I write like
Jack London

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Have E-Book Subscription Services Shot Themselves in the Head?

There's been a lot of shouting over the recent change to the Kindle Unlimited ("KU") payment plan. On the heels of Amazon's announcement came the news late yesterday that Scribd has eliminated all romance books from their subscription service. Apparently, the only exception are free books.

Why? Because romance readers are some of the most voracious readers of books in all forms. I know folks who can go through a book or more a day.

Think about it. If a subscriber only pays $9.99 a month, and they read 30 books a month, how can Scribd possibly pay each author their full retail amount? Even if the reader only read books that are in Scribd at $0.99, that's still a $17.70 payout to the writer/publisher after Scribd's and the distributor's fees.

I have to wonder if Scribd has notified their subscribers yet because I haven't heard a hue and cry from the readers. The news first broke late yesterday afternoon from publisher Bob Mayer from Cool Gus Publishing who got the news from their distributor D2D and from Mark Coker of Smashwords, another e-book distributor.

So what does this all mean?

It depends on why you put your books into a subscription service like KU or Scribd to begin with. In my case, I haven't put anything into KU because it requires exclusivity with Amazon, and I'm the rare indie author in that I make far more through other channels than I do Amazon. As for Scribd, or its major direct competitor Oyster, I only entered my Bloodlines and Secret of Magick series into their programs. It was an effort to promote them since my erotica/romance books under Alter Ego were doing just fine on sales at the time.

In my opinion, and this is only my opinion, I don't think Scribd or Oyster can be viable in the long run without lowering payments to writers/publishers, which is exactly what Amazon has done to keep KU going. If a writer depends on only one retailer or one methodology, such as borrows, for their income, I think they will be screwed in the long run. As always, YMMV.

***
Edit to add: Here's Scribd's announcement. There's been a little grumbling on Twitter, but mainly from authors. Same on FB. It'll be interesting to see how the rest of the day goes.

Edit to add 2 11:15 pm EDT: Still more screaming from authors than readers about Scribd's changes on social media, but I did notice a handful of readers who are ticked about Scribd charging for free books. #Scribd

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Music I've Been Listening To

I miss the '80's, then I start rifling through my old cassette tapes...


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Our Last Acts

Eleven years ago, I started what would become the Bloodlines series. Most people don't get the underlying emotions that I poured into the books. Some do.

Babies and death are prominent in those books because I almost died on the operating table giving birth to Genius Kid. Zombie Love started as my way of dealing with the myriad of emotions of that experience. The stories grew and expanded as other gains and losses happened in my life.

And the emotions overwhelm me again whenever we deal some aspect of DH's cancer. He wanted me to come with him to the local cancer walk on Saturday. We met another couple, Dan and Nida, just a few years older than us. Like DH, Dan started with colon cancer, but he's in Stage Four with experimental treatments the only thing keeping on this side of the gate. He's a marathon runner who's had to change his life radically to deal with the disease.

One of my great-grandfathers said the only constant in life was change. And that's what both birth and death are. A change between one state of being and another.

Ironically, I'm reminded of his words and my own beginnings and endings today as I clean up the seminal scene of Zombie Goddess. It's the beginning of the end of the Sam both I and the readers know and love. Then Neil Gaiman wrote a very personal post about a friend who is dying even as Neil and his wife re expecting their first baby.

Neil put it far more eloquently than I could. He called it existing in the pause.

That's what I feel like right now. That moment between breaths. Between heartbeats. Between reading/writing the first page and the last. Between life and death.

It's all the same pause. And after it's done, thing will never be the same.

Monday, June 22, 2015

KU and Wanting to Be Read

Last Wednesday, I posted my initial thoughts on KU. Over the last week, I've read several other writers' thoughts on the matter. I'm surprised how many writers don't care if they are read; they just want to make money from their books.

I have to admit that this sort of thinking boggles me. Fiction publishing is delicate balance between art, entertainment and widget selling. It's a little bit of all three, so believing it's all one thing turns into a self-defeating mess.

Why? Because if the art doesn't entertain, it will not be borrowed, much less bought by the populace. If my first book doesn't entertain, then the reader will not pick up the second, or third, or fourth, etc. I will not continue to make money because I disappointed the reader, and the reader will most likely share their opinions with their friends.

Now granted, it's impossible to please everyone, but writers should hit with a good chunk of their target market. This is where word-of-mouth kicks in. As readers talk about your book, more of their friends and relatives start reading your books. In return, you make more money.

However, some writers just want to be bought, or borrowed under the old KU system. They make money on the appearance of entertainment, not on actual entertainment. It means instead of only polishing the first 10% of a story, they need to polish the whole damn thing in order to for the book not to be returned, or to earn money on the revised KU system.

This is what Kris Rusch was talking about when she referred to gaming in her column last week. It's not about short story writers vs. serial writers vs. novel writers. It's not about genre vs. genre vs. litfic. It's about giving the reader the experience they desire when they read. Which means a quality product for that particular length and genre. That means wanting to be read.

Not throwing up random words. Not posting cut/pasted stories or articles. Not putting in a bunch of filler to pad the content.

Write a great story that has your reader's coffee grow cold. One that makes her forget to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. One that makes her miss her subway stop.

Write a story they can't forget. That's the way to make money on KU.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Music I've Been Listening to Lately

In honor of Chris Hemsworth being chosen for the Annie Potts role in the new Ghostbusters...


Friday, June 19, 2015

Taking Care of Medical Business

The reason I didn't get a post written this morning was because I was too busy freaking out. As long-term readers know, DH was diagnosed with colon cancer twenty years ago. He was scheduled for a colonoscopy this morning. And that old, irrational friend FEAR was back with a vengeance.

Every time DH goes in for this procedure, FEAR insidiously creeps into my gray matter. What if the doctor finds something? What if its cancer? What if DH doesn't beat it this time?

It doesn't help that a writer I liked and respected, Jay Lake, passed from the same disease a year ago. It doesn't help that a good friend of DH's was diagnosed two months ago. Those incidents are just snacks to FEAR.

Thankfully, Doctor Y doesn't have hang-ups  about ex-attorneys watching him work. Under HIPPA, DH had to sign off on me being an observer, which he rather enthusiastically did. (Yes, we have a weird relationship.) Watching the inside of DH's large intestine on HD TV was pretty cool. Even better, DH came through with flying colors.

In fact, DH did so well he doesn't have to go back for five years. Maybe I'll take up Doctor Y's offer to let me drive the camera next time. *smile*

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

And Then Kindle Unlimited Exploded...

[With all due apologies to the writers of GalaxyQuest for paraphrasing their wonderful words!]

On Monday, Amazon announced that they were changing how indie authors will be compensated if they belong to the Kindle Select and their books are borrowed through the Kindle Unlimited (KU) program and Kindle Owners' Lending Library (KOLL) program.

Before I get into the specifics of the change in compensation, I'm going to list a glossary of terms because I see way too many people confusing them:

1) Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) - Once an indie author has uploaded their file and the ebook is on sale on Amazon, they are part of this program.

2) Kindle Select (KS) - An indie author may chose to enter the KS program while they are uploading their file, or any time thereafter. To be in the KS program, the indie author gives Amazon exclusive rights to that particular book. In other words, that particular book can only be sold by Amazon and no other retailer. In return for exclusivity for that particular book, Amazon gives the indie author certain perks. Amazon asks for a minimum 90-day commitment, renewable at the end of the term. The indie author does have the right to leave KS at any time. However, if they leave the KS program prior to the end of each 90-day period, they lose any money earned under the KS perks.

3) Kindle Owners' Lending Library (KOLL) - Amazon Prime members who own a Kindle device are allowed to borrow books that are part of the KOLL free of charge. (Actually, the cost is included in their Prime membership fee of $99 per year.) They are limited to one borrow per calendar month of their Prime membership. Indie authors who opt in to KS are automatically enrolled in KOLL. They cannot pull their books out of KOLL without taking them out of KS.

4) Kindle Unlimited (KU) - For a fee of $9.99 per month, a reader can access any book in the KU library without needing a Kindle device. There is no limit to the number of borrows. Like KOLL, indie authors who opt in to KS are automatically enrolled in KU. They cannot pull their books out of KU without taking them out of KS.

Got all that?

Previously, indie authors were given a pro-rated share of a pool of money from Amazon based on the number of borrows each book received, regardless if the borrow was from a KOLL user or a KU user. For example:

There is $3,000,000 in the pool for June. There was 3,000,000 total borrows during the month of June. The per borrow rate is then $1. Your book(s) were borrowed 300 times so you received $300. The total number of books available to loan was irrelevant (though some people would make the argument that discoverability was an issue.)

There were a couple of problems with this system for writers. The per borrow rate had already been slowly shrinking. It plunged when KU was introduced. Short stories were awarded the same amount as ginormous epic fantasy novels. This made authors do one of three things: pull their full-length books out of KS, add short stories only to KS, or chop up a longer work and feed it into KS serial style. Sometimes, the indie authors did all three.

Then Amazon had readers who couldn't find anything but a chopped-up jumble of works. In other words, the garbage disposal instead of the tsunami of swill. *smile*

So starting July 1, Amazon is introducing a new reimbursement system. Indie authors' pro rata payment will be based on pages read, not the number of borrows.

And the indie world erupted!

Here's my understanding of the new compensation system:

First of all, instead of reading 10% of a book to trigger the borrow compensation threshold, the reader must read 15% to trigger the page compensation threshold.

Let's say the pool remains at $3,000,000 for July. Readers read 300,000,000 pages. The per page rate is $0.01. Assuming I entered a 300-page full-length e-book into KS and if the reader reads all 300 pages, I'd get $3.00. If I enter a 20-page short story and the reader reads all 20 pages, I 'd get $0.20.

But what happens if the reader only gets through the first 30-pages of my hypothetical novel? I get nothing!

If the reader makes it to page 5 of my short story, it triggers the page threshold and I'll get $0.05.

As a result of these changes, folks who've been submitting only short works to KS may see a substantial drop in income. Under the old system, my hypothetical short story would have earned $1.00. Under the new system, it will earn $0.20 at most.

On the other hand, an indie author can just as easily put 15 20-page short stories into KS and earn as much as a 300-page novel.

Please remember, these are not hard numbers, people! These are examples! It will take a few months for indie authors to see how the numbers will truly  work out.

But the new system would encourage indie authors to re-enter the KS ecosystem with their novels. It will also encourage us to put out very best work. Let's face it--we want readers to finish our stories no matter how long they are.

* * *
Now, let me be perfectly honest--I don't have a dog in this fight. I have been making more moola through Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc. than I have from Amazon. I've had no reason to enter KS that won't severely curtail my income through other retailers. So far, I entered one short story, "Love, War and a Bulldog", back in 2013 as an experiment. I wasn't impressed, so I haven't gone back.

However, I plan to publish two new series soon, and I'm considering entering one of them in KS to see how I do as far as borrows go.

The only thing I can really say is don't be afraid to experiment to find YOUR sweet spot!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Craft Is King! (Or Queen!)

I've been asked lately by quite a few new writers how can they know when they're ready to publish.

I can't answer that question. Things have changed so much since I made the decision to self-publish. I judged my skills by the answers I received from agents and editors to my queries. The most common response I received was summarized thusly, "Love your style. Love your story. I don't know how to sell this."

I don't know how to sell this.

To me, that said they didn't want to find a new voice. They didn't want to create a new market. They were looking for an easy sell.

I can't really fault the agents and editors for that attitude. As a business person, you always want the best return on your investment (ROI) you can get.

Except I thought I  could find a market for my stories. Maybe I was pretentious. Maybe I was full of myself. But I did find market for the stories I wrote.

The key was that I'd mastered the basics of the craft of writing. I knew how to plot. I learned about the different points-of-view (POV) from which the story can be told. I'd mastered basic grammar when I was writing a magazine column.

That's not to say I don't make mistakes. I do. But that's a lot different than not understanding the difference between first person POV and omniscient POV. And for the record, I don't think there's a damn thing wrong with omniscient if it works for your story.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of folks releasing books before they've mastered these basics. That's their decision, but then they pitch a fit when readers ding them on reviews for misspelled words, bad grammar, and huge plot holes.

So please don't ask me if you're reading to publish. It really depends on you. Do you think you can sell enough copies to earn back your investment in your book?

There's a better question to ask yourself. Do you feel confident enough in your basic abilities to put yourself out there to be criticized? Because that's what we do when we publish.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Women in Science Fiction and in Real Science

I was going to talk about something entirely different today, but it's been a bizarre week for the intersection of women, sexism, science and fiction.

Kris Rusch talked about how women were quite prevalent in science fiction writing until the last twenty or so years in her blog post, Hidden Treasures. She goes on to lament how much work is being lost as the public switches from print to digital. To counteract the obscurity, she has started a website, Women in Science Fiction.

Kris's efforts came to my attention at the same time I heard Nobel-winning scientist Tim Hunt make some rather sexist remarks concerning the need for gender-segregated labs because female scientists were too distracting.

#DistractinglySexy pictures flooded Twitter, and AJ+ put them together in a highly amusing video.



Sometimes, laughter is the best response to stupidity.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Latest Craziness

When it rains, it pours.

First of all, I've given up trying to fix the damn blog post on my website. Then I found out that the company that subhosts my website is closing, so it's time to make some changes. Over the next month, you'll be seeing the updated "Suzan Harden - Writer" as my webmistress and I migrate the old stuff to a new host.

Jaye and Elaina are jamming on the paperback formatting and new covers respectively for the Bloodlines series. I'd planned to start rolling them out at the beginning of this month. But once again, personal crap has hit the fan. I hope to start uploading by the end of the month along with the new novels.

That same personal crap has put what I hope is a temporary halt on the writing of Hero De Facto. It's frustrating because we're only a handful of chapters from completion and we've got a fantastic cover artist lined up.

The only good news I've got right now is that another Justice Anthea adventure will be in Sword and Sorceress 30 in November. After the bullshit of the last five months, I take that one victory.

I take that back. The other good thing is getting back into Sam's head after three years. I'd forgotten how much fun she is.