Sunday, March 27, 2016

Will the scams never end?


     The books I have written, featured on the shelves above, are listed for sale  a number of places such as Indigo, Barnes and Noble and some European distributors as well as the ubiquitous Amazon. A forward thinking company, no doubt,  Amazon regularly seeks to improve not only their bottom line but also their customers' experience.   (I receive no benefit in stating this, basing it on my experience as a customer as well as a vendor).

     A year or so ago the  Kindle Unlimited program was introduced by Amazon.   Like Spotify for music, Kindle Unlimited, or KU, is a subscription based service.   The reader/customer pays $9.99 and has access to closing on a million  books whose authors/publishers have entered them in the KU program.   Authors/ Publishers share in a pool of money, which amount is set after the end of  each month. (This amount has been slowly declining)  The subscriber pays nothing more than the monthly fee regardless of how many books are read. (or started)  Similar programs, like Scribed or Oyster, have excluded Romance books from the subscriptions as it seems that readers of Romance are more voracious readers than other those who prefer other genres.   These leads to a potential problem.

     The subscription based model can only work for the company offering  it if, overall, subscribers read fewer books  in a month than the total amount  paid to the authors/publishers for the right to sell their product.  Last fall, in an earlier iteration of KU, the renumeration per book was  about $1.35.    Writers of long books felt short changed in that they received the same amount as very brief books.   This led to a flurry of authors breaking up their books into short segments so that the same book now incurred six (or more)  payments.   This made no difference to the KU subscriber but Amazon was paying six times for the same product.   An industry arose writing brief scamplets  (short for scam pamphlets), increasing font size, increasing spacing, and various other tactics.  Complaints ensued.

     Kindle Unlimited version 2 was the eventual result.  This time, authors/publishers were to be paid based on pages read.    Short stories would get their eight cents and epic tomes would receive as much as $4 per book.    The condition now was that the book had to be read.   If the reader gave up, for whatever reason, payment was calculated based up to the last page read.   There were grumbles about quality vs quantity and writers of  children's illustrated picture books felt hard done by.

     Never underestimate the ingenuity of those out to scam the system.   These aren't really writers;  they are people who traverse the economic landscape looking for opportunities.   Somehow it was discovered that, by putting the Table of Contents at the back of the book or by putting a link at the front to a contest entry at the back of the book, readers would immediately skip to the very back to look at the table of contents or enter the contest.   This led to the e-book immediately registering as 'read', all one thousand pages of it.   Whether the reader subsequently stopped reading at page 10 made no difference.   In fact, perpetrators of this scam did not actually  write a book.   The inside might contained foreign language material or recipes lifted off the internet or indecipherable babble generated by overseas 'content farms.'   It didn't matter.

     KU subscribers may have stopped reading in disgust but as they weren't out any money, there was no need to complain and ask for a refund.   Perhaps it was only when some opportunists, not satisfied with the thousands received from Amazon, decided to sell their method on You Tube and other venues so that others could profit. Soon many knew that Amazon's system did not actually keep track of customers' reading habits, it only registered the ultimate paged attained.

     The KU system is being tweaked again and Table of Contents must now be at the front of the book.      I guess that will help a little.   But then there's the problem of scammers setting up Reading Circles, buying KU memberships for say ten people, and employing them to buy and then 'read'  a couple of hundred books a day by opening the book and flipping to the last page and then on to the next.

      I am not in the Kindle Unlimited system and therefore not directly affected but the reputation of the writing profession  can't benefit from tricks like the foregoing.



Sunday, March 20, 2016


From a Prompt from my Writing Group:


  When I was very young, maybe four or five years old, I played Hide and Seek with the neighbourhood children.  Somehow I believed that if I covered my eyes so that I could see no one, then I would also be invisible.

     It didn't work.

     A few years later, I used to pretend that there was a plausible reason I hadn't done my homework.

     It rarely worked.

     As a young married couple, we used to pretend we had won a lottery and we whiled away many pleasant hours in contemplation of our magically transformed life.

     It didn't work.  We never won.

     When girls are young they pretend they are older, at at least legal drinking age.   As we age, we let little half truths or evasions slip to acquaintances about our age and search their faces to see if we are believed.

     It rarely works.

      Our persistence in unsuccessful endeavors must mean we haven't learned to drop the pretence and face reality.   But who wants to do that?

Sunday, March 13, 2016



Do I presume much to pose this question?   Or  only if I attempt to answer it?   Some would say they can recognize a good writer or a good book.   A facile answer would be 'anyone who writes'.  Indeed,  Amazon is closing on 10 million published books through the means of their publishing program.   Ten million books would be more than any one person could ever attempt to read in a lifetime even if several books were read in a day, to the exclusion of all else save eating and sleeping.    Even limiting yourself to age group and genre would still leave an enormous landscape of books to traverse.   Some might see this surfeit as a positive thing, perhaps in the same way that the quantity of chocolate that piles up on the holidays could be seen in a providential light.

But in the same way that there is chocolate and then  ***chocolate*** some books are better than others, by a considerable margin.   Now it is not my place to determine the qualitative rankings of books;  to each his or her own, I always say.   Perhaps it is easier to define excellent chocolate as having to do with the quantity of cocoa and the skill of the chocolatier.  

When I attempt to edit  a ten year old's story writing with the view to improving their skills, the shortcomings are easy to spot:   Putting aside  errors in fundamentals like grammar, spelling, and punctuation, there are the issues with plot development, otherwise known as plot holes.   Characters appear and as easily disappear in a sort of deus ex machina manner.    Action seems to follow the storyline of certain well known video games.     Character development and motivation are not present . . . but I make serious attempts not to expect too much.   A simple story with a few interesting characters and one or two descriptive turns of phrase or description would make me ecstatic.   I see it occasionally.  

But I've come to think that creative writing can be difficult to teach and like musicality, needs to be almost inherent in the person.   Someone is drawn to write and has a story, or more likely several, to tell.     I have a theory that readers make the best writers because, in the same way that correct spelling implants itself in your brain if you see the word often enough,  reading prolifically imbues the reader with the flow and rhythm of story as if by osmosis.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

LET IT GO . . .


        One of the more useful accomplishments as an adult is giving oneself permission to 'let it go'.  This can refer to many things in life from careers to relationships but that's for another post.   What I'm thinking about today is letting go of the self-induced requirement to finish things.   It may be that it's a throwback to the old Protestant Work Ethic or perhaps the motto 'anything worth doing is worth doing well' from Girl Guides or some other worthy organization.  Some of us have difficulty in not seeing something to the bitter end, even when completion is totally unnecessary.

         I'm specifically thinking about books, movies and  public shows or plays.   I suspect it has something to do with having paid for the entertainment  as flipping up and down the channels does not result in the slightest twinge of regret.   But yesterday I sat through a play that ended up as dismally as it began.   It was a clue when the theatre was barely half full, this when usually the performances are sold out.   Sometimes you console yourself that it's a slow starter and will warm up and become interesting but at what time do you throw in the towel.   The party seated in front of us didn't return from the intermission.   Perhaps if we weren't attending with another couple--who agreed with us completely as to the quality of the storyline--we might have snuck off.   One of the  couple  confessed to nodding off in the first half.   Nevertheless we dutifully returned to a play that didn't improve and ended abruptly.   At $36 a ticket we couldn't bear to miss anything, it seemed, although the accountants would say these were 'sunk' costs, as in not recoverable.

         Following in this theme, this morning  I started a new book by an author I have enjoyed in the past in a series for which I have read the previous dozen books.    Half way through I'm finding the pace even more leisurely than the others to the point where little is happening and even that takes many pages.  I'm almost skimming some paragraphs.   I pause and decide to look up the reviews on Amazon, perhaps feeling a little chagrinned at my reaction.    The book is still rated quite highly, in terms of stars assessed but others do mention the issues that I have confronted.  One dares to mention that the book reads as though it was written by a ghost writer, but excuses and damns with faint praise by reminding us that the author is in his seventies now and has a number of other series on the go.   Oh, dear.

           This should be the part where I decide to 'let it go'.   I obtained this book from the library so in this case there should be no feeling of getting my money's worth as though pennies fall from heaven with each word my eyes pass over.     Then I start to wonder if it is my fault, the author being of a station far above mine.   Somehow I'm missing the point or not appreciating the nuances.   In any event we fellow authors should stick together.

            I'll probably make myself finish it.   But not today.