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Category: whining

Going Through Channels

The purpose of this blog is two-fold: 1) provide me a forum in which I can piss and moan, and 2) provide some advice so that others may not have to piss and moan as much as I. Also, I guess – 1.5) provide s repository of useful information for myself that I can use as a reference, as my memory is like a cloth bag full of water.

One piece of advice that I deliberately blew off in the runup to the release of Jackrabbit is thus: plan your book release. Give it at least three months, and preferably more. I didn’t do this for a couple of reasons. The first was that I realized late in the game that I was coming up on the 85th anniversary of the event that was a major plot point in the book, so I rushed to get the book out on that date. The other reason is that I am a lazy bastard, and really didn’t want to think about marketing and promotion ahead of time.

Well, live and learn. If I ever do it again (and I probably will), I’ll spend more time planning how, where and under what circumstances I will release the book.

One of the more interesting lessons learned has to do with the distribution channels through which the book is distributed. Based on my overall need to rush to get the book out, coupled with my inherent laziness, I decided to go with Amazon KDP for the complete publishing service. This saved a fair amount of up-front decision-making, but it did cause some problems later on. So far, the biggest of these is that many indie bookstores hate Amazon with a passion and will not carry self-published books produced through Amazon KDP – an issue I groused about in a previous post.

When I was bandying with a representative from one of those stores, he suggested that I create an account with IngramSpark to contend with the anti-Amazon bias. The issue with that is that I’d already sold my soul to Amazon and signed up for their Expanded Distribution option. This nominally provided more outlets for potential sales – allegedly large booksellers and libraries. Of course, as with most anything in American consumer culture, Some Restrictions Apply. In this case, that meant that I wouldn’t be able to use IngramSpark to distribute the book to finicky indie stores.

This begs the question: what the hell is IngramSpark anyway? IngramSpark is a subdivision of the massive Ingram Content Group, which is a huge book distributor and publishing service provider (whatever the hell that means).

Here’s the interesting part: by signing up for Amazon’s Expnded Distribution option, I’m actually having some books distributed through Ingram anyway. I found this out recently in my ongoing struggle to get Jackrabbit some shelf space in local indie bookstore behemoth Powell’s Books (as I griped about here and here). I looked into the possibility of ditching Expanded Distribution and signing up for IngramSpark, but the whole thing smacked of effort. It’s possible, apparently, but there was a whole rigamarole about relisting the ISBN number and so forth, and I don’t really see how it would necessarily boost my sales at this point. Perhaps I’m wrong, and I’m definitely lazy. I did, however, find a good article about why self-published authors should use both:

This has gotten wordy/whiny enough, so I am just going to sum up the important things I think I’ve learned so far:

  • Always Buy Your Own ISBN Numbers – This is one of the few things I got right out of the gate. Amazon KDP and other services will give you free ISBN numbers, be then they own your ass. The Bowker’s monopoly on ISBN number sales in North America results in a scammy pricing structure, but it beats the restrictions that come with a “free” number.
  • Use Amazon KDP for Early Production – You don’t have to shell out at all, meaning you can tweak the design, upload revisions to your heart’s content, and get it OCD-perfect before you shell out a dime. The author copies are more reasonably priced, as well.
  • Don’t Sign Up for Amazon; Expanded Distribution; Get an Ingram Spark Account – IngramSpark will get your books to bookstores and libraries that hate Amazon with a passion and won’t buy books from them. There are also more printing options, including more paper choices and hardback versions (Amazon KDP is paperback-only). To be fair, the Expanded Distribution network might slip a few copies to self-same Amazon-haters, but IngramSpark is probably better.
  • Amazon’s KDP Select Ain’t All That and a Bag of Chips – KDP Select is a program that offers expanded worldwide distribution for your eBook, as well as periodic special offers you can make on your book.  However, KDP Select restricts your ability to sell your eBook through other channels (WordSmash, Draft2Digital, etc.) The offers are restricted to a handful of days within a 90-day window, so not so hotso. I’d advise going with the other ePublishers.

There: all of my recent kvetching boiled down into four pithy bullet points. My next novel is gonna go so smooooooooooth!

Indie Bookstores Love Local Authors…but Hate Amazon Even More

A week or so ago, someone suggested that I approach a small but iconic bookstore in town about getting Jackrabbit on the shelves and perhaps doing a reading. For the sake of not alienating myself further, I’m going to call the place Arnie Bang’s Books. Arnie Bang’s isn’t a local colossus like Powell’s, but has been around for awhile and has a good reputation. It’s kinda like the “Cheers” of Portland bookstores.

I called Arnie Bang’s about carrying the book and possibly scheduling a reading, and the person I talked to was very friendly receptive …until I let slip that I had published the book through Amazon KDP. At that point, she became quite frosty and cut the conversation short. When I asked as to why, I was told “Amazon is the competition!” End of conversation.

I was, as I mentioned earlier, butt-hurt. I totally understand hating on Amazon’s monstrous global retail monopoly…because I hate on it, too. So does everybody…but it’s just so fucking convenient. I try to buy local where I can – Powell’s for books, Music Millennium for tunage, Fred Meyer for groceries, etc. (The last one’s a bit of a stretch – Fred Meyer was bought out by Kroger in ’98, and they’ve really been acting corporate as hell lately. But I digress…) But if the local stores don’t have what I’m looking for, I’m shopping online the next day.

So I get the hating on Amazon bit, but the part that peeved me was that Amazon’s cut comes out of my pocket. Amazon makes their money on their markup on the author copies it sells me. Arnie Bloom’s would get their 40% of the cover price, regardless if it had been published by Amazon, Lulu Press or even freakin’ Kinko’s.

I took a look at the book, and there is absolutely nothing that indicates where it was printed. I was tempted to just go back to Arnie Bang’s and trying bullshit them into carrying the book, but at that point I figured that my integrity was more important than the handful of bucks I’d potentially make. Besides, Arnie Bang’s would end up making more per copy than I would, so fuck ’em.

I did a little research, and apparently it is not uncommon for indy book stores to refuse to carry books published through Amazon KDP. Hey, it’s their business and they’re free to run it how they see fit. And I’m free to think that refusing to stock a book based on where it’s printed is a self-defeating move. I doubt Jeff Bezos is losing sleep over Arnie Bang’s business practices, but I sure as hell ain’t gonna go back there.

Amazon Reviews Blues

I’ll admit up front that this post is going to suffer from a marked lack of graciousness on the part of yours truly. Anyone who I offend can contact me directly, and I’ll buy you a Mr. Pibb.

This has been a frustrating week for me personally, for a variety of reasons – but instead of barfing them out in one whiny blog post, I figure I can stretch them out to two or three bitch-specific posts that will perhaps in some small way boost the Google search ranking of this site. It’s called providing content, people!

Today’s gripe: getting reviews on Jackrabbit’s Amazon site. From my research into the wild and wooly world of self-publishing, getting a variety of reviews on your book’s Amazon listing is the key to sales. If you look at a book listing, and it has half a dozen five-star reviews, and most of the reviewers have the same last name as the author, then you know you’re probably looking at a real snoozer with horrible punctuation and probably no verbs. No one’s going to want to buy that book.

Here’s where the lack of graciousness comes in: I am fortunate in that I have many friends and relatives who very generously bought Jackrabbit when it came out. To them I offer much gratitude, as well as much frustration – because getting a significant number of them to actually go on Amazon and leave a review has been like pulling teeth!

“Oh, I’ve been meaning to do that,” they say. “But I just really haven’t had the time lately. Maybe next week.” All this spoken in a weary tone, as if I’d cajoled them into cleaning out my basement. It makes me want to holler, “Hey, it’s just a quick review! It will take approximately the same amount of time as it did for you to post to Facebook that picture of the basket of Buffalo wings you got at the Cleveland airport!” I mean, really.

So, I keep wheedling, hinting and make veiled threats about kidnapping beloved pets or stuffed animals. It occurs to me that maybe they haven’t actually read the book. That’s a distinct possibility for the people that downloaded it for free during one of the Amazon eBook giveaways. When something cost nothing, then it’s never a high-priority. On the other hand, maybe they read it, but think it stinks. I hope not, but even so, I rather have a raft of brutally honest reviews rather.

All right, so I just try to stay patient and avoid getting too pushy (but still a little pushy, maybe). What else is there to do?

Fuggit. I’m gonna get myself a basket of Buffalo wings.

Crawford on CrimeReads

montage of John Dillinger images

I got a nice surprise this morning when I discovered that an essay I had written about the endurance of the John Dillinger mythos was posted as the feature article on CrimeReads.

You can read it HERE.

I was especially flattered as CrimeReads is a well-respected crime book blog; an offshoot of the uber-respected LiteraryHub website. Big love to them for giving me a chance to show off my writing (and, of course, flog Jackrabbit), while other, less-prestigious book review sites gave me the cold shoulder. Take that, “Uncle Bubba’s Best Bad Guy Book and Monster Truck Video Reviews”! You missed out.

Raking In the Small Bucks

Four-plus years’ worth of (occasionally) hard work has finally paid off! This week, I got my first royalty payment for Jackrabbit – a whopping forty-one dollars and forty-eight cents! Woo-hoo! Not complaining, not complaining – well, not really. It’s good to see something in the “credits” column of the Sweet Weasel Words balance sheet. The last time something showed up there was when I signed up for a PayPal account, and they deposited 39 cents – then promptly withdrew it.

So, they way I’m looking at the situation vis-a-vis trying to market and promote the book: I’ve spent nearly five years writing this book and getting it published. Now, in my foolishness, I thought that that was going to be the bulk of the effort. I realize now that it was only the preliminary effort. So the choice is to suck it up and get on with the unpleasant (for me) matter of marketing, or just walk away and start working on another novel.

This is tempting, very tempting. I’ve got at least three big-time story ideas I’d really like to explore. On the other hand, after all the effort I’ve put into Jackrabbit, I’d really like to get it the exposure I think it deserves, and maybe make a few bucks in the process. Of course, I’m under no illusion that this book is a prize-winner, or that I’ll be able to retire on the proceeds. Still, if I want people to be able to read and enjoy it (and I’ll be honest, to stroke my ego in the process), I guess I’ll have to put put off the next big writing project and start selling.

From what I’ve been able to tell, the most effective way to do this is through Facebook advertising. And I really hate the idea of giving money to Face book – hell, I resent just having to have a Facebook account at all. So be it. Needs must when the devil drives, and so forth.

At this point, I’ve got $41.48 that I didn’t have last week, so I might as well hand it over to Mr. Zuckerberg and see if he can’t turn that into at least $42 worth of additional sales. It will be fairly easy to measure the success of this endeavor, given the current sales figures. So what the hell, guess I’ll see what I can make of this.

Sophomore Slump

Wellnow, here I am: I’ve published my first novel Jackrabbit and have gotten my ISBN number. All of my friends and family who were likely to buy the book have already done so. The first thirty days after the release have come and gone, meaning that Amazon no longer considers this a “new release” and now has much interest in promoting the book (unless, of course, I pay them). Despite running a number of promotions and mailing out actual, physical copies of the book, I’ve gotten only a handful of reviews on Amazon.

Now what?

Clearly, I’m in the Sophomore Slump regarding the promotion of the book. I guess the next thing to do is to mount some sort of paid promotional effort to get awareness of the book to more people who might actually purchase it. This is a little difficult for me, since: A) it involves effort that would take away from, y’know, actually writing, and B) it will probably result in me giving money to Facebook or the like, which is anathema.

I know that it takes money to make money, and that a little paid promotion will go a long way. At least those guys who sell books about how to sell your books claim that to be the case. Those how-to-sell-your-books books sell thousands of copies; maybe I am writing the wrong type of books!

My goal is to sell at least a thousand copies of Jackrabbit. That pretty much represents the break-even point for the money I’ve spent thus far on the editing, the cover illustration, printing review copies etc. So far, it’s off to a slow start. Well, boo-hoo – I got my ISBN number, everything else is pretty much gravy, correctomundo?

Still, just for the sake of follow-through I will embark on the adventure of Facebook advertising, and perhaps others, just to say I ticked off that box. Why the heck not?

Labor Day Read – FREE!

There’s nothing better than a good read on a long summer weekend. For Labor Day, the Jackrabbit eBook will be available for free at Amazon on Friday, August 30 and Saturday, August 31J. Enjoy a great summer read, and please leave a review at Amazon.com.

In Today’s Publishing Environment?

I was reminded recently about how I came to the decision to self-publish Jackrabbit. Basically, I didn’t want to beat my head against the wall trying to go the traditional publishing route. It was summed up pretty well in a recent episode of the Simpsons (S30E05; yeah, I’m a huge Simpsons geek). I the episode, a salesman is trying to sell Homer on the merits of a self-driving car:

Salesman: Yeah, you’re free to do whatever you like, Homer.

Homer: Can I text while it’s driving?

Salesman: You can write a novel while you’re driving.

Homer: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! In today’s publishing environment?

The Simpsons, “Baby You Can’t Drive My Car”

I laughed my ass off at that line, and had to explain to my wife why I thought it was so funny: because today’s publishing environment sucks.

Shortly after the first draft, I made a semi-concerted effort to find an agent to sell the manuscript. I quickly ran up against two obstacles: the query letter, and the literary agents themselves.

The query letter is the letter you send to a prospective agent to get them interested in flogging your book to a publisher. Apparently, they get a ton of these things a day, and you really have to put together something compelling to get them to read past the first sentence or two.

In fact, I found a website run by an agent that does nothing but critique people’s query letters. However, in order to get your query letter considered for a crit on the site, there were a whole buncha hoops you had to jump through first. So, in order to supplicate an agent to get help so you could supplicate another agent, you had to write and re-write. Good practice, but the whole process was too “meta” for me. My interest in this fizzled quickly.

The thing that put the nail in the coffin was when I actually met a couple of literary agents. I’ll tread softly here, since it would be counterproductive to alienate some of the parties involved.

There is a fairly prominent writers group in the area, that hosts an annual conference here in town. The admission price is pretty steep, but if you volunteer to work there, they’ll knock 50% off the price. Being a cheapskate, I went the volunteer route. The only drawback was that I had to work four hours a day as part of the commitment.

It became pretty obvious to me that one of the main focuses of the convention – if not THE main focus – was the paid pitches. For twenty-five bucks, you got eight (8) minutes of face time with an agent to pitch your book or screenplay. There was an extensive catalog of agents, and you could pick ones that repped your genre, etc. This went on all day long throughout the conference. Then every ten minutes, they would usher a herd of would-be authors into the same room they used for the lunches, you would find your agent’s table, and give your pitch.

At that point, I did not have a whole lot of extra cash to throw around, so I was reluctant to spend more money than I already had. Still, it seemed like a good thing to at least try, so I found an agent who seemed like a likely bet (repped crime fiction, specifically), signed up and waited my turn.

In the meantime, there were other sessions where people would help you refine your pitch I went to a couple of these, and came up with what I thought was a pretty good pitch. (It ended up being the basis for the blurb for Jackrabbit, actually.) So I was psyched to go and pitch my book, as any agent who was worth half a damn would immediately recognize my brilliance and the book’s sales potential and sign me on the spot.

So I rolled in and gave my pitch, and the agent responded by saying, “Why should I care about John Dillinger? He was a killer.”

Huh?

I was so blown out by this response, that I really didn’t know what to say. I think we ended up arguing for the rest of the eight minutes, although the details are still hazy. I just remember leaving the session in a stuttering rage.

It was one of those situations where you come up with the perfect response ages after it’s too late to employ it. And the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. My response was, basically: “Yeah, people hate reading about killers and criminals. That’s why the bookstore shelves are crammed with bios of Mother Teresa and Albert Schweizer! Not a single book about Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy to be found!”

I mean, this person was an agent that allegedly repped crime books; she should know good and damn well that murderers sell, big time. This realization made me even angrier – she had gotten me with a “gotcha” question that was completely counterproductive. Fuck that noise! I was paying for her time to the tune of $150/hour. I should not have been treated like I was a student at an MFA crit. If she wasn’t interested in representing that book, she should have at least had the professionalism to say so, and perhaps recommended me to another agent who knew that killers sold books.

Also, Dillinger was never convicted of murder. Accused, yes – but not convicted.

Anyway, that episode pretty much poured piss on the last ember of my desire to pursue a traditional publishing route. Perhaps it was for the best, although I sometimes have to forcibly remind myself of that when I’m going through the promotional paces required get a self-published book in front of readers’ noses. Then again, if it means I don’t have to deal with literary agents, it’s probably worth it.

READ a Book!

As part of my initial book promotion, I’m picking the low-hanging fruit that all self-published authors lean on: family and friends. I’ve even gotten the word out at work, which I was initially reluctant to do. I try to keep a fairly distinct boundary between my work and personal life. However, in this case I figured what the heck, and copped to having written a novel. I figured that it might sell a few more copies, and that Jackrabbit was straightforward enough that any co-workers who read it wouldn’t end up thinking I was any weirder than they’d already sussed out.

One interesting thing that happened was that several of them asked me if I was planning to create an audio version of the book. My initial (internal) response was “Christ, no! I’ve already spent enough time and money getting out the print/eBook version!” Then I thought that I might as well look into what would be involved in actually getting an audiobook version produced. I found a service called ACX that essentially functions as an audiobook Reedsy, and allows authors to audition and hire voice talent (“producers”) to create audiobooks from their print books.

It seemed like the going rate for a finished product was ~$225/hour. I did a back of the envelope calculation, and figured that it would run me over $2,800 to get a finished version. Whew! At this point, I’m trying to make money with this thing, not spend more.

Then I thought I could do it myself. I’ve got a pretty decent voice and some alright audio equipment that I’ve used for a political podcast I used to/sometimes still run. Then I remembered that the reason why I don’t really do the podcast anymore is that producing the episodes was a monster time-suck and also very frustrating. My wife always knew when I was working on an episode by the screamed profanities coming from the basement.

So my verdict on creating an audiobook ended up being, “Christ, no! I’ve already spent enough time and money getting out the print/eBook version!”

Then I started thinking about the people who had asked me about the audiobook. They seemed genuinely interested in knowing what I had written, but entirely unwilling to actually read in order to satisfy their curiosity. I work in a profession that attracts many talented people who are also a little OCD and monomaniacal with respect to their jobs. Also, a lot of them have their own side hustles going and not a lot of extra time to just seat and read a book.

I thought that this is sad. I mean, you do whatever floats your boat, of course. But I have to read, even just a few pages, every day. Usually it’s more than that, and I usually have at least two or three books going at any given time. The thought that someone would be too busy to be able to read text/printed words stuck be as being a little sad, and a little emblematic of the dysfunctional times in which we live. (I hope you noticed how I didn’t end that sentence with a preposition.)