To KDP Select or Not to KDP Select

This post is targeted particularly at writers (and even more specifically indie writers). I’m about to get a little technical about things, which will probably be very boring if it does not apply to you… fair warning. ūüėČ

While working up Broken I came to a decision point: did I want to use Kindle Direct Publishing Select, or did I want to just do Kindle publishing + extended distribution on Smashwords? For those who are unfamiliar with the topic (and for those who are coming here specifically looking for a discussion on it), KDP Select is an optional agreement that an indie author can make with Amazon when they publish their ebook. Opting in to KDP Select gives Amazon 90 days of exclusivity on your ebook, meaning that you cannot e-publish your book on any other web-based outlets (Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Wattpad, personal blogs, etc.) during the KDP Select period. During this time you make a 70% royalty on all sales and your book must be priced between $2.99 and $9.99 Рno more and no less (this obviously limits the utility of using Select with shorter works better suited for a $0.99 price range). Once the exclusivity period is over you can either continue with KDP Select (automatic enrollment is selected when you start unless you change it) or choose to go with regular old KDP, the latter of which would allow you to then publish on other outlets as you would normally. It should be noted that none of these agreements affect print books, so you can do KDP Select and publish a paperback copy on Createspace without problems.

Amazon’s exclusivity alone would be rather meaningless if it did not come with some advantages, of course. In exchange for not publishing your ebook in other places, Amazon allows you access to certain promotional tools. You can choose to either list your book as free for 5 days¬†(which¬†can be spread throughout your 30 day enrollment period) or use a relatively new feature called Kindle Countdown Deals. During a countdown deal, you set your book price lower than the usual list price (even as low as $0.99)¬†while retaining the 70% royalty rate for a period of 1 hour to 5 days. During the course of the countdown deal the price slowly goes up. Amazon has a special section where it advertises countdown deals, which gives your book more visibility – some authors have claimed increases of more than 900% in their sales from countdown deals alone without additional advertising, which is pretty hefty. As a caveat,¬†you can only use a countdown period once during your 90 days. In other words, even if you only do a 1-hour countdown, once you use it you cannot use another countdown until your next enrollment period (as opposed to the free days which you can break up and use over time). You also cannot use both free promotions and countdown deals in the same period – you must choose one or the other.

Free days by themselves garner quite a bit of attention. When I had¬†Tragedy in KDP Select I ran some free days, and each time I did I saw more than 100 downloads. Of course, the issue with this is that many readers¬†will just troll for free books to download which they may or may not ever read, and this doesn’t always generate fans. Even if it¬†does generate genuine readers, it doesn’t necessarily help your sales if you don’t have any other books out yet. I think that KDP Select probably helped¬†Tragedy early on, but honestly I feel that the best thing to do to increase¬†sales is to produce more work. This is of course based on what I’ve read from other authors more than anything – I’m still trying to get to where I have multiple novels, novellas, and short stories out there.

As you can see, KDP Select comes with some obvious pros and cons. The promotions can be useful to spring a relatively unknown book into the hands of readers, but you can only choose one kind of promotion to do per period. You cannot sell on other outlets, and you have to price your book at a minimum of $2.99, which may or may not be reasonable for your particular work.

In the case of¬†Broken I’ve been rather torn on the subject.¬†Broken is on the short end for a novella at 18,000 words (20k if you count the bonus material), so $2.99 is a bit of a stretch. However, I am very proud of this particular novella, and I don’t think that $2.99 is wholly unreasonable considering the quality and time spent, it just might be hard in a market where there are¬†so many free and $0.99 books. I’m also already on the other outlets with Tragedy and¬†Fathers and Sons, so it seems a little odd to have this one novella exclusive to Amazon.

In the end it’s only 90 days, though. If I go with a $2.99 pricepoint through KDP Select and it¬†doesn’t¬†work, and even if the promos do not help me whatsoever, I can open things up to other outlets and lower the price after one period. Some other authors have been successful with KDP Select novellas, as well, which has helped nudge me over the edge into trying it. It’s very hard to go with multiple distributors and then condense back to just Amazon, so this is a decision I will only be able to make once – I may as well give it a shot.

There you have a basic rundown of KDP regular vs. KDP Select, and my reasons for going Select with Broken in particular. I hope it was helpful!

In other news, I would like to congratulate¬†Chris B., Julia W., and CJ R. for winning the¬†Broken giveaway! For those who entered and did not win, please do check out the novella which releases on 6/26. Since I have decided on KDP Select there¬†will be some deals ahead, and you will be the first to know. ūüôā

Peace and long life.

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Sequel Syndrome

“I can only hope it’s true enough/That every little thing I do for love/Redeems me from the moments I deem worthy of the worst things that I’ve done…”

I always have a song to go with every scene. It doesn’t have to be playing the whole time I’m writing, but generally it has to be playing when I start writing, and I have to replay it periodically while the scene is going. The tone of my environment is very important for my writing performance. Lately I’ve been working on some Les-heavy scenes, and Les tends to be a Panic at the Disco kind of guy. So, for fun, I give you today’s scene theme music before I launch into our discussion –

Things have slowly been calming down in my personal life while they’ve been ramping up in my writing life (two different lives, of course). The sequel is now at 52,000 words and climbing, and the further I go the more appreciation I have for every sequel I’ve ever read, particularly the good ones. Ask anyone who has talked to me in the last month and a half, and they will tell you that at some point I mentioned “book two” and some variation of “kicking my ass” in the same breath. Until the last few weeks I’ve been suffering from horrible writer’s block/writing anxiety and self-doubt, even as I’ve received praise from readers about Tragedy.Both the joy and the torment of writing is stretching yourself – forcing yourself to understand a new viewpoint, solve a new problem, or sharpen a new literary skill. For me, the sequel has been a challenge in ways I could not imagine.

I knew Suffering (which I am considering renaming to Sacrifice, but that’s beside the point) would be more complicated. At the end of book one the world opens up, and book two is all about the flood of information and the fallout from the climax of the previous story. In the beginning I’ve got four separate groups of people doing their own thing, which later consolidates to 2-3, depending on how you count. I thought to myself, sure, juggling that many plots/subplots is going to take a lot of mental energy, and that’s going to be hard. There’s going to be more action, which is not necessarily my fort√©, and also more interpersonal development; figuring out how to stay true to your characters while ensuring they have an actual arc takes a bit of a deft hand.

The problem I didn’t anticipate was the variable independent of my actual story – the problem is I’m writing a sequel, and sequels are just plain difficult. I’ve written two full novels by this point in my life, one that is published and one that never will be, but until now I’ve never written the continuation of a larger story.¬† Problems of writing a sequel widely include ruining something that was previously good, worrying about disappointing an audience,¬†writing a story that is “all middle,inconsistencies, and my personal white whale, obsessively wondering why your sequel rough draft looks nothing like your beautifully polished first novel (I never claimed to have a rational muse, just an inconvenient one). One need not list the many sequels which failed to live up to their debut counterparts *ahem* but they are legion, and consumers have almost come to expect that the second installment of any story, regardless of the media form, will be somehow diminished.

Of course, there are some sequels that managed to dodge the sequel syndrome. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was actually my favorite of the series, and was pretty well-received by most readers; The Wrath of Khan is known to be one of the great classic¬†Star Trek movies. The Two Towers is also well-regarded in the arena of sequels (and again was my favorite of that series), and nobody in the movie world should forget The Dark Knight as perhaps one of the best movie sequels to grace the screens (bias here – I adored Dark Knight). These sequels share several common traits; they stand well on their own as stories, in general, and they deepen the observer’s connection to the characters in some way. In Khan we had the heart-wrenching moment of Spock “dying” behind the glass. Dark Knight had its own fascinating arc within the Joker and his ever-escalating trail of violence. Many blogs out there in the world seem to agree that the keys to writing a good sequel are – as you might guess – the very opposite of what makes a bad sequel.

All that said, I’m doing my level best to avoid the sequel syndrome pitfalls by keeping things interesting, getting the plot moving, and throwing in a few surprises. It helps that one of my characters is unpredictable by nature, giving me a great tool to liven things up from time to time. As to the anxiety of ruining the series and the problem of trying to edit before I get words on the page, I’ve decided to forcibly restrain myself from editing as I type. The rough draft looks perhaps even rougher than it already was, but at least things are moving now. I have to remind myself that Tragedy wasn’t beautiful in its first iteration, either.

The learning curve sharpens. To you, dear reader, I leave a question: what do you think makes a good sequel?

Writing Without a Net

I haven’t had a whole lot to say here lately because, well, I’ve been busy. Not with writing, of course – perhaps if I was busy with that I might have more to blog about – but busy with career things, with job application things, with terribly mundane things I wish I didn’t have to pay attention to. It’s only in my “spare time” that I’ve been able to work on finishing my last edits… and I have a super fun announcement to make tomorrow morning regarding the book. You only get one guess what it is, though, because it should be terribly freaking obvious by now.

I have, of course, already started Book 2. After I finished Tragedy and had it sent off to my beta readers, I couldn’t wait to dive into the sequel, Suffering. The first few chapters are floating around¬†already, but on a recent cross-country plane ride I discovered that 90% of what I’ve written in Suffering needs to be tossed, and the end of Tragedy needed to be tweaked.

I say ‘tweaked,’ but if anyone becomes attached to these characters it’s going to amount to more than just a minor difference. However, if the change isn’t made then Book 2’s plot simply doesn’t work (or doesn’t work without a lot of ridiculous retconning). Of course, tweaking¬†Tragedy by adding one scene to the end is no big thing for that book – but it means losing most of what I’ve written in¬†Suffering. You would think that losing 90% of what I worked on would bother me, but as I reflected on the changes I’m making, it’s really quite normal for me.

That leads me into the brief discussion topic of this post. All authors have a different method of writing. The wonderful, beautiful, fantastical podcast Writing Excuses recently did a show entitled Digging Yourself Out of Holes’ which explored this topic a bit. As they explain in the podcast, there are folks who outline before writing, termed ‘architects,’ and there are those who write without a really firm plan, a method termed ‘discovery writing.’ Naturally people can fall anywhere on the spectrum between the two; not everyone is either strictly structural or wild and crazy stream-of-consciousness. As you see above, in my case, I lean more towards the latter. I like to think of it as writing without a net.

Part of that has to do with my inner nature. I’m a person who likes to intuitively feel through situations, and focusing on details makes me awfully bored (reason #1 why I hated anatomy class). Writing is my fun hobby on the side, and while I’m sure I’d be more efficient if I planned everything out, I would also be a lot less motivated to do it.¬† Not planning is more exciting, but the downside is that I probably went though 5 radically different scenarios for the story in Tragedy before I found the “true” story (really, the one that made any sense). I’ve got tomes of discarded writing scraps between the drafts of Tragedy and the drafts of my probably-never-to-be-published first novel, 4012.

How do I write if I have no structure? I have goals. I start stories with two things in mind – an image of the first scene and an image of the last scene. The adventure is in trying to get from beginning to end and making it all sensical. Sometimes this means I’ll get running on a premise that I really like, and then I outline a few chapters ahead to remind myself of my train of thought. Those outlines are pretty flexible, though, and usually consist of dialogue clips or one particular image that needs to be described. Interestingly enough, my original final scene did not make it into Tragedy even though I was working towards it for the entire book, even in the final draft. Things just didn’t quite pan out that way. The result is quite satisfying to me, though, and hopefully it’ll be satisfying to you.

So that’s my little spiel for the day. Keep an eye out tomorrow… that’s all I’m sayin’.

Message in a Bottle

Me again, writing to you future readers who may or may not exist. ūüėČ It’s the 4th of July, and I am completely exhausted from non-writing events this week. I didn’t even bother with the fireworks today, though I did have a lovely time shopping with the mom in law. Rather than sitting outside with the Texas mosquitoes, I decided I would try to update my much-neglected blog.

Much has happened since the last time I wrote. A good friend of mine – the artist from my earlier post – convinced me to send my work to a traditional publisher. The response I received was interesting, and even though it was a rejection, I see it as a necessary part of my own self-publishing journey.

The publisher (who will forever remain nameless as a courtesy) got back to me promptly, and it seemed the editor I was in touch with quite liked the work. It got all the way up to being discussed with the marketing team, at which point they sent me a peculiarly-worded email stating that while they’re rejecting this book, they encouraged me to keep submitting, and to submit other stories to them in the future.

It’s clear that someone in that company did like the book enough to push it forward in the process, but that somewhere along the way not enough people were convinced. The thing is, I did not write this book for the benefit of anyone but myself. This creation of mine, which I would like to share with others on the off-chance that it will be meaningful to them, was not drawn up to be focus group fodder. Indeed, the more I thought about it, the more reasons I came up with for why the book might have been rejected (other than the possibility that a large number of people at the company just didn’t like the writing itself). Among them were my portrayals of religion, drug addiction, mental illness/suicide, sexuality and abortion.

I would like to state that much in the same way that I did not write this novel for the sake of other people, I did not write it with the intention to address controversial issues. My characters reflect my life as someone who has seen a lot of things and loved a lot of people who society found unlovable. Though the book is not meant to be a political statement, I did very intentionally write flawed characters, each of them uniquely important to me. I dearly hope that you, my theoretical reader, fell in love with my characters too.

With a rejection in hand, I am actively embarking on my adventure in self-publishing. I will continue writing and publishing whether my work is loved or hated by the masses in the hopes that the stories resonate with even one person.

All of that said, I am going to conclude this post. I have some more editing to do, along with preparations for a cross-country move. Change is good!

Corners embrace you, friend.