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!