Monthly Archives: January 2011

Publishing on Kindle? Read the Fine Print

I put my novella, The  Death Trip up on Smashwords for free in November 2009 as my self-publishing “beta.”  I put it up separately on Kindle for 99 cents.  Since this was an experiment and I was simply hoping to attract readers, not make money, I would have happily put it on Kindle for free as well.   It was important to get it on Kindle as Amazon holds the biggest share of the e-book market and even though Smashwords theoretically “ships” its “premium catalog” books to the Kindle Store, they don’t actually seem to wind up there.

Many months later, I noticed that my novella had been made “free” on Kindle.  No e-mail to warn me. I just happened to check the sales reports and suddenly saw a big surge.  Through a Google search I found out about 50 books that had been free on Smashwords were now free on Amazon.  One blogger implied we were “caught” as though we were criminals.  It turns out that selling a physical or e-book version in any digital format at a lower price is a violation of the fine print of the Amazon contract. Like any “agreement” that one clicks on the web, this probably isn’t read carefully by most.

Meantime, sales started to boom for all the  recently liberated books as word of their status leaked into the blogoverse. Even though they had all been available at no cost in other venues including in the mobi format used on Kindle,  sales took off once the books became available on Amazon.   I “sold” more free Kindle versions in a few days then I had in a year of Smashwords downloads.  Meantime, when I checked my sales reports on the Amazon website, it looked like I was still getting paid for the free books.  Suddenly, my little novella is a best seller.  And then just as suddenly — within 6 days, it’s ninety-nine cents again, and the sales slip back down.   Despite seeing the sales reports, I didn’t quite believe Amazon would pay me for book sales on which they weren’t making a penny, but they did.   I got my 35 cents (35% royalty) on each freebie downloaded.   I made around $900 on the deal.  Other books remained free weeks longer and  topped the best seller lists on Kindle. It was a short-lived gold mine for some lucky authors.

But the question is: was it a mistake? A computer generated blip that cost Amazon money?  Or a plot by Amazon to create its own bestsellers and take over publishing?

In any case, it will happen no more.  I was just perusing the updated Amazon digital platform contract and they’ve closed the loophole.  Effective in February, they can (and probably will) lower the price to zero if they find out about a lower price elsewhere including free promotions and they will no longer pay royalties on the giveaways.  Oh, and there’s no appeal if they decide to free you book because somewhere on the web someone was giving it away.

I get Amazon’s not wanting to pay authors to give away books, but I don’t like their controlling self-published authors’ efforts to market themselves.  Giving away copies is a great way to attract readers, maybe even to get some reviews or buzz in various forums that discuss e0books.  Independent authors often offer  short-term promotions or give away PDF’s on their websites. These giveaways might be intended to reach a specific audience or the author may have a target number he or she wants to see in circulation.  But once the price is “free” on Amazon, they may not change it when it goes up elsewhere.  If a writer participates in a program like Operation E-book Drop which sends free downloads to deploying soldiers via the Smashwords “coupon” system, this too could be seen as a violation, especially if a coupon leaks out and winds up on a “free e-book” listing somewhere on the web.  If a writer tries to promote his/her book by making it free on Smashwords for a week or even a week-end, he/she may find that Kindle keeps it free for months.  The updated contract makes it very clear that there is no appeal when the price is dropped by Amazon because of matching.  Make no mistake, this isn’t simply about Amazon’s not wanting to pay royalties on free books, it’s about Amazon’s trying to control how writers sell their books elsewhere.  While one alternative  would simply be to not sell on Amazon,  micro-publishers are discovering like the small presses and big houses, that Amazon’s near monopoly on e-books makes that a not very feasible option.  The end result may be fewer free e-books for consumers and fewer promotions by authors.

So writers, beware.  Kindle has proved to be a boon to writers looking for a more even playing field.  It absolutely offers a chance to compete with the big boys and many “kindle authors” have done quite well.  But make no mistake about it, Amazon is a business.  It is not your friend.

Here’s an excerpt from the contract.  Anyone with a book on Kindle should go to their digital platform account and read all the fine print for themselves:

a. 35% Royalty Option.
i. The Royalty for the Digital Book will be 35% of the applicable List Price for the Digital Book.
ii. If you select the 35% Royalty Option for your Digital Book, you must set and adjust from time-to-time as necessary the Digital Book’s List Price so that the List Price, plus 15% (the statutory Luxembourg VAT rate) for sales to UK customers, is no higher than any of the following:
• the list price (i.e., the suggested or recommended retail price) for any digital or physical edition of the Digital Book in any sales channel; or
• if you sell a digital or physical edition of the Digital Book directly to end users, the price at which you sell that edition to end users.
iii. From time to time your Digital Book may be made available through other sales channels as part of a free promotion. It is important that Digital Books made available through the Program have promotions that are on par with free promotions of the same book in another sales channel. Therefore, if your Digital Book is available through another sales channel for free, we may also make it available for free. If we match a free promotion of your Digital Book somewhere else, your royalty during that promotion will be zero.

Sarah Palin — Whiney Victim

According to certain opinion-makers, anyone who suggests that Palin (and others) might consider toning down their rhetoric a bit, is now guilty of “blood libel.” Yes, it’s a pogrom being waged against Sarah — a virtual holocaust of blame for this Princess of Peace. She should lock up her daughters before the Cossacks beat down the doors.

As the wagons circle around the little lady from Alaska, I keep coming back to this clip from those long-ago days when the only Palin we’d heard of was the one who sold dead parrots:

Back then Sarah was tough. She felt women should learn to take the heat, and it did nobody any good for them to whine about the press.

Isn’t it kind of sexist that her honor is being defended so gallantly by male pundits while she hardly says a word? Shouldn’t the lady herself issue a statement? A direct one, not an aside to Glenn Beck as though she’s now too fragile to speak to everyone at once. Why she’d just die! Faint dead away! Delicate flower that she is…

Of course the national conversation shouldn’t even be about Palin, or Beck.  There shouldn’t even be a conversation about turning down the volume or taking away offensive graphics.   The volume part should have happened organically on both sides. Everyone should have just shut up for a while, followed by a few bowed heads and contrite statements about doing better in the future.

After that, the opinion makers should have started talking about the necessary steps to prevent something like this from happening again, and the lawmakers should have gotten busy drafting proposals to that effect. Imagine if Boehner and Pelosi announced bipartisan support for bringing back an automatic weapons ban or at least a plan that would keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill?   Can’t you see John and Nancy walking up to a podium together to make an announcement?  They’re calling it Christina’s Bill for the youngest victim.

I’m sorry, I must have been conscious dreaming for a moment.

Wouldn’t it be terrific if instead of trying to repeal the health care bill that finally passed, Congress looked at the laws regarding community mental health organizations and strengthened them?  Came up with consistent policies to be administered on a state and county level for dealing with the people suffering from mental illness? Imagine if we had had guidelines so that Loughner would have been subject to an outreach visit and emergency evaluation back when he was exhibiting bizarre behavior at the community college?  Even follow up care and treatment?

Oh, did I fall asleep at the keyboard again?

Palin may or may not be running for President in 2012. My guess is, that she’s not. She may realize that it’s dangerous out there. But wouldn’t now be the time for anyone who wants to lead, to begin?

UPDATE 1/12/2011 — This post and the previous one were both written during Palin’s time of silent reflection before she released her video in which she herself accused her detractors of “blood libel.” Of course her statement was issued after the conversation had pretty much turned away from her and moved on to more relevant topics such as gun laws, mental health and the political climate in general. Her use of the phrase in this context must be taken as deliberate, incendiary and desperate. It once again propels her onto center stage.

Second UPDATE: It now appears that after statements from the ADL and other Jewish organizations, Sarah has now removed the blood libel video. This is truly perplexing. Clearly, whoever wrote her speech knew what he or she was doing. How could her handlers not have expected this reaction?  Unless of course they did expect it.  The plot thickens, and sickens.

Third Update:  She’s re-realised the video.  Newly edited,  but with the “blood libel” still left in.  And now with what sounds like more references to God.  I officially give up and will leave tracking this woman’s every utterance to the pundits who get paid to do it.

Sarah Palin’s Brave New World

A few weeks ago while still feeling the sting of Obama’s “tax compromise” with the Republicans*, I made this comment over at Wonkette:

If only it were possible for someone, a persuasive speech-maker perhaps, someone with the type of communication and narrative skills that would propel him or her to high office, to explain to the American people over some kind mass communication device that they are being royally screwed by the Republicans who are clearly working in the best interest of billionaires and not those of millions of working people. Perhaps they could hire Sarah Palin to do the job?

My tongue was of course firmly planted in my cheek.  No one on the left will ever come up with enough cash to equal Palin’s compensation as a right-wing demagogue.   But I wasn’t kidding about her communication skilz.  It doesn’t matter that she makes up words and can’t string a sentence together.  She’s like a bestselling author whose trashy tales are bought by millions of people who don’t normally read books.  Obama might give “better” speeches, but more people read Dan Brown than Cormac McCarthy.

The gunman may be a lone nut with no Tea Party affiliation, but he certainly has absorbed the messages put out by the lunatic-right  —  (1) we are being taken over by the forces of darkness (2) there are plans to change the currency and the only true currency is the gold standard (3) the government take over includes “Death Panels” (4) Obama is a foreign usurper, not a natural born citizen; thus the entire government has no legitimate claim.

Not only have right wing politicians and pundits put these ideas into the air, they have also offered solutions, such as failed-Senate candidate Sharon Angle’s suggestion that “second amendment remedies” are a possibility if the ballot box doesn’t do the trick.  Sarah Palin infamous “crosshairs” map “targeted” Congressional districts including Gifford’s.  Palin’s spokesperson, Rebecca Mansour has stated that there was no connection to guns in the use of crosshairs, but to “surveyor’s maps,” an assertion that is not only absurd on its face, but contradicted by Palin’s own words to her followers, “Don’t retreat. Reload.”

People have the right to put out these messages, but usually it was people on the fringe talking this craziness.  These were not ideas endorsed by former major party candidates for the vice presidency  The fact that a major television network on which political leaders often appear promotes these ideas as well,  is also something we haven’t seen before.

To pretend that this isn’t a change, is naive.  To believe that this isn’t a deliberate attempt to mislead and frighten people is to bury one’s head in the sand.  To think that putting all this in the air won’t lead a few of the more frightened and less rational to act violently is to deny reality and history.  This wasn’t the first event of its kind over the past year, simply the most dramatic.**

Rallies will not restore sanity.  If responsible leaders in the conservative movement had the courage to speak up, maybe they could help. The new Speaker of The House refuses to deal with the “birthers” in his own delegation, insisting he has no right to tell people what to think.  So they will continue to say aloud that the President is a foreign usurper who stole his office, and so will television personalities on Fox News.  Eventually, of course some lunatic who has listened and absorbed the message, will attempt a “second amendment remedy,” while Palin, Beck and all the birthers will deny that their words had any impact.

Some people are proclaiming that the “smoking gun” of the crosshairs map, has finished Palin.  They are wrong.  She’s far from finished.  TLC may have cancelled Palin’s reality show and the map has disappeared, but her supporters are now playing the victim card, accusing liberals and the “gotcha” media of viciously attacking her by linking her to Saturday’s events.  Any rational debate on whether or not words are dangerous is now considered a left-wing attempt to malign a true American.  Her Faceback supporters comment on the liberal haters who are trying to “politicize” a tragedy.  The Wall Street Journal*** has weighed in with an opinion piece in which the writer labels criticism of Palin “blood libel.”  So the mere suggestion that Palin might want to rethink her rhetoric, is akin to medieval Christian villagers killing Jews who they accused of sacrificing Christian children?

Palin was never going to have enough popular support to win a general election, but with Rupert Murdoch’s behind her, her power and influence will continue to grow.  She is a raging fire, burning everything in her path.

*This was before the lame-duck Congress managed to get a lot of stuff done and it became apparent that the administration did in fact have a strategy, even if it involved skyrocketing the deficit.  Why does Obama always make me feel like an abused spouse who gets flowers the day after a smack down?

**Last August during the height of the anti-mosque rhetoric, a Moslem taxi driver was slashed by a drunken passenger.  Other incidents happened in mosques throughout the country.  Gifford’s office had previously had a window busted in.  Other congressional representatives and senators have also received threats due to votes on “Obamacare.”

***The Wall Street Journal is now under the ownership of Rubert Murdoch who also owns the right-wing cable station Fox News which features her as a pundit.  Murdoch also controls Harper Collins, her publisher

John Boehner — Man of Principle

In a recent interview, the newly appointed Speaker of the House, John Boehner took a brave and courageous stand for all of us who believe in the sanctity of the fundamental rights handed down to us by the blessed Founders in their infinite wisdom.

When asked about the strong Birther-faith expressed by twelve in the Congressional delegation of the party he leads, Boehner made clear that he does not share their beliefs, yet he upholds their right to believe as they choose.

He sees them as a “slice of America” like apple pie and guns, a part of “the melting pot” — not just elected officials, but men and women entitled to maintain their own values and traditions. He stands up for principle, telling the reporter, “It’s not up to me to tell them what to think.”

It made me weep. (There’s a lot of that going around these days). Like any good student of the USS Constitution, I’m sure Congressman Boehner was inspired by the Flushing Remonstrance written in 1657 to advocate for the rights of Quakers in the New Amsterdam colony. The signers of the Remonstrance, who were not themselves Quakers, were willing to risk punishment to defend the rights of others. Many historians look at the Remonstrance as helping to pave the way for our own sacred Bill of Rights, much the same way that Moses paved the way for Jesus.

Like the signers of the Remonstrance, some of whom were jailed or deported, Boehner may face consequences for his brave stance. I’m sure he will handle himself with the utmost dignity in the face of criticism and ridicule by the iron-fisted media lapdogs of liberalism.

I wonder if Boehner will go even further in supporting tax-exempt status for Birther organizations and allowing Birthers the same rights and protections that other such believers enjoy. There is no room for religious discrimination in these United States! Those of us who practice other faiths can learn from the Birthers, who have held fast to their beliefs even when logic and reason pointed in other directions. Perhaps Boehner will propose a pardon for the Birther army physician now in jail for refusing to deploy because it was against the tenants of his faith.  Or maybe he could lead the way by nominating Dr. Orly Taitz, Esquire, as our first openly-Birther federal judge.

Like Boehner, I do not share the Birther’s Creed, yet I too understand that none of us are free until we all are, and we must join in their struggle. If you wouldn’t want a Birther buying the house next door to you, or don’t support equal pay for Birthers, or their right to marry —  I would ask you to examine your beliefs, look into your heart,  and ask yourself, “What would John Boehner do?”

To put it another way — if you can’t imagine voting someday for a Birther President, then you are not a true American.

I Don’t Get No Respect — The Drawback of Self Publishing (Part I — I Was Wrong)

(I started out aiming to write a blog about self-publishing on Kindle.  This was like that Sterne fellow attempting to write a short-story about the night his main character was conceived.  I got a bit lost and realized it would take me a few years to get to the point.  So, I’m going to publish this as a series of blog posts.  This is the first.  I’ll be back.)

Many years ago, I attended an  MFA program at  one of those fancy schools.  Fat lot of good it did me, though it was great fun at the time — actually getting to meet and talk literature with famous writers, though the fact that even they needed the teaching gigs should have told me something.

Still it wasn’t till a couple of years after graduating that I got my first legitimate publication and it had nothing to do with any connections through the program.  The story happened to get picked from a slush pile for The Quarterly, a literary magazine edited by the notorious Gordon Lish.   It did lead to an agent’s contacting me to suggest I submit a novel, if I had one.  I didn’t.  Nor did I have anything else to interest Mr. Lish.

In any case, a couple of years later, deciding I needed an actual profession, I pretty much stopped trying to write fiction and went to social work school — a decision greeted with some suspicion by my family.

“Are you doing this to help people or to gather material?”  My father asked.

“Yes,” I said.

But I never gave up on the idea of writing.  I was just waiting for something, and eventually it came.

I always thought, based on no evidence, that I was supposed to be a novelist, not a short story writer.  I wasn’t great at concision.  I needed that broader canvas.  (Or as some may suspect — I am pompous and long-winded).   I was certain that if I wrote it, publication would come.

I was wrong.