Reader Input Desired (bonus: progress report)

Hello there, readership. Audience. Tribe. Whatever you want to call yourselves. How has it been? Good. I’m glad to hear it.

As many of you are probably aware—I expect you’re awaiting the moment with clenched teeth and white knuckles—my deadline for getting my first novel out is fast approaching. Halfway through NaNoWriMo (and, incidentally, about halfway through writing the draft of my next novel), December is coming up fast. So let me fill you in on a few things I’m trying to work through currently. I need some input on this from you guys—the ones who will actually be reading this stuff.

First off, a progress update: the sci-fi novel has been shipped out to some readers for suggestions and input. Come December 1st, I’ll put aside my NaNoWriMo project and address these issues, make necessary corrections, etc. I’m aiming to have the sci-fi novel published and ready to be downloaded by December 15, though I’m giving myself an extra five-day window in case I have to make some serious adjustments. In the meantime, while my team of “alphareaders” is going through the sci-fi book with fine-toothed combs, I’m working on what will eventually be my second book—the first book in a fantasy series about a dwarf. If you follow me on Twitter (link is on the right-hand side of this blog) you will be familiar with my clever hashtag for this project: #dwarfstory. The goal with this project is to have 60,000 words written by the end of November. This will put me at 2/3 through the novel, if my estimates are correct. I currently have about 35,000 words written, and I’m going to have a bunch of time to write over Thanksgiving weekend. Things are looking up.

Alright, now that the progress report is out of the way, I need your help with something. Since my publication deadline is approaching, I’ve been stewing over how exactly I want to publish my novel. From the beginning, the plan has been to release the book through Kindle Direct Publishing. I’ve heard that the program is easy to use and has a lot of marketing tools. Plus you can get up to 70% of the royalties, which is unheard of in traditional publishing. I’ve been happy about this arrangement because it should serve as a good way for me to wet my feet in the publishing world while relying on a professional, global corporation as a bit of a safety net. However, some things have changed recently. I’ve been bitten by the “pay-what-you-want / give-stuff-away” bug. I think it’d be really cool to release the book for free and then just have an option to donate money if you so desire. Or, alternatively, set it up in such a way that you can just pay what you want—including the option of paying nothing. Basically the same idea, either way. This is more in line with my personal philosophy about art and about relating to people in general. However, let me just be vulnerable and say that I’m reluctant to do it.

Here’s why. First off, there is the obvious vulnerability of spending over a year working on a project and then just trusting people to compensate you. What if no one pays me anything? My wife, who works full time so that I can stay at home with the kids and pursue a writing career, has graciously told me that it’s okay if I never make any significant money off of my work, but let’s just be honest. Perhaps it’s a product of the Industrial Revolution and subsequent masculine/feminine dichotomies, or perhaps it’s selfish pride, or perhaps it’s even a good desire, but the fact remains that I do want to be financially successful enough to provide, on my own, for my family. I’d love it if my wife didn’t have to work. Not that she wouldn’t work. She enjoys her job. But just so that she didn’t need to work in order to pay the bills. That’d be cool. Of course, the go-it-alone mentality sort of rubs against the grain of the whole “marriage” thing—where we’re supposed to “become one flesh” and work through life together—but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to make wagonloads of money and be able to call myself a self-made man (a misnomer if ever there was one).

Secondly, I’m scared to release the book for free because I don’t know anything about computers. This is really the major problem, I think. I mean, I haven’t expected to really make any money off this first book. It is, after all, a first book. And I don’t have the vast marketing resources of a major publisher behind me, nor even a marketing team. It’s all just me and you, reader. And word of mouth. And, hopefully, some coffee-shop open mics or something. So my first fear in the preceding paragraph, though very visceral and real, is not that big of a deal. It’s a fear that will still be there even if I do release the book through KDP as originally intended. But this second fear is much more serious. I wouldn’t have the first clue how to set up this website so that you can donate. I know it’s probably very easy to do, but I don’t know how. And I’m not sure that I have time to learn with my deadline coming up in a month. Plus, I don’t have money to pay someone else to do it. So there’s that. Also, I want the eBook to look really good. Or at least to be formatted well. It’s my understanding that KDP is workable as far as formatting goes, and it helps you through the process pretty well. I don’t know that for sure, but Amazon seems to know what it’s doing. I’m worried about how the book will look if I just try to format it myself. I’ve been told that I can upload it as a PDF file, which is apparently readable on a Kindle, but I don’t know that it will look as good as if I used KDP. Again, I’m showing my ignorance of computers and technomajiggers.
Anyway, readers, I would greatly value your input on this. What do you think? Should I do a donation-only or pay-as-you-go model? Or should I stick with my original plan of using KDP to get my feet wet and then, later on down the road when I’ve become more acquainted with the process, start releasing books by myself? Let me know what you think.

And thank you. For your input and for your support. It’s all very much appreciated.

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8 thoughts on “Reader Input Desired (bonus: progress report)

  1. I’d say KDP for now and have a $0.99 preview copy with major clifhanger that makes people want to buy the whole thing for $5 or so.

    Pricing is the hardest thing in marketing in my opinion. Too much and people won’t buy it, too little and people will not see it as a very valuable product. As a consumer, “free” makes me think the work isn’t very good. KDP seems like your best option for reaching a large audience too.

    • I’m leaning toward this option right now. Eventually, when my readership is more established and I know more about how to deliver the product in the best possible way, I plan on doing a pay-what-you-want. I’ve been thinking about it, and all the success stories with that model already had a consistent audience. They didn’t start out just giving their stuff away.

    • Okay, see. That’s information I need right there. It’s looking like I’m going to do Kindle. Free is a dream for after I have an audience. Gotta use those marketing opportunities!

  2. I agree with Andrew. Kickstarter is a great way to raise funds so you can sit at home and write without worrying about the bills.

    Often, I will see eBooks which are cheap enough to be negligible to buy (~$1-10), and the paper book will be a bit more expensive (due to the added costs of making a book and shipping it, etc.). Then there is hard cover which is usually about $20. I don’t know which is the most profitable to the author, but most major novels come in all three formats.

    I think you should market to the genre. Science fiction screams reddit, I think. Don’t neglect the other social sites, though. Even if you announce the book with a link to buy/get it, people may not become immediately excited. I know many people who wait for critical review. I don’t know how you get professional reviews, but it’s probably something to look into. Surely a book will receive reviews if it becomes popular enough (but how to make it popular?). NPR does book reviews; I don’t know how they pick the books, but it may be worth calling them and inquiring. I’ve bought a fair number of books because of the review on the radio.

    I am a software developer, and I advocate for open source/free access to information. Certainly your friends/followers would give more generously than you would probably charge for the book. Strangers may not give at all, however.

    Oh yeah, by the way, I’m a software developer. Let me know if you need help with computers. You’re right that professionally designed, interactive sites are in the range of $50-250k. I see you’re already using some tools which are free, such as wordpress. There are other free-to-use (or mostly free) internet services for individuals looking to do basically anything. Payment/donations can easily be handled through already-set-up services (http://www.awwwards.com/18-online-payment-services-and-systems.html). That article is a little old, but I think it’s still quite valid. Most of these payment services charge a fee. I’ve used square (https://squareup.com/) before, and I really like it. They will send you a card swiper (for free!) that plugs into your Apple or Android smartphone/pad device. You pay them a fixed percentage of 2.75% per swipe or you can sign up for a fixed dollar amount each month if you are making many transactions per month. You can also use it for online transactions.

    Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any technological questions.

    • I’m actually planning on getting a Square. As for the website, my plan is to continue using WordPress (but redesigning this site so that it is more navigable). I’ve looked into Kickstarter before, and I might use it in the future. I do know that you have to do it on a per-project basis, and not like “fund my writing career.” I’ve been reticent of it because I always worry that I’m going to violate the terms of use in some way and them be liable for it. But it is definitely a resource I want to look into more.

      I’m not too sure that I even need a super awesome website. I personally don’t often visit writers’ websites as prerequisites to buying their books. I mean, I want to have a website. I just don’t think investing a ton of money into it is going to probe worthwhile.

      That said, I WILL need a navigable website if and when I decide to start releasing the eBooks for free by myself.

      • When the time comes, let me know. I made mine (http://akofink.com), and it is open source (https://github.com/akofink/akofink). It is written in Ruby on Rails, so it allows for data to be stored in a database and retrieved later (i.e. a blog post). Rails is also very capable of doing anything you want from online payments to real-time chat in the browser. It is also open source (https://github.com/rails/rails). I think the real cost of a website will be hosting. You have to have somewhere to run it, and it must be reliable. There are many options here as well. I like heroku (https://www.heroku.com/). It’s free but scalable (for money). It’s not the cheapest solution, but it is really well designed.

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