Tag archive: new technology

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.

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.

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.

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.

Friday Night’s Alright for Downloads

Temporary Cover for Apocalypse Revolution

At first I thought the Amazon sales report was a mistake. How did the number of downloads get so high so fast?

It was last Friday, and I was running a free promo day for Apocalypse Revolution.  Only 35 downloads had gone out the door by 5:30pm, which was a bit disappointing because the last time I’d run a promo day well over 500 downloads went out the door, selling at a steady clip all day. That was Thrusday, February 16th, so why on Friday March 3rd was it difficult to even give the novel away?

Apparently because people weren’t home from work or school, or perhaps because the novel hadn’t been picked up and listed by one of the many free kindle sites. But like a switch turning on, suddenly everything changed.

I sat down at 9:00pm and opened the Amazon sales report. Boom! It stated that over 600 downloads had flown out the door. I thought it was a mistake, so I refreshed the page only to discover it was now up to 610. I called my wife, and by the time she got downstairs we’d passed 625. The number of downloads kept climbing with dizzying speed until the promo ended around midnight at over 1300 units out the door.

Of course the best part was the next day when the paid sales started moving. The pace was nowhere near as frantic as the free day, but by the end of the weekend I’d sold more than the previous two months combined. Now that’s fun!

The party isn’t over either. I’m still selling today, and my best seller rank is hovering above 9000, which is great news. I may not be rich and famous, but people are seeing my name and paying for my work. That’s a step in the right direction.