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.

A Must-Read for All Authors

If you write books (or want to write books) then this is something you really ought to read – 2016 Book Publishing Industry Predictions: Myriad Opportunities amid a Slow Growth Environment by Smashword’s Mark Coker. It’s pertinent to all authors: both those who publish through a traditional publishing house and independent self-publishers, both print and ebooks. I encourage you to read it and make your decisions accordingly.

Minor Glitch & Short Delay

When my third print proof of Critter Tales arrived the day before Thanksgiving, I was very happy with the cover, but dismayed to find that many of the interior photos had vertical stripes running through them. These weren’t on my PDF copy, so I suspected a problem with the CreateSpace printing press.

I’ve always found CreateSpace to have excellent customer service and I was not disappointed when I sent them a message about this problem. They agreed it appeared to be a printing problem and ordered another proof to be sent to me directly. In the meantime I scoured that third proof and found a few minor things to correct. I uploaded an updated PDF and waited for that fourth proof to arrive. It arrived as promised and the interior photos are much improved.

That meant I had arrived at the point of no return! Once in print, there is no more editing and correcting. It is what it is. I approved the proof. It can take anywhere from 3 to 5 days to go live on Amazon, which is only a couple of days behind my hoped for schedule. Expect the official announcement shortly.

Pleased to Announce Book 7 in The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos

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While waiting on the next proof of Critter Tales, I sat down and put the finishing touches on this little eBook, the seventh in my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos.

“What better cheese for your homemade pizza than homemade mozzarella? This little eBook tells you not only how to make a quick mozzarella cheese from goats’ milk (no microwave necessary), but also gives you the science behind working with goats’ milk to make high quality cheeses. Explains the difference between quick and cultured mozzarella, how to pasteurize your milk if desired, how to make brine, how to make the cheese, and numerous uses for whey including how to make a true whey ricotta with no additional milk.”

Like the other books in this series, it sells for only 99 cents. Click here to go to this book’s webpage with a list of websites where it can be purchased.

Unsharp Mask – Woot!

After what seems like forever, I was finally able to order my first print proof of Critter Tales. Besides checking things like page numbering, formatting consistencies, overlooked typos, or even blatant mistakes, this is my first look at the photos, both cover and interior. Like 5 Acres and A Dream The Book, the cover was too dark, but the interior photos were better than I hoped. Still, they all needed some work.

What needed to be done to most of them was to increase contrast. I do this with the “Brightness-Contrast” tool in Gimp. Both are increased to give a sharper contrast, which translates as better grayscale images in print. For the record, I’m increasing brightness by 30 and contrast by 20. Only a second print proof will tell me if this was right. I should mention that I save the adjusted image with a different name by simply adding a “b” to to it. I’ve learned the hard way to always preserve the original images, plus each of the changes.

Photos that were taken with a camera set for a sharper photo were the easiest to do, but some of them were taken as 640 by 480 pixel images for email or the internet. I’ve learned how to enlarge these by first increasing PPI (pixels per inch) to 300 and then resizing to, say, 4.5 by 3 inches. Most of the times that works, although some still end up looking rather pixelated.

I was researching this the other day, and learned about “Unsharp Mask.”  In Gimp it’s found under  Filters > Enhance > Unsharp Mask. It’s a tool folks use to sharpen photos that are soft-looking. For print, the recommended settings are 1.5 for radius, and 1.0 for amount. I’m leaving threshold at 0, because I don’t know what it does. I don’t actually know what any of them do, although I found an excellent article explaining it – “Understanding Unsharp Mask.” Once I’m not pressed for time, I’ll give it a read so I know what it is that I’m doing!

Here’s an example from “Kitty Tales” to show you the difference that the tweaks have made.

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After I finish tweaking all the images, I’ll order another proof. Hopefully no further adjustments will need to be made, but I’m not holding my breath.

The Challenges of an International Giveaway

I was daring with my last giveaway, and opened it up to worldwide entries. The challenges to this not only include higher shipping, but also customs, duties, and import taxes. These must be paid on the receiving end, and there is no way to accurately calculate what they might be. Amazon offers estimates for them, but admits the estimate may or may not be accurate. (See “About Customs, Duties, and Taxes.”) That got me wondering if I couldn’t somehow order through a different branch of Amazon if need be, say in the UK or Germany. I queried the CreateSpace community, and heard from someone who had indeed done this. That was hopeful.

The non-US winner turned out to be in Australia. Australia, however, doesn’t seem to have a branch of Amazon, but the overseas shipping from the U.S. didn’t seem too outrageous. Still, I didn’t want my winner having to pay anything to receive their prize, so I looked for an online bookseller in Australia who took Paypal.

To find that I used GetTextbooks.com. It’s a great site for finding where any book is being sold online and for how much. It searches by ISBN, author, or title. The book I wanted to send was listed at TheNile.com.au, so I contacted them and they were very helpful. They accepted Paypal and had free shipping to the recipient from their US warehouse. Book price included import fees. All I needed was the recipients postal address and phone number to fill out the forms.

The total cost was a little more expensive than buying it in the US ($20 USD for a $12.95 book), but it was worth to me it because this was a giveaway prize. Plus with Paypal there are no currency conversion fees, and I’ll get a little bit of it back in royalties. So it all worked out very well in the end, and I would definitely do a worldwide giveaway again.

Update: I chatted with an Australian on the CreateSpace community forum and learned that import fees aren’t applicable for purchases under $1000. I also learned that since this was a prize, it was technically a gift, not a purchased item. Therefore it could be declared a gift on the Customs Declaration form and be exempt from import fees. I’m recalling that the same applies to gifts sent to Europe.