IngramSpark Authors Take Note

This morning, I received an email notification from IngramSpark on their new policies going into effect in April. 

THIS IS IMPORTANT for anyone who is currently published or is planning to publish through IngramSpark. See the full text of the notice below:

INGRAM SPARK SERVICE ALERT

IngramSpark is taking a necessary stand to uphold the integrity of and reduce bias against independently published works. To align with our industry’s needs for content integrity, we will actively remove print content from our catalog that does harm to buyers and affects the reputations of our publishers and retail and library partners.
As of April 27, 2020, the below criteria describes the types of content that may not be accepted going forward:

  1. Summaries, workbooks, abbreviations, insights, or similar type content without permission from the original author.
  2. Books containing blank pages exceeding ten percent, notepads, scratchpads, journals, or similar type content.
  3. Books or content that mirror/mimic popular titles, including without limiting, similar covers, cover design, title, author names, or similar type content.
  4. Books that are misleading or likely to cause confusion by the buyer, including without limiting, inaccurate descriptions and cover art.
  5. Books listed at prices not reflective of the book’s market value.
  6. Books scanned from original versions where all or parts contain illegible content to the detriment of the buyer.
  7. Books created using artificial intelligence or automated processes.

We reserve the right to remove content that fits the above criteria without prior notice to the publisher. Any fees paid on behalf of publishers for titles removed due to the above criteria will not be refunded. This change of service is effective April 27, 2020 and is reflected in our IngramSpark User Guide V4.

You can find more information about what kinds of titles will be under review here.

We are committed to supporting authors and publishers for the quality content they’ve produced and continuing to provide our retail and library partners with high quality, trusted catalog feeds.

The bolded, highlighted item #3 is of potential concern here. I understand the spirit of what IngramSpark is intending, and I applaud their efforts to curb intellectual property theft in a proactive way. I know there is a lot of copycatting going on in the world of fiction, especially in certain genres, so this measure is very much a good thing. 

The problem I see is that we have no way of knowing how far these measures will be taken. Many books out there have the same or similar title but are completely different books on the inside, sometimes in completely different genres. Will they be affected? Genre categories have unspoken rules for cover design. Fonts tend to “trend”, as do certain elements, styles, and designs. How close is too close for comfort? And you know how they say there’s no such thing as an original story, only original retellings? How will that affect books with similar themes and plots? 

Also, the affected books will be removed without prior notice to the author/publisher. Again, a good measure in terms of efficiency, but sucks for authors whose books just disappear from circulation one day when they didn’t do anything wrong. 

The bottom line is, when April 27th rolls around, keep an eye on your books and if you can’t find one where it should be, reach out to IngramSpark immediately for a resolution. 

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Amazon’s New Rating System and What it Means for You

This is something I’ve only recently become aware of and, naturally, I noticed the problems first. Here’s my breakdown on what’s going on:

Amazon, apparently activated a new feature where users can leave a rating without a review. Meaning, you can have a book with 37 ratings but only 33 reviews, like my Wolfen:


On the surface of it, it seems like a good thing. A lot of people are shy about leaving a review, but don’t mind leaving a star rating. Plus, Barnes & Noble has been doing it for years and years so it seems like this is just Amazon catching up their review game.

But, of course, this being Amazon, it’s not quite that simple.

Amazon doesn’t show you the extra ratings like Barnes & Noble does. There is no way to see who left them (even if they were anonymous) or what they were, so the only way you have of knowing you got an extra rating is by looking at the percentage breakdown and, as I have recently discovered, those ain’t exactly what you’d call “good math”…

Here’s what happened…

While scrolling through my books on Amazon, I noticed my novella duo, The Beast Series only had a 2.7 star rating. :O Now, vanity aside, I knew for a fact that wasn’t the case because my reviews there hadn’t changed in months, and the last time I’d checked, I only had one 1-star review. The math didn’t add up so I clicked it to see what was going on, and I saw this:

5 ratings, 52% of which were 1 star, according to the breakdown. To say this was upsetting is an understatement, so I scrolled down to check on the reviews and saw this:

I know that’s a lot of tiny text to read, so let me break it down for you, with actual math. The book had 5 ratings and 5 corresponding reviews, so right off the bat I knew there weren’t any “extra” ratings screwing with the stats. What I saw was what I was supposed to get:.

  • Three (3) 5-star ratings, which accounted for 60% (not the 24% shown in the breakdown)
  • One (1) 4-star review, accounting for 20% (again, not the 24% shown)
  • And one (1) 1-star review, accounting for another 20% (definitely not the 52% shown in the breakdown)

The average rating, therefore, should have been 4.0 / 5, which is quite different from the 2.7 rating Amazon was showing on their storefront.

Now, math may not be my strong suit but I can still count to 5, and there is no way that a company as huge as Amazon could have goofed on the math, so the only other explanation is that this was done on purpose.

But why?

As someone commented on that Facebook post of mine, apparently, this is Amazon’s way of combating the growing problem of authors buying floods of 5-star reviews to game Amazon’s algorithms and improve their visibility/sales. Amazon decided to face this issue head on by devaluing 5-star ratings and increasing the value placed on low star ratings in some twisted attempt to level the playing field, I guess… (insert a cartoon WTAF?! face here)

And you might say to yourself, “Oh, okay, well we know the star ratings have been getting abused by unscrupulous authors. At least Amazon is doing something about it.”

Nope. Nope. Hell to the no.

What Amazon actually did was render their own rating/review system obsolete and turned it into false advertising (if not outright fraud) with two easy steps.

  • You can’t trust the reviews because you can no longer tell whether they’re genuine and organic, or just something the author paid for
  • You can’t trust the average star rating, because it’s not what it actually says
  • You can’t trust the number of ratings/reviews because there may or may not be hidden ones that Amazon won’t show you–and that means you can’t even verify what they are.

In short, YOU CAN’T TRUST AMAZON.

But it gets worse…

For one thing, the ratings and reviews don’t show in your Author Central account, either, to verify from that end. You have to go by what’s displayed on the main storefront. So many ways to rig the game when no one can see you doing it…

For another, Amazon shoppers don’t know this. No one looking for a good book to read is going to whip out a calculator and double check the math on the star ratings. They’ll take what’s there at face value. How many people do you think will click on a book with a 2.7 star rating when there are literally millions of books with 4-5 star ratings? Do you think that might hurt an author’s sales?

But still…

You might say to yourself this is a necessary move. You have to fight fire with fire.

No. It’s one thing for a player within the system to game the system to their advantage. It’s another for the entire system to be changed to everyone’s disadvantage. This punishes authors who never had anything to do with fake reviews. Authors who worked hard to get a handful of ratings and reviews, who can’t afford to advertise on the platform and rely on those reviews and star ratings as a promotional tool.

I sincerely hope that this is still in beta testing and Amazon will eventually fine tune the rating-only system so they are seen and verifiable. At the same time, I don’t really think they will. And I have little faith they have any interest whatsoever to maintain a fair rating/review system.

Update on The Beast Series

As of my typing this paragraph, I received a new 5-star review and my average star rating for this title has, indeed changed. But the math is still wrong (should be 4.167, or 4.2, properly rounded up):

Just something to keep in mind going forward. I will be keeping an eye on this, and you should, too, whether you already have books published on Amazon or you’re still in the planning/prep stage.

One way to combat this:

If you use your ratings/reviews to promote your book, use individual reviews rather than the average rating. Keep choice reviews on your blog/website. Have a page dedicated to each book and show off your best reviews, and don’t forget to include links to all stores where readers can buy them, not just Amazon. Remember, your website is the only place where you control the content and how it’s presented.

If you have a note in your books asking readers to leave a review, or if you regularly ask your readers to review, give them multiple options (i.e., Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.) because those places count, too. You can also ask for testimonials on your website and use those to promote your book (this is something I just thought of now and will look into implementing on my own website).

Good luck, and…

May the odds be ever in your favor…

Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games)

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Smashwords Industry Predictions for 2020

Mark Coker has published his annual report of predictions for the book industry in his blog post: 2020 Publishing Predictions: House of Indie on Fire. This is one of the articles I go out of my way to look up every single year so I’ll know what I’m getting into.

This year, I won’t lie, the outlook appears pretty bleak. It’s no secret that Mr. Coker isn’t a fan of Amazon’s business practices, so you’ll see a lot of that in the post, but he makes good, solid points on everything he shares. Maybe with a bit too much drama, but still…

Here are the facts:

When you entrust the bulk of your publication to a single entity, that entity owns you.

When you allow another entity to set the price for your product, that entity owns your income.

When you have to pay an entity that offers free distribution to make your product visible, it’s no longer free distribution.

But here is another fact:

None of this was forced on Indies. Indies chose it on their own, over and over again. It was a choice that might have provided a slight edge early on, but has now become a shackle. And, for many, the cost of removing it is too great.

My thoughts on the whole thing:

You can’t control the breadth and depth of a global, digital industry that’s open to everyone and has very few rules of proper conduct. You might as well try to drain the ocean with a tea cup.

What you can control is yourself. Your actions. Your books. Your publishing strategy. What you can do is fight like hell to keep that control from being taken away from you. Because isn’t that control the reason you chose to self-publish in the first place?

I became an Indie author because I wanted to present my books to the world my way. That hasn’t, and will never change. So my personal focus for 2020 will be on what I do and how I do it. Because, at the end of the day, I’m an author, and my books are all that matter.

Sometimes you just have to get back to the basics, ya know? 🙂

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How to Self-Publish and Not Go Broke

One of the core principles of communication they taught in my college business classes was: If you present a problem without offering a solution, you’re just whining. I started this blog with the intention of helping new and aspiring writers navigate the world of (self-)publishing, and that is still its primary focus, despite the occasional rant and whine.

With my last post, I presented a problem: Self-publishing costs time and money.

With this one, I would like to present a few workarounds and practical solutions that basically boil down to: It doesn’t mean you have to go broke to do it.

Be forewarned, this will be a very long post that essentially summarizes a large portion of this entire website, but I wouldn’t post it if I didn’t think it was important.

So let’s take it from the top.


The Process of Self-Publishing in 12 (Not So) Easy Steps


  1. Write a book
  2. Get it edited
  3. Copyright it
  4. Write your blurb and tag line
  5. Choose your distribution strategy and timeline
  6. Create your distribution accounts
  7. Format your book
  8. Cover your book
  9. Set your price
  10. Upload the files
  11. Click Publish
  12. Promote like the entire future of your writing career depends on it.

This list will be the basis for what’s about to follow. You’ll notice not all of the items on that list have a monetary cost attached to them. But I did say “time and money,” didn’t I? 🙂 That’s because your time is money. Free time isn’t really free. It’s time you could spend with your loved ones, or chilling out by yourself. Every hour you put into being a writer is work. Even if you don’t want to call it that. It’s work you expect to get paid for in the future through royalties, so it’s a cost that is meant to be recouped.

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Hybrid Royalty Share with Findaway Voices

An unplanned BREAKING NEWS type post for anyone looking at audiobook production.

Two days ago, I got a notification from Findaway Voices that they have started a new program for hybrid royalty sharing.

For those who don’t know, Findaway Voices is an audiobook production and distribution platform. Prior to this announcement, their program was strictly pay-in-full. Meaning, once your audiobook was completed, part of the author’s approval process was paying the full amount of production costs before the audiobook could be distributed. It was (and still is) a pricey proposition which not many authors can afford.

But it’s important to look at what you actually get for that price: Full and unlimited ownership of all rights.

That means, once you pay for your audiobook, you can do whatever you want with it. You can use Findaway Voices to distribute your audiobook to their partner stores and libraries, or to do it yourself. You can also do both: distribute through Findaway Voices and sell it yourself on the side. No restrictions. You set the price. You call the shots. You get what you pay for.

Now, they have a program they call Voice Share and you can click the link to read the announcement. The basic gist of it is this:

You get the option of paying in full at the conclusion of your production, or using Voice Share. If you use Voice Share, you pay only 50% of the full production cost and agree to have a share of your royalties go to your narrator. Narrators have to sign up for this program, and authors have to prove some past sales trends to qualify.

Once the agreement is made, the book is distributed to all the same Findaway Voices partners with the only restriction being that the author cannot publish it on his/her own elsewhere. If, somewhere down the line, the author decides they want to stop sharing royalties, there is a buy out option to pay 2 times the original payment (for a total of 1.5 times the full production cost) and they can reclaim their full rights. Narrators get to keep any royalties earned up to that date.

It’s still a pricey proposition, I will say that right off the bat. But it’s an option, and I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about it.  Now, let’s compare with a direct competitor, shall we?

 

Findaway Voices Amazon ACX
Distribution Channels iTunes, Audible, Amazon,
Google Play, Scribd, Bibliotheca,
Audiobooks, Chirp, Walmart,
Hibooks, Hoopla, Storytel,
Rakuten (Kobo), Overdrive, Playster,
Nook Audio, Audiobooks NZ, Baker & Taylor,
Beek, Downpour, EBSCO, eStories,
Follett, Hummingbird, InstaRead,
Libro.fm, MLOL, Nextory,
3 Leaf Group, 24 Symbols,
Odilo, PermaBound, Wheelers
Amazon, Audible, iTunes
Author/Publisher Sets Retail Price* YES NO
Standard Royalty Rate 80% 40% (Exclusive)
25% (Non-Exclusive)
Royalty Share Options Voice Share Royalty Share
Royalty Share Plus
Royalty Share Upfront Cost 50% total production cost 0 (Royalty Share)
Negotiable PFH rate (Royalty Share Plus)
Royalty Share Rate to Author 60% 20%
Royalty Share Restrictions Distribution exclusive through FW to all partners Distribution exclusive through ACX to all partners
Contract term Indefinite 7 years, automatically renewed in 1 year increments
Cancellation option Any time At end of contract term
Cancellation fee 2 x original payment (100% production cost) N/A

*Findaway Voices allows authors/publishers to set the retail price for their audiobook and it can be changed at any time. This pricing does not carry over to retail partners who set prices automatically based on audiobook length, such as Audible, and those who pay out of a royalty pool, such as Scribd. When publishing through ACX, authors/publishers have no control over the retail price at any of its retail partners.

Certainly puts things into perspective, no?

With this move, Findaway Voices will appeal to authors/publishers who like a little flexibility in payment options. The terms of their hybrid royalty share program are a great deal friendlier to authors than those of ACX, and with a worldwide distribution network and their partnership with Smashwords, they are in an excellent position to level the playing field a little bit and loosen Amazon’s monopolistic hold on the book industry. Little by little, in 7-year increments. (ACX launched in 2011, some of those early projects have their contracts fulfilled, and Findaway Voices does give you the option of uploading a completed audiobook *hint hint*)

And now I return to my August #AuthorTips.

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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.

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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! 🙂

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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.

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