Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Where are my Kindle millions?

Well, my goal to give away a million Kindle books may be running on fumes, as two not-unexpected developments have me bogged down past the three-quarters-million mark. (There was an old running joke spawned by Lee Goldberg riffing J.A. Konrath about "Kindle millions" until people actually started becoming Kindle millionaires...)

First, the KDP Select program of Amazon has gone through its natural cycle--early pioneers get great results, word gets back to the others, the Gold Rush turns into a stampede, and the hills are prospected into tiny mounds of pebbles Part of it is Amazon's ever-changing algorithms that no longer give a huge rankings bounce to indies, and part is the sheer glut of free books that results when authors are repeatedly making 130,000 books free. This has all been written about far more ably and in depth by others (Kindleboards is a great resource if you're interested), but I figured the jig would be up by summer one way or another.

The second challenge is also fairly obvious: most of the people interested in my free books got them the first second, and sometimes third times I made them temporarily free for Kindle. So I will be leaving a lot of free days unused , and some books will no longer be free even if they still have some promo days left. I already have all my short story collections and some other properties out of Select and back in Nook, iTunes, Kobo, etc.


I still want to reach the million-copy goal, so feel free to share my current roster of upcoming freebies! And if you read any of my free books and liked them, please leave a review to help both me and future readers. And if you hated them, why are you reading my blog? Heh.

Scott Nicholson free books

May 29-May 30
The Dead Love Longer
Paranormal mystery

May 30-June 1
October Girls
(YA paranormal)

May 31-June 2:
Speed Dating with the Dead

June 2-June 4
Burial to Follow
(supernatural horror)

June 2-June 4
Creative Spirit
(supernatural thriller)

June 8-10
Scott Nicholson Library, Vol. 4
Thriller/horror box set


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ads in eBooks

Ads in Ebooks
By Scott Nicholson
(Originally posted at Murderati)

I’ve gotten out of the “writer babble” business for two reasons: (1) I don’t know as much as I thought I did, and (2) it’s all changing so fast that even the boldest predictions of digital evolution quickly become laughable.

I don’t even use traditional publishing as a reference point anymore, because that is so far removed from most writers’ realities that it may as well be Shangri-la or Hollywood. The indie vs. trad debate is now only meaningful for a small group of people, and they are all making way more money than you or me.

So you are in it, and if you are lucky, you made a nice little nest egg back when everyone was standing on the sidelines deciding whether indie was the way to go. Hopefully, you shook off the intellectual shackles that chained us to the agent speed-dating sessions at writing conferences and were hammered and locked into place by “publishing experts” with 20-year writing careers in the old system. You know the mantras: “Get an agent,” “Only hacks self-publish,” and “You can’t produce and distribute a book without the advice of publishing experts.” Basically, ego affirmation. Of course the experts didn’t want to lose their position of authority (and in the agents’ case, the intermediary status of being the first in line to get checks.)

But the gate was left open and the horses all got out of the barn, or something like that (come up with your own gatekeeper metaphor; I am writing this for free!) So now we have a market where the 99-cent ebook had a year’s run, and the pool was finally beginning to find stratification (crappy books sinking, good books nailing stable plateaus) when Amazon unleashed the latest version of indie roulette—the free ebook.

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. Now that there are thousands of free Kindle books available every single day, how long before readers come to expect and even demand free books exclusively?

Freebie roulette. Great for readers. Good for Amazon (maybe in the short term, but it is hard to figure the long term). Terrible for authors.

The market is diverse enough to support many different price tiers, but writers who want to survive in 2015 will need to make money off of free books, or they will soon quit writing.

I only see one outcome: ad-supported or sponsored books. At first blush, you'd think N.Y. 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?

J.K. Rowling can inspire a Pottermore built around her brand, and James Patterson, Tom Clancy, and Clive Cussler have already built factories around their names (and, yes, V.C. Andrews, you can roll over in your grave two or three more times for all I care, because this is all your fault). But most of us are not factories or we wouldn’t have to indie publish.

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 because I believe it is viable. 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. You are the idea you want to spread.

Other authors will say “I’ll never sell out.” (Ironically, those are usually the authors who have given most of their incomes to agents and publishers…) 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, and, of course, the turf where you’ve staked out your ego. Publishing-industry talk on e-books uses phrases like "managing risk" and "cautious adaptation." That is why those of us in the trenches knew Barnes & Noble was in serious trouble when most in the “publishing industry” only realized it recently when BN’s horrifyingly bad third-quarter reports came in. They are working off of old data while I work off the data I got an hour ago.

And my data says this may be the very peak of the Golden Age of digital publishing. The $9.99 novel may be dead this year, since three-quarters of the current bestsellers are low-priced indie books. As fast as major publishers yank their name-brand authors out of digital libraries, 10 new indies cram into that virtual shelf space. Maybe forever. James Patterson’s factory can’t run on $2.99 ebooks, but mine can.

But what happens when the $2.99 and 99 cents drop to permanently free? Where’s your sponsor? Are you willing to go there? 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.) Can you see Jack Reacher with a favorite brand of soft drink, or Bella Swan wearing only Calvin Klein? At what point is your willing suspension of disbelief shattered? At what point do you realize the ad is the only reason the book can exist at all?

My informal polling on ad-supported ebooks yields statements like: "I'll quit reading before I put up with 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. Or that I’d ever read an entire book on a screen.

I don’t know the answer, but I am deeply invested in the question. So, ads in ebooks. As readers and writers, what is your opinion?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Book marketing 101 at eBookSwag

Many blogs do a bait-and-switch where they sucker you in with content and then deliver the sales pitch right at the end. But I am doing my pitch first, and then telling you why eBookSwag can help your book meet new readers.

If you've followed me over my career, you have probably seen book marketing that ranges from cold cash purchases to downright gimmicks. I've had a lot of fun, given away a ton of free books, more than 30 Kindles and Kindle Fires, thousands of dollars in gift cards, and sold a lot of books and met tens of thousands of readers. Some of my stunts include a giveaway of three of my permanent teeth to promote They Hunger, chances to be drawn as a character in my comic books, paying book bloggers 15 percent of my income to promote my books, casting actors for the parts in the fantasy movie versions of my books, and hosting a paranormal conference for the primary purpose of inspiring my novel.

Just this year, I've helped give away several million ebooks (including about three-quarters of a million of my own) and created viral marketing campaigns where people voluntarily promote books and contests in exchange for the chance to win prizes. I've held a 90-day blog tour among several others of shorter duration, I've put book bloggers in my ebooks, I hung out on Amazon forums back before it was poison, I've helped writers in manners both overt and subtle. I am not bragging, because it has all been fun, and the best of it has been value added and inspired and taught me. I don't like to do things unless everyone wins.

And the secret to book marketing is that there is no secret, or at least not a secret you can count on repeating time after time. Even New York publishers with all their millions and industry contacts strike out about 80 percent of the time. There's no silver bullet, only a loaded gun. I've bought ads and book sponsorships and placements at nearly every ebook site in town. Some work better than others, and some work but not consistently. I am now applying my experience to eBookSwag with my partner Michelle and our staff. It's a mixture of lessons I have learned: giveaways, audience building, good books, fun, a community, everyone wins.

If you are an author, check out our low-cost sponsorships. Because I am an author myself, I understand your needs. While no one can guarantee success from any marketing effort, and the best of such efforts are multiple "efforts" and not just an ad, I invite you to look at what we offer and see how it compares to everything else out there. We don't want your money just to dump it into another black hole. We only want you to join in if you think we add value to the reading community. There's plenty of noise in the world, but there's only one eBookSwag.