Lessons in Bestsellerification (via @ian_sales)

Ian Sales has a quick look at the top 10 Science Fiction list on Amazon:

So what does this tell us? That most sf sold on Amazon these days is sold via Kindle. That self-published sf is out-selling sf from major imprints on Amazon. That the best way to build a platform for a self-publish [sic] sf novel is to serialise it on your website.


Aside from the last point, all of the above seem to run counter to what is actually the case.

Ian has a look at other bestseller lists and draws some comparisons, leaving us with:

So if there’s a conclusion to be drawn from all this, I’m not entirely sure what it is. It seems self-evident that Amazon has “massaged” its figures… But to what end?

I found it amusing that Les Misérables is number 10 on the Amazon SF bestseller list. I don't try to understand these things.

Read the rest here:

The Magic of Book Marketing (via @gretavdr)

Greta van der Rol managed to spike her new book, 'Morgan's Return' into the sales charts at Amazon and she has no idea how:

The answer is simple: I haven’t a clue. As I said in the title, maybe it’s magic. Maybe a sprinkle of fairy dust landed on my shoulder, and caused Amazon to send out the ad at top left.

Helpfully though, she gives us a list of things she explicitly didn't do (her detailed explanations follow in the link)

  1. I’ve written a ‘good book’
  2. I advertised.
  3. I participated in blog tours.
  4. I have a huge web presence.
  5. I bought reviews.
  6. I bash the book on Twitter.
  7. Kindle Select
  8. It’s a cheap read.

Greta also lists a few things she did do that might've helped her sales. Have a look, this stuff really is difficult to quantify, so any input you get could help.

Read it all here:

What Aren't Bookstores Doing? (via @bookriot)

Jenn Northington collected suggestions from the audience on the topic of what bookstores could be doing to improve their business. At a guess I would think that yesterday's idea to charge customers to browse isn't on the list. Here are a few of the suggestions that stood out from me from what Jenn brought back from the panel at the Book^2 Camp 'unconference':

  • Mine your [bookstore] data in a non-creepy way, curate for individual customers based on past sales
  • Justify the higher cost of your books to customers, despite all the obstacles, by providing services (like above) that are just. not. possible to get from online retailers. [Tom: I have commented on this before: a bar charges more for alcohol that you could just buy cheaply from discount liquor stores, yet bars aren't going out of business; consider this]

There are many other suggestions, and it's worth checking out the whole list:


Harper-Collins CEO says paying for the privilege of bookstore browsing is not an insane concept (HT: @pnpbookseller)

[SPOILER: It is an insane concept.] I've filed this under humour because frankly it's too ridiculous to take seriously.

However, this isn't an article by The Onion, and it's something the CEO of Harper-Collins said.

HarperCollins c.e.o. Victoria Barnsley has said the idea of the bookshop as a book club, charging for browsing, is "not that insane", given the level of threat faced by the general bookshop.

I'm no bookseller, but if 'the level of threat faced by the general bookshop' is so severe, then putting a pay wall between the customer and the threatened shop isn't 'not that insane'. It is, in actual fact, utterly insane.

If someone at the top of a major publishing house is that out of touch with the concept of how shops work, one has to start wondering how out of touch with commercial reality they are in general? Let's see what this visionary of modern publishing thinks about DRM:

Barnsley said there was a major debate within the industry over DRM, commenting: "If you don't have it, the risk is that there's a lot of sharing . . . [but] keeping it on allows retailers like Amazon to continue running their walled gardens which is not a good thing."

No surprises there.

Let me correct her statement: if you don't have it, it makes no difference, because every DRM'd eBook is already freely shared. DRM provides no barrier to even the casual computer user frustrated by it. The only thing DRM does is a) waste a publisher's money b) treat customers as criminals c) allow companies to lock legal customers into their own ecosystems (at least she got that bit right).

Read it and weep:

You Have No Right To Make Money Anymore (HT: @rosepowell)

Matthew Ingram from GigaOM describes how Seth Godin answered a recent interview question about writers trying to make money:

In a recent interview with Digital Book World, the writer and creator of the Domino Project [...] was asked about his advice that authors should give their books away for free and that they should worry more about spreading their message and building a fan base instead of focusing on how to monetize it right away. And how would he respond to writers concerned about their ability to make a living from their writing? Godin’s response:

Who said you have a right to cash money from writing? Poets don’t get paid (often), but there’s no poetry shortage. The future is going to be filled with amateurs, and the truly talented and persistent will make a great living. But the days of journeyman writers who make a good living by the word — over.

It's hard to disagree with him. Writing has never been a particularly financially rewarding pursuit, much like any art form. There will always be outliers who become ridiculously wealthy, but having an expectation of becoming that famous author is counterproductive, in my opinion.

I don't think books should just be given away for free - things that are free are perceived to have a certain value (ie. nothing) and I value my work a few cents more than that. However, that doesn't mean books should never be given away for free. Getting a fan base with which you can connect as a creator is important, and giveaways are a part of getting new people exposed to your writing.

Mathew also talks about getting a perspective on your writing with regards to its quality:

[M]aybe those vampire books by Amanda Hocking or the detective novels from million-selling author John Locke aren’t as good as yours, but for hundreds of thousands of weekend readers they are probably good enough. Godin’s point isn’t that you can’t make money; it’s that you have to think differently about how to accomplish that task.

I always ask authors who are concerned about things that apparently make them lose money (piracy is a perennial favourite): 'If you were guaranteed never to make a single cent from writing, would you stop?'

If you answer 'yes' then I think you probably shouldn't be writing at all. If you answer 'no', I think you're probably ready to think about how you will try to make some money out of your writing.

Read it here:

The Pitch Factor! (via @TomKerevan)

Tom Kerevan won the Pitch Factor at the recent London Screenwriters Festival. I'm not a submissions receiving person, but listening to excited authors trying to pitch their ideas to me sounds like a special kind of hell. If this article can make it easier for editors and agents to get through life, I consider my work done:

For those of you [who] aren't familiar, The Pitch Factor is one of the Festival's highlights. It consists of a stage, 7 high-profile judges, an audience of around 200 writers, 90 seconds and a microphone. Prizes are awarded for Best Pitch and Best Idea. Last year I won with Wreckers and so I knew I had to pull something special out the bag. I pitched my TV comedy Insiders (in development with co-writer Alex Lawrence) and was lucky enough to be voted for Best Pitch by the judges.

Wait, what - he won two years in a row? Tom goes over some of his tips for pitching. Obviously this relates specifically to screen writing, but there may be some useful information for short story or novel pitching in here for you; perhaps it will help you write a better synopsis.

Tom focuses on these points:

1. Your pitch is a script

[insightful stuff]

2. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

[more insightful stuff]

3. Tell the story of the story

In other words, don't just tell the story! Tell us about the story. I don't want to get too technical because each pitch is different, but I tend to structure my pitches into 3 sections, 3 acts if you like. You obviously need to open with a hello, a smile, your name, TV/feature, genre and title. Then dive into...

Listening to someone called Tom giving you advice is a good skill to learn. Just sayin'.

Read the details of each of his steps here:

Paid reviews hurt everyone, except those being paid (via @alanbaxter)

Alan Baxter has a little thing to say about the practice of paying someone to write an amazing review for your book:

It basically boils down to predatory fuckwits offering to write glowing reviews of any book (which they won’t bother to read) in exchange for cashmoney. Idiot authors jump on the bandwagon and buy those reviews in a desperate attempt to get their work noticed.

Alan describes this process, including reporting a whole slew of lovely euphemisms which attempt to obscure the smell of this practice, such as 'artificially embellished reviews'.

Granted, Alan does go on to tease out some of the nuances:

Here’s the thing, as far as I’m concerned. Paying for a review is not necessarily a bad thing. We all want to get noticed. We all want our work to fall before the eyes of more readers and reviews definitely help that. I’m always going on about reviewing. If you read something, review it! Two lines and a star rating at Amazon and Goodreads can make a massive difference. People are really busy and everyone needs to make a buck, so someone charging money for reviews is not neecessarily (sic) a bad thing. I’ve said that twice now in this paragraph and there’s one very important word that I’ve deliberately left out. That word is “good”. Paying for good reviews sucks Satan’s rancid balls, because you’re corrupting the system and devaluing the work of everyone. Paying someone to read your book and honestly review it, however, is fine. That’s a very important distinction.

Do read it, Alan is always entertaining:

Sockpuppetry By Novelists - Not As Cute As You Think (via @KernelMag)

Sockpuppetry is the practise of creating a bunch of fake accounts to, generally, promote your own work through glowing reviews and the like:

Why do some authors think they can get away with sockpuppeting? Sure, you could probably have got away with it five years ago. But the public is so much more tech savvy now. They can see right through bullshit – and discover it, too. IP addresses are easily traceable and, granted you have basic computing knowledge, you can pretty much find out who wrote a review and how many accounts are linked back to the same location.

Margot Huysman looks into various scandals of recent times, noting:

It turns out that Mr Duns has just exposed another offender. Here’s a word of warning, before we continue: if ever you thought the tech scene was bitchy, wait until you get a load of the vicious world of publishing.

It's an interesting read. The comments section continues the controversy, casting doubt on areas of the article and defending/attacking the various players. I think regardless of the details, the core assertion holds true: that it is unethical and unprofessional to create fake accounts to promote yourself or (especially) to attack other authors. If your work can't stand on its own merit, requiring you to artificially pump up its perceived quality or attack other authors, I have one question: wouldn't that time be better spent improving your writing?

Link here:

YA Novelists are in it for the Money (via @JustineLavaworm)

Justine Larbalestier demolishes this argument thoroughly:

I’m not going to link to where I saw this particular bizarre notion. Mostly because it’s not something that’s found in one place. I’ve come across the same sentiment in various locations offline and on- over the last ten or so years. So it’s kind of irrelevant who said it most recently.

But here’s [the] gist of the argument:

YA writers only do it for the money. They don’t care about the effect their [insert negative adjective] work has on children only about making money.

Most writers I know would agree that 'doing it for the money' isn't really a prime motivator. If you really want to make money, become an accountant or something. This is also Justine's experience:

I’m fascinated that this argument gets made at all ever. I don’t know a single writer who became a writer to make money. Everyone I know is a writer because they can’t not be a writer. It’s a compulsion. A vocation. Something they do whether they’re paid for it or not. This is true across genres.

Have a read through her own experiences as a YA author and why she writes.

Read it here:

What Authors Seem to Forget About Marketing (via @JaneFriedman HT: @SydneyWriters)

Jane Friedman posts about marketing in writing, over at Writer Unboxed:

Think about it carefully. Do you adopt a totally different persona or voice when it’s time to market and promote? Of course you might put on your marketer’s hat to brainstorm ideas about marketing strategy, but those ideas ought to be expressed and executed by the “real” you, not a stilted, rational, or smarmy marketer version of you.

Modern hyper-connectivity means you will be screen-to-screen with your readers (and fellow writers) in a way that has never been possible before. This produces the kind of cross-skill crisis often seen in the IT industry, where a great programmer is suddenly promoted into a managing role. Suddenly your little private world becomes a hubbub of human relations and expectations management. Sound familiar?

I could give dozens of examples, and show you how an author’s unique personality directly plays into their marketing and platform building approach. However, easier said than done. Why?

Why indeed? Have a read of what Jane recommends here:

Why is my Book Not Selling? (via @SydneyWriters and @davidgaughran)

It's Valentine's day, and ignoring crass commercialisation I think it's a grand opportunity to tell the important people in your life that you love them. So I love you all, important people! You know who you are. But sometimes people don't love your books. Today's post is by David Gaughran, discussing in general terms why your book may not be selling. He covers a solid list:

  • Story
  • Covers
  • Editing
  • Blurb
  • Price
  • Sample
  • The Wisdom of the Crowd
  • Marketing

Obviously some of these things you will have heard before: 'Get yourself a good cover!' is obvious advice. But David goes into lengthy detail on each topic, and I think there's value here.

He closes with these fine words:

Whatever you decide, don’t lose heart. Your situation can turn around very quickly. Getting down achieves nothing. Checking your sales achieves nothing other than putting you in a sour mood. And whining? It does all of that, plus it makes you look silly (whining in private though, is fine – my whiskey bottle is stained with tears).

Link here:

Paulo Coelho’s advice: Give away your book online (via @SydneyWriters)

The Writing Bar posts about Paulo Coelho's positive experience with giving away books for free online:

With his book, The Alchemist, only selling a mere 1,000 books, his publisher abandoned Paulo. After being picked up by a different publisher in 1996, Paulo took a risk and posted a digital Russian copy of his book on his own website.

The result? 10,000 copies of the book sold a year after, and 100,000 a year after that. By 2002, Paulo had sold one million copies of his various books. He says, “I’m convinced it was putting it up for free on the internet that made the difference.”

It's a worthwhile and interesting read. Obviously not everyone can just put all their writing up on a website and get instant fame, but it's important to get an idea on all the various avenues to success. Sure, if you can write then eventually some sort of success will follow...but...well...if there's a way to speed up that process just a little, shouldn't you take a look?

Read on here:

Authors, Adopt a Bookshop! (HT: @TheBaronCB)

This link to the UK collective Trapped By Monsters popped up in my feed via Paul Landymore.

REMEMBER when you first started out as an author? The thrill of seeing your book on a shelf in a bookshop for the very first time?

With the rise of ebooks and the pressures on bookshops to adopt and compete in a changing publishing landscape, they are kicking off the Adopt A Bookshop campaign:

We decided we wanted to give back a bit and show our support and so we have created [Adopt A Bookshop]

- our campaign to support at least one bookshop each year. We intend to spread the word among our author and illustrator buddies around the UK and maybe even around the world. If you’re reading this for the first time, we’re already on our way.

We love bookshops at Literarium - I've previously written a post on how I feel they might be able to change to survive (here) - and as part of our product we are aiming to make it easier for bookshops to discover local authors, kind of an 'Adopt An Author' equal but opposite approach to this campaign. Hopefully we will be able to meet in the middle and effect some change.

So how does an author Adopt A Bookshop? [...]

So far we have identified these things that an author can do:


Read the call to arms here:

Are Fantasy Tropes a Punk Response to Literature (via @tordotcom)

- This is our 100th post, by the way. And there will be many more to come. -

Stephen Minchin from Steam Press is a great source of interesting writing links, and I recently noticed this post on his twitter account.

Does incorporation of the fantastic constitute a punk moment of defiance for writers?

It's a cool little discussion on, and because Literature vs Genre is the kind of endless circular debate ideal for a few drinks at the bar, I found myself smirking at paragraphs like these:

Perhaps a real punk wouldn’t call themselves a punk, but the notion of protesting an institutionalized notion of art is likely a result of some amount of stigma or shame associated with the (punk) choice. Someone with a literary background like Grossman is going to be faced with more stigma or shame when he goes genre than someone like George R. R. Martin when he pulls a slightly punk move in Game of Thrones by not having it necessarily be about a big bad guy or quest. Perhaps Martin never faced the stigma, so the “risks” he took seem less punk than Grossman.

Have a skim through. I'm enjoying the blurring of genre lines in modern fiction. Could it be that clear distinctions between fiction genres are mostly for the benefit of marketing departments?

Read it here, folks:

Bringing new Readers into the Family (via @KristenLambTx)

Kristen Lamb discusses approaches (and mistakes) that writers make when they are trying to grow their reader base.

Sometimes it seems that life would be easier if traditional marketing could sell books because then we could pay for a nice book trailer and program an automated platform to blitz out “commercial” on every social site. Yet, the fact remains that books are not tacos or car washes. So what’s a writer to do?

Another important point is that a lot of our efforts at marketing are expended on fellow writers, our comfort zone:

Writers are incredible, kind and talented. We should befriend writers. They are our professional core and our support network. Yet, where the mistake happens is that fellow writers are our comfort zone. We cannot mistake our professional network for our reader demographic. Will writers make up part of our readership? Yes…but they are not ALL of our readership.

Read the rest here:

Making the most of ebooks - What Romance writers are doing

This is a cool article describing the various ways that romance writers are taking advantage of the digital publishing world.

Recently, Belleville decided to make a change to the covers of her Lucy Kevin books: "I first had photo covers, and when I changed them to illustrated covers my numbers literally changed overnight," she said. Belleville said she's constantly in contact with readers, and has written sequels to books based on popular demand.

This modern ability for an author to connect directly to readers is exemplified through social applications such as twitter and, even better, GoodReads.

On top of getting reader feedback/sales statistics almost instantly, we also find this:

Since most of her sales are online, she now does much of the work a publisher used to do: copy editing, graphic design, promotions. When she can't do it herself, she hires someone.

That last paragraph ties back to this recent post, where I suggested that publishers need to communicate their benefits to authors better. A talented new writer looks at that paragraph and (notwithstanding time constraints or personal interest) thinks, 'I'm supposed to give 85%+ of my profits to someone who does work I can do myself?'

Now, it's not fair or accurate to say that publishers don't provide value for their cut of your sales. However, with the self-publishing hype in every writer's dreamy eyes, what are publishers doing to dispel these impressions?

The article is an exciting look at one of the modern avenues of publishing, and you can check it out in full here:

What are the publishers doing for us? via @pubperspectives

This is an article from Publishing Perspectives covering the inaugural Publishers Launch London conference recently. One of the quotes that stood out to me is relevant to last week's discussion about cover design. Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown says:

“The reason we have so many jackets looking the same is that publishers will say 'oh, we can’t choose that one because Tesco won’t like it'”

It's easy to wave at the rebirth of self-publishing in this digital era and dismiss the traditional publishing industry's contributions, but:

Stephen Page, Chief Executive of Faber, suggested that publishers perhaps don’t do as good a job as they could of communicating to authors the value publishers offer. “We forget the difficulty of the remote position that writers occupy.”

This hearkens back to the discussions we've had here about the perceived value of the digital container, and so highlights a deficiency in the publishing industry - communications. I'd hazard a guess that traditional publishing houses have not had a requirement to explain themselves for decades, nor any dearth of quality submissions. It seems to me that in a world where authors have increasingly varied avenues to publishing, they really need to improve this aspect if they want to continue to attract the best talent.

The article also contains some perspectives from both sides regarding territorial rights and the place of digital formats.

Read the rest of the article here:

The miracle of self-publishing...spam

This article by John Naughton at the Guardian newspaper looks at the darker side of all that self-publishing goodness. When you want to get as much content out as possible into the marketplace, less scrupulous players will be incentivised to plagiarise, manufacture and generate as much trash as they can sell for $1.

Kindle self-publishing, in other words, is metamorphosing into a new kind of lucrative spam. The pollution of a potentially interesting and valuable space in this way is depressing enough. But why is Amazon allowing it to go on? Could the fact that it takes a 30% slice of every transaction have anything to do with it? I only ask.

Read the original article here:

Disliking your own Cover via @cox_tom and @tribalscientist

Tom Cox discusses his experience of having to accept covers he doesn't think represent his work. One of the key quotes that struck me was:

Initially, Simon And Schuster had selected a cover I rather liked for the paperback version of Under The Paw: a picture of a tabby with some impressive cattitude sneering from in front of a duvet, between a man's poking-out stockinged feet. Yet they decide to change it. The reason? "Asda wouldn't take it. They need a very simple cover that won't confuse the one-book-per-year market. Something cute, like the one for Marley And Me."

My friend Mike McRae (@tribalscientist) had a similar experience with the cover of his first book, Tribal Science. I asked him to contribute his thoughts:

Tribal Science Cover"I always had a vision for what the cover of Tribal Science would look like. I'm no different to nearly every other published author, and also like nearly every other published author I had to recognise that the final product would look nothing like the one in my imagination.

So when I received the rough concept cover, I was prepared for anything. Disappointment, joy, surprise. Actually, no. Not the first one so much. I thought I would be, but seeing what would represent my book and have it hit home that it would be the first hint people have on its contents...the dissonance was jarring.

First of all, I hate Einstein iconography. That isn't the artist's fault, nor the marketing department's. I work in education and Einstein is everywhere. Books, inspirational posters, little cartoons of his fuzzy head telling you about the speed of light. So seeing him on the cover of a book that effectively says 'science is the product of tribes of people and not individual smart-heads' didn't make me smile. Secondly, I wasn't a fan of the UFO 'atom' over his head. Sure, elements of the book were about the conflation of science and the paranormal, but these were merely consequences of something more fundamental. What the marketing department were trying to say were 'UFOs and Einstein are in here', not 'this book is about social thinking and the progress of scientific thinking'. As an author, I want people to know the latter. Einstein's brain and UFOs were merely conduits to the deeper message, and were somewhat irrelevant to the core theme.

I expressed my view, which received sympathy and a promise to take it into account. And I slowly got used to it. Apart from the rear view of a standing ape in a top-hat on the back cover, which would have worked well as a cluster of similar simians as a cover image, I still don't think it represents the book well at all. But in the end, I'm a writer and not a marketer. We both have our roles to play in the machine that is the publishing industry. There are certainly positives to this machine. This is simply one of the pills I need to swallow in order to be published."

Selling your books is a marketing exercise, and your publisher isn't necessarily interested in whether you are feeling warm and fuzzy about the final design, but is there a point where a book is compromised too much just to compete with the lowest common denominator?  Tom says:

During the first week Under The Paw went into Asda, I hit the bestseller list for the first and only time in my life [...]. But Asda were selling Under The Paw for less than £4. Most magazines cost more than £4 these days. Surely that's wrong - and not just because it makes for piddling royalty figures? A book should cost more than that. A book should be more than that. It's not a soulless CD; it's something to be stroked, and to love on the outside, as well as the inside.

Read the entire article (including the valuable comments at the end) here:

The Indie bookseller vs The Amazon Imprint

Hm, I don't entirely agree with this, but I'm not an independent bookshop and can only view it from a writer/reader perspective. Basically the Seattle Mystery Bookshop has posted a polite series of emails they had with a writer being published through Amazon's new publishing venture. The writer asks for a stocking/signing opportunity and is politely rebuffed.

It's an interesting insight into the shifting relationships between traditional publisher/self publisher/self-promoter/book seller. As the author says:

I know your mind is set, and I do not expect my email to change it. But I do want you to know that my experience with Amazon as an author has been second to none. They are incredibly supportive and responsive and beyond author-friendly. They flew me to NY for a book signing at BEA, something unheard of for a first-time author in my genre. And the list goes on.

Although book sellers are affected directly by the market strength of Amazon, Amazon does offer a radically different publishing relationship for writers. So is the bookselling industry shooting themselves in the foot by rejecting work from writers who want better publishing terms? It's not as if a boycott has any practical effect, it is purely an ethical position.

It's a worthwhile read: