Category Archives: ebooks

Done

At one point – long, long ago when dinosaurs walked the Earth, The Avengers movie was still just rumour and fanwank and I updated this blog twice a week – I talked about my self e-publishing as an experiment.

Well, I’ve had a think about this lately, and I’m here to say that the experiment…

CSI CSI CSI

…is concluded.

That’s right, I’ve decided to call self-pub a day.

But why? Why, when so many authors talk about how it’s the future of writing and they make so much money and they have so much control and everyone should be doing it? Hell, when I’ve said (on more than one occasion) that everyone should try it?

Well, I stand by that last statement – it’s something worth trying for many authors. But trying it isn’t the same as sticking with it, as divorce rates make very clear, and for me I think the jury is in.

…does that need another meme? Like a Law and Order one? Let’s pretend I posted that Batman/L&O one and move on.

Hotel FlamingoI published my first ebook, Hotel Flamingo, back in late 2010, as a way of collecting the novella-length LJ-serial I’d written a couple of years earlier. From there I put one out every year – Godheads in 2011, The Obituarist in 2012, Nine Flash Nine in 2013 and The Obituarist II in early 2015 (okay, not quite every year). I think I’ve given the platform a pretty decent shake, especially when it comes to low-priced, shorter-form fiction – something that ebooks are pretty much perfect for, probably better than print publishing.

But the thing is… I’m not enjoying it.

I don’t mean that I don’t enjoy the writing. (I largely don’t, but that’s a different discussion.) What I don’t enjoy is the publishing aspect – the work required to make the books come together, hiring editors and cover designers to polish them and make them look good, fiddling with KDP and Smashwords interfaces to tweak and correct file glitches. And I really, really don’t enjoy the marketing and self-promotion aspect – the need to constantly try to get people’s attention, tell every social media platform about my work and convince them to part with their dollars.

This all crystallised for me in early April when I read a blog post by Delilah Dawson (you should check her books out, they’re pretty cool) about how/why self-promotion on social media doesn’t work. Her basic thesis is that it’s pushy and turns readers away – and reading through it, I could confirm that every behaviour she names is something that annoys me as a reader. So doing more of it as a writer… no, screw that.

(She wrote a follow-up about ways to positively and effectively self-promote, and it’s got some good stuff in it, but the damage was already done.)

And the thing is, you can’t just publish and not self-promote – not if you want anyone to read your books. When The Obituarist came out, I pushed it as hard as I could manage (and stomach), with tweets and FB posts and email and blog posts and guest posts and more besides. And it worked, to a decent extent – I sold 100+ copies in less than two months. I did a lot less promotion with The Obituarist II, because I had less time and energy and drive, and it’s sold half the copies in twice the time.

If you self-publish, you have to self-promote.  You have to play author, publisher and marketing department. Me, I publish books for a living. And when I come home from a day of making books and working with marketing, I’d rather not do that all over again.

It’s not about the money – I make sweet fuck-all, but I can afford that. What I can’t afford is the time, effort and attention needed to make that money. Not when I could spend that writing the next book instead.

Am I telling you folks not to self-publish? Hell no – like I said, I recommend you give it a try. There are writers out there that are making it really, really work for them, and it could work for you too. If you’re writing in the right genre, for the right audience; if you’re good at networking with other writers and reading communities; if you’re happy to do the hard yards of talking about your work and why it matters to you and why people should read it; if you want total control (and the lion’s share of the royalties) and are prepared to do what it takes to make that worthwhile… if you can do all that, or even some of that, you could definitely find an audience and sell some books and do what fulfils you.

But after five years of it, I think I’m done. I’m more interested now in making my work as polished and sellable as I can, convincing publishers (whether print or digital) to take a chance on it and letting them (and their marketing team) do most of the work.

And hey, it was worth it. I maybe wouldn’t go as far as saying it was fun while it lasted, but it was definitely worth it. Thanks a lot to everyone who came along for the ride.

…and having said all that, I still plan to self-publish the more-or-less inevitable third (and last) Obituarist novella. Because who’s going to publish just the third part of a trilogy?

1208 - Obituarist-ol - new     ObituaristII-PDuffy

If you would like to publish just the third part of a trilogy, please say so in the comments. No reasonable offer refused.

In other news, my knee isn’t back to normal, but it’s healed enough that I can walk properly and don’t have to take so many painkillers.

So it’s back to work on revising and rewriting Raven’s Blood, which I hope to finish by mid-July. And it’s back to more regular blog posts. I promise.

I know I promised that last time. But baby, I mean it this time, honest.

Now on sale – The Obituarist II

At last, it’s the post you’ve been waiting for all this time; the sign that 2015 is off to a flying start.

Because today’s the day that The Obituarist II: Dead Men’s Data is finished, published and available for purchase!

ObituaristII-PDuffyWho’s settling accounts for the dead?

Two years after his last adventure, obituarist Kendall Barber is still trying to make amends for his past by cleaning up the online presence of Port Virtue’s dead. Business isn’t great, so he jumps at the chance to work for the estate of a racist demagogue, while at the same time accepting an under-the-table job to find out who hacked the social media accounts of a police captain.

Who’s playing games with the living?

But nothing is ever simple, not in a town full of petty criminals and poor decision-making.

Before long Kendall is being beaten by neo-Nazis, smacked around by cops, berated by a beautiful journalist and caught up in a murder investigation. Actually, make that multiple murders. There’s also a fight between a badger and a baboon.

Who’s in over his head? Again?

Kendall has a quick mind, a smart mouth, a good computer and a large Samoan friend. But will those be enough to help him wrap up the case and pay his rent? Or more importantly, keep him alive?

The second book in the Obituarist series (yes, it’s a series now) features thrills, chills, internet security jargon, desperate action, a free bonus short story (wow!) and swear words. So many swear words. You have been warned.

This one’s been a long time coming, I know. I spent two years off writing Raven’s Blood (which I have to get back to revising next week), and then another six-plus months writing and rewriting this second (and hopefully not final) instalment in the strange life of Kendall Barber. Thanks for hanging around and being patience; I hope the book was worth the wait.

Once again I’m dipping my toe into the world of online security and post-mortem social media, although I’ve tried to follow a different road than I did in the first book. The Obituarist was ultimately a book about identity; Dead Men’s Data is a book about secrets, and how far we’ll go to reveal and/or protect them. I like to think it’s a worthy successor to Kendall’s first adventure, and with any luck readers will agree.

Dead Men’s Data is $3.99 (US), a dollar more than The Obituarist, but it’s also 50% longer than that novella and I’ve included the short story ‘Inbox Zero’ with the ebook package, so I think it’s still pretty good value for money. Right now you can buy it from Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon Australia (but don’t use Amazon Australia, it’s rubbish) and Smashwords; other ebook sites such as Barnes & Noble and the iBookstore will follow as the SW version is distributed. I’ll add links and reviews and all that stuff to the site once they’re available and once I have time to do a proper update.

(Also, just in case anyone is wondering – yes, this is a direct sequel to The Obituarist, and you need to read that book before reading this one. I hope that’s not too onerous.)

As always, indie ebooks live and die by word-of-mouth, so if you like Dead Men’s Data, spread the word! Tell your friends and family! Write reviews! Invite me onto your blog or podcast to blow my own trumpet!

And if you don’t like the book… well, do those things anyway. I beg you. (But also tell me about your opinion, because writing is a process and criticism is how I get better at things. )

Many thanks to everyone who helped me put this book together; much love to everyone who reads it. You’re the reason I don’t just play Dragon Age all day every day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go play Dragon Age all day every day. Well, for a few days. And then it’s back to work.

Laters.

Everything I did wrong and more besides

Lots of talk about how much money people can make – or not make – from independent e-publishing lately. Author Hugh Howey launched a site called Author Earnings, which uses some maybe-representative-maybe-not data to create complicated reports suggesting that self-publishers can make pots and pots of money. But in the same time period I’ve read a bunch of blog posts by various writers (none of which my amateurish Google-fu can seem to turn up right now) talking about how little they’ve made from publishing their own work on the Kindle Store or wherever.

Where do I fit in? Interesting coincidence that you should ask that, as I just did my monthly update of my sales- (and cost-) tracking spreadsheet. I’ve been doing the self-pub thing for nearly four years now, and I have some numbers to share.

In 2010-11 (because I track by Australian financial years) I released Hotel Flamingo and Godheads and made $171.98 from them (gross, not net). In 2011-12 I published The Obituarist and made $228.74. In 2012-13 I put out (to no great fanfare) Nine Flash Nine and made $122.71.

And in the eight months to date of 2013-14, I have made a grand total of… twenty-five dollars and thirty-three cents.

Amanda Hocking I am not. Especially since I racked up expenses of $1037.98 creating and promoting those four books, which means (I’ll spare you from doing the sums) I have lost almost $500 doing this whole self-pub thing and would certainly be better off financially if I’d simply spent 3.67 years sitting in a dark room huffing paint with my underpants on my head.

I mean, okay, I could have done that and published unsuccessful books, but you take my point.

Fortunately my Google-fu is strong enough that I can find tonnes and tonnes of advice about what I can do to guarantee hundreds and hundreds of ebook sales. Well, frankly a drunk kitten could find that advice; Google ‘self-publishing’ and you’ll get a million hits of people telling you how to make it big.

According to various places on Teh Intarwebs, here’s what I should do in order to be a runaway success:

  • Spend more money on marketing: Sure, I bought ads on Goodreads and War Rocket Ajax, but I should have done more and directed ads towards people who would really dig the premises of my books, such as crime fans, horror readers, undertakers and flashers.
  • Spend less money on marketing: No-one reads ads! That’s the old way of thinking! I should have focused on engaging directly with customers through things like witty blog posts, outright begging and investment of time – because time is nothing like money, nothing at all.
  • Use social media more: I’m on Twitter and Facebook, even on Google Plus (ha ha), but I should be in other places – where’s my Pinterest board? And I should use what I have more aggressively, sending out press releases and links several times a week/day/hour.
  • Use social media less: Twitter’s dead! Facebook’s dead! Shut off the social media hum and just write write write; if you write it, they will come! (Having somehow learned that you did write it through mysterious means, possibly involving blood sorcery.)
  • Use word-of-mouth and the personal touch: If I’d just reached out to every person I knew and got them to buy my books, I’d be sitting pretty. Especially if I’d then nagged and cajoled them into writing reviews and pressing them on others. It worked for Dianetics.
  • Automate all that marketing shit: Robots is where it’s at! Why speak to a human being when an automated bot can spam reviews onto a bunch of sites or auto-DM anyone who even looks at my Twitter profile for five freakin’ seconds?
  • Write more books: Readers respect dedication. They want to keep reading more books from authors they trust. They want to print out your books and build houses with paper walls thick enough to stop mortar fire. That’s why Robert Jordan was so popular.
  • Write fewer books: If I’d written just one book, I could focus all of my marketing and promotional activities on it. I could tweet the same information about it every week! Mention it in every discussion! Tattoo the cover onto my eyelids and blink constantly!
  • Go exclusive with Amazon: Exclusive deals are the strongest deals. KDP exclusivity opens you up to a huuuuuuge market of people who only use Amazon Prime, don’t want to pay full price for ebooks and are generally disinterested in anyone but bestsellers!
  • Publish in as many places as possible: I’m on Amazon, and Smashwords to 12 other outlets, but is that enough? What if I sold PDFs through RPG stores? Epubs through university libraries? Animated GIFs through Tumblr? Braille on posters? What else?
  • Establish my personal brand and platform: I need to create my own unique identity, one similar enough to other, more popular unique identities that I will be accepted into their tribe. There’s still time to murder Warren Ellis and wear his beard like a suit.
  • Eschew concepts like ‘personal brand’ and ‘platform’: Hollow buzzwords! Marketing 101 crap! People engage with personal, genuine, artisanal work; if I grew idiosyncratic sideburns and wrote my novels in Moleskine notebooks, I could find a whole new audience
  • Charge more for my books: The era of 99 cent/app-style pricing is OVER! Customers want to feel like books are priced like quality products for discerning buyers. Plus, if I sold just five novellas for $15 each I could totally afford some really good scotch.
  • Give away more free books: People love free books! People read free books! People review free books! Freebies definitely lead to hundreds more sales, rather than dozens of unread MOBI files gathering electron dust on Kindles just like mine!
  • Blog more: …I’m not sure I can.
  • Blog less: …I’m still not sure I can.

Here’s what I will be doing:

  • Shrug and keep writing.

Lots of people are willing to tell me what I’m doing wrong. But the only person who gets to decide what’s right for me is, well, me.

I’m not getting rich. I’m not breaking even. I’m not reaching the largest possible market for my work. But I’m writing the stories I want to write, telling the stories I want to tell, and making enough from my day job that I don’t feel I have to justify my time by making much (or any) money out of it. Which is a pretty sweet place to be.

None of which means I wouldn’t like more sales, because more sales mean more readers and more people (hopefully) enjoying my work. And, okay, perhaps more people getting interested in Raven’s Blood and making it more attractive to a publisher, or looking forward to The Obituarist 2: The Secret of Curly’s Gold when I self-publish that around June/July. Those would be good things.

If I can get those things doing just what I’m doing now… that would be good too. So I’ll try that.

Aussie Amazon oi oi oh dear

So has everyone checked out the new Australian store for Amazon.com yet?

That’s a pretty big deal, right? Cheap books and DVDs and games and whatever the hell else Amazon sells, like ride-on mowers?

Actually, no; it just sells ebooks and Kindles.

Oh. That’s a bit less exciting. But hey, that means better access to Amazon’s ebook library, right, and better prices too? I bet Australian authors can start getting better royalties on self-published titles. And we can get our hands on those new Kindles, maybe even the Kindle Fire!

Actually, the range seems no better than what it was, and there are still lots of ebooks available in the US store that aren’t available in the Australian store. Price don’t seem to be improved; if anything, a lot of ebooks are more expensive than they were. You can buy a Kindle Fire, but that doesn’t mean you can use it to access the US media services that have been their big selling point; those are still geo-locked. And while local authors do get a better royalty now on local ebook sales, most Australian customers are still buying them from the US store because that’s where they have accounts. Also, Jeff Bezos is going to buy all of us and farm our organs.

…let’s all go hide in a barn and get drunk.

Thank you all for indulging my hilarious rhetorical dialogue. I bet Socrates would be proud.

So yeah, the new local Amazon store – what’s up with that? Something that could have completely changed – for good or ill – the Aussie book selling/publishing/self-publishing scene is instead kind of a damp squib of underachievement, and it’s not clear exactly what the multinational is actually trying to achieve with this effort.

In the interests of trying to work that out, and of just poking at the site, here are some things/issues/questions that leap out at me as being a bit strange. (Please note that these questions come from a massively uninformed place where I’m just looking at things and wondering, and I make no guarantee that my thoughts aren’t chock full of errors or dumb.)

Book pricing

Obviously, the first thing I did when I looked at the site was check my own ebooks, because false modesty is a sin. Hotel Flamingo, Godheads and Nine Flash Nine are all there and all priced at $1.03 each, which is a fairly nice conversion from 99 cents US. The Obituarist is also there, but it’s gone from $2.99 US to $3.99 Australian, which doesn’t make any kind of sense – why the big hike? And it’s not a one-off, either – I’ve checked a number of titles that are $2.99 in the US, such as Matthew Rossi’s Bottled Demon, Chuck Wendig’s Bait Dog and Kelly Thompson’s The Girl Who Would be King, to name three $2.99 books I’ve bought in the recent past, have made the dollar jump. Why?

It also seems to be just that price point, too – for example, F. Paul Wilson’s The Keep, which is $3.99 on the US store, is $4.16 on the Aussie store, which is consistent with the conversion of other prices. (Although that also raises the question of sales – The Keep was on sale in the US store for 99 cents this week, but that’s not carrying over to here; how are these sales being determined and are we going to see any benefit from them?)

There are also cases where prices aren’t so much ‘converted’ as set by publishers, and there are definitely instances where we’re getting shafted on that. The ebook of Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon (which I’m really looking forward to reading) is $5.99 in the US store and a ridiculous $11.99 in the Aussie store; Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, to pull a title from Amazon.au’s front page, is $6.85 in the US and $12.99 here. Why are these books – these ebooks – doubling in price? And why would anyone buy them from the Australian store rather than getting the much cheaper US file?

Geo-locked accounts

Well, they might if that was their only option, which would be the case if they registered their Kindle with the Australian store. Just as folks with US accounts can’t buy ebooks from Amazon UK, Kindle buyers who register their device with the .au store will be limited to buying from that store. But those of us with US accounts – which is to say, pretty much every single person in Australia who bought a Kindle in the last five years – don’t have to miss out on the fun; we have the option of transferring our devices to the .au store and joining the local market.

This begs the obvious question – why the hell would you do that? Why would Amazon’s existing customer base want to deliberately hobble their devices so that they could only buy a limited, more expensive subset of the titles they can buy now? You have to assume that there’s some kind of additional incentive there to switch, but so far I haven’t been able to find it.

Limited range

Oh, and speaking of the local store, it’s not just the price of the ebooks that’s an issue, it’s the number of ebooks you can buy in the first place. It’s a little hard to tell exactly the size of either ebook library, but they seem to be roughly the same – but when you look at the ebooks that the US places in separate libraries, that’s a different story. The US store offers things like newspapers, magazine subscriptions and Kindle Worlds (licensed fan-fiction), but those product categories aren’t available at the .au store – and some quick Aus-searching for random titles under those umbrellas turned up sweet FA. (Sorry, Gossip Girl fans.) You can get Kindle Singles (short stories/essays) in the local store, even though they don’t have their own category – but a lot of those 99 cent singles are $3.99 here and we’re back at the first question.

Limited services

Over and above the simple question of how many ebooks you can buy is how you buy them and what else you can do with them. Amazon has assembled a huge number of services for its US Kindle readers. Kindle Prime gives readers open access to a huge library of titles and lets them stream TV shows and movies; Kindle owners can lend ebooks to each other and borrow them from public libraries; Kindle Fires can buy and download movies to their tablets and watch them offline, with access to iMDB metadata to better search and explore vast film libraries.

Australian Kindle owners couldn’t access any of that before, and we’re not accessing any of it now. At least, not at the moment, and I have my doubts of it happening anytime soon. Sure, it’s a question of demand and supply; Amazon makes a marginal profit on these services, but the sheer number of users make it worthwhile; we can’t offer anything like as much demand here. But why not open up the market to add Australian customers to the potential market, rather than geolocking them off in a corner where they don’t have the opportunity to give you money?

Increased royalties for local self-epub

Okay, enough complaining – here’s a good thing. Amazon offer self-epublishers a base 70% royalty on sales, which is great – but it only applies to ebooks sold in an Amazon territory (and above a certain price, but that’s a separate issue). Outside those territories, authors only get a 35% royalty, which is a bit shit if you’re an Australian writer and the bulk of your potential audience is local. Adding Australia as an Amazon territory changes things; we can get the full royalty on our local sales, and that’s awesome.

Except that, as previously noted, nearly all the existing Aussie Kindle users have .com accounts right now and are unlikely to shift them to .au – and when they buy ebooks through the .com store, it’ll still be at the 35% mark, because only local sales through the local store will gather the full amount. So what looks like a great opportunity for local writers and self-epublishers is reliant on Amazon making the .au store an attractive proposition for consumers, which isn’t the case right now.

(For my part, I’d be sending people to the US store to buy The Obituarist anyway, because I don’t want them spending an extra dollar on it for no damn reason. And I’d really like to know who decided to hike the price of my book like that, ‘cos it wasn’t me.)

Buying a Kindle

Perhaps the one really attractive thing Amazon AU can offer is the chance to buy Kindle devices, including Paperwhites and Fires. You can get those locally too, yes, but Amazon are undercutting their local partners by about 10% or so and not charging for shipping, and we can assume that future devices are probably going to be available online well before Dick Smith and Big W get them.

But still, what are you getting? Compare the services available for the Kindle Fire in the US to those in the Australian store. A device that’s sold more as a media consumption tool than a working tablet looks kind of underwhelming when much of that media is unavailable, and the low price point just makes it a cheap way to do not very much. Amazon is in the business of providing both devices and content for them – so if the second part of that supply is lacking, the first isn’t going to take off either.

I also assume that buying a Kindle Whatever through the Aussie store is going to mean it comes locked to the Aussie store, with all the drawbacks already mentioned. Bugger that, frankly.

This has all been a bit grim and finger-pointy (not to mention very long and wordy), but in truth I don’t mean to be negative. Amazon have their good points and bad, and there are important discussions to be had about their workplace practices, control of the market and the damage they can potentially do to local booksellers and publishers – but at the same time they give customers what they want and provide a service that very few other retailers can match. As a writer, they’ve made it easy for me to get my independent work out there; as a reader, they’ve made it easy (sometimes I think too easy, but that’s my fault) to discover new books and new voices.

So I come not to bury Caesar, nor to praise him, but rather to question his business model. Because if there are all these drawbacks to the local store, what are the positives? What is going to drive Australian customers to this storefront, rather than the American one, and make the exercise worthwhile? What’s the deal?

The only thing that occurs to me is that Amazon will funnel future local Kindle buyers here, rather than the US store, and do that by force – well, by locking access to the US store out for any new user with an Australian address, so that they can only buy ebooks at the .au store. Which sounds like a terrible idea, especially if you want to keep selling physical books and products to those customers, who would then need a separate account for the US store. And if they did that, they’d presumably want to extend it to existing Australian customers, which would be a massive problem for those Kindle owners – and one they’d be unlikely to accept happily.

What else is there? What’s the magic that makes this all work? It’s an important question, because by starting this process of moving into Australia, Amazon is going to permanently effect the local writing, reading, publishing and bookselling world. It would be good if that was a positive effect overall; it’d be a shame if it was negative, but it’s something that could (hopefully) be acclimatised to. But until we actually can work out what the hell they’re doing, we’re all operating in the dark.

2000 words on this topic tonight – the equivalent of an entire chapter of Raven’s Blood. My priorities are dumb.

But my questions, I think, are a bit less dumb. So if you’ve got answers – or indeed your own questions – then please leave a comment. This is something it’d be really good to talk about for once.

We pause for radio station identification

It occurs to me that this blog has been going for about two years now, give or take a month, and that new readers may be stumbling over it every now and then due to links on Twitter or Googling ‘Batman and grammar pedantry’ or something similar. According to Google Analytics, 75% of the visitors to the site in the last month were new – and sure, while most of those were spambots, there may be a few new readers who came for the writing essays and stayed for the geekishness and swearing.

So for those new readers, here’s a bit of a breakdown of my various books, what they’re about and where you can get them.

(Meanwhile, maybe you established readers could link to this page on social media and tell everyone you know to buy my stuff. Come on, this trip to Paris isn’t going to pay for itself.)

Hotel Flamingo

HotelFlamingo-ps-72dpiThe cleaning lady eats time. The manager mourns his multi-gendered parent. A pirate radio DJ listens for God. An accountant prepares to kill again. And that’s only in four rooms of the Hotel Flamingo, where the room service is terrible and reality flakes and crumbles around the edges.

Come to a part of town where the dealers meet, where the forgotten people hide, where reality cracks and peels like cheap wallpaper. Where normal is a dirty word. And while you’re here, come stay at the Hotel Flamingo – a refuge for resentful angels, feral symbols, disgraced magicians, broken-hearted foundlings, bad dreams and many others.

Hotel Flamingo is a weird fantasy/horror novella that I originally wrote as a serial on my LiveJournal back when people had LiveJournals. It’s what I call a ‘mosaic’ novella; each of its 22 vignette-chapters focuses on a single character at the Hotel, giving a snapshot of their unique and bizarre life and then tying that thread into the larger story until it all comes together at the end. It’s a story about fate and destiny, the power of symbols, good intentions and bad decisions. It’s got some of my favourite bits of writing in it, and a lot of people have told me they really loved it, which makes me very happy.

Hotel Flamingo is available as a 99-cent ebook from the usual places – Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, the Kobo Storethe iBookstore and so on.

Godheads and Other Stories

Godheads-coverA man wakes up to find he’s turned into a Franz Kafka novel. A couple get high on illegal gods before going out dancing. An author tries to prove the existence of fictional ghosts by creating his own. A weary traveller realises that people keep disappearing from his late-night bus. A fledgling paranormal investigator is confronted by the ghost of a ghost. And two pensioners wait for the bus to take them to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Godheads and Other Stories is an anthology of six weird fantasy and horror stories. They’re all stories, in their own way, about the intersection between high weirdness and low mundaneness, and how even the very strange can see normal once you get used to it.

There’s a pretty wide range of tones and voices in the stories in Godheads, which were written at different times in my life. The titular story is one of my earliest polished pieces, and clocks in at about 5000 words, while other stories are more recent and much shorter. Some stories are funny, some are sad, but they’re all meant to be unsettling to some degree or another. Who knows, maybe you’ll spontaneously turn into a piece of early 20th-century literature one day. Chilling, no?

Godheads and Other Stories is also available as a 99-cent ebook wherever you would normally buy ebooks –  AmazonSmashwordsBarnes & Noblethe Kobo Storethe iBookstore and so on.

Nine Flash Nine

NFN coverThis one is very straightforward – nine flash fiction stories for 99 cents.

What kind of stories? There’s some horror, some fantasy, some comedy, some more literary slice-of-life stuff. Topics include doll dismemberment, rock band murder, ghost moustaches, giant spiders, unicorns, cooking for ogres and Godzilla sex, and each story is less than 1000 words.

There’s not a lot more to say about a flash fiction collection, is there? I always compare flash fiction to Ramones songs – short, punchy, often rough around the edges and then BOOM DONE start the next one and then wrap up the set. And that’s as both a writer and a reader – flash stories are quick to cook, quick to digest, and if they leave you with a pleasant aftertaste then I think I’ve done my job.

So if you’re keen to read ‘Got the Horn’, ‘Ghost (Moustache) Story’, ‘Dear Penthouse Forum: I Fucked Godzilla’ and the other six stories in this collection, you can get it for less than a dollar from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, the Kobo Store and other places. It’s not on the iBookstore yet for some reason, though, and I wish I knew why.

The Obituarist

1208 - Obituarist-ol - newKendall Barber calls himself an obituarist – a social media undertaker who settles accounts for the dead. If you need your loved one’s Twitter account closed down or one last blog post to be made, he’ll take care of it, while also making sure that identity thieves can’t access forgotten personal data. It’s his way of making amends for his past, a path that has seen him return to the seedy city of Port Virtue after years in exile.

But now Kendall’s past is reaching out to drag him back into the world of identity theft, just as he gets in over his head with a beautiful new client whose dead brother may have been murdered – if he’s even dead at all. Chased by bikers, slapped around by Samoans and hassled by the police, all Kendall wants to do is close the case and impress his client without winding up just as deceased as the usual subjects of his work. Will the obituarist have to write his own death notice? Or can Kendall turn the tables and put this body to rest?

The Obituarist is a crime novella about identity theft, the digital afterlife industry, death and redemption. It’s my attempt to write a Chandleresque detective story, except with more humour, and to examine the growing issue of what happens to the online portion of our lives when the offline portion comes to an end. I had a lot of fun writing it and a lot of people seem to have really enjoyed it, so I’m planning on writing a sequel later this year.

The Obituarist is available as a $2.99 ebook from (here we go again) Amazon, SmashwordsBarnes & Noblethe Kobo Storethe iBookstore and etc.

Free short fiction

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASure, 99 cents isn’t a lot of money, but you still don’t want to shell it out without some idea of whether I can actually write or not.

That’s why I have six short stories available totally free to download from your preferred ebook seller! Well, unless your preferred seller is Amazon, as they don’t distribute free indie material. Poops. But you can get Kindle-compatible versions from Smashwords instead.

The stories I have up at the moment are:

  • ‘The Descent': When Mister Smith looks out the window of a plane and sees a man standing on a cloud, nothing else in life seems to matter as much anymore.
  • ‘Watching the Fireworks': A mirror breaks, a marriage explodes, and all the fine things they once collected and showed off now serve to demonstrate just what went wrong.
  • ‘The Recent 86 Tram Disaster as Outlined in a Series of Ten Character Studies': What caused the recent explosion on the 86 tram? Who were the people who witnessed the event? And how does the omniscient viewpoint of a narrator affect the lives of those characters it describes?
  • ‘Hearts of Ice': You come home one night, worn out by another day of hard work and not falling back into bad habits, to find the woman you love has left you. What now?
  • ‘Pension Day': Dunny thought that he was onto a good thing when he stole that cab and used it to rob old-age pensioners. But today he may have picked up the wrong passenger…
  • ‘The Obituarist: Inbox Zero': Kendall Barber has discovered something an email set up to be sent after a man’s death. What is in the email – and why is his client, the dead man’s brother, so eager to find out? This short story is a stand-alone mini-sequel to The Obituarist.

There’s some weirdness, some crime, some metatext and some just plain old storytelling there, all in a variety of formats. The easiest way to find them is from my author page on the various sites – Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, the Kobo Store and the iBookstore. The first four of those stories are also on the Downloads page here as free PDFs; the last two will go up there sometime soon once I get the time to format and upload them.

If you haven’t read any of these books or stories, then I hope you’ll go check some of them out. I think they’re worth your time.

Once you have read them, and assuming you like them (oh please god like them), it’d be great if you told other people about them on social media, gave them positive reviews on store sites, pressed them upon friends and relatives, sent me the spare change behind your couch cushions and generally did all the things that help independent writers let the world know that they exist.

It would also be cooler than cool if you liked my Facebook page, circle and +1 my Google+ account, followed me on Twitter, rated my books on Goodreads and – more than anything else – left the occasional comment on this here blog to let me know that you liked my stuff and/or think that my latest blog entry is a pile of wank. Both are good, as long as you’re a human and not a spambot.

If you are a spambot, that’s okay. We can still be friends. Just not close friends. Christian side-hugs only.

Thanks for your patience, folks. Next week we’ll talk about something else!

Now on sale – NINE FLASH NINE

Hiya folks.

Say, remember how whenever I’d put up a flash fiction piece over the last year or so, I said that one day I’d collect a bunch of them and put them into a cheap e-anthology called (for some bizarre reason) Nine Flash Nine?

NFN coverWell, that day is RIGHT NOW.

 

(That day was meant to be like two days ago, but I got distracted and then I left the USB behind and look never mind.)

Nine Flash Nine is a collection of nine flash fiction stories for ninety-nine cents, hence the rather odd title. Regular readers will have seen some or most of these before, but not all, and anyone discovering this for the first time will marvel at the variety of ideas, themes, swear words and abrupt endings!

The table of contents goes like this:

  • For Sale, Baby Heads, Never Worn
  • Murder, She Rocked
  • Boy
  • Dear Penthouse Forum: I Fucked Godzilla
  • Black Veil and Gloves
  • Got the Horn
  • Ghost (Moustache) Story
  • High School Methical
  • Giant Spiders Cannot Exist

There’s some silly stuff, there’s some weird stuff, there’s at least one story I find a bit emotionally confronting and there are a bunch where I say ‘fuck’ a lot. It’s a pretty fun, very cheap little collection and I hope people dig it.

Nine Flash Nine can be purchased as a 99 cent ebook from the following sites:

  • The Amazon Kindle Store has the Kindle version
  • Smashwords has ePub, Kindle, PDF, HTML and Word versions
  • Other sites (Barnes and Noble, iBooks etc) will have it eventually, and I’ll update as the links go live

All sites should have a sample of the anthology that you can read for free.

As usual, I’ve added a specific page to the site for the book, so if you want to tell your friends to check out Nine Flash Nine, link to this page here.

I’ll probably do some relentless spamming marketing and promotion for this in the upcoming weeks and months, but not too much – this is a mostly-for-fun book, and it didn’t cost me anything to publish except my ‘valuable’ time. Let’s see how well it can do.

And finally, a big thanks to Chuck Wendig, whose semi-regular Flash Fiction Challenges over at Terrible Minds were the spur that got me to write most of these stories. If you like them, that’s on him; if you hate them, well, that’s probably my fault. But fuck it, blame Chuck too. He’s a big man, he can take it.

One of the reasons I finally got Nine Flash Nine out the door is because I was starting to feel restless – I haven’t published an ebook (aside from some free short stories) since releasing The Obituarist back in May 2012. I had originally planned to have Raven’s Blood out by now, but that’s not going to happen for two reasons, and so I wanted to put out just a little something to remind all y’all that I exist.

What are those two reasons? Well, first is that it’s taking longer to write than expected, and that’s mostly because it’s become a larger, longer story than I had originally planned. I was going to write another novella (about 30k words), which I think is a form that really suits ebooks. But as I go further into Kember’s adventures, I’ve realised that this needs to be a full-length novel of 50-55k words. So it’s not just longer to write, but it also needs a rethink of the pacing and prose style.

The second reason is… well, hey, if it’s going to be a full-length book, then why not try to get it onto bookshelves? I think this story has a good shot at finding a hardcopy publisher and I’m going to try exploring that route. I’ve no idea how at this stage, but the first step is getting more of the book done. Once I’m close to finishing a final draft, I’ll start talking to people – I don’t have many industry contacts but I do have some, and hopefully they can point me in the right direction.

And hey, maybe that way I can write some blog posts about the search for publishing fame! Come on, I gotta find something to write about here every week. You people are killing me.

I’ll keep you guys posted. For now, enjoy the book with the Godzilla-fucking.

The long and short of Goodreads ads

As part of the early marketing of The Obituarist (still just $2.99, available for all devices, oh god please buy a copy), I bought a block of advertising on Goodreads. Well, the campaign has just wrapped up, so I thought it might be useful to look at the details of it all, pull apart my numbers and talk about whether it’s something other writers should consider.

I hope you all like graphs.

Before we start, though – is there any need for me to explain what Goodreads is? Yes? No? Social media site where people list, rate and occasionally review the books they read? Occasional source of INSANE AMOUNTS OF FUCKWIT DRAMA over said reviews, which cause some writers to lose their shit because they didn’t get five stars? Yeah, we all know what it is, and if you don’t, well, it’s worth a look, especially if you’re into genre fiction or like reviews that are mostly series of animated GIFs and the phrase ‘so many feels’.

Anyhoo, GR offer a self-serve ad service – ‘self-serve’ meaning that you create it and they host it, which is fair enough. It’s not a complex ad; just a photo of the cover, a title, a link and a tweet’s worth of text (140 characters). Once it’s all submitted, you then pick a target audience (based on what they already read) and pick a cost-per-click – how much you pay Goodreads whenever someone spots the ad on the right-hand side of their page and clicks on it. That can be as little as 10 cents, and as high as no-seriously-just-hire-a-fucking-billboard – and the higher you go, the more priority Goodreads give to your ad and the more often they’ll show it to target readers. Oh, and you also set a per-day limit on clicks; hit that budget and the ad gets shelved until the next day.

(That’s all pretty cursory; if you want to get more info, here’s the GR advertising page.)

How it worked for me

Back in the second week of June I decided to give Goodreads ads a try. I read through their advice and tried to come up with an appealing tagline for The Obituarist, one that had a ‘call to action’ (i.e. tells the reader to do something):

A social media undertaker gets dragged into a dangerous mystery in this witty crime novella. Click here and add it to your ebook reader!

(Yes, ‘witty’. Come on, it’s a funny book. At times.)

I attached that to the book’s cover and included a link back to its GR page, which I figured would be more useful than its Amazon or Smashwords pages. (Which, yes, makes that ‘call to action’ kinda bullshit.) For the target audience, I went with genre tags – Crime, Ebooks, Fiction, Humor and Comedy, Mystery, Suspense and Thriller. (Humor was a stretch, I admit it.)

Last and most important, I decided to put $60 into the ad campaign – come on, I’m not made of money – with a 50-cent cost-per-click and a 5-click/$2.50 limit per day. I figured that meant the ad would run for 3-4 weeks before running out of money, since obviously I’d be hitting that cap almost every day.

In practice… not so much.

GR provide some nice analytic tools and graphs so that you can watch people ignore your book on a daily basis; here’s how June shook out.

  

What you can see there (click the graph for a bigger image) is that 50 cents don’t buy you a whole lotta pageviews. For most of the month I was getting about 400-500 views of the ad per day, which in turned prompted zero clicks. It was only when the pageviews spiked to 4000-6000 that I got any clicks on the ad. By the end of June I’d amassed 26 361 views and 15 clicks, taking $7.50 from my $60 budget.

Clearly I needed to change things up. So in early July I added a second ad to the campaign – well, the exact same ad, but this one targeting readers of specific crime authors, mostly those that I liked as well. That didn’t have a huge impact, so towards the end of the month I bumped the cost-per-click to 60 cents. Here are the results:

   

Once again there’s a low level of baseline activity punctuated by big order-of-magnitude spikes; my best guess is that those are periods when a significant number of higher-paid ad campaigns finish, leaving room for little fish like me to swim around for a short time before getting crowded out again. And, once again, the clicks tend to only come when we break four figures in pageviews. The second big pageview spike is when I upped the cost to 60 cents, but I can’t tell if there’s a definite correlation to the change or if it’s due to external reasons.

We can also see that targeting by author, rather than genre, does pretty much dick. It might be because most readers don’t nominate favourite authors, or because there’s too much overlap with the genre targeting, but the author-focused ad doesn’t even get 100 views most days.

Anyway, July had 39 398 views but only a disappointing 9 clicks, for a total cost of $4.70.

Moving on to August:

   

Much better! We’ve got more jagged spikes than a pro-wrestler’s teeth here, closer together and higher than before, as are the corresponding clicks. The baseline activity between spiked has also moved up to about 700-900 views per day. (This is also the point where I realised that I hadn’t adjusted the $2.50/day limit on clicks when I upped the per-click cost, so I kinda shot myself in the foot there for the first few days.) It’s also very clear that the author-focused ad isn’t achieving a damn thing; no-one’s seeing it, no-one’s clicking it. Still, it does no harm by existing.

Stats for the month: 83 800 views, 34 clicks and a spend of $18.80.

By September I felt that the campaign was dragging, so in an attempt to amp it up I changed the text of the ad to this:

Chandler meets Facebook in this crime e-novella as a social media undertaker is dragged into a dangerous mystery. Available in all formats.

 No call to action (or exclamation marks), but it’s a more accurate and (I think) more interesting précis of the book. What kind of effect did it have?

   

Umm… I think maybe there’s a slight improvement in how many clicks I got on the good days, but that’s just total guesswork. Also, despite not changing the price-per-click, the number of pageview spikes fell right back – confirming, I think, that that’s entirely due to external factors and the number of campaigns competing for eyeballs on a given day.

Also, yay – one author-ad click! Hooray for the cult of personality.

Monthly stats are 78 489 views, 25 clicks and $16.40 spent. Why the extra 40 cents? Because at the end of September I saw that the budget remaining was a multiple of 70 for the first time and decided to bump the cost-per-click again. This time I also remembered to up the daily limit as well.

And thus October, where the campaign trundled along before ending about two weeks in.

   

The graphs pretty much speak for themselves at this point. Stats for the month: 44 335 views, 18 clicks, the last $12.60 gone from the budget.

Was it worth it?

For 60 bucks I got 272 383 page views over four months. That sounds pretty damn baller on the face of it. But that’s only the first data point. More importantly, those views translated into 101 clicks on the ad. Well, okay, a hundred clicks doesn’t suck.

But of course, not every click is a sale, or even more than a flicker of interest. It’s a little difficult to work out exactly what those 101 readers did after clicking – I think the data is there, but I can’t find it in GR’s records right now – but I can see that during the course of the campaign, 37 strangers added The Obituarist to their list of books to (maybe) read. If all of them buy a copy, and assuming a rough and largely inaccurate average of $2 royalty per book (it varies depending on who buys it and from where), then I’m looking at $74, or a total profit of $14. And that’s best case.

Not, um… not the most amazing result.

On the other hand, it’s not a god-awful result either; it’s not like I just pissed the sixty bucks up a wall. Sales-per-click is a crude metric and one that can only disappoint. On a social media site, it’s also about visibility and exposure; it’s about finding readers and then getting them to boost and pass on the signal. This is the start of that, not the end, and as a start I think it’s pretty viable. I may do another round of ads later on, or I might look at Facebook ads instead. Or both.

My recommendations

So if all those graphs didn’t send your brain into vapour lock, and you’re thinking of going the GR route for advertising your own books, here are five quick recommendations based on my experience.

  1. Target genres, not authors. It’s really clear from this data that the author-ad was completely useless. Well, maybe not completely; it did garner two clicks, but then again I might have got those clicks from the other ad at some point. Certainly, though, you need to make the primary ad in your campaign a genre-focused one, with an author-focused one only as backup.
  2. Set your cost-per-click above 50 cents. I definitely got more exposure and clicks when I upped the price to 60 cents, and I suspect I would have had more improvement at the 70 cent mark if the campaign hadn’t ended. I think a dollar per click is probably on the high side, though. 60-80 cents would be my mark.
  3. Write a decent ad. This shouldn’t need to be a recommendation, it should be obvious – but I’ve been looking at other people’s GR ads these last few months, and most are completely terrible. Like, ‘incoherent gibberish that doesn’t even tell you the name of the bloody book in question’ terrible. Forget the marketing talk and the ‘call to action'; if you can string together 140 characters that make sense, you’ll have a much better chance of standing out from the trainwrecks.
  4. Back it up with other activity. Goodreads isn’t just an advertising platform; like any social media site, it works because of its communities and their energy. If you become part of those communities, readers are more likely to recognise your name and style and be interested in your work. Just be sure to do so in a genuine way, rather than ramraiding forums to spruick your book and then fucking off again. Be open about how much you love books, talk to other readers and make connections; that gives you a base level of visibility that can be raised by the ads. (This is the bit I have to work on.)
  5. Have realistic expectations. You will probably not become an overnight sales sensation from GR ads. You will probably not blow out your budget in two weeks. You will probably get fuck-all clicks and you won’t be able to meaningfully control the ebb and flow of pageviews. With luck it’ll pay for itself; without luck it won’t lose that much money. It’s just another arrow in your quiver, another frog in your blender; set the ad, let it go, do something else and don’t worry about it.

Right, well, there’s 1900-odd words on putting out a 140-character ad. Never let it be said that I can’t talk endlessly about pretty much anything.

Next week – dialogue! I’m not very good at it and now you can be too!

The Obituarist – Inbox Zero

One short story this month wasn’t enough.

Two short stories this month wasn’t enough.

No, this is a THREE-STORY MONTH – and what better way to hit the trifecta than with a sequel to The Obituarist?

‘Inbox Zero’ is a short story set a while after The Obituarist, in which social media undertaker Kendall Barber is working for a new client, a publisher of customised Bibles. When settling accounts for his recently deceased client, Kendall comes across a Deathswitch email – a message the dead man wanted sent to his family after he passed away. What’s in the email – and why is Kendall’s client so eager to see it?

‘Inbox Zero’ is available for download right now at Smashwords, and it’s completely free – which, unfortunately, means I can’t offer it through Amazon. But it’s available in Kindle-friendly MOBI format, as well as EPUB and PDF, and I’ll be offering a slightly nicer PDF through my Downloads page a bit later in the week (once I find the time to put one together). It should also propagate out to other stores, such as Barnes & Noble and the iBookstore, over the next few weeks.

For those readers who’ve been clamouring over the last few months for an Obituarist sequel, ‘Inbox Zero’ is not it. I mean, it is a sequel, but it’s not the sequel; Obituarist 2 (Electric Boogaloo) is on my to-do list and will probably come out in about six months. This story is more of a quick diversion, a stand-alone story that doesn’t require you to have read The Obituarist already (although it couldn’t hurt) and that will hopefully tide you over until the real deal is ready.

A key element of this story is Deathswitch, a real service that lets you set up an email to be sent after your death. The folks there were kind enough to read my first draft and check the accuracy of the piece, which was very kind of them. As part of my research I set up an account for myself, then failed to respond to my emails, and soon got my email to notify me that I was dead. That was… well, a little odd, but I do whatever is necessary for the verisimilitude of my work.

Because this story is free, I highly recommend sharing the absolute shit out of it. Email it to everyone you know! Put it on torrent sites! Read it aloud on public transport! If it can find some readers and drive them back to The Obituarist, I’ll be happy. Heck, I’ll be happy even if it doesn’t. I have lots to be happy about. Although if you want to make me extra happy, you could leave a comment to tell me you liked the story. And/or a review on Smashwords.

And with that, I’m done with short fiction for a bit. Time to get my head back into YA fantasy and Raven’s Blood.

(And maybe Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Just a little.)

Pension Day

Hey, remember last week when I dropped some flash fiction on you?

Well, the fiction train continues to roll out of the station this week, with the release at Smashwords of a new short story, ‘Pension Day’, which is TOTALLY FREAKIN’ FREE to download in whatever format you desire!

(As usual, the MOBI and EPUB versions on Smashwords are good, but the PDF doesn’t include the cover; I’ll do my own PDF version and put it on the Downloads page in a couple of days.)

‘Pension Day’ is… well, I pitched it as a crime story, and it is about a criminal and his enterprise, but there’s also a bit of horror and suspense in there. It’s pretty nasty stuff, in its own way, but hopefully some of you little droogies like that sort of thing. If you do, I hope this story works for you! Feel free to tell others about it, to send the file on to potential readers, to share it to your heart’s content and to spam social media with your wild, unrepressed love for my genius. (Ditto for any of my free downloadable stories, of course.)

For the curious, ‘Pension Day’ is pretty damn new, written only a couple of months ago. I wrote it as a submission for a local crime fiction project, but the editors passed on it – which is perfectly cool and not something that bothered me. So I thought I’d submit it to some other avenues, but to be honest I couldn’t think of any, and didn’t have the time (or, to be honest, the inclination) to do the research. So this piece was gathering virtual dust on the hard drive for a while, and last week I decided that it would be better to release it into the wild than just forget about it. Which is a decision that I imagine more and more short fiction authors make these days; you might not make any money from a epub story like this, but at least it’s out there and doing its job (entertaining readers), and that may be more important than getting fifty bucks for it.

Or I could just be lazy. Always a possibility.

So that’s two short stories on two consecutive Sundays. Can I make it three for three? No promises, but let me see how the next few days pan out – because there’s a short piece about a certain Kendall Barber that I’ve started writing…

In other news, my Freeplay panel was today and it was great fun! Our ‘Sex and Death’ panel looked at how those themes are treated in video games (short answer: not that well most of the time), why those themes appeal to us, whether ‘mature themes’ had to mean ‘darkness’ and how indie game developers might approach those themes in different, more creative ways. We didn’t get to cover all the ground we might have liked – it’s more difficult to discuss ways of approaching sex and sexuality in games than it is to discuss death and/or violence – but the audience seemed engaged and the Twitter chatter was primarily very positive.

So that was terrific, and the capstone of what’s been a big festival-involvement year for me. I wonder if I’ll do more next year. Time will tell.

Also in other news, the third and last part of my discussion/interview/lovefest with Hugh Grimwade is now up at his site. And this time shit gets nerdy, as we discuss games, shared worlds, comics writing and (of course) Batman.

This was such a fun interview, played out over months of back-and-forth emails. It’s also reminded me that I haven’t done an interview here in a while – so look for that to change soon. And this last part has me thinking a lot about comics writing, and whether I should try to find an artist or two and get a project together. Will mull over that some more.

In other, other news, this racking cough that I’ve had for two weeks CAN FUCK RIGHT OFF.

Rekindled

So the big news this week… well, okay, there were lots of big news items this week, good and bad, and the following doesn’t really qualify. I’ll start again.

So the news this week that’s only of interest to a limited number of people (God bless you one and all) is the announcement of new Kindle models from Amazon, including bigger, better, 142% more awesome versions of the Kindle Fire that still can’t be bought or used in Australia, and the Kindle Paperwhite that features integrated front-lightning for better visibility and a portmanteau name that sounds like some kind of 4E Dungeons & Dragons monster.

Plus, if that’s not exciting enough, there are new Kobo tablets coming out (which presumably can be used in Australia), new mini-iPads that have e-reader apps and the iBookstore, and presumably a system where an adorable kitten follows you around and projects a book from its luminescent eyes onto the nearest wall for your reading pleasure is just weeks from a beta release.

The upshot is this – more ereaders, more ereader-readers, more ebooks, something something, I get all the moneys and Hugos. Well, okay, probably not that last bit. But for all us writers and readers that embrace the E, our numbers are growing and will continue to grow as hardware gets better and cheaper. Yay!

So what does that mean in terms of the way we read books, the way we approach reading books? Do ebook readers have different habits, desires and needs than regular book readers? Does the Kindle change our very nature as human beings?

Well, maybe not. But speaking as someone who’s owned a Kindle for about 6 months, it’s definitely affected the way I approach finding and reading books, largely in three ways:

Impulse buyer is me

It used to be that I bought maybe 4-5 books a year, if that. For a long time I’ve only purchased books that I’ve known (or been very sure) that I would like, and that I would either read more than once or want to lend to friends. For everything else, I would hit up one of the three library networks where I’m a member and borrow what I wanted.

These days? If it’s priced anywhere up to about $3, I’ll grab nearly any damn ebook that hits my eye, even if I have no idea what it’s about. If an author spruiks a sale or special or giveaway on Twitter then there’s a good chance I’ll just grab it on the chance it’s good – and if it’s a freebie, I won’t even care about that. Sure, I end up leaving many of those books fallow in the Kindle’s memory for weeks or months until I remember they’re there, and I delete some of them within four pages ‘cos they’re terrible, but the important thing is that they got my money.

If an ebook is somewhere between 3 and 6 dollars, I’m not quite as impulsive; I’ll hem and haw and think about it and then I’ll buy it anyway because fuck it, it’s five bucks, and you can’t even get drunk in this country for five bucks. (You can in Fiji, if you’re curious.) It’s only when we start heading towards the ten dollar mark that the brakes kick in and I start thinking ‘well, maybe this is a library book after all’. And then if it’s from an author I really like and want to support there’s a pretty good chance I’ll get it. But probably not right away.

More judgey than ever

You might think that getting so many books so cheaply, my standards would relax to accommodate different levels of ability, formatting and editing, especially for those plucky independent authors much like myself.

And you would be wrong, because THE IMPERFECT MUST BURN.

If anything, the recurring issues of formatting and layout that pop up in many ebooks – random italics, too-small fonts, unclear paragraph separation – annoy me more than ever, because I know that they’re fixable, and obvious, and it means the publisher hasn’t bothered to go through the finished file to check the details and make corrections. It says to me that they don’t respect the e-market, and in turn I find it hard to respect them back. So flaws that I might ignore in a printed book – because printer errors happen and they’re not the publisher’s fault – rankle me much more in an ebook that can be instantly repaired if someone gave a fuck.

(If you’re thinking ‘well fuck, man, your ebooks aren’t perfect either’, you’re right, and I need to do more to improve them. When I do I’ll let y’all know.)

And, of course, I give up on a book if it’s badly written. But that goes without saying, surely.

Goodbye attention span

I’ve always been one of those people who would have 3 or 4 or 8 books on the go all at once, reading one for a bit and then switching to another. The Kindle amplifies that tendency one billionfold, because at least in the old days I’d normally only have one book (okay, maybe two) with me at a time. Now I have 30-plus with me all the time, and as soon as I start reading one I begin thinking ‘maybe I should read something else’ and I can and I do and oh god I have a problem.

So yeah, I find it really hard to stay on track to read one book at a time, even when I really enjoy the book in question. I’m not sure this is a bad thing, because the writer still gets paid and I (eventually) still read the book. But on the other hand, skipping between books willy-nilly like a meth-addled toddler in the kindergarten library makes it hard to maintain a constant grip on what I’m reading, which makes it harder to consider and review it at the end. And as we know, I think reviews are a Good Thing.

Okay, so what?

Well, working from the entirely warranted assumption that every ebook reader is EXACTLY LIKE ME, it seems to suggest that they’re folks who snap up books on impulse but don’t get around to reading them until later, that they read many books at a time and will jump from one to another at the drop of a hat, that they are quick to anger and slow to forgive (or maybe that’s wizards, I forget) and that they like books that are less than five or six bucks.

So should writers work towards that market? Should we write ebooks that are inexpensive, that compartmentalise easily, that can stand being picked up and put down again, that have OMG KEEP READING hooks every 2-3 pages?

Well, um, that’s kind of what I am writing or trying to write, more or less by coincidence.

But no, I don’t think we should do that; I think we should write the books we want, the way we want, the length we want, and put them out at the price we want. I think we should make them as good as we possibly can, both in content and presentation, so that readers should keep coming back once they’re read something else for a bit. I think we should be aware of buying habits and price books at a level that reflects their quality but doesn’t discourage readers.

And I think we should accept the horrible fact that even after someone buys your book they may not finish reading it for months or even years – so you’re possibly not going to get reviews and word-of-mouth sales quickly. And all you can do is shrug and accept it and keep going. Because with luck, they’re tell you you’re great eventually. Before the stars grow cold.

In other news, I’ve been feeling the occasional urge to write about roleplaying stuff, but I don’t feel that this blog is the appropriate place for it.

So I’ve set up a Tumblr called Save vs Facemelt, which I’m going to use to post occasional thoughts, reviews and hilarious bon mots about gaming, as well as meeting the quota of animated GIF traffic that you have to agree to under Tumblr’s terms and conditions.

I’ve kicked it off with some entries about Evil Hat’s upcoming Atomic Robo RPG, which we playtested last night (which is why this Sunday night blog post is coming out on Monday night). Go check it out if you’re interested and simply cannot get enough of me.

God knows I can’t.