Opinion: Revisiting the Concept of FREE

Boy, 2020 is turning out to be some kind of year, huh? Not surprisingly, everything going on with the world at large has had a massive impact on every part of my life, from my day job, to my home life, to my writing. As you have noticed, it’s basically put my blogging on hold. To be honest, I debated for days about whether to even write this one, given the circumstances. I decided to go ahead, because it might be even more relevant now.

I want to be sensitive to what’s happening, and what everyone is going through (some way more than others), so right off the bat I want to acknowledge two important truths:

  1. People all around the world are struggling right now.
  2. Authors are people.

I also want to acknowledge that what I have to share comes from my personal experience and may not be the case for others. Therefore, I present it all as an opinion piece, and not gospel truth. Use what I have observed as a factor in your decisions, but try it out yourself and make up your own mind.

Part 1 – How I got suckered into a tired old chorus of FREE (again)

When the pandemic first hit, everyone got on the PR bandwagon and started their CRM engines full blast. You may have received dozens of emails from “concerned” businesses assuring you they were there for you, working together to stay safe and healthy in these uncertain times. Seriously, it was so bad someone wrote a poem of the most overused phrases in those emails. It got tired very fast.

But one email caught my attention. Smashwords sent out a notice that, in an effort to help everyone struggling financially because of COVID-19, they would be doing a special sale and authors were invited to participate by discounting their eBooks as much or as little as they wanted. The email advised to be sensitive when marketing this sale, to come from a place of caring.

So there I went, discounting my 3-book erotic romance series all the way to free for the duration of the sale. Because yeah, the situation sucks big time, and if I can help brighten someone’s day with a steamy read, why wouldn’t I? My more mercenary hope was that if it didn’t get me more royalties from sales of non-free books, at least it would get me some readers, and maybe a few reviews.

I didn’t push the sale very much. I posted once or twice on Facebook, and then let it run.

The result, shockingly (but not surprisingly) was 217 freebie downloads in 20 days. Not one single sale, or review.

Part 2 – Okay, I messed up. Let’s fix it.

You know how they say free books supposedly lead to sales for related books in the series? Yeah, I set the entire series as free. Didn’t quite work as advertised. So when Smashwords sent another email saying they had such an amazing response to the sale they decided to extend it for another month, I decided to do things right. I kept the first book of the series as free, and discounted the other two by 50%.

I figured, hey, the response was pretty good for the first freebie run. Clearly people out there are liking what they see. I was watching those downloads. Some people got the whole series in one go, but far more of them got one, then came back for the others. That tells me the books were judged to be worth checking out. And if they’re worth reading, they should be worth paying for, right?

Remember, authors are people, too, and royalty income is money that puts food on the table. As much as we want to be supportive and helpful in a time of crisis, we need some support and help ourselves, too. The news all over the web was that eBook sales have spiked with people stuck at home with nothing to do. I have not observed that to be the case. And, before someone feels it necessary to set me straight, I am fully aware that there are a lot of other factors affecting this trend, including (but not limited to) the fact that I haven’t had a book release in a couple of years, I don’t promote my books as much as I should, I am Indie published and therefore pre-judged to be trash, etc, etc…

But anyway, if the “rock solid” advice “proven time and again by bestsellers all over the world” was really true, then my freebie book 1 should definitely have led to sales of books 2 and 3, especially if they, too, were discounted. Stands to reason…

The actual result after a month of this madness was 6 freebie downloads. Not one single sale, or review.

Part 3 – What the f*&%, yo?

So here’s what no one tells you: Freebies do actually work to gain more sales. Not as much for the author who discounts to free, though. Mostly for the platform doing the sales. Because they can offset those freebies against sales of their bestsellers, who sell even more as a result of the platform shoving them into reader’s faces with increased intensity to cash in on the sure thing. And you sell what you promote. So the more they promote bestsellers, the more those bestseller sell, and the more invisible every other book becomes. It’s a full circle that way. A closed one.

Freebies don’t work on their own (in my experience) because of one reason: People who download freebies generally do it out of an impulse to possess, not to read. That freebie will sit on someone’s device for years before it’s opened, if it ever is. Readers prioritize books they want to read more than anything in the world. So they will read their favorites first. Most likely those they went to the trouble of paying for.

Adding to the frustration is how invisible books can be on the device itself. It’s not like looking at a bookshelf of spines where you see 50 of them at the same time and your eye picks out the most interesting one. You see titles. Maybe 6-9 front covers in thumbnail. Scroll through a hundred titles and try to remember what they were about… not likely to happen. That’s why covers are so important to make a good, lasting impression.

But I digress. Basically, the whole thing is a two-fold effect. First, if readers want to read a book, they’ll be willing to pay for it. Second, if they paid for it, they’ll feel obligated to read it to get their money’s worth. It’s a full circle that way. A closed one that tends to exclude freebies.

Part 4 – So what now?

Since “common wisdom” failed me, I decided to fall back on what I knew worked. Word of mouth. In social media form. What I did was open every book-related Facebook group I am a member of (about 50 of them) and started posting promos. Images and videos with links to the book’s page on my website.

With FB’s new restrictions, you can’t post the same thing into different groups too many times or they block you for 24 hours. Luckily, I have folders full of promo graphics that I’m able to cycle so I can post in all groups and promote all my books in a relatively short amount of time. Took me about an hour to hit all 50 groups.

I did that twice in about 3 weeks. It really should be done more often to have a proper effect. I used to do this on a regular basis a few years ago and it got me steady sales. Now, it’s too much time I don’t have, and there’s no way to automate it so it’s gone neglected for years. Another factor of low sales recently.

I also shared choice reviews on my own page. That seems to have stronger impact than any promo graphic I could make, because it’s one reader speaking to another. Word of mouth is what gets readers interested. Personal recommendations, or at least ones that feel personal.

The result was about 5 sales (that I was able to track) over the next two weeks or so. I admit, it’s not much, but it’s more than the freebie sale got me. And the sales (again, those I could track) weren’t from just one retailer. I got sales from Amazon, Apple Books, and Barnes & Noble. Audiobook sales reports lag a month or two, so hard to tell yet what impact it had there. Same with print titles through IngramSpark.

Part 5 – The bottom line is this:

You sell what you promote. If I learned anything over the last decade of being published (holy crap, time flies!), it’s this. If all you promote are your Amazon links and then you get upset that all the other outlets aren’t selling, you only have yourself to blame. If you go too long without promoting and you get upset because your sales have dropped, you only have yourself to blame.

If you keep pushing freebies in hopes that people will notice your other, full-priced or discounted books next to them, I hate to tell you, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Another piece of ancient wisdom used to be that when you promote your book on social media, you should share a direct link to a storefront where people can buy it when they click. For better or worse, I have bucked that trend from the start. Why? Because I can’t control or monitor what people do in someone else’s kingdom. I could share a link to Amazon, but if the person who clicks it is a Nook reader, it won’t do me or them much good. And even if they do shop where I send them, that store will bombard them with paid ads and suggestions for a whole lot of other books to distract them from mine.

When I share, I share a link to the book on my website. This accomplishes a few things.

  1. I control how the page looks
  2. I can provide direct buy links to as many stores as I want on that page
  3. I can display related books and content that will keep readers in my universe, exploring my books, not someone else’s
  4. I can look at the stats and see how long people stayed, what they clicked on, and can extrapolate what’s popular, what works, and what needs to change or update

But I think I’ve rambled on long enough now, so I’ll stop there. You get the idea. ūüôā

I sincerely hope everyone reading this blog is healthy, safe, and doing well (or as well as can be expected). Here’s hoping there’s a light at the end of this long, crazy, dark tunnel, and that it isn’t another train.

Much love to you all, my friends. <3 Until next time!

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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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A Hard Stance and a Line in the Sand: Editing

As a member of a couple of groups for authors and writers, I see things like this pop up all the time:

  • Does anyone know of a good app for editing?
  • Do I need to use an editor for my book?
  • How much does an editor cost?

Please kindly note that one of these questions is not like the other. I will answer them in order, and you will notice I am very much taking a hard stance on this. There are a lot of things you can DIY when it comes to writing and publishing. Editing is not one of them. This is the line in the sand that separates professional writers from hobbyists who just want to see their name on a book no matter what.

Editing Apps

I will temper this by saying up front that there are legitimate reasons for using an automated app to check your work. I hear good things about Grammarly. Haven’t used it myself, but it’s supposedly pretty good at finding grammatical and spelling errors. As a tool to help you hone your craft, it’s handy. But it has shortcomings that make it unreliable for any level of professional, multi-layered feedback. You should never rely on an app for final edits.

Working With an Editor

Let me be very clear on this one point. When it comes to getting your book ready for publishing, NO APP IN THE WORLD CAN DO WHAT A PROFESSIONAL HUMAN EDITOR CAN DO. No, you cannot rely on an app to polish your work into shape for publishing. There is so much more to editing than just grammar and spelling. An app will never be able to tell you if your characters are flat, if you have a plot hole in chapter seven, if you suddenly switched your character’s name from Adam to Alex halfway through, or changed the spelling from Erik to Eric within the same chapter. An app will not be able to gauge the tone of your book, or track the pacing, or any of the million little things that go into making a book the best book it can be.

When it comes to publishing your work, YOU NEED TO WORK WITH A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR.

Period.

Hard stop.

This is the absolute bare minimum you need to do before you put your book out there. It’s not just a matter of good business practice, but also respect for your readers’ time and money. They are investing both in the faith that you have provided them with a professionally put-together book. That’s what they’re paying for. If you can’t provide that, you should not be publishing.

Read that again:

If you can’t provide a professionally put-together book, you should not be publishing.

Period.

Hard stop.

Editing Costs

The follow-up I always get to this is, “But not everyone can afford an editor…” and I’m going to put a stop to this right here and now. I–do–not–care. Your readers do not care. It’s not my, or their job to commiserate with you on any financial hardships you might have. They’re paying for your book, not your sob story. A proper book is what you owe them.

If you are traditionally published, your publishing house is already taking care of this, so this entire blog post does not apply to you. But all you self-published authors out there, listen up.

  • You are your own boss.
  • You are a business owner.
  • You set your own timelines.

No one is holding a torch to your feet to publish a book before it’s ready. You’re calling the shots, so any decisions you make to cut corners and skimp on necessities are ultimately¬†your fault. Readers will notice. They will blame you, and rightly so. You cheated them and deserve to be called out for it.

But I have no money for an editor!

Then you need to hold off on publishing until you have saved up for one.

There aren’t a lot of up-front costs for publishing a book. This is most definitely one of them. And there is no excuse in the world that would ever justify not paying it–it all comes down to ego and selfishness. By not having your book properly edited, you’re telling your readers, “Fuck you, I don’t care. I just want your money.”

Editing does not have to be expensive.

There are plenty of affordable options. Many editors will even do a sample edit on your book first to see if you’re a good match. Most will charge a per-word fee (something like $0.005/word would be standard for a professional, so a 100k book would come out to about $500). Some might be willing to barter their services in exchange for something else (like cover design, or swag design, something they can use in return). If all else fails, ask your friends and family to help you cover the cost. There’s always GoFundMe–as long as you’re reasonable in your request and don’t take advantage of people’s charity, of course.

The point is, you have options. Use them.

End rant.

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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‚ÄĒfor 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‚ÄĒif 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! ūüôā

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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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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 one 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.

 

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. ūüôā 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.

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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! <3

 

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Social Media Etiquette 102: The Personal Side

Hope you all enjoyed recess. Class is now back in session. This is Rant 2 of 2 on authors behaving badly on social media, and thank you again to everyone who wrote to me with your experiences and pet peeves. It’s really put this into perspective for me. If you missed Rant 1, check it out here: Social Media Etiquette 101: The Business Side.

And now we commence Rant 2 of 2…

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Social Media Etiquette 101: The Business Side

It started so innocently… A fellow author sent me a private message saying, “You should write a blog about people behaving unprofessionally on social media!” And because I have seen more of that than I ever cared to, I thought it’d be a great idea. But I didn’t want to be airing just my own grievances, so I asked for input from my network. Boy, that was one scary can of worms I opened… But it showed me that this is an important topic that no one seems to want to talk about because it might ruffle feathers. Well, I have my feather ruffler in hand and, by George, I am going to talk about this!

*slaps ruler against teacher’s desk*

Everyone back in your seats. That means you, Charlie. And Theresa, put that away; no one wants to see that. Joe, I swear, if you don’t pull your pants back up¬†right now… That’s better. Boys and girls, class is now in session. And yes, all of this will be on the test.

Commence Rant 1 of 2…

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