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Monday, December 26, 2011

My holiday wishes and a gift for you...

Yesterday was Christmas and it's still Hanukkah and Kwanzaa starts today, so I'm thinking that most of you have been spending time with your friends and family, just like I have. I hope these have been warm and happy times for you, as they have been for me. I'm looking forward to a 2012 in which the Mayans were wrong and the world does not end. I also look forward to a year in which all things tend toward more peace, happiness, and harmony. We live in an imperfect world and entropy works, so I do not expect us to achieve perfect peace this year, nor in my lifetime, but I am an optimistic sort and I do think that we can work toward those goals.

I'm wrapping up a lot of small personal writing projects, preparing to begin another Faye Longchamp mystery, so my professional "new year" coincides with the calendar, for once. Until then, I've got some holiday gifts for you. Some of them are on a short-burn schedule, so act quickly.

Through tomorrow, the Kindle edition of my short story, "A Singularly Unsuitable Word," is free on Amazon. If, like me, you don't have a Kindle, you can read it on your computer.

Through midnight tonight, I'm running a contest on my Facebook Author page. The prize is your choice of a Kindle or a $100 gift certificate to an independent bookseller, Amazon or Barnes and Noble. All you have to do is go to the page and hit the "like" button. And if you read this late and miss the deadline, hit the button anyway, because I'm going to be giving away more stuff.

My wonderful publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, has marked down the ebook editions of all my Faye Longchamp mysteries. Artifacts is only $0.99 and all the others are at $4.99, so this is a huge discount off the regular ebook price of $6.99 apiece or $14.95 apiece for paperbacks. I'm not sure how long this will last, maybe till the end of the month, so you might want to grab those now. They're available on the Poisoned Pen Press site, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Because of all this cool stuff going on, I've got books on a couple of bestseller lists on Amazon, and indications are that sales are going well everywhere else. I'm blessed and grateful. Along with loving relationships with friends and family, there are few things in life more satisfying than having a profession that you love. I'm grateful to all my readers and I wish you the 2012 of your dreams.

Happy reading--
Mary Anna

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sometimes you *can* go home again...

I'm going home to Mississippi next week.  I haven't lived there since 1984, but they still consider me one of their own, because they're giving me this year's Mississippi Author Award.  (Actually, it's the Mississippi Library Association who's doing the award-giving, but they're Mississippians, so please forgive the semantic softness.)  I've known about this for a month or two, but I'm still flattered, touched, and, frankly, flabbergasted.  They're flying me in for an awards banquet and everything.  Usually, I haul myself to personal appearances in my well-worn Toyota, so this feels rather like getting the royal treatment.  I'm grateful.

I've lived in Florida since April 1987.  How long is that?  More than 24 years?  It hardly seems possible.  By contrast, I lived in Mississippi for nineteen-and-a-half years, moved away for the last two years of my undergrad degree, then returned for a little more than a year for graduate school.  Let's be generous and call it twenty-one years.  Since I ain't sixty, I guess it's safe to say that I've now lived in Florida for longer than I've lived anywhere else.  Why don't I see myself as a Floridian?

Maybe it's the accent that I'll apparently never lose.  (I sound like I've got a mouthful of magnolias.)  More likely it's the six generations of my family that lived in the Magnolia State before I came along.  We were there before Misssissippi became a state.  We were there before it even became a territory.  We were there before the steamboat that would eventually take cotton north and bring money south was even invented.  We were there for the near-obliteration of the native peoples and for the Civil War and for Reconstruction and for the civil rights movement.  I'm not saying we participated in those things, for good or ill.  I have no idea.  I just know that we were there.  Since I'm pretty sure some of us were native peoples, I have a good idea that all of us weren't too keen on the Trail of Tears, but otherwise, I just don't know.  As is true of most human history, I'd guess my people's feelings and actions were...complicated.

My own feelings about that history are complicated enough that it took me three books before I got up the nerve to write a book about the place.  I was afraid I'd never be able to go home again.

Instead, that book, Effigies, got a full-page feature article in Mississippi Magazine, and the magazine has covered every book I've written since.  I should have known that my undeniably racially themed book would receive a far warmer welcome there than an outsider might have expected.  My series character, Faye Longchamp, is multiracial, so there is some degree of racial theme to all of my books, but they've been warmly welcomed in my home state from the first.  I have not heard the first discouraging word from the folks in Mississippi, not in the eight years since Artifacts first came out.  I would say that this renewed my faith in humankind, but I've never really doubted humankind, nor the good people at home.

And now they've given me this wonderful award, and I'm so deeply touched.  It's one thing to get a nice review from somebody in New York City, but it's quite another thing to know that the people who live down the street from the house where you spent your childhood appreciate what you do.  There will be an award banquet next week and I'll get to rub elbows with some of the nicest people in the world--librarians and Mississippians.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why mystery fiction matters

I'm on Day Two of my blog tour, guesting at John Hartness's blog and opining on why mystery fiction is important.  Join me...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Look for me all over the internet this week...

I'm doing a blog tour this week, spreading wisdom hither and yon. Here's the schedule, but I will obviously keep reminding you of where I'll be.

Today is a two-fer, because Speak Without Interruption has posted an excerpt of WOUNDED EARTH (and isn't Speak without Interruption a glorious title for people who have things to say, but don't always feel like they get heard?), as well as my usual bi-weekly post at The LadyKillers, where I'm talking about technology in mysteries. Check them out!

Today's posts, with links:
July 25th: Speak Without Interruption
                  The LadyKillers

I'll post links as these blogs go live:
July 26th: John
July 27th: Bards and Sages Group
July 28th: Word Pursuit
July 29th: No Trees Harmed

Monday, July 18, 2011

A guest post from Camille Minichino--DO THE MATH

Here's a guest post from my friend and fellow physics-and-math person Camille Minichino. She's starting a brand-new mystery series featuring Sophie Knowles, a college math teacher, and you know I'm gonna love that one. Even better, she's talking about a relic--her old slide rule--and I love relics so much that I wrote a book called Relics. Listen as Camille tells us why doing the math is so important...

Do the Math
By Camille Minichino, aka Ada Madison

Here I am with a relic—the slide rule I bought at the MIT store. It cost me a week's pay—$35—sometime in the middle of the last century. It got me through a mathematics major and a few graduate physics classes before an enormous, clunky IBM 1620 came in and took over.

My newest protagonist, Professor Sophie Knowles, math teacher at a small New England college, probably wouldn't know which end is up on the foot long slide rule, nor would she have the patience to sit for hours entering her data on error-prone punch cards.

Math education has changed since my college days. Whew. Welcome, technology!
We've also come a long way since Sophie's namesake, eighteenth-century mathematician Sophie St. Germain, had to hide behind a man's name to get the math community to pay attention to her. Or since nineteenth-century German university policy allowed Emmy Noether only to audit classes in mathematics and then, once she passed doctoral exams anyway, allowed her to teach only without pay.

The real Ada, Countess Ada Lovelace, was another story entirely. To keep her from going the creatively manic route of her father, Lord Byron, Ada's mother encouraged her to study mathematics. Ada went a little too far, trying to use her math skills to win at gambling, and . . . didn't.

So we've made some progress along gender lines, but women are still underrepresented in engineering, science, and math.

And not much has changed as far as the perception of math. It still gets bad press, from both genders. Math is thought of as a difficult subject, requiring a special brain typically belonging to boring people. Even in educated circles, math illiteracy is often worn as a badge.

The same person who would never say, "I hate reading," or "I can't do words," doesn't hesitate to say, "I can't do math," and sound proud of it.
Where does this attitude start? Maybe with dolls that say, "I don't like math." Or with celebrities like Angelina Jolie, who tells a little girl struggling with her homework, "I hate math" ("Salt," 2010). Or with the Michigan teacher I heard about who told her middle school class, "If you behave yourselves this morning, you won't have to do math this afternoon." (AAARRGH, if I knew her name; I'd make her a slimy villain in my next book.)

What can we do?

Enter Professor Sophie Knowles. I can't fix everything that's wrong with the levels of science and math literacy among our citizens, but I can certainly use my writing skills to present another option: a smart female mathematician who loves puzzles, beads, has a hot boyfriend who's an EMT pilot and an ice climber, and who applies her flair for logic to solving murders.

Here's my hope: that readers who would otherwise shun a book with math in the title will be attracted to Sophie and enjoy her stories.

Another title aimed at reaching non-math-lovers and helping them see the beauty of the subject is Mathematical Literacy in the Middle and Secondary Grades by my gracious blog host, Mary Anna Evans, coming in Spring 2012. Mary Anna and her co-author Dr. Faith Wallace have teamed to create a book that brings into the math classroom things kids love to read and do--things like computer games, social media, and popular fiction like Mary Anna's and mine--so that their teachers can help them relate mathematics to their own world. Tell all your math teacher friends to give it a look.

If you need more prompting to go all John Lennon and Give Math a Chance, consider this endorsement, uttered by no less a figure (so to speak) than Agatha Christie, in her An Autobiography:

"I continued to do arithmetic with my father, passing proudly through fractions to decimals. I eventually arrived at the point where so many cows ate so much grass, and tanks filled with water in so many hours. I found it quite enthralling."

If it's good enough to enthrall Dame Agatha, it's good enough for me.

Camille Minichino is the author of three mystery series. Her akas are Margaret Grace (The Miniature Mysteries) and Ada Madison (The Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries). The first chapter of ‘The Square Root of Murder,” debuting July 5, is on her website:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Don't ask me about writer's block...

The topic today at The LadyKillers blog is one that I generally avoid at all costs, but I've made an exception today. See what I have to say about writer's block:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Guest blogger Tracey Alley tells us what it's like to be a writer...and gets it right

Listen to my friend Tracey Alley, author of many books, including The Witchcraft Wars series and the Kaynos History tales, as she gives you the scoop on what a writer's life is like. And isn't that what we're all about here at "It's Like Making Sausage...?"

Check out Tracey's books here:
Books by Tracey Alley

There are usually three things most people assume when you tell them you’re an author. One, that you must be rich – sorry, see J.K. Rowling and co for that, most writers consider themselves lucky to make a living out of writing and the rest of us work for less than peanuts.

Two, that you must know a lot of celebrities – well again, see the big names for that. Your average writer is a solitary creature, rather like a spider, who weaves their webs inside the confines of their own little nests and rarely venture out to meet any real people let alone celebrities.

Three, that it’s an easy profession. Whoa! You could not be more wrong. Yes there are those who are born with a creative imagination – that’s only the start, not, by any means, the whole story. I can come up with thousands of ideas, that’s never been a problem, but can I craft them into something that is readable? Do I know enough of the mechanics to make a decent story into something that is not only entertaining but well written, well edited, well put together? Most of us use beta readers, editors and critique groups because the simple fact is that very, very few of us are capable of doing the entire thing from word one to the end without some help along the way.

Quite simply writing is not the simple task that many people assume it to be and it is becoming ever more complex as so many writers choose to go the independent route rather than stick with a traditional publishing house. It’s not enough to just have talent, assuming that you even have any, but you also have to have hard work, determination, perseverance and humility. You have to be able to craft a story well and take criticism with class and dignity when you’re failing in that task. And let’s not forget – just because you’ve had a great idea that doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate into a great book. I would estimate that for most writers probably 95% of their ideas end up as nothing more than that, an idea.
Then once you’ve had the great idea and managed to craft it into a well-written book now you have to try and sell it. This may mean querying agents or publishing houses directly or, if like me, you’ve chosen to take your book to the marketplace independently, you have to sell it directly to the public. That’s the hardest job of all.

Very few, if any, writers that I know are, by nature, natural salespeople. Thus the task of marketing and promoting your book is not an easy one but essential if you ever want to sell even a single copy. You have to learn the intricacies of social media and how to use that effectively without alienating potential readers but still letting them know about your product. You have to find reviewers who are willing to look at your work, and cross your fingers each time that you’ll actually get a good review. All in all it’s a tough business. Simply promoting and marketing your book can take up an enormous amount of time in your day and of course, by now, you should also be working on the next book.

At any rate you get the idea. Writers aren’t automatically rich or famous, we don’t necessarily know any celebrities and it’s not easy. However, having said all that, if you are a writer, and I truly believe that some of us are just born that way, then you love every single minute of it. All the hard work, all the editing and reworking of your novels, all the criticisms and praise and even all the marketing and promotion. As a writer I love all of it, well, maybe not the marketing and promotion side, but I love to be able to do what I love and have people actually read my work – no matter how much hard work that might take. So to every reader – thank you. To every reader who actually liked the book – thank you even more.

Monday, July 4, 2011

American history, walking around on two legs...

As luck would have it, I am the Independence Day blogger over at Poisoned Pen Press's website. How fitting, considering that I write about a woman of European, African, and Native American descent who I have described as "American history, walking around on two legs."

Come see what I have to say about Faye and the Fourth of July and the pursuit of happiness:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Back to the salt mines soon, but not yet...

As I continue my little series of posts on the things we writers do after we turn in our manuscripts, I see a little blot of work approaching on my calendar. I got an email from my editor with some overview-type comments on Saturday. She said that the edited manuscript was in the mail to me. This means that there's some work winging its way in my direction, but it ain't here yet.

So what did I do today? I took my daughter swimming. I've lived in this town since 1987 and I've never been to the big public pool at Westside Park. So we pulled on our bathing suits and drove over there. (No, there will be no photodocumentation.) I swam a few laps. (Very few.) We laid out in the sun, which is a pointless endeavor in these cancer-sensitive times when even the weakest tanning oil is SPF 8, but we did it anyway. It was fabulous.

I've been too busy luxuriating in the feeling of finishing two books to actually blog about how wonderful it is, so maybe I'll stretch this series out through next week, when I'll be working on those edits. Maybe it will assuage the pain if I take occasional breaks to reminisce with you people about time spent frolicking and carefree.

Since I elected not to burn your retinas with photos from our pool jaunt, I'll close with photos of something else pleasant with which I've occupied my time: my little granddaughter. :) In the meantime, I think I'll do something pointless like organize the sheet music that I've been accumulating since I was eight...

Mary Anna

Monday, June 13, 2011

I'm still not working! This is great!

Gardening is one fun activity that I didn't set aside in order to finish Plunder. I have a suburban back yard that's small but sunny, and this is my fourth summer to have a garden. Every March, I get cocky and make it bigger. Every July, Mother Nature expresses her amusement by sending me pickleworms and weeds and powdery mildew and bacterial wilt and just enough tasty vegetables to make me want to keep trying.

I planted a lot of tomatoes, because they're my favorite, but I'm just getting a small but steady stream of them. The zucchini and yellow squash plants look horrible and disease-ridden, but they're managing to make a few fruits a week and I just can't bear to yank them out of the ground when they're trying so hard. For the third year in a row, I've got a beautiful crop of peppers, both sweet and hot. The pole beans and okra are producing so little that I've got a bag of both kinds of pods in the refrigerator. I'm hoping to collect enough of them to cook before the oldest things in the bags die of old age. The black-eyed peas and eggplant are starting to come in, and they're delicious. But the surprise has been the cucumbers. I've got two measly little cucumber plants, but they're making more than my tiny household can eat.

So I made pickles! Bread-and-butter pickles, to be exact. I'm not buried in cucumbers, so I didn't have enough to make a great big pile of pickles. Just six jars. But they're good! I used the standard recipe that shows up in all the southern cookbooks, but I threw in some sweet and hot peppers, because I had some in the garden. And nobody at our house likes celery, so I left out the celery seed and increased the mustard seed instead.

I learned that making pickles at midnight is way more fun than editing your own manuscript for the fifth time at midnight. Here's the photographic proof. (Minus the jar that's in the refrigerator, because we already opened it and started eating...)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Back from the great beyond...though perhaps temporarily...

I submitted the manuscript for Plunder late Wednesday night. Yay!

I've either been working on that book or thinking about working on that book or feeling guilty about working on that book since...well, I'm not sure how long. Stress and terror tend to make one lose one's sense of time, so I can't tell you exactly. I signed the contract over a year ago...I think...and kablooie. Daily crises erupted for the entirety of 2010, and all of a sudden it was June 2011 and I was looking at a deadline that was pushed back twice. I'm obsessive about deadlines and asking for extensions made me absolutely nuts.

Compounding the problem was that I signed another contract more than a year ago, to co-write a book on math literacy. We turned in the manuscript in April but, you guessed it, that deadline had already been shoved back when we did so. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to know that I have two completed manuscripts, and that they're both on their editors' desks. And not mine.

They'll both be coming back for final edits. And again, for me to review the copyedits. Still it's easier to fix something than to create it from scratch. For good or ill, those books are written. Until they come back, my time is my own.

So what did I do to celebrate? Well, I spent all of Thursday cleaning off my desk and filing the paperwork that had accumulated in a towering mound on top of it. The fact that this felt fantastic, kinda like scratching an itch, is a symptom of my mental state for the past year.

What? You were expecting drunkenness and debauchery. Clearly, you're reading the wrong blog. But if you can do without drunkenness and debauchery, I'll keep you posted on what I'm doing to enjoy my brief window of freedom.

In that spirit, would you take a look at this desk???

Saturday, April 16, 2011

For Apple...

This is a special post for a special person. I have a friend called Apple who has managed to work and take care of a family and make music and make a home, all while battling serious illness. She has had a bad week.

Apple's friends are pooling their funds to help her family with housekeeping or food or whatever else will make this tough time easier. Some of this blogs followers know Apple and this just seemed to be a convenient place for them to donate to this effort. If you know her and would like to forward this link to some of her friends, please do. All our hopes and prayers go out to Apple and to those who care about her. Thank you for your donations.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

If only ebook pricing were an intuitively obvious task...

I've been doing a little mid-month accounting. I'm on track to sell fewer books than I did last month, but I have already made more money, and there are still eight days left in March. I think I'll make significantly more money than I did in February. When it comes to keeping score, I'll go with money every time. This is a business, after all. If I wanted to give my work away, I'd post it here.

It's not a slam-dunk that I'll make this month's goal: to gross enough money through sales of my self-published e-books to pay my cell phone bill with its obscenely priced data plan, but it's very possible. So how did I accomplish this marked improvement? By very much.

That's not true. I've posted on message boards and offered some free books on sites frequented by readers. A friend is letting me run a banner ad on her site. All of these things were free. All of them might be expected to generate a few impulse buys, but not all that many.

I didn't place any ads. I offered no special prices this month. This last thing is significant, because lowering the price of my biggest seller, Wounded Earth, costs me big-time. Its regular price, $2.99, is the minimum price that qualifies me for Amazon's 70% royalty. Lowering it to $2.98 would drop me to a 35% royalty, decreasing my income per book by half. Lowering it to the price that popular wisdom says will attract attention, $0.99, decreases my income per book by a factor of six. This bargain price had better generate some serious sales, or it is very expensive for me. I tried it last month, and I can't say that the results were worthwhile.

People say that you have to drop the price and leave it there for a while to get results. I'm not saying that I won't try that at some point, but it will be part of a carefully considered plan, and it won't be soon. I want to try some other marketing strategies first, because I'm concerned that bargain-basement prices devalue my professional work. And I am a professional, with six books in print that people routinely pay more than $0.99 for the pleasure of reading. The improvement in my income this month, which occurred while maintaining my prices at a level that seems to be becoming established as a professional rate, encourages me to think that I can build a bigger following without slashing prices.

Yes, I know cutting prices can increase sales and improve that coveted Amazon ranking, driving yet more sales in that very desirable upward spiral. Therefore, I am not saying that I won't give it another try. My short-term plan, though, is centered around two things--buying ads and getting more reviews. I've been giving away review copies in selected venues. (See, I'm not against free books when there is a business-related reason for giving them away. I just don't want to devalue my work unnecessarily.)

I have also bought some ads, most of which will hit in April. I'm lucky enough to have several books already out there earning money, so that I can afford to do this. I've decided to take advantage of that opportunity. I saw marked results from ads purchased last month, but they hit while my price was at $0.99, so the income was low. I guess I'll see whether those ads will attract readers at a $2.99 price point. It's a gamble, but so is any business venture.

How will this all work out? I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Monday, February 28, 2011

End-of-the-month accounting

Okay. A month ago, I boldly set a sales goal for February.

I had just barely missed January's sales goal, to earn enough royalties on my self-published e-books to pay my cable internet bill. It is possible that I'd have made this goal if I hadn't experimented with dropping the price to $0.99 for part of the month on Wounded Earth.

Maybe I'd have sold fewer books if I'd kept the price at $2.99, but you know...$2.99 doesn't sound all that exorbitant for a full-length novel. And I couldn't tell that the lower price helped that much. So who knows? All I know is that I came darn close to meeting my goal, but I missed it. Still, it was my best month ever, so I didn't shed any tears. I just set a new goal.

So did I set a conservative goal for February? Oh, heck no. I set a goal to more than double January's record sales, thus earning enough royalties to pay this month's bill for my fancy-shmancy smart phone and its associated not-cheap data plan, with some left over for...oh, I don't know...taking my daughter out for sushi.

So how did I do? Once again, I had a great month, the best ever. And once again, I snookered myself by setting an ambitious goal and by lowering my price on my most expensive book for part of the month. Also, the calendar snookered me. I forgot that February was a short month. If this weekend's sales trends had continued, the extra two or three days in a regular month would have made the difference. Urgh. Nevertheless, February's unit sales were better than January's by more than 50% and I made more money by about 30%. February's royalties may have been short of my goal, but they were sufficient to pay my cable internet bill with enough left over to take my daughter to McDonald's. I really like it when my writing pays my bills and funds luxuries. (If a trip to McDonald's qualifies as a luxury...)

So what's my goal for March? Should I swallow a dose of realism? Or should I take note of my ever-increasing sales and continue with the current strategy of letting my reach exceed my grasp, which does seem to be working?

I've decided to hang tight with March's goal. I aim to pay this month's cell phone bill with my royalties. If I overshoot those sales, I'm sure I can find a way to spend that money. Here's my rationale for not ramping up the goal. My biggest sales in January and Febrary came on days when I placed ads in places where people read e-books, and I don't have any of those scheduled for March yet. (This could change, if I identify a desirable place to advertise.) I do, however, have a couple of important ads scheduled for April.

Thus, it makes sense to me to use March to build. I'll submit the book to carefully selected reviewers, and perhaps reviewers to whom I've already submitted will post those reviews. I'll continue building a web presence here and as a guest blogger and as a commenter on various sites, and I'll hope that these activities will keep sales growing steadily through March, resulting in royalties that will pay my cell phone bill. Since I don't like being less than bold, I'll go ahead and set my goal for April, which will be to sell enough books to pay my cable internet bill and my cell phone bill.

I sure hope I make that April goal, because once I hit that level, the obvious next goal is to pay my utility bill, and I'd far rather hit that level in May than in August. I live in Florida, for pete's sake. Do you know how much it costs to air condition this house? I've really got to build my sales up, if I hope to pay my utility bill in the summertime.

Amid all this gnashing of teeth over missing neatly quantifiable sales goals, I really need to tell you my unquantifiable good news. As you may or may not know, Amazon began giving authors access to some limited sales data a few weeks ago, which is coincidentally when I began this project to promote my self-published e-books. This information is tantalizingly qualitative, in that it only applies to sales in some venues and, at any one time, you can only get data on your three bestselling titles. I have eleven titles, so this isn't nearly enough information, but it's good enough to see trends.

I see unmistakable evidence that sales of all six of my traditionally published books, the Faye Longchamp mysteries, have gone up since I began promoting my self-pubbed stuff. Sales of the Kindle editions of those books have increased, which is perhaps unsurprising. The people to whom I'm promoting Wounded Earth and my short stories could logically be expected to pick up my mysteries if they like my work. But--and this is the surprising part to me--sales trends on all my print books are noticeably better. I think I'm even seeing improvement on my newest hardcover, Strangers.

These trends can't be quantified, though I'll get some inkling of what's going on when my next royalty statement arrives from Poisoned Pen Press, but I'm not going to argue with improved sales. You know, I may actually have earned enough extra royalties on those books to have paid that cell phone bill, after all, but I'm not going to change my accounting method in mid-stream. I'll hang tough, and I won't give myself credit for making my goals unless I see hard, quantifiable numbers on the self-pubbed e-books.

Still, if those royalty checks from my print publisher are bigger because I've been promoting my e-books, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to think of a way to spend the money.

Mary Anna

Things I've learned about selling books of both the print and electronic variety

My first book, Artifacts, was published in 2003. I've spent the intervening years trying to figure out how books get sold. I've learned some things. Some things remain a mystery.

I've learned that being on TV sells books. My marketing plan for the first three books included a lot of promotional travel, and I did my best to leverage those travel dollars by getting media coverage whenever I could. I turned out to be pretty good at that, getting TV interviews in Top 100 markets like Birmingham and radio interviews in the number one market of them all, New York City. Whenever I did radio, I'd get emails from listeners afterward, so I knew people were listening and, presumably, buying. When I did TV, the first few people in line invariably said, "I saw you on the morning news." So I saw those people buy books, which is the most satisfying result of a promotional effort you can get.

But the time and effort spent getting myself to Birmingham, so I could be on TV and sell a few books, just wasn't worth it in the long haul, unless I was going there for some other reason. (Radio, which you can do by telephone, is a different beast.) I, like every midlist writer in the world, am looking for a way to sell books that generates less wear-and-tear on the body and on the pocketbook.

One thing I learned from making all those promotional appearances was that, when I give a talk, people buy books. When I give a talk to a large crowd, people buy a lot of books. I don't yet have the kind of name to draw a large crowd, so my ideal gig is a luncheon speech to a group of people who were going to come to that luncheon anyway. If somebody else can put butts in the chairs, I apparently give a pretty good talk. People laugh. They ask questions. When I'm speaking to an educational group and I drag out my stories of being an engineering student back in the days when engineering buildings were designed without ladies rooms, women bring their daughters up to meet me. And they buy my books.

Why am I talking about this today? Because I did two gigs this weekend that were only okay, as far as sales go. I spoke on Saturday and the percentage of attendees that bought books was quite good--nearly half--but the crowd was small. Then I did a bookstore signing on Sunday and sold a little better, but attendance still wasn't what I'd hoped. But this is not my point today. My point is that attendees at both events came up to me afterward to tell me that they owned e-readers and that they were going to go home and buy my books. In one case, the person had already downloaded the book while I was speaking. In two other cases, people bought my latest book and had it signed, because they wanted an autographed book for the souvenir aspect, but then they planned to go home and download the rest of them. And why wouldn't they? The ebooks are cheaper and they don't take up room on their bookshelves.

When I got home, I checked my sales info on Amazon. Lo and behold, I sold more ebooks this weekend than I did print books, despite the fact that I hauled my weary carcass to two booksignings that were intended to sell print books. This tells me that my days of grueling and expensive promotional travel are not as nearly over as I might have hoped. People still crave human contact, and they are far more likely to buy a book from somebody that they feel like they know...whether they read that book on paper or on an e-reader screen.

Skilled internet promoters are using social media to make those connections, which is tiring and time-consuming, but it's not nearly so hard on the pocketbook and the weary carcass as promotional travel is. I'm doing my best to learn how to let the internet do my traveling for me, but it has taken me nearly eight years to learn how to sell books in person. It's going to take some time to learn how to do it remotely.

Here's one thing I think I already know. When people read my work, they like it. They come back for more. Over the past month of exploring ebook promotion, I've come to believe that I need to focus on getting samples of my work out there. Therefore, I'm posting an excerpt of my frontlist ebook, Wounded Earth right here. If you'd like a copy of the ebook, here's the link:
Wounded Earth

And if you prefer print books, here's that link:
Wounded Earth

I hope you enjoy this sample of Wounded Earth.


Babykiller was meticulous in all things. It was his defining quality. Attention to detail was the key to longevity in his chosen profession, and Babykiller had been in business a long, long time.

Most of his competitors from the early days were dead or in prison, and he couldn't claim responsibility for all their misfortune. No, they had simply chosen a dangerous line of work. He was well on his way to outliving a second generation and he was considering retirement. At least he had been, before the oncologist's verdict. Retirement planning seemed so futile when death was certain.

Babykiller had created a life out of certainties. He left nothing to chance. He made no mistakes—at least, he made no mistakes that were obvious to the cretins who purchased his services. He had built a seamless organization that ran like a Volvo. It was reliable. It required little maintenance. It was safe. It was boring as hell. Even if his organization survived him—and he cared very little whether it did or not—it was a plain-vanilla sort of legacy for a man of his caliber.

Babykiller had more money than he could have spent in a normal lifetime. He had more than a fair share of cunning. And he had a long list of scores to settle with the world before he took his leave of it. It was time to retire and focus his considerable attentions on something more interesting. Or someone more interesting.

Babykiller had kept extensive files on his target for years, ever since he began thinking of retirement. He had videotapes and audiotapes. An accordion file labeled "BioHeal Environmental Services" held her company's annual financial reports, one for each of the twenty years she'd been in business. His clipping file bulged with articles dating to her first appearance on the cover of New Orleans Business News.

Larabeth McLeod had enjoyed good press from the start, for the usual reasons. She was an easy interview. Her field, environmental science, was red-hot. She was witty and down-to-earth. Her strong jawline made for good photographs. Reporters loved her.

She smiled out of the manila folder at him, wearing her success like a crisply tailored suit. He replaced the clippings in reverse chronological order and closed the file over her elegantly sculpted face. He remembered that face. He had cherished it long before the photographers fell in love. He had seen it contorted in pain, spattered in blood.

He would like very much to see it that way again.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

If you're going to be in north Florida on Sunday...

I'm signing at Books, Inc., in Gainesville, Florida, on Sunday, February 27 at 12:30 pm.

They'll have copies of all the books. I'll be chatting with people individually or as a group, depending on how many folks are hanging around. The Book Lovers Cafe serves really a really tasty lunch and great desserts. And I've never been bored in a bookstore, have you?

Come see me!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

#Sample Sunday

I'm participating in a project called Sample Sunday. It involves tweeting samples of books hither and yon. Since I'm a Twitter newbie, I can't tell you much more than that.'s a sample of Wounded Earth. Enjoy!


Babykiller was meticulous in all things. It was his defining quality. Attention to detail was the key to longevity in his chosen profession, and Babykiller had been in business a long, long time.

Most of his competitors from the early days were dead or in prison, and he couldn't claim responsibility for all their misfortune. No, they had simply chosen a dangerous line of work. He was well on his way to outliving a second generation and he was considering retirement. At least he had been, before the oncologist's verdict. Retirement planning seemed so futile when death was certain.

Babykiller had created a life out of certainties. He left nothing to chance. He made no mistakes—at least, he made no mistakes that were obvious to the cretins who purchased his services. He had built a seamless organization that ran like a Volvo. It was reliable. It required little maintenance. It was safe. It was boring as hell. Even if his organization survived him—and he cared very little whether it did or not—it was a plain-vanilla sort of legacy for a man of his caliber.

Babykiller had more money than he could have spent in a normal lifetime. He had more than a fair share of cunning. And he had a long list of scores to settle with the world before he took his leave of it. It was time to retire and focus his considerable attentions on something more interesting. Or someone more interesting.

Babykiller had kept extensive files on his target for years, ever since he began thinking of retirement. He had videotapes and audiotapes. An accordion file labeled "BioHeal Environmental Services" held her company's annual financial reports, one for each of the twenty years she'd been in business. His clipping file bulged with articles dating to her first appearance on the cover of New Orleans Business News.

Larabeth McLeod had enjoyed good press from the start, for the usual reasons. She was an easy interview. Her field, environmental science, was red-hot. She was witty and down-to-earth. Her strong jawline made for good photographs. Reporters loved her.

She smiled out of the manila folder at him, wearing her success like a crisply tailored suit. He replaced the clippings in reverse chronological order and closed the file over her elegantly sculpted face. He remembered that face. He had cherished it long before the photographers fell in love. He had seen it contorted in pain, spattered in blood.

He would like very much to see it that way again.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Beyond the pilot test:: Upfront costs

When I started this blog series last week, it seemed to catch the attention of people who never noticed me before. This is a good thing. One of the people who noticed was Paul Biba, whose website is the go-to place for information on the e-book industry. He asked permission to reprint my first entry in this series, which I granted. Apparently, plenty of people get their news from Teleread, because a quick self-google showed me that a number of other sites have picked up the blog. In other words, I'm now syndicated.

Paul reprinted some of my other articles during the week then, on Friday, he included my blog as an Editor's Pick of the Week, for which I'm ever grateful. Paul and his readers like facts, figures, dollars, and cents. So do I...hence, today's column.

I'm an engineer, so I considered the first few months of my e-book enterprise to be a pilot test. I created the e-books and made them available for sale, presuming I was working on a small scale. I kept the production costs minimal, doing the book design and cover design myself. Then I dropped into data gathering mode, doing a little promotion but spending more of my time watching how other people promoted, before I invested large quantities of time and money in things that didn't work.

Last month, I decided the pilot test had been successful. I'd sold some books and learned a great deal. It was time to invest more time and money. I hired a professional book designer to do a new layout for my frontlist title, Wounded Earth. (I used Hitch at . She does fabulous work and so does her subcontractor, Rickhardt Capodimente. They both get my highest recommendation.) This cost me the princely sum of $100. I had made it back within two weeks, just in time to drop some change on advertising. (Which I'll be reporting on later.)

As for the $300 print book design, I make $2.04 per full-price copy of Wounded Earth, so 50 copies will pay for the redesign. I don't expect to ever have to do a full redesign again, so that seems like a reasonable payoff period.

About this time, it occurred to me that, as an author with a track record of six paper books, I have a following that includes a certain percentage of people who are just not into e-books. When Amazon's CreateSpace offers the opportunity to make a book available in print for very little upfront cost, taking their payment as a cut of sales instead, it just makes very little sense for me not to publish a print version of Wounded Earth. So I did.

CreateSpace's site claims to have a user-friendly template to help you lay out your own book's interior. I found it impossible to use, so I got back in touch with Hitch. I also asked her if Booknook could design a cover for me, because I just wasn't sure that my homemade graphics would stand up to being printed on a book cover measuring 5.5x8.5. I also had no idea how to calculate the width of the book's spine or how to insert the text on the back cover or...well, I needed professional help. For $300, I got a professionally designed book and a professionally designed cover. I think this is an eminently fair price.

I can also use the new cover for the ebook edition. Bonus! It poses an accounting difficulty, though, in terms of how to look at the costs on this blog. Should I charge some of the $300 book design to the ebook? Or should I set a goal of paying off the print book design through sales of print books only? I decided to go with the second option and make the print book pay for all of its own design. The print book should be available for sale within a few weeks, and the new e-book cover will be visible on all the internet sales portals within days.

I'll make varying degrees of royalties from the print book, depending on where they're sold, but let's presume most of them will be sold on Amazon. I'll make $4.55 on each book, so it'll take 66 books to pay off the redesign. I spent a few bucks with CreateSpace on things like an ISBN and expanded distribution. Rather than chase every last one of those pennies, let's just say that selling 75 books will put the print book in the black. I've got two bookselling events scheduled this month. If the books arrive in time, I can knock out a big chunk of those seventy-five books. And after I alert my e-newsletter subscribers and other interested parties, I may be nearly there. We shall see.

Because everybody likes pictures, I thought I'd close by posting the new cover. I think it's just gorgeous. What do you people think?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Face time with readers: more dollars and cents

I spent the last weekend in Alabama with readers and fellow writers and my charming daughter. I had a wonderful time. I sold a goodly number of print books, and I promoted the heck out of my ebooks. Nevertheless, if the net income that I can directly attribute to this trip turns out to be better than if I'd worked a minimum wage job all weekend, I'll be astonished. I'll give you details on that minimal income below, since you people love dollars and cents so much, but first let me tell you what I did to earn it. In short, I worked really, really hard.

Why do we writers do such things? Because without the marketing oomph of a major publishing house that has decided to make you a star, the only way for a writer to get the attention of readers is to get out and meet them. It is my impression that authors who are only published in ebook form are doing less of these meet-and-greet things than authors who are published in print. I'm watching closely to see whether this changes. A booksigning for an ebook feels strange, when you don't have a physical book to hand attendees, but the book is not the point of a personal appearance. Personal contact is.

When people meet an author whose work they enjoy, they go home and talk about the experience. Maybe electronic contact--emails and blogs and websites and forum conversations--meets the psychological need for human contact, but I'm not sure about that. So whether my sales continue to skew toward my print books, or whether my ebooks begin to dominate, I'm not ready to stop going out to meet people quite yet.

So what does a weekend of two personal appearances in another state look like? First, I drove to Birmingham, arriving after 11 pm, because I had to leave at 3 pm to avoid taking my daughter out of school. Color me exhausted. We rose early the next day and went to the first event, Murder in the Magic City. This is one of the best-run events in the mystery world--thank you, Margaret Fenton--and they treat their authors well. They can't afford to pay an honorarium or travel expenses, but they feed us and transport us and, most importantly, they showcase us well to attendees. And this is why we go, to meet people who will read our books and tell others about them.

I moderated a panel, so I spent an hour helping my panelists showcase their work without neglecting my own. People seemed to enjoy it, so I think we did well. Here's my panel: Vicki Lane, CJ West, Jeri Westerson, and me.

I signed a bunch of books afterward and was gratified to see that the bookseller sold out of a couple of my backlist titles. We went back to the hotel and the conference provided us a nice dinner. I collapsed into bed at 9:30.

We were up early again the next day so we could drive to the next event, two hours south. Murder on the Menu is another of the best-run events in the mystery world--thank you, Tammy Lynn. It's a luncheon during which authors circulate among the tables being entertaining, after which we sign books. Think of it as speed dating for writers. This is what it looks like:

After we finished speed dating, books are sold. I sold a lot of them. The bookseller didn't have all my backlist, so a lot of the books we sold came out of the trunk of my car. (This will be important in a minute.) Then I crawled in my car and drove home, arriving at 11:30 pm and falling right in bed. Color me exhausted again.

Before I lay out the numbers for you, think a minute. I make royalties on my books that range from 9% to 12.5% of a retail price of $14.95. So call that $1.50-$2.00 per book. My travel costs included gasoline, food, and two nights in a hotel. It would take sales of 150 to 200 books to cover those costs. I did not sell that many books. How did I manage to pull down that minimum wage salary?

Here's how. The IRS helped. (And my accountant says this is all perfectly acceptable, but please check with your own before you file your own taxes.)

The per diem rate for a hotel in Birmingham is $88, which is about what I paid. Assuming a tax rate of 25%, then my hotel only cost me $66 per night, or $132.

The per diem rate for meals and incidentals in Birmingham is $56, but they only let you deduct half of that, because they presume you would have spent something on food at home. (I think that's the rationale.) I was on the road three days, so $56 x 3 is $168. I can deduct $84. Assuming a 25% tax rate, that nets me $21. But the event organizers fed me all weekend, so I get to keep that $21. Bonus! (I'm not going to count the ten bucks I spent on garbage food at McDonald's on the road, because I *would* have spent money to eat at home.)

The IRS allows $0.51 per mile for travel by car, which is way more than it costs me to put gas in my little bitty car. The lesson for starving writers is this: Never fly when you can drive. Your tax deduction for a flight is only about a quarter of the actual cost, but your mileage allowance can actually pay for travel with a little left over. I drove 920 miles this weekend, for a mileage deduction of 470. In the 25% tax bracket, that's a net of 117.50, but I get 32 miles per gallon, so I only spent $86 on gas, netting me $31.50. Bonus again! (Yeah, I know I'm ignoring wear and tear on my car. Humor me.)

So let's tally up my travel costs
Hotel: $132
Meals: -$ 21
Gas: -$ 31.50

Total: $79.50

Fortunately, I sold some books to soak up that eighty bucks, about 50 of them. These are excellent sales. I'm not sure anybody other than the guests of honor at these events sold more. However, if all I'd collected on any of them were the royalties, my whole weekend would have been a wash. Remember that I get $1.50-$2.00 in royalties per book. However, 20 of the books sold were mine, because the bookseller ran out. (I told you I sold well.) I made about $4.50 on each of those books. So let's say I sold 30 books at $2 a book and 20 books at $4.50 a book. Subtract the 80 bucks in travel costs and lets call it seventy bucks...for a weekend of work.

Do you know how long it would take me to earn seventy bucks as an engineer?

However...there are unseen profits to these events, and this is why I keep doing them. For example, every one of my books showed a bump in its Amazon ranking last weekend. My guess is that people come see me speak and they don't care if they get my autograph. They go home and order the book from Amazon, where they can get a 25-32% discount. That's fabulous, since I make the same royalty no matter where they buy the books, but from a businessperson's standpoint, I can't track it. I have to presume it's happening and hope for the best.

And then there are the big payoffs. After my last trip to Murder on the Menu, I got a call from an attendee offering me $1500 to come speak at her school. $1500! This one gig made the entire trip to Alabama more than worthwhile. I saw the same woman last weekend and she's trying to get funding to bring me back and hand me another big check. Score!

Almost every short story and essay I've sold has been to someone I met at a conference. I'm co-writing a math literacy book with someone I met at a conference. This is why I think ebook authors will eventually find that they've got to go out and meet people in person, even though it costs big bucks.

You've got to spend money to make money. But that doesn't make it fun.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

You asked for dollars and cents...

The last two days have had the highest readership since I started this blog, by quite a bit. Talking about ebooks in particular, and the book business in general, seems to have struck a nerve. Based on comments and private correspondence, though, what really interests people is money. (And also sex, but there are plenty of other places on the internet where you can get that, so you don't need my help.)

I'm on a learning curve with this project, so I unfortunately can't magically dump an MBA-level report about starting an ebook-publishing business on you. The situation is changing so fast that I don't think anybody can. I can tell you that I've sold 56 copies of Wounded Earth since I bought an ad in Kindle Nation Daily on February 2. It cost me sixty bucks. (It has since gone up to a hundred bucks.) Wounded Earth was marked down to $0.99 when the ad hit, because I'm told that this is a good way to generate sales. However, at the lowered price, those 56 copies did not pay for the ad. At the regular price, $2.99, I would have made a tidy little profit. But would I have sold as many copies? I don't know. You tell me.

Nevertheless, the flurry of sales generated by the ad partially paid for the ad, and they shot my Amazon ranking from the 50,000s to the low 2000s. I'm happy I did it, and I'll probably do it again. The price is back at $2.99, and I think this experience suggests that $2.99 is a reasonable price. The marketplace, driven by Amazon's payment structure, seems to be headed toward $2.99 as a minimum price for professional work. We'll see if that price holds.

Since my readers are so into money, my next post will reveal my tricks for making money while doing promotional travel. And perhaps I shall explain why buying my own books from my publisher at my 50% author's discount isn't always preferable to buying them from Amazon at the 32% discount offered to everybody in the world. I may be an artistic writer-type, but I didn't spend all those years in engineering school for nothing. I like numbers. When those numbers are in my account and when they're black, instead of red, it makes me very happy.

Mary Anna

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Amazon: The Gorilla in the Library

I love bookstores. I really love independent bookstores. I estimate that I've signed books in more than 75 independent bookstores since Artifacts came out in 2003. I'm heartbroken to report that at least 25 of those stores has gone out of business. I will do all I can to help independent stores survive, because they are champions of my books and of other good books by non-famous authors, and because I believe that they're important to our communities. But I also can't afford to ignore online sales, because I can't imagine that they won't continue to be a large portion of books sold. And when you're talking about online sales, Amazon is the gorilla in the library.

This is even more true in the ebook world. Authors who independently publish their books have access to sales figures that traditionally published authors do not, and they are almost unanimously telling us that Amazon/Kindle represents the largest fraction of their sales. The question for any author hoping to sell on Amazon is this: "How do I get my book noticed when there are more than a million others clogging up this site???"

I've got both authors and readers reading this blog, but it's been my experience that devoted readers are fascinated by the process of making a book. (Hence this blog.) Today, we're going to talk about the interesting relationship between Amazon and the authors who hope to sell lots of books there. There have been books written on this topic, and if anybody knows of one they can recommend, please post it in the comments below. Here's a quick overview:

Sales and sales ranking.
If somebody buys your book, your ranking goes up. (And your ranking is calculated by a secret formula that takes into account how many sales your book has had, how recent they were, and how close together those sales occurred. I have seen analyses that purported to explain the ranking system, but I'm not convinced that anybody really knows how it's done.) The higher your book's rank, the more likely it is to be recommended to other shoppers. You've seen this. You're browsing through Amazon and you see a box that says, "You might like this book," or "Others who bought similar books bought," or whatever. Amazon's computers used that book's ranking, among other things, to choose which book to show you. This is free advertising, folks. I wonder how much it would cost you to pay Amazon for it. Egad.

Sales ranking also determines where your book appears in search results, and I presume it's a factor when Amazon sends out emails promoting books. (I just love it when somebody tells me they got one of those with my book in it.)

Unfortunately, you can only buy so many of your own books, so you can't influence your sales rank too much.

I've only recently become aware of tags. You have to scroll waaaayyyy down a book's page to find them. They're simply a way for anyone with an Amazon account to describe a book to other shoppers. You'll see books tagged with words like "mystery," "thriller," "legal," "historical," and so on. You also might see one tagged with an author that might be considered similar. Then, when a shopper is searching for that author, the tagged book can be included in the search results, or it might be recommended to someone who has already bought books by that author. As you can imagine, being tagged as similar to Stephen King or John Grisham or J.K. Rowling is like money in the bank.

Amazon reviews are a hot topic of conversation among authors. They are very important, but we don't really understand why. Just because SuzieQ really liked a book and gave it 5 stars doesn't mean I'll like it. Because I don't even know who SuzieQ is! However, it appears that many shoppers do care what SuzieQ thinks and that her 5 star reviews sell books. Even more important, unprovable (I think) scuttlebutt says that Amazon uses 5-star and only 5-star reviews to decide who gets those priceless recommendations on the site. So if you loved a book and give it a 4-star review because you're a reasonable person and you didn't think it was perfect, that review doesn't help that author nearly as much as you might hope. It doesn't make sense, but I'm told it's true. And I know for a fact that a particular website that promotes ebooks will not promote a book until it has 5 5-star reviews.

So...what does this all mean for readers and writers? Heck if I know. Let's talk about it and see what we can figure out. In the meantime, if you're the kind of person who likes to game systems, let's look at what we've learned about how to help a book achieve greatness on Amazon. If there's a book or an author (and maybe that author is yourself) that you'd like to help, here are some options:

1. Buy it. (Duh...) Unfortunately, this costs money.

2. Review it and give it 5 stars. It costs nothing, and it only takes a minute if you've already got an Amazon account. It doesn't have to say much more than, "This book rocks." Sadly, you don't even have to have read it, which takes me back to the question of why shoppers pay attention to those reviews. The important thing is the 5-star rating.

3. Tag it. This costs nothing, and it only takes seconds. Click on tags that you think describe the book. Create tags, especially the names of bestselling authors of similar work.

At this point, I'm tempted to give you links to my entire ouerve, but I've got eleven titles on Amazon. So I'll just post one link to my new environmental thriller, Wounded Earth, which is currently available on Kindle and which will be available as a trade paperback sometime this month.

Yesterday's blog post on ebooks was my most-read ever, by a factor of two, so there are a lot of you out there. If I wake up tomorrow and find that Wounded Earth has acquired a host of reviews and tags, I'll know that you all read this far. And if there are people reading this who would like to post links to their own books in the comments below, go to town. I won't stop you.

Oh, and if you look to the right, you'll see Amazon links for every one of my mysteries... :-D

Happy reading,
Mary Anna

Monday, February 7, 2011

Reporting on the ebook revolution...

This blog is about the process of getting a story out of an author's brain and into yours. That's what the subtitle says--"sometimes you don't really want to know how books are made" and we all know that the purpose of a subtitle is to explain what the catchy main title actually means.

Anybody who has been paying attention to the publishing world, even peripherally, is aware that ebooks are coming on strong, print publisher are struggling, and behemoth bookstore chains are having trouble paying their bills. Where is all this headed? Are we moving toward the day when paper books are anachronisms?

Well, yes, we probably are. If you watch an episode of the original Star Trek series from the 1960s, you'll see that paper hasn't fit into our image of the future for more than 40 years. (Except for that one episode where Captain Kirk whips out a piece of paper and reveals that his writers were born during WWII, or before.) But I don't think any of us expected books to go out of style within our lifetimes, and now I'm not so sure.

Watching my own young adult children, I see them socialize on the internet. I see them get their entertainment and news on the internet. And then I see them pick up a paper book to read for pleasure. We may be a generation away from Captain Kirk's paperless world. And I don't think you can read an ebook in the bathtub or during the fifth day of a power outage after a hurricane. (Yes, I live in Florida.) Still, if economic forces bankrupt bookstores and print publishers, we may be forced in that direction quicker than we think.

Since I make my living by shoving words around on the page, I've decided to shift my laserlike focus to the world of electronic publishing, and I'm going to take you people with me. If you know people who'd be interested in this little tour, please tweet the link or Facebook it or whatever, because I'd really like to see some conversation between writers and readers and, hopefully, publishers and agents and other industry professionals.

I'll start this process by revealing some of my own sales information. I self-published five electronic books in April of last year--a thriller called Wounded Earth, a mini-collection of three of my previously published short stories called Offerings, and three individual stories, "A Singularly Unsuitable Word", "Mouse House", and "Starch."

I had a lot on my plate last year, so I did no promotion for the ebooks at all. A handful of them sold each month, generating about enough income to cover my Hershey bar habit. Actually, it probably wasn't even that much money.

Last month, I decided it was time to promote the things and, coincidentally, Offerings was recognized by a prominent book blogger as the best anthology of 2010. I sold more ebooks in January through Amazon than I sold in all of 2010. January numbers aren't in yet for Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, and Apple. I expect to see some sales, but far fewer than on Amazon. Based on that, I estimate that my ebooks paid the bill for my cable internet in January. Others are reporting that their ebooks are paying their mortgages, and I plan to get to that point (narrating the process to you people as I go), but any day when my writing is paying my bills is a good day. If I wanted to be a starving artist, I'd have been a musician.

This month, I am putting my money where my mouth is. I hired someone to do a professional redesign of the cover and interior of Wounded Earth, and I bought some ads on sites and newsletters that cater to ebook readers. One of them hit on February 2 and I sold more books that day than I sold in all of the month of January. Recall that I sold more in January than I did in all of 2010. This is what one calls a geometric progression. Please pray with me that it continues...

The businesswoman in me says that I should report net income. I spent money on those ads and that redesign, so I will likely go in the hole for February. However, as I read other writers touting their ebook success, it appears to me that they are mostly reporting gross income, so I shall do the same. And the beauty of ebooks is that, once I recoup the cost of that redesign, they cost me nothing to sell and distribute, so any losses are temporary.

With that in mind, I boldly project that I will gross enough this month to pay the bill for my pricey iphone data plan. February's a short month, so we'll see how it goes. And we'll see how long it takes me to get to that coveted status where those ebooks are paying my mortgage.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The voices in my head...

It's my day to blog over at The Lady Killers, and our topic this week is "Voice."

When I was writing Wounded Earth, I took a correspondence course, so that I could get the story development and editing help of a published author. (This is a step that I highly recommend.)

I still remember getting an assignment back from her. After I'd made a particularly bold narrative statement, she'd written in the margin in orange ink, "What a voice you have!" Now she didn't say it was a great voice, and she didn't say whether or not it was to her taste. But I took her comment to mean that I sounded like myself.

Hop on over to The LadyKillers and see what else I had to say on the subject:

Because if nobody's over there reading it, then I'm just listening to the sound of my own voice...and all those other voices in my head...

Mary Anna

Friday, January 21, 2011

While I wasn't blogging, the world was changing...

...and it's still changing.

I've been a dormant blogger for a few months, because I've had a death in the family and a birth in the family and because both of my book deadlines have been moved.  Twice each.  I'm a little shellshocked.  I hope to get back to blogging regularly, because my topic--how books get made--is a target that just won't sit still.  I've missed you guys.

If you were awake during the Christmas season, you know that Kindles and Nooks and all the other e-readers were the hot gift of 2010.  For those of us whose livelihood depends on generating text for the rest of the world to read, it doesn't really make that much difference where you read it.  In a book or in a magazine or on an e-reader long as we get paid, it's all the same to us. 

It's the "getting paid" part that scares us about this strange new electronic world.  How are people going to find our deathless prose in the deluge of text that is erupting because it is just so easy to publish your work these days without the aid of a publisher?  And it's cheap, too.

I'm still trying to figure out how things are going to work in the publishing business this year, but I know it will be different from last year.  And I know next year will be different yet again.

I've been stumbling around the book biz since late 2002, and I've seen some astonishing changes. Some of them are tragic. I estimate that I've signed at 75 independent bookstores in that time, and I also estimate that at least 25 of them are gone.

The rise of ebooks and ereaders has been staggering, as well. I feel that I should be spending all my time tracking that trajectory and trying to figure out how my books and I fit in, but there is the problem of needing to write the next book. In fact, I should be writing that book instead of doing this.  It is a conundrum.

The emergence of book bloggers as a powerhouse in the publishing industry, however, is what is on my mind today. All those voices, all those individuals who are promoting books just because they want to, not because they're employed by a review journal--they're starting to add up into something I don't think we've seen before.

My traditionally published books from Poisoned Pen Press get good reviews from both traditional reviewers and the book blog community, and that's great. My sales show it. But I have a some ebooks that I published myself for the sheer love of it--a thriller called Wounded Earth, a mini-anthology called Offerings, and several short stories. They're not going to get the attention of traditional reviewers but, this week, Offerings got the attention of some influential book bloggers and the results are remarkable.

Red Adept  named OFFERINGS the #1 Short Story Collection of 2010, and my sales took a noticeable bump upward, dipping in and out of the Top 100 mystery anthologies on Amazon. (And that's in all books, not just Kindle books.)

Then, today, the ladies at featured OFFERINGS on their blog.  Its monthly sales had doubled before breakfast, and I woke up to find it ranked as the #20 mystery anthology on all of Amazon. Since breakfast, it has risen to #10.  Amazing.

Is this making me rich?  No.  It will probably generate enough income enough for me to take my daughter to McDonald's a few times this month, which would be terrible for our arteries if I actually did it.  But today's events show me the potential that is out there, if the right blogger champions my work at the right time. 

How am I going to make that happen?  Heck if I know.  But it's encouraging enough that I'm willing to keep trying.

Mary Anna