Tag Archives: Amazon

The delusions continue

Traditional publishers, especially the Big 5, have been dragging their heels, not to mention kicking and screaming in protest, from the moment the first e-book appeared on the scenes. For years, however, they knew they had nothing to really worry about when it came to the new format. After all, even though it was cheaper to produce and easier to distribute, there was no way for authors to leverage the platform on their own. Traditional publishers were not only the gatekeepers, but they were the sole guards of the industry. If they didn’t like your book for whatever reason, your only hope was to publish through a vanity press and that was a death sentence to any professional career as a writer you might have wanted.

They laughed at Jim Baen when he started offering e-book versions of the traditionally published books released by Baen. They told him the format was a fad and would die away.

They shook their heads and smiled when Fictionwise and Smashwords started giving authors a very small foothold into the market. There was no way anyone would take e-books seriously. After all, who wanted to read a book on their computer.Paper was king and would never, ever fall.

Then along came Amazon. Approximately 9 years ago, Amazon did something no one expected. They opened up a platform that allowed authors to publish their books as e-books and sell them directly through the Amazon store.  More importantly, Amazon created the Kindle e-book reader. Now reading the new format became easy. Better yet, readers could put dozens, no hundreds of books on their devices and carry them with them wherever they went. They could buy books directly from Amazon and the books would be delivered to their devices, making trips to bookstores unnecessary.

We all know what happened next. The Big 5 (then the Big 6) colluded with Apple and others to price fix the cost of their e-books in an attempt to harm Amazon. The Justice Department and the courts were not amused. In the aftermath, the publishers have contracted with the various stores to set the price for their e-books and discounts are only applied with their approval. Once that went into effect, e-book prices for titles from the Big 5 increased and sales decreased.

And the delusion that e-books would not be major players in the publishing landscape set in. They point to the “re-invigoration” of the print market as a reason to believe e-books aren’t in as much demand as they once were. Of course, they forget to talk about how that re-invigoration happened. All you have to do is look at the pricing of books from the Big 5 to know they are doing everything they can to cannibalize the digital market in order to prop up their beloved print books.

Origin: A Novel by Dan Brown came out earlier this month. The hardcover version sells on Amazon for $17.96. The Kindle version sells for $14.99.

Haunted by James Patterson sells in hardcover for $16.38. Paperback is listed at $14.39 and Kindle is listed at $14.99.

The Shining by Stephen King has been out for years. The Kindle version sells for $8.99 while the mass market paperback version sells for $5.43.

Secrets in Death by J. D. Robb sells for the exact same price for the paperback and e-book versions.The price? $14.99.

These are just a few examples. All you have to do is go over to Amazon and you can find hundreds, if not thousands, more. So is it any surprise readers aren’t buying as many e-books from traditional publishers who continue to overprice their e-books? Instead of stroking their egos and congratulating themselves on stopping the trend, publishers should be paying closer attention to the overall sales of all forms of books by ALL authors and publishers. They should be paying attention to the information being complied by Author Earnings. They should look at the best sellers lists from Amazon — which, whether they like it or not, is the gorilla in the book selling market — and see how many of those titles come from indies and small press authors.

There is a reason readers are reaching out to indies to find their reading material. It goes to price, yes, but it also goes to the fact that indies are offering stories that traditional publishing is not.

Oh, but the delusions continue along that line as well.

Publishers, Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle said, have a key role to play as curators of content. “Publishers stand for quality and perfect each product before it makes it to the market.” Of course, he doesn’t explain what he means by quality or the rest of it. If he is talking technical quality, I’d like to discuss with him the formatting issues, poor product quality (as in spines breaking much too easily, for example) and misspellings or other issues that should be caught by proofing that I find with traditionally published books. Sure, you can find those issues with indie published books but, when you are touting yourselves as the purveyors of quality, you should be able to stand behind that claim.

But we all know what he means, don’t we? Publishers are the gatekeepers of rightthink. If you aren’t presenting them with the fad of the day along with the proper tickler list of social issues, etc., they aren’t going to care about what the story happens to be. They have forgotten that readers of fiction want to be entertained. Sure, you can have a message in your fiction but the fiction had better be compelling and entertaining first and foremost or the reader isn’t going to keep buying your product.

But it gets better.

Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy claims that nothing “went wrong” with e-books. It seems she believes people have gotten tired of reading on their screens. Again, a complete disconnect from reality. People don’t want to pay as much — or more — for an e-book as they will for a print copy. But the laugh out loud moment comes further down in the article when Reidy says she firmly believes “a new version of the book based on digital delivery will come eventually, though she does not know what it might look like.”

Blink.

Blink. Blink.

Hmm, wouldn’t that be an e-book? The bells and whistles might be a bit different, but it if walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, isn’t it a duck?

And what about her argument that e-book sales have leveled off because we are tired of reading on our screens?

It constantly amazes me the way these folks continue to tie themselves into knots trying to explain how e-books are bad, or are a passing fad or a way for writers not good enough for traditional publishing to get their works into the hands of readers. All I know is that the real numbers, the numbers that look at more than the Big 5 titles, tell a different tale. As a reader, I know I find myself picking up more and more books from indie authors because they are writing stories I want to read and they are doing it at prices that allow me to read two or three or more books for the price of a single Big 5 title. When is the point going to come where an accountant who isn’t afraid of rocking the boat says they can actually sell more — and make more money — if they lower their prices to something reasonable?

Since I’m talking about reasonable pricing and I’m an indie author, I’m going to take a moment to tout my latest. The special edition of Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) is now available in both print and e-book editions. (Hopefully, they will link the two editions shortly.) This new edition contains approximately 20k words of next material. It is only available through Amazon.

The original edition has been released on KoboPlayster, Tolino (link not yet available) and Inktera. It will soon be available on iTunes, B&N and Overdrive.

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Trying something new.

I’ll get back to formatting and related topics next week. This week, I thought I’d discuss what I’ve been doing with regard to one of my series and my thinking behind it. I’ve mentioned earlier here, and in greater detail on my blog, that I was going to release a “special edition” of Vengeance from Ashes and the other books in the series. I took the first step toward that goal this week and, along the way, have learned some interesting things about Amazon KDP.

So, first things first. Why release a “special edition” of a book that’s been out for several years?

I originally started thinking about it when I wondered what sort of play my books would get on non-Amazon platforms now. I have been exclusively with Amazon for probably the last three years or so. I originally made the decision to go that route when it became clear the vast majority of my sales came from Amazon and the monies I made through KDP Select/KU could more than make up for any lost sales through the other venues. With the influx of smartphones and tablets, I felt it was no longer as onerous on readers if I only offered my work on one platform. After all, Amazon has Kindle apps for pretty much all operating systems.

Then, over the last few months, I’ve been seeing the same sort of decline in payment for pages read that I saw with the original KDP Select reads. Part of that is because there are so many more books going into the system. Part of it is there are those people out there — I refuse to call them authors or writers — who game the system. So, I started asking how to make up the monies I was losing. I can only write so much. How was I going to increase output or increase sales without spending a bunch of bucks without a guaranteed return?

That’s when an author I’m a fan of released a special edition of one of her books through iTunes/iBooks (whatever the heck Apple calls it right now). All she did was add a chapter near the end. It didn’t change the plot of the book but it gave some really great information and helped fill in some blanks left in the original story. Hmmm. That started my brain on the trail that led to where we are today.

However, I didn’t want to completely take my titles out of KU. That meant I needed to consider my options and then talk to Amazon. Yes, yes, I can hear some of you laughing. Trying to actually “talk” to someone associated with KDP can be daunting. But I’d done it before and I could do it again. Right? Right.

I carefully planned out my email to KDP Support. My question was simple but not one that was found in their FAQs or on the boards. If I added new data to my book, not a word here or there but a chapter or more, could I put that new version into KU and then release the original version into the wild? I sent off the message and got the automated response that they’d be back with me in 24 – 72 hours.

Imagine my surprise when, a few hours later, my cellphone rang and it was Amazon. Long story shortish, as long as the content was exclusive to the Amazon edition, it was published with a new ASIN, the description made it clear this was a special edition, I could do what I wanted. Woop! Suddenly it was time to get down to work.

I figured I’d wind up with a chapter, maybe two, of new material. After all, I loved the original version of Vengeance from Ashes. Still, as I sat down to take notes and see what I could do, I realized there was more information I could have — possibly should have — put in. This was a case of 20-20 hindsight after 3 books and 3 short stories in the universe. So, that single chapter or two turned into close to 20k additional words. I’d need to go back and look again but I think it turned into something like 4 or 5 new chapters as well as some additional scenes in the already existing chapters. The plot, overall is the same, but it has been filled in some and I think it makes for a stronger book.

Fast-forward to this last week. I finished setting up for both digital and print versions using Vellum. I’ll repeat here what I’ve said before. If you work on a Mac and have the money to spare, consider buying Vellum. The time saved in setting up the print version alone is worth it. I also like the special characters (true drop caps being part of it) you can easily insert into your e-books. Thanks to Sarah, I have a kick-ass new cover for the new edition and yesterday I bit the bullet and uploaded both files to Amazon.

And held my breath.

And waited to see what happened. Would Amazon let me post the new book for pre-order or had I done all this for naught?

Whew! The e-book went live for pre-orders without a hitch. Official release date is a week from today. Woop! But what about the print version? Should I do Createspace, as I had all my other print books? Or should I try the new KDP print option? Since I was trying something new with the special edition, why not try it with the print version? So, off I went into even more uncharted territory.

First of all, it is much easier to use than Createspace. Since you’ve already entered all the information about the title for your e-book, you don’t have to do so for the print. It’s ported over. You can choose to get a free ISBN or go with one of your own. Since I’m not trying to get into bookstores, I chose the free ISBN. I’m not out any money if I decide to change my mind later and go with Lightning Source or another printer/distributor.

Now for the downside. You still can’t order a print proof – at least not that I saw. I’m not thrilled with that, especially since I haven’t used the service before. There also isn’t a discounted author rate for buying the book. Again, not that I found. If someone knows how to do it, let me know. That’s a big issue for me and it might lead to me moving back to Createspace eventually (assuming Amazon doesn’t change this with KDP). But, on the plus side, the process of getting the print files uploaded and approved is much quicker and the print version went live quicker than any of my Createspace files did. So, I’ve ordered a hard copy and am praying in the meantime.

As with Createspace, I need to go into Author Central to link the print and digital versions together. I’ll do that later today. But, so far, the process has been pretty painless and, as soon as the original version of Vengeance comes off of KU, I’ll release that edition into the wild.

There is one big downside to doing it this way. The reviews for the original version will not be ported over to the new edition. Amazon’s reasoning actually makes sense. The new edition isn’t the same book as the original and so the reviews don’t necessarily apply. I’ll admit, it has even made me reconsider how I handle the original book. I could leave it up on Amazon but that could confuse potential new readers. But I don’t want to lose my reviews.

The answer to that is simple but not complete. I won’t be able to keep all the reviews but I can cherry pick the ones I think are best representative of the book and contact those reviewers to see if I can quote them in the product information for the new version. I’d make clear the reviews were for the original edition but still. . . they could help push the new edition. So that is part of what I’ll be doing over the next couple of days. By then, I’ll have a copy of the print book in hand (Thursday delivery) and will know whether I’ve made a mistake there or not.

Also, I did verify with Amazon that, should I take the original version off sale there, it would remain in the libraries of those who had already purchased it. I have written response that it would. So no one will lose the book they have already bought. I’ll admit, that was a concern and would have impacted my final decision about how to move forward.

One last thing I’ve learned so far about in doing this process. If you email KDP support and frame your question in such a way it is “unique”, you get a quick response and might actually find your account has been enabled so you can actually call support. That’s reassuring, especially since I’ve never made any bones about the fact I think KDP support could learn a lot from Amazon support.

I’ll update the post as new information becomes available. In the meantime, here’s the “special edition”:

Print

E-book

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

This special edition contains exclusive material (approximately 20,000 words) not available in other editions of the novel.

 

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Amazon’s at it again

Before I go any further, my heart and my prayers go out to the victims (and their friends and family) of the tragic bombing at the Ariana Grande concern in Manchester last night.

Now, to get to the post. Of course, that means I have to have a post. Hmmm, what’s lurking in my head? I hear rattling up there but that might just be my brain waiting for the coffee to kick in.

There are actually a couple of things I’d like to discuss today. The first is a new feature from Amazon that has some authors and traditional publishers in a tizzy. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if there aren’t more than a few suits in the vaunted towers of NYC publishing that are having to change their pants. Why? Because Amazon has taken a swipe at the NYT Best Sellers List and similar lists and started what it calls “Amazon Charts“.

Why has this new list caused such an uproar? Because it shakes things up, mainly (I presume) because it will be easier for indies and small presses to be listed. There’s something else that probably upsets them as well. Not only does the list show the most sold books (Top 20 right now) but it also shows the most read books. These lists include Audible downloads and downloads/reads through the different Amazon subscription services. So, those titles enrolled in the KU program can and will be recognized if they hit high enough.

Gasp!

Now, let’s face it, this really isn’t much different form what Amazon has been doing with its various best sellers lists. But now they have the Top 20 books and the look and feel of it is so similar to the Best Sellers lists of the NYT and others that they don’t like it. People might actually pay attention and see that the books Amazon is listing aren’t what they are listing.

There’s another reason they might be panicking as well. These lists are promulgated by actual numbers — numbers of purchases, numbers of downloads, number of page reads. That’s not quite the same as the various best seller lists that rely on the handwavium that is Bookscan, the Neilsen rankings of books. In other words, Amazon is removing the blindfold from authors when it comes to their sales slowly but surely and that scares most of traditional publishing witless.

Of course, that’s not the only thing publishers are upset about. Amazon has instituted new rules about their “buy” button. These rules allow 3rd party vendors, if they meet certain requirements, to win the “buy” button. In the past, when it came to books, the buy button automatically meant a purchase from the publisher. Oh, you could look at what other sellers were offering by clicking the right link on the page — something most readers I know do, especially for a book that’s been out for awhile. But now, that’s not automatically the case. You see, one of the criteria for winning the buy button is price.

Gasp!

That means it is possible for a reseller to be the “preferred” seller using a lower price than the publisher offers. Oh, it’s not that simple. There are other requirements as well. But just the possibility of it happening has publishers and some authors up in arms. I even get it. No one wants to see a revenue stream drying up. But publishers have to understand that readers have been looking at price for a long time.

One of the arguments I’ve seen against allowing this is that those resellers aren’t paying royalties on the sales. According to one thread in social media, the authors involved were trying to convince the naysayers that all these resellers are selling returns and books that should have been pulped because there was something wrong with them. Nope. Sure, some of the books were books they received as advanced copies or should have been trashed but the vast majority of them were purchased legally and are now being resold. That means the royalties have been paid and, as long as our laws are what they are, royalties are paid on only the first sale.

Instead of raising hell about allowing someone to undercut the publishers and win the buy button, these authors ought to be asking the hard questions of their agents and their publishers. Why are they pricing books so high people are looking for alternative sources? Yes, print books have a certain cost threshold they have to meet just to make money. But when you see retailers, both in brick and mortar stores and online, discounting books by 25% or so on a regular basis, you know the markup is huge. Believe me, these retailers wouldn’t be discounting new releases that much unless it was. After all, the retailers have to make money as well.

What else?

I’m sure there’s more but the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. Besides, Amazon always gives us enough fodder to think about not only how it will impact traditional publishing but our own nook in indie publishing as well. What do you guys think? Is Amazon wrong to allow third-party vendors the access to the buy button? And what about the Amazon Charts?

Oh yeah, don’t forget I’ve a new short story out.  😉

Battle Wounds is the third short story set in the Honor and Duty universe. The stories all take place before the events of the first book, Vengeance from Ashes. The short stories came about because some of you wanted to know what happened to make Ashlyn Shaw into the women we meet in Vengeance. They’ve been fun to write and there is at least one more planned.

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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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Filed under AMANDA, PROMOTION, reading, WRITING

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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