Conversations with Successful SciFi/Fantasy Authors

I don’t remember pointing out a lot of useful resources during the eight or so years I was actively blogging about self publishing because I don’t remember finding much worth linking. But for anybody who is interested in the business of writing science fiction and fantasy, I want to recommend the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast, with over 100 hour-long episodes in the can:

It’s hosted by bestselling author Lindsay Buroker (and her dogs), with help from Joseph Lallo and Jefferey M. Poole. Lindsay has been doing this since 2014, though I only found out about it last year when she invited me on. I took a rain check due to my father’s declining health, and now that he’s gone, between paperwork and getting back to writing, I’m jealous of my time. But there are over a hundred podcasts or videos of Lindsay and company talking  with successful authors (and a few marketers) in the field, and they let it all hang out the way I used to with my nonfiction publishing experiences. The guests run the gamut from Kindle bestsellers to authors who have signed major trade publishing deals, but the focus is definitely on eBooks.

The invitation to be on the podcast got me thinking about what I would have talked about, and I could only see myself discussing the laundry list of all the things I’ve done wrong in the last three years.

For starters, covers are critical in fiction marketing, yet I launched with a home-made cover before going to a professional, and then went through four redesigns before finally getting to one I like last October, two and a half years after publishing the first book.  Part of the challenge for cover design is that my stories don’t fit into a genre category, which is serious mistake #2, because matching a well-defined category, at least partially, is extremely important for discovery on Amazon.


Matching a genre is also important for gathering good reviews. People are more likely to give a good review after reading a book that meets their expectations than after reading a book that they didn’t expect. Amazon just doesn’t have a “family science fiction for grown-ups” category.

Another major error was launching my first book as permafree, without even creating a sign-up list for readers who were interested in reading more, something I finally got around to (with MailChimp) when I released the sixth or seventh book. And my production of the first few books was a bit rushed, leading to a couple of early reviews mentioning typos. These days, I read each book out loud while doing the final onscreen copy edit, and then I read it out loud three more times on my Kindle before even sending it to the first proofreader. I’ve literally reached the point where I spend about as much time editing as writing.

In retrospect, my worst error might have been the title of the first book, “Date Night on Union Station.” It is a literal and accurate description of the contents (a hangover from my nonfiction career) which nonetheless ended up misleading both readers, and perhaps more importantly, people who will never consider the series because of the first book’s title. None of the books in the series are romance novels, at least in the publishing sense of the word. They are satirical future fiction stories that hold up a fun-house mirror to current views on economics, what it means to be civilized, work, relations, and especially, artificial intelligence.

And more than anything, they are stories about family, making redundant the title of the twelfth book in the series, “Family Night on Union Station,” which I’m writing in memory of my father. He led me to Victorian literature, especially Dickens, and to 1930’s madcap comedies, both of which are my “influences” for the series more than modern science fiction. Now that my father is gone, I find that like a character in a play or a novel, I’m full of sorrow over what I didn’t say to him while he could still hear me. Life resembles art.


Do Prior Reviews Influence Amazon Reviewers

Note to all subscribers. I’ve moved this blog to my SciFi writing domain where I’ll be blogging about science fiction on Amazon under my pen name, E. M. Foner.

I’ve been suffering from a little writer’s block lately and decided to take a look at the question of whether Amazon reviewers are subtly influenced in the number of stars they grant by the last published review. I’ve always had the gut feeling that bad reviews invite more bad reviews and that good reviews are followed by more good reviews, so I looked at how often each rating (1 star, 2 star, etc.) is followed by the other ratings, and compared it to the odds of that happening based on the percentages.

The major caveat to the following analysis is that reviewers may never see the last review published, but I did the math anyway. The results below are from the first book of my EarthCent Ambassador series, which had 349 reviews at the time of posting. I give the data below, in case anybody is curious about the methodology.

The interesting anomalies were:

1) A one star review (eight total) was never followed by a 5 star, despite 50/50 odds each time (i.e, one in two reviews on the book is 5 star)

2) A two star review (twelve total) was followed by half as many 5 star reviews as expected (but twice as many 4 stars)

3) A three star review was followed by an almost perfect distribution of expected reviews

4) A four star review was followed by 50% fewer 1 and 2 star reviews than expected

5) A five star review was about ten percent more likely to be followed by another 5 star review than expected:

The numbers below may look like a lot of work but the whole thing only killed about two hours. I’m posting the raw data since I don’t know what else to do with it:-)

Odds of x appearing
1 = 8/349 = 2.3%
2 = 12/349 – 3.4%
3 = 40/349 = 11.5%
4 = 114/349 = 32.7%
5 = 175/349 = 50.1%

First column # stars – Second column  # of reviews of that magnitude
following – Third column # expected

Following One Star Reviews (8)
1 – 0 expected 0
2 – 1 expected 0
3 – 2 expected 1
4 – 5 expected 3
5 – 0 expected 4

Following Two Star Reviews (12)
1 – 0 expected 0
2 – 1 expected 1 (used remainder from neighbors)
3 – 1 expected 1
4 – 7 expected 4
5 – 3 expected 6

Following Three Star Reviews (40)
1 – 1 expected 1
2 – 2 expected 1
3 – 4 expected 5
4 – 14 expected 13
5 – 19 expected 20

Following Four Star Reviews (114 – but last review was 4 so only 113 follow)
1 – 2  expected 3
2 – 1 expected 4
3 – 18 expected 13
4 – 33 expected 37
5 – 59 expected 57

Following Five Star Reviews (175 – solved rather than counted)
1 – 5 expected 4
2 – 7 expected 6
3 – 15 expected 20
4 – 55 expected 57
5 – 94 expected 88

Raw data, 349 reviews, newest to oldest

Newest to oldest (broken into blocks of ten since Amazon shows ten per page)
4354155452 5455455545 4544555555 4555544455 5314343442 2555354155 3435434544 4233544542 5454553444 3555353545 5444553542 5554435335 5455555454 4355444554 4534334453 4454545414 3544455555 5544455453 4445555555 4134555554 5555534554 5554324555 5315415554 5545444555 5555345555 5555445454 2554345445 3435534555 4442555555 5554354544 2545455434 5234445215 4545453345 3545455455 545554555



Free Kindle Science Fiction and Fantasy List and KU Earthquake

I’m doing the Sci Fi announcement first because every publishing blogger under the sun will be writing about the KU (Kindle Unlimited) earthquake.

I’ve taken my curated list of links to free Kindle Sci Fi and Fantasy out of Kindle Select so I could give it away freely and I’m hosting it on on my IFITBREAKS.COM domain. Around half of the books are from post-WWII authors whose stories appeared first in pulp magazines which went out of copyright, resulting in those works being digitized by Project Gutenberg volunteers and later published by Amazon’s public domain division. The rest were largely written before 1923, the boundary in US copyright law.

The bulk of the work in creating this list was the research into the historical development of science fiction. The designation of these works as science fiction is mine, I didn’t pay attention to the Amazon categories. Many of the authors will appear on Sci Fi lists drawn up by academics, others are simply futuristic or fantasy works that stuck with me, including “The Shaving of Shagpat” by George Meridith and a number of works from Frank Stockton,  who most American students know for “The Lady and the Tiger” or “The Bee Man of Orn.”

Another page on IFITBREAKS, which I thought was a cool name for a Sci Fi site, lists Kindle Science Fiction series where the first book is perma-free and has over a hundred reviews. All of these are books that I’ve downloaded and at least tried, in some cases, I finished Book One and bought the rest of the series. I’m not attempting to review the books, there are plenty of those to read on Amazon. It’s more of a note to myself to see if perma-free works for authors to promote a series. The answer, which I’ve given in the past, is – not that well. It’s extremely tough for a perma-free book to maintain visibility on Amazon when paid books get 100X the visibility in the algorithms for recommendations. If I was starting a series today, I would put book #1 in KDP Select and run a promotion every three months, back by paid promotion lists.

I’ve also included a list of memorable classics on the site (meaning science fiction books that I remember) which are not free, though some of the books are included in Kindle Ultimate. I can’t explain why the vast majority of Sci Fi writers whose works have stayed with me for thirty or forty years have last names from the first ten letters of the alphabet. And I plan on creating another list for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, though I haven’t worked out exactly what I want to put on it yet.

Now the KU earthquake. Amazon has announced what many of us have wanted all along. July 1st,  they’re going to start paying authors whose books are borrowed through Select based on the number of pages read, rather than simply paying a flat royalty if the reader read 10%. That amount was $1.35 in May, but I’m not going to bother graphing it anymore because the graph had gone flat at $1.3X – two thirds of the royalty an author would receive on a $2.99 book sale. And after this month, it won’t be relevant in any case.

This should effectively kill the move to short-story length book series written for Kindle Unlimited that are taking over the Amazon catalog. It may also help reduce the number of spammy low-page-count nonfiction titles for which Kindle Unlimited was the primary target.

Here’s the Amazon link explaining everything.