Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Author: Will Entrekin (page 1 of 16)

The Double-Edged Sword of Kindle Select

As discussed a post or so ago, Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited on Friday. $10 per month, “unlimited” access to Kindle books. None of the one-book-at-a-time limit that the Kindle Owners Lending Library had, but it seems I do have to put “Unlimited” in quotation marks because there’s a limit of ten books at a shot. I don’t know how one reaches that limit–if it’s ten books at a one time or ten books in a month’s period. I have a feeling it’s the former, which I guess means you have to remove one from a device to read another?

I’m sure I’ll figure that out this month before my subscription ends. Depending on whether I re-up–and I probably will, because I think I mentioned before I usually drop twenty bucks as soon as I see each month’s new Kindle Monthly Deals.

But I wanted to talk a little more about it from an author/publisher perspective.

I’m both. Reader first, which led me to becoming an author (I had to write the books I wanted to read that didn’t exist yet), which led me to becoming a publisher of both my own books and then other people’s.

If not for Amazon, I wouldn’t be the latter. If the third-generation Kindle hadn’t finally, finally gotten digital reading right, I would have continued on the query carousel. I would have continued to send out both Meets Girl and The Prodigal Hour, hoping for an agent, an editor, a publisher, hoping to sign at the dotted line so that one day my book would be on a shelf at a Barnes & Noble. I don’t know that it would have happened. Toward the end there, I got a lot of rejections along the lines of “The writing is good and the story is well told, but the market is just too tough right now.” Particularly with regard to The Prodigal Hour (“Time travel is a difficult market,” said nearly every query response I received).

But then in 2010 I started reading using the Kindle app, and then bought a Kindle just as I was completing Meets Girl, and I looked at it and I thought: I can do this.

And I did.

And not long after I did, Amazon announced the addition of Kindle Select to the KDP Platform. Authors could offer their books for free, if they wanted, for just a few days out of 90, but it could lead to a nice sales boost, and the books could be part of the Kindle Owners Lending Library–

If you made the book exclusive to Kindle.

If you decided you’d sell your title through Amazon–and only Amazon–for 90 days.

And there’s the rub.

One of the great things about digital is how fast it makes things. Not long ago, Nick Earls and I decided to update his novel Tumble Turns. I wanted to put it on sale and give it a new, better cover. I sent him a handful of images, and as soon as he chose one, in a matter of a few hours I’d created a new cover and uploaded it. That’s how fast this all is.

As fast as digital speeds, the internet grows, “viral” becomes digidemic, 90 days’ worth of exclusivity feels like a long time indeed. That’s 90 days when if someone refuses to use Amazon for whatever reason, they can’t get your book. And 90 days when, if someone wants to read your book on an iPad or Kobo or Nook, they have to buy it from Amazon, use third-party software to convert it to an ePub (if it’s published without DRM), and then sideload it onto their reader–and not everyone knows how to do that.

More so, it’s 90 days when you’re not contributing to the growth of the digital ecosystem, of which Amazon is merely one part. Apple could make iBooks great. Barnes & Noble could finally figure out what the heck it wants to do with Nook. Smashwords could decide to redo its website to become a robust marketplace itself (its strength seems to be as an aggregator/distrubutor–which it’s really good at–and not a retailer itself).

But the thing is, those are all things that could happen–not things that have already. iBooks is fine, but it’s limited to Apple devices, of which there may be, like, a billion or so, but on how many is it actually installed? (I hold out hope that September will bring not only new iDevices, but improvements that make iBooks truly great.) Barnes & Noble hasn’t seemed to have a Nook strategy since it first launched the Nook Color, but I don’t envy its position, trying to innovate digitally while still keeping corporate publishers happy with their stores.

And in the meantime those things could happen, Amazon is already pretty much without peer in terms of the services it provides. Look at its customer experience index–that’s a measure of how satisfied its customers are, and this year it earned the top spot, according to Forrester Research’s survey of 7500 consumers, and specifically as a consumer electronics manufacturer for its Kindle (emphasis mine).

Is it really so bad to be exclusive to the number one customer experience in the US?

My feeling is it’s not. My feeling is that Amazon has created the number one customer experience and that’s one that it’s good to be a part of, and further that you know, for 90 days, why not give it a shot to see if it works?

My further feeling is that when authors sign contracts with corporate publishers, they basically agree to go exclusive with those publishers for the life of a copyright, which includes all the time up to authors’ deaths and then 70 years beyond, and surely 90 days worth of exclusivity to Amazon is pretty much nothing compared to that.

Mainly my feeling is that authors need to try things out and see what works. They need to explore options open to them (and it’s great when all are, but that’s not always the case). They need to decide what they want, what their goals are, and try to figure out how different tools and strategies and tactics might help them achieve those goals.

One of the things that Nick Earls has said to me he likes about how we work together is that we can try new things immediately, that we can be agile and flexible. To that end, I’m pleased to announce that Exciting Press is participating in Kindle Unlimited, if on a limited basis. You’ll find my novel, Meets Girl, which was available for a long while on the iBookstore but never really sold much there. You’ll also find several books by Nick, including the aforementioned Tumble Turns. We still have a dozen or so titles on the iBookstore (several free, so be sure to check those out), and we’ll also continue to explore new options as they make sense (so I don’t know if we’ll ever be on Nook again. When I see B&N has some strategy for it, I’ll consider it).

What’s So Interesting About Kindle Unlimited?

Big news today: Kindle Unlimited.

Ten bucks per month for unlimited access to any Kindle book in the program, on any device.

Who’s got two thumbs and started his free trial within ten minutes of the announcement? Yeah, this guy.

Let’s be honest: from a reader perspective, this is awesome. Ten bucks per month? Hell, I’m lucky if I don’t spend three or four times that every first of every month on the Kindle Monthly Deals.

From an author perspective? A publishing perspective?

Look, I’ll be candid: of that I’m not sure yet. For quite a while, Exciting Press titles were in Kindle Direct Publishing Select. They were exclusive to Kindle, could only be bought from Amazon. We publish without DRM — always have and always will — so readers could convert their books for whatever device they were using, but let’s be honest there and note how tedious that is (if you even know how to do it in the first place, which a lot of readers may not). But if I may be further honest here I would argue that Amazon’s gained dominance in the ebook marketplace simply because its experience is so superior for readers, and I think that makes a difference.

According to my KDP page, by enrolling in KDP Select, my books can be part of Kindle Unlimited. And when a reader reads 10% of my book, I’d get paid. It’s not clear how much, but my guess is that, as with the Kindle Owners Lending Library, authors get an equal share of a fund dedicated to all participants eligible to get paid.

Is that more or less than I get from the 70% I get now? I’ve no idea. It may be less per book but ultimately more overall, depending on the success of the program and my hypothetical book’s performance within it.

I’m not here to tell you it’s awesome or terrible. It may be both, depending on your perspective. Who knows? Arguably nobody writing about it today, or yesterday, or the day before.

But I did want to highlight why I think it’s interesting. Because every article I’ve seen about the idea in general– that of streaming ebooks, basically–compares it to Netflix. The shorthand is it’s “the Netflix of ebooks.” It’s “Spotify for stories.”

What I think is interesting, though, is it seems like it’s precisely the opposite.

Netflix? Spotify? They worked with studios and labels to get the content their platform would use. Which I think prompts a question, and maybe a couple: How much do the artists get paid? How much do the labels get paid?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I’ve heard that it’s a low number–for some reason, 11 cents sticks out in my head. But I may have just made that up.

Point is, though, in the case of Spotify, authors make their royalties based on their agreements with their labels — whom Spotify pays.

You probably see where I’m going with this.

What’s brilliant about the way Amazon did this is they didn’t have to talk to anyone beforehand. They didn’t have to go to the corporate publishers. They spent years building this awesome digital reading platform, and then they spent more years attracting some terrific authors, and offering incentives to those authors to go all-in with them. “Let us be the only place people can buy your ebooks,” they said, “And we’ll make it worth your while. We’ll give you free promotions. Countdown deals. We’ll let people borrow your book.”

“We’ll make you part of Kindle Unlimited.”

For authors who are already in KDP Select, they are automatically pulled in to Kindle Unlimited. I’ve already heard people complain about the opt-out versus opt-in system (I think it was more efficient than anything else. They were authors who were already exclusive. Now they get access to this really cool program a ton of readers are going to sign up for).

Now, I don’t know for sure they didn’t talk to the corporate publishers, but I do know they didn’t launch with any.

That’s huge.

This is the number one online retailer of both print and ebooks. Amazon accounts for at least 60% of the market, and I’d posit that’s a gross underestimation there. They built the best digital book experience — from shopping for them to reading them — from the ground up, and when it came time to offer its customers a method by which they could spend $10 per month for unlimited access to ebooks, they did so without having corporate publishers’ titles in their libraries.

This may just be the largest endorsement of independent authors and their work . . . pretty much ever.

Those 600,000 books? There are some from publishers, small and somewhat larger alike. Open Road Media is there with some Michael Chabon titles. There are a few other big names from popular presses. But the vast majority of them are by independent authors. There are 55,000 books in fantasy and science fiction alone, and most of those titles appear to be independent.

Amazon believed strongly enough in the quality of all that work to launch Kindle Unlimited without the support of a single corporate publisher. And it didn’t just believe, mind you; it likely has all the data it could possibly want to bear out that this was a good move for them.

#venisonburgers and #shocktopbeer Happy Independence Day…

#venisonburgers and #shocktopbeer Happy Independence Day everyone!

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Martin Lastrapes & Signal over Noise

Not long ago, an author with whom I work via Exciting Press, Martin Lastrapes, asked me if I’d participate in a blog tour for him. I first encountered Martin several years ago when he wrote a post about being independent and what it meant for him and his passion for both telling stories and getting them out there.

When I was in my early to mid-twenties, I used to go to bars to see my buddies play in a band which went through several line ups and iterations. In those bars, I often felt like a lot of those aspiring bands attempted to use volume to make up for their lack of talent. I feel the same way about a lot of the current writing/publishing scene lately, which is why I’m so happy to work with Martin–dude’s got chops. I don’t know what sales of his novels are like, but I know his debut, Inside the Outside, is among the best I’ve read. It’s just so creepy and surreal and so utterly matter-of-fact about both. I can’t imagine anyone else who could make a lesbian’s escape from an incestuous, cannibalistic religious cult seem un-extraordinary, and that’s the highest praise I can offer.

I know what sales of his short stories are like, because those I’ve worked with him to publish. Healthy, certainly, but short stories are still a difficult thing to market.

What we share in common is the idealistic hope that, ultimately, quality will bear out. That things like “building a platform” and etc. are all just noise when what we really need is writers who produce a signal.

So this is his blog tour, I think. I haven’t blogged much lately. Sometimes I think about it, but there’s always something else to write or publish. I might not have blogged much in the past year, but I’ve published like a dozen books, and they’re all amazing.

That’s actually the answer to the first question (there are four).

What am I working on now?

Exciting Press. Independent digital literature. Sure, I’ve got half a dozen works in progress, including two or three novels, a non-fiction piece, a couple of scripts, and several short stories. My ideas aren’t going anywhere, though, and for now what feels vital to me, what feels important, is what I’m making possible. I’ve written two novels I’m damned proud of, both of which have been received positively and one of which was, for a brief and shining moment, the most popular ebook in the world.

And that’s why I’ve wanted to focus on Exciting Press. That’s why I wanted to focus on the amazing authors who’ve given me a chance to produce their stories as ebooks. That’s why I wanted to break publishing, once and for all, by totally up-ending How Things Are Done. That’s why I’m using a limited-term license (7 years) and offering my authors 70% of everything that comes in.

In a time when corporations think that 25% royalties is fair, I want to be the signal demonstrating it’s not.

To that end, I’m working on the final installment of Nick Earls’ new Brisbane Rewound trilogy, Bachelor Kisses. I’m also working on a couple of other novels from some other authors I’ve signed, but Nick’s latest novel The Fix was just published by Amazon, so it’s in front of me.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

To be honest, I don’t even know what this question means anymore. Genre is really just readers’ way of sifting through books on the Kindle bestseller lists. I don’t really write to genre: I write to story. I want to write the most exciting and visceral stories I can manage, and I usually want to subvert any genre they’d ostensibly be part of. My first novel, Meets Girl is sort of an urban fantasy, but really it’s a debut literary novel that in addition functions as a satire of debut literary novels.

My time travel novel probably bears the influences of Michael Crichton and Dean Koontz more than anyone.

Like I said, I work backwards. I just have the story, and I want to tell it as excitingly and realistically as I possibly can. I really don’t think about genre until I go to Amazon to click ‘Publish.’

Why do I write what I do?

Because nobody else has. If the books I wanted to read existed, I wouldn’t have to write them.

How does my writing process work?

One word at a time.

That’s it from me. Go check out Martin Lastrapes. And PS, it’s Lastrapps, in case you thought it was Lastrayps, as I did.

And PPS, sorry this was a day later, Martin.

What Getting An MFA In Fiction Meant To Me

What Getting An MFA In Fiction Meant To Me:

Alexander Chee with a great essay on getting an MFA.

I went to USC to study fiction—and hoping for a book deal with a major publisher. Rather than getting one, I got started on the path to—hopefully—ultimately becoming one. I also became a better writer.

I don’t think workshops produce the same sorts of fiction; I think a lot of writers read the same sorts of books and writers, and that bears out. I think the more widely an author reads, the more likely their will be more breadth and depth in their fiction.

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Seduce the Whole World: Gordon Lish’s Workshop : The New Yorker

Seduce the Whole World: Gordon Lish’s Workshop : The New Yorker:

Wow. The New Yorker pretty much bringing Lish down. I’ve always been kinda meh about Lish. I’d heard great things about him, but then I read—also in The New Yorker—Raymond Carver’s original “The Beginners” story, which Lish edited into “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” and it really wasn’t all that *better*. Different, sure, but better? Not so much.

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Why Traditional Publishers Should Surrender To Self Publishing | Eoin Purcell’s Blog

Why Traditional Publishers Should Surrender To Self Publishing | Eoin Purcell’s Blog:

This is great. “The ‘self-publishing’ war wasn’t and isn’t real.” So true. This is a revolution of technology and information, and what we’re seeing is several large corporations struggling to keep up with early adopters and innovators who are outpacing them, pound-for-pound.

Agents (and managers and financial/legal consultants) aren’t unnecessary. Editors will always be invaluable. Designers will always be imperative.

In the end, though, it all comes down to the idea that the only thing absolutely essential between writers and readers is stories, and anything that tries to add friction to that is in trouble.

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The changes I mentioned to Raven Noir were the least of a reorganization I’m in the middle of. You can find all our Amazon titles right here.

In fact, I’m in the middle of a reorganization of my whole life. In my day job, I’m performing the same function but moving around within my department. At home, I’m trying to get things organized and packed away, trying to get things in order.

And with Exciting Press, I’m trying to create a bold new strategy that will mean more readers will find great books.

I’m converting a bunch of books from print to digital. Two novels by Nick Earls, another by Kurt Wenzel, several others besides by James Brown. It’s not an easy conversion process; I have the right hardware and software, but scanning a print book doesn’t just give you the words in a neat manuscript; it gives you new pages and sections and some elements drop off, which means I have to go back over everything to ensure it’s correct.

It’s slow going, unfortunately. But it goes nonetheless.

That’ll mean Exciting Press will have at least three new novels this year, plus some other work. New titles.

New prices.

I’d been operating Exciting Press as a start-up, with new-to-everyone authors. I was also looking at it as a reader, first. Whom did I want to read?

How much did I want to pay?

Me, I notice more and more than I’m less likely to simply pick up free and inexpensive ebooks than I used to be. I still get newsletters every day with new Kindle deals, but I might pick up one or two per week; rarely do I buy more. I also thought that $4.99 was the upper limit of how much I’d want to pay for an ebook, but I’m realizing that’s not the case–lately I’ve been going as high as $6.99. That feels like a mass market paperback price to me, and especially when there are complementary titles, I’m happy to explore. Just the other day I picked up two books, one of which was a sequel to the other; the first was 99c, while the second was $5.99. Two books for $3.50-ish each total?

A lot of indie authors go with the $2.99 price point, or even 99c (or free). Some argue it “devalues” writing–I’m not one of those. I’m not sure I believe in inherent value; value isn’t what something’s worth so much as what the market is willing to pay. And I think the market is willing to pay more. I’d based pricing at $4.99 on Apple; the iPad is priced at $499, which clocks it in at just under $500, which is a psychological barrier. I think I was mistaken in doing so, because I don’t think $5 is the psychological barrier $500 is.

We’re also moving away from free promotions as we move away from Kindle exclusivity. There are so many iPads and iPhones out there it makes much more sense to address both platforms.

Here a lot of people cry foul that there are many more platforms, and what about those readers, and here I say, look, I’m a nano-press; I can’t please everyone all the time. I can try my best to offer the best services I can. To readers and authors alike.

Last year, we had set it up so that, every day, Exciting Press offered a free title.

This year, we’re setting a few particular titles to permanently free status for iOS. We’re going to hope Amazon matches that price. They do so at their discretion, so I’m not counting on it, but I think it’s a fair compromise.

We’re also moving away from 99c. From now on, we’re not publishing indivdual stories for 99c. Instead, we’re packing three (or more) stories together and pricing them at $2.99. It just about evens out, and it means we make more per story even while we can still offer some titles completely free.

That, too, I think is a fair compromise.

We’re going to be pricing this year’s new novels at $5.99. Given the time and effort that’s gone into creating them. We’re going to see how that works out, and go along accordingly.

We hope you’re going to continue to find new books and read new authors. It’s been a great ride so far, and it’s only getting more exciting.

Raven Noir Available Again


Several years ago, I first published Jamais Plus, a collection of two short stories–one of them interactive–that focus on an investigation into the death of Edgar Allan Poe. The book was the first I used in joining Amazon’s KDP Select program–my first time going all-in, and exclusive, with Amazon. The first story of the collection uses the html coding to make the ebook interactive, such that readers can, at certain points in the story, choose one action or another to progress–which makes the structure very much akin to the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books so many readers, including myself, loved as children.

Turns out, enough readers loved those books that the actual phrase Choose Your Own Adventure is trademarked, and registered to a Vermont company called ChooseCo. ChooseCo was founded by a guy named Raymond Montgomery, who was one of the original writers of the series. Apparently, the original series started in the early seventies, when a guy named Edward Packard had the idea to personalize stories for his children. He started it as “Adventures for You,” and brought on several writers, including Montgomery. When the series gained popularity, Bantam books bought it and rebranded it as “Choose Your Own Adventure,” which is the phrase we all know and remember, and the one Bantam trademarked.

Random House bought Bantam sometime later, and eventually let the trademark lapse, at which point Montgomery founded ChooseCo and registered the trademark for the company, and has been republishing those beloved stories for Kindle. Packard, meanwhile, uses the phrase “U-Ventures,” and looks to be affiliated with Simon & Schuster.

At least, I think that’s how it shook out. That’s the story as I’ve been able to determine it over the past week. Why have I been trying to figure it out, you ask?

Because last week, I got an email from Kindle that Raven Noir could no longer be sold as such, due to a complaint from a rights holder. I was surprised, because I endeavored to ensure that everything appropriated was public domain. The story is sort of fan fiction, really, featuring Poe’s fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin (and one of the stories features Charles Dickens), but it’s not like Dupin’s under copyright.

No, the problem was that, in trying to help fans of that genre of story find mine, I’d subtitled “Raven Noir” as a “Choose Your Own Investigation of the . . .”

And ChooseCo cried foul. They had a trademark to protect.

Everyone was very accommodating. I wrote to ChooseCo and talked to two of their associates, and in the end simply had to remove the “Choose Your Own” words from the title, description, and meta-data. Done and done.

Just got word that the book is now live again. You can find it right here.

I like the story. It’s the first fiction I wrote in the graduate program where I studied writing, and I think it’s an interesting demonstration of how feedback can so markedly change a story’s execution. The first version was a lark, snappy and brisk, while the second was darker and more somber, perhaps more complex, too. And regardless of whether the story or characters are complex, the structure now is, considering that it’s coded that way.

I rather like that the mixed review the story has notes you can tell there are two authors, and posits the “original Edgar Allen [sic] Poe story,” given that I wrote both. I’ve sometimes feared my writing voice gets so strong you can tell it’s me, but I suppose not so much. That’s sort of fun.

I think the story is, too. I hope you’ll give it a try, if you haven’t already.



Independent Editing

Growing up, I was always a huge fan of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Michael Crichton–as authors went, those guys wrote the books and had the careers I wanted. Later, that list grew to include Neil Gaiman and myriad others. By then I’d grown serious about wanting to be a writer–even if I wasn’t yet serious about writing itself–and I’d begun to learn more about publishing. I’d begun to pick up writing magazines like Digests and Journals, and by the time I was a freshman in college I’d started submitting queries to literary agents. I didn’t know much about what publishing meant or what a contract might be, but I understood that, at least at that time, getting an agent was the first step in a long process that would hopefully ultimately culminate in a “very nice” publication contract, which means one for go-jillions of moneys.

Interestingly, as digital publishing has become a force of disruption, a lot of that is no longer true. If you want to get a book to readers, you can now, at least digitally, go through Amazon and Apple and Kobo to deliver ebooks to their stores. For that, you no longer need an agent. You no longer need a publisher, whether a huge corporation or a smaller press–you can do it yourself. Provided, if you want to get your book on shelves in a bookstore, you do for the most part still need to get an agent who will submit your manuscript to publishers, but at this point, it’s almost smarter to go to Amazon and Apple and Kobo and everyone else first. By publishing independently and getting books out there, you start to build a reputation (a name, a “platform,” a “brand”), and while the reputation you build may or may not lead to the sort of arrangement that gets your print books to bookstore shelves, who knows if that’s necessary?

The interesting thing to me is that the single most important element of publishing, whether with a corporation or on your own, remains, even if it’s the single element some people never even really consider, and one of which I wasn’t even aware until I started putting together a collection.

I’m talking about editing. And I wondered today if editing is going to change as much as publishing has–and if that may be one of the best aspects of all.

Let’s be honest: there are a few examples of editorial relationships that have become almost mythical. The most major is F. Scott Fitzgerald and Maxwell Perkins, which was perhaps a fine a partnership as could be, and which produced The Great Gatsby from Trimalchio in West Egg. There’s also Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish, which you can read more about here, at the New Yorker, as it discusses how Lish made “Beginners” into “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

It’s certainly a better title. Better story? Unsure. What’s “better” mean? Is there such a thing?

That’s digression.

Editing is a nuanced beast. I used to be an editor, of two clinical nursing journals, and I totally sucked at it. My red pen was heavier than the stock on which the journals were printed. I changed authors’ words without regard to their voice, always confident that, regardless of what they were trying to say, I could make it better. I think, for a long time, too, my lack of skill at editing made me think it wasn’t as necessary as it certainly is.

And then I realized, when I went to USC, that besides wanting to get published I could be a better writer.

When I published a collection of stories, essays, and poetry back in early 2007, I asked one of my classmates to look it over, in exchange for dinner and drinks. She agreed, and gave me some great notes on how to improve the collection. I sheepishly admit I didn’t take all her changes, but the changes I did make made the work better. If I’d been less insecure at the time, I might have realized that.

That same classmate–who’d since become my friend, and then my fiancee, and who is now my wife–edited Meets Girl, nearly four years later. By then we were living together, and I’d just gotten a Kindle and realized I could make this digital thing work, as I knew a little about html and coding. So she did, and there I took all her advice, and Meets Girl is way better for it.

Along the way, I’ve actually become better, myself, at editing, though I don’t edit my own work. I mean, I read over it and polish it as much as I can, but in the end I agree with the general sentiment that we writers are too close to our own work to effectively either see its flaws or understand how improve them. I’ve worked with a few of the authors Exciting has signed, and in so doing have preserved their voices and helped them make their books fulfill their vision, and I think that’s way more important than making them “better.”

Corporate publishers and those associated with them often claim the books produced by their process are better. They are the keepers of the gate through which they will not allow riffraff to pass, after all, and they claim that the work they do is essential to “literature” or “culture” or just making the reading experience as good as it can possibly be.

I don’t think they are. I don’t think corporations or agents are really necessary.

I think editors are, and sometimes I think the best editors are no longer tied up in that system.

We’ve all heard horror stories about that system. The author whose book is acquired by one editor who leaves for a different publisher just a couple months later, so the book gets passed on to another editor–and oftentimes these editors don’t actually do the hands-on work. I worked with a managing editor on those journals, and that editor often lamented to me that the time she got to spend actually editing had decreased as years had passed. A lot of editors at corporations are too busy attending meetings with marketing and promotions and managing profits and loss sheets to actually spend their time with the words. Not all, mind you, but a lot. And when that happens, they delegate the editing itself to their assistant, or maybe give the new intern a chance, or frequently they have a roster of freelance editors they use fairly often and they send the manuscript to them.

As publishing companies have incorporated and then become parts of conglomerates, their focus on great writing has declined while their focus on profits, revenue, and the bottom line has increased. That’s just the nature of operating businesses like they are.

What that yields, though, is an opportunity for authors and editors alike: independent editing. Independent authors need independent editors. Maybe even the same independent editors who make up that roster of freelance editors I just mentioned. Maybe that’s a great development, too, because maybe an author has a better chance of developing the sort of relationship that makes Trimalchio in West Egg into The Great Gatsby with an independent, freelance editor.

Why Does Independence Become Different in Publishing?

The other day, I caught a post by Natalie Whipple: “A Formal Apology to All Self-Published Authors, and her post and apology are so sincere I forgive not only her behaviors in general but even her use of “self-published.” I’m a Taurus very often so set in my ways as to be frustratingly so–just ask my wife–so I know how difficult it can be to not only publicly admit you’re wrong but to do so after reversing on an opinion. It seems that Whipple was set in a mindset too common among the corporate publishing industry–that being an indie author is somehow lesser. That the only real point of uploading a novel to Kindle Direct Publishing is to hope that one day it might gain you the attention of a corporate publisher who might offer you a real, live deal and make yours a real, live book–even one that’s got no pages.

I complimented Natalie’s post via Twitter. I’m glad she came around.

I wish others would.

She mentions that she understands why indie authors might feel a bit defensive. Me, I’m not sure “a bit” covers it. It sucks to be defensive, but what sucks worse is what Natalie is apologizing for, which is engaging in behaviors and possessing attitudes that are, unfortunately, not uncommon in the corporate publishing world.

It seems odd, because the beliefs about indie publishing or “self-publishing” held by the publishing industry is so different from those held by other industries. Musicians who press a few hundred copies of their CDs to sell out of their trunks while they play dark bars for a cut of the door and all the merch fees are seen as hardworking and paying their dues. Sure, many do so in the hope of being discovered by some attending A&R guy, but many more just keep writing new songs, cutting new tracks, selling new CDs and tee shirts.

The musicians who “made” it? Who signed up with labels and got big advances and huge tour budgets? Their managers? Their accountants?

They don’t tend to look down on that first group. Oftentimes they remember that they were there, too, once upon a time. Sometimes they even respect that first group more, making the music they love, damn the “man” and the industry and the label.

I’m thinking of films, too. We know the Hollywood industry. We hear so much about the suits and their notes to directors. But we also hear about the films made outside that studio system. The low-budget or no-budget flicks that play to smaller audiences in a handful of theaters. The ones that squeak their budgets back (sometimes barely).

Directors and casting agents and talent managers don’t look down on those flicks. They don’t think those movies are worth less than the ones with big-name stars and huge budgets. And, in fact, those studio movies with big stars and giant budgets often compete against those tiny movies when it comes to awards seasons. Alternate means of distributions and release are adopted and embraced with terrific frequency; just consider that Netflix’s House of Cards is already competing for Golden Globe awards against shows that have appeared on television.

Maybe it’s really just a matter of time. Maybe indie publishing will become something that everyone has done, at some point, and will stop being regarded as the bastard stepchild of publishing. It’s nice that the major awards are already open to them; the Pulitzer committee doesn’t care who published a book, and the National Book Critics Circle already recognized Dave Eggers for one of his novels (published by McSweeney’s, a company Eggers founded and runs. Indie publishing at its best). Sometimes I have the feeling that major media’s books and reviews sections will die long before they start covering indie titles, but then, maybe reviews are moving away from periodicals anyway. The mostly highly regarded among them, the New York Times, cited an indie non-fiction book as one of its best last year, which is definite progress. I don’t even remember if they noted that it was “self-published,” and that’ll be the most progress of all. And maybe the “self-publishing success stories” the media reports will expand to cover not just the authors who sold a bunch of books and signed with a corporation, but other stories and other successes, as well.

I’d like to see more authors, agents, and editors read Whipple’s post. Maybe it won’t change their minds completely, but at least it furthers the progress.

And Natalie, if you read this, I can’t speak for all indie authors, but I forgive you and wish you the best with your own novel, and I thank you for being so candid and sincere.

Somebody Put Me in Charge

Via the amazing iOS app Zite, I caught this post from Hugh Howey yesterday, about what Howey would do if he took over a publishing company (in this case, Harper Collins).

I love that authors are thinking this way now. Just a few short years ago, the prevailing wisdom was for authors to sit quietly in the corner while the grown-ups did the grown-up work of publishing. Marketing campaigns and career strategies and pricing and . . .

Hush now, they told us. We’ll worry about those things. You worry about your art.

This has never been less possible than it is now, and more authors know that, and that’s a great thing.

The tone of Hugh’s post is tongue in cheek even as he makes some insightful points about what a publishing company needs to do nowadays.

The main thing I liked about the post? Many of them are things I’m doing via Exciting Press, so it’s nice to think that I’m on the right track here, and that this model I’m using and building seems to make sense. This strategy I’ve carefully planned in my head over the past couple of years? Seems like some really smart authors who are very aware of what they’re doing and very knowledgeable about their business agree that this is the sort of strategy that could work.

Hugh’s first two points regard building a community and spending time in “self-publishing” forums, particularly KBoards are ones I haven’t dedicated much time to yet, though Hugh seems to think they’re most important, but there are two reasons I haven’t done so, and they’re both related:

1) One can’t simply “build a community”–a community forms around something, and that something must be present, first. Hugh built a community of readers around the first installments of Wool; that’s a powerful thing.

2) Marketing to other authors is only so effective. This is something I’ve noticed a lot about the indie community; there are a lot of authors talking to each other, which is amazing, but there are also a lot of authors who, amid talking to each other, are also talking at potential readers and pitching to the internet in general. Yes, authors are often among the most voracious of readers, and yes, it’s great to support each other, but I think it can become a bit of a feedback chamber at times.

I’m not going to address Hugh’s points regarding print books and formats, as I’ve focused Exciting Press elsewhere. I don’t read print anymore. I’m not interested in the print versus digital debate anymore because for me, it’s moot; when I buy physical books to purchase anymore, it’s to get them signed and put them on my bookcase. When I want to read, I break out my iPad. When someone asks me about reading something, I go out of my way to ensure I can read it digitally.

I was thrilled to see Hugh mention finite licenses, which is basically the foundation of Exciting Press. I built a publishing company as an author, so I wanted to make it the best I could for authors. A couple of my own books are on our list, and so, when I was deciding how our business model worked and what our agreements should look like, I wondered what sort of agreement I’d want to see as an author, and I built it from there. Limited licenses, higher royalties for authors–that’s what it comes down to. No advances against royalties–if Exciting Press had the capital to do so, we’d offer signing bonuses instead. No more of this “Here’s $5000 payable in 11 installments which we’ll invoice your royalties against.” Makes no sense. I’d like to eventually offer modest signing bonuses, but what I’m most concerned about is that authors start making money from the first sale, which comes as soon as it can (as Hugh notes, no staggered releases. Exciting Press is putting out titles as fast as I can prepare them).

The funny thing is that Hugh titled his post “Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge,” but the great thing is nobody needs to anymore. We are in charge. Just a little while before the post in question, Hugh predicted that big corporate houses would start trying to make their books look independent, but I think this one hits at a more powerful truth; the big corporate houses are going to have to start operating more independently and using more author-friendly models.

Via The Passive Voice, which focuses on interesting articles related to publishing, I just saw this one, at Kirkus, in which Bob Mayer argues that to “self”-publish, you need a team. I love that Bob used quotes there, given my feelings for “self-publishing” and my desire for people to stop calling independence that, but I’m also intrigued by Bob’s suggestion that authors need teams, and even teams who have vested interest in authors’ work. It sounds a lot like what a publisher does, but I think it’s more complicated than that. I think it’s more about hybrid publishing.

I’m coining that term to describe a new sort of publisher. There’s been talk of “hybrid authors” for a while; Chuck Wendig suggests a definition here:

The hybrid author merely looks at all the publishing options available to her. She is told she is supposed to check one box and move on — “Stay within the clearly-marked margins,” they warn. “Check your box, choose your path, then shut the door gently behind you.” But the hybrid author checks many, even all the boxes. The hybrid author refuses to walk one path, instead leaping gaily from path to path, gamboling about like some kind of jester-imp. She says no to coloring within the lines of a traditionally-published or a self-published drawing.

She opens all the doors. She closes none of them.

“Do one thing?” she scoffs. “Do all the things!”

This hybrid state is, likely, the best possible scenario of all possible scenarios. It’s the “I’m going to publish some of my own short stories and novellas and maybe a niche title or two, but here I have these other novels that Simon & Schuster wants to publish in print to deliver to bookstores, so I’m going to let them” scenario. I think, by Chuck’s definition (and there may be others), Hugh Howey is probably a hybrid author. I think Chuck is, himself, in fact; he’s published stuff like an awesome short story collection via Kindle Direct Publishing, sold a whole series to Amazon, and has an entirely separate series with Angry Robot Press. He flits about with unsurprising agility–he’s a good writer with good stories, and he’s smart to boot. Moreover, he refuses to stick to one, safe thing; he reminds me of Neil Gaiman that way.

As I note here, the problem with the scenario is that “get an agent and a publishing contract” is not, in general, a box authors can simply check. One can hope to eventually check that box, but it’s a box that has to be offered.

Independently publishing is a choice. Corporate publishing isn’t, really. You can pursue it. You can make choices along the way; you can choose to submit queries to agents, but ultimately you can’t choose to have an agent. That choice is most often left to agents.

I’m pleased to see this is becoming less true. I’m seeing more and more authors whose agents came to them–I think Howey is one of them. I’m seeing more authors get approached by corporations. This is a good thing, and it means authors will have more power, overall, but it’s something that’s occurring slowly.

Point is, independent publishing is a button an author can push. Publishing with a corporation isn’t.

But I digress. I want to talk about what I see as hybrid publishing, and hybrid publishers.

There are benefits to independent publishing: rights and control remain with authors. That’s pretty huge. On the other hand, that means all the responsibility remains with authors, too, as do costs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can easily get expensive, and it can easily go awry. Cover design isn’t inexpensive, for example, and while authors can do it themselves, most often, at least at first, it’s best left to professionals. From personal experience: I didn’t outsource cover design to begin with, and my first cover for my debut collection was terrible. But I kept learning, and beginning with Meets Girl I think I’ve gotten better, and continue to do so. I love what I did with Miya Kressin’s Asylum saga, cover-wise, for example (and I’m pretty sure she does, too). Hiring a publicist and buying ads and etc.–all those things cost money, and they’re usually things a corporation would pay for if one signed a publishing contract with them.

As I see it, the major benefit of a corporation is potential access to its larger budget. Keep in mind, though, that’s potential; I’m not sure marketing budgets are ever guaranteed. I could be wrong, but from what I’ve seen from authors with corporations, even they wish they’d had more support in terms of marketing and promotion.

There’s also the question of rights. When you publish with a corporation, they get the rights to publish your work. Clauses in contracts pertain to revision of rights–that is, when rights to work revert back to authors. I remember back in the 90s, I was a big fan of Dean Koontz, and there was a time when, because he’d been smart and gotten the clause included in his contract, rights to his backlist had reverted to him, allowing him to sell those rights to paperback publishers, who were happy to exploit them. If only the Kindle revolution had begun then.

I think hybrid publishing combines the best of both worlds. It’s what I aim at with Exciting Press–through Exciting Press, we provide to our authors most of the support a corporation might in all the ways we can. Our authors keep control and have say in everything from the editorial process to the cover design process. They ultimately have final say over the entire product, and most of all they keep their rights. I’ve worked it out so that rather than acquiring rights, Exciting Press acquires only a digital license, and a limited-term one at that. I don’t have the pockets that a corporation does, so promotions and advertising are far more limited, but we’ll get there. And because I’m an author first, our authors get so-far-as-I-know industry-leading royalties.

I’d say I think this will become more common, but really it was never uncommon. There’s a long history of savvy authors becoming more invested in their own publishing. Stephen King, who’s often credit as a pioneer in digital publishing because of his The Plant serial experiment and his Riding the Bullet ebook experiement, has–from what I’ve heard–a unique contract with his publisher, Scribner, that means he gets higher royalties from and more control over publishing in exchange for far lower advances. After his breakthrough A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers went on to found McSweeney’s Press–which has since issued all Eggers’ novels (and many by other writers) in hardcover. Talk to almost any indie author and they can tell you about all the authors who’ve taken that initiative–usually included in the discussion are names like Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, John Grisham, and Tom Clancy. One can generally make arguments for or against several.

Hybrid publishing simply highlights that there’s no one way to be a publisher. What it also highlights, though, is that it seems like often the most successful businesses are the ones who know what they want and take active, certain steps to do it.


Robot city: how machines are driving the future of PIttsburgh

After more than a century, steel production in Pittsburgh is all but over, leaving in its wake industries based on higher education, health care, academic research, and robots. Lots of robots. And when it comes to robots, the goal is more focused on building a framework for the future than an infrastructure from the past. And for that reason, the city has become a place where far-flung ambitions are supported and encouraged, even if the end goal is a long way off. Sometimes it’s as “far off” as the moon.

Always nice to see Pittsburgh get some love!

On any given afternoon outside of the cheerful, modern white building, parents congregate to wait for their kids. Chit-chat includes the typical fodder like play dates and birthdays, or who was cast in the school play. But occasionally the topic of illness arises — which is where things can take a turn towards the atypical. You might, for instance, hear about “chicken pox parties,” where healthy kids come over to sick kids’ houses to catch the disease.


Today’s Classic: Selfportrait by Arnold Böcklin

I went to Berlin and its art museum several years ago, and a postcard of this was one of only a few souvenirs I have. “With Death Playing a Fiddle” is the full title, if I’m not mistaken—and if I am, it should be.

Do you use your e-reader for good or for evil?

Do you use your e-reader for good or for evil?

What would be the consequences if a large internet corporation such as Google were to buy the entire publishing industry?

Google Books. Literally. (via millionsmillions)

Interesting that it’s a Google thought experiment. Why couldn’t Amazon be the company to easily buy majority stakes in corporate publishers?

C360_2011-04-12 11-50-21

I grew up in a small suburb of New Jersey I left in 1996 to attend college in Jersey City, where I stayed after I graduated while working in Manhattan. I left Manhattan at the end of 2001 to move back in with my family. During the time I’d been gone, Barnes & Noble built a store not far from the closest shopping mall, and after my return I often found myself frequenting that store like some people frequent the local bar. Rather than losing myself in a drink, I’d spend an hour in the newsstand, reading magazines I’d never buy, then browse the paperback racks all over the story. I was largely genre-agnostic, and found that categories often failed me, anyway (around that time I’d discovered the work of Jonathan Carroll. Generally a fantasist, but B&N held fast to stocking his books in the general Literature & Fiction section. I’d found Carroll’s work through Neil Gaiman, whose books were maybe a little less surreal than Carroll’s but in general not really that much more fantastic, and yet Gaiman was always in the Fantasy & Science Fiction section. So I generally took it upon myself to explore all the shelves I could).

After standing around with my head cocked enough to the right as to develop an almost permanent crick in it, I’d move on. Sometimes I’d have picked up a mass market paperback or two, always priced at $7.99. If I could find trade paperbacks–generally priced at $12.99 or more–on tables that include a “Buy Two Get One Free” promotion, I might pick up a few of those, but I generally bought and read way too many books to pay more than $10 for any one of them. I made exceptions to that rule solely for signed hardcovers I’d pick up from ABEBooks only after having borrowed the book, and enjoyed it, from my local library.

My next destination would be the bargain racks, where I might pick up a hardcover for $4.99 or so. If I found a particularly compelling one, I might be convinced up to $7.99, but that was rare; I found I thought most of those books had been remaindered for a reason. I might find two or three for less than $5, and I’d stick those under my arm, too, then make my way to the register.

It’s amazing how things have changed.

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Just two days after I wrote about how KDP Select and free promotions seemed to be less effective than they used to be, my novel The Prodigal Hour became the #1 free bestseller on Now, I’m cognizant that downloads are not sales; as I told my wife, I know many who argue that Amazon’s free rankings don’t count as bestselling because it’s not as though people are actually buying the book.

But I’m also cognizant that 45,000 readers have downloaded The Prodigal Hour in the past three days. I know, too, that a book needs to get more downloads to hit the free bestseller lists than it must get sales to hit the paid bestsellers lists; from experience, several hundred sales in a day are enough to get a book charting in its respective categories, and close to 1000 mean it might hit Amazon’s top 100 overall. I don’t know how many sales it takes for a book to hit the top of the paid list, but I now know that approximately 30k downloads can put it atop the free list, and from a promo with Meets Girl earlier in the year, I also know that 10k might get it into the top 10. (Meets Girl hit #8 and managed 12000 downloads over a week.)

And honestly, I couldn’t be happier. It couldn’t mean more to me. I love Meets Girl but The Prodigal Hour is, somewhat ironically, a more deeply personal book for me. I think people think Meets Girl is my story because it’s about a young Manhattan writer and it’s written in the first person, but in the end I think I identify more closely with Chance Sowin. He’s infuriatingly stubborn and often so wrapped up in his own head he neglects the bigger picture or at least its context, and I may know a thing or three about both.

Moreover, The Prodigal Hour challenged me in ways Meets Girl didn’t. It took me forever to get Meets Girl‘s ending right (if I might be so bold as to claim I did), but The Prodigal Hour required more attention and focus to handle bigger ideas and themes in ways I was afraid of. It’s no secret that the World Trade Center attacks of 2001 play a central role to the story, and it was as difficult to revisit my memories of that day as it was to portray them and ensure that day was honored and true.

I’ve been proud of the book since the moment I uploaded it. I really feel like it achieves something I hoped for but never dared attempt, focusing instead on writing a good story well. And of course now my hope is that all those readers who found it might enjoy it.

I always used to imagine a particular moment: the first time I saw a novel I’d written on a bookstore’s shelves. I imagined how I thought I’d feel, and back when I used to receive rejection letters regarding queries I’d sent to agents, I’d file those rejection letters away to focus instead on how I imagined it would feel, finally, in that mythical bookstore.

Eventually I stopped sending queries. Eventually I learned too much about business to want to get that bookdeal I’d always dreamed of, finally becoming aware of the rights and control I’d have to give up over work that would, ultimately, have my name on it. Eventually I got a Kindle and realized how much I preferred reading on it, and wondered how many other people might, too, and began to direct my attention there. To endeavors in my power and under my control.

My fantasy of that bookshelf-feeling never faded, even if I became uncertain about any possible replacements. I stopped thinking about it, really, because I got the idea that there would be no real feeling of either arrival or culmination; that the whole process of journey is the end in itself. Through Exciting Press, I’m doing work I couldn’t be prouder of nor believe more powerfully in. I’m working with authors who completely astound me, and when I see readers connect with their books, when I see a review of something by Nick Earls by a reader who mentions he or she had never heard of Nick before . . .

It’s all so brilliant, and yesterday brought that home to me. Because yesterday, in addition to all the new readers who discovered The Prodigal Hour, someone also mentioned they thought what I was doing with my authors is amazing.

Last night I was elated. It’s not a destination; it’s one more milestone on a journey that is continuously surprising and delighting me by being everything I ever wanted in ways I never expected. I know that, but I also know that yesterday I found my bookshelf moment.

And there aren’t any shelves in sight.


Today begins the final free promotion ever of my time travel novel The Prodigal Hour. This week, you can get it free from Amazon for its Kindle platform (which you can read on anything–iPhone, iPad, Android phone, Android tablet, Barnes and Noble’s Nook et al.), and with no DRM, which means you can convert the Kindle file you download to an ePub or html file or whatever you’d like, really. As always, you can find it right here.

And if you’d prefer the print version, you can purchase the paperback at that same link, and you’ll get a copy of the ebook free with Amazon’s brilliant new Matchbook program. Same goes for Meets Girl.

This is the last time you’ll be able to get The Prodigal Hour free, because at the end of October, it–along with all other Exciting Press titles–will move away from Amazon’s KDP Select program, at least for the foreseeable future. If you’re wondering why, head past the break to read some more publishing/Amazon/free discussion. If you just want the books, follow those links and have at them, and please enjoy.

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Former USC classmate and fellow indie author Danny Gardina–author of the novel The Last Night and the collection The Lookout and Other Stories and founder of Kings Men Press–wrote in with a question about my last post, and LLCs, and how to set one up.

The easy answer: go to a lawyer.

No, really. I’ll tell you a bit about what I did (as I understand it), but ultimately, get thee to a lawyer. I’m not advising you to do anything (besides go to a lawyer). I’ve heard of people doing it online, clicking a button and paying $99, but I wouldn’t recommend it, mainly because a website can’t listen to your goals, understand your needs, and advise you accordingly. It’s obviously cheaper than going to a lawyer, but, well, as with so many other things, you get what you pay for.

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Lately, I’ve been trying to focus my energies less on discussing disadvantages of the corporate system and more on taking fuller advantage of being independent. I’ve been focusing a lot on Exciting Press–trying to fill readers’ Kindles and iPads and Android devices with the very best stories we possibly can.

Which is why, last night, when Bibliocrunch’s Miral Sattar highlighted last evening’s Twitter #indiechat with Bowker to me, I intended to avoid it. Miral and Porter Anderson both highlighted Bowker’s product manager, LJN Dawson, as well as touted Bowker’s new “self-publishing services.” I saw some of it–I was on Twitter, decompressing–but didn’t figure to participate until a tweet from the Bibliocrunch account pulled me in. No one had yet mentioned that authors no longer need ISBNs. No one had mentioned how incomplete Bowker’s tracking data actually now is.

So I thought I would. Long and short: as an independent author publishing digitally, you’ll do better ignoring any of Bowker’s offerings–including its “self-publishing services” and investing instead in founding your own small press as an LLC and legal entity.

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First: apologies for the headline. It’s totally a grab for attention. If you want to bail now knowing I was attempting deliberate manipulation, no one would hold it against you, but before you go, consider that’s what everyone else is doing lately, and know that, for the record, I would state that there is no “one true way” of anything–nor that I’ve ever read anyone else make that claim about independent publishing (or “self-publishing,” as corporate publishing and those associated with it tend to call it). I’ve read independent authors note that they’ve had positive experiences with places like Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords, and even encourage others to do so–often while noting the disadvantages of signing that corporate contract that so often gives away so many rights with little in the way of remuneration or benefit.

I think, sometimes, that such authors focus so much on being positive about the experience that others feel they have to highlight the disadvantages of not having corporate support for one’s book, and that’s fine. But sometimes I think that goes overboard, or maybe doesn’t consider the entire situation, and I think it’s important to.

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Today–the last day of National Poetry Month–is the final day you’ll be able to get my poetry collection Bite Your Lip & other poems free at Amazon for Kindle–whether that Kindle is your Paperwhite or your iPad or your Android phone or whatever you’re using these days to read. Bite Your Lip & other poems contains 16 different pieces, some of which I wrote way the hell back in my undergrad days but more that I wrote far more recently, and even includes poems about both Doctor Who and Barack Obama. You can get it here.

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I started this post as another press release in the same style and tone as the ones announcing when Exciting Press has signed authors, but I realized as I wrote it that it required a different approach. I need to tell a story, here, because while “self-publishing success stories” have become a common enough meme in publishing, I see fewer and fewer people pause to consider what success means, and I think I need to.

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A Name and a Face: Exorcising My Anonymity | Self-Publishing Review

A Name and a Face: Exorcising My Anonymity | Self-Publishing Review

Amazon’s Awesome Customer Service

Several weeks ago, I purchased a Sony RX100 to bring on my honeymoon—where I was disappointed to notice a dark spot on the sensor. After getting back, I filed a return claim with Amazon. I printed out the new shipping label to put it in the mail—

But Amazon’s already sent me a new camera. It’ll get here tomorrow. Even before I’ve mailed the old one back.

That’s customer service. Well done, Amazon.

Writing for free has value but you have to have to be able to see that value and ensure that it’s not a meaningless risk: anyone who asks you to work for them and promises exposure is whistling lies through their asshole. As I have said before, if you’re going to be exposed, expose yourself: control the message and the release. When in doubt: don’t write for free.

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