M. Louisa Locke's Blog
May 6, 2015
I was just reading a blog post entitled, “Short is the New Black” and I thought…why haven’t I posted anything in…over 2 months!!!! And the answer is, in the past my posts have been long….very long….sometimes longer than a short story. And I have been too busy writing fiction to write blog posts. So I am going to try something different. Short and sweet.
The audiobook version of the third book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series, Bloody Lessons is now available, and the ebook version is 99 cents in most ebookstores for the next 2 days (May 6-7), and if you by the Kindle ebook version you get the audiobook version on audible for only $1.99) A very good deal.
Deadly Proof, the fourth book in the series, (which is also available in all major ebook stores) has been out for three months and has sold extremely well and had 56 reviews and a 4.3 star rating. I am consequently starting the process of doing the research for a new short story and the fifth book in Victorian San Francisco Mystery series.
As reported in previous posts, my 2014 strategy for keeping my books visible through KDP Select promotions wasn’t working for me any longer, so I shifted strategies to put my books out there in most ebookstores and I made the first book in my series, Maids of Misfortune, perma free. I also was fortunate enough to get a BookBub promotion for that book in January.
Part of my strategy was to make this shift before the fourth book in my series came out to make sure that the book would be discovered by fans who didn’t depend on Amazon to find their books, which is why Deadly Proof came out 2 months after the other books went off of KDP Select.
Another strategic move was to offer my ebook collection of my short stories for free for anyone who signed up for my newsletter, to try to capture a larger percentage of the people who were reading the perma free book. I also started using Facebook ads for that perma free book (rather than periodic promotions with the various competitors to BookBub.
Finally, I have been writing a book that will the first in a new (non-historical) series, a collaborative effort with other authors (including my daughter) that will be announced shortly. My hope was that this would keep me writing steadily while I was doing the research for the next historical work.
For perma free to work, you have to keep that perma free book visible. On Amazon that has been easy, with Maids of Misfortune staying in the top 5 of the historical mystery free list since January. The result is that in April the average number of daily downloads has remained high at 137 copies a day. My downloads in non-Amazon stores are more difficult to measure because I publish through Draft2Digital and neither Kobo nor Barnes and Noble report free downloads. But for Apple and GooglePlay combined, my average number of downloads a day of Maids of Misfortune for April was 51.
Occasionally sites that feature free books have featured this first book in the series (without any cost to me), and the Facebook ad for the perma free book that has been running for a month has increased the likes for my author page and resulted in a more than 5% click through rate (percentage of people who got the Facebook ad who then clicked on the link to see the book), which seems a decent return on a tiny investment (click throughs are costing me 17 cents per click.)
Perma free only works well for an author if people who read the book that is free actually go on to buy other books by that author. This has been the nicest result for my strategic shift. November 2014, before I made Maids of Misfortune perma free or went off of KDP Select, I sold on average for all my books (ebooks, print, audio, etc) 6.7 books a day. If you included borrows through KDP Select, the average went up to 16 books a day.
In March 2015, the last complete month I have statistics for, I sold 100 books a day (which included all versions of all my books–not short stories.). This is a combination of sell-through, selling books through more than Amazon, and the publication of the new book, Deadly Proof (which has more than compensated for the fact that I am not getting any direct revenue for the ebook sales of Maids of Misfortune.)
The combination of the perma free book and offering my collection of short stories free has dramatically increased my rate of subscriptions to my newsletter. In the 4 months before these two changes, my average number of subscription a month was 13. My average afterwards has been 47 a month. Not world shaking–but very satisfactory.
Finally, I am very pleased with the way that having a non-historical fiction series going while I do research has increased my productivity. This WIP, which started out as a short story, then a novella, has so engaged me that it is now going to be a book. I have 44,000 words written, and my plan is to finish the draft by the middle of June (it will be much shorter than my historicals) so that it will come out with the other works in this collaborative enterprise September 1, 2015. This would mean that I will have published a book six months after my last book (instead of taking the 1 1/2 to 2 years it has taken me between books.) A definite improvement in productivity and one that has been very rewarding creatively.
Ok, maybe this wasn’t short, but I hope it was informative.
Meanwhile, do think about ordering Maid of Misfortune for free or Bloody Lessons for only 99 cents as the perfect gifts for Mothers Day!
M. Louisa Locke, May 6, 2015
February 23, 2015
I am a member of the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, a group of authors who banded together several years ago because we wanted a way to reach people who were interested in finding good historical fiction ebooks. The group started small, and our membership is by invitation only, but we now have 47 members and nearly 200 books in our catalog on our website http://hfebooks.com.
We feature books and posts by our authors every Monday, and every Thursday we post a list of books that are currently free or discounted and announce new publications. If you are at all interested in historical fiction, I strongly suggest you go on over to the site and subscribe so you will get these posts.
Meanwhile, today with the publication of Deadly Proof, it is my turn to have a featured book and a blog post. Click here if you would like to read my blog piece about my inspiration for writing this series and a little about women in the printing industry.
M. Louisa Locke, February 23, 2015
February 21, 2015
I am proud to announce that Deadly Proof, the fourth book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series, is now available for sale (see links below).
As with the other three novels in this series, Deadly Proof finds Annie Fuller and her beau, Nate Dawson, investigating a crime that will lead them (and the reader) into an exploration of the lives of working women in the late 19th century—in this case women who held jobs in the printing industry.
If you read my last two posts on my marketing strategy for 2015, you will know that I decided to take all my full-length books out of KDP Select and upload them everywhere and make the first book perma-free. My hope was that this strategy would provide a fertile field for this newly published book. So far, my hopes have been realized.
First of all, Maids of Misfortune, the perma-free book, is still being downloaded at a nice pace, making it highly visible in the popularity lists on Amazon and on the free lists in the iBook and Barnes and Noble stores, and I can see sell-through going on. The sales of the second book in the series, Uneasy Spirits, and now the third, Bloody Lessons, have been increasing each week. And now, some of these new fans of the series should be just about ready to try this new book.
Second, while more complicated than back in the day when I only had to upload my books on Amazon, the process of uploading Deadly Proof for publication in multiple online stores was quite easy since I had recently gone through the process for my other novels and my short story collection.
In addition to KDP and CreateSpace, I used the distribution service Draft2Digital to get Deadly Proof into the Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and Page Foundry bookstores and into the subscription service Scribd. I also uploaded the epub that Draft2Digital generated iinto GooglePlay, and then used Smashwords to make it available on various library channels and the subscription service Oyster.
This process was also made easier because my books are very simply formatted––no drop down caps, special fonts, or illustrations, and I start with a word document for the ebook editions and a pdf for the print edition—both generated from Scrivener. Besides making sure that I didn’t have Amazon-specific links in any of the books I was uploading elsewhere and making a few changes in the front and back matter, there wasn’t much work to change the word document from the Kindle edition to upload elsewhere.
Deadly Proof went live in less than 12 hours on KDP, Apple, Scribd, Page Foundry, and Smashwords and it took a less than 24 hours to go live on Nook and Kobo. The CreateSpace print edition took four days to go live. In short, within seven days of getting my book back from the editor–it was published everywhere.
When you consider the time between the final edit of a book and publication for traditionally published books–this is essentially going the speed of light!
And this brings me to the puzzling question of why an author would decide to only offer their books in the two or three largest online stores. Yet I read statements by authors on various author forums asking whether or not they should bother putting a book up on GoglePlay or trying to decide whether to use Smashwords or Draft2Digital–instead of using both.
While I understand and have quite frequently discussed the benefits of going exclusively with Amazon through KDP Select, what doesn’t make sense to me is not making a book available in as many on-line stores as possible when you haven’t gone the exclusive route. Even if the number of sales from a particular store are small. A sale is a sale—and each sale is potentially someone who will eventually by some of your other books.
For example, in the ten days in December that the second book in my series, Uneasy Spirits, was on sale as an ebook in the Barnes and Nobel online store, I sold nine copies and made $26.73. Not an overwhelming amount of income, yet it took me less than a half an hour total to upload, preview, and publish this book through Draft2Digital so this is decent rate of hourly pay. Even if I never sold another copy of the book in this bookstore. But I did sell more copies; in January I sold 143 copies of Uneasy Spirits for the Nook, making over $400, and those sales didn’t cost me anything more in terms of time or money.
I don’t even regret the fact that my sales of Uneasy Spirits haven’t been nearly as successful on GooglePlay (I sold only eight copies of Uneasy Spirits there in January) because all I risked in putting that book up on GooglePlay was, at most, an hour of my time. And since there have been 3500 downloads of Maids of Misfortune, the perma-free book in my series, on GooglePlay, I assume that some of the people who downloaded this book will go on to buy and read Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons and, in time, Deadly Proof. This is a long game–but isn’t that one of the benefits of ebooks–that we can afford as authors to play that long game.
Finally, as part of this more organic approach to selling, I have done what you might call a slow launch of Deadly Proof. No virtual book tour, no facebook event, no expensive promotional campaign.
I had already decided not to put the book up for pre-order because I wanted to make Deadly Proof available as soon as possible after I got it back from my editor and made the final corrections. It had been a year an a half since I published Bloody Lessons, the book before Deadly Proof, and I felt I shouldn’t keep fans of the series waiting a day longer than necessary. These are the readers I am most interested in reaching at this time. And I quite frankly love getting messages from them as the buy the book and start reading.
Consequently I only announced the availability of Deadly Proof on my facebook pages, on a few mystery facebook sites, and in my newsletter (and now here on my blog). All places where I am likely to encounter people who have already read the earlier books in the series. The hope is that over the next few weeks I will get enough sales from these fans of the series so that the book will achieve some visibility in the popularity category lists on Amazon (which rewards steady sales rather than rapid spikes) and begin to garner positive reviews.
So far so good. In the five days it has been available, I have sold over 200 copies of Deadly Proof on Amazon, and 35 outside of Amazon, it is showing up in the top 100 best seller lists in most of my main categories on Amazon, and I have 2 5-star reviews.
Once I feel I have gotten enough reviews, I will then start on the next stage of spending some money to promote the book. And meanwhile, I will be thanking my lucky stars that I am an indie author who doesn’t have to worry that if I don’t have enough sales in the first weeks of publication that this means that my book is dead in the water or that my chances of getting another book contract has been ruined.
M. Louisa Locke, February 21, 2015
Deadly Proof: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery (Book 4) is now available in the following stores.
February 9, 2015
There is an exciting new collection that is coming out this week that I thought that a lot of you might be interested in. This new boxed set brings together some of the best work by self-published female writers. I’ve read one of the books, Blue Mercy by Orna Ross and just loved it–so I am looking forward to reading the rest.—M. Louisa Locke
International Authors: Universal Themes
While mainstream publishing plays safe with predictable stories and heroines who repeat the same familiar tropes, where are today’s most ground-breaking authors? The answer is that they are self-publishing. Now, seven of the most prominent female entrepreneurial authors have brought their work together in a limited edition compilation of novels —Outside the Box: Women Writing Women.
The project is the brainchild of Jessica Bell, an Australian writer living in Athens, Greece. A literary author and the Founder/Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Jessica wanted to showcase the most exciting fiction being released by authors who are in full charge of their own creative decisions. “I couldn’t imagine collaborating with a finer group of writers,” Jessica said. “The authors in this box set are at the very top of their game.”
The collection will be published in e-book format on February 20 (pre-orders from January 12) and available for just 90 days.
The box set introduces a diverse cast of characters: A woman accused of killing her tyrannical father who is determined to reveal the truth. A bookish and freshly orphaned young woman seeks to escape the shadow of her infamous mother—a radical lesbian poet—by fleeing her hometown. A bereaved biographer who travels to war-ravaged Croatia to research the life of a celebrity artist. A gifted musician who is forced by injury to stop playing the piano and fears her life may be over. An undercover journalist after a by-line, not a boyfriend, who unexpectedly has to choose between her comfortable life and a bumpy road that could lead to happiness. A former ballerina who turns to prostitution to support her daughter, and the wife of a drug lord who attempts to relinquish her lust for sharp objects and blood to raise a respectable son.
Jane Davis said, “This set of thought-provoking novels showcases genre-busting fiction across the full spectrum from light (although never frothy) to darker, more haunting reads that delve into deeper psychological territory.”
But regardless of setting, regardless of whether the women are mothers, daughters, friends or lovers, the themes are universal: euthanasia, prostitution, gender anomalies, regression therapy, obesity, drug abuse, revenge, betrayal, sex, lust, suicide and murder. Their authors have not shied away from the big issues. Some have asked big questions.
Orna Ross (founder-director of The Alliance of Independent Authors, named by The Bookseller as one of the 100 most influential people in publishing) selected Blue Mercy, a complex tale of betrayal, revenge, suspense, murder mystery – and surprise.
Joni Rodgers (NYT bestselling author) returned to her debut Crazy for Trying, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a Discover Award finalist.
Roz Morris (ghost writer and teacher of creative writing master classes for the Guardian newspaper in London) presented My Memories of a Future Life, the haunting story of how one lost soul searches for where she now belongs.
Kathleen Jones, best-selling award winning author, Royal Literary Fund Fellow, whose work has been broadcast by the BBC, contributed The Centauress, a compelling tale of family conflict over a disputed inheritance.
Jane Davis (a British writer whose debut won the Daily Mail First Novel Award) nominated An Unchoreographed Life, an unflinching and painfully honest portrayal of flawed humanity.
Carol Cooper (author, doctor, British journalist and president of the Guild of Health Writers) provided One Night at the Jacaranda, a gripping story about a group of people searching for love, sex and everything in between.
For Jessica Bell (Australian novelist, singer/songwriter, Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and whose award-winning poetry has been broadcast on ABC National Radio), her latest novel White Lady was the obvious choice, an intense, suspenseful ride rife with mystery.
Speaking about her reasons for taking part, Roz Morris said: “For me, these writers are the real superstars of self-publishing. They’re storytellers dedicated to their craft, who have proved their worth with awards, fellowships and, of course, commercial success.”
‘An extraordinary collection, varied in style but united in quality, demonstrating precisely why indie publishing is a treasure trove for readers.’ JJ Marsh, author of the Beatrice Stubbs series and founder member of Triskele Books
‘The authors of these books are at the forefront of a strong cohort of ground-breaking, boundary-pushing women writing and self-publishing literary fiction. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough.’ Dan Holloway, columnist for the Guardian books pages and publisher
‘The optimism and confidence in this new collection is palpable.’ Alison Baverstock, lecturer in publishing and self-publishing at Kingston University.
OUTSIDE THE BOX: Women Writing Women
Just $9.99 for seven novels. Available 90 days only from February 20.
Review copies available from firstname.lastname@example.org
More information on www.womenwritewomen.com
January 27, 2015
This report on how my plans for marketing in 2015 are working can be summed up in one word: Super. But for those who are interested––here is a little more detail.
Recap of Strategic Goals:
Recognizing that the Kindle Unlimited subscription service on Amazon was undermining the effectiveness of the Kindle Countdown 99 cent promotions for my books, I decided to:
take my 3 full-length novels in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series (Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons) and my short story collection (Victorian San Francisco Stories) out of KDP Select
upload these 4 books into other bookstores
make the first book in my series, Maids of Misfortune, perma-free
advertise Maids of Misfortune as free through a BookBub promotion.
By the middle of January I accomplished all of these goals.
I uploaded my 4 books to Apple, Nook, Kobo, Page Foundry, and Scribd through Draft2Digital (a simple process of uploading a word document), used the epub that D2D nicely gives you to upload to GooglePlay, and stripped my word document down to upload it to Smashwords to distribute to several library affiliates and Oyster.
Within 3 days of Maids of Misfortune showing up free in other bookstores, Amazon price matched, and it was now free everywhere.
January 11, 2015 I had a BookBub promotion of Maids of Misfortune.
There has been a dramatic improvement in my sales and therefore my income.
January 1-24 2015
Total Book Sales
* this figure also includes Audible sales and the Victorian San Francisco Mystery Boxed Set (Books 1-3) that are only sold through Amazon.
** These figures just show downloads from Apple, Page Foundry, and Smashwords
As you can see, even before the BookBub promotion in mid-January, making Maids of Misfortune free had begun to give the other books a boost on and off of Amazon, but the BookBub promotion was what really made a difference in my sales.
Two weeks after that promotion, Maids of Misfortune was still listed in the top 100 Free books on Kindle, ranked #5 on the Nook’s Free list, and #27 in Free mysteries on Apple. In addition, there have been a nice increase in positive reviews for this book on Nook, Apple, and Amazon.
During these two post-promotion weeks, the increase in sales of the other books in the series demonstrates that people who downloaded Maids for free are going on to buy the next books.
For example, on Amazon the average number of copies sold of Uneasy Spirits (Book 2) went from 1.5 a day in November, to 2 a day in January before the BookBub promotion, to 13 a day in the two weeks since the promotion. The average number of sales of Bloody Lessons (Book 3) has gone from 2.2 a day in November, to 2.8 a day in January before the promotion, to 11 a day in the post promotion period.
In mid February, the fourth book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, Deadly Proof, will be out, and I can now anticipate that a good number of the people who have made their way through books 1-3 will be ready to buy it, helping with the launch. For example, I have had 36 new subscribers to my newsletter since the promotion.
I don’t know how long Maids of Misfortune will stay visible or what the conversion rate from free downloads of this book to subsequent sales of the rest of my books will be, but I have always believed that my job as author is to give my work the best possible chances to be discovered, and then let the work itself do the rest. This new strategy for 2015 seems to be working to achieve that goal.
Implications for Other Authors:
Will it work for everyone? Probably not. The whole perma-free strategy works best with series. And one of the reasons I hadn’t tried this approach before is that with only 3 books in the series, the long-term loss of sales of one of those books seemed too risky—particularly when short-term discount promotions were working for me. The eminent publication of a fourth book in the series made the shift less risky.
While I was achieving some success in downloads and sales before the BookBub promotion, the effect was limited. So I know that one of the reasons for my success was getting the Bookbub promotion. I am always good about filling out their post promotion surveys––not just so that they have the data to judge when I next apply––but also because I hope this will make them more likely to accept other authors with similar books following similar marketing strategies.
My series also has wide market appeal. Within the mystery category, the books fit in the cozy, historical, and women sleuth sub-genres, and they also fit in straight historical fiction and historical romance categories. This has helped keep Maids of Misfortune visible longer after the BookBub promotion ended.
This in turn has helped the book achieve visibility on the popularity lists (which is what shows up when you browse in kindle store on your devise). Because of the current algorithms, which seem factor in price, it is very difficult for free books to rise to the top of the popularity lists. For example, currently Maids of Misfortune is #60 on the mystery popularity list—yet there are only 3 other free books on the top 100 of this list. So, even with a successful BookBub promotion—continued long-term visibility for a book is not something that many authors can count on.
Once again, I have found that by paying attention to the data on my own sales, reading about other authors’ experiences, and being willing to experiment, I have been able to keep my books visible and selling–something I know is a direct outcome of the opportunities available to indie authors during the rapidly changing publishing and marketing environment.
As usual, I love to hear what strategies are working for other authors.
M. Louisa Locke, January 27, 2015
January 2, 2015
You know how your own voice always sounds so strange when you hear it recorded? Well, my voice in my head always sounds warmer and deeper to me than it does in real life. Not surprisingly, that is also how the voice of my main protagonist, Annie Fuller, sounds to me. This difference between my real voice and what I think Annie should sound like is one of the reasons I would never narrate my own books.
Unfortunately, the narrator of my first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series didn’t produce a voice that satisfied me—or many of my fans, so I put off getting Uneasy Spirits, the second book in the series, narrated for some time.
Then, at a local book club in town, I met Alexandra Haag, a professional narrator, and I fell in love with her voice. Here was the warm, rich tones I envisioned for Annie Fuller. I also liked the idea of working with someone local. This has worked very well for me with my cover designer, Michelle Huffaker, and I looked forward to duplicating this experience.
Alexandra Haag and I first collaborated on the short stories connected to the series, getting feed-back from fans who have their own ideas about what my characters should sound like. Links to the audiobooks of Dandy Detects, The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage, and Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong, individually, or as part of the Victorian San Francisco Stories (a collection of these stories) can be found here. As a bonus, currently, if you already have a Kindle copy of any of these—you can get the audio versions for $1.99!
However, what I am most excited about is Ms. Haag’s production of the second full-length book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, Uneasy Spirits, which has just come available as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon.com,and iTunes.
I thought that this might be a good time to interview Alexandra Haag about what it is like to be a professional narrator and to narrate a long work of historical fiction such as Uneasy Spirits. Here is what Ms. Haag had to say!
How did you become involved with making audio books?
By the time I first considered audiobook narration, I had read the newspaper on our local PBS Radio Reading Service for about three years and was a lector at my church for many years. I’d received some very kind encouragement about my presentation which “primed the pump,” so to speak, for exploring voice work.
There was a book that the afore-mentioned book club had read that I thought should be in audio format but wasn’t. So I began to explore how to get that done. One thing led to another and here I am! But that book never did get published as an audiobook – maybe the publisher didn’t think there was a huge market for the work of a 14th century mystic; go figure.
What special qualities to you personally bring to your work?
When I was just out of college, I attended a monthly acting workshop (Tom Selleck studied with the same coach) which just captivated me, but I knew I couldn’t move to a major market to pursue the craft, so I just, as they say, “Let it Go.” But after getting into audiobooks, I soon found that they were so much more about performance than about simply reading, and so discovered that I had now revisited my dream. I keep up with the performance aspect by taking workshops and classes (including improv comedy), and studying languages and dialects. I like to think I’m a voice performer specializing in audiobooks.
Additionally, I have been a reader my entire life. I remember the first story book I read, Danny and the Dinosaur, and I have such fond memories of that book. I deeply respect the written word and try to convey that to both my authors and their readers/listeners. I am also fascinated by history, which works well with the books you’ve written. Finally, I guess, my various roles in life as mother, wife, daughter, sister, etc., give me great sympathy for the various characters in the stories.
How long does it take to record an average length novel, and what are the different steps you take from start to finish?
On average, it takes 7 times the length of a book (in hours) to narrate and produce the finished product. In other words, Uneasy Spirits, which is just over 13 hours, took at least 91 hours to produce.
WARNING: If you’d prefer to imagine the narrator/performer sitting in a wing-backed armchair cradling the book and reading while stealing the occasional sip of tea (which is, in fact, the atmosphere we like you to imagine), DON’T READ THIS NEXT PART.
So, if you’re still with me, here are the steps I take:
Read the manuscript & make notes of where the characters speak in each chapter (I use a spreadsheet);
Rehearse the main characters and live with them for a while, working out their dialect, voice placement, voice quality, etc.;
Look up unusual words, terms, and pronunciations even of words I think I know (I’ve sometimes found I’ve been pronouncing some words incorrectly for years!);
Before each recording session, prepare the voice and listen to previous sessions for smooth and even transition;
Record the narration (usually 40 minute sessions) noting errors and re-recording to fix;
Do a “rough edit” to ensure all words are precisely voiced; fix errors;
Do a “fine edit” to take out extra noises (the mouth is a remarkably noisy space), manage breaths and timing, and make performance changes when necessary; fix errors;
Do a “quality control edit” to ensure it all sounds right;
Master all files (a multi-step process of preparing the audio for distribution) and deliver to distributor.
Not all narrators do the editing and producing. I find I like the ability to mold my performance through editing and tweak it to the point that I feel comfortable in moving it forward to distribution.
Are there particular kinds of books that you have found easier or more difficult to narrate (fiction versus non-fiction, books with a lot of dialog, etc.)
The first book I narrated was a short motivational book where the author’s own personality was very distinct. I immediately “clicked” with it and it was a lot of fun to do. But, generally, I find it harder to do non-fiction that’s not a story (memoirs are often more like a story). One must stay engaged and engaging throughout the explanations, which can be long and laborious. Initially, I found dialog very challenging, and so I spent a lot of time trying to deconstruct voices to get the qualities in them that best represented each personality. It’s still quite a challenge, but one that I really enjoy.
What were some of the special aspects of narrating Uneasy Spirits?
As I mentioned, I love learning about history and particularly this point in history. The years preceding the turn of the last century were just so rich in texture because of the changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution and the evolving cultural changes of civil rights for many sectors of society, particularly for women. Inventive imaginations were let loose in science, technology, politics, medicine, architecture, and more.
Additionally, your writing is very precise and vivid, bringing that time to life through your descriptions of everything from the horse cars rumbling down Market Street to the threads floating off of the Misses Moffet newly-cut fabric. The reader/listener is immersed in this world.
Your readers truly love the characters of your books and have a history with them – they are like friends and family. My most cherished wish is that you and the listeners are pleased with my presentation of Annie’s world.
M. Louisa Locke, January 2, 2015
December 18, 2014
Everywhere I hang out as an author, I see blog posts discussing the effect of the introduction of Kindle Unlimited (KU) on authors’ sales. For those authors just waking up to this discussion, Kindle Unlimited is the subscription service Amazon introduced in July. Subscribers pay a monthly fee and can borrow all the books they want that are in the KU library. For most books by indie authors to be part of that library, the book must be enrolled in KDP Select.
If you have ever read my blog before, you will know that I found that enrolling the books in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series in KDP Select was very rewarding—even though it meant accepting the terms of enrollment that prohibited me from selling my ebooks in other stores. If you are interested, click here for a list of the posts I have written on that subject.
In fact, last winter I announced that my strategy for 2014 was to keep my books in KDP Select and use the new promotional tool called the Kindle Countdown as my major form of marketing.
Which I did, quite successfully.
However, when Amazon announced the introduction of the Kindle Unlimited program, I, like many authors, was very interested in how this new program would affect my income.
Now, after using the KU program for five months, I have come to a conclusion. The overall impact of the introduction of Kindle Unlimited has been negative for my books.
As a result, I decided to remove my series novels, Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons, and my short story collection, Victorian San Francisco Stories, from KDP Select.
However, my experience may not be representative of what is happening for all authors, so I would like to share how I came to that decision. To that end I will:
1) Briefly evaluate why the strategy of keeping my books in KDP Select and using the Kindle Countdown promotional tool worked for most of 2014 (and might still work for your books.)
2) Describe what happened to my books when Kindle Unlimited was introduced.
3) Describe why I think the program had a mostly negative effect on my income.
4) List what strategies I intend on pursuing for 2015.
1) KDP Select and the Kindle Countdown promotional tool:
Last February, 2014, I wrote a post called Is Kindle Countdown the New Free? Keeping Books Visible in 2014. I analyzed the promotions I had recently done on my books that were in KDP Select. I compared the results of two strategies: using the free promotional option (where you can make a book free for any 5 days during the three month contract period); and using the newly introduced Kindle Countdown option (where you can discount a book below $2.99 for up to 7 days consecutively during the three month contract period—while still getting the full 70% royalty rate). When I used the Kindle Countdown strategy, I usually priced my books at 99 cents for the full seven days.
My conclusions were as follows:
KDP Select Free promotions, particularly when advertised with BookBub , were still a very effective way to increase sales after the promotion, get higher visibility in category lists, and increase the number of reviews.
But it was more difficult to achieve a successful free promotion because of increased competition with traditionally published books, changes in how free books are listed in the Kindle Store, the limitation of only one BookBub ad per book every six months, and the increased competition and cost of getting a BookBub ad. (I have been extremely fortunate in getting Bookbub ads for my books—but it is important to realize that most books don’t get these ads—and not everyone can afford them.
While KDP Select Kindle Countdown promotions were not yet as effective as KDP Select Free promotions, they did offer an alternative for those authors who had their books in KDP Select and didn’t want to use the free promotional option.
I also speculated that, as more readers discovered the Kindle Countdown page, a Kindle Countdown strategy would become more effective.
Based on those conclusions, I decided that my strategy for 2014 would be to run a Kindle Countdown promotion every month for a different book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series.
As stated earlier—this strategy proved successful. Between October 2013 and August 2014, I ran nine Kindle Countdown promotions––cycling through my three novels, Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons. For those Kindle Countdown promotions with a BookBub ad, I averaged $1.359 in profits (counting sales of the promoted book minus marketing costs.) For the Kindle Countdown promotions without BookBub advertising, I averaged $888 in profits. And, perhaps more significantly, the improved visibility in the Kindle store resulted in a consistently high number of regular sales and borrows for all my books and short stories. So, between October and August 2014 I averaged $4700 a month in sales. (I have 3 novels, 3 short stories, a short story collection, and a boxed set of my novels—not a lot of product compared to many successful indie authors.)
In short, my strategy worked. Doing Kindle Countdowns for a different book every month (and getting the higher royalties on the discounted prices) resulted not just in profit, but, even more importantly, it resulted in continued visibility for my books, which translated into decent sales.
2) Then in July 18, 2014 Amazon introduced the Kindle Unlimited (KU) subscription service.
For most indie authors this meant that if our books were in KDP Select––they were automatically enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. As with every change in KDP Select policies in the past four years, this caused a lot of controversy among authors. Some authors took their books out of KDP Select (you could un-enroll before the usual 3 month contract was up). Others put their books in KDP Select to see if having their books available in KU would increase a book’s sales and visibility (because, for ranking purposes, Amazon apparently counts a borrow the same as a sale).
Initially, I wondered if people would stop buying my books if they could get them for free as part of their KU subscription. I was also curious to see how much Amazon would pay for each borrow of a book. If the amount was significantly less than what I was making on each sale of a book at full price ($4.99), would an increase in sales and visibility compensate for the lower rate of return on borrows?
I hoped that these concerns would be unwarranted because similar concerns about the effect of the Kindle Owners Lending Library (where members of Amazon Prime can borrow one book a month) had proven unfounded for my books.
So I decided to keep my books in KDP Select and see what happened.
Initially, I saw a sharp increase in borrows. In July (when KU started) and August, my borrows more than doubled from their normal level. Sales also remained high. This was primarily because I did Kindle Countdown promotions that were supported by BookBub ads in both months—making my books highly visible within the regular Kindle Store and the Kindle Unlimited browsing categories.
In September, however, when I didn’t do a promotion of any of my three novels, my sales dropped to the lowest level in a year. And, while the number of borrows were still higher than normal, they also started to drop. So, without a promotion to keep my books visible, sales and rankings of my books were falling. This meant that, when readers browsed the Kindle Unlimited list of books, the books weren’t showing up high enough in the ranked categories for readers to find them there.
An additional problem was that the amount Amazon paid for each borrowed book began to drop. For most of 2014, the average amount for borrows was around $2 per book. In September the amount dropped to $1.52 and in October and November $1.33 and $1.39 (which is less than half what I normally got for my $4.99 books.) That was another blow to my total income.
October introduced a new wrinkle. Author after author reported that their most recent Kindle Countdown promotions that didn’t have BookBub ads behind them had failed miserably. They sold so few discounted books that — even with the higher royalty rate — they barely broke even after deducting marketing costs, and they saw little discernible bump in sales or borrows after the promotion.
This is exactly what happened to me. In October, 2014 I had a Kindle Countdown promotion for Maids of Misfortune, the first book in my series (which has always performed the best in promotions). After subtracting marketing costs I only made a profit of $82. Even worse, there was no discernible increase in sales or borrows of this book or my other books after the promotion ended, so my overall income dropped drastically.
In October, I made only a third of my average income from the eleven months before, and it appears that, in November and December, I will make only a fifth or less of what I was averaging for the earlier, pre-KU, months of 2014.
3) What do I think happened?
What I think happened was that the voracious reader — the person reading multiple books a week who is also the smart bargain hunter — has at least temporarily deserted the Kindle Countdown lists for Kindle Unlimited. Why would someone look for my book at 99 cents in a Kindle Countdown list on Amazon when they can get the book for free as part of KU? In fact, if they were subscribed to KU and they happened to click on my book as part of a Countdown promotion and saw the book was in KU, why wouldn’t they then decide to download it that way rather than buy it at 99 cents?
I don’t blame Amazon for this; I suspect it wasn’t what they hoped would happen because they want high quality, successful self-published books to remain in KU. That is probably why Amazon has started offering bonuses to the authors (All stars) of the highest selling books in KU.
I have always accepted that Amazon’s support for indie authors was, in part, a response to the unwillingness of traditional publishers to embrace ebooks and experiment in the new online/ebook environment. Just as I have always accepted that they are going to put the needs of their consumers (the reader) over the producers (authors or publishers.) And it is therefore my responsibility, as an author, to figure out how best to respond to that fact.
At the start, Amazon needed enough Kindle ebooks to attract readers. They needed authors who were willing to price those books within the range that Amazon has determined will get readers to buy these ebooks. And they needed authors who were willing to experiment with things like free promotions, bundling print and ebooks, and offering their books as part of subscription services. All of that means that, for much of the past five or six years, Amazon needed self-published authors.
Amazon also wanted indie authors to sell exclusively through Amazon in order to remove the competition for those books with other bookstores. So, in exchange for exclusive contracts, Amazon offered self-published authors tools like free promotions and the Kindle Countdown, which they believed (correctly) would help us sell our books.
For those of us who had books that large numbers of readers wanted to read and who were willing to experiment, the rewards of working with KDP and putting our books in KDP Select and using its promotional tools have been substantial.
I also suspect that Amazon hoped that the success of self-published books would nudge traditional publishers to use similar tactics. And I believe that has worked to a degree. The main category my books are in––historical mysteries––is much more competitive in pricing than it was in former years because many traditionally published books are now offered at various discounts.
However, I think that when Amazon decided to offer its Kindle Unlimited subscription service (a service similar to Oyster and Scribd), they knew that it might be a hard sell to indie authors—just as KDP Select has been a hard sell to many indies. The evidence for this supposition is that they offered a special deal to selected indie authors in order to keep their books in KDP Select; Amazon paid them the same amount for each borrow as for each sale.
But I don’t think that they anticipated that KU would have such a drastic negative effect on many authors’ incomes or on the effectiveness of Kindle Countdown promotions. If they did foresee this happening, maybe they hoped that the benefits of increased borrows would make up for the losses in sales. Personally, I haven’t seen evidence of increased borrows making up for lost sales—at least not for those authors who had previously been successful. There is, however, some evidence that putting a book in KDP Select may give some needed visibility and more sales to those authors those whose books have not yet sold well.
But who knows what will happen in the next year?
It could be that enough indie authors will see their incomes increase when they enroll a book in KDP Select to keep a decent number of self-published books enrolled. Or, perhaps Amazon will increase the amount paid for each borrow. Or, perhaps some of the people who subscribed to KU will leave and go back to browsing the Kindle Countdown lists, making it an effective tool for authors again. Or, maybe authors will discover tactics that will make KDP Select and KU work better for them.
Or, maybe Amazon will make it possible to have a book in Kindle Unlimited without having to enroll it in KDP Select (with its exclusivity clause.) Something that authors like Hugh Howey have recommended.
But my immediate concern is not what Amazon will or will not do in the future or what the benefits of KDP Select and KU are for other authors. My immediate concern is how to continue to get my books discovered by readers so that those who like the cover, the blurb, the genre, and the sample chapter, will continue to buy them.
In short, once again it is time for me to makes some changes.
Which brings me to the title of this piece. Recently, a number of authors started to use the word “pivot.” Hugh Howey, in a piece called the Tankers are Turning, compared indie authors to traditional publishers saying self-published authors “are nimble. We can pivot on a dime and publish at the drop of one. If we have an idea, we can implement it the same day, see how it works, share our result’s and at the same time learn from others.”
A few weeks later, in a piece entitled Don’t Wait for Permission: Why Authors Should be Entrepreneurs (on David Gaughran’s blog), Joanna Penn said, entrepreneurial authors “act, they experiment, they see what happens and then they pivot if necessary, adapting to the new situation.”
And, a few days later, Kevin O. McLaughlin applied this idea specifically to the strategy he was using in response to KU. He has started writing short serials for KU because works priced at low rates like 99 cents can generate more income from borrows than sales. Yet he has built-in his ability to pivot quickly: planning on bundling these short pieces into a longer piece that he will take out of Select if the short pieces aren’t being picked up by readers.
4) So, I’m pivoting; and here is my strategy for 2015:
I have taken my longer books out of KDP Select and made them available in a wide range of ebookstores. If you have followed my blog posts for the past few years you know I have done this before but found that the sales I picked up in other bookstores didn’t compensate for the sales (and borrows) I lost on Amazon. Right now, my sales on Amazon are so low that I am assuming this will no longer be true.
Since the fourth book in the series, Deadly Proof, will be out in a few months, I am also trying the strategy of making the first book in the series a semi-permanent loss leader. To that end I have made Maids of Misfortune free. And in January I will do a BookBub promotion of Maids with the goal of achieving better visibility in all bookstores.
I am continuing to offer audiobook versions of my books. This is the fastest growing sector of the publishing industry. The audiobook version of my second book, Uneasy Spirits, should be out within the week. I am delighted with my current narrator and we will be working together to produce Bloody Lessons by the end of March and Deadly Proof by June.
I will continue to write my historical fiction short stories since these are easy to write and they funnel readers into the longer books in the series. However, I will keep my short stories in KDP Select because they make four times as much for each borrow in KU as they do for each sale.
I am starting to work on a new collaborative science fiction project (about which I will post more shortly) and my strategy will be to publish the first part of the work in short story or novella-length chunks. Each story will be a stand-alone that I will put in KDP Select and in KU. Once the series of shorter-form works are complete, I will put them together as a full-length book. I will make a decision at that point whether or not to enroll that full-length book in KDP Select—depending how my sales have been going and whether or not the negative effect of KU on sales and income is still occurring for other authors.
In summary: While KDP Select has worked very well for me in the past (and may still be working well for others), once again it is time to take advantage of being an indie author with the ability to pivot quickly in response to external changes. While the current drop in my income is distressing—particularly at holiday time—I can’t help but look forward to the next year with a fair degree of hope and excitement—hence the rather joyful photo at the top of the post!
For those of you who are primarily readers—have you subscribed to Kindle Unlimited, or Scribd, or Oyster? If so, do you feel you are buying fewer ebooks?
For those of you who are authors––do you have books in KDP Select and if so, do you feel the effect of KU has been positive or negative on your income?
What are your plans for the coming year?
I do appreciate feedback on these subjects—shared data is the possibility of shared success!
M. Louisa Locke
December 18, 2014
P.S. For those of you who might have been waiting for my books to go off KDP Select: You can now find the following books in the following venues!
November 19, 2014
When I read Marie Force’s recent blog post celebrating four years as a self-published author, it occurred to me that I should celebrate my own anniversary since I self-published Maids of Misfortune, the first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, on November 28, 2009––FIVE YEARS AGO.
While Force’s success as one of the most prolific and high selling hybrid authors of today is truly remarkable––it struck me that I should honor the fact that when I self-published (with no traditionally published books under my belt, no fan base) I was doing something a little risky––a little ahead of the curve. In 2009, the pundits were still saying ebooks and self-published books were the route to failure, and J.A Konrath and April Hamilton were voices in the wilderness. So, when I clicked publish on that first ebook edition, I was taking a leap of faith. The first of many. And some of the most gratifying lessons I’ve learned from self-publishing have been to continue to take risks, not take no for an answer, and to enjoy controlling my own destiny.
Not that the success was over night. I just looked back and saw that at the end of six months I had sold 284 books copies of Maids of Misfortune in ebook and print, vastly more than I expected but certainly not something that promised an end to my day-job. I also had four very nice reviews on Amazon (three from complete strangers) that pleased me no end.
Yet, today, five years later, I have sold over 120,000 books (which includes just Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons, a boxed set of those novels, and a recent collection of my short stories––a far cry from Force’s 27 self-published books), and the first book, Maids of Misfortune, has over 740 reviews and has recently been issued in German by AmazonCrossing.
And I have also gained innumerable friends in the writing community and discovered fans of my series who love my characters as much as I do, perhaps the greatest reason to celebrate there is!
So in celebration, I am doing my first Raffle Copter Giveaway, just one more experiment in this world of self-publishing, offering copies of my boxed set, and collection of short stories and $25 Amazon gift cards to five winners. I hope you will enter, help me celebrate, and get some new books to read for the upcoming holidays! Just click here for a Rafflecopter giveaway starting Thursday, 11/20-2014.
October 30, 2014
The night wind whispers — Ghosts !
They are waiting for their hosts;
The waning moon is weary and will not be up till late ;
Already there are shadows at the gate.
A word, half heard, that is whispered in your ear,
And a presence that is felt when no one else is near.
Have you been along the corridors alone — all alone —
And listened to the wind up yonder making moan?
Have you thought about it all,
The footfall in the hall
That comes and goes — comes and goes —
With the measure of a heartbeat of a life that ebbs and flows ?
The poem above was the first item in a nearly 200 page book, Hallowe’en Festivities by Stanley Schell, put out in 1903, that was devoted to giving suggestions on how to celebrate Halloween. It includes everything from examples of invitations to the party, decorations, songs, a play, pantomimes, costumes, dances, and twelve ghost stories. There are also recipes, like the following. (Notice the 1 gold ring)
One lb. butter, 2 lbs. sugar, 3 lbs. flour, 1 lb. currants, 1 lb.
raisins, 6 eggs, 3 teaspoonfuls powdered saleratus, 1 teaspoon-
ful ground cinnamon, \ nutmeg, 1 gold ring. Beat butter to
a cream; add sugar after rolling it fine, add well-sifted wheat
flour, well-beaten eggs. Dissolve saleratus in little hot water,
add it. Also add cinnamon and grated nutmeg. Wash and
dry currants thoroughly and stone and cut raisins in two;
flour them all together with the ring and work them all in
the dough. Put into large buttered tin and bake in moderate
Consists of upper and lower crust of dough and looks like
any large deep pie. Dish is deep and round. Bake under
crust and upper crust. When cool, fill with sawdust and
dainty knick-knacks. Have knick-knacks evenly scattered
throughout sawdust. Then put on top pie crust and sprinkle
with powdered sugar. Knick-knacks should consist of things
pertaining to occasion, as witches on brooms, tiny jack-o'-
lanterns, ghosts, apples, etc., â€” souvenirs of the occasion.
It also lists 60 different Games to play at your party. Here are just a few:
HIDING RING, THIMBLE AND PENNY.
Hide ring, thimble and penny in room. To one who finds ring speedy marriage is assured; thimble denotes life of single blessedness; penny promises wealth.
JUMPING LIGHTED CANDLE.
Place lighted candle in middle of floor, not too securely placed; each one jumps over it. Whoever succeeds in clearing candle is guaranteed a happy year, free of trouble or anxiety. He who knocks candle over will have a twelve- month of woe.
Float in tub of water a half walnut shell with tiny sail made of a tooth-pick and slip of paper. On paper each one writes his initials and another’s ; revealing name to no one. Boats are all launched at same time; water is agitated to make miniature waves; those whose boats are overturned will not win their lovers and sweethearts, but owners of boats that override the troubled seas will get their hearts’ desires.
Hostess enters with small round pumpkin on old pewter platter. On pumpkin are carved all letters of alphabet. One guest is blindfolded and given a hat-pin, then led to pumpkin, where she is expected to stick pin into one of the letters on the pumpkin, thus indicating the initial of future life-partner.
The dragon consists of half a pint of ignited brandy or alcohol in a dish. As soon as brandy is aflame, all lights are extinguished, and salt is freely sprinkled in dish, imparting a corpse-like pallor to every face. Candied fruits, figs, raisins, sugared almonds, etc., are thrown in, and guests snap for them with their fingers; person securing most prizes from flames will meet his true love within the year.
CANDLE AND APPLE.
At one end of stick 18 inches long fasten an apple; at other end, a short piece of lighted candle. Suspend stick from ceiling by stout cord fastened in its middle so that stick will balance horizontally; while stick revolves players try to catch apple with their teeth. A prize may be in center of apple.
A raisin is strung in middle of thread a yard long, and two persons take each an end of string in mouth; whoever, by chewing string, reaches raisin first has raisin and will be first wedded.
Suspend horizontally from ceiling a barrel-hoop on which are fastened alternately at regular intervals apples, cakes, candies, candle-ends. Players gather in circle and, as it revolves, each in turn tries to bite one of the edibles; the one who seizes candle pays forfeit.
HALLOWE’EN SOUVENIR GAME. Suspend apples by means of strings in doorway or from ceiling at proper height to be caught between the teeth. First successful player receives prize. These prizes should be Hallowe’en souvenirs, such as emery cushions of silk representing tomatoes, radishes, apples, pears, pickles; or pen-wipers representing brooms, bats, cats, witches, etc.
Each one places handful of wheat flour on sheet of white paper and sprinkles it over with a pinch of salt. Some one makes it into dough, being careful not to use spring water. Each rolls up a piece of dough, spreads it out thin and flat, and marks initials on it with a new pin. The cakes are placed before fire, and all take seats as far from it as possible. This is done before eleven p.m., and between tha.t time and mid-night each one. must turn cake once. When clock strikes twelve future wife or husband of one who is to be married first will enter and lay hand on cake marked with name. Throughout whole proceeding not a word is spoken. Hence the name “dumb cake.” (If supper is served before 11.30, “Dumb Cake” should be reserved for one of the After-Supper Tests.)
If you are planning a party and want to look at all the suggestions-this book is free from the Open Library.
By the way, If you want something to read to put you in the mood for the holiday–Uneasy Spirits, the second book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, (with spirits, seances, murder and a Hallowe’en Party all its own) is Free on Kindle October 30-31.
September 2, 2014
I am very pleased to introduce Katja Blum, the person who did such a lovely, professional job translating Maids of Misfortune into the German edition: Dienstmädchen im Unglück.
She graciously answered some of my questions in my quest to get to know her, and I think you will be as charmed as I was with her answers.
1. Please tell the readers about yourself and how you got into translating.
I began working as a translator (English into German) while I was studying at Hamburg University in Germany – sheesh, that was almost twenty years ago. My major wasn’t translation, by the way, but American Literature and Women’s Studies. For my first job, I translated Harlequin romances into German. I’m fluent in English, I’m a writer – how hard can it be? The answer: Very. I learned many important things from working with those romances and my extremely strict editor – listening to the author’s voice and reigning in my own, being disciplined about deadlines (tough one) and writing to meet specific market requirements, while still creating a natural, flowing text in German.
After a few years working solely as a literary translator, I felt that I needed a different challenge and went into marketing and corporate communications for luxury brands. I was able to use many of the skills I had learned, because I was still dealing with fairy tales for adults, just that the perfect guy was being replaced by the perfect pair of very expensive shoes.
One of the very best parts of my job is that I can work in my pajamas. I don’t usually, but I could. Freelance work also allows me to make my schedule around spending time with my three-year-old son. Sam has a condition that makes it hard for him to learn speech, so in working, playing and learning with him, I now get to approach language, communication and storytelling in a whole new way.
Apart from family and books, the fiber arts are my greatest passion. I study textiles through the ages and how to make them today using the old techniques from spindle-spinning flax to tatting lace. The knowledge comes in handy when I translate historic fiction. Not only do I have a pretty good idea what people are wearing or making, but the study of textiles also comes with a lot of social history, which to me is as fascinating as it is useful.
Today, I mix it up in my job with marketing translations, usually time-sensitive, and bigger book projects (fiction and nonfiction) with longer deadlines. All parts of my job inform the others and continue to shape my understanding of the languages I work with and – hopefully – my skills as a translator.
2. What are some of the specific difficulties in translating novels from English to German?
One problem that all English to German translators have to wrestle with is the form of address. English has one (you) with the degree of formality being expressed through the language and by using a person’s first or last name. German has two – formal (“Sie” with last name) and informal (“du” with first name). In English, it is appropriate to address a business associate with their first name, even if the relationship is somewhat formal. In German, you have a choice between making the language of that relationship much more formal – a problem if the source text doesn’t give you the person’s last name – or much more informal than it really is.
Naturally, wordplay, jokes and metaphors work very differently in English and German. Sometimes I can translate a funny phrase as it is, but often I have no choice but to write a straight sentence. Since that could drastically change the tone of a book, my motto is “you win some, you lose some”. If I do have to skip a pun or other humorous line, I pay special attention to passages nearby where a similar line might be possible and appropriate in the German text.
Literary translators in any language need to work on cultural transfer. My goal is to make the setting, time and culture of the original novel accessible to German readers within their frame of reference, so that they can live in, say, late 19th century San Francisco without too many moments of “huh?”, which tend to snap them out of the story world.
One famous example of cultural transfer is the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. While peanut butter is now widely known and available in Germany (it wasn’t when I started), grape jelly is not. ‘My’ novel characters eat their PB with strawberry jam.
The same goes for sports metaphors. If translated literally, baseball phrases like “stepping up to the plate” or “throwing a curveball” make no sense to Germans. Good thing I like soccer.
3. Do you do anything special to prepare for a translation job?
I read ahead. I don’t read the entire novel before I start, because my translations tend to be better if I’m curious about how it all ends. But I keep reading at least a few chapters ahead to make sure that my translation decisions (e.g. formal vs. informal address) are going to make sense all the way.
I also read what I can about the author. Having been entrusted with the result of their passion and hard work, I like to get to know them a little.
In Maids of Misfortune, the biggest challenges were the voices of “Lizzie” and Mr. Wong. Translating the cultural or ethnic characteristics of a person’s speech is one of the hardest tasks for me. Literary dialogue is always about making it sound natural, even though people in real life don’t usually speak in so many coherent, complete and grammatically correct sentences. If you add dialects or other peculiarities of speech into the mix, the translation becomes a balancing act of getting the person’s voice, ethnicity and social standing across without sounding stilted and annoying. In the German version of “My Fair Lady”, Eliza Doolittle’s Cockney is brilliantly transformed into the dialect of working class Berlin, because it is as widely recognizable and familiar to Germans as Cockney is to the English. In the German Maids of Misfortune, Lizzie doesn’t speak dialect, but her attempt at sounding naïve and ignorant was great fun to play with in the translation.
5. Do you have any tips for authors who are looking for translators, how to find and evaluate a good translator, what to look for in the process?
Unless you speak the target language of the translation project very well, my advice is to go through a translation agency or publisher like Amazon Crossing. You need a translator who understands both languages and your work very well. And you need an editor with the same qualities, maybe even more so.
If you do want to find and evaluate a translator/editor team on your own, you can reach them through several reputable job portals for translators or industry associations in most countries. Candidates should be willing to provide a sample translation – you can ask for a very short unpaid sample, but consider offering payment, because you can ask for a longer one. Working as an editor as well, I know that pretty much anyone can keep it together for a couple of hundred words of a free sample, so a longer one is well worth the investment.
6. Do you have any advice for someone who would like to become a successful translator?
Get the best language and or translation education you can, read a lot in both languages. Take feedback from editors and clients as a chance to learn, own up to your mistakes and fix them. Respect the author. Above all, love language. If you are passionate about language and communication, if you spend rather a lot of time thinking about why there is no English word for “Schadenfreude” and why “oblivion” is really hard to translate, this might just be the job for you.
7. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to mention how important it is for any novel translation to be read by a good editor. Once I am done with the first draft of a novel and a couple of revisions, I know the text inside out, front to back. Given the production schedule, I often don’t have the time to let the novel sit for a few weeks to read it again with fresh eyes. Eventually, I lose the distance necessary to find my own mistakes and goofy passages. A good editor makes a translation shine. Maids of Misfortune had an excellent one. She edited the book with great care, attention to detail – and with zero tolerance for any of my shenanigans.