70% of Nothing: The Reality of Indie Publishing

By Lisa Maliga, Copyright 2015

computerscreenI barely passed basic math in seventh grade, but I’ve learned a lot about numbers, percentages and book rankings since 2010.

On October 21, I released my $2.99 novel, Notes from Nadir, which I had serialized via my blog of the same title. The price was chosen because I would earn a 70% royalty rate. I sold four copies the first month, the same number in November, and soon the book was ignored.

By February 2011, I had five novels on Amazon and a few other stores. The titles were previously published online and I had regained my full rights. Sales in the dawn of e-publishing [2000-2004] were minimal and I noticed nothing had changed, except that I was now doing all the work.

I self-published my nonfiction titles as I had extensive experience making soap and bath and body products. Over time, my eBooks were available on 12 other Amazon marketplaces like the UK, Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany, etc. I uploaded titles to B&N, Smashwords, Kobo, CreateSpace [paperbacks], iTunes, and Draft2Digital. I joined AuthorsDen, Manic Readers, Twitter, Face Book and WordPress. I’ve had my own website since 2001 and this year I launched a newsletter and offered free eBooks. I have two instructional videos and two book trailers on YouTube, and I joined Pinterest because I like photography.

When it comes to nonfiction books, I’ve discovered that it’s exceedingly difficult to get linkbacks/mentions from companies/sources that are listed. I revised one of my titles to include several photos and interview some suppliers. While I provide their links and contact information, they won’t add a link to my eBook on their website, nor mention it in a newsletter/blog.

Why are those listed suppliers unable to provide a link? I’m asking for no money and in many cases have even spent money on their product[s]! I offered them a free copy of my eBook in their preferred format.

Don’t these suppliers realize that they can make money from eBooks? Should a consumer read it and want to buy supplies, that supplier has just picked up some biz? Also, if a supplier has an Amazon or B&N affiliate link, they’ll get money for each copy sold from their website. [I realize that not all websites sell via Amazon/B&N].

Indie writers are easy to ignore. They have no agents, managers or publicists to get the word of their eBooks out there. Ironically, while many of the bath and body suppliers are fond of the term FAIR TRADE, they won’t do a simple link exchange which would actually benefit their own company!

But I kept writing until my titles increased from 1 to 32, almost evenly divided between fiction and nonfiction. Contrary to the myth that more books equal more sales, I’ve found the opposite to be true. As of August 2015, I have 7 more titles yet I’ve earned 30% less than I did in June 2014 on Amazon.

Approximately 90,000 eBooks are released on Amazon every month. The chances of any book being seen are in the league of unlikely to very unlikely.

How does a writer earn a decent living by writing eBooks? Four years ago, I saw a pattern. They wrote an eBook or two, especially a series or serial, blogged, went to other authors’ blogs and left comments. Those other authors had a larger following, so the neophyte eBook author sucked up to the “bigger authors” and dished out excellent book reviews, hoping to get the same treatment for their books. Even after that exhausting circle of writing, praising other writers, and occasionally having other writers praise you, they still hadn’t seen an increase in book sales. Others have speculated that at the start of the self-pubbing boom, some authors bought dozens of good reviews on Fiverr, thus launching their careers.  A self-published author/blogger exhorted their followers to write a book, write a second book, a third, and repeat indefinitely. Unsurprisingly, that author wrote a book about how to write and market books.

After releasing my twentieth title, I thought there would be more sales. I uploaded a horror novella that had small blocks of white spaces appearing randomly throughout the book. No one contacted me about it because I never sold a single copy of the aptly titled An Author’s Nightmare.

Since then, I’ve changed how I perceive indie publishing. Whenever I upload an eBook, or even a paperback edition, it’s not publishing, it’s uploading a manuscript. I also uploaded three freebies; hoping readers would discover my other titles. Occasionally, they did.

So, how does an “indie” author get noticed? By advertising?

Advertisers are popping up all over the place like psychedelic mushrooms. They’ll send your book’s links to the best potential customers — readers. Sometimes grand promises are made of thousands of readers willing to download or buy your book. I tried getting a $2.99 novel out to 106,000 Face Book fans. The result? Zip. I could have done that myself, as I’m a member of more than 50 book-related groups. In fact, I have. The result has been similar. With some advertisers, you’ll get a few sales or a few hundred downloads for a freebie. Then what? Not much. Your book plummets in rank, maybe you get a review or two, and the title rests in obscurity with hundreds of thousands of unread eBooks on Amazon, B&N and other online bookstores.

Getting lots of downloads of freebies is meaningless if no one buys your other titles. There’s another myth about more reviews attracting more sales. Sometimes it’s true, especially if they’re legitimate reviews by readers. Yet how many people actually read and review those freebies?

After my years in indie publishing, I’ve learned that only a few authors can make a lot of money. I’ve earned far less than I did when I was temping.

Being an author isn’t unique any more. Self-publishing is for anyone who can process some words, design a book cover or have one made for a few dollars. Many books aren’t even proofread, let alone edited. With the glut of available reading material, it’s almost impossible for an author’s book[s] to stand out. Most eBooks will plunge to the murky depths of internet bookstores far, far away from the best sellers. They’ll wind up with six or seven-digit rankings, doomed to obscurity.

Most people don’t read. Most people don’t buy eBooks or prefer downloading freebies. And most readers don’t review books.

And that’s what I’ve learned about selling eBooks [and paperbacks] for almost half a decade.

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Interview with a Soapmaker ~ Pam of Kettlepot Soap

Interviewed by Lisa Maliga, copyright 2015

I’m happy to introduce Pam, the founder of Kettlepot Soap. Pam is a very experienced soap maker from Ledyard, Connecticut, who makes Kettlepot bar soaps from scratch in a 220 year old New England farmhouse. All handcrafted soaps contain top-quality plant oils, essential and fragrance oils, natural pigment colors, herbs, flower petals, exfoliants and other goodies. Her numerous other handmade products include: bath bombs, lip lotions, hand and body lotions, sugared body polish and body butters, massage bars and more! [Click images to enlarge].

What prompted you to start making soap and/or bath & body products?
PastedGraphic-3I started soaping quite a few years ago after returning from Ireland where I bought some lovely all-vegetable bar soaps. I wanted to recreate the soap and scent; that effort started my foray into Kettlepot Soap.

What types of soap do you craft? What types of bath & body products do you craft?
Since making my first bars of soap, I’ve added quite a few other handmade items to the KPS line: lip balm in an amazing number of flavors as well as custom-scented lotions, sugar scrubs, body butters, bath bombs, bubble bars, and massage bars. I find that my customers really appreciate being able to buy B&B in the scents they prefer. It’s like having your own personal line of skin care products made just for you!

When did you decide to sell your product[s]?
KPS has been in business 15 years. It seems like I have always been making and selling crafts made from a variety of mediums. Once I was confident in my recipes and skills, it seemed natural to move into selling soap.

Do you sell your products at crafts fairs/markets, bed & breakfasts, stores, etc.?
I mainly sell online and at crafts shows. Shows are a great way to introduce new products. I bring testers for nearly every product so people can try before they buy. Also, I really enjoy meeting my local online customers in person. Over the years, I’ve made quite a few new friends. Online selling does have the drawback that customers can’t try items before buying. Online does have at least one advantage though; I don’t have to worry about rainy weather!

What is your favorite fragrance or essential oil? What are your most popular scents?
Scent is a very personal choice; this is why KPS features a wide variety of soap scents at any given time as well as custom-scented goodies. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite scent as some days I like light, clean scents and other days I like deep, earthy scents. I don’t even have a favorite flavor of ice cream!

Where do you get your packaging ideas?
PastedGraphic-5I’ve been sewing since I was in grade school so it was natural for me to use fabric in my packaging. Like many new soapers, I tried wrapping my soaps with fabric and tying them with raffia. I soon grew tired of all that knotting and switched to boxes. I still use fabric, coordinating the colors and patterns of the fabric with the colors, scents and patterns of the soaps. My customers rave about my soap packaging; they reuse the fabric-wrapped boxes as bookmarks, drawer sachets and gift boxes.

What advice would you give to newbies?
Research, test and experiment with every product you make. Understand your ingredients. Use a preservative. Get insurance. You don’t need every FO/EO or every ingredient under the sun. Don’t rely too much on trends; you need to establish your niche and signature and provide your customers with reliable products. Read and apply the FDA rules and guidelines for labeling and product descriptions.

Do you have any funny anecdotes about unusual customers?
Well, I know there is a raccoon out there that figured out that chocolate chip scented soap is not very tasty! A friend of mine’s son took a bar camping. He was pretty surprised to find teeth marks in his soap one morning.

How did you come up with your company’s name?
As boring as it may sound, the name just popped into my head. Kettlepot. It just stuck. But after about 10 years as KPS I thought about changing the name to something more ethereal or evoking nature: Dragonfly something, Blue Moon something, Fair Maiden something (you get the idea). After searching a number of names, I realized that there are just too many soap companies with too many names in those categories. Rather than change, I decided to stay with Kettlepot ~ it’s established and unique. PastedGraphic-4
Website: http://kettlepotsoap.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kettlepot.soap

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KettlepotSoap

happy birthday melt and pour soap recipes mini soap cake

Melt and Pour Soap Presentation

By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2015

happy birthday melt and pour soap recipes mini soap cakeThere are several eBooks on melt and pour soap crafting available online. This is wonderful news for those of you who wish to learn this rewarding hobby because you’ll be able to glean many helpful tips and recipes. I’ve written 11 titles, mainly concentrating on the basics that you’ll need to know, along with lots of additives that can customize your sudsy creations in many ways. Soap crafting was once a business for me, but now it’s a necessary hobby. I can’t be without soap!

I test each recipe and include photos of the process, along with the finished soap. So far, I’ve concentrated on recipes that contain a variety of additives, rather than on fancier soaps such as: swirled, 3D, stained glass, multiple layers and/or embeds. I’ve made these soaps in the past, and intend to do so again, but to effectively show such examples, that requires lots of photos. As I’m working on book #4 of the Yolanda’s Yummery series, I unfortunately don’t have time to make AND photograph any intermediate or advanced soap recipes.

However, I’d like to share a very basic presentation tip for packaging your finished soap. Here’s a brief excerpt from my latest soap crafting eBook, Happy Birthday Melt and Pour Soap Recipes.

Be creative! The best part about your soapy gift is that once it’s properly wrapped in cling wrap, you can decide how to present it to the birthday guy or gal. Since it’s not for sale, you don’t have to concern yourself with INCI terms and labels. You technically don’t even have to label it unless you want to. It’s up to you to list the ingredients as a courtesy so that if someone may be allergic to an ingredient they can regift your soap. To give you some ideas, I’m including the same soap with three different labels in the next section.

One of the simplest ways of presenting your soapy gift is to add it to a gift bag. Gift bags are easy to find in any discount store and they’re inexpensive. They come in such a variety of colors and sizes.

Ribbons also help make a lovely handcrafted creation stand out, whether wrapping the soap or a gift bag or box. If giving a gift bag of soap, you can line it with colorful crinkle cut shred or tissue paper—also available in a wide array of colors.

Say Happy Birthday with hand crafted soap! This unique book contains eight original recipes for all budgets along with melt and pour information and birthday soap presentation tips. Includes 30+ color photos.

LINKS: 

AmazonAmazon UKB&N NOOKKobo, Scribd

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Give the Gift of Hand Crafted Soap!

By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2015-2016

I don’t ordinarily change book covers one week after launching a new title. In fact, changing a book cover is something I don’t like to do unless it’s necessary. After all, it takes quite some time to upload it to the bookstores, my blogs, website and places like Face Book, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.

The first time I saw the baby pink Happy Birthday Melt and Pour Soap Recipes cover objectively was on my Kindleboards signature line after updating it. Checking to see if the titles were in correct order, I scarcely noticed the new title. In other words, it was too subdued to attract my attention  due to the pale background and white font. Then I wondered how many others had overlooked the cover?

sigline

Clearly, I needed a brighter cover. I carefully scrutinized other books and eBooks on Amazon in the crafts section, not just the soap and candles area, and found more inspiration. I wanted a cheerful cover, as birthdays are generally joyful events.

After receiving the new cover, I posted both book covers on two different Face Book pages to get peoples’ opinions ranging from authors, readers and cover designers. I’d also posted it in a small cover size, similar to what’s seen on most online bookstores. Most people chose the second book cover.

So, here it is – a new book with a newer cover!happy birthday melt and pour soap recipes lisa maliga ebook

LINKS:
Amazon, Amazon UK, B&N NOOKKobo, Scribd

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purple24kgoldsoap
24K True Gold Soap~what a gift!

Rooibos Tea and Pink Kaolin Shampoo Bar Recipe ~ New eBook + Excerpt

By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2015

Discover how to craft rebatch/hand-milled soap base into a unique and versatile shampoo bar for most hair types. Also includes a recipe for Rooibos tea and apple cider vinegar hair rinse.

Rooibos Tea and Pink Kaolin Shampoo Bar RecipeThis ebook began as a blog post…but it kept on getting longer and longer and longer! As I’m giving a recipe for a soap base that is somewhat different from melt and pour glycerin soap base, I feel as though more background information is needed.

I’m also seeing a plethora of nonfiction ebooks flooding online bookstores that, in some cases, are written by those with little to no knowledge of their topic. Therefore, for those of you who haven’t read any of my books or articles, I have actually made and sold shampoo bars, as well as soap and other bath and body products. I made my first bar of soap way back in 1998. I still maintain my Everything Shea Aromatic Creations website but no longer sell from it. If you look at it, www.everythingshea.com  you’ll see some of my articles about fine hair care, virgin coconut oil, moringa seed oil, etc. I believe in keeping people informed about natural soap and bath and body products.

For many years, I’ve successfully used shampoo bars. I formulate my own unique blends using hair-loving additives like jojoba oil, moringa seed oil, shea butter, goat’s milk, green tea, and Indian herbs such as amla, shikakai, and aritha. I’m not a cosmetologist. I don’t have a PhD in chemistry. I didn’t attend soapcrafting school. Everything I’ve learned has been done the old-fashioned way: by reading and by doing. I’ve invested loads of time and effort into learning all I can about crafting soap, whether it is glycerin melt and pour, or rebatching. When I first began working with rebatch soap, sometimes referred to as hand-milled soap, I wasn’t aware of the difference. I found out after waiting and waiting and waiting for it to melt in a one setting, one-quart crock-pot. Talk about slow! But that was how I began learning.

To pick up your  FREE copy of Rooibos Tea and Pink Kaolin Shampoo Bar Recipe, just visit these online book stores!
Amazon 
Amazon UK
B&N NOOK
Kobo

iTunes
Scribd
Smashwords

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Starting a Crafty eCommerce Business Website

By Lisa Maliga, Copyright 2014

I’m sharing some basic tips on how to launch a crafty eCommerce business website.

Your website is your storefront. Will you design your own website or hire a professional? Another option is to get a predesigned virtual store at Etsy, eBay, Artfire, WordPress, etc.

Buy Your Domain Name

Usually it costs less than $10 per year.

More than a decade ago, I bought the domain name everythingshea.com which I still own. Although people from China wanted to own it, I said no, you can use whatever you want in Chinese but in good old American English it’s still EverythingShea.com. After all, I started this company because I love shea butter, and all my products contain shea butter.

Internet History: Archive.org

If you’re not already familiar with http://www.archive.org you might want to be. If you start an online website, whether you’ll be running it as a store, or just as a nice online display case of your product[s], it’s a helpful site to visit. You can see just about any website’s history or find out if the website ever existed and/or what it looked like years ago.

PayPal Shopping Cart

I used PayPal as my shopping cart. It’s free and all you pay is a small percentage for each sale. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, PayPal is an option you’ll want to consider. Also, PayPal is the payment of choice on Artfire, Etsy, eBay and many other online shops.

It’s All About You!

the soapmaker's guide to online marketing, lisa maliga, ebooks, soapmaking, soapcrafting, online marketingAside from having an eye catching, keyword-friendly main page, I recommend having an About page on your website. Visitors can get to know about you and your products. This increases customer confidence, tells us how long you’ve been making your products, and what inspired you to make them.

This page should feature information about the origins of your company. Share photos of your products—even if it’s only one. You can also have pictures of you and/or your workplace. If you have a soap site and sell soap bars or shampoo used for animals, show a picture of a dog being bathed in your soap. For an author’s website, display your picture, book cover, and/or workplace.

Expanding the WWW

The WWW is like the universe – expansive! It grows page by page, picture by picture, and video by video–every day and night. Like authors writing more books and uploading them onto Amazon, B&N NOOK, Kobo, iTunes, etc., the more titles you have, the more web pages you have, the more likely you are to be noticed.

Each page should accurately represent your product and not use any tricks. I’m a firm believer in quality versus quantity. Show and tell the audience why they need to buy your product. Be creative. Use photos and videos. Make it a visual feast that engages even a casual surfer. Lovingly describe your products, attracting people in such a way that they want to learn more—and become your customers!

Testimonials

Testimonials – Ask for them. Get them. Use them with the buyer’s permission.

Free Samples or Paid Samplers?

shea butter sampler everythingshea.com

As I was running an online only store, I didn’t offer free samples. However, I sold samplers containing several varities of shea butter and handcrafted soap. I always included a sample with any PAID order.

However, for authors, offering a free eBook will attract more readers. And there isn’t any mailing fee!

Learn more about online promotion here:

Promoting Your Website ~ An Excerpt from “The Soapmakers Guide to Online Marketing”

Shopping for Soap Making or Bath & Body Products eBooks

Copyright 2014-2016

by Lisa Maliga

tapiocashampoobarKINCrafting books are always in demand, especially around the holiday season. In 2011, I published my first melt and pour soap crafting ebook. Since then, I’ve noticed a proliferation of other ebooks on all types of soap crafting methods, along with how to make other bath and body products. Many of them are written by authors who write about a variety of nonfiction topics.

Last month I was contacted by an author of a soap making book in search of a review. I was interested in seeing what types of soap it covered so I agreed to look at it. When I received the PDF copy, I noticed it had photos, always a plus, but the material seemed to be regurgitated. After reading it, I learned nothing new. Contacting the author to inquire about her soap making experience, I didn’t receive a response.

And that’s the problem with many of the newer titles; the author is just repeating facts they’ve either read online or in other books. Some of them aren’t avoidable, like the history of soap making, but others are. There have even been cases of ebooks that were “written” by authors who found content/recipes on websites, copied and pasted them into a file, and slapped their name on the content.

What I’d encourage you to do when buying nonfiction titles is to take a minute or two and see if the author is an expert in the field they are writing about. When it comes to soap, lip balm, lotions, perfume etc., see if they discuss how they make and/or sell the product[s]. If they don’t sell what they are writing about, then check to see how long they’ve been making the products.

MOREJOYmedOther tips on finding worthwhile ebooks:

~ How long is the book? Amazon posts an approximate page count, as do other online bookstores. Using the sample feature can give you a clue as to how long the book is, especially if it contains a table of contents. In fact, most nonfiction books should contain one.

~ What is the book’s price? Free. Well, why not take a chance if you have the room [and the time!] but for books priced at $0.99 and above, I’d recommend that you read the sample to see if it’s going to be of interest to you. Another gripe readers may have with a soap crafting book is that it might be about a different type of soap making technique than what they’re seeking. By checking out the sample you avoid downloading the “wrong” type of ebook.

~ Does the book include recipes? Does it only contain recipes? Are the recipes indicated by grams/ounces? Both? If it only contains recipes, does it give information that might be necessary such as safety tips, where to buy supplies, basic facts about soap and/or other body products? For those who make soap from scratch, recipes with accurate measurements are imperative as lye, oils, water and other additives must be carefully calculated.

~ Is a supplier/resource section included? I think it’s helpful to provide resources so that people can easily locate any of the ingredients that the author writes about. When I first began crafting melt and pour soap, I didn’t have any ebooks to read with lots of pictures and step by step instructions. Now all of us do, as there are many to choose from!