Richard Wright

author of strange, dark fictions

Journal

Making Things Exist (or, Curiouser And Curiouser)

July 3, 2013 by Richard Wright in Journal, Writing

British DetectivesFirst, I owe you all an enormous debt of thanks for your help launching Craven Place. I was expecting (hoping for!) a couple of hundred downloads when the book launched yesterday. I ended up with 483 in the US, 190 in the UK, and another 15 in other territories (including what might be my first ever download in Japan – hello Japan!). It reached the top slot for free downloads in Amazon.com’s ‘British Detectives’ category, and the number three slot in the ‘Ghosts’ bit of the horror category. That’s actually mostly meaningless, for reasons I’m about to go into (downloaders don’t mean a thing until they become readers), but it’s nice to be able to legitimately say that for a brief time Matthew Hopkins was more popular than Sherlock Holmes.

688 free downloads in total. I’m very, very pleased with that. Much happier than when Thy Fearful Symmetry grabbed thousands last year. I’ll explain why in a minute.

The rest of this blog is partly in answer to a question from Meghan Arcuri (whose story in the exceptional Chiral Mad anthology blew me away) – basically, she asked the question that’s on a lot of people’s minds when they witness this sort of thing. Why give the book away for free at all? Wouldn’t 688 actual sales have been a lot better*? Some of you will like this. Some will find it boring. Some might wonder what drugs I’ve been taking. I’ve put Lewis Carrol in it though. Victor Frankenstein too. So, you know. You can’t say I haven’t tried.

First of all, Craven Place would not have sold 688 copies at full price yesterday. Put that from your mind. You might have bought it, because you know my stuff better than most, but those people you recommended it to? Nope. Most of them wouldn’t. So, lost sales isn’t really an issue here.

Actually, yesterday wasn’t about making sales at all.

So, if making the book free on the day of launch and asking you to spread the word wasn’t about somehow making sales… why did we bother?

Well, ultimately it is about making sales. I take that back. I’m not an idiot. I want Craven Place to pay me back its production costs, and hopefully a bit more. But not just yet. This is a slightly longer game.

Writing and publishing types who know how this usually goes might be surprised to have noticed that Craven Place didn’t appear on any of the major free and cheap book listing sites yesterday. There are three or four such sites where a listing can all but guarantee you thousands of downloads, and Craven Place wasn’t featured on any of them.That’s because I didn’t tell them about it. I did put it to eMysterybargains.com because I wanted to see whether that’s a site worth being seen on, but they chose not to run with it. Hey ho. The big guys though? Pixel of Ink? Bookbub? Didn’t bother. That’s why 688 is such a pleasing number – there was no formal promotion whatsoever, just you folks taking a few moments to give it a helpful shove.

The reason I held off using those big sites is what this post is all about.

I didn’t use them, because the book doesn’t properly exist yet.

Shhh. Don’t tell my editor. Danny will be terribly upset (and having worked on the thing for weeks, probably slightly baffled) if he finds out. You’re going to have to bear with me on this one, but I promise it’s going somewhere… here comes Lewis Carroll, for example.

You remember the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, right? How he would fade away until nothing was left but his grin? As you (should) know, Carroll was a Professor of Philosophy, and this is one of many examples of his smuggling a big philosophical idea into his book. It’s to do with levels of reality. Some things are more real than others. In this case, there’s a logical conundrum in the image of the grin. It’s a grin. Not some lips, or a mouth – just a grin. How can a grin exist without a mouth to make it? The philosophical idea he’s playing with is that a grin has less reality than a mouth, because a mouth can exist without a grin but a grin can’t exist without a mouth. A grin is a dependent on a mouth. A mouth can exist very happily without a grin.

Still with me? Not looking around the room wondering what things might be more or less real than other things? Good. That way lies madness. Trust me on this.

Anyway, an ebook is the Cheshire Cat’s grin.

Books used to be things. Real things. Physical objects that you could see, and pick up, and flick through.

That’s changed. The kindle changed that. So did the Internet. Ebooks are less real than books. Don’t believe me? Next time a burglar surprises you in the middle of the night, whack him on the head with a hardback copy of The Deathly Hallows and see what happens. I think it’s fair to say that the result will leave you pleasantly satisfied, and the burglar less so. Now imagine what would have happened if you tried to whack him with the ebook edition of Rowling’s magnum opus. Not the reading device you’re using. Just the ebook. You would be considerably less pleased with how things transpired from that moment onwards.

An ebook is barely a thing at all. It has almost no reality.

That makes it incredibly easy to ignore.

Even if I had listed Craven Place on those big free book sites, and it was downloaded thousands of times, I don’t think it would matter very much. For most people, who don’t know who I am, it would sit on their Kindle amidst dozens of other titles and be forgotten about. A tiny, tiny proportion of downloaders would read it at some point, but not many. Free downloads don’t excite people as much as they used to, because they’ve become the norm.

Of course if I gave those same people an actual book then it would sit around in their house, glaring at them, and would be much more likely to be remembered and picked up. It’s too real too ignore. An electronic file amidst dozens on a device? There’s almost no motivation to open that up. My own kindle is full of them. I download them in case I might some day want to read them. What I’m actually reading though are those books I was motivated enough to buy. They’re much more real to me.

Which is a long road to my point. Craven Place doesn’t need to be downloaded for free six thousand times and forgotten about instantly. That doesn’t achieve very much.

What Craven Place needs before it gets downloaded six thousand times is to be made more real. That’s what you did yesterday, and that’s why I’m happier about 688 downloads than I would be six thousand.

What you leant the book was your influence. Most of those downloads came from a personal recommendation that you made. The book exists a bit more than it did before, at least for those downloaders. It has some context. It’s not just a file they’ll look at blankly in a couple of months and wonder when they got it (and possibly delete, because they can’t remember why they downloaded it in the first place). You’ve anchored it. It’s now that book that Tom, or Susan, or Francis, or Meghan, or Jackie mentioned. They know you, and trust you. You’re linked to the book. Just a little bit, but it’s enough to lend Craven Place some weight.

The chances of the book being read have just exploded.

I’ve said before that stories don’t exist until they have a reader, which is a nice idea to bat around when you’re at a writer’s conference, but until ebooks came along it never meant anything practical. Now it does. I’m gambling on the fact that more of the people who downloaded Craven Place yesterday are actually going to read it than probably would if I gave six thousand copies away to strangers. Once the book has readers, it becomes a real thing, and much harder for everyone else to ignore.

You can picture us together as Victor Frankenstein, if you like. I stitched all the bits together and hoisted it onto the table for you, but you got to pull the switch. There. If I’m wrong about everything here, if Craven Place dies the swift and brutal death of being widely ignored, I’ve still given you a brief image of you as Peter Cushing screaming IT’S ALIIIIIIIIVE!!!

Take a moment to enjoy that.

You’re welcome.

Even if I haven’t lost my marbles with all this, Craven Place still has mountains to climb. It’s next job is to be a good book. If it is, then here’s what I hope happens next:

  • Because you made it more real than other books, a lot of the people who downloaded it actually read it.
  • They like it.
  • They like it enough to tell somebody else about it. They like it so much they hop on to Amazon and leave a review.
  • In a couple of weeks, there are several reviews on the Amazon pages. Hopefully they’re quite good. Fingers crossed.
  • Then I’ll run a two day giveaway, and try to promote it on those larger sites.

People checking it out will see a book that exists because people are talking about it, right there on the Amazon page. Go and look at the Amazon page for Thy Fearful Symmetry. It’s active. People are talking about it. Some people love it. A couple hate it. One despises me fopr not warning her that I am an atheist. Compare it with the page for Craven Place, where tumbleweeds go to die.

If the Craven Place page fills up with thoughts from from people then it will achieve the same thing you did yesterday – give it that bit more reality, that extra reason to actually start reading instead of forgetting about it straight away. If that happens, and that six thousand like it too, then proper word of mouth can start to happen. More than ever, it’s readers that make books. People reading, not people downloading.

And that, to cut a long story… um… long, is why I gave the book away on launch day. Thank you for helping. You did so much more yesterday than I expected. If Craven Place ends up finding readers, it will mostly be thanks to you.

So, let’s see what happens next. Actually, you do that. I need to log off. Properly. For at least a couple of days. If I don’t I’m going to stare at sales rankings that I don’t even expect to do anything other than drop just now, in case one of those unexpected things I can’t really guess about happens. I might even turn into one of those over-anxious authors who shouts at you on social media all the time, and that would make me hate myself in the morning.

Thank you all again, and I’ll see you in a couple of days.

*Meghan’s lovely, and even contacted me yesterday to make sure I really, really wanted her to take a free copy instead of buying it. I really, really did though.

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