Tag Archives: KDP

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 I originally made the decision to go that route when it became clear the vast majority of my sales came from Amazon and the monies I made through KDP Select/KU could more than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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A Cautionary Tale, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For me:

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

Regarding Amazon:

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

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

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

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

 

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A Cautionary Tale

Update at the bottom of the post.

Update 2 added at 9:50 pm CST — see below.

Yesterday probably had to be the worst day in my life as an indie author. Release days are always nerve-wracking. Will people buy your book? Will they like your book? Or will they say your baby is ugly and laugh like mean girls? All of that paled into nothingness when I woke to find an email from Amazon telling me they had pulled Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) and it would not be on sale until I fixed the issue(s) reported by customers.

Gulp! The book had only been out for hours when the email had been sent. What was wrong?

I scoured the email for an explanation and the only thing it told me was “Metadata & cover image are of “Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)”, but the ASIN contains “Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2).”

What?

So, at 0730 I was trying to figure out how in the hell I had managed to upload the wrong file — except nothing I found showed that I had. The only possible explanation I could find was that I had forgotten to do one thing when I copied the legal page from Duty from Ashes to the Honor from Ashes file was change the AISN. The rest of the text was correct — in my upload file but not in the file that was being sent to those kind folks who had pre-ordered my book.

So, I did what any reasonable author would do in that situation: I panicked. I cursed. I even cried a little. But then I pulled up the base file, changed the AISN and re-uploaded it to my account. I also sent an email to Amazon at 0806 to let them know I had done as they asked. Then I blogged over at Nocturnal Lives to let folks know what was going on.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited some more.

And still Honor from Ashes was removed from sale. At one point, you could hit the buy or read for free buttons but you would get an error message. Then the dreaded “this item is under review” language hit the product page.

And the returns continued.

At 1022, I sent another email to KDP to find out what was going on. As with the earlier message, there was silence. Around noon, I went to my dashboard for KDP and sent a message to the help desk, asking for an update, noting that I was losing money and all I could do was tell those who were hitting my boards on Amazon that I had done what had been asked of me but was as much in the dark right now as were they.

I spent the day, gritting my teeth, unable to work, as I watched the returns continue. Fortunately, those who checked the boards, saw what was happening and they, in turn, took to the two one-star reviews to explain what was going on. But the damage has been done. There are now reviews for Honor from Ashes, claiming it is nothing more than a reprint of Duty from Ashes under a different title. Any new readers who might consider buying the book may be run off because of that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I did finally hear from Amazon at 2238 hrs last night, almost 20 hours after their initial email to me. Again, they alleged I uploaded the wrong file — but did not include the file so I could check it myself. Okay, I can live with that. I don’t like it, but I can live with it. However, there was nothing said about how long it would be until the book was once more available for purchase. (Note, too, that after I uploaded the new file a little after 0800, I received an email from them saying it was “live” at 1242 hrs. It showed on my dashboard as being live. The preview of the book on the product page showed the new file almost instantly. And yet it was still not available for purchase.)

I asked again, how long. So far, I have had no response.

I kept busy on the Amazon boards that deal with the book, answering questions, assuring readers that I had done everything I could and it was in Amazon’s hands. Their frustration over the delay matched my own — and I will be in contact with them when I figure out how to thank them for their patience.

Sleep was fitful last night as a result. Would I wake up this morning to find the book still unavailable? Even if it was finally available, how deep would the damage be? Returns had been taking place all day. Negative reviews were coming in. How would all that impact the first “day”/week sales?

So, when I finally rolled out of bed this morning, I very hesitantly checked email. Sigh. Nothing from Amazon. So I went to the product page, fully expecting to find it still reflecting the fact it was “under review”. Fortunately, it is now “live”. You can buy it or borrow it under the Kindle Unlimited program. Unfortunately, there are now two 1-star reviews. The only saving grace is the 4-star review (leaving an average of 2-stars — GULP!) and comments from those who had been following the boards to the reviewers that they needed to wait until Amazon made the correct file available. I thank each and every one of those fans who responded to those reviews. I hope those reviewers go back and edit their reviews but I’m afraid the damage has been done.

This entire affair has shown the one real fault in the KDP program, whether you are in KDP or KDP select/Unlimited. There is no way to pick up the phone and call them when you first see a problem. You are limited to e-mail. Sure, if the emails go on long enough, they may call you but that doesn’t help in situations like the one I faced where time is of the essence. It has left a sour taste in my mouth, as well as in the mouths of my fans.

Does this mean I will look for an alternative to KDP? No. It is the big dog in the game and moving away from it would be more than counter-productive. It does mean I will be even more careful about my uploads. It means I will continue trying to find out exactly what happened and how to avoid it in the future. Most of all, it means I need to those who read the book and enjoyed it to post positive reviews to counter the negative ones.

In the meantime, I will edit the product description to note that the previous download problems have been corrected. Hopefully, after a week, that will stem the damage that has already occurred. I don’t know.

All I can say is “damn it” and censor myself from saying anything else.

In the meantime, here is the link to the NOW live product page:

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

UPDATE: If you downloaded the book as a result of pre-ordering it, please confirm that you have the corrected version. It appears that some people have not automatically received it. Check your settings (Manage My Devices and Content/Settings) to see if you have automatic updates turned on. If not, you may need to delete the file from your device — NOT your account — and re-download. If that doesn’t work, contact Amazon and let me know. Amazon should respond quickly and get you the correct file. If not, I need to know. Thanks!

Update 2: Since the last update, I have been on the phone three times with Amazon, as well as having exchanged several emails with them. Problems still persist. Here is what I can tell you. If you pre-ordered the book and have not received the correct version, you need to contact Amazon (calling is the best) and ask them to push the update through. I have requested they push it through to everyone but it doesn’t appear they have done so. Also, for whatever reason, the ability to buy the book comes and goes. There is a notice on the page that they have the book under review and have contacted me about it. Wrong. The one and only time they did so was yesterday morning and that file has been replaced, approved and checked by them. I can do nothing else until business hours tomorrow because KDP tech support doesn’t work nights. Bear with me and I will keep you informed. Thanks for the understanding and support.

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Are you ready?

Edited to add note on Apple losing its appeal. Scroll to bottom of post for more.

Obviously, I’m not. It is Tuesday morning and I haven’t clue one for a blog topic this morning. So, I let my google-fu do the walking and found several posts of interest. Well, to be honest, I let my fingers virtually walk over to The Passive Voice and, as always, PG was a trove of interesting posts and I’ve pulled a couple of them for discussion. If you aren’t already following PG, I highly recommend you do so. It is, in my opinion, the best site for gathering news and information about the publishing industry out there. You can find the Passive Guy here.

The first post that caught my eye was an excerpt from The New Yorker. In A Book Buyer’s Lamet, the author discusses how difficult it is to know where to go to buy a book these days. The stores are almost identical in how they look and in what they stock. The author looks at the decision of where to buy a book as an “ethical” decision. In other words, where would it do the most good since literary culture is “under threat from several directions,” and “every opportunity to come to its relief should be seized”? In short, the article is a love letter to independently owned bookstores.

I’ll admit, I love the indie bookstores and miss those that fell victim when Borders and Barnes & Noble came into the area and drove them out of business. I applaud those that have cropped up in recent years, finding their niche market and building a clientele to keep their doors open. These stores have, as I said, found a niche market and cater to it. They have employees who love books and love working with their customers. That is something that is all too often lacking in the big box bookstores.

However, as much as I love the local indie bookstores, I will not jump onto the Amazon is evil bandwagon that the New Yorker’s columnist dances around. As Passive Guy points out, “[t]he exquisite moral balancing described seems to ignore one big reality – most bookstore employees are working at minimum wage with little hope of being able earn enough from their employment to live in a pleasant residence, support a family or enjoy the even the most modest trappings of a middle-class life. They are the ultimate wage slaves.”  As Colonel Klink from the old Hogan’s Heroes TV show would say, “Very interesting”.

Another post that caught my eye was this one from Patricia Wrede. In it, Ms. Wrede relates an incident at a book signing when she admitted to the person behind her in line that she was working on her next book. That person, also a writer, proceeded to want to know what conferences Wrede had been to, if she was on Facebook, blogging, etc. Everything the other person was asking about were things she thought Wrede should be doing to promote herself.

Gather a group of writers in a room and ask them about promotion and you will get as many different answers as there are writers and then some. That becomes especially true if you have a mix of traditionally published authors and indie authors. As Wrede points out in her post, there are some authors who make as much, if not more, from their blogs and lectures and courses as they do from their writing. There is nothing wrong with that. Absolutely nothing at all.

The post is interesting in the questions Ms. Wrede asks. “What, exactly, is it that you hope to sell? Yourself? Or your books?” But the bottom line is simple and she wastes no time in pointing it out. No matter what you are hoping to sell, if you are a writer, you need to remember this. “[F]undamentally, the only thing that every writer has to do is write.” Everything else is a tool to make your work more visible. It is up to you to decide what you are going to do and how much. No one besides yourself can make that decision for you.

Elizabeth Hunter has a great post about the upcoming changes to Amazon’s payment policy for borrows/loans under the Kindle Select/Unlimited programs. Much as I said last week, there is no reason to panic yet about these changes. For one, we don’t know how these changes will impact anyone. We can speculate, especially where shorter works are concerned. But that’s about it. As she points out, no one is making you take part in the program. You can opt out, and Amazon has made it easy to do so, if you are currently enrolled in KDP Select. Or you can stay in. The decision is yours. Don’t let yourself be swept up in the panicked reactions that we are seeing from some folks about these changes. As Ms. Hunter says:

You are the one who controls your books.

You’re it. You’re the boss of your work. You.

So please stop bitching and just take the reins.

Read the post. Not only is it spot on, in my opinion, it has a GIf of Beaker. Anyone who uses Beaker in their post is all right in my book.  😉

Finally, there is this article. At some point, Amazon took down “A Gronking to Remember”. Now, the title alone is enough for me to raise an eyebrow but, well, I guess even Patriots fans need their erotica. Anyway. . . .

The issues with the book basically come down to this. First, the cover had an image of NE Patriots player Ron Gronkowski on it, in uniform. Needless to say, the Pats weren’t happy. So the author removed that “offending” part from the cover and republished. What the author apparently didn’t do was get permission to use the image of the couple seen embracing on the cover. Folks, this is why you always make sure you have the rights to all elements of your cover and any other images you use BEFORE you hit the publish button. I haven’t had a chance to read the court filings but, if the cover story is correct, the plaintiff is suing Amazon, saying Amazon should use facial recognition programming or something similar to check covers before allowing a book to go live.

Uh, no. Not only no but hell no. It is not Amazon’s responsibility — or Apple’s or B&N’s or any other site where we can sell our books — to make sure we have done what we are supposed to do. It is our responsibility as authors to make sure we have the rights to use the images we’ve chosen for our cover. Not only the image but the fonts as well. If you want to call yourself a writer and you want to go the self-published route, then remember that you are also a businessman and act accordingly. This isn’t grade school where you can say you didn’t know better or no one told you you couldn’t use that image. Grow up and take responsibility for your actions.

Ms. Hunter put it best in discussing whether or not a writer should go with the changes at Amazon — and they apply to every aspect of being an indie author:

At the end of the day, I keep coming back to the concept of choice. Writers have more choices now than ever before. We can chart our own path. With all those choices comes a lot of confusion. Some people want a road map for how this is done. And the fact of the matter is, in this new publishing landscape there is no road map. We’re all stumbling along. But it’s not nearly as complicated as the hand-wringers want you to believe.

  • Write a good book.
  • Present it in a professional way.
  • Find places to sell it. (There are lots.)
  • Charge whatever price you want.

You are in control. You don’t like how a retailer is treating you? Don’t sell there. You don’t like the idea of subscription services and how they pay? Then don’t enroll your books. You don’t like giving books away to readers? Don’t.

I couldn’t have said it better.

So, what do you think?

Edited to add:

Word has come from Publishers Weekly that Apple has lost its latest appeal to overthrow the decision holding it responsible for price-fixing. “We conclude that the district court correctly decided that Apple orchestrated a conspiracy among the publishers to raise e-book prices, that the conspiracy unreasonably restrained trade in violation of the Sherman Act, and that the injunction is properly calibrated to protect the public from future anti-competitive harms,” wrote Debra Ann Livingston, for the court. “Accordingly, the judgment of the district court is affirmed.” 

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It isn’t nice to get me wound up this early in the morning

*UPDATE: SARAH SPEAKING — There will be two chapters next week.  The problem with Elf Blood is that I REALLY need to go back and fix it before I continue.  Please be patient.  And read Amanda’s excellent post.*

One of the last things I wanted to do this morning was another post on the Amazon/Hatchette ongoing battle. For one thing, I’ve already done several posts on the subject. For another, I have a feeling the negotiations with Hatchette are just the opening salvo in what looks to be a long battle between Amazon and the publishers caught colluding with Apple to price fix. Yes, this opening salvo is going to have a huge impact on how the rest of the negotiations go but it won’t be the end of it all. But a week or two without another Amazon/Hatchette post wasn’t to be.

I really didn’t think too much about it when I opened my email yesterday and found a message from Amazon about the current war of words. Nor was I surprised to see Amazon asking us — KDP authors — to email Hatchette and let the company know what we think about their delaying tactics. And yes, I do believe Hatchette is dragging its feet until it can also renegotiate with Apple, thereby putting it in a stronger position with Amazon (at least in Hatchette’s mind). Amazon even helpfully provided a set of bullet points to consider putting into emails to Hatchette. In short, all Amazon did was take a page out of Hatchette’s book and ask its authors to take a stand.

Oh the cries of foul that suddenly rose from the interwebs. Within half a hour of reading the email, I was seeing accusations of Amazon acting like a stalker in sending the email to the usual AHDers (Amazon Hater Disorder sufferers) about how evil Amazon was to ask its authors to contact poor, innocent Hatchette. There was even one author claiming that Amazon is not and never will be a friend to authors. All of those had me shaking my head and wondering if these folks had ever really read their contracts with their traditional publisher — several of whom are signed with Hatchette — as well as if they actually knew the meaning of the terms “contract”, “negotiation” and “irony”.

What pushed me over the edge was a post by another author who admitted to not having received or read the email but, based on what they were seeing form their author friends, Amazon was once again resorting to dirty pool and must be stopped because, duh, Amazon is evil. Yes, my head exploded at that and I contacted Sarah to see if she was going to deal with the issue today, forgetting this was her day to post a chapter. We talked and she offered me the morning slot here to discuss the email and she will post her chapter after lunch.

I’m not going to quote the email here. If you are in the KDP program, you got a copy of it. Check your junk mail folder if you haven’t seen it yet. What I do want to discuss is how those who are condemning Amazon for asking its customers and authors to take a stand while completely ignoring the fact that Hatchette has been doing that for weeks. (Yes, I’m pointing to a certain former SFWA president as I say this.)

Praise is being heaped on James Patterson and other millionaire authors for standing up for Hatchette and condemning Amazon. The full page ads Patterson and company have taken out in the New York Times are pointed to with great glee and pride. How wonderful is is that these millionaire authors are taking a stand against Amazon. Amazon is evil and must be put in its place.

Bah!

What is the difference between those ads and the emails Amazon sent? Putting aside the obvious — one is a print and digital ad while the other was an email — the basic premise for both is the same. They are attempts to get people to take sides in a contentious contract negotiation. If you think Patterson and company took out the ads and took to Youtube and other social media outlets on their own and without discussing it with their editors, I have some nice real estate in Florida to sell you. Instead of applauding these millionaire authors for taking a stand, ask yourself this: why aren’t we seeing solid mid-listers taking such action? I’ll tell you why. They don’t have the immediate name recognition and impact of a James Patterson. Hatchette would much rather have a “name” out there telling its readers how evil Amazon is than one of their authors who make up the mid list that carries the house when a best seller bombs.

As for the allegation that the email felt like Amazon was stalking authors, OMG, get a life. I bet the author who made that comment doesn’t feel that way when receiving the daily notification about what the gold box deal of the day is. How in the world do you go from a general email sent to members of a community you belong to — in this case, the KDP community — to it being stalking and feeling sleezy? The mind boggles. Not only have these authors drunk the kool-aid but they chose the wrong door and entered the Outer Limits by way of the Twilight Zone and Wonderland.

The accusation being tossed around by other members of the AHD collective that Amazon resorted to dirty pool by sending the letter and asking its authors to take a stand simply leaves me shaking my head. I should be used to the double-standard these folks consistently apply where Amazon is concerned but it still manages to surprise me. It’s okay for Hatchette to ask its authors and readers to contact Amazon and to move to other retailers but it isn’t okay for Amazon to ask its authors and readers to take a stand. Hmm, I guess it makes sense to the AHD collective and fits their foggy view of the world.

Finally, there’s the allegation that Amazon is not and never will be an author’s friend. There is only one answer to that but I can’t say it here. I might shock my fellow MGCers. So I’ll clean it up and say “Bull————-“. Amazon did not kill the indie bookstores. They were already dying as a result of the big box bookstores moving into their communities, stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders. Amazon may have been the final nail, but they already had the dirt being shoveled into their graves by the box stores. Nor did Amazon kill the big box stores. They did it to themselves. They over-expanded. They failed to adapt to the change in market demographics and demands. They were too slow in adopting new tech and to move into the e-book market. They took ordering out of a local and regional manager’s hands and took it national, thereby insuring stores no longer stocked books that were of local interest. They started looking more like a big Five and Dime Store that sold books than bookstores. You walk into one of their stores and you see everything but books until you get into the heart of the store. More and more shelf space is going to toys and puzzles and gee-gaws than books. That is what is killing the big box stores, not just Amazon.

So how has Amazon been an author’s friend? It has made our books available to everyone. It gives us a place to make our backlist available. It has made it easy to get our books into the hands of our readers. All so very bad for us, right? (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes.)

Oh, there’s more ways Amazon is evil and not a friend of authors. It launched the KDP program so small presses and indies can get their e-books into the hands of the general public. That’s bad, right? Oh, wait, no. That’s a good thing, for both the author and the reader. But it’s bad because it took away the gatekeeper. That’s what the AHDers will tell you. Yeah, those gatekeepers, the editors that are looking for books with certain political and social messages in them and not for what is going to sell. After all, the gatekeepers are in charge of educating the reading public. Riiiiight.

Then there’s the way Amazon is not our friend because we can see our sales in pretty much real time and we get paid on a monthly basis. We don’t have to rely upon Bookscan and quarterly statements that often contain more fiction than our books do. But Amazon is bad. I guess that’s because it gives us an alternative and the potential to actually make a living off our writing.

Oh, and that’s another way Amazon will never be our friend. It gives us up to — gasp — 70% of the cover price of our e-books as opposed to the oh-so-general 20 – 25% we might get from a traditional publisher. How dare it give an author that much of the money?

I know Amazon is out to make a buck and that it can change its terms whenever it wants. But so can B&N or Kobo or Smashwords. But we never hear the Amazon haters going off on them, even when they do exactly what they are condemning Amazon for. What I do know for sure is that Amazon was the first to give those of us who don’t fall into the politically correct spectrum for traditional publishing a chance to get our work out there. As a reader, it has given me the sort of stories I want to read again: stories with a plot that doesn’t revolve around how evil mankind is or how evil men are simply because they are men. There are stories of hope and adventure available again. Sure, authors like Larry Correia and our own Sarah have messages in their works but they don’t hammer us over the heads with it. More importantly, with what they write, story is more important than message and that’s the way they want it. But Amazon is bad for giving authors another way, a legitimate way, of getting their work into the hands of the reading public.

I would love to see someone come up with a legitimate and viable competitor to Amazon. For that to happen, they would have to be as much of a visionary as Jeff Bezos has been at Amazon. That isn’t going to come out of traditional publishing unless all the ivory towers suddenly collapse and someone crawls out of the rubble of the mail room to take over. The suits aren’t about to think outside of their very small boxes.

But Amazon is evil.

As far as I’m concerned, Hatchette is the one who has taken the low road in this contract dispute, at least where its authors are concerned. It has turned down at least two proposals from Amazon that would have put money into the hands of the authors. But Amazon is evil.

Gawd, folks, quit drinking the kool-aid, don’t accept either the red or the blue pill and when someone suggests you open a door and there is eerie music playing from behind said door, don’t open it. In other words, quit parroting what you hear from your editors and your fellow traditionally published authors and actually think about what you’re reading and hearing. Apply some critical thinking to it and don’t genuflect at the altar of Hatchette simply because it is in a heated contract negotiation with Amazon. Most of all, remember that most traditional publishers view authors as interchangeable widgets and value your work on a book accordingly.

But Amazon is evil.

NOT!

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On innovation, entitlement and change

As I sit here waiting to have my shoulder worked on — again — I’ve been going through my usual routine of seeing if any blog posts, news articles, etc., caught my eye as fodder for today’s post. Unlike the last few weeks where nothing has really reached out and grabbed me, this morning was different. This morning, a number of different links, most of them all referring back to Amazon, popped up and grabbed me by the shoulders and demanded I write about them. Or maybe it’s just that I’m a bit of a troublemaker and I like stirring the pot and seeing how many of the “b-b-b-but Amazon’s EVIL” folks I can rile.

I guess we can put the blame for today’s post directly at the feet of Chris Kelsey. For those of you who don’t know Chris, he’s a great guy and a pretty damned good writer — if I could just get him to write some more. (Glares all the way from Texas to a country far, far away). He sent me a link to an article this morning from The Street that asks the question “Is Amazon Bad for Publishers?”. The article is in response to a review by Duff McDonald (NYT) of Brad Stone’s book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. I’ll admit right now that I haven’t read the book. It’s on my to be read list but, being a writer and cheap, I’m waiting for the price to come down some for the electronic version.

However, it isn’t the book that I want to talk about as much as Felix Salmon’s post in the Street. He asks, “What’s the argument that says Amazon has proved itself to be a mortal, existential threat to the publishing industry?”

What is interesting is that he doesn’t buy into the argument put forth by so many that the initial $9.99 price for e-books on the best sellers list was meant to harm the publishers. Sure, publishers didn’t want to sell e-books at such a “low” price initially but they weren’t the ones taking the loss with those sales. As Salmon points out, it was Amazon. He also notes that Amazon’s ultimate goal was to sell as many e-books as they could and that, in turn, would turn a profit for them.

The only “harm” Salmon sees to the so-called publishing industry by Amazon’s practices is to bookstores. He notes, however, that it didn’t hurt the big box stores. If bookstores were harmed, it was the small, locally owned ones. Now, I’m not sure I agree with him. In fact, I don’t on one level because those same small stores were already in decline because of the big box stores long before Amazon burst onto the scene. Did Amazon’s lower prices help put the nail into the coffin of some of those stores? Possibly. But think about something else before condemning Amazon. At the time most of those stores were going under, we weren’t quite as “plugged-in” as a society as we are now. Online shopping was just coming into its own. So, the harm was still mainly coming from the big box stores that could offer the same books as the smaller stores but at a lesser price.

The one thing Salmon does point out, and that I do agree with wholeheartedly, is that Amazon has made it easier to find books. This is especially true of books that aren’t being pushed by the publishers. I’ve used Amazon to get copies of books my local big box store couldn’t or wouldn’t order and that my library would have to get on inter-library loan. That’s a sale for the publisher and the author would not have had otherwise.

So, basically, if you want to see what someone who is looking at the question of Amazon from the outside, go read Salmon’s post.

But that isn’t the only thing Amazon has been in the news for recently. To be filed under the heading of “Great idea but one that brings out the entitled” is Amazon’s new Kindle MatchBook program. Basically, if you have purchased a qualifying print book, you can then get the e-book of that title for $2.99 or less. When the program was first announced, there were lots of kudos aimed in Amazon’s direction, especially from those who had been whining over the years about Amazon not giving them the e-book when they bought the hard copy. (We won’t get into the idiocy of that since Amazon couldn’t give away the e-book without the publisher’s approval.) However, as was expected, once the program went live this week, the cries of “foul” have risen. Why? Because not every book everyone has bought over the years is included in the program. Folks aren’t reading that publishers and/or authors have to opt into the program. Nor did they listen when the first announcements of the program said Amazon expected 10,000 titles to be initially offered.

From an author’s standpoint, I like and dislike the program. I like it because it will encourage folks to buy both the hard copy and the digital copy. Even though I buy e-books almost exclusively these days, I know that having someone carry around the print version of my book is great advertising. However, the downside is that royalties on the e-book version are based on the lower price for the bundled e-book. Yes, I know I am basically getting double sales and getting free advertising at the same time. Together, I’ll make more in royalties than if that reader only bought the print or the digital version. So, my dislike isn’t all that reasonable but is knee-jerk and I’m working on it.

But that’s not all from Amazon. It has also announced a new “early access program“. This program offers “pre-publication access to Amazon Publishing titles to device owners. Through the program, Kindle owners can select one title a month for $1.99, while Amazon Prime members can select their title at no charge.” The titles will, at least initially, be selected by editors at Amazon’s different e-tailer divisions. Email notices will go out to those interested with recommendations. You can find more information about the program here.

And finally, Amazon has one more new program that should be of interest to both writers and readers: the Kindle Countdown Deals. These are limited time offers for titles that are exclusive to Amazon. This differs from the KDP Select free days in that the author/publisher can discount a book for a limited period of time. The potential buyer will see what the original price is and the time remaining on the deal will be displayed for the customer. It sounds like the countdown clocks they have on the Gold Box deals.

What really caught my eye on this is that the initial royalty rate for the title will be retained even if you lower the price to what would otherwise be a lower royalty rate. In other words, you can price your title for a limited time below $2.99 and keep the 70% royalty. (Now, a word of caution here. There is a transmission fee for the higher royalty rate and, if it remains when you put the title on sale through this program, you want to make sure you aren’t going to eat up all your royalties by lowering the price.) Also important from a marketing standpoint is the fact that Amazon has built a dedicated page for these deals, just as it has for the Gold Box Deals and others. That means it will be easier for customers to find the titles enrolled in this program and that is always a good thing. Finally, with this program, you can list your e-book at $2.99 (for example) on day one, $3.99 on day two and back to regular price of $4.99 on day three. The potential buyers will see the countdown and can choose which level to participate. For more information, look here. The only caveat I can see right now, and I could be reading it wrong, is that you must be in the KDP Select program to take part.

Now, all things considered, tell me how all of this hurts publishing? It may take a few bucks out of the hands of the legacy publishers but what is publishing? Isn’t it the general industry of getting books into the hands of readers? Just because innovation and new tech brings about a change in the landscape of publishing doesn’t mean those things are killing the industry. They aren’t. They are, in fact, responding to the demands of the reading public, something too many in legacy publishing have failed to do.

So, as far as I’m concerned, Jeff Bezos and Amazon can keep on keepin’ on. It is up to the rest of the players to find a way to either play the game or become even better innovators than “the big evil”.

 

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Publish or Perish or be Condemned?

I’ve had a hard time writing this blog today. It isn’t that I couldn’t think of anything to write about. Just the opposite, in fact. The problem is that I’ve had to decide if I want to give more traffic to a site because of a post that had enough people talking about it yesterday that I saw it linked on Facebook several times as well as having several people email me the link. The problem is the link is to an opinion piece — and I’m being generous here — about the evils of self-publishing and how it is ruining, if it hasn’t already ruined, the publishing industry.

Now, you can imagine what my response to that happened to be. Not only have I long been an advocate of self-publishing (as long as you do it right and have quality control in editing and cover design as well as layout) but also small and micro press publishing. I’ve condemned legacy publishing and its gatekeepers for being out of touch with not only emerging technology but public demand. The so-called gatekeepers have abdicated much of their duty to agents and to bean counters all the while putting more and more restrictions on authors in contracts.

So, yes, my exploded when I first read the article.

When you follow the link, you will get an idea about where the commenter stands (sorry, can’t call him an author or a writer. Just can’t.). According to him, “Self-Published Authors Are Destroying Literature.” Well, I don’t know about you, but a lot of so-called modern literature deserves to be destroyed. But that’s just my opinion.

In the first paragraph of the so-called article, Kozlowski talks about self-published authors with “insistent need to spam social media and pump out a copious amount of horrible ebooks. . . .” He complains that self-published books are found right there along with what I assume he thinks are “real” books on Amazon and other online retailers. He moans about how these authors use social media to “literally beg for sales.”

Funny, I see just as much from traditionally published authors pushing their books on social media as I do from self-published authors. Talk to any author who is currently working with a legacy publisher — and who is willing to be honest about how things work — and you will find that they are “encouraged” to do as much marketing and promotion on social media sites as they can. Push for a book comes from its author now, not the publisher, unless that book has been tagged to be the next best seller by the publisher.

As for finding self-published book right there alongside traditionally published books, well, that is true. I’ll also admit that there have been other folks who have asked Amazon and other online retailers to somehow clue buyers into the fact that the e-book they are considering purchasing is being sold directly from the author and not from a “real” publisher.

My problem with this is two-fold. First, it isn’t Amazon’s — or any other retailer’s — job to do that. Besides, all you have to do is scroll down to the publisher’s information on the product page to get the information you need. Right there, it lists “published by” or “publisher” depending on what site you happen to be on. Don’t recognize the name, google it. But let’s face it, how many readers out there actually pay attention to who the publisher is?

But, Amanda, that’s the point. Most of us don’t know the publishers and you can’t really expect us to work at finding out if an author is self-published or not.

Ah, my children, you don’t have to. If you are worried that an author might be self-published and, therefore, part of the unwashed wannabe literati, there’s a wonderful think you can do with almost every e-book retailer out there: download a sample. Those free downloads are marvelous tools. They let you see not only the opening of a book or short story, but you can see the writing style of the author, if the e-book has been edited and proofread (are there a lot of typos, misspellings, etc.) and if the e-book is well formatted.

Oh yeah, those are free. Everyone — except Harlan Ellison — likes free.

But let’s continue.

Kozlowski goes on to note that Bowker reported that 12% of e-books sold are now from self-published authors. In some genres, that goes up to 20%. Of those, Kozlowski states that 95% of those e-books are “insufferable and are written to capitalize on trends in publishing, with authors trying to emulate successful writers such as E.L. James or Cassandra Claire.”

Of course, there is no statistical proof offered for his 95% figure, nor does he define his terms. As for the books being written to capitalize on trends in publishing, give me a break. What does he think legacy publishers do? How many books were contracted for by publishers during the height of the Harry Potter craze that were about boy wizards or wizardy schools? How many Twilight clones and sparkly vampires have we been subjected to as a result of that series? And let’s not forget the publisher who pulled an entire line of books after Fifty Shades of Grey took off (which, btw, was first self-published and is NOT well-written or edited, even after being picked up by a legacy publisher) to make sure all its covers told readers that these were books in the vein of FSOG?

But I guess Kozlowski has no problem with “real” publishers doing what he condemns in self-published works.

A couple of paragraphs later, he condemns Amazon because it doesn’t have anyone “proofreading or editing” the books in its KDP program. Uh, wait, is he saying Amazon should be the publisher because isn’t that what he says publishers do? The KDP program isn’t there for editing and proofreading. It is there as a platform for self-published authors and small presses to be able to get their books into the hands of readers. And why does he only point out that Amazon doesn’t do quality control? None of the major retail sellers do. So I have to assume at this point that Kozlowski is one of those on the “Amazon is evil” bandwagon.

“One thing indie authors have done is devalue the work of legitimate published authors. You know the type that write for a living, who have an editor and are considered accomplished, or at least well-read.”

When I first read that, I didn’t know whether to explode my head or his. According to this statement, you are not a “legitimate” author unless you are published by a real publisher, a legacy publisher is my guess. You have to write for a living. But what about all those writers who are traditionally published but who don’t make enough money to “write for a living”? I guess they don’t factor into Kozlowski’s formula, even though they are the vast majority of authors. And what about those self-published authors who do make enough to live off their writing?

Oh, he does back off a little for the “hybrid” authors, but those are, according to him, authors who “cut their teeth” in legacy publishing and now self-publish for a bit more control. The problem with this is that his own arguments against self-publishing would cut against these so-called hybrid authors when it comes to their self-published work. Where is the editor and proofreader and publicist he seems to think are necessary to make an author a “real” author?

But the telling point — or points — come in the last paragraph and in his responses to the comments left by readers of the post. It becomes clear that he feels that the influx of self-published authors, and their work in genre, is killing LITERATURE. You know, all those stories you hated to read in school because they did not entertain. Sure, you can educate and inform in genre fiction. Most of us try to do that — but without preaching or using a sledgehammer on our readers. You’ll sell a lot more books if there is a good story, one that involves and entertains the reader. But that’s a point missed by Kozlowski.

As for his responses to the comments left by readers of the post, well, go look for yourself. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if he is someone who tried to submit to a “real” publisher and was turned down and has since decided that everyone should suffer as he has or if he just doesn’t get it. Maybe he’s just a literary snob. I don’t know and I don’t really care — except when it comes to such blanket statements of condemnation as he propagated.

In fairness to the site as a whole, they did publish a counterpoint article by another of their staff. You can find it here.

As for me, well, I’ll continue writing and selling on my own or through Naked Reader Press, a nice little micro press that most definitely isn’t a legacy publisher. Frankly, at the moment there’s only one traditional publisher I’d consider going with and that’s Baen because it does treat its authors like people and not cattle and it does listen to its readers.

Now go, my friends, read the comments to Kozlowski’s post and judge for yourself as you see his responses. Oh, and let me know what you think!

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