Category Archives: WRITING: PUBLISHING

The delusions continue

Traditional publishers, especially the Big 5, have been dragging their heels, not to mention kicking and screaming in protest, from the moment the first e-book appeared on the scenes. For years, however, they knew they had nothing to really worry about when it came to the new format. After all, even though it was cheaper to produce and easier to distribute, there was no way for authors to leverage the platform on their own. Traditional publishers were not only the gatekeepers, but they were the sole guards of the industry. If they didn’t like your book for whatever reason, your only hope was to publish through a vanity press and that was a death sentence to any professional career as a writer you might have wanted.

They laughed at Jim Baen when he started offering e-book versions of the traditionally published books released by Baen. They told him the format was a fad and would die away.

They shook their heads and smiled when Fictionwise and Smashwords started giving authors a very small foothold into the market. There was no way anyone would take e-books seriously. After all, who wanted to read a book on their computer.Paper was king and would never, ever fall.

Then along came Amazon. Approximately 9 years ago, Amazon did something no one expected. They opened up a platform that allowed authors to publish their books as e-books and sell them directly through the Amazon store.  More importantly, Amazon created the Kindle e-book reader. Now reading the new format became easy. Better yet, readers could put dozens, no hundreds of books on their devices and carry them with them wherever they went. They could buy books directly from Amazon and the books would be delivered to their devices, making trips to bookstores unnecessary.

We all know what happened next. The Big 5 (then the Big 6) colluded with Apple and others to price fix the cost of their e-books in an attempt to harm Amazon. The Justice Department and the courts were not amused. In the aftermath, the publishers have contracted with the various stores to set the price for their e-books and discounts are only applied with their approval. Once that went into effect, e-book prices for titles from the Big 5 increased and sales decreased.

And the delusion that e-books would not be major players in the publishing landscape set in. They point to the “re-invigoration” of the print market as a reason to believe e-books aren’t in as much demand as they once were. Of course, they forget to talk about how that re-invigoration happened. All you have to do is look at the pricing of books from the Big 5 to know they are doing everything they can to cannibalize the digital market in order to prop up their beloved print books.

Origin: A Novel by Dan Brown came out earlier this month. The hardcover version sells on Amazon for $17.96. The Kindle version sells for $14.99.

Haunted by James Patterson sells in hardcover for $16.38. Paperback is listed at $14.39 and Kindle is listed at $14.99.

The Shining by Stephen King has been out for years. The Kindle version sells for $8.99 while the mass market paperback version sells for $5.43.

Secrets in Death by J. D. Robb sells for the exact same price for the paperback and e-book versions.The price? $14.99.

These are just a few examples. All you have to do is go over to Amazon and you can find hundreds, if not thousands, more. So is it any surprise readers aren’t buying as many e-books from traditional publishers who continue to overprice their e-books? Instead of stroking their egos and congratulating themselves on stopping the trend, publishers should be paying closer attention to the overall sales of all forms of books by ALL authors and publishers. They should be paying attention to the information being complied by Author Earnings. They should look at the best sellers lists from Amazon — which, whether they like it or not, is the gorilla in the book selling market — and see how many of those titles come from indies and small press authors.

There is a reason readers are reaching out to indies to find their reading material. It goes to price, yes, but it also goes to the fact that indies are offering stories that traditional publishing is not.

Oh, but the delusions continue along that line as well.

Publishers, Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle said, have a key role to play as curators of content. “Publishers stand for quality and perfect each product before it makes it to the market.” Of course, he doesn’t explain what he means by quality or the rest of it. If he is talking technical quality, I’d like to discuss with him the formatting issues, poor product quality (as in spines breaking much too easily, for example) and misspellings or other issues that should be caught by proofing that I find with traditionally published books. Sure, you can find those issues with indie published books but, when you are touting yourselves as the purveyors of quality, you should be able to stand behind that claim.

But we all know what he means, don’t we? Publishers are the gatekeepers of rightthink. If you aren’t presenting them with the fad of the day along with the proper tickler list of social issues, etc., they aren’t going to care about what the story happens to be. They have forgotten that readers of fiction want to be entertained. Sure, you can have a message in your fiction but the fiction had better be compelling and entertaining first and foremost or the reader isn’t going to keep buying your product.

But it gets better.

Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy claims that nothing “went wrong” with e-books. It seems she believes people have gotten tired of reading on their screens. Again, a complete disconnect from reality. People don’t want to pay as much — or more — for an e-book as they will for a print copy. But the laugh out loud moment comes further down in the article when Reidy says she firmly believes “a new version of the book based on digital delivery will come eventually, though she does not know what it might look like.”

Blink.

Blink. Blink.

Hmm, wouldn’t that be an e-book? The bells and whistles might be a bit different, but it if walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, isn’t it a duck?

And what about her argument that e-book sales have leveled off because we are tired of reading on our screens?

It constantly amazes me the way these folks continue to tie themselves into knots trying to explain how e-books are bad, or are a passing fad or a way for writers not good enough for traditional publishing to get their works into the hands of readers. All I know is that the real numbers, the numbers that look at more than the Big 5 titles, tell a different tale. As a reader, I know I find myself picking up more and more books from indie authors because they are writing stories I want to read and they are doing it at prices that allow me to read two or three or more books for the price of a single Big 5 title. When is the point going to come where an accountant who isn’t afraid of rocking the boat says they can actually sell more — and make more money — if they lower their prices to something reasonable?

Since I’m talking about reasonable pricing and I’m an indie author, I’m going to take a moment to tout my latest. The special edition of Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) is now available in both print and e-book editions. (Hopefully, they will link the two editions shortly.) This new edition contains approximately 20k words of next material. It is only available through Amazon.

The original edition has been released on KoboPlayster, Tolino (link not yet available) and Inktera. It will soon be available on iTunes, B&N and Overdrive.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Blurb Clinic

Okay, a bunch of you requested blurb clinics. And I was innocently sipping my coffee when I looked up and saw a swarm of fingers pointed at me, including one from Sarah as she rapidly ran away. I get it, I get it. The other people on this group blog write actual, y’know, books, and then try to write a blurb once a book. I write blurbs, and only every now and then try to write a book. So, blurb clinic!

To start with, I’m going to repost the text from the last blurb clinic, with three added notes:

1. Readers like characters with agency. This means the characters go places and do things, they don’t just have life happen while they’re there. Blurbs must reflect this agency – they must show your character going and doing and plotting. The shorthand for this is “Don’t use passive voice”, because nothing kills agency faster (and adds length) than putting the action verb on something other than the character. But it’s not solely grammar. “Bob had survived the war, and was hiding on the sidelines as conspiracies rose in the court to entangle him” is very passive. “After surviving the war, Bob is hiding out as a mere florist in the court’s staff. But when he uncovers a new conspiracy…” that has agency.

2. The first person introduced is assumed to be the hero. “In the house of Rlyeh, Cthulu lies dreaming until Captain Carter disturbs him while searching for lost treasure!” If the readers don’t know Cthulu, that makes Cthulu sound like the protagonist, and possibly hero. “After finding lost civilizations on six continents, Captain Carter is close to solving his biggest mystery yet: the location of the lost temple of R’lyeh! But dread Cthulu lies inside, dreaming…” Makes Captain Carter the protagonist.

3. Lead with your protagonist. No matter how interesting your world, people won’t care until you give them a person to care about. This is one of the essential paradoxes of science fiction and fantasy: people are attracted to the genre for the setting, but they stay and come back for the characters.
“After two hundred years at war, the Empire of Man has come to a stalemate with the Scourge. Each side is deadlocked, seeking some advantage, and sending teams to scour dead worlds in search of lost tech left behind by the forerunners. Blah blah setup setup infodump….” is not how to start a blurb.

instead, try “Captain James Carter of the Go Lightly is scouring the ruins of dead races in search of any lost technology that could turn the tide of interstellar war. When he contracts the virus that killed an entire race, Command orders him to become a suicide bio-bomber! Will one man’s search for survival put all humanity’s star systems at risk?”

Links to prior blurb clinics:

https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/05/22/blurbs-ad-copy-and-cover-copy/
https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/01/10/blurbs-short-and-sweet/

Blurbs, Ad Copy, and Cover Copy: A blast from the past and present-day Blurb Clinic

First, let’s establish terms, because they’ve gotten muddled. “Blurb” used to mean a pull quote on the cover of a book. “This is the greatest thing since sliced bread! –Famous Author in Same Genre.” Pull quotes are a journalistic device of lifting selective quotations out of an interview, article, or review, and highlighting them to make the article or item being reviewed sound really juicy.

Now, “blurb” has become a term for the Ad Copy, or Cover Copy, which means the one to three paragraphs of “What’s it about?” on the back of the book, on the website under description, and right next to the cover thumbnail on promotional emails.

Sarah tackled this subject, under https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/05/18/going-indie-for-dummies-but-what-is-it-about/. And then she tackled me, and said I had to explain how I do the voodoo that I do so well.

Now, I personally feel that’s about like asking all y’all “how do you write stories?” There are a lot of guidelines, but no hard and fast rules beyond it must be truthful about the contents, and hook the reader’s attention.

Interestingly enough, those of you who have written poetry will be at an advantage here, because you’re familiar with making every syllable, much less every word, count.

Like haiku, there are length constraints. Some promotional emails are very specific about the character limit (letters and spaces) you may use. Other places, like Amazon, will let you ramble on and on, but they cut the “above the fold” that browsers see to only 3-4 lines.

I recommend that you try to keep your blurb to the promotional length, so that you don’t have to come up with a new one for every promotion you want to run. Functionally, this means you’ll want to keep it within 300 characters. This will also force you to write long, then cut it down to something short enough to be exciting, picking and choosing each word for best effect.

Now, what words do you write?
First, We’re going to go to the heart, the core of your story, and break it down.

1.) A Character
2.) wants something
3.) But something opposes them.
4.) The stakes if they fail are: —-

Note: This should all be information the reader will have by Chapter 3.

But, you say, I have three people, and this one wants this, and that one wants that, and this other wants… Yes, true, most stories have more than the protagonist and the antagonist. However, unless you’re doing an epic fantasy, there’s one (or at most two) central protagonists whose actions and choices drive the plot. As Harlan Ellison says: Who does the story hurt? That’s who it’s about.

Epic fantasy breaks this guideline, because it generally has three to five separate viewpoints and storylines, not necessarily going on at the same point in history. Thus, you’ll end up doing a one-sentence-per-storyline to keep it in the limit.

Returning to that list, sometimes you’ll also add:

5.) What is the first plot twist?

And, especially for SF/F stories:

6.) What are the 3-5 most important unique names involved? Use 3 of them.

(This is because people tend to tune out after 3-5 unfamiliar terms. So, if you start with “Xaarath Fthagn of Marakis Prime is a gleeple of the Tuurathi”… you’ve already lost a chunk of readers.)

Finally, the best piece of advice: when you think you have a good piece of ad copy, try reading it out loud, and then saying it like you’re answering the question “What’s it about?” at a party.

You’ll probably find yourself hesitating before words, dropping them, changing phrases, possibly even skipping and combining entire sentences. This is normal and good. Write down the spoken version, and it’ll be smoother on the reading as well as the delivery.

Now, on to examples. Riffing on Sarah’s post, these are all Cinderella variants. I warn you, they’re going to be rather rough, because composing a blurb usually takes me two to three days, and I need to get this done by Saturday night for the post to go up.

Fantasy:

Ella’s sheltered world died with her father, leaving her a refugee on her step-mother’s estates. Now exiled to kitchen servitude to hide the reminder of the unpopular and doomed marriage alliance, she must dodge her increasingly paranoid sisters and parlay old ties with the Fae to win back her rightful place in the palace. Unfortunately, every gift from the Fae comes with a cost, and midnight is coming all too soon…

Science Fiction:

It’s just a temp job, right?

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella and her shipmates must cater to the increasingly bizarre demands of the galactic upper class, while seeking a new captain, contracts, and alien allies to find a way back to the stars!

Romance – Science Fiction

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella must move among the galactic upper class while avoiding being fined . Getting back to the stars never seemed so far away, until a favor given freely to the local aliens is repayed in the oddest way. In the middle of a ball, Ella’s won not just the prince’s assistance, but his heart.

With freedom in her grasp, she must choose between the stars, or love…

Thriller:

Time is ticking away…

Caught between a malevolent murderer and an enigmatic conspiracy, Ella must find out who killed her father. All signs point toward something happening at the palace ball, and the prince may be the author of the conspiracies – or it’s next victim!

A few notes – if you’re going to have more than four lines of test, break it up into multiple paragraphs. When viewed on a small screen (kindle fire, iPad, phone…), even a normal-looking paragraph becomes a wall-o-text.

Taglines- sure, knock yourself out.

I’m at work today, but I’ll be checking in. What are your blurbs?

(And if you want to read something pretty nifty, Holly Chism has modern gods working together to stop Loki after he lost the last of his sanity! https://www.amazon.com/Godshead-Holly-Chism-ebook/dp/B00AGI1AGY/ )

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, MARKETING, PROMOTION, Uncategorized, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Trying something new.

I’ll get back to formatting and related topics next week. This week, I thought I’d discuss what I’ve been doing with regard to one of my series and my thinking behind it. I’ve mentioned earlier here, and in greater detail on my blog, that I was going to release a “special edition” of Vengeance from Ashes and the other books in the series. I took the first step toward that goal this week and, along the way, have learned some interesting things about Amazon KDP.

So, first things first. Why release a “special edition” of a book that’s been out for several years?

I originally started thinking about it when I wondered what sort of play my books would get on non-Amazon platforms now. I have been exclusively with Amazon for probably the last three years or so. I originally made the decision to go that route when it became clear the vast majority of my sales came from Amazon and the monies I made through KDP Select/KU could more than make up for any lost sales through the other venues. With the influx of smartphones and tablets, I felt it was no longer as onerous on readers if I only offered my work on one platform. After all, Amazon has Kindle apps for pretty much all operating systems.

Then, over the last few months, I’ve been seeing the same sort of decline in payment for pages read that I saw with the original KDP Select reads. Part of that is because there are so many more books going into the system. Part of it is there are those people out there — I refuse to call them authors or writers — who game the system. So, I started asking how to make up the monies I was losing. I can only write so much. How was I going to increase output or increase sales without spending a bunch of bucks without a guaranteed return?

That’s when an author I’m a fan of released a special edition of one of her books through iTunes/iBooks (whatever the heck Apple calls it right now). All she did was add a chapter near the end. It didn’t change the plot of the book but it gave some really great information and helped fill in some blanks left in the original story. Hmmm. That started my brain on the trail that led to where we are today.

However, I didn’t want to completely take my titles out of KU. That meant I needed to consider my options and then talk to Amazon. Yes, yes, I can hear some of you laughing. Trying to actually “talk” to someone associated with KDP can be daunting. But I’d done it before and I could do it again. Right? Right.

I carefully planned out my email to KDP Support. My question was simple but not one that was found in their FAQs or on the boards. If I added new data to my book, not a word here or there but a chapter or more, could I put that new version into KU and then release the original version into the wild? I sent off the message and got the automated response that they’d be back with me in 24 – 72 hours.

Imagine my surprise when, a few hours later, my cellphone rang and it was Amazon. Long story shortish, as long as the content was exclusive to the Amazon edition, it was published with a new ASIN, the description made it clear this was a special edition, I could do what I wanted. Woop! Suddenly it was time to get down to work.

I figured I’d wind up with a chapter, maybe two, of new material. After all, I loved the original version of Vengeance from Ashes. Still, as I sat down to take notes and see what I could do, I realized there was more information I could have — possibly should have — put in. This was a case of 20-20 hindsight after 3 books and 3 short stories in the universe. So, that single chapter or two turned into close to 20k additional words. I’d need to go back and look again but I think it turned into something like 4 or 5 new chapters as well as some additional scenes in the already existing chapters. The plot, overall is the same, but it has been filled in some and I think it makes for a stronger book.

Fast-forward to this last week. I finished setting up for both digital and print versions using Vellum. I’ll repeat here what I’ve said before. If you work on a Mac and have the money to spare, consider buying Vellum. The time saved in setting up the print version alone is worth it. I also like the special characters (true drop caps being part of it) you can easily insert into your e-books. Thanks to Sarah, I have a kick-ass new cover for the new edition and yesterday I bit the bullet and uploaded both files to Amazon.

And held my breath.

And waited to see what happened. Would Amazon let me post the new book for pre-order or had I done all this for naught?

Whew! The e-book went live for pre-orders without a hitch. Official release date is a week from today. Woop! But what about the print version? Should I do Createspace, as I had all my other print books? Or should I try the new KDP print option? Since I was trying something new with the special edition, why not try it with the print version? So, off I went into even more uncharted territory.

First of all, it is much easier to use than Createspace. Since you’ve already entered all the information about the title for your e-book, you don’t have to do so for the print. It’s ported over. You can choose to get a free ISBN or go with one of your own. Since I’m not trying to get into bookstores, I chose the free ISBN. I’m not out any money if I decide to change my mind later and go with Lightning Source or another printer/distributor.

Now for the downside. You still can’t order a print proof – at least not that I saw. I’m not thrilled with that, especially since I haven’t used the service before. There also isn’t a discounted author rate for buying the book. Again, not that I found. If someone knows how to do it, let me know. That’s a big issue for me and it might lead to me moving back to Createspace eventually (assuming Amazon doesn’t change this with KDP). But, on the plus side, the process of getting the print files uploaded and approved is much quicker and the print version went live quicker than any of my Createspace files did. So, I’ve ordered a hard copy and am praying in the meantime.

As with Createspace, I need to go into Author Central to link the print and digital versions together. I’ll do that later today. But, so far, the process has been pretty painless and, as soon as the original version of Vengeance comes off of KU, I’ll release that edition into the wild.

There is one big downside to doing it this way. The reviews for the original version will not be ported over to the new edition. Amazon’s reasoning actually makes sense. The new edition isn’t the same book as the original and so the reviews don’t necessarily apply. I’ll admit, it has even made me reconsider how I handle the original book. I could leave it up on Amazon but that could confuse potential new readers. But I don’t want to lose my reviews.

The answer to that is simple but not complete. I won’t be able to keep all the reviews but I can cherry pick the ones I think are best representative of the book and contact those reviewers to see if I can quote them in the product information for the new version. I’d make clear the reviews were for the original edition but still. . . they could help push the new edition. So that is part of what I’ll be doing over the next couple of days. By then, I’ll have a copy of the print book in hand (Thursday delivery) and will know whether I’ve made a mistake there or not.

Also, I did verify with Amazon that, should I take the original version off sale there, it would remain in the libraries of those who had already purchased it. I have written response that it would. So no one will lose the book they have already bought. I’ll admit, that was a concern and would have impacted my final decision about how to move forward.

One last thing I’ve learned so far about in doing this process. If you email KDP support and frame your question in such a way it is “unique”, you get a quick response and might actually find your account has been enabled so you can actually call support. That’s reassuring, especially since I’ve never made any bones about the fact I think KDP support could learn a lot from Amazon support.

I’ll update the post as new information becomes available. In the meantime, here’s the “special edition”:

Print

E-book

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

This special edition contains exclusive material (approximately 20,000 words) not available in other editions of the novel.

 

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Series and Multiple Simultaneous Releases

For Dan Z, who commented:

Advice on managing/planning a series. For example, if you know from the get go that your story is too big for just one book (or just one set of characters or what have you) is it better to write out the entire series, in essence building up a backlog, and then publish each volume individually on a regular schedule? or perhaps release them in pairs or other multiples? or to forego the entire idea of a backlog and publish the whole series en masse? or to dial that back a bit publish each story as it gets finished, whenever that happens to be?

It Depends. On what? Well, first and foremost, on your writing speed and skills. Second, on your experience level as a writer. Third, on the planned length of series, which ties into fourth, the marketing tactics you planned.

—The Writing Segment —

Writing speed and experience are tied together: if this is your first book, you may not know how long it’s going to take for you to write the second one, much less the next 6. This was one major stumbling block for many authors in trad pub: after taking years to craft their first book and put it through the query process, it got picked up and did well, so the publisher turned around and said “We’ll take two more in the series.” Now the author, who may have taken 5 years to gather ideas and get the first book written in its final form, suddenly has less than a year to come up with and write the second book. It’s not as good, because the author didn’t have the skill set for pulling ideas together and writing to deadline, nor the practice at writing sequels.

The advice to overcome this used to be to keep writing the next book and the next, so you had many out in slush piles at the same time. These days, the advice is different.

New Author Option 1: When you have the first one done, start writing the second while the first one is out to beta readers. If it is working, then write that sequel! What you learn by writing the second book will really help with editing the first one, so leave that until you’ve finished the second. Now is the time to learn the skills of formatting, covers, and blurb, but most importantly, keep writing the second book! Once you have two written, then you can edit both while writing the third. Then, you can decide whether to:

A. Publish each book in 30-day intervals,
B. Publish each book in 60 or 90-day intervals,
C. Publish Book 1 & 2 simultaneously, then Book 3 within 30 days
D. Publish Books 1-3 simultaneously, followed by Book 4 within 30 – 90 days.

To make the best choice, proceed on to the marketing techniques portion of this article.

New Author Option 2: When you have the first one done, start writing the second while the first one is out to beta readers. If it’s not working, or you end up switching to other things, you might give it a couple months. After a couple months, especially if it’s clear that the grand plan of writing the series-of-twelve really isn’t going to work right now, pull out the original book and use the distance that time has helped you gain to struggle through the learning curve of editing your first book. (A different skillset than writing!) Then publish the first one, because it’s better to have it out there, delighting readers, than sitting on a hard drive waiting for months or years or eternity for its sequel to join it.

Experienced Author: If you have 5 books out and have your process fairly well down, and have decided you want to break into a new genre or series, then this may be a great idea. You not only know you can do this, you also know how long it’s going to take you, and can plan the marketing accordingly. Don’t, however, do this on an existing series.

— The Marketing Segment —

Why do I keep mentioning 30, 60, and 90 days? Because those, along with the one-year mark, are important cutoffs in your book’s visibility. The first 30 days your book is out, you have the chance on being on the Hot New Releases list – a list that required far fewer sales to make and stay than the bestseller list. As a new author, especially if you don’t a have a following due to blog, forum, or other group, your primary challenge is being visible enough that people who have never heard of you will find you and give you a try. (This is also a major challenge for established authors, but it’s a different playing field. Your first 100 sales will be the hardest sales you ever make; The 101st will be far easier than the 1st.)

Amazon has a multiplier to the visibility that specifically promotes new books – after 30 days, it decreases, leading to “the 30-day cliff”, as in “my sales just fell off a cliff.” However, there are multiple cliffs at 30, 60, and 90 days, and another at 12 months. Savvy authors on a fast release schedule will therefore schedule releases so the day one book drops out of the Hot New Releases, the next one is launched and can take advantage of that multiplier. After all, every book is a potential entry point to a series, and if Book 3 catches a potential reader’s eye, they’re likely to go to Book 1 and start reading.

Newer authors may not have the skill and experience to be able to write quickly enough to meet multiple 30-day releases, or to get everything together quickly enough for their next release in 30 days. If so, all is not lost – just reschedule to get out within 60 days, or 90, to catch some of the same boost.

Reader Behaviour & Releases: Netflix has revealed a wonderful amount of human behaviour in storytelling to those of us who create for a living. For the first time, we can really see that people like to binge-watch* shows they’ve discovered and fallen in love with… and that when they run into something they like, they prefer to go back to the beginning of the entire show, or at least the prior season, and watch it all the way through. Furthermore, if the plots are complex and tangled, and they know a new season is coming out involving the same characters, they’ll often rewatch the last season or last few episodes.

What does this have to do with book release schedules? Everything! We’re in the entertainment business, not the book business. This means when people find you, and like you, they want to binge-read your series, so especially if you have a 4+ book series, the more you have available when they find you, then more they’ll tear through before they run out of material, they disengage, or something else takes higher priority.

Readers also have a finite attention span, and are far more likely to remember the book they read last week over the one they read three months ago. They’re more likely to remember you as an author they like if they’ve enjoyed three of your books instead of just one. So, once you have readers it’s a good thing to give them more to read right away, and more coming out soon, so they will get in a habit of looking for new stuff by you, and remember your name.

Here are two authors who experimented with multiple releases at once to break past the “Is the series worth investing in? Will they actually continue?” that the midlist death spiral trained into readers, as well as having the next book right there for readers to immediately get.

The Liliana Nirvana Technique
http://www.hughhowey.com/the-liliana-nirvana-technique/
Lindsay Buroker’s Secret Pen Name Experiment
Launch:http://lindsayburoker.com/amazon-kindle-sales/pen-name-launch-first-month-earnings-marketing/
Followup:http://lindsayburoker.com/amazon-kindle-sales/pen-name-update-at-10-weeks/

Some notes from other authors who’ve tried multiple-simultaneous-release, with less stellar returns:
1. This turns your release into one-shot. If you release 4 books separately, even at 30-day intervals to keep something eligible for the hot new releases list and take advantage of the release visibility boost, you have four releases to learn about and fine-tune your titles, covers, blurbs, release promotions, availability in paper, as well as proofreading and formatting. So you need to be on top of your game, in order to avoid massively dampening the effects of your single launch.

2. This is expensive. If you’ve published several prior books and have your A-game when it comes to covers, proofreading, et. al., then you can drive the costs pretty far down, but you’re still doing 4-5 sets of cover art & design, and any editorial you pay for, as well as the promotional slots at the email lists / banner ads / AMS ads / any other promotion… all at once, without prior sales to feed it.

3. It is far harder to sit on 3-4 books than it looks. Most authors overestimate their production speed and their reservoir of patience when it comes to producing but not releasing… and the sustained production speed post-release. (The 4 down and 1 in the hole technique needs the 5th to be almost done. It does not work nearly as well on two down, and the third out in three months, the fourth out about a year later.)

4. Sitting on the books means that you don’t get reader feedback (other than beta readers) to help improve your writing. While I’d never recommend taking every single review on Amazon as the revealed gospel direct from the mouth of G-d, if you get running themes in your reviews, it means that readers are consistently seeing something. Peter had reviews noting that his protagonist in his very first book was too good to be true, and the writing (which was British English, not American) was stilted. (That’s British for you, to American ears.) He’s used that feedback to improve both the character and his writing as a whole.

5. Promotion to get people aware of the books is critical, since you don’t have time to grow word of mouth. (Unless you already have a blog or other following. But if you have said following, why make them wait?) When it comes to one author doing KDP Select, another doing permafree, someone else going wide… remember the two examples I showed you are several years old, and individual promotional techniques have changed in effectiveness since them. Work according to the market you have, not the market they had back then.

6. Preorders are a mixed bag. Some people have found they work great, especially when you’re in the high numbers of a long-running series, to make sure people order right away and don’t forget you after they ran out of books to read. Most people have found they completely destroy release date rankings boost and stickiness of visibility, because the sales apply when the book is ordered, not when it’s released. (On Amazon. Itunes, last I checked, still does release-date rankings per file shipped.) Most authors go with a maximum 4-5 day preorder that lets them have a URL ready for all the promo sites they can get, lets them get everything uploaded and double-checked, but doesn’t spread pre-sales out over a month or more.

7. Sales will still reflect the size of the niche. Weird West is a tiny niche genre, while urban fantasy is large. So if you’re writing about ranching radioactive spiders in the wild west while fighting indians and zombies, and having shootouts with mad inventors in the streets at high noon… that actually sounds pretty darned awesome, and let me know about it, but in the meantime, don’t expect to sell as many books as Jim Butcher.

8. Keywords – try staggering your keywords. If you have more keywords for the series than the 7 slots per book, don’t use the same keywords for every book! Overlap is great, but if you’re putting out 4 books, you have 28 keyword slots – and each book can act as a draw into the series.

In summary, multiple releases can be an extremely flashy way to break into a genre, and can work very well – but they come at the cost of the sales lost while you didn’t have the books out, and the risk of only having one launch to get all your blurbs, cover art, promotional lineup, and so on right.

Anyone tried this? What did you find worked well, and what didn’t? How about staggered quick-succession releases, every 30,60, or 90 days?

*A note on binge-watching: this is defined by netflix as watching 2-6 episodes of the same show in one sitting. In broader cultural context, it’s defined as watching all available episodes in a show as time allows, until either the viewer runs out of content, drops the show, or a higher-priority show/activity displaces it.

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On formatting for print and digital

I want to thank everyone who took the time to tell us what topics you’d like to see us cover over the next six months or so. It really does help us to have that sort of input. While we don’t guarantee that we’ll get to ever topic, or in the exact way it was suggested, we will do our best to cover as many of them as possible. I’m still pulling the list together and I’ll be sending it out to the other bloggers later today. In the meantime, Dave kicked us off with his post about prologues yesterday.

One topic several of you requested was formatting. There were variations on the topic and a request for exercises. I’ll figure out the best way to do exercises over the next few days. I might go back to a workshop I did on formatting several years ago and update it for the purpose. But, while I figure out the best way to do that, here are links to some recent posts I’ve done on formatting for both print and digital editions.

Formatting Revisited

Formatting for Print Revisited

Formatting for Print Revisited , Pt. 2

These posts are targeted for those who are planning on going indie with their work. For those of you who are wanting to go traditional, formatting is a bit easier. The first thing you need to do is check the agent’s website or the publisher’s website you are submitting your work to. If they have special formatting requirements, they’ll be listed.

For example, Baen lists the following as its requirements:

  • Attach the manuscript as a Rich Text Format (.rtf) file.
  • Send the manuscript as a single file (do not break it into separate chapter files).
  • Synopsis and contact info needs to be in the file with your manuscript.
  • Minimal formatting, please. Do not format text boxes or sidebars into the manuscript; use block quotes. Indent paragraphs; center chapter headers and scene break indicators (###, ***, etc.); use page breaks only at the end of chapters. For emphasis, choose either underline or italics and use it consistently throughout.
  • Do not use “smart quotes”/curly quotes or single character elipses, mdashes, etc. Use straight quotes and apostrophes, . . ., –, etc.
  • Avoid non-standard fonts, and unnecessary changes in font face, size, etc. Publisher likes CG Omega and Lucida Bright.

For hard copy submission, here are some of the requirements for Baen:

  • Standard manuscript format only: double-spaced, one side of the page only, 1 1/2″ margins on all four sides of the page. We will consider photocopies if they are dark and clear.
  • Font must be readable, or we won’t read it. This means seriphed or at least semi-seriphed, 12-point or greater. Publisher likes CG Omega and Lucida Bright. Typesetter likes any standard bookface, Times Roman or Courier.

You can find the submission guidelines for Tor/Forge here. Actual formatting requirements are as follows:

  • Standard manuscript format means margins of at least 1 inch all the way around;
  • indented paragraphs;
  • double-spaced text;
  • Times New Roman in 12 pitch.
  • Please use one side of the page only. Do not justify the text.
  • Do not bind the manuscript in any way.
  • Make sure the header of the ms. includes your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number (on every page).

So you can see the two publishers have similar, if not identical, requirements. But that’s not always the same, which is why I say to check the sites for wherever you are submitting if you are going the traditional route and trying to find an agent or publisher. That is especially true if you are submitting to a small or mid-sized press because some of them want the author to submit their work in a format that will be easily converted into digital formats (in other words, they want the author to do that part of the work for them).

So, I guess here is where I give you the first “assignment”. Look at your current work-in-progress (or the work you just finished and are trying to figure out what to do with). Decide whether you want to go indie or trad with it. If going trad, decide if you are going to try for publishers where you need an agent or if you are going to a publisher that has open submissions. If the former, start looking at agent requirements. (For example, some agents have you send the first few pages as part of the body of your email while others don’t want to see anything but your query.) If the latter, find their submission guidelines and figure out, based on those, what you have to do to get your submission packet ready.

We’ll get more into the nitty gritty of it next week. Until then, if you have any questions or if you want input on your formatting decisions, post them in the comments below.

Edited to Add: Let me know in the comments which OS you use to write in and what programs you use for writing and for conversion (if any on the latter). That will help me as I put together the next couple of posts. 

 

Later!

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Sunday Link Salad

I haven’t done one of these in a long time. When I first joined MGC a number of years ago, I kept asking Sarah and Dave why they wanted me. I wasn’t a writer (okay, I may have had one book out). No one would want to read what I had to say. Sarah, being the devious woman that she is and knowing me as well as she does, knew there was one way to convince me. She suggested I do for the blog what I had been doing for myself and for her — I keep on top of what was happening in the publishing world and post links to articles or sites I thought our readers might find interesting. Then, slowly but surely, she conned — er, convinced — me to expand my postings. I still do the occasional link salad posts but a number of the sites I used to follow are no longer around. Or they’ve fallen so deep into the Amazon Derangement Syndrome or Indie Derangement Syndrome that I no longer read them. Others, I read only on occasion. However, the following sites are some of those I check on a daily or weekly basis. Keep in mind, you can also find a lot of information from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. You just have to do your homework and confirm what the authenticity of those “quotes” or excerpts.

First up is the best of the sites, imo, because it is compiles information from a number of sources, has an active commenter base and we get the added benefit of comments from the site’s owner. That site is The Passive Voice. If I had to name one site that is mandatory for all writers to follow, it would be this one. Bookmark it. Check it at least once a day. Read the comments.

Next up is a twofer. Kris Rusch and her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, run two sites I also feel need to be on your must read list. Kris Writes offers, among other things, the Business Musings posts that should be mandatory reading for every author. They give insight into the traditional publishing world as well as guidance for indie publishing. Dean’s site is important because it offers the “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing” posts as well as a list of his workshops. Both are well worth your time.

For keeping up with what’s happening in the traditional publishing world, Publishers Weekly is still the go-to site. Yes, much of is it behind a paywall, but there is still a great deal to discover that isn’t. You do have to keep in mind the bias PW has for traditional publishing. But, to see what the “other side” is up to, this is your place to go.

Going hand-in-hand with PW is Association of American Publishers. Again, this is slanted more toward traditional publishing but there is good information to be found there.

Here are a few other sites you might find of interest:

Literary Hub

Digital Book World

The Digital Reader

Teleread

Then there is the site that sends traditional publishing into apoplexy more often than not by sticking pins into their balloons about the earning potential of indie authors and just how popular e-books are with readers. Author Earnings isn’t a daily or even a weekly read. I recommend you sign up for email notifications of when they have new information available. But, when they post a new report, it is always something authors need to sit down and read. Better yet, they have past reports available for viewing. That lets you track the trends and see if they really are trends, as others might say, or not. Bookmark this page and take the time to go through what it offers.

There are many more sites out there that we, as writers, either follow or should be following. I tried to stick with general industry-related sites today. You can find author sites that give you a window into the life of an author. There are other sites that offer writing advice and exercises. The wonderful thing about the internet is the fact there is no lack of resources available. The problem comes in winnowing through those resources to find the best ones.

What are your favorite industry-related sites?

 

 

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B&N for the loss

If you want to see what a sinking corporate ship looks like, you have to look no further than Barnes & Noble. Unlike the Titanic, there is no band playing on the deck as the ship sinks. Instead, the call for “business as usual — in the 1990’s” has gone out. B&N plans to steam backward into obscurity.

The downward trend was confirmed earlier this month when B&N announced its quarterly revenue declined — yet again — 6.6% with a decline on the Nook side of 28.1%. I gave up counting how many quarters in a row the bookseller posted a decline long ago. Between the revolving door in the boardroom and the revolving door in the CFO’s office, the company faces an uphill battle I’m pretty sure it will lose without a major overhaul of the business and the operating plan. But that isn’t what we see coming from the ivory tower. In fact, far from it.

We got our first indication of that in the conference call between Demos Parneros, B&N’s CFO, and their shareholders. In a word salad address that said nothing new, Parneros said this:

As we look to reinvent our customer value proposition and growth sales, we’re focused on a number of initiatives to increase the value customers derive from shopping at Barnes & Noble. Our value proposition is comprised of membership, convenience, digital offerings and most importantly our stores where customers come to browse, discover, and interact with 26,000 knowledgeable booksellers.

Pricing is a key consideration and over the past few months, we’ve launched a number of price tests tied to our membership program to see which authors resonate best with customers and increase the overall value of the program. Our goals are to increase enrollment, conversion and visit frequency.

Beyond pricing, we’re also focused on growing sales by improving the overall shopping, browsing and discovery experience for better visual merchandizing and signage as well as personalized recommendations. This includes testing changes to existing store layouts and remerchandising certain businesses. We believe there are significant opportunities to manage our inventory better, increasing trends and reduce unproductive merchandize.

As part of our efforts to better understand customers and develop a robust data analytics program, we’ve recently installed customer counters in all our stores and reintroduced mystery shops. We plan to enhance customer engagement and personalization through improved customer insights. And recently we’ve established an analytics team building the foundation for better analytic rigor.

Stores are an integral component of our value proposition and recently we made a few critical hires to oversee our store growth initiatives. Carl Hauch has joined as Vice President of Stores and will oversee the entire retail store organization and profitable growth of the business. Jim Lampassi has also joined the leadership team as Vice President of Real Estate Development and is responsible for developing and executing our real estate strategy. I’m excited to have Carl and Jim join our team.

In addition to the two new test stores we have in the pipeline, we are reviewing our entire portfolio in identifying opportunities to open new stores in new markets as well as opportunities to relocate stores as their leases expire instead of simply vacating markets. Our goal is to position the company for net store expansion.

As noted by The Digital Reader, they are going to sell more stuff. Riiiiight.

But it gets better. In a move that shows just how bad things are for the bookseller, Len Riggio, interim (or should we say perennial) CEO, “assured shareholders that B&N is no longer in the tech business. While the Nook e-reader and e-books will remain a part of the company’s offerings to customers, bricks and mortar stores will be its focus.” He went on to say they only got into the digital market because they felt they had to because of Amazon and Google. In other words, they didn’t have the infrastructure for it, they didn’t spend the money necessary to develop it and, let’s not forget, they colluded with publishers to fix the prices for e-books in an attempt to harm Amazon. But they learned nothing in the process. Instead of making their website more user friendly, instead of working to lower the price of e-books to a level that their customers would buy more product.

So what does this mean for Nook customers? No one knows for sure, but I wouldn’t be buying a new Nook anytime soon. It’s possible another company, perhaps Kobo, would buy the Nook end of the business. Or its possible BN will backtrack yet again. Who the heck knows? All I know for sure is this is the way to keep customers is not to sell them tech and then quit supporting it. What they need to do is look at what the true underlying cause of the company’s decline is. I suggest they start with their CEO. Under Riggio’s leadership, both as CEO and as head of the board, “stock price dropped from over $17 a share (when Riggio sold stock in 2014) to $7.30 a share today”

But that’s not the only idiocy B&N has done of late. I started seeing posts a month or so ago about how it had amended its Terms of Service for those indie authors and small presses using its Nook Press platform. That was done with little to no fanfare. What happened, however, is almost immediately BN started purging erotica titles from its catalog. It sent emails to authors, telling them their accounts had been frozen or, in some cases, deleted. Titles were no longer for sale. All I could think of was when Kobo did that some years ago, especially when I read how non-erotica titles were included in the purge. Note, this only applied to those using the Nook Press platform. Traditionally published books weren’t included. So not only was the bookseller angering authors but it was angering its customers by refusing to apply standards equally across the board. Keep the higher priced books from the side of the industry they want to keep and toss out those evil riff-raff authors who dare go direct to the public, bypassing the gatekeepers.

There is a lot to be concerned about with the new Terms of Service.

Please be advised that submitting or posting any of the following content in your eBook file, cover image or product data may, in the exercise of Barnes & Noble’s sole and unfettered discretion, result in the removal of said content and/or termination of your account. Please be advised that the content listed represent examples only and the following list of content is non-exhaustive. Such content includes but is not limited to: 
 

  • Obscene or Pornographic material: This may include content that graphically portrays sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual arousal and erotic satisfaction.
  • Libellous Material: False defamatory statements that intentionally harm or have the potential to harm an individual or a third party.
  • Infringing Material: Any content to which you do not own the copyright or otherwise control the right to distribute. Additionally, content that may violate any other intellectual property rights, such as trademark and trade dress, and/or content that may infringe upon a party’s proprietary rights, such as the right of privacy or the right of publicity
  • Illegal Content or Other Offensive Material: As we may determine in our sole discretion, content that is illegal, content that violates the laws of any jurisdiction, whether or not we sell in such jurisdiction, or other content we deem offensive in the exercise of our sole discretion including but not limited to works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.
  • Material Violating Privacy: Any content that violates an individual’s privacy.
  • Advertisements: Content contained within your eBook or other content that primarily seeks to sell a product other than the eBook or content itself.

Product Data 

As stated above, the information that describes your eBook (Product Data) is also subject to our Content Policy. Please note that in addition to the points listed above, Barnes & Noble prohibits the following data points in your Product Data:

  • Hyperlinks of any kind, including email addresses.
  • Request for action (i.e.: “If you like this book, please write me a review.”).
  • Advertisements or promotional material (including author events, seminars etc.).
  • Contact information for the author or publisher.

First, the language is vague and gives total control to BN to decide what is or is not in violation of the ToS. There is no appeals process listed. Now, there bight be elsewhere in all their documentation but it is not listed where it should be. Worse, there are no definitions for what the important terms mean. So it is totally subjective and that means it can and probably will be applied differently depending on who reviews a title.

But it gets better. Note the language on “offensive material”. It can determine content violates the law of other jurisdictions, even those where it doesn’t sell products, and use that as an excuse to delete content. Under this clause, many mysteries, thrillers, and historical fiction could be excluded because it portrays things BN “can” determine is offensive. Welcome to the land of the perpetually butt hurt.

Authors, it gets worse. You can’t include your email address in your product data. You can’t urge readers to post a review at the back of your book. In other words, in your “from the author” or afterword, you can’t say “If you like this book, please consider leaving a review”. You can’t even put in contact information for you or for your publisher.

WTF?!?

Technically, this means if you have your logo and publisher name on your title page, you can’t have the PO Box listed as well. You can’t have it hyperlinked. In other words, they want to make it as difficult as possible for your readers to reach out to you. Now, they say this applies only to your “product data” but the earlier language of the ToS makes it possible for them to apply it to everything about your ebook and to change the terms without reasonable notice.

I’ve gone on too long already but I will admit that this is making me wonder if I should reconsider putting titles into BN. If they don’t want my business, either as an author or as a reader, why should I go out of my way to help them? That’s a question we each have to ask ourselves. B&N might not like our answers.

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