Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Amy Durham talks about writing YA books

Today I’m interviewing YA (Young Adult) author, Amy Durham. Amy is a member of my local writing group and Once Again is her debut novel. Publishing any book is incredible, but that first book is the most amazing feeling in the world and I’m very happy to be sharing it with Amy.

Let’s pause here while I do happy dance for Amy. I know she's been working on this a long time.

Okay—that was fun.

Donna: Hi Amy! Welcome to my blog. Tell my readers a little about yourself. 

Amy:  Hi Donna! Thanks so much for inviting me over today. I’m not a terribly exciting girl, but I am a busy one! I like in central Kentucky. My husband and I have three boys (ages 13, 8, & 5), and I’m a full-time middle school teacher. Of course I LOVE books – both for reading and writing – but I also love to cook and experiment with new recipes!

Donna: Why YA books?

Amy:  I LOVE reading YA books! I love that YA books have a “crossover appeal” that makes them readable by both teens and adults. I love that I can read a great YA book, then recommend it to my students at school or my own teenage son. I love that I can have a conversation with a student about a book we’ve both read. I love that YA books can give young readers a sense of hope and encouragement… “If the characters in that book can overcome all those obstacles, then I can surely make it through adolescence, too!”

And I love that we “grown ups” can read YA stories and re-visit the exuberance and excitement of our youth, remember the beauty of first love, and think back on the friends of our childhood. Since I love reading YA books, I figured it was the best “fit” for my writing.

Donna: What is the age range for your YA book? Who do you see reading it?

Amy:  The narrator of my book is a sixteen year-old girl, so it naturally lends itself to girls around that age. However, I intentionally wrote a story that would be appealing and appropriate for younger readers (i.e. no sexual situations or excessively foul language). I also hope romance and mystery of the story will appeal to those young-at-heart YA readers (like me!).

Donna: Was there a real life inspiration for the story line?

Amy:  There wasn’t an actual person or event that inspired the book. The “core” of the Once Again came from my own memories of being sixteen. I started thinking about what I thought and dreamed about when I was that age, and I was such a hopeless romantic back then! I never really got over that either!

When I was a teenager, I loved the idea of love being eternal and somehow transcending time and place. I’d spend long hours thinking about my future-husband, and even though I didn’t know who he was, I knew he was out there waiting for me, dreaming about me. Sounds sappy, I know, but that’s where my mind was during my middle school and high school years!

So, I crafted a story that played off of that idea… that love transcends time and place. The paranormal element of the story is reincarnation, and I think it really allowed me to illustrate the idea of timeless love.

Donna: What YA authors do you like to read? 

Amy:  I’ll admit to loving all the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer! In addition to those, I also really REALLY love Rachel Vincent’s Soul Screamers series. The heroine of that series is a female banshee (bean sidhe), and they are some of the most inventive books in the YA genre in my opinion. I’ve read part of Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, and I’m totally impressed! Jennifer Echols writes really good, true-to-life non-paranormal YA stories as well.

Donna: What’s next for you creatively? Are you working on something else?

Amy: Right now I'm working on the sequel to Once Again, which I hope to release later this year. It's titled Once and For All, and follows two different Sky Cove teenagers as they encounter their own reincarnation drama, as well as an ancient curse that has never been broken. (Hint - readers will meet the hero and heroine of Once and For All in Once Again!)  There may also be a "short story" in the "Sky Cove" series sometime this year. 

And, as if that's not keeping me busy enough, I'm writing the first book in my "Messenger" series, titled Dusk.  "Messengers" are a bit like angels, but not quite the same. You'll just have to wait and see!

Donna: How can my readers find out more about you and your work? BTW readers, Amy does some fun things on her blog. Check it out.

Amy:  Here's my list. Thanks for inviting me!

Email – amybdurham@gmail.com
Twitter - @Amy_Durham
FB – facebook.com/AuthorAmyDurham
Blog – amy-durham.blogspot.com

Friday, January 27, 2012

Profound thinking about the origins of pleasure

A couple of issues surfaced for me in Paul Bloom's TED Talk about "The Origins of Pleasure". He is a psychologist and I'm always been interested in their perspectives on me and my brain, as well as their views on the mind of others.

First, Bloom tells quite a story about why art collectors want the original of something even when a forgery is identical. It made me think about the debate in the publishing industry right now and the small war going on between those traditionally published and those independently published. The innate value and the historical origins are being questioned. What I create--my books or my "art"--is on the table. The curators of originality and "essentialism" as Bloom calls it are what is changing for me. Now instead of the acquiring editor/agent/publisher who says this is not valuable, I choose to let my readers determine it.

After watching this talk, I also understand a little more why I chose to write about artists in my second series. I believe after I finished the Never Too Late Series, I developed a comprehension that I was an artist for the first time in my life. It still feels strange to think of what I do that way.

The second thing that captured my thinking was near the end of the talk where Bloom makes the correlation between how our minds determine how much something pleases us or how much something pains us. He closes with a quote from Milton about how our minds create our own Heaven and Hell which I always suspected was true for most people. If you are seeking peace, I think the biggest favor you can ever do for yourself is to learn not to take everything that displeases you as something done to hurt you personally. More often than not, I think the "people in the other room" don't know they are pushing the button. It's like the car that cuts you off and goes on. Does that person stay upset? Unlikely. Why should you then? Move on quickly, vote for people who increase traffic monitoring, and save your pain response for bigger things.

The actual talk is only for the first 16 minutes.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Six Indie Business Lessons Learned in 2011

I create articles about the writing process to share, but I also create them to have a lingering reminder of lessons I have learned. Here are the top six I learned from my first ten months.

#1 Professional covers are very important

Covers are important and it is worth spending the money to work with a great artist who's artistic vision appeals to you. When I started, my budget was non-existent (it's not uber existent now), but creating a professional looking cover was the one thing I knew I couldn't do all by myself in self-publishing.

I interviewed more than ten artists for the cover of Dating A Cougar. They were all talented cover artists and reasonably priced. I chose the one who wrote me back the nicest, most reasonable email because she just seemed like someone I could work well with. It's like your doctor though--you have to trust the doctor in order to follow his suggestions to get well. You have to trust your cover artist enough to believe in their vision for your book.

In March, my amazing cover artist made two covers for my first two books to be published. In May, the cover of Dating A Cougar was used in an article in Bloomberg Businessweek. Since then, we've done many more covers. To me, my artist is worth every penny I pay her. I hope we have another exciting year with our work.

#2 Editors are critical and necessary

Hire one. Don't think you can get by, just do this. Spend the money on a good editor. There are many out there who charge under $200 for an 80,000 word book.

For cost reasons, I didn't hire an editor on the first versions of Dating A Cougar and I'm still getting dings for it when people come across those old copies. It took me months to be able to afford one and my first meager earnings went into hiring him.

I have a great editor now. The next issue I face is what to do about not being a careful enough client. What I mean by that is my eye for detail has waned since leaving the corporate world. I make all his changes, and I mean ALL my editor's changes because I trust him. However, I am one of those writers whose needs would be better served by a fleet of editors whose life's work was cleaning up after me.

However, I cannot do that and cannot afford it on my own--yet. So editing is something I just have to keep working on. I'm getting better. My readers are generous souls and fortunately updates are possible in the Indie world.

#3 Diversify to find your widest reader base

Honestly, Amazon money feels like a paycheck once you start selling. It arrives fairly regularly and you know what you're getting a month and half in advance. However, Apple is my second highest channel. I can't imagine passing up the Apple money or the Apple fans. I love my Apple readers. It already irks me that they have wait longer to get my books and I've been working on solutions to reduce that time frame.

Plus at the end of the year, I put the books up at All Romance ebooks too. Now it's not Amazon or Apple, or maybe even Barnes and Noble, but in just two weeks in December I sold quite a few at ARe. Readers who buy from ARe are a guaranteed base of known romance readers who know what the books are when they are put up for sale on that site. Nobody tried Dating A Cougar there and wondered if it was a romance or not. My guess is that sales there are going to outdistance Kobo and Diesel sales unless something magical happens.

I'm not saying not to experiment with things like the KDP Select program, but if you're just starting out with your one and only book to date, you need to consider the effect of not diversifying and all the readers you might lose. 

#4 Say thank you to everyone (and I mean everyone)

Thank people for Tweeting and Re-tweeting you. Thank them ("Like" their comment) for responding to your posts on Facebook. Thank them for writing to you or for commenting on your blog. Thank people for mentioning you, for reading you, for good reviews, and even for bad reviews. Thank them for noticing you--period. Thank them even when you are not thankful because you should be thankful. Every link, every mention, every time someone says your name online, it contributes to sales.

And offer to help the ones whose work resonates with yours. It's all those things about win-win you learned at the office added to the rules for being polite your parents taught you. Just do it. Get in the professional habit of thanking people. It matters more than I tell you in the Indie world.

#5 Keep writing (that's it, just keep writing)

Keep writing in the face of adversity. An Indie author of YA books whom I consider my mentor told me that in the beginning of his writing career, bad reviews stopped him from writing. He told me he promised himself if people kept buying them, he would keep writing them. I remember this because every writer gets bad reviews. Check out your favorite big authors on your favorite book site. They have their share of negative reviews. I mention this because I also find writing in the midst of bad reviews is the hardest time to keep writing. Look up and read what other Indie authors say about bad reviews. Bookmark the posts or article links, or print them to a PDF and save them. My favorite is from John Locke. It continues to help me.

Keep writing the best book you can even when you are selling your other books because it is the smart thing to do. Any successful Indie author will tell you the same thing. Write a good book, make it professional, publish it, and then as soon as you can move on to writing the next one. If readers like your work, they will devour what you wrote and demand more. You will hear from them on your social media sites or via email asking for the next and the next and the next. Stay excited about what you are doing. Treat writing like it is your job and it will become your job if the book is good, not just an inspired hobby.

#6 Be patient about your earnings

My first sales were $35. Ten months, nine books published, and now I'm finally making a modest living and paying most of my bills with my earnings. I'm not drinking champagne and buying sports cars, but I'm also not getting dressed at seven to head to the office either. For me this is about perspective. People talk about Amanda Hocking or John Locke as if their success happened overnight. It didn't. They put in their writing time, wrote books that people bought, and worked hard to get where they are now. My guess is even the most amazing authors hit this point and were simply grateful about how good it is to be living the writer's life period. At seven in the morning, I'm getting a cup a coffee, checking emails, and talking to my readers on Facebook. Or I'm looking over what I wrote yesterday. Or writing madly trying to get out what I woke up thinking about. Everything beyond this point of my journey will feel extraordinary.

A writer friend shared that she made $27,000 in two weeks on her second book. Yet another is making on her sales of two books every month what I make on my nine. There is definitely magic in this business and it belongs to the readers much more than to writers. Finding your readers is a challenge. Keeping them interested is a challenge. And success is a combination of factors that makes your readers happy and willing to buy your future books. You have the find the right combination for you and your work.

And you have to be patient and keep writing new books while you work on selling existing ones.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

No Sprinkles On Mine Please

Recently I compared my contemporary romances to ice cream. I am a die hard fan of vanilla and buy it every time I run out. There's just something very satisfying for me about topping it any way I like, yet underneath I still get guaranteed satisfaction from my favorite vanilla confection. Even writing about it makes me sigh and want to head to the freezer. <Sigh> See?

But now and again I just have to buy something different. I tend to avoid those flavors with too much in them because they often mask the inferior vanilla underneath.  I mean if I want candy bars or cookies, I'll buy just that, not crunch them on less than perfect ice cream. I lived in Texas too long. Blue Bell would raise anyone's standards and life is way too short. I live in Kentucky now and tend to buy Breyer's Natural. And now I'm digressing into a commercial. Sorry.

Really I'm talking about chocolate, or really, really good strawberry. You see that's what my paranormal romances are to me. They are the book flavor I have to write now and again when I just have to write something different.

They are my chocolate, so deep and rich that the bitter sweetness gives me a shiver followed by an endorphin high.

They are my strawberry with chunks of real fruit that  convinces me it's healthy no matter how much salt or sugar is in it.

So when I bring out my first paranormal soon, know beloved readers of my contemporary romances that it is just meant to be the chocolate or strawberry that I crave now and again.

Here's my cover for the first one just so you can see what my chocolate stories are going to look like. (Just wait until you see the strawberry one!)

Release date for The Shaman's Mate is tentatively set for late February 2012. It's in rewrite and I got distracted by a taste for strawberry. But don't worry, I crave chocolate all the time.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

NTL Contest: Name Jim's and Lauren's Baby (Update Jan 15)


Thanks to everyone who voted. This was great fun for me.

Thanks to Joely Dabson for submitting the winning name. Joely will be receiving the other three printed books in the first series as her prize. I will try mail them out soon Joely!

WE HAVE WINNERS in the first round!!!!!!  I have chosen the five names that I thought would work best in the story. Thanks to everyone who submitted.

Since my new website is still under construction, I have put the five winning names in Facebook Notes. You can now vote for your favorite by clicking the "Like" choice under the name. If you're not on Facebook with me, please send me a friend request. If you don't want to join Facebook, you are welcome to send it to email@donnamcdonaldauthor.com. Click your favorite name below to go to directly to the link in FB and vote.

Blaine James

Nicholas James

James Davis

James Blake

James Laurence

I hope to select the winning name by January 11 because I should be working on the book around that time.

Print copies of Dating A Cougar are being mailed to the first round finalists this week. I hope the end of the year holiday rush doesn't delay them too badly.

Just as a reminder, the submitter for the final name chosen is going to win print copies of the rest of the series and get a mention in the upcoming book.

Surprise! Several older readers who read Dating A Saint wrote to tell me they would like to see a story about Lauren's mother. They also made some frank suggestions--very frank--about what needed to happen in the story. I have decided they are right and so will be writing Lydia's story as Book 5 of the Never Too Late Series next year.

The hero coming into Lydia's life is already so much fun that I almost wish I could work on the book now. He reminds me a bit of Gerald in The Right Thing. Oddly enough, I never gave much thought to older men until I started writing them. Now I can't wait to see what kind of trouble Morrison Fox causes for Lydia McCarthy. Don't you think some man trouble would be good for that woman? A trip to see Dr. Logan wouldn't hurt either. Wouldn't that be fun?

Anyway, where I am now in the story is that Morrie's daughter has called Lydia a prune and thinks her father has lost his mind wanting to date her. Morrie's been watching Lydia for a while though and he sees something in her that no one else has noticed yet. Lydia is changing. Now getting your first grandchild will do that to you. If you don't believe me, ask any grandparent.

The problem in my story is that the baby in question doesn't have a name yet. He needs a good one so the yelling will be more effective when his parents, his nanny, and his grandparent have to scold the uber adventurous toddler. No one can quite comprehend why the toddler adores his grandmother so much, but they love that he seems determined to keep her in a constantly messy state.

So will you help me name the baby? In reward for your help, the top five names I choose from all the entries will win a signed print copy of Dating A Cougar (or any other NTL book of his/her choice). After the five names are chosen, I'll put up a survey of the top five names for a reader vote. The winner will receive a complete set of all four print books (not just DAC) and will see their name used in the story.

So here are the rules (only a few).
  1. The son must be named after his father, so "James" or a derivative must be one name. The other name can be anything.
  2. Entries must be sent to email@donnamcdonaldauthor.com with "NTL Contest: Name the Baby". The subject line will help me sort them out from the other email I receive and ensure your entry is seen.
  3. Entries need to be received by December 11, 2011. Please indicate in the email which print book in the series you would like to receive.
Copies of print books will be mailed out to the 5 finalists whose baby names are chosen before the holidays in December, but the other three books will not be shipped to the winner until January sometime after the survey is complete.

Hope you find this contest fun. Thanks for participating!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Teresa Reasor talks about Alpha Males (Guest Author)

I originally invited Teresa Reasor to guest blog with me and talk about her series of romances featuring heroes who were military men (and definitely alpha males). Then I discovered that she was releasing a new paranormal book just this week called Timeless which I have already purchased myself because I love books set around mystical sites. It's on my Kindle and waiting for me. And she reminded that even MORE books came before the military one that was my introduction to her writing.

Buy at Amazon
So Teresa is going to talk about all her writing and I'm going to show as many of her book covers as I can squeeze into this post. LOL

Donna: Hi Teresa!  Thanks for blogging with me. Why do you write about military heroes? What's the allure?

Teresa: What can be more appealing than a man who’s willing to lay his life on the line for the people he loves? Who isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes in? Who knows who he is? Those are all the reasons I love to write about military heroes.

Service personnel have a great deal of dedication to follow their chosen path. They have to be ready to stand between us and a bullet or a bomb. Imagine the courage it takes to know and accept that responsibility. And to live it day after day. How can that not be appealing?

Part of the allure for me is the cocky sureness I find in the military hero. I love alpha males. All the heroes in my favorite movies are alpha males. All the heroes in the books I write are alpha males. And traditionally the military man is an alpha male.

Alphas are usual confident take-charge kinds of guys who hide their human weaknesses behind a fa├žade. I don’t mind allowing my hero to take charge of my heroine’s heart or mine (because I always fall a little in love with my heroes). But delving deep into their psyche and exposing their humanity is part of the allure, too. These guys bleed red just like everyone else. They have feelings, though it’s hard for them to lay them open for everyone to see. They’re used to putting themselves in harms way, but they’re not used to being vulnerable emotionally. Forcing them to acknowledge the power of their feelings and showing their process in dealing with the loss of emotional control is fascinating.

Donna: How do you get realism into your characters? Have you gotten feedback from readers who were in the military?

Teresa: I wrote my first military romance Breaking Free as a way to work through some of the memories I had of my father serving in the Marines. The war in Iraq brought back all the issues of separation and sacrifice we, as a family, went through while he was in Korea and Vietnam.

Buy from Amazon
I still can’t watch the opening battle scene in Saving Private Ryan, a movie about WWII, even today. Knowing my father was there; experiencing the same kinds of things depicted in the movie is just too much for me.

Being part of a military family, living the life on post and off, gives me an understanding of what the men go through and the wives and children they leave behind. I’ve watched the men train. I’ve seen them coated in mud and sand, running with forty-pound packs on their back in full battle gear, experiencing physical hardship and building mental toughness. I’ve seen how hard it is for them to get on a plane and fly away from their families.

There are many issues in my books that go heart deep for me. And it’s easy to impart realism to an issue you’ve experienced firsthand. And as for the realism of my battle scenes, I research and research and research in an attempt to get it right. Being able to imagine your loved one in that situation makes it both harder and easier to write.

I’ve received some wonderful reviews and feedback from readers, military wives, and women in the military who have appreciated my efforts. I take every suggestion they make to heart.

Donna: What's next for you creatively?

Teresa: This week I released a paranormal romantic suspense titled Timeless. It's available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

And I’m thick into the second book of my SEAL Team Heartbreakers series titled Breaking Through which I hope to release in May 2012.  I have four other books planned for the SEAL Team Heartbreakers. Breaking Away, Breaking Out, Breaking Hearts, And Breaking Chains are the working titles.

I’m also working on a trilogy of paranormal novellas I plan to publish together in one volume. The working title is Forces Unleashed. They’re a blend of horror and paranormal. I hope to bounce back and forth between the genres and build a readership in both.

And as you know I write historical romance as well.

My two books Highland Moonlight and Captive Hearts were my first published works and historical romance will always be in my blood. So I haven’t ruled out writing another historical either.

Writing Timeless, which bounces between present day Scotland and the medieval period, has inspired quite a few story ideas.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Donna! I’ve really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Size Does Matter, So Just Tell Me

Okay yes this was a shameless blog title to open a discussion about the need to disclose ebook word counts to readers. I wanted to get your attention. This is important. Or at least it is to readers. 

Old standards for word counts in novels versus smaller pieces of writing were based on factors like how expensive it was for a publisher to print 100,000 words in hard copy. It was obviously cheaper to print 75,000 instead, or even 50,000 words, so authors were encouraged to reduce or just write smaller books. While the standards for word count per type of book keep sliding, I have had several readers write to tell me that they were surprised at the size of my books which average 75K to 92K in length. My most recent book I openly called a novella even though it is a book by some standards. Commissioned In White is around 46,000 words and is the smallest piece I've published so far. The previous book released in that series, Captured In Ink, is around 92,000 words long.

As a reader, I just prefer a longer book because if I love the characters, I'm going to want to spend all the time I can with them. When I write, I assume this is the case for my readers. I also definitely get that small books can be great books, and that being longer does not mean the book will be good. Recently though I paid for and downloaded a book and I'm guessing the story came in at around 8-10k words total. I'm being generous. The entire "romance" was a single hookup sex scene. Nothing else. The author was a talented writer. The scene was well written for what it was, but as a 30 year romance reader I felt it was a waste of time for me personally. Why? Because I'm not into anything that short unless I'm reading short stories. I need more than just a sexy scene to be happy.

I looked to see if I had missed some marketing flag that would have warned me it was short, but I found nothing. It had an amazing cover and intriguing blurb that "sounded" like it was a full book. While sulking about the waste of money (I didn't return it because I read it), I decided the problem is that I believed I was getting a whole book. My reader unhappiness was finding the book I purchased to be so short AFTER I bought it.

Maybe I've been spoiled by Indie authors selling more writing for less dollars and sites like Smashwords or All Romance ebooks that offer an estimated word count with every book they sell. What I bought and read was shockingly short enough for me to be wary now both of the author's other work and of the publishing house. I know many publishers (large and small presses) are offering shorter and shorter pieces, especially in the .99 cents range, but those I know about mark the work as a short piece. I paid around $3 for the one I was disappointed with afterwards.

So what did I learn from my experience?

Size does matter to some readers (me for one). If an author wants me to buy his or her book and not feel cheated, they need to find some way to tell me how long the book is or is not BEFORE I spend my money on it.

My disappointed reader experience has my author alter-ego considering adding word counts within the detailed book descriptions for all sales channels that don't offer them. At a minimum, I'm adding the book word counts to my website when it's updated so if a reader researches me and my work before they buy, they will see that information. I am now a believer in word count disclosure because it solves the biggest problem I have with a book not turning out to be the length I was expecting.

Don't just take my word about how important this is though. Here is what other bloggers and writing advice sites have to say about the subject (special thanks to Margo Lerwill of Wicked and Tricksy for letting me excerpt comments from her post):

Wicked and Tricksy
"Readers have an internal sense of story arc, story structure (which has only been around since before Aristotle), and story pace. These work together to determine a rough reader EXPECTATION. Yes, I know, this is supposedly a myth (according to writers who don’t want to buckle down and learn how to do this thing). People who argue that there are no general reader expectations need to put up or shut up. Go ahead. Put out a romance with no HEA, and see what happens. Put out a short story–even go so far as to make it FREE–but don’t tell people it’s only a short story. Or put out a short story (advertised as a short story) that is 1800 words long or 30,000 words long. And wait for the reviews.  Anyone want to guess what happens in real life?"  ~ Margo Lerwill

Nathan Bransford (author)

Novel Doctor

Editorial Ass (as in "editorial assistant" I learned)

Better Storytelling

Here are some sites that offer discussions and advice concerning word counts:

Amazon KDP Support: Suggested word counts forum

How to find word counts of some books on Amazon
(must be enrolled in Search Inside This Book program)

Example word counts of published novels

Blog that published some general word counts
(not sure how general these are, but felt they mostly reflected what I had been taught)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Book Sales Numbers for 2011 (Updated Jan 23)

If there is one thing I learned for certain in the first 10 months of Indie publishing in 2011, it was that I still have much more to learn. Sure, writing the books is hard, but that part of this work fun too. The business side of publishing is much more challenging. My focus was on producing quality outputs, marketing my work, and checking in with readers to make sure they were happy after they bought and read the book.

Every Indie is curious about sales, but that's hard to talk about because it's individual. Sales were good from my standpoint as someone who had never been published before, but the number of books sold is only a piece of what determines what you really get paid on those Net 60 or Qtrly statements. Money per book sale varies by channel, by country, by titles put on sale, discounts, VAT fees, returns, yada yada--the list goes on. Trust me, you will just have to learn about your sales as you go. After 10 months I have concluded that book sales numbers only provide the author a snapshot of their work's popularity with readers, or at least that's what I tell myself. I consider my numbers to be a good start on my Indie publishing career and can't wait to see what happens when I get more books published in 2012.

Certainly I saw ebbs and flows from March through December. For example, there was an unexplained resurgence in Amazon UK downloads of Dating A Cougar in December totaling 15,587 before month's end. Sept-Nov saw a range from 2582 to 5922 for that book in the same channel. I looked like crazy for the magic because I wanted to capture it and replicate it if I could, but I never found it. So in January I merely thanked the invisible Amazon marketing elfs who obviously did something to boost downloads of my free book. Was what happened luck? Maybe. Was it good for sales? Definitely. Not huge jumps in numbers mind you, but enough to make me realize that the free book continues to help readers find me. (Thank you Brian S Pratt for the idea. Brian is a Young Adult book author who's blog interview with Mark Coker about his first year or so of Indie publishing really helped me.)

If my numbers keep growing, I probably won't be able to do this kind of tracking activity in 2012 without hiring help, but I thought I would try to do it this first year because the first year is extremely scary for newbies like me. Putting that first book out is hard when you're worried. My choice to make one of only two books in existence in March free was like pouring-gasoline-on-a-fire frightening for me.

I made $35 the first month, $215 the second month, and not much more the third month from Amazon. My work was not exactly setting the publishing world on fire in those early months. I reread posts with numbers like this. All them urged perseverance. I finished Book Three of the first series. I started a second series. I stepped up my efforts and finished Book Four of the first series which readers were continually asking me about. In October, eight months after I began publishing, I finally saw what passed for genuine income you can use to pay bills. It simply takes time and you have to have faith in the future and keep going.

Looking back to before I published, it was sometime between December 2010 and January 2011 that I found my first JA Konrath post. It contained numbers and facts that encouraged me to consider self-publishing. I followed reading his post with two more months of researching him and other Indies like him, and learning how self-publishing worked. Then it took yet another month and a half of work to put my first books up at Smashwords. When I got nervous about what I was doing in giving up my traditional dream of being discovered by someone who would make me famous and beloved as an author, I would show Konrath's post to friends and ask "What do you think?".  In the end it was just me deciding that with the pile of rejections mounting on books I knew were funny and good I really had nothing to lose and something to gain by getting them to readers.

So it is with an attitude of gratitude I now send my own "newbie at self-publishing" book sales data out into the Indie author ether in hopes it helps others. I know how hard it is to keep believing and writing.

Okay, to start here are the download numbers of my free book--Dating A Cougar--to the best of my calculation capabilities. Some totals are "fuzzy" because I don't have records for all of the downloads in all of the sales channels. I even left a few channels out of this data, but I think the numbers are close enough for you to get the gist.

Amazon:  156,528
Smashwords:  8,050 (includes Smashwords.com, B&N, Sony, Kobo, & Diesel)
Apple:  75,000 (estimated**)

**Apple is my second highest sales channel. They did not report the numbers to Smashwords for Dating A Cougar downloads. To estimate a rough number, I used the Amazon sales (156,528/21,493 = X/11,328) to solve for a potential X. . .okay, Bruce helped me. There were good reasons I majored in English in college. I haven't solved for X since high school. The potential number came out to be about 72,376 downloads at Apple. Bruce said since it was just a "guess" that it would better to use a range of 55K to 90K. I love guessing, so reverting to Donna math, I rounded to a middle number close to "the solve for X" with a 5 in it (muwhahahahha). That's why I decided to use 75K. The number could be higher, could be lower. The point is no matter how big or small the free download number actually was at Apple, the point is the readers liked the free book enough to buy the others in the series which continues to validate the "free book" decision.

So here's a quick rundown of the number of actual books sold last year (no fuzzy Donna math):

Number of Smashwords distributed titles sold, and I thank Mark Coker and his team for their excellent support and for always answering my emails and questions (just FYI, for business reasons I researched five other ebook distributors, none beat the deal at Smashwords):

(More numbers came in and I updated the following totals on 1/23/2012.)
  • Smashwords.com:  263
  • Apple:  11,328
  • Barnes & Noble:  7146 (first series via Smashwords)
  • Diesel:  47
  • Kobo:  372
  • Sony:  4046 
Number of titles sold that I personally distributed to channels by uploading files myself:
  • Amazon:  21,493
  • Barnes and Noble:  243 (second series and single-title)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sexist, Funny, or What?

I don't watch much TV, but holidays offer opportunities to do the stay-in-your-pajamas-all-day thing. You know how that is, right? Anyway, I just saw this commercial today.

I thought it was funny and laughed until Bruce looked at me guiltily and with confusion. Admittedly,  we have our fair share of discussions about what is sexist or not, but in this case I just genuinely thought it was funny. Maybe it was the main character's shaking hands as he tried to pour soda over a glass of ice while running from bad guys that tipped the scales. It seemed just like something guys I know would try to do just to see if they could. I busted a gut on the closing statement about "keep your romantic comedies and lady drinks". OMG. There's a macho diet soda now? Good luck with that one, I thought.

I actually empathize with the marketers of this product. I still get the occasional comment from a reader now and again about Casey from Dating A Cougar being sexist. And he is, I mean--Hello. Being a somewhat typical, uber macho male was the point of Casey's military male character and formed the basis of his need to modify those traits enough to have the relationship he wanted with a very independent, successful female.

In the romance novel biz, Casey is called an Alpha Male. Outside the biz, Casey is just a guy. He is someone's boyfriend, husband, or father. We all know him. Many of us are in love with or in relationships with men like him. And I'm not talking about abusive men. I'm talking about the ones who hog the remotes, talk obsessively about sports, and make the occasional offensive comment that earns them a punch in the arm from the woman they care about.

If you think men like that aren't still popular, check out top selling romance novels from Historicals to BDSM. The most popular heroes are not the kind with all smooth edges and refined manners. I know because I write all kinds of heroes and like to portray all kinds of men. I feel for men. I actually sympathize the real concern behind Adam Corolla's sarcastic comment that "in 50 years we'll all be chicks".

Okay yes, there was a time I might have huffed and gotten all feminist watching commercials like this. Now I just think that being offended over such things is a terrible waste of energy. Americans in general need to watch commercials from around the world. We are so eighth grade in our sensibilities. And pay attention, women in the countries full of "sexist" advertisements have held higher political offices than they have in the US. It is not about the commercials. It is about our social attitudes and how we treat each other. Polish off your sense of humor and torture him with quotes from hygiene product commercials if you must.

Women have worked to become more like guys and I saw some good in that. But if there are no guys? Did you read Darwin's Origin of the Species in school? Or Orwell's 1984?

Humanity has survived due to biology. There is a middle ground somewhere in our society where guys can follow their biological urges to be males and still be great fathers and husbands. One comment I saw on the video was from a guy saying "dude, just admit you're into diet soda--big deal". I paraphrased and cleaned up his comment a bit, but I would bet money the guy who made it was under 30. He is quietly sexist. He will be laughing at this commercial, shrugging over the comments, and shaking his head if the company kills it due to complaints.

Okay, here's a link to the commercial. I still say it's funny, but then I write romantic comedies. The only thing funnier to me would be to have a woman standing by the jeep at the end of their ordeal pointing out to the guy that he got his crotch wet again due to his bad aim. But then that's just me. . .