Friday, July 18, 2014

The Limited Kindle Unlimited

Amazon recently announced their Kindle Unlimited program, in which US customers can read an unlimited number of books on Kindle for a flat $10-per-month fee. This is basically the same system as Scribd’s online library system. Authors whose books are read by Kindle Unlimited users are paid from Amazon’s global fund, much like it was with the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (which allows 2 free reads a month and is still available for all non-US locations).

For voracious readers, Kindle Unlimited will be... well, feel free to fill in the blank with something very nice. And this is potentially good for indie writers too, because by allowing readers to read books at a monthly rate instead of making purchases, largely unknown writers (such as me) would get more readers willing to try out their books, which could lead to greater visibility and much better sales.

There’s a catch, however: For books to be included in Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, they must be titles exclusive to the Amazon store. This is where Kindle Unlimited differs from Scribd, which does not require exclusivity to join.

This means that if I wanted to enroll my books in this program, I would have to pull out of all other sales channels first. Of course, this is exactly what Amazon wants: to utterly dominate the book market even more than they do now. But if I were to pull my books from other stores, readers who are currently in the middle of my series would suddenly be unable to get the rest of my books without switching platforms to Amazon. Again, this is what Amazon wants.

And the current reality is that Amazon already dominates the ebook market. From a royalties perspective, I make far more from Amazon sales than I do from all my other sales channels combined. Thus, pulling out of other stores and going all-in with Amazon could be a very profitable move for me too. Yes, Amazon and I could be very good buddies in this program.

Alas, sorry, but no. At least for the present time, my books won’t be a part of this deliberately limited program. Few though they may be, as long as I have people buying my books on other reading devices, I feel it would be an insult to my readers to coerce them into a different sales channel.

I am absolutely grateful to Amazon for its KDP program, which has allowed me to directly reach my readers in a way that was impossible during the not-so-long-ago days of traditional publishing. Nevertheless, I don’t owe Amazon any favors, and they’ve never done me any. We are not buddies. It’s a business relationship, nothing more.

Someday, if Amazon really does succeed in taking total control of the ebook market to the point were I’m not making any sales on other stores, then that’s when I’ll join.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Concerning LinkedIn Invites

Recently, I’m getting a number of invitations from members of LinkedIn. If it was just random email spam, I’d ignore it, but I’m pretty sure that the people who are sending me these invitations are my readers.

So... 


 
* A General Apology to People Sending Me LinkedIn Invites *

I’m very sorry to ignore your invites, but I’m not actually on LinkedIn. In fact, I’m not even sure exactly what LinkedIn is. So please don’t take me ignoring these invites personally. I’m not even on Facebook or Twitter at the moment. Thanks again for your consideration, though.

If you want to contact me directly, just send me an email at adrianhowellbooks@gmail.com.

I absolutely always love hearing from my readers.

Monday, July 7, 2014

CORE RPG Kickstarter Project Begins


Back in February, I was contacted by Lester Smith, a writer and game designer wanting to put together a D6 game book featuring worlds from a variety of fiction writers, including (to my great surprise) me. I happily agreed to join the fun, and over the months I watched his website bulge from the many writers’ worlds that also joined this project.
 
Now, finally, Lester Smith’s CORE RPG Kickstarter project has begun!
 
Naturally very excited about this:
 

 
 
Now, I am not very familiar with the Kickstarter system, but as I understand it, Lester’s campaign has 26 days to garner as much in pledges as possible, and the size of the final product will depend on how much is raised. With each stretch goal of $2500 reached, an extra set of worlds will be added to the game book. My Psionic Pentalogy world is listed in the Urban Fantasy Pack, which is four stretch goals in at $10,000.
 
That’s a lot of money.
 
Or is it?
 
I’ve never actually seen a Kickstarter campaign run before, so I honestly don’t know what to expect. Can a $10,000 stretch goal really be reached? Or perhaps that’s just par for the course. There appear to be more stretch goals beyond the $10,000 mark, and I doubt Lester would have set these goals if he didn’t believe them theoretically reachable.
 
I would, of course, love to see my world included in Lester’s game book, but beyond that, I would love even more to see as many worlds included as possible, meaning stretch goals reached above and beyond the fifth tier. Even though I am not a regular D6 gamer, I think this is pretty darn cool for any fiction writer to get their world featured in a game book like this.
 
Can all these stretch goals be reached? Only time will tell, but even if my book’s level isn’t reached, I’m still going to have a lot of fun watching this project develop.
 
 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why Side With Amazon?

A few years ago, I had appendicitis. I was taken to the hospital where I was cut open and cured of a common but oft-fatal illness.

Funny thing is, I don’t even remember my doctor’s name.

The man saved my life. Every breath I take now and for the rest of my life is in part owed to this doctor’s skill.

But let’s face it: He wasn’t doing me any real favors. It wasn’t some selfless act of charity on his part.

Operating on people is his job. It’s how he pays his rent, puts food on his table, and sends his kids to medical school.

Sure, he didn’t have to pursue a life of saving people. If all he was interested in was money, there are a number of less noble professions he might have taken. But just because he chose a medical career doesn’t automatically mean that he is some kind of saint. In saving my life that day, he was undoubtedly serving his own self-interests.

It so happened that him serving his self-interests also served mine. For that, I am grateful.

Fast forward to present day. I’m currently not worried about my physical health. 

But I do worry a bit over the future of publishing.

As the Amazon-Hachette standoff intensifies, so escalates the campaign of misinformation by the big publishers trying to paint Amazon as some evil empire that is hurting the book industry, when nothing could be further from the truth.

And as a smalltime, mostly unknown self-published writer, I am exceptionally grateful to Amazon’s KDP platform, without which I couldn’t have connected with my readers to the degree I can today. I think the majority of self-published writers today feel the same way.

But certainly not all. There are those who argue that since both Amazon and Hachette are working primarily in their own interests, there’s really no “good guy” in this war. Profit-oriented Amazon is no more a champion of self-publishing than Hachette.

And they’re right, of course.

Both companies are for-profit. This is not a David and Goliath battle. It is not a conflict between good and evil, or ethical and unethical. It is a conflict between opposing business models where both systems are designed first and foremost to increase the company’s profit margins.

But consider this:
Hachette makes its profits on its very selective (and hence limited) number of titles by overcharging readers and underpaying writers. Amazon makes its profits in the opposite way: they charge readers less and pay writers more in order to entice more readers to buy from them and more writers to publish through them, which greatly expands their selection of titles and, by extension, their own profits.

So while it could easily be argued that there is no “good guy” in this conflict, I side with the company which, regardless of their self-interests, benefits me and my readers far more than the other.

Amazon’s true purpose behind their willingness to pay writers a ton more than traditional publishers, this so-called “evil plot” in which they strongarm publishers into selling their books at reasonable prices... this is no more important to me than the real reason why that doctor cut me open and saved my life.

I side with Amazon because whatever the reason they’re doing it, Amazon is changing the world of publishing for the far, far, far better. For that, I am grateful.


So then what happens if and when Amazon’s interests no longer synch with mine?

I’m human. I’m alive. I’ll adapt.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

KBR Semi-Finalists Announced

How time utterly flies this year. But only when the air conditioner is on.

Back in late April, I had entered two books, Wild-born and Lesser Gods, in the Kindle Book Review’s Best Kindle Book Awards Contest, and the semi-finalists were announced today.


My results: One down, one standing.

Wild-born again survived the first round, and is listed at the very bottom of the 20 semi-finalists in the Sci-fi / Fantasy category. In the Young Adult category, however, Lesser Gods was nowhere to be seen. As I promised myself back in my last blog post about this contest, I shall make no excuses. If it didn’t make the cut, then it didn’t make the cut. End of story.

I was, however, happy to see Steven Whibley’s Disruption on the Young Adult list. I haven’t yet read Whibley’s latest book, but I’ve read and very much enjoyed Glimpse and Relic from his Dean Curse Cronicles. Knowing Whibley’s skills as a writer, I’m certain that the listing of Disruption is well-deserved, and I hope to get around to reading it soon.

So I’m hoping to see both my Wild-born and Whibley’s Disruption clear the next phase, and find our books on the finalist list this September. I’m hoping, but, as always, never holding my breath.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sales Channels


Recently my digital publishing aggregator Draft2Digital, which handles my non-Amazon books, added two new sales channels: Scribd and Page Foundry.

Scribd is an online subscription-based library, where readers can check out an unlimited number of books for a monthly fee. I’ve never used them myself, but it sounds like a nice idea.

But once my books went online at Scribd, I discovered strange formatting errors in two of them. When viewing Wild-born and Lesser Gods in my PC browser, many of the opening quotation marks have been replaced with hyphens. Panicked a little, I tried changing browsers from IE11 to Chrome and discovered that these errors DO NOT show up in Chrome. Weird. I’ve contacted Draft2Digital (which has the best customer service I’ve ever seen in any company in my entire life), and they confirmed that the error was not in the submitted ePub file. I’m currently still waiting on Scribd’s reply to this issue, but hopefully it won’t affect many readers. Who reads books in IE?

As for the other new sales channel, Page Foundry, which sells their books through Inktera, I had never even heard of them until Draft2Digital’s announcement. Many of my fellow indie writers seem to agree that this isn’t a major source of revenue at the moment, but who knows what it might grow into in a couple of years. And it never hurts to be on as many platforms as possible.

Or does it? I’ve been hearing about writers having trouble with Google Play recently. It appears that Google Play has a policy where they can, without informing or obtaining permission from the author, offer a book for free on their site. Google Play still pays the writer the correct royalty amount for these freebies as if they were paid sales, so that in itself sounds like a great deal for both readers and writers. However, it is highly unlikely for a writer to be on Google Play and NOT be on Amazon, and Amazon’s price-matching policy can make any book that is made free on Google Play also free on Amazon. This can be very damaging to writers who rely heavily on Amazon sales, and that seems to be almost everyone at the moment.

Now, technically, this “problem” isn’t Google’s fault. They have every right to conduct their business in any way they feel fit. Nor is it Amazon’s fault, for the same reason. It’s simply a conflict of interests. But since Amazon amounts for 70% of all of my total sales, my interest is in staying on good terms with Amazon, even if it means not being on Google Play and missing out on potential sales there.

So far, Draft2Digital has announced no plans to extend their sales channels to include Google Play, but if and when they do, I’ll have to make sure Google Play has changed their free-book policy before listing with them.

Meanwhile, I’m beginning to consider re-listing my books with Kobo. I had Draft2Digital de-list them back in February when I got fed up with Kobo’s mind-bogglingly slow and poor-quality service, and all the drama surrounding them back when they pulled every one of their indie titles off their stores and... well, that’s old news now. Recently I’m beginning to hear some good things about them, and they seem to be getting their act together. But I’m still cautious, so I won’t re-list my books this summer, but, if things are still looking good at Kobo in the fall, then maybe.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Hazards of Read-Walking


Reading should usually be a fairly relaxing experience. That’s why people do it on park benches, beaches, and in bed. And I enjoy that too, but prolonged sedentary reading can become less relaxing after a while. Sooner or later, you have to get up and stretch your legs. And that’s fine too, but not when you want to keep reading.
 
So, weather permitting, book in hand, I take hour-long strolls through my neighborhood, my eyes focused on my reading and my peripheral vision covering about one yard of the road ahead as I do my zombie walk.
 
I know that this, when done in the wrong part of town, can be very dangerous.
 
Fortunately, street crime is pretty much non-existent in my part of Tokyo. A person can wander alone in the dead of night here without the least concern about being attacked or robbed.
 
But even in the daytime, for the avid read-walker, there are other hazards, namely unsolicited contact with motor vehicles. Even though cases of smartphone-immersed pedestrians being run over by busses are so very rare that they are actually reported on the news, if you spend hours and hours wandering around a big city with your nose buried in a book, sooner or later, the law of averages can catch up with you.
 
But here again, I am fortunate: a narrow river runs near my house, and alongside it is a very nice, car-free jogging and cycling path.
 

 
Now, this is read-walker heaven. Here I can read and shuffle along at my own pace, occasionally being overtaken by passing butterflies. As long as I keep to one side of the path, leaving room for people who are actually interested in getting from point A to point B, the only danger I face is of my head brushing up against the occasional low-hanging cherry tree branch.
 
Or so I thought until a late-afternoon read-walk the other day when I almost stepped on this snake:
 
 
It was just lying there on the concrete path, peacefully trying to soak up the rapidly waning sunlight, and because it wasn’t moving at all, my peripheral vision didn’t register it until my right foot was less than an inch from crushing the poor creature to death. Fortunately, I managed to stop my foot just in time, and the snake quickly slithered up the fence, hissing its displeasure at me.
 
So, though a tragedy was averted, I am now at a loss as to where I can safely continue my read-walking habit. I really would prefer not to be trapped indoors pacing up and down my living room. I guess I’ll just have to keep using the riverside path for now, but it might be a good idea to actually look up from my book every few paragraphs.
 
Critters beware! Aimlessly wandering read-walker coming through!