Sunday, December 26, 2010

How to get Reviews?

I’d like to say this is going to be a handy post full of tips and tricks, but in reality it’s a question that’s vexed me of late.

To be honest, in my naivety, I thought it was something that just happened. You put the book out, and then crossed your fingers and hoped people would write nice things about it.

Actually, I wasn’t so bothered about hearing the nice things. I was waiting to see the reaction of anyone picking the book up thinking it was another one of those paranormal romances that are so popular at the moment. Juvenile, I know. I think it’s a horror writer thing—that impish desire to shock and catch people off guard. Yeah, the cover might look sweet and innocuous—look, she’s wearing a Santa hat, how cute is that?—but within beats a dark and twisted heart.



I’m very much a traditionalist when it comes to my horror. Anyone expecting sparkly vamps or magical girlfriend succubi is in for a rude shock.

At least there’s plenty of hot sex to enjoy before the shocks show up.

It’s a dumb thought really. Anyone looking for another Twilight or Georgina Kincaid isn’t going to waste time writing reviews on or even reading a book that isn’t what they’re after and written by someone they’ve never heard of. Most likely they’ll read a few pages, decide it’s not for them, put the book down and move onto something else. There are a lot of other books out there after all.

Those plans to terrorize the eXcessica review list—not happening I’m afraid, Mr Hydra.

Which is probably a good thing. Reviews are a double-edged sword. When we say we want reviews, what we mean is we want good reviews. A one star on amazon is likely far far worse than nothing at all.

The silence (not quite complete – thanks Siren Book Reviews!) is a little disconcerting. I guess that’s part and parcel of taking those first toddling steps. I’m not the pushy type when it comes to self promotion, preferring to let my words and stories do the talking, but that’s a luxury that can’t be afforded when the hard part is getting people to read the words in the first place. There’s an art to that and it’s something I need to learn (without pissing people off along the way!). The Draculas experiment was something I watched with interest.

So, anyway, if the ebook whets your interest and you’d like to write nice things about it either on your blog or on amazon, feel free to contact me at manyeyedhydra at googlemail dot com. I’m sure I can probably rustle up a review copy.

(Now is this what I’m supposed be doing or pissing people off...)

M.E. Hydra

Monday, December 20, 2010

Our girl Muriel….


The woman on this cover I’ve nicknamed. Muriel. She’s been around a bit. I reckon I’ve seen her on a dozen covers already – mine/Penn’s included. Muriel’s picture makes me ask these questions –

1. Are cover artists basically busy/lazy and grab the first image that fits?
2. Are there too many novice e-book cover makers out there with limited to no imagination?
3. Are publishers paying the right people enough to do cover art or are they relying on paying people/authors, who think they have talent, dirt cheap?
4. Is Muriel on special – by that I mean is she cheap – like 0.75 cents a download?
5. Do women want to be tied up?
6. Are we all writing the same story and should we be tied up?
7. Do readers give a crap about the cover?
8. Do publishers give a crap about their readers?
9. Has publishing lost touch with reality or does reality no longer matter with so many small presses out there all trying to make a buck so screw quality?

Yes, yes, I know there are some very good covers artists out there who know what they’re doing and they strive to look beyond the obviousness of Muriel. They are indeed Artists by trade. The other patch-and-paste-four men-and-one-woman-in-a row-to-let-everyone-know-one-heroine-is-going-to-be-lucky-with-multiple-lovers cover people? I can’t stand disjointed covers that look like someone has cut out figures from a magazine for a school project. My opinion? They’re not artists. They’re making money with scissors and glue pots and good luck to them. But that’s not artistic. And yes, e-book romances are not real but can we at least have covers where the characters look like they may actually know each other?

Oh, and don’t get me started on cover hacks who read buxom and overweight on a cover request and see it as thin and emaciated….

Amarinda Jones
Penn Halligan
www.amarindajones.com
www.amarindajones.blogspot.com
Be daring...read an Amarinda book

Monday, December 13, 2010

#4 “I Have Broken Smashwords” or “Yes, You Will Eff Up”

Good morning, kids. Today we continue in the my own little self publishing saga where I discuss some key points for hocking your wares to (unsuspecting) valued customers. Point number four is rather simple if you ask me. It regards those little sections marked CONTACT US FOR HELP/CONTACT US/or just HELP on the sites where you wish to sell you work.

The average human will jump through flaming hoops before clicking that button. Something about us does not want to admit defeat/lack of comprehension/hardship. Do NOT be that person. If you need help when considering a site to load your work—or if you experience issues while loading—CLICK. THAT. BUTTON.

Yes, yes, I have broken Smashwords more than once (or so I thought). The first time I tried to load a book, that thing that shows progress just went spinspinspinspin (for all eternity) for a very, very long time. Abnormally long. And then it gave me an error. I tried again. Finally, I contacted Smashwords via the handy dandy help link and it turns out that .rtf files can cause a snafu whereas .doc files are much easier for Smashwords’ tummy to digest. Simply switching out one document type for another made for easy going.

I never would have known that handy dandy tidbit had I not bitten the proverbial bullet and asked for help. Something normally very difficult for me. However, this is your business—your self publishing—and as a good business person, you need to explore all avenues to get the job done. So click it. It doesn’t hurt and there is no charge and no, you have not broken Smashwords.

Funnily enough—this seems to be a common phenomena—the ‘breaking’ of Smashwords. I got a phone call from a friend a few months after I first put work up on Smashwords. It was her first go at the site. It went like this:

“Hello”

“I’ve broken Smashworrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrds.”

And it wasn’t just the big meat grinder for words I have thrown a monkey wrench into. I have broken Bookstrand and All Romance Ebooks too. And hunh—who’d have thunk it—they also have very kind and patient folks on the other end of the help link/email link that will help you unbreak their system and get you where you need to go.

I spent hours one time on Bookstrand going back and forth with the help person. I was frustrated, but I imagine he was literally weeping on the other end of the internet (because it is finite like a phone line, dontcha know? Well, at least in my head, it is) as he continued getting my panic stricken, typo riddled emails at rapid fire pace, but in the end we prevailed. And now…I can upload a file to Bookstrand while simultaneously packing a lunch and singing Yankee Doodle Dandee.

My point? Ask for help! Yes, you will eff up. You will make mistakes. This is to be expected. Everyone makes mistakes whilst trying to navigate this self-publishing passage. But go ahead and let someone help you. It’s okay, no one will point or laugh and in the end you’ll have a better understanding of what you need to do. Those folks are there to help you. Let them do their job.

Come back next month when I tackle self-edting...um...self-editing. There. That's better.

XOXO
Sommer
p.s. due to current issues with Amazon, I encourage you to read the posts below this one

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Amazon in the Book Banning Business

On December 9, 2010, I was contacted by CreateSpace (Amazon’s Print on Demand service) who publishes my print books. They informed me that my title, Back to the Garden, had been removed for violating their “content guidelines.” When I consulted their guidelines I found them so vague as to be useless—were they saying my content was illegal? Public domain? Stolen? Offensive? (All of these were on the list). When I inquired as to the specifics of the violation, they were not forthcoming, and sent a form letter response stating that Amazon “may, in its sole discretion, at any time, refuse to list or distribute any content that it deems inappropriate.”

On Sunday, December 12, the print title that had been removed had now disappeared from the Kindle store, as well as two of my other titles, Naughty Bits and Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed. I have over fifty titles selling on Amazon, all of them in erotic fiction categories. The only thing these three singled-out titles had in common, besides being written by me—they were all erotic incest fantasy fiction.

About this time, I heard that two other authors, Jess C. Scott and Esmerelda Green, both had erotic incest-related titles removed from Amazon's site. After some research, I discovered one of Frances Gaines Bennett’s incest-related books had also been removed. As the night wore on, and public outcry about censorship and banned books began on Twitter at #amazonfail and #amazoncensors and on their own Kindle Boards, more and more incest-related erotica titles began to disappear from the Amazon site, so that the “Kindle Incest” search page began to look like swiss cheese. Teleread covered the story soon after.

When some of my readers began checking their Kindle archives for books of mine they’d purchased on Amazon, they found them missing from their archives. When one reader called to get a refund for the book she no longer had access to, she was chastised by the Amazon customer service representative about the “severity” of the book she’d chosen to purchase. 

As of this writing, Amazon has refused to respond to my emails or phone calls in regards to this matter and has refused to further clarify what, if any, content guidelines the books in question violate. If Amazon had clear guidelines that were applied to all publishers across every platform and enforced them consistently, this would be a moot issue. By not clearly stating their position and choosing books either arbitrarily or based on searches of top-rated titles which are the most visible titles in the genre, they seem to be deliberately hiding a clear case of discrimination and what amounts to censorship (albeit ipso facto) because of their lack of transparency.

I want to be clear that while the subject of incest may not appeal to some, there is no underage contact in any of my work, and I make that either explicitly clear in all my stories or I state it up front in the book's disclaimer. I don't condone or support actual incest, just as someone who writes mysteries about serial killers wouldn't condone killing. What I write is fiction. It's fantasy, not reality. And I'm not saying what I write isn't controversial, but it's not illegal (at least in some states) or a threat to national security, and seems as undeserving of censorship as... well...

As fellow author, Will Belegon, noted, if Amazon is going to start pulling books with incest in them: "I just re-read Genesis 19: 30-38 and realized that Lot's daughters got him drunk, had sex with him and bore sons. I demand you follow your clear precedent and remove The Bible from Kindle."

Or perhaps Amazon should create a new television ad after they follow their clear precedent and ban the book the woman is reading in the advertisement on her Kindle ("Sleepwalking" by Amy Bloom) which tells the story of a 19-year-old boy who has a sexual encounter with his stepmother, which, in some states, is legally incest.

While it can be said that, for an author or celebrity, any press (including bad press) is good press, for a bookseller and publisher, that does not necessarily hold true. Can Amazon afford the bad press about book removal which may spark outcries from many corners, including self-publishing authors, the fastest-growing segment of their Kindle ebook distribution?

In speculating on the motivations of Amazon’s actions, as they have not been forthcoming with any statement or explanation, I am concerned that they may be acting out of reactionary fear. This may be based on pressure from a small number of vocal and complaining conservative and/or religious right extremists who object to and are afraid of sexual fantasies and erotic printed material (including incest fantasies). It may also be based on threatening governmental pressure related to the recently removed WikiLeaks. More speculation may point to overzealous lawyering as Amazon moves from just-distributor and bookseller to publisher.

While I am not a lawyer, constitutional scholar or legal expert on free speech and intellectual freedom, I am an author and publisher and know that, regardless of the technical legalities of Amazon's actions, buckling to this pressure and the removal of books will hurt their bottom line. It will damage relationships with readers, authors, publishers and organizations such as the American Library Association and the ACLU, among others, who are interested in supporting free speech. I should also note that I am a professional psychologist and, while no longer licensed or working in the field, it’s clear that when individuals and organizations fail to recognize the difference between fantasy and reality, problems such as this result.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

After the Starting Gun

Hmm, one definite piece of advice:

Finish the manuscript for the forthcoming book before your first book comes out and you need to pimp it online like a madman.

I have a personal blog for promoting my own work. Letting it go completely silent the month after my first book goes out because I’m frantically trying to get a third manuscript finished in time for next Halloween is not what you’d call ideal marketing strategy. Self promotion—not my strong point.

Anyway, let’s pretend it’s actually really November 17th, my usual blogging spot, and I’ll continue with my thoughts and experiences on finally getting my first book out there.

For me this is huge. It’s something I’ve wanted to achieve all my life. Then one morning you wake up and your book is available for the world (well, lots of) to buy on Amazon.

I remember some very useful advice from one of eXcessica's experienced authors to another first time author in a similar position to me. “Expect it to be anti-climactic.”

I’d also add: “Be prepared for the silence.”

That’s the scary part, tossing something you’ve laboured lovingly over for the past few months out into the great black void of the internet and then waiting in vain for something, anything, to come back.

This is where Amazon’s little ranking stat is both a curse and a godsend. Watching that value spiral down into the millions doesn’t exactly do wonders for the ego, but that’s balanced out by the nice little ding! I feel every time the number jumps back up and I know that someone somewhere bought a copy of my book.

Obviously, it would be better if the ranking was high enough so that I couldn’t see each sale as it came in, but I’m realistic enough to know it’ll take time and probably a great dollop of good luck before I get there, if at all. In the meantime I’ll smile over my breadcrumbs and keep working on building up the backlist.

M.E. Hydra

Sunday, December 5, 2010

E-zines - what editors want...

Well, I’ll tell you what I look for from an editorial standpoint.  When I read Allegory e-zine submissions, I want the television and my children and my husband to fade into the distance.  I want to be so engrossed in the story that dinner burns and we have to order out.  I want that first line to catch me in the snare and drag me through the story as if you, the writer, have my hand in a death grip and are racing through the streets at mach speed.  In essence, I want to be blown away.
Give me emotion, and action, and a plot that isn’t predictable.  I want the story to unfold before my eyes. I do not want to be told what’s happening at every turn.    I want to know how the characters react to the situation – not just in their heads, but physically – viscerally.  I want the flow to make sense, stimulus then response - in that order, because if not, it dilutes the impact.   
I want to laugh, or cry, or shiver with anticipation, and I believe this is what every editor wants regardless of the genre.
So how do you as the writer accomplish this?
Well, let’s take a deeper look at a couple items I hit on above.  First - Stimulus / Response. 
Let me give you an example of what I mean.  Think about when someone jumps out of a hiding place to scare you. (Stimulus)   
What happens first?
You jump, your heart skips a beat, you yelp in surprise - all visceral reactions / initial responses. 
Then your mind registers what’s going on and emotions roll in.  Relief or anger or fear depending on whether the situation is a joke or not. 
What happens next? 
You laugh, or scowl at the joke, or swing at an attacker, or turn tail and run.
All of this happens within seconds, but the order is always the same – it’s a natural progression of emotional response and needs to be in the right order to reach the reader on a subliminal level.  
Here’s a couple examples, one that’s out of sequence and the other that’s in the proper order and you tell me which one has more impact: 
1.        She opened the door and yelped, her heart lurched in her chest.  “What are you doing?”She shrieked at the man with the mask who jumped in front of her and she took a step back.     

2.       She opened the door and a man wearing a mask jumped in front of her.  With her heart lurching in her chest, she yelped and took a step back. “What are you doing?”She shrieked.
For me, the second paragraph makes more sense.  It still isn’t as powerful as it could be, but it’s better than the first one.   
Now let’s take a gander at the second point I want to touch on… Visceral Reactions. 
Looking at the example above – when someone jumps out of a hiding place to scare you, what physical reactions happen first?
You jump, your heart skips a beat, stops, or pounds in your chest, your stomach drops like you took a dive off a skyscraper, you might even pee in your pants a little - all visceral reactions – physical reactions to stimulus that can’t be controlled.   
Writing visceral reactions in a fresh way and avoiding clich├ęs is a key component in reaching your readers on a subliminal level. 
Here’s the better of the two stimulus/response examples above:
3.       She opened the door and a man wearing a mask jumped in front of her.  With her heart lurching in her chest, she yelped and took a step back. “What are you doing?”She shrieked.

Let’s take this a step further and get some fresh visceral reactions in here to make the read more compelling:

4.        She opened the door and a man wearing a mask jumped in front of her.  Her heart slammed against her ribcage in a staccato beat that would challenge even Jimmy Sullivan’s drumming skills.  She took a step back, distancing herself from the intruder when his laugh cut through the air, sending shivers up her spine to the base of her neck, where they bunched and turned her muscles to liquid.  “What are you doing?” She shrieked, her voice breathy and shaking with fear.
I used three visceral reactions in the passage above.  For me, the second paragraph has much more impact than the first.  Now, let’s see what you can do with the same scenario… 
Thanks for hanging with me for a bit.
In the meantime, check out my November releases:
VENGEANCE: After an undercover bust goes to hell, Special Agent Steve Williams becomes the target of an assassin and his wife’s visions escalate, forecasting a brutal assault on their family. Escaping from the city and armed with scant details from Jennifer’s dreams, Steve trudges through a litany of past connections, searching for the key to stop the course of fate.  A brother with a grudge, a serial killer and a mafia assassin are all on his trail and the hunt begins . . .

Released November 1, 2010 by FIDO Publishing. 
MIND GAMES Chris Ryan doesn’t understand why he’s alive.  If it wasn’t for a miracle, he would have died in the prison his step-brother created and five years of nightmares hasn’t erased his passion for Jessica Connor. Haunted by visions of her daughter’s death, he runs to her doorstep, but all his good intentions fall short when they realize he led the vengeful spirit of his step-brother right to her. 
Released November 29, 2010 by eXcessica.
Until next time.
Ciao
JET

 J.E. Taylor is a writer, an editor, a manuscript formatter, a mother, a wife and a business analyst, not necessarily in that order.

She first sat down to seriously write in February of 2007 after her daughter asked:

"Mom, if you could do anything, what would you do?"

From that moment on, she hasn't looked back and now her writing resume includes five novels either published or targeted for release in early 2011 along with several short stories on the virtual shelves including a few within upcoming eXcessica anthologies.

Ms. Taylor also moonlights as an Assistant Editor of Allegory, an online venue for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, and as a "slush slasher" for Dark Recesses, an online venue for literary horror. She also lends a hand in formatting manuscripts for eXcessica as well as offering her services judging writing contests for various RWA chapters.

She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children and during the summer months enjoys her weekends on the shore in southern Maine.

Visit her at www.jetaylor75.com

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Are All Self-Published Authors Amateurs?

In a post on my blog about competition, a commenter made several points about why he felt self-published books were in no way part of anyone's competition. He also had a lot to say about amateurs vs. professionals (self-pub authors, of course, being the amateurs).

Anyway, a fellow indie friend said to me in IM... "Did he just call you an AMATEUR?" And I was like "LOL, I don't know, it was possibly implied."

So, I added a general comment on the issue of amateurs, but, that comment could have been it's own post and it's definitely something I would like to open the floor up to discuss. (Wow, that sounded hoity toity.)

Here was my original comment:


Something else to think about… amateur vs. professional. How are these terms defined?

Why is a self-published author automatically an “amateur”. Exactly how many times do I have to double my husband’s salary before I’m considered a “professional”?

Do these kinds of prejudices exist for other entrepreneurs?

When someone opens a flower shop do you consider them an amateur florist?

When someone opens a restaurant are they an amateur restaurant owner?

Are independent filmmakers who make a living from their craft, amateurs?

From Dictionary.com:

Amateur:

1. a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional.

2. an athlete who has never competed for payment or for a monetary prize.

3. a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity: Hunting lions is not for amateurs.

4. a person who admires something; devotee; fan: an amateur of the cinema.

There are several indies making a living, so definitely definition 1 doesn’t apply to them. Definition 3 could be argued for perhaps, but experience and skill are highly subjective things in artistic endeavors. I’ve been writing seriously since junior high school (in fact, in school I ignored most of my other classes and wrote during lectures.) And surely a certain sales threshold proves at least a competent level of skill.


This wasn't part of the original comment but I felt like adding it now:

Here are the definitions of "Professional" at dictionary.com:

–noun

1. a person who belongs to one of the professions, esp. one of the learned professions.

2. a person who earns a living in a sport or other occupation frequently engaged in by amateurs: a golf professional.

3. an expert player, as of golf or tennis, serving as a teacher, consultant, performer, or contestant; pro.

4. a person who is expert at his or her work: You can tell by her comments that this editor is a real professional.


I suppose we could rehash the expert thing, but expert is SO subjective. Like... raise your hand if you think Stephenie Meyer is an expert at writing? And yet, she makes more money than God right now and I'm pretty sure most people who identify as professional writers consider Meyer a professional writer.

The definition with regards to earning a living... many indies are fulfilling that requirement.

Now in the grand scheme, it doesn't really matter if you or anyone else calls or thinks of me or any other indie as an amateur or a professional. It doesn't change the fact that several of us are making a living doing what we love while maintaining creative control. In much the same way that Stephenie Meyer laughs all the way to the bank despite the people who say she sucks... I laugh to the bank whether or not you think I'm an amateur or a "fake author". Of course Meyer laughs much louder than me. Still, there is much merriment going on.

Thoughts? What makes a writer a "professional", and is it fair to keep indies out of that club by definition of being indie?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Year of Profits in Ebooks 2010

2010 was a good year for ebooks. The stats are being thrown around like bibles at a Tea Party rally - but the concensus seems to be something like a 190% increase in the year 2010 over 2009?

Yes, it's been a good year.

Anecdotally, our sales at Excessica show this is true as well - they have increased exponentially every single quarter. We went from selling 16,000 ebooks in Quarter 1 2010 showing $27,000 in royalties to selling 73,000 ebooks in Quarter 4 2010 showing $154,000 in royalties. Talk about a jump - that's no measly almost-200% jump - that's more like an almost-600% leap!

Yowza!

A few months ago, J.A. Konrath challenged me to post my own numbers when I complained that Amazon was setting price points (too low in my opinion) for ebooks. While I would argue that $9.99 is too high and agency pricing does, indeed, suck - $2.99 may just be too low of a value for books.

So I thought I'd put my money where my mouth is (so to speak) now that the numbers for the year are all in. What follows is a basic breakdown.

In 2010, I sold 62,000 books on Amazon Kindle. That worked out to a $120,000 profit from Amazon.


Of those books, my highest sellers are priced as follows (in order, highest selling to lowest):

$5.99 - Babysitting the Baumgartners
$5.99 - Under Mr. Nolan's Bed
$4.99 - The Real Mother Goose
$4.99 - Quickies
$5.99 - A Baumgartner Reunion
$4.99 - Unfolding
$4.99 - Heidi and the Kaiser
$5.99 - Baumgartner Generations: Janie
$5.99 - Naughty Bits
$4.99 - The Sybian Club

In total, I sold approximately 80,000 books this year through various distributors (though a majority of those sales were, as you can see, through Amazon) and made a total of $170,000 in profits from those books.

Now, granted, I'm not complaining about profit here. (Ow, my diamond shoes are too tight!) But I'm just wondering aloud about the price points we set for our books. Would I have sold more books at $2.99? It could be. I've put all my short stories on sale for $0.99 on Amazon for a month and have seen my sales of those titles triple. Of course, my royalty rate went from 70% to 35% for most of those and it's pretty much averaged out, in terms of actual profit for me.


But more books are being downloaded, which means higher rankings and increased visibility. That's always a good thing. And considering I write adult material that isn't ever going to be featured on Amazon Encore or anything like it, I have to market my work a little differently than a mainstream author might.

But what would happen if I dropped the above prices of those top ten bestsellers to $2.99 or even $3.99?

Maybe that will be my 2011 experiment. 

Still, I would encourage you, self-publishers, to stop waiting and start publishing, no matter where you decide to set your price. There's nothing to lose, and a lot - a whole lot! - to gain.

And think of this way - you're lucky. You don't need to do what I did. Back when I started out, we didn't have things like Kindle DTP and Barnes and Nobles "PubIt." We had to actually form co-ops to be considered a "publisher" before we could get our work out there to the major distributors. You don't have to do that. The whole self-publishing world is wide open to you!

Not that I'm really complaining. Yes, I've been working my a$$ off for two years publishing authors who might otherwise not have done it on their own. But I've given a lot of new authors a start under the umbrella of Excessica and it's been an amazing journey so far. I'm proud of what I've accomplished, and that I've put my money (and time - lots and lots of time) where my mouth is when it comes to helping other authors. I don't just talk about it. I actually do it.

And what a ride it's been! I've been in the middle of a huge revolution in the industry - one that isn't anywhere close to being finished. Who knows where it may end up?

Let's hope next year's post: "Year of Profits in Ebooks 2011" will grow exponentially as well!

Selena Kitt
www.selenakitt.com