Amazon Disappears–then Reappears–My Novel

Never put all your eggs in one basket. This wise old saying was invoked by many pundits when they wrote their opinions about Amazon’s KDP Select. This is the program that allows authors to offer their eBooks exclusively on Amazon in exchange for having their work placed in the Kindle Lending Library. It also provides for the opportunity to offer your eBook free for five days during the three month contract–a way of getting your eBook out there and building buzz to help paid sales.

This was working out pretty well for me until yesterday morning. I was headed for a month of record sales–nothing that was going to threaten John Locke’s records for sure, but definitely a personal best. But when I opened my Amazon account I put down my coffee in surprise. Apocalypse Revolution hadn’t sold in twenty-four hours. I went to look and the product page and discovered it had disappeared. I held off posting this so I could provide a link here, because until 3:00pm EDST, there is nowhere to go. Nowhere. It’s not available on Smashwords or at Barnes and Noble or at any of the other eBook retailers. All my eggs were in the KDP Select basket, and Amazon had dropped it.

Amazon  promptly replied to a query, and they were able to tell me that they could see the product page for Apocalypse Revolution, but there were several back-and-forths over the next 24 hours (one of the delays was my fault) before A.R. miraculously reappeared without notice.

Amanda Hocking let everyone know what she thought of KDP Select when she informed the world that half her self-pubbed eBook sales came through non-Amazon eBook retailers. She didn’t say anything bad about Amazon or warn authors away from KDP Select, she was just letting authors know what they might be giving up.

I’m delighted Amazon solved the glitch, especially because the free days I offered this month generated five great reviews and 12 Likes. I know, small potatoes compared to most eBooks, but I don’t know four of these five reviewers–the other is a friend, but Rebecca put that review up without prompting. The others are not friends and family, so if the product page was totally corrupted and the reviews were lost to the ether, it’s not like I can e-mail the reviewers and ask them to re-post their reviews. I would be starting over from scratch.

The damage is minimal. The Amazon Sales Rank has vanished, probably reset as if it’s a new novel, which is better than what it would be after two days of zero sales. But all those other novels that used to auto-suggest AR, well instead of being the first or second book suggested, it’s about sixth to twelfth. I guess other novels were selling while AR was AWOL. Oh, and the link to AR at the right side of this page is broken. I’ll have to get my IT guy on that.

Even a great tech company like Amazon will have glitches, and their response was certainly fast and professional, but it does remind me that keeping all of my eggs in one retail basket may okay for the short term, but in the long term it may not be the best idea. Stuff happens. Better to be diversified.

The Secret Reason I’m Trying KDP Select

The literary world is in an uproar.  Again.  Amazon, the company that publishers love to hate, is trying to steal all the–wait for it–self-published books.  I had to do a double take at this Huffington Post piece by Mark Coker, the driving force behind Smashwords, to believe what I was reading–especially the bit when he compares indie-authors to farmers during the Irish Potato Famine.

Amazon wants books for its lending library for its Prime customers, and it has put together a big pot of money, $500,000 per month, to be split among the authors whose books are borrowed through the Amazon library.  The big catch: your books can’t be available for electronic download anywhere else.  And it’s a three month commitment.  Paperbacks and hardcovers aren’t part of this exclusivity clause, those you can still sell anywhere.  We’re just talking eBooks here.

I like Mark Coker because he has been an ardent supporter of indie-pubbed authors and has worked diligently to get their work up on as many platforms as possible.  I certainly don’t blame him for decrying a marketing tactic that is clearly aimed at undercutting his business.

But I think he’s wrong to worry that indie-pubbed authors will abandon Smashwords wholesale.  What’s more likely is that authors will launch a book with Amazon, choosing KDP Select, but will drop out of the program after the three month period ends.  It’s not a lifetime commitment here, and authors will want to see their novels available for the iPad because it’s the coolest device ever invented, let alone all the other eReader platforms.

Coker has some good points about losing sales rankings if you pull your novels, which is why I’m not enrolling Vampire Road in KDP Select.  It took months for this novel to appear in the search at B & N and others, something Coker has promised to try and speed up, so I won’t be pulling it out of Smashwords now that it’s finally available everywhere.

But the prequel, The Book of Bertrand, will launch on Friday (if the editor and cover artist deliver on schedule) and there is absolutely no hope that Smashwords can get it to the other platforms before Christmas.  I know because they gave all us indie-pubbed authors a November something deadline for Christmas distribution.

Amazon says they’ve been selling a million Kindles a week for the last couple of months, and some of those will be going to Kindle Prime members, who are going to want to borrow a book because they’ve blown the budget on Christmas, so why not get The Book of Bertrand in front of them?

But now for the big secret: Summer of Bridges, my anthology of coming-of-age stories, the ones that were first published in Storyteller Magazine, turned out to be a perfect candidate for KDP Select.  While I love these stories, I hadn’t got around to loading the anthology onto Smashwords, so I figured I’d enroll it in KDP Select to see what happens.

Someone borrowed it the very next day.  Now this anthology hasn’t been selling well, I figure because they’re short stories and they’re very Canadian.  The very name of our country induces yawns from most other countries–not a bad thing.  But here’s the surprise: the sales ranking on Amazon popped up as if it had sold a copy.

Which got me thinking: the higher the sales ranking, the more I sell.  Any chance that I can pump TBofB’s sales over the Christmas to New Year’s buying week is a good thing, especially if I also get a piece of a $500,000 pie to boot.

I also think that the most money to be made from the KDP Select program will be in the early days, when Amazon’s still fighting to lure authors into the program.  Remember that the money is split between participating authors, and a lot of authors will be reluctant to pull down work already for sale elsewhere.  I bet the biggest pay outs will be in December, January and February.  After that, word of mouth about good payouts will cause a stampede, and then the payouts will drop when they have to be spread to more authors.

It’s good to be ahead of a stampede, but you’d better run fast.

A Moment in the Smashwords Sun

I’ve waded through the Smashwords Style Guide and come out the other side, humbled and wiser.  I’ve learned more about Microsoft Word than I ever wanted to know.  But at last I’ve loaded up Vampire Road to Smashwords, and I’ve got my hour in the sunshine that is the  New Releases page.

Next task is marketing, but for an indie e-pubbed author the fun never ends.  I also want to put it up to Barnes and Noble through Pubit, and by the fall Kobo intends to have a version of self-pubbing as well.

The good news is that now I know how to format my MS document as I write it, so that I don’t have to go through the excruciating cleaning process with my next novel.  This cleaning of Vampire Road’s formatting was required to enable the Smashwords Meatgrinder program to digest my words and spit out multiple e-book formats.

I’m still waiting with fingers crossed to find out if I qualify for their “Premium Catalog,” which is proof of my prowess with Microsoft Word formatting.  It also gets me into the ibook store and the Sony Reader store, which was the whole point of publishing through Smashwords.

For all you indie authors out there, I’m going to finish the guide that will take your manuscript to Kindle.  It’s far easier and the biggest e-book market.  I’ll write up my notes about Smashwords later next week.

Tomorrow: the clickable table of contents.

What I Wrote for The Crime Writers of Canada

E-readers: A Fad or the Future?

Way back in 1994, a CBC television producer told a researcher I was dating that the internet was just a fad like CB radios.  If she wanted to build a web page for the show, she’d have to do it on her own time.  Oops.

The producer can be forgiven this assessment of the internet because he was confusing a device, a radio, with a new and highly versatile medium of expression.  C.B. radios had only one purpose, and no one could use them for advertising.  He was also probably thinking about that eight-track tape player gathering dust in his basement.

E-books are the new must-have gadget, and they are everywhere.  Last week the new color version of Barnes and Noble’s Nook reader launched.  They’ve sold over a million of the old (so last year) black and white version, and they expect to sell a million of the color Nook over the next year.  Combine that just with Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony e-reader and you’ve got a lot of consumers looking for content for their new toys.  Let’s not even get into the tablets like the i-pad.  Avid readers can also get apps for their smart phones that’ll allow them to purchase e-books, so every Blackberry, Apple i-phone or any phone with Google’s Android operating system is a potential e-reader.

But I’m sure some authors and publishers are still thinking about all those eight-track tape players or their Beta VCRs.

They should think again.  E-readers are evolving platforms for expression.  Cookbooks will be able to insert how-to videos, and advertisers can find nooks (pun intended) and crannies to sneak in their less than subtle messages.  People can find new ways to make money.

More importantly, like the internet, e-book readers are going to enable content providers and facilitators to appear from unexpected places.  Who’d ever heard of Google, E-bay, Wikipedia, Facebook or even Craigslist in 1994?

E-readers are going to allow small publishers to distribute electronic downloads on an equal footing with big publishers.  No trucks required.  No expensive warehouses.  There will be price wars, content wars and jostling for attention.

I don’t predict the imminent death of the hardcover or paperback because some people still like to show how smart they are by what’s on their bookshelf.  But like the newspapers, big publishers are going to have to get used to slumping sales of paper books–sales that never recover to the glory days of the twentieth century and fade with the boomers.

Yet e-readers may be good for writers.  There’s opportunity for creativity, a new and (for now) more egalitarian platform from which to sell your words.  It’s exciting.  I’ll go out on a limb and say that it’s the future.  You heard it here first.

By the way, I married the researcher.

Mike’s Note:

The Crime Writers of Canada asked me for an article on e-books for their newsletter.  The article I wrote above turned out to be very similar to one they’d published last month.  Who knew?  I’m not the first person to see this coming.

I slashed off a different article for the newsletter, but above is what those Crime Writers would have read if they hadn’t aleady read it somewhere else.

Millions of Nooks Means More E-books

The game is changing so fast.

Barnes and Noble came out with their colour (that’s color for Americans) version of the Nook last week, and it’ll sell for $10 less than last year’s nook.  I’m betting graphic novel  and children’s book authors are going to be happy.

Now this isn’t a tablet like the ipad.  It’s a dedicated e-reader even though it has some extra bling like very fast web browsing.

What’s really amazing is that Barnes and Noble have already sold a million of the old version of the Nook and expect to sell a million of this version.

By New Year’s there are going to be literally millions of people with e-readers looking for content.  What an opportunity!

The downside is I haven’t found a way to sell through B&N yet, but I’m looking.  As traditional book retailers get more and more like Amazon, I’m willing to bet they open their distribution up too.

Must edit faster.  Must write faster.