Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Next Move

The Next Move

I've been thinking about Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program and the effect it's had on sales for writers like myself. Big names in self-publishing (read: Indie) are bailing on the KDP Select program because of Kindle Unlimited (KU). Joe Konrath and Russell Blake are two that I've heard of. Both of these writers are millionaire Indie success stories, partly because they're prolific, partly because they write entertaining books people want to read and mostly because of hard work and clear focus. And oh, yeah, they treat writing as a business.

Dropping out of KDP Select is a business decision these writers and others have made or are considering. It's not an easy decision to make.

Amazon's KDPS program has been very successful for me. I'm not a super star like Blake or Konrath but I'm a successful mid-list writer. I make a living at it, which puts me on a fairly short list. Over the past couple of years I've sold somewhere around a hundred thousand books, counting in the loaners and KU grabs. It helps that I have 8 books out there in my Project thriller series, with #9 in the tube for publication next month. One book, and I wouldn't be doing so well.

I have resisted putting my books on Kobo, Apple and Nook for a lot of reasons. Visibility is difficult to achieve, just like it still is on Amazon. I don't have the time or desire to program for those platforms, which means giving the books to someone else (like Smashwords) to convert and distribute. But if I do that, I lose the promotion options KDPS provides as well as whatever income comes from KU and the KOLL loaners.

For me, that is a significant portion. It's about 1/4 of the monthly royalties I receive from Amazon. That's a lot to give up for the possibility of increased sales and exposure elsewhere. Did Kindle Unlimited cut into my royalties? Yes, because I now receive about 1/2 or less than what I would have gotten for books picked up by folks using the service. No, because these are readers who might not have taken a shot at books priced at $3.99 or $4.99 by an unknown author. It's not a number I can accurately quantify, because I don't know if those KU readers would have bothered to pick up one of my books otherwise. 

Royalties and sales are definitely down compared to 6 months ago, but it's clear to me that KU is not the only reason. For one thing, the traditional publishers are now competing with Indies in the one area where we held an advantage: price. Michael Connelly's latest is $3.99. That's called pricing strategy. The old line publishers have discovered that eBooks make money. Another market factor is saturation. There are millions of cheap books competing for reader attention. Millions. More than any of us can read in a lifetime, regardless of what genre we prefer.

Welcome to the real world of writing for a living.

If you are an Indie writer relying on KDPS, it may be time to rethink your business plan. You have one, right? At least a good idea of what you're trying to do and how you are going to do it over the next year or two. Something more than "I want to sell a lot of books."


The bottom line has always been about gaining exposure. I've decided to try a hybrid approach. I believe in my books. I am confident that if someone buys and enjoys any of the books they will want to read another and eventually, the entire series. Book 1 in the series is White Jade, the "loss leader" at $0.99. I don't make any significant income from the book. It's purpose is to tell a good story and introduce the series and the characters. KU and loaner royalties are small. I'm going to pull White Jade from KDPS and place it on the other platforms. I'm going to see if that encourages new readers. I may pull a second book as well. In six months or so I might have an answer. It takes time to build readership on any platform. That's the hardest part, aside from the writing itself. I've learned to be patient.

If you are having second thoughts about KDP Select and KU, I'd love to hear what they are.

More about KDPS in the next blog.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

If You Build it... 

Remember the movie with Kevin Costner and the "field of dreams" he built in the middle of a corn field?

"If you build it, they will come."

The phrase "they will come" has become American shorthand for entrepreneurial spirit and hope, the fulfillment of one's deepest desire. It's a brilliant conception of words, the core concept of the movie. The words resonate in us, activating the inner hope we all possess that applying ourselves to what we love will bring success.

The key word here is love. No one would write unless some part of them loved it. No one would labor over building a novel or a story if they didn't love the magic that happens when words appear out of nothing, bits and pieces of a story that didn't exist. Characters that do surprising things. Reflections of ourselves we can identify with. All of the separate threads of a narrative that lead the reader into the story.

There are endless articles and books instructing writers in how to write a good story, filled with so many dos and don'ts that it is impossible to remember all of those good ideas. That part of writing is the craft part, the part of learning how to use the tools of language and narrative to construct something someone might want to read. There's only one problem: 

You can build it and no one will come, 
if you can't tell a good story.

Writers are story tellers. Fiction or non-fiction, it doesn't matter. If you don't tell a good story, the reader will go away and never come back. All successful books have one thing in common, no matter how well or badly built: they tell an engaging story. 

Do you want to tell a good story? If you do, you have to put passion into your work and believe in your words. You have to forget about all those dos and don'ts and let the characters tell you what the story is really about. You have to listen to them. If you can't hear them, why should anyone else care what they say or do?

Everyone develops their own way of doing it, over time. Build your work with persistence and a belief in your ability. Clear the field in the middle of the corn jungle. Do your research, learn how to use the tools. If you tell a good story, sooner or later they will come.