Thursday, August 30, 2012

Not again! Smashwords problems

Smashwords is a small company compared to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and sometimes it shows. Right now they appear to be having some server issues. I was trying to look at my sales numbers and I got a Server Overloaded error. After several minutes I tried and got in okay, but when I tried to see my dashboard (where free and sample downloads are reported), I got a weird, badly formatted version of that page.

Well, with any luck it just means they're updating their retailer info.  Here's hoping!

Monday, August 27, 2012

The bits and bytes of books

Today while I was waiting in my doctor's office for an appointment, I was reading a book on my Kindle. You'll notice I didn't say I was reading my Kindle. You read on a Kindle because there are books and other works on it. The receptionist mentioned that she had been thinking of asking for one for Christmas.

When I first got a 1st gen Kindle back in 2008, people would constantly ask me what it was. Now, even if someone doesn't own an ereader, they recognize one when they see it.

Mike Shatzkin is a publishing industry consultant who literally grew up in the book business, as his father was a book seller. His blog is called The Shatzkin Files, and today's post looks at the global ebook picture. He makes a lot of good points and one thing he points out is that the poorest countries may be quicker to go totally digital because they can't afford the costs of print books. He also thinks e-ink readers like the Kindle and the Nook might have a very limited lifespan if tablets can ever reduce glare and eyestrain enough.

Coincidentally, today I saw a post about Levar Burton on the MediaBistro blog. Burton was the host of the Reading Rainbow series on PBS, and in passing during an interview he mentioned that he doesn't see cutting down trees to make books as being sustainable.

I think it's going to be a long time before print goes away or even becomes rare. I do think bookstores and online booksellers will start to rely on print-on-demand (PoD) technology, especially because it will get better and cheaper and the number of titles will grow.

Once the digital revolution starts, it's really hard to stop it. Just ask the music industry.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

I am on Facebook at last!

Finally gave in/got around to it and created a Facebook page.  Stop by and see me, and friend me if you've already gone over to the FB side.  I promise to friend you back, unless of course you have a creepy profile where you list stalking and mass murder as favorite activities!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hello, Columbus!

A very confusing aspect of American English is that the indigenous tribes of North America are known collectively as Indians because in 1492 Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba thinking that he had sailed to India. seems to have a similar confusion. They have opened a new Kindle store in India, but unlike sales from the Kindle stores in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy, Indian sales are reported with US sales!

This is totally different from how sales reports look for other countries, each of which have their own entry in the pull down menu for KDP sales reports.

Which means that a KDP author can never tell if he has sold any books in India! In fact, if he happens to have written a book about football in Dallas, you could say that he can't tell the Cowboys from the Indians.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Sixth Discipline got an interesting review

The blog A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions gave The Sixth Discipline an interesting review. The blogger/reviewer is a librarian who seems very well read. She does something interesting in that in addition to a plot synopsis and what she liked and didn't like (some of both, in this case), she lists what she calls "Read-alikes," books that are similar in plot or in overall feel.

One of the read-alikes for my book was Nation, by Terry Pratchett, a book I very much enjoyed. It's YA, but it does have a clash-of-cultures theme vaguely similar to that found in T6thD.  I didn't recognize the other books. I have a feeling Library Girl has a leg up on me, at least as far as recent fiction, but I was pleased to have a book of mine be compared to one by Terry Pratchett, an author I admire.

I also found it interesting that Library Girl was almost angry at Ran-Del, the male protagonist of The Sixth Discipline, as most people who get annoyed with any of the characters in that books take issue more with Francesca than with Ran-Del.  Certainly the members of my writing group were much more on his side than on hers.

Library Girl also did a pretty good job of explaining her reasons for what she liked and what she didn't without giving away the actual plot ending, too. All in all, it's a well done review.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Shades of Empire got a lovely review!

Sunday was my birthday, and I got a wonderful present when the SFBook Review site (a very helpful, well-organized site if you like fantasy and science fiction) posted a four-star review of Shades of Empire. Reviewer Ant (short for Antony) said some very nice things:
“While there are a number of romantic elements to the plot there are some much more serious aspects at play too, including rape, the dangers of a brutal monarchy and that of the corruption inherent in those who have absolute power, not to mention the subjugation of women. Some pretty serious subjects I think you'll agree and in the wrong hands ones that could prove a story-breaker, luckily we are in good hands and the author manages everything in an intelligent and effective manner without once coming across as gratuitous or over the top. Some of the scenes are nevertheless a little graphic and as such this isn't suited to the younger reader, or indeed those who don't like to read about that sort of thing.

So it's not a book for everyone; however it is a very well crafted tale that blends some really creative characters into a multi-threaded plot without losing the reader anywhere and the way these are all brought together is excellent . . . .
Shades of Empire is a well crafted, engaging story and one which is very enjoyable despite the occasionally graphic scene and serious subject matter. Perfect for anyone who likes a bit of romance in their reading.”

SFBook Reviews is unusual in that it reviews traditionally published as well as self-published books. It covers both science fiction and fantasy and is worth checking out if you read in those genres. As a former librarian, the organization of the site, offering indexing by title, author, and genre is very attractive to me.  And of course, it's always nice when someone who reads widely in your genre likes your work. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Writing a book is a lot like giving birth

I'm not the first writer to compare producing a book with producing a baby. I once heard Dan Simmons say that publishing a book was like putting your baby into a carriage and parking it on the sidewalk for passersby (in this case, book reviewers) to revile it and call it names.

A big difference is that babies generally take nine months to produce while books can take anywhere from several weeks to many long years. When you are an aspiring author with a finished manuscript, your “baby” is not only unborn, it is still highly mutable. If you change your mind about a character or a plot point, or you think of something you want (or even need) to add, you can do it. Thanks to the wonders of word processing, the only difficulty in making changes is keeping track of versions.

But once you publish, either traditionally publish or self-publish, the baby is out there for all to see. The other day I had a sudden insight into a situation in Shades of Empire that would be helped by adding a mention of something about the protagonist's motivation. Immediately, it occurred to me that I could not easily add that in as I have already published the book!

Now of course, with ebooks, I could edit and reload the book, but for anything less than mortifying mistakes, that way lies madness. What if you fix or add one thing and then think of something else? When would it stop? Besides, if you're like me and you rely on a conversion house to produce the Kindle and epub versions, you might need to pay for every edit. There are also folks who make the argument that editing a story post-publication is unfair to reviewers whose comments may no longer apply. Really, you shouldn't be publishing a book unless it's “done.”

That said, there are times when the ease of digital changes come in handy. A major part of today's ebookstore “stock” consists of yesterday's books, the backlists of published authors. In some cases, the publisher has (or negotiates) ebook rights, and in others the author self-publishes his or her backlist. But in either instance, some of these books are decades old. YA fantasy author Diane Duane recently decided to republish her 1980's fantasy So You want to Be a Wizard as an ebook, but first she updated it in a bunch of ways. She has named the new version the New Millenium Edition to make it clear there is a difference.

Again, there are trade-offs. As this post on Teleread points out, people get miffed at the idea that they have to pay for the book again to get the “director's cut.” On the other hand, the new edition might offer a better chance of reaching new readers. As always, new technology makes work easier and faster to do, but that doesn't mean it's always a good idea to use it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Shades of Empire now in more outlets!

Apple has won the race again. My newest title Shades of Empire is now available in iBooks as well as  Kindle and Smashwords. No sign of it on the Nook yet, or Sony or Kobo, but that's not a surprise as they don't even have Where Magic Rules yet, and it has been out for a few weeks more than Shades.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mars or bust!

I find it interesting that this newest Mars rover is getting so much more press than the previous ones did.  I suppose Curiosity is inherently more interesting because it can do more. It's bigger, too, car-sized rather than being compared to a glorified Roomba or an automated lawn mower.

Its also funny that Curiosity has come down in the Gale Crater. I know it was named after an astronomer but when I hear the name Gale, I think Dorothy Gale of Kansas, who had her own kind of curiosity. But whatever the reason, this latest rover has made us all talk about space travel again, and I think that's good!

Maybe NASA should have named it Kirk, because it's going “where no man has gone before. . . ”

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Survivors

A friend of mine is a science fiction fan from way back. She has read most of my novels, and she gives me grief whenever I kill off a character. And yet, she once recommended the Tom Godwin sci-fi classic (1958!) novel The Survivors to me.  In spite of the name, the kill rate in that book is worthy of Stephen King.

The story didn't work for me mostly because from the vantage point of a few extra decades I could see the Cold War polemic nature of the story— no matter how hard you try, you can't kill us off! But it did provide an illustration of the point that when you are threatened by a radical shift in your environment, you have to act fast to survive; whining does no good at all.

Smashwords is a good illustration of the fact that forward-thinking actions work better than backward-looking wailing about change. Smashwords is a self-publishing platform for ebooks that started as something of a shoestring operation in 2008 with 140 titles. In fact, it started because Mark Coker, the founder and CEO, had had no luck getting a nonfiction book (written by him and his wife) published, and that made him assess the state of publishing. Smashwords managed to make a profit after only two years in operation because Coker realized that he (and his authors) could make more money selling ebooks through more established retail outlets like iBooks, Sony, and Barnes and Noble than by expecting readers to find his site. According to an article in Forbes, Smashwords expects to pull in $12 million in revenue this year and make a pretax profit of near $1 million. That's rapid growth!

And Smashwords is so not standing still! They're up to 127,000 titles, and they keep adding retail outlets. Recently they added a channel to sell ebooks to libraries. They do all this and still manage to review every book that is loaded to their platform to make sure the formatting isn't garbage; a book can't go into the premium catalog (and thus to retail outlets) if it looks bad. As I posted about earlier, they can get a book that has passed review onto iBooks in just over a week, and my latest title took only three days to make the premium catalog! The only problem they have (aside from slow sales reports back from retailers) is they need to redesign their distribution channel screen.  It's getting crowded!

Amazon is one of their outlets, but that company has not yet developed a bulk load process for Smashwords so the only Smashwords books on Amazon are the big sellers. Most authors are better off using KDP to publish in the Kindle store and using Smashwords for the other retailers.

In short, a tiny start-up has become a success by looking around, realizing publishing had changed, and taking advantage of the changes. Smashwords is a survivor!

Monday, August 6, 2012

On giving away ebooks: How much is “free” worth?

One question I get asked frequently, mostly by other writers, is “Is it worth it to give an ebook away for free?” It sounds so counter-intuitive to say that the way to sell books is to give them away to as many people as you can, and yet I have to say, the answer is, for an unknown author, yes, it's definitely worth it.

There are several factors that influence the success of a giveaway as a tool to sell books. The first is what platform are you giving your book away on? If you post a book on your blog and allow folks to download it for free, that will help you get readers only if your blog already has a ton of followers; and if you post it in Mobi or epub format, you will only get readers who also know how to side-load a book to their ereader. Putting the book somewhere that people go to find books is a much better plan. Smashwords makes it really easy to make a book free, and Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook will price match that, so you get more bang for your non-buck than you would just from Smashwords. Sony used to price-match, but it doesn't look they they're still doing that. Generally speaking, the Kindle store will usually yield the best numbers, in terms of a giveaway, but even with a book being free in the Kindle store, you need to advertise it, especially because unlike Smashwords, Amazon doesn't make it easy. You can only make a Kindle book free if it's in the KDP Select program (which means it only be sold as an ebook through the Kindle store), and it can be free only five days out of 90.

So many people have taken this route that it is actually difficult to give away a book in huge numbers. You should advertise the book being free on your blog, on Twitter and Facebook, and anywhere else you can find. There are lots of site to do this on, but be aware that many of them either charge up front or ask for donations.

I have made three books free in the last year or so, at different times. I launched my two most recent books on KDP Select and made them both free on different days. I gave away several hundred copies of each book, and after it was free, I did find I got more reviews and more sales after the books came off being free. I didn't try to make my first three books free on Kindle via KDP Select because there were already out there on many platforms and it is often difficult to get smaller vendors to pull books back when you “unpublish” from Smashwords. I did make my first book free on Smashwords, and after iBooks and Nook stores showed it as free, Amazon price-matched it to zero (although only in the US Kindle store)*, and I have now given away well over 2,000 copies of it! The big advantage to me is that my first book The Sixth Discipline has a direct sequel called No Safe Haven. NSH has only one review on Amazon, and yet it is now my best selling book! The increase in sales to NSH from making TSD free is much greater than the increase to the other two books that were free for a time.

Even if you only have one book out there, making it free in the Kindle store helps by getting your book into many readers' buying history (“People who bought this item also bought . . .”). It can also increase your chance of getting reviews.

Things to keep in mind when doing a promotion:
  • Not everyone who gets your book for free will read it.
  • Not everyone who reads it will like it; it's always possible you could get a negative review from a free copy, especially if the book doesn't live up to (or match) the blurb.
  • There are tons and tons of free books out there, so you need to get the word out!
  • The market size of your book still applies, even when it's free; check out the top 100 free Kindle books to see the genres and authors that are doing best.
* Important note! You cannot count on Amazon price matching Barnes & Noble for free books.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Where Magic Rules is now in iBooks and on Nook

It looks like Apple is the fastest of the Smashwords retailers, as the fantasy novella Where Magic Rules is now for sale in the iBooks store for 99¢. That means it took just over a week for the book to get to Apple and be put up for sale (counting from when it made the premium catalog, a requirement for shipping to other retailers).  The novella has also "shipped" to Barnes & Noble, but I don't yet see it for sale in the Nook store.

Added Saturday:  And now the novella is in the Nook store! Looks like Barnes & Noble was behind Apple only by a day.