Welcome to my Front Parlor, where I hope to engage you in some stimulating conversations about my journey as an indie author, the lessons learned about marketing, and the joys of writing fiction. The past five years have been enormously rewarding, with the publication of four novels in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons, and Deadly Proof, a short story collection, Victorian San Francisco Stories, and the forthcoming publication of my first science fiction novel, Between Mountain and Sea. Do come in, look around, comment, and before you go, please leave a visiting card (url, twitter, fb address, etc) so I can return the courtesy and visit you next time.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that almost all of the books I bought and read in 2016 were ebooks—bought online from Amazon. In fact, a number of the books I decided to reread I already owned in print, but I decided to buy ebook editions after I started to reread them. This was because those books that were paperbacks (some that I bought over 30 years ago) were generally in terrible shape—covers falling off, pages falling out––and the small print made some of them unreadable. The hardbacks were in better shape, with larger print, but they tended to aggravate the arthritis in my wrists when I read them for any length of time at one sitting.
In contrast, my Kindle Paperwhite is small, lightweight, with adjustable fonts, and it is easy to dust so I don’t sneeze when I pull it out to use.
Of course, all of these reasons for my shift to ebooks are to a degree related to my age, but there was another reason I was willing to pay for a book I already owned, as well as buy so many other books by new authors; the relatively low prices on many ebooks.
Throughout this past year, there has been a constant stream of articles stating that ebook sales are in decline (and print sales are up.) See this post as one of the most recent examples.
While the data coming out from traditional publishers—and the Association of American Publishers—seems on the surface to support this claim, what anyone who has followed this discussion should know by now is that this data only describes what is happening with books published by traditional publishers. In contrast, the Author Earnings Reports, which are the most comprehensive data we have on ebooks, conclude that Amazon ebook sales rose 4% in 2016.
The main plausible explanation for this negative trend in ebook sales for traditional publishers is their pricing. Once the big five got back the right to set their own prices for ebooks without discounting (something they had lost temporarily when they were found guilty of anti-trust violations), they went back to pricing their ebooks higher—often at the same or higher price than their mass market paperbacks.
At the same time, Amazon, once they lost the right to discount traditionally published ebooks, started discounting traditionally published print books. This made the print editions of traditionally published books more attractive than ebook editions to many customers.
What publishers didn’t anticipate was that this simply drove more people to buy their print books online (when their stated goal for pricing ebooks high had been to help brick and mortar books stores stay competitive.) Ah, the problems of unintended consequences.
And what traditional publishers seem willfully to misunderstand is that many of their customers didn’t just shift to the print edition of a book, many of them decided not to buy that traditionally published book at all, but to take a chance on an indie authored book.
I found my buying patterns quite representative of these trends in consumer buying.
Let’s first look at my buying patterns before ebooks, which followed a very predictable pattern.
First, for authors who I had read and liked, I routinely bought their books as hardbacks as soon as the book came out. I justified this because I knew there was a very good chance I would reread those books often multiple times, so the higher price (and longevity) of the hardback seemed worth it. Continue reading
This past week I got sidetracked from writing (after 3 weeks in a row where I achieved my stated goal of 5000 words a week) because I was putting together all the figures l needed for my 2016 taxes. However, in the process I made a list all the books I bought in 2016, whether or not they were ebooks or print, and what I paid for each, and this has prompted me to do a little more analysis on my reading patterns.
First of all, I was pleased to discover that I had bought 65 books this year and had read almost all of them. This meant I read, on average, more than a book a week, nicely confirming of my impression that I had read more books in 2016 than I had the previous year.
Second, while the list also confirmed that a large proportion of those books were short story anthologies, something I have already discussed in my last post, I was also interested in the patterns I saw in the full length novels I read.
When I looked at the list, I was struck by the fact that most of the novels I bought were either books I had read before, new books by favorite authors, or all the books in a series by a newly discovered author. This makes sense and actually dovetails with my reasons for reading so many short stories. Because of the limited time I have in my life as a busy writer, when I commit to reading a full-length book, I want to know there is a strong chance I will enjoy the experience.
It is one thing to try a short story by an unknown author—if it turns out it isn’t my cup of tea, I have only lost 10-15 minutes. But since I have difficulty just dropping a novel in the first sitting, when I eventually decide to drop a book I have usually spent at least an hour so, hence I have been sticking to full length books I know I will stick with.
I haven’t always been so risk averse in my reading choices, but I have noticed that when someone mentions that I should read some book they have just read by an author I know nothing about, I say: “Oh that sounds good, maybe when I really retire and I go back to reading all the time I will give a try.”
However, I was also struck by a third realization. I was choosing books that I thought would give me tips on how to improve my own writing. Also, not surprising when I thought about it. I am a firm believer that a writers should above all be a reader. And, if you want to write books that other people enjoy reading, you need to be aware of what improves your own enjoyment of a book. Continue reading
In my goal setting post last January, my third goal was to do more recreational reading. And that is a goal I can definitely say I accomplished. The primary reason for that success was that I discovered the fun and convenience of reading short stories.
While I have written short stories—about minor characters from my Victorian San Francisco mystery series––and I have even written about why I like to write short stories in this blog post, I hadn’t actually read many short stories for years…maybe decades.
In fact, except for a number of years in my youth when I found the time to read the New Yorker from cover to cover (including the short stories), I don’t really remember when I ever chose short stories for my recreational reading––certainly not mystery and science fiction short stories.
So, what caused the change in my reading habits in 2016?
First, ever since I retired from teaching and started writing full-time, I stopped finding the time to read for pleasure. I read non-fiction as research, other authors’ works as a beta reader, but not fiction for the pure joy of it.
Trying to figure out why, I determined that one of the reasons for this is that I have never liked to start reading a story when I know I won’t have the time to finish it right away. I am not one of those readers who is content to spend weeks slowly making my way through a novel.
I solved this problem when I was a busy history professor by binge reading fiction over holidays and summer vacations and during the rare days I was too sick to go into work. However, once I started my second career as a writer, things like holidays and summer vacations became irrelevant, and I started working seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. (The reason for that is for another post!)
In short, without really even thinking about it, I began avoiding novel that weren’t directly related to my writing because that would mean a couple of days when I wasn’t making progress on the newest manuscript or working away at my long marketing to-do list. As a result, I got out of the habit of reading strictly for pleasure.
But then in 2015, I discovered the Future Chronicles, a series of science fiction/fantasy anthologies published by Samuel Peralta. Peralta had expressed interest in publishing an anthology of short stories in the Paradisi Chronicles series, the open-source science fiction world I helped create that year. It only seemed sensible to read some of the anthologies he’d published to see if this felt like a good fit for those of us writing in the Paradisi World. (Here is a blog post about this series and the subsequent Chronicle Worlds: Paradisi anthology Peralta published.) Continue reading
Once I start to think about goals for a new year, I start to think about goals I failed to achieve in the previous year. And one of those goals was to blog more frequently. Well, guess what? Having written only 6 blog posts of substance in 2016 (only about half the number I did in 2015), I think I can firmly say that goal wasn’t met!
However, being the analytical person that I am, I decided to blog a bit about why I think that happened.
First, when I began blogging in December of 2009, I was primarily detailing my own journey as an independent author, in a time when we were rare enough creatures to actually be quite interesting to others.
Second, I soon discovered a few selling strategies that were working very well for me that not everyone had heard of (for example, using free short stories to hook readers, tweaking categories to help make a book more visible, using KDP Select marketing tools), and as a result I felt that I had something valuable to share with other authors.
And in addition to blogs about my writing journey and strategies, I wrote pieces detailing the historical background to my mystery series, set in Victorian San Francisco. And as my readership for this series grew, positive reactions to these pieces followed.
And frankly, what writer doesn’t like to write about things that other people are interested in reading?
So what happened this year?
Well, first, indie authors are now a dime a dozen, and many indie authors are enormously more successful than I am in terms of books written and sold.
And, not only have most of my strategies been discussed to death in detail elsewhere, but they are no longer as universally applicable, so I feel I have to qualify every piece of advice I give.
In short, I began to find it harder and harder to believe that continuing to tell about my writing journey or providing detailed discussions of my current marketing strategies was of much interest or particular value––or couldn’t be found just as easily on some other author’s blog.
As a result, I found myself hesitating whenever I looked at my to-do list and saw “write a blog post” on it. And what I usually decided was that I would rather spend my time working on my next work of fiction. Or, if I was going to spend time doing something on social media, I would rather do something that takes less time.
Which brings me to the third reason I haven’t been blogging. I take too long on each blog, including the historical ones. Generally, it took me at least a day, if not more, to review what others are writing on a subject, put together my own marketing and selling statistics, or gather together the historical research I have done on a topic. Then at least another day, to write and edit the actual piece.
So each time I get to that “write a blog piece” on my to-do list, I ask myself how many chapters could I write on my WIP in that time? How many facebook posts could I compose? How many pages of someone else’s manuscript could I edit?
Well, you get the point.
Yet the truth is, that I know people still want to hear more about Victorian San Francisco…something I am uniquely qualified to write about. And at least once a week or more I find myself giving marketing advice on different group forums, or answering emails from beginning writers about things they should consider as they make the jump to independent authorship. In short, it does appear that there might be some people who would still find what I have to say on these subjects of value.
So, this year I have decided to try something different. I have decided to try to write a post at least every week. But to only let myself spend one hour researching and writing a draft, and one hour editing that draft, before I hit publish. This might mean simply taking an old marketing post and updating it, or breaking my posts up into smaller segments. Or just trying to be more succinct!
So here goes. Post number one of 2017! And I seem to have completed it in under two hours from start to finish. (Smile)
M. Louisa Locke, January 7, 2017
Oh, and by the way, Maids of Misfortune, the first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series is still perma free everywhere and Between Mountain and Sea, the first book in my Paradisi Chronicles science fiction series is also 99 cents on Kindle for two days, (January 7-8).
Because the most recent book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, Pilfered Promises, is set during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 1880, I spent a good deal of time researching how residents of that city were celebrating the holidays that year, including looking for articles in the San Francisco Chronicle. What I found was that many of the traditions that we are familiar with today started in the Nineteenth century…including the importance of advertising special holiday sales!
“The Arcade: We are offering this week SPECIAL and EXTRAORDINARY INDUCEMENTS to buyers of HOLIDAY PRESENTS, especially in our SILK DEPARTMENT” ––San Francisco Chronicle, December 19, 1880
However, these traditions were actually relatively new. Before the mid-1880s, most native-born Americans, particularly Protestants from the Northeast, saw Thanksgiving and not Christmas as the key national holiday. In fact, throughout the 1800s, a number of Protestant denominations were very resistant to the celebration of the birth of Christ in any fashion beyond religious observances.
Not surprisingly, it was the Southern state of Louisiana, where there was a significant Catholic population, that first declared December 25th a holiday (in 1837), and Christmas wasn’t declared a national legal holiday until 1875. The huge influx of European immigrants to the United States, starting in the 1840s, many from Catholic countries, also played an important role in shaping the way Christmas began to be celebrated, especially in the larger cities.
This multi-cultural perspective certainly held true for San Francisco in 1880, which makes sense since at that date three-quarters of the city’s population of over 233,000 were immigrants or their native-born children.
“But the presents would lose half their charm did they not come through the medium of the huge stocking, religiously pinned to the chimney side…” ––San Francisco Chronicle, December 25, 1880
To see the rest of this post, please click go to IndieBrag, where it is being hosted by a great organization of readers dedicated to finding and promoting outstanding self-published books.
M. Louisa Locke, December 23, 2016