Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

It’s been two years since I’ve published a brand new book.  (I kind of had the first line from “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies in my head when I started this post.  Don’t remember it?  Take a second: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7vp28mGD7g).  For 1.5 years of that time, I spent most of it as I think authors hit by “writer’s block” do.  Making excuses but no progress.  (Okay, at this point I had to shut the song off, ’cause there was no way to write this with all that yapping going on).  Finally, like a cruise ship at sea, I started to turn my perspective around.  I started to write again.  Here are two things I learned from that downtime, and that will hopefully help you get through your own when it comes (because it will come):

MAKE PROGRESS AT ALL COSTS

No, General Eisehhower, do not take this too seriously.  Don’t alienate a loving spouse.  Don’t ignore your kid’s functions.  Don’t lock yourself in a room for three months with nothing than a generator and a computer (you need Vitamin D, for Pete’s sake–another aside, who the hell was Pete and why are we thinking about his sake?)  What I mean is do not let excuses get in the way of your writing.  And, what I mean by making progress at all costs is the following.  Keep pushing your next manuscript forward.  Even if you can only muster 100 words a day, keep moving forward.  Stasis is our enemy, as authors.  Set up a Google Drive account and put the text of your next book into a file on your Drive.  Why?  This eliminates the excuse that your book is on a home computer, and you’re on a train commuting to work.  You can open your Google Drive anywhere you can get connected, on any device.  That means you can basically write anytime you want, from anywhere.  It gives a new meaning to the phrase, “Toilet Book,” doesn’t it?  (I feel like putting this into citation format: See Seinfeld, “Toilet Book” episodehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NygOFsExGMU).

All right, you’ve agreed to set aside excuses and to push forward at all costs, yeah?  Good.  Now, what was the second part of my epiphany?

TO BE AN AUTHOR, YOU WILL WORK YOUR ASS OFF

I need you to notice something that is going to make you a bit sad.  I didn’t title this next section, “To be a Successful Author…”  You know why?  Because, even if you work your ass off it doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to be successful.  But, I can guarantee you that you won’t be an author, or successful, if you don’t do it.  What do I mean by “working one’s ass off?”  I say the following with a bit of pride, particularly for all of us authors who are still balancing the woes of a “regular” job and writing.  (To those authors that aren’t slaves to the grind of someone else’s dream, and who get to write 100% of their time, I salute you with a kiss blown from a hand that’s holding up a middle finger–hopefully those authors get the love and joking sarcasm that comes from this gesture).  It means waking up before the rest of the world is awake and writing down an idea that couldn’t stand being pent up in your head.  It means holding your smartphone over the side of the bed so that the light of the screen doesn’t wake your snoring spouse while you make edits to your book.  It means that instead of watching the next episode of CBS’s hit de jour, you’re reading books in your genre to perfect your craft.  It means that you will work your ass off, without knowing whether your book will sell, whether a publisher will pick it up, or even if people will like it.  Talk about a leap of faith, huh?

YOU CAN DO IT

(I don’t think I need to reference that one for you, right?)

It’s true, you can do it.  You just need to start.  You need to run the first block, and everyday thereafter take it one block, or even one step further.  I know hundreds of authors that are doing this on a daily basis—and they would all tell you they’re successful, in one way or another.

 

According to this article, Amazon is starting to raise prices on certain types of books.  Why?  Because it can–no competition.  

Read up and let me know what you think: http://www.cnbc.com/id/100866228

You got to sit at the big boys’/girls’ table–and then they realized you were sitting there.  Huh?  December 2012, Amazon announced KDP Select.  Tons of us jumped in, many of us made some really good money from it. 

That’s when things started to change.

Publishers started to complain.  Traditionally published authors joined in the cacophony.  Why?  Indie authors were shooting up the charts and that was taking money out of the pockets of people/companies with big money in the game.  That’s when downloads, which initially counted on a 1:1 ratio for your sales coming out of free, started to slip.  The ratio fell to the point where it is now.  Where is it now?  If you don’t get into the top 100 in free, might as well not do it.

If you sense a bit of an edge from me on the issue, you’re insightful.  No one expected the gravy train to last forever, but it was remarkable to see how quickly Amazon adjusted against indie authors to mollify the traditionally published world.  Now, Amazon takes away likes and tags from books.  Ask yourself this question.  Who did the best job getting likes and tags?

IT SURE WASN’T TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED AUTHORS

So, free is largely dead.  Now, Amazon takes likes and tags away which hurts indie authors in a plethora of ways.  Is it a death knell to indie authors?  Certainly not, but it’s another data point in a trend.

And that trend is that not much has changed.

An important concept in the law, where I spend most of my time and make most of my money, is “standing.”  I ask myself, has the standing of indie authors changed in the last two years?  My honest answer is not really.  Will it change?  If it hasn’t changed yet, what will be the catalyst for that happening?

Do you really think they’ll leave the door unlocked and let indies sit at the dinner table again?   How full is your glass? :)

I started the AmazonLikes hashtag in August of 2011 out of a pretty simple observation.  There are hundreds of thousands of authors that have published their books on Amazon.  There are thousands of authors that I have followed or have followed me on Twitter.  Yet, I consistently see people struggling to get any “likes” on their book(s).

You may first ask, why does it even matter?

Good question.  It matters because there are hundreds of thousands of ebooks on Amazon.  Millions of paperbacks.  How do you sort through big lists when you have to?  Easily identifiable markers.  So, on Amazon, what are those markers?  For a book, it’s the cover image first, then the review ranking, then the number of “likes.”  To answer your question then, if the number of likes is the third most important thing people use in considering whether to consider your book further, should you ignore that?  To analogize that to something, such as sports, do you think a good pitcher in baseball will focus on their first two types of pitches, but ignore their third and fourth?  Nope.  Not a good one, at least.

So, if you’ve bought into the importance of the number of “likes” on your book’s page, then read on.  If you’re still a skeptic, best of luck to you.

With that framework in mind, I set about to figure out a way to increase likes on books.  There were already groups in Goodreads and elsewhere that focused on the venture.  I participated in those groups, but I found a couple things out.  First, people don’t reciprocate as well as they should.  Second, the groups were rather small in nature (i.e. 20-40 authors) so the number of likes that could be obtained was limited.  Sitting at a small desk at a hotel room, and talking to an awesome author named D.A. Graystone (check out his book Two Graves), I came up with the idea for #AmazonLikes.  

For people unfamiliar with it, here’s how it works.  You create a tweet that includes your book’s title, the link to it on Amazon, and the hashtag #AmazonLikes.  That’s it.  You tweet it.  Because you have included the hashtag #AmazonLikes, the post immediately goes into the hashtag stream.  This means that if you perform a search for “#AmazonLikes” on Twitter, your tweet as well as hundreds of others from authors doing the same thing pop up.

Getting it now? :)

What #AmazonLikes has created then, is a stream of authors tweeting their book’s link to each other.  People that participate can simply click on those links, like the books, and go to the next one.  If we do something SIMPLE, like going into the stream and liking 1-3 books a day, the results can be tremendous.

That’s where you come in!

Tweet your book’s link to #AmazonLikes.  You don’t have to ask someone twice to do something beneficial to them.  So, what I’ll ask twice is for you to get into that stream and help other indie authors out.  Without each other, we aren’t much.  Together, as we’ve seen, we’re a force to be reckoned with!

So, I just read this article by Derek Haines, which is edgy and maybe a bit over the top.  But, a lot of it resonates with me at the same time. Specifically:

(1) Reduction of the value of our free downloads.  This 100% happened.

(2) The Amazon review purge.  This 100% happened.

(3) Changing of algorithms to reduce the success of indie books in comparison to big six books, including Amazon’s new imprint (Thomas and Mercer).  Remains to be seen.

Read the article by Derek Haines, entitled “Self Published Authors Get Ready, You’re Being Dumped” http://www.derekhaines.ch/vandal/2012/11/self-published-authors-get-ready-youre-being-dumped/

Ask yourself this at the same time.  Have the price of indie books, including the fact that we are flexible enough to offer our books for free, forever changed what consumers are willing to pay for books?  Stated otherwise, will consumers still pay $12.99 for an ebook, which is the thievery rate the big six charge?  It would be nice to know that, at a minimum, we changed that.

A couple quick updates, thoughts, and possible points of clarification.  First, Amazon hasn’t taken the Change.org petition seriously yet.  Maybe I don’t blame them.  What impact could 210 signing indie authors have?  That’s why we’re pushing for 1,000.  And, if that doesn’t get their attention, then we’ll get 2,000.  We will push until they will dialogue with us, which is all we have requested.  Sign it here today, just take a second and you’re in good company: http://www.change.org/petitions/amazon-stop-arbitrarily-removing-customer-reviews-from-indie-author-books

Next.  I am starting to get information that Amazon is adding another dimension to pulling reviews.  It is not set forth in any of their guidelines, but it could be called associated review pulling.  What does association mean?  Anyone in your family.  Friends.  People you work with.  Reviews from all of these types of people have been removed and/or blocked according to various people.  They are being told it is because they have a “financial interest” in your book, but that’s obviously a load of crap.  That’s just the catchall phrase they’re using to justify their actions.  So, in the future, it may not be possible to have anyone you know write you a review.  Just awesome, huh?  Let’s make it harder for indie authors.

Finally, just got done reading an interesting blog post on the review issue.  It includes another description of what that blogger calls “linked” removal of reviews.  It is called “Update on Amazon’s Disappearing Reviews: Konrath Continues Bold, Pro-Lies Stance; Amazon’s Policies Clarified” by Ed Robertson:  http://www.edwardwrobertson.com/2012/11/update-on-amazons-disappearing-reviews.html

This all stinks of so many other situation where if there was just transparency, there would be no speculation, rumor, and angst.  Amazon could easily step up and give some clarity/description on this whole issue.  In fact, that’s all most people are asking for.

 

QUICK TIP #5CATEGORIZING YOUR BOOK

I’ve been organizing promotional events for a while now, and when sorting through authors’ books to invite or consider inviting, a recurring theme pops up.  I can’t tell what the heck category the books fall into.  To underscore this point, and to affirm that I’m not just some dolt that can’t figure out a book’s category, imagine you walk into a bookstore (you remember what those were like, right?) and the shelves are filled with books.  But, to your dismay, none of the shelves tell you what kind of books you’re looking at.

Now, imagine that, but on a website with millions of products, and hundreds of thousands of books!  Starting to understand the problem now?

My suggestions.  First, don’t hide the ball with readers.  Maybe you’re afraid that if you categorize your book, some readers won’t like your category and won’t buy your book.  Guess what?  That’s a good thing. You want some thriller junkie reading your romance and leaving it a bad review?  Or, you want some 70-year old devotee to steamy romance novels picking up your zombie apocalypse novel by accident?  Nope.

So, put the genre in the title like I’ve done, or place it prominently in your Amazon description.  Remember, the easier you make it for potential readers, the more sales you’re likely to get!

Really interesting article here on the purchase of reviews–primarily positive reviews.  By David Streitfeld of the New York Times:

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/best-book-reviews-money-buy-131408538.html?page=1

I’ll be upfront–this blog post is as much for me as it is for you.  Catharsis. 

My first book, Enemy in Blue, has been selling wonderfully.  That means one of my goals in writing the book is starting to be fulfilled.  Namely, people are reading a story about a difficult and challenging subject.  What does that mean?  It means that some people are getting REALLY pissed off.

Okay, no worries.  I knew that would happen and am glad it has.  How else can you draw attention to a controversial subject?

That said, it still stings to get bad reviews.  I believe I had the honor of a recent reviewer saying my book would destroy Kindles because readers would barf all over them. Excellent.

With Enemy in Blue out a little over a year now, and having gotten a few bad reviews, I’m going to do this for you, and for me–okay?

There is No Final Answer in this Blog Post

Let me be upfront about one more thing.  I don’t have the final answer regarding how to handle bad reviews.  This is almost as much about me asking the question as me answering the question.  Further, this is a very emotional analysis.  You can’t really rationalize bad reviews, especially the really bad ones.  So, understand off the bat that you may very well deal with bad reviews differently.  Just like we all deal with emotions differently.  That’s fine.  In fact, it’s good.

Don’t Kid Yourself, Bad Reviews are Inevitable

I’ve heard this a few times.  “It’s not going to happen to me.”  Hold on while I choke back a laugh.  If you’re selling books, even if you’re selling the best book ever written, you’re going to get bad reviews.  Imagine if you went into a movie theater after an award-winning movie like The English Patient played.  You think everyone in that theater would give it 5 or even 4 stars?  That movie bored me out of my mind.  Bottom line, everyone is going to have a different perspective.

Add to the whole perspective issue the fact that with our books, people sometimes buy our genres when they don’t really like our genres.  For instance, if you wrote a romance and a person that typically reads and enjoys thrillers picks up your book, guess what, you’re behind the eight ball to start. The final exacerbating factor to getting bad reviews? Complete anonymity.  People can hide behind nondescript profile names on Amazon and leave nasty reviews.  Without the buffer of face-to-face interaction, there’s nothing stopping a bad reviewer from letting loose.

In short, if you’re selling more than a book a month, you are likely to get some bad reviews.  So, what to do with them?

Don’t Feed the Monster!

You can respond or comment on bad reviews at Amazon’s site.  Did you know that?  Well, you do now.  But, before you go responding to every person that leaves you a review, whether good or bad, remember this.  That cloak of anonymity?  If you, the author, start responding to people’s reviews, you intrude on the anonymity that people enjoy about Amazon.  They like the fact that if they want to, they can leave a bad review to “warn” other consumers about a product.  Similarly, they like leaving a good review when they have enjoyed a product.  If you step into their space, it will no doubt get ugly.

As an example, I have heard an anecdotal story of an author that responded to a bad reviewer, got into it with the person that left the review with back and forth posts on Amazon, and then Amazon lifted that author’s book from the website.  Yessir, don’t forget, Amazon cares about their customers more than their suppliers.  And, rightfully so.  Thus, think twice before you engage.  Secondly, if you engage, I would expect that other consumers would be more inclined to do the same.  Stated otherwise, your response could piss 1, 2, 3, etc. people off that may otherwise have just put your book down and not left a review.  But, if they see you advocating on behalf of your book, then they may feel justified to advocate against your book.

Again, the short and sweet of this section is to take your punches and move on.

Can Those Bad Reviews Actually…Help?

Let’s just take a behemoth book for example.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  That book has a whopping 7,254 reviews!  (An interesting analysis for another day is trying to determine the ratio of sales to reviews.  At last count, The Hunger Games sold about 18 million copies.  That means only 0.04% of people have left a review.  Innnnteresting).  Out of those reviews, Ms. Collins has 210 one-star reviews.   You think those have hurt her sales?  How about we take a classic, Pride and Prejudice?  Over 1,000 reviews, including 57 one-star reviews.  How about this trending book called Fifty Shades of Grey?  Out of 3,360 reviews, there are 962 one-star reviews.  Almost 1/3 of the reviews have been one-star!  Guess where it is ranked?  #1 overall on Amazon in the United States.

Our conclusion?  Bad reviews don’t always spell doom for your book.  Especially since we aren’t selling a high priced item, such as a tablet, people are still willing to plunk down a few bucks to give something a shot.  On top of that, I have heard from readers that some bad reviews actually lend credibility to a book.  When readers see nothing but positive reviews, they tend to think something fishy is going on.

So, remember a few things.  You’re gonna get bad reviews.  Cry, scream, throw things–you ain’t gonna change it.  When you get bad reviews, don’t exacerbate the situation by responding to them.  Create voodoo dolls, go for a run…whatever.  Just don’t respond.  Finally, those bad reviews won’t necessarily spell the end of your book.  Work on getting some good ones by submitting your book to friends, family, and other authors.

There, I feel better.  What about you?  What do you think?  Go on, comment and get a little healing yourself.

Very interesting play here.  Microsoft is going to invest $300 million in Barnes and Noble’s Nook.  Microsoft has a history of running other company’s products into the ground, so I wonder if this will be any different.  If successful, however, this could change the landscape of ereaders a bit.  Here’s the article:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/47228151