iUniverse

Ditching iUniverse, Going in a New Publishing Direction for “She”

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I wrote my second book — my first novel She — during National Novel Writing Month last November, revised it and got reader feedback and revised it again during Christmas and January, and then I had to decide: head down the traditional road this time and seek an agent or go back to iUniverse? It was a no-brainer, well, almost a no-brainer, because the traditional route is fraught with will-they or won’t-they as well as requiring patience and giving up (some) control over one’s work.

If you read my brief blog posts during the self-publishing phase of Lifeliner, you’d surmise I had a mostly good experience with iUniverse. There were a couple of odd things, like I wasn’t allowed to know the names of the editors who edited my book, but overall I found my Publishing Services Associate friendly, helpful, and professional. I liked how the editors helped me craft a better book. I liked that I had a chance to have Lifeliner‘s cover professionally designed. And I liked having the opportunity to have my book stocked in an Indigo bookstore in Toronto. After that though, things went downhill.

It all began when Author Solutions bought out iUniverse. My PSA couldn’t move with iUniverse to their new headquarters due to the burst housing bubble. My newly assigned marketing associate also left the company shortly after I contracted with iUniverse to use one of their publicists, and I wasn’t allowed to have her as my publicist (due to conflict of interest, they said). And in the midst of releasing and marketing Lifeliner, my lawsuit against the drivers who mucked me up emerged from one of its many long lulls into the final throes of resolution, which of course took months and months and months. Because I had little energy left over to market Lifeliner and to stay on top of the publicist’s and iUniverse’s efforts on my behalf, I relied on them to fulfill their contractual obligations, to do everything they said that they would.

iUniverse stated in their paperwork that they would do the following in their three-month publicity campaign:

The publicist…will contact the author the first day of the campaign to determine specific media target audiences and develop a plan.

A plan will be developed based on the following schedule:

Month 1

  • Pitch magazines.
  • Set up book events in author’s hometown and surrounding markets.
  • Pitch to Amazon reviewers.
  • Pitch to Top 100 Newspapers.

Month 2

  • Continue to follow-up on all interested media pitched to date.
  • Pitch to radio and television in local and regional area (talk, drive time, interview).
  • Pitch to newspapers in local and regional area

Month 3

  • Continue to follow-up with all interested media to date
  • Pitch national wire services
  • Pitch wire services
  • Pitch all freelance writers

That’s pretty much the gist of the agreement. My publicist and I talked specifics about what kinds of magazines and because she was from the NE USA, I had to fill her in a bit about the media market here in southern Ontario, despite the fact that I wasn’t fully cognizant of all that is published round here. (Months later, when I’d recovered from the end of lawsuit, a quick Google search netted me a long list of newspapers, radio stations, and television stations in Ontario, a few in upper New York state, just across the border from Toronto.) My publicist didn’t set up book events because of my energy limitations but we did discuss one event that I set up myself, and she sent out an announcement to a couple of publicity places. It didn’t help that there was a problem with the timing of when to start the campaign because Indigo, to put it politely, bounced around the start date of when to stock Lifeliner in the World’s Biggest Bookstore (WBBS). I was also informed that Indigo would not tolerate me approaching them about having a book signing for Lifeliner, yet I suppose my publicist could’ve spoken to them, I don’t know. It didn’t happen anyway.

Aside from that item, the Month 1 obligations were fulfilled, well, except that 100 newspapers were not pitched to.

My publicist followed up on all her pitches over the three months of the campaign, and I received several Amazon reviews. I had had no idea book reviewers don’t just work for newspapers and magazines solely, but also post their reviews on Amazon and several other websites. Over Months 2 and 3, she also pitched to a few of the national newspapers and magazines (in addition to specialty ones in Month 1, including The Women’s Post, which was just not interested, sheesh), and to radio stations and Citytv in Toronto. The manager at WBBS told me that getting mentioned on CBC would help me sell books because their biggest customers listen to the CBC. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to pitch — though I tried on my own several months later — and my publicist was not familiar with how CBC worked, though she followed the website instructions. So that pretty much went nowhere. She pitched to community papers in Toronto but not regional newspapers in southern Ontario or upper New York state. I tried to do it myself months later but with my energy limitations and lack of knowledge, it was an impossible task. She did send out all the review copies I’d bought for the campaign to various magazines and reviewers. Of those, about 13% resulted in reviews of Lifeliner. I don’t know if that’s a good response rate or not.

The wire services pitched were of the web-based kind, not what I would consider national (like AP or CP). And if freelance writers were pitched, they were few in number.

With iUniverse in upheaval during this time, it was difficult to find out who my new marketing associate was and when I did find out, impossible to get a proper answer from her after our first e-mail exchange that I initiated in the brief moments of respite in the insurance company showdown. Of course, iUniverse had no problems billing me for postage for the publicity campaign. Even when I earned iUniverse’s Reader’s Choice award, no one e-mailed or called me to tell me this good news. I stumbled upon this fact when I was checking out my book page on iUniverse’s website. They again ignored my e-mails, even though all I wanted was the image of the RC logo to put on my website. You’d think they could at least respond to that.

Recently, I received a promotional e-mail from iUniverse. I was back in their good graces, I guess. And so that got me thinking again about the botched publicity campaign. I contacted the person who e-mailed me; she gave me the name of the guy who covers marketing for me; he, also a nice person, said he wasn’t familiar with my publicity contract, would look into it, and get back to me. Yup. You all know what that meant. Before we hung up, never to speak again, we also discussed getting Lifeliner into the Sony Reader Store (for eBooks) and onto Amazon Kindle. However, he said that would cost me. Apparently, iUniverse has a new deal where they’ll do the work for you, and you pay. Since I was already feeling like I’d overpaid for my less-than-promised publicity campaign, I wasn’t too interested in paying more. He never considered that he had a pissed-off customer who, being a writer, may one day grump about it online, and the best way to head that off was to make me happy by offering that deal for free as a make-up for my lousy experience. That kind of offer may also have upped the odds of me being a repeat customer. But clearly he was not too interested in resolving my issue and more interested in sending me regular promotional e-mails. Yup, great way to placate an unhappy customer.

Because of my previous posts on iUniverse, I heard from some unhappy iUniverse customers. One, distressingly, confirmed my 2008 experience of not being paid for books sold — basically, iUniverse under-reported sales. Because I happened to know just how many books sold through all
sources, I knew the numbers were off. iUniverse blamed a software
glitch. The same furious customer also informed me that iUniverse inaccurately reported how much they were discounting his book, meaning less royalty in his pocket, more in the retailers’. This was pretty much my beef about how they capitulated to Amazon without so much as polling their authors.

And so what began as a good experience, ended up with me feeling cheated, both on publicity and royalties. I have no intention of hiring iUniverse again, or, for that matter, any AuthorSolutions company. Jane Friedman in her recent blog post on AuthorSolutions says they are very focused on what their authors want. I beg to differ. Although when they do deliver, it’s worth it, I would advise any writer thinking of going this route to do it only if you’re a persistent little bugger who will not have any trouble sitting on them when they don’t deliver on what they promise. Meanwhile, I am going the trad route. For now.

Internet and Computers

Copyright, Moral Right Theft Continued: The Indigo Chapters Version

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So because of the Facebook debacle and after reading a blog post comparing* various Terms of Service (TOS), I checked out the TOSes of the social media websites I belong to. I left the Indigo Chapters community to last — in fact I didn’t even think about it, being Canadian and aimed at serving authors, until I happened to log on — and was shocked at what I read. Now, I know I have trouble reading, and had real trouble with comprehending technical passages when I signed up for Indigo Chapters Community over a year ago, but I’m sure I would have gone haring off in the other direction when I read this and understood what it meant:

“The User acknowledges that any content, e-mails, postings, offers, software, videos, photos, text, graphics, music, sounds, questions, creative suggestions, messages, feedback, ideas, recipes, notes, drawings, articles, stories or other information, data, materials and opinions (including, without limitation any postings on community forums) (“Submissions”) that he or she may provide, e-mail, post, upload or otherwise transmit to the Website shall be deemed and shall remain the property of Indigo, including all copyright, without reservation, and User waives in favour of Indigo any and all moral rights in such Submissions. “

What people were outraged about with Facebook was their attempt at copyright theft; but here Indigo says outright it’s taking copyright away from the users and with no compensation whatsoever. Unlike most social media sites, it doesn’t even acknowledge that users ought to have the right to retain copyright on their own work. In addition, it’s claiming that we’re waiving our moral rights too. Now, I’m not sure they can actually enforce the latter without a signature on our part, but it would take a lot of dough to take them to court to find out plus no one could do it unless they discovered a misuse of their works in which their name was still attached.

So what do I do? I’ll probably remain a member because, unlike with Facebook, I have to enter all my content manually. For comments in community forums, where I write small snippets, copyright theft will be no big deal…except that it pisses me off and with waiving moral rights, we’re all opening ourselves up to having our words used in a way that we wouldn’t agree with yet still having our name attached to them.

I’ll definitely stop posting longer writings and reviews. I was thinking of replacing reviews with links to them here on my website, until I read this totally incomprehensible clause:

“By including a link to the Website on a Third Party Site, User automatically grants, and represents and warrants that it has the right to grant, to Indigo an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use the Website in order to link to, use, copy, publish, stream, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part), summarize, and distribute the content, links and other materials of any kind residing on any web pages on which User places the link.”

Maybe I shan’t post a link after all. This is waaaaayyyy too complicated to read and to understand. If someone can explain it to me and all my readers, that would be great!

I’m starting to understand why all these rights grabs: in the knowledge economy corporations compete by not hiring original creators, instead they acquire their money-making content for free through these TOSes without any responsibility, either in payment or in ethical use, to the creator.

Technorati Tags: , , , Indigo

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*The author Amanda L. French, Ph.D, summarized Facebook’s TOS in terms of those from other social media thusly (her blog may be down from too many hits, that’s why I’ve copied it here):

Conclusion? Go ahead and be outraged. Facebook’s claims to your content are extraordinarily grabby and arrogant. Here’s the rundown, which I go through in more detail below:

  1. Facebook apparently wants to keep all its rights to your stuff after you remove it from Facebook, and even after you delete your Facebook account; they just removed the lines that specified that their rights end when your content comes down. Nobody else (of those I looked at) would dream of that; mostly they specifically state that their rights to your content end when you remove the content from their site or delete your account.
  2. This one kills me: Facebook claims it can do whatever it wants with your content if you put a Share on Facebook link on your web page. Unbelievable–and unique, as far as I can tell. People can post links in Facebook to your content just by copying and pasting the URL, but if you want to save them a few keystrokes by putting a link or a widget on your site, Facebook claims that you’ve granted them a whole mess of rights. Count me out.
  3. Other sites point out in their terms of service that you still own your content: Facebook doesn’t mention that little fact. Facebook also neglects to remind you that you’re giving other Facebook users rights to your Facebook content, too — YouTube, for example, makes it clear that other people besides YouTube have a right to use and spread around the videos you upload. In general, other sites’ terms of service just have a more helpful tone.
Bookstores

Affiliate Link Lawsuit and Thoughts

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One of the things about being an author with a website is that you often use affiliate links to link directly to your book on the various bookstore websites. Affiliate links are links that (a) take a web surfer directly to your book page or book ordering page and (b) if the web surfer purchases the book through the link, the online bookstore or affiliate-link company pays you a tiny amount from the sale, in addition to the standard royalties.

Amazon has its own affiliate link system that is easy to understand and to set up. Chapters Indigo, on the other hand, uses Commission Junction to manage its affiliate links. CJ, a US company, actually provides and manages affiliate links for a whole host of companies, not just Indigo. Unlike Amazon’s system, I found the CJ system confusing and, at one point, it incomprehensibly cancelled my affiliate link shortly after I first set it up. And so it came as no surprise, even though unexpected, to learn that there was a class action lawsuit against it.

Today, I learnt that a class action lawsuit against CJ, covering 2003 to 2008, is about to be settled. I highly doubt I’ll receive a penny as my affiliate link didn’t seem to work. For the most part, I found that readers would prefer to take the long route round to my book page by Googling and then clicking until they found the order page rather than using the quick cut from my website, through one of the affiliate links, to the order page on the bookstore website. To complicate matters, neither Chapters nor CJ, indicate in any way whether people have ordered your book through them. Amazon, at least you can tell, by the ranking numbers — if they go down, someone has ordered a book; if they go up, no one is ordering. It’s not surprising then to me that the lawsuit was about commissions being stolen or diverted from Publishers and Advertisers. It makes you realise how much you trust these companies to report purchases accurately, even the bookstores themselves. The latter is particularly trust-based. The affiliates pay you monthly, but bookstore sales take a long time to reach you. Royalties are added up over 3 months and then take another 2 months to reach your bank account, by which point so much time has passed, how would you know — unless a reader told you directly — that they have omitted a sale or two (that actually happened to me in my first quarter of sales, and I caught it because a reader had told me how many books they’d bought, which didn’t appear in my sales statement)?

At the moment, I’m leaving the links up because they do provide information for people who wish to order my book, even if those same people don’t click on the darn things, but then would rather surf over to Amazon or Chapters and do a search on those websites for my book instead. Sigh. The travails of trying to sell a book.

Bookstores

Stop the Presses!

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Contrary to what I’ve been telling everybody, Lifeliner is not being stocked at Indigo at Bay and Bloor, but at the World’s Biggest Bookstore on Edward Street near Yonge and Dundas. You will find it either on the Hot and New Nonfiction display at the front of the store or upstairs in the Biography section. The manager was very pleasant and helpful in me going in to sign copies at such short notice. I hope you will stop in and pick up a signed copy in the next 8 weeks. And if you can’t find it, please don’t hesitate to ask one of the helpful staff members.

Bookstores

In Indigo, and Amazon Shorts

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Time isn’t a smooth, linear line; it’s a logarithmic curve that crawls and then gathers steam, until that big day, once barely visible in the far distant future, rushes upon us all of a sudden.

Indigo at Bay and Bloor will stock Lifeliner: The Judy Taylor Story, starting on Tuesday, February 19 and ending 8 weeks later on April 14 or 15 (I don’t know the exact date) unless all of my wonderful readers spread the word to buy books steadily and in good numbers during that entire period. If sales are good and steady, then Indigo will continue to stock the book beyond the 8-week period, according to what I’ve been told anyway.

To honour the occasion, there will be a book signing at an intimate café in the Yorkville area. Details to follow!

In other news: I’m pleased to announce that my first short story Angelica is up and available on Amazon Shorts in digital format. This piece is entirely fictional — unlike Lifeliner, which is entirely non-fictional.

Bookstores

Remember Feb. 19th — the Day Indigo Stocks Lifeliner

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iUniverse and Chapters Indigo have an arrangement whereby Publisher’s Choice authors have their books stocked on the “Hot and New” table at the front of an Indigo or Chapters store in the author’s hometown for a limited period of time. The author has 8 weeks to prove that he or she can sell the book. If sales are steady, then Indigo may continue to stock the book in that store; if sales are great and steady, then other Indigo or Chapters stores may start to stock the book.

I’ve been waiting with great anticipation for when Lifeliner will be stocked at my Indigo bookstore of choice. They asked me for my top three choices, and this week I finally got the good news!

Lifeliner will be stocked at Indigo — Bay & Bloor, starting Tuesday, February 19! Whoo hoo!! Now, all I have to do is encourage people to go to Indigo in the Manulife Centre at 55 Bloor Street West, starting after Valentine’s Day, to buy Lifeliner. Easy? Nope! But a good challenge!!

Bookstores

The Ordering a Book Saga Continues

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Well, apparently Christmas has put a hitch into the Indigo roll-out schedule. Since bookstores, like all retailers, are drowning at this time of year in orders and sales, iUniverse is holding off submitting fall-release Publisher’s Choice titles to the Chapters Indigo buyer until after the madness ends. In my case, January. That means my book probably won’t appear in the designated Indigo store until March. Sigh.

Meanwhile, to fill in that wait, local bookstores are supposed to order Lifeliner for you upon request. The operative word here is “supposed.”

One person I know called several Indigo or Chapters stores about ordering a copy of Lifeliner, and to a one, they all said order it online. This replicated the experiences of several others who’d tried to request it through their local bookstore. Now yes, my book is self-published and yes, it’s POD, which means the bookstore cannot return it once ordered, but it is also available through their wholesaler, just like any traditionally published book. And if someone requests a copy, especially at this early stage in the book’s release, they’re not likely to leave it at the counter. But bookstores are used to being able to return their merchandise and are hesitant to order nonreturnable books. They like the comfort of being able to return books that do not sell; but nonreturnable books serve an author well because each sale (to a bookstore) is final and each sale generates a royalty that won’t be reversed down the road, which can happen to authors with traditional publishers.

In the end, the decision to order a book upon request or not comes down to the bookstore manager. I’d heard that Americans had different experiences with different Barnes & Noble stores — the equivalent to Chapters Indigo in the States — depending on the manager. Some managers welcome iUniverse authors and will happily order their books for customers upon request, whereas others are not too pleased to see them. Here in Canada, the same holds true. Whether or not a Chapters or Indigo store will order Lifeliner for you is up to each manager; to compound the problem, the managers won’t even know that my book will appear in an Indigo store as my title has not yet been submitted to the chain’s buyer.

So my best advice at this point is that if you or someone you know would like to buy a copy of Lifeliner, go with your favourite online bookstore and click on its link in the right sidebar.

Bookstores

Joining the Community, the chapters.indigo.ca one

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chapters.indigo.ca is building a “NEW community online.” Have you seen the ads plastered all over the subway? They recently turned the volume down to a few ads tastefully scattered through the cars, but as an author, they pounced on me as soon as my book hit their virtual shelves. They wanted me — me, ms. unknown — to join their community along with all the big-wig authors. Cool. I joined up.

It’s taken me awhile to acquaint myself with the basics. I settled at first with just filling out some rudimentary profile info. I didn’t upload a photo of myself — all these online places keep asking for your photo! — but chose a nice icon instead. I couldn’t figure out what to populate my shelves with and finally decided to start with a few pre-injury favourites and ended with a post-injury current book. DVDs I have very few of — mysteries, of course, I had to put up there on my shelf. And lastly music. Well, that’s a toughie. What do I like? My tastes have changed, but there were a couple of easy choices to begin with. Listening to the radio this morning, I realised I’d forgotten another obvious choice. Will definitely have to add her!

But filling a few shelves is only the start of building your presence in the chapters.indigo.ca community. There are all sorts of other things they want you to reveal about yourself and contribute as well. What are my top tens (uhhhh…do I have any?); what are my reviews (I like, I don’t like, what more can I say?); what are my recommendations (now here’s something I could probably sink my teeth into, given time); what groups am I in (first Facebook groups, now community groups, I’ll have no time left for anything else!)? Questions, questions, questions. And then there are posts to do. Posts? How is a writer supposed to keep up?! First a personal blog then a community post and then Amazon blogs? Facebook makes it easy. They’ll import your blog automatically. I think I’ll just copy and paste relevant blog posts from here into the community. The groups are like book clubs; they really are designed for readers. And here’s where I fall down because my current reading sucks. How can you be a writer and not a voracious reader? Easy. Get a brain injury! I think I’ll steer clear of groups for the moment.

So if you’re a reader, this new online community looks promising. There are many, many familiar names on there. And of course, there’s me! If you have already bought books from chapters.indigo.ca, then it’s pretty easy to join the community. Actually it’s easy to join even if you’re not a current customer. So click over to the community and look me up!