No Surrender

Last Sunday, after an amazing week in Edinburgh, we crashed. We don’t mean a car crash but a crash that will be recognised by everyone who’s ever suffered from a mental illness. One moment you’re euphoric, happier than you’ve ever been, the next you’re locking yourself away, ranting, screaming and sobbing until your eyes swell up and you resemble a hideous creature only found in the depths of Lovecraft’s imagination.

The day before leaving for Edinburgh we’d received 2 rejections. One was for a ghost story set in an asylum and one was our take on The Slender Man. The Slender Man one hurt more because the editor had emailed us asking if we’d be interested in writing a story for the anthology, so for it to then be rejected…it wasn’t just a kick in the teeth, it was being strapped to a rack and having each nerve shredded with a cheese grater. But then we went to Edinburgh and forgot about it. Until we came home and checked sales figures. 1 book in 4 days. And that’s good for us. Amazon don’t like you disclosing sales figures but the likelihood of them reading this blog post are slim, so screw it. They didn’t read the one where we likened them to a protection racket, so we think we’re safe. We sold 5 books in March. April wasn’t much better. We made £160 in our first year of Indie writing and that gets split between us. We probably spend more than that on Red Bull alone. Everything we submit gets rejected. We can go for weeks without selling a single book and we have 4 out there. We’re failing. And we don’t like failing. Especially when we’re failing at the only thing we’ve ever truly loved, the only thing we’ve ever wanted to do. The only thing that dragged us through the dark times and gave us a reason for living when we couldn’t face it any more.

These crashes we call The Darkshines. They’re pretty normal for us and 99% of the time we hide them. No one but us knows when they’ve pounced. After a while you get good at putting on a mask. On Sunday we got sick of fighting them and unleashed that ugliness that dwells inside us. *Note to selves – NEVER let anyone see that inner ugliness. Just because you have to live with it, doesn’t mean others should.* Basically, we spent all of Sunday in tears and seriously considered the possibility of quitting. We know what some people are thinking ‘why don’t you then?’ At least 90% of writing is rejection. Most of time we can deal with it. We shrug, remove the smiley face from the short story list and look for somewhere else to submit. But quitting writing would be like quitting breathing.

So a couple of days later, after the demons were captured and shackled back in the dungeons of our minds, we got productive. Last time this happened, we signed up for library readings. (Considering only friends and family came to the Cathays one, that was a failure. We’ll probably cancel the Roath one.) We set up a website for formatting ebook and print books – Pink Cow Formatting. We can’t make money from writing but we might from formatting; we enlisted our books on Indie Book Bargains and we enrolled Soul Asylum into KDP Select.

We’ve never enrolled our books into KDP Select – Gunning Down Romance and Bad Romance were too cheap. People aren’t going to borrow books that only cost 77p. Mind you, they don’t buy them either. Plus we don’t like the way Amazon forces you to be exclusive to them for three months. So even thinking about it felt like we were selling our souls. But the main incentive was being able to make it free on Amazon. When we’ve done free promos before, Smashwords let us make it free but Amazon won’t. People tell tales of having thousands of downloads when their book was free, propelling them up the Amazon rankings to the coveted #1 slot, regardless of how good their book is. The point is, when it’s up there, people see it. Our books are currently languishing so far down they’re on the Pity Graph. But Amazon wouldn’t play ball with our promo. GDR had 25 downloads in a week of being on Smashwords. That’s terrible. Soul Asylum had 14 on the one day it was free. That’s a little better.

May 22nd is World Goth Day and we thought we could make Soul Asylum free to celebrate. What could be better than spending World Goth Day with a gothic novel in a haunted asylum? But for this to truly work, it had to be free on Amazon. And there’s only one way that will happen.

KDP Select.

So from May 20th-24th, Soul Asylum will be FREE. Hell, we can’t sell it, we might as well give it away. Though people don’t usually want our free books either…If you want signed print copies, we still have loads left. Yes we ship worldwide. They make great door stops, coasters, draught excluders and can also be used to brain burglars. Failing that, they’ll keep your fire going in winter.

So come May 20th, we’ll be opening the doors to Ravens Retreat and releasing the ghosts of the patients and staff still trapped inside. If you listen carefully, you might just hear them scream…

To be Free or not to be Free

Last week (12th -18th November) was National Short Story Week so to celebrate, we decided to make our short horror collection, Gunning Down Romance, free. There are certain advantages to making your book free, the most important one being finding new readers, who don’t want to risk 77p/99c on an unknown author. All those people download your book and it catapults you up Amazon’s rankings, usually to the top spot, if not number one then certainly in the top 10. It doesn’t matter if your book isn’t very good, the point is, it’s FREE. Whilst your book is rubbing shoulders with Stephen King and E L James, other people who are browsing, sees your book and thinks ‘wow, that unknown author is number one? They must be great!’ So they also download your book. It’s all psychological, see. You don’t need to be Derren Brown to use mind control on people. All you have to do is make your book free.

We’d been thinking of making GDR free for a while but wanted to tie it to something. National Short Story Week seemed like a great tie-in. So we made it free on Smashwords with little effort. The problem was Amazon. Amazon is basically like a sulky mafia member who as long as you’re paying up, they will keep those  pesky vandals off your property. The problem comes when you don’t want to play their game. The game being KDP Select.

KDP Select is basically Amazon’s library. You put your book in there and people can borrow it. There’s a pot of money $600,000 that is shared out between the authors. Except as more authors join, the money DOESN’T go up. So your share of the pot goes down. Whilst in Select, your book is made free across Amazon at certain times. You can choose when. Correct us if we’re wrong on this. However, when we published GDR, we opted out of Select. We’d read up on it and a lot of authors who had enrolled their cheap books, didn’t find any benefit to being in Select – people didn’t think they were getting much of a bargain. But our biggest reason for not joining, was that Amazon demand you make your book exclusive to them for 3 months.

We don’t think so.

To us, this is like that kid at school who ‘allowed’ you to be their friend, only if you ditched your less cool friends. It feels a lot like peer pressure – ‘join us! All the cool authors are in Select. You don’t want to be the only ones NOT in it, do you?’ Sorry Amazon, but one thing we’ve always excelled at, is resisting peer pressure. We don’t WANT to join the masses. And we are the most stubbornest people ever. So your offer of money won’t work on us. We don’t like being told to do, especially by a faceless corporation. At the time GDR was published, the only way a UK author could get their book onto Barnes and Noble, iTunes and Kobo, was through Smashwords. This has changed slightly now the Nook and Kobo have arrived in the UK. So giving up Smashwords for 3 months and missing out on their vast distribution, seemed stupid. Plus the royalties on Smashwords for a 99c book, was higher than Amazon’s ‘generous’ 35%

So this was the downfall of our plan. Because we wouldn’t play Amazon’s game, they refused to play ours. You can’t make your book free unless you’re in Select. The only thing you can do, is tell them your book is free elsewhere and hope they price match. But this is Amazon. They’re not going to let a couple of nobodies tell them when to put the price down. THEY decide if and when they lower the price and THEY decide when they put it back up. So they refused. And our plan to shoot up the rankings failed. We didn’t receive thousands of downloads, we didn’t get to number one and we didn’t knock Stephen King off his podium and take a screen shot of the glorious moment.

Has Amazon made us see the error of our ways and convinced us to join the cool authors in Select? Yeah, right. What they’ve shown us is that Smashwords is more author friendly. We’ve never given in to society’s pressure to conform and we’re not about to start now. In future, all our promotions will be on Smashwords. So we’ll never shoot up the rankings, see our books at the number one spot and be able to showboat at Stephen King.

But we’re cool with that.

You see, Amazon is like this big puppet master, dangling authors off its fingertips because it knows we all need it. However, that doesn’t mean we’re going to play by its rules. So sorry, Amazon – you can pull our strings but you’ll never make us dance.