Vintage typewriter on a desk

A New Perspective

Thinking Back…

It was April 7, 2011. I hovered my mouse over the Publish button in Amazon KDP, and my heart was pounding. I was literally saying to myself, “Well, here we go. My first-ever book. About to be published to the world.” I was terrified because this was something I’ve dreamed of since childhood. I’d tried the traditional route, but I wasn’t good enough, according to the gatekeepers, so I decided to give self-publishing a shot.

Then, one book turned to two books, turned to three… and I couldn’t stop from there.

When I initially started this publishing thing, I did it on a whim, to get my stories out there, and maybe make a little cash on the side in the process. I was a hobby writer, having grown up in the fanfiction era, where you share your fandom in story format with your fellow otaku (fans/nerds) without really asking for anything in return except maybe a little recognition here and there (and maybe a donation if someone inclined). I didn’t take my writing seriously then, as I do now.

With over twenty books published across multiple pen names, I have a new perspective on the industry. Writing books is still my passion. I love sharing stories with the world. But I also quickly realized how hard it is to write a book–a good book. The thought of monetary gain from my work didn’t occur to me until I realized how much of a toll it takes on the mind and body when you finish a full novel. With that in mind, I looked at my writing from more of a business perspective. I still write the books I love. But I also want to be paid for that work. Writing has become another job for me. But it’s a job that I absolutely love and could see myself doing for the rest of my life. Like most jobs, I want to be paid for my hard work.

There has been a serious rift in the industry right now about writers being (and not being) paid for their work. One of the most prevalent examples was the Hollywood Writers’ Strike. It was an eye-opener, for sure, and I saw a lot of the same thing in the literary industry. Companies that want our content take advantage of our talents and treat us like creator sweat shops with little pay. And the crazy thing is, so many of my author colleagues are okay with this!

“That’s okay I’m not getting paid. I’m getting exposure and more readers.”

“Giving away free full-length books/book bundles is a tried and true marketing method.”

“Even though Company X made all these changes and reduced pay, I’m still staying with them.”

These are the sort of things I’ve observed from other authors in the industry. And people get defensive when I say that authors should be paid their worth. Everyone’s business and beliefs are different, I agree. But authors need to step back and think about why they are involved in this industry. Because as more and more authors care less about the value of their work, the more readers will, too. And that kind of attitude affects everyone.

Look, I get it. Free books do work for some. It can be a very powerful and effective marketing tool. But these days, there are so many free books available, readers would never have to buy another book again for the rest of their lives. I used to follow the crowd when it came to free books. Did the usual free book newsletter magnet thing, and also promoted free books via ads. I swore by free books like everyone else. But then I saw I was putting in all this effort with little to no return. Since then, I rarely, if ever do any free content. And if I do, it is something like a very short story, or something that takes me little to no time to write. My time is valuable. I’m more willing to give something away for free that takes me less than an hour to write, vs. something that takes me months or several years to write.

If readers want to sample my work, they can pick up a free short story, read the book sample at their favorite retailer, or check out my book for free from their public library.

A 9-5 worker wouldn’t expect to work for free. Why should I?

I’m done with writing for free.

Latest News & Shifting My Business

I’ve left several platforms over the past couple months because of the changes these companies had made that were not to the author’s benefit. You will no longer find my stories on Radish, Vella, and currently, my audiobooks are offline as well until I can find a new vendor that will submit to public libraries.

Radish had gone downhill in terms of pay and exposure for all but the top 2% authors. And they push “free free free,” all the time, readers don’t want to spend money to unlock episodes anymore. It took me a year to finally earn $50 on that platform in order for me to cash out. With three full length serialized stories on that platform, that is unacceptable. They also reward authors who frequently churn out several episodes per week, and those who always have an ongoing, neverending story with hundreds and hundreds of episodes. Don’t get me wrong. I know the process of writing serial fiction. It’s a completely different skillset than writing a regular book. It’s a different way of thinking. But I would rather update on my own terms than have this constant pressure of having to have so many active episodes per week just so I can have the lottery chance of qualifying for certain promotions (yes, they curate their candidates).

Vella was another mess in itself. They recently made drastic changes to how episodes are unlocked. The price of episodes are no longer dependent on the episode’s wordcount. It is one price across the board, whether the episode is 500 words or 5,000 words. That means all of the high-wordcount episodes that authors spent hours/days/weeks/months on cost little to nothing to unlock now. I had a story on Vella since the program first started, but I had seen the writing on the wall pretty early when Amazon did the bare minimum to promote the program, leaving the bulk of that responsibility up to the authors to draw in readers. I really think Amazon was trying to jump in on the serial fiction app trend that boomed back in 2020/21 during lockdown. But unlike places like Radish, Wattpad, and Webnovel, Amazon’s audience is not a serial fiction audience. We are seeing the effects of that even now. The top 2% authors with the larger audiences are pretty much the only ones making it work for them. But with these new changes enacted, I think they, too, might see a notable slip in their royalties.

All that being said, I can’t stress enough to authors of how important it is to have their own personal website or direct store to house their books, like what I’ve done with the Chikara Press website. Authors really need to take back control of their business, and get paid what they are worth.

Prioritizing Public Libraries

Over the past couple months, I did a huge shift with my audiobooks. I finally severed ties with Findaway/Spotify, after they enacted new changes to their terms of service–terms that I, and many other authors did not agree with. I searched around for a new home for my audiobooks, and eventually settled on Streetlib. Soon, my audiobooks will be available on library platforms again, starting with Overdrive. I have mainly been concentrating on library platforms, first and foremost, since that is where the bulk of my audiobook sales come from. It has been a nightmare going through some of these other vendors. Some did not respond to my emails in a timely manner, and others, I’ve discovered, uses Findaway/Spotify as a middleman to distribute audiobooks. It was amazing, and actually pretty scary to realize how much of a monopoly that Findaway/Spotify has on the audiobook distribution market. There really are not many choices out there, especially if authors are trying to get their audiobooks onto public library platforms.

Right now, my highest priority are public libraries, namely Overdrive, Bibliotheca, and Hoopla. These are the places I see the most movement of my audiobooks. I do not see this same kind of movement at the major retailers. So it seems that much of my audiobook audience listen to their books via their public library (I do, too!)

I am a strong advocate for libraries. I realize books are expensive these days, and the current state of the US economy doesn’t look promising. People are trying to save wherever and whenever they can. I get it. I try to make my books accessible to all of my readers. Though I no longer give away free books, I do occasionally offer short stories, if readers want to get a taste of my writing. Otherwise, I encourage readers to read my books for free via their public library. If my books aren’t there, then please request them. I not only get paid for my books that the library buys (depending on the library’s payment model), but now my books will become more accessible and discoverable to more new readers around the world!

What Next?

So, what am I doing next for my business? I’m doubling down on my website/direct store, and my subscription sites, which include Patreon, and my Anneli Jensen site. I’m using these subscription sites to write and publish my next books. As I mentioned before, I want to be paid for my work and time, and having a subscription site has been the most validating option for me and my business so far.

At first, I was hesitant in starting a Patreon site, or any other subscription site, out of fear that I wouldn’t get any subscribers. Then, after over a year, and after I met some readers at a book convention, I had my first patron. Then another. It just grew from there, and I am eternally grateful for everyone who had stuck around this long. It has been so motivating to be able to write new stories in real time and post them for my subscribers. In a way, it’s reminiscent of my old fanfiction days. Best of all, these stories have been so much fun to write. Once the story is finished, I plan to package it all up into a full book to publish.

I was also scared about getting too stressed about having to provide constant frequent content all day every day to these paid members. But it took me a long time to realize that the people who are paying to subscribe to me are my true fans who love what I do and want to support me. I should not bring this pressure upon myself, and I need to release content when I feel it’s ready to be released, not because I’m trying to satisfy a certain timeline. The great thing about Patreon and my own subscription website is that I can set my own timeline, and not have to be under the constant pressure of another company working you to death just so you can see a few pennies of royalties. My patrons/subscribers get first dibs on all of my new books and content, and I treat it like a newsletter. Unlike my past newsletters, I have had the most engagement whenever I make a new Patreon post.

I’m also trying out Kickstarter to do a special edition of my fantasy trilogy. This series was one of my absolute favorite series to write, and it’s been about 10 years since the books were out, so I wanted to do something special to commemorate the anniversary. So many authors have had success with Kickstarter, I’ve decided to give it a try. This is another new venture for me, as the last time I did a Kickstarter (for one of my videogames), I was unsuccessful in funding. So I’m a bit nervous about doing this again.

What does all this mean?

This has been a long blog post, but these have been my thoughts and concerns about what’s been going on in the industry, and how I fit into all of it. This all means that I intend to take more control of my business, even if it means I might be giving myself more work. I don’t have any personal assistants. I’m doing this author thing solo. And as a control freak who likes doing things in a particular way, I’m totally fine with that.

I want to be paid for my work. I saw the red flags a long time ago, but it’s now becoming more obvious now. More and more of these companies that authors entrust their hard work are now pulling the rug out from under them–both financially and morally–essentially turning authors and content creators into sweatshops. I have been seeing this a lot mainly in the serial fiction app space. I cannot and will not support this type of model, and thus, readers will no longer be able to find my books on any of the serial fiction app sites.

From where I started in 2011 until now, the publishing landscape has changed so much. There have been good changes, as well as bad ones. But indie authors are pretty resilient and can adapt to change faster than the traditional publishing world. As the publishing industry continues to change, it’s given me a whole new perspective on where I want to take my business next.

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