Boskone 2011 Weekend

This weekend I’ll be at the annual SF convention Boskone, on Boston’s waterfront. This is one of my regulars, partly because I like it, and partly because I can commute to it. This evening I’ll be on two panels: one on domestic robots, and one on workshopping fiction. Tomorrow I autograph and sell books and have a “literary beer,” which is a chance to hang out with anyone who signs up to hang out with me. Sunday I’m on a panel about ebooks, and one about great, memorable deaths in science fiction and fantasy. You can see the whole Boskone schedule at http://www.nesfa.org/boskone/schedule.html.

If you’re there, please look me up! It’s at the Westin Hotel next to the convention center and Word Trade Center. (And one of these days, I’ll start remembering to post these things ahead of time.)

Guest Blogger Today at Star-Crossed Romance

I’m traveling again today, offering a guest blog at Star-Crossed Romance—a blog for lovers of science fiction romance. While I’m not considered a romance writer by anyone, romance is nonetheless an important part of my writing. Why? (Do I really have to say why? Maybe I do.) If you’d like to know what I have to say about it, go take a look at
http://star-crossedromance.blogspot.com/2011/01/guest-jeffrey-carver.html.

By the way, one of the editors of the blog has just reviewed my novel Neptune Crossing. You can read the review on the same blog, at
http://star-crossedromance.blogspot.com/2011/01/review-neptune-crossing.html.

Go pay them a visit. They’re nice people.

So How’s It Going with the Ebooks, Anyway?

When I started my program of self-repubbed ebooks a few months ago, I promised I’d tell it like it is on the results of the experiment. It is an experiment, after all (one I’m doing along with some of my fellow scribblers at Backlist Ebooks and elsewhere). I was a little leery of going the self-republishing route, I guess because there was always a stigma attached to that—but it is, after all, working for some writers, including some famous and now wealthy writers. I wasn’t making much money directly from the free ebook distributions—though I was enlarging my readership, and some readers made voluntary donations. I finally decided it was time for a new approach, and in September I took the plunge.

First up were the first three Chaos books: Neptune Crossing, Strange Attractors, and The Infinite Sea at $2.99 each. Sales at first were, to put it mildly, sluggish. I followed in December with Eternity’s End at a price that wobbled around and eventually settled at $3.99, and The Chaos Chronicles 3-book omnibus at $6.99. For these last two, I got professional help with the covers, and they both look great.

In late December, sales started to pick up—meaning they went from 2-3 sales per day total to 7-10 per day. Christmas was coming, and a lot of people were getting shiny new Kindles and Nooks and Kobos and Sony Readers and iPads. Sales growth! Yes! The new level of sales continued through the first week of January. Then, whump. Holiday sales bump over. Back to a handful a day. A week went by. You could hear my fingers drumming on the table, day and night. And then…for no obvious reason, things started picking up again, even better than before. For the last ten days, sales have been in the range of 10-18 books per day. Is this a sustainable rate—or better yet, a rate upon which I can build? Time will tell. Some of my colleagues are reporting better results; some are reporting worse.

Also puzzling: Some writers find that the majority of their sales are at Kindle, with the Nook store and Smashwords hardly worth noting. Others, and I’m among them, are finding sales at Amazon sluggish, and the Barnes & Noble Nook store where the action is. Nobody can figure out why. For some of us, the sales are coming where we’re doing less promotion, rather than more.

So…am I making any money? Well, with most sales at 60-70% royalty, yes I am. Not a lot of money, but still. Why don’t I just cut the crap and show you some of the numbers? I generally don’t wave private numbers around publicly. But maybe it would be useful for people to get a glimpse of how much (or not so much) money a respectable but not-bestselling SF writer makes from one significant component of his career, ebooks. Here are some numbers for Kindle U.S. sales:

Sept-Oct (combined) — $84
November — $76
December — $244
January (through the 22nd, the last date for which I have dollar amounts) — $410

My January numbers for Nook are similar (slower start, but now pulling ahead).

Add in earnings (some reported, some estimated) from Kindle UK, Smashwords, Apple, Sony, and Kobo—and I’ve netted a little over a grand to date from my self-repubbed books, since late September. I should see the money in about 60 days. That time-frame of payment, while it feels slow, is practically tachyonic compared to the rate of payment from regular publishers.

Let’s compare these findings to my likely earnings through other publishers. Nine of my backlist books are with E-reads (a respected print-on-demand and ebook publisher specializing in backlist books). Past royalties there have been in the range of $300 – $900, per quarter, for all nine books. Those nine books are selling in many of the same stores, but at a typical retail price of $6-10. Indications are, they’re not selling as well. Is it the price? Unfortunately, I can’t directly compare recent sales of those books to my new ones, because I have to wait for the retailers to close out a reporting period and remit money to E-reads, and then I have to wait for E-reads to close out a reporting period and remit money to me. This means a lag between sales and reporting to me of as much as 6 – 9 months. But still, that’s better than the case with traditional publishing.

As for my three ebooks from the traditional print guys, who knows? They’re selling at $7-10, and are not all well distributed. Reporting is so slow and cryptic that by the time I see the numbers, I’ve forgotten what we were talking about. The royalty rates are lower. And in any case, ebook sales from those books are first applied to earning out the advance—fair enough—but because many books never do earn out, this can mean that ebook earnings serve only to reduce the unearned balance. The money to the author’s pocket may be zero…or little, and late. That might seem like a slam at the traditional publishing model, but it’s not. Remember, the publishers advanced the money that helped make it possible to write the books, provided the invaluable work of my editor, and through their marketing helped build an audience and recognition by way of paper books. You really can’t make a direct comparison of the two models.

In short, I’m not agreeing with the gurus who say, “Traditional publishing is dead! Long live self-publishing!” I don’t see it that way. Traditional publishing is still important. But for backlist sales, which publishers have largely abandoned as uneconomical, self-repubbing is clearly an exciting option.

Have I found the key to mega-sales, like J. A. Konrath and others? Clearly not. But while my self-repubbed books haven’t exactly caught fire, they are selling and at the moment they seem to be making more money for me, and paying faster, than all my other ebooks combined. It’s not exactly a living wage. But now the game is to see if I can build traction and grow my own audience along with the general burgeoning audience for ebooks. (And with luck, these sales will help to generate additional sales of the publisher-issued titles.)

Is it a sales bump, or a snowball? I guess I’ll find out.

Maybe in a future post I’ll talk about the challenges of self-promotion. In the meantime, here’s my quick guide to ebook samples, downloads, and purchases.
  
  

Busy Day Yesterday

My downloads page took on a whole new look yesterday. I spent the whole day pounding the keys, revamping and reordering the page to reflect the shift in emphasis from a whole bunch of free stuff…to some free stuff, plus purchase links for my new, low-cost ebook editions. Dreamweaver and the html got a workout, and so did Word as I created new sample PDFs of all the Chaos books, plus Eternity’s End. I’m now giving out excerpts of the first 8-10 chapters, which I hope will let folks decide if they like the story enough to drop a few bucks on the whole story in their preferred format.

Eternity’s End isn’t quite ready for upload of its ebook yet, but it’s close. I’m working with a cover designer on this one, and I’ve been working hard at trying to nail down the concept and the art pieces that will go into it. I hope to have the book up for sale in the next couple of weeks.

To celebrate all that work getting done, I took another crack at something I started a couple of weeks ago—writing a new afterword for the Sunborn ebook from Tor. They’re fixing some typos for me, and letting me add some value to the for-sale edition of the book while I’m at it.

And finally…some work on a particularly thorny subplot in The Reefs of Time, which—fear not—I am still hard at work on.

If you haven’t visited my downloads page in a while, I invite you to take a look.

Oh yes—I had a nice dinner with my family, too!

Time Travel My Way

The SF novel I’m currently writing, The Reefs of Time (Book Five of The Chaos Chronicles), involves time travel as an important story element. Specifically, a couple of my characters need to go back in time a few hundred million years, to see what they can learn about a malignant entity believed to have originated that long ago, near the center of the galaxy.

This is a pretty demanding jaunt for anyone, even those who travel with the help of far-future alien technologies. The time-travel theory involved, which I devised after a long period of mulling possibilities (and for which the prime criteria were: Does it make sense to me? and, Does it work in the story?), posits that travel back into deep time can be accomplished through an extreme version of exploiting quantum entanglement: essentially the possibility that we live in a vast web of entangled particles spanning deep space and deep time. (If you don’t know what quantum entanglement means, stay with me for a moment. I’ll get to it.)

According to theory (of alien origin, in my story), there are a couple of limitations on this form of time travel. One is that you don’t really travel physically or materialize in the past. It’s more like projecting yourself, ghostlike, in a way that lets you observe the past without actually (in theory!) interacting with anything in a way that could change the present or future. It’s so ghostly that it’s called ghoststream transmission. The theory (being tested right now by my characters Julie and Ik, under dangerous conditions) further says that any change that might be made in the past will create only limited local ripples. Nature has its own self-correcting mechanism that prevents, for example, the grandfather paradox (where you go back and shoot your grandfather before he meets your grandmother).

All fiction, folks.

Except, maybe not. This week’s New Scientist has an article about a couple of researchers who believe they may have shown that quantum time travel is theoretically possible (registration required to read article), not by the usually-cited method of flying through a wormhole or other means requiring black holes, but by performing just the right trickery with quantum-entangled particles. (Quantum-entangled particles are particles joined in a spooky way such that an action on one—change in polarization or spin, for example—is instantaneously reflected in the state of the other, even if they are separated in distance, theoretically limitless distance.) It’s one of those weird things that makes quantum physics so mind-bendy.

The New Scientist article goes on to explain that this model for time travel has a built-in mechanism that prevents time-travel paradoxes. Effectively, an entangled photon cannot go back and kill its grandfather photon, because if conditions are such that it can actually pull the trigger on its little quantum gun and pull off the photonicide, then the time travel fails to work in the first place. How’s that for prevention of terrorism?

I started to develop a peculiar sense of déjà vu as I read this article. Didn’t I just write this stuff a few months ago, weaving a bit of world-building that would make my story make sense to me? What are they doing, talking about it now in a serious scientific magazine?

You don’t suppose the researchers took a little trip forward in time and read my finished book, do you? Hey guys—if you did, please tell me, how the heck does the story turn out?
 

New Amazon Store for Backlist Ebooks Authors

posted in: ebooks, publishing, writing 0

I was away a little longer than I expected. But I’m back.

More news on the growing effort by writers like me to adapt to the changing world of books and publishing. The fledgling group I joined not too long ago, Backlist Ebooks, has taken another step toward making it easier for you to buy low-cost ebook editions of its members’ out-of-print books. The group is a loose collection of authors who have taken matters into their own hands regarding their previously published, out of print books—and are reissuing them through avenues such as Amazon Kindle’s self-publishing shop and Smashwords. Those of you who buy ebooks for the Kindle platform might want to check out the Backlist Ebooks store, for links to authors in a variety of genres and their low-cost ebooks (mostly around $2.99 a book).

Bidness Model, Shmidness Model

The arrival of Neptune Crossing in the Kindle store is part of a grand experiment, begun with my free downloads and continuing into the indefinite future. The business model of how to make a living as a writer has been shifting on a daily basis, it seems. Just selling to a publisher and waiting (and waiting) for the check doesn’t work anymore for most of us. (It never worked that well to begin with. Most of us have always had to do other work to pay the rent, whether by teaching, speaking, doing another kind of writing, or serving venti lattes.) But self-promotion, networking, blogging, ebooks, self-publishing—and on and on—have become increasingly important jags and peaks on the tectonic upheaval that we call “the writing life.”

Back in the good old days, when men were real men, and little furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were—no, wait, that’s Douglas Adams’s line. Back in the day, though, we used to be able to tell aspiring writers that self-publishing was for niche-marketers and losers, with the occasional “exception that proved the rule.” (Did that expression ever make sense?) That’s no longer so obviously true. Publishers Weekly has begun paying attention to self-published books, and if that isn’t a sign of the times, I don’t know what is. One thing that has become obviously true is that more than a few established writers are going to their backlists and getting their out-of-print books back into circulation on their own through places like Amazon and Smashwords, or through newer companies that exist for this very purpose. 

Here are some examples:

  • Thriller writer J.A. Konrath, whose high-profile blog has described his success in self-publishing his early and o.p. novels, and now new work as well
  • Bookview Café, a consortium of SF and fantasy writers, including Vonda McIntyre and Ursula K. LeGuin, marketing their own previously published books and stories
  • Closed Circle, a collaborative run by CJ Cherryh, Lynn Abbey, and Jane Fancher to sell their o.p. SF and fantasy novels
  • Diane Duane, self-publishing some of her own o.p. fantasy novels and marketing directly from her website

Count me in. Trying, in my own way to pick a path through this chaos, I’ve now managed to get all my novels, past and present, into ebook format—and some into print-on-demand trade paperback. But which path to take? I’ve taken the broadband approach. As of now, I have ebooks available through the following channels:

  • Three ebooks from traditional publishers, with traditional royalties — priced at $6.99 – $9.99
  • Nine ebooks from E-reads, at a higher royalty (50% of net) — priced at $9.99, but discounted in some stores
  • Three ebooks released already or soon directly to Kindle (and eventually to other stores), at a 70% royalty — priced at $2.99
  • One ebook free for the download on my website — not available for sale, but with Paypal donations encouraged
  • Five of the books on sale are also available for free download in limited (2) or full (3) selection of ebook formats, Paypal donations encouraged

I haven’t made up my mind what to do about the free downloads. There’s no question they’ve increased my readership. There’s some question about whether they’re helping or hurting sales of the books that are for sale. The next six to twelve months, I hope, will be telling. What they tell, I’ll post here. (Not exact sales figures, probably, but trends.)

Wish me luck. And tell your friends!

  

Roger Zelazny’s Alien Speedway: Clypsis in Kindle Store!

Back in the 1980s, I took on a lively and challenging project, which was to write a young adult novel based on a series outlined by one of my writing idols, Roger Zelazny. I’d never done anything like that before: sharecropping, they called it. Byron Preiss Visual Productions did a lot of that for a while. Big-name writer creates a world for newer writers to play in. Who could resist a world created by Roger Zelazny—especially when that world is a solar system dedicated to faster-than-light spaceship racing, and the protagonist is a young man whose desire to fly, and fly fast, I could feel burning in my own veins?

This turned out to be one of the best times I’ve ever had writing a book. I enjoyed the story, begun by Roger and sculpted by me, and I enjoyed the characters. It even gave me the chance to have someone believably say, “Eat dust, Earthman!” Clypsis was published by Byron Preiss through Bantam Spectra, and it got great response from readers. I got rave letters from strangers (this was before email). In the end, it was published just as an SF novel, not a YA novel. But the kid in me lived in the book.

 Clypsis cover art by Bob Eggleton

Then it went out of print. And so it remained, year after year. Byron Preiss (who owned the copyright) intended to reprint it in some fashion. Then Byron died tragically in an auto accident. His company went into bankruptcy. Eventually the literary assets were purchased by John Colby of Brick Tower Press. By this point, I had lost the trail; it took me years even to establish who owned the rights. Finally, we established contact, and I prepared the text of the book for ebook publication (with the assistance of Anne King, who had helped with several of my ebooks). And now…

It’s out! It’s in the Kindle store! The Sony store will be next. I’m not sure where else. I’m delighted to see this book return to life. And with this publication, every book I’ve written is now available in one form or another as an ebook!

Here’s a link. (If you buy it through this link, I’ll see a bit more return in the form of a referral fee. Thanks.)

New Ultimate SF Workshop!

[This is an old posting, for historical interest. The workshop is currently on indefinite hiatus.]

Ultimate SF, the annual writing workshop that I lead with Craig Shaw Gardner, will be starting again in October! This is a workshop for serious aspiring SF/F/Horror writers, meeting once a week for ten weeks. For obvious reasons, this is primarily of interest to people in the Boston area. This year, we’ll be moving from our old venue at the Pandemonium bookstore in Cambridge to a location, still to be finalized, in Arlington, one town out on the bus line from Harvard Square. (Pandemonium has become too successful as a gaming center to provide space anymore.)

Get your red-hot info online now at: https://www.starrigger.net/workshop.htm. [Used to be there. Probably in the Wayback Machine, if you care.]

This is an adult-level course, not suited for younger writers. However, young writers looking for guidance can check out my free online course at: https://www.writesf.com.

Come stretch your writing aspirations with us!

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