Tag Archives: kindle

Hot Mess: Journey’s End

Putting together Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change was a challenge. I wrote two stories I’m extraordinarily proud of. I worked with four other writers, an illustrator and a graphic designer to publish the piece as both an e-book and a physical one.  The experience of releasing the anthology was emotionally and artistically rewarding.

That said, after a lot of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that Hot Mess has reached the end of its journey.

It’s not that I think the threats posed by climate change are over – far from it, even if there was a historic climate agreement reached in Paris over the weekend. There’s still just as far to go, and it’s just as important now as it was four years ago when the anthology was published. Senator Bernie Sanders, my favorite prospective presidential nominee, has said repeatedly: climate change, more than even terrorism, is the single greatest threat to national security that the US faces.

This weekend’s agreement, which relies on governments around the world cutting their dependence on and use of fossil fuels significantly, is the first baby step towards that. With targets that are to be discussed and met every five years throughout this century, it’s a long-term plan for a long-term problem. Climate change didn’t just happen overnight, after all. Closer to home: Buffalo just smashed through a 116-year-old record because there hasn’t been snow yet. That’s right – earlier today, in Buffalo, New York, in the middle of December, I was walking around in a light jacket.

(And by the way, I’m sorry if I’m rambling a little – there were a lot of different and tangentily-related lines of thought that went into this decision, and putting together a coherent blog about it is harder than I thought it would be.)

When I first thought about taking Hot Mess down, something surprised me. I would have expected to feel a sense of sadness or dread, but instead I just felt…lighter.

Tangent: approximately one million years ago, when I was trying to decide where in England I was going to study for my junior year abroad, I had two choices: Kent, which was the program my university sponsored, and Middlesex University, in London – a program I’d applied to through another SUNY school. Each option has its appeal, and I couldn’t decide which to do. My mom gave me some advice that served me well then and has ever since: When you’re trying to make a decision and you have two choices, imagine you’ve chosen one or the other. Live with that for a few days. See how you feel. If it feels right, then do that. If not…move on to the next possibility. I wound up studying in London, and it was one of the best years of my life.

When I thought about taking down Hot Mess…it just felt right.

So…yeah. I’m not sure that it’s even that important that my thought process on this be clear to anyone else – I’m pretty sure that it’s not, so far, and I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg on the vast cloud of ideas that have led me here. But I do know that I at least wanted to give people a heads up, that Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change will be taken offline at the end of this year. I’ll migrate the reviews its received from Amazon and other sales venues to a page here on my site (just to make sure they’re not lost), and that will be that.

In other words, you’ve got about two weeks to decide how many copies you want to buy before this one goes away. Avoid disappointment. Order now. Information below. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

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Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change will go out of print in the new year; order your digital and print copies before December 31st, 2015.

Thoughts on Succeeding as a Modern-Day Author

 Image by "Lynn Gardner on Flickr":http://www.flickr.com/photos/grandgrrl/5240360344/ and used with Creative Commons License.

Image by “Lynn Gardner on Flickr”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/grandgrrl/5240360344/ and used with Creative Commons License.

A couple things happened in the world of eBook sales the last few weeks, and I thought it might be useful to write down some thoughts on the matter.

Massive Report On Amazon Sales Released

First, Hugh Howey, bestselling author of the Silo Saga, released a report on Amazon’s sales figures. If you’re trying to sell eBooks, particularly as an independent author, I highly recommend you read the report. The report goes into detail, examining how different types of authors do when selling their books on Amazon, including numbers of books sold, amounts of money made, and changes in which authors are walking away with the biggest slices of the publishing pie. In the end, the report (and other articles I’ve read that riff on it) make it sound as if, for new authors, self-publishing is the best way forward. Going with the big five only seems to benefit writers who are already established, particularly since (more and more frequently) marketing duties fall to the writer in both cases.

Apple Adds iBook App to iOS8, reducing purchasing friction

Secondly, I’ve just read an article on how iOS8’s inclusion of an iBook app does away with an important point of friction for buyers on the iBook platform. Knowing this, and having glanced a few times at my Smashwords sales reports, I took a moment to head over to my Buy My Books! page and enter in additional links direct to each platform that had reported sales. This included Kobo and iBooks,

Value Added By Traditional Small Publishers Continues To Lessen

The third point I want to mention is that a friend who works primarily in self-publishing, but also had a publishing deal with a small press for a horror novella, recently had an interaction with her publisher regarding their agreement and the number of copies that had sold during the two-year term of her contract with them. The email she received in return was disappointing: vague regarding actions they’d taken (which they were contractually obligated to undertake), nonspecific about the number of sales her book had seen over the past two years, and essentially tepid about continuing to sell and market her book. When she asked my advice about whether to keep or dump her publisher, my take was that they didn’t seem to be adding value.

Because value is what it’s all about, as an indie publisher, isn’t it? We spend our time and often our money finding ways to add value to our work: covers that pop, ads that reach our intended customers, giveaways that grow both awareness and mailing lists. While publishing houses might offer individuals with specific publishing expertise, if that only results in a few press releases being sent around a state – and no interviews or reviews – is any value really being added? If Smashwords can upload your eBook to numerous growing retailers (particularly those, like Apple, who are moving towards eliminating friction in the purchasing process), or Amazon actually pays you significantly more than a writer with a Big Five contract…what real value do you get from pursuing a traditional path to publication? One friend, who works closely with an Agent, even reported that if he couldn’t get his clients a good deal within six months, he recommended they self-publish then re-shopped their work once they had sales figures to back it up – and then got them much better offers. While we’re not all fans of marketing, and staying on top of the latest trends takes time many of us would rather spend in polishing our drafts, the reality is that self-publishing lets us make more money and saves the Big Five the problem of dedicating resources to authors who won’t sell.

In short, it’s looking more and more like writers who want to succeed have to be prepared to do so in a self-publishing space.

Tracking eBook Sales With Authorgraph

paring down my libraryIf you look off to the right of this blog, you’ll see a drop-down menu from Authorgraph, a service that lets authors sign digital books. I joined up after reading about it a couple months ago, but have been — shall we say — underwhelmed by the number of readers who want to take advantage of the service. As they say on Shark Tank, I’m not sure this is a problem that needed a solution. Whether this is because people are still being educated on what a “digital author signature” looks like or because my readers just aren’t interested, who knows, but I’ve definitely given some thought to taking the plug-in off my page in order to open up some valuable sidebar real estate.

The other day, though, I got an interesting email from the service. It let me know how my books were faring on the Amazon sales ranking lists. One had gone up by several thousand places, another had fallen – and since I haven’t seen other places where this tracking-over-time has taken place, I thought it was interesting that this has now been added to the service.

Amazon Sales Ranking is calculated every hour or so and can fluctuate wildly. Since most self-published books don’t sell over 200 copies within their lifetime (I’m happy to say all but a couple of mine have exceeded that level) selling just a few copies a day is enough to drive a book up by thousands of “ranks,” and checking in on a sporadic basis doesn’t guarantee an accurate picture.

So while its primary use – as a tool for connecting with readers – still hasn’t proven itself to me, Authorgraph’s ability to provide authors with ebook tracking data has definitely become a significant reason for creating and maintaining an account with the service.

Thinning the Book-Herd

paring down my libraryI was reading this article from the Guardian Saturday morning, and it reminded me of my own recent library purge.

I’ve always loved books. When I was in elementary school, I used to walk through the halls reading a book. While I never crashed into anyone, my teacher had a prejudice against allowing this kind of nerdery to go unchecked. Similarly, I (though not other children) was banned from bringing a book to the cafeteria for lunchtime. (This problem was solved by reading over a friend’s shoulder – we were both obsessed with The Babysitters Club, so it worked out well.)

Over the years, I built up quite the collection: science fiction, historical fiction, foreign fiction fiction-fiction, mythology and more. Once, I calculated the cover value of my Star Trek novels alone – it amounted to several thousand dollars, and I was only in my mid-teens. Growing older, moving to college and then graduate school and then to live on my own, however, my collection was slowly pared down. First, the books moved to my parents’ basement and garage. Every time I’d come home, I’d go through them and winnow them down to fewer and fewer volumes. Several boxes came to New York City with me, but as my apartments grew smaller and smaller, even these – which I had thought of as the books I could never part with – became fewer in number.

The last few months have seen another reduction, setting bags on the stoop of my building with signs: “FREE BOOKS!” on sunny weekend mornings.

In her article (an excerpt from her book) Linda Grant writes:

The methodology I used for my cull was very high-minded: I would preserve those books of literary merit, the books I had not yet read but wanted to and the books given as gifts with an inscription on the flyleaf. “

This reasoning approximated my own library reduction. I kept the sci-fi greats, books I would not be able to easily replace. Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, Robert Heinlein, Orson Scott Card – these were books that remained on my shelf, in part because their writing styles always inspired me but also partly because I can’t imagine going out and re-buying these books.

My books of “literary merit” also included classics and old books inherited from my grandparents. I have an entire set of the complete works of Tolstoy, of Sir Walter Scott, of Victor Hugo. The Tolstoy was published in the early 1900s and the author himself was consulted on the translation; I can’t see how reading another version of War and Peace will take me closer to the original Russian, which I don’t read and can’t see myself learning.

Then there are the plays I’ve seen and loved: mostly scripts purchased from the Traverse Theatre or the Royal Court, or gifted to me by playwrights like Alan Wilkins or Jo Clifford.

There are books of sentimental value: my complete set of Moomin novels, by Tove Jansson, or Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. And there are many books I haven’t read yet, but want to, but suspect I may not: Heaney’s Beowulf, some Balzac, a few graphic novels.

What remains on my shelf is eclectic, and still takes up an entire shelf on my wall, but it is pared down. There is a surprising amount of nonfiction, for someone with reading
roots so deeply associated with sci-fi and other imagined worlds. And these days, I hardly buy books any more: I check out digital editions from the library or purchase copies of the books I want from Kindle. If they’re classic, there are almost always free digital versions (or low-cost ones) and if they’re new I can usually borrow the digital copy from a friend, or occasionally spring for it. I read more indie novels, paging through Wattpad in search of samples that get my mind going.

While Grant laments having gotten rid of so many of her books in her move, I find that I rarely miss the physical volumes I’ve let leave my life. Once or twice I’ve wanted a quote only to find that the book in question left me long ago, but for the most part I have what I need. Most of my college textbooks are finally gone – if I want to get back into filmmaking, rather than scriptwriting, there are websites and other resources where I’ll be able to refresh my memory. I no longer felt attached to my British editions of Harry Potter, and kept only a handful of my favorite Star Trek novels – mostly by Peter David and Daffyd ab Hugh (whose no-holds-barred stories satisfied my affection for bloodthirsty sci-fi, as a teen).

What I realized the other day – and what I found a bit upsetting – is how few of the books on my shelf are written by women. While it’s not yet time for me to rebuild my library – that will have to wait until I own my own home instead of rent a small shoebox – the temptation to refill my shelves with Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Poppy Z. Brite, Octavia Butler, Anne McCaffery, Diana Gabaldon and more is difficult to resist. They and others are finding their place on my virtual bookshelf, but it’s clear to me that I need to put more effort into reading (and buying) non-white, non-male authors.

What books do you read? What are some that you’d recommend? Leave a comment to let me know, and don’t be discouraged by the weird error message that comes up when you click “submit” – the comments are posting, there’s just something wrong with the blog.

 

Like reading? Enjoy writing reviews? I’m currently seeking beta readers/advance reviewers for my upcoming collection of sci-fi and speculative fiction stories, SHORT FRICTIONS. If you’re interested, please click here to find out more.

For Self-Published Authors, Restoring Your eBook Price Comes With A Catch-22

raising ebook prices across platformsIf you’ve self-published an ebook, you’re probably aware of the disclaimer most sites hold regarding pricing: namely, that they’re allowed to change the selling price of your ebook whenever they want, without reason given or consultation.

Practically speaking, this generally comes into effect when there’s a discontinuity between prices set on different sites. For example, if you’re charging $2.99 on Amazon and $.99 on Smashwords, Amazon will most likely adjust the price of your ebook downward so it’s competitive with its competitor. Some writers have even found a way to game the system in order to give away free copies of their books permanently, and rather than just use the five free days Amazon Kindle Select users are entitled to, they price their ebooks as free on Smashwords then self-report until Amazon lowers their selling price to zero.

Here’s the problem: if, at any point, a writer wants to push the price of their ebook up, coordinating all these sites’ pricing information (and we’re not just talking Amazon and Smashwords – there’s also Nook Publishing, and if you manage sites like Kobo, etc. independently, those can also factor in) can be a logistical nightmare. Smashwords’ distributors can take from one to three weeks to reprice your book. Amazon won’t raise the price if it’s offered for less elsewhere. And who has any idea how Barnes & Nobles manages their Nook site; I can’t quite figure out who’s buying self-published books over there, anyways.

The solution seems, at first glance, simple: just withdraw your book from publication until you’re down to one distributor (ideally the one you’re making the most sales on) then add back the other retailers at your new price point. The problem is that this leads to lost sales metrics and an effect on your overall ranking, as Smashwords so carefully warns when you go to “unpublish” a book.

I’m not sure what the solution is, but self-published authors may want to consider this difficulty when they’re choosing what platforms to use and where to set their original price point. While you can always adjust the List Price of your book upwards (and may want to consider doing so, since it can give customers the impression that they’re getting a deal), moving it up from a lower price point once you’ve published on multiple platforms is nowhere near as easy as you’d think.

I’d love to hear how other authors are dealing with the issue of having publishers slash their ebook prices, since I couldn’t find information online with some quick googling. If you’re selling across platforms and want to raise an ebook price back to its original list price after your distributor has lowered it, what’s your strategy to coordinate all the different timelines involved?

Additional reading:

I’m currently seeking beta readers/advance reviewers for my upcoming collection of sci-fi and speculative fiction stories, SHORT FRICTIONS. If you’re interested, please click here to find out more. 

Now for Kindle! Mousewings: a post-apocalyptic urban fairy tale

“If you were three mice in a cage, one of you would be the weakest mouse. When the other two mice got hungry enough they would eat the weakest mouse. Eat it until its tumors were lying exposed on its back, or till someone from the lab came in and gave it a shot. Put it out of its misery. We’d do it for a mouse…”

It’s the end of the world. A disease decimates the population. A cancer-researcher’s home is invaded by two escapees from a housing project, making their way to the coast. A giant bird-turned-man haunts her memories. Mice turn cannibal under pressure; are human beings any different?

Over the last two years, I’ve uploaded my produced plays to Amazon. First POST, then Playing it Cool, then Stuck Up A Tree.

Now it’s time for Mousewings.

Bird behind Rin

Rob Flett and Catriona Grozier in Mousewings.

Mousewings was produced in Edinburgh during the 2007 Fringe – my last Fringe in Scotland (for the time being). Written in response to a call for work from the Bedlam theater, a venue run by Edinburgh University, it was also the first play I wrote for a specific commission. As part of the Traverse Young Writer’s Group, I received an email letting me know about the opportunity, and a short while later was sat opposite the venue manager and publicity manager in a pub near Edinburgh Uni, describing two possible plays they might be interested in staging. When I finished, the venue manager nodded and asked, “Which one are you more interested in writing?”

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Alastair Gillies and Rachel O’Conner in Mousewings.

Thus began production work on Mousewings. I contacted Emma Taylor, the director I’d worked with on Stuck Up A Tree, and asked if she’d be interested in working on this one. We held a casting call and found our Bird, Sylvie, Rin and Kyle, and the adventure began in earnest. I reached out to graphic design companies, and Definitely Red created a creepy, haunting graphic for our posters, postcards and program. Rehearsals were held in the Edinburgh Playhouse’s event space, discussions of the play’s relationship to pop culture introduced me to The Walking Dead (the graphic novels) for the first time, and I got to watch Emma and the cast bring this eerie twilight horror tale to life. It was nothing short of thrilling. The play hit its mark, earning reviews that proved it from a number of publications during the Fringe.

After many months and a few false starts, I’m thrilled to announce that Mousewings is now available on Amazon, exclusively for Kindle.

I hope you enjoy the play.

Buy or borrow Mousewings on Amazon.

DraftCover2 copy

Getting paid to write.

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In today’s blog, and in light of the issues I’ve read about online and e-published authors have had in getting paid, I wanted to say a few things about writing and getting paid for it.

I hope you’ll excuse me if I meander around a bit. Money for the fruit of my soul is an emotional subject.

I got paid on Thursday for a job I did last fall.

Due to a miscommunication, I never realized they’d requested an invoice.

Within days of raising a question about payment (uh…Monday?)…the money hit my account.

I’ve been wondering what was going on since at least October; I remember having a conversation with a friend who was part of the same project around then. And now I’m kicking myself – why didn’t I just ask the producer at the time, why did I step back and not bring up this question of payment earlier?

I didn’t want to seem pushy or petty. But asking “Hey, what’s up?” at a point sooner than four months after the fact would have saved a lot of time, and that would have been nice. As evidenced by how quickly we figured out what was up once I opened my mouth.

Anyway, I’m meandering.

What I wanted to say was this: it felt SO GOOD to get paid for something I’d written because I *felt* it. The piece I was paid for landed in my lap like a flash of inspiration, and having it produced (even abroad, even when I couldn’t go to see it) gave me the most wonderful, settled feeling in the world.

Getting paid for it today, seeing the money land in my account – that gave me a whole different kind of good feeling.

In our society, money is a potent type of validation. I remember the first time I got paid for writing something. A friend bought a short story I’d written. Later, I felt this kind of validation again when I earned money on my Fringe shows (most notably, “Stuck Up A Tree,” which is now *ahemavailableonKindle*). At the same time, we’re told not to ask about it – to the point where I put off a polite inquiry for four months! How crazy is that?

As a freelancer, a self-owned business, you – much like reporters – are advised to follow (up) the money. Nobody is going to think less of you for asking a question.

And trust me. Getting paid for a passion project? The best feeling ever.

2012 was a weighted year. When I got my 1099s for my self-published work in the mail the other day, the amounts added up to a very small sum. Even smaller, once I sit down, do the math, and send money to the writers, illustrators, designers, co-editors and charities owed for the last quarter or two. Having made a somewhat significant sum a few years ago thanks to commercial freelancing, I appreciate the difference between getting paid to write, and getting paid to write what you love.

But what’s left will still be more more than I made on my creative writing in 2011. Which isn’t a bad trend to be following.

Addendum: I asked for some advice re: photography for this entry, because I stress about things like that, and here’s the best response I got.