Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: May 2014

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Amazon Problem

(Note: This is replacing Friday's blog post, because I'm going to be on the road)

For those who don't know: Amazon, who has made self-publishing what it is (i.e. a path to a living for some and to readers for all) today, is brawling brutally with Hachette, one of the largest traditional publishers, over the terms of their distribution relationship. You can read up on it here and here, but the gist is that Amazon is basically doing everything short of not selling Hachette books at all in order to get them to capitulate to whatever new terms it wants for selling their books.

Charlie Stross has hit the nail on the head in describing what this means for authors. In short, it is bad, bad news. Most salient passage (emphasis mine):

By driving down the unit revenue, Amazon makes it really hard for publishers—who are a proxy for authors—to turn a profit. Eventually they go out of business, leaving just Amazon as a monopoly distribution channel retailing the output of an atomized cloud of highly vulnerable self-employed piece-workers like myself. At which point the screws can be tightened indefinitely. And after a while, there will be no more Charlie Stross novels because I will be unable to earn a living and will have to go find a paying job.
This is the nightmare scenario. It's one I have been worried about since Amazon started doing this to publishers years ago. There is nothing---absolutely nothing---underlying the amazing royalty rates that Amazon pays authors like me other than either a.) Amazon's goodwill or b.) this business strategy or one much like it. And Amazon is not a company that has gotten where it is today because of its goodwill toward suppliers.

For traditional authors, the hope is that their publishers will band together (probably through mergers, because they were sued successfully by the Department of Justice, largely at Amazon's behest, for banding together without merging---admittedly illegally, from my point of view) and survive strong enough to remain a counterweight to Amazon.

For indie authors, the hope is that Nook Press and Kobo (and to a lesser extent Apple, but they're much less friendly to indies than the other two) will remain just enough of a threat to Amazon in the realm of e-books to keep Amazon from turning the screws on self-published authors.

I went into self-publishing knowing this.

But this month I removed my titles from Nook Press and Kobo anyway.

Why?

Because I'd sold a handful of copies of Soulwoven in each venue, lifetime, and zero of Three Dances. Because Amazon gives me valuable promotional tools in return for exclusivity, and Kobo and Nook Press don't give me any promotional tools at all. Because the increasingly powerful handlers of the best marketing tools available to indies care more than anything about how many star reviews a book has on Amazon.

After writing a good book in the first place, reaching readers is the great issue in self-publishing, and by taking and holding the lead on ways to promote books, Amazon is making itself indispensable to indie authors. By requiring exclusivity to use its best promotional tools, it's also making publishing e-books anywhere else a losing proposition.

At this point. It could get better. Kobo and Nook Press do a lot of things right. Maybe someday Apple will decide it wants to be a player in the e-book market rather than try to leverage its small market share to sell hardware to self-publishers. Google may get their act together too.

It could also get worse. Amazon could start dropping royalties anytime, and I'm willing to bet Kobo and Nook Press would follow suit. Nook Press's royalties are already worse than Amazon's, and both of those companies need all the revenue they can get.

Everybody in traditional publishing fears Amazon, for two reasons. The first is that they're brutal. The second is that they're so damn good. They're light-years ahead of everyone else, and they're experimenting and rolling out new ways to connect authors and readers so fast that the best the industry can do is laugh at Amazon's failures to hide its tears over Amazon's successes, and rage when it gets the opportunity to.

Indie authors should fear Amazon too. Yes, it's the hand that feeds us, but the open palm has turned into a fist at some point for everyone who's ever been in our shoes before, and we are fools if we refuse to recognize that.

I titled this post The Amazon Problem, but Amazon is not THE problem. It is A problem. THE problem is that nobody is competing with them effectively.

P.S. Filed under "Decisions I may come to regret" because of hands that feed, and biting, and concern thereof.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

Here in the United States, today is a day to stop and think about the people who have died in the name of and wearing the uniform of the country. For some people, it's very easy to forget that. It's easy to think it's a day off, or a day for seeing family, or a day to get all that yardwork done. It can be all those things too.

But first and foremost it's a day to remember, and to honor, and to respect. I say this as someone who has a troubled relationship to this country's history and the things people have done in its name. My reading tends to include a lot of articles designed to remind us of all the horrible things the U.S. government and its armed forces have done.

Despite that, I find it superlatively important to remember that "the government" and "the army" are and always have been made up of individual human beings with thoughts, dreams, personal lives, struggles, strengths, weaknesses, failings, successes, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect until they, personally, lose that through their own actions. Soldiers, in particular, are people whose lives are forever changed by something larger than they are---ideally the collective will of their society, but sometimes the collective will of a small part of it instead. They are never the same when they come back as they were when they left. And when they die during or because of their service, the loss of all the potential their lives held is a tragedy as deep as any other.

So stop. Remember. Mourn.

It is more important than other things you have scheduled today.

Friday, May 23, 2014

News for the Week of 5.23.14: Sometimes I Write Things That Aren't Novels

Greetings, dearest readers!

Time for another post full of news and updates!

FIRST! The fire sale for Soulwoven went pretty darn well. The book sold more copies than it ever has in a day before, sending it up the Amazon bestseller rankings and, more importantly, giving a bunch of people a chance to check it out on the cheapies. Many thanks to everybody who boosted the signal—you were a huge part of making that happen. It’s still on sale for$2.99 on Amazon through 5/28, so if you missed the fire sale, you can still get in on the water sale (or something).

SECOND! I’m splashing around in the waters of short fiction and it feels SO GOOD. I’ve got two stories that are just about ready to head out on submission, and I’m being more active about pushing some others. One-sentence summaries, just to whet your appetites!

- A look at what the future of mixed martial arts might look like if we decide to replace the bodies in the cage with remote-controlled android replicas.

- A loving, tongue-in-cheek sendup of fantasy gaming tropes wherein a goblin officeworker with midlife ennui and a heart of gold discovers just how much you can find at the bottom of a Bottomless Bag.

- A postapocalyptic reimagining of the Icarus myth involving a walking Colossus and finger-wings of wax.

- A somewhat modernist take on fairy tales, art, and what one does with the gifts one receives in childhood.

So if you know anybody who publishes a magazine that pays pro or semi-pro rates and might be interested, hit me up.

THIRD! I’m writing essays. There are some Big Things that come up in Soulwoven: Exile, and I want to talk about them because they’re important. I won’t be publishing anything until the book’s out because spoilers, but I’m scouting out markets for them as well.

Thanks again to everybody who’s left stars or a review for Soulwoven, especially if it was on Amazon (which, sadly, seems to have more clout than anybody else these days). You guys are the wind in my sails.

Yours in excited ink,

Jeff

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It's SALE DAY! Watch Me Get My Promotion On

Just a reminder, SOULWOVEN is on sale today for $.99 at Amazon.com, and for corresponding prices worldwide. Look at all the nice things people have had to say about it!

"Seymour lets these characters--and their private struggles--command the narrative...Seymour's artful perfectionism will have readers clamoring for the sequel." - Kirkus Reviews

"Soulwoven is a call back to the classic Epic Fantasy of Tolkien, or Weis and Hickman, with fantastic, believable characters that grow and change... A great read and a great time." - The Speculative Post

"This book is a comfort read. A world inspired by the medieval ages perhaps - castles, farm boys, magic and an ancient evil. For us having grown up on traditional high fantasy, it's sort of coming back to the centre of our worlds. But the verdict is, that Jeff can spin an alluring tale of magic and dragons. And spin it so well that we're willing to let the tropes lie by the roadside while we enjoy this old-fashioned tale thoroughly. And be hungry for more." - Smorgasbord Fantasia

"I am one of the original backers of this book, and I would say that was money well invested." - Goodreads review

"This is one intense fantasy world." - Goodreads review

"I found this to be a quick and enjoyable read, and wish I had the next one in hand so I could read on" - Amazon.com review

"I picked this up and found that I couldn't put the book down until I was finished." - Amazon.com review

"Very, very like a piece of steak." - Wattpad review

All that goodness can be yours for $.99. Grab it now!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Soulwoven's First Sale! $.99 - $2.99 on Amazon for the Next Week!

Okay, friends and readers---big and exciting news about Soulwoven's first sale!

In honor of the book's three-month anniversary (can't believe it's been so long already), it's going on sale on Amazon.com for a week. The sale will start Wednesday 5/21 and run through Wednesday 5/28, and it'll look like this:

Wednesday 5/21: $.99 for the e-book.
Thursday 5/22 - Wednesday 5/28: $2.99 for the e-book
Thursday 5/29 forward: Back to the regular $5.99 price

So if you're interested in reading the book but have been put off by the price, or if you've been needling your friends about it but they haven't done anything, now (or rather Wednesday)'s the time to strike!

Enjoy!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Marketing Soulwoven Part 3: Running the Kickstarter

This is part the third of a series of posts on how I've marketed Soulwoven. Part the first and part the second provide useful background.

Running a successful Kickstarter has a lot of facets. On the one hand, you're working to create the book, and it needs to be your first priority. On the other hand, you've also promised your backers a fly's-eye seat on the wall while you do it, and there's no question in my mind that fulfilling the second part of that equation is smart marketing.

So I consider a lot of the way I interacted with my backers during the Kickstarter a part of Soulwoven's marketing plan, even though I did most of those things to be good to my backers, and not because I wanted to do a good job of marketing (it's always about what you can do for them, remember?).

I started off with a long update a few days after the Kickstarter funded, explaining my thoughts on the whole process, what it meant to me, and why I was so grateful to my backers and how incredible what they did in funding the book was. You can read an adaptation of it here, but the full thing will only ever be available to the backers, as will the other Kickstarter updates I wrote. That was part of the deal I made with them; they got access to me as a creator that nobody else did.

And I did my best to be as accessible as possible.

I started before the Kickstarter even ended. I'd noticed as I backed other projects that I got much more excited about projects while they were still going on when the creators were excited and getting in touch with me about what was happening (excitement is one of the things you give backers in return for their money, or at least it should be). So I wrote about the editing that I was going to get, and I posted an example of the revision notes I was making as I worked through Soulwoven that month (I was getting in one last cover-to-cover revision before sending it off to my developmental editor). I wrote seven updates during the month the Kickstarter ran. Some of my backers were excitedly messaging me as I did it. Others upped their pledges. So that was good marketing, in addition to being A Thing That I Did Because It Was Right.

Once the Kickstarter finished, I kept up the updates---again, I knew from being a backer that having regular (not too often, but when milestones occurred) updates really helped make a person feel like they were a part of the process. I shared my budget, once I had all the final numbers hammered out. I let backers vote on the cover, then shared the final version when it came in. I shared the map when it came in. I tried to post at least once a month about where the book was in the publishing process, and I tried to anticipate questions and answer them (like "What's a galley copy?"). I made some videos and shared some photos as well.

Not everybody responded. Only about half of the backers voted on the cover choice. But that was totally fine; again, it wasn't about what they could do for me, it was about what I could do for them. If all they wanted was the finished product, or even just the momentary satisfaction of clicking the "Pledge" button, I was still absolutely thrilled to have them on board.

But overall, people really seemed to enjoy the process. When I talk to backers (the ones who interact with me, anyway), I get the feeling they really felt like they got their money's worth before the book even came out. Making that happen to me was very important as a creator, but it was also good marketing. Because happy readers are happy customers, and happy customers come back to you again.

And if there's an overall takeaway from this marketing post, it should be that. Make your readers happy. That's always been an imperative for most kinds of authors, but it's more important than ever in today's publishing environment. I've seen it over and over again in the indie world; the most successful authors aren't just the ones who can turn a phrase and crack a plot and build amazing worlds and characters. Their fans also love interacting with them.

I dealt with plenty of moments of panic as I was producing Soulwoven. I still have them now that I'm learning how to sell it. But during one of them, I happened upon a truth that has helped me keep perspective, and I'm going to share it with you because it's important.

You can't control whether\people will like your book. But you can control how you treat the people who do.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Industry Norms: Buying Other Authors' Books

This weekend I did a book signing at Robots & Rogues in Lafayette, IN, during a larger event called the Mosey Down Main Street. It was awesome. On top of selling a bunch of books, I met a bunch of great people, including several local authors. I got to hang out and talk fantasy and science fiction for hours on a Saturday night as well, which is one of my favorite things to do in the world.

When the bookstore and I settled up afterward, I had made some money. I gave about half of it back by buying the books of authors I'd met that night, or who were going to be coming by the store later in the summer and whose books I wanted to read beforehand.

This is an industry norm, and it's one I didn't learn about until last year, and it's one that caught me by surprise.

So I thought I'd write about it here, because I now know that there are other writers early in their careers who read this blog, and I feel guilty about not knowing about this norm at the first signing I did and failing to reciprocate when some really friendly authors bought my book there.

It makes sense on many levels, when you think about it. One, it's professional courtesy. But beyond that, it's the best way to make connections with your peers, and believe me, connections with your peers are exceptionally, superlatively important. During one of the signing's quieter moments, I overheard people talking about how "It's really all in who you know." I'm not sure whether they were talking about publishing or not (because a lot of industries work that way), but they could have been.

And the way you get to know people in this industry is by reading their books and reaching out to them. I've made many mistakes in my career (already!), and one of the biggest was in waiting to read the books of other indie authors until I was almost ready to publish Soulwoven. I should have been doing it for a year ahead of time, both so that I knew the market better and so that I could find the ones I liked and tell them how much I liked them. Because that's really important to do as an author. We all live in a world of deep, dark fears and years of trauma during which we learned to write primarily by being told everything that's wrong with how we write. Peer recognition is important---it's a human thing.

So read other authors, especially those you meet in person and who buy your books. Then if you like their book, reach out and tell them so.

I think my initial resistance to doing that was that it felt too much like a pyramid scheme. "What do you mean I have to read a dozen other authors before I publish my book? That sounds fishy..." And when you put it that way, it is fishy.

But you wouldn't launch a restaurant without trying out some of the other ones in the neighborhood, right? And you wouldn't launch a website without seeing who else was doing the same thing and how, right? It's the same here. Reading other authors, in addition to being professional courtesy, is market research. It's important. You should do it. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, May 9, 2014

News for the Week of 5.9.14 - Signin', Writin', and Discountin'

Hello, dear readers!

Time for a newsy update blog post. First off, things related to SOULWOVEN:

I finished a getting-closer-to-final draft of Soulwoven: Exile this week and sent it off to a very excited batch of first readers! They’ll be going over it for the next month or so and getting me comments back about what’s working and what isn’t. This is a hugely important step in the writing process for me, and it’s always extremely nerve-racking. But my readers are awesome and helpful and big fans, and I’m very glad to have hit this point in the writing process.

Second, SOULWOVEN will be going on sale later this month. I don’t have all the details yet, but the most likely scenario is that the e-book edition will drop to $.99 on May 21, the three-month anniversary of the launch. So if you’ve been interested in reading it but $5.99 felt too steep, get your clicking finger ready and circle the date.

Third, tomorrow I’ll be signing copies of SOULWOVEN at Robots & Rogues, my local indie SF/F specialty bookstore, in downtown Lafayette, Indiana, during an event called the Mosey Down Main Street. I’ve been told the Mosey is a blast, with music, food, and beer galore, and I couldn’t be more excited to have a good excuse to go join in and call it work. Come hang out, if you’re in the area.

Phew! That’s it for Soulwoven news for now. I’m going to be working on short fiction while my first readers crunch Exile for me, and I’m quite excited for that. I’ve got three projects to polish and a couple more ideas lined up. I also have a pending request from a very important person to write something happy, and I’m becoming more and more interested in doing so.

Cheers, and thanks for following along. If you’ve read Soulwoven, please take the time to review it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads.

Yours in rain and ink,

Jeff

Monday, May 5, 2014

Thoughts on Fictional Characters and Free Will

My sister recently sent me a link to this blog post, which contains a link to this blog post, which consists mostly of four questions for writers on how they think about their characters. I've been noodling it, and I figured I'd take a stab at answering them today, in part because somehow it got to be 11:00 p.m. and I still haven't written a blog post today.

So here goes.

1. Do you ever perceive your characters as having any free will? Do you feel like you consciously control everything your characters do, or do you sometimes feel like they control their own actions?

A two-part question! That's cheating. I don't think of my characters as having free will. One reason I think fiction is worth having (because this cannot be done to nearly the same degree in nonfiction) is that it allows you to very clearly lay out the chains of causation that lead people to take the actions they do. There are greater and lesser degrees of that in every story, and how much you show the reader is a creative choice, but in my head, every time a character takes an action, I know why. And that makes it difficult to maintain the illusion that they have any free will. The world is constantly pushing them into things, and even when they choose to buck what other people want them to do, they're still doing that because of who they are, which is a result of their life experiences.

That's not to say that my characters don't surprise me. They often do, if only because when I'm plotting or writing a first draft I often make assumptions about how they'll behave that don't add up when push comes to shove, or I learn/create things about them as I write that alter the way they interact with the world and with other characters.

2. Do you perceive your characters as having more free will (or more of a “mind of their own”) if they are similar to you or dissimilar to you? Does the point of view you are writing in ever affect this?

No and no. But what the question seems to be digging for is "do you ever feel like your characters have more a mind of their own?" and the answer to that is yes. Every once in a while, a character seems to spring forth from the depths of my mind more or less fully formed. Their personality is so strong that I know what they're going to do in any given moment without understanding why or sometimes even knowing more than the most basic facts about their history. And when that happens, they surprise me more often.

3. Do reader/fan reactions ever change your understanding of who a character “really is” (or have you ever discovered something you did not realize was true about one of your characters based on feedback from early readers?)

Yes. Maybe it's a sign that I'm not as tight a writer as I'd like to be, but I imagine this happens to everyone. When I write, I leave space inside the narrative for the reader to inhabit. Every person who reads my books will read them slightly differently. Thinking the way I do about stories (which is that they take place only in the reader's mind, and that the words on the page are really just code designed to evoke a story in someone's mind), it surprises me more often that anyone ever agrees on who my characters are.

4. If you’ve ever had a movie made from your book, do you think the movie altered your mental image/concept/understanding of the character in any way?

Go ahead. Rub it in. I'll have you know that Peter Jackson has been alerted to my book, so it's only a matter of time before he turns it into a trilogy.

Hope that's some interesting food for thought! And happy May.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Some Thoughts on Reviews from Neil Clarke

FIRST! Because I almost forgot and This Is Important: Three Dances will be free to download from Amazon.com starting tomorrow and running through Sunday. If you enjoyed Soulwoven, drop on by and give it a read. It's short and interesting.

SECOND! The meat of this blog post:

Neil Clarke runs an award-winning online science fiction and fantasy magazine called Clarkesworld. The magazine itself is one of my favorites, and as I was thumbing through it last weekend (I get a print copy every month in return for backing them as a patron), I came across a note from him that had to do, in part, with leaving reviews.

You can read it here.

It felt highly relevant to me and to Soulwoven, and since he explains not only the usefulness of leaving a review for your favorite anything (books, yes, but also magazines, restaurants, blenders, dish soaps, and cat leashes), but his own hangups about leaving reviews and how he's going to make an effort to review things anyway, I wanted to share.

It also got me thinking, because I live in a world of publishing where everybody knows that customer reviews are massively important, so much so that we don't even talk about why, and I'm sometimes surprised when I talk to the overwhelming majority of the world that doesn't work in publishing and they don't share my assumptions.

So I'll put it like this:

In the world of Internet commerce, customer reviews are the currency of credibility.

You can thank me for the alliteration later. I took poetry classes in college for that (well, not really for that, but I do love alliteration).

When books come in paper and we go to stores to buy them, we as readers tend to rely on several things to establish their credibility (i.e. whether we think they'll be any good) before we even open them, above and beyond the obvious like whether we've read the author's books before:

1.) Placement in the store. If a store put a book out front, somebody at the store thought it was good enough to highlight.

2.) Who published it. When I pick up a book from a publishing imprint whose name and logo I recognize, I have faith that it will meet a certain editorial standard and contain content of a certain kind.

3.) Physical cues. How's the cover look? Is the paper nice? Does it have a good heft? Does it smell like a book is supposed to smell?

4.) Laudatory quotes from booksellers, review sources, etc.

Internet retailers have done their best to replicate some of those things, but by and large, customer reviews have taken the place of most of them. If 400 people have taken the time to review a book, and the average rating they gave it was 4 stars, we feel reasonably certain that, even if it doesn't end up being right for us, it's at least a decent book in general. If 40 people have done so, we think it's got a niche audience and hopefully it's all right. If four people have reviewed it, it's a bit risky. How do we know it's any good? Who were those four people? Also, who wants to read a book that they can only talk about with four other people? That's boring. I want a book I can talk about with 4,000 of my friends, like this one over here that has prominent placement in the online storefront.

And then the author of the four-review book, who's probably new, who may or may not have the backing of a publishing house (I've seen traditionally published books launch with only a handful of reviews as well), and who might have written something brilliant, never gets read, and everybody loses.

So if you like a book, leave a review for it online, even if that just means clicking the stars. Amazon is the best place to do so, but other retailer sites and Goodreads are great too. That way other people will read it too, and someday you'll have more than just those four other star-givers to talk to about it.

Besides, reviewing is fun. It makes you feel important, which is good, because you ARE important.

Cheers, and happy weekend,
Jeff