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Kindle

15 Sep 2012, by

On Piracy

I was recently alerted to the fact that a number of my books are available on pirate sites. I’ve got mixed feelings about that, and I thought it would make suitable fodder for a blog so I thought I’d toss my hat into the debate.

On the one hand, I’m flattered. With almost a million indie authors out there who can’t get arrested, that sites feel my work is in suitable demand to offer it, albeit pirated, can only be considered a compliment. Another way of looking at it is that pirated copies are basically no different than the freebies I give out during free promos, and the more readers familiar with my work, the more are likely to buy something eventually.

Perhaps.

Still another way of looking at it is that this is merely book lending, albeit with no limit on the number of times a book can be simultaneously lent. In the physical world, you can only lend a book one at a time, like a library. In the virtual world, you can do the equivalent of counterfeiting, which is where you fire up the Xerox machine and make 10K copies of that one book and distribute them. There is a reason that copyright wording restricts the ability to copy to the copyright holder, not the purchaser of a single copy of the book. If you want to look at it clearly, the content of the book is licensed for that single use copy, and the copy is the property of the buyer – but not the content, at least not to reproduce it. Because again, that would skew supply and demand.

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NEWS: How about that? The Geronimo Breach is featured as an example in a blog on self-editing for indie authors. Worth a read.

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The other hand is less pretty. That perspective is that piracy is theft, pure and simple – a book’s intellectual property is still property, as clearly articulated in the copyright notice, and it’s not anyone’s property but the copyright owner. That’s not ambiguous. One might argue that’s unfair, or bad, or shouldn’t be, but the one thing it isn’t is ambiguous. So if you are pirating, it is clear you DON’T OWN the property you are electronically copying and distributing, and that it is AGAINST THE LAW to do so, because the law views the taking and distributing of material that isn’t yours as copyright infringement – a kind of theft. Those offering pirated goods are offering stolen goods, and those downloading the stolen goods are participating in the theft – they are benefiting by getting something they would have had to pay for if they obeyed the law or if the stolen articles weren’t available for download.

I’m familiar with all kinds of arguments for piracy – that the receivers of the stolen property might not be able to afford the goods, or that it does no real harm and is thus a victimless crime, or that it can have a benefit for authors by familiarizing readers with their work, or that protection of intellectual property is basically greed-driven and “old paradigm.” I can sympathize with all of these arguments, but in the end I find them to be rationalizations for stealing. Inevitably those with broken moral compasses try to muddy the water and debate whether stealing is wrong or not (if you had to steal to survive, is it really so wrong? To save your baby? And so on), but I’m pretty clear that whatever it is, it isn’t right.

If I invest several thousands of dollars in editing and creating covers and the like, I hope to recoup that cost, plus a reward for my time in creating the work in the first place. That’s reasonable – as per the copyright, I own it, so I’m entitled to expect compensation (if I have the work for sale) for my effort. When someone decides to download a pirated copy of one of my books, they are gaining the benefit of my work without compensating me. All other arguments aside, that’s the net of the transaction. I don’t see the revenue that is my due as the intellectual property rights owner.

I’ve heard folks who say, yeah, but it’s not really hurting your sales anyway, or the sales of big companies, who are making tons of money and thus can afford to be victimized by criminals. The problem with that idea is that it assumes that I’m not being harmed. I would argue I am being even more harmed than a large company that can afford to have some lost revenue due to theft. Because I’m a small business, every lost sale hits me directly in hundred cent dollars. My self-publishing business is a business, not a philanthropic enterprise. It pays bills. It does so by being paid for the product it distributes.

I believe that the more people who read my work the better. But it is my right to decide which work I make free, and when, and to whom. If someone bought a hard copy book of mine (assuming I had them) and lent it to a friend, who lent it to a friend who did the same thing, I would have no problem with that. Because the form factor limits the ability to distribute it – there’s no chance of that same copy being lent 10K times in one month, or simultaneously. Likewise, I have no problem with someone selling it for 10 cents at a used book store or garage sale, for the same reason. But with an ebook it is very different.

It’s my right to decide, as the IP rights holder, when and how I want to give stuff away free. It is not someone else’s right. Forgetting for a moment any moral arguments, can we agree at least that if something is illegal everywhere, it’s probably illegal for a good reason? Now, one might argue that it’s OK to break bad laws, and I might even sign up for that. But the real question comes down to, how much of someone else’s property that I have no legitimate right to is it OK for me to use and receive the benefit of and distribute? Put another way, how many hours of your 40 hour workweek, after you deduct the roughly 20 hours you work for the government, and the 10 to 15 you work for the bank and insurance companies…how many of the five remaining hours are you willing to work for free, for me, so I can have the benefit of your labor? One? Two? All five? How would you feel if a criminal syndicate showed up and simply stole one hour’s worth of post-tax, post-mortgage/CC money from you every week? Would you be ambivalent? Would you be furious? Would you figure that you weren’t really being harmed, or worse, that you were being “greedy” because you sort of had use for that money you worked so hard to make?

Or we can look at it another way. You are a sculptor who has managed to create a line of work that is unique, and you have protected it so nobody else can knock it off and represent their copy as your creation. You make little sculptures for a living, and you have opened a store to sell your designs. How many sculptures is it OK to steal from that store? 1%? 10%? 20%? Or how many copies of the protected work is it OK to make and sell, represented as the sculptor’s work, in a shop right next door?

I’ve heard pirating likened to book lending. It isn’t. I’ve heard arguments that say “the more pirating of books, the better, as it increases my sales.” Well, maybe so, if you sell hard copy books through stores. But when the only thing you have to sell are the bits and bytes that compose the intellectual property of a book, there’s no such distribution or form factor-based differentiators. There is simply product X, which consists of bits and bytes, and pirated product X, which is identical in every way. I’m quite sure that if someone was operating a factory to create hard copies of Neil Gamon’s work and sell them alongside his legitimate work in bookstores or at the airport, he wouldn’t have the same laisser-faire view he tosses out now. If Barnes decided to print copies of his book, foregoing that annoying part where they have to pay the author or publisher anything, and then sold them for nothing as a loss leader to drive store traffic, what would the value of his identical legitimate offering priced at $12 be perceived as, right along side of the identical copy for free?

The answer is obvious. But somehow the concept that in cyber-space, because the bookshelf is virtual, versus in a store, it makes it OK to do the same thing. Except even a cursory analysis shows that it isn’t OK at all. If Nora Roberts has a book for $8.99 at Amazon as an ebook, and Shiftyreads has the identical book available as a free download for anyone who wants it, it DOES have an impact on how many books she will sell at Amazon. Of course it does. I can go on and on. If Baskin Robbins charges $4 for a scoop of Y flavor here, and right next door they give away knock-off Baskin Robbins flavor Y for free, will it have an impact on Baskin’s legit sales? Figure it out. Of course it will.

About the only two arguments I’ve heard for piracy being good are anecdotes from authors who seem to mistake correlation with causality (sales increased by 100% since being pirated), and those comparing it to book lending via libraries or in book clubs. Let’s address the first. If one makes the mistaken assumption that pirating didn’t occur BECAUSE the author was picking up steam and becoming more popular, one could mistake that for pirating RESULTING in higher sales. It also requires that one confabulate print books with ebooks. I could see where if you have a radically different product (print books) than the pirated ebook, familiarity with the author’s work which was a function of reading a pirated copy could boost paper sales. But I think it’s fairly obvious that they aren’t going to boost ebook sales of the available-as-pirated titles, if all the same work is available either as a pirated good or as a genuine one. If you think it will, go back to my Baskin Robbins scenario. How much more of flavor Y will Baskin sell out of its location if Pirate Ice next door gives away the identical thing for free? My gut says not a lot. Now assume that it’s a virtual storefront, and that the store is everywhere at once, available to everyone at once. Same question – how much ice cream will they sell? The answer – less than if Pirate Ice wasn’t giving it away right next to them.

In the end, I have arrived at several conclusions. First, pirating can increase visibility of an author’s work, which is good. No question. Second, theft of intellectual property is still theft, just as counterfeiting a stock or a note is theft (it deceives the receiver, and robs the remaining genuine articles of their value by the number of fakes in circulation – diminishing the true value of the real thing due to increased supply. All markets are supply/demand driven, in that if you increase supply to one unit more than existing demand, the price goes down). Third, I believe those taking the stance that pirating is OK haven’t thought it through, or are making some flawed assumptions (mistaking causality with correlation).

I think it comes down to whether you believe that theft is OK, or not. Because none of the pro-piracy arguments can surmount that one niggling detail – that copying and distributing the work is prohibited by copyright, and violating that prohibition is copyright infringement, which amounts to stealing from the intellectual property owner.

Put me down as anti-stealing, I guess. Call me old fashioned that way. If I seem intolerant on this topic, it’s probably because it’s my shit being stolen, not yours.

What do you think?

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I’m going to try a little experiment as a summer promotion. I haven’t really played around with prices lately, so I figured I’d give it a whirl and see if price made any difference in sales volume.

To that end. I am putting two of my titles, number one and number two in the Dr. Steven Cross series – Zero Sum and The Voynich Cypher – on sale for two weeks in August. Starting later today, both titles will be reduced from $4.97 to $2.99 apiece.

Why, you ask, would you do that, Meester Blake?

Because I’m afraid I’m missing some boat where cheapskates are unwilling to give a book a try if it is over $2.99.

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NEW NEW NEWS: A guest blog on six tips for ebook promotions by yours truly.

BREAKING NEWS: A new blog by author Bert Carson about, well, me. Good stuff.

NEWS: New guest blog on writing with the lovely Emerald Barnes is worth a look. “My Year of Writing Dangerously.”

BOOK REVIEW: A shockingly positive book review on my newest one, Silver Justice, by acclaimed author Steven Konkoly!

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A few weeks of that will tell me whether that’s the case or not. These are both well-written novels, one over 130K words, the other over 100K. At $2.99 they are priced in the basement. Voynich has already sold about 8000 copies since its release at the end of March, so it’s no slouch, and Zero Sum is almost at that level (although it’s been out longer), so these are not unpopular books. But I would like them to be even more popular. I’d like new readers to gain exposure, and not by giving em away free – most who are downloading free books don’t read what they have. I know I haven’t. I’m probably not alone. I typically put in the time to read something I’ve been willing to pay for. Just the way I am.

So folks, if you could help spread the word of my summer madness sale, I would appreciate it. If over two weeks or so not much has changed in the sales rate, the price goes back up. To put it into perspective I would have to sell 30% more books to be even with the regular price. Needless to say if that doesn’t happen, I just paid a decent chunk of lost revenue to discover the effect of discounting on my work.

As always, please, no wagering.

Buy ZERO SUM or THE VOYNICH CYPHER

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I’ve been starting my interviews and guest blogs for the upcoming launch of Silver Justice, my newest novel that will release on July 23. As part of that, I’ve been asked time and time again about the underlying framework for the novel, namely the cause of the 2008 financial crisis. The book is set in New York, and follows Silver Cassidy, an ass-kicking FBI Agent who’s running a serial killer task force that’s hunting a brutal murderer of financial industry players. A big part of the plot involves the slow unveiling of my supposedly fictional account of why the 2008 crisis happened, resulting in the worst recession in our lifetimes. I already know this is going to be a book that polarizes readers, who will either love it or hate it. It’s a shocking ride, and the conclusions it draws are disturbing at a very basic level. Many don’t like living in a world where things are deeply disturbing, so they’ll hate it, rather than becoming outraged or curious. I get that. It’s worth the risk.

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BREAKING NEWS: New in-depth interview with yours truly on craft, self-publishing and the price of coffee is worth a look.

NEWS: I was fortunate enough to be named one of the top 100 indie authors for the 3rd month in a row. #50.

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As part of writing it, I was forced to become somewhat of an expert on everything from Keynesian economics, to fiat currencies, to the creation of the Federal Reserve, to how and why the IRS was created and by whom, to why the gold standard mattered, to the reasons the dollar has lost 90+% of its buying power since 1971, to fractional reserve banking, to market manipulation and how arcane instruments like credit default swaps and other derivatives work. The tail wagged the dog in this case. By the time I was done, I became convinced of two things: 99.999% of all people have no idea why the middle class is being wiped out and the world is in the pooper and getting worse as we speak; and that that’s not accidental. The ignorance is by design. It’s encouraged, and there’s a big machine devoted to keeping reality from slipping into the equation.

Now, I can appreciate how there are many more important things to do than know about why the biggest financial calamity of our lifetimes took place. I mean, there are reality TV shows to follow, and claims that America’s got talent, and the search for the very best dance crew, whatever the hell that is. I get that most are otherwise occupied, and prefer to debate one political party’s invented rhetoric over the others, or consider which mammoth flat screen TV would look best in the living room. These are heady times. But it occurs to me that ignorance has an incredibly high cost. As an example, the Fed revealed a week or so ago that the average middle class family’s net worth has dropped to where it was in 1982, erasing 30 years of savings since the financial crisis in 2008. That means that if the average was $78K in 82, it is still $78K in 2012.

The ugly truth is that it’s much worse than that. An ounce of gold was $360 in 82. It’s now $1600. So it takes almost five times more dollars to buy the same commodity. That means that a dollar in 82 had five times the buying power it has today. So really, the middle class has lost five times its net worth from 82, when adjusted. The short version is that most of the wealth accumulated by the middle class over the last 40 years has been confiscated – stolen by the relentless erosion of inflation, and by the markets in 2008. (By the way, anyone who thinks measuring the value of the dollar against an ounce of gold is silly would be advised that until 1971, gold was money, for thousands of years. It was only once the US violated its agreement to stay on the gold standard, got caught doing it, and then abruptly announced it wasn’t honoring its agreement anymore, that the new folksy wisdom that ‘gold isn’t money’ started being advanced by the media. Until then, of course it was. FWIW, it still is. It’s just that a collection of uber-rich bankers have spent the last forty years trying to convince everyone that it isn’t, because otherwise people would rebel and demand that the money they are working like slaves for actually possess some actual worth, as opposed to a mere promise of steadily declining worth from the government.)

I also understand that blogs that aren’t railing against free books, or are pro-kitty, or that purport to offer writing tips, don’t get read as much. They aren’t as popular. Because most people’s heads hurt when they are required to think, and to consider any sort of a macro picture of reality that diverges from whatever is advanced as the truth by the media and its owners. People want to believe that the system works, and protects them, and even with its flaws is still the best ever. They have a lot of emotional investment in that idea. So even when a chink appears, and it become obvious that most or all of it is an obvious lie, human nature is to ignore the data, and instead focus on more pleasant things.

I’m here to tell you that there’s a cost to that. In real terms, it’s a cost where most will be wiped out within another 10 years, if they haven’t already been. By the statistics, I’m saying many already have been. But some haven’t. They think it’s all going to somehow get better. That’s because they are ignorant of what is actually taking place, and what the true drivers are. The precarious construct that is their reality has a very, very expensive price tag. And I’m afraid for most, the price will be everything they have – just as in the Great Depression, when millionaires (and there were many in the US by the late 20s) discovered after a few years that they were penniless, and owed everything to the bank. It was considered impossible until it happened. Right now, tell someone with a two million dollar home in Scottsdale or a one million dollar home in New Jersey or a five hundred grand home in San Diego that they could be close to penniless in no time, and they would sneer. Just as people sneered in the 20s.

The research I did for Silver Justice has changed my perception of reality to the point that virtually anything is possible, and it appears that the real powers that be are hell bent on destroying the prosperity of the middle class, just as they did in the Great Depression (about which I could write a book). And my hope is that Silver Justice gets enough traction so that it makes people question the illusory status quo and wonder how much in it could actually be true. While I’m normally aggressively self-promotional in a transparent way, this book is different, and so is this blog. I’ll write another one when it launches, but let me just say that what I’ve learned has me pretty glum about many peoples’ chances moving forward, unless there’s a massive change in the majority’s awareness. The only hope is that they figure this out while there’s still time. Silver Justice is my small effort to move people in the direction of that requisite awareness. We shall see whether it has any effect.

End of rant. For now.

For a synopsis of Silver Justice, as well as a short interview, click here.

 

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On June 7, I’ll have been self-publishing for exactly one year.

My first offering, Fatal Exchange, continues to sell well – in fact, it’s selling more now than ever.

My second book, How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated) is languishing. I guess authors don’t buy books, or perhaps they don’t have a sense of humor about the business. So that’s been somewhat of a dud from a sales perspective, although a hoot from a creative and acclaim perspective. Go figure.

My third, The Geronimo Breach, is also selling well, although it varies from white hot to so-so, depending upon pricing and promotions I’m running. Still, it’s gotten rave reviews, and is one of my favorites, and I have to give it a thumb’s up from a sales standpoint. That’s one I think will still have appeal a decade from now, so I’m confident it will earn its keep.

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NEWS: An interview with author Felicia Rodgers and yours truly on The Voynich Cypher.

UPDATE: New guest blog at Manic Readers on writing The Voynich Cypher. A good one.

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I’m not going to list all my books. Don’t worry. You didn’t come here for that. You came here because of the free stuff I routinely give away, and the nude photos, I know. What? There aren’t? Oh. Never mind then.

Self-publishing has turned into a truly awesome experience for me – far better than I’d ever hoped. I’m selling at a clip that I’d hoped to hit within three years of entering the market, not ten months. So that’s great. But it has also given me a chance to live my dream. No, not being a pole dancing male burlesque stud grinding for the drunk tourist women at Jalapenos – I just do that for the cash and the workout. And no, also not naked ice dancing, although that’s certainly my first love. What I’m speaking of is being an actual author who makes his living writing books.

I had sort of given up that dream after my only encounter with the whole NY traditional publishing game in another life. It just seemed like I was going to have to surrender all my control, and dance like a trained chimp to the beat of countless editors, agents, marketing consultants, etc. while making peanuts, if that. I don’t have the patience for doing things on other people’s timelines, which is why I’ve never been a good big company player.

When I first heard of success stories in self-publishing I was skeptical. Konrath, Locke, Hocking, Eisler… I don’t know. It sounded too good to be true. But after I bought my first kindle I got it. I understood why that simple device had changed publishing forever, as had Amazon. I saw the future; one where tens of millions of devices were voraciously devouring high quality content, and I realized that if I could create even an interstitial awareness of my writing, there might be a there there. So I went the OCD route, and committed to write as close to a million words by the end of 2011 as I could manage. I got pretty close. 12 releases. None I have to be ashamed of.

2012 I’ve slowed the pace, and have targeted releasing 6 to 8 novels, depending upon my mood and the muse’s availability. I’ve got two in the can, and have started the third, so hitting my goal isn’t going to be a problem, I don’t think.

2012′s first release, The Voynich Cypher, has been big so far, and I hope it continues to attract reader attention. The next one, Revenge of the Assassin, a sequel to King of Swords, will release end of April, and then another sequel to King will release end of May.

Because of self-publishing, I’m getting to make my living, in retirement, as an author, and doing so on my terms, at my pace, with my vision of what the work should be like, what the covers should portray, and what price the books should sell for. As a creative person, I can’t tell you how good that feels. Happiness is fleeting, and getting to do something I love and get fairly compensated for it, as well as connect with readers, defies description. It’s a rush. It makes everything seem worth doing. I recommend it highly.

For that opportunity, I’m grateful. And while I at times have a love/hate relationship with Amazon, without their visionary approach to self-publishing, I’d be relegated to laying around on the beach considering my navel. So for that, I owe them one.

As I owe those who have purchased my work, and then told a friend. Without readers, a writer isn’t very fulfilled. It’s readers that make the experience complete.

So for everyone out there who might be debating self-publishing, all I can say is that to date it’s the most rewarding decision of my life at a host of levels. I hope that continues, and would encourage you to take the plunge and give it a shot. The water’s warm, and the view is just fine. Although the hours can be brutal, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll walk away from it with much more than the glow of the experience. Much like life, that.

 

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It’s almost the end of March, and I promised everyone following my self-publishing saga an update on how the month went.

Frankly, it surpassed all my expectations.

As of today, 5:00 p.m., 3/24, I have sold over 10,000 books in March. Those are paid copies, not free downloads. Free, I’ve seen north of 60K this month. One way to view it is a 20% ultimate ratio between paid and free – maybe a little higher, as I still have till the end of the month to see all the sales on the titles I went free with this month.

That’s a lot of books.

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NEWS: An interview with author Felicia Rodgers and yours truly on The Voynich Cypher.

UPDATE: New guest blog at Manic Readers on writing The Voynich Cypher. A good one.

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Why the big jump from January and February’s 3000 books per month? One reason is that on March 17, I released The Voynich Cypher, which sold over 3,000 copies in the first three days, and to date, has sold within kissing distance of 4000 copies. That was unexpected, and looks good to continue, if not strengthen moving into April. Feedback has been positive, so it looks to become one of my most popular titles. My personal feeling is that it could be my breakthrough book, but who the F knows anymore? Let’s just say it’s looking good so far.

I had a body blow, too, though. Zero Sum disappeared from Amazon for 24 hours, with no explanation, about a week ago, midway into a promotional push. Just vanished. The resulting loss of about 70 sales during that period was painful, but more painful was the drop in rank from 1480 to 3500. The momentum I’d built on it came to a crashing halt, through no fault of mine. There was never any explanation of what happened. To call that frustrating is to understate it in the extreme. It hasn’t recovered, which makes sense, as below #2000 rank it gets recommended based on the algorithms, but above that number it doesn’t.

This underscores that we indie authors are creatures of Amazon, whether we like it or not. They give, and can take away. Like a deity, they can be mercurial, or accidentally cause large, unintended consequences – perhaps those numbers don’t seem like the end of the world, but when one considers the additional incremental decreased sales (25 a day versus 70) it starts looking like hundreds of books. Ouch.

Still, all in all, I can’t complain, and am very fortunate that readers like my work enough to catapult my books to well over 10,000 books sold this month, so far. I would guess sales will ultimately wind up being more like 11K to 12K by the end of the month, but one never knows. Even if we pull out the 4000 Voynichs, that means that my existing titles jumped from 3000 to 7000-8000 by month’s end. My hunch is that I’m getting better visibility over time, and word of mouth is slowly spreading – remember that 99.99% of all readers have never heard of me. My job over the next few years is to change that, to the extent that it’s possible.

Loans increased to over a thousand, as of this writing. That number isn’t counted in my above 10K – those aren’t technically sales. But they do throw some cash to the bottom line, and I’m happy to report I won’t run out of tequila or diesel fuel this month. The number is actually lower than it would be, as I’ve had several books expire from KDP Select and haven’t re-upped them. King, Delphi, Angel, Night, all are out of the program, with only Voynich, Geronimo, Zero Sum, Fatal and Gazillions remaining in. ZS will exit next week at some point, and Fatal in a couple of weeks; then it will be down to only three in the program.

So that’s the roundup. I will do a year-end summary for those playing along at home, and while there are no guarantees, I think it’s safe to assume that barring a disaster, sales for the year could exceed 100K sold. I could probably double or triple that number by moving a few titles to .99, but I don’t want to do so. I believe the work is under-valued at a buck a book, and I won’t sell a title for that. I’d rather give ‘em away for free. Which is what I continue to do on Night of the Assassin, and The Delphi Chronicle Book 1. Although I am considering ending those free promotions in June or July, writing a bit more content for Night, and making it a paid title as well. I’ll be releasing the sequel to King of Swords, for which Night is the prequel, in late April – Revenge of the Assassin – so it might make sense to take Night paid at that point, as it starts to look like a real series then. I already have the idea for the next one – Return of the Assassin – so that’s a strategic play. Return will probably be my next book, while my head’s still in that groove.

Here’s the takeaway for indie authors:

1) I began doing this in June, 2011. I made $16.87 that first month. Sales exploded to $80 by August – after three months of nonstop marketing, writing, and releasing 2 more titles. It took till December to make $1460 that month, by which point I had released twelve titles, and promoted tirelessly. Now, ten months after my first book, Fatal Exchange, went live, things are moving. Obviously, it takes time, and hard work, and good quality product.

2) It is possible to make good money as a self-pubbed author – way more than I’d be making if I was trad pubbed with those kinds of sales numbers. So the landscape has changed. Obviously, if I sold millions via a good tradpub deal, that would eclipse my results to date, but nobody’s knocking with that deal, so it’s a moot point. As it is, I’m seeing roughly double income from what I’d see trad-pubbed per unit. That’s significant, and there’s no agent taking 15%.

3) Part of the secret, at least for me, has been building a substantial backlist to promote. So if you are writing, write more. More good books is like fishing – more lines in the water to snag the passing schools.

4) Write most of the time. I write about 12 hrs a day, and tweet and facebook maybe two to three. Be prepared to work hard for many months, or years. I still do, and plan to, as I understand that one good month does not a career make. Neither does one good year. That’s just how it is.

5) Treat your publishing like a business. That means invest in editing, proofreading and copy editing, as well as professional covers. Be sensitive to what’s working, and what isn’t. Be willing to adjust your prices to meet the market – this isn’t about ego, it’s about selling books. As an example, I believe Voynich is a $6+ book, but I have it priced at $3.33. Why? I want maximum readership and a relatively low barrier to entry. The price will increase over time, as it has with King of Swords, which is selling briskly at $5, but to maintain max sales at a fair return for the first phase of the Voynich Cypher launch, I slashed the price and have kept it slashed. And I’ve done one facelift on all my fiction covers since last year, and am in the midst of a second phase of improvement – it’s a visceral world, so putting forth something visually appealing is worth spending time and money on. On the editing front, I’ve added a copy editor and a proofreader to my normal editor, so three sets of eyes checking for errors. I still get them, but far fewer. In other words, I do what the trad pub houses do – I invest in quality control so my brand has integrity and consistent appeal.

Thanks to all the readers who are enjoying my books. It’s inspiring to see so many downloading and reading, and mostly, liking. A few hate me, but as always, they can bite me before returning to their apartment in their mom’s garage, or dressing their 14 cats in Christmas outfits, or waiting in sleeping bags for the next Twilight movie release. I’m not writing for them. I’m writing for those who get it. If you’re reading this blog, that is probably you.

 

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Readers of my blog know that I began my experiment with KDP Select in mid-January. The main attraction for me was the ability to put a title free for a day or three, thereby enhancing visibility and presumably giving me a boost on the “most popular” and “also bought” lists following the free day(s).

So how has that worked?

Glad you asked, internal dialogue that always seems to know just what to inquire for maximum effect.

Sales of my books increased by a factor of four in January, from my most popular month ever – December. Given that I have been at this for a whopping nine months, that would kind of make sense. December, everybody on the planet got Kindles for Xmas, and needed content for them. Ergo, more books would sell.

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BREAKING NEWS: Fantastic guest blog at The Veil War on the writing of The Voynich Cypher.

MORE BREAKING NEWS: Interview, book review of The Delphi Chronicle, Book 1, and a short story. Must read! With author Kathleen Patel.

UPDATE: Monday, 3-12. Interview with Digital Ink Spot on Amazon promos, process & thoughts.

UPDATE: New interview just posted with Eden Baylee. It’s a fun one.

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I also released a slew of books in December – Night of the Assassin, King of Swords, and The Delphi Chronicle trilogy. Night and Book 1 of Delphi were and are free, so I increased my available paid titles by two that month, bringing it to a total of seven possible paid titles to buy. I don’t count the first book of Zero Sum, because that was free as well, nor do I count the individual books in the trilogies, as nearly everyone who buys, buys the bundles.

If all things were equal, I would have expected an organic growth of 20-25% from the new titles, which is about what I saw from November to December. All very predictable.

In mid-January, I enrolled my first book in KDP Select, and ran a couple of days free. The Geronimo Breach saw 12K downloads in its two free days, and then sales took off like a rocket for 5 or 6 days, eventually dropping back to a sustainable rate that was above December’s run rate, but nothing like what the post-free week was like. That got me looking at other authors’ experiences, and sure enough, the post-free phenomenon was being discussed, although it was still largely too new to rate.

I then ran a few more titles free, for a day here and there, and lo and behold, saw the same effect. This resulted in a reproducible sales boost, and appeared to have pulled my other titles along with it. I finished January giddy, with four times December’s bucks in my pocket.

February, for the first two weeks, sales were down 30% from January. Other authors indicated that was a well-understood effect of readers digesting all the books they’d downloaded. Made sense, but still not a lot of fun to see. In the final two weeks, I ran Geronimo free for one day, and Zero Sum free for two, and Geronimo saw 10K in one day, and Zero Sum saw about 20K on two days of downloads, hitting number 5 for free downloads. Post free, sales took off like a scared rabbit again, and I finished February at the same sales level as January, which is to say back at four times December sales, but income was up 25%, at five times December’s sales, due to a higher ASP after the artificially low promotional pricing I’d tried on a few titles in Jan. I figured it would be down 20%, so that was a pleasant surprise.

March, Zero Sum has been continuing its run from the free days the end of February, performing well and holding in the 500 paid range now 8 days post promo, which is unexpected but nice. But here’s the amazing part about the KDP promotions: by March 10 I will have sold more or less as many books as I did all of Feb. Obviously, that portends good things. If sales stay on track the rest of the month, I can expect a double to tripling over the course of the March, or roughly eight to twelve times December sales.

That’s an eye-opening number. Extrapolating, if March comes in as it’s shaping up, from that point on with no sales growth at all (even though I’ll be adding a slew of new titles this year), I will sell well over 100K books in 2012. Needless to say, if that happens, I’ll be one of the very very very few indie authors making a significant living from my passion. That’s amazing for two reasons. First, up until Amazon created its revolution in self-publishing, it would have been impossible. Utterly, completely impossible. A pipe dream. Second, it’s astounding because I will be a failure by traditional publishing standards.

Failing has never felt so good.

If I have 12 paid titles out by the end of 2012, and I’m selling 100K books, I’m only moving 9K books per year, per title, mas o menos. That’s a disaster by traditional published standards. And yet obviously, by living in Mexico self-publishing standards, it’s a home run. The numbers assume that none of my books really hit in any way big. In fact, these numbers might. My new one, launching on March 17, The Voynich Cypher, could blow things wide open. It’s that kind of a book. Mainstream, accessible, my take on a Dan Brown/Raiders of the Lost Ark style adventure/thriller. If it gets traction, it could be a big book. Early readers are enthusiastic, so I’ve got high hopes for it, but even if it sort of of putters along flat, I’m still in the mix to hit my 2012 numbers. Again, this all assumes that none of my books really get discovered, or in any way hit the mainstream.

I attribute my success to date, such as it is, to two things. First, to writing a heartfelt blog about a beloved & perhaps misunderstood public figure and comparing him to my dad, and having it go viral. Okay, maybe not so much that. Seriously, it’s because of being fortunate enough to have delivered a reasonable product to those brave or stupid enough to try my offerings, and building slow recognition organically. And second, it’s because the KDP Select program has created a venue whereby indie authors can displace the big name brand authors, and get a small slice of awareness from an audience they previously would have had no chance of reaching. The first takes 15 hour days, 7 days a week, for 10 months. The second took KDP deciding to offer “free” as a perk for joining the Select program.

I owe Amazon deep and sincere gratitude, and hope they crush the bones of their competitors to jelly and dance in the still-warm blood of their adversaries as they rule the book world. At least, for another year or two, it would be nice. My game plan is to have twenty titles out by the end of 2013, all selling for between $2.99 and $6.99. If Amazon’s KDP program stays in place and their algorithms don’t change, I and a whole group of writers who had no real shot at making a decent living suddenly have become viable. Perhaps Indie will become the new slush pile – but one that pays well. Or perhaps there won’t be any more slush piles, and the phones will go unanswered in NY sometime soon.

On a related topic, my UK sales are now trending at 10% of my US sales, so the UK is having more of an effect than I would have expected. Given that I have done exactly zero marketing beyond twitter and a lackadaisical Facebook presence, that also portends good things. Although I will say that I have been participating in Melissa Foster’s World Literary Cafe, and the visibility from that group’s efforts have likely played a role in my sales. I recommend them highly, for those looking to participate in a good organization.

Loans have also increased, and as of today, for March 8, I have 450 borrows. As I said in a prior blog, on titles at my price point at least some of those are displacing sales at a considerably higher net rate, but the overall positive of being in the KDP program is outweighing that negative. Hard to bitch over the cost of doing business on that one.

That’s where we are as of today. Whether sales continue apace, or dirt dive, is unknowable from this point on, but I’ll keep everyone updated. It’s been a fascinating experiment so far. I’ll post an end of year summary in December, and maybe a mid-year one in July – really, the first full year of being in this game. Beyond that, thank you to my readers, and good luck to all the authors following this blog. It can be done. It’s just not easy. Nothing is.

UPDATE: As of March 10, midnight, I have sold 3015 books this month and had 540 borrows. A little slower than I’d hoped, but the last few days were laggards. Still, difficult to whine too much. I’ll save that for the end of the month when I’ve crashed and burned…

 

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I’ve been in KDP Select for a little over a month. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a program where you sign up as an author, and Amazon pays you a fee for each book their KDP subscribers borrow every month. Fee for borrowing? Sounds great so far. But the big incentive for authors is that Amazon also allows you to list each title you enroll, as free for 5 days per 90, either consecutively, or a few days here and there. In exchange for this, you agree to make your title exclusive to Amazon for the term of the deal – which probably doesn’t matter to Amazon nearly as much as it hurts their competitors. Does that matter? Not to me. At least, not right now. Amazon gives their competition the eye dig, and we win. Right?

The free thing is a double edged sword, as far as I’m concerned. On the one hand, it gives readers a chance to sample books by authors they’re unsure of or unfamiliar with, including me. That’s good for both readers and authors, at least in theory. I say in theory, because there’s also a negative. Three actually, for authors. For readers, it’s almost all good.

The first negative is the commission. In Dec. it was $1.70 per title. That was awesome for those with .99 cent books, but not so much for those with $2.99 and higher books. That meant that if your book was listed for $2.99 you would have seen $2 for a sale, you saw $1.70 for a loan, for a net loss of 30 cents (assuming you were at 70% commission). The deal got worse if you had $3.99 or $4.99 titles, as you were seeing $1.70 instead of $2.50 or $3. Still, the boost to sales that you got from being able to put your book free was worth it.

It also raised the issue of whether a loan was accretive, or if it cannibalized a book sale. Some argued that it was accretive, others said it cannibalized. My experience, having listed several titles in the middle of the month that were steady sellers, was that it cannibalized. I saw the sales numbers drop by 15%, to be replaced by loaned books. That’s just me. I’m not complaining. Just letting everyone know what I noticed. I believe that if you only had one book you could get as a loan per month, you got something you were planning on buying. My experience to date bore that out.

The second negative is that in January, the loan payment dropped to $1.60. That further skews the value proposition for the higher priced books. If one views the delta between the loan rate and a sale as marketing dollars, it makes the price of the free 5 days considerably higher for a $4.99 book than a $2.99 book. It’s still an awesome deal for .99 books, BTW. Get paid more than the book is listed for. Who wouldn’t sign up for that? But it comes at a high cost to more expensive titles. And it raises a legitimate question – is dropping the monthly rate a trend? If so, it’s one many authors will find troubling. Some won’t. But if you enrolled in Dec, it means that your average reimbursement on a loan is in reality south of the $1.70 you thought you’d get. This is too new to rate, but still worth watching.

The associated negative for readers is that the reimbursement favors .99 books, as well as cheaper books, which many believe means lower quality efforts. That means that the perceived benefit would be lower to customers who pay the $80 KDP fee for the year’s privilege of shipping discounts and free books at a rate of one per month, over time. “Big deal. It’s filled with cheapo books.” And so on. Again, not my problem. Just an issue for Amazon more than anything else. I can’t for the life of me see why they didn’t just offer a percentage of the asking price rather than a fixed rate – unless they were planning to lower it. Which is exactly what they did after one month.

The third negative is that the market is saturated with free books. That’s both good and bad for everyone. For authors, it’s bad because it creates a culture where books are something you don’t pay for, but good because it creates a vehicle for folks to sample your wares. It is also bad because there will be a segment of the market that just waits to buy, because they figure they can get your title for free if they just hang out for a while. From a reader standpoint, it creates an overwhelming number of choices that can be off-putting. Now you are playing literary agent, going through the Amazon slush pile. Read the first five pages, toss it. Second five pages, toss that one too. And so on.

So what do you think? As authors, given that a lot of my followers who aren’t clowns pretending to be Latvian prostitutes are authors? Think it is cannibalism? And do you think it is net positive, or negative? And readers. What’s your take?

I’ll be genuinely interested to hear.

For the record, I believe Amazon is doing a hell of a job creating a market for guys like me to make a living self-publishing books, whereas before I was just uninterested in waiting 18 months to see a title come out, and get beer money for the pleasure. They have created a boom for me. For that I am grateful.

But what do you think? Chime in.

 

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12 Feb 2012, by

Future Shock

I had an interesting short discussion tonight, the topic of which was where the hell the world is going. Specifically, where the world of books/publishing is going.

A major concern for many authors is the free & .99 book phenomenon. One person advanced the idea that the whole pricing model will wind up being free (or almost free) for all content, essentially shutting out most authors who hope to make a livable income writing. Ultimately, if you can’t get paid to write, many will bow out, leaving only those who write for passion publishing their work. And of course, not paying for things like editing and covers, because there’s no way to recoup the investment.

Perhaps.

Another wag chimed in that the future is likely to be ads on kindle, or some other mechanism whereby authors can get paid for creating decent work. I suspect that will be closer to the truth. Or at least, I hope it will. Looking at the glut of demo tapes parading as “free” content from every musician with a sampler and shareware editing software, and seeing how robust the music business continues to be a decade after all was supposed to be lost because of CD purchases going the way of the Constitution, I tend to think we’ll adapt. Amazon isn’t going to want to be in the book biz long term to give it away for free. Even if that has been the short term effect on the indie publishing business of their KDP program.

I think we’re all seeing, as authors, the impact of KDP making free an option for everyone with an ebook. Which has created a glut. Ditto for the marketing guidance that one should price one’s wares at .99 – it’s interesting that even the pundits espousing the wisdom of .99 are now struggling to make decent sales at the $2.99 point, having lived in a .99 purgatory for long enough, it would seem.

I’ve played with pricing. I think there’s a place on a book introduction for a short time to price at .99. How long is more art than science – and even then, I believe only until you’ve established a reputation as being worth more. I was at #165 in total paid kindle sales with The Geronimo Breach for a few giddy days in January at .99 as a cheapskate promotion. When I raised the price, sales dropped off. Now, I realize there are many factors that could have affected sales besides pricing. Other offerings hitting. Saturation of those interested in giving me a whirl that week. A belief I suck harder than a Hoover. Whatever. Next time around, maybe I’ll keep my .99 book on an intro or a special for a few weeks, rather than a few days. We live and learn. I don’t think it’s going to much affect my overall trajectory. King of Swords, I went out with at $4.99. Sales are decent and trending higher. My $3.99 roster are selling well, if not briskly.

I’ll try .99 again in a while, maybe on Geronimo, or with another book. Maybe The Voynich Cypher when I release around first week of March, although I’m inclined to price it at $4.99 right out of the gate. I’ll be asking a lot of opinions before I do. But I will state that I’m disinclined to offer all my books on a rotating basis for free, or .99.

The market, ultimately, will decide what my books, and yours, are worth. It’s a weighing machine, that pesky market is. A product is worth whatever the market will pay for it. No more, no less. You can create liquidity (sales) by lowering the price, but if you want to maintain brand integrity, price wars are a lousy way to go. It’s best to just know what the product is really worth, and not try to get more, or less, for any length of time, as that will establish what the market perceives your brand as being worth. It’s either cheap crap, or overpriced. You won’t be able to please everyone. But if you have a good sense what other similar books are selling for in the same genre at the same level of writing and production/editing/cover, you should know what yours is worth.

My caution is if you are selling it for .99 when the “real” authors are at $4 or $5 or higher, you need to rethink what you’re doing, because you might be digging a hole you can never get out of, and tarnishing our work out of the gate.

One thing I do believe is that there’s value for mainstream readers in having a filtering mechanism to sort through all the dross and find quality books. It’s no secret that many free or cheap books are lousy, or marginal. People are generally surprised when they aren’t. I believe there will ultimately be a value proposition someone will pay for to find the decent, so they don’t have to sort through 100 duds to find a winner. What that mechanism is, I’m not sure. It’s not going to be Big 6 traditional publishing houses trying to get $12.99 for something that is presumably reasonably edited, and may also suck. There’s value in the filter, but for many, not THAT much value. Somewhere, my hunch says in the $5 range, there may be a middle ground. I don’t pretend to know. Or maybe the business will go to the ad driven model, where advertisers pay to be in your book based on the demand. Whatever it is, there will be a mechanism whereby authors of merit get paid. It’s just the intermediaries that will make a lot less. At least, that would be my hope.

Having said that, I do think that free is here to stay, until Amazon pulls the plug on it. At some point they’ll look at their overall book sales declining versus whatever they hoped to make off KDP, and some bright lad will figure out that it’s not a good direction. Or maybe not. I have two titles for free at the moment, purely as promotional loss leaders, and ironically, neither in KDP – the philosophy behind my free titles being that if you try my work, a substantial portion of you will not mind parting with the cost of a cup of coffee for more of it. So far that’s working, but I’m not sure how I’d feel if I only had one or two titles. I’d probably be railing against the free thing. Maybe not.

I waffle on all this quite a bit. For a while, I believed that all content would eventually get to the .99 point, as in the music model created by Apple. But that ignores that a song is 3 minutes of entertainment, whereas a novel is many hours. So maybe not. Maybe most readers won’t find it burdensome to pay $3-$5 or whatever for an author whose work they like and trust. I’m quite sure there will always exist a segment that won’t pay for anything, and believes that everything should be free – except of course, whatever it is they do for a living. They howl like spanked dogs if you propose they work for free – it’s just everyone else that should. That segment will always exist, as it has with music – but I note that Eminem isn’t quitting and getting a day gig as a result of all the free demos masquerading as finished product.

So what do you think? What’s going to happen? Are we going to be living in a world of free content, where the real talents fold up their tents and sell real estate instead of books? Or will there be an alternative mechanism to monetize the work, just as there is now an alternative delivery system to dead trees for pages? I tend to think the latter. Or maybe that’s just hope.

What do you think? What will the future look like?

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Update Two: At the end of day three of my Twitter moratorium, sales are basically unchanged, as is the trend. Blog traffic, however, has dropped by 40%, signalling that Twitter is an effective way to market it. Also, I’ve gotten a number of e-mails and messages from folks who chimed in to point out that they’d have never heard of me if not for Twitter, thus it works, or did on them. Therefore, I think it’s valid to resume tweeting, but at a reduced rate. How’s that for waffling? Didn’t affect sales, did affect blog traffic, unknown on how much it affected would-be buyers – that’s the sales growth part of the curve. How many more people would have bought? I mean, I can assume none, but that assumes a static market, which it ain’t. So my approach will be akin to some people’s approach to prayer: can’t hurt. There are no atheists on Amazon.

Update: Two days into my Twitter holiday, my sales are basically flat with where they were with dozens of promotional tweets per day a week before. I’ll give it one more day, and if still flat, will be scaling back my Twitter presence to some product specific promotional tweets, a few review reprises, and mostly just me shooting the breeze with whatever comes to mind whenever I have a break. Nude ice dancing and clown warfare included. Interesting, as I would have expected a huge drop off. But reality is that  Sunday, the last day of 50+ tweets per day effort, was down from Sunday a week before by 10%. Monday was off by 13%, and Tuesday was up by 4%. Which tells me what everyone else has been saying is likely correct – social media saturation is ultimately meaningless, and perhaps accounts for 10% of sales, once you’re established. After three days of it (assuming similar results manana) I think it’s safe to say that I don’t need to live on Twitter. There’s no point. That should be freeing for those of us who have been doing so. That’s all for now.

 

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15 Jan 2012, by

Free Lunch

I have been asked how my recent three day jaunt on Amazon went.

The one where I made my thriller The Geronimo Breach free for three days.

I think I’d accurately compare it to being sixteen, and handed the keys to dad’s Porsche while discovering that I have the house to myself for three days…and the liquor cabinet’s open. It’s that kind of “Wow” moment.

First, to the numbers. Over the three days. roughly 10,400 people downloaded the book. That’s a lot of people. How many will actually read it is probably a fraction of that – maybe 20%, maybe 30%. I’m using highly scientific proprietary algorithms to come up with those number, by the way, incorporating numerology and magnetism (available in my upcoming releases Attraction, Repulsion, Alignment and Of Course He Tricked You, Douchebrain).

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MORE ACCOLADES: Fatal Exchange was the favorite book of 2011 for Kate Farrel at The Kindle Book Review.

INTERVIEW: I was interviewed about writing and craft by @WritingTips101. Worth a look, & please Stumbleupon it at the bottom using the little green button.

NEW INTERVIEW: I was interviewed by South African blogger Nadine Maritz, and the result can be seen here.

IMPORTANT! Night of the Assassin just went FREE on Barnes and Noble. Please help me out here. Go to the Amazon page for Night here, and scroll down below the rating, where it says “Tell Us About A Cheaper Price.” Then click that, and enter the link to B&N, which I post below, and enter 0.00 as their price. I would appreciate the help in having them price match it. Thanks so much. Here’s the B&N link.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/night-of-the-assassin-russell-blake/1108178602?ean=2940032947783&itm=6&usri=russell+blake

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Those are big numbers. And oddly, downloads increased roughly 20% per day over each prior day. Extended out over time, that’s an exponential curve that will have more people on earth with a copy of The Geronimo Breach within a few months than have spent days with Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest reading about shopping trips to Ikea and frozen pizza. Which is why I put a stop to it. Shut it down. Promo nomo. I didn’t want to tip the poles or cause a cosmic imbalance due to all the kindles filled with my work. Not for free, anyway.

Why would I give my book away for free – a book that’s garnered rave reviews, and has been described as unique in most of the 23 four and five star reviews? Obviously, because I hope to get something.

Readers.

My bet is that if, say, 2000 of those fine, discriminating folks actually read the book, most will become repeat customers of my other titles. That would translate into a nice sales bump. Additionally, it would increase my visibility as an author, which should translate into a long term net positive both in brand recognition, as well as sales. So it’s really a loss leader. Like a dope dealer. First time’s for free.

I fully expect some of the one star drive-by reviews to happen, as I’ve seen that as a regrettable by-product of free book distribution. Some might say miserable pr#cks with no lives who delight in trashing things for no good reason are drawn to free books, and that these lowlife f#ckwads, who are easily recognizable due to their never having reviewed a book before, are basically vandals who delight in tearing down the work of others, good or bad, for the thrill of any attention it might bring, and should be dragged behind a garbage truck through rusty nails and broken glass while splattered with battery acid and bleach in any kind of just world. I take a more charitable stance, and view them as mentally ill – the not too bright angry cousins who would be torturing animals if they weren’t busy prowling the net expressing their disturbances in a more benign way. I’m all about tolerance here, and when I say my critics can bite me, I mean it respectfully, of course. Let’s be clear about that.

I believe the vast majority of readers will vote with their wallets. If they think the work is redeeming, they’ll buy more of it. If not, they’ll shut the kindle off after a few minutes and move to the next one. That’s what I do. Life’s too short to read crappy books.

If my belief is correct, and if Geronimo is actually as good as everyone has said (and as of this writing, it has 21 five star and 2 four star reviews on Amazon), people will read it, hopefully like it, and then buy another of my titles.

I shall keep everyone informed of how that works out. I’d hope to see a 20%-30% increase in sales in January, and a sustained increase thereafter. We shall see.

To everyone who downloaded it, thank you, and enjoy. Let me know what you think. It’s one of my favorites – Al was a fun character to write, and it was a delight to do so. I hope you enjoy reading about his exploits as much as I enjoyed creating him.

If you like this blog, hit the green “Stumbleupon” button at the bottom and recommend it to others. Spread the word. Oh, and vote for me for a shorty award so you can watch me annoy legitimate talents with my inappropriate antics at the presentation ceremony. I understand drinking may be involved. Wink.

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I’ve had numerous folks ask me who my cover artist is. E-mail me through this site and I’ll give you the skinny. Good, fast and cheap.

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4 Nov 2011, by

Free or Not?

NEWSFLASH: Zero Sum, Book 1, Kotov Syndrome, my Wall Street thriller serial trilogy, has just been reviewed by acclaimed author Steven Konkoly, whose The Jakarta Pandemic just got its 100th Amazon review, and who just released Black Flagged. The review is a wonderful deconstruction of the trilogy, and is recommended reading for one and all.

MAJOR BREAKING NEWS: Justin Bogdanovitch just published a poignant and touching review of An Angel With Fur. It’s really a must-read review. And the Pet Wall also gets spotlight coverage at Justin Bogdanovitch’s blog. Great pooch photos too. And the book is currently back in the #2 position in Animal Essays on Amazon UK!

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I have had a number of comments from author buddies that question the wisdom of offering Book 1 of Zero Sum, Kotov Syndrome, for free.

The sentiments range anywhere from the idea that it cheapens the perceived value of the work, to that I deserve compensation for my efforts, to that I will attract a type of reader who expects something for nothing, and thus won’t have any legacy value.

So I started to think through the question, and I can see both sides of it.

On the one hand, you have the largest single hurdle as a new author, which is generating name recognition and building a base of readers who will ultimately appreciate, like, and buy your work. It would seem to me that offering some of that work for free isn’t a bad way to crack the nut of getting decent exposure. With Zero Sum, Book 1, I decided to offer the first book in my serial trilogy for free, figuring that would give readers a chance to see whether they like my work or not. If so, super, perhaps they’ll convert into fans and purchase other work. If not, I haven’t really lost anything, as they likely wouldn’t have bought anything at any price.

But it does raise an interesting question; namely, is it a good idea to give your work away to generate buzz and get exposure?

The marketing guy in me says, hell yes. Every business has a marketing budget, and when breaking into new markets, you have to spend money to make money. So the value of the work you give away is part of your sunk cost into marketing. It’s like offering a loss leader, in the hopes that enough qualified buyers will become familiar with your work to convert into legacy customers over time. It’s why manufacturers do free tastings at Costco, or drug dealers give you the first time for free.

The author in me says, if I’m going to invest countless hours into creating a compelling work, and then further invest my money into hiring qualified editing and developing a professional cover, then I should get paid for going that distance. There are plenty of poorly written, badly or unedited works with horrendous or free covers, and I’ve taken the expensive steps to elevate my product above that bunch. Thus, the product is worth something, and then the battle becomes what is the product worth? That’s a different question. The point is, the artisan in me would like to be compensated for delivering value.

But the marketing guy says, screw it, give it away!

So what do you think? Where do you stand on the subject? What’s your take? Is giving away a part of a trilogy a viable marketing strategy, or cheapening the work? Or should you just give an entire 150K word novel away free? By giving product away for free, am I likely to attract perennially dissatisfied cheapskates who expect everything for free, and who troll the kindle store and the web for freebies? I can certainly appreciate that there’s a subset of folks that expect everything for nothing, just as there’s a subset who sue when coffee is served hot. I naively believe in human nature, and believe that most people will not have a problem buying work once they believe it has the quality they’re looking for. Yes, there will always be those looking to take advantage, or who feel entitled to everything for free because they’ve gotten free stuff before, but in the end, I think most adults, and certainly most erudite adults sufficiently literate to read a lot, are basically fair, and will have no problem exchanging value for value. There will always be predators and malcontents, but I tend to believe most aren’t.

But where do you stand? What do you think? What are you willing to do to get exposure, and what aren’t you?

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