Thursday, August 7, 2014

Much Ado About Publishing

Watch and read this--CNN Opinion: If I Were Jeff Bezos, by James Patterson
James Patterson\n
Why so serious, James?

I have a different take on the Amazon/Hachette Book Group dispute, but this CNN piece (and James Patterson's rambling muses that are attached to the piece) are interesting. I find it funny that Hachette continues to use the media to shape the public's perception of the business dispute and yet most people continue not to care. The ones who should care the most--the authors--are taking the wrong side.

Out of loyalty to their publisher, they continue to vilify Amazon. Amazon gives the publisher 70% of the revenue generated per book sale. The publisher, in turn, gives the author 25% of that. Yet, if the author published directly to Amazon, THEY would receive the 70%.

The other thing that should be made clear is that Amazon is not fighting for more than 30%. Many of the pieces I have seen claim that Amazon is fighting for a larger share of the revenue. That simply is not true. Amazon is fighting to keep ebook prices from being more than or the same as hard copies. 

This obviously appears to effect the revenue of the publisher and therefore the authors. This is not always true, especially for authors who are considered "midlist" authors (outside of the top 50 sellers). Amazon's models have shown that the best pricing practices are under $9 for ebooks. They know that volume will increase if that pricing model is followed. With the increased volume, the total volume of sales will increase.

On the other side of this paradigm, publishers want to retain control over the pricing of their product.This is only slightly different than Wal-Mart telling Coleman that they need to make a sleeping bag that they will price at $25, even though Coleman would prefer to set the manufacturer's price at $35 for the same product.

This model threatens smaller distributors of books, like local independent book stores more than it does the big publishers. Amazon is leveraging their already considerable power to capture even more of the market by setting pricing models that only they can support. They can do this because they can offer you more than just the book. They have socks, computers, soap, raincoats, umbrellas, cell phones, ereaders, and more that they can market to the same customers who are learning just how great it is to purchase from Amazon. Their pricing strategy is a brand recognition incentive.

Where do I personally fall on this issue? Well, I have watched and read, listened and waited. The debate has raged on, with petitions signed, and famous authors like Patterson and even Stephen Colbert weighing in on the publisher's behalf. I do not think that either corporate giant needs a helping hand. This is a business dispute. I see benefits and concessions under both outcomes.


If Hachette finally gives in and allows Amazon to set the pricing models, then some good stuff and some bad stuff will happen. First of all, let's all understand that when we speak of this pricing model, we are mostly speaking of new release books by best-selling authors. We are not talking about a book that is more than a year old, or that is written by an author in the midlist.

The Good Stuff
Readers win. Instead of paying $14.99 or $19.99 for the newest James Patterson novel, readers will only have to pay $9.99. Arguments will be that most people would pay $20 for that. I would not agree. But, if you saved $5 to $10 on his book, read it in a weekend and then received an email showing ten more books in that genre by authors similar to him where they had a deal on an older Harlen Coben book for $4.99, you'd be tempted to get it, right? You spent the same $14.99, but two authors benefited. The reader finds that they got a great deal, two books for the same price as what they would have spent on one before the Amazon/Hachette war. So the authors win as well.

With the increased traffic, increased publicity (although most of it was negative), and a chance to prove their algorithms are correct, Bezos and Co. will likely note an increase in revenue. More people will sign up for Prime (getting access to streaming movies, unlimited book borrows from 600,000 titles, and the availability for discounts and free shipping in some cases will be a no-brainer for Amazon regulars). More customers will buy ancillary products like movies, games, clothing, or electronics. More people will discover the greater Amazon community from reviews, to resellers, to blogs and sites dedicated to Kindle apps, Kindle accessories, and book discussions. So, Amazon (DUH) wins.

The Bad Stuff
The other publishers (Penguin, MacMillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster) are going to have to come to the negotiation table soon as well and will be faced with a precedent that has been set. They can fight it, but for how long? At what cost? How long will their authors be willing to continue to be loyal, knowing that results of Hachette's failure actually benefited their authors in the long run? Will they see that Amazon is actually reaching out to help them, or will the perception continue to be "Big Bad Amazon" vs. "Little Publishing House?" The other publishers lose.

This is potentially bad, because a repeat of this current dispute is not healthy, especially from a public perception standpoint. When it gets to the point of public apathy, then everyone else is getting hurt: publishers, Amazon, authors, and readers.

If Amazon "wins" independent book stores lose again. Already hurt by the burgeoning ebook market, independent book stores will have to continue to scrabble for ways to stay relevant. Pricing for them will remain the same for their stock. The pricing model that the publishers employ actually keep brick and mortar booksellers relevant and competitive. The price difference between a hard cover and an ebook is not significant. The good news is that the majority of people continue to PREFER printed hard copies over digital and pricing is not an issue to them as long as it maintains. However, if Amazon "wins" the dispute, this is still another dagger in the dark, another straw on the camel's back.

If Amazon "wins" Barnes & Noble loses. Again. Barnes & Noble continues to lose due to their dinosaur-like ability to move in the market and adjust. Their search engine still lags behind, their purchasing strategies are stuck in the 1990s, and their inability to market their superior ereader product perplexes even the staunchest retailers. If this dispute is solved in Amazon's favor, B&N may become the injured elk in the herd, crippled, wounded, and floundering, a target for some predator to take it out. That, in turn, would be a loss for readers. We NEED a good brick-and-mortar store to get books that curates more than just the best-sellers (like Target & Wal-Mart).


The Good
Independent book stores win. Barnes & Noble gets a bit of breathing room and perhaps some collateral they can use when negotiating with the other Big 5 publishers. Big authors win. They lent their voice in defense of their publisher and get rewarded. Their face and name is associated with the winner. They helped slay the giant. Not the truth, you understand, but the perception, and in today's world, that is all that matters in the end.

The other Big 5 publishers win. They now have a precedent in their favor. They can leverage that in their negotiations without being accused of collusion. In their minds, Amazon used a "nuclear" method of negotiating, and if Hachette lost then they would have to threaten with their own nuclear option: pull their books from Amazon's store. Not the wisest decision and certainly one that will hurt them dearly, but also not an empty threat. But, with Hachette winning, this sacrifice will not be necessary.

Hachette gets their way. Although it is arguably to their detriment in the long run, in the short run, they win respect of their publishing peers, become heroes to their authors, build credibility with literary agents, and elevate themselves as a true defender of the publishing industry.

The Bad
Readers lose. They lose because publishers will continue to set the prices to ebooks at the same or sometimes higher than their printed counterparts. Which, makes absolutely NO SENSE. No printing costs. No distribution costs. Minimal "middle-man" costs (wholesalers and retailers are cut to only Whispersinc and Amazon). NO RETURNS (Where a store sends back their purchases to the publisher).

Why does Hachette (and RH, S&S, HC, and Penguin) want to keep ebook prices high? THEY MAKE MORE PROFIT. Simple. Plus, they also do not want to scavenge from their baby: hard cover sales. Even though the margins on hard covers are slightly lower due to their higher production and distribution costs, hard covers still represent a larger volume of revenue than publishers think they can recuperate from ebook sales. In addition, in their minds it would mean more RETURNS. This would dig deep into their pockets.

Authors lose. If you haven't read a publishing contract, you should. I am sure they are not too dissimilar to contracts offered to any type of artist. They are rarely favorable to the artist. Extended rights, clauses, terms--everything favors the distributor (Publisher, record label, art gallery, etc.). If Hachette wins, then their clout and perceived heroics will create an atmosphere that may enable them to continue to demand status quo in terms of author contracts. Why fix something that is obviously not broken, they will argue. In the meantime, they will continue to receive $10.50 in revenue for every $15 book and pay their authors $2.36 (after their agent's 10%). What is the publisher doing for their $7? A whole lot less than they would for that same title in paperback. So, why pay more? Publishers will argue: so the author gets a fair share. Bull. If the publishers were truly interested in the authors, then they would negotiate a better deal with them. If they were truly interested in ALL THEIR AUTHORS, then they would see the marketing logic that Amazon is presenting to them that would increase the sales of ALL of their titles and therefore benefit everyone.

I ramble. I could go on. Obviously, Amazon loses. Maybe only loses face, maybe some reputation, but ultimately, it will continue to be a mega-giant. Who knows how this will effect them in future negotiations? Will they continue to strong-arm their way into these deals if the strategy does not work with Hachette? Will they increase the pressure? Give in? Change direction? Aggressively pursue more authors themselves in order to put pressure on publishing in that way? Who can predict that?

Ultimately, this exchange has deepened my resolve to stay an independent publisher. I have even played with the idea of eventually becoming a small publishing house myself, offering editing, marketing, and publishing services to aspiring writers. I have to first become successful, I suppose. However, even though I am more committed to this path of self-publishing, I am saddened by the rhetoric and the clamor. I am appalled at the continued practices of gatekeepers who, under the guise of culling literary worth, manage to merely act as prophets of profit. They want to find the next 50 Shades, the next Harry Potter, the next Hunger Games. Not the next masterpiece of literature.

I am not knocking those books. I am merely pointing out that publishers continue to leverage their expertise and clout in the name of literature when they are actually only interested in money.

What do you think? Where do you fall in this dispute? Who would you like to see win? Do you even care? The Hachette authors would like for you to boycott Amazon on their behalf. Is that likely something you would do?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I've Been a Bad Boy

Kindle Unlimited
I have been away for too long from this blog. I can throw more excuses out than an NFL wide receiver caught breaking the law (again), but for what purpose?

The truth is, I am back again. I have been writing like mad to hit my self-imposed deadlines (and mostly failing, to be honest). I am in a small lull in writing the rough draft for the seventh installment of the Jake Monday Chronicles (while the 6th installment is getting edited). Therefore, here I am tossing out parenthetical expressions like they are going out of business.

So, here is my update. Mad, Mad Monday will be published as soon as I get it back, make corrections and re-writes, format it, and upload it to the mighty 'Zon. The final book in the series, Monday Bloody Monday will be published in September along with Volume 2 of the Monday Collection (which will contain parts 4 through 7 of the series). Before Christmas, I will publish an Omnibus Edition called Monday: All Week, which will include all 7 installments plus tons of extras (I will brag that Monday: All Week will contain 10% more week!) like an origin story, "the making of Jake Monday," deleted scenes, and a companion story, the first in a series of shorts called Monday Missions. It will be busting at its seams at almost 1,000 pages!

Recently, Amazon unveiled their new program for Prime Members, called Kindle Unlimited. I have heard a ton of great stuff about it so far from readers. Power readers love it. Current Prime members see it as a huge improvement over one book a month from their Kindle Select collection. It is the same collection, now there are no limits. This makes getting Prime ($9.99/month) sound like an even better deal than ever. Amazon really understands how to capture and retain customers.

I have been hearing a totally different song sung by independent authors. For us, Kindle Unlimited (or KU, as we call it), is still an unknown. We understand how it works, but the big question will be on the long tail, how effective it will be at providing us more exposure AND more income. Some estimate that volume will increase, and Amazon has prepared to add funds to our shared kitty, but what happens when the volume increases past Amazon's ability to keep up with the increased demand? Others are worried about a dip in normal sales as more potential "power readers" see a way to make an immediate impact on their bottom line by becoming a Prime Member.

From what many are observing so far, the KU "borrows" effect ranking almost immediately. This creates more buzz for books that Prime Members are excited about reading on their Kindle Unlimited account, which is awesome. However, the potential issue is that to break into the top 5,000 now, an author whose books may not be in Kindle Select will have an even more difficult time. Of course, this pushes many authors to re-think the way they go to market.

Do we give Amazon exclusivity to our product offerings? (I will mention that many of the traditionally published books in KU do not have to maintain that exclusivity, but who am I to rock that particular boat?) Do we abandon our loyal fans that find our books on their favorite reading devices on Barnes & Noble, or Android, or Apple, or Kobo?

For many authors, this is not even an option. The increase in visibility and income from KU will not replace the diversity and volume they are experiencing by having their product in several (if not all) stores. All eggs/one basket is the common cautionary refrain I hear most often.

On the other hand, some authors already have given Amazon their all. Some have multiple product offerings, often under different brands (pen names), with some in and some out of the Kindle Select program. These authors and publishers stand to net the bounty (or downfall) of this fledgeling program.

For the author who does not have all that much traction other than Amazon (like me, for example), will it be worthwhile to pull out of the other stores and abandon diversity for exclusivity even if it is only for the first three months (the length of the contractual obligation to participate in the Kindle Select program)? Some might say: "Go for it! What do you have to lose?" Others may caution: "Don't be a follower. Exclusivity is the wrong move. Don't cave to the big bully on the block with all the best toys."

Both are good advice, but my retort is simply: I am looking at it from all angles. I am not making any rash decisions. I have three titles in Select now. The final three installments of the Jake Monday Chronicles will be in Select until just before Christmas. My only fantasy title available to date is currently in Select. You can read it for free if you are a Prime Member. It is also on sale this week for 99 cents if you are not a Prime Member.

I will wait and see, monitor and observe, calculate and weigh my options. Maybe by Christmas I will have a better marketing strategy other than "wait and see."

How about you? If you are a reader, what do you think about this new program? If you are a writer/publisher, how is it impacting you?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why I am NOT Crazy

I just gave away 7,801 copies of a book.

Some feel this is insanity. Why give it away? The answer is complicated and not necessarily a good argument for my mental clarity. The same week I gave this book away, I also offered the second book in that series discounted to 99 cents. Crazy? I wish I was nuttier, actually.

I missed my goal of book give-aways, and books sold at discount. I intended to give away 10,000 books. ON THE FIRST DAY. I wanted the other four days to get that number closer to 20,000 or even 30,000 copies.

But, why? What good does giving away so many free copies achieve? you may ask.

Because no one knows me. I am a very small speck of plankton among hundreds of thousands of plankton. I want someone to notice me. I need to glow. Grow abnormally large. Send off book-reading pheromones. Develop a book-reader-attracting mating call.

One sure way to do that is to give away something.

People LOVE free.

But, you may argue, doesn't offering something for free devalue your work?

You may have a point. I am willing to take that risk. Because of numbers.

I have been in sales all my adult life and I live by numbers. "X" number of presentations will produce "Y" opportunities to close a sale which at "Z" close rate will result in "AA" number of sales at "BB" average revenue which will earn me "CC" dollars of commission. I intended to use a similar method of success for selling books.

See, that is the difficult part for me. I am the creator. The author, editor, publisher, cover artist, social platform manager, literary agent, sales manager, and public relations specialist. I wear a bunch of hats. Sometimes that is the part that wears me down.

So, when I produce a great story, get it edited, go through the hard work of packaging it, formatting it, creating a cover, writing the doggone blurb, pricing it, getting it beta-read, and then uploading it to the online book stores, I expect results. I have so much control over everything. That is what I LOVE about independent publishing. I have control. Well, over everything except people buying it.

I am looking for raving fans. Fans that tell other fans. I am risking my neck by tossing my book out into the maw of the free book binge. There is a whole culture of book collectors who look every day for new free books. Some of these people are voracious readers. Not all of them will like my book. That is risk number one: my work will be downloaded and read by readers who are not my target audience.

Risk number two is the devaluing of books we discussed earlier. Not just my book, understand. All books. It has come to the point now that we indie authors have conditioned folks to think that a "cliffhanger" in a short work is a cheat. That we are trying to milk them for all the book money they have. In a way, I suppose that would be nice. I will take milk money, too, if they will depart with it. But, this pervading perception that free is a springboard to capturing readers is exactly correct. It is what we want. Are you not entertained? Try my book for free. It is the first in a series. The other six are priced competitively in their genre for their length.

Are free books conditioning readers to not purchase? I don't think so. Most of the readers who fill their ereader devices full of free downloaded books are the same people who read books from the library, buy books from used book stores, and borrow books from friends regularly. I don't begrudge them their buying habits. They are not the audience I seek. For every one of these readers, there are potential buyers who snatch up series like they were going to out of print tomorrow if it is in a genre they like/author they like/ or set of covers they like.  Those readers are my audience. Or at least I hope they are.

Which brings us back to why I am not crazy.

My number theory about book selling is simple. I think that for every 10,000 books I can give away, 80 to 100 people will buy at least one other book in the series. Not only that, I believe that within 6 months, I will get: 10 new book reviews on the free book alone; 40 new subscribers to my newsletter; an additional 100 or so sales from carry through from book 2 to 3, etc.; 20-40 new sales at every new release, and 20 new Twitter/Facebook/Google+/Goodreads followers.

Those numbers are conservative and only refer to the readers who originally downloaded the free book. It does not take into account that with enough quick growth (several dozen sales in one day, for example), my titles will shoot up the best seller lists and gain more visibility. More potential sales. More potential reviews, newsletter subscribers, followers on social media, more website hits, and more reader engagement. It is a snowball. The thing is, to make that snowball grow in diameter, I have to pack the core and roll it down the hill, hoping it will pick up momentum and attract more mass.

Offering my book for free is like packing that snowball core. Ten thousand downloads is a bunch of potential readers. Not all will stick. Hundreds will never get around to sampling my free offering and may even delete it later to make room for more free books. Those ereaders have a capacity, you know. Hundreds of the people who DO read the free sample will just nod, smile, thank me silently, and read the next free book on their to-be-read pile. Then, some will read it, love it, and want more.  Leave a review, sign up for my newsletter, tell a friend, share it with a colleague at work, write a book blog about it, or simply visit my website and get a copy of another book. Soon, the snowball is rolling down the hill and picking up speed. Maybe before it gets to the bottom and sits for weeks melting it will get really big. That is the plan, anyway.

How many potential readers will join the snowball? Less than 1% is my guess. Which is why 10,000 is such a crucial number.

Am I crazy? Probably. I intend to make the first book free permanently. OK. Not permanently, permanently. Just permanently for now. Beginning in April, actually. For an indefinite time.

So, if you have the patience, you can save 99 cents and get the book free if you have not already downloaded it. MANIC MONDAY is the first novella (which means under 250 pages) in my 7-part series called THE JAKE MONDAY CHRONICLES. It is an espionage thriller in the vein of Jason Bourne and James Bond.

You can pick up a copy of MANIC MONDAY or any of my novels HERE.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

I am impressed with King's return to Danny's world. King really flexed his considerable writing muscles in Doc ZZZZ. Some may criticize the elements of the True Knot, or the introduction of a new main character, but the truth is, from a pure writing standpoint, this is a better effort than The Shining.

I was mildly disappointed in the lack of a Randall Flagg reference, which easily could have been applied. I thought that was a missed opportunity.

I really liked the idea of Abra. Thought the naming convention was a little trite and ironic, but I have been known to indulge in similar naming conventions (my Jake Monday series titles, for one). But, as a character, Abra is not as well-drawn as Danny. I imagine it would be difficult for a man of King's age (and sex) to do a character like Abra justice. I say that, realizing of course, that he did a wonderful job of that in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

Adult Danny got on my nerves a bit at first. This was perhaps the part of the novel I liked least. Tearing him down to the lowest point is a common fiction convention, and certainly in character considering his father, but the low was not as low as his father. It fell a little short of that. Not that I want Danny murdering someone or beating his child or chasing his wife with an axe. It just felt over-blown. I found it interesting that when Dan Torrance finally opens up about it at the AA meeting, the audience there has the same ho-hum attitude about the story that I did.

One thing about this criticism, if I look at it objectively: we often are more harsh on ourselves regarding our redemption and deep, dark secrets than others might be when they compare our deeds or or lack of action to their own experiences. For every person who feels awful about themselves, totally disappointed that they neglected their aging parent, there is someone who shot a kid while cleaning their gun, or hit their child in anger, or hit a woman while driving drunk. It is all relative. Not that it expunges each of us from the guilt we feel. This guilt is a cleansing thing, a reminder that we are fallible and must try harder, strive more for peace, love, and serving others--change the way we act and think.

I think that is the deeper message King is sending in Doctor Sleep. He explores it with the night clerk, Torrance's AA mentor, Abby's grandmother, and even the True Knot. We are responsible for our actions and how those actions impact those around us.

All-in-all, this is a book I will highly recommend. Not as good as 11/22/63 in many ways, but a healthy reminder that King is only getting better at this writing thing. I think he might be famous some day. :)