Category Archives: Amazon

Nightmare on the Red Spectrum

Red Priceless Princess small
THE PRICELESS PRINCESS IS RED-FACED

The Priceless Princess has been available for sale through Amazon for several months now. It was my first venture into self-publishing and I knew it would be a learning experience. And how! As I lamented earlier, I enrolled it in KDP Select, which means the e-book can’t be distributed outside the Amazon Kindle environment. Because it was in Select it meant that people with a subscription could download it as part of their service. All good, except that now authors are paid by the page read and the book is only 106 pages long – it is after all a children’s book. Quite a few readers have chosen it but being paid by the page it’s made almost nothing in dollar terms. Books stay in KDP Select for 90 days and I missed the deadline to get it off there so now I’m stuck with it until June and can’t use any other e-book distributor.

What about a print book? Would anybody buy that? I had a Create Space version printed and it came out beautifully. No sales, because it was free in KDP Select I guess, or maybe it was too expensive. Nobody in Australia would pay the postage. I ordered 50 copies for my own distribution purposes but that cost a small fortune in freight from the US which is the only way to get the books to Australia.

Amazon’s Create Space has no presence in Australia: you can’t get books printed here. If Australian readers want a print copy they have to pay the exorbitant cost of postage from the US. Amazon’s Australian Site: Authors Beware

Why didn’t I know this? It is obvious that most people in Australia, especially when buying children’s books, only want printed copies. Nobody here buys their kids a Kindle for Christmas (they do in the US apparently). I wanted to be able to distribute the print version through my website, put copies into schools as donations and do various other things so people in Australia could buy it.

So I followed everyone’s advice and went with Ingram Spark since they print in Australia and I could get print copies from them in bulk for a lower freight cost. And they distributed everywhere. But they wouldn’t use the same Create Space PDF files, the files had to be saved in a different PDF form, the very early x-1A or whatever it is. Finally got Keith to redo/resave the files, they were accepted by IS, then I had to pay $15 to get one copy to examine (by courier – what is wrong with using Australia Post?) and then I discover that the front cover in printing has shifted to the red spectrum and the Priceless Princess’s gorgeous face is now extremely flushed.

So I ask IS why this is since the art work is identical with what went to CS and I receive a prompt reply saying all printing machinery is different and they cannot guarantee any particular colour outcome or that it will match that printed elsewhere and I have to get the files redone to compensate for their machines.

But how? Nobody can see what the problem is on the artwork files, which look identical on both PDFs.

So now I have a very red-faced Priceless Princess circulating around the world, a very frustrated illustrator who doesn’t know how to help, and a particularly irritated author who is now trying to find a local printer who can use the original Create Space files and hopefully provide a better quality paper at the same time for a reasonable price so I can do my own local distribution.

Online technology obviously doesn’t combine well with legacy printing. The online world doesn’t mesh with traditional reader behaviour. A lot more work needs to be done to find some better alternatives. Meanwhile everyone under 30 is reading free books on their mobile phones. Is this a losers’ game or what?

Once more with irritation: high e-book pricing does no-one any favours.

Sometimes books appear and you know right away you want to read them. Nikki Gemmell is already a very well-known writer, with a lively career as a magazine journalist as well as ten plus full-length books, the best known being her first, The Bride Stripped Bare. I have to confess it is the only one I have read. I’m not quite sure why.  Her books seem to fall between a few stools: genre fiction, literary fiction, self-help, essay.

the bride stripped

But her new book, After,  is definitely in my territory. Memoir, true story, traumatic experience, mothers and daughters. I’ve already written my own version, about the death of my mother and my ex-husband within three weeks of each other back in 2008. I wrote it not long after but haven’t been able to bring myself to go back and edit it, let alone publish it. But it is on my list and should be finished by mid-year. I don’t think it will be much like Nikki’s book.

after

Nikki’s mother chose to die; mine didn’t. My mother never intended to die, ever, and the stupid accident which killed her could easily have been avoided. She was 93; she might conceivably even be alive today if she hadn’t lost her dentures. But that is my story, this is about Nikki’s, sort of, but not really, because I haven’t read it.

Tomorrow we are going to hear her talk about her book at a “meet the author” event in Katoomba, courtesy of the wonderful Gleebooks in Blackheath and Varuna Writer’s Centre. I have been looking forward to it. It’s so much better when you have read the book being discussed. So I did what I always do, and looked for it in a Kindle version from Amazon.  Yes, it was there, so that was good, until I looked at the price. $14.99.  In hardcover it’s $22.50. There doesn’t seem to be a paperback. What? Yes, it’s Harper Collins’ strategy to get you to buy the hardcover, or at least to stop you buying the e-book. Who would pay $15, even if it’s a great book and you really want to read it? And who is getting the lion’s share of the inflated e-book price? You can bet it’s not Nikki. No, for those who do pay for the e-book, Harper Collins will get the major part of it, even though their production cost for putting it up on Amazon as an e-book is probably near zero, since all the editing was done for the print version, the marketing costs cover both, and tweaking an already existing cover design for Kindle is so easy a kindergarten child could do it these days.

Nikki Gemmell

Sorry, Nikki, but I guess I won’t be reading your book for quite a while. I can put my name down for it at the local library, or maybe I will find some friend who has bought the hardcover. But I will not buy any more hardcover (or print) books unless they absolutely cannot be obtained any other way and I really really need them. And although I’m sure your book will be great, I just won’t support greedy publishers who expect readers to cough up absurdly high prices just to keep their existing legacy business model going. Just a reminder: when you “buy” an e-book you don’t really “buy” it in the traditional sense. It isn’t yours. The company who release it can remove it at any time. You can’t lend it to anybody else. You can’t give it away as a present. You are just hiring it. A price above $10.00 is wholly unjustifiable.

 

The Indie publishing community – and some thoughts on pricing your e-book.

One of the real pleasures of the Indie publishing world is coming across new writers and publishers you might never have found without the burgeoning online community. I love hearing from new authors and finding out what they are doing,  and really appreciate the amazing inventiveness and generosity so many show.

I just found a great post by one of my visitors, Joynell Schultz. Joynell writes speculative fiction, something I’ve never tried. In her most recent post she describes all of the techniques and strategies she tried to get her first Kindle book “out there”, what worked and what didn’t. Read her post here and take a look at her book. love-liesYou can buy it on Amazon at the current price of $2.99 (she started at 99c) and you can download six chapters free – she will tell you where in her post.

I do want to make a bit of a demurral here. While publishing free chapters may be a good way to get readers interested in your work I am not so sure about the wisdom of selling books on Amazon for 99c, or worse, making them “free”.  If you think that is what your work is worth, why would I want to read it? If you write purely to find readers, put your work on your website or one of the sharing sites such as Wattpad but don’t put  it up on Kindle. Amazon is a commercial site where people who want to sell their work meet other people who want to buy it. I can see an argument for 99c short stories or novelettes – maybe – but novel length work which has been invested with love and care, edited properly, with a good cover and hopefully a good story MUST be worth more than one dollar or worse, zero. I guess the next step is to pay people to download your book!

At the other extreme, traditional publishers are getting way with murder, pricing their e-book versions at absurdly high prices to artificially prop up the print book market. Don’t think you are doing the authors a favour by buying their e-books – the contract will ensure that the publisher still gets most of it just as if it was a print book, even though it costs them nothing to make available in digital form, so it’s all more profit for them.

There are millions of readers in the world. A lot of them want to read for free, so good, let them, give it to them however you like but don’t call it a published book. Others want to buy books for their collection. I have bought hundreds and hundreds of ebooks for my Kindle collection over the years and I don’t plan to stop. But I’m not going to clutter it up with cheap stuff. Sometimes I’ve tried something for a couple of dollars and usually I can’t be bothered reading it past the first chapter or so. If it’s annoying enough I might delete it altogether.  Until recently I didn’t write reviews of books I thought were bad, but I think the time has come when those of us who buy Kindle books call them out when they are terrible. Amazon reviews seem to determine which books succeed by getting noticed in the first place. Amazon itself has tightened up on the review process. Now they could tighten up even more by banning full-length books priced below $2.99.

If you’ve written a good book, price it properly to reflect that. Good on you, Joynell, for raising your price. You’ve got good reviews and  your second book should have eager readers waiting.

 

 

More cautions for Australian authors: Amazon reviews and a conspiracy theory.

I don’t know if I’ve missed something people have already commented on in other blogs or forums – should I have known this already?  – anyway, I have just grasped another big problem for Australian authors publishing on Amazon. If your Australian readers are in Amazon.com.au, buy your e-book and leave a review, that is where it will appear. Australian reviews will not appear on the US site. So unless you find a way to get  readers to leave reviews specifically on the US site, your book will languish unattended in the world’s biggest English-language market. Why don’t the Australian reviews appear on the US site? Why has Amazon apparently co-operated in recreating the kind of geo-restrictions which global digital communications was supposed to end?

I am generally not given to conspiracy theories, but it does look to me like some kind of deal was done when Amazon first made a push to enter the Australian market. I recollect there was vast opposition from the regulation publishers and literary players – oh dear no, we don’t want that horrible Amazon behemoth here, we must preserve our national cultural authenticity – now it turns out that the only books available through Amazon here in Australia are Kindle versions.  Since Australian readers have been brainwashed to believe that print books purchased through bookshops are far more worthy than e-books anyway, this ensures that traditional print publishers retain a dominant position in the market.

I worked this out just recently when I was reminded to get hold of the late Bob Ellis’s collected/curated writings, posthumously published in late 2016. bob-ellis-book-coverIt is a collection of previously published articles and personal memoirs, many going back to the 1970s, assembled by his wife Anne Brooksbank as a kind of memorial volume.

Googling, there were plenty of paperback copies available from different booksellers in Australia. The price was uniformly above $30.00. Booksellers’ sites listed only the print version. Kinokuniya in Sydney listed the on-line price at $34.99. At first I thought this referred to an e-book version but no, that was the price if you ordered the print book online as against through the bookstores “card members” price.

As far as I could see, there was NO e-book version available through any of the Australian booksellers. As I have a firm policy of never ever buying a print version if there is an e-version available, I thought I would try Amazon.  I have always kept the Amazon.com US site as my main site. So there it was: Bob Ellis In His Own Words at $11.87.  That is pretty high for a Kindle book, but way better than $34 or $35. And yes, there is a Kindle version on the Australian site, at $16.14. It is also available on Kindle Unlimited in Australia, for subscribers. But the US paperback is priced at US$34.99, which would make it over $40 for an Australian purchaser who would then also have to pay the very expensive postage.

So somehow Amazon is able to trade in Australia without significantly disturbing the traditional publishing ecology. Publishers and booksellers maintain the impression that there are no e-book versions. Amazon offers a Kindle version in Australia, but no print version, and in the US the print version is priced too high for any Australian purchaser to bother with it. A kind of cartel agreement, or just a happy accident to keep the Australian publishers happy? Whatever, the total effect is to disenfranchise Australian authors trying to write and publish outside the limits of the good-old-boys-and-girls publishing environment in Australia. So if you want to be a success at independent publishing, you really need to get up there on the US site and attract the  US readers. Your e-book will turn up on the Australian Amazon site but only if the reader knows to look for it there.  How this assists our national cultural authenticity I don’t know, especially when Australian publishers are unwilling to publish anything from new writers and are reducing their lists all the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by firstly deciding not to make any self-published Create Space books available in Australia

Amazon’s Australian Site: Authors Beware

skywind-1It’s hard to navigate the dangerous shoals of self-publishing. It took me the better part of a year just to get an already written story ready for the publishing process – editing, formatting,  negotiations over cover (and illustrations), first round of corrections, loading and reloading files, finding and correcting mistakes, reloading files yet again —2016 was coming to an end and I really wanted to get this book out. I had already decided publishing through Amazon was the obvious way to go.

It was my children’s book The Priceless Princess which was the test case. Things got complicated when I had to go into hospital for major knee surgery in early November so I was rushing to get the book ready for Christmas. My dear friends at Ciao Magazine in Sydney gave me some free publicity. The Kindle version went up through KDP, it was easy and gratifying once I worked it out.  There was my book online, with its great cover! I had a Facebook author page! The book had its own website! I had it up here on my main writing site! What could go wrong?

Time went by and suddenly there was a notification of a payment. It definitely wasn’t anything I expected, and not in a good way. I mean, yes, it was a payment, and that was welcome. But there were no sales!  Because the book was enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, US readers could read it and I was paid by the page. Well, it’s a pretty small book, and not many readers read it – and since it’s a children’s book, children themselves could not read it, unless their parents had given them Kindles, or let them read on their own. That’s why I published a print copy on Create Space, so they could order copies for their kids. They didn’t, so I thought they probably didn’t like it that much. Too exotic and scary?

But where were the Australian sales? None at all? It’s a very Australian story. Anyone who looked at the website on Amazon should realise this if only because of the bilbies and green snakes on the front cover. Australians aren’t so into Kindles, and they don’t buy them for their kids. They ought to go for the print version. I thought I’d priced it pretty well for the Australian market. This stuff is all about marketing, the elephant on the keyboard in the new writing world. Hidden traps, a thousand perils, it can make you pretty narky.

I thought I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t. It took weeks to get myself back in gear enough to work out what was happening. Today I discovered for the first time that AMAZON DOES NOT MAKE ANY CREATE SPACE  BOOKS AVAILABLE TO AUSTRALIAN CUSTOMERS  using the Amazon.com.au site.  Since they have been very actively persuading Australian customers to switch to the Australian site, this means that Australian authors who have published on Create Space will not even have the availability of their books noted on the Australian website!  And presumably potential readers are not going to know this, and so will assume there is no print version. Apparently the same has been the case in Canada, another place where I thought customers might like the book.

In the process of checking this out, I then discovered that the Kindle version, which I had originally put at US$2.99 had somehow magically transformed in the Australian Kindle store into something over $6.00. Nobody is going to pay that for a short children’s e-book. I have no idea what made them set that price, but I see that they are in fact at liberty to set any price they like.

So no wonder there haven’t been any sales. Well, there was one, but it was returned. I don’t know what to make of that. Meanwhile I got a batch of copies sent over from Create Space, at considerable expense, and I gave lots away for Christmas presents. Great feedback from the readers who especially enjoy that great cover and the way the illustrations worked with the text. I am not so happy with the internal layout, it is printed too close to the binding, but it’s fine for this first print version. If you happen to read this and want a copy of the book to give your kids, click on the tab above “Children’s Stories” and you will see how to get a real-life print copy of this version for the great price of $A5.50 posted anywhere in Australia. There will be Paypal option soon too.

So this is all about learning. Am working now towards getting my first book of short stories ready in the next month or two, and I won’t make the same mistakes this time. I do wish there was a comprehensive site or book specifically for Australian authors wanting to go the self-publishing route. The domination of Amazon in the US and international e-book field has made it pretty much inevitable that writers will go with them more-or-less automatically, but there are a lot of traps there and the complications are vast. And of course the demand for children’s books is infinitesimal anyway, at least beside those staggering Indie romance figures. Even less than literary fiction!

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Indie publishing and the Amazon Maelstrom of Doom

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I was a very early adopter of Amazon e-books. I opened an account straight away and I still have a collection of ancient Kindles with their grey screens and clunky keyboards. Once I realised the possibilities of self-publishing through Amazon I thought that might be for me. I knew a lot about conventional publishing especially in the academic field. But I had also looked into commercial publishing and knew some well-known published writers. Drusilla Modjeska is a kind of relation (my second husband’s first wife) and we had talked about the literary scene since the 1970’s. Still talking in the naughties, I tried to persuade her that Indie publishing was the way of the future but she, like most Australian literary figures, considered it completely unacceptable and infra-dig. I couldn’t persuade her of its virtues no matter what I said. Of course she already had a publisher and a secure literary reputation, so I can see why it wouldn’t have appealed.

By the time I was getting ready to publish my fiction and memoirs, it was another scene altogether. Traditional publishing had become almost impossible. The old literary circles were dying off and the Big Five international publishers had swallowed up one after another of the smaller presses. Agents at least in Australia just wouldn’t look at debut authors unless they seemed like literary prize material or were writing self-improvement texts or cookbooks and even then they had to have a profile on TV.

Self-publishing, or publishing through small presses, had indeed picked up the baton and become not merely successful but a huge industry with an entire infrastructure of its own.The demands on the independent writer now included the ability to manage all the things the old trad publishers had done, and as standards increased so did the expenses. And as the number of services for self-published authors bloomed, so did the number of titles, all neatly divided into nifty genres and subgenres which often bore little relevance to the actual book the author had written. There seemed increasing pressure to write to distinctive niches: alpha billionaire S and M, historical vampire fiction, sweet Amish romance, a whole submarket in stories about Mormon polygamy. Marketing became the watchword, but how to achieve it without paying for a marketer, with no guarantee of ever getting your investment back. The old days when the writer handed over a bundle of typed pages and received a cash advance began to look halcyon.

The Amazon publishing ecology is fantastic and offers every support to the writer, except the crucial one, namely, how to persuade readers to buy your book. The rise of Amazon’s own imprints is having another kind of impact, more on that later.

The glories of self-publishing are looking increasingly tarnished right now. In late 2016 the graphs of sales and income for Amazon self-publishers began to drift downwards for the first time in five years. Millions of e-books are washing around on Amazon and a few other platforms. Some estimates suggest that there are 5,000 new books published on Amazon each day. It’s almost impossible for readers to find good quality writing, the kind of book which is not repetitive trash genre fiction. Not to mention the ghastly low standard editing and typos in so much of it.

There is a huge market of people who love to read and appreciate the e-book format and like the low prices knowing most of it is going to the author but they want to read real stories with a certain kind of “truth”.  The enormous success of Sydney writer Liane Moriarty is an example. Liane is a really good Australian writer who tells well-crafted stories about real lives which readers can recognize. I found it at first unbelievable that her stories, set in Australia, were being snapped up by legions of American fans. She is almost completely unknown in Australian literary circles and certainly will never turn up on a literary prize listing. Her readers are not necessarily  part of the cultural elite, but they are still serious readers, who  get lost fast in the wilds of Amazon and will be generally turned off by the oceans of junk and rubbish now swirling about in the maelstrom. It was good luck as well as a good product which brought Liane to her readers at a time when Amazon/Kindle hadn’t reached the stage of terminal bloat and ultimate Doom.

We urgently need some method of curation which doesn’t go through the conventional route and can open a space for e-book publishing for serious readers and writers who want to engage with the new world of online publishing. That’s the number one challenge now, it seems to me.

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First past the post

In October 6th 2016  my first Kindle publication, The Priceless Princess, appeared. Not long after, the paperback printed through Create Space became available. My first fiction publication!  Actually that’s not quite true, I contributed a story to a very early literary magazine with a number of feminist writers now household names including Drusilla Modjeska. I won second prize in the Hawkesbury Literary competition with one of my river stories and another one was published recently in a Blue Mountains literary journal. I’ll put them both up on my “Fiction” page.

I didn’t want to make a fuss about the Priceless Princess coming out. A few people congratulated me. I gave out paperback copies to various friends and relatives including my granddaughter who inspired it. Can’t say it’s sold many copies although there’s been some reading on Kindle Unlimited. I feel very attached to that story and love Keith’s illustrations, so I’d like to find a way to “market” it more widely, especially in Australia, because although it’s not an Australian story as such it features a lot of Australian animals. I still haven’t finished the work for the additional natural history material I want to put up.

There are so many suggestions about how to manage a writer’s online presence. I have a Page on Facebook  here and The Priceless Princess has her own website here.  My Amazon Author’s page has just gone live here . Different audiences want different things, and different kinds of contact with books and writers. I expect to use the posts on this site for comments on the life of books and writing.

I am fascinated by the alternative writing world which has been opened up by Amazon and on-line publication. The freedom to write and publish whatever you like, and potentially to reach a world-wide audience, is an extraordinary achievement. But it is evident now, after almost a decade of self-publishing, that the quantity is limitless but the quality can be appalling. I have been reflecting more on this in a recent post – Indie publishing and the Amazon Maelstrom of Doom

A small step on a long path, they say.  Still, I’m up for it.