Archive for the ‘Blather’ Category

Indie Thoughts: Authors, We Are Not Amazon

Posted in Blather  by John Brown on September 28th, 2014

Angry-Tiger-tigers-31737545-1920-1440Sometimes I think some of us indies get this weird attachment syndrome and start thinking we’re Amazon.

Joe Konrath recently hosted a blog-conversation with Lee Child about the whole Amazon vs. traditional publishers thing. The Passive Voice had an active discussion about it as well.  Kudos to Lee Child for yet again showing up and injecting a new perspective into the conversation. It can indeed become something of an echo chamber in the main indie blogs, which I love, but which nevertheless do still tend to sometimes echo. Having someone with his experience come engage and share his two cents was helpful.

One thing his comments reiterated to me is that neither Amazon nor the publishers are in this as the author’s let’s-get-pinky-rings BFF.

I’m not going to carry an ounce of water for Amazon in their fight with Hachette. I’m not going to carry an ounce for the trad publishers either.

I think it’s helpful for all of us to try to understand the truth about the business, and spread that to other authors, but that’s very different from this knee-jerk Defender of Amazon thing that goes on, which seems so very much like Republicans and Democrats turning a blind eye to their own candidates and fixating a hyper-critical one the others.

Case in point: here’s a link to a description of Amazon’s Gazelle Project.

Why do indie authors care? Because we’re Amazon vendors as well.

Look, I love what Amazon has enabled me to do. I love that Nook and Apple are helping enable it as well. But was this Gazelle Project a good thing? A bad thing? If we stand by and cheer Amazon in such tactics, are we essentially standing by and cheering as Germany takes Austria, France, and Poland? Or are we like England cheering the USA coming in with their troops and bombers?

I’m NOT a traditional publisher. And I’m NOT Amazon, or any other retailer. Even when I contract with them. None of us are. I sometimes wonder if some of us have gotten a bit confused about this.

Konrath says don’t worry about the tiger (Amazon) when a wolf (traditional publishers) is gnawing on your leg. But if you’re an indie writer, you have no wolf gnawing on your leg. That’s someone else’s problem. But we are indeed in bed with the tiger.

Why haven’t we seen more posts about the Gazelle Project on the big indie blogs? Lee Child, darling of the traditional publishers, has to point me in its direction? Why haven’t we been more curious about this tiger’s behavior?

Let’s make hay while the sun shines. The tiger seems to be fairly decent right now. He’s not perfect. For example, eBay strangely enough only charges 15% to sell via their site while Amazon charges 30%. But let’s not forget that as decent as he is, he’s still a tiger. And he’s probably not like those poor guys being made to do tricks by Ringling Brothers.




Do you wish books had ratings for sex, violence, and language? If so I want to chat with you.

Posted in Blather  by John Brown on July 15th, 2014

MarshmallowMateysBack in 2011 I wrote a post titled “Since when did young adult fiction become the cure for cancer?”  It was a response to all the YASaves hysteria. The main point of my amazing post (grin) was that the people complaining about some YA content wanted not to ban books, but to simply have a way to more easily evaluate if they wanted to buy a particular book in the first place.

They want to avoid purchasing what they thought was a box of Marshmallow Mateys only to open it and find a bunch of bicycle sprockets.

Last year I decided to work on a solution. I have some ideas. But before I get ahead of myself and build something, I want to really understand if it’s a problem worth solving. I want to chat with others who do care about content to see what aspects of this are important to them and what they’re doing now to find this information.

So, if you wish books had ratings for sex, violence, and language, then I want to talk to you. It will take about 20 minutes. If you’re open to chatting, leave a comment, or click Contact above and fill in the form.

Because I live up in the middle of nowhere, we’ll have to chat via a web meeting. But never fear: I’ll host that. All you’ll have to do is show up and answer my questions :)



Thank you for putting your lives on the line

Posted in Blather  by John Brown on May 23rd, 2014
Comments Off

To our soldiers, law enforcement officers, and firemen. What an awesome song and video for this Memorial Day.

I spent 7 days in a car with Larry Correia, International Lord of Hate, and lived to tell about it

Posted in Blather  by John Brown on April 30th, 2014

Larry-CorreiaSeven days.

San Diego, Phoenix, and a wild trip through Wyoming, around Denver, and back to Utah.

Seven days.

Five nights.

On the last trip, Larry, that murderous man, brought a bag of Walmart beef jerky that smelled like farts when you first opened it.

Oh, the humanity.

Now, here’s the thing. If you spend any amount of time with me, you will eventually tell me your life story.

You will.

Not because I’m a pryier. But because I’m simply and sincerely interested. In people. If you work for the sanitation department, I’m going to want to know about garbage trucks. If you bowl, I’m going to want to know about bowling. If you’re some kind of wackadoo, I’m going to want to hear your wackadooness. Sooner or later, you’re going to talk. And, yes, there will be things along the way that I just might put in my zing file. That’s not why I’m talking to you. But sometimes the slices of life are too good not to capture.

So you put Larry Correia, International Lord of Hate, into a car with me, and he’s going to spill his guts.

Let me tell you what I found. Oh yeah, wait until you hear this.

Larry loves his wife.

No, do not turn away in horror. You must hear the rest of the tale.

Larry has progressive ideas about gay marriage.

Can you imagine what it was like for me?

He doesn’t like taxes. Something I sure the rest of us pay any chance we get.

He’s a strong advocate of the right to bear arms. He figures people are safer with guns than without. And he was loaded. He had two guns on his person! Of course, I never worried about going anywhere with him, but the guns had nothing to do with that.

He doesn’t like the idea of a small group of people in Washington telling folks what they need to do. He’s not anti-government. He just likes a minimal amount of government.

He doesn’t like a lot of what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did. One of those things he doesn’t like is the rounding up of Japanese Americans and putting them in war camps. Another was Roosevelt’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court with justices who would rule his way, essentially eliminating that branch’s check on the presidency. Nor does he like Roosevelt for being the first president to explicitly embrace deficit spending. The list with Roosevelt could go on.

Larry honors the folks who serve in our military and law enforcement. Big time. Guys and gals who put their lives on the line or support those who do.

Larry’s a big believer in pulling yourself up by your boot straps.

He’s a believer and putting your big girl panties on and getting to work. From what I could tell, the one thing Larry thought would solve a lot of ills was work.

Work. Do you see how unreasonable the man is?

He’s an accountant and pretty good with numbers. Ergo he doesn’t like a lot of bureaucratic waste. It stinks to his accountant soul. And he saw a lot of that as a military contractor. I’m really for a lot of waste of taxpayer dollars, but I let him have his say.

Larry was once a bouncer.

He’s a big guy, but got his trash kicked in some early amateur MMA. But he still loved it.

LarryCorreiacismaleIn a friendly wrestling match, he injured his room mate, and said room mate responded by breaking the International Lord of Hate’s toe. Yes, the toe, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Larry is funny.

Larry has a lot of friends because, shocker, he’s a friendly guy.

He’s also kind of a sheepdog.

Larry is a capitalist. And it appears he’s the dirty greedy kind who uses his capitalistic ties for helping folks down on their luck.

There’s more. But let me tell you what I never heard. I never heard him make a racist remark. Not even when he told me about growing up in California’s Central Valley, or when some idiot kids who had been tasked with beating someone up to to join a Hispanic gang targeted him. Never heard him make a misogynistic remark.

I did hear how he loved to argue with folks on the internets. And then saw that later when I started reading his blog. It’s clear Larry likes a good fight. He’s a barbarian with big boots. But, in truth, he’s a friendly barbarian.

That’s the expose. I know. Shocking, isn’t it.

Now he’s gone and done this Hugo thing and calls people names and uses four-letter words on his blog posts.

I’ve found that Larry in person is not quite the same as Larry online when you disagree with him. In person he’s usually very conversational when you disagree.

Some might say he needs to be more polite online. Use more class.

They might have a point. Sometimes I think he steps over the line. Then again, they might not. He does get people to listen. And some of the things he has to say are insightful and worthwhile. Others are just plain funny.

Whatever your opinion, all I know is that if you’re wanting Abraham Lincoln, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. If you come out swinging, he’s not going to regale you with Kumbaya.

larrycorreiaAnd because he fights the way he does as Internet Larry, his posts seem to push some folks buttons to the point that they actually miss his intent.

For example, when Larry responded to Alex MacFarlane’s call for “an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories,” he never once suggested that we should discriminate against the folks MacFarlane wants to read stories about. He never suggested there shouldn’t be any such stories. Nor did he ever suggest folks who are discriminated against never have a case. His point was that the best way to write an entertaining story was to put the entertainment first, not some political agenda. His point was also that he’s sick of folks trying to foist their interests on him and everyone else. If you want to write about certain types of characters, do it. But don’t tell everyone else they must.

That was lost on some people. All they saw was someone who disagreed “rudely,” and they saw red.  I’d be seeing red too if I felt ruded upon. At the same time, they still missed his point. A lot have missed his point about the Hugos as well.

But whatever happens with this latest kerfluffle, I had to tell my tale. Because I spent seven days with Larry Correia, International Lord of Hate. It was nip and tuck the whole time, but I survived his horrible onslaught. And then we enjoyed some ice creams and tropical trail mix, which I can happily report smelled a lot better than the beef jerky.

EDIT: it appears I got some details wrong. Larry says: “I only wore 2 guns on that trip. My Kimber/Bul Poly .45 and a little Kahr MK9. I broke my roommate’s toe and he broke my nose, not the other way around. And that beef jerky was really gross.” Okay, the nose-toe bit I might have gotten wrong. But even though I updated the gun bit to placate him, I’m telling you that he had a shotgun in his back pocket (it’s a big pocket), a .45 on his hip, and a bazooka in the sock. That’s adds up to 3 in any establishment worth mentioning.


Indie Thoughts: When an author should self-publish and how that might change

Posted in Blather, On Writing  by John Brown on April 30th, 2014
Comments Off

From publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

For a number of reasons, the belief here is that most of the time for most authors who can get a deal with an established and competent house, their best choice is to take it.

Sounds reasonable, but then we get to the money quotes.

The strength of the traditional publishers and the traditional deals is directly related to the amount of the market that is served by inventory in stores. When that proportion was “nearly all”, the power allocation was “nearly all” to the traditional publishers.


Self-publishing and new-style digital-first publishing can grow more to the extent that the book-in-store share of the market shrinks more. But while that’s happening, the big publishers are also adding to their capabilities: building their databases and understanding of individual consumers (something that all the big houses are doing and which the upstarts seem not to believe is happening, or at least not happening effectively), distributing and marketing with increasing effectiveness in offshore markets, and controlling more and more of the global delivery in all languages of the books in which they invest.

It will compound the pressure on the alternative players if Amazon continues to grow its global market share for ebooks. The bigger the percentage of the market that can be reached by self-publishers with one stop at Amazon, the less interest they’ll have in picking up smaller chunks of the market with additional deals and the more powerful will be any incentives Amazon cares to offer for making the title exclusive to them.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files, and thanks to Passive Guy for the original link.

Shatzkin’s discussion of the amount of the market served by inventory in stores is right on. But his “best choice” conclusion doesn’t follow.


Because the question for each author has to be which stores will I be in, what kind of floor space will I have, and how long will I be there? And in many cases the answers to those questions do not compete well with indie options.

For example, a lot of in-store sales come from the drug store, grocery store, airport, Walmart, Costco type venues. But it’s rare than an author getting an average deal will see the light of day in those places. Those are reserved for bigger sellers. And not very many of those. So unless you’re getting a big deal, you can’t count that floor space.

Poof. Tens of thousands of venues are now no longer part of the equation.

So you are now left with whatever number of stores the publisher can get you into at Barnes&Noble (a max of 675 stores), Books-a-Million (max of 200 stores), Hastings (max of 149 stores), non-chain stores,  etc. I think the total number of book stores in the USA is around 10,000 or so. But publishers won’t get you into all of them. Some don’t carry your type of book: they’re used books stores, or kids book stores, or Christian book stores. And even if it’s a store like Barnes&Noble, you probably won’t get into all their stores. So how many stores will you actually be in?

Next, you have to wonder where you’ll appear in the stores you do get into. Will you be face-out somewhere prominent? Or will you have two copies spine-out in the back? If you’re spine-out, that’s just reduced the value of the floor space publishers offer you yet again.

Finally, how long will you be there? If you sell your two copies in a store, are you done at that store? Will your books be there longer than 12 weeks? Will they be there even 8 weeks?

James Patterson can sell millions of books because he has multiple copies in tens of thousands of stores with great display. And he’s usually there for more than just a handful of weeks. If you have two books spine-out in each of 500 stores for eight weeks, how well are you going to do?

Here’s some math on author revenue and units sold. Is selling 1,000 books with the royalties and contract terms offered really worth it? What about 4,000 books? 7,000? Are you going to be in enough stores with a decent placement to get those numbers?

If you’re going to be in thousands and thousands of stores with good placement, and the terms of the contract are reasonable, then, good golly, working with a publisher looks great. But if you’ve got a book that’s good enough to make an editor somewhere want to buy rights to it and the publisher is offering to put you spine-out in a little over a thousand stores with all sorts of contract crap, then Shatzkin’s “best choice” is really a poor one. In those situations my money is on going indie.

EDIT: It seems there are about 12,700 book stores in the USA. But that includes big-box stores, which I think are the Walmarts and Costcos.


Indie Thoughts: Publishers know profit, but haven’t tapped best seller lists

Posted in Blather, On Writing  by John Brown on April 19th, 2014

In The Business Rusch: Generational Divide Kris Rusch points out that the new on-demand and long-tail market for books has changed the duration of the opportunity a book has to be successful, but that it seems the industry still isn’t recognizing this in how they measure success.

The problems come from the fact that those of us who run things—people in our forties, fifties, and sixties—use metrics that were developed by our parents for their world, that tightly controlled Mad Men world where everyone was expected to be the same, not just in what they wore or bought but in what they listened to or watched or read as well.

The bestseller list?

It measures velocity. (A good essay on this topic, “The Meaningless Metrics of Fame,”  came from Mike Briggs, husband of Patricia Briggs, earlier this week. I’ve also dealt with it.)


They only want new books, and then only at the time of release.

Brick and mortar bookstores?

They only have room for the latest releases, and then only the ones that are the most popular with their customers (whoever those folks might be).

Books have come late to this fight. Books have been available on demand for only about four years now, in the U.S. In other countries, there’s been even less time.

And we’re all still fighting over meaningless metrics, to use Mike Briggs’ term, because those metrics only measure things that were important around the water cooler, not things which are important now.

What’s important now?

She goes on to say:

The publishing industry isn’t even talking about new metrics. That idea hasn’t occurred to traditional publishing, and indie (or self) published writers are constantly seeking validation from the old system—trying to figure out ways to game the bestseller lists or to get a fantastic review from somewhere that has old-world prestige . . . But at some point, traditional publishers are going to have to develop new ways to figure out which products sell well and which ones don’t. All of their systems—from sales figures (which measure books shipped not books sold) to bestseller lists to critical acclaim—are based on the old models.

Kris is a very experienced with publishing, but her last point conflates internal accounting with marketing. Publishers DO know which products sell.

The primary measure of success in a financial enterprise s not new. It’s been around for 100’s of years. And on demand and long-tail markets don’t change it.

The measure is how much a product or service contributes in profit to the bottom line. You take revenues, minus expenses, and that’s the contribution that product (a book in this instance) makes to your total profit. Or to covering your fixed costs.

Booksellers have measured the success of their books with actual or estimated profits for quite some time. Publishers already know which books sell well and which don’t. No accountant in the world is going to report books shipped as the measure of success. And they don’t. The very fact that publishers have a profit and loss statement and show returns on royalty statements demonstrate that. They look very closely at actual and estimated profits. And to they do this by channel, which is reflected in a small way when they break out ebooks on royalty reports. This is all basic accounting.

Here’s an example. Until Ender’s Game the movie, Ender’s Game the book hadn’t appeared on any best seller list since it was first released. And its release was 30 years ago! Yet over the years Tom Doherty touted its sales numbers many times. Tom knew that book was gold. Of course, he did. Because he doesn’t use best seller lists to tell him what’s selling well. He knows those lists are marketing devices. He has the real data in house. Why would he need a list to tell him anything?

And Tom isn’t going to use books shipped either. Tor may report those numbers to Publishers Weekly for marketing purposes, but he will always multiply that number by an expected return rate to estimate sales. He wants to do that. Because books shipped is meaningless to the bottom line and everyone knows it, including the auditors.

Publishers are well aware of the long tail. They see it with books that have been rotated out of the brick and mortar channels but are still selling in the online ones. They report it in their annual statements. They know the online channels work differently from the brick & mortar ones.

The measure of success is still the same as it ever was—how much profit is this property contributing to our bottom line?

Marketing, however, is a whole other ball of wax.

What the long tail and on-demand allow are marketing campaigns that are impossible in the brick & mortar channel. In brick & mortar you have a limited time to advertise (roughly 8-15 weeks). After that period, most books are rotated out of the store. This means that any marketing for those brick & mortar buyers MUST coincide with the period when the books are in the stores.

But the online channels open up all sorts of other opportunities. You can market forever. And the contribution margin is always positive. The online and POD costs are easily recouped with each sale. (Publishers are well aware of this profit potential; this is why we have so many making grabs for backlists.)

And I see publishers taking advantage of these new marketing methods. This last week I saw publisher books not currently stocked by brick & mortar retailers on BookBub, BargainBooksy, and Book Sends. And the industry isn’t totally focused on new books for reviews. I just had a large newspaper agree to look at my book that was published four months ago. Still, Rusch is right when she says that the publishers haven’t adapted one of their biggest marketing tools to take advantage of the new opportunities–they haven’t done anything with the best seller lists.

Amazon has lead the way in creating new ways of marketing books to different types of readers with their best seller lists. These lists create the excitement of discovery.

But every one else is still reporting weekly sales on the big lists.

If I were a publisher, I’d be asking USA Today to provide more than just the weekly view of the top 150 books. And USA Today is THE list to watch because their numbers are not based on units shipped to a sample of stores, but actual sales. Here are some lists that readers would be interested in.

  1. Most anticipated this week: based on pre-order totals
  2. Most anticipated this month: based on pre-order totals
  3. Hot new releases: based on weekly numbers
  4. Hot new releases for the month: based on monthly numbers
  5. Books with legs: last 3 months; I know it needs a different name (grin)
  6. Best sellers of the last 12 months: annual total of units sold
  7. Best sellers of the last 18 months: total units
  8. Contenders: for each of the lists above show the next 150 books (I always want to see the next 100 books after the top 100 on Amazon’s lists; why not show readers the top 300?)
  9. Movers: for each of the lists above show those that have the biggest rise in percentage sales and meet some unit minimum (you don’t want to feature books with 2,000% increase because they went from selling 1 unit to 20), even if they don’t break the best seller lists
  10. Genre: allow all of this to be sliced by genre.

Let the reader select the view they want to see!

Avid readers will gravitate towards the shorter time periods. Those that read fewer books will gravitate towards the longer periods. Everyone who wants to discover something new will go to the contender and mover lists.

This is about marketing. Not publishers measuring success.

And then armed with those numbers guess what the publishers will do? They will go back to the brick & mortar venues and pitch to have some of these same books carried in the stores for the first time (some publisher books are printed digital first) or carried again.