Saturday, March 3, 2012

Self-Published E-book riches. How?

Amanda Hocking, John Lock, Joe Konrath, Darcie Chan and Throwawaywriter, the list goes on and on--a veritable who's who in the self-publishing phenomenon, writers who have dismissed agents and publishers in favor of a unique trail-blazing experience in digital self-printing/publishing. Upload a formatted file and cove art, and you too can join the ranks of the digital rich and famous at Smashwords, Amazon Kindle, Kobo and other retailers. I'm all for the digital revolution. The projections are pretty favorable, since e-readers are currently being introduced to the classroom, including the Kindle Fire (color version) which is being adopted for the younger classroom age group. Digital sales are right around $870,000,000 at the present, and by the end of the 2013, they are expected to reach nearly 2-billion.

So what's the problem?

There's a major caveat to it, or several. It's great listening to all these success stories and seeing the screen shots of these incredible dollar figures, posted by the elite writers who have gone this route. But it's another thing knowing precisely how they gained and maintained these ranks to begin with. It's what they, sometimes, don't tell you that can land you in a bucket of shite. If you plan on going this route.

Content. The majority of these people have multiple books and short stories listed, or an incredible back-list. The more content you have, the larger your reading base, and this goes for series titles or standalone genre books and stories. Some of these writers have re-published their entire back-list and out-of-print books. Some have taken trunked novels, put a spit shine on them, and thrown them out there. Any short story that didn't hit the big leagues is fair game for an e-pubbed reprint. A noted exception is Darcie Chan, who has a one-book best-seller, but we'll get to that topic in a minute.

Platform. These writers, for the most part, have had running, active websites and blogs for months, if not years. Joe Konrath, and many others like him who had gone the "legacy" route, had enormous fan and readership bases from the very beginning. Non-celebrity writers, via their social networking skills, have accumulated hundreds, if not thousands of followers and subscribers on websites and blogs that were already in place. If your blog or website is getting several hundred or several thousand page-reads a day, and has been for a very long time, you're a great candidate for starting your own e-publishing business. If you have multiple, active blogs, your chances of selling e-books and stories are that much better.

Ads. Many of these e-pub success stories are the result of purchasing ad space or reviews, sometimes at considerable cost. One writer spent $475 on a Kirkus review, as well as ad space in several  mid-size to smaller genre publications. Some have hired publicity departments, while others have invested in blog tours and banner ads. All of this costs advance money, just to get the word out, with the hopes of recouping the costs with book sales. This is something that many of these successful self e-publishers won't tell you. Darcie Chan, at least, admits to this tactic, and the reason was to create buzz about her single title. So, if you don't have a huge website or blog following, are you prepared to toss a thousand dollars or more at this venture and hope for the best? Because if you're unknown, it will take approximately one year or more of solid social networking to get your name and your book/s titles out there in cyber space.

Driving rank up and self-purchasing. I've had several people propose that I drive up my sales rank by purchasing my own books. And you can do this and keep yourself in the top 100 best selling lists by making periodic self-purchases. Amazon, for example, doesn't care a wit about who is purchasing these books, only that they are being bought. Some writers enlist friends to purchase their titles in exchange for monetary compensation--a tit for tat type exchange. If you don't believe this is happening, you have your head in the sand. I've never done it, but I can imagine how well it could work if you have 99-cent e-book up for sale. What would keep you in the top 100 lists? Five bucks a day? Seven? You'd have to experiment to find out. But keep that up for 30 days, then you can claim such a "Best-seller" victory, and probably stay in the top 100 list because of the inertia that you've created.    

Time and labor. Anybody who thinks internet marketing and promotion is a gas, will wake up one day after a year (or several) and smell the Yuban. It's incredibly labor intensive and requires nearly all of your time, or at the very least, a half working day, just to maintain your sales momentum. Then there's the chores of writing and publishing new content to keep the fan monster fed and happy. Then it's right back to marketing and promo again, over and over and over again. You'll have write polite letters of introduction to book reviewers and blog hosts, waiting and hoping that you'll be given some pixel ink. Then you'll need to announce your reviews and interviews all over hell's half acre. Link-link-link. You'll will be your own sales force, unless you hire a publicity agent to do all of that for you.

After taking all of that into consideration, and these are just some of the major points, I'm considering self-publishing in the e-book format. But I'm tech illiterate and that is going to cost me for formatting and cover art. Another ching-ching. However, I am going to make sure I have a huge following, or at least a sizable fan base readership before I even attempt it. Can I or you get rich too? It's a crap shoot. If you have all of those points covered and realize what it takes to join the self e-publishing venture, you stand a great chance of making some money off your inventory and future-written books. But I would caution anyone considering this to go into it with your eyes wide open.

The Boy Scout motto is "Be Prepared." That applies tenfold to self-publishing in the e-book industry.
Planet Janitor: Custodian of the Stars (Engage Science Fiction) (Illustrated)

Friday, March 2, 2012

My Favorite Review

Just a little break here in the regiment...I found a SF Review in my archives that nearly brought tears to my eyes. It was that good, in my opinion, save a few typos. I'd forgotten about. So I'm listing it here. I would encourage anyone who has such a review on your book to drop links to it when appropriate and feasible. This is the type of review I wish I had on Amazon. In fact, I'll contact my publisher and see what he thinks. I'll let you know what happens.

Planet Janitor

by Chris Stevenson

na Star Rating
a review by Antony, in the genre(s) science fiction
Planet Janitor Custodian of the Stars is a science fiction novel by Chris Stevenson.

The Planet Janitor Corporation are experts in the handling of environmental clean-ups and close system jumps to pick up precious ores and space trash, led by Captain Zachary Crowe they have won a number of accolades. They have also however also got a growing number of mishaps under their belt and as Bad news always shouts louder than good, they feel obligated to accept a clandestine operation that no one else wants, offering as it does more money than they could spend in three lifetimes.

The crew will lose 26 years on Earth due to the cryo jump, but that is the least of their problems. What they find on Tau Ceti will test their wits, and threaten their very survival.

I was discussing science fiction with a friend the other day who has recently caught the scifi bug and for him the interest began when I lent him a Philip K Dick novel. While he was reading small bits of information were given out but not explained, and he felt compelled to keep reading to find out just what it all meant. In that conversation the example was the novel "Flow my tears, the policeman said" where at the very beginning we are told "could it be because your a six?", and you just have to find out just what the heck a "six" is.

The hook here is the all very secret mission to a strange planet in the Tau Ceti system and that hook really does work, you just have to find out why they are being sent there and what will happen once they arrive. This takes up the first quarter of the novel, and then when you are there you again have to find out just what happened on the planet. The second half of the novel is given over to a faster pace with plenty of action as events unfold.

The science is very plausible based on current understanding and the author clearly has a good grasp of physics, I especially liked the "Bang Drive" which essentially detonates a nuclear bomb behind the ship to propel it forward at high speed. Most of the technology is just a few steps away from our own current tech and there is nothing really outlandish or unrealistic.

Planet Janitor is in many ways a hark back to the Golden age of science fiction, although clearly a science fiction story the novel is very much plot driven with tight descriptive narrative and interesting, likeable characters although these can seem a little two dimensional at times. You may be thinking that a rag tag group of misfits on board a creaky rust bucket spaceship may be a very well used trope, and you would be right but it doesn't detract from the exceptional quality of the novel, and the original, intelligent and thought provoking ideas the author throws at the reader.

The novel's got a great energy about it, but also an undefinable maturity that gives it that "Golden Age" feel. The cover art goes some way to re-enforcing this feeling, with a behemoth of a ship that looks very much like a beached whale lying on a clearly alien planet.

Planet Janitor Custodian of the Stars is an accomplished novel of immersive depth and imaginative scope, highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Have Pub Creds--Will Travel

Part of publisher guidelines usually mentions a short bio and publishing credits. How important are the credits? They can be very important to a small press who relies on a lot of author participation and a small in-place fan base. If they are major credits with large, prestigious publishing houses, or magazine stories or articles from major slick magazines, they can often be a tipping point if your manuscript is being seriously considered. If you have no pub credits, you certainly don't have to list them, and this usually does NOT harm your chances of consideration. Publishers and agents are pretty lenient about the lack of a publishing history, taking into account that many writers who pass over their thresholds, agent-repped or not, are new or debut writers.  We all have to start somewhere.

You'll have to consider what to list as reputable credits. For instance, it wouldn't be a good idea to list school or college assignments, unless you have a thesis relevant to your submission. Non-paying markets might also be a no-go. Newspaper articles, stories, and reviews might be okay, if the paper in question is a large daily or weekly edition. List any journalism experience, as a reporter or column writer.  The key here, is to list paid publications from semi-pro or professional sources. If you want to list non-paying small press articles and stories, you can do this, but it won't make an agent or editor snap to attention and salivate. Ghost-written books or deals with book packagers--sure, go ahead and list them. Anthologies are okay. Self-pubbed books? Go ahead and list them, but include some sales figures that are likely to impress. What are impressive sales figures for self-published books or story collections? Low end would be around 3,500 copies and upwards. Five thousand copies seems to be a normally accepted bell-ringer.

I usually list my publishing history at the end of my introductory letter. In fact, I always list it. Although my credit list is not large or very prestigious, it does give the publisher an idea, chronologically, what I've done in the past and what my recent sales indicate. I'll show my list and the different categories that I include below, just as an example. I've never been ridiculed for its formatting or subject list. It's always worked for me.


Auto Repair Shams and Scams (Forward--Ralph Nader), 1990, Price Stern & Sloan, Los Angeles--226 pages, non-fiction, consumer warning and repair book.
Garage Sale Mania, 1988, Betterway Publications, Crozet, Virginia--190 pages, non-fiction—1988.
Word Wars, a SF novel, to Rain Publishing, Canada—May, 2007.
Once Upon a Goddess, a Fantasy novel, to Rain Publishing, Canada—January, 2008
Planet Janitor—Custodian of the Stars, a SF novel sold to Engage Books, May 2009
Gate Walker, a Paranormal Fantasy, sold Lyrical Press—January, 2009.
The Lupus Strain, a fantasy thriller sold to LBF Books, February 2009

Stellar by Starlight, to Amazing Stories, 1988.
The Lonely Astronaut, to Amazing Stories, 1988.
Temperamental Circuits, to Gordon Linzner of Space & Time, 1989.
Things that go Clump in the Night, to Richard Fawcett of Doppelganger, 1989.
Dance the Macabre and Dance it Well, to Erskine Carter of Ouroborous, 1989.
Future School, to Chris Bartholomew of Static Movement, January 2006.
The Incredible Mr. Dandy, to Not One of Us.
Planet Janitor The Moon is not Enough, to Enage Books, 2012
Other magazine appearances from 1988 to 1991 include, Alpha Adventures, Small Press Writers and Artists Organization and Sycophant.

The Summit, 15-minute horror play to Night Sounds, Embassy Cassette Inc, Santa Ana, California—1990
Night of the Moa, 13-minute horror play to Night Sounds, Embassy Cassette Inc, Santa Ana, California—1990.

Finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest, for Temperamental Circuits, 1987.

350 newspaper profiles, stories, and interviews to Sunset Publishing, Anaheim, California, appearing in The West Coast Jewish News, The Senior Citizens Reporter, and The Military Review. From 1988 to 1991. I have sold three automotive articles to Dollar Stretcher Magazine, from 12-2-2011 to 2-28-2012.

I have written and published over 1,500 non-fiction automotive, aircraft and marine articles for Demand Media Studios, under the Beta-Automotive and E-How stations, as well as other content and client assignment sites. 

Served as content editor of Sunset Publication (see above) for three years. Responsible for all writing assignment content, filler and artwork, formatting and structural editing. 
President and founder of Heartland Writers Group, Huntington Beach, California, from 1987 to 1991.

Past agent--XXXXXXXX, from 1988 to 1991.
Past agent—XXXXXXXX, from 2005 to August 2009
Present agent—XXXXXXXX

Diane Nine and the Fusion Machine, a military espionage thriller.
Valley of the Mastodons, a non-fiction book involving the Ice Age megafauna discoveries in Hemet, California, during the Diamond Valley reservoir dig. Proposal, chapter outline, and 100 pages available upon request
Dispossessed Incorporated, an urban ghost fantasy.
The Omega Wars—SF, apocalyptic alien invasion (Sequel to PJ)
Screamcatcher, A YA fantasy
The Girl They Sold to the Moon, A YA distopian/SF set in the near future.

This is actually a pretty basic list, which covers a lot of ground. But here's a real good tip that many writers are unaware of:  look at the last section where you see CURRENT FINISHED BOOKS (AVAILABLE). These are very brief descriptions of finished, polished novels that I've had in my inventory. What surprised me the most, was finding that agents and editors who read and rejected the initial submission and actually asked to see one or a few of the books on my AVAILABLE list. On one occasion, this lead to a direct sale. On two other occasions, I received referrals, one to another agent and one to a publishing house. So if you have completed manuscripts (not partials), list them at the tail end of your publishing history. And it's kind of important to place your publishing history and bio in the body of the email--not as an attachment, unless otherwise specified.

Good hunting! 

Planet Janitor: The Moon is not Enough (Engage Science Fiction) (Digital Short) by Chris Stevenson (Kindle Edition - Feb 7, 2012)Kindle eBook

 (read for free, Join Amazon Prime)

Auto-delivered wirelessly

Monday, February 27, 2012

Does Internet Promotion Work?

Well, let's see.  I belong to the following writing groups, display, news and blog review sites.
News Box                        
My Space
Author's Den
Writer's Forum

Book Place

Web wire

Writer's Corner
Click Press
Traffic Swarm
Writer's Net
Ink Drop
We Do Write 

 Those are the ones that I can remember off the top of my head.  I've been at most of them for several months, if not years.  I've had five novels see print, and have listed them with most of these sites.  It's so difficult to remember all of my passwords and usernames that I've had to keep a hand-written spread sheet handy just so I could keep track of where I've been and where I have to go, and if I can ever get back in to update my information.

I'm the first one to admit that I can't physically attend to all of these sites and keep them up-dated.  I wouldn't have enough hours in the day to handle three or four of them alone.  I network as best I can and contribute when and where I think I'll get the best exposure and results. The reader population from all of these groups most certainly is in the hundreds of thousands--maybe even the millions.  It's hard to say--they're growing every day with the influx of new members.

Here's my rant and my point.  Having had these books online, some for many years, I'm not certain if all that exposure and labor in attending to massive online promotion is having any great significance in sales. It appears that the first purchasers are family and friends, and they might pick up about 75 to 100 copies. Then the book flat-lines.  I think it can truly be said now, as I've heard resolutely from my writing peers, that display sites (YADS) are nearly worthless for marketing and promotion.  Friends, the only way you are ever going to sell print books is if they are in real brick and mortar stores, stacked on the selves.  Period.

That is unless you are aspiring to become an internet whore and spend all of your time in these electronic gulags.  And if you do that, tell me, will you ever have time to write a single word of fiction or non-fiction ever again?  I've made tons of friends, been proposed to, and found long-lost loves on these sites.  Yet it's doubtful I've made more than a handful of sales to these people, and if I have, I don't know where they came from.

So, if anyone ever tells you that the internet is the place to sell books (with the exception of E-books), ask them where they got their information.  Just after a recent and in-depth survey, I discovered that the best numbers came from publishers who had distribution and bookstore presence, and garnered reviews from pro publications like Kirkus, Publisher's Marketplace, and Library Journal.  Book stores still outsell the internet when it comes to mass-market paperbacks, trade and hardback books. 

Tip of the day: Before you even think about advertizing your first published book anywhere on the internet, make sure you have a blog or website in place that has several thousand page reads per day and hundreds of subscribers. That home audience can likely get the ball rolling for you by word of mouth, and account for several hundred book sales.  

Mini-rant over.  Lesson learned.

Planet Janitor: Custodian of the Stars (Engage Science Fiction) (Illustrated)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Publisher Hype and Fraud

Prepare yourself for a mini-rant here. This subject has always bothered me. I think the more years and rejection slips you have, agented or otherwise, has a lot to do with the intensity of your feelings. I've got 23 years invested in this craft and business and nothing really surprises me anymore.
We have to go no further than the three examples below to understand how single-minded and obscene the publishing industry can get, when all it has in its sights is gimmickry, fraud, hype and commercial greed. These cases represent but a small fraction of what is taking place in the industry today. But It's irrefutable evidence that when there is no talent or celebrity status, you have only to create it, label it, ship it and cram it down the gullible throats of the populace. Though these incidents took place some time ago, they will forever remain fresh and seared upon my mind as if by a branding iron. I will never get over the negative impact they have had upon my own career.

Sweet, marketable, young, beautiful and born out of a foreign heritage, Kaavya Viswanthan burst on the scene as a teen queen of chic lit, with How Opal Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. Alloy Entertainment figured they could package this girl (I said girl--not book), and sell her to Little Brown for a hefty $500,000 advance. The advance was all hype, by the way--it was much smaller. Film rights went instantly to Dreamworks, who bought the film rights for a book that wasn't even out yet. Sometime during the planning and marketing stages it was discovered that the book was heavily plagiarized, almost line by line in dozens of passages, including the plot and theme. I'm dismayed by the fact alone that an 18-year-old girl nearly got millions for a book (or two) that was her VERY FIRST attempt at writing genre fiction. She paid no dues, suffered no rejections, and certainly had not honed her craft to deserve such accolades. It seems that quality writing was the publisher's last consideration upon garnering this deal.

James Frey's A Million Little Pieces was also found to be hype, lies and exaggeration. He fooled the NYTs bestseller list for 44 weeks, and Oprah Winfrey, when she made it a # 1 book club selection. Proof once again that sensationalism sells--the more outrageous, the better. Sorry. It just ended up too good to be true for its own good. His supposedly true story did not ring true, upon investigative research. They canceled production and pulled it from the racks. Strangely enough, Frey has gone on to sign more contracts with different publishers and has landed on the bestseller list once again. I'll be damned. If you lie and cause great controversy--you can obtain one hell of a writing vocation and end up an A-list celebrity. That's how it's done.

Christopher Paolini's Eragon is another such hunk of hack squat--totally derived, unoriginal, borrowed, and pitifully boring. This book is not fraud as much as it is hype and sizzle. They sold the "kid" Christopher, hoping that America would embrace this child prodigy and, unfortunately, a huge segment of the YA reading world took the bait. The book was edited by his parents and vigorously promoted at great expense and fanfare. Recent estimates are that the book has sold about 8 million copies. This kid has nothing on Terry Brooks. He is but a wad of gum under the shoe of Neil Gaiman, and Pratchett is light years ahead of him. In fact, he would be hard-pressed to eclipse any one of the very capable epic fantasy writers in my writer's group.

One of the Most Recent Cases:

The publisher of a novel about Edgar Allan Poe’s child bride defended the book against allegations that its author, Lenore Hart, lifted material from another work about Poe’s young wife.

St. Martin’s Press released a brief statement Tuesday saying it had compared Hart’s “The Raven’s Bride” to Cothburn O’Neal’s “The Very Young Mrs. Poe” and found any similarities limited to the inevitable overlap of two novels covering the same subject: Virginia Clemm, who married Poe when she was 13 years old.

 There are dozens more examples on Jeremy Duns's blog. Duns, if you'll recall, was one of the authors duped by recently-exposed plagiarist QR Markham (Quentin Rowan) for his cut-and-paste novel Assassin of Secrets.

 I'm nearly at the point where I don't trust BIG publishing anymore. I think their marketing departments (the bean-counters) ought to relinquish custody of talent and purchasing power right back to where it used to be--with the editors.

Turn me over, I'm done.