The Long Tail

Conventional wisdom suggests giving your work away for free devalues it. The usual gang of Chicken Littles also declared that Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program was going to destroy publishing. No one would be able to make money from selling books if people could get them on subscription.

Perhaps these things are true. But as a very small fish in the great big Amazon ocean, I have managed to use free and Kindle Unlimited successfully.

LRRH Cover Lo-ResAt the beginning of the year, I ran a week-long free event for my YA novel, Little Red Riding Hoodie: A Modern Fairy Tale. I believe this is my most accessible book, but it was underperforming badly, barely generating sales and garnering a mere five reviews, all of which came along in its first month of February 2015.

I set the book to run free the second week of January, bought some ads, and pushed it on my mailing list.

It did well during its free run. A bknights ad netted 347 downloads on the 12th, priming the pump for 1985 downloads when the FreeBooksy ad landed on the 15th and another 686 the day after. All told, I moved over 3000 free copies of LRRH  during the event, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but a book with only five reviews is limited in where it can advertise.

But the success of the promo isn’t measured in how many free copies I gave out. The day LRRH went back into the paid store, it sold six copies. The next two days it sold two each. And a week later it picked up a few more sales.

Yes, I know moving 13 copies in two weeks isn’t impressive, but I’m not done. That same day the book sold six copies, it generated 354 page-reads in KU. The next day was 480. The day after it exploded to 1212, then 855, then 1183. A long, slow tail spread well into February.

After giving away 3000 free copies, people were paying to read the book in solid, if not outstanding, numbers.

And they were liking it. Over the next two to three weeks, Little Red Riding Hoodie pick up nine new reviews. The worst was three stars. With 14 reviews and a 4.4-star average, I’ve got a lot more advertising options now.

And it is still being read. The long tail is definitely resting closer to the ground now, but LRRH was getting almost no attention at the beginning of the year. Now, it continues to accumulate sales and page-reads.

Free may not drive sales the way it used to, but it does drive page-reads. For the moment, that’s where the money is in the market. A solid free event creates long-tail income. I’m seeing similar results in other lines, but the data isn’t complete enough to draw conclusions yet.

Still, this is a major piece of my marketing strategy for the year, and it’s yielding results. Hopefully, it’s something I can build on.

Proof of Joy

As you go through life, it’s important to retain your enthusiasm for things you do and enjoy.

I’ve been indie publishing for over three years now. I’ve released 12 books, and I’ve got a 13th on the way.

But I still geek out when I get a hard copy in the mail.

LRRH Cover Lo-ResThe print proof for Little Red Riding Hoodie: A Modern Fairy Tale arrived on Saturday. It looks pretty good, although Jill wants to tweak the cover a bit.

And, of course, I have to read the whole thing this week to proof it, so it’s clean when it releases next Monday.

But it’s still thrilling holding one of my books in my hands. Months of hard work, worrying over tiny details, and sometimes losing sleep have finally rendered something I can be proud of. Seeing a finished novel inspires me to keep working on the one I’m writing at the moment.

There’s a lot of misery involved with being an artist. Until you become commercially successful, the heartache and the struggles can make you want to quit.

But the little joys — like seeing your work in print — makes it worth it.

***

Little Red Riding Hoodie: A Modern Fairy Tale is available for pre-order through Amazon.com. The eBook version is only 99 cents. Get it here.

NaNo Wrap Up

NaNoWriMo is officially over, and I am still alive, which is a vast improvement over last year at this time, when I was terribly sick with a vicious flu.

But I’m not satisfied with not making myself ill. After swearing I wasn’t going to do NaNo, I jumped in with both feet by trying to write three books at once, publish another, and start a fourth. So how’d I end up? Let’s take a look.

Secret Identity Cover Lo-res“Secret Identity: My True-Life Adventure as a Superhero”

I set a publication date of Monday, November 3 for my first mini-memoir. Most of the work on the book had been done already, so there wasn’t a lot I had to do.

Still, I had yet to publish a book this year that hadn’t been some sort of unnecessary adventure, and this was no exception. I published Sunday night to have the book approved and on sale by Monday morning. Amazon, which usually takes four to six hours to authorize a title for sale, took over eighteen this year. I finally had to call customer service and get them to look into it. “Secret Identity” made it out on time, but it wasn’t easy. You can get it here for only 99 cents.

Status: Done

naughty and nice Cover Lo-Res“Naughty & Nice: My True-Life Adventure with Santa Claus”

The second mini-memoir was scheduled for Monday, December 1. That one had a lot more writing to be done. I had just made it through the first draft by the time the month began. I wrote four drafts in two weeks and got an unproofed manuscript uploaded to Amazon for its prerelease program (the first time I had tried this) and had my final edit uploaded before the November 21 deadline. “Naughty & Nice” released yesterday in time for Christmas shopping. Get it here for 99 cents.

Status: Done

“An Unexpected Blessing”

Once again, after thinking I wasn’t going to, I attempted to write a short story for inclusion in Five59 Publishing’s Winter Tales. About a month before the November 21 deadline, I finally got an idea and started working on it.

At only 2500 words, the story developed quickly, and I sent it in well ahead of the submission date. “An Unexpected Blessing” was accepted, and the book hit shelves yesterday, meaning I actually published two pieces in one day. You can get Winter Tales here for $1.99.

Status: Done

Little Red Riding Hoodie: A Modern Fairy Tale

This book is really the reason NaNo had any significance for me at all. Writing two short pieces at once is no big deal. Writing two short pieces and a complete novel is.

Wanting to jump on the Kindle Scout Program as close to the beginning as possible, I pulled an old novel out of the figurative drawer and madly started rewriting it. The original manuscript was so different I was nearly creating something brand new from scratch. Some of the events of the original are still there, but the characters, sequence of events, plot, and to an extent, the setting all changed.

I had just about finished the first draft when NaNo began. I managed to write a draft a week and got the thing into final, submission shape by the end of last week. I really wanted to be able to submit by November 30, but a medical emergency and the holiday conspired to keep that from happening. I also was running out of gas by the end of the month. Working this many projects at once is something that can be done, but you can’t keep up that frenetic a pace forever. Particularly in the final week, my progress slowed.

Still, I got the whole book written, and Jill designed the cover. This week I’m working on the marketing materials, and I should be submitting by Friday.

Status: Nearly Done

“Domestic Disturbance: My True-Life Adventure in Sibling Rivalry”

This third installment in the mini-memoir series is slated for a January 5, 2015 release. That means I need to be writing it now!

I was hoping to finish the first draft before the end of the month. That would set me up to have it moving through the pipeline at the right pace, especially since Christmas will screw with my ability to get work done.

The exhaustion and other problems with the fourth week of November I mentioned above prevented me from doing that though. I have nearly completed the first draft today. I need to rewrite the intro (because I got stuck and abandoned it so I could keep moving on), and I haven’t figured out that perfect button ending just yet. But I’m on pace to have a second draft to my editor by the end of the week.

Status: Not Done

So looking it over, I’d call that a pretty successful NaNoWriMo. I tried to publish one book, write two more and get them published by December 1, write five drafts of a novel, and begin the first draft of a fifth book. I accomplished every single one of those things. I was hoping to be a little further along on the last two projects, but given that “Naughty & Nice” is 15,000 words, Little Red Riding Hoodie is 72,500, and “Domestic Disturbance” is currently 10,000, I’ll take it. This has been a very productive month, and if I keep my schedule for the remainder of 2014, I should be very well set up for next year.

Hope your NaNoWriMo was successful too and that you hit all your goals!

Late November NaNoWriMo Update

As you know if you read this blog regularly, I’ve taken a slightly unusual approach to National Novel Writing Month. Rather than trying to pen a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, I am writing multiple books that are in various stages of completion through my five-draft process. Here’s an update on where I am.

naughty and nice Cover Lo-Res“Naughty & Nice: My True-Life Adventure with Santa Claus”

The second installment in my mini-memoir series, detailing my childhood obsession with catching Santa in our house on Christmas Eve, is finished and available for preorder. I’ve sent advance copies to reviewers to generate a good showing early to help push sales during December. (If you’d like to review it, leave a comment below, and I’ll set you up with an advance reader edition.) To have it automatically delivered to your Kindle on the first, place your preorder here. It’s only a buck!

“Domestic Disturbance: My True-Life Adventure in Sibling Rivalry”

The third book in the mini-memoir series is scheduled for January 5. I began the first draft this week and should have it done by Friday next. I’m going to have to put it in high gear to get this done on time, but given that these books are 10,000 to 15,000 words in length, I’m confident I can stay on schedule.

Little Red Riding Hoodie: A Modern Fairy Tale

This novel, which I’m developing for the Kindle Scout program, is near completion. I just got the edits on the third draft back yesterday, and I am hoping to make changes for a fourth draft today. The book is roughly 72,500 words. I didn’t make a lot of significant change notes in my read-through, but I haven’t seen what my editor said yet, so I don’t know how much work will be involved. Still, my goal is to have this one finished and submitted by the end of next week.

“An Unexpected Blessing”

The short story I wrote for Five59 Publishing’s Winter Tales has been submitted and, I believe, accepted. I’ll know for sure by Monday. Regardless, I managed to get that 2500-word piece finished and sent off while I was getting all this other material written.

The Secret Thief: A Modern Fairy Tale

This novella, which I pushed into February after deciding to move the memoirs up in the schedule, is the next project on my plate. I expect I won’t get to it until Monday, December 1, which will technically move it out of NaNoWriMo, but just because November ends, doesn’t mean my schedule won’t need to remain furious.

The best part of this whole experience has been demonstrating to myself that I can produce a lot of words in a short period of time. I used to have to write 4000 words a day when I was in the hobby games industry, and I’ve redeveloped that skill with this exercise. By writing like The Flash this past month, I’ve put myself in good position for consistent solid releases during the remainder of fourth and the entirety of first quarter — the two best periods for book sales.

How’s your NaNo going? Leave me a comment below and let me know!

2015 Publishing Schedule Announced

We haven’t quite hit Thanksgiving yet, and I’ve got my plan for next year. Boy, is it aggressive.

I sort of wish I’d come up with this idea in 2012 when the field was a little friendlier to independent authors. I bet I’d be a lot more successful now.

But there’s little to be done about that. I had to spend time learning and growing, and frankly, I expect I’ll look at this plan a year from now and decide there were things I could have done better. If only foresight were as accurate as hindsight.

Regardless, here’s my plan to attack 2015:

January — “Domestic Disturbance: My True-Life Adventure with Sibling Rivalry”

I continue my full-frontal assault on the memoir market with a third consecutive installment of my series of minis that humorously looks back on my childhood. This time, I reflect on the intense battles my brother Dave and I had to demonstrate who was the superior brother.

February — The Secret Thief: A Modern Fairy Tale

This book was originally scheduled to land in late 2014, but I rescheduled it to move the first installments of the memoir to November and December of this year. The Secret Thief is a novella that tells the story of a 10-year-old boy, who becomes haunted by a monster disguised as a girl. She steals his darkest secrets and reveals them wherever they will do the most damage.

March — “Swing and a Miss: My True-Life Adventure in Baseball”

This will land in late March to capitalize on Major League Baseball’s opening day on April 5. It’s a fourth mini-memoir, wherein I muse on the sinister nature of America’s national pastime and how it served to frustrate a young boy.

April — open

I have not scheduled anything for this month so that I can adapt to what happens with Little Red Riding Hoodie. If it is not accepted into the Kindle Scout program, this may be the landing place for it, although I may shift a few things around so that I don’t have two fairy tales in a three-month stretch. If the book is accepted, I’ll either add something to this slot or leave it open to give myself a breather.

May — “Rocketed to Earth: My True-Life Adventure as a Space Alien”

In 1978, no one was more obsessed with Star Wars in De Pere, Wisconsin than I. I lived and breathed that film, and I took it totally over the deep end. May 4 is Star Wars Day, and I will try to coincide with a release date near it.

June — Short Story Collection

I have a number of fantasy short stories floating around in various collections or available for sale singly through Amazon. In June, I’ll collect a number of them into a single volume, including a new story I’ve not published anywhere else before.

July — “Road Trip: My True-Life Adventure with Summer Vacation”

The memoir blitz continues this month as I release one recounting tens of hours spent in the back of a station wagon traveling to Dayton, Ohio; Front Royal, Virginia; or Kennebunkport, Maine to visit grandparents. Dave and I in the back a station wagon with little to do? What could possibly go wrong?

August — The Sword and the Sorcerer Sequel

I don’t have a title for this book yet, but I’ve gotten some requests to make this original into a series, and I sort of left that possibility open by including a map that defined more of the world than Calibot and his friends occupied. In 2015, I ‘ll start exploring that.

September — “Teacher’s Pet: My True-Life Adventure in School”

I was that kid everyone hated — really smart, breaking the curve, kissing up to the teacher, and acting all smug. As the new school year starts I’ll reflect on being a know-it-all, collecting football cards, getting bullied, and other assorted facets of being the smarty-pants kid.

October — “Inglorious Gridiron: My True-Life Adventure in Football”

Football will be in full swing by the time October rolls around, and I was as obsessed with it as a kid as I am today. I’ll reflect on getting everyone in the neighborhood to buy helmets and jerseys from the Sears catalog, starting a league in the backyard, and totally blowing the Super Bowl with my attitude and temper.

November — Twice in a Lifetime

The new James Bond movie releases in the U.S. the first week in November, and I’ll time the publication of the fifth Wolf Dasher novel to coincide. Wolf pursues Paasdemini across the Gleaming Sea in a vengeance-driven attempt to permanently destroy the corruptive demon.

December — Collected True-Life Adventures

I don’t have a title for this book yet, but it will collect all eight of the previously released mini-memoirs into one volume plus add material to make it worthwhile to those who have been buying the singles. More than an omnibus edition, this book will have a ton of extras to make it fun for those who have been following from the start.

As you can see, I’ve got plans to publish a minimum of 11 books next year. Most of them are short, which will make it easier, and I’ve been keeping pace with writing multiple books at once for the past six weeks or so, making me believe I can do it.

This schedule also allows me to publish a diversified catalog. There are six mini-memoirs plus the collected volume, two fantasies (the short story collection and the SatS sequel), two modern fairy tales, and a Wolf Dasher novel. Thus, I’ll be developing my backlist in each of my lines, so anyone who finds one thing they like from me should be able to get another book in the same style.

Finally, I’ll be churning out new product every four to six weeks, which will hopefully keep my sales momentum going. By the end of 2015, I should have a broad and deep backlist, I can use to promote my lines and new releases going into 2016.

How I Write a Book — Final Draft

As promised, I’ve one final installment in my series of getting idea from brain to book. Now that I’ve gotten through five drafts and have the manuscript polished and ready, there’s a couple more steps.

Layout

Because I’m an indie author I have to do more than write and rewrite my manuscripts. I have to handle all the production too.

So once I’ve got a final draft it’s time to go into layout mode. I start with the print edition, which is a little backwards, since the vast majority of my sales come from eBook versions, but there is a method here. Print has a longer lead time on production, and I want to release the electronic and print editions simultaneously, so I have to start with the dead-tree version.

I set my type to Times New Roman. Yes, I know that’s generic and unimaginative, but I do it for several reasons. TNR is clear and easy to read. That’s the first and most important consideration. I could use Georgia or another standard font, but TNR is clean, it reads easily, and it’s economical in terms of space used. I prefer serifed fonts, which is why I choose it over Arial or Helvetica.

There are those who feel anyone who uses TNR is lazy and shouldn’t be read. Maybe. But the funkier you get with fonts, the harder the book can be to read. If a snooty designer-type doesn’t want to read my book because the font is boring, I’m okay with that. If an average reader puts the book down because the frilly font is too hard read, that’s not okay at all. The KISS Principle applies here.

I set my point size for 11, my spacing for 1.5 lines, and I justify the text. I have the chapter headings match whatever font was used for the title on the cover, and I do give a nod to frilly design by drop-capping the first letter of each chapter in the same font as the cover.

I don’t put a lot of frontmatter in my books, but there is the frontispage, copyright page, an “Also by John R. Phythyon, Jr.” page, and a dedication.

The backmatter has an “About the Author” page, acknowledgements, and a back page ad for some of my other books.

The vast majority of my time in layout is spent jacking around with MS Word trying to get the headers correct (my name on left-facing pages, book title on right-facing pages, and no header or page number on the first page of a new chapter), and aligning pages that must be on the right (frontispage, first page of the narrative, “About the Author,” etc.)

Once I’ve got it the way I want it, I upload it to CreateSpace, which converts it to .pdf, and spits it into book format. Then I flip through the electronic preview to make sure any pages that must face right have not somehow switched to the left. (It happens.)

I choose the cream interior instead of white, because I think it’s easier on the eyes. That paper is a little thicker, but I’m all about making the book as easy to read as possible.

With all that done, I’ve got a page count, which allows me to set a spine width for my cover designer. When I’ve got a cover and interior uploaded and approved, I order a physical proof, which takes three to five days to get to me. More on why I do that later.

Layout Again

With the print edition ordered, I turn to the eBook version. Electronic books are pretty easy, but there are a few special considerations to make it read cleanly.

I remove all tabs and set the text to have an automatic indent when a new paragraph starts. The narrative is set at 12-point TNR and the chapter headings are in 14-point TNR bold. Which font I choose is less important here, because the reader is going to set his or her device to display the book in the font and point-size of his or her choice. Thus, I just make sure I have something formatted well, so Kindle doesn’t do something funky with it.

Because eBooks are sold and read differently than print books, I have almost no front matter. Amazon lets you look inside a book to see if you like it, so I make sure you can start reading almost right away. It’s not like at a bookstore, where you can flip through as many pages as you like. There is only a certain amount you can read on Amazon’s free sample. So I cut out most of that extra stuff up front.

Most of my eBooks start on the dedication page. I’m sentimental, so I want people to know to whom I dedicated the book. As soon as you turn the page, though, you’re into the action. (I begin most of my stories in media res for this same reason. I want to hook people in as quickly as possible.) The Wolf Dasher novels are inspired by James Bond films, so I begin them with a prologue, and then you get the title page before diving into Chapter 1. I do that to make them feel like a Bond film.

All of the extra material goes into the backmatter. Because you can click hyperlinks in eBooks, I put in links to my mailing list, requests for reviews, and links to buy the next book in the series in the back. I also include several ads (with clickable links) and opportunities to follow me on Twitter, go to my website, and check out my Facebook page.

Pre-Selling

With the electronic version laid out, I upload it to Amazon’s KDP platform. When the conversion is successful, I page through an electronic preview to make sure nothing weird has happened to the text. The main narrative is usually fine, but things can get tricky with the backmatter.

When I’m satisfied with how it looks, I download a preview version in .mobi format to my computer. I use this as an electronic Advance Reader Copy I can send to reviewers so I can get reviews quickly upon the book’s eventual release.

Proofreading

Before I publish anything, though, I need that print proof I ordered. When it arrives, I sit down and for about the seventh or eighth time, I read the entire book from start to finish.

I’m looking for typos — missing words, misspellings, wrong versions of homonyms, anything we somehow missed in the editing process — and coding errors that may have escaped my attention when I was putting it all together. I make marks in the proof. I could do this with the e-version, but I find I see things better in print. So going through a laid-out print edition one more time allows me to be more accurate in my proofreading.

Then I go through each manuscript — print and electronic — and make those corrections. When they’re finished, I upload new versions and check the electronic previews just to make sure nothing has changed.

Finally — Finally! — it’s time to publish.I click the publish buttons on KDP and CreateSpace, and I’ve got a book for sale within 12 hours.

This is a meticulous and sometimes grueling means of publishing a book. But I demand excellence. I may be an indie author, but I want my books to look and read every bit as well as one from a big, New York publishing house. I’m a professional. I’m asking people to pay for my work, so they deserve something that’s done right.

That’s my process. That’s how I get an idea for a story out of my brain and into a reader’s hands. I keep modifying as I go to improve both my efficiency and the quality of the work. But this complicated, multi-part process is how I write a book.

How I Write a Book — Fifth Draft

Continuing my ongoing series on how I get a book out of my head and on sale, I’ll examine today my fifth draft process.

By now the book has been read twice by my editor and five or six times by me. I’ve massaged the text at least three times and made whatever structural changes were necessary. We’re ready for final polishing.

Read Aloud

To accomplish that, we sit down, and I read the book to her. I read from the fourth draft with my computer open, and she’s got it up on her machine so she can follow along visually while she listens.

The aim here is not so much to find structural problems. We should have gotten those in previous drafts. Here, we’re looking for little things — words that are repeated too often, typos, missing words, awkward phrases. These bugbears are much more obvious when the book is read aloud.

She learned this tactic from a Pulitzer Prize-winner, so I figure there’s something to it.

After having published nine books this way, if there were a part of the process I was going to omit, it would not be this one. Listening to the story, hearing it in my voice, really helps me know if I got it right. I know if something doesn’t sound right. I can tell if the writing is clumsy or unclear. It’s just obvious. This one tactic alone has made me a much better writer since I began indie publishing in 2011.

It also catches things I wouldn’t have seen without the read-aloud. When I was writing the second Wolf Dasher thriller, Red Dragon Five, I found a pretty big logic error. There is a sequence in the novel, where Wolf kills a Phrygian agent and takes his place, so he can infiltrate the bad guy operation.

If you’re not familiar with the series, Phrygia is a fantasy-world version of the Cold War-era Soviet Union. Thus, Phrygians have Russian accents. I write dialogue that is spoken with a foreign accent phonetically. So Wolf imitated a Phrygian (Russian) accent when he posed as the agent he’d killed.

As we were reading those scenes and I was doing my best Ivan Drago accent, I realized something very important. This agent Wolf had killed had himself been infiltrating Wolf’s home country of Urland (essentially Britain and the U.S. mashed together). If he were a Phrygian spy working in Urland, he would be discovered quickly if he spoke accented Urlish. Therefore, he had to sound like he himself was Urlish, speaking with no foreign accent at all. To pass as him, Wolf would have to use his natural accent, not a phony one.

Wolf spends several chapters posing as this character. That meant I had to go back and change a lot of dialogue to read as unaccented. And I wouldn’t have made that catch if we hadn’t been reading the book aloud. Hearing it come out of my mouth made me realize it was wrong.

The read-aloud is sometimes a frustrating process. I’ll get into a flow, and suddenly, she interrupts me, wanting me to go back two paragraphs.

Or she’ll find fault with something that I don’t think is a problem. So then we have to discuss whether and how to change it.

Or we’ll agree there is a problem, but I can’t figure out how to fix it. We sit there, trying to come up with a way to rephrase an awkward clause or come up with an appropriate synonym for a word that’s been repeated too many times.

But my prose is much stronger this way. I write better books. They read well, and we catch the typos, because my editor insists we read them aloud and is unafraid to call out anything with which she has a problem.

Obviously, not every author has this kind of access to his or her editor. You might only see a manuscript once from yours if you have to hire someone freelance you don’t really know.

You don’t have to skip the read-aloud, though. Sit down with a friend, a loved one, or someone who is willing to give you several hours of their time and honest criticism. Read your book to this person, asking them to stop you any time something doesn’t sound right, is confusing, or they notice a typo. The more you hear the narrative, the better you’ll be able to fine tune it.

Moving On

When we’ve finally finished the read-aloud, I’m still not done with a book. It’s now made it through five drafts. Mentally, I’m ready to publish it. By this point, I’ve been living with it for months, and I’m ready to move on — hit publish and focus on the next book on my schedule.

But there are important steps to take to make sure I’m putting a quality product in the marketplace. I’ll look at those next week.

Accepting Bad Reviews Part of Being an Author

Yesterday, my friend Kriss Morton wrote a blog in which she wonders whether it is worth it to continue reviewing books by indie authors. You can read it here.

Wig Out

Indie authors are flipping out over reviews less than five stars.

Summarizing briefly, she and other book bloggers are finding it increasingly frustrating and difficult to review indies, because the authors contact them and complain about the reviews they get. Evidently, there are even authors who complain when they get a four-star review, upset it wasn’t five stars. And of course, if a four-star isn’t good enough, you can imagine what happens on reviews of three stars or less.

All this got me thinking about the nature of the review process. Saying Amazon.com has changed the way books are published and sold is about the biggest understatement of the decade. Not only has eBook publishing through KDP made it possible for thousands — tens of thousands? — of people to get their books into the hands of readers, Amazon’s system of reviews has turned ordinary readers into book critics. Not only can anyone publish a book now, anyone can review one too.

In fact, Amazon encourages buyers (not just readers) to review all the products it sells. Whether you’re getting books, clothes, or kitchen appliances, Amazon wants you to leave your opinion. When you buy something from them, they’ll prompt you via email to review it a few days later.

In a very real way, Amazon.com has created a populist movement that has taken publishing and reviewing out of the hands of gatekeepers and experts and put it squarely in the hands of everyday people. You don’t need to have a contract with a major publishing house to get your book out there. You don’t need to have a master’s degree in literature to become one of the top reviewers at the largest online retailer on the planet.

So what does this mean for indie publishing?

To answer that requires understanding two other key components of publishing in the Brave New World. First, discoverability is critical to getting a sale. This was always true, but the business of it has changed. When most books were coming from big houses, they were shipped to bookstores, who stocked them and displayed them according to whatever deal the stores and the publishers had.

Amazon’s deal is this — no matter who you are, from the biggest house to the tiniest indie, they will feature your book in accordance with its sales. The more copies it sells, the more Amazon’s algorithms will push it out in front of shoppers. Thus, getting those sales are critical to getting discovered. You’ve got to make sure people are seeing your book, so they can buy it. To do that, you need to have other people buy it.

Second, thousands of books are published every day on Amazon. Unlike a brick-and-mortar store, Amazon has millions of choices available. Competition is stiff. Getting seen is really hard. So the surest way to get people to notice you is to advertise. There are a number of third-party web services that do this, catering to readers hungry for discount books.

And that’s where reviews come in. The best sites want to make sure they are only offering the best books to their subscribers. That’s their competitive advantage.

So they’ve chosen review scores as the measuring stick for whom they’ll accept. The best sites have high standards. Many of them require a minimum of 10 reviews with at least a four-star average.

This is not how it is done in other industries. You pay your money and you run your ad. If the material sucks that’s not the host’s problem.

But BookBub, E-Reader News Today, Kindle Books & Tips, Books Sends, and the other top sites recruit subscribers by promising the best of the best. So reviews are critical.

And so authors, desperate to get noticed and needing good reviews to be able to even place an ad, start stalking book bloggers, begging for reviews and demanding they be four and five stars. Even a three-star review can be devastating. Just like your GPA, a C takes a lot of A’s to overcome. It’s easy to drag that average down and difficult as hell to push it up.

You begin to understand why some authors go crazy over bad reviews. They hurt their chances for breakout success.

But that doesn’t excuse the behavior.

I know from experience how frustrating it can be get to a three-star review or worse. It’s doubly irritating when the review seems to be without merit. I’ve gotten a few one- and two-star reviews where I am not convinced the person read the book I wrote.

But I’ve yet to complain publicly. I don’t bitch about a review here on my blog, on my Facebook page, or in the comments of a book blogger’s site. I don’t even vote them down on Amazon or ask to have them removed.

The reason is pretty simple — I don’t want to look bad. I consider myself a professional. I write books for a living. It’s my vocation. I don’t want to be considered an amateur, a prima donna, or a pain in the ass. I want to be seen as a thoughtful adult.

Railing against bad reviews of my books does the opposite. It makes me appear like a child throwing a tantrum. It makes me seem like someone who should not be taken seriously.

Moreover, it makes it look like the reviewer was right.

No matter how I want to, I can’t change the opinion of someone who didn’t like one of my books. They didn’t like it; they said so. If I’m lucky, they might even have given fair criticism (many bad reviews do). There’s nothing to be done about it.

But if I act like an idiot, I can convince other people they shouldn’t buy the book. I can convince others the reviewer had the right take.

I’ve yet to publish a book that hasn’t gotten good reviews. I get four- and five-star reviews in addition to worse ones. And I want people who discover my books to be convinced that those reviewers are the ones they should heed. I want them thinking the reviewers who wrote good things are the people to whom they should listen.

So, yes, it sucks when someone makes the effort to trash my book with a one- or two-star review. But if their complaints are well reasoned, I shouldn’t be arguing. And if they are trollish, I trust readers to pick that out for themselves.

Yes, it hurts my review average and makes it harder for me to get advertising. But I can’t imagine attacking someone for rendering an opinion on my book. I certainly can’t envision accosting them for “only” giving me a three- or four-star review. (And some of the things Kriss reports as having been done to her and colleagues are appalling.)

I’ve cursed reviewers, but only in the privacy of my own home. (Hey, I’m only human too!) That’s where it should stay, folks. It doesn’t go public.

So how about we all remember that the world doesn’t owe us a living? As authors our job is to write the best book we can and put it out there for people to read and consider. After that, we have to accept what people think of it. Sometimes, that’s not very fun. Sometimes, that negatively impacts our livelihood.

But if we want to be taken seriously, if we want to write for a living and have indie publishing be considered legitimate, we have to behave professionally.

And that includes accepting the public’s judgment with as much grace as possible.

High Endurance Required to be an Indie Author

Being a writer — particularly an independent author — requires a lot of important skills. You need to be able to drink a lot of coffee, overcome a crushing sense of self-doubt on a regular basis, overcome a debilitating sense of your own greatness on a regular basis, be comfortable with your spouse making more money than you, and maybe you want to be clever at stringing words together in engaging stories.

But there’s something else. You also need endurance. One day, perhaps, I’ll have Stephen King-like success, where I can churn out a book a year and make millions in the first few months without a whole lot of promotional effort.

Until then, my life as an author is roughly akin to running three marathons  that begin and end at different times but that all overlap. I’m not always in maximum motion, but I’m never at rest.

Consider:

The second draft of GHOST OF A CHANCE is now in editing.

The second draft of GHOST OF A CHANCE is now in editing.

Yesterday, I finished the second draft of Ghost of a Chance, the fourth Wolf Dasher novel. The sense of relief was tremendous. I finished the first draft two weeks ago (after months of writing) and then read and rewrote the book in the space of a fortnight. I have been so buried in that manuscript, it’s been difficult to think about anything else.

Ghost of a Chance is now with my editor. She’ll read it and mark it up and send it back to me for a third draft. If she is on schedule, I’ll have the book back in another two weeks.

In the meantime, I can’t just sit idly (much as I’d really like to). I’m submitting an older short story for a collection to be published in October on a horror theme. The good news is the story is written and edited. There shouldn’t be too much work involved. The bad news is I last worked on it three-and-a-half years ago. I’ve grown as a writer since then, so I’m betting I’ll want to clean up some of the prose. I’m also guessing that it is dated, since it is set in the present and the world and technology have changed. My bet is it’ll need some tech-tweaking.

I’m printing a draft of that story today and will be reading, editing, and rewriting it this week, so that it will be in the best possible shape for acceptance.

I’m also making a change to my business plan for 2014. I had originally planned to publish the third installment in my Modern Fairy Tales series, The Secret Thief, in the fourth quarter of this year. But as it often does, the market has changed.

As you may have read, Amazon.com unveiled its Kindle Unlimited program, allowing subscribers to pay a monthly fee to download and read as many books as they like. Essentially, Amazon is copying other subscription services like Scribd and Oyster to try to create a Netflix for eBooks. We indies have discussed this new service extensively (as we are wont to do), and I agree with many of my colleagues that this is going to be a boon for shorter works.

The nice thing about being an indie author is you can adapt quickly to changes in the market. I had planned to write a memoir next year that I would publish in installments. Because the memoir is written as a series of interconnected humorous essays, it seemed to me it was worth experimenting with publishing it in pieces and then collecting the whole thing.

With the launch of Kindle Unlimited, I’m now convinced it is indeed a viable publishing model, and I want to catch the early wave of the new program if at all possible. I’ve therefore shifted my publication schedule to accommodate this.

In late September/early October, I’ll release Ghost of a Chance. In November, I’ll publish the first installment of the memoir, and in December, I’ll release the second. January will see the publication of The Secret Thief, while February features Part 3 of the memoir.

That’s an aggressive schedule, but the works are either all short or, in the case of The Secret Thief, already have a first draft written. Fourth- and first quarter are good months for publishing, so heavily loading them with new books works in my favor (in theory).

But that means I’m running those three marathons. I’ll be stacking projects so that I always have something I am writing or rewriting, and my editor is going to have a manuscript in front of her on a regular basis for most of the rest of the year. Hopefully, she won’t kill me.

Endurance is a key trait for the independent author. Without it, I won’t have a chance of pulling this off and capitalizing on the market opportunity in front of me.

Of course, it’s possible another important trait of an indie author is insanity. The coming weeks and months will demonstrate whether that’s true.

ROSES ARE WHITE Available!

It’s finally here.  After months of toil — many of which occurred in the last three weeks — the third Wolf Dasher novel, Roses Are White, is officially on sale.

My sense of excitement is overshadowed only by my sense of relief.

RAW Cover lo-resIt hasn’t been easy getting this book to market. It was originally scheduled to release in November of 2013. I was trying to publish one Wolf Dasher book a year the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, delays in the two books before it in 2013 — Beauty & the Beast: A Modern Fairy Tale and The Sword and the Sorcerer — meant I didn’t even start writing Roses Are White until October.

Consequently, I elected to participate in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. NaNoWriMo calls for a 50,000-word novel written in 30 days in November. I attempted to write a chapter a day, taking the weekends off. I hit a pretty good rhythm with Roses Are White in November, but it became obvious the book was going to be longer than the 23 chapters I could write on my schedule. So in the final week, I attempted to write two chapters a day.

And I worked myself so hard as a result I made myself sick, contracting three illnesses at once and laying myself out for the first two weeks of December. Those first days, I was so sick I could only drag myself out of bed to drive my children to school and pick them up again in the afternoon. I laid on the couch and watched the rest of the family decorate the Christmas tree.

I managed to finish the first draft before the end of the year and got the second draft off to my editor in a timely fashion, despite the fact that I published the Sword and the Sorcerer on Christmas Day while my family was in from out of town and then spent most of January promoting the daylights out of it.

When I set a publishing schedule for 2014, I planned Roses Are White for mid-April. But when my editor attempted to work on the third draft, her computer ate the manuscript (and all her edits). Twice.

That forced me to push the publication date back to April 29 (still April!) and to work at an accelerated pace throughout the end of March and the rest of April. Mindful of how I worked myself sick back in November but unwilling to blow the deadline I’d set, I read the third draft with edits and rewrote it in a week. Then my editor and I did our read aloud edit in another week. When the proof came back, I read the whole book again in another week. Reading the same book three times in a month isn’t really fun, no matter how good it is.

And Roses Are White is a good book, in my opinion. I’m pleased with how it turned out, and I think it has something important to say. I’ll blog more on that next week.

For now, I’m extremely pleased to have it out in the world. I’m also relieved. Roses Are White was a tremendous amount of stressful work. It’s good to finally get the pay off.

Click here to purchase the Kindle edition of Roses Are White.
Click here to purchase the print edition of Roses Are White.

Here’s the description:

Death is a white rose. . . .
Dexter Rose, the world’s greatest assassin, has come to Alfar.

His mission: Topple the coalition government.
His plan: Three perfect murders, culminating with President Spellbinder herself.
His method: Magic – to disguise himself as anyone and to petrify the victim before the kill.

Only one man has all the right skills to go head to head with the infamous killer and defeat him before he can complete his gruesome assignment. In a land of elves and magic, it will take a human Shadow to stop Dexter Rose before it’s too late.

But Wolf Dasher is recalled to Urland, and his true love, May Honeyflower, isn’t convinced his replacement can prevent Rose from accomplishing his grisly goals. She’ll have to find a way to keep Wolf in Alfar for one more mission . . . and by her side forever.

As the killer closes in on his final quarry, is even Wolf Dasher good enough to stop an assassin who’s never failed? And if he can’t, what will be the cost?

Roses Are White is the third book in the exciting Wolf Dasher series. Following the action of State of Grace and Red Dragon Five, this fantasy-thriller mash-up blends super-spy action with magic and elves in an electric brew that will keep you turning pages. Love and bigotry, loss and redemption, sacrifice and savagery all collide in a pulse-pounding tale you won’t want to put down. Read it as a standalone novel or as the third installment in a series both fresh and familiar.