Monday, November 4, 2013

SF vs SF -- Do You Know the Difference?

Ever heard the term "Speculative Fiction" and wondered what it was? It's one of those genres that you think you know what it is, but you just might not.

Speculative Fiction tends to be loosely defined as any book that falls within the umbrella of the "fantastical fiction genres". That umbrella normally covers a long list that includes some science fiction, all fantasy, horror, supernatural, paranormal, utopian, dystopian...and the list goes on.

But while all Speculative Fiction can be cataloged as a sub-genre of Science Fiction (known as SF by the purists of the genre, leaving "sci-fi" for those of the pop culture), Science Fiction cannot be cataloged as a part of the Speculative Fiction genre. You see, while Science Fiction is based in the very real sciences, Speculative Fiction may or not be. Let's look at some examples:

The best examples that I can think of for the Science Fiction category is Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series or Robert A Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Both authors based their books on the hard sciences of mathematics and computer technology, adding an element of what's called the "soft" science of sociology, to project a story line into the future. These plots are based on what we know of these sciences now and predict a possible future.

A couple of examples of Speculative Fiction would be my own The Savior or Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, etc). Both of these books are also grounded in "reality" with their historical fiction plots but there is the fantasy element of time travel in both. In my book, there is also the spiritual angle of the Celtic, Buddhist, and Judeo-Christian religions melding into the story line with all of the mystic qualities intact..

Another excellent example of Speculative Fiction is Naomi Novik's Temeraire series (His Majesty's Dragon, Throne of Jade, etc). These books are set in an alternate history of the Napoleonic wars in a universe where dragons not only exist but they are sentient creatures, capable of speech and thought, and willing participants in the wars.

And now, when someone near you asks "what is Speculative Fiction?", you can tell them.

Jesse V Coffey is the author of The Savior, An Opportunity for Resentment, as well as her free download, Ilusions & Reality. All of her books are available through, coming soon to all retailers in the spring of 2014.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Should You Use KDP Select?

One of the surest ways to get your book into the hands of new readers is to offer it for free. This makes the KDP Select program look very appealing at first glance. The biggest downside is that it requires you to publish and sell your book ONLY on Amazon for 3 months. Signing up is as easy as simply selecting a checkbox in your KDP dashboard next to the title of the book.

In exchange for exclusivity, Amazon give your books the ability to be free for 5 days across 3 months--just 5 and only 5. To be in the program, you have to take the book down from all other channels if it's already published. In fact, there is a list of rules and you should read them carefully before entering the program. Amazon will check to make sure your books are not up for sale elsewhere before they give you the free days.

I put my single title book THE RIGHT THING into this program. During the first two "free" days which I independently promoted on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, I saw just over 2300 downloads in all Amazon channels (US, UK, DE, ES, IT, FR).  This is not great--I had more than that already on DAC, my original "free" book which is still free. I used promo sites that will let their users know it is free. I also used a couple book tweeting #hashtags for "free books" recognized and shared by Twitter groups. I did see some improvements in downloads from that, around 600-700.

In the KDP Select program, during the rest of the 3 month's time the book is not free, the book is available to Prime Members to "borrow" for "free", but the author does receive a token for each "borrow" usage. The token has been somewhere around a $$2.00 or so this summer. My loans have been less than twenty in all channels over 3 months. People tend to buy $2.99 books I think. They tend to borrow the more expensive ones. At the end of 3 months, you can either re-enroll the book in the program and start over, OR take it out of the program and put it back for sale everywhere else. My plan, based on my results, is to put the book back for sale everywhere.

So what did I learn?

Judging from the history of my sales, I would have to double my Amazon sales on any title for all three months for the program to make sense financially and cover my losses from other channels. What was my take-away from my experiment? I will never use this program with any of my series books.

Here's an example of what I'm describing. Just among our tiny writer's group of 20+ published authors, sales vary greatly from author to author and channel to channel. Amazon is only 40% of my sales. It is around 80% of another author's. That's a huge difference in Amazon's value as a sales channel to just two of us. I make 20% from Apple sales and 25% from B&N. Why would I make my Apple and B&N readers wait three months? That would not only be three months of Apple and B&N sales lost for me, but it would also mean a bunch of frustrated readers. They already hate waiting days for their own channel to offer it once it's available anywhere, much less weeks. So my specific situation makes KDP Select a much riskier marketing tool for me than for the author who definitely gets 80% of her earnings from Amazon already. For her, she is gaining "free days", more Amazon marketing, and maybe even more other benefits.

Now I do know authors who use the KDP Select program to "pre-announce" new titles, essentially using Amazon to launch books. Again, I would not do that based on the spread of my sales over all channels, but if you were in the 80% bracket of your profits coming from Amazon this could make sense too because you would get the free days during your "pre-announce" time period. Other than price matching to free which is done at Amazon's discretion, the KDP Select program is the only method Amazon backs legitimately for making something "free" and the bonus is that they love you for taking part in it.

The dollars of my results are not worth mentioning because my sales never broke more than 150 books in any one of the three months. Sure, I had around 4000 downloads of it for free, but did those help other sales? Not as much as publishing a new release in the first series did. Sales of the first series shot up tremendously when I came out with the new book.

Two months into the KDP Select program did not help or hurt my book sales much. It was during the third month, when little was happening with rank, sales, or anything when it became clear via the math that I was actually losing sales. Since the average sales amount per month for that title was relatively small compared to the series books anyway, the financial impact was low enough not to be a serious detriment to my overall earnings. I probably lost no more in than I did doing a Kindle Fire giveaway earlier in the year that netted me pretty much nothing in the way of new customers or sales. Next time I do a serious giveaway or contest, I will be running the campaign myself.

There are now lots of articles stating the best case and worst case scenarios for using KDP Select. My advice for everyone is to never forget it's an experiment, like most marketing endeavors end up being to some degree. Many articles you will find are from those who have put several books through this program and found some do better than others. Those I think reflect the widest range of possibilities and would help your research. Read both the good results and the bad so that you can make an informed decision.

Yet before even considering the KDP Select program, you need to research your own sales to know exactly what you will be giving up being "Amazon Only" for 3 months. Maybe it will be nothing and the program will work magic for you. Sure, you can just take a chance with a book like I did. I think many authors are doing just that. The truth is there is no one marketing method that is guaranteed. Like all other serious marketing efforts, KDP Select requires some planning and some networking work to get the word out to potential buyers that your book is going to be free. Hoping for random interest generated by massive amounts of Amazon traffic is not going to get you the most for your strategy. List your book with sites that will notify their interested readers on the days your book will free. The best list of promotion sites I've seen collected into one spot is available on the blog of author, Rachelle Ayala.

New authors always seek a clear marketing answer, but there usually isn't one when it comes to finding new readers for your work. You have to try a lot of things and then keep trying more. My advice? Keep KDP Select on your list of options to consider, but also keep looking for others.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I am your ISBN~ LOVE ME!

For most of us who have been in the publishing industry for a while, we know what an ISBN is but we may not know a lot about it. For many first time or new authors coming into the profession, the ISBN is a bit of a mystery. I am an author but I also have a day job working for an online bookseller – I deal with ISBNs daily. I'd like to take out the mystery and help all authors get a grasp on the ISBN and why it's your friend.

ISBN stands for "International Standard Business Number" and basically, it is nothing more than a tracking device. That's it, that's all it does. It tracks your sales. Think about when you go in a bookstore. You get a really good book you like and you decide to buy it. You take it to the counter and what's the first thing the salesperson does? S/he turns the book over and uses a scanner to track the book. That racks up a sale based on the ISBN – well, and the bar code which is an electronic representation of your ISBN. 

Just as a nice little FYI – periodicals (newspapers, magazines, etc) also have a tracking sytem, called the International Standard Serial Number, also known as the ISSN. There are two different kinds of ISSNs. One is the standard print ISSN and the other called the e-ISSN for digital versions.

Each book, each format of that book, each edition of that book will have its own ISBN – they are specific to the edition, the format (hard cover, paperback, audio, ebook, etc), and title. If you have your book out in ebook, paperback, and audio – then you'll have three separate ISBNs, one for each. Every time your book is purchased, in whatever form and through any bookstore – be it online or a brick and mortar – that ISBN information is stored and transmitted to your publisher (or yourself, if you're an indie). The number keeps track of sales – what the customer bought, when s/he bought it, where s/he bought it, etc. It also tracks information such as publisher identification and language group.

Once upon a time, sales were tracked locally but in a very haphazard way. So, in 1965, Professor Emeritus Gordon Foster (Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland) devised a tracking method called Standard Book Numbering or the SBN. The original SBN was a nine digit number. In 1970, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) developed the ten (10) digit ISBN in an effort to standardized what was becoming a global market for book sales. Then in 2007, the thirteen (13) digits number became the standard, which includes the EAN – once known as the European Article Number but has since been renamed the International Article Number – that you see at the bottom of the bar code.

Let's look at a typical bar code to break down what you can find out from the ISBN.

The EAN (978) is what signifies that this is a book that is being purchased. The first number always goes outside of the bar code, which is used for scanners to record sales. That's literally the only reason. The number following the EAN is the actual ISBN. For the ISSN, the EAN is 977. Just in case you were curious.

The next numbers are the group numbers – they identify the language of the book. 0 – 1 signify English speaking countries, 2 is for French speaking countries, and so on. This number can be 1 – 5 digits long, depending on which language the book is printed in.

The next group of digits, usually a four digit code represents the publisher.  All books published by a particular publisher will have that same four digits. So if you, as an indie author, buy up a large enough block of ISBNs, Bowker – the company in this country that regulates and sells ISBNs – will allow you to register as a publisher/imprint. You will get a unique four digit identifier and from then on, all of your ISBNs will contain that identifier.

The next three digits identify the title. Your book, The Glory of Handbags, will have a specific number that will be unique to the title.

The last digit is a check number that uses a sophisticated algorithm that verifies that all of the information in the EAN barcode and ISBN are correct.

If you publish with a traditional press – large or small – these numbers help them track their sales using internal algorithms that can break down the data by version sold, where it was purchased, when it was purchased, and the type of sale (credit card or cash, online or "brick and mortar" store). These reports will determine your royalties as well as the editorial and marketing staff's cut, as well as the profit margin for the publisher.

If you're a self-published Indie, then you're using companies like Smashwords to distribute to retailer and wholesalers, or straight to the retailers like Barnes & Noble's PubIt or Amazon's KDP Platform (for ebook) or CreateSpace (for print/trade paperback). They generate an abbreviated report for you that give you a minor breakdown of sales by region/country, title/format, the total amount of sales, and the amount of royalties you'll be paid for those sales.

You can learn even more about ISBNs and how to use them, as well as how to purchase them, directly from Bowker's Identifier Services. The site will require you to create an account if you want to use that service. ISBNs purchased directly from Bowker are cheaper if purchased in larger quantities of ten or more. If all you want is one ISBN, you can find other services that will sell them in singles – a search on Google or Yahoo! can give you links to websites that will sell them to you. Pricing usually starts at $25 – 35 per ISBN and in some cases will also include the EAN bar code to put on the cover of your print copy. If you're creating an ebook or audiobook, you won't need that barcode.

Written by Jesse V Coffey