Sales Update (And Comparison…with coffee-induced musings)

Posted in Book Insight on November 13, 2012 by Tim Scott

There is a big effort in the indie author community to determine whether giving away “free” books is worth it or not.  Because we have no real data on how or why a customer decided to buy our book, this will forever be an argument based on very individualized experiences.

My first book was released in June 2010, well before the free promo/lending library was introduced.  Granted, it was a non-fiction by an unknown author with no economic or political career achievements to augment my work.  I might as well had my book cover say, “Statistics” by Joe Blow.  Yea, real seller there!  I looked wayyy back to those early months’ sales.  3 in June, 6 in July, and then 1 per month for a few months after.  I priced it at $2.99 then.

My latest book sold 9 copies in the first few days of going on sale, and has sold 13 more in November, or about 1 per day, at about $3.99 per copy.  I did a 1 day “free” promo for the book, resulting in about 220 downloads in the US.  So what possible factors are different with this book, than my last one?

I’m assuming a non-fiction political/economic book by an unknown author is probably much more difficult to sell than fiction, but I could be wrong.  I promoted A Cold Black Wave much more than the other, and I definitely know that resulted in at least a couple more sales (and a review) that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  I ran the free promo, but it’s difficult to know how many sales resulted from that.  Strangely enough, I had about 50 free downloads in Germany and 2 actual sales.  It’s the only international purchases I’ve had, despite the UK downloading twice as many freebies than Germany.  I strongly believe those sales were a direct result of the free promo.

I promoted a two day sale of ACBW from $3.99 to $1.99, and received no sales.  I raised it back to $3.99 and received a sale shortly thereafter.

There are some people vehemently against the free promo.  It devalues our work, nobody makes money, and it creates a reader mentality of, “Why pay when I can get so many books for free?”  I’m not that against it, but I understand their case.  I’ve found more success with it than not. Promotional tools for Indie author’s are few and far between, so if you can get more sales with the free promo than not, then go for it.  Ultimately, you need to write a good story and get it into people’s hands and, hopefully, they start spreadin’ the news on their own.

Successful Indie author Hugh Howey, of the series “Wool”, described how social network’s ultimately fueled his marketing as people recommended his book.  This viral word of mouth was not something he controlled or paid money towards, it was the quality of his work that did its own marketing.

2 Day sale for “A Cold Black Wave”!

Posted in Book Insight with tags , , , , on November 10, 2012 by Tim Scott

Starting today, Saturday Nov. 10th to Sunday Nov 11th, I’ll be reducing “A Cold Black Wave” from $3.99 to $1.99.  Get some!  A Cold Black Wave

First review of “A Cold Black Wave” (5/5 stars)

Posted in Book Reviews with tags , , , , on November 8, 2012 by Tim Scott

After creating this blog, posting in forums, and networking with other author’s, I was lucky enough to get a bite from a total stranger to read and review my book.  Indie author Richard Edmond Johnson recently posted his review on Amazon and Kindleboards, and here is what he had to say:  Richard E. Johnson’s Review

Thanks to Richard for taking the chance, and the time, to read and review a book from a totally unknown author when there are so many Indie books to choose from these days.

The Wild West of Indie Publishing

Posted in Book Insight with tags , , , , on November 5, 2012 by Tim Scott

I call it the Wild West because the self-publishing of indie books is in its early, westward expansion.  Companies like Amazon launched their KDP Select program to bring the bees to the honey, and away from their competitors.  Anyone with a computer can write and publish something, even a ten page document you can charge for $50.  Formatting, proof reading, and editing are all over the place.  There’s no standard because there are no gate keepers for quality assurance anymore.  We are all gold miners hoping to strike it rich.

Just like those early years in California, the first miners could pluck gold straight out of the riverbeds.  As more prospectors flooded into the state, the gold became harder and harder to find.  You had to dig deeper, it took longer, and eventually you had to work together with other miners to get at the gold.  Who really made the money during the gold rush?  The lucky few who did strike it rich, but primarily the merchants of the time.  Those supplying the miners with tools, supplies, and whiskey (don’t tell me you never wrote while a little buzzed!).

The Amazon Community boards are rife with personal vendetta’s, as I’m sure other indie boards are, with indie author’s giving one-star reviews out of spite.  Or, more often than not, an indie author gets a one-star review and is flabbergasted that someone would think their story isn’t worth the digital pixels it is written on.  They lash out at Amazon, at the person who reviewed it, and to anyone who will listen.

Amazon recently culled thousands of online reviews of books, and in the process, wiping out a lot of legitimate reviews as well.  Fake reviews, poorly rated reviews with barely an explanation, and even vague positive reviews that add nothing but a “star” to the book rating, are not new problems.  I used to write on Fanstory which suffered, and to some degree, still suffers from those exact same problems.  Fanstory alleviated the problem by creating its own author/reviewer ecosystem, which allows both sides to properly reward the other for good writing and good reviewing.

What we’re witnessing right now is the formation of a new, organized publishing/reviewing experience for the Indie author world.  From the chaos of the Wild West, stability and organization will slowly form.  I have a distinct feeling it is going to come from the established publishing houses that the indie world has enjoyed circumventing.  Random House and Penguin, for example, have recently merged in response to the digital book explosion.  Self-published works have increased by 287% since 2006.  This doesn’t even count a lot of the Amazon KDP books.

Let’s face it, most indie authors would welcome a publishing contract with Random House or any other big name to legitimize their work.  I’m not talking about the big sellers in the indie market, who are making plenty of money and don’t necessarily need Random House’s or Penguin’s stamp of approval anymore.  One of the biggest draws of indie publishing is being able to get your work out there now, and not waiting a year to hear back from the publishing houses.  I think more potential authors would attempt to send their work through the mainstream publishers if it were easier, and the turnaround time to find out whether you were accepted or not was much faster.  It still wouldn’t necessarily mean you would have to take whatever deal they offer, if they did, but it would open up a legitimate route other than automatically going straight to self-publishing.

As the indie world swims in free and cheap books, we will all cry out for a way for us to crawl out of the slush pile and have a greater opportunity at being noticed without feeling as if we need to give our work away for free, or cheap.  I am more than willing to sell my book at what the market value is, even if that ends up being .99 cents, but determining that value isn’t easy without hurting potential sales (or underselling a well written book).  Maybe indie books could have the option of doing an e-bay like system, where the price starts low and “floats” higher as people purchase it, until it hits your “max price”.  So I could start off selling it for .10 cents, but each purchase would increase the price by x amount, until the price reached $5.99, at which point the price would lock in (or begin to drop once sales slow, to a pre-determined “stop” point like $1.99).

I’ve noticed some small-time review sites are popping up.  I think this is a great idea, but many of them are people working out of their home and they can only review so much, and eventually get tied up in real life and stop reviewing altogether.  Indie authors even consider, and sometimes do, pay for reviews because they are so desperate for them.  Having a review from a 3rd party is a great way to place some authenticity on your book description.  Having it from the LA Times is golden, but no “slush pile” indie author (slushies? haha) will ever get a book reviewed by them.  We need some middlemen, who are willing to take on the slushies’ work and review it, and review it honestly and in a timely manner.  These are the merchants who stand to make more than the gold miners.

As authors have shootouts with each other in the forums, and attack each other’s work with poor reviews, and slushies desperately try to fight for recognition and revenue, I’m convinced order will arise from the chaos that will not only keep the indie world strong, but it will accelerate the process in which “popular/good” books will rise to the top, and the truly undeserving ones will disappear into the nether regions of the world’s electronic library.

My experience with self-publishing through Amazon.

Posted in Book Insight with tags , , , , on November 3, 2012 by Tim Scott

My first book was self-published in June of 2010, a non-fiction book titled “The Case for a New America“.  I had put a lot of time and research into it, which I had done for quite a few years before I even decided to organize it into a book.  In 2010, Amazon did not have their KDP Select program in place yet.  So, you published a book, and then had no resources to promote it.  All promotion began and ended with you, the author/publisher.  Just because it’s on Amazon doesn’t mean anyone will find it though.

Until KDP Select started in December 2011, The Case for a New America, sold anywhere between 1-10 copies a month.  I’d say closer to 1-3 copies on average, and this was with very little promotion.  I did a bit on Facebook, and even created a page for it.  The first month KDP Select started, I signed up for it and did a 3 day “free” promo which was part of the new program.  I had roughly 1,200 downloads by the end.  Also with KDPS, your book is added to the Kindle Lending Library, and you get paid for anyone who “borrows” your book (which has been between $2-$2.50 per borrow since its inception).

My sales/borrows exploded once the free promo ended.  I made $300 the first month, and about $50 on average in the months after, doing no further promotion.  I was happy, considering I didn’t expect to make more than $50 on the book.  I wrote it because it was an important subject matter for me, and I just wanted to get it out there, free or not.

My friend Brent Kim, who also did the art for “A Cold Black Wave“, did a cool cover for “TCFANA”.  I mention this because it’s definitely important to have a unique cover for your book when you publish.  It’s already hard enough to stand out, and using poor quality or generic covers won’t do you any favors.

Amazon and other website have made it impressively easy for anyone to self-publish, but don’t be fooled.  It’s very easy to upload your document, choose a generic cover, and let it out into the world.  But in order to really sell, you have to be more than an author, something I’m also learning as I go.  Editing, formatting, and proofreading your document needs to be done by a professional, or as close to it as possible.  Your book needs honest feedback from people, especially your immediate friends and family since they will likely be the ones you’ll punish by forcing them to read your horrible story. 😉  If you’re not getting negative feedback, you have dishonest people reading your work!

I recently did a 1 day free promo for ACBW to test the water, and because I’ve had success doing it with TCFANA.  However, times have changed since Dec. 2011.  Back then, there were far more downloads of free books.  I decided to run another 1-day free promo with TCFANA today, and have received nearly the exact same number of free downloads as I did with ACBW.  I’ve downloaded some free books in the past, but have yet to read them, which apparently is fairly common.  There is something about getting something for free that makes it seem less valuable than had you purchased it.

It seems the general rule is, you get 1 review per 1500 free downloads, and 1 per 500 paid.  I’d say that’s about true based on my experience with TCFANA.  Reviews are nice, but what really drives sales is…sales.  As people buy your book, your book climbs the rankings.  I believe Amazon calculates the ratings every hour.  Obviously, once you crack the top 20 in a genre category, you’ll start getting even more exposure as people see your book on the first page.  This is where the “free” promo can be useful, as alongside the paid books, you’ll see the rankings for the free ones.

But what truly drives sales?  I received a lot of sales/borrows for TCFANA for weeks and even months after doing a free promo, but I’ll never actually know where they came from, or why.  Was it recommended by word of mouth?  Did people see the book under Amazon’s “Customers who bought items in your recent history also bought:” advertising at the bottom of a book page?  Probably a little of both, but I think the fact remains that, the more people who have read your book and/or see it, the more likely it will be recommended/purchased.

Exposure is key.  Finding websites to showcase your book, or possibly even review it, provides more avenues towards revenue.  This is the part where you have to play publisher, and not author, and do your best to get your work out there and exposed.  There is no formula for success, and sometimes we may never know why or how a particular book reached critical mass, but all we can do is try…but now?  We don’t need to wait years to possibly get published.  You can do it right now, and the possibilities are endless.

Creating Josh’s character

Posted in Book Insight with tags on November 1, 2012 by Tim Scott

The origin of this story came when I was watching TV, and something caused me to imagine a ship in space with two young kids aboard.  I had no idea why they were there or anything else about the situation, but I liked the imagery.  So I started writing.  Initially, I had Josh a lot younger than he is in the story now, maybe 10 years old.  I liked the idea of the intense burden of this mission being forced on a young kid, someone who was still in the early stages of training.

As I developed Leah, and reached a point in the story that both her and Josh were interacting a lot more, I realized the young age was not the direction I wanted to go, but I also didn’t want them to be older adults.  They needed to be mature enough both mentally and physically to engage in the situations they would face together, yet still have some uncertainty about themselves and how they deal with difficult circumstances.

About the same time I decided to make Josh older, I happened to discover a group called Joy Division.  I loved the darkness in their music, which fit the mental state Josh’s character was in, and then I read about the tragic suicide of Joy Division’s lead singer, Ian Curtis.  I became fascinated with both the music and Ian, and wanted to impart that sort of personal struggle in Josh’s character.

Having Josh struggle between his training to survive, and his deep rooted depression, helped create an interesting twist on an “end of the world” story.  By introducing Leah, and her reliance on faith rather than physical prowess, I wanted to explore on the edges of the story what the “end of the world” would mean, in the context of the possible existence of God.  There are prevailing beliefs in many religions that the world must end, and that God has it all planned out.  So if something so catastrophic as the end of the human race were to be nearly reached, would God stand by and watch as the last two people died?  Or would he have another plan in place?

It certainly would be a tragic thing that if the world was going to end, those struggling to keep it from happening were too flawed to do so, even if they tried.

When an idea forms into a reality…

Posted in Book Insight with tags on November 1, 2012 by Tim Scott

I’ve always been interested in the process of creation.  It’s what drew me to video games, and ultimately a job designing them, and to writing…always to writing.  It’s the idea that anything is possible, and that whatever you decide to create, it will be entirely based on your own life and experiences.  It’s impossible to duplicate exactly what you’ve created, whether it is art or prose or anything else.  There is a saying that there are only 12 stories in the world, and everything else is a derivative of those.  It may be so, but it doesn’t keep people from buying the same stuff over and over again!

The thought of writing a novel is intimidating.  You come up with a concept and then…what?  It’s daunting to think of everything that goes into a story.  You’re imagining this awesome book you’re going to create, and then after you start writing, realize just how much is ahead of you and you run out of gas.  You start wondering if you’re even capable of delivering half of what you envisioned.  You stop writing, you get distracted, and you find other things to do with your time.

Wrong!  It’s cliche by now, but writing requires you to write something nearly every day, even if the three pages you wrote that week is terrible and needs to be cut.  If you’re not writing, think about the story when you’re at work, in the car, at the grocery store, so when you do write…it’ll start flowing.

Every author has their own way of writing.  Some like to map out the entire thing from beginning to end, before they even start writing the first chapter.  I tried this process which is called “The Snowflake Method”.  Even if you don’t end up using this method to write your books, it’s worth doing at least once.

The other way is to just start writing, which is probably what most authors do, and which I prefer.  Typically I’d come up with a concept or idea, and start writing, then fall off track.  My problem was that I never had an ending in mind, and I figured that one would just “reveal” itself when I got to the…end.  If you don’t have a general idea of how you want to end the book, in my opinion, it’s very difficult to stay on track and motivated.

The end will be the light at the end of the tunnel for you as a writer, and for your characters, who are constantly moving towards it.  Don’t worry if you’re book will actually be good, just finish it.  Your initial draft is just that.  Once you have the core story completed, you can spend time fine tuning everything, and turn it into something worth reading.  Be satisfied that you completed it, and then move on to the next one!