Bad Tidings?

Everything changes. Sometimes the rate of change is imperceptible and the only way we realise the change is when we pause and take stock.

Such is the ebook revolution.

In the summer of 2010 Amazon opened its UK Kindle store. That Christmas, the Kindle eReader was the most popular present. This meant that there was a sudden onrush of customers looking for content for their new electronic gizmo.

Free books were the way to get noticed. People were hungry for them and when they snapped up a free book it became visible to other readers because it rose in the rankings. The free rankings fed into the paid rankings and this meant that free promotions worked. Once the free period was over, sales still kept on going.

Four years later, free promotion is no longer anything like as effective as it used to be. Amazon have changed their way of calculating the best seller charts so that free sales no longer spill over into the paid charts. But there is also another factor. People don’t want free books.

A free book used to seem a wondrous opportunity. Now the novelty has worn off. And I can understand why.

Twitter and Facebook are filled with GET MY BOOK FOR FREEEEEEE!!!!!!! offers. They have become so frequent and annoying as to be invisible. In my experience free books are rarely worth the price. They are shoddy, ill-written drivel for the most part. There are a million new ones every year and almost all of them are absolute rubbish. The first paragraph or two will usually be enough to make you feel like throwing your Kindle through the window and emailing the author to ask for compensation for your wasted time.

There’s another reason that book promotions that once worked are now ineffective. Amazon has changed the way their customers access books and offers both a lending library and unlimited downloads to their Prime customers. Once a free book was a rare jewel indeed, now it comes as part of your free delivery package.

Another thing:

From 1st January 2015, ebooks will be 20% more expensive because of VAT being applied in the country of sale rather than the country of convenience for Amazon. In my view, this may change the dynamic between print and ebooks. An ebook that cost £5 in 2014 will be £6 in 2015, getting closer to the price of a ‘proper book’ that you can lend to your friends and family when you’ve finished it. I’ve a feeling that print books are a benefit to authors because they are more visible and can allow more opportunities to gain a readership.

Yet another thing:

Mainstream publishers now have arrangements with Amazon that increase the visibility of their books at the expense of self-published ones. Amazon have used self-published books to strengthen their negotiating position and are now in a position where they don’t need any more. The time is rapidly approaching where there will be a charge to upload and an annual charge to keep an ebook on the virtual shelves.

So the times they are a changin’ and selling books is becoming more and more difficult. And even when you do sell some, chances are you’ll be getting less money. Some major self-published authors have reported that their incomes have halved during 2014.

If you’re a writer, don’t get despondent.

You’re still much better off in terms of publishing options than in the dark pre-Kindle days.

If you polish that jewel you’ve created it may sparkle enough to be purchased and enjoyed. Just don’t expect it to be automatic.

Happy New Year

photo credit: Martin Burns via photopin cc

Submissions, competitions and prizes

Writing is not a competitive sport. There doesn’t have to be a loser. Writing is a subjective medium, what touches one person may leave someone else cold.

So why are there so many writing competitions?

Before I start, I should tell you about my own competition experience. A couple of years ago I entered the Chorley and District Writer’s Circle annual short story competition and won second prize. Despite all my misgivings about competitions, I have to admit that this helped me as a writer one hell of a lot. To be independently judged as having merit is an important milestone in my writing career. And the £50 was nice as well.

So, I received a boost from the first competition I ever entered. Lucky me. Because that really sums it up.

These days, I’m not allowed to enter the CAWDC competition as I serve on the committee and have a hand in forming the short list of entrants. This process has opened my eyes to the different opinions that a piece can engender. This year I rated one story very highly but it received the comment ‘pretentious twaddle’ from another judge. There were several stories we agreed about but just as many that provoked argument. Imagine your story in that kind of melting pot. Out of a hundred entries, one winner has to be chosen and it’s a matter of personal preference at the end of the day. The winner isn’t always the best story and the losers don’t necessarily have any less merit.

So, my advice is to enter but be wary.

There are competitions out there that demand large entry fees and promise publishing contracts to the winner. These competitions are often trawling exercises by publishers who are using your entry fee instead of a reading fee.

Some competitions are designed purely to extract money from writers. So be careful what you enter.

There’s only one winner, so what if your many entries don’t make the grade? Equally, what if your many submissions to publishers or agents get rejected?

Well, first of all don’t give up. Almost nobody gets published in the conventional way any longer. Even established literary agents are turning to self-publishing in order to find a market for their authors in the absence of interest from major publishers.

Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that it’s possible that the right person hasn’t come along to fully appreciate your work.

But also consider that you may not be at the publishing stage of your writing career. That you might have to write some more stuff before finding your true voice.

This is where an independent opinion is all important. Had I been aware, I might have saved myself a lot of bother and heartache by getting a critique of my early work. Basic flaws that keep getting repeated aren’t going to improve what you write.

Consider those entry fees and weigh them up against a professional critique such as www.fictionfeedback.co.uk

photo credit: Montgomery County Planning Commission via photopin cc

Social Media

As an author, I need to have a profile. The purpose of this profile is so that potential customers can find me and buy my books.

This profile has had to be constructed out of a substance called social media.

Various forms of social media are available but the most common types are twitters, facebooks and blogs.

If I Google my writing name ‘d j harrison’, I immediately find myself as the second item down and with a nice picture in the sidebar for extra effect. Well done Google. Or should I say ‘well done me’?

You can see the result above.

Now, if I Google my name as ‘David Harrison’ I get the following:

i.e. not me at all.

I suppose I’ve created a brand ‘d j harrison’ which is very different to my usual name (but not very different). OK. Well done me.

Now I have to work out how I’ve done it so that you can do it too. That’s if you want to.

I don’t advise trying to make a brand called d j harrison, though. Better to think of your own. However, I would suggest that you do the same as I did and think of an author name which is similar but not exactly what you normally call yourself. This way there’s a chance of separating the business, author, side from the personal side. I want people to find me as an author but not necessarily in any other capacity.

If you’re committed to your own name, don’t worry though. It’s not that important to try to be invisible, none of us really are. Anyone who wants to can find us, it’s just a matter of ease.

My experience is that Blogger has been the best way of getting up the Google rankings. I’ve used it for some years now and tend to blog weekly. My visits exceed 30,000 and I get about 1,000 a month. Not a lot, really, but enough to make my mark.

I also blog on WordPress. I’m told this is the best platform for writers and so I just paste my Blogger post into WordPress every time I post. Strangely, I have lots of followers on WordPress and very few visits, which is the opposite to my Blogger site. I consider them complementary. An advantage of having the WordPress blog is that my publisher website is written in WordPress and it makes it simpler to import blog posts to the site.

So where do the facebooks and twitters feature in all this? To be honest, I’m not entirely convinced of the efficacy of either of them. Years ago, when I first started on Twitter, it seemed exciting and fun. I quickly raised my follower count to 1700 and there it languishes to this day. If I post a link to my blog on Twitter, I get several visits, so I do this from time to time to keep traffic moving. Selling books on Twitter is difficult if not impossible. If I see a book advertised on my Twitter feed I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole even if it is FREE!!!!!! I usually unfollow the miscreant as well. So I shouldn’t expect any different treatment from others, should I?

As for Facebook, there are a lot of author Facebook groups that can be very useful. However, they do tend to be dominated by authors pushing their own books down the throats of other writers. Again, this can be tedious and is not likely to be effective. If you use these sites try the approach of ‘what can I do to help?’ rather then BUY MY FRIGGIN BOOOOOOOOOK!!!!! Just a suggestion.

I’d love to hear from readers about how they find books and whether they are as dismissive of social media as I am.

If you leave a comment on this topic, I promise to send you something.

Really. I will. Try me.