VIDEO: An Ode to Indie Authors (GUEST POST)

The BiblioBabes (Kat and Cara) are the best darned book bloggers on the planet. They're smart and funny and, most importantly, they support indie authors. I wrote a guest post for their website called "An Ode to Book Bloggers" about the irreplaceably important role book bloggers play in the world of independent publishing. And, in return, they recorded the video below, talking about why indie authors mean so much to them.

An Ode to Indie Authors (VIDEO)

By The BiblioBabes

(Kat and Cara)

Manifest: A Computer and a Story (GUEST POST)

Will Entrekin is an author and publisher who I've known for about a year now. I consider him a both a friend and ally in the publishing world, which is why I signed on with his publishing company, Exciting Press, in April of 2012. Will and I spoke on the phone recently and much of our conversation was dominated by talk of writing and publishing. Since you couldn't be there, I asked Will if he'd write a guest post for me; and, like the mensch that he is, he delivered in spades. So, for your reading pleasure, I present to you...

Manifest: A Computer and a Story

By Will Entrekin

Back when I first started writing, two decades ago now, books and publishing were simple. There was really only one path for authors to take if they hoped that their work might actually find readers: agents to editors at publishers to buyers for bookstores to shelves to readers. It was a process that had developed over decades, and arguably reached its culmination with the heyday of Barnes & Noble in the 80s. Ironically, around the time I began to write.

Back then, it was pretty much the only way. “Pretty much” because there was one other option, one other way to make a book. It wasn’t really much of one: an author could enlist publishing services. Sometimes reputable, mostly not, there was little more involved than printing, often resulting in multiple cases of books moldering in their own authors’ garages and basements, mainly because bookstore buyers never purchased those book for their shelves, one reason among many those sorts of services earned not-so-good reputations.

Twenty years later, that’s no longer the case. Thank goodness.

It took a long time for that system to take hold, but in less than five years, a new one not only emerged but nearly singlehandedly dominated the old system.

I’m speaking, of course, of Kindle.

Kindle didn’t exist when I realized I needed to go to grad school to become a better writer, and because it didn’t, Amazon wasn’t part of our discussion when we studied the literary marketplace and how publishing worked. The first Kindle was announced the year I graduated, but wasn’t perfected for another two generations. Now, it’s almost two years perfected, and it’s the single largest reason authors are now able to not only subsist, but thrive.

It’s also the reason I was able to find Martin’s work, though not the reason I’m happiest to work with him, which is: Martin’s a great fucking writer.

I discovered Martin through his manifestowhich is something that anyone who hopes to succeed in this great time of writing and reading flux requires. It’s about vision and articulation, drive and direction, all in one go. Manifesto is a cool word, as it includes “manifest.” We writers manifest. We make reality. We are the tellers of tales, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

Mainly because of Kindle, but also because of tablets and the Internet and digital distribution, authors’ options are no longer binary. We no longer need agents and bookstore buyers, nor printing presses and garages. All we need is a computer and a story, but knowing what to do with what we’ve got requires some savvy, some willingness to take things on ourselves. Which is why it helps to work with others.

Late last year, I founded Exciting Press. As a publisher, however, we aim to be less middleman than partner. Frictionless. Good authors generally have vision, and all I’ve wanted is to help authors manifest that vision.

I knew Martin had vision when I read Inside the Outside. There’s a sense of vision in the novel, a sense the author knows what he’s doing, word by word, page by page. From exciting opening to inevitable conclusion. Great novels convey some sense that their authors know far more about those novels’ worlds than are contained by its pages. There’s a sense of bigness about them, a sense that the story of that novel is one among many occurring in that world. A sense of other stories.

Like “Footsteps.”

Set in the same storyverse as Inside the Outside, "Footsteps" shares a character in common, but moreso, it shares the same vision. It serves less to extend the story than it does to simply give readers a slightly wider glimpse of the world.

As authors, I’m not sure we can hope to accomplish much more.

Besides, of course, reaching more readers.

That’s always a hope, and I think one of the greatest reasons to work together. It’s something I hope for from Exciting Press, that we authors can work together to build influence, reputation, and readership, that a publishing company can be more than simply the sum of its authors and books.

My vision for Exciting Press might be summed up by two popular aphorisms: “You can tell a lot about people by the company they keep” and “You will know me by my work.”

I’m happy to have Martin’s vision coincide with my own going forward, producing quality books and stories, and hoping all the while they find and excite readers who enjoy them.

My KDP Free Experience | PART 2

(Read "My KDP Free Experience | PART 1" HERE)

So, it's been a little more than a week since my KDP free promotion for Inside the Outside ended and I figured it was about time I shared the aftermath. Here are my notes regarding the fifth and final day of the promotion:

DAY 5 | February 24

  • 1:00am – 2000 downloads (#18 in Horror)
  • 8:00am – 2046 downloads (#12 in Horror)
  • 6:00pm – 2225 downloads (#20 in Horror)
  • 11:00pm – 2275 downloads (#23 in Horror)

And that's where I left off. After a long and busy week promoting Inside the Outside, I was exhausted and couldn't stay awake until midnight to see what the final tally of free downloads was.

This is an important detail to have missed out on, because one of the stats I wanted to keep track of was how many books I sold (if any) after the promotion was over.  Since KDP (as of this writing) doesn't differentiate between books downloaded for free and books paid for, I don't know the precise cutoff. But, what I do know is that there were more downloads after I fell asleep at 11:00pm.

February 25 | Post Promo Day 1

  • 9:00am – 2083 downloads (#65,229 in Kindle Store)

Since I have no real way of knowing, I'll assume (for the sake of this post) that 2083 was the final tally of free kindle copies of Inside the Outside downloaded during the promotion; assuming this is true, there were 8 free downloads in the final hour.

One of my hopes with doing this promotion was that it would lead to book sales in the aftermath and, I'm happy to report, it did. Unfortunately, there weren't an avalanche of book sales. I kept notes for just a few days, as needed, and here is the final note I made through February:

February 29 | Post Promo Day 4

  • 11:00pm – 2099 downloads (#23,067 in Kindle Store)

So, subtracting the presumed number of free downloads (2083), that means I sold 16 books at the end of the promotion through the end of February. I have mixed feelings about those 16 books sold.

On the one hand, I'm almost embarrassed to admit some disappointment; I'd hoped that maybe the momentum of the promotion would lead to book sales in the 100s.  But, on the other hand, I'm quite grateful, because February had been a particularly slow month for Inside the Outside and, before the promotion, I'd sold only 3 copies in the Kindle Store. If my math is correct (and I'm sure it's not) that means I increased my book sales from the beginning of the month by 500%.

One promising thing about those book sales is, not long before I started the free promotion, I raised the price of Inside the Outside in the Kindle Store from $0.99 to $4.99. Along with the obvious advantage of earning more money per book, the price change also increases my royalties from 35% to 70%. This means that those folks who bought the book after the promotion ended weren't deterred by the $4.99 price tag, which, admittedly, I felt was something of a gamble (but that's a topic I'll save for another post).

But, more than the dollars and cents, I'm thrilled to know that there are now more than 3,000 copies of Inside the Outside living in Kindles throughout the U.S. and the U.K. (during the free promotion, Inside the Outside reached #38 in Amazon U.K.'s Top 100 free horror books).

How many of those folks will actually read Inside the Outside? I have no idea. I'm certain that a fair number of those readers, like so many of us, simply enjoy collecting free stuff, and likely will never read one page of my novel. But even if a quarter of those people who downloaded the book decide to read it, then that's roughly 750 new readers.

And that's a number that would make my KDP free experience an unqualified success.

My KDP Free Experience | PART 1

On Monday, February 20, 2012, I began a 5 day campaign of offering my novel, Inside the Outside, for free in Amazon's Kindle Store. When authors sign up for the KDP Select program on Amazon, they get a few perks and benefits, one of them being the opportunity to have a free book promotion.

In exchange, the author must make their book(s) exclusive to the Kindle Store. I didn't come to my decision easily, but, after thinking it through and weighing all the pros and cons, I decided to give it a go.

A big part of what sold me on it was the idea that Amazon would give me 5 days of free promotion every 90 days. Of course, up until a few days ago, I completely misunderstood what that meant. I thought it meant Amazon would promote my book for free for 5 days, which sounded like an invaluable offer.

But, as I eventually figured out, it really means they'll set your book up to be downloaded for free. I wasn't exactly sure how rewarding that would be, but after doing some research and reading about the KDP experiences of other authors, such as Will Entrekin and John L. Betcher, I decided to give it a go.

While authors in the KDP Select program can use their 5 days at their discretion (one day here, say, or two days there), I decided to use all 5 of my days in a row. As I write this, Day 4 has ended and Day 5 is under way.

I've spent much of my week promoting Inside the Outside's free listing on Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads. I also incorporated the invaluable help of the World Literary Cafe, while also asking for help from folks who have previously shown support for my novel, such as The BiblioBabes and Monkeycstars. And, through no connections or efforts of my own, I found that a few websites that promote Kindle books featured my free promotion, such as Free eBooks Daily.

During these last 4 days I have monitored the progress of my free promotion very closely, taking handwritten notes that, to the casual observer, may resemble that of a crazy person. While I wouldn't dream of inundating you with the full results of my copious notes, I will offer a condensed version.

In order that you may fully appreciate my data, I don't mind telling you that I sold only 3 Kindle books in the month of February, before beginning my free promotion.

DAY 1 | February 20

  • 8:00am - 141 downloads (unranked)
  • 12:00pm - 424 downloads (#37 in Horror)
  • 8:00pm - 824 downloads (#9 in Horror)

DAY 2 | February 21

  • 8:00am - 1033 downloads (#5 in Horror)
  • 12:00pm - 1121 downloads (#5 in Horror)
  • 11:00pm - 1288 downloads (#13 in Horror)

DAY 3 | February 22

  • 7:00am - 1324 downloads (#12 in Horror)
  • 2:00pm - 1404 downloads (#19 in Horror)
  • 10:00pm - 1528 downloads (#23 in Horror)

DAY 4 | February 23

  • 8:00am - 1643 downloads (#18 in Horror)
  • 12:00pm - 1732 downloads (#15 in Horror)
  • 11:00pm - 1997 downloads (#14 in Horror)

Which brings us to today, Day 5. I'll be taking notes throughout the day, but I think the first 4 days alone offer a pretty good indication of my experience. The first 1 1/2 days of the promotion are where my downloads peaked. But even as the rate of downloads waned, Inside the Outside never dropped out of Amazon's top 25 free horror books.  And, more importantly than that, my book was continuously downloaded throughout the first 4 days - and I suspect that Day 5 will produce comparable results.

So, was KDP Select free promotion a success for me? Well, I had three primary goals:

  1. Expose Inside the Outside to a significant number of potential new readers.
  2. Get Inside the Outside ranked in Amazon's Top 10 Free Horror books.
  3. Generate sales of Inside the Outside following the end of the free promotion.

The first two goals on my list were successfully (thankfully!) achieved. As for the third goal, well, I'll let you know in a few days.

(Read “My KDP Free Experience | PART 2″ HERE)

An Indie Author's Manifesto

(This is an extended and revised version of the article "A Self-Publisher's Manifesto," which was previously published in Self-Publishing Review on 7/27/11)

I am an indie author and this is my manifesto.

If you’re a reader, a simple lover of books, someone with no aspirations of ever writing or publishing, then there is a very good chance you’re unaware of the culture war that has been going on within the world of publishing for what feels like forever.  The war is between the large publishing houses, primarily found in New York, and indie authors.  For almost as long as the publishing industry has been a relevant cog in the entertainment machine, publishing houses have served the purpose of finding, publishing and, essentially delivering to the literary world the best authors they could find.  But they didn’t do this alone.  Literary agents—who not only represent authors, but also serve as gatekeepers for the large publishing houses—helped them.

Most any writer who has ever aspired to get published has learned the hard way that finding a literary agent to represent you is, arguably,  harder than actually getting your manuscript accepted for publication by a large publishing house.  And this is not by accident.  As gatekeepers, the literary agents weed out the “bad” talent and wrangle in the “good” talent, making it easier for the large publishing houses to pick which handful of writers they’ll be publishing during any given year.  As someone who has been rejected by more agents than I care to count, I have a pretty good grasp on how the system is intended to work.

First, the author writes a manuscript (i.e. a novel, a memoir, a collection of short stories, etc.).  Once they finish, the author writes a query letter, which is, essentially, a one-page pitch to a literary agent.  In the query letter, the writer should not only tell the literary agent what their book is about, but also why anybody would bother reading it or, more importantly, buying it.  This last part is important, because agents earn money on commission, which means they only get paid if they can sell your book.  So, even if they personally love the book, but don’t think they can sell it, they aren’t going to represent it.

If the agent likes what you’re pitching in the query letter, then they’ll likely ask you to send them the first 10-15 pages.  If they like those pages, then they’ll likely ask for a partial, which are the first 50 pages.  If they’re still satisfied with what they’re reading, then they’ll ask to see the full manuscript.  After looking at it, they will either decide to represent your book or reject it.  There is also the possible middle ground where they might ask you to make revisions to the book that will, in their estimation, make it more attractive to publishers.  And even if you’ve gotten this far and the literary agent decides to represent you, it’s going to take nearly a year (sometimes longer) before you come to that agreement.

Of course, getting a literary agent is no guarantee of getting published.  They still have to try and sell your manuscript to a publishing house.  There are plenty of authors who have secured literary agents, only to find out that the agent couldn’t sell their books.  But if you are one of those rare authors who have cleared all the hurdles and have had your book published by a large publishing house, one of the first things you will learn is that you’re going to be on your own when it comes to promoting and marketing the book.  Publishing houses have limited budgets for marketing their authors and first-time authors aren’t likely to get much support.  Ironically, if your book doesn’t sell, then the publisher will be less likely to buy your next book.

So, if you are that first-time author, you’re going to have to do some significant legwork—from creating a presence on the Internet to setting up readings and book signings—which is fine, especially if you’re serious about your writing and want to make a career of it.  And while you’re putting in this work, it might occur to you that since you’re doing all the legwork yourself, what’s to stop you from publishing yourself.  Up to now, the main thing stopping you was the stigma of being an indie author.

By having agents, editors and publishers making it so hard to break into the publishing world, it creates the perception that only the very best authors get their work published.  This perception has put a stigma on indie authors, a stigma akin to taking your cousin to the prom.  The impression is if you weren’t good enough to get published through a traditional publisher then you must not be a very good writer.  And the publishing houses have benefited from this, because it means they haven’t had to compete with indie authors.

While it’s always been tough to make money selling books, considering Americans aren't generally keen on reading, the major publishing houses, in the face of a struggling economy, have been hurting more than usual. In their desperation to sell books (which, mind you, is a totally reasonable desperation) the major publishers have invested more and more money into selling personalities, rather than authors.  This means when you walk into a bookstore, you’re more likely to see a book “written” by a reality TV star or a trendy politician.  Even actors and recording artists are publishing novels.  All of this is fine, except that, if you’re a major publishing house, you now have little-to-no money left to invest in first-time authors. Not to mention the fact that they’re a risky investment, unlike a celebrity who has name recognition and a built-in fan base.

This all makes sense from a business standpoint, but what if you’re a writer who has dedicated years and years of your life to learning and honing your craft? Are you supposed to just accept that some contemporary pop star (and their ghostwriter) have a book published and you don’t? You can keep knocking on the door of the literary agents and the big publishing houses (heck, you can even try the small publishing houses), but they can’t afford to take a chance on you. The best option for you then is to become an indie author and publish your book yourself. Except, there is that stigma about indie authors that hasn’t quite gone away.

Only now there is progress being made in eradicating the stigma. A big part of the stigma being eliminated is technology. Now, more than ever, it's easier for an author to publish their work without having to go through a large publishing house. Especially with the growing market of e-books, indie authors are seeing their books being sold side-by-side with traditionally published books. And if you’re a reader, chances are you’re not making any great distinctions between independently published books and traditionally published books; you’re just happy to find a book that entertained you while you were tanning by the pool or waiting for your doctor's appointment.

So if the readers aren’t holding onto this stigma, then where exactly is it coming from? Primarily, it’s coming from the writers themselves. But it’s not their fault. If you’re a writer who has been working at getting published for at least the last ten years or so (and for most writers, it’s much longer than that), then you’ve more than likely bought into the stigma. You’re a writer who, despite all the hard work you’ve put into your writing, feels like your work can only be validated by going through the traditional system of acquiring a literary agent and selling your book to a major publisher.

You would just as soon let your brilliant work go unread on your hard drive (or your freezer, depending on how long you’ve been writing) before becoming an indie author. You’ve dreamed of signing books in Barnes & Noble and doing readings at universities, giving interviews on morning talk shows and whisking around the country on national book tours. The stigma tells you that indie authors don’t get to do these things. And, for the most part, it’s true. But neither do most traditionally published authors either.

More and more quality authors are figuring this out and the world of independent publishing is benefiting from it. Just because the large New York publishing houses are publishing fewer and fewer quality authors doesn’t mean there are no quality authors out there. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. And just because these authors aren’t being published doesn’t mean they simply go away. Many of them are discovering that independent publishing is a viable option. The more quality writers who enter into the world of independent publishing, the more credible it becomes.

Even J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter dynasty, has turned to independent publishing. Now why would she do that?  There is not a publisher anywhere in the world who wouldn’t kill to have Rowling on their roster of authors. And that’s exactly the point. From a business standpoint, Rowling stands to earn more money by publishing independently, rather than sharing her literary fortune with a traditional publisher. Business-wise, this is true even for the relatively unknown indie author.

Whatever advance you get from a traditional publisher, in all likelihood, is going to be the same amount of money you stand to earn on your own if you have a quality book and are willing to work hard to find and connect with readers, which is to say all the things you’d be doing anyway if you take your writing seriously.

So if you’re a writer out there who is tired of being rejected, don’t fret. Just publish your work yourself.

If you’re a large publishing house doing business as usual, good luck to you. You’re a business and you’re simply trying to stay viable. I can appreciate that.

And if you are a writer or a publisher or anybody who is still holding onto or perpetuating the stigma of independent publishing, let it go.  Release it from your grip and accept the dawning of a new era, a better one even.

I am an indie author and this is my manifesto.

5 Blogs Every Indie Writer Should Bookmark

I got into the blogging game primarily to create an online presence for myself. I wanted there to be sort of an Internet headquarters for my readers (present and future) to come see what was happening with me or any news surrounding my debut novel, Inside the Outside. The more time I spent working on my own blog, the more I started noticing other blogs. I started to appreciate them more now that I had a better idea of what it took to put one together. Amongst the many blogs I started noticing, I was thrilled to find out that there are lots of folks out there with great blogs about books and publishing. And every time I discover one of these cool blogs, I add it to my bookmarks, as any self-respecting web surfer would do. Well, after recently looking over my growing list of bookmarked blogs, it occurred to me that I should share them with my readers—put the ol’ Martin Spotlight™ on them, as it were. Even if their sites already get more traffic than mine does (which I assume is the case with all of them), I figured a little extra shine couldn't hurt. The blogs that I primarily frequent are not only about writing (in some form or fashion) but are also beneficial to other writers (in one way or another). So, without any further ado, here are, in no particular order, five blogs that every indie writer should have bookmarked…

1. IndieReader

I first became aware of IndieReader when I was surfing the Internet for news about—uber-successful indie author—Amanda Hocking. And, sufficed it say, I stuck around because I loved the site. IndieReader was founded by Amy Edelman, a publicist and writer who has been both self-published and traditionally published. The thing I especially love about IndieReader is its support in promoting self-published authors, rightfully equating the singularity of their voice and vision—from writing to publishing—with the indie mavericks and auteurs of the film industry.

2. The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog

I assume The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog found the inspiration for its name from the now-cancelled television program The Best Damn Sports Show Period. As both a sports lover and a book lover, I appreciate the allusion, even if it’s all in my head. Now, with regards to the blog itself, The BDCWB offers news, essays and commentary about the publishing industry. Among other things, you can expect to find everything from posts about dating sites for book lovers to interviews with bestselling authors.

3. Self-Publishing Review

Self-Publishing Review is near and dear to my heart, because their core purpose is to legitimatize self-publishing as a viable option for writers looking to see their work in print. They go about doing this by, among other things, posting book reviews, publisher reviews, interviews, and news. And a particularly cool feature of the site is they allow outside writers to contribute their own blog posts (they are, of course, moderated).  Even if you're not a self-published author, but are thinking about it, you'll find that Self-Publishing Review is a great resource.

book designer
book designer

4. The Book Designer

The Book Designer is a great blog geared towards helping independent publishers and authors get to market with a great looking, properly constructed book, on time and on budget.  The brain behind The Book Designer is Joel Friedlander, a successful indie author and publisher himself.  Friedlander's blog covers a myriad of important topics that all indie publishers need to be familiar with, from editing and designing to marketing and promoting.

5. The Creative Penn

Okay, first of all, I have to say that Joanna Penn, founder of The Creative Penn, is adorable. If you don’t believe me, check out her “About Me” video. Penn is an author, blogger, speaker and business consultant based in London, England. Her mission for The Creative Penn is to help people who are interested in writing and publishing, as well as authors who want to gain insight on the marketing and promotion of their books on the Internet. What a swell gal, huh?

And there you have it.  Five blogs every indie writer should have bookmarked (what are you waiting for?!). Now, just to be clear, these aren’t the only five blogs I frequent. I just figured, for the sake of this first go, five seemed like a reasonable number. I look forward to featuring other blogs I enjoy, so keep an eye out for those. Also, if you have a blog that you think I’ll love, send it my way. And if I love it (or, at the very least, like it a lot), I’ll be more than happy to shine the ol’ Martin Spotlight™ in your direction.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some blogs to read.