Tag Archives: self-publishing kindle

What Is a Book?

With everyone now doing at least some of their reading on devices, it may be a little late in the day to go back to the early arguments against e-books, yet Amazon itself has recently begun to point out some of the limitations of the format.

Seven years ago when the Kindle was introduced, there was a lot of talk about whether e-books and e-reading devices would even catch on at all. Kindle launched with a video of Toni Morrison – writer, editor and literary grande dame – speaking about her love for the new tschotke. She hit several important talking points that would be repeated mantra-like through the years – you could travel with a lot of books, you could read trash without other people’s knowing, you could set the print large enough so that you wouldn’t need glasses. There was other stuff too. Continue reading What Is a Book?

The Service Savvy Authors Would Pay For (If It Existed)

Part I – Nobody wants to read the great novel you wrote:

Without going into a whole history of digital self-publishing, let’s just admit the current situation sucks. Sure there are now self-published e-books regularly featured in The New York Times Sunday Book Review combined e-book and paperback top 25 bestsellers. Yes, there was a write-up in Slate last week on the phenomenal success of Wool, but aside from a very few winners, most authors are losers, and readers aren’t too happy either.
Continue reading The Service Savvy Authors Would Pay For (If It Existed)

To Serve Writers

I was over snooping around some aspiring writers’ site and it hit me.  People pay big bucks to get opinions on their work.  Back in my Authonomy days, I heard of writers spending hundreds of dollars for “critiques” by professional editing services.  One author published her critique, which basically advised her to dumb it down and sex it up.

Meantime, other writers at that site (owned an operated by Harper Collins UK, a Rupert Murdoch joint), spend an incredible amount of time trying to make it to the “Editor’s Desk” to get some junior editor’s review.  They don’t have to pay anything to get those reviews, but it means clawing your way to the top of a virtual slush pile by reading and often praising other people’s work.  If you calculate labor, it would be cheaper to just pay a freelance editor — though getting the opinion of an “authentic” but anonymous industry “insider” has a definite appeal.  Often what the editor has to say is not so different from what the more honest readers have been pointing out all along.  In some cases, it’s just plan wrong.  (HC panned and turned down at least one romance/mystery that’s been a bestseller in UK’s Kindle store for months and garnered much critical praise.)

Other aspirants pay hundreds for reviews by Kirkus Indies (formerly, Kirkus Discovery).  For $425, or $575 if you want shorter than a 7-9 week turnaround, someone whose name and qualifications you’ll never know will write an “official” review of your tome.  This isn’t exactly like hiring Michoko Kakutani to do the job.  But then again, why would you want to?  The idea behind Kirkus is that if it’s a good review. you can use it as part of your publicity if you self-publish.  People might mistake it for a “genuine” Kirkus review which will boost your sales because they have so much integrity.  They are now apparently working with Amazon’s Create Space to sell this awesome service.  If  the review stinks, you don’t have to publish it, and could theoretically use the critique to make changes or just take up origami or something.

Of course there are other options — creative writing workshops abound and are even available online if you live out in the boonies.  Most community colleges offer classes at reasonable rates.  Things being what they are, these classes may be taught by  “real” published authors.  This would be the best way to go if you’ve never taken a class or haven’t written in a long time, though not all published writers are decent teachers, and your classmates may or may not offer useful feedback.

Some people wind up throwing money away, falling for some slick ad, and going to an “editor” with nefarious credentials.  This might cost thousands.  And despite the “self-publishing revolution”, there are still all sorts making money off the desperate through “author services,” and “subsidized publishing.  Fake agents lurk all over the Internet and publishers who promise that you’ll “never” pay a dime will still somehow extract a few thousand before they’re done.  Best to check out all offers first!

So here’s my pitch.  I have one of those useless MFA’s degrees.  I was “real” published long ago, once.  I’ve taught writing.  I even  had a story edited for publication by an infamous and controversial professional editor.  (His method was basically to  cut the vital organs out of any story that came his way.)  I’m now a member of a collective of “independently published” rogue writers; some of whom are extremely talented (though I make no claims for myself).

I could use some money and I’ll undercut Kirkus and other services.  So how’s this:  I have no publishing connections and don’t work in the industry.  I can’t get my own work agented.   I can critique your work and give you an honest opinion on  plot, pacing, dialogue, writing mechanics and all that jazz.  You couldn’t pay me enough to actually proofread or edit it, but I can offer some tips and tell you whether or not you’re anywhere near ready to even go to an editor.  I can also tell you whether or not I found it compelling.  Believe it or not, the MOST likely reason an agent is going to reject your work, is simply because he or she found it boring.

I won’t promise you that if you do everything I say, you’ll get a contract.  The sad news is, you probably won’t get your novel published (by someone who isn’t you) unless you know someone or made sure to include vampires, zombies or  some kind of Jane Austen parody involving paranormal romance, or unless you’re a celebrity.  If you’re a celebrity, I’ll tell you the truth, which is more than you’re getting from your sycophantic assistant, but I’ll charge you double because you’re worth it, and you wouldn’t believe me if you thought I was cut-rate.

I can tell you if what you wrote is amazing, ordinary or embarrassing.  I could be wrong.  Most likely I am.   It’s entirely possible that you are a genius, and I just didn’t understand your work.  But then again, who am I anyway?  If I don’t like what I tell you,  you can always tell people that I’m a fraud and an idiot.

So let’s say $200 for a five-page crit of up to 300 double-spaced manuscript pages, and  $50 for each additional 100 pages (pro-rated).  Payable through Paypal with a 2-week turnaround.  (Add 20%  for rush jobs.)  Just respond with a comment if you’re interested.  I’ll be waiting to take your money.

Jeffrey’s Game — Funny Business in the Kindle Store

Self-publishing was once a punch line. Now all the cool kids are doing it. Much ink virtual and real has spilled on the topic with even The New York Times declaring it almost respectable.

For the small minority of people reading this who haven’t actually written a book and put it on Kindle themselves, it’s so easy a chimp could do it. And yes I actually expect to see an ad someday where one of our well-mannered primate-cousins will be shown finishing a manuscript and following the prompts to upload it onto Amazon’s Digital Platform. Or maybe that will be a competitor’s ad, Steve Jobs taking a swipe at the deluge of titles on Amazon, priced between 99 cents and $2.99, written by everyone from formerly mid-list authors to high school students to retirees with too much time on their hands.

Meantime in the present, Jeff Bezos’ plan for world domination and beating the Big Five Publishers who are fighting his desire to cap e-book prices moves forward. He’s using the self-uploaders or “indies” as they prefer to be known for his own purposes.

I should know. I’m one of his two-bit whores, hawking my wares on the Amazon “community” forums, like some worn-out chippy.

“Mr. I was published once, legit. I got me one of them degrees. I was a Sarah Lawrence, girl. And my prose is clean, Mr. C’mon take a chance. Give a girl a break. It’s only 99 cents!”

As Bogey said in Casablanca, patter like this is usually accompanied by the sound of tinny piano playing in the parlor.

And now it’s time for the screen to go fuzzy while we go to flashback.

What led me to make the plunge? The usual frustration over not selling my novel, plus meeting up with enough other frustrated writers to become convinced that we weren’t all hacks, and maybe there was a real problem. In fact, some of the best novels I’ve read in the past couple of years have been self-published or as-yet-unpublished, books agents balked at for reasons of perceived marketability. One involving heroin addiction in 1960’s London was deemed too difficult for Americans. Another had a plot revolving around a woman who physically abuses her husband. It didn’t end in love conquers all, as it wouldn’t, but editors wanted a happy ending which the writer couldn’t provide.

My own unpublished opus is hardly worth discussing here. Let’s just say it’s not beach reading or chic-lit. Nobody buys expensive shoes, though there is one scene where a teenage stripper steals a pair of Doc Martens from a dead girl whose chopped-up body is being rendered into soup.

But as usual I’ve meandered far from the tale I’m trying to tell.

In the beginning there was Createspace and Createspace begot The Kindle Store and Jeff Bezos said it was good.

For those people living in a cave who still remember the old tombstone ads for Vantage Press — “ye olde timey vanity press” — you’ve got some catching up to do. Through the use of print-on-demand technology, people can now publish themselves “independently” without giving thousands to some gonif who promises to make them famous. The costs of using Amazon’s Createspace to produce and publish a book are negligible, unless you buy extras like help with formatting or cover design or editing or proofreading services. What you don’t pay for is warehouse fees or printing costs. People can order the books online at Amazon or Createspace and they print to order. The reality is, however, most of these books are bought by the people who wrote them or their friends. The books cost more to produce then offset books, and are often priced higher than books by known writers. There is little chance of these books ever being sold in “real stores.” After Amazon’s cut, the writers may make very little in royalties.

Kindle, which doesn’t charge for uploading books, is an even less pricey way for writers to get their work out. Amazon offers a hefty 35% in royalties for books priced under $2.99 and a fat 70% for those at or above $2.99. You can actually make money having your book on the Kindle, though most people who do, spend a lot of time “promoting” their work, and would probably do better working part-time at Wal-Mart. Promotion consists of cajoling people on the Amazon forums to buy your e-book. I’ve got two books up. One is a novella, going for 99 cents, which took me very little time to write. The other is the novel described earlier that took years and is priced at $2.39 (reduced by Amazon). Guess which one sells more? The novella, I’ll admit is probably more accessible, but my guess is it’s the price that draws them in.

Now, here’s where things get really strange. At the beginning of October, for some never fully explained reason, Amazon went and reduced the price of several of its 99-cent “indies” to FREE. There was no special notice given to the writers. No permission sought. They apparently have the right to do this. What I didn’t realize immediately is that they were still paying the royalties as if the price hadn’t changed. This is something that they are apparently obliged to do if the royalty is set at 35%. The book took off and almost made the top 100 in “free” books. If you click to see the “bestseller” list for Kindle, you’ll see two lists side by side. One is “paid” and the other is “free.” There are also various genre and subgenre list. For a while, my little novella was the number one “medical technical thriller” in “free.”

Within a few days, just as mysteriously, the book was back at 99 cents. Suddenly, it was listed in the “paid” content, but the way the numbers were cooking it was still benefitting from all those “sales” back when it was free. Plus because it was now showing up on so many “people who bought this, also bought that” lists, it kept selling and is still doing well.

Did it make me rich? Hardly. Because here’s another dirty little secret of The Kindle Store — it’s one store, a sub-section of a very large retail outlet, but still just one store, selling e-books primarily for one device. The title could have a sales rank of 200,000, but one sale could bring it up to under 50,000, and several over a few hours might put it into the top 1,000.

While I don’t have the October final figures yet, and can’t tell you the greatest sales day, I can tell you that it had around 2,300 “sales” in the four days or so when it was free. This is about 10 times the amount it had gotten on Kindle at 99 cents in the previous ten months. Given the one-click buying and the “free” part, it’s no wonder so many people downloaded it. How many will actually read it is another matter, and the number is not impressive when compared to the sales of “real” bestsellers. Nor at 35 cents a pop is it very lucrative. It also does not appear that the sales on the novella had much impact on the sales of the novel.

I did very little to influence any of this. Amazon didn’t publicize it beyond having the free titles show up on automated lists. There are boards and blogs started and ready by Kindle users and someone had posted a listing of the “newly” free books on one of the more popular ones which brought a lot of readers in quickly.

The question: What is Amazon’s strategy in reducing the price to nothing especially when they still pay author royalties? Amazon might protest that there’s less here than meets the eye. The prices may simply be reduced automatically when it’s found that the book or e-book is available somewhere else for less. The novella had been listed in other e-book formats through a different distributor for free. It’s possible this showed up, and Amazon reduced the price with no human intervention. It was even suggested on a link somewhere that they might not in the end pay the resulting royalties because having it up for less could be a violation of the contract, though so far, the money is still listed in my reports.

But it makes more sense to believe that Jeff Bezos knows what he’s doing. Amazon is developing it’s own cheap content for Kindle. Unlike expensive to produce Createspace titles, cheap Kindle “indies” sell. Tons of books recognized in “customer” reviews and a few blogs that look at “indies” are creating a unique bestseller list in the Kindle store and even bleeding onto Amazon itself. Take a look and you’ll see titles you’ll never see in a bookstore — straight to Kindle specials that may or may not even exist in print-on-demand.

This is not to suggest that Bezos doesn’t want to sell “real” books. Amazon probably earns more in a day on sales of the Millennium Trilogy than it will in a year on any of it’s 99 cent titles, yet they are able to use the “indies” to offer frustrated Kindle buyers loads of cheap content that’s oh so easy to buy with the one-click button. Unlike a publisher, they spend nothing on vetting, editing, proofreading, or even promotion. Amazon makes money whether a consumer buys one authentic bestseller or loads up on 5 bogus Kindle ones. By having all those titles show up in their store, they dilute the sales of the “real” books, weakening the hand of the publishers.

Next Time: Funny Business in the Kindle Store: Part II: The “making” of a Kindle Mega-Seller or How One Author Stole from Jackie Susann’s Playbook.

(Pssst, if you liked this post, think you could maybe check out my books here?)

My Kindle — Week Two

So after endless discussion and debate — internal and external, I finally bought a Kindle DX.  As my regular readers (I’m talking to you Kirkland and Walsall) know, I love books – the look and feel of them, the way they turn to dust and crumble in your hand. I love used books that have yellowing paper that breaks off if you try to fold a corner to save a place. But there’s only so much room in my apartment.

Why a Kindle? Why not a Nook, or Sony E-Reader, or Brand X, or I-PAD?

After reading the recent New Yorker article on Bezos v. Jobs and Big Publishing, I decided maybe it was worth supporting Amazon. If we’re all going to be reading e-books in the future, it would be nice to be reading them cheap, and Bezos at least acknowledges that it costs much less to produce an e-book than a print book and some of those savings should be passed on to consumers.  As a print consumer, most of the books I buy are discounted or more likely used. I like the idea of more cheap content, and Amazon offers droves of it. As a writer, I love that Kindle offers easy access to self-publishing with 70% royalty, which also deserves supporting.

I get the utility of the I-PAD as an easy display to show off your photos, watch movies, surf the web, etc.  It’s great for reading art books, graphic novels and those “books of the future” with lots of live links including to video clips, photos, etc. However, for reading words on a page,  the Kindle is far superior. No backlight, good contrast, and lightweight.  It doesn’t give me a screen headache.  Call me a relic, but I’m fine surfing the web on my computer, and if I had unlimited income I’d buy an I-PAD as well, but for reading books and other texts, this works best.

I chose the DX, a big price jump from the regular Kindles, because I wanted the screen size. The Nook, by the way, doesn’t come big.  I’ve always been farsighted and since passing into my decrepitude, small print has been a lot of work. The DX allows me a full screen of text displayed in a reasonably large font.  It’s a nice size for reading and storing work-related PDFs and an alternative to printing them out.

What I’ve Learned So Far:

Proofreading. Who knew?

One thing I didn’t even think would be useful is the “text to voice” feature. Just as an experiment, I turned it on to listen to my  novel, Loisaida. Despite having proofread several times the old-fashioned way and with friends as readers, I was suddenly “seeing” a ton of errors and formatting inconsistencies I hadn’t caught before. I was able to note them using the mark-up feature. It’s awkward for editing as you can’t directly change the text, and the keyboard isn’t great. But the combination of being able to read something that looks like print and hear the words clearly (albeit mechanically) is a terrific proofreading tool.

Sharing, not encouraged.

I’m enjoying my two-week free trial subscription to The New York Times on Kindle.  It’s great to browse through the articles one at a time and not have to move from page 1 to page 13 to finish reading something. I thought I’d be able to save some trees and chuck my home delivery subscription, however, here we run into a problem. I am pair-bonded.  Even if my better-half had his own Kindle, he’d need his own subscription to read The Times on it.  I suppose the idea would be for him to get his own Kindle and we could each trade off with different subscriptions, but this is not happening anytime soon, Mr. Bezos. While my husband says he’s fine reading the paper on the computer screen, he says it in an “I’ll just read in the dark” tone, so for now at least we’ll stick to the paper version of the paper.

(Of course, I’m hardly the first to notice the sharing issue  and there is a less than perfect fix. Apparently, if we bought another Kindle and kept my name on the account for both devices, The Times could go to both. But that would destroy our sense of individuality and hence the marriage itself, leading to a court fights over custody of the content when we divorce.)

Thumb fatigue and the Plight of the Left-Handed

I wish there were a better way to turn the page. The button that needs to be pushed, feels counter-intuitive. Why not a touchscreen (like I-PAD) for this one feature?  I noticed also when I was reading intensely (my proofreading binge), my right arm from thumb to elbow started to ache.  I’m a righty, but would have liked to switch hands. The only way to do that is to turn the image upside down and then turn the Kindle itself upside down. This means, however, that the page turning arrows will be pointing in the wrong direction and the keyboard — in case you want to make notes, adjust the font, etc., — will also be upside down. I don’t know whether or not the other devices are more “left-hand friendly,” but I wouldn’t recommend this one to a lefty.

One Click Buying Adds Up

I’m no expert on the  economics of the Kindle, but I imagine the main money is not in the sales of the apparatus itself, but in all the Amazon products bought once you own one. While the Kindle doesn’t surf the web, it does surf the Amazon store quite easily and allows you to purchase anything you want with just one-click. Impulse buying is encouraged and just about every periodical and blog comes with a free two-week trial, which you have to remember to cancel before they start charging you.

And Finally: The Kindle Community — Are we just talking to ourselves?

Another glitch, probably worthy of it’s own dissertation or at least a post — the Kindle of course comes with its own “Kindle Community” of forums because  couldn’t we all use more social networking?  There are tons of threads.  Some are about Kindle devices.  Many are about content, and most of these  seem to be self-published Kindle authors hawking their wares. This leads me suspect that in some ways, the “Kindle Community” isn’t very different from the “Authonomy Community” with one exception.  Whereas, Harper Collins allows writers to display their work for each other to see and comment on free of charge, Amazon charges for downloading other people’s work, counting these as “book sales” and gets a 30-65%  (depending on price) piece of the action. While there are tens of thousands of self-published books available on Kindle,  it’s not at clear who is buying other than other self-published writers.