Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Ebooks aren't REAL Books... Are They?

Somebody posted this meme in a readers' group I belong to on Facebook, and I just rolled my eyes and thought "Here we go again...."

I rolled my eyes because images like this always come with this implied declaration: "Digital books aren't books." And, sure enough, the comments came thick and fast, just as I'd predicted: 
  • "Books are better than digital because..."
  • "Digital isn't real reading..."
  • "Those [digital publications] aren't real books."
And just like a few people commented, I'm so sick of this debate. Are you saying that you'd rather people didn't read at all, unless they read books printed on paper?

Let me make this clear:

  • Paper books are books, but I don't read them because my eyes are too bad, plus I find them inconvenient, and cumbersome to lug around.
  • Digital books are books, and I read them exclusively for a host of reasons that I won't get into here, but have explained to death elsewhere.
  • Audiobooks are books, but I don't like them, personally.
  • Books on Microfilm are books
  • Books on papyrus are books
  • Books scratched into bark are books
  • Books on wax tablets are books (even if they probably won't last too long)
  • Books chiselled on stone tablets are books
They're all books. Consume them in whatever format makes you happy. But never state or imply that any of the above are not real books - even with some seemingly innocuous comment like "I prefer books to digital".

What I'm more concerned about, to be honest, is when people use "Kindle" as a generic term for "ebook", because some of those comments were actually written as "Books are better than Kindle because...."

I wish we'd stop doing that; it isn't fair to all the other ebook retailers out there. Kindle isn't the only way to consume ebooks, and Amazon isn't the only company that sells them... hell, they weren't even the first to sell them! I can think of at least ten other companies, many of whom were selling ebooks long before Amazon, but are now defunct, because people wouldn't stop equating "ebook" with "Kindle".

In fact, it's no secret that I think Amazon and their draconian business practices are terrible for the whole industry - particularly with their "Kindle Unlimited" service. I spoke a bit more about that in my post Why I Will No Longer Buy Books From Amazon, If They're in KDP Select / Kindle Unlimited, and then again in Want to Read/Listen to Unlimited Books/Audiobooks, Free for 60 Days?, where I mentioned Scribd as a great alternative (which has actually been around longer than Kindle Unlimited has).

So what do you think? Are ebooks "real books"? How about audiobooks? Let me know your stance and why, in the comments... if you dare.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

When is Romance not Romance?

This is a follow-up to my post last week, In Which Genre Would You Put These Books?, where I spoke about how difficult "genre" was to define. The title of this one may sound like a brain-teaser, riddle, or joke, but hear me out.

Because all of my books are published and distributed through Smashwords, I like to follow Publishers' Weekly's Smashwords Bestseller list. This list tracks the top-selling books each month, both on Smashwords' own site, and all the retailers they distribute to.

I don't write romance, so I'm often frustrated by the sheer number of Romance titles on the list. Case in point, the April 2019 list. There are 25 books on the list, and literally. the top five bestselling books on that list are all Romance. Then Romance appears again in positions 7, 9, 14, 17, 19, 20, 21, 23, and 24. That's a total of 14 Romance titles, on a list of 25. For those of you who are mathematically challenged, that translates to 56%!

There's no doubt that Romance is a massively popular genre, with loads of devoted readers who devour books at a rapid clip (often reading entire series in a single day), and I've often wondered how we non-Romance writers can possibly hope to break into those coveted top spots. But something someone said to me last month shocked me to the core.

You see, many authors, hoping to capitalise on this enormous popularity, apparently deliberately miscategorise their books at retailers. They create tenuous links in their minds, where if their book happens to have a romantic sub-plot, they can call it Romance. Sometimes, even an incidental love interest will do -- but I'm willing to bet 99% of all fiction has one of those.

No. I was always led to believe that a book can only be called Romance if the main plot depends on the Romance. If the story wouldn't be able to stand without the Romance element. Was I wrong?

I decided to test this theory out. So let's take those top five books from the April list, read through the descriptions, and decide for ourselves whether they're in the right category.

Here we go:

Note: You can click on the covers to find out where you can buy each one. You'll notice that all but one of them are available on Scribd's subscription reading service. If you're not already subscribed, they will give you the opportunity take out a 30-day free trial. Please don't click on that link. Rather use my affiliate link, which will give you 60 days instead (and I'll get 30 days of free time as a reward for referring you). So if you're interested in taking Scribd for a test drive, click here for my affiliate link.

Best I've Ever Had

By Abbi Glines

Summer had returned. The nightlife lit up the coastal town of Sea Breeze, Alabama with scantily clad sun-kissed bodies, live music, the smell of fresh cooked seafood.

Taking it all in, he wondered if coming back had been the best thing. He wasn’t the same man who had driven out of town a year ago on the motorcycle he’d bought after his best friend’s wedding. From the messy blonde curls he’d let grow out, to the tattoos now covering his arms, part of his chest and even the side of his neck, it all represented a part of his journey.

Eli Hardy was back, but he didn’t plan on staying for long.

The Slow Burn

By Kristen Ashley

Tobias Gamble knew from a young age precisely the kind of woman he was going to make his. She was not going to be like his mother. She was going to be like the mother he claimed. 

In other words, she was going to be just right.

And when Toby returns to his hometown of Matlock, Kentucky and claps eyes on Adeline Forrester, he knows she’s the one.

The problem is, his brother Johnny has a new girlfriend. And Addie is her sister. Last, Toby would do nothing to hurt Johnny’s chance at happiness.

Toby hangs around town to get to know the woman Johnny fell in love with. He also hangs around to get to know Addie.

But he’s fallen hard, and he knows the best thing for him—and Addie—is for him to leave.

Addie Forrester is thrilled her sister Eliza found a good, solid man. Johnny Gamble is the salt of the earth. The best guy in the world.

The best except for his brother, Toby.

Toby doesn’t know it, but Addie’s fallen hard too. He’s perfect, except for the fact that he’s hands off and it’s torture, being friends with Toby when she wants so much more.

Addie also has a lot on her mind. She’s got bills to pay, her young son needs food, Christmas is coming and her job at the grocery store just isn’t cutting it.

Toby is steering clear of Addie. Addie is steering clear of Toby. But everyone around them knows this is the slow burn.

Because just like Eliza and Johnny, Addie and Toby were made for each other.

Unforeseen (Vampire Awakenings, Book 9)

By Brenda K. Davies

When Jack escapes the vampires holding him captive, he thinks his biggest worries are finding his friends and avoiding the Savages pursuing him...until he stumbles across Charlie. He’s not sure what’s more dangerous, the vampires hunting him or the woman who harbors more secrets than the island where he’s trapped.

Charlie wasn’t expecting Jack to fall into her life, but now that he has, she doesn't know what to do with him. She can’t leave him behind to be hunted, but her growing attraction to him frightens her more than the Savages. Though Jack’s a tempting distraction, love has no place on this island, and Charlie refuses to let him get in her way. She’s escaping the island—with or without him. 

Can they work together to survive the horrors of the island, or will they perish like so many before them? 

Broken Silence

By Natasha Preston

It has been four years since Oakley, her mum, and brother fled to Australia. With the trials looming, she makes the decision to return to England. Oakley is desperate for closure so she can put the past behind her and move on with her life. 

How will she cope when she comes face to face with the two people that hurt her the most, and the one person that she hurt the most? 

Her love for Cole never faded, but how will he react to her return after so long? Will they be able to put everything behind them in order to have a happy ending?

The Roommate Agreement

By Emma Hart

Let your homeless best friend stay with you, he said. Being roommates will be fun, he said. It's only temporary, he said.
He never said I'd fall for him.

You know what isn't 'temporary?' The endless stream of dirty socks in my bathroom and empty food packets under the sofa—and don't even get me started on the hot guys who take over my living room every Sunday to watch sports.

I can't take anymore. 

So I propose a roommate agreement. One that will bring peace and order back to my life, complete with rules that might just stop my newfound crush on my best friend in its tracks.

After all, there’s only so many times you can see your best friend naked before you start to lose your mind.

Rules. They're meant to be broken... Aren't they?

So, I must be honest, having not actually read any of these books. If I look at the blurbs, they all do seem to fit - except maybe the vampire one, which I think may be a bit tenuous. And if I look at the covers (even/especially the vampires one), they all seem to fit - except for Slow Burn, whose cover is quite generic.

It seems like I was misinformed about how widespread this problem is. Either that, or miscategorising your book doesn't work because readers are smarter than that, and won't buy it (so it won't get on these bestseller lists). Or, perhaps they're better than I thought because the blurb and cover fit the genre, but if I were to actually read the book, I'd find that it actually didn't.

What do you think? Do you think authors do this, and if they do, does it work for them? And have you read any of these books? Do you think they fit the genre?

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

In Which Genre Would You Put These Books?

You know what subject keeps coming up? Genre. Like, what does it mean? You get Thriller, Romance, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, Comedy... and so many subgenres in each. And each one seems to mean a different thing depending on who you are. It's so confusing.

Just the other day I was having a discussion with a friend about whether a popular Fantasy series could rightly be called Sword and Sorcery (I said it couldn't, because Sword and Sorcery stories had to be simplistic affairs with one hero(ine) going around slaying monsters with little moral consequence). This led to a much bigger discussion about what constitutes High Fantasy, with me saying High Fantasy just implies stories set in a created world, but with him saying that a story had to be particularly well written or have some literary significance before it could be classified in that genre.

With that in mind, dear reader, I ask you - what's your favourite genre, and how do you define it?

Furthermore, I'm going to present my own books to you, and ask you to weigh in on which genre you would put them in. I've already made a call for each and put them into specific genre-based categories on the various retailers, but after having these discussions, I'm not so sure if my decisions were right. I'm not going to tell you which categories I chose for each because that might bias you. Please comment at the end of this post, and let me know what you think.

By the way, if you need more information to make your decision, you can click on the covers to visit the books on my website.

Memoirs of a Guardian Angel

Have you thanked your Guardian Angel today?

I never did... now I wish I had.

I now understand the hard work and difficult situations they face every day. That car that veered off course, the knife that slipped or even the close call when you nearly tumbled from a tree.

It wasn't good luck that saved you, it was me.

My name is Adam and I'm a guardian angel.

Tales From Virdura

Explore Virdura, a world of fantasy, drama and magic.

  • Find out what happens when a dashing young farmer’s son sweeps a neighbouring daughter off her feet.
  • Meet Queen Tricia and the Royal Wizard Solon. Or Queen Celeste, her daughter, as she continues to struggle to come to terms with her new role as queen after the death of her mother.
  • Read about Tobin the Bounty Hunter as he takes down Jarvis, a merciless criminal who brutally slit a blacksmith’s throat.
These stories and more await you in Tales from Virdura, a collection of flash fiction stories that take you deep into the world and the lives of the characters who inhabit it.

You can read this book as a companion volume to A Petition to Magic, find out more about favourite characters and meet new ones within the Kingdom.

You can also enjoy the stories separately from the original short story.

Heaven and Earth: Paranormal Flash Fiction

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
-- Hamlet (1.5.167-8)
A perfect introduction into the inner workings of the weird mind of Graham Downs, this collection of flash fiction paranormal stories contains:
  • The Thing in the Window,
  • An Automatic Decision,
  • Telepathic Link,
  • The Witch of Wellington, and
  • The Christmas Bird.
All have been newly edited and polished since publication on his website in 2014, and some with new endings.

It also contains the never-before-published story, Under the Sheets, about an old woman who believes she is being haunted by a strange ghost, living under her bed.

Billy's Zombie

Young Billy MacIntyre has always been a weird kid, always taking every little slight to heart.
One day, he decides to exact his revenge on all those simpletons who have done him wrong. And he does it by taking a book of Necromancy out of the library, and raising a zombie from the dead!


Thirteen-year-old James Clarke is always being picked on in school. He hates sports, and he particularly hates Stingers, a schoolyard game in which children throw tennis balls at each other. The other kids always seem to throw the ball harder, when it's at him. His physical education teacher, Mr Evans, has no sympathy for the boy, believing he just needs to toughen up a bit.
When James returns home from school after a rough game of Stingers, his mother is mortified when she sees the bruises on his arm and chest. She phones the school to try and put a stop to the cruel bullying of her son.

But her phone call only makes things worse, as the bullying escalates to levels that nobody imagined possible.

Stingers was first published in the charity anthology, "I am not Frazzle! And other stories for grown-ups".

Heritage of Deceit

While surfing the Internet at work, Lloyd believes he's found a relic from an old genocide. If he's right, the artefact would be worth a ton of money, and it will give lots of people closure when they find out what really happened to their families.
But there's one problem. The artefact--if it really exists--is in the possession of Carla, a shy woman in the company's Accounts Department, and she never lets it out of her sight.

Lloyd seeks the help of his friend and fellow employee, Robert, whom Carla is desperately in love with. Will Robert agree to use Carla's feelings for him to get information about the mysterious object?

A Petition to Magic

"Graham Downs opens the door to a fantasy world in his short story, A Petition to Magic, a world of emotions, trust, self-searching and enchanted characters that will definitely leave readers wanting more."
Queen Celeste rose to the throne of Virdura a month ago, after the sudden death of her mother.

Desperate to prove herself, she agrees to hear the case of a simple farmer who claims a neighbour stole his cow.

To help her in this task, she orders her chief advisor, the royal wizard Solon, to cast a spell and divine the truth for her. Solon, however, is keeping a terrible secret. He is unable to perform any magic, and he cannot afford to let the queen find out the reason why.

So what do you think? Care to give your opinion on which genres you think fits each of the above books?

Especially Stingers. It's Young Adult, sure, but that's not a "genre", per se. Other than that, what is it? It's not a Thriller. It's not really a Mystery. It's certainly not a Romance. And it's set in modern times, so it's neither Fantasy nor Science Fiction. What would you call it?

(Image credit R M Media Ltd. See the original here.)

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Do You Pirate EBooks (Redux)

The quickest way to get a reaction out of any author these days is to mention one word: "piracy". About four years ago, I ran a poll here on this blog, where I asked my readers whether they regularly pirated e-books. The results were quite telling, back then (click here to see them), but the landscape has changed significantly since then, and the topic has reared its ugly head again in recent months.

Whether it's technically true or not, many authors can't help but see piracy as nothing more than simple theft, and often blame rampant piracy of their books for their financial woes -- particularly if they write full time and rely on income from book sales to support their families. Others who've kept their day jobs, swear that were it not for piracy, they'd be writing full time by now. And still others have given up writing altogether, believing it's not worth creating art at all anymore if people are just going to steal it.

A more concrete, provable consequence is that many authors, who are enrolled in KDP Select, have found themselves in breach of contract with Amazon, because their books have appeared on pirate sites. Sure, this is one of the reasons why I refuse to support Kindle Unlimited (see my blog post about it, here), but that still doesn't justify piracy.

All this means that it's impossible to have a reasonable, dispassionate discussion with authors about piracy, and if you're a pirate who feels justified, your situation will fall on deaf ears, almost guaranteed.

So I've created this new poll. And it's completely anonymous, and super simple -- it'll take you under a minute to answer these questions, and I will never know who you are.

Please click one of the options below, and then click the Next button to tell me: do you pirate books? If you answer Yes, you'll be presented with a single additional question, to help me understand why.

 Similar to last time, I'm going to leave this poll running for a while. I'll close it down on 25 June 2019, to give me some time to crunch the results, and then I'll post those results here in my blog post on 2 July.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Want to Read/Listen to Unlimited Books/Audiobooks, Free for 60 Days?

If you can't get Kindle Unlimited where you live, or you find Audible too expensive, you might be interested to know that Scribd lets you read/listen to as many books/audiobooks as you want for $8.99 per month.

Normally, you'd get 30 days to try it out, but if you use my affiliate link, you'll get 60 days instead (and I'll get 30 days for referring you, whether you end up paying or not, so help a fella out, will ya?)

What is Scribd?

In case you didn't know, Scribd is a subscription reading service. It's similar to Kindle Unlimited, only it's available in more regions, and unlike Amazon's counterpart, it doesn't require authors/publishers to make their books exclusive to Scribd (if you want to know more about that, read my post on Why I Will No Longer Buy Books From Amazon, If They're in KDP Select / Kindle Unlimited).

What is Kindle Unlimited?

If you don't know what Kindle Unlimited is, either, it's very similar to something like Netflix for movies and TV shows, or a music streaming service like Spotify or Google Play Music: you pay a flat monthly fee, and you can read as much as you like. There's no time limit for reading a book, and there's no limit to how many books you can be reading at a time. And you can stop reading a book if you decide it's not for you, and start a new one, etc. Authors/publishers earn royalties when you read their books.

You can read the books on their website, and/or you can install their app on your phone and/or tablet, and everything will sync up, so if you read a bit on the website, then switch to your phone, you'll be able to pick up exactly where you left off on the other device.

Tell Me More...

Scribd costs $8.99 per month, and normally they give you 30 days free to try it out. But if you use the link I put in this blog post, you get 60 days free instead (and I get a free month for referring you).

Sadly, you do need to put in your credit card details to sign up, but I can tell you they really don't charge your card before your trial is up. And you can cancel before then, and it'll never be charged.

By the way, if you're into audiobooks, they've got those, too.

Note: It is very important that you use my affiliate link to sign up. If you just go to the website and click the "Sign up" link, you'll get a 30-day trial, but using my link, you'll get 60 instead.

Psst! My books are all available on Scribd, so please read them if you do decide to sign up. ;-)

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Significant Changes on my Website. Go Take a Look!

I took some time over the past few weeks to work on my website a little. I fixed some niggly issues that have been bothering me for a while now, and also added a cool scrolling books "carousel" on the top of most pages.

Being a software developer, I find it really freeing that I can code my website completely from scratch. Most authors just use a Content Management System like Wordpress, but the advantages of doing it my way are that a) I don't have to fight with what's available in Wordpress to achieve what I want, and b) there's no code on my site that I didn't put there.

If you've never visited my website, I urge you to take a look. Here are the changes (I'm specifically not including screenshots - you'll have to go look for yourself):

Collapsible Menu on Mobile

If you browse the site from your desktop computer, there's a menu bar at the top. It has few enough items that they all fit on a screen. However, if you'd visited it from a mobile phone before, you would have noticed that this menu was always displayed, and "wrapped down" to take up half of your vertical screen.

This has now been fixed - you now see the traditional "Hamburger" button at the top-right of the screen, and you can click it on your mobile phone to expand or collapse the menu.

Link to Privacy Policy on Mobile

Another thing you've undoubtedly noticed, if you've ever browsed the site from a mobile device, is that the "Sharing Buttons" are docked to the bottom of the screen. But at the very end of all pages, there's a link to read the Privacy Policy. The problem was, on mobile, you could never see that link because the sharing buttons covered it.

Also fixed: the sharing buttons are still docked to the bottom, but now there's enough space after the last paragraph for you to be able to read it on mobile.

Scrolling Books "Carousel"

This one's a little different. If you've ever browsed the site from a tablet, or your desktop or laptop, you would have noticed a scrolling "slideshow" of my books docked to the top of every page.  It wasn't visible on a mobile phone, because the slides were too big to be practical on such a small screen.

I completely ripped it out. Aside from it not being visible on a mobile phone, each slide only showed a single book, so there was a lot of wasted space.

It's been replaced with a list of book covers that you can click/touch and drag, to scroll through all the books I've written. It looks way more modern, and it looks just fine on a phone, too.

I hope you appreciate all these changes... especially this last one, which I personally think is really cool! :-)

To visit my website and see them for yourself, click here.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Why I Will No Longer Buy Books From Amazon, If They're in KDP Select / Kindle Unlimited

The other week, I mentioned on a readers' group on Facebook, that I'd be cleaning out my Goodreads to-read shelf, and (among other things) removing all books that were in KDP Select.

I got into a bit of hot water over that, with people wanting to know why. I don't mention it that often on my blog (most recently, I alluded to it in the post Alternatives to Kindle Unlimited), but if you follow me elsewhere on social media, or we share any mutual Facebook groups, you might know that Amazon exclusivity is something I whine about often. It's time I put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.

What is Amazon Exclusivity?

In order to fully understand my reasoning, it's necessary that you understand a little thing called KDP Select. Unless you're an author, you've probably never heard of it, so let me explain:

When an author uploads their book onto Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing platform, they get asked if they want to enrol in something called "KDP Select". If they choose to do this, Amazon gives them certain perks, like higher royalty rates, certain marketing and promotional opportunities that wouldn't otherwise be available, and the option to have their books in Kindle Unlimited (Being in KDP Select is the only way for a self-published author's books to get into Kindle Unlimited).

In exchange for this, Amazon requires that that author's ebooks not be available anywhere else. No other retailers, no digital libraries, and certainly not the author's own website. The author isn't allowed to give their ebooks away, either as prizes for contests or as incentives for signing up for newsletters, etc. And Amazon enforces this policy strictly - in fact, they've been known to ban authors in KDP Select because they happened to find one of those books available for download on a pirate site!

Some authors have no problem with this arrangement, and indeed, it can be very lucrative. The higher royalties from sales, and the additional income from people reading their books on Kindle Unlimited, often more than makes up for the lost royalties at the other stores.

The Problem With Amazon Exclusivity

But there's more to this story, and I personally believe that authors who enrol in KDP Select make a conscious decision to put their own selfish, short-term success ahead of the long-term success of the ebook industry in general.

You see, every ebook that's exclusively available at Amazon is another nail in the coffin of every other retailer out there, struggling to stay afloat. Retailers who suddenly aren't allowed to stock that book. This isn't hyperbole: you might have never heard of Sony E-Books, Diesel E-Books, 'txtr, Oyster, or Flipkart E-Books. These were international e-book retailers who went out of business, and whose demise can be directly linked to them being simply unable to compete with Amazon.

And, of course, those companies had employees who found themselves out of work. And those employees had families who found themselves unable to eat, or who lost their homes. Isn't a little bit of social responsibility called for, here?

Why Would Authors Do Such a Thing?

Now, I understand why authors enrol their books in KDP Select. Maybe for some of them, it seems like a no-brainer. It's certainly lucrative, and plenty of authors make buckets and buckets of money off Amazon, and never consider anyone else. At least, the promise is the potential to make buckets and buckets of money by having their books in KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited, even if few authors ever actually achieve that.

But, as I mentioned in my Alternatives to Kindle Unlimited article, what about those people who don't have access to Amazon (either because of technical restrictions because of where they live, or because they can't afford to buy books)?

But it works for these authors because we readers have created a situation where it works. Those of us with access to Amazon will automatically go straight there to search for books. If Kindle Unlimited is available where we live, we're going to subscribe to it, because why not? We just don't care about all those other companies struggling to make ends meet. And I have this vision in my head of Amazon laughing maniacally at their fates.

How Can You Help?

I'm not saying don't buy books from Amazon. I'll still buy books from Amazon, if they offer me the best deal on any given ebook. I'm saying you should certainly shop around first, and check what the book's price is on Kobo, or Google Play, or (for self-published books) Smashwords... and if a book's not available on those platforms, think twice about buying it because the chances are high that Amazon isn't allowing them to make it available.

And if you want to sign up for a subscription reading service, use an alternative to Kindle Unlimited, knowing that the books in Kindle Unlimited have been paid for in blood - the blood of all those people and their families who work for Scribd. Or 24Symbols. Or Playster.

Lastly, if this article has moved you, please spread the word. Share it widely on your social media platforms, email it to people, and discuss it with your book-buying friends. I've even met some people who actually had no idea there even were alternatives to Amazon, when it comes to buying ebooks. If you were one of those people, prior to reading this article, then I sincerely hope you've found it enlightening. Please share that enlightenment with others.