Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What Amazon's new royalty rate means to me

Amazon's 70% royalty rate for indie authors is kicking in w/in the next couple of days (provided the book is priced no lower than $2.99), and after much hemming and hawing, I've decided to opt in on it.

You may recall earlier in March, when I changed my price from 99 cents to a buck-99, my rankings especially took a hit (and kept falling, albeit gradually). In hindsight, I was either too hasty in raising the price, or too hasty changing it back to 99 cents after less than a week (because the sales units weren't that bad once I saw them on the spreadsheet)--I can't tell. I suppose the more accurate, technical description of my response is that I freaked out a little. But in the last couple of months, I've grown disenchanted w/ the 99-cent price-point; and yet, I was still reluctant to change, fearful of another plummet in the rankings. As of an hour ago, I was hovering around #450 for Faking It and #1200 for Ordinary World-- not bad, considering there are currently over a half-million books in the Kindle Store. Kindle Store rankings seem to be the equivalent of location, location, location in a brick-&-mortar store.

Prices usually go down, not up, after a product has been on the shelf for some time. Certainly this new strategy does not conform to the norm. How will customers respond? Besides, Kindle readers typically don't want to invest more than 1.99 on an indie/unknown author. Will a reader who's not heard of me be willing to take spend the extra two bucks? Would I?

On the other hand, I've read discussion threads in which readers automatically assume that the writing (i.e. content) of 99-cent books is just as cheap as the price, and won't go near them for that very reason. I have no doubt that I wouldn't have sold as many units as I did had it not been for the 99-cent price-point, but I'm sure I lost sales as well.

Which leads me to the deciding factor: value.

I ultimately chose to raise the price because I believe my book is worth more. When I originally set my price, I put readers before royalties, and I achieved my goal of establishing a readership and good reviews. 65% of reader reviews for Faking It are 5-star. To date, I've sold approx 50,000 Kindle units of Faking It and Ordinary World combined. Faking It peaked at #6 on the best-seller list, Ordinary World at #35. All phenomenal accomplishments. The market has spoken: these books have value.

Of course, all books have value. I don't mean to imply that my book is worth more than another indie author's simply because it ranked higher or sold more. But, as I said, I achieved my goal. 99 cents no longer works for me. I'm now willing to take the risk and lose my place in the rankings in exchange for perceived credibility. Note the word choice. Indie authors who price their books so low are already credible. I was already credible. But the 2.99 minimum is a good thing for indie authors, I believe. And while I think Kindle owners will be reluctant to jump on board at first, they'll come around when it becomes the norm. I'm already noticing that many traditionally published Kindle books (including best-sellers) are priced higher than $9.99, and I remember how many Kindle owners were refusing to pay more than that for an ebook.

And, as for the royalty increase, I won't know how that pans out until I get my July statement. Maybe I'll make more by selling less. Maybe the past two months I made less while selling more. Maybe I'll break even. We'll see.

One thing is for sure: this is one more incentive for authors to seriously consider self-publishing. If they've got a book that is well written and edited, with a professional cover, then they have a chance at making more than they ever could w/ a traditional publisher or literary agent. And it's one more shift in the publishing paradigm that I suspect the Big 5 publishers (are there even that many?) have yet to negotiate for themselves.

(P.S. As of the time of this writing, the price change hasn't gone through, and my books are still 99-cents--get 'em while you can!)

Monday, June 28, 2010

can it be done?

I was all set to write a post about the six-month check-in regarding my "40 things to do while I'm 40 list", until I realized that I've only been 40 for five months, so that one will have to wait until next month. So instead I'll talk about something else: Twitter.

I'm toying with the idea of tweeting a novel. And while I'm sure I'm not the first to think of this, and someone's doing it as we speak, I'm curious as to whether I could pull something like this off were I to actually give it a shot. First of all, how consistent do I have to be? In other words, if I'm in the middle of a scene ("Carmella crept out of bed & into the hall, only to trip over the tabby cat, who howled & hissed & took a swipe at her ankle with his claw."), can I interject w/ one of my more usual tweets? (Hey, Pandora Radio: in what universe are Depeche Mode and The Eagles part of the same musical genre?) Second of all, how do I protect against plagiarism, not to mention basically giving my readers a free book? Third of all, how do I not write crap? After all, this is presumably a first draft. Timelines are going to get screwed up, characters are going to be changed, tweaked, second-guessed. Plots will be subjected to inconsistencies, no doubt.

Worse still, what if I get writer's block, or bored?

Why do it at all? you ask. I suppose the lazy answer is, Why not? One of the best-selling books in Japan was reportedly written on a cellphone. There's a challenge in brevity, not to mention the arduous task of keeping the reader interested in real time, on the spot. And there's something to be said for the rhetorical situation, using a media typically reserved for randomness and banality (and the occasional promotion) to achieve something more substantive.

I don't know if I could pull it off. What's more, I don't know if I'd be able to sustain my own interest if one of my favorite authors were to do it. I mean, I don't even follow Jennifer Weiner's live-tweeting of The Bachelorette. (Then again, that has more to do w/ me preferring to poke myself w/ a stick repeatedly than watch The Bachelorette.)

So, readers, I'll ask you: what would you think of reading a novel, 140 characters at a time, on Twitter? Would you Follow an author you love just to see it unfold? Would you join Twitter for that sole purpose?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

down the retro road

Most of the Walt Whitman High School Class of 1988 is turning 40 this year. Having a January birthday, I got the head start, but I've been observing (via Facebook) the behaviors of my former classmates and fellow Gen-Xers, and they're all retreating to the 80s. They're posting You Tube videos of the music we listened to back then. They're joining adult soccer leagues. They're having 80s-themed birthday parties. And all I can think is, "Well at least it's not just me."

Not that I'm joining soccer leagues (although dammit, I would've been good), but I get this retro-journey we're on. For example, my apartment walls are sorely crying out for art, and I was thinking about framing more album covers (I've already got four Duran albums hanging in the hall) and making my own art, painting Warhol-esque still-lifes of New Coke, Atari joysticks, and Rubick's Cubes. Or maybe I'd find some vintage Patrick Nagel re-prints (I have two of those in my hallway too).

And the other day while channel-surfing (and I don't have many channels to surf, so I suppose it was more like wading), I stumbled upon a Christian Slater movie. Imdb just now informed me that it was called "Pump Up the Volume" and claims that it was made in 1990, but I could've sworn it was at least three years earlier. I was not really interested in this movie-- it seemed to be filled w/ a lot of John-Hughes-wannabe, cheesy teenage angst (how John Hughes managed to get away w/ cheesy teenage angst, I don't know -- and yet, there I am, lapping it up). Kinda dumb plot too. Christian Slater is dork by day, radio shock-jock by night. The voice of his generation railing against high school oppression. Ok, so high school really is oppressive, but it's so hard to take that oppression seriously when one of the teachers is wearing a bolo tie.

I kept watching the movie not out of boredom, but observation. I was studying the clothes. And scarier still, liking them.

Ok, maybe not the acid-washed jeans -- those clearly were a mistake -- but the big t-shirts and denim skirts over the spandex leggings (which are back in style), the frosted bangs (see my previous blog post about that), guys wearing colorful checkered shirts (I wore those more than I wore girls' shirts in those days), the big round glasses, and all that mousse... I watched all of it with a strange fascination and coming to the conclusion that a) teens had much cooler clothes than adults in the 80s, and b) Christian Slater was quite the young hottie back then.

It's not that I want to wear any of that stuff again (although my friends will testify that earlier this year I bought the same kind of captain-style hat that Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes used to wear because I always wanted one, and I bought a straw summer fedora -- so un-John Taylor, but age-appropriate), and I would NEVER -- I repeat, NEVER want to return to my teenage years, or high school. But there was something oddly comforting about seeing something that was once the norm captured in a film that had little else to offer other than canned messages of free speech and rebellion.

I'm not sure what makes us go back to those days. It sure as hell wasn't a simpler time -- not for me, anyway. Whatever it is, it's calling to the writer in me. I'm jotting down notes for another novel, coming up with names, hearing little bits and pieces of backstory. And I think I know where it's going. That's all I'm willing to say for now, and I can't promise that I'll keep the acid-washed denim out of it (although lord knows I'll try). But maybe Christian Slater will get a part in the movie adaptation.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

a birthday message for John Taylor

That's him.

I fell in love with John Taylor in 1983. He was 23 years old, and I was 13. He went through various reinventions of image. He went from blood-red hair and lipstick (yes, lipstick) and frilly shirts to suave, colorful Anthony Price suits. He popularized the fedora (which has made a comeback) and Capezio's for men. He inspired men and women to dye their bangs blond. Michael Jackson may have had the glittered glove, but JT had sleeker, sexier, red leather gloves.

John Taylor was always the Duran Duran band member who got the most screams, who sold more posters, more pin-ups, more buttons for our denim jackets and pocketbook straps. I had a lot of competition when it came to winning John's heart, but I had always believed myself to have an advantage: I got the music. After all, I was the youngest in a family of musicians. My first words were likely Beatles lyrics. I could sing harmonies, figure them out by myself. I knew what reverb was, what a drum fill was. knew the difference between a demo and a master. I knew how long it took to mix a single song (and that the meal of choice after an all-night recording or mixing session was beer and eggs). I knew that John played an Aria Pro II bass. Surely, at 15, I was going to wow him with this knowledge. Alas, I never got the chance.

At that time, the age gap seemed so wide, so impossibly hard to close. My best friend and I used to imagine ourselves magically aged seven years, magically in the right place at the right time (aka, meeting the band), our hair and faces and bodies magically transformed to irresistible. Of course, they would all fall in love with me, but John would be the lucky one.

Not surprising. We were looking for an escape hatch. At least I was.

There have always been two constants in my life: writing, and Duran Duran. The videos, the pinups, the teenybop crush feeds my sense of nostalgia (and lord knows it's really the only thing I want to remember about my adolescence, or remember with fondness, along with John Hughes movies and those CHOOSE LIFE shirts), but the music has been the real constant. There is a Duran song to suit any mood. (And of course, I don't have to tell you how the song "Ordinary World" inspired me.) The guys grew from pop stars to musicians. And one has to read John's blog posts to know that he's at a place in his life where he's sober, drug-free, happily married, a loving father, and a musician, writer, and artist. He's gone back to his roots. He's a vinyl enthusiast, still a clothes horse, and a reader. And he's good at what he does.

John Taylor is 50 today. And while I may still harbor the teenage fantasy of marrying him someday (hey, a girl can always dream -- and that's why I love novel-writing), I'm more happy that the gap is closed. The adult me doesn't dream marriage as much as of sitting back and having a conversation with him, talking about the things that matter: love, family, writing, and, of course--always--music. The gap has finally closed, and we have more in common than ever before, I think.

Happy 50th Birthday, John. You've given me 27 years of happiness and inspiration, and I am eternally grateful to you.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

hey, stranger

I thought that when the semester ended, so would my blog-posting drought. not so. Turns out, it's gotten worse.

It's not like I've not had anything to say. It's just that I've been afraid to write. Yes, afraid. I've actually been afraid of my own blog.

Go figure that one.

Writer's block is, undoubtedly, the manifestation of the fear that, while you may have something to say, it has no value whatsoever, compounded by the fear that even if it does, you are not good enough to do it justice. It skews your perception of your audience, transforming them from receptive readers to judgmental vultures. It wreaks havoc with your ability to distinguish good writing from bad. And it makes your own writing pale in comparison to everyone else's. And you know this because you're holding it up against everyone else's.

There's a story--I have no idea if it's true, but it's certainly believable--that Brian Wilson had quit his SMiLE project back in 1967 after hearing The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album. The masterpiece had already been made, he decided. There was no way anyone could come close to such greatness. It took Wilson almost 40 years to finally complete the project. And while it may have lost something in the newer technology, it is nothing short of an Opus, a beautiful composition, a story exquisitely told in music.

My books, and certainly my blog, are no SMiLE, no Sgt. Pepper. I'm not aiming that high. I always strive to write the book I would want to read rather than write the great American novel, whatever that means. I strive to write the blog I would want to read as well. But lately, I don't know what that blog looks like.

How many times have you been down this road with me before, when I've had an identity crisis with my blog? How many of you have been with me from day one, remembering the old incarnations? I've come to this crossroads yet again, and I'm not sure which road to take. Does it even make sense to keep a blog when I can accomplish just as much elsewhere in 140 characters or less (and often be twice as entertaining)? Is this a writer's blog, or a reader's blog? I've even thought about writing pieces of fiction here, but I'm too afraid of piracy and plagiarism.

If any of you have words of advice, ideas, suggestions, or examples, please do share. I really would love for this to be a place you want to visit regularly, someplace you enjoy, where you get a fix, a laugh, a burst of inspiration. I'd love that to be true for me as well. So tell me, what's the blog you want to read?