The 99-Cent eBook Dilemma

Book Marketing Plans

Photo by Vivek Kumar on Unsplash

After packing and then hauling my laptop all the way down to the Dominican Republic for Christmas vacation with family this year, I ended up not writing a single word. While planning for my trip, I truly had thought I’d write at least a little bit. I’d just assumed that I would sneak off to jot down a few notes, maybe a paragraph…probably not an entire chapter, but something nonetheless. After all, I have two manuscripts in progress and two entirely new books outlined just waiting in the wings. And I told myself logically, I have a self-imposed publishing schedule to keep. A schedule where I’ve started to miss the deadlines marked so thoughtfully on my Google calendar. So, it made sense to carefully fold my laptop between the bathing suits, shorts, and sundresses because all my writing of late has been geared toward making my deadlines, expanding my brand, and growing my literary empire. But in truth, I didn’t even crack the laptop open to check my emails. I can, of course, do that on my phone.

Okay, don’t laugh. I do have dreams of one day being a best-seller. Though, when or how that will happen is still a mystery to me. I did the usual steps of cultivating book reviews and gathering awards for my website to bolster my own validation and to give my career as an indie author legitimacy. But, I struggle almost daily between the dilemma of giving my work away because I want to be read by a wide audience and valuing my time and talent by keeping my books priced (ebooks at least) just under well-known authors like Sherrilyn Kenyon, Christine Feehan, Karen Marie Moning, and Patricia Briggs. These are other paranormal romance authors who I read, love, and want to one day be listed among.

So which is it? Do I spend a year or more writing, crafting, editing, producing, and designing a product only to slap a 99-cent price tag on it so readers are more likely to take a risk by purchasing a work of an unknown author? Or do I value the time and effort that went into bringing a book to the marketplace by keeping my ebooks at $3.99 and hope that the right book-influencer stumbles across it? Then reads it. And hopefully, tells others how awesome it is?

Do I write to be read? Or, do I write to make a small income?

I know I’m not the only indie author to struggle with this dilemma. The prevailing thought is that in giving our work away we gain access to more readers. But, this strategy also hurts the ebook marketplace as a whole. How are any of us going to make a living if all ebooks, except for the publishing industries’ chosen darlings, are just 99-cents? That’s less than the price of a cup of coffee. And, there’s also that lingering assumption by readers that 99-cent ebook isn’t well-written. If it were, then why is it so cheap?

It’s a catch 22. I’m damned no matter what marketing plan I choose and that best-seller label seems even further away every year.

So, I find myself stumbling back to my original question. Why do I write? Is it because I must write. Would I be writing if I weren’t publishing? Well, the resounding answer is YES. I’ve been writing for my entire life. So why do I find it so hard to just lower my prices? After all, I’m not living off my writing right now. After Covid, my book sales are in the toilet. Why not just say fuck it and give the books away. At least then they’ll get read by someone. Anyone.

Here’s the rub and my other problem with the 99-cent plan. The few times I’ve discounted my books to that low, low price, I didn’t see the upswing in sales that the marketing “experts” promised would happen. And when I look at friends of mine who are authors trying to earn a living by keeping their ebook prices at the standard average of $3.99, I felt like I am betraying them in some way. Call me crazy. (I’m beginning to think anyone who publishes in today’s industry must be just a little nuts.)

Unlike most of my posts, this entry doesn’t have a tidy conclusion. This is me thinking out loud and sharing thoughts that plague so many other authors. If you have a suggestion for escaping this catch-22, please feel free to leave a comment below. I welcome your wisdom. And of course, look for me to run the occasional discounted price on my catalog of titles throughout the coming year. Cause when in doubt, choose the middle ground.

Thanks for listening.

—Tarrant

Latest Review! 🥰

Reviewed By Tammy Ruggles for Readers’ Favorite

The Souls of Witches by Tarrant Smith is a well-written page-turning paranormal romance novel. This selection is from the series Legends of the Pale about paranormal characters and communities living and struggling on the outskirts of society in a place called The Pale. Members of these unique communities include werewolves, demons, witches, and other supernatural entities. Smith has created a plot that will pull you in like quicksand–the dangerous but irresistible romance between a demon/demigod hybrid named Lars and an unassuming but independent kitchen witch named Rowan who lives a quiet life and knows what she wants and doesn’t want out of life. She never thought she wanted or needed her “other half”–a soulmate. Are the two destined to be together? How will they overcome the darkness that threatens them and their differences? There are secrets buried in the past, and if Lars chooses to be with her, it may cost her life.

Come for the plot, stay for the characters and emotional love story. This author makes it easy to sink right into the story, beginning with brief character sketches at the beginning to get you familiar with the players. This is greatly appreciated. As the story begins, you will immediately recognize that this writer is talented, knows how to put a story together, and pull emotions from the reader. The attention to detail is impressive, the inner dialogue balanced with narrative and exterior dialogue, and the imagery is cinematic. You are in Rowan’s world all the way, made tangible by thoughts, descriptions, and her personality. As you read, you get the feeling you’re reading about real people with real lives (albeit paranormal ones), not characters in a book. When Rowan’s world collides with Lars’ at the witch’s ball, we are treated to romantic chemistry that throbs like a heartbeat. There are some strong, steamy sex scenes for those who like a little heat, but with genuine longing and connection too. I like the way Lars’ character develops over time and the inner turmoil he wrestles with. Rowan grows too, but Lars’ changes are profound. The backstory is crucial to this series and its characters. This is a world you can easily get caught up in, and Smith should be applauded for world-building skill, which is the foundation of a series like this. If you can’t believe the world, nothing else matters. But Smith masters it. The Souls of Witches by Tarrant Smith is the perfect example of a must-read paranormal romance.

One more Book Signing!

I do miss doing these signings. I hadn’t realized how important it was to meet face to face with readers until Covid-19 happened.

First, let me say that the Madison Artist Guild Book Signing Event this past Saturday was a great success. Fellow author Crystal Jackson and I were all masked up and careful to maintain a safe distance from each other and shoppers. I saw people I hadn’t seen in a very long time. And I had the opportunity to chat with a few new readers who are just discovering my books. The entire day was a blast!

Stop by and say hello!

Which brings me to my next scheduled signing. I have high hopes for it as well because it too will coincide with Madison’s Downtown Shop, Sip & Stroll. I’ll be so happy to hang out at my favorite store, In High Cotton. Whether I sell a single book or not, I’ll probably purchase a gift for someone on my Christmas list while I’m there.

A big thank you to all the people who have purchased one of my books this year. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I loved writing them.

See you soon. May 2021 be your best year yet!

-Tarrant

The 4th Book is Nearly Here!

Lars and Rowan’s story is unlike any other I’ve tackled. And, of course, Rowan is a Kitchen Witch like myself so this means that her view of the world and her place in that world is very close to my heart.


Well, technically it’s here now!

To actually order my author copies from Amazon, the paperback has to be live on their site already. So, I hit that scary publish button after receiving and approving my book’s physical proof… and there you go. The paperback can be ordered immediately (so can my author copies), but the ebook format won’t be downloadable until Saturday, November 21st. Which is the official release date.

Universal Sales Link for The Souls of Witches: Click Here !

For writers who are currently writing their first book or indie publishing for the very first time

You need to be aware that getting your book into print is just the beginning of a very long process. To get your baby seen and in the hands of readers, there’s a slew of marketing and book buzz that should be going on well in advance of your ultimate release date. And I’ve been doing that.

  • Through consistently timed author website posts and Facebook posts.
  • By over-sharing updates on this book’s editing process, cover reveals, proof reveals.
  • Doing general series-marketing so readers know that they will soon have another set of characters joining the Pale.
  • Sharing an excerpt from the book in my weekly podcast. Click Here to listen.
  • And utilizing basic word of mouth – talking up the book with anyone who’d listen.

Now that the book is available for purchase and download (soon), I will have to ramp up my promotional buzz on all my social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Substack). This will include a few eye-catching graphics and more snippets from the book itself. I’ll also set up a few January book signings to celebrate its holiday release.

So, please look for the book.

Lars and Rowan’s story is unlike any other I’ve tackled. And, of course, Rowan is a Kitchen Witch like myself so this means that her view of the world and her place in that world is very close to my heart.

I hope you enjoy, The Souls of Witches. I truly enjoyed writing it.

First Podcast…Ever!

Hello my lovelies,

The first Tales of the Pale podcast has been posted on Substack. Please check it out and be sure to share it with your friends.

https://tarrant.substack.com/p/tales-of-the-pale-vol-1

Building an Email List

Okay, building a mailing list was one of those things I should have done at the beginning of my self-publishing journey. But I didn’t. I’m not even sure why I refused to ask for emails from readers who enjoyed my books. All I can say is that in 2010, back when ebooks were starting to really take off, it was just so incredibly easy to attract readers on Amazon. If it had been harder, I would have thought seriously about nurturing a mailing list.

In 2020, Amazon’s platform is filled to the brim with competing titles, and readers are inundated with choices. The choices potential readers are typically shown are weighted by Amazon’s ever-changing algorithm. Established writers with name recognition and publishing houses behind them have an easier time of it. Indie authors, however, have to really get into the nuts and bolts of tag words, editorial reviews, verified reviews, and the number of times a reader finds a review helpful to get any tangible traction in this very competitive field.

Hence the importance of a currented mailing list. A list I don’t have.

I’m told…an author’s email list should be comprised of past-readers, potential readers, readers who enjoy your blog post, your social media followers who find you witty or just want to support you, and your immediate friends and family.

I don’t have that list. But I now have a way to begin one.

Let me tell you about Substack.

Whereas Patreon is geared toward everyone who produces art content in various forms, Substack seems specifically geared with writers in mind. The Substack platform is similar to Medium in that you can write articles, fiction, or poetry and publish it yourself. The difference in Medium and Substack is how you are paid. Substack offers an email subscription set-up for readers who’d like to support you as an author.

(Follow me on this short side tangent for a moment and it will become clear why I moved to Substack.)

Medium recently changed its payment paradigm. It when from claps, reads, and highlight-engagement to the overall read-time of a published piece. This rather simple change affected lots of Medium writers who saw their monthly revenue drop. (Like off a cliff.) The switch also changed what writers chose to produce. Suddenly longer how-to articles seemed to be the way to go if you wanted to get paid. I tended to write poetry on Medium so overnight I stopped making back my $5 membership fee plus enough for a few fancy coffees. Instead, I was making nothing and paying Medium $5 a month despite working just as hard as I ever had.

Enter Substack.

Here’s my Substack page: https://tarrant.substack.com/

Like Medium, there’s no limit to how much work I’m allowed to produce. I own the rights to all my writing. But unlike Medium, I don’t have to pay a monthly fee to put my work behind a paywall. If I want to get paid for my efforts then I can offer readers a paid subscription for anyone willing to sign up for my weekly newsletter/publication, Tales of the Pale. It can be a little as a few dollars a month if I want. It’s my choice to charge or keep everything free. Substack will simply take their cut from any money that comes in for my particular publication. So that’s pretty simple. And of course, this system works well if you, as an author, have a large following and already have a substantial mailing list to start with.

However, I’ve got two pressing issues at the moment. Firstly, I need to build a mailing list from scratch. That’s not easy. Second, I’m not sure I’d ever produce enough extra-valued material to justify ever asking anyone for $5 a month to receive my exclusive newsletter. (I’d be better off creating a Go Fund Me page, I think. lol)

So, what I’ve decided to do is use Substack as a platform to create an email list I can use to build buzz for my paranormal romance series. I have already imported all my writing from Medium into Substack. They made this so easy to do.

Here’s the cool part… I also get to produce my own podcast using this platform. That’s right, a whole new medium to master. Whoo-who! For the first few podcasts, I plan to do readings from the books. I might even produce a short story or two just for my weekly Newsletter/Publication. I could interview myself. Interview a character. Reveal a newly-written poem. The possibilities are endless.

I truly am excited about Substack. The first issue is 10/23/20 Click here to subscribe to the (FREE) Tales of the Pale.

And the Winner for the Romance Category is…

“Tarrant Smith.”

I did a double take. “Who? I thought Georgiana Fields..”

“No she’s the finalist. You won.”

“Oh!?

I stood. I was flustered and totally unprepared. I had come to the awards dinner last night under the assumption that my competition would win the category. I had come to the event prepared to congratulate her. And I was happy about it. She’s fabulous!

To make matters worse, I got emotional as I stepped on stage to accept the 2020 Independent Author of the Year Award in the category of romance. It was for my first book in the Legends of the Pales Series, The Love of Gods. To those that know me, none of this will come as a surprise. I’m usually wound pretty tight where events are concerned, book-related or not. Faced with friends and family who’d come to support me, I cried at my very first book signing. (Ugly cried. Red-faced, runny-nose, and fanning my face cried.) And when I read my work to the Madison Writers Group the first time, I had secretly fortified my courage with two large glasses of wine. (That first reading was awful BTW!)

As for last night’s event, I had consumed only a glass and a half of wine because I’d promised my husband that I would face the night relatively buzz-free. I did manage to recover and utter a coherent thank you as I hurried from the stage to keep from embarrassing myself any further. I do remember wishing I had had the foresight to invite my editor to the dinner. Not that she can edit me in real-time, but it might have helped.

I went to bed happy but exhausted last night.

Then, this morning I watched the video my husband had taken and the Live Feed Vickie had posted on the Southern Pen Bookshop Facebook page. Oh, boy! Basically, I am too busy critiquing what I looked like and how I sounded to bask in the glow of my achievement. Why didn’t I wear my hair up? And that dress! It makes my knees and legs look ugly. I should have worn the longer rose dress and a shorter heel. Do I look chunky? I sound way more Southern than I thought. Of course, none of my craziness matters to the people who love me.

Deep breaths.

Obviously, I have some self-image issues. Thank the gods I can write!

Why can’t we as humans, as women, and as writers just enjoy the good moments when they happen?

When I figure that out, I’ll let you know.

-Tarrant

New Fall Promotion!

On Friday, September 18th
The Love of Gods
will be discounted to

$ .99 (Ebook)

This special price will continue until Oct. 31st –

If you’ve yet to try this Paranormal Romance series, now is the time. Book 1, The Love of Gods, is the perfect introduction to a complex and oftentimes dangerous world known as the Pale. Follow the exiled god, Lugos, as he solves the mystery surrounding a prominent witch’s death and uncovers the truth behind a rumored shifter-plot. Navigating the various supernatural communities and their politics is always tricky. But this time, Lugos will have to do it while protecting the woman he loves.

The Love of Gods is a 2020 Georgia Independent Author Award Finalist and received Literary Titan’s Silver Book Award in 2019.

Promotion starts Sept. 18th!

Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/mZByNy

Where to Start: Sharing Tips for Self-Publishing (Formating)

I’m back! The creative block I was dealing with is gone and I’m back to working on my next book. I’m not entirely sure where this new avenue of inspiration will lead me, but it doesn’t matter. Eventually, everything will become clear in time.

And blind faith in my storytelling abilities kind of sums up what this entire self-publishing journey has been for me. Over the past ten years, I have wandered down paths that didn’t work and ones that did. My sales have been fabulous and sometimes dismal. But I kept going. I kept learning. I kept searching for new ways to move forward.

Eight books and counting!

Exactly how much I’ve learned about the self-publishing industry astounds me. I now have writers coming to me for advice on how to publish their books. What are the steps? Where do I start? There are just so many questions! I talk with them or exchange emails and I’m always reminded of how overwhelming the process can seem the first time around.

My Marketing page gives all sorts of advice and tips for after the book is published, but it doesn’t address any of the steps indie authors need to tackle before they publish. Today I’d like to begin a series of posts that might help. And yes, do your own homework. Goggle ‘how do I self-publish my book’ and read everything you can find on the subject. I just want to add to the conversation and share how I publish my books in the hope that it will help new authors in their own journey.

Where to start: Formating the Interior

Okay, you have written a book and you’ve opted to go the self-publishing route. Where do you start?

(My personal formatting notes are at the end of this list)

Photo by Romain V on Unsplash
  1. First, make sure your book is edited! If it is, then promise yourself you aren’t going to go back a year from now and tinker with it again. This is the final-final drop-dead last version of your print book. This promise to yourself matters. It matters because you have to determine how many pages the book will be. The number of pages and the overall size of the book will determine its print cost. (You can easily make corrections and additions to an ebook format, but print is a different animal altogether.) So have a hard talk with yourself and then no more massaging the prose.
  2. I publish my print books through Amazon KDP. (Back in the day, it used to be called Createspace.) Once you create an account, you can dive into all the information Amazon provides writers on standard book sizes, formating tips, cover specs, and what file type your book should be in when you submit it to Amazon. Read everything they have, and take notes.
  3. Decide on your overall book size, and keep it a standard size. Is your book a 5.25 x 8 or is it a 6×9? Go to your own bookshelf and study the different sizes. Hold them in your hands. If you’ve written a 50k book and don’t want the paperback to look like a chatbook, you’re probably going to pick a smaller overall size. If you’ve written a 200K doorstop, go with a larger overall book size.
  4. After you’ve decided on your book size then go back to your manuscript and change the overall page size to match the book dimensions you’ve chosen. At this point, your document might still be double-spaced and in Times New Roman. First, hit Ctrl-A and change the entire book to single-spaced and to a font Amazon suggests. Novels are single-spaced. If you don’t believe me, go back to your bookshelf and crack open several traditionally published books. No double spacing there! Okay, now you have a rough idea of how many pages your book will be. Do you want to change the overall book size from your first choice? If so, do it now. (A 300-page book will typically cost you more to print than a 250-page book. My books are just under 300 pages and are approximately 87k – 90k word count.)
  5. Book size determined…then the next step is to set your margins and format your text so it looks like a book. Consistency is important here. If you are going to center your Chapter Headings then do so throughout the book. Remember those notes you took while researching what Amazon suggested? Grab those and write down what your margins will be, your heading text size, pick a text font for the body and headings, the number of lines between headings and the top of the page, the line-spacing between the heading and the first line of prose, the amount of indent each first-sentence of each paragraph will receive. Write all of it down so you can refer back to your plan. You want the book’s formatting to remains the same throughout the book.
  6. Once the book is formated to this degree, look at it again. Are you happy with the font you’ve chosen? Go back and grab a few novels from your bookshelf to compare to your screen. (Make sure you set your view to 100% so you are comparing apples to apples.) Amazon suggests several different fonts for your print book. I like Perpetua although it’s not on their list. Some fonts are inherently larger than others. And some are easier on the eyes. Now is the time to decide what you like. What do you find to be the most readable?
  7. Good, all those decisions have been made and implemented. Now you think you have a page final count. But wait! Not quite yet. Time to deal with the Title page, copyright page, dedication page, any prologue or beginning quote, table of contents if you want one, about the author page (usually at the end of the book), previous credits/books published, or added promotional pages and social media links placed at the end of your book. That’s a lot of extra pages to add. Add those. Make sure you refer back to your bookshelf to see how those pages were handled by other authors.
  8. Almost there! Okay, now zoom out so that you can view on your computer screen 4-6 pages of your book at a time. This will give you a better idea of how a reader will experience your book. With mirrored-margins you will see that your title page is first (that’s what I call a facing page. It will appear on the right side when the book is held in your hands. The next page will be the back of your title page (left). This might be your copyright page. Then the facing page (right) is probably your dedication page. The back of the dedication page (left), might be a quote. If this seems crowded, then perhaps you need to add a blank page. Go back to your bookshelves and compare books. Most have a blank page inserted here and there so that there is a little breathing room between all this information. What you want is for your first chapter to start on a facing-page (right). Whether you treat all your chapters this way is up to you, but Chapter 1 should always start on the right.

    I know this can get complicated so here is an example from an early formatting effort with my poetry book. (Releasing in January of 2021.) Five-page view to make this more understandable.

    The title page is a facing-page (right-side when the book is open). The copyright page is the backside of the title page (left when you’ve turned the page and the book is open). The dedication page is a facing-page (on the right and directly across from the dedication page when the book is open). The message to the reader is behind the dedication page (left when the page is turned) and will appear directly across from A Writer’s Prayer. The Introduction begins on the back of the Writer’s Prayer. This way when the book is open the reader can view the introduction in its entirety. The same will apply to the table of contents. What you don’t see in this screenshot is the Grayscale Image will be on the left and the section title will be seen on the right (next page). Then I inserted a blank page (left and backside of the section title page) so that the first poem is viewed on a facing-page (right). And so on… throughout the entire book.

  9. Now that you’ve got all your extra pages inserted into your book and you’ve worked out the section breaks so that only the body of the book shows page numbers, you’re set! You now know the total number of pages your book will have. Amazon KDP has a tool that will give you the cost per book at this point. They can also provide you with a cover template that includes the printable space, spine, and bleed dimensions for your cover. If you aren’t good at graphic design, hire a cover designer and give them this information. Amazon will require a PDF for your cover file. You can choose gloss or matte finish when you enter the book’s general information into their forms.
  10. As for the interior. Save your Word document as a PDF. Embed any non-standard fonts. Now view the PDF in a PDF Reader just to make sure there aren’t any weird anomalies like added pages from hidden format problems you missed. If there are, go back into the word document and find them. Then resave and recheck. The interior of the book will look exactly like your PDF file. If there is a formating mistake after printing, it’s your fault.

My book formatting notes look like this: (applies to all my novels)

Book overall size: 5.25 x 8

Mirrored Margins .4 top, .4 bottom, .5 outside, .75 inside (gutter)

Centered and Bold all Headings: Chapter and all Titles

Chapter headings: 12.5 pt. – no line-spacing from the top of page

Title: 16 pt. 3 lines down from the top of page

Indent first line of prose/paragraph: .24

Body Text: Justified

Text font: Perpetua 12.5 pt. (all but Book Title which is Viner Hand ITC)

Spacing between paragraphs: .0

spacing between lines: .0 (Microsoft Word will automatically make it .8 if you don’t check this in your Paragraph formatting menu)

Page numbers: outside of page

Photo by Bram Van Oost on Unsplash

That should give you plenty to work on! Next post, I’ll walk you through Amazon’s publishing process.

Until then, keep writing and learning!

Not at my Desk

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Today is one of those days I’m not getting anything done. For the past three day’s I’ve been binge-watching a new TV show on Netflix, learning to speak Spanish from an app on my phone, and researching all the reasons I should consider making the move to veganism from vegetarianism. And why not? It’s only is a little more complicated and socially awkward for friends and family. Yeah, I know veganism is on the rise. Getting dairy substitutes isn’t all that difficult. But still, I’m not sure I’m ready to cross that rainbow bridge quite yet. My husband, bless his heart, is still getting over the day I announced I was never buying meat again. That was five years ago, and I had to backtrack almost immediately afterward. Because of him, fish makes an appearance twice a week at our house. So technically, I’m pescatarian not vegetarian. But I could be, and that’s the point.

Anyway, procrastination….

I tell myself that I can take a day off from my writing—especially this year with the pandemic. The pandemic is a good excuse for anything. Want to change your hair? Pandemic cut. Want to redecorate or work through a list of home projects? Sure, you’re at home because of the pandemic. Why not? Want to start a new business from home? Kind of a must, cause maybe your job doesn’t exist anymore.

But writing is my job and I love it. And I know why I’m procrastinating. I’m totally stuck. Not creatively—not exactly. I know where the book is ultimately going. My dilemma is I have a logistic problem that only occurs when a writer doesn’t fully understand her character’s strengths and weaknesses. Just how much can he/she take? How much will kill them or drive them mad? And then what? What will happen if they just lose their shit? How am I going to fix it later?

I know from experience that there is nothing worse than digging yourself into a plot hole that no amount of rewriting will fill. And I hate cutting multiple chapters after I’ve written them. You do it so your character can travel to the past in order to make a different choice, take a different path. Of course it can be done, but I’ll always retain the memory of the events that didn’t make it into the book because that storyline/time continuum offered no clear endings. I think having all these partial outcomes floating around in a single person’s head is what drives writers to drink—a lot. Drink a lot. Like lots. It’s also why time travel is so tricky.

So, I’m watching tv, learning Spanish phrases I might never use, making vegan-friendly grocery lists, and blogging about not writing. Maybe tomorrow my muse will show up to work and give me the answers I’m missing. I hope so. But until then….

Photo by Nikola Johnny Mirkovic on Unsplash