Too British to Brag?

SFContario Three: A Cosy Con

I’m actually not British but rather a total colonial mutt. However, my roots on my mother’s side do go back that way, so perhaps that’s why I’m not screaming at the top of my lungs: “I’m the SFContario 3 Idol!” Okay, there, I said it.

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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.

Friday Funny: Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse is a Good Idea. No, Really!

I have a confession to make. I don’t believe there’s going to be a zombie apocalypse. I do, however, believe in pandemics, floods, hurricanes, huge power blackouts and slow government responses.

A fellow writer once commented on my apocalyptic stories by saying, “It wouldn’t all fall apart so quickly. We have governments that would intervene.” After Katrina hit New Orleans, and the stories of a city in chaos from the flood hit the 24hr news cycle, he apologized. He was amazed that a huge country with an operating federal government couldn’t seem to come to grips with the disaster for weeks. It wasn’t just that stores were looted, it was that people weren’t being rescued, were totally left to fend for themselves.

I also remember the great blackout of 2003. The phones still worked, but I discovered I had no way to get news about the size and scope of the black out. I got lucky and managed to find eight batteries in my “dead” battery bin that had enough charge to power a radio. I had absolutely no other supplies. I was totally unprepared.

But not anymore. The Zombie Survival Crew tweet to me about having an escape route in case of attack, and I think it’s a good idea. Seriously, what if a bigger, longer blackout hit my city? How would I get my family out of the chaos? I’ve come up with a plan.

First, the highways will be blocked. Hey, they’re totally blocked during morning and afternoon rush hour now, why would the apocalypse be any different? So instead of trying to head north out of the city, I’d head south for the lake, which isn’t that far from my downtown Toronto home. No, I don’t own a boat, but if it is a true apocalypse and my family were in danger, I’d either negotiate with an owner, hitch a ride, or liberate a boat. I’ve already picked out a convenient marina. Then I’d head east, making for the coast of Lake Ontario near the Trenton Air Force Base. If there is any order left in the province, it will be there. Trenton also has a power dam and may actually have electricity. If not, there are two highways that head north from that area into very sparsely populated countryside, mostly through farmland at first, but after that rugged cottage country. Yes, remote empty cottages.

But is that enough? People send me stuff, and this one made me laugh. How to survive the zombie apocalypse from your pole barn. Yes, they’re trying to sell prefab barns, but at least they have a sense of humor about it. The best part is at the end, when they list one of their sources as “a coworker who has watched Shaun of the Dead too many times.” I also loved their comments on who you don’t want with you: “People in the entertainment industry (actors, singers, models, etc.), People in useless white collar trades like SEOs, marketing professionals, accountants, and salesmen.” I actually would take one salesman with me, but that’s because he’s family and he’s actually pretty savvy.

So prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse. Keep some water and canned food ready. Plan an escape route from your city. And if it actually turns out that I’m wrong and it is a zombie apocalypse, remember that your shed full of gardening tools like axes and shovels is your best source of anti-zombie devices.  Have a great weekend.

Thanks for a Great Day

The film industry is a great place for a writer who doesn’t want a full time job. I loved it because I spent a lot of time as a daily, going from show to show on a moment’s notice, working on everything from big feature films to YTV kids’ shows. One tradition I noticed was that when the day was over, the regular crew often said to me, “Thanks for a great day.” There was always a sense of relief and it was a sincere compliment. They were happy that I was the guy the union dregged up, and they wanted me to know they appreciated my work. Eventually I did succumb to the lure of money and worked full time on a bunch of shows, and I always continued that tradition when I had extra crew out to operate extra cameras. Thanks for a great day.

29 for Action/Adventure, 51 for Horror! Yeah!

So hey, to all you wonderful people who downloaded Generation Apocalypse last Friday during my promotion day: Thanks for a great day! We reached 29 on the free bestseller list for Action/Adventure and 51 for Horror.

But I’ve been reading Cheryl Kaye Tardiff’s book on how she spiked her sales, and she warns that just doing one free day in a row is wasting momentum. She shows that from her experience, it’s best to break up the five free days granted by the KDP Select contract into two promotions-one for three days and one for two days. Full disclosure here: Tardiff was a fellow member of the Crime Writers of Canada, and while we’ve never met in person, I’ve communicated with her in years past via the CWC Yahoo group, and we’ve probably been in the same room a few times at the Bloody Words Mystery Convention.

I’ll learn from her success. My next promotional day will be two days long. I just have to pick the days and start promoting to ensure another great day.

Marketing Lessons from Missoula, Montana

Pearl Jam Ten Guy found alive and well at U of Montana Campus

I have a confession to make: I’m not as big a Pearl Jam fan as my wife, or at least I wasn’t until I went to Missoula, Montana. I liked their music before, and I thought they were talented, but I wasn’t a dedicated fan. I didn’t go looking on iTunes for their music.

But excellent marketing changed all that. I’m a lousy marketer, but here’s what I learned in Missoula:

Lesson One: Love what you do. Pearl Jam loves to play music, especially when in the presence their fans. I know that sounds obvious, but friends still speak bitterly of an R.E.M. concert they attended during which the band made it plain that being up on stage was a nuisance that had to be gotten through as quickly as possible, like painting a bedroom or mowing a lawn. Perhaps they were just too exhausted from all the touring. I bet they lost fans at that concert.

Pearl Jam’s performance in Missoula was the opposite. They were having a blast, as if they had just made it to the big time, as if touring was a new adventure. They played their music excellently, better live than even their studio recorded songs. By the end I had changed from a lukewarm fan to a dedicated fan. I want to go to another concert to hear songs they didn’t play in Missoula. I want to buy more of their music.

Lesson Two: Be dedicated to your fans. Pearl Jam runs a fan club, the Ten Club, and those fans pay to be members and get perks, not freebies, but perks, like early access to ticket sales and discounted merch. In Susan’s case, they had a lottery for good seats in Missoula, and she was one of the lucky winners. We still had to pay for the seats, which weren’t expensive, and we had a great view of the stage. We felt special.

Lesson Three: Market to your fansPearl Jam marketed the Missoula concert first to their Ten Club members, and they sold the tickets in pairs. We needed I.D. to pick up these tickets at the Will Call, so the scalpers were totally knee-capped. I met people from all over America and Canada, and many were like Susan and I, one rabid fan, and one lukewarm–soon to be rabid–fan. Not only did this increase their fan base, but at the concert they were surrounded by an exceptionally receptive audience. The local newspaper, the Missoulian, described it as a 6000-voice-strong sing along. Dedicated fans know all the words.

But the band was also fair and reserved a block of seats that had to be purchased in person, so that people from Missoula could also attend the biggest event in town that weekend. Once in the Adams Center, which is on the University of Montana campus, they were very likely converted from curious onlookers to music purchasing fans, which explains why a band that just celebrated its twentieth anniversary has fans that weren’t born when Pearl Jam performed their first concert.

Lesson Four: Reward Your Fans: The lights came up and the band played on, rewarding us with several more songs. Eddie tossed tambourines into the crowd, but not randomly. He chose each recipient with care. One man in a wheelchair couldn’t possibly compete for one, so Eddie talked to a closer fan, tossed him the coveted tambourine, which he in turn tossed high up the seats to the man in the wheelchair. But Eddie wasn’t done. He called to the go-between fan and followed up with one for him, a reward for being cool and giving up the tambourine as requested even though he had briefly held it. I loved it. The crowd loved it.

How will I apply all these lessons to marketing my novels? I’m still working on that, and I’m open to suggestions, but the biggest lesson I take from that concert is to be genuine. None of this felt contrived or engineered. It just was. That’s what makes it great.

Thanks to all for a Great Week

The launch of Generation Apocalypse has been a hectic and exciting time. While we aren’t even close to breaking Stephen King’s average sales for a single hour, it has been a personal best for me, and it was fun to see the novel quickly climb to 15,000 on the Amazon best seller rank. I admit that’s not record breaking for a lot of novels (No Easy Hope, a zombie novel I keep tabs on, has been around the 1500 mark for about a year) but it’s nice to see my sales improving with each launch.

15,277 Paid in the Kindle Store

Our bestseller rank has dropped over the last two days, but I still have great hope for this novel. I’m lousy at marketing, but I once heard a marketing guru state that anyone can be good at marketing if they truly believe in their product. I truly believe Generation Apocalypse is a great read. I can’t wait to get deeply into writing book three of the 1000 Souls, let alone book five.

But the fun is not over. We’re going to launch a website for the 1000 Souls where you’ll be able to take the Ericsians determination to find out what soul-portion you host. We’ll have Youtube videos of Bertrand Allan warning of the apocalypse. We’re going to make the books come alive for everyone, whether they’ve read them or not.

They next few months will be a great adventure.

But first, we’re going to fly 3000 kilometers this weekend to Montana to attend a Pearl Jam concert. What’s that got to do with anything? Nothing. That’s the point.

Go For Launch!

Three souls that just click, but only when they're needed

He had just turned ten when the world ended. At first it was fun, because some of the teachers stopped showing up at school. The principal, tall and angry, kept stuffing the students into the gym to watch movies, promising each day that next would be normal. Instead, fewer and fewer of Tevy’s friends came to school, and one day neither did the principal.

That is the opening of Generation Apocalypse, and I’m delighted to announce that it will launch on Friday September 21st. This Friday. Yup, only three months late, but I think you’ll discover that it was worth the wait.

Early reviews: one trusted reader described it as the best book I’ve ever written. Another raved about the opening and scattered complementary comments throughout the manuscript–something he rarely does. Even my wife, one of my toughest critics, thinks I’ve written a great book.

So here’s my shameless plan: If you’re a fan and you want to be part of the success of Generation Apocalypse, buy it on Friday September 21st, or Saturday the 22nd or Sunday the 23rd. That’s this weekend. Why these days? Because I’m trying to push the bestseller ranking on the book high and fast. Amazon helps those who helps themselves, and their system will automatically promote a book that’s selling.

Is this unfairly gaming the system? Absolutely not, because any author can do it. Indie authors can’t afford advertisements in the New York Times like the big six publishers, so we have to find other ways to get that sales bump at launch and create buzz.

If the book sucks it’ll sink anyway. I’ve tracked several authors through this process, and one thing I’ve discovered is that while an author can light the match, only readers can make the fire catch hold and burn brightly. If the sales taper off and Amazon’s promotions don’t help, their algorithm will drop a book from the most-favored status and it will die.

But I think we’ve got a winner. So buy early and buy often!

If you’re worried that you haven’t read book one of the series, Apocalypse Revolution, fear not. Generation Apocalypse can be read as a stand-alone novel. But I’m willing to bet you $2.99 that when you get to the end, you’ll want to read book one to find out how this all began.

Many thanks to all my fans for their e-mails of encouragement–and their gentle nudges to write faster–over the last three months. You inspire me.

 

Getting the Marketing Right

I’ve got a confession to make: book two of the 1000 Souls series is ready to go, but I’m not going to launch it just yet. I apologize to my fans, some who’ve been on my Facebook page gently urging me to hurry up. I know I’ve missed several deadlines, and I hate to make people who are eager to read my novel wait just a little bit longer. I’m as eager for them to read it as they are.

Why am I holding back? Because I’m not good at marketing, and I’m trying to do better. Usually I get a novel up on Amazon as soon as it’s ready and try to do bits of marketing here and there after it’s available for sale. Besides being a challenge to squeeze these faint efforts in between the day job and the family, this half-hearted approach doesn’t build momentum. Every time I get the ball rolling, I wander off to take care of other things.

A traditional publisher would never ship a book out to stores without preparing the ground for sales. They send out copies for review, they get other authors to blurb, they take out ads, and they have a specific launch day and even a launch party.

Obviously I can’t afford ads in the New York Times, and Stephen King isn’t going to blurb for my book since he’s never heard of me, let alone  my books. But there are other marketing initiatives I can take.

First, I have a couple of websites I have to get in order: my publisher website and the novel site. I also need to write all the promotional material, which ends up being substantial, rather than adding it a bit at a time later.

Second, I need to do a proper launch. That means picking a launch day and letting people know in advance instead of after the fact. The idea here is to get all my friends, family and fans to purchase the novel on the launch day. This could give the novel quite a boost on the Amazon bestseller list. Is this gaming the system? You bet, but in a way that all authors and publishers try to get a bump in sales right off the bat.

I also want to contact each of my fans, especially the ones who have reviewed Apocalypse Revolution, and give them an Amazon gift certificate so that they can buy it on my tab. If they provide another good review it will be money well spent. Even if they just buy it, well, they’re buying it, which means I’m actually only paying 30% of the cost of the novel, and I get the bestseller rank boost. If you want a free copy, use the Contact Mike button above and let me know that you’re interested,  and I’ll see that you get one too. Fans, especially ones who’ve taken the time to write me and tell me how much they love my book, make this whole endeavor worth while.

I met with my business manager today over lunch (fortunately we’re married, so it was easy to arrange) and we discussed what had to be done by launch. After some scheduling debates,  we’ve pick a book-launch day.

So here’s the first big announcement. Drum roll please. Generation Apocalypse, Book Two of the 1000 Souls, launches on Friday, September 21st. It’s the best I’ve ever written. I love it. I hope you will too.

Look out world. Here they come.

Three souls that just click, but only when they're needed

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.