- Immanuel Kant
When I read this article about a prolific pastor-author hiring a marketing firm to put his book on the bestselling "Advice, How-to" list, I wondered how it could possibly work. I roughly understand how a company could coordinate purchasing 3,000 books, both in bulk and individual sales, but what would they do with all of those books?
Apparently, they return them. This WSJ article on authors buying their way onto bestseller lists, says some marketers believe hitting that list once is the doorway to invitations and future success. Once you're on the list for a week, you can claim to be a bestselling author.
Last August, a book titled "Leapfrogging" hit The Wall Street Journal's list of best-selling business titles upon its debut. The following week, sales of the book, written by first-time author Soren Kaplan, plunged 99% and it fell off the list.Isn't this equivalent to creating an award to give to yourself so you can claim to be an award winner?
Something similar happened when the hardcover edition of "Networking is Dead," was published in mid-December. A week after selling enough copies to make it onto the Journal's business best-seller list, more hardcover copies of the book were returned than sold, says book-sales tracker Nielsen BookScan.
The marketing idea hamster Seth Godin recommends ignoring the NY Times lists altogether. "The curious know that there are in fact two lists for non-fiction hardcover books. The first list, the regular list, is the list of ‘real’ books of the sort the Times would like people to read. The second list is a ghetto, a place for How To, Advice, and the always coveted ‘Miscellaneous’ books to reside. This list was invented by the editors at the Times because these books were crowding out the other, better, books from the list."
He says questions about serving your readers become overwhelmed by concerns about placement on the Times list. Is your goal as an author to serve your readers or your message, or is it to serve the eccentricities of this list?
Jared Wilson, who has a new book out, lists five reasons buying placement on any bestseller list is dishonest, egocentric, and poor steward, among other things. Speaking particularly to pastors who write:
"If you’re simply trying to expand the audience of the gospel — or your gospel-teaching material — wouldn’t it be more effective to simply purchase thousands of copies of your book and give them away to lost people? Or, alternatively, not to sell your book at all and just give it away for free? (Did Keith Green make any bestseller lists? Has John Piper?)"
First, a brief commercial message. Due to a momentary technical lag in our diabolical plan to raise the prices on my two self-published e-books, Troll Valley remains for sale for the old $2.99 price at the time of this posting. I have no idea how long this will last, so if you want it at the old, low-self-esteem price, get it now.
Author Michael Z. Williamson sent me this link to a remarkable piece of writing by Jackson Crawford, who teaches Norse and Norwegian languages at UCLA. It's a retelling of the Star Wars story as an Icelandic saga, and to my ear it seems letter-perfect. Also better than the movies.
But Lúkr took Artú’s bloody cape and there found the message written by Princess Leia. He began to read it. “I am no runemaster,” he said, “But these words say, ‘Help me, Víga-Óbívan Kvæggansson; you alone would dare to avenge me.’ I don’t know how to read any more words, because they are written poorly and hastily. What is this?”
Artú pretended not to speak Norse, and asked in Irish, “What is what?”
“What is what?” responded Thrípíó, “That was a question. What was written on that message which Princess Leia gave you?”
“That’s nothing,” said Artú, “An old message. I think that Princess Leia is long dead.” Thrípíó translated his words into Norse.
“Who is Princess Leia?” asked Lúkr, “What family is she from?”
Tonight, crowdsourcing. Or a social experiment. What I mean is I want your opinion.
I was talking to someone the other day about the way my novels are languishing at Amazon (my big exposure through Christianity Today the other day resulted in a total of 20 copies sold), and I mentioned that I’m asking $2.99 for a download. My friend suggested maybe that’s too little. Perhaps people assume that a $2.99 book isn’t to be taken seriously.
Baen is charging $6.99 for The Year of the Warrior.
I take it for granted anyone who reads this blog and is in a position to buy an e-book has already gotten their own $2.99 copy. So you have nothing to lose by giving me your honest opinion. Do you think the books would sell better at $4.99? $5.99?
I figure we could run a sale once or twice a year. Hard to do a sale at $2.99, unless you just make it free.
Tell me what you think.
Criticize the selling of self-destructive behavior to the young and you’re “puritanical,” or “slut-shaming,” or being “unrealistic about the modern world.” But in fact, this effort to normalize the degraded is itself perverse in the extreme. It’s the incarnation of that imp within who urges us to do ill to what we love the best: ourselves and our children. The people who peddle this trash curse those who dare to criticize them so loudly precisely because they know they are doing wrong and can’t stop themselves. Believe me: the person who accuses you of “slut-shaming,” is herself deeply ashamed.
The term "The Imp of the Perverse" is a reference to story by Poe.
"When you’re more invested in the business of books than you are in loving them, well, the person you cheat is yourself," says J. Mark Bertrand ("a major crime-fiction talent!") in response to discussion on the size of his readership. He notes that too often commenters throw out names of authors they think should be selling more books, and then ask where all the good books are, blaming publishing houses along the way.
You can get all of Bertrand's Books here for your friends, family, and enemies. Audiobooks are also available.
Mike Duran remarks on The Weekly Standard article on J. Mark Bertrand and his Roland March novels. Jon Breen had written of Bertrand's limited audience because his books are published by Bethany House. Duran asks, "So how does being a religious publisher limit the reach of an author’s audience? Well, it doesn’t… unless you write sci-fi, epic fantasy, ethnic fiction, espionage, horror, literary, or crime fiction." He says Bertrand's books deserve a large readership, but perhaps this publisher doesn't know how to market them.
I'm not sure I understand what's missing. Is it simply that if it doesn't sell in a Christian bookstore to a primary audience of white women, Christian publishers don't know what else to do with it?
Maybe Amazon is engaged in a price war, but maybe it's just taking advantage of publishing dinosaurs who don't want to understand what different people are willing to pay for real books.
"If the [publishing] industry can’t find a way to truly understand the new reality that has grown up around it," writes Suw Charman-Adnerson for Forbes.com, it will never find a way to survive current and future changes. Key to this is understanding Amazon’s position in the market and what impact its behaviour actually has."
She suggests Amazon is not sending the huntsman to cut the heart out of brick-and-mortar stores, but is merely playing its part in a real market. For more common sense on the real book market, see this post on Futurebook.
The President is coming to my home town on Tuesday to speak at a new Amazon fulfillment plant about the middle class. I expect his speech will be akin to what he has been saying this week, what he calls "a better bargain for the middle class." He told a Knox College audience:
I'll lay out my ideas for how we build on the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class in America, and what it takes to work your way into the middle class in America: Job security, with good wages and durable industries. A good education. A home to call your own. Affordable health care when you get sick. A secure retirement even if you’re not rich. Reducing poverty. Reducing inequality. Growing opportunity. That’s what we need.John Mutter suggests Amazon has a close relationship with the Obama administration, which may be the reason the president is speaking there, may be the reason they are upping the ante in their price war with bookstores. Yesterday, Amazon discounted several bestsellers even more than usual, 50-60% off retail, which industry insiders consider a declaration of war against offline booksellers. This may be the result of what Mutter says was a favorable resolution to the e-book case before courts this month. Amazon won out, when Apple's efforts to change the model for releasing and pricing e-books failed.
Some people continued to worry that Amazon will price booksellers out of business, and so offline browsing and friendly recommendations will be go the way of the buggy cart. But I doubt that.
The last day of my stay-cation. My big project was running around to hardware stores, looking for replacement furnace filters. Did not find what I needed. Bought one online instead, which probably worked out cheaper. But let the record show, I endeavored to support businesses in my community.
I don't think I've mentioned that Baen has put my novel Wolf Time on sale again in e-book form. They promise to have it on Amazon soon. I'll try to keep you posted.
Love that cover. It has nothing to do with the story, but it's a great cover.
I learned by way of our own Phil Wade that Bethany House has made J. Mark Bertrand’s novel Back on Murder (which we both reviewed very favorably, here and here) free in Kindle form for a limited time. We’re Bertrand boosters around here, and this book has the coveted Brandywine Books imprimatur.
Another vacation day for me. Today I took on a project I’d been dreading on general principles, replacing one of the leather handles on my Viking chest. You can see this chest in the right background in this old photo, from a Boy Scout event back in 2010:
When I built the chest, I made the decision to use leather handles, for two reasons. One, it’s cheaper than getting period iron ones, and I cheated on all the hardware on that project. But also I’ve seen an old immigrant trunk from one of our ancestors that came over from Norway with leather handles, and I always thought that was kind of cool. Easy on the hands. (Except not really. The flexible handles tend to squeeze your fingers when the chest is heavy, which this one is).
The very handle you behold in that photograph broke on me a little while back, and I dreaded the process of replacing it. But I took it on today, replacing it with a sturdy piece of belt blank I acquired a while back for tooling and never got around to using. It came out well.
Also I mowed the lawn, which was as exciting as you imagine.
But the big deal was that I got my official score for the Miller Analogies Test in the mail. After having to take it twice and beating myself up at getting a score of 475 out of a possible 600, I learn now that 475 puts me in the 99th percentile, which even I can’t find a way to disparage. Why anyone would design a test with a 200 to 600 scoring range, where the top 100 points are almost never used, I can’t imagine. No doubt they have their reasons, just as I insist on putting leather handles on chests.
Joel Friedlander draws lessons from the J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith episode. Galbraith's book was highly praised, but sold 1,500 copies before the Rowling news. Friedlander explains: "My opinion is that it was the complete absence of any platform for Robert Galbraith, the lack of any fans, anyone who cared about him, the lack of anyone willing to host him on a blog tour or help him set up readings at bookstores, or a tribe that would greet his long-awaited first book with enthusiasm that held back sales of what’s obviously a well-written book."
Author Joanna Penn says, "Marketing is sharing what you love with people who will appreciate hearing about it." She has a new book on marketing books and in this article describes five points authors and would-be authors need to forget.
Saturday I was up early to join Ragnar and his wife, who took me along to Canby, Minnesota, in the western part of the state, for the annual “Hat Day” celebration. I inquired discreetly at one point what Hat Day was actually in honor of, and learned that they just wanted to have a celebration, and were looking for a theme. They finally settled on those giveaway caps all the farmers wear (which, I have to say as a hat purist, are not strictly hats but caps).
The weather threatened and grumbled as we drove out and set up in the park, but the skies cleared and it turned out to be one of the nicest days of the year so far. The local Sons of Norway lodge, which sponsored us, was very gracious, and the people were all nice. I sold a sufficient number of books to feel that the day had been well spent. No fighting, since we were just a skeleton crew. Thanks to the citizens of Canby, and to Ragnar and his better half.
Speaking of selling books, I haven’t mentioned for a while that I have this e-book for sale, Hailstone Mountain. High adventure, low price. Read it now, before it becomes a cultural phenomenon, and you’ll be able to condescend to your friends!
There's still time to get several Hemingway classics and some selections for Kindle at $1.99.
It's snowing again. Coming down pretty heavy. The weather man says five to eight inches this time.
I was going to call it an insult, but no. The last one was an insult. This is the one there's no alternative to laughing over. Even if it puts down a foot, I declare here and now I won't shovel it. It'll be gone in a couple days anyhow.
I'm beginning to think we need to draw lots to figure out who offended the Almighty.
Only I'm afraid it's me.
Anyway, our friend Grim at Grim's Hall has posted a review of Hailstone Mountain, with a call for discussion on a theological point which I, frankly, had never actually connected to the scene in the book he's talking about. But now that he mentions it, I guess he's right.
The final figures on our free offer of Hailstone Mountain yesterday show upwards of 1,000 downloads, which strikes me as pretty good. We’ve gotten a fair number of sales in the backwash today as well.
So in a mood of thanksgiving, I offer the video below, the best version I could find of a Christian song that (in my opinion) has never gotten the attention it deserves, Rest Within His Sanctuary.
You can also download the MP3 from Amazon here, which I did. This professional version, also, is not quite up to the original I remember from the radio some years back. I’m pretty sure it was recorded by the Lillenaas Singers (Haldor Lillenaas, by the way, was born in Bergen, Norway. Just thought you’d like to know that).
If you sometimes wonder what makes me smile, well, the answer is that few things do. But this song does. I endorse it even though I strongly suspect its purpose is to promote the schismatic Calvinist doctrine of Eternal Security.
Broad-minded, that’s what I am.
I'm happy to report that our free book day (not over yet, you can still get it here until midnight, I think) seems to have been a success. We've given away more than 750 downloads, last time I checked, and one may hope that this might attract a few readers and referrals. Hailstone Mountain reached #2 on a couple of free Christian fantasy books lists today as well.
To put the cherry on the sundae, Loren Eaton posted a review at I Saw Lightning Fall. And we got a link from Vox Day of Vox Popoli.
Now I shall lean back and let all this adulation go to my head.
Thanks to everyone who helped promote it.
In our infinite benevolence and generosity, Ori and I are making my new e-book, Hailstone Mountain, available for free download on Tuesday, April 16.
One day only! Act now! Unless it's not Tuesday yet. Or it's Wednesday.
Free on Tuesday. That's the deal. Tell your friends.
Roberto Estreitinho writes about reading. "If by page 30 of a book I’m not hooked, I stop reading," he says, and if it's a long book he begins to have doubts about, he skips to the end. "If it’s worthy of understanding how the author got there, read it all. If not, congratulations. You just avoided wasting time." (via 99u)
On that note, The Unofficial #TGC13 Discount E-Book Store is open with many discounted eBooks from the authors at The Gospel Coalition Conference in Orlando this week.
I apologize for the cliffhanger ending on this one, but only out of politeness, because I did it on purpose. You can buy the book here. It doesn't cost much.
One of the thralls came to me then with a complaint. As you may recall from my earlier tales, Erling had a plan for his thralls whereby they bought their freedom through labor carried out in the evenings, after their day’s work for him was done. As his priest and the only man about who knew letters, I was in charge of running the thing (granted, the Norse have a kind of writing of their own, but I don’t know it, and Erling wanted me to do the job since it had been, in part, my idea, thus earning me the headache). The thrall was unsatisfied with the plot of ground he’d been given to sow barley on. I ended having to go and inspect it with him. I can’t recall now how I resolved the matter, but I suppose I must have. It was evening and suppertime when I headed back to the steading at Sola, entering the loose oblong of buildings that surrounded the yard. My goal was the new hall, set end-to-end with the old hall which we used only for great feasts these days. The day had cooled enough that I wished I’d worn my cloak. I was wearing layman’s clothes, as most priests in Norway did in those days, except for special occasions.
I went into the entry room, then turned right and stepped over the threshold into the high, smoky hall. It was peat smoke, a homely smell. A long fire burned in the hearthway down the middle. Pillars of wood that marched down either side of the hearthway upheld the rafters. Fixed benches for the diners to sit on ran down both side walls and across the far end, and before them trestle tables had been set up for eating. Erling’s high seat was midway down the bench on my left, between two specially carved pillars. My place was on his right. Erling’s wife Astrid Trygvesdatter, fair headed and great with child, had her seat on the women’s bench at the end. Their little boy Aslak sat beside her, when she could get him to sit still. Erling’s mother Ragna sat on Aslak’s other side.
The seat for the honored guest was on the bench across from Erling. Our honored guest tonight was in fact a woman–Thorbjorg Lambisdatter, a young widow who owned her own trading ships and had gone from being a prosperous to a very wealthy merchant. (Lawfully the business belonged to a brother I’d never met, but he’d been lamed in battle and was home-bound.) Thorbjorg was a tall, robust woman with a strong face and fiery red hair. She might have looked almost mannish were it not for her slender hands and graceful walk. Read the rest of this entry . . .
I think I mentioned that I did a podcast interview for Baen Books a couple weeks back, about the "Vikings" TV series. I wasn't aware it had been posted -- last week, I think. Anyway, if you go here, you can scroll down and listen to the one second from the top.
Hailstone Mountain can be purchased for Kindle here.
I returned my attention to the fine day. Sola farm, named for the sunny southern slope on which it stood, gave a generous view of the country south along the Norwegian coast. Looking that way I had the blue sea to my right, bending into Sola Bay whose wicked surf was our constant chorus. We tasted the brine in the air always, like breakfast fish. Stretching southward was the unremarkable but rich country of Jaeder, flat by Norwegian standards and rocky, good country for raising grain and digging peat.
I could not see north as I stood, but just so you’ll know, there was more of the same kind of country in that direction, interrupted by the great water of the Hafrsfjord, the land stretching northward toward the tip of Jaeder, which is a peninsula ending in the Boknafjord. Off to our east was more of the Boknafjord and Erling’s winter market of Stavanger, with mountains beyond, and north over the water was the rest of Norway, a rocky and mountainous country fit only for goats and trolls if you want my opinion.
I tell you this to explain why Erling was a busy man. Norway, “the north road,” is a long land, and ships go ever up and down the coast, for trade mostly, but also for war. If you’re coming from the south, around the southern tip at Lindesness, you pass the regions of Agder and Jaeder. Agder and Jaeder are niggling for harbors. The first good harbors are up in our country, at Risa and in the Hafrsfjord.
So if you mean to make that trip, it’s good to be on friendly terms with Erling Skjalgsson, lord of Sola. One may, with luck and a fair wind, pass by Erling’s country on a long summer day, but it’s not a thing to gamble on.
All this had been true even before the late King Olaf Trygvesson gave Erling, his brother-in-law, lordship over the country from Lindesness all the way north to Stad, thus adding another good day’s sail to our reach.
True, this lordship was disputed now, Olaf Trygvesson being dead at the bottom of the Baltic and his enemies Jarl Erik and Jarl Svein ruling up in Nidaros as sworn men of Svein Forkbeard, the king of Denmark.
But Erling Skjalgsson was not a man to give ground to trifles like kings and mortality. He ruled as he had ruled, and his enemies had failed to take that rule from him. Change seemed even less likely now that Jarl Erik had been summoned to help his king chastise the English.
Hailstone Mountain can be purchased for Kindle here.
At last the girl Freydis came into view, yellow-haired and buxom, leaping the fence lightly (giving me a glimpse of a pretty ankle whether I liked or not) and running lightly through the grass to her uncle, Lemming. Her uncle stopped what he was doing and gave her his full attention, as he ever did.
“I need a new ribbon,” she said. “A blue one, to braid in my hair. Deirdre has some she wove. She’ll trade me one for one of your bronze pins.”
Lemming summoned his strength and said, “No.”
Freydis pouted and asked, “Why?” She was a master pouter, that girl. God had given her a fair, plump mouth and she knew how to use it to get her way, as many men had learned, even men better defended (like me) against her whims than Lemming. Read the rest of this entry . . .
I should mention that if you have an established book blog and would like a free review e-copy of Hailstone Mountain, I can arrange to get you one.
I sat on the stone home-field fence, watching Lemming in the meadow. The big, ugly smith was doing his sword drill, as was his daily custom. Dividing an unseen circle in the air again and again, swinging Smith’s Bane, the heirloom sword Erling Skjalgsson had given him, with a corded arm that never seemed to weary, making whistling sounds in the air. It was a beautiful bright day in spring, an uncommon enough event to make me wish to sit in the sun and revel a bit. A seagull lit a little distance away to make a meal of something he’d snatched. Another gull flew in to dispute it with him, and they squabbled loudly, using their beaks on one another. The disputed prize, I saw at last, was a bloody seagull chick.
“He’s good,” said a voice, and I turned my head to see Erling Skjalgsson coming up behind me, tall and fair, dressed in a blue linen summer shirt.
“I suppose he is. He’s been in fights enough and he still lives. I’m no judge of swordsmanship. My folk weren’t fine enough for swords. An axe for me, when I must needs fight.”
“Would you like to learn?”
I smiled. “Steinulf once told me, ‘Seven days to learn to fight with an axe. Seven years to learn to use a sword.’”
Erling smiled too. “That’s about right. Still, you’ll be that much older seven years hence whatever you do. If you’d like to add swordsmanship to your skills, you’ve but to ask.”
“Thank you, but I think there are better ways for a priest to spend seven years.”
“Please yourself.” Erling settled his elbows on the stones and watched Lemming. “I wonder where he learned,” he said.
“What do you mean? He practices every day.”
“As you yourself pointed out, it takes seven years, more or less. It’s not been that long he’s had the sword. He was skilled from the day he filched that weapon from my father’s dead hand, though only new-freed, and no thrall is trained to the sword.”
“How do you explain it then?”
“I think Lemming wasn’t born a thrall. I think before his enthrallment he was raised as a warrior. We contrived to get a little of his story from him, as one pries meat from a mussel, how his brother was sacrificed and how Freydis is his niece, but there’s more to the story.”
“I suppose we could ask him.”
“Do you think it would do any good?”
“With Lemming? No.”
“I agree. But I do wonder.”
“And now so do I.” Read the rest of this entry . . .
A look at my sales figures suggests to me that I need to promote Hailstone Mountain, my new novel. So I'll be doing some snippets. Here's the first, actually the Prologue:
I sat in the darkness. The mountain-rats slept around me. I could see some of their forms in the firelight. My brown cat lay curled against my leg, purring soundlessly. They’d shared their supper with us—dried fish.
I felt no need of sleep just then. I’d slept a lot on my high stone bed.
“Are you awake, Outsider?” a voice asked. At first I thought it might be the cat speaking again, but then I saw it was a boy, one of the mountain-rats. Although I could not see him clearly, I thought I knew which one he was. Sixteen winters or so, with bright blue eyes.
“I’m awake, my son.”
“Why do you call me your son?”
“It’s what I call everyone. Son or daughter. It’s my business to be a father to people.”
“I never knew for sure who my father was.”
“That’s just why I’m here.”
“May I ask you a question, then, …Father?”
“Have you been out in the great world?”
“Aye. And mean to be again.”
“Is it really there?” Read the rest of this entry . . .
Some days everything happens at once. The Year of the Warrior is now available as an e-book, from Baen.
Readmill is an eReader app for iPads and iPhone which connects readers and authors in a community with the books. It appears to be Goodreads.com with eBooks. You can share quotes and get recommendations from your friends. They recently added a page of recommended stores for buying iPad/iPhone formated books easily. You can see what's going in a post like this one featuring highlights from the past week.
In related news, I've started to use The Old Reader, an RSS feed aggregator. It's good. I like it so far.
Do you use either of these sites/apps?
Here I am, it's approaching 7:00 p.m. I need to get to translating, and I have nothing to blog about. Today's big challenge at work was starting the training of my newest assistant, a young man from Haiti. I shouldn't have to train new assistants at this time of year, as the ones I trained in the fall aren't supposed to have expired yet. But I've been running through assistants a little more rapidly than usual of late. One would almost think there was something wrong with my management style... No, no, that's ridiculous.
Anyway, I praised Robert Mullin's space fantasy novel Bid the Gods Arise a while back, and for a very short time you can get the Kindle version free here. I think you'll enjoy it.
Intelligently run independent bookshops have a future. I've no doubt about that.. We have at least two in the Scottish Borders , one in Selkirk and the other in St Boswell’s, which are a pleasure to visit, precisely because they are run by people who combine an interest in books and literature with an interest in their customers and an awareness of their tastes. Without such interest and awareness, few bookshops will be long for this world.