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Independence Day for Authors and Readers

Photo by Jason Smith, Dreamstime Stock Photos

Photo by Jason Smith, Dreamstime Stock Photos

A petition was created last night/this morning on Change.org to help clear some of the air surrounding the Amazon vs. Hachette dispute and Amazon vs. the Big Publishers in general. Here’s the link so you can read it in full and sign if you feel it’s appropriate for you. I signed it to show support for my readers and also in support of letting all sides of this story see some light of day, not just the Hachette side.

I watched an hour and a half video last night from the New York Public Library regarding this increasingly nasty dispute. One of the participants (the man next to the moderator on the left side) writes The Passive Voice blog and expressed some of his opinions in finer detail in a post here (since the moderator kept feeling the need to cut him off). Because I’m sure most of you don’t have that much free time lying around, I’ll hit some of the high/low lights here:

James Patterson referred to himself at first as a wounded gazelle, then amended it to simply gazelle. (That gazelle pulls in approximately $90 million per year through his publishing enterprises)

A lawyer repeatedly called the Department of Justice “silly” and “stupid” for its ruling against the Big 5 publishers when they tried to fix ebook pricing.

The same lawyer also said that, “Lower prices are not always better for consumers [readers].”

The agent/moderator claimed that many important works (largely non-fiction) would never get published without traditional publishing bankrolling those projects.

A medium sized publisher claimed his company had published works they knew wouldn’t see a return for “twenty or thirty years” simply because they felt the work was important to present to the world.

Another lawyer/author claimed Amazon’s search engine was pay based and was unclear where he uncovered that information.

A university professor insinuated that self-published works aren’t edited.

Patterson finished by equating Amazon’s actions to book burning.

Fear was the watchword for the discussion. Fear of Amazon. Fear of monopolies. Fear of loss of revenue and livelihood. I understand these fears, especially the last one as I encounter it nearly every day. But these are mostly fears of a possible future, one which may never come to pass. Where is the fear or anger at what already exists? Big Publishing has operated as a monopoly (an oligopoly technically) for decades. If they were competitors, don’t you think one or more of them would try offering better terms to their writers in order to attract the better ones to their company? Yet this is not the case. Author contracts are nearly identical between all of the major publishers. Rights are signed away for life plus 70 years. Authors receive advances of $5000 or less for work that has often taken months or years to complete. And they are paid twice a year from an antiquated and inscrutable accounting system that allows bookstores to return unsold books in the thousands.

Now, Amazon — and indeed Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and others — has created a way for authors to publish their work and receive fair payment for that work. Readers now get to decide whether a book is worthy of their attention or not, rather than a handful of suits in a Manhattan high rise. This new technology has big publishing running scared, just like the photography and music industries before them, and they are doing everything they can to hold on to the business model that has brought them comfort and joy for many, many years.

I feel bad for the Hachette authors who are now caught in the crossfire of this dispute — which is likely only the first of several by the way. They have no control over how their publisher handles its business, so they lash out at Amazon instead. In most cases, I’m sure, those authors were simply thrilled to have a publisher take on their books. Terms of the contract weren’t negotiable, by and large, so they simply signed and celebrated. I might have been one of them if I’d been offered that choice several years ago.

It’s time, however, for authors to stop being treated like indentured slaves. Embrace freedom and independence. Yes, the unknown can be frightening, but it’s only unknown if you make the choice to remain ignorant.

To the thousands of readers who have enjoyed my work, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You too, have won independence through this revolution in publishing. Works that would have never seen the light of day years ago because the publishers didn’t know how to market them are available in the thousands. There are more worlds to discover out there than ever before. So, go forth and read to your heart’s content and relish your independence.

100 For Knot in Time

KnotinTime_ToU1In celebration of Knot in Time hitting the century mark for reviews — absolutely blown away by this! — I’m having a sale next week. Beginning on May 28, you can pick up the Kindle version for 99 cents, but only for a few days.

Right now, however, Amazon is having a sale on the paperback at over 50% off! I’m sure this deal won’t last long so, if you prefer the dead tree format for your books, there’s never been a better time to pick this one up. (I can’t hardly buy them from the printing house at this price — it’s a great deal.)

Thanks to the amazing Michelle Eisenhoff for being the 100th reviewer! Here’s her thoughts:

Darius isn’t going anywhere with his dead end life. So what does it matter if he takes the recruiter up on his offer to become a Keeper? Everyone has given up on him anyway. He might as well get the heck out of Dodge…or out of 2012, at least.

Keepers are the custodians of time. If a thread gets messed up, well, you know. There could be all sorts of problems. But sometimes time dilemmas can get sticky in a hurry. Can Darius (Dare for short) murder someone to keep the thread intact? Can he wipe out thousands because it was supposed to have happened in the past?

This was a super snarled-up kind of story that makes you really think through the plot. All the many strands tie up nicely, to the author’s credit. I enjoyed it immensely. It does have some mild language and themes that put the age limit up into the teens. But for those older readers who like sci-fi, this is a great pick.

Thanks, Michelle! And thanks to all the reviewers for taking the time to not only read the story, but post your thoughts on the book. They mean a great deal to me.

Field of Dreams Syndrome

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.

*click*

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.

*Edit: Check the comments below for some of the things I’ve done as examples of this.

Anatomy of a “Free” Run

AbandonHope_ToU2_ebookcoverFirst 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.

KnotinTime_ToU1As 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:

US: 27,854
UK: 200
Germany: 169
France: 1
Spain: 6
Italy: 3
Japan: 4
India: 36
Canada: 127
Brazil: 9
Mexico: 1
Australia: 28
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, AMOD_ME1_JF2grn2also 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!

Abandon Hope, Chapter 1 Excerpt

So, under the “better late than never” category! …

I promised this last week and got buried again, but here is the first couple of pages in Dare’s next adventure, titled Abandon Hope.

***Spoiler Alert***

If you haven’t read Knot in Time yet, beware of some spoilers ahead. Wait a minute. You haven’t read Knot in Time yet? Go! Go get it now. I can wait. …

Abandon Hope, Tales of Uncertainty Book 2

Chapter One

I’ve never been a big fan of Westerns.

Oh, I’d seen some good ones. Val Kilmer was awesome as Doc Holiday in Tombstone. I also remembered hearing Tarantino was doing one later in 2012, which I’m sure would have been interesting, but Bob had showed up and my life changed just a bit after that.

Experiencing a Western first hand had not helped my appreciation of them.

A bead of sweat trickled down my cheek as a relentless southern New Mexico sun baked my uncovered head. Kim had dumped me into a blistering June day in 1889, to investigate a minuscule insertion she had discovered. The thing was so small, she’d only been able to pinpoint it to a half hour block of time. With me in the thread, she said she’d be able to isolate it. So, I’d been crouched near a parched sage brush, doing my impression of a baked potato minus the tin foil, for the past twenty minutes. I was pretty sure I was done.

“Anything?” I said, wiping my forehead with an already-wet T-shirt sleeve.

“Don’t you think I would have alerted you if I had detected the insertion?” Kim’s acerbic voice said in my ear.

“I think you enjoy seeing me suffer.”

“It’s only midmorning at your current position in the thread. The temperature in the area won’t peak for another four hours and sixteen minutes.”

“What’s the forecast for today? Searing to partly broiling?” I said as I adjusted my position in the sandy soil. Dust rose in slow motion from my movement, adding to what had already settled around my nose and eyes. “I’m going to look like a lobster before we’re finished.”

“Your complaints are ceaseless. I can easily repair any damage to your precious carcass once you return.”

I blew out a breath and bit back a retort about the only ceaseless things here being the heat, dust and boredom. Recent memories of M’sang Tah chastising me for my lack of patience replayed in my head. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have guessed this to be one of their “teaching” simulations.

I did, however, know better. My intuitive feelings — or more likely my ability to recognize them — had become sharper over what I guessed had been a span of three or four months. Hopping from thread to thread and, in between, existing in an isolated workspace, completely removed from time itself, well … I tended to lose track of the thing it had become my job to protect. Funny how that works. But Kim and M’sang Tah had been unable to trick me again with a simulation after my inglorious Abraham Lincoln episode. Even though Kim piped the information directly into my brain and everything looked, smelled, and felt real, some little corner of my mind wasn’t fooled. On their last attempt, a few weeks before, it had taken me less than two minutes to realize what was happening. The two hadn’t tried since.

“I have it,” Kim said. “Directly ahead of your current position. Thirty-four point six eight feet.”

*****

What’s that? You want more? Hm. I’ll have to think about that. Be good, tell all your friends, and maybe I’ll post some more next week 😉 Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed this little taste!