Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Indie Advantage…Have We Lost It?

Happy New Year to everyone. Here's hoping there will be continued success in 2014 for indies.

So, as usual, the landscape is changing year to year. A recent change is that a lot of trad publishers are lowering prices to compete in the market place. This is good for readers, not so good for indies. In fact, I've been hearing a lot of doom and gloom about this point. "How will indies compete?" "We've lost our advantage." "This is the END!"

Before we follow in Virginia Woolf's footsteps, let's analyse the situation a little deeper. 

When self-publishing was new, some authors hit the big time and sold a zillion copies by using the 99c price point. Amanda Hocking, John Locke and others sold their books for a low price the trad publishers couldn't duplicate. Readers went mad for low-priced fiction and large numbers of sales followed. John Locke used his 99c price in promotion, saying that Stephen King had to be ten times better than him. (Because his books cost ten times as much). Locke had some other promotional practices, like buying reviews, which we won't go into here.

Then the indie market became flooded with a lot of bad books by people who were trying to catch hold of the mythical "Kindle Gold Rush" and the 99c books lost traction, being regarded by a lot of readers as 'bargain basket crap'. Some writers (myself included) experimented with prices like $1.49 for short stories to make their books stand out.

Putting the 99c debate aside, self-published books have always been good value vs their trad-pubbed counterparts. $2.99 for a well-written novel is damn good value. But now the Big Five are catching on and lowering the prices of their books.

The Indie Advantage is gone. Gone! (insert doom-laden music here)

Or maybe it isn't gone...

Maybe it's time we looked at some other advantages we have over the big dogs.


No, not the movie with Nick Cage. The ability of indies to adapt to change. 

The market has been turned on its head since the recent advent of self-publishing and things have not settled down yet. Everything is still in flux. New trends arise, new superstar authors are made, there are even new genres (I'm looking at you, New Adult). If you were in charge of a company whose main business is selling paper books to distributors, how quickly could you react to these changes? If the next big thing happens to be Pearl Diver Romances, how quickly could you hire writers from your stable to churn out a series of Pearl Diver Romances, get editors to look them over, hire the cover designers to create the covers, then get everything to the printers before selling them to distributors?

Now, what if you're Susan Indie or Alex Selfpub and you notice the Amazon Top 100 being taken over by Pearl Diver Romances? How long does it take you to join the growing list of Pearl Diver Romance authors? How quickly could you catch that wave and reap the benefits of being a hot author in a hot topic? 

And before the 'artistes' leave comments with words like 'mercenary' and 'money-grabbing', they should use their artiste heads a little. You can still write what you want to write and hit a hot topic at the same time. You write thrillers? I can think of dozens of plots for thrillers involving pearl divers. Mystery? Yes. NewAdult Romance? Yes. Science Fiction? Yes. Fantasy? Yes. You just use your ability to write what you want to write while acknowledging market trends. That's not 'selling out' is it? If acknowledging the market means the same as selling out to you, you're reading the wrong blog.

And if Pearl Diving fiction becomes a thing, I want credit dammit!

So there is a huge advantage indies have over the trad publishers….adaptation.

No, Nick Cage…not you.


No, not the movie with Nick Cage. The ability of indies to know their audience.

Trad publishers know squat about the readers of the books they publish. They don't know who they are, where they come from or what their names are. Trad publishers sell to big distributors who then go and sell the books to bookstores. A trad editor might know what certain distributors like to buy but they don't know anything about the reading habits of Amelia Tench who like cozy mysteries, or Jack Force who like's men's adventure.

As indies we can do what the trads can't. We can interact with our readers. Facebook, Twitter, and mailing lists are tools in our arsenal that enable personal interaction with our readers. This communication goes a long way to building up relationships with our customers that the trad publishers don't have. We can put the personal touch on our product.

So in addition to adaptation, let's add knowing.

No, Nick. 


No, not the movie with…

I'm talking about the ability to kick ass with what you write and publish. 

You see, when it comes to deciding what books to put out, trad publishers are limited by release schedules, budgetary constraints and the need to make a profit. So in a lot of ways they have to play it safe. You, however, don't.

Just before Christmas, I decided I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic sci fi story which I would publish in serial format. So that's what I'm doing. Could a trad publisher make the same decision? Not without consulting others, forecasting profit margins, fitting the work into the release schedule, testing the market, etc. How many serials are there out there published by the Big Five? Not many. In fact they are very rare. Beth Kery springs to mind but not many others. Stephen King did it with the Green Mile (I still have the original little books somewhere) but he's Stephen King and publishers do what he says.

So here's an advantage you have over the trads: you can publish what you want, when you want, how often you want.

Publishers limit their authors to one (maybe two) releases a year. But you can get your name out there over and over throughout the year, gaining visibility and an audience. 

You aren't limited by market forecasts . You want to release a book about a romance between two pearl divers? Then go ahead and do it. That's a freedom you have that trad publishers do not have.  Want to release it in weekly instalments? You can do it. 

So next time you feel like the trads are muscling in and shoving you out, remember you can kick ass in ways that they can never dream of. 

No, Nick. Just no.

"Argue For Your Limitations…

…and they're yours,"as Richard Bach said. If you want to make it in this strange world of self-publishing, you need to look at the positive position you are in. You have no limitations. You have the freedom to do what you want. Think about that for a moment. That is a great power.

Next time you feel like your self-publishing opportunities are about to be crushed by outside forces, remind yourself that you have advantages. Reduce the problems to what they are…an irritating piece of grit.

If you work around the grit, you could end up making a pearl

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Words Are Not Gasoline: The Art Of The Short Story

There has been some discussion on the net lately about something Hugh Howey (author of 'Wool') said on a Facebook Chat

It's point #5 "More short works are better than one long work" that seems to have everyone's knickers in a twist. And despite the fact that Hugh adds a point #6 that says, "Ignore everything I and everyone else says and discover your own truths", a lot of focus is on that point about short vs long works.

I've even seen people comparing the 'price per word' of a short story vs the 'price per word' of a longer work. Let's get one thing straight right now. Words are not gasoline. You don't just go looking for the most words for the least price do you? If so, your buying choices as a reader wold be easy. Simply go to Amazon and look for the longest books in the free category.

That way, you can  fill up your tank with words and not pay a penny. Sounds great right? After all, if the argument is that short stories suck because readers are paying more per word, then the solution is to get the longest books for the least price. That way, you can pay the least per word as possible.

Ideal, right?


If you don't agree that the best books out there are the longest ones for the least price, then you recognise that there is another factor that needs to be considered.

Quality. Enjoyment. A gripping read.

The fact is, all writers are not created equal. If they are, then why are there Stephen King fans? James Patterson fans? Fans of any particular author? It's because certain writers speak to certain readers in a way no other writer can, whether through brick-sized novels, slim novellas or quick-bang short stories.

So, if any author says, 'My work is better than yours because it's longer and readers pay less per word,' they are missing the point of what writing is. What stories are. They are unaware of the art of the short story.

Readers don't read stories with 'cents per word' in mind. They want a good story. They want to be transported to a world where they can lose themselves and their real-life problems for a while and identify with an author's characters.

And if you still think money comes into it, consider this: a well-written short story can give more enjoyment to a reader than a cup of coffee for less money.

Some writers have an aversion to short stories and the writers who write them, stating 'value for money' as the cause of their hatred.  I think there may be more to that. for some of these writers, the aversion could be caused by the fact that they cannot master the art of the short story.

In many ways, writing a novel is easier than writing a short story. Yes there is more time investment but there is also a lot more room for weak scenes and poor description. A novel is much more forgiving of these things because a few weak scenes are a small percentage of the whole. In a short story or novella, everything has to be tight and concise.

Brevity does not mean laziness. It means using powerful words to achieve a level of precision.

I won't listen to writers who say they are 'better' because they write longer works than writers who use the shorter forms to tell stories. they aren't worth listening to because they are wrong. The length of your work has NOTHING to do with how good a writer you are. There are good and bad short story writers and there are good and bad novelists.

That said, here are a few reasons why short fiction rocks:

1) For beginning writers, short stories are an excellent way to practice. Yes, writing does need to be practised just as any craft does. Ray Bradbury advocated writing a short story a week and he sometimes wrote a short story a day. Are you going to argue with Ray?

2) Getting a large number of titles out increases your chances of getting noticed. That is easier and can be achieved more quickly if your pieces are shorter.

3) If you become good at short stories, you have mastered an art that eludes many writers. Those 'I wrote a five hundred thousand word epic so I'm better than you' writers will never get it. But you will.

4) One of self-publishing's greatest success stories, Hugh Howey, got his break through writing a series of short stories. Other successful self-publishers have had great success with shorter pieces...Jasinda Wilder and H.M. Ward for example.

5) If you write in shorter forms, you can explore more of your ideas. You won't be tied up for months writing a novel for each idea. You can explore everything you can think up. And if something hits big, one word: series.

So, decide for yourself if you want to write short or long (or both) but don't fall into the trap of thinking that one is better than the other just because it is longer.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Building a Fanbase...There's One Waiting For You Right Now

New writers or established writers starting a new pen name usually throw up their hands in despair at the advice 'build a fanbase'. It seems like an insurmountable task, a mountain to climb that looks daunting when you're standing at the bottom about to take the first step.

If you write genre fiction, here's some good news for you:

Your book already has a fanbase.

"What?! But nobody has ever heard of me. My pen name is new. Everybody in the world hates me," I hear you cry.

All that is probably true. YOU don't have a fan base yet. But your BOOK has a fanbase already. And they are eagerly awaiting to buy it and read it.

Every genre has its fans. Sci Fi fans are looking for the next great Sci Fi book to tell their friends about. Horror fans are waiting for a good book to appear in the genre they love. New Adult Romance fans are eager to find a gem of a Romance and tell their Goodreads network all about how it was so amazing.

So what can you do to turn some of these ready made fans into YOUR fans?

It's so simple and so difficult at the same time. You need to write a good book in the genre.

The keyword in that sentence above is 'good'. The fans are out there and they are waiting for good books.

A lot of writers bemoan the fact that they are writing in the popular genres but their books just aren't taking off dammit!

I would suggest that the reason these writers aren't finding mega-stardom is down to 2 things:

1) they aren't writing good enough books.
2) they aren't writing in a genre they love.

Number 1 sounds harsh but it needs to be said. When writing in a genre that they think is 'hot', a lot of writers aim for 'good enough' when they should be aiming for great. The New Adult fans aren't waiting for the next 'good enough' book, they are waiting for a book that will get their pulses racing. The horror community doesn't want  a cookie cutter inferior version of something they've already read; they want a book that is going to make them say, 'Whoa, that was damn good,' after they finish it.

So if you want to tap into a genre's ready-made fanbase, make sure your book is good. Make it one they won't be able put down. One they have to tell their friends about. Nothing sells a book like word of mouth.

Point number 2 above addresses an issue that is very common in today's market. Writers aren't writing for themselves, they are writing what they think will sell. They chase markets, putting out product that is designed to draw in readers from already-popular books. If a book about an alien invasion of New York is selling well, a number of writers are going to hit their desks in the morning and start typing out their books about alien invasions in an attempt to capture the same audience that drove the first book up the charts. Sure, their alien invasions might take place in Florida or California or Spain but they will try to get a similar cover to the first book and 'cash in' on the same audience.

Will their books be good or just 'good enough'?

If you're a writer then you love books. You love certain types of books, the ones you read growing up and the ones you devour today. Whatever genre the books you love are in, that is the genre you should be writing. Your books will have more authenticity, more heart. Readers CAN tell when an author is writing in a genre they don't love just because it's 'hot'.

It may be that the genres you love ARE hot, in which case you are golden.

But just because you like horror doesn't mean you can't make a living writing horror. It might seem that the entire world is only buying New Adult Romance but that isn't true. The horror fans are still out there and they're still waiting for the next good horror book to fall into their laps.

Think about the fans you connect with and write for them. Or even better, write for yourself. Write the books you would want to read.

And don't be surprised when you suddenly have a solid base of fans.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Kindle Worlds Expands

Amazon have acquired more licenses for the Kindle Worlds program. These are from Valiant Entertainment and from various authors.

Valiant Entertainment Worlds

Archer & Armstrong
X-O Manowar

Author Worlds

Neal Stephenson's Foreworld (the Mongoliad books)

Hugh Howey's Silo Sage (Wool, Shift, Dust)

Blake Crouch's Wayward Pines (Pines and the forthcoming Wayward)

Barry Eisler's John Rain (A Clean Kill in Tokyo, A Lonely Resurrection, etc.)

Amazon have writing guidelines here

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Kindle Worlds - Writing Paid Fanfic and Tie-Ins

Here's something interesting. Amazon have announced their new program 'Kindle Worlds' which will enable writers to get a royalty from writing fanfic based on a number of properties that Amazon have acquired a licence to. At the moment, these properties are all Alloy Entertainment TV series.

Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries so far, with more to be announced.

Opinions are flying all over the internet about this program and just like when Amazon announced the Kindle Serials Program, there are writers on each side of the fence. Some are seeing this as the death of the spirit of fanfiction while others are pointing out the details of Amazon's terms and conditions and grabbing their pitchforks.

Here are my thoughts. And they are just my thoughts. Take them or leave them.

Kindle Worlds in a nutshell:

* you write a story that takes place in one of the worlds Amazon has licensed. Each world will have its own content guidelines.

* you upload your story for submission. The way I understand it, there will be something on your KDP dashboard that tells Amazon you are uploading a Kindle Worlds story. (a check box maybe?) Also, they say

"Using our Cover Creator, you will be able to design a cover for your Kindle Worlds story."

so I assume the current Cover Creator will be expanded to include covers with images from the shows. It isn't clear if you will have to use these covers or if you can still make your own original cover. However, this statement suggests that the writer is in control of the covers and blurbs:

We don't accept books that provide a poor customer experience. Examples include poorly formatted books and books with misleading titles, cover art, or product descriptions

* the story goes through a review process and is published if acceptable. 

The Drawbacks:

* you agree to give Amazon all rights to your story for the term of copyright

* you can create original elements and you retain copyright for these elements but the actual terms mean that this is just lip service. And other authors within the program and the world creators (for example Alloy Entertainment) can use your elements.

* the royalty you earn as the writer is 35% of net revenue (20% if the story is less than 10k words long)

* Amazon set the price of the story

When programs like this come along, everyone seems to jump onto one bandwagon or another. Lines are drawn in the sand and man authors huff and bluster about how they would never take part in a program where the character they created for The Vampire Diaries could appear on the show without any compensation. 

You need to look at these arguments and think about what they mean to you at the current stage of your writing career. 

A lot of the readers of this blog are interested in writing serial fiction but have trouble getting started because of the world-building. Some writers want to write shorter fiction but feel they may have trouble getting an audience.  Many indies are looking for a way to get their name out there in front of more readers. 

The Kindle Worlds program could address some of these problems for some writers.

You might think, 'OK, I watch The Vampire Diaries, I'm familiar with the characters and I can think of some situations I could put them in that would be interesting for someone else to read about. I could write two or three 12,000 words stories. I may not make a fortune from them and I will be giving the rights to Amazon. But how deep is the pool of readers I'll be dipping my toes into? What other benefits might I get from this program? And if I don't get any benefits, what have I lost by trying? How long did it take me to write those couple of stories? What experience have I gained?'

You might think that. Or you might not.

It's another road to try if you so choose.

Good luck in everything you do.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Why Aren't I Trying To Sell You Stuff?

I get emails every now and then asking me why I don't use this blog to sell my books.

It's simple. This blog is for writers interested in writing episodic fiction. My own serials are published under another name. My pen name has a blog aimed at readers.

This blog is just to get across some (hopefully) useful advice.

When you set up your own blog about your books, be sure to aim it at your readers.