A Number Of Things I Am Confused About

Here are a list of things I just get confused about, that I don’t have answers to, and that I thought I would just toss out into the air.

— I am confused at why a writer gets happy when they give their book away for free and a lot of people take it. They make the same amount of money as when one person takes it, and less than if one person buys it.

— I get very confused when a free book hits a “bestseller” list. When a book is given away free, it isn’t sold, thus can’t be on a “bestseller” list. Maybe a “bestfree” list or “bestgift” list, but not a “bestseller” list.

— I get very confused when a beginning writer (after finishing and publishing just one book) is upset they are not making any money from that one book. The key word is “beginning.”  I believe the writer should be happy if the writer’s family and friends buy it and pretend to have read it. But over and over I hear of writers with one book published being upset that they are not making a million bucks. I have a hundred novels published and I don’t make a million bucks.

— I get very confused when a writer with one book indie published is upset that no one is finding their one solo book among the millions published.

— I get very confused when a writer with a few hundred friends on Facebook and Twitter thinks that repeating the publication of their book over and over and over and over will make them more than a handful of sales. And fewer friends.

— I get very confused when a writer swears they want to make a living from their craft, yet never mail anything, never finish anything, and never publish anything. And just can’t find the time that often to write as well.

— I get very confused when someone gets mad at me for suggesting they value their book above the bargain bin pricing. I don’t care about their book, I honestly don’t. It was just a suggestion, but clearly suggesting that their novel has worth above a candy bar is something that makes some writers very angry. (I get this one a great deal, actually and it never makes sense.)

— And finally, I get very confused when new writers think that I didn’t have to work day jobs when I started and didn’t have to learn craft and didn’t have to fail over and over and over for years and years before I sold something.

I don’t expect answers. I don’t believe there really are answers. But I just thought I’d get out what I get confused over and over about.

And yes, I am getting older so I get confused very easy these days.

ADDED NOTES

From the comments I got some more things I now remember being confused about.

Sarah Stegall added three:

I get confused by writers who have been rewriting the same novel for ten years, who still seek advice. What could possibly be left to say?

I get confused by people who hear that you’ve published *a* book and wonder why you’re not on tour.

I get confused by agents and editors who say they’re looking for something “unique” and then ask you to rewrite your novel to read more like Janet Evanovich.

Yup, those confuse me as well.

And J.A. Konrath added even more places I am confused and forgot about.

I’ll add I get very confused when people dismiss self-pubbing or legacy pubbing without any research or experience to back-up their opinions.

I get very confused by the outpouring of hostility when I share information, ideas, and personal experience about publishing, esp. when these angry people offer no counter arguments.

I get very confused why legacy publishing keeps making mistake after mistake in regard to ebooks, yet somehow believes it will survive.

I also get very confused why the majority of people would rather defend their beliefs to the death rather than change their mind.

Thanks for the great comments and discussions… And Sarah and Joe, thanks for adding to my confusion. (grin)

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130 Responses to A Number Of Things I Am Confused About

  1. Josh says:

    I get confused whenever I visit your website, see you photo, and think I ended up at Kenny Rogers’ homepage.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thank you, Josh. I take that as a good thing, especially since it’s the Kenny Roger’s “Gambler” phase. (grin)

  2. SL Clark says:

    Creating 100 published novels = a decent living as a writer.

    Giving away 250,000 copies means the other 99 are no longer in obscurity = an overtly comfortable living as a writer; ask Joe.

    Giving away 250,000 copies is crazy HARD to do, but it ‘might’ be easier than writing 100 novels in obscurity?

    All of this might be a solar infused hallucination, brought on by the omnipresent Hawaii sunshine? It’s weird how a cool winter rain or fog bring about clarity.

    • dwsmith says:

      SL, if you have 100 novels out and selling, trust me, you are making far, far more than a good living in this new world. I have written about 106 novels now, and only about fifteen are actually out, and another fifteen or twenty are media still available but that I make no money on because my advance was so high.

      I think if you have 100 novels out and selling, you could give a novel away for a short moment in time to draw in other readers, but realize that 99% of the people you are drawing in are cheap and won’t spring for your $5.99 second novel. But 1% might be enough to make it worthwhile. When I have that many products actually selling under one name, I might try it.

      • dwsmith says:

        But SL, that said, I do give short stories away at times here. Why? To make more sales? Nope. I do that in the challenge just for fun. Kris does it on her web site every week as well. She just wants to reward her readers.

  3. I would be thrilled if I were giving a book of mine away for free and got lots of downloads, because that would be the point. Obviously, that only makes sense as a temporary tactic for a writer to attempt to drastically increase sales of all their other titles. This implies that a) the tactic is used to garner sales and not please-love-me attention and that b) the writer has plenty of other titles available for sale.

    All the same applies to titles at $.99, although I think $.99 could apply decently to the first book in a series with three or more titles as a lead in. More sales leading to new readers for the series who will buy the $4.99 sequels and more attention from the Amazon/B&N algorithms.

    Manipulating prices is a great tactic when it’s applied appropriately: for increased overall sales. And a bad tactic when it’s used just to stroke an author ego.

    I’ve been experimenting with my prices, between $2.99 and $4.99 just to see if it makes any difference to sales. I doubt it will. But with only two books out and the third a month away, I figure I have room to experiment. I’d need a lot more books out before I reached the point of *considering* having up a free or $.99 title.

    • dwsmith says:

      David, you know where that 99 cent price came from????? It came from some person inside of Amazon deciding that was the lowest they could go. Now beginning writers think 99 cents is a holy grail. So I guess I should have added in that I get confused why so many beginning writers (you never see this in older pros) go right to the bottom and figure that’s where they belong. 99 cents for a novel is just flat silly in all respects, first book or not. If you are going to discount the first book in a series for some strange reason, price all the books at $6.99 and then lower the first one to an introductory rate of $4.99.

      I just don’t understand why writers make up so many reasons to toss their books into the discount bin and devalue their own work. There are no reasons to every publish a novel at 99 cents. But as I said, I get confused on this as to why so many writers seem to think there is and can make up great-sounding reasons as you just did.

  4. Forgot to add that I understand your confusion on all those other points. A lot very smart people who are good writers say and do some really stupid things that make no sense to me.

  5. Anytime I have contact with people I get confused. Any people, generally speaking, but especially writers.

  6. Dean, this reminds me of a quote from Richard Bach:

    ‘Argue for your limitation…and sure enough they’re yours.’

    Great post!

    Adam

  7. DG Sandru says:

    The belief that if you build it they will come is very alluring. In other words if you write it and publish it they will buy it. Completely erroneous; unless buyers/readers know about you and your book, and like it. People who bought my book “Arboregal, the Lorn Tree” are my professional acquaintances and colleagues. In other words they knew me. But to be successful I need to sell my book to strangers. To do that it takes a lot of eyeballs, and a large Internet footprint of my name and my book’s name, and it takes a long time. Take advantage of that time and write more books, as Dean advises.
    So why give your e-book for free? It is cheap advertising. It cost nothing, zero, nada. And you’ll need to do that until your Internet footprint is large and buyers/readers come back wanting more. Selling books is commerce, and the rules are no different for books.

    • dwsmith says:

      DG, wow, do I not agree with your second sentence. You should NEVER give a book away until you have thirty or fifty things available at least that readers can find. Otherwise, what’s the point?? You are advertising a “product” that isn’t on the shelves. So sorry, I completely don’t agree and your statement is what confuses me, that new writers should give their work away. In my opinion, that’s backwards. Sorry, just don’t agree, but I do agree with your other two paragraphs. (grin)

    • dwsmith says:

      DG said, “So why give your e-book for free? It is cheap advertising. It cost nothing, zero, nada.”

      Well, DG, I have to beg to differ just a little with that. My work has value, my work cost me time and money in just keeping my office lit. It costs me money in my cover art and time to do the cover and formatting and my time is not cheap. In fact, if I am not making in fashion or another on my writing and publishing at least $500 per day, I’ve had a bad day. So saying that if I give away a story I’ve spent good money and time on cost nothing, you have a very, very bad business attitude I’m afraid. And you clearly don’t value your work.

      When I put a short story up here for free after finishing it in the challenge, I have it already for sale on all sites. Giving that story away here never spikes any sales on either the same story or other stories. At least that I can see and my numbers are so low on short fiction under this name, trust me, I could see a spike. (grin) In fact, I would love to have a “spike” as people call it.

      So sorry, your comment really bothered me because I know that’s how some writers think, that giving their story away costs nothing. When actually, it costs a great deal of real business costs.

  8. Vicky Foxxe says:

    I totally understand the free confusion. But it really helps a new writer gain visibility. On Amazon, it also leverages the power of the “Also Boughts”.

    I’ve personally used the KDP free promotion and watched my sales go from nothing to 800 bucks in Dec and what looks like 1k in January.

    The logic is simple, make your book free for a short time. The people who download your book are also buying (more popular) books on Amazon. Your once free book will now be listed in those more popular books “Also Bought” section. People see your book associatated with that book and then buy yours.

    It works… I was dubious about KDP select and the promotions, but making one book free is worth it.. And I’ve seen it work for others.

    And yes just having one book out isn’t going to do squat. You should others, but having one go free can kick start sales.

    • dwsmith says:

      Vicky and JR, where do you guys get your information? I want to see the study that backs up your thinking, or is the thinking from second hand information on Kindle Boards or the fact that it worked for one book for you? Because you both state like facts something that is not proven by anything. I’m fine if that is your belief. State it as a belief. But it differs from my belief. (Please remember I give free stories here at times. I am talking about on Kindle or Pubit or other publishing souces.)

      And I can be wrong and swayed by facts. But I need facts, not just another opinion. It’s other people’s opinions stated as facts that get me confused. Sorry. (grin)

  9. JR Tomlin says:

    ‘— I am confused at why a writer gets happy when they give their book away for free and a lot of people take it. They make the same amount of money as when one person takes it, and less than if one person buys it.’

    You’ve been told the answer so I don’t know why you’re confused except you don’t want to hear it. The more times it is downloaded free from Amazon (no, I don’t call them sales although Amazon does) the better the sales bounce once it stops being free.

    Pretty simple really.

  10. Cyn Bagley says:

    I do have one biography that I will give away again because of the subject material and because I decided long ago that its value is to help people who have my disease realize that they can survive too…

    But, after taking the time to read a lot of this blog (I am going to go through it again because I don’t always retain enough – it could be age, but it is probably meds). So I am starting to work on my self-esteem and price my books and short stories to where they should be priced. I do have some of my smaller stories at .99 because they are small. When I put them into a collection, they will go up to 2.99.

    I am confused that we live in an “instant gratification world” where writers believe that they should be paid even though they don’t work at their craft. I am seeing this “instant gratification” in all kinds of professions and jobs. So it doesn’t always apply to writers. I have been a published poet for several years now (since I was 11) and I have noticed that there are so many people who refuse to study the craft and then think that their words are perfect. It confuses me.

    I will admit to being a better poet than novelist. BUT I love the challenge of writing fiction. It took me years to figure out the patterns that work for me.

    And, I haven’t even gotten to the money part of this craft.

    So thanks Dean for the info. I will keep remembering that even though I am considered a new writer, I have been writing fiction since 1990 and poetry and memoirs since 1972.

    Cyn

    • dwsmith says:

      Hey, Cyn, why not do some books of poetry. I sold a bunch of poems back in the 1970s and figure that some day I can pull them out and put them in a few books and sell them. Holding formatting is far more critical, but beyond that, should be easy. And if it sells one or two copies, great fun.

  11. I like to keep one of my previously published short story always free on Smashwords. I have some short stories that have been sold for reprints 5+ times and a couple are available online in archives of magazines somewhere. So, I do like to give folks a chance to pick it up for free from me.

    It isn’t a marketing scheme. It isn’t really even a business decision. I don’t care about cross-pollination, sales rankings, or also boughts.

    It really comes down to me wanting to give away one short story because I want to.

    One thing that Joe Konrath mentions above is people dissing either side when they haven’t done it. People tell me all the time what’s in my contracts (um, I’ve read them…those clauses sure as hell aren’t in mine!) or how it’s going to cost $5000 to put out a collection of short stories (I’ve done that too; it cost me a whole lot less…and I have to always hire a proofreader when I DIY publisher).

  12. SL Clark says:

    Seth Godin says the future could easily be = 1 million publishers to 100 million readers. Not so good?

    I like your math better, 1% of 100 million readers is enough for me. Heck, I’d be *thrilled* with 1/10 of 1% if they would buy most everything we create.

    Your posts are awesome, even when it takes alcohol / aspirin to remove the new crop of confusion. Cheers!

  13. Lee McAulay says:

    You do so love tapping the glass on the side of the fishtank, don’t you? :-)

  14. Gene Lempp says:

    I’m with you on all of these and while I never thought to articulate them they float through my mind often. The twitter one got me to laugh. I see dozens of “authors” out there hawking their one book, every 30 minutes, buy me, buy me. Um, no. The human mind is a scary bizarre thing fixed only through knowledge.

    Thanks for being a great source of knowledge, Dean.

  15. Rick Taubold says:

    Dean,

    I totally agree with you on all point–especially on the free book things. I too fail to understand why some many authors get excited when people “buy” their free books. You’d think they’d just won a lottery the way some of them carry on. The sad thing is they’d have made more money from a scratch-off ticket where they won just a couple of bucks. It’s so sad, really.

  16. Great post, Dean. I especially appreciate the last part. One thing that boggles me is the astonished looks and comments when I talk about getting up at oh-dark-thirty to write before heading off to work (well, that was when I worked full-time, now that I’m part-time it’s not-quite-so-dark-thirty to write and such).

    That’s what people have to do to get published. Don’t folks realize that?

  17. Writers get excited about giving away their books for free because people like me go online and post about how much money they made giving away books for free through KDP Select.

    Other writers read that and think they can do the same thing and get the same results.

    Maybe they can.

    David

  18. Suzanne says:

    Ever since you told me I should put my .99 cent eBook up to $4.99 it’s been selling! I only have one eBook on Amazon and it wasn’t selling while I’d priced it at .99 cents! I’m sorry for all the exclamation marks, but this is just so telling! Now that my novel costs $4.99 people are buying it! And it’s my only self-published work! For now. I’ve got an anthology coming out soon and I’m just about to publish my 2nd novel. Thank you, Dean! I’m no longer confused and I’ll never sell anything for .99 cents ever again. Well, unless it’s a short story. lol

  19. Vicky, this is really important:

    While I use free books to promote my other books, I gotta tell you, it will TRASH that books reputation via “also boughts.” It doesn’t put you with the popular books; it puts you in with other free books. Remember, while there may be good books among the freebies, the bad books will be there in higher proportion. (This is true of every marketing method — people try to make up for poor quality with marketing.)

    This is where people completely misunderstand the value of free. Free is NOT good for “discovery.” It does not increase your footprint — it does not spread your name or the name of your book wider where more people can find you.

    What it does is tempt more people who already have your book in front of them to download it. Now… does that mean you get more readers? NO! It’s well known that most people who download your book won’t read it.

    And of those who do read it, you will have a much higher percentage of readers who hate it, and who will give it bad reviews. Why? Simple — because it was free, they decided to take a chance on something they usually don’t like. Or something they never tried before.

    Giving a book away free (or having a very low price) almost universally does two things — it trashes your reviews and ratings, and it puts it in association with free, overly promoted books — which block out any association with better books by sheer volume.

    And yet I still give some books away free? Yes, for two reasons. The big one is because one of those books — which gets trashed in reviews and has lousy also-boughts — happens to be a good lead in for a couple of my other books. So those who do like it buy my other books. They trust me more, after having read it.

    The other reason is that there is a halo effect (what JR talks about). However, after a lot of experimentation, and comparing notes with other writers, I find that it varies by the book, and is temporary. It isn’t nearly as valuable as writing more books.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thank you, Camille, for taking the time to talk deeper into the business aspects of free in books.

      I learned about this sort of marketing in books when I had a used bookstore back in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s. I had a small room off the front door where I tossed all the 10 cent books. If you walked through another door you came into the main store, but that small closet-sized room was for books I was just tossing away. And I took a garbage can out there regularly and cleaned out the books that had been out there for months.

      The attitude the few customers that stopped into that room had was interesting. I had two customers who only came into the main store to pay for their 10 cent books. But most of my customers at one point or another just looked in and then shopped the store and never bothered with the room again unless something caught their eye as they were walking by. And often mothers of young children would leave the kids in 10 cent room because there was nothing in there worth damaging.

      So as a writer, if you toss your book into the discount bin, your full novel into the 99 cent room, that’s what the readers expect. They do not expect quality. They expect a novel worth 99 cents. It’s just normal business, folks, and that’s why this actually confuses me, the rush of writers to devalue their own work just because they are in a hurry to get some vague feedback. Makes no sense to me.

      • dwsmith says:

        Just turned on “nested comments” to see if this helps these comments down the road. First time I’ve really noticed they are needed.

  20. Sotirios Fox says:

    This may be a bit off-topic, but Dean, speaking of short fiction sales, are the Challenge stories still averaging in the area of 10 sales a month per story? Or maybe 10 is the wrong number, but I seem to recall you saying at some point that’s what they were averaging. I understand that some of the pen names fare better than others.

    If you want to keep their sales figures to yourself, that’s understandable. I was just curious to see where they were standing now.

    Also, below $500 is a lackluster day? *Swoon*

    Ok, ok, I’ll rub these dollar signs out of my eyes so I can get back to work.

    • dwsmith says:

      Solirios, the $500 per day came from Mike Resnick and I adopted it and it’s a good measure.

      The number I’ve been happy with on short fiction and what I projected is this: 5 sales per month AVERAGE over ALL Sites, which means I often don’t know the final number for three or four months. The challenge stories, since I know the numbers on all of them and your question made me go look, actually, are this. I have been AVERAGING about seven sales per story across all sites under this name. Seems pretty stable. I have a couple of stories that never sell a copy and a couple that sell around twenty per month. The pen name stories, since there are far fewer of those, are averaging around three sales per month across all sites. I just need to get more up under that name is all.

      So, in other words, all is good. Actually about where I hoped and better than I had expected. If I start getting some novels and more collections out under this name, the numbers of sales on the short stories will go up as well. It’s all about numbers of product. (And clearly I need at some point to look at the stories that don’t sell a copy and see what I did wrong in the blurb or cover.)

  21. Cyn Bagley says:

    Dean
    I do have two chapbooks out (small ebooks of poetry) ;-)

    One is A Flicker of Hope: poems written by a Wegener’s Granulomatosis Survivor and the other is Sonnet Playground.

    I have sold a few of the first and none of the second, but I am not unhappy. It is really hard to sell poetry nowadays. Even when I was published in literary magazines, I would get a copy with no money, which is one of the reasons (since I wanted to be a writer) that I started writing fiction.

    I should do more chapbooks because I do like to play with the formatting.

    Yours, Cyn

  22. Cyn Bagley says:

    In the Desert

    Cheatgrasses clutter
    browning bones of dragon spines
    blazing fire cleanses

    BTW just a little haiku for your enjoyment ;-)

    Cyn

  23. David Barron says:

    These are a few of my favorite things…

    No, but seriously: I’m not even going to bother with ‘promotion’ (on Twitter or otherwise) until I have at least 10 books. Same goes with ‘checking sales numbers’.

  24. I, for one, am devastated that I have not yet made a million dollars.

  25. Carradee says:

    Just a note on poetry book formatting: Smashwords will be a bit tricky, but a basic HTML file should work fine for conversion to MOBI for KDP and EPUB for PubIt. (Guido-somebody has a generally good guide, though I disagree on some of the particulars.)

    The trick to HTML files is to start out the CSS with a “master stylesheet”—code that nullifies all browser (or application) defaults. While some formats, like Kindle, don’t acknowledge some such codes (yet?), they’re handy to have in there for when the formatting changes.

  26. sue says:

    free? maybe but i think i’m more likely to download a 99 cent book from the Kindle store before a free one. stupid, huh? No, i figure the author wants me want his or her book but also values the time he or she put into it in the first place …

  27. Jeff Ambrose says:

    Well, JR, it did not work for me that way. I put a short story up for free, and now that it’s back to 99 cents, it hasn’t sold any more than it did before it was free.

    However, that story is part of a five-story collection. I included the openings of the other four stories in the collection, and I did see a boost in sales in a few of those stories as well as the collection over the past few months. So free can lead to sales … so long as you have other things readers may want to buy, as Dean has said.

    But no post-free boost of sales on that particular title.

  28. Sotirios Fox says:

    Yeah, 5 copies a month sounds pretty reasonable to me, and I know you usually use that number when you’re discussing averages for short fiction and some collections. It’s pretty much the number I use in all my personal calculations since I like to be conservative.

    Of course, with that being said, we also know that 5 copies a month is never guaranteed, especially when you have a very, very limited selection of works to buy from, or when you’ve only been writing for a short period of time. I’m sure there’s a point somewhere along the line where a writer can expect a sales floor of sorts, though what the floor is and when it’s reached depends on quality of books as well as how long they’ve been up. So that kinda varies from writer to writer.

    It’ll be interesting to see where the challenge stories go once you get back on your feet (best of luck with the eye as well as related problems, by the way. Hope it’s getting at least a little better) and get more stories up. I agree that things should keep slowly climbing as each pen name gets more products under it. This ‘slow build’ model is a very nice thing due to its relative reliability. Just my $.02.

    • dwsmith says:

      Sotirios, thanks, almost back to writing. Back working on WMG publishing stuff, which is a start. Estate almost done. And I agree with your $.02. Thanks!

  29. allynh says:

    Let me put this in perspective.

    - How many “free” e-books do you have on your device that you have yet to read?

    I have dozens.

    - Now how many free samples do you have, that are just a few pages long, that you still have not bothered to read?

    I have many dozens more.

    I have a major question:

    - What is the maximum sample size that you can set your e-book to show?

    I know Dean has mentioned it before, and I’ve googled Dean’s site, but I can’t find the thread. 50%? more? I think I remember that the maximum was 50%. If so, set your sample size to at least 50%, no less. That gives people half the book “free” to read.

    - If it is a collection, they get the first few stories “free”.

    - If it is a novel they get hooked by the story and want more.

    That’s the point with a large unbroken sample, if they are hooked, they will buy the book. That’s the best of both worlds. They get a free taste, and if they want more, they got to pay. HA!

    - I’ve downloaded samples that are just a few pages. WTF? Delete.

    - I’ve downloaded samples that cover a few chapters but are missing pages in that sample. Discontinuity. Norman, coordinate! No thanks, I’ll wait till you have six books out and have a real sample that I can read.

    I’ve bought real books, you know the expensive hardcovers, because there was a real “Look Inside” sample that hooked me in the story, and I HAD TO HAVE THAT BOOK TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT! Oops, did I just shout that? Sorry.

    I bought all 15 books of one author, sight unseen, after I read one of her later books. That’s hardcover, trade, or at worst mmpb, whatever I could find in print, because when I read that book I WANTED EVERYTHING SHE WROTE, NOW! Yikes, there I go again.

    So ask yourself a simple question, do you want people to fill their device with your free e-books that they will never read, or 50% samples of all your e-books priced at 4.99 to 6.99 that they may someday get around to reading, and at the moment they reach the mid point they are faced with the “Buy Now” button.

    - Remember, if they can’t even read half the book, then you have failed to tell a great story.

    A bad book “free” will go unread, so write books that make people push that “Buy Now” button. HA!

    BTW, If anybody knows the “sample size” answer, let me know. I will be needing it soon.

    Now I’m going to get back to designing practice book covers. It has been a journey, crashing and burning, raging at the software controls that won’t do what I want, then discovering that if I actually used them correctly they work like a charm. HA!

    My desk is buried under books that I’ve pulled off my shelves as examples, “Yes, this. Not that. Combine these two. Oooh, shiny!” It is getting scary how a “House Style” is starting to develop with all my fumbling about. I like the covers that I am creating. I like the way I’m doing interiors, both e-book and POD. I’m creating what I want to read, in the form that I want to see it. Everything that I’m doing reflects my personal tastes. Bliss.

  30. It’s been interesting delving into the comments on this post. I’ve never had the slightest inclination towards giving the books or short stories away for free. I can see some of the points being made by those who have. I have even taking a step over that line by offering my stories for free for a limited time on my site. But like Dean, I’ve already got them up. After about a week, I leave up an excerpt. Glad to get all of this information. I’m definitely focused on the “slow growth” model. I have ambitious plans for this year in terms of the books and stories I want to have published. Thanks for creating such a thought-provoking post, Dean.

    • dwsmith says:

      Shaun, good idea about leaving an excerpt. Duh…not sure why I didn’t do that on all the free stories I put up here. (Forehead slap) Thanks.

  31. N. says:

    I beg to differ about free books getting bad reputations and bad reviews.
    Two of my free readers, (complete strangers to me) left me 5 star reviews on two different books written in two different genres. One is a time travel novella, the other is a children’s picture book. They both left thorough, thought out well-mannered reviews. I was not only thrilled but very humbled and appreciative. So please don’t lump everyone who downloads free books into some demeaning category, it’s just not fair. Some very well educated people, may not have enough money to pay for the more expensive books. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be moved in some way by a free book. The reviewer for my time travel story said the book was “well crafted” among other nice things. For that genre in particular, I can’t think of a higher compliment. To me, that reviewer made my ‘free’ book priceless. (No pun intended.) And the reviewer of my picture book gave the example of how much her son loved my book, again, priceless. Both books continue to sell for 2.99 when not free. And if their ranks slip too low, I’ll make them free and bring them up to visibility again. Not because I devalue my work, but because I value it enough to show it. (The reviews were left after the first free day, so I know they were not paid for books at the time of the reviews. Before the free days, they were so low in ranks they never sold at all.) Now at least they are being found.

    I plan on writing more and more books just like Dean suggests, and I will also continue to enroll some of them in the free program. There is no reason why authors can’t do both. Frankly, I’m surprised your not suggesting this for new authors. Every little bit helps.

    • dwsmith says:

      But N., every little bit doesn’t help if you are getting nothing for your book. So glad you got a couple of nice reviews, and I agree that not everyone is cheap that picks up free books. Sometimes the covers just attract a buyer, but my question is this simply, “How many sales are you missing?” So for new authors, I am telling them simply to do the following. 1) Believe in your own work and don’t give it away. 2) Write a lot and keep working for the future. Don’t get in a hurry. Your focus should be on learning how to tell a better story, not how many books you gave away. 3) Even if sales are slow, they will pick up as you keep learning and keep writing and learning how to tell better stories.

      That’s all I am saying. Simple, clear, and fantastically hard to do for beginning writers who are in a massive hurry to get to some goal they don’t even know and can’t imagine.

  32. Allynh – just a note: I can’t control how much of a sample Amazon shows. It’s really annoying because I’d like to show enough to give someone the first short story in a collection, or the first chapter in a novelette. But they won’t allow me so some of my samples are 3 paragraphs long.

    That’s why I like Smashwords (and sell well there).

  33. DeAnna says:

    Well, all I can say for myself is–no matter how good the advice is, I always kick the tires first.

    Personally, if I can’t do stupid things occasionally just to see what happens, it’s not the career for me. But I pay attention to your advice, and I pay attention to the results of doing what I was going to do anyway, and work from there, with the goal not to make the same mistake twice. I usually end up agreeing with you, but I’m trying NOT to let other people do my thinking for me.

    I think you’ll see your advice being followed more widely…eventually, because the market will force it. (It’s already harder to flip stories free on Amazon, if you’re outside Select. And I’ve ignored people for overpromoting…even though I bought their book.) However, I signed up to be an indie writer so I could play around with stuff like this, and I’m not going to let your perfectly reasonable advice stop me from making my own mess. Yet :)

    • dwsmith says:

      DeAnna, what I said to N. I have zero issue with doing some of this stuff as experiments and learning. And I hope people report in on results. I have problems when things become “rules” and “the way to go” without proven data. That’s what I push against, personally, and get confused about. (grin)

  34. No problem there. Of course, thinking about again, I just realized I should probably include links to where people can buy the stories. (forehead slap) Duh…indeed.

  35. The only other thing I wanted to add, re: the whole ego thing, is that I’ve noticed this very acute tendency in new writers to want to look at EVERYTHING but the quality of their writing. I actually saw this on a thread recently with people talking about copy edits. They were bemoaning finding those last few typos and how they’d paid professional editors 2-3x to clean their manuscripts and they were still getting bad reviews related to “editing.” I tried to point out that this could be a storytelling problem that’s causing people to nitpick, that they should probably just write the next book and the next, and try to up their storytelling ability, since that could be the real problem. Dead silence. It was like I’d dropped a stink bomb into the discussion.

    But like Annie said, writing is HAAAAAARD. I think the idea of writing more than 1-2 books is completely mindblowing to of a lot of new writers (or “authors,” really, to use your term). They want to believe it’s all some gimmick or trick and that once they learn that they can sidestep all of that messy “learning to write” business and become a bestseller without the work.

    Sure, there’s a lottery aspect to *some* books…but really, if you want to be a pro writer, you have to get better. No one wants to hear that, though. They just want to believe that they can goose the lottery even when their novel writing skills aren’t yet at a professional level.

    Human nature, I guess.

  36. N. says:

    Dean,
    Thank you for your kind response to my comment. I hear what you’re saying, and I’m not going to argue the point, you are my favorite blogger. That said, I do use my free days sparingly, and at some point I feel like I wont need to use them at all. But if nothing else, and I do mean if Nothing Else, seeing high numbers in my sales report, although free, gave me a much better picture of what it can look like when they are real sales. I am a visual person, and just being able to see that, physically see it, helps me to know what is possible, as far as there are tons of readers out there. It’s a glimpse of a goal to strive for in real paid numbers. Where before I had no idea, I literally couldn’t imagine it like you said. My sales report consisted of a few family and friends. The free program kind of kick started me into higher action of writing more and learning more. So for me personally, it’s been a learning experience, which in the long run will be beneficial to me, even if not in dollars and cents at the moment. I don’t really feel like I’ve given away something for nothing with missed sales, since it’s helped me get a better picture of the overall business of writing and publishing. And that part of it, was good for me to learn fast and not at a slow trickle, if I was still in my 20′s or 30′s maybe, but I’m not, so it’s been good for me to see it, even if for a short while.

    • dwsmith says:

      Hey, N. don’t forget that this new world has been around for only a few years. We’re all new at this. So age doesn’t matter, just telling good stories matters. And nothing at all wrong with learning about publishing. Looking at it that way is fine by me and I’m always open to be proven wrong here because this is all so new. I hope you keep reporting in on your success and failures. The reports help us all.

  37. allynh says:

    “Shaun Kilgore on 25 Jan 2012 at 8:43 pm
    After about a week, I leave up an excerpt.”

    Shaun, how big an excerpt can you post?

  38. allynh says:

    “Krista D. Ballon 25 Jan 2012 at 9:09 pm
    Allynh – just a note: I can’t control how much of a sample Amazon shows. It’s really annoying because I’d like to show enough to give someone the first short story in a collection, or the first chapter in a novelette. But they won’t allow me so some of my samples are 3 paragraphs long.

    That’s why I like Smashwords (and sell well there).”

    Yikes, on Amazon.

    Now that you mention Smashwords, that made it easier for me to remember where I heard the 50% “sample size”. I sent a question to Kindle(no answer yet), but it looks from their FAQ that they excerpt 10%, which only works on a big book. Yikes again.

  39. June says:

    I know I bought one of Kris’s novels due to a free sample chapter on her blog. So free can work. But I already wanted to buy from her because of my love of her blog, so previous trust was a factor along with the free sample.

    I think the bigger sample idea is great as an alternative to the whole book free. Amanda Hocking sold all of her My Blood Approves series to me that way, as well as the Trylie Trilogy.

  40. N.

    I didn’t say ALL reviews will be bad — or that all readers would be dissatisfied. As a matter of fact, I said the opposite. I give away one of my books, in spite of how it hurts its reputation, because there are some readers who read it, and then buy my other books. Because my stuff is quirky and hard to classify, people have a resistance to trying my books — so it work out in the end for me.

    What I did say was that you will have a _higher proportion_ of readers who don’t like your book than you would have otherwise had. Or who give thoughtless reviews. (Thoughtless cheerleading in a 5-star review can be worse than a low rated review, in terms of helping or hurting your reputation.)

    And because you pushed to inflate your stats in the algorithm, it will be very hard for your book to show connections with regular books. Your book will have a stronger association with “indie” than with whatever the genre is, and that will stick.

    There are benefits to offering free books, but you are actually hurting the very things that you hope to help. The only difference is that you are getting them quicker. That feels good, but you pay a price for it.

  41. allynh – Well, I leave about half the story maybe a little less, I think. I have the excerpts on my website. They’re just the original posts in which I had the full stories up. I just go back and cut them down. (The only thing I need do now is go back and put some links in the stories I have up so readers can go get them.)

  42. allynh says:

    Found it!

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_rel_topic?ie=UTF8&nodeId=13685751

    These are some of the answers. They will do for now to help me plan. At least there are options for control. I had a heck of a time finding the page. HA!

    Kindle eBook FAQs

    “What new functions available in the Look Inside reader?
    Within the Look Inside reader, customers can toggle anytime between the print book preview and the Kindle eBook preview to sample the respective book formats. The Kindle and Print tabs can be found at the top of the Look Inside reader.”

    Print Book FAQs

    “What is the Flexible Percent Viewing Limit feature?
    The Flexible Percent Viewing Limit feature gives print book publishers control over how much of a book is available for customers to view.”

    “What percentage viewable limits are allowed?
    You can define percentage viewable limit between 10% and 80% in increments of 10 percent for your books. All books start with a 20 percent default viewing limit.”

    “At what level can I define the percent viewable limits?
    Publisher Level: All books submitted by you will be migrated to specified viewable limits.
    Title Level: Viewing Limits can be overridden at ISBN level. For example, you can define 30% as default percent viewable for all your books and override it by setting 10% for some specific titles.”

    I can do my 50%, yes!

  43. Just to clarify, I checked out allynh’s link and the Flexible Print view appears to only be available for print books, not ebooks. Disappointing! It would be great to control the sampling on ebooks at Amazon the same way you can at Smashwords.

    I hope they roll this out ebooks as well at some point.

  44. allynh says:

    ” Rebecca M. Senese on 26 Jan 2012 at 8:55 am
    Just to clarify, I checked out allynh’s link and the Flexible Print view appears to only be available for print books, not ebooks.”

    Yeah, sorry. I’m working under the basis of doing both e-book and POD. It seems you can choose between “Kindle Book” and “Print Book” when you enter the “Look Inside” feature. It seems you can also control which version is displayed when the person clicks on “Look Inside”. I’ve clicked on “Look Inside” on a hardback, and they display the Kindle book instead. I just need to learn the controls. HA!

    As you say, everything is changing so fast, and it will be necessary to keep up with those changes.

  45. H.S. says:

    Great points! I admit that I epitomize some of the things you’re confused about, but I’m seeking help now. Your post is part of my therapy. :-) I wish I had read it sooner.

  46. Wayne Borean says:


    And J.A. Konrath added even more places I am confused and forgot about.

    I’ll add I get very confused when people dismiss self-pubbing or legacy pubbing without any research or experience to back-up their opinions.

    I get very confused by the outpouring of hostility when I share information, ideas, and personal experience about publishing, esp. when these angry people offer no counter arguments.

    I also get very confused why the majority of people would rather defend their beliefs to the death rather than change their mind.

    This will sound like total paranoia, but I write computer articles. As a result I know a lot about the history of the Microsoft anti-trust case. More than I want to know.

    Did you know that the dead wrote to the Justice Department opposing action against Microsoft? I kid you not.

    Whenever something is going to cost someone or something (i.e. corporation) money, fighting back is natural. Sometimes it goes beyond what is ethical. Hence, you end up with trolls in Joe Konrath’s blog telling him he’s fool, and that doesn’t have a clue. Of course they don’t provide any evidence, they don’t have any.

    Microsoft was caught doing the exact same thing. Other companies have been caught doing this. Do a Google search on “Microsoft Caught Trolling”, “royal caribbean caught infiltrating forums.”

    Sockpuppets and astroturfing are so much easier and less expensive than actually trying to compete. If you read articles which are for writer independence you’ll notice a pattern. There are always those who say:

    Well that is all very well and good but…

    We call them Concern Trolls, and their aim is to make you do nothing. That’s the same way that negative political advertising works, it makes you think that both sides are equally evil, so why even bother voting.

    My apologies for being long winded. This stuff really annoys me. If you have something legitimate to say, fine. If you are being paid to lie, that I don’t like.

    Wayne

  47. Ramon Terrell says:

    I had to laugh when I offered my first book for free in “celebration” of the release of my second. Got a hundred downloads, and sat there watching smashwords tally them. Did I get excited, nope. I thought I would just give it a try. I figured that if a hundred people downloaded the book, maybe five or ten would actually read it and come back for number two. It was an experiment that yielded no sales yet, but it’s only been a couple months.

    In the end, it will be a long time, if ever, that I will do that again. Just the thought of giving away something that I spent time, money, and effort to produce is irksome. And I will echo the others who stated earlier that if you devalue your work, others will follow suit. Most people do not value something that is given to them for free. It was free, and has no value, it’s just there. Every single person I know with an ereader has loads of free books and a huge TBR list. Wanna know what they’re reading? THE STUFF THAT THEY BOUGHT!

    So I’m going to say I also am very confused why “authors” don’t understand the simple fact of free = no value to the reader.

  48. Dela Smith says:

    I’m confused by why writers want to be edited by their agents–a question often discussed on this blog! I thought Dean would get a grin out of hearing that I was talking with an experienced editor not long ago, someone who has published many first-time writers who’ve gone on to long and fruitful careers (often staying with this editor for many books), who said to me: This trend of agents editing their clients is very worrying, what makes agents think they’re EDITORS suddenly? They’re deal brokers, they =don’t= know how to edit, and they’re just getting in the way when they try to edit.

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