for, where the short-cuts are...  but for wailing, the most difficult part of self-publishing is the actual publicity!

Can I call myself a veteran yet?  With the third and fourth books in the Solar Wind series ready for publishing, one in the proofing phase and one at the cover graphic stage, and with five other authors aboard (ok that includes my own hubby but it also includes a high-profile musician in Cali and a poetess in Scotland) and two waiting in the wings (once again, one is a person close to me; the other a previously published and self-published author!) can I say that my P'kaboo initiative has been growing, quietly but steadily?  With our books in around 50 music shops around the country and a couple of dozen bookshops, can I say we have distribution?  With reviews in the local Rekord, in the Your Family and online, can I say we have (some) publicity?

Not enough, not enough, not enough!!!

What is missing?  The big money, the big distribution.  Only one of our books so far is in CNA; only one in Top Books.  Exclusive's remain elusive.  The trouble is the pricing.  Just too much to leave a decent margin for distribution agents.  But we shall persevere, and we shall prevail.

Anyway our website is much cuter than any of those other online sites for publishing/self-publishing.  But it's not yet very interactive.

It has been suggested that I write out writing competitions for P'kaboo... I'm trying to figure out how to do this legally. 


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Is your ebook reading you?

Your E-Book Is Reading You

According to Alexandra Alter’s article in the Wall Street Journal, for the first time in history publishers and book sellers have their claws on hard data about what turns pages.

Buying a Kindle, you sign an agreement with Amazon that they will be allowed to peer over your shoulder at what you bookmark, highlight, comment upon, and at which page you put the story down.  Nook and Kobo do similar data harvesting off their e-readers.

What does that mean to the publisher?  I guess it will be such a lot easier to decide which titles warrant big money behind them.  Simply scan a manuscript through a few proofreaders and observe their reading behaviour (speed, highlights, comments…).  Where before it was an art that relied on the author striking it “lucky” with style and finding an agent or publisher who enjoyed his book, now it’s becoming an exact financial science…

What does it mean to the author?

I would suspect, two things.  Firstly, YAY!  We’re finally getting feedback!  (We got feedback before:  It came in reviews, readers’ comments and sales figures, but now we’re getting detailed feedback:  Which ones of our quips hit the funny bone best.)  We can therefore learn which parts of our style are best liked by most readers, and we can adjust.  Or we can decide, doggedly, to write for that fanatic minority that likes our long-winded melodrama and our unfunny lines, and not budge from our style.

But secondly, it means that publishers will now expect of us, more than ever before, that we attend writing courses so that we all can write in exactly the same money-spinning way…. (“im Gleichschritt, Marsch!”).  The question is:  If everything tastes like peanut butter, and nothing tastes of oysters (though oysters are admittedly an acquired taste), how long until peanut butter stops selling altogether?  I think they pioneered this with the TV soapies…
Trends will be identified.  Readers want to read about…  boy meets girl, or perhaps, boy meets boy; murder-at-sea stories; and tear-jerkers about the teenage daughter of a rock star who follows in her dad’s footsteps even though he abandoned her and Mommy.  So if you want to write about vampicorns, well sorry, mate:  The market wants teen rock starsters.  Not weird imaginary monsters.

It makes target marketing easier of course:  If a book is marked “Young Adult” then sure as anything, for young adults it is!  It’s not an “I-Think-So” science as up to now.

Seeing that ebooks in America have outsold paper books this year, this is definitely the way to go.

And then there is the privacy issue:  Do I really want Amazon watching me while I read how the hero seduces the heroine?  This is the kind of (ob)scene where I go and hide with my book in a cupboard to hide my blush, because frankly, I’m inside the story and privacy is called for!  (If you think I’m embarrassed reading such scenes you should see me trying to write them!)  So if the Great Amazon In The Sky watches my face burn while I read such a scene (slowly, savouring it), and later read it again because perhaps it was well-written… arrrgh! Leave me alone!!

Then again, do I mind if Amazon watches me while I read Harry Potter?  Not at all, in any way!  And with “The Wee Free Men” I sort-of wish the author were in the room to hear me roar with laughter – his reward for writing such stuff.  Nothing blows my hair back better than hearing a reader giggle and snort over what I’ve written, and shoo me away because they want to focus on the book.

Here’s the upshot for the small publisher P’kaboo:

Currently all the ebooks we have available are in pdf format.

Every E-reader can handle pdf.  (This is the main reason.)  Even Android can.
But pdf can’t “read” you back. A pdf is practically an “image” file with the letters frozen into position.

There are programs that allow you to annotate pdf, bookmark etc… but they are (and stay) on your computer.  (And gosh, let me sing you a saga about how unwieldy pdf is for editing!)  P’kaboo cannot (and will not) pry.  We love feedback; but we would like you to volunteer it.  Drop us an email if you thought something was well written; or comment on the P’kaboo blog. Or better, just tell your friends what you thought, instead.

Remember to click here and collect your free copy of “Donegal Trouble” en route if you don’t have one yet…  ;) 

(and remember that there’s more of that story to be had, in “The Mystery of the Solar Wind” and “The Assassin” and, soon to be launched, “Freedom Fighter” and “Raider!”. )

Friday, May 18, 2012

Nuts and bolts

I look back at our first publication, the first sequel of the "Solar Wind" series, and I'm actually quite pleased with our progress.

Let's face a few things:  Huge amounts of novels have not yet been moved.  For that, the entry level cost per copy is still far too high.  The best is people buying the books off the website; but accommodating a shop's profit in the equation is not easy, and adding an agent's margin pushes the selling price out of range for normal book lovers.  So the greatest challenge is to find a printer who will go low enough on small volumes.

The second largest challenge is publicity, but I blogged on that before and will be blogging again; not tonight though.

However despite small sales volume the business has grown enough that it now sports quite an enticing little range.  The range is due to be extended once again, in the very near future:

  • "Forest Circle Quest" is practically print-ready
  • So is "Lupa"
  • "Freedom Fighter" is print-ready
  • and we are adding a lovely little range of books for young children, hard-cover and fully illustrated, by children's book author Leslie Hyla Winton Noble with his delightful sense of humour, and a very talented young illustrator.
 We are also in the process of creating ebook versions of all our books.  At this point all we can offer is pdf; however pdf is a format that presents on practically all e-readers on the market.  We will move into the other formats as time allows.

The one thing that catches me a bit is overload.  I find that as I haven't stopped doing what I was doing before for bread-and-butter, i.e. running a music studio, I work until late at night, to be up before dawn again the next morning.  This takes its toll, and the item that suffers most is my own writing. I can understand and envy writers who howl, "all I want to do is write".  Like being a full-time mother, being a full-time writer is a profession for a select few privileged souls who don't have to earn a living en route to their first bestseller.

Btw, did you know in South Africa a book counts for a bestseller if it sells 3000 copies here? One needs to raise the bar - nobody can get financially independent on 3000 copies of a book!

That's all for now...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An immensely busy time

Balancing cost-per-copy against international airmail charges is a tango.  So investigations proceed into printing companies in the US who would be able to print, at a reasonable CPC, our music books.  Ditto in the UK, where I've luckily got a synergistic contact. Getting quotes over the public holidays is of course another matter...

We've achieved a lot recently:

  • Forest Circle Quest is print-ready and will be placed after the Easter Weekend.  The launch will take place in Durban, seeing that it's Les's book; date still to be finalized.
  • Violin Tunes is now in CNA and many different music shops across the country.  Best move ever, meeting the agent.
  • Not Another Scale Book! is finally off to America for the author.  I hope he will be as excited holding it in his hands as I was when I first had a paperback copy of the Solar Wind in my hands.
  •  Some work is still to be done on LUPA but the focus is narrowing down on it, meaning that we're going to be printing it in the not-too-distant future.
  • The Solar Wind 3 - "Freedom Fighter" - is ready for print.  A special hitch here - the printers that give us such beautiful quality on Forest Circle Quest can't bind books as thick as Freedom Fighter; so more binders are being investigated as the most important next step.  It's currently a waiting game, for them to come back with quotes.
No wonder I feel a little worn...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Frozen Wave

It is surreal.  I removed the wasp's nest (the cuckoo's egg) from my site and put a stop to the abuse... and the whole stats stopped.  A freak wave, frozen in mid-air.

We shall see the real results over the next few days - if any of that wave of traffic "stuck" in any way to the bookshop or if they were really only using my domain for free.

Over 100% managed to connect to the favicon - how is that possible?

Gone Viral - Part II

No, this is not a new Science Fiction series :). (Yet.)

I blogged "Gone Viral" on the P'kaboo Blog but as this second part relates more to the learning curve than the business, I'm placing it here.

 In February we uploaded a new improved index page. The page clicks grew in a nice, trackable way, a sweet little hyperbolic curve that we were quite chuffed with.

 Then I followed a hint and a hunch and added a "Don't click me, I'm Secret" tag to my favourite free download. Just for fun and because it looked a lot better than "click me, I'm free". And overnight we had our door trampled by Russian browsers (all using Yandex) checking out, I suppose, what was so "secret".

 I find it hilarious that it had to be all the .ru users who suddenly skyrocketed in connection with a supposed "secret". They were all to be disappointed: Not only was the "secret" only a free ebook, but they couldn't even read it (I would presume) because it's an English pdf file. Ergo, not a staggering amount of downloads.

I found this a bit sad as our books are all extremely readable and someone looking to hone their English should pick them as a first choice.

 Nevertheless, I continued tracking our suddenly scary volume. I learnt a bit about Russian internet users.

They prefer Yandex. I haven't yet experimented with Yandex but it looks like a nice enough search engine. It also has an instant translation function, but as far as I can see, only between Russian and English.

 They prefer browsers such as Safari and Opera to our IE and Google Chrome. Suppose they are onto something. Firefox is also quite a favourite.

 I have no idea what search terms they put in; 's all in Russian!

 I found the weirdest referrers. (A referrer is a link leading to a P'kaboo page.) I followed some of the links to sites that looked much like our "Gumtree" etc. And then I found - wait for it - a wasp's nest.

I found it today.  I noticed that our most visited pages all started with "files", a directory I hadn't created.  And except for our home page and one other page, all the pages were in Russian!

I had a look at those pages and found a lovely pirate of a car parts website, having laid its cuckoo's egg into my domain.  Even using my favicon!  Well!

After that it was a matter of simply deleting their pages off my server again.  But now I'll have to be careful that they don't take some or other revenge.

I wish I could reset our page stats to see how much of all that traffic was really generated by our upgraded front page (which I had to move back to the bookshop to save bandwidth) and how much our cuckoo brought us.  Sadly, unsolicited traffic will never turn into qualified traffic - that's like asking a dog to turn into a horse.

It would be nice if you could watch this site with me and check every now and then if you find results when typing "" into the address bar.  It ought to give a "403 - Verboten" code but if it lands anywhere else, pls let me know.  How did they get in?  How did they override my securities?

We'll keep an "aye" on this.