Sunday, August 5, 2012

On Book Anniversaries and Making a Book Permanently Free

Lucifer's OdysseyTo celebrate the first anniversary of Lucifer's Odyssey, I decided to do something for fans. My first novel has been downloaded from Amazon and other outlets tens of thousands of times (most of these during free promotions) in the past year, and the feedback from this has been overwhelmingly positive. However, there is one recurring piece of feedback that I hear--a sort of lament--that I wanted to do something about.

The first three books of the Primal Patterns series describe a short period of time within a history that spans billions of years and fully informing readers of backstory can be problematic. My editor and I certainly struggled to give readers as much information as we could without distracting from the action and adventure that goes along with Lucifer's Odyssey. However, that doesn't mean we wholly succeeded in our endeavors with Lucifer's Odyssey either. For the anniversary edition, I wanted to add a whole new puzzle piece to the history of the Lucifer and Jehovah struggle, so I added a new prologue (On Loss and Temptation), which describes Lucifer's fall to Earth, his confrontation with Jehovah in Eden, and the Temptation of Eve with Knowledge. I think it's a great addition to the story and doesn't go too far into the past where planned prequels exist, and from the response of a beta reader I selected for the prologue, I think readers of the series will enjoy it.

To further honor the fans of the series, I have also decided to make the first book Lucifer's Odyssey free for at least the rest of the year. Currently, the book is already free on Smashwords, and I hope the change will percolate to Amazon quickly through its price-matching features. To hopefully expedite this process, I have contacted KDP and requested that they price-match Lucifer's Odyssey to the Smashwords (and soon Apple and B&N) free price. You can potentially help this go free by reporting a lower price on the Amazon page by clicking "tell us about a lower price" url as circled below in the Product Details.

Before the KDP Select program (which allows for five free days in a three month period on Amazon), this could take between weeks to months, if ever. I will be sure to update this post with the turnaround time on this, and if you have had any experience with price-matching to free recently on Amazon, please leave a comment. I am very curious to found out how fast Amazon is in price-matching to free.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Legend of Carroll Bryant

There is nothing harder to watch than a promising author ruining his career. This past weekend, that author was Carroll Bryant, and I felt like a blog post was in order to discuss what his story means for myself and the rest of the independent author community. Before I go over the lessons, let me first recite the legend.

Carroll Bryant is an independent author of YA fiction who has written three books, and up until July 2012, he had established a decent rapport with readers, as evidenced by two YA books with greater than 4.0 rating on Goodreads. At the time of the writing of this article, Children of the Flower Power had 29 ratings with a 4.06 rating, and Last Flight Out had 18 ratings with a 4.08 rating. In addition, he had over 240 fans on Goodreads. To put that in perspective, somehow I only have 3 fans on Goodreads. Granted, I have not been focusing on the forums like he had been, but that only reinforces my point: he was an author with a lot of promise who had been doing very good work and building a steady following. That all changed this weekend.

What changed his path? Well, I'll start you at page eight of a Goodreads thread that still recounts the events. The original thread where much of this happened has unfortunately been deleted by the Goodreads admins. There's also a play-by-play as this went down on Absolute Write.

In a nutshell, here's what you'll find there:
  1. Mr. Bryant makes several blog posts about airing a list of bloggers who have been taking free copies of books in exchange for reviews and interviews on their blogs but have not been coming through. He gathers some supporters, especially from sites like Stop Goodreads Bullies, and many others try to convince him that he is handling this incorrectly.
  2. Mr. Bryant posts a list of 6 Blogs.
  3. A woman named Jude comes forward with a counter-story
    1. She was running a book blogging site for YA authors and was smitten by false photos of him and a profile that claimed he was much younger
    2. She was 17 at the time that he courted her online. He is in his late forties.
    3. He flew to Mexico to try to meet her and she refused him
    4. He stalked and harassed her to the point that she made her Goodreads profile private and discussed the situation with her book blogger friends who refused to review his books after hearing of his behavior
  4. She posts images that show him telling her to kill herself
  5. Mr. Bryant returns to the Goodreads blog and confirms the story and admits that the list was posted with a false pretense but claims his points still stand
  6. Mr. Bryant then goes on to essentially say all publicity is good publicity and that he will take a look at the numbers after the weekend is over.
  7. Mr. Bryant then demands everyone take down posts about him within 2 days or else. He then backs down from that and removes his threatening posts.

At the time of the writing of this article, Mr. Bryant's books Of The Light, Children of the Flower Power, and Last Flight Out are ranked at #201,184, #631,579, and #715,653, respectively, in the Amazon paid rankings. I am going to assume that the "numbers" he is talking about are his blog hits because what the paid rankings tell us are that the book has not sold any units in over a month in some cases (1 sale will drop an author's ranking into the 30k-40k paid rankings on Amazon). This means that throughout the thousands of page views on his blog, not a single purchase of his books was made. Additionally, each of his books have been placed into "do not read" shelves by hundreds of readers on Goodreads.

Why This Legend Affects You

In short, Mr. Bryant's actions affect all independent authors because his story has caused many previously self-publisher-friendly book bloggers to adjust their review policies to indicate "no self-published work will be accepted." Look at the comments to see why I say "many," as they are an indication of the trend. Why is that a big deal? It is a big deal because readers trust these bloggers to detail great books that they have read, and our ability to get our books into their hands has already been greatly reduced since the Howett debacle in March 2011.

What we independent authors do online has an impact on not only our own opportunities but also the opportunities of the entire independent author community. Please think about that when you are responding vitriolically to a scathing review on Amazon or Goodreads. Please consider that when you debate with readers on public forums. Everyone, and I include myself here, messes up, but be genuine, be respectful, and think about the legacy you are leaving online.

Can you talk about controversial topics? If you are an author of adult fiction, probably--especially if it is relevant to your books. However, if you are a YA author, probably not. Think about your audience. Keep your ego in check and understand that reviews are for readers and not authors. The best thing we can do is hope that readers understand our perspective.

Bad publicity is NOT good for sales. I was going to say "rarely" but I honestly am not aware of any, so I changed it to "not." As evidenced by Mr. Bryant's sales (and Howett's sales for that matter), this kind of controversy is NOT beneficial to paid sales, and in fact can cause an indefinite and even permanent stagnation of sales. In truth, he may not even be able to give away his books to readers at this point--judging from the "will-not-read" readers on Goodreads. And none of us want that kind of legacy.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Updated KDP Select Checklist

Back when I first started using KDP Select, I used the Squidoo list by theinformationlady to promote my KDP Select promotion periods. I have had some pretty lousy results from Select recently, and I decided to revisit this post and try to ferret out the proper way to do this. Here is my current process for promoting KDP Select titles:

Step 1: Make sure you have reviews BEFORE you settle on your promotion dates

Shortly after I published The Goblin Rebellion, I scheduled a KDP Select 2-day promotion over a month later and informed all the major sites without having any reviews for the book in place. I didn't receive any emails back from ENT or POI, but I was in conversations with 2 book bloggers and had given away 50 copies at LibraryThing to try to garner some reviews. There were at least five people, counting the book bloggers, who told me they should be able to hit the promotion deadline.

None of them came through.

I sent an email to Greg at ENT and informed him that I would be extending the promotion for one day in case that would help him in promoting The Goblin Rebellion, which was the sequel to a book with 19 reviews and a 4 star average--figuring maybe he would assume the same quality had been put into the sequel. Greg informed me after the promotion was over that ENT is no longer featuring books with no reviews. Shortly afterward, two four star reviews popped up on The Goblin Rebellion, well after the promotion had ended. 700 downloads over 3 days and 0 sales after the promotion period later, I learned this lesson the hard way. Make sure you have reviews ready before you schedule a promotional period.

Step 2: Say hello to my little friends!

The list from Squidoo is obsolete. Most of the major book bloggers that redirect the most readers to your free promotions have changed their procedures. Here's an updated list of what you should be doing.

At least two to four weeks in advance if possible:

1. Ereader News Today (fill out form 2 weeks+ ahead)
Estimated free downloads: 800-1200, depending on genre, cover, blurb, etc.

2. Pixel of Ink (fill out form 4 weeks+ ahead)
Estimated free downloads: 800-2000, depending on genre, cover, blurb, etc.

3. Books on the Knob (fill out form 2-4 weeks ahead)

4. Indie Books List (fill out form ~2 weeks ahead)

5. Indies Unlimited (if book is free on a Friday)
Indies Unlimited runs a feature every Friday called "Freebie Friday." If your book is going to be free on a Friday, check out Indies Unlimited on Thursday for a post called "Freebie Friday Ramp-Up", and it will require four things: 1) Title, 2) Author, 3) one sentence blurb, and 4) link to where the book will be free the next day.

Think about the one sentence blurb before hand. For instance, with my book Lucifer's Odyssey, it might be "A civil war rages across the heavens between Lucifer and Jehovah, but it’s not the story you thought you knew..." I know, I know. Distilling your book into one catch phrase can be a headache, but you may be able to find help at the Writer's Cafe.

On the day of your free promotion:

On Twitter:
Send a twitter message to the following twitter handles (include @kindlenews for instance along with your Amazon book url), which will retweet your promotional books. Most if not all of these are automated systems that aggregate free lists of books.
Estimated free downloads: 200-400, depending on genre, cover, blurb, etc. @kindlenews

On Facebook:

Ebooks Free Free
Authors on the Cheap: Read the guidelines for posting this. You need price/ratings/genre and a link to the Amazon page.


1. Try to wait 4+ weeks before doing another KDP Select promo for the same book, regardless of the downward trend of paid sales afterwards. If you redo a promo period too quickly, you're very likely to hit the same readers who downloaded your book previously on ENT, POI, KND, etc. and even if they pick it up again, it won't be as good of a promo period on the 2nd attempt. Waiting a month seems to give you a much better chance of getting high downloads, which should help translate to better paid periods.

2. It will take 2-5 days for paid sales to start rolling in after a free period. Do NOT panic and redo your promo period for reasons outlined in #1.

3. The best genres for these things appear to be 1) Romance and 2) Thrillers. Both of these can sometimes generate 8-20k downloads in a 2 day stretch O_O. Cover, blurb, price before free, etc. can affect this. Other genres can sometimes hit this kind of number. I remember a science fiction book hitting 8k+ on KB. Reviews and awards can help give more credibility. Genre specific sites (like DearAuthor for Romance) will supercharge your free downloads, so contact them.

4. Read Step 1. Don't just skip to the sites and Twitter handles on this post. You need reviews to get picked up by ENT, POI, or KND nowadays.

5. You're aiming for as many downloads as you can over a 2 day period. Only extend to 3 days if you are within the top 100 free list. The more downloads you get, the more it will count toward the popularity lists which will result in more paid sales.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Results of KDP Select (Lucifer's Odyssey)


Lucifer's OdysseyFor those who aren't familiar with KDP Select, it is a program on Amazon that trades exclusive distribution of an eBook for three months for 1) 5 days worth of free promotion (e.g., your book goes free for 5 days), 2) enrollment in the KDP borrowing program which rewards each borrow with a percentage of the 500k-700k pot of money for all enrolled in the KDP Select program, and 3) possibility of better exposure with the Amazon algorithms (unverified).

I removed my novel from distribution sites like Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and all other vendors earlier in January and patiently waited to be eligible to enroll my book and try out the service. We're two days out of my free promotion. Let's find out what we learned.

The Free Promotion

The Free Promotion got off the a bad start. The KDP console wouldn't let me edit or delete the first promotion I did, and I wanted to reduce it from 5 days to 3 days, so I could have 2 days of free promotion before the release of Goblin Rebellion in late February/early March. The promotion was scheduled to go from January 26th to January 30th, and I contacted KDP 3-5 times asking them to please help me remove it before it started so I could get it going correctly.

When January 26th came around, the promotion failed. It registered as in progress, but it never went free. At about 3-4 p.m. the system finally allowed me to cancel the promotion. Even though it never went free, I was charged for a full day of promotion. I'm down to 4 days. I decide to use 3 of them (27th through the 29th) and leave the 4th for the release of the Goblin Rebellion. You know what they say about a plan, right?

I contact Kindle Nation Daily and Ereader News Today and inform them that Lucifer's Odyssey has 13 reviews and is going free the 27th until the 30th. KND runs with it, but ENT is busy and says they can't post it until the 30th. "Great, thanks!" and then it hits me. If they post the ad on the 30th, the free promotion will be over. So, I bite the bullet and schedule another promotion on the 30th, my final day. It's all or nothing.

The Results

From January 27th to the 29th, Lucifer's Odyssey was within the top 700 on the free list and top 10 in Epic Fantasy. I was hanging out with Derek Prior's "The Nameless Dwarf" and David Dalglish's "Night of Wolves". On the night of the 29th, it started falling, and I went to bed going, "OK, I guess that's it."

The ENT ad went up sometime on the 30th and when I checked it, I was in the top 200 free list and had almost doubled my downloads for the promotion.

Total downloads: 2820

After the Storm

Lucifer's Odyssey went from a 140k-300k average rank to hovering within the 9k to 30k ranking. In the first two days since the promotion, I've had 5 sales and 3 borrows. That's very good news for my book launch. Even if 60% of the people that downloaded Lucifer's Odyssey do not read it, that means that I now have well over 1,000 potential readers for the 2nd book in the series, and I'm very happy about that.

Even more interesting is what the promotion did for my "Customers Also Bought" list. This list is available on all books and serves as a recommendation engine for other books to purchase in the genre or that your book-buying habits mirror. All those downloads gave the Amazon engine more information on how to categorize and target the book to other readers, and it's working. That's why more people are purchasing and borrowing the book. After four months of luke warm sales, the book feels like it's actually gaining traction, much more so than the KND ad I took out in December which came nowhere near making the money back. I had ~30 sales of 0.99, because they recommend it, and it didn't pick up. Nothing happened during the Christmas rush.

Overall KDP Select Experience: Very positive (A-)
Room for Improvement: They really need to fix their console to allow removing the promotion before it goes live. I could have used that extra day that got lost in the system to do more experiments.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stop SOPA and PIPA

Lobbyists for the entertainment industry have convinced Congress to create two bills called SOPA and PIPA that could trounce on creativity and innovation on the internet. Because they give so much power to Congress to regulate the internet, these bills, if passed, would give corporate entities unprecedented power to sue, issue takedown notices, and block internet access to anyone they feel is limiting their profits in the guise of "copyright infringement" or "insert random reason here."

The entertainment industry is lying about the actual losses from piracy on the internet, and they've convinced Congress that they are actually losing hundreds of billions of dollars from piracy when the majority of the reported losses are 1) fake and bloated numbers that overcount the number of downloads occurring, and 2) counting "sales" lost at 19.99-50.00 per unit in countries where the average family makes 1,000 dollars or less a year. They would NEVER buy the DVD, CD, etc. They simply can't afford it. But instead of understanding that the problem lies in their archaic pricing structures in these countries, they are fear-mongering the American public under the guise of capitalism--that once these laws are passed the American economy will gain hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue.

Check out this infographic on the MPAA's impressive resume for embracing technology. This statement is laced with trace amounts of sarcasm ;D.

This is FALSE. Not only will these bills significantly hamper innovation by placing restrictions on new venture capitalists and all companies that use the internet (which will negatively affect our economy in the hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars over the lifetime of these bills), it will hamper freedom of expression and communication in comments, images, and web content out of fear of infringement. All a company has to do is level an accusation about me, for instance, writing a book that seems really similar to their ad for men's cologne, and despite the ludicrous nature of the allegations, Amazon has to take down the book out of fear of not only litigation, but the US congress actually having the power to remove their company's access to the internet.

This is absolutely ludicrous. Leave it to lobbyists and congressmen and women to come up with something this ridiculous.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

KDP Select (Exclusivity or Anonymity?)

When Amazon announced KDP Select a month or two ago, it caused the kind of sensation and intrigue that only Amazon can have in the book world right now. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, let me lay out the pros and cons, with the cons being first:

  1. Increased exposure through promotional efforts by Amazon
  2. Increased exposure through borrows adding "purchases" to move your book up the ranks
  3. Borrows are converted to dollars at the end of the month depending on your share of the number of borrows through the KDP Prime/Select programs

  1. 90 day minimum exclusivity with Amazon for eBooks

Lucifer's Odyssey1 con? Well, yes, but it's a pretty big one if you believe that a free market is important. If you want to support your readers being able to purchase your eBooks from wherever they want, then this is a big deal. Similarly, if we don't want Amazon to monopolize the book market and dictate how books are handled, then exclusivity clauses are the worst way to approach that because it will do just the opposite.

But, from an author perspective, this is a godsend. Lucifer's Odyssey took almost a month of prep work to distribute to all of those markets due to issues with the Smashwords distribution system and the Meatgrinder conversion process. Uploading to Amazon was done the first night. They use a much more standardized and easier-to-prepare HTML-based document, and the conversion was flawless for the table of contents. B&N's process was similarly smooth, and this decision would affect them as well, but the Smashwords process was a real pain. Exclusivity will make this process more streamlined because I'm only preparing one document upload.

The second, and most important aspect, is the exposure. In December and January, KDP Select books are tearing up the charts and reaping thousands of dollars in earnings for authors who use the system. My tally from all vendors of eBooks? Maybe a dozen dollars for December, one of the supposedly best months for book selling was a complete and total dud for me. Despite dozens of good reviews on Amazon and other places readers go, there's no traction for me, and from my point of view, my options are severely limited.

Authors like David Dalglish or others making thousands of dollars on Barnes and Noble, Apple, etc. have a tough decision to make. Losing thousands where their books already have prominence is counterproductive, but for me? The decision seems like a no-brainer. Exclusivity or anonymity? Despite my reservations about monopolies in markets, I think I'll take the former.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

First draft complete on Goblin Rebellion

It's been a rough past four months for writing fiction. I had my dissertation defense back in December, and dozens of conference paper deadlines, presentations, job interviews, and dissertation proposal and defense writing projects spread across the past few months, and the deadlines coming up are even tighter and more frequent. This month alone, I have three papers due in the middle of the month.

Despite the pressure (or maybe because of it), I've managed to finish the first draft of the Goblin Rebellion. Today, while on flights back from California, I wrote the final two chapters, and I'm feeling pretty good about them. Total word count is just shy of 80,000, and it's likely to grow slightly over the next two weeks as I fill in setting and expand character interactions slightly.

I've talked to my editor, and everything should be set for a late February or early March release. Stay tuned!