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Posts tagged ‘e-books’

To pirate or not to pirate, that is NOT the question

Over the last few days, social media has been alive — again — with author outrage over e-book piracy. Apparently someone on Facebook started a thread on her wall asking for recommendations for pirate sites where she could download e-books for free. It’s no surprise that the authors were up in arms. After all, no one likes seeing work they have up for sale in one place being offered for free — without permission — somewhere else. But, when the woman who started the thread started blocking those who didn’t agree with her, and when others started attacking those who pointed out what they were advocating was stealing, the internet exploded.

I’m on the record as being against piracy. I’m also realistic enough to know there is little we can do about most pirate sites. Those who are often the worst offenders aren’t located in the U.S. They have little concern for the law or for takedown notices. The time and money that it often takes to get that site in the Ukraine or elsewhere can be better spent writing my next book.

What does get me, however, is the attitude of people like the OP and her supporters who have this sense of entitlement to our work. Like so many in society today, they feel they have the right to take our work without compensation, because they want it. In this case, the OP claimed, from what I’ve read, that she was “poor”. Yet she either had internet or the means to get somewhere there was internet. She had access to a computer, tablet or smartphone to post her request. That request also meant she had access to something that allowed her to read e-books. Oh, and from what those who have purportedly seen her post and Facebook page have said, she is a photographer. Hmmm, I wonder if she gives her work away for free.

One of the commenters said that he had no problem pirating e-books because writers make enough money as it is. Yes, I laughed. He suffers from the Castle Syndrome — thank you very much, ABC. For every Stephen King or Nora Roberts, there are thousands of authors working one or two jobs to make ends meet.

From personal history, one of the sites that did — and possibly once again does — have my books listed, they also listed the number of times a title had been downloaded. I lost several thousand dollars from just that site alone. I was lucky, however, because they did take down my books when I contacted them. But I have to spend time every few months going back and seeing if my work has once again found its way onto their menu. That money could have been put to good use doing things like, oh, paying bills.

Much as I hate pirate sites, I know they also serve a purpose, limited yes, but a purpose. The problem is that they also cause issues with retail sites like Amazon and B&N, etc. If those sites learn that our work is being “sold” for less somewhere else, they will send notice, telling us we need to either price match or risk having our work removed from the legitimate site. Fortunately, the few times that has happened with me, either the pirate sites have taken my work down when I’ve sent them a DMCA notice or Amazon, etc., have accepted my explanation that the offending site is a pirate site and has failed to respond to the DMCA notice.

But, when someone tells me they have the right to pirate my work because they like to read and can’t afford my work, well, that does get my dander up. First is the sheer audacity of it all. What is it about our society, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere, that has bred this mentality in some people? I have been known to ask people like that if they are willing to give away their own hard work to someone just because that person wants it.

The argument spotted in the Facebook thread from one person saying they like to read, so they should be able to pirate any book they want, almost had me beating my head against the desk. There are libraries, and most libraries now allow you to borrow e-books, if you want to read something for free. There’s Project Guttenberg. Amazon and other e-tailers offer hundreds to thousands of free titles. That’s more than enough for someone who wants free books to read.

Jim Baen proved the validity of the “give the first taste for free” with the Baen Free Library. Unfortunately for writers, there are some out there who believe every taste should be free. Fortunately, they are in the vast minority.

Here’s the thing. Writing is a business. It is our profession. The reason the vast majority of writers hold down a “real” job — or two — is because writing doesn’t pay a lot. Not when you consider the number of hours an author spends writing and preparing a book for publication. If that author then publishes that book traditionally, his income is cut even further per unit sold. Most of us don’t live in fancy apartments in New York, play poker with famous Hollyweird folks and go out solving crimes with NYC detectives. Most of us are lucky if we can replace our laptops before they wear out.

Here is something else to consider. Most of us are also very thankful to our fans and are more than willing to send a free e-book to a fan in need. I would much rather do that — and have done that.

Now, I know there are going to be some of you out there who will note the high prices of e-books coming from certain publishers. Those books, if I have to read them, I borrow from the library. Sure, it means I won’t get to read it as soon as I might like but I am still sending money to the author that way. The only time I will even consider pirating a book is when it is something so obscure that it hasn’t been published here and isn’t available through any legitimate means — and I have to have a pressing need for it. Funny, I haven’t found anything like that, yet. I have always managed to find an alternative. However, I know there are some reference materials that aren’t available through anything here in the U. S. except pirate sites. Fortunately for my conscience, I haven’t had to use those materials yet.

So here’s the thing, folks. Just because there are pirate sites out there, that doesn’t mean you need to use them. If the download links go anywhere but to Amazon or another legitimate e-tailer, you are taking money out of the hands of the author. If you legitimately can’t afford an e-book, contact the author. I have a feeling if you do, and if you explain your circumstances, they won’t hesitate to send you a copy. That’s especially true if you offer to leave a review for the book when you finish reading it.

Most of all, don’t be a butthead about it. If you are going to pirate, that’s between you and your conscience. Don’t go to Facebook or Twitter, etc., and ask in a post authors can see that you want recommendations for pirate sites. It tends to get our backs up, especially if you then start blocking those who point out that what you are doing is wrong. And, authors, take a page out of Jim Baen’s book. Offer your work for free from time to time to hook new readers. Your bottom dollar will come to appreciate it.

Here a format, there a format

A week or so ago, I mentioned that I was busy formatting and, in some cases, reformatting, my books for print release. If there is anything I’m slow to do as an author, it is to sit my butt down in the chair and prep my books for print. There’s no excuse for it. I have generic templates built that I can use. It is just a mater then of dropping my book into the template, tweaking it as needed and then shoving it out the door. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In this day and age, before we worry about the print version, we need to worry about formatting our e-books. That’s where I’m going to start. I’ll do the print version next week.

So, how do you format your book for digital release?

The first thing I’m going to suggest may raise some eyebrows, but bear with me. Instead of writing your draft in standard manuscript format (1-inch margins, double spaced, Times New Roman or Courier font), write your draft in the same basic format that you are going to upload later. It isn’t much different and it will take a step out of your conversion process on down the road.

The down and dirty version is simple. Leave your margins at 1-inch. You can have your headers and footers for page numbers, title, etc. They will disappear when your book is converted into an e-book. Leave your paper size at the standard 8 1/2 X 11. From there, the decisions begin.

Font:

Keep it simple. In my experience, both as a reader and as a writer, the best fonts to use are Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond and similar fonts. I like the way Georgia looks, so that’s the one I use.

Line spacing:

I generally use 1.5 for e-books. Double-spaced can look odd (too much white space) in an e-book and single space can be too little. I would recommend no less than 1.15 for your line spacing. Play with it, not in your working file but in a converted file, to see what you like best and go with it.

Paragraph indents:

This is where a lot of authors really muck it up.

  • The first rule of paragraph indents is do NOT use the tab. It won’t translate over to your converted e-book.
  • Instead of hitting “Tab” at the beginning of each paragraph, use the “first line indent” function in your paragraph formatting dialog box.
  • Set your first line indent to 0.3 to 0.33. (This is my preference. The old standard of half an inch is simply too much of an indent for an e-book. Again, this is one of those personal preference things that you have to play with. And, as with your line spacing, I recommend looking at it in a converted format to see if the indents are deep enough or too deep for your liking.)
  • Do not have a 0 first line indent. That gets distracting and can wind up with one great big wall of text for the entire page, scene or chapter.

Other paragraph formatting tips for the body of your text:

  • Alignment should be set to left. Do not justify your text.
  • Spacing before and after a paragraph should be set to 0
  • Widow and orphan control should be unclicked.

When you look at print books, you will see fancy drop caps for the first letter of the first line of a next chapter. That line, or a portion of it, may be all small caps and possibly intalicized or bolded or both. It looks great in print but that doesn’t mean it will in digital format. The problem is that not all e-book reader apps are created equal and neither are all tablets or e-readers. So this is where the KISS rule comes into play. Don’t do fancy drop caps or the like for that first letter. For one, it probably won’t survive conversion. Even if it does, it might not appear the way you want it to and then you run the risk of your readers getting a sub-par reading experience.

So what about other ways to fancy up that first line? Small caps don’t translate well during the conversion process. They tend to turn into standard capital letters. So, if you want to set that first line or first phrase off — and I recommend only a few words or short phrase — bold or italicize it. If your chapter heading is in bold, offset that with italics on your first line. One word of warning here. Because e-books give readers the ability to change font size, etc., I would not recommend doing the entire first line in special formatting. Choose a set number of words – 3 or 4 –for special treatment.

Chapter Headings

These are easily done and can be used to build your active table of contents. Type your chapter title, whether is it Chapter One or “And so it starts”, highlight it and click on Heading 1 (or 2 if you are nesting your headers. More on that in a minute.). The default in Word, at least, when you do that is Calibre Light, blue font color in font size 16. It is also left justified. So, if you want to change that — again, I am working in Word, so the process to modify may be slightly different in other programs — is to right click on the Heading 1 button and then click on modify. That will open a dialog box that will allow you to change the font, color, size and alignment. If you want to tweak it a bit more, look at the bottom left hand corner of the dialog box and you will see a format button. Click that and various options will open.

For me, I use the same font as my body text but increase the size to 16, center the text, change the color to automatic and both bold and italicize it all. (Yes, this does vary from genre to genre.) Again, it is a matter of preference and also a matter of what is common in the genre you are writing in. So look at e-books from not only indies but traditional publishers and see what you like and then do your best to replicate it. Just be consistent throughout your work or do modify your Heading settings and use them.

I know I don’t need to say this but I will. The way you set your heading is to type the text you want as the heading, highlight it and then click Heading 1, etc.

Nesting Headings:

If you have a book that is split into sections and each section has chapters, then I recommend you nest your headings. The way you do that is you use Heading 1 for your section title, which will be on a separate page from the next chapter. When I do that, I follow the same process I laid out above but change the font to 18. I bold the text and use all caps for the section title.

I then use Heading 2 for chapter headings and modify the default for Heading 2 in the same manner as I did above.

What this does is it will show the section headings in your table of contents with the chapter headings under them.

Right now, there is a lot of talk about tables of contents and where to put them, etc. Until Amazon gives more information on it, don’t sweat creating a table of contents and placing it as a separate page in your e-book. If you use the section headings as I’ve described, you will create what is called an active table of contents. It will save you some time and headaches by not having to put in the hyperlinks and bookmarks to create the ToC. Doing so prevents two potential problems. The first is that the ToC, if placed in the front of your book, becomes part of the preview and could mean the reader would get little, if any, of your actual prose to preview. That can cost potential sales. The second is that it avoids the problem of putting it in the back of your book and possibly having the wrath of Amazon come down on you by circumventing the “pages read” algorithm of the Kindle Unlimited program. Use of headings creates those nifty ToCs that appear from the menu of your e-reader or app. Besides, how many print novels have a table of contents anymore?

Page breaks:

This is the one headache that can come back to bite you in the butt when you are converting to print. But we will deal with that in the next post.

When you reach the end of a chapter, you are going to want to put a page break in. You can do this by holding CTRL and hitting ENTER or by clicking on the layout tab. There will be an “breaks” command that will open up to show different sorts of breaks you can insert. Choose page.

Nitty gritty here. You can insert your page break immediately after that last period of the chapter or you can hit enter, drop down one line and then insert your page break. I don’t recommend dropping down more than one line. If you do, you risk having a blank screen showing up for your reader. Then there is the reality that not all e-book distributors follow the same formatting rules. The last time I worked with Smashwords, they had a rule against more than 5 (?) returns. If you had that many returns, they read it as a break in your manuscript. So type that last line, hit return and then insert your page break.

That’s the basic nitty gritty of formatting for e-books. I’ll continue this tomorrow on my blog with what you need in your e-book besides just the novel and then how to convert it. If there is anything else you want me to talk about then, put your suggestions in the comments here. If you have any questions about what I did today, let me know.

In the meantime, you can check out my books here.

 

Wot ab’at the werkers?

‘Wuk, wuk, wuk. F’what? F’them’

Ok that is dredged from long-ago memory and I can’t find my copy right now.

But it is appropriate to what I wanted to talk about.

I’m a working writer. This is my job from which at the moment and for many years now, I have earned my and my family’s livelihood. Barbs is working again now, but in the interests of our kids she didn’t for some years. I know all about trying to make a living from my writing. Yeah, that’s why my beard is so white these days! It’s not just my sanity clause (jingle bells, jingle bells).

As a result, I am unashamedly partisan toward writers who do the same. That doesn’t mean I hate and want to destroy dilettantes with rich families or partners, or a day-job that provides, who can write to make a statement about their pet issue or to get in touch with their inner self. Occasionally they may well produce something brilliant – and they have the means, ability and freedom to do so. But I think the world would be an immeasurably poorer place if that was IT. If the only people producing books were those who had no need to respond to readers, and thus no interest in providing that real joy: a great read.

That makes me on the side of the ordinary working writer, the bloke who does popular fiction, because, yes, that’s what readers want and pay for.  I’m pretty solidly behind the folk who do this, or want to do this, as a profession. I have no objection to the others existing – hell, I believe in ‘make a bigger pie, and I’ve said that over and over. If you look back through posts on MGC you’ll find that’s pretty consistently what I, and my compatriots here, do. There are discussions on agents, on contracts, on editors, as well as on the process and pitfalls of Independent Publishing, as well as on the process of writing. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve said ‘this may not work for you’ – there is no one route to success, and what suits one writer, won’t work for another. Trust me on this: Indy is hard, and as I’ve said some authors won’t make it there, despite being good writers. That’s a loss for all of us, and one of the reasons I keep hoping and pressing for serious reform in Traditional Publishing.

And yes, my affection and respect goes to the battlers. The guys who take on hell with a fire-bucket, get themselves knocked down, and get up and do it again, and again — not the well-heeled and connected, who had the path eased for them at every step. That’s Australian. That’s me. Live with it or piss off and read something else.

Writers are ‘my people’. We work for them. Their foes, and those trying to do them down, and those quislings supporting that, are my foes. We work against them.

MGC doesn’t make us any money or do any good for us directly. There are better avenues for that. But it’s paying forward and taking a long view. If sf withers and dies on the vine, I won’t have anything to read, let alone find it easy to sell my own work.

We occasionally get this sort of comment made about us:

It came from File 770, you so clever edition!

“Mark on February 14, 2016 at 1:24 pm said:

Leaving aside the special pleading about how Baen isn’t really “proper” trad pub, among the core puppies Hoyt has been published by Ace and DAW, Paulk also by DAW, and Freer by Pyr. Then there’s all the non-puppy authors enthusiastically embracing hybrid and self-pub, like puppy unfavourite Chuck Wendig. The split they point at simply isn’t there.

If MGC confined their cheerleading for self-pub to just talking about its pros and cons (which they often do well), rather than needing to take digs at other authors for pursuing their own success in different ways to them, they’d come over a lot better.”

Let’s give ‘Mark’ as much benefit of the doubt as is possible – He could be jumping to these interesting conclusions because of Mike Glyer’s artful selective abusive quoting, and the fact that he never bothers to read the actual MGC posts. I do get a whiff of GRRM of ‘separate awards’ (and maybe even water fountains) about it. I couldn’t give a toss how I ‘come over’ to File 770 and its occupants, (there is no point in trying to please a miniscule market at the expense of my existing readers) but it’s a useful jumping off point:

I think what is confusing to ‘Mark’ and the denizens of Flie 770 is that they conflate ‘Traditional Publisher’ with ‘Author’ – and assume that they if not the same, they are close allies and natural commensal parts of each other, who have near identical interests and positions. Many people do (and publishers foster this). After all, authors like Hines and Scalzi and GRRM never ever say a word that differs from those uttered by their publishers. (They’re not like that fellow Freer or his friend Flint who had public spats with their publishers. We know they’re bad people.)

Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.

Publishers, their grace-and-favor clients, and the darlings of the industry have a strong and vested interest in keeping up this illusion. The rest of us – writers and readers alike, no matter where you sit on the political or socio-economic ladder – not much. It hurts us, it hurts the long term future, and serves no-one but the few who milk the system for their own short term gain. Inevitably they’ll claim to be doing it for a noble cause… Women, Diversity, whatever the cause de jour is — which adds up to them and their friends, not women or diversity that they don’t know and don’t like and who might see the world differently.

Bear with me while I try to explain and present a few figures before any more stupid conclusions get jumped to. The relationship between publishers and authors evolved over many years, as increasingly publishing – which started as a 50:50 sharing, where the author provided the book, and the publisher saw to the rest of the process  — shifted to where only fairly major publishers were able to get your book into lots of retail space, and that meant they (and the retailers) were effectively the ONLY path to getting your book to the reader. These were the ‘good old days’ for publishers and they yearn for them and want them back– rather like the people who were in power (or benefiting from it) in the GDR yearn for communism.

Pass through the gate and you could make a reasonable living (once). Without it: forget it. Absolutely, utterly forget it.

Power corrupts. Absolute power – such as this, corrupted even those with the best intentions and highest ideals.

I hate to make this trite situation comparable to slavery, because there was always an alternative for the writer, they could take another career path. I’m referring to it purely to explain how it was different in the writing world– you had luck and ended up as working for a kindly master, or you ended up somewhere down the river, subject to any casual abuse your master handed out, or worse, took pleasure in. The smaller the number of publishers – and the more entwined they became, the less chance you had of finding a ‘good’ master who would feed you, not work you to death, and not take all that your labor earned for himself.

They were, however, all ‘masters’. In society, they’d put on appropriate masks. Some of them may well have believed they were benevolent, and found rationalizations for some of the abuses. Others – well there are people, particularly those who are weak otherwise, who enjoyed power. Their tastes, their desires, ruled.

Power corrupted. Publishers did well out of being in power. Authors, less so. The old 50:50 situation gradually crept to the author getting 8% paperbacks, 10% for hardcovers. The accounting became more and more opaque and the contracts secret, and increasingly byzantine. They were increasingly greedy and restrictive. It was always more work for less pay.

No one complained, because nobody dared. If you were a commercial success – your agent (who actually really works for your publisher) might get you a better deal, but it was very much a field tilted hard to favor the publisher. Unfortunately, sales were getting worse, and worse – and the people who suffered most were, surprise, surprise, NOT the Masters. Judith Tarr provides a very good illustration here of what was happening. Look at the figures. For another measure, here is Kameron Hurley. As I said last week, the Hugo means something to literary sf. And it is one of the smallest selling sub-genres. Work out what getting to sometimes royalties –and sometimes not getting to earning out, says of the sales numbers of one of the most celebrated, pushed, supported and central darlings of that sub-genre, in terms of book sales. A popular bestseller adding to the cachet of the award could do her the world of good.

And then came Amazon and e-books. Both of which, not surprisingly, publishers hate like poison and have tried their best to destroy or cripple. No, Amazon is no ‘white knight’. But it is a counterweight, and it does mean that it’s no longer the traditional publisher or no career.

It has changed the world, for writers. It SHOULD change the world even for writers who are ill-suited to Indy – because to survive, let alone thrive, traditional publishing has to change.

Why should it, you ask? Because authors are going to desert their sheltering publisher? Ha ha. That’s only the likes of you, Freer, because you’re a loser etc. (see File 770 if you’re running out of abuse to pile on my furry monkey head. They will help you. Watch me worry.)

No. There are several factors at play here for the traditional houses.

Firstly, there is the fact that most humans are actually pretty conservative. The unknown and possibly dangerous is really unattractive to most of us if we’re not in dire need, especially when that’s rent and food. We really have to believe the grass is greener before we go. Which is why the grace-and-favor clients of traditional publishing, and their Quislings, put a lot of effort into belittling and painting it as inferior. They’re also very careful not to mention 70% of gross Indy pays for e-books compared to the 25% of net, that most of the traditional publishers have reluctantly dragged themselves to.

Secondly there is a huge level of Stockholm syndrome among authors. ‘He beats me but he’s my publisher and I love him. I’d be nothing without him.’ Is sadly widespread. In some cases it may even be true – they would be nothing, or much less than now — without him. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth fighting for a better deal for everyone, even those people.

Thirdly, as I’ve said often enough, traditional publishing is in a better position to provide value-adding services to a book, editing, proofing, blurbs, covers, marketing. These add value. You can get them done for you at a fee. That’s roughly what they’re worth, and once again we’ve covered this and options at length on this site. In one place, at a reasonable price, traditional publishing is attractive.

But there are two overwhelming factors against them.

Firstly: READERS no longer have to buy from them, or accept what they choose to sell, or do without, or pay the prices they set.

The second, of course, is even after paying for professional services like proofing or covers, the author (especially one with a following) is left with more money out of an e-book from 70% of the gross, than, (if he’s very lucky) 17.5% of the gross he’d get from Trad. Pub.

And that, slowly but surely, offers Traditional publishing a choice: Adapt to offering a good deal to authors and readers, or die. So far their best effort has been ‘La LA LAAA!’

Now, at the moment, I have a hybrid career. And, as I have often said (but only those who want to hear, listen) the carrot is better than the stick. I’m usually quite nice to Baen (yes, I have given them stick sometimes) because they’ve moved from being benevolent master to a company that is trying to learn to adapt, sometimes well, sometimes badly, from the habits of generations. In an era when the rest of the traditional publishers have had to have any concession dragged out of them, Baen have led the way, still paying better e-book rates than the rest (20% of gross), and getting there at least a year before the rest. In a time when every other publisher has resorted to lawfare and inserted basket accounting, and restraint of trade clauses and ever more Byzantine and longer and longer lawyereze contracts, the Baen ones are less one sided, without these treacherous clauses, and much the same length and language as they’ve always been (which is less dense by half than my Pyr contract, and a lot shorter than any other I’ve seen).

This is good stuff. Any author should encourage it. Any reader who wants authors to be able to write should encourage it. Of course, these are baby steps, but we need to reward them, to get more. To get others to follow. And we need to punish the opposite.

Oddly, that’s not what SFWA are doing. It’s not what you’ll hear the various influential authors like GRRM or David ‘Asterisk’ Gerrold, who could actually bring pressure to bear, doing. It’s not what you hear in places like file 770. No, they’re doing ‘important’ things like campaigning to destroy the sad puppies, or arguing about safe spaces for trannies. Go on: next time one of these lovely people are supporting traditional publishing and the status quo, do ask what they’ve done to improve the transparency of authors’ income accounting, or preventing restraint of trade clauses, or ‘basket accounting’ or breaking down the wall of contract secrecy that allows authors to be exploited. Or about getting a better share of the income from books to go to creator. What they’ve done to make sure authors can earn a living, and readers can get the books they want? What they’ve organized, what they’ve said?

The answer is: nothing.

But they’re loud to support Irene Gallo. Or Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Or any of the ‘masters’ and their quislings, but only those who do their best to maintain the status quo. Change is anathema, change in favor of ordinary working authors… worse.

Judge them by what they actually do.

Publishers, you need to hear this

It continues to amaze me that now, years after e-books became a viable alternative to printed books, we are still having discussions about e-book pricing. When you look at what the Big 5 are saying about e-book sales vs what you see in the Author Earnings reports, you have to ask if they are operating in different worlds, maybe even universes. One tells us that e-book sales are slowing to the point of almost being flat. The other tells us the opposite. You look at the best seller lists on Amazon and you see more and more mid and small press books — as well as indie — finding their way onto the lists. So who is right?

If you want to be honest, both are. I have no doubt sales for Big 5 e-books are slowing. All you have to do is look at the pricing of their e-books to see why. The hard cover for Seveneves by Neal Stephenson sells for $20.83 on Amazon and BN.com. The e-book version is currently available for $17.99. The paperback version, currently listed at $12.22 won’t be available until May 17th.

Shadows of Self by Sanderson currently sells at $16.65 for hardcover and $14.99 for the e-book. What is particularly interesting is that the paperback version is apparently already available and sells for $11.44. If my math is correct — always doubtful this early in the morning — that is $3.55 less than the e-book version. If the product page is correct and the paperback version is available already, then it puts to lie the promises made by the Big 5 publishers long ago that they would drop the price of their e-books when the paperback versions came out.  (I will note the paperback versions being listed apparently come from overseas but I still have to ask why the publisher continues to sell the e-book at such a high price.)

Devoted in Death, the latest in JD Robb’s In Death Series, is available as an e-book for $7.99. The mass market paperback, which comes out today, sells for $6.79. Hmm, the e-book still sells for more than I would have to pay for the print book.

So, is there a trend — or possibly a clue — here as to why e-book sales for the Big 5 are leveling off?

Some folks were having this discussion yesterday in a private FB group I belong to. The consensus among those taking part in the discussion was that the price point publishers were charging, especially for newly released titles, was more than they were willing to pay. Not just for e-books but for hard covers as well. Those who aren’t big fans of  e-books lamented the fact they were turning to used bookstores to buy those hard cover titles they wanted. Not because they were paying less for the book but because they knew authors don’t receive royalties for those sales.

Note, they weren’t worried about the publishers.

And that is something the Big 5 needs to realize. The reading public is starting to look at the prices they pay for their books — whether they are print or digital — and wonder why the prices are so high. They are following their favorite authors, many of whom write for publishers that aren’t the Big 5 or who are indies, and they are paying attention to what the authors are saying. They understand that the life of the writer is closer to struggling author working in a coffee shop than it is to Castle. They are beginning to realize that the majority of the money they pay for that book, the vast majority of it, goes not to the person who created it but to the corporation what distributed it.

But more than that, the reading public can look at an e-book and realize that it doesn’t cost anywhere close to produce it as it does to produce a print book. So the reading public is asking why it should pay close to hard cover prices for a bunch of electrons, especially when the publisher tells them they don’t own the e-book.

The Big 5 continues to come back with the double talk about costs and then says that the real fan will pay the extra money to read the e-book as soon as the title becomes available. Sure, some will pay it for certain authors. But they aren’t paying it in the numbers the Big 5 believes they should so, duh, as far as the Big 5 is concerned, e-books are a craze that is slowly leveling out.

And so they believe their own press and continue to ignore what is happening around them. They aren’t looking at the number of commuters who read on their phones and tablets on the way to work. They don’t pay attention to their family and friends who are doing the same thing. They aren’t looking at the number of indie authors who are able to live off of their earnings — and do so by charging well below the $9.99 price that seems to be the cut off for most e-book buyers. In fact, I would say most e-books that sell well do so at $5.99 or less.

Yet the Big 5 continues to operate under a business plan that doesn’t adapt to the market and consumer demands. Instead, they issue statements about how the “trend” is a slowing of digital sales. Those blinders they have been wearing for so long must have been joined by a posture collar that prevents them from looking anywhere but straight down at their own P&L statements.

Here’s the thing. When readers understand they are being treated badly by publishers, they tend to look elsewhere for their reading material. As an indie author, I’m thrilled because it means more sales for me. How long will it be before the Big 5, and those who follow their lead, start looking beyond their own propaganda and realize what the full sales picture looks like? I doubt it will happen before the Big 5 becomes the Big 4 or maybe even the Big 3.

The problem is the only ones who will lose then are the authors contracted to those houses and the readers. And the suits in their corporate towers will continue to say e-books and whatever comes after them are only flashes in the pan and soon everyone will return to printed books, even as the price of print media continues to increase.

The wake up call has been issued. It was issued long ago. The problem is that the Big 5 and their hangers on hit the snooze button. Readers are sounding the alarm again and I can see the corporate hand reaching out to hit the snooze button once again. Will it deviate from its path or not? My money is on not. How about yours?

Chicken Little isn’t squawking — yet

Oh that pesky little invention called an e-book is once more confounding the Big 5. You see, that wonderful digital product continues to confuse and confound them. Well, that and the buying public’s taste in books, determination of what the best price point is for an e-book, and related issues continue to  cause consternation in publishing circles. And indie writers are sitting back and smiling because it really isn’t that difficult to figure out.

You can blame our own Dr. Monkey for this post. Well, him and my frustration after considering buying the latest book in a series my mother enjoys and telling her it can wait until it is under not $12.99, not $10.99 but under $6.99. Either that or she can borrow it online from the library.

Whether the Big 5 wants to admit it or not, they are confused and, if they are smart, more than a little scared by what is happening in the business. According to a Publishers Weekly article, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) dropped last quarter and lower e-book sales were a big reason why. At HarperCollins EBITDA fell 23.6% over the same time period last year. It would have been down 33% had HC not purchased Harlequin. Lower sales of Divergent are being cited as at least part of the reason for the lower sales. (More on this in a minute.)

Simon & Schuster reported lower e-book sales but those losses were off-set by increased digital audio sales. CEO Carolyn Reidy isn’t quite ready to say she is worried about lower e-book sales, saying it wouldn’t surprise her to see e-book sales increase again. (Duh, Christmas is coming and new electronic devices will be sold and with them e-books will be bought.)

You can look at the linked article and see the figures, some of which are estimates because actual figures haven’t been released.

Here’s the thing, Reidy also said in the article that “S&S has seen little evidence to suggest that higher e-book prices are behind the e-book sales slump. . . .”

No, it is much easier to blame lower sales on the declining interest in a book series — see the comment about Divergent above — or in the end of a series (remember how they used that as an excuse after the 50 Shades trilogy ended or the Sparkly Vampire series). This tendency points out two major issues with the way the Big 5 are deluding themselves and failing their readers. First, they are putting all their eggs in the basket held by only one or two authors. That wouldn’t be so bad if they had a Magic 8 Ball to tell them what the next big hit would be. The problem is, they don’t. Publishing has a long track record of books being contracted for, huge advances being paid and then the book flopping and not coming anywhere close to selling out the first print run.

Publishers also seem to think that the newest, biggest fad will continue to be a fad. They see a Twilight or a 50 Shades of Grey and tell agents that is what they are looking for. If they have really drunk the Koolade, they will stop production on entire lines of books so the covers can be redone to remind readers of the original book that started the fad. (Remember all those books that suddenly had black and grey covers with handcuffs or whips or blindfolds on them?) Branding helps sell something but the product inside the covers has to be worth the money.

And that is where the second issue comes in. The product has to be worth the money. The Big 5 hasn’t come to the realization that their customer base is not so foolish that they can’t figure out that it doesn’t cost nearly as much to produce an e-book as it does a print book. It certainly doesn’t cost as much as a hard cover. Yet, those same publishers continue to want to charge above mmpb prices for an e-book with the vague promise that the price will come down some time in the future.

Sure, there are some folks who will pay that $10.99 – $13.99 to have the e-book when it first comes out. There are the impulse buyers. But for those avid readers who have to choose whether they want to spent that much money for one book or for several if they buy older e-books or — gasp — indie published e-books, well, that is most of the market and they are opting for more bang for the dollar.

And that is something the Big 5 has failed to grasp. Most readers couldn’t give a flying fig about who the publisher is. That is about as important in a reader’s mind as who the author’s agent happens to be. All the reader cares about is having a good read that is well formatted, well researched and priced affordably. The Big 5 and their bean counters needs to wrap their heads around the fact they are no longer the only game in town and their control of the market is slipping out of their hands. If they don’t adapt their business model and business practices, the Big 5 (which used to be the Big 6) will see its membership shrinking even further.

The truth of the matter is, traditional publishing can only publish so many titles a year. There are only so many slots they have budgeted for. Most major publishers haven’t grasped the fact they can publish digitally first.  Those who have, have frankly dropped the ball. They make those digital lines less important than their print/digital lines. Even their marketing of those lines, both to the reading public and to authors, screams “not ready for the big league!”. So, instead of tapping into a growing market — which they would see if they would simply look at Authors Earnings and pay attention to the best seller lists on Amazon — they look at how their e-book sales have declined and refuse to admit that high prices and limited available titles might have something to do with it.

So, here’s where it comes to, at least for me. As long as the Big 5 and their ilk continue to sell e-books for more than $10 a pop, they will see very little of my money. (The exception is almost always for non-fiction which usually sells for more, print or digital.) There are very few books I can’t wait for the mmpb to come out — and for prices of the e-book to drop. That means delayed income for the publishers and for authors. I hate that authors are being caught in the middle here but that is the way it is, unfortunately.  My book money is limited. It is a luxury. So I would rather buy two books that sound good and that have samples that made me want to keep reading than one book by Ms. Best Selling Author and published by Big 5 publisher.

Putting things into perspective

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last, oh, ten years, there’s a war going on in publishing. No, not the war over the Hugos. That is, at best, nothing more than the publishing world’s version of a military campaign. Yes, it is part of the overall war in publishing but it is only one part. The publishing world is changing, like it or not, and it is impacting not just publishers and their employees but also agents and authors. There have already been casualties and there will be more. The only group that will win in all this are is the readers. Why? Because there is a greater selection of reading material out there than ever before. Sure, some is dreck and should never have found its way out of the author’s computer. But there is also a plethora of new material out there that never would have gotten past the gatekeepers and yet is not only well-written but in high demand.

I’m not going to spend a great deal of time explaining why publishing has come to the state it now finds itself in. There are any number of posts about that, not only here on MGC but elsewhere. However, what we are continuing to see is that this war is playing out in ways that continue to hurt the industry and the authors who are at the heart of it. Business practices that should have been amended and adapted years ago. Attitudes by editors, agents and authors that have alienated one time friends and has now extended to the fan base.

The attitude, or at least one of them, that continues to act contrary to current demands is that there needs to be a gatekeeper to decide what books should or should not be released into the wild for people to read. The critics of indie published books continue to throw out the premise that there are just too many badly written books being written and self-published. They tell us Amazon or B&N or whichever platform an indie publishes on should have some sort of minimum bar that must be reached before these dastardly upstarts are allowed to pollute the literary pool.

Now, the problem with this stance is multi-fold. First, the gatekeepers used to be the publishers. Then, as profits started decreasing and publishers started cutting costs, they turned much of that role over to agents. Okay, that might be well and good but there is one problem., no matter who is the gatekeeper there is more demand for books than there are traditional publishing slots per month. Add into that the fact that what people want to read isn’t necessarily what the publishers are putting out there and, well, you have the beginnings of the perfect storm for the publishing industry.

But it goes further than that. The Big Five in publishing have been involved in a long running battle with Amazon for years. This battle mainly focuses on the e-book market and it is perhaps the best example of just how out of touch with the buying public too many traditional publishers happen to be.

The first indication of this is this article from Digital Book World. Overall sales dropped more than 5% January through May. Add to that the information from this article in the Wall Street Journal and it is easy to see that publishers are not doing themselves and their stockholders any good by continuing to try to hold onto the old business model.  A little modern background. In the latest round of contract negotiations between Amazon and major publishers, those publishers got what they wanted. They have the right under the contract to set the price of their e-books on Amazon. No more discounts that the publishers hated. All should be good, right?

Wrong.

According to the WSJ, “Three big publishers that signed new pacts with Amazon— Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group, News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers and CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster—reported declining e-book revenue in their latest reporting periods.”

Hmm. They get to set the price. They raised the price. E-book revenue down. Who would have predicted that?

Me and a bunch of others, that who.

Looking deeper into the article, you get this nugget of information: “A recent snapshot of e-book prices found that titles in the Kindle bookstore from the five biggest publishers cost, on average, $10.81, while all other 2015 e-books on the site had an average price of $4.95.”

Now, the publishers will and do blame this on Amazon. No surprise there. After all, Amazon is the source of all evil according to some in the industry. But the truth is, yes, Amazon did let us get used to the $9.99 price point for traditionally published e-books. However, it is more than that. Readers are not nearly as dumb as some publishers seem to think. We know that there isn’t nearly as much money needed to produce an e-book as there is a print book. For one, unlike what a certain publisher said years ago, you don’t have to re-edit a book for digital release. Then there is the whole fact it is nothing but data as compared to a physical entity. That means you don’t have to buy the raw materials, pay to have them put together, shipped, stored, etc. All you need is someone to convert to the proper format and a server to store it all on — oh, and internet access. Big difference in the financial end. So most readers do not and will not pay more for an e-book than they will for a paperback.

Now, here is where the industry and its double-talk about e-books and e-book pricing comes back to bite it in the rear. As the WSJ article notes, there is debate about whether the decline in sales/profits for the traditional publishers is because of the increase in e-book prices under the new contracts or because of a crop of lackluster titles. Hmmm. Is that an admission that the gatekeepers aren’t doing their jobs? Or maybe it’s an admission that the gatekeepers did but that the editors have lost touch with what readers really want to read. No matter which it is, it is clear that traditional publishing, at least among the Big Five, is out of date with what the buying public wants.

In case you need another example of how the industry is losing touch with the buying public — and this is also an indication that the same thing is happening in the entertainment industry — is the new “official” Star Wars book. I’m not going to rehash the disbelief, angst and anger Star Wars fans had when, after buying up the Star Wars franchise, Disney tossed out the Expanded Universe. Fortunately, those books — especially the ones by Timothy Zahn — are still available for purchase. But years of plots and characters are gone from the official storyline.

This month, as an intro to the new “official” timeline and to promote the upcoming new movie, Aftermath: Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been released. Written by Chuck Wendig and published by Random House, it is priced at a whopping $13.99 for the e-book. 400 pages for basically $14.00. Hmm. No.

But it isn’t even the price that draws the eye of the potential buyer. It is the review rating for the book. As of right now, there are 287 reviews on Amazon for a cumulative rating of 2.5 stars. Yep, you read that right. I couldn’t believe it either when I first saw it. So, I did what any informed reader would do. I looked at the free preview and couldn’t believe it. My eyes glazed by the end of the first page. I honestly thought I was reading a comic book without the drawings. I kept expecting the next line to have a “ZAM!” or “BAM!”

It wasn’t the present tense of the writing. It was the quality of the writing. So I went and checked to see if this was recommended for young children (hard to believe at the length but . . . ) and no.

So, I turned to the reviews and picked a couple at random. The very first one, one of those voted most helpful, begins with this quote, “The TIE wibbles and wobbles through the air, careening drunkenly across the Myrrann rooftops – it zigzags herkily-jerkily out of sight.”

After I quit laughing, I started again, this time with the old jingle “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” sounding in my brain.

And this is what Random House and Disney have chosen to introduce their new Star Wars Universe.

In trying to make the universe its own, Disney — and by contract, Random House and Wendig — have alienated a huge number of fans, fans who would have been introducing their children and grandchildren to the new movies and books. Poor decisions, bean counters, poor decisions.

I could go on, but I think it’s pretty clear. The Big Five are still trying to cling to old ways while ignoring what their customers, the readers, want and are willing to pay. If they don’t start listening to the public and start paying attention to more than just the oh-so-inaccurate BookScan numbers, things will only continue getting worse for them. But that doesn’t mean books, printed or digital, will disappear. The small press and indie revolution has shown that books are here to stay and I and thrilled. I’m even more thrilled to know that I can find books that I want to read now and not have to wait and wait and wait.

Readers win. Big Five loses.

Edited to add: Don’t forget that you can list your suggestions for the 2016 Hugos here. Simply choose which category you want to make a suggestion in, then note the title, author, and a short description of why you think it should be considered. 

Are Indies Really That Bad?

Yesterday, Kate, Cedar, her first reader (Hi, Sanford!) and I were taking about what I should write about today. It would be easy to do another Hugo related post. Goodness knows there is enough ammunition out there. But I wanted to do something else. The only problem was I couldn’t figure out what to write about. So, I did what I often do. I went trolling through my Facebook feed to see if anything caught my eye. It didn’t take long for me to find something. Of course, it also raised my blood pressure and had me gnashing my teeth, never good things.

Anyway. . . .

Here’s the set-up. An traditionally published author was bemoaning the fact that she had bought an e-book and had been so disappointed in it. It had been touted as “If you love Jim Butcher, you will love this” or words to that effect. Seems this particular author adores Jim Butcher’s work and found this particular book sadly lacking. Okay, I can get that. Those are big shoes to fill. But she didn’t leave it at that and that, dear readers, is where my issue with her begins.

coverforvfaFirst, she didn’t say where she saw the book touted in such a way. Was it a cover quote, given to the author by someone else? Those are always tricky. I know. Our own Sarah gave me a cover quote for Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) that compares VfA to early David Weber. The quote thrilled me because I knew Sarah meant it. But it also scared me because I knew there would be those who wouldn’t agree — and I was right. Several of my reviewers have said they didn’t see it. But that’s okay. The quote was Sarah’s opinion and one I was honored to have received.

But we don’t know if the Butcher quote was a cover quote or it was part of the product description written by the author or if it was part of an ad campaign. If the author or publisher was foolish enough to compare the work to Butcher, well, that is just asking for trouble. At least it is in my opinion. That’s like walking up to someone with your dog, who just happens to be the world’s ugliest dog ever, and telling folks it looks just like Lassie and expecting them to agree with you. If, on the other hand, it was part of ad copy, well, the condemning author should have known better than to take it at anything more than hype.

Second, and this is my real issue with the complaining author, is when she went on to point out that it had been an indie published book. Okay, fair enough if she had left it at that. But no. It seems if she had known it was an indie book, she never would have bought it. It seems she thinks indies, at least “unknown” indies, should never publish until they submit a book to a traditional publisher and have it accepted and published. Then the unknown indie author will know she is good enough to call herself an author. Yep, you read that right. Each of us who indie publish, should go the traditional route first — and successfully land a publishing contract — before self-publishing. That will get rid of all the dreck out there if we do.

Fair is fair, she does admit there is some dreck being published by traditional publishers but that’s okay. It made it through the gatekeepers.

Now, how many problems are there with what she proposes? A number but let’s just discuss the major ones. To submit to most traditional publishers, you have to do more than send your manuscript to the publishing house and wait for them to get back to you. You have to find an agent first. From everything I am seeing and hearing right now, it is as difficult — if not more so — to find an agent as it is to find an publisher. So, you can have your manuscript out for months, even years, trying to find an agent, especially since so many of them do not want you sim-subbing your work to other agents. Then, assuming you get find an agent and come to an agreement, you have just signed away something in the area of 15% of all your earnings, plus expenses, to someone and often for the life of your work’s copyright.

Now your agent starts to try to earn money for both of you by submitting your work to publishers. This is yet another waiting period of months or more in all too many cases. Assuming they do manage to land you a contract, yet another waiting  All this could add up to two years or more from the time you start shopping your book around. What are you supposed to do in the meantime? That is something the reviewing author didn’t address. However, since she feels you shouldn’t self-publish until you have that contract, my guess is she thinks you can now self-publish because you are, by her definition, “good enough”.

And here is the big rub. Most publishing contracts include the right of first refusal. What that means is the author won’t be able to self-publish while waiting for their traditionally published book to come out. There have been a few examples where a publisher has require an author to return their advance and has canceled the contract because the author — gasp — indie published something while waiting for their traditionally published book to come out. The publishers say it is to prevent diluting their brand but it is more simple than that — they want to control the author’s career. Sorry, but no.

But let’s look at it another way. There are very limited number of slots available for new authors with any given publisher. Big Publisher isn’t about to give up a Stephen King slot for a nobody. Besides, as the reviewing author said, these same wonderful traditional publishers have published dreck. But we are to trust them to decide if we are good enough to self-publish or not.

Give me a break. Anyone who starts off by saying they wouldn’t waste their money on an indie book loses credibility. That is especially true when you realize there is a growing number of indie authors who make good livings off their work. Add to that the fact that traditional publishers troll the best sellers lists for indie authors to try to entice over to the traditional side of the business. Finally, there is a little bit of responsibility any reader has to have when choosing a book, no matter how it came to the market. You don’t take sales copy at face value. You check the reviews. You look at the sample. You check to see what else the author has put out.

Are there bad indie books out there? You bet. But there are bad traditionally published books as well. Being indie does not, on its face, make a book less of a book than one that is traditionally published. For an author to say differently leaves me wondering if said author is scared by indies and by the success so many have had.