Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

How to ruin your writing career in 1 easy step

Surprise. Shock. Pity. Scorn.

Those were the range of emotions I felt once I'd read through what amounts to the complete and absolute implosion of an indie writer's career.

It all started with an unfavorable book review on BigAl's Books and Pals site where Big Al reviews indie novels. The book is The Greek Seaman. Its author, Jacqueline Howett. Big Al rated the novel 2 stars out of 5, not because of the story itself, but because of the numerous grammatical and spelling errors. He actually makes it a point to say that the story itself is interesting, but that the numerous errors create too many stumbling points for the reader to get through.

One reason is the spelling and grammar errors, which come so quickly that, especially in the first several chapters, it’s difficult to get into the book without being jarred back to reality as you attempt unraveling what the author meant. At times, you’ll be engrossed in the story when you’ll run across a flowery description of the emotions Katy is feeling about her situation or her husband. These are numerous and sometimes very good. Chances are one of these sections originally pulled you so deeply into Katy’s world. Then you’ll run into one that doesn’t work and get derailed again. Reading shouldn’t be that hard.

Writers have to have thick skins. Not everyone is going to like what we write, nor should we expect favorable reviews at every turn. The question becomes one of professionalism those times where we do run into a bad review. Is it worth commenting? Should you just ignore it? Jacqueline Howett chose the former, and went about it in the worst way possible.

Here's her initial comment to Big Al's review:

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She then goes on to post some of those "5 star" reviews from Amazon.

At this point, she's really not doing too badly. A bit over the top, but I can live with her response if only she'd left it at that. She doesn't, but goes on to say:

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and,

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At this point I started to see what Big Al was talking about. If the errors in structure in her comments are any indication of her grammatical skill (or lack thereof), then it would seem his review is correct and justified.

I have to admit that I often dismiss advice from bloggers and other writers concerning how to act professionally. I've worked in a professional capacity for near twenty years now, and hardly need the advice. Also, I thought, what person wouldn't act professionally? It's common sense, right? Apparently not for everyone.

Far from a Charlie Sheen-like response, where people flocked to the actor's Twitter account in apparent fascination following his own meltdown, Howett has garnered only scorn, pity, and numerous commenters saying they've no desire to read anything at all by her now. Given that Howett at one point tells other commenters to "f*** off", I don't blame them.

The question now becomes where does Howett go from here? Is there any salvation for her? It really depends how she carries herself from this point forward. She needs to apologize—that much is certain—and in a non-condescending manner. Not only to Big Al, but to her readers and the other commenters on Big Al's review. In the apology she needs to admit she was wrong. Then she needs to go hire a professional editor to show sincerity. I don't know if even that is enough at this point, but it's a start.

I'll leave you with one of Howett's closing comments:

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4/2/2011 Update: It gets worse. Reviewers are piling on the bad reviews on Amazon. This author really did a number on herself.

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My Indie Sales Strategy

I guess I never came out and said it, but I've gone indie. There's a lot of reasons for this, some of which I might get into in a future post. Suffice to say that after examining traditional and electronic publishing, writing a whole series of posts detailing how to self-publish on various platforms, and, finally, coming to the realization that it's really a personal choice (there's no right or wrong here) and that the right choice for me is indie, I've fully embraced the concept.

Two of the more immediate challenges I'm facing as I jump in are (1) generating more titles to sell and (2) getting people to buy the titles already out there and then leave a (hopefully favorable) comment. The consensus amongst my peers is that the more titles you have for sale, the more you'll sell. Of course, writing a novel takes time, and there's not much to do about it other than to get cracking. With regard to #2, if you poke around the Amazon discussion boards you'll see plenty of posts like this one where the poster recognizes the challenge indie writers face and wants to help out by reading and reviewing his/her book. Judging by the number of authors responding to such requests, I'm guessing this is a challenge faced by indie writers en masse.

So what's a new, unknown indie author to do?

In the past, I've alternated between offering my first fantasy novel, The Hall of the Wood, for free as a PDF download and selling it here and from various retailer web sites. Upon the completion of my second novel, The Five Elements, I decided to serialize it a chapter at a time on this blog while simultaneously giving away the novel in its entirety along with selling it through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers. There's been some experimentation, tweaking, and price adjusting along the way, the end result of which has been that I have a strategy that at least gives me a clear direction for the immediate future. How effective it winds up being remains to be seen.

So, this is what I'm doing:

1.) Serialization

The serialization of The Five Elements is already underway. I just posted Chapter 13: The Hounds of Hell last Sunday. I'm debating whether to also serialize The Hall of the Wood. I probably will once The Five Elements is concluded. The goal here is to promote the novel while hopefully gaining some readers for my blog, for my books, or for both.

2.) Free PDF download from this site

Both novels can be downloaded for free from my web site. You could say this is a preemptive strike against pirating, but I'm not well known enough for that to be an issue right now. The truth is that I'm giving them away for free to gain readers. Price is sometimes a barrier between a consumer and a product; free eliminates that barrier. There is, however, a personal request that comes along with each download: At the beginning of each novel is a "Note from Author" page that asks the reader to go to one of the retailer web sites where the book is sold and to leave a comment once they're finished. Reader gets a free eBook, I get a review. Seems like a fair deal.

3.) Free PDF download from Scribd

Both novels are posted to Scribd as PDF's where they can be downloaded for free. The versions are the same ones I offer here, so you wouldn't gain anything by downloading from one versus the other. The reason I've got them out on Scribd is because I figure each retailer/outlet has their own audience. A visitor to Scribd isn't necessarily going to know about my web site and vice versa. So I figure if I give away my stuff there with the "request for review" author page attached, I might just get some feedback.

4.) Sell eBook versions on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords

Yes, there actually is a "pay" option in this strategy of mine where a reader would have to part with some cash and I might actually make a little money. Both novels are available on Amazon as Kindle formatted eBooks, Barnes & Noble in nook format, and Smashwords in a variety of other formats (see links on right for all options). I expect to get most of my sales from Amazon and B&N, but Smashwords distributes to a number of other retailers, so it's good for reach if nothing else.

5.) Sell print versions

I've been eBooks all the way since I started this venture, and especially since I got a Kindle. But I also recognize that many people are still only interested in traditional format books. So, as of pretty much now, The Five Elements is available in a print edition. I wanted to go through this process with one of my novels first, so The Hall of the Wood is lagging a bit, but it will also be available as a print book pretty soon. I'm using CreateSpace as my POD provider; so far the process has been time-consuming but rewarding.

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That's it. Only time will tell if this strategy works. I'll post progress in a few months.

Broken Mirrors, a serialized novel coming from Tim Pratt

Marla Mason about to kick some ass Tim Pratt, whose book The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl I reviewed some time ago, posed this question on his blog:

Should I Write the Next Marla Mason Novel?

Marla Mason is Pratt's urban sorcerer character who has appeared in four traditionally published novels to date: Blood Engines, Poison Sleep, Dead Reign, and Spell Games. Also, Marla Mason is the main character in Bone Shop, a prequel to the other novels which Pratt serialized and gave away for free (donations accepted, of course) on his web site.

When Pratt originally posed that question on his blog and Twitter, I scoffed. Stephen King had tried it and failed. Tim and I engaged in a brief conversation where he pointed out the difference in scale (King has to make a whole lot more for it to be worth his time) and the fact that King tried it a decade ago. We both agreed that a lot of things can change in 10 years. Our conversation closed with the following comments from Tim:

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Turns out his publisher is not interested in any more Marla Mason novels. Pratt has a great affinity for the character, though, and so on the heels of Bone Shop, Pratt's first serialized Marla Mason novel, he's doing it again, this time with Broken Mirrors.

Broken Mirrors will appear online one chapter at a time and run for "20-25 weeks". The first chapter will go up March 8.

While you can download the chapters for free, donations are, of course, accepted. In exchange for your contribution, Pratt has a tiered reward system. The more you donate, the more you get (beyond the author's undying appreciation, of course).

While I had read the before-mentioned The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, I had no experience with his Marla Mason novels prior to reading about his plans for Broken Mirrors. Intrigued by the serialization idea, I went out and bought the first Mason novel, Blood Engines (actually, I bought it through my Kindle, so I didn't really go anywhere). So far, so good, and I'm looking forward to watching Broken Mirrors unfold.

You can subscribe to the upcoming chapters via the RSS feed on the Broken Mirrors web site.

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

This is the final post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy (this post)

This post is about selling strategy. What I mean by this, or rather what I don't mean, is marketing or self-promotion. Both of those topics are important, and in fact this topic probably crosses over into those, but what I'd like to talk about here is this: I've listed one eBook on Amazon, Smashwords, Scribd, and Lulu, but with another novel soon to be complete, what's next? Where do I go from here?

As I see it, here are my options:

1.) Go the traditional publishing route

This may smack of heresy after I just posted seven (eight, including this one) posts all geared towards circumventing the traditional process, but hear me out. There's no doubt we're entering into a new world as far as publishing is concerned, but just because we can sell our work direct to readers does not instantly make the agents, copyeditors, publishers, and other personnel in the publishing industry obsolete. In fact, for those who truly want to embrace writing as a full-time occupation, I still think they're necessary. They bring expertise, leverage, and make distribution into real, physical bookstores a reality. They have access to the channels where most people still get their books from. This is to our benefit as writers.

2.) Give my eBooks (or short fiction) away for free

It's no secret that the most successful eBooks selling on Amazon are given away for free. Some think we're heading towards $0 eBooks, anyway. But free doesn't pay the bills; for full-time writers this obviously isn't an option. But for a new writer who can sustain him/herself in other ways, it might be a viable option for gaining readers. The idea might be to give away one book hoping to sell copies of another. Giving away short fiction fits into this as well. By no means does this mean giving away content for free forever. It might just be for a limited time, to perk up interest.

3.) Serialize my novel here

John Scalzi serialized his first novel, Old Man's War, on his blog before selling it to Tor. J.C. Hutchins serialized in audio format his first novel, 7th Son. The end result for both authors was a publishing contract. In Scalzi's case, he was already getting 1,000 hits/day on his blog (I get 100 on a good day; Scalzi probably gets 100/hour now). Serializing a novel for free no doubt brought in even more readers and attracted the attention of Tor. Hutchins, an unknown when he started, marketed his novel like a madman, gaining a huge following and an eventual contract as well. In these two cases, serialization worked. In general, giving away anything for free is going to work, to a point. Also, keep in mind that just because you're giving away something for free does not mean everyone is going to come to your site to read/download it. Some people still like going to bookstores and buying a "real" copy of a book. Serialization is just another way of getting your work in front of more people. Given the choice between "more" and "less", I'll take the former.

4.) Sell my eBooks here on my blog

Many authors do this, especially as rights revert back from a publisher. It's a great way to get some more life (and revenue) out of a title that has otherwise been remaindered. It's also a nice way to get your novel out to people while you're seeking a contract, which can take a very long time if it happens at all. The biggest plus of selling from your own site is you get to keep 100% (or near to that) of the revenue.

5.) Sell my eBooks through the various eRetailers I covered in this blog series

There are a lot of people who visit, say, Amazon, who probably will never come to my web site. It is therefore important to also sell through other channels, even if you are giving up a larger piece of the pie by doing so. Keep in mind, too, that eBooks that sell well via online retailers sometimes are picked up for publication.

In closing this post…

I don't think any one method is the sole way to go in today's world. Rather, I'm considering a hybrid approach of some of the above once my second novel is complete. I still want to go the traditional route because I think it's the best option for success. On the other hand, I don't want my novel languishing in a drawer while I wait for the luck of the draw to deem my work worthy of being published.

Concluding this series

In conclusion of this series let me just say that I hope I've shed some light on the different options for publishing online. The publishing world is changing; it's best to remain aware of the new possibilities.

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd 
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu (this post)
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

The next ePublisher I want to look at in this series is Lulu.

Home page of Lulu.com

What is Lulu?

Lulu is a bit different from the other ePublishers I have featured so far because in addition to offering traditional eRetailer services, Lulu also sells traditional books by using the magic of POD.

POD, or Print on Demand, is a service where a paper book isn't actually printed until someone orders it. Once someone places an order for a traditional paper book through Lulu, Lulu's machinery kicks into high gear, prints the book, and next thing you know you've got a printed, bound book waiting on your doorstep. The advantages of this model is cost (from the publisher's perspective) because no inventory exists until it is needed. This differs from a traditional vanity press in that there is no upfront cost associated with the POD service. Lulu doesn't "make" anything until someone buys one of your books.

Besides for POD, Lulu also sells straight eBooks. That will be my primary focus here.

You can follow Lulu on Twitter or subscribe to the Lulu blog.

How much does Lulu charge?

From their FAQ:

Lulu takes a small commission when your content is purchased. Lulu's commission is 20% of the profit from a purchased item.

Sounds great at first glance. Dig a little deeper and you'll find that Lulu also charges a "base price" which is built into the price of your eBook which, of course, ultimately increases your asking price. The standard base price for eBooks is $1.49, which goes to cover "file hosting, bandwidth, and credit card transaction costs".

Previous analysis showed the following charges for the other eRetailers I've covered: Scribd charges 45%; Amazon, 65%; and Smashwords, 42%.

So, let's say you're charging $5 for your eBook. How much are you really making on each sale with Lulu? The breakdown is this:

$5.00 (asking price) - $1.49 (base price) = $3.51

20% commission of the seller's profit: $3.51 * 0.2 = $0.70

So, $3.51 - $0.70 = $2.81

You'll see later on that Lulu provides a calculator to make this process a little easier. Using it, I found that I have to charge readers twice as much as I what I might charge on Amazon, for example, just to make the same amount of money for myself. Here's a quick screenshot to illustrate:

Lulu price breakdown

That's a whopping 84% commission Lulu charges to sell eBooks on their site at the $2 sale price. Put the price at $5/eBook and it comes out to 44% (56% in your pocket). The base price obviously skews things very badly at lower price points. Unfortunately, lower price points are where eBooks want to be.

What file formats does Lulu support?

Lulu sells eBooks in ePUB and PDF format:

Lulu eBook formats

For both, you have the option of selling with or without DRM.

See my post for more info on E-book File Formats.

The Lulu Storefront

Lulu sells a variety of items, including books, eBooks, calendars, photo books, DVD's, etc. Since I'm principally concerned with eBooks, I'll take a look at that storefront.

The Lulu.com eBooks storefront

Lulu does a very nice job of breaking down their available eBooks into the many genres and categories. Clicking on "Science Fiction & Fantasy" brings up what you might expect. By twiddling with the interface a little you can search just the section you want, but only by Title and/or Creator:

Lulu's Science Fiction & Fantasy section

I like the Lulu interface, especially that they're upfront and center with price and the format available for purchase.

Publishing with Lulu

Lulu publishing can be accomplished in three easy steps:

3 easy steps to publishing with Lulu

I'm going to go through those publishing steps here and now, as I write this post, so I'll see firsthand just how easy the process is. ;-)

Here are the steps:

1. Start a New Project

The first step is creating what Lulu calls a "project". I'll use the title of my book as the "Working Title", my name was already filled in since I'm logged in, and I'll select "Make it public to sell in the Lulu Marketplace" since that's the reason I'm here.

Starting a new project with Lulu

2. Add Files

Next step is uploading files.

Upload files to Lulu

Lulu says you can upload in a variety of formats:

Lulu supported file formats

It's nice that they added support for EPUB. Because my eBook is already in PDF format, though, I'll upload that version and make a mental note that I still need to convert my eBook to EPUB format as I would like potential buyers to have that option.

Choosing my PDF and pressing upload flashes some activity…

Uploading your eBook status

…and in no time my file is uploaded:

Your file has been uploaded

3. Design Your Cover

For those following along in this series, you know why book covers are important. Lulu has a nice feature in that you can create a generic cover using their templates:

Creating a book cover using Lulu

Besides for generic templates and background colors, you can select your own image or browse the Lulu Gallery. While the gallery had some nice images, I've already created my own. Uploading it went smoothly though I did have to tweak the image size to fit Lulu's minimum size requirement of 621 x 810 pixels.

I went, of course, with my stock image for my eBook:Upload image success4. Describe Your Project   

You'll notice Lulu said we could do this in three steps. Yet here we are on step four…

In any case, now we get to add some descriptive detail to our eBook, including keywords and copyright information:

My Lulu project described

5. Digital Rights Management

Now this is kind of interesting. I have the option of adding DRM to my eBook, but at a cost:

DRM, but at a cost

Of course, I won't be paying the extra $0.99; my readers will. I don't like DRM to begin with, and certainly don't want to make people pay more just to have to deal with it's hassles. I'll choose the DRM-free option.

6. Set Your Project Price

Note that we are now at twice the number of steps Lulu said we'd have to go through. Just saying…

This is where we'll set our eBook price.

Set your eBook price

Focusing in on the right-hand side:

Lulu's cost calculator

Because of the pricing discussion above I'm going to leave the price of my eBook at $5… for now.

7. Review Your Project

This is the last step. A quick review of what we've already entered, click the confirmation button, and we're done.

The Hall of the Wood, published on Lulu

You can now purchase The Hall of the Wood from Lulu.

Conclusion

Lulu is another viable option for selling your eBook, though I found their pricing structure not as competitive as the other eRetailers I featured in this series. Still, it's another outlet in which to gain some eyeballs.

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