Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review- Hope Never Dies: An Obama-Biden Mystery by Andrew T. Shaffer

Hope Never Dies: An Obama-Biden Mystery

Joe Biden is unhappy. Since leaving office, he spends his time doing projects around the house, adding inches to the spare tire around his midriff, and missing his best friend. At least, he thought they were best friends. Eight years and now Barack doesn’t even call. Meanwhile Barack Obama is busy partying on yachts with celebrities, tooling around in his aftermarket upgraded Escalade...

Check out the full review on New York Journal of Books

Friday, June 29, 2018

Audiobook review: Screening Stephen King by Simon Brown

Screening Stephen King: Adaptation and the Horror Genre in Film and Television
Written by Simon  Brown, narrated by Peter Lerman.

Screening Stephen King is an analysis of Stephen King's works with an eye toward how they have been adapted for the screen.  As a fan of Stephen King and an author who is curious about how novels and short stories are adapted for other forms of media, when this book showed up on AudiobookBoom I decided to give it a shot.

The author's approach is academic in nature, and very analytical. I didn't care for the first two chapters. They read like a grad student's report, and there were moments I felt the author had broken out the thesaurus a few too many times. A couple chapters in, though, the writing smoothed out. I woudln't go so far as to call the style engaging, but it was accessible and didn't detract from my enjoyment of the subject matter. The narrator does a solid job with what he is given, but there is only so much life that can be breathed into a book written in this particular style.

The parts I found most interesting regarded the subject of branding. Whether or not to present a particular adaptation as horror or another genre. At what point did Stephen King himself become a "brand" and in which instances was a particular film promoted more as a Stephen King project and not promoted on the merits of the story?

This book isn't for everyone. Even a Stephen King enthusiast will need to have an interest in the business side of the industry to really enjoy the book. I think the ideal reader/listener is a Stephen King fan who is interested in screenwriting, the process of adapting longer works to the screen, and marketing. If it sounds like your thing, check it out!

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Book of Bones Part 11

Book review: King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

Many fantasy readers cut their teeth on Raymond Feist’s early works. The Riftwar Saga is considered
a classic, and The Serpentwar Saga is another favorite. Over time, some readers drifted away as the neverending story of Midkemia played out over seven sagas, a few stand-alone titles, and even a video game tie-in novel. Five years after putting a wrap on the Midkemia stories, Raymond Feist is back with a new series set in a brand new universe...

Check out the full review at New York Journal of Books.

Friday, May 11, 2018

55- My Kindle Nightmare

[Edit- by the time I had this episode ready to publish, I received a notice that my account has been reinstated. Now I just need to get the few books out of KDP Select before something else bad happens.]

Well, it happened. Like many other authors recently, my KDP account has been suspended and threatened with termination due to "illicit borrowing activity." All of my books, and all of those by the authors whom I publish (I run Gryphonwood/Adrenaline Press) have been removed from the Kindle store. Not just the ten books that were enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, but also the other 100+ titles that were not, nor have ever been in the KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited program.

A few things to know:
  • I've been publishing in KDP since fairly close to the day they opened their doors.
  • My Dane Maddock series has been licensed for Kindle Worlds.
  • I've always had a good relationship with Amazon and KDP.
  • The books and series that have allowed me to have a successful full-time career have always been "wide." I've never made use of KU, much less click farms or other scammy services, for income or rankings boosts. I hit the USAT list without buying my way into a boxed set. I'm not a scammer. Never have been.
  • Very few Gryphonwood titles (and no Adrenaline titles) are enrolled in KU. Only a handful, and of those, only a few were earning more than a few hundred page reads per month.
  • Kindle Unlimited represents a tiny fraction of our gross revenue- less than 1%. It's something we've done with a few authors and titles either as an experiment or because we thought it would be a good fit for the genre.
  • None of our books have ever been rank-stripped for alleged illicit activity.
  • We've had no suspicious spikes in page reads.
  • To promote our KU titles, I've used AMS ads, Bookbub sponsored CPC ads, and mentions on social media and websites.
  • The couple of titles had much in the way of page reads still have had only modest reads and rankings and the daily borrows have been fairly consistent. No cause for alarm that I can see.

What happened:

April 8, 2018- First warning from KDP.

I was horrified. I'd heard on and off for a long time about this happening to other authors, but we'd dropped a book into KU here and there with no problems. I immediately replied, expressed my desire to comply with terms of service, and asked for guidance. KDP refused to provide details. (I was not concerned about the loss in borrows. As noted above, our presence in and income from KU is small.)

Not a helpful reply. I especially like the "we cannot offer details" bit. Yes, you can. You choose not to. Not the same thing. 

If I had it to do over, I'd have pulled every book out of KU right then, but I heard through the grapevine that a large number of seemingly legitimate indies had received the exact same notice as I had, and had their page reads reduced. I figured some click farm had gotten wonky, hit a bunch of us, and that it would be okay. (Yes, I'm an idiot.)

May 10, 2018- Notice from KDP that my account had been suspended. The notice also required a tacit admission of guilt (requiring me to affirm that I have discontinued use of any marketing services that might have caused illicit activity.)

I replied as soon as I received the email (evening of 5/10.) The following morning, concerned that I might not have phrased my reply in a way that satisfied them, I replied again:

I received no reply. Within three hours of that email, all of our books had disappeared from the Kindle store.  
I followed up with Executive Customer Relations. The person on other end was friendly, confirmed that they had received my responses, and promised to have her team review the case. Fingers crossed.

What is going on?

  • I'm not the only one affected. Numerous legitimate authors have had the same thing happen to them. 
  • I've heard the story of one author who received the warning, sent back the requested reply, and still had her account terminated.
  • KDP is aware of this situation but isn't correcting the problem. I had a conversation with someone highly placed in the KDP chain at ThrillerFest a few years ago and discussed this very issue, which was only then getting some notice. He assured me that they had systems in place to deal with this and that the authors whose accounts were unfairly terminated would be reinstated.
  • The Alliance of Independent Authors has reached out to KDP about this same situation, and have received (thus far) only a vague assurance that KDP will "look into it." We'll see.

Why is this happening? 

  • The most plausible theory is that the click farms hired by KU scammers also hit other legitimate titles, so as to make it harder for their clients' books to be spotted.  This would, of course, be utterly beyond the control of legitimate authors. We have no idea who is clicking on our books and no way of stopping them.
  • Another theory is that the automated process by which KDP identifies "illegitimate" borrows is unreliable.
  • Some have speculated that scammy authors, or authors with an agenda, might intentionally target authors against whom they have a grudge, or who they see as rivals, in an attempt to harm their business. I'm skeptical about this one but in a world where someone trademarks a single adjective and tries to shut everyone else down, who knows?

Some of my frustrations with the way KDP handles these situations:

  • The automated elements of the system, combined with KDP Content Review employees operating from what appears to be a set of scripted steps, and using copy/pasted, boilerplate responses, removes any judicious evaluation from the situation. Anyone could review my (lengthy) account history and see that we’re not really a KU publisher and that KU is not a meaningful part of our revenue stream.
  • ·         My livelihood is being threatened while obvious scammers, boxed set stuffers, and keyword stuffers are overlooked, even after indie watchdogs call them to KDP’s attention.
  • Authors have no control over what a click farm might do. What is to stop them from targeting a few legitimate books in order to mask the borrows of scam authors?
  • KDP’s refusal to disclose any information about the source of alleged “illicit” borrows.
  • KDP’s insistence that the account holder provide what amounts to a confession of wrongdoing in order to have one’s account reinstated.
  • Is KDP’s system for identifying illicit borrows reliable? How can we know?

Should authors remain in KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited?
  • If my account is restored, I'm getting the hell out of KU. No question about that. I can't risk my livelihood due to flawed and inconsistent enforcement of terms of service. 
  • On the other hand, I know LOTS of authors who are all-in or partially in with KU, are doing great, and have never had a single problem. Hopefully they'll keep on kicking ass and never have to deal with that.
  • In some genres, KU is king. It will be difficult to succeed without it.
  • If you do choose to go with Kindle Unlimited, and do get a warning like the one I received, I'd advise getting out like a naked Jon Lovitz on viagra was chasing you.

That's it for now. I'll provide updates as the situation progresses. Please send good vibes my way!