Sunday, April 17, 2011

What is a good ebook price, and why would I be changing mine?

That is the second subject that brings groans to the lips of my fellow writers. We are not able to really determine what a good, fair ebook price really might be. We would like to, but we have less control than you might imagine. Since I cannot actually tell you this answer, but really want to know, you are only going to read my opinion - balanced with some of those I've heard in the last few months. On this, Indie authors seem to agree on a few things.

  1. We desire readers above all things. To try and attract them we give away a lot of books (print too) and we come out with a 99¢ price in all the retail locations that let us.
  2. We are not allowed to have prices that low in many locations. Some of our retailers are very harsh about pricing. Some of them demand to be the lowest, and they still set the minimum price. (See, not even the retailers really know a fair price for ebooks.)
  3. Some of our favorite retailers are jumping off points - that is, if we put our book there, that retailer will share us out to other affiliate sites. At this point, pricing can become a nightmare. Did you know, some retailers will tack on whatever markup they desire? We must have been daft to think they wouldn't. That is the way retail works. But, if they increase the price, do we get more commission on that sale? We must have been daft to think we would. That is not the way retail works.
  4. Because we have different prices everywhere, and sales really happen in the sites most convenient to the reader, authors cannot really tell if a reduced price is causing sales. It takes a good handful of sales to see trends, and like me, some authors only sell a book or two a week. There is no marketing strategy for that. Believe me, I've looked for one. I sell just as many ebooks at $2.99 as I do at 99¢.
What do I take from those four important points then? Something similar to the guess from most of my friends. Amazon is the biggest fish out there, and they have a $2.99 minimum. To ever have a promotion or sale price lower than that, they decide who and when. We are not allowed that freedom. On Amazon, we have virtually no control over our own price. I'm thrilled it can be as low as $2.99.

That one price, if we all seem to think it is fair, seems to drag a very troublesome question with it. Aren't our books worth more than that? Certainly print books are. But those are a definable commodity. Ebooks are less easy to price, because they don't cost anything to store and deliver. Regardless of what retailers tells us, they have no operating cost on any electronic information they deliver. But as an entertainment item, it has value, and retailers want their piece of that. Authors are Ok with that, and mostly feel that ebooks just shouldn't be priced the same as print books.

Major retailers are selling a lot of ebooks at print prices, though. How the hell are they doing that? That might have a simple answer. 80% of the book buying public may have never hear the word Indie. Unless they have an author friend on Facebook, readers in general may think ebooks are faddish, gadgety - in short...toys.

At this point, ebooks do have a problem we would like to overcome. Ebooks exist in almost too many forms. There are quite a few types of formats. We really won't get into that subject, because formatting is the first thing that will cause an groan to escape an author's lips.

Ebooks are still trying to find the most user-friendly state of existence. Gadget builders want to produce the very best screen view, and some are even playing with color screens. The reading public is less confused about cell phones actually, than they are with which type of ebook reader to buy. Cell phones have been around a very long time now. Ebooks still feel new.

Does that answer much then, about how to price these things. Yes. Ebooks should be priced at the dollar the author desires. Only the author really knows what they want to accomplish with their book. I believe that retailers should be less formal about this, but that is not going to happen. For myself, all I can do is set my price as low as I can get it, and have that price be uniform in all my retail locations. That is appearing to be $2.99. I will still give away books wherever I wish. One or two of my retail sites will allow me to drop to 99¢ when I desire - I will still have promotions and sales. But, I won't be confused about my price after May 1st. Hopefully, neither will the readers who find me on twenty different websites.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

'Ashes' - Clara Gray-Stallings...for the children of Darfur.

As a project for her class at Animas High School in Durango, Clara Gray-Stallings wrote this stark, haunting song, for the children of Darfur. Clara is fifteen years old.



video

*used by permission. All rights reserved. (©BMI 2011, Clara Gray-Stallings)

We may sometimes be surprised how world events affect our children, and in what form their compassion may be expressed - for things we all barely understand.

This is entirely new. Clara wrote and performed all the instrumentation and vocals. Her father helped engineer the recording, a classmate performed the rap section. It has been recommended that Clara consider performing this for a video. If that becomes available, we will share it with you here.

Please enlighten yourself to the conflict in Darfur, by visiting Amnesty International's USA website.

Ashes

My ebony skin is being revealed by the sun
I’ve been on my feet all night getting ready to run
Already been burned, lived through the bullets of a gun
And the knots I tied for life have all been undone
Look at what you did; now the world’s unglued
And you’re treating me like the crushed bug on your shoe
But bugs have six legs – I have two
And someday I’ll stand up on these legs, level to you

The world that we want is so far away
And my memories haunt every step that I take
Please tell me this is just a dream
People never turned into killing machines
I’m gonna wake up, or so I’d like to think
But I know, deep down, it’s really happening

Take me back to the town that you burned to the ground
With my family in it – now I’ll never hear the sound
Of my little sister laughing with a friend that she found
She’s with my parents who are scattered on the ground
All the people I knew turned into ashes and chunks
And I’m not brave enough to clean them up
If I want to cross the street, I’ll swim through bodies and blood
That wouldn’t be there if the world had love

Please tell me this is just a dream
People never turned into killing machines
I’m gonna wake up, or so I’d like to think
But I know, deep down, it’s really happening
Mom, Dad, why’d you have to leave?
I’m alone with a baby and I’m only fifteen
Give me a sign that you’re here like I need
I won’t let your ashes blow away in the breeze

They call the blacks people in the USA
I pray that’ll happen in Sudan someday
They say, “Genocide is to exterminate.”
So why is there torture? Why is there rape?
Answer this; tell me what kind of coward
Kills kids who can be so easily overpowered?
I wouldn’t call you human with your soul so sour
Do you know the pain your victims felt their last hour?
You don’t even know mine, and I’m still alive
But I think I’m doing worse than the people who died
Because I’m in misery, trying to find a place to hide
And the opportunity for justice hasn’t arrived
See this little baby that I have to feed?
He’s the product of a painful memory
I’m raising a creature that’s half Janjaweed
He stole my childhood – and he’s too young to see

Please tell me this is just a dream
People never turned into killing machines
I’m gonna wake up, or so I’d like to think
But I know, deep down, it’s really happening
Mom, Dad, why’d you have to leave?
I’m alone with a baby and I’m only fifteen
Give me a sign that you’re here like I need
I won’t let your ashes blow away in the breeze

Mom, Dad, why’d you have to leave?
I’m alone with a baby and I’m only fifteen
Give me a sign that you’re here like I need
I won’t let your ashes blow away in the breeze

The world that we want is so far away
The world that we want is so far away

‘Ashes’
Clara Gray-Stallings Copyright 2011 BMI 2011


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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On the eighth day Man created music...

A Rock & Roll lifestyle can bring a lot of deliciously wicked fun. It can also get you kicked off shortstop position at St. Allen the Meek's Convent softball team, as Sister Susan Helene Gottfried learned. And there were a lot of robe-room arguments they should just let her plug in her Walkman with Megadeth, and just let the little banger play. With all the mascara, she didn't need a ball cap over her wimple even on the sunny days.

St. Allen's was considered the 'reform' covent. Only the most deviant postulants ended up there. Sister Suzy had arrived quite early in her career, mostly because of the campfires in the garden. There were many in the Meek's choir who groaned it was really for her softball skills. She helped with the hopes they would finally have a kick-ass team. But, in that first game of her only season, when she tucked the hem of her skirt into the back of her bloomers and squatted the way Ozzie Smith always did it...she was marked for special penance. Screaming at the batters in notes higher than Bon Scott could reach, Suzy played that one inning at shortstop.

Only that one inning. It was the outfield, or the showers. She played center field, so they wouldn't hear what she was singing, and she could empty her clandestine box of ready-strike matches - one cute flame at a time.

St. Allen's lost 13 in a row. The choir was apoplectic - Sister Sue Hell could have made the place great, with her pipes in the choir or her screaming reach on the ball field between second and third, but Rock & Roll was in her blood and, that everpresent Walkman. Rock was getting in the way. She bolted right out from under their noses, on a field trip no less. Her group was going to a weaving class at the community center, and she scooted underneath one of the school buses in the parking lot. A few fortuitous rips, and she emerged from the other side, and invented Emo Grunge in the same fluid movement. Those knee-high stockings had been the perfect choice that day. She didn't run to a coffee shop - she ran straight to the first tattoo shop she could find.

Susan admitted it was in that shop that she first felt the tugs of her bass playing character in her now famous fictitious band. A bloke was in the first chair when she came huffing into the parlor doorway, giggling at her escape. The bloke was getting some wimpy tattoo that said stuff, with 'Forever' in it. Only partly outlined, little Sister saw the rough form of 'Trevor' on the rag-burned arm of the big dude. The raw skin, the look on the dude's face, the sound of her panting breath masking even the buzz of the needles... a presence entered her soul.

Trevor Wolff was born in those seconds; in the whirling mind of a breathless ex-nun, staring at sweaty flesh being colored with something like blood. It would have been Whitesnake's best video, because the big dude being tattooed would later begin to direct for Rock bands, and he'd never forgotten that image of Susalene and wanted to recreate that, but Coverdale had that dorky girlfriend named Tawny. Whitesnake faded, but Trevor exploded. Three doors down from the tattoo parlor was a mom and pop record store. Susan had her first job there before the sting had left the 'Forever' tattoo on the arm of that future video director.

How do you keep up with an alter-ego delusion that keeps the amps on overload? You write him and plunge into his world. Trevor liked being in the body of a lean little brunette, but he wanted to be written accurately. Suzylean followed him into the darkness he loved more. He took her into shadows where music was the only light. Trevor is not a demon. Sue was thriving and creating, making a name and attracted fame. There were those record guys, who wanted her to sign with them. Not to perform, but to help manage some bands. Trevor wanted a band. Susan said no to the suits, and she made a group for Trev. She would follow him anywhere, and he stepped only further into the rush and glory. He told her who to talk to, who to party with, where to flirt and where to toss a drink. She gave him memories, and new loved ones, and a ball-busting bass guitar. Together, they let their hair go to their asses, and together they touched the thing that burns lesser gods to ash.

Naughty Sue, who could make a nun's habit look hot, remade herself for Trevor and he taught her music. She named his band for him, and he loved it. ShapeShifter. She wanted to sing beside him forever, and he told her why he came to earth, to answer her prayers. There are three Gospels of Trevor Wolff, at this link. Susan Gottfried took that ink-as-blood visual to its corporeal form. She cannot stop writing Trevor; his heart beats through her fingertips - into his pages.

You can't say the rest is history. The rest is in your future.


Trevor? You don't mind if I start with you? Has Susan tattooed your name anywhere yet?
Fuck no. Susan's as clean as those sheets Mitchell's mom makes us put on our beds every week.

Describe the moment that you knew she had heard you, and was waiting for you to speak again. How long had you been whispering to her?
Susan may be a prude about her body, but she's no dummy. She knew from the second I started talking that she'd lost total control. She threw up her hands and told me to go for it. She hasn't been the same since. Hell, I'd even say she's much improved, and all thanks to old Trevor here.

Susan, what were the very first words Trevor spoke to you?
It's been so long now, Joel, I can't remember.

Trevor, who put that first guitar in your hands?
Mitchell. He told me I couldn't be in the band unless I made music. I tried singing, but the dog down the street thought I was in heat. It came sniffing around. Confused me for Mitchell. That was when Mitchell said if I wanted in my own band, I had to play an instrument. He said bass was the easiest, so that's what I did. Like I had a choice. It was bass or humping dogs. There's no rocket science there.

Susan, do you play any instruments? Your husband?
I tried to be a drummer, but sucked at that. So now I play the radio, which is what people say when they want a lame attempt to be cool. Honestly, though, I am more a fan of music once it's created than I am of actually creating it.

Trevor, has Susan ever argued with you, about what to write? Who won?
Didn't you hear me? I said Susan's no dummy. She's like Mitchell: they tell me what to do and I go and do whatever the fuck I want anyway.  They shake their heads like they can't believe I did it, but c'mon. They're saving face. We all know it. Especially them.

Will we see a 'Demo Tapes - Year Three' ?
And a four and maybe a five, too. Why not? All it costs Susan is the aggravation of the formatting and the cover art. That aggravation of hers fades REAL fucking fast when she sees the royalty statements. They're not as big as mine, but then again, I'm Trevor Fucking Wolff. Big's the only way to go.

Trevor, who writes most of ShapeShifter's music? I know Mitchell wrote that song for Kerri, but who else pens songs?
The three of 'em:  Mitchell, Daniel, and Eric. I'll pipe up when M's doing something stupid, which is most of the time, but I wouldn't say I write anything.
And don't mention that song M wrote for Rusty. Our biggest fucking hit, and it's a fucking love song.


Susan, you must have tried your hand at songwriting. Have you written lyrics for anything? Poetry?
Who doesn't write poetry? I used to get up in the middle of the night in grad school and write bad poetry. Although, I must say when I walked into the poetry workshop one summer, the only time us fiction folk were allowed to mix with the poets, those snooty poet types said it was pretty good poetry -- except it all tended to read like a novel. That totally cracked me up. The fiction people said the exact same thing about my short stories: they read like a novel. Believe me, I see the irony in having more published short story collections than novels. 

Trevor, will you guys be touring this next year? Will you do a repeat in Europe?
Ask Mitchell. The only thing I can say is that there are certain things that won't get repeated in Europe. They involve raiding the minibar and stealing a fucking steak knife.


Susan, did you ever do a tour with anyone?
Not officially.

The road crew doesn't stop working just because the band is on stage, do they. How hectic is it back stage - during a performance?
Depends on who the band is and what their needs are, but generally, things are quiet and a well-oiled machine. If they're not, RUN.

During your radio days, were you on air? If so, did you ever have performers in your studio?
Of course I was on air! And yes, we had bands up all the time. For awhile there, I had folk who'd just come hang out; it was a party. I'd do phone interviews with bands, and meet 'em before shows, around sound check. Tour buses, hotel rooms... as long as I had someone else with me, nothing was off-limits. For promo work, that is. I had a reputation as the cool radio chick; I wasn't about to mess that up. Like Trevor says, I'm not stupid, and that reputation of mine was worth the care I put into creating it.

You claim to be tone deaf. I bet that's really just shyness, a way to hide. You sing, as loudly as you can in the car, don't you.
Not when the kids are around. And yes, I truly AM tone deaf. So say the pros who tested me.

Trevor has always led your writing, but you made him wait for his own book, Trevor's Song, now your third novel. Even that came about as the setup to Mitchell and Kerri's relationship. At this point, you were finally pushing Trevor a bit, to accept more of his own spotlight? It doesn't seem that he was begging to be revealed so much.
No, no. Trevor's Song is my first published novel. I waited to get him on sale; many of my readers held out hopes for a major publishing deal long after I'd given up. That's why I did the Demo Tapes 1 and 2 first. We kept pushing for that deal. And then I had the usual troubles with the cover art and finding someone to help my graphically-impaired self.

I don't think it's much of a spoiler to reveal that Trevor had a rough childhood. Did he ever ask that you not include that in the book?
Sort of. Trev's past with Hank and Jenny and his two brothers and one sister isn't something he likes to talk about. Or to hear anyone else talk about. Trevor would like to forget any of that happened. But, of course, he can't.

You've admitted that you believe most musical performers are just normal, real people. Haven't you been exposed to a few, who are so 'out there' they make Trevor look tame?
Oh, hell yes. Go find an interview with The Great Kat. Holy head case -- or amazing performer. I'm not sure which, but for her sake, I hope it's the latter.

You took a leap of faith, to begin to write, turning your back on some record labels who wanted you. What were they offering? What did you leave behind?
They were offering jobs, of course. New York City. Get to work around 10, stay until 8, have dinner, and hit the clubs to see your bands. Or your friends' bands. Or a band you hoped would be yours, not your friends. Not that I'd have had any say in the matter; I was going to do publicity, which meant doing the same job I did at the radio station, only from the other end of the telephone.

Did you try to push Trevor into being a drummer, or did he stand behind his bass and dare you to write him otherwise?
Nah, Daniel would have been insulted if I'd asked him to step aside.

Tell us one of the craziest fan incidents you witnessed at a concert.
Just keep reading my fiction. It'll all come out there.

Kerri is an artist - worthy of her own success in that world. Is that you, perhaps, Susan? Do you have that talent?
Art talent? Hardly. When I take ceramics classes, my work gets shoved on the shelves with the kids' stuff. I joke that it means I have a young soul, but who knows. My talent is with words.

Who gets the credit for that excellent cover for Trevor's Song?
The photo is from Getty Images, and my good friend Ann Pino did the Photoshopping to make it into Trevor. Ann's awesome at Photoshop, but she's even better at writing books and online fiction. Yep, that's a hint. Go look her up.
Are you ever forced into re-writes when you edit?
Hell, yes. This is why writing is a craft.

One of the things that caught my attention, in Trevor's Song, you omitted nearly all the stereotypical descriptions of the Rock Star lifestyle. Was that conscious on your part?
Yep. I may have seen plenty of the stereotype during my music biz years, but I also saw plenty that didn't fit. The people who didn't fit were the ones who intrigued me the most.

You say you are a normal mom, but writing is a real business venture. Describe your workday; do you have an office?
Yep, I have an office. A home office, right off the entry of the house, but it's my office.

West of Mars, your website/blog is a massive marketing tool. How much of your time does it take from writing?
Too much. I miss the days when I could do nothing but focus on writing fiction.

Do you agree - that it takes about a year of very hard work for an author to even build some visibility, and that sales take even longer to nurture?
I can't say, really. I put out Demo Tapes: Year 1 in November 2008, but I didn't have lofty expectations for it. To me, it was still a vanity thing, done for the benefit of my readers, who'd asked for it. It wasn't until people started talking about it and non-regular West of Mars groupies started buying it that I realized I had something bigger than I'd envisioned -- and I was not going to complain.
One part of my online history is that I was blogging long before the books came out. I was visible; what I lacked was the book to put in people's hands. Now, you can't do that. There are too many other writers out there, Tweeting and connecting on Facebook. You have to have at least one book in hand. But waaaaaay  back in 2006, when I started my blog, I was a lone voice. 

You self-published with 'Demo Tapes' but you had an agent before that? What book were you promoting then?
I had one agent not long after I got out of Grad School. He proved that a bad agent is worse than no agent. Then I met another agent at a writer's conference. She had a blog; I felt like I knew her fairly well. And even though she didn't generally represent rock and roll fiction, she offered to represent me. She thought I was sitting on a goldmine with Trevor. After making that offer (April 2008) and asking me to hold off on releasing The Demo Tapes: Year 1, she vanished. I never got the contract, never got to hear her input into the book, nothing. Not long after THAT, she quit agenting.

Is Trevor going to reach for that one love that has always been just a phone call away? (Amy)
Amy? Ha. Shows what you know. Amy's now married to Derek the Dork and has kids.  Besides, Amy's the one chick Trevor took out but never even got to kiss. She lives in infamy for that alone.

Does Susan Gottfried have any non-music oriented stories in her future? Will you explore any other genres?
I'll always write about music in one form or another. Keep your eyes peeled; I have something coming out on April 12 that you guys will like. You'll recognize one of the characters, as well. But that's all I'm saying for now, other than check in at the website or on my blog - or my West of Mars fan page on Facebook for the big announcement. I'll say this, though: it'll be not even a dollar well spent. *wink*

Now that you have 'hit it', Trevor, how would you react to a Grammy nomination? Which song might get that nod?
If it's Still Life, I'm gonna shoot myself. That's all I've got to say. Fucking love song.
No, maybe I'll shoot Mitchell and Rusty instead. Him for writing it and her for inspiring it.


Thanks guys. It has been a pleasure.

There is so much going on at WestofMars.com, you must drop by to see for yourself. Giveaways, authors to meet, tons more information about Shapeshifter. Behind all of it, is that head-bobbing, gum-chewing, powerhouse...who still has that wimple somewhere. Likely it is on Trevor's wall of fame, along with all the other intimate wear he's collected.
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