How’s this for a business model? An independent developer invests thousands of hours over several years creating a product. He pays hundreds if not thousands of dollars for testing and packaging. When the fruit of his labor is finally ready for the public, he gives it away free.
Insane, right? Yet this is what indie authors commonly do. It has almost become an industry standard. It is, in fact, one of the major selling points of KDP Select. Giving Amazon an exclusive for the digital edition of an author’s book for ninety days allows the writer to give that book away for up to five days — free — for nothing.
Of course, the author hopes that thousands of people will obtain a free copy and love it so much they will tell their friends and write glowing reviews. I mean, who would turn down a free masterpiece? The answer, apparently, is ‘most people.’
But back to the point of sharing my adventure, I’ll tell you what I did and what happened.
I decided to make Defying Fate, the combined digital edition of my first two books, available only on Kindle and therefore eligible for KDP Select. This allows U.S. Amazon Prime members to borrow it free. (As far as I know, no one yet has.) It also allows me to reduce the price to $0 for up to five days as a promotion. I decided to do this because I have taken advantage of these types of promotions when other authors did them. I downloaded several free books that I probably would not have purchased otherwise. Some I liked. Some I didn’t. I wrote reviews on those I did. The reviews were a kind of ‘thank you’ for the free book, and they may help both book and author get more attention. Who knows? Someone might see them.
I planned my free promotion for the first two days of July 2012. They fell on a Sunday and Monday. My thinking was that some people would be planning time off work that week in conjunction with the 4th of July holiday and might want something new to read.
I began promoting my free promotion (yeah, I know) a couple of weeks in advance on my blog, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Each day I’d send at least one tweet telling the world that my free days were coming, and I sent additional Tweets each day it ran. I got a lot of help from Twitter friends who retweeted my tweets to their followers to help me get the word out. They are some sweet tweeters.
The technical part worked well. The free promotion was simple to schedule from the KDP site, and when the day came, the price dropped to $0 on Amazon sites for the U.S. U.K. Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. When the scheduled promotion ended, the price returned to the regular $4.99 (or the applicable equivalent in Pounds or Euros).
There was only one glitch I heard of, and that came from a nice lady in the Netherlands who could not download from any of the Amazon sites. This may have more to do with Dutch law than Amazon policy. I really don’t know. I sent her a copy.
So how did it go? During the two-day free promotion, there were 186 downloads on Amazon.com (U.S.A.), 28 downloads on Amazon.co.uk (U.K.), and 4 downloads on Amazon.de (Germany). That’s it, just 218 worldwide. To be honest, I had higher hopes.
I am unsure what to conclude. For one thing, I don’t know how these figures compare with others who have run KDP free promos. I also don’t know how the promotion affected my book’s ranking. Actually, I’m not a big fan of rankings. It implies that books are in competition. They are not. I am not competing for readers. I don’t want people to read my book instead of a book by some other author. I want them to read my book in addition to books by other authors.
Still, 218 seems like a low number to me. I may be in denial about this, but I’m sure this is a damn good book. Of course, only those who read it will know that, and my promotion just might result in a few more people who will do that. This is a good thing, and the promotion could be considered successful if only one more person ends up actually reading the book.
But why didn’t more people grab a free copy? I don’t know. Maybe my cover sucks. Maybe the book blurb on Amazon is uninteresting. I don’t think either is true, but my opinion on this is hardly unbiased. I simply may be overestimating the number of people who would enjoy a lighthearted epic adventure. I can only speculate about why, but a few things come to mind, two of which have much to do with perception and little to do with reality.
Again, this may be another case of denial, looking for ways to point blame anywhere but at my own work, so let me say once again that I may be dead wrong. My book may suck like a fusion-powered vacuum cleaner. All I can say without qualification is that I like it.
Whether denial or a rational hypothesis, these things occurred to me as possible explanations for why there were not more downloads.
- Word of the promotion did not reach enough people. I am not a social media superstar. I don’t have thousands of followers or subscribers, and I didn’t buy any advertising. It is quite possible that fewer than a thousand people ever saw anything about my promotion.
- There are some people, perhaps many, who assume that free things have no value. I consider it a sad comment on our society that value is equated with monetary cost. There are many things that I believe have true value, but money isn’t one of them. It is good for buying stuff, but much of the stuff that can be bought has no real value either. Be that as it may, ‘free’ may be a sign to some that the book isn’t worth reading. After all, if it was, I wouldn’t be giving it away, right?
- Then there is the indie stigma. There is still a perception that indie published books are not ‘really’ published, that they have poor plots, lousy prose, loads of typos, and a random approach to punctuation. In short, if it’s indie, it’s bad. Even it is free, an indie book isn’t worth the time.
Unfortunately, the only one of these an indie author can influence is the first. I probably won’t. I don’t want to peddle my books or myself, and I don’t think I have much talent when it comes to marketing. There is only one way that an author can avoid all three of these problems — traditional publishing. This is why I have decided to pursue this route for my next few novels at least.
I just returned from the OASIS 25 Science Fiction Convention in Orlando. I seldom attend conventions, but this is my second in as many years, although the one last year was technically a ‘symposium.’ The only one I ever went to prior to that was a Star Trek convention in Detroit. I don’t recall the year, but it was when cell phones and personal computers were still the stuff of science fiction.
OASIS is one of the smaller annual science fiction conventions and I enjoyed it in large part because of this. It had a close, almost family reunion feel to it. The honored guests were all very approachable, as were the other attendees. Now, I’m wondering if maybe I should try to start a social life. I may even go again next year. Heck, I may consider joining the Orlando Area Science Fiction Society (OASFiS), the group that organizes these.
Obviously, I don’t get out much, and I never heard of either OASIS or OASFiS before this year, as far as I can recall. I found out about them when the president of the writers’ group I ostensibly belong to sent an email telling us that a local editor wanted submissions for a short book of ‘pulp’ style short stories he wanted to publish and provide free to OASIS 25 attendees. Oddly enough, one of the few short stories I had languishing in my files seemed to fit the bill, so I submitted it, thinking, what could it hurt? Imagine my surprise when the editor offered to buy it! This was not a big sale for a lot of money, and the publication is a limited edition ‘freebie,’ but it means a lot to me. I felt honored to have my story appear with one by Jack McDevitt, who has written several books that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Jack, of course, was at the convention. We chatted briefly and he seems like an extremely nice gentleman. Unfortunately, I forgot to take his picture.
Another great author who attended and sat on several panels was L.E. Modesitt Jr. I have read a number of books by him and have enjoyed them. In a talk on world building, I was astonished to discover that he and I have very similar approaches to our writing. We also share a few personality traits. He seems to lack much of a social life, has no hobbies (other than writing and reading), watches little TV, and attends relatively few conferences. What he does is write. He does it well and he does it constantly, as do I — I write constantly, anyway. We agree that golf is a ‘silly’ game and neither of us crave excitement in our personal lives. We seem to have a very similar work ethic and an almost obsessive compulsion for organization. We also share a couple pet peeves about novels. One is that the economic systems portrayed in works of science fiction and fantasy are too often either ignored or unworkable. Another is that the magic systems can be seemingly arbitrary. He emphasized that he takes care to ensure such things are logically consistent and coherent in his books, and that conservation of energy is a basic fact that must be respected. I agree.
An author I am not familiar with, Richard Lee Byers, sat on some panels. One of his short stories also appeared in Strange Pulp. Other than that story, I am not familiar with his work, but after hearing him talk, I will need to check out his books.
Other fiction writers who appeared at OASIS 25 include David Weber, Janny Wurtz, Chris Berman, Adam-Troy Castro, Nick DiChario, Glenda Finkelstein, William Hatfield, Brad Linaweaver, Will Ludwigsen, Sandra McDonald, Peter Rawlik, T.S. Robinson, Gary S. Roen, Elenora Sabin, and Rick Wilber. I can’t say I’m familiar with any of these except David Weber.
There were also several technical people on panels including Jeff Mitchell, author of the textbook Space Power Systems, which my aerospace engineer son says is quite good. I am not qualified to have an opinion for a couple reasons, although I did chat briefly on spacecraft design with Jeff, and he never talked above me, which, for a man as obviously brilliant as he is, says a lot about him.
OASIS 25 was an enjoyable experience for me, although it felt like a guilty pleasure because I did nothing on my current work in progress the last three days. Yes, I feel like I’m shirking if I don’t do something on it every day. This will be my fourth novel, an adult science fiction story set in the same world as my others. I don’t want to say much more about it yet, but I think those who have told me they want to see more of Trixie will especially enjoy it. Tomorrow, I will get back to work on it.
Last week I posted about the importance of book reviews and I promised to provide a list. After data mining the internet, I found 87 sites that review indie books. The list of those is provided below. I have not queried all of these. Some are not applicable to my genre. Some are closed for new submissions, and others I simply have not had time to contact yet. Since I had the data, though, I’m sharing it because others may find it helpful.
One thing to keep in mind when contacting prospective reviewers is to be mindful of their submission requirements. If they only review Romance, don’t ask them to review your Fantasy novel. If they want a synopsis, provide it. If they want the first three chapters, send them. There is no “standard” format. Each review site will have different requirements. These reviewers are doing indie writers a favor, and we need to be courteous by not clogging up their email with things their submission guidelines say they are not interested in seeing.
Good luck to all my fellow indies. I hope you find this list helpful.
Since it does not show well in the HTML below, it is attached here as an Excel spreadsheet: ReviewSites
|Review Site||Site URL||e-Book?||Genres|
|3 R’s Reading Den||
|N||Most – see guidelines|
|A. F. Stewart’s Blog||
|Y ePub||Fantasy, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Poetry, Mysteries, Historical Fiction, Historical Non-Fiction and other Non-Fiction.|
|Y||Science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, pulp etc.|
|Bab’s Book Bistro||
|Y||Mysteries, Cozy Mysteries, Thrillers, Western romance, Romance, Historical Romance, Some erotica, Suspense, Some dramas, Children’s books|
|Big Al’s Books and Pals (currently NOT accepting unsolicited review submissions – March 2012)||
|Bonnie Humbarger Lamer – Author and Review Page||
|Y||Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Political satire, Humorous fiction, Chicklit, romance|
|Book Vacations (Not taking new submissions – March 2012)||
|Y||Literary fiction and world literature|
|Bookhound’s Den (NOT accepting books for review at this time – March 2012)||
|Y||Horror, crime, noir, suspense, mystery, and thrillers|
|Books are Better||
|Y||Fantasy, Steampunk and Post-Apocalyptic|
|Books for Company||
|Y||Fantasy, YA, Dystopia|
|Books Like Breathing||
|Y||Romance, YA, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction|
|Books on The Knob||
|Y||Fantasy, SF, mystery and suspense. Check guidelines.|
|Y||All but prefers Paranormal YA|
|Breakout Books Reviews (not taking new submissions – March 2012)||
|Butterfly-o-meter (Submissions closed. Last checked 20 March 2012)||http://butterflyometerbooks.blogspot.com/p/review-policy-submissions.html||Yes||Closed for submissions|
|Can’t put it down||
|Y||Horror, Mystery, paranormal, YA, thrillers, fantasy, crime, detective. No erotica, prefer e-books|
|Clover Hill Book Reviews (not taking new submissions – March 2012)||
|CS fantasy reviews||
|Fantasy, speculative fiction|
|Cup of Tea Reviews (Not accepting requests -Last checked 20 March 2012)||
|Y||All, except novels with overly religious tone, won’t review erotica or any adult novels. Only review ebooks with PDF format.|
|Daily Ebook Reviews||
|Y||Science fiction, horror, fantasy, and thrillers – though we will consider all types of fiction.|
|Y (but paper preferred)||romance, supernatural/paranormal, fantasy, adventure, mystery and thriller|
|Dark Side of the Covers||
|Y||Steampunk, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Speculative Fiction|
|Demon Lovers Books & More||
|?||historical romance, contemporary romance, erotic romance, crime/mystery, fantasy/sci-fi and young adult paranormal|
|Ebook Reviews by Elizabeth Swigar Stephen||
|Y||All – especially historical fiction|
|Enter The Portal||
|Y||SF & Fantasy|
|Everything to do with books||
|Y||All but no pure romances, Westerns, and erotica.|
|Fantasy Book Critic||
|Y||Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, YA/Children|
|Five Alarm Book Reviews||
|N||Limited – see guidelines|
|Flying with Red Haircrow||
|Y||SFF mostly – see site|
|Y||Fantasy, YA paranormal, excluding Christian, Self Help.|
|YA and Contemporary Romance|
|I Heart Reading||
|Y||Paranormal romance, fantasy or historical fiction. Check guidelines.|
|Indie Book Blog||
|Y||Mainly SF/F but all except Romance or Erotica|
|Indie Book Podcast||
|Y||steampunk, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, fantasy, dystopian, chick lit, mysteries and suspense|
|Indie Paranormal Book Reviews||
|Y||Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy|
|Y||All except Horror, Erotica, Manuals|
|Kindle Book Review||
|Letters Inside Out||
|Livin’ Life Through Books||
|Y||Young Adult (No Fantasy)|
|Y||fantasy, horror, science fiction, and magical realism|
|Y||Crime, Thrillers, Suspense, Mysteries, Historical Fiction, Historical Crime, Humor, Sport, Memoirs and Biographies|
|Night Owl Reviews||
|Quills and Zebras||
|Rainy Day Ramblings (Heidi)||
|Y||All except erotica, graphic horror and any book that pertains to animal cruelty or abuse, religious books, self help, business etc.|
|Reading Between the Lines (not taking new submissions – March 2012)||
|Review Haven – Note: free reviews are not given for ebooks.||
|N||Science-Fiction or Fantasy|
|Science Fiction Addiction||
|Science Fiction and Other Oddysseys||
|?||Science Fiction & Fantasy|
|SF Book Reviews (not currently accepting new review requests – March 2012)||
|Y||SciFi & Fantasy|
|Sift Book Reviews||
|Y||science-fiction or fantasy|
|Y||Fantasy, young adult, sci-fi, steampunk, paranormal romance, dystopia, horror, urban fantasy|
|Stories of my life||
|Y||Fantasy, Young Adult|
|The Book Buff||
|The Book Hookup||
|Y||Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal, Young Adult, Erotica, Historical Romance, Dark/Urban Fantasy|
|The Book Vixen||
|Y||Contemporary Romance, Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic, Erotic Romance, GLBT, Historical Romance, Mystery/Suspense, Paranormal Romance, Romantic Suspense, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult (YA)|
|Y||YA, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Romance,|
|The Consumption of Books||
|The eNovella Review||
|Y||30k word max|
|The Fairytale Nerd||
|The Indie Book Blog Database||
|The Literary Mind Bender||
|The LL Book Review||
|The New Podler Review of Books||
|?||literary, science fiction, fantasy, horror, suspense, humor, mysteries and the occasional thriller|
|The Novel Blog||
|?||Site does not specify|
|The Scattering (Closed to new review requests – March 2012)||
|The Secret Life of Books (Lucy)||
|?||Adult Fiction, Romance, Paranormal Romance, Historical Romance, Erotica, Young Adult, Fantasy, Humorous|
|The Write to Make a Living||
|This is from my Heart (Janiera )||
|Y||All except political, biographies, Erotica, and historical romance|
|To Publish or Not To Publish||
|To Read or Not to Read||
|Y||All except erotica|
|Tomes of the Soul||
|Y||All except erotica|
|Writer’s Fun Zone||
|Y||YA novels by women about girl heroes|
Pumped: synonyms – inspired, encouraged, stimulated, motivated . . .
Sorry. I’ve been doing a lot of editing recently and the reason for that is the subject of this post.
I mentioned previously that I got my first “professional” reviews, and I said how pleased I was with them. Who wouldn’t be? I put out a completely DIY ebook, and its first reviews by people unrelated and unknown to me were four and five stars. But something since has motivated me even more.
I maintain a modest presence on Twitter, with a few hundred followers. I try not to do much book promotion there anymore but I do talk about my writing, what I’m doing, what I’ve discovered, and things like this. I’ll also Tweet about my health, the weather, a random observation, a favorite quote, or whatever comes to mind. I guess I’m an eclectic Tweeter. What I have been focusing on recently, is following and engaging people who seem to share my tastes, fans of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams especially. Both of these great authors have influenced my writing style because I so greatly enjoy their work. I wanted to write books I would like to read, so it only seemed logical to use them as unwitting mentors.
Recently, some, well, a few people on Twitter have told me they read and really enjoyed my books. These weren’t reviewers. I didn’t ask them to read them and I didn’t send them a free copy. They picked them up on their own, read them, and liked them enough to tell me about it. They are also fans of my favorite writers, and I couldn’t help thinking, I’d done it! These people saw in my books something similar to the ineffable magic penned by two of my favorites. I can’t tell you how much of a rush it was when I got a Tweet from a gentleman who said he was 70% through my first book and laughing his ass off. I ran straight out to the patio and told my wife and her mother who were downing a few (or more) beers after Thanksgiving dinner.
It was also something of a surprise. And a shock.
The books I enjoy most are not mainstream bestsellers, or even mainstream genre fiction. If it’s dark, I probably won’t read it. If it’s littered with dead bodies, guns, or drugs, it’s not something I want to spend my leisure time with. I can watch the news if I want things like that. If zombies, demons, vampires, ghosts, or others who look at people primarily as a good source of protein or some mystical nutritive energy are a central part of the plot, the book is probably not for me either unless the beasties are conveyed satirically or with humor. I don’t find such stories enjoyable, so they aren’t the kind I write. They do seem popular though and mine have little in common with them.
I understand my books are outside the norm. They are science fiction set in a fantasy-like setting. In a way, they are almost anti-fantasies, and they poke a fair (or unfair) amount of fun at the genre. No one reads stuff like that. There is no stuff like that. Gaining much of an audience seemed unlikely.
A few people I hesitate to call fans can change that. Once one person, and it only takes one, says he or she really likes your book (the really is important), your outlook changes. At least mine did. Perhaps I’m too easily encouraged, but if one person is enthused about it, certainly others will be. This is great, but it leads to a new feeling of responsibility. There is a big attitudinal difference between “maybe someone might like it” to “OMG, someone really likes it!” Suddenly, your book can’t be just a fun read, now it has to be great. A DIY cover and a self-edited book with random commas, some less than stellar prose, and a breeding population of mutant typos (what else can explain how more appear after you are sure every one has been found and squashed) may be good enough for a casual reader, but certainly not for someone who really likes your book.
So, this is where I’m at now on my self-publishing adventure. A few people like my book enough to actually promote it for me. They are Tweeting about it to friends. I am humbled because it’s not good enough (yet) for people like this. But I shall make it worthy.
I am currently reediting and revising the manuscript of The Warden Threat, eliminating stubborn typos and tightening the prose. I have engaged a professional technical editor and I have commissioned custom art for the cover. I intend to find at least a copy editor and proofreader early next year to ensure I provide a professional quality product. I also plan to make it available as a Print On Demand paperback so anyone, even those few who still do not have ebook readers, can get a copy if they wish.
If my blog posts come less frequently over the following months, this is why. Once I have completed the revised edition of the Warden Threat, I will go through the same process for The Warden War.
The first draft of my third book, Amy’s Pendant, is complete. I have not yet decided if I will try traditional publishing for this or not. If it appears as if the first two books are gaining a following, I may continue with self-publishing for this one as well. It puts more of the work on the author as well as all the risk and upfront expense. The thought that a traditional publisher could share some of this is tempting. I never tried traditional publishing for my books so I can’t compare based on any firsthand experience.
I will try to keep you posted on how this all goes. Until then, I hope you enjoy your holidays and I wish you all a very good new year.
I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with this adventure in self publishing so far and I’m trying not to be disillusioned about it all. This post isn’t to gripe about that though. My intent here is to share my experiences with other new writers so that they might know what to expect and give them an opportunity to assess how they are doing by comparison with how I have done.
I have always wanted to write fiction. I knew I would be something of a niche author because I am a niche reader. I like books that provide social commentary, philosophical insights, and do so without being heavy or taking themselves too seriously. This is hard to pull off although Sir Terry Pratchett normally can do it and others can occasionally as well. These are the kinds of books I like to read so they are the kind I wanted to write.
I found that Young Adult (YA) books are often better at this than those targeted for adult markets because they tend to be more hopeful, more idealistic, and less focused on sex and violence. If I want to see the darker side of humanity, I can watch the TV news. A few hours of that could convince anyone that humanity is doomed, and quite possibly deservedly so.
I want something different for my leisure reading. Something that will allow me to pretend, at least for a moment, that there is a bright future for humanity. For video entertainment, this is what draws me to both Star Trek and Doctor Who. They both show people being able to overcome prejudice and superstition and they portray people, as a whole and individually, as creatures with value and potential. Apparently this is not a popular perspective so I never expected my books to be bestsellers. I never expected them to appeal to a very large audience. I have to admit that I did expect some feedback on them though, some indication that they are at least being read. So far, except for personal friends and family, there has been none.
From what I have heard anecdotally, my expectations, low as they were, may have been too high. I have found no reliable statistics on this but I’ve seen claims that it is not uncommon for a blog to attract only a few select followers its first year. Mine was established the end of May and here are statistics on how it has fared in terms of the gross number of views since then:
May – 26
June – 42
July – 83
August – 96
September – 226
October (so far) – 172
Clearly readership has grown, and hopefully will continue to do so as I write more of these wonderful posts, but so far this has not equated to book sales. This may also be common. Again, my only means of comparison for this are anecdotal comments from other writers from their blogs but I get the distinct impression that most fiction ebooks by unknown authors don’t see any appreciable sales – ever – but those that do don’t until they’ve been available for a couple years. Mine have been out a couple of months.
I began by making an anthology of my first two books available on Smashwords and created a coupon to allow them to be downloaded free. Most of these went to friends and family who did provide feeback on them, all of it positive. But then, what else would you expect from friends and family? (By the way, thanks, Dad.)
A couple of months ago, I published my first two books separately. I made the first free on Smashwords for a month and then raised the price on both Smashwords and Amazon to 99¢. I priced the sequel at 99¢ as well and the anthology at $1.99. The following shows how this pricing strategy has fared.
The summary for this table is that I’ve given away 174 copies of my books (all on Smashwords) and sold two (both on Amazon). I assume the one sale of The Warden War, the sequel to The Warden Threat was to someone who got a free copy of the first one, liked it, and was willing to spend 99¢ for the next one. This may not be the case but it makes me feel better to think so.
So what does this mean to others like me who may just be starting out on their own self publishing adventures? Just this. Keep your expectations low. You may have written the best book ever. It may have the potential to brighten the lives of millions, bring enlightenment to the masses and usher in a new and hopeful era for humanity. And all of these things may be true even though you don’t see many sales and don’t get any feedback from readers right away. The only opinion that really matters is your own. If you believe in your work, continue. Keep writing.
So, what is my next step? I have heard from others that my low prices, which I hoped would attract readers, may be having the opposite effect. Many people mistakenly associate cost with value. The low cost of my books may imply that they have little value. Personally I believe this to be untrue but to charge what I really think they are worth would mean only millionaires could buy them and they really aren’t the market I was trying to reach, not that I would mind them buying them as well.
One other indie writer told me that pricing a book at 99¢ may cause a person to skim over it thinking it is a novella, rather than an 80,000+ word complete novel or one that is poorly written, unedited, and incoherent. Since none of these things are true, he said I should price them at least at $2.99. I hesitate to do this because I want my books to be available to as many people as possible and some simply can’t afford $2.99 for a single book. In principle though, he may be right so in the next month or so, I am going to increase some of the prices. I will keep the first book in the series, The Warden Threat, at 99¢. I will change the price of the second to $1.99 and price the anthology of both books (which includes a special prelude as well) at $2.99. These new prices will become effective early November. I will post periodic updates on how this goes and whether or not it seems to have an impact on sales.
In the meantime, keep reading, keep writing. If you’d like to share your experiences, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about them.
Why I Chose To Self Publish
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following
Ten Things For Aspiring Fiction Writers To Consider