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The Verdict on Amazon Gift Cards

Promoting a novel through give-aways is a great idea, but I learned a lesson recently.  I was heading to the Bloody Words Mystery Convention in Victoria, mostly to hang out with a bunch of fun-loving authors.  But I knew there would be lots of mystery readers there too, so I decided to give away some e-copies of my anthology, Summer of Bridges, because it has an award-winning mystery short story, Railroaded, among the other Sioux Rock Falls stories.

So I went to Amazon and ordered fifty gift cards and took them with me along with a fistful of postcards featuring the anthology’s cover.  I’m not pushy, so I only handed out the gift cards to people who said that they were very interested.  I also made sure that they either owned a Kindle or were comfortable with downloading the Kindle app for their computers.

Then the real mystery began.  The week after Bloody Words my novel, Vampire Road, began selling copies but Summer of Bridges showed no spike at all.  What the heck?  What were those mystery lovers doing buying a vampire novel with their gift cards?

Then a few of my short stories started selling, and I thought the mystery was solved.  Perhaps they were using the gift cards to buy the short stories.  All of those stories are contained in the antho plus three new stories, so I was surprised they were blowing the gift cards on one story when they could have had them all with one free download.

Today I checked the status of the gift cards with Amazon and discovered that not one single, solitary, gift card from Bloody Words has been redeemed.  The sales for Vampire Road, White Metal, Railroaded and the others all came from book-lovers surfing Amazon.  None of those sales came from my gift card promotion.

I still think that gift cards can be useful, but next time I’ll say, “Show me your Kindle and I’ll give you an e-book.”  I’ve done that twice since Bloody Words with better results.  Both fans had Kindles and both used their gift cards.

So the verdict: the Amazon gift cards are a great way to introduce people to a novel.  Just don’t give them to people who may not be comfortable downloading the Kindle app or buying a Kindle.

 

Why I’m Moderating a Zombie Panel

I like being on panels, so when I got an e-mail from the SF convention Polaris looking for volunteer panelists, I took a look through the line up to see if anything fit my areas of expertise.  Unfortunately my obvious choice, the vampire panel, was full.  With New York Times bestselling author Charlene Harris on the panel, I’ll certainly be happy to attend as a member of the audience.

Then I noticed a fascinating panel, the Nature of the Modern Zombie, and put my name up for it.  I liked Night of the Living Dead, and I was a big fan of Resident Evil Apocalypse, partly because they shot it in my home town and they blew up city hall–well, CGI blew it up anyway.

But I’m also interested to hear what some of the other panelists have to say about how our world has changed since Ramero’s classic debuted back in 68.  Back then the army and toxic chemicals were the underlying villains.  Certainly the mad cap 1984 sequel, Return of the Living Dead, pinned the blame squarely on the army.

But now the preferred underlying cause of zombification seems to be disease, just like the rippers in Vampire Road.  This infectious source of evil has become so prevalent in fiction that I have to wonder just how deeply AIDS, SARS, Bird Flu and other fears of global pandemic have seeped into all aspects of our society.

Perhaps its because people can brush aside the predictions of asteroids, the end of the Mayan calendar and other apocalyptic forecasts as just too unreal to worry about, but disease is truly real, close and plausible.  We know we can sick.  We know we can die of cancer.  We see it happening to people all around us.

Maybe that’s why zombies and vampires have made a big comeback, mostly as depictions of our neighbors run amok with a debilitating disease.  See Zombieland for the mad cow, bad meat version.

I also wonder if all the prognostications of doom that come from pastors, scientists, politicians and activists might have people feeling like just getting on with the apocalypse so that we can all stop worrying.

Of course in all these zombie/vampire/massive population die-off stories, we’re the survivors.  At least, that’s my preference.

The Accidental Google Ad Campaign

Blame it on sleep deprivation, new technology or simply a bad click, but it seems I launched a Google ad campaign for Vampire Road last week. Good thing I set a ten dollar per-day maximum or I might have needed to run to the bank for a loan.

The funny thing is that I should have known something was up because my novel started selling one or two copies a day.  I know this shouldn’t sound so amazing, but I hadn’t done any serious marketing, not even to my friends and family. This is a great vampire novel, but I only want sell it to people who will like it.  If your preferred summer reading is Margaret Atwood, this isn’t a novel you’d want.  Although who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy it when no one’s looking.  😉

The upshot is that I haven’t begged my mother or older brother or even my sister-in-law to buy this novel, so the sales weren’t coming from that end of my life.

The other big clue I should have observed was the Amazon suggestions.  You know: People who bought this novel also bought…just about anything with a vampire or a zombie.  Where did these readers come from?  How did they stumble across my novel?  Now I have the answer.  They Googled Vampire Novels or one of the other keywords I’ve got running and my ad popped up.

Are the ads worth it?  If I was looking to make money from Vampire Road then absolutely not, but what I’m trying to do is build a fan base that will buy the next two novels in the series.  So far the ad words campaign has been pretty inexpensive, but it won’t be my only marketing avenue, and I will shut it down after a few weeks.

I’ve just begun marketing–well, it turns out I began last week. I just didn’t know it.

German E-books Platform Contacts Me

It’s the wild west in e-publishing, and everyone is striving to find a niche.  I know this, yet I was surprised today when an e-mail arrived this morning from XinXii.com asking me to post my e-book with them for sale in Germany.

What the heck?  This is the equivalent of a European indie bookstore tracking me down and asking me to put my self-published novel on their shelf.  That would never happen in traditional publishing.

At first I wondered if this was some weird kind of spam, so I googled them and came across a number of bloggers who’ve checked them out and say they’re legit.  I also contacted my friend and fellow writer, Rebecca M. Senese, and she also said that as far as she could tell they were legit.  I’m guessing that it’s no coincidence that I loaded Vampire Road to Smashwords yesterday and got the e-mail this morning.  I suspect they’ve got some smart program monitoring the new releases and somehow mining e-mail addresses out of author websites.

So I’ve got another platform on the list to add my books to.  Who knows, maybe my novels will take off in Germany.  Due South was successful there, and I worked on Due South.  Okay, that’s a crazy stretch, but my point is that you can never tell where the sales might come from, and the more places I have my novels for sale, the greater the chance that they’ll sell.

So I’m adding it to the list of platforms where I still have to upload Vampire Road and Summer of Bridges.  I like this new e-pub world.  Book retailers come looking for me.

A Moment in the Smashwords Sun

I’ve waded through the Smashwords Style Guide and come out the other side, humbled and wiser.  I’ve learned more about Microsoft Word than I ever wanted to know.  But at last I’ve loaded up Vampire Road to Smashwords, and I’ve got my hour in the sunshine that is the  New Releases page.

Next task is marketing, but for an indie e-pubbed author the fun never ends.  I also want to put it up to Barnes and Noble through Pubit, and by the fall Kobo intends to have a version of self-pubbing as well.

The good news is that now I know how to format my MS document as I write it, so that I don’t have to go through the excruciating cleaning process with my next novel.  This cleaning of Vampire Road’s formatting was required to enable the Smashwords Meatgrinder program to digest my words and spit out multiple e-book formats.

I’m still waiting with fingers crossed to find out if I qualify for their “Premium Catalog,” which is proof of my prowess with Microsoft Word formatting.  It also gets me into the ibook store and the Sony Reader store, which was the whole point of publishing through Smashwords.

For all you indie authors out there, I’m going to finish the guide that will take your manuscript to Kindle.  It’s far easier and the biggest e-book market.  I’ll write up my notes about Smashwords later next week.

Tomorrow: the clickable table of contents.

Kindle Publishing: First Step

There are dozens of paths that will take your novel from a computer to Kindle, and the route will largely depend on the current file format of the work.  We’re going to start with the most common for indie authors: a Microsoft Word document.

Microsoft Word comes with some serious baggage designed to make your life easier if you just want to write and print a document.  But we want to publish that document, so we need to clean out all the Microsoft Weirdness formatting.

Smashwords has an excellent 85 page manual on how to do this, which includes going nuclear (their expression) but I found with my document that it wasn’t that complicated.

Step One: Activate the show/hide.  That’s the reverse P-thingy as Mark Coker from Smashwords calls it, or the pilcrow.  You’ll see that weird symbol somewhere in your toolbar.  In my version it’s beside the little red toolbox.  Here are some fun images for a pilcrow if you want to know what it looks like.  Just give it a click to show all your formatting.

Now you can see what a mess you’ve made of the document.

Step Two: Go to the Tools menu item and pull down to AutoCorrect.  Deselect each box under AutoCorrect, Auto Format as you type, AutoText and AutoFormat.  You have complete control now.

Step Three:  Look at your document.  Do you have little arrows showing tabs as paragraph indents?  Bad.  You don’t want these in the document.  Fortunately I stumbled across an easy fix.  Select the entire document and then align all the text to center.  Don’t panic.  It’s just temporary.  With the entire document still selected, align all the text to left.  Boom!  All those evil tab indents are gone and now we can properly format the paragraph indents.  The pros among you will have already formatted your paragraphs this way.

Select the whole document again and go to Format in the menu.  Pull down to Paragraph.  Under Indents and Spacing there’s a section on indentation.  Under ‘Special’ select ‘first line.’  It’ll default to .5″ which is a reasonable paragraph indent.  Click OK and we can move on to the easy stuff.

Step Four: Do any of your quotes look like smart quotes?  We need to get rid of those.  They’ll be gobbly-gook in your Kindle or Smashwords book.  Simply do a search and replace.  Because we turned off the smart quotes in step one, it’ll find the smart quotes ” and replace them with straight quotes ” .  I know, they both look like smart quotes here.  They’ll both look like straight quotes in the search and replace, but it’ll still do the job.

Now do the same for the apostrophes.  Again with the ellipses, you know, those three dot things…

Step Five:  This is probably a no brainer, but do make sure you’ve single-spaced your text.  We’re not sending it to an agent here.  We’re publishing!

Step Six: Insert your page breaks.  I do them between chapters.  Simply go to Insert on the menu and pull down to Break and select Page Break.  Oh, I assume you’ve put your cursor at the end of your chapter where you want your page break.

Step Seven: Make sure you don’t have more than three blank lines in a row anywhere in your document.  Multiple blank lines look awful in an e-book.

Step Eight: I really hope you’ve already figured this one out all by yourself, but just in case: if you have headers/footers/page numbers, get rid of them.  Like I said before, we’re publishing!  Forget the agent formatting.

Step Nine: I like to put my web address into hyperlinks right in the e-book.  Now’s the time to insert your hyperlinks.  Can you guess how?  Okay, just in case: highlight the web address and go to Insert on the menu and pull all the way down to Hyperlink.

Now you have a cleanly formatted document ready for the next stage.  Believe it or not it gets easier after this.  You just need your cover and…you do have a cover don’t you?  Okay, that’ll be tomorrow.

The New Slush Pile

Amanda Hocking, the  indie e-pubbed bestseller, credits book bloggers for taking her from a minimum-wage, dead end job to millions of books sold through Amazon and Smashwords and a seven-figure contract with St. Martin’s Press.

This news has started an avalanche of review requests by self-e-pubbed authors into book bloggers in-boxes.  So much so that Big Al, of Big Al’s books and pals, has stopped accepting unsolicited review requests.

The statement under Big Al’s submission guidelines sounds strikingly like something an agent or publisher might put on their website:

Big Al says:  “As of May 17th.  We are currently NOT accepting unsolicited review submissions until we catch up with evaluating those already received.”

I’ve heard many editors, authors and agents express concern about the e-publishing industry, and the biggest worry seems to be about who will be the gatekeepers of modern publishing.  Big Al’s announcement proves that book bloggers will be covering one gate.  How can I tell?  It just slammed closed until further notice.

I’m Selling in the UK

I was checking my sales report on Amazon to see if my efforts at  Bloody Words had produced a bump, but what caught my attention was a new report button for sales in the Kindle UK store (and another for the Kindle DE store in Germany)

Just for fun I gave it a click and discovered that I’ve actually started a trickle of sales in the UK.  Even one of my short stories sold on that side of the pond.

Why is this so exciting?  I don’t know anyone in the UK.  These sales are a tribute to cover art (thanks M. Custode) and good openings to the stories–because that’s the only way people in the UK can judge them.  Amazon allows readers to read the first several pages for free.

My efforts at Bloody Words did cause a little bump in sales for Summer of Bridges, my coming-of-age anthology of short stories that first appeared in Storyteller Magazine.

But here’s the really weird thing: Vampire Road, the young adult, violent, vampire novel has seen an even bigger jump in sales over the weekend.  I didn’t push Vampire Road at Bloody Words because this is a convention of mystery readers–many of them with grown children–who would have little interest in a YA novel.  I’d be doing them a disservice to try and sell it to them.  I pushed Summer of Bridges because the Sioux Rock Falls stories are light-hearted Canadiana, and one of them is a mystery.

So what demographic started buying Vampire Road over the weekend?  I guess the obvious answer is younger people who like vampire novels.  It’ll be interesting to see where sales go once I really get marketing.

If you were wondering: no sales in Germany so far.

Side Note: For the authors out there who are waiting for a blog on how to format and put up e-books, it’s in the draft stage.  It’ll be up this week.

 

How to Publish Your E-book

I’m at the Bloody Words Mystery Convention this weekend in lovely Victoria, and I’ve been surprised at how many authors, both newbies and established, have come to me asking about how to format and publish their e-books for Kindle and other platforms.

The established authors have figured out that their back lists are worth more than the 15-25% e-book royalty most publishers are offering, and the newbies just want to get their novels out there for the world to judge.

So starting this week, I’m going to do a series of articles on how to format and upload your novel for Kindle, Smashwords, etc.  It’s pretty simple, except for the clickable table of contents, and even authors who are technophobic don’t need to worry that it’s beyond them.

I’m also open to questions and am willing to help.

I’m off to a panel now, so the first “How to” article will appear tomorrow, and I’ll put up a menu item for anyone who wants to reference it in the future.

Amazon Makes Author An Offer He Can’t Refuse

Author Barry Eisler shocked the publishing world when he walked away from a $500,000 deal with St. Martin’s Press so that he could self-e-publish his next John Rain novel.

Now Eisler’s tacked the other way, signing with Amazon’s new mystery/thriller imprint Thomas and Mercer.  Eisler says the advance was comparable to St. Martin’s except that the e-book royalties are significantly better. T&M will publish both print and digital versions.

Publishers are going to have to accept that offering authors a 25% royalty on e-books just isn’t going to cut it when they can get 70% from Amazon–especially when e-books never go out of print, so the contract could last until the novel goes into the public domain.

I’ve heard the argument that publishers simply can’t make enough to cover their overheads on e-publishing, and I sympathize, but times have changed.  Publishers are going to have to find a way to lower their costs, because it’s not just John Locke’s 99 cent novels (or my anthology, or my novel) that will sink them.  They’re going to start losing talent as well.

It’s getting interesting out there.  We have agents like Richard Curtis now filling the roll of e-publisher, and retailers like Amazon launching print and e-pub imprints of genres like romance and mystery.  It’s a strange new world when an author’s agent or his retailer can become his publisher.

What’s next?  That’s the interesting part.  Chaos.  Opportunity.