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Mar 29, 2011

Receiving Reviews and Not Being a Fckwit About It

I would like to thank everyone who bought The Unfinished Song: Taboo on its launch day. You helped make the debut successful, and I'm really grateful. It's really heartwarming to know that there were readers eagerly anticipating the second book in the series.

The second book has no reviews yet, and I was not kidding yesterday that I live in terror of receiving reviews on it (what if people don't like it?!). The only thing worse, of course, would be no reviews at all.

It's important to keep that in reviews at all is worse than the most terrible review in the world.

I think by now probably most of the writing community has seen the pathetic train wreck of an author going ballistic over a lackluster review. For me, it was like rubbernecking at an accident. Although I knew it was a bad idea to keep reading, I couldn't look away.

It pained me to read another book reviewer comment, "And this is is why I don't accept self-publish for review." Apparently she missed the case of the (ahem, traditionally) published author who tried to sue over a negative review. It's not being self-published that is the problem; it's being a fckwit.

Just sayin'.

I reached my own conclusion, which was that my policy of not commenting on reviewer blogs was probably for the best. Not that I would ever, ever start telling people left and right to "fck off." If I did comment on reviewer blogs that reviewed my books, it would be to thank them for the review, regardless of the content of the review. Michelle Davidson Argyle does this, and I've always thought she was so gracious and delightful about it, no matter the content of the review.

However, I read a discussion between a couple of book reviewers mentioning that they don't like the sense an author is looking over their shoulder when they write the review. Although they could obviously on speak for themselves, and other reviewers might feel differently, it kind of spooked me off commenting at all, even to express gratitude. What if it were too tempting to me to leave it at that, and I found myself wanting to answer the reviewers questions about this or that point? For instance, one very astute reviewer of The Unfinished Song: Initiate wanted to know why there were no domesticated dogs in the story, when dogs were domesticated far earlier than cats. I was tempted to jump into the comments section and say, "There are dogs in another tribe, one we haven't met yet." But is that really my place to jump in like that? I don't want to give the impression that he book cannot speak for itself. So I didn't say anything. I really liked that review, though. The reviewer made so many intelligent observations.

If I were a book reviewer, I wouldn't want the feeling the author was hanging over my shoulder either. Still, the internet cuts both ways. If a reviewer really did write a meanie-pants review, the author is going to find it and read it and weep soggy tears over it. Even if authors don't comment, we are just as capable of ego-googling as the next person. I actively search the internet for reviews of my books, so I can link back to them from the website. I am probably not the only author to do so.

I admit, I have considered not reading reviews at all. I can link to the site without reading them. I keep telling myself that's what I'll do and I came leaving anyway.

The problem is that I can't stick to that. Morbid curiosity compels me, but it's more than that. When else can one's get independent feedback about one's book? That's too good to pass up. The danger is that the review will mention some flaw in your writing that you can't dispute, casting you into the deepest bowels of depression. The benefit may be that a reviewer could show you an insight into the book that you were too close to see yours.

Mar 28, 2011

Cowardice and Sequels

The Unfinished Song: Taboo

The second book in my series, The Unfinished Song: Taboo, launches today. It's all about being brave enough to break rules if those rules are wrong. Which makes it especially ironic for me to make this admission: I'm a complete coward.

I wait with trepidation to see if anyone will buy the sequel, and if they buy it, if anyone will like it. It's ridiculous, I'm sure, but I'm really terrified no one will. What if they people who read Book 1, Initiate, and hate book two? Also, in this book, more than the first, I edge ever so gently toward more controversial subjects. (Book 3, Sacrifice, will be the real dousy, though.) It's all very well to tell myself I will remain true to my artistic vision no matter what anyone else says, but then I am faced with real reader reaction, and I can't help shaking.

Like I said, I'm a big coward.

It's so much easier to write when you are unpublished and don't have to worry about whether anyone will actually like it.

It's deadly to a writer to fret over what people think, or try to anticipate it. (You can't, anyway.) Some readers, even if they don't like every last bit about the book, will like enough that they will trust me to take the rest of the journey down the road to the concluding volume. Some readers will fall by the wayside. I have to hope that I can more eager readers as more books come out, not lose them, but there's not any guarantee. I have to be true to the story, even if I am afraid.

If you see someone stumbling around on a road, moving forward even as she has her hands over her eyes, that's me, going ahead with the revisions on the next book, Sacrifice, which is due out at the end of May.

Mar 25, 2011

Taboo Release Date: March 28

I have a date for the release of The Unfinished Song: Taboo!

It will be available for sale on Monday, March 28.

*Tara does her happy dance*

If you buy it on the release date, it will be only $.99. After that, it will return to its regular price of $4.95. (However, if you would like a free review copy, you can still email to receive one.) Meanwhile, The Unfinished Song: Initiate is still on sale for only $.99.

UPDATE: Good news, Nookers! Both books will be available for the Nook very soon.

A big thanks to my tech team for helping me with this even though it was three am in your time zone.  :D

Those of you who would like a print version of Taboo will have to wait a little longer, I fear. There will be a trade paperback edition, but not immediately. In the near term, we are going to concentrate on getting the ebook to all the available platforms, and for all ereaders.

There was an Author's Note that was going to be included at the end of Taboo, but at the last minute, I feared I had brought up too many spoilers, so I decided to bump it to the Author's Note at the end of Sacrifice (Book 3) instead.

I am preparing review copies for those who are interested, and also compiling a list of all those who asked me previously if Initiate was available for the Nook.

Can I just say that it's amazing how exhausting a book launch can be, even when it's a low key launch like this one? I can only imagine the stress and drama some of my more famous author friends must have gone through. At least I do not have to give a talk at a live book signing today!

Mar 19, 2011

Finding Theme

"This is the first lesson you need to learn about magic, and about life. We all live in the same world, but we each see it differently." --Brena, in The Unfinished Song: Taboo

There's a slender but reflective book on writing called The Golden Theme by Brian McDonald, who argues: 
"Stories may have individual themes, such as 'there is no honor among thieves' or 'slow and steady wins the race.' But underneath all stories, no matter what their intentional theme may be, there lies another message--a universal message. 
...A cemetery tells us just one thing. And it does not whisper this truth, but shouts it. The dead tell us this: we are all the same.  
This simple sentence, we are all the same, is the Golden Theme that all stories express.
I think Brian McDonald illuminates theme exquisitely in his book. I remember reading on his blog a post he wrote, also about theme, in which he said that not all stories have themes, but all great stories have a theme. If there is a story that seems to have all the other elements of a good story--character, mood, plot, worldbuilding, style, yet still falls flat, chances are, it is lacking a theme. (I believe he used some M. Night Shyamalan movies as an example, and I completely agreed with his analysis; it explained to me exactly why I felt something was "missing" from a story I should have loved, but couldn't.)

I do think about theme a great deal as I write a story, and Initiate and Taboo, the first two books of The Unfinished Song, have themes which I think of as being complementary. The theme running through Initiate was self-sabatoge. There are a number of characters who seem to be suffering problems imposed on them from other people; but if you look more closely, you will see that they are actually causing themselves more grief than any outside force ever could. In Taboo, however, the theme is reversed. (I like reversals.) Several characters have problems they seem to be causing themselves, by violating taboos, but which actually call into question the validity of the law itself.

Nonetheless, I don't think we always find our themes. Sometimes our themes find us. As I was going over my edits, I noticed the above sentence, in a rather functional ("infodump") scene where the Tavaedi Initiates are leaning the rules of magic. I realized it is an underlying theme of the entire series, not one I planned, exactly, but one that flows naturally out of the structure of the world I created.

Mar 17, 2011

The Second Worst Part of Writing

The night before last, I had a dream of climbing a mountain. Near the top, where it was icy and rocky, I was attacked by wolves. They chased me up a tall pile of rocks. I clung to the top while they snarled below, snapping at my feet. Then last night, I dreamt I was chased into a mausoleum by cannibals. Again with teeth-gnashing and ankle-snapping.

On a completely related note, I've been scrambling to finish my edits for Taboo. (While also writing the first draft of a research paper for school.)

I love most parts of writing. This particular stage of edits, though, is, shall we say, not my favorite part of the job. These are the kinds of corrections that my editor can find, but only I can correct. My editor can correct the mistake where I've accidentally used "to" instead of "too" or forgotten the second 'had' in the past perfect tense. But what if I've said in one part of the scene that it's late at night, but later refer to the position of the sun in the sky? I'm the one who has to make up my mind whether it's day or night!

The real reason I hate this stage though is that never does my own wordage appear so ugly to me as when I am trying to polish it. Every sentence emits the foul odor of cliche, unclarity, or just plain blah-bland-yuck. Would I actually, factually prefer to scrub dishes?

Well, let's not go THAT far.

The good news is that at least the edits are almost done, and Taboo WILL be available this month, probably next week, depending on how long formatting and uploading and review in Amazon takes. And Nook users, I will not forget you.

Ugh. Edits. Sorry for the rant.

Mar 15, 2011

Will All Books Become $.99?

In general, the cheaper the price, the more inclined the consumer will be to buy.

However, when it comes to books, I'm not convinced that prices always drive down. (It's possible economists are laughing at me right now.) But as I tried (badly) to explain on Konrath's blog, I think price pressure can also drive prices up.

Suppose the consumer has a flat budget of $10 and a choice between two books, a $10 book by Author A and a $1 book by Author B. If books were completely interchangable, the consumer would always choose the $1 book. But we know that books are not completely interchangable. Let's say that the consumer prefers the $10 book, and so buys that one. The consumer will not have enough money left to buy the $1 book, despite how cheap it is. The author of the $10 book makes $7. (I am assuming both authors are indie and make 70% royalty.)

Now suppose the consumer does buy the $1 book. This author, however, only makes $.70. (Actually, it is worse, because on Amazon right now this author will only make $0.35). So even if the cheap book beats out the expensive book 9 times out of 10, the author of the $1 book will only make $6.30 for every $7.00 the other author makes. At the lower royalty rate, the difference is even more stark. The author makes only $3.15.

If all authors charge $1, then all consumers can buy 9 extra books. The consumer can buy Author A and Author B. So instead of 9 sales, the author with the lower price makes 10 sales, which, at least if royalties were at $.70, is equal to selling one book at $10. For consumers, this is a much better situation, obviously. So maybe all books will float down to the $1 price, as music and games have.

But what if price is not the only restraint?

If the consumer could buy 10 $1 books, but actually has time to read only one, then lowering the price is not a smart move for authors. Even if the consumer buys more books than can be read, say, 3 instead of 1, this does not make up for the loss to the author.

P.S. Right now my books are on sale for $.99. But this probably will not last. :)

Mar 14, 2011

Double Covers

For the first time, someone who bought Initiate sent it back for a refund. The buyer bought the UK cover version from the US store. I am wondering if the poor reader discovered they had already the book with a different cover? I wonder if there is any way I can prevent this in the future.

On the other hand, since US customers cannot buy books from the UK and vice versa, the only way I can allow the customer a choice of covers is to make both versions available in both stores. In general, I'd rather give people more choices than fewer. However, by having two different versions of the book available, I also risk splitting my sales rank, which on Amazon, is very important in generating more sales. I'm not sure it's wise.

What do you think? Given that we are speaking of ebooks, is it important to have a choice of different covers?

Of course, I could be paranoid over nothing. It's also possible the customer returned the book because they read the first chapter and realized, "My god! This is utter dreck!" ;)

Mar 11, 2011

Updates for March

This is just a quick note to let people know what I'm up to.

I've finished the first round of revisions suggested by my content editor for The Unfinished Song: Taboo. Two beta readers are also going to get back to me after critiquing particular scenes I was nervous about. Depending on what they say, I make a few more changes. My content editor will read it, and there may be one more round of content revisions. Then the book is off to the copy editor for what will hopefully be the final revision. After that, the formatting and uploading will also take a few days each. I'm fortunate that both my editors are on board and willing to push this through quickly to meet the deadline, so I am confident we get the book out on time. I don't have an exact date but it will be a March release.

The second thing I am working on is long overdue and that's the Nook edition of Initiate. There's been a technical hold-up, namely the color pictures are not showing up right. Since the Nook has color, I would like to include a color image of the cover of the book in the file. Misque Press now has a Tech Team on this. The good news is that Taboo should be released on both Kindle and Nook at the same time.

I apologize to all Nook readers for the delay. We also own a Nook and actually, I can't wait to see what it looks like there.

In other news, I am trying to decide if I should put up another website for The Unfinished Song series. This site is my writerly blog, where I can talk about the writing and publishing process. 500 words features excerpts from my own and other books. But I think maybe I need a site that is just about Faearth -- it will have a map, biographies of the characters, information about the different tribes and fae. It should be fun. I was going to do one on wix, but you know what? I might just use blogger. We'll see. I won't roll that out for another month, I suspect.

Grad school is still my biggest time-suck, although since I crunched my numbers for my research paper and the results -- yay! -- confirmed my hypothesis, I'm feeling a little more confident about my ability to at least turn in something. For a while there, I thought I would have to pick up an old computer from e-waste, smash it with a sledgehammer, take it to my prof and claim to have lost all my results due to a freak meteorological accident.

Mar 7, 2011

Ebooks and the Ebay Parable

"Women in Water." Yeah, I painted this atrocity.

Most people reading my humble blog probably already know about Amanda Hocking, so the the fact mainstream news media have suddenly latched onto her story is not a surprise. I had relatives start emailing me news articles, "Have you heard of this person?!"  "Yes, yes, and the article got some facts wrong, here let me correct you..."

You can read her reaction to it all (and while you're there, check out the new cover of Hollowland -- it's gorgeous); about the fear and condescension at a mystery writer's convention; and Nathan Bradford's extremely helpful breakdown  of hardbacks vs ebooks and what the real threat to publishing is. Joe Konrath argues ebooks ain't a bubble, and Harper Collins must agree, or else they want to ride that bubble til it bursts because they finally decided it might be wise to get into the game of digital self-publishing.

I have a comparison of my own to make. A couple of years ago, I tried to launch a myself a modest career as a painter on eBay.

I've never had any formal painting training, but I've been an artist all my life. I'd never given it serious thought as a career because I didn't go to art school and I had no idea how to get my work into galleries. Also, I hate modern art, so I assumed I didn't paint what the formal art industry wanted anyway. Also, I kinda sucked.

Then, thanks to eBay, I'd noticed that artists were able to skip the whole gallery step and sell directly to customers. The range of styles (and skill level) was also huge. That excited me. I did market research and found more than hundred independent artists who earned between $2,000 and $5,000 a month just selling their paintings. There were many more; these were just the ones I tracked over time in an Excel file.

They had a couple things in common:

1) They painted and sold between 10-60 paintings per month; most painted a painting every day and put in on the market within that same month, even in the same week
2) They started the auctions fairly low, but most of an individual artists' paintings ended up going for about the same price (give or take) as that same artist's other works
3) Those who had been doing this more than a year had improved as artists, and seen their paintings average sale price trend upward, sometimes quite dramatically
4) Those who had been doing this for more than a year began to resell the same paintings as prints and giclees, making more of their income passsive instead of active

I came at this from a writing background so I thought of these as "midlist artists" and decided that despite what I had always been told about starving artists, this was a viable career. The question was whether it was viable for me? I invested about $500 dollars in my art business. These were material costs: oil and acrylic paints, canvas, and packing & shipping materials. I also set up an eBay account with a store. Then I began painting every day.

My painting was not very good, to be honest. Nor did I have any following. In painting, as in writing, a lot of business comes from repeat customers. My first painting sold for $40, but that had taken me 8 hours. My goal was to paint faster -- finish a painting in 2-4 hours -- and sell it for $100, with a sell-through rate of 90% or better. If I did that every day, I could make a living at it.

Meanwhile, eBay was changing. Two things impacted indie painters the most. One was eBay itself; they changed management and implented a lot of new policies that favored big business over little entrepeneurs. The second was a flood of very good, very cheap paintings coming from art sweatshops in China. There's a whole city in China where hundreds of thousands of artists come and in factory-like conditions, just copy famous oil paintings all day long. These were then bundled, shipped and sold en masse to companies in the US that put them up on eBay at prices and in quantities the small artists could hardly compete. Many artists were driven out of the market.

As a result of these changes, artists started migrating over to Etsy and DeviantArt. I assume some still made a living at it. For all I know, some still sell well on eBay, I haven't checked recently.

My own artistic career, alas, did not take off. Maybe I was just using the wrong medium. The first painting I ever sold for more than $300 was digital. That was nice because I didn't have to pack it. But the main problem was that I kept stealing from my painting time to write. I figured, well, if that's what keeps working for me, then writing is what I should focus on.

However, my point was not to drone on about myself (ha, just kidding, it totally was) but to say that even if ebooks are not a fad or a bubble, I can see something similar happening to indie authors. There could be changes to the big vendors that make it hard to make a profit, or get noticed -- if Amazon changes their search algorithm to favor paid advertisers, for instance, or offers paid co-op on the bestseller lists -- this could edge out indies. As traditionally published authors sweep in with their backlists, this could flood the market. And finally, if the Big 6 or some newcomer wakes up and starts taking the possibilities of epublishing seriously, they could flood the market with new books.

You always hear that the danger of digital self-publishing is that the market will be flooded with crap. Believe me, that is not the danger. The more crap the better. It makes my non-crap books look good by comparison to have the crap there. Look! At least my sentences start with capitals and end in periods! I am a Good Writer!

No, I'm far more afraid of the market being flooded with excellence. That's much harder to compete with. Like those hand-painted oil paintings from China that looked like Renoir and cost ten bucks. F%$## h&#%!!!  I really hope China doesn't have a city dedicated to wanna-be English-language science fiction and fantasy authors.