Thursday, 31 July 2014

Adventures in self-publishing, day 20

I bring a few numbers after 20 days of selling Return on Investment - nothing terribly unexpected here, but I thought it might be interesting.

While people kept 275 copies, 22 people refunded - a refund rate of 7% is pretty much standard, so, nothing exciting here.

Sales vs Loans:
298 sales (out of which some were refunds) contrast with 158 loans via Kindle Unlimited/Lending Library - so 65% sales versus 35% loans.

Geographic breakdown:
US: 65%
UK: 20%
Germany: 10%
Italy: 3%
Rest of World (RoW): 2% (Canada, Mexiko, Brazil, Australia, Spain)

So Europe is about 35% of my sales, which I found interesting. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The 1999 short story

I'm finding it hard to adjust to a full-time job - above all, and with the heat and non-air conditioned office, I'm exhausted when I come home. And it's not easy to be in an office with other people, either. The team is perfectly lovely, and the geek, military and history quotient is high, but I'm not used to being around around people for 9hrs a day, plus 2hrs of commute on packed London trains.

Anyway. Cleaned the library, put up the massage table and got everything ready for my "body" to  show up - researched diabetes and massage (diabetes being a contra-indication, so did some research what to keep in mind to keep my client safe) and chiseling away at that short story I wrote in 1999. I've already lined up a cover artist and an editor, but it'll need work before I can even think of putting it into production.

There's a scene that's a flashback to Afghanistan and it's pretty clear I wrote this without having the foggiest about either the Red Army or Afghanistan, so I corralled all my research books I bought for Special Forces back in the days and am doing some reading. (So much for lining up an "easy victory" to boost my motivation - I don't think this will be quite as fast as I'd hoped.) All for a scene that's less than 250 words. I don't want to cut it, so I must get this just right, but for that, I need to know. So yeah, I'm the kind of writer who reads five books to get one scene right. What a colossally inefficient way to work. My German DNA is shriveling in disgust.

So, yeah, that's what I'm doing. Research the hell out of Afghanistan/Red Army, and try to fix that story by doing a simultaneous re-write/translation. It's fascinating to see how far I've come in the last 15 years. I'm definitely less clunky these days - more controlled and measured overall. Also less given to melodrama and cliche. I know some people think I'm a "cold" writer (somebody even called me "robotic") and somebody told me I'm "very proficient craft-wise, but soul-less", and that's fine. I'm aiming for understatement generally, which is not everybody's cuppa, and if there's one thing I've learned from painting is that the absence of something is just as powerful (if not more so) than its presence. Some people prefer for everything to be on the page, but having everything spelled out bored me witless as a reader.

It appears editing that story is almost like writing it from scratch, which wasn't what I intended, but oh well. It's still worthwhile to resurrect an old story I've always loved and thus excavate another piece of my creative past.

Also, Return on Investment has sold almost 250 copies at this stage. Sell-through rate is way down to about 8-10 per day, but that's as expected. I'll use some of those profits to acquire some copyrights and finance editing and covers of other books, so thanks everybody for buying a copy - you're helping me keep this going.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Two shorts to take a break

With some of the pressure off, I'm re-adjusting my workload and I'm hoping that setting targets will help me to get a couple more books ready. I mean, there's stuff coming - Return on Investment is just out, and we'll see a new and improved Counterpunch, and there'll be the third (and last) Scorpion novel, A Taste for Poison. Later in the year, likely December, there'll be a co-written romance called Lone Wolf. All of that in 2014.

But that leaves 2015 wide open, apart from a co-written novel (No Place That Far - NPTF) to be published mid-year. I can't really launch into a new novel just yet (workload is too heavy, with studying for massage and full-time work and commute), so I decided I'll use the rest of the month to mop up some work.

Thankfully, Lori does all the heavy lifting on Lone Wolf, but I'll have to do the edits and some writing on NPTF. I'm not sure how to get into the headspace at the moment, but I'll try. I reckon it's a couple days' work to fill in some bits that need doing. It's the reason why I bowed out of every other project--I just don't have the headspace/time to write at the moment. Thankfully, Counterpunch and A Taste for Poison were 100% and 99% done when my employment situation changed. I have no idea how I'd have dragged a solo book over the finishing line. But for the moment, Suckerpunch is cancelled because I just can't.

But what I can do is mop up old work--a few days ago I found a 12,000 short story that I really loved. It was the first halfway decent thing I wrote back in 1999. Some bits have aged very well, others less so, but I think it's of interest to my readers because the main character is essentially Vadim's precursor. He's my archetype, and I already re-used him in Dark Soul, among other places. So, I figure maybe you'll enjoy it as a short story and something of a historical document. At present, it's 12,000 words in German, so very likely to be about 10,000 in English, unless I vastly expand it in edits.

The other project is the German translation for Skybound, which is mostly done and needs an edit.

I'm hoping to wrap both projects by the end of the month and get them into production/on submission, and August will see me focusing on the WWII novel that's half done and really only needs some time and sustained focus (and likely 2-3 months of no distractions by other major stuff).

On the self-publishing front, Return on Investment has sold just under 200 copies in the week it's been out, which is a number I'm still wrapping my head around. It's unlikely to keep going like this - sales are below 20/day now after a strong start, and I'll be happy to see it go on at a rate of maybe 5-10 a day for a month or so and then settle in at 1-2/day for the rest of its life, which is very much aligned with what I'm used to.

I just want it to get out there and stay out there and find its readers. Reviews have been tremendously encouraging. Here I am, thinking I have an uncommercial work on my hands, one that got bounced and rejected by every publisher and agent I sent it to, and you guys are proving me wrong.

Well, thanks for the lesson, I find this really encouraging--I'll put out more weird books like that, and possibly even finish and re-write the prequel that's focused on Francis and how he ended up in London. The only thing I know about sales expectations is that I know nothing. Thank you!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Return on Investment: Fragment

I was looking for something else today, but as I did, I found a small fragment I must have written in parallel to Return on Investment. It's not an outtake per se, because Return on Investment has always been a single-POV story.

So, here goes, a small thank-you to everybody who bought or borrowed Return on Investment: 


“Hi Dan, how are you?” Francis leafed through the papers on his desk, peering down at the graphs and tables on the neat print-out.

After the pleasantries were out of the way, Dan asked politely why he’d been calling.

“It’s about one of yours. Latest class. The name is David. First name Martin.” Francis closed the folder. “I have his application on my desk. What do you think? Yes, of him.” He listened, lips pursed, getting a short summary of David’s academic performance. Diligent, hard-working, not a red personality, very good at the practical work, weakest marks in leadership. Professor Daniel Summers was good at understanding these graduates – excellent judge of character.

“What I think? Diligent, yes, I can see that.” The text had no mispelt words, no typos, which was a significant achievement these days. “I haven’t actually seen him yet – I just saw the analysis he did for us. Good modelling, very conservative. Doesn’t seem egotistical about all this. No. That’s what I thought.” It pleased him when he could reach a conclusion based on another man’s work. This was a careful mind, one that wasn’t for the grand gesture, somebody hard-working and focused. “Thank you, Dan. Yes. I think we might just hire him.”

He made a note to that effect on the analysis, dismissed the small pile of other candidates, added two maybes. David was the favourite, and Summers had only confirmed his impressions. Francis dropped the case studies off on Williams’s desk, then selected work to finish at home and left the office.

* * *

Williams called him into the meeting room for a moment on that Thursday, and he headed in. The young man in there wasn’t anything special, really; dirty dark blond hair that didn’t have enough pigment to be brown, light eyes that weren’t quite blue, but he’d made an effort, even if the suit was cheap and so were the shoes.

“Francis de Bracy.”

“Martin David, sir.” The young man shook his hand, and Francis noticed the hands were a bit cool, but not clammy. “Nice to meet you.”

Francis leaned against the wall, noticing that David had clear, open features, not wishy-washy, hinting at actual character. Not flashy, not a natural leader, but nevertheless with some personality. A good jawline, a well-formed chin. The longer he looked at the man, the less bland he seemed to be. The best thing about him were his eyebrows, gently curved and natural – the stray hairs showed he wasn’t given to the travesty of plucking them into shape.

Williams said something, lightly, half a joke, and the whole face lit up, before the grin formed. No, the best thing about Martin David was that sudden, unguarded grin, a sense of humour, maybe, that was easily roused and easily ignited, and that revealed more about him than the cheap clothes or his desire to appear attentive and well-behaved, well-trained. All those were givens, Francis thought, but that smile wasn’t, that was genuine. 

Francis excused himself, headed to the door, and gave Williams a nod just before he closed the door behind himself. For him, that was a ‘go’. The other two, the maybes, didn’t have that balance. One of them was too flashy, too loud, too “haha, old chap”, at age thirty, and the second one was simply visually unappealing, with wide-set toad eyes and blood red lips – and no personality to balance that negative first impression.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Stories of future past

First of all, thanks, guys, for supporting me during the launch of Return on Investment (ROI). Thanks to you, I'm just a few copies away from making my initial investment back, which means I'm hitting one of my two financial goals for it, and the second one seems a lot more achievable. Today, too, ROI is #1 in Financial Thrillers on I will refrain from calling it an Amazon #1 Bestseller, though, I promise.

ROI is quite steady - after an initial sales burst of 60 copies, it's now selling 10-20 copies a day. Feedback on the price so far is that people think it's "fair"/"worth it", which takes one worry away. I see so much price-dumping in the market that I felt positively intrepid to demand more than $5 for the book. Thanks for paying it, it's greatly appreciated.

My own writing is currently on hold as I get to grips with my new job, but I've recently had reason to dig up my pre-romance works (of which ROI is one). My characters usually had a love story going, but the books themselves weren't romances, and some of them are still very present in my mind.

So I'm thinking, as I struggle to write new things (I'm in "editing mode"), I'll polish up some old stuff and self-publish it. There's fantasy novels and some short fiction, and some stories that just need a translation. I'll also do Skybound in German. So while I'm not strictly writing right now, editing can be turned to productive ends too, and I think it'll be worth it--chances are, if I can't forget some of these stories after 10 or 20 years, they might be worthwhile for my readership. Anyway, I'll keep you updated on that. Mostly, I think it will be refreshing to not do classic romances for a while; i'm not romanced out, but my Muse is definitely pulling into a different direction... the historicals, the moody mood pieces, the Crusades political and military thriller... all of them currently have a much stronger hold over my imagination than any contemporary romance.

I'll still make it worth your while. :)

Monday, 14 July 2014

Self-publishing experience, Day 3

My new book, Return on Investment, went online at the Amazon KPD store mid-day on Saturday. Here's my experiences so far with my first self-published book--mind you, there will be many more stages in the process, as well as a mid- and long-term view, but maybe some people will find this interesting.

Set-up & cost

I found the set-up less complicated than it looked at first. Yes, to receive direct deposits, I had to link a bank account and get the IBAN and BIC codes, but a visit to my bank cleared that up really quickly. I also had to answer a tax questionnaire for the IRS (amusing - Amazon doesn't really pay tax, but it's strongly enforced on the individual authors), which went well. I expect it to be easier for US authors, but generally, having successfully applied for an ITIN, I found this not overly complicated.

While I bootstrapped the book, some strategic investments made the publishing easy--so I paid for excellent file conversions and a professional-looking layout, both of which meant all I had to do was click "upload file", rather than have to mess around with converters or doing it myself. I figured just the time savings was worth it.

As I said, I bootstrapped it--in other words, most of the editing was done by friends, most of whom are writers who apply very high standards to their own writing. All of them bar one were non-financial people. One friend worked in financial journalism and had some inside information on aspects that I didn't, and she helped me a great deal, too. I also paid a proofer/editor for a final pass.

So, with cover, editing/proofing/layout/conversion, my costs ran to $500-600, which is dirt cheap production for a 106k novel. It's also roughly what most of the m/m publishers seem to pay, though many players out there pay much less. It's production on a tight budget for an indie/small press.

Target group/market research/guesstimates

Based on my historical sales numbers, my lowest-selling books (Skybound, Gold Digger and Incursion) sell between 800-1,000 copies over 2 to 2.5 years. Mind you, this includes peak sales, so it's not like 400-500 copies a year, more like 600-800 copies in year 1 and then much less in year 2, with numbers settling at a very low level. After year 2-3, it becomes looooooong tail.

Based on that number, I estimate that my "reader core"--the people who buy anything I do because they love my voice--is about 900 people, maybe 1,000.

I felt that this book--unconventional, quirky, genre-busting, but very "Voinov"--was unlikely to draw people outside my core readership. It's not a "drive-by" or impulse buy, and I assume gay financial thrillers are a niche within a niche within a niche ... and so on. Thrillers aren't known for being open to LGBTQ content, and I have gay, bi and trans* characters in there. So I expect to sell about 900 copies over two years.


I set the price at $5.99, which may appear high to some. However, I feel I'm an established author and a known quantity in my market, and many of my readers don't mind paying slightly more, because many many of them are aware that I'm trying to make a living off writing. I also think that asking $5.99 for a very long book is acceptable. I wouldn't go higher than that with a self-publishing title, but I also need capital to fund the next one. (I made an agreement with my partner that I can only self-publish if it covers its own costs.)

Also, regarding pricing, most $2.99 books I've read suffered massively from a lack of editing. My gamble is that people are willing to pay $3 more if they're not distracted by stupid typos or awful grammar. It's based on feedback from my readers and my own willingness to pay more for a salad that doesn't contain snails or dead flies, but YMMV.

Of course, the higher price point also gives me the ability to do sales promotions via Amazon KDP. I went with Amazon as my only distribution channel, because frankly, I'm working full-time and have only a few hours left in the day to do fun stuff, and running publisher accounts, doing book-keeping from a million different sources and tracking payments is not my idea of fun. Moreover, I've looked long and hard at my royalty statements, and 95% of my non-direct sales are via Amazon anyway. I applied the Pareto principle that says 80% of all results come from 20% of all efforts, so in the interest of keeping myself sane, I kept it as simple as humanly possible.

That said, I love and value my non-Kindle readers (hey, guys!) and made sure I got EPUB and HTML conversions. Since I'm pretty close to my readers, I made sure to post notes everywhere (Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, this blog) to contact me if anybody needs a different format. I sent some out against PayPal payments, others were gifts to readers in economies where a book paid in dollars is a huge part of disposable income (note to self, I need to look at relative pricing in economies like Brazil, India, etc.)


At $5.99, capturing 95% of my audience of 900-1,000 (855-950 people), an average royalty of $4.11 per book, and disregarding lending or "free" reading by Amazon Prime customers, I would expect royalties of $3,514 - $3,905 over two years. Let's take my average of expected costs ($550) off that: $2,964 to $3,355.

Of course, I'll have to pay tax from that, so let's be generous and apply a 20% tax rate (it's slightly higher, but I like simple numbers), because my income goes into a company, from which I'm drawing money as dividends, and I have an annual allowance that is taxed at 20%. So net income over 2 years should be $2,371 to $2,684 after cost, after tax. Not sure how I feel about the total number for a book I worked on for many, many months, but there you have it - my "salary" per hour would be in the very low dollar amounts, and far below minimum wage.

My financial goal is for Return to Investment to pay for itself, and allow me to hire my favourite editor for the next novel, who charges around $700-1,000 for editing, so with covers and layout and conversion, I'd expect the cost for my next self-publishing novel to run to $1,200-1,500. So, yeah, it should achieve that in about 1.5 years, according to the pre-launch number crunching.

Actual sales performance

On launch day, 12 July, Return on Investment sold 45 copies. On 13 July, 33 copies. Today so far, 7 copies. Some are international sales, so the GBP and EUR numbers don't quite translate, but if pretend they do and treat them like USD sales, I have 85 total sales for a total turnover of $349.35 so far, more than half my costs.

I did a "soft launch" - about 5 reviewers got copies on Saturday (files weren't ready much in advance), I tweeted about it, I blogged, I posted on Facebook and Goodreads - and then went to watch football (yay, Germany). I'm emphatically not doing a blog tour, because all my contacts are romance bloggers, and this doesn't qualify as a a romance in that sense. In my desire to not mis-sell the book, I pretty much opted out of selling it at all. Also, now that I'm full-time employed, I really need to focus on doing my quite demanding job and writing more books. I'm trusting my core readership to accept this as my latest offering, or turn their backs on it if it sucks. In any case, I don't have time or energy to keep posting, "BUY MY BOOK".

Regardless, it debuted on #2 and #3 of Amazon's Financial Thriller category (a few ahead of a John Grisham--never mind it's an older John Grisham), and the lowest Amazon rank it reached was about #4,400. (So, yeah, 45 sales will get you to the top of the category and into the 4,000-5,000 ranks). Today, it's down to about 9,700.

I'll keep tracking the numbers and see how things go. It's a fresh release, so Amazon's "also bought" sales engine hasn't got hold of it yet, but from experience, sales pick up when that happens (in about 5-7 days after release). That should produce a small or large uptick. After that, however, sales are entirely driven by word-of-mouth, and that can't be controlled or manipulated.

Over the mid-term, I expect sales to keep dropping to maybe 1-2 copies per day, and 0 on many days. It's a performance I've seen with other books. I'd be thrilled if it beats those expectations, but my sales record suggests low, steady sales. And that's fine by me. I'm considering this an interesting adventure, an experiment, and, above all, I'm glad I could liberate my much-rejected genrebuster from the drawer. After 6+ years, I thought it was time to let it go out into the wilds and find its few readers.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

It's aaaaaliiiive! (Return on Investment)

Return on Investment has just gone live. It takes a village to publish a book, so thanks everybody who helped me, edited, cross-checked and generally was being a good sport during the period. :) 

You can get the book on Amazon. It's an Amazon-exclusive release, so if you require an EPUB or a PDF, just send me an email to vashtan at gmail com. I'll be happy to make sure you get a copy. 

Again - this is not a romance. It's best described as a gay coming of age, financial thriller with a love subplot. It's in some ways a story about the fight between good and evil, a frozen moment in time about the financial industry back then, about the different kinds of love (eros, agape and philia), and corruption versus a spiritual core. It's very much about growing up.

Reviewers - I'll be happy to send you a copy. Everybody else who can't get their hands on it for one reason or other, email me. I wrote this because the voices made me do it. Happy release day to me. 

"Return on Investment" ready to go

I've managed to maneuver my way through Amazon's self-publishing platform, which, after the week I've just had, feels like a hard-won victory. (First week at work, steep learning curves, and a pretty nasty cold with persistent cough and inflamed facial cavities--no fun, but I'm through the worst.)

Regarding the job--it's a good company with good people. I have an interesting challenge, and I'm getting paid decent money. I expect to stick around. Of course, I wrote exactly 0 words all week.

Tomorrow, I'll do my damned best to wrap a co-project with Lori--if I can stay focused long enough to co-write 10-20k, it should be easily done. Sunday, I'm meeting a friend to write for a few hours, and maybe I'll get another massage session in, though the massage qualification is incompatible with what I'm currently doing. There's no way I can log 80 hrs of massage in the next two months--that's more than an hour a day, and I find doing more than three hours a day a challenge. Regardless, being able to do a massage is a nice trick to add to the playbook, so I don't regret the money I spent on it. If anything, I'll be able to write a convincing massage therapist now.

And yeah, Return on Investment is ready to go. Today I spent a few hours checking the MOBI file, and it comes up clear. The converter did a very good job, as far as I can tell. And luckily, the cover artist had time to resize the cover for Amazon. I've also settled on a price for the book across all Amazon platforms, and placed it in categories (Gay/General Thriller)--there's not enough romance in it to justify any placement anywhere near that category. Upon closer inspection, the "Coming of Age" category was half porn, half Young Adult books, so it didn't feel right, though Martin's personal story is very much about growing up.

I'll also make this a "soft launch"--I'll tweet it, I'll Facebook it, I'll announce it on the blog, and then I'll step the hell away and let the book sink or swim on its own. Bottom line--this is a book I largely wrote for myself, a deeply personal book in ways likely only I will ever fully recognize. I put it out there because it's a good book, and because I think some people will get a kick out of it.

But I won't be reading reviews or running myself ragged "promoting" it. For me, it's done its job--it's one of those books where I told myself a story to not lose my mind, to explore something that kept nagging me. Basically, beyond that, I don't care. My care went into writing it and trying to achieve a good polished end product, one I'm not ashamed charging for. Getting reviewed will feel just too fucking weird on this one--I did this one for the love, yo. The metaphor that comes to mind is having sex with somebody you love--getting rated on that by other people is very weird. This book's not a performance, this book just is, and I know it'll leave people scratching their heads and some people will think I've finally lost it, but it's just a very different kind of book. And that's really all.

Tomorrow, I'll dig up some piece of bank account information that I need to get paid royalties into my company bank account, and then I'll press the "publish" button. And then I'll try to forget the book and do something else. I got to edit the Skybound translation, and organize my research for my historical, which may or may not be another self-publishing book. Then I need to make a judgment call on a cover concept, and before all of that is nearly done, I'll spend the week getting my magazine to press and coming up with a value proposition/complete revamp of the same magazine. So, yeah, keeping busy.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Progress on "Return on Investment"

Since people start asking about Return on Investment, since people start asking for the book:
It was stuck in the layout stage for three weeks, as the layouter is a very very busy person. :) I've just checked the updated files and it's now (today) moving into conversion, which should happen this week.

Then I need to get registered with Amazon and sort out tax and payment details, and then it should become available. So my best guess at the moment is mid-July. But generally, I keep my blog and website pretty updated, so if I'm not writing about progress, it's not making any.

For a complete list on what I'm working on and what stage it's at, check my spreadsheet ("Order of Battle") in the sidebar.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Work-related writing hiatus

In preparation for going back to work on Monday, I've cancelled all work I expected to be able to do--one of them was a co-written German fantasy novel that won't happen now (partly because it's time-sensitive), and the other is a novella for a military anthology that is on a deadline and I didn't get around to it. So I'm generally killing all "maybe" and "hopefully" projects.

With the amount of work I have to do with the massage diploma and with the demands of running a magazine in a new-to-me industry, experience tells me I won't have time for much else, and writing fiction will be the least of my problems until I've found my feet, which tends to take a few months.

That means I'm taking six months off writing. I will still have to do edits (Lone Wolf and Counterpunch), but I'm not going to enforce or even try for a wordcount, or promise any stories to anyone. The idea is to take all pressure out of my tertiary career while I get my primary career under control and the qualifications for my secondary career in place. For readers, book will continue to be released until end of the year, so any gap that happens will happen in 2015.