How not to respond to a mildly negative review, part 3,000,807

Standard

Guy writes interactive novel about mystery-solving teddy bears in Venice, which is apparently not for children(?)

Reviewer gives it a mildly negative review.

Author loses his mind in comments.

This is from last May, and I’m not sure how I missed it. It’s the perfect example of the ABM, Author’s Big Mistake, in which an author takes great pains to try to school the reviewer in all their numerous errors but ends up looking like a complete tool. As it so often is, Dunning-Kruger Effect is in full swing here. The writer thinks his book about teddy bears is on the level of Keats or Fitzgerald, and nothing can convince him otherwise.

This train wreck comes to you courtesy of @Hello_Tailor, @Stacia_jones_, and @jamesdnicoll.

The awful stink of writer desperation

Standard

Last night my wife received an email from a fellow she sort of knows. He’s a fantasy writer, apparently, and after hearing that she’s married to me, he pressed her to take a copy of his novel (which comes with supplemental materials, it seems).

My next sentence will have even more commas.

There’s a lot of calling people “friends” and more than a few claims that Goodreads, et al, make certain books more visible based on an algorithm that blah blah blah. Seriously, do these sites not also sell co-op? I don’t actually know if they do or not; I’ve always just assumed.

Anyway, the whole thing reeks of desperation, it’s awkwardly written, and it makes the deadly mistake of (politely) ordering people around. That’s why I’m going to address the rest of this post to the unnamed and unquoted indie author.

Yes, word of mouth is important. Yes, readers spreading the word about books they love does good things for those books. However, that word of mouth has to be done out of love. If a you’re relying on some sort of social obligation (“I’d better give Arlene’s new book four stars before I see her at the office on Monday…”) then everyone loses, because that reader is going to resent being recruited as a volunteer PR person, the review they write won’t be honest, and anyone fooled by it is going to be disappointed. That’s not what you want.

Look, I know it’s tough. I know it’s hard to get any kind of visibility, especially as an indie author. It’s hard to get reviews, or any sort of attention. It’s like shouting in a crowd of other shouting people.

You want to know the real secret here? It’s not about the marketing. It’s not about emails to acquaintances begging for reviews. It’s about three things: the book itself, your ability to identify the people who would like it, your ability to give them a reason to read a free sample.

If you can get those three things right, you don’t have to worry about the book too much. It will take off on its own. Breaking it down:

The book itself: This isn’t a question about whether your book is “good” or not. There’s no point in arguing that your book is good (which won’t stop people, but that’s beside the point here). Is the book a story that people love and want to share with their friends? Do they read it and then buy three copies to give as gifts?

If you’re not getting that kind of response, no marketing in the world is going to help you.

Your ability to identify the people who would like it: You know how much fantasy fiction my wife reads? None. Well, it used to be none before she got tangled up with me. Now she reads mine, but I don’t think that counts. Thing is, she’s not what you’d call a geek at all. She’ll see the movies because that’s fun mass entertainment. She’ll watch ARROW if they remember to include workout scenes. When she sits down with a book, she reads about non-fiction about education reform.

Seriously, that’s her thing. She’s a homeschooling parent, and she wants to do a good job. So pressing a fantasy novel into her hands will do nothing for you except waste your time.

Your ability to give them a reason to read a free sample: See, even if you can identify potential readers of your work, you need to pique their interest. You ought to be funny, or kind, or insightful. You should be out in the world, most likely in social media, sharing things that interest people. And right beside that, you have a bio that reads “I write books. Read a free sample here.”

That’s it. Yeah, there’s more to it, obviously, but those are the basics.

I understand how frustrating it is, but some choices can actively hurt your chances of success. Sending long emails to my wife is one of them.

Good luck.

Amazon launches assault on Hachette’s interns

Standard

Okay. I’m going to deal with this quickly and I’ll be out of here.

Background: Last night Amazon sent an email to everyone who had published books through their Kindle Direct Program (KDP) and since I’m one of those authors (Buy My Books) it came to me, too. You can read the whole thing here.

It’s kind of weird. I mean, I do business with Amazon. I don’t do business with Hachette. However, Hachette isn’t releasing oddball press releases via email, nor are they sending out rallying cries to garner support. Some of their authors? Yeah. And it’s weird. The company themselves? Nope.

So, let’s linkfarm this shit:

Amazon says that George Orwell was against cheap books. Accurate or selective quoting? The answer will won’t surprise you. Unsurprisingly, this is what people are talking about, not whether Amazon is totally on your side, readers.

Should KDP authors be on Amazon’s side? Actually, higher ebook prices from big publishers helps indie authors. Why would I want to help Amazon bring their prices down to my level?

Like Chuck Wendig, I’m not terribly moved by the Authors United push.

Also like Chuck Wendig, I think Amazon’s latest press release is fucking ridiculous.

Why? Because they published the Hachette CEO’s email address and gave people a bunch of talking points to send him in an effort to make him cave on their negotiations.

Seriously. Let me state for the record that I am not going to spam anyone’s inbox for the sake of a big corporation. I wouldn’t spam someone’s inbox for a real life friend, so I’m definitely not doing it for Amazon.

Let me also state that anyone who thinks Hachette’s CEO is going to be skimming through those emails thinking “Hmm. SilverDragonLady211883 At Yahoo dot com makes a good point about her mother’s reading habits” is kidding themselves. The only people who’ll see these emails are the bored interns tasked with deleting them all.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this PR fail (after “human shields”) but I am. It’s incredibly unprofessional.

Amazon, get new PR people. Stop trying to be loved. You can’t be beloved by consumers and be Walmart at the same time. Choose between those options and live with the consequences.

UPDATE: I forgot to include this!

UPDATE 2: I’d seen the Authors United NYTimes profile, but not the big ad they purchased. Apparently, that ad includes Jeff Bezos’s email with a request that readers spam him. Uncool, AU.

Another strike against Smashwords

Standard

On July 8th, Smashwords said my short fiction collection would be distributed to Kobo’s ebook store. As of yesterday, that still hadn’t happened (just like last year). So, I canceled Smashwords distribution and uploaded directly through Kobo, which meant the books were available for sale in less than 12 hours.

Three and a half weeks: nothing. <12 hours: listed. There's no doubt that Smashwords is less useful all the time.

Yes, I could have done what I did in May '13, emailing customer support and asking them to straighten things out, but I'm not willing to do that every. Single. Time I put something in Smashwords's distribution channel. Too much bother.

Anyway, the book is now available on Kobo, too, for you international epub buyers.

Cover art for Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths And Other Tales Of Dark Fantasy

Cover Art

That new Amazon press release.

Standard

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.

Are there special instructions for helping your favorite authors?

Standard

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

Link

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

Standard

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

Standard

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.

Amazon news that might actually be true

Standard

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.