Tag Archives: indie

How I Learned To Hate The VAT

My fellow self-published authors have no doubt already been bombarded by emails from Amazon in regards to changes in the VAT, but I thought I’d take a moment to tell my readers why prices are going to suddenly change on a number of books and how this change affects authors.  These changes take place on 1 January, 2015.

You see, the way the VAT used to work, it applied based on the seller’s country. So an author in the UK had a 20% VAT on top of the price of their book, off each sale. Now, however, it is based off the customer’s country. So when I sell a book in, oh, say Ireland, there’s 23% tax on top of the price of the book. This means for a book that is €5, the tax is an additional dollar, making the book €6.15. The way Amazon is resolving this is that the tax comes off the top… and my royalties, therefore are still as if the book sold for €5. What this means, is that either I lower prices (IE, to €4.12) which then should make that same book €5 to the customer or it goes for €6, which pushes me up around where some of the well-established authors are, and makes it less likely for a new reader to buy my book.

Now, since I get roughly €3.42 (70% royalty minus some delivery fees and such) off the sale of a €5 book, the difference, as far as I can tell through my projections, is that I get €3 now for a book that sells for the same price. Basically, a foreign country gets a dollar off each of my book sales while I lose forty cents per sale. Not a lot, individually, but that’s around €200 a month that I won’t get (and  €500 that some other nation does get). Keep in mind, writing is my second job, I still work full time. How would you feel if your boss told you that your pay is getting cut €200 a month to pay taxes in a country you don’t live in?

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Alpha and Beta Readers

One of the biggest fears that I face as an author is the dread of wondering what people will think. The reaction of family and friends is one thing… but what about people you don’t know who are going to pick up the book in a store or glance at it on kindle? For that matter, how do you go through and make certain that the plot, characters, and other issues are iron-tight?

My solution, and what many authors do, is make use of alpha and beta readers. It’s a common use in the gaming industry, though I’m certain authors have used the technique long before they borrowed (okay, stole) the term from the gamers.

Basically, your first readable copy (or maybe second or third, depends on how you feel about it) goes to your alpha readers. This is normally a small number of people. These people should be picked from people you know as filling several key catagories: Critical Thinking/Reading Skills, Honesty, and Timeliness. You may laugh at some of them… until you’re trying to get that nerdy friend of yours to explain why the opening scene feels ‘a little funky’ after they’ve had the book in their hands for over a year. Critical Thinking/Reading is essential in an Alpha, they have to understand what you wrote and they have to be able to think about what you’re doing and then tell you what they thought about it. If you’re interested in Independent Publishing, time is a serious factor here. Traditional Authors have years to get books out, independent authors need to feed the voracious appetite of their readers… else be forgotten as those readers go elsewhere. You don’t need an alpha reader who sugarcoats their opinions or, worse, is too afraid to hurt your feelings to tell you the truth. One of my favorite alpha readers has straight up told me before when he thought what I wrote was crap. I disagreed, but I’ll admit he had good points and his comments made me reevaluate what I was doing as a writer. I’m grateful that I have alphas like him who can tell me when they don’t like something.

After I get all my feedback from the alphas, that’s when I go back through and do the serious edits. Often I’ll spend hours discussing some of the changes I’ve thought about… sometimes I’ll be talked out of some of those edits, other times, I’ll do them in spite of what the feedback says. There have been times where I’ll write two or three versions of a scene and run them past certain readers trying to get it just right.

Beta readers are the next step. Once you have the final draft, you send it out to a larger audience. These, for me, are often friends or acquaintances that I trust to give me overall opinions on the work as a whole and maybe some more focused opinions on individual items or characters. If I’m featuring some science/technical aspect that I’m not certain about and one of my betas is an expert (or at least knows more than me) I’ll run it past them during the alpha stage. Beta readers are a spectrum of a general audience. They can include genre readers, but also out-of-genre readers. If I’ve written something with a target audience, those beta readers from that audience are the main voices I want to hear. The responses from all my beta readers are often used to make final tweaks. If a scene didn’t have the emotional draw that I wanted or if a character wasn’t memorable enough, then I go back and tweak a bit more.

The key thing you get from your beta readers is an overall evaluation of the quality of your work. Ideally, your work is publishable by the time it gets to them, but their reactions to it are the key to understanding how ready it really is… and how great a story it is. If you get frantic phone calls at 2 AM because a reader couldn’t put it down, that’s a good sign. If you have to prod, nudge, and heckle your beta readers to get so much as a thumbs up or down, that’s a bad sign.  I’ve had both happen (on the same novel no less).  The big thing is to get an honest appreciation of your story and to adapt it and improve it as a result.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Writing Groups

Hi there, my name is Kal and I write stuff.

It sounds a bit like an introduction from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting… because that’s what some writing groups feel like. And in a way, that can be good or bad. Writing groups are, at their root, about support. Writers, get together and read one another’s stuff, critique it, discuss where they’re going or improving their craft, and then they arrange to meet again. The pattern is hopefully one where the individuals within the group gradually improve upon their work. It also provides a variety of backgrounds for new and inexperienced writers to draw upon for both the business and writing sides of the craft. Writing groups have a number of advantages, not least of which is you get someone to read your manuscript besides your mother/best friend. This can be invaluable just in the knowledge of whether or not someone was able to finish reading it. Feedback about characters, plot, and plot devices can also be invaluable, letting you know if you fooled someone with a clever bait and switch, if your humor fell flat, or even if you accidentally wrote fan fiction. Writing groups also, however, come with some hazards.

One hazard, I think, is that as a writer grows, they may outgrow the writers in their group or the group itself may shift as new people come in and others leave. A writer who is actively seeking publishing, in a group that is about completing works, is quickly going to become frustrated. The reverse is true, as well, an author who just wants to finish their first book is going to find the critiques of more experienced and even published authors daunting enough that they may give up. I’ve seen a little bit of both, myself, just in one group. The group had a central core of attendees focused on writing and publishing. It also had a ‘floating’ population of people who would attend every now and then. Some of them would become very disheartened at the progress they had made versus the progress of others. I myself would often become frustrated because some members would show up with the fourth or fifth (or tenth) revision of their first chapter. These are writers who don’t really want to grow, they’re comfortable retelling the same bit of a story. A good group can coach them along towards growth, but it isn’t something you can force and a group with more chysallis authors than mature ones is not the place to improve your own craft.

The other hazard is ‘toxic’ groups. These are writing groups where, somewhere, somehow, there is a dominant individual who attempts to turn it into a social hierarchy, where other authors must kowtow to his or her principles and/or writing style. I haven’t personally encountered this, yet I have friends who have completely soured on any kind of writing group as a result. The worse of these types of groups are ones where new authors are ridiculed or belittled for their work in some kind of cult-indoctrination method to get them to then believe that only through emulation is success possible.

Another hazard of writing groups is that the writers there are going to have their own perspectives and interpretations of how stories should be told. Sometimes, for the best of reasons, they’ll give you feedback that you are doing something wrong and they might even talk you around to it. With the best of intentions, they can give you a feeling of inadequacy that can leave your manuscript half finished with notes of broad plot and character changes to be made. The thing to remember here is that you are the author. Whatever story you are telling, you tell it your way. In the end, when it is finished, if the group says they still don’t like it, then you can think about revisions and changes. But if it goes against the grain, if you feel your story is better/stronger/greater without those changes… don’t do it. Write what you want.

So, basically, the lesson is to first do some research on a group and then to test the waters a bit. Be sure they write/read in your genre. If authors have no interest in what you write, they’re not going to be as attentive and they’re not going to know the style.  Writing groups where some or all of the members gush about one central figure should generally be avoided. Writing to cater to the interests and desires of the group is also to be avoided.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Publishing an Audiobook pt 3

This is the final post I’ll have as far as building an audiobook with Amazon’s ACX system.   In the first two installments, I talked about the process, first enrolling/selecting your book, then choosing a narrator and finally proofing the narrated sections.  You can see those two sections here and here.

It was a time-consuming process.  It was also fairly exhausting for someone who works full time, writes, is married, and has something of a social life.  I would estimate that it was at least forty hours of work even after selecting a narrator.  There were multiple edits that had to take place to meet ACX’s guidelines on things like the pauses between chapters (too long, who knew?) and the silence during a pause (apparently it has to be very quiet).  All that aside, this post is going to look at the end results: the royalty process and profits.

Now, going into this, I had the option to split royalties or pay the narrator in a lump sum.  I’m not a split royalties type of person.  For one thing, I put tens of thousands of hours in writing.  Why do I want to share that much effort with someone else if I don’t have to?  For another, long term, I figured it would pay better to do a lump sum.  This meant instead of 25% of the profits as royalties I’d receive 50%.  Roughly twice as much.

Now the ACX program has a couple issues that I’ll comment on.  For one, they’re not like Kindle Direct Publishing with hourly updates on sales and a running estimate of royalties earned.  With ACX, you get a tracker updated around midnight PST with total sales by type.  These types roughly tell you how much you’ll earn, but only roughly, because, remember, you don’t set the price, Audible, Amazon, and iTunes set the price of your audiobook.  That price also varies by method of purchase.  From initial reading through my royalty statement, it looks like subscribers using their Audible credits paid roughly $12 a copy, subscribers purchasing paid around $15, and everyone else paid around $25 for my book The Fallen Race.  That daily update shows the breakdown between the three types of purchasers.  It doesn’t show the royalty rate or the price paid or any of that, just the number of sales in each category.  Where this becomes an issue, is, if you’re like me and you paid out of your own pocket to fund the narration.  You’re biting your nails hoping that this thing will pay for itself.  There’s a mortgage to pay and food to put on the table, and it’s very hard to estimate earnings when you don’t have all the information.

When you get the information is very similar to KDP.  Thirty days after the last calendar day of the month, they send you a royalty statement.  Unlike KDP, ACX mails it to you (at least for those in the US, for elsewhere, I understand it is every quarter rather than every month).  That’s right, you have to check your mail.  On the other hand, checking the mail is rather exciting when you’re expecting your royalty check in it.  This is where ACX really shines, though.  They break down royalty percentage, sales of each type and all the information you could really want in a readable format.  Plus, they give you the matching check with whole package, which really gives you a nice feeling of completeness.

The other issue that I’m on the fence about is transparency with iTunes.  Amazon and Audible are owned by the same company, so the sales are pretty similar.  The iTunes sales of my book, however, I have no earthly idea how to monitor or even really how I’ll receive royalties.  They could be rolled up in my other sales or it could be a separate royalty statement entirely.  That leads me to my last complaint about  the process.  The FAQ’s and information provided by ACX without going directly to their customer support is either inaccurate or very thin, particularly on the things that really matter once the audiobook is completed.  The royalties are listed as 40% there on their information, but I receive 50%, according to my statement (I’ll gladly accept more, but it was something of a surprise, is all).  They say they’ll mail royalty statements every month.  They don’t mention it will be 30 days after each month.  That’s what I expected, but still, they need to get in there and clarify.  Those are the ones that mattered to me, but there’s a lot of other inaccuracies in there or just places where you can’t find the information you want without sending an email.

On the positive side, I’m very pleased with how the system as a whole works.  Publishing my books in audio format allows me to reach a much broader audience.  That in turn means more money and reaching a larger reader/listener base.  For that matter, from a moderately risky endeavor it has proven itself as a method which I’ll definitely use in the future.  I’m already planning on doing two more audiobooks: Renegades: Origins and the upcoming epic fantasy Echo of the High Kings.  I also plan to do an audiobook of The Shattered Empire when it’s finished.  In the first month of sales I already earned back my initial investment and it looks to be a solid method of sales for independent authors… just a large up front investment of time and money.