Saturday, July 12, 2014

Who Wins This War: You, Amazon or Hachette?

As this contract war—excuse me, negotiations— between Amazon and Hachette rolls on, what does this mean for you and me? For those of us who are merely readers and authors. Those of us who are not a part of the glittering heights of the publishing world. Many are characterizing this struggle as a battle between David and Goliath. I look at is as a struggle between two Goliaths.

Amazon fired another shot across the bow of the Hachette book publishing ship this week. While these two giants try to negotiate a contract—a heated contest which has drawn the interest of the entire publishing industry—Amazon suggested that both conglomerates give all Hachette authors 100% of the royalties from their digital sales until this dispute is resolved.

Hachette representatives called this suggestion financial “suicide.” Amazon counter that Hachette was full of “baloney,” claiming that Hachette’s $10 billion dollar annual revenue can easily afford this gesture.

Meanwhile, authors have been drawn into this fray.  The Washington Post reported that best-selling Hachette author Scott Turow—former president of the Authors Guild—characterized the offer as “little more than a publicity stunt.” Turow cautioned authors from accepting this blood money, although acknowledging that publishers brought this on themselves for not giving authors a fairer cut of the profits.

Bestselling author Doug Preston penned a letter of support for Hachette and asked authors to sign, claiming Amazon targeted Hachette authors to force the publisher to come to terms. Successful indie authors Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, and Hugh C. Howey countered with a petition of their own directed toward readers, explaining the intent of Amazon and Hachette, and claiming Hachette—not Amazon—are the real culprits. Some 7,000 authors have signed this letter at last count. Preston’s letter has garnered close to 600 signatures, many of them top-selling writers in the business. (In the interest of full disclosure, I did sign the petition from Konrath et al.)

And so the war goes on.

Hachette was a co-defendant in the civil anti-trust suit, U.S. Department of Justice v. Apple Inc, that alleged Apple and five co-defendants entered into a conspiracy to raise eBook prices to consumers. The federal court slapped their hands, money was paid out, and now defendants like Hachette—free of the court ruling—must individually negotiate with Amazon and other eBooks retailers without the benefit of making a deal with Apple and other publishers that got them in hot water a few years ago.

Which brings us to today. The question I pose to you is who will win after the dust settles?

I imagine that Hachette and Amazon will enter into an agreement at some point that will benefit both parties. After all, it is a negotiation, right? And they are in the business to make money. Putting aside all the emotional terms being bantered back and forth—blood money, liberate, boycott, monopoly—it is all about the money and who stands to make the most.

Stating it simply, if Amazon wins, eBook prices will be lower and more consumers will save money on novels from bestselling authors. If Hachette wins, eBooks from their publishing house are expected to be kept high, and consumers will pay more for the same eBooks.

So what do readers and writers get out of this negotiation?

If you are one of Hachette’s bestselling authors and your publisher wins, you will continue to make less—percentage wise—than indie authors and the price of your novel will remain high. But who cares if you are an author like James Patterson (garnering $94 million last year) making big bucks. If youu are another Patterson—and Amazon wins—you might make more or less, depending upon whether more first-time readers are willing to  buy your novel at the lower price,  or Hachette changes the percentage you make on eBooks in your favor. It all depends if Hachette might be a little more reasonable and give their writers a bigger cut of the royalties on eBooks, but I would not hold my breath.

If you are a reader, you will most likely pay more for your eBooks if Hachette wins, and less for your eBooks if Amazon wins. As I see it, there might be a few variables that change this but the  bottom line—readers win if Amazon wins.

Lastly, there are writers like myself—indie authors whose largest chunk of income is derived from eBook sales. If Amazon wins, it will be like the status quo of the last few years. Legacy publishers will offer some books at a lower price (more competition for indie writers) but considerably higher than authors like myself. If Hachette wins, eBook prices will remain high with little or no discounts and we will sell more books.

As an indie author, I can’t seem to get too riled no matter who wins. In fact, if Hachette wins I think my odds of selling more books will rise. One of the key advantages of being an indie author is the ability to offer very competitive prices for your eBooks when legacy authors are stuck at the higher end. Wouldn’t you—the reader—be more tempted to buy five or six indie books and try them out for the same price of one Hachette’s bestselling author’s eBooks?

No matter who comes out ahead in this contract war, Amazon will continue to afford indie authors a viable market to sell their books in an environment that is structured for customer satisfaction. Amazon will continue to offer a very reasonable and fair royalty payment that is much higher than Hachette allows its writers. They will allow indie authors to release their novels as quickly as the author’s manuscripts are finished without having writers wait a year or two before publication. They will let the market decide who to buy, not a gatekeeper working for one of the legacy publishers.

Excuse me while I yawn as writers, Amazon & Hachette fired the next volley at each other. Some might think that I can not see the big picture. That I can't see where this will all lead. Give me a break! When this war is over, I will still be here, writing my next manuscript and reading a reasonably-priced novel from another indie author. Who knows, I might break down and buy an exorbitantly-priced novel from one of my favorite Hachette authors. In my world, when it comes down to it—nothing will have changed.

What about your world? Will it change anything?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Writer’s Dilemma—Finding And Keeping Readers

By Mark Young
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”—Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities.

This classic opening line might well describe the current publishing world. It is a wonderful time to be a writer—getting published has never been easier unless you are trying to attract the attention of legacy publishers. And, at times, it seems almost daunting trying to get your novels recognized in a sea of new works that flood the market every day. Getting your book out there is getting easier. Attracting the attention of readers is not so easy. If fact, it might be describe as Mission Impossible.

Writers’ chances of getting a hefty number of new readers might seem less likely than winning the lottery or getting a majority of liberals to vote conservative. I gathered a few stats from the internet to illustrate what writers are up against. Did you know:

  • Besides feeding information to the CIA and NSA, Google gathers an assortment of stats including how many books are out there on the market. They claim there are at least 130 million books in the world at last count. This figure is rapidly climbing faster than Amazon’s share of the market.
  • And speaking of Amazon, this tight-lipped conglomerate has millions of books—print and eBook—just a click away from customers across the globe. Their lending library alone boasts over 475,000 books available to their Prime members. That’s a lot of competition.
  • Another source of interesting book facts comes from Bowkers, the official ISBN Agency for the U.S., who gives authors and publishers that little number—called the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). They also keep stats. According to them, the number of self-published titles in 2012 reached more than 391,000, a 59 percent increase over the previous year and a 422 percent increase over 2007.
  • Americans buy approximately five million books a day, and it is believed that 125 new titles are published every twenty-four hours. And then there is the rest of the globe.

So how do writers and readers connect amidst this tidal wave of competitors?

Since I have not hit the NYT's bestseller list, I am still trying to figure that one out myself. As a writer and reader, I try to use a little common sense and figure what works in my small part of the reading world. From that, maybe you and I can figure out the bigger picture that would help us to understand how to reach new readers.

Since the advent of eBooks, as a reader I have been able to sample more books than I would have ever encountered by regular visits to the library. I can do this at all hours and with greater ease than ever before. So what makes readers like me choose one book over another, one writer over all those others? We have only a certain amount of time to settle on new writers that we might like to read. And we don’t like to feel our time has been wasted. So, how do we make these choices?

First, word of mouth—whether it is face-to-face or online acquaintances—still remains one of the most
persuasive ways in my world to settle on the next book to read. I give a lot of credence to people whose opinion I respect. But I don’t generally buy a book solely on their opinions. Another way I zoom in on a book is to read a variety of blogs that I enjoy that focus on books, writers, and writing. An interesting interview with an author might persuade me to buy a particular book. Maybe. Then again, maybe I need more information. 

Personally, I like to sample the wares. One of Amazon’s most effective tools allows potential customers to read a sample of the book they are considering buying.  The Look Inside click and read function is a great way for readers to find out if the new author’s writing style interests them.

Another way to attract readers is the free or heavily-discounted promotions that are offered—particularly through Amazon’s Kindle Select program. These programs allow authors to promote their books to a larger audience than they might normally reach, particularly if it is pushed by Amazon’s secret matrix system that everyone is still trying to figure out. I am much more willing to take a chance on an unknown author if I can try out a free or heavily discounted book. More than once, after reading a novel I particularly enjoyed, I sought out and paid full price for other novels by the same author.

A method I use to gather writing samples is to subscribe to a number of free web sites—like Bookbub—that showcase free or discounted novels each day. I can scroll through the list and click on any that seem to strike my fancy, particularly if they fall in the free-to-$.99 range.

Now let me slip over and wear my writer’s hat for a moment. Once I have attracted a reader who seems to like my novels, how can I ensure that that reader will keep looking for my next release or buy earlier works?

There are three ways that come to mind, although I am sure there are others. First and foremost, keep writing good books. Secondly, use social media tools to stay connected to readers. And lastly, encourage others to review your books so that new readers will find out about your novels.

American author Fran Lebowitz is attributed with the quote: “You are only as good as your last haircut.” I’m not sure in which context she said this, but for most authors I would like to change this quote to say: You are only as good as your last novel. Writers need to strive to make their next novel even better. Readers deserve it, and I believe readers appreciate it. This goes into all aspects of making the novel, from the writing to the cover design and everything in between. Don’t get lazy. Do the best job you can and it will be reflected in the quality of your work. Readers will notice.

Before, during and after writing that novel, writers should consider developing and maintaining a web site, blogging, and using a variety of social media sites to stay in touch with readers. Develop email lists and consider using a good email service like Constant Contact to stay in touch with interested readers. Don’t badger them, but send regular updates so they can stay updated. Let them know of upcoming releases or promotions. They have tight budgets also, so let them know when they can save a few bucks on one of your novels.

Lastly, consistently and faithfully market your books. Seek out bloggers who might review your book, offer an interview, or allow you to provide a guest blog on their site. Look for websites that allow you to post your latest novel for their viewers. Explore the ever-growing online radio and pod casts for opportunities to reach new readers. Look for book club groups that you might be able to connect with either in person, on line (Skype, Face-to-Face Live, etc.), or by phone.

And do not give up. Take every day as it comes. Enjoy the little triumphs: a good review; the release of a new novel; a jump in sales on a particular day; and just the mere fact that you experience a good writing day. 

Enjoy the journey. And keep writing.

Readers and writer: How do you find new authors? What makes you stay in contact with that writer?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

BROKEN ALLEGIANCE (A Tom Kagan Novel) has been unleashed

By Mark Young
Stop the presses! I completely forget to share my latest bit of news. I have a new novel out!

Can you believe I forget to tell you about this? I have been so busy working on my next novel, posting other authors’ new releases and other blog-related interviews—I completely forget to let you know.

I apologize.

Release of Broken Allegiance (A Tom Kagan Novel) may be known to those of you who pal around with me on other social media sites. However, I just realized that some of my reading friends might only cross paths here on Mark Young's Arresting Fiction blog. They may not know another of my mystery, suspense, police procedural novels has been let loose on the world.

Here is the down-and-dirty:

Police gang detective Tom Kagan sought justice for more than ten years, leaving him a broken man. His only reason for living—the woman he loves and the badge he swore to uphold. When a man is brutally killed in a vineyard on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, California, it sparks a series of events that test what’s left of Kagan’s resolve to protect and serve. 

Secrets from the past thwart Kagan’s efforts to unravel a series of killings sanctioned from within the walls of California’s highest security prison. From the lush vineyards of Sonoma County to the shores of beautiful Lake Tahoe, the detective must outsmart a killer who is moving in for one epic killing spree. 

Leaders of the notorious Nuestra Family prison gang are fighting for power, a struggle that spills out onto the streets of California. Kagan joins forces with Special Agent Hector Garcia, a feisty supervisor of the Special Services Unit for the California Department of Corrections; Diane Phillips, a beautiful and hard-charging prosecutor; and Mikio Sanchez, a former gang member marked for death. Through the eyes of cops and gangsters, readers are able to glimpse the seldom seen workings of the gangster underworld. 

Broken Allegiance is about treacherous lies, broken promises, and shattered lives—about life, death and a man’s honor.

Does this pique your interest? If so, you can find a copy of Broken Allegiance through Amazon’s Kindle Store here or in print through Createspace here.

Grab a copy. A sequel will be coming out right on its heels. Next time, I will be a little quicker letting you know when the novel is released.

Promise! Cross my heart and hope to… Huh, I think I’ll stop right there. After all, I do write crime novels.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A New Generation of Readers: Building A Reading BridgeThat Will Last A Lifetime

By Mark Young
“Dad, why do you want Katniss to marry Gale? I want her to choose Peeta.” My 12-year-old daughter is querying me on one of the hottest Young Adult (YA) trilogies—The Hunger Games by author Susanne Collins. These novels and the subsequent movies have captivated her imagination.

[Skip the next paragraph if you already know who Katniss Everdeen, Gale Hawthorn, and Peeta Mellark are. If you’re uncertain, please continue:]

In this dystopian thriller, these young people are trying to survive in the ruins of the nation of Panem (once known as North America) against a brutally repressive regime operated from the ruling Capital. Residents living in the twelve outlying districts must offer up two teenagers—one boy, one girl—each year to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. This tribute to those in power is so that all will remember the cost of rebellion that was squashed by the ruling government. This story focus around the main character—Katniss Everdeen, a teenager—who is emotionally drawn to two young males in her life as she struggles to stay alive. 

These two males are what my daughter is giving me the third degree about—Gale Hawthorn, Katness’s best friend and hunting partner; and Peeta Mellark, a baker’s son with a crush on the girl and who becomes her partner in the Hunger Game after they were reaped from District Twelve.

My daughter thinks that Peeta is Katniss’ best choice to become more than friends with—um, you know, that yucky love stuff. I disagree with her (because I am a trouble maker) and this difference of opinion has sparked a running dialogue for several months.

What has all this to do with building a reading bridge with the young? Everything! We must use whatever catches the younger person’s interest to help fan that literary flame in their lives.

This discussion between my daughter and I is just the tip of the literary iceberg. From here, we’ve launched into discussions about all of the characters: their strengths and weaknesses; conflict between protagonists and antagonist; and so forth. We moved on to talk about plot development; scenes of thematic importance; conflict resolution; and backstory. She may not use these specific terms to discuss the novel, but she has grown to understand the concepts, and throws around terms like backstory, demonstrating that she understands the rules of the writing game.

As a parent and author, this is sooo cool!

When she was a little girl, we would read stories to her—as we did to our older daughters—for bedtime and any other excuse we could come up with to read. She has progressed beyond this phase, slowly developing her own reading interests. As parent know, persuading children to read is not always easy. School work—with all its required reading—can put a damper on a child’s desire to read during free time. And then we must compete with the temptations of TV and technology—smart phones, tablets, video games, and other digital distractions. Reading a novel—whether print or eBook—can slip down on the list of things a young person chooses to do.

We found movies to be one way of developing a young person’s desire to read. I purchased a copy of The Hunger Games some time ago and tried to encourage my daughter to check it out. I could not get her interested. Then the movie was released. Our daughter enthusiastically agreed to see this PG-13 movie since she heard from others that it was a good movie (peer pressure was a positive thing in this instance). Once she saw the movie, she wanted to read the book. After reading the first novel she wanted to read the entire trilogy, saying the books are better than the movie.

Yes! She came to the realization—on her own—that a novel can take the reader deeply into many layers of a character which a movie just cannot reach.

Now, we want to continue to encourage her interest in
reading by searching out other YA novels that might strike her fancy. I just finished reading author Veronica Roth’s first novel, Divergent—first novel of another trilogy— which comes out as a movie in a couple of months. Great read! I am starting the second in the series, Insurgent, so that I’m positioned to discuss these novels with my daughter in case she becomes interested in reading them. After all, I don’t want to look like a dweeb (Urban dictionary: A dorky or nerdy person).

I am crossing my fingers. She does not want to finish Collin’s last novel, Mockingjay, because she does not want the story to end. She is already figuring out how to write a sequel series to The Hunger Games which clearly indicates to me that she is an author-in-training. (That’s a Super Bowl championship ‘Go Seattle’ yes!).

What could be better than having another author in the house?

Will this ploy—movies first, leading to the novel—work a second time? I hope so. If not, my wife and I will need to put our heads together and see what other strategies we can come up with. All this finagling is worth it if we can instill in her the desire to read for the rest of her life. What a gift that would be—to her and us.

This is what is working for us right now. Parents—what strategies have you successfully used in the past? Please share in case we need to come up with another game plan real quick.