Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Tag: Honor from Ashes. (Page 1 of 2)

Bad, indie writer, bad!

At least that is what Michael Kozlowski over at Good Ereader seems to be saying. In an article I found via The Passive Voice, the headline really does tell the story. “Indie Authors Are Responsible for the US eBook Decline.” Now, I won’t talk about how the headline is poorly formatted. Anyone with a modicum of journalistic training will be able to spot what is wrong. Instead, let’s take a look at the post and see if we agree with Kozlowski or with PG who said, “too much choice is a terrible problem. That’s why nobody buys anything from Amazon or reads anything on the web.”

Why are bookstore chains like Barnes and Noble enjoying a robust increase in book sales? I think the main reason is because they only stock physical books by new authors that the publisher is really hyping and perennial bestsellers by recognizable authors. Simply put, it is far easier to discover a great book in a bookstore, than try and find one online. So why are digital sales truly down? The answer is too many e-books being self-published by indie authors.

Pardon me while I laugh for a bit. Kozlowski doesn’t seem to recognize the problem with his own statement. Bookstores stock only new authors publishers are “really hyping”. Hmm. What about those new authors who aren’t receiving all the hype? They are out there. Or is Kozlowski so out of touch that he really believes that publishers give that sort of hype to every new author they sign?

Or how about the assertion that they only other books being stocked are those by perennial bestsellers? I guess that means I could walk into my local B&N and check every author in stock and find them to be as he said. A best seller or hyped newcomer. Sorry, but no. There are still some midlisters there. Yes, the number is fewer but they are still there. There will also be — gasp — classics and nonfiction titles that aren’t “bestsellers”. But that wouldn’t fit Kozlowski’s either or scenario.

Independent and self-published authors release more books on a monthly basis than the trade houses do. This creates an influx of new titles that fall by the wayside and pollute the search engine results,  so it is almost impossible to casually browse and find something good.

My first reaction is, “Duh!” Of course indies release more books on a monthly basis that the traditional publishers. They aren’t limited by the number of slots they can justify to their bean counters. They aren’t having to go through gatekeepers who could — and sometimes do — keep out excellent books because they “didn’t resonate” or aren’t of the right “message” for that particular publisher. But, just because they are indie titles, they “pollute” search engine results. Bad indies. You aren’t pure and worthy. Forget about issues of whether the books are well-written or commercial successes. The fact they didn’t go through the traditional gatekeepers means they are dreck and pollute the very data streams they are stored on.

E-Books are immortal, so they never go out of print. Like cobwebs constructed of stainless steel, they will forever occupy the virtual shelves of e-book retailers. Every month there are more and more books for readers to choose from and there are now fewer eyeballs split across more books, this is the real reason why e-book sales are down across the board.

First, e-books can go out of print. At least they can if an author is careful about how her contract is written with first her agent and then her publisher — if she goes the traditional route. As for indies, they can also go “out of print” by the simple expedient of the author withdrawing the book from sale. As for e-book sales being down across the board, says who? Oh, I know. Traditional publishers. And that, my friends, is the real fault with everything Kozlowski says in his post. He is using traditional publishing numbers, as well as comments from Amazon competitor Mark Coker, to support his position without looking at indie sales numbers.

But let’s continue.

Not only do self-published authors write legitimate books that nobody reads, but some are doing some very shady things.

Kozlowski goes on to discuss the title mills that have been out there as well as the debacle a couple of years ago over the erotica titles getting released as children’s titles. Funny though, he never mentions the plagiarized titles that were bought, published and promoted out the yahzoo by traditional publishers. I guess he doesn’t think the trads can ever do anything wrong or make a bad decision about what books to publish. Nor does he go into the fact that a lot of the books Kobo removed from its listings were not erotica and the covers did not violate the ToS. Funny that. Funny, too, that he failed to mention how those books wrongly removed were put into a limbo that, as far as I know, has yet to be resolved.

He shows his feelings about indie e-books, if there had been any doubt, with this next statement: Spamming out e-books is obviously working for indie authors right now.

“Spamming”. Not publishing, not releasing, but spamming. Way to show some unbiased reporting, sir.

The big reason why indies are enjoying more success right now is because their titles are priced anywhere between .99 and $5.99, while major publishers tend to charge between $9.99 and $18.99. 

Again, he sees only the financial reason and that not in full. Yes, indies sell more books at a lower price. However, readers have gotten more savvy, something he fails to recognize. They look at how well written the blurb is. If you don’t grab a reader with the blurb, they aren’t going to pay money for your work. Then the reader checks the preview — one of the best things Amazon and other retailers have done is put the “look inside feature” on the product page so you no longer have to download a sample. Again, if a reader doesn’t like what the preview shows, they won’t buy the book. Yes, there are some impulse buys but give the reader some credit for actually checking out the book before buying it.

Second, readers are learning that there are a lot of very well written, entertaining books being produced by indie authors. Why spend more than $10 for a single book when you can buy two or three for that same amount of money? Publishers put themselves behind the eight ball when it comes to pricing. They look at the profit per unit instead of the fact they would make more money in the long run if they would lower their prices and increase their sales.

I think indie authors days are numbered selling digital content online because of big new trends in the publishing industry that they are unable to capitalize on.

This is where I start laughing hysterically. First, he uses adult coloring books as an example of something indies can’t do. Funny, one of my friends and cohorts over at Mad Genius Club, Cedar Sanderson, just published her own coloring book — and she did so as an indie. I guess she ought to go take it off sale since Kozlowski said she shouldn’t be able to put one out.

Then he goes on to point out the Bookscan numbers and how they prove his point. Bookscan, the Nielson Ratings for books. That service taking the sales from a select number of bookstores, does some arcane version of hand-wavium and tells publishers how many books were sold by what author. Not a point-to-point accounting system or inventory tracker like every other manufacturer employs. No, something that estimates sales based on what is selling in certain stores in certain cities across the nation. C0ff — bullshit — coff.

He goes on and on about how indie publishing is leading to a decline in sales. But for whom? For traditional publishing? Yep. But it is not only indie publishing responsible for that decline. It is also the choice in books being published by the trads and the price they are charging. Traditional publishing knows this, at least when it comes to pricing. Ask yourself this: why publish an e-book at basically the same price as a print version of the same book? The answer is simple — to drive sales to the print book.

Is indie publishing in trouble? Not that my bank account is seeing.

Are there too many titles out there? I don’t think so. Sure, it makes “browsing” more difficult if all you do is type in search phrases. But if you are like me, you find a book or an author you like and you pay attention to the “if you liked this, you might like that” recommendations. You talk to your friends and see what they are reading. Most of all, you check the blurbs and previews. Now this indie author needs to get back to work. Despite — or maybe because — of Kozlowski’s complaints, I am going to continue “spamming” out my books and “polluting” Amazon.

So, here’s some spamming for you:

 Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

And my friend Dave Freer has a new book out.
TOM

Tom is a cat in trouble. The worst possible kind of trouble: he’s been turned into a human. Transformed by an irascible old magician in need of a famulus — a servant and an assistant, Tom is as good at being a servant as a cat ever is. The assistant part is more to Tom’s taste: he rather fancies impressing the girl cats and terrorizing the other toms by transforming himself into a tiger. But the world of magic, a vanished and cursed princess, and a haunted skull, and a demon in the chamber-pot, to say nothing of conspiring wizards and the wickedest witch in the west, all seem to be out to kill Tom. He is a cat coming to terms with being a boy, dealing with all this. He has a raven and a cheese as… sort of allies.
And of course there is the princess.
If you were looking for ‘War and Peace’ this is the wrong book for you. It’s a light-hearted and gently satirical fantasy, full of terrible puns and… cats.

Decisions made, work to be done and more

It’s been two weeks since Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) went live. Or was supposed to go live. For those of you who follow the blog, you know that the first week was nothing but an exercise in frustration and more frustration. Fortunately, the issues with Amazon have been fixed and everything seems to be rocking along. Thanks to everyone who hung in there. Your support helped me get through what had to be the worst release week I’ve had to date. I also want to thank Amazon for working with me to get the problem fixed.

Since I started with Amazon, let’s talk about something I’ve been seeing a lot on Facebook recently. There is a petition that’s been started on Change.org asking Amazon to stop people from being able to return e-books after 15% of a book has been read. While I understand the sentiment — no author likes to see returns — there is a problem with this approach. Some “e-books” are only a few pages long. That means the 15% limit might not get a purchaser beyond the copyright page. What if everything after that point is so poorly formatted that the title is not readable? Or what if, at about the 75% mark, something went wrong and the e-book suddenly changes to another one? There have to be exceptions made.

As you know, I write in several different genres. I have found there are some sub-genres that have more returns than others. However, that higher level of returns seemed to go down markedly once I enrolled that particular sub-genre’s books into the Kindle Unlimited program. Something else I am seeing is that sales are going up with those books and so are the borrows under KU. Hmm, maybe I’m onto something here.

There can be any number of reasons for an e-book to be returned. It happens. Yes, there are people who will “buy” an e-book, read it and then return it. No matter what we do, it will happen. If they aren’t doing it through Amazon, they will find a pirate site where our work is hosted. Do I like it? Not at all. But a petition to try to force Amazon to take a certain form of action isn’t going to stop it. I would rather be able to find some pattern to what is going on than not know what is being pirated.

Pattern. That happens to be the key word. Instead of assuming everyone who buys and then returns an e-book has ill-intent in his heart, the author might need to look at their reviews — and even go back and look at their work with a fresh eye — and see if there might not be a reason for the returns. Never, ever consider your readers as crooks. Most especially don’t take to social media and claim they are — and, no, I am not saying the person who started the petition or any of those supporting her feel this way. They all seem earnest in their concern about something they see as a problem. I will even concede that they might have a problem with returns that I haven’t seen with my own work.

That said, I have seen come comments from folks who don’t believe this problem existed before e-books came onto the scene. It did. People bought printed books, took them home or to the nearest coffee shop or whatever, read the book and then returned it. As authors, we weren’t  made as aware of the situation because we didn’t have a dashboard that kept us up-to-date on sales, borrows and returns on an hourly basis. Now we have that tool and it is very easy to obsess over it.

Instead of doing so, before beginning to think there are crooks out there, look first at your work and your reviews. Is there something there pointing to a potential problem? Do you see a pattern in the returns? If so, contact Amazon. They do have policies in place that deal with people who abuse the ability to buy and then return e-books. Be prepared to be your own advocate and gather your evidence, your inferences and have your desired outcome ready when you contact Amazon. Most of all, don’t be afraid to let the powers-that-be there know your concerns and your recommendations.

Moving on.

I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what to do to ameliorate the damage done by the screw up of the Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) release. I was already working on Dagger of Elanna, the second book in the Sword of the Gods trilogy. Skeletons in the Closet is less than a month from being ready for release. But the last two weeks have shown me one of the positives of being an indie writer. I can rearrange my schedule as needed in order to deal with bumps in the road. Because of that, I’ve amended my publication schedule for the year and am going to bring Victory from Ashes out next.

The rough draft (and it is what I call a very, very, very rough draft) weighs in right now at 84,000 words. There are a number of scenes that still need to be inserted and everything needs to be fleshed out. By the time that is done, the book will probably come in around 110,000 words. Maybe a bit more. It will take me two months, possibly three, to finish the final rough draft, let the beta readers take a look and then send it off to the editor.  Snippets will begin in two weeks.

I am also going to release a new edition of Honor from Ashes shortly before Victory from Ashes comes out. The new edition will include a new short story or novella in the Honor and Duty universe. For those who have already purchased Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3), I will put the new material up here for a limited period and I will also offer for individual sale.

After that, I will return to Skeletons and Dagger of Elanna. That will then move up the next Nocturnal Lives books. After that, there will more more in the Hunted universe and more romantic suspense. As if that’s not enough to think about, there are several other projects in the mix I can’t discuss just yet.

This week, however, I have to play catch up. There are print versions of my books to be proofed and finalized, appointments to be met and writing to do. So I guess I’d better find another cup of coffee and get to work.

 

Time to get to work

I think that’s the question most writers have asked themselves at one time or another. It usually isn’t because we have no ideas but because we have too many. We might be in the middle of writing one book when the idea for another suddenly pops into our head. We might have finished one book and be ready to start another, only to have a chorus of plots and characters all singing — or screaming and yelling — for our attention. It doesn’t matter what the schedule is, all too often there is the pull of another story that wants to be written.

I find myself in that position right now. It’s not new. Those of you who follow this blog, or who read Mad Genius Club, know that very same thing happened during the course of writing Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). I had to stop for a couple of weeks and pound out Slay Bells Ring because the book simply wouldn’t be quiet long enough for me to finish Honor. Now I am trying to write Dagger of Elanna, the follow-up to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). I know the basic plot. I know the twists and turns it needs to take. I have characters I love — and who I love to torture (hey, I’m a writer. It’s what I do.). Instead of being able to focus on swords and a bit of sorcery, I have spaceships and the dead rising, but not as zombies or vampires, a local witch and more than one mystery to solve. And no, that’s not all one book — thankfully.

I have Skeletons in the Closet wanting to be finished. It wouldn’t take much but it is a voice and head-space I’m not ready to get into right now. The main reason is because the voice is so different from everything else that I wouldn’t be able to work on any other project at the same time. So I am trying to tell Lexie and company to give me another six weeks and then I’ll give them my undivided attention.

I also have the new title in the Honor and Duty series — no, not Victory from Ashes, the next in the series. This is the standalone short story or novella I’ve discussed writing as a reward for all of you who stuck with me during last week’s Amazon snafu. While I love the series and characters, I wasn’t prepared for the number of ideas that have been coming to me as possibilities. I need a little time to figure out which one — or ones — will work best in helping shape the characters.

Then there is Mackenzie Santos and her friends. Mac is standing in my mind, tapping one booted foot, telling me it is time to write her next book. After all, I’ve put out two novels since Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives Book 4). She’s been patient. Shouldn’t I reward her for that?

Okay, she isn’t being quite that nice about it. She is rather demanding, in fact. And oh the look she gives me when I remind her that I hadn’t planned on writing Slay Bells, so it doesn’t count.

In other words, this is another typical Monday morning in this writer’s life. What is really going to happen is I get to play catch up today. I need to do a follow-up email to my contact at Amazon, letting her know that the problems continued to exist for some of you through the weekend. Then I need to finish putting together print files for several of my books already out in e-book format. Then I need to do some yard work and clean house. Oh, somewhere in there, I must find more coffee and food. If I forget the latter, no biggie but nothing will get done without the former.

Then and only then will I be able to sit down and write. Yes, it will be Dagger of Elanna. But I am also plotting out Victory from Ashes as well as the untitled short story/novella in that same universe. Once that is done, I will finish Skeletons (which shouldn’t take more than another week or so). Then it will be the next Mac Santos book.

And who said writing wasn’t a real job?

Friday morning thoughts

It looks like the issues with Amazon are finally fixed (fingers crossed). Once everything was escalated — thanks to an email to Jeff Bezos — things fell into place pretty quickly. I’ll do a final blog about it next week. There are still a couple of issues I want clarification on before I do. In the meantime, Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is available for purchase. If you are still having problems with the file, let me know in the comments and please let Amazon know.  Most of all, if you would leave a review after you’ve read the book, I’d appreciate it.

Now for a non-Amazon related topic. All week I’ve watched the story about the mother whose daughter attends a magnet school in Baton Rouge. This mother has been basically banned from the campus for the heinous offense of walking her daughter to and from school. It seems when the school year began, the new principal of the school implemented a rule forbidding such a horrible activity for safety reasons. You can read the background in The Advocate.

Basically, the principal thought it too dangerous to have parents park at the nearby Catholic center and walk onto school grounds because — gasp — she couldn’t be sure who might be trying to come up to the school. Instead, all parents were to use the carpool lane. Stay in their cars, wait on a busy street and cause traffic jams. That is sooo much safer.

I don’t remember if it was in The Advocate’s story or elsewhere, but I also read she would allow parents to pick their kids up in person — and without waiting in their cars — if they waited 45 minutes after discharge time. Until then, any child not picked up via car would be held (whether the parent approved or not). This included children who had permission to walk home.

Hmmm, in some jurisdictions, that could be viewed as being held against their will or even kidnapping.

So fast forward to the other day. Mama Bear, who had tried discussing the issue with the principal and the superintendent and who had gotten nowhere with it, decided she had had enough. The ritual of walking to and from school with her daughter was something they both enjoyed. So, fed up, Mama Bear parked and walked onto the school grounds — and straight into a confrontation with the principal.

The interesting thing here is that Mama Bear wasn’t the only parent violating school rules that day. A father was also present at the time and yet the principal did nothing to tell him to leave or, as she would soon do, prevent him from coming to the school in the future.

After the confrontation with Mama Bear, the principal sent a letter that basically says the mother cannot step foot on school grounds without first giving 24 hour notice and then receiving permission. Mama can be in her car in the carpool lane but she cannot get out of her car without giving the 24 hour notice and receiving permission. So, if her daughter has her hands full and needs help getting into the car, Mama can’t get out to help her. If the daughter falls and is hurt, Mama has to sit there and hope someone comes to the girl’s aid. Otherwise, she faces having the cops called on her.

Worse, if given permission to leave her car, she must go straight to the office, sign in and wait to be escorted to her destination which, according to the letter, will basically be only the office. Parent-Teacher conferences will be witnessed by someone from the office. Mama is not allowed to have contact with anyone but office staff, including students and teachers, when on the premises. In other words, she is not allowed to see what is going on in her daughter’s classroom or anywhere else in the school.

It gets worse. This is an arts magnet school. Her daughter took part in an art show at the school after this happened and the mother was denied permission to attend.

Now, if it were me, I would be in my attorney’s office and there would be action taking place. I would also be looking for somewhere else for my child to go if I did not feel capable of homeschooling. If even half of what this article reports is true, this is a case of administrative ego gone wild and to the detriment of the school and its students.

No one, absolutely no one, can tell me without damned good reason that I can’t meet my child at the school grounds and walk them home (or walk them to the school). No one can hold my child against my wishes for 45 minutes because they would prefer I sit in a carpool lane. Besides, what is the difference about who can approach the school when classes are just getting out and 45 minutes after the fact? Also, who is paying staff to stay late to watch these kids who have been held after simply because they aren’t being picked up by car? Or do they kick the kids out the door, lock it behind them and leave them to whatever “evil people” might be lurking about?

More than that, there had better be a solid legal reason for not allowing me to attend my child’s art show or recital or whatever the activity might be. There had also better be a substantial reason for not allowing me to meet with my child’s teacher in private. Either that or there had better be a written policy that ALL such conferences are witnessed and why.

This is a perfect illustration of where parents need to take back their children’s school. There was a time when my son was in elementary school when we had a principal who was almost this bad. By the end of the year, she had managed to run off many of the good teachers. She tried doing away with the Gifted & Talented classes, as well as recess, in order to spend more time teaching to the test. She did this without notifying parents that their children were getting the short shrift. When teachers and our kids started telling us, a number of us tried meeting with her. She would set the appointments but suddenly be busy and throw another member of the staff to the wolves.

Fortunately, she lasted only one year at my son’s school but the damage to the children and the staff was done. It took years for the school to recover because a number of the teachers put in for transfers and those were granted before the district administration announced they were moving this principal to another position elsewhere.

This attitude of holding our kids hostage, of preventing parents from being able to see what is going on in a classroom — or on the school grounds — is a red flag we have to recognize and react to. Do not let this happen in your district without challenging it. Remind your school boards that a lot of their money comes from the state and federal coffers and is based on the number of butts in chairs on a daily basis. Those little butts can be removed and transferred to private school or homeschooled. There are alternatives now and we shouldn’t be afraid to explore them, especially when our children are involved.

 

 

And the latest news is. . .

Late yesterday afternoon, I wrote a blog post for today. No, not this one. It was written with the hope it might turn into one of those situations where “if you say something/do something, the opposite will happen.” In this case, I was continuing to cover the ongoing problems with Amazon, my frustrations, etc., and trying to figure out what my next step should be. While I can’t say all the problems and concerns have been resolved, it looks like things are getting better and steps are being taken to discover just what can be done to try to alleviate some of the damage done.

Specifically, yesterday after responding to the mind-blowing email from Amazon KDP support asking for more detail about the reason I was upset, I talked with some folks I trust and then I emailed Jeff Bezos. I doubted he would see the email but I hoped it might help clear the logjam I’d been facing. What I hadn’t expected was a call from the woman my email had been forwarded to. We had a nice discussion and I am currently waiting for her to get back with me on a couple of matters.

In the meantime, it does appear that the book has been consistently available for purchase and download since 6pm CST last night. I am still worried about the hit my sales have taken and the number of returns by understandably upset customers who received the wrong file. But at least it looks like the page is now stable — although I will be keeping a close watch on it today to be sure.

Here is where I ask for your help, my friends. If you pre-ordered the book, you should have received an email by now from Amazon saying there is a new file and your copy needs to be updated. I hope that anyone who purchased the book before yesterday, pre-order or not, has received that email. If you have not, will you leave a comment below this post to let me know?

If you did receive the wrong book, whether you received the email or not from Amazon, and you purchased it on the 18th or later, please let me know in the comment section. It will help me when discussing the situation withs Amazon later.

Finally, if you have not received the correct file (and the easiest way to tell is to check the title of the first section of the book. It should be “Grounded”) contact Amazon and ask them to push through the update. Leave me a message when you do. Again, it will help me discuss the problem with them.

One last question, I’ve decided that the best way to thank you for bearing with me through this fiasco is to write something new in the universe. It needs to be something with Ashlyn and company as the leads. It will be either a short story or novella. Here’s your chance to tell me what story you want told. Do you want a prequel sort of story, maybe one that deals with the circumstances leading up to her court martial? Or how about her time as a shiny new Marine? Or maybe how about first joining the Devil Dogs? Or is there another story you would prefer me tell? (No promises I will use a particular suggestion, but this is your story. It will be offered to those of you who have stayed with me during the problems with Honor from Ashes this week. I’m still figuring out the best way to do this, but I want you to have the story first and for free before it goes up on Amazon for sale.)

In the meantime, when you’ve finished reading Honor from Ashes, I’d appreciate it if you would leave a review. Oh, and spread the word to your friends that the book is now available.

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

Amazon tribulations — Day 3. Are they over?

I wish I knew. I am exhausted, frustrated and more than a bit angry over this whole process. You know me. I have been one of Amazon’s biggest supporters, especially when it comes to indie authors. But this week has sorely tested that position. In case you have missed the trials and tribulations, you can catch up here and here.

But here is the short version. On April 9th, I uploaded the final file for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). I did my usual checks of my file before uploading it as well as checking the preview file. I missed one thing — I had inadvertently left the ASIN for Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2) on the copyright page. Whether that is what started the saga of woe or something else, I don’t know and doubt I will ever find out. Amazon says I uploaded the wrong file. My records say I didn’t. But the ultimate result is that everyone who pre-ordered the book wound up getting Duty instead of Honor. I received notice from Amazon of the problem and that they had removed the book from sale bright and early Monday morning. Within half an hour of seeing the email — and half an hour or receiving it — I uploaded a new file, once I knew had the right data and content. It then took somewhere between 18 – 24 hours for the new file to become available. Except it wasn’t, not for those who had pre-ordered it. They had to call or email Amazon and ask them to push the new version through for them.

What really concerns me comes down to two simple things: the first is the inability to get any solid answer out of KDP tech support about why the snafu happened in the first place and why the product page kept switching between having the book available for purchase yesterday and then saying the book was not available. The second is the fact that you simply cannot talk to a tech support person after 9pm CST. Related to these two is the fact that this snafu has resulted in more returns than any book I’ve written to date as well as a handful of one-star reviews complaining about getting the wrong book. Both of which impact my bottom line, my author ranking and my ability to use certain marketing venues for the book.

Today, Amazon is supposed to call me back. I hope they do but I am not holding my breath. If the call doesn’t come in during the time frame I was given, I won’t hesitate to call them and to escalate to the next level up.

In the meantime, at least for the moment, the product page does appear to be working  If you have tried downloading the book earlier and ran into problem, please try again. If you have downloaded the book and discovered it was actually Duty, please go to the support page and ask Amazon to call you. Explain that you have the previous version and ask them to push through the new version. If you continue having problems, please let me know.

With all this going on, I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make this right to those of you who have been impacted by all this. What I think I’m going to do is write a new story — whether a short story or novella — in the Honor and Duty universe. I will figure out how to get it to those who have weathered this storm with me so you get a copy before it goes on sale. More on that as the plan details are firmed up.

Finally, if you have read Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3), I’d appreciate it if you would leave a review. Thanks!

A Cautionary Tale Follow-up

I have now basically lost two days of work because of the problems surrounding the publication of Honor from Ashes. I went through some of them this morning and was hopeful that things were going to get better. For a while, they did. However, over the course of the day, I have been in contact with Amazon, specifically with KDP, three times by phone, multiple times by e-mail, and the problem continues.

Here is the latest:

  • If you pre-ordered Honor from Ashes, you have to call Amazon to get the correct version of the book downloaded to your app or your reader. I have requested they push through the new download but it doesn’t appear that they have been doing so.
  • If you want to buy the book and you go to the product page, you may or may not get a notice that the book is not currently for sale and that the publisher has been contacted. Big wrong there. My last notification that there was a problem with the book occurred yesterday (April 18th at 0725 hrs). All other notices from Amazon since then have been emails in response to me contacting them.
  • I have been in contact with Amazon in the last half hour, only to learn that KDP tech support does not — apparently — work at night. So nothing can be done to correct a technical problem until tomorrow. So sorry, go to bed, silly author, and we will do something — maybe — to help you tomorrow.

In the meantime, this is costing me sales, author rankings and is frustrating to not only me but to everyone who has been trying to buy the book. I apologize and wish there was more I could do.

Right now, I am furious. If there was an alternative to Amazon that gave me the exposure and customer base Bezos and company does, I would go with it. I know, intellectually, this will be corrected. But the damage to this book will have been done and somehow I doubt Amazon will make any attempt to recompense me for my financial loss.

All I can do right now is ask you to bear with me and keep checking back. I will update here, in the comments at Mad Genius Club and on Facebook as things change.

To give an example of why this is so frustrating, in the time it has taken me to type up this short post, you can once again buy the book on Amazon, although the “under review” notice is still in place.

I pray for patience and hope this can be worked out tomorrow.

A Cautionary Tale

(Reposted from Mad Genius Club.)

Update at the bottom of the post.

Yesterday probably had to be the worst day in my life as an indie author. Release days are always nerve-wracking. Will people buy your book? Will they like your book? Or will they say your baby is ugly and laugh like mean girls? All of that paled into nothingness when I woke to find an email from Amazon telling me they had pulled Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) and it would not be on sale until I fixed the issue(s) reported by customers.

Gulp! The book had only been out for hours when the email had been sent. What was wrong?

I scoured the email for an explanation and the only thing it told me was “Metadata & cover image are of “Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)”, but the ASIN contains “Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2).”

What?

So, at 0730 I was trying to figure out how in the hell I had managed to upload the wrong file — except nothing I found showed that I had. The only possible explanation I could find was that I had forgotten to do one thing when I copied the legal page from Duty from Ashes to the Honor from Ashes file was change the AISN. The rest of the text was correct — in my upload file but not in the file that was being sent to those kind folks who had pre-ordered my book.

So, I did what any reasonable author would do in that situation: I panicked. I cursed. I even cried a little. But then I pulled up the base file, changed the AISN and re-uploaded it to my account. I also sent an email to Amazon at 0806 to let them know I had done as they asked. Then I blogged over at Nocturnal Lives to let folks know what was going on.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited some more.

And still Honor from Ashes was removed from sale. At one point, you could hit the buy or read for free buttons but you would get an error message. Then the dreaded “this item is under review” language hit the product page.

And the returns continued.

At 1022, I sent another email to KDP to find out what was going on. As with the earlier message, there was silence. Around noon, I went to my dashboard for KDP and sent a message to the help desk, asking for an update, noting that I was losing money and all I could do was tell those who were hitting my boards on Amazon that I had done what had been asked of me but was as much in the dark right now as were they.

I spent the day, gritting my teeth, unable to work, as I watched the returns continue. Fortunately, those who checked the boards, saw what was happening and they, in turn, took to the two one-star reviews to explain what was going on. But the damage has been done. There are now reviews for Honor from Ashes, claiming it is nothing more than a reprint of Duty from Ashes under a different title. Any new readers who might consider buying the book may be run off because of that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I did finally hear from Amazon at 2238 hrs last night, almost 20 hours after their initial email to me. Again, they alleged I uploaded the wrong file — but did not include the file so I could check it myself. Okay, I can live with that. I don’t like it, but I can live with it. However, there was nothing said about how long it would be until the book was once more available for purchase. (Note, too, that after I uploaded the new file a little after 0800, I received an email from them saying it was “live” at 1242 hrs. It showed on my dashboard as being live. The preview of the book on the product page showed the new file almost instantly. And yet it was still not available for purchase.)

I asked again, how long. So far, I have had no response.

I kept busy on the Amazon boards that deal with the book, answering questions, assuring readers that I had done everything I could and it was in Amazon’s hands. Their frustration over the delay matched my own — and I will be in contact with them when I figure out how to thank them for their patience.

Sleep was fitful last night as a result. Would I wake up this morning to find the book still unavailable? Even if it was finally available, how deep would the damage be? Returns had been taking place all day. Negative reviews were coming in. How would all that impact the first “day”/week sales?

So, when I finally rolled out of bed this morning, I very hesitantly checked email. Sigh. Nothing from Amazon. So I went to the product page, fully expecting to find it still reflecting the fact it was “under review”. Fortunately, it is now “live”. You can buy it or borrow it under the Kindle Unlimited program. Unfortunately, there are now two 1-star reviews. The only saving grace is the 4-star review (leaving an average of 2-stars — GULP!) and comments from those who had been following the boards to the reviewers that they needed to wait until Amazon made the correct file available. I thank each and every one of those fans who responded to those reviews. I hope those reviewers go back and edit their reviews but I’m afraid the damage has been done.

This entire affair has shown the one real fault in the KDP program, whether you are in KDP or KDP select/Unlimited. There is no way to pick up the phone and call them when you first see a problem. You are limited to e-mail. Sure, if the emails go on long enough, they may call you but that doesn’t help in situations like the one I faced where time is of the essence. It has left a sour taste in my mouth, as well as in the mouths of my fans.

Does this mean I will look for an alternative to KDP? No. It is the big dog in the game and moving away from it would be more than counter-productive. It does mean I will be even more careful about my uploads. It means I will continue trying to find out exactly what happened and how to avoid it in the future. Most of all, it means I need to those who read the book and enjoyed it to post positive reviews to counter the negative ones.

In the meantime, I will edit the product description to note that the previous download problems have been corrected. Hopefully, after a week, that will stem the damage that has already occurred. I don’t know.

All I can say is “damn it” and censor myself from saying anything else.

In the meantime, here is the link to the NOW live product page:

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

UPDATE: If you downloaded the book as a result of pre-ordering it, please confirm that you have the corrected version. It appears that some people have not automatically received it. Check your settings (Manage My Devices and Content/Settings) to see if you have automatic updates turned on. If not, you may need to delete the file from your device — NOT your account — and re-download. If that doesn’t work, contact Amazon and let me know. Amazon should respond quickly and get you the correct file. If not, I need to know. Thanks!

Blogging drought is over

It is somehow appropriate that on a morning when rain is falling — and threatening to continue to fall until several inches accumulate — I am finally able to sit down and blog again. It never fails that as soon as I promise myself and those who read this blog that it looks like life is cooperating and the blog will continue on a daily — or almost daily — basis, roadblocks suddenly appear. Well, I’ve cleared them, for the moment at least, and here I am. Back again.

So, what’s kept me so busy that the blog went silent for most of the last few weeks? Nothing earth-shattering. The simple truth is that I’ve simply been busy. The first was to get the final edits done and input for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). It was more challenging than usual because I was trying out a new editor and it took some time to get on the same page.

The second was the usual pre-April 15th idiocy we all have to go through. Income tax prep and filing. Ick. Bah. Poo. As any of you who have followed me here or on Mad Genius Club over the years know, numbers are not my friends. Fortunately, I have a great accountant. Unfortunately, I have to get organized before going to him. Which means, I tend to procrastinate until almost too late.

There were other issues as well, but they have been dealt with. So, blogging resumes.

Which brings up the question of what to blog about today. That’s easy. Buy my book(s)! Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) comes out this week. It is available for pre-order right now.

For those who have been waiting for Dagger of Elanna, the sequel to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), it is in the works. Once I was able to sit down and get started on it, the words started flowing. Well, to be honest, I had my usual “I hate first chapters” moment for a day or two. It wasn’t that the beginning chapter was bad. It wasn’t even that I realized I was starting the book in the wrong place — something a lot of us have done at least once. That’s what rough drafts are for. It was more the shifting of mental gears from one book to the next, one genre to another. Once my brain made that transition, it’s been more of a problem to stop the words than it is to sit down and write.

That can be a problem, that sense of not being able to stop the words. I found myself facing it yesterday and had to force the muse to sit back and let me have a day. I am very glad I did, even if I lost a day writing. Instead of sitting at my desk working, I went into Dallas — well, one of the suburbs — and saw the very excellent one-man play “Wiesenthal”. It was written and stars Tom Dugan and takes place on the last day Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter, spent in his office before retiring. Dugan is excellent in the role and is a master in drawing in the audience.

While the play does deal with Wiesenthal the Nazi hunter, it is more about Wiesenthal the man. He is full of humor but also recognizes that the drive that impelled him for much of his life to track down those responsible for the deaths of so many wasn’t always what was best for his family. It is also a play about not so much forgiveness but the understanding that we all have a choice to make, it might not always be an easy choice or a popular one but that choice, in the end, defines our humanity.

I came away from it with a lot to think about — and, yes, the writer part of my brain has been processing it to decide how I can use the play< and the thoughts it evoked, in some future work.

Afterwards, there was a great early dinner at Jasper’s, one of Kent Rathburn’s restaurants. Great food, prices that still blow me away — for their reasonableness — and awesome service. It was all topped off with “Jasper’s House Coffee” that has no coffee in it but lots of good other stuff: Bailey’s Irish Creme, Amaretto, Kahlua, Frangelico and whipped cream.

Then, to close out a wonderful day, I came home to find a proposed cover for Skeletons in the Closet. The very awesome Sarah A. Hoyt did the cover and it is almost exactly like what I had in mind. I’ll be honest, I’d come close to despairing finding anything to fit because the book is so different from anything else I’ve written. This cover, in my opinion, rocks. There might be a few minor tweaks between now and when Skeletons goes live but they will be minor.

skeletonsinthecloset

 

You can find snippet one here , snippet two here, snippet three here, snippet four here and snippet five here.

So, I’m back. I’m writing and I’m blogging.

For those who haven’t had a chance to read the first two books in the Honor and Duty (3 Book Series), click the link. Thanks!

One month to go

In one month, Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) will go live. I am almost done with the final edits. This book has been a blast to write. While it doesn’t finish the story arc started in Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) and continued in Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2), the end is near. One more book and this particular arc will be done. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be returning to the universe. I already have an idea of a new story arc for a future series.

To kick off the final month before Honor comes out, I thought I would revisit the first two books. Today’s snippet will be from Vengeance.

*     *     *

“Prisoner Four One Niner Baker One-A, prepare for transfer,” a disembodied voice said from the overhead speaker.

Lips pulled back, teeth bared in an animalistic sneer, the prisoner sat up and swung her legs over the side of her bunk. As she stood, she turned away from the cell door. Her hands automatically went behind her head, fingers lacing. Almost without thought, she sank to her knees, legs spread, ankles crossed. Then, realizing what she had done, she cursed silently, hating herself and those responsible for bringing her to this state.

Two years. Two very long years in Hell had taught her how to act. Her body responded automatically to the commands barked at her. Only when she allowed her mind to surface, to let herself fully experience what was going on around her, did she hesitate. But not this time. There was no reason to disobey, no threat yet to meet.

Those years may have taught her all too painfully how to act, but they hadn’t broken her. Not yet at any rate. Still they had come close. Two years cut off from those she cared for, from almost all human contact. Stripped of even the most basic of human rights and dignity, she knew she was little more than an animal to break and tame to those in charge. She knew it just as she knew she could do nothing about it.

Just as she knew she’d been betrayed by the government she’d served and had been ready to die for.

What she didn’t know was why. Why had she been betrayed? Worse, why had those who’d served loyally at her side been targeted?

The soft swoosh of the heavily armored door sliding open broke the silence a few moments later. With her back to the door, she couldn’t see who entered, not that she wanted to. One of the first lessons she’d learned after arriving at the Tarsus military penal colony was not to look. That had been a very painful lesson, one that had landed her in the prison’s infirmary for several days. It was also a mistake she’d never repeated.

That had been one of many lessons she’d been forced to endure since arriving there. With the commandant’s tacit – hell, as far as she knew it was his overt – approval, the guards could be as sadistic as they wanted. Correction for even the most insignificant infraction might take the form of a rifle butt to the ribs or kidney, and that was if she was lucky. If not, the beating that followed would leave her hurting so badly she could barely move. Even then, the guards wouldn’t send her to the infirmary. After all, it was so much more fun to watch her suffer, reminding her that she alone was responsible for what had happened.

Fortunately, she’d heard the horror stories before arriving at the penal colony. Even though she hadn’t been ready to believe them, they had helped prepare her for what she’d face. Even so, it had been a shock the first time one of the guards beat her down for asking what would have been a simple question on the outside. That had been enough to convince her that the best course of action was to remain silent unless it was imperative that she speak. That wasn’t to say there hadn’t been times when circumstances forced her to break that rule and she bore the scars to prove it. All she wanted now was to live through her prison term. Survival was the first goal. Vengeance would come later. Not for her, but for those who’d followed her despite her protests and who had paid the ultimate price as a result.

She swallowed hard, forcing her mind away from past horrors, as boots clomped across the small cell in her direction. A rough hand grabbed her right arm, twisting it painfully behind her back. She flinched as a security cuff was locked tightly around that wrist. Her breath hissed out as the process was repeated with her left arm. Moments later, similar restraints were fastened about her ankles. Then a gloved hand closed around her left arm and jerked her to her feet.

Guard Captain Gavin Haritos spun her to face him, grinning sadistically. His fist caught her with a vicious backhand. With a sharp cry of pain, she staggered back. The short chain connecting her ankles tripped her. Only the man’s quick grab at the front of her jumpsuit kept her from falling. He pulled her forward and, with the ease of much practice, draped a heavy hood over her head before she could react.

Haritos’ cruel grip on her arm kept her on her feet as he hauled her out of her cell and down the long corridor. Blood pounded in her ears, almost deafening her. Fear and hatred raced through her, sparking every fiber of her survival instincts. She knew this was going to be bad, very bad. It always was when the guard captain came for her. But she could do nothing to stop him, at least not yet.

“This is your lucky day, bitch.” Haritos shoved her into one of the three lifts at the end of the corridor and she heard him slam his fist against the control panel. A moment later, the lift gave a slight lurch and she felt the car start downward. “You’re being transferred, Shaw. But don’t get your hopes up that it means the rules no longer apply because they do. If you’re smart, you’ll remember those poor bastards sentenced here with you. Everything you say and do from now on impacts them.”

A soft moan escaped her lips before she could stop it and fear raced like an open current through her. No matter how many times she’d been in this position before, she couldn’t help it. A transfer could mean almost anything, none of it good. Not as long as the survivors of her unit were still on Tarsus.

To her surprise, Haritos said nothing more. That was unusual for him. Whenever he’d come for her before, he’d taken perverse pleasure in detailing what horrors awaited her. The fact he’d gone silent worried her. Could he finally be leading her to her death, despite the fact her sentence was for only five years?

Dear God, what was happening?

Haritos remained silent as he forced her off the lift. Doors opened and then closed behind them. She didn’t know how to react when, for the first time in months, she felt the sun beating down on her. They were outside. Where were they going?

It didn’t take long to find out. Haritos led her up a ramp. The hood obscured her sight, but she could hear the muffled sounds of a crew working to prepare a shuttle, maybe even a courier ship, for launch. Haritos pulled her to a halt and told her to stand still. Then he released his hold on her arm and she sensed that he had moved a short distance away. There were soft voices. Straining to hear, she only caught a few words. Transfer. . . prisoner. . . dangerous. . . .

Dear God, was she actually being transferred out of the Tarsus penal colony?

Hope flared only to die as quickly as it had been born. She had a feeling she was the only prisoner in the staging area. That meant her people, those few who had survived the ambush only to be betrayed by those who should have stood for them, were being left behind. Was that what Haritos meant when he told her to remember them?

No!

Before she could do anything – not that there was much she could do, bound and hooded as she was – Haritos was once more at her side. She stumbled forward as he grabbed her and led her further up the ramp. With one last warning not to do anything foolish, he turned her over to someone else. Flanked on both sides by unseen guards, she was led into another lift. A few minutes later, her restraints were removed and then her hood and she found herself standing in the center of a small cell. She didn’t need to hear the announcement for all hands to prepare for departure to know she was on a ship. But a ship to where?

And what about those who’d been sent to the penal colony with her? Where were they?

Now, almost a week later, she stood in yet another cell, this one planetside, and fear warred with anger. She’d overheard enough from the guards on the transport to know her fears were true – the others had been left behind on the penal colony.

That’s when an anger so great it overrode the fear of the unknown had flowed through her. For the first time in two years, she’d been separated from the survivors of her unit, those poor, brave souls who had fallowed her into hell and back only to find themselves brought up on charges right along with her. It didn’t matter that the commandant of the penal colony hadn’t let her see her people. She’d managed to get word of them from time to time and that had been enough to let her know they were all right – or at least as all right as anyone could be after being sentenced to the Tarsus penal colony.

It really was amazing how the prison grapevine managed to keep tabs on everyone and pass along information. It might be inconsistent, but it was there and it had been all that kept her sane. She’d never thought herself a social animal, but two years of rarely seeing anyone but her jailers had been almost more than she could handle. Thank God for the grapevine and the bits of information it brought her.

During transport from the penal colony, no one had told her anything. She’d been held in the transport ship’s brig. A guard brought her food and drink at regular intervals but he never said anything that wasn’t necessary. He certainly hadn’t volunteered any information. Still, she’d managed to work out that she was alone in the brig by the way his steps never stopped before he appeared at her cell door and she never heard anyone else trying to make contact.

She had just noticed the slightest change in the rhythm of the ship’s engines, indicating it had assumed orbit somewhere, when another guard arrived with a change of clothes for her. She’d looked at the plain black jumpsuit with suspicious eyes. Nothing about it marked her as a prisoner. It could have been something worn by any worker on the docks or in a warehouse. That should have reassured her but for one thing. There was nothing about the guard’s manner to indicate she was about to be freed. In that moment, she’d come the closest to breaking her rule of “never ask a question you don’t know the answer to” than she had been since her first few days on Tarsus.

Half an hour later, she’d been seated on a shuttle. The guards had secured her hands behind her back before locking her safety harness in place but they hadn’t hooded her. They obviously weren’t worried about her recognizing where she was. Of course, the only way she could do that was if she could actually see something of the lay of the land. So she’d craned her neck in an effort to see into the shuttle’s cockpit. One corner of her mouth lifted ever so slightly at the sight of the high rises ahead of them. Her heart beat a bit faster as she recognized the skyline of Fuercon’s capital city. New Kilrain. She was home. But why?

Now, after being processed into the same military brig where she’d been held during her trial, she still didn’t know why she’d been brought back home. It couldn’t be good. They may have taken away her prison issued jumpsuit, but she’d still been brought there shackled and had been processed into the brig as quickly as humanly possible. It had almost been as if FleetCom was afraid word of her return might leak out. But why?

Damn it, what was going on?

Of course, there’d been no explanation. Nor had she asked for one. It would be a long time before she forgot that lesson. Too much talking, too much curiosity was a bad thing that almost always resulted in painful punishment. She might not be on Tarsus any longer but that didn’t mean things would be any different here. After all, who policed the jailers? No one, at least not on Tarsus and she wasn’t willing to risk it now that she was home.

Freed of her restraints and alone, she looked around. One cell was pretty much like any other. Across from the door was a narrow bunk. Hygiene facilities were at the foot of the bunk. Almost exactly like her cell back on Tarsus. Nothing she could use to escape and nothing she could use to kill herself, not that she planned on taking that route out. At least not anymore. No, there were others who needed to die before she did.

“Prisoner is secured,” the guard who’d brought her to the cell radioed as he stepped back.

Ashlyn Shaw, former Marine captain, didn’t move. Instead, she stood in the center of the small cell, her brown eyes focused on some point beyond the guard, her hands behind her back even though the restraints had been removed. As the security field across the cell door activated, she gave no sign of realizing it even though the faint, high pitched hum was something she’d learned to listen for over the last two years. That sound, like a distant bunch of angry bees, meant she’d fry her nervous system long before pushing through the field. Freedom might look close, but she’d be dead – or worse – before she actually found it.

At least the guard didn’t close the physical door. For the first time in what had to be months, she could look beyond the confines of her cell. It might not be the same cell she’d occupied since her conviction. Hell, this wasn’t even the same planet. That didn’t matter. All that did was the fact that the open cell door gave her at least some semblance of not being completely cut off from all other life on the planet.

As the guard disappeared from sight, Ashlyn remained where she was, motionless except for the rise and fall of her chest and the slow blinking of her eyes. She listened, counting his footsteps as they slowly faded away. When she’d been escorted to the cell, she had focused on what was directly in front of her. She had not wanted to give the guards on duty the satisfaction of seeing her look around in curiosity. Now, with only silence filling the air, she allowed herself to relax a just a little.

Once convinced the guard was gone, she moved to the door, careful not to get too close to the security field. Looking to her left, she couldn’t tell how far away he might be. All she knew for certain was that her cell was located at the end of the corridor, the door situated so she couldn’t see much beyond the far edge of the cell. So there might be any number of other prisoners close by but, for all intents and purposes, she was alone – again.

That was fine. Alone meant fewer chances for anyone to figure out what she planned. But it also meant she had to keep up appearances. She couldn’t let them guess what she had in mind. So she lay on her bunk, her back to the doorway. She wouldn’t let those she knew were watching over security monitors see her curiosity or her concern.

This was as close to home as she was likely to get in a very long while. If the opportunity to escape presented itself, she’d take it and be damned with waiting on the military courts to finally get it right. Once free, she’d deal those who’d betrayed her and then she’d find a way to free those who had been sent to the penal colony with her. After that, she really didn’t give a damn about what happened.

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