SPS-278: Ingram Spark vs KDP Print: The Great Debate – with Sara Rosett
Sara Rosett has moved from being a traditionally published author, through hybrid, to now being an indie author. She and James explore the cozy mystery genre, how writing a character arc in a series is different than a stand-alone book, and how IngramSpark can bridge some pre-order gaps that Amazon doesn’t fill.
- James’s experience with KDP hardback
- On writing cozy mysteries
- The value of Intellectual Property
- On the different types of series, including a ‘flat arc’ mystery series
- The importance of audiobooks, especially for certain genres
- Thinking in terms of three book arcs for character development
- How to use IngramSpark for pre-order print books
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-278: Ingram Spark vs KDP Print: The Great Debate - with Sara Rosett
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Sara Rosett: Honestly, I was making more money indie than I was traditional. They asked if I was interested in doing more books in that same series, and they wanted to know if I wanted to start a new series, and I said, "No, I'm not giving you any more IP," because I understand how valuable it is now and there were no other options when I started.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. If you want to make a living from your writing, join indie bestseller, Mark Dawson, and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It is the self-publishing show, the place to be to learn everything you need to know about being an indie author or just an author in this modern world. I'm James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And I'm Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: We talk about all trad writing craft. In fact, today we're talking about cosy mystery, which pertains to anybody, whether you've got to deal with Penguin, Random House soon to be Penguin, Schuster and Random House, Schuster, whatever they're going to be. If that goes through and if you're going to publish from your bedroom, which we sort of think is the right way to do, but not the right way for everyone, that's for sure.
Mark Dawson: No, not for everyone, but it's certainly the right way for us. Probably just to be honest, most of the people listening to this podcast are at least interested in the dark side.
James Blatch: They are. I have published the hardback version of my book. Just this week, in fact this week, 10 minutes ago, which just goes to show how far indie has come in recent years. I now have a paperback, an e-book and a hardback version of my book. I was invited into the beta, Amazon KDP running a beta of a hard back.
I think in Europe, UK and the United States at the moment seems to be looking at the pricing. I got busy with that last night. Found it pretty easy. The manuscripts is the same. If you're the same trim size as your paperback, the manuscript PDF is the same.
The thing to be careful of is your ISBN number. You might need to update if it's a different one for hardback, if you've got your own ISBNs. The cover is different. It's slightly bigger the cover for the hardback version and you will need access to the ... Stuart luckily, handily gave me the Photoshop file, so I had all these layers and was able, but I ended up manipulating some of the individual assets, like the title and plane and description and doing a little bit of trial and error with the proof side of it. That was a little bit fiddly.
For some people that will be a job for their cover designer. I think getting the dimensions is quite difficult. I have written them down actually, the dimensions for hardback, because if you Google, you can't really find much information on this at the moment, because it's so new and it's in beta. You also sign a confidentiality agreement. Hopefully, I'm not breaching that.
Mark Dawson: You are.
James Blatch: Well, given the dimensions, I'm going to risk this, just to give them dimensions of what your coverage is if you're in the beta programme and about to publish... I don't think Jeff's going to phone me tomorrow. It's 14.854 inches by 10.417 inches, which is an inch and a bit bigger actually than the paperback size for the same trim size paperback cover. But of course with covers, it's not just expanding the canvas to that. You don't want to stretch things. You need to replace things.
Now a couple of things is just a little bit different the process, and I might be breaching confidentiality by going into any of those details, but I know a lot of you have been invited into the beta and are doing this as well. I'd be interested to hear your experiences. You can post it below wherever you're listening to, how you're getting on with that.
Of course I have ordered a copy. It would be nice to have at home. You've had this experience, but this is again, will be a new experience for me of having a hardback version of my book in my hands.
Mark Dawson: I have.
James Blatch: There we go.
Mark Dawson: Two, there we go. That's two years so-
James Blatch: Because you sold out to the man, so you didn't do that cover work yourself.
Mark Dawson: No, I didn't. I haven't. It's not quite selling out. It's a slightly different deal than as I've mentioned before. But no, I didn't do those covers.
The second book was released into stores about 10 days ago, I think it was. It's been quite fun to go to supermarkets, mostly Tesco's and ASDA around here and see how see the book in the shelves, and encouragingly again pictures from readers, showing books not on the shelves, which is always nice. My mum tried to get it in Lowestoft, found a sticker that said, "Temporarily out of stock."
James Blatch: You are the local hero in Lowestoft.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. It was nice to see that. There is something about hardcover book. As I mentioned before when I'm reading Game of Thrones at the moment, and I've got the folio society additions, which are just gorgeous. They are really gorgeous. They've only published three of them, so I know that they're going to work through them all, but I don't think the fourth book is out yet. I don't know if I want to read it in paperback. I'm quite enjoying the more opulent addition.
James Blatch: I don't think I've kept in touch with this, but has Martin actually written the last one yet?
Mark Dawson: Well, the last two, no he hasn't.
James Blatch: Still hasn't, wow. Huh. I guarantee whatever he does, it will be a better job than the TV series of the last two, the last series.
Mark Dawson: Probably yes. That's usually the case. I didn't hate it as much as other people did, but ...
James Blatch: I didn't like it was rushed.
Mark Dawson: It was rushed that's for sure.
James Blatch: Well, that's exciting. We're ticking off the things that you can't do as an indie. I know there's still that, walking through an airport and seeing your book for sale though, is quite difficult for Indies. It's not impossible. You are doing it now.
Louise Ross, I see her books in my local bookshops and there's others. But all of those barriers are coming down and that's happening quickly.
I'll tell you one interesting thing I saw. I got an email, a very nice email this week from the people who run, there's the Avro Vulcan, which is an aircraft that's behind me, if you're watching on YouTube, a picture of it and appears in my book, very featured very heavily.
James Blatch: There was one flying version of this. They resurrected it. Actually, I know a lot of that stuff because I covered it for the BBC a lot.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I've seen it flying.
James Blatch: Yeah, they were flying for a couple of years, cost millions of pounds and a very, very enthusiastic team of former Vulcan pilots and engineers looked after it. It then got to the end of that period, where it was just too expensive to sustain it. It's now been preserved up in the Midlands here in the UK and a team look after it.
I've got an email from them saying, "One of our team has read your book. Wanted to say it was the most authentic experience he'd read of working on the Vulcan." They loved it and they've put in an order for 30 copies to sell-
Mark Dawson: Well done. That's great.
James Blatch: ... in their bookshop and online and they've asked if I can do some signed versions, I can charge them more for. I'm going to do them at cost to support the project, which I think is a good thing for the book to do anyway.
But interestingly, now here's my question for this. The cheapest way I can supply it to them is the Amazon print copies, the author copies. It's about £5.36, something like that plus postage, which isn't too much with Amazon. I think the IngramSpark one is more than that. I think I'd have to award quite a big number to get it down to 5.36.
I think if I'm reading that right, is that correct? Is that other people's experience? I don't know if you have an experience of this, but it seems an odd way of doing it, getting Amazon author copies. I thought that's what IngramSpark was for, but it seems Ingram's more expensive than getting author copies via Amazon.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. I've never used Ingram, so I'm not the person to ask about that, but yeah, if I want, there's a store on my website now for readers to get signed copies of the Milton books and that's how I get them. I'll just order 20 at a time.
It depends on how big the book is, but it will vary from, depending on the paper size, five pounds is around about the average, I suppose and they'll send them in a box and then I'll sign them and tell them. But that is the only other way to do it, Ingram aside, which I can't really comment on is to do a big offset print run.
James Blatch: Print 5,000.
Mark Dawson: Then you would get it down a lot less than five pounds, but you'd have to spend quite a lot so that you would be in the high hundreds, low thousands to get that price down. Probably not ideal, and what would likely happen is you end up with a thousand books in your shed that you can't shift.
James Blatch: Also you'll then find a typo.
Mark Dawson: That is also possible, yeah. That will almost certainly going to be the case. It's not perfect, but the author copies are much cheaper. There is enough, you can make a margin on those.
James Blatch: Yeah, and you can order up to a thousand. Is that in one go or is that in total?
Mark Dawson: I think it's a one go. I think the most I've ordered is about 100. I don't think I've done any more than that.
James Blatch: I'm having lots of these author experiences now. I'm going to bore you to death with all this stuff you've forgotten happens when the first time you author. I had an aggressive reader, who'd got to 75, 80% through the book and just posted a comment on one of the ads, "Well-"
Mark Dawson: I saw that.
James Blatch: Did you? "... it's disappointing the authors don't research things properly," in a really quite aggressive tone. What she discovered is that, an RF station had closed that I mentioned in a phone call and that I got a model of a camera wrong by four years. She was right about that.
Mark Dawson: Oh, great yeah.
James Blatch: She was wrong about the main thing she complained about, which is I'd said there were NCOs flying the Vulcan. There weren't. I didn't say that and she misunderstood a conversation in the book. But I think the model of the camera anyway, so I responded politely and said, "Oh, thank you very much." I've amended that.
My dad was based there, he was there. He was there six years before and I didn't obviously forgot to check that that squadron hadn't moved on, but it had. I checked that and then she was incredibly polite and also got towards the end of the book and said, "It's really good, and I appreciate how much work goes into it." I thought, "That's such an internet experience, isn't it?" That somebody's first way of talking to you when they're not really talking to you, they're just posting to strangers on the internet.
It's to be all aggressive and highfalutin, and then when they realise they're talking to the author, they suddenly are appreciative of all the work that you've done and it's just slightly frustrating, but that's fine when you're in the public domain a little bit. We know this from SPF. That happens.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I saw that this morning. Not that comment, but I saw a post in 20Books. I think you saw it as well with someone who'd taken one of the courses and had really good success. I didn't know that they're posting ... This happens quite a lot of people who post their experience. It's not always positive. Obviously sometimes you, it doesn't work out and they'll post about that. But someone, I don't remember the name now, so apologies if they're listening, but they had a good, they're doing well with the ads course. Then one of the first comments was, "Has Mark paid you to say this?"
James Blatch: Yes.
Mark Dawson: I thought that was completely unethical and we would never do that. It wouldn't even occur to us to do something like that. It's just unsolicited positive experience.
It's frustrating that people immediately think the worst, but on the other hand, I can understand it. People have been burned before by scammy stuff and people do, do that kind of stuff, I guess, but not us. It was quite nicely, quite a lot of people actually were like, "They would never do this, and that is not an unusual experience with the courses," which was very nice.
James Blatch: Well, that was her reason for thinking that we'd paid them, because she quite often sees people saying how good Mark's courses are. That's the reason we must be paying people to go to these books.
Mark Dawson: It could be that the course is actually quite good.
James Blatch: Well, that's the other possibility that hasn't really been considered at this stage. Anyway, a lot of people weighed in and I also pointed out that we do not pay anybody to say that our courses are good. We obviously pay for advertising in the normal ethical way, but we have lots of people who voluntarily get house invaded actually by me and John, we turn up with our cameras and they ... In fact, we end up winners in every way because we then drink their coffee.
Mark Dawson: You drink all their booze.
James Blatch: Eat their donuts, and if we live long enough, we stay long enough, we drink their booze as well, and then we walk away and we'll never see them again. That's not true. We see lots of people again. Yeah, that's the way that goes. Problems of success, authors out there dealing ...
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it's a nice problem to have.
James Blatch: If you're dealing with readers and we do see this, what I mentioned about an aggressive reader and the people say, "Well, how should I respond to this?" I think always politely, always enjoy having the moral high ground for that's the right way to do it.
Just remember that people are engaging with the work of art that you've produced, if you want to call it that, and that's a positive thing for you as a creator even if, not everyone's going to like everything as well. Art's not doing its job is it, if everyone likes it.
Mark Dawson: You're never going to please everyone. That's completely fine. I've seen a couple of, I saw another comment actually of someone on one of your ads who said, they read halfway through and returned it. "Sorry, Mr. Blatch," they said, but that's fine. That one, I probably just delete their comment.
James Blatch: Yeah, I didn't notice that. I'll look it up.
Mark Dawson: It's an ad that you've paid for. These things happen, but yeah, if you're going to respond, you got to be polite because the internet is, as I say, written in ink. Once it's out there, it's out there, so definitely be polite and think about, try and divorce yourself.
That's another one of those situations where you're not responding as the artist, you're responding as the owner of the business that published it, so you want to make sure that your readers, your customers don't feel like you're a jerk because they won't buy from you again. Anyone else who sees that comment also won't buy from you again.
James Blatch: Yeah, exactly. One thing we haven't talked about in recent weeks is we have not talked about the Apple iOS revision, which is affecting Facebook ads. The reason for that is there's a lot being written about it. There's a lot of uncertainty about the practical reality.
I think we're going to let it settle down and if there's something to report, we will definitely talk about it. I will say there was an odd experience. You flagged it up to me yesterday. You saw one of my ads in the wild for Fuse Books without an image, which is actually impossible to do.
I checked the ad. I had five possible images. It was a dynamic creative ad. I wonder if that might be to do, because it was on iOS. I could see that something I hadn't realised actually, Mark, is that ...
Mark Dawson: No, no.
James Blatch: What?
Mark Dawson: That wouldn't be the reason.
James Blatch: Well, you say that, but ... What was the reason then?
Mark Dawson: I don't know. There's a glitch. It may be connected to the changes that have been made because of iOS, but iOS is an audience. It's a tracking issue, it's nothing to do with creative.
James Blatch: Yeah, but it is a big new release of iOS. But anyway I hadn't noticed before, and it's changed my mind a little bit on what to do about this is, that the display URL, so you put your URL in, in this case to an Amazon product page, and then I normally leave the display URL blank because it pre-fills with amazon.com or amazon.co.uk. If you fill it in, there's always a chance you put amazon.com when you're in the UK, et cetera, so you might as well just leave it.
But I hadn't realised that if it's on an Apple device as displayed in that, it comes up with something weird saying, "Go through to the Amazon app." Well, I don't use the Amazon app.
Mark Dawson: Sometimes, it doesn't always. I've seen that a few times.
James Blatch: Yeah, I'd rather than not have that. The Amazon app, I find it a little bit flaky on my phone.
Mark Dawson: You don't want them to go to an app. They wanted to go straight to the website.
James Blatch: The URL wouldn't go there anyway, it should go to the website, but I'm going to pre-fill the display URL from now on, and just say amazon.co.uk or amazon.com and make sure that's not left for chance.
Right, okay. There is a roundup of what's going on in the world of us. We have now gotten an interview with Sara Rosett. Now, Sara is an old friend of SPF. She's done a little bit of work for us here and there. She's a bit of an expert on pre-order using IngramSpark, but mainly I really enjoy talking to her about cosy mystery. I love a bit of cosy mystery. It's a huge honour when you think about it.
Think about the TV programmes and films that are geared around it. We had, what was it, Knives Out last year, which I thought was brilliant film. I think there's going to be a sequel of that as well. Agatha Christie, one of the great writers ...
Mark Dawson: Two sequels.
James Blatch: Two sequels. Well, Agatha Christie one of the great writers of all time, of course, and Sherlock Holmes probably would fall into that category, I think of cosy mystery. Sara writes modern, contemporary cosy mystery. She's very eloquent about this whole genre. Yeah, so here is Sara and then Mark and I will be back for a chat.
Sara Rosett, thank you very much, indeed for joining us. A friend to SPF. You've done a little bit of our coursework for us in the past. You're a bit of an IngramSpark person. We're going to talk about that a bit today, and I think also series.
Sara Rosett: Yes, love series. Love to write in series, love to read series.
James Blatch: Well, it's such a key part, isn't it for becoming commercially successful and as somebody who is on the cusp of publishing their first book. Look, I even have it. This is very exciting.
Sara Rosett: Congratulations.
James Blatch: Thank you very much. I am into book two and thinking very much about this, about the series stuff so I'll pick your brains like I always use the interviews mercilessly for my own benefit.
Sara Rosett: Yeah, mine as well.
James Blatch: Right, let's start off with a bit about you. Why don't you tell us your background, your writing career so far?
Sara Rosett: I've always loved mysteries, always loved reading books and just the idea of writing books for a living was my dream. But of course I did not do that. When I went to school, I got a degree in English as one does, and then I thought that my writing would be on the side and I would have a full-time job, so maybe teaching, doing something like that.
But I got married and moved around the country. I was a military spouse and I was writing on the side and I had an idea for a cosy mystery, which I don't know if you're familiar with the genre.
It's very Agatha Christie, Jessica Fletcher, so very light mysteries with a puzzle. I came up with an idea for that and I pitched it to an agent and got an agent.This was back in the traditional published days was pretty much the only way to go. I found an agent, she sold it, we got it published. That became my first series.
It was about a military spouse who moved around the country. I used all the background. For a cosy, you need a little hook of something different or unique, a hobby, a profession that's interesting that people would like to read about, and a lot of people don't know what it's like to be a military family and move around, so I used that as background. And then I made my character a professional organiser. She was always in people's homes and able to search for clues and stuff.
That was my first series. I wrote 10 books in that series. About 2010, I started having readers asking me, "When is it coming out in e-book?" They were very interested in that and I was completely oblivious and not into it at all. I had no idea what was coming with the Kindle and all that. Then I began to hear about friends who were making good money in e-books, and I was like, "Oh, maybe I should check this out".
James Blatch: What year was this when you were considering?
Sara Rosett: That was 2010-ish. I decided I wanted to try it and I tested it with a couple of short stories and I was like, "Okay, this is legitimate and it's not that hard." It's a learning curve, but I didn't have any IP that I owned. I essentially had to start over, because all those books that I'd written were with the publisher and they were not interested in giving them up.
I wrote a new series and I launched it in 2012, and was wide from the beginning because my cosy books were wide. I figured, "I have readers in all the retailers, so that's what I'll do."
That's what I did. I've done that series. It was like my book that I always wanted to write that no one was very interested in. I wrote that book, made it into a series. Then I thought, "If I did just a cosy, a straight cosy, I might have better sales." I wrote a new series about a woman who's a location scout, and she goes to England to search for locations to film a new Jane Austen adaptation, because that's like all the kinds of things I'm interested in, and it allowed me to indulge my country home, love of English country homes and that series did better.
I've just continued to indie publish and continue to write new series. My most recent one is historical 1920 series set in England, which I love golden age fiction and that's where that one came from.
James Blatch: You've stayed wide?
Sara Rosett: Yes.
James Blatch: Let's talk about cosy mystery just for a little bit, because I'm interested in ... this is different genres and the beats and so on. You wrote 10 books based on the same character, the same of ...
There's a series in the UK called I think it's Agatha Raisin.
Sara Rosett: Yeah, very similar.
James Blatch: You get this one character who happens to be at the centre of a case that needs solving every week on TV. You have that with your 10 book series.
When you set out to do those stories, when you're plotting them or I don't know whether you do plot them, you have to hit beats at certain points in a cosy mystery for it basically to qualify as such?
Sara Rosett: I think the most important thing about a cosy is the tone. It's got to be light and it's more of a puzzle. It's like, "Can we figure out who did it?" You don't emphasise that there is a murder, but you don't emphasise the goriness of it or the ... You don't linger on that. But yes, you have to have a dead body.
Usually it's someone who's not well-liked. There's not a lot of angst or sorrow for this person being dead. Then of course, because they're not well-liked, there's lots of possibilities of things that people who might not have liked them, who might've wanted to do away with them.
Some people began their cosies with the dead body on page one. I don't like to do that. I like to have a little intro, set up the world. Then for me, the dead body is usually at the end of act one. That's what launches the sleuth into the mystery, and then you've got your clues and red herrings, and then you can have, at the end, you can have the gathering all the suspects together and going through, you could have done it, you could have done it, but then here's the answer you can't do that. I don't know that that's done quite as much as it was.
James Blatch: That was a big Agatha Christie thing, wasn't it?
Sara Rosett: Yes.
James Blatch: To have the room full at the end. I think they played on it recently with Knives Out, the film, the comedy film.
Sara Rosett: Yes. Yeah. Knives Out has a tonne of cosy elements in it.
James Blatch: Right, yes. It's funny how you can deal with murder in one way or another way and the tone is ... This is something Mark, John and I did in our previous life watching films and giving them film certificates. It was very interesting occasionally when a director got that tone wrong, aimed at young teens and just got the level of gore and violence wrong. You really noticed it.
It's a great genre. It's a great genre fiction to be read by large numbers of people, isn't it? Because it's a go-to, so the TV series are, the books are go to, books for lots of people. I imagine quite a competitive genre.
Sara Rosett: Yeah. I'm in contemporary cosy and historical mystery has a lot of cosy elements to it, so a lot of people feel like it's cosy as well. There's also paranormal cosies, witch cosies in that is huge and very competitive. I've stayed out of that, because I don't think I can write fast enough.
James Blatch: Witch cosies?
Sara Rosett: Yes. Very interesting. People are like, "Hmm, didn't know that existed."
James Blatch: Is that like Sabrina? Does that count like a witch cosy just because it's like a reference?
Sara Rosett: Yeah, kind of light but there are paranormal elements like somebody has like a gift or there's things going on that are other worldly. That's very big in KU. There's a lot, and so I don't write fast enough to do those.
James Blatch: How fast do you write?
Sara Rosett: Well, I went back and I looked and I've averaged about, for my indie books, I've averaged about two and a half books per year. Because in some years there've been more, but other years there've been less. I aim for three, if I can get three written. They don't necessarily all come out that same year, but if I can get three written, because I like pre-orders. I like long pre-orders now. Sometimes I'll write one, but it won't come out for several months.
James Blatch: That's interesting. That's a Mark Dawson technique at the minute we're talking very much about launches, so yeah, the long pre-order.
Okay, so you had your relationship with your publisher and out of interest, how did that come to an end? Did you just not ask for another contract or did you have to deliver a couple more books to finish that off?
Sara Rosett: I did. I had to deliver several books. For a while I was technically hybrid. I was writing one for my publisher and then I was writing others for myself, because I wasn't sure how everything would go, so I didn't want to totally drop one for the other. But I was making more money Indie than I was traditional.
That's very common if you're a mid-list author. I finished off my books with them and they ask if I was interested in doing more books in that same series, and they wanted to know if I wanted to start a new series, and I said, "No, I'm not giving ..."
I didn't say this, but I'm not giving you any more IP because I understand how valuable it is now and I didn't understand that, and there were no other options when I started.
James Blatch: A very familiar story, isn't it?
Sara Rosett: Yes.
James Blatch: Makes me sad really that all that work and effort you put in and some of those traditional contracts and it's your thing, but it's not your thing anymore.
You're basically a worker for a publishing organisation and they now own those rights presumably in perpetuity.
Sara Rosett: I can ask for them back at 25 years, have you heard of that?
James Blatch: Right. Wow.
Sara Rosett: That's a long way off, but I can ask for them back then. If my sales fall below a certain threshold during a royalty period, I can get them back. But so far they haven't done that and they continue to run ads to them occasionally to boost them up-
James Blatch: Yes, keep the in.
Sara Rosett: ... to keep them, yeah. But I did learn a lot during that and they helped me get my start. When I went Indie, I did have an audience which helped. It wasn't all bad and I saw how they produce a book, and how they got ideas for marketing, editing and things that they were not interested in doing for me that now I can do for myself, which I really like.
James Blatch: Okay, well, let's talk about series a bit then. You have these series.
First of all, the 10 that you wrote for the publisher, where they also stand alone a bit like Agatha Christie's, you could pick up any one of them?
Sara Rosett: Yeah. That's how most of my books are. The mystery itself is self-contained in that book, but then if you're interested in the lives of the characters throughout the series, you probably want to read in order. That's what I tell my readers, "If you're interested in who is dating this other person, or what's happened to the woman who works in the shop downtown, then you probably want to read it in order," but the mysteries themselves are self-contained, so that way someone can pick it up in the middle of the series and read a book seven. I find that most mystery readers like to go back to the beginning and read from book one on.
James Blatch: This is the difference between series and serial, is that right?
Sara Rosett: Yes.
James Blatch: I think serial is the one that should be read in order.
Sara Rosett: Yes. If you read it out of order, you're just confused, right?
James Blatch: Yeah. I'm marketing one of Robert Story's books, which are definitely serial. Not quite cliffhanger at the end of one book, which was a bit of a no, no but close to that you need to read the next book. Doesn't limit your marketing in the future. It's a nice epic thing and people do like that Lord of the Rings style kind of books that progresses journey, but from a purely commercial point of view, it is a bit more restrictive, isn't it?
Sara Rosett: Yeah. This is one thing that I didn't know when I started writing is that there are different types of series. Like what I'm writing, I would call a flat arc series, which is the protagonist doesn't change that much from book to book. It's like Poirot, Agatha, Christie, even James Bond, those books they're pretty much the same, but the characters around the main characters, those are the ones that change. By the protagonists being in this story, that's what causes the change.
I didn't realise that when I was trying to write my first books. I was trying to do the hero's journey. I feel like that's more of a robust character arc, where you've got a beginning and your characters at one point, and then at the end of the book or the end of the series, your character has completely changed and is completely different. I feel like that's a different structure. It would have helped me if I had known that when I started writing.
James Blatch: Yeah, it's funny. We were having this conversation the other day about character journeys and somebody mentioned James Bond and said, "Well, he doesn't change." I haven't read all the books, like most people are familiar with the films. But there's a good point you make there. Probably, if we look back at those Bond stories, it's the villain who's on the character journey and it's actually required almost for the series that Bond is on a fairly even keel throughout.
Things happen to him fairly passively, but it's the villain is the one who is the inciter, who thinks one thing's going to happen, who has one motivation and then things fall apart for them, all those things that happen on the hero's journey. It's funny, isn't it, when you think about it?
Sara Rosett: Yeah. The thing to watch out with a flat arc character is the villain may become more interesting than your protagonist, so you have to balance that where they're fascinating, but not too fascinating.
James Blatch: Yeah, Darth Vader and all that.
That's interesting that you then went into Indie and well, first of all, let's just see how that went for you. That turned into something that was more lucrative fairly quickly for you.
Sara Rosett: Mine was more like a slow climb. But I was making enough money that I was able to put everything back into the business. By the time I had out two series, it was going really well. Then when I brought out my third one, the historical, that one has just done great. I think I just hit the market at the right time.
There's just an interest in that golden age, 1920s fiction, which is just, I hit it at the right point and I went into audio books at that time too. That's become a big portion of my income, but yeah, I'm doing much better Indie than I ever did traditionally.
I think part of it is that, I have the option that if I want to do audiobooks, I can. That was something that my publisher was not interested in doing. If I want to try some other format or do try and get a book BookBub ad, I can do that, where all that is out of your control when you're Indie or traditionally published. It's like all the frustrations we have with ACX not being able to control the price and not being able to control certain things, that's the frustrations when you're traditionally published, but you can also say, "Hey, I don't have to deal with that," and go on if you're that type of person. I'm much more controlling, I guess.
James Blatch: What are you doing in terms of marketing for your books at the moment?
Sara Rosett: I have some like low-level AMS ads that I just keep running all the time. I've got some Permafree books. One of my series is Permafree. The other one is 2.99 as an entry point. I'm thinking of dropping that to 99 cents or Permafree, and then I just do ads. I get applied at BookBub all the time.
Box sets are another thing that I like to do. I've dabbled in Facebook ads and I've done okay, but not great. For the time that it takes, I would almost rather spend that time writing another book.
I'm very focused, and so if I'm writing a book, it's hard for me to stop and fiddle with ads and vice versa. I've mostly just worked on creating more content, and just getting to know my readers and growing my email list more than anything else.
James Blatch: Putting some books on the shelf, which is such an important part of this. You're still writing, or you said you've averaged about two and a half books a years so...
Sara Rosett: Yeah.
James Blatch: Just before we move off series then, let me ask you a little bit about your plotting now. Your historical mystery series is that set in the UK or is that USA?
Sara Rosett: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Blatch: That's set in the UK as well.
Sara Rosett: Yeah.
James Blatch: You love the UK? You have to come and live here at some point, Sara.
Sara Rosett: I would love to. But you have quarantine and lockdown.
James Blatch: Yeah. We're getting out of it hopefully at some point.
Did you end up here in the military?
Sara Rosett: No, I visited there several times. We were in Europe for a couple of short-term assignments. I had a whole another series that grew out of that. It's the one that no one was really interested in. It's the not quite cosy series. Based in Italy and France and different places like that.
James Blatch: My question about the series then is when you're plotting, first of all, do you plot out each book in advance?
Sara Rosett: Yeah.
James Blatch: Do you plot the series out at that point as well? Or do you have a half a mind about the series?
Sara Rosett: In the beginning, I didn't. I had no idea. I just knew I was writing a cosy mystery and cosies are always in a series, and of course it was going to be a series. I had ideas for the mystery elements in each book, for a couple books ahead, but I didn't have an idea for the character.
Now, I tend to think about the character as well. I'll figure out, okay, I'll plot each book as I go, but then I tend to do it in threes, like, "Okay, the historical series, the first three books, she's going to be figuring out that she's good at this detective thing, that she's going to become involved in a case, help solve it and go, "Oh, perhaps this is something that I could do."
Eventually she's going to become a private detective to the high society, the elite people that don't want to really call a private detective. In the next three books, she's further along in her journey, and so I have her entrepreneurial growth and then of course I've got a romantic subplot. That's also in three arcs. I tend to think in threes, because, "I thought if the first three books do well, then great. I can keep going. If not, I can tie it up there and go on to another series or something."
James Blatch: That sounds like a really good approach for it as well. Like you say, there has to be a series element. With the cosy mysteries, it's difficult to think of any famous standalone, versions of it. It doesn't lend itself to it.
Let's talk a little bit about your writing style, and then I want to talk a little about IngramSpark if that's okay. Your writing style or your writing process I should say rather than style, Sara.
How do you go about your day and writing? How do you do it?
Sara Rosett: There's the ideal, which you would love and then there's reality. Ideally I would get up, I do dictation, and so I do 20, 30 minutes of dictation and then I use Dragon to transcribe that.
Some people I think their dictation comes out much better than mine. Mine is like a mess and I have to go in and clean it up, but it helps me because it gets my thoughts and ideas and everything out of my head onto the page. Then it's easier for me to move things around and edit and clean it up, because I don't like a blank page.
That's why I feel like I have to know where I'm going with the story. That's why I rough out a plot because I don't like not knowing what's going to happen. I feel better if I know what's happening, and it's easier for me to edit and do things if I have it on the page. I'll work on that.
Usually what I do is, I work on fiction for a couple of months, and then I'll add in admin and marketing and small, that's a smaller part of my day during that time. Then when I get done with a book, I just turned in a book to my editor, so now I'm doing lots of big projects that I've had on the back burner, because I have a hard time switching during the day.
I've tried that where I write in the morning and market in the afternoon and I'm just not good at it. That's how I do it. Usually a couple hours of creative thinking time and I'm brain dead, so I'll take a break and try and work out in the afternoon. Then sometimes I'll come back, and do email and stuff like that that has to be done. But yeah, I tend to go in phases.
James Blatch: That dictation, is that purely for the reason you just stated, which is to get the ideas out and onto the page? Or do you, is it for physical reasons where you just don't like the idea of typing all day?
Sara Rosett: I originally started trying it because I thought it would make it faster for me. I don't know if it's actually made me faster. I do like it because it does save wear and tear on your hands and back, sitting. Then eye strain too, not staring at the computer.
But the other thing I've discovered is that if I start with dictation, I pick up, I have a little handheld recorder and I'll jot down some notes on what I'm going to talk about that day and then I'll record. It keeps me off my computer first thing.
Sara Rosett: I don't open my computer and I don't go into email, so it is good. It helps me get the words down or the really rough ones that need a lot work.
James Blatch: Your 20 or 30 minutes, how many words does that produce?
Sara Rosett: Well, if I'm going quickly and I know what I'm saying and I'm speaking quickly, probably about two to 3,000 words.
James Blatch: That's great.
Sara Rosett: Sometimes it's very halting though, sentence, period and then there's a long ... It can be lower than that, definitely lower.
James Blatch: I keep thinking about dictation. I've tried it a couple of times, and I know every one says, "If you're going to do it, you've got to stick at it and make it work." But I can't personally can't get past that. I type and the logic and the flow comes to me. When I'm dictating, it doesn't. It's just a different text.
Sara Rosett: It's hard. It's very, very difficult. It was really hard for me to get over it. I felt really weird speaking my words and I thought, "This is so strange because I'm going to put these down in a book and send it out in the world and people are going to read it. It shouldn't matter if I say it aloud," but I kept at it.
I think the reason I did was I had just bought a new keyboard and it's a one that's like, I'm not sure it's Kinesis. It's the kind that is scooped out, supposed to be better for your hands. The keyboards are concave.
There were two keys that were in a slightly different place and it took me about three or four weeks to get used to that. It was driving me insane and I thought, but I did get used to it. I thought, "Okay, I can get used to a new keyboard. I will just keep going with this dictation and eventually it should feel better." I don't know that it ever feels natural to me, but now there are times that I do think, "Oh ..." I'll be typing something, I'm like, "Oh, if only I could just dictate this, it would be so much faster."
James Blatch: I have to say the idea of two, 3,000 words in 30 minutes ...
Sara Rosett: But then there's a lot clean up.
James Blatch: But then you go through it all, yeah. Well, maybe I'll revisit it at some point. Drafting is coming up for book two.
Let's talk about IngramSpark. I know this is a service that you use and you've done a little bit of work for us in SPF on this front. I'm really interested in it, because I will probably go exclusive with my book, but the print version there's no reason not to have that wide everywhere.
First of all, you had an idea about IngramSpark being used during the pre-order period, even on Amazon?
Sara Rosett: Yes. That's turned out to be a great thing for me. I didn't realise you could do that because KDP Print won't let you do print pre-orders. I had readers emailing me, so I'm doing these long pre-orders and I had ... Mystery readers like print and I had them emailing saying, "Where can I pre-order the print copy?" I was like, "I don't know."
I searched it out and you can do a print pre-order through Ingram. You do need a lot of lead time, because they start printing the books to ship them four to six weeks before your release date.
Unless you're longer than that, it's probably not a good idea. But if you have a pre-order two to three months, you can set up your book just like you would like you're going to release it through Ingram, but you put the on sale date in the future, your release date. Then what I do is, I upload the file that I get back from my proofreader. Whenever I have that, or actually I upload the one I get back from the copy editor. I know that there's still a proofread to go and I just make sure that I go in and change that file out, because you have to upload a file.
James Blatch: Right. There has to be something?
Sara Rosett: Yeah, yeah. It's very easy. Once you get it going, it flows through to Amazon and to Barnes Noble and Waterstones and all the different places they distribute and then people can pre-order it.
James Blatch: If you've bought your ISBNs, presumably you can use the same ISBN that you use on Amazon?
Sara Rosett: Yes. That's the easiest.
James Blatch: Yeah, best way of doing it. If you've got your ISBN from Amazon, and this is getting very techie now, but if you tick the box to say, "I'll have your ISBN," when you're doing your print on demand version on Amazon, you can't use that elsewhere, I don't think, can you?
Sara Rosett: No, you can't use that, but Ingram now also has that, where you can use one of their ISBNs. You don't really need an ISBN. You can buy them in groups of like a hundred or 500. I have a big group that I bought, and so that's what I use because then I can use the same one at both places.
James Blatch: In terms of your distribution wider, why should you use IngramSpark and not use a service like Draft2Digital, PublishDrive and go through them with print?
Sara Rosett: I haven't personally used Draft2Digital's print option, so I don't know what it's advantages are or disadvantages. It would be nice to have everything consolidated at Draft2Digital if you're already using them. That might be a good thing to do. For me, I knew when I started doing print, I looked at the sales I was getting through KDP Print and I saw that I was getting a lot of sales that were like 23 cents or 42 cents. That's the expanded distribution because KDP Print; basically, they're doing what Ingram would do.
They're taking a cut every time you sell. If you sell a print book on Barnes & Noble through KDP Print, Amazon is taking their cut of the distribution. I thought, "That's really not a lot. Let me see if I can explore this IngramSpark thing," because Joanna Penn was talking about it.
I looked into it and I realised, "It's not a lot, but I can make around $2 for each print copy I sell through Barnes & Noble, Waterstones." Basically I use KDP Print for the Amazon stores, and then I use IngramSpark for Barnes & Noble and bookstores, Indie bookstores, everyone else basically.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. That's really interesting. I think I might well go down that route if nothing else, just so I can explore IngramSpark and use it. I am interested in their services. I know they've been improving a lot in recent years. Yeah, that's more for me to dig into.
Sara Rosett: It's different from Amazon in that it's a wholesale model. You have to set a discount and we went into all that in the course, like different options you have, and you don't have to set a high discount. You can set a low discount and as long as your books are in there, bookstores can order them.
That's another thing that a lot of bookstores don't want to order or stock from Amazon, or they won't. A lot of libraries can't because they're set up to order through like Ingram or someone else. You have more ability to have your book in more places if you're in Ingram, but then you have to figure out your discount and that puts people off.
James Blatch: This is a discount to wholesalers?
Sara Rosett: Yeah.
James Blatch: It's for somebody who's going to retail your book as opposed to it being there for purchase by Kobo or whatever?
Sara Rosett: Right. Yeah. It's a completely different model and we're not used to that because almost everyone else we deal with, we just put in our price and the person, the company that's distributing, takes their cut and then they give us the rest. This isn't that same model. The bookstores get a discount and then they make their money between the discount and the price they set. If you have a really tiny discount, it's not worth it to them because they're going, "I can't make any money off this." There's some issues there that are unusual for Indie authors, but I've found it to be worth it.
I think it varies according to genre, because I know mystery readers love print books, and other genres may not be as into buying print. I would say check your KDP Print sales, and if you have a lot going through expanded distribution, then it's probably worth looking into.
James Blatch: A final nerdy question on this front is pricing. You set a price for your KDP Print on demand book, do you have to match that in IngramSpark? Are there dangers from deviating from that?
Sara Rosett: It's not like KDP where I know people who have a higher IngramSpark price, but I don't tend to do that because it's just too confusing for me. I'd rather have all my prices the same across all retailers. In that way, it doesn't seem unfair if somebody is at a Barnes & Noble shopper or whatever.
But I don't think there's anything technically about that, but it would require deeper research, because I do know that when you sign up and agree to the terms of service, a lot of the retailers you're agreeing not to put your book at a lower price anywhere else, so you'd have to dig in and find out if that applies to the print as well. That's something that I don't know.
James Blatch: Yes. It gets complicated and it's buried in the terms. What price do you set your paperbacks at out of interest?
Sara Rosett: Right now I'm doing 13.99 for my trade paperbacks. I started out at 11.99, because I wanted it to look like a good deal. But what I didn't realise was that it's better to go a little bit higher than lower, because Amazon a lot of times will discount your paperback price and you're paid off a higher price off your list price. I was hurting myself by going 11.99. Now I do 13.99 on my trade paperbacks. I've experimented with a hardcover through IngramSpark and that is 26.99, which seems really high, but that's in line with traditionally published hardbacks.
Then I have a case laminate, hardback, large print, that's the kind where the cover is glued to the backings and libraries in the US love those. That's why I did that.
James Blatch: Hard wearing.
Sara Rosett: Yes. Lasts forever. In that one, I price it 29.99, which to me is really high. But the libraries, if they're ordering through Ingram, they're getting that discount. That's the price that most large print are in that range in my genre.
James Blatch: Is there a lot to do in terms of the cover specifications and the formatting for this?
Sara Rosett: Some people I know have used the same cover that they've uploaded at KDP Print. I've never been able to do that. If you're good at Photoshop, I think you could make, there's like minor adjustments, but I just tell my cover artist, "I'm going to need a cover for KDP Print and a cover frame for IngramSpark." They're basically the same, but there's just tiny little variations on each one.
James Blatch: Okay. Good. Well, it's fascinating area. There's a lot to this game and you're a specialist in all areas, which is a really useful thing.
Sara Rosett: Yeah, well, it's good for my genre, so that's why I've looked into it.
James Blatch: It's the 101 course, isn't it; I think your module on IngramSpark?
Sara Rosett: Yes, it's in, I think the vault.
James Blatch: The tech library?
Sara Rosett: Tech library, that's it.
James Blatch: Yes. The vault's something else, but in the tech library, if you're a 101 student you can hear Sara's voice. In fact, I think when does this ... No, I think 101 will be closed probably by the time this goes out, but next time for those people. Good. Well, Sara, thank you very much indeed for coming on.
Sara Rosett: You're welcome. It's been fun.
James Blatch: Fount of knowledge. Well done for your success, which is brilliant. I'm sure we're going to work together again in the future and maybe even who knows, Sara, we might even be in the same room at the same time again-
Sara Rosett: Oh my goodness.
James Blatch: ... as we have been in the past conferences.
Sara Rosett: We are so looking forward to that. All the writers want to get back to the conferences.
James Blatch: Yeah, can't wait. We've got our flights booked, but we're still having to cross fingers, aren't we, because we don't really know what's going to happen, but we've booked, which is the most we can do. Sara, thank you so much indeed. Good luck, and hopefully we'll see you again soon.
Sara Rosett: Yeah, sounds great. Thanks for having me.
James Blatch: I love Sara, soft voice. She could talk to me all day, like syrup in your ear Mark.
Mark Dawson: I'm not going to get involved in that nonsense, but yes, it's an interesting interview and it's definitely one of the bigger genres and we see quite a few authors doing really well in cosy and variants of cosy. Witchy cosies is another quite popular genre.
James Blatch: Food cosies.
Mark Dawson: Food cosies. Yeah, exactly.
James Blatch: I don't know what they're called, but it's always a chef isn't it, to do with food and a murder in the kitchen? Yes. You can see why it's a good genre. A big genre, it's very attractive and easy reading and the TV programmes. My wife watches Agatha Raisin. I don't know if that's made it over to the United States, but it's a classic cosy mystery. What's the village where a murder happens every week?
Mark Dawson: Midsomer Murders.
James Blatch: Midsomer Murders, yeah huge. That must've made it to America.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, Craig Martell is obsessed with Midsomer Murders.
James Blatch: There you go.
Mark Dawson: Never understood that.
James Blatch: No.
Mark Dawson: I think people do think that is what living in England is like.
James Blatch: Dangerous.
Mark Dawson: Of course they're right. It is a very dangerous place.
James Blatch: The villages.
Mark Dawson: Mean streets of Salisbury.
James Blatch: Yeah. Good. Okay. Well, I loved having that chat with Sara. Thank you very much indeed to her for being my guest.
Now I have an episode coming up in the near future. I've interviewed both the editors I worked with on my book, so we'll try and do that in just a couple of weeks. But I had a very interesting exchange with Jenny Nash, which is going to involve you, me, Jenny and another person in Vegas in our shorts and t-shirts to play something called pickleball.
Mark Dawson: Okay, I'll pass.
James Blatch: No, no, you're not passing. You're my partner, because the reason is, it's being taken up by people around our age in big numbers in America. It's a big growth sport and it's particularly-
Mark Dawson: Around our age?
James Blatch: Yes, our age. It's particularly for people who used to play tennis or table tennis, and which you used to be on the edge of the England squad, did you not? You once told me.
Mark Dawson: I did, yeah.
James Blatch: For table tennis. Jenny was quite a handy tennis player I have to let you know, so you need to practise. Anyway they have a pickleball stadium in our hotel, so we're on.
Mark Dawson: Christ, okay.
James Blatch: You better start watching some YouTube videos.
Mark Dawson: I will, yes.
James Blatch: Okay. Look, that's it. I've got some golf to go to. We've got some Hello Books emails to send out. We'll update you on all of these projects from time to time as they go on. I think that is probably it, Mark.
Mark Dawson: All right. That's a goodbye from me.
James Blatch: And a goodbye from him. Goodbye.
Mark Dawson: Goodbye.
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