Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Second Time Around (Part 1)

By guest blogger Lance Charnes...

Love's more comfortable the second time you fall
Like a friendly home the second time you call…
-- The Second Time Around, by Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen

I recently launched my second published novel, the near-future thriller South, almost exactly a year after my first (international thriller Doha 12). A year’s not all that long – Miley Cyrus is still around, after all – but in the fast-moving independent publishing world, time seems to move in dog years.

The first-time publishing experience is, frankly, not any fun at all. There’s a lot of administration, signing contracts, researching artists, editors, distributors, publishing platforms, beta readers, review outlets, publicity outlets, and so on, and then dealing with your chosen ones. You spend far more time on minutiae than on writing that second book. But how does it work for the second and subsequent books? Here’s what didn’t change over that year; next post will talk about what did change.

Things That Didn’t Change – and that’s Good

My support structure was already in place, which saved me perhaps hundreds of hours this go-round.
·      I’d already set up my Kindle, Nook and Kobo accounts, set up all the payment details, found Draft2Digital for dealing with iTunes, finally finished signing contracts with Lightning Source, and figured out how to work the CreateSpace system. By now I know where the holes are, too, and I’ve plugged all the ones I can.
·      My author profile and photo was already set up in Amazon Author Central in the various storefronts where that exists (including a French translation for Amazon.fr!).
·      I already had my stash of ISBNs, and I already had my account with the Copyright Office, so I could polish off those issues in a single evening.
·      I already have a cover artist (Damonza) from Doha 12, his product is a known quantity, and I know how he works. I didn’t have to worry about what I’d end up with for a cover – I knew it would be great.

Similarly, I’m already established on Goodreads and Kindleboards and some of the other promotional websites. The Twitter feed’s already there, the website and Facebook author page are already set up, and all have some history behind them now.

The process for creating ePubs for Nook and Kobo is pretty much the same as before. I used Calibre, validated the results through the IDPF ePub Validator (another discovery from last time), and uploaded direct. I also already knew the rules for what I could link to from each of the channels and had a system to create the different versions without fumbling it. I wish I could say the same for Kindle, but… (see Why Did That Have to Change? in the next post)

Things That (Unfortunately) Didn’t Change

The economics of POD still make it virtually impossible to place printed copies in bookstores. I’ve had indie bookstores turn up their noses at the 35-40% discount I offer through Lightning Source; they don’t want to hear that I make less than a buck on each copy, and that if I set a 55% discount, I’d have to price the book so they’d never be able to sell it.

The indie-pub platforms still have woefully inadequate sales reporting. You’re lucky if you can figure out what country your book sold in; forget sussing out which channel sold it (Kobo partner site reporting, anyone?). You can’t even get the exact sale date on the ‘Zon. Trying to figure out whether your promotions are working? Good luck.

Trying to sell a book is still an ugly, grinding slog, especially if you’re trying to push non-Amazon sales. The promotional infrastructure for Nook or Kobo is simply not there. Also, a great deal of the ‘Zon-centric promotional machine is still geared to free books, even though Amazon has tightened the noose on book-giveaway affiliates.

Getting reviews: ditto. Review sites big and small still have multi-month backlogs, assuming they don’t go out of business before they get to you. Only about 10% of readers (if you’re lucky) will post reviews. And even if you get reviews, you might not be able to keep them (see Why Did That Have to Change? in the next post).

You’d think that bookselling websites would be able to pick up the pertinent data about your book from the distributor’s catalog (such as Ingram) or its partner (such as Kobo). After all, we’ve been doing database-to-database transfers for, oh, fifty years or so. But noooooo. The explosion of online booksellers (see Things That Changed for the Better, next post) has also led to an explosion of places that can lose your cover image, mangle your book description, fail to link to your other books, and otherwise cause you headaches. Some will fix the problems if you ask; others won’t even return your emails.

Nook author support is still atrocious. The “help” operators can’t do anything but follow very simple scripts, and the chat operators appear to just cut you off when you ask too many questions. There’s no escalation and, according to the phone and chat people, no supervisors. Say what you will about the ‘Zon, but KDP will get back to you within a day and Author Central lets you talk directly to people who seem to be able to fix things. If Nook customer service is as bad as its author service, it’s no wonder the device is failing.

As this shows, stasis can be both good and bad. If only we could choose which things will change, and which won’t! In the next post, I’ll cover some areas that changed (for better or worse) in the past year. See you soon.

Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. His international thriller Doha 12 and near-future thriller South are both available in Kindle, ePub and trade paperback editions around the world, in case you want to buy a copy in Finland. He tweets (@lcharnes) about scuba diving, shipwrecks, art crime and archaeology, among other things.