To Blog or to Write: That is the Question

All the great success stories on Amazon–from Amanda Hocking to John Locke–have one thing in common: multiple books.  Joe Konrath says that writing multiple books is the most important thing a writer can do to advance her/his career.  John Locke also warns that there is nothing more frustrating than to have a product’s sales take off and not have anything else for an interested customer to purchase.  In the case of novels, it means that mountain you’ve climbed to promote one novel will have to be scaled again a year later for the next novel.

So I have to examine whether blogging, twittering and promoting is time well spent when I only have one novel and one anthology (in very different genres) up for sale.  What if I get lucky and people start buying Vampire Road in big numbers rather than the steady trickle of sales I get right now?  They might be ready to read more, and if there is nothing to buy until next year, they might forget my characters and move on to something else.

Time pressures are different for everyone.  I write quickly, but I can’t write a book in fifteen days like Amanda Hocking.  My kids eat up a lot of time in the evenings and on weekends, and I’m not going to short change them.  That’s a choice I’ve made.  But if I’m to finish The Book of Bertrand by mid-October and get it off to my editor, something has to give.

So I haven’t been blogging or twittering for the last couple of weeks, but I have been writing.  It’s been fun.  My editor and a couple of reviewers want to know more of the back story to Vampire Road, and The Book of Bertrand delivers.  The progression from computer nerd to saint is a torturous path with euphoric highs, desperate action and unintended consequences that will reverberate down the century to Vampire Road.

But I’m not stopping there.  There are four novels in this series, and I’m going to try and get as many of them up in the next few months as possible.  It’s a lot of work, but I believe the best thing I can do to promote Vampire Road is to have all the other novels in the series available for purchase.

I like blogging though, so I will try to post quick notes on Fridays, but I won’t be posting three of four times a week.  I’ve had to decide whether I’m a blogger or a writer, and novels are my preferred form of expression.

So I’m logging off to write, but I will keep you posted.  See you next Friday.

Forget the Romance. This is War.

John Locke writes in his book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in Five Months, that the fastest way to get a bad review is to have a reader review your work who is not from your target audience.

I’ve received two lukewarm reviews from a couple of kind reviewers since yesterday, one calling my novel, Vampire Road, a “slow but interesting read,” a review that can damn a novel to oblivion.  The other complemented my writing but titled her review: “A good book but just not for me.”

That’s when I first realized that I’d asked the wrong audience to review my novel.  I’d asked fans of the vampire genre to review it, and now-a-days that means fans of romance.  The big clue came from reviewer asanders, who openly wished there was more romance in the novel.  Reviewer Karen West felt there was too much fighting.  Of course there was too much fighting if you’re looking for a romance.  I apologize to both reviewers for asking them to read a novel that, despite the title, is outside the vampire genre.

Vampire Road is about war, not romance, which is why it will appeal more to the zombie fans than the vampire fans.  These aren’t sparkly vampires who are desperately in love with teenage girls.  These are murderous vampires out for blood, but unlike zombies they are still just as cognizant as they were when they were alive.  They can plan offensives, set traps and conduct war on a large scale.  They can think ahead and react to situations.  They can be afraid.

My chief concern with this novel is that people will describe it as relentless and complain that it has too much action.  Fitz, the lead character, is fighting someone or something in almost every chapter of the novel.  It takes place in an isolated fortress under siege, so all anyone there is concerned about is surviving to the next day.  Romance is just too far from their minds.

If you lived in condo tower and woke up one night to the smell of smoke, would you spend anytime making moves on the woman in 4B or would you just help her get the hell out?  If you’re a half-way decent human being, you’re only concern will be to get out with as many of your neighbors as possible, including the grumpy old lady down the hall with the yappy dog.

Fitz’s and his friends are in jeopardy for the whole novel, and while his young hormones are in full flow, he simply hasn’t the time for the delicate dance that is the human mating ritual.

Reviewer asanders also complains that when romance finally does occur, it’s almost an after thought, and she’s right.  My characters have been up and fighting for their lives for over thirty hours.  When the chance for sleep comes they seize it, and even if they’re sharing the same bed there isn’t going to be much going on besides snoring.

I thank my reviewers for giving their time and energy to Vampire Road.  I think their reviews are fair and genuine.  Better yet, they have help me define my true audience.

Zombies and the New York Times

What do zombies and the New York Times Book Review have in common?  Until recently, I’d have said absolutely nothing.  Why would one of the most prestigious book reviews in the English speaking world start talking about zombies?

But last week my wife fired up her Kindle, went to her subscription to the NYT Book Review and was astounded to see an article titled, “Zombie Resurrection,” by Terrence Rafferty.  Apparently zombies have gotten so big that even the New York Times can’t ignore them, and vampires are just so last year.

But while Rafferty makes a few good points, his leap that the rise in the popularity of zombies is a reflection of society’s anxiety with the “planet’s dwindling resources” is off the mark.  In fact, his statement is one of the reasons zombies are popular.

I’m too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I do remember the late seventies and early eighties, when everyone from my teachers to politicians to media pundits stated with great certainty that we were on the brink of nuclear obliteration.  I remember our school showing a particularly gruesome BBC drama called Threads, which followed a couple of families through a nuclear holocaust and the collapse of society afterward.  It ended with rape and the birth of a deformed child.  Now that was horror.  I was shaken to my core and wondered why my parents weren’t moving us out of the city.

How does a kid deal with this extremely gloomy prediction of the future?  Why I delved into post-apocalyptic fiction, of course, which was very popular back then, and it was oddly reassuring: I’d be the one emerging from the bomb shelter, fighting the mutants and surviving.  Post-apocalyptic fiction was actually less pessimistic than the TV news because it showed that there would be an “after,” and indeed invented the concept that something as final as the apocalypse was in fact not the end of humans, but a fall of civilization more like the end of the Roman Empire.  New governments would form, but it would be chaos and dark ages for a while.

Anyone watching TV news these days must be feeling about as frightened and depressed as I was as a kid in the late seventies.  The Center for Disease Control in the last few years has issued terrifying pandemic warnings about SARs, the Bird Flu and Swine Flu, apocalypses that were about to take place and didn’t, however they might just reappear next fall.

The world is burning up and sea levels are drastically rising according to environmentalists; the economy has crashed and burned forever according to just about everyone.  Society is on the cusp of great disaster, no matter where you look.  Gold keeps hitting record highs while the stock market reels.

So how does an avid fiction reader react to all this doom and gloom? Why they read about the zombie apocalypse, of course.  Suddenly so many problems are solved.  The debt crisis goes away and so does your credit card balance.  Global warming is not a problem anymore since you can’t even find gas for your car.  The pandemic prophesies of the CDC turn out to be correct, but it’s one manageable disease: just don’t get bit by a zombie and you’re good.

Better yet, you get to do something about all the trouble.  You can shoot as many zombies as you want without guilt and without fear of incarceration.  Life becomes an exciting, first-person shooter game.

Rafferty of the NYT is right about the zombie craze being a reflection of our fears, but he’s missing that point that he and his fellow media pundits are responsible for that fear with their endlessly pessimistic predictions of the future.

Since the end of the world is coming anyway, people want to read about what happens after the presses of the NYT stop running.  It’s actually a very interesting world.

And you get to shoot zombies.

Zombies are from Mars, Vampires are from Venus

It was standing room only, the audience excited and eager to to ask questions.  I actually just described two events at the Polaris convention.

The first was the Charlaine Harris lecture.  She’s done fantastically well with her vampire novels, which were adapted into a series called True Blood.  The second was the panel I moderated: The Nature of the Modern Zombie.

But here’s the big difference: Charlaine’s vampire-oriented panel had far more women in the audience than men.  Our zombie panel crowd was more men than women, and some of them were very young men.  In fact, I’d say the median age of the attendees was probably close to twenty-years old if you cut out about three or four convention veterans from the data set.

This reflects a fundamental trend in the two genres.  Since Dracula, there’s been a lot of romance in vampire novels, and Meyer’s Twilight put the pedal to the metal on the vampire-human romance.  There are a lot of knock-offs that went with this theme.  It’s about undying (literally) love.

But zombies are about war.  Whether it’s a first person shooter game, or the Walking Dead, zombies are getting mowed down with machine guns, beaten with clubs and shot with arrows.  There is absolutely nothing romantic about the fight.

The good zombie movies and shows do spend a lot of time studying human social interaction under extreme pressure, but their subjects are making battlefield decisions.  Should they kill the loved one who got bit?  Should they make a run down that street or through that warehouse?  Who should they select as the alpha male to lead them to safety?

The message I take here is that Vampire Road is really more for the zombie crowd than the vampire crowd.  While there are romances between humans, there are no vampire-human romances.  Vampire Road is a novel of war, of humans under extreme pressure.  It is the story of a desperate fight to save family and home, to somehow survive an overwhelming siege.

So Vampire Road won’t be for the Twilight crowd or even the Amanda Hocking crowd.  I’d love to write for them because they’re a lucrative market, but it just isn’t me, and I suspect that those avid readers would sense my insincerity and the novel would sell poorly.

I’d rather write something I truly enjoy reading myself and sell to a smaller, enthusiastic audience.

Will Publishing Streams Reverse?

There’s a shift going on in publishing that publishers and agents should be discussing over their lattes in the boardrooms of Manhattan.  I have a friend who is a well-published, successful author, but his publisher is putting the screws to him on a new contract, refusing to budge from a very miserly e-book royalty that they’ve decided is “industry standard” in a fledgling e-book industry.  This ridiculous “industry standard” mantra has so upset this author that he is considering walking away and self-publishing his next novel.

I can’t name this author because the contract negotiations are on-going, but I can say that he has a big enough name that he wouldn’t have to worry about being lost in what Joe Konrath aptly named The Tsunami of Crap that is flooding e-book stores like Smashwords and Kindle.  My friend already has an established audience that will seek him out and buy his novels.

So if the publisher calls his bluff and he indie-pubs, who will they publish in his place?  Who will accept a horrible contract to make a name?  A newbie like me, of course.

Right now we newbies put up our e-books on Amazon, desperately market them and hope to make enough sales to get the attention of the publishing or film industry and make the big sale.  Even Amanda Hocking, who could probably live on her e-book sales for the rest of her life, signed with St Martins.

But if the publishing industry continues to empty their stables of successful authors and runs instead with untested talent, it will come with an unintended consequence: self-publishing becomes more respectable.

For over a century publishers have maintained that only they know good work and that self-published novels must be crap.  They’ve been right often enough that this mantra has played well with the public.  But if publishers drive away their authors then a lot of high quality indie-pubbed novels will hit the market.  Worse for publishers, it means the public will not be so afraid to take a fly on a indie-pubbed e-book.  Note that it  won’t be self-publishing anymore, it will be indie-publishing.  Even J.K. Rowlings has placed a toe in that water.

So the streams would reverse: newbies would be with the publishers.  Established authors would indie-publish.

Of course it’s going to be a lot messier than that.  Newbies will still indie-pub first, get a small following and then take the lousy industry contract.  After their first bestseller, they’ll say goodbye to their publisher and go back to indie-publishing so that they can get the 70% royalty.

Watch out now for publishers trying to force authors into ten-book contracts to lock in long-term, cheap content providers.  This will hurt publishing in the long run, because sometimes acquisition editors make mistakes, and so a publisher could find themselves forced to publish one poor selling novel after another when an author doesn’t perform as expected.

In my humble opinion, publishers should just offer a better e-book royalty and keep their talented authors.  My friend deserves it.  Otherwise publishers may discover that they’ve made things worse for themselves by giving credibility to indie-published authors.

Is the Writers Union Living in the Past?

Sometimes little birds speak to me at this blog.  The latest nugget that dropped in my lap concerns the Writers Union of Canada, a great organization that provides its members with contract advice and more.

What surprised me is that apparently the Writers Union believes a 17% royalty on the retail price of an e-book is a fair royalty, even though the author will only net $1.70 on a $9.99 novel.

Now what I don’t get is that any author who indie publishes their novel on Amazon at $9.99 will get the 70% royalty on the retail price, which means we’re talking about $6.99 per copy sold.

How can the Writers Union think that $1.70 on the retail price is fair compared to $6.99?  I understand that a publisher doing a print run is adding a lot of value to an author’s novel by getting the paper copy out into the Walmarts and Targets of North America.  That’s actually good advertising for an e-book, and I can agree that the publisher should earn a nice cut of the e-book sales as a result, but I would suggest that the author should at least receive 40% of the retail price, so $4 bucks on a $9.99 novel.  That still leaves the publisher picking up $3 bucks a copy, and they don’t have to hire a truck driver or pay for ink each time an e-copy sells.

I know I’m just dickering about numbers here, but the spread is big, which is why I’m shaking my head in disbelief at the Writers Union.

I tried to confirm this stand at the Writers Union website, but my search only produced some out-of-date warnings about e-book publishers offering only 10% of net.  I’m not a member so I can’t ask advice myself.

My source, however, is very reliable.

So I’m left to wonder: when will the Writers Union change their tune?  Because they will.  They can’t live in the past.  Their members won’t let them.

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.