Friday, March 16, 2018

52- Keeping a Series Fresh

Listen to the companion podcast episode

D2D author pages

Audible author pages

What does it take to keep a long-running series fresh? How do you keep readers from losing interest after a few books?

As far as series go, my first thought was the Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. It's kept me hooked for more than twenty years. I'm trying to analyze what it is that has kept me coming back. Off the top of my head:

The plot is the main thing. What's the new mystery Pendergast will solve? How will he do it? What new places will I visit, what new things will I learn, what legends/mysteries/conspiracies will I learn about? And I get more out of it because I actually care about the cast of characters.

I'm fascinated by the protagonist, and the authors have done a good job of never revealing too much about him, his history, his family of origin... Thus, there are always new revelations about him along the way, new layers of the onion to peel back. Pendergast himself is like a mystery that's been slowly unraveling over the decades.

I never worry that the protag will die (even though I feel the same reading a stand-alone) but the authors aren't above offing an important secondary character along the way, even one who has played an important role in many previous stories.

The authors do a good job of carrying subplots from book to book, or across several books, making sure the important characters change as a result of previous books, that their personal lives move forward...

It's fun to see a familiar face from several books back pop up again and play an important role.

The authors also occasionally go back and pluck little bits out of previous books and make them important to the current story.

I will say that I've lost interest in lengthy series that tell what amounts to a single story stretched out over several volumes. I guess it's the Robert Jordan/George RR Martin effect. With fantasy, I currently prefer authors like Mark Lawrence, who write trilogies and actually put out books on a regular basis.

Those are my thoughts on keeping a series fresh. What are yours?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

51- Book Covers

Listen to the companion podcast episode.


Audible audiobook borrowing program

Great on Kindle program
The Terry Goodkind book cover controversy.

About Book Covers:

The cover is a marketing tool.

It serves to:
-Entice the readers.
-Convey the genre.
-Convey the general tone of the book.
-Bring to mind the works of other favorite authors/books in the genre.

The cover:
-Serves a similar purpose as a movie poster.
-Is also is a bit like a movie trailer. (Sometimes there are elements in the trailer that aren't in the movie.)

Authors and Book Covers:
-Authors are usually bad at cover design.
-Authors are often more concerned with "reflecting the contents of the book" than marketing to readers in the genre.
-Authors often want too many elements included in the cover.
-Authors tend to worry too much about minor differences in cover elements and the descriptions/settings/scenes in a book.

Trad pub authors:
-Ultimately, the publisher makes the decision.
-Sometimes they accept suggestions from the author. Usually they listen then immediately forget.
-Typically, the author is contractually entitled to a consult about the cover, but the publisher still makes its own decision.
-On rare occasion, an author has been able to suggest a particular artist, design, or complete cover. I know of one instance in which the author made his own cover because the publisher dropped the ball.  In another instance, an author submitted a cover to the publisher and they hired someone to make something almost exactly like it.

The Indie Paradox ("Help! I don't have an art department!") 

-An indie must make her/his own decision about the cover.
-One option is to hire the same cover designer that other successful indies in your genre uses
-Another option is  to emulate the cover designs of successful indies in your genre.
-Don't dream up a design and then search Amazon for a cover that looks like your idea as a way of rationalizing it. Make sure the book is selling and the cover appears to be a part of it.
-Really study the genre. Know what designs would place you in the middle.
-Sometimes an author's name is enough to sell the book in spite of the cover.
-Browse cover design websites. Find pros whom you can afford.
-Just because someone is a graphic designer doesn't mean (s)he knows what makes a book sell. Help them. Guide them.
-Don't be afraid to experiment. Try different designs.
-Test designs through Facebook ads.
-Try not to end up on Lousy Book Covers :)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Review- Red Sister by Mark Lawrence'm a huge fan of Mark Lawrence, and Red Sister is my favorite of his books so far! It tells the story of Nona Reeve (eventually Nona Grey), a girl saved at the eleventh hour from execution. Nona is
taken to the Convent of Sweet Mercy, where girls are trained to be killers. That's right: warrior nuns, espionage nuns, poisoner nuns, and nuns who command elements of the supernatural. The story is set on a planet orbiting a dying sun, almost completely encrusted in ice save a narrow band between the ice walls where the remnants of humankind survive.

The book invites inevitable comparisons to the Kingkiller Chronicle or the Harry Potter series for its "school" setting, but Lawrence successfully puts his own mark on the familiar trope. The result is a book that's accessible to mature YA readers but wholly satisfying to an adult audience. There is so much I loved about this book: the characters, the setting, the hand-to-hand combat, the intrigue, mystery, betrayal, and surprising twists. The story comes to a satisfying resolution of the main arc, but leaves the reader eager for the next in the series. Oh, and the epilogue made my head spin.

Though nowhere near as grimdark as Lawrence's Broken Empire series, the book is dark in tone, with a few mature elements. There's some gritty violence, particularly graphic in the final showdown. There's also one scene of animal abuse (by a villain) which serves the story, but might be upsetting for some. If you fall into that category, go ahead and give this terrific book a chance, and when you see the scene coming (you'll know what's about to happen) just assume the worst and skip a few pages.

Red Sister is the beginning of a fantastic new series. I can't wait for book two, and am crossing my fingers for a television series!

Friday, February 9, 2018

50- Writing Income Part 1

Listen to the companion podcast episode


Kobo Writing Life coop for NetGalley

Audible releasing audiobook first

Authors still getting rank-stripped

Stupid Author Tricks:

-Tit for tat invitations to strangers

-Asking the distributor why your book isn't selling

-Not understanding how royalties work

Writing Income-Trad Pub:

Kameron Hurley's income report

-Very low income from trad-pub despite being well regarded
-Largest income from Patreon. Doing it in a way that requires lots of work. Could work smarter.
-Essentially making no money from indie. Doing it wrong and doesn't really care.
-Still has a day job due to insurance needs.

Jim Hines' income report

-Decent midlist income from tradpub sales
-Big dropoff from previous year, mostly due to working on books sold the previous year.
-Very little income from indie publishing

Tradpub is very difficult if you're not a top-tier bestsellere.

Friday, January 26, 2018

49 Author Earnings Report


Non-Amazon retailers making changes

WalMart/Kobo team-up

Apple investing more into ebook sales 

Nook making changes, improving royalty rates for high-priced books

Google Play adding audiobooks

Author Earnings Report

View it here


Last three quarters of 2017:
Online ebook sales: $1.3 billion
Online audiobook sales: $495 million
Online print sales:  $3.1 billion*

*Print figures are dramatically skewed by textbook sales, which tend to be priced in the hundreds of dollars and are required purchases for students.
*When nonfiction is removed, 70% of adult fiction sales are ebook or audiobook.

By genre:
90% of romance purchases are ebooks
75% of SciFi are ebook and audio

By month:
Audiobook sales showed little variation
Ebooks also showed little variation, with May and June being the lowest
Print sales were volatile. May-July was the lowest. High peak in August. Declining through November (though still higher than May-July) and rising again in December.

Sales breakdown:
Big 5: 25% of sales and 43% of dollars
Indie or indie press: 35.9% of sales and 25.3% of dollars
Amazon imprints: 9.8% of sales and 5.1% of dollars

Sales Growth:
Trade publishers grew by 1.1%
Indies grew by 2.1%

Ebook sales by genre (in millions):
Literature and Fiction 70
Romance 50
Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense 35
SciFi and Fantasy 19
Teen and Young Adult 7
*In terms of dollar per unit sold, Romance is well below the other categories.

Sales by price point:
$3.00-$3.99 is almost identical to $0- $0.99
$2.00-$2.99 next, closely followed by $4.00-$4.99
$9.00-$9.99 outsells the other categories

Top-selling ebook authors:
7 of the top 100 were indies
50 of the top 250 were indies
284 of the top 1,000 were indies
102 of the top 1,000 were published by Amazon imprints

*Many of the top-selling indies are new names. Many previous top-sellers aren't hitting the list.

The ebook market and audiobook market remain strong, but highly competitive.
There is still plenty of room for new authors to succeed and established authors to continue earning a solid income.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

48- The State of Indie Publishing

Listen to the podcast episode

As the year winds to a close I polled a variety of indie authors to get their thoughts on the current
state of indie publishing from their perspective. I got feedback from a wide range of authors, from those who are just starting out all the way up to authors earning six and even seven figures. Here are some quotes and common themes:

-KDP 50 % royalty?

-Concern about obvious book stuffers and other scammers sucking up a large part of the KU pool and clogging the bestseller charts in certain genres.

-Concern about Amazon's tendency to unjustly punish legitimate authors for suspected TOS violations while turning a blind eye to obvious scammers.

-Some authors feel that permafree first book in series isn't as effective as it once was. Others still find them effective, but usually find it necessary to advertise those free books on a regular basis.

-Discovery continues to be a challenge. Being productive is no longer enough.

-With Amazon deleting reviews and Facebook suppressing so many posts, how effective are street teams these days?

-Cross-promotion is still effective. Work together with other authors. Multi-author boxed sets are great!

-Posts in Facebook groups seem to get better visibility than posts on author pages.

-The quality of the product being put out by some of the top indies is virtually indistinguishable from that of top publishing houses.

-Urban Fantasy is becoming a tough, tough nut to crack.

-There's a glut of books in the romance genre. Lots of authors trying their hands, lots of miscategorized books, lots of stuffed books and scam boxed sets.

-Miscategorization in general is a concern. Authors are putting books in categories where they don't belong just to try and get some visibility.

-Marketing is essential, but in some ways more challenging than ever. Every time something works, lots of other authors copy the technique and it soon becomes ineffective.

-Facebook Ads are no longer of much value. AMS ads are better. Not great, but better.

-Barriers to print sales make it difficult for indies to do well in that format.

-For authors with a lot of titles, it's important to regularly promote back-list titles. The books are "old" to you, but to a reader who has never read them, they are "new" books.

-Blog tours can be fun but aren't particularly effective for selling books.

-Bookbub is getting harder and harder to get into and the results have diminished, but it's still worthwhile. Keep trying to get one!

"It seems to me that indie fantasy is stronger than ever. Great new talents are on the rise and the veteran indies continue to put out wonderful material. With new and increasingly better resources, it's getting more difficult to tell the difference between indie and traditional publishing as it pertains to quality."

"I'm rowing twice as hard to go half the distance in the thriller genre." 

" I think authors who got in 2012-2014 and established a core readership with a good-selling series are still doing well. However, I think it's harder to build a new series if it's a different genre than what you're already known for."

"Those who have paid attention, and have embraced marketing and other realities of the market have done far better than those who just did the same thing over and over. For example, KU has become virtually mandatory for space opera or mil sci fi. There are times when literally every book, or 95 books, of the top 100 are in KU. Without KU, you simply can't rank unless it's a book with a movie or a real classic getting a resurgence."

"Main obstacle as I see it is discoverability. I have yet to draw any real attention to my works."

"There seem to be quite a few authors out there making a good living off of self publishing, but it is hard to stand out among the huge amount of other books out there."

"Too many indie authors think they’re competing with other indie authors, so instead of networking and cross-promoting, it’s a shouting contest."

"It doesn't help that many people still consider independently published works to be sub-standard."

 "My single biggest gripe is with physical books. There is still a huge barrier to entry, there, and it's stacked against the smallest players."
"There are things I still haven't worked out. My mailing list has 1 (yes, one) person on it, and that took a while. I've only been at this fiction publishing lark for 3 months, so I'm not too worried, right now."

"My one novel is making enough to buy coffee now and again. I expect when I keep putting out books I can buy more coffee. Then when I have more coffee I will be able to write more books. Eventually, I will buy enough coffee that I will own the coffee shop. I'm not SURE if it works that way, but that's what my hat told me last Thursday."