Category archive: Publishing

Genre Fiction Sells Well on Kindle

Genre fiction is selling so well on Kindle that Amazon is stepping further into the publishing roll.  They’ve opened up an imprint, Montlake Romance, that will publish everything from paranormal romance to suspense romance.

The good news for me and other genre fiction writers is that they intend to expand into other genres, maybe mystery and SF.  This means they’ll be looking for talent, and my guess is they’ll go looking at Kindle sales figures of indie e-pubbed authors to see who they should pick up.  It’s sort of a wiki to sort through the slush pile, no expensive acquisition editors to house and feed.

This, of course,  will have traditional publishers frothing at the mouth.  They merged into the big six over the last twenty years because they don’t like competition.  They’ve consoled themselves over the last few months that paper books are still 80% of book sales, and they’ve got their fingers crossed that e-readers will just be a fad that will go the way of the CB radio.

But now Amazon launches Montlake and says it will be for e-books AND print books.  Clearly Amazon has an eye on that 80% of book sales too.

An argument I’ve heard from authors who are traditionally published is that by e-publishing I’ll only be selling to 20% of the market while crossing my fingers in hopes that e-book sales continue to rise.  But what if my sales are good enough to get noticed by Amazon?  Maybe they could end up being my print publisher.  Anything is possible in this new publishing world, and it beats the heck out of writing query letters to overworked literary agents.

The Wall Street Journal Gets It

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about how self-pubbed e-books are totally upending the e-book market.  My favourite quote is from author John Locke, who sold 369,000 downloads of his seven novels on Amazon just in March.  Locke says, “When I saw that highly successful authors were charging $9.99 for an e-book, I thought that if I can make a profit at 99 cents, I no longer have to prove I’m as good as them.  Rather, they have to prove they are ten times better than me.”

With the economy faltering and readers still hungry for books for all those e-readers they got for Christmas, the market for cheap novels is going way up.  Who wants to spend $14 for a quick read when you can get 14 novels for the same price?  If ten of them are unreadable crap, you’re still ahead if you’ve discovered four good novels.  Hey, you’re still ahead with two good novels.

But their are others out there who see this too.  F + W Media has just launched a crime imprint that will sell just e-books, no print versions.  Mystery authors who don’t want to self-pub should be getting their book pitches ready.

Those people at F + W are savvy.  I’m guessing they’ll be pricing the mysteries higher than 99 cents, but way less than $14.  I also bet they’ll offer authors better than 25% for e-book royalties.  This is the future.

My Editor has My Other Baby

Fogel and I have been debating how e-books will affect freelance editors.  I’m guessing that people who want to indie e-publish will be swamping freelancers’ in-boxes with edit requests.  Fogel argues that freelance cover artists will get a lot of business, but freelance editors won’t.  She says:

“Most self-published e-books will fall into the same categories paper books do. There’ll be the professional writers who rerelease books that are out of print, and haven’t the rights to the original cover, or hated it. Then there’ll be the rank amateurs who have no business calling themselves writers and self-publish because no legitimate publisher will take them on. The former don’t need editors because the book’s finished; the latter won’t use them because they think they can write, but know they can’t draw.”

I’m sure some indie authors will fall into the Howett category, writers who simply can’t believe they need a substantive editor let alone a copy editor.  But Joe Konrath keeps pointing out that indie writers need two things: a good editor and a good cover artist.  I’m not the only indie author reading his blog.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve gone through the editing process so many times with my short stories, but I can’t imagine publishing without an editor.  So I’ve sent Fogel my other baby, the vampire novel, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that she won’t totally gut my heart out.

The good news is that she’s already read the first two chapters and written back that there are “no show-stoppers.”  From Fogel that’s high praise.

Fogel’s launched a website, but don’t hire her if you’re looking for the sort of praise you’d expect from a mother, cause you won’t be getting it.  You’ll be getting the unvarnished truth.  She doesn’t care about your feelings.  It’s why I chose her for my editor.

Priest Forces My Hand

The first hint of trouble came from a friend who had read and liked my vampire novels.  He sent an e-mail with a link to the website of the movie, Priest, and asked me if it sounded familiar.   The tone of the e-mail indicated he already knew the answer.

Three of the main components of that movie trailer are in my novel: walled cities, vampire armies and warrior priests.  Aside from that my novel is very different, but I know people will draw parallels between the two.

I admit vampire armies is not that original an idea.  I mean, if you make two vampires and they make two vampires and so on it’s pretty obvious that eventually humans will have to wall off their cities and fight swarms of vampires.

As for my protagonist belonging to a quasi-religious order–well priests have been fighting demons for centuries, and Hollywood has exploited that idea many times.

So I had to decide: slink away with my Priest-like vampire novel or go for it.  Then it occurred to me that this is a marketing dream.  When people ask what my novel is about, I can say that it’s Priest meets the Battle for Helms Deep from Lord of the Rings.

Okay, some of you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about, but the fans who would buy this type of novel will know exactly what I mean.

I can’t wait to see Priest, because I’m pretty sure that the movie’s high-tech take on vampire fighting is very different from my post-apocalyptic novel, where gunpowder is so scarce that people carry swords and cross bows as supplementary weapons, and gasoline engines are a thing of the distant past.

I’m also betting that I have the better story, but I’m judging the trailer so that may not be fair.

So here’s the plan: run my novel to my editor (God help me) and hire a cover artist.  This novel has already been through several readers, so hopefully Fogel won’t totally gut me.  By the release date of Priest, May 13th, I intend to launch my novel on Amazon.

It’s going to be a tight deadline, especially since the Toronto Marathon is on May 15th and I’m training five evenings a week, but it’s exciting.

Will Authors Start Using the F-word to Generate Buzz?

For Marketing.  It seems the Charlie Sheen school of publicity has hit the indie publishing scene in a big way.  Author Jacqueline Howett took great exception to book blogger Big Al’s review of her indie novel.  Big Al’s crime?  He complained that the typos and grammar errors made the novel unreadable, although he apparently read all the way through and said that the story was actually good.

Keep in mind that this critique came from a man who reviews indie-published e-books as a preference, so he’s probably seen some typos and grammar errors in the past.  Even Amanda Hocking admits that she needs better editors, which is one of the reasons she signed that seven-figure deal with St. Martins.

But Howett’s response was scripted out of a road rage incident with a drunk driver.  She says Big Al didn’t download the re-formatted novel AS SHE ORDERED!  Wow! Who orders around a reviewer who does this job for free?

But the crazy part is that big Al wasn’t complaining about the formatting, but the grammar and the sentence structure.  He gave examples that she didn’t refute; in fact, she claimed there was nothing wrong with her writing.

Now here’s the scary part: after this exchange began her sales spiked.  I guess people were curious to see the train wreck.  I wonder if it was intentional that she dropped the f-bomb in the comments of Big Al’s blog after that.  Twice she stated, “F–k You!” in response to comments.

I checked her Amazon ranking and it’s actually at 41,000.  Way down from the top 1000, yes, but higher than it apparently deserves.  Given the multiple bad reviews, I’m guessing it should be down around the 100,000 level.

So I have to decide: would I go rude and ballistic to make a name for myself?  No.  I just can’t do it.  I was raised to be polite and respectful–especially to people who are doing me a favor.  I’d rather be known as courteous by a few than as an asshole by many.  Oops.  That just slipped out.

 

Trouble at the Airport with the other Michael McPherson

The customs officer looked up and shrugged.  No, really, he truly looked apologetic.  “I’m sorry,” he said, “But I have to send you to immigration.  There’s a Michael McPherson with the same birth date wanted by the US police.”  He wouldn’t elaborate.

The last thing I wanted after a cramped plane flight was to line up at immigration in order to get back into my own country, and luckily I was pushed to the front of the line by the security guard because of my Canadian passport.  Membership has its privileges.

The immigration officer was just as baffled and called his manager, who stated that it was a long shot hit.  They let me go.  That was my first clue that there are just too many Michael McPhersons.

But it gets weirder.  I decided to go with Michael A. McPherson as my author name, but yesterday I read his obituary.  For the family’s sake I won’t link to it, but safe to say he’s African-American and from the south.  He was pretty close to my age too.  Eerie.

Another Google  result turned up a university professor named Michael S. McPherson, which is too close in the search to Michael A. McPherson, and because he has several published books it could cause a little confusion.

So how about M.A. McPherson?  Just forget the first name.  Then I discovered that there’s a poet, again of African-American heritage, who goes by Kuwme M. A. McPherson.  That’s going to cause a lot of confusion, because I’m definitely not a poet.  Even my mother laughed out loud at one of my poems.  It wasn’t meant to be funny.

So I’ve decided to re-brand as Michael Andre McPherson, using the full middle name.  A quick check of my birth certificate and passport show that I don’t need to worry about the accent over the last “e” in Andre, although I was taught to use it as a kid.

And since I’m re-branding: notice I’ve changed the name of the blog?  That’s where I’m going.  No more blind submissions to busy agents.  I’ll stand or fall on my e-book sales.  Besides, I really like the domain name.

Who Would Walk Away From 500 Thousand Dollars?

Apparently Barry Eisler just did.  Why did he walk away from this lucrative book deal with St. Martin’s Press?  Because he believes he will make more self-publishing in the long run, particularly on e-book rights.

Eisler is joining a growing number of authors who are walking away from legacy publishers.  The problem is that the standard industry contract only gives the author  a 25% royalty on e-books, which comes off after Amazon or Smashwords has taken their cut.  Then the agent takes 15% off that 25% and it works out that the author is really only getting 17% of the e-book price.

Why accept that little crumb when an author can sell their novel through Kindle and get a 70% royalty?  No agent or publisher required.  In fact, how can publishers defend such a huge cut when they don’t need a printing press, trucks or a delivery network for e-books?

Up until now they’ve claimed that branding can save their publishing model–that readers will flock to a legacy publisher’s books because there are too many lousy self-published books to sort through.  But the truth is that the internet has its own filters, like the book bloggers who have made Amanda Hocking the new internet writing star.

Publishers are not obsolete, but they need to embrace the future and recognize that things have changed for the better.  E-readers have more people buying books than they have in a decade, and this should be a good thing.  Desperate attempts by legacy publishers to keep e-book prices high in order to stall the e-revolution will fail.  Refusing to give authors a fair cut will cost them content and market share.

Eilser wisely draws a parallel to railroads in the 1950s just as the interstates were under construction.  The railroads thought they were in the railroad business, but actually they were in the transportation business.  Once large trucks became a viable option, many railroads folded.  The smart railroads adapted, combining trucking and rail, adjusting prices and expectations and finding the niches they could still fill.

Because of my film industry background, I’m reminded of Kodak and Fuji film back in the 90s.  Even a camera assistant like me knew that high definition digital video was coming, but Kodak thought they were in the film stock business and tried to fight the change by producing better and better film stocks.  They achieved some amazing things with their 800 ASA film stock, but it couldn’t stop the slide to cheap digital.

Fuji knew they were in the image capture business and went aggressively after the digital video business.  Their CEO got an award a couple of years ago for keeping Fiji successful through this upheaval.

I was in Kodak’s home town–Rochester, NY–in 2006.  It’s the only time that I’ve seen an empty ten-story office building.  I’m talking about a modern glass and steel office building.  Kodak did follow Fuji’s lead into digital and has survived, but it was gut-wrenchingly painful to watch, and a lot of hard working people lost their jobs in the process.

Publishers should be in the business of selling books, not pulped dead trees.  Some publishers will recognize this and adapt to e-books and thrive.  Others will go down.  It doesn’t have to be this painful.

Fire Retardant Launch

Cover for Fire Retardant--a Sioux Rock Falls Short Story

Forest fires regularly sweep through Northern Ontario during the summer months, and if a town is in the way it has no chance.  In 1979 the town of Cobalt, Ontario near Lake Tamiskaming lost a good chunk, with only the church, a few homes and a decaying strip plaza spared.

But when the Ministry of Natural Resources guy threatened to draft the bridge crew I was with to fight that forest fire, I got to thinking, talking with locals and hearing legends of fires past.  After a few more beers the short story Fire Retardant found a comfortable place in my brain.  It stayed there for years before I finally released it for Storyteller Magazine.

Fire Retardant is now available on Amazon.com for the Kindle.  This short story first appeared in Storyteller Magazine in their fall 2004 edition.

Soon I’ll have it for all e-pub format readers as well.

A Warning for Self-e-published Authors

I prefer not to simply publish links to other people’s content on this blog, but this warning from Amanda Hocking was aimed right at me.

She’s done what I want to do: e-self-published through Amazon and Smashwords, and she’s making thousands a month doing it.  She’s snagged an agent.  She’s making a good living as an author.

But she warns here that she knows another author, J. L. Bryan, who doesn’t sell as well even though he is a good writer and performs the same marketing moves that she does.

The warning is clear.  Even if the writing, promotion and cover are all great, your book might languish simply because you didn’t strike a cord, hit the right topic or simply didn’t appeal to the reading public.

It’s all a big gamble.  Just ask a traditional publisher.  Luckily with e-books, the upfront costs aren’t as huge as print books.

I am now a Canadian Publisher

There are lot’s of ways to get an ISBN number for self-published books or e-books, but I chose to go all the way and become a Canadian publisher.  Since I’m already co-owner of a small media company this turned out to be amazingly easy.

I simply went to the Public Archives of Canada and clicked on join CISS and filled out the form with my company information.  Now when I e-publish I can enter the ISBN with Amazon Kindle.

Why the big deal? Cause all kinds of tracking can operate with an ISBN.  The draw back?  As a publisher I’m now required to provide copies of all my publications to Collections Canada.  I know this is a good thing, having my words stored somewhere forever.  What can I say?  I just don’t like paperwork.  Weird for a writer.

Now to think of a title for my anthology of shorts, all those bridge painting stories that were published by Storyteller Magazine between 2000 and 2006 when they folded.  How about Tales from the North?  Too Rudyard Kipling?