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Ramblings

There has been a lot going on since my last commentary blog. The Paris attacks are a notable case in point. These have once again prompted the powers that be to insist that they need more powers to monitor communications as a way of preventing further attacks.

Once again no specificity is provided on how exactly the systems proposed would have prevented an attack, given that the purveyors of the UK’s 7/7/ and Lee Rigby attacks and the Paris attackers were already known to the security services and could therefore have had a warranted watch put on them.

In the House of Lords in the UK a small group of peers attempted to re-introduce the proposed “Snooper’s Charter” via a back door amendment into another bill. It failed but all the main political parties seem to be keen to re-introduce such legislation in the next Parliament. It may only be a temporary reprieve. I am torn between the need for the security and police services to have the tools they need against the wider civil liberties objections. It would really help if actual facts were provided rather than meaningless ascertains.

What was truly astonishing was the demonstrable lack of expertise exhibited by any of the speakers. By their questions they could not describe how the technology works, why current systems cannot do what they want, or how they can be circumvented? This against a back-drop of Post-Snowden cynicism. Itself created by the continuing release of so much information on how the 5 Eyes have already misused their powers. Then there is the misuse of existent legislation, like the use of RIPA to spy on everyone from journalists to dog fouling pedestrians. The bland statements of we acted within the law whilst pressing for changes to those same laws. Of course with CCTV on every corner even private face to face meetings can be monitored if only the pictures were not so rubbish – traffic enforcement does not seem to have the problem.

Frankly if the security services or police want to intercept get a warrant. This gives them all the power they need. Of course it may help their argument if tapped phone calls etc were admissible in UK courts; yet these same organizations do not want that. So what is the information for?

Even where full surveillance is in place in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack the security services and police managed to kill the wrong target (Mendes) or used their authority to investigate the family of innocent victims (Lawrence) Both of course actions under the stewardship of the then Met Police Commissioner Blair. The same Blair who tried to get the amendment through parliament.

Another Blair (ex PM this time) of course has stated how keen he is for the Chilcott inquiry to finally report on the actions leading up to the second Iraq war. The report has again been delayed until after the next election. Much like the Bloody Sunday Inquiry – good job if you can get it – unlimited budget, no delivery timescale and a no requirement to come up with interim or other conclusions. Even parliamentary scrutiny can be ignored or not answered. Independent judiciary or cover up for their mates? It is difficult to decide. Of course I would love to see the outcome in light of the background story to my own books (needed to get a plug in somewhere) An Agent’s Demise and An Agent’s Rise. One reviewer thought my story was far fetched – clearly they have not read about the machinations of the politicians and spy agencies to justify their actions.

Still another election is looming and the electorate are far more concerned with who will win Big Brother rather than who is behaving as Big Brother!

Creating Editions

Aside

I am trying to decide if I should create different versions of my latest books to attract more types of readers as not everyone has a Kindle or other e-Reader, nor wants one.

For my first book, An Agent’s Demise, I have Hardback, Paperback, Kindle, and Smashwords versions. The ePub is also on iBooks and B&N therefore on any e-reader like the Nook. I am in the process of creating an Audio version via ACX.

For my second, To The Survivors, I dispensed with the Hardback, iBook and B&N but there are Kindle and Smashwords versions. The book is on ACX but I have had no takers for auditions.

For book three, The Persuasive Man, there are Kindle and paperback versions although I changed paperback format size. There is no Smashwords version.

For the two latest books, An Agent’s Rise and The World of Fives, there are only kindle versions.

All books are in English, (UK not USA,Australian, Canadian or other versions) although there are some dialogue elements in other languages. I have looked at creating translated versions via Babelcube and Fiverr, with no success so far.

So instead of writing new books should I take some time to create the missing Smashwords and Paperback versions? I used Lulu for my initial outings. Then I look at the downloads numbers from Smashwords or the sales through Lulu and think it is not worth the effort. Will audio versions be any more successful? Would translated versions be welcomed in non-English speaking parts of the world?

So instead I have written a blog about the decision to be taken. In the end it will come down to mood and how the creative juices are flowing or not.  Now it’s time to fire up Scrivener and see where the mood takes me.

Writing to Reading

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.

 

Keeping Up Appearances

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!

Kitten-prays

From http://catsinflats.com.au/adopting-kitten-cat/

 

Translations

I have been looking into getting my books translated. This seems to be another minefield for the self published or indie author and yet another potential drain on funds with little possibility of recovery or a return..

So far I have tried Babelcube and now Fiverr without luck. Babelcube has a risk share approach to creating foreign editions which at least is more attractive from a financial point of view but so far I have received no offers. Fiverr as discussed in the comments on my last blog allows buyers and sellers to join up. Sellers or buyers bid or request gigs. I requested a gig for translation services into French or Spanish for my books. I have received 20+ notifications all straight forward unadjusted offers to translate approx 1,000 words for $5 or variations of such. Some offers of work have reviews some don’t.

The contact mechanism was broken on two of the offers when I wanted to make contact. Not one of the offers addressed the request i.e. to translate a book the shortest of which is over 95,000 words. Based on the offers that is $425 minimum per language per book. At Kindle 70% royalty of $2.99 – my normal sale price that is 203 sales of that edition to break even. Then there would be foreign blurb, foreign descriptions, cover art, author profile and marketing – what would be the break even point then.

Is this a risk worth taking. It is impossible to know, will foreign readers flock to my tales that I have kindly arranged to sell in their own language.  Advice is split, and of course it is likely that not all the translations will be perfect, recommendations are one thing but I as a non-speaker I will not know until the dreaded review. Of course if the review is in a foreign language I won’t be able to read it. Yes I know I should have studied harder at school to take my limited French further or carried on my Spanish classes, my few words of Russian and most embarrassingly off all my lack of Dutch despite a Dutch mother. There are still language courses and of course Google Translate. These have helped for odd words in the books I have written. No one has told me I have those little elements of French (mostly) incorrect. Perhaps I have put of every French bi-lingual reader on the planet with my offering – who knows. If I really wanted to expand my market I would translate to Chinese.

As with editing or proofreading there is no way of proving a negative. If I invest will I get a return or is this just more vanity on my part?

Now if there is a bi-lingual person out there who would like to help – let me know

I Must Not Check My Sales Figures

It’s nearly three weeks since I launched my latest two attempts at world author domination. Three weeks of trying to stop myself going on Amazon KDP site to see if anyone has noticed that I have not just three but five books out now. Not just noticed of course but purchased a copy. Oh the joy of that first sale! Then waiting for the storming up the sales charts and rankings. Then there would be the interview with local press, perhaps  a national newspaper and an interview on Radio 2 as the latest greatest Internet phenomena. I mean do we really need to know about another cat or a baby on YouTube or that some Celeb has done something, potentially breathed or uttered a meaningful syllable.

I have books out pay attention to me!

Shortly after my email and phone would be inundated with demands and offers for publishing rights and of course that film deal. Just a couple more sales and it will happen. Look yesterday three copies were sold, I must be edging up the charts now. I’ll do some more adverts that will generate interest 200,000 views, 2 clicks, no purchases.

My hope is gone faster than an elephant sitting on a helium congratulations balloon. Delve into writers forums – it takes time to build an audience, I have less than you, I’m sure things will pick up the usual supportive platitudes from my fellow writers. Plus the other ones, I only had 4,000 downloads last week I wonder what I am doing wrong!

I’ve emailed and twittered, I’ve added my Goodreads folder comments, no spamming – I hate that. I’ve listed my books on sites, added to web sites and blogs. Told family and friends. I haven’t read the first one yet, I don’t have a Kindle, I’m reading war and peace, I don’t read books. Nothing like support when you need it.

Look another sale! Nearly seven billion people on the planet and I get one sale. Unfair of course on the 99.99999999% of the population who couldn’t care less. I’ll run a promotion, give it away, done that before and… That’s not a sale that’s just a statistic a free download, no reviews not even sure if anyone reads the freebies, they just collect them. Don’t log in again, don’t click on the reports dashboard to find out how many. That graph is infuriating surely it means 100’s or thousands not ones and twos. It must be more than that. Log off. Don’t look. Months of effort, hours of drafting and redrafting. On page 36 you used new instead of knew. Damn, damn, damn, correct, upload new version. Did anyone notice? Why have I found out now? After editing, beta readers, more editing, how can that happen? Is that why no one is buying the book, they try the sample and see new instead of knew glaring at them.

It’s been an hour, I haven’t checked. I can’t check at work, I don’t want to check but the bookmark is right there, I can find out in less than twenty seconds. Someone at work says, “I must give your book a try.” I check the report, nothing.

I can’t very well go and shout at them “I thought you were going to buy my book!”

I check a few hours later, one sale! Was that them, no it’s not in the UK unless they are buying from another ID on another site. I must stop this, I’ll check the reviews instead….

This way lies madness.

I need to write instead. Write something different, something better, don’t use the word knew, edit it another time or three. Spend more on advertising, blog more, comment more, tweet more. That next sales rank is just out of reach just a few more downloads away.

I’d better check the numbers I could have sold a million whilst I was writing this. I’ll check the going rate for that Hollywood deal. Log in, no change.

Repeat – ad-infinitum…