Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tripping Over That Raised Bar

Last week’s blog was about defining the value of a book. I guess you could say that today’s is about defining the value of a writer. Every profession has its stars and deadbeats, people who set a standard of excellent in their work and behavior, and those drag the profession though the muck. The world of publishing has taken a lot of hits over recent years about its lack of professionalism over everything from fake reviews and literary agents, to amateurish indie books, stingy publishers, and trash talk on all sorts of networking sites.

Sometimes it’s hard to rise above it, to ignore nasty reviews, accounting errors in royalties, and all the other things that are part of the profession, and just get on with writing the best book possible. But lots of writers do, and I admire those who’ve worked hard and landed traditional contracts that pay great advances.

As you all know, when a publisher and author sign a contract it’s a binding legal document that should be honored on both sides if reputations want to be saved and lawsuits avoided. An advance-paying, contract offer from a large publishing house is pretty much the holy grail for writers seeking the traditional route. So, I was surprised to read about the number of authors who’ve reneged on their contracts with the Penguin group, and are now being sued for a return of advanced money, with interest.

Heaven knows Penguin has made mistakes in its past. What company hasn’t? But this time, they have a legitimate gripe. What I find so amazing is that an author would take someone else’s money and not deliver the goods as promised. An article in the lists several authors who are now being sued, however, it doesn’t report on the authors’ side of things, so maybe there are reasonable excuses in some cases, I don’t know. But as the article indicates, saying that you’ve spent the money is no defense.

Aside from squandering an amazing opportunity, the other troubling aspect of this is that the authors’ lack of professionalism doesn’t help the rest of us gain respect from the public. Of course, Penguin’s lawsuits are only one small part of the publishing scene, but when stuff like this happens (let alone the points raised at the top of this blog post), should book buyers seriously be expected to run out and fill their shopping carts with books? The bar which has been raised by wonderful authors over the years seems shaky to me. Given the lies some writers have passed off as nonfiction in recent years, and other highly publicized gaffs (see an earlier post on writers behaving badly), I wonder if readers have started to think a writer’s word isn’t worth much, never mind the quality of his books. And that diminishes us all.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Defining the Value of a Book

An interesting article in this week discussed the ebook price war happening in the U.K. The article says that ebook sales were up 188% in the first half of this year. Part of the reason for this is that Sony and Amazon are offering new titles by well known authors such as Jeffrey Archer and James Herbert for just 20 pence! One horror author boasts sales of 10,000 to 20,000 copies a week at this price, yet he and his publisher are being paid royalties on the full price.

The appeal of 20p titles has become a double-edged sword. Authors, while delighted with increased sales, are concerned that the 20p price will become the norm. The fear is that readers won’t buy a book unless the prices are this low. Also, not everyone will receive royalties on original prices. Given the way contracts are written these days, I’m sure that many authors are relinquishing decent royalties to gain readers.

Here’s the other point, and one I’ve heard debated before. If new books by bestselling authors continue the 20p trend, will the perception of a book’s value change? In other words, if books are priced less than the value of a pack of gum, will they have any real value to potential buyers to begin with? Will cheaply priced ebooks be quickly consumed and then discarded with the same regard as that stick of gum?

I know that defining a book’s value is subjective and holds a wide variety of opinion. It’s always been that way. Several years ago, I bought a paperback for fifty cents at a library sale, and told a friend about my great find. He had already read the book and asked me how much I paid. When I told him he said “you paid too much”. He wasn’t cheap (although he was thrifty) but he didn’t like the book. It happens all the time. You pick up two books on the shelf, same price, same size, and both with intriguing blurbs, but the content of one might be beautifully written while the other is mediocre. And what you think is beautiful, the person next to you might think is mediocre. In other words, the value of a book is based on personal opinion about the content.

But here’s another thing. Suppose that beautifully written book has a stunning cover, terrific editing, and perfect formatting prepared by a team of professionals, yet it’s only 20p. How are those professionals supposed to pay their bills? Should they be forced to go without so buyers can get cheap goods?

I’m all for enticing readers. Heck, you know I’ve had my free days. But free weeks, months, years? The article doesn’t say how long Sony and Amazon are selling these titles for, but while this may introduce many new readers, will those readers expect all future book purchases to be 20p? If so, how will the writers and publishers pay their bills? Most writers, even good ones, make little enough as it is. If we devalue the price of a book, the publishing industry as a whole, and not just the traditional publishers, just might suffer. To read the whole article, go to

There are probably points I haven’t considered, and I welcome your comments on this topic!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Self-Publishing Stats Reveal Key Differences Among Earners

Another survey has made its way through the newsletter circuit. This one is about self-publishing and is called the Taleist Survey. The survey caught my attention because blogs are using the headline, “Women Fare Better at Self-Publishing”. Well yes, data from the 1,007 respondents did show that two-thirds of the top money earners were women, but the article also says that romance writers do better than other genres, which might partly explain the ratio. Although men write romances, the genre is still dominated by women.

Most revealing to me was the marked differences between writers who earn a living from self-publishing with those who didn’t. There were key factors at play, but before I get into it, I have to say that this study doesn’t seem to distinguish much between print and ebooks, and as I’ve written before, there is a big difference in sales ratios between those two formats.

The study revealed that top money earners spend 69% more time writing than lower income writers. They not only write a third more, but spend 24% more time on those words. In other words, editing is important. 29% of top earners have an agent, whereas only 10% of lower income earners do. Respondents who paid for professional editing earned, on average, 13% more than those who didn’t.

Here’s an interesting revelation. The group of respondents who earned least were the ones who spent the most time marketing. In fact, those who spent the least time marketing were earning the most money!

Another thing: the top money earners had four times more reviews for their most recent books and earned six times the revenue compared with those outside the top earning range. In other words, get as many reviews as you can, especially from established sources. It really does help sell books! To read more of the article go to

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Writers Behaving Badly

There have been many complaints about scathing1-star reviews posted on amazon. Some reviewers show an obvious lack of knowledge about the book, and/or a personal agenda designed to hurt the author’s reputation. It’s small wonder then that many readers believe amazon reviews aren’t honest or helpful.

Based on reviews I’ve read, I’d say the level of competency runs the whole gamut, as I’ve seen some really good reviews, along with the not-so-great ones. As a caveat, I need to say that I also post reviews on amazon, so I understand if you think I’m biased. I’ve also received 1 and 2-star reviews, but they weren’t hateful, so I let it go and moved on.

The online world is still like the old wild west, when people were trying to build lives on foreign ground. Back then, a few morons thought the new frontier entitled them to get away with bad behavior. The same thing applies to life in cyber space. It’s simple to create a fake identity and say what you want (up to a point) without anyone knowing who you really are, or so you think.

Reviewers with agendas develop a pattern and observant people pick up on that pattern. They also tend to discover that person’s real identity. This is exactly what happened to a British author who stooped to some pretty low tactics by giving himself great reviews while trashing fellow authors.

What’s different about this incident, though is that the culprit, author R.J. Ellroy, was already an award-winning, bestselling crime author. Ellroy apparently used a number of fake identities to give himself glowing reviews while he gave Mark Billingham and Stuart MacBride, among others, 1-star reviews. He was outed by another British crime novelist and has now apologized, but Ellroy’s also facing a lot of wrath from readers everywhere and the condemnation of writers such as Ian Rankin, Lee Child and Val McDermid.

Why someone who already’s garnered awards and is able to make a living through his work felt compelled to act this way is baffling, but the sad thing is he’s only one of many lesser known authors who are behaving the same way.

I still believe that amazon is a good place to post reviews. It’s easy and reaches a lot of people who purchase a great deal of books there. I’m doing my best, along with others, to keep the bar from sinking into the sewer but honestly, sometimes it feels like an uphill battle. To read the whole article about Ellroy, go to

Friday, September 07, 2012

Visit My Books at the Bookmarks Festival of Books in Winston Salem!

My publisher, Second Wind Publishing, will be at the Bookmarks Festival of Books on Saturday, Sept. 8 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Downtown Arts District in Winston-Salem, centering on Trade and Sixth Streets. If you are going to the festival, stop by their booth and check out tthe books. They will be showcasing a variety of Second Wind titles, including perennial reader favorites, the newest releases, and best of all --- my books! Alas, I won't be there to talk to you, but my books say everything I want to say.

Light Bringer: Thirty-seven years after being abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Colorado, Becka Johnson has returned  to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

DAIDaughter Am I: When twenty-five-year-old Mary Stuart learns she inherited a farm from her recently murdered grandparents — grandparents her father claimed had died before she was born — she becomes obsessed with finding out who they were and why someone wanted them dead. She meets and falls in love Tim Olson, whose grandfather shared a deadly secret with her great-grandfather. Now Mary and Tim need to stay one step ahead of the killer who is desperate to dig up that secret.

More Deaths Than One: Bob Stark returns to Denver after 18 years in Southeast Asia to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again. He attends her new funeral and sees . . . himself. Is his other self a hoaxer, or is something more sinister going on? And why are two men who appear to be government agents hunting for him? With the help of Kerry Casillas, a baffling young woman Bob meets in a coffee shop, he uncovers the unimaginable truth.

A Spark of Heavenly Fire: In quarantined Colorado, where hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable disease called the red death, insomniac Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. Investigative reporter Greg Pullman, is determined to discover who unleashed the deadly organism and why they did it, until the cost — Kate’s life — becomes more than he can pay.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Who Can Inherit Your Ebooks and Digital Music?

So much has been written about the growing ebook revolution over the past couple of weeks that it’s tough to keep up. For example, did you know that the explosion of ebook sales in Great Britain has created a notable reduction in bookshelf space? U.S. observers aren’t surprised. Some estimate that the U.S. has only half the shelf space that was available in 2007, due to the closure of Barnes & Noble and many independent stores.

Another article says that available Brazilian ebooks have grown from 11,000 to 16,000 in a short period of time, and a press release from Amazon Media Room now boasts over 100 million books downloaded through their Kindle exclusive program. This is with a catalogue of only 180,000 tittles! Here’s the release, which names some of their bestsellers,

An article in poses a really interesting question: Who inherits your digital ebook and music collection? If you answer, “it’s complicated” you’re on the right track. Bequeathing your print books and CDs is one thing, but doing the same with your iTunes and ebook collection is another matter, partly because of ownership problems. When you purchase a book or CD it’s yours, but if you purchase a digital book, you’re not buying the right to own it but a license to use the digital files. Legally, this is a big difference!

Also, Apple and grant “nontransferable” rights, which means you can’t give your downloads to others. Furthermore, Apple only grants licenses to account holders, so what happens when the account holder dies? The potential for legal fallout is huge, as the law hasn’t really begun to address these issues. The article goes onto say that there are ways to inherit ebooks and digital music, which you can read at

By the way, today and tomorrow, Sept. 3rd are free days for my first Alex Bellamy mystery, TAXED TO DEATH. If you enjoy whodunnits with a little romance and humor, then meet Alex, the tax auditor who doesn’t have a clue, when it comes to murder.