WRITERS TAKE NOTE: U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on Copyrights

It should absolutely go without saying that you should be registering your work for a copyright as soon as it is finished. Ideally, before it’s even published. Now you have more reason than ever to do so. Read more about the ruling here. The gist of it is, you need the actual copyright registration in order to bring a suit for copyright infringement. The application itself is no longer enough.

If you’re confused by how things work, it’s like this: When you finish a creative work, you are the copyright holder by default. However, the status offers you no legal protection against infringement unless you register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Having your work registered gives you the ability to say, “This is my work, and I can prove it. If you try to steal it, I can use this proof to sue you for damages.”

The U.S. Copyright Office has an option to preregister your work, which is like a place holder for registering a creative work before it’s finished. This also counts and may be something for you to consider. Remember: your risk of having your work stolen increases with each person you send it to for feedback. It doesn’t need to be malicious, either. Someone can have their computer hacked, or their USB (with your book on it) stolen.

Bottom line: Always protect your work. You’ve worked too hard and too long to risk it all at the finish line.

Read more on my Copyrights page, or go straight to the source: Copyright.gov.

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2019 Industry Predictions

I have shared one of Mark Coker’s prediction posts for 2018 in last January’s post, and I am sharing the 2019 post here. I am sharing it, because most of what he talks about in this post is something I’ve already seen, felt, and experienced myself as an author.

I think a few of my recent posts might already have illustrated how the stagnating market has been pressing on me personally. They have been downers, to say the least, and I suppose I should apologize for that. This blog was meant to be a place for education, not emotional ranting. But in a sense, it also illustrates what many, many, many other authors are feeling. Yes, times are tough. Yes, sales are down across the board. Yes, our market is oversaturated, and we’re all scrambling to pedal our feet a little harder, churn that cream a little faster so the resulting butter will allow us to climb out of the hole.

But even with all of this going on, I’m still not ready to give up. I’m changing my strategies, but I’m still moving forward, and fighting hard to look ahead, rather than focus too much on right now. Book publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. And because of that, we all must think long and hard about how we spend our energies.

For those interested in more details, you can read the full post of Mark Coker’s 2019 Book Industry Predictions.

A few things I will share from my own experience to add a personal twist to these predictions:

Audiobooks

Having had my first one produced last year, I can tell you for a fact it is not cheap. It is also not another get-rich-quick scheme. It faces the same marketing challenges as eBooks and print books: if you don’t promote, you don’t sell. But what audiobooks do is bring you to another potential market segment, and that is always a good thing. I had already planned to do more audiobooks, and now I think it’s time to move up my plans just a little. I think the cost will be worth it in the long run. For me, anyway. 🙂

Facebook

If you’ve seen my Twitter profile, you will see I haven’t tweeted anything in ages. Twitter has never been my preferred platform. It’s too fast, and I can’t ever keep up. I think I just gave up on it, to be honest. If you’ve visited my Facebook profile recently, you may have found a notice pinned to the top, saying I am on hiatus from social media until further notice. It’s true. I haven’t logged into Facebook since January 1, except to tack that post on there. It’s done miracles for my state of mind. I’m calmer, I have more time to read and write, I focus better, and think clearer. I hadn’t realized until I left Facebook how great, and how negative an impact it’d had on my life in general. I probably won’t shut it down all together–I can’t afford to, now that I have actual events to attend. I will need to promote the hell out of those in any way I can. But I don’t plan to ever spend as much time on it again. My time is better spent on more productive things. Like writing.

Blockchain

This is one point on which I want to disagree with Mr. Coker. I see huge potential in Blockchain technology, especially when put into proper use. I think it would do wonders for the industry if the secondary market was opened up to authors. If readers can resell the books they don’t want to keep, and authors have a way of earning a portion of that sale, everyone wins. Right now, eBooks are pretty much a “final purchase” situation. As in, once you buy the eBook, unless you return it within the allowable time frame (if the retailer allows it), you will never get that money back. That is not to say that buying an eBook isn’t a worthy investment, by any means. But we’re allowed to sell our used paper books. Why not eBooks? It would eliminate the risk inherent in trying an unknown author’s work to know you can recoup at least some of your cost, wouldn’t it? And if authors can get paid along the way… But of course the retailers would never allow it to happen. It would cut far too much into their profit margins.

Amazon Algorithms

On this point, I agree wholeheartedly. Having experimented with Amazon ads over the last few months, I have seen the pay-to-play scenario first hand. It’s vicious, expensive, and unfair to all authors. (cue me stomping my feet and holding my breath) The fact is, if you have to pay Amazon for visibility, you are paying them back the royalties you ought to be earning. In my case, I was willing to take a loss on an ad to see if it would work. In the long run, it didn’t. I never recouped that investment from eBook sales, not even when I factored in sales of books other than the one I advertised.

Conclusion

All of this will have an impact on my business strategy moving forward. It’s always good to stay on top of what’s going on in the industry and, even though the news is pretty bleak, it’s pretty much what I expected. That at least tells me I’m finally getting the hang of this business. I can put two and two together, and make plans accordingly. Of course, no one has a crystal ball, but I tend to err on the side of caution, which has served me well so far. So, for 2019, my plans will be to keep writing, limit my time on social media, and focus on the long term.

Novel Writing: The Go Broke Quick Scheme

Every once in a while, I still come across writers who operate within the fantasy that all they have to do is put a book out there and the money will start pouring in on its own. It’s a fantasy perpetuated by a long, long tradition of putting best selling authors on a mile high pedestal and poking fun at the average Joes and Janes by painting them as talentless losers. Authors make it all look so easy by design, because we all want to celebrate our successes. Admitting our struggles and failures is something we keep for our closest circle of friends and colleagues who understand exactly what we mean when we say, “My sales are going nowhere. I think my career is over.” They understand because they have been there, or are right there with us.

But there are still those who are either unaware, or intentionally dismissive of how the world works. A while back, I saw someone post a complaint about how they published a book on Smashwords a year ago and it never sold anything. The writer was very bitter over this, and blamed Smashwords for hyping up Indie authors and not delivering on those grand promises. In response to that, here is where I completely shatter the delusion that getting a book out into the world is a get rich quick scheme.

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Q: Should I put my books in KDP Select?

This is a question traditionally published authors never have to think about–because they don’t usually get the option. But it’s one that keeps Indie authors up at night. For a lot of them, it translates to, “Should I go all in?” Because that is what it means. For those who aren’t familiar, Amazon’s KDP platform has an option for KDP Select. It’s a voluntary commitment to enter your book into an exclusive distribution though Amazon for a minimum of 3 months, during which time you have certain advantages over non-Select books:

  • You can run limited time promotions
  • Amazon’s algorithms give your book preferential treatment
  • You get to earn money on pages read, which can add up to a significant chunk of change

The drawback, of course, being that every book entered into KDP Select must be pulled from every other retailer world wide. Even with Amazon having the largest reach and largest market share for eBooks, that still cuts you off from a large potential readership. And there are other issues, as well:

  • Royalties paid out of a shared pool, which cuts your earnings per book read (relative to standard per-unit pricing)
  • Technical issues
  • Fraudulent activity from unscrupulous authors

Still, the earning potential is large enough to keep enticing authors. As an Indie author myself, KDP Select has never held any appeal, precisely because of the exclusivity catch. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that in the last two years, as sales across the industry as a whole have taken a huge dip, and as I have watched my own sales take a suicidal nose dive, I have considered whether it might not be worth a try. This year, especially, has been hard for me for many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with my books. Usually, at my low times, I escape into my books: reading, writing, taking pride in what I’ve accomplished and how I’m still hanging in there, despite everything.

That’s a little difficult to do when you can’t see the returns on all the effort you have put into a project. And that’s why KDP Select sounded like a promising solution–for about a minute. I thought, “I could make it work. I could sell my soul. Or maybe just loan it out for 3 months to make some extra cash, just to get my confidence back.” But my own immediate reaction to that was such a powerful rejection of the idea that I ended up discarding it again. For one very important reason: Nothing I have read and heard about the program so far has inspired any confidence in me that it wouldn’t irreparably hurt me in the end.

For me, the question of, “Should I go Amazon exclusive?” isn’t about How much can I make? but How much am I willing to give up to make that much? Am I willing to alienate the eBook world outside of Amazon? Am I willing to give up a much larger chunk of my profits to Amazon and thieves? Am I willing to go on faith that Amazon will report my page reads accurately and pay my royalties honestly? Am I willing to set aside all of my principles to make a buck, and feed the monster I personally believe is destroying the democracy of eBook publishing? Okay, that last one is a bit dramatic, but it’s how I feel. And when I put it that way, my answer is no.

It’s a very personal choice, and I’m well aware that not everyone shares it. There are plenty of writers who are quite happy in KDP Select, making enough money to be comfortable, and not at all concerned about any drawbacks. That’s great for them, and I’m happy for them. It’s just not the right path for me.

This morning, a friend of mine shared an article in a Facebook group (I’m fairly active on Facebook, in case you haven’t noticed 😉 ): Business Musings: Your Basket Is Leaking. The writer, an Indie author herself, makes a comparison between Sears and Amazon, in terms of their business life cycle. She also points out some uncomfortable truths about the way Amazon does business (which didn’t surprise me, to be honest) and paints a bleak picture for Amazon, predicting its downfall, and pointing out how staunch KDP Select supporters are now waking up to its issues and quietly pulling back to publish wide. It’s well worth reading. It’s well worth reading anything on any company you’re in business with.

So back to the original question: Should an author put his/her books in KDP Select?

My answer would be: Depends on your business model.

Do you have a massive backlist of titles to experiment with? If so, go for it! See what works and what doesn’t. Maybe putting one or two books into exclusivity will open doors for new readers to find you. Be aware, however, that it opens you up to a lot of resentment from readers who will want to read the rest of your books but only if they’re in KDP Select. And that resentment can be quite vicious, just so you know.

Is it a good idea to put all of your books into the KDP Select basket?  I still say no. Only because it’s never a good business decision to rely on one single point of sale. For one thing, you’re cutting yourself off from a wide world of readers who, for whatever reason, don’t shop for eBooks on Amazon. For another, you will be making yourself 100% dependent on Amazon’s integrity and longevity. Whatever issues Amazon might have, you will be locked in to endure them for at least 3 months. And if Amazon does suddenly shut down KDP Select, you’ll lose the bulk of your income. Not all, unless Amazon itself folds, but just make sure you have put enough money away to survive until you rebuild your readership across other platforms and get your sales back up. Which will take time.

As for me, I can say with 100% certainty that any titles I have published will never go exclusive anywhere. Beyond that, the project I had briefly considered trying for KDP Select is now on hold. I might revive it at some point in the future, but as long as I keep coming back to my original arguments against Amazon’s exclusive program, I don’t think it’ll ever happen. And the fact that I keep randomly coming across these types of articles and opinion pieces reinforces my belief that I am doing the right thing for me.

If this should be my last blog post for 2018, I wish you all a beautiful Holiday Season and nothing but the best for 2019. May you find everything you’re looking for, may you always have everything you need, and may good luck stick to your heels like melted chewing gum. 🙂

Until next time!

An Introduction to Blurb

A short and sweet post today introducing Blurb.com. 🙂

As you may have heard, CreateSpace, Amazon’s Print-on-Demand publishing arm has closed down. This has been a long time coming, and started with CreateSpace closing down its online store many moons ago. Now, the entire department has been merged into KDP, Amazon’s eBook publishing platform. Reviews are mixed for the time being. Some authors find the process of setting up a print edition easier when they do it in the same place as the eBook. Others find it cumbersome and run into problems, especially with the cover. Many have complained that orders process slowly and ship even slower, sometimes in strange ways. I saw one photo post showing the 5 copies the author ordered each packaged in its own envelope for shipment, indicating that each was printed at a different facility. My take on this is that the transition is overwhelming to their systems and they are working out the kinks associated with processing a large number of bulk orders. It may pass, but it will take time.

I was prepared to give them a chance–until I read the new terms of service. I had moved all of my print productions from CreateSpace to IngramSpark earlier this year, anyway, and pulled all of my CS editions out of distribution, so the change-over didn’t really affect my active distribution, but I had several titles set up with CS which had never been intended for distribution to begin with. They were titles I had set up for myself, just to have a few copies of my shorter works that aren’t really suitable for sale as a printed book. I was hoping to keep those still available through the new KDP platform. Unfortunately it turns out KDP took a page out of IngramSpark’s playbook and they no longer allow books to be activated without distribution.

This has yet again thrown a massive wrench into my plans, so I went looking for other solutions. I already knew about LULU, but I’m uncomfortable with their setup system, the cover print quality left something to be desired last time I tried them, and they are about twice as expensive for author copies as IngramSpark. That was not going to work for me…

And this is how I came across Blurb.

My study is still on-going but, so far, it appears to be the perfect solution to my needs. It’s a print-on-demand service that has several options for distribution (or not). They do soft and hard covers, photo books, and magazines, even eBooks. Their print trim sizes are very limited compared to KDP or IngramSpark, but the most common sizes are represented, so that should not be a problem for most authors.

But best of all, they have formatting tools available that promise to be a heavensent for Indies. The one I just downloaded and installed is an InDesign plugin that creates the template for you, based on the trim size you select, and gives you the ability to upload your files directly to Blurb without leaving InDesign. If you’ve ever formatted your own book, I don’t have to tell you how magical that is.

I plan to explore this platform a lot more, and will have a follow-up post on how it works, their print quality, etc. It probably won’t be any time soon, because I have too many pots boiling over on the stove as it is, but one of those pots involves me getting ready for my very first book signings next year, so I definitely need to get on top of this. For now, I present it to you as one more option for your publishing needs. 🙂

Because having options is good.

UPDATE (11.3.18): Naturally, I couldn’t not check it out, so I downloaded the InDesign plugin and started playing around with it. First time with anything, I naturally floundered a bit, took me about 4 hours to get my ducks in a row. I ran into an issue when I tried to upload my files through the plugin. 11pm, I sent a message to their tech support, asking for help and I went to bed. I figured I wouldn’t hear from them until next week at the earliest, anyway.

Imagine my surprise when I logged into my email this morning and discovered they’d already replied with specific instructions on how to get around the issue. The message was time-stamped 12:00am. Less than an hour after I’d reached out to them. To say I am gobsmacked is putting it mildly.

For anyone looking for Print-on-Demand services, you should definitely check out Blurb. 🙂

Adventures in Amazon Advertising

Intro:

I’ve been playing around with AMS advertisements for a while. Mostly the wrong way. Why? Because I’m a really slow learner who just has to do everything the hard way. It’s a flaw I am well aware of, but it’s not the point of this post. The point is, I wanted to try an ad the “right” way and see how far it would get me. What follows is my full disclosure, total transparency about my results. I’ll leave you to be the judge of my efforts.

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Findaway Voices: Part 2

I am back with more! I’m sure you’re very excited. 😉 If you missed the previous post in this series, Findaway Voices: Part 1 talks about how to start the process of getting an audiobook into production. Here, I’ll go into more detail about how the proofing and approving works.

So, at this point, you’ve crossed all the Ts, dotted all the Is, submitted all the forms and contracts, and now your producer has the book as well as your notes. And off we go!

FIRST 15 MINUTES SAMPLE

Once you submit your notes, the producer records the first 15 minutes of your book for proofing. This is where those notes come in handy. You’ll have a chance to listen to the sample and make comments, corrections, and requests on it before live production begins. Here is where you check that your character voices sound the way you want them to, that the tone and pacing are good, that there are no dead spots, missing words/sentences, etc. Whatever notes you provide here is what will guide production going forward, so be clear, address everything that needs to be changed, and be specific, down to the time stamp.

Also, the comments you make go directly to the producer, so you can discuss issues if necessary. If corrections are needed, the producer will re-record the first 15 minutes so you can proof again, until you are satisfied with the sample and ready to move forward.

No matter what you say in the comments on this recording, you’ll need to give your final approval directly to Findaway Voices, not the producer. Production will not and should not move forward until they get an email from you saying you approved.

PRODUCTION AND PROOFING

Here, I have to confess something: I think I did this step wrong. At least, I’m not sure I didn’t get ahead of myself, but it was less stressful for me this way, so I’m going to say it was fine. The contract stipulates that once your book is fully recorded, you have one week to give your final notes/approval. If they don’t hear from you, they assume you approve and move on to send you the production bill. This was terrifying to me, because I knew my book would be long and, with a full time job, I was worried I wouldn’t make that 1-week deadline.

My producer ended up uploading the chapters in batches. Each chapter is its own separate file, so it’s not all one big massive audio. I wasn’t notified of the uploads, but I was checking my account almost every day so I was able to see them and proof them along the way. I though that was how it worked.

Here, the proofing works the same as with the 15-minute sample. You’ll want to be specific about your notes, and those notes go directly to your producer. They also disappear when a revised recording is uploaded.

Note: Only certain things can be changed at this point. If it’s something that should have been addressed in the first 15-minute sample, your producer is under no obligation to comply with your editing request.

My producer was amazing about making any necessary corrections, and as we got to the end, she asked me if it was okay to “Approve” on her end. Apparently, that’s what triggers the system to let authors know the book is ready for proofing in the first place.

I got the email notification within seconds, telling me I now had 10 days to proof the book. But since I’d already done all that, I just had to go in and submit the final recording. I then received a confirmation that the recordings were accepted and being processed for production.

FINALIZING AND PAYMENT

That second email notification also directed me to the next step, which was filling out and/or updating the metadata. All of this is available to complete before and during production, but I’m always hesitant to slap on a firm release date when I don’t know how long it’ll be before it’s all finalized, so I saved this step for last. There were required fields for author names, narrator names, ISBNs, release dates, pricing… the usual. The pricing is all up to you, so you can set it, or change it at any time, and they do provide some rough guidelines for people (like me) who have no clue how to price an audiobook. It’s generally based on the length, but it gives you some overlap and wiggle room to determine your own price.

On the next page, you approve the distribution channels. Here, you can choose where you want your audiobook to be sold. You can choose all of them, some of them, or none of them (as far as I know). I chose all of them and confirmed my selection, which then sent me to the final step: Payment.

The payment screen is pretty much the same as it would be on any online store. You choose your payment method, enter your information, and submit. Be forewarned, it will be a hefty sum, so make sure you’re using a card or account that won’t overdraw. And check to make sure the payment went through, as well. My bank flagged the transaction and I had to manually approve it before the funds were released. I kind of expected that to happen, though, so I was able to do it right away, and this entire process of finalizing and payment took maybe 15 minutes total.

Just to be doubly sure, I set my release date a couple of weeks in the future so I would have time to make corrections if any were necessary, but  everything seems to be in order now, so I’m just going to sit back and watch it go live. 🙂

So there you have it. This is how you get your book narrated through Findaway Voices. 🙂

3-1-trw-postcardIf you found this post helpful, I hope you’ll take a moment to check out the book this series of posts was about. The Royal Wizard is now available as an eBook and paperback world wide and will be officially released as an audiobook narrated by Rachel Hine on August 30, 2018!

Let’s Talk About Piracy

This morning, I woke up with a fun, catchy song in my head. I was in a good mood, ready to tackle the day, and then I logged onto Facebook. I write this for both authors and readers, because I’d be remiss if I didn’t address it on this website. It may end up a bit ranty (there may be profanity, too), but I hope you’ll forgive that. Every time this particular topic comes up, it feels like death by a million paper cuts with a bonus lemon juice bath. I hope you’ll read it, anyway.

For the sake of not making this go viral, I won’t post the image that completely ruined my good mood, but I do want to address the subject of book piracy. Everyone loves a freebie, right? There’s no harm in downloading just one book, right? It’s just a drop in the bucket for authors who make money hand over fist, anyway, and after all, it’s just one book.

The way I see it, piracy happens for one of two reasons: ignorance, or entitlement and apathy. The former is fairly easy to dismantle with just a bit of accurate (if painful) information. The latter, not so much. So let’s talk…


“But it’s just one book. I give away my paperbacks all the time. I paid for it, it’s mine. Who the hell are you to tell me what to do with something I paid for?”

You’d think the vehemence was exaggerated. It’s not. But here’s what many people don’t know, or consciously realize:

Print books and eBooks are not the same. A printed book is one copy of the product. Very cumbersome to replicate by copying or scanning, and why bother when you can just buy another one fairly cheap? eBooks are digital files–tiny ones at that, just a few kilobytes, all told. It takes two seconds to upload an eBook to a server and make it public. That eBook will live there forever and can be downloaded countless times by countless people, all of whom will have the ability to send a copy on to countless other people without losing access to the original. Printed books have a shelf life. eBooks don’t. That means there is literally no limit to how many people can get illegal copies them.

Here’s what that means for the author: Hundreds and thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars of lost royalties. In many cases, that’s a full-time income the author has just lost. Literally, a livelihood stolen right out from under them. And no, I am not exaggerating. In recent years, I have lost count of the number of authors I have seen hang up their writing hats because they just can’t afford it anymore. Many of them had to go back to seeking full time jobs, which is never easy, especially after you’ve been out of the workforce for a while.

To a reader just looking to pass the time, that one eBook is a few hours of entertainment. To its author, it’s hundreds of hours of work, not just writing it, but promoting it as well. It’s an on-going, full time job. Yes, we do it for the love of writing–for ourselves. But when we share it with the world, it becomes a product. It costs money to put it out there, and it needs to generate revenue, or it’s not worth continuing.


“How is it entitlement if I just want to read and can’t afford the books?? You should be grateful someone reads your books at all.”

I’m going to pause here for a moment to take a deep breath and master my emotions. Okay. First of all, that is the definition of entitlement. You can’t afford it? But authors should be able to afford to give away their livelihoods for free? You can’t afford it, so it’s okay to steal? No. It’s not okay. I’m sorry for your personal circumstances that prevent you from being able to buy a book you really, really want to read, but that does not make it okay for you to steal a copy. There are these things called libraries where they actually make books available for free. They buy them on your behalf, so the author doesn’t have to skip a meal, and then loan them to you for a time so you can enjoy the stories without having to shell out a dime. There are these things called book sales where authors make their books available at a much lower cost, or even free, where you can grab a copy totally guilt-free.

It just so happens, I currently have two of these floating around:

Catch Me is FREE at Smashwords until 7.31.2018, so feel free to check it out. Click the title, or the image to go directly to the Smashwords product page. If you feel adventurous, book 2 of this series is also discounted until the end of July.

Function:L1VE is FREE permanently at every eBook store except for Amazon. You’re welcome to download that one as well, as many times as you like.

See how this works? I, the author, make this book available to the reader and invite them to download from a legitimate bookseller. I’m far from the only one. All you have to do is go to Smashwords, set your filter to FREE and you’ll find hundreds, thousands of free titles right there for your enjoyment.

“How’s that any different?” you ask. Here’s how:

When a library purchases a book, it’s a sale for the author. They get paid for that. When they discount their own book, it’s their choice as a marketing strategy. Even free downloads (if they’re legitimate) can help an author’s career. Those downloads are tracked; they affect the book’s ratings and visibility. The higher it is on the ranking list, the higher the chance others will want to buy a copy, and authors get paid for that, too. Pirate sites, on the other hand, do none of that. They’re basically a black hole of nothing for the author.

As for being grateful, please excuse the profanity, but in this case, there is really no other way I know to reply, except to say, “Fuck you.” That is all the answer you deserve for even thinking something like that about an author who puts their heart and soul into a book, much less saying it aloud, to their face. So, at the risk of being redundant, I say again: Fuck. You.


“I just want to check out the author first to see if I like them. I don’t want to shell out money on a no-name and end up hating the book. I’ll buy a legit copy if I like it!”

It may surprise you to hear this, but this is not actually a valid reason for pirating a book. Authors and stores go to great lengths to give you every opportunity to check out a book before you buy. If you don’t look at the sample, that’s on you. That’s you deliberately choosing to turn a blind eye to the legitimate option in favor of piracy. It may also surprise you to hear that those “no-name” authors you are so eager to sample are the ones who are hurt by piracy the most, because they depend on their royalty income the most. They don’t have a solid readership to keep them afloat, or side income from book merch, or movie or TV series rights. They literally depend on every single penny they get from royalties.

It may seem innocent, but this is just another form of entitlement. “I should be able to read it first and then decide if it’s worth paying for.” Well, no. The very fact that you do want to read it first means it’s worth paying for. You don’t go to a restaurant and say, “Serve me first, and if I like it, I’ll pay for my meal.” You don’t go to a store and say, “Let me wear this T-shirt for a few weeks, and then I’ll decide whether it’s worth paying for.” For that matter, no movie theater in the world will let you in to watch a movie without buying a ticket first. eBooks are no different. If you pirate one, no matter how you justify your decision to do so, you are stealing. You are supporting a system that robs authors blind. There is nothing you can say that will ever make that acceptable.


“Holy crap, this is really awful! I hate that my favorite authors have to go through this. How can I help?”

Now that is the right response. 🙂 Thank you. I mean that sincerely. You’d be surprised how good it is to hear that someone out there actually cares, and even wants to help. If you really want to help your favorite authors, buy their books. That’s all. Don’t look for them on pirate sites. If you happen across one, or someone sharing a link to one, report the person and tell the author. It’s not easy, but there are steps authors can take to curb piracy–if they know about it. Tell people about your favorite books and when you do, tell them where they can be bought. Share with your friends when you see an author has a sale or promotion going on. It helps both the author, and the readers who might otherwise balk at paying full price.

Authors are not unsympathetic, believe me. Many of them will go to great lengths to get books into the hands of their struggling readers. But please realize we’re human, too. We have families, and mortgages, and medical bills, and this is not a hobby. It’s our job. We work at it non-stop, without breaks, vacations, and often times without support or encouragement. We do our jobs well, and we shouldn’t have to justify our need to get paid for it.

Thank you for your time.

The Hard Truth About Self-Publishing

The conversation I saw went roughly like this:

Indie Author: Everyone so concerned about Amazon removing reviews… They’re doing it to remove fake reviews. Reviews should come from strangers, not from your friends.

Other Indie Authors: You’re missing the point. They’re removing legitimate reviews for no reason and with no notice.

Indie Author: If Indies are so worried about Amazon, they should start their own Indie platform. You gotta spend money to make money. You should be doing ads to get more sales like I do.

Other Indie Authors: Dude, most Indies don’t have that kind of money.

Indie Author: Ha ha, then they should get a job. I figured a lot of people would disagree. You guys just don’t get it.

I’m still waiting for an explanation of what this “it” is supposed to be that Indies aren’t getting and a manual on how to do it “the right way.” I don’t think one will be forthcoming.

So let’s look at some facts, stats, and numbers from an AuthorEarnings and WorldOMeters report to see why Indies might not be getting the sales their books deserve, or why their net royalties might be less than they expected…

  • As of Feb 2017, Amazon accounts for 82% of English Language eBook purchases
  • Indie Publishing accounts for 34% of the U.S. market
  • Comparing Indies with Big 5 authors, 91% of Indie sales come from Amazon (this includes KDP Select exclusive), versus 70% for Big 5 authors
  • Amazon-exclusive authors are earning more dollars than widely-published authors earn at all non-Amazon retailers combined (this includes scammers, however)
  • As of April 2017, the per-page payout from Kindle Unlimited was $0.00488/page. At this rate…
    • A 250-page book would earn a royalty of $1.22.
    • Compare that to the same eBook selling as a stand-alone title at $2.99 and 70% royalty rate where the author would earn $2.09.
    • At $3.99, that royalty would be $2.79
  • In 2010, 328,259 new titles were released in the U.S. alone. That’s almost 900 new titles every day, and that number has likely grown since then

Where you publish matters. How you publish matters. But even if you do everything right, with proper formatting, a professional cover, several weeks on Pre-Order, and a vigorous marketing push through various outlets, that last statistic alone is a staggering hurdle to overcome.

On any given day, your new release is competing for attention with about 1,000 titles. The next day, it’s 2,000, and the day after that, 3,000. This is just to stay visible at all, much less in any significant capacity. Authors who don’t have the backing of a Big 5 publisher are essentially tiny plankton particles floating around in an ocean filled with other plankton, pollution, and lots of much bigger creatures, all of which make them pretty much invisible without either a massive, pre-established audience, or a hefty advertising budget (and the expertise to make it work).

Believe me, every single Indie author out there with at least one book release under their belt is aware of the factors affecting their (lack of) sales. Every single one of them knows (or should know) that writing is art, but publishing is business, and it takes money to make money. The problem is, the vast majority of them don’t have the initial capital necessary to invest in that business. Many of them have limited resources to work with, and they often choose to spend those resources on making a quality product.

Here’s the problem with the publishing business: Quality is no longer the determining factor in book sales. It doesn’t matter how amazing your book is if no one ever gets to find out about it. It doesn’t matter if you have the most beautiful cover in the world if no one ever sees it. It’s not the best Indie authors who get the sales, it’s the ones with the cleverest advertising strategy and/or questionable ethics.

Here’s the other problem with the book industry: Publishing is expensive–for the author. Everyone takes a cut, everything costs something, and those costs add up fast, especially when the pressure is so intense to price books lower or free.

Helpful hint: If you give your product away for free, you’re not making any income. If you invested any money into its production, that money is now a net loss. If those hundreds of downloaded freebies don’t lead to sales of your other books, you’re dead in the water on that front, and right back at square one. Yet authors have been told to price their books free for so long, it’s now not only accepted, but expected as a standard practice.

Bottom line: Telling someone they need to invest more into their book business is like telling a drowning man he just needs to swim harder.

If you’re financially successful as an author, kudos. You earned it, and I’m happy for you. But don’t put down those who are struggling daily to make a go of their dream. That just makes you a jerk.

If you’re out there, making sacrifices, losing sleep, losing friends, ignoring loved ones, and hustling every free moment you have to not only write your books, but make sure they’re seen, you have my most humble respect. I see your struggle. I share it. I wish I had a winning strategy to share with you, but I don’t. All I can do is share what I know in the hopes that it’ll help someone else.

No one ever said it would be easy, but I don’t think any of us ever expected it to be this ridiculously hard. Stick with it, anyway. Write your heart out, give your book the strongest wings you can, and then let it fly. Your words are your legacy to the world. They deserve to be shared, and they deserve to be enjoyed.

I love you, fellow Indies! ❤

 

Findaway Voices: Part 1

Hello again!

I’ve been working hard on all things book-related lately, but wanted to do another step-by-step post for Findaway Voices the way I did for IngramSpark to outline the process for anyone interested to see how it works in action. I chose Findaway Voices for a few reasons:

They’re not Amazon. I know that sounds petty, but it’s something I’ve thought about a great deal. Don’t get me wrong, Amazon has been a pioneer of self-publishing, and they deserve credit and praise for that, but I have big issues with their business model and royalty structures in certain areas. Their ACX program might still work for you, and is a perfectly legitimate option. I just made a personal decision to go with a different company.

They let you control production and distribution. This should be a given, but it’s still nice that you can choose where to distribute, where not to, whether to distribute at all, and still have the option of selling the audiobooks yourself. You also have full pricing control (as opposed to ACX, which sets prices for you, based on length), and you can even upload your own ready-made audiobook, bypassing the production stage to go directly to distribution.

They have a working relationship with Smashwords. Logistically, this makes sense for me, since my eBooks are distributed through Smashwords already. The process of transferring over to Findaway Voices is literally a couple of clicks, and the usual setup fee is waived, which is always nice.

I went with my fantasy book as my first audiobook experiment, because it felt like the most natural choice. The setup process was fairly simple, since all the metadata got transferred over automatically from Smashwords, and all I had to add was the square cover image and ISBN number. Findaway Voices has an option to let them assign the ISBN number for you, but since I have a whole bunch of my own, I just used mine.

Here’s what happened next…

BOOK QUESTIONNAIRE

The first thing you do when starting from scratch is fill out the first questionnaire. This was the most difficult part for me, because it’s not just about providing a synopsis. They ask very specific questions about how you want your audiobook to sound. Do you want a male or female narrator? British or American accent? What is the general tone and feel of the book? What are your characters like? The more detail you provide in this stage, the better they’ll  be able to match you to the right narrator, so it’s important that you actually know what you want your audiobook to sound like. This may be easier for those who already listen to and are familiar with audiobooks. I wasn’t. While I could hear in my head how my characters sounded, I found it difficult to put into words on paper.

AUDITIONS

Once you submit your questionnaire, it takes about a week for Findaway Voices to collect a variety of producer files for you to listen to. I got about 10 producers to choose from, and each one had 3-4 previews from various books in different genres. This is where you listen for what you want to hear. Not every voice will appeal. Not every tone and style will fit your narrative. Take your time and listen to all of them before you start the elimination process. If none of the voices appeal to you, there is a handy button you can click to request more samples. If you find one or more that you like, you can move on to the next step: requesting an audition. I found two in the very first batch of producers that sounded like they’d fit the book I had chosen, and I requested an audition from both of them.

An audition is a 5-10 minute excerpt narrated from your own book, so you can hear how it’ll sound. It takes about another week or so for the producers to record the audition, and there is no obligation during this process to contract with anyone–yet. That’ll come later. The main purpose of all this is to find the right producer for your book. If you don’t, no problem. You can cancel at any time. You’re also not interfacing with the producers directly until the actual production begins, so there’s no hard feelings on either side.

BOOKING

The next step is the actual booking. Each audition is accompanied with a “book for production” button that lets you indicate the producer of your choice. Until you click that button, you still have access to all the samples from the producers you hadn’t chosen, as well as the option to request more. You still haven’t committed to anything yet. Once you click that button, Findaway Voices takes over. They contact the producer, confirm their rates (if you see a lower rate in auditions than what ends up on the contract, the producer will honor the lower rate), and draft the contract. The contract will spell out the terms and tell you the per-finished-hour rate, the estimated completion date, and all the other things you’ll want to read carefully before signing. It basically says the audiobook will be created in the stated time frame, barring an act of God event like illness or injury that prevents the producer from completing the project. It also tells you when you’ll be billed for production, and what rights and options you’ll have at the very end, in terms of ownership and distribution.

PRODUCTION NOTES

Now it gets interesting. While the entire process up to this point was easy and enjoyable, this may be the thing I loved best about it. Once all the contracts are signed and dated, Findaway Voices sends you a more in-depth questionnaire about your book. Here, you go into details about the book to give the producer directions on how it should sound. It covers everything from the tone and pacing, to pronunciation guides, character descriptions, and any other notes not covered. It’s very in-depth and addresses every detail I was worried about from the start. This one document put my mind completely at ease. Again, you’re still not interfacing with the producer directly. All of this is going through Findaway Voices first, and they pass it on to the producer.

The form is also accompanied by additional documents that give you an overview of the process of production and proofing. It tells you how to use the commenting section, what things to listen for, and what things will and will not be fixed once production begins. It’s a great preparation for the next step.

Once this is submitted, the ball gets rolling and the hard work begins. My next post will outline how the proofing/approval process works. 🙂 Stay tuned!

3-1-trw-postcardIf this is your first time on my blog, and you’d like to know more about this book being narrated on audio, check out more information and listen to a small sample of the audiobook on the book’s page at my author website:  The Royal WizardIt’s now available as an eBook and paperback world wide!