Another year, another novel started.

writerIt has been a while since I’ve posted day to day writing updates, but I’m trying to get back in the habit. Progress is going well on my new project so I’m sharing a few details.

I don’t usually work on novels outside of November, but I really need more practice. I decided a few months ago that when I finished the last round of Flash Fiction stories, I’d work on something longer. The writing has been fast so far, I’ve been at it a week and I’ve already hit 10k, but I’m already seeing some of my old weaknesses peeking through. Characters are talking about events more than events are unfolding; there’s a lot of recapping and discussion. It makes me nervous even at this early stage because I don’t have much experience fixing these sort of problems.

One solution I had in mind was to rewrite one of my old NaNoWriMo drafts while I go. That way I can motivate myself by watching another rough draft improve. I started writing Flash Fiction because I felt like it took too long to get to the rewriting stage. The idea was to polish up these little gems and get a better idea of my abilities. In the long run, I think this has held me back as I’ve become more reluctant to tackle longer works. I’m hoping to break out of that bad habit this year. Hopefully, rewriting old rejected drafts will have the same benefits the short pieces did.

I like short fiction a lot, but I have always wanted to write good novels. Somewhere along the way I have stopped focusing on that, and it’s time to get back on track.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Is Short Fiction Selling for You?

It’s been three years since I started my path in self-publishing by posting Christmas Past to Amazon. I put a lot of work into preparing that little story, designing a cover and rewriting it so often I can probably still recite it start to finish. Since then I’ve published another standalone story and three collections, but I’ve noticed in the years since that short fiction has become a tougher sell. It used to be that sales would trickle in even when I didn’t promote the book heavily, since then I can’t even get a decent spike in my sales during a free promotion.

Over the last three months, sales for that first little book look like this:

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 16.07.23

It has all be a little demoralising for me, because the big draw in self publishing has always been the opportunities it offers for writers working in non-traditional markets. With the decline of the fiction magazine, self publishing can fill that gap, but not if the market just doesn’t exist. I’ve made mistakes along the way, I know. I waited too long between books early on and I’ve really dragged my feet when it comes to getting a novel on the store, but performance is still way below what I’d expect by now.

So, I’m putting the call out. If you write and self publish short fiction, particularly for kindle, how are you doing with it? Has progress been in line with your expectations? Let me know in the comments, or drop me an email.

10 Things I Learned as an Indie Author.

With Apologies to Buzzfeed:

1) Being listed on Amazon isn’t as glamorous as it looks.

SylvesterGif

Yes, there I am in the same category as Stephen King. How many have I sold? Well… *mumble mumble*

2) Reviews are like gold dust.

BugsBunny Dog

Opinions. Must. Have. Opinions.

3) Everything I have ever written is too short.

That'sAllFolks

Make my short story longer, you say?

4) Writing Erotica gets more and more tempting every year.

Bugs Bunny Dance

Bow-chicka-wow-wow = Ka-Ching!

5) No amount of sales is too small for a party.

Daffy Duck Dance

Cash in the royalty cheques, we’re going Super-Size at McDonalds!

6) Nobody you know reads…

Sylvester Coyote Reading

“Why don’t you get it made into a film?”

7) …Well, not what you’re writing anyway.

Wil E Coyote Psychology Book

“Is it like the DaVinci Code?”

8) Writing a blurb is one of mankind’s greatest challenges.

Sylvester Smoking Coffee

BUY MY BOOK BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW. THERE IS A GHOST IN IT.

9) It’s hard to explain what you do without giving people the wrong idea.

Boring Mechanism

No, I am not rich. No, I am not unemployed. Getting closer though.

10) It is the greatest feeling in the world.

Pepe Le Pew SPinning

“And more, much more than this, I did it my waaaaaaay.”

How Adblock Got Me Blocked

I don’t know what I’d do without twitter. Maybe that’s a silly thing to say, I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s true. The power of twitter is its sense of an ongoing conversation, it’s immediacy and its intimacy. I think it’s probably the best medium for casual written interaction there is. Of course, it has it’s trolls and they’re often very destructive. People can be guarded, and every so often you can get yourself in to trouble, start hanging around in all the wrong places. And before you know it, you’ve hit rock bottom. Blocked by someone you like, for something you didn’t even know was a crime.

My name is Owen Adams, aka @illogicology, and this is my tale of despair, adblock, and being blocked by a mild-mannered video game reporter on twitter,

Access Denied

If you don’t know what adblock is, the internet is probably a scary and confusing place for you, but the answer is very simple. Adblock is a simple browser plugin in that does its best to recognise adverts and surgically remove them from the web before you see them. It was created in 2009, it is free, it is easy to use and for many people it is invaluable.

I don’t blame them.

Y’see, I don’t like advertising. I don’t like it on almost any level, but I can tolerate it in certain designated advertising spaces. Places where as a society we come together and say “Yes, you can advertise here.” I have a real low tolerance for advertising that is shoved anywhere and everywhere, advertising that is of dubious legality, and worst of all, advertising that pretends not to be advertising.

The web is infested with all these things because monetisation of the internet is a tricky thing, and large companies have exploited this by creating responsibility-free advertising services where sites hand over a space for ads and abdicate all oversight in favour of some algorithm driven marketing bot. The internet, for advertisers, is the ultimate free market, where only the largest companies are subject to any kind of regulation, and only then because their ads end up being the most visible. There are only two kinds of restrictions placed on advertising across most of the web. Self imposed restrictions by the host sites, and AdBlock.

This is the climate in which a tiny plugin like Adblock becomes huge, and it is the climate the site owners have created for themselves through lack of restraint. And unfortunately they’re suffering for it, because they’ve rested their entire business model on a method of monetisation that can be destroyed with a single browser extension.

Uh-oh.

And so, periodically, AdBlock critics come out and make their case. This too, is understandable, if a little self involved. The line goes like this: Sites generate their revenue from ads, people using AdBlock cuts into that revenue, if you continue using AdBlock your favourite sites will go out of business.

And it’s true. It conveniently ignores that sites would do better to diversify their income, that widespread abuse of advertising across the web means most people refuse to browse without adblock and that it isn’t the responsibility of the reader to keep your site in business. But it’s still true. Sort of.

The argument also has en ethical dimension. Hey guys, you’re reading our content, don’t you have an ethical responsibility to disable AdBlock and let us get some cash to feed the kids. The problem is, if we’re going to talk about ethics, we also need to discuss the ethics of the ads themselves. Why should we be compelled by an appeal to morality, when this is currently the preferred type of ad on the web right now:

BadAds

For those who usually surf with AdBlock enabled, what you’re looking at is a large, ugly adbar from a prominent gaming site. It appears to feature cultivated articles, but leads to a selection of sites trying to sell you something. Sites are encouraged to place these boxes alongside their own “Articles you might also like” spaces, to deliberately muddy the waters for the potential clicker. The text marking it as advertising is the smallest font in the box, of course. These ads are intrusive and hideous, sure, but the sites they lead to are almost always incredibly dodgy too. Reports of scam pages, phishing sites, malware abound. And this is one of the nicer ones.

AdBlock critics want you to believe you have a responsibility to view these ads, but I doubt they want to take responsibility for what happens if you actually click on one of them. Responsibility is a two way street, but so often today the consumer is expected to ignore this. Businesses want to push, and push, and push, but when the customer pushes back the conversation suddenly becomes about ethical behaviour.

So why did Stanton block me? Well, it’s sort of my fault.

AdblockTwitter

If you’re wondering what the specific trigger was:

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 23.58.59

I can’t take blame for the “idiot” remark, but whining. I’ll cop to that, though, I think he took it a little more personally than I intended. I probably could have phrased it with a little more restraint, but I think my point was fair. Too much focus is placed on trying to get the audience to change their habits, change their opinions. The focus is never on working with the conclusion the audience has already reached. I suspect Rich knows this, because it’s quite a defensive response to what is really not that controversial a point. He just doesn’t like the way I said it. I don’t either, but the fact remains, complaining about AdBlock really is stamping your feet, trying to change the minds of people who have nothing to gain from it.

See, I like Richard. I’ve interacted with him on Twitter a few times. I only found out I was blocked because I read an amazing article he wrote on Peter Molyneux and rushed to twitter to praise him on it. He recognises people use AdBlock because some types of advertising are excessive, though I’m sure he and I would differ on what constitutes a “normal” ad. It’s Snape that riles me up. See, Snape is quite a bit more forthright than Stanton. His view is, “don’t like the ads, don’t view the site” which is a silly sort of argument to make when your goal is to stop sites from going out of business. This kind of thinking is destructive, and I told him. Of course it doesn’t surprise me, because Snape also thinks using AdBlock is comparable to piracy…

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 10.20.38

…and what can you do with that kind of mindset.

I don’t really mind that Richard blocked me. I’m sad, sure. I like his work, and I like him. He’s free to block whoever he wants, and I know that when you work in journalism, particularly games journalism, you’re used to a certain amount of hostility from a fairly rabid fanbase. It’s symptomatic of the barriers people have to build online, in a world of trolls and sealions, there’s only so much “legitimate criticism” one can take. It probably gets easier to click that block button after a while.

But I do find it interesting in the way it sums up how conservative businesses on the web have become. It used to be a place for breaking new ground, now any criticism of advertising as the primary financial model is taken so harshly. “Adapt or Quit Whining” used to be the internet’s call to arms, now it’s a blocking offence.

It’s an interesting example of how conversations become only for certain people. Card carrying journalists get to call the public selfish and entitled, they get to use their platform to amplify the voices of those who would compare finding ads annoying to copyright theft. But it’s a one way street, broadcast only unless the replies are on message. If you think they’re whining, well, you’re selfish and entitled and you don’t get to be part of the audience anymore.

In the end, I’m a small fish. I’m not a journalist, I’ve never met Richard and I never will. I don’t run a site that uses ads. I’m not even a businessman really, I’m just a guy who writes books and blogs about what I see. But I know better than to tell people I’m going out of business because they won’t let me hock them someone else’s dodgy diet pills.

So I can’t be all bad.

Are Free Books Finished

Two Cephalopods Cover
My free book. *cough cough*

The first is on the house.

I like to give my books away. Don’t get me wrong, I like to sell some too, but I’ve been running regular free days on my books since I published my first story back in 2012. I know a lot of indie authors that are very reluctant to use their free days, squirrelling them away for some rainy day marketing push, deploying them tactically like precision PR. I don’t have the patience for that, I’m haphazard. I drop freebies on people like British weather. You never know when the rain will come but you know it won’t be far away.

But then, I can afford to be haphazard. I love writing, I love putting my books out there, but I mostly deal in short fiction. It doesn’t sell steadily, or in the quantities novels do, so I can usually count on a good free day to put a nice spike in my sales, snag me a few more reviews and push a book a little higher in the rankings for a while. I don’t love more intrusive forms of marketing, so freebies have always been a nice way to give my books a little more life. Until recently, that is.

I noticed diminishing returns on free books last year. I scheduled a couple of free days with Amazon on two books, I submitted it to a few places ahead of time, posted at the regular spots and when the day arrived I tweeted and posted up on my author page. Crickets. It took until the book had been free for a couple of hours for it to get it’s first download, after that it wasn’t until the book started ranking in a few categories that it really gathered any momentum. Ever since then, the results have been the same. Only a paid promotion has managed to turn this pattern around, but if that’s going to be required every time, the freebie loses a lot of its appeal as a method of promotion.

The free book used to be the best marketing tool we had, but is it over now? It certainly doesn’t seem to have the same effect on the audience. If so, where do we go from here?

Before Select.

KDP Select is at the route of all this. Before Amazon launched select, getting your ebooks listed as free was an arduous task. First, you had to publish your book to two separate stores. Amazon restricted sellers from setting their price to zero, but other retailers didn’t impose that restriction. If you listed your book for free at one of Amazon’s competitors, and then reported the price disparity to Amazon, they would usually set your book’s price to match and you could benefit from all that freebie PR.

The disadvantage was that Amazon took a while to respond, though they’d usually get there eventually. Worse still, Amazon don’t like being undercut by their rivals, but they’re not so concerned about beating them; if you decided you didn’t want you book to be free anymore, it could take them a while to increase return to the original price. It was also against Amazon’s Terms of Service, which is risky if your income depended on books sales. The method is still used and is generally referred to as going “permafree”, bypassing the limitations on free days imposed by Amazon.

What Changed?

When Select came along, it gave free days to anyone willing to make their book exclusive to Amazon. This means that while there are less books going permafree now, the overall pool of free books is larger and ever changing. Worse still, permafree was usually exploited by authors who had a whole series of books to promote, usually something they had a lot of faith in. These days, any author can set their book to free at any time, meaning there’s a much larger slush pile of free books for the reader to sort through.

On top of that, the introduction of Kindle Unlimited is diluting the effect of free sales somewhat. Free books were a good sampler for new kindle owners filling up on books, with more and more freebies loaded into Amazon’s Prime subscriptions and similar services, readers have access to higher value books as part of their subscription. This has diverted attention away from indie authors, who were easily the group taking advantage of free days the most.

Lastly, probably the most significant change was Amazon splitting its rankings into Free and Paid. Pre-Select, Amazon’s Top 100s all contained both paid and free books in a single list. If you had a reasonably good Free day, you could expect to chart above some well known paid books, in the same list as established authors. The problem was, Amazon rankings spike and fall all the time on free books. Their algorithms are ever changing, and less reliable or books that have inconsistent sales. A book that sold twenty free copies in a day would suddenly rank higher than a book that sold a copy at £10 a day for twenty days. Splitting the rankings was the only way to correct that problem.

Why Amazon Aren’t Helping.

I know a lot of authors that are angry at Amazon for the various changes they’ve made to KDP over the years. I’m not one of them. Amazon’s business model has always been to bend over backwards to make things convenient, helpful and cheap for the customer. They don’t do it because they’re nice people, but because it makes them a lot of money. In the early days, Indie Authors helped Amazon achieve this by flooding the kindle marketplace with cheap, often high quality books, and Amazon fostered this by making their publishing platform easily the best for individuals and small publishers. It still is. It absolutely is.

The problem is that Indie Authors are often also voracious marketers. They need to be to survive, but they aren’t Amazon. Their priorities are the same, they want to make lots and lots of money, but they don’t often do it by putting the customer front and centre. (See LendInk, the Fake Reviews scandal and about a million other little storms self publishers have been involved in.) At the end of the day, Amazon wants the platforms that customers feel the happiest on, and when customers feel like they have to navigate pages of dross to find authors they’ve heard of… well it doesn’t create a happy customer.

Some, no doubt, are happy to be surrounded by new books by new authors, but too many people have been burnt by discovering the hard way that Amazon basically has no quality control on the kindle. Indie authors are still welcome on the kindle store, but they are certainly less necessary to Amazon as they used to be. From here on out, making your book free won’t be enough to rise up the rankings. Nor should it be.

The Future.

Going forward, indie authors are probably going to have to change their tactics. Free days used to be a guaranteed boost to your book’s fortunes, but now they are just one of a range of tools Authors can use for promotion. It just goes to show that in the long term, nothing beats cultivating an engaged audience that will support and promote your work for you. I’d like to see the self publishing community establishing a new relationship with Amazon, one that depends less on manufacturing sudden spikes in rankings, than in building a solid reputation through years of good work, but perhaps that is too much to hope for. Free days aren’t going anywhere, and maybe Amazon will add another few tools to Select as time goes by, but it all gets harder from here.

– Owen

p.s I still have a freebie going if you want to get in on that. 

Free Short Story Collection Available Now!

Two Cephalopods CoverHey guys, It’s freebie time again. Two Cephalopods Walk Into a Bar will be free until the 8th of Feb. The collection contains sixteen short stories, and you can read it on the kindle, or the kindle app on your phone, tablet or PC. Grab it from the links below, or read on for a few details about the book.

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Two Cephalopods Walk Into A Bar: Sixteen Little Stories

This double volume contains both The Octopus of Suspense, and Octopus Returns.

The Octopus of Suspense

The Octopus of Suspense is a collection of eight little stories that will take you somewhere new. Exploring a range of genres, each story enters the world of a unique character. From the desk of troubled pulp writer, to a starship in the distant future, The Octopus of Suspense offers a surprise at every turn. Originally written for weekly release online, they have been revisited and expanded for this new collection. Each story is between 1000 and 1500 words long.

Octopus Returns

From the author of Christmas Past and Time Trial.

The Octopus is back with another eight little stories. Visit the future in PILOT, discover the dangers of time travel in DETRITUS, don’t touch the glass in MIRROR, MIRROR, and many more.

Each story offers something a little different, but each will have you on the edge of your seat!

Two Cephalopods Walk Into a Bar: Available Now

Two Cephalopods CoverHello all! Just wanted to let you know that I have a new book available on Amazon now. It’s a double volume containing both of my previously published collections for a special price. Details below.

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Two Cephalopods Walk Into A Bar: Sixteen Little Stories

This double volume contains both The Octopus of Suspense, and Octopus Returns.

The Octopus of Suspense

The Octopus of Suspense is a collection of eight little stories that will take you somewhere new. Exploring a range of genres, each story enters the world of a unique character. From the desk of troubled pulp writer, to a starship in the distant future, The Octopus of Suspense offers a surprise at every turn. Originally written for weekly release online, they have been revisited and expanded for this new collection. Each story is between 1000 and 1500 words long.

Octopus Returns

From the author of Christmas Past and Time Trial.

The Octopus is back with another eight little stories. Visit the future in PILOT, discover the dangers of time travel in DETRITUS, don’t touch the glass in MIRROR, MIRROR, and many more.

Each story offers something a little different, but each will have you on the edge of your seat!

January Book Freebie

Owen Adams Free BookMorning Folks,

I’ve been promising you a 2015 book Freebie since New Year’s Eve now, and here it is. It includes my most recent book, Octopus Returns, and a couple of old favourites. Pick them up from Amazon, and you can read them on your kindle, or the kindle app on your phone.

Grab the books from the links below and let me know what you think.

* * *

OctopusReturnsCover

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.ukThe Octopus of Suspense Cover

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.ukChristmas Past Owen Adams

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Time Trial Gets A New Cover

Time Trial CoverFeel Free to Judge This Book By Its Cover!

I recently participated in a project organised by Adrijus of RockingBookCovers.com, and here are the results. Adrijus was looking for some volunteers who had, let’s say, less than stellar book covers that would benefit from a remake. I jumped at the chance to get something a bit more professional for Time Trial, which I can honestly say I’ve never been too happy with. The results were fantastic, and I now have a cover that really captures the feeling of Sci-Fi Adventure that I’ve always wanted for my Timewasters books. I’ll be trying out Time Trial’s new outfit with a freebie day sometime this week so keep watching this space.

2014 Kindle Book Freebies

Morning folks,

I’ve been opening up the blinds and letting a breeze blow away the cobwebs in here this week. 2014 started out as a bit of a tough year, but now the worst of it is out of the way, I’ve been able to get back to writing. I posted a new short to the blog yesterday, so if you missed that be sure to take a look. Today I want to keep the ball rolling by telling you about my Kindle Store Freebies.

I like Amazon’s KDP Select programme, and I particularly like being able to set free days. It’s a joy having some of my fiction listed on Amazon, but for most short pieces I’d probably set the price lower than Amazon’s minimum of 99c if I could. I try to balance things out by using all of the free days Amazon provide me with, after all, most of those works were published for free here before they went on sale. With life getting in the way, I haven’t scheduled any free promotions this year at all, and so I’m making up for it with a big Free Promotion on all my books ending Saturday!

Grab them from the links below:

– – – 

The Octopus of Suspense CoverThe Octopus of Suspense
This collection of eight odd little stories has been very well received. Each story is different, but they all explore unique characters in unusual situations.
Available now on the Kindle Store.
Amazon US / Amazon UK

– – –

Christmas Past Owen AdamsChristmas Past
This was the first Timewasters story published. I wrote it originally for Christmas 2011, but it was a little late and didn’t go on sale until January 2012.
When three time travellers appear in the woods, they’ve arrived for a reason, but even they aren’t expecting to find a corpse under the snow. 
Amazon US / Amazon UK

– – –

time trial book coverTime Trial
The second Timewasters story arrived later in 2012. For my next adventure, I wanted to tell a totally different sort of story. I tried to really explore a different side to the characters than I had in Christmas Past.
Harbour has strict laws against time travel and ignorance is no defence. But when Annie and her friends are put on trial for their crimes, they suspect the prosecutor might have another agenda. 
Amazon US / Amazon UK