Tag Archives: Amazon Kindle

Dear Damo : Why isn’t my space opera novel selling?

Welcome to the first in a new series of blog posts where I answer your questions about life, love, and self publishing. All names are changed to protect the innocent.

Send your questions to me on Twitter @damiengwalter using hashtag #DearDamo


Dear Damo!

I’ve always wanted to be a BESTSELLING writer! So, a few weeks ago I sat down and wrote a bestselling novel in a genre I know to be super popular…SPACE OPERA! My book it has space ships, space battles, space marines and even space cadets! My book is on Kindle now…but it isn’t bestselling! This surprises me because space opera novels are huge bestsellers! I also went the extra distance and made my space opera novel an EPIC space opera cover! It’s of a space ship that looks like that cool one from Aliens and it’s in orbit above a gas giant planet which is all swirly colours…how could that not stand out! What’s wrong with people?!




Dear Lucas,

I’m glad you’re having fun being a bestselling author, even if the bestselling part hasn’t shown up yet! That’s the spirit!


However…what you describe here is a common problem among many self published authors. We tend to assume that if something is successful, other things like it will also be successful. To an extent, this is true. Some people like to read within one genre, and big bestsellers can have a “halo effect”, as readers look for another hit of a story that gripped them. BUT, like a goth kid who wants to be unique but ends up one of thousands wearing identikit black eyeliner and DM boots, copying popular trends like “space opera” actually has the opposite effect. Tens of thousands of other people had exactly the same idea, and their books also have space marines and a space ship orbiting a gas giant on the cover.

So what’s the answer? Great writers have an instinct for the kinds of stories that will grab an audiences attention, stories that are both comfortingly familiar and indescribably new and different. Harry Potter wasn’t the first story about a kid who goes to magic school, but J K Rowling twisted archetypal elements and blended genres to create something truly new. Technology opens up surprising & powerful ways of analysing data about successful stories, with platforms like K-Lytics offering detailed reports into the “hot niche” sub-genres that are coming into popularity.

Always, always, always write what you are passionate about. But once it’s written, you can use research and analytics to find the best niche genres to market your work, and then create a cover design that really stands out for that audience.

Hope that helps!

Peace & love!


Will the next wave of publishing technology favour writers?

Independent author Susanna Shore expresses the bottom line on the state of independent publishing in a well thought out post on Kindle Unlimited.

As a KDP author, it’s impossible for me to remain completely neutral, even when keeping outside the dispute. Generally, I tend to favour the opinion that all big companies look for their best interests. For now, Amazon’s interests are favourable to me, but that doesn’t mean they are on my side, or that their interests will continue to be in my favour. Moreover, I don’t have to be on their side to benefit from their desire for profit. In this, I’m firmly on my side, which doesn’t mean I didn’t feel sorry for the authors affected by the dispute.

Read more of So…Kindle Unlimited

The high emotions engendered by the transition from print to digital publishing often cloud the basic facts. As Shore bluntly states, that transition, lead by technology innovated by Amazon, has fallen firmly in favour of writers, and particularly those writers with the energy and skill set to publish independently. Digital eliminates the entire print, distribution and retail chain that once sucked so much value from the wealth generated by publishing books. Now a writer can write and then publish a book to one of a half-dozen ebook marketplaces, Amazon Kindle being by far the largest, and keep hold of most of the wealth the book generates. Even after a substantial cut has gone to the marketplace, the author still gets a far higher percentage return.

But we live in fast moving technological times. The model of a few centralised ebook marketplaces is likely to disappear as fast as it appeared. I personally doubt it will last beyond the end of this decade, 2020. But what might replace it, and will the next wave of publishing technology continue to favour the author?

One way to understand the success of the Amazon Kindle marketplace is as a byproduct of the limitations of internet search. What do I mean by that somewhat jargon heavy statement? We need a central marketplace for ebooks, because Google search doesn’t quite fulfil that function. A Google search can help you find an author or book, but it quickly hands you over to anther information source that actually holds more extensive meta-data on that author or book. Amazon, or the Amazon owned Goodreads, are nearly always the top returned result for any ebook search. And of course it’s in the Amazon marketplace that you actually buy the book, and download it to your e-reader.

But the next stage of internet search has the potential to entirely bypass the Amazon marketplace, and other similar marketplaces for digital goods like ebooks. The semantic web is a simple idea made complex by a somewhat off putting name. In brief, it is the idea that every piece of information on the internet is tagged with the meta-data that describes it. For example, my name “Damien Walter” would also be tagged with my place and date of birth, web address, email etc etc and thousands or millions of other pieces of “meta data”. An ebook, let’s say Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, would be tagged with all the meta-data relevant to it. For instance, it’s current sales data, recent related tweets, reviews, and all kinds of other useful information. Once you have extensive semantic data on most ebooks, Google can effectively displace Amazon as the marketplace for ebooks.

Why? Because when you search, say, for “Science Fiction” on the semantic web, Google will return a far more useful result to you than the current Amazon science fiction category. It will be able to show you bestselling titles, top authors, most talked about books on social networks, and a huge amount of other data tailored to your needs. And all of this data will be decentralised. It will be provided directly, by publishers, by authors, and by readers. And of course, with it’s own robust payment systems, Google will happily deal with the translation to buy this product directly from the author, again without the involvement of Amazon. Instead of uploading an ebook to the Amazon marketplace for a 35-70%, authors might instead upload their new book to their own website, tagged with all relevant semantic data, and sell it via google for 97%, minus only Googles 3% transaction fee.

This is of course speculative. But given the current trends in our technology, there’s every reason to believe that the next technological developments in publishing will give even more power to authors than the Amazon marketplace has done already. Authors are, until computers start writing fiction, the only essential worker needed to create novels. As such the tendency of technology to automate all kinds of work will also tend to shift more and more power away from publishing professionals of all kinds, and towards the author.

Publishers have missed the boat on digital genre fiction

Publishers are making moves to exploit the success of genres like romance and sci-fi in digital book sales onplatforms like the Amazon Kindle.

“Certain categories [of eBooks] have a much larger digital adoption than others,” Dobson said. “The genres were among the first where readers took to the digital format and the ratio of readers of digital, as opposed to physical, are much, much higher.” In the case of some genre titles, as much as 60 to 70 percent of the sales are digital. “I think there is an enormous audience in digital right now,” Dobson said. “It’s actually where the action is.”

This is quoted from an interesting Wired article on the subject. But it’s an article which completely misses the real meat of the argument. The big 5 publishers are being beaten bloody in ebooks by a merry band of self-published authors lead by the likes of Hugh Howey. Zip over to Amazon and take a look at the top seller lists in any established genre. You’ll find two kinds of writer. established big hitters like George R R Martin. And a whole bunch of indie authors you have never heard of, but are making small fortunes selling genre books directly to a hungry audience. What you won’t find are mid-list and debut authors from traditional publishers. And that must worry many people in the industry. Hence the rush to mine the rich seem of genre fiction.

Read the full Wired article.

STORY SALE: Star to Universe Magazine

I’m quite chuffed to say that my story Star has been accepted by new UK based Universe magazine and will appear in their first ‘Albion’ themed issue in May 2012.

Star was written in the 5th week of my time at the Clarion writer’s workshop in 2008. I went to Clarion with the mission of breaking my writing…kicking apart the style I had developed and finding different directions to go in. I spent the first four weeks doing that, and getting suitably savaged in the critique sessions, so in week five I returned to my more familiar style of dark, intense flash fiction and Star was the product.

In one aspect Star is a glimpse at a dystopian, alternative Britain 60 years after Nazi Germany won world war II. Britain’s history as an imperial and industrial power is a strong theme in much of my fiction, and Star was one of the first times I explored this idea. In another aspect it’s a very personal story about growing up in a British culture I felt deeply and often aggressively alienated from. And, reading the story back three years after writing it, I see there is also an emergent idea about belief and materialism in the story mix. So I am very happy that the story has found a good home.

AND: My Lovesick Zombie Boy Band, first published in the Hugo award winning Electric Velocipede, is available for free on Amazon Kindle for a few days from Saturday.

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Meta-content is the future of the book

This evening I bought Jeffrey Eugenides ‘The Marriage Plot’ from the Amazon Kindle store. I would love to say that I always buy books when it would be just as easy to download a pirate version for free, but I would be being  dishonest. But buying the book has recently become a far more likely outcome, for the simple reason that I want to see what other people are saying about it.

Reading through The Marriage Plot I am able to see where other readers have highlighted passages. I find this really quite interesting. It would of course be much, much more interesting if readers could share comments on the text directly through their Kindles. We may read books in isolation but we love to talk about them together. Books are about our shared human experience, so it’s good and natural that we want to exchange thoughts about them. Take it a step further. Think about the commentary that accrues around a text over the years. Reviews. Academic studies. Reader comments. Author interviews. Social media gives us the technology to connect all of these materials directly to the text. That’s incredible added value, which has hardly even begun to be tapped.

The publishing industry has been chronically slow in exploiting the unique added value of user generated meta-content around the product they publish. Particularly as it provides an absolutely compelling solution to the problem of piracy. Only the authorised text allows you both to read commentary, and to comment upon the text. Readers are in effect paying not for the book, an increasingly worthless product, but for entry to the community of the book’s readers, an increasingly valuable experience. My prediction is that the first players to provide a seamless commentary and meta-content system for published texts will gain an advantage in the game of modern publishing. It will almost certainly be Amazon, unless the major publishers suddenly gain a gift for innovation they have previously lacked.

Why do you write?

This week I have been following with interest the rise and rise of indie-publishing phenomenon Amanda Hocking. In case you missed it, Hocking has over the last year or so been building considerable sales of her self-published paranormal romance novels through the Kindle store. Estimates of her sales run at on average 100,000 a month. Then at some point in the last few weeks, Hocking’s success became a story in and of itself and that part of the internet concerned with books basically caught fire and exploded her up to the heights of web-stardom. The latest news is that Hocking has signed a traditional publishing deal, and it seems likely she will be remembered at the very least as the first true indie-publishing star.

Amanda Hocking’s good fortune raises a few interesting issues. It certainly rocks the traditional publishing world, who simply can’t compete with indie authors that can make their work available online at $1 a pop or less when publishers are insisting on ebook prices of $10 or more to preserve their publishing model. And it makes it abundantly clear that e-books are now the primary delivery vehicle for fiction, and particularly for new writing.

But. The more interesting question arises from the intense excitement generated by Hocking’s success. Because while Hocking has demonstrated that indie-authors can tap real audiences with self-published e-books, it is not millions of paranormal romance fans who have made her a star. Instead it is the incredibly large number of writers seeking to imitate her success that have, through their fascination, become the very fuel of that success.

(I should at this point admit the existence of my own ebook, a short story published recently in the Kindle store, after being published in print and soon to be podcast.)

It is not news to anyone involved with writing or publishing that there are a very large number of people who carry the ambition of becoming a writer. It’s really impossible to know how many, but what we can say is that, between the vast growth in education and wealth in the developed world, and the array of democratic publishing technologies provided by the internet, it is exponentially more than a generation ago. In fact there are now so many aspiring professional writers that they have become a common object of pillory:

And yes, many, indeed most, will fail for exactly these reasons. But putting aside the millions of hopeless wannabes who will never get close, there are still literally tens of thousands of people putting in serious work, hour after hour, to honing their craft and drafting and redrafting short stories and novels. And given the very small number of people who will ever ‘succeed’ at the holy grail of becoming a professional, full-time writer, one has to ask…why?

At which point, I must turn to you, dear reader. If you are reading this then you (like I) are likely engaged in the thankless task of ‘being a writer’. Why, I ask, are you doing it? Do you enjoy pain? Are you addicted to rejection? Do you crave the patronising reactions of your more successful peers at dinner parties? What makes you do it? Why do you write?

Here is my answer. I write for al the reasons that we all do. I write with the deluded fantasy that I, despite the astronomical odds against it, might become successful and escape my mundane life for that of a famous author. (Did I mention I have an ebook? I did? Have you bought it yet?) I write because I’m one of those unfortunate souls who keep succeeding just enough to keep that fantasy intact. Somehow or another I have shaped some kind of career around writing, writing about writing, teaching writing. And I write because I like writing. I enjoy the muscular sensation of wrestling words towards some kind of meaning on the page.

But if there is one single reason above all of these why I write, and why the thousands of hours I have invested in writing have been worthwhile, and why none of the millions of aspiring writers out there are wasting their time, it is this.

I write to grow.

Emotionally. Intellectually. Spiritually. Socially. If I did not write I would be less a person in all these ways. I would probably have thousands of more hours TV watching under my belt, but I would understand far less about the world. I might have a few more friends, but they would be far less interesting than the friends I have made through writing. I would be less fulfilled in almost every way, of that I am certain.

We live in an age where, quite amazingly, millions of people are able to grow as humans by exploring their own fundamentally creative nature. That is a true wonder, and, while I might secretly resent the competition, if we ever reach the point where everyone of the seven billion humans on the planet are striving to be an artist of some kind, it will be a very good sign for our species.

But we also live in an age obsessed with the cults of success and celebrity. And I question how compatible the drive for creative fulfilment and the drive for celebrity can ever really be. The dream of success is no bad thing in itself, as a goad to fuel our creative development. But when that dream becomes the goal in itself, it risks completely destroying the creative growth and development which is the real reward of writing.

Amanda Hocking is, I have no doubt, creatively fulfilled by her writing. Her novels are well written, they know their readership and I believe they grow out of their authors genuine creative interests (if they did not I doubt they would have succeeded at all). They do the most important thing for any work of fiction, which is express their author’s true voice as an artist. But I truly doubt this is or will be the case for the millions of writers self-publishing dark fantasy, high fantasy, sci-fi, horror or other generic novels on to the Kindle. And this is a great shame.

Back in the pre-interent days of paper publishing, there were very few ways for people to succeed. Which, in creative terms, was a good thing. Because with every rejection it kept challenging aspiring writers to break the model of their work, and rebuild it…better, stronger, faster. As much as the multiplying opportunities for publication, recognition, success are an incentive, they are also a trap. Because with a few thousand ebook sales, or a few dozen good reviews, or a fan voted award or two, the temptation to say ‘I’ve made it! I’ve succeeded!’ becomes very strong, even when the truth is that you may still be a very long way from fulfilling your creative potential. From growing in to what you might become.

(ahem…did you catch the bit about the ebook. Its an urban fantasy. Kind of. Maybe more life an anti-urban fantasy. My Lovesick Zombie Boy Band. Go. Buy. Read.)