Friday, 24 October 2014

Jeff Carlson, bestselling author and pretty swell guy...

When I first published The Final Winter, I had no one on my facebook and no one to turn to for advice.  I was a naive loner just hoping for the best, and I felt like I had no right to try and call myself an author.  During that time I was writing some book reviews, and one novel I reviewed was Plague Year by Jeff Carlson.  It's an awesome apocalyptic novel (1st in a trilogy) about a nanovirus that destroys all biological matter (people) below 10,000 feet.  It is unique and a shit load of fun.  I suggest you all read it.

When Jeff saw my review he contacted me to say thanks.  He found out I was an author and offered to let me post on his blog.  He also sent me signed copies of the Plague Year trilogy.   It was overwhelming to have a bigshot New York Times Bestselling author give me the time of day.  It's because Jeff was such a nice guy that I forged ahead with my own career.  He made my struggle to become an author enjoyable and worth it.  If my first encounter with another author had been negative, then I might have shied away and decided that the whole thing wasn't for me.  Jeff's kindness is part of why I am here today writing books and making a living.  I owe him for that.

So it gives me great pleasure to do for Jeff what he originally did for me almost 4 years ago.  I am giving him my blog.  Authors and readers alike should be interested, for Jeff has a successful career in traditional publishing as well as the new self-publishing revolution.  He is a true hybrid author that knows what it's like on both sides of the fence.  Here's what he had to say.

Oh, and before we get started, you can check out Jeff''s books at his website:

Hi, Jeff, tell us about yourself.
Well, my official bio is fun because I’m not a formal guy, so I hope the humor bleeds through even my corporate thumbnail…

“Jeff Carlson was born on the day of the first manned moon landing and narrowly escaped being named Apollo, Armstrong, or Rocket.  His father worked for NASA Ames at the time.  His granddad on his mother’s side was a sci fi fan whose library included autographed copies of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.  Both men were strong, early influences — and in the high tech 21st Century, it’s easy to stand with one foot in reality and the other in thriller novels.”
How’s zat?

Could you tell us what work you currently have available?
Straight from the biography again!

Jeff is the international bestselling author of Plague Year, Interrupt, and The Frozen Sky, hailed by Publishers Weekly as “Pulse pounding.”

That’s only time PW had something nice to say about me, ha ha, so I cling to it.  My other PW review was for Plague Year, which was trashed by a frustrated Author with a capital A.  Plague Year was my first novel.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but PW reviews aren’t necessarily written by people who like the kind of book they’re reviewing.

This unnamed genius was moonlighting for PW because she hoped to parlay her byline with the famous magazine into opening doors at New York agencies and publishers for her profound literature.  She slammed Plague Year for being a post-apocalyptic genre novel full of sex and violence, which, to be fair, is an apt description.  I like blowing things up.  Helicopters.  Space shuttles.  Cities.  Blow ‘em up!  Aha ha ha.  And if that’s not your cup of tea, no problem, although I have to admit the pan still bothers me.  By any stretch, Plague Year was a commercial success.  Readers embraced it.  But she went out of her way to publicly sneer at the book.
Have I had too much coffee again today?  Hee hee.

To actually answer your question:  Plague Year is a trilogy.  Interrupt is an epic disaster novel and a stand-alone.  I also have a short story collection called Long Eyes, and I’m in the process of sequels to The Frozen Sky, which will become another trilogy.

Tell us about your latest release and why people should buy it.
Betrayed is the second book in the Frozen Sky series.  If I were pitching it as a movie, I’d say: “This story is Pitch Black meets The Thing with a strong female lead.”  By that I mean it’s a high-concept sci fi thriller with a smart, brave heroine.  No, she doesn’t pack a giant machine gun like Ellen Ripley.  Yes, she’s capable and resilient.

Also, my aliens aren’t mindless killers.  It’s true they’ll rip your face off and eat it if you let ‘em.  By the same token, they’ll become your fiercest defenders if you prove yourself worthy.

The Frozen Sky is a metaphor for the icy crust of Jupiter’s sixth moon, Europa.  Beneath the surface, the ice is ten to twenty kilometers thick.  In my story, it’s riddled with catacombs and volcanos and nasty blind eight-armed creatures who’ve never imagined a universe beyond the ice.  Not until the human race comes knocking.  The books are set 100 years in the future, so we have cool armored suits and mecha and AI, but we also have all of our usual weaknesses.  We’re divided.  We argue.  We lie and cheat.

When the competing Earth crews meet the savage alien tribes… well, let’s just say it’s a glorious mess.  Ambushes.  Ice quakes.  Monsters and robots and cyber warfare, oh my.  Even a dash of romance.  I’ve never had so much fun in my life.

For someone unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe your writing?

I hope I could say my writing style is compact and evocative.  Oh yeah, and my plots are freaking brilliant!  Aha ha ha ha.  I don’t write Star Trek­­-level sci fi with goofy-looking people in rubber ears or simplistic plots neatly wrapped up in an hour.  My goal is to bring the readers deeper than that. 

What else do you have in the pipeline?
Currently I’m busy with Frozen Sky 3.  After that, I’m on the hook for a few short stories.  After that, another big present-day thriller.  There are always nine or twelve concepts baking in my brain.  You know how it is:  More ideas than time.  Staying on task is half the battle.  Don’t let yourself be distracted.  Stay focused on the book at hand.

What writers have had the most influence on your own writing?
Some of these names may surprise you.  Frank Baum.  James Michener.  Jean M. Auel.  Stephen King. John Irving.  Wendy Pini.  John Varley.  Joe Haldeman.

Pini of course was the driving force behind the graphic novels of ElfQuest, which were more than pure fantasy adventure.  She gave her characters heart, even the bad guys like the trolls and Winnowill.  Great stuff.

Michener and Irving wrote real-world stories about the human condition, Michener on a wide scale, while Irving’s focus has been more personal and close to home.  Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series reads like alternate history on par with Michener’s epic tomes… and Baum, I’m sure, was smoking wheelbarrow-loads of opium while meandering through his diverse, wacky landscapes of Oz.

Especially the early King novels such as The Stand, Roadwork, and The Long Walk made visceral impressions on me as a kid.  Varley and Haldeman are gifted sci fi writers who brought dry, hard-eyed realism to some of my favorite adventures like Millennium, Steel Beach, The Forever War, Tool of the Trade, and the Worlds trilogy.

What was the last book you read?
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Mayberry, which was recommended by a friend.  It’s a YA novel, so I thought some of the story twists were predictable and most of the boy-girl dynamic was unnaturally restrained — I mean the fifteen-year-old hero was absolutely duh when it came to speaking to the mega hot, feisty, freckled heroine; just kiss her, you fool! — but otherwise the characters were awesome and Mayberry introduced several very cool new ideas about zombies, which isn’t easy to do.  The subgenre is such a well-travelled road.  I was impressed that he came up with fresh details about how the living dead might operate.

“Fresh!”  That’s a zombie joke!

How do you feel about the recent changes in the publishing industry, specifically the rise of the ‘indie author’ and the opportunities now available for traditionally published authors who opt to go it alone?
Oh, man.  Trick question.  Got, like, two hours?

I followed the so-called traditional path in writing.  When I was fourteen, I cranked out a million-word rip-off of The Stand starring a spunky bunch of teens straight out of Red Dawn.  The book was awful but it had soul.  Years later, I got serious, took some English Lit classes, and began writing short stories.  It is really, really hard to squeeze a whole plot and at least a hint of character development into the space of thirty pages, especially if you’re also explaining vampire dogs or cutting edge weapons tech.  Each story was also a new chance to experiment with pacing, voice, and POV.

Eventually I started selling short stories to small press publications, then to semi-pro and full-on professional magazines with glossy ads and decent pay rates.  Next I wrote Plague Year.  I found an agent.  Penguin grabbed the book after a small bidding war.  From penning the first sentence of the rough draft to publication day, nearly three years passed.  I think a few insanely determined people still become writers in this fashion even now after the e-revolution.
Late in 2010, I self-re-e-published the original short story of “The Frozen Sky,” which had appeared in the Writers of the Future 23 anthology.  My 99c electronic reprint sold 40,000 copies.

I’d always wanted to develop this concept into a full-fledged novel.  The setting is literally as large as Europa, which is a lot of room for new storylines, new characters, surprises and reversals.  My experience was in the traditional world, but I had been gabberflasted by the success of re-releasing the short story on Kindle, Nook, and iTunes.
Late in 2012, I self-published The Frozen Sky: The Novel.  To date, it’s found 37,000 readers.  For a hard sf novel, that’s a hefty number, much bigger than a non-big name writer would expect to reach through a Big 5 publisher in New York.  Japanese rights to the novel sold to Tokyo Sogensha, and I hope its ongoing popularity will lead to more interest overseas and in Hollywood.  Let’s face it.  The Frozen Sky is a cool idea, and far better executed than Europa Report.  (Also, my book came first. It’s smarter and sexier than Europa Report and offers non-cliché twists and turns.) 
As for the many different forms of publishing in our brave new e-world, these days I’m dancing on all sides of the fence.  Traditional publishing was good to me, and I would readily accept the right deal.  Meanwhile, Interrupt was published by 47North, one of the new Amazon imprints stocked with topnotch editors and publicists who were stolen from New York and set free of their corporate restraints.  These people are wild-eyed e-pirates on the photon’s edge of the future, dude! 

Collaborating with the teams at 47North was fantastic.  Interrupt did very, very well.  It isn’t accurate to say 47North is a traditional publisher because their focus is Kindle, but the process from first draft to final proofs was similar and I’m proud of being a triple hybrid now — a Big 5 author, a Seattle cabal revolutionary, and a self-published writer.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about?

Tinfoil hats!  Wireless microscopic retinal displays!  Genetically-enhanced NSA chem trace molecular compounds in canned banana cream pie filling and hot dogs!  Watch out!  They’re following us everywhere!  Even in the shower!

But we don’t have time to get into that now…   ;)


Again, you can visit Jeff's website at:
You can purchase The Frozen sky here:

Monday, 6 October 2014

KDP feedback wanted...

Hi guys:

I now have an avenue to pass on feedback to a UK KDP executive.  But feedback from one person is just an opinion.  It would be great to have a consensus of opinion as that will hold more weight.  In the comments below, please leave any questions you would like me to pose to this KDP executive and I will pass them all on at the end of the month.  I won't be doing this regularly, as I do not want to inundate the poor woman with emails, but perhaps twice a year I will check in with you all and pass on your questions.

So, to repeat, this is an opportunity to get your feedback to a KDP executive.  If you have something you would like to say, say it in the comments below before the end of the month.

P.S. Matt Shaw is a bastard.



Thursday, 2 October 2014

My meeting with ACX, Audible, and KDP...

So, yesterday I attended a luncheon meeting in Whitehall, along with Matt Shaw, the UK's current number 1 horror writer (and 23rd worldwide).  It turns out that Matt is a funny guy in person and a lot taller than I am.  Free wine was provided which Matt drank copiously before staggering out of the pub and telling me that he "never drinks."

At the meeting were several other authors (mostly from other fields such as erotica, historical thrillers, literary fiction, et al).  Excitingly, there were also several Amazon executives from various departments, notably ACX, Audible, and KDP.  I was fortunate enough to speak with most of them and had a chance to fire some questions at them.

I will briefly go over the issues I raised and provide a summary of the responses I was given.  I will say, right now, that I didn't get anything concrete, as the main focus of ACX is still pretty fluid in terms of directions.  It seems like Amazon are letting it grow organically rather than strategising and pushing it in a forced direction.  This is not dissimilar to KDP during it's infancy.  It was very much under the radar at first, before gearing up substantially into what it is today.  I got a similar feeling that ACX is destined to do the same, and as such will only improve and grow from what is already an exciting platform.  Here are some of the questions I asked.

1.Why did ACX recently lower the royalty rates?
The reply to this question was somewhat defensive, and the answer I eventually got was that the initial royalty rates were designed to generate interest and were never sustainable in the long term.  It was stressed that ACX and KDP are entirely different platforms (and companies) and that a change in one does not signal a change in the other, so there is no need to fear that the 70% KDP royalty rate is likely to change.  I suggested that the disappointing news of a royalty drop was put to authors rather patronisingly (Matt Shaw shrank back in his chair at this point), and I was asked what would be the best way to give bad news without upsetting people, which I thought was a fair point.  The overall point that I gleaned from this question was that the current rate is not going to change for the foreseeable future so we will have to get used to it.  I don't personally agree that ACX warrants 60% of profits and it would be nice to be shown a breakdown of how they arrived at that figure (i.e. costs incurred by ACX etc).  Still, it's their ballgame and no one is forced to sign up.  Sometimes, we lose sight of that and forget that no one is entitled to anything.  The only power we have is to go wherever the terms and conditions are best, and currently that is ACX.

2.Why is a 7 year contract term required to use ACX?
I asked why this appearingly arbitrary number was chosen as the contract term, seeing as ACX is essentially a distributor and not needing to recoup any major upfront costs.  I was told that 7 years is industry-standard and in line with other publishing contracts.  I felt this was a little contradictory as ACX is not like other publishers.  Other publishers cover costs of audiobook production and provide advances, whereas ACX does not.  I'm not sure if there is any flexibility on ACX's stance on length of contract, but I did stress that if they want authors to commit to such a long period of time, then ACX should sweeten the pot with things such as promotional tools etc.  Which leads me onto...

3.Can we have promotional tools to help bolster flagging sales?
I explained that ebook sale numbers on KDP are constantly fluctuating and that the most entrepreneurial authors are able to influence their levels of success by shrewd and frequent use of the promotional tools given to them by KDP (such as Countdown Deals, freebies etc).  I explained that my own ACX titles tend to start off very well before dipping to a much lower level of sales (a level where they sadly remain for the most part).  I then have very limited means to create future spikes in sales during that long 7 year contract period.  I explained that there would be no point in an author caring much about pushing their ACX titles after that initial sales spike as there is little means for them to affect things; this hurts ACX as much as the author as it leads to stagnant older titles.  By providing promotional tools, ACX can ensure that authors retain a continuing interest in their backlist titles - as they do with KDP titles currently - and can boost flagging sales by running regular promotions and stoking renewed audience interest.

I am happy to report that this discussion went down very well and was something the ACX/Audible execs were very happy to consider.  Interestingly, I was told that if I had an active promotion of my own running (a paid advert for example), that I should email ACX support and let them know about it as they would be happy to feature my titles simultaneously to maximise returns.  They also stated that if an audiobook sells well enough, they might be willing to issue more freebie codes (like the 25 given out upon initial publication).  To do this, an author/narrator should email support.  The gist of this is that ACX seemed very open to working with authors on an ad hoc basis, so if you want their support with a promotion you are doing, then let them know.  They will help if they are able.

4.Why is reporting two days behind and so primitive (in relation to KDP)?
Reporting is 48 hours behind due to the coordination required between separate companies (including one not associated with Amazon at all).  ACX has to receive sales data from Audible, Amazon, and Apple, before it can pass those figures onto us.  It was expressed that reporting was a key improvement area for ACX and eventually they would like to have a dynamic dashboard similar to KDP, or at the very least Createspace.  I would expect improvements to come incrementally like they do in KDP and I have every confidence that the website, reporting, and feedback from ACX will steadily improve.  I also stated that it's nigh on impossible to know how much one is earning in realtime as the royalty tariffs are so confusing.  I was told that ACX are currently trying to work out what is the best way to pay authors per sale and that it will likely change at some point.  The utopia would be that one day a dashboard exists for Createspace, KDP, and ACX all in one, where authors can manage their entire business and link products together into cohesive promotion campaigns.  That won't happen tomorrow, but it sounds like an awfully nice idea.

5.Can we do bundle deals with ebooks, paperbacks, al a "Match Book"?
It was expressed to me that there are complications regarding this, as audio rights are separate to digital and paperback rights.  It wasn't rejected as an idea, and there are already occasional offers for customers to purchase discounted audiobook for ebooks they have purchased in the past.  I imagine that if bundling products together becomes workable, it will happen at some point in the future.

6.Can we have variable royalty share terms?
I put forward an idea for a 25% royalty share (instead of 50%) and part payment (instead of full).  I would be happy to give my narrator a 25% royalty of sales and pay him $1000 up front (instead of his usual $2000 fee).  Currently I am giving him 50% royalties with no fee payable.  This idea was received well and will be reported up the line of command.  ACX seemed to be very interested in flexibility as it is a good way to increase the amount of authors using the service.

7.Can we change artwork after publication?
I can't currently find a way to do this, but I was told that I should be able to and that if I have a problem just contact support who will do it manually.  Again it's good that ACX support are willing to help with issues on a one to one basis.

8.Can we apply the ACX structure to translators for foreign editions?
I was told speculatively that their are already mumblings within Amazon concerning ways for self-publishers to exploit foreign rights.  It may not happen tomorrow, but I would expect Amazon's next publishing venture to be aimed at getting translators and authors together.  Apparently, Amazon has been assembling a small stable of translators within their businesses, but the the exec who spoke to me said it hadn't been stated from above exactly why.  Interesting indeed.


Those were the main points I discussed.  What I will say is that the Amazon execs were all young and passionate about helping authors.  I left feeling excited and comforted that Amazon's goals are in line with my own.  We often worry about Amazon pulling the rug out from under us, but I did not get that impression at all.  The KDP UK exec was only 3 weeks into the job but she gave me the impression that authors and other content providers are regarded very highly by Amazon and a key part of their future strategies.

ACX is currently a win win in my opinion; a no brainer.  It is the best way to exploit your audio rights and is likely to get even better.  From personal experience I can say that the income is not unsubstantial.  It is not currently as lucrative as KDP but it far exceeds my paperback sales.  I believe audiobooks are a growth area and I got the overall impression from the luncheon meeting that ACX and Audible will be ramping up soon and that sales and exposure for audio titles will increase, maybe even rocket.

It is a fun experience working with narrators and hearing your book in audio.  My own colleagues, Chris Barnes, and the wonderful Nigel Patterson, are both great to work with, and highly recommended.  Give them your work and you won't be disappointed.

You can sign up to ACX here:  I could post a guide to using the site, but it really is quite straight forward once you get into it.  So throw yourself in.

Incidentally, my own audiobooks are something I am very proud of and you can get them all here (with more coming soon):  UK    US