Tag Archives: panic!

PANIC! And Ways To Get Around It

Mar 15, 2016
Panic at the Disco

This is the only acceptable kind of panic!
image courtesy of BluEyedA73 via flickr creative commons

I’m going to be brutally honest with you. There is one thing that I can’t stand in life, the universe, and everything. And that thing is panic. Whether it’s people panicking about the fate of our country in this current election year, panicking because there’s a spider in the sink, or panicking because Amazon has changed the way they do this, that, or the other thing, panic for panic’s sake is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be concerned about elections, spiders, or Amazon. All three of those things are decidedly concerning (some more so than others). And I’m not saying that actions shouldn’t be taken to avert disaster. By all means, ACT. But do it with a level head. Go out and vote for the candidate you think will steer your country in the right direction (and not just in presidential elections—state and local elections are actually FAR more important than national ones, but that’s a topic for another day). Get a newspaper and swat that spider—or gently move it to a place where it won’t harm you.

And as for Amazon? Wait, watch, and plan accordingly. But by all means, don’t get your blood pressure up as you scream, tear your hair out, and wail that we’re all doomed. DOOMED!

Okay. To anyone who just asked “What is this Amazon thing we’re panicking about?” Congratulations, you’re a normal person and not a writer. But if you are a writer, chances are you’re tempted to go into high panic mode right now.

Amazon has two things going on that have people ready to shift into panic. First, they’re cracking down on eBooks that either don’t have a Table of Contents or that have one at the back of the book. Many authors do put their TOC at the back of the book, both because one of the formatting programs out there does that automatically and because moving the TOC to the back gives you more content up front for readers who click on the “Look Inside” option on the Amazon homepage while searching for books.

But the reason why The ‘Zon is cracking down is because there are scammers out there who are raking in the dough through the Kindle Unlimited program by throwing up (and I do mean that in both senses of the word) trash books of hack work or plagiarized content—hundreds and hundreds of pages of it per “book”—and including links at the front of the book, sending readers straight to the last page so that they collect literally tens of thousands of dollars in false page reads.

This is bad. Amazon is trying to combat it (in spite of what nay-sayers assume about The ‘Zon not really caring. I think they care, but this is an enormous problem, and I don’t think they have the manpower, or enough magic wands, to tackle it and make it go away INSTANTLY, like we serious authors would like).

Non-panicked solution: Fix the TOC in your books. It took me less than a minute to fix the one they sent me a notice about. You lose space for that “Look Inside,” but you gain…well, not having Amazon send you nastygrams.

The other thing that has people in a panicky tizzy over at Amazon is their efforts to investigate the possibility of selling used eBooks. (Note the key words in that phrase: Their efforts to investigate the possibility—it’s nowhere near being a sure thing, as a certain newsletter would have you believe) That is exactly what it sounds like. A reader buys an eBook. They read it. They resell it on some Amazon-operated market. I used to do that all the time with paperbacks at my local used book store.

Authors are panicked because this would seriously cut into their profits. It totally would. IF readers actually jump on the bandwagon and list their books for resale once they’re purchased. IF Amazon is able to get all of the permissions they need and get past the new copyright laws which are being debated this year. IF it becomes something that makes sense for readers to do. There are a lot of ifs involved in this whole used eBook equation. And as far as I know, Amazon is still just looking into it. I also read somewhere that it would only be books in the KU program. Not sure about that.

So what do we do, panic??? Do we panic now???

NO!

Non-panicked solution: Avoid KU. Distribute your books as wide as possible. Put effort into marketing to iBooks and Kobo. Um, I’d say Nook too, but I think Nook is about to go under. For real this time.

Sub-solution: Authors, stop giving away Kindles as giveaway prizes! This is not rocket science. The reason Amazon sells so many eBooks is because they deliberately and calculatedly got as many Kindles into the hands of as many readers as possible. Amazon sells Kindles WAY below the cost of production, specifically so that they can control the eBook market because more readers have their devices than have iPads or Kobo readers. We can market to iBooks and Kobo until we’re blue in the face and have spent a zillion dollars, but if readers only own Kindles, we’re SOL.

iPad

image courtesy of Sean MacEntee via flickr creative commons

The inherent problem in this is that Kindles sell for as low as $49, while the cheapest iPad I was able to find was $269. Yikes! Makes it sort of hard to go giving those puppies away, right?

Actually, I don’t have a solution for that. It is what it is. It sucks.

Sub-solution #2: Produce paperbacks of your books that are formatted in such a way that you can sell them for competitive prices. The reason indie authors do so well in digital format is because we can undersell NY Publishers by a lot. Well, NY pubbed paperbacks are costing about $7 or $8 these days. Produce paperbacks that can sell for less and market those to your readers, and you might stand a chance.

In fact, I’d love to see more indie authors invest in paperbacks (and audio, but that’s super expensive) and do a big push to get people to buy paper. But it has to be cost effective for the reader.

At the end of the day, everything Amazon is doing makes life easier and books cheaper for readers. THAT’s why they’re so successful. They will continue to do that until…well, they’ll just continue to do that. We as indie authors have to face that fact, scale back the panic, and start thinking about ways we can keep our heads above water, avoid the thumbscrews Amazon is putting to us, and give our readers the best, cheapest reading experience possible. BUT, Amazon is an inevitability in this publishing game. We HAVE to deal with them, and since we have zero control over what they do—and I mean zero—we need to learn to adapt instead of balk every time they change a policy.

So to summarize: Don’t panic. Separate fact from hearsay. Seek to understand changes when they are made, and adapt your publishing and marketing strategy to best harmonize with those changes. Seek to understand the market you’re writing for, their needs and their habits. And don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Being in the Now of Publishing

Nov 06, 2015
image courtesy of goXunuReviews via flickr commons

image courtesy of goXunuReviews via flickr commons

Earlier this week, I had a near confrontation with another author (and it was totally my fault, I own up to that 100%, this fellow author is a great person) about Amazon’s subscription program, Kindle Unlimited, or KU. Yes, this is what authors talk about and get all worked up about behind the scenes. The reason it was a near confrontation was because this fellow author made a statement to the effect of “I just don’t understand what the benefit of KU to authors is. I don’t get it, so I won’t be part of it.” And why did that make me see red? Other than the fact that I was sleep-deprived and PMSy?

Because I am really tired of one set of authors raging and frothing and gnashing their teeth while they scream at other authors to stop enrolling their books in KU because it’s ruining publishing for everyone.

Because I’m tired of other authors who are in a much more solid position with their careers telling me how I should be running my career.

Because removing the books that I have in the KU program (and it’s not all of them by any stretch) would constitute me taking a 60% pay cut and not being able to support myself with my writing.

It’s really easy to point fingers at someone else and tell them they should take a 60% pay cut when you’re making 6-7 figures a year. It’s far too easy to feel justified about personal career choices that work well for you at the point you are in with your career without stopping to consider that not everyone’s career is in the same place.

So here’s my take on KU as an author. 90% of my income comes from two series, Montana Romance and Hot on the Trail. Both are historical westerns. Montana Romance is much, much steamier, and the books are longer. (Yes, I have a few other books/series that sell well, but these are my series that pay the rent…literally). Montana Romance is in wide distribution (Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, etc.) and does very well out there. Hot on the Trail is currently exclusive to Amazon, i.e. part of KU. It does very, very well in KU (meaning I get a lot of page reads/borrows every month).

Now, the decision to pull Hot on the Trail from wide distribution to put it into KU was made very thoughtfully. I looked at a lot of sales figures and data over time. I compared. I kept spreadsheets. What all those numbers told me was that Hot on the Trail was not making even close to the kind of money at iBooks and B&N that Montana Romance was making. In spite of intense promotion (including BookBub) directed at those other sites. After nine plus months of being in wide distribution, it was like I couldn’t even give those books away. I agonized over the decision. I crunched numbers, worried, drank a lot of coffee, and fretted. Then I decided to put the books in KU for 90 days to see what happened.

What happened is that my income on those books shot up over 300% in borrows alone. What happened is that I started making more money in KU borrows from Hot on the Trail than I was making in straight sales from all of the rest of my books combined. What happened is that I was able to pay off some lingering debt, put money in my savings account, and breathe easy for the first time since becoming a full-time author.

The folks who like to go around pressuring authors to pull their books from KU and go wide because “it’s a better business decision” and because “Amazon could pull the rug out from under authors at any time and only pay them a fraction of a fraction for exclusive books” are, without realizing it, trying to take that cherished feeling of security away. They’re denigrating the months of research and the agonizing that went into making the decision in the first place.

Dude, this is my career, not yours. You don’t understand my numbers, so stop trying to pressure me and every other author like me to do what you think is best based on how your books sell when my career is an entirely different story with different rules and different moving parts. I’m not going to shoot myself in the foot so that your career can prosper.

Zen book

courtesy of francois schnell via flickr commons

Here’s the thing. Enrollment in KU/exclusivity with Amazon is not a permanent thing. Enrollment periods last for 90 days. You can put books in KU and you can take them out. Nothing is permanent. A lot of doom and gloom predictions are out there about all the ways Amazon plans to cheat indie authors and pull the rug out from under them. It’s like Code Red level panic.

But that hasn’t happened yet.

I’m not saying it won’t happen, but right now, today, in this 90 day enrollment period, this month, this week, things are okay. KU is working for me. It’s paying the rent and getting my books in the hands of more readers than they would be in otherwise. I know this because I did the math, remember? I tracked sales on other outlets, and even a first grader can tell you that the numbers I have now in KU are bigger than the numbers I had in wide distribution earlier.

Right now, things work.

They might not work next year, next 90 day period, next month. Yep. I fully accept and recognize that. But my participation in KU is not permanent. I continue to do the math, I continue to track sales, I continue to market strategically. I am in the now of publishing. I’ll worry about the tomorrow of publishing when it gets here.

It’s basic zen philosophy, really. Live in the moment. Yesterday is gone, you can’t change it. Tomorrow hasn’t gotten here yet, you can’t control it. The very best thing an indie author like me can do is pay attention, keep track of numbers, watch trends, and be prepared to change things when things need changing.

But they don’t for me. Not yet. Right now, what I’m doing works for me. For me. I’m not implying it works for anyone else. I won’t try to direct your career and you shouldn’t try to direct mine. For me right now, where my career is, where my personal life is, where my books are, KU works for the books I’ve enrolled in it.

Tomorrow, everything may change and all the apocalyptic predictions may come true.

I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, because the bridge I’m on now is nice and sturdy, whether you like it or not.