Tag archive: publishing

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.

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.

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.

Finished

I could have written this post a week ago, but summer got in the way. I’ve finished book two of The 1000 Souls. Yes, I’m being cagey about the title until I have it published, but my fans already know.

Revisions are going well, and I hope to be able to turn it over to the editor in just a few days. He’s fast, so if all goes well we’re looking at a launch date of July 20th, 2012. Thanks to all those who have e-mailed asking when book two is coming out, and thanks for your patience. I know I’m three weeks late, but I think you’ll be happy with the results. I’m pumped.

As for summer? Kids out of school. Warm weekend in Muskoka at a friend’s cottage with many other kids. Swimming, water fights, capture the flag and even tubing. Scraped knees, racoons, a deer leaping through the forest, and a blown radiator less than seven kilometers from our second destination. Tow Truck. Car in shop. Swimming at a beach on a river. Running around with the cousins.

All in all, pretty damn exciting. I think the kids are having fun too.

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.