Monday, June 27, 2011

Words Count

Or should that be "word counts?"

When describing the length of a written piece, it's customary to refer to the word count rather than the number of pages.  A lot of writers tend to use this method to track how much they write on a day-to-day basis.  It's a great way to develop discipline when starting out as a writer, especially if you aspire to novel-length works.  I did for my first (and now deeply-buried) novel, as well as for Sakura Blue.  Checking my daily word count became an affirmation of my progress and an inspiration to finish.

For my current project, however, I'm not counting my words.  Instead, I'm concentrating only on finishing the story.  It's the second book in the Buddha's Relics series and I've set a hard deadline of December 1, 2011.  Daily writing for the next five months should be more than enough time to finish the story.  Give it a ten-day cooling-off period, followed by a week of editing, and, barring any major mistakes or time-consuming corrections, it should be ready for upload to Kindle by December 21.

For me, what matters isn't pounding out a particular number of words each day.  Rather, I'm making a concerted effort to simply tell the story to its end.  On a given day, I write until I hit a block or I'm too tired to keep going.

And by "block," I don't mean writer's block.  I don't believe any such thing actually exists.  I mean where to take the story next.  I have two cures for that: (A) write something else or (B) review the larger story arc.  Sometimes, I do a bit of both.  Take yesterday, for instance.

I was 62 MS Word pages into the story.  My main characters are at a restaurant in San Francisco (the Great Eastern on Jackson Street, actually.  It's excellent.  If you ever get the chance, go with some friends for lunch and sample as much as you can from the dim sum menu.  The service is a bit spotty, though, so be warned.)  They're meeting face-to-face for the first time in a while (and for some, it's for the first time ever) and it's a pivotal scene.  The decisions they make at this meeting will determine the course of the rest of the novel.  And, since I don't sketch out plots in advance, I was in something of a bind.  What they say, and how they say it, establish both their characters, from which action is derived, and the actions themselves, which in turn influence and shape the characters.

So I went to a work on a totally different story, a thriller about an FBI agent's kidnapped daughter and the larger forces at work behind it.  It cleared my mind of my other problem quite beautifully.  Periodically, though, I'd bounce over to the primary story problem and pick at it a bit.  I'd mull it over by typing, deleting, typing some more... then, I had a breakthrough.  There were a couple of plot threads - running themes, really - that I'd put in Sakura Blue and intended pick up in the second book.  This would be the perfect time to bring those threads back into play.

Today, I'm looking at 72 MS Word pages and a much better sense of where the novel is going.  I think it might be one of those days in which I stop because I'm too tired to keep going.  Those are best kind of days for a writer.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

JK Rowling to Self-Publish Her Harry Potter Series Electronically

You can read all about it here.  It's part of her new website, called Pottermore, and the new e-book distribution shows that she either re-acquired the electronic rights to her books from Scholastic or was savvy enough not to sell them in the first place.

Her books were probably among the most electronically pirated books on Earth and she's lost God knows how many millions of dollars as a consequence.  Now, I hope, she'll be appropriately compensated for her work, irrespective of how it's acquired.  I'm also sure many fans feel that it's about time Harry and company were legally available for download.

E-books are a fast-growing market and the market is likely to continue growing for years to come.  Whether the market is large enough to professionally sustain dozens of self-published novelists is yet to be determined but I'm optimistic that this is the case.  If nothing else, this news will doubtless spur a spike in e-reader sales.  This can mean only good news for those of us published on the likes of Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and elsewhere.

The real news for fans, though, is the new website itself, which promises not only news about the characters but offers, in a partnership with Sony, a new interactive game that's likely to keep fans returning for years.

All in all, a very savvy move for the world's richest novelist.  Harry's been very good to her.  I hope my characters are even 1/100th as good to me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Picking a Price

Ultimately, I did indeed settle on the $2.99 price point.  But not for the reasons you might think.

I'd figured - and still do - that $2.99 was the sweet spot for a first-time writer.  Low enough to attract readers willing to take a chance on something new, especially after reading the sample that Amazon provides, but high enough to actually kick a little money my way.

After all is said and done, I earn $2.04 for each $2.99 sale, which is a commission of roughly 68%.  This is far better than the 15% most traditional authors make on hardcovers and infinitely better than the 8-10% they get on paperback sales.

Amazon, where I've done all of my selling so far (more on this in a minute), offers two commission rates: 35% and 70%, minus a "download fee."  The lower rate is for public domain works being repackaged (think Shakespeare and the Bible), as well as for - and we come now to the other reason I picked $2.99 - books selling at $2.98 or less.

In other words, to get the 70% royalty rate, the minimum price I could set on my book was $2.99.

Meanwhile, I've also published my novel on Smashwords.  Smashwords is a site that allows one-stop linkups to variety of e-readers, such the iPad, Kobo, and Nook, as well as Amazon's Kindle.  The commission rate varies by platform but seems to average around 60%.

It would seem, then, that it is in my economic best interests to drive as many sales via Amazon as possible.  This would be false.  Accessibility is far more important to a new writer than high commissions.  My first job is to find as many readers as possible across as many media as possible.  Once that's done, the money will come, irrespective of platform.

In fact, the only reason I haven't sold anything on Smashwords yet is the site's uploading and review process. Formatting the book to their standards was laborious but, once it's in their "Premium Catalog," it'll be available directly through the iPad, Nook, Kobo, etc.  Until then, it's available only on Smashwords itself.  And on Amazon, of course.

In the end, I may still lower the price to drive sales, assuming I'm convinced that there's enough demand at a lower price point to make up for the lower commission.  We shall see.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go back to doing the most effective thing I can to boost sales: writing the next book.

Friday, June 17, 2011


For a professional author, writing is both an art and a business.  This post is about the business end.

Blogger Joe Konrath has written extensively about self-publishing e-books and he should know - he's one of the runaway success stories being profiled in major newspapers.  One of his points of agony, however, is setting the price of an e-book.

I think we can all agree that paying $9.99 for a download when a paperback is available for $7.99 is insane and yet, we see it all the time from major publishers.  The majority of self-published writers, however, tend to cluster around $0.99 to $2.99 price point, offering better value for readers while taking in a far larger percentage of the royalties.  The question I'm facing, then, is how to price my book.

It's a delicate balancing act.  On the one hand, I want to make a decent income from my writing and I won't do that if I practically give the books away.  On the other hand, I want to give my readers the best value for their dollar and keep a low enough price to encourage sales.  Moreover, I'll make far more selling 1,000 books at, say, $1.49 than selling 200 books at double that.

As Joe Konrath has discovered, however, one of the crucial things to remember about e-books is the relative disconnect between price and popularity.  He's conducted a series of small experiments with the prices of his books and found, in some cases, that sales have increased when prices have gone up.

It's counterintuitive to anything you'll hear from sales and marketing gurus.

So where does that leave this unknown, first-time author?  What's a good introductory price point for a first novel?  A peek at Amazon's Kindle Top 100 reveals prices ranging from $0.99 to $14.99, although only well-established bestsellers occupy the upper end of this scale.  Most of the self-published authors price their books below the $5.00 mark.

At the moment, I've settled on a $2.99 price point.  But, if that seems to inhibit sales, I can do one of the things that makes e-book publishing such a dynamic, fluid market: I can change the price with a mouse click.

I hope to post monthly sales reports once the book is made available.  Maybe there's a formula in there somewhere authors can use to maximize profits.  Or maybe, once it's in the ether, it's all up to luck.

My bet: it's a bit of both.