Robert Swartwood

USA Today Bestselling Author

Category: Insights (page 1 of 17)

Dear Barnes & Noble

I thought we had an understanding, you and I.

Well, not just you and I, but every writer who uses your NOOK Press platform.

We sell books on your website, you pay us after 60 days, thereabouts, less your commission.

Pretty simple, right?

And for a while it hasn’t been an issue, at least on my end. Every month you deposited money into my bank account. It was never clockwork—not like with Amazon—but I could always depend on the money being there near the end of the month, or at the very least right at the beginning of the month.

But something strange—not to mention worrisome—happened this past month.

No money was deposited into my bank account.

No money was deposited in several other writers’ bank accounts, either. I know, because I’m friends with several different writers, and they all confirmed to me they haven’t been paid. I’ve even seen writers on your infrequently-visited NOOK Press message board complain about not being paid.

Another complaint?

No communication.

Numerous emails from several different writers have been sent with no reply. Not even a public statement.

As you can imagine, this is quite worrisome.

It’s especially worrisome for us writers whose sole income comes from our writing. We depend on places like yours and Amazon and Apple and Kobo and Google Play to pay us every month. After all, we have rents to pay, mortgages, utility bills, car payments, the friggin IRS. And even for those writers who don’t make a lot of money on your platform—say it’s only a few bucks—money is still money. They might need to pay for gas. Or food for their kids. Anything at all.

I’ve never had any issue with you guys. While many want to dismiss you as a time bomb just waiting to go off, I’ve sold quite a lot of ebooks on your website. So much so that I could never bring myself to pull all of my books and put them exclusively on Amazon, as I know many other writers have done. A kneejerk reaction now would be to say that I’m going to do just that, but the truth is I make good money on your platform … at least, I do in theory. Until the money actually enters my bank account, they’re just numbers on the screen.

I suppose anyone publishing on your platform—just like any platform, such as Amazon’s—agrees to play by your rules. We agree to your terms, which means you can basically do whatever you want. Which is pretty shitty, but something we need to accept.

Still, the fact that several writers haven’t been paid yet—and many haven’t even received a response from you about said payment—does not bode well for the future of your company.

And as a writer who uses your platform to sell books—in which I make money and you make money—I’m beginning to question our understanding.

Because I’m not the only one who’s worried. There are many, many others out there. Many writers who could just as easily stop publishing on your website. Maybe not as many to make a difference to you at first, but the more time that passes in which you don’t pay us, the more angry writers get, and, well, you know how that goes.

Every cent counts. You know that just as well as we do. So how about your hold up your end of the deal and pay us our money?

Thanks for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

Robert

UPDATE: I received an automated email on 9/10 from B&N:

A payment of $XXX.XX for your NOOK Book sales through NOOK Press was deposited into your account on September 5, 2014. It typically takes between one and five days for the payment to be reflected in your bank account. We apologize for the delay in getting this payment to you. Last week, we experienced a glitch in our systems and acted quickly to get it resolved. We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.

Books I Enjoyed In 2013

I read (or listened to, which I count as the same thing) 60 books in 2013. As I do every year, I’m not going to make a “best of” list, but rather simply list the books I enjoyed reading. There is no particular order other than which they were read/listened. Not surprisingly, the bulk of my reading was done via Kindle. Just recently I picked up the ebook of a book I already have in hardcover, because I want to read the book and know that I’ll get to it sooner on my Kindle. What does that mean for the industry at large? Absolutely nothing. That’s just my own taste. Anyway, I’ve broken the list down accordingly. Last year I included a category for short stories, but I only read one short story collection this past year, apparently (I did read several literary journals and ebook singles, however). I hope to fix that wrong this upcoming year (in fact, I just started  Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, which is great so far). Here we go …

Novels

  • THE GIRL ON THE GLIDER by Brian Keene (ebook)
  • THE TWELVE by Justin Cronin (hardcover)
  • LIVE BY NIGHT by Dennis Lehane (ebook)
  • THE BLACK BOX by Michael Connelly (ebook)
  • SANDMAN SLIM by Richard Kadrey (ebook)
  • A FRIEND OF THE EARTH by T. C. Boyle (hardcover)
  • THE MESMERIST by Joseph D’Agnese (ebook)
  • WAYWARD by Blake Crouch (ebook)
  • DOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King (ebook)
  • WHOM THE GODS WOULD DESTROY by Brian Hodge (ebook)
  • UNDERSTUDIES by Ravi Mangla (paperback)

Audiobooks

  • ODD APOCALYPSE by Dean Koontz, read by David Aaron Baker
  • THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, read by Kate Rudd
  • YOU’RE NEXT by Gregg Hurwitz, read by Scott Brick
  • FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk, read by Jim Colby
  • 14 by Peter Clines, read by Ray Porter
  • THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman, read by Neil Gaiman
  • DELIVERANCE by James Dickey, read by Will Patton
  • KILL THE DEAD by Richard Kadrey, read by MacLeod Andrews
  • LIGHT OF THE WORLD by James Lee Burke, read by Will Patton
  • MR. PENUMBRA’S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan, read by Ari Fliakos
  • TAKEN by Robert Crais, read by Luke Daniels
  • TELL NO LIES by Gregg Hurwitz, read by Scott Brick

Non-Fiction

  • NO EASY DAY: THE FIRSTHAND ACCOUNT OF THE MISSION THAT KILLED OSAMA BIN LADEN by Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer, read by Holter Graham

Graphic Novel

  • THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE by Justin Jordan, Tradd Moore, and Felipe Sobreiro (paperback)

So, what books did you enjoy this past year?

Looking Back At 2013

2013 was an interesting year. From a professional standpoint, it certainly had its highs and lows. Let’s highlight some of them chronologically:

Throughout the year there were, of course, many, many podcasts.

I also talked about neglecting the blog, and how I was going to try to update it more. I don’t think I ever really reached that goal. I saw a news article recently that talked about the death of the blog, and I guess that’s what’s been happening here. I use it to make announcements and that’s about it. In the past I would blog about a lot of different things, whether it be pop culture or what was happening in publishing, but it became tiresome. I began to limit my comments to 140 characters on Twitter, where I’m most active. And, quite honestly, I started to become bored with the blog. I see other writers sometimes blogging about one issue or topic or another, and I think, who cares? And with that in mind, I don’t feel like throwing my two cents in when nobody ever asked me in the first place.

I’m not the only one, I’ve noticed. Many other writers have been blogging less and less. Is it true, do you think — is the blog dying for good now?

Anyway, despite the ups and downs, 2013 was a good year. What it wasn’t, however, was very productive. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been writing, but I didn’t release nearly as much as I would have liked. And my sales this year have suffered for it. They’re still good, but they weren’t nearly as good as they were in 2012, when I was releasing many more books. That’s the thing in publishing, whether it be indie or traditional — velocity matters. The more books you release, the more you’ll sell. That’s just how it is.

But I have been working. 2014 should see the release of many new books. Besides an omnibus of Refuge, which will collect all five books of the series, I hope to release Legion, Bullet Rain, and at least one new Holly Lin book, if not two. I also hope to throw in a short horror novel or novella if time permits. And I might even try to write a few new short stories.

Yes, 2014 should be quite an interesting year.

This won’t be my last post of 2013, though; that will be in the next day or two, when I’ll list the books I really enjoyed reading this year.

Until then, happy Sunday!

Analysis On Seven Items

One of my favorite short stories that I’ve written is “Seven Items in Jason Reynolds’ Jacket Pocket, Two Days After His Suicide, As Found by his Eight-Year-Old Brother, Grady,” which originally appeared via PANK and was a runner-up for the Micro Award. Recently it was also translated into Turkish. And now it has been given a very in-depth analysis by Anaea Lay, who makes me sound much smarter and more talented than I really am. Here’s part of what she has to say:

This story is brilliant and beautiful and full of things I adore in my fiction (Sibling love/protectiveness! Suicide! Creepiness!) but the thing that stands out about it and makes it worth pulling apart is its sheer, relentless efficiency. Genuine efficiency, though, not the pruned and constrained soullessness or lack of development you get with inferior flash. This story chooses its moments carefully, but having chosen them, gives them lots of space to breathe and grow.

Read the rest here. And hey, if you haven’t read the story yet and don’t want to read it on PANK (though I can’t imagine why, as it’s free), you can check it out in my very short fiction collection Phantom Energy — which is currently 99 cents for a limited time!

Reader Blurbs

There’s a trend I’ve been noticing lately where authors use reader blurbs in their product descriptions for their books. Almost all of these are independently-published — at least from what I’ve seen — but just today when I clicked on the link for the Kindle Daily Deal I noticed that Amazon was doing the same thing. One of today’s deals is The Quarry by Iain Banks, and instead of a blurb from an established author or a line from Publisher’s Weekly, you find this:

Customer Review: “I quickly found myself lost in the story, laughing out loud while reading it and sympathizing intently with its protagonist Kit, his father and his father’s friends.”

That’s not the only example. A few other books were listed as a Kindle Daily Deal, one of those being Rock Her by Rachel Cross, and the same kind of blurb:

Customer review: “This rocking book grabs you from the beginning, and doesn’t let you go until its supremely satisfying end.”

I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about Amazon, but one thing is for certain: they know how to sell books. So if Amazon is doing this, it must be somewhat effective, no?

Another reason this came to mind today is I happened to get a new review for my collection Real Illusions on Amazon. In part, the reviewer said:

“Once I know what the threat is I’m not scared anymore. This author knows that, and I loved these stories.”

And another reader for the same book:

“Keeps me turning the pages way past my bedtime!”

And another:

“Ranking alongside the likes of Blake Crouch and Scott Nicholson as one of the best self-published thriller writers of the moment, Swartwood delivers a compelling collection of short fiction.”

These are all readers who took the time to leave a simple review on Amazon. They’re clearly fans of the book, and hopefully of the rest of my work. And I’d have to imagine they would be fine with me using their words to help sell the book.

But at the same time, I still question the legitimacy of doing such a thing, especially when there is always the question of writers paying for fake reviews.

I’ll say it now: I’ve never once paid for a review. Have I offered free books in exchange for honest reviews? Absolutely. Everybody does it, independent authors and even major publishers. Half the time readers request copies and say they’ll read and review, but they never do. I seem to have a core group of readers who will leave reviews for all my books, and I appreciate each and every one of them for their support.

But still, that doesn’t answer the question of just how effective using reader blurbs to promote a book will be. After all, the reviews are there for readers to peruse before purchasing the book. Most times they’ll check out the one-star reviews instead of reading any of the five-star reviews. Because of this, I saw one reader once give a book a one-star review, but then say that the book was actually amazing and that everyone needed to check it out and the only reason he was leaving a one-star review was because he knew everyone would look at it first. Clever, though I wonder just how effective that is, as the ranking does hurt the book overall.

Anyway, I’m curious to hear thoughts. If you come across a new book, are you more apt to believe a blurb from an author you are sort of familiar with or maybe never heard of, or a blurb from what the author or publisher claims is a reader?

Thoughts On BookTrakr

A few weeks ago I got an invitation to proceed with the beta version of BookTrakr, which I had signed up for several months ago. What the site basically does is compiles your sales figures from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords. Yes, you must provide your log-in information, which many people are hesitant to do. But this isn’t a fly-by-night service; they’ve been working on it for quite some time, and I know many reputable writers who got an even earlier sneak peek, and all of them trust the site well enough.

So anyway, once you provide your log-in information, it takes a while for the site to create a profile for you — at least it did for me, but that’s probably because I have a lot of books that have been published for a while. Then, once everything is compiled, you’re able to view each of your books separately and see how many copies you’ve sold across all platforms or on each individual platform, as well as how much money you’ve made, how many reviews the books has, its best ranking, etc. It even provides numbers for all the ebooks combined. Because of this, I now see that I’ve sold, as of this moment, 107,627 ebooks across Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Kobo (I didn’t bother adding Smashwords, mostly because I couldn’t remember my log-in information at the time). While that number sounds somewhat impressive — and I guess it is — you also have to keep in mind that it stretches back to 2009 … though most of what I sold has been since 2011, so really two years. Even so, 53,000 books a year isn’t all that impressive when you consider that some authors sell that number in a single month.

BookTrakr also has a feature where every morning they send you an email of your previous day sales. It tells me how many ebooks I’ve sold, how much I’ve earned, a breakdown of the sales across all platforms, whether or not I have any new reviews, if I’m currently on any top 100 lists, and so on. If your sales are good, it’s nice to wake up to those numbers. If your sales are so-so, it can be rather depressing. It’s possible to turn off the daily emails, though, which might be a good idea, as a writer doesn’t have much power in changing the sales. It’s like checking the stock market; you can watch your stocks go up and down, but you’re pretty much powerless to do anything about it, so sometimes it’s best to worry about other things.

Ultimately, I’ve found the service to be great so far. Currently it’s still in beta mode, which means that it’s free, though at some point soon they’ll start charging. How much the rate will be is still up for speculation, but if it’s anywhere near reasonable, I think it’s completely worth it. I also say this as someone who, for over a year, would take my monthly sales reports and enter them manually into a spreadsheet. That takes up a lot of time that could be better spent writing.

Is BookTrakr for everyone? Probably not. When Duotrope announced that they were going to start charging for their service, I didn’t bother signing up. Why? Well, because I haven’t been writing and submitting much short fiction. If I did, then I would probably find the service worthwhile and pay. The same applies here. If an author only has a handful of books that it’s easy enough to track, it might not be worth signing up. The same goes for an author who has a few books that aren’t selling much at all. The cost of the service might not even off-set how much that author is making. But that’s just my two cents. As of right now, I’m impressed, and am curious to see where they take this service next.

Thoughts On Bookstores

Once upon a time I went to bookstores a lot.

Like, at least once a week, if not twice a week, and maybe sometimes even three times a week for various reasons. I’d browse the new books and the remainders and the aisles and even the magazines (the little section for the literary journals) and sometimes I’d pick something up, sometimes I wouldn’t, but it didn’t matter because they were books.

Now I can’t remember the last time I went to a bookstore.

Nowadays I do most of my book browsing online. Every day I’ll check out Amazon and iTunes for the new releases and what’s selling (I check the Kindle Top 100 and the sub genres of mystery & thriller, horror, and action & adventure especially). If a book looks interesting to me, I can view the sample and check out the first chapter or two or three. If I want to buy it, I just press a button and, viola, I own it.

There’s something remarkable about that, isn’t there?

Often we hear people bemoaning the loss of bookstores. I’m sure the same was said about record stores and video stores. Now we can get our music and movies and TV shows streamed instantly to our devices. We can take them wherever we go. We can choose to purchase a new Blu ray for $20 or rent it on Redbox for $1.50 or stream it online for a couple bucks. The possibilities are endless and, more important, record stores and video stores still exist, to one extent or another.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-bookstore. I love bookstores. I love libraries. I love any place where readers can find books.

From a business standpoint, however, and even from a reader standpoint, I find myself appreciating online retailers more and more.

Recently Sherman Alexie put out a call to arms for writers everywhere:

Now is the time to be a superhero for independent bookstores. I want all of us (you and you and especially you) to spend an amazing day hand-selling books at your local independent bookstore on Small Business Saturday (that’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 30 this year, so you know it’s a huge weekend for everyone who, you know, wants to make a living). Here’s the plan: We book nerds will become booksellers. We will make recommendations. We will practice nepotism and urge readers to buy multiple copies of our friends’ books. Maybe you’ll sign and sell books of your own in the process. I think the collective results could be mind-boggling (maybe even world-changing).

You can read the rest here.

While it’s certainly a great idea, the simple fact is many independent bookstores don’t want to deal with writers such as myself. They see writers like me as traitors and don’t want anything to do with us.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Back when the Hint Fiction anthology was published, a local bookstore went all out to host a release party. It was great. They were great. They were big supporters of the book, and I made it a point to try to help support them anyway I could. Then, a little while later, I started publishing my own stuff online and in paperback form through CreateSpace. The bookstore learned about it. Suddenly I was persona non grata.

I can’t say I blame them, of course. It’s their business. They can certainly do whatever they want. But the simple fact is more and more writers are going the independent route. Not all writers, of course. There will always be writers wanting to publish through traditional means, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for those writers doing it on their own and having great success? Even if they wanted to do something with their local independent bookstore, they would probably not be welcome.

That isn’t to say every independent bookstore is unwelcoming of independent authors. Not at all. But there’s a sizeable chunk that many writers won’t even bother trying to connect with them. And that’s a shame. If my local bookstore was more open-minded, I would be happy to help promote them anyway I could. Have signed copies of my books there. Have readings there. Anything. I’m sure the same could be said about many, many other independent authors.

But the reality, of course, is that most independent bookstores survive by stocking the major bestsellers. It’s the James Pattersons and Stephen Kings and Lee Childs and Nora Roberts that keep them afloat. Not midlist authors, let alone independent authors. So really it should be a non-issue, and yet I see it coming up again and again.

This post isn’t meant to piss anybody off, though it probably will. The purpose is simply to discuss my overall thoughts on bookstores and how things have changed — quite drastically — over the years. I’m all for supporting bookstores, especially independent ones. But until independent bookstores become more welcoming of authors such as myself, there’s not much I can do.

On Professionalism

Yesterday Brian Keene wrote a blog post which took a member of the HWA to task for what makes a professional writer. It’s good stuff. Go read it if you haven’t had a chance. I’ll wait.

Back?

Okay, so Brian’s post reminded me that I had talked about what makes a professional writer a couple years ago. In the post I mused that some might considered professional writers only those who write full-time. The truth at the time, though, was that hardly any writers actually wrote full-time. Even Joe Konrath, who I quoted, had said that more people play in the NFL than write full-time.

At least, that was the case in 2009.

Now, four years later, a lot of things have changed. With the rise of self-publishing, more and more writers are finding themselves able to write full-time.

Before I signed with my agent several years ago, his first question to me was what was my ultimate goal.

I said to write full-time.

He acknowledged that he had some clients who wrote full-time, but most didn’t.

Because, let’s face it, that was the reality of publishing back then. Writers worked their butts off for a measly advance and low royalties, and still needed to work a full-time job to make ends meet. Now writers have the option of saying no to the measly advances and low royalties to go a different route. Is that route always successful? Not at all. But at least they now have a choice, which is rather refreshing.

I’ve never been a member of a writers’ organization. I’ve just never seen the point. The only organization that I think is worthwhile is the Writers Guild of America, because they actually offer health benefits and retirement to their members. Unfortunately, the only way to join is if you write for movies and TV. All other writers’ organizations? If they offer health benefits, those benefits are hardly comprehensive.

Back when I started writing, I thought I wanted to join the HWA. But then I had many friends who were members and heard the ongoing drama and even witnessed much of it on the private message boards which I was able to access using a friend’s account, and I realized that no, I had no interest in becoming a member. It baffled me why so many writers wanted to join and become active members, until I realized that everyone was basically concerned about the Bram Stoker Awards. Well, okay, not everyone, but a good majority. I even saw writers make sure to mention in their bios that they were active or associate members of the HWA or some other writers’ organization, which always struck me as odd, because really who cares? Your regular readers don’t care. They don’t care if you’re an active member of some organization or if your book is published by a major publishing house. How do I know this? Because look at all the successful self-published writers out there. Readers want to find good books, plain and simple. The rest — being members of writers’ organizations, being nominated for awards, etc — simply helps the writer feel good about himself.

Awhile back, I saw someone on Facebook complain that many of the writers on the Kindle top 100 bestseller list for horror were writers that they hadn’t ever heard of. It didn’t make sense to them, because they weren’t “name” authors, or even authors who they were familiar with. Because — surprise! — those authors were not members of the HWA. They did not troll message boards. They did not follow the “rules” set forth by the HWA on how to get published, whatever those are.

What’s worth noting, in fact, is if I wanted to join a writers’ organization, there’s a very good chance I couldn’t do so as an active member. It doesn’t matter that I’ve sold tens of thousands of books. It doesn’t matter that I even managed to get on the USA TODAY bestseller list without the help of any publisher. It doesn’t matter that I sometimes make more in one month than a writer will make from an entire advance for one book sold to a major publisher. What matters — in the eyes of those who run these writers’ organizations — is whether my books are published by a “real” publisher, whatever that means anymore.

But you know what? That’s okay. If I wanted to become a member of any of these organizations, it might bother me. As it is, I’m just happy being a writer. Or hobbyist. Or whatever.

I’m Part Of The 1%

So this morning I get an email from Goodreads alerting me to the fact that I’m in the top 1% of reviewers on Goodreads.

Cool!

But here’s the thing — I don’t review that much. I mean, I rate the books I read, sure, and sometimes I’ll leave a few sentences for a review, but that’s it.

Currently my “read” bookshelf only hosts 663 books.

In my mind that ain’t a lot to put me near the top 1% of reviews on a site that touts the fact it has over 20 million members.

Now don’t get me wrong — I like Goodreads a lot. The fact that Amazon bought them never rubbed me the wrong way like it did a lot of other people. Amazon owns a lot of major websites you might not even be aware of — IMDb is the first to come to mind — and while they might own it, they generally don’t make it Amazon-centric. In fact, I also received an email from Goodreads today telling me that a new Dave Robicheaux novel just came out. At the bottom of the email were buy links. Amazon was listed, yes, but so were Barnes & Noble and iTunes. And guess what — those links actually take you to Barnes & Noble and iTunes! *GASP*

Anyway, my point?

If I’m truly in the top 1% of reviewers on Goodreads with only 663 books read (that’s not all the books I’ve read throughout my life, of course, just many that I’ve remembered and thought to add, though there are also times when I don’t list books I’ve read for one reason or another), then just what are the other 20 million users doing exactly? How many books are they reading? What exactly are most of the users doing other than spamming other users with their latest self-published book?

Anyone else in the top 1% reviewers on Goodreads?

No?

Well then — IN YOUR FACE!

Joyland On Kindle … But Not Really

Remember a while back there was this guy named Steven King and people were buying his books because they thought he was Stephen King and getting really upset? Well, the same thing is happening, only (surprisingly) nobody has caught on yet. At least, nobody has given this book any one-star reviews … yet. EDIT: finally someone has caught on and the ebook has scored its first one-star review.

The ebook, published June 16, 2013, is titled Joyland (Hard Case Crime) by Stephen King, a review.

Talk about misleading.

According to the product description:

Stephen King brilliantly transforms a regular crime novel, into an amusement park, with pleasant and unacceptable memories, that teeter you on the edge of his Ferris wheel. When the ride finally stops, you push the bar back, and step off, right inside Stephen King’s, Joyland. You smile for a moment, at the sounds and smells of the fair, but here, joy takes on a different meaning. One that embarks on a role of entertainment, and saving a life becomes profitable. He reaches inside your emotions with unexpected sensitivity to human conditions: lost love, saving lives, family, friendships, mind readers, and fortunetellers. Yes, there are ghosts and murder, but more important is King’s ability to take you on a journey into the narrator’s youthful, past experiences, that are played in a rerun mode, by the now aged carny worker, Devin Jones. Joyland captures our desire to find answers to questions that we can’t seem to let go of, especially the painful ones. When the death of a close friend brings back those ghostly reflections of Devin’s life, he finds them lying next to colorful lights that seem to dance across those old carnival grounds, until the morning sun dispels them into tomorrow.

Does anyone get from that the fact this ebook is an review?

Anyone?

Bueller?

Currently (Sunday night at 11:40 pm) the book is ranked #1,558 in the entire Kindle store and is priced at $2.99.

And, according to the estimated length, is only 6 pages long.

The “author” of this ebook, Nick Walton, has published a few other ebooks with link-baited titles such as Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss; a review and Fifty Shades Trilogy: Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed 3-volume, reviewed.

The last one — the review of the Fifty Shades Trilogy — is estimated at only 3 pages.

And it’s selling.

Welcome to the wacky and wonderful world of publishing!

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