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Motivrite 3: Vanity Publishing vs. Self-publishing


For the longest time vanity publishing and self-publishing were one and the same. If someone couldn’t get a deal with a traditional publisher then their only other option was to go with a vanity publisher who would gladly print up anything the author wanted, for a price. This naturally led to a bunch of not-so-great stuff being vanity published, and there’s a stigma associated with vanity publishing that still lingers around all self-publishing to this day.

But vanity publishing and modern indie self-publishing are far from the same thing, and it’s time for that old stigma and snooty attitude about self-publishers to go. Today’s episode of Motivrite dives into a brief history of vanity publishing, and the differences between old school vanity publishing and modern digital self-publishing.

Show Notes:

0:30 – The distinction between vanity publishing and self-publishing. One of these things is not like the other.

Vanity publishing and self-publishing used to be the same thing. That’s not the case anymore. Good work is being done by indies now that digital self-publishing has democratized the process, and this podcast is going to delve into the history of vanity publishing and compare it to modern digital self-publishing.

1:20 “Publishing companies” that weren’t publishing companies at all. My introduction to the world of vanity publishing.

A brief story about my introduction to the world of vanity publishing. Aka how I learned to stop worrying and accept that I wasn’t actually getting a publishing contract for a short story I wrote for my high school newspaper.

2:35 What is vanity publishing?

A history of old school vanity publishing and why it has a much deserved bad reputation among writers and publishers.

4:37 Not knowing the distinction between vanity publishing and digital self-publishing held me back from my future career. Don’t let it hold you back.

For the longest time I thought that digital self-publishing was just the new version of offline vanity publishing, and this held me back from self-publishing my stuff for several years I could’ve been using to build my career. Don’t let this happen to you.

5:40 Digital self-publishing is a whole new world of indie publishing.

There’s a whole new world of opportunities for writers because of the digital publishing revolution. I go into the differences between the old and busted self-publishing and the new hotness, and why one is still a costly dead end and one is your path to a potential new career.

7:45 Sturgeon’s Law is alive and well, but digital self-publishing allows the cream to rise to the top instead of relying on gatekeepers.

I tackle one of the most common criticisms against self-publishing: that a lot of the material that’s put out there isn’t that good. Which is true. There is a lot of crap out there, but there are also plenty of new systems in place that help the good stuff rise to the top that are far better than the old gatekeeping system of agents and publishers, because it’s the readers who get to decide what’s worthwhile in this new paradigm.

8:30 Digital markets are the great equalizer that puts indies on an equal footing with trad publishers.

We’ve never lived in a better time for writers to make money from their craft. Vanity publishing was a last ditch way for writers who couldn’t cut it in the old system to get their stuff out there, and it almost never worked. Digital self-publishing is a great new level playing field where anyone writing good stuff can stand out from the crowd and make a career!

Progress update: 10/29/2018

I’m going to start a new thing where I do a quick update at the end of a work day talking about everything I accomplished that day. I figure it’s a way to keep myself accountable while also providing some encouragement to get my butt in gear and get stuff done.

Today I wrote 11,941 words across seven projects I’m currently working on. I had a bunch of outlining in there as I’m currently outlining one book for my pen name, and another that I plan on releasing under my name.

I also revised 9,086 words on a project for my main pen name that I’m putting the finishing touches on. I’m a little behind on that one, but what can you do?

I’m getting closer and closer to finishing the sprawling 200,000 word doorstopper GameLit novel I’ve been working on for almost a year now. Even when I finish that there are going to be heavy edits to be done, but simply being close to the end on a project that’s the longest book I’ve ever written feels pretty good. I’m going to have to bust my butt on revisions to get it out by the holiday season though.

I also made progress on the Dice Mage podcast audiobook experiment I’m going to try with that book. Everyone keeps talking about how audio is the new hotness, and I figure I’ll give it a try and see if it’s any good for audience building. I finished editing chapter 5, and recorded, edited, and finished chapter 6 as well. I plan on releasing that to the world now that I have six episodes banked to get those download numbers up when it goes live on various podcasting services.

I also started, but didn’t finish, a couple of blog posts. One about making dining reservations at Disney World, based on a recent experience I had dealing with that frustration, and another about my experiences with the Sega Genesis on the occasion of that system’s 30th birthday.

That’s it for today! Time to hit the sack and prepare for another full day tomorrow.

Introducing Dice Mage!

I got my start in the whole full time writing thing doing erotica and romance. I make no secret of that and I’m not ashamed of it. I’m proud of figuring out a way to make a full time living doing something I love, and I’ve actually come to really enjoy romance as a genre in my time writing in it!

Having said that, for the past four years I’ve always been shooting for the goal of releasing something under my own name. It’s something I was working towards way back in 2016, but then life got in the way. My dad was diagnosed with cancer so I was taking care of him, then he passed and I was taking care of his estate. I also had a string of a couple of surgeries that weren’t life threatening, but put a cramp on my writing time. Through this all my wife was pregnant, then she gave birth and I was helping around the house while she was home on leave, and after that I made the decision to keep my daughter home for her first year.

Suffice it to say my plate was full, and it was taking every bit of time and energy I could dedicate to writing simply to keep up with my existing pen names and maintain an income that kept my family in the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed.

So some of the GameLit and fantasy stuff I was working on went on the back burner for awhile, but as of a couple of weeks ago I’m excited to say that I’ve finally released a GameLit adjacent book, Dice Mage!

If you’re not familiar with GameLit, it’s a genre that goes hand in hand with LitRPG. It’s a story that includes gaming elements as part of the story. In Dice Mage that translates to a normal college dude who was minding his own business when he was tapped by a goddess to be her champion in a game of the gods taking place on his college campus, and he has to try and save the world with a set of magical dice that give him the powers of a badass mage! Maybe. If he can ever figure out how they work.

I was super excited about this genre when I saw it moving up the charts in 2015-2016, and I’m excited to finally release my own entry! I’m also a little annoyed that I didn’t get a start in the genre a couple of years ago, but life happens and all you can do is move forward.

So there you have it! You can check out Dice Mage at Amazon and give it a read. It’s also in Kindle Unlimited if you’re a subscriber. I’ve been doing this writing thing full time for nearly four years, but it feels good to finally have something out there under my name!

Kindle Unlimited snafu: scammers, suspended accounts, and page read reductions

There’s a minor to major snafu going on in the Kindle Unlimited author community right now depending on who you talk to. Naturally the authors who are getting letters from Amazon about suspicious activity on their accounts, or getting their accounts suspended, are more inclined to think it’s a big deal.

Basically the issue is that the Kindle Unlimited system has a problem with scammers. There’s money in them thar hills, and like with every gold rush there are unscrupulous people looking to make a quick buck. In this case the quick buck is made by uploading “books” that are stuffed to the maximum page count and then using click farming operations to page through those books to generate page reads for an account and sponge up that sweet, sweet Kindle Unlimited money.

This is causing a few problems including:

KU payout problems

Kindle Unlimited operates with a pot of money that is paid out to all participating authors at the end of a month. So Amazon will have a pot of, say $20 million and they divide that by all the authors who got page reads in a month. The rate per page read usually hovers around $0.005 per month depending on how much money Amazon pumps into the system and how many pages were read in a month.

Seeing the problem yet? Yeah, if there are a bunch of click farmers out there who are artificially inflating the page counts with their stuffed books that means they’re taking away money from other authors. It artificially depresses the payout by crowding out legitimate authors with their ill-gotten page reads.

Authors (unfairly?) targeted

There’s another more low key and potentially more insidious side effect hitting authors over the past couple of weeks. See those scammers know that it would look suspicious if the only books their click farms paged through were their overstuffed books. So what they do to make their operations look more legitimate is they target other bestselling books and page through those as well.

By targeting legitimate books it makes their click farm accounts look more legitimate. The problem for authors is if their book happens to be targeted by one of those click farm operations it suddenly makes their book look more scammy to whatever automated bot Amazon has trawling their site looking for suspicious activity.

The upshot of all this is legitimate authors have been targeted by scammers to lend scammer accounts more legitimacy, and now those author accounts are being targeted by Amazon as scammers with consequences ranging from sternly worded emails accusing them of scamming the system to outright suspensions. There are also authors who are reporting that their page reads are being retroactively revoked for previous months. Presumably these are page reads that were generated by click farm accounts.

Who to believe?

Here’s the problem. Whenever something like this happens there’s a lot of confusion and a lot of rumors that get spread around. I’ve deliberately kept the details in this post to just the facts, ma’am, but if you’re inclined to go looking at some of the rumors then it’s easy enough to find the uproar on KBoards.

The difficulty when something like this happens is all we have to go on is the word of the author on the one hand that they aren’t doing anything scammy, and the stonewall from Amazon on the other side. There are probably some authors out there who did legitimately grey hat things to generate page reads on their books and now they’re complaining along with everyone else on the bandwagon about how they’ve been unfairly targeted. There always are when there’s a smackdown targeting the KU scam du jour.

On the flip side there are enough authors complaining about these issues that it seems highly unlikely that all of them have been partaking in click farms, wittingly or unwittingly. The thought of being labeled a scammer and having your account suspended because your books were targeted by a click farm to lend their scam legitimacy, something that you absolutely cannot control, is terrifying.

With zero transparency from Amazon about exactly what is going on and conflicting reports from authors it’s difficult to say exactly what is happening, but it seems safe to assume that there are legitimate author accounts being unfairly targeted as part of a crackdown that is casting a net that’s gone a little too wide.

What to do?

It’s a difficult call. There are a lot of authors who are talking about pulling out of Kindle Unlimited entirely and going wide. The problem with this is if your whole author strategy so far has been to rely on the ease of Kindle Unlimited then you don’t have an audience on other platforms which makes it difficult to go wide.

On top of that there’s the issue that there simply are some genres that don’t do as well wide as they do in Kindle Unlimited. A lot of authors who have come to rely on KU money are going to have a difficult time and take a severe hit right in the pocketbook if they make the precipitous move of taking their books out of KU. On the other hand if an author is facing a suspension because of illicit KU activity they have no control over there’s really no choice. Better to be out of KU with no KU money and have your Amazon account intact than in KU and risk having your account suspended and you’re out KU money and royalties.

I’d advise caution for authors reading posts from other panicked authors. If Kindle Unlimited is a significant portion of your income then be smart about whether or not you want to withdraw. Especially if you’re relying on that money. Take the time to build yourself up on other stores and build up alternate revenue streams. Don’t do something precipitous that’s going to leave you unable to pay the bills and put food on the table because you’re making a decision from a place of fear.

Parting thoughts

Amazon should be more transparent about what is happening. That’s not likely to happen, but authors should take comfort in the knowledge that Amazon does tend to do the right thing by legit authors in the long run when these crackdowns hit. I think that right now there is a bot or some automated system that is inappropriately flagging some authors, but if those authors make noise and they aren’t actively participating in scams they’re going to be okay in the long run.

It always sucks when something like this happens, but crackdowns at Amazon are hardly new. There are always people who will push the extremes, and often the response swings to the opposite extreme before the dust clears and authors get on with writing. This has all happened before, and it will all happen again. Take a deep breath, remain calm, and come at this from a business perspective rather than from a place of panic and fear.

And maybe consider working on your wide game so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket for the next panic.