Mistakes Were Made: Confessions of an Indie Writer

I ran a promotion during the last week of November, and it blew my mind how much help I received from readers, supporters, and of course, my author friends. I felt as though I’d decided to move house, and didn’t tell anybody, yet all kinds of friends showed up to help me anyway. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had that kind of help right from the beginning of my career as a self-published author. There are things I’ve done solo too, though, and there are mistakes I’ve made along the way. Some of them have been significant, and in the interest of continuing to pay it forward, here are my confessions. I mean, here are some mistakes I’ve made.

1. Getty Images sued me for using one of their photos
When I needed a cover for my first novel I purchased a few from several different royalty-free image sites, and then picked one. As I was perusing images, I saved a few in case I wanted to buy one of them later on. Months later, I inadvertently used one of those saved images in a blog post I wrote for my personal website. There was a small “Getty Images” watermark in the corner of the image but I didn’t see it. Getty did though.

The image ran on my site for six months and then I received a letter from Getty’s legal department claiming I owed them $1200 for copyright infringement. After several weeks of discussion the amount was reduced to $500.

I do things a lot differently now. My cover designer charges less than half of that to put together a professional cover for one of my books and I don’t buy any pictures for my blog posts, or anything else for that matter. It was a lot of money; I paid Getty though. I’d used their photo and I owed the money, and when I checked their website $500 was the amount they were charging for that very expensive image. So, if you think your little blog isn’t being examined, think again. As their letters to me pointed out, even if you’ve purchased the image elsewhere, or don’t understand copyright laws, you’re still liable. I don’t put a lot of effort into my website, I devote my time elsewhere, but one of Getty’s bots saw the picture and they were happy to send me a letter. Be extremely careful that the pictures you’re using are either free images or that you’ve paid for them.

2. CreateSpace paid me a negative royalty amount for sales of my print books
Yes, unfortunately this can actually happen. My print book sales slowed down, so I decided to reduce my pricing. As you may know, CreateSpace has a minimum price that you can charge for your print book, so I lowered my pricing as low as their system would allow. When you enter your pricing you’ll see a graph that shows the estimated royalty payable at the pricing you’ve set. When sales are made through their Expanded Distribution channel this amount is quite low, and if you lower the retail pricing on your book low enough this amount can go backwards. A few months ago, I sold six books through the Expanded Distribution system and was paid -$0.48. Yes, that is a minus sign.

I had several discussions with the folks at CreateSpace, trying to explain to them that their program should be calculated so that you cannot enter a retail price that will pay you a negative royalty. Their response was that the royalties payable are an estimated amount and they have no control over the returns they receive from some of their distributors. So, I was still docked -$0.48 from my overall royalties.

Be careful with your pricing, and on the Expanded Distribution channels, even if the graph shows that you’re due a small royalty, you may want to raise your price slightly to make sure that you will indeed be paid and not debited.

3. BookBub subscribers outside of US and UK couldn’t buy my book at lower price
This last error is quite timely and involves my recent promotion. On Nov. 23rd I began a Kindle Countdown promotion that ran to Nov. 29th. During the promotion I reduced the price of my most popular e-book, My Temporary Life from $3.99 to $0.99. I also ran an advertisement on BookBub within the same time frame. My hope was that I’d see an increase in sales from the Countdown deal the day before my BookBub promotion, then I’d grab a gazillion sales on the day my BookBub ad ran, and then those sales might continue for a few days up until the Countdown deal ended on the 29th.

It worked. I sold a lot of books but I did run into a small problem. Bookbub customers, in fact, all customers in non-US/UK markets couldn’t purchase my book at the lower price. Here’s how it played out. On Nov. 22nd, the day before my Kindle Countdown deal was due to begin, KDP adjusted my pricing to $0.99, and locked me out from making any price changes. Kindle Countdown deals are only available in the US and UK. So, when my book was promoted on BookBub’s site on Nov. 24th, at the $0.99 level, their subscribers in non-US and UK markets couldn’t see the lower price. I had assumed that Amazon would lower my pricing to $0.99 across the board in all markets. They don’t; you have to do it yourself. So, the countries that aren’t eligible for Countdown deals still saw my book at $3.99. And, here’s the problem. You can’t change your pricing in the other markets during the period of your Countdown Deal. The system won’t let you.

Amazon emails you forty-eight hours before your Countdown deal begins, reminding you that they’re going to lock in your pricing. Prior to this you need to manually change the pricing on all the non US and UK sites within your KDP dashboard in order to have your pricing lowered across the board.

I’ve been emailing back and forth with Amazon regarding this problem and at the eleventh hour, just as this article was due they responded one last time to my concerns. Here’s their response:

Previously we had issues with some publishers letting us know they were not able to change the price for the other marketplaces. In your specific case the reason behind the system not letting you, is the royalty that the book is under.

In order to be able to change the price on the marketplace of Amazon.ca, you’ll have to make also the change of the royalty of 70% to 35%. This since the 70% royalty allows prices to go within $2.99- $9.99 only.

The system is not letting you make the change as the Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk have the Kindle Countdown deal and can not be changed the royalty right now from 70% to 35% since the price of the books have to remain within the range for the Kindle Countdown deal.

So, there is indeed a problem. You cannot change the royalty percentage during the Countdown, in any of the markets, therefore you can’t change your pricing. My advice would be to change your pricing manually prior to the lock-out period 24 hours before your promotion begins, especially if you’re running it concurrently with a promotion on another site. It’s always better to be on the safe side. [Note: If you’re considering running your own Countdown, please read this article about the royalties issue.]

Those are my confessions. I’m sorry if you were expecting something more titillating. I’ll leave my story of my naked skydiving expedition with a very well-known erotica author to another time. Yes, definitely another time.

Happy Holidays to you and yours from me and mine!

Author: Martin Crosbie

Martin Crosbie is the administrator of BookDoggy.com and writer of seven published novels. His self-publishing journey has been mentioned in Publisher’s Weekly, Forbes Online Magazine, and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. You can learn more about Martin on his Amazon author page.

55 thoughts on “Mistakes Were Made: Confessions of an Indie Writer”

  1. Thanks for sharing the lessons learned, Martin. There are definitely a lot of potential pitfalls out there, and any help in avoiding them is appreciated.

  2. As I’ve had to tell my daughter a few times, if you never make a mistake, you aren’t doing anything. The key is to learn from them. It looks like you have. 🙂

  3. Thanks, Martin. Looks like you’ve been the guinea pig. So after all that, I have a question for you. Is the countdown deal worth all that effort? I am on the cusp of that decision. So do we need to visit all the sites individually or can the price be changed on the Kindle account?

    1. My Countdown deal was worth the effort. It wouldn’t have been as strong without the BookBub promo but I found the last few hours were really strong. I would recommend that you study when to expire your deal. You can pick the actual time of day. Mine was 8 AM, so I sold about thirty books overnight. I think if I’d made my expiry time noon it may even have been stronger. Bear in mind times are PST.
      And yes, that’s where my problem was Yvonne. You have to change your pricing in the non US/UK markets individually, and it must be done before the 24 hour lock-out. Or, like I was, you’ll be stuck at the higher pricing in those other markets.
      Thanks for commenting.

  4. Thanks, Martin. I’ve got a Countdown deal coming up later this month for the Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus. Good to know that I need to go in and adjust my pricing for other countries ahead of time.

  5. Thanks for the info. I am moving all 20 of my titles to an independent distributer that includes Amazon in their mix. I have had too many conflicts with Amazon as my sole method of sales (which they require if you want the “extras”). I’ve also moved to getting a real Google sales guy, who appropriately calls himself “The AdWordsGuy.” It’s costly, but I got tired of seeing my books at the bottom of Amazon.

    1. I’d love to hear how it works out for you, Jim. and 20 titles, wow! So nice that you have all that content. I’ve got a ways to go to get there.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Glad for the reminder # 2 about pricing on Createspace, thanks Martin!

    Re # 1, I’d suggest, time permitting of course 😉 to start taking or keeping simple candid digital snapshots you might take. It’s amazing what a few simple filters can do for the image. It’s fun, and you can use them as “unique” additions that you have the copyright on.

    Best wishes, take care 🙂

  7. Great post, Martin! Having been a photographer I always try to be careful, but I also know how easy it is to use a photograph you think is RF when it’s not. In fact, I’m going back to my blog and checking all the ones I used in the early days–just in case 🙂

    As for the countdown deal, I’ve been watching and waiting. I’m not sure I’m sold on it just yet…

    1. Thanks DV. I’m digging the Countdown and I intend on doing it again with my other books. I’ve been a big supporter of the freebies as you probably know but free promos haven’t worked for me lately, so Countdowns here I come.
      Thanks for commenting.

  8. Is it just me, or is this…

    “In order to be able to change the price on the marketplace of Amazon.ca, you’ll have to make also the change of the royalty of 70% to 35%. This since the 70% royalty allows prices to go within $2.99- $9.99 only.

    The system is not letting you make the change as the Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk have the Kindle Countdown deal and can not be changed the royalty right now from 70% to 35% since the price of the books have to remain within the range for the Kindle Countdown deal”

    …almost completely unparsable and even verging on illiterate? And from the mighty ‘Zon, no less? Tell me it ain’t so.

  9. Thank you, Martin, for confirming that I am doing the right thing regarding pictures. I keep a camera with me at all times and “hoard pictures” just in case, after all it has become so easy.
    Now that you mentioned prices I feel much better about this. Still baffled by how much they charged you. Chances are they might have never sold that picture to anybody…
    Happy Holidays to you too!

    1. Arlene, it was a great reminder to me that this really is a business I’m running, and I’m the front line, middle and back line too. There’s nobody else. So, yes, it’s important to look after the details.
      Thanks for commenting.

  10. Great stuff, Martin, thanks for sharing and saving our a$#’s. I never knew a negative royalty was possible.

    I ran a Countdown deal in November with no extra marketing or pimping just to test it in a controlled setting. I did get a little bump in sales near the end, surprisingly after the pricing was back up a bit.

    Next time I’ll add external marketing and I’m sure I’ll be very satisfied with the outcome.

  11. Very helpful and honest post. I have tried two countdown deals and I have to say I’m not impressed it didn’t seem to work for my stuff and yet when I have a freeby not only does it generally lead to genuine sales later on but it draws attention to my other stuff and that has resulted in knock on sales I think.

    1. That’s interesting, Diane. I have several friends who still swear by free promos, yet they just don’t seem to work for me anymore. Good luck with it, I’m glad you’ve found what’s effective for you.
      Thanks for commenting.

  12. Thanks for the info on the countdown program.
    I’ve seen one image removed on Pinterest, “per the wishes of the owner.” I was not the first pinner, and I always wondered how much of a fuss they made. I have been combing through posts on my blog cleaning anything that could trigger the Getty reaction. Thanks for the heads up. 🙂

  13. Thanks for the salutory lessons, Martin. Would you permit me to share your photo copyright experience when I do my next shared blog in a couple of weeks?

    I tried the Kindle countdown last month. I couldn’t do it in UK because my novel is, at £1.91, at too a low a price to be included in the deal – and you can’t bump up the price (say to £1.99) within 90 days of the Countdown deal. It was on Countdown in the US but on my screen in the UK it still showed the usual price. Several emails between me and Amazon later the Amazon guy sent me a screen shot to prove my book was discounted in the US. By then, a couple of days of the deal had already passed so I was very late in promoting it. Will try again at a future date.

    1. Yes, Mary, go ahead and share.

      I’m in Canada so the Countdown deals don’t show up here either. I order my books through amazon.com as opposed to amazon.ca but they still know where I am so they won’t let me see them. So, like you, I had to have it confirmed by someone in the US that my deal was indeed happening.
      Thanks for commenting.

      1. Thanks, Martin. I think more than a few folk could get caught out by photo copyright so it’s good to sound the warning.
        Amazon, eh? Can’t live without it but wish it could do a bit more joined up thinking sometimes.

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