Monday, 25 August 2014

An unusual source for inspiration

I love stock photo sites. Even if I don’t actually need a photo for a book cover, I browse them just for fun. If I find a good photo for a future book, especially for my Two-Natured London series – because let me tell you, those similarly posing men are difficult to find – I buy it or save it for a future purchase.

Every once in a while the process goes the other way round. I find a wonderful picture that would make a great book cover and I immediately start to imagine the book I would write to that cover. Nothing ever comes of those books, usually because I dont have time to write all of them.

Nothing, that is, until now.

A while back I found a couple of beautiful photos that I knew would make a wonderful cover together. Seeing the cover in my mind’s eye, I knew exactly the book I would write. The best part was that I already had the beginning of that book. So I purchased the photos and even tested the cover I would make before starting with the script.

I realised pretty much immediately why I hadn’t finished writing the book. It wasn’t any good. But I had the cover and I wanted to use it. And the manuscript wasn’t hopeless. I liked the setting and the main characters. I simply needed to make the story work.

At first I tried weeding the bad parts out and rewriting the other parts, but that approach didn’t lead to anything. There was too much that needed rewriting. I had to face the fact that if I wanted to use those characters and setting, I would have to write a completely new book. So I did.

It Happened on a Lie is a short romance of a silly kind. And I do mean short and silly. It’s less than 25000 words long and has twists and turns to fill a much larger book. But I like it. It’s romantic and it definitely fits the cover. It’s perhaps a somewhat unorthodox way of writing a book, but I dont care.

The book is currently in the hands of my editor. I’ll share bits of it once I get it back. In the meanwhile, here is the cover. Don’t you think it’s worth a book?

Monday, 18 August 2014

Change in Amazon algorithms?

Another Amazon related blog post, this time in the form of a question. Namely, have you noticed anything unusual in the rankings of your books on Amazon? The question is brought up by a post on kboards I read today. Its author states, rather unhappily, that books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited enjoy much higher ranking than those that aren’t in it. That one borrow moves a book up in charts much more than it used to and more than a sale does.

Personally, I haven’t noticed the same. What I have noticed is, however, that both sales and borrows make books jump in charts more than they used to, whether or not they have been enrolled to KU. A particular book of mine, not in KU, hadn’t sold in months, yet one sale made it jump from the uglier side of a million-something rank to a hundred thousand. Unheard of before. The drop was deep too, when there were no more sales.

The author of the post on kboard is convinced that Amazon has changed its algorithms and is favouring books that have been enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. I have a differing view to offer.

The current Amazon algorithm, as far as I understand, takes into account the overall sales of books, and moves the books up and down in the ranking in relation to how many books have been sold in general in a particular time. The ranking of a particular book changes less when many books are being sold, and more when fewer books are sold over all. One sale can make a book jump in ranking when its been a slow day overall, and, respectively, a very good day for a book might barely show in ranking if all books have sold well that day.

So. Could it be that ever since Kindle Unlimited, fewer books have been sold overall? Personally, I can tell that I sell fewer books than before, and although borrowing is up, it hasn’t really reached the numbers of my sales before KU. I have read different stories as well; there are many who haven’t noticed any great changes, and some say so in the comments of the kboard post too.

Nonetheless, my very subjective and limited take prompts me to wonder, if the jumps in the rankings are happening because, overall, the book sales are down. That instead of giving a boost to books in KU, the algorithm is as it has been, and there are simply fewer books moving. That they aren’t being sold as much as before, but they aren’t really being borrowed either.

What are your thoughts or experiences? Do your books move as much as they have before? Do their rankings jump up and down? Please, share in the comments.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Amazon’s margins

This weekend turned out to be another busy chapter in Amazon-Hachette saga. First Amazon approached KDP authors by email, asking them to appeal directly to Hachette CEO, who then responded with a letter of his own. Everyone had an opinion about everything, although most of it seemed to concentrate on “what Orwell really said” about paperbacks.

Among the commentary were two posts that stood out with their different approach: Making Sense of Amazon-Hachette by Jake Kerr, and Wobbly Amazon by Baldur Bjarnason (both are worth reading in full). They concentrate on Amazon’s low profit margins and why the company is so keen to maintaining them.

“Amazon isn’t thinking offense, it is thinking defense”

According to Kerr and Bjarnason, Amazon doesn’t aim to push publishers or bookstores out of business. Its biggest fear is the big technology companies, Apple, Microsoft and Google, and what would happen if they entered the e-book markets in force. In that scenario, Amazon would lose its dominant position fast, mainly because the big three have vastly more popular platforms in iOS and Android. Naturally, Amazon doesn’t want that.

Amazon’s strategy is to keep the margins on e-book business deliberately low so that the market wouldn’t be attractive for the big technology companies. It discounts aggressively, making the value of the book business for other e-book retailers not worth bothering with. It maintains this, even though the book business is “fairly miserable for them at the current margins”.

However, Amazon may not be able to continue with this strategy for much longer: “Amazon can’t rely on the good graces of the stock market forever. They’ll eventually need to show profit or at least more focused growth.” And that would mean increasing the margins in the e-book business.

They have various options for it. They could raise the book prices, but that would invite the competition in and simultaneously drive away customers. They could try to get publishers to lower the book prices so that they wouldn’t have to subsidise them so much for the discounted books. (They pay publishers and authors based on the list price from their own profits.) This is essentially what they are trying to get Hachette to do.

And then there is always the option of increasing the margins on the expense of the self-published authors. Currently, Amazon pays 70% of the sales price to the authors. It’s a generous share and so, to maintain it, it would make sense for the self-published authors to support Amazon’s low margins strategy. However, that might lead to the entire business to collapsing at some future date.

It’s difficult to see what would happen if Amazon were to abandon the low margins strategy. Larger margins would lure in the big operators. This would create genuine competition, which would benefit the readers, but would it benefit the self-published authors? Would they still be willing to offer 70% or more to lure us in? I doubt it.

If Kerr and Bjarnason are correct, it is more than likely that Amazon have to increase their margins. So, there will be changes in the e-book markets that will affect self-published authors too. And, unfortunately, much of this depends on the outcome of Amazon’s dispute with Hachette.