Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Audio Rises!

Back in 2010-2012 indie publishing was in its infancy. Kindles were the hot new thing and traditional publishing was still trying to get a handle on the rapid changes occurring in the industry. But indie authors: we could adapt quickly. With lower production costs we could charge less, and through KDP retain a large portion of our royalties.
Many old school readers simply did not like the new wave of technology. They preferred the feel of a book in their hands as they enjoyed their favorite authors. But over time many of them succumbed to the allure of the kindle. With it, they could pack away hundreds of their favorite books and take them anywhere they wanted.
As its popularity increased, so did the resistance of traditional publishing. Indies were stealing away more and more market share and calling into question why they were charging so much for digital copies? This sparked outright war between traditional and indie publishing. You should have seen the scathing articles denouncing indies as hacks who were destroying literature. But we fought back…with sales and fans. Digital was where the indie lived. This was the one thing the Big Five never understood. We knew we couldn’t get into book stores. We didn’t have the distribution. But so what? We understood the new technology and could see its potential. The enemy was trying to beat us up in our own yard. Well…that didn’t work out for them.
Today, traditional publishing regards indie as an accepted part of the literary world. Okay, maybe not accepted. But tolerated. I mean, they can’t do anything about us, after all. There are still some of those jerks around who shout at the sky about how we’re ruining everything. But they’re few and far between. For the most part, we have earned our place at the table and go about our business relatively unharassed.
But just when things started to calm down, a new beast emerged from the fog. Audio Books! Sure, they’ve been around a while. But recently people have discovered how enjoyable they can be. And with new downloading technology and mobile devices, it was just what the hungry reader on the go was looking for. Even the most old-fashioned of souls had to admit it was a great way to read a book when their time was limited by the rigors of day to day life.
I remember years ago when I was doing a lot of cross country traveling; I would stop at the Cracker Barrel and pick up a book on CD for the trip. You could rent it, then return it to any location so long as you saved the receipt. But they were bulky and it took several cd’s for one book. Not very practical from the point of view of the new age technological world. But the narrations were great and I very much enjoyed the listen. Not to mention it made the trip pass by more quickly.
I remember clearly the first time I heard one of my books in audio. Derek Perkins was the narrator and did such a fantastic job, he made a book I knew better than any other new again. I had never considered an audio version. At the time, it was the territory of the Big Five. Indies barely had a presence in the market. But you know indies. We’re a bunch of rowdy disruptors if nothing else.
In no time, audio went from less than 10% of my income to a full 1/3. By the time Dragonvein came along I was convinced audio was the future. During this period, Big Five publishers were shouting that the kindle was on the decline. People were returning to hard copies, just as they had predicted. And I admit, kindle sales dropped off. But not because readers were going all retro. The drop-off rate match almost identically with the rate of the increase of audio book sales.
The traditional publishers still did not understand the kindle reader. We’re talking about a reader who is unafraid of technology; welcoming of change. Audio books are just another way for them to consume the stories they want and love. And you can read them here and there, you can read them anywhere, Sam I Am.
But some companies could see the writing on the wall and took swift action. Audible.com noticed how well indie writers were doing in the emerging format. They noticed the rise of other audio publishers that were formally below their radar. They checked the numbers and were highly impressed. And being that they are owned by Amazon, they had the financial resources to act aggressively.
This spawned a rights war that is still being waged. The Big Five were not about to simply let go of this newfound income. It was either you sign over audio, or no deal. Years ago, that would have been the end of it – game, set, match. But that was then and this is now. Audible fought back. How? With cold hard cash, of course.
Out of nowhere, advances of a few thousand dollars turned into a few hundred thousand. Now an author could sell their audio rights, retain their digital and print rights, and receive a larger advance than the Big Five offered for all of their rights combined. This has gone far to empower the author. You want all of my rights? Fine. Pay me as much as Audible, then double it. You think I care if my earnings come from paperback sales or from audio? Why should I? Indies don’t care about the pedigree that comes from being traditionally published. But now, it’s not only indies who are getting wise to this. Already several authors are fighting back and demanding either more money, or to retain their audio rights.
Where this will all end up is anyone’s guess. But once again, indies are slap-dab in the middle of it. It makes me wonder what’s next? What new format will come along that has the industry in an uproar? Whatever it is, you can bet indie writers will be jumping on it like a starving man on a loaf of bread. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Reviews and How to Cope!

In due course, every book that sells more than a handful of copies receives a bad review. Hell, they usually receive quite a few, regardless of how good you might think it is. I can’t think of one that hasn’t. And for the author, this can be painful to deal with, particularly in the beginning.

I remember the first bad review I read about The Godling Chronicles. It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I didn’t want to speak to anyone for two days. How could this have happened? Why were they not entertained by my work? And the mean things they said were just…well…mean. What had I done to deserve that? After all, I’m a nice guy. And I worked so hard! Besides, everyone else liked it. Or at least, they said they did. Were they lying to make me feel good? The possibility actually entered my mind…more than once.

It wasn’t until I peeled myself off the couch and dared to click on the Amazon site that I began to feel better. Afraid to look at my own book, lest there be more hurtful criticisms, I found myself looking at the Fellowship of the Ring page. It was then I noticed that it had quite a few one-star reviews. After reading a dozen or so, I felt as if a great weight had been lifted. If a literary mind such as Tolkien can be raked over the coals, who am I to think I won’t ever be? I still was a bit irritated, but I was able to move forward. In time, they bothered me less and less, until I learned to put them into the proper perspective.

Obviously, not all books will appeal to all readers. I mean, duh! And two plus two is four. But it’s easier to know this intellectually than to experience it. As writers, we pour ourselves into our work. We use every ounce of skill and talent at our disposal to create something worthy of praise. This leaves us extremely vulnerable and exposed. I’ve shown the world my best, or at least the best I had at the time. I then asked the reader to judge my abilities. And believe me, they do. Occasionally in a…spirited way. But that’s what I signed up for. So I grew thicker skin and gained a better perspective on my own strengths and shortcomings. Not all negative reviews are useful, but many are. They can help in ways you might not realize at first.

Through my reviews – the good, the bad, and the ugly – I have refined my approach and honed my skills. I have learned who my audience is and what they expect from me. Through the readers, I have found my place in the literary world. I know where I fit in. I know how good I am and how good I am not. I have learned to play to my strengths and work through my weaknesses.

In the end, it boils down to the fact that when you write a book and do anything other than shove it in a drawer, you are opening yourself up to criticism. And though there are reviews that are genuinely mean-spirited, most are accurate. If a reader says that your character is flat, it is--at least, from their point of view. Arguing about it is pointless. You will never convince someone they are wrong about your book. For good reason. If they didn’t enjoy it, they didn’t enjoy it. You can’t talk them into remembering that they liked it when they didn’t. This is why it is NEVER a good idea to respond to a review. Nine times out of ten you come off as a defensive china doll who can’t handle criticism. You cannot win these battles, so don’t fight them.