On Wart Trolling in Mediocre Bridge Trolls

Everyone out there will have heard one of the most common pieces of advice for new writers:

To be a good writer, read more.

OK, zajebisty, but what exactly? The usual advice is to read the classics, and the classics in your genre. So, if your genre’s fantasy, then read LOTR. If it’s romance then read… I honestly have no idea. Danielle Steele? Either way, read everything George Orwell ever wrote and a bunch of turn-of-the-century American writers.

Poppycock!

I’ve learned more from reading crap books that I ever did from reading the luminaries in the field. I only really read other indie books, and I only ever read those with 4 or more stars on Amazon, which I guess is pretty common for a lot of (cheap) readers. None-the-less, a lot of the books I read are worth significantly less than their ratings – and I love them for it. A few examples:

  1. I’ve mentioned this classic charmer a few times recently (in various places). Some book (I don’t remember the title) as the protagonist die in chapter 1 and become a trainee guardian angel. It’s her job to save human souls from demons. Then she gets all kissy kissy with the leather jacket-wearing “bad boy” supervisor, then she gets the job of rescuing a special baby from demons. Apparently it’s special because it’s mother was a guardian angel, which is a big no no. Anyway, so now guardian angels and demons will instantly die if they touch this baby (the birth and breast feeding must have been fun for its mother) and so she’s given special gloves. Lo and behold, she has to pick up the baby without the gloves and doesn’t die. Why? Apparently her mother was also a guardian angel, so she’s special too. OK, so why isn’t her new boyfriend toast? Guardian angels (her boyfriend) can’t touch these special babies (her) without instantly dying.
    1. What I learned:
      1. Plot hole!!! And it’s the size of, well, the whole book.
  2. I’m currently struggling through a very well-written book that’s excruciatingly slow and monotonous. I’m 11% in and so far nothing’s happened, but I keep reading because I want something to happen. I’ll probably give up soon. In the first 11%, a new wizard has been trained (no exposition on what that involved or how, just conversations about how grey his room is) then been kicked out of his master’s tower with a cruddy map and told to never come back. Now he’s wandering from town to town and getting sore feet. The highlight of his journey so far has been the 2 or 3 pages the author spent explaining, in graphic detail, how to skin, gut and clean roadkill. A squirrel, I think it was.
    1. What I learned:
      1. Pacing is critically important. Don’t let it go on for so long with explanatory stuff.
      2. What the author finds fascinating might be boring, or even just plain gross, for the readers.
      3. The whole My character starts his journey with amnesia thing really is a cop-out.
  3. I gave up on the last book I tried to read at 19%. So, in this one, apparently humans engineered true A.I. and it took over the world. Then it escaped from the confines of the Internet to become a free-roaming intelligence made up solely of swarms of electrons that move through the air, so it can’t even be killed. Aaargh!
    1. What I learned:
      1. If you don’t understand physics, don’t write about it.
      2. If you don’t understand IT, don’t write about it.
      3. If you must, find someone to help you make your plot reasonable.
      4. Don’t repeat the same thoughts and ideas in multiple conversations with too many characters – setting the stage for 19% of a book gets monotonous and boring.
      5. If every character is always negative, then so will the reader be, and they’ll solve their problem by deleting your book.

I could go on, but I guess you get the point. Now, these are all broad-brush lessons that I’ve included here, but on reading these 3 books (as much as I could stand anyway) I learned a lot of specifics about how these authors committed their sins, so I know what to look out for in my own books, specifically.

Those lessons are worth the few hours I put into these freebie books, and so should you.


If you’re interested, I’ve also added a condensed version of this to my page How to Edit & Proofread a Novel in the section Don’t Do As I Say.

On Prodigal Bridge Trolls & Homecoming Dances

When I first published Equivocal Destines, I enrolled it in Amazon’s Kindle Select program. They “recommended” it and after some quick research, it seemed like a good idea. I wasn’t happy about it’s conditions, but it worked out OK. In brief:

You enroll your book(s) in KDP-S and you get fancy benefits:
  • You can set the price of your book to free for 5 days out of every 90 day enrollment – which is actually highly restrictive as most other sales channels will let you set your book to any price you want, including free, for as long as you want. It’s the only “free” option on Amazon though, so – in theory – good for marketing. I used this enrollment period to do a bit of free advertising (free book, not free service) and it all came to naught, so this isn’t worth squat in reality.
  • You can lend your book to Amazon Prime and Amazon Unlimited customers. You still get about $2 for each copy lent. Now this was something I could really get behind. It was another way to make my book available to lots of people, for a better price, and I still get my $2. Awesome! In reality, I lent a whole bunch of copies and haven’t seen a cent from Amazon for all of it, but it’s a good, ethical theory. Amazon’s now changed the pricing policy, but that’s a topic for another time.
  • You get prioritised advertising space – for whatever that’s worth for my completely unknown book. Not incidentally, that’ll probably be the topic of my next blog spew, so stay tuned.
There was also a single, massive downside. You have to make the book exclusive to Amazon for the 90-day enrollment. Now this is something that I find highly unethical and abusive. It was because of this rule that I removed my book from KDP-S and published it elsewhere.
Now, it feels good to have your book available in all of the stores, and it’s also a lot nicer and more ethical to have full rights to your work, instead of ceding some of those rights to Amazon or anyone else. The problem is, all of the other stores are completely ineffective. I’m going back to Kindle Select now.

Back into the fold

I was with KDP-S for 1 iteration of the standard 90-day enrollment period, then I didn’t renew it and published at Kobo and Smashwords, which in turn published my book pretty much everywhere else. In that 5.5 months, I’ve sold a measly 5 copies in stores that aren’t Amazon. I used to rent a lot more copies than that each month on Amazon, and that was only days after releasing my book and having done absolutely no advertising.
I recently read Mark Coker’s recent diatribe (from Smashwords) about KDP-S, and I agree with pretty much everything he says, from a ethical perspective, an industry perspective and a financial perspective. He’s absolutely right that KDP’s exclusivity clause is unethical (my words, not his) and needs to go. Like he admits though, I have prioritise the rent that I have to pay. More than that though, I have some serious misgivings about all of the other storefronts/sales channels.
  1. Only Amazon actually makes a serious attempt to put unknown books in front of potential buyers. I’ve looked into the advertising options at Apple, Kobo, etc and found Amazon to be far superior, even in their evilness. Basically, Amazon’s better at making money for themselves, by (accidentally) making money for me.
  2. It’s not even possible/easy to advertise outside of Amazon myself. I’ve used KBoards, ENT, BookBlow and BookGorilla and they all just want a direct link to your book on Amazon US. I don’t know how to advertise my book outside of Amazon, or outside of the USA. I have a proportionally much higher number of fans in the UK but I can’t even find an advertising service to reach more of them. All of the big services are USA-centric and Amazon-centric, so why should I care if my book’s on other sales sites if the advertisers don’t?
  3. No matter what you may like or dislike about Amazon, they’re still the place to be. Sorry, but it’s true. I wish the other sites would put as much effort into the whole process as Amazon does, but they don’t, so Amazon it is for me, and if it’s going to be Amazon, and Amazon is willing to give me more for free by rejoining KDP-S, then so be it.

I’ve done a bunch of rounds of advertising but my book’s still languishing in obscurity. This isn’t the place to speculate at length about why (dark cover art, unadvertisable genre…), but it does provide an opportunity to really test the pre-KDP-S vs. post-KDP-S landscape. I’m going to re-enroll and just leave it for a few weeks to see if my sales (and rentals) magically increase. If they do, with no further input from me, then we’ll all know that Amazon’s background magic actually does alter your book’s placement by being in KDP-S. A lack of movement might just mean my book’s not appealing, but time will tell.

Why Are Female Fantasy Authors Pushed To The Back Of The Bus?

I think it’s valuable to spread the word about topics that are important to writers everywhere, such as this one. Gender bias is just unfair in that it makes undue assumptions about groups of people. I say prove it, or start treating people equally, or based on individual merit.

Leona's Blog of Shadows

There was an interesting thread on reddit /r/Fantasy

where I learned some rather disturbing facts about the publishing industry. The person who opened the thread was wondering why women prefer writing teen romance centered Urban Fantasy and YA Fantasy and why there are too few female epic fantasy authors.

I have to shamefully admit I had the same misconception myself since this is the pattern I see in the best seller lists, book blogs and the word on the street. Big shot female authors who write fantasy write YA and UF centered on romance. Hardly any female names pop up in epic fantasy category. There is Robin Hobb, but she is where she is today because Robin Hobb is a gender neutral pseudonym. I had no idea she was a woman until last year. I know I am not alone in this, I talked to a number of her readers who thought she was…

View original post 1,636 more words

On KBoards Book Discovery as a Bridge Troll Catapult

Welcome back to my (so far brief) floundering series on promotional sites and their effectiveness. Most recently I’ve tried the KBoards “Book Discovery” promotion service (http://www.kboards.com/book-discovery-promo/). As they say, it’s a promotion opportunity “for newly-published or overlooked books”. Well, due to my utter failings at promotions (I’ll have to change tack again soon) this is exactly what my book needs.

First up, what’s their deal?

I’ve pulled this, almost verbatim, from their website.

What you get:

  • Inclusion in our Book Discovery Days post in the Kindle blog. We post these on Tuesdays and Fridays at about 4pm Pacific. The table is limited to 16 books or fewer, and includes a clickable book cover, links to your book’s page on Amazon, and a synopsis describing your book. The synopsis is pulled from the first 500 characters of the description of your book on Amazon.
  • A Facebook post about the blog post. The Facebook post may include an image showing book covers; for space reasons it is not guaranteed that your cover will be among those.
  • A tweet about the blog post to our KBoards Twitter followers.
  • An alert about the blog post in our daily e-mail newsletter.
  • A “KBoards Featured Me” badge to include on your author website.

Requirements:

  • Our family-friendly guidelines apply. No erotica – sorry!
  • Fewer than ten reviews on Amazon *or* an Amazon ranking of higher than 100,000.

To me, this sounds like an excellent opportunity, and the price is awesome. It cost me only $US15. The “What you get” list is very generic in its offerings, but this is to KBoards members, which, in theory, are dedicated bookies and so should be on the lookout for good deals. If you’ve read my previous blow spews about this type of advertising, you’ll know I’m highly skeptical of FB and Twitter spamming, but to this directed audience, it might be more effective that to the world at large. The KBoards blog inclusion and the alert sound very helpful though.

The requirements are awesome, and I’m highly appreciative to KBoards for even setting up this type of promotion, for this type of author. I really wish more services would try to help those at the bottom of the ‘recognisability’ spectrum, instead of only catering to those who can already afford to pay wheelbarrow-loads of cash to bump their books from 25k to 5k on Amazons lists. This alone makes the KBoards Book Discovery promo a great idea.

I just wish it was successful.

How’d it go for me?

Complete and utter failure!

More on why in the next (small) section, but first I need to deal with my numbers, or complete lack thereof.

Now, I did sell more copies during the time period of this promo, but 40% of them were before the promo even went out. I followed my usual process of keeping the promo separated from any other activities so I can see the effects of the promo in isolation, but I did reduce the price of my book and update the blurb on Amazon to add a heading line saying it was on sale for that week because of the KBoards sale. I then sold 40% of my extra copies before the promo, but after the price reduction and headline change.

I can only assume it was the headline that attracted (most of) my extra sales, not the KBoards promotion. How disappointing😦

Why the crap results?

I have to be fair to KBoards and all of the other services that I’ve tried and lay the blame for my relative failure at marketing directly on my book, not these services. Even with ENT, my results were poor compared to the others in the same promo, so it must be my book, not entirely the service.

I’m looked at this topic before, and no doubt I’ll look at it again, but it’s the cover, mostly. My cover artwork is pretty well done (I like to think) but trankly, too dark (too much black) for the primarily US audience of these services. I’ve gone back to my cover artist a couple of times to get the artwork updated, but if you’ve ever dealt with a cover artist… well…

So look, don’t blame KBoards for my pitiful results, but also, do blame them. After all, half of their promo service is FB and Twitter based, which is pointless. No-one in history has ever bought a book based on a FB or Twitter blast from an advertising site. It just doesn’t happen. So it looks good on the promo site but doesn’t actually achieve anything or the author.

I also have to wonder about the effectiveness of the blog inclusion. Does anyone read that blog or those emails? I don’t know. KBoards is a massive website and is hugely popular (and deservedly so, because it’s excellent) but I’d guess people go there for the threads, etc, not for their blog. My completely unauthoritative guess is that the blog sits at the side of the site and is significantly less popular than their highly popular forums.

Where will I go from here?

I have 2 plans for the immediate future, which are relevant to you, if you’re reading this.

  1. I’ll research more promo services and try them out. I have the spare cash to give them a go, and the patience to try them all in isolation. It’s helpful as most other people don’t want to blog about these things unless they’re wonderfully successful.
  2. Perhaps more useful, I’ve got a thriller/crime novel coming out in a few months. I’m going to get professional, colourful cover artwork done, etc, and it’s much more “in” the genre which these services claim are the most successful. So I’m going to really push my thriller, by advertising it across all of the same services I’ve already tried with my fantasy book with the darker cover art. You should definitely check back in in a few months to see how all of these services, including KBoards, fare with a brightly artworked thriller.

I have to be fair to these services. I don’t like to unfairly crap on advertising services which in all probability work wonderfully for different genres with more competent advertisers (i.e., me), but in my case, this service did, legitimately, fail dismally.

On Fixing Yodelling Tithes

What should you charge for your books? There’s a lot of debate, and even some research, but I thought I’d do an updated version of the old Big Mac test. Have you heard of that one? To get a true indication of hat life costs in a new place, check the price of a Big Mac. My Big Mac today is Happy Potter and the Philosopher/Sorcerer’s Stone.

The majority of sales channels will let you set the price of your book differently for each of their stores/regions. I’m currently only signed up to 3 but Smashwords only has 1 price, so I’m going to compare info about Amazon and Kobo. I hunted down:

  1. The markets each sales channel operates in.
  2. The minimum price at Amazon to qualify for their 70% royalty rate.
  3. The minimum price at Kobo to qualify for their 70% royalty rate.
  4. The price of Harry Potter (the paperback edition – not the Kindle edition, there isn’t one, apparently) in each market.
  5. The minimum wage in each country represented. Sourced from Wikipedia. Sorry if it’s wrong. For example, the number for Australia looks too high.
  6. A simple Excel calculation working out the number of minutes a person would have to work at minimum wage to buy a book at the lowest minimum price available at Amazon or Kobo.
Marketplace Amazon Min. Price Kobo Min. Price Harry Potter
@ Amazon
Minimum Wage
(Hourly)
Mins. to Work for
1 Min. Priced Book
Amazon.com
kobobooks.com/ – USD
$0.99 $2.99 $6.29 $7.25 8.19
Amazon.co.uk
kobobooks.com/ – GBP
£0.99 £1.99 £3.49 £6.50 9.14
kobobooks.com/ – EUR € 1.99
Amazon.de € 0.99 € 6.05 € 8.50 6.99
Amazon.fr € 0.99 € 6.05 € 9.61 6.18
Amazon.es € 0.99 € 6.05 756.70 per month 13.50
Amazon.it € 0.99 € 6.05 none
Amazon.nl € 0.99 € 6.05 € 8.70 6.83
Amazon.co.jp
kobobooks.com/ – JPY
¥99 ¥299 ¥851 ¥677-888 8.77
kobobooks.com/ – HKD $15.99 $32.50 29.52
Amazon.com.br R$1.99 R$19.59 R$788.00 per month 26.06
Amazon.ca
kobobooks.com/ – CAD
$0.99 $2.99 $9.24 C$10.20 to C$12.50 5.82
Amazon.com.mx $11.99 $4,327.10 66.45-70.10 pesos per day 86.61
Amazon.com.au
kobobooks.com/ – AUD
$0.99 $2.99 $9.36 $17.29 3.44
kobobooks.com/ – NZD $2.99 $14.75 12.16
Amazon.in ₹49 ₹355.00 ₹118-1000 per day 199.32

Also remember the huge caveat. If your book’s not enrolled in Kindle Select (and it should not be), books in Japan, Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia aren’t eligible for the 70% royalty rate anyway.

What’s the point?

Most of the industrialised countries seem pretty close to each other, but there’s a few that stand out as different. It takes 199 minutes to buy the cheapest book available if you live in a poor part of Indonesia. People in the capital earn almost 10 times as much, but I picked the worst case scenario. Of course, people in the poor parts of Indonesia probably don’t speak English, but whatever.

Hong Kong’s a rick place, but I think Amazons setting its minimum price very high, for some reason.

The point is, Amazon, Kobo, etc all organise their pricing around the profit they want to make, but this doesn’t necessarily help your readers/customers.

From now on I’m going to be pricing my books according to what’s fair for my customers in each region, based on what they earn. This won’t make me rich, but I’ll hopefully get a lot more happy readers out of it, who can spread the word wider, write more reviews, etc.

On Bridge Trolls in Tribal Masks

Everyone talks a lot about the need for good quality cover art. This much should be obvious to anyone, so I won’t harp on at that point. I made an interesting observation recently though. I’ve mentioned before that I sell about 25% of my books on http://www.amazon.co.uk/, which is unexpected because http://www.amazon.com/ is a huge market while http://www.amazon.co.uk/ is a relatively tiny market. So check this out:

My random thoughts for today:

  1. It’s only noticeable on page 1, but the cover art of the books most popular with my readers follow a very similar colour scheme as my book. Maybe it’s a coincidence. The covers are darker, and have more blues.
  2. The http://www.amazon.com/ audience (not all from the USA itself, but the majority will be from there) are much more selective about cover art. I’m not sure if you can really tell by these small thumbnails, but the cover art on the books from the http://www.amazon.co.uk/ store aren’t anywhere near as slick, on average. Either that, or people in the UK are just more tolerant of amateurish cover art.
  3. The http://www.amazon.com/ is much more interested in box sets than the http://www.amazon.co.uk/ audience.

OK, so we all know you need to get an actual professional to create professional quality cover art, but do we also need to tailor our artwork to regional preferences? I don’t know of a way to do that on Amazon, so really, it’s a moot point. What do you think though? Comments?

On Horribly Incestuous Bridge Troll Clans

I have some spare time on my hands this week and I found myself watching all of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. It’s a simple series, but a lot of fun, and I recommend watching it if you ever get bored. It did make me think of a very important point regarding writing novels, however.

First off, here’s a quick rundown on the general plot of the single-season series. This is a stupendously massive spoiler so please don’t read it if you haven’t seen the series. You’ve been warned!

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

  1. 3 Brothers need some magical water to heal their mother after a fire. They aren’t allowed to take it so they steal it.
    The Guardian of the water curses them and turns the three of them into genies. This happens after they use the magical water to successfully heal their mother.
  2. Their mother (somehow) becomes a powerful sorceress who is determined to find the 3 genies (her kids).
  3. The bastard child of the local emir tries to be recognised as a prince, fails and is killed by dear old daddy.
  4. The child finds the sorceress, becomes her apprentice and becomes a powerful sorcerer himself.
  5. Now both the sorcerer and the sorceress are looking for the genie. The sorceress is trying to rescue her kids while the sorcerer wants ultimate power to get revenge on his father.
  6. Alice (of “in Wonderland” fame) finds one of the genies and falls in love with him.
  7. The Queen of Hearts and the sorcerer kidnap the genie and Alice, with her friend the Knave, spend a season trying to get him back.
  8. The Knave was the boyfriend of the Queen of Hearts before she ditched him to shack up with a king. The Queen of Hearts gets together with the sorcerer to get ultimate power so she can get the Knave back.

What’s the Point?

So, complex? Every character knows every other character, the actions of 1 precipitated the actions of the next and the whole season snowballed from there.

Every character was related to every other character. It’s a very tight, closed storyline. It’s like a southern redneck BBQ where the family tree doesn’t actually branch at all – it just keeps feeding back in on itself.

Right now I’m in the middle of writing a long, deep, epic fantasy series which’ll end up spanning 4 or 5 full-length novels and probably 10 short stories. The urge to reuse characters is huge. It’s just so much easier than constantly coming up with new ones. The desire to add one more link in the web to prove how clever I am at crafting intricate plots in overwhelming.

Stop it!

This isn’t Star Wars (or the Spiderman movie franchise, or one of a hundred other examples). Every character doesn’t have to have a personal history with literally every other character. You’re allowed to have random people come into the story, do stuff and leave without realising he’s just spent 200 pages banging his long-lost sister.

Be more creative, and frankly, put in more effort. It can actually be easier to just reuse characters, but it’s been done to death.

Fantasy Author

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