Tag archive: publishing

Committed, or Should I Be Committed?

I'm the guy kneeling on the left

The second craziest thing I’ve done in my life is to sign up for the Ottawa Marathon, which will be my second marathon race in less than a month. But when I get an idea in my head, it’s like a worm that burrows deep into my brain, chewing up all common sense along the way.

Like when it comes to writing. I got in on the early days of the film industry in Toronto, working my way from office production assistant to unionized camera assistant in less than six months. The smart thing to do would have been to upgrade asap to focus puller, camera operator or director of photography. I know that because I have friends who went that route.

But I had it in my head that I wanted to be a writer. So I shunned opportunities to upgrade and took B-Camera on shows like Due South so that I would only have to work two or three days per week. I spent the other days researching, writing and editing. Most of my friends in film think I should be committed to an insane asylum, and certainly they’re right in that my bank account would be much fatter if I’d gone full throttle in film the way I do for writing.

But that little worm ate away all common sense when it comes to my career, and so here I am, still writing and now publishing. Today I met with a new cover artist, and I’m charged about a concept that can carry across all five books in the 1000 Souls series. The artist is one talented guy and I can’t wait to see what he produces. I’m still excited about my writing, and I can’t wait for my fans to read the next installment because I’ve had so much fun writing it.

So my car may be old, my house only partially renovated, and I don’t have all the latest toys, but I still love writing. When I have doubts about my career choices, I remind myself that most people don’t enjoy their work.

Oh, as for the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I was writing a novel about Afghanistan (before 9/11 changed everything), and I got it into my head that it would be easier if I visited the country to get a feel for it. It was like a worm that got into my head and ate out all common sense.

That’s me kneeling on the left of the photo. Shameless bragging? You bet. How many people can say they traveled with the mujahideen? That’s just crazy.

 

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.

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.

What Free Did for Me

Temporary Cover for Apocalypse Revolution

Within 24 hours of launching Apocalypse Revolution, I got two sales and one good review. Yeah! I was on my way with this one. I wasn’t predicting millions of sales, but I thought they’d start to trickle in, so I was surprised when there was nothing. Not a single sale for the following two weeks.

By mid-January I knew it was time for drastic action. I engaged a new cover artist, but in the meantime my previous cover artist slapped together a very different cover–less biblical and more action. That resulted in a few sales, but still not much notice.

So the week before last I tried a free day. Wow! Did it fly off the electronic shelves! By dinner time it was ranked #6 in the free Kindle bestseller list for science fiction, adventure, and #16 for free science fiction in general. Only H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and about a dozen Stars Wars novels were ahead of me.  Pretty heavy company.

Apocalypse Revolution at #6 in Scifi Adventure

But the pay-off began after I went off the free day. For over a week those sales, now paid in the Kindle store, have been coming in at one or two a day, sort of what I had expected all along.  But the real pay off landed on Saturday morning. Amazon reviewer RandiTS gave Apocalypse Revolution five stars and bought a copy of Vampire Road. RandiTS has nearly 60 reviews under his/her belt, and has earned the Amazon reviewer rank of 5,546, which is pretty good. I’m also proud to note that RandiTS is no rubber stamp. She/he has given one star reviews where deserved.

I’m honored and delighted to have this review, and I’m looking forward to more fans. But for now, RandiTS is my favorite #1 fan.

Giving It Away for Free

Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? This rather antique view was held by my grandparents’ generation, which apparently equated milk with sex and women with cows. You can see what I mean by antique. This warning for young women implied that all men wanted from marriage was sex, and this was a commodity that must be withheld until he was trapped with a marriage certificate. But people have been more free with love since the sixties, and they still get married and have children. Apparently there are more reasons to get married than just sex. Dare I say love?

Some authors have this milk-cow attitude to their novels. They warn that if you give them away, you’ll lose sales because no one will buy them if they can get them for free. I’ve heard at least one established and successful author state that you should never give your work away. Yet, that same author did just that with his first novel when he was starting out.

When you’re a newbie author you’ve got to build a following, and for that you need fans. They don’t appear magically out of the woodwork, they have to discover you. So I’m going to give it away for free today.

Summer of Bridges is a collection of award-winning short stories that were first published in Storyteller Magazine (alas, now defunct) between 2002 and 2008. They’re a comedic romp through one coming-of-age summer for Kenny, a seventeen year old who is nothing but trouble for his widowed mother. To save him from pot-smoking friends, she sends him to work with his uncle’s bridge painting crew, five hundred miles from home and so far north that there are no roads that don’t head due south. Kenny has to learn to fit in with a construction crew of ex-cons, become comfortable working at high heights, survive forest fires and even gets involved with a murderer.

I’ll be curious to see how this experiment in free works out. What I want more than anything as an author is for people to read my work and enjoy my stories as much as I do. I developed some faithful fans when the stories first came out, and I hope to add more with this promotion.

UPDATE: I wrote this blog last night before the promotion went live. I just checked my sales and BAMM! Holy Downloads, Batman! By 9:00 this morning nearly fifty have flown out the door, including a bunch in the UK and even one in Germany. We’re looking into how people are finding out about this freebie because I’m flabbergasted.

Is Self ePublishing in a Bubble?

Since the mortgage crisis of 2008, all the pundits are looking for the next bubble, probably because most of them are embarrassed that they failed to predict either the dotcom bubble or the housing crash. That’s why I’m wary of doom forecasters, because the disaster that’s on the way is rarely the one they’re predicting.

So I admit I was skeptical of a bubble-forecasting Guardian article brought to my attention by my friend and fellow writer, Stephen Kotowych. I gave it a read though because he and I spent a couple of years critiquing each others short stories in our writers group, the Fledglings, established by author Robert J. Sawyer. You get to know someone after reading a dozen of their stories and, even more telling, hearing their critiques of your own. I trust Stephen’s judgment.

In a nut shell the Guardian article tries to compare the ePublishing craze to a financial industry bubble, but the author, Ewan Morrison, has to jump through some pretty tenuous hoops to explain why prices aren’t increasing, which is standard for a bubble–think house prices or dotcom stock prices. He states the the actual devices–eReaders, iPads, are the price increase in this analogy, although all of these have been dropping in price. I assume he means the upfront cost to the consumer who could buy books without an eReader before, but then the article is supposed to be about self-publishers.

Yet, there is some validity to his contention that we are in a self-publishing bubble, one where people who are not authors believe they can make a million bucks on Amazon. I know of one example: a man who’d never even tried to write a book before in his life, but suddenly self-published a short non-fiction self-help book. I think he truly wants to help people, but I also believe that he expected to rake in lots of cash doing it. His book sales are non-existent if Amazon’s bestseller ranking can be believed, and I predict he will never write another eBook. But I’m willing to bet that he bought an eBook, probably with a title like How You Can Make Trillions and Trillions of Dollars and End World Hunger by Self-Publishing an eBook. Hey, maybe I should write and publish that!

Sadly, I saw this gold rush coming but I was too late. I first considered self-publishing in September of 2009, and I would have beaten the tsunami of crap, but I waited until the spring of 2010, and by that time Amanda Hocking had taken off. When I read articles about her millions of sales, I knew that every dusty manuscript in a desk drawer would be out there with a quick cover and no editing. What I didn’t predict (and should have) was that every self-styled guru would be out their selling books on how to get rich ePublishing.  These are like the guys selling bent shovels and treasure maps to prospectors in the Klondike.

Any writer (or publisher) could have predicted this bubble, because it’s actually been around for a long time. The general public just didn’t know about it. For the last ten years I’ve heard one editor after another, one agent after another, groan and complain about the massive depth of the slush pile. For years people have been sending in manuscripts, certain that they’re the next J.K. Rowlings or John Grisham, hoping to make millions. Publishers should be delighted with ePublishing because the slush pile can now be sorted by readers at 99 cents a pop, sometimes even for free. And ruthlessly sort they do–just check out the one star ratings that some books earn on Amazon.

As for the scammers, they’ll peak this year and fade into the background. Like spam, they’ll always be with us, but people will get very good at recognizing them.

Yes, a lot of people have jumped into self-publishing because they think it’s easy. When they don’t sell and realize that it’s hard work to learn how to write, to promote and to write more, they’ll walk away because these are also the type of people who give up quickly. Wait for the howls of outrage next year when Amazon announces that they’re dumping every self-pubbed title that hasn’t sold in two years. Contrary to popular opinion, server space is not free. Authors like me will still be there because we’re writers and that’s what we do, even if we don’t sell millions.

But where I strongly disagree with the Guardian article is the suggestion that the government should bail out publishers. They deserve a hand out from the tax payer even less than the big banks, and they’ve adapted to new technology about as well as the record companies. In other words, kicking and screaming their way into the 21st century. But unlike the big banks, publishers can easily be replaced by smaller, better publishers without much pain for the average person.

The next few years will see publishers reluctantly adapt, and the self-publishing bubble will burst, but don’t expect the industry to return to pre-eBook days. True self-publishers, like Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, will still be out there along with many other successful self-publishing authors. They may not be making millions, but they’ll make thousands. In fact, I’m looking forward to the end of the bubble. It’ll be cleansing.

Rango – The Post-Apocalyptic Western

Johnny Depp has a knack for picking unusual and interesting films that don’t fit with the Pirates of the Caribbean box office smash, so when my kids wanted to watch Rango, I sat down with them, surprised that an animated Western even existed.

The Western, both as a film and novel genre, fell on hard times during the 1970s and 80s.  The movie-going and reading public had begun to realize the Indians weren’t nameless and faceless “savages,” but rather that they were actually human beings who had, and still have, a legitimate grievance.  The public lost interest in seeing John Wayne indiscriminately kill people who dared to oppose the US Cavalry or tried to stop the flood of settlers into the west.  The audience began to feel guilty.

Westerns didn’t die, of course, but they centered more on outlaws, sort of the Mad Max movies set in the 1860s.  Rango is definitely in the latter category.  Thugs dominate a town while controlling its most limited resource–water.  People are leaving, and everyone who stays behind owns a gun and knows how to use it.  During a gun battle, creatures on both sides kill indiscriminately–yup, just like John Wayne in a 1940s Western.

That’s when it hit me.  We’ve come full circle back to the Western.  Now the stick-figure enemies are zombies/vampires, but this time our heroes can kill without remorse.  The zombies are already dead and there are no land claims.  The humans who need killing are vicious Mad Max-type bikers with no morals. They would be locked up if only there were any jails.

But it goes beyond just guiltless killing.  It’s also the freedom that comes with being in a post-apocalyptic world, one where your credit card and mortgage are unimportant, but your next meal is always on your mind.  I read a great blog by author Steven Montano on the appeal of the post-apocalyptic world.  People actually enjoy the fantasy of waking up one morning to find out that they don’t have to go into work, that the boss is a zombie and their car payments can be skipped.  Indeed, if you can drive, you can grab any car you want, preferably a big SUV.  You don’t even have to worry about sustainable development anymore.  Better yet, in every post-apocalyptic scenario, you are the one who survives and gets to wield the shotgun.

There was a time when I wondered if this genre would peak at the end of 2012 and dip after the Mayan Calendar reset and the world didn’t end.  But now I believe that as long as the population density in major cities is on the rise, as long as consumer debt is high, as long as unemployment rates force people to stay in low-paying dead end jobs, there will be demand for post-apocalyptic fiction.  That’s what Rango is: post-apocalyptic fiction set in the lawless West.

Title and Cover Woes

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels.  Fitzgerald can write description that is so effortless to read that a whole page of it with no other action is still captivating.  But I have to wonder if Fitzgerald’s great work would have made it to a second printing (it barely did) if it had been called The Incident at West Egg.  That’s the original title.  Not horrible, but certainly not as engaging as The Great Gatsby, and I think the novel really is more about Gatsby than the “incident” at the end of the novel.

My friend and fellow writer, Jill Edmondson, had a blog post about several novels that almost ended up with such mediocre titles.  Another example is Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which nearly ended up as Something That Happened.

So when I noted that sales of my novel, The Book of Bertrand were nowhere near the sales of Vampire Road, I had to take a deep breath and ask friends and writers what they thought of the title.  You guessed it.  I found two fans but the rest totally panned the title AND the cover, even though they loved the novel.  The most common comment: sounds too much like Sunday school and looks too much like a bible.  Boring.

I had to decide whether I’d stick to the title I’d had in my head for years or try something new.  The original title is actually a bit of an inside joke until you get to the fourth novel in the series, so it means way more to me than it does to a reader browsing through Amazon.

When in doubt, go for a 19 kilometer run.  Okay, I don’t actually do that very often (the 19k) but the marathon is on May 6th and I’m well into training.  During the run I had the inspiration that you can only have when fasting or exhausted beyond all reason and still running.  It’s a shaman/spiritual journey thing I guess.  I realized that my novel is not just about three people trying to survive the apocalypse.  It’s also about three people leading a revolution against a government that is actively perpetuating the apocalypse.  It’s about clashes with riot police and the rippers that support them.

So the new title is Apocalypse Revolution, and my brilliant wife suggested that before I change it I should name the other novels in the series to ensure that all the titles would mesh nicely.  Since I’ve already outlined them all, that turned out to be less challenging than I would have thought.

Next challenge was the cover.  I’ve hired a professional cover artist but he’s buried in other work for at least three weeks, so I decided to do a quick and dirty cover myself.  That didn’t go so well.  After three hours of cursing my way through Photoshop and hating the results–there’s a reason I’m not a graphic artist–I sent my feeble efforts to a pro and in no time at all he turned out the great cover that you see at the top of this article.  He also created the cover for The Book of Bertrand, but it was all my idea, so its failure to generate interest is mine.

I fully admit that if I had a traditional publisher or agent they probably could have warned me that the original title and cover weren’t going to sell, but the great thing about eBooks is that an author can change these things if necessary.  It is important though to have it all locked before doing the CreateSpace P.O.D.

Will all this help my sales?  Who knows, but I’m happier with both, so I’ll keep you posted.  Which would you buy?

I Just Found My 1999 Website

It even has a pre-YouTube book trailer starring a friend who thought the idea was fun.  Here it is in all it’s 1999 glory: The Book of Bertrand

It’s so antique it’s quaint.  I built the site as a marketing tool aimed at publishers and agents, thinking they’d like a quick and easy way of finding out more about my novel.  I didn’t know back then that the publishing industry is extremely conservative, and I’m referring here to the Webster’s definition of conservative: “tending to oppose change.”

I kept track of the page views of the site, expecting that some agents or publishers might visit it a few times, perhaps impressed that I was ready with such a great marketing tool.  Guess how many even looked at the page?  You guessed it.  A big fat zero.  In hindsight this should have allowed me to predict how the publishing industry would react to eBooks.  The internet is something that even back in 1999 a lot of people wished would just go away.

I even wonder now if having a website hurt my chances of publication.  The internet is a big and scary place if you’re resistant to change.  I love the internet because it’s changing all the time.  Imagine if I’d had Youtube back in 1999.  I wouldn’t have had to put up a tiny low res video trailer under the assumption that some people might still be on dial-up with a 56k modem.  Yeah, remember that?

I’ll work on a new book trailer with apologies to my friends Mark (who helped shoot it) and Gord (the star).  But the times, they are a changing, and they’re going to change again.  Who knows what the internet will bring in another decade?  My bet is that it’ll be fun and very cool.

Oh, and that very unprofessional voice over: that’s me.