Amazon, Formatting manuscripts, self-publishing

Filling the Amazon belly

behenmoth

My daughter used to work for a French stationery company – hardly a flourishing sector when handwritten letters are practically museum items now. One of her tasks was to get their products listed with Amazon, so a meeting was organised in which she expected to negotiate as she did with supermarkets. Not a bit of it. The Amazon people sat down, handed out their document and said, ‘Those are our terms. Take them or leave them.’ Naturally, she took them.

One effect of the current crisis is that Amazon is set to consolidate its already very firm grip (Who needs crisis government when you’ve got Amazon?) on the retail sector as a whole (this brief history of Amazon explains the various tactics used to bring thatabout).

As for books, that grip is now impossible to loosen. It’s easy to forget that the Bezos behemoth only began life 25 years ago, but in that time it’s established itself as by far the world’s largest bookstore, selling 560 million ebooks (89% of the market) and 807 million physical books (42% of the market) in 2018. Furthermore, they know exactly what we’re reading, when, for how long, and any highlighting or searches we undertake (How Amazon tracked my last two years of reading). In short, the Amazon strategy is clever, ruthless and effective (Amazon’s plan to take over world publishing).

The Kindle was launched in 2007, and now has 84% of the e-reader market. I have one myself, though I rarely use it – compared to an iPad, it’s clunky, not very user-friendly and has a low battery life. Ebooks will never replace physical copies – in fact in the past few years physical books have made a comeback (How ebooks lost their shine) – but one thing is sure: as a tool for self-publishers, the Kindle is here to stay. While traditional publishers often set their ebook price dissuasively high (Are ebooks too expensive?), self-publishers make full use of the competitive pricing Amazon encourages.

We’re all targeted as consumers by Amazon, and they’ve set themselves up as champions of consumer rights. But how about as writers? For a self-publisher to ignore Amazon as about as daft as a pole-vaulter disdaining to use a pole. And on the whole, they do a pretty good job of making it as easy as possible. Publishing a book these days is done in a matter of minutes. As we all know, selling any significant number of copies is far harder, but Amazon will help you here too – at a price. I haven’t yet used Amazon ads myself, but I think one day I’ll need to if I want to vault any high (for an overview of how Amazon ads work see here). In the meantime, I try to make sure my Amazon author page is OK, though there’s no doubt more I could do (Optimizing your author pages).

A recent addition to Amazon’s panoply of tools is the free app Kindle Create, which I used to format the ebook of Truffle Trouble. It’s easy to use and the result was fine, but it’s not flexible enough if you want to use different fonts or customise other aspects. And conversion of the file for a print book is still better done using Word, so in the end it didn’t save me any time at all. For an overview of Kindle Create, see here, and a comparison with Vellum (for iMac), see here.

Kindle Create, of course, being a tool that aims to lock authors into Amazon, only converts to mobi, so if you want to go wide, you’re better off converting a Word file with Calibre or Draft2Digital. But do you want to go wide? Again, Amazon entices you not to by offering advantages if you give them exclusivity through Kindle Select (a review of the differences is here). As regards this question, two of self-publishing’s major gurus, Mark Dawson and Nick Stephenson, have different approaches: the first is exclusive to Amazon, the second goes wide. So there’s no obvious answer here except to try for yourself and see what you feel most comfortable with. Personally, I’ve only used Kindle Select once, not because it makes better sense commercially to go wide (80% of my sales, such as they are, come from Amazon), but because I can’t quite reconcile myself to letting the beast swallow me whole.

 

 

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Amazon, publishing, self-publishing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Self-Publishing Help Links

Ready to publish but never have? It can be easier than you think and here are some links to help you do it well.
Why bother? Because you are in control. There is no longer any need for an author to wait months for an acceptable response from an agent and more months while a publisher works your work into their work schedule. Do it yourself now.

Start with the obvious: Amazon began as an online book seller and understands that the easier they make e-publishing for you, the more free inventory they get to sell. They’re happy to tell you how easy it is and to walk you through the process step-by-step:
https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200635650

Want help? An industry has sprouted to provide professional services to authors. You can pay to have some steps done for you, like editing, formatting and cover design. Here is an example of a comprehensive, low-cost service:
https://word-2-kindle.com/how-to-publish-an-ebook-on-amazon/

Editing? You want the best you can afford. Ask for recommendations on social media or use this source:
https://www.freelancer.com/find/editing

The gate keepers are gone. Anyone can publish their book. So, unless someone is offering to market your book for you, they are not offering you anything you can’t do. Why pay them royalties?

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Amazon, book promotion, self-publishing, writing technique

The Missing Bit

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A good old while since I posted here, which is very remiss of me. I’ve got a few posts lined up (well, in my head anyway), but right now I can’t not say that the new Magali Rousseau mystery is out. Cash in Carry, number 2 in the series. Now some of you might be thinking, ‘What? Doesn’t he mean number 3?’ Nope. Cash in Carry is the second. Chronologically, that is, in Magali’s life, but yes, you’re right – it’s the third in my own writing life.

From a marketing point of view, that is of course pretty crass. But a few months back, I received an email from a reader who’d enjoyed One Green Bottle and Perfume Island, but said that between the two, there were unexplained developments. And it struck me how right she was. So I wrote Cash in Carry to fill the gap. Every once in a while, a reader takes the trouble to share their thoughts like that. It’s a wonderful moment.

To be precise, I’d written most of it already, even before I started the Magali Rousseau series. But I’d got three-quarters done when it stuttered to a halt. Something was missing, so I put it aside and thought one day I’d figure out what it was. With hindsight, it should have been obvious, because the story had a crime but no detective. It was crying out for Magali. I’ve learnt the lesson now – if you’re doing a series, plan the whole lot together. It’s what I’ve just done for a news series I’m working on. But more on that another time.

Anyway, that’s the story behind the story, but what about the story itself? Well, here’s the blurb.

One woman escaping her past, another trapped in a terrifying present.

One man with everything to live for, another with nothing to lose.

In a seaside town in the south of France, three days of anguish play out behind closed doors. And four destinies hang in the balance as events spiral out of control.

When a young woman is snatched from the centre of Marseille, no one suspects the kidnappers’ motivations. With the woman’s life in danger, and the pressure building up towards a disturbing climax, Magali Rousseau needs to show that she is the person for the job. Whilst knowing all along that she isn’t.

Cash in Carry. A kidnap story with a twist.

And here is where it can be found:

Amazon                       Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

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About Writers, Amazon, book promotion, humor

The Birth of Bill McSciFi (It Involves Porn)

SuccubusFinal(LargeWings)Once upon a time, in a land far far away, it was a dark and stormy night. This is not that story. Nope, this is the story of how I wrote a book, one that I got some people to read, and then used their helpful insights to polish. The experience was fun and enriching. I learned a lot. Mostly I learned how not to blow a hole in the solar system and how there are geneticists today thinking about chimeras.

That last part should scare the hell out of you.

If you want to know more about that just click here to read Eric Klein’s interview of me. Lots of science and some profanity.

Anyway, like I said, I wrote a book. Specifically THE BRITTLE RIDERS. It’s a fun look at human hubris, genetics gone wild, and the death of all things.

And, much to my surprise, I found a publisher, Azoth Khem, who liked it, offered me a contract, and set it on the path for human enjoyment.

Now the fun began.

I had commissioned a cover from Jiba Molei Anderson. It’s the image above and to the left of this article. As you can see it’s a dystopian succubus. As you may not have noticed, it signals that my book is porn.

You didn’t notice that? Well, neither did I, the publisher, or anyone involved, until Amazon flagged it and moved it to the erotic ghetto.

I have nothing against erotica. But if that’s what you’re looking for you were doomed to be disappointed by my book.  And if you were looking for sci fi you weren’t poring through the copious amounts of mommy porn and dino-erotica (yes, that’s a thing) to find it.

Suffice it to say sales sagged.

Then, after almost a year of screaming at clouds, it got moved out of there and into … you know what’s coming, don’t you? …. African Women’s studies.

While I tend to wear black, and do like funk, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an African woman. I’m so pale I’m nearly translucent. Once again, this was a bad fit. And, once again, I wasn’t in the right search categories.

Obviously I didn’t belong there either. Nice people, amazing authors, but not really what I do or am. And I doubt they would want to be associated with my dubious ilk.

After another round of screaming at clouds I finally got moved into the sci-fi dystopian categories.

YAY!

And then my book disappeared. On my Amazon page I was now credited with books on golf, a sport I loathe, tennis, one I know nothing about, and a country song. Oh, and a treatise on the Bible. That last one has since disappeared forever, but for one brief shining moment I looked like an author with wildly different interests and no way to tie them together.

A quick run through their search engine showed there are multiple people named Bill McCormick and Amazon had somehow, despite different account info for each, mixed them up.

This time I wasn’t going to yell at a cloud. I wanted a fucking human I could unleash my wrath on. So I called Amazon, found a human, he turned out to be nice, and we were off to the races.

He quickly understood the problem. So he started ticking off the titles into categories so he could straighten them out online. Bill McSports, Bill McCountry, and so on until he hit Bill McSciFi. The light bulb that went off in my head, when he said it, could have been a beacon in a dust storm.

I had the domain name within a week.

Now, with the books on the correct author pages, and me in the right categories, we were off to the races again …… right?

Wrong.

You see, Azoth Khem doesn’t just publish on Amazon. They deliver to stores, multiple online sites, and so on.  And some of those nice people, finally able to see what I hath wrought, thought the cover was too racy.

So I said FUCK, loudly and often, and got Brhi Peres to do a new cover for me. She’s wonderful to work with and tends to create images without people. Scandalous or otherwise.  Using silhouettes created by Brian “Bigger Lion” Daniels, she designed a pleasant dystopian hellscape that made everyone happy.

YAY!

Yeah, this time it is.

Nearly two years to the day from when it was originally published it is now headed to brick and mortar stores in the U.K., some in the U.S., and being added, internationally, in as many places as they can find to take it.

So there’s hope yet.

Now, if you buy me a drink sometime I’ll tell you the story about how a Russian site snagged a Kindle copy and sold 35,000 copies of it over there before we could stop them.

Yeah, that was entertaining. And, no, we never saw a penny.

Being an author is fun.

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About Writers, Amazon, book promotion, book reviews, book sales, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Speak Now Or ….

Peer reviewWHAT
After discussion, the group has decided to add Peer Reviews. Peer Reviews are book reviews written by the author’s peers: other authors, editors, publishers and professional members of the writing community at large.

HOW
Writers Co-op would allow authors to post reviews and link to the book’s sale page. We’d just set up the page(s) and grant the authors’ permission to post there.
Atthys Gage has agreed to monitor the reviews.

WHEN
Next week, at the earliest, I could set up a prototype page to see how it goes.

WILL IT WORK
“Who knows?” said the first person over Niagara Falls in a barrel. One thing of which we can be certain is a learning curve. The hardest part will probably be the startup. I’ll start with what I can do based on my best understanding of the peer review discussions, in accordance with the limitations of our website and of course my deficient abilities. 🙂 It should be all down-the-falls sailing from there.

WAIT… WHY!?
If you haven’t read the discussions, many authors are complaining about Amazon banning reviews from anyone their algorithms decide knows the author. Offering authors a work-around could be our opportunity to provide a real service that incidentally increases Writers Co-op membership.

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About Writers, Amazon, book promotion, book sales, publishing, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

DECISION TIME

'One more time Huck, I'm gonna have to question your decision to bring the beaver.'

‘One more time Huck, I’m gonna have to question your decision to bring the beaver.’

ATTN: All Writers Co-op members (and potential members. 🙂 )

Two proposals have recently been discussed that deserve follow up.

Peer Review
The first is to add Peer Review page(s) of book reviews written by authors. Amazon tends to prevent or delete peer reviews. Writers Co-op could allow authors to post such reviews and link to the book’s sale page.
The argument for includes that it’d be a useful and easy service to offer, we’d just set up the page(s) and grant the authors’ permission to post there. The argument against includes the need to have a real person to manage and monitor those pages. Any volunteers?

Anthology
A Writers Co-op Anthology for 2018 has been mentioned and the feedback was positive. So, what do you think? Should we proceed towards publishing one? Who’s in? What themes would you want for the anthology? Do we even need a theme? We can publish a Writers Co-op Anthology if we cooperate in all aspects and contribute stories.

So speak up now!

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About Writers, Amazon, book promotion, book sales, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Beating a Dead Horse

The previous post by Atthys Gage, detailing his experience using giveaways to promote book sales, makes it clear that giving away books is not the way to make money. Yet, authors continue to flail that dead horse.

Obviously, the “Top 100 Free in Kindle Store list” promotes Kindle and makes money for Amazon. That may be the ONLY reason Amazon offers it.
Where did we get this idea that free books promote book sales? (The only reason free Browser and free Search works for Google is that they make money off advertisements.)

Rooted deep in the author psyche is the need to be read. Most authors spend considerable portions of their life creating their books and feel rewarded when the book is read. Books are freely given to anyone who purports to fill that need. What’s wrong with this picture? What manufacturer do you know who gives away their products in the hope that they will be used? How many people have you met who are proud to work for free?

We can’t blame today’s publishers for stroking our egos by “choosing” our book to sell. Or blame retailers for accepting the books we freely give them to sell. That’s how they make money.

But we can demand that any publisher with his finger in our pie do the marketing. Otherwise, what the hell have they done to earn their profit? And, we can demand that retailers do more to prevent pirates from selling our books on the retailer’s website.

Writers need a Bill Of Writes.

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