Tag Archives: Publishing

Improving Writing

“…Brevity is the soul of wit…”–William Shakespeare
Indeed. It’s also the soul of good writing.
I own to failure in this respect; my plots meet my standards, my writing does not. Simply put, my prose is ‘fat’. It contains too many words, too much repetition, redundant words, phrases, even sentences. We owe it to our readers to do better.
I’m sure you writers have heard similar advice. If you haven’t, you haven’t studied the art and craft of writing nearly as much as you should, but at least I’m willing to share what I’ve learned. I’m going to give concrete examples.
I just finished editing The Trek for Audiobook production (it will be available in about a month). Taking a break, I began reading a series by Evan Currie (recommended; he’s good!) and noticed many of my mistakes in his books. They’re probably in yours too.

Names: don’t repeat too often. Often, ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘they’ will work just as well and improve flow.

‘That’ is used FAR too often. You can often remove it without changing the sentence’s meaning in the slightest. Try it; read a sentence, read it again without ‘that’ and see for yourself.

‘to ….’; you can usually replace this with a better choice. Rearrange the sentence, use an active verb.

‘of them’ or ‘of us’. Redundant, usually.

‘all’; redundant. Try eliminating it.

So there you have my observations, taken from my own writing. Look critically at yours; you may find the same mistakes or mistakes unique to you.
Grammar is the writer’s toolbox, and among Indie writers too many of us have allowed our tools to rust or become dull.
I’m sharpening mine; how about you?

 

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Writing…

I’ve been very busy recently; it’s why I haven’t had time to write on this blog.
Books, to me, have an early section, a middle section, and a concluding section. Others describe this differently, as character arc and so forth, but to me, I introduce characters, concepts, and challenges in the first part. The second part develops those, especially the challenge that the main character faces. If there are several characters involved, I’ll also expand the roles they play. This sets the book up for the conclusion.
A kind of madness takes over when I reach that mid-part. I feel driven, anxious, if I’m not able to write. It’s not unusual to write a chapter each day while I’m developing that section.
I reach the ‘conclusion’, which usually involves an additional ten chapters and 20 000 words or more. I know I’m into that part of the book when I pass the 50 000 word count. The manuscript has officially reached ‘novel length’ when it passes 50k words.
Veil of Time is now at 52 000 plus words, things are moving rapidly, a certain amount of foreshadowing has been done. Readers can now begin attempting to anticipate the endings. This is where you, the reader, will be tempted to thumb through the remainder of the book to see if you have indeed guessed how it will end.
I’ve done it myself, more than once. Yes, I confess; I often turn to the end of the book when I think I’ve figured it out! But as an author, it’s time for me to hide that ending in the Big Twist.  The last major changes don’t happen by accident, you know; we authors enjoy playing with our readers’ imaginations!
Veil of Time is now in the ‘Little Switch’ portion, and after that it will be time to carry through the Big Switch to the conclusion. I anticipate publishing the novel on Amazon in May. I haven’t yet decided whether to offer Advance Reader Copies or Pre-Orders, and option Amazon allows.
Meantime, Veil is the fourth novel in the Wizards Series; the other books are Combat Wizard, Wizard at Work, and Talent. If you haven’t read them yet, you can find them by following the link below. They’re free if you have a Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime account.
http://www.amazon.com/Jack-L-Knapp/e/B00K35MWNA/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1429376991&sr=1-1

Publishing

I’ve spent a lot of time recently analyzing sales and patterns.
Despite having four novels and a novella on Apple, B&N, Kobo, and Tolino, the best sales continue to come through Amazon. The numbers are overwhelming.
Yesterday, I published Home, the third book in the Darwin’s World Series; I put it on Amazon Select, which means it’s eligible for the the Kindle Unlimited lending program. While my sales to those other outlets bring in better royalties, that means nothing if the books don’t sell. I should also mention that my recent promotion efforts have listed those other outlets as well as Amazon. Still few or no sales, even though my most recent promotion went very well.
I’m now working up a method of rating the companies I promote through. I track sales carefully up to the day of a promotion, then freeze the numbers as soon as the promotion email goes out. I also include cost of the promotion and include second-day results; some don’t read the emails the first day, so in most cases, there will be additional sales on the second day. I make it a point not to raise the price of the promoted book until the third day.
Results, so far: ENT delivers approximately twice the break-even value in sales. BookSends delivers about 1.2% of breakeven.
What does this mean?
For my most recent promotion, I paid $15 to promote The Trek at $0.99. Break-even, figuring $0.35 in royalties per sale, was about 43 sales. The promoted book sold not quite twice as many the first day, but brought the numbers up the second day to twice break-even. Result, 200% of cost.
I also ran a recent promotion via Fussy Librarian, which claims a high number of subscribers. Result, $14 paid, less than half break-even achieved. I did get a couple of sales from Apple/B&N Nook, so I also included those.
If that promoter charged $7 for a promotion, you’d have a good chance of at least breaking even in my categories, action-adventure/science fiction. At $14, you’ll get about 0.5 of cost back, 50%.
Kindle Book Review had the worst results, less than 1% return on investment.I intend to continue this rating system. Let me know if you have similar information.
Meantime, here’s my newest book, just published: http://www.amazon.com/Home-Book-Three-Darwins-World-ebook/dp/B00TCZBVWK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423487128&sr=8-1&keywords=Home+by+Jack+L+Knapp

Quick Results

I ran an emailer promotion yesterday, using eBookSoda. This is the second one I’ve tried using this company.
Results: Nil.
Like the promotion I tried on Facebook, this is a waste of time and money. They did what they said they’d do, send out an email featuring my book, but nothing happened. Too few subscribers to their emails? Are the emails going mostly to other authors, people looking to sell books but not buy them? I don’t know.
But in each case, there was little to no boost in sales.
I also scheduled a week-long posting of the title on Choosy Bookworm’s home page. Whether that will have an effect, I don’t yet know. So far, no result from that either.
Neither site is expensive, but regardless of cost, if there are no results, it’s money wasted. If you’re a beginning author, you can’t afford to do that, waste your promotional dollars.
But I DID get data, so the experiment was worthwhile. It’s not that the companies cited are frauds, it’s simply that they’re new and don’t yet have that subscriber base that will result in book sales for authors who advertise with them. Maybe, a year or two from now, I might revisit the two sites, but probably not until then.
Meanwhile, I’ve still got two other promotions scheduled, both in January and both from slightly more expensive sites. Combat Wizard will be advertised on BookSends January 2nd and Darwin’s World will be advertised on Kindle Book Review on the 13th. I’ll report on how well those do next year.
Sales, and days: so far, best sales are on Thursday and Friday, other days are not so good. Early in the month and later in the month (payday effect?) are better, mid-month is the doldrums. For all you authors, watching for patterns help; don’t panic when your sales slump in mid-week and mid-month.
Being philosophical, it could be worse. I could be trying to live from my writing instead of pursuing it as a hobby that occasionally brings in a few bucks. Imagine the consternation I’d feel if I saw what some have reported after Kindle Unlimited cut into royalties, reducing $4000/month incomes to less than half!
No; if you’re a new writer, newly self-published as I am, don’t expect the lightning to strike. Keep writing; the absolute best way to attract that lightning is to write good books, and publish a lot of them. And if sales don’t come right away, the good news is that you’ve got time; the books are out there, still selling a few units every month, and they’ll be there next year, selling a few more to a new audience. Over time, it’s worthwhile.
Keep writing.

Advice, and Results

My sixth novel has been a struggle. No question, it’s been much harder than any of the others. Writing a couple of chapters a week has been more chore than fun.
But I took my own advice, what I’ve written about before in this blog: Write.
I kept writing. I worked at it as I’d work at any other job, as I worked at teaching. No matter how I felt back then, I knew I had to face 150 or so teenagers the next day. Middle school teenagers, at that, 13 or 14 years old. They’re merciless…you’d better be prepared or they’ll let you know what they think.
Not middle school students now, but I have a self-imposed deadline to meet. I have readers, and some of them let me know they’re waiting for the next book.
I expect much of myself too. I understand that I can do it, I just need to dig down and get the job done.
That’s what I’ve been doing, working my way chapter by chapter through the first half of the new book. As soon as I finished a chapter, I sent it off to my patient editor. We’d be swapping emails, discussing changes, rewriting when I had to. But…
Yesterday I turned the corner. The joy came back. I worked my way through what might have been writer’s block, finally got past that. I wrote two chapters yesterday, one this morning. I’ll write another this afternoon. That’s about 7500 words so far, plus I also edited two chapters for a friend, worked on edits for a chapter of mine, sent off a submission to a marketing firm.
One thing that’s changed: I’m spending less time on Facebook. I usually read news reports, comment often, but I’m resolved that there will be less of that in the coming year.

Sales, Marketing, and Whack-A-Mole

I’ve been trying to analyze the course of book sales since I began publishing almost 9 months ago. It’s very puzzling.
I’ve concluded that offering a book via Kindle Select is useful only in the first few months. After you have a few reviews, hopefully positive ones, your best bet as an author is to drop the KS option and publish through an aggregator such as D2D or Smashwords.
There was an initial burst of sales when I first listed a book. This probably came mostly from friends and family, augmented slightly by my Facebook community of friends. I saw an initial burst of sales after publishing each new book, and sales of the new book often stimulated collateral sales.
Meanwhile, I was attempting to learn all I could about this writing gig. Books were selling, the future looked promising. I got advice from lots of well meaning people who published experiences and comments on Goodreads as well as on their own blogs. Eventually I decided to try some of the advice, especially regarding marketing. If you’re a new author, you’ve probably considered doing the same thing.
Kindle Select offered a couple of marketing tools in exchange for publishing exclusively through Amazon. I tried the ‘free book’ approach and found it a dismal failure. I then tried their Countdown deal and that worked better, at least it did when I first tried it. But now that too isn’t working; new sales aren’t being generated, except for a few sales of the on-sale book at $0.99.
I’ve also tried marketing through Facebook; that was a failure. I made Mark Zuckerberg a tiny bit richer, myself poorer, and generated no sales. I don’t recommend that approach, the ‘Boost Your Post’ option they offer. Based on my experience, they make money, you don’t.
Meanwhile, I’ve kept writing and worked at learning to edit. I edit my own works, usually after a month to let everything fade in memory, plus I’m also editing for another writer, a fellow whose writing I admire. Editing’s a skill as demanding as writing; there’s a steep learning curve. But I applied my experiences, learned through writing at least half a million words, and improved the word choices of my first two books. I also bought a couple of professional covers. Note that the ‘improved’ versions are free to previous purchasers, but maybe the books will appeal to future readers.
My next effort is to market through ENT, one of the advertising email companies. They send out daily listings of selected books that are on sale. You send them information, they decide whether to include your book, and if they do they charge you $20 up front. I intended to schedule a Countdown Deal to coincide with their listing, but Amazon is balking. Because I recently revamped the book, including a $1 drop in price, they refuse to allow the Countdown Deal. My only option now is to go in the day before and drop the price to $0.99, which I will do.
But the bloom is now off that particular rose; Amazon is no better than any of the other providers, despite offering a couple of promotional deals if you publish exclusively with them.
Future strategy: continue to improve my writing, publish new books. Leave the new books on Amazon long enough to get a few reviews, then publish through an aggregator that distributes the book to various outlets (they take a percentage, but you get a much larger percentage than Amazon will pay if you publish exclusively with them; puzzling). Market exclusively from that point on by going through someone like ENT. I still don’t intend to offer the books free. I suspect the slump in sales is driven by that, so many freebies that there’s no incentive to pay for a book.
Not touched on here is the effect of Amazon’s KU program of ‘borrowing’ an unlimited number of books for one set price. That may at some point become the new sales behemoth, but as of now it isn’t much of a sales booster. The jury’s still out on this one.

Talent

I finally got Talent posted on Amazon for sale. Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/Talent-Paranormal-Thriller-Wizards-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00MJ5LBL6/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1407528707&sr=8-3&keywords=jack+l+knapp

So what does it take to publish a book?

YMMV; but I design a set of scenes in very rough outline, more paragraph than actual outline. It’s basically a list of things a character might do during the course of the novel. For example, in Hands (to be written; part of chap 1 is written in draft), the hero does something fairly innocent and by the end of that scene, he’s had his hands lopped off by the baron’s executioner. Much adventure follows, and there will be several characters introduced; each of them will bring his own concerns and ideas to the story. This creates threads I’ll weave together, and I’ll tie most of them up by the end of the book. Some may continue to later books for resolution. Shorty, a minor character, was introduced in the epilogue to Wizard at Work; but he’s a major supporting character by the time Talent ends. And the thread that brought Shorty to the final scene was planted early, reinforced by another thread later. This is typical of how I write.

I begin after the outline with a blank page, type in Chapter One, and format that. After that, I’m off and running. Begin with the outline notes, see where the characters take me.

I have a guy who’s a cross between an editor and a copy-editor. I also have a consultant who advises me on military infantry matters and conflict scenes, fights and such. As soon as the first chapter is done, I send it off to PC and Jake.

Both reply quickly. But I sometimes don’t wait; I begin writing the next chapter before I get the suggestions back. I frequently write two books simultaneously; no writers block there; if I draw a blank on one, I just switch and start writing the other.

The book is beginning to take shape. I’ll start a book compilation using the title. I’ll format the front matter, the title page, copyright, and dedication (if there is one), then set up the interactive Table of Contents. After that, chapter one (after I decide to edit, or not, following the suggestions of my editor/consultant.

Finally the last chapter is written, I can type ‘The End’; if it’s not finalized, I’ll put ‘Continued in Book 2).

After that, I add end content. I frequently add an excerpt to generate interest in one of the other books or series.

Then it’s time for Books by the Author (that’s always a thrill, seeing five novels and a short story on that list!) and About the Author.

Then comes the work. Despite having been edited, the prose isn’t done. It’s time to do one final flying edit, looking for what was missed, editing for flow and continuity, sometimes even for widow-and-orphan control, removing those incidences where three or four sentences didn’t fit on the previous page so they went onto a following page. That’s not good, because it generates a blank page when you use a Kindle.

One final check for format: I run my Word prose through Calibre and convert it to MOBI, Amazon’s format. Take that, run it through Amazon’s free previewer to see how it looks. If it needs changing, back to the Word document. Make the changes, back to Calibre (deleting previous attemps) and reformat. Recheck through Kindle Previewer. If it looks OK, go to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publisher. There are others, Smashwords (difficult, supposedly) and D2D (easy). Each has advantages and disadvantages, for another column sometime in future. But Amazon has two pages of information to fill out, including uploading a cover photo (also another post), the MOBI version, and rights/pricing information.

Then wait. Amazon will publish in a few hours, and voila, you’re a novelist!

Easy, right? It’s a heck of a lot of work, but I love it. Note all that editing I’ve done? I put the best product up for publishing that I can, and I have no problem charging $4.99 for books under 100 000 words and $5.99 for longer novels.

Not everyone agrees; but as Kindle Unlimited takes over, price becomes less of an issue. And I think my books are worth rereading several times.

You would-be writers, get your noses to the grindstone and your fingers on the keyboard!