Category Archives: Business of Writing

I’m Still Here (oh, and please buy my books — I have an A/C repair to pay off)

Sorry about the radio silence — between trying to get various books formatted and out (my very first romance novel Storm Season has been re-released with a new cover and re-edited content, AND it’s on sale for 99¢ — go take a look!), the increasingly scary situation going on with our current administration, the #GetLoud crusade against bookstuffers and assorted scammers, me taking a jewelry fabrication course, and assorted other things I’ve been a little busy.

The latest event was our downstairs A/C unit going out over the weekend — as it’s been flirting with triple digits here in the clavicle of Texas, this was not a laughing matter. The repairman came today and we now have cool air again for just a shade under a grand. *sigh* So if you need something entertaining to take your mind off things, I currently have five titles on sale for 99¢:

To My Muse will be coming off sale on 7/1 and Degree of Resistance will be taking its place, so if you haven’t read my hilarious romcom yet go get a copy while it’s still ridiculously cheap.

But not all is doom and gloom around the Cameron manse. The #GetLoud campaign, spearheaded by the brilliant Suzan Tisdale, Heather C. Leigh, Bianca Sommerfield, and David Gaughran, has finally generated enough complaints and bad press that the Big River are now taking down bookstuffers. Not all of them are gone, mind you — I still counted at least three in the top 20 of Romantic Comedy a few minutes ago — but the ranks are definitely looking different now. And if Amazon sticks to their guns and doesn’t let these people create new accounts (which according to their TOS is what’s supposed to happen), we may actually have a respite where KU has real, legitimate novels in it again.

At least, until the stuffers figure out a new scam. Which they will, because they’re unethical hacks who simply want to make money. In the meantime, however, I’m going to experiment and put Red Robin and the Huntsman back into KU for three months because it’s not really selling wide, and if it attracts readers in KU that might persuade them to check out the rest of the Two Thrones series (the next book, King of Blades, should be out in November, BTW).

Also, I’m finishing up Shifter Woods: Snarl (see cover at left) and that will be out on 7/10, so mark your calendars! The final novella in the current series, Shifter Woods: Scream (which is Deputy Jane’s story — the eagle shifter finds herself mated to a hot tiger shifter AND a half-elf zoologist in a crossover with Siobhan Muir’s Cloudburst, Colorado series), will be out sometime in September, and then I have to think about a plot for a full-length Esposito County Shifters novel. One possibility is Caleb and Laurie finally getting married — that is, if she can take time out from her new big story and he can deal with a group of religious preppers who are trying to set up a compound in the county. All of the characters from the novellas will be in that one, and I can build from there.

Bookstuffers, #IndieResistance, and #GETLOUD

Well! Looks like there’s been a lot of positive reaction to . Everyone who is supporting Suzan Tisdale, Heather C. Leigh, David Gaughran, Ivy Quinn, and the other authors on the front lines of this fight, you rock SO hard.

I’m a latecomer to this fight, BTW. Those people I mentioned above are the true leaders in this struggle. I’m just an indie author who’s trying to make an honest living slinging words. But when I see bookstuffers using loopholes to drain money out of KU, yeah, I’m pissed. And to the sock puppet accounts who are trying to debate real indie authors with some laughable tactics (logical rigor is not their strong suit) and generally stir up trouble — ain’t gonna work, pumpkins. We’re on to your tactics. So are readers. So is the media.

Although if I’m honest, I have to laugh — one sock puppet account called a debut author out for her comments on bookstuffers, saying that she knew nothing about the business. I replied that I’ve been in it for twenty-three years and the debut author was right. I got a snide response of, “Well, a lot of things have changed since 1995.” Actually, yes, they have, which is how we wound up in this current situation. But you know one thing that hasn’t changed since 1995? The drive to tell a good story. That’s what separates the writers from the packagers (if they’re so pissed off about being called bookstuffers). A writer is in this field because they want to tell stories. They want to entertain, enlighten, make people think. Whereas a bookstuffer wants to load as much ghostwritten material into a book as possible and siphon off as much money from readers as possible, often guilting them into being human click farms in the process. See the difference? Anyone who says, “Getting into the Amazon top 100 is expensive, but you can make money if you can do it” — folks, that’s not a writer. That’s an opportunist. It’s all about the money with them. They don’t care about entertaining you. They just want you to make it rain $ on them.

As I’ve said elsewhere, writers know that writing isn’t a way to get rich. It’s a way to do the thing you love, and hopefully make enough money to pay your bills. Sometimes, you get lucky and you make a bundle off your work. But believe me, that’s not common (Lord, I wish it was). Would I love to get rich off my work? Oh, hell yes. But if that ever happens (hey, Hollywood, I have a romcom that would make a GREAT movie), I can take pride in knowing that it happened because *I put in the work.* I busted my ass to become a good writer.

And that’s what every other legitimate indie author is doing right now. Suzan Tisdale is putting in the work. Heather C. Leigh is putting in the work. Ivy Quinn? Working. David Gaughran? Working. Bianca Sommerland, oh, hell yes, she’s working. Indie authors are sweating bullets to tell you a damn good story, all putting in the work. Not one of these folks are packaging up unedited ghostwritten material, slapping a sexy cover on it, and convincing/tricking/begging people to click to the end so that they get unearned page reads. A real indie author knows what it means to be a writer, a teller of tales.

So, to bring this around, bookstuffers know that their cash cow is drying up, and they’re running scared and trying to stir up trouble to hide their tracks. That’s not going to work. Too many people know about their tactics, now. The balance is shifting. But as Bianca said, it’s going to take time to put things back on a level playing field. Hang in there. Tell Amazon to do the right thing. Keep supporting legitimate indie authors. Be excellent to each other. And stay awesome.

Another open letter to Jeff Bezos

I’m sure that many of you in Romancelandia have been hearing about the michigas surrounding bookstuffers and how they’re leaching money out of Kindle Unlimited at an astounding rate. This is something that will affect readers as well as writers, because if enough authors can’t make a living with their books and have to take other jobs to pay the bills, it means less books to read apart from yet another variant on The Dirty Billionaires Next Door And Their Secret Baby (A Compilation).

Christ, I hope that’s not a real book.

Anyway, it turns out that anyone can write an email to Jeff Bezos, the head honcho at Amazon, and so I have just sent off the following letter. If you’re an author tired of seeing your KU income dwindle in favor of some faceless businessman using underhanded tactics to pimp their “compilation” on KU, or you’re a reader tired of wading through acres of prettily covered crap in hopes of finding a decent book, you might want to write him, as well. There’s strength in numbers, and if Amazon realizes that this could hit their bottom line they will take action.


Dear Mr. Bezos:

My name is Melanie Fletcher. I write SF under my own name and romance under the name Nicola Cameron, and since November 2015 I’ve also been able to self-publish my work using the Kindle Direct Publishing system. At first, I was absolutely delighted with KDP; it gave me an opportunity to publish novels that weren’t easily marketable by the Big Five publishers in NYC, and I was able to build on my readership with my first self-pubbed novel, Empress of Storms. Empress wound up earning a little over $16,000, mainly via Amazon, and that gave me hope for a viable career as an independent author.

Except that Empress’s sequel, Palace of Scoundrels, didn’t do nearly as well as the first book. Sequels rarely match the success of the first book in a series, but Palace’s sales were unusually lackluster considering that there had been numerous requests for a sequel and I performed all the same promotion activities that I used for Empress. The reviews for Palace were uniformly good, from Amazon reviewers as well as from professional review sites, so its drop in sales puzzled me.

But I shrugged it off as a learning experience and wrote a SF romance, thinking that putting out a separate title might help. It didn’t sell well. I went back and wrote another sequel for Empress. It didn’t sell well. I then wrote a contemporary romantic comedy, one of the most popular subgenres of romance there is. You can guess how the sales went for that. I’ve done due diligence on all my books with regards to promotion — purchasing advertising for them, sending out review copies, haunting social media to talk them up, appearing at romance conventions to advertise them, everything that a legitimate indie author needs to do in order to get the word out about their book.

But despite uniformly good reviews, both on and off Amazon, my sales were getting increasingly worse despite a growing backlist. I spoke with other indie authors and they all complained about the same thing—their sales at Amazon were plummeting. When an indie author such as Sam Crescent, who has a huge, loyal fanbase and can produce titles monthly, was seeing her sales dwindling, I didn’t have a shot in hell of saving my career.

And then I learned about bookstuffers who were gaming the KU system. I’m sure you’ve well aware of the situation by now and how they use scam tactics such as adding extra books to a title and instructing their readers to flip to the end in order to have all the pages register as having been read. Not only are they driving out legitimate authors from KU, but their tactics then gamed Amazon’s ranking algorithms and pushed them into bestseller slots that, frankly, they didn’t deserve. This hijacking of Amazon’s ranking system has had a number of unfortunate knock-on effects — it’s rendered Amazon’s ranking system is no longer a reliable tool for readers searching for new titles and authors, and it’s pushed legitimate indie authors like me completely out of the spotlight. As for KU, I can’t afford to put my books in it anymore. I would have to have tens of thousands of page reads of my titles just to match a bookstuffer’s “compilation.”

Mr. Bezos, I don’t want the KU system to shut down. Not only does it makes you money, but it allows a LOT of readers who don’t have extra cash for books to read as much as they like, and maybe even find a new favorite author. I’ve included my titles in KU for that very purpose before I realized it was losing me income and had to stop. I would love to be able to put my books in KU again, but for that to happen it needs to be made equitable. Changing your terms of service to forbid more than 10% of “extra” material in a book will not stop bookstuffers—they’ll just find another way to game the system, as they already have by labeling their stuffed books “compilations.” I am begging you to have your programming team take a good, hard look at KU and come up with a robust method of monitoring it and preventing such abuses. Pattern analysis that recognizes extra material already in KU as a standalone title, or repetitive use of extra material in multiple titles (where a bookstuffer publishes Book A with BCDEF extra material, Book B with CDEFA extra material, Book C with DEFAB extra material, etc.) and flags a title for removal is one way of doing this. I know this would be a serious undertaking, but sir, I’ve heard from numerous readers who are now saying that they’ve been burned too many times by KU scammers and are cancelling KU or will only read Big Five books or titles from trusted authors. This is what the bookstuffers have done with their rampant abuse of KU; while they’re only hurting my bottom line at the moment, if they keep driving people away from KU they’ll eventually start hurting yours as well.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Best,
Melanie Fletcher/Nicola Cameron

A fix for formatting problems with Amazon’s Look Inside function

Today’s helpful hint is for any self-pubbing author who’s had problems with the “Look Inside” function in Amazon completely screwing up your formatting and possibly losing you sales. You see, I checked out Lady of Thorns yesterday and scared the cats with my screaming when I discovered that the preview’s formatting was completely fouled up. I proceeded to check all the rest of my self-pubbed books and discovered the same freaking problem with ALL OF THEM.

After calming down and doing some research, I learned that the Look Inside function interprets HTML very literally and doesn’t always seem to recognize CSS (nobody knows why), which can result in a screwed-up preview even if the actual ebook looks fine.

But there is a way to fix this on your own! Unfortunately Scrivener won’t let me look at an ebook’s HTML so I downloaded Calibre, which will allow you to edit the ebook’s HTML. I added Lady of Thorns in EPUB format to Calibre’s library, then right clicked on it and selected “Edit Book”. That opened up an editing app with a list of all the text pages in the book and their individual CSS style sheets. Ignore the style sheets and focus on the text pages that appear in the Look Inside function (note: a page will be called something like bodyx.xhtml instead of the page name, so just start at the top of the list and open pages until you find the ones you want). Double-click on a page to open it in the HTML editor.

A brief explanation of HTML code: the following code <p>text here</p> indicates that all the text between <p> and </p> (in this case, “text here”) should form a single paragraph. Now look at your page’s HTML code. If a paragraph is primarily something like <p> class=”p1″><br></p>, it’s just a space between paragraphs. Ignore it. But if a paragraph contains text that is screwed up in the preview, replace the paragraph’s <p class=”X”> code (just this first part — you can leave the </p> part alone) with the following:

BODY TEXT

Regular body text to be centered with no indentation: <p style=”margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: center; text-indent: 0.0px; font-size: 100%”>

Example:

Cautiously, Kel lowered his hand and opened one eye, then the other. Then blinked. Then drooled just the tiniest bit. Because in front of him stood a tall, muscular, absolutely freaking gorgeous man with caramel skin and the abs of a porn star, wearing a linen kirtle and one of the most spectacular scapulars Kel had ever seen.

Regular body text to be left-aligned with no indentation: <p style=”margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: left; text-indent: 0.0px; font-size: 100%”>

Example:

Cautiously, Kel lowered his hand and opened one eye, then the other. Then blinked. Then drooled just the tiniest bit. Because in front of him stood a tall, muscular, absolutely freaking gorgeous man with caramel skin and the abs of a porn star, wearing a linen kirtle and one of the most spectacular scapulars Kel had ever seen.

Regular body text to be left-aligned with a first line indentation: <p style=”margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: left; text-indent: 1.5em; font-size: 100%”>

Example:

     Cautiously, Kel lowered his hand and opened one eye, then the other. Then blinked. Then drooled just the tiniest bit. Because in front of him stood a tall, muscular, absolutely freaking gorgeous man with caramel skin and the abs of a porn star, wearing a linen kirtle and one of the most spectacular scapulars Kel had ever seen.

Regular body text to be justified with no indentation: <p style=”margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: justify; text-indent: 0.0px; font-size: 100%”>

Example:

Cautiously, Kel lowered his hand and opened one eye, then the other. Then blinked. Then drooled just the tiniest bit. Because in front of him stood a tall, muscular, absolutely freaking gorgeous man with caramel skin and the abs of a porn star, wearing a linen kirtle and one of the most spectacular scapulars Kel had ever seen.

Regular body text to be justified with a first line indentation: <p style=”margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: justify; text-indent: 1.5em; font-size: 100%”>

Example:

     Cautiously, Kel lowered his hand and opened one eye, then the other. Then blinked. Then drooled just the tiniest bit. Because in front of him stood a tall, muscular, absolutely freaking gorgeous man with caramel skin and the abs of a porn star, wearing a linen kirtle and one of the most spectacular scapulars Kel had ever seen.

HEADERS

Depending on which app you used to create your ebook, your headers (the larger size text used for chapter or page names) will either be indicated with <h1>text</h1> or with <p>text</p>. The following are meant to be used with <p>text</p> headers. To use them with a <h1>text</h1> header, replace the p with h1.

 

If you want to center a header: <p style=”margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: center; text-indent: 0.0px; font-size: 133%”>

Example:

KEL MAKES A MISTAKE

If you want to left-align a header: <p style=”margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: left; text-indent: 0.0px; font-size: 133%”>

Example:

KEL MAKES A MISTAKE

If you want to right-align a header: <p style=”margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: right; text-indent: 0.0px; font-size: 133%”>

Example:

KEL MAKES A MISTAKE

Note: you don’t have to do this to the entire book, just the pages that show up in the preview. This is usually your front matter (Table of Contents, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Acknowlegements) and part of your first chapter. Save your edits and upload the revised ebook file to Amazon. Et voila — the actual ebook looks the same, but now “Look Inside” recognizes the HTML and generates a properly formatted preview.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Depending on when you upload your corrected ebook file, you may not see the changes immediately in Look Inside. Don’t panic! I fixed Lady of Thorns and uploaded it on Wednesday evening, and by Thursday everything on Look Inside was fine. I then did the rest to my other books on Thursday, uploaded them … and on Friday morning they all still had jacked up Look Inside previews. When I contacted Amazon about this, they said that it takes seven days for new/updated book files to appear on Look Inside and to wait a week then check again. Since the preview for Lady of Thorns was fine by Thursday morning, I translated this to mean, “We usually run a batch process every Wednesday night. Check Thursday morning and all your previews should look fine.” In any case, if your preview formatting issues haven’t gone away after you’ve uploaded the corrected file, wait a week, then check again.

And if this makes you want to cry because you don’t DO HTML, dammit, ping me and I’ll help you out.

Sale!

Just got word from Evernight that they’re buying my sexy hitman romance “Gentleman Jackson” for their Lawless anthology. Which may throw some readers because this story is going in the MF antho, not the MM antho. What can I say — I like mixing things up. Also, it means that if you read the snippet I posted on Wednesday and liked it, you can read the full story in a month or so. More on that as details emerge.

In other news, Lady of Thorns should be finished by next Wednesday, and I’m looking at a 10/17 release date (it’s two weeks later than I’d originally planned, but Real Life™ wound up turning into a timesink and I want to make sure Lady gets a thorough editing before she’s released into the wild). I’m concurrently working on Shifter Woods: Snarl, which should be released before Lady, and once those are out I put the finishing touches on Cross Current and get that off to Evernight. November and NaNoWriMo is going to be dedicated to Uncertainty Principle, I believe. Lord, if I get everything finished on time I’ll have written four full length books, four novellas that will be combined into a box set, and a novelette this year. Not too shabby if I say so myself.

Want a free fantasy romance ebook? Did I mention it’s FREE? FREEEEEEEE…

And you don’t have to enter a contest, register, sign up for a mailing list, or do anything complicated, I promise. See, with Lady of Thorns projected to come out in early September I need to start my promo now, and part of that is garnering more reviews on book 2 in the series, Palace of Scoundrels. And the absolute best way to get those? Is to give out free ARCs to lovely people like you.

So, if you ping me here and say, “Hey, Nic, sweetie, honey, sugar lips, how about you shoot me a copy of Palace of Scoundrels in X format, please,” I will cheerfully email you a copy in your requested format, along with instructions on how to email it to yourself and get it on your Kindle if you need help with that. All I ask is that you write an honest review of the book — and yeah, if you didn’t like it, put that in the review. I did say I wanted honest reviews, after all.

And in case you forgot the premise of the book:

Kidnapping, poison, and sex — oh, my!

Spring has sprung in the island kingdom of Hellas, but with no signs of an occupant for the royal nursery Queen Danaë is starting to worry about her own fertility. Her concerns aren’t helped by the arrival of the legendarily conniving Dowager Queen Atilia of Illium–or the woman’s handsome grandson Prince Marcus, on the run after being accused of poisoning his older brother.

In the neighboring kingdom of Ypres, Danaë’s royal husband Matthias is dealing with dangerous family politics and a wolfish duke who has kidnapped a young noblewoman for immoral purposes. Or has he? Can Matthias ward off the threat of civil war, outwit his relatives, and deal with a charming rival in his wife’s own palace?

Or as I like it put it, Arrested Development meets Game of Thrones! Thank you for your support!

Yeah, this is definitely Monday

I have been in better moods. The fact that my ears and sinuses are aching do not help (please, dear sweet baby Cthulhu, I do not need another sinus infection).

On the plus side, however, I finished a rather nifty mixed media pendant for a giveaway I’m going to run on Friday. Anyone who follows my Instagram account will be able to get in on the fun — I’ll be giving away copies of Shifter Woods: Howl as well as the pendant.

Where everything starts. A printout of the coyote gets glued onto sterling silver with rubber cement, then cut out very carefully with a jeweler’s saw

Once the shape is roughed out, I use various needle files to refine the shape further, then polish with jeweler’s rouge to smooth off any sharp edges or burrs.

The final coyote shape in sterling silver, placed against a 1″ round of red brass to see how the final piece will look.

Then I get to play with fire. The underside of the coyote piece and the topside of the moon were coated with flux, which was then fired (this prevents soot from building up between the layers and preventing a clean bond with the solder). I cut off and heated three balls of easy silver solder, put them onto the back side of the coyote, turned it over and put it onto the moon, and heated everything until the solder melted and bonded the two pieces. The pendant is now in the pickle pot having firescale and residual gunk removed.

The final product, clean and shiny! The smudges on the coyote’s body are my fingerprints.

Want to win a Kindle Fire? Of course you do!

Do you like sci fi romance? Do you have a hankering for a new Kindle Fire? Then do I have a contest for you!

BookSweeps is holding an awesome giveaway where you can win my book Degree of Resistance, plus books from authors like Evangeline Anderson and Cara Bristol, as well as a new Kindle Fire. This giveaway ends on May 1, so make sure you hurry and enter here — bit.ly/sfr-apr-17. Good luck!

Want to win a new Kindle Fire AND a copy of Degree of Resistance?

Have you seen this awesome giveaway from BookSweeps? You can win my book Degree of Resistance, plus books from authors like Evangeline Anderson and Cara Bristol, and a Kindle Fire. This giveaway ends soon, so make sure you hurry and enter! Good luck!

Join the fun here! bit.ly/sfr-apr-17

It’s time to pull on my Big Writer Panties

degreeofresistancecoverDegree of Resistance has now been out for a shade over a week, and the bulk of my wonderful ARC readers have left reviews (thank you all, *mwah*). I have requests out to a slew of reviewers, advertising going on at various locations, and I’m in the process of getting my media pack out to various bloggers who are kind enough to host my stuff.

And so far … yeah, the sales are perhaps a touch disappointing. The folks who have read the book so far say it’s hella good (and these people have no reason to blow smoke up my ass. If I’d produced something crappy, they would’ve told me). So what that confirms is that my marketing plan is not optimal and I have to come up with a better method of getting Evie and Ben’s story out in front of readers who love smokin’ cyborg romance.

To that end, the lovely and talented Cecilia Tan (my first editor and now my cherished colleague) was kind enough to spend an hour on Skype with me on Thursday going over various battle plans and ways to promote DoR. Some of them, I must admit, had simply never occurred to me but seem obvious in retrospect (e.g. find ways to write blogs posts that will appeal to girl geek-slanted publications such as The Daily Dot and io9, since a significant proportion of my SFR-loving readers will be found there). Others will require careful use of SEO terms to boost exposure, creative use of graphics, or just plain throwing money at the problem. As I am a poor but honest writer who is still paying off the costs of Wild Wicked Weekend (Tl;dr I had a frigging ball and sold more books than last year)  I’m hoping to keep this last method down to a minimum, at least until the end of the month. I still want to try submitting Empress of Storms to BookBub, but I need to save up for that as well, plus I have to wait until I’m past the 90 day limit on sales prices (since it was on sale along with Palace of Scoundrels in December, that should take effect later this month).

So goes the life of a modern hybrid author. Still the best job I’ve ever had, though.