Tag Archives: Amazon

Kindle Scout – My Submission

As of about 10pm last night, I have submitted my next book Surreality for consideration under the Kindle Scout program.

SurrealityKindleScoutSubmitted

Right now I’m in the waiting period for my materials to be reviewed. In a few days I should be receiving details as to the launch date of the 30 day campaign, as well as previews of how the site will look. It’s a bit of a nervous feeling, more so even than when I published my fractal books. The one payoff of those projects is that they were available for purchase pretty much immediately after I uploaded them. Here I have 45 days to wait and see if Amazon Press will be publishing my book, or if I’ll work with Kindle Direct Publishing as I did before.

A lot of things went into preparing the campaign. They say you can do it in 15 minutes, but they’re only talking about the literal form filling out process (and that’s if you don’t read the EULA as I did). Since this is a blog chronicling technology and aspects of the writing process I thought this would be a good time to give you my impressions of submitting to Kindle Scout, and help fill in a few gaps in the FAQ’s they provide.

Treat this like a real publishing contract, because it is:

The short version of this statement is don’t assume anything. The Kindle Press contract has some specific terms about what rights go to Amazon and when and how they revert to you. Even if you aren’t selected for publication the materials on the Kindle Scout website are not automatically removed.

  • Amazon will remove your materials from the Kindle Scout site after you request it in writing (but not automatically).
  • If you publish with Kindle Press certain rights automatically renew if sales goals are met, while others can be reverted to you if Kindle Press hasn’t exercised them or sales targets are not met. Again, this doesn’t happen automatically. You have to request reversion of your rights.
  • Amazon sets the price of the book. No big surprise but it might be a factor for some people. They control the marketing.

My advice is to print a hard copy of the EULA as well as saving a digital copy to your computer. And I know it’s long, but do read it. It’s not a bad deal, but you should understand it.

Author Questions / Bio

You can select author questions from a list of about 15 questions Amazon has come up with. Responses are 300 characters long for each question. Use this space to talk about books you like and what inspires you. Your Bio is only 500 characters and probably should be more about who you are and where you live.

Look at other submissions

It was very helpful to me to see what others were doing for things like their descriptions and taglines. 45 characters is not much space to describe your book, but you’d be amazed what some people come up with. The tagline should evoke the feeling of the book, the description should tell you what the book is about.

Make your thank you a thank you

This is a personal opinion, but I don’t think a thank you should be sales pitch as Amazon suggests. You’ve already mentioned where people can find you in social media links, maybe answers to questions and your bio. Let the thank you statement just be a thank you for people who took the time to vote for you.

Submit a book that’s ready to publish

I don’t know how this is going to go, but Surreality is coming out one way or another. I’ve voted on a number of other books on the site, some that have been selected for publication, and others that haven’t. If you vote for a book, you’ll get a notice if the author self-publishes it on Amazon and it’s probably a good idea to do this when people still remember who you are. As for the books that won, Amazon expects a final draft with 30 days of you being picked and will go ahead with what you’ve submitted if you don’t update them. Again, this is the real deal, treat it as such.

Tomorrow I’ll talk a bit about the cover shoot. Anyone else got a campaign running?

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Giving Scouting Another Look

A little less than a year ago, I wrote about a new Amazon program called Kindle Scout.

The bottom-line is this:

  • Readers read excerpts of books and vote for their favorites (up to 3 per month). This voting data is used by Amazon to consider the next crop of books it will publish out of Kindle Scout. If a book you voted for is picked, you get a free copy.
  • Authors whose books are selected get a $1500 advance, 50% eBook royalty and a 5 year exclusive Amazon publishing contract (plus marketing promotions, audiobook and international sales,etc.)

According to the Scout FAQ you retain print rights, which you can use to publish the book through a traditional publisher or through CreateSpace. It’s a little unclear if the book would be eligible for Kindle Matchbook (free or discounted eBook copies for purchasers of the physical book) under these circumstances.

Keeping print rights is actually important to me for a couple of reasons:

  • The fractal books were too expensive to produce print copies, so I never got something I could hold in my hand after a year and a half of work. This was understandably a little disappointing.
  • Print copies allow me to gift my book to friends easily, with signed copies.
  • I can take advantage of unconventional local scale marketing by donating books to little library boxes.
  • There’s at least the possibility that I could sell the book to local independent book stores.

The pros and cons of going with Scout seem to be these:

Pros:

  • Money up front.
  • Amazon featured marketing, beyond the programs you can get through KDP.

Cons:

  • Lower eBook royalty.
  • Less control over how the book is priced, marketed.
  • Long Amazon exclusivity. Less flexibility to try other channels.

Truthfully, I’m on the fence about this. I like the control that comes from going “full indie”, but I recognize that can make it a lot harder for a book to be discovered. And there’s a certain amount of upfront interest that has to be generated for the book for it even to make Amazon’s cut.

Have any of you tried Scout? What has been your experience?

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Paid by the page, first month results

Those of you who participate in Kindle Unlimited or KOLL as an author have probably been curious to see how per page payouts would shake out versus getting paid a fixed amount per checkout. The reason given for the change was to balance out self-published authors who were getting the same money for 50 page pamphlets versus those who wrote 500 page epics. Reportedly, some authors were abusing this system by putting out a lot of small books. As the author of both short and long books, I can offer a little perspective (and numbers) from both sides of the change.

coverMy “pamphlet” book Fractals You Can Draw is 52 KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) and sells for $0.99. Before the change I was getting about $1.35 for each checkout, which is four times the royalty I got from someone buying the book, and 33% more than the purchase price. Under the new system, according to the payouts I received for July, each page is worth approximately 0.57 cents. If someone reads the whole book, I get 30 cents, pretty much the same as if they bought it and never read it. Sure, it was nice to get a 133% royalty for a while, but that’s kinda silly.

My other book Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach is 582 KENP and sells for $4.99. Because of delivery fees I make about a 50% royalty on each copy sold. The $1.35 payout was a little more than half that royalty, which at the time was balanced out with checkouts of Fractals You Can Draw, but it was still less money than if I had made a sale. Now, at 0.57 cents a page I make $1.35 if someone reads 239 pages, $2.50 for 439 pages, and $3.32 if someone reads the whole book. Holding a reader’s interest does pay off.

coverHere’s where the loophole might still exist. Both of these books are picture, equation, figure and source code heavy, sections readers will often skim. Now in my case it probably took as much if not more work to create each image as it did a block of text the same size. But they are pages more likely to be read because they have less of an opportunity cost for the reader, at least in theory. A 130 page self-published book of webcomics takes much less time to read than a similar book of text, and might be more likely to be read all the way through.

So, if you’re an artbook inclined person, this is your time to shine.

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Hidden Star Trek Comics Gems

Instead of my typical review post this Friday, I thought I’d give some of the Star Trek and Comic Book fans a little treat. I’m always working on my digital and physical Star Trek collections, and in my Amazon searches I found four collections for 99 cents that contain some of the best Star Trek stories ever told.

As far as I can tell these collections are a bit of an error from IDW. Amazon does not have the resources to verify all of its content and leaves that responsibility to the publishers. I had this happen when I bought Batman #408 (Jason Todd’s first post-crisis appearance). It actually contained the content for Batman #409. I contacted Amazon, who contacted DC, who eventually corrected the issue. What IDW meant to collect here (I believe) was the individual issues for the Star Trek Archive: The Best of Peter David (for 3 of the 4 collections in this post). The content for each of these is actually whole Archive collections of 5-6 comics each, probably some of the cheapest graphic novel stories you can pick up.

Star Trek Archives: Best Of Borg

Listed as Star Trek: Best Of Borg

Writers – Michael Jan Friedman and Paul Jenkins, Artists – Peter Krause, Pablo Marcos, Steve Erwin and Terry Pallot

BestOfBorg_Cover

This collection contains DC Star Trek: The Next Generation #47-50 (more commonly known as “The Worst Of Both Worlds” and Marvel Special: Operation Assimilation.

The TNG story is probably one of the best arcs in DC’s 80 issue TNG run. The Enterprise is pulled through a dimensional vortex into a parallel universe where the Borg have assimilated most of Earth. The Enterprise saucer section was destroyed during the rescue attempt of Captain Picard who remains as Locutus, over-seeing the Borg’s final assimilation of Earth.

The parallel crew of the Enterprise enlists the help of the prime crew to retrieve Locutus and defeat the Borg. But First Officer Shelby and Miles O’Brian have other agendas that may spoil their plans for getting home.

The art’s a little simpler for this arc then you might hope for, but it does have some nice character moments, action shots and the cover art is stellar.

This moment alone makes the whole thing worth-while:

BestOfBorg

The Marvel story details a Romulan Commander’s contact with the Borg. It’s been a while since I’ve read the special, but it’s pretty good. If you buy anything in this post, buy this collection.

Star Trek Archives: Best Of Kirk

Listed as Star Trek Archives: The Best Of Peter David #5

Writer – Peter David, Artists – James W. Fry and Gordon Purcell

BestOfKirk_Cover

This collection contains DC Star Trek (Volume 2) Issues 7-12, highlighted by the story “The Trial Of James T. Kirk” (issues 10-12). It’s a shame issues 1-6 aren’t readily available in digital form, as the whole 12 issues forms a longer story-line with several episodes.

Here’s what you missed from issues 1-6: The Klingon empire has put a price on Captain Kirk’s head for perceived crimes against the empire. In the midst of this, Kirk and Company encounter a new race of religious fanatics headed by The Salla, who can cause a man to die just by telling him to. But not Kirk. Kirk is hunted by Captain Klaa (that Klingon commander from Star Trek V) and the Salla all while trying to settle a dispute on a warring planet.

His unconventional solution to the episode earns him further scrutiny from Starfleet and the presence of Federation observer R. J. Blaise who despite an antagonistic relationship, begins to take a liking to Kirk. In the midst of this, Sulu is being pursued by two women and Kirk is having to deal with the antics of one of his new, and over-eager security recruits.

In these issues (7-12) Kirk saves a dying planet from a plague, and a maniacal despot, though the circumstances of that rescue are unclear. He also encounters a bounty hunter eager to profit from the price on his head. Feeling his actions hampered by pursuit from without and within, Kirk consents to a trial in the federation counsel to justify his actions as Captain.

The scenario may be a bit of a stretch, but the characterization here is some of the best, both for the new and old characters. It’s a shame Paramount clamped down on extraneous characters because these secondary stories are some of the most interesting. There’s only so much freedom a writer can have with the big three, but with their own characters they can do anything.

Star Trek Archives: The Best of DS9

Listed as Star Trek Archives: The Best of Peter David #4

Writer – Mike W. Barr, Artists – Gordon Purcell, Rob David and Terry Pallot

BestOfDS9_Cover

This collection includes Malibu DS9 1-5 and the Aschcan story “Hostage Situation”. Malibu started its DS9 run around the same time as the show itself, and it’s a shame it didn’t get as much time to play with the storylines introduced by Worf and the Dominion (the series ran for 32 issues). Still, the stories in this collection capture some of the best elements of the early seasons of the show, particularly a station that still had many unexplored sections and was clearly not a federation starbase.

Mike W. Barr penned these tales, and has had a relationship with Star Trek comics since the first DC Star Trek series (and a couple of Marvel tales from the best forgotten post motion picture series).

Deep Space Nine is always a series I want to see Star Trek fans get into, and these comics are a great entry point.

 

Star Trek Archives: The Best of Peter David

Listed as Star Trek Archives: The Best of Peter David #1

Writers – Peter David and Bill Mumy, Artists – Curt Swan, Ricardo Villagran, Gordon Purcell and Arne Starr

BestOfPeterDavid_Cover

This collection is the archive I believe was going to be split into individual pieces (that’s how it is listed on Comixology). It contains DC Star Trek (Volume 1) Annual 3 and DC Star Trek (Volume 2) Issues 13-15 and 19.

Issues 13-15 wrap up some of R. J. Blaise’s story with Kirk (though her real conclusion is in a later special) while telling the tale of some planetary heroes (who bare some resemblance to Lost In Space characters, hence Bill Mumy) who have been in hibernation for years and are now returning to their planet in triumph. But is there a home for them to come back to?

Issue 19 is a tale of Kirk trying to memorialize a member of his crew who died on a mission but is someone he didn’t know at all. As it turns out no on else knew him well either. It’s a nice portrayal of the death of a redshirt as a real human being.

Annual 3 is the best thing in the collection. Scotty learns of the death of one of his oldest loves and the tale is told backwards through their on again, off again tumultuous romance. It’s bittersweet, but shows a side of Scotty beyond just a grumpy engineer.

All in all, more than 20 issues for less than 4 bucks, across three crews and the best decade in Star Trek comics.

Note: Amazon can correct these at any time so you may want to back them up after buying if you want to keep the full version. On the other hand, if no one complains (and who would, really), then you may never have an issue.

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Be a professional self-publisher

I am mortified that I have ever let people read my first drafts. I have subjected this horror on my friends, my parents and even my wife.

Nobody wants to read the raw thoughts that come out of my brain. Nobody should have to sift through over 200,000 words that really should have been 120,000 (or maybe even 80,000). Nobody should be thrown down all the blind alleys, long dragging passages, spelling errors, grammar errors and just crappy phraseology of initial prose.

This is why you need an editor.

In a recent intelligence squared debate on Amazon and self-publishing, two statements by the debaters struck me:

  • Self-published authors write more than one book a year, often churning them out.
  • Writers don’t think they need editors.

My wife will tell you the second one at least seems true a lot of the time. Working on the same novel for more than seven years tends to beat a little of that stubbornness out of you, however. As a treat (or a joke, or a punishment) I’m planning to read the first draft of Surreality after I publish the final just to see what’s changed. Already I can tell you whatever thin notion I had that editing wasn’t necessary should fly away after that.

I understand the desire to churn out books. It can seem like the best way to get your name out there. And truthfully some of the most successful books haven’t been that well written or edited, but so are the vast majority of obscure, never-read books. And everyone seems to want to write series, or trilogies, to the point that some self-published authors break what probably was a mid to longer length book into smaller chunks.

But I don’t think anyone wants to write a bad book. Believe me, I understand what it is like to have a dozen book ideas in your head and the worry that you’ll never have time to get them all out. It’s a self feeding beast. The more you write, the more you want to write. And that is great and you totally should write as much as you possibly can, whenever you can.

But if you want people to read it, you need an editor and you need to cut stuff. Maybe 20% of your original draft will survive to the final, and it’s likely that won’t be the best 20%. The best ideas you’re going to have are going to be 5-10 revisions in.

You should not choose the self-publishing route because you want to skip the wait of traditional publishing. You should do it because it fits better with the kind of story you want to tell, or the price you want to sell your book, or because you’re an enterprising type. Maybe you can work with several books in the pipeline and produce finished books every three months, but for those books to be any good they need time to mature and to be refined.

Here are some more thoughts in no particular order:

  • Get an editor, not just a proof-reader. You can pay someone to fix your grammar, and spell check your book, but that isn’t really a lot better than Word’s built-in functions unless the person understands your work and what works and what doesn’t. Try to find someone you can have a conversation with to fix the text. You may still need a proofer at the end, but the prose needs more than just a quick correct.
  • Learn to draw big red ‘X’s through what’s not working. Make it something you want to do, something that gives you a little shot of dopamine every time you cross out a word, or a sentence or a paragraph that isn’t working. The spine of your story and your characters will still be there, just without the clutter. It’s really okay.
  • You can design your own cover if you want, but avoid the “self-published” cover look. This can have a lot to do with chosen fonts, size of title, and where the text is on the images (it’s subtle but detectable). Try looking at the covers of books published in your genre in the past couple of years and look for design elements you like.
  • Don’t let writing a bad book get you down too much. Rejection, whether it’s from a literary agent or from a reader, is pretty much part of the game no matter how good or bad you are. Take the advice that makes sense to you and apply it. Throw the rest out.
  • Keep writing. Publish when ready, not when done.
  • Do what feels right to you, but be willing to change it when new data arises. You should not be the same kind of writer you were five years ago, or will be five years from now.
  • Try getting something traditionally published, even if it’s just a short story. Understand the thing you are rejecting before writing it off forever. It’s cliche, but you never know until you try, no matter what anyone in the blogosphere might say.
  • Define what success looks like to you. (Hint: It will almost never be something like 1 million copies sold or fame and fortune). Up that goal a little with each book, but be happy when you meet goals.

What have you learned from self-publishing or reading self-published authors?

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Kindle Exclusive (1 month in)

Hey, this Monday and Tuesday you can get Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach on Amazon for just $2.99! The price goes up to $3.99 on Wednesday and Thursday so grab it now if you can! Also, Fractals You Can Draw is available again for free this Monday and Tuesday only!

UPDATE: Kindle Countdown Deal is live. Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach is $2.99 until 11am on 2/4 (when the price goes up to $3.99 for another 48 hours). Fractals You Can Draw is FREE until 11:59pm Tuesday.

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About a month ago I decided to sell the fractal books exclusively on Amazon. Part of this was due to slow sales at outlets like Barnes and Noble (which offered a better royalty but only made 13 sales in one year), and the rest due to platform changes on sites like Bundle Dragon. I’d already triggered the higher royalty back in August, but I wanted to try out some of the new tools for giving my books away for free or selling them at a discount.

I had a bad experience last year with discounts on Bundle Dragon. To lower the price of my bundle I basically had to create a new bundle from scratch (which meant re-uploading all the content which kept failing even though it had worked last year). After running the lower price bundle for a week I had made exactly 0 sales. And because the site always redirected to the latest bundle, links to Bundle Dragon now took you to my defunct discount bundle, and not the current full price one.

With Kindle, all I have to do is specify a time I want the book to go on sale. I’m trying a Kindle Countdown deal for Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach this week ($2.99 on Monday and Tuesday, $3.99 on Wednesday and Thursday) and another free deal for Fractals You Can Draw. When I ran a free deal for a couple of days last month I gave away over 200 copies of Fractals You Can Draw (more than twice what I’d sold in the last year and a half).

A lot of authors complain they don’t get as much of a royalty (if any at all) for books that are lent. I’m sympathetic to this argument somewhat, but my experience in the last month has been increased sales and borrowing. I’m still a relatively unknown author, so it’s nice to give people the chance to try before they buy (and sometimes a 5% sample from Amazon doesn’t cut it). I actually like that people can borrow my book and decide to buy it later if they want. When I first published Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach, I put a copy of it on my library’s digital lending site so that people (at least in the Columbus area) could share my love of fractals for free (and I’m not getting any royalty on those borrows). I think a lot of people will support you if you give them the choice. That’s how sites like Humble Bundle and Story Bundle have survived.

I’m not saying I’ll always put all my eggs in the Amazon basket, but the fractal books have been out for a year and a half, and sometimes you just have to try something new to stir up interest. And since I’m thinking of releasing Surreality as an Amazon exclusive initially, making the switch has been a nice way to feel that process out. This is the part that’s very different for the self-published author, self promotion and having to figure out where to sell your books for the best exposure and the best profit. It can feel like a very un-writer-y thing to do, but it can also be exciting.

Have you ever tried a Kindle Countdown deal? How did it go?

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Amazon Scouts for new talent

Or actually they get you to do it.

Amazon seems to be rolling out new programs for its readers and writers every couple of months. This latest, Kindle Scout, offers readers the chance to vote for the next big thing in books, or more specifically, who gets a 5 year contract and $1500 advance from Amazon.

For readers it doesn’t seem like a particularly bad deal. You get to sample the first few pages of a lot of authors, pick your favorites, and if a lot of people agree with you, you get a free copy of the full book. Even if you don’t get free books, odds are you’ll have found something new you might not otherwise have discovered.

And for writers it’s not so bad either, particularly if you’re just starting out. The full terms are a 5-year renewable contract for exclusive worldwide eBook and audio-book rights in return for the $1500 advance and a 50% royalty. True, you have less control over how your book is published than you do with Amazon’s 70% self-publishing option, but you also have Amazon’s Featured Marketing which seems to include participation in Kindle Unlimited and the Lending Library (both things you get with the exclusive 70% option) but also e-mail and targeted promotions (whatever that means).

If you read the Publisher’s Lunch newsletter, then you know that $1500 advance is not a big deal, but it is a nice one. Here’s how the calculation works for someone who was going to sell their book exclusively on Amazon for the 70% option at $2.99.

To earn $1500 in royalties you would need to sell 717 copies of your book (assuming no appreciable transmission fees that cut into your royalty) at $2.99 (70% royalty). If you think you’re going to sell less copies of your book, then a $1500 advance is pretty good. Just to compare apples to apples you’d need to sell about $2143 in merchandise to earn $1500 if you go it alone.

To earn your advance if published by Kindle Press you’d need $3000 in sales before you’d start earning additional royalties (regardless of the individual price of each book which is a little difficult to parse and probably will vary on Kindle Scout). That might sound like a lot more, but hopefully Amazon’s marketing would help with that as they obviously have some interest in you earning the money they paid for you.

Problems I see are these: If a book is really popular in its Scout campaign, it stands a risk of most of its copies going to the people who voted for it, and not for people who spent money. And exactly how much social media or random reader clout is necessary to break the threshold is a little nebulous as well, and probably varies from cycle to cycle. Amazon might take a risk on you initially, but if you don’t earn your advance or maybe even the $25,000 they hope you’ll earn in your 5-year contract, they may not give you another one. That’s true for just about anywhere in the publishing industry though so maybe its worth the risk.

And some people in the literature community might be uncomfortable with the idea of books being selected by popular vote, and not by the standards of literary agents and publishers. Scout’s genres at the moment are sci-fi, mystery and romance, which have always been more populist genres, but this is a real experiment in whether the crowd can actually pick quality.

But that’s really what our publishing landscape looks like these days. Readers and writers alike need to be willing to experiment to find what works for them. I’m not sure if I’d submit a book to this program or not, but I am considering it. If I do, I hope I can count on all of you to vote for me and in return I’ll vote for you to 🙂

Have you guys checked out Kindle Scout? Thoughts?

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