Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

The Self-Publishing Delusion

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

So, there was this article: Second Thoughts about Self-Publishing over at Publisher’s Weekly.

This article is an example of what I call the Self-Publishing Delusion. It goes like this: someone who did not do anything like enough research into the new publishing landscape self-publishes a book and is disappointed that he’s not a NYT Bestselling author. Follows from this, an article all about how Self-Publishing isn’t all the thing after all.

As is the case here. The author, in 2012, decided to self-publish his novel. In print only. A novel he seems to have marketed only to friends and family and only using traditional methods to gain attention. His second novel did not do as well as the first and now he is sad and disappointed because apparently books must be marketed. My God, the crass commercialism.

Dude. Are you serious?

Who the hell, even in 2012, would think self-publishing = CreateSpace? Five minutes of mediocre Google-fu should have uncovered the limitations of CreateSpace as a vehicle that reaches traditional outlets OR readers. If you want to be an author, then there is no justification for not doing due-diligence. And due diligence would have meant a month or more (and you’d need less, to be honest) researching the heck out of your publishing plans. The kind of research that justifies making any dollar investment in a business decision should have included things like, who are the leading self-publishers and what/how/why are they doing?

If he’d done that, here’s what he would have found out:

  • CreateSpace does not = traditional print publication.
  • By doing ONLY a print book, he did not each the core avid reader, because they read digital.
  • By choosing ONLY CreateSpace, he was unable to get into traditional print outlets.
  • In 2012, the dual strategy of CreateSpace and Lightning Source was still a viable work-around to the Book Store problem. The fact that he did not do enough research to find Alan Shepard’s site is a huge red flag.
  • Writing careers rarely have trajectory after only two books. Research beyond what’s said in the traditional publishing space would have uncovered that his expectations were unrealistic in any publishing venue. A self-publisher should reassess after 5-10 books under-perform. Not two. (Snarky aside: a traditionally published author won’t have that luxury.)
  • If he’d paid any attention to what traditionally published authors experience in the business he would have found out that all authors, traditionally published or self-published, carry the majority of the marketing burden.

And that’s just a response to what he says of his experience in “self-publishing.”

Inform your Decision

You, the author, need to investigate every aspect of the business of New Publishing. You, the author, are solely responsible for understanding the disconnect between what traditional publishers say and what authors say. You, the author, must understand who is succeeding in all spheres of publishing and figure out why and what that means for your strategy.

The traditional publishing space has a vested interest in perpetuating several myths about the business of being an author. Places like PW and DBW put out an astonishing amount of disinformation about that. Likewise, there are people and companies who have a vested interest in selling services to authors. All those claims must be examined, parsed, and dissected.

There’s a reason many, many mid-list authors are leaving traditional publishing or diversifying their careers with both. You, the author, must understand why that is. How can you make a sound business decision without knowing the pitfalls of both?

Of course he did not have the results he wanted and hoped for. If he’d done his research, his self-publishing plan would have looked very different. Instead, he approached the business of being an author as an ill-informed newbie who stayed ill-informed. His lack of research means he didn’t do any of the things known to increase book sales and build a career. He gave up too soon.

In short, he fell prey to traditional publishing delusions about self-publishing.

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Really?

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Agent Andrew Wylie had this to say:

“I believe with the restored health of the publishing industry and having some sense of where this sort of Isis-like distribution channel, Amazon, is going to be buried and in which plot of sand they will be stuck, [publishers] will be able to raise the author’s digital royalty to 40% or 50%,” he said. “Writers will begin to make enough money to live.”

Quoted in The Guardian

[publishers] will be able to raise the author’s digital royalty to 40% or 50%,” he said. “Writers will begin to make enough money to live.

What alternate universe is Wylie living in?

1. ISIS-like? Are you kidding me? We’ll start with insensitive and offensive and leave it there, actually.
2. Publishers have had 80 years to position themselves to pay writers more money. What they’ve done, since before Amazon, is reduce the money they pay authors. Why on earth should any writer believe that the demise of Amazon will mean authors will FINALLY be paid more?

Oh wait. I forgot. Wlyie only represents literary authors whose advances are funded by paying less money to the writers of genres that actually make money.

Let’s see here, continue self-publishing and earning 30-70% of the price I set or …. Accept 40% or 50% of net, maybe. Someday.

Well, gosh. No, sir.

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Book Covers and Branding

Friday, October 10th, 2014

As some of you may know, I’ve been rebranding my book covers with a more consistent look. I’m also using a custom name font. My name is the same on every single new cover. I have given my cover artists very specific instructions about what I’m going for, and one of those instructions is that my name should be big. Bigger than the title, even.

Today, I saw a great illustration of why that’s a good decision. Amazon (as of Oct.10.2014) is now showing pages of top selling books in categories with two sections to the right that look like the below. Take a look. Which authors are in that Hot New Releases category?

Well, the ONLY author name you can read is Eloisa James. If you are a fan of historical romance, and you were thinking, maybe I’ll buy something else, how likely are you to click on a cover where you don’t even know the author?  I think it’s very likely that buyers will say, oh, hey, I’ve heard good things about that author ….

Who's on First? No name shown

What’s in a Name?

And, of course, the image above illustrates the problem with covers in the digital space. The two boxed sets have issues. Yes, the images convey boxed set, but nothing else. The first one is just a blobby mess. The second one is partially saved by a recognizable image. This is the reason I’m not wild about boxed set covers like this… They are a design challenge that is not currently being met.  So. The 3rd book in the top row. What the hell is that background? I can’t see the name OR the title. This cover is a fail. Truce — I can’t even tell what the eff that is. The title is big but you have to stare, and cheat with the title text below. All I really see is T[something]UC.

The Eloisa James cover is a win. Not only can you read her name, you can read the title, too! AND the image is recognizable. I would have asked for a fix at the upper left corner, which is too dark, but over all, that cover works.  That last one? I can read the title, I have no hope of reading the author’s name. But the image is compelling and atmospheric so it I’d give it a marginal pass.

These books are doing well, that’s why they’re in that corner, but this corner real-estate is not doing the authors any favors. I imagine the click-throughs are disappointing because Amazon isn’t showing the author name and so loses a key reason for clicks. (I’ve heard good things about that author….)

There are six books there, and yes, a click will get you a Hot New Release, but there is nothing here to compel the user to click any given title (aside from rank).  The publisher (whoever that might be) needs to provide a cover that will compel clicks on THEIR book over the other five.

I ask you, which book, other than the Eloisa James book, does that?

I expect Amazon to redesign this real-estate. They should remove “Kindle Edition” and show the author’s name so that buyers have more reasons to click. Plus, all these authors, except James, are losing name recognition moments. Free advertising that, in this set of covers, only accrues to  James.

So, the image above was directly to the right of the one below. And you should be able to see why I was looking at this page.

 

Image showing book covers with author names of varying readability

Names. Yeah. Who can you Read?

 

Right. So at least these images have text that includes the author’s names. But that’s going to be the second or third thing people look at. Even if you have no interest in Scandal because you never heard of me, you see my name.

Miriam Minger has a similar success even with a cover that looks cramped. Those horizontal lines are a problem for Bolen’s books, too– whose name is barely legible and has a further problem with a busy background that distracts.

Now, I heartily dislike that P&P cover, but here I will give a pass on author name because the title is so famous. Yes. It’s Jane. Have we learned our lesson about horizontal lines? None of them are well done here.

The other two, well. The leftmost author’s last name is Cook. That’s really all you can read. And, I fear, someone seems to have actually tried to make Mary Campsi’s name invisible. It’s actually possible to look at the cover and think the author’s name is Sophie Seacrest.

The take away? I’m outselling Jane Austen in free books. Read it and weep. And who the hell is giving Jane fewer than 5 stars?

 

 

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The Flush Pile – An Author’s Perspective

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Some of you may know the current situation with Ellora’s Cave. If not, this post at Dear Author should get you to the information you need.

The TL;DR is that several authors who write for Ellora’s Cave have said they are not being paid money due them. The rumblings began at least a year ago. Recently, EC laid off all of its freelance staff. Jane at Dear Author recently wrote a post in which she discussed the ongoing situation at EC. The owner of EC has now sued Jane for defamation. Do head over to DA if you want to know more about this situation.

I am an author who was with a publishing company that was heading toward bankruptcy. (Dorchester Publishing) This post is about what the experience was like for me. My situation ended up with a silver lining, but the outcome I had was never certain, just as it is not certain for any of the EC authors who are wondering if they’ll ever get paid or if they are going to lose their books.

If you have books with a publisher in the Flush Pile, here’s what’s quite likely:
1. No, you are never going to be paid money owed to you.
2. Yes, you could well lose your books. Gone.

Every publishing contract I’ve ever signed has had a bankruptcy clause. The clause means nothing. Zero. Zlich. It might as well not be there. If your publisher declares bankruptcy, your book is an asset of the company to be liquidated and turned into cash to pay to creditors. Authors are dead last on the list of creditors.

At Dorchester, authors talked amongst themselves. Advances and royalties due to authors were paid slowly. Some of use waited months for advances to be paid. More and more often, authors just weren’t paid. Foreign rights got sold and authors were never told. Those monies never appeared on royalty statements. I was surprised, for example, to find that one of my books had a Dutch translation. Toward the end, I also learned about other translations I was never told about and never paid for. One of them did not even have a signed contract despite being on sale. As royalties continued to be paid in haphazard fashion, there were consolidations and reductions in books, imprints and staff, and sales of rights to backlist titles of prominent authors to other publishers. (Marjorie M. Liu’s titles were sold to Avon, for example.)

None of this is legal advice. I’m not a lawyer. But if you’re an EC author, I do have some non-legal advice. In fact, I have advice for ALL authors with traditional contracts.

In 2010, my agent, who did not represent me at the time of my Dorchester contracts, was working hard to get reversions for me. I wanted them anyway, because the books were out of print and/or I was not being paid the money due to me. Dorchester had not filed for bankruptcy, but there was wide speculation that they could not recover from their difficulties and a filing was felt by some to be inevitable. I was advised that it was possible that rights reversions made within the year prior to a bankruptcy filing could be deemed fraudulent and any reversions negated. I was horrified to learn there was case law to that effect.

Even before the non-payment issue was a severe problem, it was clear to me that at long last, there was a good reason (ie, self-publishing) for an author to vigorously pursue reversions for all books that met the criteria of the out of print clauses. I’d read all those clauses and had begun that process with all my titles well before this. And by the way, I was roundly ignored everywhere except for Harper-Collins, who noted the request and put it on their schedule for a decision 6 months later. Literally. The meeting was in 6 months. Let that sink in.

My reversions from Dorchester came through at the end of 2010. Other publishers were an even harder nut to crack. St. Martin’s Press was spectacularly uncooperative. Hachette — I don’t even have words. And I have loads of hind-sight advice about what reversion clauses should say.

Eventually, quite late in the game, and months after I had my Dorchester reversions, Amazon bought the Dorchester backlist. Authors were given the option of a reversion or publishing with their Romance or Horror imprint. I don’t recall if Amazon agreed to pay outstanding royalties to those authors or not. By then, I was thousands and thousands of dollars ahead of the money Dorchester owed me, and more than happy with my own outcome.

My Advice to Authors with A Publisher in the Flush Pile

My advice is going to sound harsh. But, assume you will never be paid. The risk of waiting to see if your publisher rights their ship is the complete loss of your rights in your books. This is your career and you must not fail to take steps to protect your back list and front list.

You should take steps now to get your rights back. Read the reversion clause of your contract(s) and for all books where you meet the criteria follow the requirements for requesting a reversion and get it in now. Right now. If you have titles for which you have not been paid, then request a reversion on the grounds of non-payment. Get a lawyer to help you, if you can afford it. This is your professional writing career on the line, and this is not the time to be nice.

If you elect to wait it out, then make sure you understand the nature of the risk you’re taking. It cannot be that you hope everything works out. You must be sure that you can accept the worst case outcome — you lose control of your books and will never recoup your losses and never make another penny from those titles. The books will disappear from the market and you lose all benefit that accrues to your author brand when you have multiple titles on sale to the public.

In the current environment, every title you control is a title that can be earning you money right now every month. This is NOT a “I don’t know if my book is good enough situation.” A publisher bought your book. Therefore, that book can be making you money right now and you only have to worry about the vendor paying you.

This is also not a situation where you need to find another publisher. That might have been true in 2009 but it’s not true now. An author with reverted backlist can decide whether she wants to self-publish on her own or find another publisher or something in between.

My Advice to Authors With Traditional Publishers or Considering The Traditional Route

For future contracts, negotiate the fuck out of your reversion clause. If the publisher is making you both money, that is awesome. But the minute you’re not both making money or you’re below a mutually satisfactory threshold, then you should be able to ask for and timely receive a reversion. There is no nice girl here. This is your business and you should be in control of its operations. Therefore, you need to stand firm on reversion clauses.

Do not assume a publisher has an interest in your book selling well. They should, but they don’t. Their interest is in seeing which books unexpectedly hit. That’s it. If it’s not you, you’re screwed.

I have 5 books still with traditional publishers and I know for a fact that if those books were in my control, I would be making more money and more effectively controlling my author brand and, therefore, my writing career. That was not the reality of publishing prior to 2010, but it’s the reality now.

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Covers and Branding

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

I’ve been working toward getting new covers for my books, with the idea that they would essentially be branded, that is, they’d have a recognizable look and feel.

I uploaded the ones that are final to my Pinterest Board. You can see, I hope, the developing look and feel. I haven’t finished updating everything on my website yet. Soon. Very soon.

Challenges

There were two major challenges. Good artwork and the fact that I write historical and paranormal under the same name. Cost was another. Setting up a custom shoot with professional models is more or less far outside my budget. Otherwise, I’d be taking to John Marron and guys like that.

That cost issue : with sufficient budget, I could get the models I want and the clothing required, and the models would know how sell the poses. ::dreaming:: I’ll circle back to that.

Regarding covers and design, first, I recognize my lack of design talent. I do understand the principles of typography and design, since in my web development days I worked closely with the graphic designers. It was in their interest to educate me since I was more or less in charge of the website. Having been schooled, I am very very aware of my shortcomings. That is why I don’t do my own covers.

Why our Gender Problem Makes The image Challenge Worse

At the moment, we live in a culture that uses women’s bodies to sell products. The female body is sexual (as if a man’s isn’t, too.) The cliche is “Sex Sells” But what they really mean is “Women Imaged as Sexually Available Sell.”

And that is a problem because, contrary to popular notions about Romance, A romance novel cover image (excluding erotica) isn’t about sex. It’s about the promise of love. If you go look at stock images and search for Romantic Couple you see pages and pages and pages of women who look like they’re auditioning for a porno movie. Virtually none of them look like they’re falling in love or about to fall in love.

It’s a disgrace. It’s offensive. Probably those Royalty Free sites have the dregs of a photoshoot where the excellent shots went elsewhere.

The clinch cover is not, as that idiot from Vox implied, all about ::giggle:: she wrote a word that has a naughty meaning so let’s read EVERYTHING as if it has that meaning!!! It’s damn near impossible to find a couple who look like there’s love somewhere in there.

And, 99% of the time, someone’s idea of a “historical” gown comes from a $4.99 Halloween costume.

Fortunately, there are now some additional sites dedicated to Romance Novel cover images that have good to great models. There are fashion experts who will loan their historically accurate clothing to the cause of a photoshoot. So, it’s easier than it used to be. As in, instead of impossible, it’s almost impossible.

The image Challenge

My first covers were severely hampered by two main things: the image problems, my talent problem. For some time I could get away with mediocre to good covers because there were others that were so bad … The bar was low and lots of authors benefited from that, whether they knew it or not. The fact that so many NY Romance covers were also just as terrible or worse also contributed to that low bar. I quickly realized that NY was using the same stock image sites as the rest of us. Some of my early covers were pre-made but with some custom typography work.

So, my goal then was to get my reverted titles on sale with the best cover I could manage given all the handicaps around that, and then to bring out front-list, too.

In early 2013, the cover bar got higher, or I got less tolerant of the shortcomings of my covers. I had good cover artists, but I wasn’t letting them do their job. I did have to learn to get out of the way. Early on, I wasn’t able to also get print covers made …. see lack of talent from me. The person I was working with at the time didn’t do print covers and I was not able to do them myself and be happy with the result and the time spent.

This was a problem for me. I ended up having almost no print presence, and that got to be a worse and worse situation, to the point where I had to find another artist. Ultimately, to get all the covers done, I ended up using two different people.

The 100% Improvement Dilemma

Here is a true fact. For ease of discussion, let’s pretend there’s the following spectrum of ability:

  1. Worst ever in history
  2. Horrible
  3. Never should see the light of day
  4. sucks
  5. Not bad
  6. Almost good, if you squint
  7. Mediocre
  8. Huh
  9. I like it
  10. Nice
  11. Ooh
  12. OMG that’s amazing
  13. Off the charts genius

Suppose you start out at horrible in the “Cover Ability” area. You get Photoshop or Gimp and learn a few things and voila! You have a cover that never should see the light of day. You have improved a lot. You work some more and now your cover merely sucks. You have improved 100% in ability, you can see that because look at the difference between where you started and where you are now! You can use the tools! Eyedropper! Oh, hey, fonts. That I did not buy.

But your covers are still terrible.

If you’re in the business of selling books, your covers need at minimum to be at least Nice. At least there. If you’re not an actual artist, chances are very very slim that the cover you think is Nice actually is.

Typography

It’s a skill. And it’s a separate skill from design. Courtney Milan wrote a post about this. Go read it. FYI, I Googled “Courtney Milan and the Duke’s Cock” to find and link to that post. It was more fun than it should have been. But I’m not even ashamed.

What I did, several several several months ago, was find someone good at typography and commission a custom name font. Anthony Piraino as it happens. It was a chunk of change but a more than acceptable business expense. I wanted a font that would work across genres, so it couldn’t look too historical or too paranormal. It’s not just a font with letters that spell my name. (grin) He made pixel level customizations to the shapes of some letters for me.

The first time I used it on a cover, I could see it looked — as it did. The effectiveness of the name font isn’t apparent until you see it on several covers. Then you can see the branding and how it pulls the books together.

Color and Contrast

What I know from my work on websites and from studying the hell out of my cover situation while I pondered solutions, was that in the digital space, thumbnails matter a lot. You need colors that contrast. There are a lot of things wrong with the current trend in historical covers, not the least of which is how bad they look at thumbnail size.

On a purely personal level, I don’t care for the pastel trend, in historicals particularly. I wanted vivid, vibrant jewel tones over a year ago and I wish I’d been in a position to get all my covers done then. I wasn’t able to make it happen, alas. I would have been WAY ahead of the curve. I’m sure that will change at some point and I’ll be looking for another composition and color effect.

A Key Difference

Here’s the thing. Across all the books I ever published traditionally, my covers were always branded to the publisher and/or imprint. Not to me. I got one cover and that was it. There were no do-overs, or huh. It’s not working, let’s try something else.

What I have done is replace covers that stopped working or were too divergent from the look I was trying to hit. What I’ve done or am in the middle of developing, is a look that says, this is a book by Carolyn Jewel. And that never happened when I was traditionally publishing. I got some fantastic covers. Several of them were distinctive enough to build off of … There was nothing cohesive across my name even at the same publisher.

I am shallow. Very shallow

I have spent a lot of time looking at images of men, women, and couples. Here’s a list of the things I began ruthlessly saying:

  • She’s not pretty enough.
  • He’s not handsome enough.
  • Great body. Meh face.
  • They look like they hate each other.
  • That guy is SUPER DUPER cute but he isn’t ripped enough.
  • Please, dude. You are not that good looking. Just stop it.
  • Lady, could you at least TRY to look happy?
  • Holy shit, he’s hot.
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Subscribe?

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Amazon’s book subscription program is called Kindle Unlimited. For $9.99 a month, US-based folks can read all they want — from the books in the program. For an indie author, the only way to have your books in the program is to have that book enrolled in KDP Select, and that means your book must be exclusive to Kindle.

I think Amazon must be very confident that this program will benefit authors. At the moment, there is much FUD among authors, some of whom are convinced this is the end of self-publishing at a reasonable return.

At the moment, I think there are a lot of Indie authors who see this as yet another disincentive for Select.

The Fine Print

The TOS for the Unlimited program says this:

When your membership is cancelled, the titles you have selected from the program will be removed from your account, devices and applications.

And this:

We may take reasonable actions necessary to prevent fraud, including placing restrictions on the number of titles that can be accessed from the program at any one time.

A few preliminary observations

No subscription model with the word “unlimited” in it has EVER remained unlimited or actually been unlimited. There have always, eventually, or even from the start, but hidden in the small print, redefinitions of the word “unlimited.”

See above. The service is not, in fact, actually unlimited. Unlimited would mean, technically, that you could download ALL the books. Which, right. Not gonna happen.

Trad publishers get the wholesale price when a reader reads 10% of the book. But what about indies in Select? That’s less clear.

Amazon says this as to Indie Authors in Select:

When your book is selected and read past 10% from Kindle Unlimited or borrowed from KOLL, you’ll earn your share of the monthly KDP Select Global Fund.

The email sent to authors is vague on two key points:

1. It does not actually say that the Unlimited program is for Select only. It says that if you are in Select, you will get payments from the Global fund.

2. It does not say how payment are calculated.

However, the updated Select TOS says this:

Only books enrolled in KDP Select are eligible to be included in Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

So, that’s answered.

Another vague point; Amazon refers the curious to this page: Kindle Owners’ Lending Library FAQ for more information about how payments to Unlimited participants are arrived at. So, already, confusing, but it’s plain the information has been updated.

We base the calculation of your share of the KDP Select Global Fund by how often Kindle Unlimited customers choose and read more than 10% of your book, and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library customers download your book. We compare these numbers to how often all participating KDP Select titles were chosen. For example, if the monthly global fund amount is $1,000,000, all participating KDP titles were read 300,000 times, and customers read your book 1,500 times, you will earn 0.5% (1,500/300,000 = 0.5%), or $5,000 for that month.

I have heard other authors saying the Unlimited program also pays Select authors a percentage of price, that that is NOT what this says. This says Select authors are compensated for Unlimited reads via the Global Fund only, and those payments are not tied to price but to the amount of money in the fund.

If it works like the lending, then some authors will do quite well and others, not. The Global fund is a cap that limits Amazon’s liabilities to Indie authors.

There is at least the potential for this payment method to reduce income to authors. Amazon says this:

The size of the global fund is calculated to make participation in KDP Select a compelling option for authors and publishers. We will review the size of the fund each month to consider adjustments.

You could still come out behind in a given month, with no guarantee you’ll recoup any loss the next month — you might have fewer borrows or reads.

Is This the End?

While Bezos has been on record as saying he is willing to incur a long term loss for a longer term benefit, their model is similar to already existing ones. 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 venders 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.

Profit Model

The only two ways to make a profit from a subscription model are (assuming this is the only source of revenue — we all know it’s not for Amazon):

1. Most people read 1-2 books per month or fewer and/or go on to buy books anyway.

2. You find a way to pay authors/publishers a smaller amount per read.

The important thing is that trad pubbed authors are likely to be squeezed the most, because they are only getting 25% of NET. It will be important, I would guess, to read contracts carefully to find out how royalties are calculated on those “sales” — if they are even counted as sales.

Self-pubbed authors may be in a better position, depending on things like, does the subscription model bring in more casual readers (the profitable ones) — this may mean more readers. Or will voracious readers subscribe AND stop buying such that the program causes an effective reduction because there are more authors/more readers and a fixed fund for distribution.

Possibilities for indies include things like:

1. Everyone subscribes and nobody buys books anymore — royalty rates effectively lowered to whatever Amazon sets in the subscription model and authors not in Select see a drastic reduction in sales.

2. Readers continue to buy books, especially the voracious readers.

3. More readers in total because casual readers exhibit the same increased reading/buying pattern we saw with the shift to digital: they read more books.

4. Purchases increase because readers who loved your book want to own it. Note that the TOS says once you unsubscribe, you lose access to the books you read in Unlimited.

Is the Sky Falling or Not?

Probably not, I think. Hard-core readers tend to buy authors, not books. The requirement that Indies be in Select to participate means that the most popular, best-selling indies will NOT be in Unlimited– assuming Amazon hasn’t cut a separate deal with them. They may well have. It would be smart to do so.

Non-bestselling indies not in Select are unlikely (were they in Unlimited) to have been found by the casual Unlimited reader — those readers will be looking for “something” to read. Algorithms are unlikely to put those books before those readers.

What might happen is that a casual reader, through Unlimited, becomes a genre fan. Because so many indie Romance authors are not in Select, once that casual reader is looking for more good Romances (let’s say) they will have to read outside Unlimited. Thus, it’s possible buys go up outside Unlimited.

Post Sample Suck?

It’s also possible that Unlimited becomes a way to avoid Post-Sample Suck (TM). Post-Sample Suck describes that condition where a book’s quality takes a steep dive into rotten after the sample percentage. A reader who buys a lot of books might feel quite justified in spending $9.99 per month to be able to read books beyond the sample point. They can abandon reading at whatever point the book starts to suck. Assuming that’s beyond the 10% point, the author still gets paid. Other books by that author (presumably) would not be placed into that reader’s Unlimited shelves.

You can bet that Amazon will be paying attention to abandonment points because now it matters to their bottom line.

Prediction: at some point the payment percentage point will increase. Given that payment comes from a fund, it may be too complicated (though doable) to calculate payments amounts linked to percentage read.

Usually it’s the less experienced authors who are in Select. Once you get traction as an author, it does not make sense to be in Select. The downsides are too big. You give up too much by not being at other vendors.

Worst Case?

For indie authors, the worst-case scenario is that all the voracious Romance readers go to Unlimited and stop buying other books.

This is not the typical behavior–those readers know their authors. Since (among indie authors) Unlimited will only have books by Indies in Select, a lot of really great authors will be omitted. Not to mention, $9.99 is not budget busting for those readers. They’re likely to still buy other authors. I believe.

Interesting Thought

Given the potential benefit of a Casual Reader finding you and being converted to a fan, it might make sense for an Indie author to have one very good, non-series, book in Select. Fairness would dictate that you’d have another, very good, non-series, book that you do not sell at Amazon at all.

There you go, my initial thoughts on the matter.

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You Aren’t Buying Books From Harlequin

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

I finished a Harlequin-published book today. When I was all done and had clicked away from that annoying Amazon plea to review, which no author EVER dare actually do in case Amazon decides to go delete all the reviews on her published books, I saw this “Copyright” notice.

Image of Harlequin copyright language

It’s a FEE, motherfucker

 

By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval systems, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher, Harlequin Enterprises, Limited, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, M3B 3K9.

This is a work of fiction. Names ….

When I’m at Amazon here’s what I see:

Image of Amazon BUY button

Buy Now!

Image from the Amazon Kindle page showing the “buy now with 1-Click” button.

You’ll note that the button says “Buy with 1-click.” It does not say “Pay Fee Now.”

 

What about this? What fee am I paying when the price is $0.00?

Image of a book priced a6t 0.00

Free. No Fee

Screen Cap of a Harlequin book “Honeymoon For One,” Kindle Edition, with a Kindle Price of $0.00. This is NOT the book that had this copyright notice, by the way. It just happened to be the book that was shown when I searched Amazon Kindle store for “Harlequin” so I could screen cap the buy button.

Payment of the Required Fees

Fees. What fees? Amazon didn’t tell me I was paying a fee. The Amazon button says Buy. It doesn’t say “Pay the Fee.”

Also, I didn’t know about these terms until I had already clicked and “bought” the book I read.

My iPad is an information storage and retrieval system. When I backup my iPad, my Kindle app is backed up, too. If I start reading on my iPad and then switch to my iPhone later, Amazon delivers another set of bytes to my iPhone, where it, too, is backed up.

If all I’m doing is paying a fee, is there actually a sale? What happens to the meaning of book contracts for royalties earned from sales, when there’s not a sale, but a fee paid in exchange for a limited right to read the text on a screen? How can Harlequin, or any publisher, change the terms under which they get their book to the consumer without also changing the language of the contract negotiated with the author?

Is Harlequin designating some portion of a “purchase” price as a fee? Does that mean the “fee” is excluded from the royalty due? Is that fee overhead deducted from gross?

Because there’s a difference between paying a fee, and paying a purchase price.

I mean this seriously. How can they do this without negotiating this with the author?

I’m not a lawyer, I’m an author, but if I were writing for Harlequin, I might be asking those questions.

 

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The Writing Space and Women’s Voices

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of discussion about the way women are silenced. It occurs to me that there is a writing space where women’s voices are heard. Not by men, however, and that’s part of the point of this post. To talk about that.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been following what’s been happening with Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) where, when women have objected to content and discussion that is openly denigrating to women, the very vocal response from certain men has been, more or less, “You have no sense of humor. You’re ugly, probably a lesbian, you talk too much, and what about my right to stare at your boobs and dismiss everything you write? Also, what was she wearing when she attended that con where she was assaulted?

That’s a conversational misdirection women see all the time in lots and lots of spheres. We say, Dude, uncool, what you said or did, and the conversation is diverted to all the ways in which that can’t possibly be true, please shut up, ladies.

Within Romance, we rarely get that, because the voices in Romance– writers, readers, reviewers– are overwhelmingly female. It’s a space where we sometimes find we need to be more careful of male voices. It’s a delicious irony. But I notice, as more men enter this space, there are occasions when some of those men enter the conversation completely tone deaf.

Men Enter the Romance Space Confident Their Words Are Better

We have all watched men enter the Romance space confident that their words are better because they are spoken in a male voice. And we have watched some of them go head to head with women and come away stunned. We see their brains shut off when that woman making more money and selling more books happens to be attractive. It’s wonderful, amazing, fantastic to watch these men babble on and then realize that they have been out-everythinged by a woman they could not see or hear because she’s female and attractive. I will say that at least one man had the grace to admit that.

Some of these men mansplain, they are unable to hear what the women with more knowledge and expertise have to say. They make demonstrably incorrect statements and have difficulty tolerating correction. To them, it’s a personal affront instead of another person saying, but consider this or, even, you are wrong, and there is the data that proves you are wrong. Once someone is defending themselves because a woman disagreed, dialogue ceases with that person.

Women Know Who the Experts Are Here, And it’s Not The Men

What’s interesting, though, is that here in Romance all the women know exactly who the experts here are– and it’s not the men. There is not, to my knowledge, one single male Romance author killing it in Romance the way women are. There is not one single male Romance author with anything like the technical knowledge of the women who are proven experts. In this space, those mansplaining men are, often, ignored. Because here, in our space, they just don’t have the chops and we know it.

Every single one of the men routinely trotted out as the poster-child of success was preceded by a woman and is, in every case, outmatched, currently, by a woman.

Where is the Innovation in eBook Publishing Coming From?

Consider this: Where is all the innovation in eBook publishing coming from? Where’s the real and effective data analysis? If you read the mainstream media, you’d think it was all men all the time. And it’s not. The innovations in publishing are coming from Romance. I was going to say that Romance authors are quietly going about learning exactly what works and doesn’t work and experimenting and sharing and meeting up — yes, there are “unconferences” in our space. The first one was back in February and it was quite a success. There are more being organized right now. There was not one single man involved in the conception, design and execution of the unconference concept. It was first mentioned in November 2013 I think, and the first unconference happened in February 2014.

At the first unconference, women got together and shared what we knew, what we were doing, how we were doing it and why. We talked about how those things worked. Entirely female voices. Think about that. All the conversation that is silenced when men are present — (Men think women are dominating a conversation when women speak just 30% of time) happened here.

It’s not Quiet Here

Outside the Romance space, what we are doing does seem quiet. Because the men aren’t listening. And when they do happen to hear, they hear through a set of filters that are designed, whether they know it or not, to dismiss and silence the female voice. They go on to write articles that don’t even come close to representing what’s happening here because that same filter is in place. Their first and overriding belief is that women are not authentic experts.

In truth, it’s not quiet at all. Here in the Romance space, we are a noisy lot, talking about what we’ve done, how it worked or didn’t work. This space is, by and large, safe from the male voices and actions that silence, threaten, and harm us everywhere else. At the unconference, we quickly devised a method that gave a speaker the floor. She was not to be interrupted or spoken over while she had the floor. And she wasn’t.

As long as this set of conditions persists, women authors will continue our successes and innovations. It’s an amazing, living, example of what can happen when women are free of words and actions that silence us.

Imagine what might happen if more men learned to listen?

Should you be Worried?

Personally, I think men should be worried about that female silence, because look what happens when we’re not silenced: A woman becomes the largest independent publisher in the United States. (Bella Andre, in case you were wondering.)

If you didn’t know that, you would be wise to ask yourself why.

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The Enjoyment Ratio: T-Shirts vs. Books

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Forget the stupid coffee. Now it’s Books versus T-Shirts!

15.00 for a t-shirt (Because I am NOT paying $25.00 for a t-shirt–I wait for a Woot-off.)

Wear it once a week for 1 year (assuming 12 hours of wear-time per day) = 624 hours of enjoyment!

My T-shirt costs me $0.02 per hour of enjoyment. Admittedly, some T-shirts last a LOT longer than a year. I still have and wear T-shirts I bought when I was in college.

I can read a 100,000 word novel in 8 hours, more or less, assuming I am captivated enough to finish it.

Let’s compare that to T-shirt enjoyment at $0.02 per hour

The comparable Book price should be …..

$0.19!

You’re welcome.

 

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Author Fascism

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

[Comments temporarily closed for this post.]

I didn’t pay much attention when Ann Rice went off on a high profile rant about anonymous reviewers. That’s been done, and I’m kind of tired of it.

But Rice gets big press and the Change.org petition she signed suddenly became high profile.

The gist of it is this: Authors get hurt by people who post reviews that are mean, personal, not about the book, threatening, and/or vile.

The solution requested by the signatories is that Amazon require reviewers to post under their real names. And now there are authors who are continuing the campaign.

Part of me wants to go off on a rant about this, and maybe that will be another post. But actually, this is a serious matter.

I am appalled that authors would suggest this is an appropriate solution.

Here’s the Rant after all

We cannot carve out spaces that look like this:

Novel writing space: Write whatever you want, however distasteful to some sensibilities. Pen names OK! Registration of copyright under a corporation OK!

Review writing space: [Rules defined by authors.] Must review under your real name.

Let’s try an experiment.

Jane Doe has a full time job teaching 4th grade. She also writes erotic novels in her spare time. She writes under a pen name because she feels it’s important for her day job and her writing to stay separate. She might lose her job, otherwise. Her students might Google her, find out what she writes, see covers inappropriate for their age, and perhaps even find an excerpt, and that would not be good. At all. For any reason.

Jane Doe has a full time job teaching 4th grade. She also reads and reviews erotic novels in her spare time. She posts her reviews under a pen name because she feels it’s important for her day job and her writing to stay separate. She might lose her job, otherwise. Her students might Google her, find out what she reads, see covers inappropriate for their age, and perhaps even find an excerpt, and that would not be good. At all. For any reason.

Explain to me why Jane Doe author can be anonymous but not Jane Doe reviewer?

Anonymous speech makes it easy for an asshole to be an asshole.

Anonymous speech makes it possible for people to speak out against moral wrongs.

Anonymous speech exposed criminal wrong-doing by a sitting President of the United States of America.

To argue that we should do away with anonymous speech is to argue that it’s better for wrongdoers to get a pass than it is to allow speech that some may find offensive.

If reviews must be accompanied by a real name, then there are reviewers who will no longer be able to post reviews for reasons that have nothing to do with mean, hateful, or threatening content in a review.

Perhaps the reviewer has a sensitive job but enjoys reading and reviewing sexually explicit books.

Perhaps the reviewer has a violent ex and is attempting to establish an online presence that her ex does not know about.

Perhaps the reviewer used to read and review Dino-Porn but now feels that she must leave Dino Porn behind because she has undergone a moral change and wishes to live a life free of Dino-Porn.

Perhaps the reviewer’s home address, phone number, and names of her children were posted to a website by an author.

Perhaps the reviewer has been threatened by an author.

That Solution is Not the Problem You Were Looking for

Every one of these arguments has a corresponding flip side.

Taking away anonymity of reviews would have far more devastating consequences than seeking a solution that deals with reviews that are out of bounds — supposing we can or should arrive at such a definition. I don’t believe we should, by the way.

It’s far harder to seek a targeted solution that deals with the actual problem– assuming there is such a problem– than it is to seek a solution that affects 100 percent of reviewers.

If you go around proposing jackbooted solutions to speech you don’t like, you run the risk of some wag inventing the phrase Author Fascism.

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