Monday, June 19, 2017

Going Traditional... Sort of. (Big announcement!)

I waited until now to make this announcement because I didn't want to jump the gun only to have something go wrong. Recent communications have assured me that things are moving along as planned, and I felt it was time to get the word out: I am very happy to announce that I've signed a deal with Tantor to produce audiobook versions of my Tinkerer's Daughter series!

This is something I have wanted to do for a long time, but I found the logistics of producing my own audiobooks to be somewhat daunting. I'm a musician; I do have recording studio equipment, and I am capable of producing an audiobook on my own.  I don't have a good recording space right now though, and with several children and a couple dogs running around the house, it would be almost impossible to get a full chapter recorded without some noise or distraction. Each chapter would likely require several takes to get a clean recording, which could add up to weeks of recording time. Add to that the production and mastering process (sound effects, equalization, normalization and compression, etc.), and this would be a huge task to take on. If I managed to pull it off, that would be one book out of a series, which would commit me to finishing the rest in the same manner. That process could take a couple years, and would almost certainly distract me from my writing.

There are services to connect voice actors with authors, and to provide audiobook distribution. This is nice, but there is a downside: it takes a lot of time to sort through the talent, to make a connection, and to reach a deal with someone you like. In most cases, the actors want some payment up front, and in some cases, they also split royalties with you. This is after a large cut goes to the distributor. It can add up to a lot of time and a considerable expense out-of-pocket . That's not necessarily a bad thing -you do get a quality product- but I make a living from my writing, and writing has to be my priority because that's my bread and butter. Like most things, it comes down to time, money, and energy. I have to prioritize, and unfortunately, audiobooks have not been my priority.

But then an acquisitions editor from Tantor contacted me. I had heard of the company, but since I don't usually listen to audiobooks, I didn't really know who they were until I did some research. I was very impressed with what I learned. Tantor is owned by Recorded Books, the largest independent publisher of audiobooks. Tantor publishes New York Times bestselling authors, award winners, and -hey!- sometimes even nobodies like me. I was obviously flattered, but as an Indie author, I was also cautious.Working independently, you get used to choosing  your own cover art, setting your own deadlines, making thousands of other decisions. You get used to being in control.

I asked if they would be willing to negotiate their contract. At the time, I was a little worried this might offend them. I had never done this sort of thing before. I don't have an agent to negotiate on my behalf, and frankly, I'm not exactly James Patterson. They could just as easily have passed on me and moved on to the next writer. I'm glad they didn't. To Tantor's credit, they made me a great offer that allowed me to retain considerable control over the project, along with a quite a few other unexpected perks. They were polite, prompt to respond, and happy to look at my suggestions. They will use my original cover art, so the covers will be almost the same as the existing covers. At my request, they were able to recruit an extremely talented voice actor who had contacted me previously about this project. (More on her in a later post). Also, they sealed the deal by giving me some money up front, which -while not a fortune- was enough to assure me of their commitment to the project. At this point, I couldn't be happier with how things are turning out.

Perhaps most importantly, Tantor will be able to introduce my books to a whole new audience that I couldn't reach without them. They have access to wide distribution, and they can get my stories to people I never could alone.Eventually, these titles might even be available in libraries and on disc. I'm also thrilled that this will make my stories available to the visually impaired and those challenged or uncomfortable with reading. That was my motivation to look into audiobooks in the first place, and I think it's fantastic that we have tech like this to help the disabled. I only regret I wasn't able to do it sooner.

So does this mean I'm no longer an Indie? Am I a hybrid writer now? Do audiobook publishers even count as traditional publishers? Meh. I never liked being boxed in. I've always said there's a place for the traditional publishing model, and it can be a great opportunity under the right circumstances. The important thing is getting my work out there, and as opportunities arise, I will continue to look at each on its own merits and make a decision based on what I think will help my career -and what will be good for my readers.

So now that you're itching to get your hands on a Tinkerer's Daughter audiobook, I have more good news: The release date is just a few weeks away! As of now, the publication date is set at July 11, 2017. The next two books will follow this September. I'll post updates along the way. In the meanwhile, keep in mind that The Tinkerer's Daughter, The Clockwork God, Murder in the Boughs, and Shadow Born are all FREE Kindle downloads at Amazon now! If you haven't tried any of these series, pick up a freebie and check it out. Pass the word on to a friend. I would love to give away a million copies of these books!


Sunday, June 4, 2017

A little Hank Promo...

It's almost officially summer! That means it's time to get your Kindles loaded up with some great beach reads. Maybe I can help you out with that...

Here in NorCal, the kids are out of school and we're starting to plan some camping and boating trips. I'm going to take the first week of summer break to work on my son's '66 Impala with him, prepping it for a new paint job (check the Projects tab at the top of this blog for more info on this car and my other projects). Hopefully, we'll shoot the new paint sometime in the next ten days and then he'll be off looking for a new job and saving up for college. Since I won't be writing during this time, it seemed like a good time to plan some summer promo stuff. I decided to start with Hank Mossberg.

As most of you already know, Murder in the Boughs is running perma-free at Amazon. You can pick it up for FREE on your Kindle any day. Death in the Hallows is available as a FREE download if you sign up for my newsletter, but for this week (through Thursday, June 8) it will also be FREE at Amazon! And last but not least, I've lowered the price of book 3, The Killer in the Shadow to only $0.99US.

You can get the first three books in this six-book series for less than a buck! If you don't have the series yet, it's time to check it out. If you have friends who might be interested, let them know, too. The prices will go back to normal after a few days, so don't procrastinate. It's time to get your Kindle loaded!

Keep following this blog for more news about promos and upcoming books, and in the meanwhile, have a great summer!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

New Covers for 2017

There are many differences between traditional and Indie publishing. Most observers would probably say the traditional model has quite a few advantages. After all, they have massive financial resources, powerful distribution models, and a large staff of talented and experienced people to call upon for everything from editing to cover art to promotion. They can even arrange to have a book translated and published in dozens of different languages. A talented author with a powerhouse like this pushing his or her book can reach almost unimaginable heights.

On the other hand, Indies do have a few small things working in our favor. For example, we can publish books just a fast as we want to. We can choose our own cover art, hire our own artists and editors, and choose how and when to promote our books. And if we're not happy with something, we can change it. No waiting, no board meetings, no supervisor's approval. We just do it. We can change the book description, revise it, or give it a new cover -just because we want to improve the product. So, that's something I'm always working on.

Over the years, I've learned a lot about making covers and I periodically choose a few titles to update. In some cases, the covers I started with were terrible. In others, they've simply become outdated or have lost pace with competitors who keep pushing the envelope. Once in a while, I'm a little sad to see a cover go, but I know that for one reason or another, it's for the best. After all, a cover doesn't just have to satisfy me: It has to convince completely indifferent strangers to pick up this book and read it. That's a tall order for anyone, especially a virtually unknown Indie with very little money to spend and very few resources to utilize. It's an experimental process, but thankfully, each step is usually a move in the right direction.

So here are a few of the new covers. Let me know what you think:





If you don't own these titles yet, you can grab a copy through my Amazon profile page. These new covers have also been added to the Createspace store for the paperback versions, also available at Amazon. If you own these books and you'd like to update the cover on your Kindle device, go into your Kindle library on the device, delete the book locally (not from your account) and then re-download it. It's that easy! If you're interested in making your own book covers, take a look at the "Cover Design Secrets" tab at the top of this page. I have several articles on the subject.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

He said, She said FREEBIE!

Book One of the He said, She said mystery series is free through Thursday, April 13. You can download your copy of HS/SS "Murder" at Amazon. Hurry, because time is limited and I won't be able to run this promo again for months. Once you've got your copy, tell a friend.

If you already have book one, book two is now available and only $2.99! Look for book three later this year...
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MXVCG4A

Friday, April 7, 2017

A new cover resource for Indies

In the past, we've discussed some of the options Indie authors have when it comes to creating and buying covers. The tab at the top of this page links to all my articles on the subject. Following this advice, and doing a little research and practice on your own, can lead to some very attractive book covers at little or no cost. But there is a drawback: You have to do all the work. You've got to invest time and maybe a lot of it. If you don't have much time, designing and making your own covers might not be a very effective use of what little you have. Maybe you should be writing instead?

So how can you get a decent cover without dropping hundreds of dollars or wasting weeks of personal time learning new software and cover design techniques? Well, I recently learned about a new service called Canva.com that might be what you're looking for.

Canva has a simple, easy to use interface. It offers dozens of quality, customizable book cover designs. You start by creating an account (for free) and then you choose a template for an ebook cover. The panel on the left will allow you to choose from various layouts, background designs, and so forth. They have a vast assortment of background images, some free, some at a minimal fee, or you can upload an image of your own. (I especially like that part. You don't have to rely on whatever images they have, you can buy or produce an image somewhere else, and then use this interface for customization.)

Drop down menus allow you to change fonts and do further customization. If you stay close to the original design, you really can make a nice-looking cover with almost no effort required. And when you come up with a design you like, you can download it directly to your computer. A multi-use license is only $10. They have other licensing options as well, some cheaper, some a bit more pricey. You'll have to read through the specifics to decide what's best for you, but I think most will probably choose the $10 option. That's a pretty good price for a professional-looking ebook cover. But don't take my word for it. Check them out and see what you think.

This service isn't just for ebooks. You can design business card logos, advertisements, letterhead and resumes, and even restaurant menus. You can design your own brand logo to use with your publishing business (or whatever) and you can also create a team with other users to share ideas. In other words, this is an all-around graphics design program that comes with most of the work already done for you.

Disclaimer: I know this sounds a little like an advertisement, so let me reassure you: I'm not affiliated with Canva in any way, and I'm not saying they're the only option or the best option. I don't know if there are other services like this out there. I just happened across this site and I was impressed by it. I wanted to share it with you because I think for many of us, it's a simple, viable, inexpensive option. I may even use this site myself for some future ebook covers. Again, you don't have to take my word for it. It's free to set up an account and try it out for yourself.  Here's the link:

Canva  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Short stories free this week!

Periodically, Amazon allows me to give away some of my stories Free (for up to five days). I haven't run a promo like this in a while, so this week I'm giving away my complete collection of short stories. I haven't formatted them into a single anthology yet, but you can download them individually. You can find the stories by browsing through my Amazon profiles. I have other freebies, too. You might even find some books you haven't downloaded yet:

Jamie Sedgwick Books Here                        Jeramy Gates Books Here

The promo starts today (Sunday) and runs through Thursday, April 6. This gives you plenty of time to tell a friend :) 

Oh, one last thing: If you just happened upon this post and aren't familiar with my books, check the tab at the top of this blog that says "Free Books!" There's plenty of free stuff to read around here.The only thing I ask is please take a minute to review my books when you read them. It's fast, it's easy, and it's a big help for Indie authors like me. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hank Mossberg: The Grand Finale is Here!

New this week: Hank Mossberg books 5 and 6 are now available at Amazon.com!

The paperback version will be available shortly, but in the meantime, the ebooks are live and only $0.99. That price will go up, so grab your copies now.

You can download When the Boughs Break here,
and you can get A Dame to Die For here

If you haven't read the earlier books, I highly recommend reading the series in order. Unless you're the sort of person who skips to the last page of a mystery before reading the book. (I know there are a few of you out there - don't worry, I won't tell!) Aside from the fact that reading these books out of order will give you major spoilers and ruin the mystery, it may also leave you a bit perplexed about certain reoccurring characters. After all, if characters have already appeared in earlier books, I'm probably not going to go into great detail later on about who they are, why they're there, or what they look like. That wouldn't be fair to the people who did read the books in order and don't want me repeating things over and over and over... (see what I did there?)

Anyway, I think these two stories wrap up the series nicely and I can't wait to see what you think. This is a huge, mind-blowing adventure for Hank, and hopefully it will be for his fans as well. One more thing: Please, please take a minute to post a review at Amazon and Goodreads after you read these books. It only takes a couple minutes and it really helps a lot. Thanks!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hank Mossberg returns! Cover reveals...

It wont' be long now. Sometime in the next week or two, I'll be hitting the big Amazon "Publish" button on the next -and last- two books of the series. I'm just waiting for the final proofs to arrive in the mail. Once I verify my final edits, these two books will go live, and you will be the first to know!

I've held on to book 5 in the series for a while, because it ends in a major cliffhanger and I knew you'd hate me if I published it and left you hanging. After reading both titles, my wife is in complete agreement with me. She said Hank fans would kill me if I did that. (Not literally, of course. We speak in metaphors around here!) So hopefully, I made the right decision.

This plan complicated things a little, because it held up my publishing schedule and has proven to be somewhat distracting trying to prep both books at the same time. Unfortunately, that's par for the course this year. Lately, it seems like the harder I work and the more I aspire to accomplish, the less I actually achieve. In 2016, I shelved two novels I didn't like. That means I'm a book behind in two of my series, and I've published fewer books than in previous years. Any hopes I had of catching up in 2017 are slipping like smoke through my fingers. It's almost March, and although I've done some writing, it only amounts to a few chapters in several different books. Not promising.

On the bright side, I'm finally going to publish Hank 5 and 6, and I'm very excited about that. I must admit, it's a little bittersweet. The Hank series is one that has always been relatively effortless for me. I've enjoyed exploring Hank's world and watching his adventures, almost the way a reader might. For me, writing these books has been entertaining, and seeing how the series concluded has provided a unique sort of fulfillment. To be honest, I'm rather proud of the way things turned out. I think the ending should be satisfying for Hank lovers and maybe a little surprising, too. I can't wait to see the reaction.

It's a little sad at the same time, finally ending a series I've been writing for so long. I've been publishing about one book per year since 2011, and that's a long time to spend with a character. Maybe one of these days, if I feel there's enough demand, I'll give Hank another adventure. But for now, this is the end.

Without further ado, here are the covers:


 Book Five, When the Boughs Break, picks up where the others left off. It involves the fulfillment of Siva's dark prophecy. Hank's in a dark place in this book. But don't worry, everything will be okay. They say it's always darkest before dawn...

Book Six, the final Hank Mossberg book, involves major changes for the undercity, and for Hank and his friends. I don't want to give away too much for now so I'll just let the cover speak for itself.

That's it for now. I hope you like the covers and I really, really hope you like the books. We'll see in a week or two! Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Vox Valvetronix amp repair

This post is for you techs and guitar players out there. Most of you are probably familiar with the Vox brand of amplifiers, effects, etc. The company goes way back to the early days of rock, and their equipment can be heard on some of the most influential music of the sixties and seventies. It's a well-documented fact that Jimmy Page used Vox amps for recording with both the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin. Other names associated with this brand are Brian May of Queen, U2, Dave Grohl, and even the Beatles. It seems safe to say that pretty much every pro has at least tried a Vox amp at one point in his or her career.


Vox Valvetronix Amp

Vox produced various models over the years, but the version I have is called the Valvetronix AD30VT. It's a 30-watt combo amp with some very nice solid state modeling. (For those not in the know, this means the amp uses computer-like circuit boards to produce a wide array of sounds through the speaker. This includes effects like reverb and distortion, and also "modeling," which makes the amp sound like a variety of different amplifiers that Vox has made over the years.) The Valvetronix line is unique. They are hybrid tube amps, or valve amps as the Brits say. They use an old-fashioned glass vacuum tube to process the guitar signal before sending it through the modern solid-state path. In other words, it combines the very old tube-style technology of the 50's with the more modern solid-state technology. This allows the amplifier to produce the pleasing warmth that you get from an old tube amp with the instant gratification and flexibility of a modern amplifier.  (it also spares you the heat and fire hazards associated with these tubes!)

Vacuum tubes used in vintage amplifiers



Sounds like the best of both worlds so far, right? Well, it's pretty close. Unfortunately, there were a few issues with these models, especially the earlier ones (like mine). In some cases, they're easily repairable, assuming you have a basic understanding of electronics and soldering skills. I've run into two problems so far, which seem pretty common:

1) Sudden inexplicable loss of power -In many cases, this is caused by a poorly soldered connection on the fuse-holder located inside the amp, or by damage to the fuse itself. The solution here is self-explanatory.

2) Spontaneous effects switching, regardless of the switch position. For instance, you're dialed in to a nice reverb that suddenly evolves into a slap-back echo or flanging effect. -This is caused by a failing potentiometer (the switch itself is broken).

In the first case, you can easily swap out the fuse and resolder the connection on the fuse holder. (Please always unplug the amp and let the tube cool before working on it. And only attempt this if you know what you're doing!) The second scenario is a bit more tricky. The effects switch on a Valvtronix is an 11-position switch. The bad news is that these were specially ordered by Vox and they are no longer produced or stocked. Vox does NOT carry them and cannot help you if your switch goes bad. If you do some shopping around, you'll find these are extremely hard to locate in the right size, and with the right number of positions. At least they were, until now.

After quite a bit of research, I learned that the potentiometer used for this switch is a standard linear-taper potentiometer. In other words, it's just like a guitar's tone knob, except that it has "clicks." Well, these clicks are called "detents" in the electronics business, and although your knob has 11 positions, it only has 10 detents. So what you're looking for is a 10 detent linear-taper potentiometer that matches the size of the one used in your amp. Getting warmer...

After a couple weeks of searching, I never did find a perfect replacement. However, I found an almost-perfect replacement:


The only difference between this pot and the original is the fact that the legs on this one are shorter. That means if you try to put it directly in place of the old one on the board, it won't be tall enough to reach the mounting panel. Best case scenario here is that you remove the old pot by snipping the legs, and solder the short legs of the new one onto the old legs. If that fails, you can solder a piece of wire from the legs to the circuit board. The thing to keep in mind is that you want it to reach the control panel where it will be mounted when you're done.

There is one other minor difference, or at least there was on mine: the shaft is slightly larger in diameter than the original, making it a very tight fight on the knob. I remedied this by hollowing the knob ever so slightly with a drill bit. (If you try this, don't use a drill. Just do it by hand. The knob is delicate and you don't want to break it. The plastic is also quite soft, and will drill out quicker than you expect even when doing it by hand. If you bore it out too much, you'll have to figure out something else to make it fit again).


The best part: This replacement pot is cheap and readily available at Amazon.com. For less than five bucks (plus shipping), you get a pack of three! That means you'll have an extra in case the second switch also goes bad, or in case a friend has the same amp and needs the repair.

I'm happy to say that I've done this repair myself (both, actually) and it worked perfectly. The switch positions line up just like before, and you'd never know by looking that it's not the original. The only giveaway is that when you pull the amp apart, then you can see the new pot welded in there. This is great news for you Vox lovers who thought you might have to toss this amp. Despite what I was told by the techs in my area, this amp Can be fixed. And it should be.

Now, if you see one of these on sale for cheap, you can snag a great deal on a practice amp. 'Cause you can never have too many amps. Or guitars...
















Thursday, January 26, 2017

Let's talk Amazon reviews

This post is directed primarily at writers, but others may find these thoughts enlightening, too. I think every writer -indie, traditional or hybrid; fiction and nonfiction- faces this struggle. It's the nature of the beast. When you work hard on something that's personal to you, and then you put it out there in the wild, you open yourself up to a whole world of hurt. It can be painful seeing the harsh words of a complete stranger as he or she systematically destroys something you spent months or years creating. It can be baffling, too. We've all read books we hate, but most of us don't feel compelled to race out and slander the author or the work, and try to destroy them on a personal level. Why bother? Why waste energy on something so trivial? Yet some people do.

But not always for the reasons we might immediately suspect.

A particularly bad review might make you feel targeted: "This person must have something against me... maybe it's someone I know, maybe it's a competing author using sock puppet accounts to sabotage my sales, maybe its that nasty agent who rejected me a couple years ago..." Or, it could be simpler than that. Maybe it was a different genre than what the reviewer usually reads. Maybe it just wasn't her cup of tea. Maybe a reader was offended by something in the book. In one of my books, Erased, a villain says something bad about cops. A reader took offense at that in a review. (Sorry folks, villains are supposed to say stuff like that!)

Sometimes people get upset because the book went in a different direction than they expected. (Harry Potter married the wrong girl. Oh noes! I'm one-starring this trash...) I got one of those the other day, and the reviewer was quite clear about the fact that my story sucked because it didn't go in the direction he thought it would. Some people really do seem to think you're a mind reader; that you have an obligation to write what they expect of you, not what your imagination tells you to write. It's disappointing, but not worth pulling your hair out over.

Sometimes reviews get posted to the wrong book. I've seen it happen, more than once. My wife has pointed out several reviews on my books that bear little or no resemblance to the actual story. Sometimes a reviewer has some other problem, and the review really isn't about your book at all. It's just a way for them to vent. There are also trolls who are just fishing to get a reaction. Many online trolls have mental or emotional issues. They feel vindicated when they attack a stranger, because this is justice for all that's gone wrong in their lives. They have a skewed sense of the world, and of the person they're attacking. There's no reason to take that personally.

There are many more reasons you might get a bad review that has nothing to do with the quality of your writing. Maybe it's a kid, or maybe the reviewer is mentally ill...

If you're even thinking about responding to a review like this, that last statement should give you pause. Many children and mentally ill people have access to computers, cell phones, and the internet. They can write reviews. Nobody's stopping them.  Do you really want to take a chance on responding to a negative review only to learn that you just retaliated against a child, or a mentally disabled person? No, you don't. This alone is a good enough reason to shrug it off (and in my opinion, you're going to be better off for it). What do you have to lose?

Just for kicks, I'm going to repost one of my all-time worst reviews. Here's a one-star review of The Tinkerer's Daughter by WLJ on Amazon (formerly known as SHE):

"I was really disappointed in this book and regret spending money on it. The summary makes the story seem exciting. It sounds like a steampunk adventure with eccentric characters that change the tide of a war. I cannot stress enough that this is not even close to how the book really is. It was very slow and very dull. The characters were bland with no distinctive personalities. There was absolutely no world-building. This read more as a creative writing assignment than a well-thought-out book. It is at a preteen reading level and not for adults who like some depth.

The book begins when Breeze is four. She looks older, but since she is an elf, she is mentally a child. However, she quickly grows up into a teenager within months, and for some unknown reason, her maturity level and emotional age now match her body. That was inconsistent and also just not believable. Her character is best described as a bland, preachy goody-goody, and I hate reading about goody-goodies. She eventually goes to school, and of course, all the girls hate her and the popular guy likes her. Oh, and he is rich, and that's why all the girls like him... because they are gold diggers. The awful gender stereotypes and the cliches made my brain hurt.

The plot is indiscernible, and the story dragged. She is captured and imprisoned multiple times, and don't think she uses her own cleverness to get out of these situations. She is too dimwitted and simple. I will not even get into the illogical parts that were just lazy on the author's part (as with her father just pawning Breeze off on a guy he barely knew). I dreaded picking up this book and eventually tried to skim it to see if it got better. It didn't. I was too bored to even skim till the end.

I do not recommend this book!"


So what's wrong with this review? Well, anyone who has read this book can tell you that a number of facts are just wrong. The story takes place over years, not months, and while Breeze does age about twice the speed of a human, her maturity certainly does not match her age. She's quite emotionally immature, and she points this out in the story. In fact, this flaw in her character is the primary motivating factor for all she achieves. A mature adult wouldn't go to all that trouble just to prove something, or because of a need to be liked... then again...

Moving on. Is Breeze a "bland, preachy goody-goody?" I don't know. I didn't try to write her that way. She did struggle against racism, bigotry, and willful ignorance. She was not "captured and imprisoned multiple times" but was jailed once, for a day or so, and was almost killed at one point (no spoilers). The reviewer wraps it up with: " I dreaded picking up this book and eventually tried to skim it to see if it got better. It didn't. I was too bored to even skim till the end." 

Ouch. In other words, this book sucked so bad WLJ didn't even bother reading it. Huh. In her own words, this reviewer admits that she only skimmed the book instead of reading it, didn't finish it, and that she dreaded picking it up in the first place. Obviously, this story wasn't her cup of tea. But this review is from an Amazon Vine Reviewer! Why use her bully pulpit as a Vine Reviewer to try to destroy my book? This review has 102 helpful votes... that means another 102 people (at least) found this book so repulsive that they came back to Amazon after reading it just to thumbs-up this inaccurate review. Fascinating. You'd have to look a while to find another book review like this, with so many helpful votes. 

Responding to a review like this is almost always a bad idea.Unfortunately, as an author, you don't have much recourse. You can thumbs-down the review as "not helpful," and you can flag it as "abuse," but its arguable as to whether Amazon ever really looks at those complaints, at least not until they come in significant numbers. Well, I did respond to the review in question. I pointed out that unfinished drafts of some of my stories were published erroneously (as described in a previous post) and that perhaps WLJ had an incomplete copy. I also politely pointed out a few of the inaccurate statements in the review, for the benefit of other readers. I tried to do this politely but firmly. I didn't want to pick a fight, but to give readers an alternate perspective, without raising too many hackles. And of course, I pointed out the flaws in the review to Amazon, hoping they would at least look into the inconsistencies. Unsurprisingly, their response was no response.


I could go on and on with this subject. For a couple of years, every time this book got a good review, a bad review would follow within 48 hours. Sometimes it would go weeks without any reviews at all, but when a new 4 or 5 star review appeared, a 1 or 2 star would immediately follow. These reviews almost seemed intentionally calculated to keep the book's rating at about 3.8 stars. Why would someone do that? Well, 4 stars is the breaking point for a lot of reviewers and book promoters. I missed out on chances to promote this book when it was new, because the star ranking was too low. I commented about this problem on a popular blog (The Passive Voice), and finally raised my concerns with Amazon. Within days, the behavior had stopped and the rating jumped up to 4.2 stars, where it now resides. 

Seems too much to be coincidental, right? Yes, it's sketchy, but my case is far from extraordinary. Stuff like this happens on Amazon all the time.

Here's the thing (and finally, the point of this post!): Despite all this, The Tinkerer's Daughter has been downloaded tens of thousands of times. This series has always been and remains my best-seller. In fact, one might even argue that the conflicting reviews, the mediocre star-rating, and the preponderance of 1-stars on the front page have actually influenced more sales. I think people know right away that something doesn't seem quite right. This alone is enough to make them give the book a second glance. In other words, if someone has been trying to sabotage this book, their efforts have succeeded in doing the exact opposite! 

That is why I say you should let this stuff roll off. Readers know all of this already. They know when they see a particularly nasty review, or something else that doesn't add up, it says more about the reviewer than about the book. They know about mental illness, online trolls, and sock-puppets And these days, readers are more suspicious of a book with 4.8 stars than a book with 3.8. Readers are smart. Give them credit. Some of them will thumbs-down the review, and that helps, but most importantly: Don't stress about this stuff. Don't take any review too seriously -not even the good ones.  More reviews will come, the trolls will lose interest, and you might even find at some point that they've helped you. Instead, put that energy and emotion into your art. Keep writing!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Quarter Million Served!

A few months back, I asked my wife to crunch some numbers for me. There was something I had been curious about, and since she does all my bookkeeping (I could NOT do this without her!), I thought she might have access to these reports to give me an idea of how many books I've sold in total. Well, it turned out to be not quite that easy.

When I started publishing back in 2011, I went for the widest distribution possible. I published my books with Amazon of course, but also with Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and a few other places whose names I forget and which may not even exist anymore. One for instance, was a distributor who had contacted me with the idea of making one of my books free through his service as a loss-leader. I agreed, and I think it lasted about a year before I pulled it. I can't even remember who it was. (Terrible, right?)

Anyway, eventually Amazon gave Indie publishers a few tools to promote their books, but in exchange they demanded exclusivity. For a while, I decided going exclusive was the thing to do. I pulled my books from the other distributors and put all my focus on Amazon. After that, I lost track of some of those places. Now, I have no way to retrieve those numbers. But what I do have is a list of Amazon reports through KDP that goes all the way back to December, 2010, when I uploaded my first title and had a whopping TWO sales! (The slow start was for the best; it took a couple months to get the formatting and uploading issues worked out. Ever since, I've been a work in progress)

Back in those days, Indie publishers would talk a LOT about their numbers. It was cool, because we could compare our successes and failures, and learn not just about the publishing business in general, but also the unique aspects of digital publishing that no one had ever studied before. Things were changing fast, and we were all just trying to keep up with the times and understand this new paradigm.

Eventually, the Author Earnings report came along and gave us an even better perspective of what was going on in the business, and how our individual roles were panning out. Because of this, things got more quiet, partly because it wasn't so important to share that info anymore, and partly -I think- because throwing those numbers out got a little old. No one wants any hurt feelings, and I'm sure that played a role. No doubt a few people felt a little embarrassed about their disappointing sales, and others didn't want to come off as boastful. So the subject still comes up, but it's not really the fresh, energetic discussion it used to be.

Well, at the risk of sounding either like a complete loser or an arrogant braggart (depending on where you're coming from) I'd like to share some of my numbers with you: In total, my books have been downloaded on Amazon 251,199 times. That includes daily sales and borrowed book page counts, promos, freebies, and perma-free titles, but it does not include paperbacks, short stories, loaned titles, or any of my sales through other distributors. In other words, the real number is likely rather higher. I probably actually reached the quarter-million mark sometime last year, but unfortunately its impossible to know exactly when. An educated guess would be late summer/ early fall, but that's still just a guess.

It's worth noting that this number is a total number that includes my several perma-free titles that I use as loss leaders. Those free titles account for more than half of my total downloads. In general, I've found that on average, anywhere from 30%-60% of my freebies lead to sales in the rest of the series. For example, about 60% of the people who download The Clockwork God go on to buy the next book in the series. Probably 80% of those go on to finish the series. These numbers are always in flux of course, so it's tricky to tack down a hard percentage on any given title, especially with the wild fluctuations in sales that I've experienced since October. (Some blame this on the election, but it's pretty clear to me that Amazon has done something with their system as well. The churn at the top of the charts is something I haven't seen in a few years, and I can only presume this was intentional.)

Some of my less popular series -the Hank Mossberg books for instance- seem to have the highest follow-through rates. Ironically, my most popular series, The Tinkerer's Daughter, has one of the lowest rates. This is probably due to the relative popularity of the genre, which leads to higher initial downloads, and also the failure on my part to produce books that stick to the confines of that genre. (Let's be honest, the world needs another victorian-steampunk-romance like it needs a thermonuclear war. Amiright?) But that's okay. I went into this knowing that I was writing as much for myself as anything. Formulaic fiction sells better. People like to know more or less what to expect from a book, and in general, they're reluctant to try something new. A good example is a recent review I received for Clockwork Legion. The story didn't go in the direction the reader wanted it to, and he found that personally offensive. He gave me a one-star review and essentially said he's no longer and fan and won't be reading any more of my books. The question is, would my book have been better if I had consulted this man first? Should I have written it to his expectations? If I had, would it have been better? Well, I'm sure he thinks so, but I'm not so sure. (Update- this review has since been removed. Although he won't be reading my books anymore, I guess the reviewer still reads this blog. I might have to write a post regarding my thoughts on reviews in general soon.)

The idea of writing to a formula always made my stomach churn. I felt that writing something unique and fresh was the way to write something memorable. I still believe that. (How many famous romance novelists can you name from fifty years ago? I'm not knocking romance writers, I'm just saying it's a highly formulaic genre, and authors who stray from that formula tend do so at their own risk.) Unfortunately, while writing to a formula generally leads to better sales up front, it's also a sure way to make sure you don't stand out from the crowd. From Shakespeare to Jane Austen to H.G. Wells (and a hundred others), no one we look back on as one of the "Greats" was sticking to a formula. They were making new formulas. (It's also worth nothing that for the most part, they didn't do particularly well, financially speaking. That's a very real trade-off that a writer should consider. Can you do both? Maybe, but don't count on it.)

I've added up some other numbers, as well. I was curious to see how many words I've written. In the last five years, I've published about twenty books. I'll have two more out in the next month or two, which averages out to about four novels per year. Not novellas or short stories: I didn't count those. These are full-length novels, mostly ranging from 60k-90k words. Excluding the two upcoming books I haven't published yet, I have 1,344,706 words in print right now. The next two Hank Mossberg books will bring that total up by approximately another 120,000 words.

There are several novels I wrote but never published. Most of those books were early attempts that I knew weren't publishable from the moment I finished them. However, I still occasionally toss a book. The first Hank Mossberg book falls into that category, along with the first He said, She said, and a sequel in the series that I gave up on. I'd have four books in the He said, She said series right now, but it would only be half as good.

Yes, believe it or not, I actually do have a little bit of self-restraint. And you thought my writing couldn't get any worse  : )

Anyway, if I add those other titles in as well, I come up with a number of just under 1.8 million words. That still doesn't include the stories I wrote in my youth, or my blog posts and short stories, or other things of that nature. This number is just fiction novels from the last ten to fifteen years.

So what do you think? Over 1.3 million words in print and more than a quarter million downloads, all in the last five years. That's a far cry from Stephen King or James Patterson, but not too bad for an uneducated indie author with a bad attitude. I feel pretty blessed for the fact that I've been given this opportunity -that I've been able not only to write and to make a living at it these last few years, but even to write what I want to write. That's huge. It means more to me than words can say, and I thank God for this blessing, and all of you who've helped make it possible. I can't wait to see where the next five years takes me!