Is Amazon Returning Books Without Users Actively Understanding This?

Recently, I wrote about the divergent financial realities of readers and authors. In that post, I called out readers who return books for refunds, as those refunds come directly out of the authors’ paychecks.

HOWEVER, after I wrote that post, another issue was brought to my attention via Facebook and specifically via a public post from Stephanie Heinritz on Facebook on June 16, that:

Did you know, if your readers have purchased your title within the last seven (7) days, that ‘Permanently Delete’ button in the iOS app DOES NOT DO WHAT IT SAYS IT DOES? No if a reader has purchased your title within that window, this button also INITAITES A FULL RETURN. 😳 The cherry on top? The Kindle iOS app – you know the one with 3.6 MILLION user downloads on Apple alone – offers your readers ZERO alternative within the app to remove the title from their library without registering as a full refund, and of course a negative profit on your back end, if they are within that seven (7) day window. I also checked this on my account from my repurchase, which I marked as read, and it does the same thing for FULLY CONSUMED CONTENT.

Heinritz then goes into further detail that *after* that initial 7 day window, the “Permanently Delete” option works as most of us would expect – it simply removes the book from your Kindle Cloud entirely *without* initiating a refund.

While Heinritz’s commentary is apparently exclusively about the iOS Kindle app, I personally tested the charge against Amazon’s own Kindle App on the most recently available Kindle Fire 10… with identical results, as seen here:

So what can readers do?

First, you need to understand very clearly that this is happening. As of this writing, if you use the “Permanently Delete” option on a book on your Kindle / Kindle App within the first seven days after purchase, Amazon is initiating a full refund, and that refund ultimately comes not from Amazon, but from the Author’s royalties for that book (as we’ll see momentarily).

I personally recommend never using the “Permanently Delete” option to begin with. “Remove Download” will instead remove the book from your device… but keep it in your library. Maybe you’ll want to come back to it someday. More importantly for the purposes of this commentary, Remove Download will not initiate a return of the book. Ever. At least as the apps currently work as of this writing.

If you *must* use “Permanently Delete”… wait a month or so first. Please. Because if you use that option within the first 7 days, the net effect of this return is actually a *negative* balance for the author, as detailed in this twitter thread in particular from Quenby Olson that has gone viral over the last 18 hours or so as of this writing.

And hey, maybe if we as a book community put pressure on Amazon to address this, they might actually do so? While I am a professional software engineer as my day job and I *suspect* this shouldn’t be an overly hard fix, I’ve never worked for Amazon and can’t say definitively how much effort would be required on their end to fix this issue. But I can say without hesitation as a reader that, to me, it seems like the right thing to do, and that the current practice seems shady to me. (To be clear, without making any actual legal claims regarding whether or not this actually constitutes any breach of any legislative or regulatory act. I am simply noting from a commonsense perspective that in my personal opinion, this is wrong and needs to be fixed.)

What say you, readers?

On Why Paying More For A Book Is Illogical For Readers And Why Reviews Are So Crucial For Authors

If you’ve been on social media much in the last couple of weeks (and in various reading circles therein) in particular, you’ve probably seen the meme at the top of this post floating around.

Me being me, I decided to take a look at both of its claims – one, that a reader paying more for a book does anything overly beneficial for the author of that book and two, that the author will significantly benefit from a singular sale of a book.

The reason I wanted to look at these claims is because they directly speak to a couple of issues I’ve wanted to look at some hard numbers on almost since the beginning of this blog, and am only now actually sitting down to do, based on some Facebook comments I made about this very meme. Specifically, how the volume of books a reader reads directly impacts the price point they can reasonably afford per book (inversely) and just how critical word of mouth and reviews are for independent authors in particular in reaching any kind of livable income as an author.

First, let’s look at the total cost of acquiring new books based on how many books a reader is reading in a given period.

I’ll link the full Excel file at the end of this post, but here you can enlarge the image (full image is roughly 6000 x 2000 pixels) to see both the chart and the data it is based on. Basically, if you are a reader that only reads a couple of books per month, you can afford to pay up to $19.99 per book and spend less than $500 per year for your books. And looking out through the general population, there are in fact a LOT of people that fall into this 24-or-less-books-per-year category. According to at least some research, the average American is doing good to read even a single book per month, or just 12 books per year, a volume which can afford to pay up to $39.99 per book and stay under the (admittedly arbitrary) $500 mark. HOWEVER, followers of this blog will note that for the past couple of years, I’ve managed to top 250 books each year – and I’m currently on track to end 2022 somewhere near that number yet again. At this volume, paying even $1.99 per book crosses the $500/ year threshold – the same threshold that allowed someone reading 10% of my volume of books to spend 10x more money per book. Admittedly, during the time I’ve been at this volume of throughput I have also been *heavily* involved in reading Advanced Review Copies – ARCs – where I read the book in advance of public publication with the understanding that I will write a public review and spread it where possible. (Note that for various legal reasons, authors/ publishers cannot *require* this… but they also don’t have to offer the book to anyone or any particular person in ARC form either. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) Even then, I buy quite a few new books per year – either the books I’ve already read as ARCs (often, but not always) or books that just look interesting to me. Many of these wind up on my literally 5,000+ book and growing TBR list on my Kindle… but that is the subject of another post some day. ๐Ÿ˜€

The ultimate point here is that no matter your financial situation, the more you read, the more practical it is to find ways to lower your cost per book – *ethically*.

Let me be perfectly clear here: DO NOT STEAL BOOKS! DO NOT ACCEPT AN ARC AND THEN NOT REVIEW IT! DO NOT BUY A BOOK, READ IT, AND RETURN IT! Both of these are *STEALING* and directly impact an author’s ability to make a living as a writer – which we’ll get to in a moment.

If writing reviews is something you’re willing to do, perhaps look to sites like NetGalley or Edelweiss as a way to get into ARC work as a way to lower your cost per book. (There are also various Facebook groups for this that are recruiting at various times. Easiest way to find them is follow your favorite authors and watch for them to possibly mention recruiting for such a group – that is actually how I got involved with *everything*. :D) There are public libraries all across the US that allow you to borrow print or digital copies of books for free – many have even eliminated fines for returning books late, and there are at least some that will allow anyone who registers, no matter their geographic location (possibly just within the US?) to borrow digital books. There is Kindle Unlimited, which while not free allows for a bit of control of overall price per book if utilized heavily. There are sites such as BookBub that show you which books are on sale where and can even alert you when particular books or books from particular authors are on sale. There may be other ethically reasonable ways to reduce your overall price per book – if anyone has any suggestions I haven’t named here, please let me know either in the comment section here on the blog or on whatever social media platform you find this post!

Now, for authors… the obvious thing is that you want to make as much money as possible for your work – same as any of us in any other job. I totally get that, and I know phenomenal authors who have had to go back to working outside of writing in order to support their families due to lack of sales. I also know others who support not only their own families, but also sometimes a few entire families due to large backlists and presumably strong sales.

To get even a rough approximation of how many books an author needs to sell in a given period to make a range of wages, I made a few assumptions when building the chart here:
1) The author is independent, uses Kindle Direct Publishing, and chooses its 70% royalty option (which requires Amazon exclusivity and IIRC has price point minimums and maximums).
2) The author creates four books per year, is entirely responsible for all creation efforts (ie, doesn’t pay editors/ cover designers / etc), and does all production efforts from initial idea through publication in 13 weeks per book.

I know these aren’t completely realistic, as many authors pay not only editors and cover designers, but also personal assitants, perhaps blog tour / ARC organizers (placing a book on NetGalley on your own is *not* cheap!), and otherwise have other production-related expenses I either am not aware of or am not considering here. Obviously, all of these added expenses add to the number of books needed to be sold.

A final note before we see the chart: Note that this is *gross* income, as in, pre-tax. But here, I think that is fair as this is generally the way wages are discussed.

Here’s the chart:

Again, you’ll likely need to open it outside of seeing it in this post, as the overall image is again roughly 5000 x 3000 pixels, but does contain the graph-and-data structure from the reader chart.

Looking at this chart, let’s pay particular attention to the left 4 columns – $15/ hr through $60/ hr. $15/ hr is the “living wage” many are currently seeking as the Minimum Wage throughout the US. Over four books at this wage per hour, an author is looking at a total income for the year – again, pre-tax – of just $31,000. Which can be doable, if they live with someone who is earning at least as much and can share expenses. $60/ hr is fairly comfortably upper middle class, and assuming this can actually be achieved noting the realities above re: other expenses I haven’t accounted for in this basic analysis, could allow the author themselves to be the primary breadwinner in their family.

But now let’s look at the range of books one needs to sell in order to be within this wage range. At minimum, an author could sell just 223 books at $49.99 per book and hit the $15/ hr mark. Except that most books at that price point are highly technical and are essentially textbooks on some subject… which means there are likely a lot of added time and costs that are not reflected in my analysis here. At maximum, an author would need to sell just over 45,000 copies – of each of four books! – at a price point of $0.99 in order to make that $60/ hr wage.

And now we already see why reviews and word of mouth are just so critical to authors, and why paying more than you can afford just to seem “virtuous” or “helpful” is illogical.

Even if you spent $50 on that book and *loved* it – the author still needs to sell over 220 more copies of that book (again, plus three other books!) *just to make minimum wage*. If you are a more voracious and reasonably cost-conscious reader, that author needs to sell over 11,250 more copies of that book – plus the same number of three other books! – just to make minimum wage, assuming you paid $0.99 for your copy.

Ultimately, as many authors have said many times in many ways across all of social media and direct communication both personally and through groups / email lists/ etc, the singular best thing you can do to help an author whose work you enjoy isn’t to sacrifice your money – it is to sacrifice even a small segment of your own time. Write the review. Post it to at least Amazon (US is preferable, but even your own country’s Amazon variant is better than nothing at all), Goodreads, and Bookbub. (Also wherever you bought the book, assuming they have a place on their website to leave reviews.) It doesn’t have to be fancy or eloquent, it just has to be what you thought of the book – and about 24 words or so (to fulfill minimum word requirements on some websites). For reference, that last sentence was 25 words even before the parenthesis. Whatever social media platforms you use, mention the books and authors there too. If you’re in a conversation where it seems applicable – maybe they asked what you’ve been up to, or maybe the subject of the book id directly applicable to the conversation at hand – mention the book there too, no matter the environment. Ultimately, the goal is to put this author in front of as many potential buyers as you can. *That* is how you help them the most in reaching even that additional 11,250 readers beyond just yourself – even when your own circles aren’t anywhere near that big.

So go forth and review that book! ๐Ÿ˜€

References:
Click Here To Download The Excel File Discussed In This Post

A Birthday… And An (Semi) Ending

Wow. July 1, 2021. Three years to the day since I officially started this book blogging adventure. And what a WILD ride it has been.

Just today, I got an email out of the blue from a publicist at one of the Megas – “Hey, we liked your review of the last book from this [somewhat famous] author, here’s a NetGalley widget for their next one, if you’d like it”. To be clear, NOT something I *ever* even thought would happen three years ago, much less thought would happen enough that it is *almost* routine at this point. (Always awesome and never not appreciated, to be clear. Just also not the “Oh WOW I’ve never had this happen before!!!!!!” it once was. :D)

And I mention this mostly as just the most recent example of just how truly amazing and wild this adventure has been. I’ve been able to work with authors that almost literally *no one* has ever heard of, as they are working to self-publish their own debut novel, and I’ve been able to work with authors that are so famous and common in the market that they are on grocery store and pharmacy bookshelves. And yes, I do consider this a form of work, since I *do* put in considerable effort to read as much as I can given my actual paying job and other typical commitments such as family and hobbies. Many at many different levels have noted that they think I do a good job, and even if they are just being nice / just stroking the ego of a favorable reviewer/ blogger, it is still nice to hear. (Though to be clear, I believe most if not all of the people that have said these things to be sincere. I just also allow for the possibility that at least a few were not. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) And y’all, it really is awesome to have someone whose work you find so excellent to praise your own work simply helping with the publicity of those works.

Let’s face it, this blog doesn’t exactly have the massive following some do, or even the sizeable following some others do. On any given social media platform, I have at most about 750 ish followers – and I’m fine with this. I try to use creative yet appropriate hashtags to extend the reach of any individual review, and some authors and publicists (and even a few just fellow readers/ reviewers/ bloggers) sometimes share those reviews too, which is always very cool as well, but honestly… I didn’t get in this to be famous, so I’m perfectly content with the numbers I do have. Yes, some publishers won’t talk to me because my numbers aren’t big enough, but hey, I get it… and that is on them for missing out on such a prolific reviewer. ๐Ÿ˜€

I got in to this mostly as a way of forcing my attention *away* from things that I had been tracking for years before that, and in that regard as well this blog has succeeded well beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Yes, I know where that particular topic was when I left it three years ago – but I don’t know much of anything about its status *since* then, mostly because of just how active I’ve become.

And speaking of being active…

When I first started this blog on July 1, 2018, I was in the middle of a 150 ish book planned reading list that I had begun at the beginning of that year, reading through books I already had at that time. Earlier in the year, I had gotten involved with a particular publisher’s review crew in addition to the author specific review team or two that I had been working with for years before that point. But most of that first year’s reading was directed by the list I began on January 1 that year.

Since 2019, however, an average of 95% of my reading has been ARC work for a wide range of authors, mostly through NetGalley, increasingly at the attention of various authors and publicists who I’ve met or who have encountered my work since beginning this blog.

And counting the book I finished earlier this morning, I’ve read…

657 books. In three years.

Yes, you read that right. ๐Ÿ˜€ Most have been through NetGalley, where I went from just *three* reviews on that site prior to the existence of this blog…

to 424 submitted reviews against 466 approved books at this moment.

And this is the point where I announce my endgame. I’ve discussed it a few times recently on my BookAnonJeff Facebook profile, but here it is “officially” on the blog:

When I get to 500 approved books on NetGalley – in the not-to-distant future, clearly – that is it. I’m going to stop being as active within that space and return to a more leisurely, non-ARC-based, reading pace.

500 reviews is the highest badge NetGalley offers, and that is a worthy achievement. Particularly since I will have gotten there in less than 3.5 years. I’ve been trying to reduce my reading for a couple of years now but could never really execute on it, but that number offers me a perfect escape hatch, and I’m taking it.

Additionally, one of the reasons I was able to get to where I am in being so prolific was honestly because Rachel Held Evans died a little over two years ago now, my review of her final fully published book was actually just the second review I ever posted here. But when she died, it was reported that she had been in the middle of working on a new book. So I began “stalking” NetGalley, constantly refreshing it watching for that book to hit. I had read one of her books years ago that was phenomenal, and then I had a chance to work with her on the one book right as I was beginning this blog, and I even reviewed another of her books here on the day of her funeral. But I was always holding out for that one book.

It hit NetGalley *yesterday*. Yes, I requested it. That request is still awaiting adjudication, but I’m hopeful. That book will be bittersweet in more ways that one, serving as a coda for the life of a truly amazing woman that I didn’t fully agree with, but deeply admired as someone who was able to do all that she was who came from a background somewhat similar to my own as a child of the same general region of the South and the same general cultural and religious upbringing. It also will serve as a coda of sorts to this era of my reading and thus my life, no matter when I actually read it.

But fear not, those who enjoy my reviews and/ or enjoy my ARC work. I’m still going to be reading. I’m still going to be reviewing every book I read. I’m still going to be posting those reviews everywhere I currently do. I’m just (hopefully) not going to be reading *as* much, and it won’t be *as* ARC/ deadline driven. I’ve even already established a new NetGalley account specifically for that future work, one that reflects the identity I now have rather than a long defunct and short lived project I had when I first created the account I’ve been using these last three years.

So 1200 words, and here’s really the entire point of it:

THANK YOU to all of the authors, publicists, reviewers, readers, and others who have read my reviews over the last three years. Entering this world and being as accepted and embraced as I have been has been *phenomenal*, and I look forward to still being active on Facebook or other social media platforms with all of you… since I doubt I’ll be as successful removing myself from social media as I hope to be – and have yet to prove – in slowing down my reading. ๐Ÿ˜€ Y’all have truly made the last three years leaving that former life so much more enjoyable than that previous life ever was, and I cannot thank you enough for that.

And ultimately… I’ll still be here. Still willing and able to work with anyone interested, and still doing my thing in my little slice of the cyber world.

Let’s get to reading. ๐Ÿ˜€

Which Kindle Should I Buy?

I have them all. Seriously, every new model Amazon currently sells. 😃

And ultimately it comes down to personal preference and economics. 🙂

If you don’t mind the same glare/ eye strain you get from your phone and want something that can do… well, pretty much everything your phone can do without a cell connection… you want a Fire. Those come in 7, 8, and 10” sizes, with about a $100 price swing from smallest to biggest. They all pretty well do the same things in the same ways, and are pretty interchangeable.

On the eReader side, you get devices that are basically dedicated readers. They have Audible support via bluetooth, but the text to speech reader is horrible. (If you want a text to speech reader, go with Fire. Fire’s T2S capabilities are pretty damn awesome.) They all now have a front lighting capability that is different from the back lighting of your phone/ Fire and that is generally easier on the eyes.

The Kindle (base) is the cheapest option with the least features and no add on capabilities. You get a device that can hold a few hundred text based books or a few dozen Audible books at once, but you can swap on and off from your Cloud anywhere you can get a wifi connection. If economics are a prime concern, you’re really not going to get a bad device here, the next ones just have a few more bells and whistles. But again: this one is perfectly fine.

The Paperwhite adds splash proofing. (Amazon calls it waterproofing, but DO NOT SUBMERGE these devices. Learned that one the hard way. It also comes with about 4x more memory, and even in the base model Paperwhite (roughly 50% more expensive than the base model Kindle above) you’re going to be able to hold low 4 digit text based books on the device at once, or low triple digit Audible books on the device at once. This one has add on capabilities (up front, you can’t add these on later) to increase the memory to 16x that of the base model Kindle and to add “Free3G” capabilities (4G in most of the US) that allow you to swap from the cloud anywhere you can get a (AT&T) cell signal. Both of these add ons combined will raise the price of the Paperwhite by roughly double its base model, up to right at the price of an Oasis at $250.

The Oasis adds on to the Paperwhite base model a “warm light” feature that allows you to customize the lighting from the white/ blue light of the base model Kindle and Paperwhite to a brown/ orange hue – or anywhere in between. It also adds physical page turn buttons – the only device Amazon makes with this feature. And it adds an “ergonomic back” that basically means that one side of the device (away from the page turn buttons) is so thin it is little more than device casing and screen, while the “guts” of the device + the page turn buttons are on the other side. Note that some cases can negate this effect, so if you get this device be *very careful* of any cases you buy for it if this is a primary benefit for you. Oasis base model starts at about $250 and has the same add-on capabilities as the Paperwhite, but here those add ons will increase the price to around $375.

NOTE: As best I can tell, the Free3G upgrades are not currently available on either the Paperwhite or Oasis as of this writing on January 9, 2021. Due to notices on the Amazon site noting that they will be available in 6-9 months, my best guess – and it is purely a (somewhat educated) guess – is that this is due to supply chain/ manufacturing issues due to the COVID-19 debacle.

I have them all and regularly use them all. I don’t really have an actual preference, though I will note that my Fire 7 seems to drain battery faster than the others, even in similar usage conditions. Ultimately, it really does come down to personal preferences and economics, so just take the above and make the best decision for you. 🙂

Piracy Is WRONG. Why Is Nerdist Promoting It?

Earlier this week, a writer at Nerdist wrote a post – that Nerdist then not only allowed to be published, but also sent the link out on both their Facebook and Twitter feeds, at minimum. (And no, I will not be providing any links to this here, though I do have screenshots of everything provided at the end of this article.)

This link not only actively promoted book piracy, but actively tried to defend it, claiming that the author herself endorsed it.

Here’s what actually happened:

Around the turn of the Millenium, author Katherine Applegate (then known as K. A. Applegate) wrote an intense series of books about children are recruited into an alien war and given the ability to shift into animal form. These books were published through Scholastic and I know for a fact I saw them at a Scholastic Book Fair back in the day, even read a few of them – though I do not remember where I got them from. We’re talking 20+ years ago at this point.

Around 2001, publication of these books ceased.

A decade later, the eBook Revolution is gaining steam when, on April 28, 2011, Applegate hosts an AMA on Reddit. In it, she is asked about piracy, where she notes the text seen here, which is eventually cited in the Nerdist article in defense of piracy. At this point, the books have been out of print for roughly a decade and the author seems ok with whatever it takes to keep the series in the minds of readers. Which is fair enough on her end, but possibly a bit lazy if she does not actually own the rights to the books – which is another matter entirely, and one that cannot be spoken to either way in this blog, as I simply do not know.

HOWEVER, moments later, a bit lower in the very same thread, Applegate expresses a desire for the books to be republished in eBook format, hopefully at the $1.99 price point. See next image: .

Now, remember the date: April 28, 2011.

As it turns out, according to current data on Amazon.com, the first book in the series was published as an eBook on… May 1, 2011. Just 3 days later. While its current price is $3.99, I cannot speak to what the initial price point was nearly 9 years ago, nor can I speak to what it has been at any point before a couple of days ago.

So the books have been available legitimately for nearly 9 years ago now. And yet Nerdist chooses to promote a pirate site to obtain them, rather than asking fans to obtain them legitimately.

But wait! In the comments when I decry Nerdist actively promoting piracy, someone chimes in claiming Applegate tweeted in support of the pirate site!

Well… not exactly. She tweeted that her fans were great, but didn’t actually address the pirate site at all.

As of press time (roughly 630 EDT on Friday, March 20, 2020 – nearly 4 full days after the initial article went up on Nerdist), a few tweets have been directed at Applegate, who seems to be normally fairly responsive on that forum, asking if the pirated copies are legitimate – including at least one such tweet by this author himself – and so far Applegate has not responded to any of these tweets. This noted, so far she has *also* not retweeted the Nerdist article in question.

So that’s where we’re at presently. Nerdist has published and actively and repeatedly linked on social media a post that encourages book piracy, which is WRONG. Will they do the right thing and remove the post and apologize for promoting stealing from authors? Only time will tell.

Below the jump, the various screenshots of everything from the Article to the relevant sections of the AMA to the tweet claimed to support the piracy to the social media links from Nerdist to the article.
Continue reading “Piracy Is WRONG. Why Is Nerdist Promoting It?”

On Diversity in Writing

Over the last week or so in Booklandia, one hasn’t been able to escape the controversy over Nicholas Sparks. This particular controversy – unlike the one almost exclusively within Booklandia where if you’ve read one Sparks novel, you’ve read them all – revolves around a school he created over a decade ago and a now former headmaster he hired nearly a decade ago and then later fired, who then sued him in 2013 or so. And in its particulars, well, Sparks doesn’t exactly come out looking like the squeaky clean author of A Walk To Remember.

And that is bad, don’t get me wrong. I am not apologizing for nor defending Sparks’ views on race and sex in any way. Indeed I personally think his views are idiotic at best, but are also views that having grown up in South, I shared long ago before my own eyes were opened via various life experiences.

But that actually isn’t what I want to discuss here, as it is being heavily dissected elsewhere. What I want to discuss here is more akin to the actual Booklandia controversy around him, and in particular the claim that “he isn’t a romance author”.

Now, I’ve gone to war several times – including over the last week – with Romance Writers of America (RWA) (and regional variants) Board Members over this, but the sheer simple fact is that they will not change me, nor will I change them. For many various reasons both deep seated internally and economically, they have their particular views about exactly what is “in” as a “romance novel”, and because of those particular reasons they will never truly get what I am saying here.

But I’m a guy that doesn’t even believe all life *must* be carbon based, that allows for the possibility even among the most bedrock of scientific principles that there is a *possibility* that we are wrong in some minor or major way and that “reality” isn’t thus what we currently believe “reality” to be.

In matters of style – and all writing is *completely* a matter of style – I am far more open. There literally are no set rules. What is popular today might not be popular in 10 yrs. What sells millions of copies now may struggle to sell tens of copies in a century. And a good story is a good story, no matter what rules it breaks or follows.

My own definition of a “romance novel” is any novel wherein the love story in the book is the primary driving narrative. The RWA purists insist that at minimum it include a Happily Ever After (HEA), and since Sparks never includes an HEA, he is by their definition not a romance author. And in truth, the case could in fact be made that since a romantic *tragedy* is almost always how Sparks’ books turn out, that he is actually a tragedy author. But when was the last time you heard of a book marketed as a tragedy selling what Sparks has?

But romance novels aren’t the only ones that have their “rules”, they’re just the only one I know of to officially “codify” them. (Though some have attempted to codify Christian Fiction as well, I am unaware of any agency within Christian Fiction that is similar to RWA.) Most any genre has a general arc somewhat specific to that particular genre. An adventure novel is almost always going to have some small team looking for some historical artifact in some remote region and facing some form of bad guy also after the same artifact. A military technothriller is almost always going to open up with some battle or some test of some new hardware and proceed into a full scale battle to save the world from some enemy that is always at least a step behind in some way.

And RWA types (and to almost as bad of an extent, Christian Fiction types in at least some circles) are the only ones I’ve seen to be so exclusionary – indeed, they are as exclusionary of other works as Sparks himself is of other people. In most other genres, if you want to say “My book is this, but it has these other features”, they’re largely going to say “awesome, you do you bro”. In romance world, if you try to say “My book is a love story, but it doesn’t end well”… prepare for the torches and pitchforks.

Which is a shame, because while books that fit within the “rules” can be great, in all honesty after a while they start bleeding together and it becomes difficult to tell one book from another or in some cases even one author from another.

Have enough courage to at least spill outside the mold a bit. Give us *some* wrinkle we’re not going to find with anyone else. And if you can have the true bravery to absolutely shatter the mold – as I have indeed seen some authors do – even better.

Book CounterPoint: Perfectly Good Crime by Dete Meserve

Moments ago, I wrote the Featured New Release of the Week post for this week, which features Perfectly Good Crime by Dete Meserve. I spent a large part of this review speaking about something that was the thing about this book that primarily resonated with me and intrigued me about this book, yet I felt it was a spoiler to reveal it. Other reviews have since already spoiled this particular topic, but even now I feel the need to hide the rest of this commentary behind a Continue Reading tag, so if you are reading beyond this point,

READER BEWARE: I CONSIDER THE BELOW DISCUSSION TO CONTAIN SPOILERS TO THIS BOOK!
Continue reading “Book CounterPoint: Perfectly Good Crime by Dete Meserve”

#ActuallyAutistic Novels for #AutismAwareness Day

Today is World Autism Awareness Day, and this book blogger is Autistic… and a publisher of an Autistic author that writes about Autistic characters.

In celebration, and to try to raise some awareness of at least some excellent books featuring Autistic characters living fairly realistic lives, let’s look at some books featuring Autistic characters, shall we?

First up is the first book I ever really saw that featured Autistic characters well. This is The Spectrum Chick and The Spectrum Chick II by Janey Klunder, and these are two of the books I have published myself via KDP. That said, I have no direct stake in their success – I’ve never made a penny from them and I never will. These books begin with the day a young twenty something Scottish lass first hears the word “Asperger’s” and follow her throughout the next few years of her life as she learns that a word just gives you an easier way to communicate something that has always been a part of you. Janey happens to be Autistic herself and shows the perspective of female Autistics well.

The next book was my introduction to a new author I’ve since come to enjoy – DJ Jamison’s Love by Number. This was a book where an overprotected Autistic young man finds love after a car crash in the parking lot at the ball park, and it portrayed the hyper focus we can get in particular very well – for its strengths and weaknesses. DJ is a mom of an Autistic, and far more open to our struggled and victories than many “Autism parents”.

Finally, I want to highlight At War with a Broken Heart by Dahlia Donovan. This is another gay romance, though this one happens to be a polyamorous gay romance to boot. I read an ARC of this particular book back in February, and its depiction of its Autistic main character (and even his brother, who is also Autistic but mostly off screen) was so spot on that I almost knew the author had to be either Autistic herself or have a very close family member that was Autistic (ala DJ, above). As it turns out, Dahlia too is Autistic.

Honorable Mentions to the following books for at least featuring Autistic characters in a positive way, even though the authors have no direct connection to an Autistic that I am aware of:

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey, which features people with superpowers – and these superpowers are all based on their Autistic traits, in a “next level of evolution” kind of set up. The entire trilogy is simply excellent.

The Eye of God by James Rollins is fairly deep into his Sigma Force series, but features a group of Autistic kids as a driving narrative – again in almost a “next level of evolution” kind of way.

I’m sure there are many more books that portray my people in a positive or at least real light. Feel free to name them in the comments. I’ll probably wind up adding them to my own TBR. ๐Ÿ™‚

Book Outrage In The Era of Self Publishing

Over the last couple of weeks, a couple of different outrages have been ravaging the book world. In one, a romance publisher that published predominantly non-white authors shut its doors claiming low sales, while a particular seller claims that sales of non-white authors’ books account for 60% of its bestsellers. In the other, at least one author is complaining about the amount of physical bookstore shelf space dedicated to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

These controversies wouldn’t normally seem to be linked, but in the era of self publishing they most certainly are.

In the era of self publishing and in the new freelance economy, quite honestly the Mega Publishers don’t have the stranglehold on the market they once did. There is no doubt that they still hold considerable sway, I’m not denying that reality at all. I am simply noting that in this new era, one does not have to possess the ability to churn out hundreds of thousands of printed books and distribute them to a worldwide network of physical stores to be able to publish a book and have it do well enough to support an author.

Indeed, in my near decade of being Kindle exclusive, I have read literally hundreds of books – over 400 verified books in just the last 3.25 years alone. While I do not keep track of the actual publisher of the books I read, I can tell you from having run experiments trying to find them in my local brick and mortar stores that such stores normally only carry about 10% of the books I’ve read. Using the 400 number, that means that I’ve read 360 books in 3.25 years that you will never find on a shelf of a physical bookstore. And since my average lifetime rating on Goodreads is around 4.8 stars, it is rare that I find a book I don’t like. So clearly there are many quality books out there that don’t find themselves on the shelves of at least the physical bookstores I have checked.

But what about the actual controversies? Should publishers make a concerted effort to publish minority books or books featuring minorities on the covers? Should physical stores devote less space to legendary authors in order to give a wider range of authors a chance?

I’m not going to directly answer those questions, as I think they are actually irrelevant.

You see, in the Era of Self Publishing, there are actually better questions to ask:

If I see a particular group not being served well enough, is there a chance to make money myself by serving that group? If I see a particular small subset of authors dominating a particular space, is there a way to make money by highlighting other authors in other spaces?

Ultimately, for authors and publishers in particular, the book business is indeed a business. Yes, you want to create things you are proud of, but you also want to be able to feed your family with the money you earn from people paying for your creation. And so that means that you have to find ways to do that – which is why these controversies exist. The thought there is that these authors are owed these publishers or shelf space.

Instead, why don’t we seek out alternatives? Invest in or create new publishers that serve these particular niches. Invest in or create new marketing companies to push these books just as hard as the Mega Publishers’ internal marketing personnel do. Figure out exactly how they operate – and it isn’t exactly a secret – and figure out ways to undercut and oversell them. Any elephant can be eaten one bite at a time, no matter how big or ornery it is.

And the Era of Self Publishing, the freelance economy, make all of this possible.

We see it every day. 20 years ago, the taxi cab companies were the only real way to get around many urban areas. Getting in with them was a pain, but nearly instantly rewarding. Now with the rise of Uber, Lyft, and others, far more people can provide cabbie services far more effectively… and the cabbie companies of old are falling.

Why can’t the same thing happen to the Mega Publishers? Are authors any less creative than Uber drivers? Can we not find some way to undercut the Megas?

Wait a minute. What if I as an Autistic began publishing Autistic authors via Kindle Direct Publishing (which now includes CreateSpace for actual printing of physical books)? Could I get an author published that a Mega might never take a risk on? Oh yeah, I’ve been doing that far longer than I’ve been operating this site, and almost longer than I’ve been reviewing books. And I’m open to taking on more authors. I’m open to showing you what I know so that you can serve your community just as I serve mine. I relish the opportunity to help others – and to compete with them. There is more than enough money to be had in the book space for all of us, there is no real reason to hoard knowledge or opportunity.

And there is no reason for outrage that someone else isn’t doing something that you can do for yourself with a little hard work.

How Can I Get Advance Review Copies?

One of the singular most common questions one will encounter in almost any group of readers where one member of the group mentions having recieved an ARC is “How can I get one?”. It is a question asked with somewhat alarming regularity, to the level that some authors have recently spoken up about writing being a business – and they are not wrong.

As we saw in the discussion of the business justification for Advance Review Copies, ARCs are, when used ideally, loss leaders for the publishing agent – the idea is to give away X copies of the book in anticipation that these free copies will generate AX sales, where the larger A is the more money those involved in writing and publishing the book are making. As a business strategy, it suffers one flaw that could one day prove to be fatal:

Not all people requesting ARCs are trustworthy.

They either are not aware of ARC etiquette or actively ignore it. While little can be done about someone who actively ignores ARC etiquette other than not giving them an ARC in the future, I am seeing more and more publishing agents being more and more explicit about ARC etiquette before selecting a given reader to receive an ARC.

Which leads directly to the titular question here: What can a given reader do to increase their chances of receiving an ARC?

The obvious first answer is to ask. This is a bit bold if you are unknown to the publishing agent, and I do NOT recommend this. Certainly not unless the publishing agent at least has some idea of who you are.

But in general, one should work to prove they are trustworthy from the publishing agent’s perspective. Show them why they can trust you to uphold ARC etiquette. No author wants to give away a book to someone who is just looking for free books. They are, after all, running a business. They need to have some indication that you can benefit their business, and that you aren’t just there for yourself.

How can one do this? There are a few things that come readily to mind:

  • Review books you are reading, even without these books being ARCs. This shows the publishing agent that not only do you read with some regularity, but that you also review even when you don’t necessarily have to – you want to tell others about the books you enjoy, even when you paid for the book yourself. I can tell you that my own ARC work picked up heavily after I began making it a point to review literally every single book I read, though to an extent this was a bit coincidental. However, given that many publishing agents ask for your Goodreads profile before approving a given reader, it is somewhat expected that they are checking your profile for frequency and quality of reviews you’ve already done. I actually was sent an ARC invitation just this morning simply due to the fact that a personal assistant to a particular author had seen my reviews for the prior books in the series this new book will be in on Goodreads – that particular author has never been featured here, as I read her books before this project existed.
    • But Jeff! Where should I review books? In general, review the book at the point of purchase – the website of wherever you bought it. In addition to this. Amazon and Goodreads are always good places for book reviews. Bookbub has become another one that authors are beginning to request more frequently.
    • And what should I put in my review? My advice here tends to be to write even just a few words – I think Amazon requires around 20 or so – about how you felt about the book. The people who write the description of the book agonize over how to present the overall plot of the book without giving too much away, so you don’t need to worry about that. Note anything that stood out to you that is NOT a spoiler, be it the author’s writing style, the cadence of the story, a particular character you loved, really anything. Your perspective on a book could be the thing that convinces someone else to buy the book, so just speak from your heart about how you felt about the book. There really isn’t more to it that that.
  • Follow publishing agents on social media. This serves a dual purpose in this particular context. For one, it shows that you a reader are interest in their work. You’re not just some bum looking for a handout, you actually want to know them and what they are doing. Also, at least some publishing agents are known to announce ARC giveaways or ARC group membership openings via their social media pages, so you can potentially get an ARC just from this.
  • Engage with publishing agents on social media. This one is similar to the last, but more involved. Basically, get to know them and let them know about you. Show that you are a dedicated fan and potentially even develop a level of a friendship with them. Basic human psychology tells us that someone is more likely to grant a favor to a friend than a random stranger, so being aware of who you are and having a positive experience with you can in fact go a long way here. This is actually how I got my start with ARCs, and how I’ve gotten several of them over the years – including some recent ones, after my reviews were already speaking for themselves in their frequency and quality.

Others may have other “strategies”, but the above is how I’ve gotten as involved with ARCs as I am.

But let me re-iterate:

BE. GENUINE.
BE. NICE.
BE. GRACIOUS.

Hell, that’s just good life advice – particularly when you want something from another person.