Tag Archives: self-publishing

How I Learned To Hate The VAT

My fellow self-published authors have no doubt already been bombarded by emails from Amazon in regards to changes in the VAT, but I thought I’d take a moment to tell my readers why prices are going to suddenly change on a number of books and how this change affects authors.  These changes take place on 1 January, 2015.

You see, the way the VAT used to work, it applied based on the seller’s country. So an author in the UK had a 20% VAT on top of the price of their book, off each sale. Now, however, it is based off the customer’s country. So when I sell a book in, oh, say Ireland, there’s 23% tax on top of the price of the book. This means for a book that is €5, the tax is an additional dollar, making the book €6.15. The way Amazon is resolving this is that the tax comes off the top… and my royalties, therefore are still as if the book sold for €5. What this means, is that either I lower prices (IE, to €4.12) which then should make that same book €5 to the customer or it goes for €6, which pushes me up around where some of the well-established authors are, and makes it less likely for a new reader to buy my book.

Now, since I get roughly €3.42 (70% royalty minus some delivery fees and such) off the sale of a €5 book, the difference, as far as I can tell through my projections, is that I get €3 now for a book that sells for the same price. Basically, a foreign country gets a dollar off each of my book sales while I lose forty cents per sale. Not a lot, individually, but that’s around €200 a month that I won’t get (and  €500 that some other nation does get). Keep in mind, writing is my second job, I still work full time. How would you feel if your boss told you that your pay is getting cut €200 a month to pay taxes in a country you don’t live in?

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Independent Author’s Toolbag: Writing Groups

Hi there, my name is Kal and I write stuff.

It sounds a bit like an introduction from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting… because that’s what some writing groups feel like. And in a way, that can be good or bad. Writing groups are, at their root, about support. Writers, get together and read one another’s stuff, critique it, discuss where they’re going or improving their craft, and then they arrange to meet again. The pattern is hopefully one where the individuals within the group gradually improve upon their work. It also provides a variety of backgrounds for new and inexperienced writers to draw upon for both the business and writing sides of the craft. Writing groups have a number of advantages, not least of which is you get someone to read your manuscript besides your mother/best friend. This can be invaluable just in the knowledge of whether or not someone was able to finish reading it. Feedback about characters, plot, and plot devices can also be invaluable, letting you know if you fooled someone with a clever bait and switch, if your humor fell flat, or even if you accidentally wrote fan fiction. Writing groups also, however, come with some hazards.

One hazard, I think, is that as a writer grows, they may outgrow the writers in their group or the group itself may shift as new people come in and others leave. A writer who is actively seeking publishing, in a group that is about completing works, is quickly going to become frustrated. The reverse is true, as well, an author who just wants to finish their first book is going to find the critiques of more experienced and even published authors daunting enough that they may give up. I’ve seen a little bit of both, myself, just in one group. The group had a central core of attendees focused on writing and publishing. It also had a ‘floating’ population of people who would attend every now and then. Some of them would become very disheartened at the progress they had made versus the progress of others. I myself would often become frustrated because some members would show up with the fourth or fifth (or tenth) revision of their first chapter. These are writers who don’t really want to grow, they’re comfortable retelling the same bit of a story. A good group can coach them along towards growth, but it isn’t something you can force and a group with more chysallis authors than mature ones is not the place to improve your own craft.

The other hazard is ‘toxic’ groups. These are writing groups where, somewhere, somehow, there is a dominant individual who attempts to turn it into a social hierarchy, where other authors must kowtow to his or her principles and/or writing style. I haven’t personally encountered this, yet I have friends who have completely soured on any kind of writing group as a result. The worse of these types of groups are ones where new authors are ridiculed or belittled for their work in some kind of cult-indoctrination method to get them to then believe that only through emulation is success possible.

Another hazard of writing groups is that the writers there are going to have their own perspectives and interpretations of how stories should be told. Sometimes, for the best of reasons, they’ll give you feedback that you are doing something wrong and they might even talk you around to it. With the best of intentions, they can give you a feeling of inadequacy that can leave your manuscript half finished with notes of broad plot and character changes to be made. The thing to remember here is that you are the author. Whatever story you are telling, you tell it your way. In the end, when it is finished, if the group says they still don’t like it, then you can think about revisions and changes. But if it goes against the grain, if you feel your story is better/stronger/greater without those changes… don’t do it. Write what you want.

So, basically, the lesson is to first do some research on a group and then to test the waters a bit. Be sure they write/read in your genre. If authors have no interest in what you write, they’re not going to be as attentive and they’re not going to know the style.  Writing groups where some or all of the members gush about one central figure should generally be avoided. Writing to cater to the interests and desires of the group is also to be avoided.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Publishing an Audiobook pt 3

This is the final post I’ll have as far as building an audiobook with Amazon’s ACX system.   In the first two installments, I talked about the process, first enrolling/selecting your book, then choosing a narrator and finally proofing the narrated sections.  You can see those two sections here and here.

It was a time-consuming process.  It was also fairly exhausting for someone who works full time, writes, is married, and has something of a social life.  I would estimate that it was at least forty hours of work even after selecting a narrator.  There were multiple edits that had to take place to meet ACX’s guidelines on things like the pauses between chapters (too long, who knew?) and the silence during a pause (apparently it has to be very quiet).  All that aside, this post is going to look at the end results: the royalty process and profits.

Now, going into this, I had the option to split royalties or pay the narrator in a lump sum.  I’m not a split royalties type of person.  For one thing, I put tens of thousands of hours in writing.  Why do I want to share that much effort with someone else if I don’t have to?  For another, long term, I figured it would pay better to do a lump sum.  This meant instead of 25% of the profits as royalties I’d receive 50%.  Roughly twice as much.

Now the ACX program has a couple issues that I’ll comment on.  For one, they’re not like Kindle Direct Publishing with hourly updates on sales and a running estimate of royalties earned.  With ACX, you get a tracker updated around midnight PST with total sales by type.  These types roughly tell you how much you’ll earn, but only roughly, because, remember, you don’t set the price, Audible, Amazon, and iTunes set the price of your audiobook.  That price also varies by method of purchase.  From initial reading through my royalty statement, it looks like subscribers using their Audible credits paid roughly $12 a copy, subscribers purchasing paid around $15, and everyone else paid around $25 for my book The Fallen Race.  That daily update shows the breakdown between the three types of purchasers.  It doesn’t show the royalty rate or the price paid or any of that, just the number of sales in each category.  Where this becomes an issue, is, if you’re like me and you paid out of your own pocket to fund the narration.  You’re biting your nails hoping that this thing will pay for itself.  There’s a mortgage to pay and food to put on the table, and it’s very hard to estimate earnings when you don’t have all the information.

When you get the information is very similar to KDP.  Thirty days after the last calendar day of the month, they send you a royalty statement.  Unlike KDP, ACX mails it to you (at least for those in the US, for elsewhere, I understand it is every quarter rather than every month).  That’s right, you have to check your mail.  On the other hand, checking the mail is rather exciting when you’re expecting your royalty check in it.  This is where ACX really shines, though.  They break down royalty percentage, sales of each type and all the information you could really want in a readable format.  Plus, they give you the matching check with whole package, which really gives you a nice feeling of completeness.

The other issue that I’m on the fence about is transparency with iTunes.  Amazon and Audible are owned by the same company, so the sales are pretty similar.  The iTunes sales of my book, however, I have no earthly idea how to monitor or even really how I’ll receive royalties.  They could be rolled up in my other sales or it could be a separate royalty statement entirely.  That leads me to my last complaint about  the process.  The FAQ’s and information provided by ACX without going directly to their customer support is either inaccurate or very thin, particularly on the things that really matter once the audiobook is completed.  The royalties are listed as 40% there on their information, but I receive 50%, according to my statement (I’ll gladly accept more, but it was something of a surprise, is all).  They say they’ll mail royalty statements every month.  They don’t mention it will be 30 days after each month.  That’s what I expected, but still, they need to get in there and clarify.  Those are the ones that mattered to me, but there’s a lot of other inaccuracies in there or just places where you can’t find the information you want without sending an email.

On the positive side, I’m very pleased with how the system as a whole works.  Publishing my books in audio format allows me to reach a much broader audience.  That in turn means more money and reaching a larger reader/listener base.  For that matter, from a moderately risky endeavor it has proven itself as a method which I’ll definitely use in the future.  I’m already planning on doing two more audiobooks: Renegades: Origins and the upcoming epic fantasy Echo of the High Kings.  I also plan to do an audiobook of The Shattered Empire when it’s finished.  In the first month of sales I already earned back my initial investment and it looks to be a solid method of sales for independent authors… just a large up front investment of time and money.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Publishing an Audiobook pt 2

This post is about the review processes and the work required to get it to the ‘finished’ stage.  Read the previous post here for information about getting the process started.

Any self-published author can tell you: self-publishing is hard.  It’s not just getting the novel ready, it is also doing the edits, getting the cover set, and even typesetting.  Then there’s the requirements for epubs, which makes it a severe pain for any images you have (such as maps or diagrams), inserting bookmarks and smartlinks… it is an additional quantity of time which most traditional authors don’t need to worry about.

Self publishing an audiobook is like that, only worse in a way.  First off, you have to do all the same stuff as above.  You need a cover, you need to prepare, edit and arrange the text.  After you select a narrator, you then have to discuss pronounciations, listen to the first fifteen minutes, and then, after they finish, you have to review the entire thing.  This is not as much fun as you might first imagine.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a sense of wonder when you hear the voices of your characters take life.  I can only imagine the feeling of excitement to have a book made into a movie (done well, at least).  Still, when you have to listen to twelve hours or so of narration, focused to hear errors, mistakes, and areas to make corrections… it’s work.  That’s twelve hours where I can’t write.  I have to be focused enough to listen for any issues.  I personally suck at multitasking, so during that time, I really can’t do much else besides listen.

Twelve hours doesn’t seem like much, until you factor in working a full time job.  I barely have time to write… finding time to review an audiobook is tough.  Then on top of that, I’ve got to find time to review the second version.  That said, the audiobook still won’t be perfect.  I’ll almost certainly miss a few things, in twelve hours of audio.  Also, some of the limitations are just that my novel has a huge cast of characters, set in a far future with aliens, people raised speaking strange dialects, and lots of odd names.  It won’t be perfect, not to what I pictured it, anyway.  But it will, hopefully, be good enough.

My whining about the hard work aside, producing an audiobook is a serious investment of time and money.  You can save money by narrating it yourself, but then you simply increase the time investment. My advice, be sure you have a market before you invest all this into it.  As far as hard data on earnings, I’ll give my analysis of that when I get enough data on that.  Of course, I have to finish the second review and have it go live first.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Reviews and Book Sales

This post is as much addressed to readers as it is to authors.  Many readers might feel that they are pestered, one might even say harassed, to provide reviews.  Why is that?  Well, it’s simple.  As a reader, when I browse through books on Amazon or B&N, I’ll take a few minutes to glance at what other people said.  Especially if it’s a book from a new or unfamiliar author.  I’ll check what the 5 star raters say and I’ll check what the 1 star raters said.  Why?  Because what irritated someone else about the novel often says more about the author than what someone who loved it might have said.  Also, especially in the era of self-publishing, if I see complaints about poor grammar, awkward sentence structure, or bad plot, I can steer clear.

Apparently, from various market research, ebook sales are highly driven by reviews and ratings.  There are a variety of readers, high consumption readers, who filter by number of reviews.  There is also a prohibition, from Amazon, on ‘reveiw farms’ of authors giving one another incestual reviews.  As an independent author, receiving reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, and other locations can be the difference between selling well and not selling at all.  Full reviews at blogs and websites also help to channel some traffic, but the impulse buyers, the ones who need their reading fix, are browsing for their next fix right now… and does your ebook have the reviews to garner their attention?

The other part of this is sales ranking.  Amazon does this most visibly and has the highest volume of ebook sales in the US, so I’ll use it as the primary example.  As an author, you want your sales ranking high for a number of reasons.  The first reason, of course, is high sales means more people buying your book.  This is good for a variety of reasons.  The next reason is that high sales means that your book will appear higher on the lists when someone searches for ebooks in your genre.  That’s less of other people’s stuff that someone has to filter through before they find your work.  paradoxically, this means that in order to sell well… you need to sell well.  However, there are ways to ‘game’ the system.  Amazon tracks sales over time rather than total sales.  The good part about this is that if you can sell even a relatively small number of books in a short period of time, you can books yourself higher on the book sales ranking… which is good, because when a reader sees your book is #23 on some listing versus #230,000, they’re more likely to read what you’re putting out.

How do you do that?  Larry Correia uses a term called a ‘book bomb.’  When an author releases their new book, the author has everyone they know, who’s interested, buy the book around the same time.  The author’s book sales spikes and their book rises up the charts.  How effective is that?  A solid spike can guarantee that other people will see your book.  They might not buy it, but they’ll at least have the opportunity to make the decision… whereas if they never see it, they’re never given the opportunity.  This is an area where networking, developing loyal readers, and communication are essential.  You can seriously help your book sales by organizing loyal readers (also known as herding cats) to get them to buy your stuff.

What does that mean for readers in general?  Well, keep in mind that the authors you read and enjoy don’t just publish out of the goodness of their hearts.  Authors want their works to be appreciated.  We spend thousands and tens of thousands of hours on writing something to entertain you for a day or two.  We also like to eat, so getting paid for it is a nice form of appreciation.  If you really like what someone wrote, post that, write what you liked and didn’t in a review on Amazon or Goodreads or whatever.  A detailed synopsis like your teachers wanted in high school isn’t necessary.  A one liner “I liked this book, author X is my favoritist person EVAR!” isn’t particularly helpful, either.  A couple sentences such as “X writes with strong characters and a vivid setting.  His story hooked me with the first words.  I really enjoyed the dynamic between Character X and Character Y” tells a potential reader much more, without giving away anything that might spoil the read.  Ideally, if you really liked something, you can take five minutes to write three or four sentences about what you liked.  The same goes for something you didn’t like.  If you bought a book and it was the skunkiest piece of drivel you ever stumbled across, post a review about what you didn’t like.  If the author clearly wrote about a subject they didn’t understand, they had “teh worts grammer evar,” or if they wrote a preachy diatribe about some subject in which you disagree… give warning some other folks.  There’s nothing I hate more than spending some of my hard earned money on a book that isn’t worth the time spent in reading it.  And, believe it or not, some authors want that kind of feedback, so we know what to improve upon.

Here’s a link to Larry Correia who wrote a better article on the ‘book bomb’ subject:

http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/book-bomb-variant-today-get-a-good-book-for-a-good-reason/

And he’s apparently doing a book bomb for an author right now as well, so check it out:

http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/next-book-bomb-chuck-dixon-feb-18th/

 

 

Kal’s New Year of Writing

So, this is more of an update on my current writing schedule than anything else.  I’m a bit behind on getting things out (for which I deeply apologize).  On the other hand, I have the minor disclaimer that life has been extremely busy, between me transitioning from one duty station to another in the Army, getting married, the honeymoon, and a variety of other things.  Frankly, I’ve had to prioritize, and since my wife is very well armed and knows how to handle knives, swords, guns, and other dangerous items, naturally, my priorities have focused on the wedding and honeymoon planning.

Thankfully, she also reads science fiction and fantasy, so she’s understanding and tolerant of my writing.

That said, here’s what I’m working on, and my best guess as to when I’ll have it out, as far as I can see over the next year.

Renegades: Ghost Story is the fourth novella of the Renegades series.  I should have that out in early January.  Right now I’m waiting on a cover from the awesome Robert Brockman, who somehow finds time for that kind of thing on top of his normal job.

Echo of the High Kings is an epic fantasy novel, set on the world of Eoriel.  I’m doing the final(ish) rewrites on it right now.  My goal is to release that in February.  As something of an experiment, I’ll enroll it in one of Amazon’s programs and do a free release, so if you’re looking for an epic fantasy to get your teeth into, well, it’s hard to beat free, right?

The Fallen Race is the science fiction novel set in the same universe as The Renegades.  I’ll be releasing it once I complete the final edits, hopefully in the next month, possibly as early as mid January.

I’m also working a compendium of the Renegades novellas, complete with some additional content which I’d like to release sometime in February.  This will include the first four Renegades Novellas as well as three new short stories (to include one set from the perspective of Anubus) and will be released as paperback and ebook.

The next novella in the series, currently titled “Renegades: A Murder of Crowe’s” will be out not long after that.

The next three Renegades Novellas after that aren’t written yet, but they are outlined as “Out of the Cold”, “Assassin”, and “Privateer” and will be arriving between March and August of 2014.

I’ve projected the novel Fenris Unchained for a summer release, though that may shift dependent upon the rewriting I’ve got to do on that.

The sequels for Echo of the High Kings and the Fallen Race will finish up the year, and if I find the time, some additional Renegades novellas.

So, that’s what I’m up to.  Along the way, I’ll be moving, transitioning to yet another job in the Army, and generally trying to balance everything.

Independant Author’s Toolbag: Smashwords

As an independent author, I’m not setting in my basement cranking out books on a printing press.  That would be cool, but it’s not really feasible (Trust me, I crunched the numbers).  What I am doing is going through a variety of distributers to reach readers, mostly through ebooks.  The nice thing about ebooks is that they effectively cost nothing to distribute, and that the big publishing houses have still yet to really figure the whole thing out.

Everyone has heard about Amazon and kindle.  Amazon has their Kindle Direct Publishing, which works just fine.  Amazon is the common approach taken by most independant authors.  That said, it isn’t everything.  There are a number of ebook retailers out there, some are selective to their platforms and some have their own loyal customer bases.  How do you reach them?

I use Smashwords.  It’s not the be-all, end-all, but it does allow you to reach a number of booksellers who would otherwise be difficult to reach.  I use Smashwords to go through Smashword’s website, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony’s ebook reader site, and even Apple’s iBooks.  I also distribute on Smashwords.  It is not the best platform, to be certain, but it does allow me to reach a much wider audience.

As far as pro’s and con’s… well, the positives are pretty obvious.  More platforms are reached, presumably it makes you open to a wider audience, and you can consolidate efforts spent on self-publishing (that non-trivial time spent formatting and checking for content errors).  The downsides are somewhat less obvious.  As a platform, Smashwords doesn’t seem to get sale data from the other outlets in any fashion, beyond actual payments, which you get once a quarter.  Also, if there are errors with formatting for one distributer (Apple is notorious for this), you may not find out for a month or two, while your book doesn’t get sold.  They also have issues with specific formatting errors, which if you aren’t tech-savy, can take a long time to fix.

Still… for an independant author, I think Smashwords is an excellent tool, and one that shouldn’t be ignored.  As a reader, I’ve found a very interesting selection of books there, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is looking for new authors to read.  The nicest thing about it?  Authors get 85% of the money from book sales, it seems to be the largest of any of the distributers I’ve found yet.