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Tag: indie publishing

More Gruel, Please!

“Please, sir, may I have an Amazon review?”

Well, my latest novel, Fester, is as published as it’s going to get. That means that I now have to go out and actually sell the sumbitch.

This, for me, is not fun. Some people love being a sales-entity*, but not me. For me, it’s like pulling teeth. However, as a one-entity operation, I have to be the author, the publisher and the sales-entity. As the philosopher Meatloaf pointed out, two outta three ain’t bad. Regardless, slacking on marketing is not going to get my book in front of readers, which is the object of the exercise.

I have been researching how to maximize book sales for indie authors**, and the bottom line is that you can’t really get anywhere with sales without spending on advertising. OK, I can get behind that; it takes money to make money. But here’s the rub: you shouldn’t really be spending money on ads unless you have a minimum number of Amazon reviews in place (~10). There’s no point in driving people to a point of sale without them seeing a number of (presumably positive) reviews once they get there.

Now I am in the uncomfortable position of trying to wheedle Amazon reviews out of my friends and family. This is, to me, odious – I feel like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel. I had some issues with this when I was promoting the Fester prequel, Powwows. I offered free copies of the eBook ( Powwows was eBook only) in return for an honest Amazon review. This met with limited success. I think the issue in this case was that people downloaded the book and then forgot about it. Or maybe I’m just an impatient asshat. Probably both.

Regardless, I thought I’d try the same thing with Fester. At first, I offered a free digital copy for an Amazon review. Then, when my author copies finally arrived, I began offering a free hard copy for a review. When I made that offer, a relative who has also self-published books via Amazon suggested that I crank it up a notch, in order to make sure these were verified purchase reviews.

To that end, I decided to offer a $10 Amazon gift card to anyone who bought the book on Amazon, left a review and sent a screen shot confirming this. This seemed a little ethically mushy, but it’s a cutthroat environment out there for self-published and indie authors. I figured what was the harm? I’d get my number of reviews up to double digits, discontinue the offer and proceed with my advertising campaign.

The problems started when I unwisely cross-posted the offer to a FB indie author group that I had signed on with. The moderator of this group is a harridan – y’know the type: they’ve got a tiny chunk of the web they control, so they control it with an iron fist. This moderator saw my offer and went ballistic. Soon, I was getting nastygrams about how people like me were why the indie publishing world had a “bad reputation.” (This was news to me.) The moderator and a number of like-minded pedants were stalking my Twitter feed, and leaving nasty comments on unrelated posts on FB, etc. One of them even ratted me out to Amazon, claiming that I was “…abusing [the] system by offering incentivized reviews, incentivized purchases, sales manipulation, ranks manipulation, etc.”

This abuse seemed a little over-the-top for what I regard as a noob mistake. So I deleted the posts that had so offended the indie author pedants. Then, I checked the official rules*** and discovered that “incentivized reviews” used to be kosher, but they changed the rules a few years back. That’s the problem with Amazon: indie authors are pretty much at Amazon’s mercy if they want to sell book one, so they get to change the rules whenever they like. Also, it seems like there are underhanded ways to abuse the system on a large scale, which was a far cry from what I was attempting to do. Certainly, it seemed like overkill for my misguided attempt at book promotion to compel a complete stranger to act as a corporate snitch for Jeff Bezos.

I looked at some of the other rules regarding book promotion and Amazon reviews. They’ve got all sorts of rules, some of which border on the ridiculous. For example, it is OK to offer a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review – which is absolutely what I was doing. However, the reviewer is supposed to divulge that fact in the review.

Other rules regarding submission of Amazon reviews are a little more Orwellian. Technically, you are not supposed to get reviews from any friends or family. OK, I can (barely) understand rejecting reviews from the same household, but the whole friends and family group? Fuck that noise. Are we supposed to submit a list to Amazon or something? Bullshit. That company has too much of our personal information as it is.

So that’s where I’m at now – still pissy and frustrated. I’ll try to be cognizant of Amazon’s ever-shifting rules going forward, and avoid indie author groups in general. Fthang!




* I started to go with “salesman,” but realized that was sexist. I then thought about “salesperson,” but realized that term was prejudicial against non-humans and ghosts. “Sales-entity” seemed like the most inclusive term for this situation. Also, if anyone knows of a ghost who is looking for a sales position, please let me know.

**There are yea number of places that will , for the proper fee, provide instruction on how to maximize indie book sales. In fact, I was all ready to put my cash down on one of the more reputable courses, but then the radiator in the car blew up, so that was that. So it’s just muggins here who gets to work it out on his own.

*** Which, in retrospect, I should have done first. Eh, I’ve always leaned towards the “salt before tasting” philosophy., anyway

The Editorial Ennui

The good news is that Powwows is now slouching towards publication; the bad news is that I’m stuck in editorial perdition. Actually, as far as authorial mental states go, there are worse ones to be in. Writer’s block, for example.

The editing process is one that isn’t very glamorous, but oh so important. I’m in the process of editing two pieces of writing right now. My first mistake was thinking that once I’d paid a professional editor to edit the MS, that I’d pretty much be done with editing the story. Nope, not really–the editor has pretty much cleared up the low-hanging fruit, so to speak. I usually get a lot of feedback about timeline issues and historical accuracy (“that movie you’re quoting wasn’t released until two years after this story takes place”). Important stuff for sure, because as an author, there is a whole lot of the forest I can’t see due to my face being firmly planted on the treebark.

So I edit the editor’s edits, then I edit my own edits of the editor’s edits. On Saturday, I find myself changing back the things I changed on Friday. It can seem circular and pointless sometimes, and I frequently just want the whole damn thing to be over with, because I have a whole lotta other story ideas that are begging to be put down on paper. Why should I keep polishing and polishing and polishing what I already have.

Well, the answer to that actually starts to emerge after the sixth or seventh go-round. From the regular cycle of incremental editorial change, something really starts to shine out. That diamond-in-the-rough that began as a very basic idea however many yonks ago, is actually starting to shine! I find myself thinking things like, “Wow–this is kinda good! Did I actually write this?”

Yes. Yes, I did.


I wrote this, too – and you can still buy it!

What About Scott?

The other day, I published the third installment of a “short” story called Reset. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this was based on a very weird and vivid dream I had about finding myself back in junior high school, but with all of my adult memories and experiences. Very freaky. Freaky enough, in fact, that I spent several months fleshing out a viable story arc. When it was all said in done, the first draft topped out at about 21,000 words (hence the quotation marks around “short”).

At first, I’d thought about trying to whittle the MS down to a nominally-publishable 10,000 words. Then I realized that I didn’t give a whoop if it was “publishable” or not; I had no intention of trying to shop it around, and I could just post the whole damn thing on this website. Which I did.

One of the issues I had was figuring up how the wrap up the story. Basically, I opted for a cliffhanger approach, which met with mixed reactions. About half the readers felt it was a cop-out, while the other half was good with it.

My main problem was what to do with the main character, Scott Gray. Would he go back to his “marginally dysfunctional” adult life and try and pick up whatever pieces he could? Or would he live his life over, avoiding all of the mistakes he made the first time, and using his knowledge of future events to his advantage?

I didn’t care for either of these options, really. Also, there were some other characters in the story who ended up being a lot more interesting than I had originally anticipated (especially Missy McSween). I didn’t want to abandon them if Scott went back to 2019, but I had already plumbed the Memory Lane of the early-eighties nostalgia, and didn’t want to spend any more time there, either.

So I left it up to a coin toss – the cop out, so to speak. However, at no point did I suggest that the result of the coin toss would result in Scott staying in 1982 Pennsylvania, or returning to 2019 Seattle. (Sure, Dr. Wu suggested that, but he’s a bullshit artist.) Basically, I saw the ambiguous ending as a springboard to that self-publishing/authorial goldmine:

A SERIES!

This seemed like a win/win/win idea. I could play around with Scott getting zapped to different alternate realities that could explore different genres (swords-n-sorcery fantasy? sci-fi? Western? hell yeah!) Also, I could see more of the interesting characters and see how they develop. Finally, I wouldn’t have to come up with a satisfying conclusion to the original story. What could be better?

Well, maybe an ice cream cone.

Anyway, it presents a lot of interesting and enjoyable possibilities as a writer. I’m looking forward to working more on the adventures of Mr. Scott Gray, but the next story is going to have to get in line – I’ve got a number of other projects on deck or in the works. But that’s a topic for another post.

***

Are You Local?

Jackrabbit on the shelf at Belmont Books

It’s the small victories that sometimes keep you going. After a long and lackluster effort to get Jackrabbit in a brick and mortar store – I finally did! At first, I had been put off with the lack of success I’d had at local bigshot indie bookstores like Powell’s and Annie Blooms…uh, Arnie Bang’s, I finally started looking at other places closer to home.

So I bopped on into my most local of bookstores, Belmont Books. Joe, the proprietor, was extremely friendly and bought a copy on the spot. I groused about some of the difficulties I’d had and he scoffed that he could undercut Amazon AND Powell’s. That’s the attitude!

Better yet, he paid 60% up front, in cash – which lasted me all of four blocks, where I spent it in the Plaid Pantry on lottery tickets and junk food. So kudos to Joe and Belmont Books for walking the walk when it comes to supporting local authors. If you’re in Portland, pay ’em a visit at 3415 SE Belmont St., PDX.

Cover of Jackrabbit, new John Dillinger novel

Writer’s Blockhead

Hola, amigos! I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but I’ve been busy channeling the spirit of Jim Anchower.

Actually, I’ve been doing doodley-squat, which has not lent itself to creation of a post. So, since it’s been several weeks that I haven’t posted – or done much of anything else – I figured I could slap together some half-assed post about why I haven’t done anything.

Fist, I’ve almost completely stalled out on promoting Jackrabbit. This lack of activity shows: my last royalty payment was $5.62. Whoopee-ding-dong! I’ve agonized over the process before, and will not belabor the point now. Suffice it to say that indie book promotion is a time-consuming pain in the ass, and I am a lazy sumbitch – a suboptimal combination if ever there was one. Now that we’re past the Thanksgiving holiday and into prime American consumption season, I would be well-advised to get off my keister and try to wave the book around in the face of the book-buying public in the hope of a sale or two. Absolutely. First thing, tomorrow.

And while I might have been acting like a blockhead writer, I don’t actually have writer’s block per se. I just finished up the first draft of a short story called “Reset.” Although at nearly 22,000 words, the story is well past the “short” stage and well into novella territory. That was definitely not my intention; it took a long time (~4 months) for the story to find its rhythm. My goal is to trim that puppy down to about 10K words by January.

Or maybe March.

“Reset” is the result of a very intense dream I had back around April of this year, where I woke up to find that I was back in eight grade, but with all of my adult memories. I know, this is hardly an original notion, and has been covered extensively in films such as “Big” and “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Still, it was fun to write, and bey drastically wielding the editorial pen, I hope to make it fun to read, and eventually post it on the Short Stories section.

As for 2020, I’m not sure in which direction I intend to go. There are a couple of novel ideas I’ve been kicking around, but also perhaps a few more short stories that need to be dispatched first. We shall see.

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.

The Real Deal!

It’s alive!

I got my first hardcopy proof of Jackrabbit today! Hooray! This is a pretty big milestone for me. I’ve been wanting to get a book in print since, well, I was a little kid and thought Dr. Seuss was the shiznit. I seriously started working towards it in 2008, so this has been eleven years in the making. It’s really pretty awesome to be able to hold a book that I wrote in my hot little hands!

The only problem is that now I’ve got to read it – again! As much as I enjoy this story, and am fairly pleased with how I pulled it off (due in no small part to Jen Huston’s editing), I’m getting mighty tired of reading it at this point. I feel fairly confident that I got most of the grammarly/contenty issues squared away before I ordered the proof, I still want to go through it one . . . more . . . time to make double-extra-sure. Mostly, though, I’m just interested in making sure the formatting is acceptable.

Right now, I’m on track for an official release date of July 22, 2019 – the 85th anniversary of the shooting at the Biograph where “John Dillinger” was killed.

An ISBN of My Own

Or, actually, ten ISBNs plus a bar code, all for the low, low price of three hundred and twenty bucks.

As a wanna-be author, I had always wanted an ISBN of my own. As a soon-to-be self-published author, I found out just how much of a scam the ISBN system is.

First, ISBN stands for International Books Standard Number. It is meant to be a unique identifier for each published edition of a commercial work. An e-book, a paperback and a hardcover of the same book will each have a different ISBN.

In the U.S., ISBNs are doled out by a company called Bowker. Of course, there is a cost, and as I found out, the pricing follows a very curious economy of scale:

Got that? One ISBN costs $125. However, 1000 ISBNs costs $1500, for a unit price of $1.50. How can such a discount occur? Because they’re just fuckin’ numbers!

Bowker’s got a monopoly on this market and they squeeze ’til we turn purple. It’s a scam, man. Sure, for a big publishing company, shelling out for tens of thousands of ISBNs at a buck or so a pop is chump change. But for struggling self-publishing authors, it feels like we are being taken advantage of. (Yeah, I ended that sentence with a preposition. It’s idiomatic, plus I’m in a pissy mood.)

Of course, there are alternatives, but they kinda suck. First, you can just go without an ISBN, but that severely limits the author’s ability to sell the book. Also, if you’re going to publish through Amazon/KDP, they will kindly provide you with an ISBN free of charge. Of course, Amazon didn’t get to be the behemoth it is by giving stuff away, so you can bet that there are strings attached to their “free” ISBN. Basically, if you accept their generosity, you are pretty much restricted to selling your book through their channels.

So in the end, I ponied up the money for 10 ISBNs plus a barcode (another Bowker scam), even though I really only need two or three ISBNs for Jackrabbit. Guess I’d better keep writing!

Welcome to Sweet Weasel Words

Welcome to Sweet Weasel Words, home of author Crawford Smith.

I love writing, but am not particularly fond of creating and maintaining websites, so please be patient while I continue to beat this site into some sort of order.

I’ve just published a novel about a strange little town called Fester, Pennsylvania. I’ve been working on this story since 2008 – it’s great to see it finally get published.

Fester
Fester cover

See the Fester page for more details and a preview.


Still available is the fascinating Jackrabbit. This is a historical crime novel about the latter career of Depression-era gangster John Dillinger. This criminal’s life was indeed stranger than fiction – so much so that I had to focus on only the last five months of it to keep from overwhelming myself and the reader. Check out the Jackrabbit page for details.