This Is The Modern Publishing Business

asandfriendsnewScammers used to operate at the edges of the publishing business, but have wormed their way into its heart. And the entire industry is in denial.

An unintentionally revealing aspect of the tiresome Amazon-Hachette dispute was a series of statements from an organization purporting to advocate for authors’ rights. One of the heinous crimes Amazon was said to have committed was treating books like toasters.

With such a claim, Authors United was attempting to tap into a current of feeling about the commoditization of literature – as if Amazon was the first company to put a price tag on a book, and writers around the country were hitherto living off laurels and kudos. It’s tempting to suggest that other entities in the publishing business might be doing as well as Amazon if they also treated books like toasters and attempted to sell the bloody things, but I digress.

What this characterization by Authors United highlighted was that most precious of things: how the industry likes to view itself. Publishing, you see, is far above the rough and tumble of everyday capitalism. Publishers may make profits now and then, but only as an accidental by-product of their true pursuit: the promotion of literature. Without publishers there would be no books, of course, and we should thank the heavens that an eagle-eyed intern plucked Beowulf from a slushpile or the world would be very much the poorer. Continue reading

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Book Launch: LIBERTY BOY

LibertyBoyCoverNew release time!

LIBERTY BOY is available now for $3.99 from Amazon US | UK | CA (and all the rest too).

It’s the first book in a new series, and the first I’ve set in my home country of Ireland – specifically, in the aftermath of Robert Emmet’s failed 1803 Rising.

The wonderful cover was done by my very talented sister – Kate Gaughran – and a huge thanks to her for that.

Before I get into the background, here’s what Liberty Boy is about:

Dublin has been on a knife-edge since the failed rebellion in July, and Jimmy O’Flaherty suspects a newcomer to The Liberties–Kitty Doyle–is mixed up in it. She accuses him of spying for the English, and he thinks she’s a reckless troublemaker.

All Jimmy wants is to earn enough coin to buy passage to America. But when the English turn his trading patch into a gallows, Jimmy finds himself drawn into the very conflict he’s spent his whole life avoiding.

Continue reading

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Let’s Get Digital Is Free. Maybe Forever?

digital2OPT

FREE at Amazon | Apple | B&N | Kobo

I first published Let’s Get Digital in July 2011, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and then released a (much) revamped and updated version in September 2014.

Combined, both editions have sold well over 25,000 copies at this point, which is about 24,000 copies more than I ever hoped. So my sincere thanks to all of you for that – particularly the generous authors who contributed to the book and the army of writers recommending it to others.

Speaking of which, a friend told me the other day that she was grateful I’d written the book because it gives her a quick and easy way to answer emails from newbs.

Well, let me tell you, I’m totally fine with monetizing other people’s laziness. If I could monetize my own laziness I’d be richer than Croesus (one of the original investors in Facebook).

I know they are ten-a-penny now but back in 2011 there weren’t so many self-publishing guides. There was lots of great advice online, albeit scattered across a hundred different websites. I had the time to sift through all this stuff. I’d just moved to Sweden. I was at a loose end (we’ll just skip very quickly over that neat euphemism for being unemployed). And I figured it might be useful to pull all that advice together and organize it in a way that was accessible and useful for a newbie.

Like me.

You see, I was very wet behind the ears when I wrote Let’s Get Digital. I had only sold maybe 150 books – there are no zeroes missing there, people – and I’d only published a few short stories. While I had been writing for a few years, I’d only written a couple of novels. And even that paltry output sounds better than the actuality because one was permanently trunked and the other still a draft or two away from being ready.

In other words, I was hardly a grizzled veteran. But I wasn’t bringing nothing to the table. I had been studying the market for a while, taking in the changes that were starting to ripple through the industry. Plus I’d seen this movie before and knew how it ended.

When I was working at Google (more than ten years ago now), I saw industry after industry get disrupted by the internet. Each of them thought they were special, that they had insider knowledge or uniquely valuable skills that couldn’t possibly be disintermediated by a mere website or replicated by some kind of plebian crowd wisdom. It amazed me that one industry couldn’t learn from the other. Travel, retail, financial services, insurance, newspapers, telecoms – they were all disrupted at different times but they all made the same key mistake of underestimating the threat that digital posed. Continue reading

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KU Scammers Attack Amazon’s Free Ebook Charts

freescamLast month, Amazon was caught up in a crisis at least partly of its own making when bungled attempts to deal with a growing Kindle Unlimited scammer problem resulted in the sanctioning of innocent authors.

Amazon has since apologized, and has also pledged to beef up its response to the KU scamming mess – but questions very much remain about whether Amazon is taking the problem seriously enough. A quick check shows that some of the main scammers are still operating, under the very same author names and book titles that were reported to Amazon in late February and early March. Which is very disappointing.

A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with Phoenix Sullivan about the problem and she told me about something else she was witnessing – scammers taking over the free charts in the Kindle Store. I could see what she was describing and invited her to share the story here. But first, Phoenix wanted to give KDP an opportunity to take action.

You can guess how that went.

If you unfamiliar with Phoenix, she wears multiple hats: author, self-publisher, and publisher, as well as a very smart marketer and someone with a peerless understanding of Amazon’s systems and the various algorithms that power its recommendation engine.

Here’s Phoenix Sullivan with more:

KU Scammers Attack Amazon’s Free Ebook Charts

Over the Easter weekend, I was watching a carefully orchestrated promotional campaign of Steel Magnolia Press titles. By design, we’re back down to just the original founders of the micropress—Jennifer Blake and myself, with a couple of pen names and about 75 titles between us. Our catalog is currently exclusive to Amazon, meaning we’re all-in in Select and KU. Our promotions are planned to optimize visibility via a mix of Free and Countdown Deals and keep our back and front list afloat for a few weeks, then rinse and repeat.

For our Easter weekend promotion, we had 12 books sharing an ad budget of about $1300. Of that, $365 was allocated to our anchor ad—a BookBub placement for a free box of 3 of Jennifer’s backlist romances. Things were trundling along as expected on Saturday, and the anchor title hit #2 on the freebie list late afternoon. So far, so good.

But a curious thing was happening further up the Top 100 Free list. Two other free books of ours seemed to be garnering enough downloads for ranks that would put them in the Top 100, but they were sitting just outside that visibility. In fact, during the early evening, one of those titles lost a rank. Yes, a single rank, but at #107 with a good history of increasing downloads behind it, that was very telling movement.

Additionally, we had another book in the Top 100 that seemed stalled in the #70s despite increasing downloads that day. Continue reading

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Amazon Takes Aim At Scammers But Hits Authors

kuNOTE: There are numerous updates at the bottom of this article, including responses from Amazon – the latest update being from March 31 as this story continues to develop.

The short version is that Amazon has apologized for incorrect enforcement around TOCs and Quality Notices and stated you may now have a rear TOC without fear of removal. Amazon also said it is taking the scamming problem seriously. I have doubts about that, but you can make your own mind up…

Amazon is an extremely innovative company – and usually quite responsive to self-publisher’s concerns – but sometimes it gets things very wrong too.

Today is one of those times.

I’ve received several reports from writers threatened with having books removed from sale, and heard even more worrying stories from others who had their titles actually removed from the Kindle Store without notice.

What were these authors guilty of? What crime did they commit for Amazon to adopt such heavy handed treatment? Something completely innocuous: the Table of Contents was at the rear of their books instead of at the front.

Yep, that’s it.

We’ll get to what might be the root cause of this crackdown in a moment, but Amazon is claiming that having a TOC in the end-matter instead of the front-matter is a breach of the (ever-changing, 100+ pages) Kindle Publishing Guidelines (PDF). Amazon says that rear TOCs result in a poor reader experience, and it has very suddenly decided to clamp down heavily on this practice, without notifying the community-at-large, even though moving extraneous front-matter to the end of the text has been fairly standard practice for years.

Some individual authors are receiving Quality Notices warning them that their title will be removed from sale unless the TOC is moved to the front. Normally these notices – which appear to be generated by bots – give us just five days to comply. Other writers are having their buy buttons removed without receiving these notices.

To give you an idea of how disruptive this can be, read the story of author Walter Jon Williams – who had his Nebula-nominated SF novel Metropolitan removed from sale during a BookBub promotion. Can you imagine?

His buy button was eventually restored a few days later, but Amazon wasn’t finished. After he moved his TOC to the front of the book and uploaded the new version, Amazon then sent an email to all previous purchasers of the book saying that the author had now corrected serious formatting and editorial issues. Walter Jon Williams said that there were no such issues with this book – which has been on sale in one form or another since 2005 when it was originally published by HarperCollins – and the sole change he made was to move the TOC, as requested.

Needless to say, he’s not too happy at this message going out to his readers. (I should say that the author has been remarkably restrained considering the circumstances, I would be hulk-smashing in all directions.)

Metropolitancover7001Note: I don’t know Walter Jon Williams but I’m sure he won’t mind if you would like to show your support by grabbing Metropolitan at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple or Kobo.

Metropolitan is currently #10,436 in the Kindle Store. But, after a BookBub promo, his book should be much higher in the charts than that. Because of the way parts of the Amazon recommendation engine work (such as what is colloquially known as the Popularity List), being off sale for those several days could continue to depress his Sales Rank and his general Kindle Store visibility for some time to come. Continue reading

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The One Where An Author Steals Text From My Book To Sell Pirated Software

IWSParadonIn today’s episode we are going to out a two-bit huckster who tried to put one over on yours truly, take a quick detour through the verdant fields of copyright law (and the slightly plainer meadows of moral rights), and then end with an example of how to handle a scammer.

Sound fun? Strap yourselves in!

A helpful reader – who will remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious – emailed me yesterday morning. I was just about to start work but the subject line caught my attention: Did You Give Permission For This?

Uh oh. I started reading the message he had forwarded.

It had originated from a domain called IndieWriterSupport.com (you can cut-and-paste that address or Google it, but I’m not linking directly and giving them an SEO boost). And it appeared to be a straight cog from my book Let’s Get Visible.

Emailexcerpt1What was going on here? I kept reading.

At the end of this considerable (2,411 word!) chunk from Let’s Get Visible some text had been added promoting a product called KDSPY – which is the new name for what was previously known as Kindle Spy.

There was then a bit.ly link to purchase KDSPY, which suspiciously went direct to a PayPal purchase page rather than the site of KDSPY, followed by another call-to-action asking people to visit IndieWriterSupport.com – the same domain as the one which had sent the email.

To be clear: I have never used Kindle Spy, let alone endorsed it, and I certainly didn’t write about it in Let’s Get Visible – I think the product wasn’t even launched until a year after I published that book – and I hadn’t written about it anywhere else for that matter. I’d also never heard of the website sending the email, nor given them permission to use my work.

Someone had taken a Emailexcerpt2chunk of text from Visible, without permission, and replaced the end of the chapter as I had written it with extra text endorsing Kindle Spy, as well as purchase links, making it look like I was making the endorsement.

You can make these images larger by clicking, but the green line on the left-hand side indicates text lifted from Visible (that’s the very end of over two thousand words nicked from my book), and the red line indicates text added by someone else to promote Kindle Spy.

Needless to say, I was quite unhappy about this. Continue reading

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Nothing Any Motherf*cker Said Was Going To Get Me To Quit – Guest Post by CD Reiss

Shuttergirl4CMYK-pinkA new year is the traditional time for making all sorts of promises that we probably won’t keep. But there is something noble in the effort alone, right? And in that vein, I have a great motivational guest post from an author who is killing it at the moment: CD Reiss.

I’ve been friends with Christine for a while, probably since around the time I started self-publishing back in 2011. Then, she was a writer of mysteries.

They did okay, but she couldn’t seem to take things to the next level. So she reinvented herself in 2013 as an erotic romance author and started kicking all kinds of ass.

But as with any “overnight success” story, there is a lot more to it.

I think one of the hardest things for newbies to nail down is the right mentality. It’s part of the weird dichotomy that is our lot. We have to have incredible self-belief to write something and show it to other people in the first place, but we also have to have enough overarching self-doubt to hone our craft and polish our stories until they are ready for prime time.

That sounds tricky to balance, and it is! But Christine posted something great to her Facebook page a few days ago that I was dying to share. Something that should help you attack the year with the right attitude. And she kindly permitted me to reprint it here: Continue reading

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