Thursday, July 26, 2012

Smorgasbords, Radio Interviews, and KDP Select

One of the most interesting aspects of active involvement with other writers is being immersed in diversity. It's like enjoying a smorgasbord of ideas, interests, and talents.

I participate in three groups. Membership overlaps, but the collective dynamics differ enough that each experience has its own unique attraction.

Austin Indie Writers, for example, provided me with the opportunity to take part in a radio interview with two other AIW members. I've never been interviewed on the air before, and undoubtedly never will again, so it's worth noting as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

My assigned AIW post day is the 26th of the month. I'm writing this post in advance of the interview scheduled for July 25th, 2012, to have it ready. This is a "pre-action" report, if you will.

The program at KOOP 91.7FM Community Radio is called Writing on the Air (WOTA) and is described as follows:

The Writing on the Air Collective produces Writing on the Air in order to promote the art of writing and creativity, and to provide information to Austin's community of readers, writers and creatives. The show has featured interviews and readings with award-winning, as well as up-and-coming, novelists, journalists, biographers, poets, essayists, folklorists, songwriters, freelancers, cookbook authors, historians, illustrators, screenwriters, playwrights, humorists, philosophers, and creative spirits who can help us summons our muse. In the past year, the format of the show has expanded to include radio plays and coverage of book-related events in the Austin community.

About Us
We are a group of volunteers who produce a weekly radio show about writing--as it is broadly defined. We broadcast on 91.7 FM KOOP in Austin, Texas on Wednesdays from 6:00 to 7:00 PM. We have podcasts of our previous show on our webpage,

Fellow AIW member Brad Whittington arranged the interview, which also included Deanna Roy. Together we developed an outline for how we as indie writers would structure the interview as if we were running it, which we weren't, of course. That's the job of our host, but we figured he'd appreciate suggestions.

Brad provided a great beginning concept with the suggestion that each of us represented a different approach to going indie: legacy to indie (Brad), small publisher (Deanna), and straight to indie (me).

I provided the opening planning salvo with the following draft:


  • Introductions: Provide individual bios that our host can read.
  • Industry background: Don't assume that listeners will be well-informed about the current state of the publishing industry. First questions could address specific information to provide a snapshot of the difference between legacy and indie and why we are even using those terms.
  • Individual writer backstory: Questions to highlight the legacy-to-indie, small-publisher, and direct-to-indie distinctions.
  • Individual writer immediate future: A "What are you working on now?" kind of question. 
  • The crystal ball question: "How would you describe the industry in ___ years?"

Some sample questions

  • When did you first begin writing and why?
  • Has your writing effort always been with publication in mind, or did that goal develop over time?
  • Is your professional life reflected heavily in your writing, and if so, how? 
  • Describe the most important factor in your decision to go indie. 
  • Describe the most difficult aspect of your decision to go indie.
  • How would you describe the most significant difference between your indie-publishing experience and that of your fellow writers here today? 
  • Tell us about one of your books.

Some specific topics our questions could address

  • Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select.
  • The reality that the average indie-published author sells less than $500 in books.
  • Compare that with the average legacy author's sales.
  • The fallacy of the importance of a social networking connection in promoting the books of a relatively unknown author beyond a small circle of friends and family.
  • The concept of critical mass in indie publishing: why a writer needs multiple points of connection to take advantage of synergism: a stable of good books with a definable market and an established tribe of fans.
  • The proverbial "Catch-22": You can't sell books if readers don't know it's there and they won't know it's there unless you sell a lot of books.
  • All publicity and marketing effort is a gamble with the best odds far below the worst in Las Vegas. None of the strategies that any author has used to succeed can be reliably applied to any other author because each piece of the success story is like a link in a chain. If you fail to forge even one in the same way, the entire paradigm is altered and you are plowing virgin ground.
  • The importance of careful editing.
  • Covers do matter.
  • The individual steps required to turn a heavily revised manuscript into one that will convert to an eBook without formatting problems.

Brad and Deanna then added their inputs, and Brad consolidated them into an outline. He did a great job:


  • First we had indie musicians, now we have indie writers. Isn’t that just a fancy way of saying self-published? (Let’s get some controversy and tension going!)
  • Back to the beginning of the printing press people have always self-published. How is it any different now? (State of the industry)
  • What is indie publishing? (Levels of indie, from small press to DIY)
  • What about the stigma of self-publishing? (May as well take this head on)
  • What about all the things a traditional publisher does for you? (Can address valid production-level considerations while debunking the marketing/exposure/discoverability myth)
  • Do you think all authors should abandon legacy publishing and go indie?
  • What advice would you give an unpublished author aspiring to get a book on the bookstore shelves.
  • Where do you see publishing going in the next ten years?

Tosh (straight to indie)

  • What was the most important factor in your decision to go indie?
  • What was the most difficult aspect of your decision to go indie?
  • How would you describe the most significant difference between your indie-publishing experience and that of your fellow writers here today?
  • Did you try the traditional path to getting published first?
  •  If you got an offer from a traditional publisher tomorrow for your next book, would you sign?

Deanna (small publisher)

  • What made you decide to start your own publishing company?
  • What was the hardest part of getting the operation going?
  • What hurdles did you not anticipate?
  • What has been the advantage of having your own company versus going pure indie.
  • How do you decide which of your own works to put through the company name?
  • What are your plans to expand, and do you ever expect to grow into a bigger press?
  • With so many authors going indie, do you see small presses continuing to be a viable option in the future of publishing.
  • What does a small press offer that distinguishes it from the Big Six or indie?

Brad (legacy to indie)

  • Your first four novels were released with a traditional publisher. Was that a good experience or disappointing?
  • Why did you decide to go indie with your fifth novel?
  • Will you continue to indie publish or will you try the traditional route again?
  • Now that you’re an indie author, what do you miss about legacy publishing?
  • What do you like better about indie publishing?

As I write this post in advance of the interview, I have no idea what the experience will be like. That said, I'll return now to the point made at the beginning of this post about diversity of ideas, interests, and talents represented in writers' groups, and connect that dot with two listed in the section of my interview draft under the title of specific topics: KDP Select and the publicity and marketing gamble using the chain analogy.

Of the three writers participating in the interview, one of the most salient differences is that I'm the least successful in the marketing part of indie publishing. There are a number of reasons for that.

Without an existing fan base or established social network built on something more substantial than having some friends on facebook, or tweeting, or being linked in, you can't promote your books to anyone who cares. It's simply unrealistic to expect these methods to reach out to strangers and introduce yourself as an author.

Absent the rare free promotional opportunity, publicity requires capital investment in advance of knowing how effective it will be. Buy a couple of blog tours or online publicity packages, and you have to sell a lot of books to break even, much less make a profit. There may be a secret decoder ring out there to help make the decision about where to spend your promotional dollars, but I've never heard of it. It's a gamble in which you pay your money and take your chances. That's not to say you can't make informed choices, but simply to acknowledge the odds.

Indie authors with success stories love to share them and that's great. Who wouldn't want to do that? But the application of any given example of a favorable outcome is of little benefit to another author because no one can duplicate the process used to achieve it.

Both Brad and Deanna have used Amazon's KDP Select program to very positive benefit. I have not, and one of the reasons is timing.

I had just published my debut novel and offered it for sale on five outlets when the Select program was announced. To enroll, I would have had to remove the novel from all but Amazon. Select had no track record at the time, of course, but that wasn't the reason I decided against it. I'd simply invested too much work to toss it away before I had the opportunity to see what sort of sales multiple outlets might produce.

In the intervening months, Select has produced phenomenal results for a number of authors. It has also gone through an aging process at both ends of the program. Authors have learned what it takes to maximize their outcomes, and Amazon has adjusted the algorithms used to manipulate how the program works.

Select's prospects for success depend on a specific, time-sequenced list of chain-link actions. If I were to enroll my first novel in Select, the potential for positive benefit would be even more unpredictable than for enrolling the next novel at the time of publication because the first crucial links are unavailable to previously published work.

But even for a new novel, it's impossible for me to duplicate the event chain of any successful Select author. There are simply too many variables in the forging process.

None of this is to suggest that I think Select isn't worth the effort, quite the contrary. It's one of the most important reasons that Deanna and Brad have been so much more successful than I with their promotional efforts.

Their experiences, as a matter of fact, will serve as a well-defined roadmap that may lead to success for two of our fellow AIW members who will be using Select to launch their debut novels in the near future. It will be fun to watch, and I'll be cheering for them from the sidelines.

I haven't yet listened to the interview. I should, in spite of the fact that I expect to sound like a rusty door hinge. I didn't earn the nickname "Squeaky" among my fellow fighter pilots due to having a rumbling baritone voice.

Addendum to original post

It's 6:00 a.m. on July 26, 2012, and this post is scheduled to go live in about  two hours. Before that happens, I feel the need to insert an after-action comment, a confession, of sorts, because yours truly made a boo-boo.

Brad had forewarned us that there were three things we could not do on the air:
  1. Mention bodily functions. That sounded a bit strange when I first heard it, because why on earth would I want to? But the point is that if I felt the need to use profanity, some words could be acceptable, some would not. Okay then. I'll avoid any problems by eliminating them all from my on-air vocabulary.
  2. Issue calls-to-action like, "Buy my book!"
  3. Mention any prices. The prime example of this prohibited behavior was, "You can buy my book on Amazon for $4.99, or wait until Monday when it will be free." And yes, even if I eliminated the $4.99, "free" is still a price. Don't say it.

I was aware of these cautions when I walked in the door, and they were drummed into my head yet again prior to beginning the interview. That should be the end of it. But no, leave it to me to commit the only act of on-air treason.

Now this may seem like whining to some, and I admit that's a valid point, but no one said that if we happened to be chatting about topics other than writing, for example, I couldn't say something like, "I paid $3.59 for gas the other day." If I owned a gas station and wanted to let it slip that you could pay less there, I can see the point. But since that has nothing to do with the subject of the interview, it wasn't intuitively obvious (at least to me, the only interview virgin in the room, I might add), that the prohibition against mentioning a price applied to the price of anything.

Imagine my consternation, therefore, when the topic turned to the problem faced by indie writers when the time comes to think like a publisher and deal with the business end of publishing. Things like content/developmental, copy, and line editing, cover design, interior layout, and publicity. 

Brad and Deanna had been talking about the importance of paying attention to these details, and our host joined in with the opinion that it was best to hire professional assistance rather than for an author to attempt them. I felt the need to at the very least express an alternate view, because you can easily spend $3,000-5,000 before you sell your first book. 

You should have been there, folks! You would have thought that in one sentence I used every word I knew referring to bodily functions. They probably beeped me completely out of the interview for that egregious violation of protocol.

I'm having a bit of fun at my own expense here, so let me make it clear that this is leading up to an apology to KOOP, our gracious host, and my fellow interviewees for having the dubious distinction of being the only one during the hour who failed to obey one of three simple rules.

And in closing, I'll refer to common replies around fighter squadrons during my 20 years in the Air Force when someone would ask how a new guy had done on his first sortie with an instructor pilot.

"He can always serve as a bad example." Or my personal favorite . . .

"He's depriving some village of an idiot."

Tosh is the author of the aviation mystery/thriller Pilot Error, the second-in-series Red Line (Fall 2012), and two non-fiction series: Book One of Wings On My Words, tales from the writer's desk, and Book One of Words On My Wings, tales from the cockpit. Visit him online at