EVERYTHING IS FREE!

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HI THERE, KA-RAZY ZACH HERE…

Ahem, excuse me, I turned into a terrible used car commercial there for a second. But there’s a deal going down right now that has me in that frame of mind. Yes, prices have been slashed to historic lows! Hundreds of hail-damaged digital books that must go now!

My book, Absent Hero, first episode of the Gone To Wonder story, is absolutely free this weekend on Amazon. It is free every weekend and weekday if you ask for it, but I thought I’d throw poor Amazon a bone. They’re hurting right now, folks, and they need all the traffic they can get.

So if you’d like to get a copy of Absent Hero for your KindlePad Phone, go on over to Amazon this weekend and download it. Remember, this is about helping them.

 


 

cover3The first episode of Gone To WonderAbsent Hero, is available now from Amazon.com. Seventeen-year-old Wendy Danek is a superfan of the revolutionary theme park Finnegan’s Wonder, a place where stories come alive around you. But her world is thrown upside down when the Wonder pulls her into a story she never imagined she could experience. Will she save the Wonder, or end it? Pick up a copy of Absent Hero and be Gone to Wonder!

Should Writing Be A Business?

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Yesterday, Andrew had a great rundown of the new Amazon Kindle Unlimited service, which if you haven’t heard is Netflixizing the book industry. I’ve tried out KU, and I especially like the potential it has for audiobooks, which are otherwise expensive.

Andrew made a point to talk about how KU works from an author’s perspective. It’s this angle that has me most concerned. Royalties become murkier in the Unlimited world. The reader pays Amazon for the ability to download books, then Amazon decides what each authors gets from their coffers. A author doesn’t get paid just because someone downloads their book. They have to read (or scroll) a certain percentage in order for it to count.

What?

This is new territory. Things like Netflix pay studios for licensing rights. They get a contract that says they can stream a movie or TV show for a certain amount of time. I can understand that, because it is just like TV stations have operated for a while. KU doesn’t work that way. You grant Amazon the right to distribute your work. For a few extra benefits, you can sign up for KDP Select. When you do, you grant Amazon the right to distribute your work through their Unlimited program.

What is the benefit to the author? You do not receive a licensing fee. You get the chance at a piece of the pot that Amazon sets aside. Some might say you get the opportunity for exposure, if you’re a new or little-known author. I skeptical on the results. A few authors might catch on this way, but for the vast majority of the thousands of indie publishers, the results will be minimal.

And that feeds into a greater issue that I’ve discussed on the blog before. Why do writers write? Specifically, why does the modern, independent, self-publishing writer do what he or she does? I’ll tell you what my goals are. The two big ones are to be a good writer and to make a living doing it. Simple, right? But I often see these two at odds. I look at some of the success stories of self-publishing and I see authors that are making good money while writing, well, crap. One sci-fi book in particular that I’ve recently read was a grab-bag of stupid, but is consistently at the top of the charts. Conversely, the few self-published books I’ve encountered that I consider quality have not, as far as I know, sniffed the upper echelons of the Kindle rankings. This could be my tastes that are the problem, that my measure of quality is off. Nevertheless, I aspire to create vital works, so what does it say that I’m throwing my lot in with the self-published crowd and attempting to be commercially viable?

To be the best writer I can, I would love to dedicate all my energy to writing. But I can’t. I have a day job. I have to edit my works, I have to be active on social media and write blogs, I have to work with artists, I have to produce the ebook, write blurbs, and manage my titles. All of this takes away from time I could spend honing craft and perfecting stories. Is it possible to become a good writer while also being a successful self-published author? I don’t know.

Respect for self-publishing is increasing. Indies aren’t lazy, they work hard. But are the stories as good as they can be? What do you think?

 

Amazon Unlimited and the Ten Percent Scroll

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There’s a lot of news about Amazon Unlimited going around right now. Between the worries about the program as a whole, the perhaps lack of innovation in the product, and the ongoing fight between Amazon and the Big 5 publishers (and their refusal to participate in the program at all), there is a lot of news out there about Amazon Unlimited.

But Amazon Unlimited and what it means to consumers is not what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about it the payment system for authors who self publish and have their books downloaded through Amazon Unlimited. The majority of the 600,000 plus titles that are available on Amazon Unlimited are titles that have been published by self published authors. And these authors will only get a payout if their books are downloaded and the first ten percent of their book is read.

That’s right. Just downloading a self published author’s book does not necessarily mean that the author will get paid. You also need to read through at least the first ten percent  of the book — or just scroll through, but we’ll get to that.

Being a self published author is a hard, low paying endeavor. There is little more in it for the author than the happiness that comes with putting one of your works out there to be enjoyed by the world. Often times a self published book is rarely downloaded (quick plug! go check out my self published book Tim and the Break Up of Impending Doom), and there is little real payment for what you have put all your hard work into.

I’m not against the practice by Amazon. They are a business and they have built a business model that they think works. It is unfortunate that this business model has been built on top of the thousands of authors who publish on Amazon, but that’s just the way it is. People won’t stop publishing on Amazon, and Amazon won’t stop practices that it deems to be in its best interests. (Plus, we tricky authors have maddening methods in order to get paid!)

What do you do about it, though? Well, I have an idea. It is my vision that if you have Amazon Unlimited (or Lending Library — which has the same ten percent in order to get paid practice), if you download a book you scroll through the first ten percent as soon as its finished downloading. That way, even if the book turns out to not be your thing, if you get busy and aren’t able to finish the book, or whatever the reason may be, at least the author will get paid. At least the person who put all that hard work forward will get a payment for their book being downloaded. And, if you really enjoy the book, maybe consider outright buying the book instead of just getting it through Amazon Unlimited. That way, you are giving the author their full royalties. If not, at least scroll the ten percent — and spread the word with #scrolltenpercent on twitter, Facebook, and all the other social media sites — and help some poor self published authors out!

Amazon vs. Everyone: Does It Even Matter?

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Amazon and publishing house Hachette are still making news for… pretty much not doing anything. Both are still deadlocked on a new deal, and it’s starting to get nasty.

Here’s the skinny, for those who haven’t been following along (or didn’t catch our new feature last Friday, the Weekly Writer Wrap-up). Hachette and Amazon are supposedly duking it out over ebook price and revenue splits. It’s the same battle fought a couple of years ago with the price-fixing debacle.

I’ve been reading a number of opinions on both sides, both of which have arguments of merit. On the Hachette side, Amazon is behaving like the monopoly they wish to be, strong-arming the struggling supplier with prices that are unsustainable to their business model. On the Amazon side, supporters say the retailer is leveling the playing field, making books both more affordable to the reader and more profitable to the author.

So who’s in the right? To me, that’s not the correct question to be asking. Instead I’m asking what is better for the reader and the author, of which I am both. Let me break down my perspective to you, and maybe together we can figure what we can do about the issue.

As a reader, I’m interested in value. I don’t mean cheap. I mean value. If one of my favorite authors is releasing a new book, I’m going to place a higher value on that book and be more willing to pay a higher price for it. If I’m taking a chance on an unknown author whose book has caught my eye for whatever factor, I’m more likely to purchase that book if the price is lower. It’s not a judgement on the writing — I haven’t read it yet. It is more about the risk to me. If I enjoy it, I’ll be more likely to buy more books from that author, even if those books are higher in price.

I don’t believe the hokum that record companies and movie studios used to (and still do) doll out about piracy hurting their bottom line. The people who acquire entertainment for free and like it are more likely in the future to purchase that same movie or song or book, or another from the same artist. Releasing a novel for cheap (or free) does not destroy value, it builds a readership.

Years ago, I stumbled on Cory Doctorow’s wonderful Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom on his website and downloaded it FOR FREE. Since then, I’ve purchased three more of his books and gotten a few more from the library. The same thing happened last year, when I checked out Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth on audiobook and listened to it on one of my many trans-Colorado drives. I plan on purchasing the third in the series when it is released later this month. I could wait for it at the library, but I am choosing to purchase it because I value the series.

As an author, I am looking for the same thing: value. I need a few things to bring my story to readers. I need editing, design, distribution, and marketing. The options out there for publishing boil down to two overall categories. One, I attempt to take my work to a publisher, or two, I self-publish. It’s a bit more complicated than that, of course. For instances, if I’m looking for a publisher, am I going for indie/small or Big 5? Do I need an agent first, or after? If I get accepted by a publisher, what do they do and what is my responsibility?

For the SP option, I know that all the work and cost of producing the book will be mine. The upside is, royalty rates are far more favorable to the indie author. The downside is, it’s a crap load of work. I have to decide what is the more worthy route. How much value do I place the pros and cons of either side?

Andrew and I started Bearded Bards because we wanted to create an indie publishing venture for our own work. We know it’s a tough job, going it alone. We’ll make mistakes along the way. But we placed a higher value on building a brand together than we did on trying to go it alone the traditional route or in self-publishing. As Hugh Howey put it in his write-up of this whole situation, BB as a publishing venture is what a publishing company should be, a “story development” company.

We decided to do away with other publishing companies in our strategy. In a perfect world, I would do away with Amazon, too. Being an author is fundamentally about transferring ideas from me to the reader. Amazon is interested in profit, to such an extent where, as Malcolm Gladwell says, it has become “counterintuitive”. All this crap about publishing companies, ebook royalties, brick-and-mortars, and distribution? It’s a sideshow to what really matters, and that is a one-to-one communication of ideas and stories.

So where does that leave us? What do we, the Bearded Bards, think? So long as Amazon allows me, the author, the most valuable delivery method for my stories, I’m fine with that, monopoly or no. If that ever changes? I’ll take my stories to the best alternative I can find. That, in the end, is what Amazon became, a better alternative. Someday there may be an even better alternative, and Amazon will have the opportunity to make the same choice that’s been before the major publishers for a while now: adapt, fight, or die. We’ll see, perhaps very soon, how their decision to fight will affect them.

In the meantime, I’m not too worried about it. I don’t think the demise of publishers will destroy literature. I don’t think the monopolization of distribution will destroy literature. I don’t even think that authors being deprived of a living wage will destroy literature, because, for the most part, that has already happened, and people are writing more now than ever. We’ll keep reading and writing, because that’s what we love, and one way or another, the stories will get out there. They always do.

If that means one day I’m going to have to invent a new method to do it, then I guess I’ll have to do that. Really, though, that sounds like a lot of hard work. And my way won’t be pretty. We’re talking armies of trained chimpanzees throwing books at people, and that’s going to lead to a lot of chimp poop on the streets. No one wants that. Amazon, Hachette? Get your acts together, to spare us the chimp poop.

What’s your take on the whole thing? Pro or anti-Amazon? Do you think the authors and readers are getting forgotten in the dispute? Are you okay with chimp poop? We want to know.

Image via Wikimedia

Weekly Writer Wrap-up

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It’s Friday, everybody! This means two things to us Bearded Bards: first, we get a two day break from posting blogs. Second, we get two days to pump out as many words as possible (more excitingly, the steak bet comes to its dramatic conclusion this weekend!). And, since it’s Friday, it’s time for the Weekly Writer Wrap-up — your one stop shop to get the most important writing related stories of the week!

Maya Angelou

The world this week lost one of its greatest american writers and poets. Maya Angelou, always a champion for equality and justice, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 86. Here is a great piece about the life and legacy of a great American. While not a direct influence on myself, she is still someone who deserves to be celebrated for her contributions to the literary field.

Amazon Vs. The World

Amazon is a bunch of jerks, at least according to Gizmodo. Amazon, who is currently in a heated battle with book publisher Hachette, has used some pretty iffy tactics in an attempt to crush the publishing powerhouse. If you think that Gizmodo’s treatment of Amazon is a little heavy handed on the anti-Amazon side (which it is), here is a more pro-Amazon story on the subject.

Reading: The Final Frontier

LaVar Burton wants to bring Reading Rainbow back — and in a big way. Through his Kickstarter campaign, Burton looks to bring Reading Rainbow to the web and to classrooms so that a whole new generation of kids can get lost in a book. With over $2 million pledged and nearly 60,000 backers the whole campaign looks to be a resounding success. Still, though, if you haven’t had a chance go check it out, and maybe make a donation while you are at it.

That’s it, the week in review. Now take some time out this weekend and get some words on the page.

Oh, and just in case you want the Reading Rainbow song stuck in your head, here you go: