Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Amazon Experiment

If you'd asked me, as I was trying to teach myself how to construct an electronic contents page within a Word document, whether I was hopeful my attempts to reformat and upload my book The Buffalo Funeral to Amazon would be:

a) successful
b) worthwhile

I would have said:

a) no
b) probably not

The uploading task included cutting and pasting every chapter from my print-ready PDF into Word - and then sitting through 100 online tutorials to teach myself how to 'Kindle-fy' the document (it was during tutorial #54 - How to add electronic tables to your Kindle file  that I realised I would need a university degree to achieve a list of contents at the front of my memoir!). After many cups of herbal tea (and a little bit of Rescue Remedy), I managed to complete the job ... minus a certain table.

Why was I giving myself such brain-pain? Well I'd read a blog about Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) which is a scheme that has been set up by Amazon to allow self-published authors to sell their books through the site (which happens to be one of the biggest online book-selling sites in the world). What interested me about KDP is that it also allowed authors to sign up for a promotion that promised to give them some 'traction' if they offered their ebook for free, for a limited period of time.

My three day free promotion began on April 10 (Pacific Standard Time... which was actually April 11 Aussie-time) and after sending out emails to my mailing list and posting some info on Facebook, I sat patiently...waiting to see what would happen.

The first thing that occurred was the lovely folks at Intrepid Travel (which was the adventure trekking group that I booked my first ever trip to Thailand with) were kind enough to let their 25,000 Twitter followers know about my promo. How cool!

At the end of my first day I'd had 56 downloads and I was pretty chuffed. The next day many of my friends and supporters helped share the 'free love' on their Facebook pages. I had 65 downloads that day and went to bed feeling blessed for my total of 121 downloads. Very cool!

On the morning of the third day of my promo I logged onto Amazon and looked up their Best Seller List. I could not believe my eyes when I saw my little memoir sitting at #1 in the Travel section in the Top 100 Free ebook list. I logged onto my KDP account to discover that I'd had 700 downloads overnight. Insanely cool!

(Note: Also relatively cool is the fact my book ranked higher than Mark Twain on this list. I'm not sure how that happened but I had to take a screen grab of it) (Note: The Dark Side of Disney is not a book I'd download for $2.99...or for free. Do we really need to know how many kids have died on rides and what evil-hidden-messages lie within the fun-park-puzzle?!)

I watched the downloads increase, rather rapidly, for the rest of the day (at one stage I received 50 downloads in the space of half an hour!) and started doing some online investigating, trying to find the source of my Amazon download frenzy... which led me to the helpful people at Ereader News Today. I'd read about this site (which offers subscribers 'hot tips' on free ebooks each day) whilst doing some online research about Kindle marketing. I had sent the Ereader team an email, with my book promo info, imagining that it would sit in a pile of 1000 emails from eager self-published authors - all trying to get themselves some free publicity.

But to my utter amazement, Ereader listed by book in their first blog of the day, as well as posting it on their Facebook page which has 266,800 + followers. Mega cool!

By the end of my three day 'Amazon experiment', my ebook had been downloaded 1797 times. During the promo it achieved a #1 ranking in four different Kindle Store Best Seller categories:

#1 Best Sellers in Travel - Top 100 Free
#1 Best Sellers in Travel: Asia - Top 100 Free
#1 Best Sellers in Memoirs: Women - Top 100 Free
#1 Best Sellers in Memoirs: Specific Groups - Top 100 Free (not exactly sure what this means but I'm claiming it!)

What does a self-published author in Oz think about all of this? Well, I think it's MIND-BLOWINGLY cool!

What does all of this mean? That remains unclear. Part of me imagines there's a group of ebook-hoarders who like to download every single book that is ever made free online ... and that these files sit, gathering electronic dust, never to be opened or enjoyed. 

But maybe, just maybe, half of the people who downloaded my book will actually read it. And maybe, just maybe, half of them will like it. And maybe, just maybe, half of them will tell their friends about it ... or look up my music online ... or join my Facebook page ... or come to a gig ... or watch my youtube videos ... or buy my album off itunes.

Which brings me back to whether my attempt to reformat and upload my book to Amazon was:

a) successful
b) worthwhile

The answers are:

a) yes
b) yes (If nothing else but for the adrenalin rush of seeing the numbers of downloads increase hour-by-hour and the thrill of wondering who these downloaders might be and where in the world they might be reading my stories on their Kindle).

It's the first time I've had the chance to offer my book to people who haven't been to a gig ... who haven't heard me on the radio ... who are not from my neck of the woods ... people like Zelda, from 'The Heartland' (which I'm assuming means the mid-west in the USA or maybe she was being metaphorical ... either which way, Zelda is a stranger to me). This is what she wrote about my book on Amazon the day after my free promo ended:

Five Stars - A thoroughly enjoyable read and entertaining author!
My first read on my new basic Kindle and it was a page turner. The descriptions of the landscape and people fully allowed me to use my imagination even without illustrations or photographs. Funny and well told. I hope for more from this author.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Finding my 'Dylan song' - I Shall be Released

Bob Dylan. When I think about his songs, I think about words. Lots of words. Endless words. Verse after verse. Songs that seem impossible to perform unless there's a cheat sheet of lyrics sitting at your feet. I have attempted to learn some of his tunes, and failed, due to their wordiness (was it a black dog or a white man who was wounded in love? Six crooked highways and how many misty mountains?). I have contemplated cutting out a few verses of some of my favourite Dylan songs, in the hope I'll be able to cover them, but it just doesn't seem right to chop Bob's poetry.

Surely all good folk singers should have at least one Bob Dylan song that they cover. But what would be my 'Dylan song'?

I first discovered this song back in 2001, when I was living in Bangkok. The guys in my band decided, one humid afternoon, that we should take a break from rehearsing and watch a movie. They put on The Last Waltz and I was utterly blown away by the movie, the music, and one song in particular - I Shall be Released.

It felt so different to any of the other Bob Dylan songs that I'd heard. For starters, it was learnable! But it also had soul. It dug deeper than the rest. It planted itself in my heart. I began performing it with my band. I later discovered that I was not the only singer to fall in love with the song. Some of the artists who have covered it include Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez ... even Elvis Presley! 

When I was asked to contribute a track to the Festival Folk Sing Bob Dylan CD, I knew exactly which song I wanted to do. I put my name down for I Shall be Released and then, in the weeks leading up to the recording session, began freaking out about whether I was capable of it. It's a big song. I tried to learn some other Bob songs. I went on the net, looking for chords and lyrics, but nothing felt right. I kept coming back to I Shall be Released.

This song has been swirling around inside my soul for the past ten years. It carries with it happy memories of my time in the band in Thailand ... of releasing myself from my old life ... of creating for myself a new life ... of finding my voice ... of finding my people ... of finding my 'Dylan song'.

The album will be available through in mid April.