FYI: Penguin Random House Is Still In The Vanity Business

asandfriendsnewPenguin Random House announced the sale of Author Solutions on Tuesday, leading to headlines stating it has exited the self-publishing business and various commentators congratulating it for cleaning house. Unfortunately, neither of those things are true.

Four Penguin Random House-owned vanity presses will remain in operation – Partridge India, Partridge Singapore, Partridge Africa, and MeGustaEscribir – and will be run as Partner Imprints. You can read more about how Partner Imprints work here, but the short version is that Author Solutions will operate these four vanity presses on behalf of Penguin Random House, and PRH’s job will be to provide leads (aka newbie writers), lend its name and brand to the effort, and then sit back and collect its commissions.

This is precisely how Author Solutions operates Archway Publishing on behalf of Simon & Schuster, Westbow for HarperCollins, and Balboa Press for Hay House, among others. In short, Penguin Random House is still in the vanity business, it’s just flying under the radar – along with many more famous names in the industry.

Smart, Selling Smarter

These troublesome little details were overlooked by the press who were keen to trumpet Penguin Random House’s move. Indeed, it has been quite revealing watching the reaction unfold.

When Penguin purchased Author Solutions in 2012 for $116m, virtually all the press had the same angle: Penguin was making a smart move into the fast-growing world of self-publishing. No mention was made of the controversial business practices of Author Solutions, or that the giant vanity press resembled a viable self-publishing platform much in the way a glass of hydrochloric acid is a recommended way to cleanse after the holidays. Continue reading

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Pay What You Want For Ten Great Historical Novels

All Covers Large

Hello! Sorry for the long silence. I’ve been taking my own advice for once and focusing on writing. But don’t worry, I’ll be back blogging very soon – once I’ve finish moving them commas around.

If you’re looking for something to read in the meantime, I highly recommend this historical fiction deal from Story Bundle. Although I should note I’m somewhat biased given that I have a book in it.

This is a little different to your standard box set. Story Bundle is a site which allows you to decide how much you want to pay. Fun!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Gaze longingly upon said books (details below).
  2. Pick a dollar amount OF YOUR CHOICE and receive novels from Libbie Hawker, M. Louisa Locke, Helen Hollick, Travis Heerman. (Note: $3 minimum.)
  3. If the amount you choose is above $12, you get FOUR extra books. One more each from Libbie Hawker and Helen Hollick, as well as books from both me and Sarah Woodbury.
  4. You want more? Sign up for Story Bundle’s newsletter and you will get a BONUS book from M. Louisa Locke.

This crazy empowerment of you, the reader, doesn’t stop there either. You also get to divvy up that money between the authors & Story Bundle and you get to decide whether 10% of your total goes to Girls Write Now – a writing and mentoring non-profit organization which serves at-risk girls from public high schools in New York.

NB: Please don’t get drunk with power and then attempt to operate any heavy machinery, such as the Krupp Bagger 288.

So, those books:

First up is House of Rejoicing by Libbie Hawker – an author I’ve raved about here before. You also get the San Francisco-based Victorian mystery Uneasy Spirits from M. Louisa Locke, Sea Witch by Helen Hollick – an author endorsed by giant of the genre Bernard Cornwell, no less. You also get a Regency-era historical fantasy entitled Miss Landon & Aubranel by Charlotte E. English, who curated this bundle, and then also Travis Heerman’s Sword of the Ronin, set in magic-infused medieval Japan.

At the bonus level, you get my turn-of-the-20th century historical adventure Mercenary, the second book in Helen Hollick’s pirate series as well as the second in Libbie Hawker’s AND Footsteps in Time from a hugely popular author I’ve featured here a few times: Sarah Woodbury. Finally, if you have room on your virtual shelves for one more, you can also get your hands on M. Louisa Locke’s Maids of Misfortune through the simple ruse of subscribing to Story Bundle’s mailing list.

As a reminder, this deal isn’t available anywhere else, only on Story Bundle.

After your purchase you’ll get download links for the files (compatible with all apps/devices), and if you own a Kindle or use the Kindle app, you can opt to use the Send to Kindle feature to have the books sent directly to your device.

That’s it. I’ll be back on the blog-horse soon. Happy Friday!

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Movie Deal for Mercenary

mercenaryOPTI’m delighted to announce that the movie rights to Mercenary have been optioned.

And So It Begins… Entertainment is a relatively new Hollywood production company founded earlier this year by industry veterans Toby Midgen and Stacey Stanley. Everyone at ASIB has a serious pedigree, having worked for companies like Lakeshore, Anchor Bay, DreamWorks, Fox 21, Ridley Scott & Associates, Starz and BBC Worldwide.

ASIB represents one of the biggest studios in the Dominican Republic and identified Mercenary as a perfect fit for their client, Lantica Media (formerly known as Indomina Media) – which develops projects with an eye on both the English- and Spanish-language markets at their incredible new facilities.

You are probably curious how these guys stumbled across my book. Three months ago, Matt Carpenter (Head of Production & Development for ASIB) attended a NASA memorial at the Johnson Space Center in Houston for his father, Scott Carpenter – one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts and the fourth American to go into space – who had passed away in 2013. Matt met one of his father’s old friends at the memorial, a deep-sea diver who recommended a book he’d just finished called Mercenary.

Matt was then called up for jury duty on his return to LA. Impaneled as an alternate but not actually selected, Matt was stuck in a room all day with little to do… and desperate for something to read. Talk about a captive audience. Continue reading

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The Great Amazon Hysteria… Part 31

ChickenLittleAre you scared yet? Because you should be scared. Something really bad is about to happen. It affects all of us.

Our livelihoods are at risk. The ability to support our families. It’s just over the horizon. It could happen any minute. It’s coming for all of us!



I’ve been around for long enough to know that authors can be a skittish bunch. Probably something to do with our over-active imaginations, with an assist from that old writers’ favorite: the whiskey brunch.

More seriously, we are going through a period of unprecedented change so it’s perfectly normal for people to be a little fearful. I think the disruption we are all experiencing is greater than that which has been faced by similar industries. In fact, I think the transition from print book to e-book is akin to going straight from vinyl to MP3, with all that entails.

So, change. Lots of it. And change can be scary – even if you seem to be benefitting from the changes that are happening. I get that. However, at this point, we should all know enough to treat media reports on Amazon (and publishing in general) with the requisite amount of skepticism. As in 100% skepticism.

Patient Zero in this latest outbreak of Amazon Hysteria appears to have been The Atlantic who ran a piece on June 20, headlined: “What If Authors Were Paid Every Time Someone Turned a Page?”

The rather important distinction that this new payment system only applied to some self-published titles – those enrolled in a wholly optional program called KDP Select – wasn’t made until PARAGRAPH EIGHT. And even then the distinction wasn’t super clear and floated the wholly baseless idea that this could also apply to traditionally published books:

While many larger publishers’ offerings are included in these programs, the details of those deals have not been made public. Their authors may or may not be paid by the page. Amazon’s announcement only says that the new formula applies to Kindle Select books that are self-published and distributed through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program.

Continue reading

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Staying Sane in a Crazy (Self-Publishing) World

IASG2 and FLOMHow do you keep yourself from going crazy? It probably helps if you are reasonably well-balanced in the first place, but, for the rest of you, I have some advice today from Susan Kaye Quinn.

As many of you will know, Susan is the author of the bestselling Mindjack series, and lots of other books too, including the highly regarded Indie Author Survival Guide – the second edition of which has just been released.

She’s also releasing a companion book for more experienced authors in mid-July which has the intriguing title of For Love Or Money: Crafting An Indie Author Career and it’s available now for pre-order.

Here’s Susan on how to stay sane in a crazy (self-publishing) world.

Susan Kaye Quinn:

I fight a war every day.

My adversaries are distraction, fatigue, and the demands of ordinary life. They include things I love (my husband and children) and things I loathe (laundry and shopping) as well as an oft-neglected need for renewal (of mind and body). The battlefield is littered with rabbit holes of distraction and fallen warriors afflicted with sales-checking fever. The ever-present siren-call of the Internet wails in the distance.


It feels just like this.

I fight the war every day so I can do the thing that feeds my soul: creative work.

I know you’re engaged in this battle too—every writer is.

When I first started writing, my brother (the true writer in the family) told me something that’s stuck with me: “If you can create something, then you have a moral obligation to do so.” I laughed (nervously) at the time. These are just stories – what is this talk of moral imperatives? In time, though, I completely understood what he meant: our stories are our unique contribution to the collective human imagination. We have to do this.

The world is a better place when people fulfill their creative potential.

But creating art isn’t easy (see The War of Art for a deeper understanding of the forces of resistance) and surviving the publishing process is even harder. So here are a few weapons to help you in the battle. Continue reading

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Authors Guild Dumps Author Solutions (And Pretends It Was All A Bad Dream)

AGASThe Authors Guild – which bills itself as America’s leading writers’ organization – has terminated its partnership with Author Solutions.

The Authors Guild joins companies like Bowker, Writers’ Digest, and Crossbooks in cutting links to Author Solutions – a company which has faced a sustained campaign from writers targeting its deceptive and exploitative practices, as well as multiple class actions which are still working their way through the courts.

Burying the Lede

The announcement was made yesterday at Book Expo America, but the Authors Guild decided to bury its own lede. No mention is made of Author Solutions, just a brief mention of the subsidiary which the Authors Guild was partnered with: iUniverse. If I hadn’t been waiting for this announcement, I would have missed it.

It’s almost as if the Authors Guild is trying to airbrush its partnership with Author Solutions from the history books. As if it was all just a bad dream.

Not so fast. Continue reading

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Digging Deeper Into Author Earnings


The Author Earnings team are attempting to do something which hasn’t been done before, and their work can’t be refined and improved unless there is some intelligent criticism of their approach and findings.

Today I’ve invited Phoenix Sullivan to blog on the topic. I’ve known Phoenix for a few years now, and if there’s a smarter person in publishing, I haven’t heard of them.

KBoards regulars will already know that Phoenix understands the inner workings of the Kindle Store better than anyone outside Amazon. And I can personally vouch for her expertise: she was the biggest influence on (and help with) Let’s Get Visible and also the marketing brains behind a box set I was in, which did very well indeed.

Phoenix offered to take the raw data from Author Earnings, drill down and analyse it, and then see if her conclusions differed from theirs, and whether there were any improvements she would suggest. Phoenix has also been able to pull some fascinating new insights from the Author Earnings raw data.

Here’s Phoenix with more:

Digging Deeper Into Author Earnings

I set aside some time recently to dive into the Author Earnings raw data for the May 1, 2015 Report. The irksome thing about the scraped data is how much of the puzzle that is Amazon’s ebook sales is missing and/or open to interpretative analysis. It isn’t the data’s fault or even the fault of the collection method. It’s simply that the data made public is limited, which in turn means a lot of creative interpretation goes into even so simple a task as coming up with the number of ebooks sold in a day. While the raw data itself isn’t changeable, different tools and assumptions applied to the data can yield different results, thereby opening up the analysis to differing interpretations.

My goal was to apply a set of tools and assumptions that update and possibly correct those being used by the Author Earnings team. The environment has changed dramatically in the 15 months since the first report came out, yet the analytical tools, in my opinion, haven’t necessarily kept up with the times. That in itself does not mean the results are wrong, but without a challenge to them, we’ll never know, right? Of course, even if the results are the same, there can be various ways to interpret those results, but we’ll get to that later.

Playing with someone else’s spreadsheet and formulas can be exhausting in itself. And time-consuming. Which is probably why there haven’t been many challenges to the essence of the AE data and analysis. My own methods for the challenge are likely cruder even than AE’s, and, like AE’s Data Guy, I’ve had to make certain assumptions along the way as well as do a little eyeballing and guesstimating.

Some bits, of course, are purely statistical and can be taken at face value. I’m not challenging the majority of the raw data, so my first assumptions are along the lines of:

  • Ranks are correct.
  • Publisher info is correct.
  • Whether a title is in KU or not is correct, with the exception that several Amazon Imprint titles were not indicated to be in KU.
  • An average 50% of KU downloads are sales; the other 50% are borrows.
  • Authors at the Big 5 are, in general, earning 25% of actual net, not list, under the Agency model.

Assumptive corrections I’ve made include marking the four April Kindle First titles as having a sale price of $1.99 rather than $4.99. As the data was captured on the first of May, those Kindle First titles still in the Top 10 would have changed price around midnight and would owe their ranks to borrows and $1.99 sales. So other assumptions are:

  • 10% of Kindle First titles are sales at $1.99, with normal royalties credited to the authors; 90% are borrows and are uncredited. For this exercise, that’s 12,000 borrows accounted for manually.
  • For this exercise, I was forced to ignore the ghost borrow effect on rank, so the caveat is that most titles in KU are still being credited with more borrows and sales than they in fact have.

Sales-to-Rank Calculations

By far the biggest assumptive correction I’ve made is two-fold: The first part is applying a new set of sales:rank calculations to the dataset and the second part is applying calculations to maintain ranks rather than using the multipliers needed to hit a rank. Let’s be clear that these multipliers are observed only, and best guesses across a lot of observations. However, I do believe the multipliers currently being used by AE are 1) outdated, and 2) don’t reflect the actual number of sales happening for the majority of books that are maintaining rank in the store and not seeing huge rank swings on a day-to-day basis.

I know the AE team is reluctant to introduce another variable into their quarter-to-quarter comparisons, but really this is pretty core to the reports. Not adjusting for sales numbers in a sales-based report is akin to not adjusting for currency exchange rates for companies doing business internationally. Especially when the discrepancy in earnings could be as much as a 25% deviation. Besides, KU’s thrown the whole sales:rank model askew already, so “consistency” really is no excuse here for not updating.

Compared to the rank chart AE is currently using, there’s about a 10% increase to hit #100 today and about a 50% increase to hit #1000. Closer to the #100,000 mark, there’s less of a deviation. While store volume is likely up, I highly doubt it’s up in the double digits, much less by 50%. What the increases are and where they’re occurring in the ranks indicates to me is that this is all part of the KU Effect and is more a product of ghost borrows (credit to Ed Robertson for the term) and converted borrows than of an increase in store volume. More titles are moving, true, but that volume movement isn’t all converting into earnings.

For a fun comparison, I applied the updated chart for the number of sales to hit a rank to see what that would look like. Predictably, it showed about a 7.7% increase in units sold and a 4.3% increase in total revenue from the original AE report for May 1, 2015.

sales-rankHowever, Amazon’s algorithms take historical sales – among other variables, such as velocity – into consideration when calculating rank. The longer a title remains around a given rank, the fewer sales it takes to maintain that rank. Observably, anywhere from 10-50% fewer sales. That means the multipliers for hitting ranks are not good indicators of unit sales numbers for the majority of books in the dataset. Here is my observed chart for average sales to maintain rank, along with the old and new numbers for hitting rank. More work needs to be done to fill in the upper brackets on the maintain side. I used the same numbers from my Sales to Hit chart when I felt I didn’t have enough data points on the Maintain side to chart new numbers in, but the safe assertion is that the Top 500 in my own data is over-reporting by a conservative 10%.

Plugging numbers from the maintenance chart into the calculation tool AE supplies in the raw data report better represents sales volume, I think. For the dataset, that means AE is reporting 17.4% more unit sales than what my calculations indicate (which, remember, are likely a bit high themselves), with the trickle-down effect of inflating the market as a whole. More on this later. Continue reading

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