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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Q: Should I put my books in KDP Select?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My answer would be: Depends on your business model.

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

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

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

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

Until next time!

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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. 🙂 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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Why Self-Published Authors Are Amazing

If you’re following my blog, you’ve seen me post some rants about this or that. I do it to air out my own personal grievances, but also to shed some light on current events happening in the book world. Cathartic and educational. Win-win.

But today, I want to do something different. Today I want to tip my hat and give a nod to every self-published author out there, because the Indie community is a truly amazing and humbling place. Yes, it has its problems–all communities do–but on the whole, its members are some of the kindest, bravest, most supportive, most intelligent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Too often, the label of “Indie author” or “self-published author” still evokes the unfair stigma of being sub par, unworthy when compared to authors on the other side of that gilded line of traditional publishing. Today, I want to show you why that is just not true. I want to show you that Self-Published Authors are…

…Creative

It goes without saying that writing a story takes massive amounts of creativity, no matter how that story gets published. But the creativity of a self-published author goes beyond the story to everything around it. There are authors who make their own book covers, create their own marketing campaigns, even manufacture their own giveaway swag. The beauty of self-publishing is that there are no limits or restrictions on what we can do.

…Resourceful

When there’s no one to keep you on the straight and narrow, you have to forge your own way. That includes learning as you go, figuring out how things are done, and finding resources to do it. Publishing is an expensive business, and rare is the author with more than a shoestring budget. That makes self-published authors very good at forging mutually beneficial relationships, finding the best deals, and the least expensive (yet still just as effective) tools.

…Supportive

On the whole, self-published authors tend to view each other as colleagues, not competitors. They network, share recommendations, offer support, guidance, and encouragement, and even help each other promote each other’s books. What other industry do you know of where this is the norm?

…Entrepreneurial

Regardless of the way your books get out there, as soon as they do, you officially become a small business owner. But for self-published authors, that definition goes deeper and far wider. They are in charge of it all, from editing to intellectual rights management, and everything in between and beyond. That means an Indie author is a writer, a publisher, an accountant, a PR guru, and a public figure all at the same time. That’s a lot of hats to wear. But don’t they look fabulous?

…Trailblazers

Bypassing the traditional publisher gauntlet allows self-published authors to bring fresh, new ideas straight to the reader. They are on the bleeding edge of fiction, inventing and defining new genres, and bringing us amazing stories publishers never knew readers have been yearning for.

…Trend-setters

By virtue of necessity, self-published authors have to look beyond what is to what is possible. Being unfettered by a set of house rules, they are free to explore the possibilities, take risks, and discover new ways of doing things–and they share their discoveries with each other, and with traditionally published authors, as well.  They open doors few people knew even existed–including self-publishing itself. Let’s give credit where credit is due: A great many Indie authors chose this path not because they were rejected by publishers, but because they never wanted that approval in the first place. And many others chose to leave their publishers for the express purpose of publishing independently. This is not the course of last resort detractors would have you believe it is.

…Generous

Self-published authors have the freedom and opportunity to do things traditionally published authors simply cannot do. They can share as much of their new releases for “preview” as they like; set their own pricing to super low, even free; and give away as many book copies to as many people as tickle their fancy. In fact, the community is known for this more than anything else.

…Approachable

The great thing about bypassing the middleman (publishing house) is that it brings self-published authors in direct contact with their readers. Their success is directly dependent not just on how well they write, but how well they interact with their readers, which makes Indies the most welcoming and approachable of authors online, as well as in person.

…Nonconformists

Sometimes, rules are in place to protect the wrong interests. Sometimes, those rules need to be broken, and self-published authors aren’t afraid to band together, take a stand, and make their voices heard for the good of the whole ecosystem. Indies changed the face of the industry in a matter of a handful of years, and while publishing houses are still scrambling to adapt, Indies aren’t finished yet.

…Professional Storytellers

Emphasis on professional. That little detail tends to be conveniently overlooked whenever someone trash talks self-published authors. Are there bad apples in the bunch? Absolutely. The same is true for traditionally published authors. But look at the talents that, against all odds, had broken through every barrier, hit the bestseller lists and taken off like one of Elon Musk’s rockets. That is the standard all Indies are striving for. On the whole, when everything else is stripped away, an author is a story teller at heart, and their passion is to tell the best story they possibly can. The best part about self-published authors is that their story will be all their own, unfiltered, uncensored, and free of any cookie cutter standardization.

And for all these reasons…

If you haven’t read an Indie book, I highly recommend you give them a try. You may be pleasantly surprised. 😉

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