C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

The Only Rule Amazon Truly Cares About

Another great article from David Gaughran, and it’s worrisome. I’m waiting for someone to pop up in the comments to say we can’t fight City Hall and Amazon will be Amazon. They might not be wrong but it’s shitty to say we shouldn’t even complain, be grateful and take our lumps for the privilege of selling there. (This is a common theme when objections to Amazon’s policies come up. It’s the inverse of Amazon Derangement Syndrome where everything Amazon does is evil.) Not complaining to Amazon to try to change the situation doesn’t sound very businesslike to me, though.

There are calls to go wide as a protest. The problem is, the other sales platforms tend to suck for many genres. I tried going wide but I’m all in with KDP because I could profit there. Until they come for my head, anyway. To Amazon, listen to authors as well as customers. To Apple, Google, Kobo etc.,… please step up your game and give Amazon stiffer competition.

David Gaughran

On Monday, I found out that some bug hit a German e-book site causing the reactivation of long-dead listings, including one of mine, putting myself and some other authors in breach of KDP Select’s exclusivity rule.

Amazon pounced into action and cancelled my Countdown deal which was scheduled for this week, screwing up a carefully planned promotion. And despite pledging to resolve the matter and restore the promo, Amazon has not done so.

I’m going to go through what happened in detail so you can be sure that I acted correctly at all points – because there is a lot of shadiness going on at the moment – but feel free to skim some of the details if you wish.

Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible had never been in Select, so I decided to throw them in for one term as an experiment at the start of July…

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When Reader Targeting Goes Wrong

David Gaughran

Taking a non-scammy tangent from Saturday’s post, I’d like to talk about what happens when you target the wrong readers, because being too scattergun with promo can really hurt your book.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last few months. Currently, I’m in the process of both updating Let’s Get Digital for a third edition and writing a book on the topic which is tentatively called The Reader’s Journey: From Strangers to Superfans – as well as working on a third, secret project for writers that is all about using a certain kind of targeting in a very specific way to build audience and drive sales.

And I’ve been putting all these theories into practice too, working with a bestselling author on their launches and promotions, with some pretty amazing results. More on that when I can share, but the cool thing is I’ve had the opportunity to…

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Scammers Break The Kindle Store

David’s reportage is always excellent and the concerns he raises are infuriating. ~ Chazz

David Gaughran

On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts.

The Kindle Store is officially broken.

This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed title also hit #1 in the Kindle Store. And Amazon took no action.

Over the last six weeks, one particularly brazen author has put four separate titles in the Top 10, and Amazon did nothing whatsoever. There are many such examples.

I wrote at the start of June about how scammers were taking over Amazon’s free charts. That post led to a phone conversation with KDP’s Executive Customer Relations.

Repeated assurances were given that the entire leadership team at Amazon was taking the scammer problem very seriously indeed. But it was also stressed that the…

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Wonder Woman: In Praise of Little Moments

Whether we’re writing screenplays, plays, novels or short stories, look for the little moments that reveal character. Last week I saw Wonder Woman. The action is big and there are many great moments in the movie. There is one moment, however, that I keep thinking about. 

OBLIGATORY SPOILER ALERT: This observation doesn’t affect the plot but I found it inspiring as a writer. Okay? Okay.

Diana is in London. Early on, she’s excited to spot a baby in the street. They don’t have those where she comes from. Soon we’re shown the Pretty Woman Trying On Dresses Montage. It’s the classic fish out of water set up. Nothing new there but fun enough.

In London, it’s clear she has great empathy for the wounded returning from war. (Note: we also see nurses caring for the wounded as they get off the ship.) This reveals character. One funny moment sticks with me more than others. I’m so glad the filmmakers took the time to show us this little bit extra.

As she’s leaving London, Diana tastes ice cream for the first time and enjoys it very much. She goes back to the vendor (whom we cannot see) to say, “You should be very proud!” Giggles and sweetness. That one line reveals character and a value of her culture, too.

Unlike the dark knight, in Wonder Woman we have a hero who is as innocent as she is powerful. In that tiny moment more than any other, the character charmed us. From the trailers, it looks like Spider-Man Homecoming strikes this same chord. 

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was lifeless because it had only one relentless tone. It would have done better if somebody had a sense of humor to punch up the script. (The Lex Luthor character was reviled in the reviews but Jesse Eisenberg stopped that film from becoming completely airless.) The heroes in Batman V. Superman had no small moments to charm us.

Suicide Squad, though not as terrible as its reviews, ultimately failed for me because I didn’t really like anybody enough. We all want someone in the story to cheer for and with whom we can, on some level, identify. 

I would watch Wonder Woman again someday just as I’ve watched Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man multiple times. The successful journeys do not pitch one relentless tone. There’s humor, action, heart and pathos. Those are fun roller coaster rides and that’s what I strive for in my entertainment, whether I’m watching it, reading it or writing it.

~ Want a ride on a roller coaster? See what I write at AllThatChazz.com.

 

 

Filed under: publishing

Amazon Has A Fake Book Problem

Need to know.

David Gaughran

Fake books – powered by clickfarms – are gatecrashing Amazon’s charts. And despite being aware of the issue for well over a year, Amazon has failed to resolve it.

If you look at the Kindle Store Best Seller charts right now, and click over to Free Books, you will see that the Top 20 currently has five suspicious-looking titles.

None of them have reviews. All were published in the last week. They have no Also Boughts – meaning they have had very few sales. Each of these titles are around 2,500 pages long, seem to have duplicated content, and are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.

What is going on here?

For over fifteen months now, scammers have been raiding the Kindle Unlimited pot using a well-worn trick. They usually pilfer the content first of all – often by stealing an author’s original work and running it through a synonymizer – and…

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What I learned from House of Cards and a young ventriloquist

 

House of Cards has returned to Netflix and I binge watched, just like all the other seasons. As I took it in, I wondered what lessons I could apply to my own writing.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. When too much time passes between seasons (or between books in a series) it’s easy to lose the thread. I sat there thinking, who are these people and what are they talking about? I have to put out my books in series faster. If I can’t, I need good recaps.
  2. I’m a fan of varying the tone. House of Cards was especially witty in its first season. Now it’s relentlessly grim. Plots should be music with up ups and down downs. This is the drone of an air conditioner.
  3. When the plot gets so convoluted that you have to make a character say, “I meant to do that all along,” the plot’s not working. I get the feeling the writers are as lost as I am.
  4. Why aren’t they doing what hooked us in the first place? In earlier seasons, when Kevin Spacey turned to the camera for a witty aside, it was magic. The soliloquies were intimate. In the latest iteration, he hardly does it and, when he does, it’s big and over the top, stepping much farther out of the moment. It was clever and well-written before. What the critics complained about before finally seems true: it does feel like a gimmick now.
  5. Those loose threads where problems just seem to float away (hint: somebody taking a fall) are irritating. That’s not suspense. That’s providing a temporary solution that’s too easy.
  6. Do the deaths from past seasons matter or not? While some crusaders are digging into the mystery and corruption, we’re also given the message that losses have no consequence.
  7. Who am I supposed to be rooting for? There seem very few people to like. I loved Dexter and he was a serial killer. Frank Underwood’s charm is gone. Even the hypnotizing cadence of his speech pattern seems muted now.
  8. When the main character willingly abandons his goal that was clearly his mission from the very beginning of the journey, it’s a betrayal. They told us we were going to Disney. Nope. It’s a trip to the vet.
  9. Some of the sex scenes were hot. Some were grim. At least one seemed unnecessary. Were they just filling time or trying to keep our attention?
  10. House of Cards is overstaying its welcome. There seems a lot of filler. When I got to the end I was surprised to find they weren’t wrapping it up. This show seems destined to dissipate with a whimper, not a bang.

And now the good news

What I learned from a brilliant young ventriloquist:

  1. Wanks will tell you it’s all been done. Maybe so, but if you’ve got charm and panache, you can breathe life into something stale, make it new and different. Some people told me zombie apocalypses were dumb. This Plague of Days goes outside what’s expected of the genre and that trilogy is still my biggest seller years later.
  2. Little moments can make a huge difference. When she says, “Oh, boy,” in the video, I knew this was going to be awesome. When Petunia puts a paw over her mouth to stop her from singing and that girl’s eyes pop, MAGIC!
  3. To stand out, go bigger, bolder and better. Blow us away!
  4. To be loved, stay humble and sweet.
  5. Dare to do what could look nerdy to those who don’t understand.
  6. Perfect your craft. Here’s a kid who spends hours practicing in front of the mirror.
  7. Have fun with it.
  8. The work is an extension of you. Embrace that and you’ll have authenticity.
  9. Don’t expect a standing ovation. When it hits, soak it in. That kind of appreciation for a grand performance? It’s the best.
  10. Art is worth it.* The most unexpected things can have a great impact. I’ve watched that video three or four times now. I cry every time. If you don’t weep for such greatness, change out that motherboard you call a heart, you robot!

*Except mime and juggling. That shit is never worth it.

~ Check out my latest stress relief podcast at AllThatChazz.com. Buy some cool books while you’re there because that relieves your stress and mine. There are rewards for patrons. 

Filed under: publishing

ACX: Now open to Canadians. Now what?

I just found out (via author Patti Larson on Facebook) that ACX is now accepting Canadian authors. Finally! I’ve complained loudly about this disparity for years.

Yes, there were complicated ways around it so, technically, Canucks could get in. It was harder for us and didn’t feel right so I kept making ebooks and paperbacks. I waited, hoping that whatever made ACX treat Canucks like the ginger stepchild would go away. Now the wall has dropped. This is great news! Hm…or….

Or is it too little, too late? Too much?

When ACX first came on the scene, it was a very favorable profit split for authors. Then, overnight, they changed the percentage. Many authors pointed to their ACX experience as a reason to stay out of KU. They didn’t want to be at the mercy of a capricious pricing policy change. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the ACX option is finally open to Canadians. I think if they’d waited much longer it would be moot. Within a few more years you’ll gladly let Siri read a book to you. The tech will improve sufficiently that bots will mimic a human voice actor, you won’t even cringe. (I still smile at the human voice actor in one audiobook who pronounced, “analyst” with the emphasis on “anal.” It came up a lot in that book, too.)

Mounting the resources and meeting the expenses of audiobook production is still a challenge. You have to find the right voice actor and work out a deal. If you can afford to pay them up front, that’s better. That option is out of most author’s reach. ACX is a long commitment, so that’s a factor. Audiobooks have weird pricing, too. I always get mine through Audible Daily Deals.

FYI: I’m listening to The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird on Audible. It’s fantastic! If you’re an author (and if you’re reading this you must be) get that book!

I’m excited about this possibility and a bit intimidated, too. I have to pay off a big surprise tax bill and send my eldest to university in September. I’m not in a gambling mood. I’ve heard mixed results from author friends over the years. Some say audiobooks have boosted their ROI immensely. On the face of it, it would seem that offering our work in more formats is a no-brainer. Of course we should get our books out to everyone in whatever format they want to consume it! (But that’s not how spreadsheets and profit and loss works, is it?)

So I throw it out to you, fellow authors. If you’re a Canuck, are you jumping in with ACX? 

If you have produced audiobooks with ACX, would you recommend it or, given your experience, would you go another route? What’s your experience?

Thanks in advance for letting us know!

~ Chazz

Filed under: publishing

“Real” writers don’t just write.

Listening to a podcast on best publishing practices, I felt the urge to grind my teeth. The topic was about getting paid for our work. This comes up from time to time when numbers don’t appear to add up. Did you get all the money Amazon owes you for reads within Select? Is Pronoun’s reporting of book sales up to speed and robust? Those were concerns I’ve heard before but that’s not really what this post is about. You and I are what this post is about.

The podcast guru scolded writers who are also worriers. In essence, the advice was not to worry about such piddly details as addition. Just write your next book. A “real” writer, so the wisdom went, doesn’t have time to complain or track sales or look at spreadsheets. Trying to hold Amazon accountable for what may or may not be a banking, software or reporting issue is a “waste of precious writing time.” Get back to work.

Thus, the grinding of my teeth. Despite wearing several hats, I have plenty of time to think about business concerns. After I write two to four hours a day, my brain meats are tired and the prose starts sliding toward the goofy. Words become poorly chosen. I can’t write all day and be effective. After the writing, there’s still time to look at numbers and think about how I might change them from red to black (or in the case of Amazon’s dashboard, from red down arrows to green up arrows. Bless the green arrows.)

We are not only writers but also businesses. A publisher keeps a wary eye on the income and outgo. I am both a writer and a publisher. As soon as we wonder if there’s a chance numbers don’t add up, someone will spring up to defend the force of futility. “Don’t worry your pretty little head. Just dance, monkey, dance!”

Don’t tell me to get back to work. Words and numbers are all my work.

I’m working my ass off. Taking care of business and watching the numbers is part of the work. Don’t tell me to shut up and write. I do write. I also fight. That’s how positive change is made. Writers throughout history are among the artists that society depends upon to stand up for righteous causes, big and small. We’ve contributed to combatting racism and freed the imaginations of children who became astronauts. Dictators see us as such a threat of revolution that we’re put on lists and imprisoned.* You don’t think we’re up to fixing a financial reporting glitch by doing battle with Keith, a hipster software engineer sporting a neckbeard and a man-bun? You think we’re weaker than a self-hating fat guy from the Accounting Department named Mort? 

Think again.

Whether you are a traditional, indie or hybrid author, you are a business. It falls to you to make sure you are getting what you are owed. Read the contracts and terms of service. Consult an IP lawyer when necessary. Don’t take what your agent says at face value. Negotiate. Track. Analyze. Do businesslike things.

We don’t have to be the suckers at the bottom of the food chain. We supply the words. We’re the engine that runs this whole brain tickle business. Standing up and being an adult does not make you “less of an artist” or “difficult” or “lazy.” Acting like a business acknowledges that, in a field where most of us don’t make a ton of money, crumbs count. And we’re doing the counting, too.

We are writers. We count.

*I’m not messing around with hyperbole, either. Pen International defends freedom of expression and imprisoned writers. Find out more about their important work at this link.

~ Robert Chazz Chute’s author page is AllThatChazz.com. He’s got suspenseful books, a Patreon page link with featured rewards, podcasts and more. His latest podcast includes a bit about the benefits of floating out of gravity with She Who Must Be Obeyed, naked. So there’s that.

Filed under: publishing

Multiple Streams of Income for Writers

I just watched The Martian again. Loved the book by Andy Weir, too. It’s still the best audiobook I’ve ever heard. The message at the end of the movie (minor spoiler alert) is that things are going to go wrong. Paraphrasing: You can accept that this is your end or you can do the math and get to work.

So it is with author careers. Shit will go south. Then what? Then you have to solve the problem, and the next and the next and so on. Even better, see upcoming problems and plan so a glitch doesn’t graduate to a disaster as soon as it strikes. 

What resources do we need to solve most problems?

To solve problems on Earth, we usually need money, support, information or time. You can buy time by outsourcing and/or sharpen discipline and management skills. You can hire support to leverage time. You can purchase someone’s expertise so you focus on the skills you’re best at. (Don’t major in your minor if you can help it.)

If you don’t have the money but you do have time, digging for information costs nothing extra except for your internet connection. However, the most common denominator here is money. We generally need more of it, especially if time is limited (and, let’s be real, when isn’t it?) Life is short when you’ve got big things to do like write books.

The answer used to be simpler: write more books. I gave that advice myself and once upon a time not long ago that was enough. Now we need more margin for error as we find our way to readers. We all need time to write and ways to find traction in the marketplace. Sure, you can find lots of advice about marketing your books, but how do we get more money to help us with all those variables? How do we pay for a Bookbub to sell more books when the books aren’t selling much in the first place? Advertising and investing in your writing career takes capital (not much, but if you’ve got nothing, not much is a lot.)

Ideally, it’s great to find multiple streams of income that are complementary to your writing career. These might include: podcasting, Patreon, selling t-shirts, selling at conferences, providing complementary services (editing, proofing, book design, formatting), advertising, educational products, ghostwriting, copywriting, publicity, virtual assistance for authors, webinars, speaking engagements, book signings, co-op ventures, organizing book promotions, co-authoring, participating in anthologies, teaching, screenplays, teaching how to write screenplays and Thor only knows what else. Cross-promotion and cross-propagation of ventures makes your other job or jobs a good fit.

What about repurposing material you’ve already created for different venues and audiences? Abel James, author of The Wild Diet, repackaged his offerings in smaller books as well as providing material (and new supplementary info) to nutritional templates he serves up in different ways on the web. For fiction authors, consider publishing prequels, sequels, box sets or an omnibus of your series. (This may not qualify as a reliable stream in your multiple incomes if it doesn’t sell or takes too long to get to market.)

But maybe none of the above appeals to you or you just can’t see a puzzle piece that fits with your writing career. Okay, work the problem. What can you do? How much do you need? What debt can you eliminate? What lifestyles choices can you do without to free up resources? What can you sell or trade? Are you willing to move? What are you willing to do to protect yourself from starvation and insecurity? How will you earn the capital you need to buy writing time, book promotion, marketing and investment in yourself as a writer? (And feed the baby?)

My solution was to take on four jobs. Two of the businesses are mine and I worked it out so I control my time juggling all my projects. Entrepreneurship suits me better than working for a boss. (Me and a boss? That couldn’t end well.) I write more books, yes, but with kids going off to university I need a cushion between me and homelessness as I help them on their way.

Until we can reliably meet our responsibilities with one source of income (preferably by selling tons of great books, entertaining the multitudes and earning fans!) we all have some financial problems to solve. If all you’ve got is a lottery ticket in your hip pocket, please give it some more thought, just in case that doesn’t pan out.

What are your multiple streams of income? Suggestions welcome. 

~ Check out my author site at AllThatChazz.com. You’ll find a helpful podcast and oodles of SF, crime thrillers, apocalyptic epics and a self-help book called Do the Thing! So do the things. It’s sexy to do things.

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Writers: On Confidence

I just listened to a Tim Ferriss podcast with designer Debbie Millman. Good Q&A about designing our lives.  One of the takeaways for me was about confidence. Ms. Millman interviewed many successful people. She encountered only two who didn’t feel like impostors teetering on the precipice of defeat. The confident pair were octogenarians with long records of success. For everyone else, success is a moving target, ephemeral and slippery.

If you don’t feel successful, it’s okay. Even after you have some measure of success, chances are good you won’t feel big enough for your britches even then. On the other hand, I have run into individuals who are stunningly confident. They’re probably deluded examples of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. According to Wikipedia:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is.

From my experience, the people in publishing who sound most sure of world domination are novices. They tend to look at book publishing as a lottery and they’re a little too positive they’ve got the winning ticket with their first book.

The veterans have seen more failure so they aren’t betting on one book. They tend to look at each book as a journey, an exploration and an experiment. They also tend to look back on earlier efforts with some measure of regret: the writing that could have been improved upon or marketing mistakes were committed. More experienced authors appear more laid back about whether something hits. Even as they do a lot of smart things that make a heavy ROI more likely, they’re sanguine. They keep on producing. They don’t get sucked into review rages, shame spirals, bravado or defensiveness.

As a writer, it’s nice to have confidence but it’s not necessary. Do the work and enjoy the process more. Writing is its own reward first. Turning readers into fans is a separate thing, very different from facing the page and spinning out gold ink. 

Don’t worry about how much self-assuredness you possess or how little you’ve yet to earn. Confidence is a big soft pillow. It feels good until the stuffing gets knocked out of it. 

Just write.

~ I write science fiction, urban fantasy, apocalyptic epics and crime thrillers. Please do check out my books and podcasts on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

 

Filed under: authors and money, publishing, Writers, writing, writing advice, , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

Write to live

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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