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!
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.
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.
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.
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