Tag Archives: Amazon

Amazon is a corporate bully

JusticeThere are a number of reasons why I’m not so prolific in my fiction writing than I was. One of them (a very large ONE) is the problem of getting noticed in a crowded marketplace. We’ve been told, we authors, that getting people to review our books is the way to attract attention – but we can’t pay for reviews, or swap reviews, or get family and close friends to review. And fair enough, you might say. But Amazon is a bully with a big stick.

Please read the experience of my good friend Nya Rawlyns and  do please read about the lucrative scheme netting millions from the Zon.

Seems to me Nya has become collateral damage for a giant flailing around looking for someone to hit.

It stinks.

Amazon.Oz – what does it all mean?

picture of kindle and glassesSo now, it seems, we in Australia slash New Zealand have our very own slice of the Amazon pie – Amazon.com.au. We’ve arrived! We’ve been recognised! Or have we?

Amazon has made it a habit to divvy up the globe. There’s an Amazon for the US, UK, Germany, France, Canada, Brazil, Japan and India (at least). A lot of people wondered why there wasn’t an Amazon.au. I always thought it was pretty obvious – we might live in a huge country, roughly equivalent in area to mainland USA, but there’s only 22 million of us. That’s a pretty small market by world standards. So why bother? And what effect will it have on us as customers and authors?

For customers

  • Prices are shown in Australian currency. I’m not sure at this point whether the price will fluctuate with the exchange rate. If it does, what’s the point?
  • Items of interest to Australian purchasers are listed. I’ve only looked at books, and seen offerings from Tim Winton (no, not Tom Winton), Judy Nunn, autobiographies for Wendell Sailor and Ricky Ponting (rugby player, and ex-cricket captain for those who didn’t instantly recognise the names) and no doubt other items specifically targeting an Australian market.
  • I would hope that delivery costs for printed books would drop but that’s not clear because print books aren’t offered. One hopes that will be qualified with ‘yet’. It should be a no-brainer because the Book Depository delivers free to Australia, which suggests it must have some of distribution arrangement in place. And Amazon owns the Book Depository.
  • You get to pay GST. Quote from The Australian: “In an interesting anomaly, Amazon has confirmed to The Australian that consumers who buy books in the local store will pay GST, which they do not pay when buying from foreign online stores.”

For authors

  • All my kindle books now appear on the Oz site.
  • However, no reviews were transferred. Updated. The reviews from other sites now appear.
  • Print books are not listed
  • There’s no Author Central so author biographies etc are not shown

For Amazon

  • For each slice of the market Amazon sets what percentage of royalties it pays. Standard is 70% – but if you want to be paid 70% from sales made on some sites, like India, you only get 70% if you make your book exclusive to Amazon. Locked in. For many people this is probably not a problem because they make most of their sales via Amazon. But other small time authors prefer to spread themselves across the market place for two reasons (a) a form of advertising – get your name out over more than one platform (b) an aversion to Amazon’s monopoly
  • Amazon gets to target its offerings – which is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Amazon pays royalties by site. So you have to earn $10 per subsidiary before they pay you. This is a whole lot better than the $100 it used to be, but even so, I fail to see why the money can’t accumulate over a month, for all subsidiaries
  • Amazon hangs onto the money longer, thereby earning interest which ought to be yours

I can’t help but feel this is another Amazon move in its Grand Plan to take over the world. I’m not altogether complaining. The changes that have happened in publishing are, for the most part, good and Amazon deserves credit for much of it. But I don’t like monopolies. But then we already have a cartel, or an oligarchy, controlling the publishing industry. The Big Five/Six don’t like Amazon, either.

On a slightly different subject, but still relating to Australian authors,

I’m glad to see that Amazon’s powers that be have finally grabbed a brain and made life easier for its international authors in obscure backwaters like Australia.

  • We can now have money paid directly into an Australian bank account. This is a good thing. Before, we’d get a cheque posted – and in the true spirit of usury, the bank charged $10 per cheque for translating $US to $AU, so that has to be good.
  • BUT we can now publish from Australia, which means we no longer need to mess about with getting an American ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) or an EIN (Employer Identification Number) to get out of paying the standard 30% US withholding tax. UPDATED: This is not true. We DO still have to get an ITIN or EIN, or pay 30% withholding tax. Details about publishing through the Australian site here. It’s not an easy business getting an ITIN via the US bureaucracy. I’ve tried, spending $80 on a certified copy of my passport, filling in the form and checking til my eyes bled, to eventually get a letter back saying I hadn’t replied to a request for information, which I never received. Never mind. I didn’t take it personally – it’s happened to plenty of other people.

Will having an Amazon Australia make a difference to me?

Not as a customer (I’ll continue to buy from the US kindle store, where I don’t pay GST). Updated. Also not true. I can do longer buy on Amazon US. So really, it’s simply going to cost me money.

Whether it makes a difference to Amazon remains to be seen.

Big publishers encourage book piracy

picture of skull and crossbonesI’m not sure I understand the mindset of people who pirate books, putting them up on the internet for people to download for free. Some (I suppose) collect email addresses. Some charge a fee to join – which has the added possible purpose of making people feel that if they pay $10 to join for a year, they’re really paying for the books. (If that’s what you think, you’re wrong) I guess all us small writers know that people like Neil Gaiman don’t see piracy as a problem and the chorus goes up ‘but he sells millions – what would he know?’ Look, I’m not saying I’m happy that people can download my books for free. Writing and publishing is bloody hard work and sure, I resent people ducking out of what’s not much money – $5 or less for a novel. Nor do I feel the need to feel sorry for people who have at least a computer/tablet/phone and access to the internet to download and read a pirated book. However, I’m a pragmatist. The internet is out there and people will take advantage of its flexibility. That’s life.

But I do wish the Big Five/Six would get with the program and stop encouraging the pirates. Yes, they do. Do we really believe that book pirates bother a lot about small Indie writers who sell a few hundred books? No. They steal works by Neil Gaiman, Dan Brown, Jack McDevitt and the like. Go and put a big name followed by ‘epub’ in a search engine and see what happens.

The internet is international. That’s why it’s called WWW (world wide web). Internet book publishing is not. Quite some time ago I wrote an article entitled Why is buying e-books so fuming hard? In which I complained at being unable to buy e-books because I live in the intergalatic boonies AKA Australia.

Well, folks, nothing has changed. I recently wanted to buy Linnea Sinclair’s Hope’s Folly and these days I much prefer my e-reader to dead tree books. My first stop was Amazon, where I could buy a trade paperback or an audio book but not a Kindle version. The book was published in 2009. Fine. I can read e-pub on my tablet, so I visited, in succession, Barnes & Noble, Diesel and a few others – I forget which. In every sodding case I was (eventually) told I couldn’t buy the bloody book because I live in the wrong sodding country.

Now tell me, folks, if I wasn’t a writer and totally conscious of the issue of piracy, do you think I would have spent an hour and more bouncing around to various internet sites if I could download a book for free without even having to set up an account?

Besides, the Big Publishers charge far too much for e-books. I recently went through a similar I-want-to-do-this-honestly charade with Jack McDevitt’s Firebird. I could buy the paperback for around $7 – but the e-book cost me $13. WTF? Knowing how much it costs to produce a paperback, it seems to me they’re using e-book sales to prop up the dead tree market. Always provided, of course, that you can find the link to the e-book so you can buy it.

And while I’m on this soapbox with the wind blowing around my shorts, the Big Book Sellers want buyers to jump through too many hoops to buy online. I can see absolutely no reason why a company needs my street address to send me an e-book. In these days of internet security, I resent having to provide unnecessary information about my identity. ESPECIALLY if they’re prepared to take my money via PayPal. And don’t give me any crap about ‘your data is secure with us’. I worked in IT. Let’s face it, I can buy a book in Big W or Target, take it to the counter and pay with my credit card. What is the difference?

I know we’re never going to stop people pirating books. DRM is a waste of time. Purveyors of software programs tried to protect their intellectual property with encryption mechanisms and locks of various kinds since computers appeared on everybody’s desktop. That achieved two things. It pissed off the vast majority of honest purchasers for a whole slew of reasons, and it presented a challenge to the hackers. Have a look online. You’ll find pages of programs to break DRM.

Please, please, Big Publishers. Piracy won’t go away, but you can lessen the impact.

  • Realise the web is accessible even from third world backwaters like Australia.
  • Make it easy for us to find e-books
  • Make the prices reasonable
  • Don’t make us jump through hoops to pay for the damn things

/rant

Anything you’d like to add?

The Good news and the Bad news

picture of thumbs up and thumbs downFirst, the Bad News

Sometimes things happen which we’d rather avoid. One of those just happened to me. For reasons beyond my control, I’ve had to change my publishing arrangements. So there’s going to be a bit of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ going on with all my titles. All my books have been taken down from Omnilit and Smashwords, which means they’ll disappear from Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple. One by one, they’ll be removed from Amazon. It has already happened for Supertech and A Victory Celebration. But they’ll all be back as soon as I can manage it – in ebook, anyway. Print versions may return later.

But the Good News is…

I’m taking the opportunity to make a few small tweaks to some of my titles. Reviews are people’s opinions, nothing more, nothing less. Some people like my books, others aren’t quite so impressed, a few hate them, and that’s fine. But sometimes, people will actually say something that sticks. For instance, in Morgan’s Choice some people said the romance between Ravindra and Morgan didn’t seem likely, or was contrived. What I tried to write was a situation where neither person wanted a relationship to happen, tried to avoid it, in fact. Perhaps I over emphasised the denial at the expense of the growing attraction. Now is a perfect opportunity to add a sentence here, a line there, to hopefully make my point a little clearer.

In The Iron Admiral, some people remarked they couldn’t visualise the human ships, although I had described the Ptorix ships very clearly. Mia Culpa. In fact, I know exactly what the human ships look like – I drew a plan of Saahren’s flagship, Arcturus. But the description was lost in editing, no doubt because I listened to that ‘rule’ that says not to use too much description. Again, a few sentences might help. We shall see.

So keep an eye out on your favourite ebook platform. All my books will be back. And remember, if you mention particular points in your review, you might just be making a difference. I won’t be cutting back on Jess’s swearing in Starheart, though. That’s the person she is. If the F word offends – don’t read the book.

The magic of book marketing

Picture of Amazon adIn the last couple of days, my book sales have escalated, propelling Morgan’s Return into the top 20 for space opera (which is the genre I write). Its predecessor, Morgan’s Choice, is also back in the top one hundred. Please understand, I won’t be giving JK Rowling a run for her money anytime soon. We’re not talking huge numbers, but it’s nice to have an audience. Very nice.

A few people have asked how I managed to do that.

The answer is simple: I haven’t a clue. As I said in the title, maybe it’s magic. Maybe a sprinkle of fairy dust landed on my shoulder, and caused Amazon to send out the ad at top left. If we exclude the possibility of fairy dust, I don’t know what I did to have Amazon send that out – but it did and my languishing sales took off. Maybe – and I’m guessing – it has something to do with the fact that Morgan’s Choice was in the top one hundred for several months a few months ago. Maybe Amazon thought it was worth telling people I’d written a sequel. But I didn’t pay for the ad. It’s sort of an adjunct to the emails we all regularly get, listing a selection of books in a genre you’ve bought. I usually get a list of my own books, with a couple of others, like that one there.Picture of Amazon suggestions

Let me tell you a few things that didn’t cause that spike in sales.

I’ve written a ‘good book’.

I don’t know what that means. ‘Good’ is subjective at the best of times and has different meanings. Does it mean it’s a great story? What you think is good, someone else will think is a crock. If ‘good’ means the book has been well-produced in that it’s been edited, has very few typos and is correctly formatted, well, yes my books are all those things. But again, so what? Readers don’t much care about those things. Writers do.

I advertised.

I have bought advertising but what I’ve bought for this book has not yet appeared. I’ve bought ads on The Romance Reviews and the-Cheap – even on the mighty Zon, where I paid $100 to be in the Amazon Book Club, which I feel was a waste of money. Morgan’s Choice was in a list of twenty or so books, not sorted by genre or anything else, a grab-bag listing for the day. I have seen no spike in sales that I could attribute to any sort of advertising. Except that headline one up there.

I participated in blog tours.

Not for this book, I didn’t. I did for Starheart, where I managed my own tour, and I bought a tour for Black Tiger because it was a different genre to my usual space opera. Again, in my experience, blog tours don’t really work.

I have a huge web presence.

Not really. I have an author page on Amazon, Omnilit and Smashwords. I’m on Facebook, but I recently whittled down my friends list to people I actually interact with. I have an author page with 400 ‘likes’. I have a website where I talk about writing and science, a separate site for historical topics and a third where I share my photos. (I’m a keen photographer.) I don’t do a newsletter. My name is on sites across the web where I’ve signed up but don’t actually participate. Oh, and I’m no longer on Google+ or on Goodreads. After all, how much time can a person spend updating sites? I also don’t touch the Kindle Boards.

I bought reviews.

At the time of writing, Morgan’s Return has no reviews on Amazon or anywhere else. I don’t ask for reviews, and I certainly don’t buy them. I have placed the book at two review sites on the basis of a free book for an honest review. Morgan’s Choice has a full house – one star to (a lot more) five stars. That’s okay.

I bash the book on Twitter.

Yes, I do some sales tweets. I’d be stupid not to – but that’s certainly not all I do on Twitter. I participate on Triberr and I’ve found a lot of great blog sites that way. The best way to turn people off is to shove your product down their throats. I don’t.

It’s on Kindle Select.

Morgan’s Return isn’t on the program.

It’s a cheap read.

Yes, it is. $4.99 is cheaper than the big league. But it’s not $0.99. There are two reasons for that. One, I work hard at what I do. I think I’m entitled to a fair compensation. And two, the readers of the planet aren’t stupid. If you give your book away, or undervalue a 100k+ word book, why should they give it any respect? To be sure, there are well-produced, well-edited, free or ultra cheap books out there – but there’s an awful lot of garbage, too. I don’t want my work to be automatically lumped into the garbage category.

What works?

I’ve stewed on that subject for a while. I don’t know why Morgan’s Choice took off, either, or why it suddenly declined. But there is no doubt that if one book takes off, the others are towed along in its wake. So…

Write more books. That’s it, in a nutshell. If you have a backlist, readers can discover one book, then happily go and read your other work. I do that all the time. If I find a writer I enjoy, I’ll dig out everything they’ve written. It’s a network effect, a web. The more books you have available, the more entry points you have, the more chances you have to establish readers as fans. This latest surge is an illustration. At the time of writing, Morgan’s Return was at 19 in space opera and Morgan’s Choice was at 27. What this means, folks, is that NEW PEOPLE ARE BUYING Morgan’s Choice.

However, I will add one thing; it’s easier if you write one genre. My space opera sells. My historical fiction novel, To Die a Dry Death, won a bronze medal in the 2011 e-lit awards and has a swag of excellent reviews from a wide range of sources. But it hardly sells. Some people have given it a try after reading my SF, and have been pleasantly surprised, but that’s rare. The same thing has happened with Black Tiger, which is just as fast-paced and action-packed as my SF – but it’s a paranormal romance. (Or at least, as close to a romance as you’ll ever see from me.) The reviewers on the blog tour all said the book was different from the usual paranormal, and they were surprised they enjoyed the read. Again, I have done the same thing, only the other way around. I remember buying a well-credentialed Elizabeth Moon book which became a DNF. It wasn’t space opera, you see.

So there you have it. You’ll find there are a whole raft of people offering to help you sell your books – for a price. By all means give them a try, people can’t buy what they don’t know about. Just bear in mind that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. I firmly believe word of mouth is the only real way of making sales. But why people decide to buy particular books is beyond me.

I’m sure not complaining and I’m ridiculously thankful to Amazon for that ad. And if it did involve a sprinkle of fairy dust, it’s all good.

Roman: Saints and Sinners

Picture of cover for Roman: Saints and SinnersThis is a review Amazon refused to publish.

I admit it, the author is a friend, in fact we have had a business collaboration in the past. But I gain no profit from the sale of this book and I am not in direct competition with the author. I don’t write YA books – although I think this one is a cross-over. I do wonder if Amazon would have published my review if I had written a 1 star screamer. But I haven’t. If I didn’t like the book, I would have told the author so, and said why, and I would not have reviewed. You’re right not to trust all Amazon reviews. But you can trust this one.

Blurb

In a dying town, two teens marked as broken struggle with the burden of lies masquerading as truth. Not even a man of faith is strong enough to hold back the coming darkness.

  • Benedict Nowak bailed on his marriage, taking his son with him but leaving behind his five year old daughter. He had his reasons. He had no idea they’d come back to haunt him.
  • TJ had come to terms with the mother she despised, making those small concessions that made life bearable. But her mother’s death changed everything.
  • Her brother, Anton, was the parent missing in TJ’s life, until he found a calling in violence, and left his sister at the mercy of shrinks and a mother with ice in her veins.
  • Roman Rincon was the juvie rescued by Father Marcus and placed in the care of Benedict Nowak. With his records sealed, no one knew what happened that fateful night when Roman was only fourteen.
  • All Father Marcus knew was the boy had confessed to a crime not even the cops would talk about.

In the small coal mining town of Montville, two teens whose lives have been shattered beyond repair must find a way to cope … with school, with each other, with growing up marked as broken in a town dying under the weight of secrets and lies. Warned off having anything to do with Roman, TJ is all too willing to agree, except for one little thing. The young man lives in the apartment above her father’s car repair business so avoiding him might be a problem.

As for Roman, he will take his secret to the grave, no matter what the cost.

Review

This book starts off with a fairly routine YA premise – a sixteen year old girl (TJ) finding herself dumped on her estranged father when the mother she despises dies. Coming from a wealthy, upmarket life style and a private school, she’s faced with a new life in an impoverished, dying mining town where Latinos do what they can to survive. The longed-for college sporting scholarship is no longer an option in a school which doesn’t (can’t) support women’s sport. TJ’s brother, Tony, the only person who cares about her, the closest to a father she has ever known, is a serving soldier due to return to active service, leaving her to cope on her own. Before he goes, he makes her promise to keep away from Roman, a young man working for her father.

It’s obvious TJ isn’t going to keep away from Roman. But many things about this novel are not obvious. TJ’s father, Ben, has his own demons tormenting him with deep levels of guilt at not taking in his daughter when he and his wife divorced. TJ’s deceased mother is an invisible participant, sitting on the sidelines, mocking TJ and Ben. Ben’s cousin, Marcus, is a Roman Catholic priest who delves into ancient scrolls. Tony’s girlfriend, Marsha, is a scarred veteran of the Iraq war.

And then there’s Roman. He’s described as a seventeen year old juvenile delinquent who is sent to live with Ben as a form of rehabilitation. From the outset it’s obvious he is dark and dangerous. But how dangerous? And who to? He arrived in Montville not long after a series of mysterious events that are still spoken about in whispers, accused of bashing a man near to death.

In a way this is the usual YA coming of age story, but it is so much more. There’s a thread of dark fantasy – or call it myth – which begins as a hint, then coalesces in the latter part of the book and brings it to a thumping, heart-stopping climax. It’s a book about love, acceptance, sacrifice and redemption on many different levels.

The characters are all well-developed, real people with pasts and futures and reasons. Only the mother’s motives are not crystal clear. But then, that’s life, isn’t it, and she is dead.

The writing is sensual and evocative. You spend a lot of time absorbing atmosphere, feeling events. This is no skim read. You have to pay attention or you’ll miss things. Perhaps that is my only criticism. I occasionally lost my place as it were, since the narrative might skip from the present to a past conversation or reminiscence in the character’s head. The description is rich and real. I particularly liked the detail. You can see the town, the garage, the metal stairs up to Roman’s apartment. The author talks about motorcycles, a dying Pennsylvania town, living on a mountain road in the woods and coal mining, just to name a few, with authority which lends authenticity.

I really enjoyed this book. My YA days are far behind me and it would be sad to imagine that this is just a story for ‘teens’. It’s not. I give it *****.

PS. I LOVE the cover, designed by fellow author (and friend) Poppet. It truly suits the story

PPS. The book was written as a serial, a couple of chapters a week. I dips me lid. I could not possibly write a book in that way, especially as the writer just… goes with the flow without elaborate planning. Kudos.