¸.· ´¸.·*´¨) ¸.·*¨)
(¸.·´ (¸.·’* Many thanks
I thought long and hard about whether to speak up about this. I’m doing so, not so much for me, but for my fellow struggling authors. So here goes: Generally, I’m not a fan of complainers, and that includes authors who complain about people not buying their books. No One is guaranteed a sale. We bravely go where not everyone has thrived before us, in order to bring you stories we love, and that we hope you’ll love as well. In the end, you want to believe it’s the talented among us who’ll keep readers coming back. But sometimes, bad guys do win, and lately, the winners have been the stuffers (thankfully, Amazon is now going after them), who’ll throw a poorly written and edited book up for .99 cents. And, of course, they end up getting much more than that because they’ve learned to game the KU system by double-spacing books (making it look like you have more pages to read than you do) and stuffing a download with 10-plus books, thereby earning themselves considerably more than the .99 cents price, as well as KU bonuses that used to be awarded to hardworking authors. These days, the bonuses seem to be going to “the fox who’s learned to raid the hen house without getting caught.” For real authors with integrity, this is a HUGE ouch—and not only where the money is concerned. It’s demoralizing for those who work hard and play by the rules. It’s no wonder some authors are furious. (more…)
Essentially, I’m about to strip down and stand naked and vulnerable in the middle of the road. But I’m going to do it anyway, because after yesterday’s news, I have something to say:
I grew up in what I believed to be a normal American military household. My father achieved the highest rank available to noncommissioned officers in the Navy. He was a Master Chief Petty Officer, a veteran who served in Vietnam, and to say he was respected by his peers is an understatement. He loved his job and only retired because of an accident that left him in a wheelchair for 6 months, never again able to scale the decks of ships. He received an honorable discharge—a release from his duties that heralded a bad era for my family.
At one point, my father was my idol. He was tall, dark and handsome, and oh, so smart. The fact that he wasn’t really a fan of MINE didn’t bother me so much as it did later. Enough to say he was the man in charge, and he ran our household under many of the same principles he’d learned in the military.
Until the age of 12, I didn’t make many close friends. We traveled a lot, but that’s the year my family settled in Charleston, South Carolina, newly arrived after a 5-year stint at a communications base in Ponce, Puerto Rico. After my father retired, he took a job locally, but still worked for the military as a civilian. My Spanish mother learned to drive. We—me and my brothers and sister—came out of our shells and began to make friends. During these years, my father received top-secret clearance for his analytics work for the military. I remember “those men” who came knocking on all our neighbors’ doors, asking questions. And for a while, we were a “normal” American family… until one day… we weren’t.
I’ll spare you dirty details, but I will say I am a survivor. I survived what turned out to be the most complicated and harrowing years of my life—hard years that shaped my adult life and gave me the aptitude to bleed for my writing in a way I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. But, aside from telling you my father was a closet alcoholic, and extremely heavy handed, I won’t say much else, because much of our story isn’t only mine to tell. However, his fall from grace was one we ALL took with him—every member of my family. We became collateral damage in a war fought beneath our own roof.
I wasn’t always the mouthy, rebellious daughter I turned out to be. But with every smack of my father’s fist, I became that person, standing higher and stronger, fueled by righteous anger. One thing’s for sure, his military style of parenting didn’t work where I was concerned. The more he tried to beat me into submission (sometimes literally and sometimes verbally), the more I fought and railed against him.
But that part of my story isn’t unique, is it? Teenagers are defiant, infuriating beings. Whether I did, or whether I didn’t have a right to be as I was, isn’t the point I’m trying to make. The point is that life happens to us all.
One day, I was alone in my house with my dad—this man who’d achieved such high military honor. Silver haired and depressed, he sat on his bed with a gun in his hand… cleaning it. This wasn’t a gun he’d procured illegally. It was his gun. He pulled it apart, piece by piece and took his rag to every part until it shone.
I walked by his room, saw what he was doing and kept on walking, with prickles riding down my spine. I walked into my bedroom and sat on my bed, and felt so much turmoil. Why was his gun out? He certainly had all the right credentials to own one, but I hadn’t seen that gun in a while, and now, after a systemic failure of our family, I was terrified of the reason he was drawn to it. So there I sat, worrying about him, and after a while, I heard him begin to cry. All the while, he sat piecing his gun back together…
Should I leave the house? I wondered.
My relationship with him was by far the most tumultuous. As his eldest child, I bore the brunt of much of his fury. If my siblings didn’t tow the line, I was to blame. By the same token, I felt an underlying sense of respect from him, for me, although not perhaps evident in his everyday treatment of me. Responsibility kept me rooted to the spot.
That day, seated alone in his room, with his gun, he called my name, and I wanted not to answer… but I did. I stood in the door of his room, blinking away tears in my own eyes as my silver-haired father wept over his gun. Truthfully, I don’t remember what he said. His mouth was moving, but words were incomprehensible… until he lifted the gun, pointed it at me, and said, “Do you know how easy it would be for me to pull the trigger? Put an end to it all?”
But that gun was pointed at ME. My heart slammed into my ribs. I was 15.
I stood, looking into the small barrel of my father’s gun, realizing he could do exactly as he said. He wasn’t the type for idle threats. If he said something, he followed through, and he never minced words.
With that gun pointed at me across a shrinking room, I thought about what to do. Exactly where I got the strength to say or do what I did, I don’t know, except, that in many ways I am my father’s daughter. I looked at him straight in the eyes and said, “You’re not the kind of man who shoots an innocent person in the back—your own daughter. So, I’m going to walk away, and if you shoot me, you’ll have to live with that.” And that’s what I did. I turned my back on his gun and returned to my room. I sat on my bed and cried—and worried, because I half expected my father to put his gun to his head.
If you read The Girl Who Stayed, yes, I borrowed this scene for that book, and 40 years later, I sobbed as I wrote it, because that’s how deeply affected I was.
But wait? What’s this got to do with yesterday’s news? Well, we’ve had yet another shooting, but that’s not really “yesterday’s news” anymore, is it, because this is happening more and more, and becoming firmly entrenched in our daily lives. We can’t even feel comfortable going to church, a movie, school, or a concert, without fear of some crazy person pulling out his gun.
So, let me, once again, be like my father, and not mince words:
I’ll end this by saying I do not advocate taking away people’s guns. All we’re—me and people like me—are asking for is gun control, stricter qualifications and periodic testing to be sure mentally ill people to not have access to them, and to disallow the use of automatic weapons (why are these needed anyway? The mass extinction of human life is the only purpose these weapons have).
Eventually, I made friends with my father, but he was a sad, broken man, who, although once might have qualified to own a gun, in the end, should not have had access to one. The fact that he did not use it that day is not the bar by which this truth should be judged. By grace alone, I am not a statistic, but how many others walk in my shoes? I don’t know. But I do know this. Those who were not spared by grace are now a growing list… one I’d like to end. Come on people, let’s vote for gun control. Please.
What am I? people so often ask. Really, as a first-generation American, it’s a question I’ve gotten too often. I’ll be honest: I generally find it annoying. My answer to people seeking to hear about my nationality, is this: I’m American. Even more salient a point: I’m a human being. I occupy the same earth you do, and its wellbeing affects us all.
Similarly, for those wanting to know whether I consider myself Indie or Trad, I generally feel the same way: Why are we segregating ourselves? We are all writers and authors. Why do we need labels? Why do we need to draw lines in the sand?
I’ve been published now for going on 28 years, which means that my publishing roots are 100 percent Trad. But I don’t consider myself either Indie or Trad. If you really need a label, the term Hybrid author most applies to me, but I dislike the word as well, because it’s just another label.
The next question I sometimes get, is: Why did you go Indie? Were you unhappy with Trad? People seem to expect an outcry. It ain’t comin’ folks. Okay, sure, I found frustrations. But I also learned a lot, and I have truly loved all my editors (I was lucky that way), and learned a lot from them. I wouldn’t trade the experience, and, yet, I have no regrets about my current path. The great news for writers is that there are more great choices available to writers than ever before.
Essentially, I don’t believe there is any one right path for an author to take and under the right circumstances traditional publishing is still a fabulous option. For me, I came to a point in the late nineties that I no longer enjoyed what I was writing. That, and life got in the way, so I took a hiatus from writing. When I came back to the industry, it was a different world, and I was determined to love writing again. For me that meant telling the stories I most wanted to tell and that was easier to do as an indie author.
In the simplest terms, I chose indie when I returned, because I’m a control freak. (It’s true; just ask my husband.) I love being a part of every aspect of publishing. But there was always a certain part of this business that we were not privy to, and I hated being in the dark. I love, for example, my current relationships with vendors, and feel extremely fortunate to be able to send an email to them and say, hey, this is working well, but how can I make it better? I’m thrilled to be able to cultivate these relationships. I also love being able to control which cover I use where, and I love having the ability to grow my presence in audio and foreign markets.
All that said, I have come full circle to write for Lou Aronica, whom I first met during my stint at Avon Books. Lou is a fabulous editor/publisher/writer, and while he’s also someone I consider to be a dear friend, he’s a fair-minded business partner who has a vision of a publishing experience that is not divisive in its makeup. It encapsulates the industry as a whole, and works symbiotically to promote a healthy marketplace and a better reading experience for readers. What does that mean? Well, more simply put, we’re all in this together, folks: Indie, Hybrid, Trad. Therefore, we should make no decisions that would devalue ourselves OR our fellow writers, or undermine the industry we hope to keep thriving well past our own lifetimes. As I determined upon coming back from my hiatus, I want to love what I’m writing, I want my readers to love what I’m writing, and I want to be doing this for a very long time.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, since we are all in this together, we should start acting like it. Amazon is not our enemy. Trad publishing is not our enemy. Amazon is a business, and its greatest concerns are its customers and its bottom line. If they can help us out in the meantime, great. But they are not necessarily our allies. Neither are traditional publishers. They too are a business, and they, like Amazon are concerned with their bottom line. Some of them realize that nurturing their authors is good for their bottom line, and some of them haven’t figured this out yet. It’s up to us to do the research to determine where we best fit. But, I do believe this: We do have potential allies in this business, and they are also our competition. Only the day we wake up and realize we are the masters of our own fates, and it’s not our competition that will break us, it’s the decisions we make, we’ll be better suited for success. Write the best book you can. Take the path that will suit you best. Then build up your fellow authors and the market itself rather than tear it down.
This blog isn’t necessarily speaking to everyone. Some of us seem to get the principle of building up our friends and peers (where possible), instead of tearing them down, because as a whole we offer more to the world together. Does that mean you won’t sometimes be overshadowed by someone who is temporarily shining brighter? No. Does it mean we are assured a place in a very competitive market? No. But the answer to these questions is still “no” if you decide to take a scorched earth policy and firebomb the world to get ahead. Because, hey there, Mr. or Mrs. Nuclear, guess what? You might shine for 15 minutes, but you’ve created an environment where your star will cease to shine at some point, and then what?
It’s time for writers in this industry to stop segregating ourselves, and start bolstering each other. I love this quote from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (Yes, I’m a GoT freak, and you knew it would come up eventually), “when the cold winds blow the lone wolf dies and the pack survives.”
I wrote this post because, in the wake of the latest RWA controversy, with rumors that this person resigned and that person resigned because of Indies, and, on the other side of the fence, “Trad authors know nothing” (like Jon Snow), and Indie is the way to go. [Notice significant eye roll here] To me, this all sounds no different than other divisive propaganda. So, let’s all get back to loving the craft, AND the industry, because it is the ultimate symbiotic relationship.
You really wanna know what I am? I’m an author, who is fortunate enough to have lived long enough to write under many circumstances. I’ve written for Avon Books, Harlequin, Kensington, and now for The Story Plant, and I’m so grateful for each of these experiences. I also continue to write under my own imprint, because, well, I can, and because my readers seem to want me to. But one thing I can promise at this point in my life, and hopefully it’s a promise my readers will take to heart. I will write as long as I love it, and I will write with passion, from the heart. And maybe, if I’m lucky, and I feel that way at 90, maybe I’ll still be writing the stories you want to read.
Photo credit: Stolen from Glynnis Campbell, whom I met in Dallas Texas, and with whom I shared an agent. Glynnis and I are still friends, and bolster each other when we can. It’s been a great ride, Glynnis!
If you haven’t spotted them yet, it’s probably because you don’t shop on Amazon, where KU seems to allow scammers to thrive. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of Amazon’s proprietary subscription service. But before I move on to how to spot these scammers and their books, let me say what this article isn’t. It isn’t an opportunity to bash Amazon, because I appreciate Amazon as a marketplace, as I appreciate all vendors. The problem may be far more prevalent on Amazon, but exists anywhere scammers find an open door. It works like this: Scam authors, who most often appear to operate in Russia, or Eastern European and Asian countries are throwing poorly written, poorly edited (and sometimes stolen) books into KU, where, readers may download content free of charge, only it’s not actually free, because Amazon pays them for your download. More and more, authors are speaking up and reporting these books, but the key to removing them is for readers to begin standing up and complaining as well.
Personally, I have very few books in KU, but to say I don’t have a horse in this race is not entirely true. Honest authors, who work hard on a daily basis to write books from the heart are finding it harder and harder to survive amidst a sea of badly written and plagiarized books. So how does this affect you? Well, it’s pretty straightforward. As true authors find it harder and harder to devote time to a career that doesn’t allow them to make a living wage, you will lose access to better books and to your favorite authors. You might argue this will correct itself eventually–and it will–but at what cost in the interim?
I’m fortunate enough to have a very loyal readership and I love you all immensely, so, currently, I’m in no danger of going anywhere, but already I have witnessed the exodus of some of my own favorite authors from the industry, simply because they can’t make ends meet and can no longer focus on writing. It breaks my heart so much that I must speak up. But I’m not going to name names because that’s not the goal of this article. The goal is to simply make you aware of what’s going on and what you might do to help.
Aside from lost authors, these are the things that bother me most about this unfortunate trend:
a) The reader is being disrespected by author mills, who churn out the same revised and altered content over and over. Eventually, readers will grow bored, and that’s the biggest sin of all–that the joy found in reading may be lost.
b) Scam books take up valuable space on Amazon’s “bestseller” lists, because KU downloads are weighted more heavily than non KU books. Unfortunately, if you want to see real bestseller lists that reflect an entire world of books that might be obscured on Amazon, you’ll have to go look at the lists on competing vendors, like iBooks, Kobo, B&N and, of course, USA Today and New York Times. (And then dig down to the genre lists.)
c) Many scammers are not following the rules that real authors are forced to comply with, and they are benefiting nonetheless. For example, it’s against Amazon’s Terms of Service to buy reviews or pay for downloads, but that’s not stopping these hackers. One way they do this is through unsuspecting readers, who might not realize they are following a scam author and want to do their best to support them, especially when they have been offered a free review copy. The other way is through Click farms (Click this link here to see what I mean).
Now, let me say a few words about review copies, because all authors provide these, and all publishers do as well. 1) you should not be given a “gift card” to download books from the vendor. That is unethical because it manipulates lists. It’s against TOS and legit authors won’t put you or themselves in this position. If you are found out, it jeopardizes all your reviews and your ability to leave reviews in the future. 2) Review copies must be given without any stipulation or guarantee that you will ever post a review, or that it will be 4 and 5 stars. Although we sincerely hope you’ll love our books, you must be allowed not to like it if you choose.
So back to the scam book problem; how can you spot them and why should you bother? The most important reason is that it is potentially damaging to the entire industry, largely because Amazon holds such a large portion of market sales for traditional and not traditional authors. I’m a huge fan of choice and the No. 1 way to support choice is to support Amazon’s competitors. While I do also buy from Amazon, I try to spread the love, buying titles from iBooks, B&N and Kobo as well. (This is also why I don’t use, or any longer give away, vendor specific ereaders that are not universal, meaning, that they won’t allow books to be loaded from any vendor.)
Fellow author Patricia McLinn has a great list of ways you can spot scam authors and scam books, and you’ll want to check out her entire list here:
Some of the easiest ways to tell are:
a) The author profile seems “off.” If it looks like a stock photo, it probably is one. While some might argue that people should be allowed to hide behind a fake photo, I am not a fan of pretense, and these “fake authors” seem fond of using stock photos, probably because many of them are the same person and/or company, merely posing as an author.
b) The book cover is bad. They aren’t in it for the longterm. They are going to take the money and run, so many of the scammers don’t bother to put up great covers, although there are a few of them now that are making so much money they have begun to cover these books well, so this is not a fail proof way to tell. However, if the cover “looks” derivative, or reminds you of another author’s style, chances are they have copied it, and it’s a red flag.
c) They either have REALLY high page counts, or REALLY low page counts, or, if you look inside, the text is double-spaced to make it seem it’s a bigger book. (There are also a lot of other clues, so be sure to check Patricia’s page for more.) David Gaughran also has a helpful article.
d) Weirdly worded author bios that give you a sense that maybe English is not their first language. It seems to be more evident in the profile than in the book themselves, which are sometimes plagiarized.
e) Check to see when they released their books. Did they dump a bunch of titles onto Amazon over a short time, or even on the same day? HUGE red flag. It takes me months and months to write a book. While I have author friends who put out books every 6 weeks, I know they work hard to do this–so hard that some find it hard to have a life outside of writing. I love writing, and love the connection with my readers, but I also adore time with my husband and children and time in the garden. I want to be my best when I’m at my keyboards, and for me that means taking time to recharge, which means it takes me even longer.
f) They often have no website, and their facebook pages are very new.
There are many, many more ways to tell, and as I said, you can find some here and here. Ultimately, there’s only one way this is going to change, and that’s if the reader complains. Again, I won’t give you specific titles, because I mean to leave that up to your best judgment. Really, you’re responsible for your own reading material. However, I respect you enough to at least want you to be aware of this issue, because in the long run, it affects you. If there’s one thing I know about Amazon it’s that they care about their customers, so it’s only for you that they are going to make this a more even playing field.
So that’s all. May you find only pearls.
I’m getting so excited by the upcoming publication of Maiden from the Mist. I have loved writing this entire series so much. I hope you love it as much as I do. While you’re waiting for the book, take a peek at the video and get a sneak peek at narrator James Gillies narration (for those who haven’t heard the rest of the series). Love it!