Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tornado Siren ebook--week one report

So my novel, Tornado Siren, has been live as an ebook for a week on Amazon for the Kindle, and a little less than a week on Barnes & Noble for the Nook, as well as on Smashwords.

I've done a little bit of the basic kinds of promo--I put out the word via Twitter and Facebook.  I updated my Goodreads settings.  I updated my web site and blog.  Sent out an e-mail to my list (about 700 people), telling them that it's out and asking folks who have read it to consider posting a review on one of the online sites.

So, how's the experiment going so far?

The nice thing with ebook publishing is that I can actually look up numbers to find that out.  Though that might also be a downside for a compulsive numbers guy like me.  (Don't ask how many times a day I check.)

In the first week, Tornado Siren has sold 14 copies for the Kindle (13 in the US, 1 in the UK), 2 on Smashwords (and the sample has been downloaded 14 times), and none for the Nook.  I didn't expect sales to be so heavily weighted towards the Kindle--does anyone actually use Nooks?

Also, my friends have come through nicely, and added a bunch of reviews to all of the sites, which I think might help.  Most of the people I know already own paper copies of the book and have read it, so they're not likely to buy the ebook.

So, for the first week, with no big promo and no publisher behind it, this seems like a reasonable amount of sales.  I guess.  (I'd love to have it become a fabulous bestseller overnight, of course.  Though I have to say that each book sold was a thrill. )

What happens next?  Certainly the buzz to family and friends will die off in the next week or two, as people clear out their email inboxes.  After that, I'm not quite sure how random readers are going to find this thing.  Earlier this week, I searched for Paranormal Romances on the Amazon Kindle site (its default search is by "relevance").  Tornado Siren was on the list, but it was at number 707.  I imagine I'm about the only one obsessed enough to page through to number 707.  Since the book is self-published, it's not eligible for most reviews, plus the print version was reviewed (though those reviews aren't yet showing up on the Kindle site).

 I might pick up a few random readers from my web site and blog (I get a few dozen a day, but probably a lot of the same people).  I'm looking at other possible promo ideas--there are some book review web sites out there, with a focus on ebooks.  I don't have a lot of cash to pay for online ads, and generally people seem to think they don't work.  (I need to do more research on this.)

It seems like if your sales are high, and you can leap into the top 100 in your category on Amazon, you've got a good chance of continuing those sales.  But without that start, I'm curious to see how I can get people to buy and read the ebook.  Still, at least now it's possible.  For more than a year, no one could read except if they checked it out from one of the few libraries that carries it.

I'll keep working on it, and I'll report back on my progress in a couple weeks.  And also, a big thanks to those of you who have posted reviews or bought the ebook already!  I very much appreciate the support.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Playwriting in 3D: Writing the Fight workshop, March 14

The third installment of the Playwriting in 3D series that I've been leading for StageSource is coming up soon.  On March 14, 7-9pm, at the Boston Playwrights Theatre, Boston playwright/PhD candidate/fight choreographer/martial artist Meron Langnser, will lead a workshop he's calling: Writing the Fight

It'll be a fun and informative look at the implementation and implications of physical violence on stage.  If you're a Boston-area playwright or director or producer, I hope you'll check it out.

Here's the write up:

This workshop will examine violence as a manifestation of character conflict and plot device, as practical aspects of putting violence on the stage in production and rehearsal.  The focus will be on what the playwright needs to know in order to have specific choices made by their characters in relation to physical violence, and to write fight scenes that would allow competent fight directors to design safe and exciting combat.
Violence will be examined as a choice that characters make or are forced to make. The craft of setting up dramatic conflict in which words fail and physical confrontation becomes necessary for a scene will be examined.    Power dynamics between characters will be discussed as they relate to violence, potential violence, past violence, and consequences of violence.  
Well known texts that have well crafted fight scenes in them will be examined, both the scenes in which the physical confrontations take place and scenes that contain exposition concerning how characters may interact during a physical confrontation; for example, Mercutio’s speech to Benvolio about Tybalt in Romeo & Juliet or Larry teasing Burton about being an Aikido instructor in Burn This.
The dramatic effectiveness of stage combat will be explored.  The idea of knowing when and if to write in a fight will be explored.  Certain words punctuated with slaps become more powerful.  Other times writing in a fight will weaken a play.
On a pragmatic level, weapons, props, and common training will be explored.  The difference between writing in a knife as opposed to a broken bottle may shave hundreds of dollars off of a production budget, as will making a gunshot happen offstage rather than on.  Additionally,  knowing what to expect from standardized actor combatant training might allow for a playwright to develop characters with skill sets they may not have even known were possible.
Finally, the workshop will cover violence as it exists and is perceived in modern society, including Asian martial arts, firearms, and gender issues.    

Monday, February 21, 2011

StageSource Conference coming up

If you're involved in theatre in Boston, in any way (actor, designer, playwright, director, stage manager, producer, etc.), you should plan to attend next weekend's StageSource 2011 Boston Theatre Conference, which runs March 27 and 28, at the Paramount Theatre (and other venues).  It's cheap ($40 for members, $50 for non-members, for both days), and provides a great way to interact with other members of the Boston theatre community.  This year's theme, Home Grown, uses the local/slow food movement to look at what we're up to, theatre-wise, in Boston, and how that relates to the community as a whole. 

I've been to the conference in past years and it's a fantastic way to take some time to meet other Boston theatre folks and think and talk about the issues confronting our artistic community (and learn something in the process).  If you're a playwright, you'd be a fool to skip this conference.  There's no better networking opportunity in town. 

Seriously.  I'll repeat this:  if you're a playwright, get your ass over the Paramount on the 27th and 28th.  The topic of the conference is Home Grown--this is our topic.  If you want more theatres to produce your work, you need to be engaged in this conversation.  The more playwrights who attend this conference the better.

Sign up here.
Here's the basic write up:

The Boston Theatre community is made up of artists, organizations, and enthusiasts united by the desire to provide and experience exceptional performances, inspired programming and unforgettable events. As a community we have grown and been strengthened through our ongoing engagement with each other, our diverse perspectives and our interest in dialogue.  

On February 27 and 28 we will convene the New England theatre conference, Home Grown and come together to talk about:  How the Boston theatre scene has taken root, grown and flourished. And what steps do we take to keep it alive and growing

With inspiration provided by our keynote speaker, Barbara Lynch (Founder of The Barbara Lynch Gruppo, our panel of theatre innovators will comment on parallels with the Slow Food movement (local, fresh, sustainable Over the last twenty years, the slow food movement has organized, educated and nurtured our appreciation of local food.  We think we can learn from the movement how to nurture our community.
Who is the Boston Theatre community? Huntington Theatre Company, Managing Director Michael Maso reflects on the changes he has seen in New England theatre during his tenure. As we define ourselves, how do we engage with the community at large? What role does the theatre community play in both mirroring and shaping our multi faceted society? The Boston Theatre Conference aims to engage all theatre practioners, including actors, directors, designers, technicians, dramaturgs, administrators, board members, educators and audience members in tackling these themes.
We invite everyone who has an interest in theatre to join in this year’s conversation.  Taking a lesson from the slow food movement we want to grow our local theatre community by bringing everyone around the table.  During workshops, performances, and panels we want to encourage relationships between the creators of the art and those who enjoy it, cultivate an appreciation for theatre by changing societal values towards the art and by examining alternative ways for people to engage and participate.  Virtually we will work through the blog to define Slow Theatre for Boston in preparation for the conference.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tornado Siren is now an ebook! (part 2: the how to make an ebook)

So this week, I finally got my act together, after procrastinating for almost a year, and published Tornado Siren as an ebook.  Every time I read Joe Konrath's blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, I felt more and more stupid for delaying.  But I was short on time, I needed a new cover, blah, blah, blah, excuses, excuses, excuses.

This week I finally just gave it and stopped doing all my other work and just decided to jump into the creation of a Tornado Siren ebook.

The first problem was that I needed a cover.  The text of the book was mine, but the old cover belonged to my publisher, Behler Publications.  And plus, the old cover was okay, but not great (and the print version wasn't a big seller, so maybe the cover wasn't helping much).  Plus, I needed a cover that would work as a much smaller image.  The original book cover was designed for a 8.5 x 5.5 inch book.  Ebooks are sold on the basis of thumbnail images (though, if you think about it, so are all print books sold on Amazon).

I talked to a neighbor who is a designer, hoping to get her to design it for cheap (I'd given myself a hundred dollar budget), but she was too busy.  Still, just talking about it helped generate some ideas.  So I spent a couple hours on photoshop, found some public domain tornado images, downloaded some new fonts, and put together a cover.  I'm still thinking/planning to find someone to help me do a better cover, but the one I came up with will do for now.  (That's it at the top of this post.)

Once the cover was done, I needed to format the manuscript for the various platforms.  Most important was the Kindle sold by Amazon, but I also wanted to have a version for the Nook sold by Barnes & Noble, as well as versions for any other reader.  For the other readers, I could use Smashwords, which creates ebooks in multiple platforms. 

The good news is that each of these platforms makes it pretty easy to upload your file and prepare it for publication.  This is especially true of books that are primarily text-based, like novels, without much in the way of tables or images.  The bad news was that my most recent version of Tornado Siren was in pdf format.  This meant I needed to buy a pdf unlocker.  I got DeskUNpdf from DocuDesk, since I already use their DeskPDF writer (all the time).  This gave me access to the file, but also meant I had a lot more formatting to do.

In addition, I also wanted to proof the book one more time (the printed version had one or two typos that had been bugging me for years), so that took a bunch of hours.  I resisted the urge to get into a full scale rewrite of it (since I have my hands full with two other big writing projects), but I did do some minor edits.

Once I got rid of text errors and ugly formatting problems, I was ready to format it for the publishing platforms.  Each one required something a little different.

I started with the Kindle version.  I found some online help, from blogger/screenwriter, John August, in his blog post "Kindle formatting for web geeks" and also from Joshua Tallent's Kindle Formatting site.  The key takeaways from these sites were 1)  Keep it simple.  Try to strip away any formatting possible from the document (including fancy fonts, headers, footers, page numbers, etc.).  2)  For the Kindle conversion, I needed to have Word save my doc as a "Web site, filtered".  This second point proved very helpful.   I also discovered from Kindle forums that to get page breaks before Chapters, I needed to take out Section Breaks and replace them with plain Page Breaks.

The Kindle site  allowed me to preview my file, to make sure I didn't have any big errors showing up.  The preview is rough, but close enough.  It took me a couple tries, to make sure I had nothing strange showing up.  I had a printed version of the book already, which reminded me to make sure I had a copyright page and the other various info I'd need in the text.  I shifted the acknowledgments to the back, because I wasn't sure how much front matter Kindle users would be willing to page through.

Once I had the document together, I entered my summary, bio, cover, tag words, genre (I chose Fiction, general, and Romance, paranormal), the price, and all the info I'd need to get paid.  Seems like I'll get paid monthly, about 60 days after the sale goes through, if I earn more than $10.  I chose to price my book at $2.99, of which I'll earn 70%.  Then I pushed the Publish button and I had to wait about 36 hours before the book was live and for sale.  Now that it's up, I can check on the my sales whenever I want, which is another big difference from print publication--with Behler, I'd get paid once a year and there was no easy way to check the progress of sales to date, and even though my book was on Amazon, there was no way for me to track Amazon sales, other than through its sales ranking (which is a strange mysterious number that new authors follow obsessively).

So now it's online, at
I had one sale pretty quickly, and Tracy and I bought a copy to view on her Droid phone, just for kicks.  I was not able to enter editorial reviews from the printed version, and it doesn't seem to want to link any of the reader feedback from the printed version to the Kindle version, which is kind of annoying. 

It's hard to tell exactly how to make this book easier to find on the Amazon site.  It probably needs to sell a bunch of copies and receive a bunch of positive ratings, in order to start moving up in any search results.  Right now you'd have to know exactly what you were looking for to find it. We'll see if I can find a way to make it easier.

The Nook
This was my second priority, though I'm not sure how many people actually use Nooks versus Kindles.  I'm guessing it's a lot less.

The Barnes & Noble Nook publishing site is called Pubit, and it was pretty similar to the Kindle site and very easy to use.  The formatting for the Nook needed to also be very clean, but in this case, I saved the document as a Word 97-2003 doc.  And rather than Page Breaks before chapters, I needed to insert Section Breaks.

One plus of the Nook interface is that I was able to enter some of the editorial reviews that Tornado Siren received, but unfortunately, I couldn't enter the Publisher's Weekly review, because I don't have a name of the reviewer (which stinks, because a PW review would lend some credibility).  The cover size was also a little different from that of the Kindle, so I needed to work up a slightly larger cover.  I also had more room for the description of the book and the author bio, which was good.

I posted it to their site yesterday, and in less than 24 hours, it was live, here

Like the Kindle, the Nook offers a dashboard for authors/publishers, to make changes to the cover, descriptions, price, even the book text.  For some reason, even though I have a live link and can get to the page myself where someone can buy the book, it doesn't show up on the B&N site when I just do a search for "Tornado Siren" in NookBooks.   I'm assuming this is because my title hasn't been populated into the database yet, but I hope it happens soon.

I never had a sense that the print version of Tornado Siren sold many, if any, copies on, versus many hundreds of copies on Amazon.  I'm very curious to see if the NookBook version is able to sell anything.

This site has been around for a while, and they publish e-books in a wide variety of formats.  Smashwords offers a healthy royalty on books sold through them (85%), plus they sell through other resellters, like Apple, Sony, Apple, and more.   Their "meatgrinder" conversion engine allows you to upload one file, and then they translate it into the different formats required.  In order for this to work, your document has to be very minimally formatted.

To help you get it right, they put together a 72-page guide (that you can read on line) to guide you step-by-step through the process of formatting and publishing.  I followed each step, exactly as they set it out.  For Smashwords, I had to take out all page breaks and section breaks, giving up the notion of a clean page break between chapters.  Otherwise, the formatting was fairly similar to that needed for the Nook (the file was a  Word 97-2003 doc).  They are very specific about what you need on your copyright page, and had some great suggestions for other material you can include at the back of the book (author bio, contact info, etc.).

Again, like the other platforms, I uploaded my various info, cover, and hit the button.  My file converted with no problem, in a couple hours, and is now for sale on the Smashwords site, here:

It is now awaiting being given "premium" status, which means they'll distribute it to other sites (Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Apple, and Diesel).  It'll take about a week to get approved, and after that it could take another 2 weeks or more to appear on these sites.

They also sold me an ISBN number for $9.95, on credit versus my future Smashwords royalties, which was required in order to be carried by the Apple and Sony ebook stores.  (I couldn't use the print ISBN number for the ebook).

What next?

It was pretty easy to get all of this done.  If I'd started with a clean Word file, it would have all gone a lot faster.  I also spent some time tweaking my description and bio. 

The really cool thing is that I can go back and upload a new cover, or summary, or bio, whenever I want.  And I can easily track sales.  If I get any.

That's the big question, of course.  Will anyone buy these ebooks?  Smashwords is pretty upfront about this on their site FAQ--they don't suggest you're going to sell many books.  It all depends on marketing and luck.  I have a limited amount of time/energy/money available for marketing at the moment, but I'll definitely work hard at spreading the word to friends, family, and other contacts.  Smashwords actually offers its authors a very sensible marketing guide (available for free, online), which I found helpful.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Tornado Siren is now an ebook! (part 1: the why)

So, first, my big news:   my novel, Tornado Siren, is now available as an ebook for Kindle, Nook, and other formats (via Smashwords).

Tornado Siren was originally published by Behler Publications in January 2006.  Behler is a small publisher just in its second year when they picked up Tornado Siren.  I did what I could to promote the book (detailed in a previous blog post here), and we sold a small amount of copies (not nearly as many as we'd hoped).  Last year the book went out of print.  It had stopped selling, wasn't in bookstores, and Behler had not yet put out an ebook version.

I've been interested the idea of ebooks for a while, even though I don't own a Kindle or Nook, and don't know if I will.  The ability to distribute a novel or nonfiction book so easily and cheaply seems like a pretty amazing idea.  And obviously a lot of other people think so, too, because more and more ebooks are purchased all time time, with ebook sales rising fast.  What's especially cool is that you can tweak the marketing of an ebook easily--swapping out covers, descriptions, changing prices--to find the balance the works best.

For unknown writers (like me), ebooks offer a great chance at broader potential distribution and the ability to compete on price.  The complexities of printed book distribution, especially for small (and new) publishers, meant that my book was in almost NO bookstores, even after it was released.  The exceptions were stores that I contacted myself and where I had readings.  It was hard to sell books if they weren't in stores.  Having the book listed on Amazon made sales somewhat easier--hundreds of my friends, family, and contacts (and even people I don't know), bought copies through Amazon.  But even with discounts, the book cost more than $10, and readers had to wait, and they had to know about the book.  And wait.  And pay shipping.  And the price could only go so low, because so many people (publisher, distributor, Amazon, and me) needed to get paid.  On the sale of a printed book on Amazon, even at full price ($14.95), I tended to make about 67 cents per book.

I've been reading a lot about ebook publication, and Joe Konrath's blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, was certainly the most enthusiastic.  He's has some amazing success with his genre fiction by publishing his own ebooks.  He's always been a good self-promoter of his work and is extremely prolific.  He was also very willing to share the numbers about how many books he was selling and how much he was earning.  (And I like numbers.)  His blog also features many guest posts from writers who are also having significant success selling their books at ebooks.

So why not publish Tornado Siren as an ebook myself?  I could have have waited for Behler to do it, but they didn't seem in any hurry to make that happen.  Plus, if I published it as an ebook myself, I'd earn a lot more on every sale.  For example, Kindle books sold on Amazon, can earn an author as much as 70% of the sales price (if they're priced between $2.99 and $9.99).  So even if I sold the book for $2.99, I'd be earning almost $2/book.

Most importantly, I'd have a chance for readers to start to find me again.  The book could remain continuously accessible (you don't even have to down an ebook device--you can read ebooks on your PC), for a very long time.  Plus, my book could now compete on the basis if price with books from established publishers.  Ebooks from the big houses tend to run around $10 and up.  I could price my book at $2.99 (or less), and cost would not longer such a barrier to a reader trying an author who's not a bestselling writer.

And it wouldn't cost me anything.  That's right, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords will all publish your ebook for free.

Still, I put it off for almost a year.  Which was probably a mistake, because getting in early means you get in when there is much less competition.  Thousands of new titles are being added every week.  The need for a  new cover and the general lack of free time in my life kept it from happening.

But in the end, the decision was easy.  What did I have to lose?  It would take some time, but not much money (maybe some money for a cover).  I could direct viewers of my web site and blogs to buy copies.  I'd continue to have a chance to read more readers.  And I could try new marketing strategies, new summaries, and even pitch the paranormal love story aspect of the book more actively.

I'm not giving up on print publishing.  I have an agent who is pitching two of my newest novels, and I desperately hope she'll find publishers for them and that they end up in bookstores across the country.  But for Tornado Siren, this seemed like the way to go. 

I'm trying to temper my fantasies.  My book isn't going to sell like Joe Konrath's stuff.  But even if I find dozens or hundreds of new readers, I'll come out ahead.  (Maybe I can make enough to buy the kids some pizza.)  And maybe those new readers will come back and read some of new novels, when they're available.

(next: the how)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Icebox Radio Theater does my play: The Wind & The Cold

Icebox Radio Theater in northern Minnesota just posted their production of my radio play, The Wind & The Cold.  They've done a very nice job, and it comes at a time when we're dealing with lots of snow and wind here in Boston.  Luckily, we don't have to face anything like the characters in the play. 

Here's the summary (it runs about 30 minutes, but it's in segments, so you don't have to listen all at once):

Two lovers head for a winter retreat with a blizzard on its way.  Jacques (a Northern boy) is excited.  Katrina (a Florida girl) is terrified.  When their differences boil over into a fight, they find themselves in the middle of an identical fight between two elemental forces of nature in this wonderful fantasy by playwright Patrick Gabridge.

Check it out.

(You can read all about my radio plays, and listen to some, here.)