Tag Archives: Amazon

How long does it take you to buy a book?

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This will come as a surprise to exactly no one but I have a big fractal book wish list. I’ve actually become kind of obsessive about it since I’ve been focusing more on a specialized area of fractals, while still considering options for broader fractal surveys.

Back when I was writing A Programmer’s Approach, my method for selecting books was simple. Search “fractal” in Amazon. Buy any book that looked vaguely helpful and that cost $0.01 (+ $3.99 shipping). Of course even then there were special books that I would pay a little extra for, but overall I was looking for a broad survey of authors and perspectives.

Considering that I have a full bookshelf now of fractal books, and that the bookshelf has started to bleed over onto my desk, I do not need more general books.

But, and again this might surprise you, specialized books are expensive. A lot of the better fractal books fall into one of two categories: college textbook or obscure lecture notes from a math conference. In college spending $120 on a textbook was a necessary evil. In later life, especially one that expects it to take a while to make $120 from a fractal book, that price is a little steep.

I’ve started to camp on books, throwing their Amazon listing into a wishlist called the “buying queue” and I’ve noticed something weird. Usually, even an expensive book, will have two sellers who have the lowest price. These two prices will leapfrog each other down by a few pennies several times a day. It can sometimes take weeks of waiting, but you can knock a couple of bucks off the book’s price if you wait long enough.

However, if you wait too long and somebody snatches one cheap copy up, the other cheap copy shoots up in price to match the second lowest price, and they fight it out again. I’ve observed this behavior on comic books, DVD’s, regular books, etc. I’m pretty sure it must be a setting in the Amazon Marketplace, coupled with an algorithm. Either that, or all marketplace sellers are exhibiting the same behavior.

With the buying queue, a good five minute segment of my day is looking at a book, gleaning as much information as I can from the preview or the reviews, and deciding if this is the day I will buy it, or if it’s the day I decide to take it off my list entirely, or bump it down to a secondary wish list I check less often. I’ve had books I’ve debated over for months, doing the online equivalent of picking it up, flipping through the pages, and putting it back down again.

With reference materials in particular I want as little overlap as possible, while still getting something that builds on other material I have. I prefer electronic books just because I will read them more often, but still acknowledge that there’s nothing like flipping through a real book. I have limited shelf space, but I’m always willing to clear away the chaff for something great. And, probably most difficult, all of these books aren’t popular, so there’s virtually no reviews or sales rank to give me a sense of whether it is actually good. Occasionally I can find an academic review if I do some digging, but that only sometimes helps.

Do you think it’s too late to start a Kickstarter campaign so I can buy more books. I’d do it for my Star Trek comics as well, but I have a hard enough time convincing others that reading comic books is “research.”

Ah well. Maybe I’ll go to an actual bookshop this weekend and stare at those books for a while. Happy Friday all.

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Your Kindle Doesn’t Know How Much You Read

I write mysteries, and I know there are some people out there who like to skip to the end before they read the rest of the book. I’m not a big pain about spoilers, but this one has never made any sense to me. I’ve heard that for some people it eases the tension, or gives you an idea if you’ll like how the book turns out before reading the whole thing, but part of being a mystery writer is trying to build tension and interest, not reduce it.

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But if my book were on Kindle Unlimited, then those people who skipped to the end would be making me more money.

So here’s what happened.

Last summer Kindle Unlimited changed its rules for how it pays out to authors from the lending library fund. Prior to the change, authors were paid by the borrow (if the reader read 10%). This system resulted in a lot of short books getting paid the same as longer ones. In fact, this happened to me with my Fractals You Can Draw booklet (unintentionally I might add). I made about $0.35 for every sale, and $1.35 for every borrow.

The new system was supposed to pay you by the page read (at a rate of roughly half a cent per page). But as it turns out the system was flawed. Kindle reported the number of pages read by the farthest position in the book, not by the number of actual pages read. So if your readers skipped to the end without reading anything else, instead of counting for just 2 pages, that read counted for the whole length of the book.

Scammers naturally took advantage of this, using click-bait techniques and phonebook sized dummy books to rack up as many “pages read” as possible. In February, Amazon limited the maximum number of pages to 3000, which could still net you a little over $12 a book.

And here’s how it affects indie authors like me.

For starters the scammers are taking a big chunk out of the total lending fund, which is a fixed pool we all fight for a piece of (you can read a great analysis of this situation here). And if the scammers are top performers, they not only get the pages read, but some nice bonuses as well. And they negatively add to the reputation that all self-published books are crap.

But the other side of the coin is that Amazon’s failure to write good pages read detection code affects authors who use “scammy” techniques to provide what they think is a better reading experience.

One of the best ways for someone who’s never read your book before to decide if they want to buy from you is to read as much as possible. So a lot of authors chose to put the Table of Contents at the back of the book instead of the front, since the eReader can take them straight to it anyway. This meant that the TOC wasn’t taking up valuable sample book real estate. And even those who didn’t make this choice deliberately may have inadvertently done it by using book conversion tools like Calibre. In fact, some older eReaders prefer the contents to be at the back, otherwise they can’t detect them.

All of my eBooks actually have a front TOC and a back TOC to have the widest range of compatibility. Newer eReaders, like my current Fire, render the TOC as a side-bar, giving me direct navigation. To take advantage of similar navigation techniques on older readers, both TOC locations were required. But I have a hunch that at least some of my pages read (particularly the 582 spikes), resulted from someone going to the back TOC before reading the book. Again, not the reason I put that TOC there (for a book that was published several years ago I might add), but a factor nonetheless.

Earlier this month Amazon starting sending quality notices to authors requesting that they reformat their books or have them removed from sale. Amazon later revised this policy, stating that the back TOC is not recommended, but not in and of itself a violation of the publishing guidelines. I haven’t received a quality notice for any of my books (and Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach is the only enrolled in Kindle Unlimited anyway, though that hasn’t necessarily mattered to those getting the notices). If I do get a notice I will give my strenuous objections for why I want to retain backward compatibility. And then I may end up reformatting the book anyway.

The funny thing is, if my book were purchased by a regular library I’d get a tiny chunk of that sale, once per book, not per read, or per pages read. Kindle Unlimited, as a subscription service, is a different animal, and I think authors are entitled to a chunk of that pie. But I’ve always looked at it more like the library model, a way for people to try before they buy, or to get my book to people who can’t afford it, but still want to read it (though this last falls apart a bit with a $120 a year service).

I think Amazon needs to act with a more nuanced hand and instead of painting all indie authors with the same brush, try to enact better controls for getting rid of crappy books. And they need to write the code to actually detect pages read, rather than try to punish others for their lack of foresight.

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Some other great articles on this subject are here and here. If all this is kind of making you annoyed with Amazon, there are many other great places to buy eBooks including Smashwords, where my latest cyber-noir mystery, Surreality, is available for all of your eReaders and without the nasty DRM.

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First Impressions – Amazon’s $50 Fire

My little Black Friday gift for myself arrived last week, Amazon’s latest Fire tablet, priced normally for $49.99 with special offers (I got mine for $34.99). So far I’m pretty happy with it (though considering I’m making the jump from a first generation Fire to a fifth generation, that’s not too surprising).

If you’re still on the fence about it, here’s my rough assessment after several days of playing with it:

The Good:

  • My big excitement for this tablet was the SD card slot. I put a 64GB card in mine, and I have never been able to carry around more entertainment (mostly comic books) in one device.
  • Battery life seems really good when just reading (with WiFi off). Getting around the 8 hours I expect. About 4-5 hours to fully charge.
  • Quad-core performance makes gaming and especially internet browsing practical for the first time (I judge tablets by laptop standards in this respect). Loving Monument Valley.
  • Hoopla, my library’s digital lending app for comics, magazines, books, movies and music works well. It didn’t work on my Android, Old Fire or my wife’s HD. Great way to read Batman’s No Man’s Land for free.
  • Speakers are loud enough so that I can listen to Car Talk even with highway noise. Manual volume control buttons are nice.

The Bad:

  • The comics I have loaded on the SD card  (PDF’s) do not save their place when re-opened. I may be able to side-load onto the card to correct this problem, but the old Fire never had this issue.
  • Took my computers a WHILE to recognize this device and communicate with it for transferring files. Still doesn’t see all the files transferred even though the device shows they are there.
  • There are a lot of tracking features that I had to turn off. The “Find my Fire” feature is a nice idea, but Amazon doesn’t need to know where I am or what I’m doing at all times.
  • Brightness on the low setting is still very bright in bed. Blinding my wife is not received well.
  • The ads are pervasive, present not only on the front screen, but all the sub-category screens as well. There are some direct links for taking you only to content on your device and I would highly recommend using those instead (books, videos, music icons on the home screen NOT the text at the top). I am honestly considering paying to get rid of them.

The Meh:

  • All Fires (including my old one) seem less inclined to recognize .MOBI’s or even AZW3’s bought from other places as books (they get consigned to the Documents folder).
  • Shopping icons cannot be removed from front screen (but they can be consigned to a folder I’ll never look at).
  • The resolution is not HD (1024×600) which is the same as my old Fire. However, since I optimized most of my comics for this resolution I actually saw this as a benefit (this is why having DRM free backups from Comixology rocks). I’ve seen higher resolution tablets, and they’re very nice, but I don’t feel like this is lacking.
  • $34.99 was a great deal, but I needed to add a purchase to get the $35 free shipping. No surprise there.
  • The interface is closer to Android which is probably a good thing. There are some things about the original Fire interface that I thought were simpler and easier to use, but the Android is more universal.
  • Camera’s not great, but taking photos with a 7″ tablet of any stripe is kinda clunky anyway. Good for Skype. Probably not something I’d use that much.
  • Apps drain the battery faster, as does a lot of internet usage. But that’s been true with almost any tablet that exists.
  • Case back is plastic, but seems really solid.

Verdict:

Even at $49.99 this is a great deal, and at $34.99 it was a no brainer. Be prepared for Amazon to try to make up that cost by selling you something. This is a loss-leader, no doubt about it. For most users this will be a great device, some may want to spring for the higher resolution HD’s or HDX’s.

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First Impressions

Haven’t had a whole lot of time to play with either of these new Amazon wrinkles yet, but thought I’d give you my off-the-cuff, fifteen minutes of research opinion:

Amazon Giveaways:

If you use CreateSpace and want to give away copies of your book as a promotion, then this might be the service for you. Amazon allows you to create a giveaway by specifying the quantity you’d like to give, the odds of winning the prize (1 in X, 1 every X, or first X), and conditions for entry (i.e. Follow you on Twitter, watch a video, etc). They administer everything, and they’ll ship the prize to lucky winner, all you have to do is pay the price of the prize, minimum shipping and tax.

Pros:

  • Nice way for authors to promote their book.
  • Easy to setup and use, separate messages for winners and losers.
  • Flexibility in odds can be scaled to your expected audience.
  • Instant win or lose.

Cons:

  • Requires physical copy, can’t give away digital.
  • Cost to author is list price, not production price (what the author can order the book for on CreateSpace).
  • Can only take advantage of free shipping if price is over $35. If the winner has a prime account it doesn’t mean free shipping costs to the giveaway provider.

Verdict: Might be nice to try, but could get expensive quick.

Merging your Comixology and Amazon account:

Comixology has been an Amazon company for a while, but they just now pushed out the capability to use your Amazon login on the site instead of creating a separate login. For existing Comixology customers, you can merge your Kindle Comics and your Comixology comics into one account.

Pros:

  • Amazon purchases that would include a DRM free backup if bought from Comixology (such as any comic from Image), will now be available in your backups. If you bought Saga or Chew from Amazon, you can now download CBZ’s and PDF’s from Comixology.
  • For those who prefer Comixology’s panel by panel view this could make your Kindle books much easier to read.
  • One easy account to remember.

Cons:

  • Not all Kindle Comics covered though more coming. DC, Marvel and Dark Horse do not offer DRM free backups.
  • Not all Kindle Comics have exact Comixology matches (may result in different content).
  • Kindle Comics do not register as owned in Comixology store. I own Vols 1,2 and 6 of Scott Pilgrim from Amazon and 3-5 from Comixology, but only 3-5 show as owned in the app (when I do a search). Downloads for all are available.

Verdict: No harm, might get better with time.

Has anyone tried either of these services?

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Surreality Kindle Scout Campaign: Last Day

Just a quick note before spending the rest of the day hanging out for my wife’s birthday. This is the last day of the Kindle Scout campaign for Surreality. Thanks to everyone for their support so far. I’m not sure how things are going to go, but either way there have been so many of you who have sent their well wishes and nominations, and that means a lot.

If you haven’t voted, there’s still time. Go to https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2VSHAGFXNJ50T and nominate Surreality. If Amazon decides to publish it, you get a free copy. Remember to vote before midnight tonight.

Thanks so much to everyone!

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Surreality – The Author Photo

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I’m much more comfortable with avatars, cartoons, or drawings of fractals than I am with pictures of myself. It’s not that I think I look bad. I’m a reasonably handsome, husky ball of joy. I just tend to see the areas in need of improvement when I look at pictures of myself. Not trying to fish here, just being honest.

This is all by way of saying that I wasn’t too thrilled to be doing the author photo for the Surreality Kindle Scout campaign, and I put it off till basically the day before.

My wife took the picture, actually about four dozen of them, and manipulated the final image to get what you see above. That’s my basement library and poker table in the shot and one of the approximately seven computers on which Surreality was written. I’m happy my wife insisted on the nicer shirt, as the just t-shirt shots were only okay, even though the shirt is kinda cool.

One thing I learned is that I apparently do not open my eyes. I don’t know if it’s because I’m tired or just have very narrow eyes, but I had to actually work to open them enough to be seen, without looking like I was a crazed psychopath. My eyes “crinkle” when I smile as well, meaning that a full grin would basically leave me blind.

What you see in the shot is pretty typical of my workspace, though with a lot of unseen clutter outside the shot. The open book is my random writing thoughts book, something that I would probably only share with somebody else after I’m dead. My goal right now is simply to fill it with a lot of nonsense that hopefully makes the words I write in books work better.

There were several coffee mugs tried in the shot but ultimately it couldn’t have been anything else but the OSU mug. The handle broke off once and we glued it back on because that is my Saturday game day coffee mug. It’s just that simple.

I’m also happy that my body blocked most of the manga behind me, though you can clearly see Love Hina creeping out from behind my left shoulder. Slightly better is the Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell and Dominion sitting above it. And that is a set of blueprints for the Enterprise-D you see lying on its side on top of a bunch of Star Trek comics trades. It’s research … okay 🙂 The gray box a few shelves up contains a DS9 tie complete with all of the aliens from that show. And trust me, this is nothing compared to the chotskie’s I have on top of my desk.

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One week in and the campaign is going strong, but I still need your support. Please vote for Surreality using the link below, and receive a free early copy if Kindle Press decides to publish it. Share your support on Twitter, Facebook or Squirrelbook, the social-media website for squirrels. No chipmunks allowed!

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2VSHAGFXNJ50T

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Kindle Scout – How It Works

Well … it turns out what I thought would take two weeks, took two days. The Kindle Scout campaign for Surreality is live.

So what does that mean?

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Q. What is Surreality again?

My latest mystery, set in the city of Columbus, OH and the virtual world of Surreality.

Business partners turned bitter rivals, a missing hooker, and a death that’s just a preview of things to come… When a man is strangled in the virtual world of Surreality and $80 million is stolen, Detective Dan Keenan must find the missing money and stop a killer from making good on murder.

Q. What is Kindle Scout?

Kindle Scout was introduced by Amazon about a year ago. Prospective authors put their book up for public voting for 30 days during which time Amazon decides whether to publish the book through Kindle Press. If the book is selected the author gets a 5 year publishing contract and a nice advance.

Q. So, what’s in it for me?

If you nominate my book and Kindle Press decides to publish it, you’ll get a free eBook copy. And either way, you’ll have my gratitude. All of the support I get from my fellow bloggers and friends really means a lot to me. This book wouldn’t be ready for publication without your support.

Q. Can I buy it yet?

Not quite yet, but the first two chapters (and a little of chapter three) are available as a sample through the campaign. You can read it online, or have it sent to your Kindle to read for later.

Q. Do I need to sign up for Kindle Scout to vote?

A. Nope. If you have an Amazon.com account, you’ll just sign in with that.

Q. How long do I have to decide?

About a month. The campaign ends November 14th at 12:00AM EDT.

Q. Where do I go?

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2VSHAGFXNJ50T

Q. Is it a long book?

Only about 75K words (maybe 240 pages). Good for a beach read or for those slightly less cold because of El Nino winter nights.

Q. How can I help?

If you like the book, share the campaign on Twitter or Facebook. Tell your friends, your relatives, your dog. Hey, you never know. Maybe he’ll vote by randomly mashing keys. Dogs are very smart.

Q. What if I have more questions?

Kindle Scout has a great FAQ or you could just contact me at bentrubewriter@gmail.com.

Thank you so much and hope to earn your vote!

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