If you build it, he will come.
Not everyone has watched the movie, but most people have heard the line.
We writers, by and large, are a sedentary, solitary lot. Sitting, hunched over our keyboard, learning and spending time with characters we’ve worked for months or years to create is our idea of a fun time. We laugh, we cry, we love these stories we create — of course, everyone else will love them too! Once we click “publish” the virtual headlights will shine for miles and miles from cars (computers) filled with people who just want to experience the world we’ve created. They’ll gladly hand over their hard-earned money just to read our words on their screens.
This is the Field of Dreams Syndrome.
I was fully infected myself when I hit “publish” in 2010. I’d read about the success stories. How hard could it be? I thought. The writing, the completion of the book — that’s the difficult part, right? Of course it is. How many people actually finish writing a book? Oh, sure, everyone thinks they can, but how many actually do? I’m a one-percenter! All I have to sell is ten or twenty books a day. There are hundreds of millions of people out there. Surely ten or twenty of them will buy my book each day.
I tapped my fingers on the desk, waiting patiently for that first sale. Sure, it might take a few minutes, maybe an hour. After all, the book has to propagate through the system before it shows up on every computer screen in the world. Any second now …
Three days later, my patience had worn thin. How long was this going to take? I had spent months writing the thing! The least people could do is acknowledge all that hard work and buy the damn book. Then, after hitting “refresh” for the thousandth time on my sales report, there it was: my first sale! Yes! Finally! Now things will start rolling.
I grabbed the phone and dialed my mother. “Hey, Mom, great news! I got my first sale!”
“That’s wonderful, Dear! I just got online a few minutes ago and bought one, too. Now you’ll have two sales!”
My heart sank. “Um, yeah, that’s great. Thanks, Mom.” I hung up, knowing full well that my first sale would likely be my only sale.
Any of that sound familiar to you? I feel your pain. I, like many other writers out there, was incredibly naive and thought, if I write it, they will come. Do your research, understand your genre, your audience, what makes a great story. Get involved with a writing community, either online or in your home town. Share experiences. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your writing or your marketing.
Above all, remember one thing: if you love writing, then you’re in this for the long haul. Once you type, “The End,” follow it up with the next, “Chapter One”.
Is this heaven? No, it’s the life of a writer.
But there are times when it can feel like heaven.
People will believe what they want to believe.
Even when presented with reasonable arguments and irrefutable facts, people can, and will, deny or sublimate things that are contrary to a closely held belief. We see it all the time in areas like politics and religion. But even scientists, who are trained to keep an open mind and examine all available data objectively, can be unreasonably stubborn in holding onto principles they thought were true, yet are proved false at a later point in time.
The Earth was flat. The sun revolved around the Earth. Mars had canals. Protons, neutrons, and electrons were fundamental particles and could never be broken apart. All these things and many more were pervasive, common ideas treated as fact at one time or another. Even Einstein was extremely reluctant to believe his colleagues’ work regarding Quantum theory. “… God doesn’t play dice with the world.”
How many times have you changed a strong opinion you had about something when presented with a contradictory argument? You have probably been swayed by a meaningful presentation on a few occasions, but I’d wager it only happened if you were on the fence about an issue or not really convicted in your belief.
Bill Nye’s debate/discussion with Ken Ham a couple of weeks ago regarding evolution vs. creationism may have been entertaining and informative, but how many people’s opinions on the matter were changed by one speaker or the other? I would guess the number is extremely close to zero.
The publishing world has been buzzing about what is now two reports from AuthorEarnings.com revealing data gleaned from Amazon’s best seller lists on a day in January and now another in February. These numbers support what many self-published authors, like Joe Konrath, David Gaughran, Barry Eisler, Dean Wesley Smith, and Hugh Howey (who helped spearhead the reports), among many others, have been saying for a while now, years in some cases. Self-publishing has come a long way from the days where an author paid a small fortune to a book printer for copies to sell from the trunk of his car, touring the country. It’s possible, and even the preferred method by many, these days to publish your own work and earn a living doing so.
This new path is, by and large, digital, spurred on by the Internet, cell phones, and tablets. Anyone can carry around a device that’s smaller and lighter than a hardback book, but holds hundreds — even thousands — of books. All available at the touch of a button or two. And new books can be purchased and downloaded instantly from anywhere you have cell service or wifi. Traditional publishers and agents have taken the position that this digital phenomenon is a fad, or a bubble, that won’t last, even while they’ve reaped record breaking profits because of it at the expense of their authors.
The numbers show that there are many authors out there doing quite well publishing their own books. In fact, these numbers illustrate that self-publishers are taking home a larger amount of money each day from Amazon sales than authors who have signed with traditional publishers. Many people have discounted the data gathered by AuthorEarnings, claiming the methods aren’t scientific or the sample wasn’t large enough or a single day’s snapshot isn’t enough to indicate any trends. The second report, showing similar percentages from another day with a much broader list of books, counters many of these arguments, but I’m sure the dissention will continue.
Big publishers won’t significantly change their ways, no matter how much data we throw at them. Neither will most agents or authors who are entrenched and happy with the system they grew up with. Their beliefs are too closely held and their livelihood depends on the verity of those beliefs. Changing their minds would be akin to Ken Ham throwing up his hands at the end of his debate with Bill Nye and saying, “You know what, Bill? You’re right. Let’s hug it out.”
The real hope with the AuthorEarnings reports is that fledgling authors will now have some hard facts to examine when it comes time for them to make a choice regarding what to do with their work. Before, all we really had was anecdotal evidence and rhetoric — from both sides of the equation. Now, there are real numbers, with more to come, for anyone to take and massage however they’d like. There is more than one path to success.
Do you have beliefs you stubbornly cling to in spite of contradictory evidence? What do you think of the data AuthorEarnings has presented? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whatever they may be.
The germ for this post and some of the text come from a comment I left on Jane Friedman’s blog post here.
Ah, the joys of home ownership!
I woke up about 3 AM the night before last, shivering and with a nose that felt like someone had replaced it with an ice cube. Grumbling, I put on my robe and trudged down to the basement with a flashlight to check on the furnace. A few minutes of investigation and smacking my head on a pipe determined that the problem was beyond my meager knowledge and I stomped back upstairs after making sure my daughter still had her electric blanket on. I grabbed a couple more blankets out of the hall closet and curled up for the rest of a long night with my head under the covers.
In the morning, after a scalding shower, I did a quick search on the Internet for helpful tips and/or quick fixes for anything I might have been ignorant of. No dice. Fortunately, the repair place I called was able to come over in a short amount of time, diagnose the problem and get us up and running again after replacing the transformer. I thanked the repairman and signed off on the $230 bill.
It was a decent chunk of change for folks who live largely paycheck to paycheck, but it could have been much worse. Replacing the thing might have cost as much as $2,000. Also, temperatures this week have been mild compared to just a few days ago when it was frequently below zero.
We take so many things for granted, it can really be astonishing if you take the time to think about it. A warm house, a running vehicle, food in the refrigerator — even having a refrigerator! We rant and complain when the Internet or the cable TV is out, but rarely do we stop and realize what wonders we have access to.
Hug your loved ones and be grateful for their health and their presence. Take a moment to appreciate the daily conveniences we normally take for granted. You’ll sorely miss them if they ever disappear.
First of all, as a thank you to all those who downloaded Knot in Time last week, I’m running a countdown deal this week for Abandon Hope, starting today at 99 cents! I would have started it sooner, but didn’t realize I had to wait 30 days after a price change to run one.
Now, for all you other Kindle authors out there, we know that “free ain’t what it used to be”. Gone are the days where a free run could make a year’s wages in just a week or two. Numbers have dwindled drastically since Amazon adjusted their algorithms, yet free can still be a powerful tool for gaining recognition — that all-important visibility which is so hard to come by in a sea of over 2 million titles that grows daily.
As most of you know, simply selecting some dates and telling Amazon to make your Kindle Select title free for those days isn’t enough. You have to spread the word. Fortunately, there are some excellent sources out there for doing just that. The downside is, the most effective ones either cost money or won’t let you know for sure whether they will post your listing. Your best bet for getting as widespread coverage as possible is to submit your listing to as many sites as you can. Admittedly, I did not take my own advice here because I wanted to get some real data on two of the major services, once I knew I’d been accepted for BookBub.
BookBub is currently the King of the Hill, the Holy Grail, the — well, you get the picture — of ebook promotion. They own a massive email list of readers, broken down by genre/category. They are also rather selective about what books they choose to feature. You must have a decent cover, a work that isn’t riddled with errors, and reviews from more than your mom and your second cousin who only posted because he owes you money. I submitted two or three times last spring and summer and did not get accepted. With the release of book two in my scifi series imminent, I decided to try again with Knot in Time since I’d garnered a few more reviews from the time I’d tried before. I put an explanation of why I wanted to promote (the release of book two) in the final comments and also indicated that I was flexible regarding the date I’d chosen. I received an acceptance notice in between Christmas and New Year’s, to my delight, and then went about planning my approach.
Because I was laying out some hard-earned cash for this. I wanted to be sure the service I paid for was what brought in the numbers — whatever they turned out to be. Thus, the only other submission I made was to Ereader News Today, for two days after my BookBub listing had been scheduled. That way, if ENT picked it up, I could get some idea of the overlap between the two services. Did people sign up for both? Or did the two have distinct clientele?
P-Day (Promotion Day) came and I sat on pins and needles, fearing either Amazon would fail to set the book to free or BookBub would misplace my listing. (My luck tends to run that way as anyone who has watched me play games of chance can attest) Everything, however, went smoothly and by noon that day I was developing carpal tunnel from hitting refresh on my browser, marveling at the numbers on my KDP dashboard.
The first major decision I made had been to ask for the Science Fiction category on BookBub rather than YA/Teen, which Knot in Time nominally is on Amazon. Following the listings in my email each day, I noticed that the vast majority of YA/Teen stories offered were romance of one type or another, much like the YA section of any book store. Knot in Time has an older teen protagonist, but most of my reviews have come from adults who enjoyed the story. BookBub’s Science Fiction list, and price tag, were larger than YA/Teen, but it made more sense to spend the extra money and try it as it seemed a better fit for the book.
Know your audience. Even if you wrote your story for elderly nuns, you might find it appeals to middle school boys who enjoy having their knuckles rapped by rulers! All kidding aside, pay attention to who leaves reviews for your books and what they are saying. Find out what else they’ve reviewed and what they said about those books. Patterns will eventually emerge and you may find some surprises.
Numbers, man! Give us numbers!
Okay, okay. Here you go. By the end of that first day, Monday, downloads topped 12,000 and Knot in Time was #9 in free listings for the whole of Amazon. This was just past the top end of the download range BookBub listed for Science Fiction at the time I submitted, so I was extremely pleased. I asked my group of Emblazoner friends for a few tweets, I tweeted a few times myself, and it was picked up by a few small free ebook promoters on Twitter, but nothing major so far as I could determine. I’ll discuss some of my hunches for why it did so well in a bit.
By Wednesday morning, it had reached around 22,000 downloads and ENT listed it, as I’d requested, soon after my first numbers check. The pace picked up slightly for U.S. downloads, before dropping down again late Thursday and into Friday. Foreign downloads picked up through the week, though they only accounted for approximately 2% of the total. Here are the total downloads at the end of the run on Friday night/Saturday morning, broken down by country:
Grand Total: 28,438
That’s all fine and dandy, you may say. But you had to pay to give away books! How does that help? Here’s how: During that week, I sold over 80 copies of Abandon Hope, which more than paid for the ad. Downloads of my perma-free book, A Measure of Disorder, also received a bit of a bump, as did sales of A Cure for Chaos and Mother’s Heart. These were less significant than sales for Abandon Hope to be sure, but hey, sales are sales, right? I’ve also received 12 new reviews for Knot in Time as of this posting.
Since going off free, Knot in Time has been selling at a steady clip, keeping it in the 25-30,000 ranking range. Abandon Hope has held around the 10,000 mark for several days, climbing as high as 6-7,000 on a couple of occasions. We’ll see how the countdown deal does for it this week. All in all, the only thing that would make me happier is if Steven Spielberg knocked on my door asking to buy movie rights.
Conclusions: I couldn’t be as scientific as I’d like with all of this. There are just too many variables when dealing with the Internet. I do have some hunches and ideas though, based on the data and trends I was able to observe during the week.
1) Three to four days is probably optimal for a free run. Bookbub instructed me in their email to make the promotion last until the 31st (the full five days), so that’s what I did, not wishing to gain their ire. Downloads fell dramatically on the final day, except in the foreign markets, and I think I might have captured a few more sales of the book if it had come off free a day earlier, but that’s just supposition on my part.
2) I believe there is a great deal of overlap in customers for BookBub and ENT. This doesn’t surprise me, but it was good to have some real confirmation. I’ve had ENT promote books for me before and the surge in downloads was far greater than what I saw in the middle of this run. That leads me to believe a great deal of the folks who saw the ENT post had already gotten the book through BookBub. Although ENT may have more international subscribers as those downloads seemed to pick up late in the week. YMMV
3) Writing for adults is more lucrative than writing for teens. This may sound like a no-brainer, but with all the press and hype surrounding many YA books over the past several years (Harry Potter, Twilight, etc.) YA has seemed like a virtual gold mine for authors. For some, it certainly is, however, I’d venture a guess that many of those readers don’t actually fit into the “teen” age group. Again, it’s extremely important to know and understand your audience.
4) The benefit of free may be picking up again. With Amazon’s changes to their affiliate program last year, we’ve seen an ebb in the tide of free books being promoted on the major sites like BookBub, ENT, Pixel of Ink, etc. With fewer free books gaining visibility this way, it’s possible that having a well promoted free run might be of more benefit than it was a few months ago when these changes occurred. Again, this is pure speculation on my part based on my unscientific sampling, but it does seem to make some sense.
Lastly, I’d like everyone to know that I didn’t decide to post these numbers and information to brag. I know of others who have done far better than this and some who have done worse. My purpose here is to impart knowledge so that anyone reading this may be able to make some better decisions with their books based on some real life data, rather than just making guesses as we so often have to do. My experience was my own and yours will likely be entirely different. I hope, however, that some of this information will help you make more intelligent choices for your publishing exploits. Below are some links to sites I’ve found extremely helpful over the past few years.
List of helpful sites, including those offering promotion of free and reduced price books: The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing
JA Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing
David Gaughran’s blog, Let’s Get Visible
What’s your take on all of this? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
In celebration of the release of Dare’s second adventure, Abandon Hope, on Kindle and in paperback, the first book in the series, Knot in Time, is available FREE for your Kindle this week. Here’s what a few folks are saying about this science fiction/adventure series:
Mr. Tucker knows exactly how to write a book that people just want to keep reading. This book is packed with non-stop action and suspense…
— Austin, ReadingTeen.net
There are paradoxes, redoes, cool gadgets, and a quirky hero. I highly recommend this book.
— Lynne, Amazon Reviewer
I really enjoyed this tale and am hopeful that there will be more time travel tales to be told! Looking forward to reading more!
— Ron, Amazon Reviewer
In short, if you have read “Knot In Time” and enjoyed it, you shouldn’t need any more motivation to pick [Abandon Hope] up. If you haven’t read it, then you should remedy the situation before reading this one.
— Random1, Amazon Reviewer
Huge thanks to all of you who have read my works and supported me the past four years or so! I write these stories because I love to write. The additional joy of having others read them and derive their own entertainment is a bonus that was merely a dream when I began this journey. So, thank you again and look for a special price on Abandon Hope next week!
Now, off to work on Book 3!