I had a discussion with an author the other day that I thought the writers who follow my blog might find interesting. We were talking about his latest WIP, and what I believed could be improved.
About a third of the way through the discussion, I gave him one of my secrets for writing a compelling novel. The secret is asking a simple question: What’s the point?
If you do that before outlining, or writing each chapter, you’ll wind up with a much more interesting book. Alternatively, for you pansters, when you go back on your first editing run, you should view each chapter with skepticism, asking, “what’s the point?”
If there’s no compelling reason for a chapter to be there, if it’s just blah blah, it should be cut. Period. Doesn’t matter that you wrote it, that it’s filled with your precious prose. There has to be a point to every chapter (we can actually take that to each paragraph, as well as to the overall book theme, but you get the idea).
Now, lest you misread me, I’m not saying that every chapter has to advance a major plot element forward. It’s that you need to understand why you’re writing it. Is it to tell the reader more about a character? To put the character in jeopardy? To foreshadow something that will be relevant later? To have something happen that’s essential to the story? Do you need an action beat?
If you find yourself looking at a chapter and the answer is, to increase the word count, or because I need something between this last bit and the next, don’t write it. Figure out the reason that this next chapter cries out to be in your book, and ensure you achieved your objective by the last word of it.
If you take this approach seriously, you might find your books getting shorter. That’s okay. It’s better to have a shorter, punchier book than a fat, bloated screed filled with meaningless meandering. Think as a reader. You really want to read ten pages describing the woods next to the house the protag’s just arrived at? No. There’s no point to it. So axe it.
Don’t get me wrong. You can have an objective like, “I want a rhythmic beat here so the reader can catch his breath.” But it would be better to combine that with, “and I want to show the reader something important about the character while I do it.”
So that’s my quick craft tip for the day. Ask yourself what’s the point. That will ensure that your chapters are mission driven by a clear objective.
Believe me, your reader and your editor will be glad you did.
Howey, that is. Superstar indie author of Wool. And genuinely, all-around nice guy.
We spent last evening talking about everything and everything on Authors On The Air radio, with Pam Stack.
We covered a lot of ground. Everything from self-evaluation as writers, to our vastly different approaches to generating content, to our philosophies of writing, to what all this Hachette/Amazon fuss is about, to traditional publishing, to writing romance, to the therapeutic value of tequila, to…well, just about everything.
Perhaps what was most interesting to me was how natural the discussion was, how brutally honest at times, and how easy it was to tackle a host of subjects. Callers chimed in, I got disconnected twice due to God’s wrath (okay, a passing hurricane, which sort of qualifies), and as always, I was mixed most of the time so that I sounded like an old woman screaming from the bottom of a well. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
It was interesting to me that he sees a big difference between genres in terms of the nurturing and support offered by established names, or trad pubbed authors to their self-pubbed brethren. My take is that the reason romance is more supportive vs., say, sci fi, is because sci fi is male dominated, and male dominated markets tend to be snake pits because, well, it’s all dudes swinging their dicks around being hyper-competitive and territorial. That’s my theory, anyway. Could be I’m wrong, but I don’t think so. Males tend to engage in a lot of zero sum thinking, which is why men fight and kill each other versus building bridges. A generality, but one I’ve found holds true.
We agreed to disagree on Amazon’s long term business strategy, but were unanimous that everyone should buy my crap.
There we have it. That’s the summary. If you have some extra time, worth a listen.
Oh, and my co-authored tome with Clive Cussler is selling briskly. Thank heavens and Amazon!
My co-authored debut with legendary grand master of adventure Clive Cussler, The Eye of Heaven, is live, and selling like dollar meals at McDs (or like they used to when a dollar bought anything but a stick of gum).
I of course attribute this to my name on the cover, although clearly someone at the publisher got the font size and color confused. But no matter, in this day of internet magic, word has apparently spread of the literary merit of my unique prose stylings, hence the rush of excitement.
Seriously, though, I love the opening of this book. Towering waves, a storm so brutal it’s palpable…exactly the sort of beginning I always admired when I was reading the genre oh so many years ago. I’m proud of how our effort turned out, and I hope that readers enjoy it – every chapter sought to raise the bar while hopefully increasing readers’ pulses.
So what’s next, you ask? Well, we’re working on another Fargo novel and enjoying the process, so I think we can expect to see one more Russell Blake/Clive Cussler collaboration, in, oh, about a year.
Those who are new to my work would be well advised to read The Voynich Cypher, for a racing treasure hunt in the mold of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, or if you want breakneck action, JET, which is my bestselling series. JET is unapologetically over-the-top fun, described as a female Bourne on steroids. The first book in the series, the prequel, JET – Ops Files, is free, and as good a place to start as any. Give it a shot, and if you like it, rest assured there are seven more volumes available, with number 8 releasing in December.
In the shameless self-promotion department, I was also just informed that JET has made it to the finals of the Kindle Book Review’s annual awards contest, with winners announced Oct. 1! Just finishing as a finalist is more than enough for me, unless of course winning comes with a huge check or a hottie in a lambo, in which case, get outta my way cause I’m a gonna take you out.
Here’s the badge I got. I intend to lord it over my enemies as I dance on their cold graves in my boots, chortling at their misery. And my critics, who are clearly bitter, angry malcontents deserving of nothing but mockery.
In other news, I’ll be interviewing Hugh Howey on Authors On The Air radio on Sept. 4th at 8 pm EST, and we’ll be talking about a host of subjects, all of which will be a complete surprise to both of us since we’ve done no preparation. If you want to hear two bestselling indies winging it and shooting the breeze, tune in. And if you have any questions for Hugh, leave them in the comments. With any luck at all that will provide the basis of the show. Otherwise, it’s likely to degrade into arguments about boats and the cost of beer, and nobody needs to listen to that for an hour. You’ve been warned. This is on you if that’s what happens.
On Thursday, September 4th, at 8pm EST, legendary bestselling author Hugh Howey and I will have an impromptu live chat on Authors On The Air radio. This will be the literary equivalent of a cage fight, no rules, no referee, no limitations on the amount of popcorn consumed. If you don’t tune in, a puppy will…well, you don’t want to know.
Those of you who follow my utterings have no doubt heard me on Pam Stack’s show, which usually quickly deteriorates into name calling, abuse, vulgarity, and profanity that would make a drunk sailor blush.
Why Hugh, who sells more books than Elvis or the Beatles, would sully his otherwise pristine reputation by agreeing to this abuse is beyond me. I’m guessing he lost a bet. Or was drunk. Or both.
Be that as it may, this presents a marvelous opportunity to ask the man anything you like, either calling in, or by leaving the questions you’d most like answered by him in the comments section of this blog. Don’t bother leaving questions for me because I’ll just ignore the uncomfortable ones (which are most, knowing you lot), but Hugh’s way too polite, which is probably why he can buy and sell me like a used Yugo.
So what would you like to know? Whose shirts he wears? Whether he’s jealous he didn’t write JET? What his favorite color is? What’s next in his career? Ask away. No guarantees he’ll answer, but this is your best shot.
In the meantime, clock’s ticking down on my first co-authored novel with Clive Cussler, The Eye Of Heaven, going live on Tuesday. And I’m busy writing away with him on the next installment, so the first one can’t be too terrible. Don’t be a cheapskate – spring the bucks to buy it and find out.
Because, as we all know, the bar tabs don’t pay themselves…
See y’all on Thursday.
About once a day I get an email from an author saying something to the effect of, “I wrote the best book ever, I put my heart and soul into it, but now that I pushed publish I can’t get it any attention!”
My response: “Life is fundamentally unfair and nobody gives two shits about you, your book, or anything you think or do. You’re welcome. Leave a dollar on the way out.”
If that seems harsh, because, gosh darn it, we spend so much time agonizing over the incredible weight of just being us, remember that everyone else thinks that all this is their movie, and you only exist to the extent that you flicker on their dim screen, which is to say, not at all.
Sorry. That’s how it is.
“But Russell,” you mewl, “I’m earnest and honest and true!”
Well, yes, perhaps you are. But that’s like being the best dressed guy at the bar at 2 am, and there’s only one girl left and she’s waiting for the bartender to get off work. Meaning, you’re hosed. It happens. That’s how life works. You can be special and different and gifted and good, but the meathead muscle builder who packs groceries for a living and lives in his mother’s garage walked out with the hottie at around nine and now all that’s left are five hundred candidates, none of whom have a shot because there are simply no takers, other than each other, and nobody’s got enough to buy that last drink because they’re also all broke.
That’s traditional publishing in a nutshell. One slot, five hundred thousand wannabes. And it’s also self-publishing. A million books, and your epic is just one of them, interchangeable to the masses with Snooki’s, only they have no idea who the F you are because you weren’t on a reality show or had big enough implants.
You want an easy gig? Go be a nuclear physicist. This shit is hard, and you have to be out of your mind to believe you can make it barring a ton of work, incredible luck, and the stamina of Hercules.
I know. Nobody wants to hear that. They want to hear magical thinking about just keep writing and you’ll eventually make it. Uh huh. You and the other million people who are all doing precisely the same thing. It’s akin to the pitch MLMs give their new initiates, wherein they too can own the 200 foot yacht they get to go on as a reward once a year. No, sweetie, you don’t get to do any of that. Not unless you’re first, top of the pyramid, and have exceptional self-promotion skills and the momentum of a landslide.
Which should be your first clue. If you want to make it in this business? Be an exception. Meaning carve out your niche and make yourself relevant to readers. How? Beats me. I only know what I did, and that’s about as useful as saying, “write an amazing serial that catches everyone’s imagination at just the right point in history.” Or maybe, “write BDSM fan fiction of Twilight and start a whole new genre!” Or maybe, “sparkly vampires, f#ckwad, sparkly vampires. Now do it.”
None of that helps you. None of it matters to you. All you’re left with is you, your words, and your ability to matter to people, to reach them, to make them care.
How can you get your book visibility? I have no idea. Wish I did. I’d be conning you out of a fortune in “how to” books and seminars and in-person weekend retreats to learn my platinum-level, inner circle, guaranteed hot-off-the-presses gold rush tips. I can’t do that. It’s like, imagine there are a million people, all of whom decided that after two nights of drunk karaoke they were going to be pro singers, because Mick Jagger can’t really sing but he gets paid a fortune and they’re at least as good as he is. Sound delusional? Replace pro singers with authors, and Mick Jagger with whoever your favorite hack writer-turned-superstar is, and there you go.
How can you write a bestseller? One word at a time.
See? I’m just no fun.
I’m sorry there’s no secret formula that I know of to hit indie success. But other than extremely hard work and marathon hours, I haven’t seen any – and that presumes you can actually write. I know that’s not what everyone wants to hear because it’s kind of depressing, just like we don’t want to hear that at the end of this we’re worm food. People will pay a lot of money to hear that’s not it at all, and there’s much more awaiting you on the other side, like trailer parks filled with virgins or whatever the flavor du jour is (but nobody every has the answer to what to the virgins get out of the deal – or is it just paradise for guys? Which would suck for roughly 50% of the planet, but never mind, seems to be selling well). I’m sorry I don’t have any bromides for you to swallow, no anodyne aphorisms to sell.
BTW, my NA series is da bomb. That’s all I’m going to say. If you wait too long to see what I’m talking about you’ll feel like a complete ass hat. Trust me. It’s exciting. Really. And I’m not just saying that. Although clearly it’s me saying that. Never mind. F you, hatahs. Word.
That, and if you don’t watch this, you’ll die of brain ebola while clowns boogarize you and your family. Don’t chance it. They’re everywhere, like Satan living silently in your heart, waiting for the right moment to take control.
Well, after the July kerfuffle wherein Amazon paid all borrows through the KU program whether opened and read to 10% or not, things have settled down to normal now, and borrows have predictably slowed (they’re paying and listing only those read at least 10% now, as originally intended).
The good news is that, based on all the conversations I’ve had, the percentage of books read to at least 10% appears to be north of 90% of KU borrows. That’s all kinds of awesome, because frankly, curmudgeon that I am, I would have expected more like 25% or so.
So it looks like the economics of KU are positive for those who do short stories, or whose books sell for $2.99 or less.
For those whose books sell for more, a borrow pays less than a sale. Now, it’s quite possible that those who are borrowing would have never shelled out the $3.99 or more for those books, so one could say it’s found money, and that further, by having a KU borrower read one of your books for that “free-to-me” price you’ve gained a reader, but I hesitate to say that.
I’ll give you an example. Between my two bundles this year, I sold over 200K units. That is a shitload of units.
But the strange thing is I haven’t seen a big surge in readership. I’ve seen some, but not nearly what you’d expect from shifting those sorts of numbers.
Now, there are several possible explanations. First is that my writing blows goats, and once exposed to my florid, overwritten dross, readers justifiably throw up their hands in disgust (or throw up on their hands, but why quibble?).
Second is that nobody read any of the books in the bundle.
But the third is the one that makes the most sense to me based on the also-boughts: Bundle readers buy bundles, because they’re a specific type of reader for whom quantity at a nominal price is the most important differentiator. Much like those that hoard free units (where the vast majority confine their reading to other free books, except on very rare occasions). With bundle readers, they buy more bundles – that’s what the also-boughts tell us. They’re bundle buyers, not individual book buyers, at least based on the also-boughts, and input from other authors bears that out. They may well appreciate your fine work, but they aren’t about to shell out $5 for it when there are thousands of books to be had at .99 for a dozen or whatnot.
This is a kind of market segmentation retailers understand. There are coupon buyers, and there are those who could give a crap about coupons. Certain types of coupon buyers will only or mostly buy things that are discounted substantially, usually with a coupon. They’re not the target for brands that boast quality as their differentiator. Coupon buyers care about quality, of course, but what they care about most is that they’re getting the product at a deep discount via the coupon. I don’t have to argue that this is so – it’s well understood in retail.
My suspicion is that KU borrowers might fall into the library model: folks who may well appreciate quality, but who won’t buy books when there are thousands they can read for their $10 a month. If that’s the case, those borrows may well not manifest as a deluge of additional purchases. They’ll manifest as a lot of borrows, and that’s it, because the reader will move on to the next borrowed book, not buy one of yours.
I can’t be sure, but we’ll know soon enough.
If I’m right, that still doesn’t mean KU isn’t a good deal for authors. It just means that as with everything, it’s important to have realistic expectations.
I have friends reporting that they’re seeing borrows accounting for 40% or more of their mix now. But if their mix is normally $4 or $5 books, they’re going to be bummed at the end of the month, when it turns out that 40% unit increase translates into a 20% or so dollar increase, which may be offset by sales cannibalized by the borrows (why anyone believes that borrows have no cannibalizing effect on sales is beyond me – I won’t buy a book for $5 if I can borrow it for free – duh). So the net may not be as big a bump as everyone thinks, when measured in dollars, not in widgets shifted. I tend to measure my earnings in only one way: net at the end of the month. How it comes in isn’t that important to me as the total amount, and whether it’s shrinking or growing.
But why, one might ask, would Amazon set up a program to attract library-model readers, as opposed to making more sales?
Simple. Amazon is an everything store. I buy most everything I can from them. They’re always the cheapest, they’re the most reliable, they have everything, and they have excellent customer service in terms of returns.
When you’re in the everything store business, it’s a numbers game. You need as many customers as possible to come into your funnel so you can entice them to buy other things once they’re there. So you have two challenges – how to get them there in the first place, and how to keep them there, buying crap, once you have them.
KU is yet another way of building loyalty and getting them there in the first place.
I get it. I completely understand why it makes sense for Amazon, and I’m delighted that it makes sense for some authors. Truth be told I’m a little jealous. I wish I had some 10-20K word stories lying around that I could put an awesome cover on and get $1.80 per download for. “Mauled by the Mastiff.” “Branded by the Bull.” “Taken by the Tapir.” My shapeshifting erotic career could soar into overdrive.
I’m curious. What are you seeing? I have about a third of my titles in Select. So I win either way. That’s why I diversify. Better some of everything than all or nothing. If I was all out of Select, I’d miss any windfall from KU. If was all in, I’d miss sales from other channels and building my brand on those platforms. I like win-wins. The way I’m using KU appears to be one, to me.
On another note, I was alerted to a troubling trend, namely overt plagiarism by certain authors who seem to believe that changing the names of the characters in an erotic shapeshifter story and then uploading it as their own is a good idea. Beats the crap out of writing it yourself, I suppose. There are even ads on O-Desk seeking people at $10 a pop to change the names and genders of characters in works so the “authors” can then make some quick bucks selling it as their own.
Now, while I’m certainly not one to begrudge other no-talent hacks from making a dime, come on, people. What kind of lowlife BS is this? If you’re too lazy or stupid to write “Boogerized by the Boogieman” yourself, you’re not cut out to be an author. Changing the names and taking other peoples’ prose and representing it as your own for profit is stealing, plain and simple, and should be vilified by authors and readers alike. I’d like to see these shitgrubs driven from the land, because this business is hard enough to make money at without predators stealing your work and selling it as their own. If you know of anyone doing this, complain to Amazon, and let the rightful authors know what’s up. I’d throw some serious cash at bankrolling my attorney to core them a new one if it ever happens to me, and I’d take every penny they made, plus attorneys fees, just on principle.
* UPDATE * One of the worst offenders, Clarissa Black, just had all of her books yanked from Amazon. Apparently they were mostly plagiarized from successful authors’ works, with the names changed and a word here and there altered. I seriously hope that they don’t pay her, and further hope that those who were plagiarized sue her for any profits she earned.
While we’re on the subject of no-talent hacks, R.E. Blake’s YA/NA literary career is getting off to a promising start with an increasing number of delighted reviews from my ARC program to qualified bloggers on Goodreads. I have a good feeling about how Less Than Nothing and its sequel, More Than Anything, will fare. My fingers are crossed. Melissa Foster and Toby Neal have so far piped in with gracious blurbs for LTN, and I’m hoping that more will follow from some respectable names. Guess we’ll see.
Just another day in Funville. Now back to the WIP. Because there’s always a WIP. Always…
Anyone that knows me professionally has probably read my “How To Sell Loads Of Books” blog, which offers indie authors a template of sorts for making it in an extremely tough business.
That blog has been viewed more than any other blog I’ve written. I get at least one email a week from an author who has applied all the counsel in it consistently and is making respectable money now after flailing for months, or years.
I was asked the other day why I still keep to the schedule I do. Why, with 30 books out, co-authoring with Clive Cussler, I push myself to write 8 or 9 novels a year, some of which aren’t plagiarized or completely derivative of whatever’s hot at the moment.
The reason, in a nutshell, is I love getting it right, and almost more importantly, getting it right my way, on my own terms.
The reason I write so much is because I’m always trying to get it a little more right. Evoke emotion a little more powerfully. Paint a scene with a little more skill. Tell a story a little better.
One could look at me, as The Wall Street Journal did in January, and think that the story is, “Wow, the man’s written 25 books in 30 months.” No disrespect to the WSJ, but that’s not the story. The story, in my mind, is that I’ve been able to establish Russell Blake as a viable brand in action/adventure, a quality storyteller in that extremely competitive genre, and do it my way. That I’ve got tens of thousands of readers who enjoy my work in a genre I keep hearing is almost impossible to break into, much less break into big, and where sales are down for all but the very biggest names.
You wouldn’t know it to see my sales. If this is a down market genre, God bless the gasping wreckage of Men’s Fiction. It’s provided handsomely for me so far, and appears to be willing to do so for the foreseeable future.
The real story is that authors don’t require anyone to vindicate their skill or their plan other than readers. You don’t need to win the lottery. You can control your destiny to a large extent through sheer force of will, extremely hard work, and a constant drive to best your very best work every time you sit down to write.
Does that mean you’re guaranteed to sell? No. Of course not. If you’re writing because you hope to make money at it, perhaps view it as a better way of doing so than your day job, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, IMO. If you write because you have a burning desire to tell your story better than it could ever be told by anyone else, that’s why you should write. If you have that desire, and you apply yourself, pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, constantly strive to improve your craft – not the craft of formal structure that arbiters of quality find so important, but the craft of telling a story in as compelling and entertaining a manner as possible – you will create a legacy of worthwhile work. The more worthwhile work you create, the better the odds are that someone reads it, likes it, and tells a friend. You win readers one at a time, and if they love what you do, they will stick with you for an entire career.
You’re not trying to make a sale. You’re trying to earn your readers’ trust by telling your stories as well as it’s possible to tell them, and if you’re like me, do it on your own terms. What does that mean? It means that you accept full responsibility for every aspect of the product, and that you are constantly reexamining your work, asking yourself if that’s truly the very best you can do, with no compromises, shortcuts, excuses, or concessions. It means that you will move mountains to find your audience, and you will reward them with an experience they can’t get elsewhere. It means you will be relevant to them.
If you can do that you’ll eventually make plenty of money. Doesn’t matter what you’re doing, actually. Any business, any occupation, if you do it because it’s absolutely what you must do, no matter what, and you’ll do whatever it takes to make it, money will find you – at least that’s been my fortunate experience. To many, your success will look a lot like luck. Many of the lucky authors I know have been working for years, doing this in the manner I’ve described, and the world finally caught on to their good thing. They appear to have come out of nowhere or won the lottery. But they all work extremely hard, are exacting in their demands on themselves, constantly try to better their efforts, and do so exactly the same way, whether they are selling next to nothing, or are bestsellers.
They do it because it’s important to them. In a way, they’re extremely selfish people, because they’re fulfilling their inner desire to matter through their chosen medium: the written word. Some make a lot of money, others very little. But they all do it with single-minded intensity because that’s just how they are, and this is just what they do.
Audiences can tell if you’re full of shit. Over time they can sense it. I don’t believe you can fake what I’m describing. I know plenty who try, but there’s always something just a little off about their effort. Sometimes they can fool the audience, but over the years it unravels. Because it’s hard to sustain a lie indefinitely. It requires energy that eventually sputters out. And then the audience is left with whatever is beneath the lie. And they don’t respond kindly.
Audiences are fickle and have short attention spans, but most importantly, audiences tend to buy entertainers who mean it. Maybe not the most talented. Not even the most skilled. Many a singer who’s a marginal talent goes big and stays big with a mediocre instrument and limited range – I cant think of more than a few pop icons who fit that bill. Many authors who go big and stay that way are described as plodding or untalented by the critics with more refined, elite tastes, who purport to know good from bad. That’s why the best work is not the most popular, and the most popular is often not the best, in their view.
My point is simple: If you want to be a bestselling author, write lots of books that matter to your audience, and never let them down. Promote so your audience knows that you have what they’re searching for. Deliver for them. Mean it. Tell that story the best it’s ever been told, and wake up every day trying to get it a little more right, a little better, and you’ll never run out of motivation. For me, the drive to be a successful author is simply the drive to matter.
It’s not what you do that’s important, it’s why you do it that counts. At the end of this we’re all worm food. Nobody gets out of it alive. And none of us knows how long we have. That’s the big lie – we imagine we always still have time, which is perhaps why we’re surprised when our time runs out. If you’re writing because you want success and all that comes with it, money, recognition, notoriety, admiration, whatever, you’re writing for the wrong reasons. If that’s your motivator you’ll be let down. You’ve chosen a business that’s extremely difficult to make it in, where the odds are beyond terrible. If you’re doing this because you believe you’re a special snowflake who will get all those things on account of you’re just you, probably not.
This is very different from the practical advice I offer in my “How To Sell Loads Of Books” blog. That’s more concerned with tactics and strategies for bookselling, tips on how to be a producer of goods people want to buy, on how to operate your publishing company in a businesslike fashion and approach both the publishing and the writing side with discipline. It’s the how to part of the equation. Important, but very different from what I’m talking about in this blog.
As an example, if you help people because you want to appear helpful or compassionate or generous or whatnot, because you hope that you’ll be noticed as such, and will gain some sort of advantage (be it thought of as a good person, or perhaps inspire folks to support you, or have people like you), that’s not the same as helping people because you feel driven to help.
Writing because you hope for the trappings of success is very different than writing because you want to matter to someone – your audience. And the way you matter to your audience is by telling your stories in a way that nobody else can or would. That takes work. A lot of it.
In my experience, if you keep your reader at the forefront of every decision you make, you’re way ahead of those who start their decision making process by trying to figure out what they can easily do, or what they can afford.
That’s all I have today. It just occurred to me as I looked back at my career over the last 38 months, and at my schedule for the next 12. There’s no frigging way I would work nearly this hard for anybody but myself, which means for my readers. For the people for whom I actually matter. Those who get it. My readers. For them, I’ll move the earth.
In closing, I’m reminded of one of my favorite authors, James Lee Burke, whose novel was rejected by every big brain in publishing, 110 times, for 13 years, all of whom were unified in their belief that his work was unfit for publication. When a small university press finally picked it up and printed it the novel was nominated for a Pulitzer. Point being that all the experts, all the cognoscenti, got it completely wrong. They had gold in their hands and for whatever reason, they passed. Readers had a completely different take than the experts and critics – none of whom had ever written a bestseller themselves, but all of whom were convinced they knew one when they saw it, and knew what it took to be one. Turns out, not so much. But JLB wasn’t writing for them. He was writing for his readers. Thank God he did.
So what’s the takeaway?
Readers matter more than anyone if you want to be a successful author. And you’ve got to do it because you’re driven to do it, if you want to make it for the long haul. If you’re not driven to do it, do everyone a favor and find something easier to pursue. Really. Because it won’t end well, and you’ll feel like you’ve wasted a lot of time, rather than invested it wisely in something you’d pay to do.
For those wondering how my NA/YA/Romance mashup is going, here’s the cinematic trailer for Less Than Nothing, releasing Oct. 7.
Less than two weeks until my co-authored novel with Clive Cussler, The Eye Of Heaven, goes live.
That should be exciting. Can’t wait to see how high on the lists it goes. Be nice to hit the NY Times first week, which seems like a lock.
I think Cussler readers will enjoy it.
Won’t be long now.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited last month with much fanfare, establishing a subscription model for its offerings – pay one low fee each month, read as many books as you like. You’re restricted to downloading ten at a time, though, and you have to delete one to make room for your eleventh, but hey, tomato, tomahto. The point is that you can now read whatever you like without having to pay more than $10 a month.
An awesome deal, right?
I signed up. Of course, I have no time, so it was all I could do to make it through Michael Lewis’ latest, Flash Boys, before my 30 day free trial was over (fascinating reading for anyone wondering why the markets are so broken, and who’s behind it).
For that reason, I canceled my subscription at the end of thirty days. I just don’t have the time. I have a backlog of a year’s worth of books. I’m not the target customer.
There was a SNAFU on Amazon’s side with respect to payment during that first month. Apparently the reporting dashboard was reporting all borrows, regardless of whether they were read at least 10% (the threshold for an author to be entitled to the borrow fee payment). To Amazon’s credit, instead of saying, hey, there was a glitch, you actually only are entitled to a quarter of what you thought (or whatever it is), they paid a reduced amount on all borrows, regardless of whether any of them were read or not. That was a classy move from the retailer, who could have just as easily not paid on the ones that weren’t at the 10% + read point, and been 100% in the right.
A couple of observations: Because the borrow fee looks to be somewhere in the $1.50-$2.25 range (the historical norm for Select borrows), it encourages only one sort of participation – very short works, which are hard to or impossible to sell for anywhere close to a price that will net you the amount paid for a borrow (I think of that as Amazon inefficiency arbitrage), and books that are priced in the $2.99 or under price range (for whatever reason – length, lack of popularity, whatever). Above that and you’re receiving less for a borrow than for a sale. Now, while you can argue that you are perhaps seeing borrows from folks who otherwise wouldn’t have tried your fine work, it’s impossible to know that, so I file it in the wishful thinking bin. What I do know is that there is an inverse relationship between borrows and sales. Borrows go up, sales adjust down by some amount. In my case, it’s often that the borrows cannibalized the sales at an almost 1:1 ratio. Others report different ratios, so I might just be weird, or it could be my genre, or whose shirts I wear, when I wear anything at all – and don’t judge, hatahs.
One thing I noticed as I was browsing the titles was that none of the books I have been holding off buying to read are in the program, so for me there was little value to it, even if it was only one or two books a month I could get to. Because if the ones I’m interested in aren’t in the program, then the program’s only offering me stuff I don’t much care about.
For instance, I really, really want to find the time to read I Am Pilgrim. I’ve been told by multiple people that it’s a marvelous spy thriller, right up my alley. I looked for it but it wasn’t in the program. Ditto for James Lee Burke’s latest, Wayfaring Stranger. Not in it.
These are trad pubbed titles, but my point is that I have limited time and when I get to read, I either do so for research or because it’s an author who really impresses me. A program that doesn’t give me what I’m looking for loses me.
Does that mean that the program itself is a loser? Not at all. I see the wisdom of it for voracious readers. But for authors, well, that depends. Take me as an example. The majority of my titles aren’t in the program, because to be in it requires the titles be exclusive to Amazon. Now don’t get me wrong. I have six or seven titles exclusive with them. I view that as diversification, just as I view having 23 or whatever on different platforms to be diversification as well. I want some in the program, some out, just in case the program is a windfall – I don’t want to miss out, but I don’t want to risk too much to find out, either.
To be exclusive on all my books? Makes no sense because my average novel is $5, and new releases are $6. Why would I want to accept $1.80 when a sale will pay me double to triple that, and forgo the 20% or so of my sales that are not on Amazon? See the problem? Because it requires exclusivity from me, it’s created a binary decision. Perhaps if it didn’t require exclusivity I’d be more tempted to toss a few more onto the pile, but as it is, it doesn’t make financial sense. Maybe I’m wrong – the test will be how my Amazon exclusive titles do over the next months. I’ll report back on that. So far it’s a wait and see.
What do you think? What’s been your experience? Inquiring minds want to know.
I was reminded yesterday by a friend that my third year of self-publishing passed in June and I didn’t even blog about it.
That should tell you how busy I’ve been lately. Next year I swear on a stack of bibles I slow down. And I mean it this time. Really.
Belatedly, here’s my three year anniversary blog.
Three years ago, in June, 2011, I released Fatal Exchange upon the world. I followed it within six weeks with The Geronimo Breach, and six weeks after that with the Zero Sum trilogy. Then came How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated) and An Angel With Fur, and then in an orgiastic flurry of writing, The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, King of Swords, and Night of the Assassin. All released by December, 2011. That’s a lot of books. 12 if you count the trilogies as trilogies, 8 if you count them as single volumes as I now have them bundled (in omnibus editions).
Little did I know that pace would be the one I stuck to for 38 months and counting. In 2012, I released Return and Revenge of the Assassin, The Voynich Cypher, Silver Justice, and in another flurry of writing, the first four JET novels. In 2013 came JET 5 and 6, Blood of the Assassin, Upon A Pale Horse, and BLACK 1-3. Somewhere in there I also managed to co-author a novel.
2014 has seen JET 7, BLACK 4, JET – Ops Files, Requiem for the Assassin in Sept, three R.E. Blake tomes, another co-authored novel, and another JET at the end of the year. Oh, and one I’m shopping to trad pub that I haven’t published yet, that is the first of a new series.
Notice a trend? On average, 8-9 novels a year. Or one about every five weeks.
Anyway, here are my thoughts about this business, after 38 months at it: 1) Everything I know about how to operate a book selling business is contained in a few blogs at this site, most notably the “How To Sell Loads of Books” blog, and the “Three Ds” blog. 2) If writing is your recreation and fun, it doesn’t seem like work to write a million words a year. 3) Asking yourself questions like, “How do I make this next chapter/story/series the best I’ve ever written and have fun doing it?” gets you far different answers than negative ones, and virtually eradicates writers block. 4) If you believe you can do it, you’re right. 5) If you believe you can’t, you’re right. Motivation is your greatest asset, and motivation is fueled by enthusiasm over the long haul. Love what you do, and you’ll always have the necessary motivation to do it.
Sales have been stellar. I crossed the 750K units sold point, and will close on 850K by year end, if not more. I’ve branded my offerings as being in the $5-$6 range, and consumers seem comfortable with that value proposition. I don’t see any need to charge more, nor less. All’s well.
Since I started at this, I’ve been fortunate enough to co-author with the legendary Clive Cussler on his Fargo series, appeared above the fold on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, as well as in The Times and The Chicago Tribune (and Huffington, The Examiner, yadda yadda), my work has been translated into German (King of Swords by Amazon Crossing, JET by Lucifer Press) and Bulgarian (The Voynich Cypher). I’ve been a Kindle Daily Deal with King of Swords, and a Kindle weekly deal (or whatever they call that) with BLACK.
Amazon has treated me well, and despite my constant skepticism of all corporations, I have no complaints about them. I know they’ve taken some steps I didn’t like (lowering ACX royalties and doing away with the effectiveness of free Select promos being the biggies) but on the whole, I have a career because of them. Yes, I know the other platforms were also there for me, but let’s not kid ourselves – it’s the acceptance of the kindle by readers that fueled this opportunity, not of Nook or iPad. So to Amazon, I say, muchas gracias.
Readers seem eager for my next releases, and I’m living the writing dream from a beach in Mexico, where the weather’s warm, the beer’s cold, the sky and sea are blue, and the living’s easy.
Hard to whine about any of it.
And to think that three and a half years ago it would have never occurred to me to do any of this. I had zero interest in spending years submitting work to NY in the hopes someone would figure it out. Instead, I wrote for pleasure and busied myself with other endeavors (designing and building custom homes, making and importing wine in Argentina) during my purported retirement.
Here’s what I now know: Readers are the most important thing a writer has. Readers are the ones that consume an author’s work, and without them, we have nothing. If you concentrate on writing stories your readers want to read, you’ll probably have a far easier time of it than if you lose sight of them and write what some committee thinks will be the next big thing. They don’t have the faintest. Only the readers know what the readers want, and often they have no idea, either.
I’ve also learned that you can make serious money going direct to the consumer. Maybe not King or Grisham level loot, but more than enough to live your fantasies, presuming they don’t involved G-550 ownership or multiple wives.
To readers: Thank you for the opportunity. Mmmwah! To other authors: I’ve never had a breakout hit (yet), and my business model doesn’t require one. My point is that one can have a sustainable business that pays more than fairly, where one answers to nobody, and which is entirely your own, by self-publishing. Is it as good as getting deci-million dollar advances? Not a chance. Is it as good as getting million dollar advances? So far, I’d have to say yes. But as to the deci-million dollar advances, friends of mine like Holly Ward would probably say that as long as the cash hits the bank, it doesn’t matter where it comes from, and in a big way they’d be right. Maybe next year. Anything can happen. Anything.
I love what I’m doing for a living. I was doing it for free for my own pleasure, and I love it even more now that I’m doing it for readers. My final words of advice for budding authors is to always keep readers at the forefront of your thoughts, and to focus on improving your craft every day, like using a muscle. If you do that, you’ve got an advantage over most of your peers, who are in this for other reasons than to tell the best story they can as well as they can. Make that your priority and you can’t go wrong, whether or not you hit the sales lottery.
Again, thanks to all for the support. It’s been a hell of a three year run, and I actually can’t wait to see what the next three will be like. I’m sure there will be challenges and obstacles, but with all peaks will come valleys. Goes with the territory. If you can have higher highs and higher lows, that’s a good trend. So far so good.