Monday, 27 September 2010

Life rankings

Like most authors with a book on Amazon - in my case, the Kindle version of Remix, I'm obsessed with my book's ranking in the chart. As I write, Remix is #1 in Contemporary Romance, #21 in Adult and Contemporary Romance, and #259 overall. By the time you look, it could be anything.

Those charts have the power to make one elated or downcast, and unless one's book is sitting at #1 in every possible chart, there is always something to wish for. And if one's book was at #1 in every chart, one would wish for it to stay there forever. [Note to self: must try to be more like Dalai Lama or Marcus Aurelius.]

Which made me realize how lucky we are there are few overt rankings in life, once one has left school. (JK Rowling's primary school teacher arranged the class in order of her perception of their intelligence; JKR was near the bottom, and never forgave her.)

Imagine if we were able to view our rankings, changing on an hourly basis, for our success as an earner, a parent, a spouse, a driver, a lover; if there were marks for looks, which dipped when your hair needed a wash or you had a nasty cold, or for niceness, which dived every time you were sharp with a telephone salesperson.

We'd never get anything done.

Monday, 20 September 2010

A self-publishing success story

Interview with a successful independent author

Eric Christopherson is the author of the thriller Crack-Up, which tells the story of Argus Ward, a former U.S. Secret Service agent who runs a protection agency catering to the rich and famous. His best-kept secret is his status as a high-functioning paranoid schizophrenic. One day, he turns psychotic for the first time in twenty years, and lands in a secure psychiatric facility, charged with the murder of his most famous client.

The reason I’m interviewing him here is that he’s self-published, and been remarkably successful in selling his book. To date, he’s sold over 6,000 copies of Crack-Up in ebook format, and as I write Crack-Up is at 18 in the Amazon Technothrillers category; a feat that most self-publishers, including me, would love to emulate. Of course, it helps that his book is a gripping read.

First things first: how did you come up with the idea for Crack-Up?

It’s highly autobiographical. Just kidding. Psychology (my undergraduate major) has long been an interest, and one day I thought: “Wouldn’t it be fun for readers of thrillers to read a book told from the perspective of someone who suffers from delusions and hallucinations? They wouldn’t be able to tell what’s real and what’s not.” The bonus was that the disease is very interesting in its own right, as I discovered through my research. But I didn’t have a plot to go with the character, and the idea noodled in my brain for years before one finally came to me.

Why did you self-publish?

The first literary agent to read the book (Joe Veltre, a former editor at Harper Collins and St. Martins) fell in love with it and tried hard to sell it over a period of years, ultimately without success. The most frequent reason cited for rejection by the editors who considered purchasing the book was a belief that readers would have a hard time identifying with a protagonist who suffers from a serious mental disease. But that really hasn’t proven to be the case, based on feedback from actual readers.

With the book rejected by major publishers, I had the option to turn to small publishers or to self-publish, and in July of 2009 I self-pubbed, after reading about Boyd Morrison, a thriller author whose book had also been rejected all over New York until, two years later, his agent resubmitted the novel and it finally sold to Simon and Schuster on the strength of thousands of Amazon Kindle sales. Initially, I was hoping to repeat his experience.

Initially? Have you changed your mind about mainstream publication?

Yes, I've changed my mind to some extent. A year ago, I would have jumped on any offer from a major publisher, but now I would weigh whether to do so carefully. If I were to be offered a six figure deal then that's nothing to sniff at as well as an indication the publishing house would really get behind the book, but if it's five figures, then I might actually be better off financially in the long run by holding onto my rights and continuing to self-publish because the book isn't likely to get a big push, I'd have to give away most of the book's future earnings, and publishing houses are now--thanks to the digital revolution--trying to hold on to book rights in perpetuity and I'd likely never get my rights back--unless big publishing folds due to all the recent and pending upheavals. I don't think it will, but it could look very different in five years. I predict that half the people now working for one of the Big Six publishing houses in America won't be by 2015 and that all the books they publish will be blockbusters, seven figure deals. The great thing about making predictions five years ahead is if you're wrong no one will remember but you, and if you're right, you can dig out the evidence...

What made you decide to concentrate on e-publishing, rather than bring out a paperback, or do both?

There’s a service called “Bookscan” that can be used by the publishing industry to track print sales, and I didn’t know whether I’d sell well, and therefore preferred not to have Crack-Up sales be tracked, lest the numbers haunt me down the road when, or if, I decided to approach major publishers again with the book. The sales numbers, as it turned out, have been quite good, so I don’t have that excuse anymore, and the truth is I’m lazy at self-marketing. There’s a bit of work involved in getting a print edition together. One day I’ll find the motivation, I suspect, so that people without ereaders can buy the book.

I think the most difficult thing about selling a novel, however good it is, is to get the ball rolling initially; to attain visibility on Amazon. How did you achieve this?

I was very lucky. I uploaded the novel on Amazon and then did nothing. I sold only one book in the first two weeks, but it was to a woman known as “RedAdept”: a frequent reviewer and commentator on the Amazon Kindle boards. She loved the book enough to tout it in a discussion thread or two, and within two days I’d sold over two hundred copies and reached #1 on the Amazon Movers & Shakers list. It was this experience with Crack-Up that spurred Red Adept to start her popular book reviewing blog (see I still have no personal website and although I recently established a Facebook fan page I really haven’t used it (told you I was lazy).

I noticed that Crack-Up has a lot of enthusiastic reviews on Amazon. How important were reviewers in helping to sell Crack-Up?

Crack-Up has never been reviewed except by readers and by Red Adept, but simple mention of the novel on Kindle-related sites is very beneficial. For example, Crack-Up sales peaked in June of this year, cracking the overall top 100 in the Kindle store after a mention at: A few other blog sites have been kind enough to mention the book, each time bouncing sales. I’m sure all the five-star reviews on Amazon help to sell the book, but I don’t know to what extent.

You must have learned a lot during this process. Is there anything you would do differently?

I should really get a website and solicit more blogger reviews of Crack-Up and make a dead tree version available. I’m sure I’ve squandered lots of potential sales by being lazy with the self-marketing and with getting a print book in place.

The good news is with ebooks, as opposed to print books, one doesn’t have a short time in which to make the book a success. For example, my best sales month with Crack-Up came 11 months after publishing. The passing of time often rids a print book from the store shelves but actually helps an ebook on Amazon by associating it with other ebooks and making it more visible.

Thanks for the invitation to discuss my book, Lexi. I feel less lazy today!

Crack-Up is selling on Amazon Kindle Store for the amazingly small price of £0.74, also on Smashwords for all e-formats - why not check it out?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

In praise of paper books

Today I have a guest blogger, Jim Buck, musing on what he likes about traditional books as he waits for the arrival of his brand new Kindle:

1) Bookshops are my favourite shops. I love the mystery of used bookshops; and the congregation of like-minded souls in Waterstones and places like it. If I meet someone in Waterstones, I know they are basically OK. Bookshops are the nearest I get to church attendance.

2) I love the smell and feel of a new book; its like the thrill of a new lover. It might all end in discord and discard, but I'm a little richer for the experience.

3) I love browsing other people's bookshelves; it tells me more about them than anything else; their whole history is there to see.

4) Sitting opposite someone on a train who has their nose stuck in a kindle is a less aesthetic experience than seeing an interesting book cover.

5) I have had books autographed by Doris Lessing and all sorts of interesting people. What will they do when presented with my kindle? Reboot it?

6) Some of the most enjoyable reading experiences I have had have come about through me having to read a book because no other one is available e.g when sharing a villa with friends and you exchange books, because you are read up.

So if the kindle is isn't here by the end of this week, I think I shall cancel.

Jim Buck

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Imagine agents chasing writers...

I was thinking about the people who post comments on literary agents' blogs - the ones that make you wish they'd get up off their knees and behave with a little dignity, however genuine their enthusiasm may be. You know the sort of thing:

Amazing post! Really awesome, N****n. I'll keep this by me when I write. Extremely helpful. And may I say how funny you are...

It got me wondering about what it would be like in a world where there was a shortage of writers, so that anyone who produced a readable book would be pursued by agents desperate to sign him. I went into a pleasant daydream about agents reading this blog telling me how fantastic my latest post was, and what an insight into the world of authors it had given them, while dropping discreet hints about how good their literary agency was.

Back to the real world. I've designed some beautiful bookmarks to promote Remix, which should arrive from the printers shortly. If you meet me, there is no chance at all you will not find yourself the proud owner of one of them.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Changes at Authonomy

I gave up on Authonomy a couple of months ago. The forum, completely unmoderated, had been taken over by bores and bullies, the charts were a nonsense (anyone prepared to spend months spamming, swapping shelves and voting for themselves via sock puppets could reach the top). The 'top talent spotters' achieved their status by backing each new book as it arrived before anyone else did, without even a glance at the synopsis. Harper Collins' editors couldn't be bothered to do the reviews for the top five punctually. And the site no longer even works very well; it's slow, often fails to bring up the page you want, and Reply With Quote on the forum works only occasionally.

When Authonomy started its slow downward spiral, about Christmas 2008, those of us who'd been there from beta days and loved the site made suggestions as to what could be done to remedy the situation. Long threads full of excellent ideas ran for months, all of which Harper Collins ignored. I blogged about it here and here.

Yesterday, Harper Collins announced on their blog that it was time for a change:

In recent months, we'll admit that the site has been suffering from a kind of 'vote inflation' where support was given (or traded) very freely and as a result the rank of all books has been somewhat cheapened... It is time to return to these original ideals, where your authonomy bookshelf holds the very best of the books that you have found on the site, where your five favourites grow virtually dusty on their perch until your head is turned by a new read and the decision to swap out a book becomes an agonising predicament. We want the charts to mirror more accurately a community consensus, and for the feat of reaching an editor to be based on something other than months of superhuman networking effort.

We listened to your comments on how to improve the site
[ha!]and took much of it on-board [double ha!]. We hope the changes we’ll be making will move authonomy in the right direction.

What they don't say is why they have waited so long to intervene. I have a theory. I think it's all about the bottom line. At first, the mayhem on the forum had the fascination of a multi-vehicle pile-up. People flocked to gawp, and got dragged in. It was busier than it had ever been. And with a corrupt chart, bad writers saw that a gold star was within their grasp, if they used the new ways to pimp their book. Authonomy was buzzing, so why would HC change anything?

Then it got to the stage where you needed 60-70 backings to move up one place; it took a year to struggle to the top five; no one ever got a contract for their efforts; a lot of people got sickened by the brawling on the forum. Members left.

In my opinion, HC is now bringing in some of the measures we begged for over a year ago because the site is in serious decline; falling numbers means falling revenue. It's all about money.

Will they do enough to turn the site around, and change the current bad ethos? I really hope so, but I'm not sure they grasp the scale of the problem, or will act with the necessary ruthlessness to put Authonomy back on track. It may be too little, too late.