Monday, 31 January 2011

What’s in a Name? – 31st January 2011.

For several authors I know, choosing a title for their book is almost as hard as writing a good synopsis. Many authors start their book under a working title and then change it several times during the process of producing the first draft, indeed on one memorable occasion after four name changes it reverted back to the original working title.

There are endless “rules” – the two word rule, the three word rule and a multitude of other more obscure and frankly ridiculous guidelines which, simply put, don’t work. The most important thing about a title was it needed to be memorable, so once glanced, en passant, the casual browser would be drawn to it the next time they saw it or heard it. It of course also needs to, in an ideal world encapsulate some part of the book itself.

The more memorable the book title, the more it stands out. You tend to wonder if some of today’s classics would have worked with a different title, Animal Farm for example, or The Hobbit.

These days, though, you need to look further than simply a catchy title that encapsulates the book. My very first published book, the first book of my Seven Sisters trilogy, the eponymous one, suffers from several coincidental names when you search for it on-line. There are two books which also respond to that as a two word phrase, several geographical features and a large electrical contractor in America with the same name. As a result seeing the book on the first page of Google is often dependant on who is blogging about what.

Another of our books has a similar problem, we were quite happy with the title the author was using, there were no other books even close to that title. Unfortunately the three word title (and I’m not directly naming it to save the author’s blushes (Ed: Yeah – Right!)) also forms the first three words of a phrase that is used frequently to search for a particular youngish chef’s popular recipes. Instead of seeing the book on the first page you see lots of searches for the recipes for carbonara, foraccia, kedgeree or a Waldorf salad!

Sometimes Google can be such a pain.

Do you check your titles on Google and Amazon first?

Pen names can be an issue too, especially if, like me, your name has already been used in a well known context. Science Fiction buffs won’t need help to work out my particular problem – but for the rest of you 2001 A Space Odyssey has caused literally thousands of references to my name to appear all over Google. There are also two other authors, a Mormon writer, and an East Coast photographer that share my name. Since I want my real name associated with at least some of my work, what can I do?

So tell me, when you picked your pen-name, what research did you do?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Are you backed up? 25th January 2011.

This is Important, I didn’t know this one.

I spent a fairly large proportion of the nineties and the naughties working as an IT Manager (Ed: The sentence for a violent crime would have been shorter) and spent many hours devising and implementing multi-layered backup systems to provide business continuity if something went wrong.

These included the obvious, spare equipment for anything critical to the business, backup data copies if a hard disk drive went down, remote data copies in case the place burned down etc. etc. We even had a flood movement plan to shift the contents of the computer room upstairs in the event of the river (just behind the warehouse) bursting its banks. Of all the full disaster recovery plans that was actually the one that came closest to being put into action when the river level rose alarmingly one week and we were put on thirty minute evacuation notice. We had trolleys on standby and a my staff were ready to strip the wires from the back of the racks and take the racks upstairs while my boss bugged out and took the data copies home to his hilltop house.

We did in fact have to run the telecoms plan for real when the local council, in the process of installing a new lamppost down the street put their auger straight through the main trunk telephone cable and severed the telephone connections for dozens of businesses, including ours. That was the day my insistence on having two telephone suppliers, one copper, one digital paid off big time.

That’s digression really, and background. How backed up are you?

Like most of us, I bet you backup your data to an external drive. If you don’t keep a backup copy, even at this level then I can only shake my head in sorrow.

However, what do you do with that drive? Does it sit there permanently attached to your computer? If so, it’s a good mechanical protection for the drive breaking, but is it much good for anything else? What good is it to you in the event of fire, flood, theft or as my business partner found out in September, earthquake? Luckily she didn’t lose anything. What about lightning strike? Have you ever considered the result of that? Last week in town we had an electricity sub-station torched by some tosspot of a youth. The nearest couple of hundred houses experienced a power surge that damaged electrical equipment. If it had been your computer it could well have gone, and if your external drive was attached it could have gone too, irrecoverably.

I’ve got a surge protector on my system, you crow. Ah, but have you overloaded it, as you add more and more plug-in equipment to it?

I have two external drives, one is connected to the computer purely for the time it takes to back up, and they are used in rotation. One of them is always offsite.

Even that isn’t enough as a Facebook friend of mine discovered this week. (Ed: Now we’re coming to the meat of it). Someone, she has no idea who, made a complaint about her Facebook account, she doesn’t even know what the complaint was about. Her account and her fan page have been deleted. She wasn’t even given a chance to defend herself; there is no right of appeal. At a stroke she’s lost everything on there, friends list, posts, notes, contacts everything!
Since, as authors our promotional work is usually centred on our blogs and Facebook account she is utterly devastated. Given the sloth with which Facebook respond to any kind of query she’s had to start again. She’s also a best-selling author, who really “worked” Facebook to its fullest extent, losing it is a body-blow to her.

Do you backup your Facebook account?

I have to admit I didn’t. I didn’t even now you did not can, nor did I even consider I should.

So please, everyone, back up your account there.

Instructions are as follows:

Click on Account

Click on Account Settings

Under Settings, one up from the bottom of the list is a heading “Download your information”.

Click on the Learn more link next to it.

Follow the instructions from there.

They will e-mail you to confirm and will provide you with link to download a compressed file containing it.

Please go there and get it done, and then add it to your regular security routine.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Definition of a novelist 20th January 2011.

A Facebook friend of mine started an interesting conversation thread the other day, and it generated a surprising number of comments.

Apparently someone she knew was happily describing themselves as a “novelist”. So, you might say?

So, indeed. This person, has never in fact completed a novel, let alone been published. I might add it was a polite crowd, no expletives to be deleted, and there was a very strong consensus, from both published novelists, and other writers.

The group wisdom was there was no problem in this person describing themselves as a “writer”, or as an “aspiring novelist” or even a “would be novelist” but to claim to actually be a “novelist” was pushing the envelope far too far.

I’m not sure if it’s tribal or simply evolutionary imperative for those of us who perhaps have been lucky enough to be published, to want to defend our turf. We have one, or more, novels out there in the big wide world, we obtain some income from them, pin money maybe, but a portion of our income, so it’s a professional badge, and we resent anyone who is not a member of that club trying to muscle in on it.

Personally, I don’t have any problem with them calling themselves “writers”, but I have to go with the majority on this subject. I wouldn’t ask an accountant for financial advice without knowing they were qualified, they’d served their apprenticeship and taken (Ed: and passed!) their exams. I wouldn’t let a plumber loose on my house without checking their credentials, so how is an unpublished writer a novelist.

I wrote the above a couple of hours ago, and then left it alone for a while to do something else. I’ve come back to it now, and reread it, intending to finish it off.

My ending for it, is not what is was going to be.

I’m trying to work out who is the more pretentious – the person calling themselves a “novelist” when they haven’t had a novel published. Or us, objecting to their use of our hard won title.
Jeez. That’s a harder choice than you might think.

In the end we’re being rather precious about it, and is there any real difference between that and pretentiousness?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Short stories 18th January 2011.

I seem to have spent a good part of the last three weeks watching sales figures and rankings. Not from any need for anxiety, January has proved to be an excellent month for sales and we’re only just over half-way.

I’ve been trying to get a handle on what has been selling and why in the e-book world, looking back over our historical sales, as well as recent, and digging back into information from previous publishers and as many other sources as I can find.

It’s like a sea of statistics, if not an ocean and there is a large amount of conflicting advice out there. When we started out eighteen months ago, there was a perceived wisdom that in terms of e-books short stories sell better than novels, but you make more money on the novel sales. This was in part due to the extreme influence Fictionwise and its royalty mechanism had on the overall market.

Fictionwise’s influence has dramatically declined, to the point we’re not yet on there,(it’s in hand, but nothing yet) and we’re not particularly hurting from our absence from that site.
Indeed four of our other retailers rank higher than them in terms of web site traffic – unheard of a mere two years ago.

So, for the first few months of our existence, the short stories sold well, and the novels kind of dribbled out. Then, during the first half of 2010 we found the short stories weren’t selling and novel sales took off, particularly in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the short stories started selling again and several of the novels were still selling.

This month so far, it’s short stories that are making the sales again. Some of my own short stories have really taken off in the last three and a half months. Indeed, in volume terms a short story I wrote for a competition (it didn’t get anywhere) and then lengthened for release as an e-book is suddenly one of our best sellers (in volume terms) this month. It’s a lightweight “feel-good” romantic piece, under a pen name that has no other track record, just the two short stories. Even my alternative history series is moving where it languished in the doldrums for more than a year.

So is there a point to this rambling?

Yes, it’s a simple point – it can take time, but sometimes short stories do sell. You never get rich on the back of them, but boy, does it feel nice and it gets your name out there.

Anyone feel like pulling out some short stories that are gathering dust and going nowhere? Go on, be a devil, submit them – you never know.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

What you take for granted 13th January 2011.

It’s amazing they way, when you expect something from someone, you take it for granted they will do as you expect. I suppose its human nature at both its most ordinary and at the same time most exasperating.

A case in point, something we’ve never ever encountered before. We hadn’t heard back from two of our authors about edits so I gave them a chase call. In one case, they hadn’t received the edits so didn’t know we were expecting them back. That was obviously soon dealt with and she’s happily (or unhappily) beavering away.

The second case was slightly surreal; I can’t explain it any other way and is the focus of this article. Yes the author had received the edits, and had fully processed them resulting in a completed manuscript. Unfortunately the author hadn’t realised they were supposed to return them to us so hadn’t done so.

I almost didn’t know what to say in response.

Now, I’m quite sure most, if not all, of those reading this will exclaim in disbelief, having made exactly the same assumption that we had done. It’s patently obvious the editor or publisher wants the edits back.

Actually, especially for a newbie, it’s not so obvious is it?

You actually do have to spell everything out.

So, we learned a valuable lesson, and maybe so have you...

Monday, 10 January 2011

Playing With Numbers Again 10th January 2011.

I’ve been playing around with numbers again, this time trying to get my head around the sales ranking system Amazon uses to rank both its print and Kindle books in order to intelligently answer questions from our authors. (Ed – Huh? Answers? Nobody told me he’d answer questions!)

In no way am I trying to be critical of Amazon but it really is a beast to get your head around and I’m greatly indebted to an article by Morris Rosenthal at Foner Books for the analysis he has put together and who gave his kind permission to quote it here.

The sheer numbers of titles both listed and shipped by Amazon in both print and electronic from is absolutely staggering. Although, clearly, not all books listed are still in print so are no longer current, they have listed a staggering total of several million books over the years. The total number of Kindle books doesn’t yet approach this, but must by now be close to a million.
So how does the ranking work? How many sales do you need to get into the top 10,000 best sellers (this is of course overall and not by category)? How many do you need to get into the top 100,000 or even the top 1,000,000?

The answer is in fact, surprisingly few.

In print terms, if you sell a book a year you’ll probably be in the top 2,000,000. If you sell a copy every ten weeks you’ll make it into the top 1,000,000. 1 copy a week, the top 500,000 and 10 copies a week the top 100,000. You’ve probably got to be selling 200 copies a week to make the top 1,000.

In e-books the pattern is very similar, 1 book every 10 weeks gets you into the top 200,000, 2 copies a week the top 100,000 and probably around 50 copies a week to break the top 10,000, 450 a week to make the top 1,000.

The actual rankings are recalculated hourly and are hugely volatile; you can gain or lose 1,000 or 10,000 places without even selling a single copy. It’s exciting to see your book creeping or even jumping up the rankings and then in turn devastating when it suddenly drops again and as an author you get the impression your book is no longer popular. This isn’t true of course; it’s simply the vagaries of statistics when your book is one among such a huge swarm.

The UK rankings are of course a mini version of the US ones, especially since the Kindle hasn’t been out as long or, as yet, so popular over here. It is becoming so though.

It is interesting to note with the best sellers, where both versions are available, the average Kindle Sales ranking is pretty much equivalent to the average print ranking.

For myself, one of my paperback books is currently languishing below 2,000,000 – so I can only hope someone buys a copy real soon... Just the one... Please... Somebody...

Friday, 7 January 2011

The Review Bitch 07th January 2011.

I have had to spend some time today soothing an author who has had her feathers severely ruffled by a review posted on one of our retailer’s sites.

The overall review itself wasn’t too bad, giving the story three stars (out of five) and praising some parts of it. However it’s the detailed criticisms appended to it that upset this author.
Firstly, the reviewer carped on about the length of the story being so short – that’s a little unfair given the retailer clearly shows the word count and also it is priced at the lowest end of the scale. As I said somewhat unfair but it’s not something you can win.

The thing that really upset the author was the accusation that the author was Homophobic. This accusation was based on one exchange of dialogue between the main character and her long time boyfriend, discussing another member of the team, who was homosexual, and discussing that person in disparaging terms. Now this section of dialogue was included, to demonstrate the basic immaturity of the lead character who still has some growing up to do. The story is also set about twenty years ago, when the kind of attitudes demonstrated by two lines of dialogue were really the norm among adolescents, even if they're not now. It helps to pin the story in time, and provided a slightly comical moment.

To go so far over the top on political correctness like this reviewer has is seriously out of order. The problem is the retailer doesn’t see the review as unfair, simply an honest expression of the reader’s view (which, I suppose it is) and won’t take it down.

Scratch future sales of this e-book on that retailer site.

That’s part of the problem with the review system, I’m all for empowering the reader, but surely there should be a mechanism for right of reply too?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Drowning in Numbers 06th January 2011.

Happy New Year everyone – been busy through the holiday season so haven’t had chance to post anything. Real life intrudes and all that, and it was of course Quarter End as well.

We had an excellent sales month in December, knocking all previous records into the proverbial cocked hat and finished 2010 on a real high. This was in part due to the introduction of a new retailer, but was also down to the number of people getting e-book readers for Christmas! We shipped an astonishing number of books in the three days prior to Xmas and then on Xmas day itself.

I have to say though, we are drowning in numbers. Quite literally – so let me explain.
Several of our retailers and wholesalers provide us with summary reports on the trends during the year, showing which genres are doing well, and which have fallen off in popularity, as well as which formats. It looks like the death knell for the venerable Microsoft Reader format is fast approaching – with a number of retailers considering dropping it, and a number of publishers already have! Given the problems involved in the conversion process (have to use 7 year old software on a 9 year old operating system) I think we’ll be dropping it going forward too.
The more interesting information relates to the numbers we’re drowning in.

One of our retailers has been adding new publishers at a rate of 8 a day during 2010 – and they have a minimum number of books requirement.

We were really ecstatic when we were signed up to provide e-books to the largest virtual library supplier in the world – who supply e-books to over 13,000 libraries worldwide for lending. Obviously our books have to compete with others on the system. The system grew by a staggering 185,000 books through 2010. Makes our 103 e-book total look a little paltry.

The situation on Amazon is similar – they have over 2 million print books listed and something over 580,000 e-books. Our 103 e-books (16 of them in print) are just a tiny drop in this ocean. How on Earth do you get people to notice your books in such a sea of choices?

Our sales figures per author split neatly into four bands. At the top of the list is one author who had an established reputation before signing with us, who also has a large number (31) of books.

The second band contains those authors who push their books and have several releases out (one of them has 35!) and you get repeat sales when people buy one book and then others by the same author.

The third band is those authors with single books out (although one of them has just released her second, who will shortly be moving up a band) who also promote their work. We have one guy of 89 who really works at it, e-mailing friends and family and anyone else he can contact on a regular basis, and his sales reflect this. Other authors (three in total) have been interviewd on thier local TV stations, let alone the myriad of press releases, newspaper articles and promotional items, book fairs attended.

Finally we have a small group of authors, who do no promotional work at all, sit back and expect us as the publisher to do everything. The truth is, if the author doesn’t work at the sales, it doesn't matter what we do, they aren’t going to see many sales.