There's been quite the buzz going around. Amazon is announcing changes to the Kindle Direct Publishing program to start next week. They are going to start warning potential buyers of problems and pulling books with errors or if Amazon receives complaints.
This is likely to affect indie authors most. Especially those who don't professionally edit their books before posting them. Amazon has said it will be contacting authors to give them a chance to update and correct their books.
I'm guessing that there are a couple of factors at play here. First, I suspect that Amazon wants to improve the quality of the books they're offering. Too many poorly written, poorly formatted and poorly edited options will drive potential customers away. Second, I suspect they'd like to clear up some digital storage. Third, the ebook market has matured and customers are expecting a more polished experience.
I'm all for improving quality but this still makes me a little nervous. The main concern I'm hearing (and share) is wondering how these rules will be applied. Building an audience as a new author is difficult enough without having availability problems. One of the appeals of indie publishing is the ability to proceed at your own pace. Traditional publishing has a short window of opportunity to generate sales. Will Amazon be expecting us to do the same now?
Amazon has traditionally rewarded authors who published more frequently. If one can put up a new book every 90 days, the visibility is higher. Amazon wanted content to quickly fill their site, an option for every potential reader. Will they start rewarding those who take longer and provide a higher quality product? Hard to say. But this is something that anyone who has a book through Kindle should pay attention to.
Things are going well with Inquisition and I just got my proofreads back for Metamorphosis so there shouldn't be any problem with making my deadline with Amazon, which is a relief.
One thing I've been thinking about lately is my website. I think it's time to update, so I've been looking at options. I'm not a tech person, so it's overwhelming going through a bunch of Wordpress themes and trying to decide which one is best for me.
I've also been doing some serious thought on promotion and what my strategy should be when Metamorphosis comes out. I think it's time to bring in some professionals and get some advice.
Things never quite stand still as an author. There's always something else which needs doing. I've had to stop thinking in terms of projects and think more of terms of a continuous plan.
At least I have the new season of Agent Carter to look forward to. :)
Recently, I was re-reading Naomi Wolf'sThe Beauty Myth, something I do whenever I start to find myself getting too critical of my appearance. One sentence leapt out at me this time, as she lamented that there were no true narratives focused on women's sexual pleasure, no story (or stories) that young girls and young women can use as a model for their own awakenings and enjoyment.
Wait, I thought to myself, what about romance novels? Romance novels do focus on female pleasure and I've noticed more and more hot scenes written from the woman's point of view. There's all kinds of variations, from the shy virgin being awakened to pleasure for the first time to the unshy experienced woman who finds a connection with the man or men of her choice (presumably the woman or women of her choice as well, though that's not a genre I typically read.) Some heroines like sex and are quite happy for more, some have had disappointing experiences, some are shy about their bodies (which come in all shapes and sizes) while some are flaunt-it proud. There is as much variety as one will find in any group of real women.
Perhaps the problem is that it is a fantasy. Life and fiction may bear a resemblance to each other but as the lack of werewolves and superheroes in my life show, they don't quite match up. Except the men's narratives she cites are equally fantasy. Men may frame their own sexuality through letters to Penthouse or Playboy images or a dozen other channels. None of them are realistic depictions of how actual love, sex and connection work. That may be a separate problem but fantasies are effective precisely because they don't come with the messy entanglements of reality.
Maybe she's simply unaware of the breadth and variety in romance novels. The book was written almost 25 years ago, when romance was still very much the dirty little secret in the closet. Intelligent women wouldn't be caught dead reading a romance novel, which was seen as low-brow, poorly written and anti-feminist. We haven't come as far as we might like to think from that viewpoint, but romance has always been a thriving industry, mostly written by women for women. Authors have used romance to explore issues of consent and safety, making the grab for the condom part of the sensual experience. We've shown how asking permission can be incredibly sexy and a turn on, rather than the province of the insecure and ineffective suitor. We've shown that women aren't alone in the fantasies they would rather die than tell anyone else, opening up dialogues about same-sex attraction, bondage, domination and voyeurism. If there is a fantasy which works for a particular woman, she can find others who share it through romance novels. She doesn't have to feel alone and isolated and perhaps most importantly, she can stop feeling ashamed.
There are still gaps to be filled, I'm sure. But with self-publishing, no woman's voice needs to be silenced. The doors are open and waiting. (Finding a market, that's a separate issue, but silence can no longer be imposed.)
I still find The Beauty Myth helpful in reminding me that making me feel bad about myself is a multi-billion dollar industry. But helping me to feel good about myself and having hope that all of my dreams are possible is also a billion dollar industry and I can find it at any local bookstore.
So very close to my goal, but then I ended up having to work late one night instead of having my writing time. I'm still pleased with my general process for Inquisition though.
My IRS challenges continue. I got a notice of rejection for my application for an ITIN. If I've understood the paperwork correctly, they want a letter from Amazon saying that they want me to have an ITIN instead of an EIN. So now I have to figure out who to talk to at Amazon to get such a letter. I'm really frustrated with the continual "here's what you need" followed by "rejected because you don't have <blank>" format of communication. This should not be that difficult.
My line edits for Metamorphosis are done and now I'm waiting for the proofread. I was told that there's a backlog for proofreading, so I'm hoping it doesn't affect my deadline. I keep telling myself that it will all be okay.
I've also had an intriguing thought which may alter how I initially planned out books 4 through 6 of the lalassu. I'm playing around with it to see how it works out on paper but I think it could be quite interesting. It requires some shuffling of my planned heroes and heroines but it could be worth it.
Welcome to the first installment of my look at the heroines which influenced and inspired me (not always in a good way). And I couldn't resist the pun, since a good story is always addictive.
I wanted to start with one of the first stories I ever read by myself: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
It was one of my first chapter books and I devoured it and then sulked because I couldn't go away to school in Victorian England and become a parlor boarder who becomes a scullerymaid who transforms into a wealthy heiress. I wanted a china doll because of Emily (which I got and still sits on my shelf).
Sara enchanted me as a teller and devourer of stories whose imagination never failed to help her escape the worst parts of life. Her gracious manner, no matter how badly she was treated, was something I aspired to. (Turns out I am way too inherently sarcastic.) Like every great fairy tale, Sara's life is plunged into ruin when her father dies and leaves her without a fortune. The cold-hearted proprietress of Sara's boarding school, Miss Minchin, confiscates all her beautiful things and banishes her to the attic, telling her she must now work or be thrown out into the streets. Sara survives through the help of her friends and her ability to find love and connection even with the rats in the walls. She attracts the attention of the Indian Gentleman next door, who undertakes a secret mission to alleviate her suffering, sending his Lascar, Ram Dass, into Sara's attic with food and luxuries. Then it is discovered that the Indian Gentleman was a friend of Sara's father. He has been desperately searching for her to restore her fortune. Sara leaves Miss Minchin's and takes her fellow abused scullerymaid, Becky, with her as an attendant. All is restored to where it should be.
I've heard people criticizing Sara as a heroine. The main issues seem to be twofold. First is a problem with the princess fantasy: that royalty/upper classes are somehow better, that a girl should strive to be demure and polite (to her own detriment) and that having nice things is synonymous with better behaviour. The second issue is that Sara is ultimately passive, a Sleeping Beauty dreaming her way through her difficulties until the prince comes to rescue her.
Let's tackle the problems with princesses first. The book was written in 1888 and definitely has a classist attitude. In fact, it's downright Victorian. Which is not entirely offensive, because Queen Victoria was ruling when it was written. The happy ending consists of everyone returning to the class they originally started with (Sara becomes wealthy again and Becky remains a servant, a happier servant, but still a servant). Sara attracts help from others because they recognize that she is of a higher class. That's a great place to start a discussion about charity and preconceptions with young readers.
Sara is too polite. She's practically an honorary Canadian and could be a citizen if she had opinions on hockey and poutine preparation. She refuses to contradict people. The best example is when she can't find a way to tell Miss Minchin that she doesn't need French lessons because she's already fluent. Instead, she sits and studies a basic primer book. But her politeness isn't from a lack of spunk. Sara has a spine of steel, one that refuses to bend no matter how badly she is treated. Even though her enemies would be nicer to her if they felt they had more power over her, she will not give them the satisfaction. She won't allow her circumstances or those around her to dictate how she will act.
This is one of the reasons why I have trouble seeing Sara as a passive heroine. It's difficult to remember, but her period of servitude starts at age 11 and goes to age 13. She is a child, powerless in an adult world. But she doesn't break, taking power wherever she can, whether it's making friends with a rat and sparrows, offering food to a beggar when she herself is starving and creating a world of imagination to lift her spirits.
I see Sara's story as one of survival. Not all trials can be overcome alone. The challenge then is to find a way to survive with the spirit intact. She faces the death of her father, her poverty, the abuse of her keepers and her isolation with gritted teeth and a fertile mind. She keeps herself whole until she can be found.
I like to think that Sara had a plan. Her intelligence is frequently remarked on and she spends what few free hours she has studying and improving herself. Even in Victorian England, an education is a valuable thing. I like to think that even if the Indian Gentleman hadn't appeared, Sara would have found a way out of Miss Minchin's as a governess or paid companion. It wouldn't have been a glamourous life, but she could have improved her lot and maybe even found love. Maybe she would have ended up running the school, creating a loving and nurturing environment for young girls. More of the pupils liked her than Miss Minchin, as did more of the parents.
We'll never know. Sara did get rescued. And when she's back in her comfortable upper-class existence, she doesn't forget the pain of being hungry and forgotten. The book ends with her making an arrangement with a local baker to give away bread to hungry children, with the bills going to Sara.
Sara cares very deeply about those around her, which is consistent with sensitive and imaginative people. She isn't broken by her hardships, even though it's more than she thinks she can bear. She draws strength from possibilities and potential, spinning a gossamer web of impenetrable protection. That makes her a heroine worth coming back to again and again in my opinion.
Sorry to be a day late but I was focused on getting the line edits for Metamorphosis in. They are in, which means there is the second pass for line edits and the final proofread and then the text is ready to go. I'm getting very excited about finally being able to share this book with everyone. (I figure it's a good sign if I'm still excited at this phase of things.)
I also was spending a lot of time thinking about my blogging for the next year and I'd like to have some more structure, aside from the one weekly update and one other post per week. I was reading Samantha Ellis's How to Be A Heroinewhich is about how the heroines of her youth influenced and taught her and I thought I'd like to try something similar.
Once a month, I'll do a post about a heroine from books, movies and TV series which influenced me. Since I'm planning to start this week, it'll be the second Thursday in each month.
I'd also like to do a craft post at least once per month on techniques for plotting, developing characters or a focus on the business of publishing. That will be the last Thursday of each month.
It's going to be a busy rest of the month with getting Metamorphosis ready and starting to roll forward on Inquisition. It feels really good to be back composing in front of the keyboard.
I'm pleased with how my workshop at ORWA went. People were interested and asked good questions. And we got a great turnout for the January workshop. Next month is a look at the legal issues which authors face. Should be interesting!
I was doing a little review of "stranger-danger" with my kids when I got hit by a little "what am I really teaching them?" moment. Over and over, throughout our lives, we're given the message that we need to be suspicious, that people are only pretending to be nice to us. And I'm not going to advocate a "trust everyone" approach but it occurred to me that too much suspicion is particularly bad for a writer.
Let's start with the big one: plagiarism. It comes in a huge variety of forms, from thinly-veiled rewriting (switching a MF romance to a MM or FF romance, for example) to outright theft where the exact same book is published under someone else's name. We're warned to be careful of requests for review copies or even submitting to editors or beta readers we don't personally know.
The problem with being too suspicious here is the missed opportunities. Launching a book is difficult at the best of times. If someone contacts you with an offer to review your book, then it's important to do the research to make sure it's a legitimate site and that they review the kind of books you write. And yes, you'll discover that some of them will happily take your book and you'll never hear from them again. But some of them won't. Limit your losses as best you can by not sending print books.
This is also an area where a writers' group can be invaluable. It's a resource to cross check anyone you're considering working with. Reviews, editors and beta readers aren't optional. Every writer needs outside opinions to improve their work, particularly if they're self-publishing. (The outside opinion is included in traditional publishing.)
The next biggest issue is piracy and lost sales. There are lots of sites where people can get free books. My husband always had a great argument for those who argue that music piracy or other creative piracy isn't really bad since the distribution companies take so much of the revenue. His response: Maybe so, but I bet the artist could still really use the dime.
Fact of life, once your book is out there, it will probably be copied and end up in the hands of readers who might have otherwise paid for it. However, an important fact to realize is that most of the people who get packages of free books weren't actually going to buy them anyway. You can look at someone who gave away a thousand downloads of your book and mourn those sales, or you can accept that 995 of them would vanish if a price tag was attached.
My view is that piracy is inevitable and while it's important to still fight it, trying to prevent it is like trying to prevent the wind from blowing. It's not worth the inevitably failed effort.
The last issue which usually comes up in the dark warnings is bad PR. Don't comment on anything which might be considered politically sensitive, don't do reviews, don't post anything but kitten pictures, keep your opinions to yourself. The warnings come in infinite forms but they all boil down to: be careful or someone might not like what you're doing and they'll make you pay for it.
Now it's a fact that personal opinions of the artist affect the sales. Michael Jackson disappeared from the radio after he was accused of child molestation, Orson Scott Card's book sales dropped after he publicly admitted he was against gay marriage. It happens and so some effort to be the quietest, cutest, best version of yourself is good.
But writers also have to create a media presence and when was the last time anyone checked on a website because it was inoffensive? People like humour and insight, both of which are likely to provoke some disagreements. Someone can always be offended, perhaps a dog-lover who feels that the kitten photos are getting out of hand. My advice is to think twice before posting anything and never post in anger or drunkenness, but otherwise, trust your personal discretion.
Fear is a tricky thing. The things we're afraid of are inevitably real, even though the odds are in our favour. Finding the fine line between being aware and being trapped is a delicate and ever-shifting balancing act.
Tune in tomorrow to see the first quote card from Metamorphosis.
About half the time I was not able to make my 4000 words per week target, but only 7 weeks with a zero word count, mostly from when I was on an editing kick. That's not bad. It gives me a target to improve upon for 2016.
I'm getting quite excited about my presentation at ORWA on Sunday: how to let your characters speak without saying a word. I hope people enjoy it.
I'll be getting my line edit results next week. There's only six more weeks until Metamorphosis is released, which is tight but should be good. I'll be starting to release quote cards this week again.
I'm looking forward to having the kids back at school next week and getting a little quiet back. Christmas was fun but it's time to get going on Inquisition.