Something Spooky This Way Comes…

Nightmare fuel: invisible cat in the dark!

Ah, ghost-story and spook season! And the time for telling creepy and terrifying stories to make everyone nervous and edgy. There are a number of them going around, tales that will make writers twitch, glance over shoulders, and mumble about looking for silver bullets and crucifixes.

What is the fate of Barnes and Noble after the new year? I’ve seen one betting pool that has 50/50 at the moment that it will go up for sale to a hedge fund after fourth quarter earnings are announced. If that happens, it will likely join Borders in the history books after June, based on what has happened to other properties. For those of us who don’t have aspirations to sell through a bricks-n-mortar store, this is not really a blow to our business plans. I will miss the regional store, which remains more books than toys-n-coffee, but one really good regional manager can’t make up for the problems at the national level. For those who depend on shelf space and Nook™ e-book sales, it will be a terrible blow.

Along those lines, thinking of the last update to the Nook™ Terms of Service for authors, I’d reread those very, very carefully if things do not go amazingly well for B&N in this quarter. You do not want your book trapped in a bankruptcy-triggered fire sale.

Another horror story that one reads from time to time is “Amazon will turn into a monopoly and cut royalties to [insert percentage here] and trap you in KDP-Select forever!!!!!” The changes to payments for audio-books were supposed to herald the end of 70% royalties.* Should we authors have eggs in other baskets? Yes, if it will bring in more money over the long term. I originally went wide, but neither B&N nor Kobo were paying enough to make up for the frustrations and not having access to KDP Select. At the moment, it is still worth my while to stay with KDP-Select. That might change, but in the past four months, I have seen a surge of long-tail sales and rentals. It is worth the risk. And no, we will not wake up one morning and discover that overnight, without warning, Amazon has changed everything a la Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.

I do expect to see marketing via social media finish in the near future. Facebook, Twitter, and a few others have made it plain that their interests are not the same as ours, and most of us do not pay enough to move ourselves from product to customer.** For some of us, this will hurt sales and finding new readers. I suspect many of us have given up on the major social media platforms already and rely on blogs and things like BookBub, E-bookSoda and others.

What does make me a little concerned—not enough to lose sleep, but enough to keep an ear to the ground—is the possibility that Amazon, Kobo, and others will decide they need to preemptively remove books that might be “hate speech” or “disrespectful to [religion]” in order to comply with various national laws outside the US. Some of the veteran Mad Geneii will recall when Kobo/Rakuten went overboard after complaints of p0rn being disguised as romance or other things. The over-zealous reaction caused major headaches for a lot of innocent authors until Kobo got things sorted out. I’d also be a little wary about something similar in the US, but not as concerned as for the UK and EU.

[And right on cue… Discussing what the Koran and hadith say and using modern legal terminology is not free speech in Europe.]

A real nightmare? People give up on sci-fi and fantasy after one lousy message book too many and we lose the field for a generation. One of the new, much-touted hardbacks I looked at last week, Vox,  proposed a dystopia where women are restricted by law to only a hundred words per day. Yes, it is sold as being very much like A Handmaid’s Tale. The author is an academic as well as novelist and has won several literature prizes. The USA Today review cautions that it turns boring toward the end.

Scared yet? No? Good. Go forth, read spooky stories and ghostly tales, and enjoy Halloween. But do it responsibly. Chocolate overdoses are terrible things.

*I know, they are technically not royalties in the way that checks from TradPub publishers are, but everyone calls them royalties.

**”You are either the product or the customer” when it comes to social media and data, among other things. What galls me is when someone charges you to be a customer but treats you as a product.

Psssst… Wanna spooky, quick, read?

Mines belong to the Scavenger. Osbert belongs to Maarsdam…. or does he?

11 thoughts on “Something Spooky This Way Comes…

    1. After the new year? I finished it last week, I’m going over edits for the last Powers novel now, and will probably release Shikari #3 and # 4 not long after, depending on the cover artist. I’m doing Merchant and Empire #5 for NaNo.

  1. “One of the new, much-touted hardbacks I looked at last week, Vox, proposed a dystopia where women are restricted by law to only a hundred words per day.”

    Why does that sound like something the Left would approve of? For other people, of course.

  2. Hundred words spoken per day would be near impossible to enforce without near universal support.

    If we are talking vocabulary size or written, one could cherrypick, and argue that this is already in force.

    There are a number of twitter feeds that one could check and find ‘sexism sexism misogyny patriarchy sexism’. 🙂

  3. When I was at Amazon, one of my team’s responsibilities was tagging works that are problematic in other markets. For example, Nazi imagery is illegal in Germany. The tags were per-country/market, not universal. So if (say) the EU ruled that certain works were illegal there, Amazon could easily mark them as such and they’d disappear from the catalog in the EU, but they’d still be available elsewhere in the world.

    Things change over time, of course, but as of five years ago, there was fierce opposition at all levels to any attempt to remove any books from the story on any grounds other than fraud. The only exception I can remember involved a how-to guide for pedophiles, and even that took four days of rancorous debate. There are a lot of free-speech absolutists in the books team at Amazon. Or, at least, there were as of 2014.

    1. I know of someone who wouldn’t do business with Amazon for a while because he felt their free-speech policies were too generous. It involved a chapbook by someone who was in prison at the time and the question of the incarcerated individual making money from being in prison. However, things change, which is why I said that I am not too concerned at the moment.

      Full disclosure: There is one of my books that is only available as an e-book in the US because of Canadian, UK, EU, and Indian laws about religious defamation. I can’t afford to be sued, so the e-book is not available outside the US.

  4. Never really liked going all-in with Kindle Unlimited. Too many reader/fans who got my books on other platforms to want to bet all on one horse.
    Kindle is my main money-winner as far as ebooks, but there are just enough of other readers trickling in on other platforms that I just do not want to cut them off.

    1. At the time I made my decision, I didn’t have any print presence, and certainly didn’t have the readership that you do. I think I made around $50 from B&N in an entire year, nothing from Kobo, and several hundred from Amazon. At the time (2014) it was a good business decision.

      Now? I’d have to reevaluate Kobo. B&N is not realistic due to their last ToS, and iBooks and I never got along (I reformatted the books four times, each time to exactly what they wanted. Their computer kicked it back out each time and said “formatting error” without providing any specifics even when pressed. Not worth the headache.)

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