Scammers Break The Kindle Store via @DavidGaughran

[David Gaughran Photo]As a rule, I don’t repost. But I feel this is an important issue, not only for authors but readers as well. Check out David’s well-researched and thoughtful comments about a problem that seems to be plaguing Amazon. And, if you are so inclined, lend your voice.

On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts.

The Kindle Store is officially broken.

This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed title also hit #1 in the Kindle Store. And Amazon took no action.

Over the last six weeks, one particularly brazen author has put four separate titles in the Top 10, and Amazon did nothing whatsoever. There are many such examples.

I wrote at the start of June about how scammers were taking over Amazon’s free charts. That post led to a phone conversation with KDP’s Executive Customer Relations.

Repeated assurances were given that the entire leadership team at Amazon was taking the scammer problem very seriously indeed. But it was also stressed that the problem wasn’t quite as bad as I was making out, and that this stuff never hits the charts and remains largely invisible to customers.

I explained in detail how none of those contentions were true, that readers are leaving angry reviews under these books, which regularly hit the charts, and further that KDP has singularly failed to act on 18 months-worth of complaints.

Amazon asked me to compile more information for them – and I did that with a report submitted on Wednesday.

You can read the rest of this post at David’s blog.

Pulp or Poet?

[Size Mismatch]
Photo courtesy of Miguel Castaneda
via Creative Commons

A writer’s life is nothing, if not angst-filled. Each day, we struggle with dilemmas—most of our own making and many imagined. As for me, I like to battle my demons in private. The best course, I feel, is to put that kind of drama into my writing and let my characters live in Hell. But, frankly, I just can’t take it anymore, and I need to spill. So please, bear with me.

I’ve been writing for more years than I care to admit. In my twenties, I devoted my energy to screenwriting. Great idea, jefe. Get to the end of the line behind the thousands in LA already slaving away at what they hope will become the next ‘Captain America.’ Though I did manage to sell one screenplay and see it made into a movie, I never really enjoyed the success I was hoping for.

When indie publishing came along—mostly thanks to Amazon—everything changed for me, as it did for many other aspiring authors. For years, I had been amassing ideas for novel-length books, and the only thing stopping me from ordering my sport coat with the suede elbow patches was the terrifying thought of trying to secure a literary agent. Weak, I know. But enough about that.

My Eternal Dilemma
I’ve always aspired to write well—as opposed to banging stuff out fast for the money. And, believe me, if you’ve ever downloaded free books to your Kindle, you know what I’m talking about. There’s a lot of crap out there—a lot. And what frustrates me is the fact that this drivel sells—way better than anything I have written. Which brings me to my current dilemma—am I a poet who wants only to create beautiful things (that don’t sell), or a successful pulp writer who’s in it for the money?

My personal belief as to why a lot of indie books sell has nothing to do with quality. Sure, they have to have some semblance of plot and structure. Of course, the cover shouldn’t make you puke. And the formatting has to be at least good enough for you to be able to read the thing without getting vertigo. But what these books have going for them, I feel, is that they are catering to a successful genre. Like Romance.

Now, before you get all huffy and threaten to take my lunch money, let me explain. I am not trying to say anything bad about Romance writers. In fact, sometimes I wish I were one so I could sell more books. What I am saying is, must I write in genres that sell, rather than what I am interested in? It’s a great question.

Romance Rules
So, why did I pick on the Romance category? Take a look at the May 2016 Author Earnings report, which you can find here. This is what they say about indie author earnings (bold text is mine):

Turns out there were 43 [invisible authors] lurking unseen in the dark spaces between Amazon’s bestseller lists, including one author invisibly earning more than $250,000 a year. Unsurprisingly, 30 of the 43 invisible six-figure earners — including the top earner — were self-published indie authors. Most were writing in the Romance Fiction genres, but there was also an indie author of editor’s-choice Cozy Mystery Fiction, and even more surprising, a traditional-award-winning indie writer of Literary Fiction. We happen to think that’s pretty cool.

Cool, indeed. I have a number of writer friends—many of whom publish Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Contemporary and New Adult Romance. It’s my sense that they are doing pretty well. But here’s the thing—from what I can tell, they actually enjoy writing Romance. So for them, this is the best of all worlds.

A Genre Comparison
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I would like to provide an illustration of what I am talking about. The following excerpt is from my horror thriller novel, Even The Dead Will Bleed: Book Three of Tell Me When I’m Dead. Notice that the writing is purposeful and dark—just the thing for pulp fiction:

The girl was pretty with long, light brown hair and frightened blue-grey eyes that were almond-shaped—slightly Asian—and ringed with dark circles. Her full lips were pink and moist, her skin fair and blemish free. She couldn’t have been more than nineteen or twenty. I looked at the back of her hand and noticed a red needle mark—probably from an IV.

“Are you in danger?” I said.

Still nothing. I glanced left and right to see who might be watching. Then I released her arm and took a step back, my open hands away from my pockets. I thought she would bolt, but she stood there unsure, looking at her bare feet, which were dirty. Her shoulders jerked up and down and I realized that she was crying. I remembered what Becky had said when the alarm went off—someone’s escaped.

I wasn’t sure what to do. She must’ve broken out of Hellborn, and now they were looking for her. I didn’t want to leave her there—not like this. She needed help. But I didn’t want to get mixed up with a kid. Griffin, the girl Holly and I had rescued in Tres Marias, had turned out well—and I thanked God for her—but I needed to be alone to complete my mission.

“I’m Dave,” I said. “What’s your name?”

She looked at me steadily. I didn’t know what new hell I was signing up for. It was pretty obvious that it would involve more than slipping her twenty bucks and wishing her good luck. When she spoke my blood went cold.

“Don’t let them find me!” she said.

 

Here is another excerpt—this time from my latest, unpublished Young Adult novel, Chainsaw Honeymoon: A Ruby Navarro Disaster. Not to brag, but this might even border on the literary. See if you agree:

A loud yawn startled me. It was Dad. How long had he been standing there?

“Come on, Rube, it’s late,” he said.

And by the way, when did he get all parental? Mom must’ve had a talk with him.

“No-uh,” I said. “I need to figure out this sequence.”

Between you and me, I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

Gently, he closed the laptop and guided me to my bed. As I dug through the duffel bag for my pajamas, I felt something foreign. Removing my hand, I saw Mr. Shivers. How had he gotten in there again? I thought I’d left him in the closet back home. Too exhausted to care, I tossed him into a chair, where he landed in a sitting position.

“Tomorrow, I could use your help setting up the Roku,” Dad said.

“Aghh, you’re so pathetic. Fine, I’ll see what I can do.”

I let go of a major yawn. Smiling, he gave me a bear hug, practically squeezing the air out of me.

“Ooh, I thought I heard a fart.”

“Dad, that’s so rude!”

“It used to make you laugh.”

“When I was five.”

“Good night, Rube. Brush your teeth.”

He and Mom had definitely spoken. I wondered vaguely if he was going to go off and practice The Beggar’s Sideshow per Mom’s instructions. Before he left, I broke down and decided to spill. After all, the man deserved to know the truth. I picked Ed up and put him on my lap for moral support.

“Dad?”

“Yeah, baby?”

“She is moving on, you know.”

He was leaning against the doorframe, staring at me intently. I could almost see the man hormones keeping his emotions in check. Barely. His face was a mosaic of disappointment, anger and disbelief. He smiled sadly and, without another word, closed the door behind him. See, this is the difference between women and men. I would be throwing things at this point.

 

The point is, I didn’t research the markets for either of these works—I just sat down and wrote them because I felt like it. We’ll see if the charming and perspicacious Ruby is enough to help me sell some books.

Sage Advice
I am currently reading How to Make a Living as a Writer by the well-respected author and teacher James Scott Bell. His book offers clear, practical advice on how to actually pull off what he promised in the title. One thing he suggests is studying bestselling categories on Amazon and making a conscious decision to master that market, then cranking out your own novels. Here is what he has to say:

I believe a writer should love his genres. But you can learn to love a genre. Sort of like an arranged marriage.

Nicholas Sparks did this with his own career. He went into it like a businessman. He looked at the bestselling genres and discovered that each one had two big names that dominated. At the same time, a surprise book emerged called The Bridges of Madison County. It was a tear-jerking love story written by a male author. And it exploded.

Sparks decided he could be the second name on this unique subset — men who write tear-jerking love stories.

He’s done pretty well.

Now, from a business point of view, he’s absolutely right. But in the words of Jerry Seinfeld when asked to wear the puffy shirt, “But I don’t want to be a pirate!”

If I were more practical, I would begin immediately my own market research and get to writing that puffy shirt book. But to be frank, Romance isn’t really my thing—unless guns or time travel are involved. Besides horror, I am drawn to Thriller, Mystery and YA. Having said that, though, if I follow Mr. Bell’s advice, I am still going to have to research what sells within those categories. And I’m not sure I want to write a political thriller, for example. So, I am almost back where I started.

In On Writing, I seem to recall Stephen King referring to himself as a “journeyman writer.” Here is a guy who consistently cranks out solid work in a genre he loves—and who makes a very good living. But he is practical, too. He knows he is a business. I’m still working on that concept.

What to Do?
As I said, I have a new book coming out, written without the benefit of checking in on bestselling categories. I hope it does well. If it doesn’t, I may decide that my next novel needs to have the word “girl” in the title. It doesn’t take a ton of research to know that those seem to be doing very well lately.

What in the World Is “Family Fiction”?

[Arrested Development]
Photo courtesy of Deadline | Hollywood

A while ago, I told you about a novel I had adapted from one of my old screenplays (see “Adapting a Screenplay—Fun Times”). As I was writing the book, I thought my biggest challenge would be making a decent novel out of what is essentially a blueprint for a movie, which is what a screenplay is. The good news? I showed a recent draft to a few trusted friends, and the consensus is that the story works. Now for the bad news.

Finding Your Genre
Typically, when writing a novel you have pretty good idea about which genre you’re in. We’ve been trained to think this way, and it’s my view that this is mostly due to the influence of movies and television. What’s the first thing an agent asks you (after “Who are you again?”)—what is it? And they’re not talking about the story, my friend. No, they are asking whether it’s rom-com, horror, thriller, period, coming-of-age, etc. In other words, they want to know how to market it.

And here’s the thing—because we as writers are already trained, we will write according to these predefined genres, or categories. Of course, Amazon makes it easy too. When you publish your book, you are asked to select up to three categories. Here’s one—Fiction->Romance->Contemporary.

But what if your story doesn’t fall neatly into a pigeon hole?

Genre Benders
This is where I found myself after finishing my novel. And I will tell you in all honesty, this is precisely why I had struggled with the screenplay. In my mind, I had a great story, but it wasn’t targeted at a particular audience (kids, millennials, older adults, etc.). So, now what?

Well, I had a great conversation with my friend Melodie Ramone, who I interviewed recently. Melodie is not only a brilliant writer, but she knows the publishing world well—particularly when it comes to what publishers want from fiction. And what they want is apparently no different than what those pesky Hollywood agents want—they want to categorize the book so they can market it in the same tired way they do all the others that fall into your particular genre.

Sadly, my book is what Melodie calls a “genre bender.” And, bless her, she didn’t discourage me from publishing it. Sure, I’ll probably never get a literary agent to look at it, but who cares? I’m focused on indie publishing anyway. Of course, I still have to figure out how to market the damned thing, and that is still the problem.

Family Fiction
In researching genre-bending types of fiction, I ran across a term I wasn’t familiar with—family fiction. I tried looking it up, and guess what—there is no definition. I found items as diverse as “Christian fiction,” “family saga” and “domestic fiction.” In fact, there’s a site called FamilyFiction.com that appears to try and own the brand, categorizing itself as a purveyor of Christian fiction.

When I searched Amazon’s Kindle store, I found that “family fiction” is a recognized search term. The first book that popped up on the list at the time of this writing was The Doctor’s Unexpected Family by Kristen Ethridge. You got it—Christian fiction. The second was A Legacy of Secrets by Jean Reinhardt, which is listed as a family saga. Then there’s Alone by Holly Hook, which appears to be targeted to the YA/Sci-Fi/Fantasy crowd. I saw other titles with “family” in them, which unfortunately means that Mario Puzo’s The Family is included. Now, most people are aware that Amazon is great at leveraging big data, but the fact that Christian fiction-themed books appear alongside stories about La Cosa Nostra tells me that family fiction is not a true genre, at least as far as they’re concerned.

Alternatively, if you visit Goodreads, you’ll find a list of family fiction that features books as diverse as The Round House by Louise Erdrich, The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling and An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle (which is part of her “A Wrinkle in Time” series). Now granted, the only reason the list contains these books is because readers shelved them that way, which tells me that readers themselves don’t really understand what family fiction is. They probably figure, hey, if it’s about a family, then it must be family fiction. So wait, could it be that simple?

Bringing It Home
Back to my story. My book is told mostly in the first person by a thirteen-year-old girl. But occasionally, I use third-person omniscient because there are important scenes that don’t include her but drive the other characters—her mother and father, for example.

I still haven’t figured out how I am going to market this thing, but Melodie gave me some great suggestions. I will keep you informed as to my progress. In the meantime, I would love to see some comments about what you consider to be family fiction.

KU—Taking a Chance on Amazon

Photo Courtesy of Randi Deuro via Creative Commons
[Party Pooper]In my previous post I announced that I planned to make my horror thriller series TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD available in Kindle Unlimited. Well, I did it! This means that if you are a subscriber, you can now read all three books as part of your subscription, instead of paying for each one. That and the fact that there are well over a million Kindle titles makes the subscription a pretty good deal. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not here to sell you on Amazon’s subscription model. What I am doing is reaching out to those who already signed up or who have seriously contemplated doing so.

This was not an easy decision for me, because when you enroll your book in KDP Select (the program that enables authors to participate in Kindle Unlimited), you must be exclusive to Amazon. A lot of authors reject this kind of arrangement. They prefer having their books available in multiple distribution channels, hoping to increase sales by reaching readers everywhere, regardless of platform. And who doesn’t want more sales?

Reality 101
A harsh reality in the bookselling business—and one even detractors must accept—is that Amazon is the biggest fish in the pond. They sell more books than anyone else—even Wal-Mart—mostly due to low prices. Take a look at this recent eBook sales chart, courtesy of AuthorEarnings.

[AuthorEarnings Chart]
Overall Market Share of US Ebook Unit Sales Held by Each Retailer
And books aren’t the only category where they win. Take a look at this recent New York Times article where, regarding Wal-Mart, they write, “Amazon’s prices were lower on every item, in some cases substantially ($150 less for the dishwasher, $7 less for the Grisham book).” And what about convenience? Free two-day shipping for Prime customers? Hellz yeah! I never have to set foot in a store.

Now, you can love Amazon or hate them, but that’s the reality I am living in. So why not embrace it?

Free Books!
Here’s another benefit of being in the KDP Select program—I can run free book promotions. Granted, I may only do this for a maximum of five days out of every ninety, but free sometimes is better than free never, I always say. So why not let readers share the good times?

Reaching More Readers
I’ll admit, this is where things get tricky. Just because my books are available to KU subscribers to read “for free” doesn’t mean they will. As I mentioned before, there are well over a million titles to choose from, so how will anyone even discover me, let alone download my books? Well, that’s where some serious marketing comes in.

Nothing Is Forever
So, what if my little experiment doesn’t work out? I can always go back to the way things were—publishing my books at Barnes and Noble, iBookStore and Kobo, as well as at Amazon. The contract period lasts ninety days, and I can always choose not to renew.

For those who are not authors, you are probably wondering how in the world I get paid under this arrangement. Great question! Amazon has come up with a formula based on Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP). Essentially, the more pages of my book readers actually read, the more I get paid. As far as I can tell, Amazon is gaming the system, because there are stats floating around out there demonstrating that just because a person starts your book doesn’t mean they will finish it. Also, if you’re like me, I may have two or three books going at the same time. So I may not finish a particular book for a while. Some authors, like Joe Konrath, insist they are making money with Kindle Unlimited. Of course, I should mention that Joe has a humungous backlist. You can check out his post here.

How long do I plan to try this? Honestly, I have no idea. But, at a minimum, I am in the program for ninety days. Personally, I don’t think that’s enough time to measure success, so I will most likely stay in for at least two rounds. Either way, I will keep you posted. In the meantime, if you are a KU subscriber and you love horror thrillers, check out TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD. And don’t forget to read to the end!

[TMWID - 3D Transparent Shadow]

Authors and the Indie Supply Chain

Photo Courtesy of Ford Motor Company via Creative Commons
[Ford Europe]I’m really hoping that this post isn’t as boring as the title suggests. I wanted to accomplish two things today—tell you where I am with Book Three and talk a little about indie authors who are responsible for controlling their own publishing supply chain. I’ll keep it short, I promise.

If you are a longtime visitor to the site, you’ll know that a couple of years ago I wrote a horror-thriller called Tell Me When I’m Dead. Last year, I followed that up with Book Two, Dead Is All You Get. I’m happy to report that both novels have been getting excellent reviews. This year, I plan to publish the third and final book in the series. Sorry, no title today. I will let you know that when I do the cover reveal in the next month or so.

What Is a Supply Chain, Anyway?
Investopedia defines a supply chain as …

The network created amongst different companies producing, handling and/or distributing a specific product. Specifically, the supply chain encompasses the steps it takes to get a good or service from the supplier to the customer.

In publishing, the supply chain is made up of all of the steps involved in bringing out a book. For print, that includes the actual manufacturing and distribution. For eBooks, it’s mostly focused on editing, formatting and cover design.

Does Self-Publishing Mean Faster?
You bet. I’ve heard other traditionally published authors squawk about the lag between submitting their manuscript to the publisher and actually seeing the thing appear on the book store shelves. We’re talking eighteen months to two years, people. Unacceptable!

Aside from the fact that, potentially, I can make more money selling my own books, shrinking the window from pen to Amazon is a huge plus.

But …
It’s not all chocolate and roses, though. As an indie author, I am essentially in business for myself. And until I can afford to hire an intern, I am pretty much doing everything myself—including marketing. What does that mean? Well, I am a terrible artist. And I don’t know jack about PhotoShop. So I must rely on a cover designer. My choice is Deborah Bradseth over at Tugboat Design.

When it comes to editing, my manuscripts are generally in pretty good shape when I am finished. But editors are a critical and necessary part of the supply chain. They always find things you missed. I’m not talking typos—I mean problems having to do with consistency in character behavior, unresolved storylines, and just plain clunky sentence structure. Currently, I work with a number of editors.

Then there’s the formatting. I tried doing this myself, but there are so many subtleties around eBooks and the devices that display them, it’s not worth it to me to mess with that crap. So I use a professional formatter, JW Manus. She’s smart and efficient, and she delivers a quality product every time.

What’s in It for You?
Back to my new novel. I plan to get Book Three out before the end of the year. In addition, I have asked my artist friend, Kevin Asmus, to create new images for all three books. These will be more cohesive, series-wise, and I really hope you like them. And as if that isn’t enough, I am rebranding the series. Whew!

Sometime in the spring, I plan to finally publish the print versions of these books. Yay! But that is yet another step in the supply chain that requires even more planning. I’ll be doing this through CreateSpace. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I am currently offering Books One and Two for 99 cents. They normally sell for $3.99 each. If you haven’t picked them up yet, now’s your chance to save a little cash. Happy reading!

Tell Me When I’m Dead

[Tell Me When I’m Dead Cover]

Available at Amazon

Thanks to his wife, Holly, recovering alcoholic Dave Pulaski is getting his life back. Then a contagion decimates the town, turning its victims into shrieking flesh-eaters. Now Dave and Holly must find a way to survive. But Dave is this close to drinking again. A woman he cheated with—and no longer human—is after him. The hordes of undead are growing and security forces are outnumbered. Hell has arrived in Tres Marias.

Tell Me When I’m Dead (Book One of THE DEAD SERIES) is about an antihero haunted by all the mistakes of his life. Facing a terrifying future, Dave must decide whether to die drunk or fight for those he cares about most. And strength alone won’t be enough—he’ll need Faith. If you like your thrillers dark and fast-paced, then follow Dave and Holly as they fight against looters, paramilitary crazies and the undead. “A hard-hitting splattergore zombie thriller, told by the ultimate antihero” (Travis Luedke).

Dead Is All You Get

[Dead Is All You Get Cover]

Available at Amazon

After months of fighting the undead ravaging the town of Tres Marias, Dave Pulaski and his wife, Holly, catch a break when Black Dragon Security suddenly shows up to rescue them. But things are about to get worse. The virus is mutating. Now, driven to discover the truth behind the contagion while struggling to protect Holly and those closest to him, Dave is pushed beyond the limits of faith and reason.

Dead Is All You Get (Book Two of THE DEAD SERIES) combines the best elements of horror, dark fantasy and sci-fi, taking the reader on a relentless, tortured journey of survival that tests the strength of one man’s character and delves into the role Faith plays when he is confronted by the worst kind of evil—the evil in humans. If you like your thrillers dark and fast-paced, then read this mind-blowing sequel. And leave the lights on. “A shoot first then shoot again horror thriller of the highest order” (Simon Oneill).

Newsflash—Amazon Isn’t Evil After All

Photo Courtesy of Jason Scragz via Creative Commons
[Evil Monkey]Thanks to our friends over at Authors United, there’s been a lot of back-and-forth about Amazon’s business practices as they relate to bookselling. Apparently, the kerfuffle began with the tense negotiations between Amazon and Hachette and has escalated to a letter from Authors United to the DOJ, demanding that they investigate the monopoly that is Amazon.

For the record, I agree with Joe Konrath. These folks appear to be a bunch of “whiny little babies” who are not at all pleased with the direction bookselling has taken—especially concerning independent publishing. Thanks to Amazon, readers are—wait for it—saving money on books. How dare Jeff Bezos put his customers first! And also thanks to Amazon, indie authors like me get a chance to be heard without relying on traditional publishers.

Rather than rehash the debate, I thought I would provide a couple of links. Enjoy!

Joe’s Letter to the Assistant Attorney General
“For the past fifty years, a handful of big publishers have functioned as a cartel, controlling the majority of what has been published. They did this by having an oligopoly over paper distribution. If a writer wanted to get their work into a bookstore, the only way to do so was to sign a contract with them.

“My best guess is that out of every 1000 books written, only 1 was published. That meant 999 out of 1000 books were effectively deep-sixed, prevented from ever reaching the public.”

A Message from the Amazon Books Team
“The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.”

Authors United founder says Amazon’s control of the book industry is “about the same as Standard Oil’s when it was broken up”
“Amazon is like any other corporation; it has two goals. One is to increase market share, and the other is to increase profits. So anyone who thinks that Amazon is their friend is deluded. Is Exxon the friend of everyone who fills up their tank with gas? I don’t think so. Anti-trust laws are to prevent the natural growth of companies to grow to a monopoly status, and then use that monopoly power to stifle competition. And that’s what Amazon has been doing.”

Hugh Howey on Author’s United Letter to the DOJ: “I think it’s hilarious!”
“Amazon has done more good for literature than any other organization in my lifetime. They make books available to people without bookstores nearby, and at great prices. And they pay authors nearly 6 times what publishers do.”

A Writer’s Life—Makin’ da Pizza

Photo Courtesy of Arthur Mouratidis via Creative Commons
[Hand-tossed Pizza]Almost a year ago I posted some musings on writers and the marketing side of the business. And, yes, this is a business. Speaking of which, I’ve been blessed to be able to make a living for many years, doing something that has nothing to do with writing fiction. This feeds my family and keeps my wife from panicking every time the price of groceries goes up. And though I’ve been writing in one way or another since I was fifteen, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided to approach writing fiction in a much more professional way by taking advantage of indie publishing platforms like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and others. And the advent of these new alternatives to traditional publishing is both a blessing and a curse. I’ll get to that shortly.

Why We Write
It isn’t unusual to hear from writers who claim they do nothing but put pen to paper because the alternative is to go crazy. Stories are bursting out of them—stories that must be told. And to a large extent I agree with that. But, having had the benefit of writing and holding down a job at the same time, I can say in all candor that, at least from my own experience, writers write because the idea of actually working for a living is horrifying. I’m thinking of Charles Bukowski, who worked in a post office for a time. Don’t you think he would have rather been writing? I mean, at least Ernest Hemingway started out as a journalist. Look, all I’m saying is, if everyone had the choice of slaving away in a soul-killing office or holing up in a clean well-lighted place, which would they choose? Fine, salespeople would probably still prefer to sell because it’s in their blood. That and the fact that they are evil. Kidding! No, really, they’re evil.

Writing is a Blessing
Okay, enough about that. Writers write because blah blah blah. Now, if you are spending your time writing, good for you. You are probably a person with tons of imagination who likes creating stories and sharing them with the world at large. And, as a bonus, you’d like to get paid, right? Of course you would. Otherwise you’re Bukowski at the post office.

For me, sitting in my basement creating characters who often find themselves in dangerous situations is fun. Want to know what’s more fun? Hearing from readers who tell me they liked seeing characters in situations in which there’s a very good chance they might wind up dead. It’s a real high.

But for indie writers, it’s not just about creating the story.

Writing as a Curse
Unless you are a successful author with a publisher who is waiting with baited breath—and a fat advance—for your next book, there’s a lot of other work you have to do. It’s almost as if you are having a shared experience with the guy in the soul-sucking office job. Here are just a few things you need to worry about …

A Decent Cover. This thing has to look good. And guess what—you’re going to have to spend money on it. I’ve seen too many Kindle books with covers that look like they were designed by an eighth-grade dropout with a new set of Sharpies.

Proper Editing. I include copyediting and proofing in this category. How many books have you downloaded lately that read like an instruction manual that has been translated into English? I mean, seriously. I get that you have a good idea and want to give it life. But if you are a lousy speller or have problems with tenses, get an editor.

eBook Formatting. That’s right. You can’t just upload your Word document and hope for the best. Well, actually you can, but that’s not the point. You want to ensure that your darling will display correctly on virtually every device. Unless of course you decide to kill your darling because, you know, Faulkner said it … Never mind.

Marketing. This one’s my favorite because it never ends. Why can’t these things sell themselves? I’ll tell you why—because there are literally millions of titles available on Amazon. How in the world is anyone going to find your book in that roiling sea of bright covers and pretty prose?

Which Brings Me to Me
Part of marketing is figuring out things like book titles, descriptions and SEO, which contribute to the all-important goal of being discoverable. Me? I’m in the process of rebranding my horror-thriller trilogy, the first two books of which are published. The third is coming out later this year, and I arrived at a place where I realized that I needed to tie the three books together better—for brand recognition. This is no easy task. Other authors much more famous and successful than I have taken different approaches to their series. I had to consider what I have going with my books and capitalize on that.

Though I haven’t figured it all out yet, I do know that I’ve had some pretty good success with the title of the first book, Tell Me When I’m Dead. That title rocks, in my opinion. The second book is entitled Dead Is All You Get. Not as good as the first title, but I still think it packs a punch. I was going to hold a contest to come up with the title of the third book, but my wife put the kibosh on that idea in short order. “You’re the writer,” she said. “Do your job.”

My wife’s not a sentimental person, and she likes to speak her mind. But you know what? She’s right.

So what to expect. The third book is almost finished. (I’m not as slow as George R.R. Martin—I swear!) Then I will design a cover and do a cover reveal. At that time you’ll see the new title, as well as the new branding for the trilogy. Finally, the book will be edited, formatted and published.

There’s a lot to being an indie writer—doing things that have nothing to do with the words. But as I said at the beginning, writing is a business. Once you understand that, you’ll have the time of your life. It’s like making pizza—really good pizza.