Why I’m going full Kindle Unlimited for my Self-Published work

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Because this:

smash1 smash2 smash3

I’ve sold less than 100 books on all Smashwords-fed book selling sites in two years of self-publishing. It’s not Smashwords fault, mind you. It’s just that Planet Earth basically owns Kindles far more than it does Kobos (I have one) or Nooks or Sony Readers. I haven’t bothered posting any Kindle sales numbers in the two years since I started self-publishing my back list, but what I can tell you is that my sales have been in the hundreds most months. I can tell you that I’ve received royalty cheques from Amazon each month that have been enough to do a car payment and I can tell you that as soon as I put my book IMMORTAL REMAINS onto Kindle Unlimited, it got a big bump.

Don’t get me wrong: I love EPUB format as much as an individual can love a digital book format, but the fact is that for me at least, my sales overwhelmingly have been over on Amazon and I don’t see any value in keeping my books in EPUB if so few people use it. It’s nothing personal Smashwords … it’s just business. Perhaps if I am fortunate enough to have a runaway bestseller and people might have heard about my books as a result, then I might migrate back to EPUB, but for the foreseeable future, I’m going to be going exclusively Kindle. If you have a Kobo or a Nook and are desperate to read my books, I will sell EPUB versions directly from this here website.

To be honest, when I did the comparison between Smashwords and Kindle numbers it really hammered home just how massive Amazon has become and just how much it really gets to dictate the future of the publishing business because it truly is a planetary-scale bookstore. I mean, I’ve done months with ZERO book promotion and I was still selling more than a hundred copies a month of a given title on Amazon. (And a big fat goose egg over at Smashwords).

So, there you have it. You win Amazon. I surrender to your infinite bigness. You are the book market. Period. Full stop. Just make sure you don’t screw me on those Kindle Normalized Pages please and thank you.

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Traditional Publishing, Flooded Markets and What to Write Next

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It’s September! Where did the summer go? Soon we’re going to be knee-deep in the arctic express here in Saskatchewan where I live. We have a long, miserably cold and dark winter here in the Great White North – I generally spend it writing. Actually my production increases during the winter months and so I’m going to start something new, I just have to decide what.

You know, we all keep hearing about the importance of original work from agents and editors on Twitter. How it’s important to write what matters to you,  to write a good story. An excellent story. The best story you could ever hope to produce. We are warned against writing for what the market wants yet  if you hit the hashtag #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) you’re going to see a lot of editors and agents posting about what they’d like in their inboxes. I often scratch my head at that one because it flies in the face of what many other agents and editors suggest you should be doing – like writing original stuff.

We’ve seen a lot of trends come and go over the past few years. One such trend that apparently is on the outs is a genre that affects me and that’s urban fantasy. I’ve lost track of how many tweets I read from Book Expo of America or the London Book Fair – urban fantasy is dead! Zombies are dead! Dystopian is dead! Post-apocalyptic fiction is dead! What everyone wants now is YA contemporary! Send us your stories about sick and dying teens in love that tear at the heart and you might have a shot of grabbing someone’s attention!

There are days when I wonder if publishing knows what the hell it’s doing anymore. A lot of contradictory advice. A big herd mentality. A lot of rumors about what’s selling and what isn’t selling. A lot of this, that and the other thing.

Which makes you wonder when you’re thinking about starting a new project whether you should. Whether it will see the light of day via traditional publishing.

I often wonder whether traditional publishing takes into consideration the sales of self-published books or even if anyone can ascertain the true sales numbers. God knows traditional publishers are very guarded with their sales figures and Amazon sure as hell is. I think we tend to ball park it.

As you know, I self-published an urban fantasy/superhero story called MARSHALL CONRAD this summer. I can tell you that it has sold about fifteen to twenty copies a day since June 26th. Let’s be conservative and say fifteen copies. So fifteen times sixty five days equals 975. So I’ve sold nearly a thousand copies of a reprint that I self published in slightly over two months. Wow.

I repeat. Wow.

I’ve never sold that many books in two months before.

Does this mean that the experts at big publishing houses in their marketing departments are on crack when they say, for example, that urban fantasy is dead? Or is it just the urban fantasy coming out of the major publishing houses?

In short, a lot of unqualified pronouncements about this being “dead” or that “not selling” or the marketing being flooded with “this”.

I’m not sure what I’m going to write next. I’ve got a brand new work that is going to be available on October 6th in a genre that apparently is a hard sell right now – zombies and post apocalyptic.  I’ve got strong sales from Marshall Conrad so I’m wondering whether I should finish that second book. And I’m shopping an urban fantasy via traditional publishing that is quite frankly, the best thing I’ve ever written and all I’m hearing is “great voice, market flooded, no thanks.”

Decisions, decisions. Maybe I’ll self-publish that one as well.

Damned decisions. What do you think?

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Merde!

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stranvge

Dear Readers:

Well today sucks on an interplanetary scale. As you’ve probably heard by now, my publisher Strange Chemistry Books is closing its doors less than two years after its official launch. I heard the news about thirty minutes before the news release hit the wire. Lots of mixed feelings right now – from anger to despair to “@#$% it, move on”. I’ll classify this as a setback, one of many in my publishing journey. I’m grateful for my two book deal with them. I’m grateful for having traveled to England twice and to have connected with so many amazing authors, bloggers and friends. It’s been a hell of a ride.

But this is a business and I have my own thoughts as to why they’ve closed their doors, I’m not going to air them because negative crap sucks and today sucks big time. So, now what?

Will There Be A 3rd Poltergeeks Book?

Maybe. I’d like to wrap up the series but who knows? Kind of low on the priority list right now, sorry gang.

Will You Starve?

Nope. I have a day job

When Is Your Next Book Coming Out?

Nothing coming out yet. Submissions, and all. You’ll be the first to know, of course, as I will shout it from the rooftops when I have a new book deal.

Are You Okay?

Yes. I’m massively bummed out, but okay. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I’ve been seriously trying to make a go as an author since my soon-to-be 24 year old son was in training pants. I’m in it for the long haul.

Who Will Win The World Cup?

Germany.

 

I want to thank everyone who is a fan of my two books with Strange Chemistry. You guys are awesome. I want to thank all the fabulous authors and bloggers I met for all their support and cheering on. I want to thank Jenny Savill who got me the deal in the first place and I want to thank my wife Cheryl for having been such a massive, incredible support for me as I try to make a go of it.

Onward, yo.

Sean!

 

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Think Less – Write More

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I haven’t been blogging for a while – I’ve been up to my ears in a seemingly endless cycle of revisions for a couple of projects. A bit of a different approach given the darkness, the bleak, bone-chillingly frigid temperatures of the Saskatchewan winter is when I’m usually found knee-deep working on a new project. Every writer out there has a best time to write – a period of the day or possibly even of the year when the creative juices are flowing like crazy. Aside from working on new stuff and/or revisions, I’m part of a small Saskatoon-based writer’s group. I hosted a couple of day-long workshops last year and each month we get together for a meetup to look at what we’ve produced and to chart a course for the next month or so.

There’s a common theme in our meetups and it generally spins around a cycle of writing, self-editing while you write, gnashing one’s teeth because you believe the story sucks and of course, the inability to focus on getting the project done. I know … I’ve been there. I get it. But seeing as how I’m the guy in the group with five published works, everyone sort of looks to me to give them a special insight into their projects. I remind them that I am in fact:

a) Not terribly bright

b) Not the best writer in Saskatoon

c) Fortunate to have the help of a brilliant literary agent and all the resources that come with being an agented author

d) Not an editor

Emphasis on the “not an editor” part. See, I try to remind everyone that interpreting a person’s completed project is a subjective process. One editor might think the story is weak, the characters, one dimensional, the plot? Predictable. Writer’s groups are great for moral support and shared insights into each person’s interpretation of what you’re producing, but the true litmus test is to throw that project out the universe and to see what the universe as to say about it. In short, querying agents or submitting to publishers. In order to do that, you have to get the damned project completed, rewritten, revised, scoured, rinsed and repeated if necessary. What I’ve found in meeting numerous unpublished authors is they can’t get past the “I should change this” stage while they are writing. This inevitably leads to the writer getting bogged down in an endless cycle of self-editing while they’re on that evil, vile creature known as the first draft.

If this sounds like you, take a chill pill. That first draft isn’t going to get first drafted when you’re endlessly changing the story while you’re trying to write the darned thing. For me, I like to think of that first draft as a nice shiny new poured concrete foundation for a house that’s about to be built. You can’t have a completed house without a solid foundation and you can’t mix the concrete if you’re constantly tinkering with the ingredients of your ready-mix. You just have to clear your head, write that draft, get it done and then print it off and read it. Send it to your beta-readers if you’ve got some unbiased non-family members available. Consider their thoughts and notes in the margins and then write the second draft. Again, rinse and repeat.

See where I’m going with this? Stage one is the first draft. Most of the writers I meet in my group tend to get stuck playing with their ready-mix concrete, trying like hell to get the right blend and then second or even third guessing their cement mix to the point that the foundation for their house ain’t never gonna get poured.

Think less. Write More. Get it done. Just … write the damned first draft and then look at the lay of the land. There’s a secondary benefit to getting that first draft done, too. It’s called “HOLY MOTHER OF GOD … I WROTE A COMPLETE DRAFT OF A NOVEL!!! LOOK AT ME GO!”

That’s a pretty cool feeling. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s an accomplishment, feather in your cap, rite of passage, insert euphemism here. It’s validation that you actually had the chops to complete something along the lines of 60-100K words. It means that you’re deadly, brutally serious about this business of getting published.

So think about my little pearls of wisdom here. Very simply, the book ain’t gonna write itself – particularly if you’re second-guessing every fifth paragraph. Set a daily word count target and write, write, write the damned draft.

Then pour your foundation and get ready for the next step as you build the book version of your dream house.

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Fact or Fiction – My Top 10 Myths about Getting Published

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Alright creative writing types … you’ve completed an 80,000 word manuscript. You even paid an editor to help clean it up. You’re ready to take the publishing world by storm because your epic tome is just that good. Before you become the next big thing in the book world, do take a moment to read my Top 10 Myths about Getting Published. You know … just so you go into this thing with both eyes wide open and realistic expectations. Okay grab a cup of herbal tea and sit back… here we go.

10) Everyone has a book in them.

Not true. Most people probably have an idea for what might be a cool premise on which to base a novel, but an idea doesn’t translate into 80,000 t0 100,000 words. It doesn’t include world building, creating believable characters or an actual plot. Yeah … a plot. Plots are important because if you don’t have a beginning, middle and end, you’ll have the most boring novel in the world.  It takes a hell of a lot of work to write a novel and some people just aren’t up to it because, believe it or not, there’s this issue of actual talent. Like it or not, to become published, you have to possess some degree of talent – that’s just how it goes.

9) This book is going to make a ton of money.

Um … no. Chances are that if you become published, you won’t even earn out your advance. I know bestselling authors who have yet to quit their day jobs. Ain’t gonna happen unless you have written something with huge commercial potential.

8) All published authors are rich.

Um … no. This goes hand in hand with number nine. We’re not. If anything, published authors are among that 99% we keep hearing about these days. Don’t get me wrong, if I strike it big one day I’ll get grills and wear a fur coat, but until then I have to keep plugging away at a day job and writing books in hope that the next one will be more commercially successful than the last one.

7) I wrote a book, I’m gonna self-publish it on Amazon and make a mint.

Unlikely. While there are some self-published books making a lot of money over at Amazon, chances are your masterpiece will float alongside all the rest of the self-published dreck. Once in a while someone will buy your book and Amazon will skim their percentage off of your sale. You see, Amazon is FLOODED with self-published books. The average self published novel will sell under a hundred copies and if Amazon is skimming a percentage off the thousands and thousands of books that sell less than a hundred copies, do the math. Amazon is making money, you’re not.

6) I wrote a book, literary agents are going to climb all over each other to sign me.

HAHAHAHAHAHA! If you believe this, you’re delusional. I used to think getting published was hard work … then I started looking for an agent. Here’s my stats so you can use them as a frame of reference. My novel POLTERGEEKS was submitted to more than forty literary agents. FORTY! My query was rejected by two thirds of them. I received five requests for a partial and five requests for the full manuscript. I received more than twenty seven rejections. Each rejection where the agent cared to comment on my work differed sharply from the next one. There was no common thread in each rejection and that taught me that finding an agent is an entirely subjective experience because reading is a subjective experience as well. I finally found an agent but this was after having plodded along for more than two years. In short, chances are that you won’t find an agent. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s the cold hard truth. It’s important to remember that you’re one of a jillion other authors who are looking for an agent. Agent inboxes are FLOODED with queries so in order to grab an agent’s attention, your query and ultimately your manuscript has got to shine. It has to have commercial viability, too, and finally, your story has to be really freaking good for an agent to take you on as a client.

5) I don’t need an agent.

This might garner some push back. Do you need an agent? Well, I guess that depends entirely on what your aspirations might be. If you just want to self-publish your stuff for family and friends, then no. But if you’re like me and you want to make a career out of being an author, you absolutely must have an agent. Aside from the fact that big publishers won’t even look at your query letter without an agent, you have to remember that an agent isn’t just the person who can get a large publisher to look at your work. They’re professionals in the industry. Let me say that again: agents are industry professionals. They know what flies or fries, they’re up on publishing trends and most importantly, they’re not going to submit your masterpiece until it’s been revised, revised and revised some more. Don’t believe that you still need an agent during a period of transformative change in publishing? Read this.

My novel POLTERGEEKS went through a nearly twelve month long revisions process that at times was so frustrating I thought that I’d lose my mind. I’m glad I didn’t because the final product is just so much better than what I’d submitted to my agent in the first place. Agents are your coach, your mentor, your bodyguard – yeah, bodyguard. They make sure that you get a fair and equitable contract. They deal with blips between you and your editor. They ensure you get all the money that’s owed to you. God, I could write a list a mile long about why having an agent is crucial … trust me. You need an agent if you want to make a go of it. (Also, they’re cheerleaders. They help lift you out of self-doubt and set you on the path to writing something that you can be proud of.)

4) I’m published. Everyone is going to buy my book. Yay me.

No they’re not. Remember that you have to compete in a market that’s flooded with similar works. Bookstores are closing all over the place and online booksellers live in the shadow of the all seeing Amazon. Fewer and fewer people are actually reading these days … it’s almost as if the publishing world is geared toward your failing at every turn. The fact is that unless you are published by a publishing house that wants to spend a boatload of money on marketing your book, then the marketing is going to be up to you. That means blogging, blog tours, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, contests, giveaways, asking for reviews. You could fill half of your time you’d spend on writing just by getting the word out on your book. This is hard, hard work – I can’t stress enough how hard it is for you to somehow get noticed.


3) I just completed NaNoWriMo – Now is the time to start sending out queries.

No. No, no, no, no! A lot of literary agents shudder when December 1st rolls around each year because their inboxes are going to be flooded with query letters for a 50K word masterpiece that is convoluted, filled with grammatical and style errors, and like it or not, terrible terrible writing. Do not send out a query for something you just finished last week. You need to rewrite it, print it off and rewrite it again. It has to be a damned fantastic piece of writing BEFORE you send it off. Look, I think NaNoWriMo is fantastic. I participated this year for the first time, but you have to be realistic about the outcome for your book. A lot of people participate for the sheer love of writing and that’s great. But a hell of a lot of people do it because they want to get published and you have to be realistic about things. Your work has to stand out if it’s going to pass muster with an agent or whether a small publisher will consider even looking at it. Stop. Sit back. Pat yourself on the shoulder because you wrote 50K words in a month. Now ask yourself – what’s the next move? If you’re serious about getting published, you’ll embark on the lengthy process of revising that story and making it shine. Only then will it be ready for the querying stage.

2) Yeah, but my book is different than the other ones at the bookstore.

Is it? How do you know? Genre fiction is the domain for some pretty damned impressive book series. A lot of authors think that writing a series is the sure fire way to find success and I’m going to tell you that it isn’t. The market is flooded with books in a series that are so similar to other series by other authors that it’s almost impossible to tell the difference from the cover art on each book! If you’re going to find some measure of success, I think you need to think about each book in a series as being a stand alone novel. It has to be capable of selling as a stellar piece of individual fiction.

I love books in a series. I have two books in a series out on my own and they aren’t selling. Why? Because there’s a lot of similar books out there and the discerning book buyer generally wants to spend their money on an established brand. Chances are they’re going to pick up the next book in a best selling author’s series before they risk spending ten bucks on your first in a series that nobody has ever heard of. That’s just economics – people like consistency in our buying habits. As well, you have to remember what I call “the consumer buying equation”, namely Benefit (what’s in it for me – meaning the buyer) has to outweigh Price in order for a consumer to experience Value. We do this consciously and unconsciously every single day in all our buying decisions – from bread to books. Your book has to solve that riddle if it’s going to stand out and you probably won’t if you haven’t signed with an agent and managed to get published by a large publishing house that is willing to spend the money marketing your book. And even then, there’s no guarantees.

1) Publishing is currently undergoing transformative change. I am going to be successful as a result.

Your success, indeed, any author’s success is going to happen as a result of two sure things:

a) a TON of hard, hard work

b) No shortage of plain old dumb luck

Yes, there are authors who have experienced incredible first-time success as a self-published author through Kindle self-publishing. Yes, ebook readers can now be purchased for under a hundred bucks. Yes, the digitization of books presents boatloads of opportunity for authors, but I cannot stress enough that not even industry professionals know what the end-game of all this transformative change in publishing will be. It wasn’t that long ago when people scoffed at the notion of eBooks selling more than print books – well, they were wrong. They’re selling in ever increasing numbers … BUT … ebooks still represent around ten percent of the overall sales in North American publishing, so don’t crack open that bottle of champagne just yet. There’s an economic slowdown the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1930’s – THAT has a lot to do with an incredible amount of fear in the publishing world. Borders … the freaking Home Depot of book sellers shut their doors this year forever. They went bankrupt!

Think about that for a second – if one of the world’s largest bookselling chains went tit’s-up and you’re a professional in the industry, you’re probably experiencing your own economic pain as well. Publishers are looking for something that is a sure thing and increasingly, that means sticking with established brands that they can count on. That doesn’t mean publishers won’t take on new authors, it just means they won’t be giving as much in the way of advances and marketing will probably be more and more the responsibility of the author.

Yes, you can be successful amid this doom and gloom environment that publishing is struggling with, but chances are that you won’t. Chances are that I might not … and I’m freaking published already! Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s a game of playing the odds and if you’ve ever been to Las Vegas, you’ll know that the house generally wins. Right now, the house are the sure things – the established brands. The house is also Amazon and the mind boggling way they’re reshaping the industry.

Now I’m not saying that you should give up your dream of becoming published. If anything, I want writers to keep on writing … but go into this with realistic expectations. It is realistic to assume that you won’t become the next Laurell K. Hamilton or Jim Butcher or Jasper FForde. It’s realistic to believe that you might one day become a published author, but it’s unrealistic to assume that you’re going to be able to make a living at this gig – and this brings me to my final point.

Why write when the odds are stacked against you?

Because.

It’s.

Cool.

That’s all I can really say. It’s just so damned cool to walk into my local bookseller here in Saskatoon and see my books on the shelves. Yeah, they don’t sell a who hell of a lot, but I wrote them! Me!! It’s also cool when you get an email from someone in Switzerland who you’ve never heard of in your life, but who bought your book, read it, loved it and took the time to send you an email to tell you as much. That’s an incredible feeling, frankly, and for me at least, that’s why I write. That’s gratification. (Getting paid is gratification, too, but knowing that you have a handful of fans out there can sustain you when you’re banging your head against the desk on your next masterpiece.)

So there you have it. My top ten list of myths about getting published. I know there’s a lot of negative stuff in this blog posting, but truth is, as they say, harsh. Keep onwriting, by all means. But go at this with a sense of the likely outcomes. Writing is a craft, never forget that. It’s a hard, hard slog – but it’s a hell of a thing, getting published. Good luck!

 

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