Apr 252018
 

There’s been some recent grumbling about Amazon’s new review policies. It seems that you can no longer leave book reviews on the mighty ‘Zon, unless you have purchased at least $50 worth of goods on the site.  Not books mind you, just $50 worth of goods.

It’s apparently their attempt to address the mass scamming of reviews that some writers have been putting up for the last few years.  Yeah, you know when you find that new release that has tons of five-star reviews and you think, “this must be a good one. I’ll just drop my hard-earned cash here and see what all the fuss is about.”  Then you find that the book is little more than a nasty pile of something that came out of the south end of a north-bound bull.

That’s because unscrupulous authors have been scamming Amazon’s system by hiring click farms that (for the right price) create tons of fake Amazon accounts to write reviews on items they’ve never laid eyes on.  The bad thing is that, in their attempt to rectify the situation, Amazon keeps coming up with new ways to “fix” the problem.  And it’s like they almost always either get it wrong (like when they tried to say that your social media “friends” couldn’t write reviews, and ended up deleting reviews written by reviewers who happened to follow authors they liked on Facebook), or the scammers just change their game to get ahead of the new rules.

For instance, when the Kindle Unlimited program began, Amazon authors got paid a percentage of a multi-million dollar “pot” based on how many people read their books past the 20% mark.  There were authors who immediately began publishing short stories and serialized fiction.  Each title read gained the author the same percentage of the pot, so a ten page short story earned the same amount as a five hundred page epic fantasy. 

Needless to say, there were suddenly TONS of short stories being published.

After a couple of years, Amazon figured it out, and changed the KU payment system to a percentage based on pages read.  Each page read gained a percentage of the pot.  Scammers later learned to put links in their books that jumped the reader to the back of the book.  For instance, you might open a book that has a raffle for a $100 gift card.  The link to the offer is in the very beginning of the book.  The reader clicks to enter the drawing, and the link automatically takes them to the last page of the book, where they fill out the form, never realizing that they just gave the author full credit for reading a book that might never be completed.

To make matters worse, some scammers began simply filling manuscripts with all sorts of garbage they copied willy-nilly from the internet, pumping the page count up to tens of thousands of pages, then front loading the “book” with links that took the reader to the back.  So the reader downloads the book, opens it up, sees the click bait at the front, and clicks to the back.  They might then try to read the book and find that it’s nothing more than thousands of pages of absolute drek, so they either return the download, or simply delete it, not realizing that they have just given the author credit for having read however many thousands of pages.

So Amazon put out new terms to authors, making such actions illegal, and threatening to remove author profiles when someone was caught violating the new terms.  Unfortunately, until then, it was common practice for many authors to put their tables of contents in the back of the book.  Think about it.  An e-book is basically a web site, full of links that tie one part of the book to another.  A table of contents is a list of links that go from one part of the “book” to another.  And many authors considered it good business to load that table of contents in the back.

Why?  Because it allowed them to get more of the manuscript in front of the reader when they viewed the sample on Amazon’s web site.  You know the “Look Inside” link that lets you see the first 10% of the book?  Well how do you feel when you click the link, and then have to scroll through the cover, and the copyright page, then author notes, table of contents, and other forward matter, before you actually get to read any of the sample?

I know some legitimate authors who lost money because books that had been out for years were suddenly found to be in violation of the new terms.

And now we have this problem of fake reviews.  It’s been a recognized issue for a few years now, and Amazon has been floundering about, trying to figure out how to fix the problem.  For a while, they tried a tattletale system where people could report books that were suspected of scamming reviews.  That quickly became a fustercluck when legitimate authors found their accounts suspended.  Amazon never would state what the author had done, only giving out a generic, “you have been found in violation of terms and conditions…” but never stating what specific violations.

It was often suspected that the scammers were reporting legitimate authors in order to muddy the waters, but there is apparently no way to know for sure.  So this is Amazon’s latest attempt to stop scammers.  The idea is that, if only legitimate customers can leave reviews, then that should stop the click farms from being able to “sell” reviews.

But there are already people complaining about it.  There are concerns that reviewers who buy in the US will no longer be able to load their reviews on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com.au, or any other country where they don’t normally shop.  So even though a book is available in countries all over the world, reviewers will only be able to post their reviews in the country in which they bought the requisite “$50” worth of goods, or its equivalent in whatever nation.  There are also concerns that reviewers won’t be able to write reviews early in the years.  For instance, a reviewer who begins buying books in January, before they have purchased their $50 of good for the year, might not be able to leave reviews until they’ve done so.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  I don’t think there are any easy answers.  I almost feel sorry for Amazon at times.  After all, it’s not them who are trying to scam the system.  They’re just stuck trying to get ahead of the latest scam du’ jour.  Unfortunately, their fixes often create as many problems as the scams, and it seems that there are too many honest people caught in the “fix”.  I sincerely hope that isn’t the case this time.

 

My writing –

Payne and Suffering has been moving in spits and spurts.  On days when I have a distinct scene in my head, I can fly through the writing.  The problem comes when I finish those scenes and have to move into the transitions. And I think the problem stems from the way I write… the fact that I’m “pantsing” my way through a story that I haven’t been able to fully see.

This usually doesn’t bother me, and it took me a while to figure out what’s different with this book.  In just about every other story I’ve written, whether it be novel, novella, or short story, I’ve had one of two things firmly in mind.  I’ve either got a pretty good idea of what the ending is going to be, or I have a good feel for my antagonist and/or their motives.  With P&S, I’ve been floundering with little more than a few key scenes in my mind, and a general idea of what the antagonist is trying to do, but little of the motivation behind it.  So I’ve woven this vast and intricate mystery in my mind (at times so complex that I lose track of who’s doing what), and I’ve not taken the time to really understand the why of most of it.

Today I was writing a scene in which Amber and Richard are starting the third day of their case.  The two of them are sitting at their desks, and Richard asks Amber “…what’s on the agenda…?”

And I realized I didn’t know.  I’m the one writing the freaking story, and I didn’t know what needed to be done next!

It wasn’t really that I didn’t know what leads they needed to follow, but rather that I didn’t know which one needed to be followed at that moment.  Because there are several leads in my mind, but some of them are dependent on others, so some things have to happen before others can be discovered, and I was trying to jump too far ahead in my mind.

Yeah, they need to go here to find this… but wait, they can’t do that until they know about such and such, and they can’t know that until they decrypt the files from that computer.  And they don’t have the computer yet because they don’t know it exists! 

When I realized just how complex things were getting, I knew I was going to have to do something I almost NEVER do.  I was going to have to create a cheat sheet for myself just to track events, leads, and solutions.  I’ve only had to do this once before, and that was on Chucklers, where I had six different point of view characters, in four different locations around the country, and had to synchronize their stories so that they would all come together at the right point in the book.

But I did it.  I made my cheat sheet.  I spent time writing about three pages of notes, and I actually feel better about where the story is going now.  Let’s hope this clears some of the fog out of my brain.

For now though, P&S has passed the 40k word count, and is still moving, and I hope to have the first draft done late May or early June.  Wish me luck.

And that’s it for now.  Stay safe, everyone.  :bye:

 

Mar 292017
 
WW77a

MOUNTAIN POSE

Yep, as the title of this week’s post will likely tell you, we’ve been doing a little yoga at the Brackett household.  It’s something that my wife has explored before, and it really helped some of the back issues she had a few years back.  And since I stopped my martial arts classes five years ago, I’ve begun to develop some serious tightening of my tendons and ligaments. To combat the problem, MBH talked me into doing some yoga with her.

WW77b

CHILD’S POSE

So three or four times a week, we set up in the living room, pop in a DVD (one that she has long since memorized and no longer has to look at, though it has me fumbling about trying to shift from one pose to another), and I embarrass myself by trying to look graceful as I lug my phatass through the most basic of exercises.  But don’t you worry about me.  I’m a quick learner. In fact, I’ve pretty much mastered two of the poses already… mountain pose, and child’s pose.  That means I can stand up straight with my hands held in front of my heart, and I can fall to my knees with my head on the floor with the best of them. ;-)

As far as the sitting, squatting, stretching, shifting, and balancing that goes with moving from one pose to another… well, let’s just say I’m still working on that.   :-/

All right, moving on to the writing news –

EPP End Point Pangaea is moving pretty well, sitting at a bit under 65K words. Some days the writing flows really well, with me knocking out 2500 to 3000 words, other days I spend fixing items that I messed up previously.  For instance, did you know that you can make cloth from bamboo?  Well sure, I guess many of you did, because unbeknownst to yours truly, this is evidently a big deal in linens.  Bamboo cloth sheets and pillowcases are a luxury item.  And it just so happens that I had been trying to figure out what people in my late Triassic setting could use as a cloth substitute, since during that time period none of the usual cloth sources had yet evolved… no mammals meant no hairs or wool, no flowering plants meant no cotton or other sources of blend-able fibers.  In short, I was about to call it quits on their ability to have much in the way of cloth until we went to the local home and garden show where one of the vendors was selling (yep, you guessed it) bamboo sheets and pillow cases.

And in my typical OCD manner, that meant I had to go back and find any references to anything in the book that could have been served better by having cloth instead of leather. But I’m caught back up now, and the numbers should begin to rise quickly again.

SoP – I recently read about a new promotional site for audiobooks called “Audiobook Boom“.  It’s basically a newsletter similar to those that have done so well for written and e-books, like Bookbub and the like, only it’s just for Audiobooks.  The rates were very affordable, so I figured I would give it a try.  Streets of Payne has always been one of my favorite books, but it never seemed to get the attention that I had hoped it would.  So that was the book I put in my ad.  I got some codes for free promotional copies of the audiobook for both US and UK readers, and so far, I’ve given away about twenty of them.  Hopefully they will result in some decent reviews.

WW77cAnd finally, Random Pic of the Week!

Set the picture gallery spinning and tap… and we get a picture of our chickenfoot dominoes. Um…. I’m not honestly sure why I have a picture of them on my phone, but here it is.  Some of our closest friends come to stay with us for a few days two or three times a year.  When they do, we often spend several hours in the evenings playing chickenfoot.  It’s a bit of a holdover from when we lived in Houston and used to have a monthly game night.  It was a pot-luck with the hosting household cooking a main dish, and everyone else bringing side dishes. We would eat and laugh and eventually begin breaking out various games to while away the hours.  We played Scattergories, Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, Taboo, or whatever other game lent itself to keeping us all amused until we had to go home.

Now that we’re in Oklahoma, it’s seldom that we get to have a regular game night anymore. So when we get visitors that we know enjoy such things, we break out chickenfoot.  I’m not entirely sure why we settled on this as our default game, but we all seem to enjoy it enough that we spend hours with friends, food, and fun.

What more can you ask for?   ;-)

And that’s it for this week. Time to get back to writing. Stay safe everyone.   :bye:

Jan 052017
 

First of all, I hope you all had a fantastic New Year’s.  I’ve reached that point in my life where quiet is better, so no crazy parties for MBH and I.  Truth be told, we’ve never been much for the wild New Year’s Eve parties. For us, getting our wild on this year entailed fixing one of our favorite meals.  Now, in order to let you appreciate just how different this meal is for us, I have to let you in on a not-so-secret secret. I’m not a big fan of red meat. Sure, I’ll munch on a burger as much as the next guy, and I love sausage and bacon in the morning.  But I’ve never really developed the appreciation most people have of a fine steak or roast.  It’s just not my thing.

But a few years back, I sampled my first buffalo flank steak and fell in love.  I don’t know why, but buffalo just tastes GOOD to me. And luckily, there was a store that carried it near our house in Houston.  It’s a little pricier than regular beef, but both MBH and I liked it enough that it became a semi-regular treat for us.

When we moved to Oklahoma, one of the things on my mind was the idea that we had moved into buffalo country!  It’s true.  Driving around this part of the country, it’s relatively common to see small herds of buffalo, where ranchers raise them like other ranches raise cattle. I just knew we were going to have quick and easy access to more buffalo at better prices.

ww67-aUnfortunately, the truth was much different. I’ve only found a few stores here that carry any buffalo at all, and those stores typically only carry it ground.  I found one place in Tulsa that says they have buffalo sirloin in their frozen food section… sometimes.  But none of them carry flank steak.  :sidefrown:

We searched online and also found some sites that sell the cuts we’re after, and we ordered from one of them… once.  Don’t get me wrong, the meat was delicious, and the people at Wild Idea Buffalo were very knowledgeable.  As a matter of fact, we learned to try some other cuts from them, and loved their skirt steaks and their flat-iron steaks.  The problem with ordering from them was the shipping fees.  Buying half a dozen steaks cost us about $40 in shipping, and that is just something we can’t afford to keep doing.  But I get it.  Shipping meat across the country requires fast, refrigerated shipping.  And that isn’t cheap.

But it’s still outside of our budget.

ww67-bSo for the Christmas holiday this year, we asked our son to bring some buffalo flank up from that store in Houston, where we used to buy it.  It’s ironic that we’re here, in the heart of buffalo country, and the best way for us to get our favorite flank steak is to have it brought up from Houston.  But he brought us four absolutely gorgeous steaks, and one of those was our New Year’s Eve dinner.  (insert a sigh of contentment here)

And as you can see from the pictures, it didn’t go unappreciated.  :-))

On the writing front…

Chucklers, Volume 1 – Severed Press put CV1 on an Amazon countdown sale for 99¢ and advertised it in the Booksends newsletter. The sale ends at 2AM tomorrow morning (central time), or just about fifteen hours from the time of this posting.  So here’s me, crossing my fingers and hoping sales do well.

End Point PangaeaEPP moved slowly for a bit, but I’m back on it today.  Between the holidays, and other writing projects, EPP simply didn’t get the attention it deserved, so the progress meter on it barely moved over the holidays.  That changes now.

FSJ – The Sekrit Projekt went pretty well. For now, I’m waiting to see what happens with it, and that’s all I can say about it for now.

Year 12 – I got the file for the Y12 print interior and, after some quick back and forth changes, I’ve approved the result and we’re moving on to the e-book files and print cover.  I’m hopeful that the final product will be ready to publish VERY soon.   :-D

So that’s it in my world. Time to get back to writing.  So as always, stay safe, and I’ll talk to you more next week. :bye:

Dec 282016
 

ww66-bI hope you had (or are having) a fantastic holiday this year. I know MBH and I did. Our youngest daughter, as well as our son, daughter-in-law, and youngest granddaughter came up to visit, and spend the holiday weekend with us.  So yeah, we got most of what we wanted for Christmas.

It’s true, you know… the saying about your wish list getting shorter as you get older.  At least for MBH and I, it’s true.  Just having part of the family here was more than we could ask for, especially with the youngest member visiting.  I mean, just look at that face.  How can you not be content around such a cutie? :-))

ww66-aWe got to spend time with the kids (even though our youngest “kid” now is a college grad – LOL), going to the movies, cooking, and playing “chicken feet” or just relaxing out on the patio in the evenings.  It was tough to see them head back home, but such is life when families begin to go their separate ways.

On the writing front, I honestly didn’t get much done.  As you can imagine, with the kids here, I had other things on my mind.  But that’s not to say nothing happened.  For one thing, I received the review files for the print version of Year 12, so that’s back underway.

fb-cb1Additionally, I got word early this morning that Chucklers, Volume 1 is about to go on sale, starting on December 30th, and will be featured in the Booksends mailing list on January 1st.  So if you haven’t been able to afford it up to now, this is your chance.

And that’s about it, for now. I’m just getting back into the swing of things, so I should have more to report next time.  For now, I hope you have a happy new year, so take care, stay safe, and I’ll talk to you in 2017.   :bye:

Oct 142015
 

Critter notes –

Last week I mentioned some of the furry critters we’re learning to share space with.  Some are harmless, like the rabbits, deer, and armadillos.  Others are nuisances, like the opossum from the other night, or the moles that dig in the yard.  And of course, some are downright nasty.  Just ask Bella and Cricket about that skunk.   :pain:

Brown Orb WeaverSomething else that we’ve noticed lately though, doesn’t exactly fall into the furry critter category.  There are some BIG spiders here that seem to be relatively common.  Now, we’re used to the little grass spiders, wolf spiders, etc, that are common in the Houston area, but these suckers are huge by comparison.  I’m pretty sure that they’re Brown Orb Spiders, but since I’m no expert, I could be wrong.  This not-so-little beauty keeps weaving its web just to the side of our front entrance.  I’ve knocked the web down when it gets too close to the walkway, since MBH is considerably less tolerant of our eight-legged neighbors, but he keeps building back up in the same general area.  I generally don’t have much of a problem with them, and I’ve noticed them all around the neighborhood, so I guess they’re simply more common here.

Cricket has a couple of hot spots on her back, and she’s chewed strips into her fur with all the gnawing.  I looked online, and found that a vet recommends treating it with diluted povidone iodine.  So I made the diluted solution, took her on the back patio, and swabbed the affected areas.  (I’m supposed to do this twice a day until the spots clear up.)

Coming back inside though, I saw this little guy on the left. Black Widow-01 And while I don’t mind sharing space with Orb Weavers, a Black Widow is another thing altogether.  First came the bug spray. Black Widow-02 That was quickly followed by my size twelve spider stomper.  I might not mind spiders, but I’m no saint, either.   :shock:  I have several friends who usually mention spiders and flamethrowers in the same breath.  Black Widows are enough to make me think they just might be right.

So, on to writing notes…

Giveaway notes –

Last weekend was the big giveaway.  Okay, maybe not all that big, but it was a giveaway.  Friend and reviewer, Carol Conley from the “I’m a Voracious Reader” book review blog, contacted me a few weeks ago to let me know she had read Ghost Story, and wanted to know if I would consider running some free days to coincide with the release of her review.  Now, I generally don’t like doing free days, since my experience with them has been mostly negative in the last couple of years.  They worked really well for me back in the early days of Amazon’s KDP Select program, and I’ll never forget that first nail-biter when I put HPM up for free shortly after it released.  In a single day, I gave away more than 11k copies of Half Past Midnight.  That giveaway, and the reviews it sparked, shot followup sales through the roof for the better part of the following year.

For a new author, just getting his feet wet in the world of indie publishing, it was nothing short of miraculous!

Of course, shortly after that, Amazon changed their algorithm, as they so often seem to do.  The next time I ran a book for free, it didn’t do nearly as well, but wasn’t a total loss.  So I tried it again later.  The third time I did it was with the release of Streets of Payne.  This time, not only did I not get as big a response, I completely lost all momentum and sales actually went down.  When I checked into it, it seemed that moving from the Top 100 Sold, to the Top 100 Free was a sales killer.  Since “free” was not “sold”, SoP‘s sales rank dropped like a stone.  No visibility, no sales.  It was the exact opposite of the Ouroboros Effect I wrote about in an old post “In answer to Mike’s question…“, and this time instead of boosting my sales, it actually killed them.

So no, I don’t like doing free days any more.  But Carol is a friend, Ghost Story is just a novella, and it’s not like it was really selling all that well anyway.  So what did I really have to lose, right?   :-/   And while I was putting Ghost Story out there for free, why not also throw SoP out again?  It wasn’t selling either, so what could it hurt?

As it turned out, nothing.  It didn’t hurt, and there actually was a slight bump in sales afterwards.  Not huge, but a few extra sales is a few extra sales.  Yay team!   :-)

Year 12 notes

I have problems with what I call “transition scenes” when I’m writing.  I get scene “A” pretty clear in my mind, and I go after it, flying through it like there’s no tomorrow.  I can see in my mind where scene “B” is, and how it should run.  But the transition from “A” to “B” stumps me.  For whatever reason, I get hung up in the minutia of who says what to trigger what, and why did this do that, and… I get stuck.  I just got through one of these transitions yesterday, and I have to say, I get a little frustrated with myself.  I feel like I should be able to knock out three or four thousand words a day.  Instead, I’m lucky if I average over one thousand.

Yeah, I have problems.  But I’m progressing.  Not as quickly as I want, but I’m progressing.

Speaking of writing, I need to get back to doing just that.  So time to stop whining, and get back to work.  Take care of yourselves, and stay safe.  I’ll talk to you later.   :bye: