Saturday, 31 August 2013

Guest Post: Ruby Barnes on Snake Oil

Author Skin Exposed? Apply Some More Snake Oil. 

Here’s the thing; no one knows how to sell e-books. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Permit me to demonstrate.

The Social Media Guru
Three or four years ago a lot of people were starting out as independent e-book authors. They managed to cast off the stigma of self-publishing like a snakeskin and tread boldly without the cloak of traditional publishing validation. Some were doubtlessly examples of the king’s new clothes, but social media was the elixir of success. A prominent guru in the field of social media for authors proclaimed that traditional advertising didn’t work for e-books. Social networking to the max, push until it goes viral, that was the answer. Blog on subjects of interest to your target readership, make them your friends, coincidentally introduce your book as it fits the conversation and have them refer you on in turn to their friends. Build twitter teams, personally engage with your followers, sell subliminally. Network marketing without the drawbacks of pyramid. The guru sold a lot of how-to books.

The Viral Marketer
An author released a fairly controversial crime novel; eye-catching cover, strong blurb, content that polarised a readership that was growing rapidly in parallel with a viral social media campaign. Tweets were coming out every couple of minutes, urging followers to push the book up the charts. The title sold tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of e-copies and reached the top position on Amazon. A rake of related titles from the same author followed over the next months and you might expect that they would all be in the top one thousand of the charts. But they’re not. Don’t get me wrong, they sell at a level that many authors would be delighted with, and an enviable reader-base has been established, but the runaway success of the first title wasn’t repeated. Was it twitter? What part of the social media whirl boosted the success? Why could it only be done the once?

The Businessman
Enter a man of commerce; entrepreneur and natural salesman. He had money, contacts, advisors and a book that he had written. He and his henchmen applied tried and tested traditional marketing methods to no effect. Paid-for PR resulted in virtually no media coverage and sales remained very modest. By a process of elimination the businessman closed in, unwittingly, on something that would work to sell a million e-books. Three tactics were running when success hit: a series of blog posts designed to tap the reading public’s psyche, the careful building of a mail list of loyal readers, and an extensive effort to procure reviews (good or bad) for the book. A plethora of titles followed and seemed to meet with a ready audience. His industrious new product pipeline and customer loyalty management pushed the brand into a position of strength that withstood public outrage over paid-for reviews. He also sold a pile of his how-to book even though, by his own admission, he wasn’t exactly sure what had been the catalyst for success. People sure wanted some of his snake oil.

The Mainstream Author Turned Indie
A confident author of many published novels, incensed by the rejection of some of his work by publishing houses, decided to grasp the indie author nettle and lead the way. He took a professional approach to independent publishing by building brand strength through cover design and investments in editing. His blog posts, charting his progress, lacerating the traditional industry, disseminating advice and hosting the current success stories of the indie world, became legendary. Authors clamoured to write comments on the blog in the hope that breathing the same virtual air would imbue their own books with the virus of success. His prodigious output remains high in the charts. Every release meets a hungry waiting readership and his backlist has migrated from mainstream to indie, adding even further momentum. This is an example of critical mass that could cause a black hole.

A Nerd Sits Quietly On Another Planet
On the KDP author forum one person started to quietly hint at the secrets of their success. They posted under a pseudonym in an arena where people blew fake trumpets and laid false claims. Only a small clique was privy to the true identities involved but the clues were there, like a trail of crumbs in the forest. Forum members became upset about the withholding of success factors from the community, but the truth will out. The author did indeed have remarkable sales success. A series of science fiction novels, smartly covered with a strong and immediately recognisable style. The writing wasn’t going to win prizes but the target readership wanted the stories rather than literature. A simple, product-oriented website. Minimal social media. Regular release of a further title every month or two, to retain something in the hot new releases listing. How the first book achieved success was never disclosed. This is secret snake oil.

Backlist Becomes The Buzzword
The harmonious trilling of indie author success was accompanied by a grinding of teeth in the towers of mainstream publishing. Each self-published assault on the e-book bestseller charts was proclaimed as the death knell for traditional publishers. Independent authors made hay as the big houses wallowed indecisively with hopelessly high prices, poorly formatted e-books and a lack of e-editions to match their print offerings. Then they got with the programme.

It was a no-brainer to digitise the backlists of established authors and put their titles up for sale online. A new type of micro-publisher emerged - nimble, technically astute, low overheads - and the market began to swell with quality e-books that had passed out of print and were formerly considered dead and gone. Those micro-publishers came from surprising sources - mainstream authors, literary agents, and the odd indie author equipped themselves to produce shelves of professionally presented e-books. Great, if you had a backlist.

Meanwhile the traditional publishers learned how to format.

The Empire Strikes Back
Amazon found itself in a price war with Sony. The era of the 20 pence e-book had arrived. Mainstream titles were to be had for pennies, undercutting the lowest prices independent authors could set on KDP. The e-book bestseller lists were dominated by household names and doomsayers foresaw the sales cliff for indie authors. All that was left to indies was the power of free. They had wielded this power to good effect using KDP Select and achieving substantial follow-on paid sales that had their explanation deep within the arcane algorithms of the ’Zon. As the self-published throng moved en masse to free as a tactical weapon, and flooded the various online routes to promotion of free, Amazon changed its algorithms and altered the rules.

The Sony Amazon price war abated (presumably Sony sold their target number of e-readers or else gave up on it). Diminishing returns from free had the naysayers nodding and claiming that independent authors and the ’Zon had successfully destroyed the market.

SEO Wars
New insights were claimed by e-book publishing magi. On the assumption that a book’s content was good enough and its cover eye-catching and suited to the genre, the secret lay in subtle details of search words, product description and category selection. A process of brainstorming words and phrases, selecting those relevant and most searched, then embedding in the book blurb and search keywords was prescribed to catapult a book to success. Careful selection of the book’s category would achieve a top 100 bestseller listing with just a modicum of sales and maintain a momentum that would otherwise be lost in the sea of titles. Folks who could dedicate the time and energy to this task began to do so, with some success. One author saw sales of a title jump by tenfold, but his other titles in a slightly different genre didn’t benefit. The mystery of buyer behaviour. 

Publishing gurus mixed this recipe with a team knowledge of ’Zon algorithms and suggested a combination approach of SEO, categorisation, free and mail list management to gain a foothold in popularity lists. Despite a lack of success with their own fiction, they sold a lot of how-to books.

The Paradigm Shifts
They told us that traditional advertising doesn’t work for e-books. What is traditional advertising? TV, radio, magazines and newspapers, roadside hoardings? Numerous independent authors have gone on record to share how they wasted money for no result using such methods. 

If an author or publisher wants to pay for e-book advertising then there is a steady stream of providers ready and willing to take a slice of advertising budget, but none of them fall into the traditional category. Folks on Fiverr will do almost anything for that small sum, perhaps dance naked with your book’s QR code painted on their rear, but will it have any impact? At the other end of the spectrum you can fork out hundreds of dollars to be featured in a one-off mail-out to subscribers who have opted in for ebook special offers. 

Authors and publishers talk about breaking even on an advert and perhaps making a small profit from the sales subsequently generated. These might be ads for priced books or for free books. Published figures from the largest and most expensive advertising providers give a yield of between 2% to 7% of subscribers for free downloads and between 0.2% and 1% of subscribers for paid sales. For example, a $480 dollar ad for a 99c mystery will produce 27 paid sales per 10,000 mystery genre subscribers and the average sales volume from such an ad is 1,730 copies. Don’t worry about the maths - suffice to say that these subscriber lists are huge. It’s a numbers game.

The idea of such advertising is to achieve and maintain visibility. Publishers and authors are investing in a zero sum game with the hope of achieving critical mass for referrals and series sales. The people making real money in this model are those organisations with ownership of high quality opt-in mail lists and high traffic websites. Oh, and Amazon et al, of course.

That Snake Oil Recipe I Promised You
Step one - with book 1 - expose your author skin to the buying public. It’s got to be a good skin, this novel of yours - sitting firmly in a popular genre; a toned combination of professional cover and excellent blurb; an exfoliated sample that grabs the reader and will convert the sale. You’d better have another skin ready underneath that one because it’s going to be stripped away by whatever exposure tactics you employ. That means you need more titles in the same vein.

Step two - with book 2 - expose your author skin to the buying public … etc, etc.

There are and will be heroes who achieve success on the basis of viral blog posts, viral tweeting, global group hugs and algorithm ninja moves. They will pass into e-book folklore and serve to motivate or demoralise us mortals, depending upon our frame of mind. They won’t know exactly how they did it but they will dine off the story, and their book sales, in perpetuity.

Now, enough indulgence and back to your writing, before I get the WIP out.

Ruby Barnes is the Ireland-based author of four novels - Peril, Getting Out of Dodge, The Baptist, The Crucible Part 1 - and a how-to book The New Author (may contain traces of snake oil).

Friday, 30 August 2013

Guest Post: The Willow Man - Sue Purkiss

Do you know that feeling, when you’re going through customs and you’ve done nothing wrong and you’re really not smuggling anything at all, but you meet the steely eye of the official and he very much doesn’t smile back at you, and you know you not only look guilty but you feel it as well?

Well, that’s how I feel, having had the temerity to ask for a slot on Authors Electric. Because going by your posts, you’re all hundreds of country miles ahead of me when it comes to ebookery. All I’ve done is put one backlist book up, and it took me well over a year to get that done. But when I’d managed it – in the end, despite all the trepidation, without much trouble at all – I felt such a sense of achievement that I wanted to shout about it! It wasn’t – and isn’t – that I expected to sell many copies. It was that this book, which had meant a great deal to me, was no longer consigned to a great black hole, or to the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ (which Carlos Luiz Zafon has created in The Shadow of the Wind but which I’m sure must really exist in some dimension or other). I had brought my book back to life. If people wanted to read it, they could. I felt like a proud parent, waving my child off as s/he went off into the big wide world – hence the request to blog about it here, on the home of ebooks.

I write for children (and that’s one reason why I don’t expect to sell many copies, but more of that later). I started with books for 7-10 year olds; The Willow Man was my first novel for older children. It was marketed as being for 8+, but in truth, when I was writing it, I didn’t really think about that. There was a story – several stories – that I wanted to tell, and I wrote it in the form that seemed naturally suited to them. 

The Willow Man is a sort of sculpture, made not from stone but from willow, woven on to a 45 foot high steel framework. It stands beside the M5 near Bridgwater in Somerset, and it was created to celebrate the millennium. Its maker was Serena de la Hey. Made as it is out of willow, it was never intended to be permanent, and it’s already had at least two lives – so if you’re driving down the motorway, keep a look-out for it: it won’t be there for ever. (Can I tease out a comparison with the book here? I’m sure I don’t need to…) It used to be that you couldn’t miss it; it towered against the sky, powerful and mysterious, poised with its weight on one foot, ready to leap forward – but of course, it couldn’t. Now it’s less obvious, because it’s surrounded by new housing estates on one side and a vast Morrison’s warehouse on the other. (Yes, rather like what happens to one book when time slides by and suddenly it’s crowded out by masses of new ones.)

The Willow Man somehow seems to lend itself to imagery and symbolism. I used to drive past it on the way to work. It has this inherent, brooding strength; and yet it’s stuck fast. I realised it was just what I needed as a vehicle for the stories I wanted to tell; stories of children who had potential, as they all do – but potential which is in different ways blocked. One story was personal. One of my children had a stroke at the age of seven; for a time she was paralysed on one side. She had only half a smile. It was a big thing. Several years after the event, it seemed natural to write about it, to explore it. And then there were the stories of the children I was working with, young offenders, who followed a well worn path of alienation which included poverty and school failure: that’s a big thing too.

So I wanted to write about children who were stuck, just as the Willow Man is stuck. In fact, re-reading the story before re-publishing it, I realised that it was also about not being able to talk about the things that matter most, about not being listened to. And although it was mostly set in Bridgwater – as industrial a town as you get in Somerset – there was also a strong presence of the Somerset countryside, the levels with their marshes and willows and mists, and the gaunt, windswept spur of Brean Down, which is lashed by the racing cross-currents of the Bristol Channel.

Well, the book was well received. It got some good reviews, and it went into schools, where kids who had trouble with reading and with discipline were delighted to find Ash, a character who was like them – and who in some ways coped with life more effectively than his friend Tom, who was outwardly far more advantaged. But it didn’t sell in vast amounts, and after a few years it went out of print. This was while publishers were still wondering what to do about ebooks. I got the rights back, and the publisher sold me the rights to the cover for a small sum, so I was all set to launch it as an ebook. But it all seemed a very complicated process and I dragged my feet until this summer, when I finally gave myself a good talking to and got on with it – and found it was all very much simpler than I had expected.

At the moment, it seems that not many ‘middle-grade’ children are using ebooks. I think this is bound to change (and may already be changing; see this post from a school librarian); children are growing up with electronic platforms and have a very different relationship to them to the one that older generations have. (This doesn’t mean I think there won’t continue to be a place for beautifully produced conventional books: I do. I was in a bookshop the other day, and nothing beats being able to see the variety of formats, feel the texture of a certain cover, admire an innovative design and layout. But there are also great advantages to reading on an e-reader, as you well know. I should think now at least half of my reading is electronic; probably more.) So, as well as wanting to prolong the active life of this particular book, I saw it as dipping a toe in the water. I have at least one hitherto unpublished children’s novel that I’d like to see the light of day. I don’t think it’s time yet, but I think it may be soon, and when it is I want to be ready.

As I said, I don’t expect to sell lots of copies of The Willow Man. But I’d love it to reach people who might be interested – and that includes anyone who knows someone who’s had a stroke, and anyone who’s interested in dyslexia and children who fail in school. (Not that it’s just an ‘issue’ book; I’m pretty confident that it’s a good deal more than the sum of its parts.) However, if any of you has any tips for maximising sales, that would of course be wonderful! Thank you very much for allowing me to be your guest – and I shall continue to read your posts and learn from you all.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Introducing Our Newest Members...

          The 29th day of the month, and the introduction of a
new page for Authors Electric.
          The 30th - and the 31st, if there is one - have always been given over to Guest Posters, and that will continue, under the very able management of Debbie Bennett.

Debbie, Guest Wrangler
          The 29th was, until recently, Hywela Lyn's day - but we're sad to say that Hywela has had to resign, because her other commitments make it impossible to keep up with Authors Electric. Blogging is time consuming - thinking of a new subject every month, writing it, rewriting it, finding pictures, rewriting it... (Because writers obsessively rewrite: that's what we do.)
          So we well understand Hywela's reasons for leaving us, and we wish her well for the future.
          But as we now have a free day at the end of the month, it seemed a good idea to use it to spot-light one or another of our members, or one of the several genres we write in. I think it's true to say that we love being members of Authors Electric - those of you who only read this front-page don't see all the jolly japes and merry banter that goes on behind it. And the good, solid advice and help that's given.
          But it's also true that, when there's 29 of you - 28 now - you can get lost in the crowd.
          And we Electrical Authors, we're a dynamic bunch. There's always somebody leaving, and a new member being welcomed. There is also, I'm glad to say, a large group of members who've been with us almost since we started in June 2011, and it's they who make it work, who welcome new members and help them out. I'd be very sad to lose any of them (and I'm sure they know who they are.)
          But I thought I'd kick this page off by introducing the newest members. There are eight of them, so I can't do more than quickly mention them. Perhaps, in the future, they'll get this spot to themselves, to tell us more.
          The newest of the new is Die Booth, who joined just a few
Die Booth
days ago. I think Die is also one of our youngest members. Die's only ebook at the moment is ReVamp! - a collection of stories from the ReVamp site, which ran a short-story competition, the aim of which was to restore the true, original frisson to vampires, werewolves, ghosts and all their supernatural ilk, while moving away from the modern trend for wispy, heart-throb Undread. I think the competition succeeded in this.  I remember, among other pieces, Die's excellent take on the classic 'Monkey's Paw' which I very much enjoyed. So when I heard that Die was soon to publish a new book, Spirit House, and was wondering how to drum up some publicity, I quickly issued an invite to join A-E. (It's a start.)

          Then we have a contingent of children's writers who have joined us from the Scattered Authors' Society - Nick Green, Elizabeth Kay and Sandra Horn. I daresay, like me, they have been asked, innumerable times, 'When are you going to write a proper book?' Oddly enough, we Scattered Authors for children consider the books we write to be 'proper books' - and not just in the sense of upright and moral. A book for children is not easier to write than a book for adults. It is not more lightly or carelessly undertaken. It is simply another genre.
          'Adult literature concerns itself with the important stuff, such as career success, marriage, divorce, adultery - while children's literature deals with the trivial stuff that's left over, such as Good, Evil, Life, Death, Time, Infinity and beyond...'
Nick Green
        You may have read the very witty posts Nicks has written for us - indeed, I invited him to join because he has a gift for being funny. (Though I suspect, like most such 'gifts' it takes a lot of thought and hard work.) I've just finished reading Nick's 'The Storm Bottle'. It's excellent. You think dolphins are sweet and noble? - Nick gives us the real low-down. As well as giving us a real feeling of the heat and light of Bermuda, creating a completely engaging heroine - and a very brave ending!

          Elizabeth Kay is an artist as well as a writer. Those beautiful
Elizabeth Kay
covers on her books? - She did them herself. I have read and much enjoyed all the books in her 'Divide' trilogy. I always marvel at how effortlessly she fills her characters with personality and makes them loveable. In the Divide books there is a fantasy creature - a sort of fantastical hyena - whose only aim in life is to disembowel and eat every living thing he meets. And yet he is the most loveable character. (But it should be said that Liz doesn't restrict herself to children. Her very funny 'Beware of Men With Moustaches' is for adults.)
Sandra Horn
        Sandra Horn is another who's joined us very recently. Sandra
specialises in picture books for the very young, or for early readers - and anyone who thinks this is easy should have a go! The ebook market for picture books is very small at the moment, so Sandra is a pioneer. Formatting these books also has its own difficulties, and Sandra has already shared some of them with us - but the market can only grow. I know that schools are buying ebooks to use in conjunctionwith their interactive white boards (because teachers have contacted me about it.) Also, full colour pictures are cheaper to put onto an ebook than they are to print, and with the illumination behind them, look gorgeous.
          Jan Ruth is one of several of our writers who would probably
Jan Ruth
be labelled 'Romantic' by the publishing world - and then dropped because their books aren't quite what the publishing world think 'Romance' should be. They aren't pink enough, somehow, don't have enough lace and ribbons. After all, it's quite a common experience, among men and women, that they meet someone, of the opposite or same sex, and fall in love. Sometimes that works out well, sometimes it doesn't. Many other factors may be involved, such as politics, or the tension between the expectations of society and the wishes of an individual - but if a book is written by a woman and explores the theme of love at all, it will probably be labelled 'Romance.' Even if it's a lot more.
          This is another reason why writers are publishing e-books.
Jo Carroll
          Jan lives in North Wales, and has a great love for the landscape and history of the area, which comes through strongly in her books - and her blogs! 
Jo Carroll is our travel-writer: and a very adventurous one too. I was familiar with Jo from her comments on blogs - and then another of our members, Cally Phillips, praised her books of travel writing. The books sounded fascinating, and I thought, 'We haven't got a travel writer,' - so I invited Jo to join. Jo's books tell how she decided that there had to be something 'between retirement and the zimmer frame'. Her answer was to travel the world. Alone. Meeting gun-men and tigers and butterflies.
          Finally, I'll introduce our American connection: Reb MacRath and Leverett Butts. When Authors Electric began, it had a rule: UK writers only.
          But as time went on, this made less and less sense. After all, on the various ebook platforms, we sell all over the world. And Do Authors Dream of Electric Books? has a larger audience in the USA than it does in the UK. We also have readers in Australia, New Zealand, Russia, China, India...

So when Reb MacRath expressed an interest in joining, we thought, why not? We have certainly not regretted it. Reb writes lively, stylish, funny thrillers - and his blogs for us are also full of vim and verve.
   When we needed to replace another blogger, Reb suggested Leverett Butts, who joined us last month. He has a book of linked short stories already available, and will soon be publishing 'Guns of the Waste Land', which will retell Arthurian myth as a Western. And since 'The Wild West' has already become mythic, that is a very intriguing idea.
Leverett Butts

So those are the eight new bloggers and writers I wanted to introduce. Six of them from the UK, and two from the USA.

          Which brings me to another point. We are down to 27 bloggers, and we need 28.
          Now we are always going to be, mainly, a UK blog. But we would like to offer that blogging spot, the 26th day of each month, to someone from outside the UK. Is there an Australian, Indian, Canadian or South African writer and e-booker out there who would like it?
          Whoever you are, you will be expected to post a blog every month on your day. You will be expected to help publicise us. But there are benefits.
          If you're interested, contact us at the email in the sidebar to the right.
          We look forward to hearing from the world!


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Diana Athill and other things - Enid Richemont

A few weeks ago, on a hot Sunday afternoon in July, I went to a talk by the writer and publisher Diana Athill, now in her middle nineties. Like so many people, I'd read her semi-biography: SOMEWHERE TOWARDS THE END (I must now get hold of her short stories which I gather are amazing). She is a fantastic person, and so beautiful - really beautiful (I've filched this image of her from the flyer, but it's not air-brushed - she really does look like that).
          She came on stage with a little assistance from her biographer, Ronald Hayman, sweeping up the aisle in a violet-turquoise gown, and proceeded to talk, without any backing notes, for about three quarters of an hour (I couldn't do that), after which she dealt very competently with questions which had to be conveyed to her by her agent because she's a bit deaf.
          One of the things she talked about was of how she had pared down her life in order to move into sheltered accomodation - the books and artworks that had to go - and I look at my own stuff and wonder how the hell she did it. I have David's lifetime collection of science fiction, which now that he's no longer here means so much to me, and my own library of much-loved books. I longed to ask her: do you have a Kindle? But I'm one of those people much too shy to throw questions at a celeb, so I didn't, but I did learn that she's happy using a computer for her work, so she probably does. What a woman!
          I've also started re-reading BRING UP THE BODIES, by Hilary Mantel, this time round for the simple pleasure of her writing.           Before he died, David had been re-publishing my out of print back list as e-books, and there are, I think, eleven digital editions, which must constitute a 'list' (comments re-publicity would be most welcome). At present, I can't bear to continue what he started, and would, anyway, need some kind of professional help with doing it.
          I also needed help with the website he set up for me a few years ago, because it froze at the point where we'd talked about the new picture book 'coming out later this year', and now it's coming out in September. This has now been sorted by my hugely helpful Wordpool colleagues, Diana and Steve Kimpton. 
          The e-books are something else, though. David's office room has a comfortable bed, so if any e-book savvies fancy a free couple of days in North London at any time in the next few months, in exchange for some sensitive help, please get in touch (think theatres, galleries, etc etc...)
          I could fill up this blog with descriptions of my continuing grief and loneliness, but instead, I'd like to publicise my grand-daughter's Covent Garden debut with the Camden Fringe. She's just seventeen, a dedicated actress, and she's starring in a two-hander, which, I think, is very brave. It's called 'TRANSPORTS', and it's on at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden from the 16th to the 21st of September.
          The play is by Jon Welch, and the blurb: 'A sociopathic fifteen year old is shunted into her final foster home, where her widowed foster mother has a hint of a foreign accent, verbal diarrhoea, and a trunk full of secrets'. 
          If you can, please come. It's already had brilliant reviews in both the West Briton and The Cornishman (my daughter settled in Cornwall many years ago), but putting it on the London stage, albeit the Fringe, is something else.

          Find Enid's other ebooks here.


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Homemade Cakes and Revolution - Andrew Crofts

          I was invited to take tea with Mrs Mubarak at her husband’s palace in Cairo, just before the Arab Spring broke through and toppled his regime, bringing hope to a city which seemed darkened by storm clouds of popular resentment.
          Inside the palace Mrs Mubarak, who is half Welsh, half Egyptian, was a gracious hostess and white coated waiters dispensed cakes which she assured me were home made. The tranquillity inside the gilded salon was reminiscent of our own Queen’s garden tea parties – where they also provide excellent cakes – completely insulated from the boiling stew of hatred festering in the hot, over populated streets outside the heavily guarded walls of the palace. It was that contrast, which I had experienced in similar palaces all over the world, that made me start writing“Secrets of the Italian Gardener”. 
          The initially peaceful revolutions that erupted at the beginning of 2011 seemed to promise something wonderful for the world, but it proved to be as brief a moment of optimism as the hippy “Summer of love” in 1969. Now Egypt is plunging back into the familiar cycle of violence and hatred and it is like nothing has changed, except that someone new is no doubt now taking tea in Mrs Mubarak’s elegant palace quarters.
          “Secrets of the Italian Gardener” is now up on Amazon and Kindle. When he first read it my agent told me it was, “a contemporary re-casting of Ecclesiastes, a story about the vanity associated with the desire for power and possessions and ultimately about the cycle of birth, growth, death and re-birth". I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time but as we see another President dragged from power and more corpses piling up in the streets it does seem we are indeed all trapped in an endless cycle.


Monday, 26 August 2013

Where I Find Inspiration (Part Two) - Joint Post: Bill Kirton, Sue Price, Die Booth

Writers are often asked where they find their ideas. So to answer that question three of our team - Bill Kirton, Sue Price and Die Booth have got together to share where they find theirs.

Bill Kirton - visit website
Bill Kirton

Finding inspiration is very different from waiting for it to arrive. The verb suggests an active involvement in the process rather than lounging on a sofa in silk dressing gown or smoking jacket with a pen in one hand, a perpetually refilling martini glass in the other and your gaze fixed expectantly on the French windows and the heavens beyond them. Inspiration can  be generated in all sorts of ways. Take a walk amongst people, look at them, their clothes, the way they move, the things they say or shout, their body language (especially if they’re couples). Make yourself do something you’ve never done before, nothing extreme, just something to make your mind move in a different way. Best of all, put together a couple (or more) of words, ideas, things which don’t belong together, such as ‘existential slimming’, ‘rural pavements’, ‘evaporating cardboard’, ‘a frost-bound education’, ‘a semolina galleon’ and try to make sense of how they could signify something. Creativity’s an internal process, you just need to get it started.  _________________________________________________________________________________

Sue Price
Sue Price - Visit Website

I'm not sure that you 'find inspiration.' I think it happens something like this - you see, hear or read something that interests you, for some reason. You might treasure it for a while, turning it over and admiring it - but you've no particular use for it, so after a while it gets tossed into that junk-room we call 'the subconscious.'
     There it rubs up against and mingles with all kinds of things that you saw, heard or read earlier. And there they sit - getting shunted about as other things join them. Some of these things link up, or just get crushed together.
      Then, by accident, the right snippets get mingled or mashed - and then they burst out of the junk-room, masquerading as 'Inspiration.'
       I think this has happened with the book I'm working on at the moment. More than ten years ago, I read a footnote about herd-dogs walking home from droving by themselves - read the blog I wrote about it here. For some reason I found the idea of dogs walking across the Highlands by themselves fascinating, but there was nothing I could do with it. Since then I've become much better acquainted with the Highlands and Islands. I was told about the 'bonded' farm-labourers. I learned more about the emigration of Highlanders to Canada - and suddenly, early this year, that junk-room door slammed open, and out sprang the story of the collie dogs.

Die Booth - visit website

          Inspiration can pounce on you from any direction and at any
Die Booth
time - usually really inconvenient ones, like when you're in the bath or just dropping off to sleep. A misheard snippet, or a sudden alternative meaning to a familiar phrase - anything can spark you off if you're in the right frame of mind.

           I find, for me, a lot of my inspiration comes from my dreams. It's a brilliant cheat - sort of a ready-scripted story that you just wake up with (sometimes) fully-formed and merely in need of a little moulding. As a writer of the weird, I find that dream imagery often perfectly fits the tone of unease I try to create in my work, and that no matter how much you try, it's harder than you'd think to consciously emulate the nonsensical world of dreaming whilst fully awake.
          I call dream ideas 'gifts'. And I used a lot of them - an awful lot of them - in my forthcoming novel Spirit Houses, a whole world's worth, in fact, conjured from the place I go to in my recurring dreams. Let's just hope no psychiatrists read it as it's probably an analytical goldmine! 
          So, I reckon at least, that you don't find inspiration - it finds you. Just make sure that you've got a notepad and paper on your bedside table for when it does!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Ghost Drum and BookBub - by Susan Price

          I had good sales in June and July, for some reason. I had
The Ghost Drum, by Susan Price
done nothing in the way of publicity that I hadn't done before, but my sales nearly doubled in June, and then doubled again in July. We're still talking low figures, mind. The Lear jet isn't on order yet...but still.

          For one thing, something odd was happening in Germany. Having steadfastly ignored my kindle output since I started, Germany suddenly sprang to attention and bought ten of my books - one copy each of ten of the eleven books I've self-published.
          I've no idea whether this was one person buying all ten books, or ten different people buying a different book each, or some mixture of the above - one person buying five different copies, say, another buying two, and three other people buying one each. Amazon doesn't allow you to find that out.
          But how likely is it that ten different people, in Germany, would coincidentally buy ten different copies of my books on the same day? That's why I think it must be one person.
          It's very strange to think that somewhere in the vast landscape that Germany covers, somewhere among all those mountains, forests, rivers, Black Forest Gateaux, autobahns, cuckoo clocks, and millions of people, one person has bought ten of my books. (And possibly all eleven, because the one that wasn't bought in July was bought this month.) I hope s/he enjoys them. I'm very grateful!
          (Could it possibly be the German agent, who swore never to rest until she'd found a German publisher for the Ghost World books?)
          Anyhoo, in view of these increased sales, and inspired by the BookBub adventures of fellow Electrics John Logan and Mark Chisnell, I decided to invest a few quid in advertising.
          BookBub is a site which alerts people to ebooks which are either free or discounted - but it only alerts them to books which match their interests. It claims to have over 1 million subscribers - though not all those subscribers will want to know about your book. BookBub promises its subscribers that the books it recommends
'are bestsellers or written by a bestselling author, were published by a top-tier publisher, or have received strong reviews from critics and readers.' They have staff that vet the submitted books.
           Authors and publishers pay BookBub to send emails to the subscribers on their, say, Thriller or SF list. The cost varies according to how many subscribers are on the list - you'll find their prices here.
Ghost Song by Susan Price
          I thought I would try promoting The Ghost Drum, the first book in my Ghost World Sequence of three books. I hoped that selling this first book very cheaply would encourage sales of the other two, and possibly my other books as well.
          I suggested it to BookBub for their fantasy category, and was turned down flat. It was for children, they said. (Which is arguable, but never mind.)
          However, they did say that they were starting a new category, for children and Young Adult books, and would I like them to tell me when that began?
          I said yes, expecting to wait months, if they remembered me at all - but they contacted me again within a couple of days, inviting me to submit The Ghost Drum to their children's category. I did, and it was accepted.
          At first, I intended to sell the book at 99c, and BookBub charged me $40 (£26) to send an email to 60,000 subscribers.
          But then I looked into things more closely and realised that I couldn't programme a price decrease automatically on Amazon. I would have to be there, to set the price to 99c - and then to raise it again at the end of the give-away period. This would mean the book being taken down for 12 hours, just when I was hoping that further, full-price sales might be made. Also, as my partner was watching the weather and preparing to dash up to Iona if a High hovered over the Highlands, I might not even be somewhere with an internet connection when the Great BookBub Experiment took place.
          It would be easier to give the book away for free, for a limited period. I could programme the KDP site to look after that. So I got back in touch with BookBub and told them that the book was going to be free for a day. Oh, in that case, they said, the cost to you will only be $30 (£19). Not that they refunded me the difference. No, they credited it to my account. So, since I'm not sure whether I'll use them again, I'm counting the cost to me as $40.
          Well, the book was given away on August 4th-5th, and BookBub sent out their emails on the 4th.
          The result?
          8068 free downloads. 7579 in USA. 67 in the UK, 3 in
Ghost Dance by Susan Price
Germany. 10 in India. 13 in Canada.

          After the book returned to its full price, I sold, in the USA, 14 copies of The Ghost Drum, 5 copies of Ghost Song and 6 copies of Ghost Dance.
          Also one copy of the 'omnibus' edition of all three, one copy of Wolf Sisters, and a borrowing of Hauntings.
          In the UK, I sold 3 Ghost Drums, one each of Ghost Song and Ghost Dance, and 1 Hauntings.
          That kind person in Germany, whoever they be, bought a copy of The Story Collector, the only ebook of mine they hadn't bought last month. Bitte!
          In the other Amazon markets, nothing.
          So, in total, 34 books sold. And, perhaps a higher profile.
          I'm not out of pocket. This month's sales paid back what the advert cost me, and made a little profit on top.
          But wait - in June and July I sold fewer books, but actually made more money, because I didn't have to pay the cost of a BookBub advert.
          So, was it worth it?
          I'd be interested in John Logan and Mark Chisnell's thoughts on this. They sell in more adult categories, of course, which may have made a big difference.
          I think I may hang fire, and wait a month or two. See if those Omnibus sales increase. Then I might try BookBub again, with one of my more adult books - one of the ghost story collections, perhaps.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Summer is on its way out - Jo Carroll.

Summer is on its way out. The evenings are longer and soon we’ll wake to that chill to remind us that autumn is inevitable.
            I love summer. I love the long, warm days. I love the buzz of bees on the lavender; the sweet smell of orange from the philodendron; the cries of children from the playground. Most of all, I love being outside.
            Doing what? I’m no gardener. I used to try – there was something about February that made me rush to the garden centre and buy seeds. I’d soak them and sow them and water with tenderness – not too whooshy to wash them away, not too feebly as they needed to get the idea they might have to cope with real rain when I planted them out.
            I thinned them out, easing out tiny plant after tiny plant, leaving only the sturdy and optimistic.
            I planted them in pots, nurtured them until they might be strong enough to cope with slugs and May storms.
            And, as the risk of frost passed, I planted them out. They died. I went to buy cuttings. (There is a metaphor there, about writing, and editing, and the grief of watching our lovely ideas shrivel into nothing but a sentence. But it's August, and I'm still clinging to summer. Slow news time. Metaphors can wait until the days are cold.)
            I’ve no idea how many years I went through the same gardening performance. Now – I have shrubs that more or less look after themselves. For (dare I admit this) I’ve accepted that my gardening skills are non-existent. It makes more sense to spend time on things that might produce results than grieve over another dying lettuce. Besides, although I’m not a total sloth, I’d rather sit in my garden and read than dig up the weeds or deadhead the roses. I’d rather sit and read than mow the lawn. I’d rather sit and read than nurture tomatoes. I’d rather sit in my garden and read than …
            Write? And here’s my dilemma. Given that there are not enough hours in my life to read all the books I want to read, and write all the stories I want to write – these precious summer days present me with an impossible dilemma. I can’t write outside – I’ve tried, but can’t see the laptop screen however much I squint. I’ve no choice but to write indoors.
            I have this feeling that whatever I do is wrong. If I spend long days reading, then the story-momentum dissipates like ripples die in the pond. If I give myself a word length, and tie myself to the computer I find myself staring out of the window and longing to be under my apple tree and nothing gets done.
            What do you do?

(When I'm not sitting about reading, or failing to grow anything in my garden, I have a rucksack on my back or I write. You can find more details here.)