Friday, December 16, 2011

Amazon stars

It's important to remember that the stars awarded to a book by an Amazon customer are not supposed to be an objective assessment of how good this book is, but a subjective appreciation -- 5 stars, I loved it; 4 stars, I liked it; 3 stars, it was OK, and so on.

I was very pleased with my two-day promotion of the Kindle edition of The Grand Mirage because a lot of people took notice of the book and thought it looked interesting enough to download. Even if a book is free, you do have to click and then you have another book cluttering up your virtual bookshelf, so I presume most people don't click blindly.

At one point, The Grand Mirage was #6 in the genre historical fiction for free ebooks, with Tale of Two Cities, Scarlet Letter, and two editions of War and Peace ahead of it. This doesn't mean that The Grand Mirage, as entertaining as it is, ranks up there with these classics and I would be the first to tell anyone that if you haven't read Tale of Two Cities, you should read it before you read The Grand Mirage.

The star rankings, at 4 and 4.5, also were in the same range, which again, does not mean that my book, objectively speaking, ranks with these classics. After all, if you gave 5 stars to War and Peace, you'd have to give 1/2 a star to every contemporary work of historical fiction if these were supposed to be objective rankings.

What 5 stars means is that there are readers who really loved it, and that is extremely gratifying to an author. The "worst" review I've gotten on Amazon so far is one I solicited from one of these semi-pro reviewers who have popped up on the Web. He gave The Grand Mirage 3 stars, which meant, as he explains, he thought it was worth reading, but he clearly wasn't wild about it. He added that someone who like historical fiction might want to give it 4 stars.

That's fine. There's some excellent romance and paranormal novels out there that get 5 stars from aficionados of these genres, but I probably wouldn't be able to give that many stars to these books.

As is most assuredly the case with most Amazon authors, and not just indies, some of the reviews on the site were written by friends of mine, who, God bless them, loved my book. They were sympathetically disposed, let's say, but at least each and every one of them used their real name. As a reader, I'm more suspicious of 5-star reviews written by a made-up name or Anonymous.

What thrills me about self-publishing is that readers who enjoy a book like The Grand Mirage now have a chance to read it. And if giving away the book means that more of these people actually get a hold of it, that's great. In the long run, they will talk about it, recommend it, buy my next book and you have created a fan base.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Kindle promotion

The experiment continues. The Grand Mirage will be free on Kindle tomorrow and Friday, Dec. 15 and 16 as I take the first two of my five promotion days under the KDP Select program. Apparently this can lead to hundreds of downloads and it's exciting to think my book will be in the hands of so many prospective readers.

My primary goal for The Grand Mirage is that it be read. I know there are people who will enjoy it and who will be eager for the next in the series. It is secondary at this point how much money I actually collect in building that fan base. Eventually, yes, it would be nice to have a fan base in the thousands that's willing to cough up five bucks for a new book. But the first objective is to connect with those readers who like this kind of fiction.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Amazon Kindle

Amazon is getting considerable grief, as in Richard Russo's op-ed in today's New York Times, for some of its more aggressive commercial tactics. Doubtless its actions require monitoring, but it's hardly worse that the bare-knuckle tactics employed by Microsoft and Apple in their turn. These are new markets and they have some evolving to go through still before becoming more tightly regulated.

For ebooks, and for indie publishers, Amazon is virtually the only game in town. It provides useful tools for authors and it works hard to adopt customer-friendly interface and service. Along with many other indie authors, I've decided to take advantage of further benefits now being offered by Amazon and give them exclusive sales rights for the ebook version of The Grand Mirage.

For one thing, virtually all ebook sales of Mirage so far have been through Amazon. For another thing, the granting of exclusivity is paired with a couple of promotional opportunities, which are experimental and unproven, but worth a try. Both are somewhat counter-intuitive because they involve essentially giving the book away.

The one is to include The Grand Mirage in the new lending library for Prime customers. Amazon obviously is scrambling to find alternatives to free shipping for Prime customers as it sells more ebooks, which of course don't require shipping. So people who can keep to a three-week reading period can loan out the book for free.

What does the author get from this? Amazon is setting up a fund to pay authors a pro rata royalty each time the book is lent. It remains to be seen how much this will actually be, but this is an idea authors have long desired to see implemented in libraries for physical books. Authors also get a crack at that not-so-intangible word of mouth. The more people who read the book, the more they will talk about it to their friends, even give it as a gift.

The other benefit in the Amazon exclusivity program, called KDP Select with KDP standing for Kindle Direct Publishing, is five "promotional" days, during which the book is offered for purchase at no charge. There is presumably, though I haven't studied this in detail, some actual promotion of the book to Prime customers and the benefit to the author, once again, is heightened visibility and word of mouth -- the biggest challenge for an indie author.

Following the lead of my mentor in all things ebook, Jim Bruno, I'm also raising the price of the Kindle edition to 4.99 from 2.99. There has been some evolution of thought in the indie market that the higher price provides a better signal of value to the prospective book purchaser. Again, it may seem counter-intuitive, but many authors have reported an increase in sales when they increase the price.

None of this is irreversible. Enrollment in KDP Select is for an initial period of 90 days, automatically renewable. I can lower the price to 0.99 tomorrow if I choose. None of this may have any impact on sales. We'll see.

I'm willing to do what I can to support my local bookstore, but if Amazon offers me ways to get my book into readers' hands, I'm happy to take them and leave responsibility for preserving the old system to Richard Russo and the other mega-bestselling authors who have profited so well from it.