Sunday, December 29, 2013

Taking Stock of 2013

Like many writers, I inevitably look back on the year to review the highs and lows of my writing life. I’m happy to say that there were plenty of highs this year. I hand sold nearly 200 books at craft fairs alone, published my third Casey Holland mystery, Beneath the Bleak New Moon, and signed a contract for the fourth, which will be out next September. I wrote over 100 blogs, and nearly 50 book reviews. I also built my own website, for the first time, and now completely control the changes and updates.

So, what does all of this mean? It tells me that my career’s moving in the right direction, one step at a time. I still have a long way to go to achieve my goals, and I don’t sell anywhere near the number of e-books that some writers do, but I plan to focus on that this year.

Meanwhile, Digital BookWorld has compiled a list of the bestselling e-books for 2013. It’s interesting to note that they start their article by saying that prices rose and plummeted from week to week with e-books. I’ve seen this as well, which is why it’s so hard to determine an e-book price. Some days, I think my books are priced too high at $7.99 (my publisher's decision, not mine), other days it seems about right compared to others. The article says that a couple of the bestsellers were $.99 novels in the romance and young adult fiction category, yet the average price of other bestsellers was $7.74.

Out of the 21 titles listed in the article, eight of them came from Penguin and three were self-published. Not surprisingly, plenty of big-name authors made the bestsellers list, including Dan Brown, Nicholas Sparks, David Baldacci, Stephen King, and Stephanie Meyer. In fact, a quick glance at the list shows that many of the top selling authors were also top selling authors in print before the e-book revolution exploded. Collectively, indie authors are publishing hundreds of thousands of books, but it seems clear that name recognition, branding, and a solid fan base are still invaluable tools to reaching bestseller status. I’d be foolish not to work on building these aspects as well.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Why the Fascination With Creative Peaks?

A recent article in Pacific Standard stated that researchers have long been fascinated with determining when a highly accomplished creative person reaches his or her peak. The article briefly mentioned the creativity of scientists, painters, and composers, referring to two studies. One 2011 study noted that the majority of modern-day physicists make their most innovative discoveries around age 48. Another study found that plenty of artists from the 19th and 20th centuries painted their most significant works when they had lived nearly 62% of their lives, which happened to be as they approached age 42.

But, here’s the thing: there are always exceptions. What happens if you’re a person like Harper Lee who wrote only one novel (I don’t know how old she was when she did), yet its significance is quite obvious. Once more, when it comes to art and books, who has the final word on which piece was the most important?

Experts tell me that one should write at least a million words before publishing a book because it takes years to learn the craft and find one’s voice. Readers complain that someone’s series isn’t as good as it used to be and that the writer should have packed it in six books earlier. Maybe all these points are valid, but maybe there are plenty of artists, composers, scientists, and writers who are steadily getting better at their professions decade after decade. I’m sure many won’t peak until much later in life, or sadly run out of time before they produce their best work.

Artists will work at their craft until they no longer wish to, or no longer can. At the end of the day, whether they peaked early, or as predicted, or much later in life doesn’t really matter to me. And what does one do with the information anyway? Will aspiring artists feel pressured to get to work before they're ready?

While it’s interesting to read articles like this, it’s probably not a good idea to take it to heart, especially if you’re just starting your creative life after long years at a day job. However, if you want to read the studies, you can find links in the article at

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Are Indie Promotion Strategies Failing?

Anyone who follows Kindleboards knows that this enormous site has become a virtual watering hole for all types of writers, particularly self-published authors. Over the past year, I’ve noticed growing discontent with sales numbers compared to the previous couple of years. It seems that giveaways and low prices aren’t helping sales as much as they used to.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the binge publishing syndrome that’s backfired on some indie authors. It’s the philosophy that publishing three or four a year will improve your odds of getting noticed and therefore improve your sales. I also reported a couple of writers’ personal experiences where this has not been the case. One of the primary reasons is that readers are understandably skeptical about the quality of books that are written and published in three months. But this isn't only reason for lagging sales.

In her blog, author Toby Neal says that traditional publishers have jumped on the deep discount bandwagon with the works of big-name authors, and that readers are right there with them. In fact, Neal clearly admits that she too purchases deeply discounted books and who can blame her for wanting to read Michael Connelly, Patricia Cornwall, and Louise Penny for less than $3 or less? The downside, Neal notes, is that her sales have been cut in half since September, despite increased promotion efforts and great reviews. And this is what I’m reading on Kindleboards as well.

There might be other reasons for lagging sales. If you’re an indie author who’s looked for promotion venues, or an avid e-book reader, you’ve likely heard of BookBub. They claim to have two million subscribers who get the scoop on all sorts of time-limited free or discounted e-books. I’ve never used the site, but I’ve just signed up as a reader. Authors have complained about BookBub's strict criteria for listing books. Compounding the problem is that BookBub charges authors a lot of money (now apparently up to $500) to participate. Authors are finding BookBub less profitable and definitely less affordable.

But here’s another thought. I also read an interesting blog, more than one actually, addressing the relevance of doing the same type of marketing and promoting year after year; a similar trap that traditional publishers have been experiencing for ages. Indie authors see what others are doing successfully and the next thing you know tens of thousands have jumped on that bandwagon, making the strategy less successful. Giveaways and 99 cent books are two examples.

Promotion and marketing strategies need to change frequently. Authors need to think outside the box and come up with their own ideas, and not rely on others for their entire marketing program. Neal also offers good suggestions for improving sales on her blog. One thing is clear. Bookselling is more competitive than ever, and each of us will have to find new, creative ways to stay in the game.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Are You In It For The Money, Or Something Else?

Every now and then, I like to take a look at the state of self-publishing. After all, it’s gone through as much of a revolution as the e-book industry has, and why not? The two go hand in hand. A USA Today article reported that the number of self-published titles released in 2012 was 391,000, a whopping 60% rise from the previous year due, in part, to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Program. Smashwords’ numbers are also high: 250,000 titles from about 60,000 authors. Author Solutions (purchased by Penguin) has 200,000 titles from 170,000 authors. The thing is, how many of those authors are actually making money?

According to a marketing VP at Author Solutions, authors spend between $1,000 and $2,000 to publish their books and most aren’t making their money back. I don’t know how much Author Solutions charges for their services, but I do know that to produce a professional product, you’ll likely need to hire either a typesetter, jacket designer, or editor. Based on my own informal research, $1,000 to $1,500 for a jacket designer and good editor isn’t out of line.

But the article raises an interesting point. Not everyone who writes a book publishes it to make money. In fact, a study by Digital Book World revealed that making money was only forth on the list of a writers’ priority. I think there’s some truth to this. I know plenty of writers, myself included, who’ve been writing and publishing for a couple of decades or more, but still aren’t making a living. For the first twenty years of my career, money wasn’t even on the radar. Learning to finish and edit novels was, along with the long journey to find a publisher. I kept going because transforming a single idea into to a fully formed novel was tremendously satisfying.

As Digital Book World’s study showed, I wasn’t alone. The two top reasons respondents gave for writing and publishing were to build a writing career and to fulfill a lifelong ambition. Maybe this is why so many people I know don’t put the time and energy into selling their books as they did to writing and editing them. I think most of us want something to be remembered by. Publishing a book provides immortality, at least it does in Canada, as every book ever published winds up in Canada’s National Library to be saved forever. So, I have immortality. But wouldn’t it now be nice to make some money?

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Will Your Book Be Pulled From Amazon?

Anyone who’s published e-books through Amazon knows that they like to change things now and then. Sometimes the changes make sense, other times… This week, I came across a blog by Penny from Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (I’m not familiar with this company) who reported that Amazon is pulling books because they don’t like the content of keywords and/or book descriptions.

It seems that Amazon used to encourage authors to use the names of other titles and authors in keywords and descriptions. Recently, someone decided that this practice is no longer acceptable. For this reason, one of Penny’s authors had her book removed from the virtual shelf without notification.

Incidentally, in a follow-up blog, Penny clarifies that keywords are not the same as tags. Tags are no longer used. Keywords are words associated with your book page; the back end page where you upload your e-book and add the book cover.

In the follow-up blog (you can find the link in the original blog), Penny reports that she’s been able to have the book reinstated. Penny also personally wrote to Jeff Bezos, after not having much luck with Author Central, and received a response on from a customer relations executive acting on Mr. Bezos’ behalf. It seems they weren’t aware of this practice and we looking into the matter.

So, whether more books will be pulled for this reason remains to be seen. Meanwhile, it might be a good idea to do your own investigating and to take a second look at your book’s description.