Lots of Options, here

The digital versions of “The Big Bend”, “Hog Valley”, “Twisted Key” and “Lonesome Cove” are now available on several platforms, including Amazon, Kobo, iTunes and Smashwords. To celebrate this major (for me, anyway) publishing step, I have reduced the retail price of “The Big Bend”. Since every retailer places restrictions of one sort or another on the author’s ability to set pricing, these new prices will vary. But it IS a reduced price, and I will keep it that way for a good while.

Amazon assigned 41/2 stars to “The Big Bend”, with 295 reviews. In fact all four of these novels have at least 4 stars. I can live with that.

Getting these novels formatted correctly to meet the demands of those retail sites took a LOT longer than I expected. What a frustrating and time-consuming job that was. I’m not complaining, mind you. It’s just another part of an indie author’s life, and that’s what I am.

Fall is here, and work around the place is picking up with the cooler weather. For some folks, that’s when they saddle up and go riding. For me, it’s more work on fencing, replacing rotted and dried-up posts and split and busted fence boards (and repainting all of the fencing on the property). Along with that, I still have to get all of the oak trees trimmed high enough to get a tractor and bush hog under them without the driver (never mind the horses) getting smacked by low-hanging branches. Then there’s work on the barn, replacing rotted planking and repainting.

I might get some riding in this fall or winter, but it’s doubtful.

“Standing Wave”, the fifth novel in the Terry Rankin series, will be available for purchase some time early next year. Lots of people will be nodding their heads, muttering “Sure Gary, that’s what you said LAST year”. Sorry folks. I truly am, but Life has a way of frustrating the best laid plans. The novel is in the works.

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Posted in eBooks, The Business of Writing | Tagged , ,

You have to get down in the weeds to win

You have to consider your writings as products and market them if you ever hope to show a profit. The “Art” of writing well is a skill you have acquired over time and through a great deal of effort. Your books – novels, collections of short stories or poetry or recipes, what have you – are the products of your efforts.

That, I am sorry to say, is not enough. The world will not beat a path to your door, nobody will make a major motion picture of your life and your works, you will not be hounded by reporters when you show yourself on the street and you will not be invited to accept any Emmy’s or Oscars for your lifetime achievements in the arts simply because you wrote a book once.

But keep dreaming; don’t ever quit dreaming. You can get there, someday. Maybe. But first, you have to get down in the dirt and sell yourself and your books.

I’ve gone over the art and science of selling, branding, marketing and promotion in several previous posts; just look through the archives if you are so inclined, or check out several other author’s sites for more of the same. None of those sources will cost you a penny, and I guarantee you will learn what you need to know to make some of your dreams come true.

What you will find in my blog archives is the result of years of research boiled down to its essentials. And all of that can be summed in a very few words; “Don’t ever quit on yourself”, and “Persistence pays better than sloth.”

You won’t get it right the first time (if you do let me know what you did, please). Go ahead and cry, kick your feet and scream, do a bit of sailor-like cursing and then figure out what you did wrong, adjust your thinking and your plan of action and then give it another shot. Repeat as necessary.

I’ve spent the last few years marketing my novels through the Kindle Select program with good success. But this year sales have dropped into the basement, so I withdrew from the program (the novels are still available on Kindle and will continue to be) and signed up with Smashwords. The first three novels – “The Big Bend”, “Hog Valley” and “Twisted Key” are now on the Nook, Kobo and Apple/iTunes platforms along with the Kindle.

We’ll see how that goes over the next few months.

I’ve also had audiobook versions of “The Big Bend” and “Hog Valley” ready to go to market since the first of the year; ACX (Amazon’s aggregator for audiobook distribution with Audible and iTunes) did not pan out well for me or the narrator/producer while they had distribution rights to the files. It turned out the distributors zeroed out the prices on the novels and used them as loss-leaders, which left us with royalties of around $20.00 a month. We made the decision to recover the rights to the files and will market them ourselves.

I’ve been shopping around for much of this year for an E-Commerce platform that could handle the gigabyte+ size files and finally located one today. Those audiobooks should be available for sale some time in the next month.

My fifth novel in the Terry Rankin series, “Standing Wave” will see me in Suwannee, Florida, some time in September for a final round of interviews, along with a day or two on the water locating scenes and background descriptions (and some fishing, yes). If I can get all of these marketing headaches behind me, “Standing Wave” should be published by the end of this year.

Writing well, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing; downright admirable in fact, and it is the hallmark of every well-rounded person. But if you want to make a living as a writer, you have to compete in the marketplace, and you have to want to win the battle for the bucks.

Don’t ever quit on yourself.

Posted in Audio books, General Maundering, The Business of Writing | Tagged , ,

The Business of Writing

This has been a troublesome year as far as my profitability goes (I am a past master at understating the obvious). First, I spent way too much of my savings on setting up an E-Commerce page on a new web site to market audio book versions of my first two novels only to learn that the sales people at the web hosting service didn’t have a clue about the limitations of their E-Commerce applications. Never mind that I was refunded every penny I had invested; the experience cost me three months’ lost income. All of the time I invested in setting up the E-Commerce site was time and money I was not investing in marketing my work to new readers.

Then it turns out that sales of eBooks have been dropping into the basement for most of this year. THAT I blame on the state of our economy, not to a lack of interest in my novels. People just don’t have cash to spend on books.

I have pretty much tied my fortunes to the Kindle platform; it accounts for about 60% of today’s digital sales. A few years ago I entered my novels into the KDP Select program, and was very happy with the relationship. My royalties last year put a smile on my face. But this year, my royalties have been shrinking every month.

Enter Smashwords (It’s always nice to have a Plan “B”). I cancelled the exclusivity agreement with KDP Select and today published the first three novels on Smashwords. Those three will be available across a very broad collection of platforms over the next few days (the fourth novel, “Lonesome Cove”, will only be published with Smashwords at the end of September). My next step is to start marketing across those platforms ASAP.

If there is a moral to this, it is to stay flexible; if one plan fails to pan out, have a backup. Research and test to destruction. Then make sure you have a Plan B. Keep your options open. If you are an indie author, you and you alone are responsible for your success or your failure. Stay flexible; things won’t always go your way.

“Standing Wave”, the fifth novel in the Terry Rankin series, is still in development. I am long past feeling the pressure to finish it. I have one more trip to Suwannee to make, probably some time in September, for a final round of interviews and a few days checking sites and finalizing scenes. With any luck at all, “Standing Wave” should see the light of day close to the end of this year.

Posted in Common Sense, eBooks, The Business of Writing | Tagged

A Very Disappointing Outcome

Well, after ten weeks of hassles and frustrations, I have NO web site of any sort. NoneIt’s all gone away.

I will be getting my money back, but due to all of my attention and funds going into the construction of a new web site with an integrated WordPress blog and an E-Commerce page that would allow me to market the audiobook versions of my novels direct to customers, those funds will probably disappear into such mundane matters as food, gas and paid promotions to get my Kindle sales back up to where they were last year.

Back at the beginning of April, of this year, I decided to put together a new web site to market those audio books. When I first spoke to the project manager at the hosting company I explained the file size of the audiobooks and that I had to deliver the chapter files in a folder to the customers. I was assured their e-commerce page could handle the job with no problem.

When I realized just how limiting their template-based web site was going to be (NO integrated blog with archiving despite explaining how important that was to me) and how small the display would be, I cancelled that job, got my money back and went with their partner company. Once again I was assured the site THEY built would be exactly what I wanted and would handle the audiobook files just fine, thank you very much.

Well, the new – new site looked wonderful; absolutely wonderful. It had an integrated WordPress blog, too. The E-Commerce page, however, had a built-in file limit of 60 megabytes. THAT was a major issue, since the audiobook files weigh something over a gigabyte…

I explained – very calmly, in fact, just how important this issue was and gave the developers and their tech support folks a few days to see if there were any workarounds, but they found nothing that would do the job. They did say I could keep the new web site and after collecting money I could send the customer a link to an FTP site where he could download the files, but that sounded extremely cheesy and unprofessional to me. Then I told them to pull the site down and refund all the money since they were unable to deliver what they had promised.

So now I have no web site at all. I did retain the domain name, though.

I suppose I will have to look around and find someone to build a web site that can do what I need. I might start on that next week. Or maybe next month.

Maybe. Maybe not. In the meantime I am going to not think about it for some time. Maybe I will pull weeds in the new garden, brush out my Arabian’s mane, maybe go riding, and maybe – probably – get back to work on my fifth novel.

Yeah, I can do that.

Are you wondering if I am pissed off about this? No. I am not. I am disappointed, and frustrated over the loss of ten weeks of my time and my high hopes and expectations, but no, I am not angry. What good would that do, other than to stir up my stomach acid and give me headaches.

Sometimes things work out just fine in life; sometimes, they don’t. You can do everything right and still get hit by a bus.

I do hope that company never sends me a customer satisfaction survey, though. I’m not sure I could resist that sort of temptation…

Posted in Audio books, Computers and Internet, The Business of Writing | Tagged ,

I’ve Been Stuck in Web Site Hell…

…Since January. Every available penny has gone into financing the build of a new web site with an integrated blog and an E-Commerce page where I can market the audio book versions of my novel directly to the public.

Sales have dropped into the basement since there was no money to put into marketing and promotion. When the first version of the new site (following a month of work by the ‘design team’ I paid for the work turned out to be no better than my current site, I contacted my web hosting company and they put their people on it. That was on the 4th of April.

So today, 7 May, the new web site went Live. On the wrong domain (there seems to be a law that nothing –absolutely nothing – can ever be done right the first or even the second time). I contacted the design team when I realized what was going on, right at 7:30 pm. Of course the issue – transferring the web site to my domain name – did not get done before 8:00 pm when everyone went home for the night. In fact, I spent so much of that time on hold did not even get to speak to anyone who could do the job.

I sent an email to the project manager and told him that he had – again – failed to do his job, and that he had to get the site moved over to my domain. All that money and time invested and all I have to show for it is one screw-up after another. Two months worth of screw-ups by people who simply can not or will not do their jobs in a professional manner.

This new web site and the e-commerce page are going to cost me around $200.00 a month once everything is live. I mean to get everything I’m paying for, and it had better work as advertised.

I’ve worked in software and web site development and made some very nice money for that industry. I fail to see how these people manage to keep their jobs.

As of this writing, my new web site is live at www.garyshowalter.org, when it should be on www.garyshowalter.com. I hope to get this matter resolved first thing in the morning; after I get the stock fed and watered, the plants into the new garden and the seeds into the growing pots. Then I have to get out into the front paddock and get some herbicide on the brushy weeds and vines I could not spray while the horses were kept there.

Then I can come in, cool off a bit and make some phone calls. Please note my priorities. There are no accidents here. Real life first; then dream-stuff.

You might notice that I have NOT given you the names of the two companies I worked with on the two attempts to build my new site. That is not an accident. However, please do take seriously this suggestion: do NOT expect miracles or even mild wonders when you contract with anyone to build a web site for you. You will not only be very disappointed, you will be much less affluent than you were, and probably for very little in return.

Be practical in your expectations, be generous in your praise and quick in your replies and responses for files and text, be clear and precise in your requests for edits and changes, and be patient. In the end, you will get the web site look and feel you want. But it will not come easy, or quick.

Above all, be persistent. Do not give up, however much you might wish to do just that. go outside, breath some fresh air, plant a garden, trim a tree, kill some weeds; do REAL stuff with your life and forget the damn web site for a while.

Then go back inside, pick up the phone and call your project manager and speak your mind. You ARE paying him (or her) to do a job for you. Get what you want, not what he (or she) chooses to give you. It’s your money, and a big part of your future. For the project manager and his (or her) design team, it’s just another job.

All I want to do is write novels (and sell them for big bucks, of course). How did I get involved in all of this crap?

 

Posted in Life, and other stuff, The Business of Writing | Tagged

Profit and Loss Vs. Me

There is an Ebook download alert at the end of this, I promise. But I have a few things to get off my chest, first…

Okay, I get it. I’m never going to be “Rich”; It may be that I will never even make it into our rapidly vanishing “Middle Class” before it collapses into the dustbin of history. But that’s not going to stop me from trying, or from enjoying my life as much as I can.

There is one very important word in that last sentence that calls for a little explanation. “Enjoy”, believe it or not, means “To put joy into”; NOT “To take joy from”, as most would expect. Putting joy into life takes work, and sweat, and planning and coordination. It’s supposed to; you have to earn joy in your life. Life should be a celebration, and I don’t mean lots of crazy dancing, wild women (nothing wrong with that; don’t get me wrong), and strong drink and drugs. That’s not celebrating; that’s self-indulgence.

Celebrations involve the coming-together of a family or a community, whether it’s a church or synagogue (or what have you) or community organization to participate in a holiday gathering, a local festival or to celebrate a life event. You put joy into that celebration by contributing your time and resources as a member of the community. You band together to enhance the lives of those around you.

So what’s all that got to do with profit and loss? Everything. I’m old enough to understand that now (and damn near too old to take advantage of it). I just filed my federal taxes, and in doing so I learned that I had a VERY GOOD YEAR, and I made a point of enjoying it, just to be clear.

But I screwed up just enough during last year that I I have to pay very nearly $800.00 to the Fed.

Needless to say, I don’t have it, and that is what prompted me to write this blog post. You see, I spent little time or effort in the past year documenting how I spent the money I earned through book sales. A lot of that money went into ‘enjoying’ (see my definition of ‘enjoy’, above) life.

I own very little; my car, my computer, my Kindle, a few books and some clothes. And a horse, of course. That’s it. I own no real property (meaning land), I have no investments and receive no annuities, I have no dependents (though I do have a few debts), and in all truth I don’t even have a ‘steady’ income other than Social Security that I can count on from one month to the next.

With so little in the way of documentable expenses I couldn’t account for what I spent nearly as well as I could total up what I earned. Being a cheap date is not always a good thing, obviously.

Oh, well.

But I don’t regret a single moment of the last year. I WILL pay better attention to what I spend in 2014, though. I promise.

Speaking of which, since I need to generate some ‘extra’ income to cover my tax bill, I will be running a promotion on the Kindle version of “Hog Valley”.

Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/Valley-Terry-Rankin-Gary-Showalter-ebook/dp/B004478FW0/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1396709832&sr=1-4&keywords=gary+showalter

On 07 April, the promotion will begin with the price set at $.99 through midnight, 09 April, when the price will increase to $1.99. It will remain at $1.99 until midnight on 11 April, when the price will increase to $2.99 where it will remain until midnight on 14 April when it will return to the regular price of $4.25.

Forget the details, folks. Just snag a copy as soon as you can after the 6th of April.

And please, Enjoy your lives. They are precious, each and every one.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Common Sense, eBooks, General Maundering, Life, and other stuff, The Business of Writing | Tagged ,

E-Commerce vs. Me

My goal for these winter months has been to set up a new web site with e-commerce capability. In simple terms, I have been working desperately to get a business running online since mid-January.

It has not been as easy as I was lead to believe. It ‘should’ have been, but it wasn’t. I can’t blame it on ignorance; at least, I can’t blame my own ignorance, since I was deeply involved in web site development for years during the 1990’s. True, that was a few centuries ago in high-tech years; that industry changes radically every six months. But at least I knew what information to provide and what questions to ask.

But the agent for the hosting company  I spoke to about building the web site was not as well-informed about their product line as he should have been. So I didn’t get exactly what I wanted from having my web site built professionally.

That being said, the new web site was essentially complete other than the e-commerce page by early March (at least, I thought it was). But I was having trouble getting the audio books to load correctly into some MP3 players I was using as test platforms. That was NOT the fault of my narrator/producer; Neill did his job, and the files play and sound just fine, thank you very much.

My goal for releasing the new web site with the e-commerce page (let’s call it “The Bookstore”, since that’s what I’m calling it on the web site) WAS the first of March. But like most deadlines in my life, when the first of March rolled around all I could do was stand there and watch that deadline go whooshing by. Since I didn’t have any products to sell, there was no sense in launching the web site with or without “The Bookstore”.

But each of the three MP3 players handled the chapter files for the two novels differently; it seemed to me they were looking for different info in the metadata for the chapter files to identify the playing order.

It took me weeks to figure that out, since my knowledge of audio engineering was sadly lacking at the beginning. It was a very steep learning curve and I had a very short time in which to identify the problems and resolve the issues.

In between bouts of work with the audio files I spent a lot of time (remember, I work day and night – I’m self-employed, you see, and every self-employed individual has a real bastard for a boss) fine-tuning the layout of the web site.

It was one delay after another, and every delay added to my frustration. But they pay me the big bucks to solve problems. Yeah, sure they do. No, actually, they don’t. If I want to see any money in my life I HAVE to work, and work involves solving problems. So I solved them, one after another. There were times when I just had to wonder where all those damn problems came from. Life just can’t be THAT complicated…

Well, yes, it can.

My big disappointment with the web site is that the first agent of the hosting company I use failed to tell me about my options. I explained to him that I am an author with an international audience and that I will be marketing audiobook versions of my novels via their e-commerce functionality, and I explained to him exactly what I wanted, how many pages I needed (including a fully functional blog page) and how I wanted the site laid out and what functionalities I needed.

But what he sold me was a web site built from a template for a small ‘local’ business with a “Make a Payment” button at the bottom of each page and my phone number and street address prominently displayed all over the place. I only learned about that when the first iteration was ready for preview. That’s when I became somewhat upset and more than a little disappointed.

It took a few phone calls and emails and lots of days to get that mess resolved. And each change required another ModRequest form to be filled out and a turn-around time of four or five days before the next Preview would be available.

By the second week in March I had a handle on the audio book issues and could see launching everything during the first week of April (and yes, I will NOT be launching on April Fool’s Day. THAT would be pushing my luck just a bit too far). My last ModRequest to the web site developers was for the addition of two pages; Why I Write and a Contact the Author page. I got the notice the new pages were ready for review, but when I opened the Preview page in the web site builder tool, I couldn’t see them in the Menu Bar that runs across the top of the Home Page. Or any other page.

So I called the Mods crew and asked, “What’s up with this?” It seems the template they used (a “Local Business” template, if you can believe that) would only allow for five pages, so they added those two new pages to the smaller menu bar across the bottom of the pages. You know the one I’m talking about, don’t you? No? Well, it’s there; right at the very bottom of every page where nobody ever looks for it, or even sees it.

I became quite upset, and somewhat vocal. Though I did avoid coarse language and yelling, and I am very proud of myself for maintaining my cordial nature in the face of adversity. THAT’s when the agent (or rep, or whatever) I was speaking with explained that if I wanted all of those pages in a horizontal menu bar across the top of the page I should have ordered their “Custom Built” web site for $550.00 instead of going the cheaper rout of $114.95 for the construction. The monthly fee would have been the same as what I’m paying for the template-built site, but the upfront fee would have been higher.

It required a few moments of thought to ask him if moving the menu bar to the left side of the pages in a ladder would allow for the additional pages to be properly displayed. He said yes, and he would get on it right away. He did, too.

Had that first agent I spoke with when I commissioned the new site used even a slightly larger percentage of his brain and knew even a bit more about the product line he was selling and explained that a custom-built site WAS available I would have been tickled pink to pay for it.

But I can’t do that now, since I will be launching this site a month late WITH The Bookstore up and working and news releases and online promotion all over the place.

Don’t get me wrong; the new web site IS functional, and all the pages are there with the information I wanted. But it is NOT what I expected when I ordered it and paid for it. I AM disappointed, but that is water under the bridge right now.

The new site works and it is live at http://www.garyshowalter.net. Next week I will be adding the e-commerce page and get it laid out properly, including credit card clearing, merchant banking and all that entails, and I will test it thoroughly. Then – after the first week of April, I will have that new site moved over to my domain at http://www.garyshowalter.com and be open for business.

The first two products will be the audiobook versions of The Big Bend and Hog Valley (priced at $10.00 each). Sample files from both novels will be available as free downloads, of course, and the other novels – Twisted Key and Lonesome Cove will be added later this year, with the fifth novel probably coming out in Kindle and audiobook formats early next year. Along with the novels I hope to add canvas prints of the cover art for the novels and even coffee mugs featuring full-color imprints of the cover art, if I can find a decent mug at a decent price (I’ve looked, and I am not happy with what I’ve seen so far).

Once I’ve got the new site up and running and the first promotions are done, I will be heading up to Suwannee, Florida, to finish the work on Standing Wave, the fifth novel in the Terry Rankin series. Besides, I dearly need a break from all this business stuff I’ve been doing. I really, really need a break.

Anyone who has ever contemplated writing a novel, much less actually finished one, will never, ever, consider writing a novel to be a form of relaxation. But compared to what I’ve been through, writing Standing Wave will be a piece of cake.

Posted in Audio books, The Business of Writing, upcoming events | Tagged , ,