January is already nearly done, and I’m only just setting myself some goals? What can I say: it has been a busy year already.
But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking about what I hope to achieve this year. Already, some planning has happened and things are shifting. So let’s get down to it! What stars am I aiming for this time?
As annoying as it is, life stuff impacts on my ability to write and create the stories that are buzzing around in my head. So what are the things that I’m hoping to get done this year, and will they make my writing life easier?
The beloved and begrudged day job pays the bills and makes everything possible. I have some hopes for improvement in this area, particularly with how challenging it is right now, but I really can’t complain.
I’m in the enviable position of:
- Having a job that pays my bills
- Enjoying the job and liking the people I work with
- Being relatively secure in my job
- Qualifying for long-service leave this year. I just need to decide when and how to use it!
I’m always leaning towards new prospects and opportunities, but really, staying happy and healthy in my current position will suit me just fine for this year.
Over the past 18 months, I have reorganised my home to be more comfortable and conducive to writing. I’m most of the way through the process, so my main goals for 2015 in this area are to:
- Finish up the reorganisation, which mostly means:
- Gutting the dining room and refilling it.
- Sorting out the old office. It’s going to become a guest room or possibly a beanbag room. Or both.
- Enjoy my surroundings.
- Use my writing balcony more.
Ah, the monkey on my back, the fly in my ointment. It hasn’t been good, though I’ve been keeping my head above water (which I judge by my ability to keep going to my day job). I’m hoping to do some investigations into potentially helpful avenues, depending on cost, and will mostly keep trying to look after myself.
This is what we’re really interested in, right? What writing am I hoping to achieve this year? A tricky question, because I’m not sure if I should continue to aim high, or learn from last year and be more conservative.
I guess, at the end of the day, this is a list of things I want to achieve. So let’s start there!
My plan has always been to stop there. I’ve got the kernels of ideas for Book 5 brewing (the seeds are being planted in Book 4), but there’s not enough there to write. Yet. I don’t believe in starting blindly; I won’t write without knowing what it is I’m writing (I’ve done this before and it doesn’t work for me). It’s simply not ready.
On top of that, I have been writing Starwalker for 5 years now (!!!). I am immensely proud of that, and I’m just as in love with it now as I was when I started. But it’s time for a break. I’ve got projects piling up on my to-do list that I would love to get to, and right now, I don’t have headspace to seriously write more than one at a time.
So what does this mean? It means I’ll be putting a pin in Starwalker after Book 4 is complete. I may come back to it one day, but I’ll be taking a rest from it.
If I get the itch to play in the Starwalker realm, I may well continue building the Shorts. I have a list and an idea for most of them, and shorts are a good way to capitalise on downtime.
I may also look into publishing options. Self? Traditional? Kickstarter-funded? All good questions to consider.
I made good progress on this last year, and I want to capitalise on that this year. My long-term goal is to:
- Complete the second draft (currently about 50% done) and get to the end of the story
- Do an analysis of the draft and see how happy I am with it, and what work it needs. It might need to be broken up into multiple novel-sized chunks.
- Serialise the third draft, editing and reworking as I go.
For 2015, I want to work on the first of those bullet points. It’s going to be a big story; if current patterns hold true, I’ve got about 100,000 words left to write. This means I’m unlikely to finish it this year, but I’ll probably work on it as my NaNoWriMo project again and make a good-sized dent in the remainder.
These ebooks have been out for a while, and I’ll be honest: I’ve let them languish. I have edits I need to do to them, and new covers to apply, and new blurbs to write. I need to adjust the pricing and try to lift their market presence.
In all, it’s probably not a huge amount of work (though with marketing, it’s a bit of a black hole, so we’ll see), but I want to set aside the time and mental space to do it.
Vampire Victim Support Group
This is a lot of fun, and because they’re shorts, I’m hoping to be able to fit them in between other stuff. I’ve got a list of them roughly mapped out, and hope to expand the series over the next year. I’ve also got some big-picture ideas (the original idea was a group of loosely-connected vignettes, and I’ve started pondering ideas for the connective material), but we’ll see where that goes.
Tales from the Screw Loose
This project (otherwise known as the ‘robot brothel story’) has been lurking for a while and is almost in a state that’s ready to write. Talking with a friend about it recently, it’s easy to get enthusiastic and excited about it. It’s not going to be a short or quick project (current plan have a rough trilogy outlined), so this will take some investment. Probably a good one to serialise.
I’m not confident of my ability to get to this in 2015. The projects listed above could easily fill up the year, and I’m not in a place where I’d put this at the top of my list.
Chances are, what I’ll do is see whether I could cope with a second serial when I get to the stage of serialising Vampire Electric. That probably won’t be this year. So Screw Loose will remain on hold, for now, but not forgotten.
I’m not entirely sure what this covers. I know I talked last year about putting anthologies together, but I really don’t have the mental energy for a project like that this year. Or at least, right now. I think the list above is plenty to keep me busy; everything else is on hold. Backburners. I’ll fight the urge to get distracted by squirrels and shiny objects.
I will add that I’m hoping to be a bit more regular with posts on this blog. I let a few things languish last year, so I’m aiming to be better this year. Finish what I start, which means putting up a lot of posts currently sitting as half-finished drafts. I’m getting there, one step at a time. Watch this space!
Writing Events and Community Stuff
I’m still very active in my local writing community. And by ‘active’, I mean that I organise a bunch of events, get people together, and have a load of writing-related fun. I have no intention of changing this. My writing friends are a constant source of support, amusement, inspiration, and comfort. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
Monthly Writing Group and Write-in
That said, I am changing things up this year. The monthly events I run are successful and working, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be better. I have spread the events out over the month, sharing the load around a bit, and I’m hoping that will wind up being better for my health (previously, the two big monthly events were on the same weekend, which was a big, tiring time for me). It also spreads the cost of the events, which will help many of my attendees.
After the turnout and feedback we got last year, my co-ML (Municipal Liaison – I have a wonderful friend who helps me to organise the events) and I are in discussions about whether we will do another one this year. The main issue seems to be the cost and getting time away from family commitments. We can’t do anything about the latter, and we work to keep the prices as low as possible, but at the end of the day, if it’s not working, we need to be honest about it.
We’re looking at other ideas and options, and it’s likely that we’ll try something new and different this year. Cross your fingers for us! I’m sure it’ll be fun, if a lot of work, but it’s always worth it.
This has been a lot of fun over the past couple of years, and I’m aiming to run another one this year. I took feedback last year and have some ideas for how to change it up, so there’ll be a new setup this time. I’ve got the theme in mind and I think I know what the challenges should be. I’m hoping to make it fun for everyone who gets involved.
That’s everything! It’s a big list, now that I look at it all in one place. I’m both a little daunted and utterly ready to get going. So much to do, why waste time?
Let’s go. Let’s make 2015 better than 2014. Onwards and upwards, my friends.
I hope you’ll all join me on the journey.
Part of the Amazon is not your friend series. (Sorry for the delay – catching up on a backlog of posts here.)
I have already talked about the KDP Select program and why its exclusivity requirement is a problem for indie publishing. A big chunk of program incentive that is waved in front of an Amazon author is the KDP Select Fund, and it’s worth thinking about in its own right.
Every month, Amazon pumps hundreds of thousands of dollars into a fund, which is split amongst the KDP Select authors depending on their books’ performance (mostly linked to the lending library). This is a valuable source of income for some Amazon authors. Lately, the amount put aside in this Fund has reached up into the millions of dollars.
I chose not be part of that system and I didn’t give the Fund its own heading to complain about not getting a slice of this particular pie. That was my choice and I don’t regret it. I want to talk about the implications of this fund.
It’s a very nice incentive. I congratulate every author who has benefited from it, and it has been part of what has tempted me towards the KDP Select program.
The more I think about it, though, the more dubious I become. This Fund can’t last forever. Amazon is supplementing authors’ income, bulking out its ebook royalties and paying for borrowed books with this fund. Amazon is the only ebook venue I know of that does this (are there any others? Let me know!).
Recently, it has added the Kindle Unlimited book lending to the fund. However, there’s no indication that the subscription money earned by KU is going into this fund. It started out as just a chunk of money that Amazon offered up to authors and that’s what it still looks like.
There is no indication that the Fund is in any way self-supporting. Lending library fees don’t appear to be funding it, nor any other traceable revenue from Amazon’s ebook services. This, for me, is a big warning flag. Why? Why would they hamstring their bottom line like that? That’s a chunk of their profits they’re giving away, which seems strange for a business.
(A little side note: authors have always been paid by libraries for their books – this is a normal part of a traditional contract – so this doesn’t represent any kind of revolution. The libraries somehow figure out how to make that work, and other ebook library services (available through distributors like Smashwords) have figured out how to do it. It’s only right that authors should be paid for library lending of their work. My question is: why is Amazon supplementing it this way?)
Amazon is a business, not a charity, and don’t kid yourself that there’s anything altruistic about the Fund. It’s not a favour for its authors, nor for its readers. We need to think about it in terms of business goals. It’s clearly not there to make money, so what else is the company gaining?
You. Amazon authors. It’s an incentive to tie authors into the KDP Select program, which means more books going exclusive with Amazon, which means fewer books available in other stores. Which has knock-on effects into the book industry as a whole, all of which benefit Amazon. (See also the previous post and associated links about exclusivity.)
What happens when it no longer needs to entice authors into the program? When it has so much of the industry that the other stores can’t compete any more? That fund will dry up. When it has achieved its goal, it will have no reason to keep paying it out, so why would it?
But Amazon promised, it’s in the agreement. Right now, it is, yes, but that agreement also includes a clause that allows Amazon to change its terms at any time, with no notice or consultation. There is a clause allowing them to make a bait-and-switch.
Authors can withdraw from the program at specific, select intervals (currently, every 3 months), so they could just leave, right? But by the time Amazon no longer needs to pay for the Fund, there won’t be any/many alternatives available. We’ll have to wait until an alternative rises out of the ashes of the old, if it is still possible by that point (I’m sure there are plenty of people who have speculated on this).
I consider the Fund a temporary measure at best, a short-term tool. I can see it drying up, maybe slowly, maybe quickly, as Amazon cements its market domination and ceases to need it so much. I can see them using excuses like ‘market pressures’ or ‘business protection’ or ‘government/tax impositions’. What I am sure about is that once Amazon get the monopoly it’s pushing for and it’s no longer necessary to maintain that Fund, it’ll fall by the wayside. It just doesn’t make sense to maintain it: in business terms, that’s profit they’re giving away.
Perhaps this is a cynical view. Perhaps it won’t happen soon. And maybe it’s okay to milk the cow while the calf is young. But when someone offers me a juicy deal, I have to ask what’s in it for them, what their goals are, and what it’s going to cost me at some point.
Without the Fund, what is the KDP Select program is really giving you? Some promoted exposure? I think about the knock-on effects in the industry, the audience you’re not getting to and the bookstores that are struggling as a result, and I have to ask: is it truly worth it? Is it worth the cost down the track?
Hard to believe that it’s already 2015. Sheesh! So much has happened, and yet, not anywhere as much as I had hoped.
2014 was a frustrating year for me. Struggles with my health meant struggles with everything else… but let’s take an honest look at what I accomplished last year, compared to what I set out to do.
I have been so grateful for the support and help of my family, friends, and readers this year. They have helped me achieve the house stuff, sent me well-wishes, and supported me when I was flagging. I don’t ask for help often or easily – I’m a very independent person – and I’ve needed a lot of it over the past year. Thanks to everyone who has been there, including those of you who I only talk to through a screen. Your words, your time, and your attention are always appreciated.
- Day job – it continues, it’s going well, and I’m still utterly grateful for it. :)
- Big house change-around – not complete yet, but I’ve got the main parts tidied up and working. In 2014, I finally got a whole bunch of my comic book art framed and up on the walls, and I set up an awesome writing balcony for myself. Love that balcony, it’s wonderful. Still a bunch of work to go to ‘finish’ the change-around, though.
- Beating my health with a stick – it has been more like the other way around. Bah. :(
- Starwalker Book 4 didn’t quite go to plan. Due to health stuff, there were more delays and interruptions than I like, enough that I was frustrating myself. Late in the year, thanks to a few factors (I haven’t written a post about this yet, have I? I should do that), the fourth chapter took a bit of a turn down a dark alley, and proceeded to drag its feet, sucking and slurping along until I put a pin in it. I took a break from it for about six weeks, and I really needed that time to get my head straight and come back to the story fresh. The fourth book has had a little bit of retconning done and is now back on track, humming along on a much better path.
- Other Starwalker stuff – hasn’t really happened, mostly because Book 4 took much longer than expected, especially with the break and reset of a section. Nope, haven’t edited any of it, or done any more shorts yet.
- Vampire Electric – the second draft is coming along nicely! It was my NaNo project for 2014, and it is currently sitting at about 100,000 words. Disturbingly, I’m only about halfway through the story. It’s going to be a long one! I’m pleased with how it’s going, though, and looking forward to getting back to it at some point.
- Other projects – all pretty much on hold. With my health as it is, I just haven’t had the mental bandwidth to deal with multiple projects at the same time. Writing a web serial means that I have to have my attention pretty much glued to Starwalker the whole time. I don’t consider this a bad thing – I still love to write Starwalker – but it is a restriction. I did a little poking around on the edges of a couple of projects, planning a few things out, but nothing substantial. Yet.
- This blog – I didn’t have any particular goals around this, but updates have been spotty at best. I really should do better. I have a whole list of things I want to write about but just didn’t get to.
Writing community stuff:
- My Creative Writing Group is still going strong! We had a lot of fun over the last year, and the turnout continues to be strong. They’re a wonderful bunch of people and I learn a lot with them.
- I tried something a little different with the Writers’ Asylum this year. It went well! Some changes were made due to feedback from the previous year and they seemed to work well. I got some more feedback and I have a plan to try for the next one. Ideas are in motion.
- NaNoWriMo went well. I wrote loads, and events were big and crazy, and we spent a weekend on an island again. There were a couple of things that didn’t go so well – a couple of issues with people, which is always a danger when dealing with a big, diverse group, and our TGIO party got rained off – but nothing we couldn’t work around or get past. We tried a couple of new things, and learned some stuff we’ll put into practice next year. On the whole, a successful month.
2014 was pretty hard on me, but looking at it this way, I think I achieved more than I give myself credit for. I think it’s because I had to fight harder than usual to get things done, and I champ at my own restrictions because I demand more from myself than what I’m currently capable of.
I think the most disappointing thing in the whole year was having Starwalker wander off-track and having to retcon to pull it back into line. That upset me, because I try to be better than that. I try not to let the pressures in the rest of my life bleed into my writing, and I failed.
On the other hand, the thing I am most grateful for is the support I got when I took that hiatus and took the time to get my head straight. I often say how wonderful my readership is, and this is just another example of how much they do for me, and how much they mean to me. There was not a single complaint, even when they admitted that they weren’t enjoying the story so much since it started to slide. There was support and encouragement, and understanding. They are what I like to call ‘awesome humans’, and I’m proud to have them as my readers.
I’m also proud that I stood up and took action when the story was going wrong. It took a while for me to admit to myself that I was in a place I couldn’t write my way out of, but once I had, I didn’t hide it. It’s not easy to put your hand up and admit you made a mistake, especially to the people you want to have adore and trust you. So, yes, it sucks that I got into that position and I’ll be doing my damnedest to never be there again. But I think I handled it well – or at least I didn’t suck at it – and it came good in the end.
Perhaps that’s the best thing I can take away from 2014: there were many battles in it, but I got through them and out the other side. I have learned things, and grown, and I’m still pleased to be who I am. Onwards! Into a shiny new year and all the promise that it holds.
Part of the Amazon is not your friend series.
I have been speculating about Amazon’s business plan for a while. You may have read my thoughts over the other posts in this series, and there’s a lot more to come yet. The post series may be new, but this is an issue that has been percolating in my brain for many months now, rife with suspicions and hopes and cynical sighs.
Recently, I received an email that made it all click into place. Those suspicions that I had been harbouring and finally dared to write down, the thoughts that I was afraid to express in case I was being unfair or maybe just misinformed, all of it seems justified now.
Maybe I am still joining the dots the wrong way, but the patterns are so strong that I’m pretty sure I’m not. Amazon wants a monopoly. It wants to crush traditional publishing out of the picture. It wants full control of the book industry.
Why am I so sure now? Because Amazon has just announced its new publishing program: Kindle Scout / Kindle Press. Here we see it setting itself up as direct competition to publishers, the entities it is trying to strangle into a very Amazon-favourable contract.
In this new program, authors will be able to submit for the chance to win a traditional-style publishing contract with Amazon (Kindle Press). Their submissions will go up publicly, to be voted on by anyone who chooses to weigh in (Kindle Scout); the top-voted submissions get a contract.
On the surface, it sounds great. But with everything Amazon does, you have to ignore the surface and look further to see what it really means. They have a pretty skilled marketing department and they are ruthless: both of these things are cause for suspicion.
Spoiler: this is not a good deal for authors. Every time I look at it, there’s something new that gives me the urge to skitter far, far away. Read on for why…
Let’s start with the submission process. This sounds like a wonderful process. Readers get to vote on what books get published! And when something they voted on does get published, they get a copy for free. How awesome is that?
Well, let’s see.
Firstly, yes, it is nice to see a publishing contract not being controlled by gatekeepers. I like the model of people voting for stories they would like to read in full. However, it’s not quite that straightforward: Amazon are only committing to considering the highest-voted books, and there are gatekeepers between top votes and publication. So not quite a win there.
You’ll probably see people whining about how this will lead to less ‘quality’ books being published. Well, I say bollocks to them: traditional publishers have always been interested in what sells, not what’s quality (look at Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, and many other books with errors and fallacies and inconsistencies in them; quality is not a defining factor of gatekeepered (yes, that is a word – now) fiction).
However, from the few details that Amazon have released about this program already, I have reservations about how effective this will truly be. The key point for me is that voters get a free copy of books they vote for. What does this mean? It means that they are encouraged to vote for what they want to read, but not for something they would be willing to pay for.
For many, this might be the same thing. For others, they can go in, vote for loads of random stuff, and wait for the freebies to turn up on their Kindle. Do I care about people gaming the system? No.
Amazon is using Scout as a way to predict what books will sell. But it’s not asking voters to put their money where their mouth is. Also, it’s giving away books to people who might otherwise pay for them, robbing the author of that chunk of income.
Really, Amazon? I get that you need to entice reader into the system to vote for books, but couldn’t you have offered them half price copies? Compromised?
Once again, I see Amazon offering very delicious rewards to enter into a system they want to build up quickly. And once again, I am dubious of the outcome of it all.
Then let’s think about the type of books that are likely to get the popular vote. What about niche books? Genre? What are the chances of this giving us a slew of new Twilights?
Actually, I’m not sure I want to think about that at this point. Let’s move on.
All right, let’s say you want to give this thing a go. What do you need to do? You need to provide a book that is complete and ready for publishing. What does that mean? Here’s a list:
- Fully edited manuscript ready to be published
- Bio and photo of you
- One-liner for the book
- Blurb for the book
- Other related marketing materials
In short: you have to do everything a self-publishing author has to do. Put another way: Amazon are providing nothing as part of the publishing deal to prepare your book for publishing. The cost of all of this is yours, and the quality is all dependent on you.
(Note: consider the usual breakdown of who pays for what in a contract situation. This is flexible, depending on your contract, but be aware that these are all things that can be negotiated on and they all influence the money side of the deal. Or, they should!)
This is an important point. Why? Read on.
The Publishing Deal
Okay, so let’s say you’ve won the public over and got the contract in your hot little hands. Awesome! So, what do you get?
A $1,500-dollar advance. Sweet! According to Jim C Hines, this is on par with a very small publisher’s advance, not mainstream or traditional-level publishing. Hmm, it’s a little sweet.
50% royalty for ebook sales! That’s way better than a traditional deal! Right? Actually, it could be a lot worse. Reputable publishing contracts offer royalties on the sale price of the book (gross); this is the norm for traditional contracts. Amazon, however, is offering royalties on the profit from book sales (net). The distinction is crucial.
For me, this is the chief factor that means this is a bad contract for authors.
Writer Beware has a thorough write-up of why this kind of deal is not good for writers. Let’s hit the main points of contention:
- Royalties from gross mean publishers have to manage their own costs and sell the books at a sufficient price to pay the authors their fee and make a profit for themselves. Traditional publishing agreements are more like partnerships.
- Royalties from net mean that the publisher isn’t a partner; the author is their customer. The costs reduce what they have to pay the author, and they are making profit twofold: from the sale of the book and from the sale of their publishing services to the author. It is not in Amazon’s interests to keep the costs low, but rather to inflate them. The author has no visibility or control over this.
- The author has no control over the price of the book. (This is stated in the Kindle Press terms and conditions.) This means that Amazon can price the book any way they like, discount it, or just plain reduce it to cost if they like. It is very easy for them to squeeze an author’s royalties down to nothing.
Be suspicious. Be very suspicious. Authors can easily wind up with very little return for their work, while Amazon has the scope to make all kinds of profit from the sales.
(Side note: Random House tries this tactic in early 2013 when they brought out their Alibi and Hydra imprints. Respected sources like Writer Beware and John Scalzi advised writers to run away then. This is scarily familiar.)
(Other note: this isn’t the first time that Amazon have offered net royalties. They also did this on their Kindle Worlds scheme to publish authorised fanfic.)
Also, the offered royalty rate is lower than the KDP one. KDP Select and some KDP sales earn 70% on the list price. My first question is: why?
In traditional contracts, lower royalty rates are a trade-off in exchange for publishing services: editing, cover art, marketing expertise, etc. However, in this contract, Amazon is asking authors to do all of that themselves (see the Submission information above). They already have an engine to automatically convert files into ebooks for free. So what are they doing to earn their 50% of the profits?
Marketing? Advertising? Possibly. However, the contract is vague on this point and makes no firm commitment.
Basically, authors are expected to do everything a self-published author would do, but pay Amazon like it’s a traditional publisher. This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder if I’m missing something.
On top of that, the contract also offers 20/25% royalties on audio and translation sales. However, Amazon make no commitment to making those publications actually happen The contract is unclear just who would pay for the audio to be produced or the text to be translated. Given what they expect for the initial manuscript, why would we assume they’re willing to outlay any money at all? If so, how do they justify such low royalties? How is a book in French any different to a book in German, when it comes to digital files and royalties?
(Note: I don’t know the normal kinds of royalties for audio books. If anyone can give me some insight, please do!)
Compared to their own KDP Select program, I’m struggling to see what kind of advantage an author would have as part of the Kindle Scout program.
In a publishing deal, it is expected that both sides take a risk. The publisher invests capital to get the book published and out there, and the author trusts the publisher to help make their book a success, and not let it languish in licensing rights hell for years on end, never to see the light of day. Risk on both sides, resting on the faith that this book that both parties are investing in will sell well.
Apart from a measly initial outlay of $1,500, Amazon are taking no risk at all. And considering the millions they’re pumping into the KDP Select program right now, that hardly seems like a drop in the bucket. The risk is all on the author.
Those are the scariest parts of the contract. There are many more items in it than that, and I encourage you to take a look.
Preying on Inexperienced Authors
This is a big concern of mine. I consider myself fairly savvy, and even I’m surprised about just how brazenly unethical and disreputable Amazon’s terms are.
I worry that writers won’t question those terms enough. Amazon is doing a good job of spotlighting the parts they want people to see. It’s easy to be dazzled and tempted by everything that a publishing contract has to offer. It’s easy to assume that Amazon is good to authors (after all, look at the awesome success stories that have come out of KDP Select, and that was all Amazon, right?). It’s easy to assume that this contract must be a standard publishing one, because why would they offer anything else?
Publishers of all sizes and types offer dodgy contracts all the time. Amazon is not blazing new ground here; part of why I jumped on this so quick is that it is sadly familiar. Reputable sites will tell you that the kind of things I have pointed out are not good for you, your books, or your career.
It’s the inexperienced authors that are most at risk to tactics such as this. First-time authors with dreams in their eyes. I know, I get it; I’ve been there, and sometimes I still feel that way. But please, please, don’t let it blind you.
Beware, my friends. Always get a professional opinion on a deal like this – any deal, Amazon-born or otherwise. Publishing contracts are a minefield and while it’s tempting to skip on through it with delight, because hey, publishing contract, stop. Stop and check and demand a good deal, because you deserve it.
I don’t think any authors deserve what Amazon is offering them.
Part of the Amazon is not your friend series.
To start us off, I thought we’d delve a little into the history of publishing with Amazon. Namely: the KDP Select program and its impacts.
KDP Select is the main tool Amazon has been using against independent authors, and one of the key ways it is trying to build a monopoly in the ebook business.
What’s that? I’m crazy, do I hear you say? Independent authors who are part of the KDP Select program are making reams of money. It has helped some authors break into the mainstream; helped authors feed their families; built careers; opened doors.
That is true, for a small number of authors. Making money – never mind a living – from writing books is hard. And I’m pleased for them! I always love to hear a good success story. (For the purposes of this post series, I will refer to KDP Select program members as Amazon authors and non-KDP Select authors as indies, because the exclusivity means that Amazon authors are not truly independent.)
Don’t let yourself be distracted by the shiny promises, though: KDP Select is not the gift horse that many will claim it to be. I might even go as far as to say it’s dangerous. Why, you ask? Because in order to be a member, you have to give Amazon exclusive rights to your work (specifically, to every book you make a part of the program). You cannot put any books enrolled in the program out through any other store. Amazon wants them all to itself.
Let me pause here to make this point: this is not a publishing contract: it’s a distribution agreement. Distribution agreements for books are not exclusive with any other distributor or store (traditional publishing contracts are exclusive and that’s normal, but as I said, that’s not what this is). This, if nothing else, raises a red flag.
What does this mean for an independent author? One who wants to have their books available in every store on the planet, to reach every possible audience, on every device? One who doesn’t sign up to be exclusive? It means you are severely disadvantaged in the Amazon marketplace. Increasingly, independent authors are being excluded from the distribution that Amazon has to offer. It is a carrot-and-stick methodology.
When I first published my ebooks with Amazon, I saw no real reason to join the KDP Select program. Sure, I missed out on a few bumps in marketing and exposure, and wasn’t included in their lender’s library, but the trade-off with having access to more stores (and potential readers) was worth it (I publish through Smashwords to a whole heap of book sources, including the iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Sony, libraries, Oyster, etc, as well as through KDP). I had access to the same royalties as KDP Select authors, so it was all good in my book.
Oh, how things change. Since then (2010), Amazon has changed the rules of the game. Every time it opens a Kindle store in a new country, indie authors are no longer allowed the same royalties as Amazon authors. Instead of the competitive 70% royalty, we’re restricted to only the 35% royalty for sales through those stores. It hasn’t taken away the 70% royalty available in a handful of stores, but still, 35% and an invitation to KDP Select is what we get for almost half of the available Amazon Kindle stores now.
In addition to this, KDP gives all of its authors (Select and non-Select) only 35% royalty for any books under $2.99 and over $9.99. What does this mean? It means that the most lucrative price points (around $1.99 – $3.99, according to the latest Smashwords analysis), and the books with the biggest returns (because their prices are larger) pay authors the least money. I don’t know of any other store that does this. (Side note: it’s not unusual for non-fiction ebooks to be over $9.99, so it’s possible this hits non-fiction indies more than fiction.)
I know of no other store that puts such restrictions on its pricing, and I can see no good reason to do this. Delivering a $10 ebook costs no more than delivering a $5 ebook, so why does Amazon suddenly need more of the list price?
Let me be clear on this: Amazon’s 35% is the worst royalty offered to indie authors for ebook sales. The next lowest that I know of is 60%: almost double what Amazon is giving indies. (If anyone knows of a worse rate, please, I’d like to know!)
Allow me to add another bit of context: in recent communications (which another post will go into detail on), Amazon is claiming to want to give authors more ‘fair’ royalties for ebook sales. They’re not so willing to back up this claim by offering a royalty that is even remotely fair or competitive themselves, however.
There are other services that indie authors are excluded from. The Kindle library is one, and lately Amazon have added Kindle Unlimited, their new subscription service. Only KDP Select books will be available in this service, tying authors more and more tightly to the Amazon banner.
(It also doesn’t live up to its name. Unlimited? They’ve limited it to exclusive books. Fail, Amazon, fail.)
Do I believe that Amazon should allow everyone the same advantages? No, I don’t. This isn’t some whine about why Amazon authors have all the cool toys. What it does with its store is its choice, but let’s be clear on what this all means:
- Indie authors are disadvantaged in their store and services.
- Amazon claims to want to promote a good reader culture and have everything available at low prices, but actively excludes books from its services.
- Amazon claims to want authors to get a better slice of royalties, but refuses to give a rate even close to the standard to indie authors.
Amazon is shameless in demanding exclusivity in a way that no other store would dare. And let’s remember: Amazon is a store, not a publisher. It only supports one e-reading device, too, which has implications all on its own. It’s like a movie only being playable on a single brand of Bluray player, or an mp3 album that only plays on a single brand of smartphone.
It’s an outrageous demand. In single cases, this might happen, but the KDP Select program is much larger than this. It is becoming the rule, not the exception.
How is Amazon getting away with this? Because it’s big enough and aggressively muscling other stores aside. The more people who sign up with the KDP Select program, the more support and weight Amazon has. The reason that it has so much power is that we – indie authors – are giving it to them. This doesn’t look good for the long term.
Not convinced? Check out the Smashwords opinion of what exclusivity will do to the market and for indie authors. Mark Coker says it way better than I have!
So am I telling authors that they shouldn’t join the KDP Select program? I believe it is completely each author’s choice, and I believe in arming those authors with the most complete information I have available. The KDP Select program is a good source of income for many writers, and it’s an easy route to having some success with your book. All those enticements it offers are good for those who take part – for now. All I ask is that authors are aware of the cost. Be aware that exclusivity hurts other book stores and supports Amazon’s monopolistic strategy.
Be aware of what you’re signing up to, what you’re signing away, and what it all means in the long run, and then decide what is most important to you.
Personally, I can’t in all conscience sign up to the program. I have been tempted many times, but the more I see of Amazon and the big picture looming before us, the more I shy away.
More on all this soon!
There’s a lot going around about Amazon right now: in the press, on social media, blogs, forums, etc. Anyone who loves books would probably have to work hard not to hear about it. I’ve been meaning to react to it for a while but haven’t been able to get to it. I think it’s time I put my thoughts down here.
Let me start with a simple statement: Amazon is not your friend. I don’t care if you’re a reader, a writer, or a customer who buys gadgets from the megastore: Amazon is not your friend.
Amazon is a business. It cares about its bottom line (and it has historically struggled to turn a profit) and it cares about keeping its shareholders happy. That’s it. It does not care about books, the book industry, or those who create it. It doesn’t care about the ‘reader community’. It doesn’t even care about its own employees.
It is claiming the opposite. Don’t believe a word of it; this is an underhanded tactic to excuse its business practices and tactics. They’re trying to get you on their side so you don’t look too closely at what’s really going on.
From everything I’ve seen over the past year or two, Amazon is attempting to build itself a monopoly in the book industry. This is a bad thing for everyone involved in the industry, from creators to publishers to distributors to stores to consumers. There are reasons why there are laws against monopolies.
But the law would stop them if that was the case, right? Well, clearly it hasn’t yet. I’m putting together a lot of pieces and seeing a pattern, but it might not be formed enough for formal proceedings yet. I’m not sure. I’m most worried about where current actions are heading, and the damage that is being done in the meantime.
The more I think and write about this, the longer this post gets. To make it easier for everyone to digest, I’m going to break this down and post the chunks individually.
Here are the chunks I have so far:
- Amazon vs Independent Authors: KDP Select
- Amazon vs Independent Authors: KDP Select Fund
- Amazon vs Big Publishing: the Hachette Battle
- Amazon vs Authors: the Hachette Battle
- Amazon vs Big Publishing: direct competition
Watch this space (and the Amazon tag); I’ll try to keep these pieces going up regularly.
If you’re writing fantasy, whether it’s urban, epic, far-future, alternate dimension, there’s likely to be some magic in it. The thing with magic is that it can do anything, right? Well, yes, but a better answer is ‘no, it can’t do everything (and here’s why)’.
An undefined magic system that can do anything is the sign of lazy worldbuilding and is often used as a ‘get out of jail’ free card when the plot gets stuck. It’s a symptom of bad writing.
Let’s be better than that. To be a system, it has to be defined, have rules of some kind, and make internal sense. Yes, it might be magic, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t make logical sense! It can be kick-ass and consistent.
But where to start? Let’s see if we can narrow down what we’re going for here.
What type of magic is it?
The term ‘magic’ covers a whole spectrum of fantastical possibilities. Here’s a list that is probably far from exhaustive:
- Elemental (fire, water, air, earth, metal, etc)
- Psionic (mind manipulation: illusions, control, communication)
- Telekinesis (manipulation of matter or energy by the brain: physical objects, fire, electricity, etc)
- Wards, enchantments, and curses (places or objects imbued with power, temporary or permanent)
- Alchemy (concoctions of awesome, transmutation)
- Shapeshifting (manipulating one’s own matter to take another shape, voluntarily or otherwise)
- Necromancy (raising the dead, spirit talking, spirit wielding)
- Clairvoyance (visions across time, divining)
- Science (if it’s fantastical enough, it’s just like magic!)
Okay, I’m not going to talk about the last one so much, but you get the idea.
You’re not restricted to any one of these types; mix and match at will. You might even want all of them, but be aware that everything you include needs to have the mechanics figured out, one way or another.
Where does the power come from?
Magical effects have to be driven by some kind of power. It’s worth thinking about what kind of power or energy this is, and where it might have come from. Some options are:
- Life (or death, or both)
- Deities (singular or plural)
- Mystical or magical energy (sometimes magic is a power in itself)
- The caster or user’s own self
Some of these can easily cross over with each other: a blood sacrifice; the magic user’s own life force; the use of a holy talisman that draws power from the deity that blessed it.
What is required to use this magic?
This can be closely linked to the previous question: what does someone have to do in order to cast a spell or activate a magical effect? Think about all the different ways that magic is cast. Here are a few ideas:
- Words (chanting, magical words, commands)
- Gestures (by hands, wands, or any body part; maybe even a dance)
- Physical ingredients or components
- Actions (more than just a gesture, like the spilling of blood, the taking of a life, breaking an object, etc)
- Patterns (alignment of stars, seasons, planets, the position of the moon, or something created manually, like the positioning of the four elements at the four compass points)
- Symbols or runes
- Talismen or objects imbued with power
These might be required to unlock the power already identified, or they might be used to shape that power into the desired effect, or both. Many magical systems combine several of these elements; for example, the style of magic in the Supernatural TV show can involve physical components, words, gestures, and runes drawn on the ground, all to perform a single spell.
Who can use magic?
Restricting the use of magic is not unusual, but there must be some rhyme and reason to it. This is where you’ll be able to spin out its effects on the people of the world most directly, as access to power tends to has a lot of impacts.
Those who use magic could be:
- Anyone. Maybe it’s common enough that everyone is able to do it. Can everyone use it to the same extent?
- Born with it (it’s probably not Mabeline). Is it genetic? Inherited in some way? Passed from one bearer to the next, or multiplied by having many children?
- Adults. A certain level of physical or emotional maturity is required to access it. Linking it to puberty and coming of age is not unusual and tends to work well.
- Children. It can be something lost at puberty, instead of gained. This is often linked to the loss of innocence (but doesn’t have to be).
- Ritually imbued. A person has to go through some kind of rite to gain access to the power, like a spirit quest, a ritual, or a challenge.
- Educated. It’s a learned skill that requires study, usually many years of intense activity and training.
- Pure. Spiritual, emotional, or physical purity could be linked to the ability to use magic. Sin or sex could cost someone their ability to wield true magic.
- Divine or pious. Magic might require devotion to a deity or religion.
- Mutilated or mutated. Having a certain physical attribute or physically changing the body might be the way to gain access to magic. It could be natural or fabrication, like losing a finger, castration, a third eye, or symbiosis with another entity.
- Bearer of a gift. Perhaps it’s an object or ability bestowed by a person or entity. It could be a physical object, a mark, or something less obvious.
The definition of the group who can use magic (and its related power) tends to be important to a world’s society and political setup. Think about all the ways that the restrictions around who can use magic might impact the power balance in a particular type of society. Think about their relationship with those who cannot use magic. Are they equal? Are they blessed or cursed?
Who controls magic and its use?
The answer to this may seem obvious, given the previous question, but it isn’t always straightforward. Do the magic users govern themselves, or is there an external party? A caste system? Rules and laws they must follow? Are the magic-users slaves to a group, god, or system (for example, in the Dragon Age games)? Do they serve the government? Do they sit outside of it? Do they run their own state or country, independent of the magicless ones entirely (like in the Harry Potter world)? Who pulls their strings, and how?
Think back over your answers to the above questions and consider how someone might have control over the magic-users. If certain substances are required to use magic, the source or trade of those substances becomes an essential link in the chain. Access to specific locations or objects could be controlled to leash users.
Consider also how magic users interact with other parts of society. Are they well-thought-of? Feared? Despised? Envied?
The answers to these questions will pick out how magic shapes this world you’re building, as well as how the world shapes the use of magic.
What are the limits of this magic?
Magic can, potentially, do anything. However, it really shouldn’t be able to do everything. To avoid it becoming over-powered and swamping your world and story with too many implausibilities, and to make it fundamentally more interesting, give it some limits. Having a character have to figure out how to best use a small amount of magic to solve a problem is far more interesting than a character who can fix any issue with the wave of the hand.
There are lots of ways to put limits on magic. Think about things like:
- What’s required to use it. Things like components, blood, and even life tend to be limited sources.
- The source of the energy. If drawing from something like nature or a mystical energy, local sources might need some time to recharge.
- Fatigue of the user. If the user is a conduit for the magic, mental or physical fatigue (or other cost) could be a natural limit.
- Natural laws. Magic’s limits could simply be defined by the physical laws of your world.
There are lots of other options. Be creative! And be clear.
What are its weaknesses?
Balance is important. If something is powerful, it should also have a weakness somewhere.
Is there a way to protect against magic? Tinfoil hats, cold iron, a pentagram drawn the right way up? Is there something a non-user can do or use against magic?
Protection against magic is only part of it; what advantages do non-magic users have against magic users? Do magic users have an Achilles heel? Think about ways to destabilise magic or its use, and things that magic users might be susceptible to. For example, cold iron often burns magical creatures in some mythologies (for example, some faerie magic systems) and they cannot defend against it at all.
Weaknesses add interesting and fun complications to a world, and your story. Embrace them, play with them, and they’ll do great things for you.
Got all that? Good. Now you should have a defined magic system and lots of elements to throw into your story.
Go crazy, do fantastical things, and most of all: have fun.
Lately, I’ve been doing a series of worldbuilding sessions with my writing group. Building a fictional world is a big job and huge amounts of fun. I thought I’d start sharing my notes and approach here, too.
Now, I’m not going to tell you what world you should build, or how your world should work. Your world is your own. What I’m going to do is present some questions, some common wisdoms, and some things for you to think about. What choices you make, how you choose to apply certain techniques or facets of worldbuilding, are completely up to you.
There are so many things to think about when building a world that it’s not possible to do it any kind of justice in a single blog post or writing group meeting. So I’m going to break it down into focussed areas, such as:
- Creating a magic system
- Building a space station
- Creating a colony
Many of these areas will bleed into each other; they can’t be considered in isolation. Influences will flow back and forth between them and that’s up to you to balance. These are starting points, thinking points, and hopefully something you can have a bit of fun with.
Before we get started, it’s probably a good idea to go over my high-level philosophy when it comes to world-building.
Your world needs to make sense.
It doesn’t matter what genre or type of world you’re building, whether it’s fantastical, far future, alien, historical, or an alternate dimension where gravity is a repelling force instead of an attracting one. Internal logic and consistency are key if readers are going to buy into it and travel through it with you.
It’s not just window dressing.
Worldbuilding is more than scenery or description. It’s a lot more than just a map; geography is part of it, but you have so many more tools to use than that. It’s all those things that make it different from the world we experience every day. It’s a place in history (even if that history is our future). It’s laws and rules, it’s society and people, it’s belief and purpose. Go nuts!
Elements in your world can conflict with each other, as long as the logic remains true.
You can mix magic and science, you can have the laws of physics and break them. In fact, you can get a lot of story elements out of these things! Harmony is nice but it’s not required (and sometimes it’s downright boring!). It’s okay if things clash or contradict, as long as it makes sense that they would exist in the same world. Just be aware that you might need to explain why the contradiction isn’t impossible.
Don’t get lost in your worldbuilding.
It’s so easy: worlds are fascinating places, and we pour so much creative energy into building them that it can suck up all of our time and inspiration before we realise what has happened. I know writers who spend so much time building their worlds that they never get to the actual story the world is for. If building the world is what you’re really interested in, that’s fine! But if you want to write a story, be careful of tumbling all the way down the rabbit-hole without your characters along for the ride.
You don’t have to build the whole world before you start your story.
Just like any kind of research, you don’t need to know everything before you start: you just need enough. How much is enough? That depends on a lot of things, such as how different your world is from our reality, and how crucial the elements are to how your story will go. You need to be confident that you know the world well enough to write in it without stumbling.
It’s also okay to pause in your writing to work out more things about the world. You’re going to end up in places in your story that you probably didn’t expect, and you’ll need to fill in gaps as you go. Keep your world consistent (build it out, rather than rebuilding it at will), and you’ll be fine. No-one will notice! If you’re not writing a live serial like I am, you have the freedom to go back and rework things if you do have to rebuild something. Make sure you keep your story straight!
Keep an eye out for story elements.
I can’t recommend this enough. Worldbuilding is such a great source of things a story can play with: character facets; plot elements; conflict; obstacles; motivation… the list is endless. If you’re feeling that a story idea is too thin, it’s worth having a go at some worldbuilding around it; you might be surprised by some of the things that rise up and deepen your idea into something fat and juicy.
Have fun with it!
If worldbuilding is a chore, you’re not doing it right. If you’re bored, then maybe your readers will be, too. Build a world that excites you, build a world you can’t wait to delve into. It might be a place you’d never want to walk yourself, but it can still be a great setting for a story.
Hopefully, that gives you an idea of what I go for with my worldbuilding (and worldbuilding advice). More posts on this coming up. Keep an eye on the worldbuilding tag!
Writing is a solitary activity. We build worlds in our heads, make up characters that make sense only to us, imagine stories, and then put fingers to the page, pushing it all out into a story or poem. We shut ourselves up in garrets, or sit alone in cafes, or close the door to our room or office. We put in our headphones and tune out the world.
We struggle, we strive, all in the privacy of the writer. We get used to not speaking to anyone about it. We get used to not trying to explain this strange, wondrous, draining, hard thing we do.
We’re also pretty damned stupid.
Writing does not have to be a solitary activity. There are people just like you, all around you. They might not be your family, your colleagues, or your friends – yet. If you look for them, you’ll find them everywhere.
So reach out. See if you can find some like-minded people in your area. Online works, too, but try closer to home, too. You’ll be surprised!
You can join writing groups, or if there aren’t any that suit what you’re looking for, start your own. You can join NaNoWriMo. You can hold your own write-ins. Join forums and boards and Twitter conversations.
You don’t have to get together for formal meetings. You don’t have to read each other’s work (or share your own). You could do all of that, or you just get together to sit in companionable silence in a cafe or someone’s lounge, typing and scribbling down words. What you do is completely up to you, but make sure you do.
Everyone needs a support network, and we shouldn’t underestimate the value of those who understand those voices in your head, the plot point you’re struggling with, or the word you just can’t think of. It’s startling how productive a session of writing with a bunch of people can be, when common sense says that you’d probably be too distracted.
It’s not about writing the same piece, or collaborating, or comparing notes, or who can write the most in ten minutes. Writers are the least competitive group I’ve ever come across (though word wars (writing sprints) do work!). It’s about people who get you. It’s about sharing something and feeling supported. It’s about knowing that you’re not really alone, even when you’re writing something deeply personal and private.
So reach out. Find those other writers who are just brimming to talk about that thing they’re working on, to someone who just gets it. Revel in the wondrous feeling of an awesome community. Call each other by internet handles, or pen-names, or random nicknames. Laugh about wayward characters who won’t behave. Bounce ideas off each other. Be lifted up by the enthusiasm of the group. Be inspired.
I did. I’ll never look back. Best decision for my life and my writing I’ve ever made.
I recently read an interesting article about how the shortening of our attention spans was causing the rise of short stories. The internet’s easily-consumable morsels mean that our attention spans are shortening, and therefore short stories are becoming a lot more popular.
It sounds so very logical, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near that simple.
Now, I can completely believe that the internet and the vast array of content that is begging for digital consumption is changing the way we approach and digest information. Items online, whether text, image, or video, have a very short window with which to grab our attention, but I don’t think this is ADHD-related, and I don’t think that we get bored and wander off, unable to maintain focus for more than- SQUIRREL.
Online, people are becoming increasingly savvy in making quick judgements about whether or not a piece of content is worth their time. It’s not possible to absorb the whole internet and it’s actually pretty hard to find the good stuff. If you’re looking for something new, you have to dip your toe in and try the water, before you find what you want to dive into.
In that way, online content is its own advert, and the same kind of snap-judgement methodology applies: grab them quick or lose them forever.
So how does this all apply to fiction?
It means that the opening to your story is crucial. If you don’t have a kick-ass hook in the first paragraph – preferably the first sentence – then readers are less likely to read your story.
Is this new? No, this is advice that I have been hearing my whole life, and wasn’t new when it was first given to me (I am, sadly, old enough for this to have been before the internet became a Thing). It’s good advice whether you’re writing a short story or a novel, and whether you’re going to sell/distribute on paper or electronically. The old-fashioned version of clicking away is putting the book back on the shelf, or flipping the page to a different short story.
What about the rising popularity of short fiction online? Personally, I don’t think it’s as simple as ‘people prefer bite-sized fiction’. That might be a factor, but the truth is, short fiction has always been popular. Anthologies have always existed, and magazines and newspapers have hosted short stories for centuries. They are a mainstay because people like and read them.
However, it has never been lucrative nor easy to publish short stories. An author couldn’t publish individual short stories, because they were too small to form a viable print run (usually due to cost but sometimes also on physical or practical level). They were forced to combine stories into anthologies to make it worth putting them through the printing press, or submitting to newspapers and magazines. (There’s nothing wrong with any of this!)
With the rise of the ebook, however, things changed. ‘Book’ length was no longer an issue, because ebooks don’t go through printing presses. The reliance on ‘preferred novel length’ for a published book fell away and authors can freely publish ebooks containing individual short stories. Add to that the ease of being able to post a short story on a website, and you have two very fundamental changes to the way that short stories have been made available to readers.
Similarly, novellas are now much easier to make available to readers, for the same reasons. Printing a novella was always tricky (unless you’re writing for Mills and Boon), but digital copies are much easier and less restricted.
Side note: let’s also not attribute any of this to Kindle Singles as the article linked above does; it may have helped, but it was only jumping on the bandwagon that was already in motion and picking up speed. Ebooks have been flexible in their length since their inception and Amazon haven’t pioneered any of this (my short prequel ebook, approximately 7,000 words, was out before Kindle Singles was announced).
Long story short (ha ha), it’s much easier for authors to provide and for readers to find short stories online than it was when they were on paper. Is it a surprise that readers are consuming more short fiction now than they were pre-internet? Not really.
What about a rising preference for short stories? I haven’t seen any evidence that this is happening. Yes, readers may be consuming more short stories than in the past, but not to the detriment of longer fiction. In fact, the sales statistics suggest the opposite is true: ebook consumers prefer longer books, according to the statistics that Smashwords analyses annually. This has been the case for the past few years.
So what does this all mean? TL;DR version:
- Fiction is now more accessible in all of its forms, including short(er than novels)*.
- Readers love bite-sized stuff
- Readers prefer long (100,000+ words) fiction overall
- There is a healthy, rich market for short stories and novellas, and authors should go out and make the most of it!
* And poetry, flash fiction, epics, serials, etc.