Monday night I received an e-mail from a Faithful Reader concerning the PayPal situation. Not wanting to start a flame war, she wondered if I was being harsh blaming PayPal and whether another entity was to blame.
First of all, contrary to what others have accused me of, I don't feel it's right to repeat rumors. I will however offer an opinion on the evidence I have at the time. If I'm wrong, just show me the evidence.
Sure enough that same evening, I received another e-mail from Mark Coker. (For the record, these e-mails and the ones I mentioned on the previous post, were only sent authors with erotica titles under their account on Smashwords.)
According to Mark, he'd been in talks with the folks at PayPal.
The folks at PayPal claim that the banks and credit card companies are pressuring PayPal about the same types of subject matters as mentioned before: incest/pseudo-incest, beastiality and rape.
Mark's major concerns are censorship and the fact the topics are not well-defined. Take rape for instance. The mandate handed down from PayPal (or the other U.S. financial institutions, depending on what's really going on behind the scenes) does not differentiate between rape as titillation and rape as a criminal act. Without such differentation, a great many top thriller authors would be banned as well.
Assuming PayPal folks are telling Mark the truth about who's behind this move, I second Mark's request of the following:
1) Blog, tweet, FB about this issue. Financial institutions have no business dictating terms to other businesses.
2) Contact your bank and credit company to protest such actions. Let's face it; they don't want to lose their customers.
3) Contact your U.S. representatives and senators protesting private companies efforts to censor books.
4) Contact your local news media and ask them to look into the matter.
Why am I seconding Mark's request? As my Faithful Reader pointed out in her e-mail Monday, it's too coincidental that this crap is happening during a presidential election year.
As of the time I type this, the deadline to remove material from Smashwords has been extended an indefinite period.
One of my writer friends, Anna Kathryn Lanier is promoting a petition to PayPal to stop the censorship. I'd like to point out Anna DOES NOT write erotica, but she feels strongly about the censorship issue.
I don't envy Mark Coker, and I certainly don't blame him. This is business. His fledgling company needs contacts with financial providers as well as content providers. Trashing Mark is stupid and pointless and helps nothing. Please stop.
Furthermore, writing for profit is business. Plain and simple business no matter what YOU want it to be. My regular readers have heard me preach this time and time again--writing is business; treat it like one. I hope all of you take this to heart and be smart about how you deal with other companies. You can stand your ground without being an asshole.
Basically, PayPal has issued a warning to Smashwords that certain erotic content must be removed from their website. Otherwise PayPal will deactivate Smashwords' PayPal account. PayPal allegedly gave them only ten days to comply. The content PayPal objects to is erotica having to do with incest/pseudo-incest, bestiality and rape.
I'm of several minds on this development.
Most publishers have limits on what's acceptable in their guidelines. This is nothing new. In fact, Ellora's Cave rejects all three of the items in their submissions guidelines. So the number of publishers who would accept such types of things is limited. That leaves indie publishing.
Obviously there's a market for for this kind of erotica, which is why the indie writers put such types of erotica up on places like Amazon and Smashwords.
On the other hand, retailers don't want to anger customers. When enough customers protest something that disturbs them, retailers often bow to the pressure. A good example is when Amazon removed the 'how-to-commit-pedophilia' title last year.
What's unusual is that this is business-to-business pressure. Rarely does a company object to something that is protected free speech and fills their own coffers. This move was apparently not spawned by customer objections.
PayPal is hardly an innocent party. It has spent millions on lobbying efforts to prevent the company from being classified as a bank. It rarely follows it's own policies and procedures, and often changes those policies and procedures on a whim. So personally, I find their stance on issuing morality ultimatums to another company rather hypocritical.
It also shows a flaw in the design of Smashwords' software in that they can't readily change to a new financial provider.
More than likely another company with no PayPal connections will pick up the ball and provide those people with stories they prefer that PayPal deems objectionable.
But this situation goes to show we ARE a global community. This is not a maybe that will happen someday down the line. GLOBAL IS NOW.
While I can't put words in Mark Coker's mouth, the likely reason he decided to use PayPal is because of its global reach. All the other e-book retailers are limited by the laws in both the U.S. and overseas over sales and the types of merchandise.
Do I object to certain types of materials? Yes, but I can CHOSE NOT TO BUY the materials I object to, just like I don't buy crystal meth. Do I think what PayPal did was right? No, forcing your views on the populace rarely works. That's why Prohibition failed.
But most of all, I don't like seeing anyone bullied. For those of you who object to Amazon's tactics, take a good hard look at PayPal. This is what a real bully looks like.
The bigger problem is what else will PayPal find objectionable down the road?
Barnes & Noble is the last big box bookstore standing. I'll give the execs at B&N credit for realizing that being the last man standing doesn't mean they're out of danger. So they introduced their version of self-publishing--PubIt. I first talked about B&N last year.
B&N offers 40% gross for book priced under $2.99, but only 65% for the magic $2.99 to $9.99 price point.
Since the 2011 post, B&N and Amazon management have decided to up the ante in their pissing contest. Among other things, B&N refuses to carry paper books or e-books published by Amazon. Many other brick-and-mortar retailers have followed suit. So if you get an offer from Amazon's publishing arm, think about it carefully because your work will probably be available through only one retail outlet. Also, B&N has firmly sided with trad publishing, who, let's face it, are so freaked that they've turned to raping the writers.(If you don't believe me, read Kris Rusch's post from yesterday.)
First of all, neither company is entirely in the right in their attitudes. Neither company focuses solely on books anymore. Neither company is looking out for the writers' best interest. When it comes down to it, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble's main focus is THEIR bottom line. Not yours.
To all writers: stop taking sides in THEIR dispute. Look out for your best interest. THEY WON'T. And only you can decide what's in your best interest.
As I said before, I want MY books available through as many outlets as possible. One series sells best on Amazon. Another series sells best on B&N. But my best interests are definitely not served by limiting each series to only one outlet. Take a hard look at your business before making any decisions.
Amazon. The company that is either the Second Coming or the Anti-Christ depending the person talking. Neither version is useful to an indie writer. Always take anything anyone says about anything, including Amazon and the Big Six, with a grain of salt, a shot of tequila and a lime
The main reason for going with Amazon still remains--the 70% of gross to the author for e-books priced from $2.99 to $9.99.
Uploading has been changed to allow both DOC and MOBI files. If you don't have a Kindle, I highly recommend downloading their Kindle for PC app or Kindle for Mac app to test your MOBI files before uploading for e-book to Amazon.
There's been a great deal of debate over participating the Amazon Lending Library Program ("ALLP"). I haven't tried it yet. I may. Personally, I think you should use it in conjunction with a well-thought-out marketing plan because I don't believe giving ALL your goods away for free is smart business. Just my $0.02.
If I do try ALLP, it WON'T be with one of my current series. I'm starting to get some traction on other retail platforms. In fact, one series is selling best on Barnes & Noble, not Amazon. I'm also starting to get feedback from readers. It's not good business to make a current series book exclusive on only Amazon when it's selling so well in another store. The LAST thing I want to do is piss off readers. Ultimately, these are the people paying me!
If anyone's tried ALLP, I'd love to hear your experience. I KNOW the readers of this blog would as well. Please let us know in comments, or contact me by e-mail: suzan at suzanharden dot com.
On February 1, 2011, I announced my intent to indie-publish my own books. Over the course of the following three months, I posted results of my research.
Back in July, I updated and revised some of this information during a guest blog series over at Pitch U. Much of this information was consolidated into a book called Creating a Business Plan for the Indie Writer. (It surprised the hell out of me when it hit the Business book bestseller list on Amazon in December.)
From some of the questions and comments on Monday's post, it's time for updating again. And yes, folks, this IS how fast the publishing landscape is changing!
Once again, the information on the blog is free. When CBPIW is updated, I will upload Version 2.0 to all the retail sites and provide a coupon code so y'all can get a free copy. There's no sense in all of us having to reinvent the wheel.
There are several different ways to sell your e-books on online.
1) You can create your own online store. (Ex. Bob Mayer and Jen Talty's WDW Publishing)
2) You can uploaded directly to a retailer. (Ex. Amazon)
3) You can go through a distribution service provider which sends your e-book out to various e-tailers.
Smashwords is a combination of (2) and (3). I first wrote about Smashwords in this post.
Smashwords still only accepts MSWORD files, though Mark Coker (the owner of Smashwords) has indicated he's looking into allowing writers to upload EPUB files directly.
If you need help formatting your MSWORD document, Mark has written The Smashwords Style Guide, a 40-page booklet of instructions on how to use Smashwords. Mark should pare the instructions down to 5-pages for clarity, but that's just my personal opinion. However, the guide is free.
Smashwords then converts the MSWORD file to various file formats including, MOBI (Kindle), EPUB (Nook, iPad), PDF, TXT, etc. using their proprietary Meatgrinder software. The Meatgrinder has its pluses and minuses, depending on what type of e-book you're producing and your own software programming skills.
Your e-book is then sold by Smashwords directly through their website for a 10% cut of your list price plus a delivery charge. The delivery charge varies depending on how many other e-books that customer buys at the same time.
Smashwords then distributes your e-book to Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Apple, and Diesel. To date, Smashwords have not been able to work out a distribution agreement with Amazon, though it's listed as a retailer. (Of course, if I were Jeff Bezos and Mark Coker continually compare my company to the Galactic Empire and me to Emperor Palpatine, aka Darth Sidious, I wouldn't be too keen on doing business with him either.) From there, your e-book is automatically distributed unless you opt out through the Distribution Channel, which you can access through your dashboard.
Right now, neither Sony or Apple will accept an e-book from Smashwords unless it has an ISBN (i.e. an International Standard Book Number). You can buy ISBNs through Smashwords, but then the publisher code on the ISBN is Smashwords, not your publishing company.
Also, Smashwords requires that you place text in your e-book stating that it is the Smashwords edition of your book.
In my case, I've opted out of Amazon and Barnes & Noble since I can upload to them directly. My books aren't currently being distributed to Sony or Apple since I'm still working on getting my own ISBNs and I don't wish to purchase ISBNs from Smashwords. So right now, Smashwords only distributes my books to Kobo and Diesel. [Edit to add: Kobo now requires ISBNs as well.]
For me, the extra 30% of the list price to Kobo and Diesel are worth letting Smashwords do the distribution. I would have to jump through some serious hoops to get Kobo to allow me to upload directly to them. As of January 11, 2012, Diesel still will only accept e-books from Lightning Source or Smashwords.
On a side note: Apple also has some pretty weird conditions for uploading directly to them, including that fact that you must have a Mac. Sony, like Diesel, only accepts uploads through their chosen distributors.
I hope this helps you in making your business decision. I've been using Smashwords for almost a year now. If you have any more questions, post them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.
Lately, I've been seeing and reading about writers who make decisions on aspects of the business that have nothing to do with our customers.
Who are our customers? Ultimately, the readers. These are the people who really pay us. Not the agents. Not the publishing houses. Not Amazon.
Let's face it--if you write fiction, you are an entertainer. In today's economy, folks have fewer entertainment buck to spend. Sure Nora Roberts emphasizes her theme of how important families are, but people read her books to escape just for a little while.
Frankly, the writers who don't forget these point are the ones who will see a long career. It doesn't matter if you're indie published, trad published, or some combination. Just remember who really pays you.
Now, that being said, cutting off your customer from your product, i.e. your stories, does not endear you to your customer. If your customer has a NOOK, and you only sell on Amazon, who are you really hurting? If you only sell e-books and your customer prefers paper, who are you hurting?
That's right. You. It's your sale that's lost. Your customer will take their money and buy someone else's book because it's available to them. Yours isn't.
I realize that sometimes, especially if you're an indie, doing everything at once isn't always possible. I'm in that position now. I'd like to be selling on the iBookstore, but I need ISBNs for Apple to accept my e-books, and I rather have my own than be subservient to someone else. I want to sell my books in hardback and paperback versions, but I'm still learning how to format for print.
There's a big difference between "I can't do X yet, but I will" and "I refuse to do X". A huge difference. A GINORMOUS difference.
Just think about who you're really affecting before you make the blanket statement, "I can't/won't do X."
A few days ago, I was surfing for twenty minutes. That's the time it takes for generic Sudafed and generic Tylenol to kick in. I'd gotten so involved in the latest wip that I'd forgotten to take my regular dosage until I couldn't breath and my head started pounding. (Damn flu!)
Anyway, I was on Twitter when someone tweeted the question of how to handle new ideas that hit you while you're still working on a manuscript. I tweeted back that I take a couple of minutes to jot down the idea (no more than a page), then return to the original manuscript.
I don't know about anyone else, but once my brain starts creating, it refuses to stop. It took a long time for me to train myself to finish a project. (The multitude of files in my credenza and various electronic storage media can attest to that fact.)
But the other side of the coin is--did I give this woman, a writer relatively new on the path, good advice.
There's so many folks out there with advice. The problem is there's no one solution that works for everyone. As I tweeted to this woman, this is what works for me. I really hope she's not like me, and gives equal credence to every piece of advice given to her. I believe I screwed up my own path for a long time by listening to everyone, and I mean EVERYONE!
All this well-meaning advice leads back to the saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." I hope I gave her a method to help her brain settle down and focus, instead of sending her to Hell. If I did, may she find the strength to say, 'That Suzan chick is nuts. This way is much better."
New writers often spend countless hours questioning whether or not to use a pseudonym. The real answer? It depends.
When I first started writing in nineteen-mumble, mumble,I followed the advice of the legendary Marion Zimmer Bradley. Ms. Bradley espoused that a writer should be proud enough of his/her writing to put their own name on the piece.
For the most part, her words ring with a certain truth. But sometimes a pseudonym is necessary. Here are some reasons you might use a pseudonym:
1) If you trad-publish and your first book tanks, your agent or editor will strongly suggest a pseudonym because of the association of your name with poor sales. (No examples on this one because I think it's rude to embarrass someone publicly.)
2) You have a career that you don't want to give up. Some folks use a pseudonym to differentiate between the public personas. Paranormal erotica author Sunny happens to be a pediatrician.
3) You write a genre or in a style that would be frowned upon at best by those in your other career, your family or your ex-spouse. Writing erotica when you're a teacher can land you in an ocean of hot water. Ellora's Cave author Judy Mays is a prime example. (Though to be fair, one woman outed Judy out of spite after Judy had disciplined the woman's son for failing to turn in his homework. Turns out, pretty much the entire town knew about Judy's second job and supported her as one of the best teachers in the district.)
4) You may want to use different names for the different genres you write just so fans know to expect a different type of story. Christie Craig writes hot, humorous romantic suspense under her own name, but writes paranormal YA under the nome de plume of C.C. Hunter.
5) If you have a really unusual name that would detract from your writing, you might want to use a pseudonym. How seriously would you take a book written by Ima Hogg? (Yes, she was a real person. In fact, she was a very prominent citizen in Houston's history.)
6) On the other hand, if your legal name is Stephen King, you might want to use a pseudonym to separate yourself from that other Stephen guy who writes those weird horror books.
7) Then there's Dean Wesley Smith's suggestion that if you're uncomfortable about whether a book will sell, put it out under a pseudonym and see what happens.
One question I hear a lot is whether you need to register a pseudonym. NO, YOU DON'T!. Your publisher or retailer may need your real name and information in order to process 1099's at the end of the year. Other than that, no one has to know your pseudonym unless you tell them.
Would I write under a pseudonym? I already do in another genre for a couple of the reasons I listed above. People can find out my pseudonym if they really search, so it's not like it's a national security breach.
But which ever way you go, your real name or a fake name, make sure you wrote a good story first.
Well, it finally happened. Chris Keeslar, the last editor at Dorchester Publishing has left the company. All I can say is, "Chris, what took you so long?" Keeslar always struck me as a bright guy, but I think his loyalty was severely misplaced. I wish him the best.
However, Dorchester says it'll be business as usually despite Keeslar. Translation: We will continue to screw over anyone who signs with us. Which is probably why the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America lowered the boom and removed Dorchester from its list of approved publishers.
Book Expo America is actually considering letting the public attend the event for one day. Wow, novel concept, guys. Actually acknowledging your bread-and-butter. We'll see if it actually happens though.
Amazon has officially invaded opened an online store in India. However, Junglee.com only acts as a facilitator. It provides to where customers can actually buy the desired merchandise. The reason for the weirdness is Indian law prohibits foreign retailers.
In the meantime, Amazon got pissy about Goodreads using their descriptions for books. According to the rumor mill, Amazon demanded money. Now Goodreads will be getting their data directly from Ingram (not necessarily a good thing since Ingram will only recognize books with ISBNs).
Ewan is looking at this as a investment change instead of a technological change. Frankly, that's a little backward to me. He made some good points, but not necessarily the ones I think he meant to make. Yes, Ewan, there is a disturbance in the Force, but is it really any different than any other technological change in entertainment over the last century? Take a hard look at records, motion pictures, TV, etc. Contrary to the naysayers of each development, civilization did not collapse.
Development begins on some cool new idea. Established businesses look at new device, scratch their heads, and wonder whatever it could possibly be used for. As Spongebob Squarepants would say, developers use their "EE-MAAG-IN-AAA-TIONS"
Early adopters see the possibilities of cool new device. They create content for that new technology. Some is really great; some not so great. Find someone under fifty who can name TV show from the '50's besides The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy.
Stage 3 Most new technology starts at a high price where only the elite can afford the product. Gradually, cheaper versions come out and the masses latch onto them. Watch the scene in The Wedding Singer where Julia's junk-bond-dealing fiance brings home a CD player. Most people my age and older get the jokes. Or in case, the not-a-joke price he paid for the player.
P.S. Change is a constant in the universe. The last time we watched the movie, GK turned to me and asked, "What's a CD player?"
The technology becomes widely accepted, which in turn drives the controllers of the previous technology insane. The movie studio execs were sure that first TV, and then VCRs, would totally destroy their industry. Some content developers step up production to meet demand. Others drag their heels and collapse in the dust.
Stage 5 The establishment finally realizes they too can make money off of cool new device. In the '80's, movie studios resisted videocassettes, and if they did release a movie on tape, they slapped an astronomical price on it to deter people from buying, copying and passing out the movie for free to their friends. (Does this sound familiar at all, folks?) Eventually, established party realizes they can make more money by embracing new device. In the meantime, development begins on some cool new idea...
The two things Ewan mentioned that concern me as well are:
1) The gold rush mentality exhibited by some people. Seriously, you need to know your craft before you publish. (Otherwise, I'd be a recording star right now.)
2) Folks taking advantage of the naive and the gullible. As I've said a zillion times, this is a business; there are no shortcuts. Anyone offering a service or a product to help you dig for gold wants one thing--your money.
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