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Publishing 2012 – A Year in Review

I debated posting this. Strange as it seems, I’ve had pushback from sharing some of the details of my publishing journey. The reasons are many, and I won’t bore you with them. And yet, when I first started out, I really appreciated other writers sharing information. It helped me make informed decisions. To see what was happening out there. It took the fear of the unknown away.

So, in the end, I decided to share. Sorry, new readers of my fiction, but you may want to skip this one. For all you fellow writers, by all means read on.

I now have full tracking spreadsheets of 2011 and 2012. These spreadsheets bring together reports from all the retailers, organize that information, reference it to my own database of my work, and allow me to create many informative pivot tables to view the information in different ways. Each of those pivot tables allow me to see different types of trends.

As the information began piling up, I started noticing several interesting things, which ultimately resulted in this post.

First, I am not a writer who has hit it lucky with a bestseller. I think I’m one of those silent-majority average selling writers (As Hugh Howey says, “The outliers are not the self-publishing story. It’s the midlisters.”). We always hear about those who strike it rich or emerge as outliers. This is a post by someone who is a slow-build so-called ‘mid-lister’, and who is happy about that. I’m considered a prolific writer. I have a lot of books on the way, and many already out there, that might get lucky. The more published, the more chance I have of having a book hit it big.

Considering what I just said, it’s interesting to see the slow upward trend in sales. I attribute this to continuing to write and release new work. At this point in my career, I view that as the best marketing and promotion I can do. I’m doing all I can to increase backlist. (Great article by Kris Rusch: “The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 2009”)

But, let’s get to a few numbers.

Unit sales for 2011 (with 10 1/2 months of publishing): 718
Unit sales for 2012: 1359

Oh yeah. I like that upward trend. 89% increase in 2012. Imagine what I could have done if I could have kept the momentum going in the last half of 2012! (More on that later)

In April and May of 2012 I moved to a different pricing structure. I moved almost all of my work to $2.99 and up, as well as raising the longest novels up to $7.99. Aw, heck. Here are the current pricing tiers in case they help anyone else:

Fiction (10,000-15,000 words) & eDoubles $2.99
Fiction (15,000 to 25,000 words) $3.49
Fiction (25,000 to 40,000 words) $3.99
Fiction (40,000 to 55,000 words) $4.99
Fiction (55,000 to 70,000 words) $5.99
Fiction (70,000 to 85,000 words) $6.99
Fiction (85,000 words and up) $7.99

(Other ideas here at Dean Wesley Smith’s blog (read the comments!). The above numbers were decided on for multiple reasons, including the pricing survey I did here)

A lot of writers would scream doing such a thing would kill sales. Raise prices? Was I nuts?

But, did it kill sales?

Before this raise, the longest book was priced at a maximum of $4.99 (and that was from before when the novels were at $2.99. And sitting there barely selling. Raising them to $4.99 increased both unit sales and net revenue). Raising them to price points of the tier above increased the net revenue again, with unit sales staying the same, increasing, and once in a while dropping a little.

To be more specific: from March to April, overall units sold dropped 21.2%. However, income increased by 8.6%. So, yes, fewer unit sales, but my income went up.

And in May it went up even further, achieving my best month of that year. Not in units. January has the distinction of the most units moved in 2012. In fact, units dropped 7.9% from January’s total compared to May’s total. No, I’m talking about increasing in revenue. And how much did income increase compared to January?

A whopping 21%.

Think about that. Units went down 7.9%, but take-home pay went up 21 PERCENT compared to my highest-unit month. That’s huge!

Writing is my job. Units pushed is not everything, not by a long shot. Revenue taken home is a big factor. That’s what makes the difference between eating or not.

Some people have had success with cheaper prices. I tried that for well over a year, which was ironically during the time when this strategy was supposed to work better than it does in today’s publishing environment. Well, it didn’t help me.

What did help me? Raising the prices, and then leaving them there. Not panicking when the fall slump hit (I’ve known of the phenomena for some times, so why panic if this is a normal thing?). Not panicking when a month came out a little slow. (Kris Rusch has an excellent post on this here. Basic advice: stop obsessing.) There are so many things that can cause sales fluctuations, and 2012 had a lot of them (hint: don’t think of only the book industry. What other big things happened in 2012?).

In June and through the summer of 2012 I took classes and redid almost all the book descriptions and covers. Those upgrades plus the new pricing tiers resulted in 2012 whomping 2011 out of the park.

Then came the fall and winter. I won’t go into details, but lets just say that life hit from multiple directions at once . The plans I had in place of what works I would release in each month disappeared in a poof of dust. I hardly had any new releases in the last six months of 2012. If I hadn’t had such a productive first 6 months, I would have never reached my yearly writing goal. Writing for almost 6 months was minimal.

Because the new releases are my main form of promotion, I expected a hit (and not in a good way). Did I get one?

Yes.

And yet the titles still out there continued to sell. With the higher retail prices, it meant each month of the fall of 2012 still beat anything in 2011. By a wide margin.

Now we are moving into 2013. I’m still building up speed after getting back on the writing-train. Life is still hitting, but I’m starting to polish up new work and getting it released (Salmon Run book 6 is finally out!). The sales of the first two months of 2013 are reflecting this. I’m still climbing out from the maintenance level of sales from the fall and winter of 2012, but both units and revenue are trending upwards.

For the sake of the amount of food in the pantry, this is a good thing. 😛

Observations

Value yourself. Get good first readers. If they are liking your stories, then it’s time to start valuing yourself. Price accordingly. Big publishers don’t bring out a new writer automatically at a lower price point just because they are new. They price them the same as their big sellers. Get your self-esteem issues out of this basic business decision. If you price lower (as I am now with one of my books) have a backlist in place first, (which I do, with 35+ works), and have it for a specific marketing reason. Such as the lead-in of a series.

When you make a big change such as details like pricing, cover, and/or book description, leave it! (Unless there is a very obvious problem) Don’t panic the moment sales drop for a week or a month or even two months. You may be reacting to the wrong thing. I know I would have been. This last year had many circumstances impacting sales, things out of control of any publisher, but a writer may not know or be aware of all of them. Give the changes a minimum of 6 months. Longer would be better, as it gives you a good baseline without all the short-period spikes and valleys distracting you. Then you can judge if the changes are working, or if you need to tweak things again.

Yes, sales slowly ramp up by themselves if you have a good book, without you going nuts with promotion. I talked about the last six months of 2012. Yes, sales dropped when I couldn’t get more work out. But, something very very interesting happened. The first month sales dropped drastically… and then for Each. And. Every. Single. Month after that sales in units increased. Out of those 6 months, only one month did not increase in revenue, but even then the shortage was not much. I figure that one month happened just because of the mix of books bought. Read what I just said before. To me, this was a huge deal. Everything left alone, and not only did books continue to sell, but they slowly started increasing again! Lord, I love this new publishing world.

The mix of books that sell month to month changes. Once I did a pivot table of titles by month, this really jumped out. One month one title will be your best seller. Another month, a different one. Having a backlist helps balance out the overall sales and revenue.

Diversify sales channels. Yes, I know. That sets the people who are doing well in KDP Select foaming at the mouth. The thing is, not everyone does well with it. Looking at my spreadsheets, I’m seeing Amazon accounting for 66-87%. Which means the other sales channels are ranging between 13-33% of my income. I need that income, and I welcome the readers who bring it in. In total, Amazon was 70% for the year, and other income streams settling in at 30%. (One of these days I’ll figure out the percentage of US buyers compared to other countries. Sorry, I don’t have the time right now, but it is increasing. Especially through Kobo and Apple. Not so much with Amazon.)

Increase control by going direct. When Kobo’s Writing Life opened in the summer of 2012, I jumped at the chance to go direct despite their high payment threshold. The ability to format a book description was huge. Before, by going through Smashwords, the descriptions came out in one big ugly lump. I don’t blame readers for passing right by. Also, by going direct, I could custom set prices according to currency. Did going direct help? My sales at Kobo increased 95% compared to the 6 months before. Suddenly I had sales! So, yes, it did help.

Plans for 2013

Release more in the ongoing series. Series are where I make a majority of my sales. Heck, I may even start writing new series! (Oh, and for you String Weaver fans, yes the next books are coming!)

Do my best to release regularly. Almost every month I release something new, even if it’s a short story or a novelette, sales push upwards. One strange observation is that the increase in sales does not always come from the new release. Instead, it comes from the other backlist. Readers seeing the new release on the “New Releases” lists and then clicking through backlist and buying those instead? In any case, I need to keep the new release momentum going if at all possible.

I wanted to go direct with Apple, but they also have a high payment threshold and right now, looking at the numbers, it doesn’t make sense. So, I’m reluctantly staying with Smashwords for that distribution as right now description formatting is making it over to Apple. Also, I figured out how to use Scrivener to create Smashwords-compatible .doc files (no more extra hours-plus formatting time!). Good thing, as Word does not inhabit my current computer and never will. I will review this decision as the backlist and sales increase.

Apply what I learned from Dean Wesley Smith’s “Pitches and Blurbs” online workshop. I can now see why some of my books were selling more. I had fumbled around and accidentally found a few good working description without realizing it. Now that I consciously know the elements that go into a good sales-pitch, it’s time to get the other books up to snuff!

Have lots of fun writing new work!

That last one is important. I want to have fun writing this year, and learning more about the craft. Give the readers fun stories, with each of them improving on the last. Write, learn, write more, release. Rinse. Repeat.

As a writer, and a reader, I can’t think of anything better!

____________________

J.A. Marlow

Aurora Equinox (Salmon Run – Book 6)

Welcome to Salmon Run, Alaska! A place of wild animals, wild land, and wild inhabitants…oh, and native legends come alive and an inter-planetary alien conflict at their backdoor.

With the equinox come the aurora and the itch of spring…

Good moods are scarce in Salmon Run these days. Zach Callahan’s lingering foul mood even manages to drive off Sasha. His concerned father insist on a check-up visit to the local spaceship just as Zach discovers a threat worthy of true worry:

The return of a threat from the south.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords




“Thank You!” For a Fantastic Writing Community

Today, over at Forward Motion Writers, is a surprise event. A thank-you day from all the users of the site for the person who keeps it going and makes it possible.

And so, we the writers and users at Forward Motion Writers do hereby declare this Monday to be:

Zette Appreciation Day

Forward Motion Writers has a long history. Founded in 1998 by Holly Lisle, it has been the social and support home of any writer wishing to be with other writers who are working towards becoming better at their craft and business/career. It was founded with the Pay Forward principle, which is that, in exchange for the help you get there, you then go out and help others.

Today it is owned and run by Lazette Gifford and she has continued that tradition. The site is home for writers at all stages of their careers from award winning multi-published through traditional writers, to multi-published Indie writers, to beginner writers, and writers at all levels between.

It is a place where writers don’t just talk about writing, but they DO it. They go from thinking about writing a novel or a short story, to writing it, revising it, and then finding markets for them. There are workshops and classes, challenges, dares, marathons, critique boards,  and prompts to help writers get there (some of the links require sign-in, which is free). The site offers forums, live chat, web rings, and other resources to help writers accomplish great things. And it’s great fun doing it!

Zette has had a hard few years, but she’s kept Forward Motion going despite it all. Along with the site she also owns and is the primary editor of the free emagazine “Vision: A Resource for Writers” for over ten years. In the past and starting again this coming January, she will conduct the free “2 Year Novel Course” at Forward Motion. Oh, and then there is the free guide she wrote many years called, “Nano for the New and the Insane” which she continues to give out free to anyone participating in the crazy but fun event in November to write 50,000 words in 30 days called “National Novel Writing Month.”

In other words, she loves to help other writers and continues to do so all these years later despite how life crashed in on her.

So, Zette, today I want to say thank you for keeping such a wonderful free, beneficial, supportive, positive, helpful, thriving writing community open to all writers. To keep it going when it might have been easier for you to shut it all down and concentrate on your own life. Forward Motion is a special place, and THANK YOU for continuing to make it available.

____________________

J.A. Marlow

The String Weavers (The String Weavers – Book 1)

Kelsey Hale thinks she’s just a typical mixed-up teenager. Everyone feels that way, her teachers assure her. Yet, strange things happen to her, like food disappearing before she can eat it and hearing music no one else hears.

Then a giant flaming bird drops an alien at her feet. Well, good grief, how can you ignore something like that?

Abducted from Earth, the only planet she’s ever known, Kelsey finds herself thrust into the middle of a deadly conflict among alien worlds and parallel universe. She must not only survive herself, but also find a way to rescue her father from a dangerous group with unknown motives.

In the process, she’s confronted by a hidden secret about herself which will shake the very foundation of who and what she thought she was.

And connecting it all are the mysterious Weavers.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo




Creating A New Pen Name for Already-Published Work

This post is inspired by a comment I made to Dean Wesley Smith’s reprinting of his “The New World of Publishing: Pen Names” blog article. In the comments someone asked if they should rebrand work to a new pen name that they have already published. That’s a hard question to answer.

First, decide why you would want a different pen name for the works in question. Go read Dean’s post on the subject and then think it over. Make the decision based on business reasons, not emotion.

My suggestion is to make the decision now and not put it off to later. Then stick with that decision, whichever way you choose to go.

Okay, you’ve done that and you are now sure these stories need a new pen name?

This was me this spring. I’d already published 3 stories in the “Gateway Roadhouse” series by the time I made this decision. Yes, three stories already out in the wilds selling.

The problem was compounded by a fourth story waited in the wings, just about ready to come back from the editor. Then I started getting other ideas that sorta fit with the series, with some of them branching off into a completely different genre that are even further from the works I write and release under the “J.A. Marlow” pen name. The more the ideas came, the more uncomfortable I grew about having everything under one name.

Okay, decision made. Time for a plan.

Now, my sales are not huge, as in not hundreds per month, but they do chug along at a consistent rate. Still, I worried about putting off any readers I did have. I also took this opportunity as a chance to look over absolutely everything about the books. Here is what I ended up doing:

  1. Researched the types of author names in the subgenre. Then started looking for a short name (to make it easier to fit on a cover) that I could brand for this specific genre and subgenre. I also checked to see if the domain name was available and once the decision on the name was finalized I grabbed it.
  2. Covers: Used what I have learned over the past year+ to create stronger and more professional covers. I also branded them to a specific design to make them stand out as their own and not look like anything under my main penname.
  3. Revisited the series name. “Gateway Roadhouse” still worked as it’s the location that is common to all the stories, but characters are not. Neither is it a ‘series’ in that the stories can be read in almost any order (barring perhaps the first two). After more research and talking to other writers, the “Gateway Roadhouse Series” was changed to “Tales from the Gateway Roadhouse Chronicles”.
  4. Rechecked the book descriptions and ended up rewriting all of them. Again, this is because I’ve grown stronger and learned a lot about writing book descriptions. I might as well apply it!
  5. Redid the back-matter of all the ebooks and started promoting the series within itself with the listings of “Other Books From This Author” portion.
  6. With all the ebook files now changed, it was time to go to all the retailers to update the product listings. This mean changing the descriptions, the penname, files, and covers (Plus I rechecked the categories the ebooks were listed in). This was painless to do other than taking time.
  7. Contacted Amazon to help me create a new penname author page and on request, they were kind enough to move the book listings from my old pen name to the new one (as far as I can tell there isn’t a way for an author to do this transfer themselves).
  8. Posted to my blog about the rebranding as it’s an open penname.
  9. Other possible step: With Amazon it’s possible to contact KDP customer service and ask them to push a new version of the ebooks out to previous customers. As far as I know, this is not possible with the other retailers, although the new versions are immediately available for new download at Smashwords and DriveThruFiction if the customer notices.
  10. Other possible step: Set up any social media accounts for the new name. For those who do not participate actively in social media, this step can be skipped (But do consider creating a static webpage for the new domain).

I’m now a couple months in from the change, and the interesting thing is that sales have increased. I’m sure it’s a combination of all the things I did to prepare for the re-branding and not one specific thing, but it’s still a great surprise. And this without having time yet to create and put up the static webpage for the new name!

It’s odd that sometimes once you make a decision and just do it, everything in your mind and body tells you it is either the wrong or right thing to do. For me, this was the right thing to do. I don’t regret it at all.

____________________

A science fiction retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood"J.A. Marlow

A planet-wide conspiracy is waiting at Grandmother’s house…

An invitation to visit Grandmother’s house, nestled among the giant trees filling the planet, gives Kate a welcome respite from Uncle Travis’s attempts to take over her and her mother’s life. But, there is no time for rest. A conspiracy among the forest inhabitants, moving trees, and other mysteries await her at Grandmother’s house.

Kate learns just how little she knew of the forests, much less its animals. To survive she must learn fast, and that includes trust and teamwork.

And just where was Grandma, anyway?

A Science Fiction stand-alone novel retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood”.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo




“Amazon Serials” Launch – A Few Thoughts

Along with everything else they are launching this week, Amazon also launched a new service called “Kindle Serials (Great Reads, One Episode at a Time)”. Their description:

“Kindle Serials are stories published in episodes. When you buy a Kindle Serial, you will receive all existing episodes on your Kindle immediately, followed by future episodes as they are published. Enjoy reading as the author creates the story, and discuss episodes with other readers in the Kindle forums.”

Kindle Serial Submission page

Kindle Serial Front Page

First, yes you need to submit to them. You cannot opt into this through KDP.

Web serials, also called webfic and litfic, have a long tradition on the internet. Websites like Tuesday Serial, Web Fiction Guide, EpiGuide, Muse’s Success list such endeavors. Such type of fiction is huge business in countries like China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan with millions of users and stories that go into the millions of words. In the US, we have websites like Wattpad who, by hosting the stories on their site, allow users (readers and writers) to “Connect, collaborate and share interactive stories or stumble across the newest trends in fiction.”

Now Amazon is entering the fray. I do have a few thoughts about what I’ve discovered after poking through the Amazon information:

NOTE 1: The price listed is for ALL updates, not one episode. In other words, you better be pricing the offering as a novel from the start:

“This book is a Kindle Serial. Kindle Serials are stories published in episodes, with future episodes delivered at NO ADDITIONAL COST. This serial currently contains one episode out of an estimated six total episodes, and new episodes will be delivered every month.” (Emphasis mine.)

This is unlike other models in Asia where there is a micropayment per episode, and the episodes tend to be under 1000 words. This encourages long sagas that the readers in those markets lap up. With Amazon, the way the payment structure is set up, it does not encourage the longer works. The size of the episodes brings us to the next note…

NOTE 2: Episode “Chapters” are 10,000 words (in science fiction this is a novelette). Personally I really wish Amazon didn’t have that threshold so high. In webfic the installments are usually under 1000 words with the average between 300-800 words. A better compromise would have been a more typical chapter length, such as between 2500-5000 words. This would have equalled an average webfic monthly output using the averages I mentioned (Oh horrors! Here comes the math! Once a week: 800×4=3200. Three times a week: 500x3x4=6000 words. Five days a week: 300x5x4=6000 words).

NOTE 3: The program is non-exclusive. Which means the stories can appear for sale on other websites. Someone who was contacted months ago by Amazon for this program says they can even set a first episode free to garner interests, as well as release a separate book for sale. Authors set the price. These are very good things.

It has some good and bad points so far, but I don’t think Amazon really thought this all the way through. There are very successful models of this all over the world. A hybrid of what Amazon came out with and the types of setups seen in Asian markets would have been nice to see.

I’m in the planning stages for a webfiction serial for this website (as an experiment), but I think I can do better releasing collections of ‘episodes’ than this. Plus, I can engage with the fans on my own website and hopefully interest them in my other books (and maybe encourage them to sign them up for the newsletter). I like the idea of holding the demographic and subscriber information instead of a third party that won’t share (Amazon does not share this with publishers). Plus, discussion on the Kindle forums? As an author, I shudder in horror as overall, we are not welcome there and the oversight of moderators is notoriously bad (if they ever bother to show up).

Whether Amazon Serials would be worth using would depend on how much push Amazon gives the program and if they can get a handle on their forums. They did well in not requiring an exclusive to the content. As a writer, I’m interested in the concept, but it all comes down to the details of the deal.

Each writer will need to make up their own mind on if this program is for them or not.

____________________

J.A. Marlow

The String Weavers (The String Weavers – Book 1)

Kelsey Hale thinks she’s just a typical mixed-up teenager. Everyone feels that way, her teachers assure her. Yet, strange things happen to her, like food disappearing before she can eat it and hearing music no one else hears.

Then a giant flaming bird drops an alien at her feet. Well, good grief, how can you ignore something like that?

Abducted from Earth, the only planet she’s ever known, Kelsey finds herself thrust into the middle of a deadly conflict among alien worlds and parallel universe. She must not only survive herself, but also find a way to rescue her father from a dangerous group with unknown motives.

In the process, she’s confronted by a hidden secret about herself which will shake the very foundation of who and what she thought she was.

And connecting it all are the mysterious Weavers.

A 97,100 word, 389 page (approximate), science fiction novel.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords




The Rebranding of a Series

I have this poor little series that came out of nowhere.

Why is it “poor?”

Because it doesn’t fit in anywhere. It doesn’t fit in with the “Coalition of Worlds” Universe which includes the Alaska science fiction series “Salmon Run.” This universe includes a new series set in the distant future. No details to release yet, as the idea is still percolating.

It doesn’t fit in with “StarBlink” Universe with its few truly comfortable habitable worlds of that universe, which spans across time both before, during, and after the StarBlink event. The world of “Into the Forest Shadows” being one of those few naturally human-compatible planet, but oops, it’s already inhabited.

Nor does if fit in with the “Galactic Commonwealth” universe which includes the Redpoint One romance series, The Children of Jad, and a host of other stories.

See, this series involves a time-traveling galactic-traveling roadhouse with a mind of its own, a cantankerous multi-limbed cook, a giant cockroach poet, and a refugee from 1800’s London. Among other (strange) things.

The Gateway Roadhouse building can literally appear anywhere at anytime for any reason. Only it knows for sure why it will appear. Other than the travel aspect of the building, the series is not pure science fiction, either. The stories run the gamut from suspense, steampunk/steampulp, a little bit of a thriller, historical, adventure, and even romance.

The “Gateway Roadhouse” series needed to find its own home. It now has one.

One of the points of pennames as a brand is so a reader knows what to expect when they see a name. It’s the reason Nora Roberts is employing the penname of J.D. Robb for her science fiction oriented novels. She is not the only author to do this. Dean Wesley Smith has a great article on this subject on his blog which includes other reasons for using pennames in traditional publishing and why one might want to use them on the Indie side.

Because of this, the Gateway roadhouse has now been rebranded under the new penname of “Alex Vaugn” as of the publishing of a new “Gateway Roadhouse” novelette called “Oxygen Kisses.”

Ahh, it feels so good to find a home. 😀




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Mom (A.K.A. Mother Hen) Cancer Fund

Yes, our very own beloved Mother Hen is now struggling with a GBM tumor. The family is struggling because of no insurance and we are desperate to get her the life-saving treatment she needs. If you have a little extra and would like to help out this very deserving person, please consider giving a little donation to help her along the way. Thank you!

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Writerly Progress

2015 Yearly New Words
47.15%  188600 of 400000
2015 Yearly Revision Words
9.53%  38100 of 400000

Archives

Free Serial: Zerralon

Wattpad

Available Ebook Formats

The works of J.A. Marlow are available in a wide number of formats including DRM-Free. Below is a list of a few of the retailers the various formats can be found at.

Mobi (Kindle compatible): Amazon, Drive Thru Scifi, Omnilit/All Romance Ebooks, Smashwords, Xinxii

Epub (Nook compatible): Barnes & Noble, Drive Thru Scifi, Google Play, Kobo, Omnilit/All Romance Ebooks, Smashwords, Xinxii, iBookstore

PDF: Omnilit/All Romance Ebooks, Smashwords, Xinxii

Palm DOC/iSolo (Palm compatible): Smashwords

RTF (Rich Text Format): Smashwords

LRF (Older Sony Reader format): Smashwords

Plain Text: Smashwords

Online Reading (HTML): Google Play, Smashwords

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J.A. Marlow and Star Catcher Publishing is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, iTunes PHG Affiliate Program, and affiliate programs with Kobo, Smashwords, DrivethruFiction, and All Romance Ebooks. These affiliate advertising programs are designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking.