Category archive: e-books

Why I Decided to Write “New Adult”

No, New Adult is not fresh porn. It’s fiction aimed at a very specific age group, 18-25 years old, people who are too old for Young Adult but are still reading for fun and adventure. Many of this age group are fighting their way through university, establishing careers and courting mates. It’s that fantastic time when your whole life is ahead of you and anything is possible.

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Repeat After Me: We’re All Different. I’m not.

Life of Brian

I was ahead of the curve and I blew it. Six months before Amanda Hocking and John Locke stunned the publishing world by selling millions of self-pubbed eBooks, I predicted this would happen. In fact, I’d hoped it would happen to me. I knew that there would be a small window when not too many authors would choose the less traditional route of indie-publishing. They would still be busy adding their manuscripts to the slush pile. I wanted to be one of the first through the indie-publishing gate. All those avid readers with their new Kindles would turn to my economically priced eBook and give it a try instead of paying ten bucks for a traditionally published book.

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Flux and Chaos at World Fantasy Convention

World Fantasy in Toronto

World Fantasy Convention in Toronto was sparklingly well organized, and I had a great time, but I was surprised to hear these two words popping up repeatedly: flux and chaos. I first noticed them during the eBooks panel, which was packed.

I attended this panel expecting to hear the usual: eBooks are evil, they’re a fad, we need traditional publishers as “gatekeepers,” a paternalistic and condescending concept. Instead, I heard industry professionals state that eBooks are here to stay, and that the publishing industry is in a state of flux and chaos. One of the panelists expressed the desire to leap ten years into the future so that he could again live in a stable world, although I did get the impression that he would’ve been even happier to jump twenty years into the past.

But what really caught my attention was what Betsy Mitchell, a former Del Rey editor, thought of the eBook revolution. To my utter astonishment she stated that this is a wonderful and exciting time for writers and readers. She expressed delight that cross genre work that would never have been accepted by the rigid guidelines of most publishing houses was now getting out and finding audiences and success thanks to eBooks.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. An industry pro I’ve long respected and admired says she loves the eBook revolution. This is a huge change over two years ago, when the vitriol expressed by most authors and editors over the mere existence of eBooks, let alone the impudence of indie-authors to by-pass the publishing industry and its sanctified gatekeepers, was way over the top when opinions were expressed at all. Indeed, I attended the Ad-Astra eBook panel in 2010 and found that only three of the five panelists and four audience members even bothered to attend. And if that wasn’t an indictment of eBooks, two of the panelists spoke with concern about who the gatekeepers would be in this new electronic format.

The words flux and chaos continued to pop up throughout the weekend, especially at a panel on the future of cover art. Several great illustrators on the panel all expressed concern about their future in a market that is in a state of flux and chaos. A couple of them say they are looking for alternate sources of revenue since the traditional publishers are commissioning less and less cover art. When I asked near the end of the panel if any indie-pubbers had contacted them for cover art, the moderator dismissed me out of hand, stating that a whole new panel would be required to deal with that question. He added that self-pubbers have “no idea how to commission cover art.” Perhaps that was his way of saying I couldn’t afford him. To which I respond: the publishing world is in a state of flux and chaos. You can resist it or profit from it. Educate us. There are more covers out there than ever. There is opportunity.

Publishers Behaving Badly Says Department of Justice

But I disagree.

Agency pricing–the price fixing that the big six publishers conspired on for eBooks–is bad for established authors and in the long run it will be bad for the big six publishers. In the short term the Department of Justice (DOJ) is right in that it causes “unmistakable consumer harm.” But what both the DOJ and the publishers ignore is the indie publishing market.

Here’s what agency pricing does for us indies:

1) It forces readers who have jumped into the eReading future to pay more for established authors’ books from traditional publishing houses.

2) It encourages people to buy well-reviewed and relatively inexpensive indie published books.

The price fixing by the big publishers would certainly be illegal if they were an oligopoly with complete control of the writing and distribution of books (as they do with paper books) but eBooks have changed all that.

It’s not just the indie authors that the big six publishers have to watch out for now, it’s the indie-publishers. They’re already out there, some little better than vanity presses, but others will publish great books, will make a name for themselves and rise in strength to rival the big six.

Thanks to eBooks, they don’t even need the deep pockets of the likes of Amazon (a company that has also jumped into publishing) in order to start up. Like the upstart Apple back in the seventies, the next big publisher may currently have its headquarters in a basement or a garage. But they won’t be there for long.

The DOJ is doing its best for consumers, who are being jilted in the short term by the price fixing, but I believe that agency pricing will fail simply because it opens the door for competition to enter the publishing market place. The big six publishers will discover that they can only buy up their new competitors in the short term. In the long term by keeping prices high, they simply encourage more and more start-up publishers to enter the market to fill the vacuum of cheap eBooks.

The competition won’t have the burden of trucks or warehouses or Manhattan offices (really, couldn’t you guys find some cheaper office space in New Jersey?) or any of the other trappings of the big houses.

Competition will end agency pricing because eReaders will continue to sell, and people will want cheap books that are entertaining during tough economic times.

The market will sort them all.

Kindle e-books Rising

Amazon announced yesterday that Kindle e-books are now outselling all formats of paper books (combined) in their UK store. They passed this mark a long time ago in the US, but people in the UK have been slower to buy Kindles and adopt electronic reading.

I’ve got a few haired-brained theories as to why UK readers have been slower on the up take. Perhaps they’re a more conservative country than they think, or perhaps they’ve been enthralled watching the slow-motion train wreck of the Euro. I imagine it’s no fun to witness your trading partners’ economies crash and burn. All those Brits who kept them out of the Euro and on the British pound can now take a bow.

The good news, of course, is that even though the adoption of e-reading in the UK has been slower than in America, it is happening. Perhaps that’s why my last free day saw a surprising number of UK downloads.

So I guess I better fill in my Amazon author page for the UK store and work on promotion across the pond. There are Kindles needing e-books.

Finally, A Cover I Love!

Final Cover for Apocalypse Revolution

I’ve heard many traditionally published authors complain that the downside of having a contract with one of the big six publishers is that you have very little say in the cover art. I do sympathize, but in the indie world we have the opposite problem. We have all control of the cover art.

This may sound like heaven to some, but I haven’t much of an eye for graphic design and worse, I really don’t know much about covers in general. When I purchased a book last year, I never thought about what drew me to it if I didn’t already know the author. I rarely looked at a cover or thought about why I liked it or even if I liked it.

I’ve had to climb a steep learning curve since, and this is where an agent or a publisher could have helped (assuming they were good at their jobs.)

A great cover that didn't reflect the content

So Apocalypse Revolution went through three covers in the last six months. The first was a very biblical number that was totally my idea. The graphic artist did a great job bringing it to life, but it hardly sold at all. It occurred to me that people might think this was some nut-bar religious conspiracy piece, or worse, some dull treatise about an undiscovered book of the bible.

A cover that gives a sense of action but has stock photo written all over it

So I went to the pro, the same one that Joe Konrath uses, but unfortunately he was swamped. I’d have to wait weeks. I changed the title to emphasize the action and the genre, and I slapped together a quickie cover myself with the new title. I had my graphic artist fix my amateur rough draft. That cover actually worked better and sold better, so I felt it was worth the two week wait for the next cover, the one that would be stunning.

A good cover but I couldn't figure out how it would fit with the series

But two weeks turned into a month, and two months and nearly three. The problem with a good cover artist in this new e-book world is that they’re busy–very busy. When I finally did get the promised cover, I understood how traditionally published authors must feel. I didn’t particularly like the cover, and yet I felt I had to go with it because this cover artist had a proven track record. His covers sold books. He knew the business and had been deeply immersed in it for years.

Sales did pick up, but I haven’t been able to shake the fact that I don’t particularly like the cover. Is that supposed to be Vlad or some generic ripper? But the real challenge of the rippers is they look just like anyone else. They’re scary because of their choices and their actions, not their appearance. To me, this said nothing about the content of the novel. I think as a publisher you don’t want to surprise people. You don’t want them to get half-way through before they realize that it’s not the novel they believed they were buying when they looked at the cover.

The other big problem is that with a series of five novels, the covers should carry a theme. A reader should know it’s from the 1000 Souls series simply by looking at the cover.

So I went back to my first graphic artist and we sat down for lunch at a restaurant on St. Clair with a patio in the back. We spent a sunny hour talking covers, themes and my novel. He set me to work. He wanted outlines of all five novels. He wanted descriptions of the characters, symbols and settings. It was pages of work over two days, and I highly recommend it for anyone writing a series. Know where you’re going and why.

So cover number four is now up on Amazon, and sales jumped already. I’m going to run a free day this Thursday and compare it to the free day I ran last Thursday to see if there’s a difference. I’ll keep you posted.

Now I love looking at the cover of Apocalypse Revolution, and the cover of book two is coming soon. And we’ll being doing a new cover for Vampire Road (book four) to fit it into the theme. I can hardly wait.

Oh, and if the old gun target cover is still displaying on the right of this blog, don’t worry. It just takes a little while for the new cover to chug through the system.

eBook Authors are Evil – or Not

I’m still amazed that the SF community around the Ad-Astra Convention continue to be so conservative about eBooks. I have many author friends with more published short stories than I have, and yet most of them have neglected to indie publish and speak of it as something only for the unwashed masses.

But this weekend at Ad-Astra I got a sense of the source of that unease about indie publishing, and it’s nasty rumors being spread by one or more established authors who have signed many times with the Big Six publishers.

These established authors are usually great about helping newbies develop their craft. At Ad-Astra they generously provide writing workshops, and they share insights into their experiences with querying, how they met their agents and how they landed a publisher.  While I’ve heard one of big name authors refer to the “poor self-published saps in the dealer room,” most are supportive of newbie writers.

But this weekend at the Publishing FAQ panel I found out that at least one author is spreading false information about the indie crowd. He wasn’t there, so this is hearsay and thus I won’t name him since he may have been taken out of context or misquoted. But someone at the back of the room used his name, and said that (Big Name Author) had informed him that self-published authors were cheating by downloading their books hundreds of times in order to push up their best-seller rank on Amazon higher than traditionally published books.

I had to pick up my jaw from the floor and, while no one wanted to hear from me, I insisted on responding. I explained that Amazon doesn’t allow you to buy your own book multiple times. I admit I had only assumed this, but I tried it this morning just in case I’d lost my mind, and sure enough Amazon told me I’d already bought my book.

I explained to the panel that if an author wanted to buy their book multiple times, they’d have to open multiple accounts on multiple browsers. So basically an author can buy books for all the credit cards and e-mail addresses they own. So that’s what? Three copies? Six? Obviously that’s not going to affect your bestseller rank for more than a day.

I stated that maybe they had this mixed up with free promotional days on KDP Select, something most of them seemed totally ignorant of. I explained how on one promo day 1300 copies of Apocalypse Revolution downloaded in two hours. They weren’t downloaded by me. It’s just one of those internet mysteries. Some website somewhere let their followers know that Apocalypse Revolution was available for free, and they all snapped it up at once. That put me way up on the FREE Kindle bestseller list but didn’t do a thing for me on the PAID Kindle bestseller list where all the traditionally published novels are found.

Everyone at the panel agreed that maybe Big Name Author had been misquoted or had misunderstood the situation himself. Wherever this rumor started, the damage is done, at least among the Ad-Astra crowd. It certainly explains why many at the con seem to hold indie authors in contempt without even reading their books. It’s going to be my personal (and uphill) battle to undo the suggestion that we are somehow gaming the system.

I have many friends at Ad-Astra, and it’s still one of my favorite cons, so I look forward to the year when there is an Indie Guest of Honour (note the Canadian spelling) But I admit I’m not holding my breath that it will happen at Ad-Astra 2013. I’ve a long way to go on that road.

 

Don’t Mentioned the Ebook Thing

I’m a big fan of the SF Convention, Ad-Astra, which is described on its website as a “literary fan-run convention” with panels on writing, publishing, media, creative works, comics…you get the idea.

But today I decided to try a little experiment: I went to the panel schedule and did a search for the word ‘eBooks.’ My concern is that the emphasis of the conference seems to be totally on the old publishing model, and since ad-astra is a reference to a latin phrase that translates as “through hardship to the stars,” I think of this as a forward looking convention.

So guess what my search turned up? Nada. It’s as if the very word eBooks has yet to be invented. I am happy to see that there is a panel on marketing for indie-authors, so you could fairly claim I’m nit-picking. Yet the panel description could have been written to attract self-published authors long before eBooks even existed.

The Publishing FAQ Panel does pose the question “on-line versus print, independent publishing versus publishing house?”  Since Susanne Church, a friend and great SF writer, is on the panel I’ll definitely go, but I’m bracing myself for more of the “don’t indie-pub an eBook or it’ll destroy your career” meme that I heard at SFContario.

I’ll be tweeting from the con, something I’ve never done before, so I’ll keep you posted. You can follow me (McPherson_Mike) if you want the inside scoop. Maybe Ad-Astra will surprise me and truly be reaching through hardship to the stars.

 

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.

The Day John Grisham and I were on the Same Page

John and Me on the Same Page

My first published shorts stories were in a small Canadian magazine called Storyteller–alas, now extinct. Since Storyteller promised stories that “could only happen in Canada” I know these stories won’t necessarily have world wide appeal, although if you like coming-of-age and you want to know what it’s like on the northern frontier, these might still be the stories for you.

So I wasn’t surprised when my anthology, Summer of Bridges, a collection of all the Sioux Rock Falls stories that were published between 2001 and 2006, didn’t rocket to the top of the bestseller rank on Amazon. After all, anthologies don’t sell well in print, let alone as eBooks, and most people think of Canada and yawn, including Canadians. Don’t get me wrong, that’s why it’s a wonderful country. Afghanistan has a deep and interesting history, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live there right now.

But then came my first magical promotional day, when I decided to see if I could just give it away. I love these stories, and while they are all inspired by my own experiences in the Great White North, they are fiction. As I had to say to one friend of ten years after he read the stories, “No, I didn’t participate in the burning of a giant wooden moose. I’d have mentioned that at some point during the last decade.”

To my surprise the anthology flew off the electronic shelves, hundreds downloading in day. But the best part was when John Grisham and I appeared on the same page. It turns out he wrote an anthology called Ford County: Stories. By fluke that day they happened to be ranked 28 in Amazon’s paid short story category. Summer of Bridges, because of all those free downloads, was ranked 27 in Amazon’s free short stories. Okay, I know, Grisham’s anthology is going for $7.99 and mine is free. His has 235 reviews and mine has 4. We’re not exactly in the same class, but hey, my book would never appear alongside his in a bricks-and-mortar book store.

I love the internet.

So today I’m doing another free promo day for Summer of Bridges. Take a chance and see if the Great White Canadian North doesn’t surprise you. It actually is an interesting place. And I did live there. Who knows, maybe one more time I’ll briefly end up beside my buddy John.