Is Everyone an Author Now?

This will likely come off as whining, but I suspect it’s going to be a bit cathartic for me to get it written out and move on. So here goes.

I’m more obsessed with my Amazon rank than I should be. I check how my book is doing pretty much every day, both the paperback and the Kindle versions, and since the sale I put up last month, it’s pretty much dropping like a rock. I have seven reviews–all of them quite good, 4 and 5 stars. The people who have read my book appear to enjoy it. Which I suppose I hoped would turn into more sales, more reviews and more happy people. Sort of organically, like a flower getting sunshine and water.

But that’s not the case. 

Partly that’s my fault. Other than having a Facebook page and showering people with tweets to go “buy my book” I’m not really investing in marketing. And so my Facebook page goes into the morass of author pages and my tweets get swept off the page by millions of similar tweets. Seriously. Millions.

Partly this is because the notion of independent publishing has simply exploded. The ranking of my paperback for my book sits in the 3 million range on Amazon, and the Kindle version near 700,000. I have no idea where the basement is, quite frankly, but the market has simply been flooded with books and authors to the point where I have no idea how readers are actually finding things to read. 

So I asked one of my friends who is also an independent author. She gave me some advice to join forums on Goodreads and engage with the community. I do that already on NeoGAF and that’s been more successful for me than anything else, so I’m giving it a shot. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places on Goodreads, but it appears to be filled with authors talking with each other, friending each other on Facebook, following each other on Twitter. It feels like gaming the system a bit, honestly, or preaching to the choir. 

The other path for marketing is to actually pry open my wallet and spend some money on advertising. I’ve been extremely wary about this, because I have no idea how successful this is. I see ads pop up on my browser all the time and I’m annoyed by them, as they slow down the loading process. I can’t remember the last time I clicked on an ad. 

Which leads me back to the ultimate question: where do readers go to find good books and, more specifically, my book? I dare you to do a Google search on that question, because you’ll get sites that boast “the 7 things you must do” or “the 20 ways to succeed as an independent author” or “the 51 things to do to sell your book”, etc. Apparently the independent publishing world has grown so large that it has spawned a whole set of other activities focused on assisting those authors. 

One of the other suggestions is “write more books.” Apparently by having more books out there you’re somehow proving that the first one wasn’t a fluke or something. Interesting concept. The truth of the matter is the quality of the first book will never change no matter how many other books I write. Are readers wary of picking up a book by someone who’s only written one book? But yes, I’m writing more books. And I’m going to do what I did with the first one.

  1. Take my time in the writing process. I’m not just slapping words together and throwing it up on Amazon. And yes, there are indies who are doing that and it’s likely one of the reasons people steer clear of all indies.
  2. Engage with a local community group to review and provide feedback (i.e., beta readers).
  3. Edit, re-write, edit, re-write, edit, re-write… etc.
  4. At some point, stop the editing and re-writing process because you could do it forever.
  5. Go through all the publishing hullabaloo.

Those five steps take time, if you’re serious about producing a quality piece of literature. And for someone who has a full time job and a family, the amount of time to do step 1 is pretty small. It’s not like book 2 will be out in 2014 (hopefully 2015).

The other thing I plan to do is get to my local library and local independent bookstores and do what I can to promote my existing book. I’m hoping word of mouth directly face-to-face with people will drive more attention and focus than having those same people see my tweet go flinging off the page. There’s no doubt that the Internet is good for a lot of things, but perhaps selling someone on taking a gamble with an independent author isn’t one of them. Time to get out there and meet my readers face-to-face. 


Book Wars

By now anyone either writing or reading books has heard about the contract talks between Amazon and Hachette. And just about everyone has taken sides, weighing in with opinions measured as fact and hurling various levels of insults at the other side. 

So, far be it from me to go without sharing my opinion.

First off, a tangent. I’m a gamer. I have or have had a Gamecube, Wii, PS2, PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One and more than 60 games on Steam (PC). I’ll likely pick up a PS4 at some point. I’m a frequent poster on NeoGAF, a forum where people spend a lot of time talking about games (and other things). One of the things gamers like to do is argue about which platform is better. These threads typically escalate into the same kind of behavior we’re seeing now in the Amazon/Hachette situation.

Therefore, I’m taking Console Wars and changing it to Book Wars.

And my opinion on the matter really boils down to my opinion on the consoles. Essentially, if you’ve developed a great game I want to play, I’m going to pick up the console it’s available on and play it there. I don’t care about anyone else’s opinion of “which console is ‘better'” or the number of frames per second a game can be played at. Is it a good game? Then I’ll play it.

For books this boils down to the same thing. Have you written a good book? I’ll read it. I don’t care about the cover (I know a lot of people do, but the cover doesn’t change the words inside). I don’t care whether it’s been professionally edited. If an indie author hasn’t taken the care to get feedback and correct basic writing problems, then it’s not a good book. And therefore I’ll steer away. On the other hand, there are plenty of books that have gone through the whole shebang and I’ve wondered: did anyone edit this? 

Here are a couple of things I do consider. Number one, publishers cannot possibly publish all the good books that have been written. There are very good books in slush piles. It’s simply not possible to pick up every single author who has written a good book, spend real money on them, and send it out to market & sell. The publishers would go out of business. So Amazon’s digital platform provides a fantastic opportunity for authors to make their work available. I applaud them for it. I appreciate the opportunity it has given me. 

Number two, the price of a Kindle book is going to be a battleground. I can get a good indie book for anywhere between $1 and $6. Most of the Hachette Kindle books on my wish list are $10 and up. I firmly believe that Hachette is losing money by not shifting their Kindle prices down. But that’s Hachette’s problem to deal with, not Amazon’s. If Hachette wants to leave money on the table, then by all means the indies (me included) will be happy to scoop it up. 

There are hundreds of thousands of good books available to be read, with more coming every day. The number of books with four star ratings and up on various sites is simply beyond anyone’s ability to read in a lifetime. Now, if you really really want that new Brandon Sanderson book, then you’re gonna pay that $10+ for it. But if you’re just looking for something amazing to read, then you may decide “I can pick up these three indie books for the price of one Brandon Sanderson book.”

The world of publishing is changing. It’s also changing in games, where indies produce some fantastic titles and sell them for less than $10. What it comes down to is the market. This is where the market will decide the pricing structure. What price will be the market bear for Kindle books? From a business standpoint, neither Amazon nor Hachette should be trying to set that price. The market will set it… and then we can go back to fighting about whether iOS or Android is the better phone.

Graduation Speeches: “Dream Big. Sweat Hard.”

Last weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to Albany, NY to see my niece graduate from high school. Congrats again, Aly! 

As with every graduation since the dawn of time, the agenda is pretty well set. The graduates walk in to a standing O, the principal welcomes everyone, then they rattle off three or four speeches, then the long walk of–in this case, 342–students to receive their diploma, then the wrap-up and exit. 

Most folks will dread the inevitable time spent listening to the speeches and watching the other–in this case, 341–students walk up for their diploma.

But graduation speeches can actually be quite inspiring. Underneath all of the quotes from famous people and cliches, there’s a fundamentally uplifting message being delivered. And when you think about it, in thousands of towns across the US over the past month, that same message was being delivered. And while many will forget that message, or come to realize it only through facing challenges and grabbing opportunities over time, one day they will all hopefully sit at a graduation and understand what that message means. 

What’s the message? It boils down to this: “Dream Big. Sweat Hard.”

That’s not exactly Mark Twain, I know. And by the way, based on what I heard of the speeches, I envision Twain sitting on his front porch all day, reeling off memorable quotes to a small bespectacled man scratching Twain’s words onto parchment. The graduates no doubt see the ceremony as the end of something momentous, and in truth it is. Graduating high school is a turnkey moment, and so the graduates may be forgiven if their focus tends toward the past, their last four years together, rather than on a future where many of them will only hear from each other through Facebook or Twitter. There’s quite a bit of fear involved in graduating high school, because there’s quite a bit unknown. 

And so listening to people stand up and sprout inspirational sayings is likely not the first thing on their minds. 

Yet there I was, listening and admiring the speeches. In fact, being inspired by them. Thirty years beyond high school at this point, and yet so much of what was meant to inspire the graduates was motivating me instead. 

When it comes to writing, I have worked a great deal on my craft. Ahvarra took me a long time to write, a long time to edit, a long time to receive and incorporate feedback. But my dream, even as far back as high school, was to be a published author. To fascinate and entertain people with characters and worlds that were born in my imagination. But the road to fulfilling a dream is full of challenges, potholes, twists and turns, dead ends and U-turns. 

But in the end, I always thought “Dream Big.” And what I heard last weekend, the “sweat hard” part, really hit home. Because making your dreams come true shouldn’t be easy. The best dreams are the most difficult to achieve, because the reward is the greater for having achieved them.