An Indie Alternative to Amazon? 

The past few years have been rocky for Chris Doeblin, owner and cofounder of Book Culture, four beloved independent bookstores in New York City. “Before Amazon we had a viable company. I made a decent living in New York City. We bought an apartment,” he says. “Twenty-five years later I’m on the verge of bankruptcy. Our stores can go out of business any minute.”

Source: An Indie Alternative to Amazon? | Poets & Writers

The website is already up, perhaps as a teaser or a priming-the-pump-before-launch kind of thing at https://comingsoon.bookshop.org/signup

I hope these folks can make their plan work because Amazon, while it has provided a service to indie authors who can’t get their books into bricks and mortar stores, has become a big problem: a monopoly.

I link my books to other online sites as often as possible, but I think people just read the books’ descriptions and then go buy them at Amazon. (I do appreciate the people who buy them.)  But we need alternatives in addition to Powell’s, B&N.com, and even IndieBound.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed about this venture.

Malcolm

 

Where have all the reviewers gone?

Small press and self-published authors have noticed over the past year or so that their books are getting fewer and fewer reader reviews on Amazon and B&N. Meanwhile, the big books that don’t need any reader reviews to survive, often have a thousand or so people saying they loved the book. Here is my response:

Meh, too much trouble.

Where have all the reviewers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the reviewers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the reviewers gone?
Big books have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the big books gone, long time passing?
Where have all the big books gone, long time ago?
Where have all the big books gone?
Gone for big publishers everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the big publishers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the big publishers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the big publishers gone?
Gone for conglomerates everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the conglomerates gone, long time passing?
Where have all the conglomerates gone, long time ago?
Where have all the conglomerates gone?
Gone for Amazon everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where has Amazon gone, long time passing?
Where has Amazon gone, long time ago?
Where has Amazon gone?
Gone for a billion other products everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have the billion products gone, long time passing?
When have the billion products gone, long time ago?
Where have the billion products gone?
Gone for a monopoly everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where, then, have the small presses gone, long time passing?
Where have the small presses gone, long time ago?
Where have the small presses gone?
Gone to graveyards, nearly everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone?
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to amnesia everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the reviewers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the reviewers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the reviewers gone?
The void has picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Copyright © 2019 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the comedy/satire Special Investigative Reporter.

Weather or not

  • I was going to gripe about the rain, but that seems a bit lame while Florida and the Carolinas are getting way too much. Here, the grass grows incessantly when there’s no rain, but the smaller trees have to be watered during dry spells.
  • For those of you scoring at home–as opposed to elsewhere–I am now at 15 out 40 days of radiation therapy. Quite tedious, actually, though the people there are friendly and professional. One of them actually loves tennis: that’s a plus.
  • My contemporary fantasy novel The Sun Singer will be free on Kindle September 6 through September 10. This was my first novel and I still like it. OMG, I was actually talking about it back when MySpace was the place for writers to hang out.
  • This is a hero’s journey book. The sequel, Sarabande, is a heroine’s journey book. Both of them are greatly influenced by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. No, Joseph Campbell and I are not related.
  • Small publishers and self-published authors are still waiting to see what happens with Audible’s attempt to add closed-captioning to our audiobook without paying for it. There’s nothing in our contracts that allows them to do this. Major publishers are suing and those who represent small publishers have supported the suit. We shall see.
  • I must be out of touch. Several writer’s magazines I subscribe too are heavily supported by advertising from schools with MFA programs. These ads list “distinguished faculty.” Usually, I haven’t heard of any of them. Out of 15-20 names, you’d think somebody would be a known writer. If you saw that the program director was named Bubba Smith, would you be in a hurry to sign up? (Me, neither.)
  • Amazon is getting some flak for releasing copies of Margaret Atwood’s Testaments prior to the official release date of September 10. A clerical error? A misunderstanding? Another way to harm independent book stores? What do you think?

Malcolm

The sequel is a Thomas-Jacob Publishing release.

 

 

 

I spend more time tinkering with stuff than writing stuff

Some time ago, I read a post in the late Pat Conroy’s blog in which he thanked his publicity team from his publisher. No wonder he sells so many copies. His team was bigger than my neighborhood.

Most of us don’t have a publicity team, so we try to do it ourselves. Frankly, we like to think that our strong points as authors are the books we produce. Our weak points are creating ads, blog posts, and scintillating website copy. But we try.

I just finished reading an author’s book that came out several years ago from a sizeable publisher. When I checked her website, I was surprised to see that it had been more or less dormant for three years. Maybe she can afford to let it go until her next book comes out. But most of us can’t. So, if we have blogs, we try to post often. If we have websites, we keep tinkering with them in hopes that visitors will be lured back with fresh stuff to read.

Sometimes we have real news. I recently announced the new hardcover editions of Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, Lena, and a collection of short stories called Widely Scattered Ghosts.

A few days ago, AudioFile Magazine posted a favorable review of the Audiobook edition of Lena.  Sometimes we have to rely on back-up materials, in my case, I often post pictures of the Florida Panhandle where my books are set and recently posted an opinion about the bankruptcy of white supremacy. Frankly, once we were out of the Jim Crow era, I didn’t expect to see it again.

Lately, tinkering hasn’t been enough. Book sales have been down for a while for many self-published and small-press authors. I’m glad it’s not just me, but knowing that doesn’t tell me what to do to fix it.  Some changes have hurt us. One is the fact that Amazon has changed its giveaways so that they work less well for small-press and self-published authors. GoodReads giveaways used to be free; now they cost over $100. Sure, both sites need to make money for what they offer, but they are doing so at small-press authors’ expense. That means, I can no longer afford to run giveaways on either site, and that’s a great loss of exposure.

Fewer people seem to be posting reviews of small-press authors’ books these days. Needless to say, this looks bad when prospective readers come to a book’s listing page on Amazon and see almost no reader comments. On the plus side, people are leaving more reviews on Audible than before, and that helps generate interest in our audiobook editions.

Some authors ask for reviews on their blogs, websites, Facebook, and Twitter. I don’t like doing that. For one thing, it seems amateurish. Well-known authors certainly don’t try to shame readers into posting reviews on GoodReads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Frankly, I don’t think readers should feel an obligation to post a reader review. While I wish they would, I don’t fault them for not doing it.

In the last year or so, many book newsletters that promote books on sale have been charging more, expecting a larger number of Amazon reviews, and–in spite of that–have brought lower sales. I won’t say this sales method has dried up, but it seems that way. Yet, telling readers I can’t get into newsletters because they aren’t reviewing my books seems wrong.

I do fault many media sites who talk about the best books of the year, post lists of upcoming books to consider, and in late summer start creating their top books of the year lists. Most, if not all of them, ignore small-press books. So what you have is the best books from publishers like HarperCollins, Penguin, and Hachette. Most publishers and their books are off the radar. These lists offer a lot of exposure throughout the year, though I have to say, they are promoting books that don’t need any help. Those books that could benefit the most from, say, a list of the best beach reads or best books of the year (so far), aren’t even considered.

To some extent, I think many small-press and self-published authors are in a hurry: the books are printed as soon as they’re finished and edited. Instead, they should have advance copies ready for review sites that expect to see prospective books four months prior to publication. Mainstream sites require this. Then, the hardbacks need to be issued first–which is standard–followed by Kindle editions and then many months later by paperbacks. Why? Because this is the way big publishers work and when we don’t do things this way, we lose exposure and look like also-rans.

What this all means for small-press and self-published writers is finding ways to cut back. Cutting back, of course, reduces their books’ exposure. One of the first things to go will probably be the website. If it costs more than an author makes from royalties in a year, it’s not pulling its weight. And of course, none of us wants to run in the red. In other cases, small publishers may close their doors because the time and expense of reading, editing, formatting, and publishing new titles are no longer viable. I think this is a sad thing for many reasons, among them, being allowing the conglomerates to publish/control the books we read rather than having a strong grassroots competition from indies of all kinds.

I read a larger number of books every year, most from BIG PUBLISHERS. Why? Those are the books I hear about and those are the books with a lot of Amazon and GoodReads reviews. Perhaps most of you find your books the same way. What I hope, though, is that when readers find a small-press or self-published book they like, they will tell their friends about it, mention on Facebook that they enjoyed it, say something in their blogs about it, and consider posting a review on Amazon, GoodReads, and Barnes & Noble. This support helps authors stay in business and write more books that will also catch your attention. And, it keeps the conglomerate publishers from controlling everything we read!

As those old two guys on the old Bartles & Jaymes TV wine cooler commercials used to say, “thank you for your support.”

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Bits: Catherine Chung, Sharon Heath, ‘Cygnet,’ Amazon, Linda Holmes, Mueller report

At my age, a vigorous, bone-crushing, muscle twisting workout comes from spending several hours on the riding mower. While recuperating, I found a few links you might enjoy. Or you might not. Long-time readers of this blog know that ever since high school, I’ve been fascinated by writings about Carl Jung, alchemy, and quantum mechanics (the many worlds interpretation), so I’m happy to see a review of a very readable book that has uncovered multiple levels and/or universes of meaning (Item 2) since we’re all entangled one way or another.

Have fun exploring the books and authors links this week.

  1. Essay: On Being a Woman Who Loves Math, by Catherine Chung – “All my life I’ve been aware of the disheartening fact that as a society, we generally find intellect off-putting in women, and do our best to squash it.” (Lit Hub)
  2. Review: Tizita (2017) By Sharon Heath, Deltona, FL: Thomas-Jacob Publishing, by Frances Hatfield
    “Tizita, like the first novel before it in The Fleur Trilogy, The History of My Body, is as utterly original as its chief protagonist, and in some of the same, brilliant, moving, and laugh-out-loud hilarious ways.” (Psychological Perspectives)
  3. Excerpt: ‘Cygnet’: Featured Fiction from Season Butler – “Publishers Weekly called the book poignant, adding that ‘Butler has created an appealingly rich world with quirky, flawed characters and a dramatic landscape determined by the constant action of wind and water. Butler delivers a potent and finely calibrated novel.’” (The Millions)
  4. Opinion: Amazon Says It is Not a ‘Lawless’ Retail Platform As Charged by ‘NYT’ – “The New York Times’ recent feature on Amazon, which focuses on how much control the tech giant exerts over the book business and how detrimental that control might be for the sector’s health, has provoked a response from the company. Specifically, Amazon responded to claims in the article that it takes a lax approach to policing the sale of counterfeit books on its website, saying, in a blog post, that it ‘strictly prohibits the sale of counterfeit products’ and ‘takes proactive steps to drive counterfeits in our stores to zero.” (Publishers Weekly)
  5. Interview: Linda Holmes with Stephenie Harrison – “I have wanted to write a novel . . . always. I can’t remember when I didn’t think that would be the absolute greatest thing I could do. But I would start things, write a few pages and just get intimidated that I couldn’t keep going. I played around with writing fiction for many years and got a little more serious in 2012 when I decided to devote some time to this story. But again, I worked on it for a while, then left it alone. I didn’t pick it up again until sometime in the fall of 2016.” (Book Page)
  6. Quotation: “I spent half my money on gambling, alcohol and wild women. The other half I wasted.” ― WC Fields
  7. Wikipedia photo

    Feature: How Jenna Bush Hager became the new book club queen, by David Canfield – “Around 10 minutes into my interview with Jenna Bush Hager, I make a careless mistake: I assume her new Today show book club isn’t merely a one-woman band. ‘You say ‘You guys,’ but you really are just talking about one person — me!’ she responds, laughing. ‘Reese Witherspoon was on the show the other day, and we were talking about it. She’s like, ‘I have a whole team, Jenna!’ The problem is, I definitely need to read the whole book before I recommend it — and I’m a pretty picky reader.’ (Entertainment)

  8. Wikipedia Graphic

    New Title: A Mueller Report graphic novel will be released by San Diego publisher, by Michael Schaub – “Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has become something of a publishing phenomenon, with several book versions of the report flying off bookstore shelves. Now a San Diego publisher is planning to release a version of the report for those who might find the original a little too dry. IDW will publish a graphic-novel adaptation of the report next year, the press said in a news release.” (Los Angeles Times)

Book Bits is compiled randomly by malcolm R. Campbell, author of the “Florida Folk Magic Stories.”

 

Delivery trucks, Ingram & Amazon, CT Scans, and granddaughters

  • In yesterday’s blog, I speculated about when (or if) a lawn mower service and a lawn mower delivery truck would show up. Our old mower is going into to be serviced. It was supposed to be picked up between 9 a.m. and high noon. It was picked up at 4 p.m. A new mower was supposed to be delivered between 3 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. It showed up before lunch. So, I guess that evens out, delivery-wise. Now, if the old mower can be repaired, we’ll be able to use both mowers on the 3+ acres of grass and maybe keep up with it better.
  • If you dashed out to buy hardback copies of the three copies in my Florida Folk Magic Series on Amazon, you probably noticed that two of them are displaying a “no image available” graphic. One of the three is displaying that graphic on the Barnes & Noble site. The good news is, you can still buy the copies and when they arrive, the covers will not say “no image  available.”  I don’t know if Ingram is backed up because it’s having to pick up the slack now that Baker & Taylor has suddenly stopped supplying bookstores, or if Ingram and Amazon are experiencing a failure of communications.
Fortunately, a CT scan is not as loud as an MRI. – Wikipedia photo.
  • I spent the morning at the imaging clinic getting two CT scans. This is a follow-up to the indications of scattered prostate cancer cells from a recent biopsy. If any of you have gone through this, or a similar series of tests, you know there’s a lot of hurry up and wait. So, that meant four days waiting on the biopsy results and another four waiting to hear what the CT scans show prior to meeting with the doctor on Tuesday. For the scans, they injected dye or kryptonite or cyanide or something to provide contrasty pictures that will show how extensive the problem is. If it’s not too bad, the treatment will most likely be hormone injections.
  • My granddaughter Beatrice recently celebrated her sixth birthday. She had a party. I wasn’t there since she’s in Maryland and I’m in Georgia. Fortunately, we’ve been able to see Beatrice (Bebe) and her older sister Freya a fair number of times a year. And, their mother is pretty good about posting pictures of the girls on Facebook. My wife and I hope to visit the Gettysburg battlefield this year. If that works out, we’ll be several hours away from my daughter and her family and might be able to get together.

Once I know the treatment plan, etc. for the prostate cancer, I want to get back to working on the novel in progress, Dark Arrows, Dark Targets. The medical thing has been distrating me, so I haven’t made much progress on it. But soon, I hope.

Malcolm

That Elusive Writer’s Platform

Big name writers have writing platforms called the big name writer’s platform.

When James Patterson comes out with a new book, you know who he is and what kinds of stories he tells, so he doesn’t need to go on blog tours or work in a hardware store to stay solvent.

If your name is Joe Doaks, are 43 years old, and live in your parents’ basement where you play video games and hack into the dark web, you only have a writer’s platform if you write a tell-all book about the dark web, especially one that the FBI tries to get banned. Otherwise, you can send the best novel in the universe to a big New York publisher and they probably won’t take it on because you don’t have a platform. That is, nobody has heard of you and you aren’t maintaining a business of some kind that will draw readers to your books.

Most of us who write self-published or small-press books need a platform. Nonfiction is easier than fiction, because our books can be an outgrowth of a strong, nonfiction website that gets thousands of hits a month. That is, if you maintain a popular website in which you provide the real stories behind major crimes, your novel will be seen as part of this and will probably sell well.

If you’re on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Pinterest, and have lots of followers and comments, you’re better off than those who have no online presence unless you have a high-profile teaching position or other offline work that has made you widely known to many people.

Many of us imagine our writer’s platform looks like this:

When, in reality, it looks like this:

 

But then, for example, after hearing a lot of positive comments on, say, Facebook about a new novel we’re about to release, we realize after it’s been released that very few people on our friend’s list actually bought a copy, and that of the small number who did, few (if any) of them posted an Amazon review.

There have been–and still are–a variety of authors’ networking sites. My experience with these is that most authors are there to sell their own books rather than to buy the books of other unknown authors. While “networking” on the authors’ sites, those people are buying James Patterson, Donna Tart, and John Grisham novels rather than fiction nobody’s ever heard of.

Many small-print and self-published authors depend on Amazon. Some books–mostly nonfiction, it seems–have made a lot of money there. Most fiction by unknown authors doesn’t sell well there because most people never see it and those who do would rather buy books from known authors. While Amazon helps self-published and small-press authors to some extent, it’s still a business that makes more off James Patterson than Joe Nobody.

As others before me have said, those of us who don’t have platforms that get the attention of Oprah’s Book Club or a New York Times reviewers basically have to be content to write in the shadows and earn our money from other jobs. Over time, we may be able so build platforms that attract more prospective readers. My last three novels, for example, were about hoodoo. If I were a hoodoo practitioner (I’m not), then my hoodoo site would be a natural place to promote my book. The same can be true for any other field where you have credentials and a following. Those who have come to your site for facts, are likely to enjoy fiction based on those facts.

You can also build your platform by submitting short stories to literary magazines, including those who only pay in contributor’s copies. The credit line at the end of the story that says something like “Bob Smith is the author of the Andromeda Series of fantasy novels” is a good way to spread your name around to prospective readers. Needless to say, magazine credits, including any where your short story or poem won a contest, give your website something to mention.

I remain skeptical of the paid-for-reviews from the well-known sites who provide these because the reviews are expensive and when published, you cannot be certain those reviews won’t be segregated into a “self-published reviews” category. Labeling them like that pretty much negates the value of the review. Also, if you look at the statistics about the probable sales of a self-published book, the cost of that paid-for-review may wipe out all your profits. So far, I haven’t been willing to roll the dice on reviews or book-of-the-year contests that cost a lot of money and/or advertise the awards are for indie books.

Unfortunately, blogger reviews seem to be of limited help because those blogs don’t attract a lot of attention when compared to the value to a review on a mainstream, traditional newspaper or site. A review from “Bob’s Blog” isn’t really something that’s going to lure a lot of readers away from your mainstream competition. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t solicit such reviews, only that you recognize going in that they aren’t the New York Times or The Christian Science Monitor.

You can, to some extent, widen your platform by engaging with readers and writers on sites like Facebook. It’s easy to log on to Facebook and upload the same old stuff every week: notices about your books, shared pictures of animals, jokes, and an occasional political rant. It takes more time to go to the sites of those on your friends list an actually say something there rather than simply clicking LIKE. The same is true of the bogs you read where you can click LIKE and also read a comment. When you find books and viewpoints you like, you are building your platform by leaving comments so that the writers/bloggers start recognizing your name.

If you’re on Pinterest, you can post links to your own blogs and the sites you like about subject matter that may interest others. You can also PIN some of the links other people share that fit into the various niche areas that fit your interests and your novels. The thing here is: engage with the users about things that interest them.

Many authors think their novels require and “all about me” approach to promotion and interaction on blogs and social networks. Really, they’re an “all about you” kind of promotion. Talking about why you wrote those books is not nearly as important as showing prospective readers what’s in it for them to read those books.  Your platform needs to be an invitation rather than a memoir about you and how hard it was to write your novel.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Linking Book Editions on Amazon’s Author Central

In case you’re not aware, Amazon’s Author Central is a FREE service. If you missed our very first tutorial on setting it up, see that HERE. If you haven’t already, read it. Do it. Then come right back here and I’ll show you how to merge your books. I heard that grumble. Yes, you need to merge your books. Here’s why.

via How to Link Book Editions on Amazon’s Author Central ‹ Indies Unlimited ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

Here’s a handy tip for using Author’s Central. If you’re an author and don’t have an Amazon author’s page, you’re missing a free opportunity for publicity. The page displays when a prospective reader clicks on your name on any of your book’s listings. The page not only shows readers all your books, but bio information and your latest blog post.

Naturally, as K. S. Brooks suggests, if you have multiple editions of a book, it helps to link them together on the page.

–Malcolm

Don’t cheat your muse

“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.” – William S. Burroughs

In Casablanca, Ilsa says, “Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.”

I wonder if we should write like that, as though the story or novel in progress is going to be the last thing we do before we retire to Hawaii or the asylum or bee keeping. If we wrote like that, we’d make everything matter, the best we could do, like kissing a lover for the last time.

Burroughs says you can;t fake a good meal. Sure, we can throw something together in the kitchen or nuke a TV dinner or stop by a fast food place on the way home. It saves us a lot of trouble. I see a lot of advice on the Internet that urges us to write like that: write a novel in a month, turn out multiple books in a year, getting from nothing to a bestseller in 30 days. You can even get plot generators at some place called McNovels (or whatever it is).

What’s the hurry?

Myth: The sooner the book gets on Amazon, the sooner you’ll be famous. The money and the five-star reviews will come rolling in. A big publisher will send you $250,000 for your next book. Agents will actually call you.

Writing in a hurry as though that myth is true might be one way to cheat your muse. Or, possibly, cheat on your muse by sleeping with scam artists who make more money selling books and webinars that promise you ways of writing faster and faster and becoming famous before the ink dries.

It’s tempting, I know. A program or a method or a recipe usually promises us the world. It even comes with a lot of testimonials from writers that–guess what–you’ve never heard of. Nonetheless, when somebody says, “Last year I was digging graves in the rain at minimum wage, but then I saw Joe Smith’s miracle writing plan and I put down my shovel and followed his advice and became richer than J. K. Rowling.”

If you haven’t heard of the former grave digger’s books, Joe Smith is selling broken shovels.

The Muses Clio, Euterpe, and Thalia, by Eustache Le Sueur – Wikipedia

The alternative is listening to the inspiration we have, that we know we have, and writing that story word by word by word the way we know we can do it even though the first draft might take months or years, and then the second draft might take more months or years. And even though we’re not on Amazon yet, we know the stuff we write when we write like that is good because we’ve read through it late at night and felt a chill run through us as we wondered where it came from and how we pulled it all together.  When we re-read it just to make sure we’re not dreaming, it reminds us of the last kiss we gave somebody that we cared about who–for reasons unknown–disappeared from our lives as soon as we stepped away from each other.

Our muses get stronger when we try to write pages than send those chills through us or make us laugh harder than we did the last time we saw a Robin Williams comedy bit or make us shed more tears than we did when Ilsa got on that plane and left Rick standing there in the airport in “Casablanca.”

If Joe Smith reads this post, he’ll probably say, “Don’t you believe that goody-two-shoes stuff.” (Does anyone say “goody-two-shoes” any more?) Well, Mr. Smith, it doesn’t take much to see that the opinions of all the get rich quick gurus don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday we’ll understand that and write everything we write as though it’s the last time.

Malcolm