eBook Purchase Options Indefinitely Unavailable

I have to make the unfortunate announcement that purchase options for my eBooks through Smashwords and it’s outlets (Apple, Barnes & Noble, Scribd., etc.) are indefinitely unavailable. This is not something I ordinarily would have chosen to do, because I believe people should be able to choose where they purchase their eBooks and the format they want. I made this decision because last year PayPal made two unauthorized withdrawals from my bank account. They weren’t for large amounts, the first was for about $36 and the second for about $12, however, this not only set up an alarm, but also sent me in search of answers.

For each withdrawal I first searched my PayPal activity record to make sure I hadn’t forgotten about them. When I couldn’t find a corresponding purchase amount, I went through my emails in search of an old purchase receipt for that company in that amount. When I could find neither, I filed a report in PayPal’s resolution center. The auto-reply in each case said I would hear back within a week or less.

The first time I waited several weeks without hearing a response to my case. The auto-reply is a no-reply, so I went back to the PayPal resolution center and discovered that my case file had disappeared. It was neither under open nor closed cases. I filed again with the same result. I finally went to the PayPal forums and asked for help. Someone had a number to call, which I did. After making several tries with the auto-options, I finally got a computer voice that told me I had filed for a refund back in 2016 and had lost. Good grief, if I had money coming to me wouldn’t I remember that? And for it to take over a year to be resolved? That didn’t make sense. What made it more puzzling was that the amount was for GBP. No other details were given that would have helped such as original transaction date and seller, and there was nothing on my activity records for 2016 to verify this. Even so, a record of my claim should have been in the resolution center for the entire time. I should have found it when I went to file the withdrawal the first time. But there was no claim.

Last month I found another unauthorized debit to my account from a company called Enumber NJ. There was a phone number, which I called, but it just hooked me up to PayPal’s automated phone answering system. Once again I first checked my PayPal activity records but there was nothing for that amount by that company. I opened another case in the resolution center. While I waited for a reply I tried to find information on this company. The only thing I learned is that they are a foreign company that has filed to do business in the U.S. No mention of what that business is or what they sell. They have no website.

When I heard back from PayPal all they said was that the debit was consistent with my activity record. Again, no date, no reason why the amount appeared nowhere on my record, no details about the company. This time my case did not disappear, but was placed in closed cases. It simply said “transaction not covered.” The only information I can find on this is that it has something to do with seller protection. I’m not a seller so I don’t understand what that means.

I later found quite a few complaints about this on the PayPal community forum. The official explanation is that the Enumber charge is because the buyer didn’t have enough money in their PayPal account and this is the fee for them using your backup bank account. Huh? I thought the purpose of PayPal was to pay directly from my bank account. I missed the memo that this was now just a back-up and that I would be charged $12 any time money was debited from my bank account. Even worse, I haven’t purchased through PayPal for months, so what purchase am I being fined for?

Anyway, this tale of woe is to explain why I have discontinued Smashwords publishing for the time being. Smashwords royalties are paid via PayPal, but it’s too nerve-wracking to leave things as is. It’s a horrible feeling to check my bank account online and be afraid more money has disappeared, especially when there’s nothing I can do about it. The bottom line is that I no longer trust PayPal.

I’ll conclude with the standard “apologies if this is an inconvenience” blah, blah, blah. Honestly thought, I hate that it’s worked out this way. My eBooks can still be purchased through Amazon.

 

Update on the Odd Amazon Categories

When I saw this

#1 Best Seller in Caribbean History???

#1 Best Seller in Caribbean History???

I knew it was time to do something. I went to Author Central and sent a message to Amazon. They responded quickly and told me how to select other categories. I asked them to delete “Caribbean & West Indies” and “White Collar Crime” and asked to add “Sustainable Agriculture”.  I could have added another but couldn’t find one I thought fit.

Amazon_new_categories2I’m happy with the Best Sellers Rank in the new category, although I’m sure it has more to do with less competition in that category. These rankings do fluctuate wildly, even so, it’s encouraging to have stayed on these lists for as many months as I have. Here’s hoping future books do as well.

 

Odd Book Stats At Amazon

I like to check my book’s Amazon page from time to time, to see if there are new reviews and to see if it’s still on the Sustainable Living best seller list. I was surprised to discover it was ranking on two additional best seller lists as well –

odd+at+Amazon

#3 in “Caribbean & West Indies” best sellers? Really? Was it the mention of heavy seasonal rains in Chapter 3, “Setting Priorities”? Or my discussion of solar energy in Chapter 8, “Energy Self-Sufficiency”?

How about #4 in “White Collar Crime”? Was it that part about doing in the rooster, in Chapter 11, “Difficult Things”?

By what stretch of the imagination does 5 Acres & A Dream The Book: The Challenges of Establishing a Self-Sufficient Homestead come close to either of those categories! It’s great to have such high rankings, but I’m afraid anyone purchasing a copy based on those ranks in those categories will be sorely disappointed.

Crafts, Home, and Hobbies > Sustainable Living was the category I chose when I published the book. I’ve been very pleased with my ranking in that category.

I asked about this on the CreateSpace community forum and learned that sometimes Amazon adds categories (based on ???). Also, that I can request to be added to categories. I reckon I’d better find something more appropriate than the two they selected.

Smashwords

Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of eBooks. Many authors choose to go with Amazon’s Kindle publishing program, but there appear to be some excellent reasons for going with Smashwords.

Kindle offers only one eBook format for its various Kindle readers while Smashwords offers all formats, so that one can purchase and download books for any eBook reader including iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, B&N Nook, Kobo, of even one’s computer. Broader distribution channels is a very practical reason for not wanting to go exclusively with Amazon. Philosophically, it represents a choice not to contribute to another big corporation’s attempt at monopolizing a given market.

A third option appears to be going with both. I read about this on the CreateSpace Community Forums. Many authors apparently publish on both venues to take advantage of Amazon’s higher royalty rates for its own authors, plus take advantage of sales to other eReader owners. Care must be taken in selecting sales channels on Smashwords, but it seems to be a popular way for authors to go.

So why am I blogging about eBooks? Am I going to publish an eBook edition of 5 Acres & A Dream The Book? Or perhaps upcoming Critter Tales? No, I tend to include a lot of photos. eBooks do best with text, so I will continue to publish my homestead books as paperbacks. What’s happened is, I have found myself researching this for a different author. I figured I might as make a record of what I’m learning and share it with others as well. So stay tuned for my take on what I find out.

Gradually Expanding Sales Channels

I finally got listed on Barnes & Noble. That means my participation in expanded distribution is kicking in. On the one hand it’s good, because it means more options for people. The way the expanded distribution is set up, however, it means lower royalties. No matter, the point is to sell books. Not that I’m expecting to make my fortune, but getting it into the hands of others who like it is a rewarding feeling.

I also signed up to participate in Amazon Associates affiliate program. Apparently quite a few CreateSpace authors do this. It means that if someone clicks through on the book link on my blog or website and purchases the book, the associate gets a small percentage. The percentage is calculated on the entire purchase, which could be nice. For selling one to seven items through that link I can get 4%. If I sell a total of 8 items, I can get 6%. I confess I have mixed feeling about monetizing my blog, and have turned down every request for an ad or guest post I’ve received. Since this is my link, or links for products I’m pointing out to others, I’m going to give this a try. Again, no fortune, just content with every little bit that helps.

Selling Books The Long Way Around

Recently I learned about a site that will track down books from online sellers based on the book’s ISBN. The site is GetTexbooks.com. I check it occasionally for new listings of my book. I add these to my Kikobian website so folks can see their options.

The other day I found it was now listed on AbeBooks.

AbeBooks_listing

Click on the image to enlarge it. Notice the price.

List price US$ 12.95
Price US$ 23.73
Shipping US$ 9.83
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.

Would anyone really pay almost double the retail price just to get it shipped from overseas when it can be printed here at home? Needless to say, I will not be adding this one to my list of “Where to buy.”

So Far So Good

It was a week ago today that I made the official announcement on my blog about the release of my book. I have to say that the response has been encouraging, humbling, exciting, and a relief. To date, I have sold a total of 38 copies; 34 through Amazon.com, 3 through Amazon.co.UK, and one through Amazon Europe, although I don’t know from which one, France, Germany, Spain, or Italy.

I have my homesteading blog to thank for those sales. Since the book is based on my blog, there is a somewhat ready-made market there. Still, it is a niche book and won’t be of interest to everyone. Even so, the feedback I’m starting to get is encouraging. I knew I wouldn’t make a lot of money at this, but my goal was to encourage others with similar interests. I tried to do this by telling our story, of our ups and downs, and what we learned from them. So much of homesteading is breaking new ground in terms of knowledge and skills. I learn a lot from others and hope others can learn a lot from me.

Besides my two wonderful reviews on Amazon (so far), I’m going to make a “What readers say” page on my publishing website. I can link to that from both this and my homesteading blog. Promoting one’s book is a huge task but makes the difference between sales or no sales. My hope is that my book has enough merit for folks to recommend it to others, gift it to others, and help spread the word.

I should mention that collecting royalties requires a minimum before they are paid out. I can’t find the exact figures for all of them, but I think it’s a minimum of $10 in royalties to receive it from Amazon US. It’s similar for the other channels, so it’s entirely possible to sell books but never get a cent for them because the royalty threshold has never been met.

Expanded Distribution: The Ins and Outs

With a few exceptions, people who write books want to sell their books. Making a fortune may not be a primary motive, but it’s a delight and encouragement to see those sales. Options for the self-publisher include selling from a website, via shows or other public gatherings, or even door to door. To reach the widest audience, however, one needs to sell through distributors. These include book selling though online book stores as well as traditional book stores (referred to as “brick and mortar”).

POD (print on demand) printers offer different ways to do this. Usually they will have a package deal of some sort. The only two I’ve looked into are CreateSpace (the publishing arm of Amazon.com), and Lightning Source Ingram. I started with CS because, as a beginner, I understood their process to be more user friendly and proofs less expensive. CS is geared toward new, independent authors. LSI, on the other hand, is geared toward professional publishers although many independent authors use their services as well. More recently, they have opened Ingram Spark as a resource for self-publishing authors. Here’s what I’ve learned about all these.

CreateSpace has no set-up fees and offers a standard distribution package for free as well. This standard package includes Amazon US and Amazon Europe (with listings on their UK, German, Italian, Spanish, and French sites), plus a CS eStore. Their extended distribution used to cost $25. Since LSI started offering Ingram Spark, the extended distribution package is now free. This puts one’s book listing in catalogues available to other online book sellers (such as Barnes & Noble), also those brick and mortar stores, big box stores, etc., plus a venue called CreateSpace Direct, for registered resellers. For those using one of CS’s own ISBNs (also free, but lists CS as the exclusive publisher) there are listings for libraries and educational institutions as well.

LSI (and Ingram Spark) has a $49 set-up fee per title. Their distribution channels (markets) include all of the above for an annual $12 per title. One advantage to these, is that the publisher can choose whether or not book stores can return unpurchased copies of their books. Of course you pay them a refund, but it does make the books available in those stores. Unfortunately, traditional book stores are not interested in self-published books, which means they probably won’t order them anyway.

The other thing retailers expect, is a wholesale discount. Obviously they cannot pay full price for a title and make a profit at that same list price. To truly entice them, this discount apparently must be at least 50%. The author’s royalties are what’s leftover after printing costs and whole sale discount have been subtracted. With LSI, the publisher sets the discount. It can be as low as 20% on up. With Ingram Spark, the wholesale discount is a mandatory 55%. With CreateSpace/Amazon, it depends upon the distribution channel.

  • Standard distribution through Amazon US or Amazon Europe – 40%
  • Standard distribution through the book’s CreateSpace eStore – 20%
  • Extended distribution – 60%

So let’s crunch some numbers. What does all these mean to me, as an independent author selling her book for a list price of $12.95? The forumla is:

list price
– printing costs
– wholesale discount
author’s royalty

Printing costs depend on several factors: size and page count, color or B&W, hard cover or soft. These vary depending upon the printer.

With CS, the printing cost for a 262, 6 x 9, black and white interior paperback book is $0.85 per book plus $0.012 per page. For my book, that comes to $3.99 printing cost per book. Plugging all that into the formula to sell on Amazon US or Europe (40% discount) …

$12.95 (list price)
– 3.99 (printing cost)
– 5.18 (40% wholesale discount)
$3.78 author’s royalty

If I sell through my own CreateSpace eStore

$12.95 (list price)
– 3.99 (printing cost)
– 2.59 (20% wholesale discount)
$6.37 author’s royalty

Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? Even so, most CS authors opt to direct traffic to Amazon rather than their CS eStore. Why? For several reasons: to build reviews (available only on Amazon), consumer trust in name recognition (CreateSpace who?), free shipping for orders over $35, plus folks often already have an Amazon account.

For their extended distribution

$12.95 (list price)
– 3.99 (printing cost)
– 7.77 (60% wholesale discount)
$1.19 author’s royalty

So for every book sold through someone else rather than Amazon, I’d only make $1.19 per copy.

Now let’s take a look at Ingram Spark. They calculate their printing costs for the same book accordingly – $0.90 per book plus $0.013 per page, which would be $4.31 per book. Plugging that in with the 55% discount…

$12.95 (list price)
– 4.31 (printing cost)
– 7.12 (55% wholesale discount)
$1.52 author’s royalty

Well, that still seems like peanuts, but it’s a little better than the $1.19 from CS’s extended distribution. Or is it? CS offers extended distribution for free. With Ingram Spark, I’d have the $49 title set-up plus $12 per year listing fee. That means if I make $1.52 per book,  I’d have to sell 41 copies my first year to break even (with a profit of $1.32!). Those same 41 copies through CS would have netted me $48.79. Then I’d have to sell 8 copies each year to pay for keeping my book in Ingram’s catalog listings. The only advantage might be the possibility that a couple of libraries might pick up copies for their patrons.

Is it worth it? Well, how many books do I think I can sell? I’m fortunate that I have a niche audience via my blog, because with independent self-publishing, promotion and marketing fall entirely on the author. Figures vary quite a bit, but most self-published books are said to sell less than 200 copies in their lifetime, with most of those purchased by the author her or himself, family and friends. Since my niche is not a huge market,  what can I realistically expect?

Dear Reader, what would you do if you were me?