Why Authors Keep Bitching about Reviews

Dear Reader,

I’m sorry, because I know I’m guilty of this: constantly asking, even begging for reviews.

I know it’s annoying, because I don’t always feel like leaving a review for books I’ve read either. I worry about what to write, and whether my review will look stupid among all the others which invariably seem cleverer to me. But there’s a good reason for my irritating behaviour, I promise…

Why Reviews Mean Everything

What do writers want?ย To write and sell books. Not necessarily to make money, but to fund future book projects. In order to be able to write (and have our work read by people, rather than sitting around on our computers in complete obscurity), we need to have some money to put into our books. Whether it’s for cover art, editing, promotion, gifts. It’s almost impossible to make it in this business if you don’t invest anything into your books.

So, how do we sell books? We rely on our existing readers to buy our new releases, and we try to grow our readership by making it easy for our books to be found by people who’ve never heard of us before.

How do we get found? Dumb luck is too unreliable, so the answer is: advertising.

How do we advertise? When a reader finds us via our advertising, how do we make our book attractive enough to buy?

Some Facts about Advertising

  1. Not every advertising service actually works
  2. The ones that do work, won’t accept books without a proven track record
  3. They choose to measure the success of a book by its reviews
  4. Even if your book gets accepted without any or with few reviews, any reader who clicks on it, is going to feel nervous parting with their money, if they don’t trust the reviews
  5. Because it has to be said: Buying reviews is bad, so there’s no easy way out but to somehow encourage real people to leave real reviews
  6. Amazon (and perhaps other retailers as well), are rumoured to give more prominent placement of books with lots of good reviews.
  7. Think about how you buy books? Given the choice between two interesting titles, do you go for the one with no reviews or the one with 100 of them, and a 4.5 star average?

Together with having a good-looking cover, and a convincing product description, plus attractive price, reviews are a crucial part of turning a book that looks like nobody wants it into one which people are willing to spend on.

So, while I apologise for being pushy and annoying, asking for reviews, I hope this information explains my motivation behind it. And I hope next time you read a book, whether one of mine, or another author’s, you remember some of what I’ve said, and leave them a review. Even if it’s just a couple of sentences outlining what you liked about it. You’ll be contributing directly to that author’s career by doing so. And they’ll appreciate it, so much.

Dear Reviewers

Not a week goes by that there isn’t some author-lashing-out-against-negative-review or alternately reviewers-lashing-out-against-bad-author scandal going on in this exciting world of digital publishing. It seems like a good time to blatantly copy other author blogs to make a stand myself.

Recently, I ventured into the virtual “wild west” that is Goodreads and stayed longer than I normally would. You see, Goodreads, is a reader site. One where a lot of passionate people come together and write exactly how they felt about a certain book or story. It is known to be a potentially scary place for authors who are easily discouraged. It is the home of the “star rating only” review, where anyone can give a book as many (or few) stars they like, without necessarily stating why they feel that way or perhaps even without reading the book, as demonstrated by many books which attract stars before even hitting the shelves.

My usual approach to Goodreads is similar to what a lot of other authors do: Go in, hold your breath, add any new releases or make (only vital) amendments to existing books. And whatever you do, never scroll down to read the reviews. If at all possible, don’t even look at the average rating.

But as I said, recently, I ignored my usual M.O. in favour of actually looking around with my eyes wide open. I read every single review I hadn’t seen so far, looking for not just the occasional pat on the back which would keep me going, but also constructive criticism to help me improve. My ratings aren’t brilliant on Goodreads, but they’re probably quite normal, not terrible. Informal advice for authors states that Goodreads and Amazon averages will normally differ by one star, and that’s about what I saw.

While reading, and taking note of some of the issues reviewers found with my work, I tried to work out which were worth keeping in mind, and which were just down to a difference in taste. After all, you can’t write something that’ll appeal to everyone, and that’s perfectly fine. I also was reminded of the “like” feature which allows you to give a bit of appreciation for reviews and other content, similar to the “like” button you find on Facebook. Then I felt tempted to “like” all my reviews, even the bad ones. I may not agree with everyone’s opinion, but I appreciate they took the time to share.

To the right reader, a negative review complaining about a certain aspect of the story can be a positive. Perhaps the thing one reviewer didn’t like is something another is looking for. In any case, I appreciate someone out there taking the time to read my work and commenting on it. That’s a lot more than I could’ve hoped for a couple of years ago.

I felt worried though. If I “like” a negative review, could this be seen as trying to be sarcastic? Would it seem invasive to think that a nameless, faceless writer who sells their work on Amazon actually pays attention to Goodreads? I’ve heard of people getting into trouble for thanking a reviewer for a positive review, as though simply entering Goodreads is akin to reading someone’s private correspondence over their shoulder, or eavesdropping on a personal conversation among friends. I suppose I can see where people are coming from, yet at the same time, this is unrealistic. When you post your views on a public forum – a website anyone can sign up for and read through – that’s not private. It’s exactly the same as sharing incriminating photographs of yourself on Facebook and then being surprised when the cops knock on your door. The internet is not private.

But I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes either.

So I’m explaining myself here instead, on my home turf. I do appreciate all the reviews I’ve gotten. Even the negative ones, because they give me something to learn from. Thanks, everyone! And please keep ’em coming because nothing is lonelier than an Amazon listing with zero stars.

I Get Shy Talking About My Writing…

I Get Shy Talking About My Writing… And it’s not why you think.

Right, you’re reading this probably because you’ve read my stories and after that might’ve followed me on social media or happened upon this site. Chances are we know each other at least loosely, indirectly. I have zero self awareness on this issue, so I’m not sure if you’d find what comes next surprising, or if I am way more obvious than I thought…

The idea of telling people what I write about makes me feel weird and icky inside. I get a sort of ticklish sensation right above the stomach, sometimes higher up in my chest, which grows into an uncomfortable pressure of varying intensity. This sensation tells me that I’d like to just say what I’m about to say, but preferably not while I’m still standing in front of you (whether literally or figuratively).

I’d like to find the right words, write them down and leave you a note. Then I could run away while you read and understand it so I don’t have to deal with any feedback or risk getting nervous and blurting it out all wrong. These instincts are very inconvenient in a time when writers are supposed to be their own best spokespeople; I can’t afford to end up in a crowd and answer the question with a whispered: “Oh, just some stories, no big deal. Tell me about yourself instead!”

I’ve tried saying I write Erotic Romance which is true enough, but doesn’t feel quite right to me. Another possibility is to say I write ‘Romance with sex’, which is essentially the same but makes me feel like I’m about to be misunderstood and lost between the imagery of rapey alpha male knights and innocent maidens with heaving bosoms. I’d like you to understand, I really do, I just don’t want to have to open up enough to make it happen.

It’s not the sex. I don’t really give a shit about the fucking, the crude language, the cum stained sheets or used condoms that might feature in some of my stories (Mental note: must include cum stains in a future story, that would be hilarious); these things don’t embarrass me. Sex is easy, fun, quite acceptable even.

What gets me tied in knots is that I write about people who are real to me: strange, awkward people with fears and worries and hang-ups that often don’t even need to exist. Secretly, I like them better the more fucked up they are, which to me is quite a horrible thing to admit because it reeks of Schadenfreude. Then I try to justify it by giving those same people a happy ending with lots of fireworks along the way. My absolute favourite thing in the world is to watch (and write about) an underdog ending up on top.

Is that strange? Probably not, if one is to believe expressions like “everyone loves an underdog”. So why do I worry so much about how people will react? I’m not even that bothered about the sorts of people who think the character in question is weak and would prefer a confident type who swoops in with all the answers and the Great Handbook of Sexual Technique memorised beginning to end. Quite the opposite: what worries me the most is for someone to come up to me and say: “What made you think you could take a person / scenario / characteristic like this and use it for entertainment and profit. You’ve made me look and feel like an asshole because of it. How dare you!”

I think it’s because growing up I’ve always felt like an underdog myself. While the popular kids would reject me, I could count on solidarity from the other “outcasts”: I was never truly alone. And it would be a tragedy if something I did made another person feel worse somehow, even if it was unintentional. I’d prefer if it were the opposite actually, but that would make me sound all pretentious, so rather than admit to that, I’d prefer to sit quietly in the crowd, observing and keeping my thoughts to myself… Unless I have something funny to say.

Piracy & Why You Shouldn’t Give a Fuck

If you have a strong opinion about the subject of piracy, specifically ebook piracy, this post may either interest you or ruin your morning. If the word piracy makes your stomach turn and cause anger to well up inside you until you feel like spewing venom all over the computer screen, you may want to give it a miss, especially if you’re very attached to your side of things no matter what anyone says…

Piracy is bad.

Right? That’s what we’re all supposed to believe as authors. Pirates are evil thieves who might as well come into our house at night, take money out of our wallets and crap in our beds. It’s the lowest form of sharing entertainment or knowledge, because its creators do not get direct compensation. Every pirated movie, song, book, whatever, that gets downloaded in this world, is a slap in the face to its creator, nothing else.

I tend to disagree.

Before Christmas, a group of us launched Gratis: Midwinter Tales. Because I’m obsessive like that, I did regular google searches for our title to see if we’d got any blog mentions. Within days, I found a hit from a torrent website. For those of you who aren’t aware, torrents are tiny little files that give a torrent software all the data it needs to download the contents of the file from random strangers online who were kind enough to share it to the world. You can use torrents to download movies, songs, books, software, for free. Usually people use them to share and obtain paid content for free in which case it’s illegal and often what is meant by the term “internet piracy”.

Anyway, back to Gratis: Midwinter Tales. Someone had put this book into a massive collection of Anthologies. Gratis is supposed to be free anyway, but that’s not the point. I don’t know if the other featured anthologies were free or paid. When I downloaded the torrent (selecting only Gratis, before anyone gets their panties in a twist that I downloaded a shit ton of potentially pirated other books), it transpired that it was one of the first versions I’d uploaded to Smashwords.

My first reaction was one of shock. The book had only just gone live, and already someone downloaded it and put it into this collection. This was unexpected and filled me with pride because to me it meant that someone thought it was WORTH putting into that collection. When I was about to share this happy news with others, I wondered though, if perhaps they wouldn’t be equally excited.

Every time I see the subject of piracy come up on Facebook (today is no exception), the affected author feels hurt, outraged and betrayed. Of course there’s a big difference between having a free book “pirated” rather than a paid one, but in truth, when I search for my name on google, I would welcome to see my paid stuff shared freely as well.

More often than not you’ll see statements like:

“I spent ages sending take-down notices to the sites, this is such a pain in the ass and I’d much rather not have to deal with this!”

“It was a review / giveaway copy. I feel so upset, I don’t think I’m going to give out review copies any more or hold giveaways, because you just can’t trust people to be decent nowadays!”

“Pirates are thieves and should understand that when someone downloads my book on there it directly affects my bottom line as an author. I wish people would understand it’s EXACTLY THE SAME as stealing a physical item from me personally!”

And then underneath you’ll see dozens, perhaps hundreds of comments from sympathetic well wishers who join in condemning the evil pirate. Looking at it all, I am often forced to sit on my hands to prevent me from saying something wrong. I want to be balanced and offer another view that might alleviate the frustration the author feels at finding his/her content pirated, but really I feel like starting off with the following:

“Fucking get over yourself!”

This may make me a cold-hearted bitch, but really, I fucking hate seeing all these melodramatic rants about how the author’s children are going to go hungry just because a book got “leaked”. They’re not. It doesn’t fucking matter.

Piracy = lost sales

This is what a lot of people think. If my book is pirated, more people will get it for free and not pay for it. This must be correct, because the music industry keeps crying about exactly the same thing (and they are wrong). Therefore, finding a pirated version of my book is a potentially world-ending disaster which will leave me penniless. Fuck, no!

The biggest problem is, it’s impossible to measure exactly how many sales are supposedly lost by piracy. You can’t go back and test how much you would’ve sold, had your product not been pirated.

Let’s think about this by looking at why people might download stuff for free instead of paying for it:

1. They’re cheap bastards who don’t want to pay for anything.

While you may feel that these people are filthy criminals, such a person does not represent a lost sale. If they don’t download your book for free illegally, they might move on to the thousands of free books legally available on Amazon. They’d have reading material to last their entire lives without ever having to pay a penny.

2. They’re after a particular book, but couldn’t easily find it for sale, or upon trying to purchase it legally found the cost to be prohibitive.

This applies more perhaps to traditionally published books, or self published books which are available only in some regions or on some platforms. If someone’s got a Kobo reader, but you publish only on Amazon, they’re not going to buy a Kindle just to read your book. They may not know how to download a book purchased on Amazon and convert it for use on the Kobo reader either, so the easiest thing to do is perhaps to find out if someone’s already done the hard work for them and put it on a torrent website. Similarly, if you want to sell your 20 page werewolf gangbang story for $9.99, Mr. Pirate is likely to get pissed off and download it for free out of spite. Again, if your (traditional) publisher has in all their wisdom decided that the US gets your release right away, and the rest of the world can wait, because readers there are clearly not as valuable, the same might happen. Piracy may have lost some sales, but really, publisher / author stupidity had already lost the bulk of the sales before Mr. Pirate comes along.

3. I really love this book I purchased on Amazon/wherever and I’d like to pass it on to a friend who I think will enjoy it.

You can do that with a paperback fairly easily, and noone will say it’s piracy or theft. Digital content somehow is subject to different rules and as a reader, I don’t know why that should be the case. To me, a book is a book. But apparently according to Amazon, any ebook I’ve purchased, is actually “licensed content”. If they want to (and they have in October with controversial titles), they can just take it away from me without refunding my money. I’m not easily able to lend the book to a friend. And if I ever buy another ereader, I’m technically not allowed to keep my books and convert them to a different format, because they want to lock me into the Kindle ecosystem. As a reader and a consumer accustomed to free choice, this pisses me off greatly. Just because I want to buy a new, prettier book case, doesn’t mean I will throw out all the books I already own!

If I take a file I purchased legitimately and email it to a friend and openly admit to doing it, I have to worry about the anti-piracy brigade to group together and tell me I’m a filthy thief for not buying the paperback and giving it to that same friend. How the fuck is that fair, I still paid for the damn book in the first place?

Anyway, let’s now look at the possible consequences of piracy:

1. Visibility

Your title up on a torrent website may make more people aware of its existence. It’s like free advertising. Indie filmmakers tend to see the value in trying to get more people to find out about their new movie, so they may even share it themselves.

“The biggest threat facing authors and publishers today is not piracy, itโ€™s obscurity.” – Smashwords founder Mark Coker. See the article I stole that quote from here, it’s well worth it.

2. If it’s any good…

Someone who gets the book for free, who may be new to your work, perhaps really ends up loving it. Maybe they’ll take you seriously as an author and actually go out and buy the rest of your books. Even if they don’t, or you don’t have other books, perhaps they’ll tell their friends about how awesome you are. This, of course is a win as well.

The entire Music piracy debate I’ve referenced above, has actually stirred up some data that music piracy has been shown to increase sales rather than hurt them. Think about that for a moment. When something is good quality, and someone gets it for free, they are motivated to then spend money on it or related products. A reader who gets a free copy of your book, may love the story and the characters that they’re not content with their free version. They may buy a paperback version to proudly display in their home or buy the audiobook to listen to on their way to work. They may turn up at signings and conventions just to see you and buy a hardcover just so they can get your autograph.

How to prevent piracy

People are lazy, we all know this, because deep down every one of us is lazy too. We want to get the maximum result with the minimum effort from our side. We want awesome books, right now, at a fair price and for the ereader of our choice. Some of us think $4.99 is a fair price, and some of us think 0 is a fair price.

If you’re a self published author, you’re in luck because you can effectively counter a lot of the reasons I mentioned in the previous section that might drive a reader to piracy. Make your book easily available in as many places and on as many platforms as possible, and make it a fair price. If you’re traditionally published, your publisher may be to blame for any piracy issues you face. Good luck to you, but it’s still not worth getting that upset about something you cannot control.

Treat your readers right

If you’re anything like me, you value your readers. You still feel that excitement every so often at the thought that someone out there actually wanted to read something you wrote. It’s even more exciting to think someone not only wanted to read it, they were happy to pay for it as well. But don’t forget that just being willing to spend time (as opposed to money) to read your work is a pretty big deal.

A lot of us need to earn something from this writing gig, but don’t be a cheap bastard about it, because readers don’t like to be treated like criminals.

If someone pirated a review copy, and you know who it is, don’t give that person another one if it bothers you so much. But reviews are too valuable to stop giving out copies altogether.

If someone pirates a book received in a giveaway (similar though unrelated, if the very next day after winning a paperback on Goodreads, someone puts it on Ebay), don’t stop doing giveaways of any kind.

Don’t be an asshole to all your readers, just because one of them shared a book of yours on a torrent website. Some of your readers will understand why you’re upset, a lot may not.

Don’t worry about emailing every website to take down your work, it’s a lot of hassle and often has no effect anyway.

Instead, try to feel pleased that at least you’re “famous” enough to be pirated in the first place. Make yourself a cup of coffee, tea, or grab a glass of wine and take a deep breath.

It’s not the fucking end of the world. And be glad you weren’t plagiarised instead, because that’s way worse.


The Old & the New

Firstly, Happy New Year to everyone!

I feel inspired today. Granted, I may have glanced over some of the New Year’s Resolutions or the more sensibly named Goals for 2014 posts on Facebook without taking much of the information in properly. I may also have previously pooh-poohed the need most people seem to exhibit for about a week in early January before slipping into old habits and forgetting all about that brilliant plan to visit a gym three times a week. Nevermind that those extra pounds always seem to ruin any attempts made to purchase a new pair of jeans (except jeggings, thank god for jeggings), junk food and sweets always win by the 20th of January, or early February for the most disciplined of us all.

No! This isn’t one of those posts. (Although I could really use a kick up my arse to finally start using that treadmill which has been collecting dust in my living room. Volunteers, form a neat queue and please, no pointy shoes!).

Instead I’d like to talk books & writing.

2013 has been pretty good, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. It helps to be reminded of just what all has transpired and then perhaps figure out a way to top it in 2014. So let’s start, at the beginning:

3rd of January 2013: I published Just Another Day at the Office Part 1. I had been writing this story for several months at that point and felt like something really had to happen. Mostly it was due to impatience that I was wasting my time with just one short story up on Amazon which wasn’t really doing much. But nevertheless, I published Part 1, and by May had the whole serial out. My first novel(ish) length work. I never thought I’d have the drive to follow through but somehow I got there!

5th of February: Part 2 came out and it was still the good old days when KDP Select could make an impact (that’s the Amazon scheme that gives you 5 days to make your book free as a promo, in exchange for exclusivity). So of course I had to try it for myself. I gave away loads of copies of Just Another Day 1, and sold a bunch of Just Another Day 2. I finally felt like a real writer, and knew I had to start acting like one.

Also inย  February: Not sure of the exact date, but I was recently reminded by expiration warning emails from my domain name registrar that this site is up for renewal in February. It’s hard to imagine now because it feels like so much time has passed in between, but this website isn’t even one year old! The next thing I did was start a mailing list, because apparently everyone should have one. I still feel like I’m a bit new to the concept (and who in their right mind would want to receive emails from me every month?), but I think it went pretty well, all things considered.

March: I published Just for One Night (I know, I should really sit my ass down and write that sequel I’ve been hinting at), and Just Another Day 3. This of course does not mean I actually wrote two things in March. Sadly I have this thing called Compulsive Procrastination Syndrome which means I write stuff, leave it half / mostly finished and ignore it for months at a time before finally getting it done and published.

May: Just Another Day 4 and with it the end of the serial. Cath & John’s story felt complete. I can’t even begin to explain (again) how very pleased I was and still am. I often dreamed but never fully believed I could write a full book. Now I know that I can because I have: this is going to be the first of many!

July: Just Another Day at the Office came out in print ๐Ÿ™‚ It was extremely exciting to hold it for the first time.

October: A much needed sequel to Ladies’ Day came out: British Champions. I promise I won’t leave it another year before continuing that particular story…

December: Gratis: Midwinter Tales came out. A free anthology featuring some amazing talent in the genre, which also happily kicks off another series of mine, The Rebound List, conveniently while I still haven’t finished some stuff I’d started earlier in the year. Of everything I’ve done this year, Gratis was basically the grand finale. In fact I was shocked by the interest we saw in this anthology and encouraged to try and replicate it…

What’s next?

So, enough reminiscing and patting myself on the back for 2013. What’s important now is to look ahead at what needs to happen in this coming year to keep growing as a writer and self publisher!

The Rebound List: I had set myself a goal of finishing #2 in this series in December. Sadly I failed. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up, so right now I’m aiming for January. Hopefully the remaining parts will follow soon after so I can add another full length release to my catalogue.

Just for One Night: That sequel. I know, really, I’ve been way too lax about this one. And the same goes for what happens after British Champions. I’ve got a vague idea for both, but nothing concrete.

Gratis: There will be another Gratis collection scheduled to publish on the 20th of March. The line-up is already looking good, even if I’ve yet to put the first word on paper for my contribution. ๐Ÿ™‚

Audio: I desperately want to release Just Another Day (1? Maybe more?) in audio. While I do not fully get audio books (not fiction, anyway), I love listening to podcasts and such in the car. For me the draw is that I get to be entertained and (since they’re podcasts, not fiction,) learn something. But it would be so cool to revisit this story and bring it to life a bit. I have a few parts of it recorded already, hopefully I can get organised and finish it shortly.

Video? Closely related to the audio goal above, wouldn’t it be cool to post the same on youtube? A lot of people create book trailers for their work, which I don’t fully understand. But it might be nice to do some videos of books being read out and perhaps some relevant imagery? I’m not entirely sure, but it’s something to think about.

Diversification: I love the stories I’ve written, the genre I’ve played around in (Erotic Romance). It’s a lot of fun and seems to work well for me because I constantly seem to dream up new stories. This last bit is especially weird because I’ve never been a reader of Romance really. My usual reading tastes are much darker, ranging from Fantasy to Crime and Horror. So because of that, I’d really love to try my hand at something else under a different name… Perhaps 2014 will be the year I diversify!

Efficiency and Timeliness: Since starting the newsletter in March, I believe I skipped one month where I had nothing to say and been late on multiple occasions. This year I won’t skip a single one, I hope! Also, hopefully I’ll have more to add to the blog. What would everyone like to see on here? More previews of stuff that’s in progress perhaps? I’m not a natural born blogger, so coming up with thoughtful articles all the time is just simply not going to happen. Expect off topic rambling and rants, perhaps the occasional anecdote. Now if only I had enough of a life to have suitable material…

Stuff that’s in progress: I have a significant part of a new story written, tentatively called The Best & Worst Year. I know where it’s going, but just haven’t done enough with it. This year, I will. It’s a bit weird, this one, but I know it must be told. Obviously I already hinted at another story for Gratis 2, it’s meant to have a spring / Valentine’s theme and I hopefully will have something. I also have an idea for a fantasy / historical thing which is attempting to develop into a story which will hopefully see the light of day in 2014. This would be one of those attempts of mine to diversify, because I do love fantasy as a genre. But this one still feels pretty erotic as things stand right now.

Marketing / Promotion: perhaps I’ll crack Twitter this year? Nah, probably not. OK, advertising then? I’ll try, but I really don’t know… Perhaps the way forward is to just keep working away and trust that those who will enjoy it, will end up finding it somehow. Maybe 2014 will be the year that I get the fuck off Facebook and onto Google+ write more. Realistically though, that’s not likely to happen.

Anyway, I suppose what I’m trying to say in a really roundabout way is that yesterday, on the first day of a brand new year, I spent a lot of time moping around on the sofa feeling depressed. One could guess that it was due to the holidays coming to an end and the day job starting again. Or the prospect of having to take down the Christmas tree which seemed to make the living room so much nicer to be in. It was neither of those things though, instead I was sad because I’d read a bad review. It wasn’t even directed at me personally, just at something I believe in 100%. And somehow I felt a stab deep inside my heart because this other person, a complete stranger, could not see my vision and understand the intent behind it. That’s pathetic, ridiculous even. Why should I feel upset just because some person somewhere doesn’t like something I like? Have I ever sat around wondering why the world is so cruel because a stranger doesn’t like chocolate as much as I do? No, I haven’t.

Why is this different?

Essentially it is exactly the same thing. Tastes differ, and that’s fine. People have opinions and feel like they ought to express them even when they don’t fit in with mine. Fuck it. Despite all that, 2013 has been a great year and I ought to feel happy about everything that’s happened in it. And 2014 will be even better, so long as I don’t get distracted!

The Great Purge of 2013

Censorship. Remind you of anything? When I hear the word censorship, my mind conjures up images of China, who still insist that Tibet never existed as a separate entity from China. In the (non totalitarian, democratic) West, we tend to think that censorship does not affect us. Sadly, it does, and it’s not necessarily governments wielding all the power either.

Last week, it was pointed out that there are some particularly seedy books out there being sold on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, among others. We’re talking rape porn, (pseudo)incest and other such things which any reasonable person might consider to be going a bit far.

I’m not saying that this makes removing such material acceptable, but OK. These themes go beyond than what you’d expect to see in the average Harlequin romance. It was said that these (self published) books are polluting what (“Oh think of the children!”) one might come across even when searching for fairly innocuous terms on Amazon. I think that is a fair observation, and one which probably everyone who buys or publishes ebooks, especially in the romance / erotica categories had already made for themselves.

But apparently, all this was news to the UK bookshop WHSmith, who had a panic attack and shut down their entire ebook website, leaving up a disclaimer proudly explaining they would root out the evil that is self published books and return only once their catalogue would be squeaky clean and innocent. Note that they didn’t say they would remove all these unacceptable books which technically already weren’t allowed as per the terms of their partner, Kobo, which feeds ebooks to the WHSmith website.

They state they would remove self published books, because clearly, all self published books are vile pornography.

Meanwhile, Amazon and Barnes & Noble haven’t been standing by idle. They also have started to do a bit of knee jerking and grandstanding to demonstrate how awesome they are when it comes to protecting their sometimes younger customers (although why the hell would you have younger customers when it’s necessary to own a credit card before being able to purchase books?) from inappropriate content. I have yet to hear about traditionally published, sometimes classic works of literature being censored for containing some of the themes which are off limits. Apparently all these things are perfectly alright when it comes to “proper” books. But self publishers are fair game, because self publishers do not have the might of a large publishing house’s legal team behind them.

But you might say, fair enough. We don’t want to live in a world where one can buy rape porn for Kindle! OK, fine. This was anyway already against the rules and authors publishing such things knew they were on thin ice. The trouble is that nobody has the manpower to go in and actually check what they’re removing. Instead Amazon et al are relying on automated software going through book listings and deleting things based on unknown parameters. I’ve heard of loads of books being removed which contained nothing unacceptable.

Last time I checked, erotica in itself wasn’t considered wrong, was it?

While personally none of my stuff has been removed from Amazon or B&N (yet), the same cannot be said for Kobo. All my books, except for Just Another Day at the Office (the full novel version) have become unavailable on Kobo. For anyone who’s read my work, you already know that I’m not even that hardcore. Not even controversial. That’s not all though, there are reports online from numerous self published authors who have seen their work in other genres disappear; fantasy, sci fi, mystery, anything really. Things that don’t even mention the word “sex”.

(Understandably), this pissed me off, so I decided to email them to express my concerns. Since I don’t believe in writing anything in an email to a faceless customer service department what I wouldn’t say to someone’s face, I’m publishing my email below for everyone’s benefit. When (if!) I get a response, I’ll share it here as well.

Kobo, you disappoint us. We expected to be stabbed in the back by Amazon who continue to change their rules without bothering to tell their authors. We did not expect this from Kobo who had consistently presented itself as an ebook retailer who actually cares about authors. Well done.

After a weekend away from the PC I woke up to some controversy surrounding censorship of certain particularly taboo Erotica books, especially self published ones. This led me to check my listings on Kobo and I found to my surprise I found that a significant proportion of them have vanished, even though they’re still showing as live in the back end. The point is, I do NOT write about any unacceptable types of sex or relationships; it’s mostly steamy romance between ordinary people, not step-siblings or anything else weird. There’s not a horse in sight either and nobody is doing their teenage babysitter. The best part is, one of the books you seem to have censored does not even contain any actual sex.

I’d appreciate an explanation and expect to see my books back on sale shortly after you realise that this was all just a big mistake.

Warm regards,

****** ********

15 October 2013, 6:39am BST

I woke up this morning to an email from Kobo’s Mark Lefebre (Director of Self Publishing / Author Relations which I presume everyone who uses Kobo’s WritingLife platform should have received as well. While it smells of shooting first and asking questions later, at least they are now trying to explain themselves and what they’ve done.

To our Kobo Writing Life and self-publishing partners:

As you may be aware, there has been a significant amount of negative media attention in the UK regarding offensive material that became available across a number of eBook platforms. Kobo was included in the reports from media and we are taking immediate action to resolve an issue that is the direct result of a select few authors and publishers violating Koboโ€™s content policies.

In order to address the situation Kobo is taking the following steps:

1.ย ย ย ย ย ย  We are removing titles in question from the Kobo platform.

2.ย ย ย ย ย ย  We are quarantining and reviewing titles to ensure that compliance to our policies is met by all authors and publishers. We will ensure that content meeting the policy is made available online as soon as possible.

3.ย ย ย ย ย ย  We are reviewing our policies and procedures to implement safeguards that will ensure this situation does not happen in the future.

We are working hard to get back to business as usual, as quickly as possible. We appreciate your patience and understanding in this matter.

Our goal at Kobo is not to censor material; we support freedom of expression. Further, we want to protect the reputation of self-publishing as a whole. You have our promise that we will do all we can to ensure the exceptions that have caused this current situation will not have a lasting effect on what is an exciting new channel that connects Readers to a wealth of books.


Mark Lefebvre

Director, Kobo Writing Life

Mark, if you had no idea before about the sort of material which “a select few authors and publishers” have been publishing on your platform, and it takes a news article to act on it, you’re quite naive indeed. Meanwhile, all my books, except one are still offline.

25 October 2013

I’ve received an email from Kobo, with further information about what’s going on and the promising underlying tone that everything is either sorted or getting close to being sorted.

A Kobo Writing Life Update

Iโ€™d like to give our authors a quick update on Kobo Writing Life in the UK and elsewhere.

As you may be aware, in the face of some fairly intense media scrutiny, we launched a major review of the books we offer for sale to make sure they comply with our content policy on offensive material. We cast a wide net across our catalogue that included genres and books coming from self-published authors, aggregators, and publishers, and we quarantined many of these while we conducted the review which made them unavailable in the UK during that time. The review had to happen fast, and we didnโ€™t enjoy it, but with our esteemed 300-year-old retail partner on the front page of major newspapers and some content clearly in violation of our posted standards, we needed to move quickly. Almost everyone on the Kobo Content Team, spread across a dozen countries and time zones, was involved at one point or another. The urgency was driven by our desire to make sure we were running a store that met our own expectations and equally by the need to get our authors back up and available for sale again in the UK as fast as possible.

The good news is that the vast majority of self-published Kobo Writing Life titles are once again available on Kobo.com in the UK, with most authors experiencing a gap of only a few days before their books were once again in the catalogue. As well, we have been working closely with our self-publishing aggregation partners. Most of their titles are once again available in the UK or will be in the coming hours. If your book is still unavailable and you think it shouldnโ€™t be, send a message to [email protected] and the team will get on it.

For those few titles that remain unavailable, some feel that we chose a path of censorship. All I can say is that if your dream is to publish โ€œbarely legalโ€ erotica or exploitative rape fantasies, distribution is probably going to be a struggle for you. We arenโ€™t saying you canโ€™t write them. But we donโ€™t feel compelled to sell them. And yes, many titles live in a grey zone with far more shades than the fifty that sold so well in the past year, but that is what makes this all so challenging and so interesting. Many of our readers have no problem with an erotic title in their library next to their romance, literary fiction, investing or high-energy physics books. And we are here for the readers, so erotica stays, a small but interesting part of a multi-million-title catalogue, in all of its grey-shaded glory. My thanks go out to Mark Lefebvre and the whole Kobo Writing Life team and to all of our authors who have been so supportive and understanding in the past two weeks. We will continue to work on reviewing processes and author education about what we can take and what we canโ€™t. It will never be perfect, but our belief continues to be that if we focus on readers and growing our business around them, we will get it right much more often than not.

Sincerely yours,
Michael Tamblyn
Chief Content Officer

Perhaps mine aren’t a big priority, but they were offline at the time I received that email. And today, on October 29 while I’m updating this blog post, that situation hasn’t changed. Time to send them a little email…


Exclusivity or not; are other retailers worth it?

Like many self published authors, I have spent a lot of time wondering whether KDP Select is worth bothering with or not. Is it really worth signing up for exclusivity, just to get 5 Free Promo days per 90 days? When I started, I signed up for it and tried it out. It worked, at least to some extent. I was able to get word out there about my books by making use of the Free Promo days.

Then I finished writing my serial, Just Another Day at the Office, and decided that the first part should always be free. If you’ve ever looked into how to do this, you’ll be aware that the ONLY way of making Amazon give a book away for free permanently, is to upload it elsewhere, set the price to zero and wait for Amazon to price match. That’s what I did; I uploaded my books everywhere I could possibly figure out how, and made part one free.

Now I feel it’s time to evaluate whether branching out has been the right decision. I put my royalty income from all sales platforms over the past 1 year into a spreadsheet and was quite surprised by what I found out. Obviously Amazon is by far the biggest source of royalties, but I found unexpected stats for some of the smaller outlets.


I have been on Amazon longer than anywhere else, so this breakdown may change over time. Also, the above chart was made off of royalty income. This is an important point to note: The majority of my work sells for $0.99 which means I get only 35% royalty at Amazon. Some of the other outlets pay better at that price level, meaning that they form a larger share of my royalty income, compared to actual books sold compared to Amazon.

Another thing to note is the Smashwords segment in the chart; it represents almost exclusively sales via Barnes & Noble. My work is not yet available on Apple, but when it does, I expect income from Smashwords to grow significantly.

The two surprise entries are Google Play and All Romance Ebooks. Ever since I entered those two markets in April this year, sales have steadily been going up, seemingly unhindered by seasonal slumps or other variations. I expect that at least Google sales will continue to grow as it’s a significant potential market; just imagine what would happen if the majority of Android phone and tablet owners started to really take Google Play serious for their book purchases. I believe we’re now just at the beginning and provided they don’t fuck up, Google could become a force to be reckoned with.

BTW, if you prefer to look at percentages rather than colourful pie charts, the breakdown is as follows: Amazon 68%, Smashwords 14%, Google 10%, All Romance Ebooks 6% and Kobo 2%.

Why I’m not chasing Agents and Publishers

Recently I noticed some joyous announcements from friends on Facebook who managed to get their books signed by publishers. Some managed to catch the attention of a smaller press, some were signed by bigger names. While I’m pleased for them and what they’ve achieved, all of this got me thinking as well. Should this be a goal for me?

Once I’ve worked really hard finishing a new story or novel, should I then send it around agents and publishers, hoping that one of them will like it and make me an offer? If I am not dreaming of being picked up by a large publishing company who will put my book into every supermarket and every big book store, does that mean I’m not serious? I came into this world last year upon learning about self publishing and getting very excited by the possibilities ahead. Seeing my book on a shelf in a store has not been a lifelong dream of mine, I just write because I’m feeling a story and there is no other logical way for it to materialise.

Sure, there are advantages to getting a publishing contract; they’ll sort out some of the practical stuff like getting a cover made, editing and proofreading. They’ll format the book for me and handle distribution. BUT: they won’t sell my book for me, they won’t put a huge marketing plan in place because I’m not a household name. While I suppose they might possibly get my book reviewed somewhere or other, they won’t make me a bestseller unless I’m very, very lucky. I’d still have to promote my book, try to get attention on social media and all of that other stuff which I’ve got to do on my own as well.

And, even if I ignore for a moment that I’d get a smaller percentage of royalties from each sale, what I’d lose is my independence and flexibility. If I find a typo in one of my books now, I can simply open the file on my computer, make a correction and upload the new version within a few minutes. If I feel that the price is hindering sales, I can put it up or down at will.

If any of you disagree, feel free to let me know, but I don’t think I have a problem with formatting in either ebook or print formats. They look professional to me (Thanks, WriteHit.com). If I finish a story or a sequel to a story, I can run it by some beta readers and subject to their feedback put it out into the world within a few days to a week. With a publisher, it could take a year. I can’t keep readers happy if there is a one year delay between me finishing a book and a publisher releasing it for sale, and that would stress me out.

Possibly this post is more interesting to other (indie) authors rather than readers, but I just felt like expressing this opinion. Who knows, maybe in a year or so I’ll change my mind and start searching for a publisher. But for now – as much work as it is – I’m enjoying my freedom, even the fact that I have to keep track of what version of which book I’ve uploaded to which retailers (and believe me, that gets quite overwhelming at times). I like checking my sales figures every so often and see results perhaps after doing a giveaway or interview. And I even enjoy having to do or outsource my covers and formatting. It adds to the satisfaction of actually creating something, beyond words on a computer screen.

About Heroes and Perfection

God knows why I’ve spent almost the entire day today reading up on Romance / Erotic Romance and the debate of whether the genre should feature physically perfect heroes / love interests or flawed ones. As one would expect, there are a lot of opinions out there both amongst writers and readers of Erotic Romance.

Actually this so-called research happened by accident because I wanted to read a certain type of story. I wanted to find authors and books to fulfil a craving I had for some lunchtime / bedtime reading (I like to be prepared).

Personally – if you’ve read most of my work you’ll already know this – I don’t tend to go for what most people might consider physical perfection. With the exception of Beautiful Stranger, where the male lead is what you might call “perfect” in the sense that he’s buff, none of my other male characters are. If I had to find stock images representing the main characters of my books, I’d have issues because they don’t fit the chiselled 6-pack mould!

I have my reasons and these are mostly selfish in nature. This may sound harsh, but I didn’t start writing to fulfil everyone else’s fantasies, rather I did to record my own. Hopefully through self publishing I’ll find a readership that agrees!

1. My idea of attractive does not match up with the mainstream media’s interpretation.

If I write about a man who objectively could be described as fat, it is because that’s what I like and what turns me on. I’m not running a charitable operation here, churning out stories to make often overlooked types of men feel good about themselves. (However, if I have that kind of effect on some readers who can see themselves as a certain character and this makes them happy; awesome, it’s a bonus!)

2. Looks aren’t everything.

Attractiveness and arousal can be related to looks, but that’s not the whole story. Not for me, anyway. I fantasise about lots of situations, lots of different types of people getting up to all sorts with each other. Ironically, Peter in Beautiful Stranger is “conventionally hot” in a mature mid 40s sort of way. Visually he would not do it for me because of what I’ve already mentioned above. But he’s attractive anyway because he is a confident, attentive lover.

Similarly I hope that my more unconventional characters (John in Just Another Day at the Office, and George in One Night Stand) might appeal to readers who might not find them physically as attractive as I would. They might find John cute because he’s shy and quite innocent in a way. George could be appealing because he’s got that manly & rough, long-haired biker thing going for him. Or perhaps such readers would appreciate that in the eyes of their respective love interests, they are perfect.

Again perhaps (and this is something I came across in my pseudo-research multiple times today) some readers don’t care what I imagine my characters look like, they’ll simply imagine what they want them to look like and get their kicks that way. That’s fine and I do expect it; that’s why I try to keep physical descriptions fairly vague.

3. Realism vs. Fantasy

I get that (Erotic) Romance is a genre that a lot of people read to escape reality. A lot of these readers may want to imagine a perfect world where beautiful people have mind-blowing sex. Good for them.

Personally, I enjoy some realism because it allows me to identify with a story. I want to read about that guy I saw on the train or at the supermarket, not a billionaire who looks like an airbrushed magazine cut-out.Happily I also tend to fantasise about that same guy, Joe Average or even the guy sitting in the corner of the pub by himself who nobody notices.

So for me, realism merges with fantasy and I combine elements of both. While the characters show realism, I do like a bit of unrealistic hot fantasy sex where everyone always has an orgasm and instinctively people know how to please their partners.

4. The classic, tortured hero

I’ve touched upon this in an earlier, ancient blog post about 50 shades, but a lot of us women like “damaged goods”. Even if they are otherwise perfect alpha males, if they are scarred in some way that requires us to “fix” them with our love, the appeal grows exponentially. Whether this is due to some kind of misplaced instinct to mother the men in our lives, or something else, I’m not sure.

All I know is, give me a man who is honest enough to express some kind of self doubt and I’m like a moth to a flame. Not only do I feel like he’s a complete and genuine person rather than a one-dimensional arrogant prick, I also need to prove him wrong. This is especially the case if the issue he has is basically subjective (appearance related?) and not really a problem for me or my female characters. So you think you’re too old / too fat / too poor / too inexperienced or shy and therefore unlovable? Wrong!


Alright that’s enough ranting for one blog post. I should probably do a bit more research because I want to read about my ideal man before bedtime and I haven’t found him yet. Or perhaps I should just give up and write about him instead…

Shiny new blog!

Those that know me will know I am a bit of a serial blog starter who gets very excited for a few weeks before letting the blog die a horrible death. Well, not this time – I’m serious!

I have been very productive writing some erotic fiction lately with a view to publishing it on Kindle. Although this isn’t my first writing project, it differs in the sense that it is fiction rather than non fiction. So it’ll be a totally new experience for me and hopefully one that will allow me to grow as a writer and as a woman.

The work I’ve done so far has been very enjoyable indeed and I hope to be able to showcase some of it on this blog very shortly. Hopefully I will be able to bring some pleasure to others through my writing ๐Ÿ™‚