My Dream

–Berthold Gambrel

This is in response to Mark’s post about his dream as a writer. Mine is somewhat similar to his. After all, who wouldn’t want to write something that people go back and re-read?

But as I thought about it; there’s a bit more to it than that for me. Bear with me; it takes a little while to explain.

First, if you read my personal blog, you may know I write lots of book reviews. And I have an idiosyncratic style of reviewing. I like to ponder the story behind the story, even try to find allusions, references and subtle things in the text. I don’t feel like I’ve done my job as a reviewer unless I can say I’ve figured out something about a book that isn’t obvious. (I think I only succeed at this about 10% of the time.)

For this reason, I like a good, meaty book that has layers to it. A lot of things to analyze. Something that someone could write a whole essay about. It doesn’t have to be long, but it has to have something really compelling in it.

And, by extension, this is the kind of book I want to write, too. I want to write a book that a reviewer could sit down with, take apart, analyze, critique, and maybe find a few subtle points that add some depth to it. And even when they’ve finished doing all that, they still feel like they haven’t said everything there is to say.

Basically, I want to craft the sort of book I enjoy reviewing. A book that has something in it that makes you feel you could just go on and on and on about it…

What’s your dream?

The Future

— Mark Paxson

When we started this blog a few years ago, I had an idea of creating a community of writers that helped each other. Something much larger than it has become.

I had big plans for having resources that helped other writers, writing exercises, chats, and posts that invited conversation and a give-and-take, not just between those of us who write here, but including other writers who stopped by now and then.

It hasn’t quite turned out that way. I blame myself mostly because I haven’t done what it takes to make this a destination location for writers. I’ve been derelict in sharing its contents on other social media platforms. I’ve been derelict in posting regular writing exercises. And I’ve been derelict in expanding the resources page and sharing resources more regularly via blog posts as well.

I’m wondering at the moment whether this is an effort worth continuing. I enjoy our video chats. They always end with me motivated to keep plugging away at both writing and helping other writers. I enjoy reading what other writers have contributed to this blog. But the conversation and interaction have not been as broad as I had hoped.

So … I’m pondering the future of this blog. What are your thoughts?

What’s Your Dream?

— Mark Paxson

I was thinking about this today and came up with a bit of a different response to this question. Sure, I have the normal dreams. A bestseller. A whirlwind book tour. Seeing one of my stories on the big screen. I mean, seriously, I rarely go to the theater anymore, but when I do, there invariably comes a moment when I visualize one of my stories up there. And I kind of like that idea.

But today, a completely different idea came to mind. When I was a kid, I re-read a lot of books. As an adult, however, I don’t re-read books that much. I’ve re-read Everything Matters by Ron Currie, Jr., a vew times. I’ve read Racing In the Rain by Garth Stein a couple of times. I’ve read one of Wally Lamb’s books two or three times. I’ve read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road several times.

I’ve gone back and read some of my early favorites. Like Man O’ War, a book I read repeatedly as a child. It’s about the greatest racehorse that ever stepped out on the track. I went back and read it a few years ago. I re-read Dune recently because of the remake of the movie. I don’t know, though, that I’ll ever re-read Lord of the Rings again. I have re-read some of Stephen King’s books over the years — The Shining in particular.

For the most part now I don’t go back and re-read a book. It’s steady movement forward, trying to find the next diamond in the rough. The next book that will make me cry. The next one that makes want to never stop turning the pages.

And that’s my dream. For one of my books to be the type of story that readers want to re-visit over the years. Not just a one and done story, but something that sticks with them. That makes them feel something that they wouldn’t mind repeating every now and then.

What’s your dream?

Experiments in Publishing

Over the last six months I’ve been experimenting as a writer/publisher. And I thought I would share my experiences.

Let’s start with paperback books. Starting out I took Amazon’s word and made my paperbacks 6”x 9” and I thought glossy covers would be nicer. Well, 6”x 9” might be the most popular size, but I don’t think that’s the case for fiction. Because I am toying with the idea of trying to get my books into a small selection of SFF orientated bookshops, I decided to redo my books in the 8”x 5.25” format with matte covers, just like all the cool kids have. Having put out a dozen paperback books, redoing the books was not a great project, though for my longest ones, I had to reduce the type size to that of mass market paperbacks. Now, you can’t just change the size of published books since it is baked into the ISBN code. You need to unpublish your old versions and publish the new versions as new books. And here’s a pro tip; I discovered that Amazon will no longer let you link ebooks and paperbacks if the metadata does not exactly match. Since these were new editions, I listed them as 2nd editions, and since the ebooks are either 1st edition or have no edition number, I now cannot link the two versions. Given the fact that I’ll sell half a dozen paperback books in a year, I’m not losing sleep over it. Just be aware of it, should you do the same.

Next up, audio books. I have, in previous posts, suggested that if you are self-publishing wide, and don’t offer your books on the Google Play store you should. At last count over 60% of my sales came from Google. And that was before audio books. As I wrote earlier, Google is offering, for a limited time, to convert ebooks in the Google store into auto-generated audio books – for free. In May I took them up on that offer. For most of the last six month I have had a dozen audiobook titles on offer. In those six months I’ve sold, that is to say, given away, more than 4,500 audio books, without lifting a finger to promote them. They’ve accumulated over 50 ratings, and the audiobooks rate as well as the ebooks, with no complaints as to the quality of the audio narration. Of course selling books for money is a lot harder, BUT, since you can convert your ebooks on Google for free, (I did so just a couple of weeks ago) there is no reason why you could not sell your audiobooks for the same price of your ebooks, which would likely be significantly less expensive than most audiobooks. With audiobooks being the fastest growing segment of the book market, I think it’s an opportunity you might want to seriously consider if you don’t want to spend what human narrators charge – two to five hundred dollars per finished hour. Most novels run around 12 hours in audio form or more. Do the math.

My third experiment was withholding my standalone novel, The Girl on the Kerb, that I wrote at the start of this year, from self-publishing. Instead I submitted it to an English SF publisher during a month-long open window for writers without agents. Since I can’t publish it until I hear that they rejected it – in six to nine months – I decided to use the time to see if I could find an agent for it. I have sent out four query letters on the first of the month since July 1. So far, that’s 16 query letters. I have received 4 form letter email rejections and no requests to look at the manuscript. Let’s just say that I’m not holding my breath – but it was always a lark; a nothing ventured, nothing gained sort of thing. Recently, I hear that Orbit Publishing, a division of one of the big publishers, is going to start offering a line of ebooks and audiobooks, without paper editions, and I understand that this line will be open to authors without agents as well. I plan to submit The Girl on the Kerb to them, if possible. That said, I have already painted the cover for my self-published version of the book, so I’m all set to release it sometime in the first quarter or half of next year if things work out like I expect they will. In short, I’ve got my 2023 novel in the can. That said, I plan to spend six months querying any other standalone novels I manage to write before self-publishing them, because well, why not? The gold rush of self-publishing is long over. There is no hurry to get something out there, no boat to miss or train to catch.

I’m not a lad for seeking publicity, but this year I once again entered one of my books in the Self Published Science Fiction Blog-off. I’m hoping to get a review and a little publicity out of it. I didn’t last year, but maybe I’ll have more luck this year. I really wanted to enter my one fantasy book in the far more popular fantasy version of this contest, but I never found the date to enter until the deadline had passed. Next year.

Upcoming experiments include going over all the metadata on all my platforms and adding as many tags as possible to describe my books. For example a book may have only “Space Opera” for a tag, but I’m going to add tags like “Free Space Opera” and maybe “Free SF Book”, etc. This is probably self-publishing 101, but I’ve been rather dismissive of tags. No more. I gather that is how people discover books now, since they’ll never find them simply by scrolling the lists provided.

Next up, if I ever write a new standalone novel, it is going to be a fantasy. Fantasy outsells science fiction, and there are far more agents, editors, and publishing houses looking for fantasy than there are for science fiction. Since I write old fashioned romances using planets as the required exotic lands, I’m going to bury any science fiction elements and just market them as fantasy. Why not reach for the largest potential audience you can when starting out with a blank page?

I have not spent any out of pocket money on my self-publishing efforts. My modest royalties from Amazon cover my modest expenses, which are essentially the author copies of the paper books and postage that I send to my beta readers. I am, as I mentioned above, I’m toying with the idea of spending a chunk of change to get my books into bookshops by offering them as free samples. The idea is a mix of advertising and creating a (tiny) lasting legacy by having my books on some book shelves somewhere years after I’m dead. I hate spending money, so we’ll see about this ide.

There are many ways to promote your books, and networking with other authors is a good one. Newsletter swaps are pretty popular – if you have a newsletter to swap. Sending books to reviewers and YouTube book channels is another — but that’s not really my thing. What have you been experimenting with to promote your books? And how has it worked for you?

Amazon Really Does Suck

Mark Paxson

As I wrap up a couple of months of publishing two books through Draft2Digital, I’ve learned a few more things about this whole process. Not all are related to Amazon sucking, but … wait for it.

First, patience is a virtue, particularly when it comes to publishing books. Unfortunately, it is a virtue that I lack at times. When it comes to publishing books, by the time I get to the publication part, I’m ready for the thing to be over. I want my book out there. And I don’t want to go through some things I know I desperately need to do.

So, with my collection of short stories, I put the stories together, formatted the whole thing correctly. Did everything I was supposed to and uploaded the content and the cover. Pushed publish on the e-book. Waited for a proof copy of the paperback and barely skimmed it to make sure it looked right and then approved the paperback.

And so … days later, I was flipping through it to read a portion for my podcast and I discovered a typo in the table of contents. Damn! I went a little deeper and found a few more typos and then I discovered … formatting issues. A couple of the stories were in 12 pt font instead of 11 pt. font and there were a couple of paragraphs in one story that were lighter and a different font altogether. That last one in particular is something that I know that I did not do. But there it was.

I went back to the source document on my computer and all of those problems were in it. Ugh!!!

Here’s the thing about D2D. They only allow one free content correction every three months and apparently my original upload counted as my first one. I had to wait three months before I could correct the content. Or pay $25 for the privilege of doing so. I thought about it for a day and paid the $25.

The corrected content, however, does not update immediately. Oh, it did for the ebook within a day or two, but the paperback? 10-14 days.

The other problem was that, once I approved the proof (foolishly), I ordered 50 author copies (even more foolish). So, I had 50 copies coming with those typos and formatting issues and I didn’t want anything to do with them. But it was too late.

Until D2D screwed up on the shipping. the order was split into two separate shipments. One with 42 books and one with 8 books. The shipment with 42 books has never showed up. But I did get two shipments of 8 books. (Yes, you can’t make this up.) I’ve now asked for the remaining copies to be cancelled and for a refund because they failed to deliver them in a timely fashion and I don’t want them. And now, I’m waiting patiently for confirmation that the corrected content has made its way through their system.

But, back to the title of this post … why does Amazon suck? Until now, I’ve published everything through KDP. It’s quick. It’s easy. Books are available on Amazon’s website almost immediately, but they don’t tell you a thing about availability on other platforms even if you choose the expanded distribution network.

I recently discovered a couple of my KDP-published books were available on the websites for Powell’s and Books-A-Million. I have absolutely no idea if I ever sold any of those books on those platforms because Amazon simply does not tell the author anything like that.

And there’s more. They won’t publish the ebook for the short story collection because some of the content appears for free on my blog. But! They will publish the paperback.

And there is still more. Publishing a paperback on D2D as easy as with KDP, but Amazon does not make the book available as quickly as it does for KDP books. Other platforms like Barnes & Noble had my paperbacks for these two books available within a couple of days of my D2D publication date. Amazon? 10-14 days.

You know there’s more, right? Here’s what they did with my novella after they published it. For at least two weeks, the price went all over the price, but always above my list price, which was $9.99. For a few days, Amazon’s price for the novella was $13.40. For a couple of days, it was around $12.50. this from the company that won’t retail an ebook if it’s available cheaper elsewhere on the internet. They were intentionally pricing the paper above the price other platforms were selling it for.

And then there is this. Amazon delivers a KDP book within two days of order. On my short story collection, they alert purchasers that it may take one to two months for the book to ship. On some level, I get this since it’s coming from a POD entity that isn’t theirs, that they have no control over. But come on.

It is very clear that Amazon does everything it can to put up road blocks for independently published authors who choose to use a different publishing platform. Which is disgusting and why monopolies are bad, bad, bad, bad.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in learning about publishing wide (which is what this is called) and you’re on Facebook, there is a group there called Wide for the Win. It has lots and lots of writers on it and there are daily posts with information about how all of this works.

All you need to sell books is…

Is fame. Become a celebrity and you are almost guaranteed to sell books – indeed you don’t even have to write them. That’s what ghost writers are for. Ah, I can hear you muttering, if I were rich and famous, I wouldn’t have to try to sell books. Which is true. And you might also be muttering, getting famous is harder than selling books. Now there you might be wrong. For we live in the age of social media. Anyone can become famous if you own a smartphone.

Of course it takes work. But fame in social media is obtainable, you just need to build a large enough audience. I know that some of you are already on YouTube, so let’s start with a YouTuber, Daniel Greene.

Greene talks about and reviews fantasy books. His channel currently has 463,000 subscribers. It has taken him six years and over 460 videos to reach that total, so I think it is safe to say that Daniel Green has put the time and effort to earn his fame. So how does that translate into book sales?

In March of 2021 he self published his first book – a fantasy novella, Breach of Peace. I don’t know his sales numbers, but it currently has 7,402 ratings and 1,458 reviews on GoodReads with a 3.58* rating, plus 2,209 on Amazon with a 4.2* rating. It is currently #333,589 in the Kindle Store, i.e. while it no doubt was a bestseller, it is selling only a few copies today. Compare that to the average debut author offering only a novella, and I think that you can attribute its success to his fame. This is especially evident when you look at his next book.

On October 29th he published the second book in the series, Rebel’s Creed. I gather that he decided to combine the next two novellas together into a novel based on his feedback for the first one. It has 1,215 ratings and 178 reviews with a 3.58* rating, and 458 ratings and a 4.3* rating on Amazon. Its current sales rank is 431,994. All of which suggests that fame can sell only so many books. While Greene’s first book was considered an okay first effort, it was clearly not strong enough to bring anywhere near all the readers of the first book along for the second. Still, 1,204 ratings on Goodreads is nothing to sneer at.

Now let’s look at a new Austrian fantasy author Stacy McEwan, who released her first book, Ledge: The Glacian Trilogy, Book 1 on 13 September 2022. It currently has 1,199 ratings on GoodReads with a 495 reviews and a 4.19* rating and 310 ratings on Amazon with a 4.5* rating. As of this writing the Kindle book is ranked 8,633 which my handy dandy sales estimator says that book is selling on at a rate of 30 books a day, 449 copies a month. The hardcover book is ranked 15,680 which translates to about 17 books a day, 256 a month. These numbers bounce around daily, and reflect the sales on Amazon in the US only. Amazon sales outside of the US and all bookshop sales are not included, and no doubt add significantly to the grand total.

So why have I chosen her? Well, I happened to watch an interview with her, which is the only reason why I am aware of her. But in this interview she told her story. She happens to be a TikTok star, a “Booktok” person, which I gather are people on TikTok who do whatever they do there around a book theme. She happens to be very good at it, and has some 321,500 followers. I’m not on TikTok, but what I gather is that she does short comedy skits about books. So, when she wrote her first fantasy novel, Ledge, and talked about it on TikTok, not only did several publishing companies request to see her story, but something like five agents offered to represent her.

Interestingly enough, she had planned to release her book as a self-published book. She had it all set to go, with a cover done and a release date set when these publishers and agents contacted her, and bid for her book. She had to cancel her publication and at the same time, let all the people that pre-ordered it know that it was going to be published by Angry Robot instead, at a different date.

Now, as it happens, I happen to know of another debut fantasy author, Shauna Lawless, from Ireland who published her first fantasy book just two weeks before McEwan did, on the 1st of September 2022. This book, The Children of Gods and Fighting Men, was also traditionally published, this time by the Head of Zeus. It is a historical fantasy set in Ireland. It currently has 189 ratings and 114 reviews on GoodReads with a 4.51* rating and on Amazon it has 26 global ratings with a 4.7* rating. As of this writing the ebook sits at #118,647 on which translates to 2 copies a day and 29 a month with the hardcover book selling at 4 copies a day, 54 books a month. Again, these numbers reflect only Amazon sales in the US. Amazon sales outside of the US and bookshop sales everywhere will add significantly to the total sales.

Both of these books were traditionally published, so sales are not directly comparable to self-published books. And as always, we are comparing apples to oranges when comparing the two books. Still, I think that it is clear that being famous on social media contributes significantly to sales. The numbers tell the tale: McEwan’s 1.199 GoodReads ratings to Lawless’s 189 (with a 2 week lead).

I also know of a booktuber, Bookborn, who’s husband, Zack Argyle’s self published debut fantasy series the first book which was published in March 2020 has sold petty well, with his first book having 624 ratings and 263 reviews with a 3.94*. Now, I really don’t know if it was even promoted on his wife’s YouTube channel, but all these people have Twitter accounts as well that can be used to get the word out to followers.

All in all, while it is quite obvious that fame will often lead to fortune, and books sales, it is perhaps less obvious that in this day of age, fame is not out of the reach of ordinary writers. It may well pay, especially if you are only starting your writing career, to develop social media channels to your potential readers.

Oh, and blogs are too 2012. They don’t make you famous. Just say’n.

Traditional Publishing Numbers

In my last piece I profiled the sales experience of two indie authors, a part-time writer like most of us, and a full time writer. The Department of Justice vs Penguin Random House/S&S trial has generated a great deal of buzz in the book world and a great deal of numbers, statistics, and headlines, mostly out of context. In a blog post, Lincoln Michel put some context to the numbers being bandied about. If you have any interest in the business of bookselling, you should read his post, which can be found here:

And in the comments on this blog post, Kristen McLean, the lead industry analyst from NPD BookScan, gives us some concrete numbers. BookScan is the company that tracks about 76% of the sales of paper books in the US. She provides some specific numbers for the sales of paper books by the 10 largest publishers in the US for a period of 52 weeks ending on August 24th 2022. BookScan uses ISBNs to track sales, and this data set tracks 45,571 frontlist titles from Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Scholastic, Disney, Macmilan, Abrams, Soucebooks and John Wiley.

It should be noted that the numbers below are the sales of paper books reported by about 76% of the US retail outlets, (including Amazon) so they do not include all paper book sales. Nor do they include the sales of ebooks and audiobooks, nor sales to libraries, or sales via an author’s website or at conventions or trade shows. Thus actual numbers will be somewhat higher.

Here are the numbers from this group of publishers:

>>>0.4% or 163 books sold 100,000 copies or more

>>>0.7% or 320 books sold between 50,000-99,999 copies

>>>2.2% or 1,015 books sold between 20,000-49,999 copies

>>>3.4% or 1,572 books sold between 10,000-19,999 copies

>>>5.5% or 2,518 books sold between 5,000-9,999 copies

>>>21.6% or 9,863 books sold between 1,000-4,999 copies

>>>51.4% or 23,419 sold between 12-999 copies

>>>14.7% or 6,701 books sold under 12 copies

The first takeaway is that almost 15% of the books published by these 10 publishing houses sell less than 12 copies. And mind you, this data set only include frontlist books, not books from their backlist catalogs. Nor do these numbers include indie published paper books. These are books that were purchased by the 10 largest publishers in the US. The upside is that the authors of these books were paid an advance independent of sales. They made money on those 12 books, which is more than an indie publisher that sells 12 books is likely able to claim.

The second major takeaway is that 66% of these frontlist books published by these big publishers sell less than 1,000 copies over the 52 week period. They will continue to sell for the next couple of years, so these may not be their total sales. Still, in a nation of about 330 million people, a thousand copies would seem to be a low bar to surpass.

Somewhere in the upper range of the 21.6% of books in the 1,000 – 5,000 range the publisher starts making a profit on the book, and the authors can begin to rest a little easier about getting another book deal. And to put it in perspective, if you have sold 5,000 copies of your book in the last 52 weeks, you are in the top 13% of all authors. You are a successful author with 5,000 books sold.

All in all, the bottom line is that if you are writing books to make money, you need to be very, very lucky to have any financial success at all, and very, very, very lucky to have that success to last for any length of time. For most authors, writing books pays about as much as writing a blog.

Another Rock in the Path

Mark Paxson

This morning I woke to another email from D2D. Today’s issue is this. My short story collection consists mostly of stories I’ve published on one of my blogs. I note that in the front matter of the book.

Amazon will not publish anything that is available for free elsewhere on the web, so … Amazon won’t be making my book available. Oh well.

The thing is that D2D asks this question before publishing and warns that Amazon won’t publish anything that is freely available elsewhere, or even available at a lower cost. I just didn’t figure Amazon will catch it. Lesson learned — they did. But again … oh well.