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To KDP Select or not to KDP Select

In my first novel, The Other Alexander, it took me a short while to build up a head of steam (or so I've been told by several discriminating readers who my wife tells me I cannot remove from our Christmas card mailing list). That may be the case here within this post. If you've no time to waste, to read my evolving views on whether or not to join Amazon's KDP Select program, skip down to the œ.'s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) Select program has been batted back and forth from every independent author and publisher from here to Singapore and back. Is it a sellout or a way for struggling artists to be seen and sold by the Jupiter of our solar system's publishing planets? If you sign one of your books up for KDP Select, you must agree not to publish that ebook with any other company: not Apple, Kobo, Smashwords or the six-year-old kids selling paperbacks with lemonade on the corner.

If you join, your books can be loaned out in the Kindle Lending Library, and each time that happens, you get about two bucks. You can also select five days during each 90-day sign-up with KDP to list your book for free, which will hopefully skyrocket your ratings and subsequently increase your at-money sales. Finally, you will be eligible for 70%, not 35% royalties for books sold in India.

uneasy spirits
Every struggling author already knows all this. I was spurred to write this entry when I read an article in this month's Association of Independent Authors, "7 Things Joining KDP Select Can and Can't Do for You," posted by M. Louisa Locke, a quite successful author of San Francisco historical mysteries. Here's a plug and a link:

Ms. Locke argues that if your book is on one of Amazon's bestseller lists or high up in one of the popular browsing categories, then members of Amazon Prime can borrow your book for free and you can cash in. In 2012, she earned over $8,000 in this way with her two books, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits. Imagine how well she did with regular sales! Congratulations, Ms. Locke! The author also says that offering certain books for free (which Amazon will only let you do if you sign up for KDP Select) has brought her increased revenue through additional visibility.

œ If you are just getting started, as I am, KDP Select is a way of admitting that you need a leg up, and Amazon's program is a generous lift in the right direction. No one, by a factor of about 10, can come close to matching the marketing power of, so while I am building a following, I don't believe I am hurting the self-publishing industry as a whole by cutting my books off from Smashwords (whom I deeply respect) or from any other venue. I don't sell that many books to begin with (between 100 - 200 a month), so giving Amazon the "monopoly" of my books means losing only a couple of sales at most at those other virtual stores.

However, in my opinion, an author that has achieved a certain level of success, and each knows what that must mean monetarily, ought to leave KDP Select. In the long run, books should be available everywhere in every format. If the reader is the true leader of this new revolution in publishing, then she and he ought to be able to find
any book they want wherever they want in any format. If and when my writing feathers become stable enough to fly on my own (they won't, if I keep writing pathetic metaphors like this), I'll tumble from the warm, nurturing nest of Amazon's KDP Select program and find my way back into iPads, Nooks and Sonys. Splat.

You Get What You Pay For

Here is some interesting anecdotal evidence. With A Mixture of Madness, book two of The Bow of Heaven series about to be released, I decided to drop the ebook price from $2.99 to 99 cents, both as a celebration that the blessed thing was finally done and as an incentive for folks who might want to play catch-up.

Why didn't I give away
The Other Alexander for free? When I first started publishing a couple of years ago, I thought it was a good idea to get my work out there, but I have since changed my mind. Writers deserve compensation for their hundreds of hours of hard word, even if it's only a buck, and discerning readers understand that.

So, I lower the price on Smashwords, on Amazon, everywhere, expecting to see some kind o
f bump in sales. And boom! In the first week, sales drop off a cliff, a big cliff. Oh my gosh! What have I done? Apparently, the wrong thing. So after a few weeks I admit it, I did something shameful—I reneged on my promise and raised the price back up to $2.99. You won't be surprised to hear that The Other Alexander is selling briskly once again, not proving, but at least indicating that "you get what you pay for."

I certainly hope that's true, because
A Mixture of Madness is weighing in at over 140,000 words and I'll be pegging it at $4.99. One thing's for sure—if readers don't think it's worth the price, they will let me know in short order.

The dove which you'll find on the cover of the paperback editions and in one way or another in all
The Bow of Heaven books appears courtesy of my favorite illustrator and fine artist, Lynnette Shelley,

To Be or Not to Be Self-Published

Carrie Slager has asked me to offer my thoughts about self-publishing, why I chose that route for my series The Bow of Heaven, and what I think about the self-publishing industry in general.

If you were an author trying to get your novel published the old-fashioned way around 2005, but wound up instead going the self-publishing route, then it’s almost a certainty you had been rejected by every traditional agent and publisher on the planet. How do I know this? From experience. The stigma clinging to the word “self-published,” much of it warranted, was palpable.

Times changed, from the publishing industry’s perspective, almost overnight. So much so that now, I don’t think it matters what Carrie or I or anyone else thinks about the rise of self-publishing. (Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, network television was up-in-arms over something called cable and pay-per-view. What? Pay for TV when you can get it for free? Yeah, like that will ever catch on.) There is no stopping this tidal wave of words, and ultimately, I think it’s a good thing.

My Dad used to tell me, “Look, son, I know you’re scared to pick up the phone to ask Peggy to the movies, but think of it this way: if you ask 100 girls for a date and 90% of them tell you no with a capital “Are you nuts?” you’ll still have dates with 10 different girls.” 100 girls? I knew Peggy. What was my father thinking? Plus, he was a charming cross between Ronald Reagan and Dean Martin. I was a cross between Woody Allen and another Woody Allen. You see my point: there may be tons more worthless words yakking for our attention, but there will also be more worthy, entertaining offerings of eloquence by authors who otherwise would have had the mahogany double doors of traditional publishing slammed in their faces.

Self-publishing has given the old chestnut “power to the people” brand new relevance. Until very recently, traditional publishers hoarded that power like Scrooge hoarded farthings. They’d peer over their
pince-nez glasses and with a Dickensian sneer be very pleased to tell the rest of us just what we ought to be reading. Those days, in my opinion, are almost over. For good.

True, we are going to be wading through fields of chaff to find a few grains of wheat, and as readers, we’re going to need help sorting it all out. Traditional critics have their hands full just keeping up with those New York Review of Books titles, and I can guarantee you they will sniff and turn their backs on 99% of everything else. 89% of the time, they’re probably making the right decision. Twisted analogy coming up: but what about those ten worthy girls stamping their feet out in the cold? At least for the time being, we have to rely on all of the rest of us to know what to read and what to leave sitting on the virtual or print-on-demand shelf. Whether you hate a book or love it, review it! If there are more writers, there need to be more critics. Book bloggers and just plain old readers will see us through these new and wondrous times.

Carrie caught about 15 typos in
The Other Alexander. I was appalled. Because before she got her hands on a copy, I had
chimp typing
picked through that final manuscript like a hungry mother chimp grooming her baby for snacks. And I had two other people do the same thing! We owe it to our readers to be as grammatically, typographically perfect as possible. Having said that, I don’t think it’s quite as big a deal as Carrie does. I’ll give a book three typos before I start grumbling. But here’s the best part – self-publishers can go on taking corrections from their readers forever. It doesn’t cost a thing to upload a revised, error-free version of their oeuvre. Just don’t let as many nits slip through your comb as I did.

boh2 72CS
A word about cover art. I have heard from a smattering of readers and reviewers, Carrie included, who found the original cover (on the left), to quote one critic who otherwise loved the book, “bizarrely hideous.” I hear and I obey. Very shortly, new versions of both the ebook and paperback editions will be released with professionally designed covers. Unless you’re a graphic designer, get help. (The fine artist whose work you are admiring on the right is Lynnette Shelley. Go to her website; you will find a little of the bizarre, but nothing remotely hideous.)

Proofreading, it must be said, is not editing. The original version of
The Other Alexander was so far removed from the copy you’re going to rush out and buy when you finish reading this it would be unrecognizable as the same novel. I had a lot of help. I needed a lot of help. I would love to have gained from the wisdom of a professional editor holding my hand throughout the entire process, but then I would have had to type much more slowly. And it wasn’t in the budget. But I did have several people whose opinion I trust tell me the many places I had gone wrong. The first book in the series has been out almost a year and they’re still telling me. Here it is in a laptop case: if you haven’t revised your novel from top to bottom at least three times, odds are you’re at least two times shy of getting it right.

I’m afraid I do not agree with Carrie that aspiring authors ought to go the traditional route. It is no small thing to have control over your work and to earn a far greater percentage than you ever will with the big houses. The trick is to recognize you cannot go it alone. Other eyes, preferably trained, need to vet your writing. Of course, if the main reason you’re sequestering yourself for hours at a time over the span of any number of years is to be able to go to a bookstore, point with pride to a display window full of hardcover copies of your bestseller and say, “I did that,” start polishing those query letters. And good luck with that.

For the rest of us, and by that I mean everyone minus nineteen, write the best book you possibly can, self-publish and see what happens. If it’s as good as you think it is, it will get noticed. And if the big houses come knocking, you can decide if their advance is worth the loss of control. We should all be so lucky.

One last thought: whatever you do, be sure to publish an ebook edition. Here are some stats from publisher
Robin Sullivan. In May of 2011, Amazon sold more Kindle ebooks than paperback and hardcover combined. At the end of 2010, ebooks accounted for 8.3% of total trade sales; by February of last year, ebooks constituted 29.5% of the total, higher than any other category (hardcover, mass market or trade paperback).

Whether you decide to self-publish or go the traditional route, it’s a great time to be a writer … and a reader.

The Noncorporeal Author

I was at the "Un-Named Bookstore" yesterday buying shelf space for my novel. This forward-thinking store allows indie writers to get their books seen in a brick and mortar establishment without being vetted by agent, publisher or editor. From there it goes downhill. The charming employee who took the 5 copies of my paperback with something less than disdain, something greater than apathy, said this: "Tell me your three-minute elevator speech; no, I don't have time for that, do it in less than a minute." I complied, trying to control a pesky facial twitch.

Then she inquired, "How are you marketing your book?" I replied with the usual, "I do nothing but market - website, blog, twitter, FB, email, phone; I hardly have time to work on the next novel."

She tapped her paperwork on the table surface to square all the corners and, in a tone of conspiratorial comradeship said, "Yes, even real writers have to do that now."

I loaded up my verbal 12-guage, my imitation of Captain Queeg now complete save for the metal balls (is that significant?), but in the end smiled as if she hadn't just slapped me hard across the kisser. After all, I didn't want her throwing my books into the incinerator after I left.

What's a poor indie author to do? Like another maligned Caesar and his followers, played to a fault by Andy Serkis, our day is coming. Ooh-ooh.