Monday, October 29, 2012

I guess this means summer is over

I arrived back in Budapest a few weeks ago to spend a few more months or so here working on some writing.  Last weekend it was nice and warm and I was out and about in shorts and t-shirts every day.  This week that all changed.  Suddenly it is cold, and dark, with the first flakes of snow falling on the city this morning.

Not only that but we rolled back daylight savings yesterday, so it's now just a bit after 5 O'Clock and already dark out!  Here's a shot of the view from my room a few minutes ago:

And here is looking in the opposite direction:

It's a scenic spot, in the heart of the city on the trendy Vaci Utca pedestrian street.  It's a great location, with lots of cafes nearby to write in and the city library only a ten-minute walk away.  Now it's time to get into the spirit of jackets and hats, and perhaps a cup or two of mulled wine to get through these chilly autumn nights.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

One of those in-between times

I've been a bit lazy about updating my blog since I finished my last novel, Natalia.  After focusing so hard for so long on one project, I'm now in one of those in-between times, with one project finished and the next yet to fully gel.  In fact, I've actually found myself working on three projects at one time, not sure which I most want to devote my energies to.

One problem that I've never had is coming up with ideas for books I want to write.  I suppose the opposite is true.  I have a long list of things that I want to write and have to find a way to prioritize them.  Currently, the things I've got going include:

1) A memoir that I've been working on off and on for the last ten years.  This one is full of funny stories about the life of an itinerant writer, traipsing around the world on a shoestring.

2) I've begun plotting out the next two Natalia novels and want to write the first few chapters of each.  So far sales on the first one are virtually non-existent.  I'm very happy with the way the book came out and want to write the next two, but it seems that perhaps the "indie" route isn't working this time.  Perhaps if I can present this as a series I might be able to find an agent and go the traditional route.  I figure it can't hurt to try.

3) I've always thought that Sweet Ophelia, currently titled Tinseltown Fairytale, would make a great movie.  I'd previously written a screenplay version, but after seven months of revisions to the novel, I feel like it is time to revise the screenplay to match, and maybe start sending that one out again.

So there you have it.  Plenty to keep me busy as I settle in again to Budapest, where I've just rented a room in an apartment in the center of the city.  With the temperatures falling and plenty of rain, this is definite writing weather.  Hopefully I can take advantage!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Is this party over?

I made the decision to put my books up for sale on Amazon and other e-book retailers in the summer of 2010.  Things were just beginning to take off in this space at that time, with a growing enthusiasm among "Indie" writers for the e-book publishing revolution.  Self-published stars like Amanda Hocking and John Locke were on their way to the million mark in downloads and others like Joe Konrath were trumpeting their own success stories and others.

My first book, No Cure for the Broken Hearted, went up for sale in late November of that year.  To my surprise, it did remarkably well, climbing to #9 on the overall bestseller list at Amazon UK.  The price was a low .49 pence, but I was selling upwards of 300 copies per day across all platforms, ultimately selling 45,000 or so copies and garnering some great reviews.

I had high hopes for my second book, Sweet Ophelia (currently Tinseltown Fairytale).  It also ended up getting mostly good reviews but sold only about a third as many copies.  My latest book, Natalia, came out one month ago.  So far it has sold about eight copies, six of which were to family and friends.

So what happened?  It would be easy to say that people just don't like the sound of my latest book, but I know that there is more to it than that.  I follow the "Indie" writer's forum (Writer's Cafe) over at Kindle Boards, and by the way many of the writers over there are wringing their hands about their sales "going off a cliff," it is clear that something bigger is going on.

I have to say, I never really did trust the system much even when my first book took off.  I always figured that what Amazon gave, Amazon could somehow take away.  Not that it is necessarily Amazon's fault.  The jury is still out on that, but there seemed to be plenty of variables stacked against the long-term potential of this publishing paradigm.  Not that I didn't hope for the best, but always with caution.

Back in 2010 I saw two possible culprits for a crash.  The first was piracy.  Quite a few writers on the boards have the opinion that piracy is actually good for independent writers, since it gets more people reading our books, who might illegally download one but then buy the next, or spread the word about a particular writer.  I never bought into this theory.  To me, piracy is stealing, pure and simple, but I don't think it is having any large scale impact at this point in any case.

Another issue was the huge surge of self-pubbed books going up online all the time.  I've read somewhere that 50,000 new self-published books go up on Amazon every month.  Some are well-written but many are just junk, put up by people hoping for a quick and easy buck.  The bottom line is that this just makes it harder and harder to stand out in this massive sea of material.

A third thing that hurts sales overall is the proliferation of free books.  Authors like myself found that in order to stand out, sometimes it pays to give away a book for free for some period of time.  Free books count towards overall sales rank, so when you go off free you have a lot more visibility than you did before.  The first time I did this, with Sweet Ophelia, I gave away about 50,000 copies in a week and then had $3500 in sales the next week.  Not bad.  But as more and more writers give away more and more free books, I think some readers become inclined not to pay for books at all.  Great for them but bad for us writers.

The last thing, and this one is the hardest to quantify, is the tweaking that Amazon does with their algorithms.  This, I suspect, is what the sales crash for independent writers is mostly caused by at the moment.  Book sales on Amazon are driven to a large degree by the "Also Bought" listings you see on every page.  If enough people buy a certain book and then another, those two books will show up on listings on each others pages.  In this way, they drive each others sales.  The more books a writer sells, the more listings they show up on and sales can grow exponentially.

Amazon has algorithms, or equations, that they use to calculate which books show up where and what a book's ranking is on the bestseller lists.  From time to time they tweak these algorithms to favor one variable or another.  Free books, for example, used to count for a lot on the bestseller lists (after they'd reverted to paid books).  Now those free books don't count for much and the corresponding sales boosts after a free run have dissipated dramatically.

Honestly I don't think that anyone outside of Amazon knows what the reasons are for the huge sales slump amongst independent writers.  All I know for sure is that I did a free run with Tinseltown Fairytale earlier this month that led to three paid sales.  Other than that I only sold one other book in the last two weeks.  That means I've earned $8 in fifteen days.  Not quite the way to make a living.

So it leaves me wondering, is this self-published e-book party really over?  I'd always expected that this day might come, but I'd hoped I could run with my earlier success a little bit longer before it crashed.  I'm not giving up completely yet.  I'm working on a memoir now and have plans for some sequels to Natalia, though with nobody buying the first one it is a little hard to motivate to write the next.

Perhaps when Christmas comes along, all of the new Kindle owners will go on book buying sprees and boost all of our Indie writer's boats.  It isn't like people suddenly stopped reading, in any case.  They are reading now more than ever, according to statistics.  Apparently they just don't seem to be buying independent authors at the moment, for whatever reason.  I'm willing to give it some more time, in any case, but it does seem that there are dark clouds gathering at the moment...

Friday, October 5, 2012

"Natalia" paperback giveaway

Natalia is now available on Amazon as a paperback, and to celebrate I'm giving away a free copy to U.S. residents (sorry international readers!).  To enter, go the the Goodreads page by clicking on the image below, and good luck!