Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Word About Ethics and Title Confusion

I remember distinctly how I heard about Jeffrey Eugenides's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, The Marriage Plot. I was in Target with my boys last fall, probably trying to keep one of them from destroying a rack of clothing and the other from screaming his newborn head off while we finished our shopping. We rounded the corner of the diaper aisle to see a huge end-cap display featuring rows and rows of the distinctive cover and THE MARRIAGE PLOT professionally, casually scripted across thirty or so books. And the super-cool twisty wedding ring design! My first thought was something I couldn't say in front of my boys (and won't write in a blog). But the follow-up, expletive-free version is: Are you kidding me? 

This was followed by, Oh well, guess I'd better get busy writing another one, because this one is in the toilet. I'd just self-published THE MARRIAGE PACT a few months before, on a shoe-string budget and with only the grassiest of grass-roots marketing behind it. I knew anyone who might randomly go looking for my book would find Eugenides's super-publicized book first, and that anyone who happened across my book would be likely to think it was a rip-off of his. I was really bummed. I debated, briefly, changing my title, but I had already published it.

What's more, (writers will understand this) after spending weeks trying on different titles, testing them with beta readers, and having my working-for-love graphic designer incorporate them into cover designs, it didn't seem fair that I should have to do that when my book was out first. I assumed that Eugenides's publisher did the same searches I did before putting their title out, and they either didn't come across my book or didn't see it as a threat. And let's be honest, it's not a threat. I'm enormously proud of my book and the chutzpah it took to put it out there in public, but I don't think the Pulitzer committee are going to be knocking on my door anytime soon. Maybe in a few years.... :)

The idea that my little book might benefit from Eugenides's publicity machine didn't occur to me until a friend suggested it a few days later, and I dismissed it as ridiculous. I believed then, as I do now, that they are so different in appearance and tone, it would be very unlikely for anyone to mistake mine for his -- especially since his Kindle version retails for $12.99 and mine is $0.99. On an indie author's budget, I haven't been able to purchase Eugenides's book yet, but my impression from the jacket summary is that they are quite different.

Up until this month, the sales numbers reflected the truth of this. I didn't see even a little uptick in sales when THE MARRIAGE PLOT was published, nor did anyone refund my book after purchasing, which could be one indication that people were buying mine by mistake. I was actually relieved about this, because if people downloaded my book thinking it was the latest Pulitzer (rather than a light romantic comedy), I'd be getting some pretty harsh reviews.

After putting my book on promotion with KDP Select, it did really well for free downloads and has sold pretty well since then. It's stayed in the top ten lists for Women's Fiction and Contemporary Fiction consistently and the top 100 for Kindle books overall. The reviews have been mostly very positive, and the return rate is around 1.5%, which seems pretty small to me (though I don't know what the average is). I had one snarky comment on a previous blog entry implying that the only reason people were downloading it was because they were confusing it with Eugenides's work, but it's hard for me to believe that is true, at least on a wide scale. Did the similarity in our titles help propel my book to the top of Amazon's free list while it was on promotion? Maybe. I have no way of knowing, nor is that within my control.

Today on HLN's Morning Express with Robin Meade, there was a teaser/one-liner about being careful when you buy eBooks because some people are posting scam eBooks, titled very similarly to popular books, trying to lure people in to buy them. Meade cautioned the audience to be careful, but I didn't see a follow-up story before I had to leave for the office, nor have I been able to find anything on either HLN or their parent site CNN.com about it. I've tweeted them to ask if there is a follow-up story, and I'll update the blog if I get a response.

[Edit to add: I did hear back from HLN via twitter with a link to the clip I must have missed this morning. You can find it here: http://www.hlntv.com/video/2012/04/17/beware-knockoff-e-books. They are wrong about Amazon's return policy on eBooks, but otherwise I'm assuming the knock-offs they mention were published after the famous books in question.]

It would be nice, from a journalistic perspective, if HLN would run a whole story with some kind of specific data or examples to help consumers know what to look out for when buying books. I have no idea if mine is one of the books to which they are referring, or if there are other, more blatant examples out there. Hearing this mentioned on the news, however, made me concerned that maybe my anonymous blog commentator wasn't the only one who thought my book could be confused with its more famous counterpart. 

I've debated amending the editorial description of my book to include a disclaimer that it is not THE MARRIAGE PLOT. On the one hand, it doesn't seem fair that I would have to do that, since mine really was out first, and I know that I haven't done anything remotely wrong. People spend mere seconds reading a book's summary, and I worry that the distraction of a disclaimer could turn folks off from reading the actual description of my book and deciding whether they want to read it or not.

On the other hand, I want readers to be informed about what they're buying. Being above reproach when it comes to writing and publishing ethics is important to me The satisfaction of my readers is the only product I have to sell, and losing their trust gains me nothing. I have exactly zero desire to 'trick' anyone into buying or reading my book, nor have I been hoping to capitalize on Eugenides's work or publicity.  I would much rather my book stand on its own, for better or for worse.

I want people to read my books, of course, and I hope they enjoy them. But I would never intentionally try to ride another author's coattails.

I am still trying to put together all the pieces of the puzzle on this one. It will be interesting to see if there is more in the news in the next few days about the eBook scamming problem and whether my book is being included as an example. I would also love to find out what the average rate of returns is on eBooks for sale after their promotional period has ended, to see if more people than average have been returning mine because they actually thought it was '...PLOT'.

In the meantime, for anyone who doesn't already know it - amazon.com has a 7-day return policy on eBooks, for any reason. If you bought my book, or any other book, under mistaken pretenses, you can easily return it for a refund. Or if your almost-three-year-old got a hold of your Kindle and somehow managed to make a purchase while trying to watch Thomas the Train, for example...

In my (figurative) book, it's totally acceptable to return a book that you bought by mistake, or that was blatantly misrepresented in either the marketing materials or the editorial summary. Is it okay to return something you bought on purpose and read in its entirety, because you didn't like it or couldn't relate to the characters? Good question. I'd say that one depends on your ethical code!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Recapping My Free Promotion Experience on KDP Select

Whew! It was just over a week ago that I decided to try the experiment of putting my first novel The Marriage Pact on a free promotion through amazon's new KDP Select program.  I'd just read this blog post by Will Entrekin, and it got me thinking about whether a free promo might be a good way to get the word out about TMP. I'd been busy working on the sequel and finally starting to gain some momentum, and I realized that it was spring break in my part of the world - maybe a good time to spread the word about the book.

When I decided to try the free promotion for three days, it truly was an experiment. A toe in the water. I didn't want to do any hard-core promoting until I'd finished Regrets Only so it would be there for people to purchase if they liked TMP. Will mentioned having given away 8,000 copies of his book this way, and I thought, I can't imagine how excited I would be if 8,000 people had my book. Up until then I had sold around 300 copies, mostly to people who knew me already. To be completely honest, I would've been excited just to double or triple that number. Most of all, I was curious about the process and how it would work for my little book.

Here we are a week after the promotion started, and not only did my book garner 8,000 free downloads, it got that number six times over. At last count, the number of free promotional downloads over the three days was 48,108. The credit for that, I believe, belongs to my amazing friends and family, who happily forwarded, emailed and re-posted the announcements I put out about the promotion, spreading the word like wildfire over social media. [Thanks again, y'all!] I also got connected with some websites that basically function as clearing-houses for cheap and free Kindle books, so the word got out that way as well.

Even after the promotion ended, people have continued to seek out the book to borrow from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library, or to purchase and download for the bargain price of $0.99. At this writing, I've sold more than 4800 copies, or roughly 10% of the free downloads. I've been honored to be ranked at the top of the Amazon free list for Kindle, and then to make it as high as #21 on the paid list after the promotion was over. I've been in the Top 10 for both Women's Fiction and Contemporary Fiction for several days. Such a huge thrill!

The reviews have been great for the most part, and I'm trying to learn something from the few negative ones, too.  People have been very kind to post messages on my Facebook page telling me how much they enjoyed the book. If I never sell another copy of this or any other title, it's already been a dream come true for me. I'm beyond grateful.

All of this has really spurred me on to work even harder on Regrets Only. It has already taken some interesting turns, and I am finding that I'm doubly excited by both the characters and the storyline, especially now that my "audience" is no longer the far-off hypothetical they were when I wrote the first book.

Beyond my personal story, I think this program from Amazon certainly brings up some interesting marketing issues for authors. As Will Entrekin points out, how do we make meaning out of a term like "Amazon bestseller" when the bestseller lists are updated hourly and some of the top-downloaded books are free? Amazon does a great job separating the lists, of course, but how do authors and readers make meaning from it? With so many ways of categorizing a book and quantifying success, how can we truthfully let readers know that our books are worth reading without requiring a whole paragraph to explain? Somehow "ranked for 10 hours in the Top 5 for Kindle ebooks in Women's Fiction" just doesn't have the same ring to it as "New York Times Bestseller."

It's also interesting to note that authors have no access to information about who is downloading, buying and borrowing their books. Naturally I don't want to invade my readers' privacy in any way, but it would be interesting to know some basic demographic information about the aggregate. Were most copies of TMP sold in the South? How many of my readers are women? How can I get in touch with those folks (or at least those who liked the book) to let them know when the sequel is out?

Amazon doesn't appear to be offering up any of that information at this time, but I wonder if one day they will offer some advanced features like the ability to sign up for an author's newsletter at the same time someone purchases a book, or direct links to author's Facebook and twitter pages. I wonder if authors will have the opportunity one day to send follow-up messages about their books to the people who purchased them. As a reader, I wouldn't necessarily want an inbox full of marketing materials from every author I've ever read, but I might want to have periodic opportunities to opt-in to the authors I like the most. This way of reading is so new, it will be fascinating to watch how things evolve from here.

In the meantime, I am slowly learning the ins and outs of both Amazon and social media, and trying to continue making time for, you know, writing. Again, I'm so grateful to everyone who has voiced support and enjoyed the novel. I'm looking forward to the next big promotion!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

And Our Kindles Shall Grow Fat on Freebies

Well, my experiment with amazon's new KDP Select program is going gangbusters. At this writing, it's been a little over 24 hours since I put The Marriage Pact on free promotion. There have been 15,279 downloads so far, and TMP is at the top of the Kindle Contemporary Fiction List. It's Number 6 on the Free Kindle list overall.

Amazon updates those rankings hourly, so by the time I finish this blog (especially with my sweet little interruptions), it may have changed. Still, as a first-time author, it is an absolute thrill to know that something I've written is in the hands of more than fifteen thousand people. And to be at the top of any best"seller" category is something I wouldn't have dreamed of a few months ago.

Please pardon the Oscar speech. I'm humbled by the experience and grateful to everyone who has participated so far. My friends and family, as well as loads of Twitter followers, have been downloading and spreading the word with enthusiasm. I also want to send a particular shout of gratitude to my amazing mother-in-law. Neither of my parents is alive to share these little moments of triumph with me anymore, but she took the ball and ran with it last night. We were on the phone half the evening, and it was like watching election returns come in. There's a reason Hubs is such an amazing man. End of Oscar speech.

Not only have I been promoting my own book lately, I've been taking advantage of the opportunities these free promotions are offering. I have seen some really interesting books come across the Twitterverse for free -- independent authors promoting horror, mystery, suspense, sci-fi, fantasty, etc. And of course, contemporary fiction like mine. I love taking advantage of the opportunity to download some of these for lots of reasons.

For starters, it's a chance to support other authors, which is a no-brainer. My kindle is getting fat and happy and I will soon have enough free reading material to get me all the way through the summer. And maybe next summer, too. :)

But it also allows me the opportunity to download, risk-free, books from a variety of authors and genres -- maybe even those I wouldn't normally explore. I'm not a huge fantasy person, for example, but I do love a good story and I respect that sci-fi and fantasy authors have the enormous task of creating whole new worlds - with rules and places and languages - in addition to the usual writing tasks of plot, character and conflict.

I think it's good for writers to read lots in their own genre, to understand what works and what doesn't. Obviously, you probably aren't writing in a particular genre if you don't already like to read it. But other genres can teach us a good bit about the craft of writing: details, suspense, language, emotions... the list goes on. Good writing is good writing. I'm happy to find it and learn from it wherever I can. And if I get hooked on a suspense or fantasy series in the process, so much the better for me and my writing.

It's not clear what kind of impact the KDP Select program will have on reading and writing, but it certainly will be a venue for many independent authors to go from unknown to less unknown. The strength of our stories and honing of craft will have to carry us from there.

Again, thank you to everyone who has downloaded, forwarded, tweeted, and taken a chance on my little book. I hope you enjoy Marci's adventures and will be awaiting the sequel featuring Suzanne this summer. Feel free to join the email list if you want to be notified when it comes out.

PS - For those who are curious, the number of downloads is now up to 15939. Incredible.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Free Chick Lit eBook Promotion - April 3rd through 5th

If you are into great chick lit, need a spring break read, or just want to help a newbie author get noticed, then this is your moment to shine!

For the next three days, you can download THE MARRIAGE PACT (http://www.amazon.com/The-Marriage-Pact-ebook/dp/B0055LH79Q/) for free on amazon.com! It will be yours to keep, and you don't have to have a Kindle to read it (you can read it on any device that is compatible with Kindle apps, including iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android... even your PC or laptop).

THE MARRIAGE PACT is all about what happens when two college friends make a pact to get married if they're both single at age 30. It's a familiar promise, but what happens when 30 actually arrives? The story is told from the perspective of Marci Thompson, a slightly awkward long-term temp who is stuck in a secret relationship with her married boss. Marci's life in Austin, Texas is a mess, and she's floored when her best guy friend, halfway across the country in Georgia, reminds her of the pact they made long ago. It's a funny, touching story that's had my female readers staying up all night to finish it, and male readers confessing that they cried in public. I hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Please visit http://www.amazon.com/Marriage-Pact-M-J-Pullen/dp/1463600682/ and click on the Kindle version to download. Then please spread the word to the chick-lit lovers in your life (or 'women's contemporary fiction readers', if you want to be all classy about it).

Here are some great reasons to take a moment to do this today:
  • Spring break is the perfect time for a fun, entertaining read that will leave you laughing, crying, and satisfied at the end.
  • It's FREE. I've looked into it, and that's not very expensive.
  • You can read this version of The Marriage Pact on Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, or even your home PC.
  • A great book is the perfect complement to a glass of wine. Or a bottle of Yoohoo.
  • Downloading my book helps me rise in the amazon rankings, which will help other readers find my book, too. I also get a share of a special monthly fund based on number of downloads.
  • On your PC, you can read an intriguing, funny love story while you pretend you're doing your taxes.
  • Maybe you already own the paperback version of TMP, but want a digital version to read on a plane or loan to a friend.
  • Helping an indie author gets noticed TOTALLY counts as your good deed for the day. It will certainly offset whatever you did in traffic this morning.
As always, thanks for reading!

[Updated April 4, 2012 to remove random weird formatting. Sorry!]