Archive for the ‘Computers and Technology’ Category

Evergreening Your Links

Friday, September 25th, 2015

What Is Evergreening Links?

Evergreening a link means making sure the destination of a link always lands the user in the correct place, even when the correct place changes. (P.S I will probably be tweaking this page for a bit, but as of this original writing, there were a lot of people who wanted to know quickly.)

TL;dr :: use a plugin such as Redirection, or a link shortening service such as (likely the paid version) or an installed application such as YOURLS to manage updating the destination of links inside your books.

I am writing this in the context of eBooks where authors include links to the books they’ve written in the back of the book. However, the concept applies to any link you make.

The Basic Problem for Authors who write More than One Book

The more backlist you have, the more books you end up republishing with updated links for books that have been published since you wrote the previous ones. It’s a problem and can end up being a lot of work. But what if there was a way change the destination of existing buy links without having to edit and update books you have already published?

There is. You need to create evergreen links for your books. You do this by creating a type of link in your book that goes to an external page where you can then send the user to the updated location, a redirection, if you will.

There are Three Ways To Create Evergreen Links

There are 3 basic ways to achieve evergreen links. Some of the methods have more than one approach. Don’t worry, I’ll explain each of them. Also, some people do better when they can see a demo or a video, so don’t give up if a written explanation doesn’t quite do it for you. (Sorry, making an interactive demo involves more time than I have right now.)

  1. A plugin if you’re on WordPress or Blogger (SUPER easy!! Install the plugin and you’re done!)
  2. Build redirects at your website
  3. Use a link shortening service that allows you to update the destination of the link

Important Concepts

I assume you already understand how html links work. Even if you’ve only encountered them in the Word document you will upload to vendors, you should have encountered the need to create a link a user will click on to go someplace else. Other books you have written, for example, that you hope your readers will buy.

I also assume you are producing books customized for each of the major vendors such that in the version you upload to iBooks, all your buy links go to iBooks purchase pages. The version you upload to Amazon contains links that go to your Amazon buy pages. If you’re not doing this, you are losing sales.

I feel like I should repeat that. Backmatter links sell books. Vendor-specific links sell more books. You should have buy links in your books, and they should be vendor-specific for Amazon, iBooks, Google Play, Kobo and Nook at the very minimum. You will also need a generic version of your links. Those can go to your website.

No system is perfect (yet) but evergreening your links saves a lot of time and work.

Note: If you’re on the hosted, free version of WordPress, my understanding is you won’t be able to use plugins. Personally, while I realize that money can be an issue, this is an excellent reason to have a self-hosted WordPress install.

This is a business. Don’t leave money on the table because you’re too busy or don’t want to deal with the horror of tech. I get that, I really do. But if either of those things describe you, you can outsource the work. If readers loved your story, they WILL click those links to get more of your work.

Case Study

Assume you have written a three book series called Animals Who Talk.

Animals Who Talk Series!

  • Fred the Cat, Book 1
  • Suzy the Giraffe, Book 2
  • Roberta the Chicken, Book 3

Because you are a super fast writer, your production schedule looks like this:

Month 1: You write and publish Book 1.
Month 2: You write and publish Book 2.
Month 3: You write and publish Book 3.

The common situation is that at the time of publication, Book 1 will not contain any buy links to Books 2 or 3 because, of course, those books do not yet exist. On publication, Book 2 can contain links to Book 1 but not to Book 3. Book 3 CAN contain links to books 1 and 2.

On publication, without an evergreening system, the best you can do for Books 1 and 2 is send your readers to a webpage you set up about the series and/or each of the books. Sadly, the more clicks you put between your fans and your books, the fewer books you will sell. Commonly, this means an author will publish Book 2, wait for the vendor links to go live, then republish Book 1, which has been updated with the correct links for each vendor version of  Book 2. Then, when Book 3 is published, Books 1 and 2 are republished with updated links to Book 3. For each vendor.

An evergreening system means that all three books contain links to all the other books at the time you publish them. As vendor links go live for each of the books, you update your evergreening system (remember there is more than one way to do this!) once and only once without having to reupload ANY of your Animals Who Talk Series books.

Really Long and Detailed Explanation

You might want to skim or skip to the more technical explanations of the method below. Or you might want to read on to understand the use cases.

So, here’s my basic system:

I have YOURLS installed at This is not required, you can use one of the other methods, but the concept is more or less the same.

I devised a naming system for short link naming that I can remember and follow.

Using the example of a booklist in the back of books that are on sale containing a link to a book that isn’t available yet:

1. I create a page on my website in the books section of the site, for that specific book, The Adventures of Roberta the Chicken, let’s say. Below is the URL such a page would have on my website.

That page has all the information about the book as I would do for any book page on my website. This is the book’s permanent home at my website. I can update it at will.

2. Over at (or in my browser, either way works), I create links something like this—not my actual naming convention, I’m naming for clarity here:


I tell YOURLS that all the vendor links resolve to

3. In my book Fred the Cat and in Suzy the Giraffe for my Animals Who Talk Series, in which Books 1 and 2 are on sale everywhere, but Book 3 isn’t yet, my backmatter list of books looks like this. These are links, of course:

Animals Who Talk Series!

  • Fred the Cat, Book 1
  • Suzy the Giraffe, Book 2
  • Roberta the Chicken, Book 3

In the Amazon versions of books 1 and 2 my url (link) for Roberta the Chicken is:

There is no www because the point of YOURLS is to have short links, the install process makes that clear enough, so don’t worry about that.

For my iBooks versions of books 1 and 2, my link for Roberta The Chicken is:

Currently, both the Amazon and iBooks links will send the user to my website page for the book.

so, for iBooks:
<a href=””>Roberta The Chicken, Book 3</a>

Again, recall that, currently, all the various links take you to my website page for Roberta The Chicken.

This means that when readers of Books 1 and 2 click on the Roberta link, they will end up at my website page for Roberta the Chicken where they will be told the book isn’t available yet and hey, join my mailing list to get notified as soon as it’s released.

4. Fast forward 6 months and now Roberta The Chicken is done and I’ve uploaded it to all the vendors. iBooks goes live first because they are awesome like that. As soon as I have the live iBooks links:

I go to YOURLS and edit the link so it points to the live iBooks URL instead of my website.

From that moment forward, a reader of the iBooks versions of Books 1 and 2 who clicks on the Roberta link, will go to the iBooks page for Roberta The Chicken.

When Amazon goes live, I go to YOURLS and update to point to the Amazon page instead of my website.

Same for Amazon, as soon as I update the YOURLS link, anyone clicking the links in the Amazon version of books 1 and 2 gets sent to the Roberta Amazon buy page.

You can make your links book-specific so you know not just that your link came from an iBooks reader, but an iBooks reader of a specific book. I advise you to think about this and devise a system that works for you:

For Fred The Cat and Suzy the Giraffe, you could make links like this if you wanted to: <– use that link in the iBooks version of the Fred book for the Roberta link <– use that link in the iBooks version of the Suzy book’s link to the Roberta book.

You need a naming system that makes sense to you. There”s no reason you can’t use really long “short” names, but it’s more opportunities for typos. But longer tends to make more sense. If you use abbreviations, never deviate from them. It’s worth it to spend some time working out your naming system.

YOURLS is also case sensitive, so FredTheCat is different from fredthecat.

It’s more work to track book-specific urls, but then you have more granular data and more data is better! You’d know that iBooks readers of FredTheCat clicked on line to the Roberta book 500 times while iBooks readers of Suzy The Giraffe have clicked on the Roberta link 754 times. Up to you.

This way, I do a lot less reuploading of books in order to update links. As long as I’m using my links, I can repoint my short links to wherever I want them to go. Some reuploading is unavoidable of course. Series you haven’t thought up yet, etc.

But How Do I Achieve this Magic??

1. Plugin

If you have a WordPress driven website, the Redirection plugin is simple to use. I know several authors who are using that plugin. My site is hybrid, so though I have Redirection installed for my WordPress instance, the plugin only redirects WordPress pages, not pages on the non-WordPress portion of my site, so this is not as useful for me as it is for others. But it’s nice to have. If you’re on wordpress, I’d recommend that. You don’t need to read any farther, unless you’re unclear on the timing of the process.

2. Redirects on a non-WordPress or non-Blogger site

Depending on your webhost, you can do your own redirects, either directly in the htaccess file (assuming you’re on a Linux flavor server) or via a tool your host provides, or by building a redirect page.

If you don’t know what an htaccess file is DO NOT not use the htaccess file method. You don’t know enough to do this safely. A typo or wrong setting could disable your entire site, and really, just don’t if you haven’t mucked around in this file before.

If you’re on a windows server, well, I doubt your webhost would give you direct access to IIS. If you don’t know what IIS is, then this is also not something you should expect to do.

Most people are going to be on a linux server and if you have a good webhost, there will be a website tool that allows you to set up redirects. Mine has one that is OK enough, and I use that tool from time to time, depending on what I need to do. I explain more about this below.

2A. HTML redirects

If you have a regular website, you could also build web pages for your redirects. This is probably more work and the reporting would depend on how good your website analytics tools are. If you don’t have Google Analytics installed on your site already, get it set up (Google “Google Webmaster Tools” and you should find all the info you need.) That will help with overall analytics. Plus, if you ever have a malware issue, having access to Webmaster Tools can get your site cleared faster.

This method requires that you know now to create a webpage and upload it to your server AND realize you have to test that you did it right. Typos happen, people.  It’s not hard, but honestly, why would you want to learn to do this when you could be writing instead? Outsource it.

Here’s an example of an html redirect page:

This will display the information about an updated page, then take the user there. For evergreening, you wouldn’t want the page to wait. I built this page when I switched my site from html to php and certain files needed a manual redirect. The page “about.shtml” redirects users to “about.php” so if someone out there on the web is linking to my about.shtml page they’ll end up at the new page.

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN”>
<title>Carolyn Jewel – About Carolyn Page Redirect</title>
<meta http-equiv=”REFRESH” content=”5;url=about.php”>
<p>This About Carolyn page has been updated. Please wait while you’re redirected to the spiffy new page!</p>

This line is the key one:
<meta http-equiv=”REFRESH” content=”5;url=about.php”>

The number 5 tells the page to wait 5 seconds then take the user to the url listed after ;url (that is, about.php)

You can set the number to any integer.

0 would be no wait. You’d still want to have the header and paragraph just in case someone’s browser or settings disallow redirects. Additional considerations go into deciding how to style the page and whether to provide a URL in the body, but I won’t bore you with that. For some pages where I do this for one reason or another, it looks just like my regular website.

If you elect to do this, I assume that you already understand at least something about what considerations go into building and styling a redirect.

3. Roll Your Own Short Links: YOURLS

YOURLS is free software that you install on your own domain that allows you to create and manage custom short links. Since the point is a short url you’ll need to register and host a domain then install and configure the software. I blogged earlier about installing YOURLS

Most of the process details for using YOURLS are explained above. When I needed to install an update to YOURLS I hired someone from Odesk. He was a Polish college student and did a great job for $22.00. It was totally worth it.

YOURLS comes with reporting so you can see how many times a link has registered a click, where they came from (IP address or country, and what time, etc.) There are other graphs and charts. Another advantage is that some vendors or sites have an issue with links because they can be used to obfuscate malware. Technically, so could a roll your own solution, but your short link domain wouldn’t be flagged unless you were a really bad person or got hacked. (Please don’t use a stupid password to secure your domain or the login to administer YOURLS.)

The advantage to a link shortening service (there are several such services) is that you can use them anywhere you want to, including Facebook, Twitter, etc, and for reasons other than book links. YOURLS includes a nifty tool that allows you to create short links from your browser. There is also a WordPress plugin that will create YOURLS short links to posts.

YOURLS is free, but I recommend you donate an amount you can afford. That would be super nice.

If you have questions, let me know in the comments and I can clarify or what have you.



Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited and Scribd

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Some of you may know that Amazon changed the terms of its subscription service, Kindle Unlimited (KU) such that payments due to authors with books in KU are calculated in a different manner than previously. If you’re a reader and you subscribe, you can read all you want for $9.99 a month. With the single limitation, so far, that you can have up to 10 books on your “shelf” at once. To get book number 11, you have to read or release one of those books.

With the Kindle Unlimited subscription you can access hundreds of thousands of Kindle books and thousands of audiobooks with Whispersync for Voice. You can keep up to ten books at a time and there are no due dates. Read your Kindle Unlimited books on any Amazon device, or free Kindle reading app. (Terms)

Scribd reinvented itself from a pirate site reader-centric sharing site (Irony ALERT!) into a subscription service. For $8.99 a month. They paid all authors/publishers the same as a sale.

If you’re a reader, that’s a pretty sweet deal, assuming the books you want to read are in the program.

If you’re an author, deciding whether to have a book in KU is a business decision, and not everyone’s business needs and goals are the same. Everyone’s reasons for being in or out are different. Last year when KU debuted, I blogged about it here. Here’s what I said then about how that would be profitable:

If you are paying authors/publishers a percentage of price, then for your business to be viable, that payout amount per month HAS to be less than 9.99 * (number of users subscribed).

This means a profitable user will read a number of books N per month where the payment due to vendors is less than 9.99. The more books they read, the less the wholesale price has to be (obviously), and, at 9.99 per month, the wholesale price has to be less than 4.99 for 2 books per month, 3.99 for 3 books, etc.

Not long after that post, it turned out the payment terms for traditionally published books in KU were different than for self-published books. Traditionally published books receive the same payment as if the book had been bought — that is 70% of the purchase price. Further, certain self-published authors were given those or similar terms in order to convince them to put their books in the program.

Self-published authors can only participate in KU if they put their books in Kindle Select — that is, have those books exclusively at Amazon. Scribd does not require exclusivity. For some authors, Kindle Select makes sense. But for others, it doesn’t. Doing well at other vendors or wanting to avoid the risk of having a business depend on a single vendor are good reasons not to be in Select and therefore, not in KU.

Traditionally published books need not be exclusive. Because, as Amazon recognized, that would be a non-starter.


What the Romance community knew, and what I suspect Amazon knew (because DATA!) and what Scribd apparently did not know (Because why would anyone pay attention to what goes on with those books women read?) is that Romance readers are the Great White Sharks of the reading world. They are the 80 in the 80/20 rule. They are the power in a power law.

Solving for X

Remember my ruminations over profit, book prices and that monthly subscription rate? Amazon had the data that would have told them everything they needed to know about those Power Readers (before KU debuted). Amazon solved the math problem with deep pockets but also by offering self-publishers a substantially worse deal. The KU reimbursement rates started decently, then took a swift dive until the reimbursement fell to around $1.34. Why? Well, either you sustain losses because of the Power Readers or you find a way to compensate for that. Falling KU reimbursement rates were exactly that, that is, KU’s “flexible” reimbursement rates to self-published authors was their hedge.

As KU continued, Amazon kept talking about how much money they were putting into the monthly fixed KU pool to be distributed to the self-pubbed authors, but reimbursement rates from that pool continued to fall. Because the hedge was needed. (So I speculate.) Scribd had no such hedge in its business model. (To my knowledge, anyway.)

How did Scribd solve for X? They didn’t. It’s hard to understand why Scribd thought $8.99 for all readers was viable even in the medium term. If they knew about Power Readers then they either didn’t know enough or they thought the same thing most of the traditional world thinks about products for women. How could they possibly matter when they were up against REAL books and REAL readers?

$8.99 is a brilliant strategy for competing for potential KU subscribers. It’s not a brilliant strategy for paying authors/publishers in an environment that includes Power Readers. The rational solution after the short to medium term is to introduce tiered subscription rates. It’s blazingly obvious that in an environment that includes Power Readers you must also have a bazillion 1-2 book a month readers or you have to charge Power Readers more. Or you have to pay authors/publishers less. Scribd did a great job going after traditional publishers, and they probably had a better selection of books than Amazon. And, by the way, the word is lots of Power Readers (those sharks!!) had subscriptions to both services. Because the pool of books was different.

But if they charged those readers more, then KU looks more attractive… It’s a tough situation.

Solving for Y by Killing X

Scribd’s solution was to remove 80-90% of Romances from their service.

Sure. Of course. Now they will be paying out less to authors and publishers because the books people women actually want to read are gone. Now that they’ve basically told the Power Readers they are unwelcome with all their womanly reading of THOSE books—who the hell knew they read that much???—what they have left are the 1-2 book a month readers.

This makes a certain sense. Because maybe what will happen is the Power Readers keep their subscriptions to both Scribd and KU, but now only borrow 1-2 books from Scribd and things are sustainable for a bit longer for them. Yes, an FU to romance readers, but Scribd maybe wasn’t in a position to feed the sharks.

If I were a Romance publisher ::cough::Harlequin/Avon::cough:: who just put substantial backlist into Scribd only to have their reader base told to fuck off, I think I’d be pretty pissed off.

The more established self-publishers, the ones who cannot afford Amazon exclusivity financially or at the cost of reader-relations will likely move to Oyster in order to have some presence in a subscription system. I wonder if Oyster knows what’s coming their way?

Cue the theme from Jaws….. LOOK OUT OYSTER!!!


Early on, long before KU, I put one book into Select into order to have data on the program. I asked my newsletter subscribers to tell me what they thought about my decision. Their answer? The non-Amazon readers were angry. Rightly so. That was enough for me. My experiment was done after the first angry letter. (After 90 days, you can elect not to re-enroll in Select.) If it had been possible, I would have ended it immediately, but I had to wait out the 90 days. I sent a copy of that book to every single reader who let me know how they felt.

Amazon’s Adjustment

The initial structure of KU with its fixed reimbursement pool meant that a longer book that make $2-4.00 for a sale, made $1.34 in KU. Shorter books, on the other hand, that would be sold in the $0.99-1.99 range and thus net the author a dollar or less, made $1.34 in KU. In other words, a book priced at $0.99 made $1.34 in KU. Anyone with half a brain can see that this meant shorter books were way more profitable and that longer books were way less profitable.

The adjustment Amazon made was to address that disparity. Instead of paying the same amount per borrow regardless of length, authors are now paid based on pages read. “Pages” read, actually. Basically, Amazon had to normalize what a page means for a digital book when displays are reflowable and resizable across different sized devices. A “Kindle Page” is the same for all devices regardless of settings. (Presumably, of course.)

To me, that’s fair enough. Authors who write shorter books make up the difference by writing more books. I should think that’s obvious, though apparently not. Category authors tend to write more books than single title authors. Three 30K word books will make you the same as one 90 page book, assuming the books are read all the way through.

I have to shake my head at the suggestions from some that readers should make sure to page through shorter books, because otherwise those authors are screwed.

No they’re not. They’re only screwed if readers never actually finish the books, and if readers aren’t finishing their books, well, maybe those authors should worry about why that is. There absolutely is a market for shorter books and short stories. Just like there’s a market for longer ones. I have short stories, novellas, and novels on sale. They achieve different goals for me. I’m quite sure that readers have different goals and preferences for reading works of varying lengths.

Final Thoughts

I don’t have any books in KU. I did have books in Scribd, but I assume the only thing left is Scandal, which is currently free and so would not have been removed. I’ll probably go pull Scandal because I’m vindictive that way.

But now I’m kind of wishing I did have something in KU because at last at LONG LAST Amazon is giving authors data about how much of their books get read, but the only way to get it is to be in KU. I had this idea that authors could put a book in KU, let it sit for 90 days and watch the data about pages read. You’d rewrite if no one gets past Chapter 10. ::snort:: Mostly I’m kidding.

[Update: MelJean Brook pointed out that Amazon is NOT providing meaningful page read metrics so my plan would not work. There is no way to tell from the data provided if 2000 Kindle pages read is 2000 people reading one page or one person blowing through 2000 pages of an author’s work.]

I Lied. This is the Final Thought

I was talking to a friend the other night about why Amazon didn’t fix their issue sooner since they surely had the data about the problem of shorter works no later than 6 months in. Assuming that’s true, that gives them 6 months to develop, test, and QA and then prepare the PR for the Kindle Normalized Pages scheme. This is aggressive but doable. You’d have to test a lot of scenarios and then make absolutely sure all the calculations are correct and reach consistency.

Maybe the schema changes weren’t as big a deal as they would be in a traditional SQL Server or Oracle environment, but NoSQL solutions have different challenges, and one of them is hidden errors because of eventual consistency or problems with “schemaless” documents. (It’s only schemaless if you never hired a data architect, and if you didn’t sooner or later you’re fucked. *)

I’m thinking of Wattpad and its problem with user comments attributed to the wrong account. That’s a total NoSQL error that a good OLTP-trained data architect could have said, hold on a sec here… What happens if…. And then all the developers stick their fingers in their ears and sing LahLahLahLahLah because the architect just added 3 months to the delivery date. And nine months later your data is untrustable. There are scores of developers out there who got burned by thinking schemaless means never having to think about data consistency across transactions.

Eventually, your financial data has to be in a transactionally consistent state and stay that way and it can never ever revert to a previously inconsistent state. Or you can’t pay people correctly. So, you know, 6 months seems like a decent guess for how long it would take to roll it out and be certain it works for paying people reliably. The concept isn’t hard. The execution is.


* OMG. I actually made a database joke in a writing blog! More than one, actually. This is very strange.

Note: Regarding NoSQL, it’s a very very fast way of scaling data. Although UC Berkeley had one of the early such databases, Amazon more or less put the concept into widespread use, followed by the original developers at You Tube who had to massively scale MySQL. Those guys needed to ramp up fast and on a scale that traditional transactional database could not then achieve. When I say “documents” in the sense of a NoSQL database, I don’t mean a Word document. I mean a collection of information of related items where Item 1 may not have the same information as Item 2 in the same set of related information. In that sense, there is no “schema” (that is a definition of what information is contained in related data. In a transactional database, all objects of a defined type have the same structure, even where elements of the structure are NULL.)

The NSA, by the way, collects your information in Hadoop, a NoSQL database backed up with some Postgres SQL functionality for the sorts of transactions that MUST be consistent.

This is a laughably high level explanation. It’s way more complicated. I’m a SQL Server DBA and Data Architect, but I’ve done some Mongo DB where we needed to address some shortcomings with our SQL Server applications without spending a fortune. For anyone who cares, Microsoft’s SQL Server 2014 changed the query optimization engine in significant ways — and I suspect it’s a direct response to NoSQL. For example my current employer had ugly queries that were taking 2 minutes (on completely under resourced SQL 2008 servers and for data that SHOULD have been in a datawarehouse but wasn’t, so I’m sorry, but the situation is long and convoluted and no one here cares, just know that 2 minutes for a query result is beyond embarrassing) that went down to 45 seconds when run on a SQL 2014 install.

Basically, the point is that the situation is considerably more complicated than, hey, let’s do it THIS way instead. Amazon is not just a company that sells stuff. They INVENTED the technology they needed to massively scale because no one else was doing that, and then they open sourced it. So when we talk about Amazon having advantages, the advantages are even bigger than most realize. Amazon IS data. I don’t think they do anything without knowing what the data says, and they have more data than anyone.

It’s why we’re seeing such an upheaval in publishing. It’s why Romance matters more and it’s why companies and analysts who dismiss Romance are in big trouble. Amazon knew about Power Readers. The usual gendered biases very likely got exploded by the facts. Traditional publishers need to lose the bias. Companies who want to compete in this space need to fire anyone who talks about REAL books and REAL readers.

The Romance Sharks will eat their lunch.


Comments Are Back

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

In case you were itching to comment, comments are back at the blog.



Friday, January 30th, 2015

Comments are temporarily disabled. Sorry.

Should be back on soon.


One Size Does Not Fit All – Books Prices in the EU

Thursday, January 1st, 2015


There’s this whole VAT thing with the EU, where blah blah blah. Pricing difficulties blah blah blah. Rock and a Hard Place.

Short Version

I’m very sorry to say that at Nook, I have set all my books to US only. For now, it won’t be possible to buy Nook versions of my books outside the US. I hate that. Hate. It. But Nook has made it impossible to correctly account for VAT and the laws in certain countries that require book prices to be the same everywhere in that country.

Amazon aggressively prices-matches Nook, including Nook in the UK. I know this because a few weeks ago it took Amazon UK all of 3 hours to price match a Nook UK price change to .99 while Amazon US did not match for a couple of days.

Nook Press does three things that make it impossible to comply with the laws.

1. They require US-based authors to provide a price that does NOT include VAT.
2. They allow only one price for the entire EU
3. You can choose US-only OR all three: US + UK + EU.

This means I cannot be in Nook UK, because that option also puts me in the EU.
This means it is not possible to comply with Fixed Price Laws.
It also means that I can’t be at Nook at all with books where my traditional publisher has only North American rights, but that’s been true forever. I’m just complaining is all.

As an aside, it is also impossible to comply with Nook’s expectation that my Nook prices will not be higher than the prices I set at other vendors.

If I keep my books on sale at Nook with the current state of affairs at Nook Press I would be unable to match my prices across the EU vendors AND I would have different prices at,, iBooks de, etc when the law requires them to be the same. The same would be true of France. I would get a nasty-gram from Amazon informing me of the price discrepancies and, since I would be unable to address them, Amazon could either price match or remove my book from sale.

The problem of different German prices (or French etc) is not a price matching issue. This is a regulatory issue, and Amazon is the one who will hear from the German authorities about not complying with German law. Amazon might have to take my book off sale in order to continue doing business in Germany.

(I would expect Nook to be hearing from France and Germany about this when/if those authorities notice that Nook prices are out of compliance, which they will be.)

This is not a risk I wish to take. Since my Nook sales are something like 99% US, I suppose my decision affects only a few readers. (Please contact me if you are one of those readers.)

The Longer Explanation

Three of the major vendors for self-publishing authors, Amazon, iBooks, and Google, make it possible to behave like a normal business and set prices in the various EU countries that account for VAT and also price books to end in .99. I can decide whether I will round down to a .99 price or round up to one. They also allow authors to make sure their prices are the same across vendors where there are fixed price laws for books.

Kobo, for those who are interested, expects US users to provide an EU price that INCLUDES VAT. They also only have one price for the EU, but because it includes VAT, you can, effectively, provide the same VAT-inclusive price everywhere and remain in compliance with German and French laws, assuming you (alas) set the German and French prices to the same VAT-inclusive price everywhere else. Not very fair to the French, where VAT is so much lower, but it’s that or nothing.

Because Nook does not include VAT and also only has one price for the entire EU, there is no way to guarantee the price will be the same where it needs to be.

Kind of Snide Aside

I always wondered why Nook is inflexible about how you sell in countries outside the US. I thought it was peculiar that they said “because of the volume” it could take several weeks for a book to appear on the UK or EU sites. Today, the answer finally kicked me in the shins.

The only reason volume would be an issue for populating a website is if they’re doing it mostly by hand. The beauty of a database driven website is that once you have the webpage talking to the database (waving hands and leaving out the bits about horrific SQL queries) there is little difference between putting one record on a page or 1,000,000,000 records. And even if we’re talking about terrible query performance, the time to render even a million records is minutes and in no possible case is it weeks. The only thing that takes weeks in this scenario is the person you’re paying to put the records into excel. Or worse, the person who is entering the data by hand into the servers located in the EU.

Even Longer Explanation

Basically, if you’re selling books, the laws about how to comply with the taxing and pricing authorities in the European Union just got a lot more complicated. For those who are thinking they’ll just wait for the EU tax authorities to come knocking, I will say that you have misunderstood what could happen. If you are selling your books to the EU via Amazon and the like, you are selling to the EU because those vendors have a presence in the EU. If your book at these vendors is priced such that you jeopardize their compliance with EU laws, they will likely have to remove your book from those countries. So, no, Germany will not collect a euro of VAT from you. But your books are likely to be yanked from all the German vendors so, yes, no VAT paid to Germany, but no one in Germany is buying your books.

Slight Aside

If you are selling books from your website and you sell to residents of the EU without remitting the appropriate VAT to their country of residence, then you will have some exposure there. Probably you could get away with it, but that does not make it ethical to do so. I have no idea what the IRS might say during an audit when you have income from the EU and can’t prove you don’t have to pay State tax on it, perhaps, or maybe, (total speculation here) the IRS would say something like, Hmm. The US has a treaty with Germany in which we agree not to screw each other over taxes. I dunno. I think I don’t want to find out.

Back to the Even Longer Explanation

VAT varies across countries in the EU. Further, in some EU countries, books must be the same price at all places in that country. Thus, if you are selling a book in Germany, that book must be the same price everywhere it’s on sale in Germany. For DIY authors, that means if a book is Euro 2.99 at, it must also be 2.99 at the German iBooks, the German Google, the German Nook, the German Kobo, etc. The same is true in France: same price in France across all French venues.

In the EU, the price shown to purchasers includes VAT.

Now, in Germany, VAT is 19%. Thus, if a book is priced at Euro 2.99 in Germany, after the sale is made .48 goes to the German government, leaving the remainder of 2.51 to be split between the vendor and author. As an author, I care about the part of that 2.99 that does not include VAT because that’s the amount used to calculate my royalty.

In France, VAT is 5.5%. Thus, for a book priced at Euro 2.99, in France, after the sale is made .16 goes to the French government leaving the remainder of 2.83 to be split between the vendor and author.

At Nook, where I am providing ONE VAT exclusive price for the entire EU, that price must have the appropriate VAT added to it, and that VAT rate varies. Suppose I say, OK, my book is $2.99 (American). Google-fu says that’s Euro 2.48. A quick test at Nook gave Euro 2.47. Using 2.47:

Add 19% VAT for Germany and the price is 2.94
Add 5.5 VAT for France and the price is 2.61

Those are stupid prices to show consumers, but they are also prices I cannot guarantee will match the VAT inclusive prices I must give at EVERY OTHER VENDOR.

iBooks rounds up or down to .99 prices. I will NEVER be able to match Nook to Apple. Not ever except by total serendipity.

At Kobo, I give a single VAT INCLUSIVE price. So… which one do I pick at Kobo? iBooks Germany 2.99 or Nook Germany 2.94?

I could change the Nook EU price to 2.51 to give me a Nook Germany price of 2.99 and match Apple, Kobo, Amazon, and Google to that.

But then the French price at Nook becomes 2.65, which at Apple will be rounded up to 2.99 and …. boom. Not in compliance with French law. This is true as long as I have books on sale at Nook EU.

And that is why I no longer have books on sale at Nook EU. This is complicated enough as it is. Heck, I’m not even confident yet that I have managed to price everything as required, because I will tell you, iBooks did some crazy ass shit with prices that scares me, and Amazon’s VAT adjustment resulted in two of my US prices being raised. That’s not supposed to happen. But I know it did because a couple months ago I used Amazon’s pricing tool to reset some prices, which I logged so I could keep track, and also conformed at other vendors where Amazon recommended a price decrease (because I didn’t want to gouge others) and today, two of those Amazon books were back to the higher US price and therefore MORE than the price at other vendors.




Thursday, April 10th, 2014

I’m temporarily disabling comments on the site while I deal with a comments issue.

Should be resolved soon.

And… it appears to be resolved. Comments are re-enabled.


Not a Fun Realization

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

There was a twitter conversation about a woman who mentioned that her 14 year old daughter– the only female member of the computer club, left the club because of the way she was treated. There was a comment that maybe that was a good thing, because unemployment for people with CS degrees is 9%. Not where I am– which is Nor Cal.  Here, driving distance to SF and Silicon Valley, the tech sector is hot. I know because I get emails from recruiters every single day, and I get calls a lot. I said, “You KNOW they’re desperate when they’re calling the girl.”

I also said that most of the guys in tech are not assholes, but no one is doing anything about the ones who are, and the environment that creates for women in the field is really, really, not worth it.

And I realized, my son looks to be headed toward tech as a career. But tonight I asked myself, what if it was one of my nieces, or what if I had a daughter who was techie-inclined.

The answer depresses me. I would want to find a way to discourage her. I would want to sit her down and say, just don’t do it. Stay the hell away from a job in the tech sector because it’s still a field where some asshole can put a slide of dicks– erect male penises– in his presentation to a room full of geeks that includes women, and when the women say, dude, that is not right, they’re told, publicly, loudly, that they should STFU and why don’t you have a sense of humor?

It’s still a field where a presentation about how your software idea for an app to rate hot chicks actually gets approved for presentation to a room full of young tech-hopefuls. Including young women.

It’s a field where a woman at a tech conference is sexually assaulted by a male colleague and all the men she thought were her professional friends either say nothing in her support or actually tell her it was was her fault. That black-eye doesn’t mean anything.

So, no. If I’d known what kind of bullshit I would have to put up with from a minority of asshole men while the majority of non-assholes don’t do a goddamned thing to change that culture, while I’m just supposed to shut up and quit causing trouble? I wouldn’t do it.

And I wouldn’t want my daughter or my nieces to either.

Explain to me why that’s not a fucking tragedy and a drain on the economy, to be just fine with keeping talent out.


Paper vs. Digital: Throwdown!

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Ima starting a list. What should I add? Let me know in the comments and I’ll append to the list.

Thing that HappensAnalog WorldDigital World
Dog eats the expensive research book you just bought and were lucky to get at any price, let alone for a steal of a price.Has happened to me. That book is gone FOREVER. Damn.Highly unlikely. If your dog eats your eReader, that's a way more expensive replacement. On the other hand, your books are not gone. You might actually come out ahead on this one.
Take book in the shower or tub.Disaster. Book becomes soggy mess.Zip-lock bag and you're golden.
You find an interesting note in the pages.Yes! This happened for me with a book from Inter-library loan. It was awesome.Well. If you crack your book file open you could look to see if the coder left any interesting comments. (OK, I consider this unlikely.)
Pages smell like vinegar leading a researcher to use scent to track cholera epidemics. (Because vinegar was thought to be a preventive measure.)Yes! Has happened. Awesome.It's unlikely anyone would think doing anything to an eBook would prevent a disease. But who the hell knows?
Monks decorate the pages with beautiful art.Yes!I have no idea if monks are producing eBooks. Call it a draw for now.
When you drive into town in a horse and buggy, you can really appreciate the scenery.Yes! But if you have a heart attack the 5 -10 hours it takes to get you to the hospital means your family is planning a funeral.Well, OK. You still have to get to the hospital but you're there < 5 minutes from the 9-1-1 call.
You find a neat note in a book and now you want to know about the woman who wrote it.Good luck.30 minutes on Google and you're done!
You are researching the novels of the Minerva Press and need to know which libraries have which books in their collection.Good luck. See you in 5 years.5 minutes on WorldCat and you're done.
You read a book and there's a word you don't know.Get up. Find the dictionary. Look it up. Spend two hours looking up other Oh. That's what it means. (Not exactly sure this is a benefit. I'm torn.)
You're reading a book and you want to highlight a section. Oops. You lost your pen.Click, drag. Done.
Vacay!!!!! At last you have time to read!Uh, oh. You have somehow not packed the book you were reading.Click.
Vacay!!!! At last you have time to read.Oh, noes. You read too fast and now you're out of books.Click. download. Ahhhh.
Vacay!!!! At last you have time to read!There's no room for your clothes because the books take all the room.This outfit is AWESOME! Click.
The new book by Author Amazing is 1000 pages.Your hands hurt.Click. Oh, loving this book!
The new book by Author Amazing is 1000 pages!Your back hurts.Click.
The new book by Author Amazing is 1000 pages!You leave the book at home because it's too damn heavy.Click.
The book you're reading has mapsOoo. Neat. AND they fold out!!The map is too small to read. When you enlarge the map, the image is too pixelated to read.
This book has 5 editions!Interesting to track the changes.Assuming the servers have been backed up and we have no compatibility issues, in future, I'm saying we WILL be able to both find alternate version and compare differences. Fast.
The server crashed.So?But I didn't download that book yet!
Electrical outageIt's dark.

OK. Fine. You can read by flashlight.
Your battery and off-line charger are full. Click.

Sears and the $75 Million Refrigerator

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

How Sears Could Save Millions with website Useability

Three months ago, my dad replaced two junky old fridges in the garage and bought a brand spanking new one from Sears. He also bought a warranty. The new fridge cost about $700.

Almost immediately, there were problems. The freezer wouldn’t keep things frozen. After three Sears Warranty home repairs at a cost to Sears of $750, the third repair man told my dad: The freezer works this way by design. There is an ambient temperature monitor in the unit such that when the outside temperature is below 55, the freezer raises its temperature. If your fridge is inside, it’s not a problem. It’s a feature. If you put your fridge in the garage, and many people do put an extra fridge int the garage, it IS a problem. And this is why, in the user manual, there is a page that says what number to call to order the garage kit.

OK. Think about that.

Two Truths

1. Sears knows that this ambient temperature feature requires an add-on kit for units that will be in a garage.


xkcd cartoon for Read The Fucking Manual

RTFM courtesy xkcd

OK, if I had a nuclear power plant, I would RTFM.


Sears has sent 3 repair people out and replaced three parts at a cost to them of $750. More if you factor in phone calls to the warranty department.

Sears repair guy #3 admitted this happens all the time. ALL the time. If this happens just 100,000 times, Sears has lost $75,000,000.

Here’s how you’d do it.

1. Ohh! I want THAT fridge. Click.
2. Website: Will you put this fridge in a garage?
3. Clicks Yes
4. You will need this garage unit for your fridge. Add to your order?

I guarantee that change will not cost millions of dollars.

As someone who has bought from Sears before, this a problem across their website. For ALL their appliances. If I buy a product from you, Sears, and you know some people need the door handle on the right and some on the left, FUCKING say so at the point of purchase. That way the customer doesn’t find out until it’s too late to have the fridge delivered with the door on the correct side. If I buy a gas stove, TELL ME exactly what add ons I might need for that model.

You’re welcome, Sears.


Why eBook Formatting Will Drive you Crazy

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Here’s a new problem I encountered today. I’ve been uploading Whispers to various vendors and I ran across a new issue. First, here’s my process–it includes a short cut that hasn’t been an issue until today.

My shortcut is that I upload an ePub to Amazon and let Amazon convert it. That saves me some trouble, but I have long recognized the risk inherent in that. What I should do is upload a mobi. But I haven’t been because it’s an extra two or three steps. Until now, that process has been error free and, even, produced a better result than a lot of mobi uploads I’ve seen.

[Clarifiction: When I say Kindle Previewer, I mean the app you can download from Amazon. I am not talking (much) about the emulator portion of the tool. You can never fully trust an emulator. I am talking about the FILE produced. The downloaded Kindle Previewer app produces a Mobi and prc file that you can upload. It is NOT just a file previewer. It is also a file converter. I am NOT saying that when I looked at a Kindle Previewer display I saw these differences. I’m saying the physical file that resulted from a local Kindle Previewer conversion displayed differently from the file Amazon converted on line when viewed on the same physical devices. And that the file converted by Amazon via the dashboard was WORSE.]

I have an iPad 3 and I do almost all my reading on my iPad, usually with the Kindle app. When I am proofing final files, I use Kindle previewer to preview my ePub across devices. This also creates a file that contains a mobi and a prc, and you can upload that file to Amazon which will then deliver either the mobi or the prc to the user, depending on their device. I also email that previewer generated file to my Kindle account so I can preview it on my iPad.

Today, I uploaded the final epub to Amazon and when it was live, I bought the Kindle version so I could see what the actual delivered file looked like.

So. First, here’s a screen shot of what the Kindle-previewer mobi that I emailed to my kindle account looked like when I was proofing stuff yesterday:

My mobi converted epub. Italics

Note these things:

1. My slug line (the city and date) is in italics.
2. In the first paragraph I have a bold initial letter and then normal text.
3. In the 3rd line of the 2nd paragraph, the word “Da-veede” is in italics.

My personal compromise has always been No. 2. I use a set of style that, as you will see when you compare it to the next image, degrades very nicely (in my opinion) in an ePub converted by Amazon and viewed on the Kindle App on my iPad 3 (and elsewhere).

Until today, there has never been a difference between the Amazon ePub conversion and the converted file I mail to my account. Now there is.

This is a screen shot of the ePub Amazon converted today, viewed in the Kindle App on my iPad 3:

Amazon Converted epub

1. The italics from my slug line is gone.
2.  My first paragraph styles are rendered. I have an initial large, bold cap AND my small caps for the first line.
3. The italics for “Da-veede” do not display.

For reference, here’s a screenshot of the same page viewed in iBooks (via the BookProofer tool, since I can’t do the Apple upload until they’re re-opened to submissions):
ibooks Version

As you can see, I have italics AND my first line/first para styles

In the Kindle previewer tool, by the way, the tool previews my file across the various devices with ALL italics text appearing as italics and the expected ability to render my first paragraph/line styles or to degrade acceptably.

Here, for another comparison, is the converted mobi viewed on the Kindle App on my iMac:

KindleDesktopApp mobi

As you can see, I get italics and my first para/line styles rendered.

I am reasonably certain that if I instead upload the mobi instead of an ePub, this will resolve the issue. So I will try this and let you know. Otherwise, I’ll have to introduce another hack to the hack that already deals with device incompatibilities with respect to the display of italics. Yeah, yeah, I know I shouldn’t have been taking any shortcuts and yeah, I know, this is what you get when you take them. But come, on! The display of italics should be a no-brainer–the core set of html that should NEVER break. It’s already beyond stupid that some devices don’t render the italics tags correctly and require a hack.