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img-hugh Hugh Howey is the author of the award-winning Molly Fyde Saga and the New York Times and USA Today bestselling WOOL series.
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The Shell Collector Ebook Cover For Nook copy

The Shell Collector

He ruined her world. Now she's out to destroy his.

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My first NINC conference. What a brilliant bunch of authors. Thought I’d make some notes and drop some ideas as I have them (so this post will keep updating).

  • Porter Anderson asks a panel of experts if low prices are devaluing books. Can low prices really devalue literature? If so, what about the gift that are public libraries? And another thought: If price can devalue literature, does paying authors miserly royalty rates devalue writers and writing? Why is that never a focus?
  • A BookBub representative says “price is a marketing tool.” I absolutely agree. And I think the consternation about low prices comes from those who see these titles as an intrusion on their own profitability. I don’t see this threat. New authors need to level the playing field and win over their own readership. I think it’s the difference in seeing book-buying as a zero-sum game or an additive game. I subscribe to the latter view.
  • I’m not convinced readers are so homogenous. Some are bargain-shoppers. Some are more prone to experimenting with unknown authors. Some will pay a premium for a known author or a current bestseller. I look at the auto market as an example. Some shoppers are only looking for a used car; some are looking for a new car; some are looking to lease. Confusing these shoppers as the same people is a huge mistake publishers and authors often make.
  • Most animated exchange thus far: A publisher executive in the audience pitches the advantages of working with them, when Brenna Aubrey says “Just get rid of your non-compete clauses.” A representative of that publisher (who is on the panel) says, “We don’t use non-competes.” And then the executive from the same house had to respond: “Actually, we do.” And then: “And it’s for the author’s benefit.” Got a bit raucous.
  • Hypothetical question: If you could place your books in every library in the United States, at zero cost to you, knowing you wouldn’t be paid to be read and would lose some direct sales, would you do it?
  • Watching a room of hundreds of writers lob questions at the Amazon team is immensely informative and entertaining.
  • One writer asks how they can update their series information when part of the series is with a publisher and part is self-published, and the publisher refuses to link the books. Yikes.
  • The greatest benefit to these conferences is realizing you are so much like other authors, that you stress about the same things, go through the same things, and are not alone.

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Whew. As a Simon & Schuster author, I have to say I’m relieved to see how quickly my publisher struck a deal with Amazon. According to several sources, the negotiations took just a few weeks and the agreement was reached with months left on the current contract. It’s a multiple-year deal, and both sides sound pleased with the results. Simon & Schuster retains the rights to set prices, and Amazon retains the ability to discount.

Everyone is speculating on the finer points of the deal and wondering why Hachette can’t come to terms with Amazon. Hints abound. In fact, the terms Amazon is seeking have been staring every self-published author in the face for years. We can even catch glimmers of confirmation in this Simon & Schuster deal.

Engadget reports that Simon & Schuster now has “a financial incentive to drop prices.”

The New York Times quotes S&S as saying that “with some limited exceptions,” the contract gives S&S the ability to dictate prices.

A financial incentive to drop prices. Limits on S&S’s ability to dictate prices. What does this deal entail?

Some commentators are hailing the deal as a return to Agency pricing, but I wonder if these are the same commentators who claim that self-published KDP authors employ Agency pricing?

Guess what? We don’t.

Our agreement with Amazon is something more like Incentivized Agency. If we set our prices between $2.99 and $9.99, we get 70%. If we set our prices outside that range, our split drops to 35%. According to our EULA, Amazon retains the right to discount our ebooks as it sees fit. Continue Reading →

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The latest Author Earnings report is up. This is our first look at the effects of Kindle Unlimited — we’ll be diving in further in coming months. I wish our conclusions could be more . . . conclusive. To me, weighing all the benefits of KDP Select against the minus of exclusivity, my thinking is that KDP Select is great for those starting out and those selling at the very highest levels. For those in the middle, who might be getting traction on other outlets, the increase in sales does not seem to outweigh the percentage of the market given up.

KDP Select is not an all-or-nothing program, of course. Perhaps it is the ideal place to launch a new series or to give underperforming works a boost. Put them in for 90 days or 180 days, and then branch out once they take hold. It could also be that an expanded readership outweighs cold financial calculations for some authors. The best advice may be to experiment.

I’ve been able to experiment with KU without the exclusivity requirement. It’s not a permanent exclusion, and I’ve been leaning toward exclusivity and staying in KU once it expires. I’m now leaning the other way. Even with the potential of All-Star bonuses, I’m not keen on a system that rewards the top and bottom but leaves out the middle. What I’d love to see is for Amazon to drop exclusivity as a goal. They already have (by far) the best marketplace for discovering ebooks and purchasing them. They have the best lineup of devices (having seen the newest e-ink display). They have one of the best upload and stat dashboards (after having revamped the latter).

So why not make KU elective for all authors? Why not set the pay scale by page rather than reward shorter length works? Compete for readers in all the other ways that Amazon excels (customer service, one-click, search, also-boughts, recommendations, reviews, etc.) and let authors publish their works far and wide. I have a feeling most authors would continue to share Amazon links by default. I have a feeling Amazon would be just fine and continue to dominate in this space. And everyone else would be a little better off.

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This one’s for high school students. With a bit of planning, you can reap enormous rewards in mental well-being that will reverberate for decades. The steps are simple:

  1. Purchase a pair of jeans that are three to four sizes too large.
  2. Wear said jeans around school for a few weeks (suspenders may be required).
  3. Upon graduation, pack away said jeans with other mementos (yearbooks, diploma).
  4. Twenty years later — on the verge of turning 40 — rediscover said jeans, try them on, and marvel at the fit!
  5. Brag to spouse.

You’re welcome.

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Just a week after the New York Times called for more balanced coverage of Amazon’s book business, the call seems to have been taken up by those across the media. One piece from Slate hits some great points on why Amazon is actually a force for good. The piece begins by making light of predictions about what Amazon will do with its market dominance at some point down the road. On what Amazon decides to do with its vast earnings, you have this:

Instead of rigging the retail business in its favor by fattening its margins and exploiting its dominant position in a handful of niches, it is so cutthroat that it sometimes appears to be cutting its own throat, as evidenced by the fact that the company loses a boatload of money.


Bezos is, for whatever reason, less interested in goosing Amazon’s stock price than in building new fulfillment centers, investing in new technologies, and doing all kinds of other things that involve more actual engineering than financial engineering.

I love that last bit (emphasis mine). Continue Reading →

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Someone explain this to me:

It’s 1 time out of 100 that I write in public (usually by necessity, not by choice).

It’s 1 time out of 100 that I write a scene that makes me cry (again, no stopping it).

It’s 100 out of 100 times that these two overlap. Why the hell?

I’ve had stewardesses (twice) ask me if I’m okay. Another time in an airport waiting at the gate. And this morning at breakfast (a really nice guy this time, who seemed willing to discuss my problems or give me a lift or whatever I needed).

What’s weird is that I never tell these nice people what I’m doing. People have real problems to cry about, and all I could possibly say is: “Don’t worry. I’m just writing.”

Have you had this experience? I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

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This is some seriously awesome news. Bigger than a print-only publishing deal if you ask me. Barbara Freethy, who is likely the top-selling modern self-published author around, is working with Ingram to have her books distributed to major retailers.

She retains the rights. Ingram makes their wholesale fee. Barbara keeps the rest. Bookstores get more great content. Readers have access to one of today’s hottest selling authors. Everyone wins.

Kudos to Ingram for putting this together. This removes one of the last few barriers for self-published authors, and that’s print distribution to brick and mortar stores. For other bestselling self-published authors, it’ll mean another option other than selling off all rights to a work, since publishers have been loathe to sign more print-only deals. And it should help bookstores, who didn’t have access to some of the bestselling works around (Barbara has written 19 New York Times bestsellers, including titles that hit #1 on the list!)

Congratulations, Barbara! Couldn’t have happened to a nicer or more hardworking person. Check out Barbara’s website here to learn more about her works.

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You want to see progress? Take note that the regular attackers of self-publishing as a career choice have altered their aim and are now just going after those who dare to voice their support of self-publishing. Amazon is their number one target, of course, as the top supporter of the self-publishing path. And anyone who defends Amazon—or who argues that self-publishing is just as viable as (if not superior to) traditional publishing—is also a target.

What you don’t see anymore is anyone daring to argue against the substance of pro self-publishing points. Remember the old attacks and stigmas? They used to be:

1) No one sells books by self-publishing. (Often stated as: The average self-published author only sells X books in their lifetime.)

This is rarely trotted out now that dozens of authors have sold millions of titles, hundreds have sold hundreds of thousands of titles, and thousands of authors have sold many thousands of titles. Do all self-published authors have wild success? Of course not. But only 1% of those who submit to agents get published at all. This is finally sinking in, and enough self-published authors have had enough success to put an end to this canard. Continue Reading →

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A year ago, I wrote a short blog post called It’s the Reader, Stupid, inspired by James Carville’s advice during the 1992 Presidential campaign, when he coined the term “It’s the economy, stupid.” The post was meant to be a reminder to publishers and bookstores that their customer is the reader, not each other.

I think it bears reminding to all of us just who should be in charge of the publishing industry, and that’s the customer.

What got me thinking about this today was a discussion on KBoards about how Amazon’s algorithms and also-boughts work, what gets promoted and what doesn’t, and all the ways that entrepreneurial writers attempt to figure out the market they’re writing for. Here’s my reminder: It’s all about the reader. Continue Reading →

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Bestselling author Paulo Coelho, who has seen how lower prices on his own ebooks have led to higher sales and greater profits, cautioned publishers from Frankfurt this weekend not to be greedy.

He also suggests that lower prices for digital books are good for the industry, that change is inevitable, and a lot else that made a shocking amount of sense.

Bravo, Paulo. Bravo.

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“What is DBW,” you ask?

Digital Book World is an online news source for digital publishing developments. They also put on an annual conference in New York City. For the past couple of years, they have been the go-to source for all your Amazon-bashing needs. Their coverage has been so stilted, that when I noticed a change this week, I had to reach out to a friend and see if someone had called in sick. Indeed, there has been a change at the helm.

This is a most welcome development. Already, the coverage lacks the one-sidedness that plagued DBW in the past. Instead of tuning in every morning to hear what the Amazon Derangement Syndrome crowd thinks, I’m now watching fair and positive coverage of the digital publishing world. It’s a breath of fresh air.

I point this out because I’m not alone in my assessment. Today, I saw comments on a post at The Digital Reader that starts: “Pretty much anything from DBW can be safely ignored.” A reply from Nate, who runs The Digital Reader goes: “No argument here. I was initially going to be much more snarky when commenting on DBW, but then I toned it down.” Comments like these are rife across the publishing landscape. The previous editor had an agenda, and we should celebrate his departure. Continue Reading →

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It’s being reported that Amazon is opening a physical store in Manhattan in time for the holiday season. The company hasn’t confirmed this, but the move has been a long time coming. Once Amazon started paying sales tax in many states, the main disadvantage of a physical store was removed (the physical space would have nulled sales tax exemptions).

I’ve blogged in the past about how physical spaces could benefit the company, from providing an outlet for same-day deliveries to showcasing their electronic devices. It’ll be interesting to see how they treat physical books, if they also highlight the works they publish in-house and maybe even a sampling of print-on-demand titles.

If the store is a success, one imagines it’ll be replicated elsewhere. Any city big enough to warrant an Apple or Microsoft store could use an Amazon store. If the newest Kindle is as sexy as it’s reported to be, the chance to go hands-on could be good for device sales (and then e-book sales). It’s fascinating to me that the same year publishers are making moves to have their own digital storefronts, Amazon might be making its first foray into physical storefronts. Continue Reading →

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