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Sunday, 3 April 2011

Reflections on Life as a 'Kindler.'

Reflections on life as a 'Kindler.'
Amazon has over 630,000 books available for the Kindle. Plus, Amazon has access to over 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books for the device. That’s a lot of books, the numbers swelling every day as new authors join the site. Interesting.
Also interesting are the names of the first five authors that sold over 500,000 Kindle version of their books: Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts. Recognised authors, household names, all with a solid background in traditional publishing.
Amanda Hocking is twenty-six. She’s an Indie writer. She’s also taken the publishing world by storm. For anyone who thinks it’s easy, here’s what Amanda says, in her own words – I asked her permission to use the direct quotes:
‘Everybody seems really excited about what I'm doing and how I've been so successful, and from what I've been able to understand, it's because a lot of people think that they can replicate my success and what I've done. And while I do think I will not be the only one to do this - others will be as successful as I've been, some even more so - I don't think it will happen that often.

Traditional publishing and indie publishing aren't all that different, and I don't think people realize that. Some books and authors are best sellers, but most aren't. It may be easier to self-publish than it is to traditionally publish, but in all honesty, it's harder to be a best seller self-publishing than it is with a house.

I don't think people really grasp how much work I do. I think there is this very big misconception that I was like, "Hey, paranormal is pretty hot right now," and then I spent a weekend smashing out some words, threw it up online, and woke up the next day with a million dollars in my bank account.

This is literally years of work you're seeing. And hours and hours of work each day. The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn't writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.’
The final sentence is worrying. It explains her signing a major deal with a traditional publishing house in the past few days. Anyone seriously suggesting this remarkable young woman is ‘selling out’ should go back and read that last sentence again. ‘I hardly have time to write anymore’ – how scary is that for any writer?
It’s not a concern for me. My inability to write my fourth book isn’t caused by pressure on my time since my books began to sell on Kindle. Those old favourites, lethargy and sloth take the credit. I’ve got three books in my head, sections of three books already begun, no idea yet which will be the next book. It’s complicated by a desire to write an entirely different book, the Historical I promised myself I’d write one day.
I’ve been asked, many times, for the secrets behind the success of my book, Burn, Baby, Burn on Kindle. It’s number thirteen in the All Books Chart today, just pushed down from the lofty position of twelve it’s held for the past four days. It’s a sign of how delusions of grandeur affect even the most modest of men (!) when my first response is to seek out the interloper who has kicked my book down a notch. It happened to be Lee Child, pricking the bubble of my presumed self-importance in a trice. Fair enough. He sells books by the million; I buy all his books, bought this one as well. Wonder if he buys any of mine? Probably not.
ADD: latest chart position, number 12, takes me above Lee Child once more. Out-selling Lee Child – that’s a good feeling!
I have three books in the top 400, despite not having a marketing strategy of any kind. I have a blog where I post new writing. Some prospective openings for a new book, a recollection of times past or two, tales from my life overseas, musings on a writer’s life and times, even a poem or two. That may spark a reader’s attention, send them to investigate my books. If so, it’s not doing very well as the average daily viewings of my blog are in the 35-45 range.
I post links to my blog on Twitter. Never links to my books. I’m vehemently opposed to spam and self-promotion is anathema to me. I wish it were otherwise on occasion, but there it is. I can, and do, boost the work of fellow writers; can’t do it with my own unworthy books.
So, no revelations of instant success tips. Some aspects of the Kindle experience I researched in depth, some were trial and error.
First of all, make the book as good as it can be. The option to return a book for refund is available to a buyer – don’t let that happen to you. Edit, ruthlessly.
The cover should be eye-catching. I’m delighted with my cover for Burn, Baby, Burn. Exactly as I visualized it and effective even at the size of a postage stamp which is all the site permits.
Next, and absolutely vital, is the pitch. In my time on Authonomy I saw numerous examples of pitches that failed to grab my attention. It’s a crime. A casual browser judges your entire book on two or three paragraphs. Interest them and they’ll look at your book. Fail to gain their attention and they’ll move on. Amazon is just a massive bookstore, after all; we’re all browsers, looking for something that compels us to read more of what’s on offer.
Finally, price. I write crime fiction. Thrillers. Not because of any particular affinity with the genre, but because books of this nature sell very well. When I set out to write my first novel I soon realised it was an immense task. If I intended to devote a year of my life to writing a book, why not make it a commercial proposition? The top-selling authors at this time in ‘my’ genre are Stephen Leather and Gordon Ferris. They both offer their books for sale at below £1 / $1. That was enough to convince me. At this price level we’re talking ‘impulse buy.’ Remember, the book has to be good or that impulse buy will be swiftly returned for refund, probably accompanied by a damning comment, visible to all future browsers. Price is not the only consideration, but for me it was the best way to achieve sales. Build a readership. Gain a chart position.
Charts are vital to success on Amazon. People look at charts, see what is popular in their own field of interest, are influenced by the views of others. A high chart position helps sales. To an extent, a high chart position is self-perpetuating. Sales beget sales. The most important chart, obviously, is the top 100 All Books chart, but there are charts for all aspects of the market. Gay poetry, women sleuths, society, politics and philosophy, you name it, there’s a chart for it.
Finally, in response to many questioners - numbers. I’ll not become rich from having a book on Kindle. Many thousands of people have read my books though. That’s something I never expected to happen three months ago. I’d had interest from agents and publishers, got very close to a contract, not close enough. With the option of sending out yet another batch of query letters or giving up, I found a third way. Publishing myself as an e-book.
My books sell for 70 or 71 pence, 99 cents. Not a lot of money. Far less when Amazon take their cut – 65%. Less still after tax, deducted at source, 30% as a non-US resident. Why bother then? Well, apart from having my books available to so many readers, think back to Stephen Leather, Gordon Ferris and Amanda Hocking. They sell books in vast numbers and all those trivial amounts add up to a significant income. I’m not at their level. Not yet. Without a coherent marketing strategy I probably never will be. That’s okay. I’ve done many things in my life, had experiences denied to most, this is just one more adventure. If it ends tomorrow, fine. No problem. I have other interests, other things I want to do.
In the first 30 days, only one book on the site at that time, I sold 59 books. In total. Dribbling in, one or two a day. On the thirty-sixth day, sales leapt to over 100, been there ever since.
My figures for March, with a day to go.
Burn, Baby, Burn -  Ranked 13 in All Books - 4,700 sales.
Blood – Ranked 206 in All Books - 550 sales.
Heat – Ranked 344 in All Books – 305 sales.
If you’re thinking about ‘Kindling’ – what’s stopping you? Worried a traditional publisher won’t want to see your work? Don’t be. In my experience, the reverse is the case. In the three months since I posted my book on Kindle I’ve been contacted by three agents and three publishers, all very keen to discuss a future partnership. Evidence of a saleable product will have that effect. I’m not rushing into anything. Why should I? Do I need them? Not really. Not until I reach Amanda Hocking’s level and the minutiae of self-publication prevents me from writing. I have my natural sloth already, don’t need any more barriers to writing the next book. Whatever it may be.

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