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Explaining the “significant editorial changes” to Twenty-Somewhere

Some people may have received a notification from Amazon about “significant editorial changes” to the Twenty-Somewhere Kindle book. Unfortunately that message is a bit misleading.

To clarify: I did update the ebook (almost a year ago) to take advantage of Amazon’s improvements in formatting. Mainly I wanted to add a usable Table of Contents for readers’ convenience. I also decided to include an Author’s Note and dedication at the beginning, in the hopes that more people would understand they were about to read a compiled web serial — not a novel — because several reviews mention the “strange” episodic format and screenplay vibe (even though the narrative style is mentioned in the product description).

Those are the “significant editorial changes” to which Amazon is referring. As far as the writing goes, everything is the same. I may have cleaned up a typo or two, but I’m not interested in revising the episodes into a “real” novel at this time.

I purposely didn’t ask Amazon to notify anyone about the changes, because anyone who had already read 20SW probably wouldn’t care, and anyone who had downloaded but not read 20SW probably wasn’t going to anyway. I was content knowing that new readers would get the updated version.

But then Amazon introduced Automatic Book Update.

Opt in for automatic book updates to receive new versions of your books when we have confirmed that improvements were made. In order to retain your notes, highlights, bookmarks and furthest reading locations, ensure that all your Kindle devices and reading apps have the “Annotation Back Up” setting turned on.

I activated the new feature on my own Kindle account, and I assumed that my copy of 20SW would get updated. It did not. Disappointed, I contacted Amazon and asked if 20SW was eligible and could be included in the Automatic Book Update program. They said they would look into it.

I still did not intend for anyone to be notified of the changes, but I guess that’s how Amazon decided to proceed. I assume it’s only for people who don’t have Automatic Book Update activated? Because instead of a message, I simply received (at long last) a fresh copy of 20SW in my Kindle library.

So that’s the story, and I’m sorry for any confusion or bother!

(Big thanks to Anthony for letting me know about this.)

Writerly Wednesday

Right about now, I am lying perfectly still in a tiny chamber, listening to muzak while being resonated with magnets. Or something. I don’t really know how it works, but my doctor ordered an MRI to check out my knee. I still can’t fully straighten or bend it, but after two weeks of RICE — rest, ice, compression, elevation — I can finally “walk” in a way that looks normal. Well, mostly normal. As long as I’m going slow.

(Yeah, I do know how pathetic that sounds. That’s why I’m getting the MRI.)

While I spend my morning bored and claustrophobic at the hospital, why don’t you enjoy these lovely links? They’ve been sitting in my Drafts folder for a while. I keep thinking I’ll write full posts about them, but then it never happens. Oops…

“Literary vs. Commercial Fiction” by S.E. Sinkhorn

Some stories are pretty clearly commercial, but still contain great character development. However, developed characters don’t make a story character-driven. Likewise, a functional plot does not necessarily make a story plot-driven. It’s all about the point of the story. Is the point to tell a tale, or learn something about a character or the human condition? Neither is superior to the other and both have their place in literature.

“Do You Know What Business You’re In?” by Rachelle Gardner

Analysts seem to agree that Kodak operated as if they perceived themselves as being in the film business, long after film had been pushed out of the way in favor of digital. … In fact, Kodak was really in the business of “moments.” The Kodak Moment. Had they embraced this larger truth, they would have been asking themselves “How can we continue to help people capture and share their Kodak moments?” But instead they were asking “How can we get people to continue printing out their photos using our products?”

Publishers, agents and authors need to start from this very important truth: We are not in the “book” business. We are in the business of storytelling.

As we figure out ways to move into the future, we will only be successful if we stay focused on remembering exactly what our business is.

“Experimenting With Serials For Fun and Profit” by Jane Friedman (via Shari)

Bring up the topic of serials in the writing community (either online or off), and it doesn’t take long for someone to invoke the success of Charles Dickens. But does a strategy that surged in popularity during the Victorian Era still have relevance to today’s writers and readers?

Both new and established authors are finding the answer is a resounding yes, and point to a growing demand for serial work, in part due to a burgeoning number of e-readers and new distribution methods for the form.

Not all serials are alike, however. While you can find many practitioners of the traditional serial that Dickens was known for — writing installments on deadline and taking audience feedback into consideration — authors are also slicing and dicing a complete work into segments as a marketing tool.

“Feedback from readers has solidified my feeling against this practice. Books as a unit or package of media work well in the long form, and readers by and large want to immerse themselves in the experience of reading long form.” Coker says this applies to full-length novels divided into chunks after completion, or works in progress.

As you may remember, I originally wrote Twenty-Somewhere as a weekly serial here on the blog. When Amazon opened up their epublishing platform, I decided to see if people would pay to read 20SW on their Kindles. They did, but they made it clear (through reviews, reader forums, and eventually sales) that they would prefer to have it all in one chunk as opposed to having to buy the episodes separately.

So while I do think serial fiction has a place, and a future, I’m not sure the correct mechanisms are in place. I would love to see someone experiment with a subscription model, where a reader pays by the episode, but is not responsible for checking back for new episodes all time. Maybe a notice is automatically delivered to their e-reader, and then they either approve or reject the download.

The Great Pricing Adventure

A few people have asked me for updates on the “Great Pricing Adventure” that began when Amazon priced my ebook Twenty-Somewhere at the whopping sum of $0. (For the background story, see: “On ‘selling’ like hotcakes.”)

During the 4 days my book was free, about 16,400 copies were downloaded. The title peaked at #9 on the Kindle Free list, and #178 on the Kindle Paid list. For a few hours, it was also featured on the Kindle eBooks homepage next to the Steve Jobs biography, The Paris Wife, and The Hunger Games. That was a trip.

(Yes, it was mistakenly categorized as Nonfiction. I have tried to correct the listings within the author dashboard, but so far I’m not seeing any changes.)

During the 10 days that followed, another 1,000 or so copies were downloaded. Some of those sales were at the regular price of $2.99, while some were at a new price-match of 99 cents. In both cases, I received 70% royalties.

Edited to add: There was also a much higher number of returns during this period. Why anyone would return a free book, I’m not really sure… But some returns were due to people learning about my book from lists of freebies, buying without looking, and then later realizing they were charged either 99 cents or $2.99 for it.

I would say that after that two-week frenzy, sales have dropped off significantly. But they are still higher (by about 10 times) than what they were prior to all this. From what I’ve heard, I would expect sales to continue dropping until they are back to their previous level.

(But I plan to keep my ebook at the sale price of 99 cents through the holiday season, so that may help me ride the wave until next year. Or not. We’ll see.)

Though my earnings will help cover my latest car repairs and upcoming gift shopping, the money is not nearly as important to me as the reader responses that I’ve gotten. There are a few new reviews at both Amazon and GoodReads, and I received several emails that still bring a smile to my face.

It was also interesting to work on my current manuscript while receiving feedback on past writing. I think I have pretty thick skin, but getting several bad ratings/reviews in a row is bound to give anyone pause, and there was one day in particular where it sort of got me down. But I bounced back, and overall I found that responses of any kind motivated me to work harder.

Assuming there are any noteworthy developments, I will continue to post about my experiences with this epublishing experiment. In the meantime, I’m eager to finish and query my next project, something for which I actually have intentions and expectations. (Perhaps too many, haha.)

On a related note, Meghan pointed me to an article about another instance where Amazon price-matched a book to $0. But in this case, the author wasn’t happy. Mainly because the offering that Amazon matched was actually only a 3-chapter preview at Barnes & Noble, not the entire book. Oops.

While I completely sympathize with how frustrating that experience must have been for the author, I have to say that most people I’ve encountered have had more trouble in the other direction: trying to get Amazon to make their book free. For all the things iTunes does poorly with the iBookstore, their price controls are robust and immediate, and I think Amazon could learn a lot from that.

(In all other ways, I think Amazon does it better. But to their credit, the iBookstore does appear to be learning and adapting.)

The unhappy author in that article is supposedly arguing with Amazon, trying to get royalties from all the free downloads. The problem is that many of those downloads would never have been sales. That’s why I certainly don’t feel like I “lost” thousands of dollars from this — in fact, I know that I have gained a number of readers and sales that I never would have had otherwise. Going free is a well-known (though not always well-liked) marketing technique in the world of ebooks.

And related to that, I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about ebook piracy. However, my thoughts never really came together in a way that I felt was blog-able. Thankfully, The Intern posted her thoughts on it, and I felt like she had read my mind. Check out her honest and not too judgmental post, “The Kindle swindlers.”

On "selling" like hotcakes

On Friday night, I was hanging out at a friend’s place and decided to hop on his wifi and check on sales of Twenty-Somewhere at Amazon. The count was 13, as it had been for a few days. Disappointing, but okay.

Twenty minutes later I went home, got on my laptop, read emails, checked sales again. (Yes, it’s addicting.) Now the count was 113. I laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Andy asked.

100 sales in 20 min? Yeah right. “There’s some sort of crazy error on Amazon,” I said.

I refreshed the page, expecting the error to be corrected. Instead: 145.

Blink blink. What on earth is going on?

Turns out Amazon made Twenty-Somewhere free. See, they have a price-match policy, and I had set Twenty-Somewhere to be free on iTunes for the months of Sept and Oct. I knew it was a risk that Amazon would catch on, but 6 weeks had passed without their noticing, so I thought I was home-free.

Apparently not.

As I saw my sales climbing by the hundreds — or my downloads, really, since it was free and thus I was no longer earning royalties — I began to panic. What does this mean? How long should I let this go on? What if everyone hates it? What if this gets me blacklisted from any agent? What if what if what if?

Not wanting to (over)react too soon, I took a shower. I read some threads on the Writer’s Cafe forum of KindleBoards.com. I thought.

And I remembered that Twenty-Somewhere has always been my lab rat. An experiment in writing for fun, then in New Adult fiction, then in epublishing. Now in pricing. Sure, I hadn’t planned this new investigation, but that didn’t mean I had to cancel it. Why not ride it out for the rest of the month and see what happens?

So that’s what I’m going to do.

So far about 9,000 over 10,000 copies have been downloaded in less than 48 hours, putting Twenty-Somewhere at #9 on the Kindle Free list. To me that’s… staggering. Of course many of those downloads will never translate into actual reads. As a Kindle owner, I know there are “freebie hoarders,” and my story will sit forever in their Amazon Cloud.

But what if just 1% of those people read it? And what if some of them like it? And what if some of them come here to learn more about me and my writing?

(Or, in my fantasy, what if a Hollywood producer reads it and wants to make it a TV show?)

Who knows. Maybe absolutely nothing will come of this. That’s okay too. It’s a learning experience, and that’s what I want to do: learn. Adapt. Be open to possibilities and opportunities.

I expect it will be a month before I even begin to understand the effects of this. I’ll do my best to relate any findings here. In the meantime, I’ll still be finishing up my YA manuscript and then querying agents. With my birthday and Christmas both coming up soon, you can probably guess what’s on my wishlist.

Giveaway winners, ebook pricing, and parentheses

Apparently it’s a day for J’s. The June giveaway winners are Janet for THE BOAT and Julia for BEE SEASON. Congra-julations! I’ll email you shortly for mailing addresses.

Thanks to everyone who entered.

If anyone wants to win ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis, PARANORMALCY by Kiersten White, or AS LONG AS WE BOTH SHALL LIVE by Lurlene McDaniel, hop on over to We Heart YA. Me and my crit partners have a fun and easy giveaway going there too. (Not too many entries so far, so your odds are good!)

I’m not sure if anyone is curious about this, but just in case, I thought I would update you on my ebook pricing experiment. In May, I (somewhat reluctantly) lowered the price of my ebook TWENTY-SOMEWHERE to 99 cents. My concerns were that this would show that I didn’t value my work (which I do!) or didn’t consider it to be of quality (which I do!). However, I also didn’t want to be too proud or stubborn to try something that has been successful for many writers. (Although fewer than the media would have you think.)

What I found was that I definitely sold more copies at 99 cents than I did at $2.99. However, because of the difference in royalty percentages (35% at 99 cents vs. 70% at $2.99) I would have had to sell SIX times as many copies to make the same (small) amount of money. I only sold about three times as many copies.

So. Midway through June, I decided to go back to my original price point. I figured I’d rather earn more money selling fewer copies — and entice people to actually READ my work, since anecdotal evidence suggests that many people “stock up” on “freebies and cheapies” but never actually get around to reading them.

(Case in point: I have like a dozen 99-cent-or-less titles on my Kindle. They have been sitting there for weeks, and will probably continue to do so until I find myself stranded without reading material for a long period of time.)

However, an interesting thing happened.

I use Smashwords as an intermediate to publish my ebook to Sony, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and a few other retailers. Because of the extra steps involved, price updates to those retailers could take anywhere from days to weeks. (Interestingly, my price DECREASE went through immediately, whereas my price INCREASE has yet to propagate.) So right now, my ebook sells for $2.99 everywhere except Sony, Kobo, and… Amazon?

Apparently, even though I directly control the price of my ebooks at Amazon, they do a competitive price-matching thing. And to my pleasant surprise, I as an author am not penalized for that. Because I set my price at $2.99, I get the 70% royalty rate, even though Amazon is selling my ebook for 99 cents (which technically is supposed to only get a 35% royalty rate). So it’s win-win: I get the higher royalty rate, readers get the low low price.

What doesn’t change is that I don’t know if anyone is actually READING my ebook. It got another rating or two on GoodReads, but nothing at Amazon or the other online retailers. Bummer, but oh well.

So that’s where things stand now. I would like ALL the retailers to get back to the $2.99 price point, and I may have to send some support emails to Smashwords if I don’t see that happen soon. But in the meantime, this isn’t an awful compromise, and now I know some more about playing with the pricing and royalties.

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