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.

 

Kindle to Paperback, And Why I Wouldn’t Recommend It

Kindle Direct Publishing has added a new option to its publishing services, that of turning eBooks into paperbacks. I found this pretty interesting, considering how popular electronic books were when they first appeared, and how many self-proclaimed prophets declared print books dead. So much easier and economical to carry an entire library on one small, lightweight device than to buy expensive, burdensome hard-copy books, right? I confess that I never bought into this (see “Why A Print Book?“). Even though I’ll acknowledge that eBooks are convenient for fiction, I have remained staunchly in the print book camp for everything else. With KDP now offering the paperback option, I can’t help but wonder if the electronic fad, er, trend is fading.

So, being the champion of print that I am, why wouldn’t I recommend clicking on that “Create Paperback” button? For several reasons: page numbering, images, indexing, and formatting options such as charts and tables.

Electronic books are formatted differently than print books. Pages in print books have a fixed design that the content fits a particular page size, including images, text placement, white space, and page numbering. To someone with an eye for aesthetic design, the placement of these elements is important. Because of the variety of eBook reading devices, however, eBooks are formatted so that the text is flowable, i.e. not fixed in terms of page placement. This is to accommodate any brand of eReader on the market. In the printed eBooks that I’ve read, I’ve found the formatting is often too haphazard to be professional looking. Depending on how the author formatted their original file, the print version can be distractingly “off.”

Images, if you include them, are formatted differently for electronic versus print books. Electronic devices render images small enough to fit the screen. Because of file size limitations, low resolution and low DPI (dots per inch, usually 72 DPI for electronic rendering) images are recommended. Most of us probably know how pixelized an enlarged jpg image can become, but smaller looks crisper and cleaner. Images formatted for an eBook will often have that same pixelized look in print. Recommendations for print images are 300 DPI and the specific physical measurements you want on the printed page. In addition, tall, narrow images can be offset side-by-side with text in a print book. This can’t be done with an eBook.

If images include maps, such as I did in 5 Acres & a Dream The Book, then size becomes important for readability. My Master Plans are barely legible in the 6-inch by 9-inch paperback. A reader wouldn’t be able to make them out on a smaller electronic device.

eReaders all sport search functions, just like a search engine does on the internet. Obviously a print book can’t do this, which is why a good index is important, especially for nonfiction. At least it is important to me, although considering how many poorly constructed indexes there are out there, it apparently isn’t as important to everyone else. A paperback from a Kindle version will have no index, so there would be no way to search for specific topics and text.

Another consideration for nonfiction books is tables. I used quite a few charts in the paperback version of my How To Bake Without Baking Powder, whereas in the eBook version, the charts had to be lists. Why? Because charts are usually created in a word processor as tables, and eReaders can’t support tables. Yes, a chart could be supplied as an image, but remember what I said about image size on an eReader? You’d have to make sure that chart is legible in a two or three inch width, which is what an eReader will likely do with it. On the one hand, I agree that charts aren’t absolutely necessary, but on the other, I think they make information visually more accessible to the reader. If I feel I have information that is useful to my reader, then making that information easy to find and access is important to me.

I’ve already mentioned some issues with formatting. One other to be aware of is that eReaders can only read a limited number of fonts. In the professional publishing world of print books, there is quite some snobbishness about fonts (not that I can personally tell muc difference) as though this divides the masters from the novices. Or in my case, the Lobster 2 font for my 5 Acres blog and book title are sort of trademark, i.e. part of my brand. For a print book file, I can use any font I please, as long as I embed it in my desktop publisher. For an eBook, the title would have to be an image.

So, off the top of my head this is why I would recommend not simply opting to print a nonfiction book from an eBook file. It would certainly be the easiest route, but if the author things her or his book has quality and worth, then it makes sense to take the time and give it the respect it deserves.

 

 

 

Is Good Information Worth Paying For?

Pricing books, especially eBooks, is something of a challenge. There are a lot of blog posts and articles written about it, because it seems to be a common question. I know it was for me, and actually, I still sometimes wonder if I’ve priced my eBooks just right.

There are some guides out there about pricing according to the number of words, but this is mostly for fiction. Experienced writers seem to agree that people are willing to pay more for nonfiction, because of the perceived usefulness of the information. That made sense to me, but I’ve been wondering lately if that’s really true.

I’m saying this because of a number of customer reviews that state that $0.99 or $1.99 is overpriced for information that can be found for “free” on the internet. In spite of that, I think part of the problem is that the consumer knows there are no print costs involved in producing an eBook. Unfortunately, they place little or no value on the author’s time. When I consider the number of hours I spend researching (both on the internet and off), sorting through and organizing the information, writing, creating a glossary and list of resources, and then putting it together in a thorough, logical, and easily accessible manner, I’m more than a little amazed. I’d be willing to go toe to toe with most of what’s free on the internet, confident that I’ve produced a more useful product.

A fellow homestead writer has turned to writing fiction because, she says, it sells better than her homestead eBooks. Considering the popularity of homesteading, this makes me wonder if people are really willing to pay more for useful information; perhaps people are willing to pay more for entertainment.

I do find that my How To Bake Without Baking Powder sells more print copies than electronic. To me, this makes sense, because useful information keeps better as hard copy. It’s physical location (my bookshelves) makes it easy to find, I don’t have to recharge anything to read it, and there’s no worry of losing the information if my device goes.

So what’s the answer to the question? Is good information worth paying for? I suspect the answer is subjective, but I’d be interested in your opinion.

First Series Success

Whew. That turned out to be a lot of work. But at last I can announce that Critter Tales is now out as an eBook series.

ctseries_webpageIt’s webpage can be found here.

Preparing the book interiors and covers was a job, and so was getting web pages built for each volume. Now comes the work of getting the word out. Next I’ll tackle 5 Acres & A Dream The Book as a four- or so part series. There’s no rest for the indie author.

Bundles and Series

Bundles and series are two publishing devices for eBooks that seem to work well for both readers and authors. I’m just starting to branch out in both directions.

A bundle (also called a box set or omnibus) is a collection of short related works. These are usually priced more economically than the individual volumes making them a good buy for someone who likes a particular author and the subject they are writing on.

goat_bundle1When I published the first volumes of my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, it was fellow homestead author and blogger Anna Hess who suggested that I bundle them when I’d written enough. The other day I realized I’d done just that. I have five goat related how-tos on offer, enough to bundle and offer at a 4-for-3 price.

There is only one set of front and back matter, with the individual eBooks treated as sections. I combined the photos from the four eBook covers to create a new cover, but I still kept my overall series look.

One question authors ask is whether to include their bundle as another volume in the series. I decided against that because it isn’t a separate volume, but a combination of volumes. My solution was to call it a new series, “The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos Bundled Editions.” Not particularly clever, but a search engine will bring up both options so I think it’s a good one!

My other project is to create a series of eBooks from Critter Tales. A series is just that, a long work broken down into shorter segments. Oftentimes the first eBook of the series is sharply discounted or even free. This gives readers a chance to sample a new author. If they like what they read, they are likely to be willing to buy the rest of the series. Or in my case, they can simply buy the tales for the critters they are interested in. I’m tentatively calling my series “Critter Tales Series.”

concerning_critters_cover350x233Critter Tales lends itself well to this idea, because the sets of tales focus on one type of critter each and can make stand-alone reading. Pictured on the right is the cover idea I have.

I think cover design is important, and this is similar enough to the paperback so as to offer instant recognition. eBook covers are a different ratio than paperback covers, so that allowed me to adapt the cover images and highlight the one pertaining to the subject.

“Concerning Critters” is the title of the paperback’s introduction, so it will be my free offering to the reading community. The various sets of tales will be priced according to length.

This project is rather slow going at the moment, because eBooks require a different setup than print. This means I need to create a fluid file for uploading, and photos make this more challenging than text-only documents. My goal is to have it all done and released well before Christmas.

Inconvenient Quirks of LibreOffice 3.5

Firstly, let me acknowledge that my operating system is somewhat dated. Not outdated (as in obsolete), but not the newest and brightest version. Consequently, some of my software are older versions. I’m not sure if what I’m about to write has been corrected in an updated version of LibreOffice or not. I certainly hope so, because for eBook publishing as .doc files, it’s the best Ubuntu has to offer.

The problem? This

LO culprit1It’s that little paragraph mark that you wouldn’t even see unless I clicked on the “Nonprinting Characters” button before taking my screenshot.

LO_culprit3

This is actually a very useful tool for an author, because it shows me the formatting of my document: spaces between words (or extra spaces), paragraphs, tabs (a no-no in eBook publishing, we’re supposed to use styles), stuff like that.

The problem is that the paragraph symbol is supposed to look like this

paragraph_symbolCan you see the difference? In the first photo the circled paragraph symbol is underlined and dark blue like the links are. In the last photo it’s plain black. What I have figured out is, that when it looks like a link it creates problems with whatever follows. It’s not a link, but somehow it influences the next paragraph when the eBooks are published.

One problem I’ve had is that the entire paragraph following such a symbol will have blue, underlined text. It doesn’t link to anywhere, but the formatting is the same as a link. Recently I encountered a new problem. Smashwords sent me a notice flagging ePub navigation issues with the table of contents in one of my Little Series books. For awhile I was stumped. All the links worked in my .doc file, so what was the problem in the ePub version? I finally realized that it was one of those blue underlined paragraph symbols. One of them was in the table of contents and the chapters following were the ones with issues. Once I corrected that, the problem was solved.

How do those paragraph symbols get that way? They happen every time I hit “enter” after linked text. Usually I put the links in last, but it happens if I’m updating or correcting.

So I’ve learned to check all my paragraph symbols before uploading a file for eBook conversion. After many hours of frustration, it’s a relief to finally find the answer. Hopefully the newer version of LibreOffice won’t have this problem.

What I Like About Publishing eBooks (and What I Don’t)

They are the trend, aren’t they? Electronic books. Cheaper to buy and easier to carry around. I understand why consumers like them. Personally, I don’t think anything is better than a real live book in my hands, but that’s a debate about personal choice. As a writer and independent publisher, my likes and dislikes about eBooks shift a bit. They’re more about the things that go on behind the screen.

What I like best about publishing eBooks is that they can be updated. This is useful on several levels. For example, there’s nothing worse than finally getting a book in print, one that you’ve labored over, checked and re-checked, only to find errors. And there’s nothing you can do about it. With an eBook, the errors can be corrected and a new file uploaded to replace the old. No new ISBN or ASIN required. Simple as that.

This is also useful for promoting newer books. In my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, for example. With every new volume, I can update the previous eBooks and include a link to newer works.

Along those lines I can let new readers get a sample of me and my writing by offering books for free, say the first in a series. I’ve done just that with my how-to series, offering volume one for free. Hopefully they like it well enough to be willing to buy more of my work. If they don’t, then they haven’t lost a dime.

So what don’t I like about publishing eBooks? The first thing is that they are difficult to make pretty. They are ugly. Not the covers, but the interiors. Formatting options are limited because different eReaders render the book differently, so the rules to formatting are set and with little aesthetic leeway. I don’t like it that I can’t compose my text and white space to suit myself. On top of that, different eBook conversion software produces different results, which compounds the problem of creating a pretty page. I’ve tried several services and now stick with only two because the results are more acceptable.

Images and diagrams are a problem in eBooks, and avid readers agree that this type of book is not very picture friendly. For one thing, the screen is relatively small, although some eReaders have zoom type features. From the publishing end, images seem less predictable than I’d like. The image in the file I upload may end up larger or smaller than I aimed for.

I don’t like that I can’t make tables. In some of my how-tos, tables would be a helpful way to visually organize data. I end up having to type it all out in a line with commas or hyphens, which isn’t very “at a glance.”

The other thing I don’t like is that eBooks have a sense of temporariness about them. If my device breaks or my computer dies, they’re lost. If I don’t have electricity or battery power, I can’t read. Expiration dates can be added when the book files are converted to the various formats so that the books can be automatically deleted. As an author it’s unsettling to think that all of my hard work could simply disappear from the face of the earth.

I suppose it could be said that eBook are here to stay. Maybe. Likely they will change somewhat. However, print books don’t seem to be going anywhere soon either, which is also good. I suppose the best way to look at it is that in the realm of books, there’s something for everybody. As a publisher, I just have to learn to do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with.

What Am I Worth?

I went to check my Kindle sales yesterday at Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. The numbers nearly took my breath away: 134 copies, 157, 142. Then I took a closer look and realized these were not sales, these were copies lent via Kindle’s lending program. This is where authors can allow those who purchase copies of their eBooks to lend them to others for free. Compare that with actual sales for those same days: 3, 2, and 2. Well, how would you feel if you were me?

The selling point for authors to join this program is that it lets others become familiar with your work in hopes that they might choose to buy it. But even after all those copies were borrowed, sales never went up. Sales remained consistent at 0 to 3 copies sold per day. So how am I, as an author, benefiting from this? I’m not.

I had a similar experience last summer. I was contacted by a major magazine publisher who publishes several popular homesteading related magazines plus maintains a blog on their website. They wanted me to become a regular contributor to their blog, with the caveat that they could only offer exposure, not pay. As most hungry artists will tell you, exposure carries with it the hope of being “discovered” and hence finally “making it,” i.e. being able to make a living at it. I’m not immune to this thinking, even though 5 Acres & A Dream The Book has been very successful for an indie publication. One successful book, however, does not a successful author make.

Initially I was responsive to their offer. The red flag went up when they wanted me to sign a contract. If I’m working for free, then why would I need a contract? Since I was busy with Critter Tales at the time, I was told I’d only need to contribute one or two blog posts per week to start. To start? That didn’t sit well with me so I checked out their website. I found lots of articles by a few well-known authors, but what caught my attention was that none of these blog articles had any comments. That begged the question, was anyone reading them?

So who really benefits from things like this? Amazon and the magazines, of course. They build a reputation and following for offering extensive free resources, but at no cost to themselves. They invest neither money nor time into those resources, yet they profit from them.

But why should I be surprised? This is the work ethic of our time – to make money off of other peoples’ labors, not one’s own. Doesn’t it seem ironic that those who do the actual labor in this world get paid the least, while those who do the least work get paid the most? That’s true no matter what the business.

In “2016 Book Publishing Industry Predictions: Myriad Opportunities amid a Slow Growth Environment,” Smashword’s Mark Coker points out that a consequence of Amazon’s lending program and free books for Amazon Prime subscribers is that these are training consumers to expect eBooks for free, to the point where they complain about having to pay even a small fee for them. It’s true that there are no print costs for eBooks, but an eBook requires just as much of an author’s time to research and write as a print book. Why doesn’t that count for something? I daresay that the complainers would never dream of working for free, and likely consider themselves underpaid no matter how they earn their living.

I have no illusions that my own complaints will change a thing. If anything, the trend will not only continue, but get worse. I can only decide what to do for myself and my own work. Even if no one else thinks so, my time is valuable to me. My free work is on my blog, where I willingly share the ups, downs, lessons and how-tos of homesteading. For my books, well, if I ever hope to be a professional writer, then I’d better start acting like one now. If that aspiration fails, then at least I will have not cheapened myself and my work. I will have given it my best shot.

New eBook & New Approach to Discount Codes

gardening_for_goats350x233Here it is, book 6 of my eBook series, The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos. This newest one is entitled How To Garden For Goats: gardening, foraging, small scale grain and hay, & more. I find myself writing them whenever I take a break from Critter Tales, whenever I finish a chapter or section. Reception by my small audience has been great so far, and of course I’m pleased about that.

Regarding my discouragement from offering the introductory free code to my 5 Acres blog readers, I decided to take a different track. I announced it on my blog, of course, but this time I offered to code to a different audience. I’m a member of two goat email groups and figured they would likely be interested. So as a means of introducing them to the series, I offered the code to these groups. I didn’t get a lot of reviews, but perhaps trying to trade free copies for reviews is not the best reason for offering them. Perhaps thinking of it as simply a means of advertising the series is a better approach.

Expectations are often an emotional killer. I should know better, but find myself relying on them anyway. So much better to do for the doings sake with no specific expectations attached, especially when people are involved. That never fails to help me enjoy what I’m doing and take pleasure in the little outcomes whenever they occur. I like life so much better that way.

 

Contemplating Free. Is It Worth It?

This morning saw the announcement of the 5th book in my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos. As has become my custom, I run a 48 hour free offer at Smashwords, as a promotional. As I sit to write this, 8 hours after that blog post published, I’ve had 28 hits on that post, 16 free downloads, 2 commenters, one review, and one promise of a review. It was similar when I announced Book 4 of the series, How To Mix Feed Rations With The Pearson Square: lots of folks taking up the offer but few comments and no reviews. I’m trying to decide how to feel about that.

This is not a new dilemma for eBook authors. On the one hand, a free book is a great promotional tool. Most eBooks are self-published, which means the authors are usually unknown. A free eBook gives readers a chance to sample an unknown’s work. If they like it they will likely buy more. Free works well for a series too. Offer the first in the series for free, and, if readers like it, they hopefully will buy the rest. I’ve taken a slightly different approach of offering each new volume free for a limited time.

Another advantage to eBooks is the ability to advertise yourself by linking to your other works within the eBook. Plus, they can be updated, which means I can add each new volume to a series listing in each book. I link to my 5 Acres & A Dream The Book as well.

So why would I ask if it’s worth it? It’s certainly worth it to the reader who downloads free copies of all my books. I can’t help but wonder, however, if it is helping me reach my own reason for doing so, i.e. to promote my books. With each announcement I ask for reviews, but as other authors who have gone before can tell you, actual reviews are few and far between for freely offered books.

Here’s the rub. There is something in human nature that desires to be acknowledged and appreciated for generosity and effort. As old fashioned as it seems, it is still good manners to say thank you for a gift received or a service rendered. As a writer, I can’t help but wonder if my work simply isn’t worth a review. If it’s that useless or that bad, then it doesn’t make sense to do it. It’s a waste of my time and my readers’. This crosses my mind because I can’t help but think that a quick review as a thank-you isn’t too much to ask.

True confession – whether intended or not (likely not) I feel used. I don’t think anyone can call me greedy: at 99¢ each, I only make about 30¢ per sale, so this is hardly a get-rich scheme; especially considering the hours and hours it takes to write and produce each book. I price them low because I love encouraging others. On the other hand, writing is my way of being able to stay at home and work on the homestead. What I earn is invested in our homestead. These two things are not opposites, they are not mutually exclusive. Rather, it is the “killing of two birds with one stone,” the working to benefit both readers and author.

So after all that, what am I going to do? Well, I’ll think about it some more and see if changing tactics is in order.