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This past week, Amazon rolled out Kindle Unlimited.
At first glance, it looks like a reader's dream come true --- for $9.99
per month, you can read any ebook you want for free. On the other
hand, many indie writers are running scared, wondering why anyone would
buy their books if the works can now be downloaded for free. It
turns out that neither analysis is quite right. I did some poking
from the author's perspective and signed up for the free trial as a
reader, and here are my early thoughts on the program.
A reader's perspective
a reader, I suspect I'll cancel my subscription to Kindle Unlimited
after the free period ends. While Amazon brags about having
600,000 free books in the program, the truth is that these are primarily
indie authors who enrolled their books in KDP Select, plus a few
big-name authors Amazon probably paid to participate. In other
words, if you struggled to find a book to borrow using your prime
membership, you're going to struggle even more to find enough books to
make your $10 a month worthwhile.
Plus, Kindle Unlimited
isn't truly unlimited. I started poking through all of the authors
whose books I wanted to read, finding that about a quarter of them had
books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. (Most of my books and all of
Aimee's books are there, in case you're curious.) So that I
wouldn't have to repeat the legwork, I went ahead and downloaded all of
the ones I was at all interested in...until Amazon told me I'd hit my 10
book limit. Yep, that's right, their book limit is lower than
that of the public library --- nowhere near unlimited. However,
from a practical standpoint, you can always return a book and borrow a
new one, so you could keep reading using Kindle Unlimited for as long as
What would it take to
keep me subscribed? If Amazon found a way to get the big
publishers and all indie authors on board and had every kindle ebook
enrolled in the program, so I really could read whatever I want for $10
per month, I would totally pay for it. I doubt that's going to
happen anytime soon.
A writer's perspective
Okay, moving on to the writer's point of view. Although I was slightly leery of the Kindle Owner's Lending Library
when it first came about, I've since grown to love the program (which
Kindle Unlimited seems to be piggy-backing on). Every time a
reader borrows one of my books using their prime membership, I get a
chunk of the fund Amazon has set aside to remunerate authors, and the
chunk is pretty hefty. Over the last year, borrow income has
averaged $2.27 per book for me, bringing in a whopping $2,756 ---
nothing to sneeze at! Now, authors who charge a lot more for their
books are probably less keen, since if your book costs more than $3.27
(with no photos to lower the net amount that goes to authors), you'll
lose money on a borrow rather than a buy. However, I suspect that
some borrowers will still go on to buy your book so they can keep it for
a reread, which evens things out. Meanwhile, for those of us who
price our books to sell, we get quite a bit more from a borrow than a
Although I'll have to
wait until I see my first sales report to confirm this, everything I've
read so far suggests that Amazon plans to treat borrows using Kindle
Unlimited the same way as borrows using Amazon Prime. The only
difference is that they won't pay authors until a reader has consumed at
least 10% of the book, a way of preventing kindle stuffing from
breaking Amazon's bank. So, from a writer's standpoint, the only
concern is to keep an eye on Amazon's global fund to make sure the
borrow income per book doesn't decline, something I was concerned about
at first, but am less worried about now that the fund has been in
operation for years and has only dropped below $2 per book once in the
last twelve months.
It's a good thing that
Kindle Unlimited looks like it won't hurt indie authors since we don't
really have a choice in the matter. If we want to keep the
benefits of KDP Select, our books are automatically enrolled (although
we have the option of unenrolling right now rather than waiting until
the end of our usual 90-day contract if we're scared of Kindle
Unlimited). I'll try to remember to post a followup in a few
months once the dust settles and the data is in.
afraid I don't have quite as many good books to recommend to you this
month. In fact, most of the freebies I downloaded on Amazon in
June were duds, with a significant quantity of the books below sent to
me by the author to review or borrowed via the kindle owner's lending
library. But, don't worry, half of the titles I recommend this
month are free, and all will capture your interest and keep you hooked
until the bitter end.
A Lonely Magic by Sarah Wynde. Last month,
I sang the praises of Wynde's Tassamara series, and this month I was
thrilled when Wynde sent me a review copy of her newest book (which will
be available to the general public on Tuesday). A Lonely Magic
is set in a different fantastical world than Wynde's previous books,
but it has the same great character development and world-building as
the Tassamara series. A Lonely Magic was a real treat to read, and I'm waited with bated breath for the next installments in the series.
A Scandalous Husband
by Bev Pettersen. I looked forward to borrowing another Pettersen
novel all month, and when my lending-library privileges rolled around
again, I downloaded this book immediately. I wasn't
disappointed! Take a dose of equine therapy, mix in the struggle
to survive without losing yourself in prison, shake up with a sweet love
story, and you have a winning novel that will be hard to put
down. Plus, unlike many Amazon authors, Pettersen has enrolled
nearly all of her titles in the KDP select program, so if you have
Amazon Prime, you can borrow one book for free each month.
Prisoner by Lia Silver. I'm not sure if this fascinating werewolf fantasy is perma-free or just free right now, but either way I highly recommend it to those who enjoy great world-building and characters. (You can see my review of the companion book in my March sumup.)
The Chocolate Heart
by Laura Florand. I'm not so sure this is an indie book, although
I downloaded it for free (which is no longer the price,
unfortunately). Unlike most contemporary romances, this one had
meat in the form of fascinating information about high-class French
restaurant culture. Plus a truly romantic story between two
characters you won't want to leave.
The Duchess of Love by Sallie MacKenzie. This is a great regency romance, complete with a Greek-scholarly, reading-obsessed family.
The Passion of Patrick MacNeill by Virginia Kantra. This perma-free book is straight contemporary romance, but is a fun read if you like fluff.
Winters Heat by Cristin Harber. Okay, the lack of an apostrophe in the title drives me crazy, but otherwise I recommend this perma-free book to all lovers of romantic suspense.
Saving Grace by Norah Wilson. This perma-free book is good romantic suspense, with a slightly more thought-out version of the classic amnesia hook than you usually see.
Hopefully these recommendations will keep your kindle full this month. Happy reading!
make or break indie ebooks by relatively unknown authors. And I
hear a lot of authors complaining that their readers won't write
reviews. In case you're having trouble getting reviews, here are
some tips for bringing in those essential ratings.
How many reviews should you expect?
You're probably reading this post because you think your books aren't
getting enough reviews, but it's possible the problem is simply that you
haven't sold or given away enough copies yet. Looking at all of
the books put out by Wetknee, we average about 87
paid downloads per review, so if you've only sold a handful of books,
you probably won't have many (or any) reviews. Our most-reviewed
books are all fiction, in which category ebooks average only 14 paid
downloads per review, while the non-fiction titles average closer to 98
paid downloads per review. (As a side note, you should keep in
mind that I put in
the effort with fiction to carry out review swaps and that I tend to
give away a lot more fiction books
during free periods than I do non-fiction books, so these numbers may
not be entirely due to the fiction/non-fiction divide.) If you do
the math and find that your book isn't stacking up, keep reading for
Have you contacted potential reviewers?
Review swaps are a tried-and-true method of garnering reviews.
The theory is simple --- you read and review the book of another author
while they do the same for your book. This strategy depends on you
being a fast reader and being able to find authors who write in a
similar genre and at a similar level (meaning that they're not best-sellers who have
thousands of fans itching to leave reviews through no effort on the
I use Goodreads to track down potential reviewers,
checking out indie authors whose books I've enjoyed reading in the past
and whose rank on Amazon is a bit below mine (meaning they're probably
even hungrier for reviews than I am). I
usually sweeten the pot by reviewing one of the author's books even
before I send the message to ask if she'd like to take part in a
swap. If you follow my lead, be sure to make it clear that you're
looking for an honest review, but include your standards if, like me, you prefer to simply leave no
review on books by new authors that would merit fewer than three stars.
On a related note, I sometimes also let my fans have the opportunity to
download a free review copy right before or right after a new book goes
live, but I haven't decided whether this strategy is the best use of
fan-power (since it reduces those critical early sales).
No matter how you go about soliciting reviews, this strategy is most
helpful when used just before or just after a book launches so the title
jumps out of the gate.
Have you run a free period?
Giving away a few thousand copies of an ebook is a great way to net at
least a few reviews. As a plus, people are naturally inclined to
leave nicer reviews when they get a book for free, so chances are many
of your reviews will be good. To do this on Amazon, you'll have to
sign up for the KDP program,
meaning you promise not to sell your book anywhere else for 30 days,
then you simply use the dialogue within Amazon to "Manage benefits."
I'm still deciding whether the best period to set a new book free for
the first time is about a week after launch or a few weeks later.
The first strategy gets more good reviews faster, but also tends to make
my fans wait to get a free copy rather than buying, which lowers the
early sales rank of the book.
As a side note, if you run a free period and give away at least 1,000
copies but don't get any reviews, that may be a sign your book isn't as
awesome as you thought it was, or at the least that the book doesn't
have much appeal for the masses. Scroll down to the end of this
post for more thoughts in that direction.
Do you explicitly ask within your book for readers to leave a review? Don't forget to add in a page or two of back-matter after your story to plug your other books, to mention your email list,
and to beg for reviews. If a reader really loves your book,
they'll be much more likely to write a review if they see the request at
the same time they bask in that sated afterglow of a perfect story.
If you want even more reviews, you might follow the lead of a few
indie authors I've noticed recently who tell readers at the end of the book
that if you leave a review and email the author a link, she'll send you
a free copy of a book of your choice. The author I emailed actually sent me all of her books to review (presumably because my first effort passed muster). This strategy often leads to even more good reviews by readers who adore your work.
How effective is an explicit request for a review? I haven't
updated some of my older books to include either type of ask, and the
un-ask books average about 190 paid downloads per review while the ask
books average about 43 paid downloads per review, so the ask definitely
seems to help. Take these numbers with a grain of salt, though ---
I also wasn't soliciting review swaps for early books and don't
currently run free periods for most of the early books for various
reasons. That caveat aside, it's a safe assumption that the ask
strategy should garner you a slow-but-steady stream of reviews,
proportional to how many books you've sold.
When should you stop worrying about reviews?
More reviews are always better (unless they average below 4 stars on
Amazon or below 3 stars on Goodreads), but I generally stop hustling
once I achieve 10 to 20 reviews. That's about how many reviews it
takes for strangers to decide your book isn't only being reviewed by
your mother and best friends, so after that you can let the book gain
review momentum by itself.
Should you read your reviews? Many authors will tell you not to read your book's reviews, and it is
definitely bad form to comment on them (except to note when an issue
has been resolved). However, if you can take a step back from your
ego, there are benefits to be gained from keeping an eye on those
On Amazon, you can vote a review up or down, which helps the reviews
that you decide are most marketable rise to the front page, especially
early in a book's life. You can also take excerpts from these
reviews and add them to near the top of your product page using Author
Central. Both of these strategies can help turn specific reviews
In addition, once you learn to separate the constructive criticisms from
the random comments, you can learn from bad reviews. I was
selling ebooks on Amazon for years before I bought a Kindle, and it was
an early review that alerted me to the fact that readers expect linked
tables of contents. Reviews also helped me
realize that readers expect about 10,000 words per dollar in the
non-fiction category but significantly more in the fiction category. Finally, readers
are quick to note if your book has an inordinate number of typos
(which, thankfully, hasn't been a problem with my books) and to mention
other easily-solved problems.
Why are your reviews lower on Goodreads than on Amazon?
If, like me, you enjoy Goodreads, you may be saddened to see that a
book with a 4.5-star rating on Goodreads has a 3.6-star rating on
Goodreads. What's up? I think that many reviewers realize
that reviews on Amazon affect an author's bread and butter, so those
readers tend to round their Amazon scores up, while they often rate for
purely personal reasons on Goodreads and thus trend toward lower
ratings. In addition, I suspect I'm not the only one who rates
books on Amazon only if I feel comfortable giving the book five stars,
while I rate just about everything I read over on Goodreads.
You can see this effect by looking at the Amazon and Goodreads reviews
of some of your favorite authors --- I'll bet their report card on
Goodreads is much less impressive than on Amazon. Here, my advice
to authors is: don't stress about moderately low Goodreads
reviews. Reviews on Goodreads help your books spread by word of
mouth and everyone understands average ratings will be lower there.
Are there book-related issues that make you less likely to get reviews? With
free books, especially, it's essential to hook readers within the first
few pages. Amazon now has thousands of free ebooks available at
any one time, so if a reader isn't sucked in immediately, she'll
probably turn elsewhere. In my own experience, I tend to delete three free books for every one I finish, and in most
cases I give up on those supposed "losers" within a few minutes of
virtually opening the book.
Yet another point where your book might be losing reviewers is if it's
too far outside the mainstream genres. Readers tend to be confused
books unlike anything they've read before, so you might have written the
next great American novel...but will see no reviews because readers are
confused by the work's unusualness. On a related note, you may
simply be misclassifying your book --- if your readers are expecting
chick lit, they're not going to be interested in hard-boiled mysteries
and will quickly hit the delete key.
What if you've tried everything and you're still not getting reviews?
It's a tough thing to accept, but if you've done everything I mention
in this post and you still aren't seeing many reviews, now might be the
time to ask yourself whether perhaps readers are being nice by not
saying anything at all. The solution is: keep writing! Your next book will likely be better and will garner more glowing reviews.
Do you have other
review-gathering tips I didn't cover here? I'd love to hear other
authors' experience getting those critical first reviews.
Over 6,000 readers have enjoyed The Working Chicken on Amazon, and now this popular title is available from non-Amazon retailers! The Working Chicken
is a short but picture-heavy guide that helps new chicken keepers learn
the basics about their new flock, and the ebook has enjoyed dozens of
glowing reviews. Now you can download a copy for 99 cents from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, or from several other retailers.
As a side note, I suspect The Low-Cost Sunroom has been on Smashwords
long enough that it has showed up in the Apple store, but I don't think
I can actually provide a link since their store appears to be
searchable only using an app on Apple devices. I'd be curious to
hear from someone who reads ebooks from the Apple store. Does The Low-Cost Sunroom
show up in a search? Is there a way for me to include links to it
here, or is the app feature the only way to buy apple books?
Thanks for reading!
was a great month for quality, free-or-cheap, indie books. Here
are my top picks from most to least recommended (with the usual caveat
that even the books at the bottom of the list were thoroughly enjoyed,
or I wouldn't include them here).
A Gift of Ghosts by Sarah Wynde would be my favorite novel of the month...if I hadn't also tried out and adored all of the other books in her series. All of Wynde's books are paranormal fantasy with light but lovable romances and plenty of fascinating world-building. A Gift of Ghosts is free, and if sign up for the author's email list, you'll also get a free copy of the fun short story The Spirits of Christmas. Then you'll have to decide whether to splurge $3.99 on A Gift of Thought (excellent by other authors' standards, but my least favorite of Wynde's books) and $4.99 on A Gift of Time (not to be missed!). If you're smart, you'll read them all!
Disembodied Bones by C.L. Bevill is the one book I bought last month, and it was worth every penny. Disembodied Bones is the second book in a series, but it can be read as a standalone (although why you would skip Veiled Eyes when it's equally good and is free is beyond me). Both books are riveting suspense stories with a very light romance and a hint of fantasy and I lapped them right up!
Fillies and Females by Bev Pettersen is a romance with a fascinating
into the culture of horse-breeding and -racing. Although it's
pretty much fluff, I enjoyed the book enough that my borrow of the month
was Bev Pettersen's Hearts and Hoofbeats two-book set. Of those, Thoroughbreds and Trailer Trash was an absolute delight while Studs and Stilettos
pushed some of my not-quite-so-enjoyable buttons but was still a good
read. I'll probably borrow more of Bev Pettersen's books in later
Under the Sassafras by Hattie Mae delves deep into bayou culture, and also mixes in a good story and a sweet romance.
Irreparable Harm by Melissa Miller is highly recommended if you enjoy Grisham-style legal thrillers. It's free and is the first book in a series, but there's no cliff-hanger ending.
The Icing on the Cake by Rosemarie Naramore is a delightful chick-lit novel about living with and loving your birth family when you're all grown up.
by Georgia Fallon is more literary than the books I usually read, but
is not literary in the non-enjoyable way. Instead, the book
reminds me of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo combined with J.D. Robb-like mysterious intrigue.
Meant for Her by Amy Gamet is a fun, free romantic suspense.
Never a Mistress, No Longer a Maid
by Maureen Driscoll is a sweet regency romance that I got for free, but
which I would have been willing to pay the asking price of 99 cents
Some Like it Charming by Megan Bryce is one of those rare romances that really work for me despite having no redeeming qualities. Plus, it's free, so why not try the book out?
Do you need more book recommendations? Check out last month's post (and follow the links back to previous months if you need yet more reading material). Happy reading!
I'm excited to have a new installment in the Permaculture Chicken series available for 99 cents on Amazon! Thrifty Chicken Breeds answers the difficult question --- how do you make your chicken habit pay for itself?
Many backyard chicken
keepers are surprised to learn that they spend more on store-bought feed
than they would have paid for eggs and meat at the grocery store.
If you're on a budget and want your foray into poultry to save money,
not lose money, your first step should be to select thrifty chicken
The best breed for the
cost-conscious homesteader will be a dual-purpose chicken that forages
well, doesn't cost much to feed, stands up well to predators and
weather, and lays copiously in the winter. In addition, Thrifty
Chicken Breeds covers a variety of other factors homesteaders should
look for when choosing new birds, then explains why a dozen common
breeds do or don't make the cut.
This new installment in
the popular Permaculture Chicken series helps make backyard chicken
keeping cheaper, sustainable, less smelly, and more fun. Join the
thousands of readers who have used tips from the first two books to turn chickens into a
frugal part of their permaculture homesteads!
I don't usually publish a second edition a mere four months after the first edition came out. But I was able to make
a deal with Skyhorse to turn The Naturally Bug-Free Garden into a print
book (due to hit bookstores in spring 2015) while leaving me the ebook
why you haven't heard much from me on the writing front for the last
month --- I've been getting the revised manuscript together to send to
I'm a perfectionist, so
whenever something's going to be on paper, I tend to polish, polish,
polish. And, in this case, I also tracked down several
permaculture suggestions from readers, added a couple dozen more photos,
and streamlined the text. The result is a book that's 30% longer
and is 100% higher quality than the first edition.
Which is all a long way of saying that, if you've already purchased The Naturally Bug-Free Garden...you
can just wait a few days until Amazon emails you to see if you'd like a
free copy of the revised edition. And if you haven't made the $1.99 splurge
yet, now's a great time! You'll also probably be hearing me
oohing and aahing over Skyhorse's rendition of the cover and interior
soon --- I appreciate your patience in advance.
In other news, I've also
got a chicken ebook coming down the pipeline soon, hopefully ready to
hit Amazon next week. So stay tuned, and thanks for reading!
A: I met Anna Celeste Burke (who goes by Celeste, thank goodness) over on Marcia's blog,
where she caught my interest because, like me, she did a lot of
non-fiction writing (traditionally published, in her case) before
delving into the world of fiction (self-published). Her books A Dead Husband (on sale for 99 cents this week) and A Dead Sister
are cozy mysteries that owe a lot to Celeste's experience working in
the fields of mental health and substance abuse. "Some of the
themes that interest me in writing fiction have to do with pondering
whether human problems are psychological or existential…sickness or
evil, problems ‘determined’ by our circumstance or entered into by
choice," Celeste explained when I asked her how her previous career has
fed into her current fiction writing.
I thought you might all enjoy hearing about Celeste's experiences spanning the fiction and non-fiction divide, so I figured I'd follow Aimee's lead
and do an author interview. Thanks for dropping by,
Celeste! You mentioned in an email that part of the learning curve
involved in switching over to fiction included having to wage war
against "weasel words." I made some similar changes in my writing
style even before starting to write fiction since my non-fiction writing
is for the popular, rather than the academic, press, and it felt very
freeing to let go of conventions like writing in the third person.
What made you decide to branch out into fiction instead of popular
non-fiction when you chose to self-publish? Was it a marketing
decision or simply a book itching to be written?
Writing fiction began as a way to break out of the confines of the
academic writing I was doing. The methods required of you in
science place such strictures on what you say and how you say it.
Progress, when it occurs, is incremental, and bounded. When I talk
about using weasel words, I'm talking about all the disclaimers and
conditions you put into every sentence to make sure you're not
overstating your case about a research finding or treatment
outcome. It is valuable work, but complex and tedious. Like
coloring within the lines. There's even something satisfying about
that, and I suppose that's why I chose that line of work. Most
often, I studied unbounded, out of control subjects like madness,
drunkenness, compulsions and addictions to drugs and other things.
So a cool medium in which to explore hot subjects makes sense. I
did consider writing in the self-help genre at some point. In
addition to research, I did lots and lots of teaching and training of
practitioners in helping professions. Some in the classroom, but
in community agencies as well. Mostly about how to evaluate the
outcomes of prevention and intervention practice. So figuring out
how to translate scientific knowledge into practice matters.
I was drawn to fiction
because it's so different. More use of visual imagery, a freer
flow of ideas, a faster pace, and more expansive use of language than
what I used to in academic writing. So, I think you could say I
had the itch to do a different kind of writing without regard to
marketing. Making stuff up is just more fun.
know what you mean about making stuff up being more fun. Writing
non-fiction is restful for me, while writing fiction is invigorating
(and sometimes heart-wrenching). I've also found that the two
different types of writing are very different from a marketing
standpoint. Readers seem to really enjoy short non-fiction (10,000
to 20,000 words, with photos) and I've found it's easy to get into the
mid-list range with non-fiction (selling 1 to 10 copies per day) and
stick there. With fiction you either sell a lot of copies or very
few since there's so much competition for the top-100 lists. Plus,
reviewers often complain if your book is shorter than about 50,000
words, even if you're only charging 99 cents. Have you had a
similar experience with the differences between marketing fiction and
C: Marketing is a whole
new world to me. My previous publishing was done through
established outlets with very specific, targeted audiences. They
generally accept articles in that 10,000 to 20,000 word range, by the
way. They often have strict guidelines about that, and the format
in which the article must be written. That structure is good and
bad. Makes it clear what you need to do but chafes!
best 'marketing tool' you have is to pick the right journal
outlet. If you do that, and your article is accepted after going
through a peer-review process, it'll get read by the audience you're
seeking. The idea is to reach the community of scholars, doing
similar work in your field, so you can learn from each other and move
the field of study along. Many of those journals have small
numbers of subscribers so the 'targeted audience' may only be a few
hundred people. Some practice journals have larger audiences,
since both academics and practitioners may subscribe and read what you
publish. There's an anti-marketing ethos in academia, although
departments in universities that sponsor particular journals do so
because it brings them 'greater visibility'. Professors are also
encouraged to participate in conferences to gain visibility for their
work, often before it's published.
Novel-writing is still
pretty new to me, so I still have a lot to learn. Yes, you're
right that there's a threshold somewhere around 50 or 60,000 words
that's expected for novels. Even more ambiguous, but floating out
there, is some kind up upper limit at around 100-125,000 words. Authors
of young adult novels are expected to stick to the lower end of the
range, while most adult novels are expected to be in the 80-100,000 word
range. Writer's Digest posted a piece on this matter in 2012. There is the 'novella' category for shorter pieces, but I haven't explored that format, much, have you?
my experience, customer reviewers don't seem to understand what a
novella is, so it's a bit dicey to market a work with that
description. A lot of the authors I see simply use the term "short
story" even for longer works as a way of bypassing bad reviews from
interesting to hear how small the audience is for many of the journals
you wrote for. I sometimes feel a bit daunted when I realize how
many thousands of people read my ebooks, and how diverse their wishes
and experiences are. At the same time, it's exciting to live in an
era when anyone can put an ebook up on Amazon and, if the book captures
the public imagination, the text can be downloaded hundreds or
thousands of times per month. Do you feel like Amazon (and, to a
lesser degree, other e-retailers) have changed the face of publishing in
the last decade? Would you have tried your hand at
fiction-writing if we still lived in an era when you had to query agents
and publishers in hopes of getting your work out into the world?
did go, for several years, to the Maui Writer's Conference and loved
it. Interesting courses on writing, meetings with authors, agents
and publishers. I got good feedback and encouragement to keep
writing. Several agents were interested enough to offer
representation. What they asked in return was more than I could
do! Things like register with the National Speakers Bureau, guest
appearances, and other promotional activities. I already had a 60+
hour per week job. Everybody knows the best advice to struggling
writers is "don't quit your day job."
Call me chicken, but the
traditional publishing industry has been challenging for decades.
Stories abound about well-regarded, best-sellers finding the light of
day only after amassing dozens of rejections slips. Even with
representation! Years ago, a traditionally published book had an
average shelf life of 3 days! And that was before the decimation
of independent book stores and the demise of Borders. I'm a 'bird
in the hand' kind of girl, I guess, so I put off fiction writing until
There's a lot to be said
for the self-publishing revolution. The future for books depends
on it. I feel nostalgic, at times, about the loss of book
stores. Libraries, too, that are struggling all across the
country. Still, it's miraculous when you realize, with ebooks, you
can carry an entire library on a reader, smartphone, tablet or
laptop. How cool is that? Those of us who love books, will
never be without one again--one or two or ten or one hundred or
more! No more getting caught waiting without something wonderful
to read, yay!
agree --- having so many ebooks at my fingertips makes it hard to do
anything except read some days. Thanks so much for taking the time
to share your experiences, Celeste. It's been a pleasure chatting
with you. I hope our readers enjoyed this as much as I did.
A: Marcia interviewed me over on her blog last week, so I figured it was time to interview her here in exchange. I gave Marcia a firm
admonition to answer each question with only one paragraph, and she
said she'd do her best. Welcome to Marcia Meara, author of Wake-Robin Ridge, Swamp Ghosts, and Summer Magic! Marcia, would you mind telling us a little about yourself and why you started to write?
Great to be here, thanks. I can't remember when I didn't want to
write. At five, I was filling yellow legal tablets with poems
about cowboys and horses, and by twelve, I had mapped out a future that
included living on the beach with dozens of cats, painting and writing
all day long. I do have cats, and I've lived on the beach, and
painted, as well. But I never got back to the writing, having been
told it was a silly pursuit and no way for a woman to make a living.
I'm 70 now--a grandmother twice over--and one day I realized if I still
wanted to write, I could darn well do it. So I sat down, wrote my
first novel, Wake-Robin Ridge, then taught myself to format and self-publish it. I followed that by publishing a book of poetry, Summer Magic, and this month, I published my second novel, Swamp Ghosts.
It's the most fulfilling thing I've ever done, and I don't plan to stop
any time soon. I'm already working on sequels to both of my
novels, and have several new poems done for my next volume of poetry.
think the stories I wrote at that age were about cats, not cowboys, but
your childhood sounds familiar. Were you a big reader as well as a
young writer? If so, what were your favorite books read during
your formative years?
I was BORN a voracious reader, I think. I read and wrote before
kindergarten. As a child, I read all of the horse and dog books
out there: Black Stallion series, Black Beauty,
Lassie series. Then I started the Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden,
Hardy Boys mysteries. But by the time I was in third grade, I had
read everything our children's library had to offer, and my mother was
faced with skimming through books in the adult section that she felt
were suitable for a nine-year old to read, so I advanced into grown-up
fiction pretty early. (Easier to do in those days, when a single
swear word could get a book banned.) My mother wanted me to spend
more time outdoors, so I would hide books under my shirt, climb a tree
in the backyard, and read all day, undetected. She was happy, and I
was, too. After I turned twelve, I read everything I could get my
hands on from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, to Bram Stoker's Dracula, to anything and everything by Daphne du Maurier, including my all-time favorite book, Rebecca. I loved Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights,
and all the gothic romances, especially if they were set on the moors
in England or Wales. There really was nothing I wouldn't read,
though, and I always adored poetry, as well, being especially fond of
Poe's The Raven, and The Bells,
and everything by Amy Lowell. Ray Bradbury was a huge favorite,
and later, Stephen King, until I discovered Dean Koontz, and switched my
allegiance. Vampires would get my attention every time, even as a
very young girl, and today's glut of Urban Fantasy makes my heart
happy, though I still read plenty of other things, as well.
That's quite an eclectic collection of books! Many writers seem to
be torn between writing what they know and writing what they
read. Do you feel live you've found a happy middle ground between
the two options? Are your books based more upon your experiences
or upon the worlds you read about?
days, I read more Urban Fantasy than anything else, just for the pure
escapism of it. I like really well-thought out supernatural or
paranormal worlds, but frankly, I have no idea how to go about creating
them, myself. I tend to go with what I know, instead, and at my
age (70), I feel I do know a thing or two about love and loss, so I lean
toward Romantic Suspense. Straight romance doesn't interest me as
much as romance with an element of danger does. But I feel
perfectly entitled to throw in some spooky stuff here and there, too, if
the mood hits, as it did in Wake-Robin Ridge. If I think I can
pull off a "Woo-Woo Moment," and it adds an interesting element to the
book, I'll go for it. But at heart, my books--at least so far--are
more love stories than anything else. A lot of my own experience
does go into that, but even more goes into the settings. I love
the North Carolina mountains more than any place I've been (so far) in
the world, and feel I can do that setting justice. So that's where
I've envisioned the fictional town of Darcy's Corner, and the mountain
known as Wake-Robin Ridge. And I know the rivers and wildlife of
central Florida pretty thoroughly, too, having canoed many, many miles
on them. So that's the setting for Swamp Ghosts,
in the fictional town of Riverbend. The next Darcy's Corner book
will be a sequel to Wake-Robin Ridge, bringing back Sarah and Mac in a
whole new story. And the next Riverbend novel will be a (mostly)
stand-alone book called Hunter, which features one of the characters
introduced in Swamp Ghosts.
Both Darcy's Corner and Riverbend have become very real places to me,
and I wouldn't mind writing several more books set in each location.
Writing (and reading) series is an interesting topic. From a
self-publishing standpoint, series have a lot to recommend them since
you build up a fan-base who will (hopefully) want to read each
subsequent installment. But series also have the potential problem
of creating a barrier to entry late in the series if you use the same
protagonist throughout --- people want to start at the beginning.
And it can also be tough to keep your writing fresh and character-driven
if you use the same protagonist for each book in a series. How
did you decide to get around these problems in your upcoming
novels? And, as a bonus question, which series have you read that
have dealt with these issues in a fashion you really enjoyed?
So much to ponder,
here. First of all, I'm not sure late entry into a series is
really a barrier. For myself, nothing makes me happier than to
start at Book 1 and read straight through an entire series, back to
back, with no waiting a year for the next book. And I know I'm not
alone in that. So I think that one's a toss-up. Now keeping
your characters fresh is tougher. I think the best series do that
in two ways. First, the character has to grow and adapt.
Emotionally, in more realistic series, or perhaps via new powers or
skills in the paranormal worlds. And second, I think the best
series have new and exciting plot lines in each book, related to
previous books, yes, but with new situations and problems to be dealt
with. If an author can provide character growth and ever-expanding
plot lines, then I think they will have a successful series. Jim
Butcher's Dresden Files comes to mind as my favorite example of a
character whose personal growth has continued through each book, along
with his wizardly power and strength. Plus the plots get bigger
and more compelling with each book,
too. It's an amazing series. Others I love would include
Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series, Kim Harrison's Hollows series,
Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series, and her YA Morganville Vampire
series, Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series, and her Alpha &
Omega series, the Eileen Wilks World of the Lupi series, and Dean
Koontz's wonderful Odd Thomas series. All Urban Fantasies, and all
with excellent growth and development of characters and plot lines.
Bonus question, bonus
paragraph. For myself, I never intended to write an actual ongoing
series featuring the same characters. My goal was to feature a
different character in each book, telling the stories of other people in
Darcy's Corner, or in Riverbend. I've discovered while writing my
two published novels that minor characters can catch my attention, and
let me know they have a story that needs to be told, too. In the
case of Swamp Ghosts,
there is a quirky friend of the hero who tugged at my heart in every
scene he was in. I knew early on that he needed his own
book. With Wake-Robin Ridge,
there was a minor character working at a local diner I wanted to get
back to, but before I could make that happen, I realized Sarah &
Mac's story wasn't quite over, after all. Hence the sequel, in
their case. But for the most part, I'm planning to write books
that can stand alone, though there will be some overlap of characters,
since both of my settings are small, and everyone knows everyone
else. Those who have read Swamp Ghosts
and know the next book will be about Hunter Painter, have told me they
can't wait to learn more about him, since they liked him so much.
So reading them in order would be ideal. That way, you'd go into
the second book knowing a bit about the main character already.
But I don't think it would be a necessity. Hope that makes sense.
Thanks for such thoughtful replies, Marcia (and for doing your very best
to keep each answer to a paragraph). As you can tell, Marcia has a
lot more to say, so why not check out her books, or subscribe to her
blog Bookin' It?
She plans to interview authors every Wednesday, so you're bound
to find out about books you've never heard of (but should have) if you
drop by midweek. Enjoy!
In the past, I've sung the praises
of Amazon's KDP Select Program. Sure, they require you to only
sell books on Amazon, but by enrolling in the program, you get access to
five free days per three-month period, which is an astonishingly
effective marketing tool. So why did I just yank two books out of
Amazon has a handy new reporting feature known as Sales Dashboard (shown above), which
allows you to visualize day-by-day sales for each of your titles
individually. By browsing back through my stats, I realized that
only some of my free periods were giving me a boost. Specifically,
free periods for books that have a potential to appeal to a very broad
audience (and which thus tend to hit the top 100 free on Amazon) boost both the
title itself and related titles after the free period ends. On the
other hand, niche books generally move fewer than 1,000 copies
during a two-day free period, and the promotion doesn't seem to give me
any benefit at all.
With those niche books, I next took a look at borrows through the Kindle
Owner's Lending Library,
another way that KDP Select members get an
extra boost. Some of my niche titles are averaging about 9 borrows
per month, which equates to about $18 revenue --- probably
worth keeping the book in the KDP program for that reason alone.
But since Amazon sales equal about 50% of total ebook sales across the
board, titles that see only a couple of
borrows per month might be better off distributed to a wider
That's why you'll soon see Microbusiness Independence and can already
see Low-Cost Sunroom for sale at most ebook sellers. (You can download Low-Cost Sunroom for 99 cents on Smashwords and on Barnes and Noble,
and the title should soon show up on Apple, Kobo, Sony, and in other
stores.) I chose to use Smashwords to distribute my ebooks to
non-Amazon sources partly through laziness (it often takes a couple of
hours to format a book for each store, especially the first time around
as you learn their particular quirks) and partly because of the
excellent advice here.
The short version is --- Smashwords takes a little cut of the action,
but does the format conversion and listings for you.
Will the expanded
distribution route be worth it? I suspect that my best option will
be to keep my best-sellers in Amazon's KDP Select program, then to put
lower-ranking books on Smashwords and on other sites. Only time
will tell, but I'll definitely keep you posted.