Monthly Archives: May 2014

Pressure

I’ve been under a considerable amount of pressure recently. Granted, some of it was self-generated, but it was pressure just the same.

I began writing a year ago. I started with a scrap, decided to finally pull up my big-boy pants and take the plunge. I put that scrap out there for people to read. Free, but even so; if you’ve never done it, the thought that you’ll be ignored (bad) or be publicly ridiculed (worse!) is really difficult. Especially if you’ve never been one of those who seemed ‘destined for success’. You know who those folks are; you also know if you’re not one of them.

I’ve never been.

A few kind readers responded. They liked the idea (they were charitable enough not to mention the quality of the writing!), so I continued. I got more responses.

Some of the responses contained suggestions. I took them to heart, tried to incorporate them. I got better. Heinlein famously claimed you’re not a writer until you’ve written a million words. I never got there, but I DID get better. I got more mail, including fan mail.

But those readers, even though my offerings were free, wanted me to post on a set schedule. I did; pressure built to keep on offering a chapter a week, then two. I’m capable of doing that much work.

That’s been there all along; I actually have fans, a truly heady feeling. But with that I’m forced to acknowledge they are fans with expectations. I feel the need to meet those expectations. Pressure.

But there’s a whole wide world out there, and a lot of them read books. Would THEY pay money to read my writings? Are my writings such that they will return after reading one book and want to read more? Pressure.

So I’ve responded; my fifth book, Talent, has been offered (in draft format; that doesn’t mean it’s not the best I can write, it’s simply an acknowledgement that revision and editing make any manuscript better), and I agreed I’d send in two chapters a week. Each chapter is between 2000 words and 3000 words. I’ve been doing that. And also revising my other books for publication. I’ve done that too. More pressure; having written four books, I wanted to see all of them in print. They’ll sink or swim, but I’ll try to keep them afloat; that too is pressure. I’m 74; there’s no guarantee I’ll have a tomorrow to do what I don’t get done today. That’s the ultimate pressure. Self generated, to be sure; that doesn’t mean it’s not present.

And finally, I got book four (The Trek; see Amazon for YOUR copy; my thanks ride along with the download!) published.

It felt so good I immediately finished Chapter 20 of Talent, then wrote most of Ch 21. It’s habit; I kept going, even though the pressure is mostly gone.

Now that it’s not there, I miss it, that pressure. I’m editing Bruce, and writing and researching Talent, and hey, maybe it’s time to write a few chapters of Home (Darwin’s World book III). Or maybe start a new series; I could do that, right? Oh, and keep this blog going. No posts, no readers. Pressure.

Yep, it’s there, that pressure. Self generated, to be sure. But if you can’t deal with pressure…well, don’t quit your day job!

 

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Book Four, The Trek

It gets easier, all that formatting.

I finished final review of The Trek, Book II of the Darwin’s World Series, about noon today. I had a number of photos ready, all in ‘portrait’ orientation, so I began looking them over and sent copies to my editor. We found one we both liked and I began working on a cover photo. After a couple of tries, I found a layout that looks good in thumbnail; the title is large and centered, subtitle above, author’s name below. I shrank the photo to Amazon’s recommended 1:1.6 size before I began. My cover photo processing was done using Graphic Converter; it’s easy once you’ve done one or two, an important consideration if your focus is on the story. If I ever begin making reasonable amounts from book sales, I’ll consider hiring a professional; for now, my own photos will do. But I’ve learned a valuable lesson: take the camera everywhere you go. That picture may be useful, somewhere down the road.

I also used Calibre to format my Word document to Amazon’s MOBI format. A fast read to see how it looks and I’m happy. This one will be uploaded tonight to Amazon for publication.

The first time you publish is scary; did I do everything right? But by the time you’ve done four, it’s just another part of the author drill.

But it’s time to cut my losses regarding Apple, B&N, and Kobo. All of them are happy to help market your book…once it’s a bestseller. Until then, nope; they’re busy with those bestsellers. But newbies who are just beginning are the ones who need the most help. Go figure. Anyway, I’ve unpublished from those other stores. One sale in the past month, it’s not worth it; and as soon as it’s on Amazon only, I’ll sign Darwin’s World up for Kindle Select and put it on their Countdown Deal.

With luck, some will like the book enough to buy the others I’ve already published. And of course, by tomorrow book four will be published, The Trek. It’s the second book in the Darwin’s World series. BTW, I receive nothing from the programs I mentioned; I only list them because they’re what I use.Trek Cover

I’m happy with the way it turned out.

Pricing: a marketing experiment

Well, I tried. I dropped everything from $4.99 and $5.99 (the longer book) to $2.99 for each. I felt a bit uneasy when I did; the early sales went, often enough, to friends and/or family. It’s kind of a betrayal in a sense, dropping the price after they bought. But it was a marketing effort, so I hoped they’d understand.

Guess what? The sales went down.

The consensus seems to be that $2.99 is the break-point; more than that and people won’t try an Indie author’s work, especially an unknown. That’s not what I’ve found. Lower prices don’t increase sales; instead, they may go down because people think a higher price means greater quality.

A few others have reported on their sales; the greatest influence is volume. If you’ve got a lot of books published, people have enough confidence to buy. Price, within limits, doesn’t really sell more books.

I’ll publish The Trek (Darwin’s World Series, Book 2) next week, probably around Wednesday or Thursday. By that time I’ll have the prices back to where they were.

Why the differential between the Wizards Trilogy and the Darwin’s World Series? Wizards books run to around 75 000 words, Darwin’s books to more than 100 000. I think that’s worth another buck.

Some have complained that they make less by publishing through Amazon instead of Smashwords; I published via D2D, another assembler who marketed to several publishers. I found it to be a bust. Almost all my sales have come through Amazon. Some complained about a lot of ‘returns’ involving books they published through Amazon, too; I had three early on, but after I explained in the blurb that ‘wizards’ didn’t mean magic guys with pointy hats but psi’s who use ESP etc, I’ve had no returns.

The biggest disappointment regarding Amazon publishing is the slow rate of reviews. So please: if you’ve read my books, a book, shucks, even the BLURB, write a review?

Anyway, such has been my experience. If you’re a writer or have a writer’s blog, let me know if you’d like to be featured here. No guarantee…I’ll only feature people if I like their writing…but I’ll look at your stuff.

I’ll probably not write another blog entry for a few days; I’m now in the final pre-publication frenzy that will end with the publication of The Trek, so I won’t post until that’s done.

Guest Post: Bruce Bretthauer

I’ve long been an admirer of Bruce’s writing. He has some fifteen or so books available on Amazon, in several series. In additional to the Familes series, there’s another featuring Kalliste, then there’s the Dryad series, the cross-time police/agents series, another spinoff that deals with settling a virgin planet. He’s a very prolific writer.

I’m very choosy who I read nowadays, even more choosy about who I edit for. I’ve recently begun working with Bruce on his new novel; that one’s up to chapter 9.

He’s very different, as well as being very good (I recommend his books unreservedly) So I asked Bruce if he’d like to write something about his Families series. Here it is:

Creating the United Families

 

I generally write with female characters because I find women a lot more interesting than men. I hlooked in vain for a plausible and logical story set in a culture made up entirely of women. There were references to such cultures in ancient stories, but the details were sketchy. I decided to rectify that.

How could such a society happen, and what would keep it mostly female? Babies are roughly split evenly between boys and girls, so over time the number of men and women would even out…unless the conscious choice was made to select for females.

This could only occur if the population was extremely limited. The adage “Women and children first” strikes right to the heart of this. You need wombs to increase the population. So if you lost most of the men, and a high percentage of the women, you could do this.

That leaves just the question of why keep that modification when it is no longer needed.

Of these questions and premises, this last was the easiest.

Start with a marginal world, one that needs a severe amount of terraforming. Accidents happen, and there would be casualties. If there is a long enough period of these accidents, the population would end up fairly small, and given the way humans divide up work, a lot of those accidental deaths would be male.

When the originators of The Families saw their population trends they made a conscious decision to accept DNA modification so that all births were triplets. They did not need men so much as they needed women, so female births were encouraged. It would not take too long before the population would be overwhelmingly female.

We are accustomed to one man and one woman forming a breeding pair. The Families could not think that way beyond a certain point. With a limited gene pool they could not lock up one woman’s DNA with one man’s, they needed diversity. Plus there would be competition between the women for the men, and I did not want a harem situation. That meant sequestering the men so they have little or no interaction with the women, and vice versa. This also protects their health, if you think about it.

So how do the Families reproduce if the men and women can’t meet? Artificial insemination. We can do it now, it’s logical to assume the Families can do it then.

The study of the Canadian Shield and the surface of the Moon show that there have been a lot of rocks flying around our solar system. The Families had settled (however unwillingly) in a planetary system that was still forming, so they, too, had the problem of a lot of rocks flying around in space. That means they would make the decision not to have one big settlement, but a lot of smaller ones. I also assumed that in any terraforming you would not want to overwhelm any one area with a lot of people, but spread the burden, and the growth, around. This naturally divides up the settlers into a lot of groups, and those groups grew into separate Families.

 

The government of the Families grew from the above. Families would cooperate on large scale projects, but what would really bring them together was the swapping of genomes. Rules and customs would develop, and then formal contracts, and a means of enforcing those contracts. Disputes could be aired in such a forum, and hopefully resolved.

I did borrow one item from a custom I saw while growing up: The Eldest. There were several extended families where we lived, and when there was a dispute within those families, or something that impacted the family as a whole (usually involving land), they would take that dispute to head of the family. It might not be the oldest member, but it was someone who had quite a lot of experience and whose wisdom was respected. They would make the decision, and for better or worse, that was it. It just seemed like a logical thing to do in the Families.

That leaves the question of why the Families didn’t revert to a more ‘normal’ birth pattern after their population grew large enough. That answer is because, in their view, they are a culture that is on the brink of failure. They live on a terraformed world that needs constant maintenance, they have a population that is large but can’t be too large, and so, like other cultures that are in ‘survival mode’, they grew conservative in their decisions. Not conservative politically, but resistant to change. If something worked, they kept it. They would not make change just for the sake of it.

So here, 60 generations after First Landing, they have a society that is human, but 89+% female. All of the things we take for granted that involve men and women, including clothes, roles, customs, and traditions, those are all thrown out. Essentially it is a clean slate, albeit with certain things built in such as all births being fraternal triplets, except for the occasional male baby. They have something that is just as competitive as any other human society, but with a tradition of cooperation to resolve problems. And then people from elsewhere come calling, people who view the members of The Families as prey, and thereby hangs a tale.

And after a few iterations, an entire series.”

You’ll find his books on Amazon, perhaps other places. Try one; I think you’ll like it.

Marketing efforts, and Conclusions

My first effort using multiple publishers is a bust. I’ve gotten much more in sales from the books on Amazon. Until B&N, Apple, and Kobo develop good marketing tools for new authors, I think this is something to be put aside. I expect to unpublish the book offered via those marketers at the end of the month, when The Trek should be ready for publication.

Amazon’s Countdown Deal: semi-effective.

The first use of this program did indeed result in boosts. Not great, but some. There’s a clear jump in the number of books sold, easily visible in the graph Amazon provides. So I’ll unpublish Darwin’s World from the publishers in paragraph one, put it on Amazon Select, and do the Countdown deal on it, but only after the sequel is available for purchase.

Lowering the purchase price: too soon to tell much. But statistics from other sources seem compelling, and several marketing newsletters won’t recommend any book over $2.99. That’s pretty compelling in its own right.

Establishing a presence in various places. No idea of what effect that has had, if any.

So: it’s back to writing the best books I can, publishing them after revising/editing/proofreading, wait and hope for the best. Maybe a countdown deal or similar.

And wait for something to take off.

If it does.

 

Lessons Learned

Of the three books published, my debut book has sold reasonably well, the second book in the series has sold a few copies (even though I think it’s a better book; go figure!), but the third book has languished.

Choices; what to do? It’s a long book, as is the successor, each running to more than 100 000 words. Both were popular when they were offered early-on in draft form as freebies. But popularity hasn’t translated.

Considerable research hasn’t really shed much light on why books sell, but one thing crops up from time to time: price point.

Above $2.99, your book is priced out of the market. And Darwin’s World has been priced at $5.99.

It has not exactly been flying off the shelf. Kobo, Nook, iBooks? One sale since being published. Amazon, less than 10.

It’s time to bite the bullet and admit I made a mistake.

So if you haven’t bought Darwin’s World yet, don’t. Give it a couple of days for the price to drop. If you did buy the book at the currently-listed price, send me an email. I won’t refund money (I have no way of tracking who bought the 7 or 8 books that were sold, and besides no one’s paid ME a dime yet!) but I’ll send you a copy of the second book, not yet published, in the series.

With my heartfelt thanks for taking a chance on a new writer! Write jacklknappauthor@outlook.com.

The price will drop to half what it was, $2.99, as soon as the various publishers react to the notices I sent them this morning.

If you’re a fellow writer, attempting to gauge the public’s responses to a book you’ve published or are about to publish, take note. All the mistakes I’m making are mistakes you may avoid by reading about my missteps and woes! 😀

OK, not woes. But mistakes, nonetheless.

There will be follow-ups posted regarding this experiment in marketing.

Kindle Select’s Countdown Deal

So far, I’m pleased. The featured book is moving, plus others have also sold at full price.

Final rating, this is a useful tool to help restart your sales after your friends and family have bought copies of your books.

One thing it brings home: price point is at least as important as anything else an author does to influence sales of his books. Simply put, there are excellent books out there that are free (usually a temporary state of affairs), discounted heavily (including national bestsellers), or cheap. And cheap may not mean ‘bad’; indeed, my favorite indie author (we’re discussing guest blogs to be published here) has a number of books that are uniformly excellent and yet are cheap!

Information provided on request; if you’re on Goodreads, you can read my comments there.