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REVIEW: The Atheist and the Parrotfish by Richard Barager

4 Stars

This has got to be one of the most interesting (and potentially “what if”) premises I’ve read in a long time. What makes it even more enticing is the fact that it’s something we all should have wondered about: does a transplant patient take on more of the organ donor’s life than just the functioning body part? Is there a spiritual connection, or something happening at the cellular level that speaks to another level of life?

Of course, Barager’s highly-complex main character grapples with other issues. His atheism is almost an angry part of him. This isn’t a comfortably aware person at peace with his steadfast belief in the pattern of life. This is someone–face it, the stereotypical atheist from the headlines rather than the peace-filled but scientific mind–who feels rage in the presence of believers, jealous that they credit God with Dr. Cullen Brodie managed to do himself: save a life.

The author also briefly explores an undercurrent of the premise that most people probably don’t imagine: is the recipient of the donation “worthy?” Yes, there are committees to decide a patient’s best chances for long-term survival, and no one wants to think that their organs were donated to a serial killer. But the aging cross-dresser (who’s only recently admitted to himself who he really is) isn’t necessarily the best candidate for the organs, not because his chances of survival are minimal, but because…is this really the best we could do with a heart and two kidneys?

Woven throughout is a highly complicated and melancholy reconnection with an old love interest, one that is designed to rip at the threads that keep Cullen’s heart and mind locked inside a fortress of disbelief.  Spiraling the book even more is the fact that the recipient of the organs, already unstable and unsure of himself, is convinced that he has become part of the female donor, that her life is now intertwined with his.

It was a very interesting read, with the only drawback being the long, sometimes winding writing style the author uses for sentence structure. Some sentences required reading once or twice to get their full meaning, but after several chapters the style felt a lot more familiar.

Available now on Amazon: click here.

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BookBaby Just Keeps Getting Better

BookBaby has one of the best offers in the publishing world for self-publishing or small press publishing (we’re required to state that Author Options has a great service, too, otherwise the Christmas party this year is gonna be real awkward). Unlike the world of the so-called vanity press–many of whom are so shady you’d be better off throwing copies of your manuscript from a high place and hoping people send you money–BookBaby is one of the rare options that produces a high-quality book, has live customer services agents who will speak to you, and (get this) doesn’t take a percentage of your sales after the fact. You pay up front, and you’re done.

Check out their newest press release on their print-on-demand service, and the highest author royalty in the business:

BookBaby expands Print On Demand service to pay out highest royalties to self-published authors

With POD on BookShop™, indie authors earn more, get paid faster, and enjoy guaranteed in-stock inventory status.

Pennsauken, NJ, July 13, 2016 BookBaby today announced its Print On Demand (POD) service is now available through its BookShop™ direct-to-reader sales website. Authors will earn an industry-leading 50% of the selling price for printed books sold through BookShop while enjoying all the convenience and low inventory costs that make POD an attractive option for authors.

“Authors haven’t made much money with previous POD programs, and frankly, that’s just wrong,” says BookBaby President Steven Spatz. “When authors sell their printed books through BookBaby’s BookShop, they’ll make more than anywhere else.”

For example, a typical Digest-sized black and white soft cover that retails for $9.99. Amazon will pay authors between $1.34 to $3.34 royalties. If that same book is sold through BookShop, authors will earn $5.00. BookBaby’s POD service can also include hardcover books, a book selection not found in other POD programs, including CreateSpace.

BookBaby’s new service addresses two other issues with Print On Demand programs.

  • Faster payment: BookBaby deposits authors’ money into their accounts within one week after book orders are shipped. That compares to the standard 90 to 120 days lag in payments from Amazon and others.
  • Guaranteed accessibility: Authors’ books are always in stock and ready to ship to readers—a feature exclusive to BookBaby.

“During last Christmas, every POD program suffered through long periods where books were listed as out of stock,” says Spatz. “Tens of thousands of authors were frustrated by Amazon and Barnes & Noble supply chain breakdowns. But that can’t happen with BookShop. We don’t have to worry about inventory—we print and ship directly out of our factory to the reader. In fact, we guarantee our books are available 24/7 throughout the busiest holiday season.”

BookBaby authors will be seeing more new features and services on the BookShop platform in the coming months. “With this new addition, our self-publishing authors have a true one-stop shop for readers to find more information about our authors and their books,” says Spatz. “It’s a critical resource for achieving success in self-publishing, and BookBaby is the only company that offers it.”

BookShop is a free online storefront exclusive to BookBaby authors, giving them an easy way to earn more money selling their printed books and eBooks directly to readers. Minimal set-up is required to get started and authors have full control over their page content.

More information about Print On Demand on BookShop can be found at https://www.bookbaby.com/bookshop.

There’s a Lot of Broohaha over Amazon Reviews…

It’s Monday. I’ve been at work for a grand total of one hour and fourteen minutes, and I’ve already had three articles on the “horrible” changes to Amazon’s review policy come across my feed. I read those articles with the same fear that I’d read a slasher thriller: eyes squinty, peeking through my fingers, waiting for the gruesome end.

Only there was no gruesome end. I’m looking at Amazon’s policy, and I’ve gotta tell ya, not much has changed.

First, let’s get the actual link to Amazon’s official policy out of the way. It’s right HERE. Then, let’s get the link to Amazon’s FAQ about its review policy out of the way, too. It’s right HERE.

But here’s what I’m seeing people complain about: “You can’t swap reviews, meaning you can’t read some guy’s book and then have him read your book.” “You can’t review a book if you’re a blogger and the author is on a blog tour.”* “You can’t be friends with the author on Facebook.”

Well… that’s not exactly true.

Those are loosely defined examples of what Amazon DOES say, which is this:

“To help illustrate, here are a few examples of reviews that we don’t allow:

  • A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posing as an unbiased shopper
  • A shopper, unhappy with her purchase, posts multiple negative reviews for the same product
  • A customer posts a review in exchange for $5
  • A customer posts a review of a game, in exchange for bonus in-game credits
  • A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales
  • A shopper posts a review of the product, after being promised a refund in exchange
  • A seller posts negative reviews on his competitor’s product
  • An artist posts a positive review on a peer’s album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them”

But here’s a vital, super-crucial piece of info directly from Amazon’s own mouth:

“If you think we got it wrong and removed a customer review that we shouldn’t have, please e-mail review-appeals@amazon.com and we will take another look.”

If your book is reviewed (or you’re a reviewer who’s review was taken down), just shoot them an email and tell them. I’ve had this exact scenario happen to me, and I’ve also had Amazon flag my keywords for containing the title of another book (also generally a no-no), and in every instance the company responded quickly with either an explanation or an apology and replaced the content. Interesting NOTE: When I received the email warning me that I couldn’t use “Catcher in the Rye” as a keyword in my book’s listing, I wrote back and explained why it was pertinent. Not only did an Amazon rep later reply to say a) our mistake, and b) save this email as proof that you have permission, just in case it ever comes up again, the Amazon rep went on to say, “By the way, after looking into your book to resolve this matter, it sounded really compelling. I bought it, read it, and LOVED IT!”

Man, do we love to bash Amazon, but sorry folks… they’re still the best game in town for both authors and readers. When that changes, I’ll be sure to admit it.

*The blog tour issue stems from this statement in Amazon’s own language: “Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package” That does NOT mean blog tours, because the blogger who writes the review isn’t compensated. This is saying you can’t pay for publicity or marketing and then have the person you paid write the review.

So How’s Amazon Treating You These Days?

We’ve suffered through another round of Amazon bashing lately, but for the life of me I cannot remember what the brouhaha was this time. I know we already live through the stink about how they changed how authors got paid for book borrows (like anyone else was paying you every time someone borrowed your book from them… but I digress), and I do understand a lot of authors were upset at the switch to being paid per page read instead of per borrow. It’s about equalizing things, but I know it doesn’t feel that way if you were getting enough traffic that it was a significant part of your income.

We also put up with yet more complaining about the exclusivity contract of KDP Select, as though Amazon was somehow requiring authors to list their books in Select for so many cycles before they could choose to sell it elsewhere. They could do that, you know… but they haven’t.

Oh, I remember now… Amazon has a physical bookstore but they are selling books besides indie authors’ works. That was it.

Again, what has Walmart done for your book lately? Target? Barnes and Noble? A local bookshop, if you’re lucky enough to live in a town that even has one?

No one owes us anything as authors except the ability to write and (hopefully) publish. It’s amazing how many people have forgotten that, for a long time there, Amazon was the only one to offer that second option to the entire literate–and even not-so-literate–world. The fact that there are humans on this planet who’ve read my books means Amazon did something that literally no one else on earth was willing to do: give me a platform from which to publish and sell my work.

Are we seriously angry that Amazon keeps adapting its business model to ways that will let it continue to do what it does? Are we upset that they decided to sell toilet paper as well as books? (My ADD thought: did you know you can buy a coffin on Amazon, like, a serious, for-real, “get buried in it” coffin?)

Folks, we have to face the facts. There’s a lot of books to read out there, and only so many hours in the day. Amazon is doing its part by giving your work a place to stand. Are you doing your work by writing it and selling it?

Amazon Finally Announces Self-Publishing for Children’s Books

It was hard not to put an exclamation point at the end of that sentence! (So I used one here.) Self-published authors have long been barred from the ease of use and abundance of readers associated with self-publishing, at least in an inexpensive way. Authors could create their books, but ebooks were not as streamlined as they were for text-based books. But that’s changing, thanks to KDP’s new tool.

According to an announcement sent out just now from KDP:

Starting today, you can use Kindle Kids’ Book Creator to create illustrated children’s books for Kindle, taking advantage of features like text pop-ups. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Download the tool, and you can convert individual illustrations into interactive books for both Kindle devices and free reading apps.
  2. Once your book is ready, export the file and upload it to KDP.
  3. Set the book category, age range, and grade range to help customers find the right books for their kids.

Want to learn how to prepare, publish, and promote illustrated and chapter books for children? Check out the new KDP Kids for more information.

Best regards,
The Kindle Direct Publishing Team

Hugh Howey Wants Answers!

In another brilliant look at the publishing industry, author Hugh Howey has crafted a list of unanswered questions, questions that are not being answered for authors but that also shouldn’t be classified, top-secret information. Despite accusations in the past that Howey is practically in Amazon’s pocket, this list fires directly at the world’s largest ebook retailer and self-publishing platform and demands information for authors. A few of the highlights are below, and the full story is HERE.

1) I would love to know how many readers borrow a book and then go on to buy a copy of the same book. I’ve done this before, and I tend to doubt my uniqueness. For Prime members especially, who only get one borrow a month, do they ever love an ebook so much that they decide to own a copy for good?

2) I would love to know how far into my books readers get. Do they finish the work? Do most who drop out do so around the same chapter? What about from those who return the ebook?

4) Why can’t I see my lifetime sales anywhere on my dashboard? This one shouldn’t be hard. You do it on the ACX homepage. Give me total sales across all titles and for each individual title.

7) I want to know why you all haven’t come out and explained that the 70% cut we make on ebooks priced in a certain range aren’t really royalties. (See #5 of this list for an example of improper usage of the term). When they’re called royalties, the 70% seems exceedingly generous. Because publishers pay a lot less. But publishers provide other services, like editing and cover art. We are handing you a finished product. As a distribution fee, you taking 30% (plus more for delivery fees) sounds less crazy-generous. It seems downright reasonable, in fact. Or even an area where you all could afford to give a little more.

8) Why the 70% price cut-off? In a recent announcement about ebook prices, you all admitted that there are occasions when ebooks deserve to be priced higher than $9.99. I agree. I’d love to package my entire Silo Series trilogy together and sell it for $12.99. That would be an amazing savings to the reader, a great value to your customers. But you all treat every ebook product the exact same, which means my royalty rate would drop from 70% to 35%. That’s not good.

Take a look at the rest of Howey’s questions and the more in-depth explanations behind his reasoning on his post.

KDP Introduces Pre-Orders for Self-Published Authors

Amazon made a striking announcement today that is great news for indie authors:

We’re excited to announce that you can now make your new books available for pre-order in Kindle Stores worldwide. With a few quick and easy steps you can create a pre-order page up to 90 days in advance of your book’s release date–your pre-order product page will be created within 24 hours. When you make your book available for pre-order, customers can order the book anytime leading up to the release date you set. We will deliver it to them on that date.

One advantage of using pre-order is that you can start promoting your Kindle book pre-order page on Author Central, Goodreads, your personal website, and other places ahead of its release to help build excitement for your book. Also, pre-orders will contribute toward sales rank and other Kindle Store merchandising ahead of release, which can help more readers discover your book.

Visit your KDP Bookshelf to set up your new book for pre-order.

This is great news for authors who are looking to generate sales before the book comes out, which is much the same process that Pubslush offers for authors who crowd source their books. For authors who already have titles in KDP, bear this in mind for future books.

Amazon Enlists Unlikely Help in Hachette Dispute: ACTUAL READERS

Amazon sent a pretty amazing email to its readers, enlisting the help of the people who have been shoved aside and overlooked throughout the Amazon-Hachette dispute. The industry has covered the whining that publishers will lose money and the even louder whining that authors who live in 12-bathroom mansions in Florida are having food ripped from their mouths by Amazon, but no one has spoken about ME. The reader. The person who doesn’t live near a bookstore and whose public library isn’t open on weekends. I’m the person who buys ebooks just so I can get my hands on reading material, and Hachette thinks I should pay more for them just so print books don’t become undervalued and so literature doesn’t lose its esteem in the eyes of society.

The letter and its call to action are below:

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

– We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
– Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
– Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
– Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

Scribd Unveils New Enhanced Browse Features for Better Book Discovery

eBook subscription giant Scribd announced new search features this week that will make it even easier for readers to find great content. And with a catalog of over 500,000 titles and counting, discoverability is certainly going to be an issue for both authors and readers.

“Our goal with the new browse experience was to retain the same human touch that we have come to love about personal recommendations from a trusted friend, but use the power of technology to extend it to our catalog of over 500,000 books,” said Jared Friedman, co-founder and CTO of Scribd. “The result is as if we’ve built every reader their own personalized bookstore, with the human touch readers love, that they are now able to carry around in their back pocket.

The new feature works by letting readers search in two directions at the same time. They can go for a broader search option, which would be akin to walking into a vast bookstore and heading over to the Science Fiction section, or they can narrow it down, which would be like having a personal shopper handing over only the books that contain all of the search options the reader is interested in. This dual system lets readers be highly specific about topics of interest, but also lets them just “wander” the aisles of Scribd when they don’t have a specific title or content in mind, but still know what they like.

“Scribd’s subscription model does wonders for book discovery, because it eliminates so much of the friction that usually exists to begin reading a good book,” said Trip Adler, co-founder and CEO. “Meanwhile our new browse feature alone is a huge step forward for book discovery. Ultimately we believe it’s the combination of the subscription model with our innovative book discovery offering that will create a magical experience for readers, and this is just the beginning of more to come.”

This search enhancement is going to be a tremendous boost to indie authors who’ve put their titles in the subscription catalog through Smashwords’ agreement with the company, as it will let Scribd’s membership find new titles without having to have the boost of advertising dollars from the major publishing houses.

Scribd will be rolling out this search capability across of all of its platform-specific apps in the coming weeks.

Amazon Backs Its India Store with $2B Investment

Not to be outdone by Flipkart, the largest e-commerce site in India, and its $1 billion investment in its retail site, Amazon has announced its own $2 billion backing of its Amazon.in marketplace, only one day after Flipkart announced its round of funding.

According to Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, India stands to be its fastest growing marketplace, and the first of its retail markets to produce one billion dollars in sales. Given the population within the country, the abundance of tablets due to strong education initiatives in mobile technology, and the fact that English is one of its official languages, this comes as very little surprise.

While Flipkart has claimed the status of India’s largest e-commerce site with 22 million users making five million shipped purchases per month, Amazon has already refuted that claim. Despite the US-based retailer’s standard operating procedure of not disclosing any specific sales data, Amazon claims to retail more than 17 million different products within its Indian website.

While both Flipkart and Amazon.in are talking and investing in terms of more than just books, this focus on the market means a great deal for self-published authors. With constraints on international book rights in place, even many traditionally published authors don’t find their titles available in every market. But thanks to both Amazon’s KDP platform and self-publishing/ebook distribution site Smashwords, indie authors can list their ebooks in both the Amazon.in Kindle store and Flipkart’s ebook store, due to Smashwords’ agreement with Flipkart.

Authors who don’t take the steps to list their titles with these two options are missing out on a significant number of English-speaking readers who already have a history of online purchasing, have the devices on which to read ebooks, and may already be clamoring for ebook content.

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