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!

Falcon Heavy: The Biggest Thing Since Saturn V

Regardless of how many you’ve seen before, there’s always something magical about watching a launch–and even more so when it’s this damn big.

SpaceX successfully launched what is now the world’s most powerful rocket Tuesday, a towering behemoth known as the Falcon Heavy that tore through the sky with the thundering force of 18 747 jetliners.

Lifting off at 3:45 p.m. from the same launchpad that sent the crew of Apollo 11 to the moon, the rocket sent up a mountain-sized plume of smoke and a rattling roar across Florida’s Space Coast, where thousands gathered to watch. The mission represented the first test of the massive rocket, powered by 27 engines in three, first-stage boosters that are essentially strapped together.

Well done, Starman.

Full write up at WaPo here.

Sunday Roundup

Let’s start with a fun–and super-geeky–rundown of all the military vessels in Babylon 5, over at The Wertzone! I love Babylon 5; it gets a bad rap among some SF fans for being a touch soapy in parts, but the series was remarkable for deeply exploring important themes, its commitment to ambitious, multi-season storylines and character arcs, and an extensive background lore covering thousands of years.

Plus: Vorlons!

Vorlon Heavy Cruiser

The Vorlon heavy cruiser is one of the largest ships in known space, at almost two miles in length. The heavy cruiser is equipped with a massive forward beam weapon, a scaled-up version of that on the transport. This weapon has never been seen to fire at full strength, but is considered to be unsurvivable.

jUJ5W
Ambassador Kosh, looking badass as usual.

How did you get into Star Wars, folks? For me, it was seeing Empire on TV at Christmas when I was about nine years old. And yes, I saw the second movie in the series before the first one, which is absolutely anathema to my current adult self who can’t watch anything he hasn’t seen from the very beginning.

“Who’s that little green man, mum?” “That’s Yoda, Dan.” “Cool!”

NASA photos of Antarctica–get them before it melts! (Sob.)

Jude Law’s going to be in Captain Marvel, which seems…fine? Brie Larson will be ace, though.

Law is playing Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel, a mentor to Larson’s character. Also of note, Keanu Reeves was being considered for the role before passing.

While Larson is the lead, Captain Marvel will co-star Ben Mendelsohn as the leader of the Skrulls and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. The film takes places before the events of the first Iron Man and will, at least partially, take place in outer space.

Finally, a lovely and smart review of Iain M. Banks’ 1994 essay A Few Notes on The Culture.

This particular moment in history—when unfettered capitalism, oligarchy, and toxic forms of nationalism all too often tend to be the order of the day—is quite a time to be reading about a socialist post-scarcity interstellar civilization, and one can definitely be forgiven for approaching the novels in a spirit of escapism. But one can also find inspiration in the progressive and optimistic worldview that underpins Banks’s novels, which was neatly summarized by the man himself.

I miss him. Happy Sunday, folks.

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.

‘Bitter Grounds’ by Neil Gaiman

A fantastic short story for Halloween from Neil Gaiman at Tor.com.

In every way that counted, I was dead. Inside somewhere maybe I was screaming and weeping and howling like an animal, but that was another person deep inside, another person who had no access to the face and lips and mouth and head, so on the surface I just shrugged and smiled and kept moving. If I could have physically passed away, just let it all go, like that, without doing anything, stepped out of life as easily as walking through a door, I would have done. But I was going to sleep at night and waking in the morning, disappointed to be there and resigned to existence.

gaimen-berry-bittergrounds

Art copyright © 2010 Rick Berry, Neil Gaiman, and Ekaterina Slepicka

A Tale of Two Marketing Systems

Great stuff from David, as always. Personally, I’ll be putting my upcoming book up across all platforms, and leaving the others in the series there too, at least for some time. I might experiment with Kindle Unlimited while I’m busy writing book four!

David Gaughran

Lots of people right now are asking themselves whether they should leave Kindle Unlimited.

I’m generally agnostic on it, and I think writers should do what is best for them and their books, but there’s no doubt this is the big question of the moment.

That’s partly down to falling pay rates, Amazon’s inability to deal with scammers and cheaters, or the increasing concern about having all your eggs in one basket when something like this (or this, or this) regularly happens. But I think authors are asking themselves the wrong question.

The real issue, I suggest, should surround how you are going to find readers on these retailers (or on Amazon, if you have decided to swim in the other direction). Because I often see people taking the wrong approach – using the wrong tools for the job.

I gave a talk at NINC earlier this month…

View original post 2,253 more words

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.

What Kind of Week Has It Been

Spolier alert: a really good one! I completed some pretty major restructuring on the WIP, adding a new POV character and major plot thread, tying that into two of the other threads, and rearranging half of the scenes in both act two and act three to fix the continuity. Phew!

giphy1
“Daaaaamn!”

Not only that, I then went ahead and banged out around 5,200 fresh, shiny new words, taking the current total up to… *checks Scrivener stats*… 38,370. I’ve got thirteen more scenes to write, which I expect will come to another 20-25,000 words. If I can keep up this storming rate I should have a first draft to edit in early November.

“Bravo.”

Thanks, Shia.