Two Sides of the Amazon Coin

(Full disclosure: I’m at a crucial point in finishing a book under deadline. I’ve hardly moved from my computer all day, and every creative impulse has been sapped out of me. So I dug into my old post pile and found this one from April 2012. Guess what? It still applies today. Enjoy, and I’ll be back next Thursday with a fresh and shiny This Author’s Life.)

For the last several months, most of my posts here have been about book promotion–and that is how it should be, since for the last several months, my life has been about book promotion.

amazonToday we’re going to veer off that topic just a little.  I’d like to talk about Amazon.

I’ve spoken with quite a few people who work in different parts of the publishing world. There are some who believe that Amazon’s very existence is threatening small business, state governments, the future of publishing and the very fabric of life itself. There are others who see Amazon as the wave of the future, the only possible solution to the challenges that have confronted the ever-changing world of business in general and book publishing specifically.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll remind you that my books are epublished and sold through Amazon.  I clearly have a business relationship with them.

I am grateful that Amazon exists.  The company has not only opened wide the doors of publishing for the independent author, it has for all intents and purposes held our hands as we walked through. Indie publishing is that easy through Amazon.

But I see the bigger picture as well.  I know that Amazon’s existence and ease of use has made us lazy and demanding consumers.  When we want something, we simply go to the Amazon page, search for it. . .order it. . .and usually it arrives within a few days, at a price that it is at least competitive if not better than that of our local source.

I know too that many consider Amazon’s open door to publishing to be a death knoll of quality books, that without the traditional gatekeepers of agents and editors fighting off the specter of bad writing and poor stories, we’re all doomed.

I don’t agree. Visit your local bookstore, pick up about ten books randomly.  Some of them will be great; well-edited, well-written stories that deserve their spot on the shelf.  But some of them are the equivalent of literary garbage, poorly written drivel that slips through because of the perceived demands of the reading public. (“We need MORE VAMPIRE BOOKS!!  I don’t care if there’s a story. . just GIVE ME VAMPIRES!!”)

Here’s the truth, folks:  Amazon isn’t the devil.  It’s not going to usher in the end of days. But it’s not the savior either; it’s merely a vehicle that’s helping to take us from point A–our old way of doing things–to point B, whatever the future might hold. Change is never easy, but it’s constant. Let’s hold on and see where we end up.

In the meantime, I’m happy to marching right through that door.

Kindle Unlimited, Book Pricing and The Worth of an Author

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I started this post a few moments ago at 11:10 PM, the night before it’s scheduled to go up. Working past midnight is not unusual for me. As I type this, the room is dark, and my husband is long asleep in the bed by my desk. Poor guy, he’s learned to sleep to the accompaniment of the taps of my keyboard and ignore the bright light of my monitor (and it’s a big one, too).

I’ve spent today writing. . .some. And I took some unusual time to spend with my two younger kids, one of whom is on spring break from college. Other than that, I worked on writer-related stuff. I responded to emails and messages. I commented on posts from readers. I corresponded with the wonderful people who keep my business life moving along, setting up tasks and goals for the next few weeks. I chatted with some fellow authors about some business issues and how to best address them. I worked with some other fellow authors on setting up an event we’re doing this Sunday to promote our books. I boxed up prizes and signed books to send to readers. I worked with my business partner on some details for the book event we’re hosting in July this year, here in Orlando.

So, yeah. Really a pretty light day.

I don’t think I know a single author who doesn’t work hard. Most of us have hours that would make the most hard-core stock broker or dedicated doctor cringe. We’re up late, we’re up early, and we never stop. We do it, as the lovely meme above reminds us, because we love it. We love the characters we create, we love the readers who love those characters along with us, we love our fellow writers (well, mostly) and we love the idea that on a daily basis we are peopling the world with more fabulous fictional folk.

But even when you do something for love, it’s nice to see a paycheck.

Last year, Amazon introduced a program called Kindle Unlimited. It’s basically Netflix for books: by the company’s own description: Enjoy unlimited access to over 700,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks on any device for just $9.99 a month.

Sounds awesome, huh? Great idea. 700,000 books for about the price of a cup and a half of coffee at Starbucks. What a bargain.

And of course it is. For some readers, this works out well. Even some authors have benefitted from the program.

Most have not.

I’m not going to get into the whys and wherefores here. Others have done it far better than I could, and I’ll share some of the links below. I strongly encourage you to read these posts and articles before you make up your mind about KU.

What I will address is the idea of an author’s worth. When ebooks were introduced, we weren’t really sure how to price them, to be honest. I remember sitting in front of my computer, uploading Fearless and trying to decide what to choose. (For the record, I believe Fearless began life at $2.99.)

But as time went on, authors began to realize that we can’t keep underpricing our books and continue producing them. It may seem that creating an ebook should be cheap and easy, but let me assure you, it is neither. Delivery is less expensive; other than that, it’s the same basic premise as any hardback or paperback you might buy at Barnes and Noble for $16.99. It must be edited, proofread and formatted. A cover must be created and produced. Often, artwork for that cover must be created. Nothing is cheap and nothing is free.

And yet. . .it seems some readers expect that our books should be.

Today, in March 2015, all of my ebooks are priced at $3.99 and under, with the exception of The King Series Boxset which is FOUR full-length books plus a short for $6.99. Two of my books are free (Fearless and Best Served Cold). Do I feel my books are fairly priced for a reader? Absolutely. Do I think they’re fairly priced for me? Not really.

I’m not complaining. I love my job, and I would do it for free. That’s the truth. I’d write even if you charged me to do it. But I don’t want to write for free, and like any other professional, I hope I’ve earned the right not to do so.

Happily, I am surrounded by fabulous readers who never, ever question the value of my books. They make me happy on a daily basis, and I’d pay for that luxury, too.

It’s business practices like KU and others going on in other book sellers that make us feel undervalued, under-respected and just plain tired.

So before you sign on for Kindle Unlimited, or for any program that affects how authors earn, do some research. Think about how much you value the work of your favorite authors.

We’re worth at least the same as a cup of designer coffee, right?

 

 

Articles on Kindle Unlimited that I recommend:

 

http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2014/kindle-unlimiteds-two-tier-system-makes-some-authors-second-class-citizens/

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/01/writers-are-mixed-over-amazon-unlimited/?_r=0

http://blog.smashwords.com/2014/07/is-kindle-unlimited-bad-for-authors.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/28/technology/amazon-offers-all-you-can-eat-books-authors-turn-up-noses.html

Free And Bargain Kindle eBooks

Life 101: You Gotta Live


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On my handy-dandy schedule of blog post topics for today is something serious and author/reader centric. It’s an important subject. . .and we’ll talk about it next week. Because today, I want to talk about the importance of life.

I love to write. Can you tell by how many books I publish? I hope so. Because it’s true; it’s my passion, and I’m grateful beyond the telling for the opportunity to do it. Matter of fact, sometimes I love it so much I forget to stop doing it.

That’s right, folks. I sit down here in my comfy computer chair (with or without cats) and sometimes I don’t get up for more hours than I care to tell you. And then I crawl into bed and get up the next morning and do it all over again.

I’m not complaining one bit. But I’ve been reminded of an essential truth recently: I cannot be the writer I want to be if I stop 11051623_10152888798094145_776859053_nliving. And life, as it turns out, mostly happens away from my computer and comfy chair.

I knew this a little. I’d have a twinge of reminder when I finished a book and looked around blinking at the world that had continued to spin without my knowledge or participation. When folding laundry and cleaning my closet were a treat I allowed myself after I’d met a certain writing goal, I knew things were bad.

Today in the midst of deadlines and craziness and interviews and emails and demands, I took a day and spent it with a dear friend who’s in town from Montreal for a short time. I only see Anne-Marie about once every two years. I treasure those times, and today, I ignored all the should-bes and did the wanna-dos. We stayed up late chatting last night. 11040073_10152888367409145_754633664_nGot up this morning and sat on the back porch, looking out over the lake. Went to the outlets and raided Vera Bradley. Drove to the beach, had a beer and burger, and then took a long walk along the water. Drove home, played cards as I made dinner, ate ice cream and then talked some more.

And I don’t regret it at all.

I may not have typed a single word today, but I promise, when I hit the keyboard later this week, what I write will be better. Richer. Stronger. Because a writer can’t write if she ignores life.

And that, darling reader, applies to all of us. Read, by all means. Enjoy your movie and your television. But then put down the book, turn off the TV and go spend some time talking to real people. Take a walk. Go to the grocery store and strike up a conversation. Grab coffee with a friend you haven’t seen in weeks. Talk to your family and really listen to what they say. Play a game. Laugh. Love.

Live.

Addicted to Ahhhhs

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “What made you start writing books?” I have a standard answer: I always wrote, from childhood on. I was always a storyteller. And one day circumstances were such that I had the time, incentive and energy. . blah, blah, blah.

Oh, it’s the truth. But there’s actually a much deeper, much simpler motivation for why I write. I’m addicted to ahhhhs.heart shape

You know what the ahhhs are, right? It’s that feeling you get when you’re reading a book, particularly (for me) a romance. You hit a certain point in the story, and suddenly, you’re captivated. The male lead does something or says something. . .or there’s a moment between the two love interests. . .or some element of the story just grips you so totally that you’re completely invested in this world, in these characters and you think. . .ahhhhhhh.

I’ve been an addict for a very long time. I’m not sure if it began with Laura and Almanzo in These Happy Golden Years or Scarlett and Rhett in Gone With The Wind or Celia and Luke in Celia Garth. But once I discovered this feeling, like any other addict, I needed that fix. Once a book ended, I was on the prowl for yet another.

Finally, one day, I realized that just reading the stories wasn’t cutting it. I needed something. . .more. Something that was within my control, particularly when it came to timing. I wanted to give the characters lurking within my own mind their ahhhhs. And that’s when I began seriously writing.

My first personally-written ahhhhh moment came during the first chapter I wrote about Tasmyn and Michael. It was the scene of their first kiss, on the beach of a lake in central Florida. I wrote it first, before anything else in Fearless, and it fed the need, at least for a little while:

“Tasmyn, trust me. I won’t hurt you, ever, and if it’s in my power, I won’t let anyone else hurt you either. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. May I kiss you. . .please?”

I was shaking ever so slightly as I nodded my head, barely. A smile spread over his face as he brought his other hand to my neck and gently tilted my head back. His lips brushed mine, and it was so tender and innocent that I felt tears spring to my eyes. 

Of course, pretty soon I needed another fix. And that’s why there are four books in the King Series, and why I went on to write about more ahhhhs.

I was thinking of this last night. I finished a book I’d had mixed feelings about; the storyline was a little iffy, some of the editing and grammar could’ve used work. But I connected with the characters, so I stuck with it. In the end, I enjoyed the book, even though it had some rough areas. Why did I keep reading? Because it had killer ahhhh moments.

Now it’s time for me to get back to my current story. Sometimes my own characters amaze me with the depth of their connection, with the twists and turns. . .and let me tell you, in The Only One, I think there are more ahhhhhhhs than in any of my other books to date. Mason and Rilla are setting the bar high.

What can I say? I just need one more hit. . .yeah, just one. . .

Authors, Readers and Boundaries in this Brave New World

I’m an indie author, and proudly so. I can’t imagine making this journey any other way, because it works for me. It doesn’t mean it’s anyone else’s best choice, but it’s definitely mine.

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That being said, it’s not difficult to see the shifts in the landscape of publishing, both positive and negative. I love being in control of my own career. I can publish as much or as little as I choose. I can have the book covers I want, and I can write the characters and story lines I want. I’m my own boss.

 

Some of the negatives have been slow to develop, but they’re here. I’ve noticed that some readers–none of mine, who are perfect in every way–but some out there have begun to feel that they have the right to dictate to authors what they should and should not write. . .which book should be written before another one. . .which character should live and die.

I’m not sure why exactly this change has come about, but I have a theory. Once upon a time, authors were reclusive creatures. You might write a letter to a favorite author, or you might meet her at a book signing, but there was rarely time or opportunity to share your own take on her plot lines. But here we are in the 21st century, where most authors are on social media, have email addresses available to the public and often post very personal information. Readers feel closer to authors. And in one sense they are; I like my readers very much, and I enjoy what they share with me. As I’ve said before, my readers are perfect. But I see it, and I’ve heard about it.

I like feedback, and I welcome readers’ input. But there is a line. The characters may live out in the book world, but they were born in my head, and that’s where all the magic happens. I’m sorry if some of their actions or decisions aren’t what all readers want, but that’s how it happened, I promise you.

I think the inimitable Nora Roberts captured this perfectly in her recent blog post. It’s called, appropriately enough, Bite Me.

I’m not Nora, I’ll never be Nora, and I would never, ever dare to suggest that I know anything about what she’s experienced. But I see the trend, and not just with the lovely Ms. Roberts. I see it creeping in everywhere.

I’m not unsympathetic. Heck, if you want the full truth, in the course of my reading lifetime, I wanted Bella not to turn into a vampire (or have a baby, but that’s another story), I wanted Dumbledore not to die, I wanted Claire not to leave 18th century Scotland, and I wanted Rhett not to walk out on Scarlett. But I understood that the story wasn’t mine, and I had to accept the decisions of the author.

(Now, when it comes to a TV show, like, say, How I Met Your Mother, all bets are off. The real ending was not what we saw last spring. I’m sure of it.)

The bottom line is that writers have the right to control the destiny of their own characters without influence or harassment from others. It’s one of our job perks. And if you mess around with us, no worries. . .we’ll just write you into the book. And probably kill you off. Horribly.

😉