Amazon blocked my book. Why? I don’t know.

Last Monday, I logged onto my Amazon author’s page and much to my surprise, I learned that my book, BONE GIRL, was blocked. Amazon refused to sell it.

BLOCKED2I immediately emailed the company and received no response. I sent a second email on Tuesday and again, I received no response. Meanwhile, BONE GIRL could not be bought in e-book form on Amazon. It was and is still available at Nook, Kobo and iBook. Smashwords, the distributor I used for my books, had no qualms with BONE GIRL.

On Wednesday, I received an email. Amazon demanded I prove I am the author of BONE GIRL. Okay. No problem. I publish the book via my own small press, Baskethound Books. I sent them an image of my business license. On Thursday, I sent them a copy of the copyright for BONE GIRL. This is the only book I have bothered to seek a copyright for, and I did it only so that I could submit it to a writing contest.

On Thursday, I made the mistake of publishing my experiences to a writer’s board called KBoards. I asked if other authors had the experience of Amazon suddenly and without warning blocking their book. The replies soon came and with them, the venom of my fellow writers. Here’s what those writers had to say: Of course Amazon blocked your book: it has the word “bone” in the title; it must be erotica. Of course Amazon blocked your book: you are copy-catting the best book of 2014: GONE GIRL. It’s obvious: just compare the movie poster to your cover. How dare you? I expressed my innocence: I’ve never read GONE GIRL. I didn’t even see the movie. My book cover features a horse; the movie poster features Ben Affleck. How similar are those? In the end, I asked that my profile be removed from KBoards.

Some writers think Amazon doesn’t help anyone but itself. I don’t know if that’s true. But, I’m foolish enough to wonder if Amazon blocked BONE GIRL with no warning and no explanation, what is to stop them from blocking A YEAR WITH GENO or any of my other books? Will I just log on one day and see that they are not for sale? Maybe.

Some authors publish their books only on Amazon, and I have chosen that route on occasion in the past. But now I’m asking: is it possible for me to publish my books without using Amazon at all? Well, maybe. For example, my readers love print books. Okay. What if I choose – and I do love that word – to publish CELEBRATION HOUSE and its two sequels only in print? I could do it via Ingram Spark. Then, if readers want a copy, they visit Barnes & Noble in person or online and buy one there. Or they could go to their local independently owned bookstore and request the book. It’s not like I’m a bestselling author. Not yet.

As for ebooks, what if I publish with Smashwords only? Readers could buy it from Kobo, iBook or Nook. It’s still available, just not on Amazon. This idea intrigues me: is there life without Amazon?

One last thing: what really bothers me about Amazon and its decision to block my book is that there’s no accountability. I queried them three times to ask why. Why did they block my book? But they do not tell me. They have no phone number. I have only the option of sending emails. It’s kind of like KBoards. The people who post there, especially the venomous ones, do not have a public profile. They like to remain anonymous. That way, they can say whatever they want and there’s no accountability. Hmm. Does that seem like cowardice? I don’t know. What do you think?

Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, still trying to learn how to manage an event venue

P.S. I forgot to say: Amazon removed the block yesterday. Why? I don’t know.

Superfans!

My little boy, Jack, celebrated his seventh birthday last month. For his party, he wanted a “Real Steel” theme.

For those of you without a little boy in your home, “Real Steel” is a movie released in 2011 that tells the story of a down-on-his-luck fighter, Charlie, who reconnects with his biological son, Max. Together, they tour the country with their boxing robots and eventually, their sparring bot, Atom, takes on the world’s champion robot fighter. Leading up to this big fight, Atom conquers other robot boxes, including Metro, Twin Cities and the like. It’s kind of a rock’em, sock’em robot movie.

My son and I don’t share the same opinion of this film. Jack loves it. For me, the film is a waste of 90 minutes. My problem is the main character, Charlie, who literally hawks his son to buy a robot, Noisy Boy. Charlie is played by Hugh Jackman and is the only thing I like about this movie. For me, if Hugh can’t save a movie, it cannot be saved.

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Hugh Jackman with Atom, the little sparring bot who could.

I rate “Real Steel” 1 out of 5 stars. My son, on the other hand, loves it. He gives it five stars. Six, if he had a spare.

Jack loves the robots, and I admit they’re kind of cool. At least the possibility of them. But I just find a father who sells his son to be an unredeemable character. Sorry, Charlie.

But my son overlooks this. For him, it’s all about the robots. In fact, he often asks me, “Mom, do you know how Twin Cities fights?” Twin Cities is a robot. I always say, “No. Show me.” And Jack does, jumping up and down, swinging his fists in the air and adding a “crunch” for sound effect. Then he whirls around and punches the air again. “Like that,” Jack says.

Apparently, I’m alone in my distaste. The film grossed $300 million and was nominated for an Oscar for best visual effects.

My son is what I call a Superfan. Jack, with his endless adoration of this movie, is a super fan of “Real Steel.” The day before his seventh birthday, we traipsed from one party-supply store to another in Spokane, asking if they carried any “Real Steel” merchandise, like paper plates or banners or any of that stuff. I don’t think anybody but Jack was surprised to learn that there were no “Real Steel”-inspired decorations available. Some of the store clerks didn’t even know what “Real Steel” was.

Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, tells authors to grow their own Superfans. In his book, The Secrets to E-book Publishing Success, he talked about the importance of these folks.

“A fan will review your book positively and purchase your other books, and will anxiously await your next books. A fan is also a potential evangelist for your books, and an evangelist will not only recommend your book to friends, they will command their friends to read it…. Fans create word of mouth, and word of mouth separates the poor-sellers from the bestsellers.”

Well, I don’t know if I’m there yet, but I do have a few Superfans. Some are my family – my Aunt Mary Rose, my brother, Kevin, and my mother-in-law, Edith. Others are friends and former co-workers in Alaska who buy my books and read my blog.

Then there’s the patients to whom I provide nursing care. One of them, Joyce, bought both of my books and posted Amazon reviews. Thank you, Joyce. Reviews on Amazon are vital to indie authors. Some book review sites won’t even consider promoting unless the author has at least eight reviews.

Another patient, Shirley, a wisp of a girl at age 86, fawns over the characters in Celebration House and eagerly awaits the sequel. She made me laugh a few days ago when she said to me, “And what the hell kind of name is Sunshine anyway?” referring to a naughty character in Celebration House. I don’t know why, but it makes me laugh to hear octogenarians cuss.

The husband of one of my patients told me, “Carrie needs to buy a generator,” referring to the main character in Celebration House and her struggles to keep the lights on. As they were leaving the clinic, his wife said, “He tells everybody about your book.” Superfan!

Thanks to Facebook, I’ve reconnected with high-school classmates. Recently, I posted a photo of the print version of Bone Girl. Teasingly, I asked “Who wants one?” To my surprise, my classmates do. One friend from long ago said she wanted to buy four copies. Four? What? Buy that many and I come to your house and read them.

I’m so grateful for these readers. Sure, there’s no paper plates or banners featuring the cover art from Bone Girl. Not yet.

Hands and arms inside the cart. Next: making mistakes a long the whey.

Formatting for Dummies

In three days, I will self-publish my second book, Bone Girl.

Unlike Celebration House, this novel required much more of me than just writing and editing. Because it’s self-published and I have a budget of, oh, let’s see, NOTHING, I did all of the work myself. When I say work, I mean writing, editing, revising, proofreading and my least favorite activity of all time, formatting. In fact, I’ve spent nearly every free minute of the last week learning to format my book. (Note – the amazing cover art was the work of Jason Gurley. Wouldn’t it make a great movie poster? I think so too).

Because I am naive. I believed all of the websites when they said how simple it is to self-publish an e-book. Easy! Just download your manuscript in a .doc or .docx format. Yeah. Well, no.

You start with Smashwords because they will distribute your e-book to many of the major retailers, such as Apple, Kobo, iBook and Nook. But Smashwords’ “meat grinder” as they call their computer program and no, I’m not making this up – forbids any extraneous formatting in the document. Thus, the first thing you must do is copy and paste your manuscript to a Notepad document, then copy and paste it back to a word document. The nearest I can figure, and I read those instructions many, many times, this “nuclear” treatment removes any underlining and thus problematic formatting. But it removes a few other things too like indents, italics, chapter breaks, line spacing, etc.

Then there’s Kindle. Be sure any words you want centered do not have an indent or they will look, well, weird, and, uh, off-center. Also, pages must be separated by a hard return, a page break.

Not so on Nook Press, which is Barnes & Noble’s self-publishing platform. Nook requires a section break, so kindly delete all of the page breaks from the manuscript for Kindle and insert section breaks for the manuscript for Nook. My Aunt Mary Rose is waiting for this book to be available on Nook, so by golly, I’m gonna make sure it’s there.

Oh, and then there’s the print version. That manuscript must be in a .pdf file. I haven’t even started on that project yet. You see, creating a print version takes money and I’m rubbing two nickels together. Because honestly, I could have paid someone to do much of the work for me. But, no. I’m too cheap.

Or perhaps, to be brutally honest, I’m too broke. Three days ago, I tiptoed into my bedroom and as my husband was just starting to wake, I whispered in his ear, “Honey, I just spent $275 on our ISBNs.” His response: “What’s an ISBN?”

An ISBN is a number assigned to every book, fiction or nonfiction, to help booksellers keep track of inventory.To clarify, Bone Girl requires three ISBNs: one for the e-book, one for the print version and one for the audio book. Oh, yes, it’s going to be available in audio format also. Exciting, isn’t it?

I know I sound whiny as I relate the ugly albeit boring details of how I’ve spent the last week, but I take this treasure away: I can do this. With patience and perseverance, I can learn to format an e-book. Maybe you can too…

Bone Girl is not going to be perfect. At least, not this first edition. There may be too much white space or a chapter heading that looks a little drunk, but my hope is that readers will be too engrossed in the story to say, “Holy buckets! She’s got an extra return on this page.”

And this sense of accomplishment, wow! It’s like a drug. Forgive me for tooting my own horn, but every time I learn one more technical step, even if it’s a basic one like composing a page on my blog with one column rather than two, well, I just glow. I’m so proud that this 45-year-old dog learned a new trick. I hope you feel this way when you overcome a tech challenge.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon templates that authors can purchase to help format their e-books and print versions. I plan on using one for the print version of Bone Girl. They’re fairly inexpensive – about $30-$40. Sounds like a real timesaver. Ah, heck, where’s the fun in that?

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: Letting it go.

How ereaders are changing the face of publishing

Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, spoke May 2 at the annual Romantic Times Booklovers convention in Kansas City. He presented the results of a survey that studied the e-book market and he made this prediction: “I predict that within three years, over 50% of the New York Times bestselling ebooks will be self-published ebooks. It’s possible I’m being too conservative.”

I’m a novice when it comes to ereaders. In fact, I haven’t bought mine yet. So, I’m going to defer to Meghan Somers, a volunteer at Digital Alberta. Her article, The Rise of the E-Book, in the Nov. 27, 2012, issue of the Calgary Herald, reviewed some eReader basics. Here is her article in its entirety.

“In the beginning ebooks were written and published to a select audience, and in a limited run. Then, in November 2007 Amazon.com released the Kindle and the industry changed. In early 2011 the company announced that they sold more ebooks than paper books – and that number is constantly growing. As this article from TechVibes points out, tablets and ereaders are doing to print what the iPod and iTunes did to music: changing the way people buy and consume content. The numbers certainly reflect this.

In the US 2012 so far has seen $282.3M spent on ebooks in adult literature alone. This is up from $220.4M in 2011. Children’s/young adult eBooks saw an increase of 475.1% from 2011 to 2012. In Canada, while the number of ebooks sold has not overtaken traditional book formats, ebooks account for 16.3% of all book sales – a number which surpasses the expectations of industry experts.

Reading in general seems to be on the rise as a result of ebooks and ereaders. This may have something to do with the ‘I’ve got it so I might as well use it’ mentality people develop towards their digital devices. Research says that on average people who own an ebook device read almost double the amount of books in a year than people who don’t own one. But there are other factors to consider as well. Speed of accessibility, ease of use while travelling and access to content are the top three reasons people prefer ebooks. What is even more interesting is that 88% of people who read ebooks also read printed books. The rise of ebooks has also heralded a rise in readership of books in general – half way through 2012 the total sales (ebooks and print) for books in adult literature alone is up $17.1M from the same time last year.

The rise of the ebook has also seen a rise in self-published material. Perhaps the most famous example of success in the self-published ebook industry is E.L. James’ ’50 Shades of Grey’, but she was not the first to see success in the self publishing world. Amanda Hocking is generally agreed to be the first self-published author to reach over a million dollars in sales with her ‘Trylle’ series. With series like Trylle and 50 Shades opening readers eyes to new avenues for reading content more ‘serious’ subject matter is also being broached in the self-publishing realm. Renowned journalists who spend a lot of time crafting a piece for a major news outlet are often left with a lot more research and material then what ends up on newsstands. Self-publishing allows them to take that leftover material and get it out to the public.

What we can take away from this is that the traditional book industry is not dying – it is simply evolving. People prefer to have multiple ways to consume content, a fact that seems obvious due to the rapid adoption of tablet and mobile content, but until you see the actual stats it is sometimes hard to wrap ones head around the concept.”

Meghan is a volunteer at Digital Alberta. In addition to being a digital media enthusiast she is an Account Executive at The Agency, a boutique PR firm that specializes in the technology sector. 

 

You want me to do what with my words? Smash ’em!

Since I’ve started this journey, I’ve had a lot of technology catching-up to do. I started this blog. I started two professional Facebook pages. I set up a Twitter account. I downloaded and learned to use IrfanView. I opened a Linkedin Account. (Note: my daughters deserve nearly all of the credit for these successes).

But apparently, I have a long, long way to go. More is expected. As Tirgearr Publishing and I walk our way to the debut date of my first novel, Celebration House, on August 1st, I need to know more.

This email from my publisher:

“The (promotional) postcards would be a good place to offer a small discount for people who buy the book through Smashwords. We can set it up where anyone using a code can get 10% off the price of the book when they buy the book on Smashwords. SW has all the e-reader formats so it’s one stop shopping. The code is limited time only, so they’d want to get home and download ASAP.”

What in the world is Smashwords?

Turns out, Smashwords is the world’s leading e-book publishing platform for indie authors and independent presses. According to their website, “…we make it fast, free and easy for any author or publisher, anywhere in the world, to publish and distribute e-books to the major retailers.”

Okay. That sounds good. How does it work?

The author, or in my case, Tirgearr Publishing, uploads my book to Smashwords, who then makes my book available to Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, Baker & Taylor, and the Diesel eBook store.

The company was started in 2008 by a husband and wife team, Mark and Lesleyann Coker. The couple wrote Boob Tube, a satirical novel about the soap-opera industry. Despite representation by a highly respected literary agent, they were unable to find a publisher willing to gamble on first-time authors. Too busy publishing the words of Kim Kardashian, I guess. Anyway, Mark and Lesleyann Coker started Smashwords. In 2008, they offered 140 books; in 2010, they published more than 20,000.

The company prides itself on being good to authors. They return 85% of the net proceeds to the books’ creators. According to their website, they will pay authors millions this year.

Wow! Okay. Let’s smash some words.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: creating sexual tension. Huh?