Amazon sent out a communique to its affiliates stating that as of March 1, if it determines that the affiliate is primarily involved in touting free ebooks, or it has over 20K downloads of free ebooks through its affiliate links, it is ineligible to receive payment for that month.
BREAKING NEWS: I’m featured as the lead quote on Forbes.com in an article on the future of book discoverability. How cool is that? Would appreciate you sharing it via facebook, twitter, etc. Easy to do with the buttons on the left.
NEWS: A brand new interview on self-publishing with yours truly at Worpreneur.com. Worth a look!
That means that all the sites that have sprung up to push free ebooks will now fade away. Unless they don’t care about the affiliate revenues. Which some might not. But the lion’s share will. So their business model just collapsed.
[***UPDATE*** Here is the actual language of the change to the Amazon TOC - I have discovered an interesting loophole that could be exploited by the free sites to remain compliant and still go about their business:
“In addition, notwithstanding the advertising fee rates described on this page or anything to the contrary contained in this Operating Agreement, if we determine you are primarily promoting free Kindle eBooks (i.e., eBooks for which the customer purchase price is $0.00), YOU WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE TO EARN ANY ADVERTISING FEES DURING ANY MONTH IN WHICH YOU MEET THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS:
(a) 20,000 or more free Kindle eBooks are ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links; and
(b) At least 80% of all Kindle eBooks ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links are free Kindle eBooks.”
What they could do is just do all free books through NON-AFFILIATE links! Because the verbiage specifically calls out Special Links. So just use non-special (i.e. ordinary links) for the free books and you've complied.***]
What has the reaction been? From readers, it’s mostly akin to taking a bottle away from a drunk – they don’t like it. Most don’t seem to understand that there will still be free ebooks – they are responding as though Amazon has stopped allowing free ebooks. That’s not the case. But no matter how often they are told, most still keep reacting the same way: “It’s an outrage! Bad Amazon!!!”
Here’s my take. Free content will still be available. You will just have to spend a minute of your precious time finding it. Instead of having it nicely delivered to you on a silver platter, you’ll actually have to invest a tiny amount of effort. Now, I know, to a populace that is hooked on entitlements, any time you propose that those receiving the benefit have to work to get it, the howling rivals a wolf pack at midnight. Guess what? You want free crap, you’ll have to spend some time to find it. Boo hoo. Poor you.
As an author, I celebrate Amazon trying to pull away from free. They created a monster. And they know that free is impacting their sales. They’re not stupid. Free has created an environment where there is a whole sub-culture of readers who believe that they shouldn’t have to pay for books – that the author, the editor, the formatter, the proofreader and the cover designer should all work for free, as should Amazon. And Amazon is basically trying to close the door on that notion. Bravo Amazon, I say. It was fun while it lasted, but the ride is over.
I have built a large following using free. I heart free. Or rather, I did. I started turning less positive on free last late spring, if you go back and read my blogs – it occurred to me that while I was personally working the free thing about as well as it had ever been worked, that it was hurting the overall market as a whole. In short, it’s a bad long term strategy, except for on the first book in a series.
And before I get countless agonized comments about how free has allowed you to discover new authors, myself included, go back and reread the part about free still being available. As in, you can still discover new authors by reading their free books. But you’ll need to do some work. That’s the part everyone is crying about. The work part. Because a tiny amount of difficulty has been introduced in order to obtain something for free. Repeat. You can still get free books. That hasn’t changed.
So my take is that this is a strong positive for authors, and for Amazon. Because guess what? New authors were getting discovered before the free promos, and they will still get discovered after they’re a thing of the past. The glut of free material has helped some, but it has hurt most. Now authors have to go back to traditional, old fashioned marketing – they can no longer spend 20 minutes alerting 15 sites about their freebie and call it a day.
And the freeloaders will have to put in a little effort to get their free lunch. My hunch is that Amazon knows full well that most people are too lazy to exert the slightest effort, so free will drop off dramatically. Which is what they’re after, I believe.
Having said that, did I mention that JET is currently FREE on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple, etc.? I’d hurry and pick up a copy, because soon, you won’t be able to find it easily for free, either.
A name popped into my head the other day. And no, it wasn’t Mr. Satan again. Although I suppose it could have been. But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. He usually brings tequila.
Anyway, the name was Gunner. A new character for a new series. The last name of a Hollywood PI with anger management issue, many for good reason – his hippy parents named him Artemus Gunner (dad’s fave TV show in the 60s was the Wild Wild West, and he loved Artemus Gordon – the number two guy, not even the number one guy, so when it game time to name Gunner…you can probably guess the rest), he joined the army when he was 16, forging his parents’ signature so as to piss them off when he announced, “I’m Going To Go KILL!!!”, but they just wished him well and told him they hoped his head would get into a more loving space and sent him on his way with a flower power T-shirt and an acoustic guitar. He got dishonorably discharged after 5 years due to disciplinary issues, and then grew his hair long and became a rock musician in Hollywood, where he met his 18 year old soon-to-be-wife and singer (with pipes like Joplin) who would take his band to stardom.
Of course, things didn’t go right for him, and after landing a record deal with the band to record the songs he’d penned and on the eve of the album’s release and their first tour opening for Nirvana, he got into a bar fight and broke his hand. The record company replaced him, and because he’d signed over all the songwriting credits to his wife (because she still technically lived in a trailer near a whorehouse in Elko, Nevada) in order to cheat the California tax authority out of their slice, he got nothing from the record (which went on to become one of the biggest sellers of the 90s) except $50K of hush money from a smarmy attorney who handled the shotgun negotiation, then assisted his wife in divorcing him (for which she thanked him by shacking up with the attorney). She’s now as famous as Beyonce, rich beyond imagination, and makes Madonna seem easy to get along with.
Gunner’s life post-rock god phase was a series of misadventures, where he frittered his paltry nest egg away on a series of disastrous businesses – a MLM supplement scam (he still has a room full of 15 year old shark cartilage), a dog walking/training biz (that went nowhere because dogs tended to hate him and bite him), a carpet cleaning business where he ruined a Beverly Hills home’s irreplaceable persian carpets, and finally a limo business that looked promising until a starlet OD’d in the back while he was driving her to the Grammies (he was busy telling her a story about a famous producer he’d worked with and didn’t notice she was dead ’till he pulled up to the red carpet area and the flashbulbs started going off).
His old army buddies, one of whom is a cop, another of whom is an entertainment attorney, helped him out and committed to getting him business if he got his PI license, which he did – barely. So now he’s the PI to the stars, and he’s reasonably good at it – not good enough to make any kind of real money, of course, but good enough to have developed a reputation.
He’s forty-something, retro everything, pictures himself as Bogey but doesn’t quite hit the right notes, is perennially trying to quit smoking (and is enraged by California’s restrictive anti-smoking ordinances), drives a convertible 73 Eldorado that barely runs (but is what a pimping LA PI should drive, in his opinion), and is basically kind of a twat. He’s working on his rage issues with a therapist who is angrier than he is. He prefers to speak in wisecracks, his communication skills somewhat lacking. His assistant is a hot twenty-something wannabe rock singer who despises him, the job, her life, but there’s some sexual chemistry/tension there. She lives with her tattoo artist boyfriend, who she suspects cheats on her constantly. She’s also very good at the job she hates – and she also hates the 70s and 80s music Gunner tends to favor, his 1940s styling, and his overall approach to life. Her nickname for him is “douche.” He tells himself it’s endearing – the way kids talk nowadays and all.
Each book is a new case brought to him by the attorney or the cop, which he must solve. There will probably also be a love interest each book. And a cat. A fat one named Mugsy that also hates him even though he is nothing but good to it (though he pretends indifference, he adores the cat and is secretly hurt that it dislikes him).
The parents, Spring and Chakra Skywalker, live in Berkeley, and for them it’s still the Summer of Love. Everything’s groovy, baby, peace and love. They wear Berkenstocks and Grateful Dead shirts and are oblivious to the passage of time, as well as reality – but through a quirk, Spring’s handmade soap business took off big in the late 90s and was bought by a conglomerate, so they’re rich. And dad put the money into Apple, knowing nothing about what the company did but liking the logo, man. Every book finds them working on some new improbable business that becomes mega, through no fault of their own. They live in a $10 million home in the Berkeley hills now and lecture Gunner about how money means nothing and it’s all about your energy meridians while he struggles to get by (he’s too proud to ask for a dime), and each new hair-brained idea (handmade candles, lava lamps, magnets for spiritual alignment, etc.) winds up making another fortune, further adding to Gunner’s black humor and rage at the universe at the unfairness of it all.
The attorney friend will be a combination of every politically correct, LA idiocy I can think of – he’s nipped and tucked and plugged and spray tanned, metro, a pathological liar, calls everyone baby and dude, name drops constantly, etc. The cop friend will be a decent sort who agonizes over his young bride’s depression over how the world doesn’t understand her. Hilarity ensues.
So that’s what I do when I’m in the bathroom. One of the things I do. And now that I have Gunner in my head, I feel compelled to write his adventures. So much for my lighter publishing schedule in 2013. Look for the first Gunner book by summer. Titled, appropriately, Gunner. Maybe a noir cover, reminiscent of the era. I actually sort of already know what I want it to look like. Copper colored, maybe a black line drawing of a guy wearing a fedora in profile, but just from the shoulders up, the collar of his trench coat (which he wears, but you never need to in L.A.) turned up.
I’m scaring myself with this.
But in a good way.
Anyway, my new publishing schedule will probably now change to seven books, maybe eight, in 2013, which is what I swore, SWORE, I wouldn’t ever do again.
But Mugsy and Gunner and the rest must be birthed. And you read about it here first, as it was gelling. Whatever the hell that means…
I’m pretty excited about something that showed up at my house about two weeks ago. And no, it’s not a spirited soul named Stormy who’s younger than many of my socks. Although I wouldn’t be heartbroken if that happened. Just saying, if you’re listening, Stormy, and frankly, that can be an alias. I’m not here to judge.
No, what I’m tickled, tickled by, I say, is my new answer to the sedentary life of the author.
By way of preamble, I’ve always said that if I want to get my heart rate up I’ll just buy a carton of Marlboros, have a XL triple cheese and meat pizza, and invite the IRS to audit me.
But I’ve changed my evil ways. At least, one of them.
What the hell is he talking about, you’re probably asking yourself right about now – and well you should be. The anticipation will simply make my revelation even better. Trust me on that.
Are you ready? Wait for it…wait for it…
I got a treadmill desk.
And it is Godhead. My life has completely changed since it showed up. Seriously.
After 18 months of sitting in one spot for 15 hours a day, I was starting to get, well, dare I say it, curmudgeonly. No doubt due to my lack of any exercise – and all because you people are such greedy word whores and can only think of yourselves, putting nothing but pressure on me to continue writing the next one, and the next after that. Novels. Not words. Although novels are certainly composed of words. Mine simply happen to contain many of the same ones. Like kill. And blood. But I digress.
The point is that the new treadmill desk has made me a new man, or at least a slightly less used one. While the first few days were filled with growing pains (the vibration from my shambling steps was vibrating the tequila bottle off the edge of the desk after a certain amount of inattention, and the ashtray kept sliding onto the belt, which wasn’t so much of a problem until I turned the damned thing on and it was moving), by the end of the week I was walking to nowhere for hours a day, like a pro. Assuming there are pro treadmill walkers. Which I doubt there are. For good reason, actually.
Now, I’ve been walking 6 to 8 miles a day as I write. No exaggeration. I pace myself at around 2.3 miles per hour, and go for three to four hours – one on, two off, one on, two off. My dogs think I’m insane, but F them, as well as my neighbors, who are still testy about the incident with their children, my homemade napalm, and the claymores.
My biggest fear going into the full time writing thing, besides having to quit drinking (thankfully, not required), was that I would lose my girlish figure and have to work all the harder to qualify for my old gig dancing in the man thong at Jalapeno Heat for the tourist ladies. The featured soloist positions, especially, are in hot demand, and the competition is fierce. I don’t think I could bear the rejection if Pancho and Gerardo declined me in open auditions, choosing a younger, firmer dancer for the premier position in the most heralded all-male boylesque revue in Mazatlan. But now that I have the treadmill desk, those fears have been rendered groundless, and I’m confident I can be on the pole again whenever I like, shaking my money maker to I Can’t Go For That dressed as a construction worker, or naughty cowboy, or saucy sailor, or whatnot.
So what have we learned here? That dreams are important, and we should cherish ours, even if they involve demeaning and humiliating gyrations for middle-aged gringa women with shameless hunger in their inebriated eyes and the need for a decent manicure (ladies – the hangnails are a hazard – that’s all I’m saying). And that physical fitness should not be cast aside as we labor away on the next 50 Shades of Yarn for Mister Whiskers. No, thanks to technology, and about $1500, we can have it all – the joy of wallowing in obscurity as well as reasonable fitness, assuming that you view walking at a moderate pace as the most strenuous workout you’re likely to do.
In all seriousness, if you’re an author, do yourself a favor and check this baby out. I had mine painted with black lacquer and flames, but that’s just because I’m all that and you know how I roll. It changed my life, as well as my electric bill, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic, and I’m not complaining. Much.
Oh, and JETis seeing record downloads since I took it free in the US and UK. If you haven’t read it, you basically suck and should be completely ashamed of yourself, and should go download it immediately, because otherwise clowns will boogarize you and you’ll die cold and alone of brain ebola while lying in a drainage ditch, mocked by your triumphant enemies and jeered by the few people you thought actually cared about you, as a harsh, uncaring God turns his back on your misery and the Devil peels your living flesh from your bones while you roast in eternal hell. Don’t let that happen. It’s free. Don’t risk it. Especially not the boogarizing. Nobody wants clown boogarizing.
On a side note, I was going to start including gratuitous snaps of adorable kitties in a basket or cute puppies wearing funny party hats on my blog as a shameless attempt to curry favor and boost traffic, but instead, I decided on this:
Hugh Howey is one of the resonating success stories of the indie publishing movement. His Wool series is a massive hit, and he recently signed a deal with Simon and Schuster where he retained his ebook rights, in a move that was hailed as groundbreaking only a short time before Colleen Hoover did the same. The landscape is apparently changing so fast that last week’s news is this week’s legend, but one thing that seems to be consistent is that readers are embracing well-written indie-published books with enthusiasm. Hugh is a wonderfully warm and down to earth author whose talent is only exceeded by his humility. He’s a fitting model for the industry, and it’s with great pleasure that I welcome him to the blog.
NEWS: A great review for Silver Justice from Sheila Deeth is a must-read!
RB: Hugh, your Wool series is a blockbuster. To what do you attribute its success?
HH: I attribute its success to the readers. They are the ones who read the first Wool and demanded more. I wouldn’t have written the rest of the series without their feedback and reviews clamoring for me to continue the saga. And everything since then has been a product of their enthusiasm, their telling family and friends, and all the great buzz they’ve created. For some reason, this story resonates with people. They’ve done the rest.
RB: You’re not exactly an overnight sensation. How long have you been at this, and what was your journey?
HH: It feels practically overnight! I’ve been writing seriously for four years. I had six novels and a short story published before Wool took off. The last year has been insane. This time a year ago, I worked in a bookstore shelving other people’s books.
RB: Your recent deal with Simon & Schuster where you kept your ebook rights was considered a landmark for indie authors. Do you see this becoming the norm moving forward?
HH: I sure hope so. It might not become the norm, but it should become more common. Colleen Hoover recently received a similar deal. And before us there was Bella Andre with Harlequin. Publishers are much more flexible than they get credit for. I think they’ve been fortunate to watch and learn from the film and movie industries. They are adjusting faster than those businesses did.
RB: Let’s talk process. Do you outline, plot and structure, or do you just sit down and write? How long between when a book idea comes to you, and when it’s ready to be written?
HH: I plot and structure, but I leave room for my characters to meander and inform the plot as they go. It’s a wide path I lay out. But I know where it’s headed. I have to have the final scene in my head before I start. Otherwise, I think readers can sense when a story is wandering aimlessly.
RB: Do you have a set schedule for writing? What’s your typical writer’s day like?
HH: I get most of my writing done in the morning. I aim for 2,000 words a day. I can usually get this done between 6 and 11 in the morning.
RB: Do you have monthly or annual word goals? How’s your discipline?
HH: My annual goals are to publish around 200,000 words. That might be three short novels or two long ones. I wrote five novels over 60,000 words each last year, which I consider a success.
RB: Longhand or computer? Any trick software you favor for writing?
HH: Oh, computer. My hand cramps after the first page of longhand. My software of choice is Apple’s Pages, because of how clean the fullscreen mode is. Too bad Apple has abandoned the application. I would love an update.
RB: How do you come up with your characters? Based on real people, pure invention, or a combo?
HH: It has to be a combo. I pull from people I know and all the fictional characters I’ve encountered over the years. And probably too much from myself.
RB: Do you ever have issues with motivation? Writer’s block? If so, how do you move past it?
HH: No, I can always write. The problem these days is finding the time! I have way too much business-related stuff to handle. It was easier writing around my day job, because when I wasn’t working, I didn’t have anything on my mind other than the book in progress. These days, I can’t stop thinking about the emails piling up, the books to sign and ship, the upcoming travels, and so much more. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but I would have thought when I quit my day job that all I’d have to do is sit around and write!
RB: Describe your work environment. Quiet? Music? Window? What is it like?
HH: Silence. Me and my laptop and my dog. I can be on the sofa or out in the back yard or in the bed. All I see is my laptop and all I hear is my dog grunting to be taken for a walk.
RB: How many hours a day do you write? Are you consistent every day, or is it sporadic?
HH: I try to spend 3-4 hours writing a day. I’m pretty consistent. Except when travel intrudes. And then I try to cram it into plane rides and gate waits.
RB: How many times do you polish before your manuscript is ready for edit – how many drafts?
HH: I aim for 7-8 complete drafts. The last one or two are light edits, but those are often the most important.
RB: Adverbs. Satan’s foot soldiers, or valuable tools?
HH: Valuable tools! Man, what’s up with all the rules for writers? Just say what you want to say. Convey information. We are writing for readers, not English majors. What’s strange is getting an email from an aspiring writer with some sample of their material attached. The email is invariably a better read than the writing. We put too much pressure on ourselves. Just write. Use your own voice. Forget complete sentences and how many –ing and –ly words you’re using.
RB: Let’s talk pricing. How do you arrive at your pricing model, and how do you know it’s “right?” Do you see that changing over time? If so, in what way?”
HH: I’m not the right one to ask. I have zero confidence in my own writing, so it’s all I can do not to make it all free. I undervalue and therefore underprice everything I write.
RB: What do you think about the current state of trad pub vs. self-publishing? If someone came to you and asked which to do, what would you say?
HH: I think a very beautiful interplay between the two is coalescing. The stigma against self-published work has disappeared among publishers. 1 out of every 20 books sold last year was from E.L. James, who originally published on a fan fiction site. That’s mind boggling. It has publishers looking everywhere for the next bestseller.
Over a year ago, well before Wool took off, my advice to myself and my fellow writers was to view self-publishing as the new querying method. Stop wasting your time trying to prove yourself to agents and editors. That process is SLOW. Self-publish and start writing the next work. Rinse and repeat. If you work catches on with the gatekeepers who matter (the readers) the rest of the publishing world will come to you. If you can’t please the readers, going traditional isn’t going to help.
I know that sounds simplistic coming from someone who has had success, but I was harping on this before my sales took off. Of course, I was ridiculed for suggesting such a tactic. I still am. But even though I have publishers clamoring for my next work, I continue to self-publish first and wait for things to play out afterward. I can’t sit on a finished work for a year while the marketing machine warms up. Books are now published forever. There’s no longer any pressure to earn a bundle in six weeks or six months. Your book might take off ten years from now. Move on.
RB: What counsel would you offer a newbie who was interested in pursuing the author’s path? Is there anything you feel you have done that is primarily responsible for your remarkable success?
HH: I may have touched on most of my best advice above. I recommend two things, really: Write because you love to write and for no other reason. That’s the first thing. Secondly: make your work available. It doesn’t matter how. Give it away if you must. It’s not going to do anything for you unread.
RB: What’s your biggest writing regret? The one thing you wish you could do over, or differently?
HH: I wish I would’ve printed a few hundred copies of the first Wool Omnibus. Those things are going for several hundred bucks on eBay! I think I might sell the copy my wife owns. Don’t tell her.
RB: Whose work most influenced you, and why?
HH: After reading Douglas Adams, I wanted to become a writer. After reading Ender’s Game and hearing that Card was from my home state, I started to think it was possible. These days, it’s Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, and comic book writers like Geoff John, Robert Kirkman, and Joss Whedon.
RB: A question about genre. How much flexibility do you allow yourself in terms of genre-hopping? Do you have a rule of thumb you would recommend?
HH: I’m a few chapters in to my first erotica novel. I’m going to write it all. Reader beware.
RB: What’s your current project? Can you tell us anything about it?
HH: I just wrapped up the last SHIFT book and am working on DUST, which is the last book of the WOOL series.
RB: What’s the best thing about being an author?
HH: Working without getting dressed. Sorry for the mental image.
RB: You’ve been extremely gracious sharing your time and views. What advice would you leave budding authors with, if you only had thirty seconds to impart it?
HH: Stop reading my advice and go write. Entertain yourself. Enjoy the process. Dive into your characters mind and heart and reside there. Have fun and be good to one another!