To cash in on Kindle Unlimited, a cabal of authors gamed Amazon’s algorithm

16 July 2018

From The Verge:

On June 4th, a group of lawyers shuffled into a federal court in Manhattan to argue over two trademark registrations. The day’s hearing was the culmination of months of internet drama — furious blog posts, Twitter hashtags, YouTube videos, claims of doxxing, and death threats.

The lawyers carried with them full-color exhibits of the trademarks in context. First up, two shirtless men with stethoscopes, embracing a woman, with the words Her Cocky Doctorsboldly printed below. Next: two shirtless men flanking a woman in a too-big firefighter’s jacket, with the words Her Cocky Firefighters emblazoned in the same font.

“What is in the content of Her Cocky Firefighters?” asked the judge, surveying the exhibits.

“It appears to be a male-female-male romance,” said a lawyer for one of the defendants. “Beyond that, I imagine it involves one or two of the male characters is a firefighter.”

The judge looked over Her Cocky Doctors. “Two male figures. One seems to be wearing a stethoscope, indicating he is a doctor, but he is stripped to the waist.”

“Doesn’t look like my doctor, your Honor,” said the lawyer drily.

They were gathered there that day because one self-published romance author was suing another for using the word “cocky” in her titles. And as absurd as this courtroom scene was — with a federal judge soberly examining the shirtless doctors on the cover of an “MFM Menage Romance” — it didn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

The fight over #Cockygate, as it was branded online, emerged from the strange universe of Amazon Kindle Unlimited, where authors collaborate and compete to game Amazon’s algorithm. Trademark trolling is just the beginning: There are private chat groups, ebook exploits, conspiracies to seed hyperspecific trends like “Navy SEALs” and “mountain men,” and even a controversial sweepstakes in which a popular self-published author offered his readers a chance to win diamonds from Tiffany’s if they reviewed his new book.

Much of what’s alleged is perfectly legal, and even technically within Amazon’s terms of service. But for authors and fans, the genre is also a community, and the idea that unethical marketing and algorithmic tricks are running rampant has embroiled their world in controversy. Some authors even believe that the financial incentives set up by Kindle Unlimited are reshaping the romance genre — possibly even making it more misogynistic.

A genre that mostly features shiny, shirtless men on its covers and sells ebooks for 99 cents a pop might seem unserious. But at stake are revenues sometimes amounting to a million dollars a year, with some authors easily netting six figures a month. The top authors can drop $50,000 on a single ad campaign that will keep them in the charts — and see a worthwhile return on that investment.

In other words, self-published romance is no joke.

. . . .

Qhen author Dakota Willink attended the Romance Writers of America conference last year, she didn’t know anything about the “cocky” trademark. She hadn’t heard of Faleena Hopkins, the self-published author who registered the mark, or of Tara Crescent, the other author whom Hopkins is now suing.

The RWA conference is the beating heart of the romance industry, a business-first trade conference with editorial pitch meetings and marketing workshops. It’s also the center of the warm, accepting, and woman-focused culture that the romance community is so proud of. In an episode of This American Life in 2003, reporter Robin Epstein expresses surprise at the environment she encounters at RWA. “What the hell is going on here?” she asks herself rhetorically. “The famous writers are nice, the editors are nice, and this is the publishing business.”

This was Willink’s first time at RWA, and she was spending much of her time with her new personal assistant, Lauren Valderrama.

Valderrama is also the personal assistant for several other successful romance authors — names that frequently dominate the romance charts on Amazon. In the world of self-published romance, a personal assistant does anything from formatting books to handling social media and publicity to sending out advance review copies. It’s enough work that it was a little unusual for Valderrama to be handling so many top-ranking, prolific clients. But that track record was appealing when Valderrama had originally reached out to Willink, professing to be a fan and suggesting that they work together.

According to Willink, over the course of RWA, Valderrama told her about certain marketing and sales strategies, which she claimed to handle for other authors. Valderrama allegedly said that she organized newsletter swaps, in which authors would promote each other’s books to their respective mailing lists. She also claimed to manage review teams — groups of assigned readers who were expected to leave reviews for books online. According to Willink, Valderrama’s authors often bought each other’s books to improve their ranking on the charts — something that she arranged, coordinating payments through her own PayPal account. Valderrama also told her that she used multiple email addresses to buy authors’ books on iBooks when they were trying to hit the USA Today list.

The Bookclicker chat group exists on Ryver, a clone of Slack (internal chat software for businesses). It was founded by a USA Today best-selling author named Chance Carter, known to some as a “notorious Kindle Unlimited abuser.” Carter’s name came up in half a dozen interviews as a pioneer of questionable and highly lucrative marketing practices. In the middle of reporting this story, almost of all of Carter’s very popular books were removed from Amazon, for reasons that remain unclear. A spokesperson for Amazon said that as a matter of policy, the company did not comment on individual cases.

. . . .

It’s not clear if these early book-stuffers moved onto the self-publishing romance scene, or if some of the self-publishing romance authors began to pick up on these tricks. Either way, book stuffing plagues the romance genre on Kindle Unlimited, with titles that come in at 2000 or even 3000 pages (the maximum page length for a Kindle Unlimited book). That’s approximately the length of Atlas Shrugged or War and Peace.

Book stuffing is particularly controversial because Amazon pays authors from a single communal pot. In other words, Kindle Unlimited is a zero-sum game. The more one author gets from Kindle Unlimited, the less the other authors get.

The romance authors Willink was discovering didn’t go in for clumsy stuffings of automatic translations or HTML cruft; rather, they stuffed their books with ghostwritten content or repackaged, previously published material. In the latter case, the author will bait readers with promises of fresh content, like a new novella, at the end of the book.

. . . .

Of course, you might be wondering if any readers actually read through all 3000 pages. But authors deploy a host of tricks in service of gathering page reads — from big fonts and wide spacing to a “link back.” Some authors would place a link at the very front of the book, to sign up to a mailing list. The link would take them to the back of the book, thus counting all pages read. It’s not clear whether any of this actually works. A spokesperson for Amazon told The Verge that Amazon uses a standardized page count that won’t take big fonts or wide spacing into account. A June blog post by the Kindle Direct Publishing Team assured authors that the KENPC system (Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count) recorded pages read with “high precision” and that the company was constantly working to improve its “fidelity.”

. . . .

The stereotype of a Kindle Unlimited author is someone who is “pumping out short, pulpy reads,” in the words of best-selling romance writer Zoe York. But even if you write well, write prolifically, and cater to the market, it still doesn’t mean you’ll find success. “That skill set of finding a cold audience, getting them to hook into your product, and then consume through your product backlist, that’s harder than it sounds,” says York. The people who do succeed have that skill set. “They’re not good writers, but they’re great marketers.”

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Kathlena for the tip.

Top Five DIY Book Layout Mistakes

10 July 2018

From Joel Friedlander via Book Life:

With more and more authors taking the production of their books into their own hands, more and more of those books look… strange. That’s not a good thing for either authors or their readers.

Book design used to be a pretty arcane branch of graphic design, pursued by a handful of practitioners, many of whom were employed by typesetters and publishing houses. Like many other specialties, only the insiders knew or cared about the intricacies of long-form typography and all the small nuances that go into creating beautiful books.

Along with editors, these professionals made sure that the books they produced conformed to long-established publishing industry standards. That’s important when you’re sending your book to store or chain buyers, to media bookers, to reviewers, or to anyone who is used to looking at traditionally published books as part of her job.

So, it really behooves authors who decide to become DIY publishers to educate themselves as to how books are supposed to look, how they are constructed, and what book professionals expect to see. As my father used to say, it doesn’t cost any more to print a book that’s properly designed and laid out than it does to print one that’s a typographic train wreck, so why not do it right the first time?

. . . .

1. Blank right-hand pages: It’s very common, especially in nonfiction books, to have blank left-hand pages, and there’s nothing wrong with that. This occurs naturally if your chapters always open on right-hand pages. But if you’ve designed your book to use a two-page spread as your chapter opening (for instance, with an illustration on the left-hand page and text on the right-hand page), you run the risk of having a blank right-hand page immediately preceding the spread (since there’s no guarantee that the preceding chapter will end on a right-hand page). This is a no-no in book layout. We never want to have a blank right-hand page. To solve it, either adjust the typography, or have quotations or artwork on hand that will augment the message of your book, and put those on the otherwise-blank right-hand page.

. . . .

3. Running heads misbehaving: This seems to be a challenge for a lot of amateur book formatters. If a page is blank—and there are usually going to be a number of blank pages in your book—technically it’s not part of the text. After all, there’s no text on the page, is there? A blank page should be just that: blank, with nothing on it at all. By the same token, those “display” pages mentioned above shouldn’t have running heads—text at the top of the page that lists title, author, chapter, etc.—on them either. Yet many books I’ve seen from self-publishers show that the author just didn’t know that, or didn’t know how to turn the running heads off—and nothing looks worse to me than a chapter-opening page with a running head on it.

Link to the rest at Book Life and you can read more of Joel’s thoughts at The Book Designer.

How the Self-Publishing Industry Changed, Between My First and Second Novels

22 June 2018

From Longreads:

As of this writing, my self-published novel The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2: 2004–2016 is currently ranked #169,913 out of the more than one million Kindle books sold on Amazon. When Biographies Vol. 2 launched at the end of May, it ranked #26,248 in Kindle books and #94,133 in print books. At one point my book hit #220 in the subcategory “Literary Fiction/Sagas.”

So far, Biographies Vol. 2 has sold 71 Kindle copies and 55 paperbacks, which correlates to about $360 in royalties.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’ve probably been thinking it since you saw the words “self-published.” But no, those sales numbers aren’t because my books are terrible—and I didn’t self-publish because my books were terrible either. (It’s a long story, but it has to do with an agent telling me that I could rewrite Biographies to make it more marketable to the traditional publishing industry, or I could keep it as an “art book” that would be loved by a select few.) Last year’s The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000 was named a Library Journal Self-E Select title; Vol. 2 was just selected as a Kirkus Reviews featured indie, with the blurb “A shrewdly unique portrait of everyday America.” I regularly get emails from readers telling me how much my books have meant to them, and how they couldn’t put their copies down.

So. I could tell you a story that makes The Biographies of Ordinary People sound like a triumphant success, and I could also tell you that in its first year of publication, Biographies Vol. 1 sold 382 ebooks and 157 paperbacks, earning $1,619.28 in royalties.

. . . .

The day before Biographies Vol. 2 published, novelist Tom McAllister’s “Who Will Buy Your Book?” ran on The Millions. The essay, like my previous paragraphs, notes the difference between accolades and sales (and the difference between Facebook likes and sales, and the difference between people who say they’ll buy your book and sales), and includes the quote, “The book industry is partly kept afloat by a shadow economy in which the main currency is bullshit.”

I’m not quite that pessimistic, in part because it’s not my nature and in part because, as an indie author who is also her own publisher, I’m not hiding anything from myself. I publish a tally of my earnings and expenses on my blog, and I am very well aware that the book tour I just finished probably cost me more than I’ll earn from Biographies Vol. 2‘s first year of royalties. (The numbers work, in my case, thanks to the $6,909 in Patreon contributions I received while drafting the two novels. As my own publisher, I had to make sure I got an advance!)

But I am also aware that the book industry is — like politics and economics and climate change and pretty much everything else right now — not having its best year ever, and there have been a handful of changes between the publication of Biographies Vol. 1 and Biographies Vol. 2 that can’t be ignored.

. . . .

The first big change, at least for me, came on November 6, 2017. It arrived via email, with the subject line “Pronoun is shutting down.”

While many challenges in indie publishing remain unsolved, Macmillan is unable to continue Pronoun’s operation in its current form. Every option was considered before making the very difficult decision to end the business.

Pronoun was Macmillan’s indie publishing service. Think of it like Bandcamp for books. Authors could upload manuscripts, and Pronoun would take care of the formatting and the distribution. It also had an extensive marketing section that allowed authors to test covers, categories, and tags before finalizing their decisions, and you could even review data on optimum price points.

. . . .

Why did Pronoun shut down? Publishers Weekly quotes Jeff Seroy, senior vice president of publicity and marketing at Macmillan’s Farrar, Straus and Giroux:

Asked why Pronoun was being shuttered 18 months after the acquisition, Seroy said despite Macmillan investment in the platform and “terrific” feedback from Pronoun authors, “we came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a path forward to a profitable business model and decided to shut down the platform.”

Profit has long been an issue in the book industry — Borders closed in 2011, the Big 6 book publishers became the Big 5 in 2013, Barnes & Noble fired all of the full-time employees at 781 of its stores last February — and if your first thought is well, of course, Amazon, you’re right.

. . . .

Believe it or not, traditionally published ebook sales went down in 2017. I’ll cite Publishers Weekly again:

Unit sales of traditionally published e-books fell 10% in 2017, compared to 2016, according to figures released by PubTrack Digital, part of the NPD book group. The service, which tracks sales from about 450 publishers, said e-book unit sales hit 162 million last year, down from 180 million units in 2016.

People are buying more print books, and Amazon is opening more and more bookstores.

The indie publishing world hasn’t been hit quite as hard with this ebook decline, for a few reasons. Indie writers often sell their books exclusively online (and in many cases, exclusively with Amazon, since there are financial advantages to joining the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program). They reduce expenses by only selling ebooks, and increase sales by pricing those ebooks significantly lower than their traditionally-published counterparts. With no publisher to take its cut, indie writers get a larger royalty share per book than traditionally published writers, so the math works in their favor—and with more and more indie writers on Amazon, especially in popular genres like Romance, self-published books are both growing in number and gaining market share.

. . . .

Author Earnings also notes that, in Q4 2017, “284 of the top 1,000 selling ebook authors in the US were self-published indies.” (Go team!)

The top-selling ebook in 2017, however, wasn’t an indie. As Publishers Weekly reports, it was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Link to the rest at Longreads

Omar Epps on Growing Up Without a Father, Making it as an Actor and Living in Gratitude

22 June 2018

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Omar Epps finished a 15-hour day on set, came home, sat down on the sofa and flipped on the television to catch the latest on CNN.

His wife, Keisha — someone accustomed to the grueling hours required by a career in the entertainment business after having spent years on stage with the R&B girl group Total — asked him to skip the TV and instead spend some time with their young son, Amir, who was in his room.

Epps was tired, his feet hurt and he was hungry.

. . . .

After sneaking in up on his son, he heard Amir making rollercoaster noises. It’s a brief yet sweet moment that 44-year-old Epps details in his debut book’s introduction, the memoir From Fatherless to Fatherhoodand it led to a revelation.

“Parents put their children first,” he writes, as he explains that is not what he experienced growing up. His father abandoned him and his mother, Bonnie, back in Brooklyn decades earlier and he never got to know him. But what Epps learned that night watching his son in his room was that it was time to take a deep dive into his own story to uncover “the depths of the torment and pain I’ve felt toward my father for the lack of his presence in my life,” writes the actor, next seen in the new season of USA’s Shooter.

. . . .

And while the book is an emotional journey of how a fatherless child grew up to own his responsibilities as a father while navigating a successful Hollywood career, the book is also a testament to the power of women and mothers thanks to the influence of Bonnie and Keisha.

He discusses both below, what his mother thinks of the book, how Jay Z influenced his decision to self-publish the book and why his Twitter bio says “A State of Gratitude.”

What is your writing process like? 

Well, it depends on what I’m writing. Like in terms of like screenplays and stuff like that it’s 24/7. But for some reason with the book it was more in the morning when thoughts are fresh. And then editing, that was more evening, you know.

How does it feel having finished your first book and now owning this title of “author”?

It’s a personal accomplishment that I set out to do. So, in that regard I feel proud. And there’s, you know, there’s a business aspect to it too. You know, at the end of the day I do want to sell; I want the book to sell. So, part of it is new to me and it’s like I’m learning on the fly.

. . . .

You write about playing fatherless characters throughout your career. Has it been easy to separate yourself from your characters, or how much did it influence your performances?

It was something that I observed, but it didn’t resonate in the moments, you know. I didn’t look at the character cue or like some of the other characters from an artist perspective. Like oh, they don’t have their father. It was just acknowledging that, you know, but also something that I hadn’t really picked that up in totality until as I was writing the book. If I remember correctly, it was in Love & Basketball that was the only project where the relationship between the father and son is actually explored. But for the rest of them it just was normal, you know.

You have two daughters and a son now. Tell me about the differences in raising boys versus girls.

It’s night and day. I got three different kids, so that’s three different personalities. There is something with girls — at least in my experience — where there’s this innate connection of the father to have with them. They’re calmer when they’re babies, and then now that they’re teenagers and you got a whole different slate of emotions. For years, some of my friends who are older told me just to wait for their teenage years, and I was like, “No, my babies they’re cool.” And woo! What they said was right. With my son, with boys in general, they just have so much energy.

At what age do you’ll give this book to him?

To my son? I mean I guess when he asks, you know. My oldest, she wants to read it. I don’t know if my youngest girl has read it, but she knows what’s in it. And she doesn’t necessarily ask me to read it yet. But she’s the quiet one. So, she might be reading it on her own. My son, you know, I want him to read it when he’s ready.

. . . .

What does your mom think of your book?

She loves it. Yeah, she loves it and she told me she was proud of me, which obviously, you know, makes my heart smile because at the end of the day, you know, I would want — I would — I need her to feel good about me, you know. And yeah, she’s proud.

Why did you self-publish?

Jay Z did an interview and he was asked about his first album. He said that he lived his life to write that album. I feel the same way about this. I can live my life to write this. I took the proposal around town, but I wanted to self publish from the beginning because I just had a vision. I listened to the team around me and I, thankfully, had an offer at one point. But the business side of it made no sense to me because this is not fiction. This is my story. And in my opinion, this is where the publishing business is right now. So why not gamble on myself and use the direct to consumer line, you know.

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter

Amazon Claims to Accurately Measure Pages Read in Kindle Unlimited, Neglects to Mention There’s no Standard Page Size

19 June 2018

From The Digital Reader:

Earlier this week Amazon released a statement tangential to the ongoing problem of cheating in Kindle Unlimited, but as with many of Amazon’s statements the bigger story is what was left unsaid.

To recap, Amazon has a problem with people gaming the system in Kindle Unlimited. This issue has been around since the beginning, and as Amazon changed the rules to thwart the cheats, the cheaters changed their tactics in what is no more or less than a game of whack-a-mole.

In the early days people were uploading really short books, and were getting paid for a loan when the 10% threshold was reached (with a 10 to 20 page book, this didn’t take long). Amazon fixed that by switching to a system where they paid based on the number of pages read by subscribers, and in response the scammers invented the book-stuffing con and started uploading really long books.

. . . .

Amazon announced this week that the jump to the end trick no longer worked:

In response to concerns we’ve heard from authors, we wanted to take a moment to clarify in more detail how we measure pages read to calculate the monthly allocation of the KDP Select Global Fund.

We have worked steadily over time to improve the fidelity of the KENPC system that measures the number of pages read. For the vast majority of cases, KENPC v3.0 records actual pages read with a high degree of precision. For the few remaining cases, such as very old devices, we employ several processes and technologies (both manual and automated) to accurately measure pages read. In addition, we regularly audit the pages read of top titles.

Our commitment to the fair allocation of the KDP Select Global Fund remains a top priority. That includes addressing attempts to manipulate our services. If you have direct evidence of these types of activities, we will review every single example provided to us at

There were reports last fall that this had been fixed, but I have also heard from authors who disagreed, so it is good to finally get a statement from Amazon.

But even so, while Amazon may claim to count pages read with exactitude, authors argue that the way Amazon measures a page size is less an exact science than a wild guess or perhaps a randomly generated number.

Authors are saying over on KBoards that it is possible to make minor changes to an ebook’s formatting and end up with significantly different KENPC. One said he could format his ebook fiver different times and get five different KEPNCs.

. . . .

The thing is, folks, if one page in Book A is equal to 1.2 pages in Book B and 0.8 pages in Book C then it really doesn’t matter how carefully Amazon counts the pages.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Amazon KDP Print or CreateSpace for Paperbacks? 2018 Update

18 June 2018

From Author Imprints:

The convenience of managing your Kindle eBook and paperback in a single account is undeniable. Using a single login, you can upload book files, access sales reports, create and manage AMS ads (Amazon Marketing Services) and manage book metadata using KDP Print.

But is using KDP Print better than using Amazon’s CreateSpace to produce your paperback? What do you give up, or gain, using one vs. the other?

. . . .

Here are the key differences between CreateSpace and KDP Print. If something like royalties isn’t mentioned, it means it is a wash—it is the same for both so it doesn’t matter which you use.

  • Selling books in other Amazon country-specific stores. Both get your book on (US) and Amazon’s European stores. However, only CreateSpace will get your paperback into Amazon’s stores for Canada and Mexico. On the other hand, you must use KDP Print to make your paperback available in Amazon’s store for Japan.
  • Distribution of your paperback to non-Amazon stores. This is accomplished on CreateSpace by using Expanded Distribution. It is not currently available with KDP Print. That means your paperback will not appear in the Barnes & Noble online store, for example. Nor can someone walk into the store and order it.
  • Using CreateSpace files with KDP Print. Newer CreateSpace files for standard book sizes will work for KDP Print. Contact CreateSpace if they created your original files.

. . . .

A final note is that you cannot return your book to CreateSpace once you’ve moved it to KDP Print. Nor can you move a book to CreateSpace from KDP Print.

Link to the rest at Author Imprints

The Mystery Of The Missing Mystery Writer

12 June 2018

From author/editor Jim Thomsen in 2009:

To me, it was a mystery worthy of, well, a mystery novel.

A Seattle mystery author publishes three novels. All are reviewed reasonably well; all sell reasonably well. She’s under contract to write two more. But that fourth book never materializes. In fact, the author disappears … and is never heard from again. As an author, anyway.

Fourteen years later, had the trail grown too cold for the truth to emerge?

I decided to find out.

And the solution I found to this mystery is, to many I’m sure, a much greater mystery:

I found a writer who simply didn’t want to be a writer any more.

What — or who — killed her ambition?

Here’s my investigator’s report.

. . . .

In the spring of 1991, I was the Ellensburg correspondent for the Yakima Herald-Republic newspaper (central Washington cities, for those of you who don’t know the area).

I was also a voracious reader of mystery novels, in an era when Seattle-based mysteries were going through something of a golden era.

. . . .

And there was Janet L. Smith, the Seattle attorney whose 1990 debut novel, “Sea Of Troubles,” was a skillfully entertaining diversion. In fact, I bought that book at Jerrol’s Bookstore in Ellensburg, where, I learned shortly after, a caravan of six mystery authors would be making an afternoon stop. I don’t remember every name, but the tour included Sequim author Aaron Elkins, the author of several mysteries featuring anthropologist Gideon Oliver; children’s mystery author Willo Davis Roberts, and Emerson and Smith.

I happily flitted around Jerrol’s during the entire visit, schmoozing with as many of the authors as I could. (In fact, I wound up writing features on two, Emerson and Roberts, for the next day’s Herald-Republic.) The event was pretty sparsely attended, as far as I can recall, and I don’t think any of the six sold many books (other than the dozen or so I snapped up, of course). But everybody seemed to have a good time anyway, visiting with the few people who did drop by, and with each other.

I got Janet L. Smith to sign my copy of “Sea Of Troubles.”

. . . .

I got thinking about Janet a few months ago, when I was cleaning up my garage. I came across a box full of old paperbacks, and among them were Janet L. Smith’s three novels: “Sea Of Troubles,” (1990) with the author’s signature still there in faded ink on the inside page; “Practice To Deceive” (1993); and “A Vintage Murder” (1995).

I re-read each one. And I’ll say this: They’re not great, but they’re pretty good. They’re well-paced and well-plotted, authoritative on legal procedure, maybe a little light on character development and distinctive prose style. But I bought all three when they came out … and would have kept right on buying them if they had kept on coming out.

But, of course, they didn’t. And I set out to find out why.

Finding her wasn’t too difficult. A Google research revealed a Seattle law practice for Janet L. Smith. And, as big as Seattle is, I figured the odds of two Janet L. Smiths practicing law there were pretty long.

. . . .

We met Sept. 22 at a Starbucks on Aurora Avenue, not far from the Northgate-area office where she practices eldercare law. A smiling woman in her mid-fifties, Janet let me buy her a latte.

I jumped right in. So … what’s the deal? I asked. Why are you no longer a writer?

Janet smiled.

“When people me ask me that, I say, “Nobody asks someone why they didn’t write another Ph.D thesis.’”

That much fun, huh?

She then cautioned me, still smiling, against the assumption that she had failed.

Then she talked about introverts and extroverts. She was very much the latter, she said. Most authors don’t like being public figures, much preferring to hole up at home and write. That, Janet said, is not her.

“If I was doing writing 100 percent, without talking, I’d go stark raving out of my mind,” she said. But that, of course, is the discipline of novel writing, the one that doesn’t get talked about much. The reality is that writing a book is damned hard work, and requires a concentration that usually insists on isolation from all distraction. Some of us thrive on it. And some of us are like Janet.

Luckily, Janet didn’t have to worry about that, at first anyway, as she was juggling her part-time writing career with her legal work.

. . . .

[H]er fictional alter ego, Seattle attorney Annie MacPherson, solved complicated problems, too. And at the time Janet broke through, heroines like Annie MacPherson were just what the publishing industry was looking for. Mystery authors like Sue Grafton, Sharyn McCrumb and Sara Paretsky, with tough, sexy, self-sustaining heroines, were just completing their ascents into the sales stratosphere.

“I hit a moment in time where what I was selling was what they were looking for,” Janet said. “They wanted women protagonists, a strong regional flavor, nobody who was a cop or an FBI agent.”

That said, breaking in wasn’t a slam-dunk. Janet did what most aspiring authors did in the pre-Internet era, which was write dozens of letters to agents whose listings were found in the annual Writers Market reference books. “No luck,” she said.

. . . .

“I got encouraging rejection letters. That kept me going.”

And, at last, she broke through, with a small Bay Area press called Perseverance Press — an outfit so small, Janet said, that at the time it put out just one book a year. At the time, Janet was working in the state capital city of Olympia and recalls regularly visiting the small mystery bookshop there — Whodunit Books, which is still around — to babysit her book.

Then, mysterious good things happened. “Sea Of Troubles” got a positive review in The New York Times, even though it had never been submitted for one as far as Janet knew.

. . . .

That led to a new deal which saw her second Annie MacPherson book, “Practice To Deceive,” come out in hardcover as well as paperback. And led to her developing a public presence as an author. She attended the major mystery-writer conferences — Bouchercon, Malice Domestic and Left Coast Crime among them — and became active in the Sisters In Crime organization. She made friends among the Northwest writer community.

. . . .

That part was fun. The actual making-the-books part, not so much.

“For me,” she said, “the process of writing just isn’t fun.”

There were other factors, however, more beyond her control. After three books, her sales were steady but flat, trapping her in what she called “the comfortable midlist.” “Practice To Deceive” had done slightly better than “Sea Of Troubles,” and “A Vintage Murder” had done no worse than “Practice,” but neither represented the great leap forward that author and publisher both hoped for. That was being reflected in her publisher’s so-so support for the books; Janet’s regional tours to promote them were largely self-financed.

“Going from the midlist to something more probably wasn’t going to happen,” Janet said. “I probably wasn’t going to make that leap into Sue Grafton territory. My publisher didn’t see me having gold foil covers.” That’s the point, she said, where “they put you in a box and tell you where you belong.”

. . . .

And she’s left her days an author in the past, too. Well, mostly.

She laughed as she recalled a moment from earlier this year in which she caught her [law] practice’s office manager, during a slow day, reading one of her books — totally unaware that the author was her employer.

“I asked her what she was reading, and she was so embarrassed to be caught that she just said, ‘Oh, just some crap.’ I asked her who the author was, and she looked at the cover. It took her a moment to figure out that I was that Janet L. Smith.

‘I didn’t mean ‘crap!’” the office manager howled.

Janet teased her about it. “‘Not only are you reading on the job,” she recalled saying, “but you’re reading fluff!’ She had to tell everybody in the office about it.”

And that’s about the sum of her literary legacy, she said.

“It’s a trivia fact of my life,” she said. “Not much more than that.”

Link to the rest at Jim Thomsen and thanks to Dale for the tip.

PG says there are many ways in which an author may fail in the book business.

The OP describes a common reason for failure in the days prior to indie publishing – being categorized as “midlist”. Midlist books didn’t sell enough copies to support the physical bookstores, the distributor, the publisher and the author in the manner they desired to be supported.

An indie author in 2018 lives in a different world. Sales of ebooks in numbers that were formerly “midlist” can support an author and an author’s family, particularly when the author can release a book as soon as it is finished without the friction of dealing with various traditional publishing practices and processes.

Barnes & Noble may not have changed much, but Amazon understands that electrons on hard drives cost almost nothing, certainly way less than New York publicists and underpaid bookstore managers, so it needs very little money to support those hard drives and drop a few pennies into Jeff Bezos’ pocket from time to time.

Is there any dishonor in writing books that thousands of readers enjoy instead of books that millions of readers enjoy?

PG can’t remember when he last read a New York Times bestseller. He is not alone in appreciating books that fall well outside of mass market popularity.

Speculating on how those studying the history of books and authors will look back on the period beginning in the early part of the 21st century, PG suggests that this time will be regarded as the beginning of a golden age for books and authors because of indie publishing. Employment and income statistics will show a substantial increase in the number of full-time authors and their average incomes and the number of books sold. Millions of books will be written and read that never would have existed under the Ancien Régime.

Traditional publishers’ ebook sales drop as indie authors and Amazon take off

20 May 2018

From GeekWire:

Ebook sales are dying. Ebooks are insanely popular.

If the short definition of cognitive dissonance is holding two contradictory ideas to be true, ebooks are about as dissonant as digital content gets.

Yet ebooks may also represent a chapter in the still-being-written story of how keeping track of what’s happening with content hasn’t always kept pace with the technology that’s transformed it.

Let’s start with the bad news. Two new sets of numbers covering 2017 show ebook sales are on the decline, both in terms of unit and dollar sales.

The first, released in April by market research firm NPD’s PubTrack Digital, saw the unit sales of ebooks fall 10 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. In absolute numbers, that meant the roughly 450 publishers represented saw ebook sales drop from 180 million units to 162 million over a year’s time.

The second, just released by the American Association of Publishers, reported a decline in overall revenue for ebooks, a year-to-year decrease of 4.7 percent in 2017. AAP tracks sales data from more than 1,200 publishers.

This ebook decline occurred in an overall publisher revenue environment that AAP said was essentially flat in 2017. So some other kinds of book formats that AAP watches, like hardback books, went up as ebooks went down. For its part, NPD says when combining print and ebook unit sales, ebooks’ percentage of the total dropped from 21 percent in 2016 to 19 percent in 2017.

. . . .

On the surface it would seem like all of this is going to come as a surprise to boosters who thought ebooks would replace traditional paper book publishing completely.

But there are three key words to keep in mind: “traditional book publishing.” And that’s the good ebook news.

Because the very same technology that allowed traditional publishers to create and sell ebooks also allowed authors to do the same — directly to readers.

NPD and AAP don’t measure those indie sales. Centralized reporting of direct-from-author sales is tougher to come by, but by all anecdotal measures the independent market has taken off, notably in the also-still-large category of adult fiction.

. . . .

One source of numbers for online book sales, including for indie ebooks, is the website Author Earnings. It recently estimated that traditional publisher reporting is, “now missing two-thirds of U.S. consumer ebook purchases, and nearly half of all ebook dollars those consumers spend.”

. . . .

For all categories of ebooks, Author Earnings figures purely “indie” publishing accounted for at least 38 percent of ebook units and 22 percent of ebook dollars in the last nine months of 2017. And that doesn’t include micro presses, Amazon’s imprints, and what it calls “single-author mega imprints” (think J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore).

. . . .

[M]ore than half of SFWA’s membership has done some kind of independent publishing. Importantly, SFWA said, there was no apparent difference in range of income between indie and traditionally published members.

Jeff Bezos, whose Amazon distributes a lot of independently published ebooks, made it a point to note in his annual letter to shareholders that, “Over a thousand independent authors surpassed $100,000 in royalties in 2017 through Kindle Direct Publishing.”

. . . .

Part of the apparently increasing shift of authors to indie status may be about that money. “In traditional publishing, the writer sees a sliver of the profits — 5-15 percent,” SFWA President Cat Rambo, herself a hybrid author, told me. “In small press publishing, that number goes up significantly, and indie writers get to keep the biggest portion of the pie.”

. . . .

But Rambo also suspected the decline in traditional publishers’ ebook sales may due to pricing, a potentially Titanic-sized problem of publishers’ own making.

“When I see an ebook that sells for twice the price of the paperback version, either someone has lost their mind, is asleep at the wheel, or is deliberately steering the ship towards an iceberg,” she said.

Link to the rest at GeekWire

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