Why I Pulled My Books From Kobo

Where should I sell my books? Surprisingly, this is one of the hardest questions an indie author needs to answer. Logic says to sell them wherever you can–the more available they are, the more sales you’ll get.

This is the rule I’ve played by, with the exception of one stint in KDP Select two years ago. KDP Select is an Amazon program available only to books that are exclusive to Kindle. They offer some interesting promotional tools to Select titles, including putting your book in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

But at the time, Select did not give me the results some of my fellow authors saw, so when my enrollment term was over, I put my book back up at Barnes and Noble, and also published it via iBooks and Kobo. My stance since then has been that it makes the most sense to have things as widely available as possible.

So why on earth would I pull my books from two of those markets? (I also pulled them from iBooks, though this post is primarily about Kobo.) Select has gone through a few changes, and I thought it would be worth giving it another shot. Spring/Summer are slow sales periods anyway, so I won’t really be missing out on much.

I did this all over three weeks ago, so imagine my surprise when I received an email from Amazon on Saturday, informing me that they had found my book available for sale on a website in Italy. They informed me I had five days to get the book down from that site or they would take it out of Select–thus canceling the promotions I had scheduled for next week.

I followed the link and discovered the Italian store uses the Kobo catalog. Then I did some more digging on my own and found it on a site based in Australia. Considering I delisted my book with Kobo three weeks ago, this is inexcusable.

To further aggravate the situation, the Kindle team made a slight error and removed my book from Select immediately, rather than giving me the five days’ grace promised. The promotions I’d been counting on as part of my business plan have been canceled. I’ve contacted them and they’ve reinstated me, but I’ll have to wait until the end of April to run promotions now.

Putting it simply, I have no desire to do business with a company whose practices put my livelihood at risk. My sales from Kobo have always been negligible–had it not been for the ease of publishing and the increased visibility, I would not have bothered with them at all. This was really the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I pulled the rest of my books on Saturday night and sent them an email expressing my displeasure and asking them to ensure my books are no longer in their catalog at all. I received this message in reply:

Please note that the book was removed successfully from Kobo site when you de-listed the file. Unfortunately, in regards to our affiliates, it sometimes may take longer than usual for an update to go through.

To speed the process, we have sent a request to our partner support team to follow up with Mondadori and request that the book be removed as soon as possible.

I would accept a week lag, because I know there can be update quirks. Not being able to count on my book being pulled after three weeks is ridiculous. I’ve replied, thanking them for their assistance but reiterating that this has caused me to end our business relationship.

Addendum explaining the iBooks situation:

Before all of this happened, this post was going to be about iBooks. Part of the reason I haven’t used Select since that first attempt is a line in the iBooks contract requiring authors to publish all their work through iBooks. Anything you publish anywhere, you have to also put up in iBooks. Since my first Select attempt did so poorly, I didn’t really mind that. However, when I decided to try again, I knew that meant pulling the plug on iBooks.

I’ll be honest–as a business person, I still don’t like the idea of giving one retailer a monopoly. If every author enrolls their books in Select to the extent that Amazon is able to drive the other companies out of business, Amazon will no longer have any incentive to give us a good deal on either royalty rates or marketing options.

However, I also don’t like having companies tell me when and where I can sell my books. That’s why I went indie in the first place. Amazon doesn’t demand exclusivity to publish; Select is a choice they give you. Kobo feels very strongly that an exclusive relationship is bad business, but it isn’t their place to make that choice for me, nor is it Apple’s.

Update, 3/20/2014:

 The Italian site has finally pulled my book! I’ve been checking obsessively all week, since Amazon gave me that five day grace period. This really was down to the wire as that grace ended today. Still, it’s all over and done with, and I can move on.

Getting In the Flow

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Did you read the fantastic Huffington Post article last week on 18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently? I read down the list, nodding my head with almost every point. (I actually differ on the need for solitude, but I’ll get to that in a later post.) I definitely view life as an opportunity for self-expression–see exhibit A above.

But the point that caught my eye was that we lose track of time. I followed the link to the TED talk on Flow, and I was amazed. All creative people are familiar with the idea of flow. That’s the time when it feels like instead of you working, the work is flowing out of you of its own volition. The words just appear on the screen without much apparent conscious thought on my part.

What I found most interesting about this talk was that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has come close to quantifying this state, or at least breaking it down into something that make sense. Flow happens when you have both a high degree of challenge and a high level of skill.

Screen shot of the chart shown to illustrate flow

Flow has always been a fairly easy state for me to reach. I have long practice with shutting off distractions, both internal and external. I know how to “get in the zone,” to use another term.

But I haven’t hit flow once in writing Robin Hood, and looking at the chart, I finally understood why. As I said last week, this book is going to be a learning curve for me. It’s a different setting, a different time period, and a different genre. The characters, despite being pulled from Robin Hood lore, are essentially my own. Legends aren’t well fleshed out, so I’ve had to really develop them.

In other words, the ratio of challenge to skills is unbalanced enough that I can’t easily reach flow. I’ve tried all my normal things; even shutting off wifi for an hour only yielded 500 words. That’s been a large part of my frustration with this book, but now that I know that’s just how it’ll be, I can suck it up and just work a little harder.

Of course, I hope that by the time I’m done writing this book, my skills will have improved enough to enable me to settle into flow as I write book two. That’s the fun of writing a series, after all. Each book becomes a little easier as you get to know the world better.

Looking at the chart again, I’d say this is also why creatives don’t like to stay too long in one world. Look at what happens as the challenge level drops. For a while it’s nice, because we can breathe a bit easier. We’re in control of the story and what’s happening. But then we start to miss that edge, and we get bored. And when you’re bored, you don’t want to work on the project anymore and your output decreases.

What about you? What kind of projects have you found that really help you tap into flow?

Is That An Outline or The Union Jack?

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If you guessed C, All of the Above, you are correct! Reward yourself with a Girl Scout cookie.

As you know, I’ve reworked the outline for the Robin Hood/Maid Marian story a dozen times in the last eight weeks. I’d work at it from one angle, thinking I finally had it, but then after a few days I’d realise something was missing. I’d shift, trying to catch that string of thought, and I’d lose whatever I had going for me in the first version. And etc.

The last outline came closest to being correct, but it still felt like there was an aspect of the story just out of reach that I wasn’t capturing. Saturday, I talked to my dad about it and (trying not to give away spoilers here) we came to a realisation about the midpoint of the novel.

Once I realised that, I suddenly understood how Marian and Robin’s stories work together. He starts out as more important in the beginning of the novel, and her story gains importance. At that crucial midpoint, things swap so her story is the prominent one that ends the novel.

I grabbed a piece of paper and drew two arrows in an X across the page, with a box in the middle to symbolise the midpoint. And that’s when I realised my plot is a Union Jack.

So, the two lines of the saltire are Robin and Marian. They represent the most visible parts of the plot of book one. He starts in the top left corner and goes down, she starts in the bottom left corner and goes up. They cross at the midpoint that I’m still not giving away.

The horizontal line of St. George’s Cross is the political stuff going on in the background. The characters won’t be aware of much of it until the end, but having it on the outline means I know what’s going on and what kinds of things need to be foreshadowed.

The vertical line of St. George’s Cross is the backstory for the relationship between Robin and Marian. Most of it is history that won’t be displayed or even talked about in the book, but again, it’s helpful to me to have it on the page.

The coloring, I admit, was extra. I could have just drawn the lines and written the plot points down. But honestly, once you’ve drawn a Union Jack, you pretty much have to color it in. And I realise I messed up the counterchange on the saltire–the red stripe is slightly not right–but I didn’t really sit down and plan or research this, so I think I did a pretty good job for an on-the-fly job.

More importantly, I have a much more solid grasp of what’s happening in my novel. All those times I felt like I was missing stuff? It’s because I was only writing one stripe of the story, instead of all four. Now that I have them all written down, I should be able to weave them together into an interesting novel.

Getting With The (Writing) Program

Sunday at the Oscars, Robert De Niro gave the best summary of a writer’s life that I’ve heard in a long time:

The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy… and that’s on a good day.

You might have noticed my current book is giving me a few difficulties. For about 24 hours, I considered giving up the project entirely. Then I found the change I needed to make to fix the book, and I decided to stick with it. However, it’s still a project that scares me. It’s different from anything I’ve done before, and I just… it’s going to take skills I have not yet developed.

But on Friday, after talking to someone on Tumblr, I realized writing is a learning curve. There will always be something I’m not good at, and that’s the area I need to be working on. Sure, I could continue to do the same old thing that’s become easy, but where’s the fun in that?

As Lauren DeStefano tweeted on Monday, “I can’t do this on the first try” is not the same as “I can’t do this.” “I can’t do this on the first try” means I keep trying and improving and eventually come to a point where I can do it. This book is going to be harder for me to write than others, and the editing is going to be… oh, let’s not even think about that. However, I believe the process will stretch me as a writer and make other projects possible in the future that I would not be able to do now.

So, I’m back at the writing. Monday I did a brand new outline and put it into a brand new Scrivener file. I’ve pulled over the bits and pieces from the old file that still work, and I’ve gotten some new writing done. The first act is really completely finished.

I’m also trying something new, after listening to yet another Twitter friend. (Yes, this post is all about how social media can inspire your writing life.) Stephanie Burgis said she sets a ridiculously easy daily goal for herself–one line a day. She has two young kids, so some days that’s all the time she has. However, checking in daily with her MS keeps it fresh in her mind so she can be more productive on days when she has time.

I don’t have kids. However, I do have a hard time making myself sit down to write, especially if it’s been a few days or if the previous day did not go well. With that in mind, I’ve blocked out the 1pm hour every day from Monday-Saturday. I’ll turn wifi off, not answer my phone, and spend an hour in my draft. Even if all I do is move around a few chunks of text, at least I’m not losing track of what’s going on in the story.

My goal is to have a complete draft of at least 50,000 words by March 29, and for the first time since Presidents’ Day weekend, I actually feel like this is a possibility.

On My Bookshelf: March 2014

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First, happy book birthday to Claudia Gray’s Steadfast! I was lucky enough to land an ARC of this book, so I actually read it in February. This is a sequel to Spellcaster, which is a book I’ve been known to guerrilla sell to unsuspecting fellow bookstore customers. I really love this series, and I can’t wait for the third book to come out next spring.

And now on to what I plan to read in March.

The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen. This is the third and final book in a YA trilogy that begins with The False Prince. It came out last Tuesday, and I would have read it last week if… well, yeah.

Poison by Bridget Zinn. An interesting middle grade fantasy that I started reading around Christmas before getting distracted.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth. In true Deathlist form, this book is a perennial OMB list favorite. When I finally finish it, I don’t know that I’ll know what to do with myself.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. I’m hoping to get back into walking this month, so audio books are back on the list!

Henry IV, pt 1 Originally, I was reading this so I’d know the story when I went to the play in March. I’ve cancelled my trip, but I still want to finish the play. This is an audio book, and I’m on the last disk.

That’s it. I also have a few things I’m re-reading so I can finally review them, and some that I’m working on at the pace of a chapter a week or so, which means I won’t finish them for a few months. Mostly, March is going to be a slow reading month so I have time to write!

 

Writing Process Blog Hop

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Thanks to Haley Whitehall for tagging me in this blog hop. Follow the link back to her post to find out what she’s writing.

What am I working on?

The project consuming most of my attention is a re-imaging of the Robin Hood legend with Maid Marian as the main character. (For once, she’s the hero and he exists mostly to be the love interest.) I’ve set it in a fantasy world heavily influenced by England of the period, mainly because in raising the stakes of the story, it became necessary to truly defeat the villain and I can’t exactly kill Prince John in a piece of historical fiction. So the culture is essentially English, but the geography is more continental Europe, and the history of the region is entirely made up.

I’m also polishing my Jane Austen sequels one last time before I start the process of creating audio books. Narrators have to read exactly what is on the page, so I want to catch any errors or repeated words before I submit the manuscripts.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Though the Maid Marian trilogy is technically fantasy and adventure, it is much more character driven than many books in those genres. As a writer, I find my story faster if I focus on who the character is and what they would do in a situation, rather than a progression of events. Of course, what the character does becomes that progression of events that we call plot, but coming at it through the back door gives a different perspective on it.

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I’m passionate about. I’ve loved Pride and Prejudice for twenty years, so writing a set of books following those characters was a joy. The Robin Hood project landed in my lap through a series of odd events (I’ve written about that before), but once I dug into it, the idea completely caught my fancy.

I believe there isn’t much point in spending the time it takes to write a good novel on something that doesn’t interest me. The reader can usually tell, and it’s a pretty poor way to treat myself.

How does my writing process work?

1) Get a brilliant idea.
2) Develop the characters and outline.
3) Start writing.
4) Move the cat.
5) Panic.
6) Dig in.
7) Repeat steps 4-6 until the draft is complete, and then again until editing is completely.

My process is also heavily organized. In the outlining phase, I have a few tools I’ve used over and over that I know develop good books. When I write, I try to write in the same place every day so it becomes a habit. And editing… I actually color-code my drafts. I edit by hand, and draft two is done in purple ink, draft three in pink, and draft four in blue. I even have matching folders to put the manuscript in so I know where I am.

And the final part of the post, tagging other authors:

Kimberly Truesdale is a writing and literature teacher who has a line from The Great Gatsby tattooed on her arm and has worn out at least five copies of Anne of Green Gables. She has published two historical romances with another on its way soon. Her post will be up Monday, March 3.

Jennifer Becton worked for more than twelve years in the traditional publishing industry as a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. Upon discovering the possibilities of the expanding ebook market, she created Whiteley Press, LLC, an independent publishing house, and she has since published in two genres: historical fiction and thrillers. The Personages of Pride and Prejudice Collection includes Charlotte Collins, Caroline Bingley, and “Maria Lucas.” Absolute Liability, Death Benefits, At Fault, and the forthcoming Moral Hazard are the first four volumes in the six-book Southern Fraud Thriller series. Her post will be up Thursday, March 6.

Liz Onstead

Giving Myself Permission to Fail

I am what some might call a perfectionist. I set very high goals for myself, and then I beat myself up when I don’t achieve them. Daily word count is a classic example: I know what I am capable of–5K/day easily, with spikes up to 15K. I take that capacity and turn it into an expectation.

But some days, the words just don’t come. Some days, I stare at the screen for an hour and manage maybe 700 words. That’s when I do the math and realize it’ll take me nearly seven hours to reach 5K at that rate, and I panic. Panicking kills all motivation to work, because if I’m not going to succeed, what’s the point in trying?

And that is how I end up with several days in a row of doing nothing but opening my file, staring at it, and closing it again.

Obviously, this isn’t going to get a book written, so I need a new approach. Shame is not an effective motivator.

Last Wednesday, I decided I would sit down every day and work for three hours, with the goal of surpassing the previous day’s word count. If I’m still going great guns at the end of three hours, I can continue of course, but that gives me permission to stop after I’ve made a good faith attempt.

Then on Saturday, I realized something even harder to handle. The plot of my book wasn’t going to hold up under any scrutiny. There was a whole section in the middle where nothing happened, and it was all Marian thinking about nothing happening. That’s not very interesting, even if it is realistic.

For a few hours, I thought I needed to quit the book. This project has had so many starts and stops that it’s become a jumbled mess in my head. I wrote an email to Jess, and at the very end, I added, “I don’t know, maybe I need to write it from Robin’s POV.”

As soon as I allowed that thought into my mind, I started getting ideas for scenes. It also solves another problem caused by Marian’s POV that I don’t want to talk about because spoilers. Tomorrow I’ll work on the new outline, Wednesday I’ll go through all my variations on this novel and pull out the bits that can be saved, and Thursday I’ll start writing again. I’ve pushed the deadline back to the end of March, so I’m feeling confident once more.

I am a bit sad to let go of the Robin Hood but Maid Marian aspect. I know a lot of people were very excited by that, but it just didn’t work. However, rest assured Marian will get her story. The second book in the series should still be either all from her POV or a split POV between her and Robin, depending on how book 1 goes.

It feels good to be excited about this project again.

Outlining a Trilogy

Last year, I went to an book signing with five YA authors, including Lauren Oliver, who was promoting the final book in her Delirium trilogy. The crowd asked a lot of the typical questions, including, “Do you outline?” and “What’s one thing you would have done differently?” and she said something that stuck with me.

Though she did plan each individual book, she didn’t outline the series as a whole. Obviously it turned out well enough, but she said next time, she would plot out the trilogy before writing book one, so she could seed information into the first and second books.

So, here I am, working (rather haltingly) on book one of a trilogy. I started by filing a spiral notebook with the backstory for the universe and character sketches. Then I fumbled around with the book one outline, thought I was done, started to write, and redid the outline. But always looming in the back of my mind was the thought that I ought to plot out where the series would go after the first book ended.

I planned to look up blog posts on writing a series, and then I stumbled across another method, quite by accident. In a series, your character arc should start in the first book and resolve in the final book. Obviously, the reader will want noticeable progress in each book, but the biggest arc should go from start to finish.

On Sunday, I sat down with 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. After giving all the character archetypes, she delves deeper into the feminine and masculine journeys. As it happens, the feminine journey is in three parts, each of which is broken into three stages. The idea is that each part is an act, but a quick glance confirmed that they would easily correspond to three books, with the three steps within each act being the three acts of the individual novels.

I suppose you could call this the Snowflake method in reverse. I’l still be applying the nine step journey to each individual book, but always keeping the thought in mind that true resolution won’t happen until the end of book three.

And there might be a cliffhanger at the end of book two…

EvilCon Hits the Trail

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Two weeks ago, I celebrated my birthday by inviting Jessica Melendez and Patty Marquez to Portland for the weekend. The highlight was either a trip to Powell’s or the series 3 finale of Sherlock, but on Saturday, we drove up the Columbia River Gorge to the waterfalls.

Jess and I at Multnomah Falls

Besides having a great time, as you can tell, the trip solved a tricky problem in Maid Marian. Where do the Merry Men live? Traditionally, they live in the actual trees of Sherwood Forest, but I wanted to do something a bit different.

Latourell Falls in spring

Looking at the caverns etched in the cliffs behind the waterfalls, I realized this was the perfect answer. I do know that other novels have done this–caves hidden by waterfalls aren’t exactly a new idea either. However, it will bring something new to the Robin Hood story, and that’s what I want.

Bridal Veil Falls in Summer

Another bonus of using waterfall caves is that I have tons of reference material on my computer already. I’ve visited the falls of the Gorge more times than I can count; I know what a waterfall looks like, and I have walked behind one. If I need inspiration, the trails are only a 45 minute drive away.

The Ladies of EvilCon

So thank you, ladies, for sharing my birthday and for unwittingly inspiring some fun scenes in Maid Marian.

Speaking of which, these books need actual titles… any ideas?

A Tale of Two Authors

Thursday evening, 10 PM: Our author sits down to begin her new novel.

Friday morning, 12 AM: After just two hours of work, she has logged over 2000 words.

This is how writing always used to work for me. I love NaNoWriMo in part because it taught me to write a rough draft quickly. However, after three NaNos in a row with slow starts (under 5K on day 5), I thought I’d lost my touch. I blamed all kinds of things–for one, it isn’t that easy to move from editing mode back into working on a rough draft.

Thursday was a revelation. 1K/hour isn’t my top speed, but it’s a good clip to start at. It is also much, much better than the pulling teeth feeling I’ve had during NaNo recently. The words aren’t good, but it’s a rough draft. They’re not supposed to be good.

So what made the difference?

This is the first time since 2010 that I’ve started with a fairly complete outline. There are holes in the plot line, but I’ve done so much work thinking through the backstory that I’m confidant I’ll know what to write when I get there.

In the world of writing, there are two camps known as plotters and pantsers. Plotters/planners like to figure out, on paper, what’s going to happen in the novel before they begin. Pantsers would rather start with an idea–often fairly fully formed in their minds–and see where it takes them.

The first lesson then is obvious. I’m a plotter (no surprise) and do way better working on a novel when it’s already planned out. In fact, I’m thinking about going back to some of the stories I tried to write last year, spending time putting together backstory and an outline, and giving them another go.

But there’s something else that intrigues me.

In the world of psychology, one of the main personality inventories is the Myers Briggs Type Inventory, which analyzes personalty on four spectrums. The last corresponds to the plotter/pantser difference: judger/perceiver. Judgers like life to be organized, to follow the rules, to be planned out. Perceivers are much more “go with the flow.”

You’d think, given the similarity of these traits, that Js would be plotters, and in fact, I am a J. However, Jessica and I share the same personality type, ENFJ. We are the same age, had very similar upbringings, and have near identical tastes in literature, movies, and tv shows. We hashtag things #separatedatbirth.

Jessica is so far on the pantser side that outlines make her break out in a cold sweat. Instead of giving her the freedom to write, like they do me, she feels boxed in. If the book starts to diverge from the outline, she feels like she’s failed. They simply aren’t a helpful tool for her.

And here’s the second lesson. Sometimes authors feel like they should work in a certain way. Maybe an author loves a certain genre, or books with a first person POV, and they feel like that’s what they should be writing. Or perhaps they’ve listened too much to the adage, “Write what you know,” and feel boxed in to a certain storyline or genre based on their life experience.

Or maybe you know your personality and know that you like to plan things out, or be taken by surprise. Maybe you think that should translate into your writing, and you’re frustrated that things aren’t going well.

There are no rules stating what kind of writer you should be. Just like I learned earlier with my pirates/Robin Hood/Maid Marian revelation, each writer should write what they want, and how they want. That often means ignoring the questions and criticisms from others, but sometimes it means ignoring your own inner doubts. Once you’ve found what works for you, stick with it… no matter what the voices in your head say.

someecards.com - Writing: A socially acceptable way to silence the voices in your head.