Dirty Nine-Letter Words, Or: Why I’m Trying KDP Select

Whisper it: ‘marketing’.

Gross, right? Well, it depends. Sleazy popup ads using scantily clad women to trick you into downloading a tedious castle building game? Absolutely.

Shameless, I tell you.

But trying to put a product you’re proud of in front of an audience that you think would enjoy it? Seems… reasonable.

Up to now I’ve been treating writing as a hobby, by and large. Don’t get me wrong, I do my very best to produce high-quality novels: I work on my craft, I edit thoroughly, I use beta readers, I employ a professional editor and cover designer, and I use the best available software to produce a well-formatted and professional-looking final product that I can be proud of when I hit the ‘Publish’ button and see my books go live.

Then I squawk happily about it to you–the fine readers of this site–along with my friends and family, and…

That’s about it.

Not so professional.

The reason is pretty simple: right now, I’m not actively trying to be a full-time writer. I’m a full-time customer support manager for a telecoms software company who, in his spare time, channels his wildly overactive imagination into writing action-packed, mildly amusing and not-terribly-scientific science fiction novels.

But long term? Sure, that’s the dream. And I (think I) broadly know how you go about getting there.

  • Write a lot of good books. The more you have, the more chance readers have of discovering you (then buying all your other books).
  • ‘Do marketing’.

Hmm. Maybe I don’t know. It’s that second part which is a bit of a black art. Luckily, there are a whole bunch of friendly, helpful and successful indie author-publishers who are willing to share their expertise and experience, and chief among these is the author of the excellent Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish, and Why You ShouldDavid Gaughran.

Snazzy.

With the imminent publication of Causal Nexus, I’ve been doing some reading and thinking about the whole launch process, what I might try to achieve, and how there’s no time like the present to start getting the hang of the part of being an indie author-publisher that I’ve been completely ignoring.

All this pondering naturally led me to David’s site, and two articles in particular.

In ‘A Tale of Two Marketing Systems’, David discusses the always contentious (among indies) topic of ‘wide or exclusive’. Which will mean nothing to most readers, but in essence means deciding whether to publish your work at all available retailers–Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iTunes, etc.–or enrolling your work in Amazon’s KDP Select program, which requires you to make the ebook edition exclusive to Amazon in exchange for some tasty benefits:

  • Your book is added to Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owner’s Lending Library catalogs, earning ‘page read’ revenue;
  • Every 90 days you can run special promotional deals to either make a book free for five days, or discounted for seven–which, in theory, leads to a boost in downloads, a shot up the charts, and bigger sales when the price reverts to normal.

The obvious downside is that any readers who prefer to get their ebooks from non-Zon retailers are out of luck. At least until you unenroll that book from KDP Select and ‘go wide’ again, which can be done after any 90-day period.

In that post David links back to another article of his, ‘The Visibility Gambit’, which digs into the gritty details of how indies these days might go about maximizing the benefits of being enrolled in KDP Select. The key chunk–for me, at least–of which was this:

A more complex example: let’s say you are launching Book 4 in a KU-enrolled series, and are wondering how to build a decent launch. A good approach might be to make Book 1 free for 5 days, and run a concurrent 99¢ Countdown deal on Book 2, and a $1.99 Countdown on Book 3. Maybe load all the ads on sites like ENT and Robin Reads on that free Book 1 and then give the whole series a push with a carousel ad on Facebook.

That’s already a pretty aggressive launch but further boldness is likely to be rewarded. I’d also suggest launching Book 4 at $2.99, even if you normally price and launch at $3.99 or $4.99, and also throwing all sorts of ads into the mix at places that might normally not give you the best ROI.

Because KU is all about visibility.

Me.

‘That seems straightforward enough,’ I thought. ‘I could do that.’

*scratches nose, frowns*

‘Why don’t I do that?’

*coughs, looks out of the window, distracted by a bird, scratches nose again*

I’m going to do that.

And just like that, I have a Launch Plan™ for Causal Nexus. 

  1. Delist Ascension Point and Venus Rising from the non-Amazon stores. (Done.)
  2. Enroll both in KDP Select. (Underway as soon as I’ve confirmed step 1.)
  3. Finish Causal Nexus, upload it to Amazon at a discounted launch price of $2.99 and enroll it in KDP Select.
  4. On launch day, make Ascension Point free for 5 days, run a concurrent 99¢ Countdown deal on Venus Rising, and advertise both on Ereader News Today.
  5. See how it goes!
  6. At some point, revert all three to the usual price of $4.99.
  7. Profit?

Who knows. This is all a bit of an experiment to start finding out how it all works, but I’m quite excited now that I have an actual plan. I’m still expecting to have Causal Nexus ready to go in April, so there’s not long to wait.

Longer term, I expect I’ll experiment again and unenroll my books from KDP Select to share them more widely, perhaps dipping back in for launches of new books, or not, as I see fit. The exciting thing is that as an indie author-publisher I have these options at my disposal, and all the time in the world to try different approaches and see what works best.

What a time to be a writer!

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It’s The Final Countdown… To Book Three!

After many posts about random science and technology news, it’s nice to get back to writing about writing, i.e. The Original Point of This Blog. Excitingly, we’re into the business end of the creation of my third novel, Causal Nexus!

I sent a reasonably polished draft to my beta readers a week before the holidays, and after two months of this…

Impatient bunny.

…the feedback arrived!

Pro writer tip: don’t give a draft to beta readers a week before the holidays and expect to receive prompt feedback. You won’t.

The happy news was that I appear to have written a solid, entertaining story with compelling characters that flows well. (Their words, honest.) Hurrah!

Happy bunny.

I had a chunky slate of minor changes to make, to tighten language, clarify points, and improve flow, but overall I couldn’t have been happier at the positive reception.

Thus it was with great enthusiasm that last night I submitted my revised draft to my editor, the charming and eagle-eyed Misti Wolanski (http://mistiwolanski.com/), who I also worked with on Ascension Point and Venus Rising. The typical cliche would be to say that Misti has forgotten more about the English language than I’ve ever learned, but as far as I can tell she hasn’t forgotten anything. On top of that, she’s also deeply versed in science fiction and fantasy, being both an author and avid reader of those genres herself.

I should receive her first edit in 4-6 weeks or so, then we’ll have two to three rounds of back and forth to polish the novel into sparkling, publishable shape. If the process goes as it did for the first two books, we’re looking at a May publication date.

Watch this space!

You Beta Be-read It!

If you deciphered my clever pun, you’ll have worked out that Causal Nexus is in the hands of my lovely beta readers! They always provide excellent feedback to strengthen the story, make the characters more interesting and point out those pesky plot holes that it’s easy for the writer themselves to miss after being down in the weeds of the story for so long. I can’t wait!

In the meantime I’ve started the groundwork for Untitled Book #4! Step one is to go back over Ascension Point and Venus Rising, and to compile a list of all the open plot threads that I’ve set up in the series so far, that I may want to pick up and complete in this, the final book in the series. I have a habit of semi-casually tossing little elements into my stories that hint at potential goings-on, so I daresay that I won’t choose to follow up on every single possible plotline that I sketchily set up; but in addition to the exciting new major story arcs I’ve got planned, I am planning to tie off at least the big loose ends from prior books and wrap up key character arcs, and thus generally bring The Unity Sequence to a satisfying close.

Sunday Roundup

Ooh, we’ve got some good stuff today. Let’s start at Pornokitsch, with Draft Posts:

We all become ‘authors’ as soon as we open a Word file, ‘artists’ as soon as we buy paint, ‘bloggers’ as soon as we register our domain name. By contemplating creation – simply by having an idea – we re-identify ourselves.

But then, we also leap to the other extreme. A creator isn’t ‘allowed’ to claim that identification until they have successfully created. You’re not really an author until you finish a book. (Or perhaps even publish one.) You’re not really an artist until you finish a painting. A blogger without posts is a poor example of the breed. This isn’t unfair: inspiration might be the easiest part of the project. Socially, we should celebrate the do-ers and which means focusing on the evidence of what they’ve done.

But what about everything in-between?

Looking a bit further back (because I haven’t read Pornokitsch closely in a while), what if Apple bought the entire UK publishing industry?

What if they just bought the entire British fiction publishing industry?

The point of this (obviously impossible) scenario, of course, is rethinking the value of the book, and taking the terrifying (and hopefully inaccurate) perspective that books qua books are toast. Instead, let’s think of what the value of fiction publishing would be to Apple: a cost-effective way of identifying, developing and testing creative concepts. Books as a massive means of consumer-testing. Think of book sales as upvotes and the fiction-reading population as a gigantic network of slush-pile readers.

According to YouGov Profiles, 18-34 ‘avid or regular’ readers are exactly the people that matter to our networks.

They significantly overindex for all of the following:

  • Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and XBox Live/Video
  • Watching films, in general, on a streaming service
  • Watching films on a streaming service, once a week or more
  • Agreement with “I primarily listen to music through streaming services”
  • Agreement with “Live TV is a thing of the past”
  • Paying for music streaming

If you’re a content streamer, this is your most valuable audience. So why not keep monitoring what they read, and turn that stuff into video content?

Fun stuff, but feels like it’s kind of missing the point: if Apple ran the entire UK publishing industry they would, to a large extent, determine what UK readers were able to read. (Because, while the largely Amazon-based, word of mouth driven discovery of books is extremely alive and kicking, there’s still a heck of a lot of books that get sold simply because a trad publisher puts them out and they end up in bookstores). Basing future movie/TV production decisions on the reception to content that you’ve already implicitly curated seems… well, let’s be honest, nonsensical.

Fun idea, though. Next!

Oh, more Amazon, by way of t-shirts:

Batman, Superman, Spider-man are all t-shirt brands with comic book spinoffs. I think Harry Potter belongs in that pantheon as well: geek culture brands where the identification is now so embedded that they’re part of the visual vernacular. It isn’t just about a nerd franchise being in Primark, it is about a nerd franchise being in Primark and coverage in the Sun.

If anything, Harry Potter’s gone a step further and given us four lifestyle brands. Superhero logos say, generously, something about you. But the four Hogwarts houses have become a socially-accepted Meyers-Briggs self-classification.

#RAVENCLAW4LIFE

The click-baitingly titled (for nerds like me) ‘Are independent bookstores the new conspicuous consumption?

We are constantly repositioning indie bookshops around their moral, not commercial, benefits, and Pullman et al.’s arguments seem to play into that vein. I’m not wild about it because, well, virtually every consumer study says that, whatever customers may say, price and convenience will trump morality at the till. But based on Currid-Halkett’s research, maybe this is actually the best route to survival? Turn independent bookshops into the exclusive playground of the virtuous wealthy, who are happy to pay full price for their Philip Pullman novels. Publishers and retailers can get name-brand designers to create tote bags (done!) and discreet-but-not-too-discreet stickers that say ‘locally purchased’, so those that paid £20, not £10, can get the virtuous and visible buzz they’ve paid for.

I can’t disagree. I haven’t bought a brand new book in a bookstore in five years: I love going to my local store and picking up five second-hand for a couple of dollars, but that’s it. It’s one of those awkward semi-hypocritical situations where I certainly don’t want to see my local brick and mortar book store disappear, but I’m definitely not going to start buying all of my books there. Come on virtuous wealthy, only you can save us now…? (Ugh.)

Meanwhile, a long read over at The Atlantic, from the frustratingly-briefly-named X:

snake-robot designer, a balloon scientist, a liquid-crystals technologist, an extradimensional physicist, a psychology geek, an electronic-materials wrangler, and a journalist walk into a room. The journalist turns to the assembled crowd and asks: Should we build houses on the ocean?…

Like a think-tank panel with the instincts of an improv troupe, the group sprang into an interrogative frenzy. “What are the specific economic benefits of increasing housing supply?” the liquid-crystals guy asked. “Isn’t the real problem that transportation infrastructure is so expensive?” the balloon scientist said. “How sure are we that living in densely built cities makes us happier?” the extradimensional physicist wondered.

But also:

Just beyond the drones, I find Astro Teller. He is the leader of X, whose job title, captain of moonshots, is of a piece with his piratical, if perhaps self-conscious, charisma. He has a long black ponytail and silver goatee, and is wearing a long-sleeved T‑shirt, dark jeans, and large black Rollerblades. Fresh off an afternoon skate?, I ask. “Actually, I wear these around the office about 98 percent of the time,” he says. I glance at an X publicist to see whether he’s serious. Her expression says: Of course he is.

Astro? Astro? Anyway, it turns out it’s just a nickname. Keep reading for a fascinating deep dive into Project Loon, X’s quest to bring internet to the world with balloons.

The world’s biggest need wasn’t hardware but access. Cables and towers were too expensive to build in mountains and jungles, and earthbound towers don’t send signals widely enough to make sense for poor, sparsely populated areas. The cost of satellites made those, too, prohibitive for poor areas. DeVaul needed something inexpensive that could live in the airspace between existing towers and satellites. His answer: balloons. Really big balloons.

The idea struck more than a few people as ridiculous. “I thought I was going to be able to prove it impossible really quickly,” said Cliff L. Biffle, a computer scientist and Rapid Eval manager who has been at X for six years. “But I totally failed. It was really annoying.”

The Atlantic also asks ‘Have we become too squeamish about the inevitable human cost of exploration?‘:

Today, industry and government are both upshifting gears, back into novelty, which means the public’s attitudes toward space travel and its inevitable accidents may return to what they were in NASA’s early, more adventurous days. After decades in a stable and predictable orbit, American spaceflight will return to new vehicles and, maybe, new destinations. The country is deciding which far-off world to point ships toward next, with the moon and Mars the most likely candidates. Private companies are doing the same, and preparing to take high rollers on suborbital romps. And with that leap into the unknown, Americans may become more tolerant of the loss of astronaut life. If they don’t, the government and private industry might not be able to make the leap at all.

Next: octopuses continue to be amazing. Look at this bad boy:

Naturally, scientists are trying to create an artificial version. Sadly, so far the real deal is far too badass to be emulated:

The robots are certainly cool, but they’re nowhere near as versatile as the real deal. Shepherd’s material, for example, can change texture about as fast as an actual octopus, but it can only make one rough shape at a time. The animal, meanwhile, can produce far finer undulations in its skin, which are tuned to whatever it sees in its environment. For now, nothing we produce comes anywhere close.

Finally: Hulk’s bed from Thor: Ragnarok is… maybe exactly what you’d expect?

Good night, moon. Good night, Hulk.

Self-Publishing Master-free

Just a quick one, via industry guru David Gaughran:

Iain Rob Wright has done something pretty amazing. He has created a pretty damn comprehensive course on self-publishing and marketing – over 50 hours of HD Video – and he has made it all free. Not the first bit free. Not free for a limited time. Not free if you also buy this, or agreed to be assailed by that.

The course is called ‘Self-Publishing Mastery’, hence the VERY CLEVER PUN above. I’ve signed up, mostly hoping for a quick and easy refresher on the state of the industry since I was last paying close attention. Having watched the first few sessions, the quality is very good, and Iain delivers the content in a straightforward and easy-to-understand manner. Also it turns out that yes, Amazon is still very much in business.

Worth a look for any aspiring author considering taking the plunge into self-publishing. Or lapsed authors emerging from hibernation, blinking blearily in the sunlight and asking passers-by what year it is.

Read more at David’s blog, or jump straight in here.

My Books Now on Scribd. Netflix for Ebooks, They Say

Scribd. Never heard of it? Nor had I until a few days ago. For $8.99 per month you get allegedly unlimited access to allegedly over 400,000 books–which sounds like a heck of a bargain if you read even just a few books a month. You can also buy books outright, if you want to keep them.

Anyway. Thanks to the fabulous folks at Draft2Digital–the distributors through which my books reach iTunes and Barnes and Noble–both Ascension Point and Venus Rising are live on the site. Payment terms are pretty reasonable: the author gets paid for any sale as you’d expect, but also for any subscription read where the reader got past the 30% mark. Which is pretty neat. They even count ten 10-30% reads as one sale too, which is a little bonus.

Plus, the Scribd site is SWANK.

scribd

Just look at that. Mmm. Shiny.

I’ve added Scribd to the store links for both books in the bar on the left, so head on over and check it out.

REALLIFE, WRITERLIFE and Tom Hiddleston

Hey, look – I’m really nailing this one-post-every-seven-weeks plan. Keep ’em keen, that’s what I always say.

It’s not, of course. It’s just that WRITERLIFE has been frustratingly derailed by REALLIFE for the last few months. A lot of it’s been good stuff, like moving from Brazil to D.C. and settling into our sweet new apartment, but a fair chunk has been being stupidly busy at the day job. (Which has even been a night job sometimes over the last month. The telecoms software game isn’t all champagne and supermodels, I tells ya.)

But that’s enough of my grumbling. You’re here for superhero movie trailers and sweet, sweet hyperlinkage to stuff wot you should read. Some of you even care about when my next book is going to be out! Thanks to everyone who’s pestered me about that. It’s wonderful that you’re keen to read it, even as I apologetically mumble that no, it’s not going to be this year, but I’m damn sure going to try to get it out before the one-year anniversary of Venus Rising. If I can’t knock out a book a year, then something’s gone wrong. I’m not Fran Lebowitz, here.

So. Let’s get it on.

Continue reading “REALLIFE, WRITERLIFE and Tom Hiddleston”

Making sense of the KWL terms and conditions

Just a quick reblog for the benefit of any other authors who received an email about Kobo’s new Ts and Cs, and couldn’t work out what had actually changed. Ahem.

Kobo Writing Life

All KWL authors received an email recently regarding a small change to the terms & conditions of the KWL agreement which will be in effect Oct 17, 2013. Here’s a quick plain-English rundown of what those changes are and why we’ve made them.

The Kobo Writing Life team is constantly on the lookout for ways to help you succeed, and that means keeping an eye on trends and valuable high-end data.  One of the trends we’ve noticed is the Dead Price Point as we recently posted about.  We are keen to pay attention to these types of purchasing trends and do what we can to encourage authors to think of price as a verb rather than as a noun, to experiment with pricing models for different territories and to be careful not to devalue their work.

chart

We’re still trying, for example, to understand the logistics behind a customer’s decision.  For…

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“The 7 Most Common Misconceptions About Science Fiction Publishing” from io9

Worth a read for any writers aspiring to be published by Tor, Orbit et al. Prepare to have your illusions shattered! (Maybe.)

2) When you’ve published a book, you’re immediately a famous author

Often it seems as though people believe that “as soon as you’ve had a book published you’ve made it somehow,” says Jonathan Oliver with Solaris Publishing. In reality, “it can take a long time to build up a profile as a writer and, unless you’re immensely lucky, your first published novel isn’t immediately going to shoot you into stardom and untold wealth. You don’t just write a book and rest on your laurels. You build up a reputation one book at a time.”

Yup, much like being a recovering alcoholic, becoming a famous author is a long process. Full piece here.

More Profane, Wonderful Advice from Mr. Chuck Wendig

I’m back from vacation, sporting a charming ‘tan’ in my classic shade, which I like to call ‘subtle lobster’. While catching up on what I’d missed from my usual writing and publishing blogs, I came across this gem from Chuck Wendig, ‘50 RANTYPANTS SNIDBITS OF RANDOM WRITING & STORYTELLING ADVICE‘.

1. SNAP YOUR TRAP AND WRITE SOME SHIT

Stop talking about writing. Stop reading about writing. Stop dreaming about writing. Stop doing things that don’t qualify as writing. The thing that defines a writer is that the writer writes.

14. YOU’RE YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY

If you’re not writing, that’s your fault. It’s not anybody else’s. It’s not your wife’s fault. Not your Mom’s fault. Not your kid’s fault. It isn’t because of a job, or Big Six publishing, or Amazon, or a Muse, or Writer’s Block. You might as well blame a Yeti (who acted in collusion with a cabal of randy leprechauns). It’s all on you. Accept responsibility. Stop complaining. Fix your shit.

29. SLOW YOUR ROLL, SPEEDY MCGEE

Embody patience. The worst thing you can do for your story is pull it out of the oven before it’s done cooking. Don’t quit early. Don’t publish thirty seconds after you typed the last word. Don’t query a stinker. Stories — like wine, brisket, romance and bondage games — need time.

Writer types: Go read the other forty-seven.