August 25, 2014

So that's it!

I always felt uncomfortable calling payments from online retailers a royalty (I usually say "my cut" vs. "Amazon's cut," "Barnes & Noble's cut," etc.  When it came to explaining why, I couldn't explain it, but something told me that the term "royalty" didn't fit.

While reading Hugh Howey's blog yesterday, I saw that he addressed this, and suddenly I knew why that term never felt right to me.  This is what Hugh said:

"When they’re called royalties, the 70% seems exceedingly generous. Because publishers pay a lot less. But publishers provide other services, like editing and cover art. We are handing you a finished product. As a distribution fee, you taking 30% (plus more for delivery fees) sounds less crazy-generous. It seems downright reasonable, in fact."

For the rest of his blog entry, in which he makes some suggestions to Amazon, you can read it here.

Thanks, Hugh.
August 15, 2014

Who's Got the Button?
Amazon Last

I have been writing to Amazon for over a year, asking them to allow indie authors to offer pre-orders on their books. I pointed out to them that requiring a manuscript upload ahead of time will eliminate the possibility of overeager authors promising and then not delivering...and I'm sure I wasn't the only one making that request. I'm delighted that Amazon announced yesterday that this feature is now available to everyone, not just a select few with very high to spectacularly high sales (including my friend, bestselling author Angie Daniels).

Surprisingly, there is no requirement to enroll the pre-ordered book in KDP Select (although I wouldn't be surprised if this changed later down the road...nothing to back this up; it's just a hunch).

There's quite a discussion going on over at the Kboards about this. Some authors who had the ability to do this in the past expressed unhappiness that their rankings on release day weren't as high as they would have been had they not had pre-order buttons. Apparently, Amazon doesn't count pre-orders when determining release day rank, only pre-release rank, something that I can't say concerns me...low rankings definitely look better than high ones, but at this point in my life as I look toward retirement, my biggest concern is what goes in my pocket, not appearances. For this reason I've always tried to steer readers toward my eStore since its inception (because I make more money from those sales).

At this point, I'm unsure how my eStore and its customers will fit into this, but I'm thrilled about being able to have an official sale date, which I feel is more professional than uploading when the book is ready (kind of a now-you-see-it approach) and then announcing its availability, or announcing a pub date ahead of time and having to upload 2 or 3 days earlier to make sure it's available...if the actual date of publication doesn't match the one announced, what's the point? (Yes, I know that bookstores often put books on sale prior to the official pub date, but eBooks are not downloadable until the sell date). Coming as I do from the traditional publishing world, I like the idea of setting a pub date for an eBook ahead of time and having it become available for download on that date, not earlier.

Amazon had my jaws tight when they would always backdate my requested publication date when uploading a new book. They could never give me a clear answer when I asked them why they persisted in doing this. At one point they did tell me that if I downloaded after midnight Pacific Time (where they're located) the dates would match. I tried this, and they still backdated it. Granted, this isn't really a big to-do in the grand scheme of things, but it irked me just the same. I felt as though this was their way of sticking it to indie authors. In the end, I simply went in after publication and fixed the pub date to what it was supposed to be, and I announced to my readers that guaranteed availability would be at my eStore, with Amazon coming "shortly." 

(Barnes & Noble is a different story; I've found it usually takes 3 to 4 days of back-and-forth emails with them complaining about this or that--and many times this and that--to publish a single eBook with them. As a result, very few of my books are available at that retailer anymore...when I switched to an LLC business model at the beginning of this year they required me to take my books down and re-load them under the new account, and I haven't been able to carve out time to spend 3 to 4 days per book for 14 indie titles. I uploaded one book and was exhausted by the process. I don't neglect Nook owners or anyone else needing an EPUB format, though; they can get these at my eStore.) 

The possibilities for fast writers who release books or novellas in rapid succession are especially bright. Writers like my friend Angelia Vernon Menchan, who writes serial fiction, have the option of timing their pub dates to allow pre-order buttons for the next book or segment. I'm neither fast nor write serials, but I've had success with releasing prequels, the strength of which has made many readers want to know what comes next, so they bought the main story. Being able to include a pre-order link should be very good for business. Pre-orders can be placed as far out as 90 days (since the final version must be uploaded 10 days before the chosen pub date, that would likely be the minimum). I'm leaning toward a 3- to 4-week window for my own prequel-to-full-book releases, with a longer timeframe for a full-length book following a related or series full-length book.

Since this option isn't handcuffed to being in Select, it's also handy for coordination purposes, since some authors already do pre-orders on Barnes & Noble and Apple via Smashwords and now can schedule release dates for the same day, depending on the vendor.

Some authors don't like the idea of waiting, not even 10 days, to make a book available if it's ready to be uploaded. I've long since thought of my books like movies, which are in the can long before they're released, certainly more than a few weeks. Trailers get shown in theaters a few months prior to the opening, and as opening day approaches, television commercials start to air.  By the time the film opens, the actors, producers, director, and other personnel have moved on to their next movie...just as a writer can have their next book partially or completely written. Again, this is probably the traditional author in me, since books are submitted for the production process (editing, cover design, etc.) well before the publication date, by which I have often submitted the manuscript for my next book. There's not a right or wrong way to roll out a book, as long as the book isn't published before it's ready.

There are still some unanswered, is it possible to offer a lower price for pre-orders and then jump to the regular price on release day? I've long felt it made sense to initially offer a new book at a lower price, so if I choose to put it on sale a few months later I can do so without feeling my core readers--the ones who buy upon publication and get me on Top 100 lists--are being cheated.

Like anything else, it will be up to every individual writer to decide whether this will be beneficial for them. I would, however, encourage writers not to use this option unless their book is 75% ready for publication. While it is possible to change the pub date after enrolling in pre-order, this won't exactly endear you to readers. Neither will having the pre-order canceled (which is what Amazon will do to authors who are unable to deliver a final manuscript 10 days before the pub date). 

It's all rather exciting, waiting to see how this will pan out. Happy Sales to You! 
July 23, 2014

Edit hell

When I wrote for traditional publishers, I had deadlines in order to comply with their production schedules. As an indie author, I try to do the same thing, although I do relax it a little...let's face it, the sky isn't going to fall if I don't have it done by X date when I'm my own publisher, but trying to adhere with a schedule helps keep me on track.

After I finish the basics of the story, I print it out and the "fun" starts (yes, I'm being sarcastic). By "fun," I mean doing pre-editor self-edits, which is more than just searching for typos. It's revising and polishing the story, which includes:

  • Eliminating any conflicting information, you know, when the heroine first has short hair and then long or when the hero first drives an SUV and later has a motorcycle.
  • Adding in physical characteristics of the major characters so the readers can visualize them as they read.
  • Making sure the story flows smoothly.
  • Looking for any unexplained or out-of-character actions on the part of my characters. Readers should have a good understanding of what the characters' motivations are.
  • Inserting a sense of setting.  For sections beginning with a conversation, readers have to know where it's taking place...on the phone, at someone's house, at a restaurant, in a car, etc.
  • Making sure character movements are smooth and natural. Ever read a book where the character is in one room and then mysteriously changes location to another room, in the same scene?  I find myself still thinking about a scene I just edited, which was particularly tricky. The heroine wasn't fond of the hero, whom she regarded as insensitive because of the way they butted heads at their first two encounters (other than an annoying, continuous observation of how handsome he is) and then he does her a huge favor, at which time she started looking at him through new eyes. To thank him, she invites him to join her and her son for dinner at their home (because the hero is a police detective, she feels confident he's not a serial killer). It occurred to me that I didn't include enough about his appearance. As a detective, he would be wearing a suit and tie. I had him removing his coat while the heroine excuses herself to change clothes, but what about his suit jacket? What about the holster he undoubtedly carries? I'll be going back and showing him removing both when he offers to assist the heroine with food preparation, and while I'm at it I'll have him loosen his tie and unbutton his collar, because those are both natural actions for a man to take.
  • Inserting all five senses. There's more to telling a story than visualizing it. Sounds, smells, textures, and tastes make the story come alive and should be mentioned.
  • Eliminate the nonsensical. I usually do this when I'm outlining the story (you can't have a secret baby story set in a small town where no one suspects, even the baby daddy's own mother), but sometimes thing slip through that need complete rewriting.
  • Timelines. I feel cheated whenever I read a book in which a timeline error renders the entire story impossible, or leads me down the wrong path if it's a mystery or suspense. I recently finished a novel in which friends of the heroine who are a few years her senior were in eighth grade in 2004. There's no way she, two or three years younger, could possibly be 29 years old in 2014, or that her friends could be in their early 30s in 2014. Remarkably, I seem to be the only one out of hundreds of reviewers who noticed this. 
  • Filling in the information I glossed over with a note to myself (which usually requires research I didn't want to stop writing to do).
  • Word repetition. It's amazing how many times I can use a single word within the same sentence.
  • Making sure loose ends are tied. All questions should be answered by the end of the book.

I call these "ruthless red pen edits," because I use a red pen to mark the manuscript and also add extra pages when necessary (I'm cheap, so I print on both sides of the paper, and since I format for eBook rather than traditional manuscript style, there's not a lot of extra space on the page). When I do all this, I guarantee that I'm submitting my best work to my editor, which in turn makes her job easier (and her fee less, since many editors charge based on the amount of work a manuscript needs)...but it's tedious work and often slow going. Nor will the manuscript be in perfect shape; my editor will still find plenty of things that need fixing (albeit small items like using the wrong character name--a particular weakness of mine that I can never seem to catch every time--or the wrong word or repairing my punctuation, not major plot holes). This is not being obsessive; these are the necessary steps to produce a book. Writing isn't always fun.

What do you do when you finish a manuscript? Do you do self-edits, do a quick read-through, or just submit it directly to your editor?
July 22, 2014

Kindle Unlimited:  One Writer's Take

The writing world was thrown into an uproar last week with the announcement by Amazon of a new eBook subscription service called Kindle Unlimited. Social media lit up with thoughts from worried writers and both readers and writers asking each other, "Do you plan to enroll?"

Subscription plans are nothing new.  Think Book-of-the-Month club or the about-to-be-dismantled Black Expressions (African-American titles in special hardcover editions will now be available strictly through its parent company, the Doubleday Book Club, where it first began).  The same things existed for music, dating back to the days of the LP.  The big difference is that Kindle Unlimited, for a monthly membership fee of $9.99, allows its members to borrow (it is my understanding that books will be returned after reading rather than remain on members' Kindles--which I've heard are the only devices accepted on this plan; no apps allowed) an unlimited number of books, hence its name.

There are two catches for authors that I see immediately.  One, their book has to be enrolled in KDP Select, requiring it be sold only on Amazon and nowhere else. Indie authors with huge followings are given the option of enrolling in Kindle Unlimited without being on Select, obviously because of name value. Let's face it, no one back in the day would want tickets to a Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes concert if Teddy Pendergrass wasn't going to be performing with them, and the same concept holds true today. Amazon needs big names to draw in readers. 

The other catch for indie authors is that they only get paid when/if 10% of their book is read. The amount paid to indies per borrow is the same as the amount received for books borrowed through the Prime plan (a discount plan on all types of merchandise Amazon sells, which includes the ability to borrow one book per month), which is currently in the $2 range. The effect of this new plan on the KDP Select Global Plan remains to be determined. Amazon has added an additional $800,000 to the fund, but if the plan catches on big, the possibility exists that the author's share of the pie can be significantly reduced unless Amazon substantially increases the funding.

I've heard it said (I haven't been able to substantiate this, but I feel I can trust Hugh Howey) that the payments differ for books published by traditional publishers, with each borrow being paid at the full 70% royalty, as if it had been purchased (I'm unsure whether or not there is a reader obligation to complete a portion of the book for the writer to be compensated). This strikes me as a back-of-the-bus type of attitude that frankly makes me uncomfortable. (In the interest of full disclosure, I see that three of my traditionally published titles are enrolled.)   

I recently had one of my eBooks (Isn't She Lovely?) enrolled in Select to run a Countdown deal celebrating five years as an indie author. Unfortunately, I forgot to un-check the box to prevent automatic re-enrollment at the end of 90 days, and it rolled over for another 90-day term. I have since learned that Amazon is offering writers the option of removing their book(s) from Kindle Select, effective "right away." I don't know a) if this works, or b) if it is as quick as they claim, but I did submit a request form. Amazon simply asks writers to include the book's ASIN with your request. (Update: It took about 15 hours for this book to be removed. Once I confirmed its removal I added a lower-priced book, A Love of Her Own, to the program. That went into effect in just about 1 hour, so I presume there's somewhat of a backlog for removals.)

This action on my part might give you the impression that I'm against Kindle Unlimited, but that's not true. I just don't happen to feel that Isn't She Lovely? is the right title for the program. At over 100k words, it's (reasonably, in my opinion) priced at $4.99. I would be taking a loss on borrows that pay about $2.  It makes more sense to me to enroll a book priced in the $2.99 range (or even less than that, since I don't believe Amazon has minimum word counts for participation, meaning that a 99-cent, 50-page tome can be enrolled and possibly earn the author double the cover price per borrow).

Everyone's experience as an author is different...some sell well on Amazon but not in other places, others sell well at Amazon and at other retailers as well, while still others sell better at Barnes & Noble than at other retailers. Because of this, everyone's experience with Kindle Unlimited will be different. There is no right or wrong; there is only what is right for you as an individual author.

That said, I've also noticed that these newfangled ideas regarding publishing have bred many a success story for those who get rolling with it right away...people whose careers got jump-started by enrolling books in Kindle Select upon its introduction...people who advertised on Bookbub in its early days who made five figures from a single ad...people who sold one of their books at 99 cents and made tons of money on their other titles before Amazon changed their algorithms. I'm not much for jumping on bandwagons, but nor do I see a need for prolonged hesitation. I feel that if it's not a lengthy commitment (each Select enrollment lasts for 90 days) and it isn't something illegal or underhanded, what can it hurt by giving it a try, preferably while other authors are sitting on the fence (or waiting for indie publishing guru Joe Konrath to weigh in)?

I've seen many authors objecting to taking their "books" (plural) off the cybershelves of other retailers to give Amazon exclusivity, but this is not an all-or-nothing deal. To date I have indie published 12 full-length novels and two short prequels, and I don't see the harm in taking one of those full-length novels and enrolling it in Select, and therefore in Unlimited, and leaving the others where they are. Yes, there are still unanswered questions, among the most pressing being what will happen to the program after all those 30-day trial periods people are currently signing up for expire...will it thrive, or will people decide not to continue past the trial; and also how this will work out financially for indie authors. The way I see it, the sooner I get in, the sooner I can get out if I decide it's not working for me.

That's my opinion. I'd love to hear yours!
July 18, 2014

Speaking of movies...

Yesterday I talked about the Forgotten First Wife Syndrome, using The Godfather as an example.  This morning, I caught the tail end of the Al Pacino remake of Scarface, and while my first thought was that it was a pure high keeping him standing during that hail of bullets, it occurred to me...shouldn't he have bled to death, considering how many bullets actually struck him?

Shutting down my writer's mind for a minute, I also saw a commercial for the new James Brown biopic.  Chadwick Boseman nails James, right down to his speech pattern.  Also in the cast are both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.  August 1st, y'all!

Anybody else planning on seeing this one in the theaters?
July 17, 2014

Forgotten First Wife Syndrome

As many of you know, I love movies, especially old ones.  The first two movies in The Godfather trilogy are pretty close to perfection, in my opinion.  The Godfather Part III wasn't a bad movie, but to me and many others, it's not anywhere near the almost flawless first two, although I still find the final scene (the death of Michael Corleone) haunting.

Last week I watched a documentary about the making of the three films in the series, and as always, I'm blown away by the subtly masterful reactions of Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen, and of Al Pacino's metamorphosis from personable World War II hero to the ruthless, trust-no-one head of the criminal organization founded by his father (played, of course, by Marlon Brando).

Sure, there are a few continuity errors in part I (Vito asking Michael if he was happy with his "wife and children," when they only have a son; Tom warning Sonny that "All the Five Families will come after you" when the Corleones are supposed to be one of those Five, and that is definitely not the George Washington Bridge they are crossing when Michael asks Sollozzo if they are going to New Jersey); and part II (Kay slides out of bed on her own in the scene where her and Michael's bedroom is shot up, but by the time Michael reaches her she's back up in bed and he pulls her down to safety; Tessio's declaration that "30,000 men enlisted this morning" when most of the country wouldn't have learned of the morning attack in Hawaii until the afternoon, due to Honolulu time being 3 and 6 hours behind the East and West Coasts (plus recruiting centers had to be manned and opened on a Sunday), but there was one glaring error.  Hint:  It's mentioned in the title of this post.

The murder of Michael's Sicilian wife, Apollonia, in a car bomb meant for Michael, was never avenged, at least not in the theatrical release.  Anyone who saw the combination of the first two Godfather movies, marketed under the subtitle A Complete Novel for Television, will probably remember a scene inserted during Anthony Corleone's splashy first communion celebration (during which Michael took meetings) in which he was given a photograph of Fabrizio, his former bodyguard who betrayed him to one of the rival crime families.  It was intimated that Michael had been searching for Fabrizio for years before finally finding him in Buffalo, of all places (no wonder it took so long to find him; they were probably searching the Sunbelt).  In the next scene Fabrizio is shown locking up his pizza parlor and getting into his car, which blows up the moment it starts.  

At 3 hours 20 minutes, The Godfather Part II ran about 30 minutes longer than the first movie, and this was one of the scenes cut before theatrical release, but unlike some of the other cut scenes (like Michael giving his blessing to his late brother Sonny's daughter and her fiancĂ©), I believe this scene was necessary.  Eliminating it put a hole in the story, but I'm not surprised that the producers decided to cut it.

In movies, and in books as well, deceased first wives (and husbands) are usually forgotten. In The Godfather, Michael's first marriage occurred after he had to leave the country without any word to Kay, his first, "true" love, with whom he later reunites and marries, with the dead wife relegated to a distant memory who isn't seen or mentioned again until Michael's life flashes before him as he dies in The Godfather Part III. That bomb turning Apollonia into a rag doll is all the more horrible because she was in the first trimester of pregnancy (a detail only mentioned in the book, not in the movie), yet it appears that Michael never even told Kay, his original love who he later married, about her. Yes, by the time Michael and Kay married, Michael was well on his way to shutting himself off, so there were quite a few things Kay didn't know, but shucks, a first wife is a pretty important detail. The feeling I got was that Michael wasn't just looking for some booty but genuinely loved Apollonia. Had she lived, Kay would have either married someone else or become a spinster. But Apollonia didn't live, and the producers most likely figured it wasn't important that anyone be made accountable for her murder, even when payback was sought for every other family victim, whether they survived or not.

This type of thing drives me nuts, as does its reverse, also often-used subplot in movies and books: The second spouse who is conveniently killed off (sometimes even sacrificing themselves or after saving the lives of the spouse and stepkids) so the formerly married husband and wife can rekindle their love for each other...which they usually do while the body is still at room temperature.

Do you have an opinion about this type of storytelling? Does it bother you, or have you not noticed it?
June 26, 2014

Celebrating 5 Years of Indie Publishing

Happy Anniversary to Me! (No, not that anniversary...I was one of the crazy people who got married in December (although at least it was in Florida). 

On June 26, 2009, amid all the media coverage about the sudden death of Michael Jackson the day before, I published my first indie book, Save The Best For Last. I was taking a giant leap of faith and didn't half know what I was doing, but I did know that I had written a good story that deserved to be read (despite my hero having no money and the sex coming relatively late in the story), and that was good enough for me. Fortunately, most readers agreed, and the book was a success (it is now permafree on Amazon and Nook, at the latter under its original cover because Barnes & Noble has been very difficult to work with), and it's been followed by 7 more original titles and 4 backlist titles, with more to come! 

To celebrate this milestone, 1 of those original titles and 3 of the backlist are on sale for the next few days...(with a special deal on another book available only to my newsletter subscribers)...The eBooks pictured below are all just 99 cents as of right now on Amazon


I certainly don't want to leave out readers who have eReaders other than Kindles, and since as I mentioned, Barnes & Noble has been giving me grief all year, I've made most of these titles available for the 99-cent price at my eStore. This does not include Isn't She Lovely?, which is on a Kindle Countdown Deal and per the terms of that agreement cannot be sold anywhere else (the 99-cent price on this book is only effective through Friday, June 27th, after which the price will be increased in increments until it returns to its full price by July 1st).

The sale price for these three backlist titles will run only through Sunday, June 28th, so get yours today! 

Please feel free to share this announcement with your reading friends, and as always, I wish you good reading!