New Age Of Publishing – Guest Post 8 – Shane Jiraiya Cummings

Here’s another in my series of guest posts discussing the changing face of publishing. In this one, dark fiction author Shane Jiraiya Cummings talks about his ‘grand experiment’. He’s decided to leap with both feet into the ebook self-publishing world and make the majority of his previously published work (and a couple of new things) available as ebooks, managing the whole process himself. He’s being openly transparent about the mechanics and results, so have a read here about where he’s gone so far and then follow along to see how it pans out.

The Grand Experiment

Shane CummingsFilled with that euphoric sense of new year’s I-can-do-anything-ness, in January, I embarked on what I call the ‘Grand Experiment’ with ebooks (yes, not just an experiment but a GRAND experiment!) Sure, plenty of other authors are testing the ebook waters with a title or two, but I don’t believe this is enough to gain a foothold. Therefore, I released seven ebooks simultaneously into the wild on Amazon and Smashwords. With my novella Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves already available, I currently have eight ebooks online. I also have two more in production and another few on the drawing board.

With eight books, I’m hoping the splash will be big enough for me to drum up 1,000 sales over the course of this year, and if I’m lucky, I might even join those industrious authors like J. A. Konrath, Scott Nicholson, or Amanda Hocking at the top of the e-food chain. But before I entertain delusions of grandeur, I’m taking things one week at a time.

PhoenixAside from my sales target, the other thing I’m hoping to prove is whether short story collections and novellas will sell as successfully as novels. In the bookstores, novels are king, but I’m not so sure the same rule applies in the e-world. Five of my Grand Experiment titles are collections (the ebook version of Shards, which has two new stories, and the four volumes of the Apocrypha Sequence). The other two – The Smoke Dragon and Requiem for the Burning God – are novellas (as is my other ebook, Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves, but this was published by Damnation Books, not self-published, so I have no control over its pricing).

My desire to prove that collections and novellas will sell well is not some wild stab in the dark. Others have already paved the way. Author Lee Goldberg on J. A. Konrath’s blog said this month:

“My most profitable title, in terms of hours worked and pages written, is Three Ways to Die, a collection of three previously published short stories. In print, it’s a mere fifty-six pages long, but it’s selling 24 copies-a-day on the Kindle, earning me about $1500-a-month. That means I could potentially earn $18,000 this year just from those three short stories alone. That is insane.”

$18,000 for three short stories? Yes, that is insane, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. And remember, that’s in just one year. I consider myself fortunate that I’ve been successful as a short story author. I’ve made more than a few ‘pro’ sales over the years, and by pro, I mean the SFWA and HWA rate of 5 cents/word. If you add up all my short story sales (and I’ve had more than 60 published so far – more than 120 sales when you count reprints), I estimate I’ve earned maybe $2000 from my short stories thus far. If you average that out, it’s $33 per story. So you can see why I’m enviously eyeing Lee Goldberg’s $18,000. Good luck to him, I say, but in the same breath, I say, if he can do it, why can’t I?

The early signs are looking good. The Smoke Dragon, which is free on Smashwords (but 99c on Amazon because of their pricing limitations), has rocketed up the ‘most downloaded’ fantasy chart at Smashwords, and in a week (and without much in the way of promotion), it has been downloaded 230 times and been given two great reviews (one five star, one four star). Plus, I’ve sold two copies on Amazon. The fascinating thing about The Smoke Dragon is that it was available as a free PDF on my website for more than 12 months. You know how many times it was downloaded from my site? Three.

ShardsI’ve read articles about music downloads and iTunes that suggested people want convenience over free stuff. Pirating music is finicky, prone to viruses, and just plain inconvenient for the average punter. It can also make people feel guilty. However, the convenience and prevalence of programs like iTunes is such that most people don’t mind paying $1.69 for a song because it’s easy and guilt-free. The same theory applies to ebooks, which is why I wanted my books on Amazon (the market leader), not just Smashwords. It’s also why I’m not selling my titles from my website – it’s one more set of clicks that people used to the convenience of Amazon or Smashwords just don’t need.

If nothing else, I’ve already expanded my readership by embracing the e-revolution. In one week, 230+ people have read a story which, even though it was a Ditmar and Aurealis Award finalist, I couldn’t give away. Another 110 people have downloaded samples of my other ebooks, and of those, a dozen have purchased my titles. Right now, the numbers are small, but again, it’s the very first week, and except for some mates/colleagues mentioning my Grand Experiment online (for which I’m immensely grateful!), I haven’t yet properly promoted my ebooks.

I used to lament that I couldn’t get my work read beyond the Aussie small press diehards (bless them!). Well, now I’ve done it. I’m reaching new sets of eyes, and the exciting thing for me is that almost all of my ebooks are reprints. These are second, third, and even fourth bites of the cherry, but only a few hundred people at most have ever read my short stories, so it doesn’t matter that they were published in small press magazines and anthologies. Repackaged as ebooks, they’re ready for the wider world to enjoy.

I can’t see any downsides to embracing ebook self publishing so far, but the ultimate test for me will be when my novel is ready (which should be soon). I’m torn between approaching a progressive publisher (who publishes ebooks and print books) or going it alone and self-publishing. This is why the ebook revolution is such a heady time for authors. If we choose to take total control over our destinies, there is a reasonable chance we’ll fail, but if we succeed like someone such as Amanda Hocking – a previously unpublished author who sold 99,000 copies of her ebooks in December alone! – then the rewards will be worth it. For me, the next 12 months will decide my course one way or the other. Wish me luck!

If you’re curious to see how the Grand Experiment progresses, you can follow it here.


Amazon’s ebook sales eclipse paperbacks 115:100

Timely news given my New Age of Publishing series of guest blogs currently running. The figures are a bit messy as hardbacks aren’t included, but overall sales of paid Kindle books are outselling paperback books at a ratio of 115:100 through The company says: is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the company has sold 115 Kindle books. Additionally, during this same time period the company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books.

This is across’s entire US book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher.

Given that this is a piece of US-centric news, it would be interesting to see how global figures affect the ratios. But regardless of vagaries in statistics, one thing is clear: Ebooks are mainstreaming faster than most predicted.

The Kindle ereader is the single biggest selling product on Amazon, though Kindle edition books are obviously available on a variety of devices. I read a lot of Kindle books on my iPhone, for example. Anyone still denying the ebook revolution is certainly kidding themselves.


New Age Of Publishing – Guest Post 7 – Benjamin Solah

My series of posts looking at the changing face of publishing continues. This time I’ve got a post from Benjamin Solah. Ben is an emerging writer from Melbourne. He’s also a poet and activist. He’s been dipping his toe into the murky waters of publishing’s new world and writes a bit here about his experiences. For anyone thinking about following Ben’s path, there’s some sage advice to be found in this one.

Ben SolaheBooks have no doubt been a major talking point for writers and those in publishing and literary circles over the last year or so. But now, talk and speculation about digital publishing has moved toward action and I think we’re beginning to see more and more people adopt eReaders as a form of reading alongside print books, but not yet a primary form of reading. What methods people are adopting is varied and it would be impossible for anyone to predict what device or form is going to emerge as dominant, be it something like the Kindle, another eReader, iPads and tablets, smart phones or plain old PCs and laptops.

The era we’re in, I think, is one of speculation and one that is ripe for experimentation, for testing a variety of methods, devices and distribution. It would be mad for any publisher, writer or distributor to put their eggs in one basket. But even madder is some big names in the industry have been slow to put their eggs in any basket.

Enter the emerging writers and the small time writers. We’ve got a real chance to lead the way. And despite the term ‘evangelical’ having horrible connotations for me, I’ve become a bit of an eBook evangelist. I’ve spoken elsewhere about the chances emerging writers have to get in on the eBook market before the big guys do, but now part of me is assessing how much my little experiment is working and what is holding me back.

Using the emerging music scene that I have friends involved in, I was inspired to produce something like a demo tape or EP. I liked the idea of going to see a local band and if you liked them and wanted to support them, you’d buy their CD and/or t-shirt. It’s never like the polished albums you buy from JB Hi-Fi, but it doesn’t really matter. You hope by supporting them, it will contribute to them getting bigger.

Sanity JuxtaposedI tried this with writing and eBooks. I got together some of the flash fiction I posted on my blog, my very first short stories and poems and some blog posts, and put them into a collection called Sanity Juxtaposed. It’s a kind of sample of my work and the early work is meant to be an example of where I’ve come from and how I’ve improved (dramatically) since then.

How’s the experiment gone? Not as well as I’d hoped. I’m kind of assessing it now but not regretting having tried. The eBook remains available in a variety of places to see who will bite, but I’m already looking at how to improve.

For one, I’ve changed the price. eBook pricing remains hotly contested. I originally set it at $5. I wanted it to mean something if someone shelled out their cash. Unfortunately, the nature of shelling over $5 in the online word seems a lot harder than pulling out a $5 note at a gig. I put it down to $2 a few months ago, but nothing much has changed.

One thing I am questioning is whether it was a good idea to put those first pieces of writing in there. I outlined the rationale for doing so in the introduction and hoped it wouldn’t mean those early works formed the basis of how people judged my writing, but with eBooks, most people download samples first before purchasing and I’m afraid those tales at the start probably served the basis for whether or not they bought the whole thing. I’d advise to put your best work forward and not devalue yourself.

Those are two things to consider if you’re experimenting with eBooks – the price and what content you include. But it would be interesting to hear what others think and to use it to adjust my experiment accordingly. I haven’t even mentioned marketing and how that affects sales. Playing around with covers, blurbs and promotion could mean a lot more than I’ve been able to look into yet.

And despite any mistakes we make, experiment, we must. provides an ideal base in which to try things out and get yourself out there to a variety of formats and devices. I think it was even Alan that led me on this route, but others have followed such as Shane Jiraiya Cummings who has just launched his ‘grand experiment’ [Shane will be taking a guest blog here as well soon, talking about his experiences – Alan] with lots of titles on offer. He’s yet another example of someone taking the dive into this whole thing and it benefits all of us.

Those that venture into this jungle of digital publishing learn and teach the others around us by asking questions and sharing what does and doesn’t work. So if you’re one of these emerging writers looking into this with trepidation, know you’re not alone.

Benjamin Solah describes himself as a Marxist Horror Writer, writes fiction, performs poetry around Melbourne, and is an active blogger ( and socialist activist. He is currently working on a short story collection and his latest short story, ‘Somewhere to Pray,’ features in Chinese Whisperings: The Yang Book.


Pentecost by Joanna Penn – review

Pentecost“When Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, the Apostles took stone from his tomb as a symbol of their brotherhood.

At Pentecost, the fires of the Holy Spirit empowered the stones and the Apostles performed miracles in God’s name throughout the Empire. Forged in the fire and blood of the Christian martyrs, the Pentecost stones were handed down through generations of Keepers who kept their power and locations secret.

Until now.

The Keepers are being murdered, the stones stolen by those who would use them for evil in a world transformed by religious fundamentalism. Oxford University psychologist Morgan Sierra is forced into the search when her sister and niece are held hostage. She is helped by Jake Timber from the mysterious ARKANE, a British government agency specializing in paranormal and religious experience.

From ancient Christian sites in Spain, Italy and Israel to the far reaches of Iran and Tunisia, Morgan and Jake must track down the stones through the myths of the early church in a race against time before a new Pentecost is summoned, this time powered by the fires of evil.”

Pentecost by Joanna Penn is a religious thriller and a damn good one. Penn is a non-fiction writer, blogger and public speaker who has turned her hand to fiction and this is her first novel. It’s a great achievement. A long time fan of thrillers, you can see Penn’s passion for the genre in every part of this book.

Morgan Sierra is a great character – a real female hero without being contrived or cliched. The ARKANE group is a great invention, with a solid history making them very believable. The novel races around the world and Penn’s research in location and religious mythology is clear, with every aspect of the plot considered and fleshed out in fine detail. The pace is high, the stakes are higher and very quickly we care about Morgan, her family and whether or not she’ll succeed.

This book has elements that will appeal to all thriller fans – there’s a bit of Indiana Jones, a bit of Wilbur Smith, a bit of Dan Brown and a lot of Joanna Penn. I was fortunate enough, as a friend of Joanna’s, to get a chance to beta-read this book and I have no hesitation in recommending it. It’s a rollicking good read and a cut above a lot of stuff out there. Penn tells us there are more Morgan Sierra books on the horizon and I’m glad. If she’s started out this strong, I’m excited to see where she goes next.

Joanna will be guest posting here as part of the New Age of Publishing series I’m running, so look out for that, and we’ll have a chat with her on the ThrillerCast soon as well.

Pentecost is coming out on February 7th, when you can join in her launch competition and maybe win a Kindle. In the meantime, you can download some chapters in PDF format here.


Book trailers – wank or worthwhile?

The title of this post says it all, really. I’ve been keen to have a book trailer for RealmShift for ages but just not got around to it. Recently I decided to make it a priority and started looking into it more seriously. And that made me wonder – would it really help to sell copies? I can’t afford to have a trailer made for me (more on that in a minute) so investigated making my own. Once I started looking into buying stock images and video to stitch together a trailer I realised that it’s not cheap. I’d thought about filming my own clips, but then it would be likely to turn out like teenagers playing movie games and make me and/or the book look like a right numpty. And even if I bought quality footage, could I make a quality trailer? Would I do my books more harm than good? So what to do?

I started looking at as many book trailers as possible. Some of them are clever, some have impressive production values and some are truly awful. Which is not unlike books – some are clever, some are impressive, some are awful. And while I enjoyed watching some of the trailers, I didn’t go and buy any books.

I made a mention on Twitter that I was looking into doing a book trailer for RealmShift and that generated a bit of debate. It seemed like a lot of people were not impressed by the very concept of book trailers. Someone even said, “Have you ever bought a book because of a trailer?” Well, no, I haven’t. So I asked Twitter:

Hey Twitter – help me out here: Have any of you bought a book based on a book trailer you watched online?

I got a wide range of replies, including things like:

@SeandBlogonaut – are book trailer’s worth the effort?

@CandleForex – no i havent. i like to read the first page or the overview of the book before making a decision

@GRIMACHU – Yes… but I can’t remember what it was… which isn’t that helpful

@MyLittleRedPen – Nope. Always buy books based on recommendations by people or bec I see it in a book shop.

@cochineal – No. Book trailers are uniformly awful.

@fangbooks – yes, but that was more INSPIRED to buy by the trailer… loved the 1st

Not a resounding endorsement of the power of book trailers really.

Something that occurred to me is maybe the professionally produced trailers are more likely to score a hit. If something looks homemade, then then product is going to be considered equally shabby. If I made a book trailer for RealmShift and it was as awful as a lot of Twitter considers other trailers to be, would that actually affect book sales in the wrong direction? I expect most of the trailers people have seen are “homemade” and that’s where this attitude to them comes from. My books are bloody good* so why spoil them with a half-arsed book trailer? Perhaps paying for a pro job is worthwhile (I said pro job).

Well, that’s not an option. A professionally produced book trailer runs into thousands of dollars. While I’d love to say that I make enough from my writing to justify that kind of promotional expense, it would be bullshit. And in my exploration of book trailers, even some that were clearly professionally put together were still bloody awful.

On the other hand, all the book trailers I’ve watched made by Paul Murphy are bloody brilliant. Have a look at these and tell me they don’t work. Or do they? I watched loads of these and loved them all, but I didn’t buy any books. But, there were a couple that stuck in my mind and I’ll remember those books if I ever see them again, on a shelf or an Amazon perusal. A quality trailer for the kind of book that appeals to me made me sit up and take notice. The truth is, a trailer is only ever going to be one part of the overall promotion and marketing of a book. No one aspect of promo is more important than others.

I contacted Book Tease, Paul Murphy’s company, and asked about the cost of producing a book trailer. I was told that a 30 second trailer with a script, motion graphics and music costs between $2000 to $2500. Now, if I was a big publisher and expected to sell several thousand units of a book, that would be a quite acceptable marketing expense. But I’m not. My books are published by a small press in the US and their marketing budget doesn’t stretch to that kind of expense any more than my own does.

There’s a really good interview with Paul Murphy here, talking about book trailers.

But watching Murphy’s trailers made me realise something. If I can’t have a trailer for RealmShift that’s at least as good as his work, then I don’t want one at all. The general consensus seems to be that most book trailers are awful, and mine would be too if I made it myself. As I can’t afford the services of Paul Murphy or someone like him, I’ll have to wait until I sell a novel to one of the big publishing houses that does have that kind of budget and they can pay for a book trailer for me, as part of a bigger marketing campaign. And when that does happen, I’ll be suggesting they call Mr Murphy. I’d love to see his vision of my book in a trailer.

So I should stop bloody blogging and get back to work on the new book.

* Of course I think my books are bloody good. If you don’t believe me, go and buy a copy and decide for yourself. 🙂