Tag Archives: Publishing

Censorship is stupid

Recently there has been some consternation amongst my writer friends. It seems that Barnes and Noble has decided to take what it perceives as the moral high ground and not only ban erotic novels that do not meet its ‘decency’ standards, it deletes the accounts of offending authors. See article in Publisher’s Weekly. To quote, ‘The content policy in question states that titles subject to removal include “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.”‘

This is not the first time something like this has happened. A couple of years ago Kobo had a similar purge, tightening-up its content. It’s interesting that these often-draconian measures are applied to writers of (erotic) romance, but any small author who has written romance novels might well be caught up in the ritualistic cleansing. One author I know who normally writes science fiction romance had her perfectly innocent non-romantic Young Adult novel pulled because it had the word ‘sister’ in the book’s description. That happens when you use software, not people, to make judgement. I’ve also heard in the current debacle that author accounts are being cancelled because a book that had been published in the past, but was no longer available, was deemed retrospectively unsuitable. And if an author had one offending title out of (say) ten novels, that was too bad. Author cancelled. The article in Publisher’s Weekly was updated to suggest management has had a second think on the issue, and has agreed to reinstate some of the closed accounts. I should hope so.

Popular book distributor Draft to Digital has informed authors that:

Going forward, Draft2Digital is no longer able to accept or distribute books that feature the following subjects:

  • Rape
  • Incest (included step brother/step sister, or any familial relationship)
  • Paedophilia and underage sex
  • Bestiality
  • Pornography
  • Content that promotes hate towards a religion, race or ethnicity, or sexual orientation
  • Any content that our distributors deem objectionable or in violation of their content restrictions

Please take note especially of the last line. It means they can refuse to accept anything they like. At the end of the day these retailers are censoring what they will sell, and I suppose that is their right. Personally, although I find all of those topics (except the last one, which says nothing) distasteful, all of them happen in our world. Adults should be able to read what they please. I suppose people who write those books will have to market their work at select vendors.To a large extent writers of erotica are already in that situation.

Let’s look at that quote again. “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.” Instead of pointing a finger at the bible, maybe I’ll just mention that B&N should be pulling Game of Thrones off all their shelves, and cancelling Mr Martin’s account. Except that won’t happen because Mr Martin’s novels sell rather too well. Oh, and didn’t Ruth Rendell write a murder mystery about an incestuous couple? (Yes, she did) That’s probably a bit mainstream, too. Will they have to remove Nabokov’s Lolita from the shelves (again)?

Nazis burning books

By Unknown – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1253020

What particularly bothers me about this growing trend to regulate what we the public gets to see is that it’s part of a greater wave of control. Back in the 1930s the Nazis carried out their own form of censorship by burning books. “The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism.” The behaviour by book retailers comes very close to the same sort of mind set.

Which segues neatly into another form of censorship, the recent spate of destruction of historic statues. It hasn’t just happened in the Southern US states. Demands have been made by ‘offended’ black students to have the statue of Cecil Rhodes removed from Oxford. There’s been some talk about removing Admiral Lord Nelson from his column because he participated in the slave trade, and a few years ago I wrote an article about a move to have Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s statue removed from Hoorn. (He was known as the Butcher of Banda, a tyrannical governor of the city of Batavia -now Jakarta – in the 1620s.) And now in Australia we have statues of Captain Cook being defaced.

It’s idiotic, an attempt to white-wash history. It’s like the Catholic Christians destroying Mayan and Incan buildings and artefacts. It’s like the Taliban destroying the statues of the Buddha, or ISIL destroying the monuments in Syria and Iraq. We’re still ruing the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. What priceless knowledge have we lost from all those actions? You can bet the Taliban and ISIL won’t be saying sorry any time soon.

The latest assault is the resurrection of the move to rename Australia Day, which is commemorated on 26 January, the date when the NSW colony was founded by Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet. Some aboriginal leaders and left-wing sympathisers want to rename it to Invasion Day. Maybe Australia Day should actually be 1 January, because it was on 1 January 1901 that Australia became a nation, and not just a number of separate states. But it’s a bit busy at that time of the year.

I hasten to add that I’m glad to see that aboriginal history is taught in schools these days. When I was a child very little was said about the original inhabitants of this continent and their struggles. But let’s not white-wash them, too, seeing them as innocent nomads, living in harmony with their world. Massacres happened on both sides, and the aboriginal tribes fought each other. Most aborigines these days live in the cities, just like we whites. And most of them are of mixed race.

Maybe it’s time we Westerners stopped apologising, recognise that mistakes, sometimes egregious mistakes, happened in the past, and move on. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. Provided it’s still there to learn from.

 

I’ve moved all my books

I started by putting my toe in the water, decided the temperature was right, and shifted all my books from Draft 2 Digital (D2D) and Amazon, over to Pronoun. All the titles are now available again on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Kobo, and iBooks. But they all have different URLs because of the change in distributor.

It’s not a simple move. Links had to be updated on my own website not just on the book pages but also in posts I’d written. Fortunately, I have a broken links widget that tells me (um) when links are broken, and where. Apart from that, there are the links at SFR Station. Then I had to ask Amazon to kink the new version of books to the earlier one, so the accumulated reviews would appear. On the way through, I tweaked a few blurbs (book descriptions for those not in the know), and changed a cover. That’s the new cover for A Victory Celebration at top left. It’s a sexy little story, and the previous cover didn’t reflect that. (It seems readers like a bit of sex. With me, that’s about as sexy as it gets)

Why did I move?

Well, for a start, Pronoun doesn’t charge for its services, whereas D2D charges 10%. Pronoun, which is owned by Macmillan, has obviously negotiated a royalty deal with Amazon. If you list a book for less than $2.99 directly with Amazon, your royalty is 35% of the list price minus costs. For all other values, authors get 70%. But Pronoun pays 70% on ALL books at Amazon. Hey, if you have a $0.99 short, you get $.70 instead of $.35 (rough figures to make it easy, okay?) Doesn’t sound like a lot, but it all adds up.

Then there’s the formatting. You load your Word .docx (no other format is accepted) to Pronoun and you’re given a choice of six very good looking layouts for your ebook. D2D does a good job, but Pronoun adds bells and whistles. You can load your own epub if you’re specially enamoured of it – Pronoun will convert to .mobi.

Pronoun is also helpful when setting a price, providing comparisons of prices with books in the selected genre of a comparable length.

You’re given assistance when selecting the all-important key words. When you pick your two genres, you’re presented with a list of search terms, with a figure for how popular they are with users, and how high you might get in a sub category of that name. You can also enter your own search terms, and Pronoun will process your words in the same way, showing suggestions and popularity. It’s all good information to help you reach the highest possible audience.

And the main reason? One stop shop. I make a tweak and load it in one place. Pronoun does the rest, including Google Play, where I haven’t been able to jump through the publishing hoops before. I get paid into Paypal once a month, two months after the money is earned (that’s pretty standard). And I have a lovely author page for you to look at. Here it is.

The Pronoun support people have been great, even fixing up a bug I told them about when I first signed up. The formatting guidelines are well-written and easy to understand, as is their contract. I did have to dig just a little bit, though, to find out how to tell them about my EIN tax document – without a recorded EIN against my name, US companies have to charge foreign folks like me 30% US tax. Check the FAQs – they’re good.

The downside

  • The graphical presentation of sales is nice, but I’d like monthly figures in an Excel spreadsheet, much as D2D provides.
  • It takes a little longer to get your books loaded at the retailers. B&N is usually the longest, taking several days to a week. But even Amazon might take three.
  • You don’t get the instant gratification of watching sales on Amazon’s sales charts. However, if you’re desperate, you can always check a book’s ranking to give you some idea.

If you want a bit more detail about working with Pronoun, I wrote a blog at Space freighter’s lounge when I first dipped my toe. Here it is.

In a way I’m sorry to leave D2D. They do a great job, provide good reports, provide great user support, and offer access to other distribution outlets like 24 Symbols, Oyster, and Tolino. I could have left my books there to gain access to those additional channels, but I wasn’t making any sales there, so opted for the simple life. Besides, D2D cannot distribute to Amazon or Google. And I already mentioned about royalties, layouts, and marketing extras. Did somebody mention Smashwords? I took my books from there several years ago. It was all too hard, with none of the marketing extras, and with no return on investment.

So… if you have my books listed anywhere, be advised – the links have changed. Except for print, of course. That still happens through Create Space, who STILL operate in the Dark Ages and send people in third world countries like Australia printed paper cheques.

 

Createspace? Lulu? Which should you choose for your print books?

Picture of full book shelfIf you’re a self-publisher and you’ve decided it’s worth offering a print version of your novel, you may be trying to decide between Createspace, Lulu and Lightning Source. I’ve not tried Lightning Source, but I can share my experience with Lulu and Createspace. In fact, I’ve loaded my books onto both platforms. Why? To broaden my reach. Lulu and Creatspace (hereafter CS) are print-on-demand printers, not publishers. If you’re self publishing YOU are the publisher. I don’t expect to sell many paperbacks. I’m offering print to add to my exposure, so going with both ‘publishers’ makes complete sense to me. But there are differences.

UPDATE: It’s now March 2015, therefore some time since I wrote this article. I decided to try the process on both sites with another book. I can report that nothing has changed. Through Lulu I have sold a handful of paperbacks to Ingram, which is the largest distributor of Print on Demand books to libraries etc, but certainly nowhere near enough for a return on investment. I have also discovered that Lulu is affiliated with the notorious Author Solutions. I want nothing to do with that organisation and have withdrawn all my books, and my account, from Lulu.

Payment

You may be wondering why I chose Lulu over CS in the first place. Quite simply, Lulu pays to Paypal. It’s clean and easy. CS is still using the old Amazon model. Places like Australia and New Zealand, since they are not part of the EU or the USA, are third world countries, clearly not having a reliable banking system. Therefore, the only option is to print cheques (checks) and post them. Oh, but this incurs an expense. Therefore, they will not send a cheque until you have earned $100 in royalties, and they’ll still deduct their processing costs. This restriction applies to each channel, individually (ie UK, JP, AU, FR, DE etc etc) In practice, this means that I’ll probably be extending an interest-free loan to CS for the term of my natural life. And if I do get said cheque, I will then incur further outrageous expense from the grasping banking system to convert the US funds into $AU. In my case, $10 for having the temerity to present a cheque from foreign parts, and then a conversion fee. You know how it is. It costs a lot to run a program that picks up the going exchange rate from the bank’s own systems, and multiply it by the value of the cheque. Just as well I’m not in it for the money.

I contacted CS and asked them when they were going to catch up with the rest of their Amazon parent. After all, banking is an international conspiracy, and (gosh) the same program that pays into US and EU bank accounts can very likely be used unchanged to process direct credits to Australia. (It may be too much to ask for them to countenance eBay’s Paypal system.) A change may be on the horizon. We live in hope. In the meantime, watch out for low-flying pigs.

There. I feel much better. And now, back to the business of printing books.

Distribution

This was my other reason for choosing Lulu. It has a free, global distribution network, placing the book into various catalogues and lists for bookstores and libraries. In the past, CS was slightly hamstrung by being limited to Amazon-friendly companies. I note that CS now also offers global distribution. I will be interested to see what happens.

Pricing

I was frankly surprised to find how much cheaper CS’s costs are than Lulu’s. As an example, retail price for White Tiger (give or take a cent) on Lulu is $15. On CS (Amazon), it’s $9. (At the time of writing, it’s discounted to $8.) As far as I can tell the quality is more or less the same. Perhaps the paper Lulu uses is slightly better. In both cases, I’m not making much of a return, especially if the sale is through a distributor. As I said, I’m not in it for the money.

Approving the proof

Here again we have a significant difference. Lulu offers free setup, true. And if all you want is to sell through Lulu’s shop front, that’s fine. But if you want to join the global distribution network, you must first purchase, physically eyeball and approve your book. In other words, it isn’t entirely free. You buy at a wholesale, price, but then you also pay postage. Furthermore, every time you make a change to either the cover or the MS, you must buy a proof. So the lesson is, get it right the first time.

CS has an online proofing system if you don’t want to go to the expense of buying a proof. It’s a good system, showing you exactly what you’re going to to get. You can also download a pdf version and get it printed yourself should you wish to do so. There is no charge for updating your cover, or your MS. So ultimately, CS’s system is absolutely free.

Formatting

I expected to be able to use my Lulu MS formats for CS pretty much unchanged. But there are differences

Formatting the MS

Both Lulu and CS have a wide range of options for book sizes. I opted for the popular 6X9 inches, the standard trade paperback. Both companies provide templates for you to use to format your MS. They’re both simple enough to use. I described my experience with Lulu in this article.

I was happy with my formatted Lulu print, so I downloaded CS’s basic template and used the page setup in that for my MS. One gotcha – in Lulu, you don’t need to mirror your margins; in CS you most definitely do. Once you’ve changed your margins, check your MS, especially for blank pages, or pages with one or two lines. You can deleted blank pages, and tweak your margins to fit your words better. Also, while Lulu expects you to add blank pages at the end of the MS, and insists your page count is evenly divisible by 4, for CS you finish your MS when it finishes. I suspect Lulu’s restriction here is a left-over from traditional publishing. If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me. With respect to images with the book, Lulu just goes with what you offer, whereas CS warns that images at less than 300dpi may print pixelated or blurry. In my case, the images are book covers for teasers, and my picture. If it’s not important, a less than optimal image won’t stop your book being produced.

Formatting the cover

The BIG difference here is that Lulu expects you to put the barcode on your custom-built cover. CS does not. If you use your own ISBN, better check their requirements. In both cases, I used the free ISBN offered. My guess is that if you use your own ISBN, you’ll be able to use the same one on both sites. After all, you are the publisher. They print to your requirements.

While both sites offer templates for covers, Lulu only shows the external dimensions, not placement of the spine – although you’re told where the spine starts and how wide it is. CS’s template shows you where the spine is and where the bleed areas are. When you’re finally shown your assembled book online, I much prefer CS’s full screen representation with dotted black lines showing the spine. Lulu’s cover presentation is too small and shows back, spine and front as separate components.

So there you are. Weigh up the costs, and the potential benefits. Certainly if I lived in the US or EU, I would opt for Createspace. Speaking as an old IT systems analyst, CS offers a better system, at much better cost. It remains to be seen whether the expense I incurred on Lulu will be worth my while. Let’s hope Createspace gets its corporate act together and updates its payment policies.

 

 

Using Lulu for print books

MC print 2015UPDATE: Since I discovered Lulu is affiliated with Author Solutions I have withdrawn my books. Here’s why. All my print books are available through Createspace, though.

I’ve decided to offer printed, dead tree copies of my longer titles via Lulu. Why bother with producing a print book at all? It’s a good question. After all, hardly anybody buys them any more. But some people do, so I’m offering choices. I’m also hoping that having a print copy will help as subtle advertising. People can lend paper books to others, or exchange them, libraries can stock them. Also, I know when I look at the prices being asked for ebooks sold by big publishers, I can’t help but notice how much they’re asking for the paperback. In recent times, some of them charge MORE for the ebook than the paperback. Really?? Anyhow, I figured if I did that, other people did, too, so it was worthwhile offering print books in POD (print on demand). Besides, I rather enjoy doing the formatting and cover design.

In the past, I had used Createspace for print books – but this time, I didn’t. I used Lulu for several reasons, chief among them being it is not affiliated with Amazon, and also it pays funds into Paypal. Lulu offers a good, step-by-step service to do-it-yourself publishers, or you can hire services from them to edit, format and do cover designs. I found the templates they provided more than adequate to set up professional formats myself. You can check each step of the process after you upload files, to ensure what you sent is the same as Lulu received.

Manuscript Formats

Lulu prefers documents in .pdf, although they’ll accept .docx, .doc, rtf and some others. I uploaded my first two books, the Iron Admiral duo, as .doc files and that worked fine. But the Morgan Selwood novels didn’t. The first chapter heading appeared as expected, but none of the others was visible. After several hours of tearing my hair out, I decided I needed to convert the files to pdf to ensure that what they got matched what I sent. First, I tried the Mac’s built in export function. It worked, sort of. But the number of pages changed, and the Open Office writer doesn’t readily support presenting chapter numbers as text.

So I shifted to the Windows machine, which I use to write my books. (I’m very comfortable with MS Word 2003). Adobe’s pdf writer is horribly expensive, but Lulu itself recommended doPDF, a free virtual printer which allows you to embed fonts (IMPORTANT) and produces an Adobe compatible file. As usual, using styles in a program like Word produces the best, most consistent results. Some other things to consider for your book to be eligible for distribution:

  • Page numbers start at your chapter one, so you’ll need a section break
  • The last two pages of your document must be entirely blank – no page numbers or anything else, again easily achieved with section breaks.
  • The number of pages in your book must be divisible by 4. That’s the whole book, including blank pages etc.
  • One trick for young players is that odd numbered pages will appear on the right. So if Chapter One is on the fifth page, it will be on the right hand side of the open book, with the page number as 1.
  • Lulu offers a free ISBN so you can distribute to bookstores etc (they do that for you). But you must ensure that the isbn is in the right place in your MS. It’s best to enter your book’s record, then download the barcode and enter it into your book, which you then save as a .pdf to upload to Lulu.
  • I found that if I wanted to upload a new version of the file, I needed to delete the one in Lulu first. The system uses all the files you’ve uploaded to produce the print ready file. My 200-page document suddenly jumped to 400 pages if I didn’t delete the previous version first. Um. Wrong.

Covers

Once you have uploaded your MS to Lulu, the system has enough information to calculate the exact size of your cover. Lulu allows you to upload your own cover, or use their cover creation wizard or their service. As with all these systems, adherence to the rules is vital, even though sometimes the rules seem to be a little hard to find.

  • You must ensure that the isbn is also on your cover. If you do as I did, and upload a full cover, you must add the barcode to the back, formatted as 1″ by 1.75″.
  • Lulu produces a barcode for you to download for your custom cover, but for some reason known only to them, the size is not 1 x 1.75, and it is not on a white background. Never mind, that’s simple Photoshop skills. And while you’re there, you can check the exact size of your cover image matches Lulu’s expectation, and that your spine wording is correctly placed.

Final checks

With the cover uploaded, you move on to fill in the metadata, and fix your price. It’s not cheap to produce a quality print book and the profits (especially from retailers) can be slim. When that’s done, you get one last chance to check your files. In particular, you’ll be shown the back, spine and front of your cover to check. I found several times I had to tweak the position of the wording for the spine so it sat in the centre.

Once you’re happy, press the finish button. Your book will appear in Lulu’s files. At this stage, you can still revise your book without too much pain. Lulu will create a new revision for you, going through the same process you used to get that far.

In order to be eligible for wider distribution to Barnes and Noble, Amazon et al, you press an icon “Manage” on your list of projects. This leads to a page where you can “Get Global Reach FREE.” Here’s a list of which books are eligible. However, you must purchase a copy of your book and confirm that it meets the requirements. That’s not cheap from Australia, because of postage, and I’d have to sell a few to get a return on investment – but as I said up front, I have other reasons for making the investment. Also, if you decide to make changes, you’ll need to buy another copy of the updated book before it is eligible for further distribution.

Last words of wisdom

  • The link to Lulu
  • Use the templates and read them carefully.
  • UPDATE – apparently you can copy and paste your MS into Lulu’s template, which will avoid many issues.
  • Check your work each step along the way. Don’t assume it will be right.
  • DON’T press that global reach button too soon. You can cancel an order, but you’d have to do it very quickly.

 

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 fall-out from changing publishers

picture of Changing the guard

Changing the guard

As I announced in a blog post a little while ago, I’ve had to republish all my books due to circumstances beyond my control. It has now been about 10 days since I started the process of removing the titles from the various sites and republishing them under the new D2D label, and I thought some of you might be interested in the fall-out from the process.

Administration

First off, if you had a contract with your previous publisher, you can’t just give them the bird and self-publish or go with another publisher. You’ll need a letter of rescission, returning to you the rights for the book. This is a legal requirement. In my case, the split was entirely amicable and I have that letter. You won’t be able to use any existing ISBNs, either. New  publisher = new version.

Sales Rankings

As far as Amazon and the other vendors are concerned, your newly-published book is a new listing. All my books had to start afresh at eleventy million, and work their way up from there.

Reviews

I thought I’d lose all the reviews – but in fact the vendors’ software has recognised the same title for the same author and ported the reviews over. The only non-starters were for my Iron Admiral titles. It has always been a problem with those books. The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy became Conspiracy on some sites. Then I confused the issue by putting The Iron Admiral Book one: Conspiracy on the cover. Anyway, while a human would immediately see the books are the same, the software program didn’t make the connection. I contacted Amazon and asked them to re-link the reviews by explaining that book ASINxxx is the same as book ASINyyy. You do that via your Amazon author page. It’s a little bit complicated to find the right place, so use Google to get instructions. The books (and the reviews) were linked within a day.

URLs

That has been the biggest pain in the posterior. Every URL for every book had to be updated, on every site. Authordb, Author’s Den, Bookbuzzr, my own website – oh gosh, I’d better do the ones on Facebook. What about Linkedin? I’ve probably forgotten a few. Needless to say, sites which reviewed the book and had URLs will now be wrong.

The outcome (so far)

I’ve been interested to see that, of all the books, Black Tiger is doing the best in sales. I was beginning to despair over this title. Not that it’s zooming along, but sales are better than they had been. On the flip side, Morgan’s Choice and Morgan’s Return, which had been my flagships, never slipping much below the 60k rank on Amazon US, are languishing. Fortunately, I have reviews (at a review site) in the pipeline for Morgan’s Return and Black Tiger. I’m hoping they will help increase exposure. I’ve temporarily reduced the price for Morgan’s Choice to $2.99 to try to gain some interest.

Advice

Quite a few small publishers are falling by the wayside, so the time may come when you’re in the same situation as me. The best advice I can give you is document what you do. Write it all down in a spreadsheet. Links to reviews on websites, interviews on websites, places where you’ve listed your books – anywhere you’ve sent a link. You might not be able to get all of them updated, but an email to the owner asking for an update will usually be seen in a positive light.

How you generate new sales I don’t know. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve found blog tours and paid advertising doesn’t do much. I can only hope it’s early days and sales will recover. Have any of you been through the process of changing publishers? If so, what was your experience? Do you have any suggestions?

Two thumbs up for Draft 2 Digital – another way to self publish

As I explained inpicture of draft 2 digital ad my last post, my publishing arrangement collapsed when the company I worked through, folded. For me, writing is a hobby and with nine books published, I didn’t want to find myself up to my armpits in the mire of managing a whole bunch of accounts with Kobo, Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Before, I’d left most of that (not Amazon) to Smashwords but I’d never been too thrilled with the Smashwords process. Having worked in IT for many years, I understood the pain of different strokes for different folks and formatting to suit. Smashwords makes its premium product available on many, many platforms and lowest common denominator is certainly the way to go. If that’s what you want.As far as I can tell, I’ve never made sales to palm devices or the more basic readers. In fact, I have never made many sales through Smashwords at all, so I was open to considering another choice.

Enter Draft 2 Digital (D2D), a new player in the formatting market. I decided to try the concept with The Iron Admiral, a book which I had only published on Amazon. It wasn’t even a simple choice, since it is an omnibus, a combination of both my Iron Admiral books. When I write, I use Microsoft Word with two basic styles, one for normal text and one for chapters, which I allow Word to number for me. I don’t use drop caps on the first letter of a new chapter, but I do make it bold, and slightly larger than the rest. It works well and I end up with clean, well formatted documents. No headers or footers needed. D2D’s software picked up the styles and created a table of contents. The system will generate a simple copyright page if you want, but I did my own, which it recognised. I did not enter an ISBN. In fact the company quite correctly states that an ISBN can be more of a hindrance than a help because you should have a separate ISBN for each format of any given book.

Draft 2 Digital puts your uploaded MS through the process, and shows you the structure of your chapters as it has recognised them, on this layout screen. picture of layout screenIt allows the user to select several special sections, as shown here for Supertech. I asked for an ‘about the author’ section, which you set up as part of your account, with profile and (optional) author photo. I created my own ‘also by this author’. The system will generate an ‘also by this author’ but the books have to be on D2D already. Bearing in mind the system is still in beta, I ‘went it alone’ for most of these. That way, I have control.

Having picked your options and selected your cover, press save and D2D will produce three files for you. One is a mobi, for Amazon, one is an epub for Kobo, Apple and Nook, and one is a print file for Create Space. Although I didn’t proceed with the Create Space option, I tried it out. Personally, I feel a print file needs more tweaking to look really good, so although the pdf wasn’t bad, I had my reservations. For instance, do you want all your chapters to start on the right hand page? Where do you want your page numbers? Do you want headers giving the book name or something? That said, D2D worked out the number of pages and sent me an email with a template for the print cover – class act, IMO. I would have ended up with a good, clean paper back if I had proceeded.

Once the system has generated the files you can (should) check each format you intend to use, and go back and reload your files if something hasn’t worked as you expected. I had a slight problem with the auto-generated pages and sent an email, asking for help. The response was prompt and personal, not a generated page spouting boiler plate pearls of wisdom.

When you’re happy, move on to selecting your outlets. I chose Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Although D2D states that it may take anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks to process the file at all outlets, The Iron Admiral was loaded to all outlets within a couple of days. I was so impressed, I used D2D to republish all my books.

Reporting is a breeze. Sales are shown by outlet and by book and is updated pretty much immediately the data comes through from the outlets. And payment is through Paypal, not messy paper cheques. Unless you want a messy paper cheque. Alternatively, they’ll make a direct deposit to a bank account.

Of course, Draft 2 Digital takes a share – generally 10% of list price. See the Pricing page for details. It also has to take 30% taxes out of your earnings, as per US Government regulations. But non-US authors can apply for an ITIN or the more easily obtained EIN. The D2D site has help information in its FAQs.

I’m impressed with this software. It works with writers, using the best of Word. If, like me, you don’t want to mess about with multiple accounts and you’re not too fussed that your books won’t appear on EVERY platform, give them a try. Draft 2 Digital.

UPDATES

Since I wrote this, Draft 2 Digital has had to weather a couple of vendor storms. First, there was some fuss over Kobo, to do with labeling of erotic content.  It took a little while, but Kobo and D2D have adjusted their processes and all’s well. Later, Amazon refused to load any books from D2D. At that stage, I shifted my Amazon content direct to KDP. My main issue with Amazon had always been method of payment (by cheque to Australia) but somebody finally saw some sense and payments are now made electronically.

D2D is widening its reach, adding agreements with Scribd and Page Foundry. I’m very happy with how it’s all working out.

 

 

 

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.