Sunday, 3 November 2013

New KDP Select option - Kindle Countdown Deals (and what I think this means)

A few days ago I was notified by Amazon about a new promotion scheme for customers in KDP Select. It's called Kindle Countdown Deals and the details of it can be found here.

Up until now, KDP Select books (that is, books enrolled in the KDP Select program which are not allowed to be sold anywhere other than Amazon for a three month term) could be set free for up to five days per enrollment period.

A lot has been said about the diminishing returns of free promos. A lot of noobs come to the table and think that getting a couple of hundred downloads is great, because every one of those will be read, right?

Nope. A fraction at best will be read, and you're looking at a review per 1000 or so free downloads, and it might not be a nice one.

The reward used to be the huge knock-on sales you'd get from the promotion because of the increased visibility of your book. Then Amazon tweaked the algorithms so that your book got little to no additional visibility at all. It went straight back to being unseen, and the sole benefit of free promos was if your promotion was the first book in a series.

Now, this new promotion allows you to reduce the price of your book to as much as $0.99 yet still make 70% profit, and it will be promoted on a special area of the site with a timer showing how long the deal has left to run. The page is here.

An author whose book is in Select can only choose one option or the other in each enrollment period.

So, what do I think about this?

I think it's great.

Not particularly for what it is, because I'm pretty sure that it won't help me sell any extra books. What I do think it will do is drastically reduce the number of freebies, meaning those books which are perma-free will get a lot more visibility on the best, um, seller lists. I'm not the greatest mathematician in the world but if 50% of the books enrolled in Select go for the Countdown Deal option then that means they'll be 50% less books clogging up the free lists. If I have a perma-free listed at #10 in a Top 100 category then perhaps it might be listed at #5 without shifting any extra copies. Of course, theoretically it should then begin to shift more copies because its higher up the list and has better visibilty.

Free is an incredibly powerful marketing tool but when everyone is doing it it loses its effectiveness. I'm very much of the opinion that 80% of self-published authors are flash-in-the-pans, as in they're either pure hobbyists or they're get-rich-quick types, meaning they'll publish one book, fail to sell any copies, and give up. Good. I don't care about those people because I'm in the careerist boat, and the less competition the better. I had a look on Amazon today and there were 63,200 new ebooks published in the last 30 days. Holy crap that's a lot of books. I'd be quite happy if 50,000 of those authors never published another book, but even if they don't, those 50,000 books are still floating around, making it more difficult for people to find mine. And that's just in the last month.

The only free options I see as viable these days are perma-frees. There is a possibility that after the completion of the Tube Riders series the first book might be made perma-free in order to advertise the rest of the series. If the Kindle Countdown Deals promotion takes a few thousand other dystopian young adult ebooks over on to some other bestseller list, then that leaves a bit more room for mine.

So, in my rambling way, that's what I think about it.

How about you? All comments are welcome as always.

Chris Ward
3rd November 2013

Monday, 21 October 2013

Why writers write series

First up, I'd like to say that I neither particularly enjoy writing series nor reading them. Nor am I in any way telling you that you have to write one in order to succeed at self publishing. Being the kind of writer who tends to do what he wants regardless of whatever anyone else is doing (or you can substitute that for "poor"!), I have a love and hate relationship with series.

Once, many years ago, I refused to ever write a sequel. Then I wrote Tube Riders, and realised that while the story ended it was only part of a larger story, which has now been expanded into a trilogy (due for imminent release - I hope ...) with the possibility of further books in the same world. So I broke my own rule, and I chastise myself every day. However, its a cool story, and I'm hoping that finally, after two years, I might make some money from self-publishing when the next two series books come out. Then I can go back to writing standalones that no one reads ...

So I love them and I hate them. But, however you feel, there are several reasons why writing a series is a good way to be successful (read in that make sales and money), and why many self-published writers do nothing else.

1. Never underestimate the power of a sequel.

Basically, if you have a good first book, a large percentage of people will want to read the sequel. And the second sequel, and the third. Of course, if your first book is a bag of toss then it won't matter how good your sequels are. Saying that though, self-publishing is littered with one star reviews on second and third books in a series saying something along the lines of "even though the first one sucked, I bought the second/third/fifteenth to see if it got better. It didn't." Sucks to get a bad review, but you'll be several dollars richer for every muppet like this who comes along.

2. Readers love familiarity

There is a reason why millions of trad writers have recurring characters in their books, even though when you really look deeply at how that character is constructed there's often very little to set them apart from any other random person. I love a good Agatha Christie, but I've read a couple of Poirots where he doesn't show up until halfway through, and even then it's almost as an afterthought. You could replace him with any other random inspector who could do the same thing, but it wouldn't be the same and it wouldn't have the same mass appeal. It's branding. Go to your bookshelf and pick up a couple of books that have recurring characters. Try to jot down what they say or do differently to any other person, what sets them apart. For many there will be something, sure. But for others, all you've got is a name, but that's power.

3. You can work the free book system.

Amazon Select used to be a goldmine. Like everything else I've done in life I came into it after the goldrush was over, when it was about to go belly up. What used to happen was that you gave away 30,000 free copies over a few days, and while you'd get a few asshole one star reviews for your kindness you'd also a couple of thousand post-free sales because of the increased visibility. Now, you just get the asshole reviews, because Amazon has tweaked their systems so that you don't get any extra visibility at all. So on a standalone book Select is basically a waste of time, unless it's so good that people will go stumbling out into the street in the dead of night to tell people about it. However, when you have a series you can hammer that first book, or even get it set perma free (you have to publish it for free elsewhere and hope Amazon price-matches - this is what I've done with the sampler for Tube Riders) and make your money off the sequels. This is how many big selling indies are making their money.

4. You can afford to take an advertising hit.

There are few sites where you'll make money from an advertisement. Even most of the better websites are a case of pay $20, make $10 from sales, but if you have sequels you have afford to take those hits, because the sequels sales will make up for it.

5. You always have something to write about.

So, your trilogy is done and dusted. But is it? What about the prequel, or the spinoff featuring a couple of minor characters, or the new trilogy featuring the kids of the first lot of characters? When you write a series you do more than just tell a story, you build a world. And the stories you can get out of that world are infinite. And because it's connected to your first series, it has the same appeal to fans of those books. It's names and branding all over again.

So, there you are. Some reasons why writing a series can be successful. Feel free to add any more you think I've missed in the comments below.

And if you want to see how badass my own series is, download the free sampler of Tube Riders (22 chapters) here.

Chris Ward
21st October 2013

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Fighting through the low times

There comes a point during any self-publisher's journey where you start to doubt yourself. Am I really as good as I think I am? Am I really in the right profession? Should I just give up and try something else?

It's an easy situation to be in, particularly when you're surrounded by people doing a whole lot better than you are. It's easy to let the bitterness slip in, to feel aggrieved or frustrated at someone else's success, particularly when you can't understand why you're unable to replicate it.

There could be a number of reasons why someone is more successful than you.

They might have more books out.

They might have a large friends/family network all wanting to blog/Tweet/Facebook them to give them a chance to get off the ground.

They might have really good books, the kind where someone reads it and just has to tell everyone they know.

They might be writing in a more popular genre.

They might be incredibly business savvy, incredibly hardworking, or incredibly adept at knowing what kind of covers, blurb or pricing works best.

They might be very, very lucky.

A lot of writers say they feel no bitterness, envy or jealously towards other writers. Some of them might be telling the truth. Many will be lying. If you're making a thousand dollars a month it's a lot easier to not feel jealous of someone making $2000, but if you're writing/marketing three hours a day for $10 on a good month, it's a lot easier to feel that frustration, that "why not me?" feeling.

September marks the 18-month mark of my self-publishing adventure. I've published 31 different items under four different pen names, including three full-length novels, half a dozen novellas and several collections of short stories. I even have one work of non-fiction (but it's a secret!)

I've sold roughly 1800 books, more or less 100 a month, which is far, far better than many thousands of indie writers, who are probably going green with envy right now and can only dream of the kind of success I've so far attained. I hope so, I really do.

That's a joke, kind of. I've not made any money. So far this September, only 4 of my 31 titles have registered a paid sale. I think, at the time of writing, I'm still a little in the red.

I work on my books in the majority of my free time, roughly three hours a day on average. That's a lot of time to spend on not making any money (okay, I could be watching TV, which is much worse).

Why don't I make any money? Firstly, I plow it back in. As I got more sales, I invested in better covers, editors, proofreaders. All my novels are now going through a formatter, because I'm not happy just having an uploaded Word document, I want my books to look pro. I want there to be no distinction between my work and say, Stephen King's (although for the most part, my books are a lot shorter ...). I want my books to be awesome inside and out. I'm a complete computer illiterate, so it's easier to farm these tasks out. But that costs a little money.

I've built up a firm base. I have a decent if unspectacular social media platform, and a solid, well-reviewed backlist.

Yet still the doubts creep in. In March or so I gave up doing free promotions on novels. What used to happen was in exchange for some douchebag review or two you'd end up with 50 - 100 sales if you gave enough copies away. It was enough to massage the bank account a little, although the bad reviews always used to hurt. Doesn't matter how many five-star reviews you get, those one-stars really sting.

Suddenly things became hard. Getting reviews was difficult, getting on bargain book promo sites was tricky, getting any sales at all without reducing the price was near impossible. August was my worst sales month since my first, which was only four days long.

Then a couple of days ago I got rejected by a pretty piddly promotion site, after labouring for six months to try to get the prerequisite number of reviews.

I wanted to bury my head in the sand. Am I ever going to get anywhere doing this? Surely after 18 months I deserve a break?

I wanted to get bitter, I wanted to get resentful. I wanted to stand up on a rooftop somewhere and shout, GOD DAMN IT! WHY AREN'T I SELLING ANY BOOKS?? MY BOOKS ROCK BUT NO ONE WILL BUY THEM!! ARE YOU PEOPLE CRAZY??

Or something like that. Then I realised. No one owes me shit. Not Amazon, not other authors, not friends or family. It's just me, and it's all up to me. And that list of stuff other people are doing that makes them sell better? Not my problem. My problem is my books, and my books only.

You have to fight through the bad times. You have to get proactive and not turn into one of the whiny little pricks you find in places like the KDP Forums, the kind that will go and one-star more successful authors just to feel better about themselves. I've never done it, but I've had it happen to me, and it sucks.

You might be struggling to stay afloat in a sea of internal negativity, but you HAVE TO DO IT. DO NOT GIVE UP. You have to reach and reach and reach for that olive branch of positive energy that's dangling over you and haul yourself up it on to dry land.

Here's what you have to do.

1. Write more books. Obvious, but so true. No one can totally control the market, but one thing you can do is keep churning out those words, and the more books you have out the more chance you have of having one take off.

2. Become a better writer. All I ever here is "how can I sell books?", when you should be asking, "How can I write better books?" The same way as with everything else. LEARN. Buy study guides, listen to advice from other writers, watch online lectures, practice. You want to be so good that anyone who buys one of your books has no choice but to buy all the others.

3. Get proactive about marketing.

Research. Try new places. Bust ass looking for reviewers. There are huge lists of review bloggers out there, you just have to contact them. You need five reviews to get on Bookblast, eight for Kindle News and Tips, 10 for Ereader News Today. Stepping stones. Take one at a time, gradually lifting yourself up.

4. Relax.

Okay, I couldn't really think of anything interesting to write for number four, but you need to remember that unless you're like 95 and you're expecting to die in the next week or so, it's not a race. You have lots of time. Many traditional writers took decades before they were able to give up the day job. You have all the advantage - no production schedule, no one rejecting your proposal or telling you to write your book over from scratch or to write something different in another genre. YOU are the master. YOU CHOOSE what gets published and when. It's the perfect situation.

Through most of July and August I was busting my ass getting the final Tube Riders book done. Now that's been drafted, I have a little more time to address marketing and see if I can't figure out what to do about my plummeting sales.

What I've been doing -

I set up Goodreads giveaways for two of my paperbacks. This is a way to get more visibility for your books and to potentially get more reviews.

I've done some research into online markets, and I've spent a bit of money here and there. Not much, $10 here, $10 there, trying to get a bit more visibility.

I've tweeted and blogged more (hello!). I've linked my blogs on Stumbledupon and tweeted them.

I've set up a Facebook ad for one of my books, which I put on special price.

I printed out a bunch of photographs of my book covers, and during a recent trip back to England I "strategically" placed them in potentially beneficial locations. For example, the next person to use my seat on the airline I took will find a Tube Riders bookmark inside his in-flight magazine. Not sure if it'll help, but you have to think outside the box sometimes.

What have been the results?

Well, nothing spectacular, but yesterday I sold four books. That's four more than I sold the day before. I can't be sure that had anything at all to do with my renewed efforts, but it felt like it did.

And sometimes that's enough.

Don't let the bitterness take hold. If you've decided you're in this for the long haul then stop stressing about today or yesterday's sales. Think about where you want your sales to be in 2015.

Fight through the low times. If you keep writing, they'll pass.

Chris Ward
September 23rd 2013

Friday, 20 September 2013

What does a Createspace book look like? Part 2

I have an extremely popular blog that gets a lot of hits every day about what a Createspace book looks like. Even nearly a year and a half on I get emails from people about it, but its starting to look a bit dated now, so I thought I'd give an update, as my books really don't look like that anymore.

The book featured on my original blog here was done at a cost of $120 (for the rights to use the photo, but everything was my own work. Interestingly enough, the books you will see in the pictures below, whole taking longer to produce, actually cost a little less. The benefits of experience ....

Here's my stack of paperbacks which I bought for some Goodreads giveaways. The covers for both books were done by Su Halfwerk at Novel Prevue and cost $60 each for the ebook covers and the paperback covers together. I have worked with Su several times now and would thoroughly recommend her. She is very reasonably priced, fast, and loves the challenge of wading through my endless requests to get the cover I want. Each cover she does for me is better than the last and I look forward to working with her again in the future.

You can see from my careful thumb placement the width of the spine, 1.8cm to be precise. Head of Words is 96,000 words and this paperback edition came to 308 pages. With these dimensions I am about to sell it for $7.99 and make roughly a dollar profit. 

This is the front. I used Createspace's standard 6 x 9 inch format. I've experimented with different sizes but the price is calculated on page length regardless of height so obviously the less pages there are the cheaper you can price it and/or the more profit you can make. My book The Tube Riders, for example, is 600 pages long, and priced at $17.99. I make about 20 cents profit so its hardly worth thinking about.

This is inside the front cover. For these two books I upgraded on the formatting and hired Suzie O'Connell from Welman Creek Books, who was recommended by a friend. For $50 she added some interesting detail to the chapter headings and the front inside cover, taking the original design of the outer cover and using the same style. I was very pleased and now it looks really professional. Createspace's in-house charges are very expensive but with a little shopping around you get get a really good deal. I don't sell many paperbacks but they're now in place hopefully forever.

Some of the internal detail that Suzie did for me, including interesting chapter headings and dropped capitals at the start of the first line.

Here's a little of the inside of The Man Who Built the World, with some little graphics and the header at the top. For these books the font is Garamond size 11. In my previous post I was using Times New Roman, which I have since discovered is designed for newspaper columns. Apparently two of the most popular fonts to use for books are Garamond and Baskerville. I actually found that with a long book, Garamond came in at quite a bit shorter than Times New Roman. The Tube Riders shrank from 624 pages to 584, meaning, of course, that I could lower the price a little.

Anyway, I hope these pictures are helpful. As always, any comments or questions are welcome. If you want to make sure you get my future blogs then please sign up for the mailing list on the top right.

Chris Ward
20th September 2013

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Talent vs Hard Work

It's been a while since I last posted so apologies for that. I've been hard at work on the last book in my Tube Riders series and I've not had much time for anything else (except work and feeding the cat).

This morning, over breakfast, I was reading a bit of The Angel's Game by Carlos Luiz Zafon (an excellent writer), and I came to an interesting passage which I think pretty much summed up value (or lack of it) of talent on its own.

In the book, you have the main character, a writer, David Martin, explaining a few things to Isabella, a teenager, whom supposedly has talent and wants to be his assistant in exchange for him mentoring her as a writer. Just after David has finished reading twenty pages of her manuscript, Isabella is keen to know if she has talent. This is what David says to her:

"I think you are talented and passionate, Isabella. More than you think and less than you expect. But there are a lot of people with talent and passion, and many of them never get anywhere. This is only the first step in achieving anything in life. Natural talent is like an athlete's strength. You can be born with more or less ability, but nobody can become an athlete because he or she was born tall, or strong, or fast. What makes the athlete, or the artist, is the work, the vocation and the technique. The intelligence you are born with is just ammunition. To achieve with it you need to need to transform your mind into a high-precision weapon."

What he is saying is that it doesn't matter how talented you are, if you don't put in the hard work you won't get anywhere with it. Just like every other writer, I often come into contact with people who tell me they can write, some who even look down their nose at me for writing my supposedly simple genre fiction (most of whom have never actually read any of it, I might add). The fact is, though, is that I'm writing, publishing and selling, and they're not. The world is ram-packed with so-called writers lauding their apparent talent, but talent is only a tiny part of being successful. The way to become a successful writer (or artist, or sportsman, or pretty much anything else) is simple:

Bust your balls.

That's it. Work your ass off and you'll get there. We all have different definitions of success. For some it might be finishing a single story. For others it might be selling a single story to some unknown ezine or small press. For others it'll be selling it to a professional magazine or to a major traditional publisher. Others consider success to be self-publishing a novel making hundreds of dollars on Amazon. For me, being a full time writer is my baseline for success. I have a decent enough job which pays my rent and allows me a couple of vacations a year, but to be a full time writer I would need to be earning a minimum of $2000 a month, a sum I've still not made in total in 18 months (although I'm close ;-) ). Earning that sum per month would allow me to survive full time and allow me to feel fully justified in telling all the doubters to shove their heads up their doubting asses. However, I know writers who make that sum PER DAY and don't feel like they've achieved any real level of success. It's all down to you.

What is certain though, is that you won't achieve anything with just talent. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don't get your ass on a seat and churn out some words day after day AFTER DAY, and then spend day after day after day trying to sell and promote those words, your chance of success is the same as finding a diamond in a garbage dump.

That is all. Work hard and don't give up.

Back to the WIP ...

Chris Ward
15th August 2013

Friday, 5 July 2013

Don't cut corners

Most people are quite happy to throw their spare cash wantonly on whatever whim they feel like, be it clothes, beers, cigarettes, eating out, entertainment ... yet for some reason, when it comes to self-publishing, suddenly people "can't afford" editing, proofreading, decent cover design, formatting ... can't afford to pay to advertise, can't afford to do pretty much anything, in other words.

From reading many writers forums you'd be forgiven for believing that all self-published writers are poverty-stricken, bridge dwellers who have to make daily decisions between which they need most, coffee or cigarettes.

Of course some might be one step away from the dole queue, but most aren't. Most have exactly the same amount of disposable income as anyone else, but when it comes to putting money into their books there seems to be an unnatural aversion to it.


Perhaps because it is possible to self-publish for free, many writers think that spending money on it is money wasted. Perhaps they don't feel their work is deserving of it. Or perhaps, like I did when I started out, they feel that they don't need to. They think they're good enough to carry it all by themselves.

A few days ago I got this review -

Not a bad story, shame about lack of a definitive ending to allow the sequals.

Does need a bit of proofing with a few words missing (but you can tell what is implied) and a few plurals missing their S.

Don't get me started on the comment - there's no more a cliffhanger in that book than there is in Star Wars, and I've never seen anyone complain about that. Nor that the review was posted by an indie author who managed to spell the world "sequel" wrong, but whatever. What's important is that if you cut corners in the beginning it will come back to haunt you.

I'm an English teacher by profession. I'm halfway through a MSc in Linguistics. I felt I could catch anything, felt I didn't need anyone to help me.


Tube Riders, the book in question, has since had a paid professional edit and I'm quite confident there are none of the errors the reviewer talks about. However, since I was stupid enough to go the Amazon KDP Select free promos route for a while (against my better judgement and something that, for novels at least, I now regret) there are some 8000 copies of Tube Riders out there in various states of repair.

Freebie hunters are notorious for not reading the books they horde, but at any point such a review could jump up and bite me. And while genuine readers rarely mention actually textual errors, indie author "reviewers", the bane of new writers everywhere, take an almost sadistic pride in pointing out the errors of their fellow writers.

It doesn't matter that Tube Riders is now in good shape. That review is up there and there's nothing I can do about it. I'm not about to start adding "newly corrected version" at the top of my book listings page because there's nothing that screams "amateur!" louder.

However, if I'd been wise enough not to trust myself in the first place and got a paid edit of Tube Riders done before I first published it, I wouldn't be in this position.

So, think about it before you put your masterpiece out into the world for public criticism. You don't have to pay a fortune - the edit for Tube Riders cost me about $200 - but getting a professional pair of eyes to look over it can make all the difference. I might never know how many readers have been turned off by reading such reviews about Tube Riders, but I do know is that it would have been easy to avoid getting those reviews in the first place.

Don't cut corners.

Chris Ward
July 5th 2013

Sunday, 23 June 2013

How to set up a Facebook author page

It is absolutely essential for all indie authors to have some kind of an online media presence. The easiest place to start, of course, is Facebook. If you're like me, pretty much everyone you know will have a Facebook page, and it is on Facebook that you'll be able to find a lot of new fans. It's also a good, user-friendly place for them to find and interact with you.

However, unless your current Facebook friends have the patience of saints (my don't - drunken confessions have informed me that I'm on quite a few blocked lists ...!) then you'll want to set up a separate page for your author name, your series, or even a major character. While your friends and family might be a good place to start in the hunt for fans and sales, they'll quickly get bored of hearing about it ... All. The. Time. Creating a separate Facebook page allows real fans to come to you without you resorting to annoying those close to you with endless posts about your books.

And it's easy as pie to do. Here I'll demonstrate while setting up a Facebook page for my latest alter-ego, village cricket short story writer, Michael White.

First of all, log in to Facebook and then go to this link to select the type of page you want to set up.

You can choose whatever type you want but for an author it's probably best to go with public figure.

Click on Choose a Category and you'll see Author in the drop down menu.

Now, give your page a name (I went with the wonderfully clunky Michael White Cricket Fiction Writer, check the terms box and then click Get Started.

Next you come to the screen below which asks for a few details.

Here you also have the option to add a external blog, website or Twitter account if you have one. For the question at the bottom I check "no" because Michael White is a pen name. I think this box is for fan sites for celebrities, but if you are the person in question then it's perfectly okay to check "yes".

When you're done, click Save Info.

You'll come to this page.

You can choose whether to add a profile picture now or later. I added a stock photo of a cricket pitch which I bought for the covers of Michael White's short stories. You can change your profile pic anytime, though. When you're done, click Save Photo or Skip to go to the next page.

The next screen gives you the option to choose the Facebook address for your page. This is the link you can use in your books to send people to your Facebook page.

I went with the one they suggested. When you're happy with it, click Set Address.

You'll be taken to your completed page.

Facebook will automatically highlight the Like button so you can be the first person to like your page, and then the area where you can invite your friends to like it.

You're finished! Now all you have to do is add stuff to your page, share it to get Likes and start posting. If you're ready for something a little more complicated, you can set up an Amazon Store for your books in the toolbar. Click here for my guide to doing it.

See, told you it was easy. Enjoy!

Any questions or comments are welcome in the comments section below. And if anyone wants to give Michael White's brand new page some love, here's the link.

Chris Ward
June 23rd 2013

Saturday, 22 June 2013

On maintaining discipline

One year ago, on June 20th to be precise, I took the decision to take my potential career by the horns and pull my writing finger out and use it for what it's for - writing.

From the age of 18 to the age of 33 (as I was then) I had written eight manuscripts, about 80 short stories, and dozens of half-finished novels in a variety of genres. Some of the canned pieces were 100,000 words in length.

When I started self-publishing in January 2012 I immediately saw it as a potential career, providing I took it seriously and did what needed to be done to make my dream a reality.

18 months down the line I'm still not a professional writer but I sell almost every day and have made 100 plus sales a month for six months in a row, a far cry from the 20 sales (if I was lucky) I was making per month this time last year.

Part of that was due to understanding that I needed to increase my output. You can't sell books that you haven't written.

So I pulled my finger out. I deleted the internet connection from the computer I was using to write on, and set up a spreadsheet to keep a tab of my progress.

The result -

370,150 new words, at an average of 1014 per day, or 1234 pages (what a lovely number) in twelve months. At 80,000 words for an average thriller novel that's the equivalent of four and a half novels, or more than one every quarter.

Most traditionally published novelists put out a book every year or so. In the ebook world you are quickly forgotten if you don't keep up the production schedule and continue to build and grow your audience. As a good writing friend of mine says, you're either shrinking or growing.

Just to put things in perspective, I'm not a full time writer. I have a day job, and I also work part time. Some days I leave the house at 7.30 a.m. and get home at 10 p.m. I'm also married, play in a rock band and take part in various community events. I'm not exactly overburdened with free time.

Yet I still managed to write more than four novels in a year. How?


I don't watch TV. TV is rot for the soul. I hate it and the fact that it exists purely to fill bored, tired minds with junk between work and sleep. So that was easy to give up.

The other thing I cut back on was my social life. I still go out on occasion, but I used to go out every weekend. The fact was, that time I was sitting in a pub shooting the shit was time I could spend writing. I also cut back on a lot of hobbies. I used to do loads of stuff - climbing mountains, snowboarding, playing cricket. I still do some (because what is writing without life?) but I cut back so I could spend more time on something that I hope will be my career. In ideal circumstances, in a couple of years I'll be able to quit my day job and take up all my hobbies again. That would certainly be worth the sacrifice.

So, in short, what I'm trying to say with this, is that if you have genuine aspirations to be a writer, then you have to get disciplined. Stop expecting to sell tons and tons within a few days of release. It DOES happen, but it HARDLY EVER happens. Ideally, don't expect to sell a single copy for the first three years, then bust your gut getting as many high quality books out as possible. In the long run it'll be worth it.

That's all for now. More instructional stuff coming soon!

Chris Ward
June 22nd 2013

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

What Makes a Good Character and Avoiding Steve Syndrome

(Note: Originally published on my main blog, A Million Miles From Anywhere in November 2012. Apologies to readers who've seen this before - this is it's new home and I'll be bringing you new content soon)

What makes a good character?

I’ve been reading a couple of books recently (yes, really) and a couple of thoughts came to mind regarding characters, their development, and the empathy readers have with them.

In one book I read a few months ago, a YA dystopia, the male lead’s only recognizable feature was his spiky hair. On top of this he appears to be good-looking.  No surprise there. The female lead is a teenage girl who appears to be Bella out of Twilight with a different name. Several reviewers have mentioned “great characters”. Um, why? The guy is a TV presenter transposed into a sci-fi novel. The girl is a high-school girl of regular attractiveness and intelligence who will obviously at some point get with the guy. There’s nothing at all that makes either of them special or makes them stand out.

And perhaps here we have the answer.

Do readers, particularly young adult readers, merely want a character that they can pretend to be? So that they can pretend to be in the book itself, interacting with the other characters as if they were real?

Another recent book I read, an acknowledged sci-fi classic, had a review bemoaning the lack of character development. The book was set on a foreign planet, and revolved around a guy finding out what was going on in his world. Which he did, and it was great. Why would I need the guy to have some kind of big change in his life? The story wasn't just about the guy, it was about the whole world around him.

Another issue I have is with empathy. Matt Cassidy, the central character in The Man Who Built the World (that's him looking miserable on the cover), is an alcoholic, borderline wife-beater who hates pretty much everything. He’s intentionally detestable, in fact I went out of my way to give him no redeeming features. The point of the book is such that through his story you discover why he is how he is, and whether he can find redemption. You're not supposed to like him.

I once had a blogger pull out of reviewing the book because they couldn’t identify with him. While I fully respect the reviewer’s opinion this pleased me in a certain way because I don’t want my readers to identify with him. I want them to pity or hate or be repulsed by him.

I don’t write books with swimwear models or high school nice guys for characters. If you find one, you can be sure he or she won’t last long. Charles de Molay, star of my favorite of my unpublished novels, Hooks, is a cripple. Dan Barker in Head of Words is a nutjob.  Even the Tube Riders have their issues. Marta - the only one close to being good-looking, hardly ever gets to wash and her dreadlocks are a case of more grime than intention. Switch has, for want of a better expression, a fucked up eye, and Paul is balding and overweight. It’s not just about their looks, either, but their actions.  In a lot of books nothing seriously bad ever happens to the main characters, or they never do anything bad, take your pick. In Tube Riders, Marta sleeps with guys to pay her rent (or at least she did before the book starts). Paul does even worse. Switch kills without thinking whether his victim deserved it or not.

A reviewer recently said my book contained “real people”. This was perhaps the biggest compliment someone could ever give me. It doesn't matter if they liked it or not, they gotit.  In real life people don’t always do the right thing, and they certainly aren’t always good-looking. For every Che Guevara (cool enough to spawn a billion t-shirts) or Aung Sung Suu Kyi (gorgeous - at least in her youth, damn) there are hundreds of thousands of 'heroes' that are nothing much to look at. It is totally possible for someone who isn’t cool or an oil painting to have an adventure, to be a hero.

So what do I think makes a good character?

I used to suffer from something I call Steve Syndrome. I would have a couple of main characters who were more distinctive then everyone else would be a Steve (apologies to anyone called Steve!). This would be a character who had no real features or definition and often a generic name (the first character I identified as having this problem, in my third novel, Resort, was called Steve - hence the name). In Tube Riders, both Paul and Simon were originally Steves.  Marta and Switch were always pretty well-defined, but I had to make a real effort to make Simon and Paul distinct. Paul I made fat and more unattractive, while with Simon I went the other way, making him more feminine, almost androgynous.

Therefore, the first thing that I believe is important is memorability (is that even a word?!). A good character has to be memorable. And not just by having a cute smile - that’s not memorable, it’s generic - they have to have some feature or mannerism (or both) which makes them stand out.  It doesn’t have to be good, and it doesn’t have to be bad.

Also extremely important is voice. People talk differently. Some people swear, some people don’t.  Some people say certain words more often than others. Some people talk in long sentences, others talk in short, clipped phrases. You should (within reason) be able to write a three- or four- way dialogue without using any identifying dialogue tags yet still have the reader know who is speaking each time. If you can do that, you’ve got it.

Also very important to me (as you’ll notice from my character descriptions above) is flaws. I hate good-looking, perfect characters. Boooorrrriing. Have you ever met anyone who was perfect? (Actually, I have met a couple of people who were, and god they were dull).  Perfect characters are only allowed in comedy, because their very perfection can make them hilarious (see my novella series, Beat Down!, for an example).

So what do people think? Obviously few people agree with me. I’ve sold roughly 1000 books this year so far. How many has Stephanie Meyer sold? A billion? Even the book I was complaining about above has probably sold double what I've sold. So, I’m likely wrong (except in my own head of course!), but I’d love to hear your ideas on what you think makes a good character.

June 19th 2013
(originally published 27 Nov 2012)

Saturday, 8 June 2013

How to add an Amazon Store to your Facebook Page

Take a quick look at my Facebook page. There, next to the Mailing List is a button saying "Store".

If you click on this button you go to this page, where you can see all of my books -

Why is this awesome? Well, not only can my fans easily view my bookstore and click the links to go straight to the Amazon page for each book, but the links go through my affiliate account so any purchases make me a few extra pennies.

Personally I think this is really cool, and it's pretty easy to do. In this blog I'll tell you how.

First of all, big thanks to Phyllis Zimbler Miller for this guide and YA author Elle Casey for posting this information on this thread on Kindleboards. This is basically a pictorial step-by-step guide comprised of this information.

To do this, you will need a Facebook page for your writing. That is a proper page, which people "like", not a personal page.

You will also need an Amazon Associates account. If you don't have one, sign up here.

Finally, you will need to add a Static I-Frame to your Facebook page. This is pretty easy, just click this link, the big blue button in the middle and then select the page you want to add it to. Easy.

Once you have your I-frame ready for your Facebook page, log in to your Amazon Associates account and click the "astore" button in the middle of the picture below.

In the sidebar, click on Category Pages.

Then, Add Category Page (please note, there are more options in these pictures than you'll see because I've already set a store up).

Then, Add Products.

On the next screen, choose the field you want to search and then enter your book name or ASIN. Of course, you can create a store for any products you like, not just your own books. You can see the results below when I put in one of my books. Click Add to add any products you wish. They will then appear in the Added Products box.

If you want to order your books in a certain way or add specific text, click on the book in the Added Products box on the left above, and this box will appear -

Add your order or text and click save.

When you've added all the books you wish, click on Back to Category Pages, which is at the bottom of the search results page.

Then click on Continue at the bottom of the first screen.

Next to you come a page where you can decide your colours and design, as well as give your store a name. When you're done, click Continue at the bottom of the page.

The next page you come to allows you to add extra stuff such as side bars, wishlists, and the like. I kept mine simple, but it's up to you. When you're done, click Finish & Get Link at the bottom. You're almost there!

On the next page, select the second option, "Embed my store using an inline frame". Then highlight and copy the link. To make sure your store covers the full screen, edit "width" in the link to say "100".

Now, return to Facebook. If you've already added your inline frame, it'll look like the "Welcome" button below (this is from my pen name's page).

Click it and you'll see this -

Paste the link into the box (deleting the information that you can see above first). You'll then get this rather scary message -

This terrified me, and stumped me for about twenty minutes. Don't worry, simply change "http" to "https" (maybe this is obvious to the computer types out there, but I struggle with the complexity of a typewriter ...!) The red message will immediately disappear. Click Save & Publish (the blue box on the top right) and you're done.

Now all you have to do is edit the button itself. Put your cursor over the button and you'll see a little pencil appear in the top right corner. Click it and you'll see this box -

Click "Edit Settings" and this box will appear. Now you can rename your store or at an icon or picture.

You'll remember from my first picture that I had a nice little icon for my store. This was actually a stock icon I bought from a stock photo website called Pond 5. You can do the same or add a picture of your own. Anything will do.

And you're done! Good luck with your store - I hope many people visit it (and feel free to visit mine anytime!)

Chris Ward
June 8th 2013

Friday, 31 May 2013

Goals and how to motivate yourself

(Please note ... this blog was originally published on my main blog in March 2013. This is it's new home)

Recently had a few indie authors get in touch with me and one thing I've found that many people have in common when they start out is issues with movitivation.

Just as a disclaimer - I'm a lazy bastard. Doing something hardcore like getting up at 5 a.m. in mid-winter to write for two hours before work just isn't going to happen. In general I'd much rather surf Facebook or mess around on YouTube than be productive. I'd been scrapping around for years writing a book here and a book there without ever really getting anywhere.

On the 24th of January 2012, I entered the world of self-publishing for the first time with a short story called Forever My Baby. I was five days shy of my 33rd birthday, and after fifteen years of collecting rejection slips from agents and publishers I decided to give it a crack on my own.

I had seven novels and roughly eighty short stories already written, in various states of repair. I knew that I couldn't just rely on the backlist, though, I would need new material.

When I first pressed that self-publish button I was hellbent on eventually making writing my career. I knew I had the talent - I'd sold thirty odd short stories to magazines, two of them professionally, and Tube Riders came within a whisker of getting an agent - but whether I would have the dedication and the business sense to get anywhere on my own was another thing entirely.

Prior to self-publishing, my writing motivation was at an all time low. In 2011, for example, I wrote perhaps 20,000 words. That's nothing.

When I first started self-publishing, I concentrated on getting out the backlist, a few short stories, a collection, and then Tube Riders in March. The rest of the time I spent doing things like playing around on Twitter and emailing bloggers. In June I decided I needed new material.

Since June 20th last year I've written 325,000 words. It would probably be a lot more but for the last month I've done nothing but editing.

That's the equivalent of three full novels, or roughly a novel every three months. There are guys I know writing a novel a month but those are God-like levels. Three to four novels a year is a pretty solid output for an average mortal like me.


It's an easy answer - goals.

I have dozens of little goals, and each one of them is important, but I don't want to talk about me, I want to talk about what you - the starting out writer - can do to motivate yourself.

The first and foremost rule of setting goals is to keep them attainable. Set yourself stupidly difficult goals and you'll spend all your time frustrated.

As example of a bad goal - last November I was feeling all confident so I took on NaNoWriMo. I took it a step further - I tried to write a 50,000 novel from scratch while carrying on with all my other stuff.

It was a bridge too far.

I started out okay, but a week in my computer broke. I lost 10,000 words, most of them on my NaNo. I started out again, but it just wasn't to be - I had another computer crash and lost another 5000. You guessed it - that was my NaNo. I tried a third time but my motivation was done and I quit. And all the while I was wasting time trying to force myself to rewrite a novel that I was force-writing in the first place, I lost ground on all my other stuff.

Big mistake.

Keep your goals simple.


Wordcounts are the easy one. If you struggle to write 1000 words a day but can quite easily get 600 - 700, set your goal at 500. That way, you'll easily attain it and you'll feel good about yourself. If you set your goal at 1500 and you only make 1200, even though you've actually achieved more, you'll feel like you haven't.

Make a big spreadsheet, and every time you start a new work in progress, put it in and keep a daily tally of the wordcount. Don't limit it to daily, either - have monthly and yearly targets plus targets for each work. If you're like me and usually have five or six different WIPs on the go all at the same time, you'll find that you'll always be within 100 - 200 words of one target or another. Keep pushing to get that extra 100 - 200 words down and then you'll see another little target to aim for. I can easily get 2000 words down by aiming for these little targets.

One other little thing that I cannot say often enough - if you can't touch type, LEARN. It's the one single most useful skill I have. People tell me my writing has really good rhythm - that's because I can type it almost as quickly as I think it. If you're plodding away with two fingers doing ten words a minute - get a program off the internet or take a course. You won't regret it. It takes time to learn - after doing a course in my final year of school - I spent six months with a tea towel draped over my hands while forcing myself to use the correct fingers for each key. It was brutally frustrating, but so, so worth it. So, one more time LEARN TO TOUCH TYPE. Don't um and ah, and mutter about how difficult it is when you start out ... JUST DO IT. Trust me on this ...


Once you've started publishing, set publication goals. Remember to keep them realistic. For example, in 2012 I published 21 items - two novels, one short story collection, two novellas, one novel split into three and a bunch of short stories. My aim for the end of 2013 is to hit 40. I just published item number 25 and I have nos 26, 27, 28 and 29 in the can and ready to go. It'll be a push but with a handful of short stories I should make it. My target for 2014 will probably be 50 - by the end of next year I'll have a lot less backlog and will be relying mostly on new material. Remember - as a self-published author you're not just relying on only new material - you can bump up your publication count by creating packages or bundles. For example, if you have ten short stories, there's no reason why you can't have two collections of five, an omnibus of ten, and then each story individually, all at different prices. Remember, this is business. I don't agree with ripping people off but what you're doing is offering purchasing options while increasing your visibility. Buyers choose whether they want to buy something. As long as your description accurately matches what they're buying, you're not doing anything wrong.

My goals are pretty high but I consider them attainable. Remember to set your own - for example a short story every two months, or a novel every six months, or one novel and two short stories a year. Keep your targets within what you are confident you can achieve.

Marketing Goals

You can pick and choose what these are, depending on your preferred forms of marketing. If you use Facebook a lot, then you can aim at building up your number of likes. I'm currently aiming for 500, mostly by using Facebook ads to target possible readers and then engaging the people that join up as much as possible to make them stay ... for a comprehensive breakdown on how to use Facebook for marketing, study and memorise every word of this excellent post by a good writing buddy of mine, John Daulton. That is the blueprint to using Facebook as an author.

Twitter, also is another one that authors often use. I'm not a big fan, but setting follower goals or tweet goals can be useful. Personally I've had little success through Twitter, mainly because I hate it, but some people swear by it.

Goodreads is my favorite place on the net for marketing. There are tons of things you can do there - set up groups, run events, giveaways, all sorts. One stat I keep an eye on and try to improve is how many users have my books on their to-read shelves. You can get on loads of these by doing paperback giveaways. My target for 2013 is 2000 unique users. Currently it's 1082, but I should make it if I do perhaps one giveaway - of a single book at a time - every two months. This is one of those things that you won't see an immediate sales bump for, but it's part of visibility and its that whole "speculate to accumulate" thing. I currently put about 80% of what I earn into marketing and book stuff - covers, formatting, editing, proofreading.

When you start out, it's best to concentrate most on writing rather than marketing. This post by the very successful thriller writer Robert J. Crane basically sums up why. In short, if you write a book that someone likes, you want them to have a bunch of others to choose from. It's possible to blow up and be a bestseller with one book, but it's rare. You're far more likely to have steady success across ten books.

Sales Targets

My personal favorite - this is where you get the cash. In theory ... Again, be realistic. If you have just one short story out you might be lucky to make a sale a month. I've been there. I have shorts out now that haven't sold a single copy in six months.

As always, keep them reasonable. Of course, when I published Tube Riders last March, I was hoping to have sold 10,000 copies by the end of the year. It didn't happen - but that doesn't mean it won't sell 10,000 this year, or next year. However, putting your money on a sudden boom like this is unrealistic. They happen, but not often. It's far better to look at your overall trends and aim for a gradual improvement as you put your books out.  By August or September last year my target was a sale a day - and it was a struggle, but they gradually came (mostly from hammering Amazon free promos). This year my aim is 100 sales/month. I've managed it four months in a row, mostly through endless free and bargain book promos, some of which are costing me money. Again, speculate to accumulate. If you're a real writer you're in this for the long haul - building up repeat customers over time is of paramount importance.

Long Term Goals

So, what do you want from all this? Do you want to be a pro, or do you just want to make a bit of cash for a year or two? It's all up to you, of course, but again here's another opportunity to set targets.

Mine, of course, are huge. I started this just shy of my 33rd birthday and my goal is to be doing this for a living by the time I'm 40. Seven years. In the interim, my three year goal is to be making $500 a month. I'm currently making about $200, although most of that is going back into the business. I'm not getting rich yet. Still, got to start somewhere ...

As always, look at what you think you can achieve, and keep your goals realistic. I know writers who've been able to quit their day jobs within six months, but out of half a million or so self-published writers that really is like being struck by lightning. It might happen, but it probably won't, so plan according to what you think is attainable.

Well, my hands are getting tired from typing all this, and I apologise for not being one of those bloggers who breaks up blocks of endless text with cute pictures - I could put some book covers in but I think you've seen all those already ... I hope some of you out there find this useful. Feel free to add any comments or link to this blog anywhere you like and if I think of any more information to add I'll update the blog as I get to it. Most of it is pretty basic stuff but you're building your career from the ground up after all ...

Chris Ward
June 1st 2013
(originally published March 23rd 2013)

Friday, 17 May 2013

Nifty little tool for self-published writers

I found this interesting little website mentioned on a forum I frequent the other day. Basically, if you put the ASIN of your book into the search box it will give you a kind of floating spider web diagram showing which books are linked from your book's Also Bought list on Amazon and which books link to you.

If you put your cursor over your book it'll give you a bunch of orange lines. These go to the books from where your book can be found. There's also a box on the left in which you can rank the books in the spidergraph(?) related to your book in terms of things such as ranking and price.

For interest's sake, I put in my book Tube Riders. Just for clarification, I'm writing this on May 18th, and so far this month I've sold just two copies.

There are 84 connected books. Tube Riders ranks lowest in both ranking and popularity. It's second from the top in terms of diversity, whatever that means, and there are no orange arrows pointing inwards, which means a few books are visible from my book, but my book has no visibility from elsewhere.

However, when I put in my current bestseller, Five Tales of Horror, which is selling 2-3 copies a day and has sold nearly 200 since I released it in March, there are a lot of orange arrows pointing in as well as out, meaning it is being seen on a lot of Also Bought lists. From looking at Amazon I can see that many of those books are ranking pretty well, inside the top 5000 or so. Basically, my book is hanging on the coattails of these books, whereas my book Tube Riders isn't hanging anywhere, and the books its connected to are all other unknowns that aren't selling well either.

What does this tell me? In short, that I don't have much visibility. The obvious answer is to sell more books, something that's of course easier said than done. However the right kind of visibility is important. For example, getting on the Also Bought lists of a bunch of unknown books is pretty much a waste of time. This is what happens when you do free promos, because people download at random and free promos are increasingly becoming the playground of the desperate or not very good writer. Bargain books are the way forward, don't you know! Although if you look carefully, you'll often find a lot of my short stories on promo as I don't have a lot else to do with them...

Another thing I noticed from playing around with this site, is that none of my books are linking to each other. When I put in Dan Brown's new book, the biggest group of Also Boughts linking to and from his new book were all his other books. It's become kind of a sport among unknown writers to dump on Dan Brown's writing skills (for what it's worth I've read Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons and thought they were both pretty good, although the films were hit and miss), but he clearly has fans. People who bought his other books are all over his new book regardless of what the snobish non-selling indie community thinks of it. Looking at my own graphs proves that I don't really have fans, just people who see my books and pick them up because they're cheap or free or whatever. Hopefully when I put out the next book in the Tube Riders series I'll start to see a few more backwards and forwards arrows.

And talking of which, I'd better get back to editing it. So if you've got some books out, have a little play around with this tool. It's kind of interesting.

Chris Ward
18th May 2013

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Submitting to Magazines - How and Why to do it

(Please note, this is another post originally posted on my writer's blog at A Million Miles from Anywhere. This will be it's new home)

During my self-publishing adventures I’ve come across a lot of people who are trying to get a slice of the ebook pie through publishing only novellas and short stories. While these can be just as difficult to write, the shorter form is often seen as being less of a time investment than full novels, simultaneously giving the author more visibility. They are also popular with people who don’t have the time to write regularly or for long periods, or who don’t enjoy spending two years on each novel.

A lot of people I’ve come across are publishing short stories and novellas on Amazon at a furious pace, but is it the only option? For every Wool (which was originally a novella) there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of short pieces selling a handful of copies a month or less.

Disillusioned? Maybe, but unlike novels, which are notoriously hard to sell, short fiction can be a lot easier to market, and although you might not become a superstar, there are still gains to be made.

Prior to self-publishing, I spent fourteen years submitting and occasionally selling stories to magazines. Just to prove it, here are a few of my publications –

Ms Ito’s Bird in Weird Tales 352
Ovid’s Legacy in Flagship (the pic on the front is from my story!)
Going Underground in Noctober 
Feeding the Gulls in Written Word (pretty salty about this one because I never got paid, but it was like $15, so whatever)

 My claim to fame!

Self-publishing a short story can occasionally be profitable, but more often than not it’ll sit there in cyberspace doing nothing. Also, you can never be quite sure whether it’ll take off or not. So much depends on the title and cover. For example, after my rights returned to me from Weird Tales (after a year, I think, although magazines will buy various rights from 6 months to 2 years), I published Ms Ito’s Bird on Amazon as an individual short story. In roughly ten months it’s sold … wait for it … ONE copy.

There it is about halfway down ... see it? And the third picture down
is from my story! :-)

When I sold it to Weird Tales I made roughly $160. At the time that was more than half of my entire revenue from eight years of trying to sell short stories. And that was just the money - nothing else I have ever achieved in writing EVER has given me the confidence in my work that that sale did. Conan the Barbarian was serialized in that magazine. Getting in Weird Tales is big time.

Getting back to the cold hard cash line, there’s money to be made from selling short stories if you’re good, but here’s a few common pitfalls to avoid.

Noob Mistake #1 – Posting your story publicly and then expecting to sell it later

I see a lot of authors posting works in progress on their blogs, Facebook pages, Goodreads, forums, etc. If you ever have plans of selling that story to a magazine, this is a really bad idea. You can get away with it on a private forum or in a crit circle that requires membership to access, but anywhere it’s available publicly through a search engine it counts as being published and therefore you’re relinquishing your first world publication rights, which is what magazines will buy. Pull it down before you submit it and make sure it's got no cyber footprint. If it can still be available online it is effectively worthless. You might be able to get $5 here or there as a reprint, but any chance of selling it to Fantasy & Science Fiction for $600 is gone right away.

And trust me, the big magazines will check. Google is a powerful thing. And they won’t just search by title (otherwise you could just change it) but by chunks of text.

Noob Mistake #2 – Ignoring the guidelines

“Send us clean sci-fi with no sex or violence towards animals.” So, you send them a horror involving a serial killer who likes to have sex with elephants, just in case they want to make an exception … nope. Here comes another rejection letter. Guidelines are there for a reason. Perhaps if you’re Stephen King you could get away with it, but otherwise forget it. Trust me on this, I’ve broken them all and regretted it. The exact same goes for deadlines. If a magazine gives you a date to submit by, or says on its guidelines page that its currently closed to submissions, then it means it. Don’t waste your time by submitting anyway.

Noob Mistake #3 – Submitting to more than one magazine at once

Check in the guidelines to see if a magazine is okay with “simultaneous submissions”. This means they’re happy for you to submit elsewhere at the same time. If they don’t like this (and the guidelines will say), then don’t do it anyway. Nothing could be more awkward than having two magazines accept your story and you having to tell one of them you’ve changed your mind because its been accepted elsewhere. This kind of thing doesn’t make you any friends. Particularly at the top magazines, a lot of the editors generally tend to know each other. Of course, if a magazine is okay with sim-subs, then go for it. Be courteous though and notify the other magazines if one accepts you.

Noob Mistake #4 – Responding to Rejections

Don’t do it. Ever. Whether it’s a form letter, an “I’d rather kill myself than read any more of your crap” type letter or a “wow this was awesome but not quite awesome enough” type, just don’t respond. The editor really doesn’t care what you think. Nine times out of ten you’ll get a form rejection, but if you get comments then read them, apply them if necessary, and move on. Don’t bother to thank the editor unless they write like a page of notes (unlikely). If they gave you comments then they probably gave them to twenty other writers, and if they have to open twenty “thanks for your comments, love, random unknown” emails every day they’ll quickly stop writing them and start sending form rejections instead.

If you get an acceptance, however, then of course you should respond.

Where to submit?

You could search in Google or Yahoo, but its far easier to just use a listing site. For the most part I write speculative fiction (fantasy/horror/sci-fi) so my primary resource is Ralan. Another good once, which includes mainstream magazines, is Duotrope Digest (although I notice you now how to pay a subscription - it was free back when I was using it). There might be others, but these are pretty much the only two I used.

Now, it’s just a matter of opinion, but for anyone planning a career in writing I personally think it’s a waste of time to submit to magazines offering only exposure/token or minimal pay, basically anything less than 3c/word. I spent years submitting to and being published by tiny little magazines, and I used to get really excited, even though only six people were every going to read it, the editor, me, and the four other writers included in the same issue. I had this grand idea that I would sell novels if I only got enough exposure in small press magazines.

There are a number of flaws in this plan:

1.      No one reads small press magazines except the editor, the included writers and (if you’re lucky) your family and friends.
2.      They’re not very prestigious.
3.      Most of them are run by other unknown writers so their judgment on what is good is negligible at best.
4.      They tend to fold/disappear without warning, sometimes shutting down the website completely, so that there’s no record of you ever having been published there.
5.      They don’t always pay you or send contributors copies, regardless of what they might promise. In short, they're incredibly unreliable.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Some small press magazines are well run, always respond personally and actually pay you. They're very much in the minority though, in my experience.

However getting into a pro/semi-pro magazine is a different. For starters, the money is actually decent if you’re prolific and sell frequently. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction pays 6 – 9c/word. On a 5000 word story that’s $450, which would pay my rent for a month, and they accept stories up to 25,000 words. At 5c/word that's $1250, also known as decent pay. Plus, people actually read big magazines and they have prestige. The year I was in Weird Tales it won a Hugo Award for best semi-pro magazine. In the genre fiction world that’s a big deal. I wasn’t even on the cover of the magazine I was published in but Ann Vandermeer, the editor at the time, sent me a photo of the trophy and a note of thanks for being in the magazine. That was almost as awesome as being published in it.

Getting in a small press magazine might count as a “publishing credit”, and for years I collected them with pride, but getting in a major magazine can make you famous.

How likely is it that you’ll be accepted?

That depends on how good you are and how well your fiction fits with what the editor wants. You need to write well. If you suck, you probably won’t sell anything, which is why I’d suggest only submitting your best stuff and keeping the rest for self-published anthologies, but to be honest, if you suck you won't sell anything if you self-publish either and would be better off spending your time practicing (see my previous post about how to sell ebooks). Also, with the big magazines they’re trying to make money. If you’re a bestselling writer they’re far more likely to accept you than if you’re an unknown. However, they all frequently publish new writers because part of what they’re about is finding new talent, but your work needs to be outstanding. For that reason it also helps to keep it shorter. If you’re an unknown its way easier to sell something of 2000 words than something of 10,000, because they can slot you neatly into the back third of the magazine while saving the bulk for big name writers. In general I keep my stories in the 2000 to 6000 range. In general, though, even if you’re good, expect a lot of rejection. My average overall was about 10 rejections per acceptance, but that was for small presses. For major magazines it was more like 150-1. Those odds might not be for everyone, you have to make the decision based on how good you think your stories are.

Also, it’s worth remembering that everything the magazine selects is the editor’s personal choice. You might have written an outstanding story but it wasn’t quite what the editor wanted, so you get a form rejection. Don’t give up. Have confidence in your work and submit it somewhere else.

Is submitting to magazines a good idea for you?

That depends on what kind of person you are. For starters, you need to patient. While some magazines will get back to you within a couple of days, others will take months. Even now I get the odd rejection letter/email show up and it’s been more than a year since I submitted anything. And even if it is accepted, it might be a year before it's published. That's just the way the industry works; its very different to being published by a traditional publisher. In general, the bigger the magazine the longer you'll wait for publication. However, the bigger the magazine, the less likely they'll fold suddenly. I had no less than three pro sales never show up because the magazine - usually some ambitious small press - folded before the first issue ever reached print. THAT is frustrating ...

Also, be aware of the costs. While most magazines now allow email submissions, a few of the big ones still require paper copies. This can get expensive if you submit a lot, so make sure you think you’ve got a real chance before doing it.

It helps if you have a lot of stories. Waiting on one story can be frustrating. At one point I had over 40 stories out for submission at the same time so they were all coming and going. Keep all the info in a spreadsheet. Unless a magazine says otherwise, give them about six months. If they don’t get back to you, check they received your submission and also check they haven’t folded. This was something I found frustrating with the small presses – I’d wait several months for a response, go to the website and find the magazine had shut down. Sometimes they don’t even say why, they just go inactive. This is why Ralan is such a good site – it regularly checks for inactivity and a site that isn’t responding is moved to the Dead Markets page.

So, to summarize (because I’ve prattled on for almost 2000 words on this …!), if you’re consistently producing high quality short stories you could consider it as an option. Be aware of what it takes, though. You’ll go through a lot of frustration, but there is money to be made and prestige to be gained if you’re successful. And if you do sell something, you'll get your rights back within a year or so anyway so you can still self-publish it in the future.

As always, comments/questions are welcome.

Chris Ward
May 16th 2013
(previously published April 5th 2013)