Monday, October 25, 2010

Steam Punk, and my thoughts on marketing

I thought I'd celebrate Sarah's drive to make me work harder with a first snippet of the Steam Punk thing I've been intermittantly working at - which is aimed at 11-14 year olds. Any submarine experts willing to offer me advice... I'd be very grateful.

The Coal-fired Submarine
Book One of the Drowning Empire
Dave Freer

Chapter 1

It was after midnight, and London's lights shimmered on the waters that had been her streets. Something dark moved down there in the depths of them. Bubbles of smoke belched up in its wake. No one was likely to notice. The still, warm air already reeked of coal smoke, and the rotting ooze overlying the drowned Landsdown Way bubbled anyway.

The dark shadow slipped onwards into Wandsworth canal, and down into Nine Elms and then through the rotting concrete teeth into the deep channel.

Like the rest of the crew, Tim Barnabas let out a sigh of relief. He knew all about the dangers of the Stockwell tube run -- dead trees, fallen masonry, and, of course, the chance of detection in relatively shallow waters that had once been London's streets.

"Up snuiver, Submariner," said Captain Malkis. "Let's breathe before we head down-channel."

Tim worked the brass-crank with a will, sending the breathing pipe to the surface of the Thames Estuary.

He swallowed hard to sort out the effect of the pressure change on his ears.

And then an explosion rocked the Cuttlefish. Rang the sub like a bell. Tim could hear nothing. But he could see Captain Malkis push the dive levers to full.

A blast of water sprayed out of the snuiver outlet, soaking them all, before the cut-off valve took. The Cuttlefish settled onto the bottom of the dredged channel. No one moved or spoke. Tim's ears still rang, but he could hear sounds again, and saw the Captain signal to the Marconi-man The radio-operator worked his spooler, sent an aerial wire up to the surface. Tim watched the man's face in the dim glow of the battery-lights. His expression grew increasingly bleak. He flicked the dial expertly to another frequency. Then Sparky pulled the headphones off. "I got the Clapham Common sender first. Transmission cut out after an SOS. I picked up Parson's Green. They weren't even sending coded messages. Just reports that Stockwell's been blown, and Clapham had reported that they were under attack by men of the Royal Iniskilling Fusiliers, Captain, before they went off air. And I picked up a signal on the Royal Navy calling channel. The HMS Mornington and the HMS Torquay are ordered to start laying dropping mines in the Thames channel from Blackfriars point to Rotherhithe bay. The Captain of the Mornington was getting mighty shirty about the operation not running to according to orders and him still being below Plumstead shoal and not on station."


The subject of ebooks, self-publishing, new ebook publishers has come up rather a lot lately. So I thought I'd put my thoughts on this down in a coherent fashion. What do you mean, I'm never coherent? My therapist told me that and that I was obsessed with revenge. I told him we'd see about that in good time. Heh, only kidding, I might need a therapist but I believe they want stuff called money (of which I have heard) in exchange for their services. So as I am writer, you'll just have to hope that I confine my vengeance to merely drowning London and New York in text as above.

Let's assume that you, Joe, have written a novel, and like many tens of thousands of people have tried the trad. pubs, where, let's be honest, they knock out 90% of the total unreadables... at the cost of dumping many great books. And of course, they also take some total drekk, and, oddly enough some books which you may wonder however got through first pass, do well.
You've decided that your book is one of the good ones that get missed. After all, they turned down DUNE. Quality will truimph!
So: you go to Kindle Direct. You get 70% of the money. And 5 people read it and 3 of them are related to you.
Or you go to a new startup. They offer you 50% of cover price, which is a lot better than the 12.5% you might see from Trad. Pub
And, with the benefit of a better cover, and maybe a little editing and proof input... you sell 25 copies.
At which point it may dawn on you that trad pub (at the bottom end) is rather like vanity publishing is supposed to be (and isn't). You get to sell (if you're lucky) 5000 copies, earn 5000 dollars - and the process earns 40 000 dollars (of which they give you 5K) for other people. Now you can't take $40 000, print your book, and earn 5K 'profit'- because you don't have that access to physical retail space. If you want to do that, it's possible (and been done), but you'll need $400 000 or more.

However, if you were to take the same attitude to an ebook (where you can have the retail space) and spend the 40K wisely on a copy-editor, proof-reader, cover art, and the remaining $36 000 on a publicist and various marketing devices (the equivalent of your retail space for physical books), that you could sell 5000 copies - which might be enough to get word of mouth working for you (I think the real figure is probably higher - looking at trad pub - only really starting at 25K - if you can shift 100K, even if it is rubbish it'll find a market)
If you don't have (as I don't) 4K let alone 40K...
Should you just give up? Well, I've never been much good at giving up. So let's look at what I think I can do. YMMV. I've decided that a small Ebook publisher at least gives me a finished product and some less hassle, BTW.
1) I could just be lucky. That happens, you're in the right place at the right time. Some people have the breaks. The bottom line however remains that the more often you try the more chance you have of being that 1:1 000 000.
2)I could get a lift from someone who is well-connected. Not likely, I don't know Oprah and I don't get out a lot in Hollyweird. But at the same time, the more you network and link, the more possible this is.
3)You could build yourself a web-presence, a la John Scalzi or Charlie Stross. Now, this is possible and you should try. But 3 caveats. a)they were in the right place at the right time b)You have to have the personality for it, consistantly. c)Barring right place at right time... this is HARD WORK that goes on for many years. And even then, if you don't have (B) you won't get there. It means posting every day (or damn near, or at least on a regular schedule (I post every day on Flinders Family Freer and once a week here.) I have a good friend who read FFF and said 'I'm funnier than you, and our lives are weirder.' She's right. She also posts ad lib and months can go past. She has about 3 views a week. I'm less entertaining but I have 100 or so a day. And I accept I need to go on for years, that it builds slowly and saltationally and if I stop I'll lose my readers.
4)You can network on facebook. You can also make a pain-in-the-nether end of yourself by advertising yourself relentlessly. 2 minor authors I know have made damned sure I never buy their books. People may like to hear and be curious - if you are entertaining and work hard (like Sarah).
5)You can consider tangible bait. I'm seriously looking at free giveaways - tangible, solid ones - books, corkscrews... with the purchase. Yes, it'll cost me pretty much what I will earn.
6)You can look at intangible bait. Sample chapters, free stories. Not sure either work, but they're low cost.
7)You can try to hitch yourself to star. That's why I co-authored books. Because of name recognition.
8)You can come up with a crazy You-tube clip... working on this. "I said if they got me my author copies of dragon's Ring before it actually came out, I'd walk naked up Strzlecki with nothing else or take a swim with a giant ray with it..."

Ok - more ideas? And how did you like the steampunk?


MataPam said...

Reverse mugging. We stop random people on the street and force them to take printed copies of our sample chapters?

Freebies to all the Cons we can con someone into dropping the free stuff onto the free stuff tables?

The steam punk looks interesting, but a bit confusing and dense with this start. The main thing you don't tell us is which side the Cuttlefish is on. Are all those places mentioned friends being hurt, or sabotage they just committed themselves? Is the Royal Navy friend or foe?

Francis Turner said...

Regarding the steampunk, as MataPam says it isn't entirely clear which side is which. But I'd happily read on a bit to find out.

I think free sample chapters is absolutely the way to go. The key is that you have to make it EASY for people to buy once they are hooked on the first X chapters. Do that and spread the word I expect you'll make sales.

MataPam said...

But the starting problem is how to get enough people to read those sample chapters.

Draw matching webcomics?

Make little flash movies?

Ori Pomerantz said...

The webcomic and short video clip "markets"(1) are also pretty saturated these days. #7, hitching oneself to a star, seems the most likely possibility.

It does not have to be a co-writer. It can be an organization that needs a certain type of literature. For example, the US Marine Corp suggest that their low ranking members read Ender's Game.

(1) Quotes because they're free.

FrozenSquid said...

I can probably help with the submarine stuff.
Bob Hudson, CDR, USN (Ret) (and also ex-bubblehead type...) bhudsonjr at gmail

Anonymous said...

Rock on with the steampunk, Dave! It's great to see what the working first draft of a professional author is like. Full of story, full of promise, but not the final draft.

I just started one last night for Sarah's challenge. It will be sent for consideration to Jack-O-Spec which will be edited and published by Karen Romanko. It's listed in Ralan's if anyone wants to take a gander, but it will be a collection of Halloween stories of all spec subgenres. My working title is "Jujubes Me, Baby," based on the tradition of trick or treating. Of course, the title is subject to change if a better one comes along. But the story has to come first!

Promo. Hmmm. Tough one. I've never had to promo a book, but I've seen promos of other books, of course. One thing I'd consider doing if you go the e-route is releasing it at 99 cents for the first week. Don't know if it would help, but it's a thought. As cliche as it sounds, I've always liked getting bookmarks promo-ing books. I can at least use those, and I do read them. Do the blog interview route with any and all friends who are willing to host you (you've got a lot of friends here ::raises hand:: who'd be willing to host you for a forthcoming book).

One last thing I'd consider doing if I was a publisher was to include with books currently sold a CD of a sample reading for other books of that type. CDs are dirt cheap and podcasting only needs to be done once. In fact, I've always thought a podcast which features sample readings from all forthcoming books could make some money from the publishers if they developed an audience. I personally would support such a channel.

And, oh, one last thing (sorry to be a space hog): B&N lets you read any e-book they offer for one hour on the Nook while you are at their hotspot in the stores. See if they'll let the publishers put forthcoming books on that list with only a few chapters available. It's really no different than going to the store and picking up their physical books to read while you're there. I don't know if it would help, but I don't think it could hurt to try.


MataPam said...

Sarah gave away a bunch of sample openings of Draw One In The Dark, in comic form at WFC about 3 years ago.

Sarah, did you get any feed back on them? WFC is so business, perhaps a more fan oriented con would be better? And/or put them up on your website?

Dave Freer said...

MataPam - Have you read my 'The Poet Gnawreate and the Taxman?' :-) If not, you should. Confessions, it's a story I still feel vaguely guily about selling as it's really an in-joke for writers and would-be writers. The villain (I don't think there are any heroes unless you count the undead barman who still has 982 copies of 1000 copy run of his self-published fantasy (write about what you know)in his coffin.) is an 18th century poetess who makes money out her self-published poetry. She is successful at this by employing the dentist chair of the time, which included restraints. Once restrained (and desperate for dental relief) she reads to them until they sign bulk orders to get her to stop...

Freebies at cons may help. But unless it is something specially interest attracting -your return will be very low.

I take your point about the sides (although this becomes quite clear soon). I'll consider it. The places mentioned... hmm. I chose Tube stations (and street names) in London that most South Africans (who read anyway) would recognise as tube stations on the London Underground. Because it is an Ex-colony knowledge of things British is quite basic even if you've never been there. One forgets that this why it is so useful to have a US co-author when writing for the US market! I'll have to think about it.

Dave Freer said...

So: Francis, a tag at the end 'to buy the rest, click here' sort-of-thing?

Dave Freer said...

Matapam - the problem with webcomics and trailers is getting anyone to look at them. Same problem, different media

Dave Freer said...

Ori, yes, I should have mentioned that. Hitch yourself to cause/organisation. That does work. It also is usually very audience limiting, then and forthwith. I have ambitions beyond being read by a single group of like-minded people, so for me that doesn't work. But it IS a viable option.

Dave Freer said...

FrozenSquid - thank you very much. I shall contact you privately.

Dave Freer said...

Linda, agreed on the pricing thing. It's vital that anyone in selling ebooks realises THIS IS RETAIL (which is why I think the agency model of publishing is a failure from the start. Trad Publishers don't do retail. It's a special skill-set. Treating customers to a take-it-or-leave-it attitude will not work. Part of the art of retail is to flex prices quite a lot -- it keeps bargain hunting customers coming back.
The downside with the cd idea is that audio rights would in many cases cost them, and so would professional reading. The CD is the cheap part. But I must see if I can do something with this, when my boy is home for the holidays.

Dave Freer said...

MataPam giving comic (and cds) away at cons might be very good idea.

MataPam said...

Dave, that first bit is so full of information, but lacks clues. Just a few words of reaction, an emotion clearly realted to (1) the damaged areas, and (2) the Royal Navy laying mines, would suffice to cue the reader how he ought to be feeling.

"Those limies deserved it for what they did to us, and maybe we can slip out before the mines are all laid out." vs "I hope Aunt Min moved north like she said she would. Bloody RN! Get those mines down and catch the bastards that did this!"

Dave Freer said...

MataPam, I'll definitely put in something. Thanks

Jim McCoy said...

I like the steampunk so far. Congratulations, you've done something few writers ever do: You've managed to post a snippet that's short enough that I'll actually read it in e-form and long enough to tell me something about the work.

I agree with others about the confusion here. I got the reference to the Thames River. I get the fact that we're in a sub. Other than that, I'm so lost I don't know what to do with myself. This could be a major problem if you plan on selling this in the US. People just won't read what they don't understand.

As far as gaining sales, I think the co-authoring option is the best one. I'm living proof that Jim Baen knew what he was doing when he started having authors collaborate as part of his marketing plan. I read David Weber one day. Then it was John Ringo. The Eric Flint. Then Tom Kratman. I stumble onto Sarah when somebody mentioned her in another conference (meaning non-Diner) in the bar and I came to read your stuff because of MGC BUT none of it works if John Ringo doesn't co-author the Prince Roger series with David Weber. That's what led me to the rest of it.

The other stuff could work, but I'm thinking that that's the best route to go.

Kate said...


I like the steampunk snippet. More please?

I didn't have any "orientation" issues, but then, being Aussie, I've picked up enough Englishness to recognize a fair amount of it.

Marketing-wise... Ye dogs... So far the best I've come up with is a combination of blog tours - assuming I can twist a few arms to get friends of friends to let me guest-blog, which is a big ask - and giveaways - which of course assumes a very low take-up rate, even with enough story to hook (yeah, yeah) included.

Dave Freer said...

Jim, Co-authoring is the best one -but it has the same danger as prizes and awards do. Right now 'award winning' is a pretty sure guarantee I'll hate it. And that is because so many of the prizes and awards have been made into polital correctness footballs and nepotism clubs. Once they were a pretty good recommendation. I'm very wary to co-author with too many people, because my name is trademark. Co-authoring too widely as a publisher's marketing device can end up cheapening the value of co-authorships.

What I think could work too is buy one get one free stunts. Buy a David Weber, get a Dave Freer, free. Yeah, nothing in it for me... but I get introduced to his audience.

I see I am goingto have to seriously consider what to do with the start to the steam-punk. Thanks

Dave Freer said...

Kate, give-aways. Number limit them, and jackpot them.

"The first 200 buyers get a free 'stake me, lord' badge, and 10 lucky people get a signed impaler cover and free turk's head?

Brendan said...


My problem with the steam punk was to do with knowing where the places mentioned are(as opposed to Jim). Mentioning so closely lots of places above London on the river and then the Estuary which is way, way down was a bit disconcerting. Also I never think of concrete as being a Victorian Age building material.

On promoting your work Eric over at Pimp My Novel says one of the common myths of publishing is:

You don't have to promote your book; publishing houses have publicity and marketing teams for a reason. Unless yours is one of the publisher's lead titles, you're going to have to do some of your own legwork. Midlist authors at large houses and most authors at smaller houses have to be willing to do at least some self-promotion in order to give their books the best possible chance in the market. If you're asked to do podcasts, blog tours, physical book tours, readings, signings, or bookstore events, it's in your best interest to do as many as possible

Perhaps one of the new different roles of an agent may be to help you manage your PR, more than sell you to publishers.

FrozenSquid said...

You actually had me hooked with the phrase coal-fired submarine! Granted I'm a bubble-head, but my first thought was "How in the hell do you get enough O2 to support coal-firing without drawing a vacuum in the sub?" Of course the snippet said nought, so I've been postulating...coal-dust? External combustion engines? Rapid flash steam? Arg!
You do realize that to a certain type, puzzles such as that are cruel and unusual punishment? And yes, you'd probably find it much easier to pick my brains via email. Not near so much mess...
Bob Hudson

Dave Freer said...

Brendan - there is some awkwardness here in that if London is flooded - it is in the NEW estuary. I need to clarify that.

concrete... hmmm. The ancient Egyptians used concrete, the Romans used vast amounts of it, Modern concrete as we know it has been a common building material since around 1850. The stubs I was referring to are of a building built in IIRC 1910 - of concrete. I know it doesn't sound old though.

Dave Freer said...

:-)FrozenSquid - it was a careful choice of words there. Not Steam-powered. Coal fired. A coal fired jet engine is possible... I've sent you a very very long e-mail on my thoughts/ background.

I love challenge ideas like this, myself.

FrozenSquid said...

I just sent you a fairly long message in return. Pardon the spelling mistakes, it's much later than I thought! LOL. I noticed the phrasing of coal-fired quite intently, and am glad to know I wasn't too far off...Well, maybe I was..

Francis Turner said...

The blog tour is definitely a good one - as long as you can use it properly and make the effort to do more than the list of "fellow writers you are friends with and whose readers already read your stuff"

Francis Turner said...

Regarding Coal Submmarines take a l;ook at John Ringo's opinion at the end of this article -

FrozenSquid said...

I like John Ringo and his work, problem is that he is focused on using a coal fired steam plant on a submarine which really wouldn't work (without as he says a large grunch of bottled air). Coal though, is a fuel, like diesel oil, fuel oil, or gas, and can be used in many ways. The thing is to find equipment, fuels and technology that existed then and used in alternative ways that would scientifically work. That's the fun part...LOL

Dave Freer said...

Francis there is always another way to skin a cat. (I recall a certain un-named NASA associated scientist telling me ALL the methods of interstellar travel had been thought of and written about. It was a closed book, not worth wasting time on. The science was settled... I was as polite as possible, but went ahead and wrote SLOW TRAIN anyway, consulting various engineers and another gentleman in the same line whose opinions differed. So far I've yet to get any real criticism of the science of the book. I am sure there are flaws, some possibly needing major changes and new ideas, but... It's not an idea that hadn't been written about - it's at least three. One of which (the need for massive convolution of internal surface area) I am ready to bet the farm WILL eventually become the model for space habitats. So: I'm afraid I regard 'you can't do that' as more like "you have to apply a little more ingenuity than just doing things the same old."
It's a challenge and I'm always up for those.

Brendan said...

I always think of steampunk being more about an aesthetic more than the science.

If what we see and read of in steampunk was possible, don't you think someone would have done it? This is an alternate world and I am sure there is an obscure inventor somewhere tinkering away making all the mcguffins necessary to make it run.

Krenn said...


Coal-fired submarines would work the same way as Diesel fired did back in WWII; either they ran an engine snorkel up to the surface, or else they only ran the engines when on the surface, and used lead-acid batteries when submerged.

and yes, I believe the early diesel engine snorkels DID have an annoying habit of producing painful partial vacuums when the snorkel was suddenly cut off.

Stephen Simmons said...

Dave -- sorry I'm so late to the party. Been VERY busy here lately. The sample looks promising, and the concept intrigues me. I'm a retired US Navy submariner, 21 years of service, 14 of those on sea duty. I'd be honored to help with anything that doesn't push up against the edges of classified information too closely. Ping me on Facebook if you think I'd be of any help, by all means.

Stephen Simmons said...

FrozenSquid -- I served with two different officers named "Mr. Hudson" over the years. We may know each other...

FrozenSquid said...

Could very well be! In my case it's Bob. my gmail account is bhudsonjr. I had several Simmons as well including my students at Nuke school LOL...Send me an email and see if we can figger it out.