Reese's Ramblings

No one wants to see how the sausage gets made. Years ago, when I was young, my grandfather had a small herd of beef cattle. Each year, during the slaughter, he’d give each of his daughters a half a cow. One year, I went with my mother to pick up the half of cow at the slaughterhouse. In retrospect, I wished I had stayed in the car, but curiosity got the best of me. I watched the process and decided right then and there that I would never eat beef again. That decision lasted all of two years, but it taught me a valuable lesson. I don’t need to see how anything I enjoy is made because I probably won’t like it as much after I learn the details. That principle applies to book publishing 100-fold.

No one needs to know the frustration I might be dealing with when it comes to a plot hole I can’t fix, or a character who isn’t developing the way I’d hope. And no one needs to know about the dramas being played out behind the scenes among the independent authors and publishers. Do you really want to read a weekly newsletter about the gossip of who did what? Sure, it has its attraction for a while, but eventually you’ll see how the cow is slaughtered and decide you don’t want to read any book by an independent author anymore. But with the recent developments happening during the past few months within the indie publishing scene, I believe it’s time to open the slaughterhouse door.

You might have noticed that a few of your favorite authors are no longer available for sale or to borrow from Amazon. You might have asked them why, and most would have likely responded that they don’t know. And they honestly might not know exactly why Amazon terminated their publishing accounts, but they likely have a good idea. It’s just not in their best interest to share it. And for a lot of authors, it’s not in their best interest to share their knowledge because there is a chance that there could be some backlash. You see, it’s been a well-known secret, probably the best-known secret in indie publishing, that there are some authors who engage in what I would call bad acts. These are actions that slowly erode the sustainability of an industry because they want to make the most money as fast as they possibly can and exploit any and all aspects of the industry in order to get an advantage. And some of these alleged acts might even border on being illegal, as they could possibly be perpetuating a fraud.

Some authors are manipulating the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists with box sets. A lot of people know that the NYT and USA Today lists are about a strong marketing endeavor to get a burst of sales, but how would you feel about those credentials if you knew that a lot of those sales were funded by the set organizer? Basically they gave away “paid” copies of the book. Another group systematically priced authors out of advertising through normal channels and subsidized their high ad buys by drastically increasing the number of pages of each book they published on Amazon that went into the KU library. You see, Amazon pays authors per page read. So the more “bonus” books accompanying a novel, the more money they earn. The problem here, is that the money they are being paid comes from a pool of money that is split among all the authors and books enrolled in the KU library and from achieving things like bonuses by have the most pages read. 

Amazon has been slowly terminating the publishing accounts of authors they suspect or have evidence of engaging in wrong-doing. Amazon was built on the idea of giving the customer what they want. Using reviews and popularity, they will recommend a book to readers. And it’s worked. For the most part. But what happens if that popularity was created by perhaps encouraging or entreating readers to borrow and read a book from cover to cover with promises of gifts, free products or services, or prizes? And what if those readers, unknowingly, engaged in tactics, at an author’s behest, that Amazon deemed as overt manipulation of their system? While no one can say for certain, I feel as though I can say with some amount of surety based on what I know about some of the authors involved, that the actions of those authors put readers at risk. And right now Amazon is removing some readers’ ability to leave reviews. This is through no fault of the reader, but instead because of the behavior of authors the readers engaged with.

So how can you protect yourself? How can you become an informed reader who is an empowered reader? I wish I knew the answer. The best I can do is offer some things to look out for.

If an author, or someone acting on their behalf… 

  • Offers you a code to buy their ebook for free on Amazon (or any other store) and give you a very short time limit to redeem it, such as 24 hours, I would suggest you walk away.
  • Offers you a gift card to buy their book and requires proof of purchase, I would suggest you walk away.
  • Offers a gift card, prize drawing, or other reward in exchange for reviewing their book, I would suggest you walk away.
  • Offers to pay for anything, for example a subscription to KU, and asks you to read specific books in return, I would suggest walking away.
  • Offers you the chance to win a prize with proof of purchase, you should definitely walk away.
  • Encourages you to flip through every single page of a book filled with bonus books and gives you step by step directions on how to do so, I would walk away.

For those who might have lost your review privileges, I am truly sorry. I wish it hadn’t happened.

As for myself, I promise you I will never knowingly engage in any activity that puts readers or other authors at risk. And If I ever recommend a book, it will be authored by someone I respect and trust to not knowingly engage in any activity that puts readers or other authors at risk. Think of it as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for independent authors. I’m not saying that you’ll love the book, just that the author is a fellow professional who has earned my trust through the history of their actions.

In the meantime, I want to reassure everyone that ARCs are allowed. Yes, Amazon has changed some of the wording when it comes to how they expect authors to run their Arc teams, but they are still allowed, As long as the author isn’t engaging in some of the things I pointed out, your account should be safe.

The other day I was looking through digital library. I have 3714 ebooks in my library. I actually have more, but they’re sitting on an external drive and not on my computer. Now, there’s no way I can keep those 3700 books on my reading device without it wanting to take a long vacation, instead I keep them in a digital library of sorts.

There’s a great program available for both Windows and Macs. And it’s free!

Calibre (you can download it here) is ebook management software. And as long as the book doesn’t have DRM protection, you can add it to the software. From there you can add tags, categorize things, even change titles. (I tend to add series names and numbers to the titles).

One of Calibre’s best features is the ability to transfer books from your computer to your device. This is perfect for those who don’t have access to the internet and they want to add some books to their device.

You just need a usb cord (the one that comes with the device works) to attach the device to your computer and then select which books to transfer.

I have been using Calibre for years and have never had a problem. In fact, it even has plug-ins you can add to help with your organization.

The best part about Calibre is that you can put an epub or mobi in Calibre and it will convert it to the other file. I get a lot of books from other stores, so I have a lot of epubs. But it’s not a problem to add them to Calibre and then transfer them to my Kindle.

So why am I sharing this with you all? Well, sometimes there are special sales at other stores, like Kobo, and you can take advantage of those deals regardless of the device. You just have to download the file to your PC. This also works with Google Play and iBooks. Barnes & Noble requires some extra steps, but you’ll have to search those out.

Sometimes a book just goes off the rails…

Honor did that. About 5000 words in, and I was too close to realize it was happening. It took a very nice editor to point out the problems if I chose to keep it on its current track. And while the problems were all ultimately fixable, Honor wouldn’t be the book I want it to be. So, I got my glass of wine ready and prepared myself to attack the manuscript like I attack steeks when knitting. Drink up and cut away.

I printed up the manuscript and with a red pen in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, I got to work, I soon realized the red pen wasn’t going to cut it. I needed something more. A Highlighter! Instead of cutting out what didn’t work, I picked out what I wanted to keep and what did work. After a few glasses of wine and hours I didn’t keep track of, I found myself with about 8000 words worth keeping. Out of 62000.

So I am starting over with Honor. And here’s the thing. Now that I know where I am going and how I am getting there, I refuse to let the book get off the rails again.

WW – Reese

Sassy Heroines, Exasperated Heroes, and Comedies of Manners

I admit it, I love the screwball comedies of the 40s and 50s (and earlier). And all of these great comedies have played a role in inspiring the world of Billion Dollar Headlines. And it’s probably why I love Ian and Merideth as much as I do.

These two characters, more so than any of my characters, dictate the story and when they don’t like where it’s headed, they have full on revolts. The Man on the Beach is on hiatus because of their current rebellion. The good news is that Jason is behaving, and as such, he is getting his own novel.

Anyway, when Merideth arrived in my brain, I didn’t see the steamer trunk and full-set of suitcases she brought in with her. If I had, I might have hesitated before putting her in The Girl in the River. She’s both my muse and critic, she’s the first one to tell me that she wouldn’t do that because she’s not stupid. She’s also the first to tell me when I got Ian wrong. Yep, my character knew my other characters better than I did.

Before I go on, I should probably include a bit about not being crazy. Like I am definitely not certifiable. I might be a bit of a loon, but nothing official. However, for me, my characters live within my mind. I have conversations with them, I argue with them, I aim to make their lives miserable, and in return, they help me write a better story.

Back to Merideth and Ian. These two could live comfortably in any screwball comedy. If The Girl in the River were ever to be made into a movie, Ian could only be played by Cary Grant, and only Katherine Hepburn would be capable of personifying the beauty of Merideth’s intelligence. Not like the books would ever be made into a movie though, which is probably a good thing since both Mr. Grant and Ms. Hepburn are no longer with us.

When I am in need of some serious inspiration, I go to The Philadelphia Story. A bowl of popcorn, a glass of wine, and Grant and Hepburn on screen, with a healthy dose of James Stewart is great at getting the story back on track. And when Merideth goes quiet, I only have to ask, “would CK or Tracy do this?”

WW – Reese

Dear Reader...

Sometimes a book just goes off the rails…

Honor did that. About 5000 words in, and I was too close to realize it was happening. It took a very nice editor to point out the problems if I chose to keep it on its current track. And while the problems were all ultimately fixable, Honor wouldn’t be the book I want it to be. So, I got my glass of wine ready and prepared myself to attack the manuscript like I attack steeks when knitting. Drink up and cut away.

I printed up the manuscript and with a red pen in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, I got to work, I soon realized the red pen wasn’t going to cut it. I needed something more. A Highlighter! Instead of cutting out what didn’t work, I picked out what I wanted to keep and what did work. After a few glasses of wine and hours I didn’t keep track of, I found myself with about 8000 words worth keeping. Out of 62000.

So I am starting over with Honor. And here’s the thing. Now that I know where I am going and how I am getting there, I refuse to let the book get off the rails again.

WW – Reese

Sassy Heroines, Exasperated Heroes, and Comedies of Manners

I admit it, I love the screwball comedies of the 40s and 50s (and earlier). And all of these great comedies have played a role in inspiring the world of Billion Dollar Headlines. And it’s probably why I love Ian and Merideth as much as I do.

These two characters, more so than any of my characters, dictate the story and when they don’t like where it’s headed, they have full on revolts. The Man on the Beach is on hiatus because of their current rebellion. The good news is that Jason is behaving, and as such, he is getting his own novel.

Anyway, when Merideth arrived in my brain, I didn’t see the steamer trunk and full-set of suitcases she brought in with her. If I had, I might have hesitated before putting her in The Girl in the River. She’s both my muse and critic, she’s the first one to tell me that she wouldn’t do that because she’s not stupid. She’s also the first to tell me when I got Ian wrong. Yep, my character knew my other characters better than I did.

Before I go on, I should probably include a bit about not being crazy. Like I am definitely not certifiable. I might be a bit of a loon, but nothing official. However, for me, my characters live within my mind. I have conversations with them, I argue with them, I aim to make their lives miserable, and in return, they help me write a better story.

Back to Merideth and Ian. These two could live comfortably in any screwball comedy. If The Girl in the River were ever to be made into a movie, Ian could only be played by Cary Grant, and only Katherine Hepburn would be capable of personifying the beauty of Merideth’s intelligence. Not like the books would ever be made into a movie though, which is probably a good thing since both Mr. Grant and Ms. Hepburn are no longer with us.

When I am in need of some serious inspiration, I go to The Philadelphia Story. A bowl of popcorn, a glass of wine, and Grant and Hepburn on screen, with a healthy dose of James Stewart is great at getting the story back on track. And when Merideth goes quiet, I only have to ask, “would CK or Tracy do this?”

WW – Reese