Thursday, March 5, 2009

Author Interview:
Talking with Mel Keegan

First, let me apologise across the board … I’ve been buried in work. Blogging has had to be back burnerized and nobody is more aggravated by this than myself because for a week I’ve wanted to review The Lords of Harbendane and Legends! It’s incredibly annoying just not having the time to do this. I also want to review a couple of old favourites and some new ones, including Josh Lanyon’s The Ghost Swore Yellow Socks. Yet here I am strapped for time.

I did get the chance to talk to Mel Keegan a few days ago and since I’ve been promising a ten-minute interview, here it is. Hopefully I can get sometime over the coming long weekend (Adelaide Cup Day … big horse racing carnival) and will be able to get some reviews done then.

AG: How was the launch of Lords of Harbendane?

MK: Interesting! Successful, given the circumstances. The reading community isn’t as “socially secure” as it used to be a few years ago, and books have become more expensive. So has postage! When I began with DreamCraft, we could mail a book around the world for A$8 (about US$6). Now, it costs $16.04 (A$25.46) to mail the same book from Amazon to the South Pacific region. Has this killed local sales? Yes. Does this impact significantly on overall sales? Of course it does! However, if you remember that readers everywhere are struggling to cover their domestic expenses, it’s actually tremendously flattering when these same people pay what I, personally, consider an outrageous amount for a book. It’s US$22.50 for Harbendane at Amazon. That’s not a lot of money in Aussie terms, for a brand-new paperback, but in the States it’s way over the top. Also utterly unavoidable for a book of these dimensions.

AG: Prices are rising everywhere. I read on your blog that in a few years Amazon is expected to have taken control of the ebook market with Kindle and will start to hike the cost of ebooks…

MK: It’s been mooted, but on thinking it over I honestly doubt it’ll ever happen. I mean, they can charge US$30 (A$47.60) for an ebook novel which is, frankly, no more than a bunch of electrons, pixels, what have you … but no law says readers have to pay so much! Also, with POD publishing trending the way it is, the self-same book that would be wearing a $30 pricetag in the Amazon Kindle store would still be costing $10 via the author’s website. What kind of idiot would pay $30 for something you can get for $10? All they have to do is Google the author’s name and/or the title of the book, find the website and download the identical goods from Payloadz or whatever.

AG: I guess Amazon will find this out the hard way. You were angry and outspoken the other day on your blog also about the fact the Kindle Store is out of bounds to “foreign writers”

MK: I was steaming mad at the time. In fact, I still am, on behalf of “foreign” writers everywhere. We don’t call ourselves foreign! Aussies and Kiwis and South Africans and so forth think of folks from North American as being foreign! But, whatever your perspective on geography, you get to a critical threshold in the Kindle publishing process where they ask you for your American mailing address and American phone number. This automatically shuts out 90% of the world’s literary voices -- which would be fair enough, if was not infamous for dumping cheap goods into the world marketplace! As I said on the post where I talked in depth about this, to make it halfway decent and acceptable, the conduit has to run in both directions. I might still be able to sneak into the Kindle Store by getting access to a proxy address, via family in the US. But ... it's the principle of the thing.

AG: Any chance of Amazon Kindle changing its way of working, do you think?

MK: Maybe. Kindle is very new, and everything needs a shakedown, but so far the development process has taken years and they’re still US-centric. Also, the second incarnation of the Kindle gadget it out, and they’re already in trouble with it. It works just fine -- in fact, it works to well. Apparently, the gadget has a text-to-voice feature which effectively turns every ebook into an audiobook … and it turns out the Kindle’s human voice algorithms are pretty good. Mellifluous and accurate in intonation. This is really rubbing the billion-dollar audiobook industry the wrong way.

AG: So Amazon isn’t out of the woods with Kindle yet. And let’s face it, writers -- like yourself and others I know personally! -- are always out there looking for alternatives.

MK: And finding them. I stumbled into the Mobipocket Store yesterday and found myself made as welcome as I was unwelcome (as a "foreigner") at the Kindle Store. Mobi is a very different kettle of fish. It’s not the hardware that's proprietorial, it’s the way the ebook files are registered … yeah, sure, I know, we’re getting into the area of DRM [digital rights management] here, which is a huge, swampy zone. But improvements are being made, and Mobi is far better in this region than other formats like the protected PDFs -- those are a nightmare, from what I hear. Also, Mobi works on Kindle … and you can get a free download of the Mobi reader for most platforms, and then you can go ahead and download your purchase multiple times -- for your desktop, laptop, netbook, screen reader, whatever. I’m interested … very.

AG: You’re also going to Smashwords soon, aren’t you? I have a couple of readers who’re into the iPhone thing, and they’re waiting for the phone versions of some of your titles. Any info?

MK: We tried the upload to Smashwords yesterday, but they were having server issues. If not for this, two or three books would already have been there! We’ll be trying again later today. Cross your fingers for us.

AG: Hey, consider them crossed. Which titles are going to Smashwords first?

MK: Fortunes of War, The Lords of Harbendane and Dangerous Moonlight.

AG: How soon can we expect The Swordsman and the NARC series to be ready for the iPhones?

MK: April or May … sooner than that if sales are really good. It takes about 2-4 hours to convert a single book over from the DTP files from DreamCraft to the stripped files needed to make the conversion to multiple ebook platforms effective. Being a working stiff with three blogs and some remote semblance of a private life, I can only do one or maybe two per week. Bear with me.

AG: They say patience is a virtue! How’s critical response to Harbendane?

MK: So far, so good. I’ve only had reader response so far, but it’s all in the five-star bracket. I’ve sent it to Rainbow Reviews, and am optimistic that it’ll be well received there too. I’ll be sending out several more review copies in March and April. So ... any idea when you’re going to get around to a review on this blog of yours? Hint, hint. Not to apply any pressure, you understand…

AG: aarrrgghh! As soon as I can get some free time from work.

MK: Tell me about it. Finding time to blog is difficult… finding additional time to promote the blogs is even more so, which is a principal problem with Legends. I’m having a hard time catching people’s attention! I’d hoped the “viral marketing” concept would have worked: word of mouth. People tell people who tell people that there’s a FREE MEL KEEGAN NOVEL out there. Free for the download, and so on. This didn’t happen, and since I can’t access search engine traffic, promotion for Legends is a question of applying to directories … and being rejected by more of them than will give Legends a listing.

Artwork by Jade, from LEGENDS: A digital novel by Mel Keegan ... are you missing the fun?!

Art by Jade, from LEGENDS: A digital novel by Mel Keegan ... are you missing the fun?!

AG: That’s bizarre. Why can’t you use the search engines?

MK: Think about it! Google or Yahoo, whatever, picks up on keywords. Say my characters are drinking wine during the m/m seduction scene. Google would very likely send visitors to the page, who’d been searching on wine, or goblets. Or silk bedsheets. Or scented candles. They land on a page where two guys are getting it on; someone gets a shock and complains -- big trouble.

AG: Oh … yeah. Right. Duh. That could get confusing for the engines and a bit nasty if the wrong people (maybe kids???) got into pages where they absolutely shouldn’t be.

MK: Exactly. So right now, here’s Keegan’s Master Plan regarding the Legends Project. The story breaks down into five major “books,” and I’ll complete the first. The site can sit up there at Blogger, looking gorgeous (and it does!), while I figure out how to promote it without paying megabucks for adverting. Meanwhile, I’ll be finishing Hellgate. By the end of the year, Legends will either be attracting readers … or not. If it’s not, the site will come down and I’ll go on and finish the whole project for issue via Mobi, Smashwords, Payloads, Amazon, whatever. The whole thing was an experiment, after all -- you have to remember that “negative data” is useful too. What I’ve learned so far is that not too many people are interested in following a serial! And/or they have no real use for ebooks, so reading fiction on-screen is anathema. Or, they don’t like the action broken up into daily doses. Or, they don’t care for fantasy. You add those things together, and you get a fairly small nucleus, or core, of readers who are enjoying it … just too few people to make the project a success.

AG: And are readers being supporting via the advertising?

MK: Not really -- and this is where I’m very surprised indeed. We had a flush of people supporting Legends in the first week, but right now we can go 1,000 page loads without getting a click on a Google ad, for instance … and the click, when you do get one, is worth about 15c. I understand about people not wanting to donate $1 (we’ve had the mighty sum of 7 of those clicks in a month -- I’m very grateful to those people who did indeed click!), and I also understand about people not shopping at Amazon, because folks are counting pennies -- myself included! But there are ways to be supporting that don’t cost the reader anything at all, and it seems that very few people are sensitive to this issue.

AG: In other words, they’re happy to swing by every day and get the fiction, but they don’t want to trade anything at all for it…

MK: Most people swing by once at week (at the weekend) and collect 10 segments at once, and vamoose till next week. I don’t at all mind people doing this -- it makes sense! But with one visit per week there doesn’t appear to be any impetus to offer some support, even be it just a click on some item that everyone in the world knows will vector a microscopic gratuity back to the host. It’s curious to watch what’s going on, and this is also a valuable part of the experiment. It’s just important to be patient, leave no stones unturned, give the project the full energy and creativity it was supposed to have, and allow enough time for it to “cook” properly.

AG: You’ve got a lot more patience and perseverance than I would have! Last question … what are you writing now?

MK: Obviously Legends, but unless there’s a miracle, I’ll be putting that onto hiatus at the End of Book One. I’m spending the rest of the year to finish Hellgate. Completely. Totally. Right to the end. Then we’ll relaunch the series in new venues, with a new campaign … and see what happens next.

AG: Thanks for your time, Mel -- I know you don’t have a lot to spare and I see you fidgeting in the direction of the door! Best of good luck with all your projects.

MK: Thanks -- and it’s been a pleasure.


Many thanks to Mel Keegan for this interview, which will “hold” this blog while I dig my way out from the pit of work that I’ve been buried in. Next review: Lords of Harbendane. Then, The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks. I’m hoping to get back with those next week.


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