Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When a Writer Assumes the Role of Gatekeeper for Other Writers

Yes, I'm late posting today, but I wanted to think long and hard about what I wanted to say.

I thought while I bought a Batman outfit at Build-a-Bear for the teddy bear DH gave me for our fifth wedding anniversary. I thought while I decided on my birthday chocolate at Godiva's. I thought while I checked at Yankee Candle to see if they had any Witch's Brew left. (They didn't, but I'm definitely getting Cherries in Snow for Christmas!) I thought while I ate my birthday breakfast of a classic Cinnabon and Starbuck's black ice tea.

I didn't think when I saw a brand-new Ghoulia doll at Toys R' Us. I just squealed in delight, which made the clerk's day. We chatted about the New Hallowthanksmas retail season while it stormed like crazy outside.

But once the rain died and I could safely make it to the car without getting electrocuted or Ghoulia getting soaked, I started thinking again. So what caused all this thinking?

Libby Fischer Hellman is pissed off about EVERYONE self-publishing. Her sales are down! No one can find her books among the tsunami of swill! And everyone else needs to just stop publishing!

After reading her blog one more time before I started to write this post, all I can say is Genius Kid never threw a tantrum like this even in his Terrible Twos.

What's even sadder is that I've never heard of Libby Fischer Hellmann before her post was excerpted over at The Passive Voice (and her post caused a firestorm of comments over there). Is this how she wants to introduce herself to potential readers?

Because that's what other writers are. They are readers, too.

I wouldn't dream of stating on my blog that no other writer can publish because no one's buying my books. That simply DOES NOT MAKE SENSE!

Do I think writers should learn their craft before they publish? Hell, yeah. I don't know an indie writer who doesn't believe that. But once a writer is past the initial craft stage, the game changes.

If no one's buying my books, that means I'm not doing a good enough job entertaining my readers. That's no else's fault but my own. It means I need to step up my game, not "everyone needs to be gentle with poor widdle Suzan."

The whole point of indie publishing my books is that they're niche. I know they are niche. The Big 5 don't see how they can make any money on such a small market segment, but I do see how I can. And I have. And I wrote things that tickled me, and obviously tickled a few other people or they wouldn't have bought them. Or read them. Or asked when's the next one coming out.

I don't believe we writers are in competition with each other because readers are varied in their tastes and voracious. We're definitely not in competition with people too lazy to learn their craft or who plagiarize other writers, which, to me, is the real swill.

It's going to take me 120-150 hours of butt-in-chair time to write Zombie Goddess, plus another 40 or so hours of editing time. (That's me personally; that's not counting the editor and beta reader's time.) The average reader will whip through it in 4-5 hours.

What's the reader going to say if I tell her she can't read anybody else's work while I write the next novel? She's going to say, "Fuck you!" and rightly so.

Also, readers are very good about finding what they like. I've been choosing my own books since I was six. I'm pretty damn sure other readers can choose their own material as well.

So I'm going to keep writing and publishing whether Ms.Hellmann likes it or not. And if my zombie tabloid reporter is outselling her female PI, then maybe she needs to step up her game instead of whining.

Monday, October 28, 2013

FINALLY! Blood Sacrifice is out!!

I stayed up last night until effing four in the morning, but dammit, this book was getting uploaded! (Many thanks to Pepsi, Inc. LOL)

It seems appropriate that Alex and Phil's book comes out Halloween week since they literally go to Uku Pacha, the Incan Underworld.

I'll be posting sales links as they go live during the next couple of days (yes, I'm talking to you, Barnes & Noble). I want to thank all of my readers for your incredible patience!

Alex Stanton is done being Phillippa Mann’s whipping boy. She made it perfectly clear she preferred him only when his body temperature was human. And he would keep his distance from the Amazon if his vampire master didn’t value Phil’s business relationship.

But when someone breaks into Phil’s antique shop and steals a replica of an Incan artifact called a tumi, Alex discovers she’s in deep trouble. The tumi isn’t a fake after all, and the original owner wants it back. Can he and Phil mollify a ticked off god of death long enough to find the thief and retrieve the god’s property, or will the Incan deity decide he’ll take their souls in exchange for his lost weapon?

Novel, approximately 76,000 words or 277 printed pages

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Brand New BAMF Girls Club! Episode 12!

That's right! Just in time for Halloween, Katniss learns she's been training for the wrong reality show! (And watch the end of the episode for a hint of Episode 13's special guest star!)

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Jonathan Moeller Interviews of S&S 28 Contributors - Part 4

Yesterday, Jonathan posted my interview. Show Jonathan some love! Stop by and leave a comment!

P.S. There's a snippet of "Justice" for you to check out.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Status Report - October 2013

As the Celtic year winds down (yes, folks, Halloween, or Samhain if you will, was the Celtic equivalent of New Year's Eve except with a lot less glitter and champagne), I'm looking at what I've accomplished.

Sales have been down over September and October, just like they have been for the last three years. Why? Because readers are dealing with school, kids, fall activities like football, and holidays. Oh, and October is when trad publishing unleashes a flurry of paper books, especially hardbacks, in preparation for the Christmas rush.

A lot of folks in indie world are panicking, but they've panicked every fall for the last three years.What they need to be looking at is the long-term implications. The initial gold rush in self-publishing is over. Thank Djehuti!

Why do I say that? Because the people who aren't serious about writing as a career are starting to give up. That doesn't mean the rest of us can relax. If anything, we need to up our game. We not only have to be better than other indies, we have to be better than trad published books in our production values.

Fortunately, that's not hard. *grin*

Here's some of the data you're looking for:

After Amazon's August surge, Apple sales are still beating the house that Bezos built as far as my books go in September. Barnes & Noble sales have dropped thanks their schizophrenic board of directors and total lack of direction. Frankly, I can't blame Nook owners for not wanting to invest any more money in their devices. Kobo and Smashwords sales have been non-existent since April. Sony is the retailer that surprises me because I'm starting to see 2-3 actual sales per month for the second half of 2013.

Total sales in August = 215
Total sales in September = 139
Total sales for October as of the 22nd = 74

I place a lot of the blame for October on Congress' shoulders because of the stupid-ass government shutdown. There was a marked increase in sales after 16th, and not just because Alter Ego published a new novella on the 18th.

The rest of the year will be interesting. Blood Sacrifice will be published by Halloween. Sword and Sorceress 28 with my short story "Justice" will be released November 2nd. Alter Ego will put out her first novel in December as well as the last novella of her current BDSM series. That will bring my total releases up to ten for the year.

And I've officially made more money in 2013 than I did in 2012, and I've still got two more months to go.

All-in-all, I think I've done pretty good this year for an average mid-lister.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Star Wars - The Condensed Version

The complete Star Wars movie saga told in less than five minutes. This version is WAY better than George Lucas'. Wasup!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Kernel, Kobo, and the Great Erotica Blow-up of 2013

Yes, I know I don't normally write a Thursday blog, but I wanted to record the shitstorm that happened over the last week while it's still fresh.

Once upon a time, which was actually Wednesday, October 9, 2013, a little U.K. rag called The Kernel ran a piece by Jeremy Wilson, vilifying Amazon as the purveyors of pornography. Specifically, they named erotica books that allegedly contained underage sex, incest, non-consensual sex and bestiality, four of the biggest no-no's in erotica because these are usually illegal in real life.

There's two things you need to understand before I continue:

1) The Kernel is so bad it makes the U.S.'s National Enquirer look like the epitome of top journalism.

2) Most traditional publishers, including those in newspapers and magazines, have a bad case of ADS, aka Amazon Derangement Syndrome, a term coined by the Passive Guy, the well-known, pro-indie publishing blogger of The Passive Voice, to describe the rampant trashing of Amazon in the publishing industry by those traditional pundits who still use Amazon's services to sell their merchandise.

On Saturday, October 12, 2013, The Daily Mail latched onto the so-called "story", but they added Barnes & Noble, W.H. Smith, and Waterstones (all brick and mortar stores with an online presence) into the lambasting of porn sales. Yes, this is the same Daily Mail singer Amanda Palmer mocked for reviewing her boobs instead of her singing.

That same day, the BBC (British Broadcasting Network which is the state-run television network) jumped on the bandwagon. They only focused on Amazon and the contents of the original Kernel story. According to the Amazon spokesperson's statement to the BBC, all books mention in the original story had been removed.

A legal side note to explain something: the U.K. does not have any equivalent to the U.S.'s First Amendment guaranteeing a right to freedom of speech. What the U.K. does have is the Obscene Publications Act, which makes the retailer liable if a shopper accidentally encounters material that would outrage public decency.

On top of the OPA, Prime Minister David Cameron is pushing a far-reaching law that would prevent anyone in the U.K. from accessing any kind of sexually explicit materials, not just child pornography. This proposed law has been jokingly referred to as the Great Firewall of London, but it would have some serious ramifications for writers, retailers and consumers if it is enacted.

At some point on Sunday, October 13, 2013, W.H. Smith shut down their website. I don't mean just the e-book portion but the entire fucking thing. Here's the screen shot of the holding page as I write this at 1 AM CDT on Thursday, October 17, 2013:

As you can see, more finger-pointing started. W.H. Smith blamed Kobo for the content of their e-books. Nevermind that W.H. Smith had been making money off that content for some time.

Kobo, in turn, started deleting books from their online sales site. But it wasn't just the books mentioned in The Kernel and The Daily Mail articles. Nor was it a deletion of erotica titles. It was a wipe of small/micro press and indie books regardless of the genre. Specifically targeted were books handled by distributor Draft2Digital (D2D) and those uploaded through Kobo's Writing Life.

One of the writers hit was thriller author and pro-indie pundit David Guaghran. The guy does NOT write erotica.

[DISCLOSURE: Two of Alter Ego's erotica titles handled by D2D are no longer available through Kobo. Both the Suzan Harden and Alter Ego erotica titles distributed through Smashwords, Inc., are still available on Kobo's website.]

On Monday, October 14, 2013, at 9:26 AM, I received the following e-mail from D2D's CEO Kris Austin:

Dear Suzan Harden:

We have discovered that over the weekend Kobo removed all books published through our account. While we have received no official word concerning this issue, we believe this is related to recent articles in the media concerning erotica titles available at WHSmith and Kobo’s storefronts.

However, Kobo’s response to this situation seems to have been removal of all books for any publishers (including distributors) that have offending titles until they find a solution.

I deeply regret that authors who have released books that are not erotica have been affected by this situation as well.

We are working aggressively to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and we will keep you updated as we learn more information.

Kris Austin
President and CEO
Draft2Digital, LLC

Late Monday afternoon, Kobo finally made a statement concerning the removal of D2D books.

Defense of indie writers from the Kernel's hatchet job started early. The Digital Reader came back with some valid points.

On the IndieReader, Michelle Fox describes the witch hunt going on over at Amazon. Apparently, The Kernel didn't do their research. A couple of the books they mentioned didn't have the things they described. Kernel writer Wilson claimed author Chelsea Fox's book, Dog Gone It, supposedly had acts of bestiality. His reasoning? There was a dog on the cover.

Since the story went viral, The Kernel has taken down several of the alleged bad books on their page. Why? The U.K.'s laws concerning libel and slander are a lot more stringent than the U.S.'s. Writers like Chelsea Fox could have a hell of a payday if they decide to pursue actions against The Kernel.

Even though Chelsea's book was originally removed, it's now back up on Amazon (at least the U.S. website).

In the meantime, Amazon is doing more than taking down the books named by The Kernel and The Daily Mail. Erotica superstar Selena Kitt has a spectacular rundown over at One-Handed Read. While not mentioned by the British tabloids, one of her bestselling books, Babysitting the Baumgartners was removed from Amazon. She had to change the title only in the data base, not on the cover or text, to get Amazon to put it back on sale.

My thoughts on all of this? Major overreaction on the parts of the retailers. Smashwords has had an adult content filter on their website almost from day one. Why the mass purging when a little forethought could have saved these retailers a lot of trouble?

Because Amazon, Kobo, et. al. are only going through the motions. They WANT you to find these erotic books. They WANT to sell these books. Erotica makes them a BUTTLOAD of cash every year. I know because I've been making a buttload of cash since I created Alter Ego.

Right now, they're calming the pearl-clutchers as my friend Angie refers to the holier-than-thou assholes like Jeremy Wilson, knowing that writers will rename their books and upload them again when the kerfluffle dies down. THE RETAILERS DON'T GIVE A FLYING RAT'S ASS. Not about the writers. Not about the consumers. Not about Jeremy Wilson and drama mamas of his ilk.

Welcome to capitalism, baby! Ain't it great?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The S&S 28 Interviews, Part 2

Fellow fantasy writer Jonathan Moeller interviews his fellow contributors to the Sword and Sorceress anthologies. Here's last Thursday's interview with Catherine Soto.

Monday, October 14, 2013

When Bad Computer Problems Happen to Good Writers

After the computer kerfluffles in July and August, I've been limping along with an ancient laptop. Thursday night, I got to a good stopping point, took a shower, grabbed some tortilla chips and salsa, and sat down to watch The Big Bang Theory.

I went back to work after the show.


Somehow, I managed not to burst into tears, got DH and started going through the checklist. Number one being, "No, I did NOT spill salsa on the computer!"

The error messages were all over the place, but two of them indicated it might be the memory. Thankfully, I had the same type of memory card in a defunct computer that hadn't made it to the recycling center yet.

Yay! New memory worked.

But the problem with the old memory had corrupted my registry. *head desk*

All of this to say, I've got enough restored to get to try to finished the edits on Blood Sacrifice, which is what I would have been doing Thursday and Friday if this shit hadn't happened. *grrr*

So the rest of this week will be interesting links for y'all to check out while I try to get caught up on getting this @*$@@( book published!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Commercials I've Been Watching

HEB, a Texas grocery chain, has been using Houston Texans' players in their commercials for a few years. And defensive end, JJ Watt is one of the sweetest guys in the world.

Until he gets on the football field.

This is HEB's funniest commrcial ever.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Speed and First Drafts Are Not Your Enemy. Fear Is.

The reason this post is late today is I'm reticent to stir the controversy pot.

I can hear what thinking. Since when, Suzan?

It's the issue of speed when it comes to drafting a story.

Please understand that I'm not talking about physical limitations. And before anyone goes off on me in comments, yes, I do understand certain impediments. I'm in the early stages of arthritis thanks to the self-destructing chemical soup that is my body, and I'm losing my eyesight, even though my doctor has been running an a battery of tests since March, he can't figure out what the problem is, and he's more frustrated about the situation than I am.

Maybe it's my own impending problems that spurs my need for speed. I've got so many ideas in my head that demand to be told. I started watching how many books were put out per year by my favorite authors. The only one who really talks about his process is Dean Wesley Smith.

When I started writing with the intent to publish back in 2004, I was doing great to get down 250 per hour. At the beginning of the year, I could do 500 words per hour. Dean's 7500 words per day seemed an impossible thing to achieve unless I went without sleep, food or potty breaks.

So instead of the impossible, I went for the possible. I'd done NaNoWriMo before. 50K words in 30 days comes out to 1,667 words per day. What if I bumped that up to 2K per day?

And it worked! Despite the craziness of homeschooling and packing, it worked. I finished five novellas, three short stories and the infamous novel Blood Sacrifice since January 1, 2013.

Which brings me to the other problem--rewriting. Maybe it's the flippant answer I gave in a recent interview. Maybe it's something Dean said in his blog, but I've given up on rewriting pieces ad nauseum.

Why? Because when I do, the book doesn't sound like me anymore. It reads like every piece of pablum coming out of New York these days. Oh, there's definitely times when I, my editor or beta readers say, "Hey! This piece here doesn't match the rest!"

But to me, that's content editing, not a complete rewrite. And I'm not saying a rewrite is never necessary.

Blood Sacrifice is a prime example. I started it in 2009, and I had to scrap it after seeing Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull because Steven Spielberg and I had the same frickin' plot. In 2010, I tried again, but I realized I had a problem with who the Big Bad was. It needed to be someone worthy of Alex and Phil.

I sat down for a brainstorming session over pumpkin lattes with my friend Jody in 2011. "The Aztecs and Mayans are overdone right now," she said. "Go farther south."

She had lived in Peru during the 1968 military coup. (I really think she needs to write about her life, but she thinks she's boring. Goddess, she so is not!)  She had a ton of books (most of which I couldn't read because they were in Spanish) and native music recordings she let me borrow, but it was her photos and recounting of the the Day of the Dead festivals that caught my warped attention.

Again, I started Blood Sacrifice. Again, I ran into a problem. I set it aside and concentrated on Alter Ego's career. This year, as I was wrapping breakables for packing, the solution popped into my head.

The only other time I rewrote a novel was to satisfy the bizarre whims of agents. (Zombie Love if you're curious. The published version is very close to the original version once I gave up trying to please a bunch of strangers who didn't give a shit about my story.) It's one thing when my perfectionistic streak comes into play. It's another when someone arbitrarily dictates changes.

Anything else I've written and published is the first draft. Including the short story "Justice" which I sold to Elisabeth Waters, the editor of Sword and Sorceress 28.

I can go into all the psychology of why writers think slow drafting and multiple drafts are a good thing, but I won't since Dean covers it pretty well in his Killing the Sacred Cows series on his blog.

It all comes down to one word--fear.

It's amazing how good writing feels once you let go of that fear.

So I challenge all of you to write FAST, write FEARLESSLY and have FUN!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Jonathan Moeller and the Sword and Sorceress 28 Interviews

Fellow fantasy writer Jonathan Moeller has been interviewing the contributors to MZB's Sword and Sorceress anthologies for the last several years. He posted the first one with Pauline J. Alma last Thursday for the 2013 edition.

Sorry, guys, but between Blood Sacrifice and Justice coming out within weeks of each other, you're going to deal with me squeeing a lot.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Brittany's New Single

I'm not sure what I think of this. Trying too hard for attention? Berating other people? Or herself? Or is this the lecture she's getting from her dad because she needs to step up and be responsible for her sons?

Let me know what you think.

Friday, October 4, 2013

XinXii and Their Rights Grab

[Edit to add: For anyone who's dealing with XinXii, you have my permission to use the text of my letter to Dr. Andrea Schober, CEO of XinXii. I would suggest that you edit it to illustrate you personal circumstances.  -S.H.]

For those of you who may not know XinXii is a e-book retailer/distributor in Germany. Think of it essentially as a German version of Smashwords.

When I first signed up with them, Amazon didn't have a German store and Apple and Kobo were fledglings in the European market. I took a chance with them.

I stopped uploading books at the beginning of 2012 because of some issues I was having with their interface that were not their fault, I might add. One of the things on my To-Do list was to get the rest of my books uploaded after Christmas of this year.

Not anymore.

On Tuesday, October 1, 2013, I received an e-mail from XinXii CEO, Dr. Andrea Schober, talking about XinXii distributing to Flipkart, and Indian e-retailer. Fifty minutes later I received a second e-mail from Dr. Schober, talking about e-Sentral, a e-retailer servicing Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Below is my response to Dr. Schober that I sent to her last night:

* * *
Dear Dr. Schober:

I have several problems with the arrangements XinXii has made with Flipkart and e-Sentral and well as the lack of specifics in the both e-mails sent out on Tues, October 1, 2012, and the lack of specifics on the XinXii website itself.

1) You gave publishers forty-eight hours to respond without taking into account any time zone differences. In my case, it cuts the investigation and response down to thirty-five hours because Berlin is seven hours ahead of Houston. Another distributor, Smashwords, Inc., gave publishers two weeks to decide in the matter of Flipkart.

2) You made these two retailers an opt-out option. In the past, new distribution channels on XinXii were opt-in. Frankly, this feels like a bullying move similar to the one pulled by Google and is now in litigation in the United States. Frankly, it does not inspire my confidence in XinXii as a company.

It also doesn't take into account that I may already be distributing to these two retailers by other means. This takes me back to point Number 1, where I have to drop everything else on my business plate to deal with this issue. Again, this does not make me want to do business with XinXi..

3) I'm not happy about the terms offered, i.e. 50% of net, to a third party without any negotiation on my part. Your e-mail does not specify what constitutes "net." Your Terms of Use does not specify what constitutes "net." And the TOU page only send a user to the Distribution Information page shown below, and STILL does not list the specific items which qualify as "net."

At the very least, Smashwords, Inc., listed the transaction fees, the Indian VAT, the fact that they entered into a wholesale arrangement with Flipkart, and that Flipkart can discount at any time for any amount they wish.

XinXii has listed none of this anywhere.

Needless to say, I no longer am comfortable doing business with XinXii since terms are not being fully disclosed, and I have removed all my books I have listed with you. I hope you change your mind about giving full disclosure in your future business transactions.

Suzan Harden

* * *
Yes, folks, I am a backwoods, redneck hillbilly, but I'm a backwoods, redneck hillbilly who went to law school. I expect my contract terms to be fully defined, or I'm out of the deal.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Is Barnes and Noble Sinking Faster Than We Thought?

Back in August, I wrote an overview of Barnes & Noble's problems. In September, fuzzy accounting seemed to become more pronounced. For the second month in a row, my sales would pop on the Recent Sales screen and disappear when it's supposed to roll over to the Monthly Sales tally.

(For those who don't use Nook Press or its predecessor PubIt, here's an example: Any sales from yesterday and today, October 1 and 2, show up on a screen called Recent Sales. Tonight at midnight EDT, sales from the 1st will get moved to the October monthly sales report.)

Why B&N does this rollover thing instead of placing them directly in the month report is beyond me. With PubIt, there were some occasional glitches, but nothing compared to the problems with Nook Press.

In August, I had sales from two days disappear during the rollover. I e-mailed Nook Press customer support, and I received a response from them in twenty-five hours. Sales were restored.

However, this came after the supposed fix on August 15th, which was supposed to prevent this from happening. So another fix was done on the August 20th.

And then things got worse.

USA Today bestselling writer Heidi McLaughlin released her new novel on September 2nd. At other retailers, the book was clicking along in sales. However, B&N showed dismal numbers, even though by the 5th, My Unexpected Forever was ranked #19 on B&N's own bestseller list. The numbers simply didn't add up.There was simply no way she could be in the top 100 after only selling seventy copies of her new book.

That's right--70.

And Nook Press support swore up and down that those number are correct. They have since notified Heidi that there was a glitch in the system.

The same glitch that has been plaguing Nook Press from the beginning?

More authors started relaying their stories on social media. Some are asking readers for copies of receipts to prove their case to B&N. Several, including me, have e-mailed, called or chatted with Nook Press representatives, only to be met with stonewalling or silence.

The only missing sale I can verify is from September 24th. However, I may have missing sales from the 25th through the 28th as well, because as in Heidi's case, the sales numbers don't match the variance in the ranking numbers.

Today, Alter Ego sent out her quarterly newsletter to fans, warning them that she may be withdrawing her books from B&N this month. It's drastic step, and not one I want to take.

But the similarities between B&N's "glitches" and Dorchester's incorrect sales statements and missing checks right before they went under is scary as hell. I don't feel like lining Len Riggio and his cronies' golden parachutes.

But I hear the apologists. It's just a couple of books, Suzan. Yeah, it may be a handful on mine, and a few thousand of Heidi's, and a couple from you, and...

And it all adds up to a dollar figure with a lot of zeroes after it.

As my grandpa used to say, "I may have been born at night, but it wasn't last night."