Wednesday, 20 May 2015


I kept seeing mentions of Twitter, and how important it was for self-publishing. I'd always held back from Twitter. I'd assumed it was just full of self-absorbed people tweeting that they'd just had a sandwich or something. I'd also picked up the idea that it was somehow dangerously addictive. I confess I didn't try very hard to reconcile those two contradictory facts. It should have told me there was something more, there.

So I asked some good friends (John Rosauer, Ross Cartlidge, Peter Allworth) what they thought about it, and was quickly disabused. Technologically speaking, it filled a completely new niche in communications, providing a service that had never been achieved before: many-to-many communication. So different from TV, email or SMS (one-to-many) or phone (one-to-one), or even facebook. I still didn't 'get' it, but started reading up on it. I bought a few books that covered Twitter and writing or publishing: Get Your Book Published by Katherine Lapworth, The Business of Being Social by Michelle Carvill and David Taylor, and the ebook, Twitter for Writers by Rayne Hall (@RayneHall).

After futzing about for a while, starting and then stopping with each, and creating a Twitter account for myself, today I plunged in. Rayne's book was quite short, purely about Twitter for writers, and a very engaging read. Partway through I realised I really needed to go even further back to basics, and so I read up on it on Wikipedia. Gradually a picture was forming, and I plunged back into Rayne's book.

I think I've formed a correct (basic) picture of Twitter, and I'll see now if I can share what I've learned. As usual, as I learn more, I'll correct/update this post, later.

What it is:

I think in this case, a metaphor really helps. I picture Twitter as a river that flows past my door, a digital river. And the river is made up of flows from lots of little streams; lots of different tributaries. This river carries alls sorts of flotsam and jetsam, some of it bright and fun and distracting, some of it deep and meaningful and even heart-breaking. And it's all digital: you can pick up and keep any of the flotsam, and play with it and use it, and that piece of flotsam is still there in the river waiting for others to pick it up and use it or play with it, too. You literally can have your cake and eat it too. Of course, some of it you have to pay for, but lots of it is free.

Rayne wrote that who you choose to follow is crucial. To vary my metaphor slightly, the digital river that is Twitter, for which you've carved the channel that runs past your front door, is where you can sit and pan for gold. But the source of the gold that goes into 'your' river is the deluge of tweets of all the people you follow. So by choosing people who tweet stuff that's interesting to you, you're making sure that more nuggets of gold go into the water. It's also a good way, I think, to consider what you yourself should tweet. It seems obvious, but by tweeting what you think is interesting or useful, there's a better chance that you've produced a little nugget of gold yourself.

It's like a microcosm of the whole publishing field, which itself is a microcosm of the whole human endeavour. Every day, all across the world, human beings are creating something from nothing: ideas that never existed, brought into the real world by the power of thought (and hard work). Stories that never existed before, products and services that never existed before. Like almost-free solar lighting from water-filled plastic drink bottles silicon-rubbered into tin shanty roofs. (Seriously, how brilliant is that!) Every day, all across the world, more treasure is added to the world. More value is created; more wealth. And, I firmly believe, humans are even improving how much of this wealth is shared: how much flows out to people who need it. We're intrinsically community and group-oriented; apart from people whose brains are wired wrongly, our innate helpfulness only fails when we manage to convince ourselves that other humans are Other, outside our group, and don't count. Aren't really like us; maybe aren't even human. But the trend, over decades and centuries, and millennia, is clearly up.

Oops. What was I talking about, again? Ah, yes, Twitter.

So you have a tab open in your browser (or a mobile app) that just shows your Twitter feed. Your digital gold-panning river, with tweets flowing down the page and scrolling off into the past. Fed by just the twitter streams of the people you follow. You write your message in a bottle, throw it into Twitter, and it floats down from the source and into the rivers of all the people following you. So you can even have conversations: ask questions, get answers.

It's starting to become clear how it could become addictive, eh? Just today, from @SciFiFanReads, I suddenly see some cool-sounding books floating past, and click through to Amazon and See Inside. Now, the last thing I need is more good books to read – I have a coffee table (actually, three coffee tables), piled up with, at last count, 160 paperbacks I've eagerly bought and I'm waiting to make time to read. Suddenly, here I am with another 1,000 pages of hopefully-gripping stories to read. (In case anyone's interested, they're Feyland #1 by Anthea Sharp, Runes #1 by Ednah Walters, and Beautiful Demons #1 by Sarra Cannon.) And because they were on a kindle discount, today they were free! How could I resist? So the least I can do will be to write a review as I finish each.

So, yeah, Twitter is starting to look pretty addictive, as well as pretty useful. I suppose, as with any of life's other pleasures, the solution is simply to be disciplined, and to consciously limit the time you allow yourself with it.

Though right now I need to head off to get to a Sydney Writers Festival talk on Twitter (Telegrams to Twitter: The Changing Face of Communication), which starts at 6pm!

Oh! I should probably add, my own Twitter account is @LukeJKendall. See you by the riverbank! :-)

Just returned from the discussion ("From Telegrams to Twitter"). A good panel and an interesting night. I have more confidence that what I've written, above, is correct. The panel were cool - Adele Horin, Kerri Sackville, Phoebe Roth, Olga Horak, and Dan Grynberg). So too were the audience. I even got to ask my key question - how important is Twitter now, for publishing in general? There was a strong consensus that it's crucial nowadays. Afterwards, I also managed to ask Phoebe about my Twitter-as-a-river-metaphor, and she thought that, yes, it was very apt.

One of the topics touched on was how much "crap" there is out there online, although mixed in with a lot of really good stuff, too. Considering the title of the night's panel discussion, I thought it a little ironic that no one pointed out that that's exactly what Twitter does. Twitter is effectively a crowd-sourced solution to the tricky problem of finding "good stuff", when the definition of good stuff varies from person to person. I think it was probably because we were running out of time by that point.

On a silly personal note: the talk started at 6pm, but until 6pm most parking spots were one hour. I managed to genuinely impress a convivial group of Darlinghurst-ites as they chatted and drank outside the pub as they watched me park, directly in front of them (only about 10cm space both front and rear); and a kind lady from the audience gave me a helpful assist to make an equally-neat departure afterwards. Thank you to that kind soul!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Self-e, Library Journal, and Kindle Unlimited

A friend (Ross Coleman, very recently retired from the University of Sydney's Rare Books department), sent me a link to The Library Journal's self-published ebook awards:

Library Journal Honors the Best Self-published books in the genres Romance, Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy.   It's related to the Self-e programme, which this article describes as 'a fairly new program designed to connect indie authors with libraries and create a win-win partnership. Authors provide their eBooks to the program for free; no royalties are paid to the author. The libraries then provide the books free to their patrons. In the past, indie authors have had difficulty getting their books into the library systems, but this new partnership will mitigate that hurdle and the author will have nationwide exposure. This is no small measure, since the Library Journal deduced that, “Over 50 percent of all library users go on to purchase eBooks by an author they were introduced to in the library.” '

You can enter your book in the Library Journal Honors the Best Self-published books contest by providing it in ePub format or as a PDF file, and grant Library Journal the right to electronically publish your work to libraries (and only libraries).  Since I'm considering publishing my book through the Kindle Direct Publishing scheme, I wondered what that meant as far as Amazon's licensing arrangements.

However, knowing now that the Kindle Unlimited (KU) scheme is basically a subscription library service, and knowing that “exclusive” generally means “exclusive”, I believe that if you are publishing your book through Amazon's Kindle Select programme, you would not be eligible to enter the book into the Library Journal's contest. That's just my guess, though. I should really ask Amazon, I suppose.

While trying to find a discussion about the legal position, I stumbled over several articles related to the KU scheme.  I'd seen KU mentioned on Amazon's site (those notes about “Did you know you can get this book for free on Kindle Unlimited?”), but wasn't sure what it meant, and never took up the offer.  It seemed too much like a free lunch.

Having looked into it a little more, I now understand that KU is a subscription library service. For about US$10/month, you can read as many books as you like from the subset of Amazon's ebook content that is available under KU (about a quarter of Amazon's full set of ebooks). But I also came across this interesting article from Library Journal: Kindle Unlimited’s Two-Tier System Makes Some Authors Second-Class Citizens , the gist of which is that while traditional publishers who provide content for KU get the normal rights they're accustomed to, self-publishers who use Kindle Select don't: specifically, their books must be available exclusively through Amazon. Why the difference? The article's author claims that it's simply because Amazon can get away with those terms for self-publishers, whereas traditional publishers would never agree. To me, that sounds completely correct: Amazon is a business, trying to maximise its profits, and by making a lot of content available exclusively via Amazon, they significantly strengthen their position in the market. However, it should be noted that the Kindle Select programme runs on a 90-day cycle, and if the author opts out of the Select programme, then at the next renewal date they're released from the programme and are free to offer their book elsewhere (including the Kindle Direct programme).

Another unfairness is how much you as an author is paid for KU borrowings. In both cases, the author is only paid if the borrower reads past the 10% mark of the book. Now, if you're not in Kindle Select, but a traditional publisher who opted in, then you're paid the same price as if the person bought the book. If you're in Kindle Select, the size or price of your book is ignored; Amazon decides on a pool of money to provide for borrowings for the upcoming month; this is dividied by the total number of borrows in that month. That amount usually comes out to about US$2. Members of Kindle Select are then paid this amount for each time their book was borrowed in that month. Hmm.

I also came across this 2012 web page that describes how to publish your book with Kindle: Publishing Your Novel on Kindle (using Microsoft Office). It's a very straightforward article, describing everything in simple steps. It has excellent advice, like carefully checking each page of your book after you've uploaded it to Kindle, and before you make it publicly available (since various formatting problems may occur). It also has a detailed section for non-US citizens, about tax and the process you need to go through to get a ID number suitable for the US Internal Revenue Service. Now, from what I've seen on the Kindle Direct Publishing site, if you're in a country that has a reciprocal tax arrangement with the US, none of that long and complex process is necessary any more, in 2015. I think! No doubt I'll find out the truth of that myself, in due course.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

If you'd like to follow this blog

Some weeks ago, while showing this blog to Karen Tisdell when it was brand-new, we had a very quick try at working out how to follow it. Although she too has a Google+ account, and I had added a Google+ 'follow' widget to this blog, we couldn't work out how to do it – the problem was that the Google+ page it brought up wanted her to create a Google+ account, not recognising she was signed in to Google+ already. We're still unsure why. But I also think the Google+ follow widget is designed to allow one Google+ user 'follow' another Google+ user: I suspect it doesn't actually follow the blog, it just loosely connects your Google+ account to theirs.

So, how to follow? The short answer: click on the button, over on the right (not on the mere image of the button, here!).

Short answer #2: I think you can also use the “Follow by Email” widget to get emailed when I create new posts.

Note: The rest of this article is as much about how to add widgets to a Blogger blog, as it is about how to follow this one. I think it just barely fits into the topic area I'm trying to cover in this blog.

Anyway, after some investigation, I think I've worked it out. (I googled: blogger how to follow). As the blog creator you can add widgets to your blog by signing in to Blogger and navigating to the dashboard (which you as the owner get to by clicking on the “Design” link at the very top, over on the right).

You then simply click on the Layout link for the blog (which is over on the left), and after that, over on the right, you click on an “Add a Gadget” widget in whichever position you want the gadget to be placed (see the diagram above).

Any of those Add a Gadget buttons open a fresh tab in your browser, showing a page that provides some pre-authored sets of widgets. There's a tab holding the “Basics” set and a tab with “More Gadgets”. I hadn't noticed the 2nd tab, but this time I clicked through to it, and took a punt that the “Followers” gadget was the same as the “Join this site” widget that the Blogger Help page revealed by the Google search I'd done earlier. The result looks promising, anyway. I'll see how it goes and edit this post if I learn of any problems.

Blogger seems by default to also allow you to follow via Atom (the blog has a link at the very bottom for this):

If (like me) you're not very familiar with “RSS feeds,” I think they're basically a way of giving you the kind of horizontally-scrolling news bites you see at the bottom of some TV news programs. You can configure your browser to show whatever RSS news feeds you've subscribed to. The Blogger “Posts (Atom)” RSS link makes it easy to subscribe to such a feed. When you click on that link, you'll be offered a choice of following by either using “Live Bookmarks” or by more traditional RSS methods (like using the InfoRSS browser extension). The Live Bookmarks is an icon on Firefox that you just click on to get a long drop-down list of the various news bites. I tried installing the InfoRSS extension to Firefox version 38, but it was pretty disastrous: it didn't work and it also removed the address bar, the Home icon and other toolbars, and even disabled the Customize page! I installed SimpleRSS instead, and just chose “Live Bookmarks”, and that worked fine.

I think this topic is another one for which I have more to learn. So if anyone faces any problems, please let me know and I'll investigate. Either way, I'll update this post as required.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Marketing, initial thoughts


By happenstance, I've recently gained the opportunity to spend most of my time writing, rather than just small slivers of time.  I've been working out a kind of career plan for doing this, with the help of Karen Tisdell at the Chandler MacLeod Group.  I had my last session with her yesterday, and we reviewed this blog among other things.  She noted in particular that there's no mention here of the book I've written, Wild Thing,

which I hope to self-publish by the end of May.   Now, I started this blog with the intent to create a resource for others; and if it turned out to be useful, perhaps it would also indirectly promote my own work.  Fair enough, I hope you think.  But since my book is the very reason I'm trying to learn about self-publishing, it does seem something of an oversight to not even hint at its existence. (Insert sheepish grin here.)  Anyway, here is my current blurb:

“Raised in isolation at the Institute for Paranormal Dysfunction to test a heartless researcher's theory of magic, Sara later trains as a covert operative. Unknowingly stalked by a magical construct which evolves as it hunts her, seeking the victim it needs to 'correct' human nature itself - is her fate to be experimental subject, assassin, or humanity's doom?

Or can a 17 year old girl prove strong enough to forge her own Path, instead?”

If you're signed up with Amazon WriteOn (if you have any sort of Amazon account, I believe you can join: though note that it's intended for authors), you can see it there at Wild Thing.

Karen and I also found it hard to leave a comment on this blog, so I also plan to investigate that soon and write about it on this blog

Okay, so with that bit of self-promotion (pre-marketing?) out of the way, and fitting in with today's topic of Marketing, over in Anne's Support for indie authors group at Goodreads , Jessica recently ran a poll: What is the best way to drum up sales? Since this is one of the topics I planned to investigate, now seems a good time to put down my initial thoughts.  I'd previously mentioned CoPromote, and had been mulling that idea over.  From my rough understanding, it's designed to function as a cross-promotion system using Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.  It provides a link to the stuff you want to promote, along with a Recommend button.  If people check out your stuff and like it, they can easily Recommend it – which I think shares the CoPromote link to your stuff via their social media.

I consider this blog itself a marketing tool in a way, too.  If people find what I've written here useful or even interesting, they may be inclined to check out what else I've written.

Similarly, by offering my honest reviews of the books I've read, then if some people find them interesting, or think, “Hey, I enjoyed a lot of the same books as Luke, perhaps I'll enjoy what he's written, too?”

Of course, once you have a book published, you can create your Author page at Goodreads, as well as doing the same kind of thing with whatever site you've used for self-publishing.  Amazon has an Author Central Account, and I assume some at least of that will be visible to your users.

I think it also makes sense to use the social media you're active with, to promote your work.  In my case, that's just Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.

I also think that probably a recommendation from a more well-known author is likely to be of enormous help in making people aware of your book(s).

Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing programme has a couple of marketing tools: if you sign up for the Select programme, then in return fro granting Amazon exclusivity, you have a couple of options for lowering the barrier for readers to check out your work: a few days of reduced pricing, or the occasional day of free pricing.  I imagine the reduced pricing is the newer model: the idea being that people are more likely to go ahead and actually read your book if they've paid for it, in contrast to squirrelling it away for possible future reading if they ever get around to it....

These are just my initial thoughts – I know there's much more I need to learn about this particular topic.  So please stay tuned as I climb the marketing learning curve.