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.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

How to Get Books Purchased from Smashwords onto Your Kindle

So you have a Kindle, and you've just bought a book from Smashwords (Or perhaps downloaded it from Prolific Works or some other site). As per the Smashwords instructions, you've downloaded it in mobi format, and now you need to get it onto your Amazon Kindle device.

This is also known as "sideloading", and the easiest way I've found is to use your Kindle's unique email address, and send it to your device that way. Here's how to do it.

(Disclaimer: I personally don't have a physical Kindle device. I only have the Kindle app, installed on my tablet and phone. These instructions should still work, however; if you have a physical Kindle, and know of a better way, please let me know in the comments below.)

First, you need to download the mobi file onto your computer.

Then, visit the Amazon website from your computer. Sign in, if you have not already done so:

Hover over "Accounts & Lists", on the right-hand side, below your name. This will pop up a menu. Then click "Your Content and Devices":

Click on the "Devices" tab, and your Kindle should be displayed in the list:

I have a few listed here because I happen to have several apps installed on several different devices. Depending on your setup, you might only have one. Find your Kindle and click on the ellipsis button ("...") to the left of it. This will pop out a panel with all the details of that device:

Look at the line that says Email. That's your Kindle's own personal email address. Open your favourite email client and email your mobi file to that address.

After it's sent, wait a few minutes and refresh your library on your Kindle. Your book should appear. It'll also show up under the "Content" tab of "Your Content and Devices" on the Amazon website.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

How Many Indie Authors Publish Afrikaans Fiction?

My mother-in-law was up from Cape Town the other week. She reads a lot of Afrikaans stories (mostly romance), and when she discovered she'd left all her books at home, I leant her my old iPad and showed her how to borrow e-books from the library.

I was pleasantly surprised at the selection of Afrikaans fiction actually available on OverDrive (never mind actually owned by the Gauteng E-Library). She read a few of them, and incidentally, I think I've turned her on to the joy and convenience of ebooks! ;)

(Click any of the above covers to view those books on OverDrive. In case you can't make them out, they are Die dood van 'n goeie vrou by Chris Karsten, Die rooikop van Sonnerus by Susanna M Lingua, and Hartklop Omnibus 2 by various authors.)

The problem is, all of those books seem to be traditionally published. Not that that bothers her, of course, but it kind of gives me pause.

So I asked on a writers' group I belong to, if anybody self-published Afrikaans fiction, in any genre. Surprisingly, none of the authors on that group does, but one of them pointed me towards a lady by the name of Francine Beaton (click for her website).

I checked Francine's website, and discovered that she's actually self-published quite a few books in the romance genre. Most of them are in English, but I found two of them in Afrikaans: Blou Somer and 'n Stukkie Blou Hemel.

Click the covers to visit the books' pages on Amazon US (Curiously, they're not available on either Kobo or Google Play, both of which have actual South African stores which sell books in South African Rands).

I'd love to hear from you, dear reader. Do you read a lot of Afrikaans ebooks? Are any of the authors you regularly read self-published?

If you know of any other indie authors writing in Afrikaans, please let me know in the comments. Let's make this post a go-to resource for Afrikaans independent authors!

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Do You Buy EBooks in Rands?

Are you in South Africa? Do you buy ebooks? Consider, if you will, the sheer dominance of Amazon in the ebook market.

If I were to ask you where you bought most of your ebooks, you'd probably say you bought them from Amazon (and if you don't, then I'm glad you've decided to broaden your horizons. Well done!).

Now, think about the fact that Amazon has no South African store. As a South African, you're forced to buy your ebooks from their US store, and pay in US dollars. That means book prices which are heavily dependent on the exchange rate - and effectively change every fifteen minutes - and it means paying currency conversion fees to your bank on top of it.

It doesn't really make sense, does it? To go out of your way to pay more for your books, when there are two perfectly good, reputable sellers, which do sell ebooks in South African Rands, and which are frequently cheaper for us than Amazon.

I'm convinced that many ebook buyers in South Africa don't even know that there are options besides Amazon. Or if they do, buying ebooks from anyone but Amazon has become their Green Eggs and Ham: "I will not do it, Sam I Am."

Memoirs of a Guardian Angel for R9.99

So I guess I should put my money where my mouth is, huh? To convince you to try the Green Eggs and Ham (You might love it), for this week and this week only, South Africans can get my Urban Fantasy novella for only R9.99, all-inclusive.

For you Amazon customers, that translates to $0.71 at the time of this writing. You'd never find it on Amazon for that price because Amazon won't let us authors set a list price below $0.99... and they charge 15% VAT on top of that price, if you happen to live in South Africa. And your bank will charge you currency conversion fees on top of that.

And in case you were wondering (or, if you're a die-hard Amazon fan even now), the Amazon price for South Africans is currently $2.17, plus currency conversion fees. If anyone in South Africa would still click through to Amazon and pay that price instead of R9.99, VAT inclusive, I'd love to know why!

The price is valid when you buy it at either Google Play Books or Kobo (Click on the names to visit the book's page at the retailer). If you own an Android phone or tablet, there's a good chance you have Google Play Books already installed. If you have an iOS-based phone or tablet, or a dedicated Kobo ereading device, Kobo will be your thing.

And when you've bought it and read it, dear reader, please do me the biggest favour: return to this blog post and write a comment about your experiences. How did you find it, compared to Amazon? Was it a better experience? About the same? Worse (and if so, in what way)?

Try the Green Eggs and Ham. I'm sure you won't regret it. :-)

Oh, and did I mention, you don't even need a credit card to buy ebooks from Google Play in South Africa? You can pay cash at stores all over the country for Google Play vouchers, which you can then apply to your account, and they work for ebooks too! (You could conceivably buy vouchers for Amazon, but you need a debit or credit card to buy them in the first place... or someone to buy them for you in the States, and send them to you)

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

My most viewed blog post of ALL TIME was a giveaway

Since I'm still on leave, I don't have any new content for you today. But I thought it'd be fun to go look at the most viewed post of all time on this blog, and share it with you.

I was expecting (hoping) it to be an evergreen post, like my list of OverDrive libraries in South Africa or something, but alas, no.

The most viewed post of all time on this blog is the post entitled Short Story MEGA Giveaway from 27 June 2017, and it had a whopping 1595 views!

Go ahead and click on the image above to view that post. While some of the giveaways are no longer active, many are. And even if they aren't, I'm sure if you just Google the book in question, you'll find it for sale (if not free) somewhere on the Internet.


Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Judging a Book by Its Cover: Urban Fantasy

One of my friends, Stephen Hayes, recently wrote a book called The Year of the Dragon, about a group of Christians during the Apartheid era in South Africa. He wasn't sure how to classify it, but a few people (myself included) told him we felt it was clearly Urban Fantasy.

This prompted him to do quite a bit of research on different genres, and Urban Fantasy in particular, and this past weekend, he wrote this blog post:

I found his perspective interesting, and he particularly points out how the vast majority of Urban Fantasy covers these days feature naked, faceless, male torsos. He used City of Bones by Cassandra Clare as an example... but he's right. Do a quick search on Goodreads for "Urban Fantasy", and you'll see what he means.

This got me thinking about my own Urban Fantasy contribution, Memoirs of a Guardian Angel (Cover pictured below):

Funny enough, when I first spoke to my cover designer for that book, I wasn't sure how to classify it, either.

But she has a good feel for what sells, and after hearing my synopsis, she insisted it was Urban Fantasy, and I should go take a look at bestsellers in that genre and let her know what type of covers I liked.

I did so, and presently told her that the one thing I did not want on my cover was a naked male torso. She laughed and said that since she wasn't partial to those either unless the book was also obviously Romance (which mine isn't), she promised to keep bare-chested people off mine.

I'm really happy with what we came up with. There's a male chest, but it isn't bare. It's quite abstract, but I think it fits nicely among the Urban Fantasy bestsellers - which is an important requirement for a cover these days - and also captures the feel of the book really well.

I'll leave it up to you to decide whether or not you agree. :-)

Now, we often like to decry the fact that people judge books by their covers, and we often quote the old cliché about how you shouldn't.

But the fact is, people do judge books by their covers, and that may not be a bad thing. Ultimately, as authors, we do actually need to sell our work, and most people want to read or listen in the genres they're used to... and the best way for those people to judge whether a book is something they might want to spend their hard-earned money on is the cover.

Do you agree? And how do you feel about the current trend in book covers, particularly for Urban Fantasy? Can you immediately figure out what genre a book is, just by looking at the cover, and are you turned off buying books because the cover implies the book is of a genre you don't normally read?

Please let me know in the comments below. I'd love you hear your opinions!