Saturday, August 31, 2013

Blood Brothers now on Nook and Smashwords

Blood Brothers is now available on Barnes & Noble Nook, and on Smashwords.

Click here for Nook.

Click here for Smashwords.

(Smashwords is currently reviewing the book for Premium Catalog inclusion, whereupon it'll be available on Kobo and the Apple ibookstore and pretty much everywhere else.)

I also want to mention that I've been pleasantly surprised with Smashwords so far. I'd never used the company before--my approach to D.I.Y. is usually to try to do everything myself, directly, and Smashwords is sort of a middleman service. But I'd heard of other authors like Lindsay Buroker using Smashwords, and I figured I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did. I like their orientation toward keeping things simple, and I appreciate the efforts Mark Coker (founder of Smashwords) makes to provide support to indie (self-published) authors. Among these efforts, Mark has written two different books about how to self-publish more effectively and have better success doing so. The books are titled Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, and The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, and they're both available for free (click the title of each book to go to the Smashwords page for it, though you can also find them on Kindle and elsewhere). I've read through both books, and while I've already come across some of the strategies and information they offer, I've also found a lot of new ideas in both. Here are a few things that come to mind:

1) Mark stresses the importance of making your books as easy for your readers to find as possible. That sounds obvious, but he gets specific about things I'd never thought of. For example, he doesn't recommend using initials in your author name (like, for instance, M.F. Soriano... whoops!), because it makes it harder for people to search for you. They might put "mf soriano" in the search bar instead of "m.f. soriano", or maybe they'll mix up the letters, and your books won't necessarily show up in the search results. (And what "mf" in particular will get you can be pretty eye-opening; I was actually contacted by a reader who'd tried to search for me on Kobo, and the "mf" brought up all sorts of crazy titles. Try it for yourself and you'll see.)

Also related to this: if you have more than one book in a series and they're already all written, put them all out at once. Don't try to release them on an ongoing schedule. If a reader has to wait for the next title to come out, they might not ever remember to buy it.

2) Although Mark goes to lengths to give indie writers hope, and to make them feel valued and supported, he also states pretty plainly that selling books is very hard, and that the vast majority of books (either independently or traditionally published) never sell very many copies. Because of that, he recommends spending as little as possible in self-publishing ventures--preferably nothing. I've pretty much come to that conclusion myself. I decided to contract professional services for Blood Brothers, and although I feel like the price was good (total cost for cover design and formatting for both ebook and print editions was $460) and I'm happy with the work I got... it takes a lot of sales to earn back even $460 when you only earn a buck or two per copy sold.

3) And speaking of money, though it is an obvious goal in most publishing, Mark stresses that there are other factors that are more important to a writer's career: namely, finding readers. If you're likely to earn the same amount of money at two different price points, Mark recommends choosing the price point that will move the most copies. If that means selling your book for half as much, but selling twice as many copies, that's what you should do.

4) Another little aside about money. Usually, selling a book directly through the store (like uploading it yourself to Barnes and Noble, for example) will get you more money than you'd earn if the book passes through a middleman like Smashwords. But in one important case, that's not true. If you upload the book yourself on Barnes and Noble, and set a 99 cent price for your book, you'll earn 40 cents a copy. If you put it up on Smashwords with a 99 cent price, and they distribute it to Barnes and Noble, you'll earn 60 cents per copy that sells there. This only works at the 99 cent price point, but it's something to consider.

There's a lot more to learn, and a lot more to be said about Smashwords. I'm still waiting for Blood Brothers to be approved for the Smashwords Premium Catalog. When that happens, I'll have more to share.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Blood Brothers Kindle exclusivity ends, & other news

When I put Blood Brothers up on Amazon I enrolled it in their Kindle Select program, which meant Amazon had exclusive rights to the eBook for three months. Yesterday, that exclusive period ended. I'm now in the process of making it available elsewhere--starting with Nook (which I uploaded to today) and planning on Kobo and the Apple store and maybe Smashwords.

Before the Kindle-exclusive period ended, I made Blood Brothers available for free download on two additional days--Monday and Tuesday of last week. Amazon gives you five free-download days when you make a book exclusive, and I'd already used three days shortly after the book went live. The book got a lot more interest this time, with about three times more copies being downloaded and a high-ranking of #6 on the Epic Fantasy bestsellers page (and this despite the fact that I didn't pay for any sort of promotion, like I did the first time). I'm guessing the greater interest resulted from the number of positive reviews the book has received.

Still, I don't think the free days helped me. There wasn't any bounce-over to the paid bestsellers list, there haven't been any greater than normal sales, and there haven't been any new reviews. If free-download days have the potential to help boost sales, Blood Brothers must not be in a position to benefit from it yet.

In other news, I've noticed that the price discount Amazon had been offering on the print version of Blood Brothers has slowly began to shrink away. At it's best, Amazon was selling the book for nearly 20% off the cover price. As of this post, that discount has dropped to about 13% off. If you're interested in buying a print copy, you might want to do it now--the price might keep going up. Click here to go to the Amazon page.

Also, I'm almost ready to start publishing my next project, a zombie-horror story set in San Francisco. Originally I'd planned on releasing it as a novel, but the story ended up developing in a way that made it work as a series of novellas. I've been rewriting it to fit that format, and plan on releasing the first part of the series sometime in the next two weeks. The working title is Zombie City, and here's a cover I've put together, using a picture taken by Gianluca Ramalho Misiti.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Athemon and the Infernal Voice

Most of what I read regarding self-publishing strategies comes from two authors: J.A. Konrath and Lindsay Buroker. Recently, I've been thinking about a few points they make, and trying to figure out a way to test their strategies on my own projects.

J.A. Konrath often mentions the idea that the number of titles available in an online store like Amazon equates to (more or less) virtual shelf-space. He reasons that the more titles you have available, the larger your virtual shelf-space; and the larger your virtual shelf-space, the more visible you will be.

Lindsay Buroker is a big proponent of making the first title in a series available for free. She believes that doing this raises the visibility of her series and gives potential readers a chance to try her stuff without financial risk. She attributes some of the success of her Empires Edge series to this.

I've come up with an idea that tries to harness the benefit of both of the above concepts. I've taken the second chapter of Blood Brothers and republished it as an eBook short story called "Athemon and the Infernal Voice", and now I'm going through the steps to try to make it available for free in as many places as possible.

Now, a free short story isn't nearly as enticing as a free novel, which means that my offering can't match the appeal of Buroker's. But Buroker has seven novels in the Empires Edge series, so she can afford to give a whole book away for free. I'm not at that point in my career as a writer--it took me almost two years to write Blood Brothers, and it might take me another two years to complete a sequel. Meanwhile, I've still got to earn enough money to balance out what I spent on cover design and formatting, and if I give the book away for free forever, I won't have a chance to do that.

It's also true that the material I've excerpted for "Athemon and the Infernal Voice" is already available online for free, in the "Look Inside" sample on the Amazon page. But my plan is to make the excerpt available in lots of other places too, starting with Wattpad (a free-reading website that Buroker uses for promotion). And, having more titles with my name on them will hopefully provide more visibility, too--or at least Konrath seems to think so. In any case, because I made the cover myself (finding the image on Creative Commons), and because I didn't get it professionally formatted, "Athemon and the Infernal Voice" hasn't cost me any actual money to produce. So there isn't an obvious financial risk.

Hopefully it'll help. At the least, I don't think it's likely to hurt. And if it doesn't somehow blow up in my face, I'm thinking about doing a similar thing with the first chapter in Blood Brothers, which works as an introductory short story for Grillis.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Verlvik: behind the curtain

With the Amazon reviews going up for Blood Brothers, I've been noticing particular interest in the Verlvik character. On the one hand, a lot of readers love him, considering him "completely alien... yet completely magnetic." On the other hand, one reviewer (so far) thought he was a cringe-worthy stereotype of a native American.

I'm not surprised that he's a polarizing figure. He's a lot farther out there than any other character in the book, at least when it comes to the types of characters I'm used to seeing in Fantasy fiction. Despite that, he does come from somewhere more than just my own head. I'm the type of writer that puts stock in the advice that before you even try to write a book, you should read several hundred others. Verlvik is an example of how the things I've read blend together in my brain, and come out through my fingers when I write.

If you're the type of reader who doesn't want to see behind the curtain of the creative process, if you're concerned that learning the source of a character will somehow lessen that character's vitality, you might want to stop reading now. But if you're curious about the things that inspired the creation of Verlvik, read on.

Without a doubt, the single source that had the biggest influence on the creation of Verlvik was the book shown above, Witchcraft Today by Gerald Gardner. Gardner's book first came out in the 1950s, and is considered one of the texts that lead to the creation of the modern-pagan movement. It's packed with unusual ideas, but the idea that caught my imagination most strongly was Gardner's contention that British/Irish concepts of faeries come from an actual pygmy race that used to live in the British Isles, alongside but separate the other groups living there at the time. Gardner believes this race is the same group that archeologists refer to as the Picts--he even goes so far as to say that the word "pixie" comes from the word Pict. He draws on other archeological suppositions about the Picts--that they painted themselves green, that they used poisoned arrows--and segues from there into the core topic of Witchcraft Today, which is the description of a religion developed by the Picts, known in modern times as "witchcraft". Key to Gardner's concept of this religion, which he calls Wicca, is that it has two gods (a male horned god, sometimes referred to as Cernunnos, and a female mother Goddess), and that it relates nature with divinity.

The next source that led to the creation of Verlvik was an article about the Hadza tribe that appeared in the December 2009 issue of National Geographic (the picture above comes from the article, and you can read the article online by clicking this link). The Hadza tribe are described as one of the last remaining examples of a group of people living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that was common worldwide about 10,000 years ago, and the author (Michael Finkel) approaches the article from the angle of "what knowledge is gained by living this way?" I found the article incredibly interesting, especially the sense it gave of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle imbuing the people who practice it with a worldview marked by the lack of boundaries between the natural world and the person living in it. Certain other details--the Hadza attitude to eating animals; the cuts women make beneath their eyes to encourage themselves not to cry--were highly influential to my depiction of Verlvik's tribe and of his place (or lack of place) within it.

Probably the third most influential source to Verlvik's story was Carlos Castaneda's book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge". This is Castaneda's first book, originally written as his master's thesis for the school of archeology at the University of California. It's broken into two main sections: a first-person narrative of Castaneda's experiences with a Yaqui sorcerer named Don Juan, and a more scholarly analysis of the structure of Don Juan's beliefs. What I found most interesting was the way hallucinogens were used as religious sacraments, in various elaborate ceremonies, by Don Juan--especially the way that those sacraments modified the user's perceptions of the world around them and their place within it.

Another major source of inspiration, especially relating to Verlvik's concept of "all is one", comes from Sharman Apt Russell's book Standing in the Light. Russell's book was one of the first to expose me to the idea that all things, scientifically, are just different forms of the same materials. Her book also lead me toward the Scientific Pantheists, a group that has developed an approach to a nature-centered religion that also embraces scientific knowledge.

These four texts form the core of the inspiration behind Verlvik, but details of his character and story were further fleshed out by dozens of other sources, a whole hodgepodge of books and probably more than a few movies, as well as just general hearsay information about various topics. The Back to the Land movement--in its American, largely-political forms (such as that described in Helen and Scott Nearing's book The Good Life), and in it's Jamaican, religious iterations (as referenced by artist-activists like Burning Spear, and as portrayed in movies like Rockers and Countryman), were deeply influential. I'd say that Verlvik's appearance--small, with ginger dreadlocks and green skin--comes from a mix of Gardner's Celtic Picts and Jamaican Rastafarians. His personality and worldview come from a mix of the faerie stories from the British Isles (especially relating to the capricious personalities of the faeries, so often contrasted with human behaviors and attitudes) and the "part of nature" philosophy of various hunter-gatherers. His battle with the behemoth is a reference to a theory about the small size of the pygmy tribes in Africa (to be considered a man and have rights to a wife, tribe members had to kill an elephant; small-stature, which allowed men to get beneath the creatures more easily, thus became evolutionarily favored). His sing song voice, with "each syllable a different pitch", comes from the local pigeon accent in Hawaii. His use of a blowgun, as well as the forest home and the tribal Common Grounds, are references to Amazon tribes. A few events--such as his smoke-spoken vows with Kalvrava and his burial underground (which is sort of like a modified vision quest)--were vaguely inspired by native American rites blended with Christian concepts of baptism and being "born again".

Despite the wildly divergent influences, I personally think Verlvik came together in as a very vital and real character. He found his way into the story almost on his own--I'd started the book by alternating between Grillis and Athemon, and it wasn't until Verlvik wandered out of the forest in Athemon's fifth chapter that I had any notion of him at all. I think my subconscious mind recognized a need in the book--a character who could balance Athemon's oppression and Grillis's rejected state--and Verlvik was born to meet that need.

In the end, not every one will love him. But I do, and I'm proud to think I had a part in his creation.