The Following Will Shock You
This is for all creators who use Kindle Unlimited – don’t!
By Doug Owen
Okay, got that off my chest. I guess you’re wondering why I’m screaming that at the top of my lungs. Well, let’s go over what KU is, for those who don’t know.
KU, or Kindle Unlimited, allows readers to read as much as they want for a small monthly fee. Authors add their books to KU and, when a reader starts to read it, the author starts to get paid. On a 300 page book the payout is a maximum of $1.50 per book if it is read from start to finish. If the book is only 50% read, then they get $0.75. Nice system, and all you have to do is advertise your book.
Knowing the world we live in, there are people out there who’ve figured out how to scam the system. They get people to create multiple new KU accounts (free for the first month), download the book and either flip through it quickly or just skip to the end. So, for each individual scammer, the author has the ability to make $15. Do this enough and you could make a few bucks, but not until you have finished hiring a lot of people and losing those bucks.
So why is this bad?
Ask Pauline Creeden, author of the Chronicles of Steele. A while back, Pauline received a generic email saying her KDP account was closed due to a violation of the terms. Like most of us, Pauline sees a majority of her sales through Amazon in ebook format. She is a mid-range author, like many of us, and the closing of her KDP account cut off a large portion of income for her. It took a lot of emailing back and forth, and pain, but her account was reinstated.
Why did Amazon close her account?
Here is the email message she received:
We are reaching out to you because we have detected that borrows for your books are originating from systematically generated accounts. While we support the legitimate efforts of our publishers to promote their books, attempting to manipulate the Kindle platform and/or Kindle programs is not permitted. As a result of the irregular borrow activity, we have removed your books from the KDP store and are terminating your KDP account and your KDP Agreement effective immediately.
As part of the termination process, we will close your KDP account(s) and remove the books you have uploaded through KDP from the Kindle Store. We will issue a negative adjustment to any outstanding royalty payments. Additionally, as per our Terms and Conditions, you are not permitted to open new KDP accounts and will not receive future royalty payments from additional accounts created.
She’d received no advance warning, no information, nor anything to tell her there was a problem.
Basically, when you limit yourself to KDP and the KU program, it means you have the possibility of losing a lot. Pauline advertised this book like she did any other, but maybe the cover art (impressive when you look at it) enticed a number of people to join the KU program and grab her book. Maybe there was an influx of people who joined KU at that time and picked her book to read. We don’t know (and neither does Pauline). All she can tell you is it shocked her, and took a great deal of time to resolve.
Note – the payout for KU usually works out to $0.005/page.
Ouch! Really? Yes, they do, but that shouldn’t stop you from dealing with them indirectly. Here’s why. Warning, I may get a little racy on this one.
Ingram tells you when publishing through their Lightning Source, that book stores like to have the ability to return books that don’t sell. It means limited liability to them (really, no liability). They also tell you that bookstores like to make 40 percent of the sale as profit.
Okay, let’s look at the numbers. A book sells for $20, the bookstore gets $8 and you get $12, right? No. In order for the bookstore to get 40 percent you have to mark your payments at 55 percent (40% to the bookstore and 15 percent to Ingram as the distributor). So now you have only made 45 percent or $9. Then you have to remove the print cost of the book as well, say $4.55, leaving you with $4.45. Okay, I can see that.
Returns kill your income
Ingram, when handling returns, charges you for both the printing of the returned book and their distribution charge. So, you are out the actual distribution fee of the book, or $11. And to add insult to injury, they also charge a $2 fee for handling the return.
That’s not all. If you request for the books to be returned, not destroyed, they charge you $2 per book for delivery—is if you live in the United States. If you live in, say, Canada, they charge an extra $20 per book for the return.
Is your wallet crying yet? There’s more.
Depending on when the return is done, you could be out a lot of money before you see one dime of royalties.
Say it isn’t so, Doug. How could they do that?
Easy. You go to the bookstore and arrange a signing and you live in Canada. They LOVE your book and see you have lots of sales, so they order 200 books through Ingram to stock the shelves and make money. You show up, slogging through the snowstorm to end all snowstorms. The store is open and you wait, hoping to sign and sell at least 100 books. You advertised the sale to all the people following you on Facebook and Twitter. Many people said they would be there.
At the end of the day you’re dejected, and have sold only ten books. Okay, not bad, but horrible for royalties (use the prior financial information to show you made $44.50 from the sale).
Now, the manager at the bookstore shakes your hand and says, “Tough luck with the weather, right?”
You smile, nod, and collect all your things in order to brave the raging storm outside.
Unknown to you, the bookstore packs up all 190 remaining books and ships them back to Ingram that very day, shaking his head at another wannabe author, not realizing the storm caused the lack of sales.
Ingram receives the books back, and promptly checks to see you have return marked on them. They smile, package them up, and send them to you. Your royalty report shows the following:
Sales – $90
Print costs – $910.00
Total Royalties – ($820)
The signing now cost you a lot of money, and they hold that against you, deducting it from royalties owed.
Now, when you get your financial report at the end of the month you’ll see the return of the books, and a fee imposed called “Other”. In this case (we’ll call the author Bill), Bill gets his monthly Ingram statement that shows he owes $820 in royalties and an “Other” charge of $3990 ($2 per book return shipping charge and $20 per book return out of US). Bill closes his account and stops writing. What a shame.
Ingram mentioned two months ago that they are rewriting the ‘agreement’ to remove the charge, but everyone asks, “What agreement?” In fact, there is no actual formal agreement between Author/Publisher and Ingram Lightning Source. Figure that out. So how can they actually hold you to that charge? Well, if you are smart you’ll realize it is a charge from Ingram Distributing, not Lightning Source. You could always say you don’t have an agreement with them—only Lightning Source—and see how that works. Until Ingram gets their heads out of their proverbial ass, I’ll never deal directly with them again.
If you decide to do signings, ask the bookstore if you can supply the copies of the book for sale. Let them know that as a self-published author, it is important you control all returns. Tell them you’ll gladly take back all the books that don’t sell at no cost to them and smile. If you’re a small publisher, make sure your website explains this as well. They should know you accept returns on your terms. And never let Ingram destroy the books.
Follow Doug at: http://daowen.ca
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By Douglas Owen
Who hasn’t struggled with creating a plot? Heck, even I don’t put my hand up for that one. Writers agonize over plot creation all the time. Some look everywhere for inspiration, while others purchase software that generates ideas at the push of a button. They shell out hundreds, only to get generic outlines already patented by Hollywood, thinking their book will be picked up for the next blockbuster.
The hell with it, I say. If a plotting system is so complex that there is a need for a computer guru to run it, then it is not worth the electrons used to store it in memory.
Okay, there is only one real plot out there that works, and then there are the derivatives of said plot. Here it is. Are you ready?
Boy meets girl Boy loses girl Boy is reunited with girl (or not).
Honestly, think of all the stories you’ve read and tell me I’m lying.
Okay, there are derivatives of the plot, like:
Boy finds ring Boy loses ring Boy is reunited with ring (or not).
Sound familiar? It’s Lord of the Rings. Get off your high horse, Saruman.
Okay, so boy represents a character and ring the girl or object of desire.
Want a story that is longer? Just repeat the pattern and add in more characters. Take the above example of Lord of the Rings. Aragorn wanted the elven maiden Arwen, so there is a sub-plot hidden there. He also secretly wants the crown, and the narrative shows that as an underlying desire.
Within the story is the on-again off-again plot of Frodo and the ring, but the main part thrust is Gollum who found the ring, lost the ring, then did get it back just as he died.
Not convinced yet?
Boromir plays a part in the first book and his plot line comes to the fore as he finds Frodo, loses him, finds him again and loses his life protecting him. Same plot as the initial with a little twist.
This plot outline fits all the characters, including Sam.
You don’t want the reader to see the exact same plot throughout the novel or they’ll wonder why they are reading such drivel. The fix is easy enough. Give the object they desire an illustrative significance.
Illustrative means two or more things at the same time. The imperative of Sex means not only the survival of the species, but also, one’s own immortality.
Bang! More meat on the bone now.
Want a book packed with the illustrative? Moby Dick. Ahab represents Mankind, the whale, Christ. Ahab is the soldier who spears Christ and the destruction of Ahab’s ship is the ruin of Mankind deprived of Christ.
Let’s go back to The Lord of the Rings. The ring represents evil, Frodo, the struggle of Mankind against evil, Gollum, the id of man wanting everything, and the other characters represent the good and bad in us all. Each has their own little mini-plot for what they do.
Emotion and the Story
A story would be really boring if there were no emotion. Emotion is what drives the characters and makes the yarn believable.
Emotion is generated by conflict, either the start of it or the end. The good news is that we already have conflict in our plot: boy loses girl. What could be more emotional than that (or more wracked with such conflict)?
We just have to get our characters to show their responses to the conflict. They’ll do it in a particular order, if they’re human:
* First they feel it—His heart thundered in his chest at the loss of her.
* Then they think about it—In desperation, he planned to find her.
* Last they take action—The journey started, and with a pack slung over his shoulder, he took the first step.
With emotion, it is best to keep it simple: love, hate, anger, remorse
Slow It Down!
You cannot maintain the rollercoaster of emotion throughout the story. Take a little breather and put in something a little slower, so your reader can recoup.
Some call them comfort breaks, while others call them reminiscences. Call them what you will, just make sure you have them in the story or your reader will feel like they are on a treadmill of unending exercise. Seen The Biggest Loser? There is a reason they don’t keep those people running and jumping all day long. You need to relax those muscles and let them heal. Same goes for the mind. Let the reader relax a little and recoup from that marathon of emotion you just slapped them with.
Be poetic, summarize, or just reminisce about what happened. Remember, you need to keep the reader interested and not tired after reading.
Here is an example of how to do it:
* Lear reviews his kingdom, the Object of his Desire, and decides there is no longer a desire
* Lear gives the kingdom away to his nasty daughters
* Lear loses his kingdom, but is reunited with it. He thus gains the ultimate Object of Desire, insight, and his soul (or does he?).
Yes, a lot of distractions happen with the mixing of sub-plots, causing the story of King Lear to be complex and emotional. It draws on the same basic idea of found, lost, found again.
Look forward to the future of your writing. How many stories you have dreamed of or plotted, and discovered the underlying reason for the character’s motives? Do they fit the basic of a great story? Find, lose, find?
Down the Rabbit Hole
Not really, but look at another great story that recently hit the screen: The Martian, by Andy Weir.
Stop! I hear that. What do you mean it matches the basic outline? There was no girl!
Yes, but think about it. Comrades lost and found again. He started with a group of astronauts, lost them (they left him behind), and found them again. Through the movie (and book) he found stuff (potatoes), lost them, and found them again (yes, read the book and you’ll understand what I mean by that). The whole novel centers on losing and finding. NASA lost him, found him, lost him, found him. Read it, don’t watch the movie, and you’ll see what I mean.
Need another one?
The old Total Recall: He lost his memory and then found it. He had to have it before to lose it. Also, he had love, lost it, and found it again.
So, any questions?
Doug’s Website: http://daowen.ca/
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- The Driving Force – Editorial by Ian Shires
- Let your NightShine – Interview with Cristie Hine by Everard McBain
- Doing it Yourself – Interview with Mark R. Bernal by Steven Pennella
- Higher Universe Comics – Interview with Brandon Rhiness by Louise Cochran-Mason
- Writing Mystery – Interview with Trisha Sugarek by Ellen Fleischer
- A Written View – Douglas Owen’s long running column looks at Reader Appeal
- A look at Hall of Fame development – by Ian Shires
ALSO IN THE ISSUE: 3 great Sneak Peek features you can only see in the actual PDF, Sepulchre #1, Bang Bang Lucita #1, and Shaman’s Destiny #1…ALSO – a listing of most recent additions to our Marketplace.
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By Doug Owen
What makes a story have instant reader appeal? Is it the author’s name? Could there be some secret message buried in the artwork that might cause a normal person to pick it up? Is there some secret formula used to put the correct words together to form that special message somewhere?
Instant reader appeal is one of the greatest literary secrets out there.
Never mind the first line in your story. Hell, it could be something that rages off the page, leaving an “I gotta read this!” feeling in the person browsing the bookshelf. What more could there be?
When you wander through a book store, check out what people actually take off the shelf. Most pull out a book that only has the binding showing. So it has to be either the title or the author that gets them. It couldn’t be the publisher; no, people don’t even recognize half of the logos out there. What caused them to pick that book over the even better one below it?
Look at the cover design. Yes, I know everyone has grown up with the adage not to judge a book by its cover (cliché, by the way). Everyone does. One of my first books garnered a spot in “Terrible Book Covers” because of that. When I saw it, the cover was instantly changed. Another couple of hundred down the tubes.
So, what is it that grabs the reader? Good artwork? Original designs? Maybe the font told them?
Oh, what’s that you said? You’re not in it for the money? Sure. I bet you don’t need to eat. Everyone is in it to make a splash, get their name out and put a few shekels in their pocket. If not, why write? Unless you’re independently wealthy and can afford to just sit back and watch interest do its work.
And imagine the effect an author’s name has on how it sells. The name splashed across the top ¼ of the cover while the title is just a little splash underneath. Does that tell us how recognition drives sales?
But most of us don’t have that godhood draped about our shoulders. We belong to the real world, where the mention of our name usually gets, “Who?” We are not a mainstay on the list of literary giants. Does that mean a catchy title and cover design is our only way to salvation, if not publication?
Consider the amount of time you spent on your manuscript. The tears, cried into your pillow because the words would not come out. About the endless trips to the bottle just to get the courage to write that first line. How you hid in the closet so your better half would not see you. Imagine if you composed the cover as well. All the images would come directly from you, not some haphazard artist halfway around the world. No stock photos for you!
Oh ye of little faith.
There is help. It is a simple template that can make your book stand out. And we have the romance sector that pumps out novel after novel to thank for that simple formula.
Stand back now. We are about to reveal the simple, yet effective, way to make sure your novel sells (or, at least, gets picked up to look at. We are not, of course, fixing the writing, just helping get it picked up).
The torso of an impossibly toned man and the overflowing bosoms of a beautiful woman are coupled with some generic title tilled with care through a title generating machine kept out back. Titles like Summer’s Found Passion or Love’s Destiny. Just look in the airport lounges and you’ll see what I mean. And the two people on the cover don’t even have to look the same!
Flip this to my favorite genre, Sci-Fi, and see what is on the cover. Robert Heinlein gave into the publisher when he wrote the amazing novel, Friday, and let them put a large-breasted woman front and center with the zipper on the front of her suit pulled down to her navel. Spider Robinson’s Stardance, with a woman in a skin-tight space suit, is another one.
Want to get the women involved in buying your books? Take a walk through GoodReads and see the covers of the books they rate the best. I just did this for giggles while writing the article and 90 per cent of the books that have models showing some type of skin on the cover are rated at five stars, only 10 per cent at four stars or fewer. But that same person rates a book with no model on the cover at three stars. Maybe it was the writing, but when you see the pattern, what you need to do to generate interest becomes very straightforward.
But what about titles?
Just for giggles, here are some very… interesting titles:
Castration: The Advantages and the Disadvantages by Victor T. Cheney
Games You Can Play with Your Pussy and Lots of Other Stuff Cat Owners Should Know by Ira Alterman
Still Stripping After 25 Years by Eleanor Burns
Eating People is Wrong by Malcolm Bradbury
The Missionary Position—Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice by Christopher Hitchens
Reusing Old Graves by Douglas Davies
How to Succeed in Business Without a Penis by Karen Salmansohn
The Pocketbook of Boners by Dr. Seuss
Images You Should Not Masturbate To by Graham Jonson
A Passion for Donkeys by Dr. Elisabeth D. Svendsen
Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi
Pooh Gets Stuck by Isabel Gaines
The Best Dad is a Good Lover by Dr. Charlie Shedd
Scouts in Bondage by Geoffrey Prout
Some of these… Well, you’ll have to see the covers to understand. But they are just a few of the titles that do not come over well.
Most of the time, you want your title to reflect what the story is about. So when you come across Jaws you can sort of understand what the novel is about just by the title. All Quiet on the Western Front tells you something about the content of the novel, and so does War and Peace. You don’t have to turn a page to understand what the main content of those books will be.
But there are some that are not really that revealing, like Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, or John Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, or Alex Revell’s A Fall of Eagles (But the cover art explains it all).
Your reader is a visual creature. They look at the cover, they read the title and back page, glance through a few pages and, if you are lucky, they read it. And while an established author can get away with a black cover with lettering (The Road by Cormac McCarthy—over 472,000 ratings on GoodReads and counting), you cannot afford to be so standoffish to your audience. Put a lot of thought behind your cover. Shelf Appeal is everything, because most people DO judge a book by its cover.
When I was young (yes, they had printed books back then, as well), I would pick up a book and look at the cover, deciding if I wanted to even think about glancing at the back. The look of a cover can appeal to a reader or dissuade one from even picking up your book.
Image and typography have a lot to say. They need to capture the heart of the reader, intrigue them, and captivate their imagination. Once the prospective reader picks up the book, the writing must do the rest. But getting the book picked up is the one thing you have to work on, and that is where these things come into play.
It takes me a while to decide what type of cover I want for my book. My YA series almost died because of a bad cover choice, but the new one (the design of which I follow throughout the series) has been a hit. Now, as a publisher, I hear authors describe covers to me and just nod. Having read their books and knowing the industry it is very important that not only that the author’s vision gets laid out, but that the marketing guys and artists take the time to tell me what it really needs. Heck, one author hated the cover so much that he almost decided to take the work to another publisher until I showed him some test market research.
We all try to have our novel outshine the novel next to it. So, here is how you do it:
- The title you thought of first, after writing your novel, is probably the best
- Make the title relevant to the story, or at least intriguing
- KISS—Keep It Short and Simple, so people remember it
- Shelf Appeal is GOD—how does it stand out?
- Who will read the book? The cover should be targeting them
- Make the title easy to read (font choices). That does not mean boring
So, think of this after you have written your masterpiece and remember: they judge a book by it’s cover.
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By Doug Owen
Let’s be honest, a story is just a collection of words arranged in a way meant to entertain. And if you think any of the sci-fi or fantasy authors really know how to fly a space ship or weave magic, then they sure have you fooled.
Like a stage production or movie, a book is make-believe. But how do we really make people believe that we:
A: Have a fantastic tale that makes them believe a boy can fly
B: Have the knowledge to actually write about the science that is being used in our story
It’s called faking it, and women have been doing this to most men all their lives.
Okay, stop the booing on that line. Guys, hands up if a woman actually told you she faked it on you. Yes, get your hands higher than that, about the same height as I have mine.
On with the article. The actual act of storytelling is all about selling something to someone that you may not have a lot of knowledge about. It could be physics, sailing, horseback riding, bungee jumping, or any number of acts that you, yourself, have not experienced. You need to sell it. The reader must be able to relate it to their own experience.
A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, published in March of 1722, described in detail the places and events—including the official statistics—of the plague. Generations of readers considered it to be so accurate that it was believed to be an eye-witness account of the event. It was completely fictional. It was written over 50 years after the 1665 plague had run its course.
Daniel Defoe is the first known creator of “Faction”: a fake recounting of plausible events, woven together around real events, and made believable by its realism.
Engaging the Reader
This works because we have tricked the reader into believing just a little bit of our lie. Once they believe that small piece of logic, they tend to swallow the rest of the story, until they have the big whopper in their mouth.
In Pentecost, Joanna Penn refers to Turf Tavern as the haunt of Inspector Morse. If you know of this Oxford tavern, you’ll recognize the reference, and thus, trust the rest of the story. The “low beams… walls leached with the smell of stale tobacco…” You stand there and hear the words of the story and say, “She stood here, just like I am now. Her story is real.”
An Author and Strategy
Realism is done by picking a location that you know intimately. Of course, when it is a strange planet across the universe, it’s hard. But think of this: draw a picture. Take out some paper and lay down the outline of a civilization. Make it real in your mind.
One thing to keep in mind is that Google is your friend. We can fake a lot of knowledge with Google Maps, Google Earth, and a Google search. Can’t draw that landscape? Search for a picture. Someone may have a picture that fits your vision. Use it to stimulate the words and eureka! There is the description that you were looking for. Remember to use more than sight descriptions. A description is so much more detailed when sound, smell and even taste is incorporated into the words.
Visit to Make it Real
So, some good news: if you travel to an exotic place to get a good feel of the location for a novel, you may be able to write it off as a business expense. That trip to Hawaii? Deductible, as long as something in your novel takes place there. The little cruise to the Arctic? Written off because you needed to see icebergs for that dystopia you wrote. It is best that you talk to your accountant about that. Just remember that it only works on traveling, not going to the bar around the corner.
The collection of stories in Haunted Hamilton take place all over that city. The names of locations are used, and that lends credibility to the stories.
Now, work in something that even the residents are either not sure of, or would not really know, but can verify quickly. This will really blow the board for you. Your novel will gain credibility. People will start reading it and going to the places cited in the work. This could be a very good thing, especially if you live close to the area and can leave a few Easter Eggs for people to find. They will then start talking about the novel and then there will be no end.
This trick can also be played with events.
Interweaving your fiction with factual events will encourage the reader to really become cemented in your story. When someone reads something that actually happened in a fictional novel, they realize that the author has taken the time to not only research, but pull real events into their work. This will gain you fans.
Do We Dare?
Just about every novel has that disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.” If you use a real event, then it is not fiction, right? But you are using it fictitiously. Heck, if your main character watches the gassing of 1,000 Jews in Germany, then yes, the event is being used fictitiously, through your characters eyes.
Is your story taking place in a real location—like on Earth? Then it would be absurd to not use real locations, landmarks, or even businesses like hotels and restaurants. (Quick note: I am not a lawyer, so if you do use something and want to cite this article, be warned. You should look this up yourself before using something). The names of these places are in the public domain.
What we cannot do in safety is name the proprietors, or imply they have given people food poisoning (unless it is something proven in a court of law—and even then, it would be sticky), without their permission.
But I need to Use it!
So, you want to show a massacre at Jon’s Pub and Grill House. Then protect yourself. Contact them and get a signed disclaimer and you’ll then have a measure of protection. But remember: don’t take my advice on this as a law expert. Get your own lawyer and ask them what you can and cannot do.
When asking for permission to use their location, make sure you send them the exact wording as it will appear. If you don’t, they could have legal recourse to come after you. Make sure you keep good faith and send them a copy of the book. You never know what will happen. Some people will trumpet that their location is in print, while others may just leave it on the shelf. Either way, they will be grateful and be more willing to agree to let you run their location through another novel.
Stop looking at the jar; nothing is tinkling in it. Here are some tips if you are using real locations or events.
1. Be accurate with all your small details, or a pedant will shoot you down and smile while doing it. Then people on GoodReads will pick up the call and hammer it against you.
2. If there is something that sounds absurd, but is true, make sure you include it. This will make others sing your writing praises in reviews and buy subsequent stories you wrote or write.
Think about it. Have you ever been hooked by a novel because the setting is so believable? If so, why not use the same trick?
ONLINE FOLLOW THROUGH
Back to Table of Contents
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By Doug Owen
Self-Publishing has been around for a long time, but never to the extent it is today. CreateSpace, Kindle, Kobo, and now Blurb are pushing for your business. When you look at all of the avenues available and what they say you must do to promote your own work, it is staggering.
The biggest ‘Must do’ out there is an Author Platform. This usually helps you sell your book(s) to the public. Many lists can be found on the net for your author platform. All appear long enough to boggle any new writer. How do you navigate them? What are the pitfalls if you don’t do one of the steps? That is something to look at closely.
So never fear: here is how you should build your platform and start selling books. (Note: this applies to self-published, indy-published and traditionally-published works.)
These are the top 46 things you can do to get your work out there. How many are you doing?