Category archive: Apocalypse Revolution

The Agent Query Letter of the Future

The horror! The eBook horror!

At last year’s Ad-Astra Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Convention, I went to the eBooks panel and was surprised to find only two of the five panelists in attendance. Even more bizarre, there were only three audience members, including moi. I thought that was weird given that mystery conventions around the same time were having packed panels on eBooks.

I’m happy to report that this year there are a few panels that give a nod to the eBook industry, but I still sense a conservatism, a reluctance to accept change. For instance, one panel is Now What: How to Get an Agent, How to Query, and Publishing Options.

Here’s the description:

Book written, and now what do you do? Just what does one do to get an agent? How necessary is an agent? Join our panelists and learn some effective ways to navigate what comes after.  How are you going to get someone to READ  your book, what options are available for getting your book to your potential readers.

What surprised me about the description is the lack of reference to eBooks. In fact, this panel would fit very well in the program book of Ad-Astra 1995 or even 1985.

Then I thought of the agent or publisher query letter of the future, or as I like to call it: now. It goes like this:

Dear Agent or Publisher:

My novel was downloaded over 2000 times in the last month on Amazon. It has earned over 80 five star reviews and 150 likes. I am currently in the market for a print publisher to take this novel into the bookstores.

But my wife has an even better query letter. It goes like this:

Dear Author:

I notice that your novel is currently at 433 in the Amazon Best Sellers Rank, which indicates that you must be selling 30 0r 40 eBooks per day. I also see that it has been well received by readers, earning over 80 five star reviews and 150 likes.

I’d be very interested in representing your novel for print and movie rights.

That’s right. Her theory is that even as we speak, smart agents are trolling the Amazon Best Sellers Rank looking for talent.

Last month my vampire novel, Apocalypse Revolution, was downloaded over 2000 times, but a big chunk of those were promotional freebies on free days. I did earn three five-star reviews and a bunch of likes, but I’m not expecting New York to come bashing down my door just yet. However, with each new review, with each new reader, I’m building a following. Fans e-mail me now and I e-mail back. I’ve started a mailing list to help promote book two when it comes out in June.

If I’m good and I’m lucky, perhaps by next year I can write the agent query letter of the future. But if my wife is correct, they’ll write me.

Amazon Disappears–then Reappears–My Novel

Never put all your eggs in one basket. This wise old saying was invoked by many pundits when they wrote their opinions about Amazon’s KDP Select. This is the program that allows authors to offer their eBooks exclusively on Amazon in exchange for having their work placed in the Kindle Lending Library. It also provides for the opportunity to offer your eBook free for five days during the three month contract–a way of getting your eBook out there and building buzz to help paid sales.

This was working out pretty well for me until yesterday morning. I was headed for a month of record sales–nothing that was going to threaten John Locke’s records for sure, but definitely a personal best. But when I opened my Amazon account I put down my coffee in surprise. Apocalypse Revolution hadn’t sold in twenty-four hours. I went to look and the product page and discovered it had disappeared. I held off posting this so I could provide a link here, because until 3:00pm EDST, there is nowhere to go. Nowhere. It’s not available on Smashwords or at Barnes and Noble or at any of the other eBook retailers. All my eggs were in the KDP Select basket, and Amazon had dropped it.

Amazon  promptly replied to a query, and they were able to tell me that they could see the product page for Apocalypse Revolution, but there were several back-and-forths over the next 24 hours (one of the delays was my fault) before A.R. miraculously reappeared without notice.

Amanda Hocking let everyone know what she thought of KDP Select when she informed the world that half her self-pubbed eBook sales came through non-Amazon eBook retailers. She didn’t say anything bad about Amazon or warn authors away from KDP Select, she was just letting authors know what they might be giving up.

I’m delighted Amazon solved the glitch, especially because the free days I offered this month generated five great reviews and 12 Likes. I know, small potatoes compared to most eBooks, but I don’t know four of these five reviewers–the other is a friend, but Rebecca put that review up without prompting. The others are not friends and family, so if the product page was totally corrupted and the reviews were lost to the ether, it’s not like I can e-mail the reviewers and ask them to re-post their reviews. I would be starting over from scratch.

The damage is minimal. The Amazon Sales Rank has vanished, probably reset as if it’s a new novel, which is better than what it would be after two days of zero sales. But all those other novels that used to auto-suggest AR, well instead of being the first or second book suggested, it’s about sixth to twelfth. I guess other novels were selling while AR was AWOL. Oh, and the link to AR at the right side of this page is broken. I’ll have to get my IT guy on that.

Even a great tech company like Amazon will have glitches, and their response was certainly fast and professional, but it does remind me that keeping all of my eggs in one retail basket may okay for the short term, but in the long term it may not be the best idea. Stuff happens. Better to be diversified.

Amazing Cheesecakes and Apocalypse Revolution Part Company

I’ve got nothing against cheesecakes–honestly–but funny things happen when you do a KDP Select free day.

Some people just download everything they find that’s free every day. I have thought of them as compulsive collectors, but there is a method to the madness of acquiring everything. What if a book breaks out and becomes a bestseller? What if the price shoots to ten dollars? Our collector simply checks his or her Kindle and presto! They picked it up for nothing a year ago, and now that they know it’s good they can read for free. They’re building a library.

But that means that an author can find their novel associated with a book from a totally different genre on Amazon. In the case of Apocalypse Revolution, the best free day I had saw 1300 downloads in four hours. It just so happened that Amazing Cheesecakes was also free that day, and people were downloading it at the same time.

This meant that in the alternate product display underneath my novel, Amazon stated, “Customers who bought this also bought…” You guessed it: Amazing Cheesecakes.

Now it certainly seems like a great cookbook, but when I cook (which is pretty often) it usually involves fire–in my case the BBQ, even in winter. What can I say?  The kids like burgers, sausages, boneless chicken, etc. Don’t worry, my wife makes some great pastas, so the kids will reach adulthood with unclogged arteries.  But alas, baking is not my forte, and I’ve never been that interested in cooking.

But here’s the problem: while I think whipping up some cheesecake and sitting down to read about the apocalypse might be a nice way to spend the evening, some people might get to the middle of the novel and discover their appetites have been disturbed. I mean, all that red jam spilling down the side of their cheesecake might not look so appetizing after reading about the assault on St. Mike’s. Horror or horrors, an amazing cheesecake might go to waste.

Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jeesica Tamturk, the AC author, was a little alarmed to discover that this association was reciprocal. On her Amazon page it said, “Customers who bought this also bought Apocalypse Revolution.” Not exactly a cookbook.

But those people at Amazon have written some smart algorithms. It only took a couple of weeks of purchases for Apocalypse Revolution to be associated with other apocalyptic novels, and for Amazing Cheesecakes to be associated with other cookbooks.

Although it’s kinda of funny: I liked being associated with Amazing Cheesecakes–and Phone Kitten. Oops, as of today Phone Kitten is still suggesting Apocalypse Revolution. Maybe our novels are more alike than I thought.

Friday Night’s Alright for Downloads

Temporary Cover for Apocalypse Revolution

At first I thought the Amazon sales report was a mistake. How did the number of downloads get so high so fast?

It was last Friday, and I was running a free promo day for Apocalypse Revolution.  Only 35 downloads had gone out the door by 5:30pm, which was a bit disappointing because the last time I’d run a promo day well over 500 downloads went out the door, selling at a steady clip all day. That was Thrusday, February 16th, so why on Friday March 3rd was it difficult to even give the novel away?

Apparently because people weren’t home from work or school, or perhaps because the novel hadn’t been picked up and listed by one of the many free kindle sites. But like a switch turning on, suddenly everything changed.

I sat down at 9:00pm and opened the Amazon sales report. Boom! It stated that over 600 downloads had flown out the door. I thought it was a mistake, so I refreshed the page only to discover it was now up to 610. I called my wife, and by the time she got downstairs we’d passed 625. The number of downloads kept climbing with dizzying speed until the promo ended around midnight at over 1300 units out the door.

Of course the best part was the next day when the paid sales started moving. The pace was nowhere near as frantic as the free day, but by the end of the weekend I’d sold more than the previous two months combined. Now that’s fun!

The party isn’t over either. I’m still selling today, and my best seller rank is hovering above 9000, which is great news. I may not be rich and famous, but people are seeing my name and paying for my work. That’s a step in the right direction.

What Free Did for Me

Temporary Cover for Apocalypse Revolution

Within 24 hours of launching Apocalypse Revolution, I got two sales and one good review. Yeah! I was on my way with this one. I wasn’t predicting millions of sales, but I thought they’d start to trickle in, so I was surprised when there was nothing. Not a single sale for the following two weeks.

By mid-January I knew it was time for drastic action. I engaged a new cover artist, but in the meantime my previous cover artist slapped together a very different cover–less biblical and more action. That resulted in a few sales, but still not much notice.

So the week before last I tried a free day. Wow! Did it fly off the electronic shelves! By dinner time it was ranked #6 in the free Kindle bestseller list for science fiction, adventure, and #16 for free science fiction in general. Only H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and about a dozen Stars Wars novels were ahead of me.  Pretty heavy company.

Apocalypse Revolution at #6 in Scifi Adventure

But the pay-off began after I went off the free day. For over a week those sales, now paid in the Kindle store, have been coming in at one or two a day, sort of what I had expected all along.  But the real pay off landed on Saturday morning. Amazon reviewer RandiTS gave Apocalypse Revolution five stars and bought a copy of Vampire Road. RandiTS has nearly 60 reviews under his/her belt, and has earned the Amazon reviewer rank of 5,546, which is pretty good. I’m also proud to note that RandiTS is no rubber stamp. She/he has given one star reviews where deserved.

I’m honored and delighted to have this review, and I’m looking forward to more fans. But for now, RandiTS is my favorite #1 fan.

I am a Hardcore Zombie Apocalypse Survivor

I win! I survived! I get to be the one who carries a shotgun and slays zombies, preferably using a Winchester 1200 Defender with the barrel sawed short for close quarter action.

How do I know? I took a test.

Google would you survive a zombie apocalypse, and you’ll find dozen of quizzes, most them simply aimed at getting you to a website so that you might see other advertising.

This quiz wasn’t on the first page of the search results, but it caught my attention because of the video with it. I assume that author, Max Brooks, of World War Z fame, had something to do with this, but the only evidence I have is that it mentions his book, The Zombie Survival Guide, in the last question, and Brooks’ name is the answer. If he wasn’t involved in putting together the quiz, he’s the luckiest author of this year because it’s a great promotional tool.

Any author who wants to succeed already knows that the web is more than just words: it’s video, audio and audience participation–interactive was the buzz word back in the 90s that had everyone breathless. Even TV execs desperately tried to find a way to make news shows interactive, usually by having a provocative question that viewers could vote on by phone–not exactly the internet.

Most authors know they need creative ways to connect to their audiences, so they’re active on twitter and facebook, and they write blogs like this one.  But I think the blow out successful authors will find unique ways to connect, like this quiz.

Better yet, I bet that it’s not too hard to score survivor, which is what we all want–to survive the apocalypse, whatever form it takes.  On another quiz I even scored as a savior, a rather weighty title that commends me for choosing to bring the grandfolks along when we fled the city.

Suddenly I want to buy the book, because it’s about survivors and I’m a survivor.  I know because I took the test.

Title and Cover Woes

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels.  Fitzgerald can write description that is so effortless to read that a whole page of it with no other action is still captivating.  But I have to wonder if Fitzgerald’s great work would have made it to a second printing (it barely did) if it had been called The Incident at West Egg.  That’s the original title.  Not horrible, but certainly not as engaging as The Great Gatsby, and I think the novel really is more about Gatsby than the “incident” at the end of the novel.

My friend and fellow writer, Jill Edmondson, had a blog post about several novels that almost ended up with such mediocre titles.  Another example is Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which nearly ended up as Something That Happened.

So when I noted that sales of my novel, The Book of Bertrand were nowhere near the sales of Vampire Road, I had to take a deep breath and ask friends and writers what they thought of the title.  You guessed it.  I found two fans but the rest totally panned the title AND the cover, even though they loved the novel.  The most common comment: sounds too much like Sunday school and looks too much like a bible.  Boring.

I had to decide whether I’d stick to the title I’d had in my head for years or try something new.  The original title is actually a bit of an inside joke until you get to the fourth novel in the series, so it means way more to me than it does to a reader browsing through Amazon.

When in doubt, go for a 19 kilometer run.  Okay, I don’t actually do that very often (the 19k) but the marathon is on May 6th and I’m well into training.  During the run I had the inspiration that you can only have when fasting or exhausted beyond all reason and still running.  It’s a shaman/spiritual journey thing I guess.  I realized that my novel is not just about three people trying to survive the apocalypse.  It’s also about three people leading a revolution against a government that is actively perpetuating the apocalypse.  It’s about clashes with riot police and the rippers that support them.

So the new title is Apocalypse Revolution, and my brilliant wife suggested that before I change it I should name the other novels in the series to ensure that all the titles would mesh nicely.  Since I’ve already outlined them all, that turned out to be less challenging than I would have thought.

Next challenge was the cover.  I’ve hired a professional cover artist but he’s buried in other work for at least three weeks, so I decided to do a quick and dirty cover myself.  That didn’t go so well.  After three hours of cursing my way through Photoshop and hating the results–there’s a reason I’m not a graphic artist–I sent my feeble efforts to a pro and in no time at all he turned out the great cover that you see at the top of this article.  He also created the cover for The Book of Bertrand, but it was all my idea, so its failure to generate interest is mine.

I fully admit that if I had a traditional publisher or agent they probably could have warned me that the original title and cover weren’t going to sell, but the great thing about eBooks is that an author can change these things if necessary.  It is important though to have it all locked before doing the CreateSpace P.O.D.

Will all this help my sales?  Who knows, but I’m happier with both, so I’ll keep you posted.  Which would you buy?