Free Downloads Ending. Wait—What?

It’s true. Driven by my insatiable desire to keep a roof over my head, I’m cutting back on my free-download offerings. Starting this week, I’m shifting my website to samples and purchase links for the Chaos books, and the same with Eternity’s End. I’ve already got my own Starstream Publications editions of the first three Chaos books—with new afterwords—for sale in all of the major stores for a very low price (Eternity’s End coming soon). But even a very low price isn’t competing well with free.

I’ve been running the free-downloads experiment for more than two years now. Here’s my conclusion: The free downloads have significantly expanded my audience, and enabled me to meet some very nice people electronically. But they haven’t done much in terms of pay. Yes, some people have been generous with Paypal donations, and some who liked the books have gone out and bought my other ebooks—and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. But the theory that free downloads drive sales of books, which apparently works for some writers, does not seem to have clicked for me. I don’t regret offering the downloads—not a bit—but now it’s time to try something new.

I’m asking all other sites that host my free downloads to remove all except Neptune Crossing. (I’ll still let them offer that first hit for free, heh-heh.) I’ll provide big enough samples of all the books for new readers to give them a good, fair try—not like those weenie samples you get at a lot of stores, where most of the sample is ^%$@ front-matter, not the actual book.

And I’ll keep the prices low.

With the holidays coming, I’ll be offering some specials. But one thing at a time. I’m posting this right now as last call for alcoh—errr, free books!

(Note: Short stories and Battlestar Galactica will remain free in some ebook formats.)

Neptune Crossing Goes Kindle

Now—for the first time in human history!—you can download my novel Neptune Crossing direct to your Kindle, and start reading in seconds, from anywhere in the solar system that you can get Whispernet!  All for a mere $2.99, DRM-free.

This won’t seem earthshaking to those who have downloaded the book for free from my website. But for the Kindle shoppers who, until now, could browse their way wirelessly to my Kindle page and find Sunborn, but not the first three books of The Chaos Chronicles, I hope it’ll make a difference. Strange Attractors and The Infinite Sea will follow. As will uploads to other stores.

Here’s the new cover, designed by yours truly, with the help of Chaoscope. Hope you like it. [Edit: I’ve changed the type color. I liked the red, but it just didn’t show up clearly enough online. Here’s the old and the new.]

Writing Sitrep

Promises, promises. I swore I’d keep you informed how work was going on the new book, which in case you’re forgotten is called The Reefs of Time, fifth volume in the Chaos Chronicles. The answer is: slowly, but steadily. Life continues to get in the way sometimes. Especially life with kids and a mortgage. But I’m solving problems with the book one by one (story problems, I mean), and it’s getting there. This time I’m dealing with time travel—yes, in the Chaos universe, which is the same as the Starstream universe introduced in From a Changeling Star and Down the Stream of Stars. The starstream itself comes into play in this book, as well as the center of the galaxy, where the Survivors lurk. It’s my first real foray into time travel, and I’m finding that possibilities and complications pop out of the woodwork every time you turn around.

The really good news is that I realized just this week that I was enjoying working on the book a lot more than I have for quite a while. That’s the best news of all.

Meanwhile, to help pay the bills, I’m working with another author on a nonfiction project (as a paid consultant editor-writer, not as primary author). It’s taking us into some interesting areas of the law—and, as it turns out, the BP oilspill. Eeesh, what a mess!

It’s nice sometimes to retreat to my fictional pan-galactic world. 

Paperback Tailspin

I haven’t quite known how to say this, so I guess I’ll just say it: the paperback sales on Sunborn have been terrible. The worst I’ve ever seen. Distribution is awful—the book isn’t even being stocked by many bookstores I would have expected to carry it, like Borders or my local Barnes and Noble superstore. Or if they carried it, they stocked one copy. Not six or eight, like in old days, but one. How can you launch a book like that?  And why is this happening?

The reasons are legion. And these are just the ones I know about.

For starters, there was a long interruption in my output, and the first three books of the Chaos Chronicles were long out of print. I tried to address this by offering free downloads—and that certainly helped stimulate interest, but clearly not enough. At the time the paperback was published, I was in a family crisis and slow off the mark in doing the usual promotion I would have done. Worse, promotion from the publisher was indifferent, and their declining to bring the first three books back into print spelled trouble.

These are the obvious reasons, but not the only ones.

According to my editor, slumping sales are bedeviling a lot of authors and a lot of mass-market paperback books. The biggest factor is that the distribution of paperbacks has gone to hell—not just in bookstores, but in places like newsstands and drugstores. There used to be hundreds of wholesalers, each knowing their own territories—the guys who drove the trucks and put books on the racks, and who knew from experience what kinds of books tended to sell where. Now it’s all consolidated, with a few huge outfits covering most of the business. And they’re doing it by computer from central locations, making decisions that literally make or break national distribution of a book. Books that once might have found a modest but respectable audience are now cut out of the loop; they simply are not carried by the wholesalers that would get them into points of sale outside the traditional bookstore. As a result, what was once a major avenue of sales—to the casual browser who came into a convenience store looking for soap or a candy bar and stopped to thumb books on a rack—is now limited to the guaranteed bestsellers. So, you can find a book like Sunborn easily enough online, but only if you’re looking for it. Your bookstore can order it, but only if you know to ask for it. But many potential new readers will never see it

Did my posting of free downloads help or hurt? It definitely helped make a lot more people aware of the books. Did it sell books or prevent sales? Will ebook sales make up some of the difference in paperback sales? Without a parallel universe to use as a control, there’s just no way to know. 

“How can I help?” I hear you saying. (Maybe I’m imagining. But let’s assume I’m hearing it.) One thing you can do, of course, is to head to your local bookshop if you haven’t already and pick up a copy—if not for yourself, then for a friend or relative. Another is simply to encourage your local bookstore to carry the book. If you special-order it, that’s one sale. If you can get them to stock a few copies, that could be several sales and a ping on their radar. And tell people. Word of mouth is the most effective single way to promote a book. And only you can do that.

I don’t intend to sit around doing nothing but complain. I’m in the process of rethinking and retooling promotion for the future. More and more these days, that job is left solely to the author (unless you’re already a bestseller and don’t actually need the help.) I have a bunch of ideas, and I’ll be writing about them from time to time and will definitely be interested in your feedback.

“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.” —from the rejection slip for Diary of Anne Frank

Sunborn: a Tor ebook. Finally!

At last, Sunborn has appeared in most of the major ebook stores as an official Tor ebook. It’s in the Kindle store, the Sony store, Barnes and Noble, and BooksonBoard. Probably others stores, as well.  I don’t mean to snub anyone; I just haven’t done a complete survey.  It’s not available at Fictionwise, at least not yet. Nor at Webscription.

[EDIT: As of today, it is on Fictionwise, with a rebate.  That seems to be the  best price at the moment.] [EDIT OF EDIT: It disappeared from Fictionwise, along with a few thousand other books, on the day of the pricing switch to the so-called Agency Model.  No word on when, or if, these books will return to FW.] 

Prices range from $7.99 at Kindle to $9.99 at Barnes & Noble, $11.90 at BooksonBoard, and $12.60 at Sony. I hope to see those prices come down to no higher than the paperback price–and they should, according to pricing statements from Macmillan USA’s CEO (Tor is owned by Macmillan).  But I have no direct control over that.  

[EDIT OF PRICE INFO: Macmillan did indeed lower the price to equal the paperback price.  It is now $7.99 everywhere.  Everywhere that it’s sold, anyway–Fictionwise is still out of the game.] 

Sorry about the DRM, by the way. I was assured before that efforts were being made to get DRM-free Tor books up–but now I’m told that it was too hard, with all of the distributors geared for DRM. I don’t have the complete story on that yet. If you buy it and strip the DRM for your own personal use, such as to put it on your favored reading device, you’ll get no argument from me.  (It might be slightly illegal, though, under the DMCA.  I would never encourage anyone to violate even such a stupid law. Let that be on the record.) 

BTW, for some reason B&N is currently selling my other ebooks for $3.21 each, which is the best deal I’ve seen. I don’t know for how long, so if that’s a format you use, it’s a good time to grab the books.

Interview Here, Appearance There

ScifiBookshelf.com has just posted an interview with me.

I’ll be appearing at a fundraiser at my town library, Robbins Library of Arlington, Mass., tomorrow evening from 6 – 9. They’ve got a bunch of local authors coming, all bringing books to sign. Should be a fun event.

I’ll also be at Boskone, the annual convention sponsored by the New England Science Fiction Association, on Feb. 12 -13 (but not on Sunday).

Amazon Continues to Hit Authors in the Wallet

Although Amazon staff publicly stated they were conceding to Macmillan in the big battle over ebook pricing, they still have not restored Macmillan/Tor titles to their listings. Is this a continued tantrum against Macmillan, to punish them for their negotiating position? Does Amazon care how many authors they’re harming? (I think we know the answer to that one.) I am a longtime Amazon customer and Amazon Associate, but I don’t plan to send them any more of my dollars as long as they continue this senseless war.

Since Amazon is no longer selling new copies of Sunborn, let me post some purchase links here to stores that will sell it to you. (Betterworldbooks.com is a retailer I only just became aware of. Part of their mission is to actively support literacy programs around the world. Worth checking out.)

And let me join John Scalzi in urging you to support other Macmillan authors by buying their books from other outlets!  

[Edit] Here’s a new message from Macmillan CEO John Sargent, who seems to feel that the situation may be nearing resolution. (I’m not sure I agree with his reasoning on the changes coming to publishing, but there you have it.)  Meanwhile…

Sunborn is available from:

Amazon Blinks First

The war, or at least the battle, between Amazon.com and Macmillan publishers (corporate parent of my publisher, Tor Books) ended Sunday night when Amazon conceded that it would have to accept the new terms for selling ebooks.  Last I checked, my own book still wasn’t back up for direct sale, but I trust it will be soon.

One of the best (short) commentaries on the matter is on E-reads.com, by Richard Curtis, literary agent and ebook publisher.  (He happens to be my agent and ebook publisher, but that’s not why I’m recommending his column.)  He’s been in this business for a long time, and has a pretty reliable nose for what’s happening.

Author Tobias Buckell outlines the situation pretty well from the author’s point of view. That’s a long post, but if you’re interested in learning more about how this crazy business works, it’s a good one.

And another excellent author’s view from Scott Westerfeld.

Me, I’m still annoyed at Amazon for using bombs as a negotiating ploy, especially when I’m close to one of the targets.  Actually, I’m annoyed with Amazon on several counts, including their continued failure to get my books into the Kindle store.  The hell of it is, though–I actually agree with them that cheaper ebooks will make more money for everyone, or at least for most of us.

It’ll be interesting to watch what happens when Apple truly enters the ebook business, and then there will be two gorillas in the ring. 

Amazon Pulls Sunborn…

…and a few thousand other books that happen to be published by Macmillan (of which Tor is an imprint). That’s right, if you click one of my many links to Sunborn’s page at Amazon.com, you now will see it for sale only from Amazon partners, not from Amazon itself.

According to this article from the New York Times online, Amazon has pulled Macmillan titles as the next escalation in their dispute with publishers over ebook prices and timing. (Ironically, I am more or less on Amazon’s side in that argument. But for them to do this, which they have to know is hurting authors at least as much as it hurts the publisher, seems like an act of callous arrogance.)

I’d been bugging my editor to find out when the Sunborn ebook was going to become a reality (you can still download my own ebook edition from my website), but it’s looking like the Kindle store isn’t going to be a place to buy my books anytime soon. (A side note: Amazon has been apparently unable or unwilling to process my E-reads ebooks into the Kindle store, the better part of a year after their release.)

All of which just makes me, for the moment, throw up my hands.

I do hope you’ll all encourage your friends to buy Sunborn from outlets that actually carry it on their shelves. For which I thank you.

Sunborn in Paperback

Sunborn is now available in mass market paperback, from Tor Books—everywhere fine, cosmic, headbanging, epic, sensawunda, character-driven hard-SF is sold.  (And if you don’t find it in your local emporium, please ask for it!  You’ll be helping enormously.) 

For the first time in my life, I was so preoccupied by other things that I totally failed to mark the day my new book went on sale.  How bad is that?  It’s been officially available since December 29, and it only just hit me last night that it was actually out.  I did receive my author copies a few days before the publication date—in itself a first, I think.  Then I went on with life and blanked on the whole thing.  Don’t do what I did!  It’s not too late to give it as a gift!

Now, I must hit the web to see if I can find a good image of the cover.  Ah, here we go, from the Tor-Forge store:

Wouldn’t you like to own a copy today?

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