2014 – The Year of the Quitter


A great summary of the 2014 in indie writing, by the ever-honest K.K.Rush.

It was a tough year for all of us in the business. I struggled through, but I have seen many fall around me. Kristine, quoting profusely from 2014 year summaries by other blogging writers (which all tell the same story), provides the most complete explanation for what has happened since last New Year’s I have yet read.

Bullet-points:

Writing is hard – Solitude and making things up is not for everyone.

Self-publishing is hard – If you don’t learn to love business, self-publishing can be a soul-sucking experience. 

Success is hard – Even major success—paid sales in the tens or hundreds of thousands—requires undreamed-of work. 

The gold rush has ended – You are not entitled to fame and riches just because you published a book. 

Read the rest at: Business Musings: Things Indie Writers Learned in 2014.

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80 sites to advertise your book – update


I finally got around to updating my list of book advertising sites. Dead links were removed, and some more sites added. HTH!

James Calbraith

kindleThis is a list compiled from various online sources, most notably – Rachelle’s Window (go there and thank her! 🙂 she also lists Alexa rankings for the sites) and my own research. As of posting this on August 10th 2014, all the links below are working. Note that I can’t guarantee that the sites themselves are still working, that the forms lead anywhere, or that you will actually get anything for your money.

Majority of these sites advertise books when they’re free, as part of KDP Select or Smashword promo. If you want to advertise a paid book, you usually need to pay extra.

The spreadsheet behind this table is available here. If you think I’m missing something, let me know in the comments.

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Author Earnings: The Report (what everyone’s talking about)


Author Earnings: The Report (what everyone’s talking about)

This is the most important Report everyone in publishing is talking about. Based on the data gathered through trawling all of Amazon’s database, and complex calculations, a team of analysts fronted by Hugh Howey has finally reached their conclusions.

The report is long and detailed, but these are the main three takeaways:

  • e-Books are smashing paper books in sales, in every category where it’s fair to make the comparison. So, for example, while cookbooks, manuals and photo albums are still holding strong in paper, genre fiction on paper is as good as dead.
  • there’s a lot more indie writers being published, and read, than anyone (except indie writers and publishers themselves) ever suspected.
  • while earnings of the big publishers are still huge, when it comes to authors, indies score a lot more hard cash than traditionally published authors, not only in relative numbers but even in absolute.

The conclusion of the report is clear. Whether your book is dross or a work of genius, whether you’re a marketing guru or an introverted recluse, the decision to go the self-publishing route seems to be, increasingly, the only rational one.

When Indie met the establishment (guest post by Laxmi Hariharan)


Cut to twelve months ago—as a just born Indie, I listened to Kate Mosse (author of Labyrinth) talk about how she was not on Facebook, Twitter or any of those necessary evils, which help Indie authors like myself build a platform. On a panel discussion she made it very clear that she preferred not to have her peace of mind destroyed by social media chatter, in order to really focus inwards and write. Then, a fellow author confessed how she was beyond the point of being a social media junkie—she stayed connected even when she took her dog for a walk.

It was clear to me that as a writer and a marketer I needed to find the sweet spot somewhere between the two. I needed to become a spider—a black widow?— an arachnid who sat square in the centre of a 720 degree social network web, and controlled everything that went around me, not the other way around. It was about choice. I absolutely had the right to decide when I wanted to dip into the social media world and went I wanted to unplug. After all, isn’t that what being an Indie author was all about? Exercising your right to be read, to be seen and heard unadulterated by veils.

Just one of the many insights I gained from attending the Writing in a Digital Age conference, held by TLC. I will be back at the 2013 installment of the same, as part of the storytime sessions, talking about where I am twelve months on—wiser, more confident, and in the throes of completing Return to 7 Islands (#2, Bombay Chronicles.)

If you are wondering whether to go Indie or if you are already Indie and pondering what next, then this is where you want to be. You will get the chance to meet fellow Indies as well as published authors, publishers, and agents too (some of them are really nice too – I promise.)

Writing in a Digital Age 2013, June 7-8, London. Tickets on sale till June 6th.  Laxmi Hariharan is a content branding strategist and award winning author of epic fantasy. Find her at LAXMIwrites.

5 things I’ve learned from self-publishing


This was supposed to be a guest post for somewhere else, but due to mis-communication I’m now able to post it here for your viewing pleasure. I’ve kept the intro, because some of you might not read the “About Author” section of this website as often as I’d like you to 🙂

Gutenberg pressJames Calbraith is my pen and internet name – my Polish name is an unpronouncable jumble of consonants, so it’s for everyone’s benefit, really.
I write speculative fiction – fantasy and (sometimes) science-fiction. These last few years I’ve been immersed in the historical fantasy world of steampunk Japan, where my main series of novels is set.
I also travel a lot, eat a lot, and listen to a lot of really old music.
My inability to keep up any social presence is legendary, so if you feel like a challenge, you can follow me on G+, FB or Twitter – links above. 🙂


5. NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR BOOK BUT YOU

Modern self-publishing means that you’re on the mercy of the freelancers. All good freelancers are busy – and very good freelancers are very busy. No matter how much you will pay them, they are likely to forget about your book if you don’t pester them continuously.
Pestering people and institutions (that includes all sorts of Customer Support) was the first thing I had to learn. Being an introvertic with assertiveness problems, this was the hardest lesson, but a necessary one. Another was setting tight deadlines. At first I was playing loose with deadlines I set for my freelancers, hoping for their workmanship to do the rest, but it didn’t work – and I should have known, being a champion procrastinator myself. You need deadlines, and you need to be strict about them, or you’ll never get anywhere.

4. KDP SELECT BRINGS SALES, BUT NO RESPECT

I was very succesful with my KDP Select results – seeing the sales soar mere months after my debut was really heartening – until I started getting the reviews back.
It is not just my opinion – that would be quite self-centered of me – but a common psychological rule that a free product is not a respected product. A customer is much more likely to trash something they haven’t made an effort to obtain, and vice versa: if they’ve spent money on something, they will try to rationalize the spending by any means possible.
It was one of the hardest lessons to take, and one the effects of which I’m still reeling from.

(incidentally, if you liked any of my books and still haven’t posted a review anywhere, I implore you to do so :))

3. NOTHING MATTERS MORE THAN AMAZON’S ALGORITHMS

I have spent a lot of time and money – way too much, in fact – on marketing, social presence, building readership, ads, etc.

None of it did anything for my sales in the long run. The only thing that mattered was whether Amazon wanted my book to sell or not. The mysterious, almost god-like in their omnipotence, algorithms of Amazon were able to raise my novels to dizzying heights and then cast them back into the shadow of oblivion virtually overnight, and nothing I tried (or didn’t try) to do had the slightest impact on what was going on.

Selling is all a game of big numbers. If 10,000 people see your book, a hundred may be tempted to buy it. If 100 people see it, nobody will buy it. And for someone like me, who always had problems reaching a mass audience on my own, only Amazon has the power to bring the necessary 10,000 people to my books – and then take them away in a blink.

2. THE STIGMA IS NO MORE – BUT NEITHER IS THE HANDICAP

As far as I can tell, there is no more distinction between indies and traditionally published books in the eyes of most readers and reviewers. You can still find reviewers who will announce publicly they don’t read indies – but I’ve discovered that a well presented package will be picked up: it’s just a ruse they implement not to have to pile through shoddily prepared selfie manuscripts.

The same goes for readers, for good and for bad. If the book looks “proper”, most people will not bother to look at the publisher’s label; they will buy it, read it – and review it just like any other book from a bookstore. This means all books are now held to the same professional standards, but also, sadly, means that experiments in publishing are not as welcome as they may have been before. The reader expects a real, “normal” book, with a beginning and an end, no matter whether it costs $.99 or $9.99.

1. THERE ARE VERY FEW SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE – AND EVEN FEWER WHO KNOW WHY

The internet is filled with people giving good advice to anyone who asks. Almost none of it is useful. In case of publishing, it’s mostly easily repeatable trite about nothing, sold in increasingly attractive package (videos, infographics) which can be summed up as “do lots of obvious stuff”. (Yes, we all have our FB pages, our blogs, our Goodreads accounts, our professional covers and proofread manuscripts. Now what?) And it’s almost never backed up by actual success – because genuine success is a rare and elusive beast.

Judging by my author’s rank fluctuations on Amazon, I can tell there are less than 200 “successful” authors in my genre – and by that I mean writers who can make a decent income out of their sales. And that’s including everyone who’s ever published a book – out of tens of thousands. Even fewer of them decide to write about their success. And fewer still can point, with certainty and clarity, to what they did to get where they are. Why do some books sell better than others? Why are some artists effortlessly popular, while others toil for years in obscurity? It’s a secret as old as art and commerce, and no shouty infographic will solve it for you.

Cybermonday: Return to Kobo and KDP Select Summary


CYBERMONDAY HALF-PRICE PROMO ALL DAY TODAY

I think I’ve squeezed all I could from KDP Select for now.

I ran three different promos over the three months, with three different results (that’s a lot of threes!). Two days in September, two days in October and one day in November. The October one was the most successful by far, as I put the most effort into promoting it online. “The Shadow of Black Wings” reached number 1 in overall Fantasy on pretty much every Amazon store. My October sales were, as a result, more than double of the average.

The November one was a test of how well I can do with just my personal networks, on G+, Twitter and (to the lesser extent) FB. The downloads were about 10% of the October result. Looks like I still have some way to go in building an online presence… (although that said… 🙂

There are now over 10,000 (legal) copies of my book out there, on people’s Kindles – mostly in the US. That’s a big number, and it’s still producing results: my November sales are still better than September, even though not as many people are buying the first volume anymore. “The Shadow…” is proving a good loss lead: volumes 2 and 3 are selling well, which means people like the first book enough to invest a couple more bucks to read on. At any given day, either of the three books is on the best seller list for Alternate History – on a good day, all of them. I’d say that’s a good result for somebody who was a completely unknown writer until August this year.

Sales chart September-November. The big spike is after October’s KDP Select promotion.

But, the three months have passed and I decided not to renew the Select for a while. I’m still in the experimenting phase, and it’s time for another experiment – return to Kobo. (B&N’s PubIt is still not available for UK authors, and somehow I don’t trust Smashwords).

So, to celebrate my return to Kobo, and the new holiday of CYBER MONDAY (which, I guess, celebrates the coming of our robotic overlords?), “The Shadow of Black Wings” is HALF-PRICE FOR AN ENTIRE DAY, both on Amazon and on Kobo.

And while you read, don’t forget to check out all the extras for the books available on the website:

– Gallery
– Soundtrack Playlist
– Glossary of Characters
– Glossary of Terms
– History of the World
– “De Draconibus” Dragon Encyclopaedia

The Five Stages of Self-Pubber’s Grief


photo courtesy amanda tetrault

It’s not easy being green a writer. Everyone knows that. Being a self-published writer brings with it a whole new set of problems.

The list below is, of course, not only incomplete; five just seemed like a nice cut-off number. It’s also very subjective, based on a limited sample of one – me. You may find other things causing you greater frustration, or discover that everything goes fine and smoothly (it never does!). There are a few controversial points, with which you may strongly disagree (I hope so!) But if you haven’t gone through the self-publishing process yet, or are just beginning, this may prepare you for a little of what to expect.

1. No Sales

This one is obvious, and inevitable, part of self-publishing. Unless you’re the rare “overnight success”, you will be staring at the never-moving sales number for a long while. At some point the sales will pick up slightly, filling you with false hope – and then go back to zero. You chew your fingernails, you tear at your hair, you think “where did I go wrong? what didn’t I do?”. Nothing helps. Everyone who’s already been through this tells you that you have to be patient, that the initial build-up is slow. “Surely not THAT slow” you think, as another week passes by with a paltry ten sales, half of which are your friends and family.

In your darkest hour, remember this: you are the lucky one. This stage is something that no traditionally published writer has to suffer – because they don’t even get their sales numbers from the publisher, most of the time. Again, your book might be an overnight bestseller, of the sort that makes your agent go all giddy and call you in the middle of the night to tell you “we sold out in all of New York!”. But it’s much more probable that you will have no sales information whatsoever until a paltry paycheck comes your way at the end of the year. Think how that must feel.

2. No Feedback

So you survived the first stage and your book, by some miracle, started selling. And not only your first book, the one you put the most promotional effort into, the one that’s supposed to be the one big thing. Your other books are selling, too. Then the sequel. And the third volume. “They must like me!” you think. But – and that’s the second woe – you will never know why.

Sure, your friends may have been kind enough to give you a few stars and enthusiastic reviews. You may have solicited a couple of reviews from bloggers and fellow writers. But your real readers, your, to use the big word, “fans” (and surely, somebody decides to buy a third or fourth book in a series, could be described as a fan?) remain silent, like an empty cemetery. You will never know what made a hundred or a thousand people cough up a few bucks to buy one of your works. Was it your blog tour? Was it the paid Ads? Was it the cover, or a blurb? You are in darkness, and it looks like you will remain there forever.

Turns out, average readers aren’t that keen on writing reviews. And let’s be honest – when was the last time you wrote a review on Amazon?

3. No Fair

At this point you probably start researching how other writers fare. You go on the forums. You read blogs. You’re starting to worry. How come they
seem to be doing so much better? How come they have all the reviews? How come they give such huge sales numbers?

You start adding up the numbers, and something doesn’t feel right. Sure, there are a few really successful ones, but what about the rest? Are you really, as some would have you believe, the worst-faring writer in the history of self-publishing? And then you come to the inevitable conclusion. To paraphrase the Classic:

Everybody cheats
Sometimes, everybody lies
Everybody cheats, sometimes

The old adage suddenly holds true: don’t believe anyone on the internet. Those fifteen five-star reviews? All from freshly created sock-puppet accounts, or worse – bought. Those astounding sales numbers? Chances are, they secretly include free give-aways. Those give-away numbers? Rounded up to the nearest ten thousand.

Chill out. This is paranoia speaking. Yes, the world is not fair. It’s a tragedy, but we all have to deal with. Some people will always cheat their way through life. And they will probably be more successful than you. But if you feel like joining the blaggers, go work in the City, there’s more money in that than you could ever learn from writing. For now, try to forget about all the dishonesty and do your own thing, patiently.

4. No Motivation

At some point, it all can prove too much. Yes, you started writing because it was your passion. Because you wanted to create worlds, because you wanted to bring joy to people, yadda yadda yadda. But if that was all you ever wanted, you may as well have just been giving your books for free, right? Self-publishing is a business. If you’re serious about it, it becomes a really serious business. Like any business, it involves heavy investment, hard work, stress. There must be something at the end of this long, dark tunnel to make all that effort worthwhile.

But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Without readers’ feedback, without a visible hike in sales, with the overwhelming feeling that everybody’s doing better than you (even if they only say so, because obviously everyone will prefer to brag about their successes instead of complaining), depending on the strength of your character (and let’s face it, if you were a strong, charismatic personality, you’d probably be doing something else than engaging in the most introvert activity there is 🙂 you start succumbing to despair.

You will get a writer’s block. You will find yourself easily distracted. “I’m doing important PR work!” you will say to yourself, as you peruse another social network or write another angry blog post.

This is the most difficult moment for many. If this period is too long, the writer in you may perish forever – or at least hide for a long time. I don’t have an easy advice on how to defeat the despair. One important thing is to always remember why you are doing all this. But other than that, everyone must deal with the despair the best they can. If you truly are a good writer, and your work can stand on its own, it will pass – sooner or later.  

5. No Time

And then, when the despair passes, when the books start selling like mad, when you are finally enjoying your fifteen minutes of fame – that’s when the really difficult part begins.

There’s just no time! You must write the sequel. You must reply to the fan mail. You have to write that guest blog you’ve been asked for. An interview is waiting for your response. There’s a short story you’ve neglected all this time! And marketing, don’t forget marketing. Maybe I should post something on Facebook? Or visit a Goodreads forum? Argh, a promotion is coming and I haven’t bought the ads! But I have to keep on writing! A proof-reading copy came back from the editor. How’s that cover going? A self-imposed deadline is coming, should I extend it or hurry up? I’m my own boss, so I have to whip myself into speed. I can’t go on anymore! Somebody stop this train!

This is a blessed time, something many beginners can only dream about. If you’ve managed to reach it, if you haven’t given up at any of the previous stages, congratulations: the hard work has only just begun. Welcome to the rest of your life.

There is no rest for the wicked – and no respite for the self-published writers. But hey, you already knew that when you started, right?

Right?

KDP Select – a week later. The price of one’s soul.


It’s been a week since my free promotion. And what a week it’s been! It’s time for the first summary of my life after KDP Select.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Thousands of free units downloaded over two days
  • #1 on UK Historical Fantasy Free Best Seller list
  • #1 on US Historical Fantasy Free Best Seller list
  • #2 on US Young Adult Free Best Seller list (only kept off the first place by Artemis Fowl)
  • #5 on US Fantasy Free Best Seller list
  • #112 on US Free Best Seller list overall
  • Sold more books in two days than in an entire month previous
  • #47 on US Historical Fantasy Paid Best Seller list
  • #17 on UK Historical Fantasy Paid Best Seller list
  • A full week on paid Best Seller lists

More detailed summary (with charts!) :

Continue reading “KDP Select – a week later. The price of one’s soul.”

Indian Adventure, pt. 2


I just received an e-mail from KDP, which goes as follows:

Hello,

We are excited to announce Kindle Direct Publishing in India!

If you have distribution rights in India for books you’ve published through Kindle Direct Publishing, they are now available in the Kindle store for India (sold to customers in India on Amazon.com). The list prices for titles sold in India are currently identical to those you’ve chosen for the Amazon.com store.

So Amazon.com titles are available for purchase in India! Excellent! As such, I am now removing my books from pothi.com, focusing my marketing efforts on Amazon.

The paperback version of “The Shadow of Black Wings” is also available on junglee.com

Let me take this opportunity to once again welcome any readers from India 🙂

नमस्ते

Bharat se Mere Pyare Mitro,

Meri  pustak, “The Shadow of Black Wings”, “Warrior’s Soul” , “Transmission” Amazon.com par Angregi bhasha me uplabdh  hai.

Ye kitab, iske  pahele adhyay me 19th satabdi ke aitihashik utar chadav ki kalpnik katha per adharit hai.

Ho sake to ek najar  ish kitab par daliye aur apka sujav jaroor bataiye.

Sadar Namaskar,
James Calbraith

How to be a successful… lottery winner


Everyone can be a lottery winner. Not everyone is. Over the recent months I have been analysing the stories of famous lottery winners to find out what exactly make them so successful. Here is the result of this research: top tips to becoming a successful lottery winner.

1. INVEST IN YOURSELF

Winning lottery is not cheap. Sure, there are those who hit the gold with their first ticket, but most of my interviewees have spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars over the years. Do what they did: buy lots and lots of lottery tickets, week after week, and you too may one day achieve glory and fame. Try different outlets. Buy online. See which lottery suits your style best. If you can, hire a professional better. They are expensive, but some are worth the money. Which ones? Well, you’ll have to figure this one out for yourself.

Tom G., who won $5,000,000 in July 1981, has spent roughly $12,000 on lottery tickets  before hitting the jackpot! Continue reading “How to be a successful… lottery winner”