From Self-Published & Back Again

In 2014 I was an angry author. I’d just parted company with a literary agent I absolutely adored (because I was writing stuff she couldn’t sell)  and then my publisher, Strange Chemistry Books, went the way of the dinosaur less than three years after arriving on the publishing scene with much fanfare.  I had a perfectly fantastic young adult post apocalyptic thriller ready to rock and  so I began to query the project. After near universal replies stating that what I had written was written well but that “zombie books were a hard sell these days”, I said screw it. I’m going to try this self-publishing gig.

And so I formatted the book. (Pressbooks – I highly recommend it)  Found good cover art. Uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing and Create Space. Then … I waited.

The book is called THE NORTH, it’s about a band of teens in the Canadian militia who’ve just heard a weak broadcast on shortwave from a place called Sanctuary Base, and it’s supposed to be zombie free. They bust out of their armory and commence a perilous journey eastward across the cold Canadian prairie. They encounter more than they’d bargained for and do battle with survivalists as well as the living dead. Everything changes when they cross over into claimed land by former military elements led by somebody called SUNRAY and now the real battle for survival begins.

The book received fantastic Amazon reviews and sold quite well. I didn’t conduct a blog tour because blog tours don’t work. (Seriously, they don’t translate into sales. Waste of time.) I was unable to secure reviews from bloggers who had reviewed my earlier stuff – perhaps it was because the book was self-pubbed, who knows? I promoted the best I could online and the sales were very strong for about a year. Strong enough that I was generating a couple of hundred bucks a month in royalties from Amazon – I wasn’t going to complain. That was like … my car payment! From a zombie book!

After that first year, the sales began to dry up and for the past twelve months the book seemed stuck at around 300K in the Amazon rankings for YA Post Apocalyptic books. (That’s like a small handful of sales each month, btw.)

I could have let the book linger on in the Smashwords/Amazon e-book sales purgatory, but I decided to contact Severed Press – a small publisher of ZOMPOC fiction with a very strong following. (And damned good cover art not to mention an excellent website) They’d actually offered to publish THE NORTH back when I was an angry author but I turned them down. That said, they were a class act about it, suggesting that I contact them if I ever decide I want to have the book published as a reprint.

Well, that’s what I did. Thanks to Severed Press, THE NORTH has a new lease on life. It’s available now on Amazon.

north new

So … why did I go from self-published back to traditionally published? It was simple: the issue was discoverability. Severed Press has a strong, loyal following of readers and most of their books rank quite well on Amazon. As a self-pubbed author I had to compete against ZOMPOC books from the big traditional publishers AND independent publishers AND self-publishing types like me. The common denominator for the traditional publishers and the indies who do ZOMPOC is their existing fan base. To me, it seemed that it would be much harder to discover my book when the market is fairly flooded with self-pubbed ZOMPOC books but maybe I could see the book rebound if I was able to tap into a publisher’s fan base. We shall see, but I suspect I will be right on this and THE NORTH will experience a bump in sales, I might pick up some new fans and I can get down to writing more ZOMPOC stuff.

In short, for me, self-publishing worked … for a while. And then it didn’t, largely because of the discoverability issue. This isn’t to say that self-publishing failed me or I failed it. Every book sells for a while and then the sales drop. And I still have three other books that were traditionally published, now self-pubbed. I haven’t given up on self-publishing even though many experts in publishing thinks that ebook sales are declining.  This is a must read for anyone who truly believes the ebook is dead, because it ain’t. Not by a long-shot.

Recently, my agent has suggested that Urban Fantasy is dead. (We’ve been trying to sell a project and we’re basically at the end of the journey for this particular novel.) I have been spending some time looking at self-published urban fantasy on Amazon and it looks to me like many self-published books are doing fine, thank you very much. Perhaps UF is a hard sell for traditional publishers because they are competing against a lot of very good self-published UF. Don’t get me wrong; the big five are still publishing UF, but they’re taking very few chances on new or mid-list authors. It’s business. I get it.

And I might just self-publish this urban fantasy. It’s still out with one Canadian publisher and I’m waiting to hear back. Time will tell.

So, the journey continues. Traditional publishing is not better than self-publishing and self-publishing is not better than traditional. The moral of this story is today’s author has to be mindful of what is selling and where. He/she has to be prepared to think outside the book when it comes to placing a completed project. The biggest lesson for me is never to discount the fan base for genre-specific indie publishers. They’re loyal. Oh, and one last thing. E-books are far from dead. All the industry hype about the drop in e-book sales DISCOUNTS the self-published books and those of independent publishers like Severed Press. In short: the publishing industry is not the big five. It’s all of us: self-published authors, indies and all the rest.

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Onward to 2016

me

(Here I am rocking my new glasses)

I didn’t spend a lot of time blogging in 2015.

I’m of mixed feelings on it because I’d rather be writing something new that might possibly manage to get published and frankly, I’ve been a very cranky person for about a year and a half now – not sure why. I’m trying to change that.

I did, however, complete a new book which is now with my agent. I think it’s very good. Possibly the best thing I’ve written so far. We’ve got one project we’ve been trying to sell but it’s urban fantasy and that’s a tough one these days. That said, I’m thankful to the good folks at Rebelight Publishing for making my first foray into middle grade by publishing my little story about a girl, her hippie granny and missing cats  in the fall, so that was good news. It’s been hard as hell to get reviews for TO CATCH A CAT THIEF. I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve sent physical copies to traditional media here in Canada but there hasn’t been a nibble of interest which is a bit of a puzzle to me. The whole issue of discoverability for an author has been on my mind a lot lately and I honestly can’t figure out what makes people take notice of a new book. I could write a book filled with hints and tips from so many different writers both traditionally published and self-published about how they made their books a success, and I’ve tried a few of them but it’s been a hard slog.

I don’t believe blog tours work one bit and a number of author friends of mine are of the same opinion. Hiring a publicist might be a good option for some but we authors aren’t exactly swimming in cash these days. I think I would have hired a publicist for my latest book but I just can’t afford to do it. So you try to get the word out the best way you can in between writing and working your day job. Six of my seven books have been traditionally published. I have rights back to SHADE FRIGHT, FUNERAL PALLOR, UNSEEN WORLD and I’ve self published them. I also have the rights back to POLTERGEEKS and STUDENT BODIES and I hope to get them out there as reprints. There was to be a third book – END GAMES. I’d like to finish it but I’m not going to until I know where the first two books stand.

To date, my best selling books are MARSHALL CONRAD – A SUPERHERO TALE & THE NORTH. Both are self-published, the first being a reprint and the second being an original work. I actually sell enough of both books that I get real money in the form of a cheque from Amazon every month. Like, more than enough to buy a few tanks of gas and fill the fridge with groceries. The irony is that I don’t do any book promotion for these titles. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

So – stuff that I promote doesn’t sell. Stuff that I self-publish and don’t promote does sell. I truly must be living in Bizarro World.

I started a writer’s group here in Saskatoon about two years ago. There’s a core group of about 8-10 of us and they’re a great bunch of people. This year we self-published an anthology. The goal was to get everyone writing outside of their comfort zone and for those participants who submitted stories, I have to say Well Done! Well Done Indeed! You worked hard at something. You committed to a project and deadlines and editing and everything that goes with getting published. Some even discovered they were better writers than they gave themselves credit for. Go buy our little anthology, won’t you?

So, not the most inspiring end of the year blog posting. I keep hoping to write that elusive breakthrough novel. Maybe we will with the new one. It’s dark fantasy – sort of Kill Bill’s The Bride meets The Sixth Sense meets Sons of Anarchy. A train wreck of a protagonist and a shock ending. I’m quite proud of it. I’m very blessed to have the world’s most supportive wife. She puts up with my weird writing hours and my bouts of melancholy that I do battle with whenever I feel like I’m slipping.

What am I working on right now? I’m experimenting with a detective novel but it’s not really lighting my world on fire. Just doesn’t feel right. I might shelve it for a while. I have another project I”m about 20K words into now – a YA detective story featuring a brother-sister sleuth team. They hunt serial killers.

Anyway, that’s it for 2015. If you’ve been following my sporadic blog posts, thanks you. I’ll try to write more in 2016. If you bought one of my books this year, thank you, thank you, thank you!

My best to you and yours in the new year.

 

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The Last Post – 2014 Sucked. There, I said it.

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(I basically wore this face all year)

Dear baby Jesus, please let 2015 be better than 2014 because this has been my hardest year as a writer.

2014 had Strange Chemistry Books going bye-bye back on June 20th leaving all their authors left to muddle through a shit show on an intergalactic scale. I had a project I’d just pitched to them a week before, too – oh well – it’s six months after and I’m still waiting to get my rights back for Poltergeeks and Student Bodies.

Will there be a third book? Right now, I’d like to say yes but I still need the old rights back before I decide to survey the lay of the land. In truth, I’d like to get the pair of books out as reprints with another publisher but I’m not against self-publishing them instead. More to follow on that front, yo.

I became a bona-fide hybrid author in 2014, self-publishing all my back list on Amazon and Smashwords. It’s brings me in a couple of hundred bucks a month in cash money so let’s just say that self-publishing your old stuff generates enough for a car payment. I can’t say anything  bad about the experience other than it’s a huge learning curve and discoverability is the biggest BIGGEST challenge because Amazon is so damned flooded with self-published books. And it makes me wonder what a guy has to do to get noticed? I’m thinking a YouTube show with me in my underpants smoking a cigar and talking books. Call it “Old Fat Bald Guy Book Reviews” – cue the Masterpiece Theater theme in the background.

I also self-published a new book,  THE NORTH.  I made it free for a couple of weeks to see if that will garner any reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. I’m convinced the key to discoverability on Amazon is reviews. What I did learn is that by making the book free, there was NO bump in sales to my other books. Draw your own conclusions with that.

I’ve had a bit of writer’s block this year. I think brought on because of constant worry about getting rights back, my career as an author and working my tail off getting stuff onto Amazon and Smashwords. So a bit of a break from that in 2015 I hope as I’ve been writing like mad over the last month and I’ve got a few new ideas brewing away.

2014 did show me that I have some amazing, wonderful and supportive friends in publishing, though. Every single author from Strange Chemistry has been a class act despite losing out on forthcoming books and the associated trauma of a publishing house shutting its doors. We have been in constant contact with each other since June.

Strange Chemistry published books by the following authors. These are fantastic, amazing, talented people wholly deserving of your support. Do order one of their books, won’t you?

Rosie Best

Gwenda Bond

M. G. Buehrlen

Cassandra Rose Clarke

T. L. Costa

Eliza Crewe

Kim Curran

Amalie Howard

Jonathan L Howard

Danielle Jensen

Ingrid Jonach

Laura Lam

Rachel Neumeier

Lisa O’Kane

Bryony Pearce

Sarah Raughley

A E Rought

Christian Schoon

Julianna Scott

Martha Wells

On the plus side of things, I’m still plugging along. I do have forthcoming book news … it’s kind of fun and happy. Just say the word “psychedelic” and keep saying it until I announce. A small ray of light in an otherwise crummy year. And yesterday I got some other super pre-advance preliminary forthcoming book news on a project that is very near and dear to me. I have to do a bunch of emailing today. More to come on that front, too.

I also have a core group of wickedly talented authors in my writer’s group,  Saskatoon Writer’s Meetup. I would be freaking lost without them. They’re just brilliant people, so a shout-out to:

Nicole, Courteny, Pearce, Cynthia, Jenna, Elizabeth, Jen, David, Anita and Rachel Astor (who is a bestselling author so go buy her books.)

Well, there you have it. Some good news at the end of a downer of a year. I’m fortunate to have great friends, and amazing wife who supports me as I muddle through the ups and downs of being a published author. I still haven’t written that breakthrough novel yet. So … come on 2015. I hope to hell it’s a great year for you and yours.

Happy New Year!

 

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Self-Publishing Confession: Why I Changed the Cover Art

 

north-KDP-covernorth cover KDP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My new book THE NORTH has only been out now for just shy of two months but the sales haven’t been as strong as I’d hoped. (About 500 copies vs more than 1200 for my still selling very strongly MARSHALL CONRAD in the same time frame).

The few reviews I’ve received have all suggested that readers liked the story very much (although some aren’t crazy there are to be two more books), so I was scratching my head at the low sales.

Yep, zombie books are a crowded market and that’s definitely one of the main reasons impacting the sluggish sales of my novel, but I wasn’t convinced that was the only factor. I decided to spend some time looking at competing titles (and there are a HELL of a lot of them) and I realized the top selling ones or rather, the most consistent selling ones have far more interesting cover art than the cover for my book. And don’t get me wrong: the cover I had made up depicted the bleakness of the world I’d created extremely well buuuuut … it is dark and kind of flat in comparison with the other better selling books out there.

So I decided, to hell with it: I’m the publisher, I’m going to get a new cover done. While the stock image isn’t exactly a scene from the novel, the image is still kind of bleak. The bright yellow contrasts the black font very well and I think it’s eye-catching. I spent the last couple of days uploading the cover art on Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords and creating a print cover for Create Space. It’s all done now and I guess we’ll just have to see if the new cover has greater impact. It might, it might not. Who knows?

Lesson learned though: book covers need color even if your book is bleak as hell. Might work, might not. We shall see.

 

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Adventures in Self-Publishing: There’s Gonna Be A New Marshall Conrad Novel

It’s been in the back of my mind for a while now but since self-publishing MARSHALL CONRAD – A SUPERHERO TALE I’ve been fairly blown away by the fact that it’s been selling.

(Like I said back in August … I  have no idea why it’s selling. And it’s still selling!)

So far, it’s been in and out of the top 100 in superhero fiction since June and in the top 100 for Dark Fantasy at least once or twice a month. I’ve been getting emails from folks wanting a second book and I already started one four years ago but poor sales made me shelve it.

Here’s the cover for DARK BARGAINS – the second in the Marshall Conrad series.

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He’s just saved Greenfield USA from all hell breaking loose during the summer solstice … you’d think a middle-aged superhero might get a well-earned rest. Something has been hunting Greenfield’s children and it’s not entirely human. It plans on killing them too unless Marshall Conrad carries out five dirty deeds that will guarantee he winds up on the hit list for superheroes all over America. 

Look for it in July 2015.

And here’s a small excerpt:

I grabbed Walter by the scruff of his flabby neck and ran like hell as he let out a wail in protest.
“Stupid freaking cat,” I growled as I glanced over my left shoulder only to see the pair of
smoldering red eyes cutting through the blackness of the pine forest. Walter wasn’t helping any as he dug his claws into my chest as I cursed the day I bought my overweight feline at a garage sale for ten dollars.
The psychic visual I’d received that led me to the abandoned cabin nestled snugly amid decades of new woodland growth was supposed to be where I’d find eight-year-old Victoria Jenkins after she was reported missing by her parents four days ago. The Greenfield Sheriff’s Department was treating her disappearance by following standard protocol, first issuing an Amber Alert within two hours of the time she was supposed to arrive at her after school program. Her mother issued a tearful plea for her safe return at a news conference the following morning and me? I’d spent two straight nights combing the streets from up on high, keeping a vigilant eye out for a red Chevrolet Venture minivan that she was reported to have climbed into by a substitute teacher who assumed it was one of Victoria’s parents picking her up from school.
The migraine, like all the migraines that are a tell-tale sign of a Vanguard’s ability to foresee a crime before it is perpetrated hit me just as Marnie Brindle and I were settling down to watch a chick flick on Netflix. (So sue me, I’m expanding my horizons.) It offered two clues: One was the abandoned cabin and the other was that Victoria would be locked up inside an old refrigerator and left to suffocate. It didn’t tell me about a largely hairless monster with claws that tore could tear through the magical shield I’d invoked to protect Walter and me, and it sure as hell didn’t say the refrigerator inside the cabin would be empty or that I’d be rescuing my cat.
Walter hissed loudly as he dug his claws deeper into my chest, naturally, this only acted to piss off the four-legged demon thing that was the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Instead of barking at my stupid cat as it chased us up a winding path that lead to where I parked my new old car, a 1995 Chevy Cavalier no less, it belched a jet of corrosive dog vomit which nearly took my head off as I dove behind a fallen log.
Evil? You bet! Bent on tearing out my throat? Why not? Such is the life of Greenfield’s only resident meta-human and part-time destroyer supernatural beasties.
Like demonic dogs, for example.
The creature crashed through the log sending splinters of dried wood in every direction and throwing me about thirty feet in the air. Walter the stupid cat landed against the trunk of a giant blue spruce and skirted straight up out of harm’s way. Did I mention he’s a treacherous bastard?
“Damn it, I’m a cat person!” I snarled as I landed flat on my back.
The demon thing gave its head a shake and bared its teeth as it readied to pounce. Shiny threads of saliva dribbled down from its three-inch fangs as a deep throaty growl sliced through the relative silence of the woods and straight into my bowels. I scrambled behind a large boulder and spotted an opening in the forest canopy where I could take to the skies. The dog-monster let out a mind-numbing howl that I could feel in my fillings as it charged.
Of course I was going to cut and run, I might look like an idiot most days, but I have the good enough sense not to duke it out with giant hairless K-9’s on their own turf. I’d have a better shot at taking the beast down from the sky. The creature leaped into the air and snapped at my boot heels just as I pushed off the ground.
“Not so tough now, huh, Fido?” I snapped as I floated to a safe distance. The creature blinked a couple of times and then it let out a loud sneeze. Its crimson eyes narrowed as the monster coiled back on a pair of hairless rear legs that glistened in the moonlight.
And that’s when the unexpected happened.
Fido launched its body off the ground like a missile aimed straight at me. I pushed higher to avoid having one of my legs ripped off, and that’s when gravity decided to play a trick on me. Instead of falling back to the earth, the creature continued its ascent. The damned thing could fly.

“Walter!” I shrieked, as the fat fur ball dove into my arms. I clenched my teeth and shot into the clear black sky like a rocket. I didn’t even bother to look behind me this time-I didn’t have to because I could hear the demon cutting through the wind current behind me.
Oh, and he let out another corrosive hork of dog vomit.
I grated my teeth together as I climbed higher and higher into the air. Walter dug his claws into my neck as I held onto him for dear life.
No sign of Greenfield’s third missing kid in as many weeks. Only a demonic dog from some weird ass region of the Unseen World bent on tearing out my throat and probably picking its teeth with my cat’s bones. I wasn’t stupid enough to think the demon dog was responsible for whatever happened to Victoria Jenkins; if anything, its presence at a location where my psychic radar told me I might find the little girl was evidence enough of a much larger plot because whoever had taken her obviously knew about me.
Walter hissed and spat as the creature slammed into my midsection sending me spinning wildly out of control. It was clear I wasn’t going to out fly the damned thing so I decided to think outside the box. I broke into a quick dive as wind currents buffeted my body. Below me was a carpet of pine forest as far as the eye could see so I tossed Walter into the nearest tree and headed skyward once more. I glanced over my shoulder to see the creature gaining on me, the wind flapping its lips back to reveal a set of razor sharp teeth that were only moments away from digging into my forty-something frame. But there was something else, too, a throbbing hum of willful intent pouring off the monster.
I reached out through the darkness in order to tap into it – what I had planned was probably going to be my only shot at taking it down. I gathered the energy together into a tight bind and instantly I could feel my own powers charging, as a jolt of energy surged through my veins. My eyes blazed furiously as I gazed quickly at my hands to see them glowing with emerald energy and that’s when I struck out at the monster.
I flew straight into its path; my fingers digging into its rubbery cold flesh. It yelped as I pummeled it with my free hand; my fist connecting with its giant maw over and over again. All the while, we spun around in a tangled jumble of limbs and I could see the ground coming fast. I pivoted my body enough so the creature would crash land first, absorbing the shock of our fall to the earth.
We struck the ground like a meteor; the impact sending me careening into a pine-tree with enough force to split its trunk in two. And it hurt like a bastard. My entire body screamed with pain as I slid into a heap at the base of the enormous tree. I gazed out through the darkness to see if there was any movement from the crater and I got back to my feet with a loud groan; my glowing eyes lighting up the gloom of the forest. I hobbled over to the crater and peered over, half-ready for the monster to leap at me and tear my throat out. And imagine my surprise to see only a German Shepherd whimpering like a puppy like it had just lost its mother. Its neck had been shaved clean down to the skin and there was fresh blood seeping through a strange symbol that looked almost like an ancient Egyptian Hieroglyph that had been carved into the poor dog’s skin.
“Shit … a proxy,” I said quietly as I climbed into the hole. The dog wagged its tail as it caught a glimpse of me and whimpered again.
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