Mark Terry

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hard Versus Soft

When and/or if you try out indie publishing, it's really useful to keep in mind the differences between a hard launch and a soft launch. For your peace of mind, if nothing else.

In the traditional publishing world, a book has approximately 6 weeks to make an impact before the brick-and-mortar booksellers return your books to the publisher to make room on the shelf. It used to be longer (and there used to be a chain store called Borders, too), but changes to the tax code 20 or so years ago treated books the same way it treated screwdrivers and wrenches and changed the taxation on warehoused retail products. This incentivized bookstores and publishers to churn books rather than keep them in a warehouse or on shelves.

The result of this is that from the day your book is launched (traditionally a Tuesday), the writer needs to hustle and sell in order to move as many books as possible for a 4-6 week period from launch. That's why review copies needed to be to newspapers and review outlets 4 or 5 months ahead of launch and why your book signings etc were all so dramatically tied into the launch date. You were trying not just to make a big splash, but to convince booksellers that you were worth stocking, and as a result, your publisher (who was already probably making decisions on your next book based on pre-orders anyway).

This is more or less true of ebooks by traditional publishers although it's probably much fuzzier, because of the simple nature of ebooks, i.e., they don't go out of print and there's no particular storage issue at warehouses.

Which is where a "soft launch" with ebooks comes in. I'd be delighted if I published a book and it sold thousands of copies on the first day (or ever, for that matter), but I do understand (intellectually, if not always emotionally) that ebooks just keep selling. I might sell a few dozen of the new book the first couple weeks, but unlike with traditional publishing where those numbers might peter out, ebooks SEEM to continue selling steadily month after month with occasional peaks and valleys tied into whatever promotion I'm doing or the phases of the moon or the launch of another book or another change in the phantom logarithms created by Amazon's computer wizards.

Whether things will change remains to be seen. I recently applied to BookBub for a promotion slot and was turned down, so I will continue doing my drip-drip-drip Chinese Water Torture thing—I tend to link my free and sales promotions to the launch of a new book, but we'll see, I'm a number of months from a new book.

I guess the point is to be aware that in the marketplace, ebook sales BEHAVE differently than traditional paper book sales. There are a lot of reasons for it. I'm sure one is simply that if I see a new book come out on ebook that is by someone I don't know but looks interesting, I will download a free sample to remind me at a later date to check it out, rather than the oh-that-looks-cool-gotta-buy-it-now thing.


Friday, September 06, 2013

China Fire - excerpts

I told myself I'd blog on Thursdays and yesterday I got swamped with work. Today, here I am. The latest novel of mine out is CHINA FIRE. I thought I'd share a couple excerpts for your reading pleasure.

Monaco stood beneath her umbrella outside The Forbidden City, what had once been the Emperor’s Palace. It was an astonishing complex with 9,999 rooms—or so went the legend—architectural jewels in the middle of Beijing. The rain had decreased to an unpleasant drizzle, but it had not kept the tourists from visiting The Forbidden City. There were hundreds of people wandering around, mostly leaving because the facility closed at 4:30.
     She studied Jingshan Park, the Pavilion of Everlasting Spring towering above her, what had once been the highest point in Beijing. Apparently the hill it stood on had been built from the earth removed to dig the moat around the city. She felt slightly exposed, but what she hoped an observer would see was a tourist looking at landmarks. And she did like the Pavilion of Everlasting Spring. It was beautiful.
     A red Mercedes taxi pulled up and the back door opened. Right at 4:00. She slipped into the seat, folding her umbrella in after her. The Mercedes pulled out into traffic.
     The man in the rear seat was younger than she expected. He smiled. “Ron Estrada,” he said. “You’re—“
     “Ellen Wu,” she interrupted.
     Estrada finger-combed his dark hair back off his forehead. Clean-shaven, Monaco guessed he was maybe in his forties but looked younger. He gestured to the driver. “He’s one of us. Don’t worry.”
     “I always worry.”
     “Right. Sure. Anyway, here’s the deal. Peter Lee was a NOC, a non-official cover—“
     “I know the acronym.”
     “Of course you do. Look, we’re jumpy about this. Lee’s cover was as a representative of AmerAsian Energy Consultants. It allowed him to be in and out of just about anywhere he wanted to go in the country and regularly visit China’s three oil companies.”
“So he’s known there?”
“As his NOC. At the oil companies and all throughout the government agencies that deal with oil. Oil is a big deal here. There are 1.3 billion people in this country and a lot of them are starting to buy cars.”
“Okay. When did you–“
“The last we heard from Lee was a fairly cryptic message indicating he was hunting down something referred to as China Fire. He didn’t know what it was, but he referenced what he believed was an unidentified . . . cabal . . . consortium maybe is a better word, between the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corporation. He called the members of this group the Three Bats, but we have no idea why and we don’t know who they are.”
     He paused as their driver took them by what Monaco 
recognized as the Beijing Normal University. “Last we knew, he was going to dig a little deeper into China Fire and this consortium—he suggested he knew there was a meeting between the players—and that’s the last we heard of him.”

* * *

When they were fifteen feet away the driver’s-side window of the cab rolled down. Monaco saw it was the same Chinese driver from earlier in the day. Something was wrong. Her instincts were good and she trusted them. She was already on the move.
     The driver raised a gun and fired. The gun barked twice and Estrada crumpled to the pavement.
     Monaco had a hand on Richter and shoved him. The professor stumbled as another shot sliced the air where he had stood moments before.
     Spinning, Monaco pulled the QSX-92 and returned fire. The driver’s gun spat again and she felt something tug at her left bicep.
     Richter was struggling to his feet. “Stay down!” Monaco hissed. Taking careful aim, she fired again, but the taxi driver had stomped his foot on the gas. The Mercedes roared forward. Monaco sprinted at an angle, firing as she ran.
     The Mercedes was bearing down on Richter and there wasn’t a damned thing Monaco could do about it.
     With a cry, Richter lunged to his feet and dived away. The Mercedes clipped his hip and he spun and sprawled onto the pavement.
* * *
The rumbling sound had grown louder and more distinct as they moved deeper into the tunnel. Monaco just shook her head. “Come on.”
     In thirty more yards they found out.
     The tunnel abruptly ended. In the glow of her flashlight Monaco saw a curtain of water dropping past the tunnel. She thought it was some sort of water runoff from the sewer systems. All the rain hitting the city had to go somewhere. Beijing was dotted with lakes—Kunming, Yuyan, Lianhua, to name a few—as well as the Jinhe River and irrigation canals. She didn’t know if this waterfall was intentional or part of a broken sewer or waterline.
     It didn’t matter. They were trapped.
     In Cantonese, a guttural voice behind them shouted, “Hands on your heads.”
     Over the roar of the water Monaco heard the unexpected sound of Richter’s laughter. She stared at him. He shook his head. “Fuckin’ China. I hate this country.” He looked at her and smiled. “’The Fugitive’ or “Butch Cassidy’?”
     He gripped her arm with sudden strength and launched them both out into the waterfall.