I bought a frozen lasagna for dinner for the family. I love to make lasagna, and have a great recipe a fellow author gave me, but… There was friction. In other words, it was Friday night, had been a very long week, and I was so tired it hurt. So I did something to reduce the friction, and bought the darn lasagna.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, it relates both to the writing, but more importantly, to the marketing and sales of our work. We want to reduce friction for our readers, but not too much. Frictionless is also a bad thing… But I digress. I’ll come back to that in due time. Friction in the context I’m using it is anything that makes the reader work harder to overcome. We’re going to say our readers have worked a long day and just want a book to curl up and relax with – literary fiction is the very definition of added friction to a book, which is why those are the books people love to say they have read but don’t actually ever finish reading. So how do you reduce friction in a book? Like sanding a piece of wood – you start out with the obvious of removing typos and poor grammar, then you switch to the finer grit of making sure you’re historically accurate, or consistent through the book with a character’s development, or… you get my drift. At the end you have a smooth, polished work.

But not too smooth. Here’s the thing. People remember ‘sticky data’ that doesn’t just drop through the colander of their brains. We all have colanders for brains, this isn’t an insult. We have to: we’re constantly bombarded by input, and if we didn’t learn how to filter all – well, ok, most – of that out, we’d be gibbering in the corner with our hands over our ears and our eyes squeezed shut. So the input pours through the colander, but sometimes something is too big or too sticky to just fall through, and that we pay attention to and remember. You don’t want your book to be so frictionless it falls through and is instantly forgettable. We want, to return to my wood carving metaphor, the grain of the wood to show through and give it some character, some unique qualities. Your book should still reveal your voice, the unique way that you write. If – and really, this should be when – you hire an editor, keep this in mind. They need to be helping you polish, not taking a belt sander to it and obliterating the interesting features that are your style.

Friction is, if anything, even more important when it comes to sales and marketing. Let’s look at two ways: in-person bookstores, and online bookstores, to begin with. When was the last time you went to an in-person bookstore, a brick and mortar? How far did you have to drive? That was a lot of friction, wasn’t it, before you got to the books. Now that you’re in the store, how easy is it to find the book you want? Or the section you’d like to browse to find a book, at least? Last time I was in a bookstore they didn’t have the fiction sorted by genre and it was a little annoying to say the least. Fortunately I wasn’t there for fiction, I wanted comic books, and I browsed the antique section of the store while I was there because I love beautiful books. But those aren’t organized at all, just ‘this looks old’ and shelved. So it adds a lot of friction to my shopping experience. Why do I go back? Because this store offers a ‘free book’ coupon and that reduces the friction on my bank account.  Note: I’m talking a used book store, here. Their books are mostly $3 and comic books are a buck. My kids adore them, and frankly, so do I. Now, the last time I was in a ‘new’ bookstore was the local Barnes $ Nobles, which is a fifteen minute drive from the house (good) in a very congested shopping area (bad) and we only bought one book, from the bargain rack, because I refuse to pay full price when I can hop on Amazon and get the discounted rate. But the authors!! you’re saying They need to be paid! 

No. Here’s the thing. As a businesswoman, I like supporting fellow small businesses. I’ll buy books at full price from fellow Indie Authors. Heck, if it’s an option I’ll read the book through KU and then buy it, so they get paid twice (if I really like the book, this is a nice way to say thanks to a creator). As a budgeting wife whose whole goal is to live frugally and not get into debt, I’m out to spend money wisely and plunking down twenty bucks on a (paper) book that may get read once is not a wise decision. I have a monthly book budget, by the way, one for fiction and one for research because I am a writer. So, back to friction. I don’t give a flip about supporting the big fiver publishers. So them? I buy discounted or even used.

Most Indies have already figured out that a great way to reduce friction and get more sales is to lower the prices of their books. Not having ritzy Manhattan offices to keep up appearances, they can afford to set their trade paperback prices around $15 and their ebooks around $5 for a novel. Now here’s where we get to the inverse effect of friction: if you reduce the price too much, or make the book free, you remove so much friction the buyer mentally discounts the book in their head as being less worthy. Free ebooks have a very, very low read rate. You might give away thousands of them, and maybe hundreds will get read (if you have a good cover, but that’s another post).  Ebooks, in case you haven’t already realized it, are perhaps the ultimate in friction reduction for not only book reading, but book buying. Above I asked about the last time you drove to a bookstore, and the time and hassle involved in that. For online shopping? Pull up Amazon or your favorite ebook site, and click, you’re done and reading two minutes later. I was doing this last weekend when I was stuck in bed with a pinched nerve, trying to keep my mind off the pain. Binge reading, what a drug. You don’t have to get dressed – not even into jammies, if you don’t want to – to shop online. You don’t have to risk your life in mall traffic (suck it, B&N, I’m never coming back again). You don’t have to (Shudder) put up with people to make a purchase.

Friction, by the way, is why you shouldn’t limit your sales outlets too far. I’ve seen anti-Amazon advocates calling for selling books just through personal websites. That adds so much friction that I’d be surprised to hear of them making sales. Any sales. There are reasons why aggregator sites work, just like big department stores. Personally, I’ve chosen to add friction by not having my books available through Nook or Kobo and it wasn’t just that I saw the writing on the wall for the Nook years ago when I first compared a nook and a Kindle side-by-side. I’ve added that friction in order to reduce friction by having my books available through Kindle Unlimited. It’s not perfect, but you have to admit it’s very darn close to being frictionless for the reader, which means that if they are enjoying the story, there’s nothing to break them out of the reading trance as they march through an entire series. KU lowers the entrance hurdle for new readers to your work, and that reduces the friction, too.

Speaking of which! The anthology I have a story in, the one I was snippeting last week, is available for you now, and you can get it in paper, ebook, and read through KU. Just click here and you’re there! How’s that for frictionless?






    1. If you don’t plan to put your work in the Kindle Unlimited pool, which requires you to be exclusive to Amazon, then I highly recommend D2D ( Draft 2 Digital) which is frictionless on the author’s end in that you upload once and get distribution to all the ebook outlets: nook, Kobo, iBooks, and Overdrive which puts your book in libraries.

  1. You also can make a book with friction that rubs the reader raw by making it so complicated and demonstrating your own cleverness so thoroughly that a tired person at the end of their week doesn’t appreciate all the subtle foreshadowing and cute false leads. They just want a straightforward story – not a mental puzzle.

  2. I think that the friction or coarseness of fiction is a matter of personal taste. I happen to enjoy books that make me work–I’ve described it as “epistemological masochism”. One of my favorite novels is Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren. I’ve read it enough times that I know long sections by heart and I don’t know anyone else who has even finished it. Ditto with Philip Dick’s VALIS, George Alec Effinger’s What Entropy Means To Me, and half a dozen others that I could mention.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of intelligence–I don’t claim to be smarter than most readers. It’s more like a taste for cryptic crosswords or complicated war games. Working out the puzzle is what I want.

    It’s also the kind of fiction that I write. I accept that it is a smaller audience, but on the other hand it’s a loyal audience–people can get straightforward stories anywhere, but what I do is rarer.

    1. The trick is: it can have friction, but regardless it should still be FUN!

      I love me those Lemony Snickett books, and Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun is also worth the work, although in those cases I find it helps that they come in audiobook format.

      P.S., loved that Gloaming short story where the two kids are chained up as Deep One sacrifices. Thinking of trying your Catskinner book next.

      1. Thank you. I tried to hit the balance you mention in the Catskinner books–the overall storyline is deliberately obscure, but James is kept busy dealing with clear and present hazards directly in front of him.

    2. Well, part of it is intelligence, and part of it is experience, and part of it is taste. Small children find friction in works that adults find superfluid.

      1. And some of it is just where you are at the moment. Like me and the frozen lasagna. Most of the time I want to make it from scratch, but once in a while I’m just looking for an easy read.

  3. Speaking as a reader (usetabe a voracious reader, don’t have the time for voracity any more), the 1.99-3.99 Kindle/indie price seems to be the sweet spot for me. I figure a book in that zone has had some effort expended on it, but it’s still cheap enough for me to not hesitate. Just FWIW.

    1. An extra layer of cheddar (Or mozzarella) and a few chopped-up bits of parsley go a long way toward making something look home-cooked…

      On the other hand, the “peel off the plastic and cardboard, pop in oven” has a distinct appeal all its own past a certain point of exhaustion! (And that level of exhaustion would be why the frozen pizza has a printed reminder on every package to remove the cardboard before placing in oven. Ahem. Not that any of us have ever forgotten to do so…

  4. Does it seem to anyone else that stories in general (and movies in particular) seem to be moving more and more to “low-friction” storylines, with extensive backstories that explain characters rather than allowing the audience to discover things for themselves?

    I mean, can you imagine a modern remake of Citizen Kane?

    “Now, Charles, stop playing with your sled (which is called Rosebud) and come inside–it’s time for us to leave everything that is comfortable and familiar in order to live with your emotionally distant and borderline abusive, yet wealthy step-father.”

    “But, Ma, I feel as if this time spent playing with my new sled (which is called Rosebud) will be the last happy memory of new materially rich yet emotionally empty life!”

    “Ha, ha, don’t be silly, Charles. I am sure that you will be able to amass sufficient wealth and power to fill the void left in your soul by the sudden uprooting of your young life (as symbolized by the loss of your new sled, which is called Rosebud.)”

    1. There has been a general shift from third person to “close third person”, or “deep” point of view – which brings almost all the internal monologue of first-person without actually being, ah, first-person.

        1. Imagine that last ride down the hill on his sled (which is called Rosebud) after the 3D- CGI guys got through with it! AWE-some!

  5. That click is only frictionless if you live in the US. If you want your local Amazon you have to mod the URL and if they haven’t linked the ebook and the pbook there is more work ahead.

    I understand this can be automated, can someone advise?

    1. It’s supposed to be automated by Amazon. If it’s not automatically done within 24-48 hours, though, the best way to do it is to go to Amazon’s Author Central, and find their help link specifically dedicated to linking the ebook and paperback. At which point they’re supposed to manually force it within 24-48 hours.

      Which I’m betting Old NFO – JL Curtis – is still waiting on.

      1. There are some ticks in the manuscript for the print book, so I suspect he’s a wee bit preoccupied with that and the charity fund-raiser.

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