California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout (Goodreads review)

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California BonesCalifornia Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tremendous fun for fans of heists and magic, set in a modern day Los Angeles unlike the LA in our world. It’s twisty, creepy, and I’m off to take a shower after reading about people dunking themselves in nasty canal water.

First in a series.

Recommended.


Grab a copy right now.

That new Amazon press release.

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John Scalzi jumped on it before I could. I could have written a similar post but I’m sort of tired of the whole business and I wanted to work on my book. You can read Amazon’s original post (on their Kindle message boards, which still seems weird) right here.

Which isn’t going to stop me from offering up one or two additional points that Scalzi didn’t cover.

First, people are talking about this release as though it fully identifies the source of the dispute between Amazon and Hachette, but we don’t know that’s true. I don’t doubt that it’s part of the dispute, but the PR piece opens like this:

With this update, we’re providing specific information about Amazon’s objectives.

A key objective is lower e-book prices.

It’s not “The key objective is….” It’s not “The sole remaining disputed contract point is….” It’s “A key objective is…” That suggests there are more, some of which might not sound so sympathetic if they came to light. Is Amazon planning to raise co-op fees? Do they want POD rights from publishers for books that aren’t in stock? Are they pushing for some form of exclusivity, as they do with KDP Select? We don’t know, so lets not pretend that this is the sole source of conflict between the parties.

Second, Amazon does not seem to understand windowing, which is where publishers release an expensive edition first, then lower-priced editions later. That’s why books in hardcover will be followed a year or so later by a mass market paperback. An author’s superfans will buy the expensive version right away because they can’t wait; more casual fans wait for the price to drop. So, when Amazon says this:

We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000.

it shows they don’t understand that those hypothetical 74,000 sales are not necessarily lost, not if the ebook price drops at a later date. Maybe you won’t catch all of those readers, especially since the lower price comes well after the initial marketing push, but you’ll definitely capture some of them. Long term, those numbers don’t work.

Self-published authors and ebook readers *hate* windowing. Just mentioning the word calls up the threats of torrents and warnings of obscurity, but indie authors fuck around with the prices on their books all the time. When they do it, it’s just to drive sales, hey, not big deal. When publishers do it…

Third, several of the commenters in Scalzi’s post are arguing that Amazon will not try to drive ebook prices down below the $9.99 cap they’re currently arguing for. In other words, once they get this price cap, they’ll stop.

Even if you believed that (and I’m not convinced myself), holding prices at a specific cap for the long term is driving prices down, because inflation.

Anyway, let me tack on the usual disclaimers: I sell books on Amazon. I buy books from them sometimes. I self-publish my own work through their site and they represent the bulk of my sales. I’m not picking sides in the Amazon/Hachette dispute, just picking over publicly stated positions. I’ve worked in their first distribution center at a time when I really needed a job. Long term, I support a diverse publishing and bookselling market. Short term, I’m glad Amazon’s shareholders are beginning to demand that Amazon show a profit; the ability to operate at a loss has been one of the company’s biggest advantages.

Randomness for 7/30

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1) A People’s History of Tattooine.

2) Batman’s mask would be good protection for Bruce Wayne’s secret identity, according to SCIENCE!

3) Scully likes Science (remix). Video.

4) Enjoy some pix of the world’s largest aquatic insect.

5) Hugo-winning author Lawrence Watt-Evans has been posting the openings to his many works in progress. Instructive.

6) “The Denny,” an advanced bicycle prototype designed for dark, hilly Seattle.

7) CG Deadpool test footage. I’d happily watch this.

Are there special instructions for helping your favorite authors?

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I was just asked about this recently: a reader wanted to know where was the best place to buy my fiction (gratuitous plug) so it would be of the most benefit to me. The answer is simple. It doesn’t matter.

(I’ll talk about what does matter at the end of this post.)

I mean, yeah, it sort of matters a tiny bit. For my self published work, some vendors pay slightly more or slightly sooner than others. For the traditionally published work, I’m sure Del Rey makes slightly more or less from different stores (I’m not privy to the details of this) and anything that helps pay back my advance is an unalloyed good.

But there’s a flip side: saying “Buy from [Vendor], please!” will give a lot of people pause. Maybe they don’t have access to that store because of where they live, or the file formats don’t work, or they’ve had a bad experience there. Simply by directing people to one store over another, I would lose a certain percentage of potential readers for whom that’s not feasible. The perfect is the enemy of the good, after all.

Besides, the real differences in pay are negligible. The benefit to me from selling a piece of self pubbed fiction in one store over enough is less than the tip I leave for the baristas who sell me coffee.

When The Great Way becomes available, things might be a bit different. Amazon owns POD pubisher CreateSpace, but books made at CS and ordered through Amazon have a *much* smaller profit to me, undoubtedly because of all the extra handling. When the time comes, I may write a post about that.

But for now, let me say not only does it not matter, but I would encourage any reader of any author’s books to not worry about it. Do whatever is most convenient. Readers is what authors need most, so go ahead and buy the books however you like (or borrow them from a library).

Because what’s really important is not identifying which vendor pays the most, it’s generating word of mouth. The best thing any reader could do for the authors they want to help is to talk about the work, express their enthusiasm, write reviews, tweet, post Facebook updates, whatever. Hell, even buying a copy of a book for a friend (as long as you honestly think they’ll like it) is nice.

This is true for obscure authors like me and the top bestsellers. Share your enthusiasm. Write about it. Talk about it. Nothing helps us more.

25 Pages for 5 Bucks

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Apropos of nothing, here’s a guy who posts a 25-page Kindle SF novel under the name “Stephen King” and he has more reviews than my own recent work. Of course, most of his are one-star recriminations, but I’m not sure if Amazon is comfortable forwarding his share of the sales.

Maybe I should publish as George RR Martini. ::clinks glass::

h/t @EvilWylie on Twitter.

Why I’ll Be Skipping Google Play

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Two days ago I posted about Kindle Unlimited and the myriad reasons I was unwilling to sign on with them. Today it’s Google Play.

I was actually surprised to discover (or rediscover, actually) that Google is a vendor where authors can sell their self-published books. Onto the to-do list it went, especially since being on Google Play would have let me write a post about people reading my new short fiction collection on both iPhones and Android phones.

Then I mentioned the plan on Twitter and @DianePatterson dropped a couple of links on me. The first was about the automatic discount that Google Play put on every book they sell (which seems to be about 23%). Since Amazon and other vendors have automatic price matching, an author’s books will suddenly drop everywhere within a day.

More damning is this post, which makes it clear that GPlay reserves the right to give away my books for free, at their own discretion, which of course means that other vendors like Amazon will match that price, killing any revenue they might have generated.

I’ll occasionally criticize Amazon on this blog, but what Google pulls here is a real deal-breaker.

Also, this makes me wish I had the time to cruise through the Kindleboards. I know there’s great information there, but like reddit and AbsoluteWrite, it’s just too big for me to wade into, searching through the noise for some signal.

Why I’ll Be Skipping Kindle Unlimited

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Amazon has unveiled its Kindle Unlimited program, which allows readers to pay a ten dollar monthly fee to have access to a huge catalog of books. The major publishers have not signed on yet, so you’re unlikely to find many big new releases, but I’m led to understand that Amazon is paying a wholesale price to authors with best-selling books while most indie writers will be paid a “share” of $2 mil.

Amazon tried offering shares out of a fund before, and I experimented with that. The amount of money I received was negligible. Seriously negligible. Frankly, I’m not excited to Spotify my writing career.

I’m also less than thrilled to know that I would have to enroll in KDP Select to take part, which means that, in order to place a book in KU, I’d have to pull it from every other vendor. Guess what? I’m not doing that. Certain other indie authors have been enrolled without being forced into exclusivity (for now, at least). I’m sure this is Amazon’s need to include a few bestsellers in the KU library, but since I’ll never sell as many books as Hugh Howey, I won’t be getting the same lovely treatment he receives.

And yeah, this is a library you pay $120 a year for. That’s not a great deal for me, since I have a local library system with a great selection of ebooks, but I certainly understand that some people don’t have that kind of access or, if they do, they don’t want to put a hold on a title and wait their turn to read it. That’s especially true for people who want to read a book but don’t feel the need to own it.

Anyway, I’ve tried a lot of different things over the last few years. I’ve published traditionally. I’ve tried KDP Select. I’ve sold fiction directly from my website. I’ve offered fiction on a donation basis. I’ve signed on for the Kindle Lending Library. My books are on Oyster and Scribd, which are other subscription-based services. The one thing I *didn’t* try was selling a story for a bitcoin (just too busy at the time bitcoins first became a thing, and now they’re too expensive). But I won’t be trying KU; exclusivity in return for a “share” seems like a really bad deal.

What’s more, I don’t intend to experiment with tactics like putting the first book of a series (or a piece of short fiction) in KU to prompt sales of other books. Hey, if a reader is already paying $10/month and has access to over half-a-million books, are they really going off the preserve to hunt down (and pay for) book 2? Some would, obviously, but many wouldn’t, and it seems to me that the purpose of a subscription service like this is a pool of captured customers who have no desire to go elsewhere.

Finally, I have to wonder what Amazon sees as the long-term plan for KU. Are they hoping to get people to sign up like gym memberships? Because the most profitable members of any gym are the ones who never actually go to the gym but who continue to pay their dues because they know they should. I’m hoping that KU doesn’t create an ecosystem of readers who never venture outside the KU offerings (I wonder if there’s any research demonstrating this problem with Oyster or Scribd?) along with people who never get around to reading books.

UPDATES: Thoughts by John Scalzi and further consideration over on The Bookseller

UPDATE REDUX: Kindle Unlimited from a reader’s POV.

Scrubbing a certain word from my blog

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I’ve always hated the words “pron” and “pr0n.” It always seemed like prudery. Nihil veritas erubescit, I say.

Well, no more. I still don’t blush at the word, but I won’t be spelling “pron” correctly on this blog any more, not even when I use it jokingly to refer to writer pron or whatever.

See, WordPress’s Jet Pack plugin allows me to see the search terms that Googlers use to find my blog, and many of them are searching for child pron. What fucking moron types “little girl pron” (spelled correctly, mind you) into a Google search box?

Unfortunately, I can’t do anything to report these people (I hope Google can) but I can at least change my site so that search engines will (eventually) stop sending them here, where I occasionally talk about my son. So I’ve spent the last hour searching my blog and deliberately misspelling That Word, even when it appears in fiction samples. The only place I haven’t changed it is in URLs inside links, but I may scrub those, too, eventually.

[Update: per advice from Twitter, the URL links are gone, too. I had to drop two old posts into the trash until (if) I can work out a way to reinstate them with permanent short link/redirects.)

Amazon news that might actually be true

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New reports suggest that Amazon is considering launching an Oyster-like “Kindle Unlimited” service that would allow readers, for $9.99 a month, unlimited access to hundreds of thousands of titles.

The really exciting thing about this for Amazon fans is that it appears that they’ll include audiobooks, too. That’s pretty cool.

This is something I’d be very interested in, depending on the contract terms. A Kindle Unlimited program would be a great way to introduce readers to my work; the real issue is how often those readers would venture outside the program for their books.