On eBooks and DRM

The buzz stories from the last month are all about the state of the publishing world. Kristen Lamb did a series of really well-researched and written articles:

If you’re serious about becoming or continuing to be a published writer, do yourself a favor and read both of them. Trust me.

But for today, I want to focus on another article:

Ebooks Purchased From Microsoft Will Be Deleted This Month Because You Don’t Really Own Anything Anymore

First of all (and shame on me), I had no idea Microsoft started dipping its toes into the eBook business. But from the looks of it, that’s all they ever did, and they quickly regretted the choice. My guess is, they had no idea what they were getting into and weren’t in the least prepared for it. And now a lot of their customers are going to be very, very upset.

So here is where I put in my two cents’ worth.

Something many people don’t know about eBooks is that when you buy one from a Big Name store (Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble), you don’t actually purchase the book, you purchase the license to read the book. That has always been the case, and it means the article is very much correct: You do not actually own the content you purchased. You basically just own the right to access and read it whenever you want for as long as the store that sold it to you is in business. You are placing your faith and buying power behind the idea that your chosen store will remain in business indefinitely (or at least as long as you live).

These days, with the publishing landscape constantly shifting the way it is, there is a certain level of risk involved in doing that. But it’s the price we pay for convenience. You want your content delivered instantly to your device? That means giving the store access to your device and all its content. You want your content accessible anywhere from the Cloud? That means entrusting your content to someone else’s servers.

This is very much a faith-based business and sometimes, as in the case of Microsoft, that faith ends up being misplaced.

I know, it seems really unfair, but there is actually a good reason for things being set up the way they are.

Digital files work differently than physical copies. It’s time-consuming and expensive to make even ten copies of a printed book. Not really worth the effort when it comes to redistribution. But with an eBook, you can redistribute the file to an infinite number of people with just one click. That’s an infinite number of pirate copies of someone’s hard work just floating around the Internet for anyone to download without paying for it. It’s potentially several fortunes’ worth of royalties the author has just lost with the simple click of a button. Years and decades of hard work flushed right down the toilet, and back to square one.

This is where Digital Rights Management (DRM) comes in. It’s a piece of code that effectively locks your eBook so you can’t share it illegally. It’s there to protect authors as well as bookstores against illegal file sharing (piracy). It’s restrictive, but well-intentioned, and well within the store’s rights to protect its bottom line. After all, they’re not in the business of giving stuff out for free.

But with every lock, there will come a day when someone makes a counterfeit key. So it is with DRM. People everywhere are now sharing tips and tools for removing this piece of code, as if it’s a matter of course. They usually have valid reasons, like protecting their content from being taken away, or converting it to a different format so they can read it on a third party device. Mostly it’s due to a lack of understanding (you didn’t buy the book, but a license to it) or misguided entitlement (“I bought the book, so I should be able to do whatever I want with it!”)

But regardless of their reasons, removing DRM from an eBook is still against the eBook store’s TOS and (I believe) illegal, to boot.

Side Note: This is why I am staunchly against proprietary software, file formats, and monopolies in general. Big Name stores forcefully create loyal customers by making it convenient for readers to buy their content and highly inconvenient to “cheat” on them with other platforms and content. Think how impossible it is to transfer the songs you bought on iTunes to a different brand MP3 player. Same concept. Once you start using one proprietary platform, you sort of lock yourself into it. They don’t play well with others.

So what can you do to make sure your investment is protected?

As an author:

#1 Publish as wide as possible to give your readers options for buying your books. This not only makes the buying experience more pleasant for your readers, it protects your book from being uploaded to a store by someone else.

FYI: This happens a lot, especially to authors exclusive to Amazon. Someone will take a book, strip the DRM and upload to another store under their own account to illegally rack up sales for themselves. If/when Amazon find out, they can flag your account for having published elsewhere against their TOS. So not only do you get robbed of sales by a pirate, you also lose your legitimate royalties.

#2 Direct readers to all the places where they can buy your books, not just the ones you prefer. You never know where your readers like to shop. Giving them a link directly to a variety of stores makes it easier for readers to find and buy your book.

#3 If at all financially feasible, set up your book in print as well. If you can’t afford IngramSpark, go for LuLu. If you are a die hard Amazon fan, you can also use their KDP platform to create your paperback but I hear it’s gone down hill quite a bit since the days of CreateSpace.

As a reader:

#1 Take the time to understand what you’re paying for when you shop at a particular store. Microsoft is not the only store using DRM. They are not the only ones that can go under at a moment’s notice. Having a Big Name does not guarantee a store’s future success.

#2 Shop at stores that give you several options for file formats and don’t use DRM (Smashwords.com is an excellent example). Any time a store doesn’t have a dedicated reader device or app, they are more likely to give you options so you can use whatever reader or app you prefer.

#3 Purchase hard copies instead of eBooks. Yes, they are more costly but, if you’re like me and re-read your favorite books every year, it’s more than worth it. Plus, a bookshelf full of books is a beautiful addition to any home. 😉

Practicing what I preach: 

If you’re still with me, know that this is not one of those, “Do as I say, not as I do” things. I make my own books available worldwide, as eBooks and paperbacks (with only a couple exceptions), and I am slowly putting them into audiobook production, too.

You can purchase them at the Big Name stores (Amazon, B&N, Apple Books, Kobo) but if you want to have the freedom of eBook format choice, I recommend buying them from Smashwords.

For paperbacks, it’s always appreciated when you support your local independent bookstore and request a copy through them. It helps create some healthy competition in the marketplace and supports your neighborhood small business owners. 🙂 But if that’s not your thing, there’s always Books-A-Million as an online alternative.

If cost is an issue, I recommend checking with your local library. They may already have the eBook or even paperback version available and, if not, you can always request them. It saves you money, helps support the library system, and still gets authors paid. Win-win-win.

For those unfamiliar with my work, I write cross-genre, mostly science fiction or fantasy with varying degrees of romance. Each series is very different from the others, so buyer beware–you may love one and end up hating another. Here is a chart to help you navigate the different series:

You can always find more information and additional buying options on my author website: aliannedonnelly.com

Thanks for reading!

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A Rant and a History Lesson in Publishing

Being in the publishing industry, you come across a lot of stigma and negativity about self-publishing. Right off the bat, I have to be 100% honest here and agree that not everyone who self-publishes should do so. But, I also have to point out the snobbery that usually underlies the argument that “self-published authors are just people who weren’t good enough to get a publishing deal.” Yeah, I’ve heard that song and dance before. Lots of times. It’s practically a chorus on constant loop in the background. You don’t always hear it said to your face, but you can tell by what the person is saying and not saying that they’re definitely thinking it.

Earlier this week, I came across something that got my hackles up:

Witers

Can you feel the condescension? I spent an hour mopping up that dripping sarcasm and my floors will never be the same, I tell you. Obviously, whoever wrote this doesn’t know anything about the history of publishing, nor do they care to. Therefore, this post is not for them.

This post is for every self-published and aspiring author out there who might come across bullshit like this and get discouraged before they’d even had a chance to excel. So let’s break this cesspool of a superiority complex down to its elements and translate.

WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, WE RELIED ON EXPERTS AND EDUCATORS…

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Safe to assume, I think, that this is referring to an age before the Internet. Because these days, we still rely on experts and educators. We just don’t have to drive out of state to find them and talk to them. You can literally Google anything and get a flood of results. If you’re any good at distinguishing pop culture crap from academic works supported by a bibliography of legitimate sources, you can learn anything about anything.

WE ALSO NEEDED CONTACTS TO OPEN DOORS WE NEVER KNEW EXISTED

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Yes, this one is sadly true, networking back in the day was difficult and a lot of talented authors never managed to get their foot in the right door. But you actually still need agents, industry contacts, and networking to get published by one of the Big 5 today. The difference is there are now smaller publishing houses, too and most of them accept direct submissions by authors. The difficulty now is not “how to get a publisher” but “how do I make sure my publisher is legit?” Also, “what happens if/when my publisher goes under?” Because that happens. Which is why you should always read your contract very carefully before you sign.

AND THE NOTION OF SELF-PUBLISHING…

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Welcome to the modern age, where every tool you need in order to put out a quality product is actually accessible to anyone. There are freelance professionals with those same decades of experience who can format and cover your book without the need for a publisher. There are print-on-demand companies that can produce your book to market standards and ship them to stores, or directly to your readers. And get this, these same companies… also work for publishing houses. :O What is the world coming to?!

BUT TODAY’S WRITERS ARE APPARENTLY EXPERTS IN ALL THESE FIELDS.

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the fact that I didn’t have the tools to do what you do, and that had to struggle to get someone else to do for me what has now become so easy for you to do for yourself, so I will belittle everything you do so you never forget your place: beneath me. Because I had people to do it for me, and you have to do it all yourself.

Yes. Some self-published authors actually are experts. Because they spent the money on the right tools, took the time to learn, and went through years of trial and error to get their books on par with traditionally published books. These unicorns who are not only gifted enough to have written a book, but multi-talented enough to master the business aspects of publishing exist–and they’re not as rare as you might think. The fact that these options were not accessible to older writers, or that those older writers didn’t want to take advantage of the options they did have does not in any way diminish the accomplishments of today’s self-published writers. In fact, their accomplishments are bigger and go much deeper precisely because they did it all (or mostly) on their own. An added benefit or two: We now get to control how our books look and feel, and we can do it in our own time. No more deadlines or delays while we wait for our turn on the waiting list.

HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED…

Translation: I am resentful of the fact that I can no longer use my publishing deal as a status symbol and jealous of your many skills, which I never had to learn.

Yes, things have changed. Quite a bit, actually. And believe it or not, it’s only a bad thing if it threatens your own delusion of superiority. Do bad books and badly put-together books get published? Absolutely. But that goes for self-published and traditionally published titles. The backing of a publisher’s reputation might help ease the marketing burden of selling books, but it is no longer a mark of higher quality books. The playing field is more level now, and that’s what this ugly, sarcastic rant was about all along: fear of competition. It’s easy to become a best selling household name when there are 1,000 books published every year. But when it’s 1,000 every day, the equation changes. Today’s  new authors have a good sense of what they’re getting into and they’re prepared to fight the battle to the top. It’s the older ones, who started out when times were cushier, who struggle to come to terms with the here and now. And it’s usually the ones who cannot or will not change with the times who lash out the hardest at those of us who do.

THERE, NOW THAT’S FIXED. MOVING ON!

Speaking of experts and years of study, I don’t think whoever originally posted that rant actually consulted either. Because, you see, a simple Goolge search showed me there is a very thorough breakdown on The Legacy of the Vanity Press and Digital Transitions in the Journal of Electronic Publishing. It’s long, so give yourself time, but you should definitely read it. Because you know what? It turns out author-subsidized publishing goes back to the 1800s. Back then, as today,  there were legitimate reasons and honest business models for author-subsidized publishing (what became referred to as vanity publishing). The stigma around it emerged early on, but grew over time and became exponentially worse with the advent of eBook publishing and self-publishing.

We (the self-published author population) have transformed the entire industry so quickly even some of us still have whiplash. The gates have been opened to all and, at the moment, it really is a bit chaotic. Fortunes have been won on the backs of Indies (*cough*Amazon*cough*) and we continue to adapt, improve, and in general move forward toward a new future. Traditional publishing hasn’t been the only game in town for a long time. My prediction is, now that the floodgates have opened, there will be no closing them. No one has any intention of going back to how things used to be, so you might as well get used to how things are.

AND NOW SOME TIPS

  1. If you are passionate about writing, write.
  2. If you are passionate about getting your work out there, find a way to do it.
  3. Put in the effort to learn and do it the right way. Make your book as professional as possible to meet market standards.
  4. Whenever possible, go one step beyond and do just a little bit better than you did last time.
  5. Save your pennies and keep that day job, because this path ain’t easy, or cheap.
  6. Support your fellow writers instead of tearing them down.
  7. Never give up on doing what you love.

And now I think I’ll get off my soap box and go do some writing.

Opinion: Drink Less Water

So there I was, chatting with a friend of mine, and telling her my publishing woes, and she asked me what I thought the issue was behind them. So I started telling her about all the factors affecting authors and publishers today, that the book market is oversaturated, that more books than ever are being sold, but per-author earnings keep going down, and that the industry “advice” was to publish more books faster.

And it literally just hit me how stupid that advice was, and how stupid I was for not having realized this sooner. Literally, all this advice does is make a bad problem worse. It’s telling a drowning man to drink more water.

Too many books on the market? Sell more books!

Books not valued for the work that goes into them? Do more, faster so it looks even more effortless!

Books can’t find a spotlight among so many options? Create more options!

How in the world does that make any sense? 

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t—for authors, anyway. It sure makes a great deal of sense for stores and distributors, though. More product means more sales. They get to replenish their inventory faster with fresh content and turn easy profits off the authors’ labor. They can drive down prices to attract more customers, because they’re not undercutting their own profits but the authors’. And that, ladies and gents, is how we all got into this mess. Some of us more willingly than others.

But let’s get real…

Ok, the conspiracy theory portion of this post is now safely over. Let’s talk options. As an author myself, I can’t help being dismayed and worried about what the future might bring to this industry. Some people have warned that we might be heading down the path of the music industry, where online content is free, and artists/authors only make money off live events. But I can’t imagine how that would work with books… Signings, conventions, and readings, I suppose. Open mic nights to gain some attention, then paid events where authors talk about their books and do live readings. Book club appearances?  For me, reading itself is such a solitary activity, it’s difficult for me to imagine such an arrangement. But then, I’ve always been a bit of a loner.

There are some other options I see as a little more feasible. One of them is Publica, which I’ve introduced here before. I like their secondary market system, which allows readers to resell eBooks and authors to earn royalties off those resales. It makes sense, from an author’s standpoint. If it was adopted industry-wide, I think we would all be better off. But that might not happen for a long, long time—if ever.

Another option is something I hadn’t considered before (but then, I can be a bit slow on the uptake sometimes). Patreon. You may have heard of it, or seen it in action with other artists, etc. Basically, it’s a sort of personalized VIP membership service. An author makes an account and opens it up to patrons for monthly contributions. Patrons choose from among different levels of membership, each of which offers different perks like exclusive content, sneak peeks, etc. on a regular basis. The reader gets closer access to the author and their work, the author gets a steady stream of income while they work.

It hearkens back to the old days when artists would have wealthy patrons supporting their creative endeavors so artists could focus on their art and not, ya know, worrying where their next meal will come from. I haven’t given the system much consideration before, but I think maybe I should. It would definitely go against my hardcore belief that authors get paid after they publish. Call me radical, but it appears that system may be changing and, if we want to survive on our terms (or as close as we can get to them), we must learn to change with the times.

What I like about this is that it takes out the middlemen. It brings artists and authors directly to their readers, and breaks the stranglehold of royalties, publishing costs, etc.

An elegant, old solution to a new problem. There’s poetry in that, I think. In terms of our original metaphor…

Don’t drink more water. Inflate your flotation device.

I’d now like to open this up to comments and questions:

  1. What do you think about authors utilizing Patreon?
  2. Would you be willing to support your favorite authors with a small monthly contribution?
  3. What kind of content and perks would you like to see in return?

Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

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.

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.

Continue reading

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!