Friday, 12 October 2012

In defense of my "indie" brothers and sisters

The book market has radically changed in the past few years, and I am not going to rehash all the amazing stats and how people don't need to get a publisher anymore. That was so last week.

This has led to an amazing flurry of "indie" authors going out and publishing their own work. After all, if you don't have a big name and are just a little guy, even if you somehow manage to snag a publisher, they will do little more than provide editing support and the hard costs of putting the book out. Really, it comes down to improving production value, and this is what I want to talk about.

In a CNN article this week on indie publishing, they did a survey of 1007 indie writers randomly and found they made, on average, $10,000 a year, with the majority (more than half) making less than $500 a year. To get a full, professional edit of a book the size of Atopia would cost about $14,000 (about $3 a page) we have to cut corners. 

For Atopia, I hired two just-graduated (and unemployed) English lit majors to review mine at a cost of $1500...and I edited it at least two dozen times myself, but it is almost impossible to catch small errors in review when you write yourself, they become invisible somehow :) on top of that, I invested at least another few thousand in marketing. Even then, Atopia still has some mistakes in it, which bothers me, but at a certain point we need to move on to the next project.

My point in all this is that the average indie can't afford professional-grade editing, and on average they are already losing huge amounts of money...

With Atopia, my expectation was that this was going to be a money-losing venture. I mean, I had my hopes, but I am also realistic. In the end, Atopia has exceeded my wildest hopes and been in the top 5 of sci-fi on Amazon for 8 weeks, but it certainly hasn't made me rich :) Even with Atopia being a big home run (for an indie), exceeding my wildest expectations, I estimate I have earned about $8 an hour for all my efforts. Not a great way to make money, so this is very much a labor of love.

(BTW It took me two years of nights and weekends (and almost my relationship!) to write Atopia, and in fact an average 100,000 word novel takes about one year of full-time work for an author to write - Atopia was 150,000, so about 1.5 years of full-time work)

So, when you're picking up a full length novel for $1 or $3, and not the $10-$15 range, I would argue that you need to set your expectation that there will be some editing mistakes and errors, and accept a certain baseline expectation as part-and-parcel of reading indie work. If it is obvious that they just weren't careful or put in effort at all, then point this out in a review. But, be gentle. This is a labor of love, and if you find something you like for $1 or $3, give them some praise and write a review.

OK all for now, just wanted to "represent" for all my brothers and sisters out there burning the midnight oil :) !!

What do you think?

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Getting success as a new writer...what worked for me

So perhaps my previous post was a little optimistic. At the end of the day,  the key to selling well is going to rest with whatever you write being "good" and managing to find an audience. But even if you have something great, it is hard to cut through the clutter as a new writer and that's what I think I can speak to, with a few straightforward tips...

As I mentioned in previous comment, I think that the key to using the electronic publishing platform to your advantage as a new writer is to "serialize" your work to build up an audience. As a new writer, people won't trust you enough to download and read through 400 pages, where it only gets interesting after page 100. You need to find a way to grab their ears and make them care.

So, whatever your idea is, make it in a serial work. Figure out some way to create a compelling sub-story from your bigger work in 30-40 pages, almost what would have been the first chapter in the previous world of paper publishing. Make it "punchy" and surprising, draw the reader in somehow, and then put it up on Amazon and promote using the "Kindle Select" program where you can make free for a few days.

There are at least 40 websites that promote Kindle Select free days, and by going and manually entering your info into all of these, you can often get 4000+ downloads of a free story over a weekend. Keep it short and punchy, and that's one way you can start to find an audience.

(and then do this 3 or 4 times with progressive shorts of your full work!)

Saturday, 25 August 2012

How to promote a first book on Amazon into a best seller

I just put up my first book on Amazon this past month, and I have had 7000+ sales and 20,000+ free downloads.

So I would guess that some of you out there would be interested to know how I did it?

If yes, tell me you're alive and write or comment and I will tell you...

Thursday, 23 August 2012

If you liked Atopia Chronicles...

If you liked Atopia, I'd really appreciate it if could leave a review on Amazon. It helps in more ways than you probably imagine.

I thought more on my post yesterday, being slightly scary suddenly being a best seller on Amazon. I think more of it is just the feeling that I am putting so much of myself out there. All these little ideas I worked on and amused myself with, put into paper, and now the world is reading them and has the ability to say whatever they want about it.

A few years back, my sister was a finalist on American Idol (Sarah Mather...go look her up!) and she got kicked off (by America, it was in the voting rounds by then) when Simon Cowell said some nasty things about her performance. She was devastated, but luckily my family and I had been in LA for that show and were there for her. I knew how much it hurt her to have someone say bad things, live, in front of millions, even if she is an amazing singer and everyone would tell her so.

I get the same sort of feeling now when someone leaves a bad review. I'm not saying don't leave them if you don't like it...that is the idea. really, really feels nice when I read a good review, or feel the way someone connects with what I wrote. It really energizes me as I'm in the long process of writing the second set of books.

I had an email today from an English teacher (Max you know who you are!)  in France who read Atopia and contacted me to say how much he enjoyed it. It has totally made my day today.

So if you liked Atopia, please, please go and leave a review on Amazon. It is so nice to hear from all of you, and energizes me in the process of writing the next one (this is a part time thing for me, I have a regular day nights and weekends is when I write!)

I'll leave some details about the next book in my next post...

ps. and if anyone else feels like dropping me a line, I'd love to hear ideas or thoughts or things you think about Atopia or life or whatever! --

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Being a best seller on Amazon...

Last week the Atopia Chronicles, a compilation of six novellas and books, went to #1 on Amazon sci-fi/high tech, and #6 on all of science fiction. It was only topped by the Game of Thrones juggernaut, which, as one of my readers helpfully suggested, isn't really science fiction, so I was really at the top of all sci-fi (!) least for this small slice of time (a week and a half later now and it's hanging in there, very exciting).

So, a question some people have asked is: how does it feel? Interestingly the answer is: scary. I've developed a rather nasty case of OCD, and find myself constantly pinging the Kindle Publishing portal for updates every fifteen minutes, fearful that the mysterious forces have pushed my book into this space will suddenly, and just as quickly as they appeared, disappear.

Luckily, I've become quite chummy with Hugh Howey over the past few months, so he has been acting as my support group through this. Hugh is not only one of the best writers I know, he's also just one of the greatest all-around-nice-guys. The world seems like a better place when the good guys win from time to time.

I have something of a reserved emotional nature. As a child I grew up in Sheffield, in the UK (although my family live in North Carolina, USA, now) and I suffer from the Grand Malaise common to the Isles of repressed feelings. Apparently, the combination of wet, gray skies, oak trees and cozy pubs instills this in a population.

Or, it could have been my grandfather. He was a dentist, and in fact was once the President of the Royal Order of Surgeons of Scotland, which sounds impressive unless you happen to be a small boy in gray flannel shorts who can't speak until spoken to, must always keep his red clip-on tie buttoned up tight and must eat peas with the fork the wrong way round, forcing this same boy to smush them onto the back of his fork while gazing longingly at his tricycle out through the flat window.

To this day I feel guilty eating peas with my fork like a shovel.

Enough about peas. I'd love to hear feedback from anyone who reads this, just ask away, anything you want!!

And, I really appreciate all the support and great reviews, thank you to everyone! You can't imagine how nice it is to hear this feedback after two years spent in a room by myself, wondering if anyone would understand what I was trying to say!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Let them eat mud

Louis Pasteur discovered that bacteria and germs in our environment causes disease. This must have come as something of a shock to the denizens of Victorian-era drawing rooms, to discover that they were literally crawling with little bugs, but probably not as much of a shock to East Enders.

Following this shock to their system, our drawing-room club began a two hundred pitched battle against the invisible interlopers with the end result of little Billy being bathed anti-bacterial hand soap after playing with the neighbor's dog.

However, we have now discovered that NOT having bacteria and germs in our environment causes disease. Sigh. So just what is a home-school mum supposed to do?

Okay, stop there. Actually, I am in no position to tell any home-school mum what to do. Props to all the mothers out there, you are what keeps society and the world together. That being said...

Did you know that you have at least three or four POUNDS of bugs in your stomach right now? These bugs are what help you digest food and keep healthy, and are you one part of an a diverse ecosystem that you carry around on and in your that keep you alive (including my favorite example to bring up at dinner parties, little worms that live in the follicles at the base of your eyelashes).

By scraping and preening and sanitizing ourselves, we are rapidly shedding this organic layer of little friends, and to our general detriment of health. Some bugs are bad, but most bugs, especially the ones that have evolved along with us in our homes, are good.  See, you are not just you. You are a vast collection of things, and exactly how to tell where "you" ends and "not-you" begins is a tricky thing.

In evolutionary terms, yesterday's groups are today's individuals. We've all been indoctrinated by the 'survival of the fittest', while in truth, the majority of the story of evolution has been about the symbiotic synthesis of organisms into greater wholes than just a game of who-eats-who. You are made up of countless billions of single celled organisms that have decided that their long-term chances of survival are better living as Bob the Plumber than spread out across a forest floor.

Going further back, mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells, were obviously separate organisms at one point (in fact they carry their own DNA which is passed on maternally, the Judaic organelle). Almost all cell organelles probably started out as different organisms, that then got together to form cells, which cells got together to form you, and so on. Get the idea?

So when you're scrubbing down your house in antiseptic cleaner this weekend, just keep in mind that you're killing off a little bit of yourself in the process.

More on this in my next post.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Could a special brain cell is responsible for sense of self?

Some interesting research has come up in the past few months regarding the little known Von Economo Neurons (VENs). These big, fat neurons have long stood out from the rest, but recent news seems to indicate they help build the rich inner life of self and form the basis for social relationships.

Sounds a little sad, I know, to boil things as grand as love and hate down to a stringy little neuron, but there it is.

The thing I found most interesting about VENs is that only in highly social animals (e.g. humans) are they exclusively found in the scent and taste regions of the brain. Ever wonder why smells seem to evoke such powerful emotions? The VEN did it. And also explains why we take each other for dinner dates after meeting online. Food and smell. Social. Makes sense to me.

Ultimately VENs seem to have evolved into "big" neurons as a way of signalling through the brain faster, which leads to one very interesting conclusion about how consciousnesses could have evolved. Since big brains require a lot of energy to run, it is crucial to run as efficiently as possible. Therefore a lot of "how are we feeling and doing" feedback is required. Eventually, the constant updating of "how am I feeling" could have given rise to the ego, as in the "I".

So the question is: How are YOU feeling? 

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The magic of TOEs

The discovery the past few weeks of evidence of a relatively light mass for the much-hunted Higgs boson shouldn't just be thrilling to the techno-geeks around the world, it should be giving everyone a chill and a smile. Stuff like this is the grand exploration of our age - we're not sending people on expeditions to Antarctica or deepest darkest Africa, but we're looking further and further into the very nature of reality - which is what the great explorers were all trying to do if you really think about it.

The magic of TOEs (or the Theory of Everythings) is that we are just on the cusp (and may be cusping for the next twenty years, who knows) of finally wrapping together all branches on physics into one connected whole. And for those of you who don't think that's useful, try imagining the Middle Ages maps of the world with their patches of sea and islands and "off the end of the world" bits where the dragons and monsters lurked and try comparing this to the globe sitting on your desk...right now we are in the Middle Ages, but soon, we may see the light.

On PhutureNews, nearly 90% of people voted that they thought that we would find a complete Theory of Everything by 2040...see the article here

Why is this interesting? Well, it can have implications on everything from the nature of reality (whether searching out the cosmos or probing the subatomic, almost all theories now point to the reality of an almost endless multiverse of parallel universes) to the ultimate free lunch (inflationary theories point to an unlimited source of energy sitting in perfectly empty space, which, really, isn't empty)...

If the faint glimmering of a lighter than expected Higgs turns out to be true, then this is a major confirmation of the Standard Model of quantum physics, and should help turn the light onto the next step in our quest for truly beautiful TOEs. Stay tuned.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

When will electric cars outsell gas again?

So when will electric cars again outsell gar powered ones? It wouldn't  not the first time electric cars have outsold gasoline powered cars. In fact, the first “cars” were electric, some of the first constructed by New England inventor Thomas Davenport in 1834, and up until 1900, electric cars outsold gasoline powered ones; in fact over 90% of cabs in New York City in 1901 were electric. The Baker Torpedo was the fastest car in the world in 1902, clocking in at over 120 mph. 

People preferred electric cars for their quiet, clean efficiency, lack of need for gear shifting or cranks to get going, and relative simplicity. It was the oil lobby that changed all that with the discovery of oil in Texas and other places that eventually drove the electric car off the road. In the end, it didn’t make any sense? Why build overlapping energy distribution systems, one for electricity and another for an explosive, toxic chemical. But the oil lobby group won the day.

Major improvements would be needed to help advance the progression back to electric - one such non-linear innovation could be the discovery of room temperature superconductors which would revolutionize energy storage and electric motors at the same time, not to mention energy transmission.

When do you think electric cars will outsell gas cars again?

Thursday, 5 January 2012

How the future looked this week

This was an interesting week for the future. The Bieb slipped 10 points in his bid for the 2053 US Presidential race, and we discovered about the same number of people think the world will end this year as think the Chinese have a shot at winning the World Cup in the next 40 years (assuming the world doesn't end, but I didn't manage to get a cross-correlation of what people thought the Chinese chances were assuming that the world didn't end...)

The mood is fairly evenly split over the fate of the Euro...about half think it is doomed, so we'll keep an eye on that situation. I have a hard time imagining Europe ever giving up on the Euro, so I personally stump for it making the long haul, but these are dangerous waters we are swimming in. It is amusing to imagine the mad scramble of national central bankers to get their own currencies printed and distributed again...but honestly, this wouldn't be funny at all.

Fitting for a portal driven by sci-fi enthusiasts, we have a lot of posts about extraterrestrial intelligence, although surprisingly low numbers seem to vote that we'll find intelligent life out there anytime soon...barely more than half think we'll see any signs before the middle of this century. Then again, it is hard to downplay the unbelievable shift in global consciousness that will occur if we do conclusively see anyone else out there...I suggest a quick read of Peter Cawdron's book "Anomaly" on the topic if interested.

Lastly, I am actively gathering together a group of sci-fi authors to write headlines for PhutureNews, the idea being to link these to stories they are writing and drive traffic to their books or blogs...if anyone out there is interested, just drop me a line at matthew.mather at

See you in the future next week!