Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

The My Immortals Series

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

It just occurred to me that I have not said anything here about what’s up with the My Immortals Series.

The rights to the first two books are still held by Grand Central Publishing. There are foreign language sub-licenses that prevent me from getting those books reverted even though they are well under the sales threshold in US sales and even though My Wicked Enemy is legally and officially out of print.

Because I do not control the pricing or any in-book links to the first two books, it is impossible to effectively market the series. Unfortunately, based on past experience, it would be extremely foolish of me to agree to any co-promotion or other co-marketing efforts with Grand Central. The subject was raised, but I declined. I’m not an idiot.

Since it is now clear I might not get reversions until 2021, I have decided I will write two prequels to the series to act as  “new” Books 1 and 2. That way, I can do sensible, effective promotion of the series. When the time comes that My Wicked Enemy and My Forbidden Desire do revert to me, those books will still fit into the series.

I have longed planned to do some significant rewriting of My Wicked Enemy, mostly to return several key scenes to the way I wrote them in the first place and back-out editorial caution that I feel, to this day, significantly weakened the book. For book 2 (RITA finalist My Forbidden Desire), I realized I’d have to write scenes I knew my editor would insist be cut so that I could keep the scenes I really wanted. For that reason, that book probably needs less rework to return it to my original concept of the series.

I’ve already started writing the first prequel. At the moment, the title is My Infernal Lover, but I suspect that won’t stick. The second one is tentatively titled “Blow Back” and will fit with the other two shorter novel/novellas, Dead Drop and Free Fall.

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Reader Poll – Finding Romances to Read

Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Here’s A totally unscientific poll for anyone who reads romance. This includes authors in their reader role. My question is over the last year or so, what is your experience trying to find new romances to read?  Please feel free to comment with any additional information, opinions, or thoughts. Is it harder? Is it easier? Or is it about the same? And by that one I mean, if it was hard a year ago still hard, or if it was easy a year ago it’s still easy.

At the various book vendor sites, How do you feel about your ability to find Romances to read?

View Results

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If the poll isn’t working, if you can, answer in the comments.

  1. It’s getting harder
  2. About the same (it was harder before too)
  3. About the same (it was medium before, too)
  4. About the same (it was easy before, too)
  5. Other
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My Immortal Assassin – More Bad Ass than Ever!

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

I have obtained a reversion of rights to My Immortal Assassin, Book 3 in the My Immortals Series.

New cover, new backcover copy, UPDATED STORY

More about the book at my website page for the book.

Here’s the new cover.

A shirtless guy looking pretty bad ass against a glowy orange-red background. He's all moody and shit like a demon should be.

New Cover for My Immortal Assassin

And here’s the new backcover copy:

Sometimes revenge and love go hand-in-hand

Grayson “Gray” Spencer’s life as she knew it was over. Years of torture will do that to a person. Just when she’d given up all hope, someone sacrificed himself to save her and transformed Gray from a human into a mage. Determined to master her powers and exact revenge on those who imprisoned her, she must team up with a posh but sexy demon who will teach her everything… as long as she swears fealty to him.

Durian protects humankind from harm at the hands of his fellow demons. The highly trained assassin wants nothing to do with the punkish Gray, but her abilities are exactly what he needs to fulfill his mission.

Soon enough, Durian and Gray are bound together in a secret quest… and a fiery passion that makes the demon question everything he’s ever known. Their feelings threaten not only their hearts, but their entire society. They may survive, but how much will they lose in the process?

Changes? BUT WHY?

I did fairly intensive revisions. Unfortunately, there were errors (copy-editing and proofreading) but I’m pretty sure I got them all, though I surely managed to add some new ones (because that’s how such things work.) I am a firm believer in the Oxford comma, so I addressed that philosophical issue by adding those commas. The story remains essentially the same, but now reflects more of my vision for the series and a different editorial take. So, yes, the story structure is the much same, but I did significant wordsmithing and character-smithing. The changes got to the point that I had to concede to myself it’s a second edition. I have filed for a new copyright for this version.

The process of publishing this book would be a lot faster if the various vendors would allow authors to send them their reversion letters at the time of upload. In this case, Hachette removed their version of the book immediately upon revsersion– meaning in December 2016–which I greatly appreciate.

Irony of ironies, if they hadn’t, I could have done a DMCA take down and had the rights issue cleared before I published my version. This means the appearance of live links for my version will be slower as the vendors grind through their process for checking content. Which I also appreciate!

For the Curious

My Immortal Assassin has been under the income threshold for a reversion for over two years, but I wasn’t able to get Hachette to respond to reversion requests. I was informed by a lawyer I consulted that Hachette has no duty to respond to reversion requests where that request does not meet the terms of the reversion clause. No wonder authors are so frustrated with publishers. How does the author know if they’re being willfully ignored or ignored because the publisher has decided there are no grounds for reversion?

Ultimately (after two years and many many requests for a response) their position was that the book was still “in print” because there were 192 copies in the warehouse. Fair enough. I can do basic math so I knew that if I placed an order at, say, Amazon, I would pay $1500 for 192 books. Hachette can do math, too, so when I offered to buy back stock, they did some hand waving and shed tears over the $2,000 in royalties per year they would forego by reverting, and then offered to let me buy back stock for . . . $1500. I paid Hachette the money because I would get my reversion much faster and would not be at risk of someone deciding to print more copies.

Once Hachette was willing to discuss a buy back, things happened fairly quickly. I had my reversion letter in hand in mid-December. I very pleased Hachette and I were doing the same math. And I am thrilled to have the book back in my hands. None of this would have happened without the patience of my agent, Kristin Nelson.

 

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About All Romance eBooks

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

As many readers have already heard, All Romance eBooks, a website that has been selling digital Romances direct to consumers since 2006 is shutting down December 31, 2016. I’m quite sure we have not yet heard the full story of this closure.

However, Authors were notified yesterday that they would not be receiving 4th quarter payments — that is, money due to them for sales from October forward and that there would be no payment for any books sold from the 28th through the 31st. Authors were offered 10 cents on the dollar for sales through the 27th, provided they agreed to give up any additional payments due and agreed not to sue for payment or any other damages.

Readers are in a terrible spot. They have almost no time to safely download their past purchases and may not be able to get all of them as many authors began removing their books from sale as soon as they heard they would not be paid.

I have removed my books from sale there. The business is keeping money beyond their contractual share of revenue, and their suggested resolution requires authors give up potentially valuable legal remedies without any disclosure of the actual situation.

If you are a reader who cannot download a past purchase of one of my books, please contact me through my website contact or email me at carolyn AT carolynjewel DOT com. We’ll work something out.

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Here’s Why

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

Fahrenheit Press (if you love mystery and crime, this is a great press) just tweeted a link to this post about submissions in which they muse on why 90% of their submissions are from men. The post includes this:

a) men put themselves forward to speak more
b) men say yes more when asked to speak
c) women are more likely to refuse to speak when asked

I can tell you why A-C are true in addition to the fact that women tend to believe they need to be better even when they already are. Way better. (Because, as we so often see, we HAVE to be better. We don’t often have the luxury of being mediocre.)

a. Because women pay a high price when they put themselves forward. Men do not pay that price. Women have long, hard experience with seeing men chosen over them even when we’re more competent and knowledgeable. That high price includes being called a bitch, everyone saying we talk too much, silent demerits from management and colleagues (she’s not a team player, she complains too much…) and dismissal of our words– often those words and ideas are repeated by men to great accolades. The fate of Kathy Sierra and Anita Sarkesian are two obvious examples. There are millions more. It’s also wrapped up in b.

b. Women don’t say yes as often because of a. The abuse can be horrific. For God’s sake, not even Clay Shirkey understands this. Instead, he criticizes his women grad students for not putting themselves in line for being dismissed, called names, and generally devalued from the start. The playing field is not level, and women are not judged by the same standard as men. Heaven help you if you’re a woman of color. (Names reveal this. Google reveals this.) Until men like Shirkey understand this, we HAVE to consider silence as a survival tactic.

c. Because we know what happens when we speak out. Why risk it? Frankly, when it’s a guy saying he wants to hear more from women, we’re so cynical from years of A and B that we don’t believe in what may actually be a good faith offer.

If you’re not getting submissions from women, it’s because you have to say more than “we want to hear from women.” You have to prove you mean it and that you’re doing your best to recognize that everything about publishing privileges the male.

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Shoot!

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

After looking around and not finding the right images for the cover of Surrender To Ruin, I decided to go the custom route, using photographer Jenn LeBlanc. I knew the kind of image I wanted and which model I thought would be perfect. A couple of hours after I contacted her everything was set up with the model I hoped to use.

The photo shoot was today. Here’s three  of my favorites of the during-the-shoot pictures of the pictures of the pictures… These are pictures of the digital camera viewer. I can assure you the photos uploaded are crystal clear. All images by Jenn LeBlanc.

A Regency era gentleman looking very raking indeed. Smokin' hot.

Liking the look! credit: Jenn LeBlanc

 

Regency gentleman leaning against a chaise, looking smokin' hot and rakish

Rake? credit: Jenn LeBlanc

 

Regency era gentleman perched on edge of chaise. Super hot.

Yes. Please. credit: Jenn LeBlanc

 

I’ve narrowed the pictures down to several choices and am mulling them over ….  Covers matter a lot, and I knew I wanted a cover that was both eye-catching and conveyed the character in the book, and I wasn’t finding what I wanted among the stock art.

So many of the images are so good it’s going to be hard to decide. Which is a better place to be than wondering which image I’ll settle for.

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When Worlds Collide! Kapow! Writing and Database Design

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

I continue to marvel at the intersection of my writing life and my tech life. One of my job functions is to architect databases that will hold the information that runs websites or pays bills or, report on the information in the database. It’s remarkably easy to get wrong. Because I’m a data architect and not a software developer, my approach is always, how would I set this up so we meet the users needs and protect the data?

Every software dev is now slapping her/his forehead and groaning.

Dude. We’ll negotiate the joins later, OK?

But no. We’re not doing it your way because your way is fast on the app side and 30 days later we can’t report on the data. Or it’s not actually what the user needs.

So. Authors who write series, often more than one, need a way to show readers the order of the books in the series. Sounds simple, right? Let the author number the books from 1 through a bazillion.

(And now all the authors are now groaning, going, wait! What about prequels, novels and novellas? where I didn’t write them in chronological order or where readers want Novel order interspersed with Novellas … without having to number Book 7 in the series 9th in the order because there are intervening novellas or short stories.)

Readers are doing much the same.

I know, I know. And I’m so sorry.

surprise/not surprised

I’m surprise/not surprised that ALL the book vendors have gotten the design of this wrong. It SOUNDS easy, but it’s not. We all see the huge disconnect between all the vendors who went “Let them number the books IN WHOLE NUBMERS!” and what authors and readers actually need.

A structured database, like SQL Server or Oracle could do this of course. So could a NoSQL db, but either way you still have to understand this isn’t just a numbering problem. NoSQL probably makes this easier to achieve.

But is OBVIOUS no one at the vendors actually talked to enough authors or even publishers about this. If they had, they’d know they were about to design it wrong.

Painful Lessons of Bad Data Architecture

One of the early lessons for any database person is that when the structure doesn’t provide users a way to do what is needed in real life, they will find workarounds that fuck up your data.

Like when there’s no field to hold (easy example) a middle name and someone goes by their middle name. Users will enter the middle name in the first name field OR the last name field, or a field for Company name. And then you are fucked because you have no way easy way to know that Roberta Ellen Smith is in your database as

firstname: Roberta Ellen
LastName: Smith
CompanyName: Acme Widgets

AND/Or
firstname: Roberta
LastName: Ellen Smith
CompanyName: Acme Widgets

AND/OR
firstname: Roberta
LastName: Ellen
CompanyName: Smith/Acme Widgets

Now get me a list of all the people whose last name is Smith.
Oops.

I’m not making this up, except the names. I’ve seen databases like this.

Real World Reading and Writing

In the real world of reading and authoring books, a series can have:
Novels
Novellas
Short stories
Something else we didn’t think of yet.

And the order might go like this:

Book 1
Book 2
Novella 1
Book 3
Short Story 1
Book 4
Novella 2

AND it’s possible the author wrote these stories in this order

Short Story 1
Book 2
Book 3
Book 4
Book 1
Novella 2
Novella 1

So that by the time they’ve written novella 1, which in the chronology of events in the SERIES places Novella 1 chronologically before Book 3, they will need to reorder their books.

How do I know this is possible? Because I’m a data architect and I’ve seen stuff like this before but also because here’s the story series order of my Sinclair Series books:

Books in chronological order according to the World
Mary’s story
Anne’s Story
Lucy’s Story
Emily’s Story

Here’s the order I have written or will write them in:

Anne’s Story
Lucy’s Story
Emily’s Story
Mary story

Why? Because PUBLISHING doesn’t commit to series and sometimes neither do authors. A book that was intended as a stand alone turns out to have characters in it readers are dying to read about, and some of those characters’ stories would be BEFORE the time setting of the book that was published first.

Authors commonly want to number books like this:

Prequel (Book 0)
Book 1
Novella 1.5
Book 2
Book 3
Novella 3.5

Which is a fairly obvious solution from their point of view, but with clear issues on the backend if you only allow the number field to accept whole numbers which everyone except All Romance eBooks does.

That’s the problem with the simplistic notion that Books are ordered 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . . N

Authors and Readers – in the same leaky Boat

Readers might want to read the books, regardless of length or nomenclature (novel, novella etc.) in the order they were written. Or chronologically according to events in the series. Or in some order the author has provided for the series.

So, on the backend, book order is actually considerably more fluid than any vendor currently provides to authors who would like to number their books so readers can figure out which stories they want to read first.

So vendors end up giving us this, which is completely inadequate for authors and readers alike.
Book 1 = Book 1
Book 2 = Book 2
Book 3 = Novella 1
Book 4 = Book 3
Book 5 = Short Story 1
Book 6 = Book 4
Book 7 = Novella 2
Book 8 = Book 5

Because to get the books listed in reading order authors have to say Book 5 is Book 8 when it isn’t book 8.

Obviously, you should allow the author to provide a reading order that does not link reading order to nomenclature.

1 = Book 1
2 = Book 2
3 = Novella 1
4 = Book 3
5 = Short Story 1
6 = Book 4
7 = Novella 2
8 = Book 5

So, you show the end user this:

Vampire Flowers Series – Reading Order

Flowers in My Garden, prequel
Flowers in my Sock drawer, Book 1
The Gnome Attack, Novella 1
Flowers in my mailbox, Book 2
Gnome Attack!!, A short story
Bees Knees, Novella 2

Reading Order, as a numbering concept unrelated to any other order, would also permit a reader to get a list of just the novels, in reading order.

But nobody asked me.

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Back and Still Alive

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

I returned from the 2015 RWA national conference this past Sunday evening. Since this was my first conference as a member of the national board of RWA (As a Director at Large) my conference experience included duties and activities above and beyond the usual.

Alas, I was unable to pack in just a carry-on size bag, even with packing cubes and video watching. As a Board member, I was at conference from Saturday to the following Sunday. I would have totally been able to do carry-on, even with my admitted failings, if I were only there from Tuesday to Sunday.

But that turned out to be OK, because that meant I could put lots of books in my luggage. I’m still not clear on why my bag wasn’t overweight. The carry-on failure was mine. I brought too many clothes. There were items I did not wear… ::::but what if I’d needed them?????::::  One year someone spilled wine on my only pair of pants and boy do I wish I’d brought an extra pair. Oddly, my packing cubes were full on the way to conference but on the way back, one was empty. I guess I got better at rolling up things small. I’m a convert. Those make it really easy to keep organized.

Highlights of Conference

Guys. I got to shake hands with Nora Roberts!!!!  Tessa Dare and I met Jude Devereaux. I managed to put some brakes on the fangirling but not much. Tessa was gracious as always. I also met Carol Mortimer. Oh, gosh. It was wonderful.

The doughnut party was another success. Megan Frampton was in charge of fetching the doughnuts and they were delicious.

Box of doughnuts

Why you shouldn’t be late to the doughnut party

Workshops and Meetings

I didn’t make it to as many workshops as I’d hoped. Good thing I bought the conference recordings! The workshops I attended were fun and /or informative. I was able to meet up with a lot of authors I only see at conference even though I “talk” to them all the time on Facebook and Twitter or other author forums. The bar arrangement at the hotel was strange. It was as if no one believed Romance authors would want to sit around and drink and talk all day. I felt for the wait staff. There weren’t enough of them for the demand, but they were all lovely while insanely busy.

The Mood by Numbers

This one is harder for me to assess because as a Board member I have much more insight into the issues of the organization. In addition, my writing career is going far better than when I was traditionally publishing. That’s a pretty simple truth. From 1987 until 2010 I think my total writing income was something like $60,000 TOTAL for 17 books. That’s about $2,600 a year. From 2011 to present, total income is roughly $240,000 or about $60,000 a year, and 140,000 books sold. Those totals are actually higher because that doesn’t include income or books sold from projects that went through accounts that aren’t directly connected to my reporting. It’s closer to $260,000 and 160,000.

I had none of my old anxieties and fears about contracts and publishers, and that was great. I had some killer hallway conversations with authors about career planning and management. My anxieties now are about the bets I placed on certain career events. For example, I “bet” if you will, that I would get reversions for 6 of my traditionally published books. I got three of the hoped-for reversions. I had the basic plan B in place and that’s the trajectory I’ll follow now.

For me, I made contacts and arrangements with my fellow authors that I expect to materially improve my career position and that is the reason to go to the RWA national conference.

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Nook?

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

Last week Nook announced it was shuttering its international store and now there is, at least as far as I can tell, unsupported claims that the North American Nook store will also be closed. Maybe. But I’m not so sure. But first, the international issue.

From the get-go, I had doubts about Nook’s International offering. The first red flag was that it could take 6-8 weeks for a book uploaded through Nook Press to show up for sale in the UK and EU countries. A delay that long suggests a manual process, as in the US store and the International store not being served by the same servers and back-end. It made me wonder if they were doing uploads via spreadsheet and there were subtle indications and a few whispers that this might be true. Certainly, a 6-8 week lag is inexplicable if the US NookPress back-end was the same as the European operations. I really don’t know, but to me, that was a sign that something just wasn’t right with the implementation AND with the corporate commitment.

Then came VAT and B&N did it all wrong. They were the ONLY vendor that had no way of saying, hey, “assume the price I’m giving you includes VAT.” It totally screwed authors who felt felt they should/must/needed/wanted to normalize prices. Nook made it impossible for an author to provide EU/UK prices that end in .99 — a proven sales strategy. It put self-published authors at risk of running afoul of EU fixed price book laws as well as Amazon price matching. I worried about the price matching because in one case, when I lowered the price of a book I was promoting, Amazon price-matched the UK version of my book to the Nook version within two hours of my update at Nook — before I’d gotten around to the other vendors. Amazon didn’t price match the US price for another two days.

Theoretically, other book vendors shouldn’t have to care about the self-publishing environment at Amazon. They ought to be free to have whatever policies they like. That is not the reality. Google, which could be killing it in self-publishing, has several policies in place that keep a lot of self-publishers out of Google Play because those policies wreak havoc with those titles at Amazon. In fact, Christmas in The Duke’s Arms had to be taken off sale at Google because they’d decided to discount the book to $0.99 and Amazon was price matching it in an environment where that was harmful to our pricing strategy for the next anthology.

That’s a reality, and regardless of the fact that Google can, of course, do whatever it likes, there are many, many authors who do not publish to Google because of this (but also because their discounting policy requires keeping a brain-busting accounting of List Price/Actual Price. It’s awful awful awful.)

Bringing this back to Nook in the US, Nook did what was easy for them regarding VAT and immediately screwed self-published authors.

Now, I can also say that over the past two years, Nook has been a decreasingly important vendor in terms of sales. From everything I can tell, they still impose an artificial ceiling on the ranking of self-published books. They also made it difficult to find Nook Books at their website. I got a lot of emails from frustrated Nook readers who could not find my books in a search. Jesus. Just a terrible, terrible user experience.

Plainly Nook is looking to spin off the eBook store, which wouldn’t be so bad — especially if it ended up in the hands of someone committed to the tool. (I find that doubtful, alas.)

But does it make sense for Barnes&Noble to have no way to buy products on-line? Does it really make sense for Nook to shut out self-published titles entirely? Only if they intend to go the “Indie” route and hand everything over to Kobo the way other physical bookstores do. Which, you know, is a conceivable result.

If Nook Press spins off, it seems to me it would have to become more like Book Baby (::snort::) or Draft2Digital— an aggregator. OR it would have to try to be an independent eBook store. If it’s doing to try that, then I would be whispering to Draft2Digital that they need a direct-to-consumer storefront. They already have a superior author interface and they can already handle multiple file versions whereas Nook, to achieve that, would have to develop Kindle compatible processes. I don’t think Smashwords is a serious contender, by the way. They, too, impose harmful terms and policies on authors. (Automatic opt-ins, enforcing the text of  copyright statements when they are not the copyright holder so what the hell business is it of theirs how I word my copyright statements? their broken ePub upload process. No. Just no.)

D2D, however, appears to have real tech chops and a UX team that knows what the X in UX means, which appears to entirely escape Smashwords.

Interesting.

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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.

Arithmetic

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!!!

Segue

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.

Interesting.

* 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.

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