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Digital Revolution Act Two: TheTrue Nature of Amazon Revealed?

Fascinating report from Author Earnings (see here). In the traditional publishing world, the reaction to that report was rather negative (according to the UK Guardian), putting into question the methodology. But even taking into account all the limitations of this report, it still reveals a lot about about Amazon, keeping in mind that 120,000 books included in the report comprise approximately 50% of Amazon e-Book revenue and that Amazon’s own publishing ventures (five imprints) account for only 6% of the total, a surprisingly small share compared to 38% of the “Big Five” (legacy publishers):

 

OK, Indies account for 31 percent. Fascinating but at the same time frightening: remember, we are dealing here with JUST 120,000 titles (so, out of those, some 40,000 titles are indies) But this is out of a total of how many books in the Kindle Store, 3 million? 4 million? I’d love to know.

Assuming it’s somewhere between 3 and 4 million, that means less than 3% float to the surface and get bought, perhaps even as little as 2%.

The other frightening aspect of this (otherwise brilliant) analysis is the focus on rankings. It really confirms that there are no quality gatekeepers on Amazon, number of sales rule the day! Sales beget sales, historical sales keep a book floating for several weeks, and when sales dip for too long, the book sinks out of sight.

Sales numbers decide whether a book shows up or not in any reader’s searches.

I perfectly understand the logic but I deeply regret it.

It means that numbers trump quality.

Readers navigating Amazon will keep seeing the same books over and over again. If you’ve got a book that doesn’t hit the #100 rank, there’s no hope for you. None whatsoever. Because it means you have no Internet presence, not enough fans to buy your books together at a given point in time so that the ranking is boosted up. Authors with fans acquired in a previous existence as a traditionally published “mid-list author” have an obvious head start in this rankings game, no question about it, and that head start is decisive.

Good for them, but if you’re a newbie, never published before by a trad publisher, beware!

If all this notwithstanding, you do decide to jump into self-publishing, then the two genres that you should write in to have any hope of success, according to this report, are romance and science fiction/fantasy – but especially romance, look at this amazing graph:

Yes, on Amazon, the “Big Five” only seem to do well in thrillers and non-fiction. Thrillers also happens to be the area where Amazon imprints do best. However, for non-fiction, children’s and literary fiction, Amazon imprints are no match to the Big Five, they literally disappear…

Broadly speaking, literary fiction and children’s fiction don’t make the cut on Amazon, it would seem that both kids and persons who like literary reads need printed books from legacy publishers to be happy (I can’t say I’m surprised – that makes sense; ebooks are only good for quick reads when traveling or waiting at the dentist’s).

Of course, all this data needs to be taken with a grain of salt (we know nothing of the rest of what’s on Amazon – from where exactly the other half of Amazon earning stems from, and of course, Amazon won’t tell).

This puts the battle between Hachette and Amazon in perspective, doesn’t it? Some of Hachette authors are surely hurt but it is likely that many are NOT suffering all that much because the majority of their books are not sold in the Kindle Store…

Still, I am shocked that the whole analysis hinges on only 120,000 titles…Your views?

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A Writer’s Life: Can Blogging Help You Sell Your Books?

Conventional wisdom has it that blogging helps to sell books, and the more successful your blog, the more books you will sell.


Not so.

Yet, marketing gurus and hugely successful bloggers like Adrienne Smith maintain that with blogging you can “make a living” (see here).

Perhaps you can if you sell something else than books.

And here is why (in my humble opinion). There are two factors at work: (1) market saturation and (2) TV competition for your free time.

No question, of late, the ebook market has become saturated. If you have an e-reader, I bet it’s full of books you haven’t read, books you uploaded when they went free. 

Over the past three years, there has been a frenzy of giveaways to “gain new readers”, and I confess that I joined the crowd and made my books free several times, with decreasing success each time. Gone are the days of 10,000 downloads (at least for me)! Of course, now 99 cents (the launch price of an ebook) is the “new free” – I plead guilty, I’ve done it too, all the first book of my series are priced like that. 

The end result is the same: way too many books around.

Because the truth is, you’re never going to read all those books you’ve stored up in your Kindle (or elsewhere). 

Another major reason is that people don’t feel like reading novels the way they used to

Don’t get me wrong, the desire to be entertained is as strong as ever – who doesn’t like to unwind at the end of a hard day’s work in front of the TV with a drink in hand? So TV series like House of Cards or Game of Thrones replace long evenings of reading novels.

People read fiction only when there’s a blockbuster around, 50 Shades of Grey and the like. 

Otherwise people prefer to read non-fiction (if they read at all). This is why Thomas Piketty‘s book, Capital in the 21st Century, is immensely successful, in spite of forbidding reams of statistics and a title reminiscent of Karl Marx. 

Ditto for the worldwide success achieved by Karl Ove Knausgaard, an unknown Norwegian writer. His novel,  bizarrely called My Struggle which translates to “Mein Kampf” in German, reminiscent of Hitler’s famous book, is less a novel than a huge memoir thousands of pages-long that traces his “growing up”, his “struggle” to understand the world around him. Book 1 starts off with a witty observation: people love to watch death on TV – war reports from the Middle East, volcanic eruptions, fires,  floods etc  – but turn their eyes away whenever someone dies around them. The corpse is immediately covered with a blanket and whisked away in an ambulance, bodies are stacked in cold storage rooms etc Why, he asks, are we afraid to see a corpse in reality when we spend our time doing so on TV? Good question.

In general, books that express a personal point of view are big successes – much more so than novels that are often seen as fantasy and therefore a “waste of time”. How else do you explain the global success of Eat, Pray and Love, the story of a woman wounded by love who goes in search of herself across the world, from Italy to Indonesia? Elizabeth Gilbert has since written other novels, like, for example, “The Signature of All Things“, that in spite of its intriguing title and subject matter, hasn’t met with the same success – probably because it didn’t give off the same whiff of personal intimacy.

And herein lies the cause of the success of such memoir-like books: they don’t read like fiction, they are one man or one woman’s exploration of their own lives. Mind you, these are people who haven’t done anything remarkable; they have just lived their lives as someone’s child, lover, parent.  

In short they are like you and me and that’s why people are curious. Such books are “literary selfies“.

So if your fondest hope is to be the author of a break-through novel, write a “selfie”…and don’t bother with blogging!

I’ll tell you a secret. Contrary to what you might think, I’m not blogging in order to sell you my books (if you’re curious, you can see them displayed in the sidebars, if not, just ignore them). I only blog because I enjoy it, I simply like to share my ideas with you and hear what you think.

So tell me, how about you, why do you blog? Have you seen a connection between your book sales and your blog traffic?

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Masterpiece, Italy’s Reality TV Show for Writers: Last Act and a Small Miracle

 Publishing Perspectives just published my most recent article about the Italian Reality TV show for writers (see here) and I’m happy to share it with you:

 

Italy’s TV Reality Show Ignored Psychology of Authors

Italy’s “Masterpiece” TV reality show for writers failed to attract viewers, in part, because it didn’t account for the way writers empathize with others.

By Claude Nougat

On March 30, the RAI 3 reality TV show Masterpiece promoted by the publisher Bompiani to find the “Next Big Italian Writer” ended with an unlikely winner, a Serb who lives in Venice: 36 year-old Nikola Savic.

Last week, on April 16, his winning book, Vita Migliore, was published in 100,000 copies and distributed to the libraries across Italy.

Two weeks to produce and distribute a printed book must be something of a Guinness record for a traditional publisher – as we all know, publishers usually require a minimum of six months to properly edit and produce a printed book.

A veritable miracle? Perhaps.

I reported on Masterpiece when the show started in the fall. By December 2013, it was suspended (presumably due to low ratings), but by then Nikola Savic, a tall, hefty Serb with a quick smile, was already very much in the public eye. He must have been in Bompiani’s eye as well.

The show resumed for four weekly sessions in March, and churned through some 12 candidates at a fast clip – a rate twice as fast as in the fall. For the final episode, on March 30, five candidates were still in competition.

That evening, the winner was selected by a deciding vote from Ms. Elisabetta Sgarbi, the Bompiani Senior Editor. In explaining her vote, she noted that Mr. Savic’s book needed some additional editing, that this was “important” because of grammatical errors and awkwardness in the language (she delicately called it “aritmie”). This is probably to be expected from someone for whom Italian is not the mother tongue.  “It was an uphill choice,” she said, discarding the other candidate, a woman, Raffaella Silvestri, whose book still sounded quite attractive.

Certainly an uphill choice and possibly a brave one.

On the other hand, we may have been given a preview of how Bompiani worked its minor miracle of such a quick turn around on Savic’s book publication, for when Ms. Sgarbi walked up to Savic on the podium to congratulate him, she brought to him… a printed copy of his book:
Nikola Savic, the winner of Masterpiece, with Elisabetta Sgarbi, Bompiani's Senior Editor

Yes, that’s his book. It seems it was already in print on March 30th. Or maybe not? Perhaps that was just the cover and the inside pages were blank…An alternative (and more probable) explanation is that the whole show was probably shot in a few weeks back in the fall (this is normally done for Reality TV shows to save money) and that Bompiani knew by November who the winner was. So they had in fact some five months to produce the book. Minor miracle explained!

With respect to the show’s declared objectives—to raise public awareness of writing and writers—one can only regret the way it went. As reported in the local press, it attracted few viewers and fell well below the average for Italian reality TV talent shows.

It certainly once again raises the question of whether writers can be fodder for TV shows. Aren’t they better off left in their ivory towers?

Looking back on this show, several mistakes were made at the outset, chief among them not allowing the winner of one session to carry over to the next, thus losing a chance to get viewers more involved in the fate of contenders. Efforts were made to get contenders to “fight” among themselves, for example, in the last session, a couple of contenders were asked to give the most negative opinion they could think up about each other’s book. It was not a pretty sight. Such efforts however seemed to have backfired and whenever one lost, the other rushed to embrace and console the loser. As was done here:
The loser Vargas is consoled by the contenders Nikola Savic and Raffaela Silvestri.

The savagery of classical talent shows didn’t appear to carry over to the writers. It would seem that the kind of uncivilized behavior exhibited in other reality show was difficult, if not impossible, to extract from the writers. Writers are by trade intellectuals who tend to empathize with others, itself an asset in dreaming up their characters and constructing their plots. There is no question that a reality show for writers should take into account the particular mental predisposition of writers who are, when all is said and done, very different people…or they wouldn’t write at all.

In short, no one has yet come up with a successful TV show featuring writers and Masterpiece certainly failed in this respect. If such a show is ever to succeed, more attention will need to be given in future to the way writers think and react.

On the other hand, if the objective of the show was to unearth the Next Big Writer, then more importance should have been given to the opinion of the audience. In the last session, an interesting effort was made to put together an audience in the studio and inform them in advance of the books competing as finalists (through synopsis and excerpts) and get the finalists to pitch their books directly to them, as was done here, with each contender supported by a well-known Italian author:
Last challenge in front of the jury and a crowd of invited onlookers; the contenders are supported by major writers, on the right, Savic by Susanna Tamaro and Raffaella Silvestri by Donato Carrisi.

After the performance, the audience was asked to vote and they favored Raffaella Silvestri over Nikola Savic. Nevertheless, the Masterpiece judges (Andrea De Carlo, Giancarlo De Cataldo and Taiye Selasi) voted for Savic and so did Bompiani’s editor, thus disregarding the opinion of the public. This was a lost opportunity  to take into account what  people think and like.

No doubt, Bompiani and the TV producers will carefully review the results of this show and draw some lessons. We can only hope for a better show the next time around.

A closing comment: I’d like to add that, overall, I feel this is a promising formula for attracting the general public’s attention to books and I’m sure that in future we’ll see smashing shows that will generate interest in writers and the world of publishing.

Your opinion? 

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How to promote your book and win reviews at the same time

Reviews sell books, right? But the problem is to get them. Ads are easy, you pay for them but they tend to be ignored unless you tie them to a promotion, making your book free or at 99 cents for a short period. The grand-daddy of book promoters is of course BookBub, recently joined by EBookBargainUK and EbookSoda, all excellent sites if you want that kind of promotion.

But how about tying your efforts to garner reviews with free book promotions? 

Story Cartel has the answer, to check it out, see here. I thought I’d test it out. I recently joined and here’s how my book looks on the Story Cartel site: free digital copies are distributed in exchange for honest reviews, though no one is required to post a review.

Looks nice, doesn’t it? It’s sitting there together with related books and a notice clearly indicating how long the offer lasts (at the time of this writing, 17 more days). To see it on the Story Cartel site, click the image.

Actually offers on Story Cartel are meant to last 20 days (I already lost 3 days in telling you about it!). And when the promotion is over, Story Cartel organizes a sweepstake among reviewers and the winners get a free printed copy that I have agreed to provide, in total 5 print copies (offer limited to the US).

So if you enter, you can even get a free print copy delivered to your home!

I don’t know how well such a promotion works – I shall let you know asap. If anyone has used it, please leave a comment about your experience! 
And there are already some very positive evaluations of Story Cartel, see here:

Cover Wars: Vote for your favorite book cover and don’t forget to vote mine, (grin) it’s “Crimson Clouds”. Check it out here. They all look great (even if I really like mine)!
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Simenon, Some Lessons from the Grand Daddy of Genre Literature

English: Georges Simenon Português: Georges Si...We all know that Simenon is the father of Commissaire Maigret, a fat policeman in the French Brigade Criminelle with a penchant for staring down suspects, and that all through the 20th century he was considered a literary phenomenon.


But exactly how phenomenal is not so well known. 

For example, I didn’t know that he had written some 250 novels in his lifetime, plus 150 novellas as well as three autobiographical novels. Or that it took him about 10 days on average to write a book. Or that he regularly wrote (and published) three books a year. 


I recently watched on ARTE TV 7 a documentary that cobbled together a series of interviews with Simenon and snippets of the numerous films that were made from his books. 

It was an eye-opener. 

What was nice about this documentary is that you only got Simenon talking about himself and his work, no silly comments from an off-line voice. Simenon even regaled us with a couple of old childhood songs (saying that was the advantage of growing old, you could remember them). He sang in a croaky voice totally out of tune and laughingly admitted to having no ear. 

 

Here’s the link to ARTE if you want to view the film: click here. And I hope for you that the link works – it doesn’t here in Italy where I live, I have no idea why. Instead, I found this video on YouTube, done in 2003 by Arte to celebrate Simenon’s 100th anniversary (born in 1903, he died in 1989). It  does work and provides a lot of the same info:


Before I get to the gems he dropped about himself, here are some breaking news of my own about Luna Rising, not really a genre novel…Sorry about that Simenon! We are compatriots, I’m Belgian too, but we haven’t followed the same path, I don’t write detective stories (grin). Actually, my Luna Rising is the ultimate cross-genre novel, starting out as a paranormal romance and ending as a techno-thriller when Tony Luna, an American computer whiz kid finds his start-up under attack from the Russian and Sicilian mafia in an unholy alliance. The stakes rise when the woman he loves is kidnapped in Moscow… (Hello Simenon, here I get closer to you!)

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BREAKING NEWS: AMAZON COUNTDOWN DEAL for Luna Rising, the Full Saga (volumes 1-3) starting today 27 February at 99 cents and climbing by one dollar each day, $1.99 on 28 February, $2.99 the day after etc until it’s back to its original price of $4.99. Don’t miss out on the deal, get your copy before the price goes up! Grab it here

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Back to Simenon’s gems:

  • Family and religion: By the time he was 12, he realized he couldn’t stand his family or the Catholic religion, he saw them all as victims of the system and that was something he didn’t want to become, in short, he was (nearly) a born rebel;
  • Politics: He never got interested in politics because he felt politicians didn’t have power; the real power in his view, was always in the hands of big corporations and big banks;
  • Writing pulp: Colette was his mentor, the first critic of his works and she told him off for writing in a literary form; “make it simple” she chided him, “no extra words, no unnecessary descriptions, read  pulp fiction!”; he did, he read every cheap book he could lay his hands on, and within months started to produce his detective stories – the Maigret series, some 75 books – saying that they were really easy to write: the plot was pushed forward by the Commissaire himself!  
  • Writing speed: He wrote on an old typewriter, hitting the keys as fast as he could and never going back (in those days, corrections were a time-consuming process): he liked Bach fugues and all his life, wished he could write at that speed, keeping the rythm!
  • Branding and Book Promotion: He launched his first Maigret book through a fantastic PR operation: he rented a theater and threw a huge party in Paris that he called the “bal anthropométrique” asking his guests to put their thumb on real police ID cards (!); it was reported the next day in the Figaro, and voilà, his book became an instant success!
  • Literary Relationships: He didn’t like literary types – he felt they were a closed group, a mutual-admiration society that he never wanted to belong to yet he became great friends with André Gide , the grand old man of French letters. Gide astounded him with the first question he asked when they first met: “Where did you first get the idea for your ‘personnage’?” Simenon thought he meant “character” and that he was asking him about Commissaire Maigret; but that wasn’t the case at all. Gide wanted to know how he, Simenon, had come across the concept of his image – the image he projected in the literary world!

In fact, I think that is what is most interesting about Simenon: he is not only one of the founding fathers of genre literature but also a master at “brand” building. 

 

He certainly does look like everybody’s idea of a detective and a writer rolled into one!

What all this suggests for today’s digital writer is:

1. If you can, don’t stay entirely digital – try to create social events in real life with real, physical readers!


2. Pick a persona and stick to it, brand building is a daily job.

3. Read in the genre you’ve picked to write in and read as extensively as you can;


4. Write fast, write a lot (Simenon was capable of writing up to 80 pages a day) and don’t edit anything before you’re finished so that you don’t lose the momentum.


And one last thing: good luck!

 

What’s your take on Simenon’s lessons for fellow writers? And as a reader, do you enjoy him?



Photo credit: see Georges Simenon Wikipedia

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Two Good Reasons Why You Should Do Audiobooks

Should you do audio books of your titles? The answer is YES! And there are two very good reasons for doing so, but before I get to them, here’s a little introduction to the world of audiobooks.

It’s a new aspect of the digital publishing industry, now worth $1.6 billion (still peanuts) but growing fast. If you’re considering doing an audiobook, I highly recommend the following article by Michael Kozlowski on Good E Reader’s blog, click here. You will see that in addition to Amazon’s services, there are several excellent alternatives you might want to investigate.

Audio titles so far are relatively few (13,255 titles came out in 2012, up from 4,602 in 2009 – compare that to the millions of ebooks). Audiobooks seem to be the province of affirmed writers with a proven market, like, for example Elizabeth Spann Craig, a successful “hybrid” author (“hybrid” means she has both traditionally published books  and self-published titles). She has a hefty number of published books under her belt and writes 3 to 4 books a year, making sure they’re available in ALL formats. See here for her own summing up of her experience in 2013.

What is remarkable about her is that she spends (next to) zero $$$ on marketing, does just a little blogging and facebooking and tweeting (plus a couple of giveaways on Goodreads/year) – in short, she doesn’t relate directly to her readers as an author. They are more interested in her books than in her, they’re fans of her book characters, not of her as a writer or even as a person! This is what she calls “book-centric reader engagement” (and she is engagingly shy and modest about herself). All that means she has to write more books every year to keep it up rather than waste time on book promotion campaigns.

This is where audio-books come in, a format with a rapidly rising audience as more and more people are engaged in activities that preclude reading (for example, all the time wasted driving your car). We’ve all heard of Audible (acquired by Amazon in 2008), ACX and Podiobooks and I won’t go into it here. One of my fellow author friends, Bert Carson, who’s just dived into turning all his titles into audio-books, waxes enthusiastic, check him out here. He’s got a lot to say about making them (see his “lessons learned” sections).

What I do think is that before you make that extra effort of producing an audio-book you should consider whether it is really worth your while. Which gets me to the reasons for doing audiobooks:

Reason #1: You should definitely do an audio book if you are in Spann Craig’s position, where you’ve “saturated” your corner of the market. If not, you’ll find that your audio-books face the same marketing hurdles as all your other formats (ebooks and printed versions) and are in need of selling boosts. Are you ready for that extra-marketing?

But there may be alternatives. For example, producing audio-clips of portions of your book, say a particularly breathtaking passage that could help in marketing your book, though the places to upload your clips are still essentially limited to soundcloud.com, click here to visit. You can set up your “sound” page there and share your clips – also very useful to embed your clips on your blog or website.

Reason #2: with the advent of Amazon’s “Whispersync For Voice”, it makes total sense. Your readers are able to move from reading to listening and back again without losing the place they stopped reading (or listening). Check it out here. The cool thing is that Amazon provides readers with a discounted audio copy if they buy the ebook first. So what you’ve got here is a built-in marketing tool. See here author Stephen Woodfin’s experience that he very kindly shares on the Venture Galleries blog, an eye-opener.

If you’ve had any experience with recording your book, please share!

Latest News about my publications:

Crimson Clouds, (new edition) romance the second-time-around (on Amazon, click here for ebook and here for printed version) Just garnered new three 5 star reviews (excerpts):

“Honest, profound and emotional, Crimson Clouds will have you exploring some of your own emotions and question the meaning of your own life” (Bill Howard);

“The scenes unfold vividly in front of you, full of color and life, like a painting” (Mamta Madhavan);

“By allowing each of the main characters to narrate their side of the story, Claude Nougat skilfully delivered a must-read novel, enabling the reader to have a deeper understanding of the thoughts and feelings of each character” (Faridah Nassozi)

Beware of the offer of a printed first version of the book, under the title “A Hook in the Sky”, see here. It looks nice and cheap ($10.80!) but it’s no longer in print and I have retired it. It’s just that the Amazon system is slow to register change…

Luna Rising, the full saga (new edition, 3 volumes) one young man’s battle to rebuild the family name (on Amazon, click here for ebook and here for the printed version)

Again, beware of the printed version presented  here, it’s cheaper BUT that is the first edition (originally called “Fear of the Past”) and unless you are a collector of rare editions, don’t buy it!

Note: ebook is 40% off compared to buying each e-volume of the saga separately. See here.

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