Shoshone Station: episode overview (with covers!)

Shoshone Station, The Galactic Consortium Serial, Season Two

I thought I’d give you a quick peek at the entire storyline for Shoshone Station, season two of my serial about The Galactic Consortium. Here are the episode covers and blurbs. Please feel free to comment about what you like, or what needs work.

Episode One: Not a Good Day to Die

Less than a year ago, they arrived over earth’s sky. They call themselves the Galactic Consortium and they are human, or at least, simian — from the same genetic line as humans. They claim to have terraformed this planet centuries ago to serve as a base for their exploration of this galaxy. What happened to the settlers, why none of us remember this, remains a mystery.

For America the concerns are more immediate. Will the Consortium accept our independence?

Shoshone Station is the first joint enterprise, a solar power, space station parked in geostationary orbit over Denver, Colorado. Its been “gifted” to America, but as Sherman Lannister takes command he wonders just how much control the new American crew will really have. After all, what do they know about running a space station?

For Sophia, a homeless transgender youth from Denver, and many like her the station is a second chance at a new life. But what will she do living amongst the stars?


Episode Two: To Be or Not To Be

Several of Sophia’s friends join her on Shoshone Station. They are starting new lives in the Consortium, but what sort of lives will they be? A couple of her friends seem to want to party every night but she wants to make the most of this new opportunity, but how? She turns to Dhanvin for advice and support as she tries to figure out her new life.


Episode Three: The Egg

Sophia’s first day as liaison for the new medical wing is exciting, they have rescued a premature infant from the surface. But its new home, the medical egg, sparks conflict between the healer, Bankim and Zeta, the diplomat over the issue of mixed race people like Zeta.


Episode Four: Meteors

Dan Oleson has been chosen to serve as embassy security on Saras Station in the Consortium, but he will soon discover the dangers are of a different type than he’s expecting.

Rumors are swirling about an asteroid or some other large body colliding with the earth. Would the Consortium allow such a thing to happen? More importantly, it seems the rumor may have started on Shin Station, of all places. Can Dan find the answer to this riddle?


Episode Five: Adam

It’s Lannister’s first Christmas on the station. For once he has the room and time to play host to for the family Christmas celebration. His plans are complicated by the arrival of his runaway niece, now as an out trans man.

The arrival of a human woman with a squid child (part human, part C’thon) places Zeta is an awkward place. Her job demands she investigates, but how can she put another person through the same hell she grew up with? And what if she refuses?


Episode Six: Africa

The day after Christmas, Jake King fights with his mom. He knows how hard it is for her, raising four kids with no help. But it’s not like there are jobs in Caspar, Wyoming, Not for a young man like Jake, not that pay decent. What can he do? Two days later he finds himself in Bamako, Africa, part of the Consortium’s African Administration. Is this the new reality? Commuter jobs halfway around the world?

Fox planned a relaxing vacation with Nara Suun in Southern Africa. But the fates seem to have other plans, he runs into the last person he wants to see, Gerald Klempke. The man he helped put into a Consortium Penal Colony for rape. Klempke says he wants to talk, wants to turn over a new leaf. But Fox isn’t sure he trusts him, but what can he do?


Episode Seven: Homecoming

When Sophia’s sister Shaelynn arrives on Shoshone Station, Sophia finds herself being dragged back to a life she thought she’d left behind, the life of Zach. But what can she do, her mom is dying. Unless Sophia can help her.

Kleppie thought he would return to Texas a hero. He’d been part of the famous USS Cambridge crew. He’d been to space. But he quickly finds that doesn’t mean much to those left behind.


Episode Eight: The Sting

The ugly issue of prostitution, which is legal but highly regulated in the consortium, has reared its head on Shoshone Station. Truthfully its been there all along, a small number of well paid and discreet courtesans. But now someone wants to open a brothel. Whose rules apply? Americas? Or the Consortium?

For Fox the controversy is the perfect cover to do some real police work for a change, using the confusion to do a sting on sex traffickers. For Jack it threatens to expose his relationship with one of the courtesans.


Episode Nine: Asha-Tanga

Asha-Tanga, the soul purification, is a week long festival in the Consortium, unlike anything on earth. It commemorates the last Vatari wars and the beginning of the Consortium itself. It blends religion and history. But for many, it’s a party. A week of fruit juice fasting, psychedelic herbs and dancing. It’s Christmas, the Fourth of July and Carnival rolled together.

But this is not just any Asha-Tanga. This is the first Asha-Tanga in a new galaxy. And Saras is the place to be for it.

For Jake King, he didn’t think much about the partying when he accepted Chatura’s invitation to come, with his entire family. They haven’t had a real family vacation in years, but how will they deal with this?

For Zeta the new regulation on Medical Eggs has brought the whole squid issue bubbling to the surface. But she’s supposed to be speaking about US/Consortium relations, not this. Should she defying her boss yet again?


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The Real Cost of Self-Publishing (Or How Not to Get Scammed.)

This landed in my inbox today and for some reason it really got under my skin.

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 4.56.16 PM

I get emails just like this almost every day. I usually just delete them and move on. But today I just want to pull on my ranty-pants, pull them up well past my belly button like some demented grandma and rant.

It does not cost three thousand dollars to publish a book!

If anyone tries to convince that you need to pay them 1500 dollars to self publish your book, that’s pretty high, but okay. If they try to convince you this is half price, they are scammers. Don’t pay these kinds of fees. It’s insane.

And it just gets worse. I’ve heard of people spending tens of thousands on “deluxe” publishing and promotions packages that do nothing other than take your money.

What does it really cost to self publish a book?

One of the beauties of self publishing is that a lot of the costs are up to you. There is a simple formula for most things in life:

Knowledge + Time + Money = Results

The great thing about this formula is that you need a certain amount of knowledge, time and money, but any of these things can be substituted for the others. Knowledge is power, if you are knowledgeable you can produce good results quickly for very little money. If you don’t have the knowledge but are willing to spend some time learning, you can do most of the steps of self publishing yourself and eventually get good results. If you have neither the knowledge or time, you can spend the money to pay a pro. It all comes down to choices.

Let’s break publishing down into five component parts and lay out the real costs for each. Publishing book requires editing the manuscript, formatting it, getting a cover, the actual publishing it and then promoting it.

Editing

You do need to edit your manuscript. In fact, you need a professional editor. A lot of writers resist this, put off by the cost or unwilling to admit they can’t do it themselves. The problem is that you can’t see your own mistakes. You need a second set of eyes, good professional eyes that know what they are looking for.

A professional editor requires money. There is no way around that, but the above formula still works for editing. Most editors offer at three different types of editing, content, line editing and proofreading. Which is right for you? If you have spent time learning your craft, if you understand story structure and are competent in basic grammar, you can get away with line editing or proofreading. If you have the time to let a manuscript sit and come back to it with new eyes, you can find more of your own mistakes. If you have taken the time to build a decent network of beta-readers, they will help you with content.

I still strongly recommend a good profession editor before you publish, no matter how many times you’ve been through the piece or how many beta-readers you use. A professional editor will almost always find things that could be improved.

How much does that cost? I hear quotes all over the place and it makes me think that all too many writers are being taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous editors. I’ve personally paid as much as a thousand dollars or more. Other writers tell me they are regularly quoted prices in the three to five thousand dollars range.

My editor, Janet Fix at the Wordverve offers several packages ranging from a half penny a word to a 1.25 cents per word, depending on the level of editing. A penny a word means that a sixty thousand word novel will cost in the neighborhood of 600 dollars. Expensive, but well shy of the thousands that some people are quoted.

Another important caveat, always ask about what the packages include. I used a professional editing service once, early in my career. Not only was it one of the most expensive edit jobs I’ve had, if I wanted to re-submit my changes or to work with the editor to finalize the document I would have had to pay for another edit, at the same price. Don’t fall for that. Find a good editor that is willing to do at least couple passes, until you both agree on the final manuscript.

Formatting

Formatting really isn’t that hard. This one area where I recommend knowledge and time replacing most or all the money investment. Formatting typically means making two versions of the manuscript, a print ready pdf for the printer and a file that can be converted to an ebook. Neither is particularly hard to do.

I have one huge bias when it comes to formatting, and while I admit it’s a bias it has worked so consistently for me that I use it as a rule. Don’t use Word. Whatever you think of Microsoft’s Word as a word processor or a writing program (it seems that most writers either love it or hate it), it’s not good for formatting.

If you are a Scrivener user, Scrivener does a great job on ebooks and a passable job for print. (Check out my tutorial on compiling in Scrivener here.) Free tools like Calibre can also be used to create ebooks. A workable print ready pdf can be created with open source software like OpenOffice or the way pros do, with InDesign. InDesign is more expensive and has a much steeper learning curve, but if you publish a lot or are planning a career, it might be worth learning. OpenOffice can make a decent looking book for the average indie author.

If you are technically challenged and the mere thought of learning to format a book makes you break out in hives, hire a professional formatter. My editor has one in her network. He runs a couple hundred dollars, which I find a bit high but he’s a professional graphic designer with years experience. Shopping around you can find formatters who will work for anywhere from fifty dollars to low hundreds, depending on what you want/need done. Again, I have had naive authors tell me they paid thousands for formatting and I shudder. Shop around, ask fellow authors for recommendations or check in with a local writer’s group about whether a quote sounds fair to them before you shell out thousands of dollars for anything.

Cover

A good cover is vital if you want your book to sell. It’s one of the areas where many writers are most willing to spend. There are two reasons for that, they acknowledge how important a good cover is and they know they don’t have the knowledge to do it themselves.

There are many reasons why it’s worth getting the knowledge, even if you continue to hire this task out. Knowing how to use a graphics program can save you a bunch of time and money on promotions. Having a basic understanding of design will help you know if a particular cover artist is worth the fee or not.

It does take time, though. There are two graphics program commonly used by the pros, Photoshop and GIMP. Neither are particularly user friendly and it takes hours of watching tutorials and trying things out to get a real sense of either program. Graphic design is an art form and you won’t develop an understanding overnight.

So this is one area where you are likely to going to spend money to have someone else create your cover. How much is that going to cost? Unfortunately, there are a number of factors and the legitimate cost of cover art can span twenty dollar premade covers to several hundred dollars. I’ve spent anywhere from seven hundred and fifty dollars for custom artwork to ten bucks for stock photos that I turned into a cover myself.

The biggest factor, in my opinion, is your genre. From a sales point of view, it’s more important that your cover show an understanding of the genre expectations than being an artistic masterpiece. Your target readers need to see your cover and know instantly that this is a book they might be interested in.

Erotica often features a scantily clad women on the cover. Erotic romance might have a hunky bare chested man. The “scary silhouette man” is so common on thrillers that it’s something of a cliche, but unlike writing cliches, cover cliches work.

What does this have to do with cost? Writers in certain genres can find stock photos and make their own covers pretty easily. The Best Boy Ever Made is YA with a large romance element. It has a simple stock photo cover and it one of my most consistent sellers. Other genres will require more work. Fantasy books often have illustrations, which is why I spent seven hundred and fifty dollars on commissioned art work for The Mage Chronicles.

This was one of my simplest covers, and yet it sells well month and month.

This was one of my simplest covers, and yet it sells well month and month.

Fantasy novels typically have illustrations. This is my most expensive cover, but I don't regret the cost one bit. It's gorgeous.

Fantasy novels typically have illustrations. This is my most expensive cover, but I don’t regret the cost one bit. It’s gorgeous.

Whether you are working with a designer that is using stock photos or directly with an artist, they should sell you the cover outright. I’ve talked to a few authors that were offered licensing deals instead. The result was that they had to go back to the artist and pay more money if they want to create merchandise based on the cover, or publish a new edition. Make sure you own the cover.

Publishing

Amazon and other ebook retailers have made publishing so easy it’s almost sad to see authors pay someone else to do it for them. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows you to upload your own ebook and see it on the kindle in a matter of hours. Createspace, Lulu.com and Ingram Spark make creating a print on demand book so easy that creating the print ready pdf is really the hardest step. There are many tutorial online to walk you through the process.

Even if you are not tech savvy, you really need to learn this step. Think about this, if you pay someone else to upload your book to Amazon for you, you will have to continue to rely on them to make changes and run promotions. You also have to trust them to report your sales truthfully and pay your royalties. Do you really want to put all those tasks into the hands of some company that sent you an email that one time? More than anything else, this is what makes me so angry about those spam emails.

The only potential cost for publishing is the ISBN and more than a few indie authors are on the fence about whether they matter. Some sources insist that if you let Amazon or Createspace give you a free ISBN, then they are the publisher of record and you won’t be able to get into bookstores. Other sources say that isn’t true.

The biggest argument people give in favor of buying your own ISBN is that then you are the publisher of record and you can take that book and ISBN anywhere. This is a myth. Say you buy an ISBN and publish your book to Createspace. Later you decide to switch to Lulu.com. You must unpublish the Createspace book and reissue your book as a new edition, which requires a new ISBN.

Then there is the whole question of whether or not ebooks even need an ISBN. Amazon allows you to publish without one. ISBN numbers are used to catalog books in libraries and collections and it’s uncertain whether or not there is any advantage to having one on your ebook, especially if you also have a print book which will have an ISBN by default.

Assuming you do want an ISBN, how much does that cost? ISBN’s are sold by Bowker. The more you buy, the cheaper. Currently its one hundred twenty five dollars for one ISBN or two hundred ninety five dollars for ten. A hundred go for around five hundred and some dollars. If you intend to publish and intend to use your own ISBN it really pays to save up and buy a package. It cuts your cost to less than thirty dollars each.

The bottom line is that paying someone hundreds or thousand of dollars to publish your book for you isn’t just a waste of money, it’s a dangerous business move. It puts the control of your book into someone else’s hands. It they are trustworthy, it’s a hassle. If they aren’t, you’re screwed.

Promotions

Promotions are the most difficult part of being an author. Or perhaps more to the point, it’s the vaguest part. What works and what doesn’t? How should you promote and what should you avoid? No one seems to have any solid answers.

Part of the problem is that it’s nearly impossible to make a definite correlation between our actions and the sales we see. If I ended this post with a link to my book, ten people read this post and one clicks through and buys the book, I could quantify my efforts. I’ve yet to see that sort of correlation pop up. You blog. You post on social media. You run promotions. Somewhere down the line you see sales. Whether those sales happened because of your effort or would have happened anyway is anyone’s guess.

It’s no wonder that so many writers would be happy to pay a promoter to take of that hassle for them, if only they could afford it. But they can’t. Promotional services are some of the most expensive packages offered by these snake oil salesman. For just a few thousand dollars they will make sure your book is plastered everywhere. They will put a team of Keebler Elves to work around the clock promoting and promoting.

I will say two things about these services. I have yet to talk to a single writer in person who paid out from some promotional service and was happy with the results. I’ve also noticed over and over that the glowing testimonials I see online have one common feature; they are authors who are new to the program and can’t wait to see the results. I’ve never read a testimonial that said, “I spend three thousand with Company A three years ago, and I’ve been a full time writer ever since, thanks to them.” Instead they trick writer who have just shelled out for the service to write them a testimonial, knowing that a few months down the road those writers will be disappointed and cynical.

 

So that’s my rundown of the real cost of self publishing. My most expensive book so far has clocked in just shy of what the above company is calling half price, and I paid for a professional photo shoot for that cover. My average, even with a professional editor onboard, is under a thousand.  

Spend time networking online with fellow writers before putting any money down for any service. Find out what a reasonable price is, what results you should expect and be sure you can’t do it yourself. I really hate to see any writer scammed out of thousands of dollars by some unscrupulous publishing company.

 

The one place I would never skimp on is knowledge itself. Luckily indie authors are a great bunch of people who are happy to share their knowledge. Here a few books to get you started:

 

The Indie Author Survival Guide

 

Write. Publish. Repeat.

 

Think Like a Publisher.

Your First 1,000 Copies

 

Let’s get Digital

 

Let Them Read Indies

The blogosphere is abuzz with news that ebooks sales are declining and print is surging again. Traditional publishing is safe from the ebook revolution and the self published hordes.

There are just two little problems with this. Traditional publishers seem to have forgotten their other recent victory. They’ve mostly won back the right to set the price they want from Amazon. So they have, increasing ebook prices to match print. Since both Amazon and bookstores still discount print, that means print books are now cheaper than ebooks in many cases. No wonder ebook sales are dropping and print is surging.

The other fact they fail to mention is that indie authors aren’t seeing the same effect, because most haven’t raised their prices. In fact the latest Author Earnings report shows that indies continue to gain ground in the marketplace.

So, I think it’s time.

Traditional publishing wants higher ebook prices?

Clears throat

Speaks in high, noble voice with French Accent

Lethemreadindies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Original Image Via Wiki-Commons

P.S. A shout out to all the small presses out there that aren’t jacking up their ebook prices to force readers back into an outdated pricing structure. This isn’t all about trad vs. indie.

The Hunted: Cover Reveal

Bear Naked 3: The Hunted is in production. And now, the big moment…

My new cover:

The HuntedAmanda and the pack are back. Uncle Darren has gone missing on a camping trip to Idaho. Uncle Mitch is in a coma.

The obvious culprit would seem to be their known enemy: The Sons of Garm. However Idaho is home to the Skinwalkers, Native American cousins to the werewolves. Could they be involved?

Want update information about the release? Join The Hunted. Sign up for my newsletter today!

 

 

 

Why the Ebook Bubble isn’t going to Burst

I hear a consistent rattle throughout the blogosphere about how we are in an ebook bubble. And of course we all know that bubbles are bad. They lead to financial collapse and ruin. And that is exactly what’s going to happen to ebooks, any day now.

I don’t personally believe we are in an ebook bubble, but even if we are, I don’t think it’s likely to collapse any time soon.

Let’s start by looking at what a bubble economy actually is, how it applies to ebooks and what an ebook bubble collapse would look like.

An Economic Bubble

First lets start with a bubble economy. An economic bubble occurs when the perceived or market value of an item or industry is too different from its real or intrinsic value. This can easily be explained with a couple of examples.

The dot com boom and bust of the nineties was a classic economic bubble at work. What happened is this: In the early nineties everyone was convinced that ecommerce was going to be the next big thing. (They were right, of course.) The stock market began investing heavily in any and all internet businesses.

The problem was the industry was still relatively small and the companies were new and untried. Internet businesses are lean by nature and in the mid-nineties there were hundreds of them. Most had a modest office space somewhere in California, a half dozen employees and a handful of web servers. That didn’t stop investors from sinking millions into them.

The result was a classic bubble. Some of these companies could measure their real assets in thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. On the stock exchange they were worth millions.

bubble economy

What happens when a company has fifty thousand in real assets and an estimated worth of fifty million? When it’s an economic boon, like the early and mid nineties were, all is good. But as soon a recession hits, look out. Many of the companies didn’t have assets on hand to weather the storm and went bankrupt, leaving investors out millions.

Another classic bubble is housing bust of 2008. For years real estate values rose consistently. Many people discovered real estate as a good investment tool.

But what about the real value of your house? Every year your market value goes up, but does your house grow bigger? Does it get better? If anything it is slowly aging, being subject to depreciation.

Again, as long as the economy is fairly stable, it works. But eventually the economy takes a downturn. Then nobody wants, or can afford, to pay the current market price. The last housing bubble left many people owing more on their current mortgage than they could get from selling the house. They were underwater, as the saying goes.

The Ebook Bubble

Are we in an ebook bubble? That’s a pretty murky question. With the dot com bust of the nineties it was pretty obvious. Companies have a tangential amount of fixed assets. The DOW lists stock prices. Just do the math and you’ll know. The housing bubble was a little tougher to see. Market value on a house is really just a guestimate of what the house would sell for. You don’t know exactly what the house’s market value is until you actually sell it. As many found out in the housing bust, sometimes houses won’t sell at their appraised value.

To figure out if we are in an ebook bubble or not we have to answer two questions. What is the real, intrinsic value of an ebook? What is the market value of an ebook? Neither of these questions have a good objective answer.

Market value of books

Those sounding the alarm about the ebook bubble are often the same people concerned about the huge rise in cheap or free ebooks flooding the market. These books are rapidly driving out better written but more expensive books, or so they claim.

This whole notion is based on a couple of simplistic half truths. The first is that books are an interchangeable commodity, that consumers simply looking for a book (any book will do) to read will naturally buy the cheapest they can find and be done with it. The second is that book sales are a zero sum game, that more sales of book A invariably means less sales of book B.

It is sometimes true that a book consumer is simply looking for a book to read to pass the time. It’s also true that people can only read so many books in any given period and eventually their book buying becomes saturated.

But neither of these paint the true story of a book’s market value. Books are not interchangeable commodities. Readers might be price sensitive on some titles but willing to pay more for other titles. A few books might compete for the same readership, but most do not. Some of the best marketers out there simply shrug their shoulders and say, “you just can’t predict the market.”

Here is the secret: each book is unique. You are trying to define a market value for “books” but each book has it’s own market value. Some books will sell well even at a premium price. Some books won’t sell, even at ninety nine cents. Some are free and still don’t get many downloads.

You can make some guesses how much the market will pay for a given book by looking at the track record of the authors. Best selling authors bring in more sales than unknown authors, generally speaking. You can make an even broader guess based on the genre the book is in. But putting an exact market value on a book is almost impossible, because each book will have it’s own unique value.

Industry analyst have looked at sales for a huge number of titles and identified “sweet spots.” (Currently Mark Coker says 3.99 is the sweet spot.) Books often sell fewer copies if priced too high or too low. Some indies have identified their own personal sweet spot by bumping their price around until they find it.

The ebook bubble concept is based on the idea that since so many indie authors are willing to sell books for 99 cents, that’s the market value for books. But many titles sell well for higher prices, and many 99 cent books don’t sell despite the price. But for the sake of argument lets take the basement discount price as market value and go on.

The intrinsic value of an ebook

If you think measuring the market value of a book is hard, measuring its intrinsic value is even harder, in part because there are a number of different perspectives.

The consumer perspective: It’s often hard to get the average consumer to see any intrinsic value in an ebook. It’s a digital rather than real product. To them it’s a few bytes of information on their kindle, computer or device. It costs nothing to store there. It can be copied at the click of a mouse. This explains, no doubt, why so many people are so cavalier about epiracy.

The indie perspective: the ebook itself might not be more than a few bytes on a computer, but there were real tangible costs to creating it. There was editing that had to paid for, cover design, formatting, etc. These fixed costs are a easily tabulated and often seen as the real cost of a digital book. Because these are one time costs, they diminish with sales. Let’s say for example that it costs you a thousand dollars to produce an ebook. If you sell two copies, it cost you five hundred dollars per copy. But if sell a thousand copies, it’s only a dollar per copy. This is the mentality that makes it logical to sell books at 99 cents or 1.99, hoping to sell thousands of copies and recoup the cost of production and then some.

The publisher’s perspective has to add in further costs, the cost of doing business. They not only have to pay back the one time costs of producing a book, they have ongoing overhead they have to cover as well.

Indie writers have accused publishers of conspiring to keep ebook prices high to protect print sales. Indies often shake their head at the seemingly boneheaded things that publishers do, at least when seen from an indie perspective. In my opinion it’s about more than protecting print sales, it’s about paying overhead.

In almost every industry the single biggest overhead expense is payroll. And suddenly keeping profit margins high makes perfect sense. If you assume that the majority of people working in the publishing industry would like to keep their jobs, and their jobs are dependent on the company making enough profit to pay its overhead, the whole issue takes on a different tone. A lot of choices that seem dumb to indies makes a certain sense.

(I hate to be a doomsayer, but this is one of the main reasons I’ve stayed indie so far. I am not sure the big publishers will ever be able to compete effectively against an indie writer who has little or no overhead.)

But what about the writer’s time?

The ebook-bubble-is-about-to-burst crowd seems to overlap extensively with the what-about- the-writer’s-time crowd and the two are integral to each other. None of these costs have taken into account the enormous amount of time an author puts into writing a book.

This criticism is often laid at the consumer’s feet. Consumers who are supposedly willing to read any old crap they can get for 99 cents while bypassing on real literature.

Criticizing readers for reading what they like, be it for 99 cents or 9.99 is never a good way to sell them on your books. And since every author would like more sales than they get, it’s easy to read sour grapes into this.

The second place this criticism often gets laid is at the feet of Indies. If there weren’t so many hobby writers willing to sell their poorly edited manuscripts for a song, serious writers would have an easier time making a living.

This crowd rarely seems to lay this same criticism at publisher’s feet, though they used to. This was a common complaint heard in writers groups before the ebook revolution came along. If you figured out what the average advance meant in hourly wages, it was a pittance at best.

The truth is nobody has ever paid writers for their time. Most indies today look at this from an entrepreneur’s perspective. You can’t expect the consumer to pay you for bringing a product to the market. You simply have to sell that product at a profit so you can eventually recoup those costs. Others argue they enjoy writing and don’t need compensation for that time.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s factor in the time spent writing the book. If we allot even minimum wage to the writer during these long hours, the real cost of a book becomes tremendous. Suddenly we have a huge ebook bubble.

The ebook bubble

If we assume that the lowest price point is the “market value” of an ebook and we assume that writers must be paid at least minimum wage for every hour they spent laboring, the cost of an ebook and the market value are far apart. But do you notice something strange about this bubble?

bubble economy 2

The ebook bubble is inverted. The market value is lower than the real value. What happens when it costs more to bring a product to the market then a company can sell that product for? They stop making the product. Then one of two things happen, the market price rises until it again becomes profitable to produce the product. Or the product itself disappears from the marketplace.

Since the primary cost that makes this a bubble is the writers’ wanting compensated for his/her time, the only way for this bubble to burst is for writers, en masse, to stop writing. If that happens (and assuming that all the already in print books get read, out of print, or something…) there will become a shortage of books, the market value will rise and it again be profitable for some writers to write books.

There are so many problems with this that I am almost don’t know where to begin. But let’s begin with what I call the stand off. Every time I read something about the ebook bubble, the deluge of ebooks on the market or the race to the bottom, it’s from a writer. They are engaged in a disingenuous stand off with their fellow writers. If only all those other writers stopped writing and publishing books, my book would stand a better chance.

  1. A) I don’t believe that’s how it works. If prolific romance writers like Barbara Freethy or H. M. Ward were to retire their keyboards today, those readers wouldn’t flock to your literary novel instead. B) I’ll stop writing when you do. The hypocrisy of writers telling other writers to stop writing is too much for me to bear.

Then there’s the fact that writers have many complex reasons for writing. Many write because they love it. If they make money from their writing, great. If they don’t, they’ll still write. Some writers write because they have a message they want to share with the world. All reasons for writing are valid, not just the profit motive.

Besides, despite all of these things, many writers do end up making money. Many writers have supported themselves for years on novel sales. Some have even gotten rich off them. Amidst all the dire news about publishing today, there are good indications that the number of authors making a living from their books is actually at an all time high. I’ve said before that the real indie revolution isn’t the occasional break away best seller. It isn’t the meager amount the average writer makes. Its the growing number of midlist authors that are quietly making a living from their writing, and making far more than they did with a publisher.

How can authors get compensated for their time?

Are authors just supposed to slave away for years, for free, in the hopes of eventual rewards? Sort of. Here are some hints to help with time compensation issue.

  1. Approach writing as though it were research and development for your business. Companies don’t expect consumers to pay them for research. They underwrite those costs themselves and then hope to make that money back when they bring the product to market. Writers should look at their writing time the same way.
  2. You don’t have to race to the bottom. Book sales are about a lot of things, price is only one. If 99 cents or 2.99 price points offend you, price your book higher. Expect that you will have to convince people your book is worth more.
  3. Ask yourself, what else would I be doing? If there is a good answer, consider doing that and not writing. Nobody is forcing you to be a writer. If it’s that frustrating, instead of railing against other writers, just stop. Start a youtube channel. Paint a picture. There are hundreds of ways to be creative.

Most writers will realize, if they stop to think about it, that they want to write. That they would keep right on writing, even if they never got paid. So keep writing. Be glad you get paid what you do.

Amazon’s BS Machine

I absolutely adore Ursula K. Lequin. I want you to know that right up front. She’s one of my favorite writers of all time. I love how passionate and outspoken she is about many issues, ranging from books to feminism. However her latest post on Bookview Cafe missed the mark on a number of levels. The post, title Up the Amazon with the BS Machine, takes Amazon to task for creating a system where the latest best seller drives out better books.

 

Her argument in a nutshell is that Amazon has an obscure algorithm for determining best sellers. It focus on selling books fast and cheap, favoring the quick pop success of fad titles and then burying books that have ran their course into obscurity.

I see three big issues with what’s she’s saying. The BS machine (best seller machine) predates Amazon’s rise and dominance by many years. Amazon’s admittedly murky algorithm actually works against the BS machine and Amazon doesn’t condemn any book to obscurity, quite the opposite.

The BS Machine

Let’s start with the rise of the BS machine. It didn’t happen overnight. It rose in large part due to the same market forces that slowly turned hundreds of medium sized presses into the big five corporate publishers we have today. You can glimpse the same complaints in books on publishing that were themselves published as far back as the 1980’s.

It goes like this, as publishing becomes more and more driven by corporate bottom line, publishers natural focus on “marketable” or “commercial” fiction. i.e. books that sell well enough to make the company a big profit. The hunt for the next big thing soon trumps keeping a stable of moderately successful writers happy.

The rise of big box stores and discount sellers in the nineties drove this to new heights. Suddenly books didn’t just have to sell enough copies at regular price to be profitable, they had to sell at a sharp discount and still be profitable.

Amazon came along in the mid-nineties and has slowly gained a greater and greater market share, eclipsing Barnes and Nobles and driving Borders out of business. Lequin is right to say that they have continued to force the trend towards highly discounted books, but wrong to say they are responsible for the best seller mentality, which came from publishers and big box stores.

Amazon’s Sales Rank

The way Amazon determines sales rank for books, and therefore best sellers, is indeed a murky business. They are notoriously secretive about their algorithm. But what we do know about the process actually works against the BS machine, not for it.

First off, the reason Amazon is so secretive is that they fear publishers or indie writers will game the system if the system is too well understood. After all, it happens all the time. Every time the algorithm becomes too clear, someone figures a way to make it work for them.

The best example is free. It’s also the best example of how the current system works against the BS machine.

Back in the early days of KIndle Direct Publishing, Amazon counted any download equally. Authors figured out that they could make their book free for a short time and shoot to the top of the bestsellers list. Once they put the book back to regular price it would slowly drop off the list. In the meantime, they would be on Amazon’s front page, getting a huge boost in publicity. This would result in a huge number of sales for the author, enough to justify the free promotions.

Problems abound for Amazon and for author’s in general. The value of being a best seller was watered down. Bad books often did come to the top. Clever marketers succeeded while good writers failed.

So, Amazon started changing their system. They no longer count free downloads towards sales rank. Free giveaways still have value for some writers but they aren’t a quick way to game the system anymore.

The murkiest part of Amazon’s algorithm is “stickiness.” What exactly counts as stickiness is uncertain, nor how they measure it or how much weight they give it. In general terms what it means is this, Amazon weighs consistent long term sales more than short term ups and downs.

For example another way to game the system was to get all of your fans to buy a book on a certain day. Authors did this through email lists, twitter or other social media. By micromanaging their sales they hoped to get enough downloads within a given period to push their sales rank up into the bestseller list. Like other ways of gaming the system, it worked for a time.

Then Amazon changed the system. They started updating the sales rank more often. That had the result that sales all in one day would boost your rank, but it would drop the next day, back to what it was. The benefits of gaming the system became short lived.

Now many indie authors have noticed they’ve taken it a step further. If your book has been selling at a certain rate and had a certain sales rank for several weeks, small bumps in sales have little effect on that rank. So do small dips in sales. Sales ranks have become “sticky.”

Amazon has done this to prevent gaming the system, but it also works against the BS machine. Stickiness means that books that sell reasonably well will be kept around and will keep selling reasonably well, while fad books rise and fall in the background.

“But you can’t buy and read a book that hasn’t been kept in print.”

Of all the arguments Lequin makes, this one is just plain wrong. Amazon had no mechanism to force publishers to take a book out of print and two important mechanisms in place to prevent it.

Amazon doesn’t want books to go out of print to make way for the next big thing. Publishers do. They can make more money off one title if they get the competition off the shelf. The generous return policies they offer retailers is in part aimed at that. Can’t sell title A? No worries, we will credit you for it and send you title B.

Digital shelf space is unlimited and Amazon makes far more money by selling a few copies of title A and a few copies of title B then they do by concentrating their efforts on a best seller. In fact they’ve driven Borders out of business, not by having more copies of one book but by having an enormous selection of books on sale, a selection no physical retailer could match.

How does Amazon preserve books? The most direct way is their own Kindle Direct Publishing. Digital books never go out of the print. Many authors have created large side incomes by taking older titles that went out of print and republishing themselves on KDP. Newer indie books are never in danger of being taken out of print by the vagaries of a traditional publisher.

The second way that Amazon keeps books in circulation, if not print, is through a vast collection of associate sellers. Anyone can start an online store through Amazon’s associate program. Used bookstores and book collectors run lucrative businesses reselling older titles.

I resisted online book buying for many years, preferring to shop at a local bookstore. But time and again, I couldn’t find the title I was looking for. Meanwhile, I’ve found hundreds of great out of print books on Amazon. I’ve been able to access some great books that publishers would have let die long ago, if not for Amazon.

 

I am no Amazon fangirl. You can criticize many of their business practices and I will be on board with you. They are a huge corporation. If you believe you can trust any corporation to serve anything other than it’s own best interests, you are dangerously naive. Publishers and authors should always keep one eye open to what Amazon is up to.

Amazon is also an online platform. That’s a big part of why I am not afraid of them.  Like Facebook and Google, they have a good side and a bad side. They have value to both consumers and publishers alike. In the future that might change, and we will all have to roll with it.

It’s important to be objective, to not blame them for every ill of modern publishing, or for market forces beyond their control. They have their good and bad side, but this one is not on them, in my opinion.

What is your opinion? I would glad to hear it in the comments below.

What the Media is getting wrong about Kindle Unlimited

Amazon is one of those love em or hate em kind of companies, or so the media would have us believe. The truth for most writers is, I think, a lot more nuanced than that. A lot of indie writers have made careers thanks to Kindle Direct Publishing. And yet at the same time, they know that having all your eggs in one basket is a dangerous mistake. Other writers have made careers in traditional publishing, and when Amazon and Hachette had their dispute it was hard not to wonder how it was going to affect them. Still, at the end of the day we all understand that Amazon is a business with it’s own business interests. It’s an enormously successful business and it’s decision affect every writer, so we pay attention to anything it does.

That said, I am growing tired of how every Amazon related piece of news is spun to either show how much we love or hate the retailer. Kindle Unlimited has become the latest victim to this spin, even when that’s not what the very authors are saying.

According to the spin the Kindle Unlimited program has opened a huge riff with the indie community. We are being treated like second class citizens. Big name authors like H. M. Ward and even Joe Konrath are up in rebellion, leaving the program in droves.

There is some truth to all this. A select few authors have been allowed in the Kindle Unlimited program without exclusivity but most of us have to choose, enroll in select and have our books become Amazon exclusives or opt out. A few publishers have been offered their full cut on each borrow, the average indie gets paid out of a pot.

There are just a couple of problems with the spin. The first is that while many authors are disappointed with the way this program is working out, they don’t hate Amazon because of it. Even those pulling their books from the program aren’t pulling their books from Amazon. Even those praising the program are cognizant that it hasn’t been good for everyone.

The bigger problem with the spin is that it’s missing the central idea, the program isn’t working. It’s not an Amazon-is-a-terrible-company sort of problem. It’s not that indies are being mistreated. The program should be a good tool for indies wanting to get discovered, but it’s not working out that way.

Why isn’t it working? If we screw the spin and go straight to the source we see the problem. H. M. Ward pulled her books for two reasons, borrows weren’t paying enough and her sales were dropping. In fact, her sales plus her borrows were dropping.

I am nowhere near as popular as H. M. Ward, but I can see her point. The first couple of months I saw a lot of borrows and I got paid enough on each borrow that it was close to what my royalties were. Then borrows started to drop. Now, I can’t say that it’s worth it to stay in the program.

This combination of dropping pay out and dropping borrows points to a more specific problem then how Amazon treats indies. I think the issue has to do with the ratio of readers to writers. Most of the bloggers so far have focused on the huge number of indie authors jumping into the program, and the giant pile of books available. Not only is this disingenuous, since none of those writers is going to stop putting their books into the program, it misses the other side of the equation. How many readers have opted into the subscription service? I am guessing the pace adoption on the consumer side simply hasn’t kept up with the number of authors. That would explain the dropping payouts.

And it points to the real issue with a reader subscription service. I am not just a writer, but an avid reader as well. I opted in with the Kindle Unlimited early on. I loved it for about a month. I read a half dozen or more of the big names they recruited into the program, books I’d wanted to read for sometime because of the hype around them (like the Hunger Games books) but hadn’t wanted to buy. Then I started sampling from the large library of available books, many of them by indie authors. I got passed the ten percent mark, where the author gets paid, on many of them. But I didn’t fall in love with any of them either.

A couple months later I realized that I had stopped borrowing books and gone back to buying them. I just got tired of sorting through hundreds of titles that I might possible want to read and returned to picking out, and paying for, the ones I knew I wanted to read. I got tired of passing by books that I wanted to read, because they weren’t free. Just using KU, I could save money. But having some KU books and some bought books, I was losing money. In the end it wasn’t worth it. I cancelled my subscription.

And that is the problem with a reader subscription service. Books are a huge investment of time, even if they are free. That’s why libraries never destroyed bookstores. Readers don’t seem to care that there are thousands of books available for free at the local library. They only care about the few books that they want right now. The bookstore does a better job of providing those titles. So readers go there and fork over cash.

Libraries stay open because they are publically funded. Do you think it’s possible to have a subscription based library with monthly fees? It hasn’t worked so far. I think Amazon will discover the same thing with KU.

I know, Pandora, Spotify, changing the music industry, blah, blah, blah. Maybe Amazon will eventually pull this one off, maybe they will get around consumer reluctance and author concerns and make Kindle Unlimited work.

As a reader, I’ve ditched Kindle Unlimited. I’m not sure what would bring me back. As an author, I’m leaving some of my YA books in the program, and I will continue to monitor how it works. But I am not intending to put any of my new books in.

Contrary to what the media might say, it doesn’t mean I hate Amazon.