Landscape my take on a contemporary romance is on sale today
Yes I’m guilty. In this case guilty of hypocrisy. What leads to this confession you ask?
Reviews, yes reviews the bane of all self-published author’s lives (alongside marketing, editing, sales – oh and writing). The reason for this self-assessment is that I was about to bemoan the lack of reviews on Amazon for my work. Despite steady sales reviews seemed to have dried up. How can it be that no one wants to post how much they loved/hated/ignored my last work. Then as I started to compose this blog I stopped and thought. I don’t review on Amazon either and haven’t for ages. I do review and rate, briefly, almost diligently on Goodreads for all my reading. This has led, once, to a minor disagreement with the author about my review, but generally I have written a paragraph about the latest Read book. Some people have even liked my review or retweeted the rating across the World.
For me though, on Amazon, nothing despite email reminders from the Amazon team. Of course the ratings systems are different between the two sites, despite Amazon owning Goodreads. Reviews do not flow through. Book purchases can flow from Amazon to the My Books section on Goodreads, if the user selects to do so, but no review transitions.
Now I could go back and cut and paste my reviews for each book onto Amazon adjusting star ratings as I go. It’s a lot of work as I am at least 50 books behind. Still I may have some time soon as I switch main jobs.
It doesn’t help my lack of reviews on Amazon, Goodreads or anywhere else for that matter. What would help is if Amazon.com allowed other Amazon sites’ reviews to show up on Amazon.com. They do the other way round, then my latest reviews, more recent in the UK and for books not reviewed in the US, would be available to all. Not sure why Amazon has it set up that way – I’m sure it does not help sales, but then again if I don’t review on Amazon, I’m not helping either. As I said Mea Culpa!
It’s been a few weeks since I posted anything. Not that I haven’t had lots to say, it’s just the time to say it. My biggest excuse is of course writing of the main kind. Oh, and of course I work for a living. Still never let anything like earning a living get in the way of writing. I’m sure the mortgage company would agree. can just see that discussion playing out.
“Dear Sir we are repossessing your home”
“But I’m and aspiring writer”
“Would I have read anything by you”
“An you receive an income for this work do you?”
I can’t see that going well.
Still I do have some news on what I have been writing and designing a cover for Landscape. This was going to be another novel but it’s turned into a short story. It now needs some Beta reading. See what you think of the cover below. Not finished yet but It’s a start:
In other writing I have been making progress on An Agent’s Prize the third part of the Demise conspiracy series. Speaking of that series I have an audio book version of An Agent’s Demise underway on the ACX platform. Not sure when it will be finished but sometime in the New Year.
Part 2 of the Observer Series has also had some additions. Still looking for a title.
Then the start of something some readers have been asking for since it came out. Yes a possible sequel to To The Survivors. Again untitled but I have a few chapters written, no idea where that one will go. When I wrote the first part I had no direction at all, it just went. Most of my other writing has at least a target plot and story in outline. That one just goes. Must admit it is hard to get back in the flow of those characters. It was very emotional to write the first time, a real difference from Demise.
Other projects remain stalled or with just a few words here and there. So enough chat and back to the
real job – I mean writing!
One of my work colleagues is a process improvement expert. He is a Six Sigma Lean Black Belt which surely as a title should be leaned as a process improvement itself. He can frequently be found drawing diagrams of processes and extracting critical details from our business colleagues. These details, decision points and sub-processes demonstrate where efficiencies can be made. I was contemplating him taking a look at the whole self publishing process, which strikes me as being in desperate need of improvement.
Let’s start with the basic problem. Too many books chasing too few readers who are willing to pay for the book. Economists would focus on the over supply or the under-demand aspect of the problem. To increase demand many writers have resorted to the price tactic of reduced cost to the reader, including free, to generate that demand. Many marketing strategies emphasise the use of free to generate interest for other books by the same author. Traditional publishers have resorted to inflated pricing of e-books to protect the hard copy versions, much like the music and movie industry kept digital downloads more expensive than CD/DVD and Blue-ray packages.
The pricing and marketing elements and the social media excursions are all about launching or promoting the book after it has been produced. The lean methodology came out of Toyota’s factories i.e. it focused on the method of production. Although the techniques have spread into post-production and anywhere else efficiencies need to be made. These techniques have led directly or indirectly to just-in-time supply, significant automation and other changes to the production workplace. Many American commentators often critique lean and claim Henry Ford should be credited with the methodology. It is not an argument I would wish to get into as I am not an expert on the history. For the purposes of this article it is irrelevant.
So what would a lean book production look like. Starting with the authorship. Clearly a writer drives a fictional story but let’s face it. We all suffer from foibles. Some writers are very good at scary scenes, others romance. Some are excellent with descriptive passages whilst others can create fabulous dialogue. Clearly despite the inefficiency caused by increasing the number of writers involved, a lean book should focus on the allocated expertise of multiple individuals to create the book. The justification for the perceived inefficiency would be that more books of a higher qualitative standard would be produced in a shorter time frame. Not something that most authors would contemplate. Yet this type of authorship is common in the workplace – collaborative documents anyone?
Judging by the rumour mill several name authors already produce books in this way for traditional publishing houses. Who knows if this is true but remember mainstream publishers are businesses not art houses. They want regular product to sell. They do not want to wait till the artist is ready, they have a production schedule to keep and a line of employees from copy-editors to marketeers to keep busy.
The next stage of the production involves the various forms of editing and proof reading. Starting with the authors own efforts (see above where each author could complete this stage). This process varies greatly from a qualitative point of view depending greatly on the skill level of the editors involved. There is a significant variable cost to this process in terms of production costs. An area that under lean should be ripe for automation. Of course if all the authors were experts in grammar, structure and spelling, then editing would be greatly reduced. This would require a major expansion of the processes to be studied extending our lean approach to childhood of the authors from learning to read and write all the way through the education system. Probably outside the scope of this article.
There have been major efforts in the software industry to automate much of the editing process. I think like most operating systems there is still a good way to go.
The next stage of production is formatting and then printing. (I will skip over the cover artwork elements) The new creation of e-books has been a very lean process, prompted by technological change. E-book production in whatever format and through whichever seller is remarkably cheap and efficient. What was once a huge barrier to entry (typeset, review, print review copy, review, print for distribution, distribute, book sellers sell) has been reduced to a few clicks of buttons. Even hardback versions can be produced very quickly.
With a finished manuscript and cover (if not using available default ones) the new publishing process can be completed in under an hour (excluding the seller’s review process) Yes there are foibles of the systems to be overcome regarding pricing, copyright and for Amazon the KDP Select or not decision. Then with the click of a menu item, the new book or a revision is launched on its way. Now here is where us authors need some real process improvement. That newly minted tome is just one of several thousand published each month. It is not only competing with thousands of other new self-published authors but also all of the output of the traditional publishers. That is of course just for books. In the entertainment industry it is competing with similar amounts of music and and hundreds of movies and TV shows for the attention of the buying public.
One of the elements of the lean process is the value chain. The value chain of any published book is long from the hours and hours of writing to the endless revisions and edits. Then we get to the sale. Prices in $ for comparison sake and because that is how Amazon requires prices to be set. Free, 99 cents, $2.99, $4.99 for an ebook. or higher. A new Blu-ray with two and a half hours of movie is approximately $20. Yes there may be extras, but how often are they watched and how often is the film re-watched. Like re-reading a classic book sometimes, but not often. Like most books are read, a movie is watched once.A full novel which should last a minimum of six hours is 99c or Free! We must be mad as self published authors to value our work so little. Even if the book is short, poorly edited and a rubbish story, it will still have some value.
So as a final reference to lean this should not refer to price but to process. The technology process has meant that we have a very efficient production and selling process. The pressure of over-production has created over supply which has been used to drive price down in an attempt to increase demand. I believe this process has failed as the buyer now perceives no value in the product. As the self-pub writer gets no return on their investment they cannot invest in the quality of their product i.e. editing or a better cover. Now the rant…
Amazon as the largest player you have created this monster by allowing books to be given away to support hardware sales of Kindles and other tablets. Yet Amazon has to provide the infrastructure (storage, network, billing) to support a zero price. A zero price provides no covering income for anyone. So Amazon and the others please ditch the free sale and its distortion of the market. It’s not free and puts no value on anything. It also massively distracts readers and reduces the quality of the overall product. I seriously doubt whether it actually increases reading.
For my fellow self-pub authors is your product really worthless, if not why do you price it as such! Being top of a best seller list cannot mean free as nothing has been sold.
For my fellow readers – how many free books have you actually read – was it worth your time. The reading process is not lean – it consumes time. Yes libraries have provided free books but of course they are not free – they are paid for in taxes. The books provided have a value – so should ebooks.
All the marketing advice in the self-published space states, that building a following and regular posting is essential. This creates an audience that might, just might read a book. To achieve such a following the marketeer (the author role has disappeared for now) has to use the various social media outlets and/or advertising paths to raise awareness.
Now alongside being a writer, the skills of social commentary have to be added. In addition, the writer has to become technically familiar with all the different outlets. These vary from a simple blog like this on WordPress to Twitter, PinIntrest, YouTube, Facebook, Google+Instagram, etc,etc. Then there are the sites like Amazon’s forums, Linkedin or Goodreads. I’m sure there are lots of how to books and site FAQs that can explain the best way of using a particular platform but who has time to read them!
If you are like me you will stumble through and try to figure out the best way to make use of the different functionality. You may link sites to each other as I do so that this blog appears on Linkedin and Goodreads whilst a link appears on Twitter.
Now that I have created a wonderful commentary even if limited to Twitters’ few words, which will enthral the world, people will flock to my site. As my latest offering goes viral the sales will naturally follow and soon I will have to hire a publicist, web-master etc. just to keep up. One tiny, tiny problem with this plan. The cat or dog or baby video, celebrity trending tweet, scandal or my own problem.
I simply do not have enough time in the day to read or watch all this stuff. At work I now have email, Intranet, extra-net, Instant Messaging, conferencing and a Facebook replacement called Yammer, occasionally I get some work done but normally only after responding to the email, and IM message asking why I haven’t responded to the Yammer comment.
At home when I should be writing the next chapter of my book I am reading Goodreads, occasional other blogs and trying to follow some Twitter and of course updating linked in writing and professional forums all in an attempt to get me noticed. To keep up the appearance of activity and interest in the hope that this will be reflected back. Then comes the killer blow. Nearly everyone I am in contact with is another author trying to do the same thing. Yes we are all readers too so we try and read and review and offer helpful comments.
Somewhere out there is a true reader that might write a glowing review. What? They write a review, but now they are a writer too. There are hundreds if not thousands of review blogs, all this writing and communicating all this social commentary and interaction is overwhelming. Yet this week I had one of the most pleasing and odd experiences a personal appearance at a book club. I talked to my readers! Whatever next direct social interaction the next thing you know people may use there electronic devices to phone someone. Now I need to get this published and word spread, it will go viral if I add sex or a picture of a kitten won’t it!
Phenweb Publishing is delighted to announce the publication of two new books by
Philip G Henley
Both available now on Amazon
The Observers Series Part One – The World of Fives is the first in a new science fiction series. Please also see The Interplanetary Geographic Service
Are sales the bane of a self – pub writers life?
My books rank from 20,000 to over 400,000
Of course I was Number one in free thrillers once now I’m 217,150 with that book in overall paid. I suppose that is not bad given the alleged million plus books available. Genre rankings are different again, but without getting into those which are further specified by Amazon location we all have to remember one thing. The ranking are driven by weightings and various algorithms which are known only to Amazon. This is not a problem it is after all their store they can sell and run what they like and rank results how they like. The number would be different for revenue in whichever currency rather than just sales. It will differ in Kindle, hardback, paperback and audio too.
To add to the analysis it of course does not include CreateSpeace, Lulu, Smashwords, iBooks, Nook etc. numbers or any authors selling stuff direct. Getting into the famous Amazon top 100 for anything is a start and we would all like to be there but does it really matter? We want high numbers of sales not just for the revenue (why give them away?) but for reviews and attention. We pay for meaningless advertisements and judge those on views and clicks which may or may not lead to sales. We blog – I’m doing it now, we Facebook, we twitter we hope for reviews from mainstream media. We comment on Goodreads and other web sites overall we try and get noticed.
Is this just some giant self-indulgent ego trip “look at me I’m a writer!” Why are so many people trying a creative element not just writing but music, video, arts including the massive increase in photography. Are we all deluded like the worst performers on a talent show or in a karaoke bar or is there something else going on?
The Internet has given us the opportunity, technology has expanded the tool set. The barriers to entry that traditional publishing upheld have been reduced, but a new hurdle sits in the way, competition. The professional element is hampered just as much as the semi-professional or gifted amateur. Competition for the writer is now not just another professional writer but thousands of amateurs and not so amateurs launching their own output onto the unsuspecting world.
Much of the output in all artistic forms may be considered to be rubbish by so called experts. The professional critics or the amateur ones bemoan the lack of standards whether its artistic brushwork, composition or a self-pub’s grammar. I bemoan the number of dog and cat videos plaguing YouTube. One thing for sure we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. The world has changed we are all going to have to lie with it unless some dystopian catastrophe changes the world. I don’t think any of us really want a world without the Internet digital music, photography or the other benefits no matter how much rubbish is attached.
Once upon a time stable lads bemoaned the introduction of the horseless carriage. To quote a poet (who really can’t sing) the times they are a’ changin‘. We’ll all have to live with it no matter our sales rank.