Business

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!

Motivrite 2: What makes a career author?

In the second episode of Motivrite I do a dive into what it takes to be a career writer. There’s no one path to making a writing career, but there are some skills and habits that will make it a lot easier for you to take your writing from hobby to career. I talk a little bit about what it takes, and how you can get there!

Show Notes

0:27 – What makes someone a practitioner of an art?

Is it the act of doing, or is it getting paid? Is it getting paid or is it getting paid enough to do full time? Which gatekeeper is right?

1:40 – What is a career writer?

Career writers are working towards or making enough money to do this as a full time job. What does it take to hit this goal?

2:50 – What makes a career writer?

I talk about some of the skills and habits that career writers all have in common.

  1. Be a reader
  2. Be able to write
  3. Be disciplined
  4. Have a desire to learn
  5. Have ambition that’s paired with a work ethic and a desire to make it
  6. Treat writing like a job if you want it to be your job

13:20 – It’s not as difficult as you might think!

If you’re listening to this podcast then you’re taking the first step towards achieving what you need to make writing your career.

 

Progress update: 10/30/2018

A bit of a slower day today. Didn’t get much sleep the night before because of a sick kiddo, and as such I ended up sleeping a good chunk of the morning away which hit me right in the productivity.

I wrote 8336 words today and revised 4,129. Not a bad day, but I didn’t get much other work done aside from writing because the morning was shot.

On the podcast/audiobook front I recorded and finished chapter 7 of Dice Mage. I also submitted a support ticket to the good people at Libsyn to get the slug for the hosting I’m paying for there switched to reflect Dice Mage rather than Blake Byron, which I’ve abandoned for the moment. Once that’s sorted I’ll upload the first seven chapters and start my great experiment seeing if podcasting is a decent way to build an audience!

That’s it for today. It was an abbreviated day so it’ll be an abbreviated day.

Huion GT-191: Final review

So if you’ve been reading this blog then you know I’ve had some good and some bad experiences with Huion and the GT-191. I have one sitting on my desk right now so I’ve decided to go with Huion, and I figured I should write a final review about all the pros and cons and why I ultimately decided to go with the GT-191 despite some problems.

Huion GT-191

So here’s the thing. Huion is giving you bang for your buck. They’re not giving you perfection. If you’re an amateur artist or someone who only uses Photoshop from time to time then it’s going to be a great tablet for you. If you’re the kind of person whose professional livelihood depends on color accuracy and things like that then it might or might not be the tablet for you, but it’s definitely a contender for the price.

The good:

Price:

The price on Huion products can’t be beat. I got mine through a sale they were running on eBay that gave me a brand new device, straight from Huion, at a substantial discount. I think they were trying to get rid of older versions of their Kamvas line now that they’re releasing newer versions with pens that don’t require charging. Either way, a 19″ pen monitor at Huion prices is a great deal. Especially compared to Wacom and their exorbitant and prohibitive pricing.

Setup:

Setup was quick and easy. Everything on the Huion is using old technology that’s well tested. It uses an old fashioned USB 3.0 connection and an HDMI cable to provide signal from the computer to the monitor. If you’re running a fancy new MacBook Pro with its USB-C connections that might be an issue, but there are a lot of people out there running on hardware that isn’t at the bleeding edge and these older connections are appreciated.

Actually setting up the monitor only took maybe fifteen minutes. That includes attaching the stand, connecting the wires, and downloading the Huion software.

The user experience:

This is what really matters. The experience of putting a pen to the screen is about the same as using a Cintiq 22HD. There’s a little bit of parallax that really becomes obvious when you’re moving the pen around, but you also got that on older Wacoms. It doesn’t hold a candle to the new Cintiq Pro line and the complete lack of parallax, but it’s pretty easy to train yourself to look at where the cursor is on the screen and adjust your stroke accordingly. This is especially easy if you’re upgrading from a tablet where you’re used to the disconnect between pen and cursor.

I’m not saying the parallax is a deal breaker, just that it’s there and is about the same as what you’d expect from a last gen Wacom monitor. You’re not getting the complete lack of parallax of the new Cintiq Pro line, but you’re also not paying the equivalent of a down payment on a cheap car on this monitor either.

Other than that the experience is natural and easy. Drawing on the screen or on the provided screen protector is a pleasant experience. With the protector on it feels like drawing on paper. The screen protector does blur everything just a bit, but you’re going to get that from any screen protector that has a paper consistency. Again I’d compare the screen resolution to the Cintiq 22HD in terms of quality and graininess.

The stand:

This is wonderful. Seriously. I wish Wacom would figure out how to make stands like this. All it takes is a little pull on a lever and the stand moves forward and back providing whatever angle you want. The real beauty is the stand has a tiny footprint that makes it easy to fit the GT-191 on a desk.

Compare that to the 22HD and larger in the last gen of Cintiqs. That stand was a beast and it ate up desk real estate. One of the reasons I ended up getting rid of my 22HD was the thing was just so damn big that it was unwieldy and unpleasant to use. Or compare that to the Cintiq Pro line that doesn’t come with a stand at all.

The Huion doesn’t have this problem. The stand is compact and gets the job done, and it just works. Wacom could take a page from Huion on stand design.

The extras:

The tablet comes with an extra pen and drawing glove as “gifts.” This smacks of marketing speak to make me feel warm and fuzzy about something they would’ve included anyway, but whatever. Having a second pen is a must with a pen tablet that relies on battery driven pens. You can always have one charged and ready to go.

The bad:

Color accuracy:

This is the big one that was such an annoyance with the first one I tried out. No matter how many times I tried to calibrate the screen there was a blue tint to everything that drove me nuts. Trying to return the GT-191 to Huion and not get charged a restocking fee also took some back and forth that was annoying.

Still, I couldn’t beat the sale price they were offering and I figured for that price I could put up with a little color inaccuracy. I’m pleased to say that the screen I have now doesn’t have that tinting issue, but it’s still washed out and not all that vibrant for an IPS panel. It’s really obvious looking at my calibrated Asus PB-278Q which sits just above the Huion tablet.

Another consideration is that the Cintiqs also appear “washed out” compared to monitors designed to pump out more saturation, and this is deliberate. Huion is doing the same, but the colors on the Huion are definitely a little more washed out than what you’ll get on a Cintiq.

It’s not a huge issue for me though. Like I said before, this is a bang for the buck unit. If you’re doing digital art or photo manipulation seriously then you have a second monitor you can mirror your current Photoshop window to anyway so you can periodically check on what you’re working on, but it’s definitely a concern if pinpoint color accuracy is something you absolutely have to have.

Parallax:

I talked about this up above, but wanted to include it in the cons down here. Parallax is there, but it’s about on par with what you can expect from a Cintiq 22HD or a 13HD. It’s especially obvious if you twist the pen around as the tip will quickly become disconnected from the cursor on the screen. This wasn’t much of an issue for me. I’ve worked with tablets long enough that I can deal with the disconnect between what my pen is doing and what the cursor is doing, but it might be an annoyance for some. Watching where the cursor is versus where the pen is can be helpful, though, and the disconnect is way less with the Huion than it would be with a traditional non-screen tablet.

Does it compare to the lack of parallax on the new Cintiq Pro line? Not at all. Parallax is nonexistent on those bad boys. Is it a small enough annoyance that the price difference more than makes up for it if you’re starting out with digital art or on a budget? Most definitely in my opinion.

“Only” High Def:

This is really a matter of opinion. The last gen Cintiq displays were all good old 1920×1080. The picture looked decently crisp on the 13HD and a little grainy on the 22HD.

With the GT-191 you’re also getting “only” 1920×1080 resolution. The display looks a little grainy, especially with the protective screen over it, but it’s not a huge deal. It’s definitely not as crisp as a display on a Cintiq Pro 16 or running AstroPad Pro and an iPad Pro, but again it gets the job done. I’ll also note that the Cintiq Pro running at 2K also looks a little grainy and pixelated, and running at 4K on a 15″ monitor made everything so small as to be uncomfortable.

The GT-191 really is a nice compromise between screen size and resolution. 1080P works for a monitor that size. Would 4K be nice? Yeah, but that would up the price and we wouldn’t be having this conversation about a value pen screen.

No tilt:

The GT-191 doesn’t have tilt functionality in its pen. I don’t use tilt so it’s not a big deal for me. If this is a big deal for you then you’ve been warned.

Cable placement:

Cable placement is a little awkward on the back of the device. The ports are on the bottom of the screen, and that means if you’re sliding your monitor forward and back on the aforementioned stand a lot then you’re going to spend some time pushing the cables out of the way. This also doesn’t seem like a great arrangement in terms of cable strain over the long term, but I also haven’t seen any complaints about this so who knows if it’s really a potential gripe.

Just be warned that the cable situation in the back isn’t ideal, and you will spend some of your time moving cables out of the way if you move the stand up and down a lot.

The verdict: bang for your buck

Bang for the buck. That’s what it all comes down to. A last gen Cintiq 22HD will still run you $1700. A last gen Cintiq 13HD will run you $800. To get into the new Cintiq Pro 13 you’re looking at $1000. For the Cintiq Pro 16 it’s $1500. When you go higher than that for the Cintiq Pro 24 and 32 you’re looking at behemoths that swallow your entire desk and cost the price of a cheap used car with some mileage on it or a good down payment on a new economy car.

Does Huion still have some issues with their tablets? Yes, but in my experience they’re all issues that existed on the last generation of Wacom Cintiq tablet screens, and they were all things people learned to live with. That’s something else to consider. Every generation of Wacoms has had their issues, and people pay a premium to deal with those issues.

Weigh all of that against the price, because damn. That price is amazing. If you’re on a budget, dipping a toe into digital art, or only need to use a screen tablet occasionally for work like I do then that price can’t be beat. Wacoms are expensive. Like “I do art for a living and can justify this expense” or “corporate bought all of these with a line item in the budget that was going away if we didn’t spend it by the end of the year” expensive. That’s a lot of money to spend, and I think for the money the Huion is a great, if slightly flawed, alternative whose price more than makes up for those quibbles.

Bang for your buck. That’s what Huion delivers. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you’re willing to shell out an extra thousand bucks to get something slightly better in quality and way smaller in terms of screen size to have Wacom on the branding.

Dragon 13 discontinued, Dragon 15 discounted

Do you use Dragon Naturally Speaking? Specifically are you on Dragon 13? Well I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news for you.

The bad news is Dragon 13 is being discontinued. Nuance is no longer going to support it after 2018. It’s pining for the fjords, and at some future date a Windows Update is going to break functionality and Nuance isn’t going to fix it.

Now for the good news. If you own Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 Professional they’re offering Dragon 15 Professional at a steep discount of $99. Check the software notifications you probably ignore every time you open Dragon 13 and you’ll see a notification and a link to where you can get the discounted rate.

It’s only good through October 31, 2018, so be sure to act fast. This is a great deal on 15 and well worth the upgrade. Especially if you’re using it for a business purpose!

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!

Finding a cover artist and covering your butt

Today I’m going to cover something that’s been on my mind because of a situation I’m dealing with: finding a cover artist.

There are a lot of resources out there for finding cover artists. A lot of author databases that you can go through and hope to find someone who’s good. I don’t bother with any of that stuff though. Not when I know of a great artist community that has a job board specifically designed for people seeking commissioned art.

That site? The Deviant Art jobs forum!

Finding an artist

This is the easy part. Create your own account on DeviantArt and post on the forum letting people know what you’re looking for. You’ll quickly be inundated with artists who are looking for work, and they’ll continue to stream in for a couple of days as people check the forum.

From there it’s a matter of sifting through the various offers you get. I maintain a note that I’m constantly updating when I find an author who looks promising. In that note I include the artist’s name, a link to their profile, and information about what they charge if they make that available.

You’re going to get some people who clearly aren’t up to the standard of what you need for your cover. You’re going to get people who are amazing and clearly out of your budget.

Here are a few things I look for when settling on an artist:

  1. What kind of styles do they work in? Is it cartoony? Full realistic renders? Realistic but with some exaggerations? Does their style fit what you’re looking for?
  2. Does the art flow? Are they able to do multiple poses and different scenarios? Is it stiff at all? Are they able to do men and women or is it clear that they’ve been drawing sexy ladies or sexy men since middle school and never bothered to learn how to draw anything else?
  3. Do they have a lot of work on display? I’m wary of artists who have newer profiles or don’t post all that much on their DA profile. Not all of them are scammers, but it is suspect.
  4. Do they have comments on their profile from people who’ve worked with them? Are those comments positive or are their complaints that they’re scammers?

Those are just a few things to consider. Look for an artist who has a varied portfolio and clearly is good at what they’re doing. Compare between several artists until you find one you like, and then start negotiating the price.

Settling on a price

Give serious thought to what your budget is for this project. I wouldn’t recommend including that budget in your initial post because that’s going to encourage people to come in at whatever price you offer even if they would’ve started lower. This is a negotiation even if you are going to pay the nice artist what they are worth.

We’re looking for a sweet spot. Someone who clearly has the ability to do what you need but comes in at a price you can afford. You need to go into this with the attitude that you’re paying a business associate for a service. You want to get paid for your writing, and you should be willing to pay a reasonable sum to an artist as well.

I can’t reiterate that enough. Good artists who are responsive and deliver good work in a timely manner? They’re unicorns, and you should treat them like the precious and valuable resource they are.

If someone is amazing but they’re a little out of their price range then don’t be afraid to ask them to come down just a little. This is a business transaction, after all. The worst they can say is no.

Don’t be afraid to work with someone from halfway around the world. If you’re in the U.S. or Europe then that exchange rate is pretty favorable if you’re working with an artist in, say, Asia or another place where USD or GBP or the Euro stretches pretty far.

If someone is coming in with a quote that seems too good to be true then that’s probably because it is. I’ve been burned a couple of times by artists who had amazing work but ghosted once they got their payment. Again you’re looking for a sweet spot, and someone who comes in too low is probably trying to lure you in.

Covering your ass

There’s no way to guarantee completely that you don’t get scammed, but there are some things you can do to protect yourself while searching for an artist.

Social proof – A serious artist is going to have lots of happy comments from people who commissioned them. Look for these. Don’t be afraid to ask the artist for references. This is a business transaction, and if they aren’t willing to provide references then you should run for the hills.

Half and Half – Whenever I make a job offer I make it clear that I’m paying half up front and half upon delivery. This makes the cost of the commission hurt a little less, and it also is likely to scare off some scammers. Not all, but some.

Use protection – A lot of people will want you to pay with a PayPal money transfer. Don’t do this. There are no buyer protections built in with money transfers. What you’re going to insist on is that the artist invoices you via PayPal, and only then will you make your payment. This means you have PayPal’s buyer protection if they ghost you.

Other considerations

Contracts – You can do a contract if you want. There are indie author sites out there that offer boilerplate contracts. I tend not to mess with them. I have a paper trail of email conversations where expectations are clearly laid out and make sure the invoice include exactly what’s being bought and paid for. Including considerations like copyright transfer. If a contract makes you feel better then by all means go for it, but I’m not an IP lawyer so I’m not going to comment on them other than to say I don’t use them.

Copyright – One of the conditions of commissioning your work should be that all copyright to the work transfers to you. Full stop. I wouldn’t work with anyone who isn’t willing to do this. Some people will charge a little extra for this and some will throw it in. I’d recommend indicating you want the copyright transfer in your initial post and seeing what the artist says.

This is something that you need to have spelled out in your conversations with the artist and in the invoice so it’s clear on the off chance they try to come after you later. It’s also an area where it might be helpful to get a boilerplate contract from somewhere on the Internet, but again I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice.

Price Increases – I’ve heard a few horror stories over the years about artists who commissioned a cover, then when their book did very well the artist turned around and jacked up the price for future covers. This can lead to situations where book releases are delayed while things are renegotiated.

I’ve never had this happen to me before, but if it did then I would politely tell the artist to go and pound sand. I believe that artists deserve to be paid a fair amount for their work, but if someone raises the price by some exorbitant amount because they think an author can cover it they’re essentially trying to hold future releases hostage. That’s not someone I’d want to work with, and there are plenty of other artists out there who’d be able to do a new cover.

Having said that, there are instances of artists who raise their fee as they get more popular. That’s to be expected if they’re making a go of making a career as an artist. In that case you’ll have to decide whether or not the slowly increasing rate is worth it, but that’s a completely different scenario from someone trying to extort an author because of some success.

Lettering – Cover artists make cover art. Letterers do lettering. There are some people who have both skills, but not necessarily. Ask your cover person if they’re comfortable doing lettering, and if not then look for someone who can do this and expect to pay a little bit for it. Good typography on a cover is every bit as valuable as the art beneath it.

If the artist can do typography then be sure to get a copy of the art without all the lettering on it.

Timeliness – Figure out what your release schedule is going to look like. Then figure out whether or not your artist can keep up with that schedule. Art can take time to complete just like it takes time to write and edit a book, and if you have a release schedule that doesn’t match up with what your artist is able to do then it’s time to find someone else for your project.

Wrapping up

Finding an artist! There’s a lot of stuff to consider if you want to find someone who’s good, reasonably priced, able to complete their work in a timely manner, and isn’t out to scam you. The good news is that it’s not all that complicated so much as it’s time consuming. That’ll be time well spent when you get that perfect cover that drives the sales to you though!

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.

Patreon is cracking down on adult content

When I was mainly writing erotica on Amazon during the great KDP shorts boom of 2014-2015 there was the ever present threat of Amazon coming through and cleaning house. There was money to be made writing some questionable material and where there’s money there will be people who are willing to make some of that money by filling a niche no matter how questionable.

It would seem that Amazon has mostly forgotten about policing their erotica section now that their changes to KDP have made erotica way less profitable and, therefore, way less likely to show up on top 100 charts where borderline erotica doesn’t belong, but that doesn’t mean the spirit of the crackdown isn’t alive and well out there on content platforms.

The big one right now? Patreon.

They announced changes to their content policy a few days back that are going to have a huge effect on adult content creators using the platform. They’d been vague, probably purposely so, about what was and wasn’t allowed on their platform and as a result there were a lot of people creating adult content who flocked to Patreon because it’s often difficult for adult content creators to monetize their works.

A lot of people are freaking out over what this means, so I figured I’d do a quick breakdown of their new guidelines to see if it’s really the end of the world as we know it for adult content creators:

We ask creators to flag themselves as Adult Content if they create any content that has mature themes such as sexuality or graphic violence. When you are flagged as Adult Content your page is removed from our search.

This is nothing new. Pages featuring adult content have always been removed from their search and hidden from the general public.

We also require that all public content on your page be appropriate for all audiences. Content with mature themes must be marked as a patron-only post.

Some people are misreading this passage. There are some places out there that are pointing out the perceived hypocrisy that they allow adult content but want pages to be “appropriate for all audiences.” These people are either deliberately ignoring the second sentence where NSFW content is allowed as long as it’s hidden to non-patrons or they need to work on their reading comprehension.

We have zero tolerance when it comes to the glorification of sexual violence which includes bestiality, rape, and child exploitation (i.e., sexualized depiction of minors). This is true for illustrated, animated, or any other type of content.

This is perfectly reasonable. Depictions of children, real or otherwise, are both morally reprehensible and illegal in the U.S. Bestiality is illegal in a lot of places. You could make a free speech argument for depictions of rape, but freedom of speech only compels the government to let you say what you want. I can see why Patreon would want to distance themselves from that stuff.

We understand that some topics on this list such as incest or rape are a little bit more complicated because these situations are, unfortunately, part of real life. As a result, when reviewing this type of content, the Trust and Safety team will take into consideration context

This also seems reasonable. I saw some erotica authors bemoaning that books like Lolita were available on Amazon for all to see while their 5000 word short story about mind controlling a roofied borderline underage cheerleader who was “18 years of age” according to the disclaimer at the front into having carnal relations with a group of creepy older men got thrown into Amazon’s adult dungeon. Because they’re totally the same thing, you see?

Yeah, I didn’t buy that argument then and I don’t buy that argument now. I’m reminded of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quip “I know it when I see it.” regarding hardcore pornography.

Lastly, you cannot sell pornographic material or arrange sexual service(s) as a reward for your patrons. We define pornographic material as real people engaging in sexual acts such as masturbation or sexual intercourse on camera.

This last bit seems pretty clearly aimed at sex workers. Which sucks for them. We as a society are way to puritanical about that sort of thing, but it’s Patreon’s playground and they can decide who does and doesn’t get to play there.

Note that people writing erotica, people creating video games with erotic themes, and people creating erotic art aren’t explicitly included in any of those changes to their content guidelines. Unless those people are making their NSFW stuff public, of course, or their work contains some of the stuff that is forbidden under the new policy like children, rape, etc.

People have tried to frame this as a freedom of speech issue. It isn’t. Patreon is a company, not the U.S. government, and they can do what they please on their platform whether or not people agree with those decisions. People have tried to frame this as Patreon cracking down on fetish content. It’s not. There’s a wide world of fetish content that doesn’t involve rape, children, or sex workers that is still allowed on Patreon as long as it stays behind a paywall.

What this is? It’s a company providing a platform for people to create content, content creators pushing the boundaries, the company getting some flak for those boundaries being pushed, and a crackdown ensuing where they clarify their rules and clear out people who were pushing those boundaries.

This has all happened before, and it will all happen again. I’ve been through a couple of “smutpocalypses” over at Amazon and it’s always the same:

  1. A platform gains popularity among content creators and people start flocking to it.
  2. The platform has rules and guidelines about what content they allow, but people start pushing the boundaries.
  3. The platform either gets overwhelmed because of its sudden popularity and the influx of creators, or they deliberately turn a blind eye to some of the questionable content because it’s making money. You’d have to be in the board room to know which it is.
  4. The public gets wind that some questionable content is being hosted on the platform and the torches and pitchforks are passed around as all the usual media outlets and blogs sense blood in the water.
  5. A media feeding frenzy starts accompanied by the usual public outrage. The platform goes into damage control mode.
  6. A crackdown ensues. People who were pushing the boundaries, or outright stepping outside the boundaries, find themselves no longer welcome on the platform. Sometimes fortunes can be lost as the gravy train comes to a screeching halt.
  7. The creators being cracked down on make the usual arguments about the platform violating freedom of speech and giving into puritanical public sentiment.
  8. Things eventually settle down. The media moves on to the next story. The public finds some new cause celebre to be outraged about. Content creators go back to creating content because that’s what they do and chances are the money is still good.
  9. Slowly content creators creep in who decide to push at the new boundaries and see what they can get away with. Go back to number two.

I’m far from a puritanical person. I quit my day job on the back of writing some things that some would consider fetish erotica, and I still have one erotica pen name today that does decent business. I get that this stuff can be stressful, but at the end of the day if somebody is going to push the boundaries of what is allowed on the platform providing their income then they shouldn’t be surprised when the inevitable backlash comes along.

As far as I can tell this is the first time something like this has happened on Patreon so the wound is still fresh and surprising over there. It’s old hat for anyone who’s been creating sexy content on Amazon and the other ebook publishing platforms, though, and so I imagine this is going to end up playing out almost exactly to the script outlined above.

It’s not the end of the world. Content creators are going to continue creating content. People will continue making money off of NSFW content on Patreon. The people who were pushing at the guidelines are going to find themselves under the microscope with some cleaning up their act and others getting the boot. Things will settle down and life will go on with content creators who’ve lived through this always having it in the back of their mind.

This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.

Daily Targets: 9/21/2017

Today I not only hit most of my targets, but I knocked them out of the park. Here’s the breakdown:

Romance 1: 2227 of 2000

Romance 2: 7088 of 2000

Erotica 1: 1055 of 1000

Erotica 2: 1696 of 2000ish

Thriller: 1568 of 1500

If you’ve been paying attention you’ll note that I’ve shifted what I’m working on just a little. I made the decision at the end of August that I was going to keep my daughter home with me for her first year. Both because it seemed ridiculous to pay a daycare to watch her sleep and feed her every few hours and because I was going to be working harder to make up the cost of daycare when I could be putting that energy into taking care of her more directly.

That means I’ve had a shift in how I work. In the past I spent a lot of time working on new projects because I tended to get distracted by new shiny things pretty easily. I’m still working on new projects, but I’m working on new projects within the context of pen names that I’ve already established so I know there’s a better chance of success.

I have my daughter home with me for the next year or so, and so it’s time to focus on existing pen names rather than striking out with new things. There are a few ideas I’ve wanted to try and I’m excited about this shift. Plus I’m reminded of the Ron Swanson quote:

I’m going to focus on whole-assing my writing for awhile and returning to basics rather than splitting my attention by trying to launch some podcast projects that may or may not be successful. I’m also going to continue working on the supernatural thriller/horror/humor project that I’ve been working up so I’ll be trying at least one new thing. I also plan on focusing more on this site and working on sone nonfiction things about indie publishing here for now rather than recording a podcast.

The one thing I didn’t accomplish was getting some editing done on the thriller project, but I’ll just have to make that up tomorrow. I’ve switched back to dictation and that’s really been making a difference for helping me to knock out word counts. I can record most of my stuff at night after everyone else has gone to bed and then work on correcting and editing the next day which has been going well so far.

All in all today wasn’t a bad day. I set out with a target of 6500 words and ended up with 13634. Today was about as productive as some of my days before I had a little bundle of joy sleeping next to me while I make corrections and edits on the iPad Pro.

Now to keep up with that momentum into the holiday season!