Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Audio Rises!

Back in 2010-2012 indie publishing was in its infancy. Kindles were the hot new thing and traditional publishing was still trying to get a handle on the rapid changes occurring in the industry. But indie authors: we could adapt quickly. With lower production costs we could charge less, and through KDP retain a large portion of our royalties.
Many old school readers simply did not like the new wave of technology. They preferred the feel of a book in their hands as they enjoyed their favorite authors. But over time many of them succumbed to the allure of the kindle. With it, they could pack away hundreds of their favorite books and take them anywhere they wanted.
As its popularity increased, so did the resistance of traditional publishing. Indies were stealing away more and more market share and calling into question why they were charging so much for digital copies? This sparked outright war between traditional and indie publishing. You should have seen the scathing articles denouncing indies as hacks who were destroying literature. But we fought back…with sales and fans. Digital was where the indie lived. This was the one thing the Big Five never understood. We knew we couldn’t get into book stores. We didn’t have the distribution. But so what? We understood the new technology and could see its potential. The enemy was trying to beat us up in our own yard. Well…that didn’t work out for them.
Today, traditional publishing regards indie as an accepted part of the literary world. Okay, maybe not accepted. But tolerated. I mean, they can’t do anything about us, after all. There are still some of those jerks around who shout at the sky about how we’re ruining everything. But they’re few and far between. For the most part, we have earned our place at the table and go about our business relatively unharassed.
But just when things started to calm down, a new beast emerged from the fog. Audio Books! Sure, they’ve been around a while. But recently people have discovered how enjoyable they can be. And with new downloading technology and mobile devices, it was just what the hungry reader on the go was looking for. Even the most old-fashioned of souls had to admit it was a great way to read a book when their time was limited by the rigors of day to day life.
I remember years ago when I was doing a lot of cross country traveling; I would stop at the Cracker Barrel and pick up a book on CD for the trip. You could rent it, then return it to any location so long as you saved the receipt. But they were bulky and it took several cd’s for one book. Not very practical from the point of view of the new age technological world. But the narrations were great and I very much enjoyed the listen. Not to mention it made the trip pass by more quickly.
I remember clearly the first time I heard one of my books in audio. Derek Perkins was the narrator and did such a fantastic job, he made a book I knew better than any other new again. I had never considered an audio version. At the time, it was the territory of the Big Five. Indies barely had a presence in the market. But you know indies. We’re a bunch of rowdy disruptors if nothing else.
In no time, audio went from less than 10% of my income to a full 1/3. By the time Dragonvein came along I was convinced audio was the future. During this period, Big Five publishers were shouting that the kindle was on the decline. People were returning to hard copies, just as they had predicted. And I admit, kindle sales dropped off. But not because readers were going all retro. The drop-off rate match almost identically with the rate of the increase of audio book sales.
The traditional publishers still did not understand the kindle reader. We’re talking about a reader who is unafraid of technology; welcoming of change. Audio books are just another way for them to consume the stories they want and love. And you can read them here and there, you can read them anywhere, Sam I Am.
But some companies could see the writing on the wall and took swift action. Audible.com noticed how well indie writers were doing in the emerging format. They noticed the rise of other audio publishers that were formally below their radar. They checked the numbers and were highly impressed. And being that they are owned by Amazon, they had the financial resources to act aggressively.
This spawned a rights war that is still being waged. The Big Five were not about to simply let go of this newfound income. It was either you sign over audio, or no deal. Years ago, that would have been the end of it – game, set, match. But that was then and this is now. Audible fought back. How? With cold hard cash, of course.
Out of nowhere, advances of a few thousand dollars turned into a few hundred thousand. Now an author could sell their audio rights, retain their digital and print rights, and receive a larger advance than the Big Five offered for all of their rights combined. This has gone far to empower the author. You want all of my rights? Fine. Pay me as much as Audible, then double it. You think I care if my earnings come from paperback sales or from audio? Why should I? Indies don’t care about the pedigree that comes from being traditionally published. But now, it’s not only indies who are getting wise to this. Already several authors are fighting back and demanding either more money, or to retain their audio rights.
Where this will all end up is anyone’s guess. But once again, indies are slap-dab in the middle of it. It makes me wonder what’s next? What new format will come along that has the industry in an uproar? Whatever it is, you can bet indie writers will be jumping on it like a starving man on a loaf of bread. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Reviews and How to Cope!

In due course, every book that sells more than a handful of copies receives a bad review. Hell, they usually receive quite a few, regardless of how good you might think it is. I can’t think of one that hasn’t. And for the author, this can be painful to deal with, particularly in the beginning.

I remember the first bad review I read about The Godling Chronicles. It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I didn’t want to speak to anyone for two days. How could this have happened? Why were they not entertained by my work? And the mean things they said were just…well…mean. What had I done to deserve that? After all, I’m a nice guy. And I worked so hard! Besides, everyone else liked it. Or at least, they said they did. Were they lying to make me feel good? The possibility actually entered my mind…more than once.

It wasn’t until I peeled myself off the couch and dared to click on the Amazon site that I began to feel better. Afraid to look at my own book, lest there be more hurtful criticisms, I found myself looking at the Fellowship of the Ring page. It was then I noticed that it had quite a few one-star reviews. After reading a dozen or so, I felt as if a great weight had been lifted. If a literary mind such as Tolkien can be raked over the coals, who am I to think I won’t ever be? I still was a bit irritated, but I was able to move forward. In time, they bothered me less and less, until I learned to put them into the proper perspective.

Obviously, not all books will appeal to all readers. I mean, duh! And two plus two is four. But it’s easier to know this intellectually than to experience it. As writers, we pour ourselves into our work. We use every ounce of skill and talent at our disposal to create something worthy of praise. This leaves us extremely vulnerable and exposed. I’ve shown the world my best, or at least the best I had at the time. I then asked the reader to judge my abilities. And believe me, they do. Occasionally in a…spirited way. But that’s what I signed up for. So I grew thicker skin and gained a better perspective on my own strengths and shortcomings. Not all negative reviews are useful, but many are. They can help in ways you might not realize at first.

Through my reviews – the good, the bad, and the ugly – I have refined my approach and honed my skills. I have learned who my audience is and what they expect from me. Through the readers, I have found my place in the literary world. I know where I fit in. I know how good I am and how good I am not. I have learned to play to my strengths and work through my weaknesses.

In the end, it boils down to the fact that when you write a book and do anything other than shove it in a drawer, you are opening yourself up to criticism. And though there are reviews that are genuinely mean-spirited, most are accurate. If a reader says that your character is flat, it is--at least, from their point of view. Arguing about it is pointless. You will never convince someone they are wrong about your book. For good reason. If they didn’t enjoy it, they didn’t enjoy it. You can’t talk them into remembering that they liked it when they didn’t. This is why it is NEVER a good idea to respond to a review. Nine times out of ten you come off as a defensive china doll who can’t handle criticism. You cannot win these battles, so don’t fight them.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Your vote is appreciated!

Akiri: Dragonbane has been nominated for book of the year in the self published category. Please help me to the next round!

                                                                 Vote Here!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

So You Want to Be a Writer?

So you want to be a writer, do you? Awesome! For me, there is no better way to make a living. Believe me when I say that I have tried many other professions – from working on offshore supply boats to selling cars. I even traveled around the country playing music for a time. But nothing holds a candle to the life I have as a professional novelist. It’s not just the writing; it’s the people. The fans are wonderful, as are the other writers I’ve met. I have gone from day in, day out toil and monotony to spending my time inside my own head, thinking up new and fantastical worlds.
But it’s not all fun and games. Though the rewards are tremendous, the cost is high at times. For those of you interested in what it means to write novels for a living, I will give you a brief insight into what it is truly like and what you should expect if you are determined to pursue a career in writing.
First of all, I should explain that my experience is as unique as any other writer’s. Though there are similarities, each person travels down their own road. Moreover, I am limited to my own perspective. There are many ways to write for a living; being a novelist is but one.
As many of you know, I am an independent author. Though my audiobooks are produced through traditional publishers, the production of my kindle and paperback editions are solely my responsibility. This means hours of mind-numbingly tedious work that is added to my already heavy schedule. But it is either get it done or watch my career circle the drain. Many new authors go into indie publishing with the expectation of it being somehow easier than the traditional route. They soon learn that nothing could be further from the truth. Both methods are an uphill climb. And you are no more likely to “make it” as an indie than through traditional means. Is it quicker? Yes. You succeed or fail in far less time. But the obstacles you face are no different. It is a continuous battle to keep yourself productive and maintain focus on your goals. And even should you have a strong launch and quickly attain your sales objectives, you discover that it’s only the beginning. 
When I launch a new series, every word I write is a risk. I depart from what I know people like and throw the dice, praying that I get lucky. You might think that my previous success would ensure future sales. If only that were true!
In the world of indie publishing, two things are the key to continued success: production and quality. It is the first aspect that many find discouraging. The amount of material involved in building an audience is staggering. This year (2017) I have written four books and am scheduled for six by the end of December. You would think that after a time, I would have enough of a backlist to be able to relax somewhat. But nope! In order to remain relevant, I have to keep pumping them out. Readers of indie demand that we give them stories at a pace traditional publishing cannot keep up with. That’s the very thing that propelled indie to prominence in the first place—and it’s why readers keep coming back.
But you simply can’t bang out a bunch of words every day and expect people to read them. Maintaining quality is essential. This can really put your mind to the test. Coming up with new adventures is not as easy as one might think. A novel is more than a concept; you can’t just think of a neat plot and expect it to magically transform into a book. As they say, the devil’s in the details. Individualizing characters and then outlining a political and social structure, magic systems, and even the laws of physics all have to be taken into account. This takes time. And when time is not your ally, the pressure can mount.
It is important to have in place an editing and proofreading team so that you can move from one project to the next without missing a beat. These people need to know your work and what you expect from them without needing to bombard you with questions.
Of course, you have cover art, interior designers, and bloggers to deal with as well. But that’s another topic. For the purposes of this piece, we are focusing on the very base essentials for indie success.
The popularity of indie relates directly to the fact that we give readers an abundance of good quality stories – and we don’t overcharge. So, when you ask yourself, “Do I have a book in me?”, you need to then ask, “Do I have 20 more?”
At this point you might be saying, “Why are you being so discouraging?” I’m not. In fact, before you gain an audience, you’re in a position to take much of the weight off your shoulders before you get started. You can do this by understanding one simple thing: there is no hurry to publish. None whatsoever. 
I see all too often a mad dash to the finish line; new authors chomping at the bit to click on the “publish” icon. Are they ready? Usually the answer is no, and for many reasons. The one that relates to what I am talking about pertains to the possibility of initial success. What if your first book sells like crazy? Are you ready for that? Do you have a follow up? Do you have the time to write one? How long did it take you to get the first one written and edited? Because let me tell you, once sales start happening, you have about 90 days – then poof. It’s over. Sure, there are exceptions. But typically, that’s your window. After that, sales begin to dwindle, and you lose your initial push. Why not wait and have three or four books written ahead of time? Put yourself into a position to take full advantage of that initial momentum. You can use this time to expand your network and build yourself a solid foundation on which you can launch a career that has both stability and longevity.
Quantity and quality are not the only factors, but they are the most fundamental. Before you dive into indie publishing with the hopes of quitting your day job, you need to have the relevant information. You need to know your own capabilities. Can you write four or more books per year? That single question is enough to tell you if you should consider traditional publishing.
I know indies often frown at the idea of going traditional. Mostly it’s backlash from years of being looked down upon by the “real writers” who are signed with one of the Big Five publishers. We’ve spent so long taking veiled insults and defending our right to publish without the gatekeepers standing in our path that many of us feel somewhat bitter. But there is nothing wrong with a writer who wants to go the old-fashioned route. Is it slower? Yes. But not every writer is cut out for the breakneck pace of indie. It can be absolutely soul-draining. There are times I just want a break – a few months of…well…not writing. But I can’t do that. I have chosen my path. I’m not complaining. But there are realities I face that can’t be ignored. And my family depends on me.
I think all I am trying to say is that before you embark on your journey, do your research. Make sure you are going down the road that is right for you. Indie sounds very appealing, particularly when you know that with traditional publishing you will face rejection after rejection. But make no mistake, with indie you face it too. Instead of agents and publishers, it’s readers. But unlike agents and publishers, readers reject you in a very public and sometimes cruel manner.
Whatever course you choose, know that becoming a writer is a wonderful thing. Despite all of its pitfalls and heartaches, there is nothing quite like the feeling of hearing a reader telling others how much they enjoyed your work. The sense of personal validation is like nothing else I have experienced. I hope you find in writing all that I have found…and more.  

Friday, September 22, 2017

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

SPFBO? What's That?

Many of you will have no idea what the SPFBO is. It stands for Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off and has been instrumental in shining a light on both individual indie writers as well as indie fantasy as a whole. Created in 2015 by the best-selling author Mark Laurence, the SPFBO provides hundreds of indies the unique opportunity to have their work reviewed by top fantasy sites, with thousands of followers. These sites typically review and discuss traditionally published authors and would rarely consider reading an indie novel.

The rules are simple. There are 300 entries spread among 10 review sites. Each site narrows it down to 1. And from those 10, a winner is chosen. The prize: aside from the review itself, exposure and prominent mention by a world-famous author…and I think he sends a trophy. This may not sound like much. But for those of us who have spent countless hours soliciting reviews and doing anything we can think of to get noticed, it’s a pretty big deal. Big enough that not only did I enter, but several of the top selling indies out there did the same.

As with any literary contest, the judging process is subjective. There is the possibility a book could end up in the hands of a reviewer who simply prefers a different style. But it’s as fair as it can be, given the number of books. But the point of it isn’t winning the contest. Well, not to me. Getting these high-volume sites to review an indie is nearly impossible. And here is an opportunity to spread your name. If you lose, fine. But they might remember you. They might even have liked your book enough to recommend it. Bare minimum you get a critique from a highly thought of reviewer. And so far, the reviews that have come in from those eliminated have been thoughtful and carefully crafted. No. Not all of them were 5 star. But they were constructive, and many left spots where the author could use a quote – another big deal.

Speaking of quotes, I asked Mark Lawrence to give me one about the SPFBO and he had this to say: “The SPFBO, or Spiffbo to its friends, is a collective effort that has become far more than I imagined it would be. It has made a huge difference to several excellent writers and a small difference to a great many more. It's one of the things I am most proud of, although my contribution is quite small." Mark is far too modest about his contribution. He is in constant contact with the participants through the social media site, and has been a true source of inspiration. Hell, he even gave me the quote I asked for the next day.

Why a guy like Mark Lawrence, a traditionally published, best-selling fantasy author with no specific ties to indie of which I am aware, would take the time to help indie authors is a question only he can answer. But I’m glad he did. So if you haven’t read his work, do so. Not only will you be reading a book written by one of today’s most talented writers, you’ll be supporting someone with a heart of gold and a true champion of the literary world. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

99¢ Sale on Akiri!

From now until Tuesday September 19th. Don't miss out!

      Click the link below

   Amazon US