Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Indie Publishers: You're Doing Print Wrong

I've mentioned several times on this blog how - even though I sell way more ebooks - I continue to pursue the print market as well. Some authors eschew print altogether, often citing various reasons for doing so: they can't sell enough to make it worthwhile, they don't want to learn how to format for print, and so on.  Not me. All I've ever seen are on-going reasons to make sure I produce print versions of all my work. Basically, it costs practically nothing, it's another revenue stream, and it allows me to reach additional readers. Plus, I'm still conscious of the fact that there may be readers who simply can't afford an ereader of any type. (In which case, they can always request that their local library order print copies of my books.)

Bearing all that in mind, and having been at this indie publishing thing for over three years now, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of how print worked. In essence, my approach was to make sure I priced the books high enough to make a small profit, but low enough to encourage sales.  That sounds like the formula for a winning strategy, right? I thought so, but even though I was making sales, I was wrong in that regard. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!!! 

However, it wasn't until very recently that I discovered just how poorly I - and probably a lot of indies - understood how the print market really works.  I came across a passage written by Julie Ann Dawson of Bards and Sages Publishing, and it was eye-opening. It made me reevaluate my entire approach to putting my work in print.

Now, with Julie's kind permission (and because I found it to be extremely valuable), I am reposting the passage she wrote on the subject:


We actually sell more print with many of our titles than we do ebooks. The print market is a completely different creature than ebooks.

First, print is still sold on the wholesale model. Manufacturers set a retail price, and vendors pay a percentage of the retail. Retailers then can sell the book for any price they want. Indies lose site of this because all of the POD services call their money "royalties." More accurately, POD is more of a consignment deal that a royalty deal. But that is just a matter of semantics. The point is, Unlike ebooks, you don't set the "selling" price. Retailers do.

(***KH: I added the emphasis to the last sentence in each of the above paragraphs because I think they are very important points to remember.)

What indies tend to do is set the retail price of their books to match the Amazon SELLING price of books in their genre. Don't...do...this. Look at the retail prices of the books instead. THAT should be your baseline. You want to set your retail price to match the normal retail pricing for your genre. For example, typical trade paperbacks have a retail price of between $12.99-$16.99, depending on how long they are.

Second, don't bother trying to mimic smaller formats with POD. The mass market paperback size is not cost effective in POD. To understand why, you need to understand the role that size played in print traditionally. Go LOOK at an actual mass market size book compared to a trade paperback or a hardcover. You'll notice two things. One: the covers tend to be index stock, not heavy card stock. Two: the paper tends to be thinning and more like newsprint. Until the rise of ebooks, mass market paperbacks filled the role of ebooks in the marketplace as the "low cost" alternative.

POD services use the same materials for mass market sizes as they do trade sizes, which means you are simply increasing your manufacturing cost for no real benefit. Stick with the trade paperback formats.

Third, on the matter of price and sales. If you price your book correctly, retailers will place it on sale for you. And unlike digital, when a retailer puts a print book on sale, that comes out of their profits, not yours.

(***KH: Emphasis above added by yours truly.  The next few paragraphs are also critical to understanding how the print market works, but it seemed easier to note that here than highlight so much text.)

Retailers will determine whether to put a book on sale (either individually or including in store-wide promos) based on their profit margin. The profit margin is the difference between the final sale price compared to the cost to purchase the book + its markup. ALL RETAILERS add a markup to the wholesale cost to cover their overhead (rents, utilities, wages, etc). For the sake of discussion, we will set that overhead at $1 per book. We'll assume a standard trade paperback at 200 pages through Createspace as the book. We will also assume a 30% discount to the retailer.

If you set the retail price to $14.99, the retailer pays $10.49 for the book. Through expanded distro, that means $2.74 profit for you. Including the retailers markup, that leave the retailer with $3.50 of room to play. That is plenty of room to include the title in sales promotions, like 10% off deals.

Let's say you decide "I'm going to sell my book cheap to encourage sales!" and price it at $10.99. You make $1.14 per sale. Now the retailer is paying $7.69 for the book. With his overhead, his profit margin is now only $2.30. There is less room for him to play with sales, but still some.

At $8.99, you are only making 34 cents on a sale, but you are hoping to make it up on volume. The problem is that now the vendor is paying $6.29 for the book. Which means, with overhead, there is only a profit margin of $1.70. At that price, it stops being practical including the book in sales. The book won't be included in most sales promotions, and, in the case of brick and mortar stores where shelf space is a premium, it won't even be considered for stock because the profit opportunity in relation to shelf space is too low. Why take up shelf space on a book that makes almost nothing for me when I can stock other titles with high profit potential?

It doesn't help you to price your book low if A. stores won't stock it since they can't make money and B. stores won't include it in their sales promotions because the profit margin is too low.

(***KH: Once again, emphasis added by me.)


After reading Julie's passage (more than once, I might add), I revamped my approach to print and have been pleasantly surprised by the results, to say the least. More than anything else, however, it's shown me that this is a business in which I still have a lot to learn. To that end, it's nice to know that this old dog is still capable of learning a few new tricks.

Friday, July 22, 2016

New Release: Amped (A Kid Sensation Companion Novel)

***Update: The Kindle edition finally became available late Friday, I believe. I think it may actually have taken more than 24 hours, which is the longest I can recall it taking Amazon to publish a Kindle edition of one of my books.  I have no idea what caused the delay, but I'm happy the ebook is now available.

I'm very excited and proud to formally announce that Amped has finally been released!

Those who've been following the Kid Sensation books are probably well aware of the fact that I've been intending to release several companion novels which would explore the backgrounds of various characters from the series. This is the first of those novels.

As I've previously mentioned on this blog, this book delves into the backstory of Electra, Kid Sensation's girlfriend. In my opinion she has an interesting history (and no, I'm not biased), so hopefully readers will be entertained. 

The next companion novel will be Mouse's tale (working title: Mouse's Tale), which - along with so many other items - is already a work-in-progress. I'm kicking the tires on a couple of subtitles at the moment, oscillating for the most part between A Kid Sensation Companion Novel and An Alpha League Supers Novel. (The latter, of course, would probably be a segue into novels about the adult members of the Alpha League - assuming there's interest in such.)

On a side note, the audiobook of Infiltration (Kid Sensation #3) is now available as well.  I have to admit that I'm enjoying the process of bringing Kid Sensation to life in audio, and I seem to be reaching new fans in the process.  I'm blessed in that the audio of versions of the first two books in the series have been well-received, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the warm reception continues with the rest of the books in the series.

As always, I want to thank readers (and - considering the growing audience for audio - listeners as well) for their continued support, and will now show my sincere appreciation by getting back to work grinding on the next book.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Excerpt from Amped (A Kid Sensation Companion Novel)

I've mentioned on multiple occasions my intent to write several companion novels to the Kid Sensation series - books that would expound on the background of several recurring characters.  I'm happy to report that work on the novel about Electra - Kid Sensation's level-headed girlfriend - is close to completion.  For those who might be interested, here's an excerpt from the book (working title "Amped"), with the usual disclaimer that my editor hasn't gotten her hands on this yet, so it hasn't been proofed:


We were just about to exit the building when something akin to air raid siren sounded from outside for about ten seconds.

Hand on the door, Smokey turned to me and Li in alarm. “What the hell was that?”

“Judging from the decibel range and the sound wave produced, I would surmise it was an air horn,” Li said.

Even with the goggles on, Smokey appeared confused. “Why would anybody be sounding an air horn at this place?”

“Because the security system is down!” I whispered fiercely. When Smokey still didn’t seem to understand, I hissed, “It’s a makeshift alarm, you idiot! They know someone’s here! We gotta go!”

As if to give credence to my words, we heard footsteps coming from the nearby interior, and a second later the wandering beams of flashlights came into view.

Taking the initiative, I pushed the door open and dashed outside. Smokey, remembering his role on this mission, immediately began blanketing the area surrounding us with mist. (As far as I knew, all the cameras were still off, but it didn’t hurt to take extra precautions.)

I was about to start running towards the area where our street clothes were hidden when I felt a couple of familiar bioelectric fields nearby. Looking in their direction, I heard a grunt of pain and saw a man in the uniform of a security guard flop onto the frost-covered ground about twenty feet from us. Lying next to him was another fellow – unconscious – dressed in a similar uniform. Also on the ground around them were a couple of flashlights and, presumably, the air horn we’d just heard.

Standing over the unconscious guards were two people I knew – the sources of the bioelectric fields I had recognized a few seconds earlier: Whipcord and Smiley.

They were dressed somewhat similar to us, although they wore black bodysuits that probably didn’t have a stealth design (and made them look more like burglars). From the way they looked in our direction, however, it seemed that the goggles they wore allowed them to see as well as us. (And if there was any doubt on the subject, it was cleared up when a Cockney accent cut through the night air a moment later.)

“Hello, love,” Whipcord said. “Fancy meeting you here.”

My companions and I turned to face the two men, fanning out as we did so. At the same time, another air horn sounded off to our right; taking a moment to glance in that direction, I saw multiple flashlight beams heading swiftly in our direction.

We didn’t have time to play around; we needed to leave, and fast. With that in mind, I suddenly sent two powerful arcs of electricity, one from each hand, hurtling towards the two men facing us.

Displaying cat-like reflexes, both of my targets dove away, causing me to miss. Whipcord hit the ground and rolled, coming up with his whip in his hand. He flicked his wrist, and the lash came sailing out – far longer than I thought it could – and struck me in the side. I gasped in pain and dropped down to one knee, feeling as though a knife had just sliced me open and someone had stuck a red-hot poker inside.

Whipcord grinned evilly. “Stings a little, don’t it, love?” He drew back his hand to strike again. At the same time, Smiley rushed towards me.

I tried to pull myself together, but the pain in my side was too much. I couldn’t focus enough to bring my power to bear. All I could do was stare as the lash of Whipcord’s weapon headed for me again, while Smiley charged.

All of a sudden, something slammed into Smiley like a freight train, ramming him aside. Before I could get a sense of what it was, however, I received a forceful shove that sent me sprawling onto the ground. Still clutching my side in pain, I rolled over and looked around, trying to get a sense of what was going on.

It wasn’t clear whether Smiley and Whipcord had simply failed to notice my friends or had dismissed them as non-threats. Whatever the reason, they had obviously misjudged the situation, as Li was now wrangling with Smiley, while Smokey – holding the lash of the whip – was in a tug-of-war with Whipcord for the weapon.

It only took a second for me to realize what had happened: Li had obviously been the object that had tackled Smiley. Smokey, on his part, had apparently pushed me out of the way and then – showing more dexterity than I would have given him credit for – caught the lash of the whip as it struck. (The only thing that probably saved his hands was the fact that we were all wearing gloves. Still, judging from the number the whip had done on me, it had to have hurt like the devil.)

Still holding my side, I struggled to get to my feet. Without warning, I saw Smokey arch his back and let out a painful scream as his body seemed to tremble almost spasmodically. I realized then that Whipcord was zapping my friend through the whip as he had tried to do to me at Riley’s shop. Before I could do anything, however, Smokey’s body seemed to vanish in a puff of…well, smoke. His empty stealth suit and goggles flopped to the ground.

“Glory be!” said Whipcord, plainly surprised at what had happened. “Never had one disintegrate on me before.”

Monday, June 20, 2016

Audiobook of Mutation is Now Available

Continuing with my commitment to produce audio versions of all my novels, I'm happy to report that the audiobook of Mutation is now available on Amazon, iTunes, and Audible.

This is, of course, the second book in my Kid Sensation series, and I'm very happy with the way the audiobook turned out.  Much credit, of course, needs to be given to my narrator, Mikael Naramore, who once again did an outstanding job.

I've said it in a prior post, but it's unconscionable how long it took me to get into audio. I really should have made my work available in this format a long time ago. Thankfully, I saw the error of my ways, and fans have responded positively. 

Needless to say, the wheels are already turning with respect to an audio version of Infiltration (Kid Sensation #3).  As to what I'm actually writing at the moment - should anyone care - it's one of the much-promised Kid Sensation companion novels: Electra's story (working title Amped).  I'll probably post an excerpt one day soon...

Sunday, May 29, 2016

How to Make a Fast $50 Offline (or The Lost Art of Hustling)

I was on one of the author boards recently, and - as will happen from time to time - another writer was complaining about the inability to afford some of the "basics" of self-publishing: cover art, editing, and so on.  Now, it's no secret that selling books is difficult, and a lot of the essential elements that go into a good book (e.g., a good cover) aren't exactly cheap.  However, rather than find a way to scrape together the cash, some authors would rather publish a book with a bad cover, no editing, etc. (To me, that's like an auto manufacturer deciding to only put three wheels on a car because they couldn't afford the fourth.) I'm always disappointed by this type of passivity, because in my opinion it shows an extreme lack of hustle.

Unfortunately, thanks to The Hustler - a famous film starring Paul Newman - terms like "hustle" and "hustler"have gotten a bad rap.  Today, when people hear "hustler," they often think of someone shady - a con artist, swindler, grifter, or the like. However, the term is also defined by Dictionary.com as "an enterprising person determined to succeed; go-getter." That's the definition I embrace, and I think having the mindset of a hustler - being enterprising and thinking outside the box - can go a long way towards getting people in general, not just writers, out of a financial funk. With that in mind, here are a couple of non-traditional ways to quickly earn $50 offline.

Trading Books
In my area, there are a ton of mom-and-pop used book stores around.  Most of them usually have a bargain bin that will be full of books that they're selling for something like 25 cents - usually no more than 50 cents, max.  (Some of the books are often in like-new condition.) I've been known to spend a couple of bucks on these, then go to the nearest Half-Priced Books or such and immediately sell my purchases - usually at least doubling my investment. (Even my kid got in on the action, buying about $5 worth of bargain books and immediately selling them for something like $12.) I'm not saying you could make a full-time living this way, but you can certainly use this method to scrape together cash in a hurry (although you may have to visit more than one bookstore to get $50 or more).

Garage Sales
Another way to get some cash in a hurry is with neighborhood garage sales. It's not unusual for people shopping at these events to spend hours going house-to-house in search of bargains, and one thing I've noticed is that they often come unprepared in terms of provisions (ie, nothing to eat, nothing to drink). As an enterprising individual, you can make beaucoup bucks just selling soda, water, and snacks to these shoppers for $1 each out of your trunk - especially in summer. (In neighborhoods with a lot of activity, you might earn $50 in half an hour.) Just make sure you are prepared from the standpoint of being able to make change. As for where to find these garage sales, assuming you don't see signs posted in various neighborhoods when you're out just driving around, you can often find out about them in local/community newspapers or publications.

These are just two simple methods of putting some cash in your pocket in a hurry. Basically, there are all kinds of ways to get out there and legitimately earn money - quite often quickly if you put your mind to it.  But you can't be passive about it.  You have be willing to hustle: be enterprising, be on the lookout for opportunities, and - quite often - think outside the box.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Reflections After 3 Years of Self-Publishing

So I was just sitting here thinking about my upcoming writing schedule (ie, the order in which I'm going to write the next few books, when they'll be released, etc.), and it suddenly occurred to me that I had just passed my 3-year self-publishing anniversary. Yep, it's been three years since I launched my scifi/fantasy writing career (some time around end of April/beginning of May - I don't remember exactly), and I have to say it's been a blast.

First of all, readers have been great. They have warmly embraced both me and my books with an enthusiasm that was unexpected but incredibly rewarding, as evidenced by the reception that my most recent release, Coronation, enjoyed:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #257 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Superhero
#1 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Superheroes
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Metaphysical & Visionary

Also, other writers have been extraordinarily helpful in terms of sharing their knowledge and experience. For just about any idea that occurs to me on the business side - marketing, using pen names, etc. - there's already another author who's tried it and has a wealth of information to share on the subject.

So, after three years of doing this, what exactly have I learned?  Quite a lot, to be honest - more than I could fit into a single blog post.  That being the case, I'll try to single out a few of the items I felt have been instrumental in my success.

1) Outsource What You Can (or Time is Money)
I'm a writer, so I always figure my focus should be on writing. That said, there really aren't enough hours in the day for me to do all the writing I'd like, so I'd prefer not to spend time doing other tasks that might be writing-related but are really outside my wheelhouse.

Take book covers, for instance.  There are some authors who do their own covers and are quite good at it.  I'm not one of them - a fact that I knew the second I started down this path and one that was never debated.  Moreover, I have no interest in learning this particular skill.  Frankly speaking, time is money, and my time is better spent being an author rather than trying to master the nuances of every skill relating to publishing.

In short, I think it's better to outsource as much as possible: editing, book covers, formatting, etc. Focus on the writing.

2) Write the Book That You Want to Write
When I first started writing, it wasn't with a goal in mind to become rich or famous (not that either of those have happened).  I did it because I had stories to tell and a burning desire to get them out there.  I'm just blessed in that my work resonated with readers and I was able to find an audience.  However, I'd like to think that I'd still be churning out books even if that wasn't the case.

Basically, writing provides a sort of personal fulfillment for me, probably in the same way that a professional athlete gets pleasure out of playing his particular sport.  Sure, it's great to "win," but at the heart of it all is a love for the game that makes you want to be a participant in the sport at any level.  That's the high I get out of writing.

However, to get to that point, I think you have to write the story that you want to write.  I know that a lot of writers are pursuing fame and fortune by trying to write to market - quite often in genres that they don't care for. I would think that has to be exceedingly difficult, akin to working a job you don't like.  I think you need to write the story that's burning a hole in you, even if it doesn't fit the standard categories or tropes.

By way of example, there's my Warden series.  I wanted to write a series about monsters - but not the typical ones that you find in most books (eg, vampires, zombies, etc.).  I wanted to write about creatures that don't get much air time for the most part:  wendigos, lamias, aswangs, blemmyes, revenants, and so on.  From a commercial standpoint, it's been my least successful series.  However, everything's relative; the books have actually sold thousands of copies and are indeed a profitable venture.  More to the point, I got to write the series I wanted to write - the one that I simply had to get out before it ate me alive.

In essence, I think you have to write the story that's eating you up, rather than the one you think is commercially viable. There's nothing that says you can't do both, but I think only one of them is actually a requirement.

3) Pursue all Revenue Streams
I always thought it was odd that some writers completely eschew putting their work in print and only pursue the ebook market.  To me, that's the same as everybody trying to live on Manhattan Island when the entire mainland is in sight and wide open.

Admittedly, most indies tend to sell more ebooks than print copies.  However, it costs almost nothing - nothing! - to make a print version.  And if print only earns you fifty bucks a month, well, that's fifty bucks you didn't have before.  Thus, I've never understood this deliberate stiff-arming of another revenue stream.  (Plus, since I grew up poor, I don't like to simply assume that everyone has access to some type of e-reader.  Therefore, by putting it in print, I'm at least making it possible for a reader to request my book through their local library.)

That said, I've been guilty of this same type of behavior myself.  I've known about audiobooks since I first started, but I've never made any effort to pursue that market.  I just didn't think it was worth the time, effort, or money.  However, it recently occurred to me that - if I'm really going to be in this writing business - then I needed to pursue all potential revenue sources. With that in  mind, I bit the bullet and made my first audiobook for Sensation, the first book in my Kid Sensation series.

The audiobook has been out for close to four weeks now, and I'm excited to report that I seem to have been dead wrong about audio. (And if you let my wife tell it, it's probably the only time I've ever admitted to being wrong about something, or been happy about it.)  Since its release, the audio version has sold almost 200 copies. (You can find the audiobook here.) Now, of course, I want to kick myself for waiting so long to move in this direction, and find myself over-eager to produce audio versions of everything else.

Anyway, those are just a few of the things I've learned after three years of putting my nose to the writing grindstone.  There are, naturally, quite a few other maxims to abide by, but - like so many other industries - this is a field that is constantly expanding and changing.  You have to stay nimble, and be willing to embrace change and accept challenges in order to continue to thrive.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Delusional Authors: They're Out There...

It's hard to sell books. That's a simple truth.  You can do everything right in terms of genre tropes, expectations, etc., and still have a dud. In some cases, it's a true mystery: the author will have a well-written story, a fantastic cover and a killer blurb...and the book won't sell a single copy.  It's a real head-scratcher.

In other instances, however, it's plain as day why the book is struggling: the author will have done a terrible job on all three fronts - cover, blurb, and story - but will marvel at the injustice in the universe when readers fail to fight tooth and nail to purchase copies.  In those instances, the author can come across as somewhat delusional in terms of both their sales expectations and how readers will react to their work.  By way of example:

I have a friend who has written a book. I offered to help them with the self-publishing process since they had never done it before. I also offered to help edit it so that they wouldn't have to pay for that particular service.  When I get the manuscript, it's essentially one huge block of text: no separation of paragraphs, no chapter breaks, no nothing.  I tell them this has to be fixed.  No, no...they'd rather just publish it as it is.  I apply some arm-twisting, and they agree to put in some chapter breaks, separate paragraphs, and so on.

Also, when I first take a look at the manuscript, MS Word opens up a window I've never seen before - one that I didn't even know existed, in fact: 
"This document has too many typographical and grammatical errors to continue showing them all."
Seriously. Once I get over my shock and surprise, I tell them all of this [feces] has to be fixed.  No. no...they'd rather just publish it as it is. I apply some more arm-twisting, and they agree that that these are things that need to be addressed.

As I read the manuscript, I immediately notice that it's incredibly choppy - eg, characters will be talking to each other outside, and then in the very next sentence (not the next paragraph, chapter, or the like - the very next sentence), one of them will be in a restaurant, at the movies, in the can, or something like that, with absolutely no indication of how they got there, when they got there, why they're there, etc.  (And no, this is not SF/fantasy, so there's no teleportation, materializing, and so on.)  I point out the lack of transition in scenes and say that all this [mf'ing feces] has to be fixed.  No, no...they'd rather just publish it as it is.  ("Readers will understand what's happening," they say.) I again apply some arm-twisting, and they agree to address these issues.

Adding fuel to the fire, the story is rife with inconsistencies. For instance, two characters drive to a city in another state that is described as being at least two hours away by car; later, one of the characters states that the drive only took an hour.  There are also a couple of siblings who, at the beginning of the story, are two years apart in age. By the time you get to the last page, the difference in age is seven years. I point out that these (and the many, many other inconsistencies) have to be fixed. No, no...they'd rather publish the story as it is. ("Readers aren't going to care," they say.)  By this time my hands are [eff'ing] gnarled from all the previous arm-twisting, so I invent an arm-twisting machine and put my friend in it and crank it up to high.  They agree to fix the inconsistencies.

I could go on, because the list of poor choices my friend wants to make in terms of publishing this book goes on forever.  (For example, they initially chose a cover for the book that is completely unrelated to the story; in fact, the cover at issue would actually make a reader think the book was related to an entirely different genre.)  They think that the things I've pointed out are much ado about nothing.  My response was that we should publish the book - as is - but under a pen name.  That way, my friend could see the kind of reaction/reviews the book gets and whether the issues I've highlighted are really of concern to readers.  But no, no...if the book gets published, they want their real name on it, regardless of whether it's fit for human consumption.

In short, based on this experience, I've learned that some of us really are delusional.  There are some authors who publish things that really aren't ready for prime time.  They simply believe that the power of their story is so great that readers will overlook glaring errors, but (as we all know) that is simply not true.

More to the point, I think it shows a certain level of disrespect for the reader. Yes, readers are kind, generous, and willing to overlook the occasional fault if the overall product is good. But you can't just shove anything out there and expect readers to flock to it. They deserve better than that, and any author who thinks its okay to offer readers anything less than their best work really is delusional.

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