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Get Started On Your Book!

January 10, 2016

Before we start, if you're here looking for a magic pill to make this all happen for you and a hand holding step-by-step guide, you've landed at the wrong blog post.

Looking for a list of recommended reads to help you not only get started on your book but develop your craft as you go? Welcome! It should also be noted that this page and its contents may often change so be sure to bookmark it. Interested in writing a book, but don't know how to go about doing it? Have no fear. I asked some of today's best selling authors to recommend books to help you get started.

Wait? I have to read books about the craft of writing? Yes. While we don't mind offering a direction to get started, we don't have the time to offer much beyond that. Also, all of us have had to do the legwork and the research as well to develop our craft.) In addition to the suggested reading material, the biggest piece of writing advice that came from the authors was "write the book". Put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard and write.

                 

Recommended Reads:

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Title snafus and dealing with them.

April 3, 2017

This is one of those things I feel like should not have happened to me. Ever. And yet, here it is! A title snafu.

First, this was not an April Fool’s day joke (the day we were going over covers) and please, please, please, feel free to laugh.

For those who don’t know, I have a new series going called Twisted Royals. The books are titled using a [Keyword + “Prince”] format. I went through Amazon and collected common key words, things that seemed to show up a lot in both romantic suspense and erotic romance book titles on a regular basis. I then made my titles based on those combinations. It gave me a list of around 14 titles. Which was good because I had a cast of 12 guys with plans to add more.

The idea behind titling the books this way was to use a series word plus a key word to increase visibility, cue readers into what to expect between the pages and create an easy titling method. Because, titles are hard.

We’ve also set on a branded look for the series which means that things like title placement and fonts are more or less set in stone. At this point, given how we’ve leapfrogged through the series doing covers, I cannot afford to change them. Besides I kind of dig the overall look.

On April Fool’s my cover artist, the talented Charity Hendry, sent me the first proof for the third book, Reckless Prince.

Nice title, huh? It fits the hero wonderfully. He’s very much The Rock in The Rundown. “I don’t use guns. I’m enough of a weapon.” Reckless and a bit cocky, for sure.

And then, I really looked at the title… That doesn’t read reckless… does it?

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In case you don’t “see” it, at a glance the title could read Prickless Prince…. Not the story I want to tell!

Cue our panic.

First, the branding is already set in the previous books. We love the look of it, readers like it, and like I said above, I do not want to change that.

Second, this book has been on pre-order since February. The title has already been out there for readers to see and expect.

Third, dear god… WHY DIDN’T WE CHECK OUT ALL THE TITLES? Here’s the thing, back when I was in seminary, we had a whole section about running potential marketing campaigns past a twelve year old, because adults do not see the possible innuendos that kids do. Or other people. I knew better than to not check!

A few things happened very fast after this realization.

  1. I laughed, cried and panicked for about 10 minutes
  2. I sourced a new name, Bad Boy Prince (which will be revealed later this week)
  3. I sent out immediate emails to support on all vendors and included a screenshot of the title as is and why it needs to be changed
  4. I went into the book on all the vendors where changing the title is not locked out (KDP, Nook, Kobo, D2D)
  5. I embraced the oopse and posted it on Facebook, because that was too good to not share

How do you change titles?

  1. Amazon/Kindle – Inside KDP on your Bookshelf simply edit a book, change the title and save. The chances can take 72 hours to show up, just like any other changes.
  2. iBooks – This is done from iTunes Connect. Go into a book, edit the meta data and change the title.
  3. Nook – Through Nook Press, edit a book, change the title and publish.
  4. Kobo – Edit the book through the Writing Life dashboard, change the title and it automatically saves when you hit your Next button.
  5. Draft2Digital – Edit the book and Next through the steps, select your vendors and publish. Chances will be pushed out to all vendors.

The only vendor this title was not listed through yet was Pronoun to get to Google Play.

What did I learn from this?

Once you have a branding set for your series, especially if it’s got stylized fonts, run all the titles through the branding to make sure they’re okay. And don’t just look at them yourself. Get someone else to look at them. Bonus if it’s a husband, fiance, son, someone who will see the worst possible reading of the title. Again, your best title proofreader is a twelve year old boy.

As of today Kobo has populated the new title and the rest are still processing. So far I’ve heard back from a few support desks, all of whom are understanding and cooperative. So yay! Here’s to this becoming that funny story I tell over drinks at a conference.

The first year as a full time author.

If you write, chances are you have the dream to be a full time author. It’s not for everyone. It is a demanding, turbulent occupation that wears many out. And yet, we want it.

In 2016 I had a plan. I needed four more years to restart my career now that I knew what I wanted to focus on, build a brand, a back list that could support me and get debt free. Then, and only then, could I do it. Be a full time author.

Plans are made to be burned and their ashes danced on. February 1st of 2016 I was laid off. It was from out of the blue. I was not prepared. And I had a choice ahead of me:

  1. Did I stick to my four year plan and get a new job that might not afford me the same downtime to write and maintain that plan?
  2. Or did I take the chance and write?

A year later, it’s no surprise which option I picked. I hope sharing how I made the decision to take the chance helps others evaluate their plans.

I’m going to look at a few key things:

  1. My position in the market when I entered full time authorhood
  2. What I did well
  3. What could be improved on
  4. How others have helped me

plan photoThe starting line.

There are a few key pieces of data I had at my disposal February 1st when I was laid off that helped me make my decision based on facts, not feelings.

  1. Accounting. The first thing was a detailed record of all of my sales up until December 2015. You bet your bippy I spent the afternoon of February 1st getting my data in order to reflect through January. Looking back over the years since January of 2011 I realized that my income, while small still, could easily be built on. I stood to bring in my biggest payday yet due to reclaiming several titles from Ellora’s Cave. Those books alone were bringing in a pretty penny.
  2. Productivity & Project Management. I have spreadsheets going back almost ten years which help me evaluate and track my productivity. It was how I made deadlines and kept to them while juggling my personal and professional lives outside of writing. If I was writing 50,000 words a month with a job, what could I do without one?
  3. The enthusiastic support of my family, my significant other and fans.

Looking at the cold hard numbers of output vs input told me a couple things.

First, if I produced steadily, if I released regularly, I could bring that income up. Second, the pace at which I write comfortably would allow for frequent releases.

Not in this data is The Plan. Remember, I had a four year plan. Just because I was let go from my job didn’t change that plan. It merely accelerated it. Previously, in my earlier years writing I wrote, sold or published whatever I felt like writing. From contemporary to space opera, from BDSM to suspense. That works for some authors, but not for most.

Why?

Because an author is a brand. Like Coka-Cola or Dr Pepper, you know when you pop that top what you’re getting. Now, some authors can write all over the board and do amazing. I’m not that person. I know I need to pick a thing and go for it. I needed to recreate the Sidney Bristol brand with a flavor people would come to recognize and reach for when they get that hankering. I was a bit ahead of the schedule because I’d spent much of 2015 priming myself to go all-in with this new direction.

February of 2016 would see my first mass market release in romantic suspense with a traditional publisher. Over the previous five years I’d determined that suspense, action and adventure suit me best, and it was my intention to buckle down and build my house on that brand. I was rebuilding myself, so to speak. Which left me in a very interesting place to begin my full time author life.

I felt like I could do it. I set a goal of six months and told myself that if I hadn’t achieved a steady income level of around $1,500 I would need to seriously reconsider what I was doing.

What I did well.

There’s a number of things I brought with me to writing full time. First, I can produce and I produce fairly reliably without much waffling on my output. So long as I like the story, have an outline and a feel for the characters, I can write the book.

I produced five books in a series. I positioned the series so it was at a cross-section of three subgenres. And then I did a spin-off.

I focused on hero-centric, book boyfriends rather than heroine rooted stories.

plan photoAbove all, I wrote every, freaking day and said yes to just about every promotion that came my way.

This resulted in a grand total of fourteen releases in 2016 between four series. I saw my income go from an average of around $940 per month at the beginning of the year to $2,300 per month. I did this releasing wide versus going into Kindle Unlimited. And I did it with much help from other people. No, that isn’t ground breaking, amazing results. It could have been better, but more than anything I proved to myself that it was entirely possible to recreate myself and establish a sustaining career at the same time.

This full time author gig was possible.

Side note: It should also be acknowledged that I had other things going on to bring in money on the side to supplement the lean months.

What I could have done better.

We all can do better. I learned a few of my mistakes early on and tried to power through them.

plan photoFirst, I dove into writing on a series I began on a whim. SEALs have continued to be popular. Bodyguards were popular. Suspense was supposed to be popular. So I put them all together into a mishmash series. The first book was a fluke. Something I wrote for a boxed set and didn’t really know what to do with. It did well, people liked it, and I wrote characters in with the idea that I could do more down the line. When I was laid off, that book and concept were the best ones I had for creating a viable product line. In hindsight, I might have been better served sitting back and brainstorming a better concept with a more marketable brand. That said, that series has supported me pretty much on it’s own for the last half of 2016, so I won’t complain too much.

Covers. I made an artistic decision in 2015 when I wrote the first book because I wanted to be different. The problem with different is that it does not always mean better. It was just different. And the concept I requested, wanted, and loved so very much…didn’t properly convey my product line. I recovered the series in the latter part of 2016 for a pretty penny and have seen better marketing, sales and opportunities. My advice? Get a really good cover artist, and then an even better friend who isn’t afraid to tell you the cover model looks like Ken’s creepy brother with a thing for Skipper. Yes, I’ve heard that one.

I got distracted by writing what I wanted, not what people wanted. While my first series wasn’t a well thought out brand, it sold well enough. My plan was to create something similar, but different. Good in theory, if I’d stuck with the same part of the statement. Instead of doing something similar, I went off the reservation and did a heroine-centric, series of my heart project. This resulted in months focused on books that did not firmly fit the brand I wanted to push. Do I regret them? Nope. I wanted to write them and there is a readership for them, but they are not the majority. I learned the hard way that sometimes I’m going to have to stuff what I want to write deep down and focus on what I enjoy that will also sell.

The helping hands.

By and far the biggest thing that’s assisted me along the way?

Avid readers and wonderful friends.

I wouldn’t be where I am without people who wanted to read my books and thereby shared my books with their friends. I wouldn’t have reached those readers without other authors reaching back to pull me up with them.

A lot of people treat this publishing game as a me versus them sort of thing that it does not have to be. Readers don’t buy just one author’s books, and accepting that, embracing that, is huge.

I try to always, always, always say thank you where it’s deserved. Or if I’m just grateful. Because a thank you doesn’t cost anything, and it can mean the world all at the same time.

Looking forward.

The lessons learned in 2016 are already getting a workout. This year I’m releasing a better planned and more marketable series hung on several hooks for readers to glom onto. I’ve paid attention to brand, tone, things that do and do not work when it comes to heroes and covers. I’m doing my best to learn so that 2017 is the year that we not only make it, but break it in terms of goals and success.

My advice.

If you’re someone wanting to write full time, my biggest advice would be to consider everything you want to do. If writing is it, the top of the list, your everything, then sit down and start making your plan for how to get there. It’s possible. It’s doable. Yes, we live in crazy, turbulent publishing times, but this is a viable career in need of more, amazing voices telling their stories.

Zara Keane: Ten Tips to Increase Your Organic Mailing List Sign-Ups

February 6, 2017

reading photoOver the last year, I’ve experimented with various ways to grow my mailing list subscribers. I’m careful to separate my organic subscribers from those gained via contests, group promotions, and other methods.

For the purposes of this post, I’m defining an organic mailing list subscriber as someone who discovers my books on a store, reads one, and clicks on a link within one of my ebooks to sign up for my newslet
ter. I also include people who subscribe via my website sign-up form in the organic subscriber list, because I assume that they looked up my website after reading one of my books. This isn’t an exact science, but that’s how I’m currently working my lists.

In general, I’ve found organic subscribers to be the most valuable to me in terms of their click rate on buy links for my full-priced books. However, contest subscribers are definitely worth having, but I’ll get to them in the next post.

Here are eight tips based on changes I’ve implemented that have helped me to increase my organic subscriber list from 2,000 to 8,000 in under a year. Most of them are of the “set it and forget” variety.

  1. Offer a free story to subscribers. Don’t be afraid to use language like “Free starter library” if you have a couple of stories to offer them. It ups the perceived value of your offering.
  1. Make life easy on yourself by using a digital download service to distribute your newsletter freebie. Instafreebie’s free plan is one option. I currently use Book Funnel to distribute my newsletter freebies. After someone confirms their subscription to my list, they receive a Thank You email a couple of minutes later, and this email includes a Book Funnel download link. Any tech issue a subscriber has is dealt with by Book Funnel’s technical support team. The basic plan is $20 a year. I’m on a slightly higher plan at the moment because I needed it for a group promotion I was in, but most people are going to be fine with the $20/year option starting out.
  1. reading photoPeople click everywhere! Seriously. You can’t include the link in too many places. I have both a sign-up page and a sidebar sign-up link on my website. On book pages for not-yet-published books, I include a sign-up button instead of a buy-link button so that interested readers can be informed when the book is released. Judging by my website analytics, I get clicks from all over the place.
  1. Resist the urge to milk potential subscribers for info. Make it both faster and more privacy-friendly by just requiring an email address to sign up. A lot of people think twice before giving their name. Don’t give them any reason to hesitate.
  1. Include an attractive and clickable graphic in your ebooks. Pictures draw the eye and make people pay attention to your offer. I saw a big increase in sign-ups once I started to do this. It was so marked that I did some split testing and took it out for a while. My sign-ups dropped, so I put the picture back in.

Note: A graphic can potentially increase your delivery fee on Amazon, but there are ways to make this increase minimal. I use a lower quality graphic i
n my Amazon ebooks. On average, it increases my delivery fee by $0.01 per full-length novel, but I’ve found it to be worth it in terms of the increase of mailing list subscribers when the graphic is included.

  1. Include the sign-up link and graphic at the front of your ebook as well as right after “The End”. I see more sign-ups from the link at the back, but there’s enough action on the front link to make it well worth keeping. An added benefit: the link is visible in the “Look Inside” sample on Amazon.
  1. Use a redirect link. There are a couple of sound reasons for doing this. If you change your mailing list provider, the links in your already downloaded or purchased books will still work.
  1. The second reason for using a redirect is the opportunity to make your sign-up link easy to remember. Not all digital readers allow for clickable links, so this trick helps increase the chances that a reader using one of those devices will seek out your mailing list sign-up form when they’re next at their computer. Mine is http://zarakeane.com/newsletter. Super easy to remember.

reading photoTo create redirects, or evergreen links, you can use a free WordPress plugin like Redirection. Another option is a service like http://smarturl.it. It’s free and easy to use, and it provides neat data.

  1. Make your sign-up page as enticing as you can. Split test graphics and copy until you feel you’ve hit upon the perfect combination. I’m currently using one of Mailerlite’s new landing page sign-up forms and I love it. It’s based on a template and was easy to set up.
  1. Run an exclusive serial for your newsletter subscribers. This adds a sense of excitement and ups the value of what you’re offering potential subscribers. Mention the serial on social media, complete with a sign-up link, and create an attractive graphic to put in your ebooks’ backmatter. When I ran a serial, I put back episodes on a password-protected page on my website so that subscribers who signed up after the serial had begun could access back episodes.

I hope you find these tips useful. I’d love to know what methods you’ve found effective in growing your organic subscribers list. Please let me know in the comments. Happy list building!

You are your brand by Eve Vaughn

So you wrote a book. Great. That’s the easy part. Not easy in the sense that you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into this work, and probably spent countless hours in edits to get it just right. It’s easy because you now have a finished product. The hard part is getting people to read your baby. Writing a book is only part of the job of being an author. Having great marketing tools to push your masterpiece into the hands of eager readers takes as much dedication if not more than actually writing it if you want to make your work a success.

I can’t tell you how many books go unread simply because the author hit the publish button and expected the sales to happen with little to no effort. These aren’t terrible books, in fact, a lot of them are quite good but if an author doesn’t promote their work, the sales will reflect that lack of effort.

For the new author, marketing can seem a bit overwhelming. Purchasing Ads, Blog Tours, sending out ARC’s are just a few ways to promote your book. But one of the easiest and inexpensive ways to advertise your work is creating an online presence. Social media is an author’s best friend. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, to name a few, are platforms where you are not just selling your books, but you are selling you.

Understandably, it’s up to the individual on how much of themselves they’d like to share online. You can be as personal or as private as you’d like. Share a recipe, or a funny story about your kids. Engaging will readers humanizes the person behind the words. One of the things I do is live tweet my favorite shows. Every so often, I’ll receive an email from someone who followed me because of my tweets and they checked out my books. Even when you don’t think about it, people do take notice of your activity on social media. When readers are engaged they are more likely to check out your books, because they enjoy your online personality.

But representing your brand also goes beyond social media. It’s important to maintain an affable, and friendly demeanor in public when you are going under your author name. Conferences, books signings or meet-ups are also great ways to engage readers. We’ve all heard horror stories from fans who have less than favorable encounters with their favorite authors and because of that, they’ve stopped buying books from that person. We also hear about authors who have public melt -downs and some who say problematic things online and because of that, their readership drops.

But the good news is, when you have a positive encounter with a reader, you can make a fan for life.  So keep in mind that you are your brand and one of the most important marketing tools, is you.

Why do I Need a Newsletter?

Because it’s what all the cool kids are doing.

Seriously. It is.

Go look in your inbox right now. I bet you get a ton of emails from websites that you signed up for–your favorite pizza place, online retailers, and hobby sites that you signed up to get, because you want to know the scoop, like when there’s a sale or when new products arrive.

Readers are no different.

They love your books!

They want to know when your next book is coming out. They want to get the scoop from you, sent to their inbox, just like you want to know the latest sale from your favorite site.

Yes. They really do.

I know what you’re thinking. It feels weird to believe that people want to know this stuff. I was hesitant to do this myself when I first set mine up.

But they do.

I promise.

Have I convinced you yet?

No?

Well, how about this?

Newsletters not only get a list of people WHO LIKE YOUR BOOKS together in one place, the newsletter tells readers stuff before the general public.

And who doesn’t like being the first to know something?

Think book cover releases. Think exclusive excerpts.

Heck, even free books can be given for signing up for a newsletter. (Anna Lowe has a great post about managing giveaways for newsletter subscribers here at RAMN).

There are all sorts of ways to use your newsletter. Setting one up is free on several platforms.

And who doesn’t like free, right?

For setting up a newsletter for free

Mail Chimp — Free-$$$ For free, this has a lot of nice, neat newsletter options, including plenty of checks to make sure you didn’t miss anything. As your list grows, and your needs grow, it has higher end options available as well. A favorite among authors I polled.

Mailer Lite — Free-$$$ Another favorite of the authors I spoke to. Similar to Mail Chimp, but pricing is a little different–it begins charging as your subscriber list grows beyond 1,000 subscribers.

MadMimi — Free-$$$ The free version is for 100 email subscribers, but after that, the pricing is very reasonable, basic plan is $10 a month.

Some other options that do have a monthly fee attached to them, but they also have free trials to explore their services.

Get Response — $$$ With options starting as low as $15 a month, it has a lot of nice features, and no obligations or contracts to use the service.

AWeber — $$ Lots of integrations and, like others as your subscriber list grows, your plan increases in price.

Constant Contact — $$$ Also a lot of integration, but they also have the option to get custom made designs for your newsletter, and even have the option to have someone else do it for you.

However you choose to start a newsletter, a few things to consider:

  1. Integration — can you put a sign up on your Facebook page? Or put a pop up on your WordPress website? Make sure what you use is easy to bring into your other social media sites so your fans can find your newsletter signup easily.
  2. How often are you releasing books and having book sales or giveaways? If you’re releasing a lot of books or wanting a lot of contact with your readers, you need to make sure the newsletter doesn’t have limits on how many you can send over any month.
  3. Rapid list growth. If your list blows up one month, and you suddenly have 3x the subscribers, is that going to penalize you? Or put you automatically in another price bracket? Some of the services listed price according to list size, be aware of that.
  4. And just in general, is it something that works for you? Can you import your style and brand into the design? Is it easy for you to set up and navigate?

But truly, if you have any desire to grow your writing business, a newsletter is an essential part of that growth.

And remember, they are asking for it. You’re not bugging them.

Go.

Do it.

Sell your books to your fans.

Writer Friends with Jaycee Clark

April 25, 2016

I signed up for the blog months ago and worried and wondered about what to write on specifically. I could talk about the importance of advertising in the current market, blogging, knowing your market and what you’re writing, or how to better manage writing time because that’s a weak point for me.  Staying healthy as a writer.  Recipes for writers, though not really healthy ones because I’d rather have cupcakes—with sprinkles. Always sprinkles.

Instead I decided on something else.

This group is Romance Authors Marketing Network.  Networking is important. It is.  I will not dispute that. However, I think, sometimes, we often forget or overlook the importance of writer friends.

Oh sure, we all have them. If we’re lucky.  Networking is one thing. Someone you can contact to help promote your book, talk into doing a joint writing project, or a joint ad.  Those are and should always be appreciated; they’re valuable and helpful for the furthering of both careers. Networking, writers, industry peeps. Friendly acquaintances should always be respected.  I’m not talking about them in this post.

No, I’m talking about writing buddies/friends/bffs.

Writer friends are their own special gems hands down.

Writer friends get you. How are they different from your normal friends? Well, sometimes they just are. Maybe you’re blessed with those in your life seriously understanding all the ins and outs of a writer’s life. If so, kudos to you. You’re lucky. My family sort of gets me, but sometimes (often?) I leave them baffled. Your life-long friends, your spouse, your best friend, they get you too. They do.  They understand insomnia or kids, or health issues with parents. Yes. They get why you do the crazy and stupid shit that you do—most of the time.  We all have a buddy we can call at two in the morning to bail us out of jail, or cry on their shoulder because life has gone to hell.

But how many of us have a writing buddy we can call, or tag on messenger, or text at two in the morning with the same? Or with things like: What’s the most elegant way to kill a person?  And have them pick up seamlessly into the brainstorming and not think you’re weird at all?  How many of your closest friends or family can you call at whatever time of day or night and debate whether overdosing victims on some rare drug or putting them on ice is a more villainous act? Writer friends don’t see you as weird or quirky, or even psychopathic (thank goodness), but more as normal. It’s all perspective anyway, but it’s nice to not get baffled looks (or sighs since writer buddies tend to not share residences and are on phones more often than not).  Finding your own crazy tribesmen—women is wonderful.

Plotting and brainstorming are integral parts of the writing process, as we all know.  And as is the case, this is a very introverted profession (thankfully!).  Trust me, you don’t want to ask the cashier at the grocery store the best way to kill a person with spices or cooking implements.  Though wouldn’t that be an awesome way to spread a bit of surrealism? Anyway, we know our stories; our editors and agents get the polished versions.  Which, I’m certain they appreciate.  But how often do we get stuck?  Me? All too damned often. Sometimes going for a walk helps.  Showers often do the trick as well. And so does brushing my teeth, though what minty-fresh does to help unlock the creative gates, I’ve yet to figure out.  We’ve all got our little tricks to help get past a stuck point, the wall, or dreaded writer’s block. Often stepping away helps, others just plow on through or write the next scene and figure they’ll go back and fix things during edits. These all work. However, sometimes, some points, some plots get so tangled and convoluted you need to talk to someone. It’s like therapy for your characters, but without the Lexapro.

I’ve got a few writer buddies that I consider wonderful friends. Two I would trust with my children.  This is huge. I might trust you with me, and with my books, characters and ideas, but my children are another matter all together.  I’ve known these friends for years and greatly respect all they’ve done with all aspects of their lives and careers.  They are amazing women and kick ass writers.

Writing buddies, not only get you at writing and all the crazy this career entails, but get you in life, some of the times, and knock some sense in you the other part of the time.  These jewels in our lives, help us out and keep us on track with characters, with plot, with twists and schemes, business and sometimes life.

We are the creators of our stories, yes, but if we’re lucky, we’ve had help. Help which figured out that perhaps killing off characters with poison was slightly more elegant than some weird pseudo stabbing with a melting icepick.  Or that hiding a body in the woods was so over done.  Writer besties tell you when your idea is seriously craptastically stupid and do not apologize for it, nor do you expect or want them to.  Instead you can ask why and they’ll honestly tell you. Or just be brutal and tell you stay away from any ideas involving were elephants eating vampiric llamas.

These people become intricate not just in writing, business life, but life in general. You know each other’s children. You know things the other likes and battles they’ve fought.  You’re there for each other no matter the time of day or night.  It doesn’t matter.  Because somewhere along the way you became more than co-workers, more than someone you met in a chat room or forum or author group. By some fate or luck,  you became friends.  Friends who get each other and who get the weirdness, the ‘don’t call me unless someone’s dying because I’m in deadline-hellness’, or are there just for life.  These wonderful people in our lives help and are there for the journey we’re all on. And if you’re really, really lucky, these are friends you’ll have for years to come.

Never ever take them for granted.  Because tomorrow isn’t promised and that next book idea might be truly horrible and you need a friend who will say, “WTF are you thinking? Your readers will kill you! Oh! And how’s your mom/spouse/child?”  Yeah, those are great friends.  If you don’t have at least one of these wonderful people in your life, I’d suggest you try and find one. Join a writer’s group or forum, go to a conference, take a deep breath and a chance. Pretend you’re an extrovert! You never know whom you will meet or how important they can become in your life.

These gems in a writer’s life are priceless.

Should I Keep the Receipt?

April 18, 2016

If it’s connected to your writing business (because, yes, publishing is a business) then yes, you probably do need to keep those receipts. And records of your expenses, because how are you going to know if that advertising made you money?

Now, hold on. I know I’m probably losing you, because this is starting to sound like accounting.

Don’t cringe. It’s not that bad.

(Disclaimer–I’m not a tax attorney, or a CPA or any fancy lettered money person. For tax advice, see a properly licensed professional. This is just a few ideas to explore to help you find a way to better organize the business side of publishing.)

Accounting programs are not what they were ten years ago, where you practically needed a degree to understand them. They’re very user friendly, and are designed to help people who likely don’t want to spend their days stressing over expenses and income data, but get back to what they love to do, which is run their business.

Or in a writer’s case–write their books.

But, ugh. Bookkeeping has to be done.

Never fear!

Keeping track of income and expenses can seem daunting, especially if you’re not that organized.

Fortunately, there are several different options out there to help you keep track of all that paperwork (digital and printed) for your business.

17 Hats — $$$ A very all-inclusive cloud software that allows you to manage income, expenses, invoicing, along with calendars, email sync, and to-do lists. There isn’t much this won’t do for you.

Freshbooks — $ Cloud based software that starts at a small, reasonable monthly fee, and allows for bookkeeping and a small amount of invoicing. As the fee goes up, you get more features. .

Quick Books — $ From the makers of Quicken, Quick books is accounting software that has a version specifically designed for the independent contractor in mind (no employees), as well as for small businesses, with several tiers of pricing.

Wave Accounting — Free. Online cloud software that can be used for many small business needs, including accounting and expense reports. If you’re just starting with a bookkeeping program, this one is nice for testing the waters.

Shoeboxed — $$ A digital “shoebox” of your receipts, it scans physical receipts and digital ones, and integrates with programs including Quick Books and Wave to help you track your expenses.

Live Expenses — Free. An iTunes App that allows you to track expenses on your Apple device.

Neat Desk — $$$ A physical scanner that scans your receipts for you, as well as software to keep track of your expenses as they come in.

 

Many of these options have free trials that allow you to experiment with them, and see which one is the right fit for you and your business.

There are others out there, because there’s always new, exciting things to try all the time. Feel free to check around. This list gives you a starting place.

Stepping into the bookkeeping side of publishing can seem daunting, but you can do it. If you can track your sales easily through all the different dashboards out there for publishing, you can do some basic accounting. It’s really not that hard.

So yes, you do have to keep that receipt.

But it doesn’t have to be a massive headache when you do.

 

The Importance of an Author Mailing List by Mandy Rosko

Okay, so every author worth his or her salt kind of knows this already, so I don’t think I’m going to be telling you anything new here. The point of this post is to convince you to actually get started. Why?

Because apparently I’m not alone as one of the many, many authors out there who, despite knowing how mailing lists are important, despite hearing again and again the complaints of other authors who regret not starting theirs sooner…yeah, I waited a long assed time before starting mine.

I kind of hate that now. Now I’m trying to keep a mindset where I don’t care about sales. I want subscribers first, second and third, and I’ll get to sales fourth.

Now here’s the best bit. I not only waited, but when I actually got started, I just sort of stopped looking at it and let it pitter off when the strategy I was using stopped working, which happened fairly quickly after Amazon started their new bit where a Kindle book will begin at the start of Chapter One, instead of on the cover or title page, allowing readers to see front matter. Same thing for the back matter. The instant someone finished a book, they were immediately taken to a review page instead of being able to look at free offers or a list of other books.

Considering the number of reviews I have, I’m not too sure how well the review page is working, even with my low sales.

But on to business!

Building a mailing list is not only insanely hard, but it can take a good amount of money and patience, because you’re looking at waiting a long time before you see results. A couple of months at the least.

Here’s a snap shot of what my list growth looked like after reading Nick Stephenson’s Reader Magnet Book:

Screenshot 2016-03-30 00.16.40

I first started putting together my mailing list last year at the end of January or February. As you can see, those months are missing so I can’t really show you the growth there, but I still have April. The imports (225 of them) came when I attended Romancing the Capitol, a reader event, and gave away free signed print copies with the expectation that the readers got them by giving me their email addresses and signing up for the list.

I went to that event with no more than 130 books, possibly less, and encouraged people to take doubles for their friends, or themselves since I brought multiple series, or more books in one series. Which means that some people just saw the sign up form and signed up, possibly to feel good about also getting some free swag since I had those on the table as well.

It was awesome 😀

For the rest of April, people who signed up on their own, there were only 41. In May it was 32, and in June it was 21. July was 10. August was 8. Sept was 2. October was 1, and in November it was 7.

Notice that trend?

So here’s the thing I’m going to talk about. This isn’t just about list building and whatnot. It’s also about watching your list. Paying attention to it. Those months went by without me even noticing. Days add up and go by in a blink. I kept meaning to get back to it, but there was always more writing to be done, more edits, things to plan for, birthdays, Christmas, etc.

It wasn’t just that. It was that fact that I had read this book about a system that was supposed to work, but didn’t when Amazon changed how its customers read that was also a downer. I figured I’d get back to it because nothing I did was going to help anyway.

Then December came. Notice the slightly higher tick there? That’s 66 people. That came in when I did a Facebook event with a number of other authors. At the end of December. I think it happened on the 27th or the 28th. Before that bigger chunk, there were maybe 7-10 people who had signed up for the month based on my books and not so great landing page on my website.

When I announced the people at the party could get a free book and I got all those extra sign ups just from that, not giving them an Amazon link where they could buy something, but offering them something for free, I got all those extra people.

One Facebook event, one offer, barely any work on my part, and all those people signed up to hear from me, I was intrigued once more.

So, at that point, with RTC, and Nick Stephenson’s method, I was just under 500 subs. January came, and I’d already heard about another awesome way to get people to sign up for my list based on giveaways thanks to hanging out with the ladies at RAMN.

Instafreebie. I’ll explain that in a bit, but I also went back to Nick Stephenson’s books. I’d heard a couple of things, both good and some lukewarm, but nothing really bad. There was no one out there warning me he was a scammer, so I decided that I didn’t want to bother with all his free videos anymore. I wanted to take the risk and make myself a guinea pig by buying his class when it opened up and getting at some of his other videos.

In January, I started messing with Facebook Ads, advertising my Starter Library this time, not just one free ebook.

Not bad. This time I got 175 sign ups with 2 imports

Screenshot 2016-03-30 00.40.09

 

Now I was totally starting to get greedy, and it was awesome. I wanted to see if I could do better on the next month, and I did. I used the Facebook ads in combination with another Facebook party, a group Valentines Day sale with 50+ other authors, and a Freebooksy ad to get this:

Screenshot 2016-03-30 00.44.03

KAPOW! 583 sign ups with 8 imports.

Troll-Face-Dancing1

BTW, these imports are coming when people email me saying they’re having trouble getting on the list themselves. I offer to manually sign them up and send them their books, and that’s how that happens. Just be careful that you have clear written permission to do this. People don’t like being signed up for something they don’t want.

Meaning if someone emails me saying “I want free books!” I don’t sign them up. I email them back, saying I can manually put them on the list if they like and send them their library. If they agree, I do it. If they don’t email me back, well I have my answer there, too.

Now back to work. Like I said, most of this is costing me money. The Valentine’s Day sale was free to join. I just had to advertise it to my growing list to qualify 🙂 That added me I think about 125-150 people.

The Freebooksy ad, when I watched it, I’m pretty sure added at least 200 people to the list. It’s hard to make an exact count since I also have people coming in through the Facebook ads, as well as a few trickling in from regular sales. I need to get one of those tracking pixels on my site, another thing that comes highly recommended that I’m still dragging my feet on. You can sort of keep track based on how many clicks you’re getting on your Facebook ad vs. how many you get the day of the Freebooksy ad and author promos, but I’m betting that it’s roughly 200 extra people, give or take a few, over the course of three or four days.

Be careful with Facebook ads and other online advertising spots! Some places I’ve used that I thought would get me major traffic that resulted in little more than a blip. These things will bring you subscribers, but not at the speed you would like or a cost that will keep you happy.

As of this writing, nearly 1AM on March 30th, this is what my Dashboard looks like. The first big spike is the Freebooksy, the second smaller one on the 17th is the St. Patrick’s Day sale with the other authors, and that small green bump at the end was an advertising spot on Fiverr that came highly recommended. I might give it another chance though, just in case there was something I missed when purchasing the ad:

Screenshot 2016-04-01 02.32.16

 

Update: That last bump at the end was from a Facebook group promoting my permafree dragon romance. Almost a thousand copies in a day is pretty sweet when each of those books has a link inside to get those readers on my newsletter.

With my front and back matter advertising a free starter romance library to people who signed up for my list, these big jumps brought in new subscribers.

To date, here’s what March looks like for subscribers:

Screenshot 2016-03-30 01.01.12

With two days left in the month, that’s 670 new subscribers plus 8 that were imported. I almost have a hundred more people than I did last month.

EDIT: On April 1st, at 2:55 am, that number is now at 730 subscribers. Not bad for the month 😀

3rxbwi

Back to Instafreebie, however. All the people who signed up for my reader list through Instafreebie don’t appear on these graphs. I have no idea why since it’s Mailchimp connected, though they do appear on the monthly list number.

Anyway, here’s how many people have come in from Instafreebie in the three months since I’ve signed up:

Screenshot 2016-03-30 01.05.13

This is from adding a new free book every month for people to choose from, and only those who opt into my mailing list get one, so I’m not sure how this list would have looked had I only used one book for the entire three months, or if I’ll continue to add new books every month. Probably not, as I’m pretty sure I’ll eventually run out, but I have enough of a back list that I can keep on going for a little while longer.

So to recap. At the end of December I had about 485 people on my list after a year. As of this writing, I have 2915 people on my list, just shy of 3000.

I have 29% of my goal of 10K subscribers, and I’m hoping to get that by the end of December if I can keep this momentum up.

Keep in mind this is after buying list building courses that are pretty expensive, and dumping $500 a month into multiple Facebook ads, and trying to get ones that are cheap and effective. I can spend this much because I have a pretty decent savings thanks to my other pseudonym that makes me good money for now, but I keep hearing stories of people who get readers onto their lists by spending only $5 a day on the ads themselves, and getting invited to Facebook Parties. I’ve also had to turn off some of my Facebook ads because Facebook is trying to charge me over a dollar per click. Something I’m not cool with and have been trying to get back down there for the last couple of weeks >.< It’s an expensive experiment when you can’t figure out how to get the cost per click below $0.50

Another expensive thing I did was a giveaway with KingSumo. Even with getting KingSumo on sale for $99, that, plus the cost of the prize still made it pretty expensive. After heavily filtering down the emails, I think in the end I got about 100 people on my list, which puts the cost per subscriber at about $2.20 each. Not too sure how I feel about that, but I’m willing to try again and keep experimenting with it to see what can be improved.

To not end on a downer, keep in mind that being invited to a Facebook party and advertising your list there tends to be free, though you should only do this if you’re actually hosting a spot. Do Not do this if you’re a guest there who is just there to have fun and get some cool free stuff. Also, I pay only $20 a month for Instafreebie. Basically, I got 1153 people on my list from spending $60. Totally worth it. Same thing with Freebooksy. Do that once a month, spend the $125, and if you can get even close to 200 people, then you’re looking at $0.50-0.75 per subscriber. Also worth it. Not everything has to clean out your bank account to be worth it.

I’ve also cleaned some people out of the list who are not active. I’ll have to do that again soon I’m sure. If no one opens a letter from me in 5 months, I can assume they don’t care and get rid of the email. Since I want my open rate and click rates to be high, this is mega important. You pay for the people on your list so make sure you can keep a decent open and click rate.

So here’s the thing, you might not need to buy any expensive training courses, or do the Facebook ads so long as you’re a super cool networker and can get invited to at least one Facebook Party a month and do your own advertising, while making sure your website is as clean as possible and ready to take in more people who want to get your free stuff. Personally, my website landing page still needs major work, too many distractions, but it does still work.

I did need these things. I needed the course to keep me from seeing something shiny and moving on. I’m lazy. I need something to keep me accountable and something for me to keep looking at to see that there’s still a steady improvement. Seeing the number of subscribers go up every day by 15-35 is great. Every time I get another hundred, I do a little happy dance in my chair. Or a silent squeal if I’m in public and don’t want anyone to see. With every thousand, I get a euphoric feeling. I want that to keep on happening.

I have to test out the list a little more, send the people on it some questions to find out if they prefer sales to contests and whatnot, and see how effectively I can sell to them without pissing them off. I’m trying to take it slow by romancing them with my winning personality and free stuff, so I don’t think I’ll have any decent numbers for another few months, though I’m already noticing a small bump in sales whenever I send out an email 🙂

It used to be that I’d be lucky to get a check from Amazon two months in a row. That’s how few books I sold despite having a decent back list size. Now, thanks to the Freebooksy ads, the Valentines and St Patrick’s Day sales, along with sending out my newsletters telling readers about these sales and my preorders, I’ll be getting some checks over the next couple of months.

Nothing too spectacular. This month I’ve so far got another $337 coming my way, which is still awesome, especially with the CAD to USD conversion rate.

That’s enough to pay my Car insurance plus gas and have money left over for me to go shopping with. It’s not what a lot of authors are making, but it’s nothing to sneeze at either. It makes my Facebook ads hurt less in the end, that’s for sure.

Again, it’s still too soon to see how much it will grow, if at all, but it’s kind of interesting that the only time I started making money on my self published stuff was when I stopped caring about sales.

Cheers

~USA Today Bestselling Author Mandy Rosko

Lessons Learned

Today I want to share some of my experiences in switching from Traditionally published to Indie once I started getting the rights back on my work.

In late 2013 I got the rights back to Watch Me, a 40 K short novel that had been in a Berkley Duet, it was the perfect time to try this new Indie thing. Understanding how important good cover art is I hired somebody to do an amazing cover for me and I priced it at $2.99 – which I think is a very fair price for a story that was half of a novel Berkley charged more than $15 for. I slapped the cover on it, had it professionally formatted, and put it up for sale. Needless to say the release didn’t make a splash.

Early in 2014 I received the rights back to several of my Kensington stories. This time I did think more about marketing and branding so I changed the title of The Crib to Wicked Game and Sex As A Weapon to Too Close and had them both recovered in a similar way because they both had a slight mystery/suspense edge to them. I was super thrilled with the covers and thought that they would do awesome because they stood out. I put the new covers on and put them up for sale.

At the same time I got those two back I also got the rights back to a single author anthology that has entitled Lush. So while I was promoting the two others I went to work on prepping Lush. By this time I’d started talking to other, more successful, Indie authors, and I knew that a series and quick releases were a good way to make a splash. So I decided to release the novellas individually, and then as a collection both digitally and in print. Once again I got great covers, formatted them and released them six weeks after the other two. I priced the first one $.99 and then the others at $2.99 each. I didn’t rerelease the collection or bundle until a month or so later. And once again despite doing some promotions, including Facebook ads, and blog tours, sales were disappointing.

At this point I was getting very discouraged. In my mind, I was doing everything I could and I was making less than $100 a month in sales from 6 novellas combined. After talking to some of the more successful Indie authors out there, I realized that the promoting I was doing wasn’t doing much because my mailing list included people who followed me, as did my social media pages. They likely followed me because they’ve already read my books when they were in their first incarnation, so why would they buy them again? I needed to write something new, to gain new readers.

When I did release my first new Indie work the sales, while better than the less than $100 a month for 6 stories, were still fairly low I went from baffled to depressed to determined. I started to really pay attention to what the successful Indie authors were doing, and you know what I noticed? They were tracking everything they did.

Seriously. Everything.

Coming from a traditional background where the only control I had was what words I put on the page, and a time when authors were encouraged to put their marketing dollars behind ads in magazines like Romantic Times and RWA’s Romance Writers Report, it never occurred to me to track what was working and what wasn’t, because there had never been ways to do that before. But more than just the way we published had changed. The way to reach readers changed, the way readers interacted with authors changed, the information available to us changed….so much had changed that it became clear that if I wanted to be successful at this, I had to accept that despite my experience, I really knew nothing.

It was time to educate myself.

When I looked at what I was doing, how I was doing it, and the sales numbers, and the number of people on my mailing list, I realized that MY readers were buying the new releases- which was awesome – but that was it. I still was not finding new readers.

When I took a deeper look at the promotions I was putting my money into, I saw that they weren’t getting me anywhere. Blog tours where my post was one of three in a day, on a blog with no followers didn’t do anything. So I crossed blog tours off my list, and started building my own list of bloggers who truly care about books, and showcasing authors.

Another thing I crossed off my list was paying for promotional packages that included Facebook parties, take-overs, thunderclap campaigns, and ‘social media blasts’ because I got better results (Proof was in the sales dashboard tracking) when I worked with other authors instead of promoters. Not only were the results better, but the cost of working with other authors was way less than paying someone to do things that I could do myself if I stuck to a well written To-Do list.

Elevator2015 was a bad year for me due to health issues.I only had two releases. However, just because I was unable to write much last year does not mean I wasn’t determined. I spent the year watching, learning, and experimenting with promoting backlist titles (Those re-releases I talked about above).

Things I studied were the Pro’s and Con’s of selling direct to vendor versus an aggregate like Smashwords or D2D. The importance of back matter. The importance of series branding, and branding to the right genre/audience. The importance of a marketing plan. I experimented with pro’s and con’s of Pre-orders with the new release, and Facebook Ads, and learned that they’re not right for everyone.

I’m still not where I want to be, but looking back at what I’ve done, it’s important to remember that even if they didn’t work for me, I was moving forward. Not everything will work for everyone, and we each need to find our way. Looking at what didn’t work, has helped me build a plan for my next releases, and having a plan makes me feel like my goals are within reach.

So, to recap.

What I did in the past:
-New covers I loved (that cost a lot)
-Spent money on ‘old’ promotional tactics
-Promoted to my own readers, but didn’t strive to find new ones.
-Low pricing on books.
-Thought putting money into marketing would pay off without really thinking about WHERE the best place to put those marketing dollars was. All promotion is not equal.
-Rushed out new stuff without a marketing plan. (Because I didn’t know how much had changed, or HOW to create a marketing plan)

What I learned:
-Don’t go into this without understanding just how much work it is. It’s more than writing. You can hear that, and think you know it, but you don’t get it until you’re in it.
-Just because you love the cover art, and it suits the story, does not mean it will help sell the story. Look at what is selling, and getting attention, not just what you like.
– Don’t rush. Just getting things out isn’t enough. You need a plan.
– Not everything works for everyone. Trial and error is your friend.
Don’t forget your backlist. Just because you don’t have somethign new t promote does not mean you do not promote anything.
-Don’t pay others to do what you can do WELL yourself. (why pay someone to run a FB party or Thunderclap campaign for you, when you can do those easily yourself, or with other authors who will also bring readers to the table?)
-Some authors have a team, so they can concentrate on the writing. If/when you do this, build a team you can trust, and who are good at what they do. Until then, suck it up, and bust your ass.

I can now say I make more than $100 a month, but only on new release months do I make more than $500. Which, considering I only had two releases last year, isn’t totally horrible, I think. I’m still nowhere near where I want to be, but when I look back at the things I’ve learned, and at my plans for the future, I feel confident I can get there if I just keep learning, growing, and working.

The most important lesson I learned; Other authors are my best resource. One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed in the difference between being trad published and Indie is the way authors interact with each other. Before, it was all about the writing. About plotting, critiquing, GMC, and so on. Now, it’s more about the business of being a writer. Authors are sharing what works, and what doesn’t with the knowledge that what works for one might not work for another. Everything is trial an error until we find our niche, and we all have a niche-a sweet spot.

Sharing our knowledge, and our readerships with each other helps us all. The great thing is with being Indie, especially with the digital phenomenon, is that there is an endless amount of space and readers for us all. We are all struggling with our own goals, whether it’s to reach a certain point, or maintain one, the struggle is always there, and likely always will be. It’s created a community of less backbiting and more backscratching because we all get how hard this is, and that if we’re sticking with something this hard it’s because we love what we do. That love binds us together so we are not alone in our trudge up the stairs, even if we sometimes feel that way.
RAMNpost

So I have to talk to…people?

A Tale of Social Media and Reader Interaction

Social media is a large part of our society these days. As an author, it plays a part in both your personal and business lives. Why? Because social media is where EVERYONE is—friends, family, co-workers, other writers. And most important, readers.

Many of us were readers before we ever sat down to pen our first book. We were inspired by someone, somewhere, to put our ideas on paper and make them into a story that we hope others want to enjoy. While the point of marketing is to expose our brand, there’s more to it than spamming the interwebz with pleas to buy our books.

Think on this – when you’re engaging a person at a conference or wherever, do you want them to walk up to you, stick their hand out and introduce themselves like this? “Hey, I’m T.J. I know you don’t know me but my books are awesome. Here’s a link to go buy them!”

Most likely, you’d look at that person and wonder whether they were off their meds. You don’t greet total strangers like that in person, so why in the world would it be effective online? Sure readers are always looking for great books. But they’re more likely to buy your work if you come off as a person who is approachable, likeable and not a total bitch.

Admit it, there’ve been times where you looked forward to meeting an author at a book signing or a conference, then after finally having a moment to interact, you swore you’d never buy another one of their books again. Like, ever.

So, don’t be “that guy”.

The question is, how do we let our readers know that we’re real people and not just walking promotions? We have to TALK to them.

Here’s a great example of how simply being friendly can gain great relationships with readers.

The following post had about 100 likes, which means the number of people who actually looked at it was much higher:

So later on, when this same author posted about a new book, the engagement DOUBLED:

I also notice that after I’ve been a bit more chatty with people on social media, I get a lot more engagement in my actual promo posts. And the hope is that more engagement will translate in sales.

For example, I had a new release in a KindleWorlds launch, and instead of spamming my book in The Wolf Pack (a popular Facebook group), I talked about shifters in general, other people’s books, things I was interested in (such as big cats) and commented on/liked other people’s posts. I did this for a couple of weeks prior to my own release. I didn’t spend all day on Facebook, but just a few interactions a day.

Along came release week and guess what happened? I received a TON more engagements on both my fun and promo posts than I’d ever received before. Ever. In addition, I received more REVIEWS on Amazon for the book that I was promoting, and a nice number of opening sales for the first two months of the release. In addition, every other book in the series received a sales bump. And the longer I engaged the group in fun stuff, the longer the sales bump continued. It was a totally magical [insert Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings-type music here!] moment and completely worth it.

So, yes. We do need to actually ‘talk’ to people. Share a bit of yourself with your readership. They don’t need to know what blood type you are, or what color panties you wear on Tuesdays. But a little bit of information can go a long way.

So what kind of things should you share? Here are some examples:

  • Are you a Doctor Who fan? Why or why not?
  • If you write paranormal, have you ever been on a ghost hunt?
  • Which paranormal TV shows or movies do you like?
  • For general things, do you enjoy music? If so, what kind?
  • Do you listen to it while you write? Does it inspire any of your stories?
  • Who are your favorite man-candy actors or girl-crush actresses?
  • What do you think about the latest movies that hit the big screen? Love ‘em, hate ‘em, ambivalent or just meh?
  • Did you dress up last Halloween? Really? What did you “go” as?
  • Coffee lover? Chocolate lover? Hate one or both?
  • Are you a proud nerd?
  • Know any good jokes? If not, are you master of the funny meme?

Now, I’m not saying just start spouting all of this information all over the interwebz, but find others who may be talking about some of these things and engage them. Your readers will definitely see it and may even check out some of your interests and begin to talk with you about them.

A little interaction can go a loooong way to building positive social media relationships with people who love your writing. And those people will tell someone else. And they’ll tell two friends, and so on and so on.

Bottom line, if readers like you as a person, they’re more likely to stick with you as an author.

So, go get ‘em tiger!

Love, T.J.

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