Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I've Been a Bad Boy

Kindle Unlimited
I have been away for too long from this blog. I can throw more excuses out than an NFL wide receiver caught breaking the law (again), but for what purpose?

The truth is, I am back again. I have been writing like mad to hit my self-imposed deadlines (and mostly failing, to be honest). I am in a small lull in writing the rough draft for the seventh installment of the Jake Monday Chronicles (while the 6th installment is getting edited). Therefore, here I am tossing out parenthetical expressions like they are going out of business.

So, here is my update. Mad, Mad Monday will be published as soon as I get it back, make corrections and re-writes, format it, and upload it to the mighty 'Zon. The final book in the series, Monday Bloody Monday will be published in September along with Volume 2 of the Monday Collection (which will contain parts 4 through 7 of the series). Before Christmas, I will publish an Omnibus Edition called Monday: All Week, which will include all 7 installments plus tons of extras (I will brag that Monday: All Week will contain 10% more week!) like an origin story, "the making of Jake Monday," deleted scenes, and a companion story, the first in a series of shorts called Monday Missions. It will be busting at its seams at almost 1,000 pages!

Recently, Amazon unveiled their new program for Prime Members, called Kindle Unlimited. I have heard a ton of great stuff about it so far from readers. Power readers love it. Current Prime members see it as a huge improvement over one book a month from their Kindle Select collection. It is the same collection, now there are no limits. This makes getting Prime ($9.99/month) sound like an even better deal than ever. Amazon really understands how to capture and retain customers.

I have been hearing a totally different song sung by independent authors. For us, Kindle Unlimited (or KU, as we call it), is still an unknown. We understand how it works, but the big question will be on the long tail, how effective it will be at providing us more exposure AND more income. Some estimate that volume will increase, and Amazon has prepared to add funds to our shared kitty, but what happens when the volume increases past Amazon's ability to keep up with the increased demand? Others are worried about a dip in normal sales as more potential "power readers" see a way to make an immediate impact on their bottom line by becoming a Prime Member.

From what many are observing so far, the KU "borrows" effect ranking almost immediately. This creates more buzz for books that Prime Members are excited about reading on their Kindle Unlimited account, which is awesome. However, the potential issue is that to break into the top 5,000 now, an author whose books may not be in Kindle Select will have an even more difficult time. Of course, this pushes many authors to re-think the way they go to market.

Do we give Amazon exclusivity to our product offerings? (I will mention that many of the traditionally published books in KU do not have to maintain that exclusivity, but who am I to rock that particular boat?) Do we abandon our loyal fans that find our books on their favorite reading devices on Barnes & Noble, or Android, or Apple, or Kobo?

For many authors, this is not even an option. The increase in visibility and income from KU will not replace the diversity and volume they are experiencing by having their product in several (if not all) stores. All eggs/one basket is the common cautionary refrain I hear most often.

On the other hand, some authors already have given Amazon their all. Some have multiple product offerings, often under different brands (pen names), with some in and some out of the Kindle Select program. These authors and publishers stand to net the bounty (or downfall) of this fledgeling program.

For the author who does not have all that much traction other than Amazon (like me, for example), will it be worthwhile to pull out of the other stores and abandon diversity for exclusivity even if it is only for the first three months (the length of the contractual obligation to participate in the Kindle Select program)? Some might say: "Go for it! What do you have to lose?" Others may caution: "Don't be a follower. Exclusivity is the wrong move. Don't cave to the big bully on the block with all the best toys."

Both are good advice, but my retort is simply: I am looking at it from all angles. I am not making any rash decisions. I have three titles in Select now. The final three installments of the Jake Monday Chronicles will be in Select until just before Christmas. My only fantasy title available to date is currently in Select. You can read it for free if you are a Prime Member. It is also on sale this week for 99 cents if you are not a Prime Member.

I will wait and see, monitor and observe, calculate and weigh my options. Maybe by Christmas I will have a better marketing strategy other than "wait and see."

How about you? If you are a reader, what do you think about this new program? If you are a writer/publisher, how is it impacting you?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why I am NOT Crazy

I just gave away 7,801 copies of a book.

Some feel this is insanity. Why give it away? The answer is complicated and not necessarily a good argument for my mental clarity. The same week I gave this book away, I also offered the second book in that series discounted to 99 cents. Crazy? I wish I was nuttier, actually.

I missed my goal of book give-aways, and books sold at discount. I intended to give away 10,000 books. ON THE FIRST DAY. I wanted the other four days to get that number closer to 20,000 or even 30,000 copies.

But, why? What good does giving away so many free copies achieve? you may ask.

Because no one knows me. I am a very small speck of plankton among hundreds of thousands of plankton. I want someone to notice me. I need to glow. Grow abnormally large. Send off book-reading pheromones. Develop a book-reader-attracting mating call.

One sure way to do that is to give away something.

People LOVE free.

But, you may argue, doesn't offering something for free devalue your work?

You may have a point. I am willing to take that risk. Because of numbers.

I have been in sales all my adult life and I live by numbers. "X" number of presentations will produce "Y" opportunities to close a sale which at "Z" close rate will result in "AA" number of sales at "BB" average revenue which will earn me "CC" dollars of commission. I intended to use a similar method of success for selling books.

See, that is the difficult part for me. I am the creator. The author, editor, publisher, cover artist, social platform manager, literary agent, sales manager, and public relations specialist. I wear a bunch of hats. Sometimes that is the part that wears me down.

So, when I produce a great story, get it edited, go through the hard work of packaging it, formatting it, creating a cover, writing the doggone blurb, pricing it, getting it beta-read, and then uploading it to the online book stores, I expect results. I have so much control over everything. That is what I LOVE about independent publishing. I have control. Well, over everything except people buying it.

I am looking for raving fans. Fans that tell other fans. I am risking my neck by tossing my book out into the maw of the free book binge. There is a whole culture of book collectors who look every day for new free books. Some of these people are voracious readers. Not all of them will like my book. That is risk number one: my work will be downloaded and read by readers who are not my target audience.

Risk number two is the devaluing of books we discussed earlier. Not just my book, understand. All books. It has come to the point now that we indie authors have conditioned folks to think that a "cliffhanger" in a short work is a cheat. That we are trying to milk them for all the book money they have. In a way, I suppose that would be nice. I will take milk money, too, if they will depart with it. But, this pervading perception that free is a springboard to capturing readers is exactly correct. It is what we want. Are you not entertained? Try my book for free. It is the first in a series. The other six are priced competitively in their genre for their length.

Are free books conditioning readers to not purchase? I don't think so. Most of the readers who fill their ereader devices full of free downloaded books are the same people who read books from the library, buy books from used book stores, and borrow books from friends regularly. I don't begrudge them their buying habits. They are not the audience I seek. For every one of these readers, there are potential buyers who snatch up series like they were going to out of print tomorrow if it is in a genre they like/author they like/ or set of covers they like.  Those readers are my audience. Or at least I hope they are.

Which brings us back to why I am not crazy.

My number theory about book selling is simple. I think that for every 10,000 books I can give away, 80 to 100 people will buy at least one other book in the series. Not only that, I believe that within 6 months, I will get: 10 new book reviews on the free book alone; 40 new subscribers to my newsletter; an additional 100 or so sales from carry through from book 2 to 3, etc.; 20-40 new sales at every new release, and 20 new Twitter/Facebook/Google+/Goodreads followers.

Those numbers are conservative and only refer to the readers who originally downloaded the free book. It does not take into account that with enough quick growth (several dozen sales in one day, for example), my titles will shoot up the best seller lists and gain more visibility. More potential sales. More potential reviews, newsletter subscribers, followers on social media, more website hits, and more reader engagement. It is a snowball. The thing is, to make that snowball grow in diameter, I have to pack the core and roll it down the hill, hoping it will pick up momentum and attract more mass.

Offering my book for free is like packing that snowball core. Ten thousand downloads is a bunch of potential readers. Not all will stick. Hundreds will never get around to sampling my free offering and may even delete it later to make room for more free books. Those ereaders have a capacity, you know. Hundreds of the people who DO read the free sample will just nod, smile, thank me silently, and read the next free book on their to-be-read pile. Then, some will read it, love it, and want more.  Leave a review, sign up for my newsletter, tell a friend, share it with a colleague at work, write a book blog about it, or simply visit my website and get a copy of another book. Soon, the snowball is rolling down the hill and picking up speed. Maybe before it gets to the bottom and sits for weeks melting it will get really big. That is the plan, anyway.

How many potential readers will join the snowball? Less than 1% is my guess. Which is why 10,000 is such a crucial number.

Am I crazy? Probably. I intend to make the first book free permanently. OK. Not permanently, permanently. Just permanently for now. Beginning in April, actually. For an indefinite time.

So, if you have the patience, you can save 99 cents and get the book free if you have not already downloaded it. MANIC MONDAY is the first novella (which means under 250 pages) in my 7-part series called THE JAKE MONDAY CHRONICLES. It is an espionage thriller in the vein of Jason Bourne and James Bond.

You can pick up a copy of MANIC MONDAY or any of my novels HERE.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

I am impressed with King's return to Danny's world. King really flexed his considerable writing muscles in Doc ZZZZ. Some may criticize the elements of the True Knot, or the introduction of a new main character, but the truth is, from a pure writing standpoint, this is a better effort than The Shining.

I was mildly disappointed in the lack of a Randall Flagg reference, which easily could have been applied. I thought that was a missed opportunity.

I really liked the idea of Abra. Thought the naming convention was a little trite and ironic, but I have been known to indulge in similar naming conventions (my Jake Monday series titles, for one). But, as a character, Abra is not as well-drawn as Danny. I imagine it would be difficult for a man of King's age (and sex) to do a character like Abra justice. I say that, realizing of course, that he did a wonderful job of that in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

Adult Danny got on my nerves a bit at first. This was perhaps the part of the novel I liked least. Tearing him down to the lowest point is a common fiction convention, and certainly in character considering his father, but the low was not as low as his father. It fell a little short of that. Not that I want Danny murdering someone or beating his child or chasing his wife with an axe. It just felt over-blown. I found it interesting that when Dan Torrance finally opens up about it at the AA meeting, the audience there has the same ho-hum attitude about the story that I did.

One thing about this criticism, if I look at it objectively: we often are more harsh on ourselves regarding our redemption and deep, dark secrets than others might be when they compare our deeds or or lack of action to their own experiences. For every person who feels awful about themselves, totally disappointed that they neglected their aging parent, there is someone who shot a kid while cleaning their gun, or hit their child in anger, or hit a woman while driving drunk. It is all relative. Not that it expunges each of us from the guilt we feel. This guilt is a cleansing thing, a reminder that we are fallible and must try harder, strive more for peace, love, and serving others--change the way we act and think.

I think that is the deeper message King is sending in Doctor Sleep. He explores it with the night clerk, Torrance's AA mentor, Abby's grandmother, and even the True Knot. We are responsible for our actions and how those actions impact those around us.

All-in-all, this is a book I will highly recommend. Not as good as 11/22/63 in many ways, but a healthy reminder that King is only getting better at this writing thing. I think he might be famous some day. :)