Saturday, August 11, 2012

RE: LendInk - Please Stop Fiddling, Rome Has Burned To The Ground

LendInk is dead, yet I am still fielding tweets, Facebook messages, and emails from people who seem to think my blog post, "Congratulations, You Killed LendInk..." was somehow misleading with respect to lend compensation. This is the last I am going to say about it, and it's the same thing I've been saying about it all along.

As I said in my update to the blog post, I do not understand why some authors keep raising this issue of lend compensation. All I said in the blog post is that any author who was entitled to compensation per Ammy/B&N terms and conditions was getting it on LendInk lends---and that statement is true. I did not specify who, or under what circumstances, anyone was entitled to lend compensation, and this was by design. Terms and conditions can change at any time, and I have better things to do than keep tabs on such changes to keep my past blog posts up to date.

In any event, given that those who took down LendInk did it because they didn't understand their terms with Amazon well enough even to know that they'd opted in for lending in the first place, I have little doubt they would have misunderstood, or misinterpreted, any such details I could have provided.

The specifics of who was entitled to compensation and under what circumstances are totally outside the scope of my post, which was simply about a legitimate lending site being falsely accused of piracy and being destroyed on that slander alone. None of those who brought it down were driven in their actions by confusion between Prime Lending Library and regular lends. None of them were claiming the lending was allowed, but that they weren't getting compensation to which they were entitled. They cried, "Piracy!" plain and simple.

It seems to me that most (maybe not all, but most) of those who keep raising this issue are using it as a red herring to distract attention from their reprehensible actions against LendInk.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Do Readers Of Different Genres Have Specific Craft Preferences?

Okay, I'm taking off my crankypants now to write a rare post about craft. Let me open by saying this post will contain some gross generalizations, and I know such blanket statements can't possibly cover all situations and will certainly be untrue in many cases. I'm only working with blanket statements here to address a larger topic, so please try to bear with me on them and focus on the larger topic.

I have a writer acquaintance who writes hard-boiled detective, murder mystery novels. He will often post excerpts from his work as a promotional gambit (as opposed to looking for feedback), and just as often will post about his disappointment with his sales. I read some of his excerpts, and concluded that to my mind, what's wrong with his work is that it's overwritten.

He seems never able to write something like, "She was exhausted," when he could write something like, "The weight of the day, the hopeless yoke of overwork, enveloped her in a fog of somnambulant fatigue." And he doesn't employ these kinds of sentences sparingly, virtually every line appears to have been laboriously massaged, tinkered with, and obsessed over.

Some people reading this will actually prefer the second, lengthier sentence to the first. Some will also think it's just fine if most of the sentences in a given book are like the second one, and will admire the craft that went into them. Other people---people like me---, not so much. It got me thinking about reader tastes, and whether it might be possible to predict them.

And here's where those gross generalizations enter the picture. It seems to me that readers who favor certain genres may also favor certain writing styles.

I am a near-textbook example of the Type A personality. I am most definitely a "bottom line it for me" type, a chronic multitasker, and a very busy person who values efficiency in most aspects of my life. It should come as no surprise that I don't have much patience for flowery prose and lengthy descriptive passages. I'm not saying that style of writing is necessarily bad, just that it's not a good fit for me, and I suspect it's not a good fit for most Type A people.

I have a friend who's much more laid-back. She can spend a half hour contemplating a painting in a gallery, and days on a road trip with no particular destination or schedule in mind; she may not even bring a map. She's the type of person who will savor every word of the kinds of passages that I find irritating.

Now, getting back to that writer acquaintance...what if *most* of his target audience shares my sensibilities? What if the type of person who's most likely to seek out a detective story is Type A? Considering that some of the defining characteristics of Type A people are that we're very goal-oriented, organized, attentive to details, and love solving puzzles, it doesn't seem like such a leap to imagine that most of us enjoy a good murder mystery; a murder mystery is essentially a written puzzle, after all. It may not be such a leap to imagine the inverse is true, too: that most people who enjoy murder mysteries are Type A.

If that's true, then my writer acquaintance is turning off the bulk of his target audience with his verbose, highly stylized prose. We Type A people only want to be given relevant, or possibly relevant, pieces of the puzzle so we can try to solve it. Anything more feels like a waste of our time and energies.

My laid-back friend has plenty of patience for stylized prose, but for her, most murder mysteries are little more than empty exercises in tricky plotting and misdirection. She wants to read books that she feels feed her soul, not just her intellect. She very well might enjoy my writer acquaintance's work, since it strives to rise high above plot mechanics and even be somewhat philosophical, but she's not likely to ever find it since she's not one to seek out murder mysteries or detective novels in the first place.

So for those who write in specific genres or combo genres (e.g., supernatural romance, supernatural thriller), and for whom maximizing sales is a priority, maybe give a thought to the most likely type of person to seek out your books in the first place, and what that person's preferences might be. I'm not trying to suggest you totally engineer your prose to match some kind of external template, just that appealing to a commercial audience is always a balancing act between pleasing the audience and pleasing yourself.

I have nothing but respect for the writer who follows his vision regardless of whether or not it will lead to commercial success, but for those like that detective novelist, who spends as much time worrying over his sales as his art, writing with the eventual reader in mind may give better results.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Congratulations: You Killed LendInk And Denied Your Fellow Authors Their Lend Royalties

Fair warning: I am angry, and this is an angry post. When misinformation has the power to kill totally legitimate, above-board small businesses, it's time to stop being nicey-nice and start getting down to brass tacks. When the business in question directly impacts authors' livelihoods, it's time to take action.

UPDATED ON 8/6/12 TO ADD: I really don't understand why some people who've read this post keep raising an objection about the issue of whether or not the authors of books on LendInk were entitled to a commission on the lends. In my response to one commenter below, Sessha, I left out the words "where the author was entitled to compensation", and certain people are fixating on that omission, trying to make this all about whether or not EVERY lend on LendInk was compensated. NO, only lends where the author was entitled to compensation per Ammy/B&N terms were compensated, which I think I made clear in the post itself. Unfortunately Blogger won't let me edit any comments, only delete or add new ones.

The question of whether or not the author is entitled to a commission on a lend is totally beside the point. The point is that this was a totally legitimate site that was doing nothing wrong, and anyone who was entitled to a commission per Ammy/B&N terms was getting it because all lends were processed by Ammy & B&N. Even if it were to turn out that there wasn't a single book on the site where the author was entitled to a lend commission at the time the site was suspended, what difference does that make? Would that mean it was OK for all these authors to accuse the site of being a piracy outlet, and to spread that slander?
This week, there was a huge kerfuffle on Facebook and elsewhere about, a site that allowed people to list any of the 'lendable' Kindle or Nook books they own in exchange for getting access to other members' listings of 'lendable' books. The sites make their money on advertising: they don't get any piece of the action on the lends, which are essentially private transactions between two individuals, carried out in full compliance with the lending rules and limitations set forth by Amazon and B&N. As another person put it in a discussion on my Facebook page:

If I have a copy of ebook X that I think somebody might want to borrow (just once, as per [Amazon's and B&N's Terms and Conditions]), I can say so on this site. If someone wants to borrow it, they contact me and I either say yes or no. If I say yes, I tell amazon to lend it and it's flagged on amazon as having had its lend. No different than me lending it to my mum for her kindle.

Just as with any other lend, the author gets her commission [if she is eligible for one, per Amazon's and B&N's terms and conditions] on lends originating from contacts made on sites like LendInk. There is nothing illegal about such sites, and having your book listed as available to lend on such sites is a GOOD thing because the fact that someone else already bought it serves as a kind of implied endorsement, and the lend listings lead to lend commissions you wouldn't otherwise get [on your Kindle/Nook books that are eligible for lend commissions].

But once a few hair-on-fire, sky-is-falling types of indie authors got wind of LendInk and found their books listed there, they jumped right to the WRONG conclusion that this was some kind of illegal Napster for ebooks and went on the warpath. Rather than take a few moments to read the site's FAQ, where the specifics of the site and the legality of it were addressed clearly and in detail, these authors immediately started posting warnings to all their author friends about this new ebook pirating site, LendInk. It became an online game of 'telephone', with well-meaning people re-posting incorrect claims about LendInk, and the claims about LendInk getting more distorted as they were passed around and new posters added their take on the situation. In a matter of just THREE DAYS, it went from an online campaign of spreading hysterical misinformation to LendInk being shut down.

The icing on this cake d'stupidity is that many people are taking the fact that LendInk has been shut down as proof that it MUST have been a pirate site, and posting "Yay, us!! We beat the evil ebook pirates!!" messages online. A more accurate message for them to post would be, "Yay, us!! We killed a small business that was making readers happy and making authors money!! And we did it without any actual evidence of wrongdoing, just hearsay and angry threats!! This is a victory for those who wish to cut off noses to spite faces everywhere!!"

While I'm still investigating the specifics of the shutdown, there's a suspension of service message on LendInk's former home page so I think the most likely reason is that one or more ill-informed authors sent 'takedown' notices to LendInk's web hosting company, threatening legal action for intellectual property theft.

Even though LendInk wasn't doing anything illegal or unethical, having to prove it in court is a costly and time-consuming process. Add to this the fact that you must generally stop doing business until you've been exonerated in court, and it's not surprising that the great majority of small businesses are more likely to fold than fight the good fight. If anyone were to bring a totally bogus legal action against Publetariat, there's no question I'd shut the site down rather than go to court to defend it. I simply don't have the money or time to fight a frivolous lawsuit, no matter how completely ridiculous that lawsuit's claims might be.

I fervently hope LendInk will be back, but it's too soon to tell. For now, just let me say this to everyone who's participated in the events leading up to its suspension this week:

Congratulations. You may have just destroyed a legitimate small business that was making life better for readers and authors of ebooks. You have caused someone who was in business to serve readers and authors a great deal of stress and expense, and potentially the total loss of his livelihood. You have definitely cost every author whose book was listed there the lend commissions [or added exposure] they would have otherwise received through this totally legal, legitimate channel for Amazon's and B&N's existing ebook lending programs. Pat yourself on the back, because I certainly won't be doing it.

There's some evidence to suggest LendInk's site was hacked. I can't say for certain whether it was or not, and if it was, whether the hack was a targeted attack instigated by one of those making false claims about LendInk. I've got some feelers out to contacts and I'm trying to get the full story.

But whatever the reason for LendInk's current state of suspension, its owner is now put in the position of having to answer to all the false claims authors have made about it in emails to Amazon. I'm hopeful that once Amazon fully investigates the situation, they will see there's been no wrongdoing and alter their responses to authors who complain about LendInk accordingly.

Also, I'm getting some feedback from people with wrong information. Let me address the myths floating around out there.

MYTH: Only Prime members can lend or borrow Kindle books.

FACT: Any Kindle book the publisher has marked as Lendable is lendable. The Kindle Lending Library is a special, sub-program for Prime members that gives them access to books publishers have approved only for limited lends to Prime members. Read Amazon's page about Kindle book lending here.

MYTH: LendInk claimed to have Amazon's approval to list its books on its site and lend them on its site, and it was a lie.

FACT: LendInk claimed all lends were processed by Amazon and B&N, and they were. No special 'agreement' is necessary, since it was the owners of the Kindle books who were listing them on LendInk, NOT LendInk itself. All they were doing was putting Kindle book owners in touch with one another, it was those book owners who actually transacted with one another to request and approve lends.

Here is some of the actual text from the former FAQ on LendInk:

Is the loaning of eBooks really legal? Isn't this the same as file sharing?
Yes, loaning of certain eBooks is legal and No, it is not the same as file sharing. The key difference between the two is that the loan status of an eBook is directly dictated by the publisher and file sharing is usually done without the publishers consent. Working with and Barnes and Noble, the publisher's make their eBooks available for loan under very strict rules. The actual book loaning process is handled by and Barnes and Noble, not by Lendink.

I am a Publisher or Author of a book on Lendink, how did you get a copy of my book?
First, let us explain up front, we do not have a copy of your book. This is actually a common misunderstanding of how Lendink functions. No book has or will be stored on any Lendink server, ever. The title of the book is entered by our members and the book information is fed to us by an automated link between Lendink and Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Our servers only store our member contact information and the basic book information such as the author, ASIN and book description. We do not even store the book cover artwork.

MYTH: LendInk was allowing members to lend multiple copies of the same book, which is against the one-lend policy. I saw (or my friend saw) where multiple copies of one book were listed as available to lend.

FACT: Not true. If multiple copies of a single book were listed as available to lend, that just means multiple members of LendInk owned that book and listed it as available to lend. Since all lends occurred off the LendInk site, through Amazon and B&N's *own* lending mechanisms, it would not be possible for any Kindle book owner to exceed publishers' specified lend limits---at least, not without some kind of hacking or dishonesty on the part of the Kindle book owner. And even if that were to occur, it would not be LendInk's fault.

MYTH: My book is offered through KDP Select, so it's not lendable.

FACT: Lendability is a requirement of participation in KDP Select. Here's the main Amazon KDP page about the program (note how most of the information here is specifically ABOUT lending), and here's a link to KDP Select terms and conditions. I'll add more to this section as more myths come in.

And unfortunately, due to the persistence of a certain commenter who couldn't leave well enough alone, comments on this post are now closed. Much like those indie authors who, it appears, have taken down LendInk, when certain people have nothing of value to contribute it only makes them more talkative.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Taking The Author Out of Self-Promotion

One of the major obstacles facing indie authors and small imprints in commercial publishing is discoverability: getting the word out about their books to prospective buyers. As more and more indies enter the sales arena, each new indie book is being released into a sea of print that's only getting larger every day.

While I've always been a strong advocate for the DIY, grass-roots approach to indie publishing and book promotion, I have always felt just as strongly that if indies want to be competitive, their books and their approach to sales must be professional. Now that the indie author revolution is well underway and we have a few years' worth of lessons learned to look back on, I have come to the conclusion that self-promotion, for the most part, is not working for indie authors.

Far too many of us make the mistake of promoting primarily to each other. Others don't know the difference between 'permission marketing' and SPAM. Most of us aren't cut out to be salespeople, but feel the pressure to sell so we take an amateurish stab at book promotion and author platform anyway, very often with poor results that end up alienating not only prospective buyers, but others in our industry as well (like book bloggers). Add to all of this the fact that going around telling everyone who'll listen how great your book is and why they should buy it isn't an effective marketing tactic---of course YOU think it's great: you're the author.

I've concluded that while it's still possible (and necessary!) for indie authors to manage their own sales campaigns and platform, their efforts will be much more effective if there's a buffer of some sort between the author with a book to sell and the target audience. Here are a few of those buffers:

1. Book Bloggers - a positive review from respected book blogger is one of the most effective promotional messages an author can hope for, and all it costs is the price of a review copy of the book. This blog post from Bestseller Labs explains exactly how to do it.

2. Form a Promo Ring With Other Authors and Small Publishers - while an indie author who's wearing his Indie Author hat and promoting his own book is likely to meet with a lot of cynicism and resistance, an indie author who's wearing his Reader hat and recommending someone else's book is perceived very differently. Get together with one or more of your fellow indies who have large networks ---but only those whose work you genuinely admire and who feel the same way about your work--- and spread the word to your networks on one another's behalf. Just remember not to overdo it: the hard sell is a turnoff no matter what you're trying to promote. You can hardly go wrong if you treat the exercise the same way you'd treat recommending any other book you've read and loved.

3. Paid Advertising - this one can be tricky, since it's all about targeting the correct demographic, creating an attractive ad, and spending wisely. Some authors have found targeted Facebook ads to be very effective, and Facebook makes it easy to control ad spending, too.

For authors of Kindle books, Kindle Nation Daily is worth a look. KND is one of the oldest, most heavily-trafficked and most respected sites dedicated to Kindle content, and they're totally transparent when it comes to sharing the results of advertising on their sites. KND has advertising options starting as low as $30, and since KND insists on a minimum quality level before agreeing to run advertising for a given book, KND site visitors know any ad they find there carries an implicit endorsement from KND as well. I feel so strongly favorable about KND, as of today, it's become the first outside site or service ever to receive an explicit endorsement on Publetariat.

These three ideas are just a start, there's plenty more indie authors can do to promote while maintaining a buffer zone. I'm not saying authors shouldn't take an active role in promoting their work, just that it shouldn't be obvious to whomever is on the receiving end that the promotional messages are coming from the author. That narrow divide between the author and the book-buying public can make all the difference in the world, because it allows the author to maintain his image as one who's only concerned with creating the best possible work for his readers, unconcerned with anything so venal or self-serving as making money.

Even though readers understand authors need to make a living, just as with any form of art or entertainment, the moment they start thinking the author cares more about the money than she does about the product, they will turn on her.