Sunday, January 25, 2015

What is the Meaning of Book Devaluing Anyway?

You savvy, well-informed folks are well aware of the ongoing chatter about whether the glut of free and low-cost books on the market is devaluing them. I’ve attended panel discussions on this topic where opinions varied widely. At that time (about four years ago) some panelists believed that setting the price of a new book at $.99 was devaluing the work by not paying the author what he or she deserved. The other side of the coin was, shouldn’t the reader decide what has value and what doesn’t? And that offering affordable books provides more choices and opportunities for new writers to find an audience? At the time, I came down on the side that low, or free book prices devalued the book, but not I’m not so sure anymore. Truthfully, the whole issue perplexes me.

As you can well imagine, services like BookBub, which send offers of free and low-priced books to subscribers every day, certainly makes it possible to obtain an entire library filled with free and low-cost books, but does that devalue them, or the authors, or the market in general? As an article in Book Riot states, is it truly the readers’ fault if they only choose to read free books? Think about it. Isn’t that what libraries have been doing for decades? Offering readers free books that the library paid for only once, and probably at a discount? Is this really a matter of devaluing the market, or is this a case of economics?

The Book Riot article correctly states that books are a buyer’s market folks. The author even cites Merriam-Webster.com’s definition of a buyer’s market…“a market in which goods are plentiful, buyers have a wide range of choices, and prices tend to be low.” But is that devaluing anything? What does devaluing really mean anyway?

Merriam-Webster’s definition is, “to cause (something or someone) to seem or to be less valuable or important.” So, when all these folks are talking about devaluing books, are they referring to the economic value or the artistic value? Or both?

I’ve watched Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, To Kill a Mockingbird and other terrific movies on TV many times. In some cases, I’ve never paid a penny to go to the theatre or to buy the book. Does that devalue the script, the quality of the storytelling, of the movie itself? Not at all. Those movies have extremely high value for me. Sure, I hope the authors made a ton of money. I would love to make a ton of money, but readers, publishers and Amazon don’t owe me a living. If my ebooks, which currently sell at about $7.99, are dropped to $1.99 for a week-long sale, does that suddenly devalue the work economically or artistically? Not to me, it doesn’t.

I suppose, at the end of the day, it comes down to how readers and authors define the value of a specific work. I’m going to stop pondering definitions and just strive to write better books.



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Spinning A Story

Somebody posts a call for submissions. Holly Jahangiri, for example. Or Apex magazine. You want to submit, but you don't have an already-written story hanging around the office, eating its head off. You have to actually go to work and write something.
Go like this:
  1. Something happens
  2. Something else happens
  3. Something else happens
  4. Things look bad
  5. The end
So, following Holly's challenge, I went to my blog's spam folder and found this gem from – I am not making this up – free summer fun activities for kids:

Logging onto the net and hiring one of these lovely ladies will surely make your marriage more adventurous and exciting. Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can increase the risk for skin cancer. Real estate agents and brokers can help you in this regard and allow you to buy the best property in Fort Myers. Plus, she generously provides free baby shower party games activities and baby shower party supplies. You may want to sort them out based on what you want for each page and categorize them.

So let's take that apart and shuffle the bits around.
  • Real estate agents and brokers can help you in this regard and allow you to buy the best property in Fort Myers.
  • Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can increase the risk for skin cancer.
  • Logging onto the net and hiring one of these lovely ladies will surely make your marriage more adventurous and exciting.
  • You may want to sort them out based on what you want for each page and categorize them.
  • Plus, she generously provides free baby shower party games activities and baby shower party supplies.
It practically writes itself, doesn't it?
  1. Michael and Melisa Snead (names culled from various spammed comments) have lived in Ft. Myers, Florida, for most of their married life. Neither one would claim to be happy, exactly, but "miserable" is too strong a word for their marriage. Then Melisa comes home from the doctor with bad news: those freckles she's developed all over her face and arms aren't freckles; they're cancer.
  2. At first, Michael and Melisa grow closer. Then, as she's more involved with her treatment and support group, and her freckles grow in spite of all treatment, Michael begins to look for distraction online.
  3. One day, Michael is at work and Melisa's laptop is unavailable for some reason, and she uses his, finding his folders of women, which he has labeled as if they were women he was looking to hire to help Melisa out and sorting into tasks: Housekeeper, Companion, Cook. Melisa, worn out with Michael's procrastination, picks one and hires her.
  4. The woman, Florene Bronson, shows up. Something about baby showers. Plug something into the earlier stuff to make baby showers necessary.
  5. Wrap it up. The end.
Yeah, okay, so that's started. Well begun is almost done, eh? Now I just have to decide if I want this story to be fantasy, science fiction, or horror. May need to write my way into it before I know. Or it may turn out to be a romance or so-called literary story, dammit. But that's how you pull a story out of your thin air.


MA

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Guess Who Prefers Reading Print Books?

Do you remember the glory days of 2009 and 2010, when surveys and blogs predicted that the e-book revolution would overtake print books in the not too distant future? I remember discussing stats that showed a 160% jump in the number of seniors who’d quickly adopted e-books because they were cheaper, took up less space, and print size was easily adjusted.

In 2013, the stats started to change. The rise had become less dramatic and cautionary articles were appearing. One indicated that a third of those who tried an e-reader put them in a drawer and never went back. Meanwhile, e-book sales slowed a little more. Not that e-books weren’t gaining ground, just not at the anticipated rate.

In 2014, I read articles and studies which revealed that readers didn’t retain as much from e-books as they did print, and that print books might have a useful purpose. In fact, some articles and blogs maintained that print could happily coexist with e-books.

So, you might not be surprised by this recent article and interview in New Republic, which states that a whopping 92% of university students preferred print books to e-books. And this is the younger generation, folks, the ones who grew up with iPads and mice in their little hands. So, what’s going on?

Apparently, a survey of 300 university students in four different countries found an overwhelming preference for print books, especially when it came to reading and comprehending school-related material rather than a light novel. Students felt that they could understand the texts better if they were reading them in print. The reasons were varied. Some found themselves too distracted with electronic devices. Others didn’t like the fact that batteries died. There were also complaints of eyestrain and even more trivial complaints that the reader couldn’t remember the author’s name or how many pages were left in the book.

You can read more in the article, but I’ve heard many of these complaints before. I’ve also come across conflicting findings about reading comprehension when it comes to e-books. That the study only surveyed 300 students doesn’t really tell me enough about serious preferences or trends, but it is interesting. The bottom line is print is here to stay, and as of January 2015, it still represents the majority of sales in North America. As for me, I love the fact that we have a choice.



Sunday, January 11, 2015

Five Thought-Provoking Writers/Bloggers

Those of you who read my blogs have probably come to realize that I’m a bit of a blog junkie. I read over a dozen every week because I like to stay informed about writing, publishing, and bookselling issues, trends, successes, and failures. Change is so rapid these days and opinions so varied that keeping well informed is a challenge. Let’s face it, little about the book biz is black and white.

As you probably realized from last week’s post, plenty of discussion is happening about the proverbial balloon bursting for indie writers, or is it? Hugh Howey doesn’t think so. In fact, in his latest post he writes that the glut of books on the market is good. Other writers would disagree with that while some still see opportunity in the glut.

Rather than elaborate on all those opinions, I’m going to give you the names of my five favorite writer/bloggers who constantly write, insightful, thought-provoking posts on this crazy business. I don’t agree with them all the time, but they always give me something to think about.

Aside from Hugh Howey, other favorites include two I mentioned last week: Russell Blake and Kristine Kathryn Rusch,. Another is Anne R. Allen, and last, but certainly not least, is Joe Konrath. Oddly, I haven’t noticed a new blog from Joe since Dec., but I bet something will be in the works soon.

If you have blogs you regularly follow, let me know what they are, so I can add them to the list.








Sunday, January 04, 2015

A Tough Year Ahead?

After last week’s review of 2014, I’ve been reading a number of predictions about this year, and let me tell you, it’s not a cheery picture.

As Mike Shatzkin reports in his popular blog, he suspects that many (but not all) indie authors will continue to lose income possibly due to a serious supply and demand problem. In other words, readers have either loaded up their Kindles with far more than they could possibly read or they’ve joined Kindle Unlimited’s (KU) subscription service to borrow books. It appears that a growing number of indie authors are earning significantly less per book on borrows than they would have through sales. He makes a good point that readers who were willing to try a lower priced, indie book by an unknown author are the same readers who are opting for KU. Simply put, there too many books and not enough readers.

These points are also referred to in a gigaom blog, which says that KU is facing strong competition from Scribd and Oyster subscription services. These two offer a wider selection of books to borrow as they have agreements with a couple of big five publishers HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, which KU doesn’t have. As the blog notes, it will be interesting to see if these subscription services will also hurt traditional authors’ income.

By the way, to get a look at the growing author discontent about Kindle Unlimited, read this blog from The Digital Reader. The blog states that authors not in the KU program have also noticed a drop in sales. In other words, it’s quite possible that subscribers are borrowing so many books that they’re not buying anything right now. Will this change? Is a drop in authors’ income fixable, or is the beginning of the end for authors, especially those who aren’t interested in writing better books, just more books? (See last week’s blog referring to the number of indie authors who have apparently quit publishing.)

Since we’re discussing the year ahead, take a look at Mark Coker’s Smashwords blog. He provides twelve predictions for 2015, although I don’t agree with all of them. For instance, he says that more authors will aspire to indie publishing. Well, maybe more authors will choose Smashwords, given the trouble KU has caused. But it won't change the fact that there are too many books for sale and not enough readers willing to buy them.

As far as me, I’m mainly interesting in writing better books and short stories. The goal this year is to try a new genre and build a larger body of work. Honestly, I can’t wait to see what this year will bring.




Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reviewing 2014

At this time year, how can you not help but reflect on the past twelve months and ponder where you’d like to be twelve months from now? For me, the year was more challenging than most, but in a good way, one that I created. In 2014, I learned how to juggle a full-time day job with publisher deadlines, promotion, bookselling events, and more writing. It was quite a juggling act but I survived. By doing so, I answered a question I’d been asking myself for a long time. Did I have the energy, drive and management skills to incorporate a nine-to-five job with my writing life? The answer is yes, but not without obstacles, days of sheer exhaustion, and lowered productivity. This year, I’m aiming for a long-term, part-time job in what I hope will be a perfect balance.

One of the things I kept up with in 2014 was to read my favorite blogs, one of which is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s and the other is Russell Blake’s. Rusch wrote a fascinating piece reviewing 2014. Blake’s lastest blog makes some interesting predictions for 2015, referring to events that occurred this year. Both of them agree that 2015 will be harder for writers to earn a living for numerous reasons. You can read their blogs to understand why but the two things that jumped out at me were the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program in the summer (which has ultimately slashed most writers’ incomes) and that traditional publishers are finally learning how to compete with indie publishers by lowering the price of ebooks.

Here’s the other thing: change is a constant in the publishing/bookselling industry. Authors have changed publishing strategies, booksellers like Amazon are changing selling strategies, and readers are changing book buying habits. The giveaways and $.99 price points that worked in 2011 and 2012 don’t work nearly as well for indie authors. As Blake points out, better author branding will be essential for authors to succeed. And as Rusch points out, writing, publishing, selling, and staying successful is so hard that she calls 2014 the year of the quitter. Rusch says that a growing number of writers are no longer in the biz for a variety of reasons which she lists in her blog. Although Blake also notes that 2015 will be harder than the previous year for many authors to earn a living, he still finds this an exciting time to be a writer. I couldn’t agree more.

Yes, more change is coming. I can feel it in the wind in my own writing/publishing/selling life. But does it frighten me? Hell, no. It’s absolutely invigorating!

Until next year,
All the best,