Thursday, October 31, 2013

Writer, Where Art Thou? Stop Making Yourself Scarce to Readers

My wife recently came home extremely flustered by her shopping experience at a new grocery store.  Apparently, there were several items on her list that she had a hard time locating because they weren't where she expected them to be - something like, "They had cheese near frozen foods instead of dairy products!"

Anyway, that got me to thinking about writing (I tend to relate everything to writing these days, on some level), and ways in which indie authors may be making it difficult for readers to find them. Of course, the usual suspects came to mind: genres/categories, keywords, marketing efforts, etc. However, going a little off the beaten path, I thought about another area in which authors might be limiting their reach: format.

Everyone knows, of course, that ebooks are the big enchilada when it comes to self-publishing. By way of example, the bulk of my own sales comes from ebooks. However, that doesn't mean that you should totally ignore other publishing formats, like print books.

From a business standpoint, doing a print version of your ebook makes a lot of sense: You already have the book written. You already have a cover (at least the front cover, but that's the hard part). You already have a blurb for the back. It costs essentially nothing to do print-on-demand through places like CreatSpace. Finally, you can reach readers that may prefer print to digital.  Bearing all that in mind, failing to do a print version might almost be seen as counterintuitive.

Personally, I always try to do a print version of my books, but that philosophy is rooted more in my background than anything else. I grew up poor, and still have a mindset that stresses knowing the value of a dollar. If they had been around when I was a kid, there's no way my parents could have afforded an e-reader; something like that just wouldn't have been in the budget. Thus, from my perspective - and this is not an opinion or judgment regarding authors who only do digital versions of their books - it just always seems presumptuous to assume that all potential readers can afford to buy a Kindle, Nook, etc. This way, even if they can't afford an e-reader, they can still have access to my book. 

The only bad news on this front is that print books generally cost more than ebooks. (Unlike ebooks, there's usually a minimum amount that you have to charge to cover the expenses associated with printing copies of the book.) Therefore, potential readers may resort to requesting such books from their local library, which is fine with me because it means that my book will end up on library bookshelves where even more readers can find my work. That said, I would again emphasize that the vast majority of sales are likely to come from ebooks, with any print copies just being icing on the cake. (In my case, I usually have double-digit print sales every month. It's not enough to pay the rent, but I could certainly buy a tank of gas with it.)

Another potential format - and one which I have neglected myself - is audiobooks. I keep hearing great things about it, but have only recently began looking into this format in earnest.  One of the first things I saw was that the market is huge; it's a billion-dollar industry (something I never would have imagined). Needless to say, my interest is piqued. 

As you might guess, the big player in this arena is Amazon (via its subsidiaries ACX and Audible), and going with them is practically a no-brainer. However, there are a couple of things still giving me pause at the moment. 

First of all, I don't have a firm handle of what the cost will be. That's not totally unexpected since this type of project will involve expertise in several areas (production, narration, and so on) and different people will charge different prices. From what I've seen, the price tag could run anywhere form a few hundred bucks (manageable) to a couple of thousand (ouch!). 

Of course, there is a workaround with respect to the cost. Instead of paying upfront, you have the option of splitting royalties with the producer 50-50. There's merit to the argument that it may be a good deal since the producer is also taking a gamble and should be rewarded for that risk, but to me that's a lot give up. Even lawyers working on contingency usually only get about a third of what they obtain for their clients. (Thinking of it terms of what I currently have published, I've sold over 10,000 ebooks since May of this year. Do I really need to say how I'd feel about having to give half of the money from those sales to someone else?)

In addition, just like with KDP Select for ebooks, you get a much higher royalty rate if you agree to ACX exclusive distribution: 50%-90% for exclusivity vs. 25%-70% for non-exclusivity. Moreover, you have to make your audiobook available for distribution via ACX for seven years. (Just for clarity, I called ACX about this and was told that - if you choose the exclusive option - you can switch to non-exclusive after one year, but you can only make the change once.)

Basically, while audiobooks do sound great and appear to be a growing market, I don't know enough yet about the industry to decide where to apply my efforts.  I do know, however, that audiobooks are defintiely on my agenda; it's just a matter of when.  

In retrospect, I believe that writers should take into consideration any consumers that they might ordinarily miss.  That being the case, I think authors should adopt a no-reader-left-behind approach when it comes to publishing formats.  That means books in digital, print and audio form.  And if the technology advances to where you can get books geared towards other senses - like taste and smell - put your book in those formats, too. (Laugh now; just remember that you read it here first...) In the end, you'll probably make more money, and hopefully attract more fans.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Sales Update: Crossing the 10,000 Unit Threshold

Back in August, shortly after I released Mutation, I had to go out of town and found myself away from the computer for a few days. Thus, I wasn't able to check my ebook rankings (which is an addictive habit - especially after a new release). However, when I was finally able to look at the numbers, I was super-excited to see that Mutation had made it into the Top 1000 in the Paid Kindle Store. I was so giddy that I was practically doing cartwheels at the day job.

Since then (and because I'm slightly superstitious), I've tried to adopt the mantra of "A watched pot never boils" and attempted to avoid checking my rankings a thousand times a day - something that's been pretty hard with two new releases (Extraction and Warden Book 2: Lure of the Lamia) in the last month. So far, today marks just the second time in October that I've looked at my sales so I think I'm getting there, but it's a craving I have to fight every day, like crack. Still, I was elated when I checked my numbers this morning and - after adding them to my total - realized that I had sold over 10,000 ebooks in my Warden and Kid Sensation series. 10,000! Since May of this year!

Of course, I knew I was close. Extraction - my Kid Sensation short story - broke into the Top 1000 in the Paid Kindle Store shortly after publication, and the second Warden book has been bumming around the Top 10 in one of its categories since its release earlier this month.  Still, it's kind of mind-boggling to finally get over that hump - to have five-figure sales. (Of course, there are people who do that and more every month, so let there be no doubt that I am still small potatoes.)

Needless to say, I feel blessed that my stories have found an audience and readers seem to enjoy my work.  And I should emphasize that these are net ebook sales numbers; they do not include free downloads, borrows, or print sales.  Moreover, any returns have been subtracted from the total.

The vast majority of sales have come from the three books in my Kid Sensation series: Sensation, Mutation and Extraction. (I am currently hard at work on the next full-length novel in the series and hope to have it finished soon.) That said, the Warden series is doing great in my opinion, and I'm truly fortunate to have two series that are performing quite well in their respective categories.  I even made it into the Top 100 Authors for one of my categories (Action & Adventure):

As you can see, I'm listed at #98 here (Woo-hoo!), followed by Ernest Cline and then some bum named Patterson - anybody ever heard of this guy?

Seriously though, when I saw this I just had to take a screenshot. I'm assuming there was a glitch in Amazon's system, but whatever alignment of stars that allowed me to rank above James Patterson isn't likely to be repeated (and was undoubtedly only temporary).

I think the James Patterson earned something like $95M last year. Running the numbers, that works out to about $260K per day. I'll happily trade my ranking for his sales - just a single day of his sales - any day of the week. Any hour of the day. Any minute of the...  Well, you get the picture.

Unfortunately, I only have a limited time to bask in the afterglow of my sales numbers. Books don't write themselves, so I guess it's back to the grind, but I want to say "Thanks" again for all of the support I've been given.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Review: The Machinist Part One: Malevolence by Alexander Maisey

Shortly after I began self-publishing in earnest earlier this year, I noticed a disturbing change in my behavior: I became so focused on writing that I began to let one of my favorite pastimes - reading - languish. (Which is oddly ironic when you consider that being an avid reader was one of the prime drivers in making me want to become an author.) Thus, a few months back, I started actively trying to reverse that trend, and one of the first books I read during that time period was The Machinist Part One: Malevolence by Alexander Maisey.

Like my own Kid Sensation series, Malevolence is set in a world where super powers are not uncommon. People are gifted with extraordinary abilities, and - as one might expect - the more powerful they are, the greater the heights and depths they can attain, respectively, in terms of morality and corruption. They can be superheroes focused on achieving the greater good, or villains completely warped by their own selfish desires. (Not to mention everything in between.)

Against this backdrop we find the centerpiece of the story: Nicholas McHenry, an incarcerated supervillain who - despite spending 15 years behind bars - seems far less rehabilitated and reformed than one might expect. After being released on parole, he is eager to pick up, criminally, right where he left off before he went to prison. 

The results are far from stellar; not only does his first post-penitentiary foray into crime end in disaster, but McHenry soon finds himself framed as the architect of a plan for world domination. With no other options open to him, McHenry is forced to take a stand against the villainous culture he has always embraced in order to clear his name.

Frankly speaking, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Powered by an engaging story line and memorable characters, Malevolence is a thrill-ride that sucks you in with the undeniable strength of a black hole.  The author has done a great job of creating a fascinating world that, at the same time, remains relatable - a place where (just like the "real" world) few people are all good or all bad. By way of example, one scene  involves a superhero in single-minded pursuit of a pair of villains on a motorcycle. Snatching them off the bike mid-ride, the hero flies off with the culprits, heedless - and perhaps oblivious - of the damage the riderless motorcycle then causes in an ensuing crash.

McHenry, of course, is a classic anti-hero. He's a man who doesn't set out to be a good guy or do the right thing, but ends up doing so because it's the only way to save his own hide (or it somehow serves his own interests). Regardless, he is an enjoyable character and as a reader it was great to tag along and be something of a sidekick to him. I eagerly look forward to his next adventure(s).

If you would like to be notified when I release new books, please subscribe to my mailing list here

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

New Book Release: Warden (Book 2: Lure of the Lamia)

Hot on the heels of Extraction (which was just published two weeks ago), I'm happy to finally be able to say that Warden (Book 2: Lure of the Lamia) - the second book in my Warden series - has finally been released.

This release actually comes a little later than I intended, but you know what they say about the best laid schemes of mice and men.  I had originally anticipated publishing Warden 2 no later than the end of September,  but with Extraction being released around that time period maybe it's better that I wasn't able to maintain the initial schedule. 

Regardless, I am happy that the book is now available and hopefully readers of the series will thoroughly enjoy it.  As always, I think my artist, Isikol, did a great job with the cover.  He really has a knack for incorporating not just the major elements but also minor details.

On my part, I like to think that I'm continuing to write interesting stories with engaging characters. When I start writing a book, the characters typically feel like old friends that I'm finally having a chance to catch up with after an extended amount of time apart. It's fun to learn what they've been up to and what they've been doing with themselves in the interim.  That's why, from my aspect, it usually feels like the story tells itself: the characters let me know what's going, rather than vice versa. In other words, I'm little more than a secretary taking dictation.

Be that as it may, it's always great to insert that last period and bring a story to a close.  However, as often happens when it comes to publishing a book, I'm both frightened and elated to a certain extent.  I'm thrilled to have a finished product, but at the same time I'm a little afraid of sending my baby out into the big, bad world.  Still, as with actual children, at some point you have to push them out of the nest. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that my little birdie here can - if not soar - at least be able to glide gently to a safe landing.

Total Pageviews