Tag Archives: Amazon

Reality Bites

Preparing for today’s post, I did my usual wading around the internet in search of anything that might strike my fancy. There was John Legend telling us if we didn’t want to listen (or read or watch or whatever) “art” by liberal artists then we would have a great deal less “art” to enjoy. There was an article in the Irish Times wondering if Irish authors make enough.  There was an article by a literary agent forecasting how the publishing industry would respond to the new year. So many possibilities and yet, if you really think about it, nothing new.

Then I ran across a couple of articles that caught my eye. The first, and thanks to The Passive Voice — touches on something that has the potential to impact a number of indie authors. Let’s face it. There are few, if any, of us who have chosen the indie route to publishing who wouldn’t love to walk into the local bookstore and find our books on the shelves. After all, we’ve been programmed for years to believe that is one of the final indicators that we are a “real” author. Unfortunately, the reality is that our chances are slim. Sure, we might be lucky enough to have a locally owned bookstore willing to stock our books and let us have signings there but the bog box stores still look at us as second-class writers.

So, indies have gone looking for ways around that. The most common way is using Lightning Source. After all, it has the “benefit” of not being associated with Amazon. We’ve seen how Barnes & Noble, the big boy in booksellers in the US, has said it will never, ever stock anything with an Amazon tie and, well, Createspace is owned by Amazon.

Of course, there are a couple of problems with that. First, B&N and others might not stock our books but they will order them if a customer comes in and asks. Or they should, if they want to keep the customer. After all, one of the benefits of having an ISBN is that it lists your title in Books in Print. It also means your print book will be listed in their online catalog. I can go right now to BN’s online store and find my print books even though I have no e-books in the store. So, it comes down to whether or not corporate buyers will pick your book up to be stocked in their stores and the answer is a resounding “no”, not unless you are making such waves on social media that they can’t ignore it.

But there is another player in this part of the market I hadn’t heard of before: BAM! Publish. As you can probably guess from the name, this is a program associated with Books-A-Million. You can check out this article for some background about Books-A-Million and their association with indie publishing. The short version is, they came late to the program — 2015 — and now they have this BAM! Publish program to help get your print books onto the shelves. Except, does it really and, if it does, is it worth the price?

Honestly, if half of what the article says is true, this program is a perfect example of doing your homework before entering into a business relationship. In this particular case, the only way those using the BAM platform can get into the stores is to buy one of their packages, none of which are cheap, or to buy 1,000 copies of your book. Hmm, what does that sound like? Can anyone say “vanity press”? Or how about “rip-off”?

So, as tempting as it is to do whatever it takes to get your books onto the shelves in your local bookstore, you have to consider the cost and consider if it is really worth it. In other words, as I told my critique group this past weekend, we have to remember that writing is a business and treat it as such. That means looking at the financial realities and remembering that anything we pay to produce and distribute out books has to be recovered in sales before we make a profit. So, will that $1100 or more ever be recovered or are you just throwing money away?

A couple of other notes. For those of you who use KDP to publish your e-books, the interface has changed recently. When I logged on last week to upload a new title, I came to a sliding halt. The page didn’t look the same. Whaaaat?

Yes, the bookshelf still looks like it has for, well, pretty much forever. But when you go to the “Add New Title” option, everything changes. The first change is that you choose the language of your release before you do anything else. The rest of the page is basically the same as before except for a couple of things. The first is the order is rearranged. The second is what used to be a 2-page process is now 3 pages.

Again, not a big change but a change and it can throw you if you aren’t expecting it.

The biggest changes, in my opinion, come when at the bottom of the first page and on the second. The first is the pre-order option. You’ll find that at the bottom of the first page. If you choose to offer your title for pre-order, you can no make changes in the book up to three days prior to your release date. You can also offer up to 10 titles for pre-order at a time. Best of all, you now have a countdown clock both at the top of the page as well as at the bottom telling you exactly how long you have left to update the file.

The next real change comes when you upload your interior file. You still do it basically the same way you have been able to in the past. There are multiple formats you can upload, etc. Almost as soon as you upload the file, you can preview it on the upload page. That’s helpful but it really doesn’t give you the full feel for how the book will look on a Kindle or in the Kindle app. So you have to wait until you can download the mobi file of what you just uploaded.

And the key word here is wait. When I uploaded my book, it took approximately 10 minutes before the downloadable file was ready. I never had to wait that long before and certainly not after the online previewer was available. Perhaps that was a glitch in the system but I have heard from other authors that they have experienced the same thing.

Also, before this change in interface, Amazon would give you a list of possible misspellings in your work. That was helpful, especially if you were uploading the final file. It wasn’t 100% accurate but it often caught something my editor and I missed. That function is gone.

The final change is you can now use your KDP dashboard to upload your print book as well. Simply go to that book in your bookshelf and click the “Create paperback” link. It will open a new page, all part of your KDP dashboard, The nice thing about this is that everything you entered about the book when you set up your e-book entry is carried over. Oh, you may have to do some tweaking — as in I have to move my middle initial from the “first name” block for the e-book to the “middle name” block. But your book title, series title, author name, book description, categories and key words are all there. That leaves you to click the save and continue button at the bottom of the page and start working on your interior file as well as your cover flat.

For ease of use, if nothing else, I applaud this change.

Oh, I guess this is where I tell you what book I uploaded.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.

Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

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Why not let a little reality into the room?

Let me start by saying I have not successfully carried out a coup here at MGC and taken over. Nor did I draw the short straw and get stuck with filling in for everyone. Brad did me a favor last week by switching days with me. That left me posting Sunday, his usual day, and yesterday, mine. This morning, knowing Sarah is on the homestretch of her novel, I offered to fill in for her. I blame the fact that I am in the last third of my final edits and that gives me brain mush. But, in a way, I’m glad because it lets me continue talking about about the DBW conference and some of the information coming out of it.

Once again, I want to thank The Passive Voice for pointing me in the direction of the post that is today’s inspiration. For those of you who are not currently following TPV, why not? All kidding aside, I highly recommend the site.

Ron Vitale attended the DBW conference and has blogged about the experience. I will admit up front that I don’t agree with everything Vitale has to say. That doesn’t mean he is wrong, just that my experience as an indie shows me different aspects or approaches to the subject. His comments are italicized.

The biggest take home message from Digital Book World Indie is so simple that I almost missed it while preparing for the next talk. When we as indie authors unite, we have strength. We are the sum of our individual skills.

I totally agree with this. There are very few of us who have all the skills necessary to put out a quality project. Sure, we are writers. Some better than others. Some of us are excellent self-editors and others, to be honest, suck at it. Some of us are also awesome artist or can do a beautiful job lettering a cover. However, those who can do it all are few and far between. So what are the rest of us to do? If you are like me and most of us here at MGC, you find other authors or artists who will trade services. Or you hire someone to do it for you. This is not a new idea. There are any number of loose, informal co-ops for indies out there. We do not have to work in a vacuum.

The second most important lesson I learned at DBW Indie is that traditional publishers, to quote Jane Friedman, “are kicking ass in marketing.”

Now, this is where the OP began to lose me. What? How are trad publishers “kicking ass” in marketing? The only real advantage I see with going the traditional route is that it can get you into bookstores — for a limited period of time. But, as we’ve discussed before, how much of an advantage is that really when more and more readers are going to online sites to buy their print books?

But, I’ll give the OP the benefit of the doubt and see why he believes this to be the case.

Not only are publishers creating apps such as Crave, but they are performing A/B tests with their advertising, targeting the appropriate readers with the ads as well as sending out thousands of ARCs in advance to build reviews online.

Wait, what? Publishers are creating apps and testing their marketing targeting and sending out ARCs?

First of all, as PG noted in his comments about the piece, just about anyone who wants to can create an app. So what is Crave and can it really help you, the reader?

I remembered vaguely reading something about Crave, but I didn’t remember the details. So I followed the link and, omg, all I could do was shake my head. In case you haven’t looked it up, Crave came out in 2015, iirc, and was built to keep the Twitter and Snapchat generation interested in a book. Here is a description of what Crave was meant to do:

As you scroll through an ebook on Crave, the app periodically breaks into the narrative to show you a text message conversation between two characters, a video of an actor portraying one of the characters doing an interview about the book’s events, a filmed moment (like the hero first looking up at the heroine) or even a reaction GIF.

But after around 1,000 words, you’re cut off. Crave slices each book into mini-chapters intended to take only three or four minutes to read, including multimedia. You can tune back in the next day for another bite-sized installment, generously salted with supplementary videos and text exchanges.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is for some idiotic text message to pop up in the middle of a scene I am reading — or a video or pretty much anything else. I sure as hell don’t want to be forced to stop after 1,000 words. Can you imagine how long it would take you to read a book that way? A 100k word book would take almost 1/3 of a year. Would you remember the beginning? Would you even care about finishing it? And yet this is supposedly one of the ways traditional publishing is winning the marketing war against indies.

The mind boggles.

As for the testing of advertising to see if it hits the right target market, hell’s bells, that is what advertising agencies have been doing since their inception. It is not new.

The sending of ARCs? Again, not new. Also not limited to traditional publishers. Indies do this as well. Indies also utilize social media, email, mailing lists, etc., to get the word out.

I’m not convinced traditional publishing wins the marketing war in any way except for getting books into bookstores and that is no longer nearly as important as it used to. Do you agree?

There is more and I’ll let you read it. The one thing the OP brings up that I will admit I have been thinking about again is diversifying my catalog beyond Amazon. For a long time, I had my books in every major online outlet. I followed the adage of not putting all my “eggs” in one basket. It made sense to make my work available on all platforms.

Then came the day when I realized I was actually losing money doing so. I wasn’t bringing in enough from the other sites to justify the time needed to put together different upload files, the time necessary to upload the files and build the product page on the different sites, the time necessary to check to make sure the other sites had the correct information on their sites, to check the sales pages, make sure I got paid on time, etc. Then Amazon started Kindle Unlimited and the monies for “borrows” went up dramatically.

There was also a change in technology. More and more people were reading their e-books on tablets and smartphones. That meant they were not tied to a single store like they were with dedicated e-book readers. Folks who had been buying solely from BN could not buy their books through Amazon and read them using the Kindle app. That was another thing that saw my sales on Amazon increasing. No longer was I getting folks asking when my books were going to come out on BN?

Now, however, more and more indies are taking part in the KU program. That is great in some ways but when you look at the bottom line, there is an impact. Just as there was after about a year of the old Kindle Lending Library. The monies being brought in are decreasing. I know this isn’t what is happening for some indies but a number of others I have spoken with are experiencing the same thing. So it is time to sit down and determine whether to remain solely with Amazon or to give up the monies coming in from Kindle Unlimited and expand my marketplace once again.

Any way, read the OP and let me know what you think. The one thing I agree with completely is the best way for indies to not only survive but to flourish is to share ideas and information. That is what we try to do here at MGC and each of you are a big part of that.

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Filed under AMANDA, MARKETING, PROMOTION, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Tuesday morning links and thoughts

I am up to my eyes in finishing up a major rewrite so I can finally send Dagger of Elanna to press. Because of that, I forgot today was my day for MGC. So, when I did finally remember, I went looking for any news that might be of interest. I’m going to link to some of what I found and am interested in seeing what you think.

First off is an article from Publishers Weekly. It details the “bad news about e-books“. It seems part of the Digital Book World conference, Jonathan Stolper from Neilsen Books noted that e-book sales from “reporting publishers” was down 16%. He noted that one cause of the decline was the rise in e-book prices. According to him, on average, e-books increased $3 to an average of $8 per title. He also claimed another factor for the decline was the increase in use of tablets by readers instead of dedicate e-book readers. Stolper said that readers who use a dedicated e-book reader buy more books than those who use tablets.

Now, I’ll admit I was surprised to see he admitted part of the problem — a major part, in my mind — is the increased price of e-books by traditional publishers. I’m not sure where he got the average $8 price. It certainly isn’t the average price of new titles coming from the Big 5 publishers. I checked yesterday and the latest e-book coming next month from J D Robb is $14.99. James Patterson’s upcoming book, the 16th in the Women’s Murder Club series, is also selling for $14.99. Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs is selling for $13.99. Those are a long way from the $8 per title Stolper mentioned.

Perhaps he is averaging out the prices of new and old books. If so, he is not only comparing apples and oranges but he is trying to fool us with the old shell game con. Yes, e-book readers look for older books to read and buy them. But most readers, be they those who only read print books or those who read only digital or those who do both look for new books to buy from their favorite authors. Readers understand that there is no reason for an e-book to cost more than they have to pay for the print version. So, instead of buying the e-book, or even the print book, they wait for it to go on sale through Amazon or another online retailer or they go to the second hand bookstore or borrow it from the library.

There is something else that, when considered, shows a major flaw in Stolper’s argument. He discusses only sales form “reporting publishers”. In other words, indie authors, small presses and probably a number of medium sized publishers aren’t included in his data. When you take that into consideration, what you have is a window into what is happening with traditional publishing and not with publishing as a whole. Not that it surprises me. As for the “people who read on tablets buy fewer books than those with dedicated e-book readers” argument, all I can say is he needs to talk to my bank account. I buy as many books, if not more, now that I use a tablet for the majority of my reading than I did before I owned a tablet.

I recommend comparing what Stolper has to say with what Author Earnings said. You can find the Authors Earnings report here.

In other news about e-book pricing, for those who live in Canada, Apple and several major publishers have reached an agreement with the government to end what has been termed anti-competitive pricing. That sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? It will be interesting to see how this plays out and how it impacts pricing. Will Canadian outlets take the approach Amazon did when agency pricing ended here? With publishers setting the price for e-books, will the online outlets start discounting print books more, even if — as with Amazon — it is only for a limited time? If so, how will the publishers react to that and what sort of spin will they put on it to explain their financial losses/gains?

There is a new “publisher” out there for indies. Looking at it, it looks more like a distribution platform ala Draft2Digital and others. Called Pronoun, it bills itself as a “free publishing platform where authors can create, sell, and promote their books”. It might be legit and a great platform. My problem is it says it is free but then talks about distribution fees. Unfortunately, on a quick look at the site, I did not find any real information about what these distribution fees might be. In fact, when I went to the support page and clicked on the link for how much it would cost, I got a 404 page error. In other words, no information. That always bothers me. I want to know before signing up for an account, even a free account, how deeply someone is going to try to reach into my pocket. So, if any of you guys have had experience with Pronoun, I’d love to hear what you think.

Finally, Amazon UK has launched its second literary competition in just a few months. This one has a pretty substantial prize and the promise of a marketing campaign for the winner. For more information about the Kindle Storyteller Award, check here. Full details can be found on the official page for the contest.

Have I missed any recent news you think we need to know about? If so, list it in the comments.

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Here a book, there a book, oh my evil muse

Reading Dave’s post yesterday, I found myself wondering if Dr. Monkey and I had been sharing a brain. Mind you, Sarah and I often do — and I think she keeps it more often than she sends it back. What else, other than having an evil muse, would result in me trying to write three series, all very different, at the same time? Worse, since we have already established that Myrtle the Muse is an evil muse who takes extreme joy in tormenting me, why do I have friends like Pat Patterson who suggest that he’d like to see a standalone book turn into a series? That is all the encouragement Myrtle the Muse needs to go rogue yet again.

But I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Don’t be surprised to see howls of outrage from the Amazon haters later today. In another shot across the bow of traditional publishing, Amazon has declared October to be “Powered by Indie” month. What I love is the sub-titled is “Celebrating great writing”. It even has the hashtag #poweredbyindie, so everyone can get in on the fun. Then there is the new “portal” leading to indie books.

As an indie author, I’m more than a little thrilled by this. At a time when traditional publishing continues to try to discount the impact indie authors and e-books have on the market, to see Amazon celebrating our work gives me the warm fuzzies. They can try to manipulate the data all they want, they can try to convince us that their numbers are the only numbers that matter, but I know what my monthly royalty checks look like and I hear what other indie authors are saying. The indie movement and e-books are here to stay and we are filling a need the trads aren’t, on the whole. As long as we continue to do so, we will continue to make a bigger and bigger impact on the industry.

With it being a month when Amazon celebrates indie authors, it is also a month when my muse is killing me. Last week, I posted a snippet of the book that had hijacked me. The book is finished. I’m trying to figure out a cover and, sigh, a title. For the first time ever, I have finished a book using only a placeholder title and have yet to figure out the final title. Or, bigger sigh, the series title. The working title has been “Coming home is hard to do”. Not bad but it most definitely doesn’t fit the book. It doesn’t signal the genre — or genres because this book is a mix and match of genres.

Worse, there is now a series title. And, yes, you read that right. A. Series. Title. Pardon me while I take a moment to glare at the aforementioned Pat Patterson as well as Uncle Lar, both of whom have condemned me to writing this particularly weird and warped and funny (and fun, at least for me) series. The series title — Trouble Knocks, Danger Follows — still isn’t what I’d like but it beats the working book title.

Now, it would be easy to simply title the series “Mossy Creek” since that is where the books take place. The problem is there is already a series, or two, with that name or a variation on it. So, nope. Not going to go that simple. The current series title works. It clues the reader to the fact there will be a mystery of some sort. It also reads as cozy, which most of the series is. However, it doesn’t clue to the sometimes paranormal/urban fantasy aspect the stories can take on. So it is really important that the actual book titles cue the readers to what sort of book they are getting. Skeletons in the Closet, the next in line, does that. Slay Bells Ring, coupled with the cover, did as well. The title indicated mystery and the cover the romance element. So why in the world can’t I figure out an appropriate title for the now finished novel?

Pardon me while I whine for a moment.

So today has to be spent figuring out the question of what to title the book and figuring out a cover. Oh, and writing. And editing. And doing the business stuff that goes along with being a writer. Yes, it is a never ending circle. But it is the profession I chose and one I love. And don’t tell Myrtle the Muse, but I love it even when she is being particularly evil. Or maybe I should say I love it despite her attempts to torture me. VBEG

This will be a busy month. I have to bring out the untitled work next week. If all goes as planned, Skeletons will come out the day before Halloween. Dagger of Elanna will be out middle of November to the beginning of December. After that, I have Victory from Ashes, the next Mac Santos book, and a return to the Hunted series planned.

You would think that would be enough to keep Myrtle off my back for a bit. But noooooo. She ambushed me yesterday with another story set in Mossy Creek. This time, it’s not bad enough to have normals and Others. It’s not enough to have magic and the dead rising, but not as vampires or zombies. No, now I have a smart-mouthed reporter sent to town to do what she thinks is a poof piece — something she resents, especially since she really doesn’t believe all the stories. Sure, the Others have been “out” for years. But they are still like your Uncle Billy. You only admit their existence when you have to. Just because she decided to do a none too flattering piece on her boss’ cousin (or someone he cared for. Not sure who yet), she has been banished to Mossy Creek to do this piece. I have a feeling this one will be as much of a tongue planted firmly in cheek story as the first installment of Skeletons is. The only problem is it is almost as loud as the last book was and it is making it very difficult for me to work on anything else right now.

So if I seem more scattered than usual, that’s why. Myrtle the Muse is attacking with full force, cackling in my ear because she is distracting me and proving who really controls my writing. She’s evil, I tell you. Truly and completely evil. But then, I guess a writer’s muse needs to be, else we’d never get anything done.

Now, just to do a bit more push before the book comes out, here’s another snippet. You can find the first one here. This is the rough draft. There will be changes made, including fixing spellings and punctuation, before the book goes live. Also, the usual cautions apply. This is my work, copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green.

***

Of course, the drawback to moving about as far away from home as possible without leaving the Continental United States was that even by air it took hours to return to Mossy Creek. It had seemed such a good idea at the time. Now? Not so much. Between worry for my mother and a very cranky five-year-old, I wanted a drink, some answers, food and sleep and not necessarily in that order.

Having to wait for my bag at luggage claim – and then making sure neither the gun nor anything else had gone missing – had not helped my mood any either. Following that had been the wait for the bus that would take us to the car rental hub and another line as we waited for the rental. After everything else, it didn’t surprise me one bit to discover that the mid-sized car I had reserved was not available. Oh, they were so very sorry and they would do their best for me. In the end, Ali and I drove off in a mid-sized SUV after making sure her booster seat had been properly installed.

Despite all that, we still managed to beat most of rush hour, which appears to start around three in Dallas, and I guided the SUV down Main Street in Mossy Creek a little before five. Ali had fallen asleep almost as soon as we left the airport, leaving me too much time to think and worry. Even though I knew there was probably a perfectly good reason for why my mother was nowhere to be found, I also knew there were a number of other very bad reasons.

“We at Grandma’s?” Ali asked sleepily as I parked the SUV. She stretched and looked around, a frown darkening her little face as she did.

“Not yet, sweetie. Momma needs to talk to someone first.”

I switched off the engine and climbed out of the SUV, grabbing the leather messenger bag I used instead of a purse as I did. I hurried around to the passenger side and helped Ali out. She reached for my hand and followed, almost dragging her feet as she looked around. A car slowed and the driver honked in greeting as we waited to cross the street. Habit born when I still lived here had me waving back even though I had no idea who the driver had been. That was just Mossy Creek. Everyone knew everyone else or at least acted as if they did.

A few moments later, I pushed open the door to the law offices of Metzger and Grissom. A slight smile touched my lips as I did. Julianna “Annie” Grissom and I met the first day of kindergarten and had become fast friends. Her grandfather, a great old man who had passed away a few years ago, was the Metzger on the sign. Annie and I had both fled Mossy Creek right after high school even if for different reasons. When she called almost a year ago and told me she had returned, I couldn’t believe it. But this was proof. She had hung out her shingle and, judging from the number of people still in the waiting room even though it was almost five, her practice was thriving.

“May I help you?” a blonde in her early twenties asked. Her desk sat next to the door leading to the rear of the office.

“Please. Moira Quinn O’Donnell to see Ms. Grissom.”

The moment the words were out of my mouth, I heard the whispering begin. That was the Mossy Creek grapevine at work. I had no doubt were I to turn to face those sitting and waiting to see Annie or Sanderson, I’d discover at least half of them with their phones out and fingers rapidly moving as they texted the news that yet another wayward daughter had returned to the fold.

Except I hadn’t returned, at least not permanently.

Nor did I plan to.

“Quinn?”

I closed my eyes and braced myself. I knew the moment I turned around, I’d be enveloped in a hug and then given a lecture for being gone so long. Standing there, looking not that different from when I’d left home was Peggy Russell, owner of Peggy’s Café. Located next door to the courthouse, the café had been the center of town gossip for longer than I’d been alive. Miss Peggy was also the town’s conscience and a key link in the grapevine. What she happened to be doing at the law office just then I didn’t know but I wouldn’t put it past her to be there simply because I was.

I plastered on a smile and turned. As I did, the color drained from my face as I recognized even more of those sitting nearby.  “Miss Peggy, it’s good to see you.”

She cocked her head to one side and narrowed her eyes. As she did, Ali tugged at my hand, reminding me she was there. “Momma, who’s she?”

I bent and lifted Ali, settling her on my hip. “Ali, this is Miss Peggy. If you’re real good, I’ll take you to her café for an ice cream tomorrow.” Miss Peggy’s brown eyes narrowed even more and I had no doubt what she was about to say. “Miss Peggy, this is my daughter, Ali.”

For a moment, she said nothing. Then she smiled and extended her hand to Ali. Gone was the intimidating woman and, in her place, was the short, grey haired grandmotherly figure I I remembered from my childhood. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Ali. You make sure your Momma brings you to the café for ice cream.”

“I will,” my daughter said just as seriously.

“Ms. O’Donnell, Ms. Grissom will see you now,” the receptionist said.

I nodded and chewed my lower lip. Before I could say anything, Miss Peggy reached out and gently touched my arm. When I looked at her, worry and something else filled her eyes. She suddenly looked older and more worn than I’d ever seen her. “Quinn, why don’t you leave her with me? I’ll take her to the café and you can join us there when you’re done.”

For a moment, I hesitated. Then I nodded. The last thing I wanted was for Ali to listen as Annie and I talked about what might have happened to my mother. “Thank you, Miss Peggy.” I shifted Ali slightly on my hip so I could look her in the eye. “Sweetie, Miss Peggy is a really good friend of mine. You go with her and I’ll come just as soon as I can.” Then I looked back to Miss Peggy. “If you don’t mind getting her some dinner, I’d appreciate it.”

“And ice cream?” Ali asked hopefully.

“Only if you eat everything else Miss Peggy serves you first.” I tried to look stern but failed. Unless Miss Peggy had changed a great deal in the time I’d been gone from Mossy Creek, she would make sure my daughter had all her favorites for dinner, including ice cream. Then I swung Ali to the floor and knelt in front of her. “Ali, you mind Miss Peggy and no–” I held my hands in front of me and wiggled my fingers. I would not, could not say it out loud. Fortunately, I didn’t need to. Ali nodded seriously and then crossed her heart. “I’ll be there as soon as I can, Miss Peggy,” I added and handed her Ali’s backpack.

“You do what you need to and don’t worry about this little one. We’re going to be great friends, aren’t we, Ali?” She grinned down at my little girl and, seeing Ali smile back up at her, I relaxed a little. Ali normally did not respond well to strangers but Miss Peggy had always been good with kids, often to the chagrin of their parents.

“Yes, ma’am,” Ali said.

I gave Ali a quick kiss on the cheek and watched as she and Miss Peggy walked across the reception area hand-in-hand and out the door. Then I turned and hurried to where the receptionist waited for me.

“Quinn, it’s so good to see you!”

The moment the door closed behind me, Annie pulled me close in a rib-cracking hug. Then she held me away from her, her blue eyes looking me up and down. As she did, I felt every hour of travel and every mile we had covered. My jeans and tee shirt were rumpled. I had a feeling my short black hair was mussed and not in that sexy, just had sex sort of way. Compared to her black silk blouse and grey slacks, not to mention her red hair in its French twist, I had no doubts who looked like she belonged on the cover of a fashion magazine and who did not.

“Sit.”

I did as she said and watched as she moved to the antique hutch across the office. A moment later she turned, holding a glass of what was unmistakably whiskey She handed it to me and then moved to sit behind her desk. I waited, watching as she pulled a thick file from a drawer and placed it on the desktop.

“Quinn, I know you must have a million questions about why I had Carli call this morning.”

All I could do was nod. As I did, my stomach did a slow roll. I already didn’t like how this was starting.

“I’ll tell you what I can but, before I do, I need to ask a few questions.”

Another nod and I leaned back, breathing deeply. Then I took a sip of the whiskey, waiting for her to continue.

“To say I know little to nothing is putting it mildly.” I frowned. Of all the things she could have said or asked, that was the last thing I had expected. “Why?”

“After we left for college, she had my grandfather draw up a number of legal documents. When I checked her file this morning after learning she was missing, I was surprised by what I found.” She paused and opened the file, pulling out several documents. “Not only was there a will as well as living will and DNR, all things I’d have expected, but there was also a series of documents giving you complete control of all her assets, including the house, at any time when she is unable to deal with her own affairs or when she is unreachable. I think this situation more than satisfies the last requirement.”

She slid the first document across the desk to me. “This is her power of attorney. It gives you full access and control of her finances. You are to do whatever you think necessary for the upkeep of the house and her other holdings. It also gives you the power to liquidate any assets you feel necessary. It includes her bank accounts, credit cards, creditors. Well, you get the gist.”

I nodded. What else could I do?

Over the next half hour, and two whiskeys, Annie explained how Mom had made sure I had complete control of her assets should she be unable to handle her affairs for herself. The documents had been very carefully drawn up so that only Mom appearing and taking control back would void them. As I looked at them, noting several had been executed the day after I left for college, I was surprised and touched and more than a little suspicious. Mom had certain gifts, or talents as she called them, but precognition wasn’t one of them, at least not as far as I knew. Had she seen the need for such legal steps or had she simply been covering all her bases? Whatever the answer, once she was home, the two of us were going to have a very long talk.

“Because I know what it’s like to come back here and have little surprises sprung every time I turned around,” Annie continued, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “I won’t do that to you. I know this is more than you can take in right now. So I want you to call or come see me when you start figuring out what questions you need to ask.”

“Thank you.” I remembered her calls to Montana last year, telling me how her grandfather had seemed to be reaching out from beyond the grave to surprise her and tie her to Mossy Creek. The fact she had not run for the hills spoke volumes about – well, I’m not sure what it spoke volumes about since she had not only stayed in Mossy Creek but had gotten married and opened her law practice here.

“The documents in the file are yours. They’re certified copies and they should be more than enough to satisfy the bank and anyone else you might need to deal with until your mother takes over again.”

I nodded, glad she still seemed to hope Mom would be found alive.

“Here are keys to the house.” Now she did grin and I blew out a breath. She knew my issues with the house. Growing up, she had seen the gate refuse to let me in or, worse in some ways, slam shut as soon as I stepped through, catching my coat or some other article of clothing in it. “I also have keys to her Cadillac as well as several other vehicles, including a new Ford F150. A copy of her safe deposit box key and several others I have no idea what they are for are on the key ring as well. I checked my grandfather’s notes from when he first met with your mother and then when they later spoke about all this and the only thing I found was that your mother said you would know what the various keys were for.” She handed me the keys and then the file folder.

“Thanks.” There was no sense telling her I had no idea what the keys were for. Hell, I hadn’t known Mom had any vehicles besides her Cadillac. She always had a Cadillac. No matter how many miles she had on it, every three years she traded the current Caddy in on a new one. But to find out she had a pickup and more, that did surprise me. “Annie.” I shook my head, smiling slightly. It felt strange calling her that. Growing up, she and her brother had done their best to be called anything but the common nicknames associated with their given names. Not that I could blame them. When you are redheads and twins named Julianna and Andrew, the temptation to call them Anne and Andy – as in Raggedy Anne and Andy – you found other names to go by. “Have you heard anything else about my mom?”

“No. I’m sorry. Until they can get inside to check the house, there isn’t much the Sheriff’s Department can do except keep an eye out for her.” She shook her head, her expression worried. Then she smiled and moved around the desk to sit in the chair next to mine. “I had hoped you’d have Ali with you.”

Now I grinned. “I did.” When I told her how Miss Peggy had offered to take Ali to the café, Annie nodded, unsurprised. “Tell you what. Let me see what I can find out about Mom – and see if that damned house will let me in – and then we’ll set something up. I’d like you to get to know Ali.”

“Sounds good.” She glanced at her watch. “If you hurry, you should be able to catch the sheriff before he leaves for the day.” She paused again and I could tell she was trying to figure how to say something. “Quinn, I don’t know if you’re aware of it or not but Sheriff Glasser didn’t run for re-election. The new sheriff is Lucas Moore.”

Lucas Moore.

I smiled slightly. I knew that name. The image of a tall, gangly teen who the kids today would term a geek or a nerd came to mind. He’d been a couple of years ahead of us in school. My brother Ciaran had adopted him and, as a result, Lucas had spent a lot of time at the house. Even though he’d never noticed me, I’d had a crush on him for the longest time. The last I heard, he had gotten a scholarship to some school back east. Surely that wasn’t who Annie meant.

I guess I would find out for sure sooner or later.

“He came in and did some housecleaning after the election. Glasser had run a pretty tight ship but after what happened with my mother, everyone knew he had been letting things slip. So, apparently, did he. He retired and Lucas won easily. The SD under Lucas is about the best in this part of the state. You can trust them to do everything possible to find out what’s going on.”

I hoped so. Otherwise, Mossy Creek was going to be reminded what happens when I refuse to let something drop.

“You’d best get on your way, Quinn. Lucas told me when he called that he would wait for you as long as he could. The sooner you get home and see what’s there, the better. Assuming the house – and I still say it is a great house even if it has a weird sense of humor – lets you in, you need to let the deputies take a look around.”

“I will – after I rescue Ali from Miss Peggy. Otherwise, I have a feeling my little girl will be so hyped on sugar I’ll never get her to bed.”

Annie’s grin did nothing to reassure me. “How about breakfast in the morning?”

“Sounds good but let me get back with you. I need to see what I find at the house first.”

Annie nodded, her expression serious. “Do you want me to come with you?”

It was tempting but this was something I needed to do on my own. Well, not quite on my own. Ali would be with me. “No. You get home to Sam and Robbie.”

For a moment, it looked like she might argue but then she nodded, a loving smile touching her lips. Seeing it, I reached over and gave her hand a quick squeeze. I’d been more than happy to learn she had married Sam Caldwell and adopted his son. Then, as she placed a gentle hand against her abdomen, I looked at her, arching one brow in question. Seeing the blush color her cheeks, I had my answer and leaned over to hug her.

“Don’t say anything. We haven’t told anyone yet.”

“I suggest you tell your grandmother and Sam’s folks before they figure it out.”

She blushed even more and grinned. Then she stood and pulled me to my feet. “I’m glad you’re home, Quinn, even if your mom’s pulled a disappearing act. Look at it this way, she could have copied my mother and been caught standing over the dead body of the man everyone thought was her worst enemy and who it turned out she had been having an affair with.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. Annie’s mother had been the bane of her existence most of our lives. Annie returned to Mossy Creek after her mother’s arrest. Annie had almost lost her life proving her mother’s innocence. That she was now happily married and expecting her first child meant more to me than she’d ever know.

“You get yourself home, Annie. I’ll go see what the sheriff has to say.”

Instead of agreeing, she chewed her lower lip. A moment later, she pulled her cellphone from her pocket and placed a quick call. I listened, wondering what she was up to, as she asked to be connected with the sheriff. She waited, shaking her head before I could ask what she was up to. A few minutes and another phone call later, she slid the phone back into her pocket.

“Miss Peggy will have Ali and a to-go bag ready for you at the back door of the café in five minutes. That way you don’t have to run the gauntlet tonight.”

“Thanks.” I gave her another hug. It wouldn’t stop the grapevine but at least it would save what was left of my patience and probably my sanity. I had a feeling I’d need both before the evening was done. “I’ll call later to let you know what I find at the house.”

Five minutes later, I watched as Miss Peggy escorted Ali out the back door of the café. A few minutes after that, I parked in one of the half dozen spaces in front of the Sheriff’s Department. Before getting out, I looked at the building and a wave of memories washed over me. Growing up, I had paid more than one visit there, often in the back of a squad car. I hadn’t been special like my sister and brother. So, because I hated how they were always getting our mother’s attention, I had “acted out”, as they called it now. I knew better. I had been very close to being a juvenile delinquent. At least I’d managed to make very good grades at school. That got me into college with a full ride – even if my advisor and dean had warned me to keep my nose clean – and that had been when I left home.

With Ali’s hand firmly grasped in mine, I walked up the steps to the front door and stepped inside. Not much had changed in the years I’d been away. The metal detectors in front of the elevators were new but not much else. Then, as I tried to decide whether I should wait to see if the deputy manning the front desk greeted me or if I should call the sheriff, the elevator dinged and the doors slid open and the world seemed to come to a screeching stop.

Of everything I’d expected, this had to be the last thing, or close to it. It certainly was the last thing I needed just then. Of all the people in Mossy Creek, he had to be the one to step off the elevator. We’d often been at odds when we were in school. Then, in high school, we finally gave into the attraction we both felt and I lost my virginity to him. What should have been a time to remember fondly turned into a nightmare when, only a day or two later, I discovered that he’d been bragging about how he had bagged one of the O’Donnell girls. I wish I could say I wasn’t proud to admit I’d broken his nose and probably a couple of ribs when I jumped him after school and beat the hell out of him but I couldn’t. To be completely honest, he’d been lucky I wasn’t like the rest of my family. Otherwise, he’d have been turned into a toad – or worse.

Now he stood before me, big and tall and muscular, his nose slightly crooked from the damage I had done to it. At least he looked no more pleased to see me than I did him. God above, was this an indication of what this trip home was going to be like?

“Moira,” he all but growled and I had no doubt he used my first name because he knew I hated it. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Hello, Andy.”

He growled again as I returned the favor, using his hated nickname. Too bad. He ought to have better manners around my daughter.

Ali gave my hand a tug and I looked down at her.

“Mommy, why he mad at you?” She moved closer to me as Drew Grissom, Annie’s twin brother, looked down at her.

“He’s not mad at me, sweetie. Deputy Grissom is just having a bad day.” I looked at Drew, wondering if he understood what I wasn’t saying. If not, I hoped he remembered the consequences of opening his mouth when he should have kept it shut.

“That’s right.” He smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes.

Ally hugged my leg and looked up at him. I could tell from the way she tried to almost melt into me she was upset. That, in turn, only served to send my temper higher. But I couldn’t lose it now, not with her there. So, hoping to reassure her, I gently lifted her and settled her at my hip, smiling slightly as she wrapped her legs around my waist.

“Deputy, perhaps you can help us,” I said, doing my best not to let how I felt to see him show either in my voice or on my expression. “I’m supposed to meet the sheriff.”

Before he could answer, the elevator dinged and the doors once again slid open. Sheriff Lucas Moore stepped out. No doubt about it. It was the same Lucas Moore I remembered. He might have added a good four inches in height and a good fifty pounds, all of it muscles, but there was no mistaking him. For a big man – he had to stand at least six-four and weigh over two hundred pounds, he moved with a silent grace as he approached. Even though he said nothing, I knew he had instantly sized up the situation. To my surprise, however, instead of saying anything, he simply stepped forward and, with a jerk of his head, motioned Drew back. The look on Drew’s face spoke volumes and I had no doubt the two of us would be talking soon, whether I wanted to or not. But, for now at least, he would step back and follow the sheriff’s lead.

“It’s been a long time, ma’am. Don’t know if you remember me–”

“I do remember you, Lucas. It’s good to see you.” I smiled. I’m not ashamed to say it was more to irk Drew than anything else. “And it’s Quinn. Whenever someone says ma’am, I start looking for my mother.”

“I hear you there.”

He grinned and his face lit up. Damn, if he had looked like this in high school, every girl within twenty miles would have been after him. Drew’s growl – and what was it with him and growling? – brought our attention back to the matter at hand.

“Have you been to your mother’s house yet?” Lucas asked as he escorted Ali and me across the lobby toward the main doors.

“No,” I answered and went on to explain how I had stopped by Annie’s office first.

“Then why don’t we meet you there?” he suggested.

“Sounds good.”

We shook hands and, as Ali and I left the building, I heard him tell Drew to go get the car. Knowing this was my chance for a few minutes alone, I didn’t hesitate. With a firm grip on Ali, I jogged down the steps and to the SUV. Like it or not, it was time to go home.

Home.

Mossy Creek hadn’t been home for a long time. The only reason I’d come back was Ali. God, it had been hard enough to call my mother and tell her I needed help with her. My wonderful, perfectly mundane daughter had suddenly been anything but mundane. She had made the wind dance – fortunately, she had done some when we were alone. If that hadn’t been enough, she had then called fire. That had put the fear of God into both of us. If I hadn’t been there when she did it, or if the wrong people had seen. . . I didn’t want to think about the possibilities.

And that was only part of why I’d finally come home, the part Mom knew about. I’d waited to tell her the rest of it until we were here. Now it might be too late.

And this – Mom’s disappearance – was beyond the pale. How was I supposed to deal with whatever the hell my mother had gotten involved in this time with my little girl here? Having to deal with the Drew as well simple rubbed salt in the wound.

Ten minutes later, I pulled in front of the house I had grown up in, the house generations of my family had lived in. I parked on the street almost directly in front of the main gate. For a minute, I sat there, studying the house. The eight-foot tall stone fence with wrought iron toppers was designed for privacy and ran along three sides of the house. The front of the fence was wrought iron. Welded finials topped the fence; I knew from personal experience the finials were as effective at deterring someone from trying to climb the fence as they were decorative. Then there was the iron gate. It was closed, as it always was unless guests were expected. I didn’t need to get out of the car to know it was also firmly locked. Getting through the gate would be the first hurdle.

The house itself was one of the oldest homes in town. It also looked almost new. People for years had wanted to know how my family managed to keep in such good shape. No one saw workmen, not very often at any rate, doing any maintenance. When asked, each generation’s matriarch would simply smile and say it was an old family secret.

And man was it some secret.

Three stories, sprawling, balconies on the top floors for the bedrooms, it had been both a joy and a prison growing up. Not that any of my friends had understood. Well, a few had but their families had their own weirdness. That was the only thing that had kept me sane all those years. Mossy Creek isn’t your normal town and if you lived on this side of the tracks, weird was the norm of the day.

Wanting to get this part over before the cops arrived, I climbed out of the SUV. Part of me wished I’d dared leave Ali with Miss Peggy. She did not know about this part of my life and I couldn’t help wondering how I was going to explain to her that the house hated me and wouldn’t let me inside. But I hadn’t left her with Miss Peggy and I had to find out if the house was going to cooperate and let me in before the sheriff arrived.

“This where Grandma lives?” Ali asked as she craned her neck to look around.

Guilt washed over me at the question. In spite of my issues with the town and my family, I’d been wrong not to bring Ali here before now. At least Mom seemed to understand. Not once in the more than a dozen times she had come to Montana after Ali’s birth had she said anything about us not coming to visit. I knew she wanted us to but somewhere over the last eleven or twelve years she had come to understand that I would come back in my own time. I just hoped it wasn’t too late now.

“Yes, sweetie. This is where Grandma lives and it’s I grew up.” I drew a deep breath and said a quick prayer that the house wouldn’t do something I’d regret. “It’s a very special house. Did you know the gate only lets people your grandma wants inside?”

Please let it let me inside.

I could count on one hand the number of times the gate had not played its games with me. It let me know in a number of different ways that it did not approve of me. I was a disappointment. I wasn’t like the rest of the family. Because of that, I had little faith that it would let me in now. But maybe it would let Ali in. After all, she was special, just like my mother and my siblings.

Almost without realizing what I was doing, I started talking, partly to Ali and partly to the gate. I needed to get inside, not for myself but for my mother, for Ali and for the rest of the family. The gate knew I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t important. Please, let me in. I would do only what was necessary and then leave. But I needed to find out what happened to my mother. Was Mom even inside?

The gate swung open slowly, soundlessly. Knowing better than to hesitate, I slipped inside as quickly as I could, not trusting that it wouldn’t try to slam shut on me. It didn’t surprise me when the gate swung shut behind me. That’s what it always did. Family was allowed inside – usually. But no one else, not without family approval and, until I knew Ali and I could get inside, I wasn’t going to leave the gate open.

“That was neat, Momma.” Ali grinned gaily as she looked over my shoulder at the gate. “Can you make it do it again?”

I smiled and rubbed my cheek against hers. “Maybe later. Let’s see if we can get the house to let us in now.”

I put Ali down and took her hand. Together, we approached the three steps leading up to the porch that ran the length of the front of the house. I slowed and Ali matched her pace to mine. Then I once again began talking, this time to the house, reminding it I was family. I had grown up there. Yes, I had been gone a long time but it knew the blood and, despite everything, I was of the blood. I needed to get inside. I had the key – and I held it before me in my left hand. But I knew that would not work if the house wanted to keep me out. Please, I needed to get in because I was worried about my mother.

Swallowing hard, I reached out, key in hand. Just before I slid the key into the lock, the knob turned and the door swung open. Ali giggled happily and pulled at my hand, wanting to go inside. This was it. Like it or not, I was home and the house had recognized me. Now I needed to do a quick sweep of the house before the sheriff arrived. After all, who knew what my mother might have been doing and whether it was something normals – well, as normal as anyone in Mossy Creek could ever be – needed to know about.

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KDP Select or Not?

Yesterday, a FB friend asked whether she should set her new book up on Amazon so it could be “borrowed”. The discussion turned into one a number of people were interested in — in fact, one of the participants asked Sarah if MGC could do a post on KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited from an author’s point of view. Since Sarah is away from home and I didn’t have a topic ready to go this morning, I’m stealing the idea.

I’ve been on the record for some time telling writers that they need to explore how well their books sell on the various different platforms available to us. I know some who sell well on Kobo or Barnes and Noble. Some love Smashwords. But, most of the writers I know have all come to one conclusion: the majority of their sales come from Amazon.

For myself, I had my books on all the major markets for awhile. I used Smashwords first to get into some of them and then moved to Draft2Digital. Of the two companies, I far and away preferred Draft2Digital for ease of use and ease of understanding their reports as well as payment schedules. However, the one thing that was consistent between the two of them was that my Apple sales were almost non-existent. Kobo not much more. B&N I uploaded myself and if I made double digits between them, I had to call it a good month. At the same time, my sales on Amazon were well above 1o to 1. Well above.

So I pulled my novels from the other stores and took them exclusively to Amazon. The first thing I did was sign up with the KDP Select Program. The basic requirement for this program is simple. You agree not to offer your book or short story anywhere else for a period of 90 days. You can set it up so the title is automatically renewed at the end of the 90 day or not. So you aren’t tied into the program if you select it.

The benefits of the program help too. Enrolled titles earn 70% royalties in Japan, India, Brazil and Mexico. You can also choose to enroll your title in the Kindle Unlimited program. More on that in a bit.

Another of the benefits of the KDP Select Program is you can enroll in the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL). What this means is that Prime members can choose to borrow one book a month from the KDP Select books. There is no due date. So they can read the book at their leisure. They can’t borrow another book until that first one is returned. And, as with Kindle Unlimited, you are paid for each “normalized” page read of a book borrowed under KOLL.

Kindle Countdown Deals is another benefit of being enrolled in the KDP Select Program. These are limited time discount deals you can set up.

1) They’re time-based: Not only does this give you more control over how long your book is discounted, but the time remaining for the promotion is visible to customers to increase excitement for the price discount.
2) Customers see the regular price: It’s easy for customers to see the great deal they’re getting, as the regular price is included on the book’s detail page, right beside the promotional price.
3) Royalty rate is retained at lower prices: You will earn royalties based on your regular royalty rate and the promotional price. As a result, if you are using the 70% royalty option, you’ll earn 70% even if the price is below $2.99. (As per the KDP Pricing Page, regular delivery costs apply.)
4) There’s a dedicated website: Customers can discover active Kindle Countdown Deals at http://www.amazon.com/kindlecountdowndeals.
5) You can monitor performance in real time: Your KDP report will display sales and royalties at each price discount side-by-side with pre-promotion performance.

The keys here are that the customers can see they are getting a deal and how long the deal is available for AND you maintain the same royalty rate throughout the sale.

You can also offer your book for free, up to 5 days during the 90 day enrollment period. Note, however, that you receive NO royalties for books downloaded under this promotion.

Then you have Kindle Unlimited. For readers, this is a subscription service that allows them to download up to 10 eligible books at a time without actually buying them. For authors, it is a variation of the KOLL. We get paid not for the number of times a title is downloaded (how it used to be) but for each “normalized” page read. To find out how many “pages” are in your title, you need to go to your Bookshelf. Click on KDP Select Info. Scroll down to Earn Royalties from the KDP Select Global Fund. At the bottom of that section, you will see the number of “normalized” pages for that title.

Now, what does all this mean to an author?

For exclusive rights to your e-book — and it is e-book only, not print or audio — Amazon will automatically enroll you in the KOLL program. From a personal standpoint, I never earned all that much from KOLL. It was great when it first started and I was an early adopter. But as more indies and small presses started taking part, and as some unethical “authors” learned to game the system, the payouts lowered. At that time, everyone earned the same thing. We were paid X-amount per borrow. It didn’t matter how long or short the book or story happened to be. That meant it helped writers of shorter works but penalized those of us who wrote novels. We complained, and so did some readers, and Amazon reworked the payout scheme.

Where my income jumped was with the invention of Kindle Unlimited. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure it would make any difference. After all, how many readers would pay a subscription in order to borrow up to ten books at a time? Then I thought about my reading habits and realized I would save money with KU. First, it meant I’d be more likely to try a new author than before because I wouldn’t be out any money. I could download the book under KU, read until I was hooked or not and then return the book. Second, it is easy. When I go to a book’s product page, I see right there if I can borrow it or if I have to buy it. When borrowing it, I can download it to a specific device just as I can when I purchase it. When I try to download an 11th book, Amazon tells me my limit has been reached and shows me the oldest books borrowed and asks if I want to return it.

From an author’s standpoint, this is a wonderful tool to be used to reach new readers. As noted above, the new rules on payouts are also more fair for writers of longer work than the previous rules were. Yes, folks have gamed the system and Amazon has taken steps to stop it. That is going to happen, be it Amazon or some other entity.

What I have found with the inception of KU is that my normalized pages read has gone through the roof compared to what I used to get under KOLL. My KU payment now ranges anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of my monthly royalties. It is higher those months when I have a new title out. What I am hearing from readers who contact me is that they see the announcement for the new title and, if it is part of a series they haven’t read, they will borrow the first book under KU and, if they like it, will then buy it and the other books in the series. I get paid for the number of pages read for the borrow as well as for the subsequent sales.

So, how much do we get paid? It varies based on the money in the global fund (and Amazon sends an email each month detailing how much money is there) and how many titles are enrolled as well as how many normalized pages have been read. I did some quick math and it looks like it runs between $0.006 to $0.004? (or 0.6 cents to 0.4) per normalized page. Based on the figures for June, it came in around $0.0492 cents per normalized page (again, assuming my math challenged brain did the math right). That doesn’t seem like much until you start looking at the bottom line — and you realize that is money you probably would not have made had you not enrolled your book in the KU program. (Figures edited to clarify amounts — asg)

Something else I am seeing is that my short stories are not being borrowed under the KU program at nearly the same frequency as my novels. That may be because folks aren’t worried about spending 99 cents and not liking what they bought.

There is one downside to the KU program for both writers and those readers who also post reviews. Amazon’s algorithms place more weight on those reviews written by “verified” purchasers. Right now, they do not view a review from a KU reader as being from a verified purchaser. So those reviews don’t get as much weight. There has been push-back from both authors and KU reviewers about this. Possibly Amazon will change this in the future. I hope so. Until then, just be aware of it.

So, should a writer enroll in KDP Select and KU? That is up to you. I always recommend an author try other outlets before making the decision. Why? Because they may find that their experience is different from what mine has been. However, if you have done your research and have been following the Author Earnings reports, if you have talked to other authors and asked about their experiences — especially if they write in the same genre you do — then you may have enough information to make a decision without taking time to try out other markets.

For me, it has been an easy decision. I make much more from KU earnings than I did from the other outlets combined.

And now for some self-promo:

I am currently working on Dagger of Elanna, the sequel to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

Like all my other books, Sword is available for purchase or for download through the Kindle Unlimited program.

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I can only shake my head

With coffee in hand, I sat down to write today’s post. The laptop booted up, the cats settled into their morning routine of annoying one another instead of me and I realized I didn’t have clue one for the blog. I stared at the laptop screen, fingers poised above the keyboard and nothing came. Then I realized what the problem was. My muse, evil muse that she is, woke me in the middle of the night. The only good thing about that was it was one of those “OMG! That’s why the story wasn’t gelling” moments. The downside was, I spent the rest of the night thinking about how to fix the problem. So the brain did not rest overnight even though the body did.

Of course, it didn’t help when I stood at the kitchen sink and looked outside and saw water running across the backyard. Water that shouldn’t be there. Not wanting to really know why there was water flowing and pooling enough for my still sleep-addled brain to register, I stepped outside and discovered it wasn’t the neighbors backwashing their pool but the result of my mother not completely turning off the water yesterday morning when she filled the birdbath.

And I still hadn’t had any coffee.

So, finally I was able to sit down to try to find a topic for today’s post. Yesterday, I blogged about an article in Publisher’s Weekly that put the blame for the decline in e-book sales for traditional publishers on the need for better dedicated e-book readers and something they call “digital fatigue”. There was no discussion about the high price of e-books from traditional publishers like the Big 5. There was no discussion about the application of DRM. Instead, they tried saying we needed better dedicated e-book readers like there are better dedicated MP3 players. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t carried an MP3 player for years. I have a smartphone, one that allows me to use a micro-SD card that I can put all the music I want on it. That means I don’t have to carry two or more devices with me when I leave the house. It is the same with e-books. I can read e-books on my smartphone or one the tablet I usually carry with me. I don’t need or want another device to haul around.

Anyway, I asked some questions in the blog post that I wondered if the survey the PW piece mentioned had bothered to ask:

1) Do you own a dedicated e-book reader?

2) Do you own a smartphone?

3) Do you own a tablet?

4) If you own a dedicated e-book reader as well as another device capable of allowing you to read e-books, what percentage of your e-books do you read on each device?

5) What percentage of your e-books do you purchase from each device?

There should probably have been another couple of questions asked as well:

6) Do you buy print books and, if so, what percertage of your book purchases are digital and what percentage is print?

7) What is the maximum price you are willing to pay for a print book (mmpb, trp or hc) and what is the maximum price you are willing to pay for an e-book? (and why the difference?)

Those are basic business questions that the publishers should be asking of their customers and aren’t.

A couple of other things to think about. If you haven’t changed your password for your Amazon account recently, do so. I’ve been hearing some rumblings that there might have been a security breach. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the rumblings but there has been at least one author claiming her account was hacked. Also, Amazon is cracking down on some of the third party promotion sites that authors have been using. So you might want to hold back on paying for that sort of promotion for a little bit until the dust clears.

One mug of coffee drunk — all hail, Deathwish Coffee! — and still the brain is refusing to work. No, that isn’t quite right. It wants to work but only on fixing the story. So, I shall sign off here and let the Muse have her way. If she releases her talon-hold on me in time, I will come back with a more coherent post later today. Until then, have a great day!

 

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Filed under AMANDA, PROMOTION, WRITING

A Cautionary Tale, Part 2

Last week, I wrote “A Cautionary Tale” about what initially appeared to be a bump in the road in the release of Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). What I didn’t know was that the problem would continue to exist not just for that day but for days and days. In fact, it isn’t completely dealt with as I type this. Things are better, for certain definitions of better, but I’m still seeing the negative impact of what happened.

A quick reminder of what happened. A week ago yesterday, I woke to an email from Kindle Quality Control saying there was a problem with the file for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). It had the right cover but the wrong ASIN and interior file. Within half an hour I updated the file. Approximately six hours later, I received notice that the file had gone live. Except it hadn’t. For most of the next five days, the purchase and KU read for free buttons would not be active. Some of the time, it would say the book was unavailable. Or the buttons would be there but the disclaimer that the book was under review and therefore not available for purchase would be present. Those few times you could buy the book, you might have gotten the correct book or you might not have.

Making matters worse, for whatever reason, the emails that should have been sent out to those who had pre-ordered or purchased before the file was pulled were not. Nor did Kindle Customer Support have a clear idea of what was going on. Some of those who tried helping those with the wrong file did what they were supposed to do — the pushed through the updated file. Others said to return the book and try to buy it later. Still others said to wait and see if the update came through later.

The result, as I’m sure you can imagine, was a number of returns (the most I have ever had for any book) and negative reviews. Both of which brought up other issues.

Finally, last Wednesday, I had had enough and I e-mailed Jeff Bezos. I knew he wouldn’t actually see the email but it made me feel better. It was a business-like letter, detailing everything I had been through to that point. Much to my surprise, I received a phone call late in the day from someone who had gotten the job of trying to find out what was going on and making sure things got cleared up.

Long story short, she talked to different departments and made sure the web page was made stable and my book could be purchased. She talked to the folks in charge of reviews. She listened as I explained how this fiasco had impacted the book’s release and prevented me from doing any true marketing because I couldn’t guarantee those interested would be able to buy the book — or that they would receive the right one when they did.

She admitted that the problem pointed out some shortfalls in their process when a book is under review after the quality of it is called into question by Amazon customers. There is no clear procedure for letting Kindle Support know what is going on or what phase of the review they are at. Nor is there a clear procedure for letting the author know what is going on. All authors get is an email saying the book is under review and they will be contacted when it is approved. Well, you get a note from KDP saying the file has been approved but that isn’t the same as QA saying it is approved. So my contact at Amazon is recommending that this process be improved so others don’t have to go through what I have.

As for the 1-star reviews based on getting the wrong file, well, I’m stuck with them. The Review Department — I think you are starting to get the picture. This quickly became a situation where one hand didn’t know what the other was doing and didn’t care once it did — won’t remove the negative reviews. It doesn’t matter that they have nothing to do with the book. The fact that they deal with customer experience is enough to make the “valid” reviews. It doesn’t matter that these reviews are coming in now because Amazon didn’t act quickly enough doesn’t matter either. All I can do is grin and bear it — and as you to down vote them.

Actually, there is more I can do but I need your help to do it. If you received the wrong book after Thursday of this past week, especially if you have yet to receive the correct one, let me know. When I contacted Amazon yesterday about the continuing problem, I was asked to provide specifics.

Amazon is very understanding about my concern and understands this has cost me money and some good will with my readers. Their recompense for it is to allow me a couple of extra days of promotion through Kindle Unlimited. This is more than a little counter-productive, although I accepted it. First, I rarely run promos for a new book. Second, that promo (if I run it) won’t make up for the money I’ve lost. Nor will it replace the good will that has been soured. In fact, it might cause more ill-will. After all, I would be doing a giveaway or countdown deal for a book my readers have just paid full price on.

What am I taking away from all this? Good question and one I’m still asking myself since this is still an on-going situation. I’ll try to sort it out here.

For me:

  • I have to be even more careful than ever before to make sure there is no issue with my work when I get ready to upload a file.
  • I am going to think long and hard about doing pre-orders in the future. Not only because of the impact they have on publication day numbers (As Dorothy pointed out, pre-orders don’t count toward release date rankings but count on the day of the pre-order) but because of the length of time it has taken to deal with the current situation.
  • While I am still frustrated and disappointed in Amazon and the way it has handled this situation, especially the negative reviews, I will continue working with them. They have tried to do what they can to assist me and they are still the big dog when it comes to indie publishing. They are also the easiest of the outlets to access and use, both as a reader and as a writer.
  • I will pay closer attention to what is happening re: foreign sales if I do another pre-order because I might have spotted the issue a few hours before Amazon notified me if I had this time.
  • If I should get another such notice form Amazon, I will download the preview file (again) before uploading a new file. This serves two purposes. It will let me see if I did upload the wrong file (which I still deny because I checked my copy of not only what was uploaded but the preview file I downloaded) but it gives proof to Amazon that the problem is on their end. What happens when you upload a file to Amazon, that new file overwrites the old file so they will not admit any problem being their fault because they can’t check it on their own servers once that new file is uploaded.

Regarding Amazon:

  • It is still the only real game in town so I will continue working with them.
  • Amazon needs to improve the communication between departments within the KDP process.
  • Amazon needs to reconsider its policy about reviews and make it easier for authors to challenge reviews. I have no problem getting a negative review because someone doesn’t like my work. But when, as in this case, I have jumped through every hoop to correct a technical problem and yet Amazon drags its feet, those reviews are on them and not on me. I should not continue to be punished as a result. No author should.
  • Amazon needs to make it easier — as in possible — to contact the Kindle KDP QA people after a book has been removed for review. As it stands right now, the only thing you can do is contact Kindle KDP support (which can be fun in and of itself) and then ask them to contact QA. You may or may not be successful.

The biggest decision I have to make now is about what my next step should be. I will continue letting my contact at Amazon know of any problems with the book’s download that are brought to my attention. I am planning on a new title in the series, an extra title that will take place before the events of Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1). I’ll figure out a way to make it available to those of you who have stuck with me through all this before it goes up for sale on Amazon. (It may be that I will announce it here and on my blog and put it up for a very limited time for free there before it goes up on Amazon. I’m still working on that.) But do I start writing Victory from Ashes now, putting it out ASAP, or do I keep with my current publication schedule and not write it until later this year, early next year? What are your thoughts?

What this all shows is that writing is like any other business. Not every release goes as smoothly as you want it to. There can be breaks in the supply or delivery chain. It would be easy to throw my hands up and say I’m never working with Amazon again. But that would be a perfect example of cutting off my nose to spite my face. Mistakes happen — and did, on both our parts. Now I have to work my butt off to make up for the problems and rebuild from it. Fortunately, Amazon has done what it can. Not as much as I would have liked but more than many companies would have. So I move forward. All I have to decide is which path to take — or, more specifically, which book to write now.

In the meantime, I’d appreciate knowing if you are still having trouble getting the right file downloaded. I’d also appreciate it if you would leave a review once you’ve read Honor from Ashes. Those reviews will go a long way to counter the negative ones.

 

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING