Pay as You Read – eBook Promotion

Previously on this blog, I have shared my ideas about new and innovative ways for authors to promote their work, and to make a living from self-publishing novels.

I want to share another idea I have had on this topic.

This brainwave came to me when I was thinking about the plot of Conspire, and whether it was enough of a ticking time bomb. I have always believed that a good thriller or mystery must keep people turning the pages. The reader should always be searching for answers, and be given enough information to keep them sustained on their hunt for the final truth.

If I am successful in writing a page turner, I should be able to achieve this quest – producing something that readers find difficult to put down.

I’ve already proved I can write something that people are interested in downloading for free as an eBook. So my new idea builds on the idea of giving people a taste of your work, and then asking them to pay for it once they are ‘hooked’. Many authors are trying this, in the form of a free sample of their work. They figure, rightly, that if a reader doesn’t have to invest anything in trying their work, and decide it is worth the money to keep reading on after the free sample, they will make more sales than they ordinarily would by asking for money up front.

I’m thinking that I could take this concept one step further, and charge the reader only for the chapters they actually read.

Conspire has 83 chapters. I could offer the first five chapters as a free sample. The rest of the 78 chapters would then be charged at ten cents each. The first ‘paid’ chapter would need to be paid for, either with credit card, pay-pal or direct debit. But the transaction of 10c wouldn’t go through straight away. Perhaps six weeks later, the eBook software would work out how many chapters were downloaded, and the grand total of 10c per chapter read would be debited from the reader’s account. If they like the first five chapters, and download five more, but then never pick the book up again, they only pay 50c. If they get to the end of the book, by being satisfied enough with the story to download every chapter, they pay $7.80.

This is a win/win situation for me and the reader. I get incremental revenue from people who may not finish the entire book. And the reader only pays for the entertainment they’ve received. There’s no risk for them – as soon as they lose interest in the plot, they stop paying for it!

Think about all the times you’ve seen a movie and said ‘well that was a waste of $15!’ Imagine if you only paid for the parts of the movie you enjoyed. Or if you didn’t like it at all, you never paid anything!

I’m not exactly sure how I would make this work in practice  – it would be difficult to utilise the pay per chapter process from an eBook site such as Amazon or Smashwords. But these are just details to be worked out at a later stage. I like the idea and I think it has publicity and practical value.


Eliciting a Reaction

A quick update on Conspire – this weekend I finished the final edit of the first draft. My mum and I have tied up all the loose ends, well, all the loose ends we could find anyway. I put up a message on the Goodreads Mystery and Thriller group to see if anyone was interested in beta reading my first draft, and I have one person reading it now. I’m so anxious to hear what he thinks of my story! It’s hard putting my work out into the world for the first time, but it has to be done! I like the idea of getting feedback before the manuscript is finalised, from someone who isn’t a friend or family member. Depending on the feedback, I will either keep working on the first draft, or will move straight to professional editing.

I am still undecided on whether I will approach agents and publishers, or if I’ll bypass the traditional route altogether and go straight to self-publishing. I’ve got to a point where I’m really not sure which option is better.

Moving on from Conspire, I want to share an amusing story with you about something that happened to me. Yesterday I went to see the Australian movie – Snowtown. Here is the wiki page about the real events, and here is the link to the movie trailer.

I grew up in South Australia where the murders took place, and so I remember well the effect these crimes had on our small city. The Snowtown, or ‘Bodies in the Barrels’ story is about a group of serial killers who murdered people in their community for money and sadistic pleasure. They put some of the dismembered bodies into barrels, hidden in a bank vault in the small town of Snowtown.

I have always been more afraid of horror movies that are based on reality, and let me tell you, this was one horrifying movie! The evil was portrayed in such a way that you felt a bit dirty having watched it. I was terrified throughout the whole thing and had nightmares last night. I would definitely recommend seeing the movie, if you don’t mind having your entire world turned upside down for a couple of hours.

The main character, based on the real life serial killer – John Bunting – was played by Daniel Henshall. Bunting was particularly ghastly and Daniel played the part brilliantly.

Less than a day after seeing the movie, it was still hanging in my mind, when I went to my local supermarket for some groceries. Standing right in front of me was Daniel Henshall. I recognised him immediately, but I saw John Bunting, not Daniel Henshall. Without realising what I was doing, I gave a little scream of recollection. I was picturing this face torturing and chopping people up in the film. Daniel noticed me standing, stunned, in fright and the best I could do to retrieve the awkwardness of the situation was to say “sorry, I got a fright seeing you because I just saw your film”. He laughed, and you could tell he was quite chuffed to have elicited such a strong reaction.

Apart from being an amusing coincidence, to run into an actor who had had such a recent and strong effect on me, it reminded me that artists are always hoping for a reaction as this is why we put our work out there. Henshell appreciated having scared me, because that was what his part required he do. I’m hoping my beta reader is thrilled by Conspire, as if he’s not, it’s back to the drawing board!

I wish I had done something differently

I’ve noticed an idea come up in a few of my previous posts, so I decided it warrants its own post.

The idea is that if a book is good enough, it will rise to the top. One of the major criticisms of allowing self-publishing on sites like Amazon, Smashwords, Wattpad, Scribd etc is that it will create a ‘glut’ of low quality work, which disappoints consumers, gives self-published authors a bad name and generally muddies the competitive waters because consumers can’t find quality amongst the masses of mediocrity.

One of my friends has a Kindle and she mentioned to me that she had just read two books by the same author that she found in the Amazon Kindle store. Having liked the first one, she bought the second. Both were priced around $9, which is relatively expensive for an eBook. It wasn’t until she finished the second book that she realised the author was a self-published author. I asked her if she had any hint of that while she was reading and she said she had no idea. This is a great thing. It means that the work was high quality, well edited and professionally formatted, so my friend, who is a keen consumer of books, didn’t notice any difference.

My first book, Times of Trouble, could definitely benefit from some professional editing. I had the manuscript assessed, but I never had the funds to invest in a professional editor. I have decided, however, that my second book, Conspire, will be professionally edited. I was thrilled with the reviews I received for Times of Trouble, but I did get  one on Goodreads that said:

“I enjoyed this; a good plot with twists and turns; a somewhat naive style. Would benefit from a bit mor (sic) proof reading.”

The reader took the time to read the entire book, and seemed to enjoy it, but he is right about the proof reading. A truly professional book should be edited by a professional.

On the subject of Times of Trouble and Goodreads, there is another thing I would have done differently had I known what I do know when I finished that book. Remember, I decided to self-publish Times of Trouble after a few harrowing rejections from agents and publishers. My main motivation in posting the manuscript on WattPad, Free-eBooks and Smashwords was to get something that all new authors crave, like humans crave oxygen – Feedback! I just wanted an honest opinion about whether it was a good book! I thought it was good, my friends and family liked it, but none of us count. This is something worth remembering – your book is never going to take off with ‘reviews’, ‘likes’ and ‘five stars’ from friends and family only. It’s a nice way to get the ball rolling, but to gain real credibility and to stand out from the masses, you need genuine excitement amongst real consumers. You need people to recommend the book to their friends. You need the big wide world to notice your work.

I got what I asked for in posting the book online. A free book is obviously very easy to download, and I managed to get literally thousands of downloads across these sites. But I also got the feedback I craved, and it was very good feedback. (5 stars on all the reviews on Smashwords!). My mistake was, however, that I didn’t focus this feedback in one place. There are a few reviews on each of the sites I posted my work, but if I had just concentrated on one site, I could have up to 20 reviews, which is much more likely to be noticed by consumers looking for something good to read. I am definitely keeping this in mind for Conspire.

Looping back to the start of this post – the crème does rise to the top. But you need to pave a way for it to bypass the glut. To start out with, don’t fragment your efforts, as you divide the effectiveness of each of those sites in selling your work to the world. Once you have success on one site, it’s fine to move onto the next. But as I mentioned in a previous post, success breeds success. And the first round of success is by far the hardest to build.

I’m getting back to work now. I’ve got to make sure Conspire is the best I can possibly make it, or it definitely won’t be rising to the top.

Amazon Imprint – Thomas and Mercer

As mentioned in my previous post, Amazon recently announced the launch of another imprint – Thomas and Mercer. This imprint is for mysteries and thrillers, and joins their list of four other genre imprints.

So what does this news mean for us aspiring authors? Sadly, I think it makes the journey ahead even harder.

As far as I can tell, Thomas and Mercer are signing authors who are already top sellers on Amazon, including authors who have previously had traditional publishing deals, and those who have built success by self-publishing. As well as promoting these author’s eBooks, Thomas and Mercer will also be printing books and distributing them to bookstores. I haven’t seen how the figures work with royalties etc, but judging by Eisler’s statements, it looks like Amazon are probably continuing with their fixed 30% commission, which they take from every eBook sold on their site. I don’t know if this is the same percentage they will receive for the print books as well.

The disheartening news for newbie self-publishers is that Thomas and Mercer don’t appear to be accepting submissions for new work. They are cherry picking authors who are already successful on Amazon. This makes perfect business sense. They are only investing in authors who they know are popular and in high demand already. All these authors will have worked for years and years to get in the position they are now in, so of course they deserve all their success and the spoils that will come with Thomas and Mercer’s backing. Success breeds success. But you can bet that when you go into the Amazon eBook store, the books that will be promoted front and center, at the top of the page, will be Amazon imprint signed authors. I realise that Amazon was never a level playing field where all books were equal. But the bad news is that this playing field is now even less equal. It is now harder than ever for the crème of new self-published authors to rise to the top.

Barry Eisler, now famous for turning down a $500,000 publishing contract, was fleetingly considered the hero of the indie authors. In this interesting conversation with Joe Konrath, he describes the self-publishing movement as a peasant uprising against the kings of the publishing industry. It’s hard not to be a little bit inspired by this notion. I think I speak on behalf of all aspiring authors when I say that all we really ask of the publishing industry (which includes Amazon whether we like it or not) is to have an equal chance to market our work, regardless of the desires and opinions of a small monopoly of publishing heavyweights. We want out work to be given a chance to sit beside established authors who have publishing deals, and for consumers to judge based on the quality of the work, not the size of the publisher’s investment. Eisler’s decision to turn down  a massive publishing deal, to me, was the tipping point for the industry. It showed that self-publishing was not only a viable alternative, but that it was actually preferable to the legacy publishing path.

But there’s a small problem with Eisler’s position now. I don’t think he can quite count himself as ‘one of the peasants’ anymore. He might look like a self-published author, but with Thomas and Mercer’s backing, he most definitely is not one. Joe Konrath, his partner in the conversation, has also been signed by Thomas and Mercer and has received quite a backlash from supporters who feel he has ‘sold-out’ from his position as rebel leader of indie authors. There are even calls for indie book stores to boycott his new Thomas and Mercer book. His response to this criticism can be found here.

Both Eisler and Konrath, quite rightly, are doing what is best for their careers. And I don’t in any way resent them for their decision to join forces with Amazon. They worked tirelessly for many years to make a good living from their writing, and just like any business, they have to be profitable to survive. They never advocated self-publishing as an ideology – they advocated it as a viable way to make a living as an author. In saying this, I might not begrudge them their success, but I sure feel disheartened that my wave of optimism about a peasant uprising against traditional publishing, has been so quickly trodden on by the rise of a new publishing monopoly – Amazon.