Tag archive: Amazon

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.

Amazon’s Amazing and Scary Algorithm

This is a cautionary tale for indie-authors.

Up until around June 23rd, Amazon used to auto-suggest Apocalypse Revolution to readers. For instance, when looking at a product page for a similar horror novel, readers would see this header below the cover page and description  “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.” After that comes the row of about one hundred clickable thumb-nails of novels usually in the same genre. When checking out other horror/scfi adventure novels, I often found that Apocalypse Revolution was auto-suggested.

But it all changed in the third week of June. Now I can only find one novel that auto-suggests AR: The Dragon and the Unicorn, and AR is about the 90th suggestion.

So what happened? Obviously this was not a human decision, except that a bunch of variables were programmed into the auto-suggest algorithm and my novel tripped one of them. Here are my theories:

1) Low downloads on a free day. This is my bad. I waited months for the new cover and then ran three free days close together. That’s a killer for downloads because the hard core readers who are looking for deals will have already downloaded your novel the day or week before and don’t need it. On the last free promotional day I ran there were only forty or so downloads, actually there were more in the UK, only the internet knows why. Here’s my other bad: I didn’t promote the free days at all. I was conducting an experiment to see which cover moved better, but of course I couldn’t run a proper control, so it was a pretty useless experiment.

Maybe the algorithm has a bit of code that says, ‘if free downloads are less than fifty in a day, stop auto-suggesting this novel.’ I’m paraphrasing of course.

2) The six month theory. The third week of June was six months since I published AR. Now I admit I haven’t done a whole lot to promote the novel, and Amazon helps those who help themselves. I’ve been cramming through book two, anxious to get it to market, anxious to get to book three and fill in the gap that takes us to Vampire Road, which is book four. So I wonder if I trip some piece of code that says, ‘if sales aren’t x by six months’ reduce auto-suggest function by an order of magnitude.’ In other words: dump it.

Whatever the cause, the results are startling. AR went from selling one or two copies a day to nada, okay, almost nada, since Amazon turned off the promotional tap.

I’m not too worried. Book Two of the 1000 Souls is the best I’ve ever written, and I think its sales will put me back into Amazon’s favored novel status. But I have learned my lesson. Amazon promotes those who promote themselves. Don’t leave it to luck, because Amazon’s Amazing and Scary Algorithm will cut you off and leave your novel to languish into obscurity. Fair enough. Why should Amazon have to do all the work?

So I’m thinking about book trailers, Shelfari, Good Reads and more. I’ll keep you posted. Any suggestions, send them my way. I’m not a natural promoter, but I’ll learn.

The Undead Blog

Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Blogging requires commitment, and all the experts warn me that abandoning a blog for a month or more is the kiss of death. Stupid experts. Okay, maybe they’re right, but last month I had to decide how long I was going to make my fans wait for book two of the 1000 Souls series. I was overdue, buried with work, and the kids were getting out of school for the summer.

So I decided to stop blogging until the novel was finished. It was ‘finished’ on July 4th, but I’ve been in editing and re-writes since. Now it’s so finished that it’s off to the editor and out of my hands until he’s done. Alas, my editor just gave his publisher two weeks notice and (being the conscientious guy that he is) he’s busy wrapping up his day job until July 27th. The good news is that means he can edit like crazy the next week, no day job in the way.

But that means that I must again push the publication date, this time to mid-August, a month and a half late. The good news is the cover artist is just about ready, and the cover looks great.

The other good news is that I’ll have lots of time to blog, and I’ve lots to tell you about, actually warn you about, regarding one too many free days and Amazon’s promotional algorithm.

Good thing I’ve got another novel coming out.

Boom and Bust Free Day

At Number 6 for SF Adventure last week. I like that.

I promised when I started this blog that I would share raw numbers whether they were good or bad. So today I have to share the results of yesterday’s free day experiment.

I didn't stay up till 3:00 am to see where it got to on the 1300 download day, but here's where it was when I crashed at 11:00pm

A marketing expert I know constantly says, “Test and measure. Test and measure.” Unfortunately, in the amazing universe of the internet there are way too many variables for a proper quantitative experiment. The first free day I ran for Apocalypse Revolution, back in mid-February, a respectable 550 downloads flew out the door in a day. When I ran a second free day two weeks later I didn’t expect much, and for most of the day the were only about 30 downloads. Then something very strange happened somewhere in cyberland, and in the next four hours over 1300 copies flew out the door. What weird corner of the internet picked me up that day I simply don’t know, but I sure wish I did. That put me in the top 500 on the Kindle free bestseller list, at least it was at 485 when I went to bed with California still to finish downloading.

Apocalypse Revolution up there with the big names in Science Fiction

But for the most part, unless you really spread them out and promote the heck out of them, free days have diminishing returns. Perhaps its because the dedicated SF readers have already snapped up my novel, or perhaps it’s something to do with how Amazon promotes them, but the numbers usually go down the more free days you offer. That means the paid afterglow that usually comes with the free days also goes down.

The Old Cover Shoot'em Up

Last week I decided to run a free day for the old cover of Apocalypse Revolution, just a little something to say that I gave the $400 I spent on that cover a fair chance. As I mentioned in my last blog, I was never thrilled with it. I didn’t expect too many downloads, but a respectable 347 downloaded throughout the 24 hours. Enough that I ended up 713 on the Kindle free bestseller list. That also put the novel at #6 for Science Fiction Adventure and #19 for horror. Not earth shattering, I know, but I enjoyed the ride. I especially liked the moment when Apocalypse Revolution was beside Wool. That’s fun exposure.

The New Cover. They're clearly trouble.

So yesterday I ran a free day with my spiffy new cover. I thought it would blow the doors off the free day. In the UK it did well relative to last week. But on this side of the pond (which oddly, includes Australia) only 72 people downloaded the novel. I guess I’d saturated the market. I refuse to believe the old cover worked better than the new cover and I point to the UK numbers as proof. Last week only nine downloads, this week 28. Or maybe they just like the new cover better in the UK.

Now I did zero promotion for both these free days, not a single tweet. I have one free day left before my KDP Select runs out, and I’m debating whether to run it. However book two of the 1000 Souls is nearly complete, and I’m still trying to build a following for the whole series.

I still love free days though because I want people to read my writing, people who have as much fun in my world as I do. I know only a fraction of the free downloaders are actually reading the novel, but hey, a fraction is more than zero. It’s a start.

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.

 

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.

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.