Monday, 30 May 2011

Sales, publishing and salads

Yesterday sales of Replica went over 5,000 - not bad in seven weeks. And most commenters who have read both books think it's a worthy follow-up to Remix. I'm sure all authors worry over this; you spend a year writing a novel and really don't want readers saying, It was okay, but not as good as her last.

If anyone had told me a year ago I'd sell over 27,000 books in ten months I'd have been astonished, which makes me think about that stratospherically successful indie hero, Amanda Hocking. I've just watched her amusing first vlog, and one of the things she talks about is her decision to self-publish. She says, "I had to do something other than just sit here and wait." And doesn't the publishing industry know how to make us wait, whether it's for a response to submissions or publication after the contract's been signed. (Can anyone tell me why it takes eighteen months to get a book into print?)

And what, I hear you cry, is the significance of the photo? Not a lot, admittedly, but every now and then I like to post something random just because I can. A month ago I bought a matchstick garden; like a book of matches, but stick them in the earth and they grow into a salad. So I did that, and sure enough, leaves sprouted. Not many, and growing rather slowly; in fact, it looked like the sort of salad that would make an ideal accompaniment to Baldrick's very small casserole made from five beans. Then one day it seemed to be growing backwards. Two caterpillars had moved in. As they get bigger they eat more, and I'm beginning to wonder whether I'll have to buy in salad leaves to stop them dying of starvation. I've marked one with a ring on the photo. The other one is there, but you can't see him.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Who chooses what you read?

The answer to this question is not as obvious as it may seem.

For starters, people only get to choose a book from what is available, that they get to hear about. Impossible not to know that Kate McCann recently published a book about her missing daughter, for instance, given the huge publicity and controversy it attracted.

If you go to a bookshop, what catches your eye, the piles of books in the window or on a table near the entrance, or books spine out on the bottom shelf at the back of the shop? Most members of the public are unaware that the prominent books are not those the manager has selected on merit; publishers have paid a lot of money for particular books to be well displayed.

As a self-published writer, I love Amazon because it has given me the chance to prove there is a market for my novels. At the moment, the playing field is nearly level for indies and mainstream; but is that going to last? Amazon has its own version of the table at the front of the shop; its various recommendation pages, Kindle Bargains, Editors' Picks, New to Kindle etc., all of which have a dramatic effect on sales. And publishers are turning their attention (somewhat late) to the rich pickings to be made from ebooks - which, although they will never admit it, cost them nothing at point of sale.

I subscribe to emails from The Bookseller's FUTUReBOOK. In the last one, Philip Jones said:

"At a time when agents and Amazon are moving into publishing, the ability of traditional publishers to demonstrate digital success along with physical dominance will be important. One sign of progress will clearly be when the digital book charts begin to resemble the physical book charts–since it will show that publishers can still make and break bestsellers and that price is not the only determining factor in what sells in e."

Kick out all those presumptuous indies cluttering up the top 100 just because their books are cheap and popular, then. Publishers will decide what sells.

"...crucially publishers have learned and perfected many other strategies [besides price cuts] to push books into the bestseller charts (window displays, handselling/bookseller recommendation, reviews, serialisation, POS, dumpbins, the list goes on . . .), they simply have to also now learn the skills for the digital arena."

So, who is going to be choosing what you read on your Kindle in the future? You, or the Big Six Publishers?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Pinch of salt, meet writing rules

There is only one writing rule you should never, ever, break: Don't Bore The Reader.

Everything else is negotiable.

I was going to make that two unbreakable rules, the other being Get Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar Right, but then it occurred to me that the most successful indie writer ever, Amanda Hocking, admits her books are far from flawless in that regard.

So, on to rules you can break as necessary:
  • Show, Don't Tell. This is usually a good rule, but not invariably. Some less riveting bits of a novel are best summed up in a brief paragraph rather than shown happening. And I'm not a fan of describing the minutiae of facial expressions in order to avoid 'telling' when we are all so good at reading people's faces. I favour, 'The Professor came in, looking furtive and agitated' over, 'The Professor came in, his brow furrowed, his colour high, glancing over his shoulder as if checking he could not be overheard.'

  • Avoid Adverbs. Well, okay, it's certainly possible to overdo them, but I've been on writing sites where you got criticized if you used any at all. I don't see why they should be pariahs - adverbs are just one tool in the writer's toolbox.

  • Stick To Single POV. There are occasions when this is a good idea. Mary Renault in Fire From Heaven has an excellent scene entirely in Demosthenes' POV, where he mistakes a young Alexander the Great for a slave boy. The reader enjoys seeing through his eyes while knowing his mistake. In other parts of the book she uses multiple POVs, and why not? It works.

  • Don't Start A Book With Dialogue. Why ever not? Two out of my four books start with dialogue; my favourite being the line suggested as a good opener for Trav Zander by Alan Hutcheson, "I wish to acquire a dragon."

  • Kill Your Darlings. Weird, this one; we are advised to delete any passages of our writing we think particularly good. Um...why? If I truly trusted my own judgment so little, then how would I know I'd got anything right at all?
Have I missed any others?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Desperate writers with cunning plans...

Unpublished authors are a pretty desperate lot. This became clear to me in the later stages of Authonomy, Harper Collins' site for writers, where some members would do anything, it seemed, to scrabble their way to the Desk and win a review by an HC editor. Swap backing, creating sock puppets, grovelling flattery, backing hundreds of books a day, and spamming the entire site all became common. It was a refreshing change to move on to Amazon, where the stakes are real and paying customers don't have an axe to grind; if they like the look of your book they will buy it, simple as that.

So I do a bit of eye-rolling when I see people attempting to game the system. It makes them look sad, and it doesn't work except in the very short term. Today on Kindleboards, a writer started a thread offering to buy the books of the first twenty posters, as long as they bought her book in return. She's had plenty of takers, all, in Mark Twain's phrase, trying to make a precarious living by taking in each other's washing.

Another author a couple of months ago offered to repay the cost of her ebook, if buyers emailed her with proof of purchase, thus effectively buying her own book in an attempt to get it high in the charts (it's now around the 33,000 mark).

And among the tags on my books I've found other writers' names or book titles, presumably put there in the hope of gaining exposure. Hey ho. Have these people no shame?*

*Er, no, they don't, in case you are in any doubt about the answer to my rhetorical question.

Monday, 2 May 2011

DailyCheapReads UK Indie Spotlight and other good news

This is going to be a cheerful post - lots of good stuff happening.

But first I want to mention DailyCheapReads UK, a great site for Kindle owners that features bargain ebooks including mine, nothing more than £6 and many for much less. It's hugely successful in America, and I'm sure the UK version will do equally well, as it's brilliant for finding good, affordable books. The two sparky women whose brainchild it is explain their policy here. Do check it out.

In the last week I've had several nice things happen. Remix's Kindle sales went over the 20,000 mark, and Replica sold its first 1,000. Replica has been chosen by the lovely kuffers at KUF (Kindle Users' Forum) as their May book of the month (or is it June? Anyway, they are reading it in May). I've signed a contract with Könyvmolyképző Kiadó for Hungarian editions of Remix, hardback, paperback and ebooks in 2012. I can't wait to see what the cover looks like.

And Replica has just popped into the UK Kindle top 100...