self-publishing

Why I’m stopping self-publishing

by Suw on December 12, 2014

This decision has been a long time coming, but as of about now, I am ceasing to self-publish my fiction. I shall continue to make my work available, but I shan’t be self-publishing in the way that most people understand it. There are a few things at play, and I’ll unpick them one by one. 

The unholy mess that is VATMOSS

For those of you who haven’t heard, some time ago the EU decided that member countries would earn more in tax if only people selling digital ‘services’ (defined by the EU in the same way normal people would define ‘products’) would just pay tax in the country where that service was bought, rather than the country where the person or corporation selling resided. The is entirely because big companies like Amazon had set themselves up in Luxembourg to take advantage of a ridiculously low VAT rate, thus cheating other countries out of their dues. 

I think most people want to see Amazon and other big players pay their fair share of tax, so on the surface of it the new legislation seems fine. But it isn’t. The new VAT law coming into force on Jan 1 also applies to every other person or company selling any digital service (aka product) in Europe. This law is known as VATMOSS after the ‘VAT mini one stop shop’ where you would register to pay your EU VAT.

This law applies globally, not just to people in the EU. It doesn’t matter where you are, if you sell a qualifying service (aka product), you have to register to pay VAT. And if you register to pay VAT on your EU sales, you (may, see below) also have to pay VAT on your UK sales, even if your turnover falls below the current £81k VAT threshold. 

There has been an uproar about this amongst sole traders, the self-employed, and tiny businesses, whom HMRC totally ignored as they were drawing up their new VAT implementation. Luckily, there are rumblings that some changes might be on the way that would make it easier for small businesses like mine, such as allowing people to pay VAT only on their EU sales and not on their UK sales. But I have to make a decision before the end of the year: Keep on selling ebooks and deal with the VATMESS, or stop and avoid it. 

I earn so little through ebook sales that there’s just no point in me continuing to sell them, as the time, energy and money spent on dealing with VATMOSS would be entirely wasted. There’s just no way that I would earn it back. So before the end of the year I will be removing my ebooks from sale here on Chocolate and Vodka. 

Now, I know some people will simply say “Oh, but you can just sell through Amazon and not have to deal with VATMOSS!”, and yes, that’s true. Except I don’t want to sell through Amazon. I don’t like Amazon’s treatment of its employees and contract workers, the way it avoids tax, or the way that it treats the publishing industry in general. That doesn’t mean I’m a Big 5 shill — I believe they need to sort their shit out too. But I have for the last couple of years minimised my interactions with Amazon as much as I can. I’ve not been able to eradicate them completely, but I’ve done what I can to reduce how much money I give them. So no, I shall not be selling my ebooks via Amazon. 

And yes, there are other etailers I could sell through, but again, there’s a cost-benefit analysis to be done and, given my meagre back catalogue and the fact that I am not producing new works at a fast enough rate, I’m back to finding it not worth the time right now. 

Furthermore, selling through a marketplace simply means that you don’t have to register with VATMOSS, it doesn’t mean that you won’t pay VAT. Marketplaces such as Amazon will be responsible for dealing with VAT payments throughout the EU, but that cost will be passed on to the publisher by reducing the percentage of the list price that they earn. Basically, all your digital sales, no matter where you are and no matter what your annual turnover is, are about to take a hit of about 15 to 27 percent for VAT.

This upends the whole purpose of having a VAT threshold: If a UK business turns over less than £81k they should not be be paying VAT at all. This new law means that all suppliers of digital services (products) will now be paying VAT, either through the back door via the marketplaces they use, or paying it upfront through VATMOSS, making a complete mockery of the very concept of a VAT threshold. 

I’ll also note that there’s a metric fuckton of other things wrong with VATMOSS which I’m not going to go into here. Just search Twitter for #VATMOSS and you’ll find a bunch of links to informative posts by people more expert than I. It really is a total clusterfuck. 

The unholy mess that is self-publishing

Even without VATMOSS, I would be pulling my books offline. I’ve been thinking about doing it for months, I have just been preoccupied with first Ada Lovelace Day, and then with finishing up my online social media strategy course and haven’t had time to sort it out. 

I have entirely fallen out of love with self-publishing. I started to get fed up with the verbiage, the self-congratulatory bullshit, the boasting, the ideologues preaching to their choirs, the judgemental cockwombles, and the ridiculous purity tests about a year ago.

Then came this move to the USA and I asked Forbes if I could have some time off from writing for them which they graciously agreed to. And over the last twelve months I have discovered that I rather like not writing about self-publishing. The conversations had become too combative, too politicised, too full of utter fucking shit to be either useful or enjoyable. 

I tried to make sensible points in a sensible manner, tried to deflate some of the pockets of hot gas the would regularly blow up, but no one likes common sense. All people seemed to want was a good old bun fight, a nice little argument where they could spout their ideology and then shout at anyone who disagreed with them. I’m not one for arguing with testosterone-fuelled dickweasels, so yeah. Fuck. That. Shit. 

And then there are the utterly batshit, arrogant self-published writers who behave like spoilt children denied their pudding. Not all of that bad behaviour was online, though a lot of it was (and is). But I saw it in person. Face to face. For example, the self-published writer with literally no experience of social media telling me that they know how Twitter works better than I do. Seriously. I’m not one to go all ‘Do you know who I fucking am?’ on people, but seriously, I’ve been doing social media for longer than it’s been called social media. If you want to tell me that you know best, you had better have a long fucking career in social media behind you and actual fucking evidence. Not a shitty novel and an ego the size of the Pacific.

I had come to a point of feeling bitterly disillusioned with self-publishing. Even the fact that there are some really wonderful, kind and generous people in self-publishing wasn’t enough to keep me feeling positive. In fact, some of those wonderful people in self-publishing told me that they too were feeling unhappy about how the public discourse was going, and how they were going to stay away from commenting on the more politicised aspects of it, because it had become just too toxic. 

So that shit can get fucked and stay fucked. 

The unholy mess that is my writing

But even if self-publishing was entirely devoid of the sort of bollockfaced shitnubbins (thank you, Buzzfeed, for that one) that drive me up the fucking wall, even if only delightfully lucid, intelligent, rational, sensible and evidence-driven people self-published, I would still be pulling my books off the internet. 

Because self-publishing has stopped me from writing. I didn’t anticipate that particular side-effect. In fact, I had anticipated quite the opposite. I write my best stuff when I know it’s going to be read. I wouldn’t blog if I didn’t know that someone out there would be reading it. (Sorry for all the swearing in this, Aunty Jane, though hopefully you’ve picked up some new invective for use in everyday life.)

I was expecting my self-publishing to be a great new way to motivate me to write more, and instead, it has caused me to write less. I have had issues for a long time with getting my brain to co-operate with this whole writing malarkey. I’ve had years where not been a single idea has raised its head above the parapet. Years and years. And then I’ve had times where I’ve been happily writing daily, a joyous pig in only the very best of shit.

But there’s something about declaiming one’s status as a self-publisher that eats away at the exhilaration of writing, for me, anyway. There’s all that promotion you’re supposed to do, all that expectation attached to sales numbers, all that tedium about metadata. And I know some people love that, or at least put up with it without it harming their writing. Good luck to them. That’s not how it worked for me. 

Instead, I found that it had become a form of creative poison. There was almost a sense of dread around the idea of finishing a new story, because if I finished a new story that meant moving on to the noxious phase of self-publishing — all the self-promotional crap that I hate doing, am bad at doing, and don’t want to do. 

When you do something you love for a hobby and then try to turn that hobby into a business it can suck all the joy out of that thing that you do. Instead of being something you lie in bed dreaming of doing first thing the next morning, you find yourself thinking of literally anything else except that thing. Your hobby becomes a dry, tasteless, colourless husk of a thing, withered on the vine of your imagination. 

I used to lie in bed and lull myself to sleep thinking of stories, of dialogue, of scenes, of characters and their backstories. Now I lull myself to sleep thinking of how I’m going to embroider my next Christmas tree ornament. And there really are only so many ways you can sew a bead or a bit of gold thread on to a circular bit of red linen. 

If I’m ever going to write again, I need to reclaim it as something akin to hobby. It’s not, at this point in time or at this point in my life, a business, although that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t jump at any financial opportunities that came my way. But I need to find the joy in writing again, in the process of getting words on to paper, in the editing and the shaping and the polishing. I can do that better if I’m not thinking about what happens to the end product much beyond “…and then some people read it”. 

So what am I going to do?

I do still want people to read what I write. I do still want an audience. But I want a smaller audience, a more intimate audience, one that I feel a greater connection to. So I shall be releasing my writing, in full and for free, to the people on my mailing list

My feeling is that if someone cares enough about my writing to subscribe to my newsletter, then I care about producing the very best writing I can for them to enjoy. I will still put excerpts and some selected pieces in full on my website, as and when I feel like it, but the majority of my writing will go out to my subscribers. 

How long this remains my modus operandi depends a lot on whether or not I get into a decent rhythm with my writing. If I can produce more work more regularly, then there’s a chance that I may do the occasional Kickstarter project to produce print books, but I won’t be able to sell ebooks directly at all until (or unless) the VATMESS is sorted out. Or my main business starts turning over more than £81k per year, and I think we all know how likely that is. 

The demagogues of self-publishing encourage us to think big, but sometimes big is the wrong way to think. In the end, I felt uncomfortable self-publishing. I felt like I was walking round in clothes that were ten sizes too large. I need something more my size, and I think this small plan will do me nicely for now. 

{ 16 comments }

Weeds

by Suw on October 5, 2014

The lake is still, not a breath of wind to stir its surface. Where the trees on the far shore meet the water, they are reflected perfectly, blue sky above, green leaves seeming frozen. If you stood on your head, you would not know which was real and which reflection.

It captivates you, holds your gaze. The sun is hot on your neck, your sweat sticking your cotton shirt to your skin. The lake looks like relief. It would be cool on your burning back, its water would be crisp and clean in your parched mouth. You can see the lake from high up on the mountain, and cannot resist its call. You scramble over rock and stone, your bare feet blistering and torn, and all you can think of is how the lake will save you, the lake will wash away all your pain and cleanse you of all your dirt and muck.

The lake is where you must be. You must immerse yourself in its waters, let it close above your head, let it slake your thirst and wash away your imperfections. The lake is the only answer. The lake is what you strive for, what you yearn for. The lake will make you happy.

And then, yes, you reach a small, sandy beach. There are no waves to lap against the shore, for there is no wind. The trees are still upside down and perfect. The sky and the water both blue. You don’t bother removing your clothes, but you do hesitate as you go to dip in your toes. You pause, you savour that moment that only comes once, when you first feel the water cool against your hot skin.

Once your toe has broken the surface, the rest of your body follows with a rush. You dive in, joy unconfined, and the water feels just as you thought it would, soothing, healing, divine, blesséd. You revel in the lightness the water gives you, the freedom, the fun. You play in the lake, diving and then erupting from the water as high as you can, the way you imagine porpoises do, although you’ve never seen them with your own eyes. You are grateful that your long journey over harsh and unforgiving ground has finally brought you here, to this place, at this time, to experience this beauty, this joy.

You hold your breath and dive, keen to explore the limits of your body and this new environment. You exalt in your newfound abilities, you delight in the excitement of the moment. This is everything. Everything. You lose yourself to these emotions, you revel in them. You allow yourself to be consumed by them.

So you don’t pay attention when the long frond of waterweed wraps itself around your ankle. It doesn’t seem to slow you down, you frolic and play and don’t notice that you can’t swim as far as you once did. You feel an odd tickle when your second ankle is entangled, but you can still reach the surface. Still breathe.

You continue to cavort, but the more you do, the more the weed takes a hold of you. It’s not so easy to break the surface now. When you do, breaths come in great gulps. You begin to dread going under, in case you never come up again. You feel your toes in the mud on the lake floor and start to panic. You didn’t intend to dive that deep. Something slimy brushes past you and you jerk your body away, but that just seems to excite whatever water beast that was.

You start to fight, you need to surface, but your arms don’t work anymore. They’re as tangled as your legs in this mass of thick green weed that seems to have grown up out of nowhere. You thrash. You’re desperate for air. Your lungs burn. You try to rip the weed from your body, but it’s like nylon, you can’t tear through it. You can hear your blood pumping through your heart, faster and faster. The impulse to breathe in is unbearable, even though there’s only water. You feel yourself fading, losing control, about to take that last deep breath.

Your last thought: This all seemed like such a good idea when I was at the top of the mountain. This seemed like a better place to be. I didn’t know there were weeds.

No one ever talks about the weeds. They only tell you how beautiful the lake is.

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Mike Cane wrote a blog post in response to Chuck Wendig’s and mine, saying that he thinks the self-publishing shit volcano will come to an end, because Amazon will end it. I left a comment on Cane’s blog, but it was starting to get longer than his initial blog post and I had more to say, so I’m expanding upon it here.

Cane’s thesis is that Amazon will act to remove bad ebooks that don’t sell because all that crap clogs up their site and is bad for business. He thinks that there will come a time where Amazon feels the pain so removes poor quality books and ban further submissions from terrible authors.

I wish he were right, but I don’t think Amazon will do anything within the foreseeable future. There is one circumstance which might fix this whole problem.

So, first, why won’t Amazon act?

Amazon is not a rational actor

At least, not in any way that you or I might consider rational. It’s pretty much the only company I can think of that can consistently not make a profit and not be punished by Wall Street. In the past, we’ve seen that it only takes action when it is cornered, and then it takes the smallest action it can get away with.

Take the bestiality/rape/incest/pseudoincest furore of last year. Amazon only acted when it felt cornered, and even then it did as little as it could get away with. There’s still plenty of dodgy porn on Amazon and will continue to be, because Amazon has no interest in really properly clearing it up.

Same with the sockpuppet review affair. And when Amazon did take action, it was to put in place stupid and ill-considered rules about whether Kindle authors could review or not. It has done nothing substantial about improving the quality of reviews, even though that would be something that you’d think would affect their bottom line quite significantly. After all, if you can’t trust the reviews on Amazon, how do you know whether to buy or not?

So at the moment, there is no force pushing Amazon to act, nothing making it whip out the banhammer. Yes, the shite clogs up Amazon’s arteries, but they have shown no interest in dealing with shite in other areas of their business, because clearly having heart disease isn’t producing any painful symptoms for them. Yet.

Amazon does make money out of bad books 

50 Shades of Grey. Not a masterpiece of literature, but it tapped into a market desperate for soft porn, did well, then broke out of that niche to became a cultural touchstone, bought not because it is good but because everyone wanted to know what the fuss was all about. Other areas of shitty writing, niche erotica in particular, do well again because people want stuff that the traditional publishers won’t touch with a bargepole.

So there is no 1:1 correlation between shitty self-published books and sales. The idea that self-publishing is a meritocracy where the good writing naturally floats to the top is at best a happy fairytale and at worst a delusion. If Amazon can make money out of monster porn without getting slapped about by the law, it will.

Storage is cheap and getting cheaper

Amazon has turned cloud storage into a business, and book files are small, so there’s no real reason for them to worry about how much space the long tale of self-published dross is taking up.

If your average ebook file takes up 500kb, then you can fit 2,147,483 in a single terabyte. Amazon charges $0.010 per gb per month for its “Glacier” storage. So if you’re hiring Amazon’s cloud directly, you can store 2097 averagely-sized files for a month for a cent. You could store 5 million books for just $2384 per month, which is certainly more than it actually costs Amazon, because they obviously mark up their commercial cloud storage offerings.

It is undoubtedly cheaper for Amazon to just store all ebooks uploaded than it is for them to pay someone to figure out how best to get rid of the ones that don’t sell AND are badly written, and then deal with the resultant backlash from offended authors.

That offended backlash

If there’s one thing Amazon isn’t interested in, it’s alienating hundreds of thousands of self-published authors. A few hundred noisy gasbags it can, and does, ignore. (Including the ones in the press.) But if you consider that most books don’t sell, and there is probably more than half a million self-published ebooks getting uploaded each year and growing, that’s a lot of shit and a lot of angry authors they’d have to deal with.

Whether there would be enough angry authors to hurt Amazon’s overall sales in any meaningful manner is something I couldn’t say. But it’s certainly enough to hurt Amazon’s brand (even more than they do themselves – they don’t seem to give a crap about brand), and hurt ebook and possibly paper book sales. Not to mention the deluge of angry email that would cripple their customer support department.

So whilst I would love Amazon to take a long, hard look at their self-publishing platform, I have absolutely no confidence that they will, because I cannot see any motivator big enough to push them to action.

What might change the calculation?

There is one thing that might change all this, and when it comes online it will revolutionise the book industry in ways we cannot even imagine.

Artificial Intelligence.

When we have meaningful AI, not necessarily all the way to full consciousness, but computers sophisticated enough to be able to learn to read and be programmed to develop a reliable taste, then the whole game changes. Everything. Amazon’s pathetic recommendation engine, which is the most overrated algorithm on the planet, will become utterly irrelevant. So will reader reviews. Because when we have a computer capable of reading a book and accurately scoring it for grammar, punctuation, plot, character development, style and genre, then we have a chance to be able to sift out the good from the bad.

Of course, then the question becomes, what do we mean by ‘accurately’? Or ‘good’? Whose standards will be used to draw the lines?

If past experience with technology is anything to go by, as soon as we have AI capable of doing this, we’ll have multiple interpretations of what ‘good’ is, and suddenly all books will become discoverable. Love monster porn? But really, really love velociraptor porn? AI will be able to scan the whole corpus and give you the very best in small dinosaur erotica. Want to read books that are just like Agatha Christie’s? Easy. Want to set your standards to embrace only the most obscure literary fiction? Piffle. Here I am, brain the size of a planet and you ask me to find you some literary fiction.

When we have AI, Amazon stops being the canonical catalogue of all books on the planet. Reader reviews become irrelevant. Sockpuppetry becomes impossible. Only quality – defined however the reader wants – matters.

Is this what Google is attempting with its mass book digitisation program? In 2005, Google played down that exact rumour. Last month, nearly ten years later, Google acquired Mind Deep, an artificial intelligence company based in London. I think we can all draw our own conclusions from that.

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Author Chuck Wendig has written a long post about how self-publishing is turning into a shit volcano. Vast quantities of terribly written rubbish is being published, and this is damaging to everyone in self-publishing. He says (emphasis as original):

[…] one of the features of self-publishing is that the door is open to anyone. Everyone. Always. No bouncers at this nightclub door, which is fine, but that also means you get folks with no shirt and no shoes. You’ll get folks dressed to the nines in sharkskin suits and you’ll also get wild-eyed dudes who are eating goulash out of rubber boots and who are quietly masturbating in the corner. You let anybody swim in the pool and, well, anybody can swim in the pool.

He goes on to make a number of arguments as to why this is a bad thing, and asks what we can do about it. If you haven’t read it yet, do so, because Wendig makes some very good points.

Right.

I’m afraid I have some bad news for Wendig, and for everyone else in the industry, self-published or otherwise. The shit volcano is not going to stop erupting, and there’s nothing we can do about it. There are a number of reasons for my pessimism, but the main one is this:

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Charles Darwin was dead on the money when he said that, and it’s now known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Wikipedia says:

[…] unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.

David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University conclude, “the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others”.

I’ve seen it over and over again in social media. People believe that because using Twitter and Facebook is easy, that producing a meaningful long-term strategy for a multinational company is therefore easy, and that their intern can do it. After a decade as a social technologist, I can tell you from experience that it’s really not easy, and no, your intern cannot do it.

You see it in web design, which is what I did before I moved into social media. Because anyone can learn to throw a bit of HTML together, they think that it’s easy to design a website. Again, from experience, I can promise you it isn’t.

The problem is that people are generally very bad at accurately assessing their level of skill in any given area, especially an area in which they are inexperienced. That’s bad enough in a field where there’s an objective measure of capability. You may think you’re the bees knees at tennis, but if you keep losing every game you play, that’s a fairly clear indicator that you’re crap. And it’s not just an indicator to you, it makes it obvious to everyone that you’re crap, so it becomes hard, though not impossible, to maintain the delusion that you’re good.

With writing, however, there is no such clarity. The factors influencing the quality of a book can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Objective factors: Spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. Formatting errors. Inconsistencies. Issues that, no matter the reader, are obvious and should have been avoided. Much of this stuff could be picked up by a well-written algorithm.
  2. Subjective factors: Poorly drawn characters, unconvincing plots, poor dialogue, cliche-ridden prose. Problems that many people will find problematic, but that some people will be able to successfully gloss over when reading. More experienced and professional readers/writers will notice these more than those who are less experienced. A computer couldn’t spot these problems, but us humans can, although the extent to which we are bothered by them varies.
  3. Matters of taste: Tone, genre, aspects of plot or character. Other issues that really can’t be said to be good or bad, but which either fit your taste or don’t. Computers have no sense of taste.

The problem is that if you’re unskilled, it can be hard enough to spot the objective errors, but the subjective problems are well beyond your ken. Yet what often happens is that the unskilled are so overconfident that they try to classify subjective (and even objective) errors as a matter of taste, and thus something that they don’t need to address because hey, not everyone likes everything.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is intractable, because it requires the unskilled to develop a high level of self-awareness to counteract their tendency towards overconfidence, and self-awareness doesn’t come easily. Again, from Wikipedia:

Dunning and Kruger proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.

So, according to Dunning and Kruger, in order to combat the massive shit volcano, we would need to train every self-publisher who produces shit, and hope that they realise that they aren’t as good as they think they are and need to try a bit harder. Well, good luck with that one.

Now, it’s true that not every self-published author is on the wrong side of Dunning-Kruger. Some are on the only slightly less wrong side: Good writers whose confidence is shot because they understand that they could be better, and are over-sensitive to the gap between the quality of the work they do produce and the quality they want to achieve. Those people are better than they think they are and will publish less than they should.

Of course, there are self-published authors who have an accurate view of their own competence, and others who are moving up the competence ladder and developing a better appreciation for their own skills and what more they need to learn. Here, it’s useful to think about the Four Stages of Competence (again, from Wikipedia):

1. Unconscious incompetence
The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognise their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.

2. Conscious incompetence
Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.

3. Conscious competence
The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

4. Unconscious competence
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

But if the quality of self-published books is anything to go by, most self-publishers are at stage 1. Very few have made it through to stage 4., though I think that’s true of all authors, even the traditionally published ones. It’s a very high bar after all. What we really need is more people getting as far as stage 3. Conscious competence is a perfectly fine place to be, but it is hard to get to with Dunning-Kruger in the way.

There is no intervention that I can think of that will help people, en masse, transcend the Dunning-Kruger effect and elevate themselves to a state of conscious competence as writers. Thus, we can expect the shit volcano to keep on spewing for the foreseeable future, and this without even beginning to think about the cultural reasons why there might be many people who are so eager to be authors.

Notes for commenters: I’m not talking here about people who just write for fun and give their work away on sites like Wattpad or in fanfic communities. I’m talking about people who are selling their books and, through asking for money for their work, presenting themselves as professional writers.

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At last, Queen of the May is up on Kickstarter and ready your support! We have 31 days to raise $10,000, and already have $1071 pledged. Even if you choose the lowest support level, which is $3, please do consider taking part as every little helps!

You can also help immensely by telling your friends about it. No matter how focused your own personal network, every mention of the project helps. Here are a few things you can do:

Use your social networks
Send a Tweet, update your Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn statuses, or leave a message on any other social network you use. Kickstarter provide a Tweet button that allows you to log in to Twitter and send a pre-written Tweet which says:

Queen of the May by Suw Charman-Anderson — Kickstarter http://kck.st/zv4p1f via @kickstarter

If you think that’s a bit boring, you can always try:

I’m supporting @Suw’s Queen of the May on @kickstarter and you should too! http://kck.st/zv4p1f (please RT!)

Or, of course, you can write whatever you like, just remember the URL: http://kck.st/zv4p1f

Kickstarter also has a Facebook Like button, which you can use to post to your Facebook timeline, but again, an original, personalised message will be more interesting to your friends. 

Write a blog post
If you want to write a blog post about the project, you can quote any of the stuff that I’ve written on the Kickstarter page or here to be part of your post. You can also embed the video if you like. The code is:

<iframe frameborder=”0″ height=”360px” src=”http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/suw/queen-of-the-may/widget/video.html” width=”480px”></iframe>

If you want to ask me specific questions or do an interview, please feel free to email me.

Tell your friends
If you have friends that you think might enjoy Queen of the May, why not just send them a quick email to tell them about it? Equally, if you’re on any mailing lists, forums etc. and feel like they might like to know about it, please do let them know. 

Share the link
If you’re a member of social sharing sites like Delicious, Pinterest, Metafilter, StumbleUpon etc. please do share a link to the Kickstarter project page. The biggest challenge for any crowdfunded project is to reach enough people and social sharing sites can be important sources of new supporters.

Every little really does help
It’s tempting to think that you have to famous to have an effect, but that’s not true and there’s evidence to prove it! Buzzfeed’s Jack Krawczyk and StumbleUpon’s Jon Steinberg recently collaborated on a project to analyse how links were shared across their networks. They said:

Our data show that online sharing, even at viral scale, takes place through many small groups, not via the single status post or tweet of a few influencers. While influential people may be able to reach a wide audience, their impact is short-lived. Content goes viral when it spreads beyond a particular sphere of influence and spreads across the social web via ordinarily people sharing with their friends.

[...] Even the largest stories on Facebook are the product of lots of intimate sharing — not one person sharing and hundreds of thousands of people clicking.

In short, lots of people sharing the link with just a few good friends is at the heart of what makes a project like this succeed, however counter-intuitive that might seem. I’ll write more about this in due course.

In the meantime, if you like the look of Queen of the May, do keep an eye out for updates from me on Twitter, as well as here on the blog and on Kickstarter. And here, for your delectation is the pitch video. Enjoy!

 

 

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Taleist 2012 self-publishing survey

by Suw on February 8, 2012

Taleist is running a self-publishing survey to get some more information on how (and what) the community is doing, so if you are a self-published author no matter how early in your career you are, do go over and fill it in. This is their first year running this survey so some of the questions need a bit of polish, but they’re very interested in feedback so leave a comment on their blog post if you see issues with the questions or want to make a suggestion.

I had been considering doing a survey like this myself, because it’s only through gathering and sharing data that independent publishers and self-publishers will gain insight into how this new market is shaping up. I am very curious to see how this survey shapes up!

 

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I was fascinated by this post from Tyler Nichols about his experience providing a freemium Letter from Santa service before Christmas. In short, Tyler had found that few people upgraded from the free version to the paid, and that those who did use the free version were much more likely to send him support queries.

I was wondering as I read how much of this is transferable to ebooks. Is the freemium model a sensible one for writers? Does giving away your work get you a bigger audience of people willing to pay next time round? Or does it just mean that lots of people download your stuff, never read it, and have no interesting in paying for future works?

I’ve always been a big advocate of free and I don’t think I’m convinced that it’s worth giving up on yet, but I did find this comment from Wei on Tyler’s post really interesting:

Freemium works with some business models but in this case, I’m pretty sure it’s not the right play. Freemium works best when you get the customer addicted to the point that they would be willing to pay money to get more of it. It seems like your website gave out the entire product for free and you are asking money for the accessories. Imagine Dell giving you a free laptop then get mad when you choose not to buy the leather case or an extra battery. Unfortunately I think that is how you have setup the site this year.

And this reply from Nate:

I agree. I always thought freemium was best explained in the gaming sense. You can play the game for free (e.g. MafiWars) but if you want the better weapon, or faster upgrades, or one time kill shot, you fork over $5, $10, or $20.

Most people won’t come in and instantly buy 1000 experience points. But after they’ve played for a time, for example a month, and are tired at how slow they upgrade, they fork over $5 for 1000XP without batting an eye. After all, it’s wired up to paypal, and the process is instant.

Giving away a book for free is the Dell model. You are giving someone the entire thing and then hoping that they buy the audiobook or a Kindle version or whathaveyou. But what would be the equivalent of the MafiaWars weapon upgrade? Certainly it’s not the last chapter, because that would essentially be a bait and switch, which is likely to piss people off.

Indeed, what upgrades can a book even have? Are people really interested in author annotations? I would imagine most are not. Audiobooks don’t feel like an upgrade – they aren’t an enhancement as much as they are simply a different version. Once you’ve read the story, you’ve read the story, you know how it ends. The audiobook is probably only attractive to the subset of your readers who like to listen.

So what about merchandise? That relies on the idea that you’re actually selling identity, not a story, and whilst in general terms that’s sort of true, is it true enough to pin a business model to? Or would selling merchandise simply mean that you have more awareness to raise and are taking a bigger risk spending time, effort and possibly money getting your shop set up? Even if you go with only on-demand merch, like t-shirts, there’s still an initial outlay on design, etc., so it’s not completely free.

But games and books are different to, say, software. People really do become enthusiastic fans of games and books, gobbling up every release as soon as it is out, in a way that I suspect isn’t the case for (much) software. I may love a particular app or service, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to upgrade to premium if I don’t need to or that I’m going to go and buy everything else that developer does. If I find an author I love, on the other hand, I will go and raid their back-catalogue without a second thought.

Of course the big problem is that as a newbie author, you don’t have fans, let alone the most valuable kind of hardcore fans that buy every version of everything. Your first and biggest challenge is reaching enough people to find the ones who are interested in becoming your fans. It is a huge hurdle, and although I’m still not sure what the most efficient way of surmounting it is, I do think I’ll be more likely to achieve that with the freemium model than without.

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Argleton audiobook now available

by Suw on January 14, 2012

After several days of recording, re-recording and editing, I’m happy to say that the Argleton audiobook is now available on Bandcamp on a pay-what-you-wish basis, with no minimum price (i.e. free download). Due to Bandcamp upload limits, I’ve had to split it into Part 1 and Part 2, but you can buy them as an album which minimises the hassle as much as possible. Once I’ve sold enough, Bandcamp will allow me to upload a bigger file, and then I’ll have enough space to upload the audiobook as a single file.

If you want to sample the wares first, please feel free to stream the book either here on on Bandcamp itself. You can also embed the audio player on your own blog if you so wish.

Please feel free to give it a listen and if you like the sound of it you can grab both files over on Bandcamp.

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William King’s ebook sales figures

by Suw on January 13, 2012

I do love it when authors are honest about the kinds of sales they are making, particularly when they are not the pack leaders like Amanda Hocking or John Locke. I am sure both Amanda and John have worked incredibly hard for the success they currently enjoy, and I’m not slighting them in the least, but they cannot be said to be representative of the majority of writers going the self-publishing route. They are at the very head of the long-tail graph and as such they provide us with much needed hope and inspiration, but I want to know more about writers who are further down the spine, closer to the tail… closer to my position at the arse.

Via Zite I stumbled across William King’s recent blog post about how his four novels, self-published on Amazon, have been doing over the last six months. It’s a fascinating read. His sales numbers start off very small, as you might expect, but wind up being quite respectable: over 1500 for the month of December. His current prices stand at:

  • Death’s Angels – £0.72
  • The Serpent Tower – £2.92
  • The Queen’s Assassin – £2.92
  • Shadowblood  - £2.92

As you might expect, his cheapest title, Death’s Angels sells the best. He says he’s now making about £1900 pcm, which is a pretty decent income and certainly one that would allow me to write full-time.

The most interesting pattern I’m seeing in all this though is nothing to do with prices but is more to do with back-catalogue. A common theme amongst successful self-publishers is that they begin with a handful of books that they’ve written which they can release gradually and which each give the other books a bit of a boost. Having a back catalogue that is a series also allows you to price one book, probably the first, cheaply as a sacrificial lamb to encourage people to try your stuff out and hopefully pay more for your other books. I think this certainly provides an advantage, and is something to think about if you already have some manuscripts in your desk drawer which are currently sitting about doing nothing.

Unfortunately for me, my past manuscripts are either unfinished or shit, so I am just going to have to do this the hard way and write as I go along.

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I’m interested in finding out more from readers about what they like and how they find out about new books and authors. I’m starting off with a very simple two-question survey. Please do take a moment to fill it out! When I’ve got a significant number of responses, I’ll publish the results.

UPDATE: Right, well that all went unexpectedly wrong! SurveyMonkey, it turns out, charges £24 per month to access your data as soon as you go over 100 responses, and I was rapidly heading towards 300. That £24 only pays for the first 1000 responses per month which, given the rate at which they were coming in, didn’t seem like it would last long. If you go over 1000, then you have to pay 10p per response, so if it really took off and I got 2000 responses, that would be £124.

Now, I don’t mind paying for stuff online. I buy a lot of independent software and pay for a number of key web services which I think are good value for money. But SurveyMonkey is taking the piss, frankly. I’d happily pay, say, a fiver per month or a few quid per survey if it came with unlimited responses, but I’m not going to pay £24 per month for such a horribly hobbled service.

So, I have been trying Obsurvey which has far fewer options that SurveyMonkey, but so far getting mixed responses from users as to whether that site is usable. If it turns out to be unusable is another option I can try yet, but I know that the more I change things, the less likely people will be to bother to fill things out. All I can say is sorry!


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Ebook pricing experiment: First (tiny) milestone passed

January 11, 2012

Today I passed the first milestone in my ebook pricing experiment: I have sold as many copies of Argleton in the first 11 days of January as I sold in the four months it was available last year. However, and it’s a big however, I’ve made less than a quarter of the money in royalties [...]

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Argleton New Year Sale, Now On!

January 5, 2012

As a little experiment, I have put the Kindle version of Argleton on sale, so if you’d like to support my writing you can now do so even more cheaply than before! Here are the current prices (the confusion over the US price is because it shows up at $1.20 to me, but I had [...]

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The role of belief in ebook pricing and what to do about it

December 23, 2011

So yes, I know it’s nearly Christmas Eve and I know I should be turning my brain off, but this blog post about ebook pricing by Declan Burke came across my radar today on Twitter (and yes I know I should have turned Twitter off too) and I couldn’t not reply. Declan writes about his [...]

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The best Christmas present you can give a new author: An Amazon review

December 19, 2011

Last month there was a great blog post by Anne Allen about how important Amazon reviews are to new authors: [...] Amazon reviews, which were only mildly significant three years ago, now have a make-or-break impact on an author’s sales. When you’re buying an ebook, there’s no helpful bookstore clerk to tell you what might [...]

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Kindle sales stats: a paucity of information

December 6, 2011

As a newbie to self-publishing, I find myself transported back a decade to the time when I was so obsessed with my blog traffic stats that I made a spreadsheet and noted down what events caused spikes in traffic. After a while I lost interest in the numbers, but now I’m back to tracking thems, [...]

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