I’ve been seeing a lot of blogs and FB posts about crummy sales, how hard it is to get traction any more, how the market’s changed, how pricing power is a thing of the past and prices continue to spiral down, how even romance is seeing a 40-60% drop in sales.
This is, as predicted, the new normal.
All markets change. They get better for some, worse for others. Nothing’s static.
And last month’s gimmick likely won’t work next month. Gimmicks tend to be like fad curves – they’re steep, sucking in a certain number, and then they lose effectiveness and drop off a cliff.
What does that mean for authors, moving forward?
Same as ever, it will continue to get tougher to build a readership as the market matures. The voracious readers of yesterday are now mostly borrowers, not buyers or free downloaders, due to the subscription model. Whether that’s good or bad depends on whether you’re Amazon, a trad pubbed author who doesn’t participate, or an indie who is hoping that folks conditioned to read free content will decide they’re worth paying for.
I personally don’t see that happening. As with music, once a crowd associates content with free, it is valueless to them – the entitlement kicks in, or alternatively, they simply don’t understand why anyone would buy something when they can get so much nearly identical content for free.
These are largely readers for whom all content is fungible, all books roughly equivalent. Hardest hit are the genres where the writing quality is average, and the books are largely interchangeable. That’s not to say, you’ve read one shifter SEAL UFC billionaire stepbrother BDSM book, you’ve read them all, but for voracious readers who will be on to another book tomorrow, it’s hardly surprising they might view it that way, just as readers who viewed all Harlequin books as largely interchangeable aren’t a shocker. I believe that’s why we’re seeing the dip, for example, in romance – for authors who haven’t built a distinctive and recognizable brand, a franchise perceived as being different and special, you can swap out one tattooed hunk for another, and the tropes are largely the same. I use that as an example only – it’s happening in other genres, too, although the ones that are dominated by trad pubbed authors are getting hit the least, far as I can tell, either because reader behavior is different, or because most of the quality product isn’t available via subscription.
What this means is that authors who have honed their craft, package professionally, push the envelope on quality, and publish with clock-like regularity, will have the best chance. Those that don’t will fall by the wayside, whether in their third year, or third month, of publishing.
I believe we can expect royalties from subscriptions to shrink (safe bet based on the trend), and pricing power to disappear in many of the most popular genres. That means that those whose strategy is to depend on the subscription model will earn less money as the months go by.
And before I hear the usual arguments about how Amazon’s program increases visibility, and thus, discoverability, by treating borrows as sales for the purposes of rank, consider this simple test of that theory: If higher rank = greater visibility with folks who buy, vs. borrow, and those buyers use rank (whether on POP lists or not) as their new author discovery mechanism, you’d expect your sales (not overall revenue, unit SALES) to increase once you go into Select. That’s testable. If sales remain flat, or decline, then you have discovered that the ones using rank as a discovery mechanism are borrowers, not buyers. That runs counter to the established wisdom that higher rank equates to greater sales due to enhanced discoverability, but like most theories, when tested, it might just fall apart (it certainly does in my case – sales go down, borrows increase, and revenue increases due to increased borrows, but the type of reader I’m getting isn’t one that’s willing to pay for my work, as evidenced by the decreased sales).
What does it all mean? Strap in – I believe 2016-2018 are going to be very difficult years for the U.S. economy, as the chickens of fiscal recklessness come home to roost and it becomes painfully clear that the country’s in a recession, if not depression, and that’s going to translate into a tougher business environment for all.
Sorry to be such a bummer, but I know too many authors who were thinking they could quit their jobs three years ago, who have just thrown in the towel as the market’s gotten tougher. To expect it to get anything but harder is magical thinking, unsupported by any of the evidence I’m seeing. I’d love to be proved wrong. The irony being that indies will continue to command a larger chunk of the ebook sales, but those sales will be concentrated in fewer authors. Which is neither good, nor bad. It just is.
Will there be lightning strikes – books that come out of nowhere and become fads that everyone just has to read? Sure. Although if you look at trad sales, there haven’t been any must-read blockbusters everyone on the bus or plane just has to read for a little while now. I’m talking The Firm, Da Vinci, GWTDT, Harry Potter, 50 Shades level blockbusters. Reader behavior may be changing in that regard, too. Shrug. Wish it was my problem…
That’s my state of the union observations as we watch another year pass under our bow. Good luck to one and all, and most importantly…
Buy. My. Crap.
Thrills, spills, betrayal, deceit, a race against the clock, murder, mayhem, thousands of lives hanging in the balance…
In other words, all the usual elements you’ve come to expect from the Assassin series in this final installment – Rage of the Assassin.
El Rey is on the run, battling insurmountable odds as his body begins to betray him, the neuro-toxin in his veins a silent killer intent on silencing him forever. Meanwhile, a diabolical plot unfolds, threatening countless innocents at the hands of a madman that Captain Romero Cruz must stop – before the unthinkable can occur.
Rage of the Assassin was a hoot to write, and blazes along at breakneck pace, with enough twists to keep one guessing and a climax that tops any of the previous Assassin efforts.
It can be read as a standalone, but is probably most satisfying as the final in the series, which has proved popular over its lifetime, and is certainly a reader favorite. I’ll miss the exploits of El Rey and Captain Cruz, but this is a fitting end to their story, and I hope you’ll enjoy it. I mean, I hope you first buy it, and then enjoy it, because even expat malingerers have to eat.
Which is my seamless transition into the subliminal message to buy my crap. Which you should, early and often.
See what I did there?
After over a year of waiting, at long last, the fifth in the BLACK series makes its way into bookstores. Or at least Amazon, for now.
In this latest opus, we find our hero broke, beat, and with Xmas only days away, scrambling for some holiday cheer. When he gets a call to investigate a grisly murder at a big box store in suburban hell, it sounds like easy money and the solution to his short term problems.
As with all BLACK novels, nothing’s ever that easy.
This installment differs from earlier efforts in that it’s more of a locked room mystery, where Black must unmask a vicious killer in a compressed time frame with little cooperation and even fewer clues. Add a portly feline gone missing and an ever-truculent Roxie, and you have the worst 12 hours in our hero’s life.
For a live audio interview with yours truly about BLACK In The Box, try this brand new one from Stephen Campbell!
Here’s the cover. At the giveaway price of only $4.99, makes the perfect holiday gift. Including Halloween, Thanksgiving, Xmas, or Hanukkah. Hint, hint.
I bowed to the collective will of my awesome readership and have penned a new JET novel, now on pre-order and scheduled for release on Xmas day, as seems fitting. The title is JET – Incarceration, and is a different approach than the last couple were, in that it is self-contained with a full story arc between the covers.
Don’t get me wrong about thinking I’d wind down the series – I love writing JET novels. But I was fearful that she might have worn out her welcome with readers and it was time to move on. Judging by the hundreds of outraged emails and PMs demanding more JET, that was, er, mistaken, as are many of my bright ideas.
JET – Incarceration picks up with Jet and company nine months after the last JET left off, in the relative tranquility of Kosovo, which unfortunately, doesn’t stay calm for long. Then again, if it did, I could title it “JET – Goes Shopping!” or “JET – Mocha Frappuchino!” and then there wouldn’t be much runway for the series moving forward. Likewise, the folks who leave concerned reviews because they’re outraged that Hannah is in peril should realize that, A) It’s fiction, and B) If she was safe, it would be all about playdates or whatever, not action and adventure.
Here’s the cover. Available now wherever fine ebooks are sold. Tell me the kids’ little eyes won’t light up when they get a pre-order of the latest JET epic on their Kindle Christmas morning! “Mom, she just killed another pony, and it’s only page three!” Some things are priceless, n’est ce pas?
Four years, four months into this, and I’ve learned a lot.
Someone asked the other day what the number one thing I would pass on to myself as a newbie. It may surprise you. After much thought, what I came up with was this:
If you’re successful, you’ve bought yourself a job. Just like buying a liquor store, or a clothing outlet. A job can be rewarding, both economically and emotionally, but it’s very different than a lottery win, in that you are signing up for a long haul of showing up every day and doing the work.
That’s different than I thought when I started out. I kind of hoped that the old canard that you wrote a great novel, sold it to NY, and then sat back and got rich, was true. That you only needed to produce a little work over the years, and could devote lots of time to thinking great thoughts, traveling the world, observing, etc.
Maybe for a few of the very top earners who’ve been doing this for decades and can command seven and eight figure advances. Of which there are fewer than 100, by my estimation. But for the rest, and certainly for the self-published, it’s a job, just like showing up to work at Pixar or Disney and creating content is a job. If you don’t put in the time, your slot goes to someone else, and the world keeps turning, only without you getting paid as a writer.
That’s a harsh truth, because it basically says that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not the equivalent of an annuity that pays out year after year, but more like a nice business where you still have to work nine to whenever, five to six days a week. Don’t punch your time card, your sales fade, you’re forgotten by all but a few die-hards, and someone steps in to fill the gap.
Which all implies that you’re successful. Your odds of being successful are lousy. Better than trad pub, but still, terrible. Just as your odds of being a pro musician are terrible if that’s what you aspire to, or a pro dancer, or a pro anything in the arts. Which brings me to another point: while it’s important to have a positive support group, delusion doesn’t help you succeed. Cheerleaders, assurances that you can do it, all that nonsense, doesn’t improve your odds. What does is no-nonsense counsel from those who have taken some bullets and learned lessons that might translate, and your own inner ability to motivate yourself – because like all jobs, there are plenty of days where you just don’t want to get out of bed to do the work.
Knowing all this, would I have done anything differently? Probably not. I’d already learned these harsh truths in other businesses. Those past experiences might have actually been one of the reasons I was able to break at the time I did. I didn’t bemoan the fact that I needed to create a compelling backlist to be taken seriously. I didn’t resent that it would take 12-14 hours a day. I didn’t insist that I was doing the best I could, as though that should earn me some reward. I come from a school of hard knocks where just showing up doesn’t get you a treat – nobody hands out A’s for effort in the real world. That shit stops at high school.
But it would have been nice to hear it going in. Would have confirmed I was approaching things correctly.
I got an email last night that made me think about this. An author bud of mine who has been struggling to get a toehold in his/her preferred genre took my advice and wrote a couple of books in a different genre, and saw his/her first four figure day yesterday. He/she asked me whether there was any secret that could take it to the next level. I responded that the secret was to put out a new volume every sixty days so your name appears on the hot new releases list with regularity and momentum is built with readers, and never forget that you’re there to entertain your readership – not to get too clever, or if you’re bored, change things up for your amusement. It’s a job. Do the work, do it well, and maybe you get paid for a while. That’s the secret.
I’ve given that advice to plenty of authors: pick a genre that can support your aspirations, write to reasonable quality for the genre’s expectations and publish with astonishing regularity, put forth a pro package, and pay attention to what’s working. Some now earn seven figures. That’s gratifying. Many don’t. That’s life.
So those are my ruminations on the biz. My new one, Emerald Buddha, is selling briskly, which is all good. Later this month BLACK in the Box releases, and next month, Rage of the Assassin, so a busy Fall for me.
Oh, and in the spirit of writing what your audience wants, I’ve caved in and am penning another in the JET series, tentatively titled JET – Incarcerated, which with any luck will be available by the end of the year. We’ll see. So far it’s a good one. But then again, I say that about all of ’em, so I can’t be trusted.
It’s the end of September, which means it’s time for the release of my sequel to my bestselling action adventure novel Ramsey’s Gold. The title of the sequel is Emerald Buddha, and it’s now available wherever fine ebooks are sold. Pre-orders have been huge, so I want to take this chance to thank everyone who clicked buy over the last three months. To those that didn’t, this is your big chance.
In order to kick the launch of this new epic into high gear, I’m running a Bookbub special on Ramsey’s Gold, the first book in the series, today only. My hope is that this will introduce the characters to a whole new set of readers, some of whom might like it enough to go on to get Emerald Buddha. We’ll see how that works. Fingers are crossed.
Emerald Buddha reunites Drake Ramsey, Allie, and Spencer, and plunges them headlong into a jungle adventure in the Golden Triangle, where nothing is as it seems. It introduces some new characters, one of which was a complete hoot to write – it won’t be hard to guess which one. Inspired in equal parts by some of my ex-hippy drinking buddies, and Donald Sutherland’s character in Kelly’s Heroes, this minor player took on a life of his own and became a major part of the book. I love when that happens, and hope you will too.
Here’s the cover. Click on it to take you to Amazon. Links to Apple B&N are below Enjoy the romp, and if you do, kindly leave reviews and tell a friend or three!
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/emerald-buddha-russell-blake/1121882944
Alex Shaw is a talented author I know from Facebook, as well as through mutual friends. He’s written not just a novella for my JET Series Kindle Worlds, but an entire, full blown novel! That’s exciting, and I hope everyone joins me in supporting his effort – it sounds amazing, and right up fans of the series’ alley. My questions are framed below, in italics, and Alex’s responses in plain text. It’s an interesting interview, so sit back and enjoy!
I’d been contracted by Amazon to write for Steve Konkoly’s ‘Perseid Collapse Kindle World’ and when the same opportunity came up for the JET I couldn’t say no. After reading the JET series I honestly became a fan and knew I’d have fun writing for it, and I did! In fact I enjoyed writing in Jet’s world so much that I ended up writing a novel and not a novella!
Jet and David appear in my novel, COLD SHADOW. As her controller, David sends Jet into rebel controlled eastern Ukraine to assassinate a former Mossad interrogator turned traitor. At the same time Aidan Snow, the MI6 hero of my series (COLD BLOOD, COLD BLACK and COLD EAST) is on a mission to rescue a British hostage held in Donetsk. Unbeknownst to Mossad or MI6, both missions will overlap as the pair of intelligence operatives join forces against the Russian backed insurgents of the Donetsk Peoples Republic.
‘Cold Shadow’ is very much in keeping with the JET series. It’s an action and adventure thriller. Jet and Aidan Snow have clear objectives, getting to them involves outwitting and outfighting a force vastly superior in numbers and firepower. Expect firefights, fist fights and explosions.
I’ve set Cold Shadow in Ukraine. It’s the largest country in Europe but not many authors, except me, have ever written about it. It’s an area I care about, and I wanted to expose further through my writing Russia’s aggressive actions towards Ukraine; its theft of Crimea and its occupation of the Donbas region.
Aidan Snow, is a former member of the SAS turned MI6 operative. Like me he has ties to Ukraine, having been an ex-pat there. He has a strong sense of natural justice, and is more cerebral than most ‘action heroes’ – he’s a thinker as well as a doer. I’d say he shares some character traits with protagonists such as James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher. I hope however he is unique enough to satisfy readers of the Jet series. I’ve included several of my other regular characters such as Vitaly Blazhevich, who is an operator for the SBU (the Ukrainian successor to the KGB). I like the relationship between Snow and Blazhevich, professionally and privately they get on well. There is always an element of jovial banter in their conversations.
My three Aidan Snow novels – COLD BLOOD, COLD BLACK and COLD EAST deal with terrorism, of one form or another, happening in and around the former Soviet Union. Most recently this has included the rise of ISIS (some fighters are Chechen) and Russian aggression in Ukraine. COLD SHADOW continues with this theme showing the result of Russia’s actions in Ukraine on the Ukrainian people.
It took me twelve years on and off to write my first novel. I started it when I was living in Ukraine and reading spy thrillers but finding that Ukraine had been ignored. So I decided to write what I wanted to read, spy thrillers set in and around Ukraine. My books sold well on Kindle when it launched in the UK and US. I happily self-published my work for five years until I was signed in July 2014 by Endeavour Press. This opened up many opportunities for me including the ability to join ITW (The International Thriller Writers organisation) and the CWA (the Crime Writers Association). In 2014 and again in 2015, my novels were nominated in the ITW Awards ‘Best Original ebook category’. I now describe myself as a fulltime stay at home dad and author, I write term time and in between school runs.
I have two more novellas for The Perseid Collapse Kindle Worlds series to write, a sequel to my Delta Force Vampire novel, a Nordic Noir crime thriller and of course the fourth Aidan Snow. Hopefully I’ll get this all done within the next year.
Never give up. In fact, give up giving up. If you don’t write your story no one will. I read recently that eighty percent of the population wants to write a book, but that only one percent ever does. Be the one percent.
Wise words, Alex. For more of Mr. Shaw, go to Amazon’s author page and check out his offerings: http://www.amazon.com/Alex-Shaw/e/B002EQ6R9G/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1
There have been a number of recent articles by self-avowed authorities that advise new authors, specifically new self-published authors, on the proper number of novels to write per year. The consensus is usually to write few rather than many, which is difficult to argue if one buys into the falsehood that higher production speed is inverse to quality.
Of course, the world is filled with different skill levels, talent levels, and work ethics, which these click-bait screeds generally ignore. Picasso could jot out a sketch in seconds that was a collector’s item, while someone else armed with the same napkin and pencil could spend a year and wind up with a doodle.
Here’s my take: All things being equal (competent grasp of craft, reasonably interesting story to tell), I tend to think more like a publisher than like an author when evaluating the market and my production speed. That means that I view publishing as a commercial endeavor that does things like pay for my vices and cars and homes, and I develop production schedules based upon what will be required in order to hit my income goals for the year.
I could easily view the process as an artist, where my muse makes that decision, or where what I write is dictated by my desire to craft a unique vision of breathtaking originality and artistry. I have no problem with that approach, as long as all those who advance the artistic argument remember that the vast majority of artists starve.
I shoot for a happy medium, where the craft level is above the norms for my genre, and where the story lines and writing hit more right notes than wrong. If my publishing company had several thousand candidate MSs to choose from each year I would probably write fewer novels, because I could pay others pennies on the dollars for theirs, and that sure as hell beats working 12 hours a day, but because I’m the exclusive content creator for Me, Inc., I have to keep my shareholder (me) happy with what I have to work with, which is my output, nothing more.
Back to the assumption that underpins most of these articles, namely that faster production speed equates to reduced quality. It can. Unless it doesn’t. I can cite countless prodigiously prolific authors who produced at insane levels for decades, and who are recognized as not just competent, but in many cases, brilliant. So the core assumption driving the dogma is easily disprovable (Dickens, Burroughs, Asimov, Erle Stanley Gardner, King, and on and on), at least for some. And yet it persists.
I think it continues to rear its ugly head because those writing the articles mistake their abilities for the abilities of all, and thus if they can’t write more than a single novel of marketable quality per year, then nobody can. They simply ignore those who clearly can. Data filtering to support one’s pre-assumptions being a hallmark of pseudo-science and quackery.
The truth is that some can’t write well at any speed. Others take forever to generate high-quality prose. Still others can, and do, write at a high level, rather quickly. Just as some can sing out of the gate, others can after years of practice, and still others will never be more than tone deaf or the bane of Karaoke bars worldwide.
Quality is also highly subjective. One person’s trash is another’s treasure. I’m no fan of FSOG, and yet it basically paid Random House’s bonuses for the year, and is the most purchased book of the 21st Century (yes, I made that up, but it’s probably right, so bite me). Point being there have always been literary snobs who declare whatever is popular as trash unworthy of being read, and there always will be. Often, anything other than what they are laboring over, or something that’s won a prize, and thus is clearly anointed as being superior by the big brains that hand out awards.
Back to thinking like a publisher, which is to say, as a person involved in the packaging and selling of books. As an author you are a content creator for your publisher, who is also you, but whose mission differs, in that it is focused on marketing and selling books for maximum revenue and profit, whereas your author self is focused on crafting compelling work (which may or may not ultimately sell).
In an ideal world, your author self would hold regular meetings with your publisher self, and you’d discuss what would likely be most marketable, what production schedule would be ideal, etc. Then your author self would agree with your publisher self, and you’d have a game plan to follow, the success or failure thereof being revenue generated.
That’s kind of how I do it. Doesn’t mean it’s the only way, but it’s the way I naturally use as someone who loves to write, but comes from a business background. Don’t get me wrong – if a trad deal offering seven figures for one tome came along, I’d jump at it, and lovingly polish each sentence in a 100K word door stopper for a year or three – because I’m being paid to do so. But absent that, I have to sell books in the current market, where after 90 days, and in many cases, 30 days, the first wave of readers have bought your work, and you better have another waiting, or they move on to the next pretty face. Harsh reality, but business is filled with difficult truths, especially retail, which is what the book business is.
I tend to argue for several things: 1) Quality, meaning adequate craft, editing, packaging. 2) Production speed to meet income objectives. 3) Genre choices that will maximize possible success.
That’s it. I can’t tell you how to craft The Goldfinch or Infinite Jest. I can tell you that if you aren’t earning income selling books over the couple to thirteen years it takes to write them, your broke ass better have another gig to pay the rent, or you better be independently wealthy, or suck a mean…amount of juice from life in some other manner.
Because if you aren’t selling books in order to earn a living, writing is a hobby, not a vocation, and your hobby can take as long as it takes. If you’re creating content as a vocation, you have to produce, consistently, to standards your employer (the market, in this case) is willing to pay for, just as if you wrote software or scores for films or scripts for NBC. Somewhere in all these “writing fast is writing badly” articles, writing novels becomes a holy grail where you shouldn’t worry your pretty head over things like deadlines or generating income. Imagine if that was your approach at Pixar or Dreamworks. You’d last about twenty minutes.
So there’s my take on this latest tempest in a teapot. Produce what you can, at the speed you’re comfortable with, and the market will determine whether you’re going to make a living at it, or have a hobby you’re passionate about that produces little or no income. Nothing wrong with either approach.
And yes, there is an occasional lottery winner who takes a decade (supporting him/herself in other ways, as all hobbyists must) to write the great American novel, and it hits, rewarding them with riches. If your dream is to win a lottery, that’s not a bad aspiration. Mine isn’t a lottery win. Mine is to operate a business that makes decent revenue doing what I love, and entertain folks in the process.
So far so good. Now go buy my crap. Books don’t sell themselves…
I’m not at my best when I have a cold. I’ll say so right up front.
And I have one. It inevitably happens when I travel a lot, which I’ve been doing – stuffed into an aluminum tube with several hundred feverish passengers, a third of whom are hacking and sneezing till hell won’t have it.
So that’s my excuse for not writing more blogs and being a big fat whiner today. In fact, for not writing much of anything lately. I’ve taken a week off, and plan to take next week off too before moving on to my next project – my second to last novel of the year.
With any luck I’ll also have all of December off, too. And then it all starts over again for 2016, only at a radically decreased rate. With something like 50 novels out by then, it’s not going to really change my fortunes if I have 54, or 58, by the end of that 2016. So I’m going with four to five releases next year.
Unless my super secret stealth project with a massive talent who shall go nameless gains traction and we get it done. But no pressure (yes, I’m squint eyeing you, and you know who you are). And no wagering.
In other news, Emerald Buddha releases Sept 29th. Black In The Box end of Oct. Rage of the Assassin end of Nov. So plenty to read between now and the year’s end.
New Year will mark four and a half years of self-publishing, and four of making a better than fair living at it. That still boggles my mind – that I get paid to lounge around in my underwear inventing stories (and I don’t mean doing my taxes). If there’s a better job for me, I don’t know what it is. I mean, I could think of a couple, but I’m pretty sure they don’t actually exist except in porn films.
So that’s all I’ve got. Whining about my frailty and hawking my crap. Same as ever. Least I’m consistent.
Another September, signaling the end of summer and the beginning of the autumn selling season. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway. These days one never knows. I’m still waiting for my ship to come in, and am gazing hopefully at the hazy horizon.
The Solomon Curse, co-authored with the legendary Clive Cussler, released on Sept. 1 and is racing up the charts. It’s been a blast working with Clive, and I’ve learned a lot doing so. Apparently this old dog is still capable of learning a few new tricks, even if they’re simple ones like roll over and play dead, which not coincidentally describes my typical weekend night, but don’t get me started.
On Sept. 29th, the sequel to my adventure saga, Ramsey’s Gold, releases: Emerald Buddha! I’ve very excited about this series, and it’s done well so far. My hope is that everyone in America will fall so in love with it that they’ll be compelled to buy the books as Xmas gifts – or for that matter, for any reason, as long as their Visa clears.
Beyond that, am still traveling like a madman. Finished up Rage of the Assassin and am in second draft. Noodling around with a few ideas for what to write next (which is shorthand for staring at my navel).
That’s about all I have, folks. Oh, except for this bitchin’ new cover for JET 4.