My novel Chion gained a stunning review in April 2007 on a site specialising in self-published novels: The PODler. Today, The PODler announced Chion as its book of the year – the International Print-on-Demand Book Award – out of 29 titles reviewed in 2007. There were plenty of A-rated titles that could have won, not least of which was the very successful Antarktos Rising by Jeremy Robinson. But I’m pleased as punch that my little baby was picked.
I made the decision to release Chion as a freely downloadable ebook on 13 September. In the 54 days between then and now, the novel has been downloaded 262 times. If you think that means 262 lost sales, think again. Only 28 of these downloads occured through my website. The other 234 happened over at my book reviews blog, where I decided to create a little free ebooks section. Because I was restricting my offerings to quality-guaranteed books backed up by written reviews, the page got noticed by GetFreeEbooks.com, who publicised what I was doing. As a result, a lot of people downloaded the books I had on offer, and it shows no sign of slowing down.
The reason why this is not 234 lost sales is simple: If I hadn’t offered the book for free, these 234 people would not have known anything about Chion in the first place. Refusing to make Chion free would not have resulted in a single extra sale. Of course, it has to be asked: Am I selling less copies of Chion now that it’s a free ebook, too? Well, it continues to sell on eBay with the same frequency as before. What can I say? People like their dead tree books.
So, right now I’ve got my 300-odd paperback sales of Chion, plus 262 additional readers (increasing each day). The alternative was 300-odd sales and zero additional readers. I feel completely validated in my decision to make Chion free. How many copies of, say, Cell do you think would have sold, if the book had been released without the magic words “Stephen King” on the cover? Not the millions that did, that’s for sure. I’m learning to put priority on getting known rather than making money. That latter can’t be done without the former.
I’m coming around to the way of thinking that giving something away free is a good thing.
Against this attitude is the notion that every free gift is a lost sale. More than that, given the ability of computers to copy and share data with the greatest of ease, every free gift could mean countless lost sales. We all know about piracy. But the important question to ask is, when someone downloads your novel and enjoys a free read, would they have bought it otherwise? Speaking from personal experience, I’m willing to bet that the answer in most cases is no.
I once downloaded a free ebook of the novella Purity from Douglas Clegg’s website. Was I considering buying it? Nope. However, after reading it and enjoyed it a great deal, I was then on the lookout for Clegg’s work, and at one point I picked up Neverland in paperback.
One thing I’ve learned about self-publishing is that it’s about overcoming hurdles. The major one that sinks most indie authors is that they fall victim to releasing an overpriced paperback that few readers are willing to pay for. I managed to beat that one. But there’s another major hurdle that I’m only scratching the surface of: Hardly anyone knows who I am.
On a good day, I might get forty unique hits on my website. Some of those, statistically, will be brand new visitors encountering me for the first time. I’ve gone to the trouble of making my site as visually appealing as my skills allow. Visitors are encouraged to find out more about my latest novel, Chion. The book cover is on display; the blurb is listed; there’s even a decent-sized excerpt in both text and audio formats. You can do everything that you could do if you had found the novel on a bookstore shelf. Incidentally, I’m amazed at how many self-published authors don’t avail themselves of these benefits, especially with the bad rep that self-publishing has due to the torrent of unedited works for sale out there. Some indie authors expect the public to buy on the strength of a picture and a scrap of text. Forget it! But hey, there’s something I have to face: hardly anyone who visits my site buys my book anyway. Is this some failure on my part to hook the potential buyer? I honestly don’t think so. And I can back that up with a theory.
In stark contrast to the forty visits and zero sales per day my website receives, each copy of Chion (with a few exceptions), listed as a “Buy It Now” auction on eBay, sells successfully, and usually before the listing has accrued forty views. What causes this alarming difference in sales? The book is the same price, both on my website and on eBay, and is presented with the same hooks. So here’s my theory: You have to catch the web surfer when he’s in the mood to buy something. My novel sells on eBay because shopping is in the surfer’s mind when he’s there. Conversely, his credit card is probably the last thing on his mind when he comes across my site as a result of a Google search or a link.
Now, here’s a thought. How about I give an entire novel away free on my website? Chances are, instead of losing a sale that would never have happened anyway, what I stand to gain is a fan. Up till now, I’ve held the conviction that it’s enough to hand over a sizeable excerpt to readers, but now I’m not so sure. Friend and fellow writer James Maxon debates that there’s something far more attractive to the potiential reader about having the whole package. People will be more likely to begin reading an ebook if they know they have the choice to complete it. How much better is that than to have them think, “Well, it’s only twelve pages and then I have to stop. Don’t know if I’ll bother.” The problem is this: in order to motivate someone to read an excerpt, you have to already get them in the mood to buy the book. In the wrong mood, reading an unfinishable work will be considered time wasted. And as I’ve already illustrated, people are not usually in a buying mood when they visit a random website. I would never have have read Douglas Clegg’s Purity if there was merely an excerpt on offer, presented with a buy-it-if-you-want-to-finish-it option. There’s no shame in going about it that way; a worker deserves his wages. But it just doesn’t work.
It could be argued that I’m already giving away free complete fiction, in the form of short stories, and it hasn’t made much of a difference to sales. Actually, it’s worth noting that some people have told me they bought my novel on the strength of downloading one of my stories. But that’s beside the point. The purpose of free stuff is not to get a quick sale. It’s to crack the problem of hardly anyone knowing about you – to create as many people as possible who love your work and who check back often to see what you’re up to. Then, maybe years down the line, when the fanbase is large enough, you might be able to do some significant book-selling. To create that situation, you’ll need more than a couple of free short stories. Isn’t this exactly what Scott Sigler did? He released three or four novels over time in audio form, got really popular, then released a paperback and soared to the forefront of Amazon’s charts.
It all boils down to this: Don’t underestimate the value of creating a fan.
So, I’m going to throw caution to the wind. Here’s a free PDF file of Chion for a start. Read it, copy it, post it anywhere! Ulterior will follow shortly, as well as a massive flood of videos, courtesy of YouTube: the entire Midnight Pictures catalogue, no less. Brace yourself.
[ Download Book ]
Fellow author Will Hadcroft (Anne Droyd and Century Lodge and The Feeling’s Unmutual) has posted a review of Chion on his blog. Here’s an excerpt:
What starts out as a science-fiction thriller, becomes, by turns, a tale about a group of increasingly paranoid and frightened people stuck in an enclosed place, an adventure about fugitives on the run, and a love story.
Shades of John Wyndham (The Day of the Triffids) and John Christopher (the Tripods saga) come through as Chion mimics the best of the old post-apocalyptic greats, while at the same time remaining poignant and contemporary.
Darryl Sloan is a keen observer of human nature. His plotting is meticulous and clever. He deserves to have national and international success with this. It is the best book I’ve read this year.
[ Read Full Review ]
My novel Chion has acquired yet another great review, this time at book review site Critical Mick.
In a welcome relief from the vast majority of sci-fi, Darryl Sloan has built his novel on a truly original notion … It’s gripping stuff, never dipping into the typical end-of-the-world clichés … Ranking right up there with Lucifer’s Hammer [by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle].
[ Read Full Review ]
Press is coming in thick and fast at the moment. Hot on the heels of the last glowing review comes another; this time it’s at PODlings:
Chion has to be one of the most unique thrillers I’ve ever read. I mean, how many thrillers will there be that rehash, dinosaurs, sharks, killer viruses, aliens or rampaging beasts? Well, never fear, because Mr. Sloan has made a monster out of pristine white snow, of all things, and this story will grab you and hold you just as fast as the fluffy flakes themselves! … On every level, it delivers right up to the end.
PODlings also kindly invited me for interview.
I’ve just submitted Chion to several review blogs dedicated exclusively to print-on-demand books. The first review is in, from The PODler, and what a review! Here are a few excerpts:
Chion starts with a brief, one page, exchange that gives us a hint of some unimaginable disaster having struck the world. In cinematic fashion, we enter the action of chapter one as Jamie Metcalfe and other kids of [his] school hear screams coming from outside, where a few of their mates have been stuck to the ground by what appears to be ordinary snow. When Alex Vennard touches a flake, however, he learns that whatever this stuff is, it is definitely not snow. In fact, it is something that grips his hand and won’t let go. In desperate attempt, inspired by mounting panic, his teacher pours hot water on it, hoping to melt it, but the stuff will not. In a fit of panic, Alex frees himself by tearing off a bit of his skin. How can you NOT keep on reading?
I found myself really wanting to know the answers to the questions that have been posed by the story. I think the reason for this lies in the high concept: adhesive snow – this is the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters … But there is more to this novel than just a high concept. Inside the school, trapped by the weird snow, a genuine, beautifully evoked, human drama unfolds … Unlike much of Christian fiction, there is no heavy proselytizing here, no dogma being pushed on the reader. Instead the focus is on the timeless themes of love, sacrifice, and faith that any human being appreciates and believes in..
I think this is a book that exemplifies the very best of POD.
[ Read Full Review ]
Chion has received numerous comments of praise, which you can read for yourself on the Chion page. One negative aspect that a few people have commented on it that it’s too short. The novel is just over 40,000 words long, which translates to 145 book pages. My friend Chris Winter pointed out that this attitude is not necessarily a criticism; it expresses a desire to stay in the world I created; the disappointment is mainly in an enjoyable experience being over too quickly. Conversely, when you’re reading a novel you don’t like, you want to get it over with as fast as you can, don’t you?
As a writer, my policy is always to let a story find its own length. Anything more is padding. I had a discussion about the shortness of the novel with Michael Quayle (who wrote a script for a sequel to Saul’s Pupils). Mike made me realise that, had I been willing to let the story stray away from the perspectives of Jamie and Tara, there was a lot more scope for interesting sub-plots. I still believe I made the right decision, because the novel is much more intimate (and claustrophobic) when the perspective is so restricted, but it’s good to realise that the novel’s premise holds the potential for so much more than I tapped into. Others have expressed how they couldn’t help imagining themselves trapped in their houses by the phenomenon in the book, wondering how they would go about saving themselves.
This request might fall flat on its face, but I would like to put the word out that I am interested in reading “sister stories” to Chion, with a view to publishing them on the site, either in written form or podcast. Can you think of an interesting situation to be in when the calamity struck, or an interesting sub-plot involving an incidental character from Chion? For instance, what happened when the two gunmen held up the supermarket? Did Mr. Darrow try another stunt, or perhaps get a chance to redeem himself? Imagine being a helicopter pilot during the disaster: would you run? Were other parts of the world affected? Here’s my favourite: can you imagine what might have happened at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel connecting Britain to France? I would love it if a few people wanted to take a shot at something like this.
Chion has received its first proper review, on the None May Say book reviews site. I like this review; it’s mostly positive without being afraid to mention a few warts. In addition, I’ve received a lot of feedback from readers, the majority of which I’ve now placed on the Chion page.
A fifth bookshop, Eason in Donegall Place (Belfast), is stocking Chion. I’m pleased to report that, between bookshop sales, internet sales, and personal sales, I’ve now sold over one hundred copies in the 1.5 months since publication; small potatoes if your name’s Stephen King, but for an indie author a great start.