Nocturnal Lives

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

Tag: The Passive Voice

A quick note

Thanks to everyone for their support of Taking Flight (Honor and Duty) and Battle Bound (Honor and Duty). I promise to get Battle Wounds, the third short story in this particular story arc in the Honor and Duty universe out in the next month to six week. I am going to take a bit of time away from the short stories, however, in order to finish up Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods, Book 2) and star the final edits on Victory from Ashes (Honor and Duty, Book 4).

When I started Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1), I never expected it to morph into a series. At least not like it has. Nor did I expect to write any short stories in the universe. But Ashlyn Shaw and company have become some of my favorites and it will be difficult to say goodbye to them when the times comes. When that will be, I’m not sure. The current plan is to finish the Honor and Duty story arc with the next book. However, I have a feeling that is most definitely not the end of Ash’s story. Plus there are other characters in the universe who want their own stories told. So, I have a feeling I won’t be leaving Fuercon or the Devil Dogs any time soon and I’m happy with that.

As I’ve noted before, I have the very rough outline done for Dagger of Elanna. One of the things that has been holding me up has been finding the voice for one of the new characters who is being introduced in this book, one who will wind up playing a major role in the series before everything is said and done. I finally found that voice yesterday. That’s one of the main reasons I want to get back into Dagger. I don’t want to lose the voice.

After Dagger, I’ll finish up Victory and start the next Mac Santos book. Somewhere in there as well will be another book along the lines of Slay Bells Ring. Whether it will follow someone from that book or not, I’m not sure — and, yes, Pat. I know you want more from those characters. But I have a plot already playing around in the back of my mind.

So I guess I’d best get back to work. In the meantime, if you haven’t seen this post from The Passive Voice, go check it out. Pay particular attention to what PG has to say about the Shatzkin article. I think PG is right on the money. Statzkin purpetuates the mindset of many in traditional publishing and, in doing so, ignores so many of the challenges the industry faces. It is time for those in their ivory towers of publishing to pull their heads out of the sand. They need to listen and pay attention to what readers and writers are saying. Until they do, and until they change their business plans, traditional publishing will continue to struggle.

Now, for the blatant self-promo. If you haven’t checked outHonor and Duty (3 Book Series), why not give it a try?




Take a look

The other day, I wrote “Bad, Indie Writer, Bad”, taking on the opinion that indie authors are “spamming” Amazon and “polluting” it and other stores with what is basically dreck. The premise was that BookScan shows traditional publishing is doing much better than it had and that just proves indie publishing is eventually, and sooner rather than later, going to fall by the wayside. Well, the counterpoint to that — and proof that the BookScan numbers do not show the whole picture — comes with the latest Author Earnings Report. Take a look and judge for yourself. Check out what The Passive Voice has to say about it as well. I happen to agree when he says:

PG says this Author Earnings report is devastating for traditional publishers, large and small.

Why would any talented new author who is not entirely innumerate choose to begin a career with a traditional publisher? The odds against catching the attention the gatekeepers are already very long. To that problem, we now add the even longer odds of making any real money as a traditionally-published author.

There is more and all spot on, in my opinion.

I’ll be back to go into detail about the Author Earnings Report but I’ve an appointment this morning. Until later.

Amazon finally speaks out

I’ll be back later today with more on this. But, in case you missed it, Amazon has finally spoken out about their stance in the contract negotiations with Hatchette. They even use math –which hurts my brain this early in the morning. What strikes me though, as I read the announcement, is that Amazon is the one looking out not only for its customers but also for the authors. Or at least it’s trying to — and remember, it is Amazon that has offered at least twice to establish funds to help the authors being impacted by the conflict between it and Hatchette and it was Hatchette to refuse both times. Any way, here’s Amazon’s statement:

With this update, we’re providing specific information about Amazon’s objectives.

A key objective is lower e-book prices. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out-of-stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market — e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can be and should be less expensive.

It’s also important to understand that e-books are highly price-elastic. This means that when the price goes up, customers buy much less. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000.

The important thing to note here is that at the lower price, total revenue increases 16%. This is good for all the parties involved:

* The customer is paying 33% less.

* The author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. And that 74% increase in copies sold makes it much more likely that the title will make it onto the national bestseller lists. (Any author who’s trying to get on one of the national bestseller lists should insist to their publisher that their e-book be priced at $9.99 or lower.)

* Likewise, the higher total revenue generated at $9.99 is also good for the publisher and the retailer. At $9.99, even though the customer is paying less, the total pie is bigger and there is more to share amongst the parties.

Keep in mind that books don’t just compete against books. Books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

So, at $9.99, the total pie is bigger – how does Amazon propose to share that revenue pie? We believe 35% should go to the author, 35% to the publisher and 30% to Amazon. Is 30% reasonable? Yes. In fact, the 30% share of total revenue is what Hachette forced us to take in 2010 when they illegally colluded with their competitors to raise e-book prices. We had no problem with the 30% — we did have a big problem with the price increases.

Is it Amazon’s position that all e-books should be $9.99 or less? No, we accept that there will be legitimate reasons for a small number of specialized titles to be above $9.99.

One more note on our proposal for how the total revenue should be shared. While we believe 35% should go to the author and 35% to Hachette, the way this would actually work is that we would send 70% of the total revenue to Hachette, and they would decide how much to share with the author. We believe Hachette is sharing too small a portion with the author today, but ultimately that is not our call.

We hope this information on our objectives is helpful. 

Thank you,

The Amazon Books Team

You can see a bit more about this here (scroll down some to get beyond the Amazon announcement) and over at The Passive Voice. Read the comments. There are some interesting thoughts there, especially about what should go into the evaluation of an author’s input into the manuscript. Should you take into account the time to research, etc?

So, what do you guys think, both about the Amazon/Hatchette issue, Amazon’s comments and what should be considered in pricing a book?

Should you abandon the Smashwords ship?

One of the things I’m constantly advocating to my writer’s group, and basically to anyone who wants to write and who will stop and listen for a few moments, is the need to keep on top of what is happening in the publishing industry. The best way to do this is to keep an eye on publishing related blogs and sites such as Publisher’s Weekly. I also tell folks that, just like with the news, you have to read both sides of the story and then try to glean the truth from the facts you find. Maybe that’s the blood of all the journalists in my family tree and that runs through my veins but I’ve always believed in double and triple checking your facts before making an informed decision. That’s not always possible but you have to try.

One of the blogs I regularly turn to is The Passive Voice. I like the site for several reasons. The first is that Passive Guy, the owner of the blog, does a great job of pulling together posts and news articles about the industry that are of interest. More importantly, in some ways, PG is not only an author himself but he is also an IP attorney, iirc. So when he talks contracts, I tend to pay close attention.

Two of his recent posts caught my eye for different reasons. The first is a link to M. C. A. Hogarth’s post about why she is leaving Smashwords and closing down her page there. The second is about the impact of the new Kindle Unlimited program on the best sellers list — I’ll be discussing that one in a separate post.

(If Hogarth’s name is familiar, it might be because she is the one who had to fight for the right to use the term “space marine” in her work. The short version is that Games Workshop last year told Amazon that she had infringed on their copy right by using the term in her work. She hadn’t. GW had trademarked the term in relation to games only. You can read more about it here and here.)

Those of you who have read my posts here or over at Mad Genius Club know I have little love for Smashwords. Years ago, when there were few places for self-published authors to sell their work — and when self-published authors were viewed with a great deal more disdain than they are today — Smashwords was a pioneer. It gave us a place to not only sell our books in a number of different formats but it also gave us access to stores we wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Smashwords developed their meatgrinder which allowed you to upload a DOC file and they’d convert it to all the required formats. And all was happy with the world.

Until Amazon brought out its KDP program, followed by B&N’s PubIt and then others.

Their programs evolved while Smashwords’ didn’t — and, btw, I hate the meatgrinder.

So, seeing that Hogarth had decided to leave Smashwords, I read with interest her reasons why. Her answer, in brief, boiled down to this:  The answer, in brief: I hate the Smashwords interface. I hate that they are fussy about uploaded documents and have mysterious/inexplicable delays shipping my work to retailers. I hate their quarterly payment schedule. I despise their customer service. Or lack of thereof. And I dislike that they have this quasi-retailer face.

To which I say, YES!

Everything she says as she describes her reasons in further detail, I’ve experienced. Add in the fact that Smashwords pays quarterly — which means you may be paid for books sold six months ago depending on when the retail outlet paid Smashwords — and a spreadsheet that drives accountants to drink and, well, it isn’t fun to work with. Then there was the book I oploaded and, when I started checking the various versions, realized that the conversion process had somehow turn the text in over half of the book into small caps. Small caps! Nowhere in the document I’d uploaded had there been small caps. Yet the meatgrinder managed to insert them. It took weeks and multiple uploads of new files to get that fixed.

Frankly, Smashwords just isn’t worth the time and aggravation. At least not for me. I will admit, I put Vengeance from Ashes up on it when the novel first came out. But I uploaded an ePub file and did not use Smashwords as distributor to any other stores. The book is not avvailable through them right now because I’ve opted to take it into the Kindle Unlimited program and, in the week or so KU has been available, I’ve had more downloads through that program than I had sales the two months previously on SW. Assuming the KU program pays about the same as the old KOLL program, I will have made more money through the loans than I did through the SW sales.

At the end of the KU period, I may take VfA back to active status on Smashwords. I will take it active again on Draft2Digital to get into Apple, B&N and Kobo.

What about you? What are your thoughts about why Hogarth — and others like her — are moving away from Smashwords?

Yet another example. . .

of dainty feelings being hurt happened over at The Passive Voice the other day. (H/T to Tom Simon for getting me the cite.) Excerpted there was part of a post by Joe Konrath on “Identity and the Writer”. The passage from the post that seemed to get the most traction of Passive Voice is this:

Years ago, Barry Eisler used the word legacy to describe traditional publishers. This word is apt because publishing fits the definition of a legacy system. Since Barry began using this, it has fallen into the common vernacular, but only in the shadow industry of self-publishing, used by self-published authors. Legacy publishers don’t like to be thought of as “previous” or “outdated”, even though they indeed are by any definition, so they reject the term because it conflicts with their personal identities. They believe they are relevant, forward-thinking, guardians of culture. They are wrong, but their identities are so entangled in these labels it may prevent them from doing things that could improve their bottom line, like treating authors better, innovating, and using new technology to reach more readers.

Needless to say, I pretty much agree with everything Konrath says. Yes, the terms “legacy publishing” and “legacy publishers” have come into common usage. I’ve used both terms plenty of times both here and over at Mad Genius Club. I tend to make one distinction when using the term — I don’t include Baen among the publishers “legacy” refers to. I don’t because Baen, first under the leadership of Jim Baen and now under the leadership of Toni Weisskopf, has always been forward thinking, innovative and uses new technology to reach more readers.

What I hadn’t expected to see were folks taking up for legacy publishers, saying things like “you can hardly blame them that they don’t like being referred to as “legacy.” Just as self-published writers don’t like to think of themselves as vanity presses.” What gets me with this comment is the misconception the commenter has about just what self-published authors are and what vanity presses are.

So, some basic terminology here. A vanity press is something where you pay money for someone else to publish your book. Sometimes you are paying for “editing” and “cover design”, etc. In fact, the more work you want them to do on your book, the more you pay. Vanity presses became a dirty word in publishing long before the self-publishing revolution because it was a scam. It required authors to pay huge sums of money upfront and then they were shipped boxes and boxes of books that they then had to sell. There was no attempt to place the books in stores for the author.

That is very different from self-publishing where an author either puts their own work up for sale as e-books on sites such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Yes, the author may pay someone for cover design or editorial services, but they are still the final say in the product that goes out into the market. For print copies of their books, an author can use services like Createspace or Lulu or similar services. And, again, their books get listed in catalogs and sales are made in stores. You don’t have to hand sell everything and you aren’t out thousands of dollars with no hope of ever seeing your money again.

So what are legacy publishers? They are the big five publishers — it used to be six but we now have Random Penguin. These are the publishers who scream and cry foul because Amazon has changed the marketplace. These are the publishers that refused to embrace the e-book revolution until it was almost too late. They are the same publishers who believe their customers, their readers, are criminals and so they load their e-books with DRM (yes, there are a few exceptions but a very few).

These are the same publishers who, in this day and age of instant communication and RFID tracking and technology have convinced their authors that there is no way to do an actual sales accounting for the purposes of figuring royalty payments. Instead, they use the arcane calculations based on BookScan numbers which don’t track sales from every outlet. Oh, to further screw the author, the publishers pay for the right to use BookScan and believe me, they pass that cost on to their authors.

These are the same publishers who continue to use an advance and royalty system that screws most of their authors big time. Oh, getting an advance would be nice. At least until you realize that you will probably never see another dime from your book. The system is built so that authors get the least amount of return for their work. There was a time when publishers needed to print thousands of books at a time and those books were housed in warehouses, shipped by truck and train, etc. But, with today’s technology, the realities of print runs have changed — or they should have if publishers and their distributors were really embracing what technology can do to help cut their costs.

These are the same publishers who talk about their authors being interchangeable widgets or cogs. Who have so blithely cut out much of their mid-list, the authors they could count on for selling X-number of books each time. You know, the guaranteed sales. Instead, legacy publishers keep searching for the next big thing and, as a result, give us dozens of watered down titles for each “best seller” they have.

Yet, despite all that, we aren’t supposed to call them “legacy” anything. According to another commenter on The Passive Voice, while the term may be correct, it is pejorative. It’s negative connotations make the poor publishers defensive. By using the term, we won’t be able to engage these publishers in a positive discussion. It is time, this person contends, that we stop “around and tried having a grown up debate about getting books to readers, whatever the path, instead of resulting to name calling.”

Of if it were only that easy. The problem with this where publishing is concerned is that legacy publishers aren’t willing to have a “grown up debate”. They continue to insult the intelligence of their authors and readers when they say their way is the only way to become a “real” author or to get a “real” book. Just look up some of the comments from the leadership of the different legacy publishers to see just how little respect they have for the rest of us, especially when it comes to e-books.

Do I like labels? On the whole, no. But in a world where publishing is changing, the old guard needs to be identified. Is it meant to be pejorative? No. It is an identifier. And getting your panties in a twist over calling a publisher a legacy publisher is like getting them in wad over calling someone an author instead of a writer. Besides, as another commenter pointed out, “legacy”, as used in this particular manner, is not something new. It’s been used in the computer field for years. And, before someone pipes up, I know publishing isn’t the computer field. But that doesn’t make the use of the term any less appropriate.

As I said yesterday, grow up and stop with the knee jerk reactions. Think again about what the whole post had to say and, for the love of Pete, know what terms mean before you use them in analogies.

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