Backlist Publishing News: Amazon Price Shift

Word around the internet campfire of authors is that the best place to make money, especially as a self-published author, is to have an extensive backlist. That way, when you have something even mildly successful, people will come back looking for more. As it happens, I have a backlist of self-published works, novellas mostly, but I haven’t had a hit yet, and I haven’t published anything since 2018. I’m going to change that in the new year, but in the meantime, I’m going to make some shifts to my backlist. For one thing, I’ve delisted anything that was a short story. I’ll probably repackage all the short fiction together in one collection. For another, I’ve lowered the price on all e-books to 99 cents.

Whenever I publish anything, I usually get a tiny boomlet of sales. Hopefully with what’s coming in the new year, I’ll be able to get additional sales from like-minded folk.

That means that, as soon as the new prices show up (Amazon says it can take 72 hours, but I’ve never seen it take that long), you’ll be able to get the following books for 99 cents on your Kindles:

Digital Buying is Not Buying

At least, so far as Amazon is concerned:

When an Amazon Prime Video user buys content on the platform, what they’re really paying for is a limited license for “on-demand viewing over an indefinite period of time” and they’re warned of that in the company’s terms of use. That’s the company’s argument for why a lawsuit over hypothetical future deletions of content should be dismissed.

The Hollywood Reporter, “Amazon Argues Users Don’t Actually Own Purchased Prime Video Content

This is no dubious speculation by tin-hatters. This is a legal argument Amazon made in open court. Digital belongs to the platform you watch it on. The purveyors of the content are the actual owners, and always will be. If you want to *own* perpetual viewing rights, you need to buy a physical copy.

This is just like Facebook, Twitter, or any other all-digital interaction. It’s their circus, and you’re just one of the monkeys. They will change, alter, undo any part of anything that happens in their circus, at any time, and you will have no recourse other than to leave the circus behind.

The concentration of digital activity into a small handful of web sites has given them a functional monopoly. They are going to act like monopolists, and already are. Supporting the decentralization of the Matrix is the only way forward.

SubStack, Marketing Lamentations, and Cover Design Refreshes

There’s a new publishing platform out there called SubStack. I heard about it on Twitter. It looks cool, it’s free to use, and it’s got a bunch of features like MailChimp that cost extra on WordPress (the number of things this blog doesn’t have because I don’t feel like shelling out for a WordPress business account would stagger the imagination. The stumbling block is huge. It’s why I podcast on Spreaker). I thought it might be a good place to put some content that isn’t really for UJ or, some stuff I’d like to showcase.

The idea is similar to Patreon: get subscribers in the door, and they pay you for content. Visually, it looks a lot like Medium. I have had a hard time with both, and I don’t really know why. I can publish the stuff, but no one reads it. I’m not one of the big names SubStack boasts of. I have, at present time, no name at all, despite damn near 20 years doing various kinds of blogging. For some reason, I’m just not getting it.

Perhaps I’m just too esoteric. Perhaps I haven’t managed Marketing. Certainly when I try to read about SEO, my eyes glaze over. Everything that’s not conceptually obvious seems out of my reach. There’s a trick that I’m missing, some step beyond. I look at the names of people who have tens of thousands of subscribers at $15/month and I don’t know who any of them are. They all seem boring or the same Connected Elect as already write for big publications. I’m sitting in the middle of the Information Superhighway, watching the same Mack Trucks run me over, bragging about how light and nimble they are.

The curse of this age is that anyone can get their stuff made, but only a curated few get their stuff seen. Everybody has a way to put video on the internet, but only Superhero tentpole movies, featuring characters decades old, made by international megacorporations, seem to matter. Having a blog today is like having a UHF station back in the 70’s: Yeah, you’re doing it, but no one cares.

The practical upshot of all this is that until I figure out how to grow an audience, expansion into anything else is absurd. And there I confront the reality that the kind of art and story I like, that interests me, is not the sort of thing that jumps out of the Internet and screams “Pay Attention to Me!” Screaming “Pay Attention to Me!” is necessary but also stupid. And that would put me in the camp of the Intellectuals, except I hate them even more, because they don’t merit the title. They all write like ad-men and Buzzfeed interns.

And that’s why the place is called Content Blues, in case you should be wondering. I create Content, and I have the Blues about it.

But that sort of defeatist groaning only takes you so far. This isn’t an online suicide. I’m not done.

Click image to buy on Amazon.

What’s this? Something that’s been published since 2018, the Year of the Three Novellas. A good novella, eight chapters, clean narrative, third-person focused. It starts with a reference to Blade Runner and it uses an Alien encounter story to explore the Philsophical problem of the Ship of Theseus. It’s not as erudite as The Devil Left Him, or as creative as The Party At the Last Tomorrow, but I might like it best.. Like a lot of my work, it’s pro-human, as despite my well-documented moral cyncism as regards the capacity of my species, I am and always have been firmly on its side. I am human; I prefer human to other forms of life, and am unbearably wearied by those who do not.

Why am I talking about it now? Simple: I made an elementary change in the cover: I improved the font.

Orignal cover on the left.

The book bills itself as an “Existential Sci-Fi Monster Tale”, and the original font just did not suit that theme. It looks too comic, too chunky. A void is a place of emptiness, therefore having the letters fill up so much space feels wrong. I went through scores of cover designs during and after the writing and editing of it. What I went to press with had the right image, and so I probably didn’t want last-minute self-doubt rabbits gnawing at my purpose.

The beauty is, I can revisit these decisions. Will the new cover excite any interest? I’ll do a price-reduction on Amazon next week and see. Hope is just another word for nothin’ left to lose.

The Tolkien Estate Gets to Veto Amazon

There’s apparently a trailer, or a teaser, or whatever, for the new Amazon series, but I’ll be damned if I can find it.

The important fact is, Amazon doesn’t get to hose this the way everyone expects they will.

Amazon has a relatively free hand when it comes to adding something, since, as I said, very few details are known about this time span. The Tolkien Estate will insist that the main shape of the Second Age is not altered. Sauron invades Eriador, is forced back by a Númenorean expedition, is returns to Númenor. There he corrupts the Númenoreans and seduces them to break the ban of the Valar. All this, the course of history, must remain the same. But you can add new characters and ask a lot of questions, like: What has Sauron done in the meantime? Where was he after Morgoth was defeated? Theoretically, Amazon can answer these questions by inventing the answers, since Tolkien did not describe it. But it must not contradict anything which Tolkien did say. That’s what Amazon has to watch out for. It must be canonical, it is impossible to change the boundaries which Tolkien has created, it is necessary to remain “tolkienian”.

The Time Span referred to is The Second Age, the period when Aragorn’s ancestors lived on an island in the middle of the ocean called Numenor. It’s also the time when the Rings of Power were forged. So it’s a giant LOTR prequel, really.

But if there’s an army of canon-experts making sure that canon isn’t violated, then I’m suddenly much more comfortable with this.

If only someone at Lucasfilm cared this much.

The Wheel of Time comes to Amazon

Cue all the “At least this series is finished” snark.

Set in an epic world where magic exists but only women can use it, “The Wheel of Time” follows Moiraine, a member of the shadowy and influential all-female organization called the “Aes Sedai,” as she embarks on a dangerous journey with five young men and women across the world. Moiraine is interested in these five “because she believes one of them might be the reincarnation of an incredibly powerful individual, who prophecies say will either save humanity or destroy it,” Amazon said in a statement.

The series draws on numerous elements of European and Asian culture and philosophy, especially Buddhism and Hinduism.

It also… kind of sucks.

Robert Jordan was the American Tolkein before George R.R. Martin was so dubbed, and the Wheel of Time series starts with a bang. It’s a fully realized world with a sprawling backstory, and the idea that magic has two components: one male, one female, but the male half has been poisoned and unusable for millenia, is a neat hook to hang an apocalyptic battle on. The first book was great.

The second book was good.

The third book was… I don’t remember. Let’s say goodish?

The fourth book I remember better than the third book. It was kind of interesting.

I don’t remember the fifth book at all.

I don’t remember the sixth book at all.

I gave up partway through the seventh book.

There are fourteen books in the series.

Jordan’s problem wasn’t production. He dropped 700+-page novels every 2-3 years, regular as clockwork. The longest fans had to wait for the next volume was four years, because Jordan died and Brandon Sanderson finished the series from Jordan’s notes. Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire fans would give bloodleeches to Melisandre for that kind of predictability.

The problem was, for all that production, the story moved hardly at all. Whole books would be spent on a single narrative involving a single character, while other characters stayed in limbo. By the time I checked out, halfway through, the Wheels of Time were spinning in the mud.

This reached its culmination in Crossroads of Twilight, the tenth book in the series, which focuses on what every character but the protagonist was doing (mostly: nothing) while the main character, Rand al-Thor, did a big thing in the previous book. Rand is present for two chapters in CoT, mostly brooding. Or, as one of the thousands (yes, thousands) of negative Amazon reviews has it:

Here is a list of things that DON”T happen in this book.

Mat does not marry Tuon. Perrin does not rescue Faile or Alliandre or Morgase, Rand does not do anything. Elayne does not gain the Rose Throne. Egwene does not re-unite the White Tower. Elaida does not defeat the rebels. No darkfriends are unmasked. No black ajah are unmasked. Morraine does not come back from wherever she has been for the last 8 books. Savanne does not get what is coming to her. No Forsaken are unmasked. Mazrim Taim’s plans do not become clear. Logain’s plans do not become clear. The Seanchan don’t gain victory/defeat on any front. The Great Lord does not break free. Gawain does not join Egwene. I could go on.
What does happen in this novel? Elayne drinks lots of watery tea. Egwene has lots of headaches, Rand lies in bed with Min and wishes he were dead. Loail explains again why he is not ready to settle down. Aviendha wanders around in the buff again. Mat continues to not understand women. Aes Sedai and the Sea Folk, and the Kin continue to argue with one another about every little thing. We continue to get a fashion review of what every woman is wearing, and how much bosom she is showing (typically a great deal). That’s about it.

So, despite the “productivity”, both Martin and Jordan had/have the same unwillingness to finish. Whether this is from greed or simple logorrhea, Jordan could not bring himself to enter the series’ third act. In the end he did not, and another author finished the series for him.

This may be a risky series for Amazon to adapt. On the one hand, the sheer length of the thing begs for a long-form, serial treatment. TV can dig into the nuances of this in a way that movies can’t. But the showrunners will have to make smart choices, or the TV series will get bogged down in the same way the books did. Some of the fluff will need to be cut away, or around Season 10 the fans will be as frustrated and bored with the plot slows and the encyclopedic panoply of minor characters as the readers were.

The other problem is the characters. The world in Wheel of Time is much more intricate and realized than the characters are. The characters barely stand out at all, in fact. All the male characters are varying degrees of dim, and all the female characters varying degrees of shrewish. The symphony of confused grimaces and braid-tugging becomes a chore pretty early in the series, and it never relents. Rand al-Thor doesn’t have Jon Snow’s dogged rectitude, and Egwene lacks Danaerys Targaryen’s heroic passion. The sense of decisions that matter and shift the characters, the sense of life-or-death hanging in the balance, is peculiarly absent. The characters just seem to keep going, and they don’t ever seem to change.

Granted, I checked out half-way through. It may be that a TV series can move credibly through the vast scope of Jordan’s universe and give the characters distinct lives. But I’m probably going to wait on word-of-mouth.

KDP-Amazon Price Reduction

Looking over my bookshelf yesterday, I noticed that some of my books had prices that were all over the map.

For example, The Devil Left Him was $3.99 for Kindle, $6.99 for Paperback. Last Tomorrow was 5.99 for paperback. The Right of Revolution was $2.99 for Kindle. I think at the time, I was testing to see what priced worked and what didn’t, acting on the “you need to value your product, so others will, too.” But still, standardization was in order.

So I made some changes.

As of now, all my novellas are $2.99 for ebook, $3.99 for paperback. That’s the floor for Amazon’s 70% Royalty rate. And some of my earlier works I brought down to the 35% Royalty rate so I could drop the price further. Short essays like Revolution are now 99 cents.

Savings – Passed on to you.

I’m also considering doing a Hardcover version of Solar System Blues. Because I love that book.

Check out my Author page to take advantage of this.

ddb

Available on Amazon: The Right of Revolution

This was a short essay I wrote a few years ago and have toyed with either expanding or publishing as-is. I decided upon the latter. It’s basic point, that rebellion is justified according to the prime value of a culture, is to my mind eloquently expressed. There’s obviously a great deal more to say on the subject, and someday I hope to do so.

Starting today, January 13, and for the next 5 days, it’s free to download. Hope you enjoy it.

To Lulu or To CreateSpace?

How recently would that question have made no sense at all?

Having played around a bit with Amazon’s CreateSpace service (Those books on the sidebar: They’re mine, I swearsies), I find it functional, intuitive, and free. Zero complaints about how the system works or how Amazon pays out. Yeah, you don’t make tons of money, thanks, everyone who’s ever tried to be an author. If you want to see your name on a book cover, they will take care of that for you and even throw some royalties your way. I haven’t heard that Random House does differently.

But I’m not the kind of guy who never wonders whether that turf on the obverse of the palisade is indeed more verdant. I bought the Wife a Nook HD+ for Mother’s Day, even though we’re an Amazon/Apple family, as much to check out a different platform as because of the sale. Since self-publishing had the Stigma Removed, I have looked about at all manner of publishing sites. Smashwords seems altogether too “YEAH! PUBLISHING!” But Lulu.com and I have had a long online flirtation. I like the aesthetics of the place, the cornocopia of services, the lure of publishing a HARDCOVER BOOK (that’s right, Millenials: Generation X still reads books printed on Paper, because we’re old).

The only thing that’s held me back is the suspicion that to really get anything that looks like a saleable book, I’m going to have to plunk down a not inconsiderable amount of money. One thing CreateSpace does is offer up a free library of images to help you design a cover: I’ve used that, and I’ve used my own images. Lulu only seems to offer a set of Modern Library-esque texture covers for free (and, of course, anything you own the rights too). Which, for certain monographs, wouldn’t be bad, but not for the sort of books I have in mind.

It’s something to wrack the brain about.

You can be a Millionaire, once you figure out how to earn a Million dollars

Am currently reading The Education of Millionaires: Everything You Won’t Learn in College About How To Be Succesful, on Instapundit’s recommendation (how much money do use suppose Reynolds has made Amazon over the years). It’s maybe the book I’ve been looking to read for a long time.

Money quote, on the Art of Earning a Living:

The Art of Earning a Living requires a great deal of self-inquiry into what, exactly the difference you want to make is, and also a lot of creative, entrepreneurial problem-solving to figure out how you could make decent money while making that difference.

In other words, the dichotomy between earning and creating is the falsest of all dichotomies. True creation invariably creates value.