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!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

54- Hitting the USA Today Bestseller List!

Listen to the companion podcast episode 

Great list and analysis of recommended promo sites (by Nicholas Erik)

I am beyond excited to announce that I have finally hit the USA Today bestseller list! My book,
LOCH, came in at #114 for the week ending 4/22. (Good thing they don't cut it off at 100, huh?) When my friend Joanna Penn hit the USAT list, she did a helpful writeup of the strategies she used to get there so I thought I'd do the same.

I started by lining up a Bookbub ad. I was fortunate to get one on a Wednesday, early enough in the week to have the long tail sales count toward the USAT list, but not so early as to be overwhelmed by the Big 5 new releases that come out on Tuesdays.

USA Today's rankings cover a Monday-Sunday period, so my promo efforts ran throughout the week, beginning on Monday 4/16.

In order to be considered for the USAT list, a book must have at least 500 US sales with a store other than Amazon, so I targeted iBooks with one dedicated ad and one tweet.

The book I promoted was discounted (from $3.99) to $0.99. I had never done a promo on this particular title, so it was the first time that subscribers to the various lists were seeing it on sale.

I didn't really expect to hit the list. My intent was simply to stack a few promos and have a nice week of sales. I threw in the iBooks-specific ad simply because it's a good practice. Once I saw how well my Bookbub promo performed, I knew I had a chance. I could have done more/better things had I planned ahead and believed I had a chance.


Lowered the price to 99 cents on all ebook platforms. I really should have done this on Saturday since certain distributors (*cough* Nook *cough) can be slow about updating prices, but I had a brain cramp.

EReader News Today promo: $40
Bookbub CPC ad (iBooks US only) $99.99
AMS Ad (ran throughout the week) $13.77
Shared on Twitter

Bargain Booksy Promo: $55
Book Adrenaline Promo: $10
Emailed a segment of my mailing list.

Bookbub Sponsored Ad: $740
Manybooks Promo $29

Emailed the bulk of my mailing list
iBooks-specific tweet
Posted on my Facebook author page

Kindle Nation Daily "Fire eBook Of The Day" Promo $99.99

Booksends Promo: $40
Bookbub CPC ad (all major US vendors targeted) $200.93
Facebook Ad $99.84
Posted in a Kindle discount group on Facebook

Facebook Ad continued
"Last chance" tweet
"Last chance" post on my personal FB page
Posted in a readers' group on Facebook


Kindle: 201
D2D:  8

Kindle: 152
D2D:  18
Kindle: 3,606
D2D: 1,069

Kindle:  475
D2D: 301

Kindle: 172
D2D: 95

Kindle: 194
D2D: 71

Kindle: 140
D2D: 60

Kindle: 4,940 (US 4,206)
D2D: 1,622

Ads: 1428.52
Revenue: 2330.58
(Excluding Google Play and increased sales on other titles in the series.)

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Book of Bones Part 9

Book Review- Ready Player One

Cline. I wasn't expecting much, but wanted to see what all the hype was about. It turned out to be a fun read.

In a future world where society is in decline, people spend most of their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality world that offers endless entertainment and educational opportunities. There are elements of RPG, and heavy doses of geek culture and 1980s nostalgia. Imagine Sheldon Cooper created a version of Caprica's "V-World" and you won't be far off the mark.The creator of the OASIS left a scavenger hunt embedded within his massive virtual universe. The first to complete it will inherit massive wealth and gain control of the OASIS. book proceeds in typical YA fashion: underprivileged, outcast youth living in dystopia escapes into the OASIS. Eventually, with the help of a diverse cast of characters, he finds himself on the hunt for the prize, facing off against dangers within the OASIS and without, driven by the big, bad corporate entity that threatens to claim the virtual world and focus on maximizing revenue, thus squeezing out people like Wade (or Parcival, as he is known in the OASIS.) The plot plays out much like you would expect if you read a lot of YA literature.

The story is rife with nerd/geek and 1980s pop culture references: video games, board games, television, movies, music... I'm not much of a gamer, and there are many aspects of geek culture that don't interest me, but I still enjoyed the many references, and the allusions to things that aren't in my nerd wheelhouse didn't leave me feeling disconnected. In some sections, particularly in one early chapter, the story bogs down as Cline engages in some massive info-dumps. I can understand why some people gave up on the book at this stage (it's really that bad in a couple places) but I stuck with it and I'm glad I did.

The story poses a few questions that, as a former English teacher, I think would have made for interesting classroom discussion:
-Are virtual-world (online) friendships less "real" because the people haven't met in real life, or are they more real because they are primarily "mental" connections, our judgment unclouded by things like race, sexual orientation, or physical appearance, which tend to color our judgment (no pun intended)?
-Do the negatives of a virtual world outweigh the positives?
-Will the continued development of technology, and our many options for entertainment distract us from caring for the real world or even engaging in it?

There's nothing deep or profound here, and some of the diverse aspects of certain characters are treated as afterthoughts. ("Oh, by the way, now that the story is almost over, I should let you know my actual gender, race, and sexual orientation,  and then we'll pretty much forget I mentioned it.") Some critics have accused Cline of writing a wish-fulfillment story. Maybe it's true, but that's a criticism that could be leveled against many, many books. I've read plenty of other criticisms, which you can find via a simple web search if you're so inclined.

Overall, Ready Player One is a "by the numbers," yet entertaining novel. Wil Wheaton's narration of the audiobook is solid. This was the first of his narrations I've listened to, and he's very good.  I'll definitely give Cline's next book, Armada, a try.