Saturday, 29 April 2017

Stuffing things up

Well, this is a pretty embarrassing blog article to be writing, but it's an important public service announcement. I stuffed up.

Here's the executive summary of how it affects people who want to read Shadow Hunt (vol 3 in The Leeth Dossier): please wait an extra day before you start reading it. If you pre-ordered it, please wait for an email from Amazon telling you that a new version is available.

Here's why….

I made Shadow Run available for pre-order on Amazon (April 30th, 2017), uploading the draft I had a month earlier (March 26th), while I was working through my editor's 2nd and final critique. (Or 3rd, or 4th, if you include the two earlier book splits!) I thought five weeks would give me a comfortable period — comfortable enough to even allow me to attend the sci-fi/fantasy convention SwanCon, in Perth, and spend a couple of days extra seeing the sights.

Which would have been all well and good if I hadn't made a couple of other errors. The first was not checking the details of when I needed to upload the final version of the book: I assumed the day before. In hindsight this was remarkably stupid, because naturally Amazon needs extra time to check the book carefully before launch. (In fact, they need 72 hours.) My second big mistake was a really stupid failure of basic arithmetic: 30 minus 3 = 27, not 28, right? Yeah, well my brain did the sum this way instead "Let's see: 30, 29, 28: that's three days. So, April 28 is the deadline."

Don't ask. Even I don't see how I could have made that error. Partly it was wishful thinking that the time counted from the end of April 30th, not the start of the day! D'oh!

Maybe by this time I was getting tired, too, because my editing of vol 3 was taking longer than I had expected. Anyway, I completed all my edits and did my 1st polish of the new parts, and then the 2nd polish (a bit rushed, I admit), and sat down one hour before the deadline (I thought) to convert the book to Amazon's format and upload it. I finished that with ten minutes to spare (again: I thought) and then tried to upload. Bzzt: "locked for pre-order release checks."

Uh oh.

It was only then that I realised my stuff-up. I contacted Amazon, but there was nothing they could do: my choices were either to cancel the pre-order at the last minute (and thus prove I couldn't be trusted with the ability to manage a pre-order for a period of 12 months), or upload the revised version with the usual detailed description of changes, and request Amazon to push out an offer to all existing purchasers that a new version is available.

So I chose that 2nd option. This means that the draft copy will only be there for a short period after the pre-order date (a day, I hope), and that people who pre-ordered will soon get the updated version.

The draft version that ‘escaped' can be distinguished from the final version in many ways:

  • At the end of the table of contents, the release version is noted as "pre-4" — not "1".
  • The Prologue is inside Part I — instead of coming just before it.
  • The book is 141,854 words long — not 149,450. (Yes, this is despite cutting about 10k words, too.)
  • The draft version has 79 chapters (+epilogue) — not 82 (+epilogue).
  • Something like 2,000 other changes, big and small. I won't enumerate them here, but one small example in the prologue is the changing of the sentence that begins "Yet thanks to it, no one would expect to find human remains" to "Yet thanks to it, with no bodies to be found".
  • I'm not going to mention any of the bigger changes, because they'd be spoilers, but for the 30 days or so following my upload of my late draft version to Amazon, I think I averaged about 9-10 hours per day working on improving the book. The changes were based on Dave's critique and some extra Q&A with him, an early beta read by a friend as those changes neared completion (thanks, Jon!), and feedback from two beta readers (Sandra, AndyK) to try to resolve a key point. So parts of the plot are strengthened, there are fewer errors and questionable parts (it all makes more sense), and is just generally vastly improved, thanks to all the feedback.

    At this point I should also add that on one point, Dave and I couldn't agree (but neither of us were sure any more who was right). I also couldn't reach consensus by the beta readers. I vacillated for a while, but in the end, trusted my gut. So don't blame Dave if there's some thing (or things) about the book which you feel could have been improved: you've no doubt found a place where I didn't follow his advice!

    Tuesday, 18 April 2017

    Publishing: Where to Begin

    For my first large sci-fi/fantasy convention, I travelled across the country to Perth — another first, for me. SwanCon is Australia's longest running speculative fiction convention. In this, its 42nd year, the background theme was honouring the work of Douglas Adams. They had wonderful guests of honour (Michael Troughton, Joyce Chng, Traci Harding, Sean Williams, Alan Baxter, Davina Watson, and Wesley Chu via Skype). The SwanCon committee had organised a huge range of panels and activities — generally about four talks on at the same time across each day from 10am to 11pm or later; along with four or more activities running in parallel — from board games, to live action role-playing, to console gaming to children's and family activities.

    (Michael Troughton and Sean Williams holding up the SwanCon costume party sign)

    SwanCon 42 was held at the Metro Hotel, Perth, which did a heroic job to support the convention (and feed a large crowd several times a day). The hotel strained at the seams, but in my view can be proud of the job they did.

    I was also impressed by the dedication of the organising committee, and their ability to fix things and cope when things went unexpectedly wrong.

    This is just a short piece to record and share some notes I made as homework for one of the two planned panels I was on. It's a companion piece to a related panel focussed on writing your story (and hence, is over on All About Leeth). (I just intended to type up my notes, but thought they'd be a bit too cryptic if I had done literally just that.)

    The topic of the panel discussion (organised by Michael Cogan, I think), was "Publishing: Where to Begin".

    "Do you have a really awesome story and need a way to get it out to the masses? Come and hear from some who have been there and done it before."

    My most excellent fellow panellists were Amanda Bridgeman, Satima Flavell, and Glenda Larke.

    I think we collectively provided good information, and there were excellent questions and comments from the very engaged audience. Please understand this is not a record of what we all said, but merely some notes I made beforehand as a memory jogger. Some of these points were made by other panellists independently, in their own words. Because we had only an hour and there was a lot of ground to cover, only some of my notes were covered in the talk.

    The following applies after you've written your story.

    Before publishing, you need to have put in the effort to make it the best you can. This is critical for your first published work, since the biggest problem for new authors is being discovered and tried by readers. If you make a bad first impression, there are so many new stories coming out all the time that readers may not come back and try you again.

    So it pays to invest in your first story. By all means get friends or family to read your story. Note though that you're putting them in a difficult position, especially if you take criticism personally: criticism of what you've written is not a criticism of you. And if your story is not the sort of story your reader would normally read, don't ask expect anything other than finding typos and bad grammar.

    You're much more likely to get insightful criticism from other writers, and from avid readers in your genre. Having portions reviewed by other writers will be especially valuable to you, as will feedback from beta readers.

    Neil Gaiman said "When more than one person tells you something you've written is wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. You are the creator: only you can know how to fix it."

    Most valuable of all will be a paid-for critique by a good professional editor who understands the story you are trying to write. And if you only spend money on one thing to help publish and sell your book, spend it on that, even if you have to save up for it.

    You learn writing by doing. When you think your work is good enough, invest some money in getting a good professional editor to critique it. It's an investment in yourself. And unlike other such professional development courses, the "practical exercise" from this "training course" directly contributes to making your story the best it can be.

    But you need to do the homework to get to a stage where the editor will be helping you make it the best it can be, rather than spending your money having them teach you how to write! (A good editor would not agree to take on work that's not up to that standard, IMO.)

    And you need to find an editor who ‘gets' your work and is willing to explain why they've advised what they have, and will listen to you when you explain why you did what you did. You need to be able to discuss and things when your opinion differs. Usually, then, you'll reach some agreement — often, some blending of both points of view, or some other wording or approach or scene that you can both agree on. I highly recommend ThEditors.com. They even offer a free assessment of the 1st 3k words of your work.

    Regarding editing, I've blogged about it here. And this article I stumbled over looking for that Neil Gaiman quote is pithy and wise.

    So, let's go:

    Traditional Publishing (including Indie-publishing) and self-publishing have a lot in common. If you are being published by a company, you'll also need to write a "pitch letter" and/or an outline and/or a synopsis. These are all different kinds of writing, and require time and practice to learn how to do well. They each serve a different purpose, related to making the publisher's (or agent's) job easier. Those people have hard jobs, so these communications have evolved to tell them exactly what they need to know, as clearly and succinctly as possible. There are books on the topic and web-sites, including examples of Things To Do, and Things Which Will Instantly Get Your Story Rejected If You Do Them. A key thing to know is that the people who will be reading your words have very little time and are under a lot of pressure. Try to put yourself in their shoes, and think about things from their point of view, so you can tell them what they need to know.

    But the other panellists (and some audience members — Alan, Sean, Bec…) know much more about that than me, since all my attempts to follow that path went nowhere!

    For self-publishing, you don't need to write those things, though you will need to write an excellent blurb, and ideally a tag-line for your book (the snappy/intriguing teaser line that may appear on the cover), and also "the elevator pitch".

    Be aware that these things, though very short, are very difficult to do and you're likely to go through hundreds of iterations before you get each of them "right". It's because they're like poetry in a way: you're trying to pack the maximum impact into few words. You have to distil everything down to its essence. However, for these far shorter pieces of writing, you can pester anyone you know for their opinion!

    The text of your book must be proofread before publication. This is the easiest and most straightforward kind of editing there is. Unfortunately, it's also hard to do yourself since your mind has stored the words you intended to write, and you'll tend to read those rather than the words you actually wrote. This includes punctuation, too. But few errors will throw a reader out of a story like typographical or grammatical errors. (Unless it's a glaring continuity or plausibility error: they're probably worse!)

    Book cover. Unless you're a graphic designer, preferably with some background in book cover design for the genre of your story, pay for a book cover design. You can get super-cheap cover designs via web sites like fiverr, or others that will have people bid for your job. There are sites that offer pre-made book covers across wide ranges of genres, requiring just the text to be supplied (Title, author, etc.), and who will sell you exclusive use of a design for a relatively low cost ($100 — $200). You can also look for good book cover designs in your Twitter feed, and contact the author to ask for their cover designer's details. (That's how I found my cover designer, the wonderful Mirella de Santana)

    An audience member asked if we each would recommend trying to go via the Traditional or Indie route for their first book, or just self-publish? The other panellists made excellent points, and observed very correctly that you'll get a lot of support if you're accepted for publication (especially with a small, independent publisher): you'll get an advance, they'll provide the editor, whose services you won't have to pay for, they'll write or help you write the blurb, they'll design the cover, and best of all they'll handle the marketing for the book's launch period. They all, I think, said "On balance, yes, it's probably a good idea."

    I however think the decision is not so clear-cut. If you self-publish, you are indeed taking on all that extra work: that of a whole publishing company — and you're probably unskilled in most of it! Admittedly, all that work is just for your story alone.

    But if what you're writing is the first volume in a series, the balance shifts so that it's probably better in the long run for you to self-publish, in my opinion. That's because the first book in a series is a really powerful tool for marketing. Having complete control over the cover, the blurb, how and where it's sold, and most especially, the ebook price (so you can greatly reduce it, or even make it free for short periods), is enormously helpful in getting your work found by readers, and generating follow-on reviews (typically, only something like 1% of readers will also review your book).

    Another reason to opt for self-publishing is my belief that we're currently only about halfway through a tectonic shift in the book publishing environment, which in future will be more like self-publishing. With self-publishing, the authors and the readers are in pretty direct contact, via social media, blogs, review sites, Facebook groups, and mailing lists. This interaction will be mediated by giants like Amazon (who are in business to make it easier for authors to sell and publish their books, and readers to discover and buy books they'll enjoy) and other ebook publishers and distributors, as well as the social media companies and purpose-built web sites that help solve the "discovery" problem.

    Even traditionally-published authors need a social media presence these days, since companies can only afford to market their work for roughly the "two week launch period", unless you're one of the super-star authors.

    Of course, you should produce an ebook version of your story! It will be your best marketing tool, and probably also generate you the most income. And producing and publishing it will cost you nothing except a day or so of time (including time spent learning). If you choose to distribute exclusively with Amazon, you will earn 70% royalties provided you stay within their recommended (and sensible) price band. If you choose Amazon exclusively, also sign up for Kindle Unlimited and allow borrowing. I earn more from my share of Amazon's subscription-model payments than I do from individual ebook sales. (I earn least of all from my print book sales.)

    Produce a print edition, too. If you produce a PDF file, that will be exactly what you'll get when you print. Though for colour parts (the cover and back), you'll need to be aware of CMYK colour and how to produce a PDF/X file with the right profile. I've blogged about that in too much detail here.

    Decide how you'll publish. If you're accepted by an Indie or large publisher, they'll tell you. Otherwise, you get to choose.

    If you're self-publishing, I think it's wise to buy some ISBNs. In Australia, you buy ISBNs from Thorpe-Bowker. One ISBN costs $125; if you buy ten, that costs $250. One hundred costs $575. Book distributors' databases tend to see contiguous ISBN numbers as belonging to a specific publisher (in this case: you).

    It costs nothing (or next to nothing) to apply for an ABN (Australian Business Number), too. You just fill out some forms on a government web site.

    Smashwords will make your ebook available to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and I think all or most of the major players. This will save you the effort of producing an ebook in each of the formats they all require. (Though with the exception of Amazon, my guess is that they'd all accept epub format, or else Word's .docx format. Amazon prefers Kindle/.mobi format.)

    Producing the ebook is very easy if you do it the right way. There's some wonderful free software called Calibre for managing your ebooks, including producing your own. It's amazing. The first time you use it, it'll probably take you some hours to learn it and set up the couple of options you'll need to alter.

    Each time you add a new book you've written to Calibre, it'll take you about an hour to enter in all the book's metadata (Title, Author, series info, ISBN, keywords, blurb, cover). You produce the ebook by choosing "convert to ebook" and selecting the appropriate input — typically Word format — and output: e.g. .mobi. Click Cobnvert: it will take about a minute. Replacing the book with an updated/improved version will take a few seconds; generating the new ebook version will take a minute, again. It's really that easy, thanks to all the hard work by Calibre's creator, Kovid Goyal, who has also produced heaps of good tutorials for using it (also free). I've blogged about that, here.

    Then, basically, you'll upload that output ebook file, and a separate cover file, to your publisher's web site.

    If you've chosen Amazon, or are using Amazon at all, you should register with them as an author and create your Amazon Central Author Page. Provide bio details and so on in the online forms they lead you through. You need to "Add" and link your books explicitly, manually, to your Author Page.

    For each edition of each book that you add and link to your Author Page, you inform Amazon of its ISBN. If you don't have one, they'll provide you with one. Though if you choose to publish them elsewhere, you'll need to use a fresh ISBN, not Amazon's one.

    Oh, and Amazon also make it super-easy to register that you are overseas and only 5% tax should be subtracted and handed to the US government (as long as you live in a country like Australia, that has a reciprocal tax arrangement with the US). You just fill out a form, and provide your Australian taxation number, and which bank account they should pay the royalties into.

    You can choose to create a print edition via Amazon, through their CreateSpace subsidiary.

    For my print editions, I chose a larger publisher/printer than Amazon, that also uses Print On Demand, called IngramSpark. I think it costs about $50 to sign up with them (once-off), and then it costs US$50 each time you upload a new edition/version of your book. ($25 for the cover, $25 for the contents.) So if you can get it perfect 1st time, and don't need to upload a corrected edition, you'll minimise your cost there. There's also a one-off cost ($80, IIRC) per book that you can opt-in to, to "advertise" your book. I think this just pushes your book's metadata out to all the book distributors' databases, which therefore makes your printed book available across about 29,000 stores, worldwide. Not bad, eh?

    One trick/note: don't tick the box that says book stores can return unsold copies. The downside is that almost no book store will stock your book on its shelves, for fear of not selling them. The up-side is that you won't lose potentially large sums of money paying for the shipping back of unsold copies if a store over-estimates how many they'll sell. They'll still order your book in, though, if asked. And of course, online booksellers in each country will happily order and ship your books to readers. You will need to set your discount to around 40% so the book store can make a profit. IS provide tables so you can work out costs and thus set your price so you make at least a small profit on each copy.

    I chose IS to reduce delivery costs, since the books will be printed in or near the country in which they're bought. This is in contrast to Amazon, which prints only in the US (and maybe UK)? Also, IS supports a much wider range of print edition sizes and bindings.

    You should inform the National Library of Australia of each edition of each of your books. It is I think worthwhile to also apply form and get a Cataloguing in Publication (CIP) entry for your book. And remember to send off a print copy (and the ebook) to the NLA after publication.

    I think it's also worthwhile joining the Australian Society of Authors (ASA). They've recently upgraded their infrastructure. (Remember, Luke, to re-upload all your author details into the new system.) And the Writers' Association for your state, too.

    Social media. The big problem for new authors is being discovered. You need to use some social media to make your presence known. Be authentic, is my advice. Be yourself, and offer useful and interesting content. Don't just repeat, in various forms, "Check out my book". But don't let social media dominate your time or energy. Limit yourself to at most an hour a day, is my own rule of thumb.

    Use free give-aways to attract new readers to try your work. The first book in a series is ideal for this. Never try to trick/cheat/deceive/coerce a reader. How would you feel if that were done to you? Good reviews will hugely increase your visibility, so write the best book you can. And make sure the book description sets the reader's expectations correctly: most reviewers who don't enjoy a story will give it a low rating even if they think it was really well-written. You want the people who will enjoy your book to be the ones reading it.

    The best thing you can do to increase your sales is to write more good books.

    Go to it!

    Saturday, 1 April 2017

    Free and discount ebook giveaway

    This is just a very short note to let you know I'm participating in a three day free and discount book promotion with a whole bunch of other Indie authors. The Support for Indie Authors-organised bargains (within GoodReads) consists of over 100 books, covering literary, young adult, and seven genres. Here's a detailed breakdown:
  • 20 sci-fi
  • 40 fantasy
  • 20 romance
  • 12 mystery & suspense
  • 8 horror
  • 15 LGBTQ
  • 15 literary
  • 15 humour
  • 8 young adult
  • The promotion started at midnight (PDT) on March 31st (so that was 6pm AEST, or 7am UTC). It ends on April 2nd.

    I've made Wild Thing free for all three days (actually, a bit more: both before and after). Unfortunately, because Harsh Lessons's Kindle Select Term ends (rolls over) on March 31st, the best I can manage is to make it free on the 1st and 3rd days: Amazon have no way of pre-allocating free days in the next term, nor can they set the price to free on the current day, even if you do it at the start of that day.

    The purpose of the promotion very much aligns with what I think is the key issue for authors working outside the traditional publishing environment: being discovered by readers. It also helps readers discover books they've never heard of. And who knows, some of those writers in the promotion might become your next favourite author! So I'd encourage you to have a browse of the titles available over there at the Support for Indie Authors event.

    Various writers there have been working hard creating promotional images for the event and sharing them for all the participants to use. C.B. organised a Thunderclap; Christina McMullen organised the event and put together the event site, and all the authors helped with promoting and discounting their books. One member, Missy Sheldrake, even made a couple of promo videos you might like to check out, and uploaded them to Youtube here and here!

    I'll be back at work on Shadow Hunt from April 1st, having received an interim critique of the 1st 200 pages from Dave at ThEditors.com on Friday night. (He said it's looking pretty good so far.)

    (I'll post this same article over on my other blog.)

    Sunday, 26 March 2017

    Book Marketing 102

    First, a quick status report. I should have the MS back from Dave for his final critique within two weeks. He said it's looking good so far, so I have my fingers crossed that he won't see the need for any large changes. I've uploaded a draft copy to Amazon this weekend to make it available for pre-order at the end of April. If I can publish it before that date, of course, I will!

    And this time I remembered that you have to explicitly link the book to your author page in author central or it won't show up. So I went to the 'Books' tab on my Author Central page and clicked "Add a book", entered my ISBN, clicked Go, and said "Yep, that's my book!".

    Okay, so now, let's proceed to the main topic of this article — what I've recently learned about marketing, in particular about free and discount book promotions, and Thunderclap.

    Reviews are important

    So today I'm writing about some new stuff I've learned about marketing for the self-published author. My approach is still not to advertise in the formal sense, but to rely on word of mouth. That said, being noticed or discovered remains the first key hurdle for an almost unknown author such as myself. I think my books are good, though they're certainly not to everyone's taste.

    The right reader

    Which is a worthwhile point to make: if you somehow convince someone to read your book when it's not the kind of book they'd want to read, you're very likely to get a negative review. My own experience is that most reviews are about how much the reader liked the book, not about how good the book is (setting personal taste aside, since that's hard to do). Which is fair enough… but a one star review is still a one-star review.

    So if you push your book to someone who won't like it, you've made a marketing mistake. You're more likely to get negative word of mouth spreading, than positive. So any time spent making it easier for people to know whether your book is one they might like, or hate, is time well spent.

    Dishonest reviews

    Some people buy reviews, frankly. There are teams of people in India and elsewhere who offer this service. I feel very strongly that this is a terrible, terrible thing, and I congratulate every author who resists the temptation, and every publisher (like Amazon) that works hard to uncover fake reviews and counter them. Dishonest reviews undermine the whole industry, because self-publishing relies so heavily on honest reviews.

    But I recently discovered there is yet another kind of fake review. On Amazon, there are "top reviewers", who achieve that "rank" by reviewing lots of products. For some people, this is a booster to their self-esteem, so they spend a lot of time doing reviews for the purpose of becoming a top reviewer. I'm sure a lot of the top reviewers, probably most of them, are genuine, and write great reviews after buying and trying the product. But there is I believe a small percentage who review for the sake of getting the rank, and just pump out plausible-looking reviews as fast as they can. For books, they may not even purchase them, just "Look Inside" or even just read the book description, and then write a review based on what they can guess from that. These people can probably be detected by the number of books they "read" and review per day.

    Amazon could probably stamp that out by only counting reviews for certified purchases when counting points to award reviewers with "Top reviewer" status.

    The Power of Free

    Some very interesting articles by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, have been very helpful to me. I read this one first, and found it packed full of interesting information: New Smashwords research.

    In summary, free books seem to be the best way for an unknown author to get discovered by readers. If you write well, and the right people try your book, then that means the small percentage of readers who write a review will translate to a decent number of reviews; which is what you need. The pricing "sweet spot" for a book is either $2.99 or $3.99 — i.e. the author earns the most in total by pricing their books at that figure. Another key point was that a free book in a series has a massive benefit in promoting sales of the whole series. Also, books that start off with a pre-order earn more money than those that only become available to order on publication date, and longer books sell better than short books.

    Maybe the gist is best covered in this article by him: The power of free — how to sell more e-books

    He has followed it up with annual updates, based on the sales data that Smashwords sees in the previous year. He's doing a great service to indie authors by doing this analysis, and it benefits Smashwords (and other publishers) only indirectly. If more readers discover indie authors they'll enjoy, we all win.

    Here are a couple of them — they're well worth reading: Smashwords Ebook Survey 2015 and 2016 survey — how to publish and sell ebooks.

    My own experience

    ... confirms that pricing. I put a lot of hours into Wild Thing. It's hard to say exactly, given it's weird history of mitosis, but it's probably safe to say that WT (Vol 1, as published) took about 4,000 hours to produce (plus the hours that Dave spent on his critiques, and Mirella put into her cover design). So I set the price originally, I think, at $4.99.

    Thanks to advice and help from Lama Jabr of Xana Publishing and Marketing, I ran a free giveway in July, around the time of the series launch event at Gleebooks, and sales spiked up a bit. Later, in November 2016, I joined a bunch of other Indie authors in Nicole R. Locker's (Nicole R. Locker's blog) and discounted Wild Thing (and Harsh Lessons?) for her (Big Book Sale), now long over.

    I noticed that only people in the US and Germany bought copies: I think it shows that not having any reviews is a big barrier; as is having just one 1-star. (In Australia, I still have just two reviews, each one line long: one is 5-star, one is 1-star — so, that provides almost no information to help a reader decide!)

    I also signed up Wild Thing to feature on Thurs Sept 29th 2016 at ebooksoda.com in a free promotion. I do think this had a knock-on effect, because October, and then November, were my two best months of sales since publication. I think Lama Jabr's tweets about the promotion helped a lot, too.

    Because I stuffed up my organisation of my free promotion days (although I did learn about the time zone issues related to Amazon's free and discount deal promotions), in the end I just manually dropped the price of Wild Thing to US$0.99, planning to return it its normal price after a week or two. But I was in no great rush — largely because of Mark Coker's articles, but partly because I was working flat out on Shadow Hunt.

    The Power of Bargain

    And I noticed a strange thing as the months slipped by, after September.

    My Amazon cheques had grown significantly. I had a little poke about in the Amazon author's dashboard, and looked at the sales graphs every month. I started noticing that the sales from Kindle Unlimited pages-read seemed to be about double what it was from accumulated ebook sales in Kindle Direct.

    I also noticed that as months passed without me blogging or tweeting much, sales dropped off. So it does look like Facebook, blog, and twitter etc. seem to generate a little interest. I don't see I could have done much different, though, given my determination to publish Shadow Hunt "early in 2017". The main delay was that I underestimated how close it was to being ready, so working out what to do regarding Dave's suggestions, took about three times longer than I'd anticipated, which meant I missed my deadline with him. (He's currently fitting me in part-time as his schedule permits.)

    I think that a lot of people who "buy" free books, stash them away to read "later". Maybe much later! I also think you tend to value something you paid for, a little higher than something you "buy" for free. So I feel that $0.99 is generally a good choice for a bargain. Yet Mark Coker says a free book for the first in a series gives you the best return. So I may re-think that.

    Anyway, whether your book is free or not, there still remains the problem of people just discovering it exists.

    SIA and Another Free/discount Book Giveaway

    This is probably a good point to mention that I'm joining in another big free book promotion from March 31 to April 2nd (US PDT). It's being organised by the good people at Support for Indie Authors (not the talented Aussie singer/songwriter, Sia!) of Goodreads).

    Joining in the discussion there, I learned several valuable new things related to marketing.

    One was the existence of sites that promote free books. They mentioned FreeBooks.com and askdavid.com — free books are accepted and they'll tweet about them. (But see the Appendix at the end of this article that gives some surprisingly-long lists of free and low cost free book promotion sites.)

    But to help get news out about the event, so people might discover these books while they're being discounted, one of the group's helpful members, C.B. also registered for a Thunderclap promotion. I'd never heard of Thunderclap!

    Thunderclap

    Thunderclap is a service that sits above and uses social media. Think of it as a stadium full of people (or perhaps a flash mob) who agree to clap or call out a message, once only, all together at a specific time. They run both a free and a paid service, I think. You nominate the target number of people (either 100 or 250 people) you hope will join the event, and its date and time. If enough people "join" the specific Thunderclap event so you reach your target, the single message is sent, at that time.

    When you join the specific thunderclap event, you need to choose to share the message with any or all of Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr. There is a button you can click for each of these, and Thunderclap then presents you with a preview of the message that will be sent.(*) You can personalise that as you wish. You can share the link to the Thunderclap event in the hope that others will join it, too. By clicking through, you authorise Thunderclap to send that message on your behalf. They look at your contacts list, but only to calculate the "reach" (how many people your message will be seen by), to calculate how many people overall will see the message.

    What happens at that time, is that Thunderclap then sends the message from your social media account(s), for you. (It's like you stay up and awake, with finger pressed on the necessary Share button with the message prepared, and click the button at the scheduled time.)

    Now, one point to note is that the point of the Thunderclap is to co-ordinate and send the message at the same time. Yet some people only get as far as the Preview message but then don't proceed; and many of them misunderstand, and copy and paste that preview to share the message (prematurely).

    (*) For that reason, if your message contains a link to a web page that gives the details of the event (which it should!), the preview message contains a shortened URL that instead points to the Thunderclap promotion page for the event, instead. That shortened URL is replaced by a shortened URL that points to the real event when the message is finally sent.

    I contacted Thunderclap directly to ask them to clarify that, and other people who had used Thunderclap reassured me on some of the other points which I've explained above. I must say that the Thunderclap people were super responsive and receptive to feedback, and didn't seem to mind explaining things.

    I also asked why they only supported Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. They said they had reached out to the other social media companies, but at present those other companies did not provide the necessary facilities for Thunderclap to integrate with them. They pointed out that you can share the preview message by any social media you use, manually, if you want to encourage others to join the Thunderclap itself. And I found a Google+ group that seems to be trying to integrate: the Google+ Thunderclap community.

    I should probably share the link to this specific Thunderclap for the book promo event, eh? Here it is: VM's siafbb Spring book attack

    Appendix — sites that promote free/discount books

    Dave's notes about promotion/review sites:

    1. BookBub (the holy grail -- no point in even applying at the moment but just putting it in there ... unless you have at least 200 Amazon reviews you have got zero chance of being accepted and even then it's not easy)

    2. BookSends (One of the more expensive ones but generally good results)

    3. EReader News Today $35

    4. Buck Books — around $9 (fiction; non-fiction $29)

    5. Free Kindle Books and Tips (around $25, and other requirements)

    6. Digital Book Today

    The following sites were collected and shared by members of the Support for Indie Authors Group on Goodreads. Many people contributed; notably Dylan Callens,

    Martin Wilsey, Marie Silk, Christina McMullen, I've collected them together here, with some comments, and 've removed dead links. Please note that any errors will be due to mistakes I've made; to check the original source of the material see this resources discussion: "Best advertising sites"

    There was one comment that ineffective sites were the Fussy Librarian, Many Books, and FKBT (Free Kindle Books and Tips).

    This is a mixture of free and sites that charge a fee (but most are free):

    www.addictedtoebooks.com
    www.authormarketingclub.com
    www.bargainebookhunter.com
    www.bestebookreaderlovers.com
    www.bookdealhunter.com
    www.bookfreebies.com
    www.bookgoodies.com
    www.bookpraiser.com
    ebookdealofday.com/author-submit/
    www.ebooklister.net/submit.php
    www.ebooksfreedaily.com
    www.ebookshabit.com/for-authors
    www.ereadergirl.com
    www.flurriesofwords.blogspot.co.uk
    www.freebookclub.org
    www.freebookdude.com
    www.freebooksdaily.com
    www.freebookshub.com/authors
    www.freebooksy.com
    www.freediscountedbooks.com
    www.free-kindle-books.deha-solutions....
    www.igniteyourbook.com
    www.iloveebooks.com
    www.indieauthornews.com
    www.indiebooklounge.com
    www.indiebookoftheday.com/authors
    www.justkindlebooks.com/submit-your-book
    www.kornerkonnection.com
    www.moreforlessonline.com
    www.onehundredfreebooks.com/author-fr...
    www.peoplereads.com
    www.pixelofink.com
    www.pixelscroll.com/feature-your-product
    www.slashedreads.com
    www.theereadercafe.com/authors
    www.thekindlebookreview.com
    www.worldliterarycafe.com — off-line at time of checking: may be dead

    And more (Marie's additions with duplicate links removed):

    Ask David: http://askdavid.com Free for free book promos only or $15 for 6-month membership, send out tweets on free promo day
    Sweet Free Books: http://sweetfreebooks.com $7
    Addicted to ebooks (see the link, above) — *can only submit the day of your promo, Free
    Kindle Book Promos: Free, at least 48 hours notice
    Freebooks.com: http://www.freebooks.com Free
    Content Mo: http://contentmo.com free tweet and on website for free books
    My Book Cave https://mybookcave.com/submission-guidelines free to list but must meet strict requirements for content

    Marie also noted in Aug 2016 that these sites were the ones she had been accepted for and estimated were most effective (from most effective to least) for her one day free book promotion:
    1. Freebooksy $85
    2. Robin Reads $45
    3. Bookzio $19
    4. Bookscream $5
    5. Ebook Hounds $10
    6. Book Raid FREE
    7. Free99books FREE
    8. Digital Book Today FREE (48 hours notice and 18+ reviews or $15 fee)

    And here are a bunch more links, from the same source:

    My Book Cave FREE
    Book Raid https://bookraid.com/ Free
    Armadillo Ebooks http://www.armadilloebooks.com/ Free
    Book of the Day www.bookoftheday.org Free, *note* your book must be listed on their site in advance of your promotion.
    Book Scream www.bookscream.com $5* fee is optional and guarantees a top placement in newsletter. Otherwise, free
    Reading Deals www.readingdeals.com Free *has paid guarantee*
    Choosy Book Worm www.choosybookworm.com Free*has paid guarantee*
    Book Hearts (a choosy bookworm site) http://bookhearts.com free but has paid option and currently has no review requirement
    Awesome Gang www.awesomegang.com Free*has paid guarantee*
    Fussy Librarian www.thefussylibrarian.com $20 (prices vary by genre)
    Free 99 Books www.free99books.com Free
    Free and Discounted Books (see the link, above) — $8
    Discount Book Man www.discountbookman.com Free
    OHFB www.ohfb.com *no longer free promo options start at $75*
    Ebooks Habit (see the link, above) — Free (and *has paid guarantee option*)
    Book Bongo www.bookbongo.com Free
    Genre Pulse www.genrepulse.com $16
    Online Book Club http://onlinebookclub.org/ $150
    Ebook Soda www.ebooksoda.com $15 *$5 off coupons available from various review sites*
    Book Goodies (see the link, above) — $10
    My Book Place www.mybookplace.net *updated link* Free
    Free Books Hub (see the link, above) — $10
    Book Lover's Heaven www.bookloversheaven.com Free
    Ebook Hounds www.ebookhounds.com $10
    Bookzio www.bookzio.com Free *has paid guarantee* also has a reciprocal link discount ***encourages short works***
    Book Gorilla www.bookgorilla.com $150

    Enjoy!

    Monday, 6 February 2017

    Book 3 – Shadow Hunt – is almost ready

    Still alive!

    I've been silent so long (October last year!), because I've been working very hard on book three, so I thought I'd make the time to offer a short update.

    When will it be published?

    I wrote in the Afterword of Book 2 that I was confident I'd have Book 3 ready early in 2017. I've been trying very hard to publish the ebook by mid-March. Right now I'm getting some much-delayed other book-related work done while I wait to receive the detailed critique of the 2nd half of Shadow Hunt from Dave at TheEditors.com — I should get that today or tomorrow. If I can manage to average 15pp/day then I'll have the updated draft ready about Feb 28. I'll then spend a week to 10 days checking and re-checking that, then upload it to Amazon. If I can manage 20pp/day, then it will be ready earlier, obviously.

    I'm doing my best, and working very hard. I finished writing and polishing the draft and sent it to Dave at the end of 2016 (in two parts: 1st half on Nov 28th, and the 2nd half on Dec 3rd).

    Shadow Hunt cover

    Mirella, too, has been hard at work on the cover design, working from a brief I prepared last year. This image, below, is not final, and maybe I shouldn't include it... but I just can't resist giving you a sneak peek, even though it's not quite finished. (It will change just a little, but I love it already!)

    (You can see the final cover over on my other blog.)

    Some nitty-gritty

    Dave's critique has been invaluable, as ever. We spent some time discussing his key recommendations at a high level, and I sketched out a plan, and then sat down and worked my way through chapter by chapter. I also received very helpful feedback from Jon Marshall (again!) as a beta reader of the same MS, and he found several important problems and oversights (fortunately, none hard to correct).

    Incidentally, the reason for breaking the critique in two was purely a time-saving method: I could get started on the first half while Dave continued on the second half. This was only possible because he'd sort of already critiqued the whole thing twice before, because the MS has been split in two twice from Dave's feedback (that's not counting once, before, based on my own assessment). A side benefit of splitting it in two is also purely mechanical: the powerful, free word processor I use, LibreOffice, becomes unusable when the number of comments in a file exceeds about 1,500. (It must have what's called an order N2 algorithm in its handling of comments, which is a fancy way of saying the time it takes to do anything rises as sharply as the up-sweeping arm of a parabola!) As it stands, before I start deleting comments, LibreOffice takes about 15 — 20 seconds just to respond to a menu click. I've added to the problem report (bug 60418), and it's on their list of things to consider. But it's not considered a big problem.

    ISBNs & CiP

    Today I logged in to Thorpe-Bowker to assign ISBNs to the ebook and the print edition. Armed with the correct ISBNs, I then visited the National Library of Australia website to request a Cataloguing in Publication entry for three editions of Shadow Hunt (the ebook, the 5"x8" edition, and the 4"x7"). But again, all three 4"x7" editions are on hold until I can find a workaround for another bug in LibreOffice, that messes up the page headers. (Bug 103078)

    About Vol. 3

    Shadow Hunt is currently a little longer than the 1st, Wild Thing, though Dave is recommending I cut 30 pages from one 100-page stretch. If I manage to do that, it's shaping up to be the same length as Wild Thing. I'm very happy with how the book turned out (is turning out?).

    April plans

    I'm also planning to attend the SwanCon this year (I've never visited Perth)! It's billed as "Australia’s longest running Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction Convention".

    My next blog posts here will probably cover these topics:

    • Break up that indigestible previous blog that covered too much in too much detail
    • a quick intro to Scribus for preparing your book covers, given a brilliant cover design as your starting point
    • setting up your Youtube author channel (mine is here)
    • a rant about the new publishing world.

    Over on my other blog, All About Leeth, I plan to post a Q&A from a fan (yes — I have a fan!) about the series, and especially about Harmon and Leeth's relationship.

    I think that covers thing. Now to press on with some other work — like finalising the blurb, and more polishing of the new parts I've written over the last few weeks. I'm doing my best!