Book promotion

Home is a little tricky to promote, being the third book in a series and all. I think it works as a standalone novel, but opinions may differ–and in any case, some people might not bother with it if they think they’ll need to read two other novels to pick up the thread.

Anyway, here are a couple of things I’m trying:

Kindle Book Promotions is pretty expensive, but I used them for Dover Beach, and they delivered exactly what they said they’d deliver–a bunch of sales and customer reviews (although I’m pretty sure the sales didn’t recoup the cost). What I’m looking for now are mainly unbiased customer reviews. Haven’t seen any yet, but they will come.

I’m also trying Books and the Bear, which offers promotion on their Facebook page and Twitter page for a price that’s low enough that I thought I’d give it a try. They also have schemes to help you build your email list, which is a thing I’ve been thinking of starting. This will involve dealing with Mailchimp. Which I will probably do. Because it will help with my newsletter. Which I will probably start. With my buddies. Who will certainly do more about this than I will.

I’ll keep you posted.

Amazon is purging book reviews again

This made news a few years ago.  The difference this time is now Amazon apparently may purge reviews from someone an author “knows” online.

Yes, you read that right. This can be someone who has friended you on Facebook, followed you on Twitter, or has done business with you in a way that’s detectable to the Amazon review police….

Amazon spokespeople say that anybody who knows the author might “benefit financially” from the book’s sales, and financial beneficiaries have always been forbidden to review. (I wish I knew how to benefit financially when one of my 873 Facebook friends has a bestseller, but I’m obviously not working this right.)

So how do they determine if you “know” an author, anyway?

They’re not telling.

I’m all for taking down reviews that are fake or paid for in some way (even by the promise of a free book).  But that seems, er, excessive.  The modern method of book marketing involves authors having an online presence–via a blog, Twitter, Facebook….  You’re supposed to find “friends” out there.  Why penalize someone who finds them?

If the purge ever reaches me,  I don’t think it will have much effect.  The vast majority of the reviews my books have received have been from complete strangers . . . I think.  But I don’t really know, since a user can follow my blog with one name and review one of my novels with another.  Can Amazon figure this out?

Yeah, I suppose it can.

My ePublisher weighs in on the state of ebooks

Every once in a while my ePublisher sends out an email giving their thoughts on the state of ebook publishing.  The latest one is pretty interesting. In a section titled “Reality Sets In” they talk about the glut of ebooks on the market:

With the filters removed, the market is flooding with dreck. It’s hard to get an exact number, but there are about 4 million ebooks on the market right now with nearly 100,000 new titles added each month. Shockingly, most will never sell a single copy. Of the remainder, only about 2% will sell at any meaningful quantity.

Unfortunately for many, self-publishing was sold as the easy path to notoriety and fortune; simply publish your story and readers will send you mountains of cash! But many found out the hard way that the only thing more demanding than publishers are readers and their unbridled reviews. A few discovered success, while the masses simply found a harsh dose of reality; this business is tough.

With time, this realization will thin the ranks as the hopeful become discouraged and opt for other pursuits.

They point out one way that Amazon (and other vendors) could help thin the ranks:

The available inventory of ebooks needs to be purged. At some point, natural selection will reign and the purge will happen.

We’ve already seen the first waves in the subscription services, and, at some point, resellers will also tire of being loaded down with dreck and will perhaps begin charging to maintain books in their system. Imagine the income Amazon could draw down if they charged $1 per month per title? Once one eRetailer does it, the others will follow. Then, all books that never sold a sustainable number of copies will leave the system and things will normalize—for a while.

It never made much sense to me that Amazon (and other vendors) would just store everyone’s ebooks on their servers for free.  Sure, storage is cheap, but it costs Amazon something to store millions of books, from most of which they will never see a penny in revenue.  I would certainly pay a storage fee if it would help get rid of the dreck.

My ePublisher’s advice to writers has been constant for a while: quality matters.  So does productivity.  Series are better than individual titles.  Long, complex narratives don’t do as well as simpler narratives.  Attention spans aren’t what they used to be.  Readers have lots of other ways to entertain themselves–often on the same device on which they’re doing their reading.  So get back to work.

Which I will now try to do.

Should Charlie Hebdo get an award?

PEN wants to give Charlie Hebdo its “freedom of expression courage” award.  This has provoked an outcry from many writers. PEN isn’t backing down, saying that they reject the “assassin’s veto”.

My son lives in the Middle East, and he was baffled by the “Je Suis Charlie” thing.  Why isn’t the West protesting the many courageous Muslim bloggers and journalists being persecuted by autocratic governments in the Middle East and elsewhere?  Well, fair enough, I’m happy if they get awards too.  But I’m a part of the West, and free speech is one of the things the West does right.  As a writer, that matters to me.

Nowadays, the “most helpful” review of my novel Senator on Barnes & Noble is a one-star review complaining that it used the Lord’s name in vain multiple times at the beginning, so the anonymous reviewer read no further.  Again, fair enough.  Readers who don’t approve of using the Lord’s name in vain have been warned.  But nowadays I could easily imagine a world where offending religious people like my anonymous reviewer would be illegal (especially in Europe); or, where corporations like Barnes & Noble would decline to sell books that contained certain words or phrases deemed offensive to a religion.  (Does Barnes & Noble sell books that contain imagines of Mohammed?  I have no idea.)

I have this sense that conventional liberalism has lots its way over this issue–or at least, it’s too vexing an issue for liberals to respond to it coherently.  What happens when two core liberal values–diversity and freedom of speech–collide?  When blacks on campus claim they are the victims of hate speech?  When Muslims claim they have been scapegoated for the actions of a few crazy terrorists?  Do we have to parse all of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons to determine if the magazine is worthy of an award?

Here’s a paragraph from the PEN statement that I like very much:

The rising prevalence of various efforts to delimit speech and narrow the bounds of any permitted speech concern us; we defend free speech above its contents. We do not believe that any of us must endorse the content of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons in order to affirm the importance of the medium of satire, or to applaud the staff’s bravery in holding fast to those values in the face of life and death threats. There is courage in refusing the very idea of forbidden statements, an urgent brilliance in saying what you have been told not to say in order to make it sayable.

Good for them.

Amazon vs. Hachette — The Final Blog

Amazon and Hachette have finally settled.  Thank goodness.  The settlement appears to follow the outlines of Amazon’s recent agreement with Simon & Schuster — the publisher can set its own price for its ebooks, but they get better terms if the price is in the range Amazon likes.  This is exactly how it works with independent authors — we only get the lovely 70% royalty if we set our price between a dollar and $9.99.  Anything higher or lower, we only get 35%.

This all seems perfectly reasonable.  Clearly, Amazon wasn’t trying to put mainstream publishers out of business.  It wasn’t trying to destroy literature and “disappear” authors.  It was using its clout as a reseller to get ebook prices where it thought they ought to be, to maximize sales. Business as usual.

Hugh Howey sums it up:

Conflating our love of books with the virtuousness of those who package them is a very bad idea. Publishers belong to multi-national, multi-billion dollar corporations. They need to make profits. They do this by pushing prices up on readers and pushing wages down on writers. I don’t blame them for that (though I do try to pressure them to be more fair to both parties).

The people I blame are those who should do their homework, understand this business better, and get on the right side of these debates. The real damage has been done by those who refuse to fight for the little guys; the real damage has been done by the parties who seem to think that publishers can do no wrong and that Amazon can do no right.

This includes the New York Times and many other traditional media outlets. It includes The Authors Guild and Authors United. By waging a PR campaign without understanding the issues (often stating things that were patently untrue), these parties caused severe damage and helped to prolong this negotiation. They aligned themselves with a party that has broken the law to raise prices and refuses to pay authors a decent digital royalty. I don’t think this damage is done intentionally or with malice but by simple ignorance.

Why Amazon is not a monopoly

Franklin Foer of The New Republic has joined the ranks of folks with Amazon Derangement Syndrome; take a look at this article.  The best response I’ve seen is this blog post at the Washington Post (now owned, of course, by Jeff Bezos). To Foer’s assertion that big publishers just can’t compete in the face of Amazon’s demands, the author points out the obvious:

They just can’t compete?  Why the hell not?  They can’t sell their e-books from their own websites?  Why is that?  Or at barnesandnoble.com?  Powells.com?  Ebooks.com?  The ebook market is, as the antitrust lawyers say, as “contestable” a market as one can imagine, with virtually no barriers to entry.  Sell your stuff there, at whatever price you want to sell it at.  If you want Amazon to sell your stuff, you have to take their terms.  It’s not “exacting tribute”!  It’s “business as usual.”  If you don’t like it, go elsewhere.

Of course, convincing people that Jeff Bezos is the devil and Amazon is an evil empire is one way of competing; I don’t find it a very compelling approach, though.

As I mentioned in another post, the one time I wanted to buy a Hachette book on Amazon lately, it took me three clicks to find it at Barnes & Noble with a 20% discount.  No monopoly here.

Things I don’t understand about the war between Amazon and Hachette

The dispute between Amazon and Hachette has continued long enough that it probably qualifies as trench warfare.  Everyone seems to have an opinion about the conflict, even though neither Amazon nor Hachette is being very specific about their positions.  Amazon clearly wants to lower ebook prices, and Hachette wants to keep them higher to avoid cannibalizing print sales.  Amazon has flexed its muscles by refusing to discount books by Hachette authors and limiting their availability, among other things.

OK, fine.  I can understand how authors, even non-Hachette authors, could be angered and possibly worried by Amazon’s actions.  But here are some things I don’t understand.

Why is the New York Times presenting such a one-sided view of the war?  Here is their latest article, titled “Literary Lions Unite in Protest over Amazon’s E-book Tactics”.  Well, I suppose it’s news that authors like Philip Roth and Ursula K. LeGuin have come out in opposition to Amazon, but you will search in vain in the article for a quote from anyone supporting Amazon.  It’s not like they are hard to find.

Why are these authors so certain about Amazon’s evil motives?  Here is a quote from LeGuin:

“We’re talking about censorship: deliberately making a book hard or impossible to get, ‘disappearing’ an author,” Ms. Le Guin wrote in an email. “Governments use censorship for moral and political ends, justifiable or not. Amazon is using censorship to gain total market control so they can dictate to publishers what they can publish, to authors what they can write, to readers what they can buy. This is more than unjustifiable, it is intolerable.”

Huh?  The matter at hand is a contract dispute in which Amazon wants to sell Hachette’s books at a lower price.  How do we get from there to censorship and total control of publishers, authors, and readers?  And how is Amazon making books impossible to get?  I went looking for a book to buy my lovely wife for her birthday.  It happened to be published by Little Brown, a Hachette company, so it wasn’t immediately available.  I went over to the Barnes & Noble site and found it there.  I didn’t want to pay extra for shipping to get it in time, so I stopped in at the Barnes & Noble store and got it there.  Slightly more expensive and more inconvenient than getting it shipped to me by Amazon Prime, but no big deal.

Why don’t the authors focus on the more basic issue?  Lee Child mentions it in this colloquy with J. A. Konrath: Why does Amazon care so much about ebook prices?

One thing few people know about me is I love ironing.  I just moved, which was a great excuse for a new ironing board.  I checked Amazon, naturally, who had boards ranging from $18 all the way to $220.  Has Amazon approached the expensive manufacturer and said, “C’mon, pal, America needs cheaper ironing boards!  Think of the children!”  No, it said, “Sure, throw it up on the site and we’ll see if anyone’s interested.  We trust our customers to decide for themselves.” . . . Can you explain in detail why the e-book market shouldn’t operate the same way as the ironing board market or the amplifier market?  Why do e-book buyers – uniquely – need Nanny Amazon to save them from deciding for themselves?  Are books special?  Are they different?  Or are there others factors in play?

Well, I don’t know the answer to that.  Why does Amazon care so much about ebook prices?  I assume it’s because of the Kindle.  Amazon wants t ebooks attractively priced so people will want to read them on this device that Amazon sells.  But I don’t know.

Why do self-published authors go against their own self-interest by supporting lower ebook prices for books from traditionally publishers?  If Hachette wants to charge $12.99 for their ebooks, isn’t that good for those of us charging $4.99 and less for books that are every bit as good as Hachette’s?  But most self-published authors that I’m aware of are firmly on Amazon’s side.  One reason, I suppose, is that Amazon has done right by these authors, and as a result they approve of Amazon’s model — lower prices leading to more sales.  More people reading more books is just a good thing.

It sure is an interesting time in the world of publishing.

Kindle Unlimited — threat or menace?

Amid yesterday’s depressing news about bombs and rockets and body parts strewn on the ground, we find out that Amazon has created a Netflix-like Kindle subscription service to compete with Oyster and Scribd.  The Passive Voice has a couple of posts about this, here and here.

For now, Kindle Unlimited appear to offer mostly indie books in the Kindle Select program, plus a sprinkling of mainstream books.  There are none from the Big Five publishers, apparently, unless the author owns his or her own ebook rights.  Presumably participation in Kindle Unlimited becomes yet another item to negotiate with these publishers.

My books aren’t there because the publisher I work with doesn’t like the premise of Kindle Select, which requires selling your ebook exclusively via Amazon.  (BookBub, it turns out, gives preference in its decision-making process to books available from multiple sources.)  Of course, if other ebook vendors collapse, things might change.  And it’s also possible that Amazon could retool the Kindle Select program to make it more attractive to authors who currently aren’t signing up.

Some articles I’ve read think that Kindle Unlimited is another step in reducing author’s incomes, the way Spotify and its ilk are causing problems for musicians.  Beats me.  It also seems likely that, unlike Spotify and Netflix, Kindle Unlimited serves a bit of a niche market: people don’t read as much as they listen to music or watch TV.  Ten dollars a month isn’t much money, but I couldn’t justify spending it, given the amount of reading I have time to do.  And unless the selection were virtually unlimited, I’d probably find the service too frustrating.