The Only Thing Constant…

Last Friday, my publisher, Samhain Horror announced they were closing shop. It was like announcing a death in the family.

Dark InspirationV1

In 2011, Don D’Auria was the editor for the line. The man was already legendary in the horror community. He accepted my manuscript for Dark Inspiration and it became one of the first six books the horror line released. I went from writing in my dining room to being published next to Ramsey Campbell. I wondered how that could possibly be true.

Many months later a box of new books arrived on my doorstep. I opened it up and there was my name on the cover. Every author knows that mind-blowing experience.

Horrorfind 2012

 

A few months after that, I attended the Horrorfind convention in Gettysburg at the Samhain table. I met other authors from the imprint, Ron Malfi, David Bernstein, Hunter Shea, Brian Moreland, John Everson, Damien Angelica Walters, Mick Ridgewell. I remember sitting with all of them at dinner and wondering how the hell anyone let me into this amazing group. The whole first year of being a published author was a whirlwind.

Since then, Samhain has published five other novels and a novella I’d written. Other authors with the imprint diversified their releases at other presses. But they were far more prolific than I. One novel a year seemed to be my pace. And I liked having a home. I wanted to be part of helping grow the brand, and I liked Samhain. Don was a great editor. The production staff was wonderful. No one ever asked me to change a title. Every cover for each book came from a design I submitted. And all the authors got paid. Every month.

If something isn’t broken…

But something was broken. Sales. A truly phenomenal group of talented authors couldn’t muster the kind of breakthrough sales numbers they deserved. And I know. I read most of them and their work was so good that it made me cringe reading mine. I don’t know enough about the marketing end of the business to know why these authors never caught fire. But without those flames, Samhain couldn’t build the head of steam it needed to move forward. Unlike other publishers who’ve failed due to mis-management, this one just seemed to have been pounded flat by market forces.

Number 1 ghost story

Sadly, this poor sales record wasn’t true for me. A recent 99 cent promotion for that first born, Dark Inspiration, made it a #1 Amazon Best Seller for almost a week, drove continuing sales afterward, and had raised the sales of the rest of my Samhain works.

number 2 horror

I even gave Stephen King a run for his money. Maybe a sprint. A step? Okay, he didn’t notice. But seriously, the company might not have seen the light at the end of tunnel, but I saw it bright and clear.

Portal-The72lg

So my next novel, The Portal will not be released this June. I’d just approved the cover and was really getting excited for the debut. Now the artwork is like one of those promo posters for a movie that never got made. The manuscript will need to find a new home, and I’m daunted by the low adoption rate when you are picky about what family you join.

I’ve gotten some sage advice to look at this as an opportunity. I’ll soon have the rights back to seven books, one unpublished. I also have finished YA and thriller manuscripts to shop around. Self-publishing has worked for me in the past. (My horror ranking on Amazon has always been lower than my sci-fi ranking from my self-published works.) Next year at this time, I could be in a much better, bigger publishing place.

We’ll see. I’m trying to rush through the Five Stages of Mourning and Grief as quickly as I can. I guess this post is part of that process. Lucky for me I have the support of my wife, my friends, the other former (sniff!) Samhain authors, and the readers who enjoyed what I’d written.

If you want one of these future collector’s item Samhain editions, drop by my tables at the LA Festival of Books in April, Scares that Care in Williamsburg, VA in July, or Megacon in Orlando in May. As they say, when they are gone, they’re gone.

Samhain author on backpack

At one of the Horrorhound conventions, Samhain gave us a pin, like we’d pledged a fraternity, which I guess we all had. It’s been on my travel bag for a while now. It may be some time before I take it off.

Christmas on Q Island

Copy editors are excellent. They have the detail-oriented personality to read through a text, catch every typo, flag every incorrect reference, and erase any continuity errors. Their value cannot be underestimated and no book should EVER be sent out to the world without one.

Copy editors are also on the lookout for the publisher, keeping them from being legally entangled in some mess, especially a copyright issue. Q Island raised that red flag a number of times, all about the same thing.

QIsland72lg

The lead character, Melanie Bailey, has an autistic son, Aiden. His autism brings on terrible panic attacks, and Melanie can calm him by singing to him.

When he was still just two years old, before his diagnosis, Melanie and her husband didn’t know what to do to calm this poor, sleepless child who seemed in constant distress. Then a song came on the radio and Aiden just relaxed, relaxed enough to finally go to sleep after an exhausting day. Their prayer was answered. Since then, Melanie used that song to calm Aiden in the most stressful circumstances. The first time he heard it was in December. It was a Christmas carol. So Melanie sometimes sings a Christmas carol year round.

Well, every time she sings the song in the book, the copy editor comments stain the margins like spilled wine, reviewing all the dire consequences possible when this copyright violation comes to light after publication. The good news was that I already had permission to use the song. Because I wrote it. The lyrics for it anyway. They are:

Angels in heaven, look down on the child,

Perfect and lovely, tender and mild.

Shepherds that evening, tending their flocks,

Kneel without pain on nettles and rocks.

The rams and the ewes, surround him in awe.

First to acknowledge our Savior and Lord.

Wise men who travel, came from afar,

Guided by faith and the light of a star.

 

Okay, “awe” and “Lord” is a stretch for a rhyme.

I’m thrilled when someone reads a book I’ve written and says the characters ring true, or the locations are vivid and real. But I was stunned that I might have written something that could pass as real song lyrics.

So if anyone wants to volunteer the melody, I’m willing to bang out a chorus and two more verses. Let’s get it done by December.

 

 

 

Update #2 The Impact of Kindle Lending

I did an earlier post on the impact of Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited option on book sales for MLG Publishing’s benefit anthology OUT OF TIME. My theory, based on limited data, was that Kindle Unlimited would add new lenders without impacting sales much. The process was only a few weeks old, and I promised an update after a few more months. Here’s the update:

To review, Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL), from the author’s point of view, both do the same thing. They make the book available for Kindle users to borrow. Amazon pays the author for each borrow instead of paying a royalty for each paid download. The amount paid, unfortunately, is up to Amazon’s discretion. They set aside a pile of money and then divide it equally, one share for every borrow. A 99 cent short story earns the same as a thousand-page $14.99 piece of high fantasy. People’s concern was that the overall impact on sales, and more importantly, income, would be negative.

OUT OF TIME went on sale in 2013 as a 99 cent benefit anthology for Doctors Without Borders. It sold hot straight out of the gate and we’ve sent thousands of dollars to this worthy cause. The initial spike in sales calmed down after a few months and settled into a steady weekly volume. All the graphs you will see below start at the point the volume appeared to be steady. All volume numbers are just relative references. Let’s look at sales first:

oot chart sales KOLL was always active, but KU kicks in week 17 on this chart. Sales volume through week 21 is pretty uniform, then there is a drop through week 30, and a bottoming out at a new level from week 31 to 44. Volume spikes back up in weeks 45 through 47, but I attribute that to the release of a second time travel anthology by the same authors, STILL OUT OF TIME, which I think spurred a new set of sales.

Now let’s look at lending:

oot chart lend

Week 17, KU kicks in and from then on lending rises through about week 30, then pretty much stabilizes when you average the high and low weeks that are coincidentally next to each other most of the time.

So sales are down, lends are up. The sum is shown below:

oot chart total

The overall trend holds with the sales trend. Starting at week 31, total units moved goes to a “new normal”, roughly 45% less than before KU went active. Sales of any item drop over time, so it may be presumptuous to think that OUT OF TIME would sell at the weeks 1-20 level forever, but it does look like KU is a pretty good suspect for the sudden drop, even though the book is popular through KU itself.

An economist might say that demand, with some product being available free, could be measured not in dollars, but in readers’ time available to read. This fixed demand is now spread across a larger supply, because free books extend the reach of the reader, despite limited disposable income. This relationship (more supply, fixed demand) will depress most individual sales, though the sum total over all books will most likely rise until readers’ available time to read is filled.

Read that a few times so it sinks in. End result, the reader wins. Amazon goal #1 met.

Does the self-published author win? Hmm. First let’s see what the self-pub guy gets per sale. These are the dollars earned per unit of OUT OF TIME over the last few months:

oot chart ku cash
June is the last month with KOLL only. KOLL had a much richer payout, by design, than KU does. Amazon won’t be going back to any $2.24 payouts any time soon. But let’s say they stabilize at $1.42.

Using this data, for every 100 books you sold pre-KU, you would sell 45 less. At the minimum royalty of $0.33, you would lose $14.85 in royalties. But you would gain 15 lent units at $1.42 and earn  $21.30. You move fewer books, and make more money.

Unless your royalty rate is higher. Then you lose. The break even point is only $0.47, or having your book at a price point of $1.42 on Kindle. Anything above that and this “new normal” is a financial disaster. Amazon spends less to deliver content. Amazon goal #2 met.

So do you pull out of KU? Maybe if you are a big name who people must buy as soon as your book leaves a press. But not if you are a small fry. If the theoretical economist a few paragraphs up is correct, overall demand per seller is down. Drop KU, and you may lose the lends, and gain no sales in return, as individuals continue to get a percent of their content free, just from someone else. Authors making more money doesn’t appear to be on Amazon’s list of goals.

Of course, all of this is based on a data set of one, which is just a step away from “My cousin Leroy told me this story about a guy…” So pop over the my Facebook link for this post and link me to anyone else’s story abut the impact of KU, stories that contain actual numbers, please. Love to see what other authors have experienced.

And if you want to read a copy of OUT OF TIME, it won’t hurt my feelings, and 33 cents goes to Doctors Without Borders, $1.42 if you just borrow it.

 

-Russell James

 

 

 

The Glamorous Writing Life

Here’s a guest post by horror author and friend Hunter Shea, giving everyone a little insight into the real writing world.

Writing horror is the most glamorous job in the world. I mean, I’m surprised I didn’t do this sooner. And why isn’t everyone else trying to get in the door? 

I say this as I write at my kitchen table. My oldest cat is eating at my feet and the smell of her Fancy Feast is nauseating, to say the least. There’s so much stuff on the table that I barely have room for my laptop. A wedge of Irish soda bread is at one elbow, a bag of Bear Naked granola at the other. My wife just did the laundry and the indoor rack is at my back. If I slide back in my chair too fast, all those clean clothes are flopping on the floor.

I’m at the kitchen table because my desk is swamped under holiday boxes and bags that need to be brought to storage. My perfectly crafted little writing corner is MIA.

The day job kept me busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger, so I have a headache and flagging energy. In a few minutes, I have to pick up dinner (we’re eating out tonight!) across town. After we eat, I have to help my daughter with her homework, and feed the other cat who was too lazy to get up earlier. We’re having a family night tonight, so we’ll either attempt the Big Bang Theory game we got for Christmas (thanks sis) or find something On-Demand to watch together. I may or may not have time to get in a few pages on my novella before my brain shuts down. And I can’t sleep without reading. Tonight, I’m working on the second half of fellow Samhainer Glenn Rolfe’s book, Abram’s Bridge.

And tomorrow? Wash, rinse repeat. Though I do plan to spend some quality time on my book. That will be my time to indulge my id and rage against the world.

When Island of the Forbidden was released, I celebrated by going to work, taking care of the sick members of my family and spending more time than usual on social media. I think I also went to the store to get cold meds and tissues. And I also steam cleaned the living room carpet. That, my friends, is a productive day.

Yes, it’s all Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous at the Shea abode. I even believe we may have some faux caviar cat food and apple cider in those fancy champagne bottles you get at the supermarket.

And you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing. I never had grand dreams of becoming the next Stephen King sitting atop piles of money I couldn’t spend in several lifetimes. I just wanted to write stories. Somewhere along the line, the editor of my dreams liked one of those stories, and here I am. I don’t want a fancy cocktail party in New York City when one of my books is released, sycophants circling me like sharks while I scratch at the discomfort of my rental tux. Give me a quiet night with the family, sharing stories over dinner while the cats circle our legs, waiting to be fed. Or, if you want to go big, we can gather some close friends at a dive bar, drink cold bottles of Lone Star and laugh until our voices are raw.

That’s glamour to me. Thank God I get to keep writing, all thanks to folks like you, those precious readers of horror.

IslandoftheForbidden-H (1)

Grab Hunter’s excellent Island of the Forbidden on Amazon or anywhere books by the mentally twisted are sold.