Where Amazon Can Improve for Authors and Readers

Well this post has been a long time in coming.

No, seriously. We’re currently on Topic List IX, right? This post was a considered topic back on topic list VIII. Or maybe it was VII. I only started keeping track of carry-over topics with list number IX.

Point being, this one’s had a while to stew. It wasn’t a proper topic for Being a Better Writer, which meant that it needed to get it’s own posting on a day that wasn’t Monday, and so … well, after a few months of looking for time, here we are.

So, to the task at hand, then: Where Amazon can improve. I’ll warn you now, if you’re one of those readers that bears a solid dislike, or a powerful grudge against Amazon for some reason, this probably isn’t going to be the post for you. Likewise if you’re one of those convinced that the rise of Amazon will be the downfall of all that is holy about books and the publishing industry. See, while no company is perfect, from my perspective Amazon’s entrance into the publishing industry, along with its associated push in favor of ebooks and a more open publishing sphere, is a good one. Not perfect, but good.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, and that’s where today’s post comes in. See, I’ve been published on Amazon for several years now, and while I do like their service … it’s not perfect. No, far from it. There’s actually quite a bit of room for improvement, quite a few flaws that really could be fixed up to make Amazon’s publishing—and specifically, their Kindle service—not only more appealing, but easier and simpler to use. And I worry that since Amazon has entered a position of dominance as far as indie publishing goes, they’re simply going to do what they have been doing—which is rest on their laurels—rather than really looking to improve their service on both ends. Because as a platform that I sell my products on, I want my readers to have the very best experience. And if Amazon doesn’t improve, well, that leaves it open for someone else to sneak in offering services and advantages that, quite honestly, Amazon should have added years ago.

Right, enough beating around the bush. To put it plainly and simply, Amazon has stagnated. The only reason that they’re still on top is that no one else has come along offering anything better in large enough quantities to entice Amazon’s authors and clientele away. But the truth is, it’s only a matter of time until that does happen. Anyone who’s used Amazon’s Kindle service has undoubtedly looked at it and thought “You know, this would be so much better if …” and inevitably, the someone who thinks that is going to be in a position to do something about it and create something better. At which point a lot of authors might jump ship to the newer, better service.

Customers, too, because what you’re about to look at is not just a collection of what improvements Amazon needs to make for authors. No, customers need improvements as well … and Amazon isn’t delivering them. Again, they’re resting on their laurels, content for the time being to simply do little or nothing to improve their service. And that needs to change.

So, let’s talk about customer improvements first to Amazon’s Kindle and Self-Publishing services. What needs to be improved that’s fallen drastically by the wayside?

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Lilith Saintcrow On Piracy

This one came across my feed this morning. I’ll warn you before I post the link: severe language warning.

Why? Because this author is angry. And you know what? I understand their anger. I really do. I’ve seen some hard numbers on the Piracy of my books. One site (just one, mind you) kept track of how “popular” piracy of my books was. If I sold half the copies that were pirated, I wouldn’t need my second job. I could be writing full time.

But I have to have it, because some people can’t wrap their heads around the concept that they should have to pay for other’s hard work. In their minds, the only hard work that’s worth monetary value is their own.

These justifications that you can read about in Saintcrow’s article? I’ve heard each and every one of them. Some to my face. These are real things said that even a low-selling author like myself hears about frequently.

So what Saintcrow’s reply is? I understand it. Oh, do I ever. I’ve thought about quite a lot. If people won’t pay authors for their work or support them, the author will stop producing. Inevitably but surely. You wouldn’t work your job, after all, if your paycheck was something your employer and all customers considered optional.

Saintcrow is right. There are dozens of justifications for this behavior, but every one of them is flimsier than a tissue-paper retaining wall. None of them hold up for more than a brief second, and many of them could be refuted by a kindergartner.

Right, that’s all I have to say. You can read Saintcrow’s rant here. Again, language warning, but she’s made some very valid points.

Don’t pirate, people.

Price and Profit

So I learned something rather embarrassing a week ago.

Since the release of Colony, one of the more common questions I’ve received from fans about it has been “How should I purchase your book in order to make sure you get the largest cut of money?” Which is actually a pretty valid—and thoughtfully appreciated—question. This question comes from a reader who isn’t just concerned that they read a book, but that the author of said book is able to support themselves to the next one. Some of you may be scratching your heads even so, though, thinking to yourselves “Wait, I thought it was just an ebook?” Well it is, but there are two ways you can acquire it.

The first is to simply impart money to Amazon.com ($7.99 in this case, unless there’s a sale going) for a digital, DRM-Free copy of Colony. And for many readers, that’s what they do. However, I’m also a fan of putting my books up on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited Program, which is kind of like a Netflix for books, and that means that it’s also available to those paying for the KU program to read whenever they want. Now, KU pays authors, but the question from these readers is “Which way pays you more?”

And it turns out, in giving my answer, I screwed up.

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Fisking an Anti-Amazon Article From the New Republic

Oh boy. I woke up this morning to see this article on the front page of r/books, and you  know … I’ve never fisked anything … but this piece couldn’t be ignored. For those not in the know, a “fisking” is when someone replies point by point to the salient points of an article, offering a piece by piece rebuttal. I’ll let you read the original article first, so you can get it in your mind, but it’s just part of the continuing—You know what? You be the judge. Read the article, then check this rebuttal.

The quoted article bits are both quoted and italicized. My responses are the normal text.

So, let’s get started.

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Op-Ed: The Sixth Thing

It figures. Barely a day after the original Five Things Non-Writers Should Know About Writers and Writing went up, I was hit with the epiphany that I’d left something out. And I had. I’d left out a very important bit that, for whatever reason, didn’t occur to me while I was putting together the original post.

Oh well. We all know that “Five Things” feels a bit snappier than six. Humanity is odd like that, but it’s true.

Still, this realization left me with a conundrum. The first post was already up and being read; had been for over a day. So I really didn’t want to go back and awkwardly shoehorn in a sixth entry. But I still wanted the issue I’d thought of to be addressed. Hence, we come to this: a follow-up post.

Just a quick refresher before we dive in. Tuesday’s post was all about breaking some common misconceptions about writers, writing, and being an author, summarizing things into five core points. This post is going to add a sixth. The original post is found here, and I highly advise reading it beforehand if you haven’t already, just to get caught up. And I’ll be going back to it and adding in a link to this post as well once it’s up and ready for viewing, so the two will be forever linked.

So, all that said, let’s get down to business. The sixth thing that non-writers should know about writers and writing.

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Op-Ed: Five Things Non-Writers Should Know About Writers and Writing

So, you may have noticed that despite being in the place of what would normally be a Being a Better Writer post, this isn’t that. And no, it really isn’t. Though if you’re an aspiring writer, this is a good post to read, because it’s going to be helpful, so I’ll leave it tagged under BaBW.

So then, what am I putting forth today? Well, it’s basically my shot at doing away with a lot of the misconceptions about writing, being a writer, and being an author. Because one thing I’ve found as I’ve embarked on this crazy, busy journey is that not a lot of people know a lot about it. And, even worse, what they don’t know is usually filled in with a lot of completely untrue misconceptions.

So, this little editorial is meant to set some of this misconceptions about writing and being an author straight. Because, being an author myself, I’ve heard a lot of them. It’s meant to be shareable (there are actually buttons at the bottom of the page for that), so if you’ve ever heard some sentiments to the opposite of the topics discussed here from someone, go ahead and fire this at ’em.

So, that said, and without further ado, here are five things that non-writers should know about writers and writing.

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The Problems with the Arguments Against “The Great Wall”

So, you may have heard of a movie that’s trailer dropped this weekend called The Great Wall. If you haven’t, you should go give the trailer a watch. The film, as you can probably guess, is about the famous landmark of China, and asks the question “What was it built to keep out?”

It turns out, the answer is dragons. Yes, this is a fantasy flick from the director of Hero and House of Flying Daggers (movies that are a bit more known over here, so far from his home). The great wall is built to keep out dragons. I am completely sold.

Unfortunately, not everyone is so impressed. In fact, some people are angry at the film. Why?

Because one of the stars is Matt Damon. Who is, as the detractors have pointed out, white. Which in their eyes makes the film racist. No joke. You can read some of the fire about it here (and I recommend this article over the USA Daily one because this article at least did some research and points out the glaring flaws in the stance, while USA Daily, in what I feel is likely their usual sense of journalistic integrity, couldn’t be bothered to fact check anything).

Now I’m not going to get into the factual inaccuracies of the mud being slung at Hollywood for this, except to point out the obvious: This is a film made in China by film production companies based in China. Not Hollywood. They have little to do with this outside of distributing the film in the US. So the blame for them is pointless.

No, what I want to point out is the delicious hypocrisy of the backlash against this movie, which is, alongside the everyday usual racist commentary, declaring that movies should be more diverse in their casting and look outside their box.

Completely missing that this is what the film is doing.

Let’s look at this for a minute. We have a film made in China by a talented Chinese director. The movie stars a number of major film stars in China, who are all—wait for it—surprisingly (yes, that is sarcasm) Chinese. And alongside those individuals, for diversity (oh, that beloved buzzword), Zhang has also cast someone who isn’t a major Chinese actor: Matt Damon. Along with three other actors from around the world such as Pedro Pascal and Numan Acar.

So we have a movie set in China, filled with actors from China, and one “white man” (Wu’s words, not mine). Plus the three other actors from around the world. Which … oddly enough, would be diversifying the cast a little.

So, surprise surprise, the backlash against this film doesn’t pass the flip test. Yet again.

As for me? I look forward to seeing the flick. Dragons versus The Great Wall. I’m sold on the concept, and I’ve quite enjoyed some of Zhang’s other movies, so I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy this one.

Whether or not you want to see the film, just … do yourself a favor and ignore the made-up, hypocritical “controversy” that really boils down to an American Social Justice movement attempting to exert control via it’s values over a foreign film studio (Oh hey, that sounds a lot like western imperialism …). It’s hypocrisy, it’s pointless, and it’s really not worth much of our time.