Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Amazon Monster

I just got this notice email from my publisher Denise Camacho at Intrigue publishing. I have to say that it is no surprise to me. I've also heard about Amazon monopolizing the industry in slow increments. And what's this about Amazon attempting to buyout Barnes & Nobel or take over their stores in some type of merger? Has anyone heard of this? I've seen this on YouTube video discussions. (Sorry that the Amazon page visuals didn't come through--that was for security reasons).

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I am sending you all a recent announcement I received from IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Assoc.)
This will impact everyone, including all of the major publishers, all self-published authors etc. Anyone who is trying to sell books on Amazon will be impacted.

On March 1, Amazon enacted a policy change that allows third-party sellers to compete for the Buy Box for books in “new condition.”

In case you’re not visualizing the Buy Box in your mind, it is this:

And, here it is on the right side of the screen next to a book’s description:

When you go to a product page on Amazon, the ADD TO CART Buy Box is the default offer. Other used options fall below the Buy Box. Where books are concerned, the default Buy Box has always belonged to the publisher. When you buy a book, Amazon pays the publisher 45% of the list price. This means your purchase is supporting the entity that published the book, namely the publisher, and authors are making a profit (albeit small) every time you buy because the publisher is paying an author royalty for each sale.

Now Amazon is giving that priority spot to third-party sellers, relegating the publisher button to a far less favorable position, below the landing page screen line, often last in a list of third-party sellers offering the book for a significantly lower cost in addition to free shipping. See the following example:

The Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) believes Amazon’s policy change, allowing third-party sellers to compete for the Buy Box for books in “new condition,” hurts authors and publishers. Here’s why:

Amazon, once again, is attempting to drive down the value of books, and therefore intellectual property and creative work in general. Under the new policy, Amazon is rewarding the seller that conforms to its rules (“competitive pricing”) by granting them the coveted Buy Box. Often this means dropping the publisher listing, and it’s not unlikely that publisher listings may fall off the buy page completely—at Amazon’s discretion.
When a book is not obviously for sale by its publisher on Amazon, the author may not be making royalties. Although for now it seems that publisher listings are on Amazon, it takes a savvy consumer to even understand what they’re buying—and most will go for the lowest-cost item, especially if it’s in the coveted Buy Box position.
While in some cases authors may still be making royalties off of third party sales, these sellers may also be obtaining books in ways that will not result in author compensation.
They might be a used bookstore that cheaply buys stock back from consumers.
They might troll book bins where people recycle books.
They might have relationships with distributors and wholesalers where they buy “hurts” (often good enough quality to be considered “new condition”) at a super low cost.
They might have connections to reviewers who get more books than they can handle and are looking to offload.
And on and on.
In all cases above, the books sold on Amazon would not qualify as sales for the purposes of author royalties because they’ve already been sold, or originally existed as promotional copies. And even for those third-party sellers buying books through wholesale channels, the question arises of how Amazon is measuring “new condition.”

If consumers don’t see the option to buy new, from the publisher, then Amazon is promoting piracy. Authors get nothing from used books because the consumer is buying something that’s already been bought and tracked as a sale. If this new policy takes hold for most backlist books, authors’ and publishers’ revenue will dry up, and more and more books are at risk of going out of print more quickly. Publishers will not be able to afford to keep books in print that are not selling on Amazon. So, this policy is essentially driving books to an earlier death—and thereby hurting authors.

Amazon suggests that one of the ways you can win the Buy Box is to keep books “in stock.” This poses a major problem for self-published authors and any backlist author whose books are print-on-demand. Print-on-demand automatically means there’s no stock. The books are printed to order. If Amazon is penalizing books that are set up as POD titles and favoring third-party sellers who have stock due to any of the abovementioned means of procurement, authors will again be dinged when their own listing, or publisher listing, ranks low on the list of “Other Sellers on Amazon.” We can only suppose that Amazon will not penalize or remove books that are listed with CreateSpace—and as Amazon moves away from CreateSpace to consolidate its print and e-book self-publishing program onto Kindle, it will be interesting to note how often those books get the coveted Buy Box position for doing business with Amazon.

If indie publishers can't get into bookstores and are being cut off at the knees by Amazon-induced piracy, then the future is grim indeed. As a community of indie publishers, we should be very bothered by this new policy. Amazon is a mammoth player in the publishing space and it can do much to either help or hurt the publishing industry. Their new third-party seller policy is potentially terrorizing, in that it is likely to result in publishers selling fewer copies and ultimately being forced to declare backlist books out of print.

Scenario 1

In April 2017, the publisher of SparkPress was emailed by an author who said her book was no longer being listed on Amazon—at all—as available from SparkPress. When one typed in the title of her book, the only listings that came up were from third-party sellers. Amazon’s policy states that “eligible sellers will be able to compete for the buy box,” but in this case, SparkPress had been completely wiped off Amazon as an eligible seller in any capacity, without being notified.

Scenario 2

Seal Press’s Second Wind by Cami Ostman experienced the same scenario. When you click on the product page for Second Wind, here’s what you see:

Note the paperback price: $3.23. Note the seller: Meadowland Media. At first glance, Seal Press’s listing could not be found, but it turned out to be there, just four buttons down and below the sight line of the landing page.

One must assume Meadowland is selling a used book as “new condition” in this scenario. Why? If they were purchasing the book wholesale they would have paid as much as 60% off the list price. So, they would have bought the book for $6.80. The only logical conclusion is that this seller is selling a used book, or a book they got for free in some capacity.

The impact this scenario could have on publishers’ backlist (typically meaning any book that’s six months or older) is devastating, especially because consumers don’t understand what’s going on here. When you search for this book, it looks as if the only listing that’s available is through Meadowland Media because the search function leads to a page where the only visibility you have is that Second Wind is $3.23. This screen shot says that there are “more buying options” but those buying options alert you to the 25-cent copy, not the copy being sold by the publisher for $10.62.

Small publishers are dependent on backlist sales for their livelihood. Amazon is a Herculean player when it comes to backlist sales because bookstores favor front-list books. If you’re looking for a book that’s a year old or more, you’re likely to go to Amazon to find it. Second Wind was published in 2010, but the way Amazon has set up this listing, it’s as if the book were out of print with the publisher. It’s not.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Middle Grade Slump?

In all my writing career I don't think I've had as much trouble at laying down pixels as I've had for a Middle Grade fantasy book. Although I've written and published several YA titles, this is my first, out of the gate, MG. It's a whole different ballgame. I've read many MG titles, including some old Roald Dahl books, and I can't really see too much difference between them and the YA titles. There doesn't seem to be any writing "down" going on in the MG examples. I think it just takes a simpler touch, meaning easier and more understandable words. Chapter lengths can also come down in length and, of course, these types of books range from 25,000 to 45,000 words or so. 

There is a need for more humor in MGs (I believe)--the emotion that all kids understand. Eight to 12 year-old children can even understand irony--you can't underestimate them. An emphasis on characterization is also vitally important here, pulling the reader in to sympathize with the main and supporting characters--unique and diverse sketches of people who really come to life within the young mind.

I have what I call a portal fantasy, something akin to Narnia. That's where the characters enter a fantasy world via some transporting vehicle--through a mirror, hole in the ground, wardrobe, magical door, etc. In my case, my lead characters, in possession of some magic goggles, find that they can climb up and over solid rainbows to arrive in another land. I had a little problem with the suspension of disbelief with this one, as I have had similar precautions and hesitations with YA titles. 

I have virtually stopped writing this little book after about 12,000 words. I've hit a wall. I'm aghast at my unwillingness to push on through this. I feel I've hit a stone barrier or painted myself into a corner, with seemingly no way out.

I'm finally going to ask any of you children's writers out there for a little help or/and support. Like the Titanic, I'm sending up white rocket distress signals in an attempt to find my motivation and interest again.

Here it is:

My kids slide into the first land which is called Slobstalkia. The inhabitants of this land are young and obese, to the point of dangerous health and unsavory eating habits. Their diets consist of lards and fats. While my kids must wait for another rain to hitch a ride on a rainbow, in an attempt to get back home, they do everything they can to help the Slobstalkians change their eating habits and achieve a new, healthy lifestyle, with plenty of exercise. Yes, there is a message there that can translate to the reader--eat right--keep fit. I have to describe this land in fairly intricate detail, so the reader is transported to another, strange and unique environment which can be fun and thrilling at the same time. 

I have this book plotted out for the visitation and interaction of two more lands (three lands total) before they eventually catch a ride home on the last rainbow. The second land is called Filthania, which is a place rife with very bad hygiene. The lesson there is to clean these people up--washing clothes--bathing--taking pride in themselves in a physical sense. Another lesson learned.

I won't go on to describe the third land. I think you get the point. My dilemma is wondering how am I going to describe three different lands, all with individual detail and nuance within the frame of a book that is loosely regulated by a smaller word count? The project seems massive to me--almost impossible. I could concentrate on one land and get it right. But to follow it up with two more in the same book seems daunting.  It could be a trilogy. And that's a lot of risk. It could be an extraordinarily long book, since there really isn't any hard and fast rules about length and subject matter for any genre/category. Or it could be just one single land, and solving one or several problems in that land, then a return home.

This multiple land issue has blocked me dead in my tracks. I don't know the way out. Do you have any suggestions at all on how to solve this problem? I would appreciate any views or ideas about this subject.

Write like you're dying, because you are,


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Writers and Health


First exam went will, if a bit painful, but the next stage will be working the torn hernias that are likely to pose problems as far as the space needed for the prostrate shave or removal process. It's a bit crowded down there for the room to work; def going to ask to be put under for this entire procedure, and expect them to get as much done as possible. They might do the prostrate surgery then hand me off to a hernia specialist (another out patient facility where I'll have to start the process all over again). I''m afraid of this massive trade off to specialists, who will have their own payments plans with extra medication that I probably won't need.

FYI: Do not sit at your computer eight to 10 hours a day (year after year) without breaking and walking about for a good 15 minutes. Keep you legs circulating via swift walks or massage. Perform full body stretching and neck rotations. Tale deep breaths outside and then relax your heart. Take one aspirin everyday without fail, and stop smoking. Blood clots show no mercy when they break free and travel to the heart, lungs or in the brain where they can cause serious vein and arterial blockages that can kill you. Stroke and pulmonary embolism kills 1/3 of it victims. Don't EVEN give it a chance. This goes for driving trucks long distances, secretarial work, airline flights and other static positions. Bluntly, if your job requires you to sit on yous ass all day, you're in serious contention for a clot in the lower legs. Kidney stones are another problem and nearly as serious. Be attentive to the silent killers who are waiting in the wings. Don't give them the chance. Start early on your health regime and stay with it. Stay mobile and eat the proper foods. You'll be glad you did.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Long Distance and Harsh Words

Hello, friends. This post is rather atypical of what I usually write about. But I thought it was very relevant in our associations with people on the Internet--particularly in a social setting.. In a roundabout way, this would apply to communicating with other writers, agents and publishers. I thought it was important because I see so much of it.

Drawing a comparison to penpals and dating sites: 

So you found somebody you like on the Internet. That other person likes you. You just started something wonderful that excites and fulfills you. You might even develop a symbiotic love for each other. A man might be searching for that electronic girl friend. You know, a cyber cutie--an email female--that pixel princess? A woman might be looking for that goofy Gmail guy, that Internet intellectual, that cuddly computer hunk.  
Why is it that we can say the meanest and most cruel things to each other in Internet emails? Words that sting, doubt, question, threaten, accuse, belittle--name your poison. It's because we think we can spout off and avoid any confrontation. We don’t need to own our words. We are detached. Even phone calls to potential mates can become heated and cause disagreements, ending in short or long-term rejection. The calamity can happen quickly, un-expectantly. It can happen as a result of a simple miscommunication. A few words interpreted the wrong way can start a firestorm of anger and hatred. You can commit a word-slip and hurt someone’s feelings without knowing it.
People always look for the best in others regardless of most circumstances. All human beings seek peace—they all want shelter, sustenance, good health and a loving family. These are universal expectations and truths that every human being on this planet strives for. We are all connected, like an umbilical cord that has not been severed. Like a mother and baby, we can feed off each other and attain the nourishment of life. The more we feed, the more we grow.
Here’s a surprise: people deal with each other exceptionally well face-to-face. They are too busy scoping out characteristics and admiring the presence of another, hopefully, attractive human being. They are polite and respectful, and desirous of learning and becoming close to the other person. They oft times want to share and travel. They are curious about the wonders of life’s nature and feel comforted when they search out the wonders together. BTW, nature is a prime magnet for discovery. Wonder and discovery brings people together, in such an innocent vein. 
People don't do so good when they are physically detached from each other. There is a massive hole in the relationship. The love and respect core is missing.  

Contra wise, there is a certain thrill upon meeting your virtual friend. It is the last step in the process of coming together, and it is necessary. It is crucial. True, unconditional love cannot flourish unless two bodies meet and merge in a slow and mutual relationship. People can read magical compatibility in the eyes of another. The eyes never lie. Without meeting in the flesh, you are blind and unaware of spiritual truth. “What God has brought together, let no man separate.” That means a physical union, friends. And guess what? Two souls can merge into each other and plug up some very big holes.
My suggestion to all of you on the electronic air waves is to be kind, understanding and tolerant of your friend/friends, even though they might raise the bristles on the back of your neck. If things begin to break down because of suspicion and mistrust, stop right there and discuss the problem honestly and out in the open with gentle, soothing, kind words. Discussion is the triage for minor differences. Or would you prefer a major trauma when things have gotten too far out of hand? The choice is yours.
If you don't confront your differences in good spirits, you might lose the potential love or friend of your life. Try laughter and jokes to salve some of your disagreements. Humor takes the edge off and delivers some needed comedy relief...Or else? Or else you might end up needlessly heartbroken and alone. Learn to forgive and heal. Redemption is a precious commodity that everyone can afford. It costs nothing to put love first over mistrust and negativity. Remember the song: “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”, theme from Blast to the Past.  Yeah, corny.

Live easy and love hard.

Chris, aka Triceratops @ AW

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Take a Ride--Create a Book

A fantasy came out of nowhere and clobbered J.K. Rowling over the head--she'd found her destiny. She took a train ride to discover the idea of Harry Potter; a kid on his way to wizard school. I didn't realize how potent that ride was until I experienced one myself. Here's a short article on what happened to me on a long car ride. 

The Little SF Dystopian that Could and Came out of Nowhere

I'd been a slave to the keyboard and typing chair for six months, having not been out of the house. So I jumped at the chance when my niece, Jamie, ask me to come along for a ride. Driving down a back road with Jamie and her daughter, Fia, on a balmy summer day, we were discussing how low our gas was and if we could make to a town called Fort Payne. Fia was acting up in the back seat, broadcasting 180 decibels from the hole in her face. Jamie reared her head and said, "Shut the hell up, please. Or we'll pawn your azz for gas money at the next pullout, I swear!"

Fia tried, "But I was just--"


I thought about that outburst for a minute. My ears were still ringing. Then it hit me... What if, I mused, that in a distressed (dystopian) society, heads of households were allowed to pawn dependents to a company called Family Trade & Loan for huge cash advances? And what if that dependent was a teenage girl who ended up with a six-month sentence at the Tranquility Harbor Moon base on Luna, assigned to a rough and tumble mining company filled with slobaholic miners?

Wait. What about a Burlesque  in Space? 'Cause maybe she's forced to work as an exotic dancer and given an "Attractapeal" rating for her physical attributes. Oh, gawd, yea. And let's give her a tin number tag and a jumpsuit that identifies her as a Sunshine Class (12 to 18 year-olds) ward.

All this brainstorming materialized in about 20 minutes and all I could hear was white noise in my head--I'd tuned everything else out.


I couldn't get home fast enough to start pounding plastic and scribbling notes. I'd heard plenty about the sex slave market but this would be a sanitized, legal work program sanctioned by the government. What kind of abuses could such a powerful entity inflict upon its slave labor wards? Unlimited, I decided. Because most of the cash advances levied out were screened to force the payment of huge delinquent back-tax settlements.

Out of sight, out of mind, wards wouldn't stand a chance in hell. Let the personal rights and freedoms be damned and trampled.

And that's how it all began for The Girl They Sold to Moon, a young adult dystopian thriller.  The cover art is stunning, filled with glitter and soft hues. It has large font for easy reading.

I think the lesson here is that lightning can strike at the most uneventful and unexpected times. Rides, walks, runs and vacations--they're all ripe for the muse to appear and start the creative dance. Get out and change your scenery. It's good for what ails you if you're blocked. It sure busted me out of a creative freeze.



Monday, September 19, 2016

Romance Blunders

I've been tucked away in the writing cave for the last 79 days, and it was a straight push to the end on a romance novel. Sorry for the long absence. Once you're determined and focused on a new story, you know what happens. Yeah?

A big call out to my super friends and AW, wishing you the best, always. I received great responses when I went into the AW romance forum with my tail between my legs.

I can't give anyone a complete rundown on how to write a romance, whether it's contemporary or genre based. But here's some blunders I hit along the way with my first attempt at this type of book.

Read the romance category or genre--at least a dozen books or more to get a feel for what's been done and what's being written now. It will give you an idea of how to write a character-driven story, rather than a plot-driven book, if you haven't gone the character route. There is a world of difference, except in sub-genres where the plot might be more crucial to drive the story along. It's all about the people, first and foremost folks.

Intimacy is important, including dialogue and inner monologue. This is a love story between any individual types. Let the romance flow, make it touching, meaningful and intense. The characters must be attracted to each, more so as the story unfolds, but not necessarily in the beginning. Inner thoughts and emotional feelings are very important.

Sex scenes, or passionate love-making scenes are not a laundry list of sexual gymnastics: stroking, sucking, fondling, blowing, sticking, juicing, whacking, plunging, licking all those naughty terms, unless you need those graphic examples for a certain emphasis. Use some metaphor to describe emotions and physical contact unless you are seeking a certain heat level where it can demand more explicit descriptions, including erotica. Is it a love tunnel, pussy or vagina? Make up your mind and try and stay within such body part names and tags.

The pace is a little bit more leisurely in a romance, not quite the SF shoot 'em up and let off mass explosions that kill dozens of people, unless there is a very strong sub-genre holding the story up. Some epic (saga) and historical romances might explore the backdrop of a major war or conflict. So that can be perfectly acceptable.

Read the Publisher guidelines. What is the editor and reader fan base looking for? Do you need the female MC at center stage with a full POV? Does the male or other other lover need a POV or not? Are male-centric romance stories okay without a female POV, or should there be a balance of some type? Typical Alpha male or not? Is "nerd" romance acceptible with this publisher? 

These examples were my major stumbling blocks. There are more for sure. Read up on formulaic or category romances and see what the differences are. For instance, the publisher might want an emphasis on men or women in uniform, country folks, military, doctors, cops, cowboys/girls and other specific types.

Are you writing Christian romance which has sweet and behind-the-door sex? Don't send erotica to a publisher who doesn't go for it. 

Happily ever after, unresolved or tragic endings also have a determining factor when selecting a publisher.

Harlequin (a category romance type) has very precise wants and needs, and you must follow those guidelines to break into any of their romance genres or other imprints. 

Live easy, love hard.


With the assistance and help of Christine Lavish


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Publishers in Trouble?

 This has been a very cruel Summer for all writers, and even agents. There has never been so many non-responses, nudges and slow contacts ever. I have talked with and written about this with dozens of other writers. In addition and in a general sense, it seems book sales have plummeted straight across the board. Of course, that depends on a lot of factors. It seems like some of the best brand name independent and medium sized publishers have changed policy, hit a wall or have gone under.

I'm going to welcome your thoughts on this this matter, rather than go off on a tangent and explain what I think is happening.

Give me your thoughts,


Ellora’s Cave (Dissolving--CEO backlash and mismanagement, fairly recent)
Samhein (Went bankrupt--awaiting buyout news, but it’s not happening yet, recent)
Sourcebooks (From un-agent to agent, recent)
Liquid Silver (Spiraled into buyout, neglected royalties--terrible sales from about 2013 on)
Kensington (Cut YA line, but no news on Lyrical doing the same)
Soho (No longer takes un-agented subs)
Spencer Hill (Dead--complaints about no royalty payments, recent)
Arctic Wolf (Dead--my very first indication that something was wrong with the big indies--late 2013. One of my first brand-name favorites)
Avalon (A Super-publisher. Some time ago but this hit me hard--absorbed by Amazon)
Helm Publishing, including Barkley ( Very recent self-destruct)
Juno Books (Dead—huge romance publisher--two years ago, imprint of Pocket Books—additional complaints about editorial staff—I won’t mention names)
Musa (Dead--negative publicity—producing too many books at once—fairly recent). 

Totally Entwined (Finch YA line has been cut, recent).                                                  
Entranced (Sponsored novel contest with decent cash prizes—blew up right afterward)    
Month9 Books (Tanking or tanked, royalty non-payment, staff-bullying)
Vinspire Press (No longer taking un-agented subs, recent)                                                                    
 Booktrop (Dead--very sudden collapse, recent)