I know Halloween’s a couple of weeks away, but I didn’t want to put this story out after the 31st, so look on it as something to help set the mood.
I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember. As a child I loved books, and that’s carried on into my adult life.
I’m not alone in this, and I’m sure many of you reading this are the same. There are those who get the reading bug later in life, and there are many stories of reluctant readers becoming enamoured with the Harry Potter books, but for most of us, reading is a habit picked up early in life.
Of course, at such a young age our role models tend to be our close family, so it seem likely that most readers were first introduced to the love of books by parents.
I have vivid memories of visiting our local library as a child. Sometimes our mum would take us, but at the weekend it was more likely to be our dad, and my recollection is that he’d often borrow books too.
He’s always been methodical, and I remember him having lists of books by authors he enjoyed (Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Clive Cussler, Dick Francis), and as he read each book he’d cross it off. He’d also add other titles as the writers wrote more books.
And I copied him. Some of our lists were the same, but I added my own favourite authors—Stephen King, James Herbert, Isaac Asimov. I think I still used this list when I got into Terry Pratchett, too.
My dad (at least, in my memory) read on the train on his commute, and I’d read in the back-seat of our car on long journeys. On family holidays, he’d sit in the shade by the pool and read—and when I wasn’t playing in the water, I’d read while laying in the sun.
I’m pretty sure this wasn’t conscious, on either my part or his. But he was my dad, and therefore someone to copy.
I don’t remember my mum reading as much, except on holiday, but she always had a book by her beside. Draw your own conclusions from this, but my sister isn’t anywhere near as avid a reader as I am.
I think it took me a while to understand that other children didn’t read, but by the time I worked in education it was clear that many of those in my classes would do anything other than read for their entertainment.
Over the years there have been many schemes to encourage schoolchildren to read. There are adventure tales told in simplistic language that aimed to bring in teenage boys. There are simple non-fiction titles, little more than pamphlets, designed to engage those who aren’t interested in stories.
Studies show a correlation between books and exam results—students who come from households with a high number of books generally perform better in exams. From this were developed schemes to get more books into homes, on the assumption that this would boosting exam results and performance in school.
These schemes didn’t work.
Correlation is not causality. If I wear shorts when it’s hot, that doesn’t mean the act of wearing shorts increases the temperature. If a cock crows every day at dawn, that isn’t sufficient evidence to argue that the crowing cock causes the sun to rise. Likewise, owning a large number of books does not automatically make someone more intelligent (although it might give that impression).
The real value in books lies not in their physical presence, but in the words within their pages. To be of benefit, books have to be read.
Another memory from my childhood might be apposite here.
In one of our weekly assemblies at school, we were given a talk by someone from Gideons, and afterwards this person presented every student in our year with a small New Testament. The aim was surely to encourage us to explore our faith in the hope that we’d become proper Christians (or something like that).
These New Testaments were small, about three inches by two, and the pages were very thin. They were bound in such a way that the pages were almost perforated, and could easily be torn out. One of my classmates said they would make great papers for roll-ups.
I doubt he used every page for this, but I’m sure he smoked a fair bit of that New Testament. Not what the man from Gideons envisaged.
So, if having books doesn’t directly lead to increased intelligence, better exam results and all the rest of it, why is there a clear correlation?
With a bit of thinking, it’s obvious.
Return to what I said earlier, about young children being strongly influenced by their close family. If a child’s parents have a decent book collection, it’s probably because they value and enjoy reading. These values are then passed on to their children. This might be through conscious effort (reading time before bed, buying books as presents, showing an interest in the books their children are reading, trips to the library, and so on). But it might also be unconscious, through things such as being seen reading a book, or showing an interest in books when shops.
Reading develops and builds many skills—concentration, analysis, empathy, self-direction and so on. And it is these skills that benefit a child in school and when taking exams. So there is a correlation, but the connection between books and better school performance is tied up in the act of reading those books.
Of course, it’s never too late to enjoy books (and with the rise of audiobooks, failing eyesight and difficulties in holding books are no longer issues). But, as with so many things, an early start is better.
I was fortunate in growing up in a house with books, and having parents who encouraged me to read, both consciously and unconsciously. Without books—without the worlds they contain, the things I’ve learnt from them and the skills reading has helped me develop—my life would be so much poorer.
I’ve been working on a new Dominions novel recently (okay, over most of this year), so my mind’s been back in that world, and it’s come up with Memories, another look at the shady world of Correction.
One of the biggest decisions for an independently-published author, when releasing a book, is choosing between going into KU and going wide.
If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, I’ll explain.
KU, or Kindle Unlimited, is Amazon’s subscription service for ebooks. Subscribers pay a monthly fee, and can then borrow as many books from the KU library as they want. It’s great for readers who devour books, and for a newer writer it can be an excellent way to gain more visibility—when readers don’t have to pay for each book they download, they’re more willing to take a chance on an unknown writer.
To compensate writers for these ‘free’ downloads, Amazon pay for each page a subscriber reads. While the individual page-read amount is very small (a fraction of a cent), the total can soon add up, often overtaking revenue from book sales.
‘Going wide’ means releasing an ebook through other retailers (although most writers still have their work available through the Kindle Store). While Amazon/Kindle is predominant in some places (particularly the US and UK), other ebook retailers have a larger share of the readership in other territories (such as Kobo in Canada). It’s also worth remembering that there are areas where Amazon does not have an e-book presence, and in these countries readers need to use some of the smaller services.
For a writer/publisher, the ideal situation would be to release books through every platform as well as enrolling these same books in KU—but Amazon don’t allow this. They have an exclusivity clause (for all but a few big-name authors), which means that a book in KU cannot be available anywhere else. So there’s a choice—either go into KU, or go wide.
I’m not a fan of exclusivity, so I released the books in my first series, Dominions, wide. But when I came to write my Shadows series, I decided to try KU, at least for a while. But after ordering new covers some months ago, I took the opportunity to rethink.
Some writers make a significant chunk of their income through KU page-reads, so looked back over my own sales and page-reads. I discovered that, since releasing the first Shadows book in August 2017, I’ve earned twice as much through page-reads as through sales—for each $10 of sales, I’ve received $20 through KU. If I were to go wide with this series, in purely financial terms I’d need to earn twice as much through other vendors combined as I do through Amazon.
Is this likely? To answer this, I checked the figures for my Dominions books (all of them are wide). Here, I discovered that Amazon brought in slightly more than other sites combined, but only just. The figures were roughly equal, so $10 of sales through Amazon equates to roughly $10 through everywhere else. This is about half of what I’d earn through KU page-reads.
From this, it appears that staying in KU is a better move, and also seems to suggest that putting the Dominions books in KU would be a sensible move.
But this doesn’t give the whole picture. There are other factors I need to take into consideration.
KU is owned by Amazon, and they can do with it whatever they want. Amazon continually tweak, aiming for better customer satisfaction in order to increase profits. There have been instances over the past few years where certain changes have cut some author earnings by 50% or more. It’s a reminder that it’s not usually a sensible move to put all your eggs in one basket. There’s more financial security in earning from multiple sources, so that changes resulting in a loss from one source can be offset by earnings from another. Yes, being in KU might be a good short-term move at the moment, but I’d prefer a steady income over many years rather than a quick spike in earnings.
But what of the readers who use different services and retail sites? In my own experience, and at the risk of making sweeping generalisations, it looks like there are.
One tactic often used by writers is ‘first book free’. The idea behind this is to have the first book in a series as a free download, a way for potential readers to try a new writer without spending any money. Then, if they enjoy that free book, they’ll be more likely to buy subsequent books in the series.
There’s a term for readers moving through books in a series—read-through. Often, there’s a middling to low read-through from book one to book two (especially with a free book one), but a significantly higher read-through from book two to book three. My own sales and downloads fit this pattern—but it’s worth noting that the read-through from book one to book two differs on different platforms. I have a far higher read-through on Kobo than I do on Amazon. I’ve also found that Kobo readers are more willing to post a rating, although this might be connected to the fact that Kobo allow ratings without reviews, but Amazon insist on a review.
Why this should be, I’m not sure. Maybe readers who specifically favour non-Amazon sites are less likely to be seeking bargains, or maybe they are more serious or dedicated readers. Again, this is a generalisation, and there might be other possible reasons that escape me at the moment.
But what it does mean is that, proportionally, I get more engaged readers on Kobo than on Amazon. I’ve had positive comments from Amazon readers, as well as from readers who use iBooks and Barnes & Noble.
Then there are those who download my Dominions books in places where Amazon don’t reach. So far, I’ve had downloads through all 13 Amazon stores (.com, .de, .com.br, and so on), but have had downloads through Kobo from 80 different countries. As the e-book markets change, and as mobile technology expands into new places (it’s growing particularly strongly in Africa and Asia), being with e-book retailers who reach these areas puts me in a stronger position for the future.
With all this in mind, I’ve now pulled my Shadows series from KU, and am now in the process of publishing the trilogy wide. The first book, Shadowfall, is in most stores now, and Shadowsiege and Shadowstrike are due to have their wide release over the next couple of weeks. At the end of the month I’ve got a few promotions lined up (in the run-up to Halloween, which seemed appropriate for a sci-fi/horror series), and I intend to explore other advertising options too.
Will this move pay off? Only time will tell, and if things go wrong I can always return to KU. But I’m confident this is the right decision—not for short-term financial gain, but for reaching new readers who will enjoy these books, and who are more likely to buy more books in the future.
The Shadows series used to be exclusive to Amazon, but not any more. The first book in the series, Shadowfall, is now available wide, with a brand new cover. The next two books in the trilogy will release across different sites over the next couple of weeks, with paperbacks to follow.
Click here to see the sites you can now get the sci-fi/horror Shadowfall.
Probably should’ve held this one back for a month, but look on it as a pre-Hallowe’en gift.
I’ve always had a soft spot for stories that don’t give all the answers, and as I write these short stories I’m realising how perfect the form is for horror/creepy tales. If we don’t know what happens next, our imaginations kick in, filling the blanks with our own, personal horrors.
Tenancy Agreement is one of those kind of stories. I tried adding some kind of explanation, but that left the story feeling flat. With an ambiguous ending, the reader gets to decide on the main character’s eventual fate.
There are many reasons to put aside a book, either for the time being or permanently. Maybe the style is grating, or there are too many typos and grammatical errors. Possibly you no longer care what happens to the characters, either because they feel artificial or you have no empathy with them. Maybe the story is filled with cliches, or the plot is too complicated to follow, or things are moving too slowly. Maybe the writing is either too simplistic or too dense.
Some people give a book a couple of pages to prove itself, and others carry on to the end regardless. Most people are probably somewhere in between these two, but for myself I tend to persevere, although I have stopped reading books on occasions.
I was tempted to put aside a book recently. That book was The Fifth Doll, by Charlie N Holmberg, and I struggled through the first few chapters. There was nothing wrong with the writing, but the story didn’t feel like anything was happening. There were hints that something might be bubbling under the surface, but nothing seemed to develop, and I found myself losing interest fast.
I told myself that the book wasn’t that long (about 250 pages), and wouldn’t take too much time to get through, so I continued.
And, slowly, things started to happen—those bubbles of possibilities rose to the surface and started to pop. The story became more intriguing, and by the time I was half-way through the book, I was eager to continue reading, to discover how these creepy events played out.
By the time I’d finished the book (I didn’t feel the ending worked too well, but I very much enjoyed the middle build), I realised that it would have been difficult to start this book in a more immediate manner. We needed to become immersed in the normal world so that we understood how the subtle disruptions disturbed the main character so much. This wasn’t a jump-scare horror, but one that needed the slow build. If we’d been introduced to something unsettling too early, the intensity of the developing story would have been diluted.
Did this require perseverance to get through those first few chapters? Yes—but it then rewarded that perseverance. In a sea of ‘instant attention’ media, where the aim is to hook the reader/viewer as soon as possible, this book stood out in how it didn’t pander to ‘instant gratification’, but instead gave the story the time it needed.
This isn’t always the case, of course—some books fail to grab me all the way through, or even grow worse as they progress—but the times when I’m pleasantly surprised make up for the time wasted on stories that I don’t enjoy.
This applies to writing, too. Stories rarely work perfectly in the first draft, and it’s easy to become despondent during this stage of writing, and to believe that a particular story is ‘wrong’ or that time would be better spent working on something ‘better’. It’s easier to see all the glaring faults and miss the potential for something that works.
It’s natural to compare that first draft to great books we’ve read, but it’ll always fall short. We need to remember that all those wonderful books started off as messy first drafts, and sometimes the writer struggled for years to craft their story. Often, these great books were written by people with years of experience under their belt, too, with plenty of abandoned projects sitting in desk drawers or on hard drives.
I’ve been working on a story since the start of the year (although I’ve been planning it on and off since the middle of 2018), witht he intention of publishing around June, but that hasn’t happened. The whole process had been a struggle. I’ve written a number of drafts that simply didn’t work, and there have been times I’ve considered abandoning it entirely. At one point I took a break, wrote the first draft of something else entirely, then returned to this awkward project with a fresh mind.
But perseverance has paid off. At the time of writing this, I’m deep in the process of editing a working first draft, and can see how the book will turn out. The story’s better now because I’ve spent so much time on it, and because I’ve been able to try different ideas. Those ‘failed’ first drafts have all built toward the final book, which should be out by the end of the year.
My time might have been better spent abandoning that project (or putting it on long-term hold) and going with something new and exciting, just as giving up on reading a book might give hours more reading time for a great book. But perseverance is important—it’s something that’s too easy to ignore when so much entertainment is instant, when we’re tempted to become passive consumers rather than active participants in a book or a story. We unrealistically expect writing to be easy, forgetting that the only way to improve in something is to spend time and effort.
Of course, blindly continuing on the wrong path is just as bad as changing path too early. So when is it right to give up on a book?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that—but as with so much in life, experience counts for a great deal. The more we read (and write), and the more we develop our perseverance, the better able we are to judge how to best spend our limited time.