Friday, December 31, 2010

Thanks for 2010

It's been a year of great new friends, and I'm sure I will leave some people out, but that's solely through my limited brainpower and not through any shortcoming of other people.

So thanks to Neal Hock, Christa Polkinhorn, Danny and Heather at Bewitched Bookworms, Misty at Kindle Obsessed, Crystal Fulcher at My Reading Room, Stephen James Price at Generation Next Publications, Neil Jackson at Ghostwriter, Jeanne Coleman and Virginia Roseman as my #1 fans, Nanette Who-Dat, Gail Lang, Elise Tanzillo, Sergio Castro, Kewber Alves, Ludeshka, Julia at Rex Robot Reviews, Velvet at VVB32, Vicki Tyley, Simon Wood, Debbi Mack, John O'Dowd,Angela at Dark Faerie Tales, the Paperback Dolls team, Zoe Winters, Guido Henkel, Ted Risk at Dellaster Design, Kris the Cajun Book Lady, Jazz at About Books Blog, Rhonny at Dollar Bin Horror, Jenn at Jenn's Book Shelf, Gef at Wag the Fox, Stephanie Boddington, Heather Baror, Barry at Gnostica, Leilani Lopez, Lee Davis, David McAfee, David Dalglish, Jeremy Robinson, Ash at Smash Attack Reads, Josef Bass, Jim Morey, Candace at Candace's Book Blog, Stephen Windwalker, William Meikle, Steven Savile, Steven Lockley, J.R. Rain, Moses Siregar, JL Bryan, Pamela Haworth, Sandy Vaughn, and Lexie Danner.

And all you strange, wonderful people who bring my story to life by reading it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

We did this e-book era, so now what?

If you've been at all interested in indie publishing, you read JA Konrath's blog, and he's made his latest compelling case for controlling your own content in the digital era. While I agree wholeheartedly with the underlying principal, I am not so convinced there will be eternal expansion in the e-book market. The digital book business has changed so much in a year that Joe's and Lee Goldberg's joke of "Who wants to be a Kindle millionaire?" is no longer a joke, it's just a question of who will get there first.

Barely 20 years ago, the average mass-market paperback sold 100,000 copies. Writers who planned their retirements on that expectation are probably in some low-level government job right now (like the other 40 percent of the country) or are lucky enough to be drawing unemployment like the other 10 percent. A writer who expects to continue to earn $2 per ebook for the life of copyright may meet the same fate. Though I suppose for most writers, any job pays better than writing.

I'm on record as predicting the flat-text e-book era has an outside range of five years, at least for fiction--specialized non-fiction and manuals will continue to be valuable for their content alone. I believe e-book sales will continue, but certainly not with expanding profits for all involved. Somewhere along the way, readers have to keep paying to support all this, and there won't always be a fresh army of new advocates every Christmas, and the current readers will have several lifetimes' worth of content hoarded away. That brings us to the question of "What next?"

I see two splits, with some overlap. Bestsellers at 99 cents, and ad-supported books. At first blush, you'd think NY has an advantage, since Madison Avenue is right there. But can corporations, with their large structures, be able to compete when indie or smaller entities can react more quickly to present conditions instead of protecting some imagined status quo?

When someone like Seth Godin breaks from a publisher, it's news. But Seth Godin could snap his fingers right now and line up way more advertisers on his own (or, at least, earn a far greater share of the proceeds) than he could with a shareholder monkey on his back. If you look at what he's doing, he's basically created his own media empire. James Patterson has done the same thing but under a corporate imprint--I wouldn't be surprised if he takes his own road soon, but he may be at the age where he'd rather just ride out his momentum.

This points out the new era of the branded writer. And not just "writer," but "content creator" and even mere "idea marketer." A personality is more suited to building brand identification and audience than a publisher is. I say "James Patterson" and you get an image. I say "Random House" and what do you get? Randomness. We've seen it here locally: "Ray's Weather" is where you check the weather and "Todd's Calendar" is where you click to find what's happening in the region--and both are ad supported. You can get the free content elsewhere but you don't get the human personality attached.

I'm already experimenting with the ad model as my website undergoes redesign. I am counting on Idea Marketing being one of my foundational pillars. I am not quite sure what it all looks like right now, but I look at it this way--you don't need NY in order to give away tons of free e-books or to spread an idea or to build a social platform. I'm still honing my core beliefs, but they center around compassionate self-reliance and the exchange of ideas.

My indie experience was cited on a post by Jim C. Hines where he talks about his "failed experiment" of putting out an indie and mentions Laura Gilman's expressed fear of piracy (for a story collection, of all things--most people would be lucky to have those stolen, though mine do sell unexpectedly well). I don't blame people for sticking with what worked in the past. It all goes to how invested you are in a certain system and how the alternative looks. Publishing-industry talk on e-books uses phrases like "managing risk" and "cautious adaptation." I have nothing to lose so I can afford to go balls to the wall.

I had a talk with an Amazon DTP tech a few weeks back, and Amazon is continually exploring ways to build on the interactive experience inside the e-book. Google clearly is planning an ad-based model. And it's not going to be as clumsy as an image of a refreshing Bud Lite popping up when the main character enters a bar (though it's not unthinkable at some point.)

"I'll quit reading before I put up with that." Yes, I've heard that. I also remember saying I'd never carry a cell phone, or be on Facebook, or give up my vinyl albums, or start thinking that maybe nuclear energy is the best short-range answer to our energy addiction.

I'm not a pessimist, because I'm extremely grateful to be free enough to act as I see fit, but when "How to get free Kindle books" are the bestselling Kindle books, I feel which way the wind blows. Now, as soon as I can figure out how to give away a million sponsored ebooks, I might be in the running.

All you corporations out there that I am studiously avoiding mentioning for free, you know where to find me.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Amazing Digital Year

It was one year ago today, Dec. 22, that I finally decided to try this "e-book thing" I'd heard all the kids raving about. I was dubious about the whole self-publishing movement and I still wasn't sure people were willing to "read books on computer." I'd been taught that serious writers never self-publish, and if I had been offered a bottom-of-the-barrel paperback deal, I would have taken it.
Still, I wasn't going to risk the whole shooting match, and I was shopping a couple of newer manuscripts. But I figured I would put up an old novella, Burial to Follow, and hardly anyone would notice, especially those peers I was so worried about. I did the cover myself, with art taken from the DIRT comic book. Yeah, it's a terribly cheesy cover. I sent it through Amazon for the Kindle, a device I'd read a lot about but had never seen.

And I sold two copies as 2009 drew to a close, but I also uploaded The Red Church, my most successful novel. I had held the rights for more than a year, getting a couple of small foreign deals, but I couldn't figure out a way to get it back in print. Of course, by "print" I was thinking of cranking up printing presses and spending thousands of dollars and worrying about bookstore orders.

I sold one copy of The Red Church before midnight, Dec. 31. In January, when the price was $1.99 and I was making a 35 percent royalty, I sold 67 copies of Red Church and 12 of Burial to Follow. The next month, I sold 413 copies combined. In March, I sold 771 copies as I added another book. It still wasn't much money, but it began to look reasonable and I softened my stance on self-publishing.

April took me a step back to 667 copies total. March moved up to 793, followed by 1,119 in June, 1,152 in July, and back down to 1,146 in August, when Amazon's 70 percent royalty kicked in and I raised some prices to $2.99.

I haven't done an analysis of how many titles I added during this time, or which book was selling at what price, but I had at least four novels up by then, as well as four or five story collections. Individually, nothing was knocking it out of the park, but collectively it looked like The Little Engine That Could.

During this time I'd been called by a Big Agent who had some interest, though primarily it was for ghostwriting, which would only interest me if it was a pay-off-the-house job. The third time I heard "I can't sell this," I didn't waste another second. I started putting everything up on Kindle as soon as it was edited, proofread, and formatted.

Back to numbers. September made a nice little jump, to 1,949 copies, and my first United Kingdom sales trickled in. October saw the first significant surge, up to 2,799 copies. November got crazy when Disintegration broke into the Kindle Top 100, reaching as high as #30 overall. For the month, I sold 12,422 Kindle e-books.

I'll be down for December, as Disintegration did its inevitable cooling, and as of last night I had 5,810 sales for the month to date. All these numbers are for Kindle e-books in the U.S. only. My U.K. numbers are still small in comparison but growing steadily. The Red Church sold 4,764 copies in a year, eight years after its original release and about six years after the publisher had left it for dead. I'm happy to see it is not dead, that people still read it and respond to it. That's one of the best things about this new era: nothing has to die. Ideas can fade and bounce back in a natural ebb and flow and readers can find them in their own time.

In my first full year in the Scott Nicholson industry, I sold 29,120 copies on the U.S. Kindle. I had some print-on-demand paper sales and additional e-book sales on other devices like Nook, Kobo, Sony, and iPad, but Amazon is my main outlet. After Jan. 1, many authors will be blogging about their numbers and their success. I'm not competing at a J.A. Konrath level (thanks for the inspiration, Joe) or an Amanda Hocking level, and I'm not laying out these numbers to brag or send anyone scurrying to measure themselves against me. But I have a pretty nice level that works for me and is easy to sustain and build, and that's all any writer should seek.

I don't even know how much money I made, and I wouldn't talk about that anyway, but I do mix my prices between 99 cents and $3.99. Suffice to say that's more copies than I sold in any of my last four mass-market releases, and I made more money in 2010 than in any year in which I was writing for New York. It's easy to get caught up in real-time numbers and rankings and feel like it's all slippery when you move down a few thousand slots in the rankings. But this is the first time I've stepped back and looked at the big picture, and it's pretty stunning.

If I were running a real business, like selling widgets, it's the kind of growth I could take to a bank. It trends pretty solid and steady, with plenty of potential for growth, considering Amazon is claiming 8 million Kindle sales this year. Sure, I have lots of books out now, maybe around 20, and that's swelling my numbers, but my response to that is: Why in the world do I care how many books it takes? I have them and people like them. I'd be stupid to release one a year like major authors do. I want readers to find all my books at any time. And I will write more. That's what I do.

But I also know I didn't do much besides what I love, and I would have written the books anyway. More than 30,000 of you took a bigger risk than I did. You said, "This Scott Nicholson guy is worth a little of my time and money." And I don't take that lightly at all. Thank you.


Transparent Lovers in print

I've been so busy on my e-books I've not properly plugged my limited edition hardcover Transparent Lovers from PS Publishing in the UK. The 100-copy limited signed run is 25 pounds, the regular is 12 pounds (I don't know what that equals in US dollars but you can go to the product page to find out.

Private investigator Richard Steele is as surprised as anyone when he turns up dead, and then he is given the most challenging case of his career: he must solve his own murder in order for his soul to ascend.

Sounds simple enough, even for a ghost. All he has to do is retrace his steps and get his revenge before his limited supply of karma is depleted. But he can't resist one last visit with his sweetheart, Lee.

And Richard has other problems besides the goons that put a bullet in him. Like his ex-wife, driven to suicide by his mistreatment and now relishing her own opportunity for payback from beyond the grave.

As Richard finds himself once again in an ever-tightening ring of deceit and lies, he must battle enemies on Earth and in heaven, as well as a little bit of hell. And the eternal love everyone dreams about might turn out to be a nightmare.

For device owners, we're working on an e-book release, hopefully for January. And, yes, the title is an homage to musician Robyn Hitchcock.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

JT Cummins, rest in peace

I just learned my friend JT Cummins died in his sleep at 51. A cool, inventive writer, we had shared a lot of ideas about e-books in the past year and did some promotion together. He was one of the few doing movie scripts in e-books and he was very excited about the possibilities of the new digital era. I had just emailed him a few days ago to ask about his scripts, not realizing he had already moved on.

A screenwriter and fiction writer, he also worked in special effects in a number of movies like The Thing and House. Hopefully he is sitting in that great movie theater in the sky, watching a double bill with the keyboard by his side.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ads in books?

Writers are already appalled at the prospect of ads in books, but it is as inevitable as rain.

As soon as the dream of making riches as a writer fades from public consciousness (and Stephen King quits featuring bestselling writers as characters), then only a peculiar, suspect group will still be writing. For every Joe Konrath, there are 100,000 people selling a book a week or one a month. I have books ranked all up and down the scale so I have a pretty good idea of what a ranking equals in total sales. The trouble is that right now 100,000 people are reading Konrath and thinking that's going to be them.

Honestly, all those who fear the indie onslaught just need to wait a few years. 10 million slush manuscripts will be pulled from the drawer and sell nothing. Trend over.

About the same number of writers will be making a living then as now. But some of them will be different writers. Some of them will be selling ads. Some of them will do whatever it takes to be a writer and make it work. I went three years with no book deals. I lost faith in the system but never myself, and I wrote some of the best books of my life on only the dimmest of prospects. My best-selling book was never meant to be published. It was survival. I survived.

I just picture those Soviet dissidents in Siberia, scrawling classics on frozen animal skins in beet juice. Renoir, crippled with arthritis, his legacy made, but still cranking them out from his wheelchair. Socrates drinking poison instead of pleasing the crowd.

Instead of saying I will never do something, I now say "What hasn't been created yet, and how can I get to it first, and how can we share it?"

If you're interested in talking with me about promoting in books, drop me an email at hauntedcomputerbooks at Yahoo and let's brainstorm, or kick it around in the comments.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Head Cases Now Out

Head Cases, a collection of psychological suspense and paranoid horror, is now available on Kindle for 99 cents.
Seven stories, including the first-ever appearance of "Fear Goggles." Bonus stories from William Meikle and John Everson, and a bonus essay "The Writing Life."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why NYT list and BookScan data are worthless

NYT to report e-book sales! You can pay to get your own BookScan data! Hooray! Indie authors and e-books are now legit! We won!

Dude, put down the coffee cup and slowly back away. In prehistoric times, pterodactyls ruled the sky and I'd get on the phone to Ingram's warehouse and see how many copies of my books had shipped. It sort of seemed important, although I never knew what to do with the data. And what agent, editor, or author wouldn't want to say, "I'm a bestseller" and "moving tons of units"?

But if you are an indie author hoping to get some attention, or an underground success planning to go blinking to the surface world, you might want to temper expectations. Or better yet, not waste a second of your time or energy.

Firstly, the NYT bestseller list will only report major publisher data--many indies and small presses will not be reported. You need different ISBNs for each format, and you need it all to be aggregated by some central processing unit. Who will control that? The Times? The publishing industry? BookScan? And who is going to be volunteering the numbers? Amazon, which probably has 80 percent if not 90 percent of the e-book market? Yeah, right.

If you want to go to all that trouble just to appear on someone else's lists, be my guest. Disintegration doesn't have an ISBN at either Amazon or B&N. It was a bestseller, hitting #30 in the Kindle store, which definitely put it in the top 50 of e-books worldwide. For only a time, but my daughter says, "Once you are a bestselling author, you are a bestseller forever." Hardly anyone will know it was a bestseller, even the people who bought it. It doesn't even have an ISBN. Amazon and I are the ONLY ones who know how many it sold. And neither of us are telling.

And the people reading the NYT are not the indie author's audience--they are reading a newspaper, for Jiminy Cricket's sake. They might as well etch it into a clay tablet and send it out via a fleet of carrier pigeons for all the good it will do. Look, the people who were most excited about that announcement, as evidenced by TweetStream, that cool-a-meter of our times, were the entrenched industry types at every level who have so much invested in the continuation of their careers. It's understandable, but it doesn't mean you as an indie author should fight against the currents of time to join them.

The NYT list has been bought and sold for decades--that data is based on advance store orders, which means major publisher push and co-op money paid to big booksellers. Haven't you ever wondered why books show up as bestsellers before they are even released?

This is all a shell game, high-stakes ego moves, a valuable tool or a cudgel depending on your needs as a publisher or bookseller. Sure, some people wander into bookstores and blindly grab the first book they see, and booksellers stack bestsellers in the front of the store, and everybody goes through the motions. I'm surprised there isn't a Patterson store yet, wall to wall offerings by The James Gang.

Bestsellers are made, not born, often even years in advance of their publication. Janet Evanovich doesn't sign a multi-million-dollar, multi-book contract to gather dust, spine out, on the E shelf in "Mystery." How many "surprise bestsellers" have you read about? How did Stephen King just happen to get a copy of Justin Cronin's "The Passage" months before publication? Why did the publisher decide to print 10,000 advance review copies of The da Vinci Code?

Besides, what does the term "bestselling author" mean anymore? I've seen indie authors on the Internet shouting, with multiple exclamation points, "I just hit #19 in the category of Greek History: Ancient Pottery Shards!!!!" There's even a guidebook out there on how to trick up your keywords to rank high in obscure categories so you can be a "bestseller."

BookScan? Measuring point of purchase hard-copy sales at a limited number of outlets? What is that good for these days? Where's Walmart, the airports, Christian bookstores, specialty shops, hand sellers, the drug store that sells local books? Yes, there is a "geographic tracking," but what do you care? Say you're selling lousy in Buffalo. Are you going to hop in your car and drive up there and do a book signing? Can't your e-book squeeze through the frozen ethernet of the Great North?

The bestseller list already exists--there are only two. Kindle and B&N. The Kindle bestseller list IS the e-book bestseller list. No one in NY will admit it and you won't read it in PW. That's not sexy, and major publishing is at an uneasy detente with Amazon at the moment. Amazon has never revealed their data on anything significant, only in the loosest of terms that makes it look good (i.e. "We sold out millions in seconds....")

As an indie author, it is against your best interest to even use ISBNs. They are not required by either Amazon or B&N. The only outlets that require them right now are Sony and Apple iBookstore, and those markets are hardly worth investing the $10 an ISBN will cost you at Smashwords. Oh, yeah, everyone wants their own ISBN for each format and their store, and it has to be different from the ISBN of the print version(s). Seventeen flaming hoops, lots of cost and inconvenience, and all you gain is the ability of corporations to easily track you? Yeah, I'm jumping on that one.

The NYT list is just one last attempt to make NY valid in the new era, and it might have been interesting a couple of years ago, and maybe there's a long shot of a Hollywood sale--but I suspect more movie producers own Kindles than read the NYT. It gets attention because of "tradition," but what is tradition worth right now? More importantly, what is tradition worth to YOU? The most successful indie authors I've seen don't even know what tradition is, nor do they care.

This is data for the publishing industry. I've said repeatedly, if you are an indie author, you are not in the publishing industry. You are in the YOU industry. You don't need to view the publishing industry as competition, not yet, but you might want to consider whether you invest resources in their industry or in your industry.

Just typing all this up kept me from working on my current project, but maybe you will buy my books, or learn something, or tweet me, but in a way, this was energy wasted on tradition. Picking up the hammer to knock down a wall is tedious when you can simply walk away from it, go around it...or fly over it.

If all you ever wanted was to call up Mom and your sixth-grade English teacher and say "See, I told you I'd make the list," then I say go for it. For everyone else, you are better off writing that next book and getting on the list of your reader. That's the list that matters.


Friday, December 10, 2010


The publishing world has two paths right now. The first is tradition, with PW reporting ebook growth slowed in October (but overall sales still grew) and Huffington Post lamenting the closing of bookstores.

Then there's the path taken by J.A. Konrath and an accelerating number of authors--the indie way. Or self-publishing. Or vanity press. Whatever.

Joe loves to delve into numbers, and rightly so, given his success and his platform that feeds on being a center of the indie world. It's a smart business, and he's interested, and he's always gone the extra mile to be out front on promotion and the future. And, rightfully, bunches of successful authors chime in with their own numbers. So both paths look a little skewed--New York is shrinking and indie is growing, suggests these two groups of data.

I have no doubt indie is growing, but when I posted on Joe's blog, I didn't see anybody in there saying "I only sold 12 copies that month." But there are hundreds of thousands of authors who sold only that many or less. I know, because I have rankings all over the map for my 18 or so books. I know roughly how many sales will get you at a certain rank, and it's pretty easy to get "locked in" at a certain level. Success breeds success, and not selling makes it harder to sell.

So, really, there's not enough evidence to make a comprehensive analysis, and I don't think the data will ever exist, because few indies will report their numbers, most don't use ISBNs to track sales, and PW will always get a very myopic and limited view of the market. It's simple enough to look at the Kindle bestseller list, which is, for all intents and purposes, the overall e-book bestseller list (though the UK Kindle market is expanding). Bestsellers still sell the best, and that hasn't changed.

What has changed, and what affects me happily, is that books stay in print and available and continue to reach new readers. I love expanding--getting emails, blogging, and even reading my one-star reviews. I say the customer is always right and I stand by it, even when the customer doesn't like my product.

But I've learned that people often take personal truth as a universal truth. For Joe and many authors, it's the best of times and the future looks bright. For an editor who just lost a publishing job, the future looks gray. But 99.9 percent of the readers don't care which view is right.

They want content how and when they want it, at a price they are willing to pay. That's pretty much the X factor to which all surrounding conditions respond. It's not indie success or publishing-industry failure shaping the landscape. Readers are tugging this tide. And it's absolutely cool.

Digital Drive-In flirts with Speed Dating with the Dead

Free multi-author sampler download Just In Time For The Holidays

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Kindle Giveaway Blog Tour Winners

Congratulations to ellepaulette (Kindle DX), hufflepuffgrl13 (bonus Kindle 3), and dragonfly1976 (Kindle 3 for newsletter followers). Emails have been sent to the winners, who have one week to respond.

ellepaulette came from Book Faery and hufflepuffgrl13 came from Sparkling Reviews.

Winner were randomly selected by Ross Cooper and Evelyn Johnson, staff members at Watauga County Public Library. Thanks to tour sponsors Amazon, Dellaster Design, and Kindle Nation Daily.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

free copies of Curtains: Mystery Stories

Anyone interested in free review copies of Curtains: Mystery Stories, drop me an email, Tweet, or comment below--it is starting to get some sales but could use a few reviews, whether you love it or hate it. The collection contains nine stories by me plus bonus stories from Simon Wood and J.A. Konrath.

Also, post a total of five reviews for any of my books on either Amazon, B&N, Goodreads and Shelfari, and I will send you a free signed copy of Thank You For the Flowers, my first story collection. This is not an attempt to "buy reviews"--I've always said, I don't care if you love me or hate me, just don't ignore me--but a way of thanking you for your time. And tune in tomorrow, when winners will be drawn for the Kindles!

Disintegration finally slid out of the Top 100 in the Kindle store after 36 days there. Thanks, everyone. As Gen. Douglas McArthur said, "I shall return, and what's this lobster doing in my underwear?"

Karen at The Slowest Bookworm crawls into October Girls.

Full-length podcast (30 mins) on self-publishing and marketing at Creative Penn.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Scotty on the knob

Simon Royle gave me a kind interview on The Skull Ring:

Red Adept gave a rather astute review of As I Die Lying: (I know I need to revise that later-middle section)

And Joanna of Creative Penn has a video she's releasing next week:


Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Future of Publishing Again

Someone asked my view on e-books, and though I answered in depth at Debbi Mack's place, here's a new summary:

1. Paper books will be around for the rest of our lifetimes, but bookstores will be weird and rare little shops in big cities.

2. Ebooks (and the Internet) will be how most people do their reading by 2020.

3. Reading will continue to decline and books will change as technology evolves, just like everything else about our lives changes.

4. The people who love to smell books and hold books? It's purely nostalgia, which doesn't minimize it, but that's all it is. Some people still love vinyl albums because they think they sound "warmer" and more "authentic." Some people said that about the old wax recording cylinders. People said CDs sounded "sterile." Yet how does almost everyone listen to music? How many home videos are on 8 mm film strips? The essential core of the information and story and entertainment won't change, but the structure will change. Even books themselves have evolved. Don't forget, this all started with sticks in the mud and berry juice on cave walls.

BTW Smashwords just announced an increase of royalties for Kobo, B&N, and the other tiny e-book outlets and also an agency pricing agreement that means those outlets won't be reducing prices anymore.

Also selected winners for Overbite: Blood Lite 2 (congratulations, Vicki Tyley) and for the Pandora's Box of e-books on Twitter. The DM was deleted so I assume that winner does NOT want the 100 free ebooks but I will wait five days before I announce another winner.

I still have some space for free Red Church Kindle copies on my list so please email me if you want a freebie tomorrow sent as a gift via Amazon. I have 26 more copies to give away in thanks for your support on the blog tour.