Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What They Got Right

This is the first time since December 2010 that I have not had a deadline looming within the next thirty days. I have written, formatted, designed, marketed, promoted, and published four books in the past eight months. Seriously. So that’s why you haven’t heard from me in awhile.


I currently have 18 books under the Blue Merle Publishing logo, and I am finally beginning (and I do mean beginning) to feel like a real publisher. And let me tell you something: it’s hard.

There are people who have been doing this far longer than I have, and who have far more claim to expertise than I do, so I don’t pretend to set myself up as an authority on the subject of independent publishing. However, with all the rockets buzzing around the internet about what traditional publishing has done wrong, my recent experience in indie publishing, juxtaposed against twenty-plus years in traditional publishing, has pointed out to me that there is a reason why traditional publishing has survived for over a hundred years, virtually unchanged. As much as I hate to admit it, they got a lot of things right. Here are a few of them:

1) Give the people what they want

There is a reason why you can’t pick up a book today that doesn’t have a vampire, zombie, angel or wizard on the cover. This used to outrage me, until I was faced with a choice: a solid fan base who was begging for the continuation of my mystery series, or my own literary leanings toward something more daring and esoteric. Suddenly I understood why publishers had declined to take a chance on some of my more creative proposals, and I no longer held them in quite such contempt. Once you have a proven audience for a product, it is very scary—and foolish-- to turn your back and walk the other way. My decision was to go with the proven product, and I don’t regret it for a minute.

2)Know Your Strength

Over the course of my career I have written under seven different pseudonyms and in every fiction genre known to man. Great for the resume; bad for the sales figures. Again, I didn’t understand why my versatility didn’t command the respect that was clearly its due until I was the one who had to reconcile the bottom line. When one series outsells the others three-to-one, it really doesn’t matter how well-reviewed, innovative, or close to the heart the other books are. You publish the books that sell. Everything else is collateral damage.

3)It’s Not Personal, it’s Business

In the “It Only Hurts When I Laugh” category… my pet project was highly praised and ultimately rejected by a dozen of the top literary agents in New York with the inevitable disclaimer: I love this, but I can’t sell it . I finally decided that, rather than turn the book into the shredded wheat that would please the New York publishing community, I would publish it myself, and guess what? I couldn’t sell it either. Well reviewed? Yes. Commercial success? Hardly. Will I continue the series? Not a chance in hell. Nothing personal, fans. But this is business.

4)It’s All About Marketing... and Budget

Not to continue to beat the poor dead horse whose screams we’ve all been hearing for years now, but (to mix another colorful metaphor) it’s not the steak but the sizzle. And yes, that pisses me off now as much as it did when I was Number 11 on the Top 10 Bestseller List in the world of traditional bookstores and traditional publishers… not because my book was any better or worse by merit than #10, but because someone, somewhere had randomly decided to put more money into front-of-store placement, magazine and trade advertising, book tours and promotional spots for #10. (To be fair, next year, the same random decision might be made in my favor and I will be #10…or 9…or 7) This is not a merit-based industry. How many times have I heard that? Yet, until I was the one who had to actually come up with the cash that would make the difference between a book that faded into obscurity and a book that would receive the attention it deserved, I never truly appreciated how brutal and dispassionate was the view from this side of the checkbook. I discovered that I am not nearly the risk taker I thought I was… and that’s while dealing with my own money, on behalf of a product that I passionately believe in. How much less willing would I be to gamble with someone else’s money, for someone else’s book? Suddenly the decisions made by my former publishers about my marketing budget don’t seem quite as stupid as they once did.

5) Timing is Crucial.

When the new Harry Potter, Grisham, or Stephen King is shipped to brick and mortar bookstores, it is very likely in a box marked, “Do Not Shelve Until…” with a date. Years of experience have taught traditional publishers the value of a “crisp lay-down” to build buzz, maximize presence, and yes, inflate sales rankings and bestseller lists. Despite the fact that, as so many indies happily proclaim, e-books are forever, if you want to give your forever-book a chance to make itself known in the e-book jungle, following this simple practice from traditional publishing is the easiest and most cost effective thing you can do. Launch with a bang. Build your product page first and have it filled with reviews before announcing your release to the public. Arrange contests, Goodreads giveaways, discussion groups, blog tours, ad campaigns and reviews all to fall within a two week period of publication (Resourceful authors will plan to repeat this process in a few months, as sales start to fall). The more visible your book is, the more popular it seems,and the more popular it seems, the more popular it actually becomes because its very popularity will nudge it onto Amazon’s also- bought list, which will in turn push it up in the rankings. The higher in the rankings your book goes, the more visible it becomes, which means more people buy it, and so on and so forth. This is, believe or not, pretty much the same process that traditionally published print books have been undergoing to make the various bestseller lists for years. There’s nothing new under the sun.

6)Holding its own is not good enough.

This was perhaps the most painful and difficult lesson for me to learn. I have complained ad infinitum about the publisher who canceled my mystery series while Book #2 was on a bestsellers list, and the publisher who canceled my women’s fiction series while Book # 1 was approaching a 95% sell-through. Their reason for doing so, in both cases, was that Book #3 had failed to live up to the sales numbers generated by previous books. Here’s what they got right: it’s not enough to maintain your readership. Unless your fan base continues to grow, you cannot sustain a series.


What they got wrong (among many other things)

The assembly-line mentality upon which corporate America was built does not work in the Arts. Simply put, when a book fails to live up to expectations in a Big Six house, it is cut, cast off, arteries severed; it is tossed, still writhing with life and screaming protests, into the teeming sea like so much chum. Moving on; next project.

When a book fails to succeed in my house, I want to know why. Did it fail to give the readers what they want? Did it fail to find its audience? Was it marketed incorrectly or not at all? Bad cover? Bad blurb? Wrong price? Did it have enough time to succeed? What can I do to change its fate? If I believe in a book I will do everything in my power to give it a second chance… and a third, and even a fourth, if I have to. I will find out what I did wrong, and I will fix it. I will accept responsibility for a less than stellar performance, and I will correct flaws in marketing, design, pricing and placement. I will beat the bushes for new readers, come up with innovative ad campaigns to draw people in, go for markets I hadn’t considered before. Only when I have done everything that I can do, as a publisher, to help a book a find its audience—and , if necessary, when I’ve done it again and again—will I give up. This is my book, you see. I care what happens to it.

And that, in the end, may be the most important thing I’ve learned from the Big Six. Bad things happen when you don’t care. Good things happen when you do. I’m glad I finally found a publisher who cares.

Me.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Million Dollar Deal That Ruined My Career

Now available at Amazon.com
Before Harry Potter, before Twilight, before the hundreds of thousands of vampire , wizard, demon, zombie, angel, fairy and just-plain-strange books that proliferate the marketplace today, I wrote a book about werewolves. It wasn’t, in my humble opinion, just an ordinary book, and these were not ordinary werewolves. It was at that time the best book I had ever written. Believe it or not, I wasn’t the only one who thought it was pretty good. The Passion (and its sequel, The Promise) sold after a ten–day auction for a phenomenal amount of money (to be strictly accurate, it was not quite one million, but by the time sub-rights were sold the difference was negligible, to me, at least). Within the week, offers for audio, foreign, and large print rights were pouring in. James Cameron and Stephen Spielberg were both interested in film rights. And then it all went to hell.
For reasons I still don’t entirely understand, the publisher abandoned the book. Possibly it was caught up in inter-company politics; possibly the publisher genuinely did not know how to publish it. While logic would suggest that no publisher wants to lose money on a book, the only way this publisher could have lost more money on this book would have been not to publish it at all. I remember screaming at my agent at one point, A million dollars is not worth an entire career! –which turned out to be eerily prophetic. In a desperate effort to save the project, I personally invested a disastrous amount on promotions, which resulted in the development of a small cult following (thank you, readers!) But in terms of the commercial sensation The Devoncroix Dynasty books were meant to be, the project was a monumental failure.

After that, no other publisher would touch me —primarily because it makes no sense to invest in an author and/or a series on which a previous publisher has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also, I think, because what I was writing at that time was crap. I had spent ten years perfecting my craft, publishing anywhere from three to six books, in various genres across the board, a year. I routinely received awards and made lists and, perhaps more importantly, had been pulling in six figures a year for most of my writing career. But none of that mattered at the time. Because when I finally got the break every writer dreams of, the Big Contract for the Great Work, I blew it. My best wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t a writer. I was an imposter. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write. It was that I couldn’t. I was broken from the inside out. I went from writing 500,000-700,000 words a year to not writing a single word for the next five years. Broken.
Eventually, with no other marketable skills and with homelessness becoming an ever-increasing possibility, I forced myself to start writing again and found a publisher willing to take a chance on me—for $8000 a book. Meanwhile, readers were still e-mailing me, wondering where the sequel to The Promise was. My new series was canceled (while the second book was still on a bestseller’s list) and after a couple of desperate years I found another publisher and another series and yet another genre. Meanwhile, reader mail continued to wonder what had ever happened to my werewolf series.
Despite an enormously enthusiastic editor, a fair advance, and an initial display of support from the publisher, I knew in my heart of hearts the new series wouldn’t last long. Every word I wrote was excruciating. I envied my friends with real jobs. I hated my life. And just before the series was inevitably canceled, I started secretly fooling around with an idea for re-launching in the Devoncroix Dynasty werewolf series, and I discovered something profound: it wasn’t writing I hated. It was the business of writing.
Two years later, Renegade was completed, and it turned out better than I thought it would. Because it was a stand-alone book that was not necessarily dependent on the previous ones, I thought it had a real chance of, not only impressing the powers-that-be in New York, but of finding the audience this storyline deserved. And yet the more I thought about surrendering this work to a publisher, the tighter my gut got. I faced the future with bleakness and dread. I kept hearing my own voice screaming, A million dollars is not worth a career! And I think what a meant was, It’s not worth a life.

Fifteen years ago, the breakthrough deal on the original Devoncroix Dynasty books represented what every writer works toward: that moment of sublime validation that will lead to a lifetime of creative freedom and financial security. It led instead to a monumental personal and career crisis, severe depression, and financial ruin. Poised on the brink of doing it all over again, I realized that the price of the Big Deal was, for me, entirely too high.
The only real validation of a work comes from readers, and the only creative freedom I had ever had was when I was not writing for a publisher. So here is Renegade, ten years in the making. I am the author, publisher, and distributor. I wrote it for readers, because in the end, is there any other reason to write? And I wrote it for me, because this story was the love of my life, and it was time to tell it the way it was meant to be told. If you buy it, I hope you enjoy it. If you don’t, that’s okay too. Because now that I am in charge of my own career, I have plenty of projects in the works. And I’ll just bet that one of them is the story you’ve been waiting to read.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Reader's Prayer

Tell me a story.
 
Hold out your hand, take me on a ride.  Entertain me, transport me, amuse me, inspire me, educate me, uplift or enlighten me. Engage me. Tell me a story.
 
Don't waste my time with pretentions of grandeur.  Save the world on your own dime.  I'm here to be delighted, enraptured, moved and transformed.  I want to believe.  I want to be transported.   Make me angry, make me weep, make me afraid, but for heaven's sake, make me care. Tell me a story.
 
Keep me awake at night, turning pages. Haunt me through the day. Draw me in to your world, wrap me in the shimmering, glittering colors of your imagination, let me drown in your words. Make me never want to leave.
 
Take me, I'm yours.

Tell me a story.
 
--Donna Ball

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Writing Without a Net

It's hard to believe that it was only eighteen months ago that I first starting dipping my toes into the chilly waters of e-publishing. For the first year I was still under contract with my print publisher, and I experimented timidly with uploading some of my backlist titles to Kindle. All the time I kept daydreaming about sitting down and actually producing a new title-- an entire book--exclusively for self-publication. Finally, in May of this year, I got the courage to do it. And everything changed. Three weeks ago I actually withdrew a book from submission because a) I realized I could make more money by publishing it myself b)the book was too important to me to see it massacred, as so many other of my books have been, by the Big Six publishing system.


So wow. I guess I am now officially on my own. Papa Publisher is no longer there to pat me on the head, tell me what's best for me, and make all my decisions. My safety net is gone, and it's a long way down.

In my career with New York publishing have written (not even counting category romance) over fifty books in four different genres. Fifteen of them have made one bestseller list or another. I have been doing this for a living since the time of carbon paper (that would be the good old days when editors actually edited and the only reviews that were worth mentioning came from Publisher's Weekly or the New York Times.) I am what you call a professional fiction writer. And up until now, I have been completely addicted to The System.

This is how it goes: I write a proposal for a novel and send it to my agent. I wait, grinding my teeth and pacing the floor-- sometimes literally banging my head against the wall, until Agent reads my proposal and decides which editors to send it to. This process can take days with a good agent, or months with a bad agent (about the three month mark is where it reaches the head-banging stage). Agent sends the proposal to editors. I get rejections, which I receive with disdain (what do they know, anyway?), anger (how stupid can these people be?) and depression (I'll never sell another book. Just kill me now). Eventually I get an offer (usually within three months) and the euphoria is so high that all the previous agony was totally worth it. Someone loves me! Someone wants me! I am a genius!

If this dynamic sounds familiar to anyone, that may be because it's based on the same psychological principle used to torture prisoners of war.

My new editor heavily reinforces my genius status, of course, and showers me with adoration, thus ensuring my dependency on her. Sometimes she even sends me flowers or champagne! More importantly, she totally "gets" my book, and we spend hours e-mailing back and forth and talking on the phone about how to make it better. I am in heaven. Finally, I can settle down to write, knowing that when I have written the last sentence someone out there in the big bad world is literally waiting with hands held out to read it.

The writing process takes six months or so, during which time I am in heaven. Someone loves my work. Someone loves it enough to give me money for it (sort of). Someone loves it enough to make artwork out of my story, and write letters soliciting quotes, and have meetings at which my book is on the agenda. I get notices of advance reviews. I get e-mails from my publicist, setting up this book signing and that interview. Every single e-mail, every phone call, every request is another hit of adrenaline. My brain is flooded with dopamine. I want more and more and more. E-mails from readers start trickling in; you know the ones that begin, "I was in Borders the other day and was attracted by the cover on your book. So I picked it up and..." Livin' the good life, baby, livin' the good life.

Then I turn in the proposal for my option book. By this time the first-quarter sales figures are in (keeping in mind that my book may have only been on the shelves for three or four weeks) and, well, they are somewhat disappointing. Unfortunately, the publisher will not be picking up my option at this point. The crash is hard. The withdrawal is severe.

And the whole torture phase starts again.

I have lived like this for over twenty years. Day in, day out. Willingly. I was so brainwashed that even when I was offered an escape I wouldn't take it. How could I write a book when no one was waiting for it? How could I afford to write a book that no one had paid for? Who would even read anything I wrote unless someone in New York told them to? It seriously never occurred to me that the people who were really waiting for my book might be readers; that long before the pennies-per-copy that the publisher paid me actually trickled down into my hands, some reader had paid them twenty dollars, or that a writer with fifteen bestsellers to her credit might have accumulated a few readers along the way.

For me the hardest part about writing without a net was realizing that I don't need a net. Once I got over that initial, paralyzing conviction that, since no editor was waiting for this book it couldn't possibly be worth writing, I was amazed at how easy it was. Writing actually became fun again. My style was not inhibited by the constant balancing act between pleasing the editor and pleasing myself. The only person I'm trying to please now is the reader, and much to my surprise I've discovered that my readers almost always like what I like. Who would have thought?

Of course there are struggles, and of course there are downsides, and sometimes it's scary out there. But the important thing is that I've broken the cycle of addiction; I've escaped my own personal Stockholm Syndrome. And freedom tastes good. In fact, it tastes great.

I could definitely get used to this.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

One More Time



Words written since last post: 57,323
Words deleted since last post: 17,201
Words rewritten since last post:  way too many!

Okay, back to a semi-regular schedule after tornado recovery, internet failure and yes, in the midst of all this, the completion and publication of my very first original e-book!

On that subject, I am still getting e-mail from readers complaining about my decision to publish digital editions of my books.  Some of these are a little snippy.  Some are simply hurt and confused.  Have I abandoned books?  What will become of those who don't have, or want to have, e-readers?  Don't I care about my reading public?

These letters are particularly disheartening when they begin by saying, "I just got your last three books from a used book store/book exchange/friend or relative..." since, as we surely all know by this point, neither authors or publishers receive money from these sources and a lack of money is precisely why publishers don't buy books-- and why authors are starving. 

So one more time, let me try to explain.  The following is in fact a quote from a response I just wrote to a reader who contacted me expressing her disappointment over the fact that my latest book (a novella) was not available in print.  I have said it before, to other readers:

No one loves books more than I -- the smell, the feel, the weight of them in my hand, the way they look on my (far overloaded!) book shelf.  But I also love stories-- the telling of them, and  the reading of them.  Perhaps even more importantly, I love writers, who deserve to make a living at their craft, and readers, who deserve to be able to read good books at a price they can afford.

Please keep in mind it was the publisher who canceled the Raine Stockton Dog Mystery Series , not I.    For years I read the e-mail from readers begging for another installment, and my frustration grew.  Once a series is cancelled, no other publisher will take a chance on it.   I considered self-publishing, but the technology available at the time was a huge learning curve, and the profit margin so small that even if I sold every copy--difficult to do without a distributor to get the books into a bookstore--I would barely be making minimum wage for the time I spent writing and producing the book.  And that was IF I sold as many copies as a big NY publisher,while the truth is most self-published novels sell about 100 copies.

Enter e-publishing, and a whole new way to make books available to millions of readers for little or investment--and with up to 70% of the profits going directly to the author!  With those kinds of numbers, writers could afford to price their books below the cost of a paperback and still make more money per copy than they would if their book had been published by a big NY print publisher.  And readers could buy 4 or 5 brand new titles (sometimes more!) for the price they would have spent for one book at a used book store (where the author of the work receives absolutely no royalty whatsoever).  It's a win-win for everyone.

I decided to publish Bone Yard, Book Four of the Raine Stockton Dog Mystery Series, as an original e-book novella to test the waters.  I have been publishing my backlist for Kindle for over an year now, but this was my first genuinely self-published novella.  The response has been overwhelming.  It turns out that readers really did  want another installment in the series, even after waiting four years, and most of them were delighted to have it in digital form.  Now that I know I have a real reader base who are willing to actually buy these books, I am encouraged to continue the series.  And for those who weren't  delighted that Bone Yard was an e-book exclusive, good news:  Amazon's Create Space program has overcome the learning curve even for the techno-challenged like me, making it possible for me to publish and distribute print copies of subsequent full length novels in the series  (as a novella, unfortunately, Bone Yard is too short to bind). 

So one more time, this is why I, and so my authors like me, are so excited about e-publishing:

1)Price
      Our ability to keep prices under $5.00 means that more readers can buy our books.  Good for you, good for us.

2)Royalty
       The fact that 70% of the price of the book (as opposed to 8% of the price of a traditionally published print book) remains in the author's hands means that writers who otherwise might never have been heard from again can afford to continue telling the stories you love.

3)Availability
        The e-publishing option means that no series needs to be abandoned simply because the publisher could not make its P&L statement balance.  Your favorite characters do not (as in the case of the Ladybug Farm series ) have to be left standing in the midst of their ruined vineyard wondering what they're going to do next-- and neither do you!  Writers you have loved, abandoned by their publishers for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their books, can continue to tell their stories-- and they can get them to you faster, easier, and cheaper than ever before.  This is huge, people.  This is mammoth!   Embrace the future; it is yours.

And one more time-- yes, of course my books will still be available in print.  They may be somewhat difficult to find, though, with so many book stores closing.  And they will be far more expensive than an e-book.  But if you look hard enough, you'll find them.  Because I love books.  And I'll get mine to you however I can.

 I couldn't resist:
Bone Yard (Raine Stockton Dog Mystery)



$1.99 for your Kindle!










By the way, what am I reading?
In paper: The Traveler by Stephen Twelve Hawks 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Confessions of an Introvert

So here’s the thing: I have danced with my dog on stage in front of three thousand people and a television crew. Swear to God. I have been featured on television talk shows, news broadcasts and documentaries dozens of times. I’ve stood before audiences in aggregate of the tens of thousands over the years to give speeches, workshops and key note addresses, and my heart never skipped a beat. I am not shy. In fact, some people might even say I shine in the spotlight.


Most of the time.

You see, I am at heart an introvert. That means, among other things, that I spend more time thinking than acting. That I value my privacy. That I give one hundred percent of myself to every experience and because of that, I choose my experiences carefully. And that I suck at social media.

I have to point out that I am not talking about the comfortable, day-to-day interaction with my readers through e-mail, my blogs and discussion groups.  I  could not live without the encouragement from  and contact with my "people".   If I don't hear from readers daily I desperately start dialing tech support to see if the server is down.  Seriously.  Don't stop writing to me.  I'm referring here to all the time consuming extraneous things writers are expected to do to promote their books that most of us, myself included, simply are not suited for.

Shrinking Violet Promotions did a wonderful post on dispelling myths about introverts, and I don’t think I can improve on that. Basically, what it boils down to is that introverts can dance on tabletops (or onstage in a top hat with a dog), give knock-dead speeches in front of stadiums filled with people, and host our own reality television shows if required, but at the end of the day we really just want to close the door, take a deep breath, and gather ourselves. Alone. We don’t want people all up in our biz-ness every single minute of every day.

I became a writer, in part, because I am in introvert. I can work for long periods in isolation without ever hearing the sound of another human voice. I can create something out of nothing, all by myself. I am comfortable with my own thoughts. I enjoy keeping to myself.

I recently read that in order to be successful at promoting a book, a writer should update his Facebook status 2-3 times a day, Tweet 3-5 times a day, blog once or twice a week. Minimum. Additionally, of course, said writer would also be expected to reply to all relevant tweets, post on everyone else’s Facebook wall, and comment on 12-15 blogs a week. In order to do that, it seems to me that the writer would spend half his life just thinking of things to say!

Here are my status updates:

1) Woke up

2) Walked dogs

3) Wrote some stuff

4) Wrote some more stuff

I’ll be back with more updates when I have something to actually report.

I’m not shy. I’m just a writer. Please buy my books anyway.


Friday, April 15, 2011

In Review

Long, long ago book reviews were an elite art form. They were written by professional journalists and established writers who were considered masters in their field—Mark Twain reviewing James Fennimore Cooper, for example, was a masterpiece in itself—and carried an appropriate amount of weight. The majority of book reviews appeared in newspapers, magazines and trade journals, and most readers never saw more of the review than the pull quote placed on the book cover by the publisher.


The internet has changed all that. Today the self published or small press book is likely to be reviewed by the same blogger who reviews top selling hard covers from major publishers. A hundred great customer reviews can easily overrule one mediocre review in the trades—and let’s not even talk about what a hundred one-star customer reviews can do. So in this time when everyone has an opinion about everything, and anyone with an internet connection has the means with which to express it, it might be a good idea to keep a few Rules of Responsible Behavior in mind before you sit down at the keyboard.

For Reviewers:

Be Honest. Don’t write a review on a book you haven’t read. Don’t give a book a one-star review because you thought the price was too high, because the author snubbed you at a conference or failed to answer your e-mail. An honest review takes the book as a whole, measures the positives against the negatives, and concludes with an overall impression of the reading experience.

Be Fair. Personally, I will not give any book less than three stars out of five. The reason is that if it was a two-star (hated it) or one-star (barely readable) book, it clearly wasn’t worth finishing, and as mentioned above, no review should be written on a book you haven’t read. If you feel you must post a review on a book you hated, be very specific about why. It’s fair to say, “the heroine was shallow and unbelievable”, not so helpful to say, “I hated the heroine so much I want to throw the book across the room”. I know, we’ve all felt that way. But sometimes it’s best to keep our feelings to ourselves.

Be Concise: A book review is not a book report. You can always tell an unprofessional review because it reads like a story outline: This happens, that happens, then something else happens and in the end other things happen. Never give away the ending. Never give away crucial plot points (also known as spoilers). The worst review I ever got was actually a five-star review that gave away both the unexpected plot twists and the ending of my book. I repeat: Don’t do that. Writers will hate you for it, and so will readers. A good book review gives as much information about the book as the back cover copy does, or no more than could be discovered if the reader downloaded a free sample for her Kindle (about 30% of the book). The rest of the review should concentrate on your reaction to the book—what you loved, what you didn’t—and why.

Be Quotable: This of course only applies to those of you who are doing professional-caliber reviews for blogs or print, or if you are an author asked to review a colleague’s work. The reason writers and publishers submit their work to you for review is so that they can quote you. This would seem to be self evident, but I am frequently amazed by reviewers who genuinely seem to like a book but whose writing style is so clumsy, or who are simply so rushed or careless, that there is absolutely nothing we can use to let readers know they liked it. We like pithy quotes. “This book reminds me of the long lazy novels of Jane Austen, in which the much-besieged heroine is pitted against the dark brooding hero in a deeply complex and troubling way” is nice. Who doesn’t like being compared to Jane Austen? But there is nothing, absolutely nothing quotable there—unless we want to try to pull “complex and troubling”, which might not portray the book in its best light. Why couldn’t you just have said, “Wonderfully reminiscent of Jane Austen” or better still, “The new Jane Austen!”. Toss us a crumb, guys.

For Authors

There really are only three rules for authors regarding reviews

1)Do not respond to reviews

2) Do not respond to reviews

3) Do not respond to reviews

I don’t care if the reviewer was so stupid he got the name of your protagonist wrong and misspelled yours. I don’t care if he reviewed your SF novel as a romance. I don’t care if he thought your techno-thriller was non-fiction. Do. Not. Respond. It’s unprofessional. Period.

Okay, here’s one more rule: If you submit your book for endorsement (which is different from a review request) to another author, or if your agent or editor does, and if that author takes the time to actually read your book and to craft, in his or her own inimitable prose, a publishable quote and allow you to use his/her words to promote your book—send a thank you note, or an autographed copy of the published book at least. Even if you get so many quotes from big-name authors you can’t possibly use them all, even if this author’s quote was the least memorable of them all… send a thank you note. It’s only good manners.

And one last note: If you think customer reviews don’t matter, think about the last time you considered purchasing a product you didn’t know much about. Chances are you looked it up on the internet, and were directed to a page filled with customer reviews (probably from Amazon.com!) designed to sway your buying choices. How likely you are to buy a product that no one has endorsed? Customer reviews do matter, and writers—and readers—depend on them. So if you’ve read something you liked recently, by all means, take the trouble to leave a review on one of the internet sites. If you read something in which you were disappointed, it’s okay to let us know that too—but do it in an effective, professional manner.

So go forth and review. We’re waiting to hear what you think.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Then and Now

I hardly ever use this blog to promote my own work-- well not much, anyway! --but I have had such an interesting experience preparing SANCTUARY for release that I thought it was worth commenting on.  Briefly.

A few years back (quite a few, actually!)  I sold what is called a "breakthrough" novel (THE PASSION by Donna Boyd) at auction for a great deal of money.  I had been a hardworking, steadily selling midlist author until this point for ten years, and I understood that what I had written was  really, really good.  I thought it deserved all the attention it was getting.  But when my editor said to me, "It must feel wonderful to write such an extraordinary book!" I remember replying, "Yes, it does.  But this isn't the first extraordinary book I've written.  It's just that no one noticed the others."

SANCTUARY  is one of the books that no one noticed.

In the early nineties, I sold the manuscript for Sanctuary to a  somewhat cheesy publisher for a set of outrageous promises and  less money than I had ever been paid in my life. Said publisher then changed the title, insisted upon changing some essential elements of the story, slapped on a cheap cover, and printed probably 2000 copies.    I'm sure I was heartbroken at the time.  To tell the truth, I've been heartbroken so many times I can't remember.  I know I moved on.  I wrote twenty or thirty more books, some of which were even extraordinary.  And no one noticed.

Fast forward fifteen years. The rights have reverted to me (believe it or not there was a TEN YEAR license in that contract) and we live in a new and glorious age in which authors can actually control the fate of their own work.  I found an old copy of Sanctuary (its original title, not the one under which it was published), dusted it off, and began to read. I discovered something wonderful, and terrible.  The wonderful part was that I couldn't put it down.  I was the author, I kind of (but not entirely) knew what was going to happen, and I was rivetted. There were places where I honestly couldn't believe I had written that book.  Which leads us to the terrible discovery: I was a much better writer then than I am now.

I don't know what happened.  Too many heartbreaks, too many capitulations to an industry in which field  salesmen  had more input into a writer's work than the editor with the MFA degree did; too many rejection letters condemning me for writing exactly what the publisher announced at last month's conference they were looking for.  Too many print runs that didn't even cover the advance.    Too many vampires.

There is a technique of behavior modification in which a negative reinforcer (i.e. electric shock) is paired with the undesirable behavior (i.e. smoking) to create such an unpleasant association in the subject's mind that the behavior is extinguished.  The pain simply isn't worth it.  I think that, over the years, that's what happened to the spark of passion that drove all of my best work: writing a novel, and submitting it for publication, became so associated with pain that it just wasn't worth it.  Clearly, I continued to write and to sell.  But I think that, as I grew more and more enmeshed in the publishing industry, I put less and less of myself into the process of creating the work.  I stopped being extraordinary.  The pain wasn't worth it.

But that was then.  This is now. 

I currently have three proposals under submission to print publishers.  If I receive an offer on any of them, I will accept it, because print publishers pay in advance and I need to survive.  But I have just realized that, after these proposals have run their course,  I will not  go knocking on New York's door again.  Ever.   The reason is not  because I can make more money self publishing(J.A. Konrath and  Amanda Hocking nothwithstanding) because at my current rate of return I will starve to death on e-book royalties.  But if I am going to be a writer, I need to be  that. I need to write my best.

Stand by for something extraordinary.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How Vampires Killed Publishing


You know me. If I can possibly blame anything on vampires—from the Russian Revolution to the current price of gas—I will. So here’s my theory about why publishing houses are crumbling, book stores are closing, and tens of thousands of writers are wondering how they are going to feed their families this year. It has absolutely no basis in fact, so please don’t look for one.

From: Editor @ Bigass Publishing
To: Pathetic Writer @ Nowheresville
Subject: Sorry, Charlie

Dear Pathetic,
I’m afraid I have bad news. Despite the fact that your last two coming- of- age novels set in Small Town, USA, have received excellent reviews and done reasonably well for their genre, and even though your new proposal about a young nun who is struck blind and receives the gift of healing while on an archealogical dig in Syria does have a certain appeal, I’m afraid we will not be offering another contract at this point. The consensus of the editorial committee is that, while your writing is lyrical, your characters deeply and convincingly drawn, and your storytelling ability can’t be faulted, the whole just doesn’t make for a saleable novel. Best of luck in placing this work elsewhere.

Your (former) Editor

TO: Editor @ Bigass Publishing
FROM: Pathetic Writer @ Nowheresville
SUBJECT: Re: Sorry, Charlie

Dear Editor,
But I’ve worked for you for five years! My fans are begging for a sequel! I just bought a house! I don’t understand—lyrical writing, convincing characters, good storytelling—what else do you need to make a saleable novel? Isn’t there something I can do to make this story work for you?

Pathetic Writer

From: Editor @ Bigass Publishing
To: Pathetic Writer @ Nowheresville
Subject: Re:Sorry, Charlie

Dear Pathetic,
As you know, I love your work and really want to buy something from you, but please understand we have to be fiscally responsible. Lyrical writing, convincing characters, and good storytelling just don’t work for our list right now. I suggest you study what we are currently publishing and try to adapt your story accordingly. Charlie and the Vampire Slayers, for example, has done very well for us, so I guess my question to you is: Does she have to be a nun?
Best regards,
Your (former) editor


TO: Editor @ Bigass Publishing
FROM: Pathetic Writer @ Nowheresville
SUBJECT: Sister Sunshine, Vampire

Dear Editor,
Attached as a Word document please find my proposal for my new vampire thriller, Sister Sunshine, Vampire. I’ve taken your advice to heart and have tried hard to find something that will fit with your current list. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Fondly,
Pathetic Writer


To: Pathetic Writer @ Nowheresville
From: Editor @ Bigass Publishing
Subject: re: Sister Sunshine, Vampire

Dear Pathetic,
I’m so pleased you’ve accepted our offer for a six-book series of Sister Sunshine books! I’m delighted to be working with you again, and can’t wait to receive your manuscript.

BTW hope to see you this year at DragonCon, FantasyCon, SciFi Con and RWA, and don’t forget to get started on that blog!
Cheers,
Your Editor


To: Editor @ Bigass Publishing
From: AgentofMany @ Bigass Literary
Subject: Congratulations!

Dear Editor,
Congrats on snagging the deal of the century with Sister Sunshine! I agree these books are bound to make publishing history (although I confess I will miss the lyrical writing,deeply drawn characters and convincing storytelling of Pathetic Writer’s Somewhere USA books, which I find strangely lacking in the vampire series. I suppose it’s because they are written to such tight deadlines). I recently signed two clients on proposals similar to Sister Sunshine; would you be interested in taking a look?

Let’s have lunch next week!

Agent @ Bigass Literary


To: Agent @Bigass Literary
From: Editor@ Bigass Publishing
Subject: re: Congratulations!

Send them on!

Editor


************Press Release************

FROM: Bigass Publishing, NY NY

SUBJECT: Multi-Million Dollar Deal

For Immediate Release

Bigass Publishing announced today that, after a spirited bidding war, they have acquired World English language rights to Vampire Space Lawyer , the first in a planned 8 book series, for publication in early spring, at a final offer of 6.4 million dollars. “Vampire books are our strongest sellers,” said B.A. Publisher, President of Bigass Publishing. “We see no signs of this trend fading any time in the near future.”


To: Editor@Bigass Publishing
From: LiteraryWriter@ Patheticville
Subject: My next book?

Dear Editor,
I just wanted to make sure you received the proposal for My Next Great Work of Literature, the follow-up to the Nobel-prize nominee Debut Work of Literature. I know you’re busy, but it has been eight months sent I sent you the proposal, and since I was the youngest writer ever to win the Book of the Year Award I did expect to hear from you by now. I’m anxious to get started on this masterpiece, so I hope we can begin discussing terms soon.

I hope all is well with you.

Best wishes,
Literary


To: LiteraryWriter@ Patheticville
From: Editor@Bigass Publishing
Subject: re: My next book?

Dear Literary Writer—
I’m sorry. Who are you?

Editor and Sr.VP,
Bigass Publishing

FOUR YEARS LATER:

TO: Sales@ BigAss Publishing
FROM: PREZ@BigAss Publishing
SUBJECT: Vampires

What do you mean, there’s been a 20% decline in sales of vampire books? Our entire inventory is tied up in vampire books! You’re fired! The Editor of Vampire Books is Fired! All her writers are fired! So is her assistant, her cover designers, and her marketing people! I’m not throwing good money after bad! We have to be fiscally responsible!

And get me something about angels, will you?

******************************************

Okay, every now and then, even I have to get a little snarky.   Because the best thing about my books is that there are absolutely no vampires in them (werewolves are a different story).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It's March, and I'm reading...

Patrick Taylor’s An Irish Country Courtship, of course!


There is something about these Irish Country books that, for me, define the word “cozy”, although I’m quite sure that in terms of genre they are not categorized that way. They transport me to a quiet and peaceful world, where folks tend to meander rather than stride, where the problems are real but manageable, and where no one ever, ever texts. This is a world I want to live in. But because I can’t, I look forward once or twice a year to visiting there.

As I look back over my reading life I realize that my love affair with peaceful, orderly worlds is decades old. I discovered the novels of Georgette Heyer when I was a teenager and devoured every one, pulling them off the library shelves like they were candy waiting to be unwrapped. Of course I realize that these books were technically Regency romances, but they were at heart stories about a kinder, gentler world where the rules of society were clearly understood and observed, where problems were small and easily solved, and where, in the end, everything turned out all right. And no one ever texted.

As a young woman I adored Lillian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who…” mysteries. I couldn’t name to this day even one of the crimes that the cats solved, but I’ll never forget Qwilleran’s big apple barn and the colorful characters of Moose County. At the same time I discovered  Elizabeth Peters' Egyptian mysteries, which I very much doubt are classified as cozies. But to me they are just that—comfortable, comforting, familiar. They take me away to a place where, even when the bad guys are chasing, I feel safe.

I found the same kind of easy reassurance in the Jan Karon’s Mitford novels. I love Margaret Maron’s Judge Knott series, not for the clever plotting or derring-do, but because when I settle down to read one it feels like coming home. I’m cozy there.

Of course in between escapes to these warm and comfy places I’ll visit fistula clinics in Ethiopia, drug dens in L.A., bombings in Ireland, massacres in Kuwait, ice floes in the North Atlantic; I’ll commune with serial killers, burnt-out cops, hard-assed prosecuters, sex offenders and junkies. I’ll plod through the history of the automobile and soar to another galaxy, doing my best to avoid vampires along the way. But at the end of the day it’s nice to know there is a Patrick Taylor in the world, or an Elizabeth Peters waiting for me. Sometimes you just need to relax.

I realize that now that in writing the Raine Stockton Dog Mystery series and the Ladybug Farm series—which are two very different types of books—I wanted to give readers the same feeling of comfort, familiarity and ease that I have with Maron or Karon or Taylor. I want them to settle back and enjoy a slower paced world that probably doesn’t exist much outside of imagination, a place where neighbors still know your name and problems are fairly manageable and no one ever texts. I want them to feel cozy.

There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the world. There’s no doubt even more to come. But today, after a long hard winter, I’ll make myself a cup of tea, warm up some blueberry scones, close the door against the harsh March wind and settle back with a good book.

Boy, do I ever deserve it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Worst Book EVER

You know I rarely give bad reviews. I respect the work of the author—however misled he/she might have been—too much to publicly defile it. I know what it takes to write 70,000 words. I know they can’t all be jewels. But O.M.G. I have just read the worst book ever written…

And it was mine.

The heroine was so stupid I wanted to slap her. Get a life, already! Are you supposed to be real, or did you just step out of a Marvel comic? Ever heard of a little thing called backbone?? Grow a set, already!

The hero at least had two dimensions: flat, and flatter. Excuse me, even actors need motivation. Do you have any background whatsoever or did you spring full grown, Glock in hand, from the mind of a singularly demented writer? Are we supposed to believe that dialogue? Give me a break!

And the plot! Don’t get me started. First of all, can we say Paranoid Delusional? And pul-eeze, it’s the freakin’ 21st century. Ever heard of a little thing called CSI? Not that hard to solve a crime, cupcake. Just pay attention.

I tell you, I had my finger on the delete button. I have never been so close to pushing it. And yet…

It was kind of an intriguing premise. There were parts of the story that really left me breathless. Surely there was something worth saving . There had to be a way to tell this story that was gripping, heart-rending, contemporary, and didn’t make me want to track down the protagonists, wherever they might be in happily-ever-after land, and do a Charlie Manson.

Two weeks of sleepless nights later, I came back to the manuscript with a fresh eye. And I saw immediately that what it needed was a unifying motif. Three paragraphs. Done. And as for Ms.Too-Stupid-To-Live Heroine, there really was only one character flaw that was making me crazy. Global search and replace; delete. Done. Hey, I kind of like her now. She’s okay. In fact, I want her to live; not just live, but triumph. I’m pulling for you, baby. You can do it. I believe in you! And the hero—well, he really was only doing the best he could, given his leading lady. A nip here, a tuck there—voila. All right, then: sturdy, reliable, tender, courage under fire and a little bit sexy too--that’s what I call a hero. Done. As for the plot—well, what do you know? It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. Turns out that when the characters are in order, their motivations are clear and the sympathies of the reader are engaged, the story just naturally falls into place. I could hardly believe my eyes. I was looking at a story I could be proud of. One of the best I’d ever written in fact. Done and done.

The moral of the story is: nothing is beyond redemption. With skill and patience, you can uncover the passion beneath even the clumsiest effort, but don’t you dare stop until you do. There are readers out there expecting your best. Your job is not to give up until you deliver it to them.

And the title of the masterpiece that inspired this discovery for me? Well, I don’t think I’ll tell you that right now. But get ready for a treat. It’s really, really good.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Great E-Book Experiment: Conclusions

Well, this has been a fascinating few days.

I thought the learning curve was high when I first began to tackle the process of formatting, uploading and designing covers for my e-book backlist, but I hadn't even scratched the surface.  In the past 72 hours I have written nothing, created nothing, accomplished nothing.  I have been down the rabbit hole and back.  I have read hundreds of thousands of words (ok-- maybe only tens of thousands) of blog and forum entries and posted comments on most of them. My quiet, calm, essentially secluded  writerly world has been invaded by dozens of internet personalities I don't even know.  I have an agent waiting for a proposal, a book I need to edit, and I can't seem to drag myself away from the internet long enough to do either.  I am about ready to start ravng like Charlie Sheen.     BUT... I have learned something.

1) I hate The Social Network, don't want to be a part of The Social Network, could care less what The Social Network thinks. And, if I am to exploit the full potential of e-book sales, I have to be a part of The Social Network.  Please follow me on Twitter (oh, crap, where did I put that stupid Twitter button, anyway?)

2)There's no such thing as a free ride.  I started uploading my backlist to Kindle because I really loved the stories and thought it was a shame not to give them a second chance at life-- and also because I wanted to see what would happen if an e-book author had nothing going for him/her but a good story (this is not a judgement call--I assumed the stories were good because they received rave reviews when originally published) .  I did minimal/no promotion, invested Zero dollars, and waited to see what would happen.  The answer is Nothing.  I am selling a product, and promotion is key -- here as anywhere else.  The difference between promoting my e-books and my traditionally published print books is that, well, with e-books, I get most of the money.  So the effort should be a little less painful.

3)It's the Internet, Stupid.   Somewhere between midnight and 6:00 a.m. on the third day I had one of those DUH slap-yourself-on-the-forehead-AHA moments.  The one thing the E-Book Millionaires have in common is that they all went viral.  Someday someone will do a study on the mechanics of virality (which will make millions as it goes viral on the Internet) but for now what we know for sure is that it's fairly unlikely you will go viral on the Internet unless you make your presence known on the Internet.  Promotion is key.

4) I absolutely, positively believe that it is possible for a writer with nothing more than a good story to make a living from self-published e-books-- as long as she is willing to spend as much time exploiting the  market as she does writing the book.   I have always preached that a book unread is the sound of one hand clapping...so I say exploit the market.

5) Writers are (next to dog lovers) the best people in the world!  Thanks to everyone for your generous advice and comments on this blog and elsewhere.  Write on!

And now back to the real world.  I've got proposals to write and books to edit.

And marketing to do.  

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Great E-Book Experiment: Results


This month marks the one- year anniversary of my Great E-book Publishing Experiment. With 11titles now live on Kindle and 5 live on all other platforms via Smashwords, I am here to report the results. Here’s a hint: they are somewhat less than spectacular.


Background: around this time last year I became intrigued by the success of authors such as Joe Konrath who had begun making their backlist and original titles available on Amazon.com’s Kindle platform, and whose staggering monetary rewards far outshone any print deal offered them (or me!) by traditional publishers. One of my own print publishers had offered one of my titles for free on Kindle over the 3 day Christmas holiday and over 60,000 copies were downloaded (more importantly, my spring royalty check was 5 times higher than it had ever been before) Even more surprising to me was the fact that many of the most successful Kindle authors were completely self-published, with no previous New York publisher to give them a platform, and none of them claimed to do any extraordinary marketing. I have a huge backlist, with most of my titles in two of Kindle’s most popular categories: romance, and suspense. Moreover, I have four titles from a major New York publisher currently in print, which you would think might give me something of a platform. With the rights to ten of my most popular contemporary romances and two mysteries in hand, I wanted to see whether or not I could approach the kinds of numbers I was hearing from other writers. My goal: $2000 per month in sales—which was modest according to some of the figures I was hearing.

I fell a little short.

For those who want the short version, here are the numbers tracing the Kindle sales of my highest selling book, Smoky Mountain Tracks, and my lowest selling book, Matchmaker, Matchmaker, through the year. (I had no sales in March of last year and March of this year has not yet been reported):

SMOKY MOUNTAIN TRACKS:
April: 19 May: 20 June:61  July: 64 Aug: 75 Sept.: 56 Oct.:63 Nov. 66 Dec. 60 Jan. 94 Feb.: 113
TOTAL: 691 for the year

MATCHMAKER, MATCHMAKER:
April: 2 May: 12  June: 8  July: 7 Aug: :9  Sept.: 7 Oct.:2 Nov.: 3  Dec.: 6  Jan.: 15  Feb. 16
TOTAL:87 for the year

 
Here’s my analysis. Anyone who has a better theory, PUL-EEZE share it, because there is a reason I went into writing and not economics.

Most people agree that there are four major factors driving e-book sales.
1) Content (a good story, professionally written, edited and presented)
2) Product description page
3) Cover
4) Pricing

Because all of the books I uploaded were previously published, professionally edited best sellers and award winners in their category, I modestly submit I think I had the “quality product” part covered. Since my print publishers actually use the copy that I write for their product descriptions, I feel pretty good about the product pages as well. I even added editorial reviews and quotes from major trade publications, which is an advantage most self-published e-books don’t have. That left two big variables:

Cover
The first book I uploaded was Smoky Mountain Tracks , the first book in the Raine Stockton Dog Mystery Series. I was such a clutz at this, I accidentally uploaded a grayscale copy of the cover , which I didn’t notice for three days. Embarrassing, but what difference could it make, since no one even knew the book was published. But when I went back to upload the color cover a week later – holy cow! Eight people had already bought my book! In one week, with a grayscale cover, no publicity, and the product page on Amazon.com not even completely built yet. Clearly, this internet thing was out of control. My expectations soared.

But here’s the interesting thing: the color cover made no difference. The book continued to sell at about 8 copies a week. Throughout May, with three more books uploaded ( all of them cross-referencing the other e-books), and a complete product detail page built, still 5-8 copies a week. I sent out a notice to my reader list, featured the books on my blog and web site, made an announcement on Facebook and Kindleboards. No change. 8-10 copies a week on the dog mysteries. I upgraded the cover (this cover is still pretty bad, but you should have seen the original!) No difference.

In June, something happened and sales doubled. My only theory is that by this time I had nine books live and the cross-promotion between books was beginning to take effect. Or maybe people who downloaded samples in April had just gotten around to reading them in June. Who knows?

Old Cover
Product Details
New Cover
The romances all sold about 4 copies or less a week, which made no sense to me. First of all, there were seven of them, all cross-promoting each other, and only two of the mysteries. Secondly, they had much better covers than the mysteries. The exception was A Man Around the House , whose cover was so bad even I laughed at it. However, since it sold exactly the same amount as all the others (even better than some) I left it alone for most of the year. In October, I replaced the old cover  with a professionally designed one
to see if it would make any difference. In August and September (old cover) A Man Around the House sold 12 copies each month. In November (new, sexy cover) it sold 9! By December and January it was selling 12 copies a month again, just as it was with the old cover.

Price
In June I sold 61 copies of Smoky Mountain Tracks at 1.99 and 47 copies of Rapid Fire, its sequel. I raised the price to 2.99 to comply with Kindle’s new 70% royalty option at the end of June. In July I sold 64 copies of Smoky Mountain Tracks and 42 of Rapid Fire , but by August Rapid Fire was up to 55 and Smoky Mountain Tracks to 75 (more copies of both books than were sold at 1.99!). The romances, which were selling 10 or less copies per month, dropped in July to 7-10 copies a month, but were back up to 15 by August, and by the end of the year were selling more copies at 2.99 than they were at 1.99. Go figure.

What I did notice is that my two best sellers are the dog mysteries (the ones with the least impressive covers, IMHO). This could be because of the genre, the dogs (a suspicion supported by the fact that my next best seller, For Keeps also has a golden retriever on the cover) or—and this is what I think—the fact that these books still have an active product page from the print publisher, with links to the original print books and dozens of customer reviews. I know that many independent authors seed their product pages with reviews from family and friends (hey,if I had enough family or friends to write reviews on 11 different titles, I would too!) but I actually have not been able to do that. Most of my romance product pages look pretty barren, and none have links to print books.

The other thing one can’t help noticing is that in January, when everyone was downloading goodies for their brand new Christmas Kindles, all my sales doubled or tripled across the board. They’re still not giving my print publisher anything to lose sleep over, nor are they even beginning to approach what I had hoped for. But if they stay at this level or grow, I can live with that.

Conclusion
From April-December 2010, with nine e-books available on Kindle for most of that time, I made $1685. For the year.  Even if you added a zero, that would still be far less than the worst year I’ve ever had with a print publisher, so will I be relying on e-books to pay my mortgage any time soon? Probably not. In terms of the sense of control over sales I hoped for when I started this project, it would appear that actual sales are linked more to the things I can’t control-—the number of customers who write book reviews and the number of people who buy Kindles —than to the more obvious things like cover and pricing.

On the other hand, I acknowledge that there is still a lot of room for experimentation in this Great E-Book Experiment. For example:
*While the difference between $1.99 and 2.99 might not make all that much difference in sales, the difference between 2.99 and 99 cents might. I just published a non-fiction book, Ten Things Your Puppy Needs to Know to Be a Great Dog (hey, who says I don’t know anything about self-promotion?) that’s selling less than 1 copy a week. Today I lowered the e-book  price to 99 cents on all platforms. We’ll see if it makes its way to the head of the pack now.

*Kindle doesn’t allow authors to give away their books for free, but with Smashwords coupons you can run a “free e-book” promotion, and that’s exactly what I’m doing during Read an E-Book Week March 6-12, 2011. (Here's the info on how to get your free books. ) Because I have selected only a few of the lowest selling romances to feature in this promotion, it should be very easy to see whether this makes a difference in sales when the price goes back to normal.

*After A Man Around the House *(from worst cover ever to sexy naked man)I remain unconvinced that the cover alone has a substantial impact on e-sales, although it certainly may contribute if there are enough other negative factors. Eventually I may redesign the dog mysteries for print, at which time I’ll invest in a professional cover. It will be interesting to see what happens.

*Finally, I would love to know whether filling the product pages on my romance novels with customer reviews would make a difference in those sales. So anyone who’d like to write a review for any of my e-books can contact me for the coupon code for a free e-book, a shameless offer made with absolutely no apology (Although I'll probably limit the offer to the first 10 on each book).

When I started the project a year ago I speculated that the formula for success in e-book sales had more to do with chaos theory than algorithms, and nothing has happened in my experience since then to change that opinion. Does that mean I consider this experiment a failure? Absolutely not. Am I giving up on the search for that elusive golden goose of e-book megamillions? Hell, no. In fact, I’m more enthusiastic than ever. Why?

Chaos theory. If lightning is going to strike, it might as well strike me.

And because, as I’ve said many times before, if I were smart I wouldn’t be trying to make a living in this business in the first place. The experiment isn’t over. It’s barely begun. Stay tuned.