Are indie authors truly independent?

In his annual post, Smashwords founder Mark Coker asks ‘Can authors honestly call themselves indie authors when they’re getting 80-100% of their sales from a single retailer?’

His question inspired me to investigate my own sales. And it turns out, the sales of Number Eight Crispy Chicken fall right in this range.

Although it is also available on Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords, over the first month, 91% of the sales of Number Eight Crispy Chicken were via a single platform. You guessed it: Amazon.

Drilling down, however, 44% of those sales on Amazon were for paperback books. Only 72% of ebook sales were on Amazon.

But that’s still a lot of eggs in one basket.

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Eight Days of Number Eight Crispy Chicken

Ladies and gentlemen, Number Eight Crispy Chicken has now landed at all good (and even some not-so-good – you know which ones you are!) bookstores! Find your copy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or search on iBooks! (At time of writing, Number Eight Crispy Chicken is among the top 5,000 books on Amazon Australia, it’s both the hottest release and #1 bestselling Aviation-themed book, and is in the top ten Dark Humour books!)

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The After-After-Thought: The Spine

If a book’s back cover is often an after-thought, the spine is an after-after-thought.

Yet, as I wrote in my last post, the spine is the backbone of the whole operation. The thing holding the front and back cover together.

Typically (unless you or your readers upload photos or videos to Amazon or other retailers) your book’s spine won’t be visible to browsing customers online.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in an effort.

In fact, there are two reasons spine design deserves your special attention:

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The Forgotten Back Cover

Back in the days when brick-and-mortar book stores and libraries dominated, the back of a book was perhaps the next thing most readers would turn to after glancing at the cover, and before making the decision to purchase or borrow. The back cover was where you’d find not only the book’s blurb, but a tagline, endorsements from reviewers (also known as ‘blurbs’), any awards the book had been nominated for or won, and a short bio about the author.

In our current era of online bookstores, ereaders, and indie publishing, the back cover has been largely replaced by the description field on retail sites. In many cases, the front cover has taken on of the burdens of the back cover, with taglines, quotes, awards, and even biographical details jammed onto a book’s front.

So it should come as no surprise then, that self-publishing guides pay scant attention to back covers. E-books don’t require (or really have the facilities for) back covers at all (much to my disappointment!).

Even when ordering a paperback online, back covers don’t seem to play a significant role in readers’ decision-making. They’re much harder to see than front covers, requiring the reader to use the ‘look inside’ preview on Amazon, and then click ‘Back Cover’ to see a preview. It’s much easier to simply read the description, which also has the advantage of being searchable, and easily legible.

Why should indie authors bother with a back cover, then? And why bother to write a whole blog post about them?

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How the numbers are stacked against indies and small publishers

Recently, I typed a bunch of numbers into a web form, in order to purchase a bunch of numbers to stick on my books. In exchange for this privilege, an inordinate amount of numbers were subtracted from my bank account.

In other words, I purchased some ISBNs.

ISBN stands for ‘International Standard Book Number’. Yet, in spite of their International and Standardised nature, there is nothing standard about how ISBNs are sold – or priced – internationally.

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Why sequels are always better than the original

Like many people this week, I’ve just come back from the cinema, where I saw “Frozen II”. And it got me thinking about a theory I’ve been holding on to for a while: That sequels are pretty much always better than the originals. The vast majority of the time, when you see a film or a book that has “II” or “Part 2” or “The Reawakening” or similar appended to its title, you know you’re in for one hell of a good ride.

And as we all know, this effect is only magnified the longer a series of sequels goes on. They just keep getting better, and better, and better…

Now, I imagine some of you are gagging at this point. What do you mean?! Originals are better!

Well, yes. Most of us think this. But although most people agree that sequels are never as good as the originals in a series, they tend to obtain higher scores from audiences.

While this seems paradoxical at first, it actually makes a lot of sense. Let’s take a look at two popular series of books that were turned into movies, and see what I mean: Harry Potter and Twilight.

And then, we’ll look at two series that exhibit a very different kind of pattern – the Hunger Games and Game of Thrones – and talk about why.

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What makes an unsuccessful blurb?

My last post focused on successful blurbs, so it’s only fitting that this time, we take a look at unsuccessful blurbs. After all, sometimes we learn more from examining (our and others’) mistakes than we do by only looking at examples of best practice. (And I certainly made a lot of mistakes in writing the blurb for my first independently-published book, You Stole My Heart… Do I Have to Take Your Name?)

The unsuccessful blurb

In my browsing of forums like this to get a handle on readers’ opinions, it seems the most common complaints are that a blurb bears no relation to the book’s contents, or that it gives away all of the book’s plot twists.

In fact, both of these mean that the blurb was ‘successful’ in terms of getting the reader to purchase or borrow and then read the book.

So, to look for blurbs that are unsuccessful, we need to look for those which don’t lead to sales (as measured by Amazon rank) or to engagement (as measured by reviews).

Specifically, given the cover’s role to get people to read the blurb, and the blurb’s role to get people to read the book, we have to look for books which fail to attract many sales or reviews despite having an attractive cover.

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What makes a successful blurb?

So my last post was a bit of a weird experiment for Halloween. But this time, I want to tackle a more serious area of research: the quest for what makes a good blurb (or, in the case of ebooks, description). We all know not to judge a book by its cover. But can blurbs give us readers a clue as to whether a book is worth reading… or give us writers a hint as to whether it will sell?

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The Book Lab: Effects of Sub-Zero Temperatures on Sodden Books

Welcome to the Book Lab! Now, it is a well-known fact that academics are forever spilling things on paper. So it is fitting that an academic colleague told me a very interesting rumor she heard: that if you accidentally get a book wet (bath/shower/reading whilst washing the dishes – I don’t know how you do this, please let me know!) you can revitalise it by putting it in the freezer.

I scoffed at this quite profusely at first. It sounds, I’m sure you’ll agree, ludicrous.

My colleague was unable to recall whether one was supposed to put the book in a plastic bag tied tightly or not. But then I thought, let’s go all Myth Busters on this and perform a lovely experiment, complete with a control sample and everything. And hell, why not write it up as (well, an approximation of) an academic report on the matter?

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